A Bringer of Light, Not Darkness

PatrickMeadAfter my last post – a look at a Jesus story out of Mark – I was asked to look at this story out of John 9 and walk through that in the same way. Okay, here we go…

But before we can get started in chapter 9 we need to remember John’s overarching theme. We don’t have to guess at it because he lays it out in chapter 1:1-13. Jesus is light and the bringer of light. The darkness doesn’t “get” Jesus and remains in opposition to him. Go through John (s.l.o.w.l.y) and notice all the darkness vs. light stories.

The story in John 9 seems to stand alone quite well so, without any further setup: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth.” Stop right there. Jesus noticed people. He saw them. He didn’t hurry from one place to another with the kind of me-based tunnel vision that most of us have. In our world of noise and rush and the constant siren call of the next thing it can be hard to practice this one discipline: to see and, more specifically, to see others. Here is a man who has been blind since birth. He has no standing in society but he is worth Jesus’ time and notice.

This is a critical thing to absorb before moving on to verse two: “His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’” Did you catch that? Jesus saw a man; his disciples saw an object lesson or theological issue. It was reported to me by a friend years ago that several churches in his community met to discuss “the gay issue” and the “gay problem.” If memory serves me, my friend said that it was hours into the discussion before a young man stood up and said “I am not a problem. I am Mark.” The churches had been discussing problems without realizing (I assume) that there was at least one gay man among them and he wasn’t a problem, he was a person. Regardless of where you come down on this or any issue, it helps to remember that the other person is a person, not a problem.

The apostles were trying to make sense of their world. That’s how we come up with a lot of our ideas about God: we want things to make sense. If we believe in a good, all powerful God and if we also believe in justice we have to believe that there is some penalty for sin. It is an easy move from there to assigning blame to those who are suffering, assuming that there is some sin behind that suffering…but whose? This “blame the victim” mentality doesn’t just exist in religion, it is everywhere. Eastern religions push the horrible doctrine of Karma that says we suffer to balance out the evil we have done in the universe: we get what we deserve. When entire nation systems are built on that doctrine, we get India with its caste systems and lack of provision for the poor.

We see people who are continually sick and on the prayer list and after awhile compassion fatigue sets in and we wonder what they’re doing wrong to be so sick all the time. We fall for supplement quacks and TV doctors with gleaming teeth that tell us we are suffering because of this or that food we eat (or don’t eat) or because we didn’t do their exercise program or…We find ways to blame the victim (or a conspiracy or the government) when we suffer. The apostles were just like us: they saw something (not someone) and wanted to understand it. In one sense, we are all Job’s counselors and after awhile we default to blaming the victim.

Perhaps they just wanted to settle an old argument among themselves – and their society – about exactly how God struck back at sin and if He might use the children’s misery to punish the parents. Perhaps they were frightened at seeing someone disabled and wanted to find a reason that they weren’t and, by finding it, keep from becoming disabled at the hands of God themselves. Some of our veterans who’ve returned with missing limbs and horribly burned and scarred faces feel this every day as people glance their way and then either stare in horror/fascination or quickly turn and go the other direction. It is a natural human response to seeing reminders of our frailty. “It could’ve been me” or “there but for the grace of God go I.”

This next part has caused a lot of trouble in some circles and rejoicing in others. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Calvinists have written reams on this, saying that this proves that all things are in God’s plan. They say that God planned from eternity that this man be born blind so that when Jesus came by he could heal him and, thus, show his power. This begs a lot of questions and raises a lot of issues: weren’t there enough blind people already available in 1st century Judah? Couldn’t Jesus show his power another way? Didn’t he? Are you saying that the bringer of light is a bringer of darkness, too?

Jesus sees this man’s blindness as an opportunity to do good “along the way” as Deuteronomy 6 might say. “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Did you notice? There’s that “light theme” again. Jesus cuts off the theological debate for it is not a question of who sinned or even if sin had anything to do with the man’s blindness, it is a question of who is going to help the blind man. I believe that Jesus is actively speaking against the assumptions of Calvin and his followers who claim that this passage proves that blindness is as much a part of God’s plan as is the restoration of sight. That makes Jesus not only a bringer of light…but the reason for darkness in this man’s life. The consequence of strict Calvinism is to lay at the feet of God the blame for every evil deed, every moment of suffering in human existence (and even that in the animal kingdom): all planned, all determined by God. One of the most famous Calvinists in the US today was asked the day after the school shootings in New England if God determined which child was shot and which child was not and he said “Yes.” I find that abhorrent and I don’t see that teaching in John 9 – or elsewhere.

Instead of accepting that some people have to suffer and be born blind because sin is in the world or because God has a higher purpose, Jesus immediately goes to work to restore light to this individual. I am chastened by his response because I have often caught myself thinking and puzzling over ramifications, doctrine, and issues instead of just acting in love where I was with what I had to the people in front of me at the time. Jesus doesn’t say “he was born blind so that God’s power and works may be revealed” but that is way we usually read it because we read it so fast and we read it through our humanity: assumptions and all. Greg Boyd says this in God at War “…Jesus is simply saying that, in contrast to the misguided moralistic speculations of the disciples, the only thing that matters concerning this man’s blindness is that God can overcome it and thus be glorified through it…” (pg233). Jesus made it plain in Luke 13:1-5 that the doctrine of karma and the assumptions of Job’s counselors are groundless and false: there isn’t a sin-punishment matrix that perfectly fits over human experience.

Sometimes we suffer because we are alive on a planet where everything dies. Sometimes we suffer because bad people do bad things and their evil splashes consequences on us. Sometimes we suffer because we took too long coming down the birth canal through no fault of our own or our mother’s. Sometimes things happen. Full stop. The question is, how we will treat those who’ve been caught by the crashing waves of evil or disease or suffering and how we will behave when it is our turn to be swept out by that same wave? Jesus reminds the disciples that their time is limited: see a person, help a person. Now. Don’t wait. Don’t spend time in arguing the theology of it, just do it. Reminds me a bit of Romans 14:1-15:7.

There is much more to be said about this story but I will let it wait for a few days. Thanks to all of you who wrote me, shared the last post, and who’ve encouraged me to write more of these. I am praying about doing a book length treatment of these stories since they brought me back to faith and have kept me there. As a non-theologian, that is not an easy decision. Pray that I will have the wisdom to do them justice here and elsewhere. Peace.

A Blind Beggar and A God Who Rocked My World

PatrickMeadI’ve mentioned before that I took time decades ago to read the Gospels over and over for six months. It changed my world. It changed everything. On Wednesday evenings at Fourth Avenue in Franklin, TN I share some of the stories in a class called “Just Jesus Stories.” We covered one last night that hasn’t stopped rocking my world since the late 80s when I spent weeks thinking about it.

When I suggest you read Mark 10:46-52 I am really suggesting that you take a few weeks to read and absorb it. While the Book of Mark is, to me, frustratingly episodic and almost devoid of explanation and context I think that might have been part of the plan in that it makes us sit back and fill in the gaps – if we are willing to take the time to enter the story.

Jesus and his disciples are being followed by a large crowd as they leave Jericho (as usual, Mark tells us nothing of why they went there or what happened there). A blind man is outside the city begging for alms. Giving alms was a big part of Jewish culture; there was no workman’s compensation, Social Security, welfare, or Medicaid so those who were disabled had to rely on the goodwill of their fellow men for survival. Stories abound of them begging for alms here or there on high trafficked routes (such as by the Beautiful Gate to the temple in Jerusalem in Acts 3). Friends and family would bring their disabled loved ones out in the morning and get them set up for the day’s begging and then come get them in the evening if, indeed, the beggar was fortunate enough to have friends and family. It was a harsh life and it would do us well to sit back and contemplate what might have gone through their minds each and every day as they sat or stood helplessly relying on others for their very survival.

But something amazing happens next and by “amazing” I don’t mean the miracle of restored sight. It may seem odd to you but the miracles are, in some ways, the least impressive part of these Jesus stories to me. I believe that Jesus was the Son of God and creator of the universe so, as the developer of Eyes 1.0, I am not at all surprised by his ability to restore sight. No, first amazing thing in this story is…we know the beggar’s name.

Think about that. Beggars had no standing in the social order of the day. They were not respected and held no rank or property. And yet…God seemed to think it was important for us to know this man’s name: Bartimaeus. When that first hit me I stepped away from this story for nearly two weeks to give myself time to work out the ramifications of that: God knows that beggar’s name and He wants us to know it, too.

I found myself stopping after walking down a street or in a mall and turning around to see who I’d missed. Who wasn’t important enough to notice? Who did I actually notice and turn away from, perhaps unconsciously? Who were the Bartimaeus’ in my path whose name was known by God but whom I had treated as less important than myself or my mission of the day? I still make this a spiritual discipline, an everyday call to worship. On Sundays, I know that the members of my church want to greet me and visit with me but I find myself darting around looking for the Bartimaeus’ who might have come in and been unnoticed. The fact that God gave us this man’s name changed me.

Who does God see? Who does He think is important? Why did He want us to know this man’s name if not to impress on us the value of this person – and every person? The story moves on. Bartimaeus, once he hears that this is Jesus of Nazareth, calls out for alms and calls Jesus “Son of David.” It is at least possible that this beggar was also a son of David — of the same tribe as Jesus. It would have made sense for him to call that out and use that relationship to help his odds of receiving alms. It could even be that he had met Jesus before. Jesus had relationships with many people that can only be ascertained by backwards engineering the stories we find in these books: a colt is released for his use as soon as someone says it is for him, men immediately drop nets and follow him when he calls them. That only happens when you’ve already met a person, know them, and have a good relationship with them. As much as Jesus seemed to crave privacy and quiet, alone time he worked at building relationships that paid off time and time again in the Gospel stories. Maybe this was another one.

The crowd tried to shut the beggar up – a common response to beggars hassling you right when you’re trying to do something else like listen to a famous local rabbi – but Jesus “stopped” and told them to bring Bartimaeus to him. I like it that Jesus stopped. Until I spent a lot of time in these stories I assumed that just meant he stopped walking but that wouldn’t explain why the crowd was so adamant that the beggar be quiet. I now think that Jesus was teaching the crowd and they were straining to hear his words. Bartimaeus was interrupting church, shall we say. That was impolite, impolitic even. But Jesus wasn’t interested in what the polite rules of the day were – he stopped.

I spent a few weeks thinking about that before I moved on. Will we – do we – stop church services, our formal or informal liturgies, for sudden needs or because we noticed someone that was in pain or left out?

And here is where it really gets stunning: Bartimaeus is brought in front of Jesus, a meeting of a beggar with zero standing in the world with the creator of the universe. And Jesus says…”What do you want me to do for you?” Sit back and let that rock your world. Almighty God looks at a beggar and doesn’t rush in, doesn’t intrude, doesn’t demand or assume. Rather, God looks at the beggar, whose name he knows, and asks what he can do for him.

Wow. I remember the old hymn we sang when I was a boy “Does Jesus care when my heart is pained too deeply for mirth or song, as the burdens press and the cares distress and the way grows weary and long? O yes, he cares, I know he cares. His heart is touched with my grief…” Mark has Bartimaeus saying “Rabbi, I want to see.” Some versions have a more poignant rendering: “Lord…if I could see…” And so Jesus gives him his sight. That restores more that sight, though – it gives him back his life, his standing, his place in the world…a place he had never lost in God’s eyes. He’d only lost it in the eyes of men.

And Jesus walks on. He does that a lot after healing people and even after raising a girl from the dead. He doesn’t capitalize on the miracle or bask in the adulation of the crowd. He merely does good to the Bartimaeus’ of the world and walks on. So when he tells us to “Follow me” I get the sense of what he really wants from me today.

From me. Because he knows my name, too.

Any New Bible Books?

PatrickMeadIt’s been a couple of months ago now but I remember thinking “whaa?” when I got a message asking me if I thought we might add any more books to our Bible. Back in the day when I wrote the Tentpegs blog I might have just ignored that question and I almost ignored it this time…but it haunted me. The man who sent it is no crank. He is a good man and a friend of mine. What could he possibly be asking?

In short: no, we aren’t adding any more books to our official canon of Scripture. Ain’t gonna happen (a little Tennessee lingo there). And yet…

The formation of the scriptures – by which I mean the writing of the individual books and their eventual inclusion or exclusion in our Bibles – is a fascinating study and not without its head-scratching moments. To what extent was this or that book edited? Is the traditionally accepted writer of this book its actual author? Why was this or that book excluded (most of the time the answer is obvious, by the way)? Why was this one included? Sometimes we have to shrug and say we accept this or that book because some men way back in the 100-200s championed them (such as Irenaeus’ support of the Book of Revelation). But that wasn’t quite what the writer of my Facebook message asked.

I have often wondered – and sometimes aloud – why we assumed that the Spirit quit inspiring writers when, say, John of Patmos died. That opens up a whole can of worms about how we view inspiration, the work of the Spirit, etc. and I’m not sure I’m qualified to discuss said can. Regardless, for nearly two millennia Christians have agreed that they had their Bible and it was complete (exceptions exist and we aren’t discussing the Apocrypha which is accepted on some level by Roman Catholics). Even with all my questions about the formation of scripture I have to agree whole heartedly. I don’t think we are going to see any new scripture – and I really can’t see why we would want it.

That said…the more I contemplated the question the more I realized that we already add books to our canon and remove others. How? I cannot speak for every reader but I will admit that I read some books and go “wow!” and elevate them to Very Important Status in my life. Gregory Boyd’s “God at War” saved my faith when it was going wobbly. Max Lucado’s “God Came Near” and “No Wonder They Call Him the Savior” had a lot to do with my desire to follow Jesus and C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” shot down all my arguments against the existence of the God of scripture. I don’t consider these books (and others I could name) scripture but there is no question that I meditate on them, they feed my soul, and they have had a much more profound effect on my life than, say, the Book of Ezra.

I began to wonder if I had unofficially removed any books from my Bible, at least in practical terms. To be honest, I haven’t spent a lot of time in Chronicles or Ezekiel in years. I believe they are scripture…but that belief hasn’t driven me to search them in the way I search Hebrews, Romans, and the Gospel of John. I love the Book of Psalms but, truth be told, I run to about 40 of them over and over and largely ignore the others unless I need them – rather like ignoring something in the medicine cabinet until you need it.

I stick by my answer: we are not going to be adding or subtracting books from our Bible nor should we. And yet, the question has driven me to honestly consider if I haven’t added and subtracted some on my own. And that troubles me. I appreciate the question and will continue to work through its ramifications in my life and invite you to do the same in yours. What books do you treasure – even if you do not consider them equal to scripture? And what books in the Bible have you functionally removed by never reading or referencing them?

By the Way:
At Fourth Avenue Church we are preaching through the Bible, taking a book a week (giving larger books more weeks). We are also going through a congregational wide “read through the Bible” program that has tremendous buy-in from the whole church. Our teens and pre-teens, in particular, are fired up about it and encourage each other to read and memorize scripture. I found out yesterday that a host of our students have already memorized the entire Sermon on the Mount (many others are almost there). Couldn’t be prouder of this church.

Advent and Disappointing Gifts

After the Waiting…3candles

I love the Advent season – the lights, the prayers, the buying of presents, arranging them under the tree, the songs, and the special gatherings to celebrate the Lord. And yet…I keep thinking about the whole “waiting and then the gift” paradigm I see in scripture and it gives me pause. No one wants to give a present only to see it opened and the recipient’s face fall in disappointment but God has seen that time and again and…it seems…even set up us for disappointment to teach us something about ourselves or about Him.

The children of Israel were hungry so God supplied…manna. Lots of manna. Every day. After awhile even Bubba Gump would run out of ways to cook manna. What was God thinking? Sure, He supplied meat for them once when they complained too loudly but that didn’t go well so let’s not go there right now.

I am sure Hosea was a good man who prayed for a wife to help him in his ministry. I’m sure his mother prayed that God prepare a special little girl for her little guy. But when Hosea got the present God gave him he wasn’t happy (and it seems he didn’t make her happy either).

I could go on…okay, I will. Remember that whole “I am taking you to a land flowing with milk and honey” thing? Talk about poetic license! When they opened up that present they found it full of people who didn’t like them and had the temerity to believe they owned the land they lived on. There was a lot more blood and pain than there was milk and honey.

But God is not evil nor is He capricious. There were reasons for these gifts and many other gifts we could name. Let’s turn our minds to the wonderful gift of God we received in Jesus and how…well…odd that was.

It is here I must restrain myself. I could go on for a hundred pages about how amazingly, wonderously HUGE our universe is and what a magical, mind-boggling place it is. I can go from Patrick to full blown “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” in 0.01 seconds if I don’t watch out. Let’s just all agree: it is bigger than we can imagine and more beautiful and wondrous and amazing and…you get the idea. [we pause here for Patrick to breathe deeply into a paper bag until he gets his science nerd self under control]

And God made that universe. All of it. Just made it. Not sure how and the “why” can get a little confusing but He made it and it is awesome. Now – a God like that is coming to us! He is going to save us from the Assyrians, Babylonians, Philistines, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans! And from the internecine warfare taking place in Jewish life between secularists, liberals, legalists, and politicians. Yes! Imagine what it will look like when a God who can make the Milky Way Galaxy arrives in Jerusalem. What will that look like? It positively boggles the mind to consider the possibilities.

And He arrived…in the form of a baby. Born in an annex to a guesthouse. To a not-quite-married teen girl. Whose story sounded fishy even to her own kids later in life.

God – thanks for the present, but we were expecting something else. We were expecting armies of angels. We were expecting a King David (in his good years, not the fat, old, and adulterous years) preceded by a herd of Elijahs sniffing out reprobates followed by Solomon and a multitude of builders to finally get the Temple back in shape. We were expecting fireworks. We got a baby.

But that is the only way God can approach us without us scattering to the winds. The God that made all things cannot directly approach us or we would die. This may not have been the gift we were expecting but it was exactly the gift we needed. In fact, no other gift would have meant so much.

So it is in our own lives. We ask for this or that gift but God gives as He sees fit. Sometimes we are disappointed in the gifts He gives us (and in those He doesn’t) but if we deal with it and move on we eventually learn to trust Him. He IS smarter than us, remember?

So as Advent moves on toward the Great Event on the 25th keep in mind that God disappointed a lot of people when He gave us a baby. But that gift was awesome. That gift saved us all.

Perfect gift, God. Absolutely perfect. Thank you.

Reading the Bible in Churches of Christ

In the churches of my youth the Bible was read several times during each worship period. A passage would be read before communion (usually First Corinthians 11:23ff or a portion of Isaiah 53), another before the sermon (usually a few verses that were part of the text being used by the minister), and during Bible class where we used the text as you would a “Wordsearch” puzzle, finding answers to fill in blanks in our class workbooks.

Scripture was considered holy and perfect. It was a rule book and quite a complex rule book at that, full of hidden laws, man traps, and gotchas for those not schooled properly in how to “rightly divide the Word.” We were certain we had found the proper method of interpreting it and most of us made it through high school with a dozen or so passages etched in our minds – proof texts to keep us on the straight and narrow. All of this was done by well meaning, honest, good hearted people who devoted their lives to serving Jesus the best way they knew how and I will owe them the rest of my life.

But…there were problems, problems we never talked about and were never encouraged to ask about. For me, it all started with lasciviousness and the Moabites. But I’m getting ahead of my story…

We were told that the Bible was dictated by the Holy Spirit, word for word, to holy men who wrote it down just as they were told and then other holy people preserved those words perfectly, exactly for us in our Bibles. One illustration on how God dictated every single word – told to us by more than one preacher – was the story of Balaam and his donkey. The donkey, when beaten by Balaam, turned to the prophet and told him that there is an angel blocking the path. Balaam doesn’t seem to be surprised that his donkey is speaking to him but that isn‘t the point. The preachers told us that God made the donkey talk and gave him the very words he was to speak. “He didn’t just tell the donkey to talk to Balaam and put it in his own words” they said and we all laughed. The problem came later when some of us read the parts of the Bible we never read in church or Bible class and when others of us studied how the Bible came to be written and then gathered in the first place. While those two items alone were enough to knock us silly and cause us to question what we’d been taught (and which may be why we lose so many of our teens once they leave the nest) we can’t fully explore either of them here. Allow me to give a few illustrations of the problem and a possible solution and then allow you and the Spirit of God to take it from there.

Remember I said that it started with lasciviousness? We were told that God condemned it but we’d never heard the word before. It’s a great word, a wonderful old King James word and we were told it was why we weren’t allowed to dance or go to our prom (even if we refrained from dancing and “just watched”). Tracts – small booklets available in racks in our foyer – told us about the dangers of dancing and each made the point that the word “lasciviousness” meant dancing and since God condemned it, we shouldn’t even want to dance. When I was 13 I overheard some older teens doubt this wisdom from the elders and I was offended at their questioning of the faith. My father had an extensive library (I’d read over half of it by then. It was a requirement in our family) so I spent a day going through Greek and Hebrew lexicons, thesauruses, and commentaries…and was devastated at what I found. It became plain that one could dance in a lascivious manner but the word most certainly did NOT mean “dance” and, in fact, most dances in the Bible were in honor of God and He didn’t care for anyone who disapproved of them. If I was being lied to about THIS…what else was I being told that wasn’t true? I tried to ask a question about this twice and the fierce reaction I received from my father and, later, a Bible class teacher taught me to never ask questions again.

After spending time in agnosticism I came back to God because of the intricacies in the human brain (I eventually became a psychotherapist and neuroscientist). I wanted to be a deist but I just wasn’t sure if that was a safe option… So I did something I had never done before: I read the Bible and paid attention. I wasn’t looking for rules or patterns or ways to prove other religions wrong. I just wanted to read it and see what it said.

And here’s the thing: I wasn’t alone. I have since found a very large number of Church of Christ members have been doing the same, many of them for much longer than I. Fact is, I was a bit late to the party. As a church without a bureaucracy, we can change our direction much faster than other religious tribes. And when the younger generation came up and took its place as leaders, it brought with it an honest look at some scriptures we had never dealt with before (or swept aside with a “things were different back then. Just trust God. He must have had His reasons”). It wasn’t just the young preachers passing on a different way of viewing scripture: we had Cecil Hook, Leroy Garrett, Carl Ketcherside and many others who’d been cast out of fellowship by most of our churches but who kept writing and living lives of faith and love. We read their stuff and it changed everything. At least it did for me.

That’s why I wanted to mention the Moabites. They are merely one of a couple dozen examples I could bring up but since this is a blog and not a book…

If you carefully read the Old Testament you would be excused for being confused about God’s view of Moabites. In Deuteronomy 23:3-6 they (and the Ammonites) are expressly barred from the assembly of God. They are unsaveable and unconvertible – even to the tenth generation. If you had a single Moabite ancestor even nine generations back, you were forbidden from coming into the assembly or worshiping with the Jews. This wasn’t a temporary rule – it is recalled and enforced in Ezra 9, Nehemiah 13 and elsewhere.

God goes after the Moabites again in Isaiah 15-16, Jeremiah 48-49:6, Ezekiel 21 and 25, and Zephaniah 2:8,9.

But then we have the Book of Ruth. And she was a Moabite woman who was not only loved and protected by a Jewish man, he married her and she became the king’s grandmother and a grandmother of Jesus. Whaaa?

We have God telling the Hebrews to kill everyone in Jericho but they save a prostitute (I am interested in how they ended up at her house but that’s beside the point) who lied to protect them. Later, she married a Jew and she, too, enters the line of Jesus. Seriously? That seems to go against a lot of Deuteronomy and Leviticus…

Then we see Jonah. It isn’t about the fish/whale – it’s about God’s love for people that a lot of His followers hated. They were convinced God wanted the Ninevites and all other foreigners dead or banished. Instead, God sends them a prophet and forgives then when they repent, changing the decree He had made against them earlier.

It seems that God’s dislike/hatred of Moabites was overstated. At a minimum. And that changes the way we read scripture.

Skip to the New Testament and you find Paul saying a couple of things to the church in Corinth and Ephesus that people use to overrule other things he says about women in leadership and teaching. People ignore his conversational remarks and lists of workers, teachers, and leaders and go for what looks like rules and I understand their motivation; that was the way I was told to read scripture, too.

So how do we deal with the fact that Philip’s four daughters preached alongside him or that Junia was an apostle or that Phoebe is the only person in scripture expressly titled a deacon?

I haven’t figured it all out yet but I find one story very helpful: The Transfiguration. Jesus is praying when Elijah and Moses show up. The apostles are overjoyed – this is their entire Marvel Comic universe showing up, their pantheon of heroes, their fearless leaders! They want to build altars to them but God’s voice thunders and indicates Jesus, NOT the representatives of the law and the prophets. “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

I – and a great many in the churches of Christ along with countless others in other religious traditions – now see the Bible as a narrative, not a rulebook. It is our story that points us to Jesus. When I get confused by Deuteronomy or Joshua or Paul or James I remember: go back and listen to Jesus. Hear him.

My path out of deism and into faith in Jesus had many steps but none so important as my decision to read the Gospels over and over for six months. It was easier back then to maintain an electronic-free room but I believe it is still worth the effort to do so. Go in there and read the story of Jesus again and again. Get to know his voice. As Hebrews 1 says, Jesus is what God looks like, sounds like, IS like.

The Bible is a finger pointing to Jesus. I love the Bible but I love Whom it points to even more.We are, after all, the Church of Christ – not the church of those other guys.