Preaching, part 2 again

Alrighty then. So you have the passage in front of you, properly exegeted. What does the burden look like specifically? I gave one example, I thought I would give a few more examples.

  1. So when you preach from John’s Gospel. John has a burden and point and big picture he is after. He tells us in John 20:30-31, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” So every single passage is pregnant with purpose, and that purpose is to demonstrate that this man, Jesus, is the Christ the Son of God, so that you might believe and believing you might have eternal life. While I absolutely believe in the application of this book for believers, I whole heartedly believe John’s inspired purpose is the preaching of the gospel to the lost for their salvation. So no passage can be interpreted outside of that huge burden and intention. Which makes arguments against John 6 being applicable to our day laughable (but I digress).
  2. 1 John 5:13 tells us that, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know you have eternal life.” Pastorally speaking there are those who can live with doubt that they have eternal life. (I think 2 Peter suggests this very thing as well when Peter says, “For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten  that he was cleansed form his former sins.”) So when you go to preach from 1 John, this burden for the people to KNOW that they have eternal life, weighs in to every single sermon. While there is all sorts of good theology taught in this small book, that theology serves the pastoral purpose of helping those believers who are struggling with knowing that they have eternal life. The flip side is this burden is also aimed at those who believe that they have eternal life, but have nothing at all in their lives to commend them.
  3. Finally example from the Old Testament. Now here this is a little more tricky for a lot of pastors. Let’s take the book of Exodus. Now Moses wrote this book to God’s people. He wrote this books it seems for the purpose of reminding God’s people year after year, of the redemption that God had accomplished and the worship that God demands. Broadly speaking I think the themes of redemption and worship are the center of this book. So you would expect from what I have said, that perhaps the burden of this book is for us to see the redemption with which God has redeemed us and learn the worship that God demands of us. And, you would be right. However the trick, I would say here is that we are not Israel, we are the church, and it is clear that the Old Testament is clearly all about Christ and the redemption he has made for his people. So while the burden in the sermon is on the purposes of Moses, those purposes have to be finally made clear by the inspired New Testament authors who show us how these things were pointing forward to Christ his redemption and his worship. So even here, we are after that burden of the pastor who wrote these books so form up the points and message of our sermons.

So I hope this is helpful to give a little more detail with what I am talking about. Next time I will deal with how to form my sermons from this information and how at times I violate these things as well.

Preaching Part 2

SO the second thing about preaching that I think about is this.

What was the author trying to tell the people who would read the letter?

Now in most cases we call this the author’s intent.

However, for years now I have called this the pastoral burden. What do I mean?

That passage was written for a particular group of people for a particular reason. Whether it is the Old Testament or the New Testament, each passage had a reason for its existence.

And it is that word right there: reason. That makes all the difference in the world.

You see you can take a passage, look at the Greek or Hebrew, parse the sentence, draw your arcs, create your flow diagrams, and even chase out your typology. But without the reason for that text’s existence, the data you gather from these various tools, instruments and rules, leaves you without a cohesive whole.

I have called that cohesive whole: the pastoral burden. After proper exegesis, built on proper hermeneutics, bringing this passage into today can only be done, when we discover what the pastoral burden is of the passage.

I ask questions like:

  • What spiritual good was expected in God’s people, who read this passage?
  • Upon hearing this passage and the doctrine of this passage, what part of the life of God’s people was this aimed at? Was it aimed at them as a whole or individuals? Was it aimed at their thinking or their behavior?
  • In what way does Paul use this doctrine right here?

An example might help. Romans 8:28-30 is a passage that so many people love. This passage speaks at least in part about the doctrine of predestination. But the passage is not simply giving a good theology lesson. That doctrine is being used for a specific reason namely way Christians should view and handle suffering.

Another way to say what I am saying is this: the doctrine does not end on itself, but serves the greater purpose of drawing our heart to worship through living life pleasing to God.

This was Paul’s pastoral burden, and when we preach I think a sermon should share the same pastoral burden as the writer we are interpreting. If we don’t, then I think we miss the chance to help God’s people see how practical doctrine really is, and we miss the change to show them how to read God’s word rightly.

So what is the pastoral burden of the passage?

Preaching, part 1

I have been thinking a lot about preaching. Partly because that is what I do for a living.

Now there are two parts about preaching to think about, or maybe three.

  1. Preparing to preach – writing the sermon, planning the sermon
  2. Then preaching – the actual talking part.

My thoughts have been on the first. So I thought I would share a few thoughts.

Preaching I think should still be a monologue. What I mean is we are expecting in the preaching moment to hear one person talking. And if the pastor is doing what he should, then one person is truly all we will hear.

This one person talking should be God and God alone.

The Pastor studies and writes his sermon so that when he speaks it is as though God is speaking through him because he has so accurately interpreted the passage before him that God’s voice in the text is unmistakable.

Since we expect a monologue, the idea of turning the preaching moment into an interactive time with dialog between people and pastor, just seems a bit off. I know people need to ask question and digest, but I suggest that the preaching moment is not the time for that.

God is speaking in His word, and we puny humans need to be quiet and listen.

Fragile, Bold Confrontation

(Caveat – Often I am a chameleon. When I hear someone say we shouldn’t confront people I am usually the rabid sounding individual quoting Paul’s confrontations of sinners in his letters, calling them out in some harsh ways. But sometimes when I hear people calling others out and they seem to have no gentleness or no purpose of redemption. I veer off to the other side. So Today is the other side for me.)

We are fragile creatures.

Our sinful nature makes us extremely fallible. We can get things wrong in relationship to reality, and we often do. We can call something wrong that is not wrong, all because we lack the divine quality of being infallible.

Our sinful nature also makes us extremely wicked. We love the darkness. We love what is wrong. We love ourselves to the exclusion of others. We use others for the sake of our selves and all because we lack any sort of righteousness.

Even our best actions as humans are fully tainted with sin. Even our best prayers as Christians are still tainted with sin. Altruism is a pipe dream; pure motivation a farce.

This is what makes we cringe about the current state of calling people out. I understand the lost world, those who are without God in the world, calling out whomever they want, whenever they want, with or without evidence, with or without kindness. I get that.

What causes me to cringe is how often Christians call out others with an air of superiority that doesn’t seem to take Galatians 6:1 seriously. And specifically I have in mind Christians calling out Christians. (knowing full well we can only talk about professed Christians in both cases)

  • Maybe my problem is that words written on a page or post sound more harsh in my head than they should. Maybe I am just too emotional when I read that stuff.
  • Maybe I just can’t tell the difference between attacking the problem versus attacking the person.
  • Maybe I am just extremely fallible myself.

Here is what I think is true and should be kept in mind:

  • We can know the truth from God’s Word and not left with the platitude that is just your interpretation. We can have verifiable interpretations and so they are most weighty.
  • Veering from that truth is dangerous spiritually for everyone involved.
  • People need to be called out in their behavior  and belief deviations. Scripture does not give us an out on that.
  • But I also believe it should be done in a spirit of tenderness with a watchful eye towards your own behavior and belief.

If what we as Calvinists believe is true about depravity, then how is it that so many Calvinists are so bold to call out sin with no seeming fear that their very rebuking is tainted with ten times the amount of sin.

I don’t think this makes us weak to confront with fear and trembling, I think it makes us honest about ourselves and the possibility that we have got it wrong. A spirit of gentleness is not a spirit of ooshy gooshy let’s all love each other. It is simply the patient, kindness of a rescuing confrontation over a simple outing and shaming.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness, Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. Galatians 6:1-5

The Acts of God, Repeated

I think it was called Encounter, a 4 inch tall devotional magazine for teens. It has a short passage of Scripture to read everyday and a small devotional thought written by someone in the SBC.

This is how I read the Bible growing up. Today I don’t recommend that people read the Bible this way.

  • It chops up the Bible too much
  • Which makes it hard to see the overall story
  • Which makes it hard to stay away from moralism
  • Which is not good, precious.

Today I would encourage people to read consecutively. Read through books of the Bible. Read through sections of books, read through a Testament. Read Both Testaments together. Just don’t chop it up.

One good reason?

Let me quote from Francis Foulkes:

…we find in the Old Testament the hope and the conviction, not only that the past acts of God will be repeated, but that in the future they will be repeated on a scale greater and more wonderful than that of the past.

Foulkes was lecturing on the nature of God’s Acts in the Old Testament, setting up an argument for the use of typology for interpretation. (those of you that I just lost, just keep reading. It will be fine. I promise it won’t hurt too much.)

Just read his quote again:

Not only that the past acts of God will be repeated.

God has acted similarly in every generation. For example:

  • He rescued Adam and Eve from certain death because God himself provided a sacrifice to cover their sin.
  • He rescued Noah and his family, from certain death by providing both a safe haven and a sacrifice of the wicked people of the earth.
  • He rescued Isaac from certain death because God himself provided a sacrifice fit to take Isaac’s place.
  • He rescued Israel from bondage to Egypt as he himself provided the blood sacrifice through the lives of the Egyptians.
  • He rescued Israel from sure destruction, as God by his anointed king, takes the head of Goliath, the enemy of God’s people.
  • He rescued Hezekiah and Israel as God himself offers a blood sacrifice of the Assyrians and sets his people free.
  • And in Christ Jesus, God rescued his people by himself, providing the perfect sacrifice for the sin of his people, so that they might be set free. While Jesus destroyed both the work of the devil and the wisdom of men.

God’s acts will be repeated. But it is that last half of that quote that is most significant.

in the future they will be repeated on a scale greater and more wonderful than that of the past.

Christ is the fulfillment of the acts of God, so to understand any act in the Old Testament I need to look through the lens of Christ, the gospel and the massive rescue God has secured for us in Christ.

So that means we should not read the Bible chopped up. But read it consecutively. I am sure that is more to that, but at least this we should do.

Time off

It doesn’t take long for a few days to turn into a few months.

That is what has happened with my writing. I had decided I needed to take a few days off, but those days turned into a couple of months. So why?

Well let me show you.

So we cleaned out the shop. Set it up for woodworking, and I have done a couple of projects. One is a plywood cart for all my cutoffs and extras. The other project is a bike rack.

So yeah, this is what I have been doing. I hope that now that the intense get the shop set up is over, I can get back to some reading and writing. And maybe show you a project every now and then.

See ya soon.

Reading the Old Testament

Christians, take up the Old Testament and read it.

Too many Christians fail to read the Old Testament. For some reason, they find it foreign, unusual, or even distasteful.

But what many fail to realize is that every time Jesus said something to the effect of, “it is written” he was speaking of the Old Testament.

There was one famous pastor who recently made the claim that the early Christians didn’t have a Bible. While that is true in the sense that Crossway didn’t have a market in Jerusalem selling calf-leather bound printed copies of the 66 books of the protestant Bible, his statement is complete absurd and betrays a distaste or perhaps a disrespect for the Old Testament.

Luke 24:44-49 says this:

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Here the modern Christian’s bias against the Old Testament is rebuked, outlawed, and displayed as plain silly for 3 reasons.

  1. Jesus himself used, read, trusted, depended on, and relished in the Old Testament. Here after his own death and resurrection he is concerned not with recounting the events of the Old Testament, but he focuses in on what was written in the Old Testament.
  2. Jesus is also using the Old Testament to explain recent events. His own death and resurrection needed clarification and definition. He gave those things by teaching from the Old Testament. He could have just easily said, ” This is what it means I declare.” But instead he had already declared and he was sharing that declaration with these disciples.
  3. Jesus it he center of the Old Testament. We can’t overlook the fact that Jesus says, “everything written about me.” Jesus understood that the Old Testament was valuable, but it was valuable not simply because it could explain human condition, but because it centered on the person of Christ.

Christians, take up the Old Testament and read it. Read it with a view to helping you understand what happened in Jesus’ Life, but use the New Testament to help you properly interpret the Old Testament. But please read it.

Strength in Christ

Beloved, if you have Christ, you have strength.

This past Sunday I preached from Ephesians 6:10. One of the things that I was overwhelmed by as I was studying that passage is something that William Gurnall wrote in his work, The Christian in Complete Armor.

Look once again, poor heart, into thy own bosom, and see whether thou findest not some strength sent unto thee, which thou didst overlook before; this may be, yea, is very ordinary in this case, when God answers our prayer no in the letter, or when the thing itself is sent, but it comes in at the back-door, while we are expecting it at the fore; and truly thus the friend thou art looking for may be in thine house and thou not know it. (Kindle Locations 1387-1390)

How often we fail to see the strength that God has given to us already. I think it is because we expect that strength to look like a Herculean power, that would make us spiritual Popeye’s, rather, than seeing strength as that which endures the onslaught and remains standing.

When Hurricane Ike hit Texas in 2008, we had this massive oak tree in our front yard. That small hurricane, batted that tree around like it was nothing. But the tree, remained steadfast. The ground would at times bulge upward, as though the force of the winds were pushing it of its place. But in the end the tree remained and as far as I know, still remains to this day.

God does give to us strength when we ask, but I do believe it looks very different from what our Christian culture is longing for. It is not flashy, slick or trendy. It is a steady, rooted, and grounded strength, that draws constantly from the gospel of Christ, like a tap root lunged into an underground stream.

Beloved, if you have Christ, you have strength.

Jabez and Interpretation

Should we pray the prayer of Jabez? We should probably not. Here is why…

In 1 Chronicles 4 , two short verses tell the story about Jabez, and this gives us a test case for how we interpret the Bible.

Two things we need to understand about interpreting the Bible.

  1. First, there are rules, or governing principles, that all of us live by when we interpret the Bible. Those rules are sometimes very self-conscience and sometimes they are not. These rules govern the way we read the Bible, the meaning we give to the passage, and the methods we use to seek that meaning. It is important to learn what your rules are, and it is important to make sure that your rules and principles are good ones. (because yes some rules that people use are just plain wrong)
  2. Secondly there are tools that we use to extract the data from the text of the Bible. These tools are the kind of tools you would expect to use when reading almost any other writing in your life.

(For example, you wouldn’t read the warnings about poisoning on a chemical bottle and interpret it to mean that drinking the chemical will turn you into a unicorn. Words have meanings, and we easily apply good tools to most everything else we read.)

These tools can be used by people with different rules.You catch that right? The Rules and Tools. The rules rule the tools. Using tools without rules will be a disaster. So you have to use both.

This is how we get different interpretations of the Bible. Either the rules are different, the tools are being misapplied, or someone is lacking in either or both. So it is very important to be conscience of the rules and the tools you are using.

In The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson, his rules for interpreting are quiet simple. The passage means whatever the bald-faced words mean. That is why he wrote the book, and that is why there was so much criticism about the book. My goal today is not to critic his book, but to answer this question:

So what would be a better approach?

Let me suggest a line of thinking, without being specific. In other words, I want to suggest to you a few rules, use a few tools to extract data, and then draw a conclusion about a possible meaning of these two verses.(now I am doing this in about 10 minutes, and reserve the right to be wrong in my conclusion. My goal is to show how using both rules and tools are important)

Some Rules

Now these want be all of them, I just want to illustrate the importance of them. So here are 6 rules.

  • First Rule. All Scripture is about Christ.That is Jesus Christ is the center of revelation. The whole of the Bible is about Who Christ is, what Christ has done(will do), For Whom Christ does, on and on we could go. It is about Christ.
  • Second Rule. All Scripture is about Christ.I repeat this rule because it is so important.
  • Third Rule. The Old Testament is the promise, the New Testament is the fulfillment.
  • Fourth Rule. The Old Testament is properly interpreted by the New Testament.
  • Fifth Rule. The New Testament Writers often interpret passages using typology. (I say often, because I can’t say that I personally have an exhaustive knowledge of this)
  • Sixth Rule. There is a progressive nature to revelation, and being mindful of where you are in that revelation is important.

The Tools

What tools would I use? Very simply I want to see what I see.

  1. Jabez is listed in the Tribe of Judah.
  2. Jabez is not connected to any of the other families near by. In other words, we don’t know who his father is, his brothers, or the like. We only know he had brothers and he had a mother, and we assume by logic, he had a father.
  3. Jabez’s mother called him pain, because she birthed him in pain.
  4. Jabez was more honorable than his brothers.
  5. Jabez prayed for God to bless him.
  6. God answered his prayer.

Conclusions

Here is a man from the tribe of Judah

  • whose mother and brothers are mentioned, but not revealed
  • whose birth is mentioned, but with pain
  • whose connection with God seems to be well established
  • whose life is recounted in relation to the kings of Judah.
  • whose prayer is expanded territory, almost kingdom like
  • whose prayer is covenantal as he asks for God’s hand to be with him
  • whose prayer is so that the harm that might come to him, might not cause him pain.

I would say that it is possible that the writers are setting up a view to what the messiah might be like. He is from the tribe of Judah and everyone would have already know that. He would be the offspring of the woman, and they would all know that. But from here, I think they would learn: that the Messiah has his Father’s ear.

It is not that Jabez is Christ, but that a man from Judah, whose birth is important, also has the ear of the Father in his prayers for the covenantal blessings and success.

Now maybe I am off a little. And that is fine. My goal is to show the usage of these rules and tools. Please next time you read from the Old Testament, take your time and think through what rules you are using.

 

The 10 Commandments and the Christian

Are Christians obligated to obey the 10 commandments? Are these 10 something that Christians should follow?

The answer is not as straight forward as we would like, but the answer is not hard.

The answer is both yes and no.

NO

The 10 commandments were give as part of the Mosaic Law, for a particular people, at a particular time, for a particular reason. It was the law of the Covenant with Israel.

So in this way, no we are not obligated to obey the 10 commandments because we are not under the Mosaic covenant, we are under the New Covenant.

To make the 10 Commandments obligatory, and to fail to see the distinction of the covenants, puts us in a place similar to not identical to, but similar to, the pharisees who sought to merit God’s favor through obedience to law (usually their numerous extra laws)

This is the way I understand the passage that we are no longer under law, but under grace. We are not under the Mosaic Covenant, as the means of our relating to God. We are under the New Covenant.

YES

However, just because we are under the New Covenant does not mean there is no law.

If those under the New Covenant have the law written on their hearts, then regardless of how you identify that law, you have at least say, there is law in the New Covenant.

One example of the 10 Commandments specific application to the New Covenant is in Ephesians 6. Paul commands children to obey their parents. Paul takes right from the 5 th commandment and applies to Spirit-filled Christians both the obligating to keep the commandment and the promises for keeping the commandment.

That at least says that the 10 Commandments transcend the covenants in some way. (moral law, maybe?)

Paul doesn’t even hesitate to command of these believers (and there could be unbelievers there), to obey the law. He is following the pattern set down in the Mosaic Covenant.

  • God’s people are in bondage
  • God redeems his people by his own hand and blood
  • God demands of his redeemed people a way of life.

So Yes, we are obligated to obey the 10 commandments, not to merit favor, not as though we are part of Israel trying to gain the land, but as redeemed Spirit-Filled people, who need to know how to please God and what our good works should look like.