A Conversation With My Self (A sermon on self-talk)

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation”  Psalm 42:5 ESV

“Why are you cast down, O my inner self? And why should you moan over me and be disquieted within me? Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall yet praise Him, my Help and my God.”  Psalm 42:5 AMP

Because of their share vocabulary, themes, and refrain, most biblical scholars think Psalm 42 and Psalm 43 were originally one unit. They open a collection of psalms (42-49), attributed to the Korahites, which opens the Second Book of the Psalms. The exact setting of this unit (42-43) is unknown, but it appears to be the prayer of an individual estranged from his home and the Temple. Some have suggested that Psalm 42-43 was written by David when he was driven from Jerusalem during Absalom’s (David’s son) rebellion. But whoever he is, the psalmist is being taunted by his enemies, he has been exiled or otherwise denied access to the Temple, and he is in despair. The unit can be divided into three sections: (1) 42:1-5, (2) 42:6-11, and (3) 43:1-5. The unit is held together by a recurring refrain in 42:5, 11, and 43:5: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great British Baptist preacher of the 17th century, known as; “The Prince of Preachers,” commented on this text: “As though he were two men, the psalmist talks to himself. His faith reasons with his fears, his hopes argues with his sorrows.” Yes! In this psalm, we have a record of a man who had a conversation with himself.

Now, before you think that strange, having a conversation with yourself is actually normal and natural behavior! In fact, research indicates that the average person talks to himself or herself about 50,000 times a day! The real strangeness is not in actually talking to yourself; it is when you constantly do it out loud! So, having a conversation with yourself is an occurrence that happens all of the time! The truth of the matter is that no one does anything without talking to themselves first! Before every decision; we have a conversation with our selves. After every compliment or complaint; we have a conversation with ourselves! But what kind of conversation is it? Researchers say that 80% of the conversations we have with ourselves are negative and disempowering, things like: “They don’t like me. . . I’m never going to be able to pull this off. . . I’ll never lose this weight.” And when we constantly have these types of conversations with ourselves, it is no wonder that we must constantly have battles of anxiety and depression because 95% of our emotions are determined by the way we talk to ourselves!

In the text, the psalmist seems to be battling with depression. But the thing I like about it is that, although, he is somewhat depressed, as a child of God, he knows better, and so, he has a conversation with himself! He asked his soul; his inner self: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” In other words: “Self, why are you so depressed?” Now, if and whenever we find ourselves feeling sad or depressed, the best place to start of the road to recovery is to ask the question: ‘Why?’ When we ask; why?, we just might discover our feelings really are not justified! The song writer asked her soul: “Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come? Why should my heart by lonely and lone for heaven and home? When Jesus is my portion, my constant friend is He, His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me!” Yes! The psalmist asked himself: “Why are you depressed and why are you filled with anxiety?” He tells himself, first of all, to hope in God. The Hebrew word for ‘hope’ in the text, means ‘to hope, to wait with hope, to have hope with a positive expectation.’ Oh! My brothers and sisters, there it is! When you’re feeling down and out, it might be because you have been saying the wrong things to yourself and not asking yourself the right questions!

No! No matter what going on, on the outside of you; it is never as important as what going on, on the inside of you! Even the conversations we have with others is not as important as the conversations we have with ourselves! You see, most of us never quite get a handle on our lives because we keep looking without, when the problem is actually within! The negative things other folks say to us and about us are not as powerful as the negative things we say about and to ourselves! In 1 John 4:4, we read: “for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (ESV) Now, we know that the ‘he who is in you’ in that text is God, and the ‘he that is in the world’ is Satan or his designated agent, but the truth of that verse is also applicable to our subject: The ‘inner-me’ is greater than my enemy! Unless by negative self-talk, I make my ‘inner-me’ my enemy! And that is the problem with most folks! The reason they are constantly depressed and not successful in life is because they have an internal conflict; they are fighting against their own self! Therefore, we must always remember; what we say about and to ourselves is always greater than what any other person might say to or about us!

The psalmist had a conversation himself to encourage himself! Be careful of how you talk to yourself! Be kind to yourself! Never put yourself down, it’s really not needed because there are enough people in the world, standing in line, waiting to do that for you! Don’t make yourself your enemy! Yes! I like the fact that the psalmist said to himself, and I am ‘Millerizing it;’ “Self, why are you depressed and filled with anxiety? It doesn’t matter what the enemy is doing because greater is he that is within you than he that is in the world! Look to the Lord! I don’t believe He brought us this far to leave us now! If the Lord brought us to it; He’s going to bring us through it! Just sit tight, wait on the Lord and remember the good times! This is not the first time we’ve ever been in trouble! Do you remember when? The Lord did it then and He’s going to do it again! Besides, trouble don’t last always! It can’t rain forever, and even while it’s raining, up above the clouds; the sun is still shining!” That was what the psalmist said to himself! No! Things are rarely is bad as we tell ourselves they are! But, if we keep on telling ourselves how bad they are; they will get worst! Most people don’t realize it, but our words influence the way we feel and the way we feel influences the actions we take, and the consistent actions we take, have a cumulative effect of shaping our character and determining our destiny! Wherever we are right now is because of the consistent conversations we have had with ourselves in the past! If you don’t like where you are! If you want to change your destination; the change will begin when you change what you consistently say to yourself!

Now, the Bible says in KJV style: “faith cometh by hearing.” In plain language, faith is developed from what we hear. But the hearing is not just from what other folks say, it also comes from hearing what we say to ourselves! In fact, as we said earlier, what we say to ourselves is much more powerful, for good or bad, than what others say to us and here’s why: We can choose to disagree with and reject what others say to us and about us, but we always accept as truth what we say to and about ourselves, whether it is actually true or not! Now, most of the time, what we say to and about ourselves did not originate with us, but rather with some authority we believed (had faith in), from childhood, such as; our parents, teachers, and other adults. That’s why, we should be ever so careful how we talk to our children! Most messed-up adults were messed up children who accepted the bad and negative judgement and labels from parents and other adult who were messed up themselves because as children, they accepted the bad judgement of parents who were messed up because, as children. . . . you get the picture? The root of some of present-day inter-personal issues can be traced back through generations!

But, the key to changing your situation is not to be angry with your parents or any of your ancestors! When you were born, there was no manual or an instruction book sent home with you from the hospital. So, your parent did the best they could with what they knew! But since you are listening to this word today; you now have access to knowledge that could change, not only your life, but the lives of generations to come! All that is possible because now you know, you need to go home, sit down, and have a heart-to-heart honest, positive and open conversation with yourself!

Now, someone at this point might be asking; ‘Well, what should I say to myself?’ Well first of all, you need to quit telling yourself what you think about yourself and start telling yourself what God says about yourself! Quit telling yourself you are a chump because the word of God says you are a champ! Tell yourself: “Romans 8:37 says, ‘Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” Quit telling yourself that you are a victim because the word of God says that you are a victor! Tell yourself: “1 John 5:4-5 says: ‘For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world– our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?’ Tell yourself: “Self, since I have been born of God and I believe Jesus is the Son of God, then that means I am an overcomer; I am a victor and not a victim!” Yes! You’ve got to discipline yourself to believe and accept; not what other people say and think, not even what you say and think, but rather what the Word of God (the Bible) says about you!

Now, you need to remember, I said you’ve got to discipline yourself in this area! That means, it’s not going to happen without consistent, intentional, attention and effort on your part! We’ve been talking to ourselves wrong for so long that when we start talking to ourselves right, it will not feel right, at first! We’ve been having bad conversations with ourselves for so long that having a good conversation with ourselves will seem unnatural and fake, at first! But as you stick with the program, surely, gradually, and eventually, your world and your life will be transformed by the renewal of your mind! Because, when you change your conversation; you will change your thinking, and when you change your thinking; you will change your life! The Bible says: Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus! That means we should think and speak like Jesus, even when we are having a conversation with ourselves!

Well, I need to quit here, but even when we change our conversation with ourselves; life won’t always be easy! Sometimes, it will seem like more than we can bear! But when the tough days come, remember the words of an old familiar song I heard them singing the other day: “Like a ship that’s tossed and driven; battered by an angry sea! When the storms of life are raging and their fury falls on me! I wonder what I have done, to make this race so hard to run, then I say to my soul; (I have a conversation with myself!) Yes, then I say to my soul: ‘Take courage! The Lord will make a way somehow!”

 

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)

Fifty Years Later

I remember the day and I remember it well! I came home from school that Thursday afternoon to discover gospel music playing on the radio and my mother crying. I knew something was amiss because the local radio station that my mother listened to, would normally only play gospel music until noon. After the noon hour, the station would change to a rhythm and blues musical format. As for my mother crying, I had only seen her cry once before that time. It was one year earlier; February 14, 1967, the day the only grandfather I knew (her father) died. I asked my mother what was wrong, to which she replied: “King is dead!” At the time, I was a naïve seven-year-old with no clue as to what she was talking about and so I asked: “King who?” At that point, my mother sat me down and explained to me who Dr. King was and what was going on in America.

Fast-forward to fifty years later. My mother has been gone for 19 years and that naïve little seven-year-old is now a fifty-seven-year-old preacher and pastor. America, although much progress has been made, is still a nation wherein people are judged by the color of their skin more-so than the content of their character! It seems as if, for the most part, the only time some people talk about Dr. King, his dream and what happened is during Black History celebrations in February and on April 4; the anniversary of his assassination.

Tremendous progress has been made! We’ve even had a two-term Black President, but America is still a nation, wounded, handicapped, and scarred by racial prejudice and racial hatred. It’s 2018, and there are still people in this country today who still think “white is right” and “black and brown shouldn’t be around!” The nation has opted to elect a president who shows no apparent respect for the truth, the poor or the disenfranchised. Because of the climate this administration has allowed (encouraged?) closet racists have come out of their closets, boldly speaking with their lips dripping with the saliva of hatred and contempt for people who are not like them! Is this the America of Dr. King’s dream? In 1968, there was confrontation with the police and law enforcement in protest of the war in Vietnam. Today, there still seems to be a systemic problem and disparity between the treatment of Black and White suspects! Black suspects are more likely to be labelled as thugs, shot and killed ,while White suspects are more likely to be labelled as mentally ill, treated with respect and even given burger and fries before going to jail! Is this the America of Dr. King’s dream? Even in Black communities, it seems as if Black lives only really matter when they are taken by the police; otherwise, it seems to be acceptable for Blacks to kill one another over drug, family, or personal disputes! Is this the Black America of Dr. King’s dream? Even many in the church, who are supposed to be setting the moral climate of justice, righteousness and equality for the community have forsaken the path and succumbed to the lures of fame, prosperity, and money! Is this the church of Dr. King’s dream or even the church that Jesus established?

It is fifty years later! We’ve come a long way; but we have such a long way to go! Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a man in and for his own time. We must quit looking and waiting for ‘another King’ and be kings and queens in our own right in our own generation. We don’t have to go to Washington, we can be agents of change, sources of inspiration and hope, right where we are! It is past time for our actions to be limited to reminiscing about what others have done in the past. We can’t get full off of yesterday’s lunch; we must cook and eat for today! Deep down inside all of us is everything needed to make an impactful difference in the world today. It’s fifty years later; the question is not whether or not the dream is still alive because it has been alive for ages! It didn’t start with Dr. King because it was alive in the hearts of the ancient prophets who spoke of a God who desired justice to roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream!

It is fifty years later! Dr. King lived and was killed for what he believed in! What about you and I today? Are we willing to take the necessary risks to stand up for justice and righteousness or will we be content to settle for the comfort of our own private prosperity as long as we are not directly impacted by the injustices and ills that still plague our society? Will we be content to just ‘talk about it’ or will we rise up and ‘be about it?’ I’ve heard all my life an old axiom that says: ‘Prayer changes things!’ But, the older I get and the more I study ‘the Book,’ I am convinced that is not entirely accurate. Prayer is not designed to change things; prayer is designed to change people so that people might change things!

It is fifty years later: Thank you Dr. King for allowing prayer to change you so that you were inspired to be an agent of change in your generation! Hopefully, we will eventually understand that you didn’t live and die for us to just remember and talk about you, but rather so that things would be easier for us to make changes in our own generation.

The Right Rearview Mirror

In the 1940s many roads were unpaved and had only two lanes, one in each direction. Drivers had to be aware only of traffic on their side and directly behind them (rear view). Due to this, most passenger vehicles with an internal rear-view mirror until the late 1960s had the passenger-side mirror only as an optional addition, as it was considered a luxury. But as more lanes were added, the passenger-side mirror or the right rearview mirror became a necessity for safe driving. However, because of the distance from the driver’s eye to the passenger side mirror, a useful field of view can be achieved only with a convex or aspheric mirror. However, the convexity also minifies the objects shown. Since such objects seem farther away than they actually are, a driver might make a maneuver such as a lane change assuming an adjacent vehicle is a safe distance behind, when in fact it is quite a bit closer. In the United States, Canada, India, Korea and Australia, non-planar mirrors are etched or printed with the warning legend; objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.

I was driving on the highway a few days ago in the inside left lane and as I was about to merge back into the right lane, I looked in my rearview mirror and then into my right rearview mirror and that’s when I noticed it like I had never noticed it before! The warning is true: Objects in the mirror (really) are closer than they appear! At that point, I began to think about the way we sometimes look at life. Sometimes, instead of looking at life the way it really is; through the windshield, or even the driver-side or internal rearview mirror, we purposely choose to view life through the right rearview mirror! When we do this, we attempt to fool ourselves into thinking we have more time than we actually have.

The project is almost due, but we have not even started because we’ve been looking in the right rearview mirror, refusing to believe the objects in the mirror are closer than they appear! Retirement is right around the corner, but we have made no real plans because we’ve been looking at life through the right rearview mirror, refusing to accept the fact that the objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. In both of these examples, we actually see the object in view, but instead of accepting the fact that the mirror has made the object appear farther away than it actually is, we choose to accept what we see in the mirror as reality!

I have noticed as of late that there are more people who seem to insist upon looking at death through the right rearview mirror! They really don’t plan for dying! Therefore, they refuse to even think about life insurance or pre-planning for their funeral. They are so busy living that they fail to prepare for dying! They are going through life, looking in the right rearview mirror, refusing to accept the fact that the object (death) in the mirror is closer than it appears!

How about you today? Are you looking at life through the right rearview mirror! Are you forgetting or ignoring the fact that the objects in the right rearview mirror are closer than they appear? One last point: If you go through life, looking through the right rearview mirror and you suffer a setback or a mishap because things were closer than you thought, don’t get upset with the mirror! The purpose of the right rearview mirror is not to show you how things really are, its purpose is just to show you that things are! Its purpose is to show you things that you might not otherwise see of because of blind spots. Instead of going through life blinded, the right rearview mirror affords you the opportunity to at least see, although somewhat distorted, what you might not otherwise see at all! But the mirror does not in any way attempt to deceive because etched in the mirror in plain view are the words: “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”

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!”