Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tuesday Text(ing)

As you might see, I’m gradually changing the name of this hopefully weekly feature into something really clever. Next Tuesday, if I can maintain my good intentions to post again, I’ll drop the parentheses. And hope everybody gets it.

Anyway, this Tuesday Text(ing) is from 1 Corinthians 7. In this chapter Paul says all these things:

“…because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (verse 2).

“…to the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am” (verse 8).

“Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity)” (verses 20, 21).

“So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God“ (verse 24).

It sounds as if Paul is all over the place in his thinking, saying one thing then contradicting it with another. Which is it, Paul… “do not be concerned about it” if you were a slave when called, or “if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity”? Is it true that “each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” or is it “good for them to remain single” as Paul was?

I’m sure it’s obvious that reading the whole of Chapter 7 with these verses in their proper context, and reading Chapter 7 itself in context with the whole epistle, makes Paul’s thought clear. His aim is to “promote good order” and secure the Corinthian church’s “undivided devotion to the Lord.” This will be of greatest benefit to them, for whatever most glorifies God also happens to be what’s best for us. This chapter shows the liberty and flexibility for the believer within God’s bounds of holiness. We should do what is holy and right towards God and each other in each circumstance of life.

One can easily see how taking certain of these verses in isolation could lead to a misunderstanding of Paul’s teaching and purpose. This is true throughout the Bible, not just in Paul’s letters. The writers of the Bible breathed the air of a different time and culture than we know, especially in the West, and their flow of thought was sometimes different than we are used to. But that doesn’t mean we can’t understand and get their (inspired!) point. With prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit for spiritual understanding and with a thoughtful attention to context and argument (flow of thought) for the literary understanding, all of Scripture is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness“ (2 Timothy 3:16).

Saturday, August 28, 2010

What All I Have

Truth #1: I have a widescreen tv and a Blu-ray disc player, a stove and an oven and a dishwasher, a car that runs fairly dependably, a house to live in and groceries in my pantry; some pets, a family, fairly good health and a somewhat capable mind; a guitar, a piano, a Bose stereo, a computer, a sense of humor, a family physician, health insurance, life insurance, home-owners' insurance, books and bookcases, lamps and lightbulbs and eyeglasses; clothes and shoes, a few friends, memories, regrets, and worries and difficulties. I have goals and ambitions, successes, defeats, sadness and joy. I have it all.

Truth #2: All I have is Christ.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Why We Need the Puritans

Why should those seeking to develop a truly biblical counseling approach give special consideration to the Puritans? Because they were the first Protestant school of Biblical Counseling.

J. I. Packer, who is most conversant with the writings of these men, puts it well:

". . . the Puritans . . . were strongest just where evangelical Christians today are weakest . . . Here were men of outstanding intellectual power, in whom the mental habits fostered by sober scholarship were linked with a flaming zeal for God and a minute acquaintance with the human heart."

Today’s biblical scholars don’t understand the human heart, Packer says, while our counselors don’t know the Scripture. But the Puritans were an entire generation of men who combined these two strengths. He goes on:

"The hollowness of our vaunted biblicism becomes apparent as again and again we put asunder things God has joined . . . we preach the gospel without the law, and faith without repentance . .. in dealing with the Christian experience we dwell constantly on joy, peace, happiness, satisfaction, and rest of soul with no balancing reference of the divine discontent of Romans 7, the fight of the faith of Psalm 73, or any of the burdens of responsibility and providential chastenings that fall to the lot of the child of God. . . they consult their pastor, and he perhaps has no better remedy than to refer them to a psychiatrist! Truly, we need help, and the Puritan tradition can give it."

(excerpt from an article by Tim Keller; read the rest here)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tuesday Text

I used to read this and be slightly troubled: “I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you” (1 John 2:26, 27). What, John? How terribly uninformed of you. Surely you’re familiar with this: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-14). Hmph. No need of anyone to teach us, indeed.

My former, mild hmph-ing illustrates the need to grasp basic principles for interpreting Scripture, one of the primary ones being, of course, that Scripture interprets itself. Put another way, passages like that one in 1 John, passages that may seem confusing, are interpreted in light of very clear passages that speak to the same issue. Specifically, such New Testament thoughts as John's above often need the knowledge of pertinent Old Testament thought in order to be understood correctly. There is a very simple reason for that: New Testament writers are writing in light of Old Testament truth that they are intimately familiar with. They now understood what the Old Testament had been talking about all along, and so their writing often refers back to that older revelation. John's statement goes back to the prophet Jeremiah.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Thus, John and Jeremiah are both talking about the same thing--the power of the new covenant, of the new birth--by which the true knowledge of God is birthed in the heart of forgiven sinners. John’s language for this gracious act of God is "the anointing that you received from him abides in you." Jeremiah’s language is "I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts." Jeremiah’s vision of a future surety, the true knowledge of God, has become a reality for John and for those Jew and Gentile believers to whom he is writing. This kind of knowledge of God could never be taught; it is a gift of revelation from above. It will come to its full culmination in the new kingdom, when we behold him face to face ("And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God'" [Revelation 21:3; compare with Jeremiah 31:33] ).

(P.S.--I won’t even mention the terrible misuse and abuse the biblical meaning of “anointing” has received at the hands of the pseudo-“charismatics” and such. Sigh. That word, too, is rooted in Old Testament realities that inform New Testament usage, and a responsible study of it would go a long way toward correcting the silly statements about this and that speaker you hear tossed around.)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Part 2 of The Azalea Chronicles

Part 2 of The Azalea Chronicles, in which I attempt to come through with the second part of what was purported to be a two-part post. There. And on to the topics at hand. How did my pruning attempts go; did I make any improvement in the looks of the front of our house; and most importantly of all, why is any of this worth blogging about? I shall attempt to answer.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I did pare down those azaleas, big time. To my daughters' horror, I lopped and cut and pruned them until they were mere shadows of their former selves. I sliced, diced and shredded (didn't mean to do that). I was a bit horrified myself as our lush, jungle-like azaleas were suddenly transformed into docile, mealy-mouthed bush sorts of things, but not even that--mostly just shy bare limbs of wood, with sprigs of green sticking out here and there just to show they were still alive. Here's a picture of the results.

Okay fine, this isn't me and these are not my azaleas. But the shocking denuding done to these is just the same shocking denuding that I did to mine. I just can't ever find my camera cord.

Now I understand that large, older shrubs like mine can be pretty much cut down to the nub, maybe six inches or so from the ground, and will come back just fine. I can't expect any blooms next spring--I lopped all those right off--but it should put out new growth, which I should definitely pay attention to in a timely manner so that the whole big overgrown thing doesn't happen again. So I may cut 'er down a little more, just to show 'er who's boss. And her children, too. (The several random trunks which surely were never planted on purpose). (Obviously I need to learn a bit more about botany or gardening.) The other tall shrub things are still just there, a little less tall, and maybe they need to be whacked down to 6 inches high as well, but I still need to consult a professional about all this. So all in all, it definitely looks different. Better? Don't know about that.

But here's the reason I'm even writing about all this on my blog. It's not because I'm looking to start posting gardening tips or lots of oh-so-humorous accounts of my day--no, the reason I wanted to write about it was because of the thought process that got started that day as I was whacking away at the azaleas. Any time I do any bit of gardening, which is usually just pulling a few weeds, the analogies start popping into my head and they are just so... analogous. Just so true and so helpful. So as I'm cutting severely away at this azalea, removing so much of it that it seemed I may end up killing the thing instead of improving it, I thought of John 15:1-8: "I am the true Vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch in me that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit."

So this is azalea, not grapes, and it's a matter of appearance, not fruit-bearing, so the analogy had to leave off what I was doing at some point. But still, I was imitating the work of a husbandman--taking away the branches that weren't pleasing to me, and didn't suit my desires. Mere aesthetic appearance, of course, is not nearly as important as a dead, fruitless branch. The silly problem of an azalea branch growing to the left when you need it to grow to the right is nothing compared to the seriousness of a branch apparently attached to the trunk, yet that just doesn't bear fruit. Something's really wrong with that branch, not just annoying. Something looks alive when really it's not. Something is proving by its lack of fruit that it's not really connected to the life of the vine.

And so here must come the Husbandman with his sharp blade. For this branch, the one described in John 15:1-8, it's not to prune, or to train back, or to improve an appearance. It's to remove. Perhaps he lifts up the branch once more, just to be sure. Perhaps he examines it one last time, searching in vain for the fruit that should be there. He is a long-suffering Husbandman and he is kind; he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. But alas, there is no fruit, just like last time, just like every time before, and the time has come for the inevitable. He wields the knife; the fruitless branch is severed from whatever attachment it bore to the vine; it falls to the ground with a thud, and there it lies withering until at last it is gathered up with the other fruitless branches, thrown into a pile, and burned. This is the end of all such branches who profess a life in the Vine, who boast of their capabilities but who bear only lots and lots of foliage and no real evidence of their union to their Lord. It is a tragic thing. "Abide [remain] in me," commands our Lord, the True Vine of Israel, to the disciples (minus Judas) who huddle near him at the end: "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you" (John 15:16).

The Lord Jesus is not inviting the disciples to come hang out with him overnight. He's promising them that those who are in him in a regenerated way will bear fruit ("If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.") It's one of those many puzzling places in the Bible where we are commanded to do what we cannot do (think Jesus to Nicodemus, "You must be born again"). None of the disciples can manage by self-effort this kind of abiding; none of them can make themselves become attached to Jesus in a life-giving way, none of them can simply will fruit to pop out, none of them have any hope of asking whatever they wish for and having it happen. But Jesus can do it. He can give life; he can cause abiding, and growth and fruit; he can so transform their minds by his abiding word in them that their wish is his command.

Enough already; a long post, longer than people (according to statistics) are willing to read on a blog post, so if you've read this far, congratulations, you're not a statistic. I still didn't talk about a lot of other analogies I thought about as I pruned the azaleas, about how severe his pruning of the fruit-bearing boughs must sometimes be, about how it seems like some pruning could be the death of one yet. You draw those analogies. I'll just leave it at this--I think God wants his people to know a little something about gardening. And I think he wants us to see that he is the Husbandman who will do what is right; he is the Master Gardener of us all.