Friday, June 30, 2017

A Voice from the Past - Thomas a Kempis

It is not in the nature of man to bear the cross, to love the cross, to keep under the body and to bring it into subjection, to fly from honours, to bear reproaches meekly, to despise self and desire to be despised, to bear all adversities and losses, and to desire no prosperity in this world. If thou lookest to thyself, thou wilt of thyself be able to do none of this; but if thou trustest in the Lord, endurance shall be given thee from heaven, and the world and the flesh shall be made subject to thy command. Yea, thou shalt not even fear thine adversary the devil, if thou be armed with faith and signed with the Cross of Christ.

Thomas a Kempis, 1389-1472, The Imitation of Christ, The Second Book, Chapter XII, 9 (Project Gutenberg, 1999).

Why is trust in God essential in dealing with bad times? What about good times?

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Jean Buridan - Questioner of Aristotle

Aristotle was the chief philosopher of Europe during the later half of the Middle Ages. But there were those who questioned him on various grounds. One of the areas in which he became dubious was in some of the details of physical law (what we would today call science).  One man who was part of that opposition was Jean Buridan. Buridan was not unique, but he was an example of one of various people who were calling into question Aristotle's opinions.

Buridan came from the position of William of Ockham, who held that categories of physical objects may have existence in the mind, but they are not something that exists in the physical world. He then proceeded to build up a philosophical system based on this. But along the way he questioned Aristotle's view on the flight of projectiles. Aristotle held that nothing moved unless there was something in contact pushing it. He therefore concluded that projectiles moved as a result of the air behind them pushing. Buridan claimed that a projectile was given an impetus when it was put in motion and continued to move until friction and gravity slowed it down enough to stop it. This was a major step toward the law of inertia, which in turn laid the foundation for the Copernican revolution.  The Aristotelian philosophy held that the planets moved in circles because they were made of ether, which naturally moves in that manner.  But ether was located in space because it sought to distance itself from the center of the earth, which in the Aristotelian view was the center of the universe. But if inertia was the correct way of understanding things, then objects in space could be moving because they started out moving and had not been slowed down yet. But if this was so, the center of the universe need not correspond to the center of the earth.

Perhaps even more fundamental was the change from abstract deduction to empirical observation as the way to understand the world. While this obviously fitted with Buridan's nominalism, which makes categories dubious, it also fits with Christianity, which claims the universe was created by God, who created it the way he wanted it to. This differs from the Greek idea that there is only one possible state of the universe, which could be deduced from basic principles. And while Buridan may have gone too far in the other direction in denying all categories, I am convinced that God had more freedom of choosing what to create than the Greeks allowed Him. Also, our current scientific knowledge would not lead us to see the physical world as a series of deductions from simple premises, but as a highly complex thing that boils down to a series of principles that blow our mind. And these things can only be investigated, not by abstract thinking, but going out and empirically investigating what they are.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Genuine Love

What is love? People have many funny ideas about love. Many see it as some vague sentimental emotion. This emotion accepts anything and everything and would not dream of ever being critical. But this is not the Biblical concept of love. Rather, the Biblical concept is based on commitment and responsibility and putting the real good of another person before our own. In this, God’s love is our motivation and example. The ultimate expression of God’s love is that even when we were in rebellion against Him, the Father sent the Son to die for us (Romans 5:6-10; 1 John 4:9,10; John 3:16). Based on this we are motivated to live for God (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Luke 7:36-50). But it is important to note that God did not just shrug His shoulders regarding sin and say that it did not matter. There was a price that had to be paid, but God Himself paid it (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13-15; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Now the underlying principle of what God requires is love (Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13,14). But the love He requires is the responsible, committed love not the vague emotional type.
What are the characteristics of this type of love? It is concerned about what is genuinely good and true (Romans 12:9; 1 Corinthians 13:6; Ephesians 4;15). This is at odds with our society’s current idea of love. But genuine love must be concerned with the welfare of the other person, not just what they happen to want. As a result, love is not hypocritical or fake but is an honest expression of who we are (Romans 12:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:18). God is not interested in some kind of act but in what is in our heart. The result of this type of love is to consider others and their welfare before our own (Romans 12:10; 1 Corinthians 13:5; Philippians 2:3,4). This is the essence of love, as shown by the Father giving His Son to save us from our sins. The result of this is humility, the refusal to do things to exalt myself, but to put God and others first (Romans 12:16, 1 Corinthians 13:4; Luke 14:7-11). This will result in our giving to meet the needs of others and sympathizing with their troubles and triumphs (Romans 12:13-15; 1 Corinthians 12:26,27; 1 John 3:17). Now there is a place for using wisdom in helping those in need, but we cannot let this be an excuse for refusing to carry out God’s commandment in this area. And ultimately love will lead us to the point of loving even our enemies (Romans 12:14; Matthew 5:43-48; 1 Corinthians 13:5). Now this love is not something we can work up ourselves (John 15:5; Romans 7:18; 8:8). Rather, it is the result of God working in us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29). But we need to understand what the real goal is so that we may embrace genuine Biblical love.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Using God's Word

The Word of God is not just words on a page, but comes with His power attached. That does not mean we can quote it as some magic formula, without considering its real meaning. But it does mean we can turn to it for appropriate help. It has an essential place in many aspects of the Christian life. It is involved in salvation (Romans 10:17; 1 Peter 1:23-25; James 1:18). It can reveal to us the things we need to change in our lives (James 1:22-24; Hebrews 4:12,13; Jeremiah 23:29). It can enable us to change and be the people we should be (2 Timothy 3:16,17; John 17:17; Psalms 119:9). It can assist us in resisting temptation (Matthew 4:1-11; Psalms 119:11; 19:11-14). And finally, we can come to rejoice and delight in God’s Word (Psalms 19:7-10; 119:103; 40:8).   

Now the power is not some magic in the words themselves, but in the Holy Spirit working through the words (2 Corinthians 3:1-6; 1 Corinthians 2:12-16; John 6:63). And the fundamental heart of God’s truth is the gospel which saves us (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Galatians 1:8,9). It is this gospel that unleashes God’s power into our lives through His Spirit, through the Word, to transform us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 1:29; Ephesians 2:10). How, then, can we appropriate for ourselves this Word?

First,we need to know it (Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 5:11-14; Acts 17:11) and meditate on it (Psalms 1:2; 119:15; Joshua 1:8). Now meditation does not mean sitting in a lotus position and emptying your mind of all thought. Rather it means thinking about and trying to understand God’s word. This can involve reading, studying, and memorizing God’s Word. Now this should result in, not just knowing God’s word, but doing it (James 1:25; 4:17; Matthew 5:19). While the Word has power to change us, we have to let it do its work in us. It is as we let God’s Word work in us that we can make His promises and commands more clearly a part of our daily lives. This is not some magic talisman. It involves carefully understanding what the Scripture means in context. But it is in the process of this study that we come to understand who God is and what He has done and what He requires of us. Now we each have to do this in our own way, using the methods and approaches that work for us. I do not want to force people into a legalistic straitjacket, but I do want to encourage us to make God’s Word, and knowing, understanding, and doing it, a priority in our lives. Because it is only as we discipline ourselves to do this that the Word becomes part of our lives that its power might change us.

Monday, June 26, 2017

A Touch of Humor - What People Want.

Can we always give people what they want? Should we try to do this?

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Old Erich Proverb - Disguise

If human beings are basically good, how do we manage to disguise the fact so well?

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Voice from the Past - Spurgeon

When He is absent from us, He is still thinking of us, and in the black darkness He has a window through which He looks upon us. When the sun sets in one part of the earth, it rises in another place beyond our visible horizon. Likewise, Jesus, our Sun of Righteousness (Mal. 4:2), is pouring light upon His people in a different way, when to our understanding He seems to have set in darkness.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 1834-1892, Joy in Christ's Presence, (Whittaker House, 1997, p.77)

Is God truly with us even though we may feel He has deserted us? What is the cause of this feeling?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Blind Spots

All of us have blind spots. And even those who honestly try to follow God can fall into them. Jehoshaphat was a good king (2 Chronicles 17:3-6; 19:3; 1 Kings 22:43). He sent officials to  teach the people the Law of God and judge disputes (2 Chronicles 17:7-9; 19:4-11). He trusted God in times of trouble (2 Chronicles 20:5-25; 18:31; 2 Kings 3:11-20). But he allied with King Ahab, and he married his son to Ahab’s and Jezebel’s daughter (2 Chronicles 18:1; 19:2; 1 Kings 22:44). He joined Ahab and his sons in many questionable ventures (2 Chronicles 18:2,3; 20:35-37; 2 Kings 3:7). This resulted in great evil for the kingdom of Judah (2 Chronicles 21:4-7; 22:1-4; 2 Kings 11:1-3). How then do we avoid our blind spots?

We need to be humble enough to recognize we are vulnerable and need God to reveal our weak points to us (1 Corinthians 10:12-14; Psalms 19:12-14; 1 Timothy 6:11). We must remember that we are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9), and although God is at work in us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:13), we still have a long way to go in becoming the people God wants us to be (Philippians 3:12-16; Romans 7:14-18; Galatians 5:17). I am convinced that one of the great dangers for a Christian is believing we have it all together, which leaves us open to be blindsided. Pride and self-righteousness can easily set us up for a fall (Proverbs 16:18; 1 Peter 5:5-10; James 4:6-10).

It is easy to become conformed to the world’s standards and to let them determine our behavior (Romans 12:1,2; 1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4). This can often result in our doing the wrong thing from good intentions, because we have adopted a worldly standard of values. We are constantly bombarded with the world’s messages. And we do not want to totally withdraw, for we want to be able to reach others for Christ (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; Matthew 9:10-13; Luke 19:1-10). But it is difficult to associate with people and not fall into their point of view (1 Corinthians 15:33; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Colossians 2:8). This was the problem that resulted in Jehoshaphat’s family; by marrying into Ahab and Jezebel’s family, they fell into their mindset. But I wonder if one of the things that caused this in the first place was picking up the world’s idea of what was a good political alliance. We do not know what Jehoshaphat’ s motive was, but it is easy to become confused and see the wrong move as a good idea. To avoid this we need to be grounded in God’s Word (Colossians 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16,17). We also need to be in fellowship with other Christians who can steer us back to the right path when we get off it (Hebrews 10:24.25; 12:12-13; Proverbs 27:17).  For all of us are sinners, and we need ways to continually correct our blind spots.