Saturday, September 15, 2018

Steadfast Love and Knowledge of God

Text:

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hos. 6:6 ESV)

What We Are Like: 

It is often easier for us to imagine a God who desires us to fulfill basic duties. In this Old Testament verse, that duty was sacrificing an offering in the Temple. Today we might think that attending church, giving our tithe or volunteering our time is what God desires. Certainly those are good things, but the God of the Bible desires our hearts to have "steadfast love". Other good translations say "mercy". The second half of the verse has another but related emphasis. The God the Bible wants us to know him. This is not knowledge about him, but relational knowledge. This is knowing him as a person, not a mere academic theological. Knowledge of theology is not bad, but it can be disconnected from things like wonder of worship, sense of purpose in life, sense of connection, and understanding of one's own existence in relation to God. The God of the Bible desire "steadfast love" and "knowledge of God".

Explaining the Text:

This Old Testament passage of Hosea 6:6 is quoted by Jesus in Matthew 9:13. The religious leaders of the day questioned why Jesus ate with sinners. Before quoting the first half of Hosea 6:6 Jesus says those who are not sick have no need for a physician. Steadfast love for God and people fulfills the two great commandments. Steadfast love means loving God and loving people. Jesus was befriending those who had a need.

Illustration:

It is easy to congratulate ourselves on a job well done. It may be true that we have done well.  However, our focus on that success may keep us from seeing the needs of those around us. A part of love is seeing the needs. We can only direct our focus on so many things. It is a common experience. When driving, we can have a conversation with someone beside us. We can drive and adjust the radio. Switch off the radio and add our phones things become a bit more complex. Then add it all together. Have a conversation, follow the navigate in a new location from your phone and solve a dispute in the back seat may keep us from focusing on the most important thing, driving safely. Likewise, when we think have our Christian duty conquered, and think about how well we are doing, we may not see those who have needs right beside us. We are focused on self, rather than God and others.


Application to Us:

Whether it is a phone call to a shut in, or a food for the grieving or simply loving the unlovely, God wants our hearts. God does not desire us to focus on achievable duty but on a heart full of steadfast love, compassion, and knowledge of him. We cannot do this under our own power, we need the grace of God.  We must not see the steadfast love as a new duty, but a heart empowered by the Holy Spirit to love God and love others. 

3rd Verse of  Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies

Visit then this soul of mine,
Pierce the gloom of sin and grief;
Fill me, radiance divine,
Scatter all my unbelief;
More and more Thyself display,
Shining to the perfect day.

                                 ~Charles Wesley
                                 


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Church growth comes from three sources: transfer growth, biological growth or conversions.

Numeric Growth Resulting from Transfers from Other Congregations:

Church Growth in post-modern America often comes from transfer growth from other churches.  When people move from one city or area to another, it is natural for them to find a new church.  When someone relocates, this is good transfer growth.  Transfer growth is less desirable when it is merely the movement of Christians from one gospel believing church to another, but each story is different.  Particular moves may be necessary and good but capitalizing on transfer from other local congregations may provide vitality to the gaining congregation, but not expand the Kingdom of God.  For a new church or a church seeking to revitalize, gaining transfer growth is a good place to build to the congregation.  Transfer growth means that gaining congregation is conserving the discipleship efforts of a sister church which they may or may not know.  Transfer growth means welcoming into the congregation new people who need friends.  People are most likely to seek a church within weeks after they move into a community.  Advertising dollars are well spent on reaching new comers to a community. 

Numeric Growth from New Babies: 

Church growth happens when congregation members have children.  Ensuring that this sort of growth means 1st affirming that children are the church, not the future church.  While children are not ready for executive functions of leadership, they are a part of the current church.  Children and youth programs should both aid in including the children in the church and bringing age appropriate discipleship.  Often children and youth are mistakenly taught by our actions, not our theology, that the church congregation is for the generation of their parents.  So when they go to college, they look for a congregation that includes their age group.  Youth group often does not give way to participation into the life of the congregation.  Two common paths are for teens who are not serious about their faith to drop out of church as an adult or alternatively to find a church where they are taken seriously.  Ensuring that the church love and serves covenant children is as much a social phenomenon as anything else.  The big question is, do we respect our youth?  We often have affection for youth, but respect means that they are sitting on the bench of service until they are 30. 

Numeric Growth from Conversions:

When we say evangelism, we mean people coming to faith who did not have it before.  They dynamics of evangelism is often quite different than people expect.  In the history of the American gospel believing church often evangelism means heavy persuasion.  This persuasion type evangelism does address certain dynamics of the process.  However, the persuasion evangelism of the past sat solidly on the shoulders of the extensive teaching ministry of the church.  Sunday School, Biblical preaching, and many other teaching ministries of the church made it possible for evangelists to focus on the will.  The cognitive, emotional, ethical, personal habit, social habits, and social association education were done by the church at large, while the evangelist could focus on the volitional aspects.  In post-modern America the focus should be on full person engagement of discipleship rather than focus on the will. 

The worship service is our focus of whole person discipleship.  The singing, prayers, public reading of Scripture, preaching, and sacraments must all be leading us to Christ in our mind, our emotion, our will, our habits, our behaviors, and our relationships (with God, with others, and with ourselves).  It is common that we think of education and discipleship as primarily cognitive in nature.  While there are certainly cognitive aspects to Christian discipleship, it certainly is not merely cognitive.  Our evangelism begins with worship where we are making disciples.  This is not to suggest in the slightest that our worship service is merely a time for teaching by lecture.  Rather as we meet the Trinity in worship, where everything leads us to Christ, we become followers of Christ or we become better followers of Christ.   

Saturday, May 19, 2018

New City Catechism: Question 1 - What is our only hope in life and death?

New City Catechism:

Question 1:
What is our only hope in life and death?

Answer 1:
That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.
 
οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἡμῶν ἑαυτῷ ζῇ καὶ οὐδεὶς ἑαυτῷ ἀποθνῄσκει· ἐάν τε γὰρ ζῶμεν, τῷ κυρίῳ ζῶμεν, ἐάν τε ἀποθνῄσκωμεν, τῷ κυρίῳ ἀποθνῄσκομεν. ἐάν τε οὖν ζῶμεν ἐάν τε ἀποθνῄσκωμεν, τοῦ κυρίου ἐσμέν. (Rom. 14:7, 8 NA28)

For no one of us lives for himself and no one dies for himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord.  If then we live or if we die it is to the Lord.  (Author's Translation)

      We all live for some purpose.  It may not be a well thought out purpose.  It may be a purpose that has selfish or sinful motive.  Our underlying motives are often difficult to discern without self examination.  In 21st Century western society, we usually do not think of us dying for a purpose unless it is for rendering emergency aid for others or some times for combat.  Martyrdom for one's faith would be unusual not in our century but in our geographic surroundings.  Those things we do that risk our lives are things that we may very well die for, however, it probably will not be what we intended as the trade off.  By and large in western culture our goal is not to die for anything but simply to avoid death as long as possible.  Perhaps it was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said "There are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that they are worth dying for. And I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live."  It may seem morbid that we would want to talk about dying for some purpose, however, it is true we are going to die and how do we die with a purpose?  Purpose in life and death means that our heart is tied to something it loves.  What do we give ourselves?  Or to whom do we give ourselves?  In other words, what do we love? 

     Paul is dealing with the concept of each person living according to his own convictions of what the Lord desire for that person.  We each have to live according to those conviction.  Convictions are not our preferences.  Convictions are those things we believe we are obligated to live up to. There is a sense that if we desire to tell someone what exactly they should believe and do, we might be urging that person live for social acceptance rather than to the Lord.  We as a member of the covenant community must guard against requiring obedience to man made laws.  This is not a live and let live strategy of harmony, but a recognition that obedience to the Lord requires one to live according to convictions.  In order to live according to convictions there must be seasons where the individual who is a member of a family or a church must weigh in for himself or herself.  The person has think it through for himself.  In this life we can often defer to others about various opinions.  However, when it comes to our obedience to God, we must obey what we believe God wants and not some other person.  This is part of how we ensure we are loving God and not just settling into social norms.  The tension of discerning (not deciding) what we think God desires and it being in conflict with other godly people is exactly the sort of tension that keeps our eyes on the Lord and not on the church.  If I follow social norms of the church against what I think God has shown in the Bible, I love the church more than God.  If I follow the social norms of my parents rather than what I believe what God would have me do, I love my parents more than God.

Lord, 
We belong to you.  We desire to increase our love for you both in how we live day by day.  We desire to give our lives in humble service to you.  We belong to you Lord.  We belong to you. 

Amen

Charlie-in-the-Box from The Island of Misfit Toys

ἕκαστος καθὼς ἔλαβεν χάρισμα εἰς ἑαυτοὺς αὐτὸ διακονοῦντες ὡς καλοὶ οἰκονόμοι ποικίλης χάριτος θεοῦ. (1 Pet. 4:10 NA28)

Just as each one received a gift so also serve one another as good keepers of the varied grace of God.  (Author's Translation)

Of note in this verse is how there is coordination between receiving a spiritual gift from God and the type of service one renders.  This is not merely a nice idea that could be a strong choice, rather it is a matter of proper care of the thing that God has given.  The reason for serving according to one's given gift is οἰκονόμοι (Transliteration: oikonomoi), which is the word from which we get economics.  Rather than theory about finances of the world, nation, or other human grouping, this word emphases originally the wisdom needed to make a household orderly.  The beginning of the word has house in it (οἰκος).  In ancient times, the home was not just a place to relaxation or retreat.  The home had many functions, to include things like food production, clothing production, safety, etc...  It was a place that required orderly administration.  This is the emphasis of the word "steward" or "keeper".  If we fail use the gifting from God, we fail to cherish his gift.  We fail to preserve his gift.  We fail an orderly administration of it.

In a world that emphasizes theories that account for all cases, this verse emphasizes understanding with an eye towards variety.  All people are the same.  All people are a bit different.  In fact, the whole of human experience cannot be experienced narrowly.  Those who are different are a part of variety God has given.  Aptitudes, dispositions, interests, abilities, and discernment all are a part of our gifting.  No one has a corner market on what ministry should look exactly like.  In fact each person's gifting is unique.     

Meditating on this verse in 1 Peter has been a blessing to me because it shows that not all have the same gifts, and definitely my gifting does not run on the same tracks as the well travelled routes.  In fact, my path has been highly off from norms.  I have been tempted to get discouraged that I have not normalized my progress in ministry.  When I look at the ministry path I have taken, one way of looking at it is to say I have done it wrong.  There is definatly a truth in saying that.  For instance I did not complete my Masters of Divinity (M.Div) in my 20s as is more in line with normal paths in ministry.  In many ways I wish I had completed my M.Div in my 20s, but finishing after I was 50 has brought me humility and recognition of my own limitations.  Coming face to face with our weaknesses is grace.  "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (2 Cor. 12:9 ESV)"  God's power is made perfect in my weakness.  My weakness is his tool to bring me closer to him.  I do not naturally rejoice in my weakness.  I do thank God for my frustration and slowness of completing my M.Div.  Another area where I am off of the norm is my focus on engagement with the academic side of Bible interpretation.  This bent may hinder some of my desires for the future.  However, this may aid me to focus less on pleasing people and perhaps focus more on pleasing God.  It is yet to be seen how it works out, but seeing that my "Island of Misfit Toys" disposition it is good to know that it has not been out of God's plan.  This brings me comfort.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Prayer for the Return of Christ

Lord Jesus, Lord of Hosts, and coming King,

We have hope not merely of earthly success but we possess hope in your coming to set all things right.  We often pray in this life that we would be delivered from illness, conflict, and failure.  However, we know that this trajectory is near sighted and we must pray with the Apostle John in the book of Revelation, “Come Lord Jesus” in order to see ultimate delivery.  We approach your throne to see your face and prepare our hearts for your coming.  Come Lord Jesus.

Amen

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Is There a Better Translation for the Lord's Prayer?

Byzantine Text 1995  

Καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν, ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ. Ὅτι σοῦ ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία καὶ ἡ δύναμις καὶ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας. Ἀμήν.  Matthew 6:13 BYZ


 Nestle-Aland 28

 καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν, ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ. Matthew 6:13 NA28


Terry’s Translation

And you (our Father) do not lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. Matthew 6:13 

Translation is an art which draws upon theological and interpretive skills as well as linguistic and textual preservation skills.  Recently the lead pastor of the Roman Catholic church, Pope Francis said that the phrase in the Lord's prayer asking God to not lead us into temptations "is not a good translation."  Rather, Pope Francis advocates what he considers a better translation, “Do not let us fall into temptation.”  At least part of the reason is theological, because Pope Francis says, it “is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation.” He added, “It is Satan who leads us into temptation; that’s his department.”  We should appreciate that Pope Francis is valiant to speak well of God, which is in agreement with the third commandment which demands we not take the Lord's name in vain.  This is also in agreement with James who tells us in James 1:13 that “13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. (Jas. 1:13 ESV)”  So God is not culpable in our sin, though he controls all of the events. 

Theological coherence along with interpretive skills are mandatory for a solid translation.  However, we cannot read good theology into a passage that does not get addressed by that passage.  We cannot dump lexical meaning nor grammatical features of the original language text in order to satisfy theological uniformity.  If the translation should be "do not let us fall" I would expect the word to would have meaning "fall" to be within the lexical range of meaning.   The leading academic dictionary of Biblical Greek says the meaning of the word is "1. to bring into an area, bring in" or "2. to cause someone to enter into a certain event or condition, bring in".  

The verb εἰσενέγκῃς (eisenegkes) is a second person active aorist subjunctive.  The second person is the subject, "our Father" is who is being asked to not lead us into temptation.  The verb is not passive, it is active and "our Father" is the one who is being asked to not lead.  This form with the negative particle μὴ  according to Dan Wallace is "The prohibitive aorist is normally used, like its positive counterpart, in speculative situations. The force of the aorist is used to prohibit the action as a whole.  Because of this, it sometimes has an ingressive flavor: Do not start."  (The Basics of New Testament Syntax, page 320)  So perhaps in a schmaltzy sort of translation we might say, “you don’t even start to lead us”.  The way I am reading the verse is that it assumes that the providence of God is a governing factor in our life.  God is in control of what happens ultimately.  This verse gives the idea that God will lead us into temptation at times but we should ask him that we not be led into temptation. This is coherent with the passage in Luke,  "And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days.  (Lk. 4:1-2 ESV) Yes, it is the devil doing the tempting but God (the Holy Spirit) is the one leading where Jesus is going.  There is a theological tension which exists and we must embrace the tension of the passage.  That tension is even in the Lord's prayer itself.  Amazingly, the definite article before the word evil in the Greek indicates it is the evil one, not our evil.  I would say it means “the Devil”, we are to ask God to deliver us from the Devil.  This is also coherent with the command of Jesus to Peter, "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation."  (Matt. 26:41 ESV)

We should note that the Westminster Larger Catechism recognizes the tensions of "God...may so order things" with "that Satan, the world, and the flesh, are ready powerfully to draw us aside".  This tension has more than an intellectual curiosity, it is the reality that we actually live within.  

Q. 195. What do we pray for in the sixth petition?

A. In the sixth petition (which is, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil), acknowledging that the most wise, righteous, and gracious God, for divers holy and just ends, may so order things, that we may be assaulted, foiled, and for a time led captive by temptations; that Satan, the world, and the flesh, are ready powerfully to draw us aside, and ensnare us; and that we, even after the pardon of our sins, by reason of our corruption, weakness, and want of watchfulness, are not only subject to be tempted, and forward to expose ourselves unto temptations, but also of ourselves unable and unwilling to resist them, to recover out of them, and to improve them; and worthy to be left under the power of them; we pray, that God would so overrule the world and all in it, subdue the flesh, and restrain Satan, order all things, bestow and bless all means of grace, and quicken us to watchfulness in the use of them, that we and all his people may by his providence be kept from being tempted to sin; or, if tempted, that by his Spirit we may be powerfully supported and enabled to stand in the hour of temptation; or when fallen, raised again and recovered out of it, and have a sanctified use and improvement thereof: that our sanctification and salvation may be perfected, Satan trodden under our feet, and we fully freed from sin, temptation, and all evil, forever.


There is a hands on quiz coming soon for me and you on this.  

Thursday, May 25, 2017

What do I read next in my Bible?

I have not done it in many years, but sometimes I have just opened my Bible in a random fashion to see what God had to say to me.  It was sort of a modern take on the casting of lots or Urim and Thurim.  How do I know God's will?  Let's roll the dice so to speak.  I would hesitate to say one should never do this.  One is reading God's Word.  That is good.  In recent years a funny story has crossed my path a couple of times.  A young man want to know what to do with his life so he opens his Bible in this random fashion and the Scripture Matthew 27:5 about Judas is what the page opened to and the eye caught, "...and he went and hanged himself."  Feeling discouraged by such a dark passage he decided to try again and get a more positive Scripture passage.  He opened the Bible this time and came up with Luke 10:37 which told him "You go and do likewise." I have no idea whether that story is real or not.  I'm guessing it is not.  I would say I have often opened the Bible randomly and received more positive and more helpful passages.  Not that positive and helpful is the purpose of the Bible.  The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches that in Question and Answer 3 the following:

Q: What do the scriptures principally teach?
A: The scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.1

1. Micah 6:8. He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
John 20:31. But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
John 3:16. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

When we approach the Scripture to find out what job I should take or if I should by this business or not, we are seeking from the Scripture something that is askew from the main purpose.  That is not to say there is no good in seeking guidance and wisdom, which often does come from Scripture.  If I wonder if I should explore serving other God's besides the one true living God, the Scripture does tell me what to do.  God of the Bible forbids it.  While my country does not specify whom I should serve in religion, the Bible tells me whom I am to serve.

In deciding what to read in the Bible there are two approaches to take.  The first is to figure out what issues in our life need addressing then read the book of the Bible or select passages that deal with that passage.  Often our questions that we would like the Bible to answer do not line up with that 3rd Question and Answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  Our primary questions should be in line with our primary needs, but sometimes our hearts are not ready for that.  Our hearts ask for questions about suffering, marriage, finances, living a good life, and how to be wise.  The Scripture does address these, so going to those passages addressing those sorts of questions that are on our hearts can be an entrance to Scripture reading.  However, if we see the Bible as just a self-help book helping us with temporal concerns in the here and now, we may never get to the greater teachings of Scripture.  We must eventually look at deeper questions such as who is God?  Who is Jesus?  What is salvation?  Salvation from what?  What is sin?  How do I serve God?

What do I read next based on my need?  You can choose a temporal, earthly need or an eternal issue.  Either one can be a starting point.  It should not be an end though.

One way to address the topical issues is to look at Nave's Topical Bible.  Billy Graham in his ministry recommended this tool and there are versions on line.

http://www.naves-topical-bible.com/
http://www.biblestudytools.com/concordances/naves-topical-bible/

Another way to find topical Scripture passages is to use Concordances.  Today this activity can be easily done by searching for words in Bible Software.  There are many ways this can be accomplished.  There are Bible apps and applications.  Some of them for free such as put out by http://CrossWire.org. There are websites that have the whole Bible on them as searchable text.  Examples: Biblegateway.org, netbible.org, and esv.org.

Google can also be helpful by Googling phrases like, "What the Bible says about wisdom".  The auto complete of "What the Bible says about" can tell you a bit of what is on people's minds.

The other way to read the Bible is to read through the whole thing.  Ligonier Ministry has a bunch of different Bible reading plans on a page dedicated for this purpose.  There are charts for just reading one chapter at a time over three years.  There Bible reading plans that take one through the whole Bible in a year.  There is the M’Cheyne plan which takes one through the whole Bible in a year, but takes one through the Psalms and New Testament a second time.   The ESV.ORG site also has reading plans.

For myself, I am reading shorter passages but listening to a podcast which reads the ESV with the M'Cheyne plan.    

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

What is Sacred: Reading Mathew 23:16-26

Reading Matthew 23:16-23 helps us see how we are slack in giving respect for all aspects of God's creation.  While we might not use God's name in vain, we might not speak well of our fellow man.  These are beings created in God's image.  Jesus tells the Pharisees that the have it wrong when they teach that swearing by the Temple brings no obligation, but swearing by its gold does.  Jesus points out parallel teachings they have, where they teach about limits of the Law.  Jesus points out how the sacred has relationships and effects to other things.  We might see that we have not been recognizing the holy and the sacred in our own lives.

Another teaching of Jesus in this section has to do acting to advance justice, mercy, and faithfulness.  Justice is seeking the right.  Mercy acting forgiving, not giving punishment that someone deserves.  Faithfulness is being true to virtue and duty when it is costly to do so.  These are in contrast with the Pharisee practices of greed and self-indulgence.