Archive for ‘God's Word’

November 9, 2010

Spiritual Addiction

Whenever I hear the phrase “Spiritual Discipline” I shudder. Even more so, I find myself revolted almost to the point of nausea, spiritually speaking – that is.  Let me explain before you put your finger down your throat and say “gag me.” I find the term an oxymoron, as if we can just discipline ourselves into spiritual vitality.

An oxymoron is not a gullible teenager beset with a horrible case of acne. An oxymoron is a phrase that has words that are incongruous or contradictory but presented to be congruous. I love the idea behind the reason for and things that are what we are pointing to when we think and teach “spiritual disciplines.” But the oxymoron gets in my way. What an unfortunate term to describe the portion of Christian life that portrays coming to the Living Water and drinking at the source never to be thirsty again. Can you think of a worse sales technique than calling – “ Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – a spiritual discipline? If this was a corporate slogan then that would be a company soon out of business.

Yet, it is a slogan we Christians have hailed as a banner in our attempt to communicate a vitally important aspect of our walk with God. Indeed, we cannot walk with God without them. It would be like trying to live without food and water.

“Spiritual Disciplines” as a phrase creates a negative image in my mind. It is an image of a pharisee, who beats himself low as one who is observing the law, moaning as he fasts and rubbing his knees as he prays. Oh, the sacrifices! Oh, the pain! Oh, the inconveniences! “Look at all I have traded away for my discipline. My will and strength have won the day.” In short, I struggle because of how easy the term plays into the accusation of legalism.  It would seem that the surface problem of spiritual disciplines is legalism. Either from those who slave away under the practices  as if the disciplines are the end themselves or those antinomianists among us who claim “Legalist! Legalist!” if we dare raise the topic with them.

But there is even a deeper problem with our use of “spiritual discipline.” It is two-pronged.

First, we treat it like an option.

Second, we approach it as a task.

“See, he is preaching legalism!” You might be shouting out now. Maybe we could start texting sol (shout out loud) to tell people we are yelling at them from our armchair. So, maybe you are typing into the comment section right now “sol, sol – you legalist.” Thank you for listening. Please come again.

Think about it. We are constantly selling spiritual disciplines as optional tasks for the believer that are, naturally, to our benefit should we wise up and engage in them.

But for the believer, they are neither. Consider prayer and Bible study – two spiritual disciplines – in this regard. Have you ever thought of them as any thing but optional or tasks? I would like to offer a different way to consider them. They are, frankly, food – spiritual they may be – but food and drink none the less.

The Aspect of Intentionality

I like to eat. I like to eat a lot. And I eat a lot. This might surprise you; complete disclosure here – I eat at least three times a day.  Another surprise. You might have heard of these three periods before. Indeed, they have become so important that many people identify each period with its own name – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Now, it might be enough that I eat at least three times a day, but again, full disclosure forces me to admit that I eat at least six times most days.

The only time I have not eaten at least three times a day has always been by my choice. In other words, it is only by my intentionality that I miss these meals. Flip this around then and realize that it is by intentionality that I eat six times a day most days. You might say, “Wow, you sure are disciplined.” And after blushing and mumbling some nonsense about “Aw, shucks!” I would quickly change the subject. (Back to reality) Only nobody ever has told me “Wow, I am so amazed at your discipline to eat food three times a day.”

But, why not? Surely discipline is an aspect of my eating habits. I am even intentional on what I eat – eating protein, carbohydrates and fats at those meals. That is a reflection of the aspect of discipline involved in how I approach the succulent morsel of meat and tasty portion of blanched asparagus on my plate, with who knows what other pleasant surprises have been added to my tantalizing delight on the plate. Still, discipline is just one aspect of my eating habits. Hence, to call eating a discipline would fall far short of giving it its just due. Yes, intentionality is there – but there is more.

The Aspect of Necessity

I have called eating a habit, which may be interpreted as just another way as saying disciplined act done on a regular basis successfully making it easier to do than not to do long-term. But I would say when I eat, the reason it is a habit has more to do with its necessity for my survival, then it does an intentionality to master the art of eating. On some level I eat because I have to if I want to continue in this life. While our salvation doesn’t depend on our praying, we will pray if we are saved. It happens in accordance to salvation (see John 14).  This is very much like plugging in a rechargeable battery that is about to die. No one points to it and accuses it of legalism. “You legalistic battery. How dare you suggest to the rest of us batteries that necessity of getting recharged. We are just fine a.s….w..e…..c…o…n…t…i…n…u…e…….i….n……..o…..u…..r………..w……a……y……….” Sure you are (and since this is a blog, please assume my sarcastic tone here due to my utter incredulity for such a preposterous position). I have had periods of inconsistent and weak prayer. I have had times where I have not been intentional in setting aside a time for prayer. But I don’t think I have ever had a day when I haven’t prayed. Think about it. A passing one line sentence multiple times during the day. Of course, lean days and days rich in intentionality of prayer have taught me the necessity of prayer in my life. The more I pray, the healthier my diet. We all do it, but some of us do it with more intentionality than others and there lies a distinction.

The Aspect of Passion

I admit that there may be people who eat just to exist. And there are people who treat prayer the same way. But most people have a passion for food. And some Christians have a passion for prayer. Our habit of eating lies deeper than just a need to carry on, but also has a joy to it. Of course these passions are manifested in different ways – vegans, beef eaters, BBQ-ers, Cajun and spicy food, ethnic diversity in eating, and the list is seemingly endless. I love to eat. I have a recipe page on my blog. I am passionate about my food. My favorite channel on tv might just be the Food Network.

And I am desperately passionate about God’s Word and prayer. I find it strange that we can talk about these two areas as if we are Stoics. We find it strange when other Christians stop what they are doing and ask us if they can pray with us. Is it strange if they ask us to go eat lunch with them? We are more comfortable drinking a cup of joe with like-minded believers than we are opening the Bible. We can only do that at the designated time. Or we barely skim over the passage or can hardly think of  God’s attributes to praise him so that our prayer is less than a minute in length when we do pray. I lament over this point because I think it is here where we see the damage with a term such as “spiritual discipline.” When we treat our consideration of the intentional and necessary aspects of spiritual vitality as the only tasks to achieve we have undercut our vibrancy in life.  This is an issue of presuppositional proportions. We don’t look to be passionate in our prayer life or Bible study life because it was never on our radar screen.

The Aspect of Addiction

Finally, it pains me to admit this, but I am addicted to food. When I wake up in the middle of the night I head for the refrigerator. My discipline, habit, and passion to eat have resulted in it turning into an addiction. It is on my mind even when I’m not eating. This to me is the goal in my prayer life and Bible study. Indeed, I pray daily that God would make me a prayer addict. Does that sound funny to you? This is why to me we should be calling spiritual disciplines instead spiritual addictions. They require discipline, but that is just one aspect and there is so much more to our time with God. Not all addictions are formed immediately, but they all have the same result – you just can’t get enough.

Imagine waking up in the middle of the night and instead of turning to the refrigerator or whatever it is you turn to, turning to God in conversation through prayer and reading His Holy Word. Doing it because it comes so naturally and, when you think about it, it is what you want to do.

So, perhaps, today I am praying that you will have an addiction too.

Advertisements
March 23, 2010

Thinking of Leaving Church?

The discussion concerning when to leave a church is an interesting one. Typically when asked by people on how to determine criteria for picking a church (which also means leaving another one)  I generally give two basic criteria. The first is that the church needs to be a church that correctly handles God’s Word, meaning they preach and teach the Gospel as presented in Scripture. They need to be practitioners of the Gospel and then propagators of the Gospel. Get the emphasis – Gospel, Gospel, Gospel!!! The second is the criteria of compulsion – has God given you compulsion that this is a church you MUST do ministry through?

read more »

March 22, 2010

Great Exegetical Tool

At church we are finishing a section on how to do Bible Study. As we come to a close I am reminded of the tools I value most in my hopes of the Holy Spirit illuminating Scripture to me.  The top of my list looks like this:

1. The Holy Spirit
2. Prayer
3. Greek New Testament or Hebrew Old Testament
4. Wallace’s Greek Grammer Beyond the Basics or Waltke’s Biblical Hebrew Syntax – both syntax books.
5. Propositional diagrams to understand relationships between propositional statements.
6. Sentence diagramming.

read more »

February 15, 2010

The Harsh Taskmaster in Galatians 3:24

Most Mondays, Bill Mounce – a NT Greek expert, does an article dealing with biblical interpretation in respect to NT Greek Koinonia. This week’s article deals with the law as our “tutor” in Galatians 3:24. Since HRC’s Men’s Group is currently studying Galatians and our adult Sunday School class is taking a snapshot of Galatians 3:22-24 as we go through the steps of “How to do Bible Study” then this week’s post from Dr. Mounce is most timely.

To Metaphor, or not to Metaphor? (Monday with Mounce 61)

That is the question of Galatians 3:24. I was reminded of this question this morning as I listen to my nephew preach a good sermon on Galatians 3.

Dave preaches from the NIV, so in v 24 he read, “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” “Put in charge” is a colorless phrase that conveys a very basic meaning of authority, but it does convey meaning to almost any reader.

The NASB (also NKJV and ASV) has “become our tutor,” which defines a little more closely what the NIV means by “charge.” It is probably meant to reflect the KJV “schoolteacher.” The problem is that the Greek term παιδαγωγος evidently does not contain the sense of “teacher.” BDAG defines the word as, “the man, usu. a slave … whose duty it was to conduct a boy or youth … to and from school and to superintend his conduct.” They offer the gloss “one who has responsibility for someone who needs guidance, guardian, leader, guide” and specifically states that the word does not include the nuance of “teacher.”

The RSV had “custodian,” which was changed to “guardian” by the ESV (also in the NET); I am sure “custodian” sounded too much like the person cleaning the halls of a school after the children have gone home. The NLT typically splits the difference by including both, using “guardian and teacher.”

As you can see, the word is hard to translate. The NJB (New Jerusalem Bible) has what may sound at first like an odd translation: “serving as a slave to look after us,” but in fact it is getting much closer to the actual meaning of παιδαγωγος.

Boice defines the παιδαγωγος as this. “The pedagogue was a slave employed by wealthy Greeks or Romans to have responsibility for one of the children of the family. He had charge of the child from about the years six to sixteen and was responsible for watching over his behavior wherever he went and for conducting him to and from school” (EBC).

In other words, Paul is using not a general term for someone in charge, or a tutor, to define the relationship of the law to the Jewish people. He is using a very specific social role with very specific meanings and nuances that the native readers of the epistle would immediately understand.

George adds even more background to our understanding in his New American Commentary. “No doubt there were many pedagogues who were known for their kindness and held in affection by their wards, but the dominant image was that of a harsh disciplinarian who frequently resorted to physical force and corporal punishment as a way of keeping his children in line. For example, a certain pedagogue named Socicrines was described as a “fierce and mean old man” because of his physically breaking up a rowdy party. He then dragged away his young man, Charicles, ‘like the lowest slave’ and delivered the other troublemakers to the jailer with instructions that they should be handed over to ‘the public executioner’ ” (pp. 265-266).

And hence the problem of translation. If you are committed to translating metaphors, or perhaps it is better to call this an issue of historical backgrounds, then “guardian” is too hard to process. But if you are committed to trying to reflect ancient customs and requiring your readership to study the Bible, then using a colorless phrase like “in charge” significantly under-translates Paul’s use of παιδαγωγος.

The law was not a gentleman who kindly led its children into the ways of God. It was a harsh taskmaster, almost cruel, who identified sin and enticed the Jewish people to sin, and then by grace pointing them to the coming Christ, the only one who could make them right with God.

The Law was truly “holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom 7:12). But it was not a tutor, and the Jewish people did not simply function under its authority.

Which brings us to the final question, and that is when does a translation stop being a translation and become a commentary? And what side of the dividing line do you want your Bible to stand?

February 2, 2010

The Private verses the Public: Pausing to Consider Proof of Salvation

How do I know that I’m saved? That is a question I’ve heard with regularity throughout my ministry. It is a vitally important question and doesn’t belong on the heap of theological treatises that have no practical application in life. I come back to this conversation because of a few events within the past few months that keep bringing up just how important this discussion is and how it seems that American Christianity has an aversion to the biblical answer.

Event 1: I got in a dialogue concerning Lordship Salvation recently with a brother-in-Christ. His concern was that we require too much from people to be saved. All they have to do is believe on the Lord and confess with their mouth that God raised Jesus from the dead and they will be saved! True enough, but the culture that the New Testament was written in didn’t have the oversimplified view of belief that we tend to adopt today. I read somewhere recently the term “faithing” instead of “believing” to emphasize the difference because it is a belief that results in a life of faith. A life of faith means a life of action. (To be clear – this is not a discussion of “Can a person lose her salvation” to which everyone in these discussions would give a resounding “no!”) So I finished the conversation this way:

Here’s a quick question: Does God tell us what/how he maintains his covenant relationship with us so that it remains intact? I wonder if a false dichotomy is being considered in this conversation in that assurance of our relationship with God and our Spirit-forged fruits are independent or incontinent in some respect. I think again of the term “accordance.” For example, Jeremiah 32:40 “I will make with them an everlasting covenant: I will never turn away from doing good to them, and I will put fear of Me in their hearts so they will never again turn away from Me.” So, at least, part of the answer is that the way God ensures a lasting covenant with him is by putting within us the desire to stay true to him, as opposed to be an adulteress in our covenant relationship with him. So, even though works do not obtain salvation they are in accordance with salvation and in this sense have eternal consequence and weight.

Event 2: In preparation for the evangelism class I teach I have done some real soul searching. The reality is that we can teach all the methodologies and theology behind evangelism, but that doesn’t mean we will do it. Why not? I think that the overarching reason is because we are not engaging in self inventory when we are exposed to Scripture on the subject. When our pastor is preaching, our teacher is teaching or we are studying Scripture we are nodding our heads in all the right spots, but we aren’t taking Scriptural teaching to heart. We aren’t taking it serious. We aren’t allowing the light to shine on our own dark deeds. For example, the overwhelming descriptors of a life in Christ is a life of sacrifice and action. That is the difference between the sheep and the goats in the judgement of peoples in Matthew 25. We want to treat this like a parable, but Jesus says we will be like sheep and goats – it’s a simile. The problem is that we hear a text like this and nod our head thinking of the Pharisees in the New Testament so we can avoid taking an internal inventory ourselves.

Put these first two events together and we have the perfect Scriptural text that deals with the situation: James 2:14-19 “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.”

The reality is that if you are saved then you will have a life of works that are in accordance to your salvation, not the cause, but the affirmation. We’ll come back to this.

Event 3: On the way home last night I heard this sermon by John MacArthur.

Event 4: Recently I had another discussion with a dear brother-in-Christ (different than event 1) whom I love deeply. His earnestness and desire to grow in the Spirit are encouraging. We got into the discussion of how we communicate to people how to take inventory in their lives in order to have confidence that they are actually saved. I was propagating that we tell people to take serious inventory of our lives and if the external evidences aren’t there than we should be asking if we are saved at all. He wondered if it wasn’t better to highlight the private devotions rather than the public dealings. He rightly pointed out that people can use this instruction as an opportunity for legalism and abuse or dismiss grace. The reality is no matter how much we preach or teach that we are not talking about the cause of salvation (hence self righteousness and legalism) that some people just will not hear what we are saying. I wish I could prevent this danger but I cannot. On the flip side, when dealing with proof of salvation Scripture uses far more examples of external actions that are in accordance with our profession of faith rather than private settings of devotion and worship. In fact a couple of places in Scripture address that this is a false dichotomy. I call it the false dichotomy of private versus public. It is a false dichotomy that thinks our private life of devotion can be proof of our enduring faith in the Lord while our public life offers no such proof. I would say that this dichotomy is not biblical. Two Scripture texts that help us here: First, let us consider Isaiah 1.

God starts out this way as he speaks to his chosen people (don’t miss that): Isaiah 1:2-10 Listen, O heavens, and hear, O earth; For the LORD speaks, “Sons I have reared and brought up, But they have revolted against Me…But Israel does not know, My people do not understand.”  Alas, sinful nation, People weighed down with iniquity, Offspring of evildoers, Sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the LORD, They have despised the Holy One of Israel, They have turned away from Him…Hear the word of the LORD, You rulers of Sodom; Give ear to the instruction of our God, You people of Gomorrah.”

Just so we get this, whatever God’s people did it made them comparable to Sodom and Gomorrah (Hint: It was not homosexuality). What we need to get is the seriousness here.

There is a pause between 1.10 and 1.11. The pause is the protestations of God’s people. They are crying out to God “What do you mean we’ve revolted against you O Lord? We are taking care of the temple! We are making all the sacrifices! We give a tithe! We come to your house singing your praises!” In our day we would translate the protestations to “What do you mean we’ve revolted against you O Lord? We are doing our bible study and daily quiet times! We go to church every Sunday and Wednesday! We give more than most! Our worship times are dynamic and uplifting! Our preacher preaches from your Word every Sunday and steps on all our toes! Surely we are not in revolt against the Lord.”

And this is God’s response to them and us: Isaiah 1:11-17 “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” Says the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. “When you come to appear before Me, Who requires of you this trampling of My courts? “Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies– I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. “I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. “So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.”

Today his rebuke is more like “What is your life of sacrifice to me? I have had enough of your fasting. Your coming to church week after week is offensive to me. Your come from the sewage plant with muddy boots and wipe the filth on the sactuary’s carpet. You say you give an overwhelming amount of money and time, but you have more time and money than anyone ever has had in the history of the world and your self-congratulatory pats on the back show your ignorance. I don’t want your money or time anymore. It is offensive to me. Your Easter Passover celebrations, Christmas Cantatas and Fall Festivals are burdensome. I grow weary of them. When you prostrate yourselves in prayer I’m not listening. I know you are praying a lot, but I’m still not listening. Wake up call: You hands are covered with blood! This is what I’m trying to get through to you. Y’all are doing evil in my sight. You are doing evil in the fact that you aren’t doing good. When I say do good I’m not talking about your worship services or private devotions I’m talking about the tangible things: Help the poor and defend the helpless. The widows and orphans in your city have turned to state and federal governments to do what I have called you to do.”

Second, is Revelation 20:12 “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.”

Consider the plural “books.” I am amazed in my ministry how often Christians discover this syntactical fact in Revelation. We grow up learning all about the Lamb’s Book of Life, but NOT the Book of Deeds. The books are in accordance with one another. So just because deeds don’t save they do confirm that you are saved. But now ask yourself “Why do most Christians in America not know about the second book?” And the answer is the false dichotomy of private and public and a misunderstanding of biblical belief. In America we are all about making it easy, which means getting your name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, but ease does not coincide with doing hence we say very little about the onus of responsibility that comes with being saved.

January 27, 2010

Why Beggars Beyond Our Door?

Why change the blog name from “Out of Season,” which fits within the normalcy of blog titles to “Beggars Beyond Our Door,” which admittedly sounds a bit archaic? The answers lies, in part, in what a blog title does for me, which is it aspires me to who I want to become. Generally blog titles seem to fall into two categories: 1) Who I am and 2) Who I Hope to Be.  My approach has been to reflect who I hope to be.  Therefore the two following reasons are the overarching influences in this name change.

1. “Out of Season” corresponds to 2 Timothy 4:2 where Paul instructs us to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. ” In many ways this has been my pastoral passion – to be bold and preach God’s Word. But it also reflected a desire to be witty. By choosing a title like “Out of Season” a “me against the world” mentality can take place. Well, the truth is that I don’t think God gives a flip about my wit, nor does he care for my individualistic mentality.

2. On the other side, ministry is much more than just preaching and teaching. In fact, I would dare say that a pastoral passion necessitates taking action with our words. I must not be a hearer and speaker only, but a doer. I turn through God’s word and am convicted for action as part of the Gospel. Of course we all know this, but I fear, explain it away in little ways with our lives so that we continually fall into mediocrity. But the proclamation of the Gospel continually means a lifestyle of self sacrifice, make yourself available to uncomfortable positions and going to those who know they need help. People like beggars. So the title change is an effort to remind me – and you – that there are beggars outside our door. What are we going to do about it?

January 25, 2010

Name Change

I have changed the name of my blog from “Out of Season” to “Beggars Beyond Our Door.” While changing the title of a blog is not a life changing event, this name change comes with many reasons. Perhaps I will post more as to why in the days to follow, but for now I will leave you with this: 

 “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” from 2 Corinthians 8:9.

January 17, 2010

Life

Romans 6:22-23  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

As a child of God the reward today is the reward for eternity – God. Life means dwelling with God. Life means intimacy with God. Life means being in his presence, singing his praises and growing in infinite joy infinitely. Life is hard to comprehend. And it is impossible to grasp. But by the sweet Name of Jesus, we have this great gift. It is the greatest gift because it is the gift where God gives himself to us.

God’s setting us free from sin is not a picture of being let out of a stable in unending pastures that roam every which way. There the panthers, wolves and bears roam. There others pretending to be good shepherds have their own flock where they hope to steal and imprison. God’s setting us free puts our feet on a paved road that leads to his household and the blessings of being his child. We are loved. We are safe. We are forgiven. We are declared innocent. We look more like our Father everyday.

May 26, 2009

Tomato Praise vs. Redwood Praise

Psalm 56:4 “In God, I will praise in His word, in God I trust. I am not afraid. What can flesh do to me?” [my translation]

We have lofty aspirations in our praises to the Lord. We desire for our praise to be like the branches of a tall redwood which reaches heights close to 380 feet. Oh, to exult in the glory of God! Can there be a greater honor?

Yet, praise that is not entrenched in Scripture and saturated with a love of God’s Word is more like a tomato plant, which seems impressive in its growth and has fruit. Grab a tomato plant by its stem and pull and you will find a lackluster root system that cannot support the weight of the plant for which it endeavors to grow. We gird it with poles and strings for support; it cannot hold its own weight.

When we praise God absent of a passion for His revelation of Himself we find our praise shallow – and though it will produce fruit – it will be of a sort that is derived as much from our conceptions and manipulations of heart and mind as it is representative of the sovereign God of the universe.

Turn to God’s Word and find the proper root system to support the esteemed praise that God is worthy of both producing in our hearts and receiving from our mouths. Then your praise will indeed sing with the redwoods in the wonder and grandeur of the Creator.