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Bible

Context, Context, Context

How many times have you heard of an argument between two people where one person accuses the other of taking their words out of context? Or how many times has some public figure been vilified in the media for a comment he or she made and their defense was that their comment was taken out of context?

The context of anything we say, or do for that matter, must be taken into account in order to understand the true meaning of our words or actions.

For instance, what about the words “Justin! I could just kill you!”? Or what if someone overheard something racist come out of your mouth but failed to hear the part about it being a comment a coworker had made and how you had chastised the coworker for the comment?

What about certain behaviors? What if a girl had been sexually abused much of her life and as a young adult became promiscuous? In light of her past, could her behavior at least be more easily understood? Would you be more inclined to excuse some of her bad behavior when understood in the light of her past? Additionally, what about cultural context? Words and actions that are appropriate in one culture can easily mean something else in another culture.

Context is everything. When we fail to understand people’s words and actions apart from the entire context of the conversation or culture, misunderstandings easily occur.

Most American churches today are being led by pastors who are handling the Word of God the same way a journalist might take a politicians words out of context and tell a story to suit the journalists own political viewpoints. They hand-pick one or two verses out of the Bible and preach an entire sermon based on those two or three scriptures while rarely returning to the Bible. Additionally, it’s not too hard to turn on any “Christian” TV show today and find a televangelist who has built and entire framework of doctrine around just one single verse.

2 Timothy 3:16,17 (ESV) states the following:

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The entire Bible, from cover to cover, is the Word of God. Just like taking one sentence out of the President’s speech and trying to explain the entire meaning of his speech based on just one or two sentences, you can’t take one or two sentences out of the Bible and expect to completely explain the meaning of the text.

While writing to Timothy about how to be a good pastor of the people, Paul states:

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching (1 Tim 4:13, ESV)

Paul understood the likelihood of error being introduced into Timothy’s teaching by simply reading one verse and giving an hour-long talk on what it means to the congregation. Paul understood that the context of any given verse was of utmost importance.

Taking one or two verses, or even three, out of the entire context in which they were written and preaching for an hour is exactly what is happening in much of the churches in America today. Particularly those of the Pentecostal, Charismatic, and “Purpose-Driven” variety.

A common method of sermon preparation for these pastors would look a little like this: First they would determine a “theme” for a series of sermons. All of the sermons for several weeks will center around this central sermon theme. For instance, the central theme may be about “Wise Stewardship”. the pastor would then develop several points he would like to teach his congregation about wise stewardship. Each of these points would be an entire Sunday sermon and would teach a particular aspect of using God’s resources wisely. As an example, one Sunday would be about giving to the poor, another would be about giving of your time, another sermon would include tithing, and so forth.

Thirdly, while preparing for a particular Sunday sermon, the pastor determines what he would like to teach the congregation about “Giving”, for instance. Using his knowledge of the Bible, he would determine which passage of scripture best fits what he would like to teach his church and he uses this verse or two to back up what he is trying to teach the people. As he preaches along, he may quote a verse or two as he preaches to further establish his points.

This method of sermon delivery actually has a name. It’s called a topical sermon. The topic is chosen by the pastor and then scripture is then used to establish the credibility of the sermon. While there certainly is a time and place for topical sermons, this is a bad choice for most sermons. Topical sermons lend themselves, by nature, to introducing too much of man’s opinion into the sermon and too little of the Word of God.

The proper way of handling the Word of God is called expository preaching, or inductive teaching. These methods basically take an entire section of scripture and “expose” its meaning. By going through an entire book of the Bible chapter by chapter and verse by verse only then can each individual scripture be properly understood in light of its original intent to its original readers, its cultural meaning when it was written, and what the scripture is telling us today. There is no other way to properly interpret scripture and it’s one of the reasons we have so much goofy doctrine being taught today.

When a pastor is committed to the public reading of scripture, as Paul commanded Timothy to be, and he teaches through the Bible book by book, chapter by chapter, and verse by verse there is far less likelihood that error will be introduced into his teaching. Though pastors are still human and errors will still be made, it’s easier for the average Christian to spot errors when the scriptures are taught in this manner. Additionally, the difficult-to-interpret scriptures aren’t glossed over, as most pastors tend to do when teaching topically.

When scripture is taught by reading through it verse by verse, we get a good balanced diet of God’s word each week. I used to attend a church where each year we focused on the “vision” and our “mission” at the beginning of the year and as the year progressed we moved into sermons about “serving” the body of believers. Towards the end of the year came the sermons about “giving”. Year after year this “topical” style of preaching continued. It did nothing more than keep the people in spiritual infancy feeding on spiritual “milk”.

There are many pastors and churches committed to verse by verse teaching. Even many pastors in denominations that have abandoned this type of teaching still teach in this manner. Calvary Chapels are churches that are all committed to teaching verse by verse. Churches that identify themselves with 9Marks are also churches that are committed to teaching in this manner and there are many others out there.

Although I’m not suggesting that anyone leave their church they are attending, I am suggesting that you take a long hard look at the manner in which your pastor is handling the Word of God. If topical preaching is the order of the day, I would almost guarantee that the people aren’t being fed the Word properly. If you need to find another fellowship, look for one that teaches line by line through the scriptures…….your very soul may just depend on it.

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My Glasseth, Half Fulleth

Over the last couple of months or so, I’ve been reading through the books of the prophets (Isaiah through Malachi) in my Bible. Although I’ve read select prophetic books multiple times such as Isaiah or Jeremiah, it’s been nearly five years since I’ve read completely through the prophetic books from start to finish.

As I was finishing up Micah this morning I was taken back to an incident, though seemingly minor at the time, that occurred in a prayer/Bible study group I was part of several years ago. This group was led by an older retired woman who spent most of her time involved in ministries such as these prayer/Bible study groups. At the time I thought her to be a very wise woman and a gifted student of the Bible.

During the bi-weekly meetings we would have, we would go over different passages of scripture, often from the Old Testament, and spend time praying. Like most good charismatics, we spent an inordinate amount of time in the book of Nehemiah because it has all those “broken down walls being rebuilt” scriptures that charismatics love to apply to ourselves.

Nevertheless, as I was finishing up the book of Micah I was taken back to this bible study group and something the leader had said once. She had commented that she just couldn’t read through the prophetic books of the Bible because they were just too depressing with all of the judgement and killing that went on. She said she would start in Isaiah (the first of the prophetic books) and could only get about half way through before it would make her a nervous wreck. Looking back, I find this strange as much of the verses we focused on in the Bible study came from the Old Testament prophetic books.

Over the last year or so I’ve slowly began to learn the Doctrines of Grace, that is, the sovereignty of God in everything including our salvation. During this time one thing I’ve discovered is the danger of picking Old Testament scriptures  that were promises  from God made to the nation Israel and making entire doctrines out of them. The entire face of Christianity today has done just that. If it weren’t for cherry-picked scriptures taken out of context there wouldn’t be any of the sort “televangelism” we see infecting “christian” television the world over.

Coming to slowly understand the sovereignty of God has made me look at not only God in a way I’ve never seen him, but approach the Bible in a whole new way. Before, where I might have had the same perspective as the lady leading this Bible study/prayer group I now see God’s grace throughout history.

In spite of Israel’s extreme idolatry and faithlessness toward God, they were always in His grip. He punished Israel for their idolatry and sin, but He saved a remnant, just as He promised. No matter how ugly Israel’s sin became they were always in His sovereign, gracious grasp. In fact, no matter how ugly their sin became they couldn’t run from Him. They were under His sovereign grace…..always pursuing, always disciplining, always faithful.

Now as I read through the prophetic books of the bible I have a whole new (and somewhat shocking) perspective on the God I so often fail to serve. He’s the God who, for whatever reason, has pursued me with His everlasting love, His never-ending grace, and His loving discipline. In spite of my idolatry, my sin, and my faithlessness He never leaves me nor forsakes me.

And no matter how many Old Testament verses we take out of context in order to say “I’m gonna smash through this wall, I’m gonna tear down this stronghold, I’m gonna command that to happen”, we can rest knowing that we can trust that God has us right where we need to be……and sometimes it’s being disciplined.

Yes, God is sovereign. Even over my salvation.

And whethere you know it or not……..you can’t command anything.

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Prayer Changes Everything?

The title of this post is a common slogan seen on bumper stickers and heard around Christian circles. And while I certainly am a staunch advocate of prayer, I’m not sure prayer can change everything.

At least I’m not sure ALL prayer changes things.

The Bible has a lot to say about prayer. There are numerous examples of awesome prayers given in the Old Testament. Jesus himself taught a lot on how to pray to the Father. The epistles of James and Peter even have very important things to say about how to pray.

The Bible, in fact, has so much to say about prayer it’s stunning some of the garbage being taught in church regarding prayer. But how many of these silly prayers are heard every Sunday? (Little side confession here: I’ve said far too many stupid prayers myself over the years and am sure I’ll continue to do so).

My wife and I served on an altar prayer team at our previous church. At a designated time during the church service the pastor would call the prayer team forward and anyone in the congregation needing prayer for anything could come to a couple at the altar and have them pray with them about whatever they needed prayer for.

Over the couple of years we did this we have had so many people come to us wanting us to pray with them about stuff that I just couldn’t believe they were asking for. Far too many of these were mature Christians requesting things that they should have known better than to ask for.

For instance, we had one woman whose son hadn’t made a house payment in 4 months wanting us to pray that God would allow her son to keep the property until he could find a better job. He had a good paying job already, he had just ran into some financial difficulty and wasn’t making his house payment….I prayed for God’s will to be done and wisdom for her son. She wasn’t pleased.

Another time a lady living in an extramarital relationship with her boyfriend who was admittedly not a Christian, approached and asked we pray for her relationship with her boyfriend to get better. I prayed for her salvation and for her eyes to be opened, not their happiness.  She also wasn’t happy with my prayer

Again, a lady approached wanting prayer for her brother that had left his wife for another woman, started drinking and using drugs and had become meaner than all get out. I asked if she wanted prayer for his salvation and she said “no, he’s a believer already”…… She wasn’t happy when I prayed for his salvation.

I noticed a Christian lady we know post a prayer to her Facebook page thanking God for something he had done in her life recently.

A couple of years ago her husband ran off and left her for another woman. She was devastated. He left her with a mortgage and three teenage sons. She walked away from the house to move closer to a new boyfriend, was about ready to pay off her van, left her church to attend a new one, and took her three teenage sons away from their friends……She posted a prayer of thanksgiving to God that she was now able to buy a new motorcycle. I kid you not.

And this is why I can’t believe that all prayers to God change everything.

The Bible says that when we pray in Jesus’ name, we receive whatever we ask. I gotta ask: How many of our prayers are really being prayed according to the heart and will of Jesus?

We wonder why it seems at times our prayers go unanswered. We wonder why it seems so much chaos is in our lives; why so much is going wrong. Could it be that maybe our prayers are actually being answered? Could it be that so many of our prayers are actually originating out of our own hearts rather than the heart and will of God?

One thing I am for certain is that as I get older, and hopefully wiser, I’m so thankful God didn’t answer  so many of my stupid prayers.

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Don’t Run With Sharp Objects

I was reading an article here on the Apprising Ministries blog yesterday about the slide into liberalism that has happened at Fuller Theological Seminary and how they ended up in their current state. As is almost always the case when we begin to compromise in our spiritual walk, we fail to take scripture as the inerrant word of God. We begin to make scripture fit the truth that we see rather than treating it as the rock solid word of God that we are smashed to pieces against that we may be made new by the same Word of God.

A recent (2010) position paper here by the Executive Presbytery of the Assemblies of God is an example of that denomination’s slide into embracing a more liberal interpretation of scripture. It is interesting to note that a position paper on the same subject written in 1977 here takes a more biblical view of creation. I would encourage a comparison of the two papers and take note of how the 2010 paper has adopted more of a “whatever you believe regarding the timing of creation is fine with us” sort of tone.

I want to draw attention particularly to the following paragraphs in the 2010 paper:

The advance of scientific research, particularly in the last few centuries, has raised many questions about the interpretation of the Genesis accounts of creation. In attempting to reconcile the Bible and the theories and conclusions of contemporary scientists, it should be remembered that the creation accounts do not give precise details as to how God went about His creative activity. Nor do these accounts provide us with complete chronologies that enable us to date with precision the time of the various stages of creation. Similarly, the findings of science are constantly expanding; the accepted theories of one generation are often revised in the next.

As a result, equally devout Christian believers have formed very different opinions about the age of the earth, the age of humankind, and the ways in which God went about the creative processes. Given the limited information available in Scripture, it does not seem wise to be overly dogmatic about any particular creation theory.

Whatever creation theory we individually may prefer, we must affirm that the entire creation has been brought into being by the design and activity of the Triune God. Moreover, we also affirm that the New Testament treats the creation and fall of Adam and Eve as historical events in which the Creator is especially involved. We urge all sincere and conscientious believers to adhere to what the Bible plainly teaches and to avoid divisiveness over debatable theories of creation.

The thing the Assemblies of God is failing to see is that all of the alternate “creation theories” that exist, other than taking the bible and its chronology literally, include God creating the earth and animals long before He created Man. And that is where the big problem lies.

Biblical Liberalism

For example, these alternate “creation theories” include God creating the earth and dinosaurs (among other animals) and the earth existing millions of years before He created Adam.

If this were true, which it’s not, then that means death existed on the earth before Adam sinned. The bible states the reason we needed a savior is because of Adam’s sin. The only reason we needed Jesus to die on a cross was because of the sin and death introduced into the earth by the fall of Adam.

If death existed on the earth before Adam sinned then that makes the entire bible on big lie. Because the entire bible is about God’s redemption of mankind through a savior, Jesus Christ.

It does matter what we believe regarding creation…..It matters greatly that we believe the word of God regarding everything it has to say. It doesn’t matter that we are able to explain why things are what they are regarding creation. Suffice it to say, however, that if He could create the earth at all, then He certainly could create it in a day.

It does matter, however, that we believe that God created the earth, animals, then man. Man then sinned and then death was introduced into the earth. THEN and only then did animals begin to die. This includes dinosaurs. The very foundation of the Gospel rests on this truth and there is no other optional belief for a Christian.

I was an Assemblies of God member for many years. I was a deacon in my church. I took bible classes in their Berean School for the Bible. I have been witness to the rapid influx of theological liberalism flooding into the denomination and swallowing entire congregations seemingly overnight. Most of this has been brought about by the Church Growth Movement of Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and Robert Schuller. All rooted in the Fuller Theological Seminary.

It tears at my heart to see a once mighty denomination that stood for biblical inerrancy slipping so rapidly down the slippery slope of biblical liberalism all in the name of “not offending”. We must stand on the Word of God, whether understand all of it or not, or we’re not really standing on anything at all.

The bible is a two-edged sword, as it calls itself, it’d probably be a good idea if we weren’t so quick to run off and try to think we have to make the bible fit with what unregenerate scientists think they have discovered. The very gospel is at stake.

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