Saturday, September 29, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Cogs

People are not cogs in the machine to make our programs work.

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Lewis

It may be stated as follows: every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice was made.

C. S. Lewis, 1898-1963, God in the Dock, First and Second Things (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1970, p. 280)

Is this true? What are its implications?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Search for the Supernatural

One of the arguments against the supernatural is that over time, science has shown that more and more things in the world admit to a naturalistic explanation. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that all events will eventually admit to naturalistic explanation, and the supernatural is irrelevant. The challenge is then given to produce something in nature that requires a supernatural explanation. This is based on a complete misunderstanding of the issue. There may be some belief somewhere that holds that all events have a supernatural explanation. This is not Christianity. The Christian idea of a miracle presupposes a fixed natural order to which the miracle is an exception. It is this natural order that makes the miracle significant. If virgins normally had children, if people normally walked on water, if people normally rose from the dead, these events would lose all meaning. If there were not a fixed order of nature, if every event had a supernatural explanation, you would not be able to recognize a miracle. Therefore, that most events have a natural explanation and we can understand that explanation is presupposed by Christianity. Now we do believe that God created and maintains the natural laws and can intervene if He chooses. But that does not mean intellectually discernible physical laws do not exist. There is a claim that people in ancient times believed in miracles because they were ignorant of the natural laws. Now people did not know all the details we know today, but they knew enough to know dead men did not come back to life. If they had not, they would not have called it a miracle.

Now I do believe there are things in the natural world that resist naturalistic explanation. Where did everything come from? How could everything have come out of nothing by a coin toss, with no time and no space and no coins? And how could this have been a result of physical laws when there was nothing existing for the physical laws to be about? Also, how could something as complex as life have come into existence by chance, since we are only now beginning to understand its simplest forms? The single cell is by itself a complex factory whose parts and functions far exceed anything human ingenuity has yet built. And while I question evolutionary theory, the basic functions of the cell would have to be in place for evolution by genetic mutation to work. There is also the problem of how human thought could have any meaning if it were purely the result of a naturalistic process. If all my thinking is determined by physical processes, it is difficult to see how it can have any relation to truth or how I can know anything. But the bottom line is that if all the natural world apart from miracles could be explained naturalistically, this would not prove there was not a God who created the natural order and could intervene if He chose to. The conclusion does not follow.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Calvinism and Stoicism (And Why They Are Not the Same Thing)

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"

Calvinism and Stoicism are not the same, but they are often confused. Even by Calvinists.  Stoicism is the idea that all things are fated by God (not the Christian God, but a pantheistic sum of all things), and therefore we should face them with resignation.  The idea is that God wants His people to be tough and sends hard circumstances so they will be strong and self-contained and able to face hardship.  This is not the Calvinist position.

Quite the opposite.  Scripture teaches us that God sends adversity so we may learn we cannot handle it ourselves, but must trust God through it (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 46:1-11; Isaiah 40:29-31).  These two approaches can end up having the opposite effects.  The correct approach leads to humility, and the opposite can build pride, which is a real spiritual danger (Proverbs 16:18; Luke 14:7-11; 1 John 2:16).  Yet I know for myself how easy it can be to slip from trusting God to trusting in myself and my inner strength.  Let us watch ourselves in this regard.

It is easy to get two similar ideas confused, but in this case we need to be clear on the difference.  The difference is the fall and redemption. The Stoic believes the world is how God intended it to be and we need to be tough to fit in to it.  The Bible says the world is a fallen one in rebellion against God and we, as part of it, are sinners (Romans 8:19-23; 1 John 2:15-17; Isaiah 64:6) and God has rescued us from it (Romans 5:6-8; 1 Peter 2:24-25; 2 Corinthians 5:21).  So we must trust the One who has rescued us from sin and death to bring us through the difficulties of life (Philippians 4:6,7; Matthew 6:33; Romans 8:18). This makes a fundamental difference in how we look at the trials we face.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Avoiding the Fall

Humility is not a virtue highly rated in our current society. We are counseled to be assertive and stand up for ourselves. And humility has become subject to a number of different stereotypes. But what is true humility? Humility is not seeing ourselves as totally worthless and useless. Now it is true we are sinners who can only be saved by the pure gift of God (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:21-26; Ephesians 2:8,9). But once saved we are declared righteous before God and become His children (Romans 8:31-39; John 1;12,13; 1 John 3:1-3). Also, God sends His Spirit to work in us to change us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 2:10). Further, He uses us to carry out His work in the world (2 Corinthians 3:5,6; Colossians 1:29; 1 Corinthians 3:6,7). But all these things originate from God, and we cannot take credit for them.

This is a thin line to walk. It is very easy to start being proud of the things God has given us and even start to believe we have earned them or deserve them. Often this can happen slowly, in the back of our mind, without our clearly thinking about it. This pride can be very destructive (Proverbs 16:18; 13:10; 1 John 2:16,17). It results in complacency if we convince ourselves we have really attained it or discouragement and even depression if something happens to show us we have not. But the solution is not to convince ourselves that we are worthless and have nothing to contribute, but to have confidence that God is at work in us to accomplish His purposes (Philippians 1:6; 3:12-16; 2 Corinthians 2:14). Also, we are an important part of something bigger than ourselves, not because of who we are, but because of what God has made us (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-26; Ephesians 4:11-16). For the real issue in true humility is not how important we are or how worthless we are, but how we can love God and other people (Matthew 22:36-40; 1 Corinthians 13:1-7; Philippians 2:3-11). For the true goal of humility is not self-assertion or self-denigration, but self-forgetfulness. It is where we are no longer focusing on ourselves, but on the needs of others. And this can only happen when we understand the security of who we are in Christ (John 10:27-30; 1 Peter 1:3-5; Ephesians 1:3-12) and live our life based not on our ability, but on trust in Him (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2; Isaiah 40:31). I do not want in any way to claim that I have attained to this. But it is important to know the direction you are going if you want to arrive there.  

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Touch of Humor - Censorship

How should a Christian decide what type of reading or viewing is appropriate? What are the boundaries?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Life

This life is not a comfortable stay at a luxury hotel with all the amenities provided, but a long battle through enemy territory with the victory certain.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Augustine

O let the Light, the Truth, the Light of my heart, not mine own darkness, speak unto me. I fell off into that, and became darkened; but even thence, even thence I loved Thee. I went astray, and remembered Thee. I heard Thy voice behind me, calling to me to return, and scarcely heard it, through the tumultuousness of the enemies of peace. And now, behold, I return in distress and panting after Thy fountain.

Augustine of Hippo, 354-430 AD, The Confessions of St. Augustine, Book XII, X (translated by E. B. Pusey, Barnes & Noble Books, 1999, pp. 289-290)

How  do we distinguish the voice of God from the other voices calling us? How can we avoid being misled?

  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Where Does Religion Come From?

There are many strange and contradictory things said about the origins of religion. (I dislike using the word "religion" because it lacks clear definition, but I do not know what other word to use. It does become somewhat clearer as you consider the earliest forms.) The problem is that looking at it from a purely naturalistic perspective and discounting what various religions have to say for themselves, there is no evidence whatsoever on the subject. The belief in gods and supernatural forces goes back as far in history as we are able to go. The Neanderthals buried their dead with flowers. (Note that Neanderthals had a slightly larger brain capacity than our own and were human being with somewhat unusual features.) If this comes from a religious impulse (we really have no idea what they were thinking), it puts such concepts far back into antiquity. Any idea how these may have originated is sheer speculation. But such speculation is frequently put forth as proving something. It is said that ancient man did not understand his world, so he invented religion; modern man did not understand his world, so he invented science. Even if you grant this, there is still a question of which one is right or whether they are both right from their own perspective. (I would advocate the last view.) But this seems to be taking the modern scientific approach and reading it back into religion, which is concerned about something totally different. Religion is generally concerned with the right way to live and how to be reconciled to God or the gods. Explanations given of the specifics of the natural world seem to be incidental to this purpose.

From the Christian perspective, the answer to how religion originated is that God revealed Himself to human beings in the very beginning. However, this information was passed down in a distorted form. Nonetheless, this explains the similarity between Christian beliefs and those of other religions. It is common in many of the more traditional religions for there to be a belief in a original ancient God, a Sky Father. It is also common for this original God to be a shadowy figure and there to have been some kind of rift that developed between Him and the people involved (perhaps a remembrance of the Fall). Therefore, there are other gods or spirits put in the place of the primary God as beings to be worshiped and prayed to. These may have originated as personifications of nature or as spirits of ancestors or as human heroes who were later deified. This is, of course, not historically provable, but it makes sense within a Christian context and squares with the facts. But the bottom line is, any argument that wants to prove something based on the origin of religion is extremely dubious. It may be reasonable to explain, given your perspective, how it may have come about (as I have). But to deduce anything from it to prove your position is circular.        

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

When We Are Not in Vogue

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"

We live in a culture in which Christianity is no longer respected. How should we respond to this? We could respond in anger, demanding the respect we think we deserve. Or we could react in desperation, trying frantically to return to a place of respectability. Or we could trust God. God never promised that society would always be on our side; in fact He predicted the opposite (John 15:18-21; 16:1-4; Matthew 10:16-39). But God also tells us that He will accomplish His purpose in the world in spite of this opposition (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 3:6,7). God also promises us that we can trust Him to face what we need to face in our lives (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2; Romans 8:28). But God never promised that we would always be admired by the world around us. That was never His intent.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Building the Kingdom

Christians sometimes speak of building the kingdom of God. But is this something Christians are called to do? We are called to seek the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 5:20), to pray for it (Matthew 6:10), but not to build it. This is significant because the kingdom is not primarily something we do but something God does. It is in fact tied to two key events: the coming of Christ (Matthew 4:17; 12:28; Acts 28:23) and the Second Coming of Christ (Matthew 25:31-34; 26:29; Acts 14:22). Both of these involve God intervening in a new way in the world to accomplish His purposes.

Now we are pictured as part of the kingdom, those who are using what God has given us for His purposes (Matthew 25:14-30), preparing ourselves for His coming (Matthew 25:1-13), and being engaged in that which is good (Matthew 25:31-46). If we are God's people we are part of the kingdom, but we should behave as those who are part of it (Colossians 1:12,13; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Timothy 4:18). The picture is that of bearing fruit (Matthew 13:3-9; Mark 4:26-29; John 15:1-11).  This fits with Paul's statement that it is God who causes the increase (1 Corinthians 3:3-9). Now the life of the plant is in the seed, and God gives the seed (Luke 8:11; 1 Peter 1:23-25; James 1:18). Nonetheless, we need to cultivate it in our lives. If I want to plant a garden, I need to do things like plow up the ground, possibly fertilize it, and water it. But the real life is in the seeds. Now the work of God in our lives is a hardy plant and can grow in many different conditions. But there are still things we can do or neglect to do 

What difference does this make? It is easy to start seeing the kingdom of God as something we do or we create. Rather, it is something that God did by sending His Son to pay the price for sin (Colossians 2:13,14; 1 Peter 2:24,25; 2 Corinthians 5:21) and that God will do by Christ's coming again to transform all of creation (1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Philippians 3:20,21; Romans 8:19-25). But we are to have our lives changed now as a reflection of that (Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:11-14; 2 Corinthians 3:18). However, it is easy to see the kingdom as a political program or a church program if it it is something we build. It therefore puts the emphasis on our political or organizational skills to bring it about. But if the kingdom is something God does, we can trust Him to bring it about. And we need only live as citizens of that kingdom which He has brought about and will bring to completion.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Touch of Humor - Stump Speech

How far should Christian leaders go in pushing political agendas? What are the boundaries?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Stones

One of the greatest difficulties of walking on water is ducking the stones from the people still in the boat.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Athanasius

And, in short, the achievements of the Saviour effected through his incarnation are of such a kind and so great, that if anyone wished to expound them he would be  like those who gaze at the vast expanse of the sea and wish to count the number of its waves. For as one cannot grasp all the waves with his eyes, since the successive waves elude the perception of him who tries to count them; so also he who tries to comprehend all the accomplishments of Christ in the body is unable to grasp them all in his reckoning, for those that pass before his mind are more than he thinks he has grasped. So it is better not to view or speak of all of which one cannot even express a part, but to recall one part, leaving you to wonder at the whole. For they are all equally amazing, and wherever anyone looks, there to his exceeding wonder he sees the divinity of the Word.

Athanasius, 293-373 AD, The Incarnation of the Word of God, 54 (Contra Gentes and De Incarnatione, translated by Robert W. Thomson, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1971, pp. 269, 271)

Are there things that distinguish Jesus Christ from other religious leaders? What are the similarities and differences?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Using the Right Bait

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"

Does whether or not people come to Christ depend entirely on our methods? And if we could just get it right, would nearly everyone believe? I think most Christians would find these statements extreme. Yet it is easy to fall into this mindset. We can think if we just approach things the right way, it would open the floodgates to people becoming Christians. But the Scripture says no one comes to God unless God draws them (John 6:44) and God chooses who will come to Him (Ephesians 1:4). Now I am not saying we must not use diligence in our approach to reaching people for Christ (2 Timothy 2:24-26; Colossians 4:4-6; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Much less am I denying the obligation to proclaim the truth of the gospel (1 Peter 3:15; Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 10:14,15). But there can often be a thin line between persuasion and manipulation (1 Thessalonians 2:3-5). This is important because if only the way a person can truly come to Christ is through the power of God, then manipulation can only produce false converts (Matthew 7:21-23). So when we start to trust in our methods rather than the power of God, we end up sabotaging our efforts to genuinely bring people to Christ (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Christian Consumerism

Much has been said about the problem of consumerism in choosing a church. Where does this come from? Christian consumerism stems from the present divided state of the Christian church. This division is often over relatively insignificant things. In my opinion, this is a bad thing and resembles the church of Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:10-17). But it is also not likely it will go away tomorrow. With this, there has also been a deterioration of the old denominational loyalties and a minimizing of doctrinal distinctions. On this I have mixed feelings. I am not at all in favor of loyalty simply to names. I do, however, believe that understanding doctrine is important. But I am not convinced we can best understand it by dividing over every minor issue. In fact, it can produce the opposite effect, with people never really understanding the other groups' perspectives. Therefore, I would advocate definite distinctions on basic doctrines, with instruction and intelligent debate on important ones. But the results of these two trends has been people choosing a church based on other issues, such as the programs or the pastor or the friendliness of the people. Is this a bad or good thing?

Frankly, we have to choose a church based on something. And unless we have strong denominational loyalties, it is hard to avoid practical considerations. Further, it seems extreme to say that couples with teenage children should not at least consider the state of the youth group in the church they are considering joining. This may be more important to them than agreement on some doctrinal incidental. But there are dangers. We can end up looking for external showiness rather than substance. For the biggest church or the most exciting program rather than spiritual depth. Also, there can be a lack of commitment; we can go to a church only as long as it suits us and leave it the minute it does something we dislike. Or simply migrate from church to church, never settling down in any of them. There also can be an equal casualness on the part of the leadership. They can feel, if someone does not like what we are doing here, they can just go somewhere else. How can we avoid these dangers?

We need a clear and unshakable commitment to God's universal church, the body of all true believers which crosses geography and time (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Colossians 2:19). This carries with it a commitment to the other members of the body, particularly those we know, to help and encourage them (John 13:34,35; 1 Peter 1:22: Romans 12:9-16). We should choose a congregation based on matters of substance. We should look for leaders and members who can help us grow in the Lord and understand His Word (Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 10:24,25; 1 Peter 2:4-10). It is also important to look for a place where we can serve, which needs our gifts and talents, where we can commit ourselves to helping build up that congregation (Philippians 2:3,4; 1 Peter 4:10,11; Romans 15:1,2). Also, leaders should be concerned for the welfare of all those under their charge, even those who may not fit in with their plans (1 Peter 5:1-4; Luke 22:24-27; Acts 20:26-32). We should seek God and His wisdom and guidance when we choose a church and when we are considering leaving a church, and not do things hastily (James 1:5; Philippians 4:6,7; Proverbs 3:5,6). Our situation, like all those in the history of the world, is not perfect. But we should seek to be part of the solution rather than aggravate the problem.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Touch of Humor - The Incentive

Are there right and wrong motivations for serving God? How do we cultivate the right ones?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Fight

It is often easier to avoid a fight than mend the burned bridges afterward.

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Clement of Rome

Let us fix our thoughts on the Blood of Christ; and reflect how precious that Blood is in God's eyes, inasmuch as its outpouring for our salvation has opened the grace of repentance to all mankind. For we have only to survey the generations of the past to see that in every one of them the Lord has offered the chance of repentance to any who were willing to turn to Him.

Clement of Rome, ?-99 AD, Epistle to the Romans, 7 (Early Christian Writings, translated by Maxwell Staniforth, Penguin Books, 1968, p. 26)

Are we tempted to limit the power of the blood of Christ to save? What kinds of people might we limit it to?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Building Blocks of Redemption

It is easy to try to force Biblical history into some sort of system. I am reluctant to put forth my own understanding for fear of it being understood as another such system. But it is hard to question the existing assumptions without putting forth my own interpretations.

God created Adam and Eve and made them morally upright, though capable of wrong choice (Ecclesiastes 7:29). But they disobeyed and became sinners, unable to rescue themselves from their situation (Romans 3:9-18; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6). However, God promised the seed of the woman to bruise the head of the giver of death (Genesis 3:15). The Fall was a unique event in human history and the basis of the need for redemption.

The Flood showed God's hatred of sin (Genesis 6:5-7). But God established His covenant with Noah and provided a way to deliver him and his family. After the flood God made a covenant that He would not again send a flood of that magnitude on the earth (Genesis 9:8-17). This involved the holding back of  God's wrath until the promised seed would come. There is no indication that civil government was first instituted at this time (Genesis 4:17). Then God chose a specific man, Abraham, and made a covenant with him to be the father of a nation through which would come the promised seed (Genesis 12:1-3; Galatians 3:16; Romans 9:5). This was a promise to Abraham and his descendants that involved the coming of Messiah but has implicationsey are not simply a repetition of the same thing or the production of something totally new each time, but the constant building on of each other.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Open Door

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"

One of the common ways to try to determine God's will is to look for open doors. There is a danger in this. It can lead us to do only what we regard as reasonable and sensible (Proverbs 3:5,6). Scripture mentions the fact of open doors (1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12) and calls for prayer for open doors (Colossians 4:3), but nowhere does it make these the chief criteria for determining God's will. Now God does use circumstances to direct us. Take, for example, the story of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). He was reading Isaiah 53 when a man mysteriously came up to him and used the passage to preach to him Jesus. However, for this to happen Philip had to leave an open door in Samaria to follow God's leading to go out into the desert. Sometimes it is not God's will for us to do what makes sense to us.

I remember cases in my own life when God caused circumstances to come together to make a point. When I had first come back to following God, I was considering chickening out and not going to a meeting I had been invited to because I felt if I was a Christian I would never have any fun. I was sitting eating in the cafeteria by my college dorm when a group of people I did not know sat down at my table. They were laughing and joking and having a good time, when I noticed one of them was wearing a large cross. I thought it was probably just a piece of jewelry, but I was encouraged to go to the meeting anyway. After the meeting the same group of people came up and said that they should have said something when they sat down at my table. I have had other such experiences, but I have also had cases where nothing seemed to come together and I had no idea where God was leading me. Circumstances are relevant, but they should not be made the final judge for determining God's will.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Is Christianity About Die of Old Age

Many seem to assume Christianity is about to vanish from the world. Even Christians can buy into this idea. We can look at Barna surveys and other discouraging information and become afraid that we are on the way out if we do not do something quick to change things. Now I am not in favor of complacency. We do need to be willing to ask how best to serve Christ. The whole Christian life should be one of constant growth in Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 3:12-14; Ephesians 2:10). But I do not believe that desperation is the best basis for making intelligent decisions. Rather, we need to trust Him that He is at work in His church (Matthew 16:18; Psalms 127:1,2; Proverbs 3:5,6).

But many assume history is going a certain way and Christianity is bound to disappear. This is based on the idea of overall historical progress in a definite direction. While this may fit in the area of basic science and technology (though even here it is perhaps too simple), it is hard to force overall history into this pattern. Now Christianity has been around for almost 2000 years. In that time there has been a constant pattern of ebb and flow in various times and places. There have been times of severe persecution and times of internal corruption that looked even worse, but we are still here.

We see the pattern time and time again. During the original Roman persecution. At the time of the fall of the Roman Empire and its conquest by outsiders who were pagans or denied the deity of Christ. At the times of the severe corruption of the church in the middle and end of the Middle Ages. During the times of the Muslim invasions. During the Enlightenment, when it looked like Deism was going to triumph. During many internal struggles: Protestant versus Catholic, Conservative versus Liberal. In all these cases traditional, historic Christianity seemed about to vanish, but it did not. More recently it was thought that Communism, with its political power and persuasive propaganda, would eliminate Christianity. But it failed. In China it appears to have backfired, growing the Christian church there far beyond what it was originally. No one knows the future, and it cannot be dogmatically proven from history that God is at work building His church. But I have to be cynical that the next crisis will turn out any different than the previous ones. Now I do not want to discourage legitimate attempts on our part to clean up our act. But I do not feel that panic is the most conducive mood for clear thinking as to what does and does not need to be fixed. It often leads people to look for quick fixes and simplistic solutions that can be worse than the problem. What we need is calm, thoughtful consideration on how to best serve God in our situation. Trusting that God is the One who is really in charge.     

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Touch of Humor - Short Cut

How can we be sure we are really following God? How can we avoid false approaches?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Presumption

Never believe a man who thinks he knows more than the angels in heaven. (see Matthew 24:36)