Creative Biblical content at the intersection of life and faith.

The Christ Centered Family

">The Christ Centered Family from Brian Branam on Vimeo.
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Proper Ex and Eis in Ruth

It has been several weeks since I posted in this series, but in the last piece I wrote about the importance of discovering the context of a passage in Bible study, especially for the purpose of teaching.  Context is the story behind the story.  It is the surrounding, perhaps unmentioned details that help give the story meaning.  When a passage is taken out of context we commit a hermeneutical no-no in that we are then free to make the passage mean what we want it to mean.  Yet, as we have discussed before, a passage never means what it never meant (Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, loc 574 Kindle Ed.).  Context is important.  Allow me to demonstrate.
As a pastor I feel sometimes like a wedding groupie.  If there is a wedding within 50 miles I’m probably going, either by invite or as the officiant.  Over and over again I have heard Christian couples include a powerful Bible verse in their vows:
“Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge.  Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”
I am not trying to be critical.  I get it.  These are great words that seem to appropriately express the spiritual commitment of marriage.  If you want to use these words in your ceremony, do it; I’m not knocking it, but you should be aware of the context.
The words are from Ruth 1:16.  They were voiced by Ruth, not to her husband, but to her mother-in-law.  They were not even said at a wedding, but after a funeral.  Ruth’s husband has died.  Ruth met her lat husband because her in-laws had left Bethlehem due to famine and had settled in the pagan land of Moab.  Ruth, at the time she said these words was not a believer.  She was a good pagan girl.  I would argue even that when Ruth said these words she did not become a believer.  She was simply expressing a common cultural formula to her mother-in-law.  
In moving back to Bethlehem they were crossing a national border.  In ancient pagan thought the gods were sort of caged by the borders.  Each nation had their gods and if you wanted to escape the wrath of a certain god, you could move to a land out of his domain, where other gods ruled.  Ruth was saying, “We are crossing the border.  I want to be a part of your people by also receiving the dominion of the rule of their God.”  The beauty of the story is that even though Ruth did not fully comprehend what she was saying, she would soon find that the benevolent rule and law of Israel’s God would indeed become her salvation.
When the verse is read in context it has a whole new meaning.  I would even argue that it has an even greater meaning than one that we would supply for it.  As creative as we may be, there is a power already in the Word of God that we cannot rival.  As teachers and students of the Bible our task is not to supply meaning to the Word.  This is called eisogesis (Greek preposition eis means “into”).  It means to read meaning “into” the text.  Our task is exegesis (Greek proposition ek means “out of”).  As Exodus is the story of God pulling His people out of Egypt, so exegesis is the task of pulling the meaning out of a Scriptural text.  The meaning of the text is already there.  We do not supply it, we discover it!
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6 Words for Men (Talking Points for Sunday A.M. 8/26/12)

6 words from Ephesians 5:25-33 a man must take seriously if he is to be the head of his home:

1)  Responsibility
2)  Self-sacrifice
3)  Communication
4)  Nourishment
5)  Union
6)  Love
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Fun With Water Spouts at PCB

3 water spouts that appeared in front of our condo, yesterday at Panama City Beach, FL near Pier Park.

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Who Ruined Your Fairytale?

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Things You WILL NOT Hear at the Liberty Men's Fall Retreat (Jimmy and David)

">Mens retreat ad 3 Jimmy and David from Brian Branam on Vimeo.
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Why So Many Men are Hooked on Porn and Video Games

Below is an excerpt from an excellent article by Russell Moore at Moore to the Point:

Satan isn’t a creator but a plagiarist. His power is parasitic, latching on to good impulses and directing them toward his own purpose. God intends a man to feel the wildness of sexuality in the self-giving union with his wife. And a man is meant to, when necessary, fight for his family, his people, for the weak and vulnerable who are being oppressed.

The drive to the ecstasy of just love and to the valor of just war are gospel matters. The sexual union pictures the cosmic mystery of the union of Christ and his church. The call to fight is grounded in a God who protects his people, a Shepherd Christ who grabs his sheep from the jaws of the wolves.

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The Vine (Talking Points for 7/22)

Here are the talking points for this morning as we will look at John 15.  The gospel brings us into an abiding relationship with Jesus Christ.  This relationship carries with it the expectation that we will bear fruit and prove to be His disciples (v. 8).  We often speak of the closeness of Christ.  We forsake the term "religion" when describing the gospel and choose rather to use the term "relationship."  Yet, Christ is not here.  He is absent.
John 15 is part of Jesus' farewell address as he prepares His followers for His departure.  He assures them that even though He is leaving, the relationship will continue.  They will stay connected (or abide in Him).  How do we stay connected (abide) with Christ in His absence?
  1. Through the cleansing Word.
  2. Through answered prayer.
  3. Through a loving church.
I will also mention this article from USA Today entitled, "Young Adults Aren't Sticking With Church."  People are leaving the church.  How does this relate to John 15 and the idea of "abiding" in Christ?  I hope to see you this morning at Liberty and as we look at this passage and these issues together.
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Things You WILL NOT Hear at the Liberty Men's Fall Retreat (KC and Curtis)

">Things You Will NOT Hear at the Liberty Fall Men's Retreat (K.C. and Curtis) from Brian Branam on Vimeo.

Things You Will NOT Hear at the Liberty Fall Men's Retreat - After you see these ads, you'll know why we need this!!! August 17-18 @ The Summit, Ft. Payne, AL $100 Sign Up This Sunday Liberty Baptist Church of Dalton, GA — with Kendrick Willey and Curtis Carson at Liberty Baptist Church of Dalton, GA.
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Things You Will NOT Hear at the Liberty Men's Retreat (John D.)

">Things You Will NOT Hear at the Liberty Men's Retreat (John D.) from Brian Branam on Vimeo.
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The Grand Story of Scripture

Great video from The Gospel Project.

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The Way, the Truth, and the Life (Talking points for 7/15)

Here are the talking points for this morning from John 14.  As the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE Jesus answers three deep needs of the human soul:

As the WAY, Jesus answers questions about where I will spend eternity.

As the TRUTH, Jesus answers questions about what God is like.

As the LIFE, Jesus answers questions about how to live the rest of my life.
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The Resurrection and the Life (Sunday A.M. 7/8/2012)

">The Resurrection and the Life from Brian Branam on Vimeo.
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The Light

">The Light from Brian Branam on Vimeo.
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The Importance of Context

In my last post on teaching in the church I discussed building a bridge between the message of the Bible to its original readers and the message of the Bible for today.  The importance of this task is that it helps us teach what God has said, rather than using the Bible as a platform for a “What do you think?” session.  Sadly, most small group meetings in the local church have become little more than opinionated socials.  Building a hermeneutical bridge keeps this from happening.  Though the Bible is an old book written to a very different culture, the gap here may not be as wide as you may think.  Even still, it is not a simple task.  It takes time and hard work.
Whether one is preparing to teach or engaged in personal study, the key to understanding the Bible is context.  Context is the surrounding material that influences meaning.  Statements taken out of context can be grossly misrepresented as the reader is suddenly given the freedom to provide his own context.  For example, in a sermon on the topic of truth I shared on a Sunday night I made the following statement,
“If you stand and say that, ‘Jesus it the only way’ that’s really an uneducated, naive, ignorant position to take.  It is intolerant, harsh and wrong.  For us (Christians) to stand and say to a homosexual that, ‘homosexuality is a sin’ that is harsh, intolerant . . . that is something that is intolerant, passé, old fashioned and something you should not do.”
My statement taken on its own may lead someone to believe that I do not hold Jesus to be the only way of salvation or that do I not believe homosexuality is a sin.  The statement, taken on its own, may also lead one to assert that I believe churches or Christians who hold to those positions are out of step with modern culture; and that if they are not to come across as harsh and intolerant they need to relax these views.  Yet this is not what I was saying at all.
When a statement is taken out of context the reader is left to supply his own context and meaning.  This is why I believe it is so easy for our culture to be deceived by the media.  We receive our news in sound bytes.  Our views are shaped by statements taken out of context.  The clips provide the statements.  The commentators provide the meaning.  We never do the homework of context and the result is that we are easily led astray.  This, in itself, is a discussion for another day!
My statement was given in a context which provides meaning.
  1. There is the context of my theology.  Does Brian Branam preach consistently that Jesus is not the only way of salvation or that homosexuality is not a sin?  NO!  I do not preach these ideas - AT ALL.
  2. There is the context of the sermon itself.  The context of the sermon was an apologetics piece on truth.  By nature, the sermon lent itself to an attempt to represent opposing views.
  3. There is a historical context.  You probably did not hear many, if any, sermons quite like the one I was preaching in early colonial America.  The challenges of our culture today are pluralism, relativism, and post-modernism.  The historical timeframe of my sermon gives it meaning.
  4. There is the context of the place in the sermon.  I was in a moment of the sermon in which I was trying to establish how the exclusive claims of the Christian faith would be received in the public square.  I attempt to dismantle these claims later in the sermon.
  5. There is the context of the audience.  The purpose of the sermon was to equip the Christian and challenge the skeptic to see truth as an unchangeable, objective, absolute, reality.
In context, my statements take on a whole new meaning.  At the very least they cause us to investigate and assert, “There must be something else to this story!”
If my statements can be so grossly misrepresented, imagine what we are doing to God’s Word when we take no time to investigate context.  We read the Bible like we watch the news, in snippets.  We find a statement we like and pull it away from the rest.  We are then left to manipulate it as we like as the reader provides the context.  This is dangerous and misleading.  As teachers we should know better.
The Bible has a context that we must investigate if we are to be faithful to teach what God has said.  What are those contexts?  
  1. The general historical context - What was the world like when the text was written?
  2. The context of the author - Who is the author?  What was his experience?  What else has he written?  What was the author’s purpose for writing?
  3. The context of the audience.  What was life like for the original audience?  What were they experiencing at the time they received the text?  What was the occasion for them receiving the text?  
  4. The context of the text itself.  Where does the text occur in the Bible?  Where does the text occur in the book itself?  What are the surrounding passages?  What is the theme of the book?  How does the text support the theme?  
  5. The literary context.  What is genre of literature is the text?  How was that genre generally used in the period in which it was written?  What are the general rules of the genre in the time in which it was written?
I know it sounds like a lot, but investigating context is critical.  I will attempt to show you why in my next post.  It does take work, but not as much as you may think.  It is here that good tools are important, which will lead us back to the place where this string of posts began - tools for teaching.
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8 Points that Killed Me on Calvinism Plus 1

Mike Leake at Borrowed Light, in reviewing Greg Dutcher's book Killing Calvinism lists 8 ways Dutcher says Calvinists are killing the movement from the inside.  I have always said that there are two things that have kept me from toting TULIPs, the "L" and the attitudes of several (not all) Calvinists I know.  Here are the eight ways listed by Dutcher:

  1. By loving Calvinism as an end in itself
  2. By becoming theologians instead of disciples
  3. By loving God’s sovereignty more than God himself
  4. By losing an urgency in evangelism
  5. By refusing to learn from non-Calvinists
  6. By tidying up the Bible’s “loose ends”
  7. By being a bunch of arrogant know-it-alls
  8. By scoffing at the emotional hang-ups others have with Calvinism

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What it Means that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life

Here are the talking points for Sunday morning.  What it means that Jesus is the resurrection and the life from John 11:
  1. We have someone infinitely good, caring, and compassionate in ultimate control of sickness and death.
  2. Jesus' coming brought a marked shift in the way we think about death.
  3. The resurrection is not simply a theological truth, it is a point of personal trust.
  4. Jesus' return will fully demonstrate his authority and victory over death.
  5. We must do something more than simply believe there is a Heaven, or even want to go to Heaven if we are to have eternal life.  We must repent of sin and surrender to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord if we are to have eternal life.
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Building a Hermeneutical Bridge

Yesterday I wrote about the importance of Bible study in the preparation of the teacher so that we may stay faithful to say what the Bible says.  This is no easy task, but it is deeply rewarding.
Ultimately the preparation of the teacher has this goal in mind; we want to say what the Bible says, to us.  This task is accomplished by building what is called a hermeneutical bridge.  “Hermeneutical bridge” is a total nerd term, but it simply means that the teacher makes a connection between what the Bible meant to its original readers with the message of the Bible to its current readers.  
Lest we think that the “hermeneutical bridge” is the proverbial bridge to nowhere, we build it with this governing principle:  The Bible never means what it never meant.
 Even though the Bible is an old, foreign text; building a hermeneutical bridge from the original historical context to our present context is not bridging the ocean, it is more like bridging a brook.  You will find that truly, “There is nothing new under the sun (Ecc. 1:9).”  People in the 1st century may have worn togas and driven chariots but a soul is a soul.  Whether we are middle eastern nomads that live in tents or western cultured Baby Boomers/Busters/Gen X’ers who live in a two-story home, at our core, we have forever been the same.
The teacher that does not commit to building a faithful hermeneutical bridge pillages the Bible of its power.  Let us say what God has said.  In this way we are teaching the Bible rather than teaching what we think or feel.  Many teachers offer their students little more than a hermeneutical bridge to their opinions.  I mean no disrespect here, but this is unfaithful to the task of Bible teaching and truly, most often is a bridge to nowhere.
The power for life change is in the gospel, not in our opinions.  Let us be faithful to study the Biblical text so that we may connect with what God has said.  Why is the hermeneutical bridge important?  Because what God has said, He has said.  Or, a more accurate way of stating this truth is, what God has said, He is forever saying.  When God called Jesus, “My beloved son in whom I am well pleased (Mark 1:11)”, He meant this for all time.  God was well pleased with Jesus in 30-something AD.  God is forever pleased with Jesus.  This is not a bridge over an ocean, this is a bridge over a brook.
So how do we faithfully build this bridge?
More to come . . .

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Two Fallacies of Bible Study

I am sharing with you a series of posts focused on teaching.  When it comes to teaching in the church, we cannot continue as we are. Teachers are the tongues of the church.  Even though they comprise a small part of the congregation, relative to the number of students, what they say and teach carries a great deal of weight within the congregation.  So how do we improve our teaching?
In teaching the overriding goal is to teach what the Bible says as opposed to what I think it says or even what I think is relevant.  Because we fear that we may “bore” our students with intricate Biblical detail or deep theological discussion we like to merely use the Bible as a moral reference point.  The Bible provides a text that makes mention of our topic for the day, then, as a teacher it is up to us to fill the class time with relevant stories and piercing discussion questions.  A cool class time this may seem, but great teaching this is not! This may be a meaningful way to treat Aesop’s fables, but it is not the way we should approach the Bible.
Studying the Bible isn’t easy.  It is a great fallacy to believe:
  1. Since the Bible is the Word of God it should be easy to understand.  The problem here is that God has never been easy to understand.  We are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to comprehending the mind of God (Rom. 11:34-36).  At the same time we should be careful to say that the Bible is understandable.  God has not communicated to us in code.  He wants us to “get it!”  Mark Twain said, “It ain't the parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”  
  2. The more spiritual you are the more of the Bible you will understand.  This fallacy leads to two others:
    1. I am having trouble understanding the Bible which means I must have a spiritual problem.
    2. I am spiritual enough that I do not have to do the “unspiritual” work of academic study.  I just need to read it and teach it.  
If you suffer from fallacy 2A, see fallacy 1.  Your problem is not spiritual as much as it is that you are probably an English speaking, Western Cultured person living in 2012 (I will say more about this issue and how it impacts Bible study later).  If you suffer from fallacy 2B I prophecy that given enough time you will become a cult leader in the plains of west Texas and will have a fiery confrontation with the forces of Janet Reno.  If your fate does not go to that extreme end I would prophecy that at the very least the people you teach are being cheated and misled.  That glare on your student’s faces is not from sheer amazement at your spiritual prowess, it is the natural reaction of stunned shock and confusion that results from hearing a lesson that is nothing more than a gobbledy goop mess of errors.
Again, our goal as teachers is to “Say what the Bible says.”  Obviously then we must understand what the Bible is saying.  This comes, not from super spirituality, but from faithful, prayerful study.  Paul told Timothy:
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.  2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)
The term “do your best” is literally, “work hard at it.”  Timothy was Paul’s protege.  He was a pastor.  He had to work hard at it - just like the rest of us.  Though great sermons can sometimes be mesmerizing to laypeople (as if the preacher has done something super spiritual), I promise you, great preachers are not naturally talented or super spiritual.  Great preachers do the hard work of studying the Bible.  If you are going to be a good, faithful teacher it will take more hard work and humility than super spirituality.  
More to come. . .
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Does God Own a Gun? (This Sunday at Liberty)

America is a divided nation.  We are divided ideologically (left and right), politically (Democrat and Republican), socially (conservative and liberal), and morally (traditional values or choice).  Our image of God is not immune from the debate.  We are also theologically divided.  Depending on where one falls in the spectrum, he is prone to bring God with him.  On the more conservative end of the spectrum God is a Tea Partying member of the NRA who votes straight ticket Republican and created the world so we could hunt and fish.  On the more liberal end of the spectrum God created the world so we should keep it green; and He sent His only begotten Son into the world to challenge tradition, reform health care, redistribute wealth, and demilitarize the nation.  His plan was called the Sermon on the Mount. 
Who is right?  We will talk about these issues and more in the sermon, “Does God Own a Gun?”  Join us at Liberty Baptist Church (www.libertybaptistchurch.ws) for Freedom Sunday - 11:00 a.m.  (SS 10:00 a.m.).

">Freedom Sunday Promo from Brian Branam on Vimeo.
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