Thursday, December 27, 2007
That God exerts his will to direct the course of history to a foregone conclusion does not mean that true independence amongst humankind has to be co-opted in order to accomplish his aims. In an earlier post, I pointed out God’s ultimate purpose in making us was to create family and friends that could relate to him on his level. Certainly, one aspect of that level, is freedom of choice and action. I believe it is essential, in God’s design in choosing ends, that humans express freedom of choice and action. Is faith even possible under any other conditions?
Paul tells us that faith is the crucial factor in God’s selecting. Faith is what includes us, unbelief is what excludes us. And just so we’re clear on this, faith is not the result of our desire or work, it is merely a reaction to God’s intervention. Apart from God interjecting himself into our affairs and presenting us choices, no one would call on him, but God sends word to us of possibilities with him. He asks us to trust him, to make a faith choice, a real choice. Who can get the credit for that but God? Those that get saved merely respond to God’s tap on their shoulder; nonetheless, everyone who walks into the kingdom to come will be able to say they did so because they believed in what God said and did. After all, we’re not puppets or pets.
God does not intend that people walk in uncertainty, wondering whether or not they are one of the ones that he’s pre-wired for salvation. Nor does he desire any to smugly rest on their laurels, certain that they are. He asks us to examine ourselves to see if we are in faith. It can serve little purpose, it seems to me, for folk to get lost in arcane theological conceptions of election when, practically speaking, the point becomes moot if one believes and has experienced the reassuring work of the Holy Spirit. The only truly helpful thing for those who call upon the Lord to know about election is that God chooses faith.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
If we understand Paul's description of completion, we begin to understand God's ultimate aim in making mankind in the way that he did. Mankind was not intended to be a pet in a menagerie, but a friend and family member to God. God made man in his image, because man was intended to share life on his level. If that sounds like a reach, note the soaring language of Christ's high priestly prayer.
I don't think it was ever God's intention (can one outside of time have such a linear conception?) to sustain Adam, Eve and their offspring in blissful, everlasting innocence (ignorance). Failure is possible from that state, and it is not what we are raised to at the end of time. In order to accomplish his ultimate aims, mankind would have to be let in on everything at some time, for that tree wasn't put in the midst of the garden for mere ornamentation or even temptation.
At the right moment, mankind would have had to be brought into the fullness of knowledge (i.e. knowing God and what he knows) and into the realm of sight. In the meantime, the essential quality that God was attempting to distill within the human race was faith. Faith does not operate in the realm of sight, but only in the face of ignorance in the experience of the not yet. In that state, it is the faith of the created in their Creator that allows God to ultimately share all that he is and has with them.
When one trusts in God, in turn God can trust him or her. It's like the old Hollywood storyline of someone fabulously wealthy hiding his or her identity and then seeking true love and friendship in the ignorance and innocence of other people. Life on God's level can only truly be led by God, but for those who have faith in him, such life can be shared with them. And that is what we've been made for.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Who can blame the victims when they do act in such uncharacteristic or even offensive ways? After all, it was just a reaction, not premeditated, not thought through, not really reflective of their determinations. It just happened-- an action and an equal and opposite reaction. We're all wired to react to stimuli, howbeit that each of us reacts differently.
I see faith in God, at least it's initial stage, in a similar vein. It is a metaphysical reaction by people to a word from God. Abraham, the model for what faith can accomplish, found his one day when God’s word came to him and he believed. We could say faith starts with a head turn in response to God’s tap on one’s shoulder. I believe everyone is wired with this capacity, hence God's command that all respond (coupled with the outpouring of His spirit on all flesh), but everyone does so with varying degrees of responsiveness. Some, like the unmoved prudes in the example above, give not so much as a rise to the word’s impetus, others go hog wild.
The Bible leads me to understand that faith is not a work, hence the contrast in that all too famous passage (as well as this one). Works are the fruit of will exerting effort, faith is the soul's reaction to God's interposition. We have all heard faith described as a leap, which is a reasonable perception, so long as one envisions the leap resulting from the Holy Spirit saying, "Boo!"
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Some passages I've always found particularly salient in this regard are 2 Peter 3:9 (copied here for ease):
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
and Ezekiel 18:23 and 33:11, which virtually say the same thing (the latter is copied here):
As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.
and I Timothy 2:4
God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
What these verses tell me, indisputably, is that God wants people, all people, saved. There is no glory in his mind in anyone being lost. There will not be one person thrown into eternal torment whom the Lord would not rather have by his side in glory. Which leads to another thought--why can't God have what he wants? I mean he is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and omnitemporal. What stands in the way of such a God getting what he desires? Certainly, if he desires it, it must be good by definition!
As some fashion them, the so-called doctrines of grace declare that people get saved because of a sovereign act of God. He chooses, they believe and persevere, irresistibly. The only thing that stands between heaven and hell is God pushing the grace button within the soul. Once pushed, salvation is inevitable.
Is that a problem? Yes, if we actually take what God has told us about himself to be true! He has said of himself that he doesn't want anyone to be lost. The scripture is clear about this. If all it took to accomplish his desire was his own act, how would he act? Since I'm not willing to diagnose God as schizophrenic, I must answer that He would save everyone. God would have to be schizophrenic to state a particular desire (a desire that must be good because it's his), yet not be able to bring his considerable skills and goodness to bear to accomplish it.
However, we know not everyone will be saved. There must be some other factor in the equation that God is not willing to circumvent. Suffice it to say, to hold on to sovereign election as promulgated in the doctrines of grace and also to accept God's testimony about himself, one would be forced, it seems to me (and perhaps the history of Calvinistic churches in New England bears this out), to inevitably fall into the trap of adopting universalism.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
It wasn't always so. As I kid, the holiday hype always set me up for disappointment. My father's alcoholism, like a proverbial storm, never failed to cloud our Bethlehem nights and blow away whatever warmth the day portended. The eternal optimism of childhood with its notoriously short memory, brushed the detritus of the last years disaster under the rug at the first glimpse of the Grinch or Rudolph on the TV screen. Anticipation shifted into gear, and quickly accelerated to full speed, incognizant of the upcoming bend in the road.
Things began to change once I became a Christian. Discovering the reason for the season shed a new light on its celebration. God, the Father sending his Son, as one of us, to live like us, among us, in family centered the holiday on something other than hype. The picture of the holy family displaced Santa on the rooftop stumbling toward the chimney blinded by the lights of the season (not that I believed in Santa mind you). The joy of seeing family and enjoying time together, celebrating life and the blessing of God became the heart of the holiday for me.
That God himself would step into our world, as one of us, not only to walk a mile in our moccasins, but also, and more primarily, to do for us what we could not do for ourselves provides more than enough wonder to fuel all the celebrations of Christmas the world will ever see. For so many, however, that's where the thought ends, but I think we would do well to lift our eyes just a little higher on the horizon. I am grateful for the work of the lamb of God and am so glad he came, but I'm absolutely astonished at his ultimate goal: he stepped into our world like us, so that we could step into his world, like him.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
As a pastor, my philosophy of ministry has always seen the church not as an organization, not as an institution, but as a family. We are brothers and sisters, we have one Father, and one dynamite big brother. We are not co-consumers or clientele of a religious supermarket, we're not lemmings following a spiritual guru, we're not activists pursuing a cause, nor even a social club of Jesus aficionados. Those viewpoints of the church are held by some either overtly or tacitly, and always end up reflected, practically, in the way they "do church". The problem with those ideas is not that they are necessarily intrinsically evil, but that they are not scriptural and therefore cannot produce church life that is reflective of the scripture. They can only serve to boost the ego of shameless self-promoters or to salve the guilty consciences of religiously minded minions.
There are problems with my viewpoint, especially in regard to marketing and corporate nimbleness. If one has a desire to do this church thing "big time" my viewpoint is a disaster, but I'll stick with it. Christ has not called me to "win the world", or to "take my city", or to "launch a movement". I don't see one single scriptural reason to believe he would call anyone to such grandiose visions-- human ego will have to get the credit for that! He has adopted me into his family, to love my brothers and sisters and to be loved by them, like we were blood, and by word and deed, to persuade others to join this family of love.
Giving breath to that reality is what church life is about. If that idea doesn't appeal to you, the next time your life is in desperate turmoil, call a church shopper (who probably won't know you from Adam) and see how likely she is to lay down her life for a fellow shopper. Would you go to bat for another Wal-mart shopper just because she's a Wal-mart patron too?
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
I did not grow up in church, per se, even though I attended a few mainline church services along the way. I did do some hard time in Sunday School, but got released early, when I was 10, for bad behavior. ;-) Occasionally, I bumped into a televangelist while flicking the TV dial through its rotation. I've got to say, the unique techniques of communicating to church people struck me as weird and distracting. If folk talked that way anywhere else, they'd never be taken seriously, but laughed to scorn. Why the personal history? The background is needed to understand the point of view of what you're about to read.
What is it that I have to say? Well, to all those who "preach" the Gospel, (and maybe for all those who go to hear the gospel being preached), "Stop being a clown!" Church is not a carnival, preaching the Gospel isn't a performance, and the "anointing" doesn't have any biblical, behavioral signs! Enough with huffing and puffing, and eyes rolling back in their sockets, and sudden shudders, and profuse, self-inflicted sweating, and hanky waving, and on, and on, and on. I'm reminded of a car manufacturing anomaly from the 70's: the Chevette SS. Stripes and chrome, and a bigger engine package could never hide the reality-- it was still just a Chevette! Vroom! Vroom! Rather than the example of Christ, carnival barking preachers emulate the illusionist's art, i.e. they distract the audience away from the truth with the show.
WWJD. I think it's germane to the preaching "craft". If Jesus didn't do it, should we? Who better knows how to communicate eternal, life-giving truth than he? It's alright to be a fool for Christ, and it's OK to preach foolishness as the world sees it, but it's not acceptable to diminish the majesty and importance of the message of Christ through affected tomfoolery. So, the next time you're preaching (or even the next time you're going to see a preacher), do everyone a favor, especially the Lord of glory: ask yourself, "Is that really necessary?"
Friday, October 19, 2007
That, more or less, was the practical expression of Newton's law of inertia as we learned it way back in high school. It speaks of the tendency of an object to keep doing what it has been doing, or not doing. Life has taught me this law applies to human (willful) actions as well. Our patterns of thinking and acting amass their own momentum, which is often difficult to overcome, and which continues at times at great cost to ourselves and others. Does the word stubbornness ring a bell?
Some church growth guru once said, "If we keep doing what we've always done, we'll keep on getting what we've always gotten." Church speakers are notorious for stealing other folks' lines, so I doubt he was the originator of the expression, although I don't know who may have been. Regardless, it's a great line, and it speaks to the need to embrace change.
When we know we are not moving in God's direction for our life, there's no time like the present to make a change. For how ever long we delay bringing an altering force to our momentum, we we risk wasting our most valuable commodity and doing harm to ourselves or to others. Do we really want to look back on the few days we are allotted and rue what has been and what never was?
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Inspiration is the living presence of God (i.e. breath or Spirit), quickening to our thoughts his thoughts, arousing the passion of his heart in our heart. Every born again believer has such inspiration available to him or her, it is what it means to be born of the Spirit. It is the very nature of being saved. To breathe is to assume that inspiration (by faith), to become sensitive to it, and then to act in agreement with it. Such breathing underlies all godly action. It is what makes that action possible. "What action in particular?" you might ask. How about walking? We are not under a command to march, that sends us off alone on a survival trek into the wilderness to prove ourselves or to accomplish great feats; instead, we answer an invitation to walk hand in hand with God where God is going.
You see, there is an opportunity cost to action. To do one thing in a space of time means that other things cannot be done in that same space of time. If one breathes as sketched out above, that one will have robbed the flesh of its opportunity to do evil. Most Christians would acknowledge the benefit of that, and yet so many rely on human effort and legal constraint to accomplish that goal. Law does nothing but exasperate the flesh. The secret to holy living is not legalism, but inspiration. So many, in the imperfection of human perception, hear from the heavens the command, "walk before me," when what Christ is actually saying is "walk with me."
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Folk that want to live by a code are not generally folk that experience God. When they keep trying to jam their good deeds down God's throat, is it any wonder he seems to gag at their company? At best, they're like little kids insistently crying, "Look at me, look at me!" That gets old fast, even for grandma! What can it do for God, who sees all their works (all the failure, all the sin, all the self-serving, self-centered acts of willfulness) not just the ones they want him to notice? Our good deeds can never erase the bad ones, so it's a dead end street trying to earn or maintain favor from God by our works.
In an emergency, the desperate cry that's often heard is "Somebody, do something!" In our desperation to be at peace with God, our panicked souls often invoke that same cry reflexively, but the something that needs doing has already been done by someone else. So perfectly, in fact, that nothing else could be or needs to be done in addition. Our rescuer stands by us, alive and well, the victor over hell and death, with an oxygen mask in hand. Life has been offered to us, all we need to do is accept it and breathe in.
The devil says, "Look what you've done!" The flesh says, "Look what I've done!" Faith says, "Look what Christ has done!" And the Word says, "Just breathe."
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Philosophically, sin is an impossibility. How can that which is against the will of God (sin) exist in objective reality, when God is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent? Sin can only exist in this illusionary framework of temporal space, which is constricted, subject to termination and scheduled for rectification.
The grace of God allows this illusion for merely a second, because of the possibilities of redemption and the potential therein. A time is coming, and shortly, when reality will come back a-knocking, and nothing that stands in opposition to the will of God will stand any longer. That ultimate reality check, we call hell.
Some folk wonder how a loving God could put living human beings into a fiery lake forever. I don't know what other possibility could exist. They usually think that, even if the lake is real, it cannot possibly be so forever. Sometime, the flame has to go out, and the worm metamorphose and fly away to bigger and better things. All of us who are parents, or who had parents, realize that punishment ends sometime, right? No, such thoughts arise from a misunderstanding of human and angelic nature, sin and independent wills.
Ultimately, how can any will exist but that which is omnipotent? For any other will to exist contemporaneously and/or permanently would undermine the nature of the supposedly omnipotent one. It would in fact, then, not be omnipotent, but impotent-- capable of conceiving but not delivering.
Why does that make hell necessary? Well, human and angelic will cannot be disposed of nor dissolved. If everything in nature reveals something about the invisible attributes of God, think about what the conservation of mass and energy tell us about the Spirit of God-- He cannot be created nor destroyed. Furthermore, what he lends breath, or personal spirit to, though it can be established in independence (created), once granted such, cannot be destroyed either. Humans and angels (although I don't have a scripture reference for angels, it does make sense to me) fall into that category.
They cannot be destroyed, once established, but they can be disabled. How? Overwhelm their will with incessant fire and they will never entertain a thought, nor devise a scheme, nor hatch a plot in opposition to God's will again. Don Piper's experience of a painful recovery after a traffic accident is helpful here:
In the first few weeks of my recovery, I was in such constant physical pain I couldn't hold any thoughts in my mind for more than a second or two (from 90 Minutes in Heaven, p. 102)One long "arrrrgh!" will be their lot, cosmic pink noise. Coherent thought will be impossible, no conceptions nor communications. Their eternal will is silenced in perpetual flames: God's will continues unabated. It has to be.
God created us with divine-like capacities in order to fellowship with him. Christ reveals in flesh and bone, in spirit and in thought what that looks like. It’s not oppressive nor coercive, but food and life, joy and peace. Our wills are meant to be experienced as the replication and expression of his. Exertion of our will (works) is not the means to achieve that, inspiration is [my next post]. As for sin, to hell with it!
Thursday, October 4, 2007
What we do does reflect upon the reality of our faith. If I say I have faith but have no works, I'm a liar plain and simple. Such "faith" does not bamboozle God because it is dead, and therefore leaves me in my sin under the wrath of God. It cannot save. Faith works, specifically through love.
Our works, however, are not our own fault. These "things" have been seeded by the hand of our loving God into the pathway of our lives. We will stumble into them, without having to climb Everest or swimming the Channel to seek them. To miss such "things," and thereby have no works, would translate into not having faith or (and this is an impossibility) not being within the purview of his foreknowledge.
We live out of what Christ has freely given to us through faith: righteousness and the Spirit. We have nothing to prove by living up to some code: if we attempted to prove something to God that way, we could only prove that, in ourselves, we are sinners. It is a joy to be alive, accepted, and actuated by God. Burdening ourselves, and others, with a need to earn status or to measure up before God is embracing the law instead of the gospel. That is a curse! If that's what you're doing, please, stop doing so in the name of the Law.
Monday, October 1, 2007
Rex was my first pastor after coming to Christ. My first visit to the State College Assembly of God, where he pastored, came a week after I marched the aisle and was subsequently baptized at a Southern Baptist Church in Harrisburg, PA (my home town). I totally freaked out--the place was positively spooky, but even though it scared the bejeebers out of me, I felt a strange compulsion to go back to that place, where the people responded to God in a way that made sense (if one truly believed in hell and salvation, that is).
As I devoured the Word and talked with God, the Lord would instruct and illumine me. Sunday after Sunday, Rex would preach (in his own flamboyant style), and repeat almost verbatim what God had been speaking to me in my “prayer closet.” Talk about being pumped! I learned what God sounded like through that ongoing experience and developed sensitivity to and trust in the voice of the Holy Spirit. You’ll not likely ever read this Rex, but thanks. You’re the best in my book, and still the most effective preacher I have ever had the pleasure to see or hear. I trust the work at Christlife in Charlotte will go well.
The first time I heard Steve preach was on the street outside Schwab Auditorium on the campus of Penn State. Generally, I did not like street preachers: they were nothing but clanging cymbals playing for shock value to get an audience. Not Steve, he spoke with passion, but logically, sensibly, persuasively.
A couple of years later, Rex introduced him as the new campus pastor for the Chi Alpha chapter the State College A/G was sponsoring at Penn State. Steve cleaned up real well! In my first conversation with him, I slightly hinted (and I do mean just slightly!) that I was intrigued by the Holy Spirit. Steve told me he’d be at my room at 5pm, and gave me little chance to object.
With Bible in hand he began going through the scriptures concerning the Holy Ghost. I was getting excited, and after about ten minutes of his presentation, I knew God wanted to baptize me in the Holy Ghost and would. Steve went on for about another 20 minutes or so, while I was chomping at the bit. He laid hands on my head, I felt overwhelmed and overflowing, and started speaking in heavenly language I did not know.
From that time until I left college (I hung around for a short while after graduation) Steve was a friend and counselor, discipler and example. Thank you Steve, for the much good you did for me. Incidentally, he now leads an astounding XA chapter at UFla (rotten Gators!). If you ever wanted to support a campus ministry, support his!
I started Bible college in January of 1984, 1100 miles away from home, in a town I’d never been at before, knowing no one but my poor wife, who got dragged along with me into the frozen tundra (sweet thing, she came along cheerfully). We began searching for a church family. In the process, one Sunday morning, we got on a schoolbus that had come to North Central and off we went to who knows where.
We ended up in White Bear Lake, MN at Calvary A/G. They worshipped there, it was refreshing. Then, Mike Smith got up to preach. He was a rugged looking fellow, with a kind voice, and light in his eyes. He was refreshing. A couple of years later, he gave me my first job in ministry. He was one of the nicest people I have ever met. To this day, I don’t think I have met a better example of kindness and grace. Thank you Mike, for the start and for the example, may God bless the work at Redeeming Love.
When I was a home missions pastor in Pittsburgh, one of the Sectional Committeemen was assigned by the presbyter to be my mentor and treasurer. He was a doctoral candidate at Fuller, attempting to lead an old A/G church stuck in the 50’s into the 80’s. He had flaming red hair! He was patient and smart, and knew more about the nuts and bolts of church life than anyone I ever met. He poured knowledge liberally upon my hardened head—some of it seeped in!
I learned more about human nature and how it effects ministry and church life, and how leaders need to work with it realistically in a few months with Paul than in years of Bible College. I thank God for the gift of time and the abundance of knowledge I received from Paul. In a strange twist of fate, Paul pastored that very same State College Assembly of God mentioned above (as well as serving as the Asst. Supt. of the Penn-Del District), and from which he went on to his eternal reward August 11, 2011.
My wife grew up going to church. She was saved when only four years old! When she was 12, her family started attending South Hills A/G in Pittsburgh, pastored by Robert Owen. He’s a Welshman, which means he loves to sing and has a great accent! The first time I sat in his church, I was visiting my new fiancée’s family. In a sanctuary filled to capacity, he looked right at me from the pulpit, and told me to take the gum out of my mouth (evidently, he didn’t want to look out and see a bunch of cows chewing their cud). Talk about seeker sensitivity! I don’t remember when, exactly, I got over it. ;-)
For years his church was the largest congregation in the Penn-Del District, yet no matter how large it got, he and Miriam would stand at the back door greeting everyone by name when they left the service. Even in a room packed with hundreds and hundreds of people, the place still felt like a familiar place, like family. He’s taught me so many valuable lessons about call, ministry, commitment, integrity, and generosity, I wouldn’t know where to begin enumerating them. Thank you, Pastor Owen, you served the cause of Christ until the end of your days (November 19, 2012) and planted seeds in the hearts of men.
There you have it: the ministers that have meant so much to me. Their service was of benefit to thousands, I’m just grateful I was one of them. So, props to the preachers, may blessing continue to pour forth from you even long after you're gone.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Life is what it is, and folk are what they are. Our interactions with life and people can act like air and water in the oxidation process-- they seize us up in rust and tarnish and we no longer move nor are moved by what we used to be. All that our anchor is holding, is us back. Some things will never change, people and life won't, but we can, and nothing changes the already initiated, but somewhat calloused, like revival. It is the oil can that gets the tin woodsman chopping again.
The Great Commission will never change, at least not until the end of the age and Christ returns. The Holy Spirit, continuing what Jesus did while he walked upon the earth, is still out and about seeking and saving the lost. If we are walking with Jesus in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we will be out and about seeking and saving the lost as well. To be with him where he is, is to be doing what he does. He's marching in purpose down the road: it's time for us to pump in some oil and catch up with him.
Addendum: A nice exploration of a similar subject, as well as here.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
I fear too many Christians have a Wizard of Oz relationship with Christ. He's not a real figure to them; only a scary voice that sounds strangely like John Hagee, infused with ultimate cosmic power and somehow projecting from a lifeless symbol screwed to a cross and hanging on a wall. But what about that guy walking on the road to Emmaus with a couple of disciples, or that fella making breakfast for his buddies after a morning of fishing? What about the reality of the old hymn:
And He walks with me,
And He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own.
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.
We presume a lot in the American church. We go to altars with tears and foreboding, confess all that's not right with us (at least in summary form), invite Jesus into our hearts (?), and then press cruise control and go on with life, eternal life insurance now safely in hand. I don't know how we convince ourselves that all this works, when the first time God gets a little too close and a little too real, we're scared witless and want to run away. Let revival break out, Ichabod be replaced by Ebenezer, and those who worship brass saviors on sticks will howl the loudest about emotionalism and excess.
We have a real God, not a fake wizard. He was dead, but is no longer. Although we remember him until he comes again, he is not relegated to live only in our memories. We ought to be walking with him and talking with him now. As excited as the first disciples were to see him alive again, to know that the passion wasn't the end, but only the beginning, so too we ought to be excited, enthused, and passionate about walking with and knowing intimately a living Savior. Does knowing Jesus, the King of Glory thrill your heart and capture your imagination? If not, personal revival is needed and, thankfully, can be found somewhere along the road to Emmaus.
Friday, September 21, 2007
One possible answer is that the Holy Spirit, moving among us, makes God tangibly real. That is a spooky, scary proposition for sinful mankind. It has been since the beginning of the human race. God at walk in the garden wouldn't seem a frightful image, but sin distorts perception and makes us cower in fear away from a very approachable God. Even more frightful is when he shows up at the camp in power. His presence, all too real, is overpowering, so we'd rather let someone else deal with him. We'd rather stay comfortably in the bushes, capable of ignoring him from our lair, able to go on with life unaffected. Religion doesn't seem to make one any less likely to adopt such an approach. The religious always fight revival-- better to classify it as emotional excess, so that it can avoided proscriptively and dismissed if it should sneak past resistance and break out in some quarter.
Another possible answer is the human desire for control. That too has been around since the beginning of sinful humankind. It's not consistent though-- folk will let anything and anyone lead them down the primrose path, as long as it's not God. When we do follow God, we tend to adopt the boxed variety, not the One who can meet us up close and personal and rock our world. Emotions can be difficult to control, that's why big boys (what I was told when young) and big girls (thanks Fergie and Frankie Vale) don't cry. Don't let that tiger out of the bag! Equate revival with emotionalism and the rationale of suppression is turnkey ready.
To step past the cherubim and see God, and walk with him in the garden, we are going to have to humble ourselves and let God be God whatever the consequences. Control is an illusion we have to be disabused of. It only keeps God from being real to us and us from being real with him. What's needed is sensitive men and women, unafraid to sail in the breath of God.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
We grow by rubbing off on each other. In a three stranded cord there is some friction, yet in staying together, despite the rubbing, that rope's strength is multiplied. Friction is unavoidable, separation is not. Another believer's imperfections are never a reason for us to discard him or her, nor are ours reason to hide from him or her. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately."
We cannot get any sharper without some grinding. To improve our edge, rust and grit, unevenness, and even notches have to be whetted down. The simple fact is, none of us can do that alone. It takes at least two hands (in the naval sense) and a little oil to get 'er done. We don't have the judgment to see our own flaws for one thing, and we don't have the capacity to sharpen ourselves for another. It takes another tool. We have to be willing to accept the Spirit directed benefit of someone else grinding on us and subject ourselves to it. All criticism from a friend can be constructive, if we keep our egos in check.
I can shave myself, most men can. Some of us find it relaxing, however, to let a barber apply a hot towel, brush up a good lather, and then skillfully wield a just honed straight razor to scrape off all that uncomfortable stubble that marks our manliness. To be honest, the thought of someone else holding a razor to my throat kinda freaks me out! However, if one is to experience the sharpening of appearance and the release of tension that a really close shave delivers, he is going to have to trust the man with the blade. Trusting another to improve your countenance through his or her sincere counsel leads to that refreshing splash of aftershave that says I'm ready for life.
[Slap, slap from the medicine cabinet] Thanks, I needed that!
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Am I longing for revival? Perhaps, but there are some drawbacks that make me pause. Revivals have occurred frequently throughout the age of the church, so much so, that we can look at their characteristics and make some observations. There are some negatives!
Revivals fade. Generally speaking, they last for for about 3-6 years, and then, in about the same amount of time, whatever impact they've made on society has vanished, like the Titanic on the northern Atlantic. It might have been a big deal while it was afloat, but there wasn't even an oil slick marking it's passing shortly thereafter.
Revivals spoil the taste of their participants. Like candy does before a meal, revival makes everything else, even of substance, seem tasteless. The intensity and excitement of the revival experience hooks the desire of the participant like heroin does the addict. Afterwards ennui sets in, and the one revived becomes bored with, even critical of, the taste of life in the interregnum between revivals.
Revivals infect people with a self-centered spirituality. Participants become like kids in an amusement park. They bounce from one thing to the next looking for a bigger thrill. Experiences are compared on the basis of the thrill delivered. Preachers transform into carnival barkers, cheerleading about the rush to be felt at their meetings. Some turn into reverse-engineers trying to replicate and improve the thrill gotten at another venue. Spirituality riding on a roller coaster!
Revival displaces Jesus as the object of one's affections. Idolatry pure and simple: some of the "revived" relish revival more than they do friendship with Jesus! Their eyes on not fixed on the author and perfecter, but on the next possibility of revival.
Then, I look up from this soup, flicking my hands in frustration, spattering the world around me with goo, and realize just how badly we need a stirring. Our biggest thrill should be knowing the King of Glory personally, as a friend, rather than the gifts he lavishes on us, but we're thrilled with little if anything at all. Something's gotta change!
We could use some renewing:
1) a new start of obedience;
2) a fresh dedication to sharpening one another;
3) a new sensitivity to the Holy Spirit;
4) a new enthusiasm for knowing Christ personally;
5) a new hunger for making Him known to others.
All things being equal, I guess my hope is, after all, that God would bring out the big wooden spoon and stir up a revival.
Friday, September 7, 2007
"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."
Romans 1:18-20 (NIV)
In this passage, we are informed that we can know what God is like through the things he has made. Not only can we discover those touchy-feely attributes that give us warm fuzzies: God is a gracious provider, a wondrous artist, and a master engineer, but we also discover those scary attributes: God is not like us, he is willing to keep us at arm's length, his anger brings dire consequences. Some may ask, "how can you learn of those scary things just from the creation?" To which I would answer, "look at life."
What about our existence doesn't reveal that God takes exception to the human race? Disease wracks the rich and poor, the just and the unjust, virtually everyone indiscriminantly. God certainly has the power to do life differently, but it is what it is, and it tells us something. Good people, nice people, even godly people drown in floods, are crushed in landslides, or dragged out to sea, or are tossed like ragdolls in the wind. How could anyone think that a God who allows all of that in life would promise anything better after death? For all anyone knows, it could well be worse!
And then there is death itself. Everything dies, not only the living, but stuff too, it's called entropy. We can remain indifferent to God, never pursuing the knowledge of him, or more importantly, a friendship with him. We can remain at arm's length throughout our lives, such as they are, but what do those lives as we live them portend? The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven, but what is it SCREAMING AT US IN BOLD CAPITALS? I hope it's telling you to flee the fullness of that wrath which is yet to come. I hope it's telling you there is a hell (and it needs to be avoided).
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
As an Arminian, I have had enough encounters with Calvinists, who assume they have found the be all and the end all of truth in the so called doctrines of grace, for me to suspect that Calvinism was something that would keep its proponents and myself from ever getting along or pursuing ministry together in harmony. Then, I encountered a phenomenon that I had not before-- Charismatic Calvinists. Whereas we don't share some fundamental doctrinal distinctives, we do share experience of God the Spirit. That, in and of itself, allows us to truly acknowledge each other as brothers and to cooperate with each other in the advance of gospel ministry and the search for practical truth.
Furthermore, I have found this true not only for other doctrinal differences, but also for cultural and linguistic ones as well. When people share the same experience of the Holy Spirit, walls of division and hostility break down. Black, white, American, Asian, African, rich, poor... regardless, being baptized in the Holy Spirit and then experiencing signs and wonders brings folks together. By my reckoning, it is not acceptance of continualism that breeds division among brothers, but the insistence of cessationism. I would wager that I have more in common with a charismatic Calvinist than I do with a cessationist Arminian. So, Cessationism causes fellowship to break with the one who comes into the biblical experience of charismata; whereas Continualism, on the other hand, is truly the non-divisive doctrine!
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
I think Calvinism is fundamentally a scripturally untenable system of doctrine. To my understanding, it assaults the character of God, says of him what he clearly does not say of himself, makes nonsensical most of the commands and entreaties in scripture, and misses entirely the ultimate aim of God in creating man. That may sound like a big deal, but I know a few Calvinists personally. They love the word as much as I, love the brothers as much as I, serve Christ as fully as do I, and I'm discovering, particularly in the blogosphere, love the Spirit as much as I. I am not likely to ever accept their approach to the "doctrines of grace," but I will gladly accept them. I may discuss our differences with them, but I am not looking to brand them as heretics or nonbelievers. If there is a quality in a purported Christian that would cause me to perceive him or her in that light, it would be having a divisive spirit that will not lay itself down for the brethren. Someone who shows other believers no grace is in no position to lecture anyone else on grace.
Debates are how heathens deal with opposing viewpoints. Christians operating in the realm of heathen concerns may need to debate with those heathens or even with other Christians also working in those realms, but Christians should not deal with matters of faith and conduct the same way. Debates are rarely, if ever, about helping either side see the others viewpoint better, or even helping someone see something clearer. Debates are about ego, winning and losing, and then suppressing if possible. How is such a format remotely acceptable to the Christian community? Our discussions should be respectful, aimed at edification not destruction, and if there is any prejudice, let it be on the side of deference and esteem.
I have to admit a prejudice of my own: when I come across argumentative, insulting, smug Christians looking for fights rather than trying to help a brother, everything they say sounds like nothing but a clanging cymbal. If one cannot understand the primacy of love for the brothers in the Christian community, and so practice reigning in his tongue, that person is at best an immature novice, and at worst a wolf in sheep's clothing. He understands nothing! I could care less how many degrees he has, I could care less how many books he's written, or how many fans line up to see him. His words are empty and my suspicion is that so is his confession of Christ. If you want to talk to me, talk to me, but leave your attitude at the door, or talk to the hand!
Monday, August 27, 2007
Our vacation did serve, however, to reinforce for me the wonderful blessing that is family. The word says that God sets the lonely in families. Families are a mark of his compassion and grace. Of all his inventions for the benefit of humanity, none beats the family. In America, however, we suffer a debilitating disease, which infects the broader West as well: family has lost it's cachet and is not valued anymore. We have actually become anti-family in so many ways: families that should be formed are not, and families that are, are discarded without much consideration and not much legal difficulty either. Our disease is wasting our society, but as if diagnosed with some terminal malady, we seem to have accepted our lot and are in hospice rather than treatment.
There is some panic (it seems to me) among religious prognosticators in the West concerning the future of Church. They read the tea leaves (statistically based of course) and blare their trumpets, "if something isn't done soon, we'll lose the next generation!" Much discussion has ensued about the proper paradigm for the church in our age. What can be done to make the church relevant, resilient, and resurgent? If God never said anything about the subject, our brainstorming might be appropriate, but he has spoken and we should have a clue. In any age, in any culture, no model is more scriptural than that of family. Church is the family of God, we are brothers and sisters in the Lord, and we have one heavenly Father.
The paradigm that works to produce the body God desires is the Church as Family. Enough with fan clubs for religious superstars; enough with social service agencies that treat symptoms of our societal ills but don't transform the individual; enough with social clubs that isolate after they initiate their members; enough with playgrounds and spas that serve the flesh but don't succor the spirit; enough with religious conglomerates opening branches everywhere possible in an effort to dominate the market. In the realm of the church, in the heart of God, the mom and pop shop beats Walmart every time!
Addendum 8/29/07: A very interesting post at Cerulean Sanctum takes things a step further.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
I have found one through experience, really a Dragnet that pulls me back to safety. That old TV show from the sixties always had Jack Webb deadpan, "Just the facts, ma'am." A movie version was produced in the 80's with Dan Akroyd intoning the line, but it just wasn't the same. Anyhow, when my faith is squishy, I deadpan to myself, "Just the facts," and with my response resuscitate my trust in God.
What facts do I answer myself with? Just two:
1) Nothing makes sense if God isn't behind existence. I know that there is no way to explain, not only the cosmos, not only the presence and complexity of life, but also the abstraction of human thought apart from God's existence and creativity. Call it a Romans 1 moment. Fact one: God is (he has to be).
2) Jesus rose from the dead. The tomb was empty, no one ever found the body. One of the most brutally pragmatic empires to rise upon the face of earth lost track of a body they truly wanted to keep their hands on, ostensibly to a ragtag crew of bumpkins? No way! The Jews, who tried to deflect the force of eyewitness testimony by suborning perjury, if anything, wanted to confiscate the body more so than the Romans. Their money perished with them, because they never got anyone to lead them to the body. Despite the efforts of Roman and Jew, never was one eyewitness induced to recant, even in the face of torture. A cabal of twits withstood the mighty and the artful. Why? There was no body, it was in use! It was not a spiritual resurrection, a mythological resurrection, nor a metaphorical resurrection--Jesus grew tired of being dead so he came back to life, bodily! Fact two: Jesus rose from the dead (he had to).
Those two not so little facts inflate the life raft of my faith anytime it springs a leak. With the most salubrious effect, they are my answer back to myself whenever I've fallen into confusion or doubt. I hate to admit it, but more than once (to calm the turmoil of soul) I've had to deadpan to mirror, "Just the facts, ma'am."
Sunday, August 5, 2007
The syncretic approach, theistic evolution, is a result of faithlessness, not evidence. There is not now, nor will there ever be a slam-dunk case for a scientific approach to origins that stands in opposition to the Word. Shaky believers, who mesh atheistic and biblical viewpoints, attempting to achieve some happy median are doomed to failure. When it comes to God, it is always put up or shut up. Stand on the Word or confess to being a heathen at heart. Nothing in the scripture should cause anyone to blink, if they also believe that God raised the dead, healed the sick, cast out demons, and spoke the worlds into being ex nihilo.
Every time the evolutionists have said, "Aha, there it is!" we have always found, after the fact, that they spoke too soon and overstated their case. Whether missing links in the fossil record, abiogenic experiments, ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny, "undesigned" nylonase, fused chimpanzee chromosomes, or interchangeable genes for nanomachine parts, it's always the same. To be fair, creationists have often done the same thing. So the arguments ratchet back and forth and back and forth, all the while, the realm of physical and theoretical science offers nothing at the end of the tunnel but doubt.
God chooses faith, not sight. Those who depend on sight seldom find faith, and those who depend on faith, usually do just fine with sight. Why throw your faith in the word under the bus for something that, at best, can only make a monkey out of you?
Monday, July 30, 2007
Then, there's the whole hell thing: everlasting torment, fire and brimstone, bulimic worms, and not a tinge of pity from the God who's love. No matter how graphically (even at Mel Gibson levels) we paint a picture of Christ's vicarious sufferings, the notion of the lake that burns with fire is not going to lead anyone to think in terms of love. Is it any wonder that scoffers look at this subject with such incredulity?
God either is or he is not. Even if our experience of life makes it difficult for us to believe he is love, if he is, he surely has to be smart! And yet, we who entertain the notion of God, constantly vie our intelligence against his, as if he, somehow, has to bow to our conceptions. It's nothing new, we've been like that since the beginning of the human race. It's really the foundation of sin.
God is overjoyed to give us the kingdom. He shares his secrets with the humble, but we let our pride get in the way. We argue with God, thinking ourselves capable of understanding what he alone understands. We glory in our own opinion, and that deafens us to God and brings us neither love or knowledge, just darkness. It's in the heart of God to love us and to share all his has and all he knows with us, but to receive it, we're going to have to let God be the smart one.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Sometimes we can mistake the 'burden of the Lord' with stress or discouragement. What is the 'burden of the Lord'? It is a Holy Spirit inspired heaviness that weighs on your spirit which God uses as a prompting to pray. Yesterday, I spent an hour in the 24/7 prayer room--PRAYING THROUGH this heaviness. The 'praying through' process involves more than just words, it is a groaning or crying out to God. Often as I pray through, I pray in the Spirit. I know that the process is complete when I have reached the destination of PEACE.
As I groan out to God for a season, I sense the heavy burden lifting and a release of God's peace. God prompts this kind of prayer because He is looking for me to agree with Him on some issue where breakthrough is needed. I sense my prayers are involved in pushing the barriers to God's provision out of the way. It is a real spiritual workout session.
Mature believers learn to recognize the burden of the Lord as a prompting to pray. If we don't recognize this burden, we often live under its weight--and we can end up working against the Lord's plan if we are not careful. How? By worrying instead of praying. By criticizing others instead of interceding for them. Often God births burdens on people in the church to pray because He is getting reading to do something amazing.
Instead of prayer, sometimes church-people will blame the leadership for the heaviness that they feel. 'The pastor/leader must be hindering God...don't you feel this heaviness?' By sinking into a depression. Many times we see issues on the news, or hear a doctor's diagnosis, or see a self-destructive pattern in a family member--and we are tempted to react to the burden we feel by sinking into despair.
God gives the burden to pray specifically because there is hope and He has a plan. PRAYING THROUGH is one of those old fashioned disciplines that we need to learn again. My sense is that we often live with far less from God that what is possible. So if you feel a heaviness on your spirit today, don't worry, criticize or get depressed. Take your burden to God and cry out to Him until you feel the release of His peace.