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, 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.

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 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 find 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 assume, but miracles do happen and much more frequently than would be expected given the apparent lack of that 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 get it.

It seems to me, the moment that faith to do miracles arises is similar to that in which the faith unto salvation arises. Although not strictly necessary in the case of the miraculous (remember the Centurion), for the most part, I think the impetus of God is required for faith to distill. But also like that salvation moment, the final disposition of faith must come through us, not God. We believe, God does not believe for us, even though his instigation is what inspires it. Truly, 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 clearly inspired by God in the individual for the benefit of the body. That occurs for a specific purpose at a particular time--it is not ongoing, which is according to the intrinsic nature of a manifestation (phanerosis) of the Spirit. Yet, even this inspiration, like anything else the Spirit inspires, is quenchable. We are not puppets in the hand of God, after all, that would insult the one in whose image we are made.

When the breath of God is exhaled across the face of our inner person a moment arises--a moment which awakens faith and calls us to possibilities of moving as the hand of God in the miraculous. That stirring of the Spirit is a grace-filled invitation to believe and move with God. It's that tap on the shoulder we need to get beyond ourselves and get on board with God and do 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's view of efficacious grace cannot be consistent with the self-revelation of God in them

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 that faith to spark into existence.

God "showing up" is that enablement without which no one could truly believe. But God, regardless of what help he gives us, isn't going to believe for us (which is what irresistible grace is tantamount to in my mind). 
All of his commands to us to believe would be nonsensical in that case. No, it is we who must trust in God, that is our God-enabled responsibility.  

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. However, 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 to by Israel's example and the fact that not everyone comes to faith since Jesus was lifted up on the cross, but is only possible then and impossible otherwise.

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

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.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Why Leave A Church?

We live in a mobile society. Folks are shifting from one place to another constantly. I wouldn't think, given such a circumstance, that it would be unexpected that folk would be shifting churches in the shuffle. That's fine, it goes with the territory, but folk are also leaving churches they otherwise would not have to, and it raises the question is, "Is OK to leave one's church?"

People leave their churches for all sorts of reasons and in all kinds of conditions. Some leave churches wandering out of a fog bewildered, some surf the edge of the blast wave after a big blow-up, some leave at the end of the left foot of fellowship, and some lose motivation or faith and fall off more than they depart. Some leave because they find another place more attractive, and some just want something new. Everyone that leaves has their reasons, I'm sure.

Although I doubt that many are legitimately motivated when they choose to leave a church, I do think that leaving a church can be the right thing to do.
If that church doesn't uphold the Scripture as the infallible rule of faith and conduct;
If that church embraces universalism;
If that church becomes libertine or antinomian; 
If that church adopts legalism...
You get the point. There are practical and doctrinal issues that are so fundamental and non-negotiable, that if a line is crossed there, then we must cross ourselves off the roll. Even if this is the case, I don't think one should leave such a church without a fight. Not that one should seek to win an argument or engage in a turf war, but that one should contend for the faith and for the souls in that body. Don't let them wander off to hell without an effort to save their souls! However, if they won't hear, and won't stand on sound doctrine, then one must leave!

At times, a bone of contention arises between folk that, given the nature of the personalities involved, cannot be resolved. If continuing on together in mission is impossible, separating unto mission is acceptable It is still unfortunate in the grand scheme, but as long as it is done on reasonable terms and doesn't result in an unending grudge it may be the preferable course of action. We can disagree without being disagreeable, even if it means one going one way and the other going another.

At times, folk are being appointed in the body according to the wishes of the Spirit of God, and leaving one congregation and going to another is precisely what God wants! It's easy to discern this if one is moved to a distant place; it's not so easy if this change takes place in the same town. Regardless, each of us is a gift to the body and we must understand that God gets to place us where he wishes. Actually, I wonder how much dissatisfaction people feel in church is actually just the dissonance in their souls caused by not discerning where God wants them.

There are acceptable, justifiable, and quite spiritual reasons to leave one church and go to another

And then there are reasons which are neither expedient nor justifiable.

It is not justifiable to leave a church for selfish reasons. Church is about Jesus being Lord, not about the churchgoer getting what he or she wants. Christians are not customers, the church is not a business and spiritual ministrations are not consumer goods. To treat this God ordained endeavor as if any of that were true is an insult to grace. Leaving a church for greener pastures is unacceptable for clergy or laity.

It is not expedient for those who have been appropriately corrected, or who have been properly spiritually directed to leave a church rather than humbly submitting to that which has been rendered for their spiritual development. The flawed natural constitution of humans beings means that we grow as Christians to our lowest level of incorrigibility, but that cannot excuse a lack of obedience to the Word or to the brethren. Escaping correction or rejecting direction in one body doesn't give one a blank slate to start in another (regardless of whether one is clergy or laity).

There are occasions where the godly will be justified in leaving a church. At times it will be the absolutely right thing to do. However, even if it is, it's never something left merely to our discretion or preference. Jesus is head over the body, so he gets to plant us where he wants. 

As for us, we need to stay where we're planted and blossom.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Why Go to Church?

Why should believers go to church? There are a lot of excuses one could give for blowing it off:
  • Church folk are nothing but hypocrites
  • Their idea of worship is not my idea
  • All they do is ask for money
  • It's too irrelevant, too loud, too impersonal, too ________...
  • I am not genuinely needed, wanted and won't be missed
  • I've got better things to do
  • When else can I shop or do my household chores?
There are some reasons, which traditionally have been offered, as to why we should go:
  1. to maintain social cohesion
  2. because of necessary, clerically performed rituals within the context of structured liturgies
  3. to derive a benefit from what is offered there
  4. because it's the "right" thing to do.
I submit that none of the suggested excuses for not going, nor most of the traditional reasons cited for doing so are valid. They are mere rationalizations without any spiritual merit.

The scriptures tell us that together we are the body of Christ, and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. So...
We gather as the church because we are connected with unseen bonds.
We gather as the church because we acknowledge the truth of how God sees us (as one in Christ).
We gather as the church because we need the gifts of others and we need to be the vector of gifts for others.
We gather as the church because the Bible tells us to do so.
If someone is so disillusioned with church that he or she doesn't want to go anymore, that one should do some serious soul searching. Has he or she been going for the right reasons in the first place? Has that one given his or herself fully to being a benefit to the church rather than deriving a benefit from it? Does that person believe that God changed his mind about this whole issue?

If someone is not motivated enough, or too occupied or distracted with discretionary things to go to church, he or she needs to change. Church exists because God selflessly loved us enough to do something about our lostness. Christ has called us to himself and to each other for all eternity. If we're not grasping that and are capable of treating church like we treat the choice of which grocer to use, we don't understand Jesus--not his plans for us, not what he calls us to, and not what he's making us to be.

Maybe we don't truly believe in Jesus at all! 

I am a pastor committed to church, but I have also been a lay person going to church reluctantly. I know what it's like to go to church hoping for inspiration only to find frustration. I know what it's like having a bad week and wanting to hibernate, or what it's like to have an option that seems better to the flesh. I even know what it's like to feel as if you've disappeared into the background of an impersonal institution and that it's of no use anyway.

I also know that the trying of our faith brings forth a peaceable fruit. In life on this side of eternity nothing is perfect. Church is not, church people are not, and pastors are anything but. Despite all that brokenness, perseverance in church going is God's will for us. When we faithfully commit to it, despite the drama and flaws, we become a blessing to others and blessing comes back to us.

Wait a minute... blessing in the midst of brokenness... on second thought, that sounds exactly like what something that's of Christ should look like on this side of eternity.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Worship As Fellowship

"...I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever. I will give You thanks forever, because You have done it. And I will wait on your name, for it is good, in the presence of Your godly ones.   Psalm 52:8-9  NASB

Psalm 52 is a study in contrasts. It begins looking at the evil person (as summarized in v. 7) and ends looking at the faithful, godly one. The boasts of the two are contrasted, as is their desire, their faith, and the reaction they get from God. A remarkable feature of the godly one is that he gets to hang out in the presence of God with other godly ones and worship. 
Worship as fellowship, imagine that!

Worship is fellowship with God

The faithful one is cast as a green olive tree in the house of God. That would seem a rather passive symbol, but there's much to recommend it. It is green, which means it is full of vitality. It is a tree, so its place is its place of abiding--trees don't come and go--it dwells in God's presence. It is an olive tree which means its fruitfulness provides oil which produces both sustenance and light.

An olive tree planted in the Temple grounds is in the happy situation of dwelling in the light of God. There it flourishes as a result of hanging out in the presence of God. It has abundant life flowing within and productive life blossoming and ripening without. It is alive as live can be, resting in the lovingkindness of God, but is there any action? 

Yes, there is--praising. "I will give you thanks" (as in the NASB above) would probably be bettered rendered as "I will praise you" (as in the NIV). The Hebrew word underlying the English translation comes from a root which means "casting" or "throwing" and which came to be used figuratively of the act of praising. In worship we cast our thanks, we cast our wonder, and we cast our submission to or upon God. 

When the faithful one is fellowshipping with God, planted like a tree in his presence, that one showers God with love and gratitude. Not a surprising response, given the wonder of who God is, it could hardly be helped. To fellowship with God is to break out in praise. Maybe we could jump to the conclusion and say by extension: to truly worship is to fellowship with God.

Worship is fellowship with God's people

That green tree planted in the temple of God is not alone. Others are present as well, godly people looking to God. Praise can be done alone, but is not something reserved for solitude. As for the individual, so too for the group: faithful people in the presence of God can hardly keep from breaking forth in praise. To truly worship in congress is to fellowship with God and man.

I think our fellowship with one another is missing something without genuine worship being part of our shared experience. Not all of our fellowship has to be centered around worship, but it is a dynamic that is healthy for us as individuals and as a body. Together, we are the temple of God. Worship is our fellowship.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Worship as a Response to God

Like all things truly spiritual, worship doesn't have its source in the innate goodness or wisdom of the human being. Would mankind even have a notion to worship, let alone worship along the lines God desired, without some impetus from God? I don't think so. True worship, as I see it, is something that results from the Spirit's input into the sons and daughters of Adam's race.

"Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the sons of Israel; and Aaron spoke all the words which the Lord had spoken to Moses. He then performed the signs in the sight of the people. So the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord was concerned about the sons of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed low and worshiped."   Exodus 4:29-31 NASB

Worship is inspired by hearing God's word. Faith is inspired along the same lines: it makes sense that worship would be part of the package. When the Holy Spirit attends the Word of God, so that the human can hear it with perception, understanding dawns on that person and response to God's word becomes possible. Faith is the primary, necessary and effective response, worship is the consequential one.

It is not the mere fact or existence of God's word which elicits a response, but the content. A later prophet would seem to rely on the same factor. When the Holy Spirit attends the Word of God which reveals that God has plans for people, plans to prosper them and not harm them, people touched by the message respond. Among other possibilities, they worship.

Followers of Jesus have such words from God. Since they are, by definition, spiritual people capable of spiritual appraisals, Christians would be expected to be people who exude worship in response to such promises. Christians unmoved to worship, Christians unresponsive worshipfully to God's goodness, or Christians unbowed before the mighty and merciful God would seem a contradiction in terms. Christians who don't worship might not be Christians at all.

Worship finds inspiration in the acts of God as well. The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ are perhaps the most notable among the acts of God, but they are not the only ones that inspire worship. Past acts other than those, and present acts serve to inspire worship too. Any act of God that communicates that God is with us, that God is for us, and that he has seen our misery and is concerned for us inspire those that believe to bow down in worship.

When one hears God's words of concern and promise and sees God's acts of deliverance and blessing, and believes, worship in response to God is practically automatic. So, listen to the words of God and see his acts of wonder and let a reaction rise within you and spill out as worship.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Worship as an Expression of Faith

Worship is about homage. It is the respect or regard paid to that which has power over one's life. Not everyone would acknowledge belief in the supernatural, but I think everyone worships something. Everyone give props to that which they see as having the power to affect their lives for good. If one truly believes in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, worshipping him is just part of that package.

"God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."         John 4:24  NASB

Worship is really an expression of faith.

At its heart, it is a reach, a stretch, wherein a person of conviction dares to seek and see God as he is. God is breath (spirit) and so he is beyond the physicality of this world and all that's in it. His essence is the essence of the soul, of personhood--self-awareness, consciousness, purposefulness. Therefore, that seeking which is worship must engage those same qualities within the seeker. That which is spirit must be worshipped in spirit.

Worship cannot be circumscribed by the merely physical nor the superficial.

Historically, Christian worship has fallen short in both regards. Arrangements of "furniture," postures of bodies, and recitations and intonations done virtually without thought have very little to do with worship. The contemporary fixation with worship as entertainment or a perfunctory preliminary is no better, maybe even worse. The very essence of our spiritual being must be engaged in seeking and revering God, or all we've done is gone through some empty motions.

The very essence of who we are as persons must bow before the very presence of the person of God in order to worship.

Worship is, literally, "kissing towards" the object of reverence, which by use referred to bowing or prostration before the worshipped; that is, doing obeisance or acknowledging superiority. So, at its heart, worship is about surrender. If we have not come to a point of surrender to God, deep in our souls, we have not worshipped. Worship, such as this, is not a duty that can be done from a distance, it can only be accomplished "up close and personal."

Worship must be sincere.

There's no place for illusion in worship. Often the reference to truth in John 4:24 is misinterpreted to refer to fact and logic (i.e., knowledge), as if true worship engages both emotion and intellect. Certainly, heart and mind are part of what makes a human essentially human, but the reference to truth in this case has more to do with integrity than it does to knowledge. Possessing a theologically accomplished mind doesn't qualify one as a worshipper to any degree whatsoever, whereas honestly bowing down does.

Though our publications and practices would seem to suggest it, it has not been left up to us to fashion what worship of God could or should be. Oh, people can do that sort of thing, but they shouldn't expect the result would be considered worship by God. Jesus has told us, clearly, what God is looking for in worship, and what worship of God must be. Worship is an expression of faith, it must come from the essence of what we are as people, it must express surrender to God's authority over us, and it must be unfeigned.

If what you call worship isn't accomplishing this, it's not worship.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Timing of Guilt and Forgiveness

Guilt and forgiveness occur in two different frames of reference and sometimes are out of sync as a result. We feel remorse for our sin and the need for forgiveness in real time, it's felt in the present like a dagger to the chest or a weight upon the shoulders. Guilt is experiential in the moment. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is past perfect--fully established by something Christ finished in the past.

Guilt, when it is our experience, is our experience until another one supersedes it. Our heads may understand the principle of vicarious sacrifice and the mechanism of forgiveness finished in the past, but our hearts feel guilt and remorse in the present and do so until they are alleviated. A battle rages between our minds and our hearts on the subject, because there is a difference between knowing something intellectually and feeling it emotionally. Believers in Christ can end up feeling shameful before God, even ostracized from him, despite knowing about the cross.

When Christians focus on their feelings of guilt they become prey for the enemy, who seeks to drive a wedge between them and God, ultimately to undermine their faith in God's forgiveness. Believers under the weight of guilt are on the edge of doubting their status before God. On the other hand, believers who are presumptuous, and ride roughshod over conscience, can undermine their own faith, sin against the grace of God, and wind up in the same place anyhow. God help us!

Guilt is not a necessarily bad thing for a Christian, but I think it takes an experiential revelation of forgiveness for it not to be so in the long run. That doesn't mean we're not forgiven if we don't feel forgiven, or even that we're not forgiven until we confess our sin and ask. Forgiveness was attained on the cross and sealed by the resurrection. It's a fait accompli. The one who believes in Christ and what he accomplished through his passion is forgiven regardless of confession or feeling.

But given the timing of guilt and forgiveness, there will be occasions when the believer will have to hold on to the facts of forgiveness with an iron grip until the feelings of guilt crumble and give way to those facts. Sometimes guilt must hang on the cross of Christ until it dies.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Open Door to Heaven

"After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven..."      Rev 4:1 NASB

The Apostle John looked up after his visionary experience as an amanuensis, saw an opened door in the heavens and heard the now familiar voice of his visions calling to him, presumably, through it. We're not told what caught his attention first: the appearance of the opened door, or the voice beckoning him. It really doesn't matter. A new phase in his visionary experience was beginning, and its significance would soon be apparent.

The opened door in the heavens most readily signifies access to what normally would be inaccessible to mankind. In this particular instance that represents access to two things beyond human purview: 1) the throne room, or very presence, of God; and 2) the future. God has to open the door to the experience of either, or the heavens remain closed. So, even though it is not specifically mentioned in the text, that door had to have been opened by Jesus, a key bearer who opens what no one else can open or close.

Doors, opened or closed, serve a variety of roles in the Apocalypse, but the basic concept is the same regardless--doors represent a barrier only authority or power can open. There are doors only God can open (like the one in question), and there are doors that God does not (cannot?) open. That would seem an odd thing, a door barring God, but the Apocalypse represents such a thing existing. Jesus stands knocking, in that case, waiting for the invitee to open the door. The implication for monergism, perseverance, and the whole of Calvinism is troubling, to say the least.

"Come up here," though in the form of a command, was more along the lines of divine commentary and was specific to John (singular). It cannot be related to the Rapture, nor really, to anyone else's access to God or heaven, whether by prayer or other means. Immediately, John was transported beyond the door into the midst of whatever it was opened to reveal. The surroundings were obviously symbolic because God (the Father and the Spirit) were represented tangibly when they are actually incorporeal, and Jesus was represented as a lamb rather than the corporeal form he has taken.

The purpose of John's visionary translation was to find out what things take place after the things he had already been shown. Those things were contained in the opening vision of Christ and the Letters to the Seven Churches. It stands to reason, it seems to me, that this particular sequential characteristic undermines viewing the Letters as representing successive ages of the Church. Instead, the Letters, all of them together, must have had reference to something that could have been existent in the time of John and before the bulk of what is revealed as happening afterward according to the stated purpose of the command.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

When Something Dawns on the Mind of God

There is life outside of this universe. God lives that life. His life existed when the universe did not, and would still exist if the universe dissolved into nothingness tomorrow. God is, everything else is made by him and exists at his pleasure. Therefore, there is something in and about God which has nothing whatsoever to do with creation, and which creation does not affect nor which creation orders.

God is perfect. He is entire within himself and in need of nothing. His perfections were as they were without creation, they are what they are upon creating, and they are what they would be if creation ceased to be. Therefore, God's perfections are not reliant in any respect upon creation. It could come and go but God would be the same.

When God created the universe and established something other than himself, of necessity, changes occurred within him due to his relation to that reality. That reality could have nothing to do with his perfections or else he wouldn't have been perfect apart from creation. The changes that reality caused upon its coming into existence, likewise, could have nothing to do with his perfections. So even though God does not change in regard to perfection, change is still part of his experience.

Before or apart from the decision to create, God had no relation to creation. If that reality was in his mind eternally (as would be the case on Essential Omniscience, Determinism, or Molinism) but undone, he would have been less than perfect apart from creating. He would have needed to create in order to fulfill that unfulfilled ambition, or to instantiate that knowledge in his mind which had no source in existence. Therefore, when creation did not exist God had no knowledge of it--there was nothing to know.

In his eternal perfections apart from creation, he did not know creation, created beings, nor the things that created beings did. Once he decided to create, he knew creation entirely. He knew created beings and all the things created beings did, completely, utterly, exhaustively. He did not and does not know them because he pre-conceived them in distant ages of eternity, but that in instantiating what he did conceive he knew them entirely through his omnitemporal omniscience. He knows them from the the foundations of the world, even though he wouldn't have know them "before" the foundations.

God can change in regard to thought or notion and still remain eternally perfect, as odd as that might sound. It is not at all necessary that God would have to know everything about creation before he conceived it and said, "Be." Theological conceptions which deny the first and insist upon the second lead to bizarre conclusions. The picture of God gets painted with inappropriate colors (as in Calvinism) and/or self-descriptions the Holy Spirit inspired in the Word of God get denied (as in Impassibility) as a result.

That something dawned on the mind of God (like creating), and represented a change for him, which affected him, should not be too difficult a concept to grasp given the testimony of scripture.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

What Is and Isn't In the Mind of God

God is omniscient which means he is all-knowing and all-seeing. He doesn't have to discover a thing, or even think through a thing, he "already" knows it. That being the case, can God be surprised to any degree? Surely, there is nothing of which God is not completely aware of and thoroughly comprehending from all eternity--or is there?

If God was thoroughly acquainted with evil before or apart from creation, then I submit that evil did not find its genesis in creation but in God. In that case, God did not "discover" it in creation, for evil was part of his thoughts quite apart from the existence of creation. It would have found it's way into creation reflectively rather than formatively. That seems an impossibility to me because evil is intrinsically at odds with God.

By Christ's argument, a house divided against itself cannot stand, so neither could God stand if he was for himself (good) and against himself (evil) within his own thoughts.

Therefore, evil could not have been in God's conceptions apart from those which instantiated creation. Even then, it could only have been so in general terms; i.e. "if we make creatures in our image they will do as they will rather than as we will." If evil was a subject thoroughly plumbed in God's mind apart from creation, then God's thoughts would be of evil to some extent and he would not be good, and he would not be pure. The evil that ended up being produced in the minds of mankind would exist as a reflection of the mind of God who made them rather than as an negative consequence of freewill.

Evil is a consequence of freewill, but it cannot be intrinsic in the created, pristine possessor of that freewill without it indicting the creator for it. Adam and Eve were created good and upright. Evil came their way afterwards, when they opted for their own wills instead of God's will (evil=anything against the will of God). Evil is only possible if there is a freewill apart from God's, but evil does not actually exist until (and unless) freewill is exerted in opposition to God.

A mind endued with such freewill would be transparent to God in all its evil, once it existed, because he is omnitemporally omniscient in regard to creation. Furthermore, all the minds that would ever come into existence would be transparent to God in all their evil, once creation was in place. However, if God omnisciently knew the evil thoughts of mankind from all eternity, that is, apart from creation being put in place, it would mean that something which could not come from God's own thoughts (they're not evil) and which only came into being temporally, informed God's knowledge eternally.

If God is pure and holy as the Word avows, and he actually regretted making mankind and was astonished at the depths of Israel's sin as presented in his Word, it is impossible that evil (whether his or ours) was part of his personal, eternal knowledge. The knowledge of evil, by necessity, is confined to and informed by the decision to create man in his image. If God had not created, he would not have any knowledge of evil. The existence of evil demands that God be aware of it by observation rather than by cogitation.

We may live in a universe that is quantumly frothy, but it seems to me that we must be careful in our explications of God's omniscience to accurately describe what is and isn't in the mind of God, lest we suggest something that would, by necessity, annihilate itself.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A Moment In the Mind of God

We experience, act and think sequentially, in a time-bound fashion, which seems to demand that the entire concept of change be placed squarely within the domain of time. God is not time-bound and sees omnitemporally, and yet presents himself to us within creation as one experiencing change. The paradox is confusing to say the least. Nonetheless, unless we are willing to discount God's self-revelation in scripture, it's a paradox we should accept as true.

I've written previously concerning God's experience of the moment within creation. His timeless experience of the moment in creation means that he's not only always here now, but that what was then is now and what is to be is now for him. We wait on time to unfold--past opening up to present, present becoming future. God sees the beginning from the end and the end from the beginning. He sees all things in motion through time, at once, and he interjects throughout time to affect and influence where things go, at once, and leaves no scar on time to trace that he ever did so.

It is not necessary that he dreamt all this up in the misty ages of eternity, as if he always, forever had a plan to create, and then decided to instantiate it in the moment of creation. He need only to have had a thought and said "be," and in that instant all was what it is in all its time at once before him. From his perspective, all stuff, all time, all the us there will ever be came about with one all-wise, all-seeing, all-knowing decision (or perhaps six day-long decision). The thought that precipitated that decision has not passed: this, right now, is that thought, not the echo of it as it would be if he had to perceive it through the long ages of eternity before he acted.

Really, that precipitating thought was the only one necessary for God to have undertaken regarding all creation throughout its time. Extended pre-planning, meticulous preparation, experimentation, and trial and error were not necessary to bring creation into being. God is wise enough, knows enough, is powerful enough, and is unaffected by time enough to put all this into play, and to still allow creatures free will within time. We are in that moment, the very same moment, and the only moment within the mind of God that produced all creation and in which creation is sustained.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Windows Into the Mind of God

How does God, with all his "omni" characteristics, think? We don't know, really, and can never know in this lifetime. We project upon him how we think, because it's the only approximation we have, but God has told us he doesn't think like we do. So, that doesn't really get us anywhere. Not being God ourselves, there is, in truth, no way for us to get inside the black box and see for ourselves.

Creation can clue us into the nature of God's power and his personal attributes analytically, even if invisible, but it cannot begin to unveil the thought processes involved in producing it. All we really have to go on in knowing the mind of God is a spattering of self-revelatory snippets scattered throughout his Word. Despite the fact that we are reflective of God (we're in his image), our suppositions and even educated guesses are of little help in gaining any insight into the mind of God because we have no "omni" characteristics. Any comparisons tend to be of the apples and oranges sort.

When we do extrapolate the results end up just plain weird. For instance, when we consider God's omniscience and his immutability and extrapolate to picture the mind of God, we can come up with some very strange constructs about what God's mind "must" be like. It is possible to conclude that God is incapable of making a decision, of forming an intention or otherwise acting mentally, because that would require a change in knowledge. Is that what God is really like?

Not at all! God's revelation in his Word blows such considerations out of the water. He made a decision to create "before" which he was not related to creation, after which he was. Change! He made a choice to interact with Abraham, thus becoming his God, before which he wasn't, after which he was. Change! He admits to having to see some things in order to know them. Change, at the very least, in regard to creation!

God reaches conclusions, God regrets, God is grieved, God becomes angry and has his anger placated. We can pass these things off as anthropomorphisms and extrapolate to utter weirdness, or we can accept these revelations as windows into the mind of God. I think that is what they were intended to be. Our LORD is not static, his "omni" characteristics don't reduce him to an all-knowing, all-seeing, ever unchanging amorphous blob. He does things which intrinsically necessitate change, even though he does not change, at least not in terms of who or what he is.

Monday, February 15, 2016

My Ideal Political Candidate Is...

-One who understands that government should protect the weak from the strong (and there is none weaker than a baby in utero)
-One who understands that immigration is as American as apple pie (just ask the indigenous people that are still here)
-One who understands that anyone who comes here must embrace being an American in language and culture (and particularly in adhering to the Bill of Rights) 
-One who understands that representative government is about protection of citizens, it's not a business and it should not be supplying anything that can effectively be supplied by private enterprise
-One who understands that the corporate world has protected the wealthiest while allowing them to expand their share of the economic pie at the expense of the rest (and it's time to re-slice that thing structurally through changes in corporate law rather taxing and spending)
-One who understands that American workers should not have to compete on an uneven playing ground with workers from nations that choke their air with pollution, poison their waters with impunity and do not protect their workers from the abuses Americans are protected from (just to sell a product for little less and make a little more for the folks at the top)
-One who understands courts are not here to make laws but to apply them to particular circumstances
-One who understands that poor people need safe environments every bit as much as those that are wealthier than they
-One who understands that warehousing non-violent offenders in prisons makes no sense economically or psychologically
-One who abides by the principal that his or her faith is not a campaign issue