Friday, February 24, 2017

A Voice from the Past - Chesterton

He [H. G. Wells] thought that the object of opening the mind is simply opening the mind. Whereas I am incurably convinced that the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.

G. K. Chesterton, 1874-1936, Autobiography, (as quoted in As I Was Saying...: A Chesterton Reader, edited by Robert Knille, William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1985, p. 265).

What is the right way to be open minded? How can we acquire this?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Focus on Activity

We live in an age that is high in activity and low on trust in God. Now activity is a good thing in its right place and in its proper perspective. Laziness has never been a Christian virtue (Proverbs 6:6-11; Romans 12:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-15). But the question is, who are we trusting in? Scripture says that if God does not build a house, we are wasting our time building (Psalms 127:1,2). That when the world is falling apart, we need to stop and realize that God is God (Psalms 46:10). That Christ will build His church (Matthew 16:18). That we who have put our faith in Christ are created for good works, which God has already prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). Now none of this justifies inactivity. But it should affect our priorities.   

It is easy to get caught up in meaningless activity, or even good activity, and to forget what the activity is all about. We can become like Martha, working hard to serve the Lord but not stopping to listen to Him (Luke 10:38-42). Or worse, we can become like the Pharisees, looking good on the outside but corrupt on the inside (Matthew 23:25-28). To avoid this we need to remember we are sinners (Romans 3:23, Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9) saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8,9; Titus 3:5,6; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Because of this we can only live for the Lord by His power working in us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29). This means that my key priority should be a life focused on Christ. This implies a general attitude, but it also implies specific requirements. It implies a life focused on His Word (Psalms 1:2; Colossians 3:16; John 17:17). It implies a life focused on prayer (Luke 11:1-13; Philippians 4:6,7; Ephesians 6:18). It implies a life in fellowship with other children of God so that we might be built up by each other (Hebrews 10:24,25; Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Peter 4:10,11). But we must be careful not to make these things into just another series of activities we engage in. Rather, they should be motivated by our love of God (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; 1 Peter 1:8), resulting in knowing Him more (Jeremiah 9:23,24; Philippians 3:7-10; Colossians 1:10).

We can sometimes treat God in a way similar to the old stereotype of a husband who works hard to provide his family with money and things, but does not spend any time with them. Now the husband who wants to change that situation will probably have to do something beyond working up a vague feeling that things need to change; he will have to come up with specific ideas of what to do. But if he approaches the whole situation as checking items off a to-do list, he will not be very successful either. So if we want to go from being workaholics for Christ to being those who do what we do from love and knowledge of God, we need to cultivate specific actions with the right attitude.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Sword of the Spirit

We are to take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). While other pieces of the armor are related to God's Word, like the belt of truth, the Sword of the Spirit is the specific passage that applies to the specific situation. We see the example of this in Jesus, who met Satan's specific temptations with the Word of God (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). To do this, we need to know, meditate on, and even memorize the Word of God (Colossians 3:16; Psalm 119:11; Psalm 1:2). But we must be careful not to use God's Word as a magic talisman, feeling that if we merely wave it around like a cross in front of a vampire, it will be effective. God will not let His things be used that way (Acts 19:13-17; 1 Samuel 4:5-11; Judges 16:4-22). And God's Word is not just to be heard but obeyed (James 1:23-25; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Mathew 28:20). We must understand what we are saying to use it as a weapon against Satan. But it is our key offensive weapon to attack the devil's schemes.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Spiritual Disciplines

How do we develop what is commonly known as the spiritual disciplines (scary word, that) in our personal lives?  The solution does not seem to be to simply grit our teeth and try harder. (At least it has never worked for me).  And even if we succeed, the whole thing can become a dry duty rather than a passion (Psalms 19:9,10; 37:3-5; 42:1,2; 119:97-104).  Therefore, while I do not want to minimize the need for self-control (we all have a lazy streak), I do want to ask where we get the motivation to make these disciplines a part of our life. 

I believe one of the basic things that will motivate us in this is how we view our God.  First of all, He is the God who loved us enough that, though we were hostile to Him (Romans 3:10-18, 23; Ephesians 2:1-3; Isaiah 64:6), God redeemed us at a great cost (Romans 5:6-10; John 3:16-18; Ephesians 2:4-9).  Also, as a result of our accepting this, we know God and can grow to know Him more (John 17:3; Jeremiah 9:23,24; Colossians 1:10).  We are His children (John 1:12,13), His friends (John 15:14,15), and His future bride (2 Corinthians 11:2,3).  Furthermore, He is always with us to help us (Matthew 28:20, 18:20; Isaiah 41:10) and is at work within us to transform us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:13).  If this is true, if the God who put the stars in place (Isaiah 40:12-26) was willing to pay an incredible price (Romans 8:32) so that we can have a relationship with Him both now and through all eternity (John 17:24-26), should we not reciprocate by seeking to know Him in return?

For this is what the spiritual disciplines are about: learning to know God.  Because no relationship can grow without communication.  And it is here, I think, the real difficulty with these disciplines frequently develops.  I think we often have a fear of God becoming too real in our lives.  Sometimes this comes from a distorted idea of God; we see Him as someone who is waiting to whack us if we get just a little out of line. Also, if I let God become to real to me He might require of me something I am not willing to give. But I think the most basic problem I see in myself is pride.  I want to believe I can run my own life. Or I might be willing to admit I need God, but only for emergencies. But if Jesus who was the God-Man needed prayer (Luke 6:12), who am I to think I can do without it? The bottom line comes--are we willing to trust God for all of life?  And if we are willing to realize that the one who broke the power of sin and death is a loving Father who can aid and direct us in all the details of life, although we all struggle with laziness, we can approach the spiritual disciplines in a new light.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Touch of Humor - Failure to Communicate

How can we build bridges to unbelievers? What things stand in our way?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Old Erich Proverb - Rose -Colored

Which is more clearly rose-colored glasses, to believe in God or to believe human beings are basically good?

Friday, February 17, 2017

A Voice from the Past - Novatian

Because, since He has not any beginning, so consequently He is not conscious of an ending; unless perchance—and far from us be the thought—He at some time began to be, and is not above all things, but as He began to be after something else, He would be beneath that which was before Himself, and would so be found to be of less power, in that He is designated as subsequent even in time itself. For this reason, therefore, He is always unbounded, because nothing is greater than He; always eternal, because nothing is more ancient than He. For that which is without beginning can be preceded by none, in that He has no time. He is on that account immortal, that He does not come to an end by any ending of His completeness.

Novatian, 200-258 AD, Treatise Concerning the Trinity, Chapter II, (translated by Rev. Robert Ernest Wallis, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Rev. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans, Vol. V, p.1015)

What implications does the eternity of God have for us? What application does it have to our lives?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Vanished Princess

The princess was missing, presumed dead. There was no sign of a body. There also had been no sign of any ransom demands. The planet of Noiterianas was in a highly volatile sector. It was assumed that some neighboring world was planning to take advantage of the situation. Therefore, they had called in me, John Talltree, to find the killer.

Princess of Noiterianas was a nominal title left in place by the empire, which really ruled the planet. Nonetheless, she had considerable loyalty from the people. This princess, Goiderous Ferpius Bernmus IV, was still young, the older members of the family having been killed in the imperial takeover. It had been thought politic to leave her with a title but little real power.

The planet of Noiterianas was a water world, generously dotted with islands but with no real continents. The inhabitants resembled nothing so much as a jellyfish with legs and were equally at home on land and in the water. I had brought my underwater gear, just in case.

The governor, Xerwas, was an amphibian who looked like a fish with legs. "Where was the princess last seen?" I asked him.

"She left her dwelling early in the morning," he said. "Her servants remember her leaving. She said she was going to the official audience hall. We allowed her to hear requests from the people, though we carefully controlled what was actually granted. The hall was only three streets down, and as far as we know she never arrived. Those are busy streets, but even after repeated appeals no one has come forward to admit to seeing anything."

"Would they have recognized the princess?"

"She was frequently on the vid and was well known. But she was not highly recognizable, and she never wore her regalia outside the audience hall. I think an inattentive person could have walked right past her and not noticed. At least no one has claimed to have seen her."

I took my issued aircar to the princess's dwelling. But on the way I drove over the streets in question. They were certainly crowded, with aircar traffic above (the streets were intended to limit the aircars to specific routes) and pedestrian traffic below. I might have to check again early in the morning.

The major domo of the household was an older Noiterianasian named Keras Poufatius. "Of course she was here that morning," he said. "I do not see why you insist on asking the same question over and over."

"Did you see her?" I asked.

"Yes, I see to it that her breakfast is properly brought in and if there is anything else she needs. I saw her go out the door. Do you think I am lax in doing my job?"

"Did you notice anything out of the ordinary?"

"Not a thing."

The cook, Yardes Faswer, seemed broader than was normal for a Noiterianasian. "I have said once and I have said a thousand times," he remarked, "I made her breakfast and brought it out to her. I did not actually see her go out the door, but she said she was walking over to the audience hall."

"Did you notice anything out of the ordinary?"

"No, why should there be?"

The maid, Vordis Qerus, was tall and thin, even more than even usual for a female Nioterianasian. "Why do you imperial flunkies disturb me with more questions?" she said. "Do you not see I have my work to do? I saw the mistress when she got up that morning, but did not see her leave the house. But it is obvious she is not still here."

"Did you see anything out of the ordinary?" I asked.

"Everything was just as normal."

The princess's air car driver, Purtius Latima, was tall for a male. "I do my job," he said. "I went down and asked my lady whether she had need of the aircar. She said no, she preferred to walk. I saw her go out the door. Why do we keep rehearsing this over and over?"

"Was there anything out of the ordinary?" I asked.

"Not that I saw."

I went over to the audience hall and talked to Opiuhis Lundris, the door keeper. "I come in every morning when the hall is open before the ruler gets here," he explained. "I unlock the doors and make sure everything is prepared for His or Her Majesty. I have done this my whole life for a number of rulers. But that morning I waited and no one came, so I notified the imperial authorities. I am pleased to see you are taking this seriously enough to investigate."

Reighis Qwerutes was the head of the princess's honor guard. "We were in the main hall, just waiting," he said. "We were already getting nervous when we were informed the princess was missing. Tell me, is there any hope she is still alive?"

"Nobody seems to think so," I responded.

"That is a shame. She was the last of the direct line. They will probably find a distant relative to replace her, but I do not know who."

Trailing suspects is not my specialty. And trailing someone on a water planet is even more difficult. But sometimes you have got to do what you have to do. I stuck carefully to the shadows until we reached a deserted beach. Then I turned on the switch on my water belt and followed him in. The water belt creates a forcefield to keep the water out and the air in. Shame it is not strong enough to do the same for a blaster bolt. By God's providence we were in the shallows, which meant I could hide behind rocks and seaweed. In the open sea it is almost impossible to follow someone without being noticed. A large sea creature passed over my head as I crouched among the seaweed. But it was eating the seaweed and therefore was probably not interested in me.

Finally we came to a group of underwater houses on stilts. They looked like a row of giant mushrooms. There was an opening in the bottom that my quarry plunged in through. I waited for a few minutes, pulled my blaster, and swam up after him.

In one corner of the room was Keras Poufatius. In the other was seated a Noiterianasian female. "Princess Goiderous Ferpius Bernmus IV, I presume," I stated.

"How did you know?" she replied.

"All your house servants were uniformly hostile. I could believe one, possibly two, were traitors or simply had abrasive personalities, but not all of them. So the simplest solution was that they were supporting you and following your orders. So what are you doing here?"

"I am aware of what your empire does to planets - grabs their resources and enslaves their people. And I knew that I had no power to resist it. But empires are temporary; they fall apart over time. I have every confidence that one day we will be free again. But I could not preside over the destruction of my people. So I decided to go into hiding. Now I suppose you will drag me back."

I had prayed long and hard about this. I still do not know if I did the right thing. Certainly, if word ever got back to Central, they would have my head. They would say a free princess was a possible rallying point for rebellion. And they would be right. But sometimes you have to serve God rather than men. "I came here to find a murderer," I said. "I see no murderers here." Then I exited back into the sea. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Pursuit of Success

The Bible says that we who follow Christ will prosper (Psalms 1:2,3; Joshua 1:8; 2 Kings 2:3). What does this prosperity look like? (Now it is clear that there is a condition here: meditating on and following God’s Word. But the question remains, what is the prosperity that is promised?) Does this look like our worldly idea of success? Now even if we throw out the extremes here--that success consists mainly in money and material possessions--are we still thinking of success in some seemingly spiritual form? Do we think in terms of large churches or celebrity leadership? How should we define prospering from a Biblical point of view?   

Scripture pictures us as being made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-10; 4:7-11; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5). This is exactly the opposite of how we view success. And it is easy to take our view and transplant it, only slightly edited, into the realm of the spiritual. But God sees things from His perspective. God says those who put their faith in Christ are victorious (Romans 8:37; 2 Corinthians 2:14; 1 John 5:4), even if it does not always look that way (John 16:33; 2 Corinthians 4:17,18; Romans 8:28). It is easy to be bitten by the bug that bit Elijah. Elijah had had initial outward success; God had withheld rain at his request, God had sent fire, then God had sent rain when Elijah asked (1 Kings 17, 18; James 5:17,18). But when the people did not immediately respond to his demonstrations, he became depressed and hid in the desert until God corrected him (1 Kings 19; Romans 11:2-5). But one of the most outwardly successful prophets in the Old Testament was Jonah, who started out running from God and, when Nineveh repented at his preaching, went out and pouted because God did not destroy the city (Jonah1-4). Therefore, we need to avoid confusing outward success, even in a spiritual context, with real success in God’s perspective. True success in God’s sight involves doing what he wants us to do, even if it is not the thing that will produce obvious success. For in the end, only God will judge what was right and what was successful (1 Corinthians 4:3-5; Romans 14: 9-12; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Rather, what He asks of us is faithfulness, to His truth and to the task He has set for us (1 Corinthians 4:2; 2 Timothy 2:2; Luke 16:10-13). But whenever we make success our god, whether it is worldly success or spiritual success, it will elude us. But if we meditate on and follow God’s Word, we will prosper in the way God means us to prosper, and so will have real success.