The Best Lens for Scripture Reading

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” John 9:39

I can’t read anymore. For most of my life, I have had excellent vision. For more than ten years now, I have worn glasses. For most things, especially things that are not too close, I can see fine without my glasses. But now, without glasses, I cannot see to read anything in normal print.

Reading is an important part of Christian faith. You do not have to be able to read to know Jesus as your Savior or to live a life of faith. Many have done so. But our faith depends on the revelation God has given us through the Bible. We believe that the Bible is essential to our understanding of all that we know about God.

But the Bible is a big book. There is a lot of material there. Most of us have our favorite parts, the books and verses that we return to over and over for comfort and strength.

The Bible is comprised of 66 books, written by many authors and compiled over 1000 years or so. How do we understand how all of these words apply to our life of faith?

This has been the subject of many long discussions among pastors and Christian teachers ever since the idea of sacred scripture began. I don’t have space here to say all that needs to be said about this important idea. But there is one focus of Bible interpretation that I think Christians should always remember as the foundation of how we read the Bible.

“The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.” That’s how the old hymn puts it. This is the foundation of our understanding of all of the Bible. The words and actions of Jesus as described in the gospels should be central to how we understand all that the Bible has to say.

The life and teachings of Jesus in the gospels are the lens through which we see more clearly what the rest of the Bible teaches us about faith. Through our faith in Jesus, through His words and life, we can also say, “I was blind, but now I see.”

Love in Christ,
Greg

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Longing for the “Good-Old” Days

 

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

Southern Baptists have a problem. In May of this year, Southwestern Seminary trustees removed President Paige Patterson from office after an investigation into Patterson’s actions related to an incident at Southeastern Seminary while Patterson was president there. Patterson covered-up a rape committed by a Southeastern student. At the same time, video shows Patterson making inappropriate comments about women in public.

In the last few weeks, the International Mission Board of the SBC has endured criticism over its handling of a missionary who has been accused of sexual misconduct with a minor. The IMB let this missionary go, but failed to report the incident to authorities. This missionary went on to work with churches and as a consultant to the South Carolina Baptist Convention. IMB president David Platt, who was not in charge when this incident occurred, has issued a statement indicating that they will fully investigate how this happened and how it might be prevented in the future.

But such problems are a natural result of the ideology of the fundamentalist mindset of the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC has written into its confessional documents that women are not fully equal to men in God’s kingdom. SBC leaders have promoted the authoritarian mindset that church leaders should be obeyed and not questioned because they are called by God. These ideas have set us up for this disaster.

The fundamentalist takeover of the SBC was motivated by fear and longing for a “golden-age” when supposedly everything was better. This “golden-age” idea is a lie. As followers of Christ, we should be first in line to support truth, full accountability and sincere repentance and restoration when wrongs are discovered. I am not confident that the SBC will learn this lesson. I hope I am wrong.

Love in Christ,
Greg

Stressing over the News

“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

I have a few old friends on Facebook who know everything. Well, they don’t actually know everything, but in their own mind, they know everything. A lot of important and painful things are going on in our world. Watching the news seems to be a more frustrating experience every day.
Sometimes we may need to tune out all of that negative news just to make it through. Is there a way we can continue to see all this bad news and really care about what is happening while preserving our own emotional health and well-being?
First, we need to renew our commitment to prayer. Jesus is the source of our compassion and wisdom. Jesus sustains our spirit. When we take prayer seriously, Jesus renews our energy for the work of God’s kingdom. Prayer also helps us remember our own weakness. Our bad habits and sinful tendencies can get in the way of our desire to truly influence the world. Prayer also reminds us that the work of God’s kingdom is a long arc toward justice.
Second, we can find something positive to support and be involved in. Wherever you feel the heart of God calling you, look for organizations or groups that are working toward that and get involved. Remember that God’s kingdom is about love and doing what is right toward other people. Find a way to support that work. Build those relationships among your brothers and sisters in your own church.
Third, tell the truth, as best you can, including the truth that you don’t know all the answers. Humility is supposed to be a Christian virtue but so many Christians in public spaces are shouting hateful lies as truth. James says we should be “quick to listen” and “slow to speak” (James 1:19). We should speak up frankly and forcefully when evil is being done. But we should be careful that we are speaking the truth.
Fourth, pay attention to your own stress level and walk away for a time to take care of yourself. If you find yourself feeling uncontrollably angry or having thoughts of wanting to hurt yourself or someone else, reach out to your pastor or a professional counselor. A lot of sin occurs because we do not deal with our inner stresses.

Love in Christ,
Greg

In a Messed-Up World

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25

Jesus was born into a world where his people were oppressed by a vicious and violent empire. His world was full of turmoil and division. The Zealots believed that God was calling them to violent overthrow of the Roman government. The Sadducees believed that following a strict reading of the Mosaic Law would bring prosperity. There were countless other competing ideas: the Pharisees strict piety, the Samaritans tribal regionalism, the Hellenists drive to imitate the Greeks.

Into this world, Jesus came. Satan himself tempted Jesus from the beginning to display his power and dominate the world with his authority. The Pharisees and the Zealots and the Samaritans all sought to influence him. In this world of political and social and ideological turmoil, Jesus taught that the kingdom of God was something different.

God’s kingdom does not overcome through violent oppression, fearful intimidation or divisive hatred. God’s kingdom, Jesus said, was a kingdom built on loving God and loving others.

When the violent oppressors of Rome and Judea arrested Jesus and executed him by torturing him on a cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus went to the cross because he knew his sacrifice was the only way to begin this kingdom of God.

In Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, God began His program of changing the world through changing one heart at a time, through faith and hope and love. When we accept Christ as our Savior, we join God’s kingdom and His plan to save the world by saving us. And we commit ourselves to doing it the way Jesus did, through loving sacrifice and selfless service.

Being a Mother

Being a mother may be the most important thing a person can do. This Sunday is Mother’s Day. All over America, people will be celebrating their mothers and the great influence they have been. If you have any measure of emotional stability and maturity, the chances are that you have a mother to thank for it.

 

Of course, many mothers do not take care of their children the way they should. Children wind up abandoned or abused, neglected and lost, because mothers and fathers fail to do their job. But if your mother took care of you, you had a much better chance to grow up and be okay.

 

Most of us know that the Ten Commandments say that we should honor our mothers and fathers. But the Bible also has a lot to say about parents taking care of their children. Parents are commanded to discipline, provide for and teach their children. If you have a child, your job is to raise them to be a healthy adult.

 

If you want to raise your child to be a mature adult, you have to start by being one yourself. Children are not ornaments or playthings or built-in best buddies. When God gives us children, He expects us to teach them about life and about Him and about how to be a grown-up.

 

People have children for lots of reasons, some good and some not so good. When someone tells me they want to have a baby, I always ask “Do you want to have a teenager?” because eventually you’ll have one of those too. God calls us as parents to raise our children with respect and love and discipline. “Raise a child up in the way he or she should go, and in the end they will not depart from it.”

 

 

Love in Christ

Greg W. Burriss

Pastor, Rocky River Baptist Church

 

On Being a Moderate Baptist

In the most recent issue of the Campbell Divinity School newsletter, Dean Andy Wakefield discusses the difficulty that we moderate Baptists have in describing our position. “It turns out,” he says, “that it is hard to describe the middle ground in a single, exciting sound bite.” Wakefield is lamenting the fact that at present, everyone appears to be gravitating to extremes in the expression of Christian faith.

 

Wakefield summarizes the struggles that Campbell has in trying to be a community that is faithful to Christ and to scripture while at the same time trying to be open to diverse cultures and viewpoints. We find ourselves caught between being “pushed into a fundamentalist corner,” or “minimizing the importance of the core of orthodox Christian belief,” as he puts it.

 

This is exactly the struggle that many of us moderate Baptists find ourselves living with. We believe in the traditional Christian faith, but we also recognize and are sensitive to the complexities of life and the human struggle. We know that many questions are not answered in the clear-cut way we would like them to be. At least, that is where I find my own thinking and my own faith.

 

Wakefield concludes his article by saying that he does know of a simple slogan that embodies this way of faith. Of course, it is the motto of the Campbell University Divinity School: “Christ- centered, Bible-based and Ministry-focused.” If we can adhere to that core, I think we may find our way to being faithful followers of Jesus.

 

Love in Christ,

Greg W. Burriss, Pastor

Rocky River Baptist Church

Calm

This week in my daily prayers I have been reading Psalm 131.

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up

My eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,

Like a weaned child with its mother;

My soul is like a weaned child with its mother.

O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forever.

 

In a world where there is so much noise and anxiety, the image of this Psalm gives great comfort. We might paraphrase it this way:

 

Lord, I’m going to let go of all my worry about the world,

Violence and war and economic depression for this little while

And sit in your lap and let you care for me like my mother would.

I’m not crying for milk,

Just a moment to be calmed by Your Presence.

And to all my sisters and brothers,

Don’t give up remembering that this calm you feel in God’s presence

Is the down payment on God’s promise of eternal peace.

 

 

Love in Christ,

Greg W. Burriss, Pastor

Rocky River Baptist Church