The Demise of Christian Bookstores

Publishing a book is not an easy task. Traditional publishers want you to get a literary agent and won’t accept manuscripts if you don’t. A literary agent can be good or bad, but mostly they are limited by their own perspective on what will sell. What sells is frequently not really connected with the Bible or good Bible teaching but more likely something based on feelings only loosely connected with the Bible. If you write a book, as I think I have, that is not only biblical but comes from an unexpected direction then you are pretty much out of luck with traditional publishing. You won’t even get a second look.

Another huge problem in publishing is the Christian bookstore. My wife and I are getting ready to take another trip to see family in San Diego. So I thought perhaps it would be a good idea to buy some copies of my book and take them around to the bookstores there and see if they would like to carry some copies. I started researching on the web to find the stores and got a shock. One chain calling themselves Family Christian had just closed (something like 240 stores) after filing for bankruptcy a couple years previous. Another chain calling themselves Lifeway tells me on their website that they don’t accept Product that is self-published. The “Product” must come from a traditional publisher or a literary agent. A third option I remembered in San Diego was the Evangelical Bible Bookstore which was famous for a long time because they carried a lot of serious theology books, were very knowledgeable and helpful, and discounted their books. To my surprise they had gone the way of many independents and closed their doors too after 40 years in business.

Locally, the three or four independent Christian bookstores we used to have are also out of business. The only stores around here are a Barnes and Noble (not exactly a Christian hotspot) and a couple of church bookstores. We used to have a Borders also, but they bit the dust some years ago. You would think we could maybe try the church bookstores and see if they would carry our book. But the problem with the church bookstores is if you have a book that is not “church friendly,” such as our book Whole Bible Christianity, or you are not one of their own famous people or pastors, you are not going to get a fair hearing from them. They only carry stuff with which they agree, usually written by their own people.

The church bookstore does okay because the overhead is paid by the church, and they don’t have to meet sales goals. They are present just to push the publications and music of the particular church or denomination. Catholic bookstores sell Catholic books, Calvary Chapel sells books by Chuck Smith or others of their pastors, Christian Science sells their own teachings, and so on. Since Whole Bible Christianity just teaches the Bible, and we don’t push a particular church teaching, we are out of luck.

So why is the Christian bookstore (or even just bookstores in general) disappearing from the landscape? Many people jump to blame the internet, and Amazon in particular. They have a point. Amazon has a tremendous selection, fast shipping, discounted prices, and are open 24/7. But did the rise of Amazon kill the bookstore, or did Amazon and others like them come into existence because the bookstore wasn’t getting the job done in the first place? Did Amazon kill the bookstore, or did the bookstore help create Amazon?

In my estimation, Amazon or the internet in general has not killed the bookstore. It is also not the main factor hammering the traditional publisher either (traditional publisher sales, Christian and otherwise, are also slumping). Two things I think are doing it. One is the lack of vision; the ability to discern what people need and would want, or if you will, the ability to tell the difference between a good product and a bad one. The second is the church itself.

Publishers and bookstores have to make money. Printing is expensive, and carrying space in stores costs money. If a publisher prints a bunch of copies of a book and they don’t sell, it can get costly. A bookstore has limited space, so if a book doesn’t sell it is a double whammy because the space could’ve been used by a book that did sell. So the industry is forced to gear all of their decisions around what will sell. If they make a mistake it can get real expensive real quick. So the nature of the market causes them to be super cautious. The publishers use literary agents to sift the writers material, which helps a little, but the literary agents work off of commission and tend to be extra cautious also. They have reputations to protect too, because if they keep recommending books that bomb then they will not be able to continue in the field. Everything is driven by money, which is not necessarily a bad thing (costs have to be paid somehow) but it tends to make people in the industry want to find the guaranteed “sure thing” and stay away from stuff they simply don’t have the vision, skill, imagination or judgment to evaluate properly.

A couple of cases in point. The first Harry Potter book was universally turned down by every publisher by the account of J. K. Rowling. A book called The Shack which has become a multi-million bestseller (although I think it is a piece of trash) was also turned down by everyone. Many more examples could be listed, but I think you get it. People in the book industry have purposefully become dumber than a sack full of hammers, too afraid to take a chance because of the dollars involved and reputations that could suffer.

The same problem afflicts the Christian book industry. But another problem serves to double the damage, and that is the church. I will go out on a limb here and say that the church doesn’t teach the Bible anymore. They just teach opinions about the Bible. Pastors, priests and rabbis have (in general) made themselves into champion ear-ticklers. They have convinced themselves that no one wants the truth, because the truth may not fill the pew or the offering plate. The lure of a bigger paycheck, a mega-church or a spot on late night talk shows is too strong for most of them.

Obviously, the Bible is the champion bestseller in history, so why would we back away from teaching it? Money and ego, again. It is easier to write and sell a book catering to the latest fad or to sentiment than it is to take the time to learn and teach the Bible or anything from it. You also don’t (seemingly or immediately) get very far with Bible teachings because those require humility to learn and teach.

Fortunately, God doesn’t need the world’s systems (including the worldly church) to get His Word out. One way or another He gets the job done. His Spirit is causing all sorts of people all over the world to wake up and embrace the pure, plain, soul-saving teachings of the Lord of Life. We may or may not be able to sell a single book, but His work goes on and on for eternity. His holy, just and life giving will is being done, and you can come along for the ride if you want. A bookstore could find that the difference between bankruptcy and success lies in the radical marketing concept of the Book that beats all others. Publishers would see fewer reverses if they would just commit to serving up the meat of the Word instead of the bland, nutrition-less saccharine they insist on providing at the present time. If we submit to His Word we find that judgment for finding what really matters comes roaring back.

The bookstore, the publisher, and the church/synagogue are sowing the seeds of their own demise. Blame Amazon if you want and it makes you feel better. But you might want to look in the mirror instead.

Shalom
Bruce

Purity

To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. (Titus 1:15, ESV)

Have you ever been accused of impurity? You probably have, because the word is used (one way or another) for everything from not holding to “orthodox” church doctrine to being “insensitive.” The people condemning you for impurity don’t usually use the exact term, but the meaning is the same. Somehow, in their estimation, you are impure because you do not meet their standard of purity. Some of the accusers use a verse or two from the Bible; rarely have I found that they use the Bible according to the Bible.

The verse above is interesting, because like the accusations it is generally taken out of context. Let’s read it again with some context, shall we?

This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. (Titus 1:13–16, ESV)

Now we get a little better idea of the purity issue. Paul is contrasting those who “profess to know God,” who “devote themselves to Jewish myths,” but who are “defiled and unbelieving” with the people who are “sound in the faith” and “pure.” Interesting, isn’t it? He’s saying that there’s a big difference between the wannabe’s who “claim to know God” but “deny him by their works” and those who are pure (presumably the ones who do not deny God with their works).

So many times the pure are hammered by the apparently pure using a personal standard instead of the Word. We are encouraged to cease attending a church, or cut off from family relationships or from “friends” simply because we acknowledge God with our works. We are not conformed to this world, being transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2) so our purity comes from His standard rather than the world’s. And our biggest enemies are not the unbelievers, but the apparent believers denying Him with their works.

With the other labels already mentioned, we also get tagged as “divisive.” But again, the Word gives us the context for the truly divisive. They are those who divide people away from the Word of God. Paul continues with his counsel to Titus, describing the aforementioned impure wannabe’s as the real dividers.

As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:10–11, ESV)

Purity comes from the Word of God dwelling in our heart. His Word trains us in right behavior and attitudes, softens our hearts, and fills us with the Spirit. The works of those who claim His name are evident when they condemn us for taking a stand on the Word. “All things are pure” not in and of themselves, but in our reactions to them. We don’t divide, we unite on God’s instructions, statutes, rules and ways. All things are pure because our minds and consciences are not defiled with actions not in keeping with His Word.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4–7, ESV)

So when the divisive people, wrapped in robes of self-righteousness, tell you that you are not pure (in whatever verbiage they choose) for standing on His Word, remember it is by testing that we discern the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Shalom,
Bruce.

The Book of Job

In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. (Job 1:22, ESV)

The book of Job can be puzzling, especially when trying to compare the commentaries with the actual words being spoken. It helps if we realize that these events probably happened around or just before the time of the patriarchs (Job might’ve been a distant neighbor of Abraham or perhaps just before Abraham’s time). For one thing Job lives 140 years after these events (Job 42:16), and he had to have been upwards of perhaps 60 or 80 years or more to have what he had (10 kids, huge flocks and herds). That kind of life span was evident just before the time of Abraham.

The book seems simple enough on the surface. God thinks Job is doing a good job of following God, but Satan says Job worships God only because he is paid (has a hedge of protection). So God gives the okay to test the theory. Of course, true to his nature, the Satan hits Job with every bad thing he can think of. He never hits with good stuff, does he?

Job has his children and possessions taken away, and eventually his health. The verse above is inserted after he loses family and home, but before his health is taken away. After his health is hammered he still keeps his head though.

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (Job 2:9–10, ESV)

As he’s sitting in misery he has four friends come to visit. They are appalled at his condition and spend some time just sitting with him.
Soon enough, however, they begin a discussion of the causes of the misery. Job’s argument boils down (you should know by now how much I like puns) to a protest that he is righteous and should not be treated this way.

You say, ‘I am pure, without transgression; I am clean, and there is no iniquity in me. Behold, he finds occasions against me, he counts me as his enemy, he puts my feet in the stocks and watches all my paths.’ (Job 33:9–11, ESV)

The first three friends think he must’ve done something wrong against God. Both groups miss the point: there are reasons for suffering other than our lack of righteousness. The fourth friend (Elihu) is younger and stays quiet until towards the end of the book (chapter 32). Then he pops his cork because the three older friends can’t adequately answer Job’s protests of innocence. Elihu’s arguments center around the wisdom of God, and the fact that Job’s wisdom doesn’t even come close.

“Behold, in this you are not right. I will answer you, for God is greater than man. Why do you contend against him, saying, ‘He will answer none of man’s words’? For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it. (Job 33:12–14, ESV)

This dovetails with God’s response which at it’s root says the same thing. God has reasons for doing things that usually go way past what we know. He formed everything, and many of His plans for it we can only guess at. The main point of the book (and many other exchanges between man and God) is that God doesn’t do anything wrong (as our verse at the start of this article states so eloquently).

Of a truth, God will not do wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice. (Job 34:12, ESV)

As Elihu speaks, a storm moves in and he uses some of the visuals to make his point. Pretty quickly we see that God is in the storm and speaks to Job from a whirlwind. Job (and the three friends) are rebuked quite strongly, with God telling them that all they know is not all there is. He shuts them all down with a series of questions the answers of which demonstrate His unequaled wisdom, power, and love. Job hastens to repent.

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:3–6, ESV)

As I said, the key to this book is that we don’t charge God with wrong. Sometimes we suffer because we did something wrong. Sometimes we suffer because we did something right. And sometimes we suffer for reasons that go beyond our knowledge to fathom. In all things we do not question the wisdom of God to order things as He sees fit. He is good, there is no shadow of turning in Him, and all things work together for good to them that love Him back. We turned from Him in the Garden and our counsel is darkened without Him to shed light. We might be saved, but we are still under the curse until He makes all things right. In the meantime we do not charge Him with wrongdoing, instead accepting His wisdom in both good and bad events of our lives. We look forward to the revelation of more of His wisdom and love in our final redemption at the establishment of His throne on earth through His Son our Messiah Jesus the Christ.

Shalom,
Bruce

Perfect

Not long ago I had an exchange on Facebook with a man who posted this little tidbit.

“WWJD. We can’t be perfect like Jesus so in addition to ‘What Would Jesus Do,’ we need to be like ‘what would Jesus have me do given my current situation and given what He did for on the cross'”.

It’s a fairly typical comment coming from a fairly typical church educated person. Not unusual at all, really. But I have a little different view of the subject so I asked him, “So what then do you do with the words of Jesus?”

“Your therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48, ESV).

His response was “We strive to be perfect like Him but never can because of sin. At least not here and now.”

It went on from there with him getting typically more and more upset as I presented more and more biblical evidence to support Jesus’ statement, and equally typically ended with him removing me as a friend. This happens a lot when church Christians are confronted with the Bible they claim to follow. Give ’em some truth and they fold up their tents and run away. Instead of practicing the love they claim, they practice anger and pride and cut themselves off from the truth.

The standard church teaching is that we cannot be perfect. The Bible teaching is that we can. How do we resolve this conflict? Either Jesus was telling us to do something well within our grasp, or He is a harsh taskmaster asking us to do something beyond our ability. He clearly tells us to be perfect like God. There is no ambiguity. Seemingly it’s a tall order. But perhaps not so hard when we realize exactly what biblical perfection really means.

The word perfect literally means lacking in nothing. It also means “complete.” (Compare 2 Timothy 3:17 in both the AV and the ESV for instance.) Sometimes it can mean mature (compare Ephesians 4:13 in the AV and ESV). So when Jesus says be perfect as God is perfect, He means exactly what He says. We have the Word, the Spirit, and a new heart of flesh. What else do we lack? We are complete, lacking in nothing.

“And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:4, ESV)

So here’s the difference. The church says we cannot be perfect, which is a hopeless state of affairs. According to this teaching, we are locked into permanently displeasing God. They are saying that we cannot do better. We will never be able to please God. It is a subtle difference, and depressing, but it is also counter to what the Bible teaches. Jesus says that we certainly can do better. He is optimistic and encouraging. We have power in the Spirit. We have a love of God, and His Word to guide us. We can confess and repent and be forgiven. We can indeed be perfect.

We may not be “mature” all the time, but it is not because we CANNOT be mature. It is because we WILL NOT. We have it within our ability to perfectly follow everything God says, but we do not always choose to follow. This is the big difference. If we do not do something perfect, it is because we choose not to. We don’t like this, because our pride gets in the way.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:7–10, ESV)

But it really isn’t a big deal, because we can rectify it as soon as we realize what we did. We can humble ourselves, confess and repent. We also keep working on taking in God’s Words and moving toward greater maturity. The standard church teaching of “cannot” robs us of motivation. It is a hopeless teaching. Jesus on the other hand is hopeful. His teaching encourages us; His Word provides all that we need. Thank Him that we have what we need to be “perfect,” and can get out of the rat race of imperfection easily. We just have to want it with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Philippians 3:12, ESV)

This is a sobering thought. It doesn’t make the average human very happy, because instead of sitting in our comfortable mud pen of complacency we have to move out of the pen and wash ourselves clean with His Word. We “cannot” use the excuse of “cannot” to stay comfortable and complacent. Well we CAN, it’s just not really an excuse that God will buy. We have a goal. We can do better. We can bear more fruit, and practice the fruit of the Spirit better than we do. It is not comfortable, but it is doable. Of course it is doable. Jesus said we could do it.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20–23, ESV)

Shalom
Bruce

Passover 2014

We are getting ready for our lamb barbecue tomorrow night, looking forward to spending time showing love for God by doing as He commands His people to do. We touch God and touch each other in an intimate fellowship that goes way past the physical markers and deep into a spiritual connection. His love flows to us, and our love flows back and between. We remember what God has done for His people, is doing, and will do. Remember means to speak or act on behalf of someone, which is why we can “remember” the future promises of God.

Some are speaking of the “blood moons” that will appear on this Passover and the Tabernacles celebration this year, as well as the same two holidays next year. I’m not big into that stuff, but it probably has some significance. Coupled with the increase in earthquakes, volcanic activity, and cultural degradation, we can definitely see that labor pains for the world are increasing. Maintaining our love for God through His commands is coming under attack at a greater intensity, but He said a “falling away” would happen before the end. Therefore be encouraged and keep your faith strong, standing on the Rock of His Word and our Savior Jesus the Christ.

I feel sorry for those who do not participate in God’s holidays, either because they just don’t follow God or because they classify His living oracles as “old” or “outdated” or for another group besides believers. Paradise awaits a change from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh, sensitive and trembling at His Word. All it takes is humble obedience to find out the nature of real love and spiritual renewal and refreshment. I feel sorry for those who choose their own way, like Cain, substituting their own understanding for God’s Word and offering slovenly disobedience through physical symbols such as ham and bunnies. The symbols show the disobedience in the balance of their lives, corrupt and unclean and spurning the love that is waiting. Compromise shows its fruit in sexual immorality and unfruitfulness through acceptance of behavior God said would cause death. No wonder they are known for hypocrisy. One cannot practice hate for God in trashing His commands and expect God to accept the resulting uncleanness using the cosmic eraser of Jesus. If we harbor iniquity in our hearts, our offerings mean nothing. “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7)

Rejoice, children of God. Look up for our redemption draweth nigh. Stand strong in the Lord and the power of His might. Pursue righteousness through humble submission to every word of His glorious instructions. Hold fast to the hope He has given, practicing as best we can every tiny utterance from our loving God and Savior Jesus our Messiah. Eat His body and drink His blood, taking in every breath from God through His Word and breathing it back to Him. Rejoice as our meager offerings of obedience gain His regard and we find acceptance in Him because of our love and practice of His Word.

Shalom
Bruce

Where Are The Women Like Abigail?

1 Samuel 25 gives us the story of Nabal and David. David had guarded Nabal’s livestock and sent some men to Nabal to ask for food. Nabal refused to give it to them. Nabal means “fool,” which is apt for this man because he lived up to it. His wife, Abigail (her name means “my father is joy”) had a much different response. The Bible account says that she was “discerning and beautiful.” She loaded up a whole bunch of good food and took it to David, who was on his way to wipe out Nabal’s household. She apologized and asked forgiveness for her husband’s actions. David granted it because of Abigail.

She fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the guilt. Please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. Let not my lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name, and folly is with him. But I your servant did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent. Now then, my lord, as the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, because the LORD has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal. (1 Samuel 25:24–26, ESV)

Abigail tells her husband what she did the morning after Nabal had a feast. The Bible account says he “became as stone” and died ten days later. Then David asked Abigail to be his wife. The interesting thing is her response.

And she rose and bowed with her face to the ground and said, “Behold, your handmaid is a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.” (1 Samuel 25:41, ESV)

Abigail was not only discerning and beautiful, she was humble. Seven times in this passage she refers to herself as a servant (David also refers to himself as a servant of God). Humility is her strength. She knew what David had done to protect Nabal’s livestock and what a debt they owed to David and his men. But aside from that, according to the Word or Law, people were supposed to help those less fortunate. Israel was supposed to leave grain in the corners of the fields, grapes on the vines, and olives on the branches so that the needy could glean. At the very least Nabal should’ve given that much to David. Abigail not only recognizes that God is with David, she seems to also recognize both the debt and the obligation to provide for the hungry.

Today we have something a little different. We’ve got sluts like Sandra Fluke who not only bang anyone she wants, but also wants the taxpayer to subsidize her birth control so she can do it without concern. We’ve got actresses getting naked onscreen depicting the sex act and going through men like they go through designer gowns. Divorce is rampant, sex is devalued, and abortion no different than going to the bathroom. Instead of going against the “fools” we’ve got such equal opportunity that women have become the fools. Can you imagine a “modern woman” who would respond to a marriage proposal with “your handmaid is a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord?” Even the thought deserves a ROFL.

There are still a few gems here and there. Not all women have bought into the kingdoms of the world. A precious few have remained unsoiled and in humility serve God. Distressingly few. The world has gone Canaanite, but God still has a few that have not bowed the knee to Ba’al. For you there is a crown of life, and blessings pressed down and overflowing. Stand strong, girls. Stay humble. Serve the Lord and your husbands (or future husbands) and the Lord will reward you. Remember Abigail.
Shalom

Is God Always Leading?

Numbers 22 through 24 is the story of Balaam and his hire by Balak king of Moab to curse Israel who was camped at their doorstep peacefully asking to pass through the land of Moab. Balaam is told by the Lord not to go the first time Balaam was asked. The second time Balak sends messengers Balaam is told to go. On the road, the angel of the Lord appears in order to destroy Balaam. Famously, his donkey refuses to approach the angel, saving Balaam’s life, and speaks to him.

This is an interesting back and forth. It’s hard to tell what’s right. God tells Balaam not to go, but Balaam asks a second time and is told to go. But then God has an angel accost Balaam and almost kill him. Balaam arrives at the border of Moab, makes sacrifices and God gives him words to say which turn out to be blessings for Israel instead of the curses Balak purchased. Was Balaam doing right, or doing wrong? Was He following the will of the Lord? If so, why did God send an angel to destroy him?

There are several things to remember here. One is that Balaam is not a man of God. He is a diviner, one who reads omens for money. Two is that he was told once by God not to go, but asked a second time. Even though God gave permission after the second request, that did not mean it was okay to go. A man of God would’ve simply refused the money Balak was offering. The angel tells Balaam (Numbers 22:32) that he risked death because of his perversity. So three, Balaam was being perverse which means going against God. Balaam really, really wanted to go. He did not really, really want to listen to God. Peter (2 Peter 2:15) says that Balaam “loved gain from wrongdoing.” Balaam wasn’t motivated by love of the Lord, he was motivated by love of money. His love of money kept him questioning God because he didn’t really, really want to do what God said.

This is a story of how God used a perverse person to do something according to His will though the person was trying to work his own will. Just because God gave the man permission to go, does not mean that it was in the will of God for him to do it. A man of God wouldn’t have even had to consult God. He would’ve known that Israel was God’s chosen people, and would not have entertained the notion of cursing them for any amount of money. This is why the story seems to have odd ups and downs.

Lots of things we do in life we do because we really, really want to. Some of those things might be against God’s will. Sometimes God makes the things we do work His will anyway though we might not have intended it that way. We don’t even ask God what His will is many times, yet His will is always being worked out. It behooves us to prepare ourselves beforehand to conform to His will in all things by consulting the words He has given us and being obedient to them. Then when He gives us a personal direction we are more ready to hear it and do it.

Just because we CAN do a thing, doesn’t mean we SHOULD do a thing. The way to tell up from down is to hear and obey on a daily basis, strengthening our faith by working with the Word constantly. We work out with the Word regularly so that when heavy lifting is required, we know when and where and how God wants things done.

Shalom

In Peter’s Place, What Would I Say?

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21–23, ESV)

I was thinking about this event today, and I wondered what I would say had I been in Peter’s place. Pete was motivated by a desire to protect Jesus from the authorities, not quite realizing yet the full extent of who Jesus was and why He was going to have to suffer. Peter’s motives were perhaps “good,” but they were wrong. So wrong in fact that Jesus rebuked the person behind the statement (Satan) who had motivated the response of “This shall never happen to you.” Not only does this show that motives, even if we would classify them as “good,” can still be wrong, but it shows us that motive alone is not enough. We need to be in line with God’s will in order for even “good” motives to be actually good.

The thing that really got me with this situation though is that, knowing what I know now, what would I have said? Could I have looked into the eyes of the most humble, loving man ever and said, “If you don’t die I cannot live?” Would I have been able to say to God almighty that, “We need to get you to Jerusalem when it is time so that your miserable death can save the whole world?” Knowing that He is my Lord and Savior, God in the flesh, perfect and without shadow of turning in every way, could I have encouraged Him to suffer a vastly painful, torturous and ignominious death at the hands of murderers in exchange for my ugly, pitiful, sin-filled life? Would I have had the faith to trust and obey God’s will in this matter?

I don’t know. Jesus had to die, but woe to the people who did it, and woe to those who refuse to accept what He did. I thank Him every day and in every way I can think of for His sacrifice by reading every Word from Him and putting it everywhere in my life. He asks so little of me. Living the whole of His Word is such a small thing to do for a God who died such a huge death for me.

Shalom

I’d Rather Be a Dog In Heaven than a Lion In Hell

From the book Whole Bible Christianity by Bruce Bertram, Chapter 10 section ‘Our True Identity’

Balancing the Word causes identity problems. Most Christians reject whole Bible beliefs because of the Law, and many Jewish people won’t accept us because of Jesus. So are we Christians or Jews? I don’t think we have to decide. “Whole Bible” can apply anywhere, anytime. You can be a whole Bible Lutheran, a whole Bible Baptist, and even a whole Bible Jew. Just remember His Word comes first. Nothing should get between you and Him.

Of course, in trying to live out the whole of the Word we are not going to be able to maintain any sort of sectarianism (dividing into sects) for long. The name Christian simply means “partisan of the Christ,” which is what we are. Lots of people wear the name but there are many degrees of partisanship. It depends on actual obedience. Some partisans don’t know any better because of false teaching. Some know better and don’t care. But just because many Christians (or Jews) have dragged His name through the mud doesn’t make the name invalid.

Okay, I’m a partisan of the Christ, but what kind? There are many combinations heavy on words and light on biblical living. So many people want to use His name and claim His blessings without actually living His Word. Accepting the whole of the Word as a valid lifestyle and discipleship method makes me distinct from most of them. So almost by default, I’m a “whole Bible Christian.”

We don’t really need a name, but a short hand way to refer to ourselves is simpler for those with short attention spans. Many labels have been co-opted by people for whom hypocrisy is an art form, and I’m sure this will get the same treatment. Lots of partisans of the Christ want to think of themselves as whole Bible because they “believe” it.

One lady told me she was whole Bible but “not like you.” What she meant was that she “believed” the whole Bible, but she didn’t follow the feasts or many other parts of the Law. Ye-e-ah. That’s like a Pharisee who “believed” the Old Testament (the Tanakh) and crucified Jesus. This is a clear example of one thing this whole book is about – Christians who “believe” but don’t follow. Believing without acting doesn’t make sense. Faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26). Seems to me we are either whole Bible or not. That word “whole” nails it down pretty well. There is no end to some people’s hypocrisy, but whole Bible Christians are dedicated to returning God’s love by living out the whole of His Word. In every detail and every part of our lives.

In Matthew 15:21-28 Jesus resists a little giving help to a Gentile woman (Mark calls her a Syrophoenician in Mark 7:26, a part of the Canaanites) asking healing for her daughter. This is where Jesus says that it is not right to give the children’s bread to dogs. Jews at the time generally referred to Gentiles as dogs. She has an amazing response, saying that “even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” She doesn’t argue the point, but humbly accepts the fact that she wasn’t first in line for help. Jesus is so impressed with her faith He tells her the demon has left her daughter. Her faith was shown by her humble submission and obedience.

At first it might seem off-putting that Jesus would regard her (or me) as a dog. But I think this was more of a statement of where He was focusing His work at that time (“to the Jew first and also to the Gentile”) rather than a judgment against either the lady or me. Although Canaanites were historically pretty “doggy” too (Ephesians 2:12, Hebrews 11:6). Those who by nature do what God requires, even if non-Jewish, belong to Him because of their faith, and aren’t dogs at all. But even if it’s true that my identity (in the eyes of some) is that of a dog in the kingdom, I’m okay with it. He made me and can assign me any place He chooses. I’d much rather be a dog in heaven than a lion in hell!

The material in this book is not for the purpose of creating yet another separate group or doing away with existing groups. It may (and probably will) happen that we cannot fellowship with existing groups. Those of us who believe and practice the whole of God’s Word might have to find solace in meeting separately like the first century believers, but that is not our desire. Our desire is to be one Body. If you have to split because of the Word, remember you are not alone. God scatters His people like salt among the unbelievers, whether they have nothing to do with a church or attend religiously.

He wants us to be like priests, after the order of Melchizedek, representing His interests wherever we are. We are one Body with one faith and one God, and we don’t need to create a unity or identity for ourselves. Our identity is in the Messiah Jesus, our root and head and life force. All we need to do is maintain or preserve that unity in a bond of peace.

1Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3 NASB95)

Shalom

Do What Jesus Did

From the book Whole Bible Christianity chapter 9 Whole Bible Instruction section titled “Do What Jesus Did”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” (Matthew 4:5–7, ESV)

Guideline four here might be a little more obvious if we realize that the word “put” is the same word as “test.” Literally, “test God with a test.” And testing is exactly what we think it is. We do not make God prove Himself with tests of our own making. This is what the deceiver was trying to get Jesus to do by throwing Himself off of the Temple. Testing like this includes a lack of belief and even outright disobedience. The Satan quoted parts of Scripture (he’s skilled at part-Bible doctrine) and Jesus responds with the missing sections.

16“You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah. 17“You should diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and His testimonies and His statutes which He has commanded you. (Deuteronomy 6:16-17 NASB95)

Israel “tested” God at Massah (a word that means “test”) by moaning and complaining about the lack of water, and faulting God for failing to provide. They were questioning whether God was present, and disobedience followed. Instead, they should’ve had patience and trusted that God would not have led them to that place without providing water.

7He named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” (Exodus 17:7 NASB95)

In effect, they were saying that God couldn’t or wouldn’t follow through. That implied either He was too dumb to know they needed water or was deliberately messing with them. They were saying that God did something wrong on purpose. They made up a fault in God and were using that to remove Him from the throne and put themselves in His place. Testing God in this way is nothing more than high-handed disobedience, and shows we do not trust God’s Word. When we test Him with a test of our own making, it is because we are afraid He won’t live up to His Word. Or that we want to use a perceived failure of the test for an excuse to go our own way.

A different kind of test is laid out for us in Malachi. This testing is approved by God.

10“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. (Malachi 3:10 NASB95)

The testing mentioned here is within the bounds of obedience, as in “obey the Lord, and in so doing test Him and see that His Word is true. He will deliver as He promised.” We don’t test God by disobedience; we test Him by trusting His Word and obeying it.

When we decide on our own to switch the Sabbath to another day, this is also testing God with a test. He doesn’t immediately (or apparently) zap us, so we think we’re okay. Then we go on to break other laws. If we eat bacon and don’t drop dead we keep eating. We presume on His grace, making it cheaper. Then we compound our sin by sharing the results of the test with others. We encourage them to test Him in a sinful way also. It just keeps getting worse and worse. Either we stick with the whole of His Word, carefully and exactly, as Jesus did, or we test Him to justify our own knowledge and pride. I think I’ll pick the testing of obedience, myself.

Shalom