“Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
If you’ve been working your way through the Celebrate Recovery program and have completed six of the 8 principles and nine of the 12 steps I have confidence that things have brightened in your worldview. I’m not saying that everything’s coming up roses and all your relationships are peachy keen. I know better. But no doubt your relationship with God has improved. That’s because you’ve stepped out of denial, openly confessed your sins, made amends to those you trespassed against and forgave those who hurt you. You’ve gotten glimpses of God’s grace and it’s made a difference in how your heart, mind and soul perceive everything. You’ve realized how important it is to be a member of the body of Christ and to take advantage of the communal acceptance, love and support it lends that can’t be found anywhere else. In other words, you should be feeling a lot more positive about the direction your life’s headed in. Especially compared to where you were before starting on this journey to wellness.
Yet, whether you know it or not, you’re at a crossroads. All who travel the path to recovery come to them regularly. Queen Latifah is quoted as saying, “How many crossroads are you allowed to have in life? I seem to have a lot of crossroads. I think maybe I crossed back across the same road too often.” 1 Corinthians 10:12 warns that we’re vulnerable to letting our pride get the best of us at this juncture. “So let the one who thinks he is standing be careful that he does not fall.” We can be tempted to think we’ve got our hurts, hang-ups and habits licked and don’t need divine help anymore. (We all foolishly entertain that notion from time to time.) Yet we must resist the temptation. It’s like children playing with matches. We weren’t transformed into new creations temporarily, we were changed forever. That means we can’t be doing what we used to do. Namely, we can’t put God on the back burner and only reach for Him when we’re in a jam. As born-again disciples of Jesus we must make learning and understanding more about Him a priority in our daily regimen. Otherwise we become susceptible to falling back into old behaviors and allowing destructive character defects to be resuscitated.
That’s why Principle 7 is as important as any other in the Celebrate Recovery ministry. It says: “Reserve a daily time with God for self-examination, Bible reading and prayer in order to know God and His will for my life and to gain the power to follow His will.” I dare say that if we don’t take this principle seriously we’re courting disaster in the form of partial, if not total, relapse. We simply cannot carry on as we did before surrendering to Christ. Our willingness to follow this key rule of recovery to the letter is the barometer that effectively measures and reflects our dedication to our Lord and Savior. You’d be smart to anticipate that very few in your circle of friends and family members will cotton to being demoted on the pecking order list. While they’re rejoicing about your victories over your sinful nature they may not be so happy when it comes to your new preoccupation with living the Christian lifestyle. Joyce Meyer wrote, “Learn to come apart from the busyness of life to spend time with God the way Jesus did. I tell people, ‘You’d better come apart before you come apart.’ You can’t wait for everyone around you to approve of the time you need to spend with God. Somebody will always find something they think you ought to be doing for them.” If you should sometimes feel guilty (due to their displeasure) about carving out time for your Heavenly Father I suggest you try this: Picture in your mind the gruesome scene of the crucifixion on Calvary and remind yourself that Jesus underwent what Roman statesman/orator Cicero called “a cruel and disgusting penalty” and first century Jewish historian Josephus called “the worst of deaths” to seal your salvation. When I do that I find telling someone that God comes first a relatively easy task. I’m inspired by what 17-year-old Rachel Scott, one of the victims of the Columbine massacre, wrote in her journal: “I hear so many of my friends complain about how they don’t have time. If I think I don’t have time for God then I’m too busy. And being too busy is the most lame excuse I’ve ever heard. I want to be more willing than that. God can’t do anything in my life – or yours – unless we’re willing to meet God halfway. After you start doing these things you will see what God can do with a willing heart.”
In John 15:1-4 Jesus taught the apostles a very profound lesson. He said, “I am the true vine and my father is the gardener. He takes away every branch that does not bear fruit in me. He prunes every branch that bears fruit so it will bear more fruit. You are clean already because of the word that I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.” While there are many passages in the Old Testament that refer to Israel as a vine, Jesus was presenting them with an updated concept. One that underscored the importance of productivity in a Christian’s life and the truth that useful fruit doesn’t manifest out of a believer’s own initiative but solely from their connection to Christ. In addition, the reference to pruning means that exercising faithfulness in doing God’s bidding won’t always be a painless endeavor. Jesus elaborates further in verses 5-6: “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me – and I in him – bears much fruit because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out like a branch, and dries up; and such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and are burned up.” Say what you will about our Lord but vague He’s not. I take this to mean that the branches that don’t produce are people who profess to be believers in Christ but are not sincere in their hearts and that God doesn’t tolerate folks being two-faced when it comes to His only begotten Son. Who could blame Him? In Matthew 21 the story is told that, while on the road to Jerusalem, Jesus got hungry and saw a leafy fig tree in the distance. Finding no nutritious fruit to eat he cursed it and, to the disciples’ amazement, it withered and died on the spot. I used to think He was just in a foul mood but, in light of the teaching we read in John 15, it seems likely He was making a definitive point. The barren tree served no purpose. The only way we can be the hands and feet of our Savior is to stay closely connected to Him. If we allow the distractions of the world to interfere with or sever our relationship with Christ we’ll become people who are ineffectual and worthless to the cause of spreading the good news of the gospel. He made it clear as a bell. I can envision Jesus asking us on judgment day, “What part of that did you not understand?”
The seventh principle stresses that reading the Bible every day is essential for branches who want to stay attached to the vine. Yes, the Bible. I know that many are convinced they can be faithful Christians without believing in the scriptures. I used to be one of them. I figured there was no way an ancient book penned by 40 different authors eons ago could have any practical relevance in this day and age. Oh, and I arrived at this astute conclusion without ever reading the Bible cover to cover. I chose to be my own lawmaker and in so doing I missed out on experiencing the power of God’s Word for decades. I didn’t like to be told I was wrong. Billy Sunday preached, “The reason you don’t like the Bible, you old sinner, is because it knows all about you.” Little did I know, that’s precisely what I needed – a book that knew all about me. I was, in all respects, an idiot. I shunned what I needed most. Adrian Rogers wrote, “If you have a Bible that’s falling apart, you’ll have a life that’s not,” and A.W. Tozer quipped, “Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.” I’d tell anyone who asked that I was a follower of Christ but I was constantly empty inside because I’d left the Holy Word out of my religion. I didn’t understand how empowering it was until I finally read it for myself. George Mueller correctly said, “The vigor of our spiritual life will be in exact proportion to the place held by the Bible in our life and thoughts.”
Perhaps, though, you’re still a skeptic and my saying you shouldn’t be is having no effect. For you I present the testimony of the renowned author Anne Rice who became famous for her novels about a vampire named Lestat. She shocked the literary world in 2005 when she renounced her atheistic views and returned to Christianity. Why did she? While researching evidence for the historical Jesus she found that the arguments presented by unbelieving critics (intended to erode the reliability of Biblical documents) were astoundingly anemic. She explained in an interview that “Some books were no more than assumptions piled on assumptions… Conclusions were reached on the basis of little or no data at all… The whole case for the non-divine Jesus who stumbled into Jerusalem and somehow got crucified… that whole picture which had floated around the liberal circles I frequented as an atheist for thirty years – that case was not made. Not only was it not made, I discovered in this field some of the worst and most biased scholarship I’d ever read!”
Some may have problems with God’s Word because they’ve decided it was put together by leaders of the early church in order to consolidate their power base, to promote their self-aggrandizing policies and set down in ink a foundation for their movement. But if you read the gospels you’ll watch that theory crumble into dust. It’s illogical. Why have Jesus die on a cross if it didn’t happen? Anyone in the Greek or Jewish society would’ve assumed that if He was killed by the State then He must’ve been an execution-worthy criminal. Why would they fabricate the account of Jesus asking God if there was any possible way He could avoid the torturous death that loomed before Him? And why include the portion of the crucifixion when Christ cries out that His Father in heaven has abandoned him? First century folks wouldn’t find those things appealing at all. They’d most likely deem them to be signs of weakness, not strength. Why designate women to be the initial witnesses of the resurrection when females were of such low status in that era their testimony wasn’t considered admissible evidence in a court of law? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have bearded pillars of the community be the ones to proclaim they’ve seen Jesus up and about? And why in blazes would they want to depict His closest associates as petty, jealous, a bit dense and downright cowardly men? If everything from Matthew to Revelations is a lie manufactured by a small band of wannabe priests, then the New Testament would be the textbook for how not to start and successfully spread a new, radical religious movement. The only plausible explanation is that these incidents actually happened and are authentic.
Maybe your grudge against the scriptures is more pragmatic. You feel it does tell the truth about what went down but nonetheless it’s outdated and not viable today. You find all that stuff about God hating divorce and looking at pornography is the equivalent of committing adultery in your heart to be woefully passé. You deem Paul’s rant in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 that says homosexuals, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive egotists, gossips and swindlers won’t inherit the kingdom of God to be unfairly judgmental, biased and too holier-than-thou to take seriously because it’s not progressive enough for your 21st century civilized and sophisticated mindset. If that’s the case then I suggest you might want to climb down from your high horse and mull over the possibility that you could be mistaken. Timothy Keller wrote, “To stay away from Christianity because part of the Bible’s teaching is offensive to you assumes that if there is a God he wouldn’t have any views that upset you.” If you fantasize the great I AM as a politically-correct deity who would never dare contradict your keen sense of right and wrong then your relationship with God is bound to be problematic. I quote Keller again, “Only if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle (as in a real friendship or marriage) will you know that you’ve gotten hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination. So an authoritative Bible is not the enemy of a personal relationship with God. It is the precondition for it.”
Proverbs 1:20-23 makes an impact regarding God’s Word: “Wisdom calls out in the street, she shouts loudly in the plazas; at the head of the noisy streets she calls, in the entrances of the gates in the city she utters her words; ‘How long will you simpletons love naiveté? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? If only you will respond to my rebuke, then I will pour out my thoughts to you and I will make my words known to you.’” I think what God is saying to us in that passage is that we must mature, grow up and accept that He’s not a spoil-sport tyrant out to ruin all our fun. Rather, that the omniscient Creator-of-all-that-exists knows better than we do how we can live lives that’ll prove to be rewarding and significant. He even went so far as to send His Son to dwell among us and provide the perfect example. Christ showed us the righteous way to conduct ourselves. Jefferson Bethke wrote, “Jesus is so much greater than ‘don’t smoke, don’t drink, and don’t have sex.’ As Christians, we need to stop forcing the Bible into our own judgments and instead humbly and prayerfully open our minds in hopes that God might reveal himself deeply. It’s a dangerous and scary proposition for sure, but there is so much freedom and life in no longer defending or molding Jesus to our own liking, and just letting Him be who He says He is.”
I’ll wrap it up this way. We all must put our faith in something outside of ourselves as being the unfiltered truth. Otherwise we’re all inclined to make up our own set of rules and ethics mandated by our particular preferences and it doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to see that that scenario leads to anarchy and mayhem in short order. As C.S. Lewis postulated in Mere Christianity, there has to be a Moral Law that exists independent of our natural instincts. Since Jesus is our mentor who was a student of the scriptures that predated his incarnation on earth then we should, as followers, take the Holy Word at face value and trust wholeheartedly in its inerrancy. I can only speak from experience but I’ll testify that, as a lifelong reader of all kinds of literature from Tolstoy to Tom Clancy, I’ve never found a book that so thoroughly intrigues and stimulates my mind. I’ve been putting my head in the Bible daily for over five years now and I have yet to grow weary of its reliable inspiration and guidance. I consider it my owner’s manual for my pre-heavenly existence and it has never failed to instruct me on the correct way to behave. I’d be lost without it and no doubt by now I would’ve returned to wallowing, like a slop hog, in the sinful things I always gravitated towards. My recovery would stop on a dime if I were to cease relying on the Bible for hope and assurance of better days ahead. Stay in the Word.