Reflections on Counsel from Proverbs

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Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 5:8-10

“But since we are of the day, let us be controlled, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.” (1 Thessalonians 5:8-10)

Without assured truth and love rooted in Christ that guard the heart, we are vulnerable to a number of feelings that run contrary to the high call of Christ.

Without the breastplate of faith we are prone to following sensations and feelings rather than truth.

Without the confidence of eternal life through Christ that guards our minds, our motivation to run with endurance becomes dulled by thoughts of guilt and worthlessness that lead to death.

Without the helmet of salvation, we are likely to reach a point where we reason our way out of acting in faith for Christ.

We don the breastplate to protect the heart and the helmet to protect the mind for we are actively engaged in a cosmic war. A war not of flesh – even though all flesh are entangled in it – but of truth and ideas. We know the outcome; the war is won – our salvation guaranteed.

So why fight?

Why engage in a war in which the outcome is already made known?

We fight because although the war is ours, many battles must still be won. The high call of Christ is to skirmish for the souls of those to whom His blood has not yet covered; to bring the guarantee of salvation to all flesh.

Don the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of salvation to victory!

Reflections on Restoration

It truly is overwhelming to be so unconditionally loved, so cared about, by someone that you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that everything they say and do is in your best interest. They may call out weak spots in your character, but you receive it in humility because you know they love you. They may ask you to do something difficult and scary, but you step out in faith because you know that they care about you.

The truth is that there is only One who fits the bill. And the restorative power of His love is truly awesome.

Hosea 6:1-3 touched my heart in a unique way as I was slowly reading through each verse this afternoon. Hosea pleads, Come, let us return to the LordFor He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, That we may live before Him. So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; And He will come to us like the rain, Like the spring rain watering the earth.”

The call to the world throughout the Bible is always, “Return to Me! Please return to Me! Let me heal you! Drink from the well that will never run dry!”

And for many of us, returning to the One who created us is more of a painful journey than a peaceful one, Israel being a prime example.

The reason for the Law of Moses, the reason for the Kings of Israel, the reason for the prophets, priests, wars, and captivities (notice that this is the entirety of the Old Testament) was because Israel continually tried to remedy their problems with foreign gods who had “eyes, but could not see, ears but could not hear, mouths but could not speak.” (Psalm 115:5-6)

Instead of returning to the Lord in their mistakes, they turned their eyes from Him. Instead of repenting – redirecting their minds to follow the God who was faithfully leading them- they rebelled. Instead of flourishing in His ways, they floundered in their own ways.

And time after time did the Lord bring His restorative hand of discipline down on the Israelite people. He destroyed their lifeless gods. He broke every expectation that they had of being able to live completely self-reliant. And He made sure that they knew that without Him, real peace, love, and joy are unattainable.

He knew they needed Him, because He knows what is best for those whom He created.

Remarkably, three things are consistently mentioned by individuals in the Old Testament who turn back to the Lord after undergoing bouts of discipline:

1) If we return to Him, He will hear us

2) If we return to Him, He will heal us

3) If we return to Him, He will lead us

There was never any doubt in the eyes of those who underwent the discipline of the Lord that He loved them and cared for them. Nor was there ever any fear of rejection if repentance was made.

The discipline of the Lord is not for the pleasure of a sadistic deity, it is rather for the restoration of broken people to the only One who can heal their brokenness, the all-loving, Almighty, Yahweh. 

The people of Israel never doubted His intentions.

Nor should we.

It will be painful, that can be guaranteed.

But what can also be guaranteed is that He knows what He is doing, and His discipline is for our benefit, for our restoration.

And so the promises of God to us if we offer ourselves to Him in repentance is that he will hear, heal, and lead. Hear, so that we might commune with Him. Heal, so that we might be free from the guilt and shame of our mistakes. And lead, so that we might walk in His ways producing God-honoring fruit wherever we go.

For the true purpose of discipline is to restore the creature to the Creator, and the purpose of restoring the creature to the Creator is God-honoring action.

Reflections on Rituals, Rites, and Festivals

Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written.” (2 Chronicles 30:18)

Set in the context of spiritual revival in Judah under King Hezekiah, thousands from the surrounding tribes of Israel gather for the Passover feast.

Curiously enough, the enacting of this particular Passover feast ran contrary to the instructions for the Passover set up by Moses in Exodus 12.

“This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household… it is the Lord’s Passover.” (Exodus 12:2-3, 11d)

However, King Hezekiah knew this:

“The king and his officials and the whole assembly in Jerusalem decided to celebrate the Passover in the second month. They had not been able to celebrate it at the regular time because not enough priests had consecrated themselves and the people had not assembled in Jerusalem. The plan seemed right both to the king and to the whole assembly. They decided to send a proclamation throughout Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, calling the people to come to Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover to the Lord, the God of Israel.” (2 Chronicles 30:2-5)

So not only did those that King Hezekiah invited improperly partake in the Passover celebration (by not being ritually cleansed according to the Law of Moses), the entire celebration itself ran contrary to the prescribed plan for Passover God had given to Moses, the writer of Judaic Law.

But here is something intriguing, God finds that their decision to partake of the Passover contrary to everything prescribed by Himself and written by Moses to be acceptable.

“But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God—the Lord, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” (2 Chronicles 30:19-20)

How can this be? Does God contradict the very things He has already previously instructed?

May I suggest that the main point of the Passover sacrifice – and every other ritual, rite, and festival found in the Bible – was never the form and ritual itself, but rather to bring the one offering the sacrifice into the presence of God to receive forgiveness, enter into the joy of His love, and to then go out into all the world  making known that the God of love wants to bring life and justice to any who seek it.

Let me explain.

Stephen Hawthorne, in his article titled The Story of His Glory, says it like this,

When people worship anything or anyone besides [God], they become like it. God has better intentions for people. What is true worship anyway? Worship takes place when people recognize who God is and offer public acknowledgment and freely approach God, personally offering face-to-face gratitude and day-to-day allegiance. Worship is genuine relational interaction with God. That’s why God always welcomes us to worship with a gift. He never needs the worship of gifts. But the gift brings the giver… By their sacrifices and gifts, they offer themselves. (pp. 36)

Over and over again, throughout both the Old and New Testaments, God speaks out against the offerings and sacrifices that His so-called people bring Him. Micah 6:6-8 and Isaiah 58 are but two examples where God says that He would rather the people of Israel do justice to the poor and needy than perform rote rituals that have no heart level significance.

Furthermore, Hosea 6:6 sheds even more light on God’s desire for His people, “For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offering.”

Without a heart that is inclined towards worship of the Father, rituals, rites, and festivals are mere forms that lack any real value or significance.

God wants the giver, not the gift. God wants the heart, not the meaningless repetition of behavior.

God wants you, not what you want to bring Him.

2 Chronicles 30:18-20 is a clear example of God saying, “Finally! You finally understand! This system is not about cleaning yourself up! It’s not about you bringing me things. Because these things are meaningless to me. It’s about directing your heart towards me! Participating in these rites, these rituals, these festivals, brings you to me. And I want you, not what you have to bring me.”

 Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written.But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, ‘May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God—the Lord, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary. And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” (2 Chronicles 30:18-20)

Why does God pardon them for going against clear instruction?

Because the instructions were for the purpose of inclining hearts towards Himself, regardless of the form.

It is common for individuals who participate in modern day rituals, rites, and festivals (church, small groups, worship services) to do so because they feel as if they must in order to appease the Almighty, whip-bearing, God.

Friend, God is not a slave driver.

Your attendance at the Sunday morning worship service does not appease the God who has every right to banish your body and Spirit to the place reserved for those who hurt themselves and one another.

That is Jesus’ job. And he already gave His life so that you could live pardoned from ever needing to do anything to appease the Almighty God.

He is pleased with you.

He loves you.

Incline your heart towards Him.

Because without that, outward forms of worship are vain actions that effectively crucify the Christ a second time.

He died once for sin. And He rose from the grave to declare that sin forgiven.

You do not need to ‘act accordingly’ in order to please Him.

All outward forms of worship are for the purpose of drawing you near to Him and drawing others near to Him. And it is when we are near to Him that our lives begin to change, that justice is done, and that moral living is adhered to.

Worship the Lord in love with your heart, with your soul, and with your mind, because only then will outward forms of worship take on any life-changing meaning.

(Quoted article: http://oneworldmissions.com/media/pdf/articles/hawthorne_thestoryof.pdf)

Reflections on the Refiner’s Fire

It has been roughly two-years since God began gnawing away at everything I knew and believed about mission, ministry, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. And it has been roughly six-months since the culmination of my sin, the will of God, and the nature of a fallen world altered the direction my life was heading. Not surprisingly, these dramatic life events are typically what God uses to shape and grow those who commit to following Him regardless of circumstance.

For it is through the refiners fire that the dross falls and the precious material is exalted.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3-9)

In Peter’s case, the precious material that is tested by the furnace of trials is the intangible nature of hope, love, and joy wrapped up in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

The promised result of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection? “Eternal life.” (1 John 2:25)

And the refiner’s fire – the trials that we face due to our sin and the sin of others – is primarily for the purpose of increasing our hope of, love for, and joy in 1) the “guarantee” of our future salvation, 2) Jesus’ promise to “continue the good work He began in us” so that we might “have the same mind” values, and vision He had, and 3) perpetual grace, mercy, and love that has made us inseparable from the Father in spite of our continual failure to achieve perfection. (Ephesians 1:13-14;Philippians 1:6; Philippians 2:5ff; Romans 8:38-39)

Tim Keller, in a soul-shattering article titled All of Life is Repentance, says,

“In the gospel the knowledge of our acceptance in Christ makes it easier to admit that we are flawed, because we know we won’t be cast off if we confess the true depths of our sinfulness. Our hope is in Christ’s righteousness, not our own, so it is not as traumatic to admit our weaknesses and lapses… This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. The more we see our own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to us. On the other hand, the more aware we are of God’s grace and our acceptance in Christ, the more able we are to drop our denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions of our sin. The sin underlying all other sins is a lack of joy in Christ.” (emphases mine)

The refiner’s fire can never do to us what the gospel of Jesus Christ, through the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, wants to do in us.

And it is this power, this surreal – and yes, it is often times very surreal – love, that compels every fiber of our being to submit to Him when we make any attempt to follow Him. Our submission to Him requires that we fall to our knees and confess our unworthiness to even be in His presence. The truth of that confession is paradoxically contrasted by the certainty that He will lift us up, and bear the weight of our guilt and unworthiness for us.

They took Jesus and He went out, bearing the cross… and they crucified Him… He was pierced through for our sin, crushed for our rebellion” (John 19:17-18; Isaiah 53:5a, 5b)

The bearing of the cross is illustrative of Jesus bearing the weight of our unworthiness. Because He bore that weight, we no longer have to avoid coming before Him in complete honesty, ready to be molded back into the “masterpiece” He created us to be. (Ephesians 2:10)

I have spent more time trying to avoid the refiner’s fire than trying to avoid anything else in my life. The real irony is that avoiding the refiner’s fire simply allows for more impurities to cling to the surface of something that is otherwise valuable.

And when it comes to following Jesus, revealing the true worth and value of His children is far more important to Him than our comfort and satisfaction dwelling in grime and excrement.

While many attempt to avoid it, there really is no following Jesus without going through the refiner’s fire. Avoiding the fire is equivalent to avoiding the all-loving, all-powerful, all-about-you-being-perfected, God of the Bible. There is no one without the other.

But you must know it will be painful.

You will fail.

You will run.

You will hurt other people.

You will be hurt by other people.

The method that Jesus has chosen to employ to ensure that we become more and more like Him is the direct result of our failures, of our running away, of our hurting other people.

When you hurt others and experience the consequences of those actions, it is painful. When you fail, even though countless hours of time and effort have been put into succeeding and avoiding that failure, it is painful. When you are hurt by others – due to their sin or the consequences of your own – it is painful.

DO NOT let any believer in Christ tell you anything contrary to this: the refiner’s fire is painful.

And let no one contradict this: the Refiner loves you more than you know, and no matter how much pain the fire brings, He bore the most painful parts on His shoulders so that you would not have to.

Without that, the refiner’s fire simply becomes a nuisance without a purpose that is cast off by numbing the pain by any means necessary. The Refiner is the most important part of the process.

He understands the pain. So tell Him about it. He knows what is best for you. So trust Him to bring you through it. And He loves you. He loves you.

Here’s the irony in my story. I recently found a prayer journal dated February, 2014.

What did it say?

“God, I feel like my life has been smooth sailing for far too long. I’m scared to say this, but I’m ready.

Lord, break me.”

Reflections on Interpretation

DISCLAIMER: THERE ARE MANY PARTS OF THE BIBLE THAT ARE TO BE TAKEN FOR WHAT THEY LITERALLY SAY. THIS IS NOT ABOUT INTERPRETING THE ENTIRETY OF THE BIBLE ALLEGORICALLY OR EISEGETICALLY (READING THINGS INTO THE TEXT). This is about being objective, and faithful, to the text.

Interpreting the Bible Literally vs. Interpreting the Bible Accurately

The problem with interpreting all of the Bible literally is that the Bible does not interpret all of the Bible literally.

Here are but a couple of examples:

“He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son.’” (Matthew 2:15 interpreting Hosea 1:11 figuratively/typologically)

“Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one, ‘And to your seed,’ that is, Christ.” (Galatians 3:16 interpreting Genesis 12 and 15 figuratively/typologically)

Interpreting the Bible literally does not always lead to interpreting the Bible accurately, contrary to traditionally held belief. It requires a lot more work than simply glossing one’s eyes over the text to understand the “living and active Word of God” in all of its literary majesty.

A well rounded understanding of hermeneutical principles will aid in the proper interpretation of the Bible. Simply put, hermeneutics is the science of interpretation.

A few things before we begin:

1) I believe in the Verbal Plenary Inspiration of the Bible

What does this mean?

  • God so moved the authors of Scripture, through the Holy Spirit, that the resulting product was the Word of God written, totally without error in the original autographs, in every area including theology, history, geography, and science.
  • I allow for the fact that the interpreted versions of the Bible that we have today have multiple errors in translation and grammar none of which affect the meaning or truth behind scripture. It is still the living Word of God which He has protected in order that it could be read by us and future generations.

2) The hermeneutical model described below is called the grammatical-historical method of interpretation

3) Much of this material has been gathered from sources, edited, and reproduced. Some of these authors include R. Laird Harris, F.F. Bruce, Jim Leffel, and Dennis McCallum. Credit to whom credit is due.

Principles of the Grammatical-Historical Method of Interpretation

  1. INTERPRET GRAMMATICALLY:

    Take the normal meaning of the words, phrases and sentences unless it is impossible to do so. The interpretation must correspond to the words and grammar in the text in a reasonable way. Otherwise, there is no objective control over the interpreter. Most of the Bible can be interpreted by simply taking the language (either in the original or in translation) in the usual way. In other words,

“If the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense.”

Qualifications:

Allow for figures of speech 

A plain sense reading should not be confused with a literalistic interpretation.

Psalm 91:4 He will cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.

Luke 22:19ff “. . . this is my body . . . Where was Jesus’ body when he said this? See his other metaphors about Himself (door; bread; etc.).

Allow for symbolism 

If a passage is symbolic or contains symbols, this should be indicated in the text, either by textual cues or because symbolism is required in order to make sense of the text. The Bible itself explains most symbols.

Revelation 1:9-20 – The symbols are identified as such (“like,” “as,”) and explained. Most biblical symbols are handled this way. As another example, many more symbols in Revelation have been previously explained in Daniel.

  1. INTERPRET HISTORICALLY:

    Historical interpretation means that taking into account the historical background of the author and the recipients. This does not mean asking, “What does it mean to me?” but rather, “What did it mean to the original audience?” Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, commentaries, or other sources are proper to learn more about customs, money, geography, etc. Understanding the original intent is crucial to understanding modern application.

Genesis 15:7-21 – “Cutting a covenant” solemnized a contract between two parties. It was normally bilateral (both parties walked through), but only God goes through this particular covenantal agreement.

1 Corinthians 11:4-6 – Short hair was typical of Aphrodite priestess-prostitutes; shaven heads were typical of convicted adulteresses (vs. 5).

  1. INTERPRET CRITICALLY:

    Any interpretation must make rational sense. The entire Bible is the product of one author (God) at the same time that it is the product of many authors. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect a consistent message throughout the Bible. Some of these rules are logical implications of a belief in the verbal plenary inspiration of scripture.

FIVE PRACTICAL RULES OF CRITICAL INTERPRETATION

Interpret in light of the context of the passage (which author? book? passage?)

Never view a passage in isolation from its surroundings. The context should be considered the most important kind of evidence in the interpretation of a passage. Only when no critically feasible interpretation can be found can we claim that a break in context was intended.

Matthew 16:28 – Referring to the transfiguration (in context of passage) “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” 2 Peter 1:16- confirms that Peter was an eye witness of Christ’s “majesty.”

James 1:6-8 – The “doubter” is not simply any Christian who has occasional doubts. He is the “double-minded man,” whom James further describes in 4:8 (in context of book) as Christians who posture themselves as loving God but really love the world.

Interpret in light of progressive revelation

(Hebrews 1:1, 2) God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.

Hebrews 8:13 When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.

While God’s purpose for man has never changed, his strategy in accomplishing that purpose has changed. He has dealt with man under different “covenants,” or “dispensations.” Therefore, it is important to ask, “Under which program was this written?” Primary application of the passage will be to the people operating under that program, but not necessarily to others. There may be secondary applications for other programs based on principles which have universal application.

Theocracy was commanded in the Old Testament, but secular government is affirmed in the New Testament (Romans 13:1-7; Matthew 22:21).

Interpret scripture in harmony with other scripture

Since the Bible is inspired by God, it does not contradict itself. Therefore, never interpret scripture in such a way that it clearly contradicts other scriptures. If a passage can be legitimately interpreted in more than one way, choose the interpretation that doesn’t contradict other scriptures.

Acts 2:38 refers to baptism as an expression of faith; faith that salvation is obtained by grace alone through Christ, not through baptism.

Interpret the unclear in light of the clear

Every major, essential truth is taught clearly and many times.

1 Corinthians 15:29 “Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?” . . . mentions an obscure, unknown practice used in Corinth. Paul doesn’t affirm this practice; he just asks why they’re doing it if they do not believe in resurrection. Today, the Mormon Church uses this passage to elevate dead ancestors to a higher status in the afterlife.

Interpret in light of the literary style

The literary style (genre) affects understanding of a Biblical passage. For example, Proverbs should be interpreted in light of general maxims, not absolute promises

Proverbs 22:6 – Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Not every child will go in the right direction, but many will

Proverbs 15:1 – A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger

Gentle words do not always turn away wrath, but in most cases it works

Contrast these with passages like Romans 8:1, which do contain absolute promises