Sarcasm in the Bible?! Dale Ralph Davis on How Old Testament Narrative Uses Sarcasm

Sarcasm in the Bible?! NO WAY

Actually, yes way according to Dr. Dale Ralph Davis. In his helpful book The Word Became Fresh: How to Preach from Old Testament Narrative Texts, Davis explains why sarcasm is used in Old Testament narrative and provides a few examples:

Occasionally the biblical writer dips his pen in acid and uses mockery, derision, or put-down to drive home his point. The device may not be prevalent but likely occurs more often than a casual reader thinks.

One thinks immediately, of course, of Elijah’s taunting the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel in 1 Kings 18:27. Elijah alleges that Baal may be preoccupied with a plethora of ‘divine’ activities like travel, napping, or using the facilities. But one finds such ridicule elsewhere, if perhaps less blatantly. One overhears it when Laban accuses Jacob of stealing his household deities: ‘But why did you steal my gods?’ (Gen. 31:30). Any full-blooded Yahweh-worshiping hearer/reader would think, ‘My, what sort of gods are those that can’t keep from being pilfered?’ And anyone who is possessed both with orthodoxy and a sense of humor (too often a rare combination) laughs when these deities ‘feel’ both Rachel’s warmth and weight while she is ‘indisposed’ (31:34–35). The same ridicule seeps out of Micah’s helpless rage toward the Danites in Judges 18:24: ‘You take my gods that I made and the priest, and go away, and what have I left?’ (ESV). What indeed! And, of course, the biblical writer is at his nasty best when describing the divine ‘trauma’ of Dagon before the ark of Yahweh in 1 Samuel 5:1–5; not only do the Philistines have to pick Dagon up but would’ve been most happy with an ample supply of super-glue. One even hears a hint of mockery in the common but repeated ‘made’ in 1 Kings 12:28–33 (Jeroboam’s cult) and in 2 Kings 17:29–31 (imported pagans in the land of Israel). Note too the helplessness of pagan resources in Genesis 41:8, 24, and in Daniel 1:20; 2:1–11; 4:6–7, 18; 5:8, 15, all of which smells like devout scoffing—because those helpless resources are the foil for the true God’s provision via Joseph and Daniel.

One of the most subtle but powerful samples of sarcasm comes in Daniel 3. Here all of Nebuchadnezzar’s civil service corps is to observe the required moment of silence before his 90 by 9 feet image. It’s likely a government-sponsored loyalty exercise; devotees can naturally go back to their private superstitions and ‘personal faith’; they simply need to worship here if they want to keep their jobs—and their lives. The pressure is powerful; after all, it’s the law. And when all the satraps and postal workers have their back sides in the air and their noses in the sand before Nebuchadnezzar’s giant dummy on the Plain of Dura, well, it’s hard to resist. The ‘church music’ alone is impressive (vv. 4–5, 7, 10, 15). And yet the writer both tells the story and mocks the ‘worship.’ He both reports and ridicules at the same time. At least I think so. He repeatedly uses the verb ‘set up’ (Aram. qum) as he refers to Nebuchadnezzar’s image, nine times to be exact (vv. 1, 2, 3 [twice], 5, 7, 12, 14, 18); one can also throw in ‘made’ twice, vv. 1, 15). Perhaps I’m seeing things, but highlight the usages of ‘set up’ in your text, read it over noting them, and it all seems to have a cumulative impact. It’s a ‘set-up job,’ as we say. It’s as if the writer is saying, ‘It may seem fearful (because it has all the muscle of the government behind it), but it’s a farce! If you can see behind the mask, if you can see the falsehood and stupidity of it all, if you can hear heaven’s laughter over it [Ps. 2:4], you need not be taken in by it. True, the furnace is hot but the image is just hot air. It’s simply a little posturing by a human king strutting around in his big international pants’ (cf. Isa. 46:7).

Sarcasm is a form of humor. And I have observed that whenever Scripture is delightfully humorous it is also deadly serious. There is always a serious point being made when the biblical writer uses humor. Hence we should keep our ears tuned for sarcasm.

Excerpt used with kind permission of Christian Focus Publications.

Two Examples of Preaching Christ (from 2 Samuel 13 and Acts 9) | Part Three


What follows is the final part of an interview with Colin S. Smith on what it means to preach Christ.

https://www.leadershipresources.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Colin-Smith-Interview.mp3


KH: We’ve talked a little about theory about preaching Christ and why it’s important. Can you share a couple examples? Maybe walk us through a message you’ve preached before and how you think about preaching Christ.

CS: Sure, I’d be glad to talk about a couple examples. Every example is different. Every sermon is different. You’re trying to find the road to London from every village. You’re starting in different places.

Example #1: The Rape of Tamar – 2 Samuel 13

Every sermon is a unique experience, but I was preaching recently on the rape of Tamar in 2 Samuel, chapter 13. It is a terrible story of how this daughter of King David is sent by her father the King and goes to her own brother’s house and is horribly abused by him. She’s betrayed and violated, and King David knew what had happened. The Bible says he’s angry but did nothing. He said nothing. No discipline for his son. No comfort for his daughter.

And then we are told that Tamar lived as a desolate woman. She says, “Where can I carry my shame?” It’s an extraordinary question: Where can I carry my shame? And there’s no answer to that in the Old Testament. There’s no answer in 2 Samuel in chapter 13. So, you have to go forward from the desolate woman who says, “Where can I carry my shame?” and answer that question. The answer, obviously, is in the Lord Jesus Christ. Think about the parallels – this just blew my mind open thinking about it: that the Lord Jesus Christ was sent by His Father, and He’s horribly abused, and He’s terribly betrayed, and shame that is not His own is heaped on Him, through no fault of His, and yet He’s not overwhelmed by the shame. He actually rises above it. He just despises the shame, and He’s now seated at the right hand of the Father. In Him there is hope for every Tamar and for every person who’s been betrayed. The flow of the Bible’s story takes you from this awful evil that is left unanswered in the Old Testament. The Old Testament can never stand on its own. It possesses a question to which there isn’t yet an answer. Jesus Christ comes in as the fulfillment of everything that is promised and everything that is predicted by the prophets. Flowing into Jesus and seeing the connections was, to me, an amazing thing in regards to that.

Example #2: The Conversion of Saul – Acts 9

Let me give another very different example, entirely different, the conversion of Saul of Tarshish (Acts 9). Here’s Saul, and he’s blinded by seeing the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. The first thing you notice when you read this is that it’s unlike any other conversion experience. People read that story and they think, oh, this is far away from me. Most testimonies that we hear start, “I’ve never had a Damascus Road experience. I’ve never seen a blinding light or heard a voice from Heaven.” People say that all the time. They feel it to be so remote.

What was really striking to me was the thought that the Damascus Road experience will happen to every person hearing this service. One day we will all stand before Christ, and we will see His glory. We will hear His voice, and He will address us by name. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” That is true of every person who has ever lived, irrespective of whether or not we believe in the Lord Jesus. Suddenly, now, by connecting the story with the great truth of the Bible – that one day we all will see the glory of Christ – it moves from being a story that’s a long way away to one that’s actually very near. This is an unavoidable reality: that we will all see the sovereign Lord, who lays claim to every life, and therefore, we need to get right with Him.


Learn more about Colin Smith by visiting UnlockingtheBible.org or following him on Twitter @PastorColinS.


For more information on how to preach Christ, read the article A Simple Guide for Seeing How the Old Testament Points to Jesus Christ or browse the Biblical Theology page of our Dig & Discover Hermeneutical Principles Booklet.

What does it mean to preach Christ? Interview with Pastor Colin S. Smith (Part One)


LRI’s Kevin Halloran sat down with his pastor, Colin S. Smith, to talk about what it means to preach Christ. Listen to the audio or read the transcript below.

https://www.leadershipresources.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Colin-Smith-Interview.mp3


The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:23, “We preach Christ crucified,” and a few verses later, he said he was determined to “know nothing among the Corinthians except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). But what does this mean? And how can a preacher faithfully preach Christ?

Pastor Colin Smith

With me is my pastor, Colin Smith, of the Orchard Evangelical Free Church, and the author of Momentum: Pursuing God’s Blessings Through the Beatitudes, Heaven How I Got Here: The Story of the Thief On The Cross, and most recently, Heaven So Near So Far: the Story of Judas Iscariot. Welcome, Pastor Colin.

CS: It’s fun to be together, Kevin.

KH: What does it mean to preach Christ, and why is it so important?

CS: Well, I think first of all, it means more than getting Jesus into a sermon. I sometimes hear guys saying that. How am I going to get Jesus into the sermon has got to be more than getting some reference to Jesus in the sermon. It’s got to be more too, I think, than preaching about Jesus. Even if we say the great things about Jesus, it’s possible to say even the great things about our Lord Jesus, His death, and His resurrection in a way that is detached from people – so that we’re merely giving information about the Lord Jesus Christ. But when Paul says that he’s determined to preach Christ, what he’s saying is not simply, “Tell people about Jesus,” but actually, “Hold Jesus and all that He is and all that He’s accomplished and all the He offers before people in such a way that they actually are confronted by a living Christ who is reaching out to them in the preaching.”

Christ speaks in the proclamation of His Word. And so, when Christ is held forth in the proclamation of his Word, people are able to discern the very voice of God speaking to them. That’s why it’s so important that we proclaim Christ and don’t simply speak about the Bible in a way that’s detached from the one who’s at the very center of the entire Word of God.

KH: Christ uses the task of preaching to reach out to the audience – I love how you said that. As you think about preaching Christ, what are some principles you use or keep in mind?

CS: Well, one of the things I learned early on in ministry back in England. So, I have to put this in an English way. A great English preacher once said that there’s a road from every village and hamlet in the country that leads eventually to London. I thought quite a bit about that. It’s true of course of any other major destination. You know there’s a road from everywhere in America that takes us to Chicago, I guess.

The point is that wherever you are the Bible, there is a road that does lead to Jesus Christ. And so, my job as a preacher, as I’m getting into any part of the Scripture, is to discern where that road is – what that path is. It might be a road that’s quite extensive. It might be a long way. It might not be just one connection; there may be some junctions along the way. But there’s always a road that takes us to Jesus Christ. My task is to find that road and to help people traverse it so that we’re brought to the feet of Christ. This is something that the apostles always did.

A number of years ago in the church here, a group of us sat down and said, “Let’s go through the New Testament and try and identify as many references as we can to preaching, then see what was it that was preached.” So, we started going through Acts. Then we went through the rest of the New Testament and Epistles. In about an hour and a half, we jotted down 39 references to preaching or proclamation. In every case, what we found that was proclaimed was the Lord Jesus Christ or His death or His resurrection or the gospel itself. It was always the same thing. The apostles gave themselves to that proclamation of Jesus Christ. That’s the task. Wherever we are in the Bible is where we begin. Proclaiming Christ is where we’ve got to end.

KH: That’s very helpful. What difference, then, does preaching Christ make for those who are in the pew?

CS: If Christ is not in a sermon, then what good is it ever going to do? I mean, our hope and our life is in Jesus Christ. So, a Christ-less sermon is actually a sermon that’s sub-Christian. It may lay out some moral principles, it may call a person to live a better life, but what use is a call to live a better life if a person doesn’t have the power to live that better life residing within them? That power comes from Jesus Christ. The experience of a person in the pew, if Christ is missing from preaching, is going to be that basically they’re being challenged. There’s a demand that’s being laid out. Here’s what you have to do; go try harder, go live better at the end of the day.

But then you come right up against what the law was powerless to do God did by giving His Son, Jesus Christ. The whole point of the gospel is that it gives to us what the law demands of us. If you take away Christ, you’re simply left with a demand. That’s why people often come out of church feeling that the whole thing was heavy and made them feel worse. Because what they’re confronted with is a challenge that they’re not being given the resource to meet.

Part Two deals with Preaching for Encounters with the Risen Christ.


Preaching for Encounters with the Risen Christ (Part Two)


This post is a continuation of a series on what it means to preach Christ with Colin S. Smith.

https://www.leadershipresources.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Colin-Smith-Interview.mp3


KH: You’ve written before that preaching Christ must arise out of the Word and should lead us to the table, creating a worshipful experience encountering Christ there, at church. What do you mean by this, and why do you think it’s such an important idea?

CS: I got that out of the Church of England liturgy, going all the way back to Thomas Cranmer and the way in which the origin of worship in the Church of England was set out. These three elements were put together: there was reading of the Word, there was the sermon, and then there was the Lord’s Table. Cranmer organized that order of service because he believed deeply that preaching should arise from the Word. So, you begin with the Word read, and then you have the Word preached, and where it should end is it should lead us to the table. Now in our church here at the Orchard, we don’t always have the Lord’s Supper every Sunday; we do it once a month. Churches vary in their practice in that regard.

But the point is that when I’m preparing to preach, I’m always thinking, what would be a natural bridge to the Lord’s Table? I want every sermon to end with a sense of, “Thank you, Lord. Thank you for what’s mine in Jesus Christ.” I want every sermon to end with a sense of people being invited to receive what Jesus Christ holds in His hand. There has to be that offer, that invitation, that sense of meeting with Christ at the end. So that very simple little bridge, preaching is a bridge from the Word read to the Lord’s Table. Conceptually, that’s really helped me to think about what I’m trying to do in the course of a sermon.

KH: That’s wonderful, and you really engage with Christ with different senses. You know, auditory, when you hear the Word, but also more tactile through communion and also remembering what He’s done for us. In thinking through preaching Christ, what are some potential pitfalls a preacher might fall into?

CS: The way that I try to think about this and to encourage others to think about it, Kevin, is that we’re called to preach Christ. That’s the first thing. We’re called to do this in a way that is biblical, theological, clear, and compelling. These are like four sides of a sandbox around preaching Christ.

I think the most obvious pitfalls are speaking about Christ in a way that’s dislocated from the text of the Bible. That would be not doing it in a way that’s biblical or missing the great truths about Jesus Christ. That’s preaching Christ in a way that’s theological. [Or, as LRI’s training would put it, using Biblical Theology in preaching.] We want to preach Christ in a way that is clear. We don’t want to get lost in profound language that ordinary people can’t understand. We want to do it in a way that’s compelling. What that means is there must always be a connection between the proclamation of Christ and what a person can actually receive from Christ. It’s not simply information about Jesus. Christ is being held forth as the fount of all the gifts of God in such a way that as I hear Him presented, I’m drawn to say, “Now I must receive from Him.”

KH: I think every preacher wants to be transformative in their preaching. They want their people to leave changed people. Can you speak to the relationship between preaching Christ and application in sermons?

CS: I think that that’s the distinction that I have in mind between preaching about Jesus and preaching Jesus. It’s more than “Oh, Jesus said this, or Jesus did this; isn’t that interesting.” It’s, “Here is Christ. Here’s what Christ does, and here is what He offers to you right now that you can actually receive here and now.”

For example, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). Christ gives me strength. What’s being held forth in that verse? It’s that Christ actually communicates strength that is matched to the particular burden that any person in the congregation listening to the sermon at that time is actually carrying. I want to hold forth not simply a strong Christ but a Christ that gives strength.

That’s just one example, but there’s a difference. It’s hard to put it into words, but there’s a difference between merely communicating truths about Jesus and actually holding forth a Jesus who has the power of transformation and brings the power of transformation in His own self.

KH: It reminds listeners there’s a living Savior who rose from the dead who intercedes for them and is on their side.

CS: And you can come to Him right now, and He has all that you need. Yes, there’s an invitation. There’s a response, and that’s the heart of application. Someone listening to the sermon needs to have the sense that there’s something here for me, and therefore, they feel a drawing to move towards what is being proclaimed – or rather the one who is being proclaimed.

In Part Three, Colin Smith shares examples of preaching Christ from two passages.

A Movement of the Word into the Venezuelan Crisis

Dear friends and partners,

Venezuela is in crisis. A civil war might be just around the corner. The weight of each Venezuelan plummeted an estimated 24 pounds, on average, due to food shortages in 2017. Hyperinflation makes everyday items like soap, toilet paper, automobile tires, and chocolate either a distant memory or a luxury.

There is also a spiritual crisis. A lack of material resources leaves many desperate for truth and hope. The mass exodus of Venezuelans has left many churches without a pastor. Who will fill the void? Often untrained and inexperienced leaders.

Enter Enrique, Jorge, and Meri (Jorge’s wife). The three are recent graduates from LRI’s training in Colombia. Through a relationship with Pastor Mateus, the leader of a network of Venezuelan churches, a door was opened to cross the border into Venezuela (along with LRI’s Juan Torres) to equip and encourage Venezuelan pastors in the book of Ruth.



Ruth is the perfect book for the situation in Venezuela. It begins in famine, death, sorrow, and hopelessness. In the midst of it all, Naomi wonders if God had abandoned her. And yet it ends with great rejoicing, because through it all, God is working out His redemptive purposes through faithful believers, even in the midst of unspeakable tragedy.

While a lack of viable transportation options made traveling to the training complicated, 29 pastors attended. Some even had to stand shoulder to shoulder in the bed of a commercial cargo truck for a ride to the training! But it was worth it.



“We thank God because we were like the Macedonian man in Paul’s vision [in Acts 16] who said, ‘Come to Macedonia and help us!,’” said Venezuelan Pastor Mateus.

“It was a HUGE blessing for you to come during such a difficult time for us. . . . At the end of the training, many were crying and broken. They realize LRI’s training is an instrument of God to exposit the Word of God in a simple and practical way.”


LRI’s Juan Torres with Pastor Mateus


While our work in Venezuela has just begun, six pastors have already passed the Ruth training on to others. We’ve also received interest from several other places in the country. We’d love nothing more than for the Word of God to spread like wildfire among the suffering people of Venezuela.

Please join us in prayer for this dear country. Like in the book of Ruth, the darkest times are often the perfect backdrop for the gospel’s light to shine most brightly.

Grateful for your partnership,

Craig Parro

PS: Without your dedicated prayers and support for our work in Colombia, Enrique, Jorge, and Meri would not have initiated this ministry to Venezuela! Would you consider a gift to advance our work here and in other needy places of Latin America?

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.”

“Where did you learn to unpack the Bible like that?” | Transformation in India

Dear Friends and Partners,

I love telling you about pastors around the world who have a deep hunger for God’s Word. But, it’s not always so. Some pastors, frankly, couldn’t care less – they think they already know everything!

Pastor Gupta*, a key leader in India, is one who has learned to faithfully teach and preach God’s Word. But he has certainly met one or two of these guys along the way. . . .

Gupta began his story by describing what happened as he finished preaching at a local church:

“The pastor came rushing up to me afterwards and said, ‘Where did you learn to unpack the Bible like that? You brought up so much depth from the Word that I have never seen or heard.’”

Pastor Gupta told him about his rich experience with Leadership Resources’ training. The pastor immediately asked Gupta to start a new pastor training group at his church, which Gupta was delighted to do. Gupta continued his story. . . .

“One of the pastors came with folded arms, seeming to communicate, ‘I know everything; I don’t need this training’!” However, as they studied the book of Jonah together, this pastor – the one loaded with attitude – realized he was Jonah, knowing God in his head but not in his heart. By week’s end, he asked for forgiveness.

Wow! That’s the transforming power of God’s Word. Please pray for Pastor Gupta as he seeks to lead a movement of God’s Word in India. Pray for this group’s training next month, and for that one pastor, in particular, who is now hungering to learn more of God’s Word.

Rejoicing in Christ,

Craig Parro

President

PS: Pastor Gupta is a remarkable leader. He told us, “I have a calling from God to bring a movement of His Word into northwest India. People are perishing because of the lack of Biblical teaching and preaching. India has had Christianity and missionaries come for many years, but sadly, the Church remains weak in the Word. They are caught up into signs, wonders, and healing, but not the Word of God. I believe I have found my purpose as a pastor and equipper of pastors.”

Would you please consider a gift this month so that we can help Gupta and others like him fulfill their calling to equip other pastors to faithfully study, teach, and preach God’s Word?

* Name changed for security reasons.

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:

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:

A Golden Opportunity for the Word in Cuba

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Dear Partners & Friends,

“Cuba!” An island in the Caribbean, white sandy beaches, classic cars, the rhythm of rumba and salsa…what comes to mind? Many thoughts. But one that never came to this mind was a visit.

Cuba 2An Unexpected Visit

The times in which we live and the events we experience shape our view of the world. I grew up during the height of the cold war. A trip to Cuba (or Russia) seemed as likely as one to the moon. Yet, this past February, Patricio (LRI Latin America Director) and I boarded a plane to jump the puddle from Monterrey, Mexico to Havana, Cuba.

We walked out of the airport and stepped into what seemed like the set of an old movie. Sun-drenched skies, beautiful palms, classic Chevys, the smell of the sea, each made the experience more surreal. Historic Havana was an interesting mix of architectural influences, American included. It spoke of the power of the Soviet empire yet clearly communicated it was from an era long past, a state of disrepair.

Questions and Answers

Why did our partner invite us? What was the state of the church? What would we find when we met the pastors?

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“Hotel Nacional de Cuba”—Completed in 1930

Answers emerged. MOCLAM (a partner ministry serving in Latin America) invited us to help the church in Cuba. For the past 9 years they had worked with a dozen pastors based in Havana. These 12 have trained 100 more throughout the country. Perfect setup! The training helped them understand the Bible but now MOCLAM felt it was time to strengthen their preaching. The training helped them see Christ as the focus and fulfillment of the Bible’s redemptive story but now it was time to accelerate discipleship and encourage a movement of God’s Word. A match made in heaven! They and we long to see God’s life spread through and mature this country.

The next day we drove to our destination. We spent a few days with these dozen pastors. It was more like a gathering of old friends than a first time meeting of strangers. Welcoming and warm, they were ready to draw us in. Laughter and enthusiasm characterized much of the time. Yet, along the way we also learned that life in Cuba is hard. Ministry is fraught with difficulties, persecution common and poverty acute. The younger generation is fleeing the country in pursuit of the better life. The older one is stuck, nowhere to go and no one to help. Discouragement operates at a level I rarely see. This made them hungry. They craved the unstoppable force that brings hope and life, the Word of God.                                                                          

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“Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta”—Fortress built from 1589–1630.

A Golden Opportunity

Friends, I don’t know if you see what is unfolding to the south. Relations with Cuba have warmed. U.S. airlines are securing direct flights. The Cuban missile crisis of yesteryear has given way to American Cruise ships today. Investment dollars will soon show up in droves. What does this mean for Cuba? What does this mean for the gospel?

We have a golden opportunity. Three things I know:

  1. This is a moment of historic proportions.
  2. God’s Word and the good news of Jesus is the only power that will make the difference.
  3. We have the invitation and partner to bring the hope and life Cuba desperately needs.

Will you pray and give to help Patricio and his team be able to respond to this call?

With gratitude for your generosity,

Todd Kelly

Director of Global Ministries

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PS: The gospel is taking root in Cuba. The most strategic role outsiders can play is to equip pastors to study, teach and preach God’s Word. Your gift this month will enable us to do just that!

     

    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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