Friday, October 08, 2010

Looking Down [A Few Verses] Might Be Good

Originally posted on the White Horse Inn blog on 10.7.10.

The theme running throughout the White Horse Inn broadcasts and Modern Reformation issues this year has been "Recovering Scripture." Such a recovery is needed in many areas of our doctrine of Scripture as has been pointed out many times this year already. However, under-girding all of these discussions is a desire to have Scripture properly interpreted. There are many directions one could go in a discussion about "hermeneutics" (the interpretation of Scripture), but the most basic is that a passage needs to be read in context. To isolate (a.k.a. rip, tear, wrench) a particular text from its context may mean that the interpretation that one arrives at can be severely flawed and damage can be done to the clear meaning of Scripture not to mention the application that is drawn for the hearers/readers of such an interpretation.

One of the easiest contexts to look at is the immediate context--what does the rest of the chapter, section, or book say that can give insight into a particular passage? Now this may seem obvious to many of you, but yet it isn't always done in the church today.

I subscribe to a daily devotional from a very popular pastor today. The body of the e-mail contains a Scripture passage (rarely does this ever span more than one verse), the devotional itself (containing a brief explanation of the passage and then application), and finally a prayer (I rarely can stomach getting this far). Every morning I cringe at what I am about to read. Most often the text is totally misinterpreted in a "word of faith/name-it-claim-it" direction which is to be expected from this pastor, but there are times when this pastor has so blatantly missed the immediate context of the passage he is looking at that it needs to be called out.

Do All That is in Your Heart


"Then Nathan said to David, Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you" (I Chronicles 17:2).

Today's Word from ____

What is in your heart today? What are the dreams and desires deep on the inside of you? Maybe you want to start a business, or ministry, or go back to school. Whatever is in your heart, ask the Lord to confirm it to you. God leads us by desires, but we have to first submit our desires to Him. Sometimes we have to allow Him to change our desires, but know that He is always out for your good. It says in the book of Psalms that God gives us the desires of our heart. That means He places desires within us then brings them to pass so that we can live a fulfilled life here on earth. I believe David did this very thing. He was known as a man after God's own heart. He submitted His heart to the Lord, and then Nathan came along and said, "Yes. Do what is in your heart. God is with you." Whatever is in your heart today, submit it to the Lord. Trust that He is out for your good and working behind the scenes on your behalf. As you put your faith and trust in Him, He will guide you in the life of victory He has in store for you! (emphasis added)

If you aren't familiar with 1 Chronicles 17, here are the first four verses:
1 Now when David lived in his house, David said to Nathan the prophet, "Behold, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of the LORD is under a tent." 2 And Nathan said to David, "Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you." 3 But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, 4 "Go and tell my servant David, 'Thus says the LORD: It is not you who will build me a house to dwell in.' (1 Chronicles 17:1-4 ESV).

So David wanted to build a house for the Lord, and he mentioned it to Nathan. Nathan said go ahead and do it (as this "devotional" pointed out). However, Nathan was wrong!! Even though he was a prophet of the Lord, he merely assumed that this would please the Lord. God came to Nathan that night and told him that the desires of David's heart WERE NOT God's desires and that in this matter God WAS NOT with David as this pastor requires to make his message sound in accord with Scripture. Later in 1 Chronicles chapter 17, Nathan tells David all the words of the Lord (v 15) which leads to a beautiful prayer of David recognizing that God is going to build a house for David not David building a house for the Lord (vv 16-27). Taken out of its immediate (the next two verses are pretty immediate!) context this passage can be used--no, twisted--to justify doing whatever our hearts desire because it must be from the Lord.

I hope it is clear from the example above that seeing the immediate context helps prevent us from making a determination about a particular text that is clearly not what the text has to say to us, let alone the original audience. However, not looking at the immediate context actually give more work to the interpreter. There are places in Scripture where one text is expressly explained by another text. This can be seen most clearly in some of the parables of Christ given in the Gospels. (Note: the WHI will be doing a six-part series on the parables from October 10-31.) All of the Synoptic Gospels include Jesus' own explanation of the "Parable of the Sower" (see Matt 13:18-23; Mark 4:13-20; Luke 8:11-15) which is a great benefit to us as a guide to how the parables themselves are to be interpreted.

When you are looking at the parables one of the things that an interpreter needs to do is determine what the characters and the items in the parable represent. Doing this task has led many to wrongly interpret the parables, but at times these people do way more work than they have to.

Here is our second example of missing the context:

When Weeds Spring Up


"Jesus told them another parable: 'The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away'" (Matthew 13:24, NIV).

Today's Word from _____

Jesus is telling a parable in Matthew 13 about a man who went out to his field and planted wheat in the ground. He sowed good seed. This represents that he was doing the right thing, honoring God with his life, and being good to others. But while he slept, an enemy came in and planted weeds. The man didn't know what had happened. He was expecting to have a great harvest; after all, he did all the right things. But the weeds sprang up among his wheat.

Sometimes, things happen in life. Weeds spring up that we didn't have anything to do with. The key is to keep the right attitude and keep focusing on the goodness of God. When these unexpected challenges happen, we can say, "It's just another weed. I didn't sow it. I don't have to reap it." Then we can keep the door open for God to move on our behalf.

Today, don't let the weeds take root. Don't let discouragement creep in. Instead, lift up your eyes of faith to what your father God can do for you. Keep believing, keep praying, and keep hoping because your harvest is on the way! (emphasis added)

The passage cited comes from the "Parable of the Weeds" in Matthew 13:24-30. This interpreter did the hard work and came up with his own identifications in the parable. We are the man, what we plant are our "good deeds," and the weeds are "unexpected challenges." Once I read this I opened my Bible and turned to Matthew 13. My eyes skimmed over the headings and I found "The Parable of the Weeds Explained" just five verses later!! Again the immediate context was missed. Let's see a more authoritative interpretation of this parable:
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field." 37 He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear (Matthew 13:36-43).

Wow!! Instead of a "parable" focusing totally on man and what we are doing, Christ says this parable is about himself, the kingdom of God, and the close of the age. What a total contrast from what the devotional said this parable is about! The "application" we are to draw from this parable is completely different as well.

Devotional - "Today, don't let the weeds take root. Don't let discouragement creep in. Instead, lift up your eyes of faith to what your father God can do for you. Keep believing, keep praying, and keep hoping because your harvest is on the way!"

Christ - "The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear."

One talks about a harvest of personal blessing today, whereas the other tells about a harvest that will come at the end of time with eternal significance. If you happen to feel blessed now, then you don't need the interpretation of the devotional. However, Christ's interpretation of this parable needs to be heard by all men and women everywhere and in every time because "law-breakers" are liable to the fire of God's wrath. But the good news is that in Christ God's people have been planted as children of the kingdom, are counted righteous, and will "shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father."

So what are we to do? God's Word is the final authority and everything that is preached "in the name of the Lord" needs to conform to Scripture. This is one of the roles that elders are to have in the church-to maintain the purity of the preached Word. However, laypeople too can do this. Listen to what Acts 17:11 says, "Now these Jews [from Berea] were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so."

You might be thinking that what I have presented here is a worst case scenario picking out two specific devotionals. I really do hope and pray that this is the case; however, my wife heard a sermon while visiting a large Evangelical mega-church where the pastor stopped his Scripture reading one verse short. By doing so all he preached on was man's duty (law) instead of what God has done through Christ (the Gospel).

James 3:1 gives some very humbling (and scary) words concerning teachers of God's people, "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." The pastor who wrote this devotional and who millions of people hear every week will be held accountable for these blatantly false interpretations of Scripture and he will be judged with a greater strictness. Paul tells the young minister Timothy, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15). This is the goal of anybody who steps into a pulpit (I guess now days it "steps behind a pulpit" if there is one in the first place): we are not to be ashamed because we rightly handled the word of truth. The same cannot be said for the examples given here.

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Thursday, August 05, 2010

Ummm Joel? What about the New Testament?

So you might have seen this video spreading around the web like wild-fire. In this video Mr. Joel Osteen tells his congregation to go back to the Old Covenant dietary requirements.

(H.T.: Heidelblog)

Now, if Joel would have taken out the 10% of his "speech" where he referenced the Bible and if he didn't do it behind a pulpit this could actually be beneficial on a purely natural basis. Joel clearly shows that he is not capable of "rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15) by not allowing “Scripture to interpret Scripture,” or pointing out how the drama of redemption will work out the fulfillment of OT types and shadows. Unfortunately there is another instance of Joel doing this very thing in a more unbelievable manner which I commented on here.

Here are just some of the New Testament Scripture passages that come to mind which contradict the very theological argument that Mr. Osteen is making:

Acts 10:9-16
The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: "Rise, Peter; kill and eat." 14 But Peter said, "By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, "What God has made clean, do not call common." 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.

Mark 7:19
...since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?" (Thus he [Jesus] declared all foods clean.)

1 Tim 4:1-5
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
That last passage from 1 Tim 4 is almost scary how applicable it is to this very situation.

God's Word isn't hard to understand, but it does take work to read the whole thing and allow the grand drama of redemption to show how the types and shadows of the Old Testament are fulfilled in the light of Christ.

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Friday, April 30, 2010

New Bible Study Posted

Over at the Gig Harbor Reformed Bible Study site, I posted some info, materials, and schedule concerning our next study series entitled "The Drama of Redemption."

Click here to go to the page.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Redeemer Reformation Church - Regina, SK, Canada

A good friend of mine and fellow WSC alum, Brian Cochran, was recently called to a new URC church in Regina, Saskatchewan. Redeemer Reformation Church is really the only consciously Reformed congregation in the whole province and the only URC over a span of about 700 miles between Lethbridge, AB and Winnipeg, MB (and you thought Bellingham, WA to Sunnyside, WA was far!). If you know anybody in Regina let them know about this great little church with a great man to lead them. If you don't know anybody in that area you can still keep them in your prayers!

They just put up a new website so check it out! Redeemer Reformation Church

They are holding a conference on March 12-13 entitled "Recovering the Reformation in Regina" which, Lord willing, will pique the people's interest in that city.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Off to Alberta!

After not exhorting anywhere for two and a half months I am excited to go serve God's people again by filling a pulpit. On Saturday I will be flying into Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to exhort at the Parkland URC in Ponoka and also in Lacombe on January 31 and February 7. This church has recently (on January 3) started a daughter church plant in Lacombe which I will be exhorting at in the mornings, and at the Ponoka mother church in the afternoon.

I am looking forward to traveling again, and haven't flown in quite a while considering how much I did a few months ago. I don't have much planned except to try and stay warm and get to know the people up there as best I can in the short period of time.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Church Planting Work

Many of you might be aware that I have been working on a church plant idea near Tacoma, WA for a number of months. Well, thanks to the generosity of the URC churches in Pacific Northwest classis, we have some funds with which to launch our Bible study!

So beginning on February 16 I will be traveling up to the area every other week to lead the Bible Study there (no, we are not moving yet). After the first few meetings we will see where we stand and what will happen next. So please keep this work in your prayers!

If you want more information on the work check out our website


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Judgment, Fate, or Providence in Haiti?

Originally posted on the White Horse Inn blog

In a world which is so connected news spreads fast. I got an e-mail notifying me of a 7.0 earthquake very near Port-au-Prince, Haiti just moments after the event occurred. A magnitude 7.0 earthquake is large regardless of where it occurs on the globe, but in the Caribbean I knew it could have devastating effects--this is not an area that is prepared for such seismic events. Quickly reports began pouring in about the utter devastation of the capital city and the hundreds of thousands of people that officials fear have died.

It is hard to imagine as I sit behind my desk on a beautiful, sunny Southern California winter day that 3,000 miles away there is such horror, despair, and loss of life. But because of that interconnectedness via the Internet, I can see the photos and read the stories coming out of Haiti. My heart truly goes out to those people.

Many of you may be aware that shortly after this earthquake Pat Robertson reported that he knew the reason behind this earthquake: the people of Haiti made a pact with the devil to overthrow the French, and this earthquake is God punishing and bringing upon his judgment upon those people. Interesting. I am truly puzzled where this "pact with the devil" was recorded and where those treaty documents are! I did a word search in the Bible for "Haiti" and didn't come up with anything. If God hasn't revealed anything in his revealed Word, then we should immediately be suspect of somebody claiming, extra and special revelation. Robertson is famous for telling the world the underlying cause for natural disasters and even terrorist attacks as God's judgment for this and that particular sin and here he is doing it again. (Dr. Horton has also reacted to Robertson's video)

On the other side of the spectrum are people who are struggling with what happened, but yet don't have answers. This essay is from a reporter who has spent many years in Haiti who laments, "And this? This is too much. How can nature or God or the fates or the universe do this to a country that has borne far too much sadness?"

This may sound strange, but in many ways this is a much more Biblical way of dealing with this situation! Obviously I am not praising Ms. Steber for her inclusion of naturalistic notions of "fate" and "the Universe", but she did address her question to God--the Creator of the universe. It is pretty apparent that she is not a Christian or even a theist per se, but yet there is something that is drawing her to question God why this event happened. This, friends, is a Biblical response, even for believers. Throughout the Psalms the psalmists are asking God "Why?" Why are the wicked prospering? Why does it seem that you are so far from me? Why, why, why?

It is interesting that in Luke 13 there is a reference to something hauntingly similar to the events in Haiti (but on a much smaller scale).

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:1-5 ESV).

Imagine that highlighted sentence as being "Or those hundreds of thousands on whom their homes in Haiti fell and killed them: do you think they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in the United States?" How would Pat Robertson respond to this question? "Yes, they were worse offenders because they made a pact with the devil." But how did Christ, the second person of the Trinity respond? "No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." Did you catch that? Christ said, "NO" where Robertson says "Yes." Christ then uses this tragic event to remind his hearers that everybody is an offender against God and we will all perish one day; therefore, now is the day of salvation; repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ!

You who are reading this right now may die today from a car accident on your way home. You might die of a heart-attack or in an earthquake in the middle of the night. But the fact remains that God has all the events under his providential care and that nothing escapes his control. However, we are not in the position to begin interpreting that providence. We can ask God "Why?", but we may never hear that answer. Our pastors need to remind hearers of this and call unbelievers to repentance and faith in Christ alone because we have all made a pact with the devil because of the fall of our representative head Adam in the Garden. Our comfort in facing tragedies comes not from our self-confidence that we are better people than others, but that we have had our own sins paid for on the cross by the final sacrifice of Christ. We don't look to our own righteousness, but we look to Christ's perfect righteousness which has been imputed to us freely.

An event of the magnitude which happened in Haiti is yet another reminder to us that we live in a fallen world, and that every single person needs to be reconciled to the Creator God because, until Christ comes again, we will all perish in some way. But in Christ we have a comfort in life and in death that the world does not have, but a Gospel comfort that they need to hear. The Heidelberg Catechism starts with this beautiful expression of this comfort in its first question and answer:

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own,
but belong --;
body and soul,
in life and in death --;
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven:
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.
That is our comfort and the comfort that the people of Haiti and every person in the world needs to hear.

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