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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

rant about worship songs

Excellent, if sharp and pointy, post about worship music... do read thoroughly and leave a comment!

HT: Rant About Worship Songs by Jeremy Pierce

Here are some of the things I really hate in a worship song.

1. Too simplistic, banal, lacking in depth, shallow, doctrineless: Consider that one that just talks about unity among brothers that only mentions God in passing at the very end.

2. It’s so repetitive. I mean, come on, how many times can you repeat “His steadfast love endures forever” before you start thinking the song is going to go on forever? Examples: here and here

3. For some songs, the focus is too much on instruments, and the sheer volume leads to its seeming more like a performance than worship and prevents quiet contemplation.

4. There might be too much emphasis on too intimate a relationship with God, using first-person singular pronouns like “me” and “I” or second-person pronouns like “you” instead of words like “we” and “God”. This fosters a spirit of individualism, and it generates an atmosphere of religious euphoria rather than actual worship of God. Worship should be about God, not about us. Or what about the ones that use physical language to describe God and our relationship with him? Can you really stomach the idea of tasting God?

5. Some songs have way too many words for anyone to learn.

6. It patterns its worship on experiences that not everyone in the congregation will be able to identify with. If you’re not in the frame of mind or don’t have the emotional state in question (e.g. a desperate longing for God. Then what are you doing lying and singing it? Worship leaders who encourage that sort of thing are making their congregations sing falsehoods.

7. Then there’s that song with the line asking God not to take the Holy Spirit away, as if God would ever do that to a genuine believer.

8. Then there’s that song that basically says nothing except expressing negative emotions.
At this point I’m so outraged that people would pass this sort of thing off as worship that I’m almost inclined to give in to the people who think we shouldn’t sing anything but the psalms. Oh, wait…

Saturday, August 21, 2010

truth and error 12: enemy clarification, v. 26b

I left off the very last part of verse 26 in order to speak to it as its own topic. Paul finishes the description of the hopeful outcome of a repentant heart led to God’s truth with this additional phrase:
… [that they might] escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:26b)
Paul observes here what he does in Ephesians 6:12… that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but is part of a larger spiritual battle between God and His enemy, Satan. While other human beings can and do hold opinions and beliefs that are contrary to God’s Word, it is not enough to simply think of truth and error in terms of “good guys” and “bad guys.” Satan is the “Father of Lies” (John 8:44) and would deceive human beings any time and any place he can.

That recognition coupled with the qualities Paul describes here should cause a follower of Jesus not to see others as enemies, but as fellow human beings in need of God’s redemption and truth. Even conflicts of truth and error, which lead us so easily into quarrels, then become for us another mission field, a place to be salt and light, as carriers of the winsome and inviting Good News of Jesus Christ. This connection between truth, error, and mission, also provides some depth of understanding to what Jesus meant when he charged us to “love our enemies” (Matthew 5:44ff).

Summing Up

This passage (2 Timothy 2:14-26) is rich. It is a challenge to all who would be followers of Jesus in a culture and setting where the Father of Lies would deceive and distract many from the Truth. Diligently study your Bible; guard your behavior and turn away from an immature and shallow faith toward a mature faith imprinted with the character of Jesus Christ. Let this faith be evident in word and deed, as even the confrontation of untruth becomes an opportunity to be salt and light for Jesus Christ.

Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b

Friday, August 20, 2010

truth and error 11: gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a

Paul holds out this gracious hope in the rest of these two verses:
… perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses… ~2 Timothy 2:25b-26a
God’s grace and His ability to transform the heart, mind, and soul of a person extends far beyond anything we can imagine. The hardest heart, the most stubborn spirit, the most entrenched position – it can all be changed if God is involved. This isn’t to say that my persuasive words will change someone, but that I do not want to find myself working counter to what God would do.

It’s interesting also to note that what happens in this hopeful scenario is not that my opponent would become convinced of the truth, but that my opponent would be repentant. That is, the one to whom I am being kind, truthful, and patient, would turn toward God in faith. It is that broken and repentant heart that then leads someone to know God’s truth.

I see this scenario played out and subverted all the time, from the embattled positions held in our local presbytery to my years in youth ministry to my own parenting. Attacking an opponent, even if we are “in the right” usually just pushes them further from you and from the truth. Cultivating kindness and patience in a relationship opens hearts to hear the truth and change.

Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b


Thursday, August 19, 2010

truth and error 10: able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25

24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth… (2 Timothy 2:24-25)
A second quality of a follower of Christ is the ability to teach. This need not be a Sunday school teacher for a class of 20, but lines up with v. 15 from two weeks ago. We need to be able to handle God’s Word accurately. A Christian should neither be ignorant of Scripture nor mis-handle it from lack of study. This is a re-iteration of the plea for regular study to train your mind, heart, and spirit so that God’s Word and will shapes your life, your speech, and your choices.

A third quality of one who would serve the Lord is that he or she is “patient when wronged.” This is getting into “turn the other cheek” territory and is evidence of some Christian maturity and what the Bible calls “fruit” of God’s Spirit. Again, this is set in the context of the internal church conflict in the Ephesian church, but it has broad application. A follower of Jesus starts to look like Jesus. One of the results of diligently studying the Bible and obeying God is that we start growing up spiritually and otherwise. Remember last week? Staying immature in faith is something to avoid. We are to grow; patience is a sign of maturing in faith, even in the face of being wronged.

The fourth quality of one who follows Jesus – a “vessel of honor” – really takes the first three qualities, combines them together, and puts them into action. When confronted with error, we are to correct that error with gentleness and the truth. This is kindness lived out in our speech. This is “able to teach” in the most applicable kind of way – that we aren’t just imparting knowledge, but leading people to God’s truth. This is “patience when wronged” because one of the hardest times to be patience is when one is verbally or otherwise opposing you. It is Christian maturity and the presence of Jesus that enables one to correct gently and not retaliate against angry words with angry words.

It would be enough that we are simply to reflect the character of Jesus in our speech and behavior, but Paul goes on to give an additional and important reason for exhibiting these qualities in our lives.

Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

truth and error 9: kind to all, v. 24

24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged… (2 Timothy 2:24)
Having given three warnings or dangers to avoid in the previous verses, Paul now gives four qualities which characterize “vessels of honor” – those seeking to follow Jesus Christ and be approved by God. These qualities are set against the example of Hymenaeus and Philetus, and the damage being caused within the church as they use words like swords to harm and cut up the body of Christ.

First, the Lord’s bond-servant must be “kind to all.” There is the same danger here as with “meekness” – confusing kindness (or meekness) with being a kind of human doormat… getting pushed around by the bullies and never standing up for anything. But this is set precisely in a passage all about standing up for truth! The whole point is about HOW one stands up for truth. Do you do so by arguing, quarreling, lashing out angrily in truth? If you’ve ever wielded the truth in this way, you may have seen how ineffective it seems to be. I’m specifically tying this to the “word-wrangling” which means “to wield words as swords.” Truth and God’s word is indeed like a sharp blade, but more like that of a surgeon’s knife than a thug’s weapon. It only confuses and masks truth to wield it in anger. Here Paul is repeating his admonition from Ephesians 4:15 to “speak the truth in love.”

To illustrate the difference simply, consider the difference between me coming up to you and saying, “You’re wrong, you unthinking idiot” and “You’re wrong, friend.” Magnify those examples by mannerism, posture, tone, and attitude, and you can so deafen people with your posture that they will be incapable of hearing the truth, no matter how truthful it is. Contrast that with kindness, which opens the other’s ears, fosters trust and maintains relationship.

Paul’s advice here goes beyond confrontations about church teachings. It’s good advice for any conflict or confrontation you face. We’ll explore three more qualities in the next post.

Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

truth and error 8: false teaching, v. 23

Finally Paul describes a third danger that can keep us as serving as “vessels of honor”: false teaching…
23 But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. (2 Timothy 2:23)
From “word wrangling” to “idle chatter” to “spreading like gangrene” to several uses of “quarrel,” it is clear that Paul sees great danger in what was going on in Ephesus. It’s not just the false teaching in and of itself, that can lead one astray; it is also the arguing and fighting that can disrupt and damage a church community.

One of the real dangers I recognize is that we get so focused on righting the wrongs or fleeing the people with whom we disagree that we fail to focus on the primary and first order ministry and mission God has put before us as a church. We must try to find a godly priority and balance.

Paul advocates a grounding in God’s Word, which will help us avoid the quarreling that is primarily a fight between two people’s opinions. To return to scripture as the arbiter of truth is to seek God’s Word and will over and above our own. That grounding in God’s Word will also help us grow spiritually such that we can turn away from immature and ungodly behaviors and inclinations and be transformed by the power and presence of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives.

Paul is not done, though. Having warned against quarreling, he goes on to describe a means of engaging, confronting, and correcting those in error. His goal is not the purification of the Church, but the correction and redemption of people, outside and inside the human construct of the church. He also points ultimately to Satan as the source of this discord.


Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b

Monday, August 16, 2010

truth and error 7: immaturity and distraction, v. 22

22 Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22)
A second danger can keep us as serving as “vessels of honor” is distraction because of immaturity. Our pew-Bibles translate this verse “flee from youthful lusts.” Your first thought at hearing that probably is a warning against sexual immorality, and certainly that is part of the danger here. But, the original words are broader than that, meaning “youthful passions” or “distractions of the young.” This is a broad challenge to grow up in Christ. The breadth of this can be seen in the contrast with what follows. In the place of these youthful distractions, we are to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace.” And we are to look for examples, mentors, and fellowship with “those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

This language is chosen, in part, because Timothy is so young. He may well have been an older teenager or in his early 20s. Elsewhere Paul encourages him to not let people look down on him because of his youthfulness. Here, Paul cautions him against the kinds of things that can distract a young person (or an immature believer of any age!): “Don’t get sidetracked by these men who are stirring up the church – I know you’d love a good fight – but keep pursuing godly character and draw to you those who are calling on the Lord from a pure heart.”

This is a very timely word for congregations as they ponder their ongoing role in the larger denominational context. This passage is such a helpful guide in recognizing both the calling and the dangers as one ultimately pursues faithful and obedient service to God.

Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b

Saturday, August 14, 2010

truth and error 6: empty talk, vv. 16-18

16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:16-18)
The first danger that can keep us as serving as “vessels of honor” is “empty talk” or “worldly and empty chatter.” In verse 16, we read that we should avoid this kind of talk, because it has at least three negative results. It will “lead to further ungodliness” (v. 16); it will “spread like gangrene” (v. 17); and it will “upset the faith of some” (v. 18).

A faithful Christian should speak truth with substance. This is one of the results of studying scripture. When our minds are soaked in scripture, it is far easier not to be characterized by “worldly and empty chatter.” Unfortunately, it is not simply a matter of braving the “worldly chatter” out there – but it is a danger within the church as well. We’ve seen that Paul cites a local example of men (Hymenaeus and Philetus) speculating and teaching about the resurrection in a way that did not accord with scripture. Their words evidently were wreaking havoc within the church and upsetting the faith of some believers.

Paul’s advice to Timothy and to us: avoid this kind of talk, whether it’s inside the church or outside. Let your words be full of truth and substance, bearing witness to Jesus Christ. Don’t engage in the chatter or add to it. Guarding the tongue is the best defense; grounding in the Bible is the best offense.

Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b

Thursday, August 12, 2010

truth and error 5: church pictures, vv. 19-21

Paul says several important things about the earthly church in v. 19…
Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” (2 Timothy 2:19)
First, the mixture and impurity – of right teaching and wrong teaching, the pure and the impure, the wheat and the chaff – does not threaten the foundation of the Church that God has established in Jesus Christ. Indeed, Jesus said that on the foundation rock of His name, even the gates of Hell would not stand against this Church. Secondly, that foundation is sealed with the affirmation that God is not confused by the mixture and impurity. God knows who are His; God can see the human heart; God is not fooled by words, arguments, or anything else. Nor, as one Presbyterian pastor commentator said of our own mixed, wheat-and-chaff denomination, is God surprised or somehow sucker-punched by the things we do.

Paul goes on to explore the nature of the mixed and impure earthly church, offering his own analogy for it in v. 20…
Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. (2 Timothy 2:20)
He compares the earthly church (particularly the Ephesian situation where Timothy is pastor) to a large house, which has gold and silver vessels, which are lasting and serve a lasting purpose, and earthenware vessels, which have a temporary and limited purpose. The language of “vessels” is interesting, for it is the same word used elsewhere in Paul’s writings to describe human beings, created for God’s purpose and glory:
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves… (2 Corinthians 4:7)
It is the power of God, poured into us “vessels” through His Holy Spirit, which transforms us from clay pots into the “gold and silver vessels” of v. 20. Like a household, Paul analogizes, the church contains those who know and trust in Jesus Christ, are filled with His glory and Spirit, and serve the honorable purposes of God through “every good work.” The church also contains those who are “in the right house” but who do not know Christ or serve him – and are vessels of dishonor.

And yet, Paul is not ready to consign anyone living to be “gold” or “earthenware” as he did in hindsight with Moses and Pharaoh in Romans 9. While Paul would uphold God’s sovereignty and perfect knowledge and will, all we can measure and know while we live is our own response to God’s grace in Jesus Christ. So, Paul holds out hope for Timothy and others to repent and change and prove themselves vessels useful to the Lord. So he can write in v. 21…
If anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. (2 Timothy 2:21)
Look to your own life. Clean up your act. How do you do that? It is through conviction, repentance (turning to God in humility), receiving God’s gracious forgiveness, and responding to God’s invitation to serve Him.

And we will see at the end of this passage (in vv. 24-26) that Paul holds out hope, even for those who currently seem to be showing themselves to be vessels of dishonor.

What remains, though, in the verses for today, are some practical warnings against the kind of dangers that can distract a Christian from God’s calling and purpose. There are (at least) three dangers that can keep us from serving as “vessels of honor.”

Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b

truth and error 4: a local challenge, vv. 16-18

16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:16-18)
Paul is writing Timothy to prepare and equip him to lead the local church in ministry and mission. There are challenges and dangers all around – sometimes from without and sometimes from within. Here Paul describes a challenging situation with two men in the local church community where Timothy was pastoring.

I mentioned this situation last week, when we looked at the phrase “wrangling with words” in v. 14. That phrase literally means “to fight with words as with swords” and I noted that the false teaching about the resurrection was wounding and carving up the local body where Timothy served. That led to Paul’s charge to study and apply God’s Word carefully and accurately.

Note that these men were not outside the church, where there were also plenty of dangers and pitfalls for the mission-minded Christian. The surrounding culture of 1st century Greco-Roman culture was as over-sexed and appetite-centered as anything you could find today. But this passage reminds us that the church itself has never been pure and perfect on this earth. Because it is full of human beings, it is a mixture of “wheat and tares” (to use Jesus’ analogy). And Paul gives his own analogy for it in vv. 19-21. We’ll look at that in the next post.

Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

truth and error 3: study, v. 15

15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)
How shall I be “diligent to present [myself] approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed?” How do I focus on the foundational truths and not get distracted or re-directed by word-battles? It is by “accurately handling the word of truth.”

Do you hear what is being said? These scriptures, this collection of words, are the “word of truth.” It is not wishy-washy or vacillating, or subject to bending to my own interpretation. Rather, it is God’s Word and God is Truth.

This verse also makes clear that human interpretation is involved, for it is we imperfect human beings who “handle” this Word in preaching, teaching, reading, and study. There is such a thing as “accurate” interpretation, so also “inaccurate” interpretation. To find God’s truth, though, we do not look within, to personal definitions, feelings, or even experience. Rather, we learn how to read, study, and apply scripture with consistency with itself.

Handling scripture accurately is not easy or obvious, but neither is it mysterious and out of reach. There are portions that speak clearly to the youngest child or simplest mind, and there are parts that will challenge the greatest intellect. It helps to come to scripture with an open mind and heart, but God’s Word can also penetrate the hardest heart. I would say, however, that to accurately handle God’s Word, one must trust in Jesus Christ – that is, be a Christian. For it is Christ himself to whom the Scripture witnesses. To read them apart from Jesus makes no sense at all.

In light of that, I would appeal to you to ground your children’s vocabulary and thoughts in the solid Word of God. And the need is no less for youth and adults.

In my own church Sunday school, worship, and Wednesday night studies offer a regular opportunity for study. And there are more opportunities above and beyond those – for prayer, study, service, and fellowship. But that grounding in God’s Word is crucial to a healthy faith. And, as the rest of verse 15 explains, that grounding in God’s Word also forms us into approved workers or servants of God.

God is on the move. If we ask the questions, “What is God doing and how can I be a part of it?” then we are asking to be used by God as a “worker.” That’s what is in view here. This is not an appeal to hole one’s self away from the world and study ancient manuscripts as the world passes by any more than the realization from Hebrews 11 that earth is not our home means we aren’t active, faithful disciples here and now. Rather, this passage describes the kind of men, women, and young people God delights to use in His mission to the world – those who are rooted in Scripture, committed to hearing, studying, and applying it.

Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b

Monday, August 09, 2010

truth and error 2: word-wrangling, v. 14

14 Remind them of these things and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. (2 Timothy 2:14)
What is “word-wrangling?” Some examples from Timothy and Titus show the church arguing about genealogies and the meaning of minute points of the Law, while missing the opportunity to display charity and love one another. It appears, in this context, that word-wrangling had even displaced or replaced a foundational belief in the resurrection.

I believe this practice is one of the pressing issues of our day. Perhaps the most glaring example in recent history is a former President saying “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is” while apparently dodging the moral elephant in the room. But one need not point the finger at so prominent a public figure. At every college and university in the country, and perhaps even amidst the high schools on down to elementary schools, the basic meaning of words is being challenged as never before. Distorting the technical philosophical approach of deconstructing a text, amateur deconstructionists simply vacate important words (even ‘is’!) of meaning and fill in the blank as they see fit. In many ways, we have become the masters of word-wrangling.

If the finger is still pointing too far away, let me come closer to home. Committed Christians can often find themselves nit-picking so much over words and concepts that they miss the forest – hours and hours wrangling over finer and finer sub-points of theology and missing what God is doing and inviting us to do all around us.

There is some balance, of course. It is important to study and understand words, particularly in God’s Word. But we must not miss the really foundational teachings of scripture chasing after secondary things. And verse 14 is talking about more than distraction; it is talking about fighting over such things. The word, “wrangling,” literally means “to fight with words as with a sword.”

Part of the real difficulty is also that, to some degree, we all have bought into the cultural assumption of personal interpretation. If you’re smart, you’ve learned to discover what another person means by a word – you can’t take it for granted any more.

Does that seem far-fetched? Consider our denomination. In denominational circles, I can no longer presume a common understanding of “gospel” or “evangelism” or “justice.” It is necessary to spell everything out with great specificity in order to be precise. With deeply held convictions tied to these words, we are at the point of wrangling over words.

So what to do? I don’t want to spend my days defining words with excruciating specificity, particularly when they are words that have been so consistently used by the Church. And what assurance do I have that my definitions are any more or less valid than the next person? The next verse points us in the direction we need to go…

Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b

Saturday, August 07, 2010

truth and error 1: intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26

Truth and error are sometimes not easily discerned. This is one of the early lessons of childhood – children who are warned not to talk to strangers go ahead, explaining that “he was really nice.” Later along, we may hear the crowd of peers saying one thing, but sheer numbers do not create truth. We come to realize that our own feelings may mislead us, and wolves continue to dress in sheep’s clothing. What once seemed black and white only seems to come now in shades of gray.

In a world where truth is an elusive thing, how does one find it? How does one guard against untruth? If we are really going to be salt and light in a dark world, how will we do so without being swept away? In this series of blog posts, I will be exploring 2 Timothy 2:14-26, a text rich in answers to these questions and more.
14 Remind them of these things and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some. 19 Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” 20 Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. 22 Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. 24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. ~2 Timothy 2:14-26
Before we focus on verses 14-15, we are first pointed elsewhere. Verse 14 begins, “Remind them of these things…” Well, we’ve got to know what “these things” are! The preceding verses (in 2 Timothy) provide a clearer picture of what is at stake.
11 It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; 12 If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; 13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. (2 Timothy 2:11-13)
It IS a trustworthy statement – but why was it being made? It was being made because there were those who were denying the resurrection. This was a bottom-line, essential, and core doctrine of the Christian faith. To deny the resurrection was to deny Jesus himself. Added to this reminder in verse 14 was the charge not to “wrangle about words.”

Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Band Camp, Banjoes, Bluegrass, and Jesus

I got back a week ago from Camp Bluegrass with my brother.  It was something he first mentioned 2-3 years ago and it sounded like the perfect opportunity to spend some good one-on-one time with him, commuting 30 min. each way daily while staying at his house in Lubbock, TX.

So he went as a beginner banjo player and I took my mandolin, thinking I could experience the most musical growth on it (and boy did I!).  That's all background to the story I want to share...

On the opening morning, the whole camp gathered (about 200 people) to meet the instructors.  There were about 20 instructors on the various instruments (guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass, fiddle, dobro, vocalists).  After being introduced by name, they were introduced musically.  They all played unamplified and, as is the custom with bluegrass music, took turns improvising.

Several things struck me during this 10 minute "introduction."
  1. While the auditorium was AMAZINGLY equipped for amplification of this style of music, they played down on the floor (unamplified), which meant that when one of them soloed, the other 19 instruments played amazingly softly in order that each might be heard.  And each, in turn, was heard clear as crystal.
  2. I am fairly confident that the piece was unrehearsed, though it was familiar to each of them.  They just soloed in the order of the 20-person line they formed across the stage, and the handoffs were SEAMLESS.  As each neared the end of their improvisation, they "set up" the next, who often picked up a riff or sound from the one before and wove it into their own improvised solo.  And each nodded and honored their 'neighbor' (and even left space for the applause of the one who went before).
  3. There was very little ego up front, though these were world-class musicians.  This was borne out in class, when these virtuosos would patiently meet each of us at our level and help us grow.  These soloists weren't trying to upstage their neighbors, but build on, add to, support, and interact with what each had brought. 
As the week progressed, I came to appreciate bluegrass as a particularly humble and communal musical art-form.  While one can get written music, most tunes and chords and licks are learned from the community, around the circle or in friendly and willing collaboration off to the side.  The whole culture of bluegrass is family and friends sitting around swapping stories, tunes, lyrics, and encouragement - and is one of participation WITH rather than attention TO a performer.

Musically, all that was fascinating, compelling, and inviting - and plenty to marvel about, but I could not help but see and hear and share in all that as a Christian and as a pastor and think this is what the church should be like, from the humility to the participation to the invitation to the fellowship, with the Good News as our song.

Sound like a church you'd want to be a part of?  I sure would.


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