ENTITLEMENT

…sneaks up on us. “I am entitled to some free time because I worked so hard.” “I am entitled to more respect, because I am holding this marriage together.” The disciples thought they were entitled to time with Jesus, so they excused their rudeness to a needy woman. They also wanted to send a crowd away because they were hungry and entitled to food.

People living by entitlement make God their employer. “Give me my paycheck; I’ve earned it.” Think elder brother. He deserved a party, because he had worked for his dad and never disobeyed him. Whoops. He had just refused to come inside. Entitled folks are blind to their irresponsibility while claiming their rights.

Entitlement gives you a boss instead of a father. The elder son never used the word “father” when talking to his dad as the younger brother did. He clocked in every morning, then expected to be paid. You get what you deserve. He had the right to a party, not with the boss man but with friends. He didn’t even want to be with “the boss.”

Meanwhile, the young son knew that he didn’t deserve anything, but he got it all—a party, new clothes, new shoes, a ring. Far from deserving it, he planned his confession: “Treat me as one of your hired servants” (Luke 15:19). That is where his brother ended up by entitlement. When you think you are entitled, you lower your status from son to servant and God’s from Father to Boss. The relationship morphs from personal to professional, from relational to functional.

We may wonder why we don’t feel close to God. Perhaps we feel entitled to a blessing because we are serving Him. Maybe we shouldn’t get sick like others or miss our plane. Servants of the King should be treated better. Thoughts creep in that rob us of grace and reduce us to slaves with a hard-driving master who expects us to work hard, then doesn’t even give us what we deserve, like a party. Check out the servant who called a happy, generous master “a hard man” (Matt. 25:24). He deserved a break, though he had buried what was given him to invest. Entitlement often makes people lazy, passive victims (see John 5:7),  though they expect others to come through for them.

Grace doesn’t make sense. There’s no free lunch. Why would love be poured out on a brother who shamed the family? It made big brother mad. But the father, who never stopped loving either son, preferred grace to condemnation. “Mercy triumphs over judgment” in the father’s house.

A Pharisee, proud of his record, came to the temple to boast. He had earned points by fasting and tithing. By contrast, the tax collector “beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner’” (Luke 18:13). He received what he asked for. Jesus told the parable “to some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else. Entitlement doesn’t endear us to the Father, nor to our brothers and sisters. And it wreaks havoc on relationships. While an outlook of grace levels the playing field and puts us all in the same position of needy brothers and sisters, entitlement puts some in a higher place, like the Pharisee and elder brother placed themselves. Not a good thing to do. Choose grace instead and live above entitlement!

“A LITTLE WHILE”

How long is that? Too long when it’s hurtful. Peter, the disciple who had an allergic reaction to suffering the first time he heard it from Christ (Matthew 16:22), grew to understand its purpose. He put it in perspective so his readers could embrace it, not with quiet resignation but with blazing hope. Called “the apostle of hope,” Peter puts suffering in the context of the return of Christ and an eternity with the Bridegroom. Even an entire life of hardship, when seen from the view of forever, is an unbalanced fraction. God has mercy.

Peter writes, “In this (the coming of the King and an eternal inheritance) you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials” (I Peter 1:6). Then he takes exiles in a hostile world through some scenarios of suffering for “a little while:”

  1.  Abstaining from the passions of the flesh, an all-out war (2:11).
  2.  Living in an unfriendly world as aliens (2:12).
  3.  Daily mistreatment from an overbearing boss (2:18-20).
  4.  Marriage with a spouse who does not share our values (3:1-6).

The greatest reason to embrace redemptive suffering is that the Son of God did: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (2:21). And how did he do this, so we can learn this difficult assignment? Three ways:

  • He kept His mouth shut (“when he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten”).
  • He kept His conscience clear (“He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips”).
  • He kept His heart open (“He trusted to him who judges justly”).

When we suffer, it’s hard not to say something. Completely natural. We wouldn’t mind pain if it didn’t hurt. What hurts gets our attention, and something comes out of our mouths. Peter encourages us to watch what does. The first thing that came out of his at the thought of hardship brought a painfully embarrassing rebuke from someone who knew what He was talking about (Matthew 16:23), because Peter didn’t. May God give us grace to check our words in the face of difficulty.

We’re not only tempted to say something wrong but also to do something stupid. A bitter or reactionary response may rob us of the grace we need to go through hardship and win. Hopefully, we can continue to trust Him who judges justly.

It’s one thing to suffer; another thing completely to suffer like Jesus did. That has power to influence those on the other end of our pain (2:12; 3:1,2). Suffering will change us, but righteous suffering can also change a boss, a mate, a hostile pagan. It is happening every day all over the world. Maybe it can happen in your life as well. Sister, brother: perhaps you are going through a horrendous battle. We weep with you in your sorrow. May God bring you through. And may you experience His healing, comfort, victory, vindication!

WHY MAKE A PRAYER LIST?

I’ve been a slow learner. Several things took my prayer to a new level: committing to a time, place, and…

Prayer list. You’d think it would get boring.  Sometimes it does. But it keeps prayer on track (I easily wander). Don’t always use it, especially if on a walky-talky. Ever leave your prayer time wondering if you covered what you were “supposed” to? Not anymore. And when a friend asks for prayer, I remember–as long as I add it to my list. My time feels more like a meeting. God and I are doing business. Later in the day is used for listening. Then God shares with me what is on His list! Computer is ready. I try to let the Spirit guide my thoughts. Speaking and singing in tongues is often a part of my prayer time, because it is prayer (I Corinthians 14:2).

P-R-A-Y, starting with…

PRAISE. We “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise” (Ps. 100:4). Pressing issues may override this, as it often did for David (“Why?” or “Help!”), but the focus usually starts with God, as the Lord’s Prayer invites. A list of qualities helps to keep the flow. One may catch my attention for the full worship time.

WHO GOD IS: Loving, invisible, eternal, righteous, just, forgiving, generous, faithful, sovereign, good, purposeful, unchanging, accessible, helpful, powerful…

WHAT GOD DOES: forgive, justify, sanctify, glorify, seat us in heavenlies, rule and overrule, discipline, enable, motivate, restrain, encourage, comfort, support, exhort…

THANKSGIVING: trials, tests, tension, conflict, time, abiding, new earth, open doors, healing, answered prayer, music, home, ministry, friends…

When Isaiah saw the Lord “seated on a throne,” he heard angels singing, “Holy, holy, holy.” Then he said, “Woe is me.” When we picture God’s holiness, we are more prepared to confess our unholiness.

REPENT. As a young man I got tripped up by sin-consciousness, thinking the more I thought about sin the better off I was. Didn’t work. We are changed by what we believe and behold. If we believe that we are dead to sin, we are. If we gaze on Jesus, we are transformed (2 Cor. 3:18).   As has been said, “It is more about the Son than the sin.” However, we still need to confess. I read a list of sins. Any of which can sneak up on me. Confessing the whole list keeps me aware: “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Cor. 10:12).

Wasted time, undisciplined, lack of passion, unloving, insensitive, uncaring, judgmental, critical, anxious, fearful, doubtful, self-conscious, overbearing, presumptuous, opinionated, stubborn, easily offended, unbelieving, careless, tolerant, selfish, unmerciful; neglectful in witness, in Bible reading… As I go over the list, conviction sometimes comes. Once confession is made, I am ready to…

ASK, the longest part of the agenda: for self, family, friends, people in my ministry, the sick, pastors, missionaries, unsaved, special needs. Each item has names or needs attached, some long, like friends with cancer. This part of the agenda changes most often (thank God for computers). Once I have presented these needs, I am prepared to…

YIELD my time, day, resources, body, energy, plans, mind, heart, attitudes, goals, decisions, happiness, sorrows, opinions, problems, prejudices, weaknesses, pain, struggles, hopes, dreams, fears, anxieties, regrets, failures, family, future, destiny to the Lord (Rom. 6:16-23). I want to think God’s thoughts, speak His words, and do His deeds. As I yield to God, my mind is being renewed.

ARE YOU SLOW TO SPEAK?

We are by nature slow to hear, quick to speak, and quick to anger. Where does that get us? In trouble–much of the time. We prejudge a situation, address it too soon, and in reaction. We don’t weigh it and pray it before we say it–and we often spout out half-truths.

I like Mike Bradley’s response (not reaction) when a celebrity messed up the Star Spangled Banner before an NBA game. People, of course, jumped on her quickly for disrespecting our country.  Mike said that she probably tried her best and feels badly that she performed poorly. Call it grace. She did apologize and said she loves our nation and wanted to make it special. She was sorry and embarrassed that she had blown it. (And she is not the first one who has). I think that Mike’s response may have reflected the heart of God more than a truckload of others.

My knee-jerk commentaries are too often misplaced judgments rather than a message combining truth and grace. What rubbed off on people when they encountered the Son of God was “grace upon grace” (John 1:17). That means heeding the admonition of the brother of Jesus, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19,20). What does it produce? Hatred, judgment, criticism–really bad fruit.

I have often said to myself, “I should have listened more before I opened my mouth and gave my less than sterling opinion.” Keeping one’s mouth shut is a helpful discipline for people who enjoy talking–like me. “Slow to anger” means not going from a two to a seven in five seconds. Five minutes would prove better. What about five hours? No one is slower to anger than God. Put the brakes on your anger–and you just became more godly.

The strong conclusion from James, “There put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness…” (21a). Whoa! Where did all that filth come from? An unchecked mouth opening the door to the free flow of bitterness. He goes on, “…and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (21b). So we are receiving rather than reacting. And we are doing it with humility rather than speak in pride and judgment. The infallible word from heaven is being planted in our souls where it can take root and grow up in righteous living.

People who respond rather than react…

  • care more about the people than their own opinion
  • are good listeners
  • have allowed the Holy Spirit to slow them down in their speech

People who react rather than respond…

  • cause some train wrecks
  • care more for what they think than listening to what others think
  • need to slow down their anger

Thank you, Brother James for helping us get a grip on our life.

ON TIME: MARY AND MARTHA

Martha may have looked efficient as she labored in the kitchen to prepare a meal for Jesus. She tried nailing her sister for sitting down on the job. Jesus said to her, “You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better…” (Luke 10:41,42). This scenario teaches us some truths about saving time:

Worry kills time. Anxiety is the clue that we’re playing God and doing something that might not be in our job description. Martha should have backed off and asked a question, “Why am I doing this now?” The “why” question helps us save time: Why am I going to this meeting? Why am I writing this letter? Am I doing something that someone else should be doing? Am I doing something that should NOT be done? Is this my responsibility?  Should I be doing it now? Martha probably had the job right, but her timing was off. Meanwhile, Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (39). We see Martha on a later occasion in the kitchen, and she is peaceful and right on schedule (John 12:2) So is Mary, anointing Jesus.

Distractions eat time.  Luke writes that “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made” (40). The word “distracted” literally means to be pulled in different directions. Distractions keep us from focusing on what is needful at the moment. Mary locked into the “one thing needful,” while Martha was pulled this way and that. God-given goals keep us from secondary priorities. We must say “no”  to people’s expectations that keep us from our highest priority. Martha was no doubt operating with cultural expectations and firstborn mandates. Mary’s devotion exceeded all other expectations and put her in the right place at the right time. Martha needed focus. Are any demands pulling you in wrong directions or at the wrong time?

Mary did three things, all of which kept her on track with right priorities and saved her time.

She “sat at the Lord’s feet.” People with a strong work ethic may question the value of sitting before serving, but in sitting we find out when and where we need to be serving. I have learned to ask the Holy Spirit simple yes-and-no questions, and it saves me a lot of time: Should I go get the tires? No. Is this a good time to talk with Don? Yes. Wish I had learned this as a young pastor.

She was “listening to what he said.” Those who don’t take time to listen will make wrong decisions, will sometimes overbook their schedule, and will not live on purpose. They will also fall prey to the expectations that others place upon them. Mary and Martha were listening to two different voices–and one was right.

She chose what is better.  Saving time has everything to do with making good decisions. Saying “yes” also means saying “no.” One cancels the other. People who say too many yeses live frustrated lives. Their own goals are overshadowed by the desires or demands of others. Thank God for hardworking Marthas who get the job done.And thank God for Marthas who have learned from Marys that their job goes much better when they have taken their cue from Jesus!

TENSION–THE LIGHT ON THE DASHBOARD

God has high goals for His kids, conforming us “to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). We’re not there. He uses tension to show us our need and build humility that cries out to God. He gives us relationships with people who are opposite us. It leads to friction, creating heat, with the view to character being formed in us. Think overbearing boss, strange relative, or sibling: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Martha and Mary.

Cain’s approach to life was a long way from Abel’s, and he had some changing to do. God said, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7). Instead of taking the warning in, Cain took his brother out. Sad. They could have become great friends, but he did not learn from the tension.

Mary and Martha look like opposites, Mary the relaxed, meditative type and her older sister the hardworking gal. Tension does not mean something is wrong; it means something is happening (thank you, Graham Cooke). Instead of learning from younger sis, Martha complained to Jesus about lazy Mary leaving her to do all the work. Then she ordered Jesus to tell her sister to get u and help, not the smartest thing to say to the Son of God. If Martha could only have stopped and asked, “What could God be teaching me in this frustrating situation?” She might have come up with a different response. Too late–it was out of her mouth. Jesus came to Mary’s defense, an uncomfortable moment for Martha. It appears from later interactions that she had matured through the experience.

Sometimes tension drives us to the opposite response than is needed. Jacob and Esau were poles apart. Big brother (by a few seconds) was a man’s man, with hair on his chest, while brother Jake was a momma’s boy, an insider rather than an outsider. Jacob got over the tension created by the dissonance, but he almost killed himself in the process. Had they seen what God was doing, they might have learned to cooperate with each other earlier than they finally did.

God is relentless in His desire to make us like Jesus. When tension addresses us, we can hopefully say, “I wonder if God has something in mind with the friction I feel right now. Could it be that I need to learn something rather than this person who feels like my adversary?” Cain chose jealousy over humility. Martha embraced a victim mentality. Victims don’t plan on changing, but they want you to change to help them. Jacob could only see a competitor, and deception took over when understanding would have worked better.

Do you find yourself struggling with tension? It is the light on the dashboard communicating an important message. If you can step back, ask what the message is, and respond appropriately, you will grow through the experience and even thank God for it. If you treat the light as an intruder and put tape over the light that says the car is overheating, get ready for a disaster. Maybe you are the one who is overheating, like Cain, Martha, and Jacob. Learn from the tension and grow!

10 TRUTHS ABOUT TONGUES

…from I Corinthians 14.

  1. We are speaking to God (2). Call it prayer. We are making sounds we don’t understand, and Scripture says that our words are aimed directly toward heaven. I am blessed, offering a perfect prayer without my mind involved. Powerful. Prophecy is to people, tongues is to God. When we pray in tongues, we have an audience of One. He is listening and responding, though we usually don’t know what we are praying.
  2. What to some is foolish babbling is speaking mysteries, a strong New Testament word about revelations hidden for ages but now made known to the people of God. Glorious that He allows us to utter great mysteries.
  3. Paul says that they are mysteries “in the Spirit,” a wonderful place to be. One way to live in the Spirit is to speak often in tongues.
  4. The one who speaks in a tongue “builds himself up” (4). I don’t know anyone overdosing on encouragement; most I know could use some. Speaking in tongues can lift you out of discouragement, give you spiritual muscles, prepare you to enter into other gifts, and open you to further revelation. Astounding.
  5. Paul says, “I want you all to speak in tongues” (5). He had found great value in it and wanted many to experience it. We have yet to mine the depths of its riches. Keep exercising it, and God will show you more.
  6. Speaking in tongues is a language (Acts 2). Those filled with the Spirit at Pentecost were speaking and Jews from around the world who came for the festival days understood. Miraculous. After I taught at a seminar in Bergen, Norway, I spoke in tongues while the pastors met in small groups. A young man from Serbia came to the mic and said, “Paul is speaking my language and is telling us to be courageous,” which was the theme of my teaching. How long does it take to speak a new language? About three years–unless you are filled with the Spirit. Then it may happen instantly. Incredible!!
  7. Two different kinds of prayer: with the mind and with the spirit (15). We do not use our mind when speaking in tongues. That means that when we need our mind for other activities (driving, reading the Bible, making breakfast), we can still speak in tongues and not be distracted. What a versatile gift!
  8. The greatest apostle of all time said, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than you all” (18). He found great blessing in it and wanted to encourage others to use it. He knew that some had shelved it, not knowing its value. It helps bring revelation of truth, release people from oppression, and do spiritual warfare, to name just a few benefits.
  9. Tongues can be a sign for unbelievers (22). It happened at Pentecost. The disciples were doing the impossible in speaking known languages, and it got the attention of thousands.
  10. I Corinthians 13 teaches that tongues without love is useless. We fly with two wings–the gifts and the fruit!

JESUS ON THE END TIMES (part 2)

Jesus continues his teaching on the end times: “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars” (Matt. 24:6), a day when street fights, racial crime, and national wars are too many to put in the morning paper. “See that you are not alarmed,” Christ’s second warning in three verses. He is wanting to get them ready for hard times, not for a glorious take-over. “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places” (7). Suffering could make people susceptible to any quick fix or false prophet.

A friend into dominion theology said to me, “We are dealing with hunger. It is at a new low. We are making great progress and the church is on the move.” That was before Somalia and southern Nigeria, where starving children are dying daily. His statement reflects people who over-promise and under-perform (see part 1). Jesus has given us truth so we can go through difficult times with blazing hope. He does not have an inferiority complex. The leaders of Israel were optimistic about Israel’s immediate future when Jeremiah was not. He was seen as a traitor. Who were the real traitors?

So many earthquakes that you don’t want to go on a vacation for fear of what you enjoy collapsing under you. The Prophet says, “All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (8). I’ve seen birth pangs up close seven times. Not anything near fun but a sign that something wonderful is coming.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake” (9). The Prophet gets personal–”you.” Many martyrs in the last days. They will be killing Christians like in the first century. Doesn’t sound like God’s people are winning a popularity contest.

“And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another” (10). Brothers and sisters will turn on each other, parents and children, a deterioration of family. You don’t know whom to trust. Jesus uses the word “many” six times in eight verses. This is worldwide, not a small cult in New Mexico. John says that “the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast” (13:3).

“And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many (some translations say “most”) will grow cold” (12). I’ve already seen the apostasy in the ELCA and some other mainline churches. Picture new-agers healing a two-year old of blindness and a whole church saying, “They have to be right if they are doing miracles.” Lawlessness–that describes the times more than any single word. Paul writes, “That day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed” ( 2 Thessalonians 2:3). He uses the word “lawless” four times in describing the antichrist who seduces cooled off Christians with unrestricted freedom. The antichrist stands against all moral law. Everything goes, and it goes fast. (Normal length)

But Jesus does have positive news in the midst of total collapse. He says that “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (13). The end-time quality most emphasized by Jesus, Paul, and John is endurance, not conquest. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (14). So persecution and proclamation go hand-in-hand. While the family is being shredded, the spirit of Elijah turns the hearts of fathers to children and revival happens in the midst of devastation. The church has thrived under persecution. Listen to the Good Shepherd comfort his sheep: “See, I have told you beforehand” (25). He is giving us truth so we endure.

Jesus speaks the same truth to the churches of the Revelation. Those who have remained obedient are urged to “be faithful even to the point of death,” so that they will be given the crown of life (Rev. 2:10). The Philadelphian church is commended for enduring patiently in spite of opposition (Rev. 3:10). Then we are given two chapters of the throne of God, the Great I Am and the Lamb, followed by fifteen chapters of unrelenting judgment poured out on unrepentant humanity. The judgment does not turn their hearts as the King prepares for his descent. Instead, they call for the rocks to fall on them and hide them from the wrath of the Lamb. The call in the book of Revelation is “patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints” (13:10; 14:12). When Christ returns, he will come to a world ravaged by judgment and to a Bride beautifully prepared for a wedding.

Three truths surface:

  1. Revelation is the only book starting with a blessing for those who read it and ending with a curse for those who tamper with it.  
  2. Leaders prepare people not “the great escape” but for the great harvest–with suffering.
  3. Having been told about end times, “Set your hope fully on the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:13), and be about extending the influence of the king. Happened in underground China. How about here? ”Even so, come Lord Jesus!”

JESUS ON END TIMES, part 1

I started a young adult school, typically positive. Then I was given this advice: “Under-promise, over-perform.” I needed that!

A successful pastor said to staff, “I don’t want a negative eschatology.” Okay, but if it isn’t truth, it does not fit Jesus. Sometimes Jesus may sound negative, or is he simply speaking truth? “The gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13,14). Jesus was more likely to warn than welcome potential disciples.

It had been quite a week. Jesus had set his face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). He tried to tell his disciples repeatedly about dying, but they were clueless. He rode into the holy city proclaiming himself king. Then He cleaned out his Father’s house and followed with a healing service. The next days he cursed a fig tree, did some teaching, and showed his wisdom before nervous Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians, who normally hated each other but ganged up on Jesus. They finally quit trying to trick him. Then he turned on them and pronounced seven sober woes before lamenting the coming desolation of Jerusalem for missing its time. He left the temple brokenhearted–for the last time. It brought him to tears.

Hey, fellas! Not the time to talk about stones and buildings. Herod was the greatest builder of that day, insane but brilliant. “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” (Mark 13:1). His response: “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Mark 13:1,2). People don’t move those stones. Armies could–maybe.

The shock of silence. They had just heard the worst news ever, like the end of Judaism. They finally had the nerve to speak. “As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately (for fear of starting a riot), saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’” (Matthew 24:3).The Prophet Jesus could see the dismantling of Jerusalem in that generation and at the close of the age. Prophecy sometimes comes with a double fulfillment. (Think Isaiah 7:14). Jesus needed to prepare his disciples for a potentially paralyzing truth. And he is preparing the church for an even more colossal devastation.

He starts with a warning: “See that you are not led astray” (5). If the first words out the Son of God’s mouth are a strong word of caution, we best take heed. Then he says “For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.” “Many” is a lot of people. This will be a day when truth has never been so elusive. Why? Paul says that “God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:11,12). If you want pleasure more than truth, then truth will be almost impossible to find. (Part 2 next).

MY FRIEND HERMEN

UNDERSTANDING PRINCIPLES OF BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION
I want you to meet Hermen. I don’t know him well, but what I know I appreciate.  He’s opinionated, but I respect his wisdom. Since we share an interest in books, I have learned some of Hermen’s ideas on how to read literature, including the Bible.  Here are some:

  l) Take the simple meaning first.  Don’t allegorize unless the author gives you a clue that you are supposed to.  Interpret words literally, unless given a reason not to. Don’t look for “hidden truth” until you understand the clear meaning. Words contain a socially acknowledged meaning. It isn’t fair pool to redefine a word to fit one’s private interpretation. Words should normally be understood in the customary way they would at the time written. To find the simple meaning, we try to understand the culture in which the term was used.

  2) Let easier passages explain hard ones. Don’t make a case about difficult texts unless the easier passages make the same point.  Cults make a big deal about scriptures over which much controversy swirls.

  3)  Let the author explain himself. Don’t tell him what he meant.  If you read enough, he will probably tell you. Scripture explains Scripture more accurately than a commentary can.  Inductive study hopefully keeps us from reading something into a passage, called eisegesis.

  4) Expect a book to agree with itself. Unless an author is losing his marbles, he will not say one thing in one passage that he contradicts in another. Apparent contradictions are probably in the reader’s mind, not the author’s.

  5) Context helps with text. Check the environment. Hermen agrees with the axiom, “A text without a context is a pretext.” To discover what an author is saying, find out what he already said or says in the next chapter.  It gripes Hermen when people lift a quote out of context and make it say what the writer isn’t.

  6) Authors write books to say something.  Discovering the main message helps you understand supporting points.  The whole should equal the sum of the parts.

  7) If you don’t understand chapter one, maybe you will after you read chapter two.  The end clarifies the beginning. This is called progressive revelation. Revelation completes the big picture.  What happens in the New helps to interpret the Old. For instance, Hebrews helps us understand Leviticus and Revelation, Genesis. 

Hermen won’t budge much.  If you have occasion to be involved with him, you will get along  better if you understand these rules. Hermen’s last name, in case you wish to contact him, is Eutics.  His full name, Hermen Eutics,has an interesting origin, coming from a Greek word “hermenea,” meaning “interpretation.”  Hermen helps us interpret the Bible, an important skill.