Journey in the Dark

darkness2God delights to transform lives.  There are many ways to depict this journey of transformation, but let’s focus on one example from the Old Testament.  In Psalms 130 and 131 we have a three-picture portrayal of a life transformed by God’s goodness.  In this progression of pictures we can find a helpful perspective as we care for the souls of others, and as we take stock of our own spiritual state too.

These Psalms come in the collection known as the Psalms of Ascent (120-134). These were probably a collection of songs used by the Israelites as they journeyed up to Jerusalem three times each year for the pilgrim feasts.  When we think of pilgrimage we tend to think of a difficult journey with a spiritual goal – typically the idea that there is some merit in taking the journey and therefore some benefit. However, the Jewish feasts were actually celebrations of a salvation to which they had contributed nothing.  It was not about earning anything, but about celebrating God’s goodness.

When we focus in on Psalms 130 and 131 we can notice a repeated phrase introducing the conclusion in each Psalm, “O Israel, hope in the LORD!”  Intriguingly this phrase is only found here in the whole book of Psalms.  This at least opens up the possibility that these two Psalms work together in some way.  Then recognition of the progression of imagery underlines the idea that thesecan be read together.  So let’s look at these three images and what they show us:

1. Our desperation for the forgiveness God gives.  In Psalm 130 the writer begins with the terrifying image of being swallowed up by the sea.  He describes the cry of desperation from someone as they sink below the waves of the sea into the darkness of the depths below.  This isn’t a literal situation (unless you are Jonah, of course), but it is a description of what it feels like to realize your guilt before God.  It is a cry for mercy that reaches upwards.

Most people don’t live constantly aware of the gravity of their situation.  Nonetheless, without God’s mercy, all are sinners living in anticipation of horrifying judgment.  Sometimes a glimpse will peak through and the fear will grip them before they distract themselves again.  Without God’s mercy things may not feel bad, but the reality is there nevertheless.  If God were to watch out for our sins in order to keep track of them, if He marked iniquities, then nobody could stand before Him.  But there is great news for the sinner – God forgives.

God forgives sinners, the first step in bringing great peace to the guilty.  He forgives fully, finally, freely and forever.  And when the wonder of God’s forgiveness grips us, we live wide-eyed in awe of God’s remarkable kindness toward the undeserving.  Fully forgiven, forever, really?

2. Our hope is in God himself.  The second half of Psalm 130, from verse 5 onwards paints a second picture.  No longer is it the overwhelming darkness and terror of judgment, but it is the darkness of night that is portrayed.  Having been gripped by God’s forgiveness, the next stage in the transformation of the believer is to discover that we are given so much more than an offer of forgiveness (amazing as that would be).  God gives us His Word (v5), He is a God who makes promises and keeps them.  God gives us Himself (v6).  And with God comes not only forgiveness (v4), but also steadfast love (v7) – the committed self-giving love of God that is ever and always loyal to the undeserving.  He loves us for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, etc.  And with God comes plentiful redemption (v7).  This is forgiveness-plus!

As we grow in relationship with God we discover that He forgives, and He gives so much more – ultimately He gives us Himself.  So we still live in a dark world, but we are like watchmen who have learned over the years to watch for the light of dawn.  Morning always comes.  We live in darkness, but we live with hope.  And our hope is God Himself.

3. Our growth to find peace in the presence of God now.  As the believer matures in the transformation that God’s love brings, we come to the final picture in Psalm 131.  The mature believer is not caught up in their own significance, or in their own ability to make sense of everything.  Almost strangely the image pictures the believer as a child.  How can this be the picture of greatest maturity?

Well this is a weaned child (v2).  That is, a child that no longer screams and grabs for the sustenance they need.  Rather, it is a child that is at peace in the arms of their mother.  We’ve all seen a child who leaves the pile of toys to go and peak in the other room to make sure mother is still there.  We’ve seen a child who wants a story read not so much for the thrill of the tale, but for the security of the embrace.  A weaned child can be in the dark, but all is well, because the mother is there holding them.

A mature believer grows to not only hope for deliverance in the future, but also to enjoy the peace that is found in God’s presence now.  Not self-focused and grasping for things, but content to know that they are safe in God’s embrace.

From the terrifying darkness of despair, to the hope-filled darkness of anticipation, to the contented peace in the midst of darkness – this is the progress of God’s transformation work in our hearts.  God gives great peace to the guilty, because God gives Himself to us!

The Pathway to Spiritual Maturity

Pathway2The epistle of James is a remarkable document. He was the skeptical half-brother of Jesus who became a key leader in the church in Jerusalem. While Jesus was going through his season of public ministry, James thought he was mad. Then we discover that the risen Christ “appeared to James” (1Cor.15:7). Resurrection from the dead was enough to convince and transform skeptical James. He became a passionate follower of Christ and a leader who longed to see all who called themselves Christian living sold out lives for God.

The first chapter of his epistle starts as he means to go on. He gets right into the nitty gritty of life, but he does not want to simply offer pragmatic instructions.  James’ great concern was spiritual maturity. He wanted his readers to live fully for God.

So he launches into the issue of the various kinds of trials we face in life.  James sees trials as inevitable – for he does not write, “if you face trials,” but “when you face trials.”  James sees trials as painful – for otherwise why would he tell the reader to “count it joy when you face trials.”  The kind of processing resulting in a bottom line evaluation that this is a joyful thing is not an automatic response to suffering.  But James also sees trials as purposeful and fruitful.  Trials lead to steadfastness, which in turn brings about maturity.

That is a great promise, but how can we “count it all joy?”  How do we get there?  After all, most of us naturally will “count it all misery” when we suffer.  How can we get the perspective that James’ is advocating, and thus how can we move toward maturity?

First James counsels the reader to ask God for the perspective, or the wisdom, that is needed in times of trial (see vv5-11).  God is a loving father who loves to give good gifts, including the trials that mature us, so we need only ask.  Actually James really is at pains to underline the importance of pursuing 100% God’s perspective in these times.  Our natural approach will be to make sense of our trials from our own perspective, or with worldly wisdom.  Our natural approach will be to blame our lack of resources, or rely on our own resources to face the things that we have to face.  But James wants his readers to go 100% for God’s perspective.

God wants to give perspective to us in times of trial, and also hope to help us remain steadfast in the midst of it all (see v12).  But don’t miss where he goes next, for this is not describing some kind of Christian fatalism.  Yes God gives good gifts, including ones that feel negative, but God never gives us temptation.  I am more than capable of generating enough of that from my own heart, but it is a comfort to know that God has never once tried to get me to sin.

He gives good gifts like a Father loves to give his children good food.  He gives good gifts like a father loves his child and therefore gives the nasty tasting cough medicine when it is needed.  He gives good gifts – tasty food, nasty medicine, but never poison.  God is consistently and persistently a loving Father, so we should look to Him for perspective and hope in the midst of trials.

But when we ask for God’s wisdom in the midst of our trials, how do we hear from Him?  The end of the chapter shifts from vv19-25 to address the role of the Bible in our journey toward spiritual maturity.

He seems to begin with some slightly random relational wisdom – be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.  Maybe you have worked or lived with someone who is slow to listen, quick to speak and quick to become angry.  It is very difficult.  Maybe you are that person around others? Know that this is a description of natural humanity, or what we are like in our spiritual immaturity.  James is not giving random relational insights, he is addressing the issue of our response to God’s word.  Verses 20-21 make it clear that he is addressing our natural default response of self-protective anger when confronted or challenged by God’s word.

Instead of flaring up in anger when God’s word challenges us, let us instead receive the implanted word of God with meekness or humility.  Notice two things here:

First, the word is “implanted” – which refers to it not being acquired, but natural. James is speaking of salvation and how the Spirit of God plants within us the word of God, through which we are saved. That means that we are now heart-level Bible people . . . we don’t instantly know everything, but we now have a heart-level resonance with the Scriptures. We start to find them beautifully attractive, and personally relevant. The Bible is not just an object to be studied, but a means to an encounter with God to be enjoyed and experienced.

Second, notice the attitude with which we are to receive this implanted word – with meekness.  This is a humility that is not defensive, not self-protective, not angrily resistant, but instead humbly receptive to how God wants to put His finger on issues in our life.

James goes on to describe a further aspect of truly receiving God’s word.  We are also to put into practice what is shown to us as we look intently into the Bible. This is the living word of God that will pinpoint issues in us that God invites us to responsively address.  James wants “doers who act” in response to the Bible. Notice two things in verse 25 that are really important as we mature spiritually.

First, he advocates a persevering approach to gazing into the word of God.  Like a man looking in a mirror, we won’t easily or naturally see ourselves clearly. Instead our inclination will be to see what we want to see in the mirror of the word.  But James wants the readers to really look intently and to get a clear sense of God’s perspective on us.  Seeing ourselves clearly in the mirror of the word of God is vital, but it is not enough.  In fact, to miss James’ point here and focus on ourselves would be dangerous.

Second, notice his reference to the “perfect law” which he calls the “law of liberty.”  This is not just a reference to the standard of God’s written word.  It is, I believe, a reference to the fulfilled law that we find after Christ came – a law no longer written on tablets of stone, but now etched into our newly living hearts, indwelt by the Spirit and characterized by intimacy with God.  It’s not that we must simply receive the word with humility and respond to it.  No, we go into our Bibles for more than information and self-diagnosis, we are to receive the word with humility and respond to Him.

The pathway to spiritual maturity is littered with trials – little ones like losing our keys, and big ones like losing a loved one.  How are we to engage with these trials?  By engaging fully with God.  We should ask Him for wisdom, relying solely on His character and goodness, not simply mixing that in with our self-protective narratives and self-reliant resources.  We ask Him for wisdom, and look to the Bible to hear his answer.

How easily we can make this passage a pragmatic set of suggestions, but really it is an invitation to a sold out, all for Jesus, God and God alone, fully-His relationship.  May we be leaders that seek God’s perspective alone in the trials of life.  May we be those who persevere in His word so that we hear from Him, and act on what He shows us.  Maybe then our lives and ministries will be reflective of His character as James summarizes at the end of the chapter – concern for God’s values and care for others, a genuinely Christlike maturity.

Life Now

Life2We can easily make the Martha mistake.  I don’t mean the Martha in the kitchen mistake though.  At the end of Luke 10 we see Martha graciously rebuked by Jesus for desperately trying to love her neighbor as her first priority, when she should have first loved the Lord and allowed Him to minister to her before she tried to minister to others.  We easily and maybe regularly make that Martha mistake, but I am not referring to that.

We can easily make the Martha in the street mistake.  In John 11 we see Jesus at a key point in his ministry coming to Bethany where Lazarus was ill and then died.  Martha runs to Jesus and expresses her grief, that if Jesus had been there, then Lazarus would not have died.  Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. But now Lazarus was dead and buried, Jesus was too late, and Martha understandably made a mistake.  What was it?

Jesus told Martha that Lazarus would rise again. What do you say to a grieving sister?  Maybe this was just one of those platitudes that we hear at Christian funerals.  Comfort, but distant.  Martha took it that way.  She assumed that Jesus comes to us and points off into the distant future – comfort for the by and by.  She was mistaken.

When Jesus told Martha that “I am the resurrection and the life,” he was not just referring to the far off future.  What she didn’t know was that this person stood before her was about to reinforce the Jerusalem leadership’s decision to kill him.  What she didn’t know was that this person stood before her was soon to enter into death deliberately and with dignity.  And what she didn’t know was that in a few weeks this person stood before her would stand up and walk out of his own tomb as the conqueror of death.

If Martha could have seen the next few weeks, then she might have anticipated more in the next few minutes.  Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and Lazarus was about to be miraculously resuscitated after four days of stone cold death.

We can easily make the Martha mistake.  We can assume that Jesus comes to us in the tough times of life and ministry in order to point our hearts into the future – that far off time when we will be with him and all the tears will be wiped and the presence of sin dusted away and we will forever enjoy what we were made for, fellowship with the Trinity.  This is all true.  But this is not all.

Jesus comes to us in the midst of hurt, and sorrow, and challenge, and struggle, and betrayal, and fatigue, and tears . . . and he comes to give us life now.

Too many gospel presentations offer only a ticket to heaven when you die. And too many Christians are walking around with hope of comfort tied exclusively to that end of life anticipation.  Jesus is the kind of Savior who comes to us, by his Spirit, in the midst of the mess we experience.  Jesus is the kind of Savior who gives us life now.

Martha misunderstood the physical implications of Jesus meeting her that day.  We can misunderstand the spiritual implication of Jesus meeting us today.

As conqueror of death and Lord of life, what is it that Jesus offers us today as his beloved friends and family?  He offers us hope for the future and a new standing with God, of course.  But never let the good news diminish into a merely status-based future hope.  Jesus offers us the loving intimacy of the Trinity by the Spirit poured out into our hearts reassuring us of God’s love, urging us to call God our Abba.  Jesus offers us eternal life now, which is to enjoy fellowship with God our Father and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.  Jesus offers us transformed hearts, filled hearts, tenderly loved hearts.  Jesus offers us his presence, his comfort, his concern and his companionship.  Jesus offers us life, now.

I thank God for Martha.  Her mistake in the kitchen in Luke 10 is a mistake I make all the time.  Jesus’ gentle rebuke of Martha resonates deeply as a loving rebuke for me.  And her mistake in the street at Bethany in John 11 is a mistake I make all the time.  I too tend to live my life as if Jesus’ presence is nice today, but the difference Jesus offers lies off in the distant future.  Jesus lovingly corrected Martha’s grieving error by giving her the embrace of her brother that day.  Jesus lovingly wants to correct our similar error by giving us his embrace, today.  That is life, eternal life.  It is not only life forever then.  It is, in the midst of all the mess I experience, life now.

Legalism’s 5 Misses

Legalism4Legalism will always contain a rich dose of truth, but it will miss something far richer and more helpful.  Here are a few of the great misses of legalism:

1. Legalism is a misunderstanding of the Gospel. God did not offer us pardon on condition of ongoing obedience to His law. God offered us life as the bride of Christ, the children of God, the friends of God, and as members of the body of Christ. We enter into the Sonship of Christ and so desire to obey as He does – not to fulfill an obligation, nor to merit the Father’s love, but rather as the natural response of a loving heart. In the Gospel we are offered that transformation of heart, that union by the Spirit, and that freedom to enjoy pleasing Him.  Legalism pushes God into the distance and throttles the life out of our obedience.

2. Legalism is a misreading of the Galatian heresy.  Paul was so strong in his critique of believers who were drawn away from Christ and toward the flesh-driven pursuit of maturity via law-keeping.  Two thousand years on and many of us still live under the spell that says we get saved by faith, but then will grow by self-stirred effort.  Galatians is not just a critique of this law-based approach to living for God, it is also a glorious presentation of the opposite – of life lived in response to Him who loved me and gave Himself for me, the promised One who gives the promised Spirit so that we can be sons rather than slaves.

3. Legalism is a misrepresentation of initiative.  The Bible puts God’s grace up front as the initiator, but my legalism turns that around.  Now God is seen to be reticently gracious. He is hesitatingly good.  He must be conditioned into being kind by my initiative through a self-stirred obedience. God becomes the responder to us mini-gods who twist His arm by our self-starting acts of obedience.

4. Legalism is a misdirected gaze issue. When my life reflects an inner passion to gaze at the Law, or myself, or others, then I am living the lie that God himself, as revealed in Christ through the Spirit is not worthy of my loving gaze.

5. Legalism is a weird and twisted version of marriage. If I were to apply legalistic descriptors to a marriage, we would find it very strange. In a marriage we make a great effort for the sake of the other, but we don’t dwell on that effort.  We do it gladly because we love the person. A marriage defined by my obsession with my own effort is weird. It is also weird in union with Christ.

John Piper wrote that “the essence of legalism is when faith is not the engine of obedience.”  With that, let’s bring this series to a close.

Legalism and Preaching – part 3

Legalism2Legalism is not only possible for Christians, it is likely.  The default leaning of our flesh is toward autonomy. That autonomy can manifest in overt rebellion (antinomianism) or in self-righteous religiosity (legalism), but both are manifestations of a separation of God’s Law from God Himself.

You probably see the label “antinomian” being used. It is a serious charge. It suggests that someone is anti-law and therefore, by implication, pro-sin. It tends to be used of those who don’t elevate the Law as much as they apparently should. Undoubtedly there are some antinomians who are genuinely pro-sin, but I haven’t met many. I have met a lot who might be labeled “antinomians” who do not see the Law as the solution to the profound reality of sin, and who, incidentally, live lives characterized by greater integrity and with more fruit of the Spirit evident than some who like to criticize them.

As preachers we need to wrestle with these issues. We stand and speak not only of how to be saved, but also about living the Christian life. For many those are two separate messages. We are saved by grace, they say, but we live the Christian life by determined obedience to the Law.  Somehow this two-part message should feel very awkward for us.

We need to devour our Bibles and get a sense not only of the instructions in there, but also the source of those instructions.  Jesus seemed to suggest that His way would mean a greater and a deeper holiness, one that would surpass that of the fastidious Pharisees.  Yet we tend to think of the Old Testament folks as having a far more demanding legal code than we could cope with. Are we missing something?  Should we demand more strongly that our listeners keep more laws?  Or is there something implicit in the New Covenant that Jesus instituted that leads to a greater awareness of sin, and a greater victory over it?

The New Testament is clear that this life will be a struggle between the flesh and the Spirit, so perfection is unrealistic.  But is there something in the New Covenant that means we can keep in step with the Spirit, that we can delight to please our God, that we can live lives of greater moral integrity out of a heart-stirred delight rather than through external pressure?

Let’s beware of an inadequate understanding of sin and a wholly inadequate approach to living lives that please God – for that is what legalism is: weak on the problem and a flimsy solution to it.

Perhaps it would do us preachers good to take a book like Galatians and read it through again and again. If we bring with us the question of what does it look like to live the Christian life, what is sin and what is the solution for the believer?, then these questions might gradually open up Paul’s teaching there and bring new life to our ministry. It cannot hurt. Twenty, thirty, fifty times through Galatians would help us all.  Shall we?

Legalism and Preaching – part 2

Legalism2I remember the look on his face. An elder in a church genuinely believed what he said, “we may have problems here, but legalism is not one of them. We certainly don’t have legalism here.”  I couldn’t believe it. You could smell the legalism before you entered the door.

Why do we feel immune? I suspect it is because we excessively overlap our legalism definition with the idea of works-salvation.  It is not just about seeking salvation through obedience. Legalism is also about seeking God’s ongoing favour through obedience. It is about trying to perform in order to stay loved, as well as to get loved.

But why do Christians slide into legalism?  In Paul’s writings he sets out the fight between our flesh and the Spirit.  As Christians we have the Spirit of God united with our spirit, and so we long to please Him. At the same time we are still in the flesh with all its pre-programmed rebellion against God’s good rule in our lives. So we feel a tension within. But to avoid legalism we have to make sure we understand what it means to live in the flesh.

Too easily we can view “fleshly living” as the pursuit of licentious decadence, the kind of wild and lust-charged living we see in certain places and on certain TV shows.  But if we think the flesh is just about wild living, then we are set up for the trap of legalism.  Why? Because we feel safe if we don’t live like “those people,” if we can resist the urge to let loose and do crazy things, then we are obviously living in accordance with the Spirit.  Or are we?

The flesh is defined primarily not by a certain lifestyle, but by an orientation. The flesh is all about me.  It is about autonomy. It is about living my way in my strength.  And that is where we can be sucked into a very fleshly lifestyle that looks very holy.  In my strength, in my own autonomy, I can be a “good” person. I can attend church, avoid unacceptable sins, dress well and look holy.  Instead of living a wild and extravagant overt rebellion, I can live a hidden and self-sufficient religious rebellion.  I can be entirely fleshly, and look very very Christian.

Once we recognize that the core issue in the flesh is not licentiousness, but autonomy, we can start to avoid the legalism trap.  Galatians 2:20-3:3 can start to make sense to us.

Sinclair Ferguson makes the helpful point that both legalism and licentiousness are related in this way: they separate God’s Law from God Himself. Thus they both reveal the human tendency to prefer autonomy. Rather than dealing with God Himself, we can keep God at arm’s length and live in essential separation from Him, precisely by looking to a disconnected Law and give it our self-concerned obedience.

Legalism is not only possible for Christians, it is the default of our flesh in one form or another. Let’s pray for God to sensitize us to the subtle slide to legalism that stirs within all of us.  It’s a slide away from Him and back towards self.

Mishandling Old Testament Quotes in Preaching

Two scrolls3Yesterday we saw three big mistakes that are common in explaining OT material in the NT (click here to go there).  Here are some more to ponder:

4. Obliviousness to New Covenant allusions.  This is a huge problem in Christian preaching today.  Too many people read the New Testament and seem to miss the multiple New Covenant allusions that permeate practically every section of the New Testament. The work of the Spirit, intimacy with God, transformed hearts, life, and so on . . . there is so much more to the New Covenant than simply the forgiveness of sins.  Sadly, too many in our churches seem to think that Christianity is an offer of forgiveness combined with a repackaging of Old Covenant guidelines for living.  I suspect Paul would get sharp with some contemporary preaching!

5. Obliviousness to Old Testament portrayal of God.  Too easily we make a similar mistake with the Old Testament.  We can easily view it as largely a presentation of life under the rule of an angry and distant God.  When we read the New Testament as the arrival of gentle Jesus to rescue us from a hard-to-please God, then naturally we will fail to grasp the richness of the Old Testament background to the New.  It was not Law back then, but grace and truth now only.  John 1:14-18 is speaking of the LORD who pitches His tent near the people and whose glory can be beheld, whose character is abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (grace and truth).  The Jesus of the New Testament is not absent from the Old Testament – it was about Him, and He was there.  They did not simply trust in a good promise, but they also encountered the Promiser Himself . . . and now we can meet Him fully!  There are discontinuities between the Old and New Testament, but the character of God the Father revealed in God the Son is not one of them.

How else have you heard OT quotes and allusions mishandled in preaching the NT?


Handling Old Testament Quotes in Preaching – Part 2

Two scrolls2So when you find an OT quote or reference in your passage, what do you do? Yesterday we started with two basic, but important, points – read the Old Testament a lot, and go back to check the source of the quote (don’t just assume you get what is going on).  Let’s build on that with some exegetical thoughts for our benefit, then next time we can ponder how to preach these passages . . .

3. When you look at the source of the quote, take in the context.  For example, when Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6 to support his own claim to equality with the Father and the use of the term “Son of God” (see John 10:34), what is he doing?  A superficial look might suggest he is just being tricky with words. That is, since there is one obscure reference to humans being called “gods” by God, therefore Jesus could also get away with it.  Not very convincing.  But his argument made their poised throwing arms lower and the stones didn’t fly, so something about his use of this quote was more compelling than such an apparently weak argument might superficially suggest.  Check the whole Psalm.

4. Be aware of the wider Old Testament context, not just the specific section. Here is where Kaiser’s concept of “Informing Theology” is so helpful. What informed the writer of the original passage. That is, what was Asaph aware of that fed into his writing of Psalm 82?  For instance, is it obscure and unique to reference human kings as “sons of God”?  Not really, this is found elsewhere.

5. Grasp the meaning of the Old Testament passage in its context.  It is worth taking the time to understand the OT passage as well as you can. For example, Psalm 82 is a rebuke of unworthy leadership that culminates in anticipation of God himself stepping in to deal with the sin of the earth (specifically the failure of the human leaders).

6. Carry a sense of the whole passage forward to the New Testament quote and see how that fits.  Suddenly John 10:34-36 doesn’t seem like a random verse plucked and used poorly. Instead, it fits as part of the extended argument that has carried over from the end of chapter 9 (and really since the conflict of chapter 5). Jesus is not making a desperate loophole defence of his claim to divinity. He is undermining the leadership of the nation and making a claim to be God who has come to judge and claim the nations as his own!  They would likely have heard the force of the whole Psalm, rather than zeroing in on the short quote Jesus used – that was the link, but it was not full weight of his argument.

Bottom line: It is always worth taking time to study the Old Testament source of later quotations and references.  Always. 

A Fresh Approach

FreshAir2It is very easy to let past sermons influence your next sermon. The way a passage is traditionally handled can easily become the default way we feel it should be handled again.

Now there is a positive side to this. If a passage is traditionally handled accurately and appropriately, then being fresh for the sake of it is not a good idea. Let’s be traditional all day long if that means handling the Word well.

However, sometimes a good traditional approach can overpower an equally appropriate approach to a passage. For instance, recently I preached from Acts 8 and Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian Eunuch. As I studied the passage I felt some subconscious pressure to do what I have always heard from that narrative – namely, a brief telling of the story and then a lengthy engagement with a longer section of Isaiah 53. After all, it is a great opportunity to make clear to our listeners what was shared with the Ethiopian Eunuch.

But is there another legitimate approach? I felt there was. Specifically, I wanted to engage with what occurred in this particular narrative. By keeping my focus on the passage in Acts 8 more, I was able to look at God’s sovereign initiative in preparing an individual for an encounter with God’s Word, and how that Word may not be immediately clear, but God is able to bring clarity to it, and when He does, that reader discovers that clarity in God’s Word is more about the Who? revealed than some sense of What-To-Do? that we might anticipate.  Furthermore, seeing Christ clearly is what leads to life transformation. This sense of God’s dealing with individuals and leading them into His Word to find Christ was a rich and unique subject to ponder.

When we come to a passage, let’s remember that this particular passage is unique.  Let’s be aware of how we traditionally hear it presented and be sure that this is the way to go before committing ourselves to it. Recognise that while each passage is saying one thing, it is possible to engage each passage in various ways, several of which may be completely legitimate.