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On a recent radio program, Dennis Prager brought up the idea of the news of the day being either interesting or important. O.J. Simpson, for example, being paroled from prison is interesting. The decision by the hospital and courts in Britain to override the authority of Charlie Gard’s parents is important to the broader culture. Prager said that talk-show hosts such as himself have to be able to tell the difference between the two.

That got me thinking about hermeneutics – the art and science of interpreting the Bible (yes, my mind does work that way!). Distinguishing between the interesting and the important in a particular passage of Scripture is necessary for proper interpretation.

For example, it’s interesting that Psalm 34 is an “acrostic psalm,” or “alphabetical psalm.” The first verse begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and each successive verse with the next letter (and so on, down through the entire psalm and alphabet). It’s an interesting piece of information, but it doesn’t rise to the level of importance for one reason – the acrostic structure doesn’t make any difference in how the psalm is interpreted. The structure of Psalm 34 (as well as Psalms 9, 10, 25, 37, 111, 112, 119, and 145) doesn’t have much to do with it’s meaning.

The meaning of Naomi’s name, however, is important. Naomi is introduced to us in the book of Ruth – she’s Ruth’s mother-in-law. In Hebrew, her name means “pleasant” (Ruth 1:2). She started out “pleasant,” but after her husband and both of her sons died, she was left destitute with two daughters-in-law. Upon her return from Moab to Bethlehem, the women of the city said, “Is this not Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me” (Ruth 1:20-21). Naomi went from “pleasant” to “bitter” (the meaning of the name Mara). That’s not simply an interesting tidbit or factoid, it’s important  because it helps us understand the story of Ruth and Boaz, as well as their part in the history of redemption as ancestors of the Lord Jesus Christ.

When you read and study God’s Word, learn to make the distinction between what is interesting and what is important. It makes a huge difference.

P.S. A word to pastors and teachers of the Bible: I know you want to share the wealth of your study with those to whom you preach and teach (I know i do!), but spend more time on the important than you do on the interesting. Important changes lives; interesting rarely does.

 

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Kevin DeYoung provides 15 helpful tips for discerning truth from error when it comes to Bible teaching in this post. False teaching is rampant in today’s church and the first thing we need to be able to do is know it when we hear and see it. As Paul told Titus, “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine” (2:1).

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11860378-calendar-may-2015

In May…

read Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung. Excellent! I’m at the point where I’ll recommend anything DeYoung writes. It answers the question or “What does the Bible say about itself?”

read The Masculine Mandate: God’s Calling to Men by Richard Philips. Good treatment of what God requires of men. Give it a read!

Did a lot of packing and preparing for my trip to Vietnam to teach national pastors with Harmony Outreach. Exciting and nervous.

Spent an incredible week in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam teaching and training national pastors, elders, and workers in a four days of morning and afternoon sessions. I taught an overview of the book of Romans, and Dr. Bill Baugh taught on leadership. The hospitality and kindness of Pastor Song and everyone who helped put this on was amazing. An incredible week! Praise God for the opportunity to encourage and strengthen the church in Vietnam.

read Trusting God by Jerry Bridges. Christians should read anything Bridges writes, and this book is no exception. We can trust God because He is sovereign, wise, and loving.

enjoyed being home again with Karen, getting over the jet lag, thinking about what God did in Vietnam, and being back at Cross Creek Bible Church (where I preached yesterday and gave reflections on the trip and the book of Romans)!

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Good for Keith Getty and Stuart Townend! They refused to change the lyrics of their contemporary hymn “In Christ Alone.”

Here’s the story: According to a report from One News Now, the Committee on Congregational Songs of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are in the process of putting together a new hymnal for the mainline denomination. When looking at which songs to include, they requested that Getty and Townend change one line of their immensely popular hymn. Some of the committee members didn’t like the line that says, “On that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” Why? Because they don’t like the idea that the death of Christ “assuaged God’s anger” over sin. They suggested an alternative lyric – “the love of God was magnified.” If the lyrics were changed, the song could be placed in the hymnal. If not, it would be left out.

“In Christ Alone” will not be included in the new PCUSA hymnal. To their great credit, Getty and Townend refused to change the line. They said they wrote the song to tell “the whole gospel.” Getty and Townend know what the committee members apparently don’t – the death of Jesus as a substitutionary sacrifice satisfied God’s wrath against sin, and it’s a crucial part of the whole gospel. Romans 5:8 says it clearly: “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood,  much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), along with the other mainline Protestant denominations, continue to give evidence that they’ve left the faith and have apostatized. When you outright deny, or are seriously uncomfortable with, what is known in theology as the penal substitution of Christ, you no longer have the gospel.

A couple of other thoughts: “In Christ Alone” is my favorite modern hymn, precisely for the reason Getty and Townend say the wrote it – because it tells the whole gospel and includes the concept of God’s wrath, which is frequently left out. This incident shows how important lyrics are in the songs we sing. Songs perform the function of teaching alongside the role of reaching our emotions. Therefore, what we say and sing matters because words mean things.

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It’s not hard to tune out when we’re listening to a sermon, taking part in a Sunday School class or a Bible study. It could be that the presentation isn’t very good, or our attention isn’t held, but another reason we might tune out is that we’ve heard it before. Because we’ve heard it, we assume that we understand it and know it. Therefore, we don’t need to hear it again.

We couldn’t be more wrong! As the saying goes, “repetition aids learning.” Hearing something once, or even more than once, is no guarantee that we know it or understand it at all. Paul told the Christians in Philippi, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe (or a safeguard) for you” (3:1). Peter wrote something very similar in 2 Peter 1:12-13, and 15: “Therefore I intended always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder…And i will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.” 

It’s for our good that we hear things repeated that we already know. We’re guarded from error, established in the truth, reminded of what’s true, and we become able to call them to mind (especially when we need them the most).

So, the command to pray without ceasing has come up four times in the last week – we’ve heard it before, but we need to hear it again and again and again. Why? Because we forget. And it should be no trouble for us as pastors to remind our congregation, even if we sound repetitious.

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Kevin DeYoung gives an answer you may not expect, and I totally agree with. We need more teaching in the church, not less.

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D.A. Carson wrote:

If I have learned anything in 35 or 40 years of teaching, it is that students don’t learn everything I teach them. What they learn is what i am excited about, the kinds of things I emphasize again and again and again and again. That had better be the gospel.

If the gospel – even when you are orthodox – becomes something which you primarily assume, but what you are excited about is what you are doing in some sort of social reconstruction, you will be teaching the people that you influence that the gospel really isn’t all that important. You won’t be saying that – you won’t even mean that – but that’s what you will be teaching. And then you are only half a generation away from losing the gospel.

Make sure that in your own practice and excitement, what you talk about, what you think about, what you pray over, what you exude confidence over, joy over, what you are enthusiastic about is Jesus, the gospel, the cross. And out of that framework, by all means, let the transformed life flow.

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