The Dodgers and the Bible
I thought I’d bring up the Dodgers, since I haven’t publicly gloated yet. You may not know this, but the word “blue” (as in Dodger Blue) shows up 51 times in the Bible. I’m not sure, but that might be a hint as to where God’s MLB loyalties lie. And…we are compelled to be dodgers of sin at all costs, right? Okay, that’s weak. Maybe I should have been an Angels fan.
But more on MLB later.
There seems to be an awful lot of vitriol out there these days. The constant public condemnation of others for their opinions or decisions has become the norm, rather than the exception. Christians are publicly critical of pastors from other churches, even their own pastors, for a decision they didn’t agree with. People who have trusted their pastors for decades are now convinced COVID-19 has evidently caused those same pastors to lose their spiritual bearings or their ability to lead a local church. Frankly, I’ve never seen anything like it. So I thought it might be a good idea to press pause on criticizing others and focus on a process that all of us believers might consider before making any of our own decisions.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. —Proverbs 3:5-6
What exactly does that mean, to acknowledge God in all that we do? (Well, this is my opinion and I've decided to share it with you!)
Divine direction can come through different channels. I’ll identify five of them here. But don’t just go “channel surfing” with them and pick the one that seems easiest or most comfortable to you, like you might choose a favorite entrée from a buffet table. Rather, look at all five as a sequence to be considered in the appropriate order, actually in a descending order of import. Number one frames number two, two frames number three, and so on. So, let’s start at the top and ask the most important question of all.
1. Have you sought direction from God’s Word?
God primarily guides us through the clear direction of His Word. A relatively few passages of Scripture tend to be more controversial but, for the most part, for someone who wants to understand it, the Bible is pretty easy to figure out. But even the clearer statements seem to trip up a lot of people. These days, people tend to blur the objectivity of understanding what the Bible says with the subjectivity of how comfortable they are with what it says. There’s a difference between believing God’s Word reveals objective truth versus revealing subjectivetruth. And there’s a huge danger in not recognizing that difference.
Objective truth is truth about the object. So, making an objective statement means I’m describing something outside of myself. Okay, back to baseball.
The Dodgers are World Series Champions!
That’s an objective statement. It is a true and measurable statement. You can do the math for yourself. They won four scandal-free games in this year’s seven-game World Series. So, there you go! Everyone has to agree with the objectivity of its truth. The Los Angeles Dodgers will be MLB’s defending World Champions next season!
I believe the 2020 Dodgers were the best team in Dodgers’ history!
That’s not an objective statement. That would be called a subjective opinion. It’s debatable. Sandy Koufax may have a different opinion. Steve Garvey might as well. To say the 2020 team is the best ever doesn’t really say anything about the team, the object. It says something about me, the subject. It says that I think a lot of Clayton Kershaw, and Cody Bellinger, and Mookie Betts. It says that I may not even remember some of the great Dodger teams in the distant past.
If you did not agree that the Dodgers won the World Series, you would need to be corrected. But, if you did not agree that their 2020 version was the best in franchise history, then you have the right to your own opinion.
Science is on a quest for objective truth. If your answer said that one plus one equaled three, as your teacher, I would have the right to draw a red mark through that answer and explain how you were wrong. Historians are attempting to discern truth that is also objectified. But that’s where our culture has drawn the line, separating moral ideas from those other disciplines. While people expect other things to be considered objectively, moral beliefs are now more than ever being categorized in the “subjective” column. They are a matter of opinion or personal preference, hence the term “moral relativism.”
A biblical relativist would say they always agree with the Bible…until they find something in it they disagree with. “Situation ethics” is a big topic, where the focus is more on the situation than the ethics. More than ever before, it seems, long time Jesus-followers are aligning with moral relativism. The Bible says something they have always championed, but when the situation sufficiently changes, they change their mind about the ethics involved.
“Moral absolutism” is different. Absolutists believe that some things are morally right or wrong, regardless of how they personally feel about them. Moral truth, then, is like scientific truth or historical truth, in that sense. It is not something we are allowed to invent, but something we are obligated to discover. We don’t invent the physical laws of the Cosmos, we discover them. We don’t invent history, we discover it. Likewise, we don’t invent biblical truth, we discover it.
The writers of Scripture described the words they wrote down like a scientist would describe a mathematical formula or historians would describe the results of their research. The Bible writers describe the Bible as absolutely authoritative, as a document that has the dynamic of God’s Spirit living inside of every passage. And, for those of us who agree with that assessment, our decision-making strategy is pretty simple. Most of the time, we don’t even have to decide what is best. We just have to decide if we are going to do what is best. For us, the Bible is like a prescription from our divine Pharmacist. Just read the little label on the plastic bottle. Do what it says and your life suddenly becomes simpler. Oh yeah, you’ll also get healthier.
Remember, Solomon said that acknowledging the absolute authority of God’s Word will make our paths straight. (In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.) Simply submit to the authority of the Bible, believing the God who wrote it has your best interest at heart, and you’ll eventually find yourself in the most desirable place in the shortest amount of time.
2. Have you sought wisdom from God’s Spirit?
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. —James 1:5-6
Everyone could use some divine direction. In fact, according to Newsweek, even 20% of those who consider themselves to be either atheists or agnostics pray every day. It won’t do them much good, since they don’t have the context of God’s Word, but it is a revealing statistic.
By definition, wisdom is the correct use of knowledge. Therefore, wisdom requires pre-knowledge. Our prayers for wisdom are not offered in a vacuum. We pray after we’ve considered the truth in God’s Word. To pray for wisdom is to ask God how to proceed on the path His Word has revealed. Prayer is a conversation about obedience. We’re not seeking a “new wisdom,” one that would take us in a different direction than what the Bible has already shown us.
James isn’t the only apostle who wrote about this battle between our faith and our anxieties. The evidence of faith is not the absence of anxiety, but our persistence in the presence of it. And it is our prayers for wisdom that allow us to find peace while we stay the course.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. —Philippians 4:6-7
We feel anxiety when we don’t know what to do. But anxiety comes more often when we do know what to do, but just don’t want to do it, or maybe not know exactly how to do it. When that’s the case, ask Him. You’ve already revealed that you’re on board, by declaring your submission to His will, then He’ll be on board, by giving you all the wisdom you need to fulfill it.
3. Have you sought perspective from God’s people?
God also provides wisdom through other people. But keep in mind, just like you can’t trust your own intuition at times, neither can you blindly trust everyone else’s. Always evaluate human counsel in the light of Scripture. If you go to a counselor and you are told to follow a path that God’s Word has already denied you, find another counselor! Step Three should never invalidate Step One.
4. Have you asked for a miraculous sign?
In extraordinary circumstances, God may choose to supernaturally guide us through unnatural events. In the Bible, there were times that He guided believers by His audible voice, through a dream, or some kind of sign. Most of those reports are pretty impressive. But, even throughout biblical history, that wasn’t the norm. Not even close. By the way, God has spoken to me through lightning flashes before, but it’s always been the same message, “It’s a good thing you weren’t standing closer to that lightning flash!”
The point is, never start with number four, or even number three, or even number two. Some people camp at Step Four. But getting this far down into the process is almost never required.
5. Can you find a coin to flip?
In Acts 1, the disciples filled the vacancy that Judas’ betrayal created with a coin flip. Well, not exactly, but close! They’d use rocks or sticks with unique markings, throw them into a designated area, and then interpret the result. It’s like, “Okay, let’s play rock, paper, scissors and figure out who the new apostle should be!” God never condemns the casting of lots in the Bible because, after you’ve sought direction from Scripture, have completed a season of prayer, have sought the counsel of godly people, and evidently have not received a miraculous sign, God probably doesn’t really care which direction you go. In their decision, God would have used either man. Just like, at that point, He can bless either road you take. But He’s not going to steer a parked car. So move out in faith and watch Him work, believing that He has “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Recently, Sheryl and I had an important personal decision to make, a choice between two distinct paths. It had nothing to do with our ministry at HDC or our family, just us. We found nothing in the Bible that was specific to the need in question. We prayed for weeks. When we asked for advice, the counsel we received was all over the board. We didn’t receive a miraculous sign. So we just picked one of the two, believing God would honor either direction.
A few years ago, after explaining the coin-flip idea in a presentation, a couple came up and asked me if I wanted to use their coin or mine. Heads, they were staying in the high desert. Tails, they were moving to Dallas. They’d already worked the process. They couldn’t find Dallas TX in either Testament, prayed without clear direction, asked for advice but couldn’t get any clarity, didn’t receive a letter in the mail that said, “Stay” or “Move,” signed God. So there we all were, standing together in front of the auditorium. We prayed, I flipped, and it came up tails, so they’re Texans now (and having a great time, by the way). They would have probably been just as blessed if they’d remained where they were. Years later, God is still honoring their hearts to acknowledge Him in all they did.
Some of the most anxiety-filled decisions we’ve ever faced as a church leadership team have been made during the past eight months. In case you’re wondering, we’ve never had to flip a coin about when or how to come together as a church, whether to meet remotely, in-person inside or in-person outside. As we acknowledged God from the very beginning, the very first of these five steps essentially took care of the decision for us.
That path of submission isn’t easy for any of us. Sheryl and I arrive at our broadcast campus every weekend to stream a remote service. We drive into an empty parking lot and walk into a virtually empty building. I walk onto the stage of an empty auditorium and talk to a stationary camera, with no response from anyone. Now who do you think wants to get people back into our buildings more than anyone? But, in spite of the way all of this makes us feel, we’ve been faithful to God’s Word. Not perfectly I’m sure, but intentionally for sure.
I don’t understand why God wrote what He wrote, but every day I wake up and check and those passages haven’t changed. We’ve consistently prayed for wisdom about how to honor His Word and still encourage, teach, and shepherd such a large group of people. We are praying for a miracle and I hope you are too. Praying that God would just end the pandemic. Boom. He certainly has the ability. But so far, that’s not the resolution He’s chosen.
Baseball seasons come and go. Elections come and go. Administrations rise and fall. Crises begin and end. Only the Word of God lasts forever. Just like every other year of human history, when 2020 passes and all the dust settles, we will look back and see how God’s hand was in it all. How He worked so powerfully in the presence of so much human frailty and failure.
Trust the process and, remember, we will eventually find ourselves in the most desirable place in the shortest amount of time.
…if only it weren’t for those Astros.