Tag Archive - context

The Battle is not Yours… or is it?

2 Chronicles 20:15 & 17

“…Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.”

I recently saw this passage on the web page of a fairly prominent ministry. It reminded me that I am finding that I like bible verses less and less. Don’t get me wrong – I love the bible. I love the stories and passages we can learn from. But verses can cause enormous problems. Those tiny numbers that you see throughout your bible didn’t exist 500 years ago. These were added (thankfully!) so that we can find our way through it and have a common frame of reference. They were not added so that we could have theology that fits on refrigerator magnets and bumper stickers.

Continue Reading…

5 ways to look at scripture, more or less

Great post by Scott Thomas of the Acts 29 Network !!

Go read them here (2 posts):  Part OnePart Two

Scott outlines the 5 ways we can read the bible.  Sola Ecclesia is the one that probably gets the most attention (by teaching – not so much by name) simply because of the prevalence of Catholicism.

But in my experience, the ones that bug me the most are as follows:

Continue Reading…

This little piggy missed the point

When I was a kid, I learned all the important nursery rhymes. I had all the fundamentals necessary for moving into adulthood. One of the basics was “this little pig”. (For those of you who did not grow up in America, “this little pig” is a prerequisite for learning anatomy of the foot.)

This little piggy went to market.
This little piggy stayed at home.
This little piggy had roast beef,
This little piggy had none.
And this little piggy cried “Wee! Wee! Wee!” all the way home

I remember a day in my twenties when I figured out what the first line meant. You see, I always thought the little pig going to market just needed to do his weekly shopping. My wife, who grew up on a farm, had an entirely different understanding. Turns out hers was the correct one! For those of you who are still in the dark as I was… the first little pig never came home. He ended up in small individually wrapped packages in the butcher’s cooler.

It turns out that context is important. Each of us brings baggage with us into life. We hear a story, or encounter a situation, and see it through the lens of our experiences. This can lead us to a happy shopping store rather than a walk to an execution.

The bible works the same way! Each passage has a broader context of the book it is in, the times it was written, and the people it was written to. It also has a narrower context of the specific conversation and the participants involved.

There are tons of specific verses that come to mind. I’ve even written on some of them, and I’m sure I’ll write more.

What are some verses you hear used out of context most often?

Lord, help me not to kill him!

Surely you’ve seen one of these necklaces.  Maybe you’re even wearing one.  But do you know what it means?  I know what you think it means.  Actually, we all interpret it the same way.  It’s a pair of simple charms.  Mother and daughter, best friends, or two lovers each wear one on a chain.  They are given as a symbol of “until we meet again”, or an expression of a prayer for protection.

In the picture above, you can see the phrase that is often inscribed.  Sometimes the scripture reference is included as well.  Here is the actual verse for context:  “…May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.” (Gen 31:49, NIV)

Or is that in context?  Kind of a funny way to say it, isn’t it?  The Lord watch between us? Why wouldn’t we ask him to watch over us?  If we are concerned for our special someone, don’t we want God to look out for them?  Why are we concerned about the space between?  I’m glad you asked!  Let’s actually look at some context.  This will require a brief story.

Once upon a time, a man named Jacob wanted a wife. In order to get a wife from among his people, he traveled to the town of his fathers called Haran.  Haran would be a better place to find an acceptable bride than the foreign land he was living in.  When Jacob arrived in Haran, he saw a woman named Rachel, and they fell in love instantly.  Rachel ran home to tell her family about this wonderful man, and they came to meet Jacob.  He soon struck a deal with Rachel’s father Laban, that he would work for him for seven years in exchange for Rachel’s hand in marriage.

At the end of his seven years, Jacob went to Laban to arrange the wedding.  After the ceremony was complete, Jacob realized he had been tricked into marrying Rachel’s less desirable sister Leah!  Laban told Jacob he could take her or leave her, but Rachel could not be given in marriage before her older sister.  As a concession, Laban offered Rachel to Jacob a second time – he would just have to work another seven years!  Jacob wanted Rachel, so he agreed.

After many years tending Laban’s sheep, Jacob’s debt was paid and he wanted a flock of his own.  So he set up his own household and herds separate from Laban’s.  This went ok for a while, but Laban’s sons started causing trouble between their father and Jacob.  Eventually, Laban became very jealous of Jacob’s herd.  Jacob picked up on this, and God told him to return to the land he had come from 20 years prior, and where his immediate family still lived.  Fearing Laban’s wrath over Jacob taking his daughters and his grandchildren away, Jacob decided to sneak away without telling him.

When Laban found out what happened, he and his men left in pursuit.  Over a week later, they overtook Jacob’s company and Laban confronted him.  (Hold on – we’re almost to the necklace verse!)  Laban was irate!  “Why did you take my daughters and grandchildren without telling me?!”  Jacob replied that any debt he had to Laban was long since paid off and he just wanted to move on.  Laban had been warned by God that this was his will, so no matter how mad Laban was, he could not harm them.  So they made a truce on that spot.  They built a monument of stones as a reminder of their pact.  The first part was a bit of a warning to Jacob.  Here is my paraphrase:  “While I may not be able to watch you, God can see everything.  So if you dare mistreat my girls, don’t think you’ll get away with it!”  The second part was the promise they made to each other.  They agreed that this pile of stones would always be a reminder that neither party could pass that point in order to harm the other.  If either one was coming with malicious intent, they would see the pillar and remember their agreement.  To seal the deal they said “The LORD watch between you and me, when we are out of one another’s sight.”

So, this verse was not a prayer of protection per se.  It was a promise not to be the one that caused the other to have a need for protection!  It was not about people being separated by circumstances of life, but out of safety from each other!  If these people were near one another, someone likely would have ended up dead.  But they agreed to a ceasefire, and set up a monument to memorialize the event, and to warn each other that this was the line that could not be crossed.  So today, we Christians wear this verse around our neck, but I doubt that we mean it as a vow not to kill the other, or a promise to keep our distance!

If you have one of these necklaces, I wouldn’t feel guilty about wearing it.  The sentiment in which it was shared is a good one.  Keep it as a reminder to pray for the person who holds the other half.  Even better, keep it also as a reminder to read the bible and see if it actually says what you think it says!

(And if you want to check out my version of the story for yourself, it’s in Genesis chapters 29-31!)

You cannot do all things

This phrase is up there among the most misquoted passages in scripture. It’s not a long one, so I’ll include the whole thing here:

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11-13

Almost every occasion I have heard this scripture invoked, it has been vs 13 all by itself. And most people like to quote a combo of KVJ and NIV and say “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” – probably because of the song based on the verse. The only trouble is – as stated, it is simply not true. You have to read scripture in context.

Paul is saying that his life has been very hard. He is also recalling the better times. And he is reminding himself that no matter how bad or good things are, he can make it through with God’s help.

This passage is about contentment, not victory.
It speaks about living life as it comes, not acquiring supernatural powers.
It is not invoking, it is confessing.
It is about endurance, not faith.
It is not a proclamation, it is an affirmation.
It is not speaking of spiritual warfare, but commitment.

Certainly there are verses about all these other topics – but this verse is not one of them.

Life is going to suck sometimes. Jesus even said so! But with his strength, we can carry on. We would do well to use this passage to remind ourselves of that – not to expect some miraculous change.

Page 1 of 212»