Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Layers of Context


This summer, I have been going through the book Inductive Bible Study, by Andreas Köstenberger and Alan Fuhr. While it is not a beginner's book, it is worth the effort to read. Köstenberger looks at biblical interpretation through a triad: history, theology, and literature. I find the motif very helpful. It is a similar approach to that of my hermeneutics prof.

Proper application flows from correct interpretation, and good interpretation pays attention to the context. Early in my years as a Bible student, I was taught to look for the context among the verses before and after the passage in question. That is correct, but there is much more to context. On top of the immediate, surrounding verses, there are layers of context.

Nine Facets of Context

Köstenberger and Fuhr point three levels of context within each of the three members of their interpretive triad:

Historical Context: Geopolitical Context, Situational Context, Cultural Context
Theological Context: Thematic Context, Revelational-Historical Context, Covenantal Context
Literary Context: Surrounding Context, Canonical Context, Literary Genre of Subgenre

This list may seem overwhelming, but it really helps when we consider these levels of context. It is worth slowing down and thinking about them. We live in a world of instant this and immediate that; learning what the Bible says takes time and patience. Delving into a detailed look at the context can reap valuable fruit.

The Example of Corinth

Anthony Thiselton's commentary on I Corinthians provides a helpful example. The opening chapters of I Corinthians talks much about wisdom. From 1:18 until the end of chapter 3, the contrast between the foolish and wisdom is Paul's focus. He expresses this truth in a paradox:
For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (I Cor. 1:22-25).
I have heard Bible study lessons and the occasional sermon where the discussion of wisdom and folly in I Corinthians is used as a springboard to criticize academic study. Fields of study such as philosophy, psychology, sociology, and science are identified as the kind of "worldly wisdom" Paul is talking about, and immediately pushed aside. But when we take the time to examine the cultural context of Corinth in Paul's day, we see that there is more going on.

According to Thiselton, Corinthian society, especially those of the Sophist tradition, loved the pursuit of wisdom, but it was not necessarily the pursuit whose end was truth or understanding. Rather, it was the ability to persuade others. What the Corinthians loved was rhetoric, not truth. They loved the debate, and especially the prestige it could afford one. As Thiselton says: " . . . some provincial centers, especially Corinth, were influenced by a kind of rhetoric that was more concerned with "winning" than with truth."

Paul discourages a wisdom for the sake of prestige:
"When Paul rejected the way of "high-sounding rhetoric or a display of cleverness" (1 Cor 2:2), he was rejecting the status accorded to a Sophist rhetorician to which the Christians in Corinth wanted him to aspire."
Sophist rhetoric loved the recognition, but that was not Paul's desire. His defense in 2:2 is not a rejection of education or learning; rather, it is Paul saying that the wisdom he came with was of God, not the wisdom prized by the Corinthians. By having a close look at the cultural context of Corinth during Paul's time, we can better interpret Paul's words.

The Value of Commentaries

Context is more than the surrounding verses, although those are important. Being able to understand Revelation demands we understand its genre, i.e. prophecy and apocalyptic literature. Accurately interpreting Old Testament narrative sometimes demands knowing the geopolitical context, especially during the days of the Kings and when Israel was captive in Babylon. Remembering that Proverbs is wisdom literature keeps us from turning them into promises. Understanding all the layers of context is very helpful.

I recently had a conversation with someone who discouraged the use of commentaries. She believes that she will allow the Holy Spirit to speak better if she refrains from using them. For my part, I find the background information from a commentary or a Bible background book are invaluable as I work to make sense of what is happening in the text. The Bible was written in a particular context for a particular context. Our goal should be to understand that before we bring it into our own.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Even If He Doesn't

It’s been almost a year since I last posted. I have so much to say, and so much I can’t say. It’s a strange combination that makes blogging difficult.

Ministry—along with life in general—can break your heart. The soft-focus promos for small group curricula don’t typically emphasis this, but some of the people we try to love and lead will reject the gospel. I’ve always known this, but lately I’ve felt the weight of it.

I’ve grieved with parents of prodigals and friends who have had their dreams crushed. I’ve watched helplessly as people made choices that left a trail of devastation in their wake. I’ve seen people push away every offer of help and hope to continue on a needless path of self-destruction. He told us the road was narrow, but I wasn’t prepared for how heart wrenching it would be to watch people I love choose the wide path.

One of my favorite testimonies in the Bible is that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When threatened with death in a fiery furnace for not bowing to an idol, they chose to stand firm:
Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. (Daniel 3:17–18)
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego weren't taking a stand because they were certain of a good outcome. In fact, they didn't know until after the furnace doors were opened how it was going to turn out.

Some translations render "but if not" as "but even if he doesn't." I seem to be in a season of "even if he doesn’t." I am not peering into the mouth of the fiery furnace, but I am begging God to do a bunch of things only he can do. These relationships might never be fixed. And even if they aren't, he is still good. Even as the voices asking, “Did God really say?” get louder, his Word is still true.

We can only plant and water, God makes things grow (1 Corinthians 3:6–7). And this reminder of my human inadequacy actually gives me more hope.

Because the heartbreak is only half the story. I’ve also seen restoration where it seemed there was no hope at all. I’ve seen the person who once had no use for the gospel embrace the truth with passion. I’ve seen marriages restored and families reunited. I’ve been reminded again and again that God is often doing his biggest works when things look bleakest.

I know that God could fix these things in a heartbeat. The test comes when he tarries. He really does have the words of eternal life (John 6:68), but he must give us eyes to see. The waiting just reminds us who is responsible for the victories.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

For Weak and Weary Pilgrims


One of my favorite Christian books is Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. I first read an abridged version when I was young, and I was enthralled by Christian's journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. It was an exciting adventure complete with hair-raising escapes and evil villains. But it wasn't until I was an adult that I began to appreciate how much Bunyan drew from the Scriptures as he laid out the believer's journey from the moment of conversion to the final destination of heaven.

I was naturally drawn to the main characters of Christian, Faithful who dies a martyr's death in Vanity Fair, and Hopeful who became Christian's new companion. These are heroic figures who persevere through affliction until they cross the river and are welcomed by the King of the city. But lately I've been encouraged by several of the minor pilgrims in Part II: Mr. Ready-to-Halt, Mr. Feeble-Mind, Mr. Despondency, and his daughter Much-Afraid. Yes, their names don't sound brave at all, but I can relate to these characters in more ways than one.

It's easy to get the idea that "good" Christians experience nothing but victory after victory with nary a temptation or struggle until they cross the finish line in a blaze of glory. But I wonder if the race looks less like a sprint and more like a marathon where the runners are exhausted with just enough strength to drag themselves across the finish line or are carried over by their comrades. It's in these moments of weakness that we realize how much we need the family of the faith to be arms of support when it's hard to take the next step. Whether we are the givers or receivers of this help, we aren't meant to go it alone, and Bunyan gives a moving example of this.

After being rescued by Mr. Great-Heart, Mr. Feeble-Mind confesses that he is a burden to himself and to the rest. However, Mr. Great-Heart responds in this way:
But, brother, said. Mr. Great-heart, I have it in commission to “comfort the feeble-minded,” and to “support the weak” (1 Thess. 5:14). You must needs go along with us; we will wait for you; we will lend you our help (Rom. 14:1); we will deny ourselves of some things, both opinionative and practical, for your sake (1 Cor. 8), we will not enter into doubtful disputations before you; we will be made all things to you, rather than you shall be left behind  (1 Cor. 9:22).1

What is also beautiful is that these weak and weary saints are still pilgrims who finish the race, only leaving their infirmities when they take the last stretch across the river. They are welcomed by the King just as much as Mr. Great-Heart and Mr. Valiant. Why is that?
When Jesus Christ counts up His Jewels at the last day He will take to Himself the little pearls as well as the great ones. If a diamond be never so small yet it is precious because it is a diamond. So will faith, be it never so little, if it be true faith, Christ will never lose even the smallest jewel of His crown. Little-faith is always sure of heaven, because the name of Little-faith is in the book of eternal life. Life-faith was chosen of God before the foundation of the world. Little-faith was bought with the blood of Christ; ay, and he cost as much as Great-faith.2

Regardless of whether we feel strong or weak, the former does not add to our salvation, and the latter does not disqualify us. We are saved in the same way - by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 (NASB)

1. The Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan, Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, pp. 229-230.
2. Mr. Ready-to-Halt and His Companions, Charles Spurgeon.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Difficult Passages Series: Judges 19 and The Gospel

Identity & the Gospel in Judges 19
Difficult Passages for Women Series



Whenever speakers or expositors read the passage in Judges 19:1-30, they invariably take great care to caution their listeners about the horrific events contained therein. Such is the depth of the concubine’s suffering, degradation, and circumstances of depravity. At the end of the chapter, even the author declares:
All who saw it said, “Nothing like this has ever happened or been seen from the day when the sons of Israel came up from the land of Egypt to this day. Consider it, take counsel and speak up!” (Judges 19:30, New American Standard Bible).

Placing the Judges 19 account within the larger context of the book of Judges brings out the doctrine of the depravity of man and the wretched state of the culture in those days, whereby everyone did what was right in his or her own eyes, because there was no king to rule (Judges 17:6, 19-1, 21-25). 


The story of the Judges 19 woman begins with a magnifying glass on her own sinful condition (v. 2), but quickly turns to the sinfulness of those around her and the culture at large. By the end of Judges 19, the concubine's story graphically depicts the reality that in a culture, given over to autonomous self-gratification, the death wages of sin typically pour out on its weakest members.

With that backdrop, I also hope that women will come to see how the truth of the Gospel of Christ can speak into even the dark, hopeless state of the Judges 19 woman. We can and should bring the Gospel message to bear even in these utterly hard passages.


Covenantal Nature of Identity.

First, let’s consider the covenantal nature of our identity. Contrary to covenant, none of the characters in Judges 19 account are named. Each of the participants is essentially an anonymous entity, likely intended to convey meaning on several levels. For instance, the Levite, the stranger, the father, and the concubine are representatives, like the literary “everyman,” who in this case ties us back to the point at the time of the Judges, when everyone was doing what they saw as right in their own eyes. The collective identity of Israel was indistinguishable from the depraved, Gentile surrounding culture. In those days, Israel's depravity had become as bad -- or worse -- than that of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1-29)

In this way, the concubine represents the people of Israel as a whole, individually enslaved by sin, and collectively abandoned to wickedness by the very leaders (represented by the father and the Levite) who were responsible for their well-being. But other layers of meaning concerning the anonymity of the concubine apply here as well. For instance, concubines who were barren or who did not provide a male heir to their masters were not named in the Hebrew Scriptures. A concubine derived her identity in the covenant community from fulfilling the particular role of heir-bearing. Otherwise, she would typically not be remembered by name within the historical covenant narratives.

Individual Nature of Identity.

Similarly, today, women associated with the dehumanizing acts of sexual abuse, or perhaps enslaved to sexual sin, suffer greatly with issues of identity, due to inherent objectification in society, along with perhaps finding themselves defined by past sexual relations. The shame they bear, both spiritually and culturally, often causes women to become silent, hidden, and even go underground. They, like the Judges 19 concubine, become anonymous entities whose lives matter little to their depraved masters, or the culture around them.


But…. these deep issues of identity as women in societies where illicit sexual circumstances anonymize and silence its victims are redeemable by our Lord Jesus, who is our true King.

True Identity.

Even in a land where people are selfishly and murderously doing only what they want to do, Jesus really is the true and better Israel. He stepped up as King, also took the place of the priest — and the concubine. He became the true Everyman, for those who believe on him.

He is the perfect Husband who protects his bride. He doesn’t treat her as a concubine, but rather as his cherished possession. Jesus, unlike the Levite and the stranger, doesn't give his bride over to the enemy to have his way with her and abuse her. Instead, our King Jesus leaves his Father's house to reverse the curse. He comes to his Bride and offers his own body to go out in the bride’s place — to be torn apart for the twelve tribes of Israel.

Instead of allowing her to be given over, without hope or any possibility for rescue and to forever have her name forgotten, Jesus gave himself up on the cross for his bride. Now, her name is written on his hands (Isaiah 49:16) and she is his eternally. His body, battered and bloodied, serves as a reminder to the Church, that we are his people, and that he is our true King, Redeemer, Priest, and Husband.
 Jesus's broken body calls us to assemble together in unity and peace because of his blood sacrifice, much like the oxen Saul cut to pieces to call the Israelites together for war (1 Samuel 11:7).

Remembering and Reminding.

Likewise, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a corporate reminder of the reality of Christ’s rescue. We need to remind one another and to be reminded of this Gospel truth. The prophet Hosea in chapters 9 and 10 looks back to the days of the Judges in order to warn Ephraim that they are behaving as those in Gibeah (Judges 19:15) by going after false gods and idols (Hosea 9:9). They had forgotten who they are; Whose they are; to Whom they belong. They were forgetting their husband, over and over and over.

Do we remind each other that we are his bride and that he has redeemed us as the prophet Hosea was called to redeem his bride, Gomer? That at one time we were not a people (Hosea 1:10; 1 Peter 2), but we too were delivered out of bondage and slavery (Exodus 20:2) and out of the kingdom of death and darkness (Col. 1:13) -- by the One who took our place and has called us by name? 


We are all prone to wander and forget our True King and Redeemer. He calls us to seek refuge in his Father's house; unlike the Levite, the strange, and the father in Judges 19, our Lord will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).


To be continued...

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Letting Go and Letting God

My children are all grown now, and there are many joys that come with this. There have been wonderful sons and daughters-in-law added to the family, and grandchildren, too. I am reaping welcome rewards for the many years I spent rearing my children.

But I will also admit that this is the hardest stage of parenting for me. Rebellious teenagers were still ultimately under my control. But now? I can give advice when asked, but I really don’t have a say in how my adult children lead their lives. I no longer have control over them.

My sons and daughters are, for the most part, sensible and hard-working. There is much to be proud of, and no good reason for me to be anxious, but I am. Each one of my children was my responsibility for eighteen years, and it is hard to let go. It is difficult to see them making decisions I wouldn’t make, taking risks I wouldn’t take, doing things I wouldn’t do. And I still want to protect them. Truth be told, I still want to control them.

My youngest son, who is in his twenties, likes to camp in the wilderness—the kind of wilderness with no cell coverage—alone with his dog. His truck is old, and although it’s been trustworthy so far, let’s be honest: An old vehicle can break down any time. And then there are bears. The bears in the north have been behaving badly this year. Logically, I know that if my son’s truck broke down, he’d be able to hike out. And despite a few publicized bear incidents, it is still unlikely that one will bother him. Yet every time he goes camping, I am anxious until he returns safely.

I have a friend who tells me he was a risk-loving, wild teenager. He once asked his father how he survived his son's daring teenaged years.

“On my knees,” his father answered. “On my knees.”

I’m learning this lesson, too. Persistent pleas to our faithful God are as crucial to parents of grown or nearly-grown sons and daughters as they are to parents of babies and toddlers. Our children leave our care, but they never leave his. They may be beyond our control, but they are never beyond his.

Our good and faithful God is always with us, and he is always with our children, too. He hears our pleas when we can’t voice them to our kids. He can be trusted when our sons and daughters can’t.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God . . . casting your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” — and your adult children, too (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Expendable


I recently finished J.I. Packer's excellent book Re-discovering Holiness. It was convicting. There were many occasions when I was forced to point a finger at myself. One such moment was while reading the chapter "Growing Strong: The Empowered Christian Life."

Packer discusses things we should be doing as we seek to manifest God's power in our own lives. One of those things is meeting the needs of others. He says: "It is right to be a channel of divine power into other people's lives at their point of need." Who doesn't like to feel needed? As he often does, however, he cautions the reader. All good principles can be abused.

We are to find our personal worth in God's redeeming love, not in the feeling of being needed. While we should meet the needs of those around us, deriving our sense of worth from being needed is not wise. Serving others to make ourselves feel good is not love, either.

Packer says:
If I am using my neighbours to bolster my sense of self-worth, I am using them, which is something different from loving them.
How do I react to the truth that God doesn't really need me? Do I believe it? Do I doubt that God can achieve his purposes without me? Do I meet the needs of someone from a heart of gratitude and and love, or am I seeking validation?

Packer then goes on to present a scenario that I found very convicting:
Imagine, now, a devoted and gifted Christian woman, whose ministry has been precious to her, finding that for quite a long period the Lord sidelines her so that her potential is not being used. What is going on? Is this spiritual failure? It is probably not spiritual failure at all, but a lesson in Christ's school of holiness. The Lord is reminding her that her life does not depend on finding that people need her. The prime source of her joy must always be the knowledge of God's love for her -- the knowledge that though he did not need her, he has chosen to love her freely and gloriously so that she may have the eternal joy of fellowship with him.*
How am I at being unnoticed? Being sidelined? About two years ago, my local church lost a sister in Christ who was serving the Lord faithfully. She had been doing so for many years, and the impact she'd had was noticeable. She was sidelined by illness. She was no longer able to do what she had done formerly, and ultimately, she succumbed to the illness. Fortunately, she was a woman who did not find her worth in being needed, but rather in who she was in Christ. How would I react if suddenly I was sidelined from serving? Do I secretly think that a particular ministry or task cannot be done without me? Do I really see that we are all expendable?

We serve the Lord because he allows us to. He works through us despite our weakness and despite our sin. He redeemed us despite what we deserve. He chose us in him before the foundation of the world because of his gracious love, not because he needed to. He works in us based on his love, not because he cannot do without us.

When my kids lived at home, they needed me, and I took joy in nurturing them. Now that the kids are older, they don't need me, but when they come home, I like to do things for them as if they do need me. But if I am looking for validation in being needed by my children -- or anyone else for that matter -- I'm looking in the wrong place. Far better to serve because of what God has done for me than for what I think I can do for him.

* I suspect these words could possibly generate cries of "Why is he picking on women?! Why doesn't he use a negative example of men?" I don't know, and I'm not going to make any assumptions.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Begun in grace and perfected in glory

The coming of Christ has been on my mind of late. Part of it is because my pastor has just finished preaching a series on Revelation. The other part is the lingering sorrow that has been weighing on my heart. I am not a melancholy person by nature, but I can't seem to shake this undercurrent of sadness. Don't get me wrong, there are many moments of joy and laughter. There are many times of encouragement in God's Word and with his people, but there is lament mixed with praise.

What is going on? Am I getting inundated with too much news? Has the optimism of youth been replaced with the pessimism of middle-age? Am I feeling helpless in the face of so much suffering that is not just out there but close to home? Christ's second coming is looking better and better, and yet his return isn't meant to be just an escape hatch from this broken and sin-cursed world.

In my weariness, I turned to the passage that everyone knows and loves - Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. (Matt. 11:28 NASB) Too often I would pluck this verse out of its context. This time I read the whole chapter. I had never noticed Jesus' declaration that the Father had given all things to him right before his call for the weary to come to him. What is the connection between the two? Well, here is what Matthew Henry has to say:

All things are delivered unto me of my Father. Christ, as God, is equal in power and glory with the Father; but as Mediator he receives his power and glory from the Father; has all judgment committed to him. He is authorized to settle a new covenant between God and man, and to offer peace and happiness to the apostate world, upon such terms as he should think fit: he was sanctified and sealed to be the sole Plenipotentiary, to concert and establish this great affair. In order to this, he has all power both in heaven and in earth, ch. 28:18 ); power over all flesh (Jn. 17:2); authority to execute judgment, Jn. 5:22Jn. 5:27 . This encourages us to come to Christ, that he is commissioned to receive us, and to give us what we come for, and has all things delivered to him for that purpose, by him who is Lord of all. All powers, all treasures are in his hand....
Note, It is the duty and interest of weary and heavy laden sinners to come to Jesus Christ. Renouncing all those things which stand in opposition to him, or in competition with him, we must accept of him, as our Physician and Advocate, and give up ourselves to his conduct and government; freely willing to be saved by him, in his own way, and upon his own terms. Come and cast that burden upon him, under which thou art heavy laden. This is the gospel call, The Spirit saith, Come; and the bride saith, Come; let him that is athirst come; Whoever will, let him come. [3.] The blessing promised to those that do come: I will give you rest. Christ is our Noah, whose name signifies rest, for this same shall give us rest. Gen. 5:29 Gen. 8:9 . Truly rest is good (Gen. 49:15 ), especially to those that labour and are heavy laden, Eccl. 5:12 . Note, Jesus Christ will give assured rest to those weary souls, that by a lively faith come to him for it; rest from the terror of sin, in a well-grounded peace of conscience; rest from the power of sin, in a regular order of the soul, and its due government of itself; a rest in God, and a complacency of soul, in his love. Ps. 11:6Ps. 11:7. This is that rest which remains for the people of God (Heb. 4:9 ), begun in grace, and perfected in glory.

I so appreciate what this brother has written. I can still long for Christ's return, but I don't have to wait until then to find rest. This Jesus who calls us to come to him isn't a small, weak savior. All authority has been given to him to fulfill the plan of redemption, and his resurrection testifies to that success. After his ascension, Jesus did not leave us to fend for ourselves like a deist deity who is not actively involved with creation. Rather, the fact that you and I are saved and that people continue to hear the gospel unhindered is proof that God is at work in the affairs of men. He carries the government on his shoulders. I just don't have the eyes to see it sometimes. And it is from a position of present omnipotence that he offers a rest that is better than earthly safety and security. He has given us freedom from condemnation, peace of conscience, and a love that casts out all fear. Do I always remember this? No, but thank God it does not depend on me but on him. Totally unearned and undeserved on my part. Freely given on his part. It's no wonder Matthew Henry writes, "This is that rest which remains for the people of God, begun in grace, and perfected in glory." Yes, and amen!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Three Faces of Redemptive Friendships


     Anyone who has ever had a two-faced friend will probably wonder how on earth redemptive friendships could have three faces? These three metaphorical faces of redemption have little to do with our physiognomy or the physical presentation of visages. Rather, what I’m suggesting is that in our approach toward cultivating redemptive friendships we ought to consider three different perspectives or orientations: 1) toward God, 2) toward self, and then 3) toward others.

      Our first priority to God leads us, as children of the Living God, upward, with open face toward the Lord and His purposes. Dr. John Frame called this upward face the “normative” perspective. He wrote in The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God that the Bible provides the lens through which we see and ought to evaluate who we are, the world around us, and the truth claims to which we hold.

     Thus, by knowing the Bible, we come to better see the character and holiness of God, to understand ourselves, and to interpret our context. In turn, the epistemological cycle enables us to know the Scriptures and God better. As John Knox once stated in an address to the statesmen in his time, “The Scriptures of God are my only foundation and substance in all matters of weight and importance.” Furthermore, Paul wrote to Timothy, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:15-16, ESV). All things begin and end with the Scriptures, our firm foundation in our relationships with others, both inside and outside of the Church. 

     The first face of redemptive friendships turns us heavenward. 

     Next, with the second face or perspective, we ought to examine ourselves and our standing before our Holy God, cultivating an accurate inward awareness. The inward face represents our existential or experiential perspective, by which we come to understand our lives in light of the normative foundation. Experience bolstered by life in the church, under the preaching and sacraments, play a vital role in developing right knowledge of oneself and encouragement to learn and grow upward and outward.

     In terms of the experiential perspective, Frame wrote that every person brings their dispositions, temperaments, biases, presuppositions, and life experience into the act of knowing and experiencing God and each other. In fact, Frame stated, objective knowledge in and of itself is not sufficient, as that would presuppose a denial of our creature hood and thus a denial of the power of God’s Word for us. Therefore, we must know ourselves rightly.

     As John Calvin emphasized the importance of acknowledging our own sinfulness and our inclination toward idols, he taught that our hearts resemble idol factories because we are so prone toward seeking our own autonomy. He further reminds us that faith and repentance are not merely the beginning, but the whole of our Christian lives. It's no mistake that Jesus exhorts us his followers to remove the log from our own eye first before attempting to help our neighbors remove their speck (Matthew 7:1-5).

     Since we have been made in the image of God, the existential face should reflect knowledge of God's glory as it increases through our sanctification. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18, NASB). Hence, the second face calls us to cultivate a life of knowledge of self, characterized by a life of believing and penitence, in light of the holiness and love of God (the upward face). In so doing, the Holy Spirit enables us then to effectively consider the outward face.

     Our third face, or outward orientation, represents the situational perspective. This third stance refers to our interactions with external facts, things, objects, and people, in light of the normative and experiential – knowing God and knowing ourselves. It includes acknowledging and understanding history, science, civil law, and other tangible information, along with our own contexts and relationships. Viewing people and things from a situational perspective involves understanding how we express the normative (Truth of God’s Word) in everyday life.  Without a robust understanding of and compassion for our context and the world, our attempts to apply Scripture in our interactions risk failure -- or reversion to a futile status: a resounding gong, an echo chamber, or the reiteration of confirmation bias.

     So, how might this work out in specific situations? First, consider the normative command of Scripture -- the timeless, unchanging moral principle from God's Word. Next, all the normative, moral principle to transform our hearts as we assess our own lives in light of God's character. How does heart knowledge of this principle affect my standing with God, my sin, and my relationship with others? Where do I need to repent or possibly become more self-aware? "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him"  (James 1:5, NASB).

     Finally, we apply this wisdom to our relationships inside and outside of the church, as a result of our upward reorientation toward the Lord (love of God) and our inward application in our own lives. Include contextual or situational clues such as legal, medical, cultural, and community (local church) practices that impact our decisions, actions, and consequences. Go before God and seek His wisdom. Then, we effectively live outward toward love of neighbor. We are enabled to step out in faith toward neighbor, enacting the great commission, extending hospitality and kindness, and expressing the love of Christ in our spheres of influence.

     In this way, we reflect back to God, His glory and the knowledge of Him in acts of worship. Rather than basing our friendships on worldly wisdom or empty promises as the two-faced friend might, we cultivate redemptive friendships, based on a lasting foundation, with eternal implications.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Our favorite books of the Bible

Rebecca:

My favorite book of the Bible is Hebrews. It was while studying Hebrews that I began to get a handle on the true relationship between the old and new covenants, something that had previously confused me. The writer of Hebrews put it all together: The old covenant was ineffectual. It didn’t work—not because the covenant was bad, but because the covenant people were. Israel did not fulfill their requirements under the old covenant, so Yahweh promised a new one. And with the blood of Jesus the promise of a new covenant has been fulfilled. The new covenant offers a better hope through a better covenant with better promises and a better sacrifice. And it offers actual forgiveness of sin—forgiveness that is complete and final.

I also love Hebrew’s highlight on the “heavenly city” (or country) reminding us that our ultimate hope is not in this world, but in the world to come. Longing for and living for the heavenly city is what kept the saints before us faithful, and it's what will keep us faithful through all the trials of our lives, too.


Persis:

My favorite book of the Bible is Psalms. This book was a tremendous source of comfort during a very hard trial. I lost count of how many times I read it because when I would reach Psalm 150, I would go right back to the beginning. The psalmists put into words what I was not able to verbalize at the time. This gave me a way to pour out my heart to the Lord. I love how the psalms span the range of human experience and emotion, from spiritual "highs" and celebration to mourning and lament. I love the honesty of the words as the psalmist is wondering if God will ever be gracious again, but in these verses, I am constantly pointed back to who God is and His character. Truly a balm to a weary and tired soul.


Kim:

My favourite book of the Bible is I John. In five short chapters, there is much about who Jesus is, who we are, and what God has done for us. The book focuses a lot on the person of Christ, that he was not only human, but that he was one with the Father. We must know the Son in order to know the Father (5:11). The book also teaches us one of the most important things about what Christ did, that he was a propitiation (2:2; 4:10), that he turned away God's wrath. The book also contains the comforting verse, 1:9, where we are told that when we sin, God will forgive us our sins. We learn about love not only for God but for one another.

Another thing I like about the book is John's warm writing style. He writes in a pastoral, caring manner, as a father to his children. One of my favourite parts of I John is the use of the image of light/darkness. I always notice light in my surroundings, and when I take photos, I notice shades of light. The picture of walking in the light is a beautiful one, which I love. It is a short book, but full of rich teaching.


Deb:
Currently, my favorite book of the Bible is Ephesians. I love Ephesians, because it depicts both the doctrine and practical teaching needed for maturing Christians. The richness of theology in the first chapters establishes the foundations of Christian belief, which in turn fortifies growth in Christ and enables us to live with purpose and calling.

The book of Ephesians is intensely personal and at the same time highly corporate in nature. Beginning in the first chapter, Paul declares who we are as Children of God and followers of Christ, as well as the truth of who God is - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then, with a view to the body of Christ, we learn about the two amazing mysteries of the Gospel. First, Paul tells us how God reconciled two peoples into one-body unity, through Jesus’s atoning sacrifice. Then, he describes the profound mystery of the Church as the Bride of Christ. After giving instructions for our relationships in the body and in our families, Paul follows closely with the famous spiritual warfare passages for standing firm in the midst of our daily struggle against powers of darkness. Come to think of it, I need more Ephesians.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Rhythm of the Christian Life


Right now, as I write this, I am sitting in a big rocker on the front porch enjoying the morning sunshine. One of my sons is in the driveway tinkering with his car, and another is in the vegetable garden, nailing together the box for a raised garden bed. I can hear the next-door neighbor, too, using some kind of power tool outside in his yard. The winters are long here—from October through April—so no one wants to waste a moment of the warmer temps and brighter skies. There will be a few Sundays over the summer when there will be no Sunday School at my church because too many teachers and too many children are gone. Yukon families love their summer weekend camping trips! I’m not saying these frequent church absences are good—they're not—but they are what they are. This it the rhythm of Yukon life: eight months stuck indoors, and then four months of freedom in the glorious landscape that surrounds us.

What is the rhythm of your life? Five workdays and then the weekend? Nine or ten months of school and then summer vacation? Or maybe every day is different and it seems like there is no rhythm at all. Still, there are probably patterns to your life, even if you don’t feel them—patterns of work, play, and rest, of wake time and sleep. 

And looking beyond—or deeper—than your daily physical life, do you see a rhythm to your spiritual life? Sinclair Ferguson says “the rhythm of the Christian’s life is always determined by the principle that when the revelation of God in His glory is grasped by faith, the response is to return all glory to God.” [1]  Theology should always result in doxology; the study of God should always lead to praise. 

When our lives and our days are busy, we tend to focus on getting tasks done. We have schedules and to-do lists, and we center everything around them. Is it any wonder, then, that when we think about how to apply the truths we learn about God, our first thoughts are practical ones: “What should I do? How can I serve? What duties should I add to my to-do list?”

This not how it ought to be. This is not—or shouldn't be—the rhythm of the Christian life. Sure, what we do is important, but our first response to knowledge of God and his ways should not be more action, but more praise. Truth, then worship, and then—maybe—action. Maybe, because sometimes an adoring heart is enough.

But always, hearts that sing go before hands that do. Right before his plea for believers to live transformed lives in service to God, the apostle Paul wrote a song of praise:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
           “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
                       or who has been his counselor?”
           “Or who has given a gift to him
                       that he might be repaid?”
          For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

Paul urges his readers to pour out their lives in obedience to God because they have seen the glory of God through his work of salvation. They have just read of his "unsearchable judgments" and inscrutable ways." Surely their hearts, like Paul's, are already bursting with praise! “To him be glory forever” is the reason for “I appeal to you . . . to present your bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 11:33-12:2).” Keeping the rhythm, Paul puts a song of praise before the call to service.

What is the rhythm of your Christian life? Are you regularly learning about God? Do you see his acts in creation, providence, and salvation, and glimpse his goodness? And when you do, are you taking time to praise him in return? Are you stopping to rejoice in his goodness? Not because it’s the next thing on your list of things to do, but because it’s what comes naturally. (Or perhaps, since we're talking about spiritual things, we should say it's what comes supernaturally.) Are you grasping God in his glory by faith and then returning all glory to him? Is this the rhythm of your life?



[1] Beeke, Joel R., Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism (Orlando, Florida: Reformation Trust Publishing 2008), 388.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What is Inductive Bible Study?


My introduction to inductive Bible study occurred in 1996, and came through Precept Ministries. I took the training offered, and taught Precept studies for a few years with a friend, and I also attended many. But Precept did not "invent" inductive Bible study, and you don't have to use Precept materials to practice inductive study methods.


Discovery


Inductive study involves looking at the data -- in this case, the Bible -- and drawing conclusions after careful examination. In their book Inductive Bible Study, Andreas Köstenberger and Alan Fuhr say, "induction is discovery." That certainly applies to Bible study, because we do more than simply gain information; we discover God's truth. Inductive study moves from the particular to the general and derives meaning only after piecing together the evidence. It does not begin with a conclusion, but moves toward one.

We work through this discovery process using the steps of observation, interpretation, and application. Observation is more than a cursory reading; it means reading over and over again, paying attention to context, setting, people, words, and phrases. Done well, it should be the longest step in the process. Following observation, we interpret. The practice of interpretation is also called hermeneutics, and it has its own set of principles which one must follow. Only after we observe thoroughly and interpret carefully do we move to application; or as my hermeneutics professor preferred to say, implication.


Focus on the Text


The benefit of inductive study is that it really focuses on the text. We all bring presuppositions and pre-understandings to the text, and inductive study will help us read the text as it is, not as we presume it to be. Köstenberger and Fuhr say, "induction by its very nature demands that we remain open to wherever the evidence may lead." For some, a systematized method of Bible study may not seem Spirit led. Why can't we open up the Bible and simply let the Spirit speak? The two are not mutually exclusive. It is a false dichotomy to say that methodology and the Spirit cannot co-exist. The Spirit works with our intellect as we study.


Worth the Work


When looking at Bible study material for yourself, I would suggest looking for a study which focuses on inductive methods. Look for a study that has you immersed in the text. Look for a study that has you reading in context, not just picking isolated verses, and has you looking to discover meaning. Keri Folmar's Bible studies are specifically inductive, and in the introductions to them, she provides an overview of the process. Another benefit of the inductive method is that as you practice these skills, you will be able to apply them to any book of the Bible, and there may be a day when you can put together your own studies. Inductive study is work; hard work. But it is an effort that has an impact on our entire Christian life, including our devotional life. As as my hermeneutics prof likes to say, every time we crack open the Bible, we come face to face with God.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Comfort in Revelation

There was a time when the book of Revelation was my least favorite book of the Bible. I thought its main message was to foretell all the horrible things that would happen before Jesus comes back, and those horrors would be my fate unless I achieved a certain level of spirituality whereby God would deem me mature enough to escape them. Cold comfort, indeed! At least, Revelation was at the end of the Bible so I could avoid reading it as long as possible. But what a terrible state to be in. I had no assurance as to my salvation. God and His gospel seemed weak and ineffectual, and I was afraid to read part of the Bible. But I couldn't be more wrong.

The gospel isn't the power of God to just get me in the door and then the rest is up to me. What Christ has accomplished covers the beginning, middle, and end of my Christian life. I am not living in a dualistic Star-Wars-like universe where good and evil battle one another on a level playing field. Who in his right mind would contend with the Almighty? God has no rivals. And what if Revelation is less about decoding the events of the 21st century but a word of comfort and consolation for Christians down through the ages?

Providentially my pastor has been preaching through Revelation, and I have grown to love this book because I need it just as much as my brothers and sisters in the 1st century. I need something greater than earthly security when I hear of the lives lost in the bombing in Manchester and gas attacks in Syria. I need hope when I read of the injustices that mankind has inflicted on fellow image bearers throughout history and even today. I need the promise of the life to come when loved ones suffer in body and mind. And I need to be reminded of these truths:

~ There will be trials and persecution, but Christ is seated on the throne even now. He has won and is worthy to bring God's plan of redemption to completion. (Rev. 5:5-14)

~ We have all had our share in the thread of suffering that began in Genesis 3, but it ends in Revelation. Sin and evil will be no more. "and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." (Rev. 21:4 NASB) 

~ God's purpose in redeeming people from every tribe, nation, and tongue will be fulfilled to the praise of His glory. And not only that, the good work He began in us will be accomplished. The Bride of the Lamb will be fit for her Heavenly Bridegroom (Rev. 7:9-17; Phil. 1:6; Rev. 21:1-2)

~ Fellowship with God was severed, and Adam and Eve were barred forever from Eden. But we will be united with Him forever with no shadow of sin, never to be parted again. And we will see His face. (Rev. 21:3, 22:4)

This is quite different from how I had previously viewed the book of Revelation. A source of fear has now become comfort and consolation indeed. May it take root in my heart. 

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. 


Sources:

Revelation sermon series, J. Ryan Davidson, Grace Baptist Chapel.

The Gospel in Revelation, The Goldsworthy Trilogy, Graeme Goldsworthy, Paternoster Press, 2011, originally printed 1981.