What Is God Waiting For?

In Judges 10 the people have rejected the Lord and chased idol after idol. 18 years of oppression and their hearts were so hard that they still hadn’t repented of their sin. When they finally do, God tells them that he isn’t going to help. Instead, they need to ask their idols for deliverance. Then the people get desperate. Judges 10 tells us they finally got serious and paired their cry for deliverance with personal action and responsibility…they finally put aside their idols. How did God respond this time? The Bible says God responded “with impatience over Israel’s misery” (10:16). That was when God’s heart and attitude toward his people turned.

Sometimes we ask “What is God waiting for?” The answer may be that we aren’t really ready for Him to show up yet. We cling to our idols, as if they have anything to offer. In those times, God is unwilling to show up because He doesn’t really have our trust yet. We talk like He does but He knows the reality of what is in our hearts and it doesn’t line up. So God waits until it does. If you want God’s deliverance, it often takes action on your part and more than just a cry for God’s help while keeping a few idols in your back pocket for comfort. Deliverance comes to the repentant and true repentance comes through complete and unequivocal trust in the Lord.

ACU Summit 2012 Videos Are Up on Youtube!

I am sure many of you will enjoy watching everyone from Randy Harris to Walter Brueggemann…Enjoy!

ACU Summit 2012 Video

Here is one to get you started, Mitch Wilburn’s “Children of the Living God”

Gideon’s Weakness and the Grace & Peace of God

We usually associate “grace and peace” with Paul’s letters but grace and peace show up in other places in scripture. One of those places is in Judges 6. Gideon was told to deliver Israel from the Midianites but Gideon is concerned because the days he lived in weren’t like the days of his ancestors. He knew the story of the parting of the sea and deliverance from Egypt. He knew God was present with his people in those days because God acted in mighty ways. Gideon’s assumption was that God must not be present like he was because God isn’t acting like he used to act (see Judges 6:11-13). God assures him that he really was going to be the deliverer of Israel and Gideon’s response went like this,

“If now I have found grace in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.” – Judges 6:17

Gideon brings back an offering and it is consumed in flame. He then realizes he has seen the angel of the Lord and fears for his life. But God says,

“‘Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.’

So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace.”

Grace and peace go hand in hand. Without grace there is no peace because, like Gideon, we cannot stand in the presence of a holy God and live. So praise God that he is loving and graceful and we can have peace because he is the ultimate deliverer of his people! If you are going through something and lack peace or maybe you are upset because you just don’t have the power to fix the problems in your life…remember what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10,

“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Do you know when God responded gracefully to Gideon in Judges 6? It was when Gideon said he wouldn’t be able to deliver the people because he was the least person of the weakest clan from among his people (6:15). God has a way of sorting these things out in ways that remind us that he is in charge, not us. So rest in the grace of God and find your peace there.

A Patriarch, A Judge and a Prophet Walk Into a Bar

I have been studying Gideon and I ran across some really interesting parallels he has with Jacob and Elijah.

They all were called on by God.

They all had personal encounters with God.

They all built altars to the Lord

Jacob and Gideon had their names changed.

Gideon and Elijah had encounters with the prophets of Baal.

Gideon and Elijah had their offerings burned up with divine fire.

Gideon stands at a point in Israel’s history that points back to the first Israel (Jacob) and forward to the prophet Elijah. In Gideon’s story we are reminded that God can do great things with weak people (Judges 6:15) and severely limited resources (7:1-7). We are also reminded that God is incredibly patient (the offering made sure it was God’s voice, the fleece made sure it was God’s will and hearing the dream of the enemy confirmed God’s will) and graceful (6:17)…and that God hears the cry of His people and is a divine deliverer. Last, we learn that God is present even when it doesn’t seem like he is (6:13).

The Difference Between Eisegesis & Exegesis – Sounds Boring but It is Something Every Christian Should Understand

sherlockholmeswatsonA crime has occurred. The investigator arrives on the scene. He sees the body, the weapon and the footprints leading away. This is nothing new. He has seen similar scenes a million times and knows exactly what has happened. Without any further questions he determines exactly what all of this means, exactly how it happened and the identity of the killer.

What is the problem with this? The problem is, there was more investigating to be done of what this specific crime scene was trying to tell him. He already has his conclusions in mind before he has all the information. The biggest problem was either ignorance or arrogance…he assumed that based on past experience that he would be able to figure all this out based on a cursory glance of the scene. If he really wanted to know what happened, he would be asking more questions, finding more evidence and not assuming that he already had the answer. Remember, a lot is on the line here…an innocent man may get convicted and a murderer walk free! It is important that he gets this right. That is eisegesis.

A second investigator arrives on the scene. She doesn’t come to the scene thinking she already knows what happened. She takes each crime scene (text) by its own merits, requiring a careful study of the background of the crime through asking good questions (as any good investigator knows how to do): Who was this person? Who did they know? Who were they talking with moments before the died? Those things are not readily apparent just glancing at the scene/text. It takes work. It takes an investigative spirit. It all starts with humility. There is a humility that comes when you believe that Scripture is God’s Word to humanity and if we are to understand it and faithfully apply it, it is going to take some work. Remember, there is a lot on the line here. In Biblical interpretation that is called exegesis.

What I have laid out here is the background for biblical “Exegesis”, a Greek word that means “to draw out” or “to guide/lead out”. When you read scripture, you are drawing the meaning from the text into your life. Eisegesis, on the other hand, means “to guide/lead in”. The thing that is being lead in are your own presuppositions, preconceived ideas, biases, culture, etc. Eisegesis reads Scripture solely through what those words mean, stripped out of their historical context (point #3 below) and plopped down in front of someone, pointed whichever way they want to point it and do with it what they want to do with it. Here is how Mark Strauss puts it,

“In the same way, every time you read the Bible you are already interpreting it. The only question is whether you will interpret it well or poorly—that is, whether you will hear the text as the author intended it to be heard, or whether you will impose your own ideas onto the text. Exegesis means drawing out the author’s original meaning. “Eisegesis” refers to the opposite: misinterpreting the text by reading into it your own assumptions and meaning.” – Strauss, M. L. How to Read the Bible in Changing Times: Understanding and Applying God’s Word Today, p. 44.

None of us can read Scripture in a vacuum that is able to remove all preconceived ideas and culture from our minds. It is just impossible. But we must be aware of that potential and recognize it when it influences us strongly enough that we might be missing the actual meaning of the text. When we read scripture we should always come to it with a few things in mind:

  1. Scripture is the Word of God. That means it has authority over us and it is truth.
  2. Scripture has an absolute meaning and intention by the original author that he wanted his audience to understand.
  3. In order to get to that meaning you have to understand the context of the passage (audience, occasion/situation, author, etc).
  4. Because God’s Word is truth and we need that truth to inform our lives, the purpose of Bible study is determining what God’s Word means and applying that to our lives to partner and participate with God in spiritual transformation and renewal.
  5. We do not come to scripture to bend it to our desires or predetermined ideas. That would undo #1 by giving us authority over scripture rather than the other way around.

Review of Logos “How to Read the Bible” Collection – Part 2

BibleProphesyThe second book in Logos Bible Software’s “How to Read the Bible” collection is “A Concise Guide to Bible Prophecy: 60 Predictions Everyone Should Know” by Stan Guthrie. This is book is an introductory level book that is designed to put some of the most important (and often misunderstood) prophesies all in one place. The introduction gave me the impression he was going to cover 60 misunderstood prophesies. Honestly, I think that would have been a better book! He could have explained the common misconception and then done solid exegesis to show us what he thinks the verses are really saying.

I wasn’t nearly as impressed with this book as I was with Strauss’ book in the previous post. If you ran across these prophesies in study you would probably already be looking in some sort of commentary that is dealing with the verse in context. I was also confused by the “Application” section at the end of each prophesy. His application was a single sentence principle derived from the prophesy rather than an actual application. In other words the application was just a single truth to remember about the prophesy and not anything about how the prophesy actually applies to us. “Key principle” would have been a better label for those. The last thing I wasn’t as impressed with is that his presupposition, stated in the beginning of the book, is that every prophesy of scripture ultimately points back to Christ. I don’t really agree with that. There are many prophesies about many other things that don’t find fulfillment in Christ.

The best part of the book are his illustrations to help you wrap your mind about the prophesy. Other than that, I don’t think this book offered up too much that was unique that you couldn’t get anywhere else. It was more about putting these prophesies all in one place than anything else. I would rather study them in context. Just my two cents. His book (also in this series) “All That Jesus Asks” appears to me to be far superior to this one.

Making Spiritual Disciplines More Than Just Another “To Do”

Spiritual disciplines aren’t just one more thing to keep us busy. They don’t exist to occupy our mind. We don’t do them as penance. Spiritual disciplines are here for us as tools to focus on God, put him first and find our ultimate delight and fulfillment solely in God. Too often in the past, I have taught the “how to’s” of the disciplines without teaching the “Why”. The key ingredient to making the spiritual disciplines (things like prayer, fasting, scripture reading & rest) effective is identifying their purpose.

Why do these things? We do them because they draw us closer to God. Left to ourselves, doing the things that come natural to us, drawing near to God is difficult. It takes us doing things that at first don’t come natural to us (like abstaining from food!) in order to get in tune with God on a level that goes beyond the ordinary. Once we understand that these practices draw us closer to God they more easily become a natural and regular part of our lives. But before that can be true we have to really, really desire God. If we don’t desire God, we won’t desire to be closer to Him. If we don’t believe we can actually find fulfillment in God we won’t desire to draw closer to Him.

The effectiveness of the spiritual disciplines rest solely on our desire for God. Without that we are just going through the motions. Once we understand that and FEEL that draw and that desire, the disciplines become powerful, transformative and normative in the Christian life. What once felt so unnatural becomes a natural part of our lives. So before we teach the disciplines, let’s make sure we start with the “Why” otherwise we are just teaching more “to do’s”. More on the disciplines in some upcoming posts.

P.S. – As I have been studying through the disciplines I have been convicted that one has been missing from many lists is the discipline of waiting (read Psalm 37 and see if it doesn’t come across that way to you). It is also one of the most needed disciplines in Western culture today.

Shame: Us, God & Psalm 25

In the beginning, God made everything unashamedly good,  “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” (Gen 2:25). Fast forward one chapter…the fruit, a serpent, temptation…being like God?, a bite…another bite, fear & shame. It went like this,

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” – Gen 3:6-10

Their reaction to their actions was a classic shame response – they tried to cover it/themselves up (with fig leaves and actual hiding) because they were afraid. Shame has a way of making us afraid to face reality. Sometimes shame comes from something we have done. Other times we feel shame because of something someone has done to us.

Recently, I have had several conversations with people who are facing tremendous levels of shame and fear. They are going through this same process we see in Genesis 3 – poor decisions were made and ever since they have experienced shame, fear and have tried to cover it up. But you can only cover it up for so long before you realize that freedom only comes in answering God’s question, “Where are you?” When God asks that, he really needs to hear our honest answer. Maybe our answer is that we are in a really dark place because of our decisions. Or maybe our answer is that we are in a mess because of what others have done to us and we just cannot let it go. If we are going to get past the shame we have to start with telling God where we are, right here and now. If we aren’t honest about that and express it to Him, it can never be fully dealt with and healing will come slow, if ever.

One of the places I have turned in helping people deal with shame is Psalm 25. I am going to let this psalm speak for itself…just notice how the end of shame comes from God and our trusting in His guidance.

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;
    in you I trust, O my God.
Do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one whose hope is in you
will ever be put to shame,
but they will be put to shame
who are treacherous without excuse.

Show me your ways, O Lord,
teach me your paths;
guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you are good, O Lord.

Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way.
10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
for those who keep the demands of his covenant.
11 For the sake of your name, O Lord,
forgive my iniquity, though it is great.
12 Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord?
He will instruct him in the way chosen for him.
13 He will spend his days in prosperity,
and his descendants will inherit the land.
14 The Lord confides in those who fear him;
he makes his covenant known to them.
15 My eyes are ever on the Lord,
for only he will release my feet from the snare.

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 The troubles of my heart have multiplied;
free me from my anguish.
18 Look upon my affliction and my distress
and take away all my sins.
19 See how my enemies have increased
and how fiercely they hate me!
20 Guard my life and rescue me;
let me not be put to shame,
for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness protect me,
because my hope is in you.

22 Redeem Israel, O God,
from all their troubles!

If you are dealing with shame, hand it over to God…follow His lead and let him redeem whatever it is that has happened to you or that you have done in order to get beyond what you are going through. When God deals with it, that is a profound act of grace.

Review of the Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament by G.K. Beale

Beale_NTOTI just finished reading the Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament and it was worth the read. I don’t review every book I read but I try to make sure I review the ones worth reading. There are a few things about Beale’s perspective that I found helpful. First, he has done his homework. He has studied this topic for several decades and over the last few years has put out several resources to help people understand how the New Testament writers understood and used the Old Testament through their direct quotations and allusions to various OT texts. Second, he respects scripture as the inspired Word of God and views God as the ultimate author of scripture. That has implications in his approach that impacts the book in a major way and I found it very helpful (more on that in a minute). Third, at least in this book, he is thorough but concise…a quality few seem to possess.

This handbook is basically a “how to” on his approach in an effort to inform you how to work through this subject on your own with actual texts. Another resource he published recently is his New Testament Biblical Theology is a theology of the NT based through the lens of the OT. I purchased this as well and haven’t read it but it is HUGE and looks exceptionally good (it is expensive). Third is a commentary he wrote with D.A. Carson called Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. This book is more of a verse by verse commentary (where appropriate) of how the NT writers used and interpretaed various OT texts and appropriated them into the NT in various ways and for various purposes. I haven’t seen this book yet but I can only imagine it would be well worth purchasing.

The Handbook begins with a discussion of challenges that have to be addressed in understanding the issues involved in understanding how the NT writers used the OT. Those challenges range from whether or not the NT writers really cared about the context of the OT scriptures they cited down to the very definition of typology. Beale believes that virtually all OT allusions and quotations were used by the NT writers in view of their context. What is more, since God is the ultimate author of scripture (p.24) and had a hand in guiding the process of the production of scripture from start to finish, all scripture is used contextually among authors because underlying it all is God as the ultimate author of Scripture and God certainly understands what He has said in earlier writings contextually (both historical context and literary context).

Beale spends a lot of time on typology and the debate that has surrounded how typology is to be defined. Does typology require the original passage to have understood itself to be a forward looking prophesy in order for it to be understood that way in the NT (authorial intent of a scripture being prophetic)? For instance, Deuteronomy 18 talks about a prophet like Moses who was to come. That passage is a type for Jesus. The text itself is forward looking and looking for future fulfillment.

In chapter 2, Beale writes about direct quotations in the NT of OT passages and allusions (probably the trickiest) in the NT to the OT. Quotations are pretty easy to find. There is usually an introductory formula (as it is written, etc) that identifies the NT writer is purposefully making use of the OT. Allusions are a bit trickier. Beale defines an allusion as, “a brief expression consciously intended by an author to be dependent on an OT passage.” (p.31). How tightly connected to the OT does something have to be for us to understand the NT writer had in mind that they were making an allusion to something in the OT? They can allude to a specific verse, a word, a theme, etc.

One of the best assets in this book are the resources and bibliographies that Beale (and his grad assistants!) have compiled. He frequently makes suggestions of further resources to help you in your study. He recommends NA27’s list of OT allusions in the NT (Nestle-Aland’s Novum Testamentum Graece 27th edition) as well as C.A. Evan’s book Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature as he goes not only into the NT’s OT allusions but also OT allusions in the NT from the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus, Qumran, targums, and so much more! Another interesting book he cites is H. Gough’s The NT Quotations Collated with the Scriptures of the OT (online at google books) that actually works the other way around by working organizing the NT citations but in the order of the OT. So it would start with Genesis and list any NT citations/allusions.

After the first two introductory chapters just described, Beale lays out his methodology in chapter 3 and spends the rest of the book working through parts of his methodol0gy. Here is how he works through these passages (p.42-43):

  1. Identify the OT reference
  2. Analyze the broad NT context where the OT reference occurs
  3. Analyze the OT context
  4. Survey the use of the OT text in early Judaism
  5. Compare the texts: NT, LXX, targums, MT, etc
  6. Analyze the NT’s author’s textual use of the OT passage (what version is he citing or did he do his own translation?)
  7. Analyze the NT writer’s interpretive use of the OT
  8. Analyze their theological use of the OT
  9. Analyze their rhetorical use of the OT

He spends the rest of chapter three giving more explanation of each of these steps and then spends the remainder of the book giving even more specifics.

Chapter 4 – Works through Step 7
Chapter 5 – Works through Step 8
Chapter 6 – Works through Step 4 (He has a lengthy bibliography in this section that is nearly worth the price of the book)
Chapter 7 is a case study that puts all the steps into action.

Does the Bible Condemn Bad Handwriting?

There is this little Hebrew word that is only used three times in the Old Testament. The word is באר (ba-ar). It means to make something really, really plain. The first place this word is used in the Bible is in Deuteronomy 1:5 where Moses “explains” the Law. Literally, he makes the Law plain and clear to the people. Preachers should take note here that it is important we make God’s Word clear and understandable to those who listen but this doesn’t just apply to the spoken word. In Deuteronomy 27:8 Moses told the people to write the Law on some stones that they were to set up at Ebal. He told them to write “very clearly”. The thought here is not that they change the words of the Law to be more understandable but that they write them neatly so they are legible. Last, we have Habakkuk 2:2 where God told the prophet Habakkuk, ““Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.” In other words, write it so largely and legibly that people can read it on the fly. As the herald runs around with the message there will be no mistaking what it says. Why is that important? It is important because God has a message for His people that He wants them to pay attention to.

Of course today, few of us hand write much of anything. We have nice fonts that are easy to read set against clean and clear backgrounds of the color of our choice…and you can make them as large or as small as you like with the click of a button. Legibility is not the issue today and no, the Bible is not really condemning poor handwriting at large. But what God does want from us is to be able to communicate His message to the world and to Christians in a way that is clear and easy to understand. In a single word the Gospel needs to be made accessible to whoever is willing to look or listen. It is important that we learn to communicate things well and really think about our words whether through the written word (writing books, blogging, facebook, twitter, email, texting) or through the spoken word (preaching, teaching, personal conversations).

The difficulty of  באר (ba-ar) is that making something clear and simple usually takes more time and is more difficult than making something complex. You have to work at it.