Thursday, July 21, 2016

New Testament Principles for Interpreting the Old Testament

There are two New Testament scripture verses that give us the first principles for understanding the Old Testament.  In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, it is written, "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."

In this section, Paul teaches us that the Old Testament (Scripture) comes from the breath (spirit) of God and has a purpose: Righteous living.

This is the first principle: There is only one correct interpretation of any passage of scripture.  The meaning intended by the Spirit is the one correct meaning for any passage.

This principle is reinforced by the Apostle Peter: "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things." 2 Peter 1:20.  In suggesting that there are private interpretations, Peter is also intimating the important role of the Church in Biblical interpretation.  For example, if you have an insight into the meaning of a text, but no other Christian has seen this possibility in the two millennia of New Testament Church history, you may want to re-examine your results.

Two other principles from the New Testament that help us understand the Old Testament are found in Mark 4:33-34 (With many such parables Jesus spoke the word to them, to the extent that they could understand.  He did not say anything to them without a parable. But privately He explained all things to His own disciples.) and 1 Corinthians 10:11 (These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.)

The text of the New Testament is saying that heavenly things are inscrutable, so God teaches us spiritual things in parabolic, human terms.

Now that Jesus has come and fully revealed God to humans as an human, then we can know God as much as a natural human being has the capacity to know spiritual things.

This is the guiding principle for my study and interpretation of the Old Testament.  Human events teach us about God.  That is what you are intended to see. (Of course, the events also teach us about sinful man.)






Monday, May 25, 2015

Thou, thee, thy, thine, etc.

We no longer speak the King's English, but many conservative churches still cling to the King James Version of the Bible in their worship services.

I have no personal problem with that, but the people must be given a primer on the Ancient English, seeing that Shakespeare's works are not taught like they were in my day.

There are two major issues in the misuse of the English Language. Modern egalitarian usage does not segregate personal pronouns for persons in different social classes. Today, "you" is used to refer to any person, no matter whether they be family, or royalty. Not so, the King James English!

In the 1600's, the "ye" group was reserved for royalty, and the "thee" group was used for family and familiar persons, and even the disrespected. The KJV Bible lovers feel that the Psalms, in particular, use the "thee" words in reference to God as the language of respect. If anyone deserves deferential language, it would be God, but the Bible writers used the familiar words to designate the familial closeness of the psalm writer to God.

Unfortunately, today's readers have reversed the meaning. People say they like the KJV language because it sounds more dignified and respectful when referring to God!

The second area of misunderstanding of King James English is grammar, particularly the use of pronouns. We all know a pronoun stands in the place of a noun. In English, nouns do not vary depending on how they are used, but pronouns do. Pronouns vary depending on whether they refer to one person (singular), or more than one (plural). They also vary depending on how they are used, i.e., as a subject, an object, or a possessive.

"I" is used for an individual who is referring to him- or herself as the subject of a sentence. "Me" is used when the word is an object, whether a direct object in a sentence, an indirect object (to whom or for whom something is done), or the object of a preposition.

This rule is followed whether or not another person or pronoun is involved. "She and I" ("You and I"), etc., are used only as the subject of a sentence. In other places, "Her and me" ("You and me") are to be used. Say, "They gave it to her and me," not, "They gave it to she and I." "My wife and I want to thank you for showing love to her and me."

Why We Fail - Patterns

In the past few years as the interstate highway system has aged, bridges have collapsed, large chunks of highway materials have been thrown into the paths of unsuspecting following motorists, and other accidents have occurred, resulting in many deaths.

When a study is made (e.g., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I-35W_Mississippi_River_bridge), the results often indicate that the catastrophic failure was caused by minor weaknesses called stress fractures.  They actually begin as invisible, microscopic microfractures that are linked to the crystalline structure of the materials at the molecular level.

Small weaknesses left untreated will result in fractures and failures over time.  But the patterns of failure were there all along.

Take a person's character.  We see moral failures all the time.  They are well publicized when the failure occurs in preachers and politicians.  We seem to expect better behavior from them, though their failures are really no worse than our own.

When the highway bridge fails, we trust the DOT has been protecting us by inspecting the highways and bridges, but still, the failures occur. Some failures should have been caught by inspections, but some are beneath the surface and too small for the inspectors to see.

What about us?  Who inspects us?  Who can see beneath the surface?  Who has microscopic and x-ray vision?  The Bible teaches us that we should be on a regular schedule of self examination.

Here are 16 scripture verses with the topic of examining yourself.  

Using the analogy of bridge failures, let me suggest some practical areas in our lives where the microfractures develop, causing a fault line that could result in an earthquake under the right circumstances.

1.  Keeping our word.

  A.  As simple as saying to yourself, "I will do such-and-such tomorrow," but not doing it when the time comes. (Like getting up early, exercising, jogging, etc.)
  B.  Being on time.  If we know when something starts and we have said we will attend, and we are late, we have not kept our word.
  C.  Meaning what we say.  When we carelessly say, "I love you," to someone who is attracted to us and we really aren't willing to make a life-long commitment, we are lying.
  D.  Telling white lies. (As if there were such things.)
  E.  Trying to get out of a contract.  Whether a cell phone contract, a rental contract, or a rent-to-own contract, keeping your word requires fulfilling the terms of the contract, even if something better comes along.
  F.  Trying to save face or win. Repeating "You said such-and-such," when all you really can know (without a recording or a witness) is, "I heard such-and-such."  Repeating "I said," when all you can really support (without a recording) is, "I meant to say," or, "I was trying to say."
  G.  Putting others down (thinking that makes us better than them).
  H.  Not allowing someone to clarify what they meant, by insisting, "You said!" (as if you have never misspoken anything).

The main problem with self-examination is twofold: 1, the examiner is biased and 2. the examiner is ignorant.  Jeremiah 17:9 says "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" [NIV]  

The psalmist tells us that God is the one who must search our hearts: Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Psalm 139:23

Multiple times in the Psalms the refrain is repeated:  Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. Psalm 86:11

The author of the letter to the Hebrews points to the practical way we find our faults, through the study of the Scriptures:
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Hebrews 4:12


Consider the following situation. A person doesn't suddenly decide to break his or her wedding vows.  That happens over time when the micro fractures have developed because of the stresses of ordinary life and have not been repaired and reinforced.  The micro fractures become fractures, and the fractures align and a major system failure occurs.  With regular attention to the Word of God, the Light shines into the darkness, revealing the faults.  By confession and repentance (1 John 1:9), the fractures are mended and reinforced.  Without the self examination with the Word, major system collapse is inevitable.

A person who neglects a contract, even one with him- or herself, is allowing the fractures to develop that will allow a collapse and major failure when the system is severely strained.

Don't let those little things go by unconfessed and unrepented. 

Changing your life results.

Is there something happening to you that you don't like?

How many of us will really accept Jesus' words that we reap what we sow? Can we be honest enough with ourselves to look for seeds that we plant that yield this thing we don't like when they grow to maturity?

Is there something you can change in the cycle?

If you don't change something in you, you are going to keep getting what you have always gotten.

The word "repentance" actually means a change in thinking. When you change your thinking, your actions will also change. When your actions change, your results will change. If you don't change what you do, you will keep getting the same thing you've always had.

Don't look to blame anyone else, or even God, for things that you actually are bringing on yourself. Look for something you can change. Start by looking at your attitudes.

We can't really change what people do to us, but we should be able to change how we respond to what they do. The reason Jesus teaches what are called "be-attitudes" is because our attitudes determine what we can be.

Just like the Army slogan, you goal is for you be all you can be! You want something different? Change your thinking and change what you do.

Many of us suffer from addictions that keep us from my proposed solution of changing your thinking and actions. If you have ever gone through the withdrawal symptoms of doing without something you are addicted to, you will understand. 

In truth, we cannot pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, we cannot change our minds, we cannot forget our past, we cannot be any different tomorrow than we were, today. We are hopeless, if left to ourselves. The addiction of sin is too powerful for us to overcome! 

What we need is Grace. If God will change me, I will be changed. If God will change me, my history will not determine my destiny. If God will change me, I can do all things. Without God, I have no hope. 

We must rush to God who is offering to blot out our past, and to Jesus, who gives his own perfection in place of our imperfection, and pays the penalty for our sins. We must beg God to pour out his empowering spirit on us. Then, we can change our thinking. Then, we can change our outcome. Then, all things can become new. 

What about you?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Joy in Worship!

"Don't know where you worshiped this morning, but I know you couldn't have had a more moving, complete joy than we have at Second Baptist!"

Yes, I tweeted that in the middle of the worship service at Second Baptist Church this morning. Pastor Joseph Stone, Jr., had already given the go-ahead. He sometimes says things so striking that he says, "Go ahead, tweet that!" Preachers often are led to say something in the middle of their sermons that they had not worded quite the same way in their preparation. Then, we say, "Thank you, Holy Spirit," and proceed with the inspiring thought that just came to us.

Before we had gotten to the sermon, I was moved to tweet that thought. Let me give you the rationale.

We had had a baptism of a new member who did not have the same skin tone or ethnic identity as the majority of the congregation. [Note that I self-consciously do not use the word "race," since I believe there is only one race, the human race.] #diversity

The call to worship had been followed by a scripture reading and impassioned prayer by the deacons.

We had a vocal and piano solo by Ms. Freddie Norwood, a gifted musician whose voice was made for singing.

We had a precision drill team marching and dancing to the theme of Romans 16:20, "God . . . shall bruise Satan under your feet!"

We had a children's choir accompanying the adults with a tremendously moving, harmonious rendition of Amazing Grace.

And, when I tweeted, we were in the middle of the exposition of the text in Acts 16 where Paul and Silas were in jail for healing a demon-possessed girl, and were praying and singing praises to God.

It only got better as Pastor Stone began the application section of the message, where we were admonished to look at our own situations and consider whether we were praising and praying in those mental prisons (thought patterns) we lock ourselves into, or find ourselves in.

The invitation was responded to by more than 100 souls who indicated their desire for change (repentance) in their lives.

After more prayer, we ended the fifth Sunday service with fellowship and food. Normally, it is dinner on the grounds, but, because of the soaking rain from the previous day, and lack of indoor space, box lunches had been prepared and were distributed to all.

As I said, " . . . I know you couldn't have had a more moving, complete joy than we have at Second Baptist!" this morning.

[Doctrinally-aware readers might notice there was not a communion service, and suggest the joy might have been more complete if we observed the ordinance. Maybe so. But the Lord said, as often as you do this, giving us latitude.]





Saturday, March 29, 2014

I love you, Dad.

My wife and I were at the famous "Little Dooey Restaurant," in Starkville, MS, home of Mississippi State University, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw two men walk towards the drink refill station, just around the corner from us, but within earshot.

Then I heard those words, "I love you, Dad."  Their conversation seemed to indicate one of them lived in Starkville, and the other was visiting him, probably coinciding with a baseball game or some other university event.

I began thinking, I have never said those four words, "I love you, Dad."

You see, my father had died in an airplane crash when I was an infant, so I never saw his relationship to his father or heard it express itself in words.And he was never a present reality for me to speak to.  And I don't remember even meeting my grandparents on my father's side, but I think my older brother tried to seek them out one time.  They were as dead to me as my father was, for all practical purposes.

This was a generational curse, as well, because my own children would never see or hear me say, "I love you, Dad," to my father, so their experience would be just as void of that generation-linking pattern as mine was.  And unless they had some outside influence, they would not know how to tell me that same sentence.

I am a member of a church that has many fatherless families.  Those children will also lack the personal experience of hearing and learning to say, "I love you, Dad."

Perhaps this is why my image of my heavenly father is so vague.  Without having experiences with an earthly father that would teach me about a father-son bond, what does "Our father who art in heaven" mean to me? Merely an abstraction, words without meaning, words without feelings. Words without touch.

How can pastors minister to sons of fatherless families?  How can they teach them about a heavenly father without bringing up images of the never-present father, the deadbeat dad?

How can these fatherless sons identify with the church whose image is portrayed as the bride of a husband, when they have not seen an earthly family where the father loves the mother and the mother submits to and respects her husband?

God, we need help!





Monday, January 21, 2013

M.L.King's Letter from Birmingham Jail


“Letter From Birmingham Jail”
April 16, 1963

This famous letter from Martin Luther King, Jr, to Alabama Clergy. This letter was an answer to a letter sent to Dr King by these clergy.
I have taken excerpts from the letter demonstrating two points:
1.  Answering the question why he would break the law by declaring some man-made laws as evil, e.g., segregation laws, requiring Christians to non-violently to disobey them and declaring the evil nature of segregation.
2.  Declaring that the church must reclaim its rightful role as conscience to the ruling authorities (Ephesians 3:10) or be relegated to the rank of a social club.

“How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I-it” relationship for an “I-thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and awful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? “
. . .
“There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.
“Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”
-----------------------------
If we agree with Dr. King that segregation is sin, then you and I must confess that sin and repent of it.  If we want to see the church have its rightful place as a moral compass in society, we must end our hypocritical segregation in the body of Christ.
After repentance and confession, we need to be intentional in ridding ourselves of this sin.  
Intentionally invite someone of a different race to church with you.  
Intentionally add music that is more inclusive:  Black Churches add the old hymns that are familiar to whites; white churches, add a praise team with a guitar and drums.  
Intentionally make others feel welcome.
Did you experience the largeness of God’s church tonight, when you  heard Chinese Christians singing worship songs?  Diversity is the cure for segregation.  
Let us take Dr. King’s dream to the next level in our generation.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Intellectual Schizophrenia

Intellectual Schizophrenia is the title of a book by Rousas J. Rushdoony, originally published in 1961, and currently available in a reprint on Amazon.com.  The book was prophetic; what Rushdoony claimed would be the outcome of the change in public education from Christian to Humanistic foundations, is our present experience.

The purpose of this essay is to point out one particular arena where this schizophrenia is most obvious: the church.  As an example, I was teaching a Sunday school class for college students and we were studying the book of Genesis.  As we discussed the creation story, one student asked me how old the earth is.  I told him that we can’t be sure, but based on Bishop Ussher’s genealogy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ussher_chronology), there have been about six thousand years from the time of Adam until today, so I would conjecture, based on the Bible, that the whole universe was not much older than that.

Then he asked me, “But how old is it, really?”  I asked him what he meant.  He said, “They didn’t teach that in science class.”  Trying to be gentle, I pointed out that he was at a state university and that he was being indoctrinated by humanists to believe that the Bible’s evidence was not real evidence because they believe it is not scientific.

So I told him, “If there is a God, and if the Bible is God’s revelation, and if God tells the truth, then the earth is really thousands (not millions or billions) of years old.”  Really.

“How can that be?” he asked.  “How can it not be?” I replied.  “What about science?” he queried.  “Science, true science, rightly understood, will never contradict the Bible, rightly understood.  If there appears to be a contradiction, then we do not understand the science, or we do not understand the Bible, or both.  Truth is truth, no matter where it is found, and truth will not contradict truth.”

Christians in humanist schools hold to two different truths, religious truths, which are true in the religious dimension, and scientific truths, which are true in the scientific domain.  They are thus intellectually schizophrenic, trying to hold to two opposing ideas at the same time.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Religion and Science

I get three daily quotations via my iGoogle web page.  One quotation last week caused me to stop, re-read it, and copy it for further evaluation:

“Acceptance without proof is the fundamental characteristic of Western religion, rejection without proof is the fundamental characteristic of Western science.”  -Gary Zukav

If we accept this statement as true, and then apply it to his own writings, then “Western religious people” will accept his precepts and “Western scientists” will reject what he says, for his writings are full of assertions without proof.

The Wikipedia article featuring him (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Zukav) includes the following excerpts describing his Teachings:

Zukav introduces . . . . He asserts . . . . which he defines . . . . He further asserts . . . . According to Zukav, . . . . which he describes as . . . . He asserts . . . . Zukav distinguishes . . . . He calls this . . . . Zukav posits . . . .”

It is good for him that people are not generally consistent.  Both religious people and scientific people like his books, putting his books on the NY Times bestsellers list multiple times.

If you are familiar with analyzing logical fallacies, you will find two glaring examples of fallacies in the iGoogle quotation.  The first fallacy is called “Straw Man.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man

He posits that “Western religion” has, as a fundamental characteristic, something for which there is no evidence in any religious writings.  (But I have already pointed out that assertion without evidence, i.e., asservation, is his strong point.)  It would seem to me that, if something were a fundamental characteristic of a religion, there would be some attestation to it in the religious literature.

The other fallacy is called “Composition (or Part for the Whole).” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallacy_of_composition

Suppose Zukav has met one person identified as a Western religious person and that person accepted things without proof.  Then Zukav could have made this statement, supported by evidence, but with the Composition Fallacy.  Picking out one nut from a bucket of small parts does not mean that the whole bucket is full of nuts.  There may be many bolts, washers, screws,  nails and a few nuts.

His quotation is also ambiguous.  What is “Western religion” or “Western science?”  Western religion has a link in Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_religion), but no citations.  “Western Christianity,” on the other hand is well defined. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Christianity)

If Zukav was parodying Western Christianity, then he is caught in a contradiction.  A cursory reading of the New Testament, the defining document of Christianity, reveals that much of the content is the presenting of evidence to support belief claims.  Much of the Gospel writings are a presentation of the evidence that proves that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.  All claims of individuals’ speaking on behalf of God are supported by proofs that the person qualifies as a Prophet, because he performed wonders or accurately foretold the future.  There are no claims or requests to accept ideas without evidence.  The evidence documented in the Bible (i.e., the presentation of the fundamental characteristics of Christianity) contradicts Zukav’s quotation.  Like Wikipedia’s characterization of his teaching demonstrates, he asserts it, i.e., he makes it all up.

It is a cute quotation, but you can now forget it.