How to Study the Bible: Jeff Gage on Table Talk with Tyrell

Jeff Gage, LRI’s Program Director for South Africa, joined pastor and host Tyrell Haag on his radio program, Table Talk with Tyrell, to discuss how to study the Bible. In the interview, Jeff shares an insightful summary of LRI’s approach to Bible study and sprinkles in compelling stories about on how God is at work through our ministry in Africa.

Even if you’re very familiar with LRI’s training, you’re not going to want miss this interview. (Their insightful conversation may just inspire you to grow a great beard, too.)


Listen on Table Talk with Tyrell | Or watch the Facebook video below

This week on TABLE TALK Tyrell Haag discusses Biblical Studies with Jeff Gage of Leadership Resources International. Your questions are welcome, so Tune In…#657AM#729AM#DSTV882

Posted by Radio Pulpit / Radiokansel on Friday, 12 April 2019


Description:

Many people believe that theological study holds little value. They say, “I don’t need theology; I just need to know Jesus.” Yet theology is unavoidable for every Christian. It is our attempt to understand the truth that God has revealed to us—something every Christian does. So it is not a question of whether we are going to engage in theology; it is a question of whether our theology is sound or unsound. It is important to study and learn because God has taken great pains to reveal himself to his people. He gave us a book, one that is not meant to sit on a shelf pressing dried flowers, but to be read, searched, digested, studied, and chiefly to be understood.

  • 0:00:00—Introduction
  • 0:06:00—Introducing Jeff
  • 0:10:30—What are the most common mistakes people make when studying the Bible?
  • 0:46:40—If All Scripture is profitable, why is context important?
  • 0:51:10—Why is the New Testament written in Greek if the disciples were Jews?
  • 1:02:10—Political views and preaching
  • 1:13:35—Eschatological passages and keeping Christ supreme
  • 1:32:20—Conclusion

Helpful Quotes and Excerpts

“There are two ways to read the Bible. One way will crush you, the other way will give you life.”

Jeff Gage: “In Zambia there as a man who was preaching the prosperity gospel. He’s always been doing that as a very fiery individual. He’s an older man now. [After two years of training,] he said this last week, “I will not preach that ever again. I repent from preaching that. That’s not what the Bible is teaching.” We were working the principles in the Gospel of Mark and the call of the gospel to suffer, enter into Jesus’ suffering, count the cost, take up your cross, follow Him really powerfully came home to him. If we had gone in there preaching against the prosperity gospel, he would have dug in his heels and become defensive. Instead of bashing our framework against his, we just got him digging into the Gospel of Mark and seeing who Jesus is and what Jesus was really saying. The Word of God powerfully impacted him. Now when the next guy comes in town teaching something else, this man will not be moved by it because the Word of God has personally impacted his life.”

Tyrell Haag: “If you take a photo of a group of people, when you get that group photo, what’s the first thing you do? You look for yourself. And that’s like what we do with the Bible. We read the gospel and we look at the group photo and say, ‘Where am I?’ Really we should be looking for where Jesus is.”

A Simple, Biblical, and Glorious Approach of Discipleship: The 4 P’s

Do you ever overcomplicate things? Instead of taking the short, logical route while driving, you choose the roundabout way that gets you to your destination twenty minutes late. Instead of simply asking your friend a question, you think through all possible scenarios of how the conversation might go.

We have the potential to overcomplicate everything—even discipleship.

The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Culture Around Disciple-Making, written by our friends Tony Payne and Colin Marshall, presents a compellingly biblical, yet simple way to think about discipleship, “Disciples are made by the persevering proclamation of the word of God by the people of God in prayerful dependence on the Spirit of God” (83). They neatly describe this type of thinking as ‘4 P Ministry.’

If you have overcomplicated discipleship and focused more on programs, events, expensive curriculum, or thought it as something left to the professionals, thinking in terms of the 4 P’s could revolutionize your life and ministry by making it simpler and more effective.

“Disciples are made by the persevering proclamation of the word of God by the people of God in prayerful dependence on the Spirit of God.”

P #1: Proclamation of the Word of God.

Disciples are made by hearing and receiving the Word. God’s living and active Word is able to break through stony hearts and bring new life. Proclaiming God’s living and active Word from the pulpit, in a small group, over coffee with a friend, through a text message or email will not return to God without accomplishing His purposes. That is why pastors and their people need to know God’s Word and proclaim it.

P #2: Prayerful dependence on the Spirit of God.

God is the one who brings growth and fruit to any ministry (1 Corinthians 3:6). As believers make progress in the Christian life, the Spirit of God is active speaking through His Word, renewing our hearts, guaranteeing our future inheritance, transforming us, gifting us for ministry, and giving us boldness to speak His Word.1

As you make disciples, pray for them and rely on the Spirit to work in their hearts through His Word. The Apostle Paul models this type of prayer throughout his epistles. Consider the way Paul prays for the Colossians to grow in Christ-like maturity in Colossians 1:9-10:

“…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

The Spirit of God uses prayers to grow disciples. Don’t neglect this indispensable part of disciple-making.

P #3: People are God’s fellow workers.

God’s Spirit works through God’s Word as God’s people proclaim it. In God’s infinite wisdom and mercy, He chooses to use imperfect people as His ambassadors to this lost world. We are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession” redeemed to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

God’s people are His proclaimers. This fact should drive us to faithful proclamation ministries and the ministry of training other proclaimers for God’s use. The more people in our churches we equip to prayerfully proclaim God’s Word, the more the gospel will grow in our church and beyond.

Learn how you can grow as an expositor and equip others to rightly handle the Word in the Fellowship of the Word Program.

P #4: Persevering, step by step.

There’s a reason it is tempting to measure ministry pragmatically: it’s easier to count heads than patiently wait for God’s Word to have an impact. And yet, our calling is patience: prayerful Word proclamation is to be done “in season and out of season” and “with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Growing people in the gospel is often a slow growth like gardening. Day to day, it might be hard to tell if a plant is growing, but over a long period of time, growth is obvious. Evangelism takes great patience as well. God works in people’s hearts with the gospel often months or years before they come to faith. Don’t let slowness discourage your ministry, let it drive you to a prayerful dependence on God and a patience that trusts God to bring growth.

Preacher and professor Tony Merida shares a simple way to grow in patience, “How can we grow in patience as pastor- preachers? Since patience is a fruit of the Spirit, then the simple answer is to walk by the Spirit. Commune with God. Abide in Jesus. As you spend time in God’s presence, in unhindered and unhurried prayer and worship, meditate on God’s patience.”2

The beauty of the 4 P’s is how simply they communicate discipleship. Simple does not mean easy. But knowing that disciples are made by a prayerful proclamation of God’s Word by people with patience should greatly liberate believers by helping them not overcomplicate things, but rather trust God to work through their obedience.

The next time you are tempted to overcomplicate discipleship, remember this simple, biblical, and glorious approach.

For a comprehensive guide to how this simple approach can impact your church, buy The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Culture Around Disciple-Making. Read 25 quotes from The Vine Project or an excerpt on Where Changing Church Culture Begins.


1 The Vine Project, pages 88-89.

2 Exalting Jesus in 1-2 Timothy and Titus, Kindle location 3645.

Enjoying Your God in Prayer

Enjoying Your God in Prayer

Prayer is often called one of the “spiritual disciplines” of the Christian life. Surely, we must exercise regular discipline in our daily walk with the Lord to grow into the men and women God has called us to be in His Son. At the same time, as we consistently spend time with God in the sanctuary of prayer, we want to move beyond looking at our times with Him as just a discipline.

We need to come into His presence for the joy and satisfaction we find in Him. The pleasures of His presence—that feed and fill up our souls—will take us far beyond the discipline of prayer. When we experience our deepest joy in God, our hearts run to Him. No longer do we drag our souls into the prayer room to do whatever we must do to maintain our relationship with Him.

JOY AND PLEASURE IN GOD

King David experienced such pleasure in his relationship with God. When we read his prayers and songs of worship, we know he was drawn to God—not primarily because he needed wisdom, protection, healing, or provision. David was, first of all, drawn to God because he loved Him and enjoyed being in His presence!

We see this same desire in the Apostle Paul. How much David and Paul shared in common with each other: both were murderers and both were transformed by God’s abundant mercies. And from the hearts of both of these servants flow the most beautiful songs of worship in our Bibles.

It is amazing to us as we read Paul’s letters how often he will “interrupt” his teaching with a prayer of intercession for the people he is writing to or insert a song of worship to his God. We clearly see an example of this in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 1:1-2)

Paul plainly says that his ministry finds its source in the authority of God. And Paul’s desire is for the believers in Ephesus to also find in God what we all so desperately need: grace and peace that come from Him alone. Now Paul quickly begins to exalt and bless his God as he writes:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 1:3)

Paul begins his letter with prayer! Already, after only a few sentences, the apostle focuses on God as he begins to describe who He is and what He is like. Paul does not say, “We need to begin our letter with prayer.” Rather, his heart opens like a fountain as he worships God and invites the Ephesian church to join him.

OUR HOPE: IN CHRIST

God, who brings us His grace and peace, has already poured on us all of the blessings that fill the heavens! How has He done this? In Christ! How rich the believers at Ephesus were—along with you and me. The heavens are filled with the presence, glory, and power of God. The mutual love, joy, and exaltation God finds in Himself as the Trinitarian God fill the heavens. He has blessed us with His love and joy because we are in Christ.

This is our one hope: God loves His Son. All the eternal affections of our holy God are focused on His Son, Jesus Christ. Because we are “in Christ,” God loves us! This is the reason we have confidence in our Father’s acceptance, mercy, and affection. Because He loves His Son, and we are in His Son, we possess all of the pure affection God reserves for His Son!

[E]ven as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will. (Ephesians 1:4-5)

Paul’s worship of God flows from his pen like a song as he teaches us who we are in Christ and why we are in Him. Nothing about our performance, potential, or sincerity motivate God’s love and favor. We are in Christ because of God’s sovereign choice from eternity to make us His children and pour out His mercy upon us.

[T]o the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:6)

We are in Christ because of God alone. If any merit of our own contributed to our salvation, then that would distract from the glory of God. He did it all to the praise of His glorious grace! One day we will join in the throne room with myriads of angels and the redeemed from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. We will together fall at His feet, crying out before the Lamb who is worthy that He is the only reason we are saved. We worship Him alone.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight. (Ephesians 1:7-8)

All the blessings of heaven are ours as God’s adopted children. We have received redemption and forgiveness through the riches of God’s grace that He lavished upon us in Christ. This is our God! Nothing about our Lord is ever measured out carefully. Everything about Him and His works are poured out. That is why we live poured out lives for His glory, rather than measured out, carefully balanced lives where everything is properly proportioned for our comfort. Our response of worship and delight in our Father reflect the measureless giving of our gracious God.

[M]aking known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:9-10)

Paul continues in his letter to reveal the mystery of God’s purpose. He shows us how God, through His Son, will bring all things—in time and eternity and in heaven and earth—together to fulfill His plan. God not only chose us in Christ, but predestined us for His purposes. What hope and confidence we have in Christ! God did it all to the praise of His glory, and we worship Him!

As Paul teaches the Ephesians, we clearly see how much he enjoys God and delights in Him as he prays. Paul desires the brothers and sisters in Ephesus to also enter into this delight with him.


Language of the Heart Front CoverThis article is an excerpt of Language of the Heart: 20 Worship Prompters and Meditations on Prayer by Bill Mills, available in paperback or eBook format in our store or on Amazon.

Enjoying the Beauty of Jesus

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This post continues from Part One: Enjoying Your God in Prayer.


When Paul writes to the church in Colossae we see he uses the  pattern of “interrupting” his instruction with a prayer, exaltation of God, or benediction. Paul had never visited this city and had not personally met these brothers and sisters. But he had heard about their faith in Christ and their love for one another from Epaphras. Near the beginning of Paul’s letter, he thanks God for the Colossians and tells them how he is praying for them. As Paul writes about what God has done through His Son, as he did to the Ephesians, he seems to break out in a song of worship right in the middle of his writing:

He is the image of the invisible God. (Colossians 1:15a)

As Paul lifts up the Lord Jesus before his readers, he glorifies Him by describing who He is, what He is like, and what He has done. Jesus is God who can be seen. We are able to know who God is and what He is like through Christ.

[T]he firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15b)

Of course, Paul is not describing Jesus as a created being. He is revealing Christ as God’s most highly exalted Son. This is the same way the Apostle John describes Jesus as God’s “only” Son (John 3:16)—unique in His eternal Person and position. In Greek and Jewish culture, the firstborn son in a family always held the preeminent position. As “the firstborn of all creation,” Jesus is preeminent over everything He created.

For by him all things were created. (Colossians 1:16a)

Paul continues to magnify Jesus Christ. He is not created. He is the creator who ranks supremely over all that exists. Everything we see has its source in the Son of God.

[I]n heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. (Colossians 1:16b)

Everything unseen was created by Jesus—from subatomic particles to the invisible spiritual realm. Paul then teaches us about the sovereignty of Christ over every kingdom throughout history. He is over every king who ever sat on a throne and every person who ever claimed authority. Every human and demonic ruler has always been subject to the One before whom every knee will bow (Philippians 2:10-11).

[A]ll things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16c)

Christ is not only the creator of all that exists, He is the recipient as well! Everything in heaven and earth was created for Him. We find our pleasure in Him because He created all things for His pleasure.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17)

As we read Paul’s prayer of worship that he shares with the Colossian church, we join with him in seeing Jesus more fully in His power and glory. And our eyes fill with wonder once again. He alone is preeminent and worthy of worship.

Christ is not only the source and the recipient of all that is, He is also the “glue” in the universe who holds it all together! He alone holds the planets in their orbits and keeps the stars in place. He alone binds molecules together. Christ alone holds marriages, families, and churches together. He provides the cohesive power that keeps the universe in order according to the Father’s design.

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:18)

In His preeminence, Jesus reigns as head of His Church. He is not only from the beginning, He is the beginning (John 1:1). God has designed all of time and eternity for one purpose: that His Son might reign supreme and be worshiped by every creature.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

In Christ lives all the fullness of our God! And because God’s fullness is in Christ, God was able, through Him, to reconcile everything to Himself. We could never reconcile God to us, but God can lift us up and reconcile us to Himself through the blood of His Son shed on the cross.

Paul returns later in his letter to this theme of the fullness of Christ:

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (Colossians 2:9-10)

What a description of Jesus! Everything that God is, living in a body. We can see who God is and what He is like by looking at Jesus. We can know Him and live confidently in His love as His children through Jesus. We are filled in Him! In Christ, we have the fullness of our Father’s love, His approval, and the fullness of His power and joy.

Our relationship with our Father in prayer can express this same fullness. As we pray, we want to thank God for what He has done, bring Him our needs, and intercede for others. Then, as Paul models for us in his letters, we also can go on from there. Paul goes from teaching, to praying, to exalting his Savior, and exulting in Him. Paul clearly enjoys his God.

May the joy of God be the fountain that also carries our prayer lives far beyond the needs and concerns of this world. Let’s pray for the joy we find only in God and enjoy Him even more as we pray.

MEDITATION AND PRAYER

Father, how often I have “dragged myself into Your throne room” because I knew I ought to pray. Please cause me to run to You for the pleasure of Your presence. Call me with the joy of exalting You so I will know the same delight Paul experienced as he exalted You in his letters.

Teach me, Lord, to wonder at Your greatness and be in awe of who You are, what You are like, and the majesty of Your redeeming works. Father, let me never move from the amazement of Your mercy and grace poured out to me in Christ. My heart is filled with praise because You have designed all of time and eternity so He reigns supreme and forever receives the worship of Your angels, every creature, and every nation.


Language of the Heart Front CoverThis article is an excerpt of Language of the Heart: 20 Worship Prompters and Meditations on Prayer by Bill Mills, available in paperback or eBook format in our store or on Amazon.

Why does biblical engagement matter?

Why does biblical engagement matter?
Let me take you back to 620 BC. Judah, the Southern Kingdom, had been in decline for almost a century, with only a brief revival under King Josiah. His sons proved to be ungodly leaders who abandoned the God of Israel. God, in his mercy, sent prophets to urge both the leaders and the people to repent. If they refused, Jeremiah, Habakkuk and others warned of a coming invasion and devastating defeat, followed by a bitter exile.

But other prophets contradicted these warnings with comforting words that only stirred false hopes. Jeremiah 23 reads:

Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” (v.16-17)

These false prophets spoke lies, “the deceit of their own hearts”(v.26). They offered up their own dreams as a word from the Lord saying, “I have dreamed! I have dreamed!”(v.25). They would hear an impressive-sounding prophesy from one of their own, and then plagiarize the message and preach it as if it was their own (v.30).

God sarcastically prods the false prophets to keep what they’re doing in order to make the contrast crystal clear.

Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord”(v.28)

The contrast between the false words of the lying prophets and the words of the living God is sharpened even further. Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”(v.29).

What can we say that will really make any difference in people’s lives? How can we help those consumed by anger? What can we say that would deliver people from jealousy or greed? Do we actually think that our words could free people for their enslaving habits? Our words are such weak things compared with the powerful temptations that our people wrestle. Our people need a word from God that is full of power…that brings life…that consumes the dross in their lives. We, as teachers and preachers of God’s Word, simply don’t have that capacity within ourselves. Only God and his Word have the transformative power that can change people at the core of their being.

In Jeremiah’s day, the faithful proclamation of God’s Word would have brought repentance and mercy.

But if they had stood in my council,
    then they would have proclaimed my words to my people,
and they would have turned them from their evil way,
    and from the evil of their deeds.(v.22)

This is why biblical engagement matters today. Only God’s Word empowered by God’s Spirit can bring the salvation, the deliverance, and the freedom that our people need.

Read more in the series:

Why does biblical interpretation matter?

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I became a believer in 1970 while a freshman at the University of Illinois. The early 70’s were a time of a great spiritual harvest on the college campuses across the country, and God, in his great mercy, included me.

A few months later, I began to receive postcards from Chuck, a young man who had lived with us. My mother was a high school English teacher with a huge heart. She ended up welcoming troubled high schoolers into our home….sometimes for a few days or, as in the case of Chuck, for several months. When Chuck left us, he was lost…trying to find his way in life. But then these postcards arrived, full of Bible verses. “Cool!” I thought. “Chuck has become a believer just like me”. One postcard brought me much joy. Chuck informed us that he was going to visit us over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Unbeknowst to us, Chuck had joined a cult, the Children of God. Upon his arrival, he began to explain that if I really loved Jesus, I would join their group. Remaining in school was not an option if I was going to be a serious follower of Christ. Universities and corporations were all part of the world’s system. Genuine followers should abandon the world and join with the only true believers, the Children of God.

I was confused, so I invited Gerry, a fellow student who was discipling me, to meet with Chuck. Gerry became confused as well and eventually we both became convinced that we should drop out of school and join them. When I told my mother that I was leaving to join the Children of God, it broke her heart. She later told me that it was the most painful experience of her life, almost as devastating to her as the death of my father a few years earlier.

But, what could I do? Chuck and his friends reminded me that Jesus said that to follow him we must hate our father and mother. The Children of God encouraged their new members to take from their families as much money as possible as well as a car and other valuables. After all, when Israel left Egypt, they took “the spoils of Egypt and plundered the Egyptians.” I left the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, telling my mother that I might never see her again.

The brainwashing began my very first night with the cult. They began to indoctrinate me with five different Bible studies. The next morning I awoke confused, exhausted and scared. I sought the Lord in the Scriptures and read, For those who guide this people are leading them astray; And those who are guided by them are brought to confusion.” (Isaiah 9:16) Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure which leaders were leading me astray…was it my campus leaders or the Children of God???

God in his great mercy delivered me from the cult later that day. Miraculously, my older brother and a couple of my campus friends were able to find me and come to my rescue. But I remember driving back to the university with confusion and shame filling my soul. As a campus friend drove, I opened my Bible and discovered Ephesians 4:14  “…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

That long, sobering drive to Champaign, IL began to form in me a conviction that I needed to give myself to study, learn, and love God’s Word. God has used my experience with the Children of God to profoundly shape me…for good.

Does biblical interpretation matter? I can’t think of anything that matters more.

Read more in the series:

Does biblical preaching matter?

Leadership Resources - Missions and Expository Preaching Blog

Over ten years ago I was in Ghana, helping to equip a group of pastors from West Africa. My most vivid memory from that time was etched in my mind during a particular lunch break. The host pastor invited us into his home and while we were eating he turned the television on. Behold, a pastor from Texas was preaching up a storm! Unfortunately, he was railing for (or against?) a federal “flat tax.” At the time, one of our country’s political debates was whether the graduated federal income tax should be changed to a single rate “flat tax.” This preacher had an opinion and was expressing it forcefully.

I sat watching these West African pastors as they attempted to absorb what the TV preacher was saying. They assumed that this famous, international television personality must be speaking God’s truth to God’s people. Surely this pastor should not only be listened to with great care, but also emulated. I still wonder if those West African pastors preached about a flax tax the following Sunday in their churches?!?!?

Over 2600 years ago, the land of Judah was experiencing a similar crisis. While Jeremiah was preaching judgment and repentance, false prophets were preaching their own thoughts.

“They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” (Jeremiah 23:16b, 17)

These false prophets were likely thinking: it doesn’t really matter what I say, as long as I say something interesting and hopeful.

It mattered a lot, for God was listening.

“Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’” (v.23-25)

The prophets thought that God was on the other side of the universe, too far away to hear and too disinterested to care. No. God is a God at hand. God hears every lie, every distortion, every foolish word spoken. God sees these false prophets promoting their own purposes rather than His.

Often when I prepare to preach, I imagine that God is sitting in the first row of the church listening to my every word. I remind myself that he is in the audience, in fact, he is the audience…I have an audience of One.

This realization sobers me deeply, because I realize that I, too, am vulnerable to bring my own biases and deceptions to the pulpit…not unlike the lying prophets of Jeremiah’s day.

“How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal?” (v.26-27)

The pulpit is a powerful platform, but also a seductive one. To some degree, we can’t help but bring our own agenda to the pulpit. Each of us have our personal hobby horses that we’re tempted to ride across the platform. And then there’s the seductions of our audience…their attentiveness and their affirmations. Our preaching priorities and motives can quickly become mixed.

This shift in priorities or motives places us, as teachers and preachers, in terrible danger. Simply put, if our words and ideas form the centerpiece of our message, God sets his face against us.

“Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another. Behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who use their tongues and declare, ‘declares the Lord.’ Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the Lord, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all, declares the Lord.” (v.30-32)

Woe to us if we speak our own words. Our words are weak, flimsy things that may actually lead people away from the things of God.

Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (v. 28-29)

Yes, biblical preaching matters!

Why does biblical transformation matter?

New Life

Our first training session in an eastern Asian country was about to begin, in the foothills of the Himalayas. We were waiting for one more pastor to arrive. As I walked up the footpath to the training center, I saw a man trudging up the road towards me. I stopped, thinking: this is probably him. I greeted him with one of the few words I knew in his language. Switching quickly to English, I said ,“we’re ready to begin!” In spite of the language barrier, I persuaded him to follow me.

During that first training session, the pastor, Tham, seemed completely disengaged, as if in a daze. During the morning break when all of the other pastors were greeting one another, Tham sat outside on a boulder staring off into the mountains. What was going on?

At breakfast the next morning I learned from Tham that he was exhausted. He had traveled 4 days to get to the training…2 days by bus and 2 days on foot. But there was something else wearying him…something in him that God’s Word confronted that week, resulting in a profound, personal transformation in his life. We’ll circle back to Tham, but first a question.

Does biblical transformation matter? Jeremiah thinks so…

“For who among them has stood in the council of the LORD to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened?” (23:18)

The responsibility of the teacher and preacher of God’s Word is both simple and clear. To see…to hear…to pay attention…to listen to what God says. Verse 18 uses four verbs of attentiveness to capture our attention. Creativity, persuasion, and cleverness are not are our primary responsibilities. Rather, listening is our fundamental calling.

If we listen well, we proclaim well. If we proclaim well, then the Spirit of God in sync with the Word of God does its incredible work.

But if they had stood in my council,
    then they would have proclaimed my words to my people,
and they would have turned them from their evil way,
    and from the evil of their deeds. (23:22)

In Jeremiah’s day, God’s people could have been spared God’s judgment…if only they would have heard the unadulterated words of God. God’s people would have turned from their sin. They would have experienced personal and national transformation through God’s gracious gift of repentance. But it was not to be, because the prophets proclaimed their own words rather than God’s. The result: “Behold, the storm of the LORD! Wrath has gone forth…” (23:19a)

Transformation is inherent to God’s Word. His words were given to bring about a transformational intent. God’s words were first delivered to his people by his prophets so that they might respond in a particular way and thus experience God’s blessing. God’s Word for the original audience was not merely informational, it was intentional. As we listen, study, hear, pay attention to God’s Word, we discover the aim…that original transformational intent which then drives the application of the text to our 21st century audience. The very nature of God’s Word is transformational.

Pastor Tham discovered this truth in an unexpected, yet powerful way. Our first training session with Tham and the other pastors focused on the book of Jonah. Pastor Steve Brandon opened the training time by preaching Jonah 1, the story of the disobedient prophet pursued by his gracious, but persistent God.

Just prior to that first training, Tham had decided to leave the ministry. Two factors drove him to this painful decision. First, he felt woefully inadequate in the ministry. Second, he was under terrible financial pressure. In his country, parents must pay for their children’s education. Tham simply wasn’t making enough to pay the school and university fees for his 6 children. He reluctantly decided to leave his church, move to a nearby city and get a decent-paying job. The decision was made by the time we met him…I’m not ever sure why he came.

However, Tham discovered that he could not escape “The Hound of Heaven”. As Tham sat listening to Jonah’s story, it became his story. Tham came under great conviction…like Jonah, he was fleeing from God and God’s good purposes for his life. Of course, we didn’t realize at the time the work that God was doing in his heart. Only later did Tham relate his story and then tell us that that he had changed his mind…he would continue pastoring his people, by God’s grace. Over the next four years, we were able to build into Tham’s life and encourage him along the way. Today, he continues to teach and shepherd his people and has even opened up a training center in his local church. Tham is flourishing because he personally experienced the transformational intent of God’s Word.

Does biblical transformation matter? Just ask Tham and the members of his church.

Preaching the content of the Bible is not enough

Responding to Jeremiah 23

Preaching the content of the Bible is not enough. Content must lead to intent. The Scriptures are purposeful…they were written to a particular group of people with the intention of bringing about a necessary (from God’s perspective) change. Our noble task, as teachers and preachers of God’s Word, is to discern the original aim of the text. Of course, this requires a careful reading of the both the text and the context. Once grasped, the original aim or the shepherding intent of the text leads us to a biblically-driven application for today. God’s aim then fuels our application.

Unfortunately, we might miss God’s aim because of two blind spots.

Blindspot #1. Our Framework

Our framework is the set of assumptions or the pre-understanding that we bring to any given text. Our framework is shaped by a wide variety of life experiences including our education, our theology, our upbringing and family dynamics, as well as our church life and denominational affiliation. Each of us has a framework, which helps us communicate with others, and sort out ideas and experiences that we encounter throughout life. Our framework is an essential part of our lives, but occasionally it trips us up, for example when it collides with a biblical text.

We’ve all had this experience: we’re reading our Bible and suddenly we stop and say or think: “Hey, wait a minute. That’s not right!” Or “why did the author say that? I certainly wouldn’t have said that in that way!” Or “this is confusing….it seems to contradict my deeply-held convictions.” What’s going on when we respond in this way? …our framework is colliding with the text. The text is challenging some aspect of our framework, and we don’t like it!

Our vulnerability in moments like these is to force the text to fit into our framework. No!!! Let’s remember what we believe about inspiration: the biblical text is inspired, our framework is not. Though we might be tempted to give our framework an authority it doesn’t deserve, instead we ought do the opposite…allow the text to shape and re-shape our framework. The biblical text must rule!

…the biblical text is inspired, our framework is not.

When Jeremiah calls for the prophets to “stand in the council of the LORD”, he is underscoring the preeminence of God’s Word over and above our human framework. When God speaks in his council, he provides his perspective…his priorities…his framework. We, as faithful teachers and preachers, are to listen carefully and then subordinate our perspectives, priorities, and frameworks to his.

“For who among them has stood in the council of the LORD to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened? (23:18)

Blindspot #2. Our Agenda

Like the false prophets of old, we are vulnerable to teaching and preaching our own agenda. Jeremiah excoriated the prophets of his day for speaking “visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.” (23:16b)

David Jackman provides a helpful illustration. If your car is your sermon, where is the Bible located? Is it in the trunk (or boot as David would say)? Perhaps you’ve moved it forward from the trunk to the back seat? Perhaps you’ve given it even greater prominence by placing it on the front passenger seat. But, is it in its proper place…in the driver’s seat? Are we allowing his Word to drive our sermon, setting the agenda for our teaching and preaching?

We may miss God’s shepherding intent either by clinging to our framework or by pushing a personal agenda. Consider these sobering questions honestly…

  1. When does your framework tend to collide with biblical texts? When this happens, which tends to override the other…your framework or the biblical text?
  2. What prominence do biblical texts have in your teaching and preaching?

The transformational intent of Jeremiah 23:16-32 was for the false prophets to repent. How might this text apply to you?


Read more in the series:

The Apologetic Power of Biblical Theology

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Biblical theology helps us understand how God’s revelation in Scripture develops over the course of time. It is a vital discipline to help us understand how to think and live as biblically-minded Christians. We must know where we’ve come from and where we are headed to challenge erroneous thinking in this present age.

Dr. Peter Adam in the article “Preaching and Biblical Theology” (in the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology) builds on this idea and explains why biblical theology is an effective apologetic:

It is not possible to ‘take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’ (2 Cor. 10:5) without teaching a biblical world view, and we cannot do this without biblical theology. We cannot help people to address the pervasive worldviews of humanism, postmodernity, secularism, materialism and pantheism by providing them with a few helpful texts or pious ideas. They must begin to ‘think God’s thoughts after him’, and they do this by learning the shape of God’s self-revelation in history and in the Bible. This biblical theology is the best corrective for false worldviews, just as it is the best corrective for destructive heresy.

By teaching and using biblical theology in all our Bible teaching we point people to the objective and historical reality of God’s progressive and purposeful revelation. Through this revelation, God speaks a transcendent message to people in every age, and shapes their minds, hearts and lives so that they can know and serve him, and speak his truth to others.

It is true that biblical theology is at the foundation of all proper biblical interpretation. We need to understand the connections between each smaller part of Scripture with the whole, the development of biblical themes, and how Scripture culminates in Christ for clarity in our reading and preaching of the Bible.

“We can use biblical theology to preach the whole Christ and the whole gospel from the whole Bible.” —Peter Adam

Only then can we follow Peter Adam’s words and “use biblical theology to preach the whole Christ and the whole gospel from the whole Bible.” And that, when done properly, is a powerful apologetic in a confused world.

Read the full article online: Preaching and Biblical Theology.

     

    Launching Pastoral Training Movements Worldwide

     

    The mission of Leadership Resources is to launch pastoral training movements worldwide. This blog shares articles, resources, and updates from staff of God’s work around the world through our training. If you’re new to our blog, start here.

     


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