Wednesday, October 28, 2009

0 Rev. Jason J. Stellman on Covenant Radio -Thursday, October 29, 7:30pm EDT

"The one luxury the church does not have is to apologize for her archaic, idiosyncratic, otherworldly and countercultural characteristics and attempt to dilute her saltiness (wherein her true worth and beauty lie). Yet the heavenly flavor of orthodox ecclesiology is in danger of being lost by a contemporary ministry that wants to domesticate our faith and subject it to the fickle bar of public opinion. Such pandering is a shameless mixture of the ethos of heaven and the ethic of earth, the foolishness of God and the wisdom of men. To peddle our priceless religion using the techniques of the market will result in the ghettoization of God's people into the very niches that covenant theology disallows." (pp. 38-39, Jason J. Stellman, Dual Citizens: Worship and Life between the Already and the Not Yet)

The above words were written by the next guest on Covenant Radio, which podcast will be recorded Thursday, October 29. Bill Hill and I have the distinct privilege of interviewing Rev. Stellman (blogger at De Regnis Duobus: Cult, Culture and the Christian's Dual Citizenship) concerning his recent book, Dual Citizens: Worship and Life between the Already and the Not Yet. Rev. Stellman, in this book, has put forth a strong critique of modern Christianity and the confusing blend of the preferences of the world with the practice of the church that it promotes. He pulls no punches, and sets forth an attractive, convicting and convincing argument for the maintenance of our distinctiveness as Christian pilgrims in the world, as we are simultaneously in the world but steadfastly refusing to be of the world.

Please also consider going to Covenant Radio to grab the podcast as soon as it's made available - you can subscribe to get regular deliveries of our programs via RSS or iTunes. I'm sure you'll enjoy it and our other programs - and if the book we're promoting this week is of interest, make sure and grab a copy, available here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

0 Faith and Love Forever Joined

Paul Bayne's excellent exposition of Ephesians continues to bless with its concise formulations of truth - in treating the Apostle's transition from praise to thanksgiving in Ephesians 1:15, Bayne writes this:
"The use of this doctrine [that 'faith and love are never disjoined, but go each in hand one with the other.'] is, to shew how unjustly they slander us as teaching a faith alone without other graces, when we hold, according to the Scripture, that there can be no true faith without love, nor love without true faith; for the first is but a dead carcase, this latter is but blind devotion, neither is pleasing to God. Indeed, we teach that faith justifieth us alone without other graces, not in regard of their presence, but in regard of their co-working with faith to this effect of our justification. It is one thing to say the eye is in the head without other senses, and another thing to say the eye doth see alone, no other sense seeing with it." [p. 88, Paul Bayne, Commentary on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians, Tentmaker Publications]
The Scriptures are plain that faith alone is the instrument by which Christ's righteousness is apprehended - by which we are justified. The presence of other grace-gifts of God is not denied when one argues that we are justified by faith alone. What IS denied is that any other grace has anything to do with the standing of a person before God as righteous or unrighteous. Our works contribute nothing. Our holy attitudes contribute nothing. Our obedience in thought word and deed, in other words, contribute nothing to our standing before God as righteous - for our works are as filthy rags. We are justified in that our trust is in God's promises in Christ and we relinquish all self claims whatsoever - and believe ON Him for salvation. This faith, too, is a gift -we deny that anyone ever conjures up faith to believe on his own, by his own abilities.

Scripture is equally plain that God blesses those He blesses with faith, with other graces as well - perseverance and sanctification, to name two - each of which are found in the justified believer, but NEITHER of which play any role whatsoever in that believer's status as justified. It is slanderous to argue, as some have, that we teach a justification by a faith that has no accompanying graces - that a bare assent is sufficient unto justification.

Interestingly enough, it seems that Paul Bayne in 1618 (when the comments on the first chapter of Ephesians were published) was facing similar opposition to new legalists who wish to join faith and works on the part of the believer in procuring justification.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

0 Upcoming at Covenant Radio

For those who might both read my blog and listen to the Covenant Radio broadcast, you are probably already aware that I've joined my good friend Bill Hill as a co-host of that program, wherein we seek to discuss recent books and topics from the perspective of a Reformed Worldview, and with a common confessional foundation that we both share in the Westminster Standards. Currently we broadcast live at (normally) 7:30 EDT, but we also record the broadcast and podcast it via iTunes. If you've not subscribed, you can find subscription info in the right-hand sidebar at this site.

For those that read my blog but don't subscribe to the Covenant Radio podcast, I'd encourage you to do so. It's a great pleasure to join Bill in hosting CR, and I am pleased to say that we have some very good programs coming up - including one this Thursday evening with Dr. Ken Talbot, who will be discussing his recent book, Confirming Our Faith: A Reformed Covenantal Theology of the Sacraments.

This book is near and dear to my heart, as it is written in response, in part, to the grievous sacramental errors of the Federal Vision movement. I'm very much looking forward to our discussion on Thursday.

Also upcoming on Covenant Radio are the following broadcasts and our interviewees:
These are but a few of the upcoming broadcasts. Later this year, we'll have Michael Horton on the program to discuss his new book, The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World, on December 3, 2009 - and then in January, we very much look forward to talking with Joel Beeke on January 7, 2009 on the subject of Christian Piety. Keep an eye on this blog for upcoming program announcements and discussion of topics from our shows on Covenant Radio.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

0 More Word Studies in Bibleworks 8.0

As I continue to acclimate myself to BibleWorks 8.0 and its search and study capabilities, I'm finding out more and more how powerful and intuitive the interface is. The speed with which things can be done might be somewhat daunting in fact - but taking it in after a couple of weeks I have to retain my initial enthusiasm for this software. It is truly a time saver for working on original text study. You can purchase Bibleworks 8.0 directly from the company here, or at outlets such as Westminster Theological Seminary Bookstore, at this link.

Among the very helpful capabilities that BW8 includes is the ability via the Resources window to find all references to the verse currently displayed in the Browse window in every unlocked resource. This can be particularly helpful when studying verse-by-verse for teaching (as I am) or preaching - it also seems to be a convenient springboard for comparing lexical entries as I often do.

If the Analysis window/tab is open in the right-hand pane of the standard BW8 layout, then as you browse the text that you're studying, the contents of the pane will update to reflect the verse (or word) that you are hovering over. For the lexicons, this means that every word entry in the given lexicon that makes reference to the verse (in the screen below, Ephesians 4:18) has a line on which you can click to bring up the lexicon window at that entry. At the top of each section in the Resources window that corresponds to a lexicon is the lexical entry for the word your mouse happens to be over at the moment.

I find this feature - the line-by-line recording of every word referenced in a lexicon for the given verse to be VERY helpful as I go about studying a verse. Not only do the lexicons show up in the Analysis window, though, but so does every indexed and unlocked resource - including reference grammars, and the Early Church Fathers collection. Everything that has a reference to the verse you've got highlighted can be accessed from this window! An example below is shown from the Early Church Fathers, wherein I've chosen to pull up a reference given to Chrysostom's homily on Ephesians 4:17-19:

Returning to the lexicon entries - in this example, I'm working with the BDAG lexicon as my standard Analysis window version, which does not come standard with BW8, but which I received as a gift from a friend once he found out I had BW8. (I'll make another posting on the integration of BDAG with the rest of the lexicons in BW8 - but suffice it to say the integration is thoroughly seamless, and the addition of BDAG to the array of lexicons is WELL worth the additional price).

Again, I'm looking at Ephesians 4:18, and have opened the analysis tab, and have highlighted the participle ἐσκοτωμένοι. This form appears only once in the NA27 text, so the search window shows only the one instance.

As I did in a previous review - but this feature is really useful so I highlight it again here - in order to check the usage of the root verb σκοτoω, I clicked in the Analysis window on the root verb, which effectively gives me a search on all forms of the verb in the NA27 + LXX text (the combined analyzed text is very nice - for searching automatically on both the NT and the LXX):

With this I can see the 9 verses wherein the word σκοτoω appears in its various forms (8, as it turns out) in the NA27 and the LXX. Further, for more detail, I can grab the lexical entry for σκοτoω in the pop-up Lexicon Window by highlighting it and clicking on it:

In the lexicon text window (and in the Analysis window, for the lexicon that is displayed - another excellent user-customizable feature) the Scripture references are highlighted - and are clickable to bring up the text. However, what I've found more useful (or differently useful?) is the tooltip that comes up when you mouse over the reference in the Lexicon text. This makes a study of the contextual usage of the word the lexicon entry covers very easy to do rapidly. The tool tips simply pop up with the Scripture reference you've chosen to display (my choice, ESV for the english and BGT, the Greek NA27+LXX compilation BW put together) shown for your easy consultation. See below for an example:

As it turns out, the example above highlights an interesting textual variant - σκοτιζω appears in the Byzantine (essentially the Majority text) textform at Ephesians 4:18, while the verb σκοτoω is found at this place in the critical NA27 text. So, that prompted another study which was easy to do, comparing these words and their presence in the Scriptures. One can easily change the search version that BibleWorks references by clicking on any word in the desired version in the Browse window (or by clicking on the left-most button on the bottom of the BibleWorks window to change manually to whatever version is desired). Then, if I repeat the steps above I can find the lemma in the Byzantine text for σκοτιζω - and compare it to that for σκοτoω, finding a couple instances in the New Testamenet where the Byzantine text and NA27 text differ on this point.

Again, the presence of the tooltips for showing verse-by-verse context of each lexicon entry, the easy switching of search versions from one to another make for a profitable time spent in the Word. It's hard to characterize this tool as anything but powerful and easy to use, and effective for researching in the original Biblical texts. It is cliche to say, but the possibilities are truly endless. Again, if these reviews are helpful to you and your interest is piqued, you can purchase Bibleworks 8.0 directly from the company here, or at outlets such as Westminster Theological Seminary Bookstore, at this link.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

0 The Prophets of Baal and Lukewarmness

In this morning's reading I came to 1 Kings 18, a familiar chapter, at least in the latter half. In the midst of the chapter, we find this text:
17 When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, "Is it you, you troubler of Israel?" 18 And he answered, "I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father's house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals. 19 Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table." (1 Kings 18:17-19 ESV)
What follows, as you may recall, is the confrontation of Elijah and the prohphets of Baal, where Elijah brings heaps of derision upon the false god Baal to whom the prophets of Baal made pleas to their god to no avail. My focus in contemplating this chapter this morning was not on that episode, however, but on these verses. Ahab, one of the more plainly wicked kings of Israel, is brought to meet Elijah, whose arrival Ahab's house manager Obadiah (not to be confused with the prophet) had announced. "Troubler of Israel" is the moniker with which Ahab addresses Elijah - and Elijah rejects that label in no uncertain terms, turning the tables on the wicked king. How this reminds me of our own times today.

Who is regarded as the troublemaker? Who does the church (writ large) view as the ones who are most troublesome? Is it not the one who follows in Elijah's footsteps and plainly speaks and expounds the Word of the Lord, the full counsel of God? When denominations go downhill as many have who is it that, in the end, is made out to be the bad guy? Who is it that is called "pharisaical" and "persnickety"? Is it not the one who rejects the morphing of the church into the world and the appeasement of worldly opinions, the taking up of humanistic perspectives, and the adoption of practices borrowed from secular entertainment? "Oh, you troublemaker - can't you see we need to change with the times?" "Don't you realize that the Pharisees were just like you, insisting on a strict reading of Scripture?"

As Solomon wrote so frequently in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun.

Following this passage, we find in 1 Kings 18:20-21,
20 So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. 21 And Elijah came near to all the people and said, "How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him." And the people did not answer him a word. (1 Kings 18:20-21 ESV)
In thinking over this and reading the next few verses of 1 Kings 18, I am reminded of Christ's words to the luke-warm church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:15-18.
15 "'I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. (Revelation 3:15-18 ESV)
"If God be God, then zealously cling to and follow Him and heed His Word!" If you do not believe that, then eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you shall die - and stop pretending a commitment to the God of Scripture! DThe message from Elijah and from Christ is the same. Toss the world aside with its opinions, perspectives and practices, and follow the Lord Jesus Christ and seek to be conformed to His image. Cast off the shackles of expectation that the world places on you, and live simply in His grace, committed fully to His ways and eschewing the priorities the world demands that we uphold. The world looks often at Scripture as a source of bondage, and wholesale commitment to the Lord and His commands as imprisonment and suppression of self.

In Truth, it IS suppression of self. Self-denial is the destruction of the fleshly desires that we carry in us thanks to the first Adam. True liberation of self, unto a holy and Christlike walk, however, is far from bondage - it is freedom, and the only freedom we need or ought to desire or pursue. I'm quite content to be seen as a 'troubler of Israel' if commitment to that true freedom brings such comments.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

0 Wisdom to Discern the Need of the Hour

In Colossians 4 today I came to the following pair of verses:
5 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:5-6 ESV)
The thought that struck me upon reading this was the contrast between what it teaches and the notion of a pre-packaged presentation of the Gospel that is often assumed to be the best means of reaching people with the truth of Jesus Christ. Paul writes here that we are to "walk in wisdom" towards those who are not in Christ - we are also to have gracious speech that is to be characterized by that rather mysterious phrase "seasoned with salt", and most importantly to the point I am making, we are to carry ourselves such that we know how we "ought to answer each person".

When a pre-packaged approach is used - the same planned phrases and bullet points being made to each individual to whom Christ is being presented - how can it be said to be a "wise" carriage? I'm reminded as I think of these methods of evangelism of the classic illustration of the vacuum cleaner salesman who sticks his foot in the unsuspecting housewife's door and dumps a load of dirt on her carpet, and then plans to sell her a vacuum cleaner by showing her how easy it is to get that dirt clean. His pre-packaged approach assumes that 1) she won't kick his rear end out of the house, that 2) she'll be so pleased to have the dirt cleaned up that she's willing to listen to his spiel, and that 3) she will be impressed with the speed and effectiveness of his presentation that she'll want to buy the thing. I'm not sure how different the pre-packaged Gospel presentation is than this.

Rather, we are to be wise - and to carry out our discussion of Christ on an individual basis, knowing something about them, and chiefly being able to discern from them what they know, rightly or wrongly, about Christ and their own standing before God. Our training as witnesses for Christ truly needs to be a focus in the generals, and not so much in the specifics... and we must wisely recognize that a pre-packaged approach will simply not work. Everyone is different, everyone's understanding of the world and of their standing before God is different - and people are attracted to different things. The last thing we want to do is shove the contract before them with its multiple bullet points and small print that we don't mention (such as "count the cost!") and expect them to sign up in 5 minutes.

In order to be wise, to be able to "answer each person" in a manner seasoned with salt and full of grace, we need to understand well what the Gospel is exactly. We must understand the human condition before God in light of the covenant headship of Adam and our standing condemned apart from any sin in ourselves - we must understand that we, too, have sinned grievously before God and therefore have compounded our awful standing in condemnation - we must understand that the blood of Christ alone given for His people washes from sin and redeems - we must understand that faith itself is a gift and that however nicely we might package the gospel, some will simply not hear because their ears are plugged tight because of sin - we must understand that our duty is to faithfully proclaim these things, and no more. Success in the effort does NOT hinge upon us, but is determined by whether we've faithfully borne witness to God's truth. Evangelism is a conversation, brought about between a believer and an unbeliever; it takes time; it takes discernment; it will not fit into a pre-packaged mold.

How do we develop skills in discernment and bearing faithful witness? Training programs might be helpful, if they teach the witnesser to eschew the bullet-point gospel and to know the truth and know it well. Developing the means to understand just what it is a person misunderstands about Christ or his state before God is a good first step. When bank tellers are taught to be able to detect counterfeit currency, they are NOT shown examples of counterfeits - but rather, they are given ample opportunity to handle, feel, smell, observe visually THE REAL THING. By knowing the real deal as well as they are capable of, they are able thereby to discern ANY flaw in ANY counterfeit. The same is true for us in bearing witness to Christ and discussing (yes, discussing! Again, real and effective evangelism does not lend itself to "the gospel" being transported on the back of a 3x5 card) His person and work with an unbeliever. We have to be ready to handle any objection, and to truly "give reason for the hope that lies within us". We have to be wise and discerning and be prepared to take the long journey of conversation that a careful witness-bearing requires. If we know the truth well - we shall be prepared to "know how to answer every person" and thus faithfully obey Paul's words to us in Colossians 4.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

0 Put to Death What? Sin?

Paul writes in his Epistle to Colossae:
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator." (Col. 3:5-10, ESV)
The prescription is relatively straightforward. Why, then, is it so hard for us to accept that we truly are to seek a different life? Certainly the Scriptures make it clear that our justification does not derive from how closely we follow this prescription... but nevertheless we cannot sit back and adopt a licentious attitude about sin - a lack of concern about the pattern of our lives. John, too, in his first epistle makes this point quite clear. John there, and Paul here clearly speak to the expectation that the ways of the world are not to be that which we follow - yet some, it seems, in order not to offend the "seeker" hesitate to say anything concerning renovation of heart and life. Why is that? Have we adopted a "sales" attitude concerning the Christian life?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

0 The Mystery of God's Will Revealed to Us

I noted about four weeks ago (here) that in our Sunday school class I'm teaching on Ephesians, and I had initially thought we'd be starting with verses 1-14 of chapter 1 then and make much of the way through it if not finish off that passage in a week, or perhaps two. Well, this coming Lord's Day we're still in the same passage - and probably (as is already evident, I am not concerned with the pace of this class) we'll wrap up that first section and move on then to 15-23 next week. Of course I should have known better - the passage is so rich with doctrine and full of points worthy of devotional consideration. Not that I'm complaining... it is such a blessing to gather a group of people together and study God's Word.

Today I was rereading notes I made for the study, and want to focus in on some comments Calvin makes on Eph. 1:9 in his Sermons on Ephesians,wherein we are told that the mystery of God's will, τὸ μυστήριον τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ, has been made known to us by God's revelation. What a wonderful phrase - the "mystery of His will."

One thing right off, I think, that must be dispensed with is our usual understanding of the word "mystery"... on first blush, I think we hear something that makes us say "Ooh, a mystery! Fun - we'll get some clues and have to figure out the intricate workings of God's mind by looking at those clues! How neat!" This idea has to be dropped like the proverbial hot potato. It is NOT what God's telling us here.

Paul uses the word μυστήριον fairly frequently - 21 times according to my BibleWorks (reviews in progress here). Paul's use of the term connotes a subject that is "A secret or mystery, too profound for human ingenuity", according to BDAG, the "Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature", available in hard-copy here, or as a valuable add-on to BibleWorks, here. I will have more comments in a future review post about the integration of BDAG with the BibleWorks 8 software - it is a phenomenal addition to their package.

Further, the first heading for the word μυστήριον in BDAG indicates that the term μυστήριον involves "the unmanifested or private counsel of God, (God’s) secret, the secret thoughts, plans, and dispensations of God which are hidden from human reason, as well as from all other comprehension below the divine level, and await either fulfillment or revelation to those for whom they are intended." The particular use here in Ephesians 1:9 seems to be exactly this - plans and purposes that God is bringing and has brought to fruition - that are well beyond human capacity invent, discern, or otherwise bring to mind apart from God's intentional revelation of them by means of His Word and His Spirit indwelling the regenerate believer who is thereby enabled to accept these things as God's good pleasure and to thank and worship and honor Him for them. God has performed many works and done many things that are far beyond the ability of the human mind to conceive - I'm brought to think of what Paul says in this light in 1 Cor 2:9-10,
"But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him"-- 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9-10 ESV)"
These are the μυστήριοι of God ... and one caveat that we must recall - that Calvin points to in his sermon on Eph. 1:7-10, is this: For a μυστήριον to be revealed to us does NOT imply that we are able to see perfectly into it beyond what God has revealed. God often does not reveal anything more than the fact that this or that is being done in accord with His will, and that we must therefore accept the limitations of the knowledge that God has chosen to reveal. In many cases, that is much - the μυστήριον of the relation of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32), of Christ Himself (Col. 2:2, Col. 4:3, etc.), the transformation of Christians at the last day, (1 Cor. 15:51), etc... but in every case, what we see is a mystery that escapes the capability of the mind to construct the knowledge on its own from data that one can intake naturally speaking. μυστήριον by its very nature, and by our finite and fallen nature, must be revealed to us if the knowledge of that mystery is to be obtained.

So here we have Calvin in his sermon warning us against delving too deeply and trying to find out more than what God has been pleased to reveal. To do this is certainly our tendency - even having the best of intentions which we might have... it simply isn't in our ability to go beyond what we have been given in God's word, by God's revelation to us - and more than that. Not only is it beyond our capability, but I honestly believe it's an insult to God and an affront to His glory and honor to try to peer behind the curtain as it were. I'll close with Calvin's comments on the subject:
"Now, for a larger exposition of the matter, he immediately adds that God's so doing [God's drawing of us to Himself by means of the Gospel - TKP] is 'because he has manifested the secret of his will to us, even according to his good pleasure, which he purposed before in himself.' Here is another thing which ought to amplify the worth of the gospel even more, namely, that in it we have the secrets that were hidden previously in God. And it is not here only that St. Paul speaks after this manner, but we shall see an even fuller treatment of it in the second chapter. And not only in this Epistle, but also everywhere else, he shows how we ought to be, as it were, ravished when the gospel is preached, because God there opens the things which were incomprehensible to all men before, and which no man would ever have believed or conceived." (p. 57, Sermons on Ephesians, Banner of Truth)
Calvin emphasizes that the things revealed of God's mysteries are simply not obtainable any other way than by God's revelation. They are beyond our finding out. Calvin continues,
"It is true that we may well apply all our endavour to know God's will, but we must proceed no further than he has revealed in his word, for his word is our light. But where God holds his peace, he will have us rein ourselves in and, as it were, be captives, and not go on any further, for if we would try to know more than is granted us, that is to say, more than we ought to know and more than is imparted to us by his Word, it would only be entering further and further into a labyrinth, or rather, into the bottom of hell. Therefore let us well know that St. Paul's meaning in the text is that whenever God keeps his purpose to himself, it becomes us to bow our heads and keep ourselves content to be ignorant of it. For it is a cursed wisdom and such a wisdom as sends us to the pit of hell when we presume to know more than God has taught us. And, on the contrary, we are wiser in our ignorance than all of the wise men of the world, when we do not take it upon ourselves to know anything beyond where God's word guides and governs us. " (p. 59, Sermons on Ephesians, Banner of Truth)
God sometimes reveals more detail, sometimes less - but He only reveals what is edifying and worthwhile for us in building us up and conforming our likeness to that of Christ. Trying to go beyond is mistrusting our Lord and His purposes for us, and while it may seem pious to dig deeper in and find some "higher knowledge", it is, in the final analysis, a form of gnostic curiosity that we're dabbling with if we go down that path. Let us be content to know what God has revealed, and nothing more. Let us trust our Lord and our teacher.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

0 BibleWorks 8.0 Review, Part II - Putting Together Notes for a Bible Study

As I put together a personal study of Ephesians 1:3-14 for my teaching in our adult Sunday School at our church, I had a number of print resources at my hands, and built a set of class plans using them. As a first real exercise in putting together Bible study notes using BibleWorks, I set my hand to the task for Ephesians 1:15-23, which I'll be teaching in about a week.

I'll have to say that th
e numerous training and help videos that the BibleWorks team has put together are fantastic and VERY helpful. The interface is very straightforward, enough so that for many tasks I've not even observed the training videos that are included - but for subtler tasks, and because I wanted to see this aspect of the software in action, I did take in several of the videos included in the "Study Guide" section of the program. One of them that I found particularly useful and which highlighted a VERY useful feature of BibleWorks for the teacher and preacher is the one which illustrated the building of a personal lexicon (a personal selection of words and their lexical entries from, say, the Friberg Analytical Lexicon, or the Gingrich Lexicon, both of which are included among the standard reference tools) for use in exegeting and teaching a particular passage. The video lays out the steps in clear order for selecting, say, the words in a given passage or book that occur 50 times or less in the whole of the NT, and 3 or more times in the passage. These numbers are of course completely flexible - and the procedure as laid out in the video was something I could easily replicate... so, for my own study, I did put such a lexicon together for Ephesians - and perhaps it took me all of 2 minutes.

Overall the videos that I've taken in so far I've found very helpful - clearly explaining each step of any multi-step task, and multiple ways of doing simpler tasks if such multiple ways exist. The videos include the audio from the instructor and a view of the BibleWorks screen with a highlighted cursor actually performing the tasks being described. I don't think it could be more clearly and concisely done.

In putting together my notes for Ephesians 1:15-23, I began with my usual task of copying out to Microsoft Word the ESV and Greek texts. An easy hot-key combination allows this quickly after setting up the hot-key per instructions in the Help file to automatically copy straight away to Word (although copying to the clipboard is the default option and equally handy).

One of the unique phrases found in Ephesians, used twice in chapter 1, is the phrase usually translated as "in the heavenly places" (e.g., ESV), or ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις, so I first did what came naturally - that is, double clicking on the word ἐπουρανίοις. Double
clicking on any word brings up a single word search in the left-hand search window (see screenshot below), which shows every instance of the word having exactly the same form. Immediately what's recognized in the search screen is that every instance of the same form of the adjective ἐπουρανίος,namely the dative plural neutral, is to be found in Ephesians, in exactly the same phrasing.

To check other uses of the same word, ἐπουρανίος, in its various forms, I quickly zipped over to the Analysis window and double clicked on the word's lexical form ἐπουρανίος, and the search window updated to find all the instances throughout the Scriptures and also the LXX Apocrypha. Each of the entries in the search window is clickable, and brings you to the word in its immediate context. To check many instances (in the case of ἐπουρανίος, 20+) takes no time at all - and rounds out the picture of the usage of the word in question. (See screenshot below, where I've also set the options to summarize the whole lemma in the Analysis window - another helpful feature, though I suppose for very common words this might be a bi
t overwhelming)

I found this incredibly useful and very efficient. All one needs to do to get back to the original browse window is to click back on the verse originally searched in (in this case, Eph. 1:20).

For taking a look at words in a little more detail using lexical and other resources, the Resources tab in the right-hand window enables one to check on all unlocked resources for references to a given verse - this includes not only the available lexicons, but also things like the included grammars of Hebrew and Greek - a nice and unexpected feature. Bringing up any of these entries in the Lexicon browser is again just the matter of a single mouse click on the entry for the word of interest. (See screen shot below)

User notes are also saveable and coordinated with the browser window - so as I put together the notes for my Bible study teaching (or, I suppose, if I were preaching on the text it would also apply) I am able to create either verse-by-verse or chapter-by-chapter notes in a full-featured editor, copying and pasting both English and Greek text easily as one would naturally do in any editor by highlighting, and right-clicking text that I'm interested in, and pasting it into the notes editor.

Very quickly, then, just in terms of studying the word ἐπουρανίος in its contexts throughout Scripture, and making perusal through the lexical entries and cross-references, I was able to put together several minutes of commentary concerning the phrase ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις as Paul uses it in Ephesians, and as it pertains to discussions of the meaning of Christ's being seated ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις. The interface is slick - and really quite self-explanatory. I'm particularly happy with the functioning of the personal note feature, which really gives me the opportunity to put notes together on the fly for later extraction into my Word document that I'm preparing for the lesson.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

0 Ezekiel's Warnings to Shepherds

This morning I was walloped by Ezekiel and his words to the shepherds of Israel in chapter 34 of his prophecy, where he starkly takes them to task:
Ezekiel 34:1-10 (ESV):

1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. 6 My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them. 7 "Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 8 As I live, declares the Lord GOD, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 10 Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.
Wow. How careful a shepherd must be - and as I read this I am reminded of the awesome responsibility of "sheep-care" that shepherds have and the stern warning that God gives to shepherds NOT to be feeding themselves for the purpose of getting fat - but to feed themselves for the purpose of caring for the sheep of God's flock.

When shepherds devote themselves to becoming fat on God's Word and neglect the care of the sheep (we won't even get into the question of shepherds who fail even to feed themselves on God's Word), what happens? See first, Eze 34:4-5:
  • Weak sheep are not strengthened.
  • The sick and injured sheep are not bound up.
  • Sheep are ill treated and lorded over.
  • Sheep are scattered.
  • Sheep are vulnerable to wolves and fall prey to them.
Listen to this list and see if you see the modern church here. See if, even, in your own churches this is going on to some degree. I think we can all see areas in which there is improvement to be made... but this stark list helps me to see the grave error that all of us can be subject to if we are not careful.

When the sheep are forced by the negligence of the shepherds to feed them, they must search for and find food for themselves. What kind of food do sheep look for if they are not guided? What kinds of poisonous food might they wander into if they are not helped to find good pasture? Think about it. Is this not occuring today, also?

Finally listen to the warning in Eze. 34:10 - this caps the passage and sets it in all seriousness: the LORD will require His sheep at the shepherds' hands. It is indeed a STERN and SOLEMN warning to all shepherds to shepherd well and according to God's Word. May this warning take root in our churches, that the Lord's prescription be obeyed, and the Lord glorified in His church.

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