Bible Abuse by Pastors

Ancient Ruins

Egyptian PedestalWay back in August I wrote an article on Bible Abuse by Pastors. The post was picked up on Facebook and favorably commented on there but not so much on the BLOG itself.

Recently, a visitor to the BLOG gave me a “tsk, tsk, tsk” (“Marty, Marty, Marty” actually) for calling out a fellow pastor’s misapplication of a favorite text. He, the tsk, tsk, tsker, seemed put off that I, a relatively unknown, would dare to question the interpretation of my better.

Now, on the particular, many, many pastors, perhaps most pastors of large churches are better communicators than me. But that doesn’t mean that I am always wrong when I disagree with them on the interpretation of a particular text.

Further, it is dangerous for congregants to put any teacher/pastor on a pedestal that removes them from the correction of others. Therefore, I responded to my disappointed BLOG-visitor with the following:

I’m sorry but I neither get your point nor understand why you object to my post. It was kind, positive and respectful of Craig as a man, as a communicator, as a leader, and as a pastor. It affirmed his wife in her respect and love for her husband and it acknowledged his positive responsiveness to her counsel.

Because Craig is a man of God, I suspect he would be one of the first to give the same warning that I give at the end of the post, namely, that congregants be careful to keep their fingers on the text whenever we (their pastors) speak. I included myself, by the way, in the warning. No teacher is above ever being questioned. Frankly, I think if Craig were to read the post, he would probably say something like, “you know, I think this no-name guy Marty has a point. I think I did misapply that text.”

And we would part as friends. He is a good man and I praise God for his ministry.

[His further question]
Now, on Elijah being a man of God. Elisha was a man of God, which is to say that he loved and served God. It is not to say that he made no mistakes. He is after all like Craig and myself, just a man.

Men and women, be careful. We live in a world of celebrity. Celebrity is simply popularity in high numbers on a national stage. Whether it is an actress or actor, a politician, a musician or singer, a TV personality or a celluloid hero or heroine, or even a pastor and theologian, celebrity is NOT a guarantee of veracity even when we like the celebrity of the hour.

Be careful of who you put on untouchable pedestals. Only God is worthy of worship.

Anger Does Not Give Birth to Wisdom

Monday is for Discussion

The following is an excerpt from a portion of chapter 15 from my 2012 book, Picking a President or Any Other Elected Official. I am currently working on a revision for my new publisher (Zondervan). If you would, please keep me in your prayers. Also, if you have a good idea for a new catchy title, pass it on in the comment section. Meanwhile, this is a good article to keep in mind as you listen to the rhetoric of the political candidates this season.

Picking a President Book CoverProverbs 15   Anger Does Not Give Birth to Wisdom.

A soft answer turns away wrath,
     but a harsh word stirs up anger.

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife,
     but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.

The Lord is far from the wicked,
     but he hears the prayer of the righteous.

Proverbs 15:1, 18, 29

_____________________________

Vitriol, bitterness, rancor, wrath, incendiary language, pejorative language, fierce and disdainful language, harsh, short fuses, in short—angry voices and tones seem to be the norm in the political arena at this moment in our history. There is more heat than light and more polarization than unity. Our nation is divided in a sea of mistrust and miscommunication. Yes, there are real and qualitative differences between the so-called Left and the so-called Right. But …

In the Midwest, where I live, just outside of the city of Chicago there is what I call “the corridor of dueling billboards.” One talk radio station on the “right” has a billboard that proudly declares, “Liberals Hate Us” and then the call letters of its radio station. Just a few miles up the road, is another billboard. This one declares with equal pride and a bit of humor, “Liberals Love Us.” Neither station purports to be a Christian station, but both have staked out their territory on the political landscape.

One day on the two hour long trip to pick up my daughter from college, I decided to listen to one talk radio station on “each side of the aisle” on each leg of the trip. Wow! What an education. What became clear listening to both stations was that neither one was listening, truly listening to the other. They each had their straw men concerning the other’s positions and were more than willing to pound away with “shock and awe” type language to impress their already converted audiences. Rancor, condemnation, harsh and judgmental bitterness were the rule of the day in most of what I heard from both stations.

But anger and bitterness rarely give birth to wisdom. The angry politician, like the angry neighbor is neither pleasant nor wise. And it is to that reality that Solomon speaks in chapter 15 of Proverbs.

1   A soft answer turns away wrath,
              but a harsh word stirs up anger.

18 A hot-tempered man stirs up strife,
               but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.

How my soul longs for candidates who will reason rather than shill, who will seek to quiet contention rather than stir up strife. This text says in effect, that the longing in my heart is valid. It is consistent with the way of wisdom laid down in God’s word. Pray for God to raise up candidates in our local, state, and national elections that will resort to reason and rational arguments rather than politicizing every issue for narrow political and personal gain. We need men and women who will listen and apply the wise counsel of the first half of Proverbs 15:2:

“The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable,”

If we can’t find those candidates, we will be doomed to live with the second half of the verse:

“But the mouth of the fool spouts folly.” (NASB95)

Let’s pray for the former so we don’t end up with the latter. Persevere in prayer. Don’t get discouraged. Remember Solomon’s words later in the same chapter (v. 29).

The Lord is far from the wicked,
but he hears the prayer of the righteous.

Praying for your leaders, present and future, is a righteous act. It is a commanded act in God’s word (cf. 1 Tim. 2:2). And it will be blessed by God. Pray for your leaders on both sides of the political spectrum.

Affliction: How a Good God Loves His People (Sometimes)

Sunday Afternoon Musings

Struggle
Embrace the Struggle

The reformer Martin Luther described the Christian spiritual life as consisting of three primary operations under the guidance of the Spirit. In Latin, those three operations were, Oratio, Meditatio, and Tentatio – Prayer, Meditation, and Struggle/Affliction.

The disciplines of prayer and meditation over the word of the living God is pretty straight forward albeit, difficult at times. But “Tentatio” (Struggle or Affliction) is a harder sell to the American spirit. We like our lives comfortable, convenient, and uncomplicated. The thought of struggle is why we are one of the more obese countries on the planet. We have become, whatever battles our ancestors have fought and overcome, a soft people.

Athletes know differently. Their oft repeated slogan is “No Pain, No Gain.” Contestants on America’s Biggest Loser know differently as well. Anyone who has had to overcome anything knows differently. Overcoming, becoming something new is hard.

But none of us like it.

So when we read verses like these from Psalm 119, we tend to either not understand them or run away from them as quickly as possible.  

Before I was afflicted I went astray,
     but now I keep your word.

You are good and do good;
.    teach me your statutes.

It is good for me that I was afflicted,
.    that I might learn your statutes.

I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous,
.    and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.

Psalm 119:67-68, 71, 75

But what is true in athletic performance, or dieting, or educational or business achievement, or the overcoming of significant relational barriers, is true spiritually as well. Progress in holiness is not without effort and suffering and sacrifice and struggle and affliction. It is not without tentatio.

Lord, I want a different process. I want an easier road. I want less pain and more gain. But Lord, if affliction

  • is the process that will keep me from going astray from Your word,
  • if heartache and sorrow and loss will be guided by Your good hand, that I might learn Your statutes,
  • if in faithfulness You will break me that I might become useful to You,

then give me the courage to pray with boldness that You would use every means to grow the character of Christ in me. For the glory of Your name, I ask it.

Thinking About Sin and Shakespeare

Monday is for Discussion

Hamlet contemplating killing his uncleOne of my goals last year was to read all of Shakespeare’s plays. It was an epic fail. Instead of all of Shakespeare’s plays, I read only one, Hamlet. 

I have long been mesmerized by the play since my days of teaching the Life of David at the Institute of Biblical Studies and the International School of Theology. It was during my study of David’s life that I entertained the idea of leaving the ministry to work on a Ph.D. in English Literature. It was a pipe dream and I would have been a terrible academic, but the play captured my attention because the guilt-ridden King (the murderous uncle of Hamlet) seemed to have much in common with the King Saul, David’s predecessor.

In Act 3, Scene 3, the play reaches the crux of the whole play. The king is in the chapel and his monologue reveals the tension of his heart.

O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven;
It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t,
A brother’s murder. Pray can I not,
Though inclination be as sharp as will:
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent;
And, like a man to double business bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect. What if this cursed hand
Were thicker than itself with brother’s blood,
Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it white as snow? Whereto serves mercy
But to confront the visage of offence?
And what’s in prayer but this two-fold force,
Or pardon’d being down? Then I’ll look up;
My fault is past. But, O what form of prayer
Can serve my turn? “Forgive me my foul murder”?
That cannot be; since I am still possess’d
Of those effects for which I did the murder,
My crown, mine own ambition and my queen.
May one be pardon’d and retain the offence?
.                                                    Act 3 Scene 3, Line 36-56

A few lines later the guilty king makes his attempt at prayer and confession of his sin with these words to alert the audience of his intentions:

Bow, stubborn knees; and, heart with strings of steel,
Be soft as sinews of the new-born babe!
All may be well.  
.                                                   Act 3, Scene 3, Line 69-71 

It’s a plea to his own heart to be soft and truly repentant for his ambition and lust that led to murder and adultery. And while he is on his knees engaged in his silent prayer, Hamlet enters and considers ending his uncle’s life for his treachery toward his father but in the end leaves the scene as the king rises from his attempted confession. His words tell the product of his prayer.

My words fly up, my thoughts remain below:
Words without thoughts never to heaven go.
.                                                     Act 3, Scene 3, Line 97-98

Hamlet over ClaudiusIt is a scene that plays out the corruptions of king’s heart. He wants forgiveness but he knows that forgiveness requires repentance and he is unwilling to truly repent. He wants a cheap grace that receives the blessing of God without the necessity of true repentance.

And that is our struggle every day.

Will we bow our “stubborn knees” which is really only a metaphor for our stubborn hearts? Hamlet’s uncle wanted a soften heart, an innocent heart like a new-born babe, but he didn’t want the process. He wanted his sin and the acquisitions of his sin more than he wanted forgiveness. Exactly our struggle. And in contrast to the king of Shakespeare’s play, exactly the process we must pursue. 

Prayer

Oh God, make my heart and the heart of every Christian soft and supple to Your Spirit. Give us true repentance to confess and forsake our sins.  Help me, help us, “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV). Break me that you might heal me. For the glory of Christ I ask it. Amen.

Darkness Created Light

Sunday MusingsCoal FlamesCoal Flames 2

 

 

 

 

Periodically, hearts need to be racked over coals to become malleable and soft again. The metaphor doesn’t work except it does.

Fire doesn’t make flesh soft, it makes it crisp. It sears it. Meat shrinks and contracts when surrounded by the heat of a coal fire. But when the “hot coal” is the righteous fire of God, when the heat is supplied by the spotless moral perfection and holiness of the Lord of Hosts miraculous things can happen.

Periodically, our hearts need the searing heat of God’s word to remind us that we are desperate for Him to change us. In April of 2008 I had one of those times, one of those “spiritual crisis” moments. (Preceded by a similar times in 1973, 1974, 1975, 1979, 1983, 1984, 1990, 1994, and 2001, and then later in 2012.) Each time, God used a different text to shock my system,

  • to remove blinders from my eyes,
  • to reveal darker corners of my soul waiting for healing,
  • to grip my heart with a new passion,
  • to draw my distracted attention back to wonders of His love and compassion.

In 2008, it was Psalm 42 (ESV). I read these words:

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
.         so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
.         for the living God.
    When shall I come and appear before God?

And my immediate response was, No Lord. It’s not true. I am not panting for You. My soul is parched. That was the beginning of a personal revival as I began to plead with God to change my heart.  Studying for the current preaching series on Habakkuk, I was struck with another need for personal revival when the Spirit of God led me to Psalm 119:136:

My eyes shed streams of tears,
.       because people do not keep your law.

First response?  “Is this not the problem in our nation. Where is the lament of Your people? Where is mine?”  And that quickly, I knew that God was calling my heart to something deeper, something richer. He was calling me to cease dabbling with trivial things, and plumb the depths of significant things with Him as my guide.

I think God is always calling us to those deeper depths and He always wants to be our guide. So here is my invitation to my readers to join me. The link below was a reflection written in the “spiritual crisis of April 2008”. Perhaps it will be of some use now. In addition, here’s the link to Jim Elliff’s 5 Resolves to Personal Revival.

Source: Darkness Created Light.

And This, Against Nominal Belief

Monday Discussion

Basic ChristianityIt’s a short book.
It’s a basic book.
It’s a classic book.

And if you have never read it, you are in for a treat and a challenge and maybe a revival of your heart. John Stott is the author. The book is Basic Christianity. [I have counted at least 16 different covers for the book. My own copy is about fourteen covers back!] 

It continues to be published because it is just that good. I have broken it into three short paragraphs to make it easier to read.

“Jesus never concealed the fact that his religion included a demand as well as an offer. Indeed, the demand was as total as the offer was free. If he offered men his salvation, he also demanded their submission. He gave no encouragement whatever to thoughtless applicants for discipleship. He brought no pressure to bear on any inquirer. He sent irresponsible enthusiasts away empty.

Luke tells of three men who either volunteered, or were invited, to follow Jesus; but no one passed the Lord’s test. The rich young ruler, too, moral, earnest and attractive, who wanted eternal life on his own terms, went away sorrowful, with his riches intact but with neither life nor Christ as his possession…The Christian landscape is strewn with the wreckage of derelict, half built towers—the ruins of those who began to build and were unable to finish. For thousands of people still ignore Christ’s warning and undertake to follow him without first pausing to reflect on the cost of doing so. The result is the great scandal of Christendom today, so called “nominal Christianity.”

In countries to which Christian civilization has spread, large numbers of people have covered themselves with a decent, but thin, veneer of Christianity. They have allowed themselves to become somewhat involved, enough to be respectable but not enough to be uncomfortable. Their religion is a great, soft cushion. It protects them from the hard unpleasantness of life, while changing its place and shape to suit their convenience. No wonder the cynics speak of hypocrites in the church and dismiss religion as escapism…The message of Jesus was very different. He never lowered his standards or modified his conditions to make his call more readily acceptable. He asked his first disciples, and he has asked every disciple since, to give him their thoughtful and total commitment. Nothing less than this will do.[Bold emphasis added.]

Jesus has some brutally blunt words for “nominal Christian belief”:

14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

15 “ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

Revelation 3:14–4:1 (ESV)

Read Stott’s book. It might change your whole Christian experience.

Eight Days After a Nine Month Wait

Sunday Afternoon Musings

Zacharias and the AngelZacharias, an aging and godly priest, a teacher of the law who had kept the commandments and walked in the statutes of God all his life. He is coming to the end of his active priesthood. He and Elizabeth have prayed for a child for years, but are now beyond childbearing years, and have stopped praying and given up on their hope of a child. Their line will end. They will not have a part in Messiah’s line.

But then, Zacharias’ division is called. One from their number will be chosen by lot to offer the daily offering in the Temple. One from every family in the division of Abijah assemble; lots are drawn and Zacharias is called! It is the pinnacle of this life as a priest. Childless Elizabeth and Zacharias are honored when the lot falls to the aging Zacharias.

So he goes into the Temple. Nervous. Excited. Curious. Awestruck, that finally, he has gotten the opportunity to go into a part of the Temple that few ever see.

And there God sends an angel to give him a message. He and Elizabeth are going to have a son!

Zacharias when he first heard what the angel told him he had doubts. Elizabeth was old, too old for children. They had given up. Others might be a part of God’s plan, but it looked like their line would end.

No Messiah would come from them.

The angel’s message?

“Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Luke 1:13-17 (NASB 1995 update)

No Messiah would come from Zacharias and Elizabeth but the Messiah was coming!

And their son, their impossible, late in life, past child-bearing-year’s son, their long-prayed for son would come before Him and prepare the way. Their miraculous son, the one we call John the Baptist, would turn the hearts of Israel in preparation for the Messiah’s unveiling.

The prayers of righteous Zacharias and faithful Elizabeth would be answered. There are rewards brothers and sisters, for faithfulness and hope in God. Draw courage from the word of God in your journey with Christ.

And this Christmas season, remember that God has sent us the One to who John the Baptist would point and say, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” That is what Christmas is all about.