One of the Most Important Lesson’s I’ve Learned About Church Order

It was June, 1999 at a youth camp in Tennessee where I learned one of the most important lessons on church order.  My wife and I were counselors, she a Team Captain and I a teacher.  For some reason, we had an enormous amount of rebellious activities from the teenagers that week.  It was just issue after issue we dealt with, very emotionally draining. Kids were talking back, bringing drugs and other paraphernalia, general restlessness.  God was doing some amazing things, but it was like running underwater, you made progress but every movement was laborious.

On Wednesday evening during the alter call, the students had brought their piles of filthy CD’s, alcohol, needles (seriously!), and other junk, to the front to be rejected and repented of totally in the presence of God.  Just as we begin to pray, we heard a sudden onset of hellacious screaming.  The young man was quite close to me and he was acting just as wildly as he sounded.

Immediately we grabbed him and got him to the ground.  He could not have weighed more than 110lb and there were about six of us holding him down.  It became clear to us that he was demon possessed.  He seemed unusually strong, which I see as abuse from the enemy.  We prayed, yelled commands for the demon(s) to leave, bound the demon (scripture never tells us to bind demons, just to cast them out, but God is patient with our incomplete theology) and labored to see the young man set free.  In the middle of all this, I turned to one of the students in one of the classes I was teaching and said that this is why we study the Bible, it’s real! I felt bold and empowered by the Spirit, even though I had never before faced this sort of situation face-to-face.  Probably an hour or so later, he was delivered, saved, and filled with the Spirit.  He was made free.  I praise God today at memory of this young man’s deliverance from the clutches of the enemy.

The next day I went to my dorm after teaching a class and wept.  I felt so exhausted and like I knew almost nothing.  This event was very draining spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.

Now, demon possession became the talk of the camp.  On Thursday night, a student began rolling her eyes and acting weird, supposedly to look possessed.  We could tell she was not possessed and was only acting out.  However, that night we were trying to round the kids up to go back to their dorms and I heard “Brother Reuben! Come in here, “so and so” is possessed and we need counselors to pray!!”  I went into the dorm entrance and found a young lady on her back growling, yelling, and spitting at the wall.  I could tell she was indeed possessed of a demon.  “Again!?” is what was going through my mind.  “How could this be happening again?!”  I sensed a dark evil all over her, it was disgusting.  We prayed and bound and commanded the demon to leave…to no avail. My paster asked me come back outside because kids were running wild.  I left the student and helped gather the kids to their dorms.

That night my wife slept in the same room as the possessed student.  As long as my wife would hold her hand, she would be at peace. She begged my wife to not let go of her hand so she could sleep.  The next morning the young lady was also saved by Jesus.

On the way home, I quizzed my pastor on these events.  Riding from Tennessee to Missouri provided a long time to think, reflect, and discuss.  Here are some things I learned, was reminded of, and continue to learn from these experiences…

  • Jesus deserves all the attention.  If this takes place during the service, have trusted men lead the possessed person outside and pray for him/her. Don’t let the enemy get the attention.
  • There may be unbelievers present, don’t allow the devil to distract them from coming to Jesus because of some wild display.
  • These were rare events, don’t go looking for such explicit spiritual warfare.  The most effective victory in spiritual warfare is when someone comes to Christ and is saved.
  • Demon possession is very real and it is not like you see in the movies.
  • Jesus is not stressed over the devil.  Satan was defeated at the cross and is no match for Jesus on his best day.  There is no “struggle between God and Satan”, remember, Jesus saw satan fall from heaven like lightning, there was no fight.
  • Never open yourself up to witchcraft.  For the record, I do not believe that a born-again Christian can be possessed of demons but why invite a demonic stronghold or activity around your life?  Stay away from witchcraft, sorcery, communication with the dead, tarot cards, and the like.  The spiritual realm of demons and angels is not an area we are called to investigate.  Keep Jesus as the focus.

About 6 or so years after this camp, I prayed with a young lady who was possessed (there has been only 3 times in my life I’ve ever been involved with casting demons out.)  It was at an outreach where people who lived in hotels were provided a hot meal, a viewing of The Passion of the Christ, a worship service and invitation to come to Christ.

This time was different, I asked for her name and asked to speak to her and not the demon.  The young lady indicated she wanted to be free.  I commanded the demon to be quiet in Jesus name.   I led her to Jesus and when she confessed Jesus as her master, repented, the demon fled and she was made free.  No big drawn-out display, just the power of the gospel.  She is free today and is a dear friend of my wife and me.

Remember to keep the focus on Jesus whom Paul proclaimed as “…the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Timothy 1:17 NIV

 

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Book Review: How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth

Book Review
How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth Book Review. 3rd Ed.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003

“Just read the bible and do what is says!”. Good advice, yet quite incomplete. How does one read the Bible? Is it read like a novel? Like a history book? Like a list or rules? Do we pride ourselves on a literal reading? If so, are we to build parapets around the roofs of our houses as Deuteronomy 22:8 demands? Do we feel as though the Bible is a templet for our pet doctrines? Are we free to ignore sections at will? Does the God of the Bible hold us accountable for these decisions?

So, the burning question is how do we read the Bible? The Bible is like no other book in history, yet it contains many known genres. It is more widely read than all other written works, and for good reason. It has impacted the course of history like no other work before or after it. Because of this monumental question, we have books such as How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth by Douglass Stuart and Gordon D. Fee.

The world at large, and the church specifically, hold the Bible in a special regard. Both those who are converted to Christ and those who are not are often familiar with certain stories and passages. The language of the Bible has worked its way into our everyday vernacular. Because of these and other reasons, there is a wide variety of views of the Bible. People often do not know the difference between reading the book of Job (a book so ancient, it has no reference to the Law) and Romans. In Job, we are rejecting good advice from poor comforters and in Romans we are receiving all the advice given! Stuart and Fee have written How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth to address these issues and to help guide all who are serious in properly reading and interpreting the Bible. One would be at odds to name a more important study skill.

The way the book is constructed is immensely helpful in aiding the purpose of the authors. How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth wisely begins with the addressing the need of interpretation. People often do not realize they already interpret anything they read. Would you read the newspaper the same way you read a heart-felt poem? Of course not! One cannot simply read the Bible completely devoid of interpretation. The authors make a valid point: you are interpreting anyway, you might as well interpret correctly.

From there, the book then goes from help in choosing a translation to a systematic process of how to read each Bible genre. I particularly appreciate the book’s structure, which is very easy to follow. Stuart and Fee address how to read the Epistles, the Old Testament narratives, Acts, the Gospels, the parables, the Law, the prophets, Psalms, Wisdom and finally Revelation. Of course, these could be further broken into sub-groups, but these include nearly everything found in scripture. These literary genres are also often tied to one another and may go from genre to genre in a single book (or chapter!). When one masters the skills in how to read each type, it’s smoother sailing.

I believe Stuart and Fee did achieve their goal in guiding the reader to a fuller understanding of Bible interpretation with this book. This is conditional on the reader following the guidelines of course. For an example of such guidelines, we should attempt to grasp the text as it was written “in their town”, or exegesis. The task of exegesis is outlined in a way anyone can understand the subject. “Exegesis is the careful, systematic study of the Scripture to discover the original, intended meaning” (Kindle location 385).

We read a passage, was it poetry? Was it a list? Was it hyperbolic? Did Jesus really want us to gouge out an eye or cut off a hand? He said to do so in Matthew 5:29-30 if the offending eye or hand causes one to sin. What is the price of a literal interpretation when it was not meant as such? It this case it could be a limb! In fact, the hyperbole Jesus was using was much more powerful than a literal interpretation. Reading the Bible with the correct mindset, and submitted to the Holy Spirit, brings liberation as apposed to the bondage of false belief.
Another very important point How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth drives home is the all-important subject of context, namely, the literary context. This is mentioned throughout the book. This means “first that words only have meanings in sentences, and second that biblical sentences for the most part only have clear meaning in relation to preceding and succeeding sentences.” (Kindle location 458). Without grasping what context really is, one cannot correctly interpret scripture, much less skillfully apply it the way God intends.

Personally, I tend to agree with the authors of How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth and nearly every point. I have actually read the book twice and find it to be incredibly helpful in my own devotional reading as well as sermon/lesson prep. They do tend to take some hard stances on the book of Revelation which I would personally tread lighter, but with Revelation, that is to be expected at times. They see the great city as Rome for sure. Rome is only mentioned in Acts (the last 1/3 or so of Acts is dedicated to Paul’s trek to Rome), Romans 1:7, 15, 15:22 and 2 Timothy 1:17. This is only minor and they are probably right.

I would heartily recommend How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth. In fact, when I first read it about 3 years ago (an earlier edition), I was already recommending it to many people. The second reading was only richer and more rewarding. The parables and proverbs took on a whole new life and I tried to view them (as best I could) as those who heard them for the first time. The puzzling laws in Deuteronomy became examples of God’s care and His desire for the Israelites to be set apart from pagan practices. The dragon and locusts of Revelation were not longer simply enigmatic monsters in my mind.

I would recommend How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth to anyone (professional minister or not) who desires to learn the skills of proper Bible interpretation. There are many books on this subject, yet this particular work as gained notoriety for it’s logical sequencing, easy to understand language, and tried-and-true hermeneutical techniques.

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Christmas Revealed

Simeon and the Christ Child

 

Reuben Smith 12-2011
Luke 2:21-40 NIV

INTRO: God made clear proclamations of the first Christmas via prophesies in the Old Testament (such as Isaiah 7:14), the angelic visitations to Mary, Joseph and the shepherds, and in a different way the Magi.  Mary and Joseph had direct visitations from heaven, they needed such encounters.  God knew they would need to draw on the memories of them for the hardships and joys of the future.

Just days after the birth of the Christ Child Luke records two very different Christmas revelations and we can learn much from these two events.  I feel it’s especially important for us today.  

Luke was not an eye-witness to these events.  There are three “we sections” in the book of Acts which record events to which Luke was a participant. These sections are quite detailed, especially the shipwreck of Acts 27, perhaps the greatest document of antiquity of sea-faring dangers and disasters.  Luke is a detailed writer, very meticulous & careful.  By his own words he “carefully investigated everything from the beginning…(to give an) orderly account…so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”  His writings record many decades so when he pens an episode such as today’s text it is good to mine it’s riches.  The Holy Spirit is in control here.  We see an aged man and women continue the testimony of Christ that dominate Luke’s narratives.

They had no specific encounter w/ angels.  They were ready to meet the Messiah.

In verses 22-24 we see that Mary and Joseph were the careful to follow the law.  This is not unlike the life of Christ for He was the fulfillment of the law itself!  I believe these verses are theologically loaded.  

They brought grace into the temple according to the law.  Jesus’ body is the Temple’s fulfillment!  The temple was not God’s idea, it was David’s.  God preferred a tent, hence the church!  But that’s another message!

Simeon

We know nothing of Simeon before or after this text.  He was apparently a “layman”, not a priest or rabbi, not that we see here anyway.  He was a student of the word and man of God no doubt.  Nothing indicates the Simeon of Acts 13 is this Simeon.  This was not an uncommon name by any stretch for the name Simeon (or Simonites) was mentioned 42 times in the Old Testament.   God uses common men and women with common names, lives and families.

Simeon had qualities we are good to exhibit ourselves.  We see he was….

Righteous – Right w/ God

Devout – Not double-minded, he was committed to the one true God

Waiting for the consolation of Israel –  Patient concerning God’s promises

Holy Spirit was upon him – Anointed.  Did not grieve the Spirit

Move into the temple courts by the Spirit – Listened to the Spirit

Recognized Jesus as the truly unique Son of God –  There were surely other babies to be seen that day however he recognized Jesus’s uniqueness.  For an amazingly poetic Old Testament passage on the uniqueness of Christ see Song of Songs 5:9-16. He is far superior and to be desired above all others!  Jesus Christ is completely unique.  

His prayer:  “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
   you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
   and the glory of your people Israel.”

Notice he begins with God’s sovereignty as did the first corporate prayer of Christians in Acts 4.  This is important because God’s sovereignty is a recognition of both His power and will (see Acts 4:28.)  Simeon hung on to God’s sovereignty for many years as we see in his famous prayer above (as you have promised, dismiss your servant, your salvation, you have prepared, a light for revelation, the glory of your people.…)

He saw is graduation into glory as something to look forward to.  For years he longed to see Yahweh God face to face but did not want to enter heaven’s gates without first seeing the Messiah of God!  Think of it, holding one who is all God and all man outweighed the streets of Gold!!  Imagine living with the promise to see the Christ before leaving and dwelling in glory!!!  This is a sign of Christian maturity for even Paul felt the upward desire for home but the draw to continue here until his race was finished.

His prophecy: He turns to Mary and says “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

This again is full of riches.  Mary would need to hear these sayings, as hard as they must have been to hear at the time.  This is a “statement-of-fact” prophecy not unlike Agabus in Acts 21.  It was not meant to discourage her young heart, it was to prepare her and confirm again that God’s hand was indeed on her and the events she experienced and witnessed.  Mary would feels as though she had been “stabbed with a dagger” (CEV) in witnessing the Passion week and all thoughts would be revealed.  

This passage is worth reading in the Message Bible: “This child marks both the failure and the recovery of many in Israel,  A figure misunderstood and contradicted—
      the pain of a sword-thrust through you—
   But the rejection will force honesty,
      as God reveals who they really are.”

Not only did Simeon recognize the Christ Child, he blessed Mary and Joseph and by the Holy Spirit prepared them for the joys and sufferings that were ahead.  Paul was prepared for sufferings also so we see that this is in alignment with God’s love and methods.

Anna

Anna was a prophetess.  The only other place in the New Testament where we see prophetesses are Philip’s four daughters in Acts 21.  

Anna was known for her faithfulness. She was once married but became a widow after seven years of marriage.  Depending on how the greek is rendered she was either 84 when she died or she was a widow for 84 years.  She was a worshiper. She fasted and prayed.  These qualities precluded the recognition of the Christ Child.  

Anna goes down in history for recognizing the glorious event of Simeon with Jesus.  This shows she was sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s ways.   She began to tell all who were looking for Jerusalem’s redemption of the Christ Child.  

Conclusion:

They possessed qualities which enable the most enjoyment of Christmas: the richest and most satisfying Christmas experience.  Of course, this is not walled into this time of year only.

They had no shopping deadlines or Christmas countdowns.  The announcement was prompted by the Holy Spirit (who always points to Christ!).  They were also unashamed in their proclamations.  

What Luke records in these short verses are meant to bless, encourage, and even warn today.

Perhaps the most important revelations we see here is found in verse 30 – Jesus is Salvation.  He is the hope for all nations.  He is your hope today.  If you have not made Him Lord of your life there’s no time than the present to call out to Jesus as your Lord.  He is not a Baby anymore but a risen Lord, Supreme Authority, who washes away the sins of all who call to him with a repentant heart towards God. He loves you with an everlasting love.  Come to Him today, you will be made brand new!

Simeon and Anna provide the best examples of the true thankfulness of Christmas, they were folks who longed as a part of life.  Their longing was fulfilled in Christ!  May it be so with us!