Whether you were there and want to go over a point or two again, or you missed the conference, here are the four sessions from the Philly Young Adults Conference. Enjoy.
UPDATE: Audio files added as of 11/14.
Whether you were there and want to go over a point or two again, or you missed the conference, here are the four sessions from the Philly Young Adults Conference. Enjoy.
UPDATE: Audio files added as of 11/14.
We should never grow tired of doing what Jesus calls “searching the scriptures.” In that vein, check out this heap of inspiration from Charles Spurgeon:
“Search the Scriptures.” — John 5:39
The Greek word here rendered search signifies a strict, close, diligent, curious search, such as men make when they are seeking gold, or hunters when they are in earnest after game. We must not rest content with having given a superficial reading to a chapter or two, but with the candle of the Spirit we must deliberately seek out the hidden meaning of the word. Holy Scripture requires searching—much of it can only be learned by careful study. There is milk for babes, but also meat for strong men. The rabbis wisely say that a mountain of matter hangs upon every word. Tertullian exclaims, “I adore the fulness of the Scriptures.”
No man who merely skims the book of God can profit thereby; we must dig and mine until we obtain the hid treasure. The door of the word only opens to the key of diligence. The Scriptures claim searching. They are the writings of God, bearing the divine stamp and imprimatur—who shall dare to treat them with levity? He who despises them despises the God who wrote them. God forbid that any of us should leave our Bibles to become swift witnesses against us in the great day of account.
The word of God will repay searching. God does not bid us sift a mountain of chaff with here and there a grain of wheat in it, but the Bible is winnowed corn—we have but to open the granary door and find it.
Scripture grows upon the student. It is full of surprises. Under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, to the searching eye it glows with splendor of revelation, like a vast temple paved with wrought gold, and roofed with rubies, emeralds, and all manner of gems.
Lastly, the Scriptures reveal Jesus: “They are they which testify of Me.” No more powerful motive can be urged upon Bible readers than this: he who finds Jesus finds life, heaven, all things. Happy he who, searching his Bible, discovers his Savior.
This Summer, while we were spending some weeks studying through the book of Judges together, you may have heard references to Daniel Block’s commentary of Judges during some of the studies. It’s a great book, and today I wanted to post some of his thoughts which offer helpful pointers for when we’re reading all those portions of the Bible which are historical–especially the Old Testament stories of Israel from Abraham to the Exile and beyond.
How should we read them? What do they mean? And how are they like, and yet also different than, other works of history we might encounter?
Here’s what Dr. Block says:
In the Scriptures historiographic compositions [that is, stories of history] are primarily ideological in purpose.
The authoritative meaning of the author is not found in the event described but in the authors interpretation of the event, that is, his understanding of their causes, nature, and consequences. But that interpretation must be deduced from the telling.
How is this achieved? By asking the right question of the text:
These questions may be answered by careful attention to the words employed and the syntax exploited to tell the story. But they also require a cautious and disciplined reading between the lines, for what is left unstated also reflects an ideological perspective.
So when we read the historical sections of the bible, we’re not simply reading to find out what happened, but something more like, “Based on the way God inspired the author to record what happened, what does God want me to learn about Him, the world, his plan, and myself?” That’s helpful, right? I encourage you to use Dr. Block’s questions to help you see the message God wants us to see whenever you’re reading the stories of God’s people in ages past.
Here’s a verse that’s probably on a lot of people’s “top-verse” list:
“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
It’s 2 Corinthians 3:17. Other translations say, “there is freedom,” but the idea is the same. The whole passage is great. And yet, Gordon Fee, in his excellent book God’s Empowering Presence, points out how important it is that we like this verse for the right reasons. (You might want to have a bible open in front of you for this one.) Fee observes:
The meaning of “freedom” here has been much debated and, at the popular level, much abused. In context, it refers primarily to the freedom from “the veil” as that has been interpreted in v.15, as lying yet over the hearts of those in the synagogue at the hearing of the old covenant. Precisely because they do not have the Spirit, they cannot behold God’s glory that shines in Christ (vs. 18). In this argument [earlier in chapter 3] that further involves freedom from the covenant of letter that leads to condemnation and death.
After all, this is what the analogy of the veil is all about. All other kinds of freedom, which evolve from this first kind, are at best ancillary [that is, supporting the main freedom] (for example, freedom from sin), at worst distortions (e.g., freedom from ritualism), at least as far as the text is concerned.
To put all of this in another way, the emphasis in context is less on “freedom from” and more on “freedom for.”
What the Spirit has done for us in appropriating the work of Christ to our lives (“removing the veil”) is to give us freedom, boldness if you will, to enter into God’s presence and behold his glory “with uncovered faces”; freedom to be transformed into his likeness from one degree of glory yet another. This is the glorious freedom of the children of God, made available through the Spirit, which will be explicated in the final sentence that wraps it all up. (pp. 313-314)
Of course, this also means that when the Spirit inspired Paul to write, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” he didn’t mean what we Americans mean when we say freedom, which would best be described as “everyone doing whatever is right in their own eyes.” That, the bible says, is actually a kind of slavery–slavery to your own passions and desires, which will end up costing you the biggest, most glorious experiences you could have. No, God’s definition of freedom has to do with huge, eternal truths–not what you feel like doing right now, but what you were made to enjoy, forever.
And you and I were made to enjoy the friendship of God, forever. We were made to behold his glory, and walk in his presence, knowing him and loving him, while we do his will on the earth, forever. That’s what truly makes a human heart feel free. And that’s what truly makes us alive.
Here’s an interesting Bible study for you to do yourself.
First, read what Jesus says in John 6:50. Notice the context too (6:41-58.) Ponder 6:50 again. Maybe even write it out. Then look up Genesis 2:17. Notice also the context leading up to it, 2:8-17. You may want to write 2:17 out too, underneath the verse from John.
When you have both verses written out, take some time to notice the connections between the two verses. Notice what Jesus is saying in relation to the statement from the Lord in Genesis.
How does the statement in John 6:50 tie Jesus and His work all the way back to what God said Genesis?
What was the consequence for disobeying God’s word in Genesis 2:17?
What were the two special trees in the Garden?
What was God’s specific instructions regarding each tree?
Based on Genesis 3:22, what was the effect of eating from the Tree of Life?
How does this relate to what Jesus is offering in John 6:50?
Now, for even more exploration, think about what the Tree that caused death was related to.
Now look up Proverbs 1:7 & 3:13-18. Notice 3:18 especially.
How is all this related to the two trees?
How is it related to what Adam was seeking when he bit the fruit? …to what happened to him as a consequence?
And, finally, how is all of it related to what Jesus offers in John 6?
Now, just to blow your mind, read Revelation 22:1-2.
How does this tie back into all the verses you just read?
How does this relate to your destiny as a believer?
…Isn’t God’s word amazing?
Oh, this is so good…
…and, I’ve personally found this to be utterly true. I have been looking at the Bible for more than 20 years now, since the Spirit of God saved me at 16 and made me love it. And as I’ve kept looking, I’ve found more and more. And there’s still more to find. There are more mountains to climb and leaves on trees to examine. Big things and little things. Things about life and the whole world and why I get impatient and human society and animals and my family and my work and the kingship of Jesus Christ and the purpose of Man and sin and lies and hope in the future and every good thing coming true… and what else might you need?
God’s word has it. Let’s go find it.
[This is a repost from 2014, because tonight I’m going to reference a quote from the lectures linked to below. And because these are really great resources if you’re wondering about either of these topics. (Come on…the Problem of Evil anyone?)]
I want to highlight a couple of resources that are helpful if you’d like to study the bible’s teaching on evil and original sin. I discovered them a couple months ago, and, even though they are pretty dense and academic–so you might find them tough going–if you want to do a thorough, detailed study of scripture’s teachings in the area and their implications, they will repay your efforts and help you think more biblically, and more hopefully, about the problems we face in this world. They are by a French theology teacher named Henri Blocher (pronounced, I believe, “Ahn-RAY Bloo-SHAY”). The first is his book Evil and the Cross: An Analytical Look at the Problem of Pain. In this short, closely reasoned book, Blocher looks at all the different explanations which philosophers and theologians have given for evil, and how they fall short. In the final chapter he gives a look at the biblical answer. His conclusion–which is that while we may not be able to understand the origin of evil, we are shown its final end–is summed up nicely in this paragraph from the book:
“Evil is conquered as evil because God turns it back upon itself. He makes the supreme crime, the murder of the only righteous person, the very operation that abolishes sin. The maneuver is utterly unprecedented. No more complete victory could be imagined. God responds in the indirect way that is perfectly suited to the ambiguity of evil. He entraps the deceiver in his own wiles. Evil, like a judoist [a Judo fighter], takes advantage of the power of good, which it perverts; the Lord, like a supreme champion, replies by using the very grip of the opponent. So is fulfilled the surprising verse; ‘With the pure you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you show yourself perverse.’”
The biblical cry about evil, he says, turns from “Why, God?” to “How long, O Lord?”–and it is there we find the hope he offers.
Secondly, here are links to five lectures Blocher did on the Christian doctrine of Original Sin. These are academic (and he has a thick French accent) so they may be tough going at times, but he really does a good job of opening up the Bible’s teaching on the subject. Let me know if you find these helpful!
Have you ever been reading in the Psalms, and been caught off guard by a bit of poetry that sounded vindictive, violent, and unforgiving? Chances are you ran into one of the “imprecatory” Psalms, which are so named because they call down retribution on the enemies of the psalmist or God’s people (or both). For instance, grab your bible and read Psalm 109.
See what I mean? What are we to do with these Psalms? Didn’t Jesus tell us to love our enemies? Is this just something from the Old Testament?
Alec Motyer, in his excellent devotional Psalms by the Day, gives us some needed help in this area. First, he puts this long footnote at the beginning of his translation of the Psalm:
Psalm 109 is possibly the most outspoken and ‘violent’ of the imprecatory psalms, and for that reason is condemned by commentators as not only lacking but contradicting the spirit of Christ and the Gospel. This an unthinking reaction. David professes love for his opponents, and his attitude towards them is one of prayer (4). Furthermore, as in all the imprecatory psalms, the response to unmerited (1-3) malignity (16-17) on grand scale, is to take it to the LORD and leave it there (Romans 12:19). No personal counter attack is envisaged–and we are not at liberty even to imagine David harboring vengeful thoughts, for such would be incompatible with the profession of live and the practice of prayer. The nearest we have as a ground for complaint is the vigor with which David words his requests (e.g. verses 9-13). Compared with today’s instruments of revenge–and the spirit in which they are used–this would have to be considered a minor fault (even were it true as stated)! But, in fact, what we find unacceptable is such realism in prayer. Consult Deuteronomy 19:16-19. The LORD required that the false accuser receive what he intended to fall on the one he falsely accused. This is the way divine justice works. David was realistic enough to ask explicitly for it rather than, as we would have done, pray blandly, “Please, LORD, will you deal with this situation.” Some suggest that in verse 6-19 David is quoting what his opponents have said. Verse 20 suggests otherwise, but, in any case, I would suggest the ‘quotation’ theory rests on a misunderstanding of the whole nature if the imprecatory psalms–and it flies in the face of Acts 1:20. (p.310)
Then, in his “Pause for Thought” section for this days reading, he gives more insight and application:
Do you feel more than a bit battered after reading Psalm 109? Of course you do! But let it be for the right reason. It is not (as some commenters on the Psalms would suggest) that every reader is probably horrified at finding such unsatisfied human rage and spite inside the covers of the Bible. No, it is because in Psalm 109 we are listening to the Holy God stating the consequences of sin and pronouncing the terms of his confrontation and judgment. And if we like to imagine that his eyes are full of tears as he does so we are correct. The voice of David and the voice of the Holy Spirit are one voice, just as Acts 4:25 (ESV, correctly) says about Psalm 2. This is the biblical realism of David’s praying. He asks (without rancor, in a truly sinless anger) for what the Word of God affirms is inevitable in the situation of hatred, opposition, false accusation and malignity he was facing. Sin brings us under the domination of the wicked one (6), ruins everything about us (7), extends its infection to those linked with us (9-10), pauperizes (11), leaves us friendless (12), simply because it brings on us fruits of our own choices, attitudes and actions (16-10). And (as you readily see) such a survey does no more than scratch the surface of this terrifying psalm. It is a place into which so many streams of biblical revelation and warning flow–the cardinal seriousness of sins of speech, for example, and (a thing that hits and hurts at the family level), if it is true (as Proverbs 20:7 teaches) that the children of the righteous are blessed, it is equally true that the iniquity of fathers passes through the channels of genetic solidarity to those who we love most dearly – a moral and spiritual entail that is part of the rice of being human. if we recoil on reading the central section of Psalm 109, let us dwell at length and with all our hearts on the great cry to God with which the psalm ends. (p.313)
Helpful, right? Seriously. Go read this book.
Happy New Year! Here’s a great post from New Testament scholar Tom Schreiner:
Why Doesn’t Our Faith Move Mountains?
Peter tells us Paul wrote some things that are hard to understand (2 Pet. 3:16).
Jesus said some difficult things, too.
Twice the Lord told his disciples that if they had faith like a mustard seed they could do jaw-dropping things. In Matthew, mustard seed faith is tied to expelling a demon, and Jesus says those who have such faith can move mountains (Matt. 17:20). In Luke, those with mustard seed faith will be able to forgive those who sin against them since such faith can pluck up mulberry trees and cast them into the sea (Luke 17:6). All kinds of questions enter our minds.
What is faith like a mustard seed?
Why doesn’t our faith move mountains?
Are we failing to see great things from God because of our lack of faith?
In the stories recounted in both Matthew and Luke, the disciples long for more faith. Then they could do great things for God. Then they could cast out demons and forgive a brother or sister who’s especially annoying. Jesus tells them they don’t need great faith; they need just a little faith. He clearly speaks of a small amount of faith since the mustard seed was the smallest seed known in his day. Jesus also informs his disciples that the kingdom of heaven is as small as a mustard seed (Matt. 13:31).
We’re prone to think if we just had more faith, then God could do amazing things through us. But Jesus tells us something quite astonishing. The issue isn’t whether we are full of faith but whether we have any faith. If we have the smallest amount of faith, God works on our behalf. Jesus stops his disciples short and asks them: Do you believe in me at all? Do you trust God at all?
Why is Jesus’s answer encouraging? Because we don’t get caught in the morass of thinking about whether we have enough faith. When facing a given situation, we call out to God to give us faith—no matter how small. A small amount of faith is sufficient because the focus is not on our faith but its object.
The issue isn’t whether we are full of faith but whether we have any faith. . . . A small amount of faith is sufficient because the focus is not on our faith but its object.
Why is it true that mustard seed faith can move mountains and uproot mulberry trees? Jesus plainly tells us. It isn’t because of the quantity of our faith but the object of our faith. If our faith is in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, then it has a great effect. Our faith makes a difference not because it is so great but because God is so great, because he is the sovereign one who rules over all things. Our faith doesn’t thrive when we think about how much faith we have; it springs up when we behold our God—when we see Jesus as the One crucified and risen for us.
Still, we have questions about this verse. Does our mustard seed faith move mountains and uproot mulberry trees? Do we see this happen today? Are prosperity preachers right in saying that if we had more faith, we wouldn’t get sick and would enjoy the riches of this world?
First, it’s critical to note Jesus is using an illustration. He’s not literally talking about moving mountains and uprooting trees. There’s no example in Scripture of mountains disappearing because someone had faith. Jesus is teaching that stunning things happen if we have faith. The question is, what kind of stunning things should we expect?
Here we must take into account the entire Bible. The old saying is correct: a verse without a context is a pretext. And the context is the whole Bible, which includes reading it in its covenantal and redemptive-historical timeline. We can’t just pluck any verse in the Bible and apply to our lives without considering how it relates to the sweep of Scripture as a whole.
Faith isn’t abstract; we put our faith in the promises of God, in the truth he has revealed. Scripture never promises believers they will be healthy or wealthy. Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7–10) was probably a physical disease, and though he prayed three times for deliverance, God said “no.” Similarly, it wasn’t God’s will to heal Paul’s ministry partner Trophimus (2 Tim. 4:20), and it wasn’t because Paul lacked mustard seed faith! Additionally, Timothy wasn’t healed miraculously and instantaneously of stomach ailments, but was told to take wine to settle his indigestion (1 Tim. 5:23). Certainly Paul believed God could heal Timothy, but God had determined he would not be healed. Moreover, Romans 8:35–39 clearly teaches some believers are persecuted, and some suffer from lack of food and clothing. God never promised us a comfortable life.
Faith isn’t abstract; we put our faith in the promises of God, in the truth he’s revealed. Scripture never promises believers they will be healthy or wealthy.
Mountain-moving faith, then, must be based on God’s promises—on what is revealed in his Word—not on what we wish will happen or even fervently believe will happen.
Misguided faith can lead to disaster. In the 1520s, Thomas Muntzer believed he was led by the Holy Spirit to bring in the golden age, and warred alongside the peasants to overturn political power. But Muntzer was inspired by fantasies and died in the revolt he led. He trusted in “spiritual revelations” rather than the written words of Scripture.
We must ask first, then, whether one’s faith is truly based on the Word of God. Otherwise, it rests on the vain imaginations of man.
The question remains: What is mountain-moving faith? Notice what Jesus says in Luke: Those who have faith like a mustard seed do great things. They have the faith to forgive brothers and sisters who sin against them repeatedly.
The illustration Jesus provides, then, is enormously helpful. We know it’s God’s will that we forgive those who sin against us. Yet when we’re faced with actually forgiving them, we often struggle because the pain is so severe.
Mustard seed faith, then, is faith that kills works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19–21) and produces the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). Love, joy, peace, and patience are mountains that can only be climbed by faith; faith, after all, expresses itself in love (Gal. 5:6). Mustard seed faith believes the gospel will go the ends of the earth and triumph over the gates of hell. And the clearest evidence of mustard seed faith is whether you love God and your neighbor.
Our greatest enemies are not outside of us but within. Our greatest foe is the hate and rebellion that overtakes us, and mustard seed faith—because it is placed in Jesus Christ—gives us the victory over our sin.
Yet we are freed from the sin that enslaves when we rely on Christ and not our own strength and works. Mustard seed faith is enormously powerful—not because of our faith, but because it unites us to the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead.
Two of the most common forms of literature in the bible are songs and prophecies. They come together in the fifth chapter of the prophecy of Isaiah, where God directs the prophet to sing a song. God gives Isaiah the lyrics to this song, and they make up the chapter. The song laments the state of Israel, which is pictured as a vineyard owned by none other than God himself. The metaphor the song develops is this: Israel, as a culture, is God’s vineyard, and was supposed to bear the fruit which God wanted.
The fruits God wanted were the cultural and societal effects of human lives lived in fellowship with God, and guided by his laws. In verse 7, the fruits are listed, and there’s only two: justice, and righteousness. If you study the bible’s teachings on these two very central words, you find that God wanted a society in which his character, as expressed in his directions for human life, found expression in the families and friendships and workplaces and government and worship of the people–in other words, in all of daily life, public and private. And the character of this life was one of justice and righteousness. As I’ve posted on this blog before, you could characterize these words this way:
If God has his way, the world will be a place where God is known and worshiped by everyone, so everywhere you go is full of his life-giving, personal presence, so no one oppresses anyone, everyone has everything they need, everyone is nurtured to health and strength and no one ever conquers or oppresses or invades or steals and everyone is safe and everywhere is safe.
But this is exactly not the kind of culture Israel was creating. The second verse of the chapter says that instead of these “good grapes,” Israel the vineyard was producing “wild grapes,” fruit God wasn’t interested in, and couldn’t use. Verse seven reads:
“For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,
And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.
He looked for justice, but behold, oppression;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.“
What did Israel’s culture produce? Oppression, and cries for help. That’s what made this culture foul-tasting,and the vineyard unusable, to God. And then, starting in verse 8, God speaks through the prophet, drops the metaphor, and elaborates on exactly what form these “bad grapes” took in the culture.
I encourage you to work through this list, maybe even with bible in hand. It’s a blow-by-blow cultural critique from God himself. As always, when we read the prophets, we have the opportunity to see how our culture is like the one Israel produced.
So here are the “wild grapes” Israel was growing:
And if you keep reading, you see the result of all these situations…God’s judgment (v.24-30).
Friends, let’s keep reading, praying, and living our daily lives out of the things we see in the scriptures. Let’s always be moved to be engaged in spreading God’s message. The world kicks up a lot of dust, and it’s easy to get disoriented, but the word of God will be our light in murky places. It will keep our heads on straight, and keep us alert to what is really going on.