God's concern for His good name

My last post was long. It was a compilation of an hour's worth of teaching, illustration, and discussion. This one will be shorter. It is essentially a reflection on a statement in my last post. Toward the end, in response to the priority of God's rescuing work in 2 Peter 2:9, I wrote,

Just as much as God cares about preserving His good name, God cares about rescuing you from the deadly influence of false teachers.

Today I resolved this statement in my head by realizing that by rescuing us not just from the deadly influence of false teaching, but in ultimately rescuing us from Satan, sin, and death, God is in fact preserving His good name.

In other words, simply silencing the ignorant talk of foolish men (His words, not mine) is not how God preserves His reputation. He doesn't merely combat misinformation and silence the false witness of those whose words and deeds cause the way of truth to be blasphemed. Rather, because God presents Himself as a deliverer of people oppressed by sin and sinful men, His deliverance of us from evil is what upholds the integrity of His name. By continuing to rescue His people, God is proving Himself faithful. His actions speak louder than false words against Him.

There's a lesson here for us as well, and I alluded to it in my earlier reference to 1 Peter 2:15,

For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.

When false teachers downplay the reality or heinousness of sin or disparage the Lord's saving work, God responds by saving and proving them wrong. When people revile you, persecute you, and utter evil against you falsely on account of Jesus (cf. Mt. 5:11), you can respond by doing good in return while entrusting yourself to God and His deliverance (cf. 1 Pt. 2:23). Let your actions speak louder than false words against you.

These thoughts are unrefined but the truths are glorious. Feel free to help me refine my understanding and presentation of these ideas in a comment. Wink

False Teachers Will Come

I taught 2 Peter 2:1-10a tonight at the Transformation House. I was up most of last night working and then gone all of today to Bowling Green on business, so I expected to deliver a short meditation on a happy nuance of the character of God I detected in verse 9. I even joked on the phone with my co-teacher that I didn't expect a whizz-bang lesson given my circumstances unless the Lord intervened. Hanging up, I decided to combat unbelief and turned that simple comment into a prayer. Not surprisingly, we ended up having an hour long Bible study that elicited positive interaction from the men present and greatly encouraged me. Amen!

And that's not even the best part of the story!

The passage in 2 Peter begins a discussion of false teachers, their ill effects, and their poor prospects for the future. Instead of diving right into the passage itself, we first examined Jeremiah 6:9-15 where the Lord forewarns Israel of his coming wrath on account of the nation's abject rebellion and the disregard of the prophets and priests for the ministry of the Word. Not only were the false prophets superficially binding up a broken people, but they weren't even ashamed of their hypocrisy. They declared "Peace, peace," when there was no peace... like a string quartet trying to calm a drowning crowd in the icy North Atlantic.

Beginning in Jeremiah served to strengthen our understanding of the heinousness of false teachers. Not only do they bring destruction on themselves, but in leading a whole people astray they bring down the wrath of God on many. (Isn't it enough for someone to walk alone into destruction? How much more severe it must be to lead a line...) Israel was in a very bad spot, and the Lord did exactly as He promised.

Segue into 2 Peter. I reminded the guys of the previous weeks' teaching... Peter, on the strength of the inspiration of the true prophets, and having witnessed the glory of God in Christ, came to understand that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophets. He didn't make up a fairy tale about the magical man who walked on water and did good to all. He accepted the authority of the Word and deduced from his life experience that the only rational conclusion was that Jesus is the Son of God, the savior of sinners. He spent his life reminding those who came to faith that this truth was worth living out and defending till death.

However, believing the gospel and living according to the Bible will not come easy. By and large, the world is set against such behavior. Some would be happy to see us compromise our convictions or abandon our faith, and it tends to be because they want something we have or because our holiness highlights their sensuality. This was easily demonstrable in the lesson by virtue of the fact that most of the men present shared the following experience of a friend of mine who lived with me.

Some years ago, my roommate, Rob Smythe, and I brought in a third man to live with us who had been evicted from his apartment. We were still fairly new at such ministry and didn't recognize the fact that his eviction was due to a drug addiction. We began the process of working with him to plan to save his paycheck and not squander it on new clothes and drugs, but week after week he spent his paycheck before we could put any of our plans into action. One day, I diagnosed his "flirtation" with drugs as an addiction, and he told me in all seriousness that no one had ever told him that before. Until that day, smoking crack was just something he did socially but not something that he depended on. His friends were happy to delude him and squander his wealth on their crack, and all the while he was at least nominally active in another church in the city. You know the saying... "With friends like these..."

Well, that story (of which I've been given permission to share) really resonated with the guys there. Not only was this a clear example of a man's friends eager to bring him down, it was the common experience of many men with addictions who are taken advantage of by their friends and who have done the same in turn. However, it's not just the world and our supposed friends, but even those within the church who would preach, "Peace, peace," or, "Social activity, not addiction," that keep us from believing, loving, and obeying the Bible. Peter writes that he wants to always stir the people up by way of reminder so that even after he's dead and gone, the faithful will stand firm despite the source of the attack on their biblical fidelity.

So... these false teachers. They lead others into sensuality. They take advantage of others' wealth. On account of them and their obvious hypocrisy (to the world, that is), the way of truth is actually blasphemed. In other words, these people are doing evil, leading others to do evil, and leading still others to speak evil of the Lord and His gospel. There's no doubt what they have coming for them, or as Peter writes, their destruction is not asleep.

He then goes through this list of events where the wicked are unreservedly punished. Fallen angels are bound in darkness. The ancient world is wiped out by a flood. Sodom and Gomorrah are burned to smithereens. A few words come to mind. Unequivocal. Absolute. Destruction. And don't you expect Peter to write that the Lord has the same in store for the false teachers his friends will encounter? I know I did. And this is the good part I mentioned way up above.

Peter actually takes a different approach. Yes, he does get to the point that the unrighteous will be kept under punishment until the day of judgment, but he comes in at an unexpected angle. What's funny is that I should be geared to expect it. Here's what I mean...

The horror of the Flood wasn't just about wrath. It was also about Noah, a preacher of righteousness, being saved in a boat thanks to the instruction of God. The flames of Sodom and Gomorrah weren't just about wrath. They were also about righteous Lot being saved from the city where not even ten righteous men could be found. In fact, Peter even points out that the wickedness of those around Lot greatly distressed him. No longer. The wicked men were burned, along with the cities whose names they have forever tarnished.

And so when we get to the end of this passage. The warning about false teachers and the promise that their destruction is not asleep is not just about God preserving His good name. Certainly, the Lord will vindicate His name. But notice in verse 9 what appears first... "the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials." That's right, Christian. God cares about you. Just as much as God cares about preserving His good name, God cares about rescuing you from the deadly influence of false teachers. He will judge, but His judgment is not just about Him having His way. His judgment is for your good, to spare you from the trial or temptation of hearing and being enticed by false teaching.

God cares about you, and in your fight to remain faithful, the Lord knows how to rescue you from trials. That thought, that simple meditation arrived at "roundaboutly" was a great encouragement me to me this evening, and I hope it is to you, too. Thanks for sticking with me. Smile

Let the Bible Speak

In case you don't know my religious background, I am a Christian who believes the Bible is absolutely (said qualitatively, not for emphasis) true in its testimony about itself, its general message of salvation, and its particular applications. I consider it an authoritative source of information and instruction in all the places that it claims authority. Even more, I believe the Bible contains the revelation of God to man. To top it all off, I actually enjoy reading it and thinking about it!

My meditations on the Bible have lately centered around the topic of this post... letting the Bible speak for itself. What I mean is this... I study the Bible from within a theological tradition. I have a certain understanding of the unifying story of the Bible. I can recognize themes and appreciate the unity of diverse stories and narratives. I can even write about specific passages and model what I'm thinking as I look for contextual and historical clues for interpretation and application. You can find a few examples of this in the Bible category on this site.

And there's the segue... Categories. I have categories for passages in Scripture much like I have categories on this site. And these are the real topic of this post. Because of my theological tradition and formulation, I have categories for understanding various passages and verses in the Bible. I might say John 1:1ff. is a passage about the pre-existence and divinity of Jesus and John 14:6 is a verse about the exclusivity of the gospel. But my categories have come from my reading of other Scriptures and have been reinforced and/or emphasized by my broader theological background.

By way of illustration... I didn't have categories for posts on this site when I first opened it. However, now that I've been adding categories as I write, I tend to reuse existing categories before making new ones. This post might more appropriately be tagged Hermeneutics, but I stick with Bible because it's there. So with Bible study... we don't start reading our Bibles with a whole list of categories, but as we study it in the context of a church and alongside other books and commentaries, our thoughts start to follow familiar paths when we approach different passages. We develop categories for making sense of the text.

I don't think this is inherently wrong. We need to categorize information in large data sets to make sense of the whole. However, once categorized, a piece of information should still be able to speak for itself. We don't have all the right categories, and we might prioritize them differently than the Bible itself does. Furthermore, our categories can silence passages that don't fall into our majority categories. So, if we know 15 passages discussing assurance and perseverance in the faith, we might grant that category or theme a majority influence as we read the Scriptures. This in turn might lead us to marginalize or massage our interpretation of passages that warn against falling away.

As I think about how I'm interpreting the Scriptures, I want to be sure that my subconscious categorization doesn't keep the text from speaking for itself. I hope to do this by developing an awareness of how I am categorizing passages and themes, intentionally examining the Scriptures as though I might be missing something, and letting the Bible speak in areas where I might be silencing it by my "categorical majorities." I encourage you to do the same.

A Happy Second Anniversary

Christina and I celebrated our second anniversary on August 18, 2009. Our romance had humble beginnings in the summer of 2006 when I charmed her during the course of her summer visit to Louisville, KY. We bonded over serving children in our neighborhood, reciting lines from Michael Card songs and The Princess Bride, and picnics with tree climbing. We still roll pretty much the same, but with Christina now 8 months pregnant, there's less tree climbing.

So, for our second anniversary, Christina surprised me with a special "daycation" to Cincinnati, OH. We left mid-morning (we're not punctual leavers) and spent the afternoon exploring and picnicking at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. It was great and afforded us some awesome pictures, including many of me mounting, subduing, and imitating animal statues scattered around the premises. Christina was a real champ, enduring 5 hours of pregnant park walking with breaks on the train and tram.

From the zoo, we traveled out of town to the nearby 1861 Inn, a bed and breakfast in Batavia, OH. The house and setting were gorgeous, and the hosts were exemplary. We got the home tour and history, poolside drink and snack service, our bed turned down and our pillows "truffled" while we went out for dinner, juice and coffee delivered to the room in the morning, and a breakfast including a warm peach / blueberry dish, blueberry scone and English muffin (for me), and baked eggs with spinach and ham before we hit the road. Wow! You seriously can't get a better deal than that. We highly recommend the stay and are already plotting to take friends back with us. (We also loved the comfy bed, claw foot tub, and movie selection... we watched Hitch. ;))

On the way home, we couldn't help stopping by the West Chester IKEA store just north of Cincinnati. We picked up an Expedit storage unit for Eowyn's room and managed to fit the box in our trunk. The drive home was happily uneventful, and now I'm plugged back into the internet and almost hard at work. We were very excited to find our "blog tour" copy of North! Or Be Eaten waiting for us when we got here. Christina's already half way through it and I can't wait to dive in, too. For those interested, this is the second book in the Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson for which we are building a fan site called The Wingfeather Wiki. It rocks!

Many thanks to my bride for a wonderful trip! I love you. Smile