Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Broken Guide

Tom Carver was angry, and more than a little perplexed. He had searched for her by every avenue he could think of and found nothing, But it was impossible that someone would not be on the system. They could not buy food or  hold a job or get medical care.

It had all started four days ago. He was sitting in a coffee shop, ordering his usual breakfast.Then he noticed her. She was alright looking, though nothing really special. But the thing that drew his attention was that she was reading an actual paper-and-print book. Why would anyone want such a thing? Surely all the literature and information in the world could be found on the system.

He was curious enough to go over to her table. They talked about books and other things. This included her strange religious beliefs about God becoming a human being to show people what God was like and save them from the penalties for their wrongdoings. She invited him to a meeting of her group, and he was curious enough to consider it. She then took a piece of paper and wrote down the street address of the meeting. She told him to be sure to keep the paper if he wanted to come. This made no sense at all, because once he entered it in his zone on the system, it would be there permanently until he deleted it.

During a break at work he asked the system about the woman's religion. He got an immediate response of negative reports and arguments against it. That night he watched the queued videos he had requested on his full wall screen. But in the middle, where he did not remember ordering it, there were pictures of a current, casual relationship. Romantic moments shared and good times enjoyed. The next day, when he checked his vids, he found a full porn download he had not requested. He was puzzled. When he tried to go to the meeting anyway, the system directed him to a strip bar, with no sign of a religious meeting anywhere.

And now he could not find her on the system at all. Then he remembered the slip of paper.

With some effort he found the place. The service gave him a lot to think about. Afterwards, he ran into the woman. "Interesting service," he told her, "but I had a hard time finding it."

"That's not surprising," she replied, "we've tried preparing people, but they don't believe us. You have to experience it yourself."

"But why?" he asked.

"The system started out with a number of people advertising their products," she explained. "But somewhere, someone took over. They are very low profile, so we do not quite know who they are, the government, some business cartel, or something else. They give people what they want, but they also work to control them and keep them consuming products. But they are against Christianity or any other definite belief because it produces in people convictions they cannot control."

"But how can you live off the system?" he asked.

"We are not really 'off the system'; nobody is," she replied. "They are smart, and they do not want to produce martyrs. But we are limited and tend to get stuck with the worst, lowest paying jobs and are kept from positions of power. But when someone tries to investigate our beliefs, the blocks go up. So you need to decide whether you want to continue the investigation. There is a cost involved."   

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

To Confront or Not to Confront

One of the difficult questions in community is when to confront another believer. I have seen situations where people confronted others on every issue, no matter how minor. This can lead to a situation of mutual recrimination that is the opposite of community. But I have also seen cases where almost nothing was ever dealt with and things were allowed to fester until they exploded. There is a place for love to cover a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8; Proverbs 10:12; 17:9). This is important, because we are all sinners (Romans 3:23; 7:14; 1 John 1:8-10), and to hunt out every sin of everyone is nothing but a recipe for strife. But there is also a point when things need to be dealt with (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:1-5; 2 Thessalonians 3:11-15). Now this must be done with gentleness, with a view toward restoring them (Galatians 6:1; Hebrews 12:12,13; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11). But it is often a difficult choice which way we should take in a given case. We need to carefully weigh the effect on themselves, others, the community, and those outside the community if the behavior in question is allowed to continue unchallenged. But we should not be to quick to jump to one extreme or the other. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Illustrations and Analogies

How are we to understand the descriptions of God in Scripture? Are they literal or figurative? There are those who claim we can know nothing about God except by analogy. On the other extreme, there are those who see God in a highly physical manner. There are also sceptics who take this view as a basis for rejecting God, claiming He is nothing more than a glorified man. What is the correct understanding?

God as God is not visible to human beings (1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16; Exodus 33:19,20). This is one of the reasons that God became a man in Jesus Christ, that we might know what God is like (John 1:18; 14:9; Colossians 1:15). But God as God is a nonphysical Being who transcends our physical world (Jeremiah 23:24; John 4:24;  Luke 24:39). Now there are places where the Scripture uses analogies to describe our relationship with God. However, it is frequently clear these are analogies. We do not see a hand coming down from heaven to bring the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 13:3). Nor do we expect to see the eyes of the Lord running about on the earth (2 Chronicles 16:9). Nor does it make sense He would literally have wings (Psalms 91:4). Also, God appears in various forms. This makes sense if He is going to meet with us. Sometimes He appears in a human form, which is, in my understanding, generally the Son, in anticipation of His becoming man (Genesis 18:1-22; Joshua 5:13-15; Isaiah 6:1-3). But He also appears in a burning bush (Exodus 3:1-6), a pillar of fire and cloud (Exodus 13:21), or a thick cloud and fire (Exodus 19:16-18). However, this does not mean He is physical by nature.

But with personality traits this become more complicated. We are told to love because God loves (1 John 4:19) and to be holy because He is holy (1 Peter 1:14-16). Also, we are called to be like Christ and like God in our behavior (2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 8:29; Colossians 3:10), which makes no sense if there is no connection between the two. And it is the moral nature of God that Jesus became man to reveal. However, there are things in Scripture that appear to be descriptions given to help us understand God, even if they do not reflect His inner nature (Jonah 3 :10; Genesis 6:6; Exodus 32:14). But it is often difficult to know exactly where literal understanding ends and analogy begins. I am reminded of C. S. Lewis's picture of a dog observing human life. Some things would be true parallels, while other things could only be understood by analogy. I would therefore argue for humility. While it is important to know about God, it is necessary to realize we cannot fully understand Him (Romans 11:33; Isaiah 55:9; 1 Corinthians 3:18). But it is more important to know God through Jesus Christ than to understand everything about Him (Philippians 3:7-11; Jeremiah 9:23,24; Matthew 7:21-23).

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Touch of Humor - Observation

Why do we tend to sit in the back? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Would it be better if everyone wanted to sit in the front?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Old Erich Proverb - Shortcut

Shortcuts to avoid all the problems of the Christian life often merely leave you lost and off the path.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Luther

Let us consider it certain and firmly established that the soul can do without anything except the Word of God and that where the Word of God is missing there is no help at all for the soul.

Martin Luther, 1483-1546, The Freedom of a Christian (translated by W. A. Lambert, revised by Harold J. Grim, Luther's Works, Helmut T. Lehmann, Muhlenberg Press, 1957, Vol.31, The Career of the Reformer: I, p. 345)

Is this true? What difference does it make?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Deducing the Universe

There is a way of understanding the universe that we have inherited from the Greek philosophers. This idea is that the physical laws work in a way that parallels mathematics. You start with a set of obvious premises, such as 2+2=4, that are transparently so. You then use these premises to deduce the rest of the system that necessarily follows from them. This does not mean all the answers will be easy; certainly this is not so in mathematics. But all the answers, no matter how complicated, are a necessary result of the obvious premises. The Greek philosophers and the early scientists believed the physical laws worked in the same way. While I do not believe such a concept could prevent God from intervening if He chose, intervention in such a clearly ordered machine seems intrusive. But it does eliminate any idea of God's providence, beyond setting up the original premises. Also, if human beings are outside the system and able to think and act independently, it is difficult to see how they could interface with the system. But if they are simply another part of the system, then all their thinking and beliefs are a result of what the system requires, with no necessary relationship to reality or truth. But is this concept correct?

Now we have not yet figured out what the basic premises are for the physical laws. But they do not look to be something simple and obvious. The current theory, which is not yet proven, involves strings vibrating in ten dimensions. This does not look like something that is obviously necessary.  But even if we can find the premises, we are left with serious problems in deducing the universe. We are faced with quantum mechanics, which says that when we look at objects on the smallest scale, we can only know probabilities. Then there is chaos theory, which says that under certain conditions small differences in initial conditions can produce major differences in results. And if those differences get small enough, we are once more faced with quantum mechanics.

The mathematical  model does not seem to reflect the world that is. I would like to suggest the alphabetical model. The alphabet also starts with a series of basic elements. These are put together in an orderly manner to make words, sentences, and works of literature. But the results cannot be logically deduced from the elements. You cannot start with the English alphabet and deduce Shakespeare's plays. And if you tried to deduce rules from the final product, in the end you would be left with probabilities. Now if the universe is not really deducible, there is room left for both God and human beings. And the options for how a universe which is not deductible came about are either an intelligent Creator or an explosion in a print shop.  But the idea of a deducible universe has serious flaws.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Demon Possessed

What does it mean to be demon possessed, and who can be? We need to understand that the term "demon possessed" does not appear in the original language of the New Testament; the literal translation is "demonized" or "having a demon." The question is, what is this, and what are the symptoms? The most common symptom is some sort of physical malady (Matthew 9:32,33; 12:22; Luke 13:16). This does not mean that all illness is demon induced, as demonization was one of a list of things Jesus and His disciples healed (Matthew 4:24; 10:8; Mark 1:34). There are also seizures (Mark 9:17-23, perhaps another form of physical ailment) and psychic powers (Acts 16:16). There are particular cases, though not every case, where the demon speaks, and in one case acts, through the demonized person (Acts 19:13-16; Mark 1:23-26; Luke 4:41). But this seems to be the result of confrontation and may have involved the cooperation of the person who had the demon. There is no indication that the person involved was continually possessed or controlled by the demon. Now there is one extreme case where being demonized clearly disrupted a man's entire life (two men according to Matthew), but this is presented as an extreme case and as the man being afflicted by a legion of demons (Mark 5:2-10; Matthew 8:28,29; Luke 8:27-31). I would therefore regard actual possession as an extreme case and not the necessary meaning of being demonized. Therefore, as to the question of whether Christians can be demonized, I would say they cannot be fully controlled, but I do not think that is what being demonized means. But I also think we should not live in fear, but trust in God to overcome any demonic influence in our lives (1 John 4:4; Ephesians 6:10-13; 1 Peter 5:8-10).

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Who Belongs?

There are two opposite ideas for deciding who is part of the Christian church. No one really believes them in an unqualified form. Yet, with many qualifications, they still seem to underlie how we think of this.

One of these is the idea that if you become a member of the organization and go through the proper rites of initiation, you are automatically a part of the church. This fits with the idea that those ordinances of entry automatically, or almost automatically, do something to you to bring this about. Now there are always qualifications. Frequently, an outwardly moral life is required. There are certain beliefs that you need to adhere to. Particularly in those groups in the Protestant tradition, there is a requirement of faith, a trust in the promises of God. But after all these, there is still the idea that if I am member in good standing of the organization, I must be part of the church. And unless I do something to radically violate the organizations' principles, I am probably safe.

The other extreme is that all that really matters is my inner spiritual life. The organization and its rituals are largely irrelevant. What organization there is, is merely a gathering of those who have made the grade. Again, from a traditionally Protestant position, this is normally seen as involving faith. Now again, it is difficult, from a traditional Christian point of view, to hold to this view in full form. In fact, if followed to its logical conclusion, it would tend to throw out any ordinances or community altogether. But it also leads to having to continually prove you are truly spiritual and really belong. And it is easy to end up ostracizing someone who does not fit in.

But Scripture starts from faith. It is faith that saves (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9), resulting in our becoming part of God's people (Acts 2:47; 20:28; Colossians 1:18-23). The ordinances then become a reminder and declaration of our faith (Romans 4:11; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 2 Peter 1:9) and of our having also become related to one another (1 Corinthians 12:13; 10:16,17; Ephesians 4:4-6). This faith is focused, not on who we are, but on who Christ is and what He has done for us (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). This is not merely one factor in an inner spiritual change, but it takes hold of Christ, which, in turn, brings about whatever spiritual change is produced, however imperfect (Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:11-14; 2 Corinthians 3:18). Therefore, the key to who is part of the church is faith. The other aspects, the outer organizational expression and the inner life, spring from this. Faith should result in a change in our inner spiritual life. But it is faith that makes us part of the body of Christ, and it is through this body that God works. Starting somewhere else distorts the picture.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Touch of Humor - Rituals

What kind of unintended rituals do we carry out in the church? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Old Erich Proverb - Image

All human beings are are made in the image of God and should be treated accordingly, regardless of race, ethnic background, gender, and whether they have been born yet.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Hilary of Poitiers

He who is the Way leads us not into by-paths or traceless wastes: He who is the Truth mocks us not with lies; He who is the Life betrays us not into delusions which are death. He Himself has chosen these winning words to indicate the methods which He has appointed for our salvation. As the Way, He will guide us to the Truth; the Truth will establish us in the Life.

Hilary of Poitiers, 300-368 AD, On the the Trinity, Book VII, 33 (translated by Rev. E. W. Watson and Rev L. Pullan, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishers, 1997, Second Series, Vol. IX, p. 132)

What are the implications of Jesus being the Way, the Truth, and the Life? How should they affect the way we live our life?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Hand of God

There is an idea that if we simply behave according to our own selfish interests when it comes to economics, there is a metaphorical hand of God in the economy that will make things all work out for the best. Unbridled greed, even for a good purpose, is not  a Christian virtue (1 Timothy 6:9,10; Matthew 6:19-24; Colossians 3:5). But the response of turning everything economic over to the government does not seem like much of a solution either. That the government represents and can be expected to always represent the standard for just economical dealing seems dubious in the extreme. The government is made up of people who are not necessarily any better or more moral than the rest of us. So where do we go to find the standard for economic justice?

Scripture says that the normal procedure from the very beginning was for people to work for a living (Genesis 2:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12; Ephesians 4:28), and we are encouraged to be diligent at our work, even if it is obscure and unimportant (Proverbs 6:6-11; Ephesians 6:6-8; Colossians 3:22-24). This does not preclude helping out those who are poor and in need (James 2:14-16; 1 John 3:17,18; Proverbs 14:31). But it does make working for a living the normal and expected standard. However, there is also the demand that employers treat their employees well, and properly compensate them for their work (James 5:1-6; Deuteronomy 24:14,15; Ephesians 6:9). Further, we need to give our customers a just product at a just price (Leviticus 19:36; Amos 8:4-6; Micah 6:10,11).

It is here again that we run into the purely practical. While it is tempting to want to set prices based on the price of salt, as they did in the Middle Ages, this is a bit simplistic. But it is also simplistic to encourage people to follow their worst impulses and expect it to all come out right in the end. Now it does seem to me that the government has the obligation to prevent or punish the worst abuses in this area. The solution is not to have the government become the one that possesses the means of production but for it to be sufficiently independent of such entanglements that it can restrain the cupidity of others. But this still leaves many complex questions. Such as, if you require a minimum wage, are you guaranteeing that people will be paid fairly, or are you simply reducing the number of available jobs? These are difficult questions to answer. They are best answered through a careful examination of the practical implications. Mere knee-jerk reactions one way or the other should be avoided. But we need to start with the right moral principles.       

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Looking for Magic

If growth in Christ is a process, there are many things that can help us in that process. But the danger is that it is possible to take these things and make them into a series of steps to automatic spirituality. If I can only manage to go down the checklist by going through the motions of carrying these things out, I will magically become the person God wants me to be. Now I do not want to minimize the power these things have to work in our lives. But we need to realize that there is a Scriptural rebuke against just going through the outer forms without the inner reality (Matthew 6:1-18; 23:23-28; Malachi 1:10).

But in order to avoid this, we can conclude that unless we can work up a certain kind of feeling or a certain degree of excitement, we are simply going through the motions. Now I have nothing against feeling and excitement. I think both have a legitimate place in the Christian life. But the issue is not the state of our experience but our sincerity. Do we mean what we are doing, or are we just putting on a show, particularly to please other people rather than God (Galatians 1:10; Proverbs 29:25; Matthew 23:4-12)? But the bottom line is, are we really looking to find ways to grow in Christ (Hebrews 5:11-14; Ephesians 4:13-16; Philippians 3:12-16)? Or are we simply looking for some shortcut which will enable us to instantly become spiritual (John 4:24; Romans 2:25-29; Psalms 50:7-15)? So the point is not to work up a particular experience, but to be genuinely open to what God wants to do in our lives. 

Now every help for living the Christian life is in danger of being becoming just another duty we perform, rather than helping us to better know and serve God. We can engage in Bible study and prayer as a duty that we carry out, rather than something that allows us to learn about and speak to God. We can see the meeting together of the saints as merely another duty to perform, rather than developing real community where we actually love and encourage one another in the faith. We can, in the extreme, end up judging people by things such as how many meetings they attend, whether or not the meetings are of much value to the person in question. We can see the ordinances, the rituals, and the worship style of the congregation as something  carried out as a duty, rather than something that points to God and His truth.  So we need to be sure, as we approach these, that we do them to seek God and not simply to check another item off our list. For if we do not approach these things the right way, they can harm rather than help. Also, we can convince ourselves we are already doing something when the very thing we need to go forward with God is actually doing it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Touch of Humor -Discrimination

How can we avoid divisions in a congregation? How can we deal with them when they occur?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Old Erich Proverb - Lead

Though we go to strange places, strange situations, and strange problems, Christ always goes there before us to lead the way.

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Tertullian

Bear always in mind that this is the rule of faith which I profess; by it I testify that the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit are inseparable from each other, and so will you know in what sense this is said. Now, observe, my assertion is that the Father is one, and the Son one, and the Spirit one, and that They are distinct from Each Other.

Tertullian, 160-220 AD, Against Praxeas, Chapter 9, (translated by Dr. Holmes, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Rev. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, Vol. III, p. 603)

Why is it important that God is three in one? What practical differences would it make if God were not?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Tertullian - The Heretical Defender of Orthodoxy

Tertullian was an interesting, not to mention a controversial, individual. He worked to clarify many of the key doctrinal issues of his day. He also held a number of debatable positions. He probably coined the term "Trinity," and he defended it against all comers. He opposed those who said that God could could not become man because matter is evil and who also advocated a complicated hierarchy of divine manifestations. He also opposed the idea that God merely manifested Himself in different forms at different times. Though he had not fully thought it through, he held that God was Three in One at the same time, which made it  possible to maintain the deity of Christ, without denying or diminishing the reality of the Incarnation. He was also a defender of the Christian faith in opposition to paganism. In doing this, he took a strong stand against Greek philosophy, which he held was the source of many of the doctrinal ideas he opposed.

But even more than Irenaeus, he emphasized the continuity of the church and the teachings it passed on as the key preventative of doctrinal error. Then he became a Montanist. The Montanists were a break-off sect that emphasized the charismatic gifts, particularly speaking in tongues and prophesy, which were no longer widely practiced in the more conventional branch of the  church. Therefore, we have an interesting irony that one of the chief defenders of the continuity of the church ended up becoming part of a break-off sect. But Tertullian's original teaching continued despite this. One of his disciples, Cyprian, affirmed that it was wrong to break the unity of the organizational church for any reason and that those who did so would lose their salvation.

 But Tertullian's greatest weakness was his tendency toward legalism and strictness. He was in favor of a strict set of rules. He also advocated dealing sternly with Christians who fell into clear-cut sin. He is to be commended for taking his Christianity seriously; I am convinced that is the reason he joined the Montanists. But his idea of serious Christianity was harsh and unloving. This could have been his response to the persecution of Christians in his time, which resulted in Christians who had failed in some way being looked down on.

All in all, Tertullian was a complicated mix, who contributed things good and bad to the history of the church. But he is an indication of how people cannot always be forced into the nice, neat categories that we might want to put them in.       

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Finding God's Will - The Basics

When people think of finding God's will, they often think of the big decisions: Who will I marry? Where will I work? Where will I live? But Scripture seems to start out with a more basic question: What kind of person should I be (1 Thessalonians 4:3; Ephesians 5:17; Matthew 7:21)? This involves matters of character rather than long-range planning. And it is easy to skip over basic moral principles on the way to accomplishing our lives' goals. Also, we can even try to convince ourselves that we are out to do great things for God while tramping over His commandments to get there. But God calls us first to give ourselves to Him and follow Him, and that will put other things in perspective (Romans 12:1,2; John 7:17; 2 Corinthians 8:5). Now it is impossible for us to do this without a work of God in our lives (John 15:5; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Psalms 127:1,2). But it is here we need to start.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

God Who Provides

God is in control of the world. And that opens a can of worms. For the question then arises, to what degree is God in control? Is He in control of some things or of everything? There are many attempts to find some kind of middle ground here, to see God as in control of the broad sweeps of history but not the details. Now Scripture says that God is in control of all things (Ephesians 1:11; Daniel 4:35; Psalms 135:6). That He controls the fate of nations (Daniel 2:21; Isaiah 44:28; Romans 9:17). That He works in the events of our lives to accomplish His purpose, even when we do not necessarily see it (Romans 8:28; Genesis 50:20; Jeremiah 29:11). That He ultimately chooses who will come to Him (Acts 13:48; Ephesians 1:4; Romans 8:29,30). But that does not mean human choice is irrelevant (Acts 16:31; Revelation 22:17; Joshua 24:15). But these choices come together to make up God's plan. How that works is something I do not pretend to understand. But I convinced that God is, from His perspective, in total control and that He determines all events. But from our perspective we still make choices and are responsible for those choices, and those choices make a difference. Now this is a difficult issue. And I do not believe it is so fundamental that we should divide over it. For it is my experience that many people have a strong emotional reaction against such an idea. And because I do not believe this is an essential teaching of the faith, I think it well to grant them some slack in this area.

But if we believe God is in control, even if it is in a qualified form, it makes a difference in how we view things. If we know God is in control, we can trust Him with the events of our lives and with the world (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2, 46:10), and therefore we will know He will supply all our needs (Philippians 4:19; Matthew 6:33: Psalms 23). But anyone who has had any chance to observe knows the problems that arise here. We are faced with the fact that those who follow Christ do not escape ever encountering any problems in life. Nor, as we look around us, do we see calamities meted out according to dessert. Now Scripture does teach us that God uses the bad things in our lives to make us stronger in Him (2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 12:7-10; James 1:2-4). But in  the final analysis, sometimes we are left with Job, concluding that God is greater than us and we do not know or understand all the answers; we can only trust Him (Job 38-42). And that is where we need to be, trusting  God for His plan but not necessarily knowing what that plan is (1 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 11:33; Isaiah 55:9). For God is not interested in building people who can figure out His plan but those who are willing to trust Him every step of the way.    

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Touch of Humor - Getting Along

Is it enough for Christians to just get along? Does love demand something beyond that?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Old Erich Proverb - Country

We do not love our country because it is perfect; we strive to improve it because we love it.

Friday, July 4, 2014

A Voice from the Past Lewis

And these almost inevitably lead on to a third thing that is sometimes called patriotism. This third thing is not a sentiment but a belief: a firm, even prosaic belief that our own nation, in sober fact, has long been, and still is markedly superior to all others. I once ventured to say to an old clergyman who was voicing this sort of patriotism, "But, sir, aren't we told that every people thinks its own men the bravest and its own women the fairest in the world?" He replied with total gravity - he could not have been graver if he had been saying the Creed at the altar - "Yes, but in England it's true."

C. S.Lewis, 1898-1963, The Four Loves, Likings and Loves for the Sub-Human, (Harcourt Books, 1988, p.26)

Is this attitude indeed misguided? Is there a better approach?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Message to the King

In a far-off country there was a countess, and the countess had a maid. And this maid wanted to send a message to the King. But she was a simple woman and did not know how to address so exalted a person. So she went into town to consult the professional scribes.

The first scribe was an older man in an elaborate robe who looked very impressive. "There are certain messages passed down from antiquity, and these are the messages the King hears. These are the ones you should use."

"But what if the traditional messages do not say what I want to say?" she asked.

"There is a wide variety of these messages that cover most circumstances," replied the scribe. "If you really have something to say that is not found there, I suppose you must use your own words. But it is better to use the accepted messages."

The next scribe she met was a young man who was snappily dressed, with an air of excitement about him.  "The King will only hear you if you feel deeply about what you say. You should sing and dance and wave your arms in the air to show you really mean what you are saying. But the best way to speak to the King is in a language you did not previously know."

"But what if I do not happen to feel anything much about what I have to say?" she asked.

"The King will give you a feeling if you ask," said the scribe firmly.

The next scribe was a nondescript middle-aged man with a nice suit and a firm look on his face. "The important thing," stated this scribe, "is that you do not use the established prayers and you do not get emotional."

"But then what am I supposed to do?" she asked.

"As long as you are not using previously written messages or working up feelings, you will be fine," the scribe explained.

So the maid returned to the countess, totally confused, and related to her employer what had happened. "I am told to be emotional and not emotional and to use the traditional messages and not use the traditional messages.  What am I to do?" the maid moaned.

"Might I suggest that you talk to the King like you would to anyone else?" remarked the countess. "If a traditional message best expresses what you want to say, use it; otherwise, use your own words. If the message you want to write makes you excited, then write to reflect that excitement. But write in a way appropriate to the message."

And the maid sent out to compose her message.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Lack of Faith

A closely related idea to the one that suffering is the result of sinful behavior is the idea the suffering is due to lack of faith. If we simply have enough faith, we will not suffer. Now Scripture does make a connection between faith and the working of miracles (Matthew 13:58; 14:28-33; 17:19,20). But there are also cases where there is suffering even when there is no lack of faith involved (2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Matthew 26:36-46; Job 1,2). Also, there are times when God does work miracles where the faith seems lacking or inadequate (Acts 12:3-17; 3:1-8; Mark 9:23,24). Therefore, while faith is a factor, there is also the matter of God's will.  Further, God has told us that those follow Him will experience suffering (Acts 14:22; John 16:33; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). It should also be noted here that faith means faith in God; faith in our faith is useless (Romans 4:17-21; 1 Peter 1:21; Hebrews 11:6).

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Old and the New

Sometimes we can be like the people of Athens, always eager to learn or to hear any new thing. Or we can be like the Pharisees, holding on to tradition no matter what. Often in the Christian church we can find both types of people in the same congregation. Not infrequently one is the leadership and the other is the rank and file. Which leads to any number of church fights. Is there a way to avoid this?

Now Christ is at work building His church (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 4:15,16; Colossians 2:19). But this does not by itself answer the question of new versus old. However, it does put it in perspective. For it helps remove the panic factor. We are not forced to desperately look for the next new thing through fear that we might miss the only opportunity to genuinely forward God's work. Or we may be afraid to allow change for fear we might lose our hold on where God wants us to be. But if we can trust God (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2; 37:3-6), who is in control of our lives (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11; Isaiah 43:13), it gives us a new attitude.

Now it is not always clear in every case whether the old or the new is the better choice. But if we trust God, it will help us to calmly consider which is better. And it will steer us away from the superficial gimmicks that are pitched as the panaceas that will solve all our problems. We will also avoid clinging for dear life to something that is seen as valuable simply because it has always been done that way. But if we are confident God is in control, we can face these decisions with calmness. There are things that are passed down from generation to generation because they are genuinely valuable, but other meaningless or currently irrelevant things that are preserved by sheer inertia. There are wonderful new ideas that can help us carry out God's work in the world today, but there are also momentary, passing trends that will vanish tomorrow, leaving nothing but confusion in their wake. We do not need to jump on the train of every fad that might come along to offer itself as the solution to all our problems. Nor do we have to hide in the closet and lock the door to hide from even the most minor of changes. But we can carefully consider whether the new or the old is better because we have confidence that God is in control of our lives and will guide them the way He wants them to go.