Monday, November 24, 2008

Prov 24:30-34 (ESV)
I passed by the field of a sluggard,
by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,
and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns;
the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down.

Then I saw and considered it;
I looked and received instruction.

A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.
Have you ever just taken a drive down a country road, or a walk in the woods, just to relax? I'm sure you have; I know I have often. The work of the week has taken it's toll and I just need to let my mind at ease. But try as I might, there is always something to capture my attention; inevitably, I do not just find a peaceful place to rest, but become engaged in some observation or activity. I cannot turn off my mind in those situations... I guess that's what TV is for.

I imagine our author, Solomon, doing this very thing - taking a walk away from the hustle and bustle of life. He is just trying to get away, relax, and get his mind off all that work. But here he is, walking past a farm, a vineyard, and he cannot help but draw something out of what he sees. Someone once said
, "Wise men profit more from fools than fools from wise men; for the wise shun the mistakes of fools, but fools do not imitate the successes of the wise." (The Parallel Lives by Plutarch, published in Vol. II of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1914) So, here we read of the wise man harvesting knowledge and wisdom from the thorns and nettles infesting the fields from which the fool harvests nothing.

We know Solomon to be the wisest man who ever walked this earth, save for Jesus Christ, and here we see that his mind is constantly "on". Matthew Henry comments, "
Those that are to give instruction to others must receive instruction themselves, and instruction may be received, not only from what we read and hear, but from what we see, not only from what we see of the works of God, but from what we see of the manners of man, not only from men's good manners, but from their evil manners." (Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible) Solomon is taken by what he sees, and applies it to his own life, learning from this farmer's mistakes.

Looking closer at what Solomon takes away from this observation, we read "
A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man." What exactly is he saying? Sure, at first glance it's obvious that he is speaking on laziness and slothfulness. But does it mean any more? Notice that he is not talking about just wanton laziness and refusal to do anything. He says, "a little sleep" and "a little slumber", there is nothing here about hopping on a plane to a Caribbean island and tossing off all responsibility. How often do we catch ourselves putting something off until later, and then just constantly putting it off? A little procrastination builds up bit by bit, until whatever chore we put off has now become an insurmountable task, with little hope of it ever getting accomplished.

Solomon describes the field as being "overgrown with thorns" and the "ground was covered with nettles". Remember the curse spoken of in Genesis 3:17-19?
And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
Sin brought the curse. The ground is cursed, "thorns and thistles it shall bring forth", because sin was unleashed on creation. As man must work the ground through the thorns and thistles in order to eat, so the Christian must work his own soul through trials and temptations in order to reap his reward.

It is here that we find the allegory in this proverb: this is not about the lazy man letting his fields get out of control, this is a warning to the wise and understanding Christians to keep vigilant in the tending of their souls. Matthew Henry says on this matter, "
Our souls are our fields... which we are every one of us to take care of... that may be got out of them which will be fruit abounding to our account."

There is a camp of thought today that says since salvation is by faith alone in Jesus Christ, and that only by God's grace, that one must almost be idle, lest we stumble into a works righteousness system. However, this false thinking leaves us as babes, longing for milk, instead of mature Christians, craving the solid food of the Word (Hebrews 5:12-14).

We work with what God has blessed us: our talents, our hands, our minds, our money, etc. We are to use these things everyday to bring glory to Him and to work His fields - today. Not tomorrow. Do not put off the things of God until it is more "convenient". As Charles Spurgeon once said, "...for 'now is the accepted time', and it may be now or never. Tomorrow is only to be found in the calendar of fools; today is the time of the wise man".

"...Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation." (
2 Corinthians 6:2b)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Treasure

"Your word I have treasured in my heart,
That I may not sin against You." - Psalm 119:11 (New American Standard)
There are three important applications to the Christian life in this verse.

In the first, our psalmist, David, applies God's Word in his heart. And the Word is "treasured" in his heart. Other translations have this as "Your Word have I hidden in my heart". The idea conveyed here is that of something worth keeping safe, protecting, or storing up. David does not see God's words as heavy burdens to bear, or rules to be memorized and followed as a forced religion. He sees the words of God, His commandments, His precepts as something to be cherished and held close. He keeps them in his heart.

This is the safest and most effective place to keep the Word of God - in our heart. Just having it close by, or having the Bible on a shelf in our home, in case of need; just memorizing it for later recitation - these are ineffective methods. Our physical possessions can be taken from us, and our memory can fail us... but applying His Word to our heart, incorporating it so deeply into our souls so as to effectively live out the commandments and precepts of God; this is where it is truly safe.

The second application, "that I may not sin against You", is the most important application of the Word in our lives. God's Word, the gospel, the "living waters", this is the only effective antidote against sin. As Matthew Henry writes, "Good men are afraid of sin, and are in care to prevent it; and the most effectual way to prevent is to hide God's word in our hearts, that we may answer every temptation, as our Master did, with, 'It is written...'". With His Word stored up in our hearts and in our souls, we will be always ready for any temptation, and trial.

Thirdly, something we must keep in mind: our sin is against Him. I know that in my own life, when I see my sin, I will initially think that my sin is against that person; that I've "wronged" them, hurt them, or let them down. And if that person is someone close to me, someone I care for deeply, I feel awful and the shame is heavy. I do need forgiveness, and seek it from that person. However, I regret that it is still something I haven't grasped wholeheartedly, that the One I've truly sinned against is God - not the other person.

My sin is most offensive to the One that cannot bear to look upon sin. My fellowman may be hurt by my sins, by the manifest actions brought about by that sin, but my Lord, the Almighty God, is offended infinitely more because it is a direct affront on His character and His nature. Our selfish wants and pride may be hurt and bruised by perceived offenses of others, but we need to remember that all sin a rebellion against a holy God.
Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge. (Psalm 51:4)
Joseph, when tempted by his boss' wife, in Genesis 39:9, says, "How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" He didn't say, "...and sin against my boss."

King David, after having the husband of the woman he'd committed adultery with, Uriah, killed, says to the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 12:13, "I have sinned against the Lord."

Since the days of the Old Testament men have known in their hearts that their sin is against God, the offense is truly against our Lord. And while this is a sobering truth, that as Christians, we struggle daily with the flesh and are sensitive to our sin, there is an answer - there is yet hope and joy, by grace.

The prophet Nathan, by God's name, replied to David's confession of sin with, "The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die." 'Die' as in 'eternal death'. Though David would be chastised by the death of the son from this affair, David would not be cut off from eternal life. This is the gift offered to the repentant heart - forgiveness. Through faith alone in Jesus Christ, made possible only by the grace of God, in times of true repentance "we are chastened of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world" (1 Cor 11:32).

Praise God, the Most Holy and Almighty God, for His infinite grace, love, and mercy. That through His Son, just by believing in His work on the cross, by submitting our life to His Lordship and His guidance, we can find forgiveness and the power to overcome sin.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

First post...

My wife, Beverly, has her own blog. So, I decided that I liked hers so much that I had to have one of my own. I just want a place that I can kind of track my own studies of God's word and generally discuss how the gospel of Jesus Christ applies to my life... to all of our lives.

Therefore, for my first posting, I thought I'd touch a little on the description I chose for this blog and why I chose it. The fifteenth verse of the second chapter from the second letter Timothy from the Apostle Paul:

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15

Rightly handling. Something that comes to mind for me when I read this is how we must be very careful with how we understand the Word and apply it to our lives. I must tell you that I get so much out of "
expository preaching", that it should be a no surprise that I try to employ this concept of "exposition" in my personal Bible study, as well. I really try to use the basic precepts behind exposition to my own "handling of the word".

Technically, this method of studying the Bible is called Exegesis or sometimes is called
Hermeneutics. Exegesis is a way of employing critical analysis of a given text that leads to direct, logical conclusions. In doing so, one may use the original texts (Greek and Hebrew), if possible, and passages are to be viewed in context, and the time/purpose of writing are taken into account.

So, what is expository preaching then? In expository preaching, the teacher does not reference "cute" anecdotes, common secular wisdom, or his own personal interpretations in an attempt to derive meaning from the text. The students and teacher together explore the specific attributes of the passage, such as the author, and the context in which it was written, trying to understand what the author meant when he wrote it. It is in this discipline for studying the Word of God that we hope to avoid "coloring the words" with our own thoughts and feelings - to avoid putting our own slant on things - to avoid trying to make the passage reflect some presupposed point that we are trying to make. (There is a great deal of room for further discussion on this, I'm just dusting the surface of a much larger topic here.)

In contrast to expository preaching, one would have "topical preaching", which tends to be seen in the majority of evangelical churches today. Often the preacher may enter into the sermon preparation process with a selected topic in mind, usually a prevalent and current social topic, maybe under the supposition that God has revealed to him this topic to preach on (I am
not talking about a "shepherd" knowing his "flock", and providing the requisite "food" - that is something entirely different). In this frame of mind, He then searches out disparate and disjointed "relevant" Bible verses to back up his already predetermined position on the matter. One common everyday example of this: I'm sure we all can remember a time when someone we know used a Bible verse to justify a personal bias, most likely taking it out of context, whether we (or they) knew it at the time.

What does this mean for this blog? How is this relevant? This just means that one of the first steps I take is to look at the Greek or Hebrew text of the passage I'm studying; I will use an Interlinear Bible to do this
(here is an online Interlinear Bible). I will read commentaries by known, reputable, and historically trusted sources (such as "Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible" or John MacArthur's Study Bible), in line with Reformed theology, to help me understand the whole context of the passage. I will reference published works on related doctrine. Most importantly, I will pray about the study I am in, asking for wisdom, knowledge, discernment, and guidance from the Holy Spirit, so as to "rightly handle" the Word.

A few questions I like to have answered:

  1. Who is the author of the book/letter?
  2. To whom is the author speaking/writing? (The intended audience)
  3. What is the historical or cultural context surrounding the book/letter?
  4. How does it relate to similar passages in the larger context of the Bible?
  5. Where was the focus of the text (i.e. Jewish settlements vs pagan areas)?
  6. Why was the text written (i.e. to dispel heresy, for church sanctification, etc.)?
There are many sources that the discerning student has available to them in our day and age; many are almost inexhaustible in their offerings of detailed information on these questions. However, the operative word in that last sentence is "discerning". Not all of the information available today is "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Tim 3:16). In whatever external source we are using, we must be vigilant in "examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things [are] so" (Acts 17:11), so as not to be misled.

So, it is in this spirit and discipline that I hope to provide sound Biblical guidance and discussion; not for just anyone reading this, but for myself as well. I am only human, but I pray to God for wisdom and discernment when presenting and discussing anything in this blog.

I welcome comments and thoughts on any blog entry. I thoroughly expect and encourage readers to take anything they find here and filter it through the Word of God. Do not just believe anything I say - being just a man, I will make mistakes. I will try to cite all sources and all references; either to the relevant book, chapter and verse, or to the published work of another theologian. If you find anything questionable, please bring it to my attention and it will be addressed. I look forward to our learning and growing together in Christ.

"...That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you." Phil 3:10-16