Facebook Theology

When I woke up this morning and checked my Messenger app, I read this message entitled: “30 Second Prayer.” 

It said: “Lord, thank you for this Great Day! I love you and I need you to come into my heart to bless Me, my Family, my Home, my Work, my Friends and my special Loved Ones, Amen.” The message went on to say: “Please send this prayer to a minimum of 20 People. Something good will happen to you tomorrow at 10:30 am. Someone will call you be phone or will talk to you about something you were waiting to have. This is not a joke. Do not break this Prayer. Miracles do happen.”

Well, when I read this, I was immediately struck by the selfishness of the prayer! But then, we do live in a selfish and self-centered culture! We are so selfish and self-centered that we think Christianity and faith is all about what God can do for us! Now, I am going to say this now, so you can decide whether or not you want to continue reading the rest of this post: Much of what we read and see on Facebook and other social media platforms is not representative of real Christianity or real biblical faith! Much of what we see and read falls into the category of what can be called; Facebook theology or media theology.

Like the folk theology of yester-years, Facebook or media theology is theology that is constructed, not from a correct study and exegesis of the biblical text, but rather from a cursory reading of the Bible, that produces swallow and often non-sensical theological thoughts and concepts. Because we are living in the “Google Age,” most people don’t take the time to do in-depth Bible study for themselves, they just look up what someone else has said on the Internet. They think that just because it’s on the Internet; it must be true!

But let’s dissect and analyze this prayer to illustrate my point. “Lord, thank you for this Great Day!” So far, so good! We should all be thankful for any and every day we’re on top of the dirt and the dirt is not on top of us! And, every day is indeed a great day! But the prayer goes on: “I love you and I need you to come into my heart to bless Me . . . . .” Here’s where the real issues are: The prayer acknowledges a love for the Lord, but immediately moves to what ‘I need’ the Lord to do for me! No acknowledgement of the Lord’s majesty or sovereignty, it immediately goes to what ‘I need’ the Lord to do for me! But then, it is ‘a 30-second prayer!’ But the prayer asks the Lord to come into my heart to bless me, my family, my home, etc. Well, many people might be shocked to know that the primary purpose of the Lord coming into our lives is NOT TO BLESS US! Salvation or the Lord coming into our life IS THE BLESSING! Our primary quest should not be for what God can do for us; our primary quest should be for God Himself! In the Bible, we are not instructed to seek His blessings; we are instructed to seek Him! The reason for that is because when you have Him; you already have all the blessings you will ever need! The Apostle Paul writes to the Christians in Ephesians 1:3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” (ESV) Note the tense; he didn’t say ‘will bless,’ he said ‘has blessed.’ If you are in Christ, you don’t need to be blessed, because you’ve already been blessed! Now, I hear you! You’re saying, “That’s sounds good, but Paul was talking about ‘spiritual blessings in the heavenly places’ but I need material blessings in the earthly realm!” Well, you have to understand that everything material is produced from or has it’s genesis in the spiritual! It is the spiritual that produces the physical. If it is not produced by the spiritual in the spiritual realm, it will not be manifested in the material or physical realm! The Apostle Peter wrote to his readers in 2 Peter 1:2-3: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” (ESV) Again, note the tense: “His divine power ‘has granted’ to us ‘all things’ that pertain to life and godliness. . . .” My point is this, if we are in Christ: Every blessing we need; we already have! We don’t need to pray for God to bless us because God already has blessed us with every blessing God has to give! God cannot give us what God has already given to us! No! We don’t need to be praying for God to give us more blessings; we need to be praying for the wisdom and understanding to manifest the blessings we already have!

Now what really got me was the message said: “Please send this prayer to a minimum of 20 people. Something good will happen to you tomorrow at 10:30 am.. . .” I understand the Old Testament Prophet told Naaman to wash in the Jordan River seven times, but I think much of what is happening today is not Divine instructions but rather superstitious bent toward on luck or chance! In this case, the prayer is not enough, I must send it to 20 people in order for something good to happen at 10:30 am! Well, when you think about it; if you wake up in the morning, something good has already happened, long before 10:30 am, unless you are a late sleeper!

But do we actually think we can be blessed and be right with God by simply saying a prayer and sending it to 20 people on Facebook Messenger? Seriously? I’ve even received chain messages that imply if I break the chain and don’t pass it on; I won’t be blessed and I don’t love the Lord! Seriously? I tell the members of the church I serve: “Your best witness for Jesus at your work-place is not sending out Facebook chain prayers or messages when you should be working! Your best witness for Jesus on your job is to do your job with a spirit of excellence!

Facebook and other social media platforms can be excellent tools for spreading the Gospel, but we should make sure we are indeed spreading Gospel and not religious folk-superstition! The Apostle John said in his context: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1 ESV) If he were writing today in our contemporary culture and context, he would write: “My friends, do no believe, pass on, or repost every Facebook or Messenger posts you receive. Read and study your Bible to make sure the message is biblically sound and theologically correct first! For there are many who are posting today who have not read or studied the Bible and are not of God!”

How I Use Biblical Software To Prepare Sermons

I have been preaching for nearly forty (40) years and my research and study has been tremendously accelerated by the use of biblical software for almost half of those years. There is much debate today among preachers and scholars as to which is better; electronic books or paper books? With me, it all depends. Some of my resources are in both forms. Sometimes I like to sit and read with a physical book in my hands and then, at other times, I like to sit in front of my computer to do my studies, sermon preparation, and research. But I want to share in this post, how I use biblical software in the study, research and preparation of sermons and/or biblical lessons. I have tried several across the years, but the three that are my bread and butter tools are: Logos 7, BibleWorks 10, and WordSearch 11.

After much prayer and meditation, that usually begins on Monday evening, by noon Tuesday, I usually have made a general choice (unless I am in the middle of preaching a series) of what I am going to preach the coming Sunday. After selecting a biblical text, I read the text several times in several different (I read the text at least 3 to 4 times in at least five, sometimes as many as eight different versions) English versions of the Bible. I do this using the BibleWorks software. BibleWorks is excellent for doing this because the program allows you to arrange the various versions side-by-side or vertically to quickly note differences in the versions. There is also a tool within BibleWorks that will color-highlight the differences for you. I do this to get a general feel of the flow and meaning of the text. After completing this step, I then do the same thing; comparing the various Hebrew (if it is an Old Testament text) and Greek (if it is a New Testament text) Bibles that are available in BibleWorks. By the way, in BibleWorks, there are over 200 Bible translations in 40 different languages, over 50 original languages and morphology databases, with dozens of lexical-grammatical references, plus a wealth of practical reference works, all available in the standard package at no additional costs! It is during the comparison-analysis of the original languages that I also conduct my word-studies. My first goal is to establish the integrity of the text. I especially want to do this if it is a familiar text because I want to find out, as best I can, what the original author actually said and/or meant, as opposed to the popular or common ideas of what the author said and meant. The only way to do this is by a thorough investigation of the text in the original languages. Now, if you have not studied the original languages, BibleWorks will greatly aid in overcoming that deficiency because, even as you look at the various English versions, you can hover your mouse over the English words and BibleWorks will display the corresponding Greek and Hebrew words and meanings in pop-ups and in the analysis window of the software. This information is available in an instant! It would take at least five to ten minutes per word to do this manually with paper books! Now, I use BibleWorks, primarily to establish the integrity of the text and for my initial word-study analysis, usually this process takes about a day of study or about 3-5 hours. As a pastor, husband, and part-time student, there are also many other demands upon my time. But usually the first day of study is devoted to establishing the integrity of the text; using BibleWorks as my primary tool.

The next phrase of study is where the Logos Bible Software comes into play! Although BibleWorks has an extensive selection of Bibles in English and in the original languages, there are still some that are available in Logos that are not currently available in BibleWorks, such as the Amplified Bible, for example. So when I first open Logos, I continue some of the work that I started with BibleWorks. This also includes consulting various lexicons and biblical dictionaries I have that are in Logos, but not in BibleWorks. In some cases, it is not a matter of these resources being available in one software and not in the other. In some cases, I purchased resources in the Logos format, rather than in BibleWorks because of how Logos cross-indexes and integrates the various resources. Plus, I’ve owned Logos longer than BibleWorks, so there are some things I know how to do in Logos that I have not learned how to do in BibleWorks. At any rate, I type the passage in and click go and within a matter of seconds, Logos pulls up every Bible, lexicon, dictionary, commentary and any other resources from my Logos library of resources that I have purchased across the years! As of the writing of this post, there are over 3,000 resources in my Logos library, representing an investment of over $13,000 in 15 years! The first tool I use with Logos is the Exegetical Guide. Type in the text and within a matter of seconds, every Bible (English, Hebrew, and Greek), lexical resource and Bible dictionary in my library is displayed; already cued or located at the text and the words of the text! Logos brings up in seconds what would take hours to do in paper books!

By the time, I’ve finished establishing the integrity of the text, using BibleWorks and Logos, it is usually late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning. The plan is to spend study time Thursday consulting what various commentaries say about the text. Now, by this time, I already have a pretty good feel of the author’s original intent and where I want to go with the text, but I consult commentaries to compare my findings with what other biblical scholars say about the text and also to gain additional insights. I was taught, and I strongly agree, that preachers should never consult the commentaries before the completion of their own personal work of research and study. Going to the commentaries first will short-circuit the development of your own investigative and research skills and severely compromise what the Holy Spirit wants to say to and through you to your listeners. But even in dealing with the commentaries, don’t just read the ones you agree with or the only the ones of your own personal theological slant. Read commentaries that challenge and as well as confirm your findings, thoughts and views.

Most of the commentaries I own are found in my Logos software (nearly 1,500 volumes). To access my commentaries in Logos, I click on the Passage Guide tool, type in the text, click go, and every Bible, commentary and any other resource in my library that deals with the text instantly opens to my text and/or pulls up pertinent information about the text; all in a matter of seconds! However, some of my favorite commentaries are only in my WordSearch software, such as The Preacher’s Sermon and Outline Bible, Barnes Notes of the Old and New Testaments and a few others. There are also times when I consult commentaries that I only have in book-form. As a side note, there are some books that I own in book-form that I have also purchased in various software platforms. Some of these, I purchased years before I became computer savvy and once they became available in software form, I purchased them again because of the ease of use and the speed of research the software provides.

Well, Friday is the day I usually write the sermon! Yes, I am (as my Daddy used to describe preachers who use manuscripts) a paper boy! I have detailed that process in a prior post (From the Mind to the Manuscript: 5/2/13) But I just wanted to share with you a little bit about what biblical software platforms I use and how I use  them. If you are serious about biblical studies; whether you are a preacher, teacher, or just someone who loves the Bible, I strongly suggest you look into investing into a biblical software program. Of the three I use, each one has strengths and weaknesses. There are some tasks I do in one that can’t be done (I have not learn how to do) in the others and there are some task that could be done by any one of them with equal ease. But as I use them, they don’t compete with one another; they complement one another. You can check them out at their various websites for pricing and more exact details. You can find out more about Logos Bible Software at: www.logos.com BibleWorks at www.bibleworks.com and WordSearch at www.wordsearchbible.com.

Jesus: The Only Way?

Jesus made a statement, recorded in John 14:6, that puts all who would seek to sincerely believe in and follow him in a precarious position with the world! He said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 ESV) Now sometimes, when we read the Bible, the various other translations have variations of the text that leave room for different interpretations, but that is not the case with this text! Sometimes, a difference, such as a definite article used in one language as opposed to an indefinite article used in another language might leave room for a slightly different interpretation, but that is not the case with this text! With this verse; all of the English translations and versions agree with the various Greek texts, as to what Jesus said! He didn’t stutter! Jesus said he was, not ‘a’ way, but ‘the’ way! Jesus said he was, not ‘a’ truth, but ‘the’ truth! Jesus said, he was not ‘a’ life, but ‘the’ life! Jesus said, the only way to come to the Father (God) was through him! Oh! What a bold and audacious statement! Now, there are only three legitimate responses to what Jesus said! There are only three ways we can process what he said and only three conclusions we can reach:

We could conclude that Jesus was mentally unstable and that he was a mad-man! Now before you label me as a heretic for even raising such a possibility; it has been raised before! In the Gospel account recorded by Mark, we read: “Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’ And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” (Mark 3:20-22 ESV) At one point, his own family thought he was crazy and his religious opponents accused him of being possessed by the devil! So this idea of Jesus being insane is not a new concept! Now, if Jesus was indeed mad, then we have nothing but the rambling statements of a deranged lunatic and we can dismiss all of his statements as ludicrous! But, there was too much that he said and did that made sense for us to dismiss him as crazy because of the things he said and did that did not make sense to us!

The second possibility is that Jesus was a deceiver or an imposter! This was the position of the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the established religious order of his day. In the Gospel recorded by Matthew, we read: “Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, Saying, ‘Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.’ Pilate said unto them, ‘Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.’ So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.” (Matthew 27:62-66 KJV) Now, the ironic thing about that whole situation is that the very ones who accused Jesus of being a deceiver were, in fact, deceivers themselves! The very guards they posted at the grave, witnessed the resurrection, but they paid those guards to lie about what they had seen! The fact that they paid the guard to lie is a proof of the resurrection because if the resurrection didn’t happen, why lie about a lie about an event that didn’t happen? (See Matthew 28:11-15) From all accounts, Jesus was certainly not a deceiver! In fact, he was so upfront and honest that he discouraged people from following him. (See Matthew 8:19-22; Luke 9:57-62) He told potential followers upfront the hardships they would have to endure and the price they would have to be prepared to pay to follow him! He wasn’t like so many of us, who tell all of the benefits first and reluctantly share the drawbacks, only if asked!

Now, before I share the third possibility, let’s look at some of the implications if Jesus was indeed a lunatic or a fraud and if Jesus is not ‘the,’ but merely ‘a way,’ ‘a truth,’ and ‘a life.’ Let’s look at the implications if there are indeed ‘other ways’ to the Father, other than Jesus. If that was indeed the case, then, Jesus came and died for nothing! And if that were true and Jesus came and died for nothing, then he was indeed a lunatic! It makes no earthly or heavenly sense to go through all that Jesus went through if there was another way! And surely, if there was another way, he would have taken it! He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39 ESV) Jesus was asking the Father, if it were possible, to provide another way so that it would not be necessary for him to go to the cross! Do you see that? Those who reject the claims of Jesus say there are other ways; well in the garden, Jesus wished there were other ways also! So don’t you think if there were other ways, he would have taken them? He would have been a fool and a lunatic if he didn’t! But, there were no other ways; that’s why he went to the cross, to secure the only way! So, when people say or suggest there are other ways, they are in a sense, saying that Jesus was a lunatic, because it would have been the epitome of stupidity and insanity to go to the cross if there were other options! So, if there were and are other ways; Jesus was crazy and those who follow him are crazy also!

But, what if he was right? What if, he indeed paid the price and God indeed validated his claim by raising him from the dead? If that is the case (and I believe with everything within me that it is; in fact, I am staking my eternal destiny on it!), then that means we owe him our gratitude, loyalty and ultimate allegiance! People today do not want to accept the fact of Hell and punishment because they say that God is a God of love. Well, God is a God of love! That’s why he sent Jesus! John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (ESV) God is also a Holy God and a God of justice, that is also why God sent Jesus! The Apostle Paul declared: “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5 KJV) John, the Elder, declared: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation [the atoning sacrifice] for our sins.” (1 John 4:10 KJV)

Now, there may be some who might read this and dismiss my claims because I use the Bible as my source. They do not think an ancient book of doctrines is valid in a modern world. What an absurd proposition! The Bible is even more valid than today’s newspaper! Besides that, aren’t we, in America, governed by a set of laws taken from an old document called the Constitution? And by the way, most of the precepts and ideas within the Constitution came directly from the Bible, as did most of the legal codes for all nations!

Jesus claimed exclusivity! “No one comes to the Father except by me!” He said! So, the ones who follow him are not being arrogant, intolerant, or trying to be more than others when they make that claim; they are just merely repeating what Jesus said and claimed! And just as Jesus was rejected and ridiculed then, his sincere followers will be rejected and ridiculed now! So, thanks Jesus! Thank you for the pickle you’ve put us in! But, those of us who sincerely believe in you and love you are more than willing to go to you outside the camp (of political correctness and social esteem) and bear the abuse that you endured! (Hebrews 13:13)

Being Blessed Is Not Enough!

It seems as if the main goal or the over-riding obsession in many Christian circles today is just to get blessings or to be blessed! Now, aside from our fundamental failure to understand that God has already blessed us with every blessing we will ever need (See Ephesians 1:3 and 2 Peter 1:3. Our real need is not for blessings or to be blessed more, but rather, to know how to access and appropriate the blessings we already have!), this emphasis on blessings also indicates another fault in our spiritual understanding. Let me show you what I’m talking about!

In God’s economy, blessings are not, and were never meant to be, the end, but rather, the means to the end! In other words, blessings were never meant to be our destination, but rather the means, tools, or vehicles used to aid and assist us in reaching our destination. When we are so captivated and fixated on blessings, we’re just like a person, so in love with their new car that they just drive around, without ever going anywhere! It is a ridiculous situation for a person to have a vehicle, only to use it to drive around, not understanding that the real purpose of the vehicle is not just to be driven around, but to be actually used to get from point A to point B! In like manner, many Christians are trying to exercise their faith to obtain blessings to just ‘drive around’ with no clue that the real purpose of blessings is transportation and facilitation!

So, when we make blessings or being blessed the main goal or objective, we err on two points! We err by trying to get what we already have! And then, we err by making the means the end instead of understanding the means’ purpose is to help us get to the end! Being blessed or having blessings without understanding their purpose to assist in reaching the destination is not enough! God created and blessed us for much more than that!

In Genesis 1:28, we read: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (ESV) Notice the wording of the text! God didn’t just bless them to bless them; God blessed them so that they would be in position to do something! God blessed them in order for them to fulfill their purpose, which was to be fruitful (productive), multiply, fill and subdue the earth, to have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and over every living thing on the earth! They were blessed for the purpose of fulfilling their assignment! That’s the principle! God doesn’t bless just to bless; God blesses to enable, to empower, to facilitate the execution of His will! The mandate has not changed! The same order given to Adam and Eve has been passed down to us! We are not blessed just to be blessed, we are blessed in order to have and exercise dominion!

Now, what does it mean to have and exercise dominion? What was God doing in Genesis 1:28? God was commissioning Adam and Eve as His proxy rulers on earth! God blessed Adam and Eve so that they might rule the earth in His stead! The emergence of sin DID NOT negate or cancel the Dominion Mandate! In fact, that’s why Jesus came! Jesus came to deal with sin so that, through him, man’s capacity to fulfill the Dominion Mandate might be restored!

Oh! We are so limited and little in our thinking! While we are running around making what we already have the focus of our faith, God has a much grander idea for us! We just want to be blessed, but God wants us to be ‘god’ on earth! God wants us to be Him on earth! (I realized I am treading on what some might perceive to be slippery theological turf here. That’s why I used a little ‘g.’ We are not gods in the sense that we are deity, but rather in the sense that our purpose is to function as God’s representatives upon the earth.) Hence, our main objective should not be for God to bless us just so we might be healthy, wealthy, and wise, but rather our main objective should be that God might execute His will upon the earth through us! I heard a song, not too long ago, and the singer was pleading: “Lord, whatever You’re doing in this season, don’t do it without me!” Now, I understood what the author of the song was saying; he, himself, personally wanted to be a partner with God in whatever God is going to do. But, whatever God is going to do in this season will only be done through us! God only rained down meat and bread from Heaven one time! His normal means of feeding us when we’re hungry is to use our neighbor to do it!

The bottom line is that God’s purpose in blessing us is so that we might be a blessing-hose, not a blessing-pool! God’s intent is not for blessings just to flow ‘to’ us; but rather for blessings to flow ‘through’ us! Blessings are meant to be tools to be used, not just items to be consumed! So, if your main goal and pre-occupation is just to be blessed; being blessed is not enough, God wants so much more than that for you! His purpose in blessing you is that you might be (represent) Him wherever you are!

No Weapon Formed Against Me Shall Prosper?

I heard a preacher saying that the other day on television. I’ve even said it a time or two myself! In preaching or teaching, exhorting and encouraging the saints, the preacher or teacher boldly declares to his or her listeners: “The Bible says: ‘No weapon formed against you shall prosper and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment, you shall condemn!” Well, the Bible does say that! But the question we should ask is: Who is the “you” to whom the text is referring? Is the “you” the people to whom the preacher or teacher is addressing?

Well, if you have read anything I’ve written before on similar topics, you know I advocate three basic rules in biblical reading and interpretation. Those rules are: 1) context, 2) context, and 3) context! Who was the original author writing to and what was the circumstance or setting of the writing? In this case, the verse in question is Isaiah 54:17. The verse is part of an oracle or poem about Israel’s future restoration. At the time the author wrote, Israel was in the Babylonian Captivity and the verse was written as part of a prophetic utterance to encourage and assure Israel that God had not forgotten about them. God makes a covenant with them (verses 9-10) that just as He promised during the days of Noah, that He would never again completely destroy the earth with a flood, He would never be utterly angry with them, His steadfast love would never depart from them and His covenant of peace would never be removed.

The whole chapter should be read to get an idea of the message, but for our purposes, we should note particularly that the Lord was talking to Israel in “covenant language” and He was speaking to them about their future. Some commentators suggest God was referring to the Millennial Age (the thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth). But whatever the case, my point is that in the original context, this message was addressed to Israel as God’s covenant-people and at the time it was written, it was not a present reality, but rather a future promise.

I pointed that out because I think we have made a fundamental hermeneutical mistake by hi-jacking this verse and making it into a present-day assurance and promise for Christian believers! (Hermeneutics is the science of biblical interpretation) Is there a biblical text found elsewhere in the Bible that support the claims of our current application of this verse? It is usually dangerous and unwise to base theology, faith, and/or practice on just one verse or passage! But, the reality of life is this: Many of the weapons formed against us do indeed prosper! But, the Bible DOESN’T promise us victory in every situation! God never promised us we would not suffer losses in this life-time! Jesus said: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 KJV) The Apostle Paul wrote to his young protégé Timothy: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12 KJV) The modern-day preaching and teaching that advocates believers will experience victory (with enough faith) in every situation is not biblical, neither is it realistic! It is giving people a (false) hope that the Bible does not give! Now, what the Bible does promise us (Christian believers), is not that we won’t suffer some defeat, but that we will not be utterly defeated! Our problem is that we want to tally up the score now, but it’s too early for that; the game is not over! God didn’t promise we would win every quarter or every period, but He did promise we would eventually win the game!

In conclusion, we should always be careful in making blanket applications of what the Bible says. The Bible is full of promises, but not every promise is to us (Christians), some of the promises are specifically to Israel as His covenant people. Some of the promises were made to specific people for a specific time. I believe the text in question was specifically to Israel to be fulfilled in a future time period.

No weapon formed against you shall prosper. NO! God DID NOT promise that to US, but He did say to us, through the Apostle Paul: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. . . . . . What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:28-29, 31-39 KJV)

This is What the Verse Means to Me!

Ecclesiastes 1:9 says: “History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.” (NLT) I was reminded of that verse as I was reading an article for a paper I am required to write for one of my D. Min., (Doctor of Ministry) classes. The article was about preaching, postmodernism and the New Homiletic. Without going into too much depth, postmodernism is a movement or a way of thinking that denies the objectivity of knowledge and truth. According to postmodernism, there is no objective truth, but rather truth is socially and culturally constructed. When you hear people saying such things as “my truth,” that is an indication that they have been influenced by postmodernism.

The author of the article, in describing the various elements of the New Homiletic (Homiletics is the art and craft of constructing sermons and preaching. Simply put; the New Homiletic advocates the construction and preaching of the sermon should start with the listener, whereas in traditional homiletics, the process begins with the biblical text) said, according to the New Homiletic, the purpose of the sermon is not to communicate information, but rather to evoke a communication event from the audience in which the audience, with the help of the preacher, creates or discovers the meaning of the text. In the New Homiletic, the most important thing is not what the text actually means or says, but rather the meaning the listener or reader gathers from the text or the preaching event. The article goes on, in much detail, to talk about this ‘new’ way of thinking, preaching, and listening to sermons. As I read the article, I said to myself: “This is nothing new; this is the same thing I did in Sunday School as a boy!”

When I was a youngster, my Sunday School teachers were not, by no stretch of the imagination, biblical scholars. Now, this is not to be disparaging, or disrespectful toward them because they, and the church, did the best they could with what they had! (The only qualification required to teach Sunday School back then was just the willingness to do it; not too much has changed in most churches I am familiar with today!) But, I thank God that they did know enough to light a fire within me to want to know more about the Word of God and the God of the word! Now, I mention them because, as we went over the lesson, each student had to read a verse. Then, after reading the verse, each student would stand up and explain what the particular verse they read meant to them. I didn’t know it then, but the most important thing in biblical study is NOT what the verse means to me, but rather, what the verse actually means! No! I didn’t know it then, (and my Sunday Schools teachers apparently didn’t know it either!) but you really can’t know what the verse means until you know what the verse meant! In other words, the primary thing is not so much what the verse is saying to me, but rather what was the original author’s intended meaning for his original audience. You can’t get the application right (what the verse means and how it applies to your life) until you first get the original meaning right! My New Testament Greek professor; Dr. G. Roger Greene, at Mississippi College (MC) always asked and challenged his students, when I was in his class: “How can you know what it means if you don’t know what it meant? As preachers and teachers of the Gospel: You can’t tell them what it means, if you don’t know what it meant!”

So, I guess what I’m saying is that postmodernism and the New Homiletic are not really “new” at all! The same thing was happening in my Sunday School class over fifty (50) years ago! But, we could go back, even farther than that! Judges 17:6 and Judges 21:25 are two verses that are identical in most English Bibles, the verses say: “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” (KJV) The New English Translation renders it: “In those days Israel had no king. Each man did what he considered to be right.” (Jdg. 21:25 NET) Isn’t that where we are today, with people talking about ‘their truth’ and ‘my truth?’ Isn’t that the same thing postmodernism and practitioners of the New Homiletic are doing and saying when they say there is no objective truth and that truth is subjective and relative? It’s amazing to me, because it seems like the more modern man seeks to discredit the Bible as the Word of God, the more he actually proves it to be true!

If you are a preacher, a prophet, a teacher, or deal with the word in any kind of way, I admonish you to be careful to be faithful to the text. Please remember, we are not being faithful to our calling when we assign meaning without finding and understanding the original meaning. We must remember, the scriptures were not written specifically to us or for our modern frame of mind. They were written to ancient people, who processed things much differently from the way we do today. Therefore, to be honest in our exposition, we must first understand their position! Even in modern communication, the real meaning is not the meaning you, as a reader might assign, but rather the real meaning is the meaning the writer or author intends! For instance, if you assign a meaning to this blog post that I did not intend, there has been no communication; but rather there has been a miscommunication! Even in our daily conversations, we should make sure we are actually communicating instead of just merely saying words to each other. One of the main problems with communication today is with people are using the ‘same’ words, but those same words often having ‘different’ definitions! For example, when I tell you, “I’m cool.” Before the conversation is over, we both need to understand whether or not I’m talking about my discomfort with the temperature, or am I talking about what a great guy I am, or am I saying, I have no problems with our relationship or with something you might have said earlier that might have caused me to be upset!

Now, if we have those communication issues with just simple everyday conversations, and we are in the same culture, time, and place, then how much more do you think there are communications issues involved in properly reading and understanding the Bible, when we are dealing with communication issues with people from a different time, culture, language, and way of thinking? Imagine this scenario, if you will: Suppose, I write you a note and I tell you about this funny joke I heard. And in the note, I make the statement: “That joke was so funny, I died laughing!” Now, fast-forward several thousands of years and my note is found by people of a different culture, language and time. A people who no longer or never, used the expression; ‘died laughing’ to express how funny something is. There will be a distinct possibility that those people might mourn my untimely death because they will think I literally died from laughing so hard! And God forbid that my note should somehow be misconstrued as factual scientific data! Then they would be some sad people indeed, afraid to laugh, lest they were to ‘die’ from laughing! Now, as unlikely as that might sound to you, some of the things that people are so uptight today about what the Bible says were not meant to be doctrines, dogma, or deep truths, but actually were originally just hyperboles and figures of speech! But, you won’t be able to tell the difference between the deep stuff and the fluff, if you don’t dig for what it meant and just take someone’s word for what it means!

We live in an amazing time! On one hand, with the advent of biblical computer software programs such as Logos Bible Software, BibleWorks, BibleSoft, WordSearch, Sword, and many others (some of which are free), access to the Bible in the original languages and the tools for research and correct interpretation are just clicks of the mouse away! Yet, biblical illiteracy, even in the church is increasingly alarming! I remember one night, I was teaching a New Testament Survey class at a church I once served. One student asked me why I kept referring to some of the epistles as ‘Pauline.’ He thought ‘Pauline’ was the wife of Paul! (No joke; he was serious and he was a deacon!) He was almost as bad as the joke I heard about the kids who thought the ‘epistles’ were the wives of the apostles! Or even worst, I actually heard a person reviewing a Sunday School lesson say that he thought the ‘Gentiles’ were called that name because they were gentle!

God help us all! At a time when the need for biblical authority in preaching and teaching is so great, the airwaves are flooded with preaching and teaching that has no real depth or substance! There is an overwhelming number of preachers and teachers, with many followers and listeners; boldly, loudly, and authoritatively proclaiming nothing more than: “This is what the verse means to me!”

Man: Created ‘As’ the Image of God?

There has been much ink spilled over the meaning of Genesis 1:26-28: “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.’ So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (KJV) So, this is not an attempt to rehash the ideas that have already been put forth as to what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God. Instead, I want to suggest a slight adjustment in our thinking.

When I was a boy, I grew up in a time when automobile and other small engines still had carburetors. (For those of you too young to know what a carburetor is, it basically served the same function as fuel injectors do today, but it was less efficient and more finicky!) My dad worked as a greens-keeper at a golf course and during his spare time, he would often work, doing minor repairs to automobile and lawn mower engines. I remember quite vividly that often my father would be working on an engine and after he thought it was repaired, he would attempt to crank it. Many times, after incessantly pulling the rope on a lawn-mower engine or turning the key in the ignition of an automobile, the engine would stubbornly refuse to start. It was at that point, my dad would do something, that would make the difference between successfully starting the engine or flooding (too much gas in the carburetor) the engine. He would take a screw-driver and slightly turn the screw of the value that controlled the flow of gas into the carburetor. After my dad did that, nine times out of ten, the engine would start! That is what I suggest we do in our thinking concerning man being created in the image and likeness of God; not a major shift in our thinking, just a slight turn of the carburetor screw!

Are you ready? Here it is: Instead to thinking of man as being created ‘in’ the image of God, what if the meaning the Genesis author really sought to convey was that man was created ‘as’ the image of God? The preposition ‘in’ allows for such an interpretation. If I said: “I work in a bank.” You would hear the word ‘in’ but you would understand I work ‘as’ a banker, a teller, a loan officer, or whatever capacity at a bank. Using that same line of logic, when you look at what follows in the Genesis text, it is obvious that God’s intent was for man to function as God’s representative on the earth! What I am suggesting is that, it could be; the image of God is not a capacity that man has, but rather it is the essence of what man is! Maybe the author’s intent was not so much to convey that God created man ‘in’ God’s image, but rather that God created man ‘as’ God’s image!

Now, this gets all the more interesting when we consider the Greek word the Septuagint (The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible: OT) uses in that verse to denote the idea of image. It is the word from which we get the English word; ‘icon.’ When I looked it up in the various Greek dictionaries and lexicons, a couple of definitions jumped up and grabbed my attention. This is what is found in the Friberg Analytical Greek Lexicon: “(1) as an artistic representation, such as on a coin or statue image, likeness; (2) as an embodiment or living manifestation of God form, appearance; (3) as a visible manifestation of an invisible and heavenly reality form, substance.”[1] Note, definitions 2 and 3! And then, look at what The Bible Knowledge Commentary says: “Human life was created in (lit., “as,” meaning “in essence as”) the image of God.”[2] All this time, we have been thinking ‘in,’ when the real truth just might be ‘as!’

As I was pondering the implications of this, I ran across some biblical texts that seem to imply that perhaps my reasoning is correct. The Apostle Paul made a statement in 1 Corinthians 11:7 that is very interesting! Now, he made the statement in the context of proper cultural protocol in regard to men and women covering their heads (or not) while they prayed or prophesied. Now granted, when Paul spoke of ‘man’ in this context, he was referring to the male gender of the species, but nevertheless, could not what he said be applicable to the species in general? He said: “For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.” (KJV) Aside from the cultural specifics of covering the head, Paul plainly said: “He (man) is the image and glory of God.” Note also, that he said the woman was the glory of the man, but he didn’t say the woman was the image of the man! In Colossians 1:15, Paul says that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. In Romans 8:29, he says that God predestined us to be conformed to the image of his (God’s) son. Now, don’t get lost; follow the dots: Man was created as the image of God! Because of sin, that image is marred and tarnished! Jesus, who is the perfect image of God, came to redeem humanity and to restore that image. Hence, God’s purpose is that we might be conformed to the image of Jesus, who is the image of God! When we conform to the image of Jesus, who is the image of God, we are conformed to the image of God, which is the image God made us as in the first place!

Now, what are the implications of this? How does this change the way we think, pray, or do God’s will? Well first, once we internalize this slight turn of the carburetor screw into our spirits and minds, we will truly understand and appreciate how God works in the earth realm. We will cease to believe in magic and begin to believe in God! We will realize that whatever God does in the earth, God does it through human agency because the very purpose of man is to be the physical, visible, embodiment of the spiritual, invisible God on earth! Hence, we will no longer foolishly blame God for the evil in the world because we will understand that the presence of evil in the world is not God’s fault or responsibility; it’s ours! There is evil in the world, not so much because God wills or allows it; but more so, because we allow it!

Secondly, we will no longer snort, cry, sling oil, or otherwise try to get God to bless us! As we refer back to the Genesis text, we should note that the text says: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them. . .” Do you see that? It didn’t say: “And God ‘was going to’ bless them.” No! It said: “And God ‘blessed’ them.” Every blessing we need to successfully be the image of God on earth, we already have! If we are experiencing a lack of the blessings necessary to function in the capacity God intended for our lives, it is because we don’t understand how to operate as the image of God! Jesus was the perfect image of God! Therefore, if we want to know how to do it, he’s the perfect example and model. He said to a crowd of people who were worried about how they were going to make it: “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. ‘Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:25-34 ESV)

Thirdly, if we understand that all of us (saints, sinners, Black, White, Americans, Republicans, etc.,) are created ‘as’ the image of God, then we will have a newfound respect for the sanctify of human life! Racism, classicism, and all the other ‘-isms’ exist because of our ignorance of who we really are! There billions of people on the planet, and each one of us was created to ‘image’ God on the earth. Therefore, when we mistreat and abuse one another, we are, in a sense, mistreating and abusing the image of God! And when we mistreat and abuse the image of God; we mistreat and abuse the God the image represents and embodies!

Finally, once we understand and internalize this concept, we will truly understand that life is not about us! All of us are placed here to do the will of God. The purpose of the blessings in our life are not primarily for our comfort, but rather to aid and assist us in doing what God called (created) us to do! In other words, primarily, the blessings are not for our enjoyment; they are for our employment! We are blessed to be a blessing!

There is an old saying that says the eyes are the windows of the soul. Perhaps that is true, but even more than that, as we look into the eyes of another person, we must also realize we are looking into the eyes of an image of God!

 

[1] Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker’s Greek New Testament Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 1

[2] Allen P. Ross, “Genesis,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 29.