Thursday, January 31, 2013

Not Knowing All the Answers

Sometimes theology is seen as a matter of knowing all the answers to all the questions. It is frequently also seen as taking a dogmatic stand on every detail. Now I do not want to deny there are certain basic truths of the Christian faith that we need to stand for. If Christianity has nothing definite to say, we need to board up our church buildings and stay home on Sunday. But one of the reasons for the many divisions in the Christian church is that we feel we must have a definite answer for every detail and must separate from everyone who disagrees. How then do we decide what those basic issues are we need to stand for? I am convinced that Scripture itself gives us guidance here. It speaks of the need to hold firm on such things as the nature of God (Deuteronomy 13:1-4; Isaiah 43:10-13; Exodus 20:3-6); Christ (1 John 4:2,3; 2 Corinthians 11:4; 1 Corinthians 12:3), the sinfulness of humanity (1 John 1:8-10; Psalms 14:1-3; Romans 3:23), the gospel (Galatians 1:8,9; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Romans 1:16,17), and the truth of the Word of God (John 17:17; Psalms 12:6,7; 2 Timothy 3:16,17). (This list is not meant to be exhaustive but illustrative, but I do not find there are more than a few basic truths that have this kind of emphasis.) But there are many other things we tend to fight over that have no such emphasis in Scripture.

In terms of those things, it is well to remember that Scripture repeatedly rebukes putting too much trust in human reason (1 Corinthians 3:18-20; 8:1-3; 1:20,21). This does not mean we should have no definite convictions. But it does mean we need to ask whether the secondary things we fight over are a matter of clear Scriptural teaching or just our opinion. I am not saying we should not have opinions on such things. But I have to ask whether these are clear-cut enough to be dividing over. It is my view that many of the things we divide over are Scripturally indifferent. But even if they are not, are they worth fighting over? In 1 Corinthians too much trust in our own wisdom is seen as the basis of divisiveness (1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:21-23; 8:7-13). Could it be we need to examine some of the things we divide over to see, not only whether they are Scriptural, but whether they are worth it? And could it be that on some of these questions we need to admit to ourselves and others that we do not know the answers? For it is hard to miss the resemblance of the present day Christian church to the church at Corinth.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Attitude of Unity

One of the basic questions on promoting church unity, whether at the local or the global level, is one of attitude. Paul makes this clear in Philippians 2:1-11. The appropriate Christian attitude is putting other people before ourselves. This is the attitude shown by Christ, who is God and became a human being to save us from our sins. But too often in the church today we see people looking at things in terms of their needs and their plans and what they want. (I am speaking here of both leaders and congregational members.) It is easy to spiritualize this and say, I need to have my spiritual needs met, or, I am doing what I think God wants me to do. And I need to be careful here because there may be a legitimate basis for this. There are cases where it would be spiritually damaging or disobedient to God to go along with what others want or to uphold the status quo. But I think we are often too ready to assume our way is the right way and to approach issues based on what we want rather than how we can serve others. So I think we need to honestly ask before we push our needs or our program, are we really considered with God and the welfare of His people or with getting our own way?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Breaking the Laws of Nature

The idea that miracles break the laws of nature is based on questionable assumptions. The idea is that the laws of nature are running the universe by their own motive force. Therefore, for God to intervene in it and work a miracle is an unacceptable disruption. But does this fit the facts?

This is based on the idea of a deducible universe. It holds that the physical laws are like mathematics. In mathematics you start with certain basic intellectually obvious principles, such as 2 + 2 = 4. The rest of the system is than deduced from these principles. There may be difficult problems, but they are the necessary result of reasoning from the first principles. Are the physical laws like this? The problem with answering this is that, after centuries of looking, we still have not reduced the physical laws to first principles. But every indication is they are likely to be something complicated and not intellectually obvious, but only understandable by experts. But whatever the basic principles, it is difficult to believe that, under current theories, we could deduce the universe from it, even theoretically. There is quantum mechanics, which says that in very small objects, all we can know about their behavior is probabilities. It also holds to incomprehensible things, like something being a wave and a particle at the same time.  There is chaos theory, which says long range behavior can depend on small differences in an object's initial conditions. All this calls into question whether we ever will be able to deduce the universe from basic principles.

A better concept for comparison would be that of the alphabet. It too starts with small elements which are arranged according to certain rules. But these rules are broad principles and do not determine  the final product. We cannot start with the alphabet and deduce Shakespeare's plays. Now it is not surprising that an orderly God would produce an orderly universe. Also, we need that order to function. It would be hard to live in a world where there was no discernible order. But it is also not surprising that when we examine it closely, it becomes probabilities and mysteries. The result is less like a machine and more like a poem. There needs to be a basic order for there to be a poem, or at least a comprehensible poem. But every line is from the Poet and none have an independent existence. And the Poet can vary the order of the poem to produce the effect He desires. He is not interfering with the poem, but adding to it the important variations that help explain the poem as a whole. But the Poet is not limited to working in variations, but every line of the poem is His composition and works to accomplish His purpose. Also, God's poem contains independent beings: angels, demons, and human beings, who contribute to the poem by their actions. But there never was any question of shutting the Poet out.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Touch of Humor - Suspicion

Why should we be careful as Christians of jumping to conclusions too quickly? How do we avoid this?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Old Erich Proverb - Mold

God does not want to press us all into the same mold, but to change us into the particular people He intends us to be.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Voice from the Past - Spurgeon

Slippery as the way is, so that I walk like a man upon ice, yet faith keeps my heels from tripping, and will continue to do so. The doubtful ways of policy are sure sooner or later to give a fall to those who run therein, but the ways of honesty, though often rough, are always safe. We cannot trust in God if we walk crookedly; but straight paths and simple faith bring the pilgrim happily to his journey's end.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 1834-1892, The Treasury of David, Vol. 1, Psalm XXVI (Hendrickson Publishers, p. 416)

What do we need to do to avoid living crookedly? How do we do it in a crooked world?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Interpreting 1 John

Interpreting the book of 1 John is a difficult proposition. It seems to be saying that Christians cannot sin (1 John 2:3-6; 3:4-10; 5:18). Scripture should be explained in the simplest way possible. But I cannot reconcile this obvious reading with the rest of Scripture (Philippians 3:12-16; 2 Corinthians 7:9,10; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20) or even the rest of 1 John (1 John 1:8-10; 2:1,2; 5:16,17). Nor does it accord with my experience or that of any other Christian I have known well. Further, 1 John does not picture this as a higher experience, but the normal experience of every Christian. Those who take this view of the book almost always end up qualifying it. They speak of absence from intentional sin or major sin, but there is nothing in the context or the rest of Scripture that invites such a qualification. Further, this approach is highly subjective because we can convince ourselves that our actual sins really were not intentional or major. Apart from clear instruction from Scripture, it is hard to know where to draw the line. Now the verbs here are in present tense in Greek, which implies a continuous or customary action. I think this is part of the answer, but it does not solve the problems with this solution. 

One can see these passages as referring to the new nature of the Christian given by God. This is often coupled with the idea that Christians are at any point in time either totally in the new nature or in the old nature. This does not fit with the teaching of Scripture that growth in Christ is a process (1 Timothy 4:7,8; Hebrews 5:11-14; 12:1,2). It also makes the commandments of the New Testament irrelevant, as we need only be in the new nature and everything else will follow. This is reading in things not found in the passages involved.

The broader context of the book is written against false teachers (1 John 2:18-24; 4:1-6; 5:1). One of their  claims appears to be, you can be a Christian and live however you want (1 John 2:25-29; 5:2-5; 1:5-7). When they claimed to be without sin (1 John 1:8-10), they were not claiming they were morally perfect, but that nothing they did should count as sin. Therefore John (using the present tense with its implications in Greek) is drawing a contrast between two ideas of Christianity. He is not saying that Christians must be perfect, but that there should be a real change in their lives, and that those who claim Christians do not have to live in obedience to God are wrong. This fits with the fact that the epistle does advocate assurance (1 John 5:11-13; 4:15-18; 2:12-14), which would be dubious if it depended on our reaching some high level of holiness. This also fits with the rest of Scripture (Titus 2:11-14; 2 Peter 2:7,8; James 1:21-25). And fits with the reality that Christianity is a growth process, not immediate perfection.   

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Charismatic Calvinist Recap

After prayer and consideration I have decided, at least for the present, to discontinue posting at Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues due to lack of traffic and the lack of time on my part to do justice to both blogs. I have re-posted  in this blog the main posts presented there. I have now finished with this job of re-posting, and I present here the final summary statement from that blog. I intend to go on in this blog posting items in line with those I originally posted in that one.

Now the point of that blog was to explore the possibility of connecting Calvinism and Charisma. Based on that, I would like to summarize what I have tried to say there.

We need to realize that God is in control and we can trust Him with the problems in our lives. see, see, see

Growth in Christ is a process and not the result of following a particular formula. see, see, see

God does do miracles today, but He does them according to His will. see, see, see

There is demonic influence in the world today, but it must be put in perspective. see, see, see

The miraculous spiritual gifts still exist today, but they are given according to God's will. see, see, see

I would conclude that, while the supernatural still happens today, it is dependent on God's will and is not, in the final analysis, something we can control.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Treasure in Heaven

The Bible says that we are saved by grace, based on what Christ has done apart from what we do to earn it (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; 1 Peter 2:24,25). But it also speaks of rewards in heaven (Matthew 5:11,12; 6:19-21; 1 Corinthians 3:8). How are these compatible?

We could try to explain the rewards away, which might seem more in accordance with salvation by grace. I have tried this, but it is hard to fit it in with the verses as read in a simple, straightforward way. But others would  so magnify the importance of rewards that we are given the impression heaven will be a dull and barren place without some rewards. But Scripture makes what Christ did the important thing (Ephesians 2:1-9; John 3:16-18; Romans 8:31-39) and our works a response to that (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Ephesians 2:10). Nor are we ever given the idea that the future hope of God's people is dull and barren for any of them (Revelation 21:3-7; Isaiah 35:10; Psalms 16:11). Nonetheless, we are told that while God will not take into account our sins (Hebrews 8:12; Micah 7:19; Psalms 103:11,12), He will not forget the good things we do but reward them (Hebrews 6:10; 11:6; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15), though we are still far from perfect (Philippians 3:12-16; Galatians 5:17; Romans 7:14-23). God accepts our deeds because He accepts us in Christ.

We are told there that there will be rewards. Further, they are put forth as significant and as a motivation for obedience. (I believe we will ultimately lay our rewards at Jesus' feet, but the passage involved is too symbolic to be dogmatic about: Revelation 4:10). Therefore, rewards should not be simply cast aside and ignored. Now it is clear that our motivation here should not be pride and ambition (Proverbs 16:18; 1 John 2:16; James 3:14). Rather, our motivation should be love of Christ and desire to please Him (Luke 19:17; John 14:21; Romans 8:15). One idea I find helpful here is an idea I stole from C. S. Lewis, though I am using it in a somewhat different way, as we have different understandings of salvation. Lewis says there are rewards that fit the real goal of an activity and there are those that are inappropriate. It is inappropriate to marry for money, because money is not the appropriate goal of marriage. But it is right to marry for love, as love is the appropriate goal of marriage.  I have wondered if the rewards involved in obeying God are the natural results of such an obedience: deeper relationships with God and others. But whatever they are, they grow naturally out of the love relationship that is produced by what Christ has done for us.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Touch of Humor - Absent

Are multi-site churches a good idea? Why or why not?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Old Erich Proverb - Sinfulness

Outside of Scripture there are only two arguments for the sinfulness of humanity: all of human history and all of human experience.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Voice from the Past - Ambrose

Therefore do you also crucify sin, that you may die to sin; he who dies to sin lives to God; do you live to Him Who spared not His own Son, that in His body He might crucify our passions. For Christ died for us, that we might live in His revived Body.

Ambrose, 337-397 AD, On the Holy Spirit, Book 1, Chapter 9, 109 (translated by H. De Romestin, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, Volume X,  Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, T & T Clark;  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, p. 108)

What does mean to have our sins crucified with Christ? How should we live in light of it?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Public Morals

How far should we as Christians go in trying to change the laws of the land to fit with our understanding of justice? And how do we go about it? One of the problems we face here is that the current culture's ideas of justice vary widely from the traditional Christian ideas of justice. In fact, the difference in philosophical views is frequently so great that we can end up standing on opposite sides of the divide, shouting slogans at each other and not communicating at all. A big part of the problem here is that both sides engage in circular reasoning. As a result, they may confirm those who are already on their side and do little to convince the other.

There are deep issues involved which are hard to put into soundbites. Take the issue of abortion. Both sides tend to assume the basic issue, which is: Is the fetus a person, making abortion murder? Which leads to the question: What is a human being, and why is it wrong to kill one? The Biblical answer is, we are made in the image of God and are valuable to Him. But we cannot expect the secular person to accept that because the Bible says it without first convincing them of the reliability of the Bible. Often from a purely secular point of view we are seen as simply some type of cosmic accident, and it becomes highly subjective whether we are valuable and why it is wrong to kill us. The best way to convince someone is, of course, to convince them of the truth of Christianity or at least that there is a God. But there are arguments that can be made from a secular point of view, such as pointing out the line is arbitrary and showing the implications of classifying various types of human beings as non-persons. But it is not an easy slam-dunk that can be done in a quick slogan.

There is also the idea that God intended sexuality to be exercised within a committed relationship between a man and a woman to provide a context for reproduction and for raising future members of the human race. With this is the question of whether there is a purpose for identifiable gender roles. But it makes a difference if you see intentionality involved or whether you see these principles as just based on a biological accident that can be cast aside the moment they prove inconvenient. There are pragmatic arguments that can be used here. The welfare of and responsibility for children. Marriage also demonstrates the concept of unity in diversity in the basic unit of  human society. But it depends on drawing on some idea of underlying purpose and responsibility over immediate impulse.

None of these things are simple and easy things to convince people of, especially given that we are fighting the direction our society is drifting. Therefore, we need to be prepared for that long-haul of changing the underlying attitudes. But simple sloganeering will not work. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Meeting in a Park

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

Is the supernatural still to be found today? Is it something that vanished centuries ago? Or is it sometimes around the next corner?

I was once involved in a ministry of handing out soup to the homeless at a certain local park they were known to frequent. A friend and I met a man there. He came up and shook our hands, and I felt a creepy feeling, like I was encountering something not quite human. This individual asked for prayer, and he and my friend walked a distance away to pray in private. I could not hear what was being said except for one word "Satan." (I was not even sure which one of the two had said it.) All of sudden I felt as if a bomb had gone off in the spiritual realm, and I prayed against it. My friend came back and said he was not sure if what he had just encountered was a manifestation (a demon speaking through a demonically influenced person) or not, though it had the appearance of one. My response was I certainly felt something.

Can something like this be real, or must it be simply a figment of my imagination? Can such things happen, and can they happen today? Scripture speaks of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Now it is claimed that a certain portion of these gifts have passed away. But the Scriptures used to support this really do not stand up to examination. (The most commonly used passage, 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, in context would say exactly the opposite). Now it does say that not every person has every spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:27-30). But that is not the same as saying some set of gifts is no longer given. Note I am not claiming full-blown inspired revelation (on a par with Scripture), but simply because something does not fall under that category does not mean it is not real. There are various gifts commonly seen as among the questionable gifts (such as, for example, discerning of spirits) that need not involve a Scriptural level of revelation. Scripture does call us to test everything and use caution (1 Thessalonians 5:21). But is there a basis for dismissing them entirely?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Immigrant

There was a man immigrating from the land of Nomos to the land of Charis. The land of Nomos was known for its strict laws. But the land of Charis was ruled by a loving Sovereign, who forgave His subjects' faults while not permitting simple lawlessness like in the land of Hamartia.

As the man approached Charis, he saw a strange sight. There were a number of small villages divided from each other by hedges. He did not understand why the villages, being so close, did not come together to form one town.

He came to the first village and asked a passerby on the street why there was a hedge dividing them from the village next to them.

"We must separate ourselves from those who do not really serve the King," replied the native.

"But do not the inhabitants here believe that you are acceptable to the King based on what the King has done?" asked  the immigrant. "That is what I heard in Nomos."

"That is an ancient and important truth. But one must approach the King with the right rituals and  understanding of those rituals."

"But if the King has done it all, can the right rituals be that important?'

"Obviously you do not belong here. Maybe you should try another village." said the passerby, departing.

He went to another village and finding a man standing out in front of his house, asked the same question.

"Well," said the man, "we believe in using all the gifts the King gives us. But they deny some gifts and therefore are not really following the King."

"But if the King did what was required to make you  acceptable to Him, is that not more important than these gifts?" asked the immigrant, puzzled.

"The gifts are critical if you are to serve the King," replied the man firmly.

The immigrant went to another village  and found a man behind the counter in a shop and asked  his question.

"We do not emphasize rituals and gifts. We believe in as few rituals as possible and none of the fancy gifts. We believe in a clear expression of faith in the King and obedience to the rules."

"But, do not all the other villages have that too?"

"It is hard to tell if they do because it is so cluttered with nonsense."

"But, if the important thing  is what the King has done, are these other things that important?"

"We must keep our devotion to the King pure."

So the immigrant walked up on a hill overlooking the villages and saw many more villages he could visit. And he was wondering if in one of them he would find people who were not caught up in such details. It was almost as bad as Nomos, with its regulations. But he did not want to return there and did not find the other alternatives attractive either. So he sighed deeply and got up to resume his search of the villages. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Touch of Humor - The Apologizer

How should we deal with those who disagree with us? What are good and bad methods of approach?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Old Erich Proverb - Fear

Fear may keep us in line, but only love truly changes us.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Voice from the Past - Chesterton

Every one of the popular modern phrases and ideals is a dodge in order to shirk the problem of what is good. We are fond of talking about "liberty"; that, as we talk of it, is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about "progress"; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about "education"; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. The modern man says, "Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and embrace liberty." This is, logically rendered, "Let us not decide what is good, but let it be considered good not to decide it." He says, "Away with your old moral formulae; I am for progress." This, logically stated, means, "Let us not settle what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it." He says, "Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education." This, clearly expressed, means. "We cannot decide what is good, but let us give it to our children."

G. K. Chesterton, 1874-1936, Heretics, Chapter 2, On the Negative Spirit (Barnes & Noble, 2007, p. 13)

Does this really represent our present thinking? How can we avoid falling into it?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Meeting People Where They Are

Scripture  tells us to meet people where they are (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; Matthew 9:11-13; Luke 19:9,10). But we need to be careful about about what we mean by that. We are to meet them where they are in order to help them out of their situation, not just to tell them what they want to hear. There is a difficult balance here. If we meet people as sanctimonious Pharisees, looking down our noses at them, they will not listen. But if we change our message to make it more palatable, we are becoming conformed to the world rather than helping others escape it (1 John 2:15-17; Romans 12:1,2; James 4:4). And it is much easier to take one of the wrong stances here than the right one. It is easy to not deal with those outside except to condemn them. It is easy never to tell people anything that might offend them. But it is hard to meet people where they are at in order to show them there is something better. How do we accomplish this?

We must avoid self-righteousness (Luke 16:15; 18:9-14; Matthew 6:1-18). The best antidote for this is to remember that we ourselves are sinners (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6), saved by the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8,9; Titus 3:5,6; Romans 11:6). We need to be particularly careful of this because people will tend to jump to this conclusion whether or not it is true, because it is the, unfortunately not totally false, stereotype the world has of us. A major part of what is involved here is we need to genuinely love people (Matthew 22:35-40; Romans 13:8-10; James 2:8) and not just see them as cases or notches in our evangelistic belt.

We also need to realize that the gospel is a stumbling block and not everyone will accept it (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2 Corinthians 4:2; Romans 9:30-33). There is an idea, not uncommon in the evangelical church, that people just misunderstand us. There is some truth to this. There are people who reject some stereotype of what they think Christianity is or simply cannot get past our Christian lingo to understand what we really mean. But there are also those who do understand it and reject it because it does not fit their preconceived notions. We need to recognize it is the work of God in the heart that brings people to Himself (1 Corinthians 3:6,7; John 6:44; Acts 16:14). But if we go into the situation with unrealistic expectations or believing that everything depends on us and what we say, then we will be much more likely either to react with hostility or to water down the message if we meet with resistance.

Reaching out to people in a loving, yet firm, way is a hard thing to do. But I am convinced God requires us to reach past the easy alternatives to accomplish this.  

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Do Not Be Surprised

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

 Jesus said that we should not be surprised if the world hates us when we follow Him, because it hated Him (John 15:18-21; 16:1-4; Matthew 10:16-22). However, sometimes Christians, especially in safe places like the United States, can get the idea that we can follow Christ and expect those around us to respect us and applaud us. But Scripture does not encourage us in this. Now if we have come to expect this, when we do not meet it we can overreact. Instead of speaking the truth in love as we should (Ephesians 4:15; 2 Timothy 2:23-26; 1 Peter 3:15), we can react in anger and vitriol. Or we can compromise our principles in a desperate to get people to agree with us, and thereby disobey God (Galatians 1:10; Proverbs 29:25; Romans 12:2).  Therefore, we need to avoid false expectations so that we may respond to those who oppose us with the proper firmness and love.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What Our Eyes See and Our Hands Handle

Many would try to avoid believing in anything that is not apparent to the senses. They only believe what they see, hear, touch, taste, or smell. This is an extremely limiting philosophy, especially if we restrict things to what we ourselves have experienced. How many real things are there which we have not sensed except  very indirectly? (Who has actually seen a radio wave?) Much of the rest of what we know comes from the testimony of others on things we have not actually experienced ourselves.

Nonetheless, there is some truth behind the distortion. It is easy to get lost in pure abstract thought. It is also possible for one person to sound good until the next person makes their case. There is something helpful in actually seeing or hearing, something to bring things down to earth. I believe this is one reason why God chose to intervene in history. It is one, though certainly not the only, reason He chose to become a Man. It was to show us in a concrete way, discernible by our senses, what God is like. But the mistake here is to restrict ourselves to only what is actually perceived by our senses rather than being  willing to see what our senses tell us as evidence of something beyond our senses. Otherwise we are left unable to prove a number of things that are clearly true. Also, there is the issue of the testimony of others.

Most of the things we know, we know based on the testimony of others. I have never been to London, England. But I have it, on what I regard as good testimony, that such a place exists. But someone might say, "I have seen it on TV." This is true. I have also seen Vulcans and Klingons on TV. Now I have it on good testimony that London is a real place and that Vulcan is part of a work of fiction. But the fact I see something on TV does not in itself prove it exists. Now I need to carefully weigh testimony to decide which is true and which is false. But I cannot simply reject something because I did not see it myself. Otherwise we lock ourselves in a narrow box which keeps out almost everything. To say that direct sensory evidence is valuable and can point to things beyond itself is a good principle. To say we can only believe what our own senses perceive is an assumption, and an extremely questionable one. One that prevents us from knowing about God. But also limits severely what we can know about anything else.  

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Touch of Humor - The Survivor

Do we live in an age that too easily expects the end of the world? How can we gain perspective on this?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Old Erich Proverb - Teacher

God so loved the world that He did not sent us another great moral teacher; we had already disobeyed the ones we had.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Voice from the Past - Patrick

Behold now I commend my soul to God who is most faithful and for whom I perform my mission in obscurity, but he is no respecter of persons and he chose me for this service that I might be one of the least of his ministers.

Patrick, Confession, 390-461 AD, 58 (Christian Classics Ethereal Library, p.18)

Can a person have a more important place in God's plan then they think? What should be our attitude toward our own work?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Setting Aside Doctrine

There is an idea floating around the evangelical church that if we just got rid of doctrine, we would all just get along. I have often found this to have the opposite effect. I have known people who have tried to minimize doctrine and have found they often end up fighting over incidentals. They get embroiled in fights over procedures and methodologies. Now such disputes can happen in any church, but I am convinced they happen more often when doctrine is minimized. The reason for this is that people will draw their identity from somewhere. If they are not informed on the basic issues, they will fixate on externals. They may not understand the issues involved in the charismatic movement, but they know we do not lift up hands here. They may not know the real issues involved in the question of liturgy, but they know we do not recite the Apostle's Creed here. We end up looking for buzzwords and external behaviors rather than things of substance. And the ironic thing is that sometimes people with real doctrinal differences can pretend agreement by just using the right buzzwords.

I believe the correct approach to unity is in the opposite direction. It is in the clear understanding of doctrine and all that is involved in it. But I believe this needs to be joined with an honest look at what is really important and what is more incidental. I believe this must ultimately be decided based on the emphasis of Scripture and not on my denomination or tradition. If a person genuinely disagrees with my position, I can discuss it with them. Even if I cannot convince them, I can still respect their position. But how do you even address buzz-words and externals? If our differences really amount to real differences in the basic philosophy of life, they are meaningful and discussable. But if they are simply a matter of my group versus your group and how we do things here versus how you do things, they are unresolvable. I have never been a great sports fan, but I have observed sports fans enough to know they have loyalties that go well beyond what team is actually the best or has the most potential. A dedicated sports fan will root for their team even when it is losing and has no chance of winning. This is not a criticism of sports fans, but if our denominational loyalties are like that, we have no chance of getting past them to any broader Christian unity.  It is only by understanding what Christianity is really about that we can work for real unity.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What Does "Nothing" Mean to You

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

How do we understand it when Christ says that apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5)? I once had an experience that helped me understand this.

I was involved in a discussion with the elders about whether some of the things I had done on the worship team were too charismatic. It had not gone as I wanted it to go. They encouraged me to continue on the worship team, but within certain boundaries. Now I did not regard the boundaries themselves to be that big a problem. But I was concerned that the issue would be divisive in the congregation, which had various opinions on charismatic issues. However, I enjoyed being on the worship team. So I convinced myself that the discussion was not over and I could still manage to convince the elders to see my point of view. The bottom line is I am stubborn and sometimes God has to do something to get my attention.

Often on the worship team I would feel the power of God flowing through me. That morning what I felt was God slowly pulling His power out. It was like God was giving me just enough for that morning . At the end of the service I felt like a dead battery, sucked dry of its last reserve of current. I had never felt a more desolate feeling in my life. I do not believe God personally ever left me, but any feeling of His power working through me was gone. I do not know if this is how King Saul felt, but if it was and it was permanent, I am not surprised he went crazy, even ignoring the help of a demon (see 1 Samuel 16). One of the elders, a very sensible man, when I said I was considering resigning from the worship team, suggested I wait a few weeks and see if I still felt that way. But there was no way I was going back up on that platform. Not without His power. Now do not get me wrong; I am sure if I gritted my teeth I could have physically walked up on the platform. But I do not know and do not want to know what the results would have looked like.

I am convinced the presence of the Holy Spirit is always with the genuine believer in Christ (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 6:19) and is at work in them to transform them into who God wants them to be (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13). But He also gives power to meet specific situations (Acts 4:23-31; 13:9-12). Now you cannot prove doctrine from personal experience, but I feel mine does illustrate the fact that apart from Him we really can do nothing. And while my feeling that God is working through me has returned since I resigned, this puts in perspective the times I simply feel dry and am not aware of God working through me as strongly as normally.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Should We Resolve Not to Do Resolutions?

I have a confession to make. I do not remember ever having made a New Year's resolution. I think the reason is that I have always had a hard time taking them seriously. So the question comes, is this something we should do? And if we should do them, why do they always seem so futile? Is there any way to make them effective or should we just dump them?

I am convinced that the fundamental problem with New Year's resolutions is they are based on human will power. We feel if we grit our teeth and try harder, we will succeed.  But the problem is that we are sinners (Romans 3:23, Jeremiah 17:9, Isaiah 64:6). Even after we are saved, we are still people in process and have not arrived yet (Philippians 3:12-16; Romans 7:14-25; Galatians 5:16,17). The problem with making resolutions based on our human will power is that it is frequently not very good at following through with them. Now God does want to change us, but that change is based on His working in us to transform us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 2:10). Also, this change does not take place due to one-time resolutions, but through our responding to Him over time (Titus 2:11-14; 1 Timothy 4:7,8; Hebrew 5:14). It is pictured as an exercise regimen or an athletic contest. It is something that involves putting one foot in front of the other, not making one grand decision to be different. Also, it is a process done in the context of God's forgiveness (Romans 8:33,34; 5:1,2; Ephesians 1:7), which keeps us from being overwhelmed and discouraged  when we fail. Further, it changes us into who God wants us to be (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 4:24; 1 John 3:2), not necessarily who we would like to be.

Now Scripture does say it is appropriate to take stock of our life and ask God to show us what we may need to change (Psalms 139:23,24; 1 Corinthians 11:31,32; Hebrews 4:12,13). Ideally this should happen more often than once a year. Now the new year may be an appropriate time to take stock and ask what needs to change. But if it is to make any meaningful difference in our lives, this must be done with God's involvement and trusting in His empowerment. For if it is done based on our will power, it will generally follow the usual stereotype of being broken by about January 7.