Posts Tagged ‘quotes’

The structural arrangement of the Bible is not commonly discussed, except in the most scholarly of venues; but there is oneunfortunate consequence which must be diligently avoided: modern readers have a tendency to treat each book as a discrete story, more like an anthology rather than chapters within one narrative. This causes us to miss the simultaneous occurrence of some key events in God’s history with His people. The ministry of the Old Testament  prophets is a good example. In the previous post, for instance, we saw Isaiah speaking the Word of God to King Hezekiah; but that was only one of four kings during whose reigns he served The Lord (Ussiah, Jotham, and Ahaz came before), and other biblical prophets  – Amos, Hosea, and Micah – were his contemporaries. These facts make the stubbornness of the people, their refusal to repent, all the more damning…they could not claim ignorance, the news was on every channel!

The Book of Isaiah is by far the longest and most extensive passage of prophecy we have in Scripture, and the most revealing of Jesus. I have seen some commentators call this book “the Gospel of Isaiah”, so accurate are the details about the coming Messiah. Yet about the man himself we see very few details. The title above is used nearly every time he is introduced; this sparse answer to the questions, “Who are you, what is your job, where did you come from?” is apparently all the information we need; much like John the Baptist, who quotes this prophet when asked to identify himself, Isaiah is content to be nothing more than –

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.”

So many preachers today (in my opinion) make themselves the center of attention. I live in Houston, Texas: home to three of the ten largest “mega” churches in this country, and I can tell you far more about their senior pastors than any of their ministries; their names and photographs are on all the billboards and websites (often with a link to their newest books), but sometimes you have to scroll around or read a little to find the name of Jesus…and I have to wonder at that. Isaiah and the other prophets lived to speak God’s words to God’s people, or anyone else who would listen, for that matter; it was not in the least about themselves – how far we have strayed in these days!

Reblogged from a good friend of mine on Blogger…not new information, but very well spoken.

What About Those Who Have Never Actually Heard the Gospel?

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you are also in the body.

This weekend I am serving with the Kairos prison ministry at Eastham Unit in Lovelady, TX. Please be in prayer for the men, the volunteers, the staff, and for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless he ought to be slow to believe and to act, nor should he himself show fear, but proceed in a temperate manner with prudence and humanity, so that too much confidence may not make him incautious and too much distrust render him intolerable.

– Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

For an author who derided the concept that moral virtue was a necessary condition for an enduring government,  Machiavelli does on occasion offer advice that all leaders would do well to remember. Here, he is referring to a prince who has newly come into his power, and is in the early stages of consolidating his base…but temperance, prudence and humanity ought to be the hallmarks of any person who would take on a position of authority, don’t you agree?

Recently I wrote about how well-meaning people sometimes try to use a bible verse to comfort or reassure Karen or me, while she is doing cancer treatments and I am trying not to feel helpless or sorry for myself. These people want to be supportive, and who wouldn’t think that a favorite exhortation or encouragement from the bible would be appreciated? Well, in principle this is a great idea – the Word of God is an awesome place to find support or advice in trying times; but what usually happens is the person will take some verse out of context, or misappropriate a promise or command that was not intended for what they are doing with it. Being who I am (a word geek with an acquired taste for exegesis and hermeneutics – not one to trifle with when bible quotes start flying), I call these “Inigo Montoya moments”, after the character from one of my favorite films, The Princess Bride. Here is a clip of the classic scene:

Evangelism centers on the idea that the whole world needs to hear the Gospel of Jesus, so they may be saved. This is in fact one of our assignments as His followers remaining on earth until He returns, but…my heart is broken for those people in the world who have heard the Word, but they either heard it wrong, or someone interpreted it for them incorrectly, and they just accepted it without checking for themselves. Given that I now have a platform to help combat misinformation, I have decided to periodically take one of these misused Scriptures, look at it in its proper context, and figure out what it really says; if it’s not appropriate to that application, I will try to suggest a better passage instead. I shall call these The Inigo Files, in homage to both the movie, and to my secret passion, The X-Files, because I want to believe…

In this installment we will examine a classically misused verse: Philippians 4:13. Here’s a typical scenario – a friend at church will notice I seem kind of down, and will ask how I’m doing. I will answer that I’m struggling with trying to balance my responsibilities at home against my tendency to compulsively volunteer  over-commit be involved in many activities. (I refuse to confirm or deny whether any of these actual events actually happened or not.) Friend will make sympathetic sounds; tell me about all the commitments she is currently holding up (since nothing soothes more than shame, right?); and then drop this on me:

“Remember, the bible says, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’  Just pray for strength, and God will help you accomplish everything you want!”

Really? Anything? To borrow an extreme example from a pastor friend who used it in a great sermon on Philippians 4: Does that mean that I can, through Christ who strengthens me, finally do a 360-degree tomahawk slam dunk like Michael Jordan, even though I’m 5’8″ with bad ankles, if I just pray hard enough? In a word, no…and while that is a pretty specific misuse, it does illustrate my point – this verse gets co-opted to justify almost anything and everything that someone wants to do, by appealing to the idea that being a Christian gives us some mystical access to success in any endeavor; the power of God is on our side, how can we fail?

How, indeed? Well, for starters, we can fail by reading only one verse. As the famous quote says, “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.” So our first step to determine the meaning of a verse is to see it in its larger context. Here is the entire relevant passage, Phil 4:10-13 from the NKJV:

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

The Apostle Paul is closing out his letter to the church at Philippi, taking a moment to give thanks to God for the way He has used them to supply his needs while in prison in Rome. Paul makes it a point of instruction to tell them that he was not suffering for the lack of support, because he has learned to trust that God will always provide for his needs…so there is no reason to be worried, or unsatisfied with what we have – whatever we have is what God wants us to have, and His strength is promised to make up for any deficiency. This echoes the words of Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, when He tells us not to worry about the necessities of life, because God preserves and provides for those who seek after Him. Paul, in verse twelve, spells out specifically what things he is able to do, by the strength of Christ living within him, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, a gift promised to all who follow Jesus. This becomes even more clear if we see this passage in a different translation, the NIV, which renders the Greek more accurately.  Here is verse 13 in that version (emphasis mine):

 I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.

So, what Paul is teaching is that the power of Christ is the means by which he can trust and believe that God will provide enough for his needs; this faith frees him from some of the greatest temptations we face – greed, envy, bitterness, resentment; and what a great gift this is! But a promise that Jesus will help me live like Jesus is not going to dunk that ball…or fix my schedule, either. So what passage (remember, never read just a verse!) should Friend be holding out to me in my time of need? Here’s one from Colossians 3 that really helped me learn how to prioritize my time and commitments. I would love to hear what others have to say, so post yours in the comments below, I promise to respond to every one!

23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

When I weigh the various opportunities and obligations before me in light of how they serve the Kingdom, it gets much easier to say Yes, or No, as required to allow sufficient effort and attention to a few things, rather than a flurry of distracted activity that actually does very little, and costs the heart so much. This is an accurate, effective, and Christ-honoring use of Scripture, which is why we have it in the first place; I am humbled and honored by the calling He has placed on me to help combat false doctrines and errant teachings, that He may be known as He knows us – in Spirit and in truth. I hope you, Dear Reader, find value in what I do here, and if so, please share what you learn with those around you – we all need a little more truth in our lives, and a little more Jesus, too.

Following hard after Him,

Nicky

Life just jumped all over me today, and I do not have a post worth publishing. So, rather than giving you less than an honest effort, or some lame excuses, I will leave you with this thought, and be back tomorrow:

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

– Galileo Galilei

You say, “If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.” You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.

– Charles Spurgeon

A good workman can accept the reward of his labor with assurance, but one who is idle and shiftless cannot look his employer in the face. That is why we must devote ourselves heart and soul to the task of well-doing, for everything comes from the hand of God and He has already warned us,“See, the Lord is approaching, and His reward before Him, to pay every man as his work deserves.”

– Clement, 4th bishop of Rome, 90-100 AD

1st Epistle to the Corinthians, Ch.34

I’ve been reading a lot of early Church writings lately, because I have this crazy idea that maybe they understood what Jesus intended His disciples to be doing with their lives, and why, with more clarity than we tend to display today. (Of course, that idea is not original to me; I am indebted to my friend and spiritual director, Phil, for handing me Pagan Christianity to challenge me, and then Justin Martyr to convince me, that we have gone a really long way down a side path, and making it really hard to hear our Shepherd’s voice.) Every so often I get another confirmation that I am on a more fruitful track now, and I wanted to share this one with anyone out there who ever wonders why we do what we do – don’t be afraid to ask questions! There may be very good reasons why, but you should know what they are, not just take things for granted.

OK, not starting a rant, just sharing a thought. What do you think about the way the early Christians lived out their faith? Is there a valid criticism of “modern” practices implied or expressed by the words of these men who followed so very closely to our Lord, not least in time? I would like to hear your opinions.

“Jesus promised His disciples three things—that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.”

-G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

This one makes me smile – I am reminded of Jesus’ letter to the church at Smyrna, where He tells them (please excuse my paraphrase)  “I know you’ve had a hard time, but you have this to look forward to – it’s gonna get worse!”

Last weekend, I was privileged to teach  the second part of a seminar on the Spiritual Disciplines. Doing the research in preparation for presenting this material has been a humbling and eye-opening experience, and has led to a greater understanding of the connection between faith and action…between merely believing in something, and living based on that belief.

Then I pick up a copy of C.S. Lewis “The Screwtape Letters”, and here is the same truth, expressed much more elegantly than I ever said it – once again, I will let the master have his last words, as Uncle Screwtape reminds his nephew Wormwood to keep his “subject” distracted and busy with unworthy things:

“…for they constantly forget what you must always remember – that they are animals, and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.” (emphasis added)