Yesterday was 4 months since Dad passed away. It still feels incredibly awkward saying such things. Awkward in the sense that one of the three people that I have known in my youngest of memories is now no longer there. As if something is out of place like when you rearrange the furniture in your living room and step back to take it all in for a moment.

The last 4 months has been very challenging as anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one. And yet over the past several months, and even now, I hesitate using such language. In all truth and honesty, I haven’t lost my father. In fact, because he has gained his eternal reward, I feel in a sense that I too have gained something these past few months. The reality of God’s grace and love for me and the reality that this life is not all there is has helped me see a new found perspective on my life. My priorities have shifted. My desires have been molded a bit more. Isn’t it ironic that death has a profound impact on how we, the living, choose to live once we’ve encountered it? We never do walk away from it unaffected.

This is the first Fall since Dad has passed on from this life. It’s that time of year we didn’t see him very much because “He’s out hunting” was the cliche of our household. Dad always like Bedlam Weekend (OU vs OSU) because he would be the only hunter in the field always bringing home a deer. It seems awkward this fall not receiving text messages or receiving phone calls with his voice on the other line talking my ear off about landscape, and deer corn, and tree stands, and driving distance to the hunting property, and new deer urine he’s testing out, and…well, you get the idea. I know the first year is told to be the toughest year, and certainly it has been tough these past few months.

I think I surprised someone recently when they asked me “Don’t you wonder why God took your dad?” My answer was simply, “No.” It’s not something I wonder about nor do I feel I require an answer. Perhaps part of me accepts death as a part of life. A doorway that we all must walk through given enough time. Another part of me is incredibly grateful for the time I was given with him and yet I am just as grateful to God that Dad is receiving his just rewards. For being the most generous person I’ve ever known in my life, I am grateful that he has run his course and won his prize. Many knew him as a friend, teacher, doctor, etc, but only two people in the world can say “He was my dad.” I cannot tell you how proud I am to say such things. Growing up I learned the hard fact that not all dads were like mine.

As I sit here watching the sun rise, I reflect on my life. I think about the letter I asked my dad to write me several Christmas’ ago. A letter from him to me that no one else would ever read (I recommend everyone to request such a letter). I think about the support he gave me; the support that every son requires of his father, even if it isn’t spoken. I think about the special bond that we have as father and son. I think about a dear friend that told me, “I didn’t know your dad very well, but with the way you talked about him, that’s the kind of relationship I want with my son.” I think about how I am now a living representation of my dad. That I bear many character and physical attributes of his. I think about how a part of him is indeed still alive in this world because he is alive in me. I think about the last words he ever spoke to me, “Love you Son.” And I think about my own son – the impact I will have on him – the bond that we have that will continue to grow strong – the journal that I’ve been writing letters to him in since he was born…I am challenged this morning. I am challenged to continue growing into the man and father and leader my dad always saw me as being.

My thoughts this morning are probably more for me just to get off my chest, but perhaps you are challenged as well. I am eternally grateful for the grace of God that allowed me to know my dad as well as I did. And though I have seen turbulent waters the past 4 months with perhaps more to come in the future, I am challenged to run my race, just as my father before me.

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I’m an optimist. I tend to see the good in a situation, or at least try to do so. Quite frankly, I don’t push issues with certain people that I know won’t really listen to what I have to say about a subject, so often when I am around a pessimist, I keep my mouth shut.

I think this has a drastic affect of how I view God and what I teach about Him. Because whether you are or not, I think God is an optimist. (wink) He certainly saw the good in me!

A while back I was a part of a conversation where one person said, “Well, we just can’t know everything about God.” And it struck me in later thought, “Wow, what a statement.” Final. Absolute. And, in my opinion, quite negative in nature. Now, I’m of the opinion that positive reinforcement of an idea always trumps a negative (thank you Inception). And when I talk to people about how loving God is and how much He was willing to pay so that we could be in relationship with Him, it just doesn’t sound right at the end of the conversation to say, “Well, seek to know God, but you’ll never know everything about Him.” God loves you, but is hiding all the best parts of Himself.

Let me first make a distinction. To say that we can’t know everything about God is not to say that we can’t know a lot about Him, and I believe that distinction is important. I’m not concerned with why God does what God does. His motives. I am concerned, in this post, with knowing about God. The knowledge of God. I understand that we will not know why God does many of the things He does simply because He is an infinite creator and we are a finite creation and, quite frankly, He doesn’t answer to us. Quite the opposite in fact. I understand that there are even things ABOUT God we can’t understand because of the nature of that relationship.

I further believe that God is ernestly searching for those who are hungry to know Him and that He is more than willing to illuminate our minds to know and understand those things that we, as finite creatures, are capable of knowing. Therefore, to state it positively, “We can know God as fully as He has revealed Himself to us.” Think about how different that sounds. THAT is something that I’ll go after. If God has revealed Himself to us, and if I can know Him to the extent that He has done so, that gives me a destination. That gives me motivation to study the scriptures. That gives me encouragement to study biology, cosmology, philosophy, even nature itself! God has revealed Himself in so many ways and I am encouraged to seek Him as fully as I can, in every way that I can.

I in no way believe that this takes away from the infiniteness of God. I do believe that it speaks to the loving-kindnesses and grace that God, being who He is, is willing for us, being who we are, to know Him.

Relevancy has everything to do with meaningfulness and applicability. Something is perceived as irrelevant only if it is perceived as lacking meaning or applicability to a persons life. Even if it is the MOST relevant information, if it is not applied in such a way so that it is actually meaningful, then it will be considered irrelevant. Things that are completely irrelevant, are sometimes perceived as relevant because they have an appearance of meaningfulness.

Relevance is all about meaningfulness and applicability. It asks the question, what does this information mean in my life? How does this information apply to my life? Questions like these determine the relevancy of the information, media, entertainment, etc that we are otherwise engaged with.

In the context of a church, relevancy has absolutely nothing to do with environments. It has nothing to do with flashy lights, graphics, temperature of the room, videos, music, etc. (even though I enjoy and do those things) As a church planter, I certainly think environments are important, but not the most important thing. You could go to the coldest, dirtiest places in the world and still find people worshiping the Lord in spirit and truth. Why? Because the object of their worship has incredible meaning to life. You will find these same people incredibly engaged in the scriptures. Why? Because the scriptures have incredible meaning and applicability to life. The only ones that see the scriptures as irrelevant, are those who either fail to see the meaningfulness of them, or have leaders that fail to demonstrate their meaningfulness in such a way that they become relevant.

The scriptures don’t simply have an illusion of meaning, but rather have actual meaning in life. When considered as a whole, even if you are an unbeliever, the scriptures have been around the block awhile. They contain some of the most inspiring, challenging and enlightening information about life. In his book “Avoiding Jesus” Michael Green puts it this way:

“You must at least recognize that it is the most significant book in the world, has done more than any other book to change the world for good, remains the world’s bests seller, and was composed over a period of some 1500 years. So it may be worth listening to. It may well embody perspective and wisdom, for it comprises a very broad spectrum of human history and experience.”

So as a pastor, as a leader, as a follower of Jesus, it is my responsibility to make the message of Christ, the scriptures, and the knowledge of God as relevant as possible in a world who hungrily seeks meaning in life. Who is looking for answers. Who is looking for something that is true. Jesus was a master at this. May we follow in his footsteps, demonstrating the meaningfulness, applicability, the relevance, of the most relevant message in the world.

I only blog when I feel I have something to say and that certainly doesn’t feel like an every day occurrence. And on days like today I feel so caught up in what I’m thinking and feeling that I have to let it out on paper whether people read it or not. So this blog is more for me than it is for you.

My dad passed away on June 2 of this year. Boy…that’s still difficult to type. And while I am still growing to accept this new reality for my family, there still comes those moments when I hear a song, see a picture, watch a video or get outdoors equipment ready that the loss hits me like a ton of bricks. I’m reminded that he is gone from this life.

One year ago today Dad was in surgery to replace a broken vertebrae in his spine and to have a cancerous tumor removed. One year…it feels like 10 years ago and yet it feels like yesterday. Today, while cleaning up my table next to my chair I found, buried under some papers my dad’s funeral program with his picture on the front along with a poem he’d written. It was one of those moments for me.

It was one of those moments when I hear my dad say, “Mike, let me share something with you…” 1960-2011 was the span of my dad’s life. And boy did he fill up the “dash” between those two dates. I think of all that we did together. Particularly a trip to Michigan to deer hunt over Thanksgiving. He and I drive the whole way up from Oklahoma, just the two of us, and all we had to listen to was a Bing Crosby Christmas tape. I must say, I’ve been hooked ever since. But when I think of my most precious memories, my dad is in them somewhere. He may be in the background quietly holding the pride he felt for me in his chest, or he may be the one standing behind the camera filming – but he’s there.

What my dad is still teaching me is that the most important moments of our lives within “the dash” are our families. I’m reminded that before I am called to lead others, I am called to lead my family. To love my wife and children with an undying devotion. I’m reminded that before I am held responsible for how I preach and teach, I’ll be held responsible for how I live and lead my home. Because I have been entrusted with the care of two dear little children, and a loving wife – they are my first responsibility in this life. I’ve been taught my whole life by leaders that our priorities should be “God, Family, Ministry” – and yet how many ministers really mean that? And while I don’t believe I’ve been replacing my family with ministry or other things – I have certainly been challenged today by the memory of my dad to maintain what is most important in this life. I’ve been challenged to give my best to my family and not expect them to be content with my leftovers.

The other night I had a dream. I was talking to some people and off to my right my dad walked past me. I was the only one who noticed him as he walked away. But about 10 feet way, he stopped. He slowly turned around and locked eyes with me…smiled…and give me a big thumbs up, and then continued walking on. And so, still, even being gone from this life the last several months, he’s still teaching me, and he’s still telling me he’s proud of me.

I remember sitting in the back of a dark people-mover. The twenty or so adults in front of me were all asleep while I lounged on the pile of luggage unable to sleep as we returned from a 3-day ski trip. My mind was racing. God was speaking. My soul was wrestling. It was in that moment 3 1/2 years ago that I decided to become a church-planter. The words of wisdom that my dad had said to me years before, once again, was proving true, “Sometimes God gives us a choice between two paths. And He’ll bless us either way, but He leaves the decision up to you which one you will take.” I could continue doing what Jaclyn and I were doing, or we could adventure down a new path that God was opening up before us. We chose the new one.

We decided to help plant Journey Church in Denton, TX. For over a year the city was burning a whole in my heart and we made the leap to leave our position at a church in OK. We put our house on the market in the summer of 2008. It wasn’t on the market for a week and a half when we got a phone call while on a Mexico Missions Trip that we had a cash buyer, our neighbor. When it was all said and done, we would make about $10k on our house. A pretty nice nest egg for any church planter to have in their back pocket, right? That’s what we thought too.

Jaclyn was in Denton and I remained in OK, finishing up my remaining weeks on staff and waiting to close on our house. The day I was leaving town for good, I received a phone call from our realtor. When I stopped by her office she said those words, “Your buyer backed out.” A mere days separated us from closing, and he backed out. No cash buyer. No $10k to sit on. No release from our house. No easy move.

As you may realize, within a matter of months, the housing market crashed, the stock market fell 777 pts in one day and our country fell into the worst economic state since the Great Depression. Our house, remained on the market. That was in September and by December, we ran out of money. We also became pregnant with our second child and my wife’s grandfather passed away. Somehow we managed to make it to March 2009 when we received a phone call. Someone wanted to wire us some money and when it came in, it was $10,000. Wow! I’ve never been given that much in my life! Before that miracle came in, it was a hard time of testing in my life.

Our house remained on the market until December of 2009 when  I told God, “If you’re okay with the bank foreclosing, I’m okay with it.” We simply weren’t fiscally capable of maintaining it. The last day of 2009 I got a call from someone wanting to rent the home and would pay exactly what we needed to make the mortgage payment. Another wow! Thank you Lord.

Fast forward 9 months to September 2010. Our renter decides to marry his girlfriend and move in with her. His aunt and uncle wish to take up the lease and move from Iowa. Not a problem, right? After health issues and other things they pushed their move-in date to late January of 2011. Several months of keeping the house afloat was taking it’s toll on us. After moving in, the complaints started rolling. In one day alone I received 12 phone calls, while Jaclyn received her own. Our tenants simply became unreasonable, asking for things that were simply absurd, and eventually refused to pay rent which eventually led to their eviction. I knew that we were in the right, both morally and by the law, but I must admit to sleepless nights knowing that these people were going to be forced out. It wasn’t easy.

January through April of 2011 has been some of the toughest months of my life. I’ve never known people to take advantage of others as much as our tenants did. I’ve always been an optimist and given people the benefit of the doubt – it bit me in the rear really hard with these folks. I’ve learned to forgive how they spoke to my wife, how they treated my family, and what they did during those months. It has truly been a journey. But with the lack of rent, and us being unable to make the payment, again I spoke with the Lord that if He was alright with it foreclosing, I was too. At this point, two and a half years after moving out, I had had enough and simply didn’t care. However, God’s patience hadn’t even begun to wear thin.

So I received a phone call and a meeting was set up. A person told me that the Lord was speaking to them the words “Mortgage, mortgage, mortgage” regarding my wife and me. With that, we received a check for $5,000 to help with the mortgage this person previously knew nothing about. Wow! And with that, the story picks up. We were able to get out of default, did a few repair jobs to the house, set it on the market, and within a month, had the offer that led to us finally closing on our house last Wednesday. What…a journey the last three years has been. With this in mind, let me share some lessons I’ve learned:

1. Following God’s Call Isn’t Always Easy & Smooth: Once word got out that our house hadn’t sold, someone asked me, “Are you sure it’s God’s will for you to go to Denton?” Now, that person had demonstrated to me what they really thought about God’s will. For them, everything had to go smoothly and simply. Read Hebrews 11:32-40. Notice anything? Some of the faithful turned away lions and armies – others were sawed in two and put to death by the sword. All in all, they were all faithful and not even one of them received what they had been promised. Talk about feeling “ripped off by God” right? But not for these folks. I’ve learned to change my perspectives while enduring difficulties and trials. James 1:2-4 has become a verse I quote often b/c I’m reminded to take joy in my trials trusting God is at work, even when I can’t see it.

2. Faith Is Trusting and Having Confidence In God: I’ve learned over the last three years that faith is not a blind leap. That the Christian faith has always been a faith, or trust, or confidence, based on knowledge. And it is precisely that knowledge of God that kept me going. God has proven himself to be trustworthy. He has demonstrated Himself as reliable. He has proven that you can put your confidence in Him. It has been in these last three years that this understanding of faith has rung true, not just on paper, but in experience and reality. Through everything we went through, we could trust, rely upon, and have confidence in God. Some say theology is too heavy to be taught in churches. That it’s reserved for scholars in ivory towers. The truth, is that it was my understanding of theology that helped me with some of the most practical struggles of the last three years. So pastors: teach people to think theologically!

3. Everyone’s Story Is Different: Our lead pastor and his wife sold their house in OK pretty quickly. Things happened fast for them, at least from my perspective. But what I’ve learned is to not expect my story to be the same as someone elses. I think we all have this “picture” in our mind of how God ought to do things and when it deviates from that plan, somehow, God isn’t at work. But if everyone had the same story, life would be boring, wouldn’t it? Your story may not end up like ours. And that’s okay; as long as you remember that God may be leading and guiding you down a path that you have never noticed because you were too interested in making your story just like someone else’s story.

I hope our story has encouraged you. I hope it challenges you to not give up. I hope you’re inspired by the fact that God is at work, even when we don’t think He is. I hope you begin to study so that you too can think theologically and realize that the more you grow in the knowledge of God, the more prepared you’ll be to face the realities of this life.

Exactly one month ago today on June 2nd, I received a “phone call that changes your life forever.” My mom called me from Hope4Cancer in Mexico telling me that Dad had passed away. Just this week my dearest brother Gabriel sat listening to me talk about that moment and some of the thoughts I’ll now share in this post. It was the first time I’ve recounted to anyone what rushed into my mind.

I remember sitting there and simply not saying anything at first. I knew from the moment that my phone rang what I would hear on the other line and I had somewhat prepared myself, though I held on to hope. I sat in my chair listening and asking questions while Jaclyn took the kids into their rooms to put them to bed. Mom and I spoke for a little while, both realizing the weight and heaviness of loss overwhelming our hearts. And when I hung up the phone I stood at our back door looking out into the night. A moment later I felt soft arms wrap around my waist and I whispered to my wife the words I have long feared to say, “Dad is gone.” I turned and we embraced and wept together, longing for my tears to arouse me from some dream I had slipped into the evening before. But it wasn’t a dream. With each phone call I made to family and close friends, the reality of what was happening in my life began to sink in: My dad was gone.

If you know me at all, you know that I’m a thinker and a processor. I don’t respond quickly or irrationally when emergencies come. I have to dwell upon it and work out things in my head. I’ve wanted to share thoughts on my Dad’s passing beyond what I said at his funeral but have needed time to think through issues and allow it to work out in me what my “new normal” of life is to become.

Gabriel asked me this week, “What has been the toughest part for you so far?” I hadn’t really considered that question yet and I am grateful for someone so dear to my heart to ask probing questions that help me see the broadness of a situation. And when I stepped back and looked at it all, the only thing I could say was, “The fact that your dad is no longer there. Your teacher, mentor, provider, counselor – the man that taught you to be a man…he’s gone.”

Ever since Dad passed on I have felt an overwhelming sense of burden and leadership for my family. Not just my wife and kids, but my mother, sister and brother-in-law and all our kids. When a patriarch passed away in the Old Testament, the leadership of the household passed on to the first-born son. It was his responsibility to take up the mantel of leadership for his entire household and shepherd the family. Whether or not anyone else feels this way when their father passes, I certainly have the last month. The last time I sat privately with Dad was Memorial Day before he and Mom flew to Mexico. And in that hour he conveyed to me his wishes if the worst should happen while he was away. I think this burden began to settle on my heart then, and came rushing in when I received Mom’s call on June 2nd. The need and desire to take care of my widowed mother is overwhelming at times. To make sure that my sister is taken care of, though she has an amazing husband who shepherds their home, therefore I feel the burdened lessened. Whether I should feel this way or not, I do not need an answer. I believe that any son should feel responsibility for his family when his father passes on and to feel otherwise I would be ashamed to account myself his son. I believe it to be a matter of honor for a son to take up his father’s mantel and continue leading in his stead.

Over the last month I have heard every Christian cliche I can think of hearing. And I say this with a smile because I do not mean for my words to be harsh. While I know that many have the best of interests, at times I wish people would simply learn to be quiet. Not knowing what to say in those moments is quite alright. Saying nothing at all but simply being present, embracing, and “weeping with those that weep” is enough. The overwhelming love, compassion and support for my family, not just since Dad passed away but since he was diagnosed, has communicated in action what no cliche or words can ever express. I realize people have the best intentions, but can I simply say, learn to open your arms, embrace, weep, and be present. For those in the midst of tragedy, that is all that is needed or required.

Knowing that “He’s in a better place” does a little bit to calm the swelling tide of emotion in my heart. I have often struggled between what I “know” and what I “feel” over the last month. Knowing with certainty that the claims of Jesus are testable and true as is his death and resurrection – knowing that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord – knowing that Dad is no longer suffering – but feeling a pain of loss – feeling that a great light in your life has been snuffed out – feeling the overwhelming sense of separation that hits you like a ton of bricks on more occasions than you’d be willing to admit. Knowing and feeling has been a struggle for me. At times “knowing” has given me strength and at others “feeling” has made me feel less mechanical and more human. I find comfort in Paul’s words, “…we do not mourn as those without hope.” Ah…”hope.” What a wonderfully meaningful word that bridges the gap between what I know and what I feel, that helps me accept my new reality, that helps me see things from a new perspective.

The question many seem to ask in moments of tragedy, particularly with someone like Dad, is “Why do bad things happen to good people?” But this is a bad question I think. The reason I believe it is a bad question is that it stems from a sense of entitlement. “If I’m a good person then I deserve for good things to happen to me.” But the truth is that nothing is owed us, is it? Every breath we breath is a gift and an opportunity. The truth is that I believe bad things are sometimes allowed to happened to good people because it is in the darkest of nights that the smallest of lights burns the brightest. And throughout Dad’s sickness the last year and a half right through to his death, his light was certainly shining the brightest in his world.

I remember Dad telling me as a small child that  he had prayed, “Lord, if any great sickness is to come upon my family, let it fall upon my shoulders.” I have not shared that with many. And whether the Lord diverted sickness to him as the leader of our home instead of allowing it to come upon the rest of us I do not know. But one thing I do, setting his face like a flint, taking up his sword and shield I envision my dad stepping in front of any train coming toward his family. Do you know what that type of example does to a son? Do you know the sense of honor that instills in me? In a world where honor, valor and chivalry seem to dwindle – from the time I was a child my dad believed them to be alive and well in the hearts of any man who would take them up and bear them on their breast. To take up position around his family to protect, guide, discipline, and lead down the right road. That is the man in whose shoes I must now fill.

Was he perfect? Did he have some rough edges? I suppose everyone has some imperfections and rough edges they’re trying to work out. But a good man is not remembered for his imperfections. He is remembered for his valor. He is remembered for his honor. He is remembered for his generosity. He is remembered for his character. He is remembered for his love. He is remembered for his strength as well as his willingness to admit his weaknesses. He is remembered for being present. He is remembered, not by what he has done, but who and what he has done it for.

I suppose these are my thoughts on July 2, 2011, one month after my dad’s passing from this life. The challenge to be a good man, a good husband, and a good father is ever before me. Now so much the greater. Ironically, death has a way of challenging our perspective on life. When the good pass away, those of us that linger are left with an abiding question, “What now will you do with the remaining life that is accounted to you?” I know my answer. I hope and pray you are able to find yours.

This is a poem my dad wrote on September 29th, 1998. Thought it should be posted for all to read:

Our days are numbered

Each one of us

To do what’s right and holy

Each one of us

For His honor and glory

For His blessings He’ll give

Each one of us

As a reward who truly seek Him.

As days fly by

Each one of us

Must keep one thing in mind

Without Jesus Christ in our hearts

Each one of us

Is surely going to die.

The decision is ours

The choices we make

For it’s us that decide on our path

Each one of us

Make straight Your ways

For we know not the day

Nor the hour

As a thief in the night

Each one of us

Must keep watch and ever so careful

Keep your eyes lifted up

Focused only on One

For His name is Jesus Almighty

to each one of us

King of Kings

Lord of Lords

He’s the great and mighty “I Am”

Each one of us

Will be judged by that One

Who’s decisions are righteous and just

Who comes so that none should perish

But that eternal life may be won

He died for our sins

Each one of us

Just accept Him as Lord and Savior

But most of all

Be doers of the Word

And His face shall shine upon you

When it’s your time to come

What you’ve said and have done

it’s the love we have with the Lord

That He will say with a smile

Well done thou good and faithful servant

Each one of us

Amen

 

Jaclyn and I were wrapping up disc 1 of LOST: Season 2 when I hopped on Twitter to begin reading what would cause me to immediately turn on the news. Osama Bin Laden is dead. This has become a household name in ever American’s life. For nearly 10 years there has been a world-wide man hunt for Bin Laden. So when I heard the news, I was more shocked that it actually happened. And then, as it sunk in, overwhelming emotion struck me. I wanted to see how people were responding on Twitter/Facebook to the news. To be honest, I was both shocked/disappointed and not shocked/disappointed.

My initial thought was that the death of Bin Laden has revealed two, vastly different perspectives of Christians. One being a Christian who considers themselves an American first, and a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven second. The other being an individual who considers themselves a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven first, and an American second. The latter of these two individuals keeps in mind that this life is not all there is. That, yes, while we may freely choose to reject our Creator, it is still not His intention that any…ANY…should perish, but all to come to repentance. Those who hold to a Kingdom of Heaven perspective see not the death of a terrorist, but the death of one who is lost in his own darkness. Those who keep to this perspective do not celebrate at the destruction that has come upon another’s soul…but weep over it.

Some may object and say, “Well he got what he deserved! God is a God of justice!” My question in return is, “How can we consider ourselves the Church, who’s responsibility it is to bring the message of redemption, when we celebrate over a lost soul who has died in spiritual darkness?” I can’t make sense of this. It seems that all heaven rejoices when a lost soul comes to redemptive knowledge, but Christians rejoice over a lost soul who “got what he deserved” in this life because he did really, really bad stuff? Maybe Bin Laden did get what he deserved, maybe he is yet to get it – but are any of us in such a position to determine that? I find this to be very inconsistent for Christians. If people are so apt to quote scripture speaking about justice, judgement, and hell being good, my question is why don’t they apply that same response when their friends who are lost die apart from Christ? These people get what they deserve as well. Instead, Christians weep over the lost soul of a loved one or friend even though they are rightly getting what they deserve for the rejection of Christ. I suppose b/c this man’s sins were so much greater many feel less of a need to weep. I, however, simply see an inconsistency in the action.

Some may object further and say, “Well I’m not happy about his eternal destination but I am happy that he’s dead so that he won’t be around anymore to cause other people harm.” But the truth is we can’t know that to be true, can we? We don’t know what the future holds. And some have commented, “If he hasn’t accepted Christ in the last 10 years, he probably won’t.” But who are you to make such a claim?

Now please understand, for those who have decided to keep reading, I’m not a pacifist. I believe in just and righteous causes that are taken up by the armed forces of nations around this globe. I honor America’s armed forces for their sacrifices that have been made to keep me, my family, and the people of this nation safe for the past 10 years! I’m not saying that sin should go unpunished. But that’s not what this post is about.  This post is about the sloppy, honest, revealing thoughts that Christians have when they don’t think through their remarks to the logical conclusion. I’m ashamed that some have excitedly rejoiced that Bin Laden is “burning in hell.” My goodness, are you kidding me!?

I worked with a Pastor in Oklahoma who, when we would pray together as a staff, could within moments begin weeping for lost souls. Weeping! That has forever impacted my life. It has reminded me of why I’m on this earth. I’m not here to be a good citizen (though as a Christian I should be), I’m not here to pay taxes (though as a Christian I should), I’m not here to take care of the environment (though as a Christian I should)…I’m here to reflect the glory of the God who has adopted me into His family and called me one of His own. I’m here to share that message of hope and redemption. I’m reminded that, but for the grace of God, I’m no different than Bin Laden.

My thoughts are to inspire you to see past acts of evil that have been carried out against this nation, and the retribution against the one who organized it, and to see from a much greater perspective…the perspective of the Kingdom of Heaven. To see that, but for the grace of God, there go I…there go you. To see that there are people each day that we pass, that though they’ve not blown up buildings, have they not still rejected their Creator? Would a Christian rejoice over any one of their deaths if they only knew the crimes that had been committed? Do we feel a sense of justification for rejoicing over this man’s death simply because his sins are so appalling in nature to us?

The world may be better off without Bin Laden…maybe it isn’t. No man can say either way because we simply aren’t in a position to make such a claim. But what we do know is that unless, before his death, Bin Laden freely choose to turn to Christ, his eternal destiny is set. And that my friend, is nothing I can rejoice or celebrate about – whether it be Bin Laden or the rapist or the murderer or the liar or the cheater or the man who lives across the street from me. But for the grace of God, there is no difference between me and him. Therefore I will not rejoice.

I was at the zoo a few weeks ago with my family. It’s been quite a while since I’d been. I’ve always enjoyed going to the zoo. Seeing a huge male gorilla on the other side of glass makes you feel quite intimidated!

As we walked through and saw all the different animals (gorillas, elephants, rhinos, etc), one animal sticks out in my mind. The Harpy Eagle. This is quite a big bird. I couldn’t help but look up at this incredible creature and think, “He doesn’t deserve to be locked up in a cage, he deserves to soaring high in the sky!” How pitiful that such a majestic animal is caged up where it can barely fly, much less live out its existence in a meaningful way besides having us gawk at him. I honestly felt sorry the eagle.

And yet, as I watched him, I was reminded that this is how many people choose to live their lives. Living caged lives. By allowing their own self-image, their failures, their victories, their short-comings, their own selfish desires, daily decisions to reject the good they know they ought to do – the list goes on – to keep them caged up from fulfilling a truly meaningful life.

Many years ago my dearest friend Gabriel Jones prayed, “Lord, free us of the chains that we so willingly pick up and carry each day.” That pray stuck with me so much, quite frankly, because I identified with it. Don’t we all? Haven’t we all been at a point in our lives when our own selfish desires and longings dragged us away from freedom?

Consider this, that human freedom is so important to God that He will not infringe on our free-will choices. He watches us perched within the cages we so willingly build hoping that one day we walk out the door he has provided. Because unlike the Harpy Eagle, we have a choice don’t we? God has provided a way out for us. He has provided freedom!

The longer I live, I come to realize that you can’t make somebody do something they don’t wish to do. It’s your choice. No eagle flies through the air wrapped up in chains. Christ has provided a way out of our cages so that we can find true meaning, value and purpose. What makes me sad is there are those who wish to remain in their cages only to produce the illusion of purpose. Rick Warren has said, “You were made by God and for God. Until you learn this, life will never truly make sense.

So what is your choice going to be? To step into freedom through the door of truth, or will you choose to be caged?

I am about to begin a discipleship class at Journey called Grasping God’s Word, a series of teaching on a particular method of how to study the Bible. As I have thought about this process of hermeneutics (the science of biblical interpretation), I have been asking myself, “How do I know that this method of interpretation is correct?” According to the laws of logic, an assertion (proposition, idea, belief) is either true or false. Therefore when meditating on this question I have to ask myself, is my method of interpretation true or is it false? It is either/or, and cannot be both.

These thoughts were further burdened to my mind after a conversation between friends recently. One brought up the idea, “How do we know our method of study is correct (or true)? They are man-made rules invented by us.” Implying that these rules were man-made is what struck me to further reflection. If these rules, or laws, of biblical interpretation are truly inventions of the mind of men, then can I trust that they are truth? Why are these rules true, and not others? In the books I have read on how to study the Bible, not one, to my understanding, gives reasoning why the method they put forth is the correct, or truthful, way to study the Bible.

I believe this discussion and line of thinking is incredibly important. Why do I study the Bible the way I do? Why is it that I follow this particular method I do and not another? I believe the Bible is God’s inspired word through which He reveals His nature and character to mankind. As a result, it is equally important that because it was written with so many variables (authors, contexts, genres, etc) we must take adequate measures in order to interpret it and interpret it correctly, or truthfully. If we are to do what scripture teaches, we must first be able to study it and interpret it before applying it.

There are two things I think I need to make clarification on before I proceed with any more thoughts. First, the method of biblical study that I adhere to must be centrally known before reading further. It is as follows:

  1. Carefully read the text in question.
  2. Observe the passage and understand what it meant to the biblical audience.
  3. Observe the differences between the biblical audience and the modern audience.
  4. Determine the theological, or timeless, truth the text reveals.
  5. Determine how the theological, or timeless, truth applies to modern life.

The second thing I want to clarify is the meaning of truth. This is important because it provides the foundation for this entire line of thinking. We must know what truth is before we can answer the question, “Is this method of interpretation true?” I adhere to the Correspondence Theory of Truth which, in essence, states: a proposition is true to the extent that it corresponds to reality. J.P. Moreland in his book The Kingdom Triangle submits that the correspondence relation is demonstrated through “Truth-Bearers” and “Truth-Makers.” A Truth-Bearer, or proposition being asserted, is made true by the Truth-Maker, or relevant facts, which point out the real state of affairs in the world. Therefore, the proposition “grass is green” is true because, in reality, the fact that grass is actually green, makes the proposition true. Even if someone is blind and cannot see that the grass is green, it is the fact that makes the proposition true, not someone’s acceptance or perception of the grass.

So this raises the question, “Do the rules I implore correspond with the way things actually are in the real world?” I find this out by looking at Truth-Makers, or relevant facts to the proposition. By following this theory of truth, I believe I can adequately answer why I study the Bible the way I do, and actually know this method to be true, right, and correct.

One truth-maker, or relevant fact, is to note that some things are basic to certain enterprises. Greg Koukl employs this principle when speaking about the Laws of Logic, saying mankind did not invent these laws, but rather discovered them. To illustrate further, he speaks of communication. To communicate with another individual requires the use of subjects and verbs. If, at least, these two elements of communication are not employed, communication will cease to exist. Whether spoken language is used or not, subjects and verbs must be employed to communicate ones ideas. This was not an invention of mankind, but was rather a discovery of mankind as we developed communication; it is inherent to the very nature of communication. This illustrates his point that the Laws of Logical are objective, and therefore are not creations but rather discoveries. The law of non-contradiction is objectively true whether someone accepted its validity or not. It says, in essence, something cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same sense. We all subconsciously accept this law as truth.

I believe this same reasoning is basic to the enterprise of biblical interpretation. I do not believe the method I have put forth is a man-made invention, but rather a discovery of man. Some may say this is mere semantics; however, it is immensely important to differentiate between these two expressions. If something is an invention of man, then it can be changed. However, if this method of study is a timeless, objective truth, then it cannot be changed. It would, in fact, remain the truthful method of biblical study even if no one in the world adhered to it. If this method is an invention, then we can change it. When studying scripture we can simply not be concerned with what the text meant to the biblical audience. Or, we can not be concerned with the context, genre or literary device being employed by the biblical writer. I, however, believe that we must use this method to come to correct interpretation for the very reason that they can not be changed or ignored. These steps are objective measures of biblical interpretation that are true whether someone accepts them or not.

R.C. Sproul states we should “study the Bible as we would any other ancient document.” Gordon  Fee & Douglas Stuart’s introduction to their book Read the Bible for All It’s Worth states: “the most important ingredient one brings to [biblical interpretation] is enlightened common sense.” Common sense, again, is not something that was, or is, created, rather it is discovered. A proper study of ancient documents is a process that has been discovered rather than created. Again, if this process of study was invented, then we can change the process any time we want. For example, when studying the Code of Hammurabi, scholars can simply throw out the rule of understanding the text through the eyes of the ancient audience or the differences in culture at the time the Code was written, which no scholar would ever consider doing. Understanding these aspects of ancient documents helps us to interpret the meaning of these texts more accurately. Therefore, as illustrated with both communication and interpretation of all ancient documents, we see there are principles that are basic and inherent to certain enterprises, in this case, biblical interpretation.

Another truth-maker for this method of interpretation is what Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart call “a prick or prod to the heart.” In their introduction to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, Fee and Stuart provide some reasoning for their method of interpretation as they engage particular genres throughout scripture:

The aim of good interpretation is simple: to get at the ‘plain meaning of the text.’ And the most important ingredient one brings to that task is enlightened common sense. The test of good interpretation is that it makes good sense of the text. Correct interpretation, therefore, brings relief to the mind as well as a prick or prod to the heart.

I do not encourage Christians to be sensual in their interpretation of a biblical passage. By sensual, I mean a Christian who bases their interpretation of scripture on how it makes them feel. For this individual, it is feeling or experience alone that guides them to understanding scripture. I certainly do not adhere to this line of reasoning, for one, because as your feelings or experiences change so would your interpretation of scripture. This logic would eventually lead to a relativistic interpretative method in which everyone decides for themselves what a passage means based on how it makes them feel at the moment the passage becomes aware to them. What then would the role of study be? If we are to base our interpretation on how it makes us feel, there would be no need for study! Study would involve the mind (thought & reasoning) and therefore would taint the meaning of scripture. This was not how Jesus and the Apostles used scripture, and neither should we use it in this method. We are, in fact, required and commanded to study scripture. We are commanded to love our God with all our heart, soul and mind. We must utilize this portion of the self if we are to adequately interpret scripture.

The above being stated, I absolutely do not denounce what Fee and Stuart call the “prick or prod to the heart.” In fact, I believe this prick or prod is absolutely necessary to hermeneutics. It is what sets the Bible apart from any other ancient document! It is what separates biblical scholars from any other scholar of ancient documents. For though we have discovered how to study ancient documents, the scriptures are set apart as a living document. Not in the sense that the meaning changes over time, but rather that it has the unique ability to change lives. The Bible is alive!

As a believer, I trust the Holy Spirit to carry me along in my interpretation of scripture as He also carried along the writers of scripture. I have confidence that while my mind is at work employing this method of interpretation, my emotions are also at work. I am implying that the Holy Spirit employs the entire self in the interpretative process to bring about a complete understanding of the nature and character of God and His plan for the world revealed in scripture. I study the Bible the way I do because it produces an understanding of God as He actually is in reality as well as the life He desires His creation to live.

The reason I place this truth-maker second, is that the question “Why do I study the Bible the way I do?” cannot rely on this fact alone. If it did, then we would be guilty of being sensual interpreters of scripture, basing our method on emotion alone and not employing the entire self, namely the mind.

I want to answer those critics who would say, “Well Michael, you are just circular-reasoning. If you believe your method of study is true because it produces a correct understanding of God and life, your correct understanding of God and life is based on your method that you are trying to reason is true. Therefore, you’re arguing in a circle.” However, I think this argument falls apart in light of the role the Holy Spirit and how we know our very faith is true. Dr William Lane Craig, a noted philosopher and apologist, states that given all the reasons he puts forth for the existence of God, the number one reason he knows and has assurance of his faith is the inner-witness of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s role in the assurance of our faith and the conviction of character assures us of the life our interpretation of scripture produces.

Let me illustrate it like this: think of the antique cars at Six Flags. It’s this little car that people of any age can drive. There is a predetermined path that twists and turns, however there is a metal strip that runs down the center of that path. The car is fit with an attachment that allows the driver to steer, but not get off the path. This method of interpretation is like the path, while the Holy Spirit’s assurance and conviction are the metal strip that keeps our interpretation aligned with God’s will.

In conclusion, we know that a life produced by a particular method of interpretation is true to the extent that it corresponds to reality. Jesus said, “Thy word is truth.” God’s word corresponds with the way things are in reality – perfectly. Therefore, His word is truth. If the life that is produced with a particular method of interpretation does not match up to the way things truly are in the world (i.e. morality, purpose, perspective, etc) then that method is false. I believe that the method of biblical interpretation I have shared is true because it helps us discover the nature of God and the life required of us, as they actually are in the world. I believe it because:

1)    It was not invented, but discovered, thereby demonstrating this method as objective. It is basic to the enterprise of interpretation much like the use of subjects and verbs are basic to the enterprise of communication and therefore cannot be changed but must remain the same.

2)    The inner assurance and conviction of the Holy Spirit that is produced in the life of an individual that adheres to this method of interpretation. His role keeps us aligned with the way God wants things to be.

This is why I study the Bible the way I do. This is not a research paper nor is it an exhaustive study of the question. It is merely my thoughts that I have been mulling over the past few weeks. I am certainly open to critique and further learning. But I do think I have provided some sound reasons as to why I believe this method is true. May we all “study to show ourselves approved, workman who do not need to be ashamed but who correctly handle the word of truth” – which teaches things as they actually are.

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