Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Beautiful Word of God

The copy of The Jesus Storybook Bible (gloriously subtitled: Every story whispers His name) finally arrived today, and I immediately started leafing through it. The author being Sally Lloyd-Jones, I of course had to know if she is related to THE DOCTOR. She graciously informed me that she is least not biologically. But I also discovered (in her acknowledgments section) that she attends Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

That reminded me, this article (below) was on my old blog, but really should have been posted on this one a long time ago:

Beautiful Word of God

The great beauty of the Word of God (text) is that it speaks about the Word of God (Christ). Tim Keller, in his message during the Gospel Coalition makes this observation:
The basic subject of every sermon ought to be Jesus. Doesn't matter what passage. Doesn't matter Old or New Testament. It's got to be about Jesus. And by the way, before you say, Oh, this is about Old Testament hermeneutics, no, my friend Sinclair Ferguson says, "Most evangelical preachers don't preach Christ. Not only don't they preach Christ from the Old Testament, they don't preach Christ from the New Testament."
Keller then acknowledges this is a bit of an "intramural debate." There are "good men" who deny this issue in preaching and say that Jacob wrestling with God has nothing to do with Christ and should just be about wrestling with God. Keller acknowledges that these are good, intelligent men, but he also states he believes they are wrong.

Keller then spoke of the transforming nature of revealing Christ in the passage. He shared that people are truly transformed when they see God's standard, they see their inability to meet it, and then are met with the fact that Christ fulfilled God's standard. The listener then has hope and desires to please God. It ceases to be out of obligation. Keller continues:
Your preaching with never be doxological and won't even be central unless it is Christo-centric.
Keller explains that at the root of every sin is an inadequate worship of Christ. We got to get them to Jesus. If not, Keller says you will just be "beating on their wills."

Keller then offers this quote from Ferguson:
The preacher has looked into the text, even in the New Testament, principally to find himself and his congregation, not to find Christ. You can even do that in the New Testament, even in the Gospels. The sermon, therefore, is principally about the people in the gospels instead of the Christ Who is the gospel! The more fundamental issue is this question: What is the Bible really about? Is the Bible basically about me and what I must do, or is it basically about Jesus and what He has done. Is the Bible basically about the objective and indicative?
Keller, and Ferguson for that matter, are not advocating sloppy hermeneutics. They are not claiming you "find Jesus in every little twig." You must follow the trajectory of the text to Jesus (which I suppose means you also have to believe the trajectory is toward Jesus).

I have begged others to see this beauty. However, Keller and Ferguson claim this is more of an instinct than a trained discipline. It's not about hermeneutical principles. Do you believe the Bible is basically about you, or about Him?

I believe that once you grasp this, the Bible becomes all the more beautiful. Consider this example from Keller:

Jesus is the true and better Adam

who passed the test in the Garden, His Garden, a much tougher garden, and whose obedience is imputed to us.

Jesus is the true and better Abel

who though innocently slain has blood that cries out not for our condemnation, but for our acquittal.

Jesus is the true and better Abraham

who answered the call of God, to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go into the void, not knowing whither He went.

Jesus is the true and better Isaac

who was not just offered up by His Father on the mount, but was truly sacrificed for us all. While God said to Abraham, "Now I know you love me because you did not with hold your son, your one and only son, whom you love from me," now we, at the foot of the cross can say to God, "Now we know that you love me, because you did not with hold your Son, your only Son, whom You love, from me."

Jesus is the true and better Jacob

who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved so that we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace, that wake us up and discipline us.

Jesus is the true and better Joseph

who is at the right hand of The King and forgives those who betrayed and sold Him and uses His power to save them.

Jesus is the true and better Moses

who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a New Covenant.

Jesus is the true and better rock of Moses

who struck with the rod of God's justice now gives us water in the desert.

Jesus is the true and better Job

who is the truly Innocent Sufferer who then intercedes for and saves His stupid friends.

Is that a type? See this is not a type, it's an instinct.

Jesus is the true and better David

who's victory becomes the people's victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.

Jesus is the true and better Esther

who didn't just risk losing an earthly palace, but lost the ultimately heavenly one. Who didn't just risk His life, but gave His life. Who didn't just say, "If I perish, I perish," but said, "When I perish, I'll perish for them, to save My people."

Jesus is the true and better Jonah

who is cast out into the storm so that we could be brought in.

He's the real Passover Lamb.
He's the True Temple.
The True Prophet.
The True Priest.
The True King.
The True Sacrifice.
The True Lamb.
The True Light.
The True Bread.

Wow, isn't it beautiful?

or more appropriately...

Isn't He beautiful!!!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The True Interpretation of Scripture

According to the Second Helvetic Confession (1566) [As recorded in Him We Proclaim, p111]:

The True Interpretation of Scripture. The apostle Peter has said that the Holy Scriptures are not of private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20), and thus we do not allow all possible interpretations. Nor consequently do we acknowledge as the true or genuine interpretation of the Scriptures what is called the conception of the Roman Church, that is, what the defenders of the Roman Church plainly maintain should be thrust upon all for acceptance. But we hold that interpretation of the Scripture to be orthodox and genuine is gleaned from the Scriptures themselves (from the nature of the language in which they were written, likewise according to the circumstances in which they were set down, and expounded in the light of the like and unlike passages and of many and clearer passages) and which agrees with the rule of faith and love, and contributes much to the glory of God and man's salvation.

Interpretations of the Holy Fathers. Wherefore we do not despise the interpretations of the holy Greek and Latin fathers, nor reject their...treatises concerning sacred matters as far as they agree with the Scriptures; but we modestly dissent from them when they are found to set down things differing from, or altogether contrary to, the Scriptures...

Councils. And in the same order also we place the decrees and canons of councils. Wherefore we do not permit ourselves, in controversies about religion or matters of faith, to urge our case with only the opinions of the fathers or decrees of councils; much less by received customs, or by the large number of those who share the same opinion, or by the prescription of a long time.
While aware that I have a non-creedal heritage, I appreciate that this confession appears to understand its own limitations. I also appreciate that this confession understands the possible pendulum swing created by the Reformation; that when men tell others to study the Scriptures personally to see if the Church is accurate, some will be tempted to come up with "personal interpretations" (which no one else could affirm).

As I mentioned in the previous post, a confidence in the text can be misunderstood by some as arrogance. Some pastors will be tempted to lead their sheep with unquestionable leadership. They will require their sheep to trust their degree, tenure or higher calling. Certainly this can lead to an unapproachable leader and non-Berean congregation. Others, will lead with a subjectivity, almost breeding suspicion and eliminating true hope and comfort. The leader may appear approachable, but the congregation languishes in subjective "but what does the text mean to me" dialogue.

I fear for the soul of the person who simply trusts that an interpretation of the text is true because a noted pastor said so.

I fear for the soul of the person who clings to personal interpretations despite the fact that others do not see their point from the text.

It seems that the answer is not to attempt to strike a balance, but for the preacher (and the congregation) to remember that we must submit our whole selves to the Word of God...even (especially) our interpretations of It.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Preaching with Humility

If a preacher is confident in the Word of God, it is easy for some to mistake it for arrogance. But he cannot be confident in himself; humility is a must.

One great way to work toward humility is to read Humility: True Greatness.

The other to your children.

This week, as three of my children were "sharing" a chair with me, I thought I noticed a unique odor. I asked the children if one of them had to go to the bathroom or if they had "tooted." My eldest wondered the motive of the query. When I explained I smelled an odor, she turned and informed me, "That's your breath."

The next day, she was telling me all the things she wants to have in common with her mother some day. She wants to be here heighth. She wants to have kids. She wants to sing. She wants to love Jesus. She also mentioned she wants to have a husband like mommy.

"So you want a husband like me?" I asked...quite flattered.

"Uh, no," she replied, "He needs to be nothing like you. I just want to be married."

Yep. I'll be approaching the pulpit with a little more humility.

Monday, May 12, 2008

DTMW4I: Keith Shearer

In email correspondence, Keith Shearer offered the following Top Ten list for Biblical Exposition:

10. Expository preaching demands that both the preacher and the congregation deal with the whole Bible. Some Bible portions will end up being neglected (often because of perceived difficulty or sense of irrelevance) unless there is a systematic intent to preach through every book of the Bible. When I preached through Leviticus several years ago, it was the first time anyone in our church had ever heard an exposition of that entire Book, even though some had attended "Bible-teaching" churches for over eighty years!

9. The pastor cannot only forecast where the preaching calendar is headed (this minimizes Saturday night panic, and also helps musicians and other worship participants to know how to plan), but he can personally live in the text for months and encourage the whole church to do the same. (emphasis added)

8. Every human need or topic will eventually be covered in the course of preaching through books of the Bible. If you only preach topically, you will miss a lot of topics.

7. The congregation receives a vast collection of Biblical truth to compare and contrast, that is, with which to do theology. Statements can be made like, "Remember in Exodus we saw this", or "In Romans we saw this", etc. But if you have not preached through those books you cannot build upon them with your congregation. Preaching based on creeds, lectionaries, hot topics, etc. will not produce this vast collection.

6. The congregation gets to have a Biblical benchmark to measure growth and significant events. For example, "I was saved while we were in Matthew", or "My family started coming when we were in Acts", or "Our marriage was saved while we were in First Peter". Maybe no one but me thinks this is exciting, but I find it a thrilling way to measure life and ministry.

5. Everyone can see how God moves personal or world events to match what the preacher is preaching from the Word, rather than the preacher trying to manipulate sermon topics in order to be relevant. I was preaching through Acts when the 9/11 disaster happened. We were all amazed at how the message for the next Sunday was totally matched to the times, even though everyone knew the passage was assigned sequentially from Acts months ahead. This displays God at work in the life of the Church. People are amazed that "That sermon was just for me" even though the passage was announce months ahead. No one can accuse the preacher, this way, of choosing sermon material to personally pick on them. (By the way, preachers, have you noticed how whenever you think a certain sermon would be very good for a certain person, inevitably that person is not there that Sunday?)

4. Preaching through the Bible keeps passages in context. This guards against improper forms of "proof-texting", misinterpretation, and the imposition of the preacher's pet points.

3. The Bible is eternal truth. The eternal is always relevant. The selection of particular Bible verses or concepts to attempt to be relevant will cause one's preaching to become time-bound instead of eternal. Therefore, the quest for relevance in preaching tends to make the preaching irrelevant (at least fairly quickly).

2. God gets the glory, because the preaching was the proclamation of His truth. When someone says to the preacher, "Good sermon!", the preacher need not be set up for temptation to pride. All the preacher needs to do is respond, "The Word of God!", to which we all say, "Thanks be to God!". The message was not about the preacher's brilliance or eloquence, but rather the faithful proclamation of the Word for the Glory of God alone.

1. Expository preaching is the essential, high act of worship in the assembled church. It is commanded: First Timothy 4:13, "Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching." Second Timothy 4:2, "Preach the Word"!! Without Biblical exposition, the church has not worshipped. The message is an offering by both the preacher and the hearers to God. It is an offering of obedience and the sacrifice of praise. Other details of worship (giving, music, prayers, etc.) are not worship unless they flow to and from the proclamation of the Word.

Keith Shearer, Ph.D., is senior pastor of New Beginnings Grace Brethren Church in Myerstown, PA. He has an extensive international Bible teaching ministry and was elected Moderator of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches for the 2005-06 conference year. He also has blog.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Diminished Distinctions, Diminished Glory?

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.--Galatians 3:28

It's amazing how easily confused this verse can be.

The Replacement Theologian claims the Jew/Gentile distinction no longer exists.

The egalitarian will claim the male/female distinction no longer exists.

But if you asked a slave in the first century, he would tell you that hermeneutic didn't work for him. And Paul would say likewise.

Clearly the distinctions exist but they do not keep one from coming to Christ. [I am quite thankful--after coming to Christ--that my wife remained female, and I male.] Paul is stating that these differences remain but do not translate into rank or availability of life in Christ.

We've seen that God's glory is visible in distinctions. We've also seen that He has always desired His gospel to reach the nations. Clearly, we should seek to proclaim His name to all peoples. Suppose I travel to Indonesia to reach the Minangkabau, should I turn away the Madura? Would I not be missing the point of the mission if I turned someone away because they aren't my "target group?" In fact, what if the Minangkabau and Madura peoples do not usually relate peaceably (I do not know if they do). Would it not be glorious if they fellowship in the same assembly?

So, what about here in the states? Are we not making the same error when we "target" a certain class, age, affinity, education or social group at the expense of another?

But if we build our ministry on the message of Christ, we may find our ministries looking a lot like the people around us...but some of the glory will be in those who do not naturally "fit in" with us.

God forgive us when we see these differences as obstacles to growth, instead of opportunities to make His glory most seen.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Old Testament Mission

Previously, I shared how a friend had encouraged me regarding the nations with a couple of passages. As we discussed God's glory being visible in the glory of the nations, he also pointed me to a passage I'd read many times, but highlighted a point I had previously overlooked.

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.--Luke 24:45-49

Consider the details:

"The Scriptures" is clearly a reference to the entire Old Testament, as stated in the previous verse (Law of Moses, Prophets and the Psalms). Therefore, when Jesus states, "Thus it is written" He is preparing the disciples that all which He is about to state is not new, but has been stated before in the Old Testament.

The Christ will suffer. Jesus' atoning sacrifice is foreshadowed, prophesied and preached throughout the Old Testament. (Dan Phillips has a wonderful series of posts that "even" Proverbs teaches substitutionary around for the other posts.)

And rise again from the dead the third day. Somehow, we often forget that many details regarding the resurrection are given in the Old Testament. We often affirm "Christ died, for our sins, according to the Scriptures" but forget Paul also said, "and He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Repentance for forgiveness of sins. How sad that many in today's church have eliminated repentance from their gospel presentation because it is no longer palatable. As if Jesus the Savior can be separated from Jesus the Lord, they attempt to get people to call out for forgiveness of sin before they turn from it to Christ. Even in the Old Testament, the understanding was repentance and faith.

Would be proclaimed in His name to all nations. There is no transition in Jesus' words at this point. Jesus has not established His death, resurrection and appropriation only to switch at the lengths of the proclamation. No, Jesus is teaching the Apostles that proper exegesis of the Old Testament will lead to seeing not only Christ, but the call to proclaim Him to all nations! This was a fabulous truth that leapt out at me. We do not reach out to the nations to fulfill a New Testament calling alone, but in the unity of the Scripture, we actually fulfill the Old Testament mission as well.

The awareness of this truth can obviously effect ways we preach about mission and world evangelism. It will cause our church as a whole--and sheep individually--to desire a passion to reach the nations. It is certainly what the Lord has ignited in my friend...

but there is one other thought (for which I won't blame him), which these two verses brought to my attention...

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Don't Waste Your Pulpit

Opening line: The best way to waste your pulpit is to preach your own thoughts instead of preaching God's thoughts.

Closing line: I think the reason pastors don't do that [speak the Word of Christ] is because they themselves do not live off of the Bible day by day.


Sunday, May 4, 2008

Glory of Nations

While having coffee with a friend last week, I was encouraged from a couple of passages. This dear brother, whom the Lord has given an incredible passion for the nations, first took me to this verse:

The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it;--Revelation 21:24-26

The conversation over this passage perfectly dovetailed with Thabiti Anyabwile's recent message. The nations are not geopolitical divisions. Nations does not refer to race. "Nations" refers to ethnicities. The ethnicities are real, and their distinctions are real, yet they do not create immovable chasms. The chasms can be crossed by the gospel message.

Nations becomes a non-issue if their distinctions are eliminated. However, if they "bring their glory," this would suggest that their distinctions remain evident (My friends speculated--I believe accurately--that language would have to be included) in heaven.

It appears clear that the united focus on Jesus Christ will be all the more glorious when the nations bring their distinctions before the Lord.

What does this have to do with preaching?

Well, first one more thought from my friend...