Saturday, August 27, 2016

THE FOOLISHNESS OF PREACHING__PART 2

Many times I've heard the statement that if WE don't deliver the gospel God can raise up STONES to do it. That of course is a possibility I guess. But two things I would say about that. One is that what Matthew 3:9 [the stones passage] is referencing is NOT that a failure to preach the gospel would cause God to raise up stones to do it! It is speaking about stones being raised up to produce children to Abraham, which would demand a completely different metaphor than preaching. 

The other is that, while God could use stones to cry out a message,  He HAS chosen to use people to do just that. It is also true that, as usual, the very people he uses can/do often GET IN THE WAY of what God is doing. In other words, the MESSENGER [Preacher/proclaimer] CAN get in the way of the MESSAGE. I'm going to address a few of those ways in this post. 

The first way the MESSENGER can get in the way of the MESSAGE is by stating the intended message of any text found in scripture with a dogmatic declaration of a MEANING of that text where there may be some AMBIGUITY within that text itself. The emphasis of real Keirugma [preaching] is to be on the MESSAGE intended in the TEXT and THAT'S not always as clear as we pretend.

The idea here is someone in authority [God] has given another [the preacher] a message to deliver and the speaker is NOT to proclaim his/her own grievances or opinions or viewpoints on those matters instead, but must faithfully find and deliver the meaning of the text as he/she sees it. [I'm using both genders here as the women prophesying in the NT were delivering a message from God and, it seems to me,  it can happen under His assigment today.]

So, preaching must be done with HUMILITY because it is not the messenger's prerogative to declare ABSOLUTE MEANINGS when and where there may be some AMBIGUITY in the text. Sometimes honesty DEMANDS that we as Preachers admit there is some room for continued research in the meaning.

This is where I came to in 1980 in my own preaching when I determined to NOT preach anything as a message EXCEPT what I personally could find clearly PRESENTED in the text. My theology changed beyond anything I could have imagined. I came to grips with the fact that much of what I was saying in the pulpit was coming from what I'd heard other preachers, whom I admired greatly of course, say was in the text or was generally a Baptist [I WAS Baptist you see] viewpoint about the text because of traditions, some of which I began to discover really had no real textual foundation at all. [Cessationism for example.]

That's when I also began to see that what Peter said concerning some of the things Paul the Apostle wrote was correct.  Some of the things he delivered WERE REALLY hard to understand and those that were the most difficult to understand, I decided I'd better hold my personal view about them fairly lightly because the CORRECT meaning IS more important than my having a dogmatic personal interpretation.

This is not out of a lack of confidence in the integrity, inspiration, or authority of the text. Not at all!  But it is based on a true awareness of my own inadequacy to hear God accurately on occasion. Some things are clear. Some things are not that clear. When the text isn't totally clear, my listeners are better served by my NOT being quite so dogmatic as to it's meaning. 1Timothy 2:15 and the "she shall be saved in child-bearing" is a GREAT example. From my personal perspective the whole of that chapter may have been delivered through a glass a little darker than some are willing to admit. But that's another post for another day.

Since the true biblical MESSENGER is to be careful of proclaiming his/her own viewpoint or opinions as absolutes, I tread lightly on those "darker" passages and am more careful about taking some ABSOLUTE theological position on a subject that others seem to be willing to state as their "humble but correct" position, with great conviction. More power to them. [I guess!] All I'm saying is the messenger CAN get in the way of the message if we declare as ABSOLUTE our personal views on some issues where there are good people on both sides of those issues found in some difficult passages.

I'm not sure but what God may have left some of His TOTAL message a little LESS clear than, say, THE GOSPEL, so we can make clear with conviction that gospel and keep trusting Him for greater understanding of other theological areas. I love what Gene Bridges said, and I quote, [Read it carefully.]

"With that in mind, [what I've just stated as he said the same thing] I think we can be more confident about our reliance on probabilistic reasoning, for if God had wanted us to have more evidence or better evidence, then it was within his power to do so. Hence we are judging certain questions on the basis of the evidence which he has left at our disposal. Therefore, we shouldn't be plagued by nagging, gnawing doubts about the possibility of being wrong. Even if I were wrong some of the time, it's out of my hands, and I'm in his hands. As a Christian, I don't require a godlike control over the evidence. I can go with what I've got because it's what God has given me to go by." 

I have to say "amen" to that statement. I can give my UNDERSTANDING of difficult passages [or theological subjects]  but respect others who differ with me trusting the God who gave it in the first place to be able to make clear His message ultimately. My goodness, no human father I know would give ALL information to his children as soon as they are born. Even Jesus increased in WISDOM, stature, and favor as time went along. The messenger of God's Word is still going along and had better be open to greater light if the true message is to, in fact, be ultimately delivered.

Someone may object and say "But don't you believe the Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of giving you the true meaning of any passage including the difficult ones?" My answer is__"absolutely." My only PROBLEM would be to have a prideful assumption that I'm the one He's given the true meaning to. This, especially, if there are OTHERS who genuinely love Jesus and His Word, but are on the other side of my interpretation of a difficult to understand text. It could be that I'm the one in the dark or the one with baggage or filters that hinder my being granted understanding by the Holy Spirit. It sure helps me to know of my need for COMMUNITY. Body life is helpful even to the messenger. 

You can see why I'm one who believes there ARE some ESSENTIALS that must be clearly understood and declared by all the Body and other things less clear and less essential can be understood but the glass we see them through is a little darker. [This keeps our need of searching the scriptures intact and our need for being open to each other intact as well.] All this comes from my deep conviction that the MESSENGER can, in fact, hinder the TRUE MESSAGE which I DO NOT want to do.

I like what Trevor Hart, Professor of systematic theology in at St Mary's School of Divinity in Scotland said..."We should never take the fatal step of identifying our interpretations (however careful they may be) with “the meaning of the text itself” so as to bestow upon them a finality, a sufficiency, which lifts them above the text and out of reach of criticism. Far from establishing the text’s authority, this strategy would effectively overthrow it, and enthrone our interpretation in its place. . . . [We] are no longer genuinely open, therefore, to consider it afresh, or to hear it speaking in any other voice than the one which [we] have now trapped, tamed, and packaged for observation."  

Apply this to difficult texts [or lesser doctrines] about which good people disagree and, while I don't know Doctor Trevor Hart's full theology, I sure like his humble approach to hammering out his honest theology.

You can see I believe any messenger must be more concerned with the message getting delivered than whether or not they are the one who has the correct view of difficult things or whether they are the one who is delivering it. Our desire that the message be delivered is to take precedence over our concern for being right in our interpretation or being the one people look to as the preacher who says it well. The messenger is not the focus in New Testament proclamation. It MAY BE this is the primary problem in our current mega-church mentality and our creedal mentality.

Many of us as preachers/speakers/proclaimers are, in fact, our own worst enemy.

Paul B.

Monday, August 01, 2016

THE FOOLISHNESS OF PREACHING!

The word "preach" may be one simple word in English but that one word from the Greek word translated "Preach" sure has a variety of endings in the Greek. But for my purpose in this post the one word in the Greek is basic and it is the word "kerux." It was used several ways in Ancient times. The "kerux" was a "bearer of a message that originated from someone with authority and that authoritative message was to be taken to others." Say this was done on a battlefield. The messenger was the "kerux" [preacher] and the "kerugma" was the message. The hearers of the message would then accept or reject the message based on personal responsibility within military protocol.

This is the biblical picture of what we do on any given Sunday in our churches. The messenger PREACHES!  But it isn't HIS message. It isn't HIS AUTHORITY! It isn't even HIS results. He is simply the "kerux" [preacher] delivering the "kerugma" [message] through the act of "kerusa." [the verb for the act of preaching] 

Sounds simple enough right?

There is nothing simple about it. All three aspects are of vital importance. In the next few posts I'm going to address each aspect separately for brevity and emphasis.

Today our message.

Our message is certainly Christ and Him crucified as clearly shown in 1 Corinthians 1:23. In a broader context of that gospel message it is all of the scripture, being rightly divided, since all scripture is profitible for people to understand that gospel message. [11Tim 3:16]

A while back I read an article that dealt with the "therapeutic" nature of our "preaching." It didn't fit my taste buds at first but, I have to admit, the more I read and thought, the more I had to say..."There is something here!"

Biblical preaching IS therapeutic because biblical preaching delivers a HEALING message to HURTING people. While the hurt is not in the DISEASE category, it IS certainly in the DISASTER category. The problems the hearers [congregation] on any given Sunday are facing are diverse and devastating to say the least. Most of the hearers are broken over those problems. Whether it is a loved one just lost to death, a teen lost to rebellion, a spouse lost to another person, health lost to a cancer cell, or the "run of the mill" person who happened in to hear us and is still in the grip of the sin nature and has not as yet found the brokenness of repentance that is so necessary to the opening of the doors of help, the hearers of the message we deliver are HURTING people. To top it off, as Peter Lord used to say quite often in his teaching, "hurt people hurt people." So we wind up addressing folks who are HURT and, in the process of BEING HURT, wind up HURTING OTHERS as well. Talk about a vicious cycle!

The key to any real healing in the realm of the physical, according to one medical report I recently read, is the word "hope." Since the words "health and healing" come from the same root words in Greek, as do "whole and holy," you would know that whatever gives a person some sense of hope that things can be made whole or better, would be a welcome message. It is certainly true that we preachers [kerux] have the message [kerugma] that is the only "hope" for the bringing to healthiness ANYONE in the "dark night of the soul" and it is these very people whose attention we have for those precious few moments on any given Sunday. Our message, then, must never fail to deliver the goods on that thing called "hope." That is the essence of what has been given to us to be delivered to others.

Sad to say, the preaching done in our modern times seems to fall way short of that. My question is, Why? Why is it that those who are really HURTING sometimes go away from hearing us preach with a greater sense of PAIN? Why is our preaching so inept and powerless today in bringing hope? Why is it that so many hearers of preaching today have such a small desire to return the next Sunday for more? Why has preaching taken on such a derisive shade of color that the phrase "don't preach at me" is the greatest insult you can deliver to one attempting to communicate to you. Where have all the preachers gone? [Sounds like a song] Where are those preachers of the past who moved multitudes to repentance because Christ was their only "hope" and why is there so little healing happening in the lives of our hearers on any given Sunday morning when we have their full and undivided attention?

That will lead us into our next time when we deal with the messenger. You see...I'm convinced the messenger is often getting in the way of the message and may be our biggest problem. Preaching has always been recognized as a foolish thing as seen in 1 Corinthians 1:18. But history is filled with occasions when those who declare it to be a foolish thing were nonetheless in awe of real preaching of the real message and were moved to hopefulness concerning the devastation of their own lives. What has become of those days?

That's a word for next time.


Paul Burleson

Sunday, July 03, 2016

A SUNDAY THOUGHT ON GOD AND COUNTRY! [July 3, 2016]

Because tomorrow is the 4th of July and means a celebration of our Nation's birthday, today will see much made in local gatherings [churches] about God AND Country. But as one I read said, "We must be sure that while we are able to love BOTH, only the FORMER [God] is to be worshipped." That is a sentiment with which I could not agree more.

That said, I've found that a mistake is often made when people talk about the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. That historic document DOES declare that all Americans have certain UNALIENABLE rights among which are listed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, the word often used when people quote it is the word INALIENABLE, which is incorrect, but seldom realized as so.

Before someone says they mean the same thing and so the using of one or the other is insignificant, I would like to point out that the difference that may seem ever so slight is actually essential for an understanding of what the Framers of that Declaration intended for our nation.

The word "unalienable" refers to rights that are inherent in man and are rights that CANNOT be surrendered, bought, or transferred. "Unalienable" rights are a gift from the Creator to each individual and, as such, cannot be taken away for any reason. The government cannot TAKE them as the government did not PROVIDE them. In fact, the only responsibility the government has toward "unalienable" rights is to SECURE them or to create an environment that PROTECTS them.

This point was clearly stated in a court ruling in 1892 entitled Budd vs People of the State of New York. That ruling said, "Men are endowed by their Creator with certain "unalienable" rights, 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;' and it is to 'secure,' not grant or create these rights, for which governments are instituted."

 The list in the Declaration of Independence can be expanded since it says "among which are" and then lists life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We could add such things as self-government, self defense, nature's necessities of air, food, water, clothing and shelter as well as worship. Such rights are absolutely incapable of being transferred lawfully, unlawfully, privately or by implication or operation of law.

That which is your "unalienable" right is a part of you in an absolute sense and could no more be removed from you than could your blood be removed and you live without it.

INALIENABLE [notice the change only in the beginning letter] rights, on the other hand, CAN be surrendered, sold, or transferred with the consent of the individual because they are NOT inherent [unalienable] and the government CAN alienate these from an individual, if a person consents, either actually or constructively, since the government may be seen as the source of these individual rights.

Most State Constitutions refer to only inalienable rights. But it is our UNALIENABLE RIGHTS to which our Declaration of Independence addresses itself and recognizes them as given to us by our Creator.

It could be that the loss of recognition of our Creator is what is leading to the mistaken general use of these two words in our modern day language. There may also be other factors involved. But the point of this post is simply that people do have both, but they are not the same at all. So, clearly, the words are not to be used as synonyms though often is done so among otherwise intelligent people.

This 4th of July, 2016, we are celebrating our Nation and her Declaration of Independence which declares and her Constitution which preserves those UNALIENABLE rights! And I say, HAPPY BIRTHDAY America! We love you!


But on this Lord's Day, July 3rd, 2016, we are celebrating our Living Lord Jesus, as we do EVERY DAY of our lives as Kingdom Kids, and I say, HAPPY RESURRECTION DAY Lord Jesus, on this day and every other day of our lives! We LOVE YOU AND WORSHIP YOU!!

Paul B.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

CHRISTIAN LIVING__IS IT CHRIST IN ME OR ME?

[YOU'LL NEED YOUR SPIRIT OPEN AND YOUR MIND ON STEROIDS FOR THIS ONE.]

There is a paradox seen in the Colossians 1: 26-29 passage of scripture that a lot of Christians just don't get. That paradox is simply that on the one hand, Paul says that he [personally] CONTENDS strenuously, to present the Colossians mature in Christ. [That's a lot of work.] By using these words he is saying that he is exerting all his energy to do this. The word that he uses for CONTENDS is “agonizomai” in the Greek. We get the word AGONY or AGONIZE from it. It denotes an intense exertion of emotional and/or physical energy; an agonizing if you will. He's laboring. He's working at it. He's putting forth all this energy on behalf of the Colossians and to do the work God has for him to do. 

But on the other hand, while he is putting forth this energy to further the Kingdom and the spiritual growth of those Colossians, he says he's able to do it ONLY BECAUSE Christ is in him exerting a supernatural energy and power that is almost like the force of dynamite. [We get the word dynamite from the Greek word dunamis used here!]  Paul IS doing it and yet Paul IS NOT doing it. How paradoxical is that! 

Paul was acutely aware of this paradox as he talks of exerting all his energy knowing the ONLY reason he could do it was because Christ was dynamically working in him. Paul is sharing here the revelation of what he calls a mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but has now been revealed to God's people. It's the mystery of Christ in you, the HOPE OF GLORY. For Paul this wasn't just a nice new revelation, it wasn't just some great new information, it wasn't a theoretical, theological thing at all. It was an EXPERIENCED REALITY. 

Someone will legitimately ask,"But I thought He finished the work of Christ and we are to rest in that!" Truer words were never spoken. We DO rest in His finished work! But rest is NOT inactivity in scripture. God is ALWAYS active on our behalf [think present intercession of Christ] and we have a rest of faith that produces our activity of obedience as well. [Though His yoke is easy and His burden is light!] This is the Christ in you in reality.

"Christ in you, the hope of glory" was something that Paul just didn't think or converse about, though I'm guessing he might have done that, but it was more fundamentally a REALITY he lived in. Christ was in him, and Christ was exerting this dynamic dynamite force that was EMPOWERING him to exert effort to accomplish God's will on earth as it is in heaven. He was aware that Christ in him was moving him towards what he called under inspiration, GLORY. 

The HOPE OF GLORY was a driving force that moved him towards experiencing GLORY. What is GLORY? I read someone who said it this way, "GLORY is the MANIFESTATION of God’s kind of beautiful, other‐oriented, self-sacrificial love being put on display."  [This is sure foreign to our self-effort, is it not!] This is NOT to be experienced just when you GO TO CHURCH, but it is to be the every day living experience of every believer. So Paul was aware that Christ was IN HIM moving him in a direction where he was increasingly putting Christ on display, where he was being transformed into the likeness of Christ, where he was being used by God to help others be transformed into the likeness of Christ. Christ in him was moving him to LOVE more like Christ, SERVE more like Christ, SHARE more like Christ, to THINK more like Christ and to FEEL more like Christ. Christ was in him to put His character and HIS KINGDOM on display. 

Paul is ALSO making it clear in this passage that God is not a coercive God. God will never coerce us. God never MAKES us do anything. God wants a really personal relationship with us, which means He doesn't want a relationship with a marionette. We're NOT puppets! He wants a genuine love relationship with personal beings that CHOOSE that relationship, not one that LOOKS loving but is, in fact, only God controlling EVERYTHING with NO responsibility on the part of His followers. God isn't that way. God doesn't pull strings on puppets. 

Paul is showing that while a paradox, the Christian has to take into account the exercising of his will, effort, and choices on the part of the believer, but it is WHEN those choices are made and that effort is given that the dynamic powerful force of the Holy Spirit will be, in fact, released by faith. Paul realizes that there is his part in it; he has to trust and obey. But God's part is to both to will and to do in him, AND HE WILL. 

IT'S A PARADOX! [a statement or proposition that, sounds quite unreasonable and leads to a conclusion that seems senseless, logically unacceptable, or self-contradictory:] So Paul puts forth the energy and yet, the only reason he can do that is because Christ is empowering him to do it. The world doesn't get it but WE DO! 

So as Paul it and is saying it, his role was to trust/believe/faith that Christ IS his LIFE and STRENGTH. His role was to submit to Christ in him and to trust Christ in him. He wasn't just cranking this out on his own. He wasn’t just a Christian who needed to go to church every Sunday or he wouldn’t be able to function in life properly. There is NO inherent power in attending church. If you doubt that statement just talk to people who lose ALL their spirituality when something happens to them, a tragedy or where they really are wronged or hurt, and they revert to a mean-spirited reaction because of that circumstance. It may be that they SELDOM miss attending church, but it takes more than ATTENDING church for life to be GLORY as defined above. 

For Paul it was that Christ NOW lives in him. It was this experiential dimension of the mystery that had been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is NOW revealed to God's people so the WHOLE of their life would be different REGARDLESS of the circumstances. 

THAT'S the mystery of Christ in you and THAT'S the paradox of CHRISTIAN LIVING. Forget EITHER to our own regret. BELIEVE and BEHAVE with both in mind and the HOPE OF GLORY will be realized in our EVERY DAY LIVING!


The answer to the question found in the title of this post is__ YES!

Paul B.