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).

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Filling Slots

One of the temptations for any organization, including Christian organizations, is seeing people as a means to accomplish the organization's purposes. But in the Christian church, the organization is intended to further the growth of the members in relation to their Head, which is Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 1:28,29; 2:19). Now this does, of course, involve inviting those on the outside into the body so they too can be properly related to the Head (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; 1 Peter 3:15). But we can fall into the error of doing things to further the organization, rather than building up people. What is worse, organizations can do things that do not even further the organization, but perpetuate what has been done in the past, or do things because individuals in leadership favor them. Also, this is seldom a choice between what is incontestably good and what is undoubtedly a waste of time. It is often a question of what is the best thing to do at the time.

Therefore we need to beware of twisting people's arms to do things simply to fill a niche in the organization. Even if the job is needed, we should resist putting someone in that position who is not the person who really belongs there. We need to trust God that He is the one in charge of the situation and will provide what is needed (Matthew 16:18; Psalms 127:1,2; Proverbs 3:5,6). Now doing this does not mean you will necessarily have your slot immediately filled. You may have to find a temporary fix. You may have to reorganize your organizational structure. You may even need to dump a program altogether if there is no one to fill it. We also need to give careful consideration to what we are involved in. I believe there is a time to decide to help out and stretch yourself to try things you have never tried before. But you should not force yourself to take a position out of a sense of guilt just because the position needs to be filled. And you may need to back down if you find yourself in the wrong place. And leaders must be willing to let people step down if needed. And most difficult of all, the question needs to asked whether even functioning programs are really accomplishing God's purposes in the lives of His people. This can be hard, because there are frequently people who are invested in these programs. And the leader needs to take care not to dismiss too easily something that is valuable. But the question needs to be asked.

The Bible teaches us that we are each individual parts of the body, with our own particular function ( 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:3-8; 1 Peter 4:10,11). We need to find each person their appropriate place of ministry. In this, I believe, we can consider legitimate need, but it cannot be the only issue. And we must make sure that the organization serves the people and not the people the organization.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Touch of Humor - Opening Prayer

What should be our attitude when praying in public? How to we avoid doing it to impress people rather than to please God? How can we avoid becoming impatient with the length of other people's prayers?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Lordship

We do not make Jesus Lord of our life; we recognize He always was.

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Spurgeon

Patience is the fair handmaid and daughter of faith; we cheerfully wait when we are certain that we shall not wait in vain. It is our duty and our privilege to wait upon the Lord in service, in worship, in expectancy, in trust all the days of our life. Our faith will be tried faith, and if it be of the true kind, it will bear continued trial without yielding. We shall not grow weary of waiting upon God if we remember how long and how graciously he once waited for us.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 1834-1892, The Treasury of David, Vol 1, Psalm 25 (Hendricksen Publishers, p. 393)

What does it mean to wait on the Lord? How can we cultivate this practice?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The People Factory

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

There was a young lady, who wanted to serve the King. And she was told that to do so she must go to the People Factory, so she set out. As she approached the People Factory, she was meet by a fashionably dressed man with the look of a salesman.

"Welcome to the People Factory," the man said, "We have all the newest models, along with the sentimental favorites. All these are here to make you over into a true servant of the King. Now what type of servant are you interested in becoming?"

"You mean I have to decide?" replied the girl.

"We are a full service People Factory. You have a variety of options--just to suit a discerning customer like you. Feel free to come in and look around. We think our inventory speaks for itself."

The People Factory was a huge squat building of brick and steel with a corrugated steel roof and three chimneys spewing smoke. Between her and the barn-door-type entrance stood a long line of people waiting to get in. On the other side there was a series of doors, and out of each came a different stream of people.

Out of one door marched an army of smartly dressed men and women. The men all wore suits and ties, and the women rather long dresses. They had the stern, determined look of people around whom you should watch you're p's and q's. The next group were more casually dressed and moved with a relaxed, ambling gait. They smiled and chatted cheerfully as they walked by. But somehow, they seemed a little fake; their smiles looked painted on and their talk seemed superficial. The next group did not walk; they danced, and some did cartwheels. They were singing and shouting and waving banners as they cavorted by. Then she saw a group of what looked like young people (though she spied traces of gray hair). These wore t-shirts and jeans, with tattoos and with all manner of jewelry decorating their body piercings. She stood perplexed, wondering which, if any of these,  the King really wanted her to become. And as she stared she saw a number of other groups, all different. 

The salesman kept insisting she must make a choice, but she managed to sneak away by herself. She was sitting under a tree thinking when an older woman approached her. "You look confused. Can I be of assistance?" said the woman.

"Do I need to go through the People Factory to serve the King?" the girl blurted out helplessly.

"Not at all," the woman responded, "The King's instructions say we are related to Him as parts to a body, each with its own nature and function. There are general rules, but we were not meant to be all duplicates." The girl rose up and walked away slowly with the woman, discussing these things. And the People Factory vanished away into the distance.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What Leader Do We Follow?

We live in an age that is uncomfortable with authority. Yet if we want to be more than isolated individuals, we need organization and leadership. Now we are more comfortable with some sort of meritocracy (or authority exercised by those who deserve it). But we are forced to ask, who merits authority and why? Do we base it on personal charisma or force of personality? Do we become enamored of personal appearance or clever speech? Even if we look for better qualities, such as righteousness, knowledge, and ability, we can be deceived. And we have to ask how much of these qualities is enough. Every human being has failings. When these become evident in a leader, do we disobey them or cast them aside? Do we spend our life seeking the perfect leader? And when we find a leader we believe deserves their position, do we can reject them when they show they are human?

This can be even more dangerous for the leader. They may feel they must constantly do things to justify their leadership. They may feel they need to pretend to be something they are not to accomplish this. And because it is hard to establish their authority based on real merit, it is easy to try to use superficial characteristics. Even worse, the desperate person may try to use force of personality or even actual force to defend their authority. This produces the kind of leader we do not want. A leader who is touchy of their prerogative and tries to beat down every affront. Once you reach the point where you have to defend your authority, you have already lost it unless you can impose it by force. But who can claim the right to authority based on their merits? Maybe a few, but they are indeed few.

Scripture comes from a different perspective.  It says those who are in authority are put there by the providence of God (Romans 13:1; Daniel 4:17; Acts 20:28). Now this should not keep us from  choosing the best leader we can when we have the option. And there is a point where we must serve God rather than man when there is a clear-cut choice between the two (Acts 4:19; 5:29; Daniel 3:17,18). Further, there is a place for rebuking those who are in authority if they are wrong (2 Samuel 12:1-4; Matthew 23:1-3; Galatians 2:11-14). But I do believe it means that whoever is in authority does not have to continually defend their authority. Nor do those under their authority need to keep evaluating them to see if they are worthy. This frees up the leader to not need to defend their position, but to be the servant God requires them to be (Matthew 20:25-28; Luke 22:24-30; 1 Peter 5:1-4). If a leader believes their position is their doing, they will have to be continually working to uphold it, but if they believe it comes from God, they are freed to do what God wants them to do.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Touch of Humor - Avoidance Reaction

How eager should we be to twist people's arms into doing things if they are unwilling? How should we decide what we should be involved in?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Sin

Sin is not just breaking a set of rules, but living my life my way, with myself as the center.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Luther

Here we must point out that the entire Scripture of God is divided into two parts: commandments and promises. Although the commandments teach things that are good, the things taught are not done as soon as they are taught, for the commandments show us what we ought to do but do not give us the power to do it. They are intended to teach man to know himself, that through them he may recognize his inability to do good and may despair of his own ability.

Martin Luther, 1483-1546, The Freedom of a Christian (Three Treatises, translated by W. A. Lambert, Fortress Press, 1970, p.282)

Is this the right approach to God's commandments? How does it relate to living the Christian life?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Evangelism and Demons

One idea, common particularly in Charismatic circles, is that the way to evangelize is to pray or otherwise work against the demons in charge of a particular geographical area. The idea is that if you somehow overcome the demon, the people there will easily be brought to Christ. It is, of course, common in non-Charismatic circles to simply dismiss such things as kooky. But is there any value at all in the approach, and what are the problems with it?

I always think that prayer, including concentrated and specific prayer, is a good thing, in evangelism as well as in general (Ephesians 6:18-20; Colossians 4:2,3; 1 Timothy 2:1-8). It also reminds us that we need to trust in God and not in our own abilities (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2; Isaiah 40:31). Further, it is good to remember that we are dealing with spiritual forces when we are involved with evangelism (Ephesians 6:10-13; 2 Corinthians 10:3-6; 4:3,4).

However, the whole idea of demons in charge of particular places is based on only a few places in Scripture (Daniel 10:13). And nowhere in Scripture are we told that the way to evangelize is to pray against such forces. Also, we have to ask if the Christian church has had to wait till this point to figure out the only correct way to evangelize. This can easily become a magic formula to automatically evangelize people. And it can try to bypass the Scriptural commandment to reach out to the people around us (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; 1 Peter 3:15). Now nothing we do is effective if God's Spirit does not work in people's hearts (John 6:44; 1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 4:3,4). But that does not excuse us from making the persistent, continuing effort to reach out.

Now there is a danger that non-Charismatics may come to trust in their methodology. They can end up minimizing or ignoring the supernatural. But it is common for Charismatics to overemphasize the supernatural and make it into some form of magic. We need to carefully steer the course between. But I sometimes wonder, when a gimmick encourages us to get serious about prayer, if it is always entirely a bad thing.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Real Evil

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

One of the reasons that we as a society have moved from a black-and-white view of morality to the idea that morality is various shades of gray is the reliance on human beings as the standards of good and evil. But human beings are sinners (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6) and therefore cannot perfectly reflect real good. But they are also not perfectly evil, but still reflect some of the original moral character God created them with (Romans 2:14,15; James 1:17; Ecclesiastes 7:29). This means there is a danger for those who do hold to a black-and-white view of morality and who are in search of real good and real evil to glorify or vilify certain individuals or groups beyond what is justified by the circumstances. Now God is the source and standard for real good (Psalms 25:8; Mark 10:18; Nahum 1:7). Evil cannot have a source in the same sense because evil is a corruption of and a rebellion against good. But the chief instigators of evil in our world are in the spiritual realm (2 Corinthians 4:3,4; Hebrews 2:14,15; Ephesians 2:1,2), and they are the ones we battle (Ephesians 6:10-13; 1 Peter 5:8,9; 2 Corinthians 10:3-6). Therefore, we can put human beings in perspective, for they are all knowingly or unknowingly serving something beyond themselves. We need to look elsewhere to find the real standard and the real enemy. And we need to deal with other human beings in the light of those facts.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

On Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual gifts, or at least certain spiritual gifts, have become a hot potato in the Christian church today. Yet the issues involved do not fit the concept of the gifts as put forth in Scripture. It states that God empowers us to do His work (2 Corinthians 3:5,6; Colossians 1:28,29; Ephesians 2:10). Nowhere is it stated that this empowerment is for an elite group within the body of Christ. Rather, all believers have a place within the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:3-5; Ephesians 4:13-16). Therefore, we are commanded to carry out God's purpose in our lives (1 Peter 4:10,11; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11,12). The picture is of a body made up of different parts working together, each respecting the other person's contributions. We have turned this on its head.

Some claim that the gifts are the possession of only certain Christians and that the possession of certain gifts is a sign of spirituality. But Scripture says that God distributes the gifts as He wills (1 Corinthians 12:4-11) and different people have different gifts (1 Corinthians 12:28-30); nor is the possession of a particular gift evidence of spirituality (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). We are permitted to desire a particular gift from God (1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1,13), but God can always say no to our requests (Matthew 26:39; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; 1 Chronicles 17:1-15). However, there is no basis in Scripture for saying part of the gifts have passed away. The common passage used for this says they will continue till we meet Christ face to face (1 Corinthians 13:9-13). Also, why is Paul telling the Corinthians not to forbid people to speak in tongues if tongues are about to pass away and it will be wrong to speak in them (1 Corinthians 14:39). Nor are we ever told that we have to know our spiritual gift to serve God or that it is wrong to ever serve God outside our spiritual gift. I am not against people knowing what their spiritual gifts are, but I do not think it is necessary.

Spiritual gifts mean that we all have something we can do to serve God, and it is not necessarily the same thing. And every contribution is important. (This does not mean we should never consider whether we could do more, but this is based on our gifts and situation, not on comparisons with others.) And no one should believe their gifts make them better than others, but realize the importance of every member of the body. Now I do believe there is a place for exercising discernment in terms of spiritual gifts (1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 12:2,3; 1 John 4:1-6). But we should beware of jumping to blanket conclusions, rejecting or accepting all claims without examining them. However, it is often best to leave these things in the hands of God, and give each other the benefit of the doubt. For it is wrong to rush too quickly to judgment (1 Corinthians 4:3-5; Romans 14:3,4; 8:31-39).

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Touch of Humor - Definite Opinion

How can we avoid reading our own opinions into Scripture? How can we tell when others are doing it?