Friday, January 6, 2017

Time and chance

Life is like a card game: you can't choose the cards that are dealt, you can only choose how to play them.

Some people never seem to get a good hand. Some people seem to have all the luck.

But reality is somewhere between; all lives have parts of both - like what Forrest Gump famously said about boxed chocolates. 

Solomon said, "time and chance happen to [us] all" (Ecc. 9:11).

Though true, for a child of God there is a force greater than time or chance, and that is God's Providence.

The fact that God is on our side means that time can be made to stand still (Josh. 10:12-14), and that even chance must ask God's permission to fall upon us (Romans 8:32-39).

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Topical preaching has a valid context

Context, context, context. Context is so important.

However, some seem to think that topical sermons, which usually do not explore the immediate context of a statement or phrase, or "proof-texting," in which an individual cites a verse or two in proof of a point, are invalid forms of biblical presentation because they are too (seemingly) divorced from the immediate context.

Shakespeare famously wrote, “I am constant as the northern star” (Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 1). It is a statement of hubris made by Julius. But the constancy of the northern star already has relevant meaning apart from this context, valuable and interesting as it is. One may describe a person’s faithfulness as, “constant as the northern star,” utilizing the Shakespearian quote, while never even mentioning the context of the play.

Likewise, a presentation entitled, "She did what she could" (Mark 14:8) may not deeply explore the whole chapter, setting, background, parallel accounts of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus. However, it is a great acclimation of the value of serving Christ mightily. Relevant points can easily be developed from this statement, and much good can come of it. 

I'm certainly not attempting to make the case that it is a good approach to every sermon, just that it can be relevant as a biblical presenatation.

One of the greatest sermons I ever heard was called “Weighed in the balances – and found wanting.” The text was Daniel 5:27, but the context from which the statement came was only glossed over for a minute at the beginning, to springboard into three relevant points drawn from the same principle. It was still a masterpiece.

Of course, context should not be abandoned altogether, and expository preaching/study is an excellent form of communicating the text - perhaps the most excellent form; but remote and immediate context doesn’t always need to be explored deeply to make a valid biblical point in a presentation. 

The fact is, a topical sermon does have a context, it is just larger than a single statement, or a chapter, or a book. It is developed within the broader context of human redemption revealed on the pages of all Scripture. 

And that is a valid context. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Whose approval really matters?

Do not lift up your horn on high,
Do not speak with insolent pride.
For not from the east, nor from the west,
Nor from the desert comes exaltation;
But God is the Judge;
He puts down one and exalts another - Psalm 75:5-7, NASB
The person on the left will tell you how great you are. It's his opinion. He may feel that way. You will want to believe him.

The person to the right will tell you she's never known a better person. She's sincere. You will be inclined to believe her.

There is nothing wrong with encouragement. We all need encouragement. And people generally mean well. But we must be cautious with compliments. They can inflate and skew our vision of self. We can even begin to look for them, expect them, become concerned if we do not receive them.

The only opinion that matters is God's. He is the righteous Judge. He sees correctly. Compliments from God are not flattery from beside us, but observations of truth from above us.

To the east, to the west, our neighbors know what they see. From above, the Father sees all things.

Let us learn to receive the blessing of encouragement, but resist the urge to sing our praises:

"But as for me, I will declare it forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob" (Psalm 75:9).