Saturday, October 31, 2015

Old Erich Proverb - Bigger

God is bigger than all the things that would try to scare us.

Friday, October 30, 2015

A Voice from the Past - Lewis

(Advice from an experienced older devil, Screwtape, to his nephew Wormwood on how to tempt humans.)

I do not think you will have much difficulty keeping  the patient in the dark. The fact that 'devils' are predominately comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.

C. S. Lewis, 1898-1963, The Screwtape Letters, 7 (Harper Collins Publishers, 2001, p.32)

Is there a danger of confusing our picture of a thing for the thing itself? If so, how do we avoid it?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Root of Legalism

Augustine of Hippo stated that good works done in order to earn something from God are not good works. If I give only to get back, am I really fulfilling God’s Law (Matthew 22:37-39; Acts 20:35)? Augustine also said that pride was the mother of all sins (Proverbs 8:13; 16:18; Genesis 3:5; Isaiah 14:13,14). But if I can earn my salvation, how can I avoid pride, which leads to boasting--which Scripture says is excluded (Romans 3:27; 4:2; Ephesians 2:8,9)? Or to look at it another way, we can look at life as if everything depends on our performance. This is not limited to the religious context; secular legalism (I need to be successful, have money, have fame, be highly attractive to the opposite sex) can be worse than religious legalism. And what I find is I am trapped in a perpetual treadmill, where it can never be clear that I have done enough. Or I can jump to the other extreme and adopt the “accept yourself” philosophy and claim that I am good, no matter who I am and what I do. The result of this is to leave us with no goals and no direction, and stuck in our current situation with no way to change.

There is a legend from ancient times which may not be true, but it makes a point. There was a town named Gordium, which had a reputation for being famous for knots. It was claimed they had one very complicated knot , which was extremely difficult to untie. And they had a tradition that whoever untied it would conquer the world. The story says that one day Alexander the Great came by Gordium on his mission of conquest. He had heard of the tradition and pulled out his sword and cut the knot in two at the center. He then went out and proceeded to conquer the world.

The gospel is like Alexander’s sword; it cuts apart the tangle made by looking at our performance. First, it allows us to love God, not to get something from Him, but out of love and thanksgiving for His having already saved us (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Colossians 3:1-4). Our boasting is destroyed because we cannot save ourselves (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9), but must rely on the work of another (Romans 5:8; 1 Peter 1:18, 19; Colossians 2:13,14). We can stand before God forgiven, based on what Christ has done (Romans 8:33,34; Ephesians 1:7; Philippians 3:9). But we are still called to go on with Christ and grow, based on our love for Him (Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 3:12-14; Titus 2:11-14). But sometimes we as believers in Christ can forget this (2 Peter 1:9) and can get caught up again in the trap of trying to impress God by what we do. And when we do, we need to remind ourselves that the battle is already won for us by Christ (Romans 8:37; 2 Corinthians 2:14; John 19:30).

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Behaving Becomingly

It says in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that love does not act unbecomingly. And the question then comes: What does that mean? This word and its related forms are rare in the New Testament and in the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, but it has the idea of something that is dishonored and looked down on. While it can used in a more neutral sense, it is generally used of inappropriate behavior, particularly of a sexual nature (Romans 1:27; Genesis 34:7; Revelation 16:15). The implication here is that genuine love is responsible and restrained and does not just follow its impulses, wherever they lead. This is important, because in our present culture love is frequently viewed as encouraging people to simply follow their feelings. Now there is a form of ethic that views self-control as being the center of ethics and ends up harsh and unloving (Colossians 2:20-23; 1 Timothy 4:1-6; Titus 1:15). But self-denial is clearly part of God's commandment (Galatians 5:23; Matthew 16:24-26; Romans 13:11-14). Underlying this is the idea that we are sinners and all our impulses are not good things (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6). Love then, Scripturally, does not mean following our impulses and encouraging other people to follow theirs, but a reasoned putting of the welfare of others before our own (Philippians 2:4-11; Galatians 6:1-10; Mark 10:42-45). This results in a love that thoughtful and intentional, not just a vague feeling. And one that is concerned whether it acts unbecomingly.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Celebrating Communion

God from the beginning has instituted various ordinances that have marked out His people. The response to these is in danger of going to two extremes. There is a tendency to magnify the ordinances to the extent of making the ordinances, and especially doing the ordinances the right way, one of the chief things in being right with God or living in obedience to God. Then there is the opposite reaction, which tends to minimize them and make them of only incidental significance. (We do them because God said so, but wander why He bothered.) It is not within the scope of this post to try to resolve all of the contentions regarding the ordinances. But I do want to look at what the Scripture says about them, and specifically about communion, to try to come up with underlying principles that, to some extent, transcend the disagreements. In Romans 4:11 it speaks of circumcision as a sign and a seal. As I mentioned under baptism I believe this is a general principle for all the ordinances. A sign is something that indicates or declares something, like a banner before an army. A seal is something that speaks of ownership. People put a seal on something to identify it as belonging to them or as being from them. Therefore, the ordinances identify us as being God’s and show it forth for all the world to see. They remind us of who we are (1 Corinthians 11:24,25) and are a proclamation to those around us (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Now the Scripture makes it clear that simply going through the motions of any form of worship is meaningless (Matthew 6:1-18; Malachi 1:10,11; John 4:23,24). Also, that the main issue involved is that of faith (Romans 4:9,10; Hebrews 11:6; 4:1-3). But for those who have faith, it is important that we take upon ourselves the sign and seal of faith, that we may remind ourselves and proclaim to the world that we are His. Being human, we need periodic reminders of what God has done for us, and He has instituted them throughout history (Deuteronomy 5:15; 16:1-3; Joshua 4:6,7). Therefore, communion was instituted to remind us that we are His. (Baptism, being a one-time event, does not serve as a constant reminder, but we can look back on it and remind ourselves we took that step of faith.) Communion also serves as an open proclamation to others of where we stand. It sets us off as a people belonging to God (Deuteronomy 14:2; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9). Therefore, while it is faith that saves (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Acts 16:31), we should not minimize those things God has appointed as an expression of that faith. For they are the sign and seal of who we really are.

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Touch of Humor - Pageantry

Is there a place for pageantry in Christian worship? If so, what should it look like?

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Old Erich Proverb - Only Source

If the scientific method is the only legitimate method of arriving at truth, there are large areas of knowledge that cannot even be explored.

Friday, October 23, 2015

A Voice from the Past - Calvin

(I was not able to come up with a readily available quote by Ratramnus, so I offer a quote by a similar author on one of his subjects.)

For what is a sacrament received without faith, but most certain destruction of the Church? For, seeing that nothing is to be expected beyond the promise, and the promise no less denounces wrath to the unbeliever than offers grace to the believer, it is an error to suppose that anything more is conferred by the sacraments than is offered by the word of God, and obtained by true faith.

John Calvin, 1509-1564, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, Chapter XIV, 14 (translated by Henry Beveridge, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975, Vol. 2, p. 501)

Is faith the basis for the validity of the sacraments? What are the implications if this is so?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Ratramnus - The Eye of the Storm

Ratramnus was an obscure person by most standards. He was a monk in the monastery of Corbie in Picardy and seems to have done nothing notable except writing on theological subjects. But he had a hand in several of the theological controversies of his day.

He was involved in the controversy on the nature of the presence of the Lord in the Lord's Supper. Earlier writers leaned in various directions on this issue. But it was not a clear matter of contention. One person who took a specific position on the subject was Augustine of Hippo, who held to a more spiritual view of the presence but did not claim others were required to hold his view. I would agree with this approach. The Scripture does not clearly teach on this one way or the other, and I am against being dogmatic on it. But Rabertus Paschasius argued dogmatically that Christ had to be physically present. Ratramnus argued against this. Thus the issue became a matter of controversy. While I am not dogmatic on the nature of the presence, an emphasis on the physical view can lead to a magical view of the Supper, that emphasizes the physical action rather than what is in the heart of the worshiper. It can also end up focusing on the authority of the person  administering the sacrament rather than the faith of the recipient.  In this, Ratramnus was important in making sure this idea was not accepted without opposition.

Ratramnus also got involved in the dispute over predestination, another of the views maintained by Augustine. The center of this controversy was a monk named Gottschalk. He held firmly to the Ausgustinian view of predestination. Gottschalk was condemned by his immediate superiors, beaten and imprisoned. It did not help that he had earlier asked to be released from being a monk since he was made one as an infant without his consent. Gottschalk appealed to the pope, but his appeal was not heard before his death. But Ratramnus defended Gottschalk's position, and different individuals and councils took different positions. This issue continues to be a point of contention today, but Ratramnus stood against the extreme dogmatism that was shown at this time by the opponents of predestination.

Ratramnus was also involved in defending the Western Church regarding the Eastern Church's charges against it. I will have more to say about this conflict, which ultimately led to the division into the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, in a later post. But Ratramnus was in the center of this contention.

In all, Ratramnus, while he was not able to stop it, stood against a hardening dogmatism on certain issues which would later come to dominate the Medieval church's position on these subjects. And he did so by sticking to the issues and not involving himself in names and personalities. It is a shame they could not agree to disagree on these issues and avoid some of the later more serious struggles over them. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Trying to Fix It

There are those of a more modern school of counselors who say you should never give people advice. I am not altogether comfortable with this opinion. It is based on the idea that human beings are basically good and can find the answers to all their problems within themselves. Nonetheless, there is a danger in too easily trying to fix other people's problems for them without spending the time to sympathize with them and understand their problems. It is always easier to come up with pat answers than to show genuine concern for people and their troubles (Romans 12:15; 1 Corinthians 12:26; 2 Corinthians 1:3,4). Also, we need to realize that there is real tribulation in the world, which we may not be able to simply fix (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; Romans 8:18). We live in a world under sin (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6) and a curse (Romans 8:19-23; Genesis 3:16-19; Revelation 22:3), and not all situations are easily fixed, or even fixable. If we genuinely have any valuable advice we should share it. But we should carefully consider before doing so. And we need to start by listening and caring. This is commonly much more valuable than advice. And it makes the advice much more likely to be listened to if it is given. But we particularly need to avoid the idea we can fix every situation if we put our mind to it. We do not have that ability.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Who Are We Trying to Impress?

It is a difficult thing not to worship God in order to please the people who are looking on, rather than to please Him. Yet we are commanded to do so (Matthew 6:1-18; 23:2-12; Galatians 1:10). But it is easy to be concerned about what people will think of my prayer or my singing or whatever else I am doing. Do I sound and look sufficiently spiritual? But I think frequently our problem has a deeper root. We are trying to impress God. Now it is not that God needs something from us. He is, in fact, the possessor of everything (Psalms 50:7-13; Romans 11:33-36; Isaiah 40:21-26). Rather, all we can offer is a response of thanksgiving for all the good things He has done for us (Psalms 50:14,15; 100:1-5; Philippians 4:4).
For Christianity is not about what we can do for God but what He has done for us. He has made us and all things that we might come to know and serve Him (Genesis 2:7; Psalms 8:3-8; Acts 17:24-31). He supplies all our needs (Matthew 6:24-34; Philippians 4:19; Romans 8:28). When we were in rebellion against Him (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9), He sent His Son to pay the price, that we might be reconciled to Him (Romans 5:6-8; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Through faith in His Son’s work (Romans 4:4,5; Ephesians 2:8,9; Philippians 3:9), that we might belong to Him (John 1:12,13; 1 Peter 2:4,5; Ephesians 2:20-22). Further, when we do this He sends His power into our life to transform us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29).

Now this should result in our responding in love to His love (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Romans 12:1,2) by living in light of what He has done in our lives (Titus 2:11-14; Ephesians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 6:20). But this is simply the appropriate response to who He is and what He has done. Therefore, we approach God, not as having something to impress Him, but as those who are nothing and can offer nothing apart from what He has given us. We approach God for His provision and protection (Hebrews 4:16; Psalms 46:10,11; 3:3). We come to Him, not with full hands, but with empty, to receive His grace. But we also come to respond appropriately to this grace by giving thanks for and celebrating His goodness. But we are offering Him nothing but what He Himself has given us. And as we realize we cannot impress Him, we will be less prone to try to impress others.

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Touch of Humor - Personalities

Are the differences between denominations partly differences in personalities? How might we deal with them? 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Old Erich Proverb- Basis

Christianity is not based on philosophical speculation or a moral system but on a historical event, God becoming a man.

Friday, October 16, 2015

A Voice from the Past - Gregory the Great

(Responding to Augustine,  missionary to the Anglo-Saxons, on the differences in customs between the Roman and Celtic Christians.)

Thy Fraternity knows the use of the Roman Church, in which thou hast been nurtured. But I approve of thy selecting carefully anything thou hast found that may be more pleasing to Almighty God, whether in the Roman Church or that of Gaul or in any Church whatever, and introducing in the Church of the Angli, which is as yet new in the faith, by a special institution, what thou has been able to collect from many Churches. For we ought not to love things for places, but places for things. Wherefore choose from each several Church such things as are pious, religious, and right, and, collecting them as it were into a bundle, plant them in the minds of the Angli for their use.

Gregory the Great, 540-604 AD, Epistles of Gregory the Great, Book XI, Epistle LXIV, To Augustine, Bishop of the Angli, (translated by Rev. James Barmby, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, Second Series, Vol. XIII, p. 75)

Is it a good thing to try to bring different ideas of worship from various traditions? How might such things be judged if this is to be done?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Stalker

The man woke up in a sweat; his heart pounding. He had had another dream about the Stalker. He told himself he should not be so afraid. But how could he be calm with an insidious monster roaming the land? This monster came after people regardless of age, gender, or ethnic origin. And destroyed them. No one escaped. He knew of a three year old that the Stalker had taken suddenly, and he was never seen again. There was a young man who was taken, leaving his family to grieve. How could he go out, knowing this creature was on the loose? Something must be done about it.

In order to look for a way to fight the monster, he went to the noted scientist, Professor Sherlock. "How are you doing in your hunt for the Stalker?" the man asked.

"We are always making progress," stated the Professor. "Soon we will be able to capture him and end his rampage."

"How long do you think it will take?"

"There is no telling. The Stalker has been around for a very long time and is exceedingly clever. He is also a master of disguise and appears in various forms. But we will catch him eventually."

"But what should I do in the meanwhile? He could get me before you get him.

"I would suggest consulting Ace Alarm System. They may be able to help."

The man from Ace Alarm greeted him warmly. "What can I do for you?" he asked.

"Do you have anything to protect me from the Stalker?" responded the man.

"That is a difficult case. But here is a list of appropriate instructions."

The man looked over the list, which included instructions for physical preparedness and combat training. "Will these guarantee I will beat the Stalker?" replied the man.

"They will at least allow you to hold him off for a long time," said the man from Ace. "True, he seems to get everyone eventually. But you could hold out quite a while."

"Is there no device that can keep him away?"

"Not unless you know what approach he will be using. Come when you are under attack, and I am sure we can find you something that will help. Some of the time anyway."

"I am not sure I am willing to accept that as the final word."

"Than you should go see Mr. Comfort."

Mr. Comfort ran a refuge for potential victims of the Stalker.

"What can you tell me about facing the Stalker?" asked the man.

"You need to realize that the Stalker is part of the natural order," replied Mr. Comfort. "It is important that we accept him and, if necessary, face him with calmness."

"But I do not want to live my life in constant fear of the Stalker."

"But you need to realize that the Stalker most typically attacks older people. So you may have a long time yet."

"But there are no guarantees."

"No, but the odds are in your favor."

The man walked away, thoroughly depressed. Maybe some day they would stop the Stalker, but right now all they had were some techniques to try to delay him. He found himself shouting down the street, "Is there no one who can defeat the Stalker?"

A passerby came up to him and said, "There is one."

"Who?" asked the man.

"Jesus Christ has defeated the Stalker, aka Death, and has escaped from his clutches. Further, he offers that all who trust in Him will ultimately by rescued by Him from the Stalker's power."

The two of them walked away, discussing the matter. 


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Fear We Do Not Matter

Have you ever considered what it would be like to be the hero at a difficult point of an adventure? To be Obi-Wan Kenobi going into hiding with almost all the other Jedi dead. Or to be Frodo on the way across the land of Mordor with only Sam Gamgee as a helper. It would be easy to believe that the story was over and everything was hopeless. We who are viewing things from the outside know better, but it would be different if we were in the story. When we look at our own story, it is often not clear whether we have failed or whether we are at a hard place in the story. Or, even worse, we may fear we are an extra, a bit player, who really makes no difference in how the story turns out. We fear that, in the final analysis, we and our lives do not matter.

This is why we need to understand that, if we are believers in Christ, God is in control of our lives and is leading us were He wants us to go to accomplish His purpose. In Ephesians 2:10 we are told that (if we have trusted in Him as it says in Ephesians 2:8,9) we are made by Him to carry out those things He has planned for us to do. In Romans 8:28 it says God causes all things together for good to those who love God, and in Ephesians 1:11 it says God works all things according to the counsel of His will. God has already written our story for us. We don’t necessarily know what will happen, what the twists and turns are, what will happen in the hard places. We cannot guess beforehand that Darth Vader is our father or that the wanderer Strider is the heir of ancient kings. But we do know the ending. In Romans 8:37 it says that in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. I used to wonder about this, since sometimes I don’t feel like a conqueror and sometimes it doesn’t look like I am a conqueror. But I am convinced that this is written from God’s perspective; He has seen the whole story and He says that we are the winners.

This does not mean we cannot disobey God, though God has a way of putting us back on the path (see the book of Jonah). But it does mean we cannot be insignificant. We have a part in that great story that goes down the ages written by the hand of God. We can think, if only that had not happened I could accomplish something meaningful. Or sometime in the future I might be able to make a difference. But the God who made us in our mother’s womb (Psalms 139:13-16) has a plan for our life. Not a plan that might be, but a plan that is.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Choice of Methods

It is easy to get pushed into the established pattern when it comes to sharing Christ. We can get the idea there is only one acceptable method and we must fit into it. And I have found this can cut both ways. There are those who use a direct method in evangelism; they go door to door, pass out tracts, or get in evangelistic discussions with strangers. There are others who approach it from the idea of relationship building or attracting people by living the Christian life. Both sides can end up condemning the other as wrong. Could it be that both sides are trying to force the other into a mold they will not fit? Could it also be that there are different approaches to sharing Christ and that which one we should use may depend on who is doing the sharing? It is easy to do things in the way that makes you feel comfortable or fits your situation and to condemn those you do not do it your way. How, then, can we put this in perspective? 

It is clear that the Scripture condemns indifference (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; Luke 24:46-49). And it is easy to make excuses in an attempt to explain away our indifference. It is, however, also possible to jump to the conclusion that someone who does not see things from our perspective in this area is being indifferent. We all need to examine our hearts and decide whether we are following our approach to evangelism or are merely making an excuse to get away with doing as little as possible. But we also need to be careful of condemning people who take a different and less direct approach than we do.

It is also clear from Scripture that we are to approach unbelievers with gentleness rather than antagonism (1 Peter 3:15; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Colossians 4:5,6). But we need to be careful of concluding that everyone who is more direct or forceful than we feel comfortable with is out of line. It is easy to be so worried about avoiding offending people that we never challenge them. We also need to be careful of convincing ourselves we are being forceful when we are really being mean. I know from personal experience and observation how easy it is to cross over that line without realizing it.

While there are people who are clearly on both extremes, either so indifferent they are really not involved or so nasty they do nothing but alienate others, we need to be careful of jumping to conclusions about people. And we need to realize that not everyone is necessarily called to use the same approach and that we need to respect people with different gifts and personalities. If the body has different gifts (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:3-8; 1 Peter 4:10,11), is it that surprising they might affect the way we evangelize? And should we not be careful of measuring others by our standard?

Monday, October 12, 2015

A Touch of Humor - Appeal to History

Is the age of a practice a good thing or a bad thing? Are there conditions for deciding one way or the other?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Old Erich Proverb - Impressed

God is not impressed by someone's public image, nor should we be.

Friday, October 9, 2015

A Voice from the Past - Athanasius

For since men's reason had descended to sensible things, the Word submitted to being revealed through a body, in order that he might bring bring men to himself as a man and turn their senses to himself, and that thenceforth, although they they saw him as a man, he might persuade them through the works he did that he was not merely a man but God, and the Word and Wisdom of the true God.

Athanasius, 293-373 AD, The Incarnation, 16 (Contra Gentes and De Incarntione, translated by Robert W. Thomson, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1971, p. 173)

Why is it important that Christ reveals God to us? How does this affect the way we live?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Traditional Arguments for God

The traditional arguments for seeing God in creation have been severely criticized, but ultimately they still raise difficult questions that those who deny the existence of God need to answer. The first question is why something rather then nothing exists and how it came into being without a Creator. Some would see an endless chain of causes stretching back to eternity, none of which is really first or fundamental. But if this is so, the question comes why this chain with no reason to exist exists at all. Or some would trace everything back to matter and energy. But matter and energy are just the stuff the universe is made of; where do we get the pattern, the shape matter and energy are in? It would be an awfully dull universe with just an unformed batch of matter and energy lying around and nothing happening. Besides, science tells us that things are running down, that even the stars and galaxies will one day burn out-- and if they have an end they must have had a beginning. There are those who say everything came into being out of pure chance. (This comes from quantum mechanics, which is a whole story in itself). But how can something come into existence as a result of a coin toss, when there are no time, no space, and no coins?

 Another argument for the existence of God is the design we see in the universe. The common way to get around this is, of course, the theory of evolution. But there are problems with this. The individual cell is a complex organism, a tiny factory. And there is no clear explanation of how it came into being from a random pool of amino acids (supposedly produced by some accident). Further, until there is a large part of the mechanism already in place, the standard (and highly questionable) evolutionary process of selection as a result of genetic mutation cannot work. There are also many complex structures in living organisms that are useless until they are completely evolved. What good is a partially evolved eye or a partly evolved wing? Such things would be a hindrance to the survival of the creature that possessed them.

There is also the question of human beings. Could just the random workings of chance have produced consciousness and thought? And if our thought is the result of random processes, can we know anything? If what we think is based on our heredity and environment rather than what is true, than it is meaningless. And why do we have this stubborn tendency to believe in right and wrong? Even those who reject all conventional morality then turn around and preach forcibly on our duty to help the poor or save the earth.
As I look at God’s creation I am forced to the conclusion that, whether in nature or in human beings, there is evidence for an original Creator (Romans 1:19,20).

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Basic Principle

Verses 1 and 2 of Romans 12 have always seemed to me to be important for understanding God’s will. What they say is that if you want to understand God’s will, you need to start committing yourself to obey Him. Too often we approach the whole situation the other way around. We want God to lay out His will for us, and then we will commit to it. But God calls us to commit to do His will, whatever it may turn out to be. Further, I have found God leads us one step at a time rather than laying it all out before us. In Scripture we see Philip, who was called away from a revival to meet an Ethiopian eunuch in the desert (Acts 8:26-40). Or there is the case of Paul, who was forbidden to preach in various places in Asia Minor until he was given the vision to go to Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10). In more extreme cases, Joseph went through many difficulties before finally becoming second to Pharaoh, over all Egypt; and Moses was 40 years herding sheep in the wilderness before being called to deliver the children of Israel from slavery. God says He is in control of our life to guide and direct us (Ephesians 2;10; 1:11; Romans 8:28), but He does not say He will tell us the whole plan beforehand or that it will not involve difficulties (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; 2 Corinthians 4:17,18).
Now we are called to present our bodies as a living sacrifice; this involves a commitment to do what God wants in whatever situation we find ourselves in, even if we have no expectation beforehand that this is what God will demand of us. This is rooted in the salvation God has provided for us, as described in the first eleven chapters of Romans. If we recognize that God has saved us (Romans 4:4,5; 3:21-25; Ephesians 2:8,9) and is at work in our lives to accomplish His purposes (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:28,29), then we will be able to trust Him to direct our lives, even if we are not told what to expect next (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2; Isaiah 40:31). Also, as He transforms us by renewing our minds, He will change our thinking so we will see things God’s way and therefore be better able to understand His will in a given situation. One of the basic contributors to the renewed mind is God’s Word, which can work in us to change our ways of thinking (John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:16,17; Hebrews 5:12-14). But even so, I have often found discerning God’s will in a particular situation to be hard, and many times I have needed to wait on God and trust Him even if I did not know how He was directing me in my life. And I am convinced from both the Scriptures and my observations of life that this is not abnormal.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Death to the Law

Why is it that, when we hear a rule, there wells up within us an irresistible desire to break it? Well, maybe not always, but it is a standard reaction. Could it be there is something in us that just does not like rules? This something is what the Bible calls sin (Romans 7:14; 3:23; 1 John 1:8-10). Now we need to face it; in the human realm there are rules that are stupid, silly, and unfair. But our natural tendency is to see every rule that prevents us from doing what we want to do as stupid, silly, or unfair. We also think that if we regard a rule as stupid, silly, or unfair, we can break it with impunity. Now do not get me wrong. There are human rules which are unjust and contrary to the truth of God, at which point we must serve God rather than men (Acts 4:19,20; 5:29). But this should be an extreme case and a last resort, not the first option we grasp onto. But our natural inclination is to break whatever rule we find inconvenient. It is because of this that we need to die to God’s Law.
The problem is not with the Law. The Law is righteous and holy and good (Romans 7:12). The problem is we cannot and do not keep it, like we do not keep the other rules we encounter. Further, the Law requires complete obedience from the heart (Romans 2:16; Hebrews 4:12,13; Matthew 5:21-48). Therefore, even if we, by determined effort, overcome our natural inclination to break the rules, we have already broken the Law by not wanting to obey. The problem is not with the Law; it is with us. It is for this reason that Jesus did not come to abolish the old Law and replace it with a new Law. We would break it just like the old one.

What Jesus came to do was die to pay the price for sin so that we can be forgiven (Colossians 2:13-15; 1 Peter 2:24,25; Romans 5:6-8) and can be saved by faith in Christ, rather than through our obedience to the Law (Ephesians 2;8,9; Romans 4:4,5; John 3:16). But once we are saved, God does not want us to continue in our sinful behavior, but to be changed into the people God wants us to be (Romans 6:12-16; Titus 2:11-14; Ephesians 2:10). But the problem is the Law cannot do that for us either, not because there is something wrong with the Law, but because what needs to be changed is us. We need God to change us from the inside to give us a new attitude (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Romans 13:8-10) and a new power to obey (2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 1:29; Galatians 5:16). Then the requirement of the Law will be fulfilled in us (Romans 8:4)as we die to the Law and are united to Christ (Romans 7:4-6).

Monday, October 5, 2015

A Touch of Humor - Tradition

What part should tradition play in what Christians do? How do we decide what, if any, traditions to incorporate?

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Old Erich Proverb - Blaming

Blaming others for our own wrong actions is the oldest excuse, and the most futile.

Friday, October 2, 2015

A Voice from the Past - Notker the Stammerer

[While nothing is preserved directly from Charlemagne (he never succeeded in learning to write), there are many tales told about him. The truth of these tales may be arguable, but one may hope there is still at least some trace of memory of the character of Charlemagne preserved in them.]

One day when Charlemagne was on a journey he came to a great cathedral. A certain wandering monk, who was unaware of the Emperor's attention to small detail, came into the choir and, since he had never learned to do anything of the sort himself, stood silent and confused in the midst of those who were chanting. Thereupon the choirmaster raised his baton and threatened to hit him, if he did not sing. The monk, not knowing what to do or where to turn, and not daring to go out, twisted and contorted his throat, opened his mouth wide, moved his jaw up and down, and did all that he could to imitate the appearance of someone singing. The others present had not the self-control to stop laughing. Our valiant Emperor, who was not to be moved from his serenity by even the greatest events, sat solemnly waiting until the end of the Mass, just as if he had not noticed this pretence at singing. When it was all over, he called the poor wretch to him and, taking pity on his struggles and the strain he had gone through, consoled him with these words: 'My good monk, thank you every much for your singing and your efforts.' Then he ordered him to be given a pound of silver to relieve his poverty.

 Notiker the Stammerer, 840-912 AD, Charlemagne (lived 742-814 AD), Book I, 8, translated by Lewis Thorpe, Einhard and Notker the Stammerer: Two Lives of Charlemagne, Penguin Books, 1969, p.101)

How should we respond when put in a situation that is beyond our abilities? How can we help someone in that situation?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Charlemagne - Political Promoter

Charlemagne was a seemingly well-intended  king who tried to promote Christianity politically. He is one of the more prominent among other similar kings, such as England's King Alfred. He worked to put the church organization in order and to see that churches had good leaders. He encouraged scholarship in Christian and secular fields and the translation of scholarly  books into German. He tried to put together an orderly civil order out of the chaos of the early Middle Ages (no doubt motivated to a certain extent by furthering his own  glory as king). He did at one point succeed in uniting a large part of Europe under his rule. It is hard at this distance to know his heart, but he at least appears to be an outwardly conscientious follower of Christ except he did have a problem with multiple dubious sexual relations with women.

But he ended up trying  to extend his rule by imposing Christianity on people by force. He even reached the point of requiring people to choose between being baptized or being executed. Even Alcuin, a chief scholar in Charlemagne's court, rebuked him and said he should instruct, not force them. No doubt Charlemagne's desire to achieve political control over the areas involved helped motivate this action. His control as a civil ruler over the church organization, though he may have been sincere, proved a bad precedent in the long run. Later rulers used this control to put unqualified people (relatives and political supporters) in high ecclesiastical positions, resulting in the corruption of the church. This produced a long vicious struggle between the church leaders and the state as to who controlled the church organization. Charlemagne's empire (called the Holy Roman Empire)  also fell apart after his death, being divided among his descendants. It only later came back together as France and a state that was called the Holy Roman Empire but consisted in what is today Germany and other nearby countries.

I think this is a good example of what happens when the Christian church depends too much on political power for solutions, even with outwardly good intentions. Political power involves coercion, and there is always the temptation to use that force to accomplish the desired ends when force is inappropriate. Also, it is easy to confuse the promotion of Christianity with self-promotion and the promotion of one's own rule. And in the end, political solutions can fall apart or even be used to undermine their original purpose. Ultimately, what is done to persuade people and change their hearts is what makes the difference.