Monday, December 31, 2012

A Touch of Humor - The Pessimist

Is it good to have positive expectations? Is it ever good to pour cold water on others' expectations?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Change

People can only truly be changed from the inside; laws and governments are powerless to accomplish this.

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Gregory the Great

 (Written to the Emperor's Physician)
The Emperor of Heaven, the Lord of men and angels, has sent thee his epistles for thy life's behoof; and yet, glorious son, thou neglectest to read these epistles ardently. Study then, I beseech thee, and daily mediate on the words of thy Creator. Learn the heart of God in the words of God, that thou mayest sigh more ardently for the things that are eternal, that your soul may be kindled with greater longings for heavenly joys.

Gregory the Great, Epistles of Gregory the Great, 540-604 AD, To Theodorus, Physician, (The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Volume XII, translated by James Barmby, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, editors,T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, p.156)

What should our attitude be toward the the Word of God? How do we develop it?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Strange Case of Apollonius of Tyana

Appollonius of Tyana was what many would claim Jesus of Nazareth was. I think it is helpful to compare and contrast the two men. Appollonius was a standard moral philosopher who gave out moral maxims similar to those of other philosophers of the day. He also was claimed to have accomplished certain miraculous deeds, the deliverance of a demon-possessed individual, deliverance from a vampire, and an encounter with the ghost of Achilles. He was also said to have lived a exceptionally long life and to have mysteriously disappeared when called before the emperor. Given that he lived somewhat after the time of Jesus, I suspect these stories were inspired by the stories of Jesus, but I cannot prove it. There were also a number of stories told about him that fit, not into the miraculous, but the fantastic. (The miraculous is that which involves supernatural intervention; the fantastic is things seen as part of the normal, natural world that are not credible.)  These included levitating Hindu magicians, lilliputian-sized men, and fights between elephants and dragons. But the impression given is of a fairly standard philosopher who had various interesting legends tacked on to him. Because he was just a fairly standard philosopher, it is not really clear why he should have had these miraculous powers. And because he was a fairly standard philosopher, in spite of his supposed miraculous powers, he never developed much of a following and vanished quietly into obscurity.

Jesus, however, is never in any of the accounts of Him presented as a standard moral philosopher. The basic letters of Paul, generally considered the earliest sources on Christianity, present Him as the Son of God who came to pay the price for sins and rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-20; Romans 1:4; Galatians 3:6-14). The gospels also clearly put forth this idea (Mark 10:45; Matthew 11:27; 23:34). Even the pagan observers, such as Pliny the Younger and Lucian, characterize Christians as worshiping Jesus as God. The miraculous is not tacked on embroidery, as in Appollonius,  but is the very heart of the message. It is difficult to see, if Jesus were simply like Appollonius, how His message could have gotten so completely changed in that short a period. Also, if Jesus had been in no way different from Appollonius, He would have suffered the fate of Appollonius and disappeared into a footnote in the history books. Now this does not prove Jesus was who He claimed to be. He could have been a clever swindler or some form of madman. But it does cast considerable doubt on the idea that Jesus was a great moral teacher who legends grew up around. We know what that looks like, and we know its fate.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Difference

Since before recorded history, human beings have sought a higher power or powers. This may have been for moral purity or for life after death. Or it may just have been for better crops or larger herds. And they have looked in many different ways in many different places. They followed moral rules and tried to be better people. But there was always the question of how much was enough to be good enough to please God or the gods. They sought some higher experience that would allow them to commune with the Ultimate. And they followed various procedures to further that experience. But this led them many different ways, and it was not clear whether they were really making contact with something beyond themselves or what it was. Others created ceremonies and rituals calculated to placate the gods or spirits or even manipulate them to do the worshiper's will. But these did not produce consistent results. Then the philosophers tried to reason it out. And they came out with many different theories and could not agree beyond the rudiments. And in all these approaches they sought long and hard, but reached no definite conclusion, and certainly none they could agree on.

But the claim of Christianity is totally different. It is that God revealed Himself to us. Further, we claim that God not only revealed Himself, but became a human being and walked among us. He did this to pay the price for all the wrong things we have done and make a way we could be reconciled to Him. Also, this is accomplished, not by trusting in the things we can do to seek God, but in what He did to seek us. This is fundamentally a different approach to the issue. This does not itself prove it is true, but it requires us to take notice. And we need to ask, how do we respond to this radical set of claims? And for those of us who embrace this truth, we need to avoid slipping back into other ways of looking at things. It is easy to change the emphasis from what God has done to what we do. We do not need a new moral system; we have plenty of those. We do not need a new philosophical system; we have plenty of those too. We need God to intervene and save us. Because without that, we are just spinning our wheels.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Touch of Humor - A Tale of Two St. Nicks

Is it helpful to associate Santa Claus and the older stories of St. Nicholas? What is the best way to do this if it is done? 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Life

The story of Christmas is not that we sought God but that He came looking for us.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Lewis

(The context of this quote is a hypothetical look at then current Christmas in Britain, represented as Niatrirb, through the eyes of a Greek historian. The result is a comparison of the secular holiday, Exmas and the religious  holiday, Chrissmas.)

But what Hecataeus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, is not credible. For first, the pictures which are stamped on the Exmas-cards have nothing to do with the sacred story which the priests tell about Crissmas. And secondly, the most part of the Niatribians, not believing the religion of the few, nevertheless send the gifts and cards and participate in the Rush and drink, wearing paper caps. But it is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in.

C. S. Lewis, 1898-1963, Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus, God in the Dock (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1970, p. 303)

Does it sometimes seem like we are celebrating two different holidays this time of year? How do we deal this situation?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Treasure

He was a dedicated knight of the King. But he wanted to be better. He had heard there was a treasure, a secret, that would enable him to truly follow the King. So with a cross around his neck to remind him of the great things the King had done for him, he set out on a journey to find it. He traveled to many places and asked questions of many strangers, but everyone gave him different directions. So he set out to test the paths on his own.

Spurring his stallion along a major path, he was confronted by an immense red dragon. His scales glimmered in the sun and flame flickered from his nostrils. "Come with me," said the dragon, "and I will show you real power. I will breath my fire into you, and you will be confident in yourself and do great things."

The knight looked down at the cross, and it was as if the King spoke to him, "The dragon's name is Pride, and he leads knights to destruction. Trust not in yourself, but in what I have done for you." And the knight turned the other way.

As he followed another road, a mysterious lady emerged from the trees. She wore a shimmering green dress and had a gleam in her eye. She smiled at him and said, "Come with me, and I will teach you the depths of inner feeling. And from that feeling will come the power you seek."

He looked once more at the cross and heard, "Her name is Experience; she promises much but requires more and more just to get the same result. She is a fantasy, I am Reality.  Do not follow her."

As he rode on, a sickly looking old man, all skin and bones, asked for a ride. As the old man mounted on the back of the horse, he seized the knight with a grip of iron. "I am Despair," said the old man, "and you will never find what you seek, for you are not worthy of it."

The knight glanced desperately at the cross and heard, "You are not worthy, but I have paid the price. The issue is not what you do, but what I have done." With this, Despair lost his grip and tumbled backward off the horse.

The knight spurred his horse to a run, fleeing from Despair, but reined in when he saw a strange sight beside of the road. It was a cave in the side of the hill with the King's sign of the cross over the entrance. He entered gingerly, reluctant to believe it was meant for him. In the rear of the cave he saw a treasure chest, old but sturdy. He slowly lifted the lid and found it was not locked. Inside lay a cross, exactly like the one he already wore. He walked away, both sad and elated. The only real treasure was the one he had had all along.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Confessions of a Point Man

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

I used to say there were two sacrifices I made for my church. I did not play on the softball team and did not sing on the worship team. This is a story of how I did one of those things. It is not, however, a nice simple story of how I did something I thought I could not do and succeeded. It is much more convoluted than that.

My main reason for not wanting to be on the worship team is I cannot sing. Now I have found if I sing softly, I can blend in enough that hopefully no one will notice, but this hardly seems a good reason to do it up front. I do, however, have a fairly expressive worship style. (I have been told by people from a charismatic perspective that they envied my freedom of worship.) It began when the pastor said he did not want people on the worship team who could sing well, but who could worship. And I felt a nudge in the back of my mind, saying, "You can worship." Now I resisted, thinking this was a crazy idea. But it would not go away, and things I thought were conflicts vanished, so I gave in and volunteered to go on the worship team.

Strangely enough, I found people responded favorably to what I was doing. There were even those who came up afterward to thank me for it. I also seemed to be encouraging people with charismatic tendencies to be more willing to express themselves that way. I do not think it would have gone very far, maybe more people lifting up hands than had done so before, but it was a definite difference.

Things seemed to be going well until some people began complaining I was "too charismatic". (I was never able to determine exactly what this meant; the closest I came to defining the problem was "kneeling and dancing".) But if I was encouraging people to be charismatic and the leadership did not want to go there, we had a problem. Therefore, after failing to resolve the problem, I followed the leading of God and resigned from the worship team.

Now I do believe God led me onto the worship team. (It was certainly contrary to my normal way of thinking.) But I am convinced that I was led to do what I did in order to point out the potential conflict in the congregation over things charismatic before it came to a head in a more destructive way. I was the point man. In the military, the point man is the one who goes out in front of the column to act as lookout. He is also the one most likely to get shot. If I can draw a moral from this, it is that God's will is not always simple and straightforward and does not always work out as we want it to. But we must trust Him in spite of that.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

On Desire

Many today see the main thing in life as the pursuit of pleasure and claim we should follow our desires wherever they lead. It is tempting to react against this and see all desires as evil. There are various approaches to this, but the basic idea is that the ultimate moral principle is self-control. There are those who would want to import this idea into Christianity. But what does the Scripture say?

The Bible speaks very clearly of desiring God and the things of God (Psalms 42:1,2; 73:25; 27:4). Further, God makes a definite appeal to our desires in calling people to come to Him (Revelation 21:4; Psalms 16:11; 1 Peter 1:8). Here I suspect that C. S. Lewis was right in claiming in his article The Weight of Glory that the problem is not that our desires are too strong, but that our desire for the things of God is too weak. He likens us to children making mud-pies in a slum because we do not understand the idea of a holiday at the sea. We are willing to settle for the desires for temporal things, such as money, sex, and fame, when we should be desiring the joy of being in the presence of God forever. The problem is not having other desires, but elevating them above the desire for God (Matthew 6:24; Colossians 3:5: Deuteronomy 6:4,5). Therefore, other things are appropriate when put in their proper place (Colossians 2:20-23; 1 Timothy 4:4; Titus 1:15). Self-control is important, but it is not the ultimate principle, but only part of a full-orbed obedience to God (Galatians 5:22,23, 2 Peter 1:5-7; Acts 24:25).

But the temptation is, when we see a culture that is more and more becoming unrestrained, if we cannot conform (and it is becoming harder and harder for a Christian simply to conform), to overact. And if we do, we can become the kind of people the world thinks we are. Now it is difficult for anyone who wants to pull the brake cord on the way our society is going not to be branded as a kill-joy. But it is one thing to be branded as one and another to be one. God calls us to be those who rejoice in who He is and what He has done even in difficult times (Philippians 4:4; John 16:33; Romans 14:17). And if we desire the chief thing first, the others will fall into place.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Touch of Humor - Over

How can we keep the busyness of Christmas from spoiling the celebration? Are there practical suggestions to help with this?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Own Body

None of us have the right to do what we want with our own body; it was provided for us by our Maker and does not belong to us.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Luther

I hate myself because when I see him laid in the manager, in the lap of his mother, and hear the angels sing, my heart does not leap into flame. With what good reason should we all despise ourselves that we remain so cold when this word is spoken to us over which all men should dance and leap and burn for joy! We act as though it were a frigid, historical fact that does not smite our hearts, as if someone were merely relating that the sultan has a crown of gold.

Martin Luther, 1483-1546, The Martin Luther Christmas Book, Shepherds (translated and arranged by Roland Bainton, The Westminster Press, 1948, p.46)

Can Christmas become something we are used to and makes no impact when we hear of it? How can we avoid this?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Political Extremes

Ours seems to be an age of extremes, of people pushing principles to their questionable conclusions. I have to ask why this is so. I believe the answer can be found in G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy. He says that purely naturalistic processes can only progress in an obvious direction. But progressing into a complex pattern implies an artist making the pattern. If my computer screen got darker and darker until it was pitch black or more and more purple until it was dark purple, it might be a purely mechanical malfunction. But if a face appears speaking to me, I must conclude that someone, somewhere, created what I was looking at.

For example I can hold strongly to independence until I see myself as an isolated individual, beholden to almost no one, and see it as the end of a natural process. I can see myself being made more and more a cog in an interlocked societal machine and see it as a result of simple progress. I can believe in more and more equality until no one can be distinguished from anyone else. Or claim some higher individuals or master race should exercise more and more power over others. But a complex Biblical picture of unity in diversity and servant leadership requires an Architect (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Luke 22:24-27; Ephesians 5:21-6:9),

On purely naturalistic grounds we can hold to an ethic of work and success that despises those who fail. Or we can believe in an ethic that offers the same goods to everyone regardless of effort. But to maintain the need of work while helping those in need requires more (1 John 3:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:12; James 2:15,16; Ephesians 4:28). We can, from a naturalistic viewpoint, claim that almost any sexual activity is all right and it is wrong in almost all cases to restrain it. Or else claim that sex is a dirty thing and should be avoided except when necessary to propagate the species. But to see it as good within an appropriate, committed relationship and wrong outside this requires a Designer (Hebrews 13:4; 1 Corinthians 7:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8; Proverbs 5:15-23).

This problem appears over and over again in various issues. And Christians are in danger of falling into one or the other of the extremes rather than standing where we should. For we believe the world is not an accident, but the work of a Creator. And the right answer to the issues is the picture intended by the Artist.        

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Do You Have to Be Cold-Hearted to Be a Calvinist?

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

Do you have to be cold-hearted to be a Calvinist? Or does it just help?  To deal with this we first need to ask, What is the point of Calvinism?  As I see it, this is that though we were sinners and in rebellion against God so that we would not have come to Him if left to ourselves (Romans 3:10-12; 8:8; John 6:44), God chose to bring us to Himself (Ephesians 1:4-11; Acts 13:48; Romans 8:29,30).  The point of this is the greatness of God's grace and the realization that there is absolutely nothing we could do to contribute to our salvation.  Far from being a reason for pride, it is a reason for humility, and the description given of those He chooses is hardly a basis for boasting (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).  Therefore, it should cause us to have compassion on those still enmeshed in the darkness of sin.

But there is a danger here of making God's choosing into an abstraction totally divorced from the fact of the fall and the price of redemption and of seeing God as choosing between people as casually as a socialite chooses outfits.  We need to recognize that God is beyond our understanding (Romans 11:33; 1 Corinthians 3:18; Isaiah 55:9), and we cannot fully comprehend how God's sovereignty fits with human responsibility or  how or why God chooses.  But He did not have to save anyone, and He paid an enormous price to do it (Romans 5:6-8; 8:32; John 3:16).

Calvinism can be confused with Stoicism, which says life is tough and God made it that way because He wants us to be tough. Rather, the Christian says life is tough, so we need to realize we cannot deal with it ourselves, but must trust God.  (Note that the original Stoicism had no clear idea of a Fall, which distorted their idea of God and the world.)  Calvinism is also confused with psychological determinism, which says our behavior is completely the result of our heredity and environment. But it is one thing to say our behavior is controlled by a personal God and another to say we are merely the result of background influences.  Psychological determinism leaves us in doubt as to whether we can know anything at since all our thoughts are the result of irrational causes.  It also can leave us looking at other people as just mechanisms determined by their programming.

All these misconceptions can influence Calvinists or be read in by opponents. Also, Calvinism in our culture, and in some parts of the Christian church, carries with it a considerable stigma.  Therefore, only those who have or who develop considerable determination and strength of conviction can hold to it.  Such people may be perceived, fairly or unfairly, as cold-hearted.  Sometimes you produce what you perceive in people.  But to be kept in perspective, predestination must be considered in connection with the Fall and redemption.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What the Bible Does Not Say

I am convinced that what the Bible does not say is as important as what it does say and that it is wrong to add to it. (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:5,6; Revelation 22:18,19). But part of our problem is we can start by framing a question apart from Scripture and then expect Scripture to answer it. Now there are occasions where this is legitimate. If I am facing a particular moral dilemma that Scripture does not address directly, it is appropriate to look for principles that pertain to the situation. A book that addressed every obscure moral question would be too cumbersome to use, so I believe God wants us to apply principles to dealing with issues. But it is one thing to do this in unusual situations and another to add as clear-cut commands something the Bible never said. But the real problem can come from framing theological questions and straining for some Biblical basis to supply an answer, when it should have been obvious if God thought it was important.

A good example is the question of what way Christ is present in the Lord's Supper. The Scripture never directly addresses this question. The only question is what the word "is" means, and it is putting too much of a burden on this word in any language to claim it must mean "is physically" or some other specific meaning (Revelation 17:18; Isaiah 5:7; Hosea 10:11). Now I am not claiming this proves communion is symbolic. I am merely claiming Scripture does not say. Now I do not forbid the individual to speculate on it, but I have a problem with being dogmatic on something and dividing over it when Scripture does not clearly teach about it. (Notice that 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 is about the practice of the Eucharist and not the theory of it. Turning it into a drunken feast where everyone brought their own food and drink and nobody shared was disrespectful no matter what your theory of the Supper is.)

Other good examples are church government and the order of the worship service. While there are general principles given, there is no detailed description found (1 Corinthians 14:40; 1 Peter 5:1-4; Hebrews 13:17). However, there is a detailed description given of such things in the Old Testament. I can only conclude that if God did not include such things in the New Testament, it is because He did not intend to. Therefore, we have freedom as long as we stay within the principles.

I am convinced that God is not shy and that what He intended to say, He said. Now He may not have spoken on every obscure issue; to deal with all of them would make Scripture impossible to use. But I do not believe He left any critical issue to be ferreted out by reading  between the lines.   

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Touch of Humor - Preferences

How do we avoid fights over personal biases? How can we deal with them when they occur?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Preservation

Once God's truth dies in the hearts of a people, no confession or institutional structure can preserve it.

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Charles Hodge

In the second place, the duty of the Christian theologian is to ascertain, collect, and combine all the facts which God has revealed concerning himself and our relation to Him. These facts are all in the Bible. This is true, because everything revealed in nature, and in the constitution of man concerning God and our relation to Him, is contained and authenticated in Scripture.

Charles Hodge, 1798-1878, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, Chapter 1, 5, A (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1982, p.11)

Is this correct? How does it affect our approach to understanding God?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Can Atheists Be Moral?

Can atheists be moral? The simple answer is, yes. But the next question is, why? All of us are products of our upbringing. Also, there seems to be a deeply ingrained tendency in human beings to believe in morality. Even if we reject traditional morality, we erect a new morality in its place. Some may accept the the killing of the unborn, but they protest the destruction of endangered species. But what do we base any morality on? This is not just a problem for atheists, but also for agnostics and those who hold to a vague, impersonal God who is not concerned about morality. I remember back when I was an agnostic thinking I should do things for the good of posterity. Then I asked the question why I should care about the good of posterity. The concern for the good of posterity is a moral principle, and without morality I had nothing to base it on.

Some would try to base morality on evolution, claiming that evolution can promote cooperation as well as competition. But this reduces morality to enlightened self-interest. However, is this morality? Let's face it, bank robbers and crooked politicians can cooperate together to accomplish their purposes. But morality is based on the idea that there are certain things I should do because they are right, even if they are not to my personal advantage. If we reject such an idea, let us simply be honest and say we reject morality and have done with it. If I am only moral as long as it is to my advantage to be moral, my morality is useless. But can real morality be justified from a purely naturalistic point of view? 

I do think this morality without basis does make it more likely that certain individuals will reject morals entirely. However, I frankly do not think most of us will give up on moral thinking; it is too much a part of us. But I do think that morality without basis leads to moral creep. We can base our morals on whatever people happen to think or whatever is portrayed sympathetically in the media. And a good writer can make almost anything look reasonable. Therefore, we drift in our convictions, depending on what is currently acceptable or the last thing we viewed or read.

But the bottom line is, if I cannot shake this morality thing, where did it come from? Now this is not an unequivocal argument for the existence of God. One can always claim that morality is some kind of a mental fallacy, and people should live only for self-interest, enlightened or otherwise. But we have to ask why this fallacy is so persistent and why we have such a hard time shaking it. And if we are going to keep living by it, we need a logical basis for our behavior. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

If the Center Holds

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

I remember being involved in a church that was going through a wringer. It had had problems before I got there, including the exodus of a large part of the congregation. Soon after I got there the pastor, who was burnt out by previous problems, left, and a certain part of the congregation left with him. We got a new pastor, but many of the officeholders of the church dropped out, either entirely from the congregation or from the carrying out of their office (some later came back; others did not). At one point the active leadership in the congregation seemed to consist in the pastor and five other people, and one of them kept explaining how their family was soon going to move out of town. Things came back together, but we kept having periodic minor conflicts, losing a family here and a family there.

One day I was praying through the sanctuary during a time it was empty. And the thing God impressed on me was, "If the center holds, you will make it through." (I know this ultimately comes from a pagan source, but when God brings things to my mind He normally uses the baggage that is there.) I took this as meaning that if the core of the church would stick together, we as a church would make it through.

Later, I was in a different congregation that appeared to be doing well. I knew there were potential problems, but I thought we could avoid them. Then one day when I was walking through the sanctuary, I felt the familiar nudge, "If the center holds, you will make it through." And I asked myself, Are we in that much trouble? Not long afterward we were involved in a major conflict, resulting in the loss of about half the congregation. Later, the pastor was promoted to a position in the denomination, and the new pastor had to deal with a series of problems and aftershocks. But we stuck together and made it through.

I do not want condemn people who switch churches. I have switched churches myself for various reasons on more than one occasion. But I think there is too much tendency to desert simply because things get difficult. Now there are things worth splitting a church over, and there may be individual congregations where it is just as well if they close their doors. But I do believe the Biblical exhortations to unity imply we need to stick together and work out our problems, where possible, rather than leaving at the first hint of trouble (Philippians 2:1,2; Ephesians 4:1-6; Colossians 3:12-15). One of the great innovations in ancient warfare was the shield wall. Instead of each warrior fighting for himself, they made a row of interlocking shields so they protected their neighbor's flank. We Christians need to do this for each other. Perhaps then more ministries would make it through, rather than collapse.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Conventional Legalism

Legalism is a word that is hard to pin down and is used in different ways. It is not simply adding extra rules that God does not command, though this is wrong (Deuteronomy 4:2; Matthew 15:1-14; Colossians 2:20-23). The core of legalism is believing I can be acceptable to God based on my good works rather than on trusting Christ's sacrifice (Galatians 2:21; Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 3:19-31). Now this trust results in a changed life (Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:11-14; Galatians 5:13,14), but a changed life is our response to God's love for us (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Romans 12:1,2). This change is imperfect in the present time (Philippians 3:12-16; Romans 7:14-25; Galatians 5:16,17) and we are just before God based on what He has done for us  (Philippians 3:9; Romans 8:33,34; Colossians 2:9-15).

There are various forms of legalism. There is an emphasis on self-control and the strict adherence to the rules.There is a legalism than is more interested in being nice to people rather than following precise rules. This is closer to Scripture, which makes love the basic commandment (Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians 13:1-7). But if the emphasis is on what I do rather than on what Christ has done, it is still legalism. There can also be an emphasis on experiences or rituals. All of these can be legitimate in their place. But if they are seen as the thing that reconciles us to God, they are wrong.

But these forms of legalism tend to end up in conventional legalism. Conventional legalism is the idea that if I am a good moral person and avoid any obvious sins, I am all right. The Christian version adds basic Christian duties. But it is focused on what society considers respectable. And it is hard to maintain when society does not endorse it. One example of conventional legalism was the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. He believed in and practiced conventional legalism in an Empire riddled by decadence. He was conscientious and tried to turn the tide. In doing so he tried to suppress all strange foreign beliefs. Based on this he condemned a little slave girl who followed a Galilean Carpenter who did not stand for conventional legalism, but offered forgiveness of sins and eternal life. And she maintained this belief in the face of all the tortures the Empire could inflict on her. Marcus Aurelius, for all his position of power, failed. He could not prevent his own son from embracing the decadence nor did he slow the general tide of corruption. And the faith of the little slave girl went out and conquered the world. But often today, we who are her heirs have seated ourselves in the seat of Marcus Aurelius. And have no more ability then he did to halt the decadence of our culture. And I am convinced it is only by reaffirming our original message, that God by free grace forgives sinners, that we can hope to make an impact on our culture.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Touch of Humor - Card Exchange

How do we avoid seeing the holidays as a chore rather than a celebration? What are some things we can do to contribute to this?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Who You Know

It's not what you know but who you know, but people settle for knowing politicians, movie stars, rock musicians, and businessmen when they can know the God of the Universe.

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Spurgeon

Faith will work hard for the Lord and in the Lord's way, but she refuses so much as to lift a finger to fulfill the devices of unrighteous cunning. Rebecca acted out a great falsehood in order to fulfill the Lord's decree in  favour of Jacob -- this was unbelief; but Abraham left the Lord to fulfill His own purposes, and took the knife to slay his son -- this was faith. Faith trusts God to accomplish His own decrees.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 1834-1892, The Treasury of David, Psalm XXVI, (Volume 1, Hendrickson Publishers, p. 415)

How can we go about trying to do God's work in our own way? How can we avoid this?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Rule of the Kingdom

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

The High King instituted the government of the kingdom and then left, promising to return.  In the beginning, the citizens of the kingdom were despised and mistreated.  But later on they became respectable and their rule was applauded by all.  But there arose among the people politicians, who united the kingdom with their own political aims.  Some, to be sure, were conscientious, doing what they thought best for the kingdom.  But others used the kingdom for their own selfish purposes, bringing in debauchery, greed, and corruption.

But there arose a movement to purify the kingdom and restore the good laws of the High King.  To do this, they sought a champion to oppose the politicians and restore the kingdom to proper order.  They bestowed on the champion unlimited authority and allowed none to question him.  But the champion, having unlimited power, began to use it to indulge himself and his companions.  This resulted in debauchery, greed, and corruption at a new, higher level.  Many endeavored to curb the champion and correct his abuses.  But having unlimited authority, the champion avoided every attempt.

Finally, the corruption became so bad many citizens of the kingdom revolted.  They declared their independence of the champion and set up their own governments separate from his.  However, they were not able to agree on a common rule but ended up in many groups, fighting among themselves as well as with the champion.  Many even found the need to ally with the politicians to fight the champion.  Meanwhile, the champion, having cleaned up some of his most blatant abuses, reentered the fray with renewed vigor. This resulted in wars, tumults, and disturbances. Many, as a result of this (or perhaps using it as an excuse), left the kingdom or remained as those who served the High King in name only.  But the divisions in the kingdom continued, and while some threw out all the High King's principles in attempts to reunite it, none seemed able to do so. Therefore, some still followed the champion and some followed the revolution and others held to a mere nominal allegiance.  And the question remains:  Is this what the High King really wanted?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Cultural Catastrophe

The Reformation was a grand rediscovery of true Christian doctrine. But the aftermath was very messy and carries a different type of lesson. It would have been nice if the two halves of western Christianity could have peacefully parted and each gone their separate ways. It would even have been nice if some nations had become Protestant and others had become Catholic and they could have at least separated along national borders. But it did not work that way. There were Protestants in areas under Catholic political control and Catholics in areas under Protestant political control. There were nations which changed from one view to the other, depending on who was in power. There were also divisions between different types of Protestants. All of this became involved in politics, and different groups took sides based on political concerns, and different political leaders took sides based on their political interests.

The result was a series of wars, revolutions, persecutions, assassinations, and plots; and considerable political chaos. It ended up in convoluted confrontations, with multiple sides and with sides frequently changing for political reasons. This resulted, over the long run, in all sides accepting, in most cases, a policy of tolerance. It also left both original sides looking bad and alienating people by their behavior. I do believe (though I admit I am biased) that the Protestants came out of it looking slightly better than the Catholics. But nobody came out of it looking good. The ultimate result of these events was a secularization of society that has continued to this day.

What can we learn from this? We need to be very careful about using violence in promoting the Christian position. I have often wondered if we are not better off being persecuted (as in the early church or under communism), rather than using force to defend ourselves. (Matthew 26:52 may apply here). While I do believe there is a place for Christians to work for just government (Proverbs 14:34), we need to be careful of putting too much hope in the political process. It tends to become entangled in its own goals, which may not accord with any Christian moral concerns. We also need to realize that it is not surprising if the world opposes us (1 John 2:15-17; John 15:18-21; Colossians 2:8). Therefore, we need to be cautious to avoid putting too many of our eggs in the political basket. For we could once more end up falling into the same pit. The best antidote is to remember that God is in control even when the events around us are out of control (Ephesians 1:11; Romans 8:28; Genesis 50:20). For it is only this confidence that prevents us from taking things into our own hands and using whatever method, no matter how questionable, to accomplish our purposes.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Touch of Humor - Letdown

Should our thankfulness depend on circumstances? Can we get a better perspective on this?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Legalism

Legalism is not the number of rules you have; it is the attitude you have toward those rules.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Anselm

Be it mine to look up to thy light, even from afar, even from the depths. Teach me to seek thee, and reveal thyself to me, when I seek thee, for I cannot seek thee, unless thou teach me, nor find thee, except thou reveal thyself. Let me seek thee in longing, let me long for thee in seeking; let me find thee in love, and love thee in finding. Lord, I acknowledge, and I thank thee that thou hast created me in this thine image, in order that I may be mindful of thee, may conceive of thee, and love thee; but that image has been so consumed and wasted away by vices, and obscured by the smoke of wrongdoing, that it cannot achieve that for which it was made, except thou renew it and create it anew.

Anslem, 1033-1109, Proslogium, Chapter I (translated by Sidney Norton Deane, The Open Court Publishing Company, 1926, pp. 21,22)

How can we find God? How much do we need God's help to do so?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Celebrating the Holidays

Should Christians celebrate holidays? There are those who say it is wrong to do so. But the rest of us can tend to just fall into the world's pattern. Now Scripture forbids making the observance of holidays into a legalistic requirement (Galatians 4:9-11; Colossians 2:16-17). Scripture also says we should follow our conscience, while considering the conscience of others, in deciding such matters (Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8-10). But what about the objections?

It is claimed that our present holidays are really pagan holidays. That Christmas is really the Saturnalia, that Easter is a feast to the goddess Eostre. It is also claimed that the traditions associated with those days are pagan traditions. It is further claimed that the Roman Catholic Church had a policy of doing this, that Pope Gregory I said to take pagan holidays and replace them with Christian holidays. And there is the problem that these holidays were Roman Catholic. Now what days was Paul saying it was a matter personal choice whether to celebrate in Romans 14? They were either pagan holidays or they were Jewish holidays connected to a legalistic system. Yet Paul said it was a matter of choice whether to celebrate them.

Just because the pope or the Roman Catholic Church says something does not mean it must be wrong. Further, Pope Gregory I stated that anyone who claimed to be the Universal Bishop or Head of the Church had the spirit of Antichrist. Now this does not mean he was right on holidays, but he does deserve a fair hearing. What are your options when you convert a pagan culture? You can cancel all the holidays, but people like to celebrate, and you become a killjoy. This can result in people still celebrating them in secret to the old gods. Or you can try to get them to celebrate different holidays on different days. This is confusing at best and can leave people celebrating the old holidays to the old gods. Or you can take the old holidays and give them new meaning. This was Gregory's plan.

Now this did not work perfectly, but it worked. Who now, except a possibly a few scholars, knows how to worship Saturn and Eostre on their respective days or what the traditions connected to them mean. But well I remember how, as an agnostic, the holidays were a reminder of the claims of Jesus Christ. Therefore, I believe we can legitimately celebrate holidays and do so in the name of Christ where applicable. (Note, this is a matter of personal conscience not a requirement.) It might be useful to trim away questionable traditions and reinterpret things where reasonable and try to avoid too much of what C. S. Lewis calls "the commercial racket." Celebration is a natural human impulse, and God instituted times of celebration for His people in Old Testament times. The New Testament leaves us free, but being free, we can institute our own appropriate times for celebration.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Other World

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

 We live in a supernatural world. But it is easy to forget this. But we are told as Christians that our real battles are on the supernatural plane (Ephesians 6:10-13; 2 Corinthians 10:3-6; 2 Kings 6:15-23). Now it is possible to exaggerate this aspect of life. To see demonic forces behind every event and as the cause of all our sins. But it is much easier in this present age to be lulled to sleep and to deal with everything on a purely pragmatic basis, and to ignore spiritual realities. And this can lead to our approaching our problems based on a purely naturalistic basis and not recognizing the spiritual dimension. There is no one in more danger in a battlefield then an innocent who stumbles into it and does not realize there is a war going on.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Real Pitfall of Ritual

Some Christians oppose ritual. Others maintain that a detailed system is necessary. Is there a danger in ritual, and if so, what is it? In the Old Testament there is a detailed system of ritual, with precise instructions on what must be done. In the New Testament we see no such detailed system. But we do see certain key ordinances commanded: baptism (Matthew 28:19) and the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Besides the sacraments there are other actions of spiritual significance mentioned as commonly practiced (James 5:14; 1 Timothy 2:8, 5:22; Ephesians 3:14). But we do not see in the New Testament a command against all ritual. Therefore, it is difficult to claim that a detailed system of ritual, one that exceeds the clear commandments of the New Testament, is required. Nor can we take the idea that all physical ritual is bad, though there is a greater emphasis on the inner man (John 4:21-24; Mark 7:14-23; Colossians 2:16-23). Also, we are not given a detailed prescription for public worship even of a simpler sort, though we are given general principles (1 Corinthians 14:40; Hebrews 10:24,25; Acts 2:42). I am therefore forced to conclude that whatever God did not command, He left free (Deuteronomy  4:2; Proverbs 30:5,6; Romans 14:1-12).

The simple fact is that all churches have their rituals. They all do things in a certain way and follow certain patterns. Whether it is having three songs before the offering or communion at the end of the service. It is impossible to totally get away from them. We may have detailed, thought-out rituals. We may have spontaneous, off-the-cuff rituals. But we will have rituals. The danger is simply going through the mere outside performance with the idea that this in itself pleases God or even just to impress other people (Malachi 1:10; Isaiah 66:3; Matthew 6:1-18). This is especially true if our life does not match up with what we are professing. Genuine rituals should be an expression of genuine faith and obedience. God is not requiring perfection, for none of us comes close to measuring up to that standard (Romans 7:14-25; Galatians 5:17; Philippians 3:12-14). But He does require reality. Merely eliminating or minimizing rituals in and of itself does not solve this problem. We can even claim that the fact we have so few rituals makes us acceptable to God. The real issue is what is in our hearts. I do think it is a good idea to eliminate meaningless rituals, as it is easier to see them as just a duty we do to impress God. But these are just as likely, if not more likely, to occur in churches without a detailed system of ritual as in those who have one. The less clearly you have thought out something, the more purely meaningless stuff it is likely to have in it. But the real issue is heart attitude, and you cannot solve that simply by changing the externals. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Touch of Humor - Question on Thanksgiving

What should be our attitude when facing real problems? How can we thank God even in difficult situations?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Answers

To know all the answers is to cease to learn.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Patrick

If am, then, first of all, countryified, an exile, evidently unlearned, one who is not able to see into the future, but I know for certain, that before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in deep mire, and he that is mighty came and in his mercy raised me up and, indeed lifted me high up and placed me on top of the wall.And from there I ought to shout out in gratitude his great favours in this world and for ever, that the mind of man cannot measure.

Patrick, 390-461 AD, The Confession of St. Patrick, 12 (Christian Classics Ethereal Library, p. 4)

Does God often use the obscure people of the world to show up the important? What can we learn from this?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Danger of Common Sense

Common sense can be a good thing. It can help you avoid high-flown, intellectual arguments that have no grounding in reality. It can help you shun extreme emotional reactions that make no sense. But everything has its limits. The problem with being too reasonable is we can create a nice, safe, sensible life and never get beyond that. We can become too cautious ever to step out on faith. We can become so afraid of being fanatical we will never be truly zealous for God. Also, we can make the final standard of evaluation what other people think. After all, common sense normally refers to looking at life as the common person sees it based on their experience. Also, too great a reliance on common sense can be hostile to grace. We can believe we need to work for what we get and nothing is really mes 5:10,11; Habakkuk 3:17,18). It is often difficult to decide which type of faith to use, as both are legitimate. But I think we need to get beyond both to simply trust God, whichever type of faith He calls us to exercise in a given situation. And we should avoid being so cautious that we are never willing to stick our neck out to follow God. But we also should avoid being so reckless that we thoughtlessly follow any impulse. We need to look to God for when to use and when not to use our common sense. For there is a place for both.   

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What's the Word?

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

The Bible does not say much of the spiritual gifts of the word of knowledge and the word of wisdom. In fact, all we have is their names in a list (1 Corinthians 12:8). What are these gifts about? (I am going to deal specifically with the word of knowledge, as it is the one I am most familiar with, but I suspect the word of wisdom works the same way.)

The traditional charismatic approach is to see this gift as God's dropping statements into our minds without any previous basis for such knowledge. I have no problem in principle with this; I have had it happen to me on occasion. (There are limitations of privacy that prevent me from describing the circumstances.) Others, trying to avoid a blatantly miraculous understanding of the gift, have seen it as a gift of working with knowledge.This would be the type of gift you might find, for instance, in a seminary professor . I do not violently object to this either. After all, seminary professors need gifts too. Might I suggest something in the middle that perhaps would incorporate the extremes? Could the idea be that God leads you to the knowledge He wants you to have? It could mean the knowledge coming totally out of nowhere. But it could also mean  picking up just the right book or just the right article to answer something you needed to know, even if it was not what you went to the book or article for. Or God's bringing to mind the right thing to say at the right time. Now it should be noted that some knowledge is valuable even if you do not know where it comes from, while other knowledge is only useful if you know the source. I realize this is highly conjectural, but it seems to fit with my experience and the substance of the text.

Now the one thing it clearly does not mean is that we can trust every impulse or thought that runs through our mind as being from God. We are commanded to test all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21).Nor should the word of knowledge be equated with full, inspired revelation; it is in the same verse as prophecy, and why would there be three different terms for the same thing? It also clearly does not mean a person will know everything they want to know. Even full-blown prophets are sometimes not told everything (2 Kings 4:27). But I do find this approach helpful in understanding these two gifts.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

God and Nations

I did not say much about the United States presidential election when it was going on. This is because I do not believe the real cultural issues we face as Evangelicals can be solved by political means. Christians have an obligation to be involved in politics and to do what we can to promote justice. But legal measures only work to outwardly restrain sin and are only effective if the general consensus of society agrees with them. I like Luther's analogy that the civil use of the Law is like a muzzle on a wild animal. It does not change the nature of the animal, but it keeps the animal from biting you. Our culture has for some time been drifting away from traditional Christian values. Christian political action has only been a holding action against the drift. While I did not strongly support him, I was hoping Mitt Romney would win because I felt that it would slow the drift. But to understand the drift, we need to see the broader perspective.

The early Christians were powerless, but they concentrated on preaching God's truth and living in obedience to that truth and had an substantial impact on the society in which they lived. So much so that when the Roman Empire was floundering, it embraced Christianity as a means to hold society together. Though the Empire fell, Christianity became the glue that helped preserve civilization in the ensuing chaos. But when the crisis was over, European civilization began the process of throwing off the yoke of Christianity. This is not surprising; Scripture tells us that the world is hostile to the things of God (John 15:18-25; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25: 1 John 2:13-15). It did not help that the visible church organization had corrupted itself through the pursuit of money and power. Since then, there have been various movements to restore a Biblical viewpoint and halt the decay. But the decline has, in the long run, continued. Also, whenever people have tried to use political force rather than spiritual influence to stop the deterioration, it has failed. Now we have come full circle and are Christians in a basically pagan society. If  we are to have an impact, we need to let go of the past and rebuild from where we are. That means we need to convince people of the principles we hold before we can expect much change in the legal system. And our emphasis needs to be preaching God's truth and living in obedience to that truth. It also means trusting in God rather than our political clout (Psalms 127:1,2; Proverbs 3:5,6; Daniel 2:21). Now part of living in obedience to God's truth is working for social justice. But if we see political action as the main vehicle for accomplishing our purposes, we are doomed to failure. We must change people's hearts before we can hope to be successful in changing the country's laws.    

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Touch of Humor - Aftermath

What do we have to be thankful for now the election is over? How should we respond as Christians to the political situation going forward? (Note: I am writing this post before the election and do not currently know who is going to win.)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Guilt Trips

Guilt trips are depressing excursions; the accommodations are lousy, the food is terrible, the ambiance is horrid, and they only leave you farther from your destination.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Chesterton

This, therefore, is our first requirement about the ideal towards which progress is directed; it must be fixed. Whistler used to make many rapid studies of a sitter; it did not matter if he tore up twenty portraits. But it would matter if he looked up twenty times, and each time saw a new person sitting placidly for his portrait. So it does not matter (comparatively speaking) how often humanity fails to imitate its ideal; for then all its old failures are fruitful. But it does frightfully matter how often humanity changes its ideal; for then all its old failures are fruitless.

G. K. Chesterton, 1874-1936, Orthodoxy, VII. The Eternal Revolution (Dover Publications, 2004, p.101)

Does this make sense? How do we distinguish the ideal from the incidentals that may need to change?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

On the Way

We can see Christians as people who basically have their acts together, who live good moral lives, are involved in church activities, and are respectable members of the community. But there are those who struggle with some sin that is not respectable or who have a tender conscience and cannot convince themselves that they make the grade. So they end up living in discouragement. They accept being marginalized or try to hide their problems, often to have them suddenly revealed. This can lead to a person leaving the Christian community or living around the edges, never feeling wholly a part.

Others can become complacent, feeling that as long as they can convince themselves they make the grade, everything will be fine. But it is easy, once we convince ourselves we have arrived, to begin to fudge a bit here or there. What follows is a gradual erosion that can end up leaving a person far from where they started. And in a culture that is in many ways hostile to Christianity, that abounds in temptations, it is easy to slide down that road. This also can lead to a final crash and the exit or marginalization of the individual involved.

One reaction to this to say being a nice, moral, respectable churchgoer is not enough. To perhaps question if the average churchgoer is even saved. But this merely creates the same problem at a higher level, producing discouragement or complacency. And it just makes it easier to fall off the tightrope on one side or the other.

But Scripture says we are not people who have it all together, but are sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9) who are saved by the grace of God (Romans 4:4,5; Ephesians 2:8,9; Titus 3:5,6). Further, while God is at work in us to transform us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:13), it is through a process that takes place gradually over time, and none of us have arrived yet (Philippians 3:12-16; 1 Timothy 4:7,8; Hebrews 5:14). Therefore, while we need to choose to go forward in Christ (Romans 12:1,2; Galatians 5:16; Titus 2:11-14), we are all at different places on the journey and need to see ourselves and others from this perspective, recognizing we are still on the way (Romans 7:13-25; Galatians 5:17; 1 John 1:8-10). This helps avoid discouragement because we realize that while we may still be struggling, we will ultimately be victorious in Christ (Romans 8:37; 2 Corinthians 2:14; Philippians 1:6). It also helps avoid complacency because we realize we have not yet made it and therefore must beware of potential dangers (1 Corinthians 10:12,13; Proverbs 16:18; 2 Timothy 2:22). But it is only as we see ourselves as growing in God's grace, but still on the way, that we can avoid these extremes. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Speaking in Tongues

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

I have called myself a charismatic who does not speak in tongues, but where then do I stand on the subject?  Scripture says not to forbid speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:39), but it also says not everyone is intended to speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 12:30).  There are incidents in Scripture where the Spirit's filling people resulted in their speaking in tongues (Acts 2:4; 10:44-47; 19:6; in 8:17-19 there was evidently some noticeable effect, though we are not told what).  In Scripture there are four instances of people parting bodies of water (Exodus 14:21; Joshua 3:15-17; 2 Kings 2:8,14).  Does this mean to truly follow God one must part a body of water?  In other cases people were filled with the Spirit, producing different effects (Acts 4:8,31;  13:9-11).  God does sometimes repeat miracles in order to make a point.  But it is a mistake to think God must always work that way. Is it wrong, then, to seek the gift of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1)?  These verses say to desire the best gifts (tongues is not high on the list; see 1 Corinthians 12:28), but the final determination is made by God (1 Corinthians 12:11, 1 Corinthians 12:15-19). We can ask, but God can say no (1 Corinthians 14:13).

It can be difficult to explain something if it is not your gift.  I have more then once told God if He wanted me to speak in tongues I was willing, but I wanted what He wanted. Every time, I felt He clapped my jaw shut.  I therefore conclude tongues is not my gift.  Holding that everyone should speak in tongues can encourage those who do not have the gift to somehow drum it up.  Based on my own gift of discernment of spirits, which is, of course, itself questionable, I am convinced that tongues today can be from divine, demonic, and human sources.  Whether you accept this or not, you need to be careful about regarding every instance of tongues as valid (1 Thessalonians 5:21,22).  But rejecting them all out of hand also does not have any basis in Scripture.  (1 Corinthians 13:8-12 clearly refers to the Second Coming.)

Scripture does give rules for speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:26-33), though there may be questions of how to apply these in various circumstances. If someone says they cannot obey the rules because they cannot help themselves, I have to question whether what they are speaking in Biblical tongues.  Those whose tongues  I have found most convincing seem to be able to control them.  Therefore, I do not buy that tongues are simply a hysterical response to pent-up emotion.  There may be cases of this, but I have known several people who can speak in tongues in a perfectly calm state of mind.  While I do not speak in tongues myself, I am not opposed to speaking in tongues.  But I think it should be carefully tested and done in a Biblical manner.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

On Being Authentic

One of the highest values of our culture is that of authenticity. I am convinced this is a worthwhile pursuit, as it is good to avoid pretending to be something we are not. But I also believe that, like many good things, it can be taken to an extreme. Like any requirement, it can become a burden when we end up asking ourselves if we have really achieved true authenticity, resulting in our feeling guilty when we find out we fall short. But the big problem is, to be truly authentic, we need to value something else beside authenticity.   Authenticity for authenticity's sake is like art for art's sake. The original goal of art was to portray something other than itself. Whether it was God or country or a romantic relationship or even just a good story. But art for art's sake can end up making art meaningless. In the same way, authenticity needs to be about something. Authenticity for the sake of authenticity can also become meaningless.

The problem is, to be ourselves we need to know who we are. And try as we might, we will not find the answer within us. The idea that we are in ourselves a ready-made package that simply needs to be unwrapped is simplistic. Even less does the idea that we can somehow define ourselves make sense. We can wander around forever inside our own psyches and never find in that subjective realm any solid tie point to base an identity on. We can only be who are when we find something outside ourselves to define ourselves by. From a Christian perspective, this is God and His truth. And I am convinced it is that truth which allows us to face the real world. It says, we are sinners, but if we put our faith in Christ we are forgiven and begin the process of being changed into the people God means us to be. This means we can be honest with ourselves. We do not have to plaster over all our deficiencies to convince ourselves we are basically good. Nor are we left with the idea that life is a hopeless muddle and is fundamentally absurd, Rather, our personality and identity is not something we create, but is sourced in Someone bigger than us. And authenticity comes from our understanding ourselves in terms of Him and becoming over time more of the people He wants us to be. It is not something we have to drum up, much less something we need to beat ourselves up for not attaining. But it is a byproduct of seeing ourselves as we really are in the light of the only One whose opinion of us really matters.    

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Touch of Humor - Voting

How should a Christian decide how to vote? In what ways can Christianity guide us in this?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Experts

Sometimes an ounce of common sense is better than a multitude of experts.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Irenaeus

In the beginning , therefore, did God form Adam, not as if He stood in need of man, but that He might have some one on whom to confer His benefits. For not alone antecedently to Adam, but also before all creation, the Word glorified His Father, remaining in Him; and was Himself glorified by the Father, as He did  Himself declare, "Father, glorify Thou Me with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was."

Irenaeus, 102-202 AD, Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter XIV, 1 (The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, Philip Schaff, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001, pp. 691-692)

What difference does it make that the Father and the Son had a relationship before creation? What difference does it make that God did not need to create us?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

I Cannot Take It Anymore

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

"I just can't take this any more." Have you ever told God that? And has it ever not gone away? I have been there, and God has brought me through. But He did not take the problem away. Romans 8:28 unfortunately has become a cliche. Something that rolls off the tongue of those who do not want to take the time to care. But it holds an important truth: that while God is in control of our lives, His goal is not to make us happy but to conform us to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29,30).

Now pressing this home to a person undergoing great suffering may not be the best strategy. (I know you are miserable now, but just think of how much better a person this is going to make you.) But on sober reflection, this is a helpful perspective. If we see the basic focus of our life as us and God as someone who is there to make us happy, every problem and setback seems enormous. But if we understand that we belong to Another (1 Corinthians 6:20; 2 Timothy 2:3,4) and our job is to carry out His purposes in this world (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:4-6), then we will look at our difficulties with a different set of eyes. This will not take the pain away when we are in a position where we feel we cannot take it anymore. But in the long run it will help us see our troubles as part of the plan of the One who controls all things (Ephesians 1:11).

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Government and Grace

Government is  required to stand for justice (Romans 13:1-4; Proverbs 14:34; Deuteronomy 25:1). But is it required to enforce God's Law in exact detail? The problem with this is, we are sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9) and cannot keep the Law in exact detail. Also, the purpose of God's Law is not to tell us the perfect form of government but to put forth God's standard  and how far we fall short of keeping it (Romans 3:19,20; 5:20; Galatians 3:21-25). But even in the enforcement of the Law in the Old Testament, there are indications of the practice of mercy (Matthew 19:8, 2 Samuel 12:13; 14:14). Now we are not told what laws Christians are required to advocate in a current secular government. But some balance of justice and mercy seems to be called for. Part of this involves not too easily convicting people of things they are accused of (Deuteronomy 19:15-20; Proverbs 24:28; 18:17). Now it must be remembered that anything the government requires of its people is in principle a law, whether it is called a law or a rule or a regulation. (While it is appropriate for governments to collect taxes for their operating expenses, Romans 13:6; Matthew 22:15-22, this too can become a way to regulate people.)

Now often in making laws there is an idea that people are basically good and can easily keep them. Or else that people are totally plasticine and can be easily made to conform to whatever is required. Neither of these fit what the Scripture teaches about human beings or how people really behave. Now it is wrong to ignore the requirements of justice and not expect the government to enforce them. This is particularly true regarding the poor and helpless, who look to government to protect them from oppression (Exodus 23:6; Proverbs 14:31; Leviticus 19:10 ). But we also need to avoid being excessively strict or micromanaging in terms of the laws passed. Now there is a place for trying to prevent known dangers (Deuteronomy 22:8; Exodus 21:28-36), but we should avoid becoming excessive in this.

As Christians, I do not think we can ignore what the government does and not work for justice in society (Matthew 14:3,4; 2 Samuel 12:1-10; 1 Kings 21:17-24). But we also need to remember than we ourselves are sinners saved by the grace of God and need to show mercy on others (Romans 5:6-8; Matthew 9:10-13; Luke 19:10). And most of all, we need to realize that what people really need is the Gospel (Romans 3:21-31; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Galatians 3:6-14) and that we cannot solve the problems of the world simply by passing laws. I like Luther's analogy of comparing the civil law to the muzzle on a wild animal. It does not change the animal's nature, but it keeps the animal from biting you. There is a place for muzzles, but we should not expect too much from them.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Touch of Humor - Harvest Party

Is it silly to make this type of subtle verbal distinction? Or does it serve a real purpose, and what is that purpose?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Fear

We should not fear the powers of darkness, for we serve their Conqueror.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Calvin

But while believers, even those of them who are endued with more excellent graces, obtain in the present life only the first-fruits, and, as it were, a foretaste of the Spirit, nothing better remains to them than, under a consciousness of their weakness, to confine themselves anxiously within the limits of the word of God, lest, in following their own sense too far, they forthwith stray from the right path, being left without that Spirit, by whose teaching alone truth is discerned from falsehood.

John Calvin, 1509-1564, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 4, Chapter VIII, 11 (translated by Henry Beveridge, Wm. Eerdmans Publishing, 1975, p. 397)

Is this the correct attitude toward these things? How can we be sure we are listening to the Spirit?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

View from the Stage

Imagine you are reading a story. The people in the story do not know what is going to happen next or how the story is going to to end. Now imagine a character receiving a message from the author telling about the author and how he was the one writing the story. This would be useful information, but it would not change the fact that the character would still have to make choices based on what was happening in the story and that those choices would affect what happened next. Nonetheless, the author would still be writing the story.

The relationship between us and God is more complicated then that. We are not simply characters in a story. But I find the concept helpful in navigating this complicated relationship. We live life based on our perspective, where we make choices and respond to things as they come to us. But God is still in control of the wo to us. It is rare someone feels that God is making a decision for them, and we are not told to seek this. Rather, we are to trust that God is always in control and will guide us in all things. But we still need to make decisions based on the principles God has taught us, and those decisions have an influence on what happens next in our lives. And we cannot use God's control as an excuse to evade this. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Long Haul

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

Sometimes it is easy to base our lives around one great spiritual experience in the past. I do not want to minimize such experiences. God told the Israelites to remember what He had done for them, whether it was the deliverance from Egypt (Deuteronomy 7:18,19) or the splitting of the Jordan (Joshua 4:6,7). But it is possible for us to hold on to past victories and not go on with God. God is in the process of transforming us into the people He wants us to be (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:13). This is pictured as an ongoing growth process (Philippians 3:12-16; Hebrews 12:1,2; Colossians 2:19), which involves a continuous effort to advance in the things of God (1 Timothy 4:7-10; Hebrews 5:11-14; Romans 12:1,2). Not that we can do anything without the Spirit of God working in us (John 15:5; Romans 7:18; 8:8), but He calls us to be involved in working this out in our lives day by day (Titus 2:11-14; Colossians 1:28,29; Galatians 5:16). And not to just rest on past experiences.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Crossing the Divide

There is a cultural divide between Christians and unbelievers. At one time in the United States unbelievers at least seemed to understand Christian assumptions. But today we have developed two conflicting philosophies and often are speaking past each other without  communicating. Now I do not want to minimize the power of the Spirit of God. But I do not believe this lets us off the hook of needing to do the best job we can to communicate. We have an obligation to be God's servants, to put forth God's truth (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; Luke 24:46-48). Also, we have an obligation to do this in a spirit of love and gentleness (1 Peter 3:15; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Colossians 4:5,6). But how do we do it across the growing cultural gap?

 We need to define our terms and cannot assume people know what we mean. I have no problems with terms like "born again" or "accept Christ," but if we use them with an unbeliever without explaining them, they can be meaningless or convey the wrong idea altogether. There is no Christian expression we can simply assume the unbeliever will get. We have to take the time to explain. Frequently this will require more than one conversation. To do it, we need to have some idea of what the unbeliever thinks. (Notice there is not simply one kind of unbeliever to understand. There are many kinds of beliefs out there, and each person is an individual.) This means listening and asking questions. Also, studying up on where the other person is coming from can be helpful.

There is a careful Biblical balance between meeting people where they are at (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; Matthew 9:10-13; Luke 19:10) and ourselves becoming conformed to their way of thinking (Romans 12:1,2; 1 John 2:15-17; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18). But I think we can become so fearful that we never reach out, which is a mistake. Also, the greatest barrier to reaching out is self-righteousness (Luke 7:36-50; 18:9-14; Isaiah 65:5). We need to remember that we are also sinners who have been saved by the grace of God (Romans 3:21-31; 4:4,5; Ephesians 2:8,9).

But it is important to realize that the gospel is a stumbling block to those who do not accept it (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; John 15:18-25). There is a difference, then, between meeting people where they are at and telling people what they want to hear. We need to be gentle and loving. We need to reach out and make God's truth clear. But even then we can be rejected because someone does not want to hear what we have to say. We do need to be honest enough with ourselves to ask if we are presenting the message well. But we should not jump to the conclusion that we have not if it is not well received. Nevertheless, we should endeavor to present God's truth in such a way that what they reject is God's truth and not a caricature of it. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Touch of Humor - The Danger

What basis should a Christian use in choosing political candidates? Is their faith an issue?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Change

We do not Scripture to fit our ideas; we change our ideas to fit Scripture.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Gregory the Great

For those that are at variance are to be admonished to know most certainly that, in whatever virtues they may abound, they can by no means become spiritual if they neglect becoming united to their neighbours by concord.

Gregory the Great, 540-604 BC, Pastoral Rule Part III, Chapter XXII (The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Volume XII, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, translated by Rev. James Barmby, T & T Clarke and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, p.48) 

Can we feel we are so right with God we do not need to get along with others? How do we avoid this?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

But I Am Not Hurting Anyone

A common plea in moral defense of some action is that it does not hurt anyone. But we have to ask, what is meant by "hurt"? If we restrict it to physical pain, there are a large number of nasty things you can do to a person that do not involve the infliction of actual physical pain. But once we go beyond physical pain, the whole idea of what hurts another person becomes complicated. Let us say there are a man and a woman who are living together. He feels he no longer loves her and it would hurt him to force himself to stay in a relationship he no longer finds fulfilling. She still loves him and feels hurt by the fact he wants to leave. It is simply not possible to arrange a world that will please everybody. And there is no certain way to measure who will feel the most pain in such circumstances. Also, this can leave people at the mercy of the individual who is easily hurt, overly sensitive, or even just good at acting the part.

A similar justification is that certain actions do not affect me. Now I hate giving any kind of legitimacy to this position because it is rooted in pure selfishness. It is saying I should not care how much harm people do to themselves or others as long as it does not affect me. But even if you grant the premises, it is a total lie. It may be true that what one person does in private has little effect on society has a whole. But if it is considered acceptable for one person, it becomes likely a significant number will become involved in it. And once this happens it will affect what is acceptable in public. I may not have to view an XXX-rated movie or visit clear porn sites. But the fact it is considered acceptable to view such things affects what is acceptable in other movies and internet sites, television, or even billboards and magazine covers. And all this affects public discourse and how people relate to each other. Now it could be that in this case I am the overly sensitive person (I have had serious battles in the past with pornography), but do not claim it does not affect me.

Before you can judge what hurts others you have to have overarching principles of what is truly good for that person. In other words you need morality. Now I am not claiming this proves Christian morality, but I do believe the issue must be discussed on the basic level of what is truly moral. In fact, those who make these kinds of statements are generally assuming their particular view of what is moral and basing their arguments on it. Therefore, we need to go beyond these superficial arguments to wrestle with the real issues. For only then can we find an objective moral standard on which to base our decisions.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dealing with Doctrinal Disagreement

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

How should we deal with those who disagree with us on doctrinal issues? We are called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and to approach the situation with courage and caution (Jude 22,23). To do this, we must proclaim God's truth (1 Peter 3:15) and correct error (2 Timothy 2:24-26), but do so with a spirit of gentleness. This means our goal in correcting needs to be to help bring them to the truth, not simply to win an argument or drive them away.  It is easy to let pride get involved (Proverbs 16:18) and to become concerned with our ego rather than convincing the other person.  Now I am convinced that only God can bring people to Himself (John 6:44), and if the person involved is an unbeliever, they will not understand unless God works to enlighten them (1 Corinthians 2:14). But we are obligated to do our part in a Biblical manner (Colossians 4:6). We have a special obligation if a person claims to be a believer (Galatians 6:1; Hebrews 12:12-13), and if they do not repent we are required to exercise church discipline (Romans 16:17-20; 2 John 10,11).  But Scripture does prescribe a process for dealing with sin, and this should not be bypassed (Matthew 18:15-17).  We should not compromise truth to reach people, but we also should not just give up on people without trying to reach them.

But the question then arises:  What are the boundaries, and what is worth dividing over?  That there are things to contend for is clear from Scripture (Jude 3). But we must realize our knowledge is imperfect (1 Corinthians 3:18), and while we are to diligently pursuit all Biblical truth (2 Timothy 3:16,17; 2:15), there are particular issues we need to uphold. There are certain things put forth by Scripture as fundamental, and these must be defended: the nature of God (Deuteronomy 13:1-5), the nature of Christ and of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 11:4), the sinfulness of man (1 John 1:8-10), the nature of the gospel (Galatians 1:8,9), the truth of Scripture (John 17:17), and the Second Coming (1 John 3:2,3). I am not claiming this is an absolutely comprehensive list, but I am convinced that many of the things we fight over are not on it. Therefore, there may be places where it is best to agree to disagree, if the issues are not crucial.

If we are to correct people in these crucial areas, we need a knowledge of what Scripture teaches regarding them. Those who are immature may want to bring in someone more knowledgeable to help. But it should be our goal to be mature and able to respond to people ourselves (Hebrews 5:11-14).  Also, experience in dealing with those who hold false doctrine is helpful. You talk to somebody and then go back and study the issues and are better prepared next time. But most of all, we need to trust God for wisdom to be able to deal with the situation (James 1:5-7).