Monday, December 21, 2015

How We Are Defeated But Can Be Victorious (Part 4)

The Lord Jesus modeled for us how to walk with God. He did this by himself learning to walk faithfully in affliction. Thus this saying is true: “As with Christ, so also with those who follow him.”

Note once again in the text (Matthew 4:1-11): It was the Holy Spirit who sent Jesus out into the desert “to be tempted/tried by the devil.” (v.1) Here is what I think is the heart of the reason for God doing this. The experience is not unique to Jesus but rather the Lord went through this because it is common for human beings to be tried/tempted by the devil. Therefore, if it common for us then he must experience it firsthand himself as the incarnate Son of God. In this testing in the wilderness we see the Lord’s perfect faith-relationship with God and steadfastness of faith. We see that his character and moral center are rooted in God alone and thus he can see through the evil one’s temptations for what they are and stand firm.
He has given us a way to stand strong as his disciples. This is to follow him on the road he walked and do the things he actually did himself. This means relating to the Father in the ways that he did so. And the chief characteristic of our Lord’s relationship with God the Father was one of submission, listening and obeying everything he was commanded. His will was to do the will of the Father.
Seeking to do the will of God often brings with it affliction and difficulties which self-seeking people do not have to encounter. For we become the target of the enemy. God himself brings us into times of testing in life to reveal our true character, deep points of pain and resistance which really motivate us; to bring to the surface of our consciousness what is already true about us (what God knows) and we need to see for ourselves about ourselves. For regardless of what we say we believe, it will be in the desert that the profession of faith will be tested.
On the day of my wedding, a companion of one our invited guests approached me and said only one thing, “Now the hard part starts.” I was not happy at the time to hear him say this! However, I have learned since, through being smacked by the hard fist of reality enough times to wake me up, how being married tests one’s faith and exposes one’s true character traits to the light of day. Such is the effect of difficulties and afflictions: Our response to them shows who we really are and gives us opportunities to trust God and grow up spiritually.
Do you see how this works? If we are willing to be honest, we must admit that we have most often made choices to hold onto bitterness, to past emotional wounds, to not forgive others and to prefer psychic strategies to manage our sin and dysfunctions in relationships. Periods of testing which the Lord puts us into are opportunities to face the truth about who we are and cry out for the Lord’s healing. He wants to bring his supernatural power to our point of need but cannot (because he will not override our wills) without permission. And we cannot give permission without knowing something of the depth of our need and opening the door of the heart to the Lord Jesus.
In our weakness (not sinful in itself) and willfulness (the core of sin) we vacillate between submission of heart and resisting through willful exertion of whatever we think is good or better for ourselves but opposed to God’s counsel to us. This is where the battle lines are always drawn in our minds and where the temptation of the enemy is aimed. James gives the Lord’s counsel: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7, NRSV)
Here is one key marker which will show whether you and I are really submitted to God in difficult circumstances. Are we exerting our energy to primarily escape from the trial? If we are following our Lord’s example then we are squarely facing the difficulties with sober judgment and patience which comes from faith. This is only possible because our victory is Christ’s life manifesting itself in our mortal bodies. Maintaining one’s fellowship and open ear and ready hands to act with the Spirit is the way to be victorious. This is how our Lord was in the days of his flesh at every moment. This is how we can live if we turn in love to submit ourselves to our faithful God.

Monday, December 7, 2015

How We Are Defeated But Can Be Victorious (Part 3)

There are threads in these three temptations (Matthew 4:1-11) for they appeal to genuine human needs and aspirations. This is part of what makes them so appealing. All three urge for a person to be self-dependent and self-assertive in order to satisfy one’s own self-love to get what one needs or desires. All three temptations are countered with the necessity of trusting God to meet one’s needs and to faithfully listen with obedience to his word and his way of acting (“righteousness”) in and for his children.  
At one of my former workplaces, I was able to drive company vehicles. But my use of those vehicles is restricted to the specific activities I do in the course of completing my work for the company. I can use vehicles only in the way specified in my job description. This is because the vehicles do not belong to me but the company. THE SAME RULE APPLIES IN THE KINGDOM—THE LORD FOLLOWED IT AND WE MUST TOO.
The Lord overcame the trial and did not yield to the tempter’s deception. He stood strong and kept the faith according to the Word of God. What was his secret? What made this possible? Let us go to another place in the Gospels for a clue. (See John 14:30-31)
The evil one, “the ruler of this world” (v.30), was coming again to confront Jesus. For after being vanquished in the desert Luke notes that he departed from Jesus “until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13, NRSV) Now that the Lord’s suffering was nearing he was coming again. However, according to our Lord, “in me he has nothing.” (v.31, Literal Greek) He had no means to nab or pull him over to do evil because he did not sin in any way. He always did as God his Father commanded him. And this obedience to God his Father was to reveal to all that “I love the Father.” (v.31)
This is what fundamentally makes us different from our Lord; we do sin and we do as we please. Thus we give to the enemy a hold in ourselves; thus we are not able to stand as the Lord did and force the devil to flee. But our Lord is patient and he is there to make us stand as we learn to submit to him and walk in dignity and spiritual authority which he suffered to give his children. He is ready to strengthen us in the midst of our trials, to teach us wisdom to effectively minster in his Name, and to deliver us from all evil.
            As disciples we must understand that to fully function as member of Kingdom we must obey God. For this is the “family business” and Jesus is the King who we answer to. He is exalted the King because in the time when he lived like us on earth he obeyed God the Father and kept the commands of his Father while carrying out the work of the Kingdom. He became our example in the practice of faith because he walked in total dependence as a man upon the Holy Spirit in obedience to God the Father. For he loved the Father.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How We Are Defeated But Can Be Victorous (Part 2)

The second temptation of the Devil to the Lord Jesus, as narrated in Matthew 4:1-11, was specific to who he was as God’s Anointed. For the devil knew that he was the Messiah, the Son of God. The devil did not dispute this fact in suggesting this tactic. Rather he is trying to bait him into showing off his divine power to do something that no ordinary human being could possibly do! The devil wants Jesus to act in a way that defies the means and method of God’s work.
The Lord’s response tells us what kind of attitude is proper and right for a human being to have: One of humble obedience to God while seeking to excel in living out one’s calling—for God as the sole audience. The devil does bring to us a parallel temptation to that of Christ when he suggests that we use any worldly means to use our talents or influence in order to win the applause of others or to make money for ourselves.
The Lord saw right through this because he understood that we are not to “put the Lord your God to the test.” (v.7; Deut. 6:16, NRSV) That is, we must listen to God and do what we are called to do in God’s way and in accordance with what he has revealed. This means that we must not utilize humanly designed publicity stunts or tricks to convince others that we are great or important. God called us and God will back us up as we follow his will.  
This third temptation of the Devil is the most direct and bold of the three he presented to the Lord Jesus. It is also the simplest one to name: Idolatry. The Lord dismisses it outright with this quote from the Scriptures, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” (v.10; Deut. 6:13, NRSV)
The heart of the temptation was to pull Jesus away from his rightly relating to God and doing his good will by offering to bestow upon Jesus something that the Messiah was said to be given by God—namely, to rule the whole world (see Psalm 110). The devil offered a shortcut around the narrow road of following the will of God to being glorified through his suffering on the cross and thus be Ruling Messiah of the heavens and earth.
The appeal of this temptation for us sinful humans is obvious. Do we not all feel inclined to get into that “inner circle” and access “power positions”? And like the devil we naturally want to wield power to suit our own purposes—not God’s or our neighbors. Thus if we are not fearers of God and decide that the end goal of life is gaining power over others and wielding that then the devil’s offer will be very attractive indeed! But even if we get some power to wield in life it comes at the eternal loss of our souls—if we do not repent and turn to Christ for life.
This is why we need to understand and apply the biblical rational of Jesus’ refutation of the devil’s offer. To take the devil’s offer is to subjugate oneself to a creature made by God rather than God himself. This devalues and degrades human dignity because that value comes from a vital worship of God through active faith and trust in God alone. This offer also cuts off one from the destiny God has for redeemed humanity to rule with his authority and power with Christ—that includes the angelic beings!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

How We Are Defeated But Can Be Victorious

One of my relatives some years back purchased a piece of furniture for her home—a rather nice looking foot rest. Her son tried to sit on it and it began to give way under his weight. So she went back to the store and complained to them about the fact that it would not hold weight. They responded, “Oh, that’s not made to be used.” In other words, it was designed to only look fashionable in your living room!
Who would sell furniture that was not made to be used—to bear the weight of use by people? But this is precisely how many people think of believing in God and Jesus is like: That faith is not really intended to be put to work—to be used in the hard reality of living. This is that kind of “faith” which James mocked when he said, “Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” (James 2:18, NRSV).
What Christian people have gotten very good at over time is devising means and methods to keep themselves busy with religious activities in order to avoid actually obeying the Lord Jesus in the concrete circumstances of life. The clear message of the NT is this: Learn how to do as the Master has done and is doing in the Kingdom of God. One of the main strategies of our spiritual enemy is to convince us by deception to live double lives; to make a pretense of having faith but denying faith in practice by disobeying God’s word written.
The Gospels give us a narrative (Matthew 4:1-11) that is an example of how the enemy works to deceive us. I want to explore this and mine it to find help in my own time of need. I hope that this will be of help to the reader.
We humans are “spiritual animals”. Thus here is the demonic strategy: Appeal to the most basic of all human needs: The nourishment of food to the body. Why not use your power as the Son of God to turn these stones into bread so you get a little bit to eat? What would be the problem with that? He would be taking care of himself, right? Since when is that a sin to provide for the things one needs?
But the Lord recognized what underlie this deceptive challenge. To agree with the Devil is to affirm the right to assert one’s will against the will of God for oneself. It is to say to God in effect, “I do not need to wait for you to provide bread for me—I must seek to find this sustenance myself utilizing my own resources and power.” Our Lord understood this and simply affirmed that human beings live by “every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (v.4; Deut. 8:3, NRSV). He left us an example of radical faith in trials and depravations that God would provide for our needs—specially when placed us in the “desert”!
We too are tempted by the enemy using this same deceptive suggestion. We can utilize the talents, resources and methods available to secure things which are essential or which we consider to be essential to our life on earth. And we can get them (or at least try) without God or any conscious dependence upon God—but it only leaves one in state of death.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Answer to Christian Witchcraft (Part 2)

            Every heresy is built upon (or as it were, around) some true affirmation about God. This is why religious groups claiming the mantle of “true” or “restored” Christian faith can have such an appeal. For they appeal directly to the Bible or some teaching of Jesus Christ but twist or contort the truth to fit into the warped contours of their own theology assumptions. (For example, every one of the heresies which the leadership of the Church dealt with, through Church councils, demonstrates this phenomena. (Indeed, case studies can also easily be done on Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Islam, and many other lesser known religious movements/groups.) The apostle Peter was right to warn the Church of all generations about those who “twist” (Greek: Literally “strangle”) the meaning of the Scriptures. (2 Peter 3:16) to make it appear to affirm what they believe.

            Such I would propose is the case in our generation in America. We are obsessed with power and gaining tools by which to secure our own prosperity. If we are going to be honest, we must admit that most of us in Christian circles highly value our own security (usually understand in materialistic terms) and preserving the right to exercise our will in most matters of this life. God can have a significant part of our lives but far too many Christian people quietly retain the right to self-determination even in relationship to God. This is called in Scripture “pride” or “haughtiness.”

A.W. Tozer, somewhere in one his books, wrote insightfully of the propensity of the flesh to try to act spiritual. He was so right! This impulse of American Christians in particular to preserve self-will in spirituality is nothing more than a sin-filled self trying to exercise spiritual power and authority. I would begin to reference biblical references highlighting how much of an insult this attitude is to God but they would fill up a page! Two immediately come to mind: The Lord Jesus’ story of two sons (Matthew 21:28-32; note the full context [21:1-45] illustrates the core of sin of the Jewish religious leaders) and Paul’s extended exhortation to the Corinthian believers (1 Corinthians 1-3).

How subtle is the demons’ lies to us about spirituality! For the central claim to spiritual power of the teachers and practitioners of what I have called “Christian witchcraft” do indeed pick up the truth of what the Lord taught. He plainly taught the disciples that they could, if they have “faith”, ask in prayer and receive the authority to wither fig trees and even move “mountains.” (See Matthew 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-14, 20-25) Assuredly, our Lord meant for us to exercise God’s power for good in service to him—to the benefit of other people. For he plainly promised those who genuinely knew and walked in faith through him spiritual insight, wisdom and power to do the works he did and even more (see John 14:12-14).

The key to a right understanding and experiencing the reality of this promise lie in the qualifications the Lord gave (see Mark 11:25). In order to exercise spiritual power, as the Lord himself did when he lived on earth as we do now, we must forgive others. We cannot hold grudges against others and expect God to answer our bold (or just desperate?) prayers.

Do not the Lord’s words here echo passage after passage from Scripture? Does not God require from people a “clean heart” and “clean hands” (see Psalm 15)? Does not James warn about the empty boasting of those who claim faith but do not show corresponding good deeds? (see James 2:14-26; 4:13-17) Did not the Lord warn that there would be some who would claim that they had done great miracles in his name but that he never knew them? And that such persons were in their hearts “lawless”? (see Matthew 7:21-23)

May God keep me from such a terrible end! May God, who is faithful, awaken God’s people in America so they can recognize and repent of secret sins of the heart! For truly to God the Father “all hearts are open, all desires are known and nothing is hid.” (Book of Common Prayer) May God convince us not to hide any longer so we can be healed and cleansed by the power of the blood of Christ. Then we will be an army of the righteous who act from genuine faith and can legitimately exercise the power of God in the Spirit.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Answer to Christian Witchcraft

For every fake there is a real article on which it is based. For every forged signature there is an authentic signature. And for every false and empty imitation there is a prior and original action rooted in true experience. This principle is especially true in matters of religion and spirituality. 

The nature of spiritual longing forces one to move either toward authenticity or mask wearing. For every person has a fundamental decision to make: Do I want to deal with God and reality as it is? If the answer is no then one has a further choice to wrestle through: Do I completely give up on religious practices or do I maintain the practice so as to appear that I am a “spiritual person”?

Perhaps you think this is odd that someone would consider this choice. Why not simply be authentic and honest about oneself and seek a remedy to one’s moral and/or spiritual challenges? Why not admit that I simply do not know how to relate to God and do not understand about spiritual reality? But this would require humility born of wisdom received from God (James 3:13). The proud person cannot tolerate true humility.

This brings me to the error of “Christian Witchcraft” which has been embedded into the thinking of some who claim the name of Christ. Those entrapped by this false teaching may or may not recognize it for what it is. Some do and continue to teach and model it because they can use it for their own benefit. The Lord and the apostles warned about such people who serve themselves under the cover of doing God’s ministry (for example, see Matthew 7:21-23; 1 Timothy 4:1-5; 2 Peter 2). Yet my purpose in writing about it is to help clarify why this teaching is false and what the original article (biblical teaching) is which we can embrace.

The Lord promised to his disciples that they would have the right to exercise, in dynamic relationship to God the Father through him, authentic spiritual authority for the good of others (see John 14:12-14). But the truth which he purposely fused together with this promise is that the one exercising this divine authority loves God and seeks to serve God from the heart. We can see this from the fact that he immediately begins to speak at some length about the necessity of the disciples growing in love for God and being receptive to God’s love (John 14:15-21; 1 John 3:18-24). If one truly loves God then that person will be seeking to submit to God in all things. For this is what the Lord himself did (John 5:19-20). And anyone who seeks to represent him as a teacher or doing any ministry involving phenomenal expressions of spiritual power must live as he did and does (1 John 2:3-6).

The line dividing authentic exercising of divine power from witchcraft dressed up in Christian terms is simply the orientation of the heart to God. If one is harboring iniquity or seeking to serve oneself under the guise of religion then by definition one has begun to use Christian ministry (along with the practices related to accessing divine power) for oneself. Dependence and submission to God is merely a pretense that allows such a person to maintain the appearance to fool others. This always ends up destroying the person doing this and bringing great harm to others. For the inner character of persons sold out to doing what God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19) will eventually be expressed in behavior to others.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Christian Witchcraft

There is a pernicious teaching in some segments of the Christian church which needs to be named. This teaching goes by at least several different names: “Name and Claim It” or “Faith Healing” or the “Prosperity Gospel”. To put it simply, the substance of this teaching is this: If a person will have adequate faith in God’s promises of blessing and abundance (almost always meant to be material things or physical healing) then God is then required to grant that person what he or she is asking for. If you doubt me watch some of the religious television programs on cable sometime. Many (if not the majority) will teach some version of this doctrine. This is nothing other than a form of witchcraft dressed up rather shabbily in Christian terms.  
            This teaching presumes that there is some way to impose upon God binding obligations so that he must give us what we want. “I am believing God for a wife (and I already know who she is). She just has not come to recognize it yet.” The presumption here is that what this man has identified as both his need and his want God must also concur with him on! And since God, after all, wants him to be blessed and happy then God must be working to give this desire of his heart. Where is the fear of God in this attitude? Where is real faith in this presumption? How does this longing (genuine) for a wife and presumption that God must grant it assist such a man to have his own character be conformed to the mind of Christ? Where is true submission to doing God’s will?
            The key point of practical theology for this doctrine hinges on finding the correct (magic, if you will) formula: If we can just identify the right form of belief, the correct terminology to use in demanding things from God and do the right things behaviorally or in religious ceremony then God will be obligated to do what we want. This is no different than the idolatrous mindset of the ancient Israelites which the prophets called out as outright rebellion against the living God covered up with religious ceremony (for example, Amos 5:21-27). King Saul was reproved and had his kingship revoked because of his disobedience and utter pretense of loyalty to God as the anointed king of Israel (see 1 Samuel 13:8-14; 15:1-30). In fact, after God had stopped speaking with him in any form (for he never repented of his sin, which Samuel named in 1 Samuel 15:22-23) he took the formal step of seeking a medium in order to talk to the (deceased) Samuel again (1 Samuel 28).
            According to the Scriptures God is extraordinarily patient and kind and will extend grace to people—regardless of what they have done. However, God will not be mocked. His righteousness stands and as he is holy he will eventually judge and act to intervene against those who are committed to sin (in its various forms and manifestations). This is not only shown in the Old Testament (for example, Hosea 10) but also in the New Testament (see Revelation 18). To have genuine faith and love of God includes a healthy fear (or reverence) of God and to steadfastly seek him so as to avoid participating in evil practices that he hates. And God hates what destroys his creation. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Usefulness of Good Theology (Part 4)

I have endeavored to be a student of Church history. This study has led me to one dominant insight which is very helpful in understanding my own behavior and that of others. Namely that the conception a person has of God will determine how he or she understands reality. The clearest examples of this come from people who hate others or even kill because of a specific ideology (tribalism, racism, Marxism, radical environmentalists) or theological beliefs (radical Islamic jihadists and sects within other religious traditions who persecute others to enforce what they believe upon others). In the case of those who would deny any specific category of belief in God there is a belief system which has a binding force upon their mind and allegiance.
The truth of this phenomena is almost too obvious for us to notice. Perhaps we would not note it except that there are those who are so “extreme” in how they interpret and practice their ideology or theology. They are so dedicated to their understanding of God and what they perceive to be God’s will, or understanding of how human life should be, that they will sacrifice their lives in that particular cause. Such persons present themselves as being supremely confident in the rightness of their beliefs and thus they act upon them as they perceive is best to do so. Whatever you or I may think or say about any such persons or their actions the one thing that is crucial to note is that their behavior shows they are committed to what they believe.
The Christian church has long claimed that it has been given, in a way that is unique in the history of the whole world, truth regarding God and God’s will (see 1 Timothy 3:14-16). There are (and always have been) many who certainly did not agree! Today the general mood among most people in the Western world (America, Europe) is dismissive or openly hostile to anyone making absolute truth claims about God. This mood has been called “post-modernism.” This negative critique of human beings ability to accurately perceive reality—ideas of God and everything else fundamental to human experience-- effects the perceptions and expectations of everyone living in this culture. Regardless of one’s religious or “spiritual” beliefs and affiliations one cannot escape the creeping influence of “post-modernism.”
The cultural climate in which we live in the Western world makes the task of discerning truth and consciously developing good theological ideas even more needful. To live today is akin to swimming in a large public pool with no life guard on duty; indeed, the absence of a life guard is an agreed upon condition for being in the pool. For we do not believe in the need for any spiritual guides or any public truth that would be binding upon all; all things are to be kept within the private and subjective vantage point of individuals. If some people find that they believe similar things they might be convinced of the value of gathering together for mutual encouragement. But this gathering is only incidental to the question of truth.
The force and influence of this dominant idea on people’s way of thinking demonstrates why good theology is essential. For since we have the Scriptures and they have been made accessible to us we do need to honor our faithful God by energetically studying them in order to know the truth God has revealed. The consistent lack of interest in the Western world among Christians for knowing God and seriously seeking to learn about his Truth demonstrates the true character of our “spirituality.” For we want God to conform to our privatized and pathetically small perceptions of reality (actually that of our own comfort and self-interest). In order to gain true spiritual health and nurture all the life enriching aspects of truth we must want to know truth as it is found in the living God. And to find the Truth we must seek for it with all of our hearts, according to the means and medium God choose to reveal truth, with the expectation that God will graciously grant to us knowledge of his will (Psalm 119:29).

We who claim the Name of disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ face challenges from every angle, perspective and corner of human life and experience. Nothing in the humanly crafted (and demonically oppressed) culture we find ourselves in encourages us to be obedient to the Lord Christ. But we have, should we choose to exercise faith in obedience to God’s Word, the power which raised our Lord up from death inside our very selves. For God has sovreignly granted to believers existential knowledge of himself through the Lord Jesus and deposited this “treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power [to live in righteous hope] belongs to God and does not come from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7, NRSV) To vigorously search out to know and to practice truth lays the ground work for good theological thinking. And good theological thinking is essential to all efforts to discern what God’s will is for in the particulars of our lives, our work and everyday challenges. 

Usefulness of Good Theology (Part 3)

            Recently I went to do some target shooting with hand guns. This is something I do occasionally with friends or family. While getting set up for the shooting practice someone noted that the use of a scope is not particularly helpful when attempting to hit a target that is close to you. For the scope is designed to assist the person using the firearm to see a target from a distance with clarity and thus be able to hit it. This is the functional usefulness of the optics of the scope. However, the power of the scope to focus on the image works against the shooter if the target is too close because the shooter ends up seeing only one small portion of the target and can easily lose sight of where on the target he or she is aiming the gun. Thus the shooter’s ability to accurately see the target is inhibited rather than enhanced by the use of the scope.  
Something like this happens to us humans when we utilize our own rational and emotional intelligence to analyze ourselves or deeply painful experiences (for example, in relationship to others). For we all are afflicted, by birth, with an internal “tunnel vision”. Unless someone (or perhaps the hardness of life circumstances) helps us to learn how to be attentive to and learn from the broader array of phenomena in life we will choose to isolate ourselves. Depending upon how we choose to handle the particulars of our experiences in life determines whether we make avoidance our aim or rather openness to exploring the reality of life in this world. And of course, if we make the avoidance of pain or hardship our aim in life then we will welcome the bondage of addiction to something.
The more money someone has the more likely they can and will retreat into a tightly controlled lifestyle that allows for the filtering out of information about the world as it actually is. And for those who do not have the luxury of self-isolation that wealth affords there is always the attraction of alcohol, drugs, and illicit sexual experience to distract from the personal pain and actual hardships of life. The internal psychological dynamics are the same regardless of differences in social status, wealth, intelligence or any other category one may care to use to distinguish between people.
The 16th century reformer Martin Luther said that human nature is “bent in on itself.” This observation and phrase is both profound and helpful. What he was capturing with this phrase is simply the human dilemma which our internal orientation toward sin and actual choices to sin have formed. We cannot see beyond ourselves and our own self-interest unless somehow we learn to stand up straight and “see” ourselves, God and the world as it actually is. This is where the usefulness of “good theology” meets the existential need of the human heart: We are told by revelation what we would otherwise not know about ourselves (or certainly not admit honestly) and challenged to fundamentally change our perspective and way of life. And the presentation of truth makes us accountable before God when we stand at the final Day.
The Apostle Peter wrote, “If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.” (1 Peter 1:17, NRSV) This is a statement of practical theology rooted in the teaching of the Scriptures. Peter’s point, it seems to me, is that we need to make good use of the truth we know by living by faith in “reverent fear” of the living God. In contrast, the wicked person has no fear of God (and thus no faith) and thus lives only for him or herself—at the expense of other human beings and even to their harm. But those who claim to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ have no right to do this—for they have been bought by the blood of the Lamb for God (Revelation 5:9-10)
There are some things in our life experience that are so plain and obvious that we tend to overlook them entirely. For example, sunsets, rainstorms, flowers, mountains, people walking past on a crowded street, etc. For those who study the Bible the exhortations to practice good theology (truth) are overlooked because we do not want to hear this. Though this is a primary thread woven throughout Scripture how many of us actually hear and heed this teaching? How often do we get lost in the grass, so to speak, of the details of biblical texts (or challenging questions we seek specific answers to in Scripture)?

The practice of truth (1 John 3:18) is rooted in a faith filled response to the revelation given in Scripture. “The way of the LORD is a stronghold for the upright, but destruction for evildoers.” (Proverbs 10:29, NRSV) Truth is given in order for us to live in God every day and every moment of life on earth. To practice the truth necessitates learning to love God and obey God’s voice, and thus be transformed in one’s inner person. The expression of this actually happening will be loving others from the heart (1 Peter 1:22).

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Usefulness of Good Theology, Part 2

Preachers and Christians frequently speak of getting one’s “head knowledge” down into one’s heart. While common this statement is quite misleading if not qualified—for really what is required to know the truth is to receive truth into one’s heart by faith and submit one’s mind to God. Obviously we all hear and process truth statements about God, moral principles and foundational life choices through our intellectual faculties. But it is in the heart (the inner person) where we decide what to do with the truth we hear.  
The mind is useful for reflection and to organize the content of knowledge but not to discern or decide the truthfulness of God’s revelation. The faculty of the mind, by itself, is simply not capable of doing this. Those who think so are simply fooling themselves and mistaking cognitive analysis for “independent” judgment regarding the truthfulness of a statement about Reality. For the mind is servant to the heart (that is, the seat of the will); to reverse this is to make one’s intellect God. When a person has deified him or herself then naturally the capacities of the self are thought to be entirely adequate to discern moral rightness or wrongness and validity of claims about reality. But this is sheer self-deception.
This is why one’s theological views (whether they be crude, confused or refined and precise) flow out of one’s life experience. The truest test of belief is behavior—for behavior communicates the convictions of the heart (and thus the choices one makes). Yet this very fact makes it that much more necessary for biblical teaching to be clearly taught. For people need to hear the Gospel and engage their wills and intellects to learn the principles from Scripture (the truth) in order to know how to live righteously. Paul strongly emphasized to Timothy and Titus (see his letters to them) that they must press upon their hearers’ “sound doctrine”; that is, to plainly teach and make practical application of God’s Word for the people they served.
The truth one finds in the Scripture is addressed to the human heart (that is, to the human will). God appeals, pleads, warns, promises, commands and invites us to hear and come near to him. God speaks into our darkened minds, with the piercing light of truth, to reach the will. And the human heart is desperately perverse and stubborn (Jeremiah 17:9). Human beings are spiritually blinded because they choose sin over the truth of knowing the living God.
The Lord Jesus said: “‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see’, yours sin remains.’” (John 9:39-41, NRSV) Those who prefer spiritual darkness love sin and thus refuse to receive truth which Jesus speaks and embodies. Whether a person is religious or not, or practices some kind of “spirituality” or is an atheist, makes no difference regarding Jesus’ point. All such persons trust in themselves and love their sin more than anything else or anyone else. Such is the tragedy of the unredeemed human heart.

Thus the clear proclamation of God’s word through teaching is extraordinarily useful in people’s lives. How will anyone know about God if not taught? How can anyone turn to the living God if not taught accurately? And the person with true faith will fully utilize the intellect to engage and grow in spiritual knowledge and wisdom. “You are good and do good; teach me your statutes.” (Psalm 119:68) And again, “The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy. They [his precepts] are established for ever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.” (Psalm 111:7-8, NRSV) 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Usefulness of Good Theology

Some years ago, while working toward my Bachelors’ degree, I took an introduction to psychology course. The class was generally not memorable except for one thing the teacher repeatedly said. “There is nothing quite so practical as a good theory.” I have come to appreciate the wisdom of this statement, for it fuses together what we so frequently (and unconsciously) separate in an unnatural way—intellectual thought processes from the practicalities of life. Examples of the reality of this fusion in life are many: The scientist testing a theory in “real world” conditions, a teacher employing well thought out strategies to present and get the children in the classroom to comprehend math concepts, the computer programmer who searches out what he knows about the specifics of the software and the hardware design to try to expand their usefulness and applications, the mother who intentionally and creatively implements principles of morality through her example and parental enforcement of boundaries. I could give more (and perhaps you could also).
The point is simple: To make any progress in real life, in one’s relationships or work, one must learn or develop a “theory” or strategy for how to solve problems or to help oneself make complicated moral decisions or to know how to discern what is true about spiritual matters. If it so needful for us to have guiding principles and strategies for “successful living” why then do so many people think that theology is unimportant? Why is it especially the case that so many self-identified Christians do not think that having sound, biblically grounded, theological views is not of crucial importance? (I am now referring not to people in the American culture who are non-church going but to those who say they believe the Bible to be true and attend church services.)
There is today a profoundly troubling ignorance of the Bible’s teachings and of Christian theology. But there is also a profoundly troubling trend in the behavior of Christians which contradicts plainly the teaching of the Lord Jesus and of the Bible in general. (Yes, I know that this could be said of every generation of Christians to some extent but the current time is uniquely notable in this regard.) We live in a time when many American Christians behave as if they were in fact not believers; that they are, for all practical purposes not followers of Jesus Christ (regardless of what they say). For behavior is communication and faith without corresponding good deeds is dead (James 2:26).
This situation is rooted in the fact that those who profess belief in Christ do not believe from the heart the truth as expressly taught in the Scriptures. Learning to think clearly about God’s truth and revelation (theology) and making a serious study of Scripture is neglected precisely because to do so would require one to be entirely too practical and real with God and other people. For there is nothing quite so practical as an understanding (rooted in the heart by faith) of God’s truth revealed in Scripture. Further, there is nothing quite so practical as knowledge gained and practiced through life experience (wisdom). Is this not what God dares us to step out by faith and learn by his power? (See Proverbs 8) Did not the Lord himself say that the way to truly know if his teaching is true is to resolve to do God’s will (that is, to practice what is right and true)? (See John 7:16-17)

            So here is my final point: There is no actual dichotomy between intellectual formulations and one’s actual beliefs. What one actually believes theologically will be expressed one way or another; whether a person has the ability to articulate what he or she believes or not the core beliefs will be expressed in life. This, incidentally, is where hypocrisy is formed and nurtured. For when a person wants to present himself or herself in a positive but false manner then the mask wearing skills are developed and honed. And of course, eventually it will become clear to others that such persons are misrepresenting the reality of the their inner lives and character. Such is the wretched condition from which the Lord Jesus alone can deliver—through the power of his own blood. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Wisdom of the Sombrero

I suppose it is probably because I am not of Mexican or Hispanic heritage that I may have picked up on this (or perhaps not). Regardless, I noticed a man working outside at my place of work who was wearing a sombrero hat. This hat had quite a large brim--so much so that I could see that no matter what he was doing in the course of his work it completely shielded him from the hot Arizona sun. How brilliant to invent such a design for a hat. How entirely useful and also at the same time uniquely ascetically pleasing to the eye.
I have begun this blog by meditating upon a hat because it appears this soul that this is a profoundly appropriate metaphor to capture the purpose of these ongoing blog posts. Life and thought and theological reflection are quite useless to one doing the thinking and pondering if they do not move toward practical insight for living righteously in the world. The Scriptures both contain and are God's word, given in different historical periods, to different persons chosen to receive them, so that God's truth, wisdom and salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ can be experienced for life in the real world. This is the conviction of this writer and all that I write and publish here on sarkakaiaima will be aimed at reflection upon truth that is always intensely practical and real to life as it is experienced and as it can be experienced. This author makes no claim to having mastered wisdom in life or in knowledge of God; rather I am on the path seeking to learn to hear the Master's voice and turn from my own folly daily in order to enjoy life lived in God and for God. "In the path of righteousness there is life, in walking its path there is no death." (Proverbs 12:28, NRSV) Yes indeed. Thanks be to God!