Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Falling Into Objectifying the Image of God

Human beings were made in the image of God. God takes that circumstance rather personally, so a trespass against that image is seen as an affront against him. So much so, in fact, that when a human being is treated as an object, or dismissively, rather than as the image of God, God marks the offender for eventual judgment. Even for those under the blood of Jesus, there are repercussions.

In light of this is, let me share three areas where I think we are particularly susceptible to falling into the sin of objectifying other human beings.

Lust
Lust, in effect, looks at another human as nothing more than the means of achieving one's own sexual pleasure. Apart from the very serious consequences of sexual sin to which lust might lead, treating a human as less than the image of God for the sake of personal gratification is the underlying, and by far, the more immediate danger. Unfortunately, we live in a lust-indulgent world and so must be discerning in guarding our hearts, and particularly so in regard to how we see other people.

Anger
If left to boil too long, anger has a way of transforming one we're angry with into a mere source of irritation (rather than a full-orbed person). As in the case for a pebble in one's shoe, it makes perfect sense to remove a source of irritation. We need to be careful, however, because anger imposes its own logic which rationalizes whatever retribution it drives one toward, regardless of how out of harmony it might be with the ways of God.

Envy
Envy has a way of seeing the envied as unworthy obstacles the envious would like to displace in the quest for self-satisfaction. Those seen as undeserving obstacles are also seen to lack virtues like perseverance, grace, creativity, etc. and so are perceived as getting a piece of the pie more fitting for the envious. So envy assaults God not once, but twice. It fails to see God's image in the envied, and it calls into question his wisdom in governance.

We cannot afford to allow lust, anger, and envy to shade our perceptions or color our treatment of other people. To do so brings us perilously close to that which Jesus condemns. If the one we count on to forgive us condemns us instead, where can deliverance be found? Before we act in thought or deed in regard to another human being we need to take a breath, especially when one of these three areas are involved, lest we fail to see the image of God and fall into sin.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Objectifying the Image of God

'And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image."'               Genesis 9:5-6    ESV

This is not an article on capital punishment, but on the reason God gives for its initiation in the days immediately after The Flood. God established a causal link between retribution and the nature of the victim when he offered the reason for its enactment. Spilling the blood of man (killing) was answerable to God without exception (animals included) because each and every human was made in God's image. Man, in what could appear to be a self-referencing inconsistency, would be the agency through which the retribution was taken.

It seems clear to me that the Image of God in which every human being is made is what makes every person valuable to God. The concept is introduced at the very beginning of the Bible as it talks about the very beginning of the human race. It refers to mankind being "cut out" to resemble God. Since God is not corporeal, neither are the salient features of the image of God in mankind.


People resemble God, not in their physical makeup, but in their metaphysical makeup--we resemble his personhood.

Whenever we look at another person, God is there behind the veil. Behind the physical, somewhat apart from the behavioral, what makes God the person he is, is in that human being. The person you're looking at, that you pass on the street, that you share a bed with is a picture of God. 
Like a painting found in a yard sale, varnished and painted over, but interesting to a discerning eye, which upon being stripped of varnish and tarnish by a learned hand reveals a lost masterpiece, so is every single human being you will ever come in contact with.

Given the depravity of man, it is important to note that even after the Fall of Man, and after the Flood, there remained a sufficient likeness of God in mankind for God to exact the most significant punishment for the most significant act against that which still retained his image. Clearly, fr
om God's perspective, it is of the utmost importance how we deal with that which in made in his image, even though that image is tarnished. Jesus took things so far in this regard as to make our mere thoughts or attitudes in regard to other human beings matters of God's retributive justice.

From our perspective it is easy, even convenient, to look at another person as a problem, or as an obstacle, or as a threat, or even as a possession. The Bishop James speaks of our ability to bless God and to curse his image. It's a contradiction that ought not to be so, especially amongst those who believe. Friends, we have got to start seeing people as God sees them, otherwise there will be repercussions that we will have rather avoided when they're visited upon us.

What I am really talking about here is the sin of objectification. Objectifying a human being is treating a person as if he or she was merely an object rather than the image of God. That object can be tangible or intangible, but when a person devolves into a label in our estimation, we have committed the sin of objectification. Thus reduced, almost anything becomes excusable in our minds in regard to them. It 
may be common among the human race to do so, but assault upon the image of God is not something God ever takes lightly.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Radical Invitation

Has the first word of the biblical salvation message has been lost through disuse? Given the climate and message of today's evangelical church, one has to wonder. Jesus preached, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." The Apostles preached, "Repent!" Even when just counseling the woman caught in adultery Jesus said, "Go and sin no more." Let me ask you, is that the kind of thing you preach?

Where is the "REPENT!" in today's preaching? It just isn't part of the evangelical fabric that's in fashion these days. Have we become so afraid that people will not respond to that nasty little word that we have abandoned it and now depend on manipulation and marketing instead? When we rely on such measly human efforts that utilize enticement and stroke the flesh, what sacrifice is any respondent prepared to make?


The discipleship crisis the American church is in today starts with the message that initially enlists today's supposed disciples. Folks that enter thinking they don't have to turn, won't turn after they enter. I'm not a fan of fire and brimstone preaching--faith, not fear, is the only motivation that sustains a life of following Jesus--but to become a Christian a person must embrace their own death and trust Christ to raise them to a new (and better) life. People today, though all-modern-and-educated, must  still hear and respond to the call to repent and follow Jesus, as any disciple in any former age did.

Christianity is about a radical change in direction, a night and day difference in one's life. The result of a new birth cannot be the same old, same old, for birth means leaving an old way of life for a new one, 
or it's not birth at allFor those would who style themselves as radical and innovative preachers in this day and age, the message that actually matches that characterization starts with the word REPENT! Now that's a radical invitation that stands a shot at producing new life.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Sugar-coating the Bread of Life

Sugar coating: originally a process in the food industry whereby sugar or syrup was applied in some fashion to the surface of a food product, making the product sweeter and thereby more delectable. Often used in conjunction with food that was less tasty or desirable in order to increase its consumption; e.g., the breakfast cereal industry, or as in a song in Mary Poppins.

Why would the salvation wrought by Christ need to be sugar-coated? In itself, of itself, it already promises knowing our Creator personally, living forever without disease, decay or death, and being free from doing stupid things we will rue but do regardless (among other things). Could there be a sweeter deal? Salvation is an absolute dream come true, but being a disciple of Christ comes at a cost even though it is truly free.

Salvation entails acknowledging that we don't run the show and us bowing to the leadership of Jesus. In this day where willfulness is celebrated and self is elevated, the temptation is to assume that most of the people we're trying to coax into the Kingdom of God won't buy into such a deal. So, repentance is soft-pedaled, sin and judgment is back-pedaled, and continuing on in life with Jesus merely added on is floor-pedaled. Can such a vitamin supplement approach to the gospel actually cleanse the conscience here and now or ready the soul for a welcome in the age to come?


It's not those who call Jesus, "Lord" who are saved but those who actually do as he says.

Buying into the gospel means selling everything else we had before the gospel came into our lives (at minimum, in attitude). Families may ostracize or desert us. Riches may have to be abandoned. Sexual pleasures will not be guaranteed to us. Just because we had a dream doesn't mean that God will buy into it or help us to achieve it. It's the price of Jesus being Lord.

A gospel that doesn't stop us in our tracks is not going to get us on the right track.

I like toast with breakfast. As a kid, I particularly like cinnamon toast. When mom made it, most of the sugary coating was shaken off back into the bowl. When I got my hands on it, I usually found a way to load those tasty slabs of cinnamon goodness with more sugary sweetness. If mom ever saw what I was doing she would never have stood for it, but then she cared about my health and wanted me to enjoy having teeth for the rest of my life. 


Making adjustments to the gospel makes what is adjusted no gospel at all. If we truly care for those we try to win with the gospel and want them to be whole throughout all eternity, we need to stick to the truth that sets sinners free. Coming to grips with who and what Jesus is and following him exclusively is food and drink indeed. If we want to feed the folk we preach to something that can nourish them eternally, we need to stop sugar-coating the Bread of Life.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Who's the Boss?

The central core of Christian faith is it's understanding of Jesus, in particular, its understanding of his authority. Jesus is recorded asking people, "Do you believe I can do this?" Believers, like the centurion, recognized his authority, whereas unbelievers disdainfully asked him, "By what authority do you do this?" That range of opinion represents a nice metric for which to measure the concept of effective faith. 

So what does it take for faith to be effective? I have explored the moment it comes into existence over the last couple of blog offerings. With this article I approach it from a different tack and offer the following postulates, which I believe characterize true faith and which I believe faith must exhibit in order to be effective. In other words, they limn out what is means to believe in Jesus in a way that counts.

1) Effective faith perceives Jesus as the Lord (i.e. the ultimate authority in one's life)
2) Effective faith sees all authority in heaven and earth as given to Jesus
3) Effective faith recognizes that the name of Jesus represents the highest authority
4) Effective faith accepts Jesus' word as enduring in it's authority.

Whether we are talking about salvation or about miracles, faith that produces the desired end is faith that fully embraces the authority of Christ.

By the authority of Christ granted to them to use, the apostles healed the sick and cast out demons. When they were shaky about that authority, they couldn't cast out a demon and were rebuked for a lack of faith. By that authority Peter walked upon the water. When Peter became fuzzy about it he sank into the waves. Apprehending the authority of Christ is the difference between praying hopefully and commanding forcefully.

I wish clarity regarding this was my constant experience, but alas, it isn't. There are moments when the authority of Christ is so clear to me, and at those moments, awesome things happen. Then there are those moments when it's only theory in my head, which I assent to readily, but it's not singular or instant. I have to think about it before its crystal clear. The difference between one and the other is command and request, knowing and hoping.

I wish faith wasn't so elusive. 

Would any of us even break through to effective faith if it wasn't for the Spirit's inspiration? In regard to salvation the answer is any easy "no!" In regard to the miraculous, it's little more complex. By God's design, however, the task of believing in either regard is ours, and that is what makes faith so slippery. 

God has no doubts about who's in charge. When we're certain as well, our experience erupts into a faith moment. Could you do with more faith moments where you're crystal clear instantly about the authority of Christ? I know I sure could. Trees would be flying! But while they remain anchored to the soil, the only real question that matters is, "Who's the boss?"

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Faith Moment: Charismata

How does one have the faith to do miracles? There aren't any mountains or mulberry trees flying by, so one would think that kind of faith is extremely rare. Nigh unto impossible to muster, one might think, but miracles do happen and much more frequently than would be expected given the apparent lack of that quantum-like quantity Jesus called a "mustard seed". So the faith to do miracles does arise, and broadly enough to make it worth asking ourselves how we might engage in it.

It seems to me, the moment when the faith to do miraculous feats arises is similar to that which leads to salvation. Although not strictly necessary (remember the Centurion), for the most part, I think it also requires the assistance of God to distill. Also like that moment, the final disposition of the aimed at goal must come through us, not God. There is nothing irresistible about the grace that stirs true faith into being.

Now there is a charismatic gift of faith through which faith is inspired in an individual for the benefit of the body. That occurs for a specific purpose at a particular time--it is not ongoing, which is the intrinsic nature of a manifestation (phanerosis) of the Spirit. Like anything else the Spirit inspires, it is quenchable. We are not puppets in the hand of God, after all, that would insult the one in whose image we are made.

I once had a Bible college professor, Bill Crew I think it was, who posited that a gift of faith came with along with any other manifestation of the Spirit. His idea was that the faith to act came along with the ability to act under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I don't think that is so (it's too speculative without the backing of scripture), but I do think that the stirring of the Spirit that alerts us to the moving of the Spirit is itself a grace-filled invitation to believe. It's that tap on the shoulder we need to get out beyond ourselves and get on the same page with God.

When the breath of God is exhaled across the face of the inner man a moment arises--a moment which awakens faith and calls us to possibilities of moving as the hand of God bringing the miraculous.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Faith Moment: Salvation

How does faith congeal in the soul to become substance

I do not believe that God secretly presses a button he's concealed within us, which when pressed, makes us people of persevering faith. As I understand it, that is precisely what Calvinism proposes. The problem with that is that if God did do that kind of thing for any person, he'd do it for all people. Scriptures are clear that is not the way things turn out, so Calvinism cannot be consistent with the self-revelation of God in them (and Universalism must be seen to bite the dust as well). 


God has made mankind with the capacity for faith, of that there can be little doubt, for people everywhere trust in things they cannot see. I think this general capacity is what separates mankind from angels, particularly in regard to redeemability. Mankind was made in innocence, really ignorance, and therefore was made for faith. Faith exists in that gap produced by unseens and unknowns, but Angels were made for knowledge and sight. 


When angels rebelled they did so in knowledge and sight and are irredeemable as a result (see Hebrews 6:4a for the concept as it applies to mankind). If Romans 12:3 applies broadly to all humanity (as I've always taken it to mean) rather than just the church (as Calvinists in particular take it), then God has in fact dealt each person at least some measure of faith. Of course, true faith, faith that actually has an effect, requires that it be placed in the right object, namely, God and God alone. That means that God has to "show up" for faith to spark into life.


Really, God "showing up" is that enabling help without which no one could truly believe, but I also know that God, no matter what help he gives, isn't going to believe for us. Otherwise, all of his commands to us to believe would be nonsensical. In order to effectively trust in Christ, only a minimal amount and clarity of faith (i.e. less than mustard seed quantities) is required. That may not seem like much of a threshold, yet it remains a mountain to most people most of the time. 


We are called to faith, it is the very currency of heaven. On their own, humans can only answer that call with something less than true faith in the actual God. When the Holy Spirit brings our focus on the person and authority of Christ into clarity, the moment is ripe for salvivic faith to be born. It is not guaranteed, as is attested by Israel's example and the fact that not everyone comes to faith since Jesus was lifted up on the cross.


Nonetheless, thank God that the Holy Spirit is sent to bring us to that moment when everything comes together and Jesus is seen as supreme--the faith moment.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Stirred not Shaken

What would it take for you to act upon an impression that you thought might be the Holy Spirit? If absolute certainty is your threshold, you will never move upon any inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Even if your condition to act is merely that you have to apply thoughtful consideration before acting (that seems wise, right?), anything that is of an urgent nature, i.e. that requires an immediate response, will never be done either. We can easily undermine our experience of things spiritual and miraculous in the name of caution and prudence. 

Things of the Spirit (pneumatikos) are anything but certain. According to Christ, it takes faith to cast out demons, heal the sick, and move mountains. In the realm of things the Spirit inspires, there is a gap between what is and what could be that only faith can fill. If we are not willing to strike out in faith on the basis of an inspiration, call it a holy hunch, we will never experience the kinds of supernatural things that are mentioned throughout the New Testament.

Substituting our judgment for the Holy Spirit's is not prudence or wisdom, nor is it faithful--what it is, is a surefire way to quench the Holy Spirit and live a life without the miraculous.

It is a misapprehension to think that a lightning bolt from heaven would strike (or something nigh unto it) if you were meant to heal the sick, or speak a prophetic word, or exercise power against an unclean spirit. Not many, if any, of us are ever going to experience anything like that! Jesus didn't experience that, Peter didn't experience that, and Paul didn't experience that. Elijah learned the hard way not to expect to

We need sensitivity to the intimate voice of God within us to catch the stirring of the Spirit.

When God's whisper falls on our "ear", we have to act in faith or we'll miss the opportunity to do a greater work. If that happens, something Jesus went to the cross and ascended into heaven to make possible ends up being missed entirely. We are not meant to live satisfied with the Cessationist's paltry gospel, which is little more than an academic exercise in criticism, history and philosophy that devolves into endless debates over the meanings of words. What we are called to be is powerful witnesses of Christ to the world after that the Holy Spirit comes upon us

The Holy Spirit has a way of making himself heard to the hearing ear. To those that have one, much more will be given. To those who turn a deaf ear to God the Spirit, what could have been theirs is lost, like a fruitful field of grain that went unharvested. We're partnered with God, someone we can absolutely trust. When that hunch that might be the Holy Spirit stirs within, we must take faith in hand and act or we'll lose the opportunity.

James Bond, despite his iconic instruction concerning his taste in spirits, would be dead wrong in the realm of the Spirit: it's always better to be stirred, not shaken.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

I Was in the Spirit

John uses the expression, "I was in the Spirit" twice in the Apocalypse. Once at 1:10, and once at 4:2. That he was referring to the same state of experience both times could hardly be argued against. What that state was we are about to explore, though it is not explicitly developed in the text. The sort of thing it results in, on the other hand, was explicitly demonstrated throughout the Revelation.

In both instances, the phrases are exactly the same in Koine. On their face, they refer to a locus in or among the Spirit. In the way that one can be "in the wind" or even "in the sun", the Apostle John was in the Spirit. What he is communicating by this was that he was experiencing a pointed (and I would say virtually tangible) consciousness of the divine presence.

This was not John's common or moment-to-moment experience of the Spirit. There are clear enough references to the inception of the experience in both occurrences. In the first usage, this something special happened to occur one Sunday on Patmos. In the second usage, the condition was initiated immediately upon hearing the voice beckoning him to heaven. In both cases, it seems clear that the experience as recorded represented a change from what was going on before.

The word used [ginomai] to describe the existence of John's state packs within it the idea of "becoming" rather than simply being. In other words, John emerged into this state (really, was born into it) at the moment in reference. It is not described in trance-like terms, though the word "ecstasy" is often bandied about while commenting on it. It is ridiculous to do so in my mind, for John betrays no rapture, no enthusiasm, no exhilaration nor any euphoria in conjunction with this experience. Really, there is nothing but matter-of-fact reportage associated with it.

More than anything else the state of being in the Spirit, at least from the accounts of John's being so, is about awareness of the very presence of God--not theoretically, not by faith, but in actuality. If we can generalize from John's experience to any of our's (and I think we can), being in the Spirit is like having a light go on in the dark which suddenly reveals things one would otherwise be unaware of. Those things could be revelations regarding heaven or earth or about the activity of God in a moment past, present or future.

If there is anything precedential or paradigmatic about John's experience, I think it can be said in regard to its application to us, that coming to be in the Spirit (really, acting on charismatic distinctives) is about coming to an acute awareness of God's immediate presence and what he is up to. As a result of that awareness prophecy, or healings, or works of power, or miracles are then manifested in this world. Those manifestations do not break into existence because someone exercised enough faith to produce them, but because someone had come to be in the Holy Spirit.