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!”

Lying on the devil and the Lord

In John 8:44, Jesus characterized the devil as a liar and the father of lies! But did you know that many who preach the Gospel are guilty of lying on the devil and the Lord? Let me show you what I’m talking about!

In John 10:10, Jesus said: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (ESV) Now, I am sure most of you reading this have heard this text preached and taught and nine times out of ten, you heard the preacher or teacher say that the thief in that verse is the devil. Often, I have heard preachers refer to the text by saying: “The devil comes to rob, kill, and to destroy, but Jesus came that we might have a more abundant life! Yes! The devil wants to rob and steal your property! But, go and shake three people’s hand and tell the devil: ‘I’m taking it back! You can’t have my stuff!’ Can somebody shout: Glory!” But is that really the message of the text? I am suggesting to you that it is not and when that text is preached or referred to in that manner, the preacher or teacher is guilty of lying on the devil and the Lord!

First of all, look at the context of the verse. The first mention of the thief is in verse one, where Jesus describes the thief as anyone who does not enter the door of the sheepfold, but climbs up and tries to get into the sheepfold any other way. In the next verse, Jesus says, the one who enters through the door is the shepherd of the sheep. So, the contrast is between the thief who tries to get access to the sheep by some way other than the door and the shepherd who comes through the door. Note that the thief is not after what the sheep have; the thief wants to steal the sheep! In verse eight, Jesus says all who came before him are, or were, thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. So, we can surmise from verses 1-8 that the thief, the thieves and robbers were trying to get access to steal the sheep. Contrasted with the shepherd, who comes through the door and coupled with Jesus, who calls himself the good shepherd (verse 11), we can deduct the thief, the thieves and robbers that Jesus was talking about were illegitimate or false shepherds! By the way, another term for “shepherd” is the term “pastor.” So, in proper context, in this passage, the thief, the thieves and robbers, (bad) shepherds, and (bad) pastors, all refer to the same person or group! Note that Jesus made no reference whatsoever to the devil or demonic forces! He was making a contrast between the thieves and robbers (bad shepherds, bad pastors) and himself: the good shepherd! In keeping with the context and unity of the passage, the thief in verse ten must refer to the same person or group of persons mentioned in verses one and eight!

In looking at the Greek text, performing a word study helps to further clarify who the “thief” is in verse ten. A word study on the word, “kill” reveals the following: In the English, the word “kill” in any form, is found only 10 times in the entire Gospel of John. Of those 10 times, 9 times, the Greek word, “apokteino,” which means, “to kill in any way whatever,” is used. However, in verse ten, the word for kill is “thuo,” which means, “to sacrifice.” This definition holds true for the usage of the word in other places in the New Testament (NT). It only occurs 13 other times, besides in our text in the NT and our text is the only occurrence in the Gospel of John. In every case, the word is used to denote the killing of an animal for the purpose of offering up a sacrifice or of eating a meal in connection with a sacrifice. The use this particular word for “kill” in verse ten, seems to suggest that the thief does not just kill, but rather the thief’s killing is for or in connection with making a sacrifice as an act of worship. With that being the case, we can deduct from our word study and by observing the proper context of the text that the “thief” in John 10:10 is NOT the devil, but rather is a religious person. This ties in perfectly with Jesus’ depiction of the thief as being the religious leader(s), who was (were) sacrificing the people for his (their) own personal benefit and profit. Oh! Do you see that? We’ve been lying on the liar and the Lord! The thief in John 10:10 is not the devil, but rather the pastor or religious leader who illegitimately gains access and kills (sacrifices) the sheep for his own personal profit and gain!

In verse 11, the contrast changes from the good shepherd and thieves and robbers to the good shepherd and the hireling or the hired hand. Jesus said in verses 11-15: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (ESV) Again, Jesus makes a contrast between himself and the religious leaders of that day who came before him. He describes himself as the good shepherd in comparison to the religious leaders, who he called robbers, thieves, and hired hands who didn’t care anything for the sheep, but were just in it for the money! If the devil is implied anywhere in this discourse, he could possibly be the wolf in verse 12, but he is definitely not the thief in verse ten!

In addition to the evidence presented, stealing is not the devil’s M. O! The devil’s bread and butter are lies and deception! There was an interesting conversation that took place between Jesus and the devil during the wilderness temptation. In Matthew 4:8-10, we read: “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” (ESV) Did you notice Jesus did not dispute Satan’s claim of ownership of all the kingdoms of the world and their glory? If Satan was lying and all the kingdoms of the world and their glory were not his to give, Jesus would have known it and the temptation wouldn’t have been a temptation at all! I brought us to this text to point out the fact that the devil doesn’t need to “steal our stuff” because he has already stolen and has all the kingdoms of the world and their glory to give to us if we would just fall down and worship him! The devil already has all of that and we think he wants to rob us of our two cents! Seriously?

Besides that, the abundant life that Jesus came to give in John 10:10 is denoted by the Greek term; “zoe.” Zoe refers to the quality of life, not the quantity of life. Jesus didn’t come so that we might have more stuff in life; Jesus came that we might have more meaning and purpose in life! Jesus said: “Watch out and guard yourself from all types of greed, because one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15 NET)

In conclusion, I think the reason why we have lied on the devil and the Lord in John 10:10 is because many of us do not study the text for ourselves; we merely preach and teach what we have heard others preach and teach. Instead of a voice, many pulpits are occupied by a parrot! Preacher, teacher: If you hope to be approved by God in your handling of the word, you must wrestle with the text for yourself! Don’t even take my word for the conclusions I have drawn in this post. Do the research for yourself! We all should be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 and study for ourselves to see whether the things we hear is the truth! If we don’t, if we uncritically accept and repeat everything we hear others preaching and teaching, then we, like them, will be guilty of lying on the devil and the Lord!

The Baby with the Bathwater

Most have heard the proverbial warning: “Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.” The meaning of the expression is that one should be careful not to throw out or get rid of something good in an attempt to get rid of something bad. But that is exactly what I have been observing lately as I am reading more and more of people who are rejecting Christianity and the church because of the state of the church today.

Now I will admit, there are a lot of things that are amiss in the church today! There are charlatans in the pulpit and all sorts of shenanigans going on in the pew! It seems like there are more ‘profits’ than prophets and there are more pastors and church-people, trusting ‘in God we trust’ than trusting in God! But if you think this a new trend, you are mistaken! There has never been a time when there was nothing amiss in the religious realm! I’ve heard people longingly say that the church today needs to get back to the New Testament Church. Honestly? Have you actually read the Bible? The Apostle Paul wrote the Corinthian letters as a direct response to ‘church-mess!’ Jesus was rejected by the ‘church-leaders’ of his day and those same church leaders convinced a mob-crowd to petition for the freedom of a murderer and condemn Jesus to die on a cross! No! There never was a day when the church was perfect! So, for those people who are going from church to church, looking for the ‘perfect’ church; it doesn’t exist! It never has!

But just because the church or church-people are not perfect, that’s not a legitimate reason to reject what the church represents. Would you stop flying on planes just because some planes crash? Would you stop buying a certain brand of automobile just because some of your friends had a bad experience with the same make and model? In every barrel, there may be some bad apples, but does that mean you should stop eating apples?

There are some African-Americans today who suggest that Christianity is the ‘White man’s religion’ and that it was invented as a tool to control the slaves. They suggest Jesus did not really exist and that he was a fictional character invented as a tool of white supremacy. Seriously? Now, I don’t propose to be an expert historian, but I do know how to count! In the Bible, in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles; Chapter 8, there was an Ethiopian official (a Black man) who was visiting Jerusalem to worship. Now, why did this Black man from Ethiopia (Africa) go to Jerusalem to worship? And how did he know about the Hebrew God in Africa? Well, it was probably because his ancestors worshipped Yahweh; the God of the Hebrews, from the time of the Queen of Sheba (a Black sister), who learned about Israel’s God from her visit with King Solomon. By the way, there is a tradition that suggest Solomon gave the Queen of Sheba more than just silver and gold when he gave her “all that she desired,” in 1 Kings 10:13 and 2 Chronicles 9:12. (In case you can’t read between the lines; according to the tradition, the gift he gave her was opened nine months later!) So, this Ethiopian official already knew about the God of Israel, for he was reading from the book of Isaiah when Philip approached him. He was a little confused by what he was reading, so Philip explained to him that the prophecy he was reading was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, who had been crucified and raised from the dead. The Ethiopian believed in Jesus and was baptized! After which, he returned to Ethiopia and no doubt shared with his country the good news about Jesus. 

Now, I mentioned this story because it takes place, soon after the Day of Pentecost in Acts 8. Therefore, Christianity was probably introduced to the Africans, who were already familiar with Hebrew religion, at that point. That’s Acts chapter 8. Sometime later, in Acts chapter 16, the Apostle Paul has a vision of a man from Macedonia saying; “Come over into Macedonia and help us.” From that vision, Paul determined that it was God’s will for them to go to Macedonia and preach the Gospel. The significance of this is the fact that Macedonia was in Europe. When Paul went to Macedonia, it was the first time and the first place the Gospel was preached in Europe! Are you doing the math? The Africans, who already worshipped Yahweh, got the Gospel in Acts 8! The Europeans didn’t get the Gospel until Acts 16! Therefore, how can it be honestly said that Christianity is the ‘White man’s religion,’ when according to the Bible, the Black Africans heard and accepted Christianity long ‘before’ it was introduced to the White Europeans? 

Did the White slave masters and the White church use the Bible and Christianity to justify and perpetuate slavery? There’s no question about it; of course, they did! But the problem wasn’t with the Bible or Christianity! The problem was the White man’s interpretation of the Bible and the distortion of Christianity. The same Bible and Christianity Southern Whites used to justify and preserve slavery; Black preachers and sympathetic abolitionists used to fan the flames of freedom and equality! The difference wasn’t in the Bible or Christianity; the difference was in the use and interpretation!

And that’s the same difference today! You can make the Bible say anything you want it to say, if you don’t follow the proper rules of hermeneutics, exegesis, and plain common sense! So, don’t blame or reject God because of the unauthorized dealers or bad ambassadors who claim to represent Him! If you do that, you’re throwing out the baby with the bath water! The bath water might be dirty, but the baby is alright! Yes! There are pimps in the pulpit and prostitutes in the pews, but the baby is alright! There are preachers for profit; pushing prosperity for their pleasure, but the baby is alright!

As long as there has been a world inhabited by free-thinking, fragile and flawed human beings, there has always been a distortion of the truth. But just because the bath water of distortions, deceit, mistakes, misinterpretations, and malice is dirty, that doesn’t justify throwing the baby (the Truth of who and what God is and His plan for us) out! Pick the baby up, out of the dirty water, and see how beautiful and precious it really is! Please! Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater!

Liar, Liar; Pants on Fire!

Pants on Fire

Have you ever noticed what happens when you lie? Ever noticed how you feel in your body, in your mind, and in your spirit? Normally, when a person is being deceptive (lying), there is a change in the heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate and electro-dermal activity (sweating). Some other reactions are; attempts to avoid direct eye contact, the movement of the pupils of the eyes in a certain direction, and a change in speech rate and pattern. These are just some to the reactions that happen when we lie!

But why is there such a reaction to lying? I believe it is because we were created in the image and likeness of God. All throughout scripture, the word of God is portrayed as being indicative of the very character and nature of God. God is a God of truth, therefore God cannot lie! Now, since we were created in the image and likeness of this God of truth, then it stands to reason that since it is not in the nature and character of God to lie, then lying is against and therefore, undermines and somewhat diminishes our very nature. So, the physical symptoms of lying are really indicators of an even deeper spiritual response to lying!

Simply put; we were not created to lie! Created in the image and likeness of God, we were created to speak truthfully. Just as God reveres and honors His word; we were created to revere and honor our words. We were created to say what we mean and to mean what we say! Therefore, when we lie, it weakens us at the very core of our being.

Now, the amazing thing is that our present culture is so inundated with lying that lying is accepted, normal and expected behavior! Politicians lie to get elected! The crazy thing about it is that many times; the people know they are lying, but they vote for them anyway! Married couples lie, governments lie, athletes lie! Lying has become so expected and normal that when people actually tell the truth, most find it hard to believe!

But if we are to have any real personal power, we must quit lying! We must quit lying to each other and we must quit lying to ourselves! Lying weakens us emotionally, physically, and spiritually! Lying puts us at odds with the God of truth who created us!

So, there really is much more to the little chant than we realize. When we lie, it may not actually be our pants, but something; our soul, our essence, our purpose, our reason for existence, is on fire!

Honoring Our Word

word

There is a refrain repeated over and over again in the first chapter of Genesis: “And God said, let there be. . .” I don’t think the author was just repeating this for merely stylistic reasons. The authors wanted to emphasize the fact that this physical world was brought into existence via the power of God’s spoken word! The Bible says: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:1-3 ESV) Even now, the world as we know it is sustained by the power of God’s word!

But the purpose of this post is not so much to talk about the power of God’s word, but rather the power of our word! Let me show you what I’m talking about. The same record that tells us that this world was created by the spoken word of God, also tells us that we (mankind) were created in the image and likeness of God and given dominion over the earth. Now anything that is created in the image and likeness of something or someone, also shares the characteristics and traits of the someone or something that created it! Hence, just as God has creative power in his word, we also have limited creative (or re-creative) power in our word! Therefore just as God honors and respects his word we should honor and respect of our word! Jesus said: “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. (Mat 12:36 KJV) In that text, the Greek word that is translated as “idle” has the connotation of “non-working, empty or vain.” The point is that we should make every word we speak work for us and not against us! We should not talk just to hear ourselves talking, but rather we should be thoughtful and intentional with the words we speak. We should honor and respect our word in the same manner that God honors and respects his word.

Well, how do we do this? Here are just a few practical steps to help us become more intentional in making our word work for us to our advantage:

  1. Speak only the truth and do not lie! Lying is so detrimental to the integrity of our word because our words were designed to disclose the content of our hearts and to relay the intentions of our wills. Lying causes confusion and is an improper use of our words! And besides that, lying puts us on God’s hate list (See Proverbs 6: 16-19). In addition, lying makes us more like the devil, who is described in the Bible as the “Father of lies!”
  2. Say what you mean and mean what you say! Don’t use your word to deliberately mislead; be intentional in using your word to convey your will and intention because that’s how God employs his word! Speak intentionally and deliberately: Don’t just talk to hear yourself talking or just to be saying something!
  3. Use your word to build up; not to tear down! The ole nursery rhyme that said: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” was not accurate! Words can wound the spirit and break the will! Words can inspire, they can also discourage! Words can build up and they can also tear down!
  4. Speak what you want; don’t speak what you don’t want! Jesus said in Mark 11:23: “For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. (Mar 11:23 KJV). It’s interesting to note that Jesus didn’t instruct his disciples to speak to God about the mountain; he told his disciples to talk to the mountain (about God?). It could very well be the reason many times our situations don’t get any better is because we keep talking to God about the problem, rather than speaking to the problem.
  5. Your word is too important and powerful for jesting and foolish talking! Keep joking to a minimum! Honor the intentional power of your word!

Don Miguel Ruiz writes, in his work: “The Four Agreements,” “The first agreement is to be impeccable with your word . . . Why your word? Your word is the power you have to create. Your word is the gift that comes directly from God….Through the word you express your creative power. It is through the word that you manifest everything.” The Bible says: “In the beginning was the word. . .” Of course the scripture reference is the Word Incarnate: Jesus of Nazareth. But it also expresses a principle of life: Everything in our lives begins with a word, therefore, we should not only honor the word of God, but we should also honor the word of the creatures made in the image and likeness of God! We should honor our word!