Friday, December 30, 2011

A Voice from the Past - Leo the Great

For not only is God believed to be both Almighty and the Father, but the Son is shown to be co-eternal with Him, differing in nothing from the Father because He is God from God, Almighty from Almighty, and being born from the Eternal one is co-eternal with Him; not later in point in time, not lower in power, not unlike in glory, not divided in essence; but at the same time the only begotten of the eternal Father was born eternal of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. And this nativity which took place in time took nothing from, and added nothing to that divine and eternal birth, but expended itself wholly on the restoration of man who had been deceived; in order that he might both vanquish death and overthrow by his strength, the Devil who possessed the power of death. For we should not now be able to overcome the author of sin and death  unless He took our nature on Him and made it His own, whom neither sin could pollute nor death retain.

Leo the Great, 400-460 AD, Letter 28, To Flavian, commonly called "The Tome," Section II (The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Volume 12, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, 1997, T & T Clark and Wm. B.Eerdmans, The Letters and Sermons of Leo the Great, translated by Charles Lett Feltoe, p. 39)

Why is it important that Jesus was both God and man? What impact does this have on our lives?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Errors of Good Men

It has been said that in the Christian church it is the errors of good men that are the most dangerous. I am convinced this is frequently the case. The ancient Christian church was besieged by alternative forms of Christianity that distorted its basic doctrines. The New Testament shows this was a problem from the very beginning of the church. Now many of the members of the church at the time were poor and uneducated; many were slaves. How could they be protected from being lured away by false doctrine? They were encouraged to listen to their leaders; they would steer them right. But the problem was that the opposing viewpoints also had leaders who taught their beliefs. How would they know which leader to follow?

It was noted that Jesus had instructed the apostles, and the apostles then instructed those who followed them. Who were you going to believe, the church that could trace itself back to the apostles or some new group coming out of left field, claiming to be in possession of the real Christian message? Now this idea does have a certain degree of sense to it. It is one useful criterion for evaluating new teaching. Can we believe that the early church got Jesus' teachings totally wrong, only to have the truth discovered by someone in recent times (Jude 3, Galatians 1:8,9; Isaiah 8:20)? But as the sole basis for deciding on truth, this has problems. It assumes that, unlike Israel in the Old Testament, which had a habit of drifting away from the truth of God, the Christian church could not do so. But this flies in the face of what we already see even in New Testament times (Galatians 1:6,7; Colossians 2:16-19; Revelation 2:12-29). This became more questionable the further removed the church became from New Testament times. Also, as time went on, this developed into the concept that the church descended from the apostles could not be questioned, in spite of the Biblical requirement of holding leaders responsible to follow the Word of God (Acts 17:11; Galatians 2:11-16; Jeremiah 8:8,9). This led to many unbiblical errors. It took the Protestant Reformation to correct these.

Now I say this, not simply to point out the historical error, but to encourage us to avoid falling into this same trap in the present day. There is a temptation for current leaders to walk this same path if they are not careful. It is easier to teach people to just follow their leaders than to do the hard task of really educating them in the truths of the Christian faith. But it is only the second way that will produce the strong Christians we are called to produce (Matthew 28:19,20; Acts 20:27; 2 Timothy 4:1-4). Now I am not saying we should not value and consider the wisdom of great Christians from the past. But we should not strive to produce mindless followers, but strong Christian warriors, who know what they believe and why they believe it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Staking Our Claim

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

One thing that prospectors do is stake claims.  The rest of us have a tendency to do the same thing.  We stake claims to various things as belonging to ourselves.  Yet can we really stake a claim to anything when everything we have comes from God (Job 1:21; Matthew 6:25-34)?  Also, as C. S. Lewis points out in "The Screwtape Letters," there are various senses of the word "my".  It can range from "my God" to "my country," "my church," "my wife," and all the way down to "my boots."  According to Lewis, Satan's strategy is to reduce everything to the level of "my boots."  Something that belongs to me that I can do whatever I feel like with. Sometimes we can be very spiritual about this.  We can speak of "my ministry" (as opposed to other people's ministries), "my Bible study group" (as opposed to other people's Bible study groups), "my church" (as opposed to other congregations) or "my denomination" (even if the differences between it and other denominations are Biblically minor).  Therefore we can promote our ends while claiming to be spiritual. 

Yet God takes the opposite approach.  He says we should put other people before ourselves (Philippians 2:1-4; Romans 12:9-21).  He even set the example by giving up His rights in order to redeem us (Philippians 2:5-11; Romans 5:6-8; John 3:16).  And if we have been redeemed, we not only belong to God because of His creating us (Psalms 139:13-16), but also because He has redeemed us (1 Corinthians 6:20).  Therefore we should stop staking claims to things, but offer everything we have, including ourselves (Romans 12:1,2), to live for Him.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Touch of Humor - The Procrastinator

What things can contribute to our putting off what God would have us do? How can we avoid them?

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Voice from the Past - Martin Luther

Here is the Child in whom is salvation. To me there is no greater consolation given to mankind then this, that Christ became man, a child, a babe, playing in the lap and at the breasts of his most gracious mother. Who is there whom this sight would not comfort? Now is overcome the power of sin, death, hell, conscience, and guilt, if you come to this gurgling Babe and believe that he is come, not to judge you, but to save.

Martin Luther, 1483-1546, (The Martin Luther Christmas Book, Nativity, translator Roland Bainton, The Westminster Press, 1948, p. 40)

What can can we learn about God from Christmas? How should it affect the rest of the year?

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Good Invasion

How can we explain this world we live in? There is so much good in it. There is so much wrong with it. We can see it as wonderful world and try to relegate the bad things to something superficial. (We need to be positive and everything will be well.) But confronted with the real facts of the world or even our own lives, this viewpoint seems to crumble. Outside of Scripture I know of only two arguments against the world being basically good. All of human history and all of human experience. Or we can take the view that the world is a nasty place and that is just the way it is. (We must be strong and endure the world with its absurdities.) But if this is really how the world should be, why do we criticize it? Where do we get the standard to do so? And why, in the midst of the chaos, do we find things that reflect that kind of goodness and rightness that we seek but are not consistently able to find in reality as a whole? Is there another answer?

I would submit that the answer that best makes sense of our situation is the Christian one. The world as it was originally created by the hand of God was good (Genesis 1:31; 1 Timothy 4:4,5; James 1:17). But human beings rebelled against God, and as a result evil has come into the world (Genesis 3:1-19; Romans 8:19-23; 5:12-21) and we are sinners in rebellion against God (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9). We are also told there are evil spiritual forces in control of this world as a result of mankind's rebellion, who are instigating evil in this world (Ephesians 2:1-3; Hebrews 2:14,15; 2 Corinthians 4:3,4).  But we still see in that world the remnants of the original goodness (Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:15-17; Romans 2:14,15). This fits with what we see in the world, a good world that has gone bad.

But because of this we have a basis for a solution. If the present world is basically good, we must ignore the depths of the problem. If the evil of the world is how it is supposed to be, the situation is hopeless. But if this world is a good world created by God, and it was corrupted by sin, then He can set it right again. To do this, God became a man (John 1:1-14; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9,10) and paid the price we needed to pay for our rebellion against the true King (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13-15; 2 Corinthians 5:21) and opened the way for us to be reconciled to God through faith in Him (Romans 4:4,5; Ephesians 2:8,9; Philippians 3:9). And ultimately He will return the world to its original state of perfection at His Second Coming (Revelation 21:1-4; Philippians 3:20-21; 2 Peter 3:8-13). Christmas therefore is the beachhead for the good invasion, which God has begun. The question is, which side do we want to be on?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Castle

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

There were some travelers from a far-off village, who in an uninhabited land came across a beautiful castle on a hill. It was a magnificent building, full of beautiful tapestries and impressive ornaments. Also, as they entered the banquet hall they found food laid out for a feast. There were also many empty bedrooms with large four-poster beds. But the really mysterious thing was that every day the table was stocked with food at morning, noon, and evening, and every night they found the beds made with new linen. But they never saw the owner or any servants who did these things. And though they hid and watched for them and set traps for them, they could not catch them.

They went out to all the surrounding towns and told them about the wonder they had found. Many came and were inspired by the place to tell stories about it, often trying to explain its ose who were his pupils and taught others the truths they got from him. But the others rejected such things, considering the man a fraud or a madman or, long afterward, a tale created by his followers. But those who believed in the man claimed theirs was the only real answer. And their tribe persists to this day.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Is Christianity a Myth?

Is Christianity a myth? First we must ask, what is a myth? This is a word that means many different things to different people. It can mean that something is false. Now as a statement of opinion this is legitimate, but it requires proof. If assumed without proof, it is circular reasoning. Now traditionally the word myth has been used for theological viewpoints that were no longer considered a serious option, at least by civilized people. With the coming of New Age beliefs, it is questionable whether this can still be taken for granted. But Christianity was never in that category. Now one could assert that the old attitude toward these myths is correct and Christianity is basically the same thing. But this, again, without proof is circular reasoning.

Or myths can be see it as a depiction of a mythical experience rooted in existential philosophy. This is a close relative to the approach of allegorism, which sees such stories as, not to be taken literally, but pictures of some underlying truth. Now to the extent allegorism involves reading in a foreign belief, without justification in its original  theological context, it should be rejected out of hand. For me to read my beliefs back into someone else's belief system without a basis within that system is, again, circular reasoning.

Or a myth can simply be defined as an overall view of reality that captures the imagination. In this context I have no  problem with calling Christianity a myth, so long as we allow for the possibility of a true myth. I see no basis for excluding this unless it can be proven beforehand that reality must be pedantic and boring. But there is a danger here that we might believe something, not because it is true, but because it is a good story. Certainly, we should be on guard against this. But used as an argument in favor of a secular view of reality, this has a basic problem. I used to be an agnostic and was a firm believer in the great secular myth, which C. S. Lewis called the myth of evolution (see The Funeral of a Great Myth in Christian Reflections). While it goes back to Shelley and Keats, it can be found more recently in Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek) and Arthur C. Clarke (the 2001: A Space Odyssey series, Childhood's End). This view, which sees mankind as, not at home in paradise, but fighting and clawing their way up to become beings of disembodied power is nothing if not dramatic. If this does not capture the imagination, I do not know what will. If you really want a view of the world that is boring and pedantic, I do not know where you would find one. But if we are not willing to exclude a view because it captures the imagination, we must at least consider the possibility of a true myth.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Touch of Humor - The Hierarchy

Is there a danger of using God as a means to get what we want? How can we avoid this?

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Voice from the Past - Chesterton

Any agnostic or atheist whose childhood has known a real Christmas has ever afterwards, whether he likes it or not, an association in his mind between two ideas that most of mankind must regard as remote from each other; the idea of a baby and the idea of unknown strength that sustains the stars.His instincts and imagination can still connect them, when his reason can no longer see the need of the connection; for him there will always be some savior of savour of religion about the mere picture of a mother and a baby; some hint of mercy and softening about the mere mention of the dreadful name of God.

G. K. Chesterton, 1874-1936, The Everlasting Man; Part II: On the Man Called Christ, Chapter I: The God in the Cave (Dover Publications Inc., 2007, pp. 164-165)

Does this make sense? If so what are the implications?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Impacting All of Culture

It is said that we as Christians need to impact all of life. I agree that this is true, but we need to understand what it means. The Christian church, the body of all true believers, needs to impact all of life as we go out into the world. But part of the problem is that once you get beyond the things the Scripture states and commands, there becomes a question not only of Christian principles but of practical considerations. One thing we need to beware of is the confusion of Scriptural requirements with pragmatic methods. We also need to be careful of involving the organizational church in something that is not part of direct Christian obedience and thus confusing the two. There are things that are very clearly required by Scripture, such as helping the poor and needy, which the organizational church can be involved in directly (Acts 4:32-35; 1 Timothy 5:3-15; James 2:15,16), though not to the detriment of its obligation to instruct people in God's truth (Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 4:11-15; 2 Timothy 4:1-4). A good example of this in Acts 6, where they tried to carefully balance the demands of meeting people's needs with the ministry of the word and prayer.

But there are other cases where we are best served by other organizations, which are parts of the universal church involved in a specialized purpose. This may even involve making common cause with unbelievers to accomplish common goals. We are called to be the light of the world and have an effect on those around us (Matthew 5:13-16; Philippians 2:14-16; Ephesians 5:7-17). But we need to be careful in the process not to be conformed to the world (Romans 12:1,2; 1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4). We need to be careful of confusing our Christianity with other issues God does not speak on. We need Christian politicians and political activists doing what they  think best within the context of their Christian instruction.  We need Christian artists who express themselves within a Christian context. Christian scientists doing science from a Christian context. And if past experience is any guide, this is a hard thing to do without compromise. But there are some things we can do to help. We need to be careful of putting people on too high a pedestal, or we are in danger of encouraging pride and a fall (Proverbs 16:18; 11:2; Romans 12:3). But we should also be careful of too easily criticizing and doing so with the wrong spirit (Galatians 6:1; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Hebrews 12:12-13). But rather let all us consider how to be lights in the place we are, whether it is seen as prominent or obscure from the world's point of view.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Fanastic

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

How should a Christian deal with the various claims of fantastic things in the world? These could include such things as UFOs, ghosts, Bigfoot, and the Loch Ness monster. How are we to explain them? Now for the Christian, there are certain things that can be eliminated as contrary to Christian teaching; (ghosts conflict with the Biblical picture of the afterlife; see Hebrews 9:27; Luke 16:19-31). There may be others which have been given a pseudo-spiritual significance; (some beliefs in UFOs fall into this category). But we are still left with the question of what we think of these things.

We can dismiss them as simply mistakes. Someone saw a weather-balloon or an animal moving at a distance and mistook them for something else. This seems a little simplistic to me as an adequate explanation of all  sightings. Also, such a mistake is much easier to make if you already have an idea that these things exist. There is also the question of fraud. This undoubtedly also happens. There are people who will do things for notoriety or because they like a good story. However, those who see such things are frowned on as crackpots. While this may indeed be the explanation of a specific case, I question that everyone who claims to have seen such things can simply be written off as a fraud.

They could be a legitimate natural phenomenon. Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster could simply be unusual types of animals. (I do not believe Big Foot is the missing link, but it could be an unusual type of ape.) But the fact that the Loch Ness monster never seems to appear when the serious investigators are looking for him makes me cynical. As for UFOs, I tend to lean toward the Klass plasma hypothesis, which makes them a natural phenomena but not extraterrestrial. (This is, they are really an usual type of plasma which is produced under certain conditions, appearing as a large variously-shaped, bright object.) But some such explanation must be considered as a possibility.

Another possibility is that they might be demonic. If we live in a supernatural world, we should not be surprised if we encounter things of supernatural origin. Nor should we be surprised if demonic forces use natural phenomena or  impersonate things that do not exist to accomplish their purposes . While I think it is simplistic to assume all such phenomena are demonic, I think it is also simplistic not to consider the demonic as a possibility. Especially in the cases where there is a direction of worship or something that approximates worship, away from God to some other object. 

But in the end, each case has to be evaluated on its own merits. I think we should avoid the view that dismisses such things out of hand (often with the attitude that people are stupid) or immediately ascribes them all to the demonic. Let us carefully investigate before jumping to conclusions.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

More Spiritual Than God

Sometimes we can try to be more spiritual than God. Now by spiritual, I do not mean more holy. But I mean more focused on the internal and the immaterial, rather than the external and the physical. God created the physical world (Genesis 1:1; Isaiah 42:5: John 1:3). He created us as beings of body and spirit (Genesis 2:7; Psalm 8:4-8; 139:13-16). God became a man to redeem us from our sins (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-18). And our goal is the resurrection of the body (Romans 8:11; Philippians 3:20,21; 1 Corinthians 15:1-28). We are not to confuse Biblical spirituality with the minimizing of the physical (Colossians 2:20-23; 1 Timothy 4:3-5; Titus 1:15). Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the area of the sacraments. While unwilling to do away with them because God has commanded them (Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Acts 2:38), we can relegate them to the incidental, just one more thing God has commanded us to do.

This can be a reaction to a real danger. We can go through the external motions of following God without the inner reality (Malachi 1:10; Isaiah 66:3-4; Matthew 6:1-18). Scripture makes it clear that we are saved by faith in Christ (Romans 4;4,5; Ephesians 2:8,9; Philippians 3:9). Therefore, the reality of the sacraments is based on faith (Romans 4:11,12; Acts 16:30-33; John 6:47-58). It is this faith, rather than the person administering them or the exact mode or theory of the ordinances, none of which is taught in Scripture, that is the issue. They are a sign and a seal of that faith (Romans 4:11). This makes them, not one more act of obedience, but the recognition and celebration of what God has done. And while the external act means nothing apart from the inward reality (Romans 2:25-29; 9:6-8; Jeremiah 4:4), it is not to be despised. Now I want to be clear that the focus of faith is not on our own feelings, but on Christ and what He has done for us (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). If we turn to Christ and rely on Him, we have faith (1 John 5:11-13; John 3:16; Romans 3:21,22).

Now Scripture makes it clear that the ordinances are the normal expression of belonging to Christ (Acts 10:47,48; 16:14,15; 20:7). Now I find it interesting that those who make the sacraments secondary come up with other physical actions as expression of faith, such as walking an aisle or raising a hand or saying a prayer. Now I do not want to condemn any legitimate expression of faith, but it should be noted that these acts have the same possibility of abuse as the ordinances. People can go through the motions and not really mean them. Since we seem to naturally choose physical acts to express our faith, might it not be better to reemphasize the acts God originally commanded? For the physical part of us is something God created and is part of who we are.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Touch of Humor - The Spirit of Christmas Presents

How can keeping the commercial aspect of Christmas become a distraction? Is there a way to keep a better balance in this regard?

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Voice from the Past - Athanasius

And just as a notable wrestler who is great in intelligence and strength does not choose opponents for himself lest he should give suspicion that he is afraid of some opponents, but gives the choice to the power of the spectators, and especially if they are unfriendly, in order that when he has overthrown the one with whom they match him he may be believed to be superior to all; even so the life of all, our Lord and Saviour Christ, did not himself contrive death for his body lest he should appear frightened of a different death, but accepted and endured on the cross that inflicted by others, especially by enemies, which they thought to be fearful, ignominious, and horrible, in order that when it had been destroyed he might be believed to be life, and that the power of death be completely annihilated.

Athanasius, 295-373 AD, The Incarnation of the Word, 24:10-20, (Athanasius, Contra Gentes and De Incarnatione, translated by Robert W, Thomson, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1971, p. 193

Does this make sense of why Christ died the way He did? Are there other explanations? (Athanasius does give others.)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Dangers of One Man in Charge

The fundamental issue of the Protestant Reformation was justification by faith, that we are declared righteous before God based on our faith in Christ's death on the cross for us, apart from anything we can do to earn it (Romans 3:28; Ephesians 2:8,9; Philippians 3:9). The second related issue was the authority of Scripture, that every claim to teach God's truth must be tested by Scripture (Isaiah 8:20; Galatians 1:8,9; Jude 3). But there was another issue which fostered the corruption of the church at that time. That was the putting of the church under the control of a single individual who could not be questioned. There were attempts to deal with this corruption short of the Reformation. There was a movement to make church councils the authority rather than the pope, but this ultimately failed. Or they would require men to swear to make reforms before choosing them as pope. But when they became pope they would absolve themselves from keeping this oath. Now I am convinced it was in God's providence that these limited reforms failed, because the church needed the deeper reform of the Reformation. But there is a principle here of not giving too much power to one person. I do not bring this up just to criticize Roman Catholicism, but to point out that there is danger in giving unquestionable authority to one or a few individuals.

Now I do not want to take away the respect that should be given to good leaders of the past and present. They are a gift for God (Ephesians 4:11), and we are called to submit to those in a position over us (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13). Nor should we go to the opposite extreme of individualism and refuse to listen to the instruction of others (Proverbs 15:22; 1 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 12:3) But no one should place themselves above the Word of God or above correction (Acts 17:11; Galatians 1:8,9; 2:11-16). Also, Jesus Christ is the only one we must go through to get to God, and no other should make that claim (1 Timothy 2:5; Colossians 1:18; Hebrews 4:14-16). Now I am convinced that, particularly in our modern celebrity culture, it is possible to exalt people to a level where they are seen as unquestionable. This is bad even if the individuals involved are godly people, because we all have our sins and failings and making someone unquestionable perpetuates their bad qualities as well as their good. Also, once such an authority cannot be challenged, bad people can replace the good without hindrance. Those who established the power of the papacy were using it to fight the corruption of the church. But in the end it resulted in worse corruption than they set out to cure. We should respect those leaders worthy of it, but we should regard no one as above correction.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Bethesda Factor

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

Does God always heal if we just have enough faith? Jesus came to the Pool of Bethesda and found a crowd of sick people (John 5:1-17).  But Jesus approached and healed only one of them.  There is no indication that this individual had any high degree of faith (he was looking to be healed by being dipped in the pool). But Jesus only approached this one man. Now there are cases where it says Jesus healed all the sick brought to Him (Matthew 8:16; 12:15; Luke 4:40), but it is clearly speaking of those who happened to be there at that day and time.  But as Bethesda shows, Jesus could also be selective. We see this even more clearly in the case of the Apostle Paul.  Paul had a consistent record of praying for people and having them be healed (Acts 19:11,12), and he continued to do so at least till the near end of the book of Acts (Acts 28:1-10) and most probably beyond it.  Yet he could not obtain healing for himself (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) or Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25-30), or Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23), or Trophimus (2 Timothy 4:20). 

Therefore, God does not heal in every case nor has He ever healed in every case.  Now many who believe healing has passed away at the present time seem to believe that in New Testament times, God did always heal, and now He has ceased doing it.  But I would suggest that while God still heals today (and I see no basis in Scripture for believing He does not), He never healed in every case. Now it is true that faith is a factor in whether an individual is healed (Matthew 13:58; 9:22; Mark 2:5).  Though the one case where the disciples failed to accomplish a miracle (it was casting out a demon rather than a healing), Jesus rebuked the disciples for lack of faith, not the demonized boy or his father (Matthew 17:14-20).  He then cast out the demon based on the father's shaky faith (Mark 9:14-29).  But though faith is a factor, it is also clear that there is in healing a matter of God's will, and to assume that God will heal everyone if they only have enough faith is simplistic. Therefore, we should pray to God that He will heal people but be willing to accept the fact that there may be cases where it is God's will not to heal. And we should avoid jumping to the conclusion that if someone is not healed it is because of their lack of faith.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Do We Really Believe It?

It is easy to mouth words. We as Christians claim we are sinners saved by grace. But do we mean it? Do we really believe we are sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9), who could only be saved by Christ's paying the price for our sins (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21)? Or do we really believe deep inside that we are good people, who knowing God has made maybe a little better? I do not speak this to condemn others, as if I were innocent. When I examine my own motives, I find that I must constantly fight the idea that I am not all that bad. But the question might be asked, is that not what I was back then? Now that I am Christian, surely I can put that behind me and claim to now be able to be acceptable to God through my good deeds. But what does the Scripture say? It says that nothing good dwells in me and that I fall short of the good I try to do (Galatians 5:17; Romans 7:7-25; 8:8 ). (Many would say that the struggle in Romans 7 refers to the unbeliever or carnal Christian, but it is in the present tense and concludes in 7:25 with a statement that the struggle still exists.) We are told not to consider ourselves as having attained it, but to press on with Christ (Philippians 3:12-16; 1 John 1:8-10; Hebrews 12:1,2). We are told that apart from God we are not able to do anything and that it is only through His power working in our life that we can live for God (John 15:5; 2 Corinthians 3:5,6; Ephesians 2:10). It is not that we are basically good people, as our society would teach us, but we are those destitute of our own goodness, who need God to forgive us (Romans 8:33,34; 3:24-26; Ephesians 1:7) and change us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29).

What is the result of this outlook on life? We will trust in God not only for our salvation (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:8,9), but also for all of life (Psalms 127:1,2; Proverbs 3:5,6; Hebrews 11:6). I will be motivated to live for God, not to impress Him or to earn anything from Him, but out of love for Him for a salvation already received (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Galatians 5:13). Also, we will not be motivated to look down on other people because we regard them as sinners, but we will realize that we are sinners even as they are (Luke 7:36-50; 19:10; Matthew 9:11-13). The basis for all this is humility, and this comes from an honest assessment of who I am (Romans 12:16; 1 Corinthians 13:4-6; Luke 22:24-27). It is then that I can put my life in perspective. So the question remains, do we mean what we say?

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Touch of Humor - The Holiday Celebration

How important is it to be concerned with issues like Christmas creches? How involved should we be in such issues?

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Voice from the Past - Augustine of Hippo

But all are gifts of my God; it was not I who gave them me; and good these are, and these together are myself. Good, then, is He that made me, and He is my good; and before Him will I exult for every good which of a boy I had. For it was my sin, that not in Him, but in His creatures -- myself and others -- I sought for pleasures, sublimities, truths, and so fell headlong into sorrows, confusions, errors. Thanks be to Thee, my joy and my glory and my confidence, my God, thanks be to Thee for Thy gifts; but do Thou preserve them to me. For so wilt Thou preserve me, and those things shall be enlarged and perfected, which Thou hast given me, and I myself shall be with Thee, since even to be Thou has given me.

Augustine of Hippo, 354-430 AD, Confessions, Book I, Section 31 (translated E. B. Pusey, Barnes &; Noble Books, 1999. p. 21)

Is this the right attitude toward God? How would it affect the way we live our lives?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

To Paddle or Not to Paddle?

How should Christians approach living for Christ? Is it active or passive?  I can see the main thing as my working hard to become more like Christ. This takes my focus off Christ and puts it on what I do. I end up relying on my own self-control and often being frustrated at my inadequacies. The proponents of the opposing view have likened this to being required to paddle our own canoe. It leads to either self-righteousness or discouragement. But Scripture says the Holy Spirit is at work in us to transform us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29). It says God has given us the power we need to accomplish His purposes (2 Corinthians 3:5,6; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Peter 1:3). It claims God has given us the victory (2 Corinthians 2:14; Romans 8:37; 1 John 5:4,5). This does not sound like being left to paddle our own canoe.

The opposite is to advocate a state of passive surrender: I should give myself over to God, and He will take it from there. This is like having a motor on the boat; I turn it on and it takes me where I want to go. The problem is that it is not quite that simple. What I have found is that when I take that first step, I am still me and am still faced with living my life out, day by day, by making specific choices. And if my life fails to reflect what is promised by this method, I must conclude that I am doing the first step wrong and become discouraged. Or if I can convince myself I do live up to it, I can think I have arrived spiritually, which leads to complacency. Scripture, however, likens the Christian life to a battle (Ephesians 6:10-18; 2 Timothy 2:3,4; 2 Corinthians 10:4-6). It likens the spiritual life to training and to competing in an athletic event (Hebrews 12:1,2; 1 Timothy 4:7,8; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27). It also pictures growth in Christ as a process that takes place over time (Hebrews 5:12-14; Philippians 3:12-16; Colossians 2:19). This does not sound like surrendering one's self, with God taking it from there.

How then can these be brought together? The key issue Scripturally is, what am I trusting in (Psalms 127:1,2; Proverbs 3:5,6; Isaiah 40:29-31)? None of the promises of the Spirit's working in our life are conditional for the Christian. But we are still required to respond to them (Galatians 5:16; Romans 6:12-14; Ephesians 5:18). Returning to the boat analogy, God's power is the current that carries us along. We do paddle to direct the boat down the center of the current. But if we try to paddle forward, expecting to get ahead of the current, we will simply wear ourselves out . But we can, if we choose paddle hard against the current and slow our progress toward who God wants us to be. But we did not make the current and cannot start it or stop it.