The Bible as a Toolbox

One project for the Christian to do is understand what the Bible says. Then comes the work of figuring out how we use what we find in its pages. Recently someone said a line that made me think of a new analogy. The Bible might be best understood as a toolbox

  1. A Toolbox Does Nothing by Itself. You can own the biggest, best, most expensive toolset in the world, but that does not mean you are skilled at using any of the items inside. Similarly, owning a study Bible, Bible app, or software does not mean anything.
  2. You Must be Trained to Use the Tools Properly. I remember looking through a skilled mechanics toolbox at a job I had once, and he would explain to me how each one worked and why it was essential to own. It would have been challenging to pick them up and use them without guidance. We must learn how to handle the scripture properly.
  3. The Right Tools Must Be Applied to The Right Situation. A skilled worker knows when to use what tool. Through years of practice and experience, they have learned which tools are best used to accomplish the task. In the same way, we must learn how and when to apply the passages of scripture. It takes knowledge and skill to bring maximum effectiveness to broken situations.
  4. Not All Tools Work in All Situation. A wrench that removes your oil filter is no help when changing a tire. An Old Testament passage may have great lessons but is little help in a discussion of New Testament principles. One skill a Bible reader must learn is when to apply and when not to use specific passages.
  5. You Can Use the Wrong Tool. Have you ever used a screwdriver when you needed a chisel or a paint can opener? Just because a tool seems to fit, that may not mean it was designed to be used for that task. The Bible has many good things to say, and some will seem to apply when, in reality, it is a misuse of the truth.
  6. Misusing a Tool Can Hurt Yourself and Others. A torch might be an incredibly handy tool in a mechanics workshop, but you keep it out the reach of children. They could take something that is meant for good and use it for evil. The word of God is the same way; misapplication can hurt yourself and others.
  7. Some Tools Are More Valuable Than Others. A set of screwdrivers, a hammer, a wrench, and a handful of other tools seem to be used every day. While all tools have a use, some are used repeatedly. Also, I want people to know all their Bible, but some passages will be used daily, and others are for when special needs arise.
  8. Even Though There Can Be Issues, Everyone Needs Tools. I once knew a lady who had a pink case with all her tools. She was no mechanic or carpenter, but even simple jobs sometimes require a tool. You can say, “I don’t read,” and try to ignore the Bible, but everyone needs at least a minimal understanding of what it teaches. You cannot avoid it.

You get the idea. Here are a few of the ways the Bible fits the analogy of a toolbox. You may be able to think of others and add them to my list. Yes, there are some ways it does not fit; all analogies break down at some point. I hope this gives you an image that helps you understand the necessity and importance of knowing that the scripture says.

Grace In All Its Forms

My thoughts about the work of Jesus are grounded in the idea of grace. Grace is an unearned gift or unmerited favor. God sends his son as the embodiment of grace to his people. He shows us what grace looks like; he teaches us about grace, and ultimately, he dies as the centerpiece of grace. God’s salvation is by grace first to last through the work of Jesus Christ.

This is what I believe, and this is what I teach and preach in the Church I lead.

Then one day, I am reading the writing of Peter to the Church. This was a guy who knew grace. He had denied even knowing Jesus and yet Jesus still wanting him to be his disciple. If anyone had some deep insight into the masterwork of grace, it would be Peter, so it intrigues me when he writes, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10 – NIV 2011)

Peter describes grace as having different forms. That does not seem to fit my primary understanding of grace unless I begin to define it in more expanded terms. Grace is better explained as God’s generosity to us. By that definition, Peter says that grace can come to us and others in various forms. The context of his words refers to praying, hospitality, speaking, and serving. Those are just a few examples of how God’s generosity is expressed.

It is an essential understanding to know that God’s grace not only flows to us but through us. That does not mean that we ignore sin and ungodly behavior. That means that we use our voice, our strength, our experience, our hands, and our energy to show people the goodness of God. We do things that show people grace personified.

May this week and this holiday season be a time where you not only experience grace, but you are a conduit of it to other people, in all its forms.

Weekend Reading

Here are some of the best articles and posts I have read the last month or so. I hope they bless you as they have blessed me.

Good News! God Does Not Love You Unconditionally – I found this article to be a very interesting insight.

Inside America’s Largest Religious Revival You Know Nothing About – This article is a mixture of satire and truth about youth sports. Incredible insight.

Six Ways Pastors Struggle: You Are Not Alone – Yes

ISN’T IT TIME FOR A NEW MISSION STORY? – This is about Francis Chan’s decision to be a missionary and it is very thought-provoking.

Seven Things I Lost Because of Church Growth – It will cost members several things if we are going to reach more people for Jesus.

Carried By Prayers

She said, “I pray for you regularly.” I stopped in my tracks and was humbled in my spirit. I responded by saying, “I can’t thank you enough.”

I truly meant that sentiment. I cannot thank people enough who have prayed for me. This is true as a pastor, but it is more valid as a person. My life of faith has been carried on the prayers of others.

The prayers of others have kept me from trouble, led me down the right path, and opened doors through the power of God. Their influence has been present in the mistakes of my youth, the decisions during my young adult years, and the difficulties of married life.

I cannot explain precisely how prayer works, but I know that God has done amazing things in my life that cannot fully explain. There were moments where I am sure I did not pray enough, and yet he responded. I assume it is because others were people praying for me all along the way.

My parents prayed for me. The Church I grew up in had several people praying for me. Sunday School teachers prayed for me. Youth sponsors, leaders, and ministers lifted me up to God in their prayers. Friends have prayed for me. I know a college professor who has prayed for me once a week for the last 25 years. My wife prays for me. People in my past and present congregations continually mention my name to God.

Today I want to thank everyone who has ever said a single prayer on my behalf. I am where I am today because of you.

I also want to encourage you. Someone is praying for you. I know they are. Your parents, siblings, preacher, co-worker, friends, and even people who barely know you are seeking God’s will on your behalf. They are asking God to work in your life, protect you, bless you, strengthen you, and whatever else you need.

Part of your life is the result of your decisions, and another part is the direct result of God’s sovereignty. The second part is carried along by people who have decided to pray on your behalf. For those moments they spend before God, I am truly thankful, and I hope you are too.

Who You Spend Your Time With

Almost all your biggest regrets in life were connected to other people.

Someone talked you into doing something against God’s will.
Someone convinced you to take a risk, and you should not have made it.
Someone led you down a path of personal destruction.
Someone gave you bad advice, and you should never have taken it.
Someone opened up and connected with you, who was not your spouse.
Someone became friends with your kids, and they were a negative influence.
Someone lied, cheated, took advantage of, misinformed, failed, and hurt you.

The list is long of the pains we have experienced with and through other people.

Go ahead and walk your mind through all your regrets and see how they were intimately tied to another person or group of people.

This is why Solomon says in the book of Proverbs, “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm. (Prov. 13:20)”

What you do is deeply connected to who you spend your time with each day. Your journey with them is either leading you closer to a wise Godly life or in the direction of a fool.

Who will you spend time with today?

Choose Theology Over Quoting A Bible Verse

He looked across the room at me as I explained my position on the issue. When I had finished, he said, “All I know is the Bible says, ‘Love one another’ and what you said isn’t loving.” I responded by mentioning other passages from the Bible and tied to explain my views through a bigger lens. He sat back in his chair with a scowl that indicated his mind was made up. He was right, and I was wrong, and he had a line from the Bible to prove it.

I wish I could say that this was the only time an event like this has happened in my ministry. Unfortunately, it is a regular occurrence. Someone has memorized one line from the Bible, and it becomes their guide into all Christian behavior. As believers, we must be cautious about buildings our entire belief system on a single verse or section of scripture.

This problem has been furthered by our modern tools like an app or program that will search for a particular word or topic and give us a list of places in the Bible with that concept. We can read down the list of verses, find one that we like, and it becomes our proof positive that our view is correct.

Theology is a process of thinking about God. It is an attempt to view all the teachings of the Bible as a whole. That means the words written by Moses have harmony with those spoken by Jesus and written by Paul. This requires reading the scripture in its historical and Biblical context.

Let me give you just one simple example. In Luke 15, Jesus is questioned about eating with tax collectors and sinners. He responds by telling a three-fold parable. The first part is about a shepherd searching for his lost sheep. The second is about a woman looking for her lost coin. The third we call the prodigal son, and it is about a boy who leaves home only to return after he has wasted his life and money. The third part of the parable is different from the first two. In it, the father does not go searching for his son. Instead, he looks down the road and waits patiently. So, which is it? Does our God search for us when we are lost, or does he wait for us to come home? Those are opposite images and yet that both appear to be true. To adequately answer that question, we must look at the overall context along with the bigger picture told in the entirety of God’s word.

The Bible contains a variety of passages addressing particular situations and people. We must be extremely cautious about building our entire view of faith on a single verse or passage. In fact, if you tend to quote one verse over and over, you might be completely wrong. Theology takes time to explain because it covers a large amount of material. It is not a process of throwing away single verses; instead, it is seeing them as part of a greater whole. Paul tells the Church leaders from Ephesus in the book of Acts (20:27), “I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.”

When given a choice between single verse answers and those based on theology, always choose the bigger picture. Get comfortable with tensions, paradoxes, and seeming contradictions. God is bigger than we think, and his word more complex than we wish to admit. It takes work to know the mind of Christ; that is why God gives us a lifetime to do it.

Who is Speaking Into Your Life?

The article was shared and highly recommended. As I read through the material, I felt sick to my stomach. The words were written by someone with a good heart, but the information was sheer garbage. The writer was shallow, uninformed, and a borderline false teacher. I appreciate the writer’s heart, but that does not change the fact that what was shared with wrong.

What bothered me about this article was that someone recommended it to me as something positive for a Christian to read. It worries me that people are allowing misguided voices to speak into their life about faith.

We live in an information age, and while I appreciate that as a writer, it also concerns me as a pastor. We must be cautious about what we are allowing to impact our hearts and minds about faith. This is true whether it comes from a friend, social media, a blog post, or any other sort of teaching. There is so much lousy teaching from well-intentioned people.

For me, I have decided that I am not going to listen to people who are NOT –

  1. A Committed Member of a Christian Community. This is huge for me. Listen carefully to people who are living their faith hand in hand with other believers. We were not saved for a life of private faith and individual consumerism. Living in a community will stretch your faith, challenge your thinking and force you to enlarge your idea of grace.
  2. Reading their Bible Regularly. I am not saying they have mastered it. I mean, they are at least spending time in it regularly trying to understand and apply it to their life. Throwing around the name of God and using some Christian language does not mean a person has the mind of Christ. You only achieve that through time in the word of God.
  3. Serving the Lord Consistently. The adage is that sitting in a Church does not make someone a Christian any more than sitting in the garage makes you a car. The followers of Jesus are committed to serving one another and their God in love. This one action will shape your idea of grace and faith, giving you insights that others will miss.
  4. Regularly Exposing Themselves to Christian Thinkers. Lectures, podcasts, sermons, conferences are everywhere. Thousands of good books exist. Hundreds of thousands of useful articles and posts are all over the internet. If you are not exposing yourself to these, then you have nothing to say to me.
  5. Have a Goal of Spiritual Maturity. I prefer people who are already spiritually mature, with dozens of years of Christian life under their belt. If those people are not available or are not sharing their insights, then at least I want someone who has a strong desire to know God intimately. I want someone who is on the same journey and walking the path with me. Be careful with people who are making are making a profit from selling books, writing articles, and conference tickets. Seek people who care for the growth of people in the name of Jesus.

I believe in reading numerous authors over a variety of topics. I believe in listening to several speakers on a wide range of issues. BUT not all of them have an equal influence in my life. Chose carefully what finds its way into your heart, mind, and soul. You have a choice in who shapes your faith, choose wisely.