Christianity 201

April 18, 2019

Compelling Grace, Part 2

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How Loving Others Points to God

by Clarke Dixon

For a worldview or religion to be compelling you would expect it to nurture good relationships. This is especially true where offence is involved. Where there are relationships, there are hurting people, for people hurt people. We are human. If a worldview or religion is true, we should expect that it will help us relate to one another and navigate the nasty quirks of our humanity.

Does Christianity provide a compelling vision for relationships including a method of dealing with offence? Some would say “no, Christianity is all rules which makes people get all judgemental.” Others would say, “no, Christianity is all forgiveness which turns people into doormats.” So which is it?

Last week we looked at the compelling way God relates to us. To summarize, God’s relationship with us is based on His grace, not our performance. How are we to relate to others?

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT)

As God relates to us, we relate to others; with love and grace. Consider the following verses:

7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. . . .
10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. . . .
16 God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.  We love each other because he loved us first.
 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. 1 John 4:7,10,16-21 (NLT)

We are to relate to others in the same manner God relates to us; with love and grace. There are some things we can say about this . . .

First, grace provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships. Some relationships are like sailing in a thunderstorm or like walking on eggshells. Fear is a constant. However, “perfect love expels all fear.” God drives out our fear for He does not treat us as our sins deserve (see Psalm 103), but rescues us, and relates to us, by his grace. What is true with our relationship with God can also be true in our relationship with others. Grace provides a great fear-free atmosphere for people to thrive in growing relationships. In marriage, in family, among friends, at the workplace, in teams, the experience of grace given and received provides a great atmosphere to live, work and play.

Second, grace provides a compelling response to offence. People often deal with offence by either “fight or flight.” Neither work well. The Christian is to do neither. Rather than lash out and risk an all out war, we are to turn the cheek. Some will say that is not at all compelling. Won’t people will walk all over us and take advantage of our grace? Well, no, grace provides for a flexibility in responding to offence.

Suppose a spouse is abused again and again, and each time the abused spouse is expected to forgive the abuser as if nothing ever happened. Is that compelling? No. I call this “doormat grace.” Some would say this is the vision of Christianity in dealing with offence, but it is not. The Bible teaches the need for grace, love, and forgiveness in relationships, yes, but the Bible also teaches the need for wisdom. The Book of Proverbs is still in the Bible! We need not offer doormat grace, but wise grace. Grace toward offenders means wanting the best for them, it does not mean putting up with the worst for yourself. When you respond with grace, you do not seek the destruction of the offender, but neither do you open yourself up for destruction. The gracious person turns the other cheek instead of hitting back. The wise person also takes a step back.

Grace, when applied with wisdom, sounds like this: “I will not seek your harm, though I think you deserve it, however, I do not trust you and so have set boundaries so that you can not harm me further. There may be opportunities for changing these boundaries in the future, but right now I discern these to be appropriate for my own safety and well-being.” Grace leads to not seeking revenge. It does not lead to acting as if the offence never happened, that trust has never been broken. Wisdom considers trust. Grace considers the possibility of future relationship. Wisdom considers the possibility of future harm. Grace leads to treating people better than they deserve. Wisdom leads to not letting people treat you worse than you deserve.

Grace in relationships is compelling. It provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships and a compelling response to offence which includes flexibility in applying wisdom in responding to offence. Within Christian relationships there is space for growth, reconciliation, boundaries, and safety for oneself. Christianity when practiced in emulation of God, in the Spirit of Christ, and keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, provides a compelling vision for relationships, including a compelling method of dealing with offence. The manner in which Christians are to relate to others is really compelling. This is no surprise of course, for it comes from a real God.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

 

March 7, 2019

Compelling Minds

by Clarke Dixon

Can a thinking person be a Christian? Can a Christian be a thinking person?
Is thinking discouraged within Christianity?

First, there is a lot of thinking going on in the Bible. We often find the Psalmists in deep thought:

“I remember the days of old, I think about all your deeds, I meditate on the works of your hands.” Psalms 143:5 (NRSV emphasis added)
“On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.” Psalms 145:5 (NRSV emphasis added)

There is a whole portion of the Bible known as “Wisdom Literature” which is devoted to some deep thinking. We find wisdom applied to life in Proverbs and deep contemplation in Ecclesiastes:

I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, 13 applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven . . . Ecclesiastes 1:12-13 (NRSV emphasis added)

Thinking continues into the the New Testament:

As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. 4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women. Acts 17:2-4 (NIV emphasis added)

Paul spent up to three years in Arabia following his conversion. Some Bible scholars believe this time was devoted to thinking through the results of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. With his extensive knowledge of the Old Testament, the startling revelation of the living Jesus would have given him a lot to think about.

Second, there is a rich tradition of thinking throughout the history of Christianity. Some great thinkers throughout history include Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, and Descartes to name a few. There are many great Christian thinkers in theology, but also every other field of study besides including science, literature, and philosophy.

So yes, a thinking person can be a Christian, and a Christian can be, in fact ought to be, a thinking person.

There is more we can say about Christianity and thought . . .

Christianity gives a good account for the reason we can freely think for ourselves. If there is nothing supernatural, if there is only matter and the physical, then the brain operates just like a machine, and therefore none of our thinking is free thinking. Rather, our thoughts are like the falling of dominoes. Or, to use another example, they are like the weather. We might experience a “random” gust of wind. However, a gust of wind is never random. The air is simply following the laws of physics and under the circumstances, the gust had to blow the way it did. If there is no God, then the same is true of our thinking. Every thought, though seemingly random, had to happen as it did. If this is the case, how can we hold people accountable for anything? However, we intuitively know that we have free-will. Christianity accounts for this experience of freewill for our minds are more than mere machines. Ironically, the atheist “free thinker” will have difficulty accounting for free-will under a purely naturalistic worldview.

Christianity gives a good account for the reason we can reason in the first place. How do we get from a brain to a mind? How do we get from physical matter to conscious thought? The brain and the mind interact, but they are different. Lee Strobel, in his book “The Case for the Creator” gives the example from Sam Parnia of the brain being like a television set. The TV is necessary for the watching of a movie or show, but the signal carrying the show is quite a separate thing. Should the TV be damaged, it will be hard for the signal to get through properly, but the signal is still a separate entity. So too with our brains. A physical problem with the brain will affect how the mind is expressed, yet they are not one and the same thing. In fact, there is no good theory as to how the two work together.

How did the brain give rise to consciousness in the first place? Strobel goes on to quote J.P. Moreland on this question

Here’s the point: you can’t get something from nothing . . . It’s as simple as that. If there were no God, then the history of the entire universe, up until the appearance of living creatures, would be a history of dead matter with no consciousness. You would not have any thoughts, beliefs, feelings, sensations, free actions, choices, or purposes. There would be simply one physical event after another physical event, behaving according to the laws of physics and chemistry. . . . How, then, do you get something totally different – conscious, living, thinking, feeling, believing creatures – from materials that don’t have that? That’s getting something from nothing! And that’s the main problem.

However, there is no problem accounting for the rise of consciousness in the Christian worldview. Continuing to quote Moreland:

. . . .you see, the Christian worldview begins with thought and feeling and belief and desire and choice. That is, God is conscious. God has thoughts. He has beliefs, he has desires, he has awareness, he’s alive, he acts with purpose. We start there. And because we start with the mind of God, we don’t have a problem with explaining the origin of our mind.

Strobel also references Phillip Johnson: “you either have ‘in the beginning were the particles,’ or ‘in the beginning was the Logos,’ which means ‘divine mind.’” If part of that sounds familiar, that is because “logos” is the Greek word for “word”;

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. John 1:1-3 (NIV)

When we consider the evidence of consciousness and free minds we can infer an intelligent, conscious and free agent as the Creator. Christianity fits that inference very well. Our minds are yet another compelling facet of Christianity.

Can a Christian be a thinking person and a thinking person be a Christian? Thinking is encouraged for every Christian. In fact thinking points to the One Who thought us up in the first place!


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

August 27, 2018

Is Sin a Condition or a State of Being?

Today we’re introducing you to a new (to us) website, Faith, Fiction and Fatherhood. The writer holds a law degree from Baylor and attends a United Methodist Church in Texas. Click the title below and then check out other articles.

Is Sin Phenomenal or Existential?

In Matthew 5:28, in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: “‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’”

That’s a tough statement, especially given the following advice that if a body part is causing us to sin we ought to cut it off.

But let’s take a step back and think about this on a level deeper than the surface–and the shock that goes along with it. I’m a firm believer that many times when Jesus says something that seems very condemning, what he’s doing is simply laying out for us how the world works and what the natural consequences of a thing are. For instance, when Jesus tells us that, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” in Matthew 19:24, he’s not saying “God condemns rich people for being rich and no one should be.” Rather, I think, he’s saying, “The money and power that go along with wealth–and the accompanying desire to hold onto that money and power–make it very difficult to focus on what is good and true and righteous, because the love of power is seductive and addictive. Be wary that such things do not make you see the world in the wrong way, but keep focused on the way that I have told you to see the world.”

Likewise, in Matthew 5:28, while Jesus does say something that, if we’re being honest with ourselves, reminds us all of our sins, I think that his purpose is less about shaming us and more about telling us about the very nature of sin.

And that’s why this post is titled, “Is sin phenomonal or existential?” If you’ve read many of my other posts, you already know where I fall on this issue, but I’d like to develop the idea a bit more specifically.

When I ask if sin is phenomenal, what I mean to ask is whether sin is a matter of discrete and observable actions, specific behaviors violative of what is righteous. When I ask if sin is existential, I’m asking if, rather than being a matter of specific and easily-identifiable behaviors, sin is a condition or state of being.

The real answer, of course, is that it’s both of these things at once. What the question(s) really seek to answer is whether it is particular actions that lead to a particular state of sin or whether particular actions are the result of a state of being. Again, the best argument is likely that there’s a dialectic between these two things–bad acts make it easier to choose bad acts in the future, deepening a state of sinfulness, but without some existentially sinful condition, there would never be any sinful action, so the influence of one on the other must be mutually reinforcing. So, what should we focus on as primary when dealing with and discussing sin–actions or a state of being.

In Matthew 5:28, Jesus appears to be arguing against the legalism of the Old Testament law (here making specific allusion to the Ten Commandments) and instead showing us that sinfulness is a matter of mindset, perspective (compared to the objective, I mean to intimate no relativistic thought here), paradigm.

There are two quotations I prefer (and have used on the blog before) to encapsulate this idea, which is central and fundamental to existential thought. Having been a professional student and scholar of the Renaissance and early modern periods, both quotations are derived from that most elevated and rarified literary era.

First, some John Milton, from Book I of Paradise Lost: “The mind is its own place, and in itself/Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

Second, Shakespeare: “O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2.

Following existential thought in general, and Paul Tillich (my favorite theologian) in particular, we argue that humans, as a matter of course and necessity, make meaning in the world. We do this by relating things to one another in their existential aspects and phenomena, creating those relationships through storytelling. The “secular” existentialists see this as the fundamental cause of “existential angst”–we fail to detect any inherent and objective meaning in the things which we observe and with which we interact. But the Christian existentialist takes this farther, first positing that there is ultimate and objective meaning that comes from God, though we may detect such only through divine revelation; and, second, marvelling at the great opportunity, pleasure, power and responsibility we have been given in co-creating with God by establishing meaning through our own narratives, big and small. This process, as a fundamental aspect of man’s existence, is clear from the beginning of Creation–is not Adam creating meaning and relationships by naming the creatures of the Earth?

Upon recognition of this divinely-granted human power, we must immediately recognize the source of sin–the creation of meanings and relationships that are not in line with God’s plan and intentions. Put bluntly, seeing and thinking about the world in the wrong way.

And this is what Jesus warns about in Matthew 5:28–it’s not sin only when you take action to commit adultery; if you have created a mental concept of existence that sees women merely as objects of your lust, that permits infidelity and betrayal for the most fleeting of passions, you’re doing it wrong and you’re already in a state of sinfulness. It’s not enough to refrain from the commission of the action; you must change the way you think about and see the world and how all the things in it relate to one another.

When we compare this concept to other moral teachings of Jesus, we find great support for it. Jesus usually seems to be less concerned about specific actions and more concerned with the ideologies, social structures, theologies and existential states that lead to those actions: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” When we think about sin existentially, sin becomes about relationships, results and intents, not arbitrary restrictions. This comports perfectly with the Greatest Commandments.

Just as the plain language of Jesus’s words make clear, this is a higher standard of morality than avoiding the consummation of unrighteous intents; it is war on unrighteous intent itself. And it makes perfect sense; if you fall into the trap of lusting after people in your mind, that objectification likely affects more than just the questions of adultery and fidelity. In many ways, such thought is about a reduction of the humanity of a person into a personification of of desire and temptation, an indulgence of the self by the self that only needs the other person as a tool of that self-indulgence. Once we’ve stripped such a person of their humanity, however small a slice we may cut away at a time, we will treat them differently, and not in a better way, though the injury to the person may be so subtle as to go generally unnoticed without deep introspection or close observation.

But to focus on just how fallen the idea that sin is existential and caused by our own ordering of our idea of Creation makes us is to miss the point. The strong implication, as Milton shows us, is that just as unrighteous narrative and mental/idealist/ideological relationships make us sinful, righteous ones bring us closer to God. Every time we shift our conception of the world closer to God’s intention for those relationships as demonstrated in Jesus, we are both personally participating in the Kingdom of God and, as we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, working to bring the Kingdom of God to Earth.

In simpler terms, Jesus is implicating here that we create our own reality. Again, not in some relativistic way, because God’s intention for Creation establishes objective truth, but in the way we personally interact with the world and believe it to be. We have been given an astounding power of sub-creation inherent to our free will, but we are also called to use that power to seek righteousness, to become, as Jesus later calls us to become in the Sermon on the Mount: Perfect, as our Father in Heaven is perfect.

The scope of the Sermon on the Mount is not a collection of warnings and prohibitions; it is a call to participate in the infinite joy of existence as a child of God by seeking to create the kinds of narratives and mental conceptions that God would have us create.

 

 

 

October 22, 2016

The Challenging Concept of Certainty

Mark 9.23 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”

24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

Job 13.5 Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.

both NKJV

Forgive me while I run a particular rabbit trail today; I hope this gets you thinking. Every once in awhile I trip over a term that is being used by a particular writer or group of writers, and today it’s the term “heuristic faith;” which I believe originated with Gordon Allport in a 1950 book, The Individual and His Religion.

We begin at the Catholic blog Filca Holic

Henri Nouwen said, “I used to resent all the interruptions in my work until I realized that interruptions were my real work.” [Ronald] Rolheiser wrote, “There is something in a planned life that needs to be, for one’s own good, perennially sabotaged by interruptions. I am less glib in quoting them now, given that my own life has just been derailed by a major interruption.” …

…Karl Rahner once wrote that “in the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable we begin to realize that here, in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished.” No matter how hard we try to live the best way we can, at all times the music gets interrupted. To deny this is to make life miserable. We wallow in anger with self and others; we lose faith, and blame God for everything. To accept this reality is to mature in spite of the wintry pain, suffering, scandals and disruptions.

Heuristic faith as defined by Henri Nouwen is clinging to what a person believes, even when everything is against it. In his The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey, he wrote, “So I am praying while not knowing how to pray. I am resting while feeling restless; at peace while I am tempted, safe while still anxious; surrounded by a cloud of light while still in darkness, in love while still doubting.”

Next we turn to The Psychology of Jesus by David McKenna:

A practical philosophy of life contains an element of faith — it is heuristic. No world view answers or anticipates all the questions of the universe. Therefore, a mature person holds his or her philosophy of life confidently but tentatively. By his own testimony, Paul made room for the unknown: “At present we are men looking at puzzling reflections in a mirror. The time will come when we shall see reality whole and face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12)! Jesus demonstrated heuristic faith when he admitted that the time of the coming of the Son of man was known only to the Father (see Acts 1:7). As Allport would say, “It is a characteristic of the mature mind that it can act wholeheartedly even without absolute certainty.”

Ambiguity came as a shock to me when I was a junior in college. As the product of a home, church, and junior college where spiritual certainty reigned, I was unprepared for the intellectual bombardment of a professor in cultural anthropology. He deftly stripped away all the cultural layers of my faith and exposed an indefensible core. Confused and shaken, I could only pray, “God if you exist and if there is anything to Christianity, show me now.” Taking pity on my desperate state, God brought the person of Jesus Christ before my mind and rested his case. One might say that this was my intellectual conversion because I chose to do what Elton Trueblood described for me many years later: “A Christian is a person who is willing to bet his life that Christ is right.”

At the site Reflections on Biblical and Christian Philosophy, a look at this type of faith as it applies in many of our current science-related debates in an essay on the ideas of Michael Polanyi.

His [Polanyi’s] revelation concerning doubt is spectacular “The doubting of any explicit statement merely implies an attempt to deny the belief expressed by the statement, in favor of other beliefs which are not doubted for the time being.”   Faith and doubt, then, are just opposing beliefs according to personal commitment! The Christian, then, when faced with doubts of various kinds, should attempt to sort out what are these various “other” beliefs, and what are their claims to truth that would challenge Christian beliefs? What could be more practical to the doubts that believers have?

 A misunderstanding of faith is clearly illustrated in the waxing and waning of faith-healing.   Is the lack of healing due to a lack of faith, or are there other elements to be considered.     Medical science can provide mechanisms of healing; Scripture can provide its perspective; and personal experiences provides other perspectives. A better understanding of faith by all these perspectives can give more accurate expectations to those who might seek faith-healing.

Polanyi was not overtly Christian. There are occasional and sometimes surprising references to Christian themes, but certainly no case can be made that he is advancing any religious agenda. Far from it. His Christian theology, in contrast to his scientific and philosophical expertise, is superficial, inconsistent, and minimally related to his epistemology. But Christians can make great use of his ideas. First, his thinking can illuminate Scriptural and personal beliefs and how they function in practical applications. Second, he virtually destroys science as a monolithic, objective, and certain source of truth or knowledge, making it instead into a “personal calling” of “discovery.” Christians need not fear any scientific pronouncements that would affect their theology, as science is only another authority whose evidence is to be weighed along with other important authorities.

That last sentence is a great place to stop today, but we’ll return to look at the issue of certainty again.

January 11, 2014

What Genuine Repentance Looks Like

Turn aroundRyan Huguley is the founding and lead pastor of Redemption Bible Church in Mount Prospect, Illinois. Click the title to read this at source, you’ll find a number of good articles, including a recently-completed series on doing family devotions.

3 Essential Marks of Genuine Repentance

To hear the entire message, click here.

We’ve all experienced times of confusion – times when we thought we understood something we in reality did not. The problem with confusion is that it has consequences. Some confusion, in fact, can have life-long, fatal, even eternal consequences. Repentance is one of those issues.

From beginning to end, the Bible heralds genuine repentance as foundational to both salvation and spiritual growth. The truth is, there is no salvation or spiritual growth apart from repentance.

But even though it’s one of the most talked-about issues in our faith, repentance is also one of the most misunderstood. As a result, much of what we deem repentance may not be. So, we need to be crystal clear about what it is and what it isn’t.

Here’s the question: How certain are you that you both understand and practice Biblical repentance? 

Two words are used for “repentance” in both the Old and the New Testaments. When translated, these words describe a three-fold change that Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 7: 11.

“For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.”

From this passage, we can see three essential marks of genuine repentance. Without all three of these, we have not genuinely repented:

1. A Change of Mind – I think differently about my sin.

“For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you…”

Repentance starts with seeing our sin for what it is: an offense against the heart of God, treason against the King we were created to serve, rebellion against a perfect, heavenly Father. Until we think the way God thinks about our sin, we won’t feel the way God feels about it. No matter how small we think our sin is, it is never insignificant.

2. A Change of Heart – I feel differently toward my sin.

“What indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment!”

Godly grief produced strong emotions in the Christians at Corinth. Their hearts were broken and they hated their sin. Genuine repentance will result in sorrow and heartbroken remorse over the hurt we’ve caused God as a result of our sin.

3. A Change of Direction – I act differently in regard to my sin.

“What eagerness to clear yourselves . . .”

When they repented, the Corinthians committed to making restitution. Unlike gift giving, when it comes to repentance, it’s not the thought that counts, but the action taken against it. Repentance that doesn’t result in a radical redirection of our lives is not Biblical repentance.

God had done a deep work in the Christians at Corinth that produced an external change. They did not achieve repentance on their own and neither can we, because repentance is not a work of the will but a gift of grace.

Repentance is a gift of God made possible through the perfect work of Jesus. We can’t earn it, work up to it, or cause it in our own hearts. We can only lean heavily on the grace of God and ask Him to grant us repentance.

If we recognize our sin for what it is, experience remorse for how it grieves God, and allow God to redirect our lives, we have genuinely repented. We can then have deep assurance that we are walking with Him and we can be certain of our salvation.

(Adapted by Diane Rivers from sermon entitled, “How to Be Certain You’re Saved”)

February 14, 2013

Set Apart

“Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the LORD today…” —Exodus 32:29

Today, as yesterday, we begin with Dr. Charles Price, pastor of Peoples Church in Toronto.  Though Charles was never my pastor, this was the church I grew up in, at a time when it was Canada’s only megachurch.  This was titled, On Being Set Apart.

To be holy does not mean to be perfect, but to be ‘set apart’. That is the meaning of the word. It does not equal being perfect.

In my wedding service, I said to my bride as part of my vows: “Forsaking all others, I take you only unto me.” What I meant was, “I’ll never look at a girl again the way I look at you. I’ll never develop a relationship with another woman in the way that I have a relationship with you.” I had become ‘set apart’ exclusively to her. I was entering into a ‘holy’ relationship with her, one in which we are set apart exclusively to each other. That did not make me a perfect husband overnight!! (I think that took a week!) No, I will never be a perfect husband, and that was not the expectation on my wedding day (certainly not my wife’s!), nor was it the meaning of setting myself apart to her. I am repeatedly needing to say ‘I am sorry’. We are always learning new things about each other, and the journey of growth will never end – ‘till death do us part’.

Being called to be ‘holy’ is to be set apart to Christ, and involves no expectation of perfection – for that is neither offered nor promised to us in this life. Rather, in our frailty and the everyday fumbling of our lives to walk in harmony with the Lord Jesus, there is a fundamental attitude that says, “I am set apart to the Lord Jesus”. That is what it means to be holy.

The alternative to holiness is that we are available to anything that happens to attract our attention at the time. To be available to whatever is convenient, comfortable and compatible with our own selfishness is to live an unholy life. We are called to holiness, called to live in step with Jesus, called to unite our interests with His and our agendas with His. As Peter wrote, ‘In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord’ (1 Peter 3:15).

~Charles Price

I never really thought in terms of holiness meaning being “set apart” until I got deep into the lyrics of the Brian Doerksen song, Refiner’s Fire.

I choose to be Holy
Set apart for you, my master
Ready to do your will.

A few years ago here, I wrote about being separated from the world, and compared it to how the Amish people live among us, but are very much set apart from the rest of the world. In the world but not of it.

Our key verses in that devotional were Romans 12:2

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (TNIV)

1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (The Message)

and because for some of us, this will involve a transformation, II Cor 5: 17:

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (NLT)

Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! (The Message)

Let me end by reiterating a line from Charles Price, above.

Being called to be ‘holy’ is to be set apart to Christ, and involves no expectation of perfection – for that is neither offered nor promised to us in this life. Rather, in our frailty and the everyday fumbling of our lives to walk in harmony with the Lord Jesus, there is a fundamental attitude that says, “I am set apart to the Lord Jesus”. That is what it means to be holy.

August 2, 2012

Seeing a Different Set of Possibilities

You’ll notice there isn’t the usual green scripture text here today, but there is most definitely a scripture reference. This is from the blog Fibonacci Faith, written by Richard Dahlstrom, where it appeared under the title, Imagine: The Importance of Envisioning a Different World.

The authors of “Colossians Remixed” write:  If with Christ you died in your baptism to the principles of autonomous consumerism that still hold the world captive, then why do you live in a way that suggests that you are still in the iron grip of its ideological vision?  Why do you submit yourself to its regulations to consume as if there were no tomorrow, to live as if community were an impediment to personal fulfillment, to live as if everything were disposable, including relationships, the unborn, and the environment? Why do you allow this deceitful vision to still have a hold on you?  Don’t you know that copulating with the idols of this culture is like climbing into bed with a corpse that is already decomposing?”

This paraphrase of Colossians 2:20-23 is intended to shake us a awake because God knows that we fall into the slumber of the curse far too easily, which is the sleep of accepting the world in which we live as ‘normal’.  When this happens we lose our capacity to imagine a better world, which leaves us stuck in status-quo lives.  The greatest tragedy though, is that we don’t know we’re stuck, having accepted the captivity to cultural mores as “normal”.  In such a paradigm, faith is stripped of its transformative power, having been reduced to simply a matter of adding a dash of Bible reading, chastity, piety, and a few key doctrines about Christ’s deity to our “normal” lives, the way we add seasoning to an omelet; nothing changes other than the hope that things taste a little better with Jesus.

John Lennon did a better job of imagining a different world than the church has done.  What steps can we take to recapture our imagination?

1. Get out – By “out” I mean, out of the prevailing winds and waters of the culture.  Jesus withdrew to a quiet place to pray, often to the mountains.  This is perhaps more significant than we realize, not only the praying, but the withdrawing.  This is because our spirits and psyches quickly adapt to our image saturated culture, resulting in our passive acceptance of things that should horrify us.  A simple walk in the park, listening to the birds, watching the ocean, and paying attention to the rhythms of life sustained by the Creator, becomes a sort of ‘reboot’ for the soul if we practice actually paying attention and giving thanks.  These regular forays into the realm of silence and solitude create a soul attuned to how the world ought to be, so that we come to see ourselves as sojourners, foreigners, in our daily living.  We’ll recoil at the disposability of everything: relationships, plastic water bottles, the elderly and ill, employees who are reduced to ‘units of production’.  We’ll grieve over the obsession with body image that’s literally killing young girls, even as we grieve over the damage to health that comes from people sitting, eating fake food, watching TV, and calling it a life – withdrawn from sustaining sunshine, health giving food, and the vibrancy that comes from movement of body, mind, and spirit.

Perhaps the greatest impediment to imagining a world of hope and beauty is our passive acceptance of things just as they are.  They way out of that prison will always include changing the air we breathe – breaking out of the prisons of consumerism, nationalism, violence, and individualism, so that we’ll be free to inhale the life giving air of Christ’s peace, beauty, simplicity, and hope.  But this won’t happen by using our precious discretionary moments only to sit  in front of the TV, or the computer screen.  We need an alternative reality, because as it turns out, we are in fact transformed by the renewing of our minds, not by the inspiration of reality TV.

2. Become obsessed with Christ’s reign.  Jesus says something about the impossibility of serving two masters in the context of his exhortation to live more carefree, like the birds, and less like the anxious striving that usually seems to be the lot of those seeking to make their mark in this world, or at least get their fair share of economic pie.  What’s most interesting to me about this section of Jesus’ famous sermon is that Jesus says we can’t serve two masters.  It’s noteworthy that he doesn’t warn us about the danger of trying to serve the kingdom of God and the kingdom of upward mobility.  He says that you CANNOT serve both; it’s an impossibility.  Whichever one you serve, you’ll hate the other.

Wow.  That’s challenging!  If I try to have my “kingdom of this world” cake, and seek to make Christ’s reign visible, I’ll fail – every single time.  I need, then, to become obsessed with only one of these two options, and Jesus makes it clear that the best option is to choose His reign as our obsession.  This will mean that everything – my time, money, property, body, vocation, travel plans, vacation, sexuality, recreational pursuits, exercise program – can all fall under this single consideration:  “what will best make Christ’s reign visible?”  Far from being constrictive, I find this single focused approach to life to be liberating as everything is brought under the single consideration of making Christ’s reign visible.

Of course, if we’re going to go this route, we need to become obsessed with understanding the kingdom.  Otherwise we’ll create, in Jesus name, some sort of controlling legalism, or prosperity/healing thing, or obsession with creating conversions while we ignore the entire glorious physical dimension of Christ’s reign.  All of these have been tried, and they all end up being ugly.  We’d better be working hard to get it right.  This is where good reading can help, like this book, or this book, or even this book. Understanding  the kingdom, coupled with our pursuit of intimacy with Christ will conspire to create something beautiful:

An imagination saturated with a Christ formed view of our world, and some clear steps regarding our part in making it visible.

You may say that I’m a dreamer – but I’m not the only one.

Imagine that.

~Richard Dahlstrom


Book links were part of the original article; at C201, readers are encouraged to support their local Christian bookstore, if you are still fortunate enough to have one. Titles recommended were:

  • Surprised by Hope by N. T. Wright
  • The Unshakable Kingdom by E. Stanley Jones and
  • an e-book by the blog’s author, titled The Colors of Hope

Not linked, but referred to was the book, Colossians Remixed: Subverting The Empire by Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmatt (InterVarsity Press, 2004)

January 27, 2012

Advice to the Young, and the Young at Heart

“The young are permanently in a state resembling intoxication.”
~Aristotle

After finding a devotional on David Kenney’s blog, I decided to check first and discovered that it’s only been a month since I first introduced his writing here; a little more recent than I would have liked; but if C201 does nothing more than introduce you to the blogging and writing of others, that’s fine with me.  (This one is also part of a series which is linked in the final paragraph of today’s selection.)

He titled this one Advice For Young Men; but it occurred to me that while there are specific Bible passages that address the young in general, we live in a situation today where people in their 40s and 50s (and perhaps beyond) strongly identify with youth culture. Unless we look in the mirror, it’s easy to pretend we’re still 16 or 17 and certainly some people continue to listen to current music, dress younger than their age, and drive their cars with the recklessness that Aristotle describes in the quote above.

So whatever advice the Wisdom books such as Psalms and Proverbs, or the advice of Paul to Titus or Timothy may have to offer the younger men or younger women, it’s probably good reading for all of us, especially if there is some part of us that refuses to grow up; some part of us that leaves us prone to commit the mistakes associated with youth.

Titus 2:6-8 (CEB)

Likewise, encourage the younger men to be sensible  in every way. Offer yourself as a role model of good actions. Show integrity, seriousness,  and a sound message that is above criticism when you teach, so that any opponent will be ashamed because they won’t find anything bad to say about us.

Titus chapter two is Paul’s advocation for teaching sound doctrine, especially in contrast with false teachers. Paul starts this chapter addressing community households and he begins in a hierarchal fashion starting first with old men, then old women, then young men, then slaves….

This particular passage verse 6 and 7, might have also spoken directly to Titus himself, he was probably no more than 35.

The first thing he says to young men is “be sensible in every way.” Great advice, but incredibly hard for a young person to take. These are the years of invincibility, of testing limits and pushing boundaries, and the first thing Paul says is, “be sensible.”

How do you do that? How do you help young men get control of themselves; develop self-mastery, self-control, balance get their faculties and their appetites, their longings and the desires into harness, to develop discernment and judgment?

Aristotle once said, “The young are permanently in a state resembling intoxication.”

Sensibility is taking time to think, it’s self-restraint, it’s slowing down. Paul says, “watch where you step, watch what you say… in every way possible… give it some thought.”

Then Paul says, encourage young men to be an example and a role model to others. And then following in the continuing verse, Paul lists out a few ways the reader can be a role model.

Charles Spurgeon once said: “A man’s life is always more forcible than his speech. When men take stock of him they reckon his deeds as dollars and his words as pennies. If his life and doctrine disagree the mass of onlookers accept his practice and reject his preaching.

In other words, more weight is going to be given in how you present yourself and in how you act.

I knew a young pastor who was great in the pulpit, he was polished and professional, and very dynamic. His only downfall, he didn’t follow through with his actions. He didn’t take his own advice, he didn’t live with honesty and integrity and it cost him his position.

Remember your deeds are dollars and your words are pennies. Paul says be a role model of “good actions” and he says “show” integrity, seriousness and a sound message. How do you show those things? Read Psalm 119

Psalm 119:9 (CEB)

How can young people keep their paths pure? By guarding them according to what you’ve said

There is your answer, if you’re going to be an example in every area of your life then you’ve got to align your actions with the word of God.

So Paul says to be sensible in thought, be an example in conduct and lastly he says to offer a sound message that is above criticism.

So not only are young men to be an example in good works, not only be an example in doctrine, but also be to be an example in sound speech. That’s your conversation, those are the words that come out of your mouth.

You know a “sound message” doesn’t have to be a sermon. In fact, I’m sure it’s not. Your message is the worldview and lifestyle you project when you talk. What does your speach sound like? What words do you say? How do you describe things, talk about women? How do you describe joy and pain? Our words say much about us.

Let your speech minister grace to those who listen. Let it be health giving, life-giving, edifying, and up building. How healthy should it be? Paul says, so that it is beyond reproach. It is unable to be accused; it is unable to be condemned.

So far Paul has given us advice for Old Men, Old Women and Young Men and while of course it is good sound advice, it’s only words on a page (or computer screen) until we transform it into good actions.

~David Kenney

May 20, 2011

My Nose Can See

Today a guest post from the author known as Seymour Clearly…

It was about 12:30am when I, chronic nighthawk that I am, decided to burn off my remaining energy and go for a long walk; a fairly recent habit I’ve gotten into since moving back to our home town.

As I stepped out into the still night and mused over the beauty of the cheddar-tinted half moon that hovered over the back half of the town, I began to stroll the many neighbourhoods that make up this wonderful little town and which Nancy, my wife, had once dubbed “Sweetville” shortly after our settling here the first time.

Halfway into my walk I began to close my eyes and inhale deeply, saying a few prayers as I ambled along.  As I did so, I became electrically aware of something I’d never really experienced before.  My nose could see!  I mean, I know it’s always been able to smell stuff.  But I’d never actually accessed its lavish abilities.  I learned that when you really give it full reign, you can actually use your nose to assess where you are, what your eyes may or may not be perceiving and even what’s up ahead in your travels.  The olfactory proboscis bounces back information to your brain like a radar device and you find yourself reckoning, “That’s a maple tree!” … “Oh, and that’s water – I smell the falls coming off the pond!” … “Apple blossoms are up ahead!” … “Must be recycle day – smell all of that card-board!”…

I got to thinking that a living and vibrant faith, once it’s been handed to us by the Creator above, creates within us the same kind of powerful awakening that would ensue upon our receiving say, a new set of eyes with which to view things, or in my case, a super-awake nose with which I could identify my surroundings!.

Unconventional thinking is how lives are changed.  If we always see things the same way, we can never grow or properly identify the world around us.  Faith is unconventional, and oft thought as being futile and ‘blind’.  But the faith Christ gives us is not that at all.  Faith in God is learning to see through His senses.  What was mundane to us due to our limited scope or that which might have been completely ignored by us before is gradually (or sometimes rapidly) thought of quite differently.  We begin to hurt over things that hurt our Lord.  We are enthralled by things that enthrall the Spirit of the Kingdom we become new citizens of.  Real faith changes our outlook and bridges the gap between what we’ve always known, and what we have yet to know about the familiar things in our lives..

If we learn to fully access the portion of faith God lovingly gives us, we’ll realize that it isn’t so much about our moving mountains as it is our knowing how the mountains move us..

“Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.”

1

Blessings in Christ to all.

1. Words: At­trib­ut­ed to Dal­lan For­gaill, 8th Cen­tu­ry (Rob tu mo bhoile, a Com­di cri­de); trans­lat­ed from an­cient Ir­ish to Eng­lish by Ma­ry E. Byrne, in “Eriú,” Jour­nal of the School of Ir­ish Learn­ing, 1905, and versed by El­ea­nor H. Hull, 1912, alt.

August 5, 2010

Looking at the Amish

Somewhere near the end of our vacation, we were in a town where suddenly a horse and buggy appeared in the opposite traffic lane.   Not knowing if my wife had noticed, I simply said; “Amish;” to which she replied; “Oooh!  Let’s look at them.”

The strange remark — which I got right away, but you may not have — is a reference to people we know who say they are going to go to Pennsylvania to “look at the Amish.”   Not shop in their stores and buy jams, jellies or crafts from them.   Not spend a week helping out on one of their farms — the way one might volunteer on an Israeli kibbutz — as much of an adventure as that would be.   Not attending one of their worship services.

No… just “looking at the Amish;” the way we might visit a town if everybody there had two heads.

But maybe, just maybe, we should take a minute to ‘look at’ (in the sense of ‘consider’) the Amish.

While everybody else in Christendom has suffered the fate of slowly being dominated and shaped by the spirit and culture of the world, these people have managed to truly understand what it means to be “set apart;” what it means to not ‘give in’ to the dominant culture and its ways of seeing the world.

And isn’t that part of what defines ‘holiness?’

Brian Doerksen, the writer of the song “Refiner’s Fire” saw this connection:

What got my thoughts going in this direction is waking up this morning and realizing the extent to which my thought processes have been slowly shaped and conformed to the ‘spirit of the age;’ the world’s way of looking at everything. I’ve been absorbed into the dominant culture’s way of seeing the world.

Instead of simply ‘staring’ at the Amish, we should be engaging them; asking them, “Hey, what’s the secret to all this?”  “How do you manage not to be trapped into the contemporary mindset?”

I think Romans 12:2 is the key:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  (TNIV)

But I especially like the way The Message Bible handles this:

1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Much of the “pattern of this world” is molded within us by media.   It may mean tossing the DVD player or the internet.   The Amish simplified things by rejecting electricity altogether.   Are they any worse off for that decision?

For some of us, this may involve a bit of “unlearning.”  While searching for an appropriate translation of II Cor. 5:17, I found it interesting that The Message Bible makes a reference in verse 16 to the very thing the whole “looking at the Amish” thing is about, physical appearance.

16-20Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it!

Changing our worldview is going to involve major transformation.

Want to read a daily devotional that originates in “ground zero” of Amish culture?   Check out Daily Encouragement, always bookmarked in this blog’s blogroll at the side.   While not every post is Amish-themed, if you scroll back you’ll find various pictures and stories relating to the area around Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Photo is from Daily Encouragement by Stephen & Brooksyne Weber.

April 23, 2010

Spiritual Warfare

The posts on this blog tend to be short and to the point.   But this time around, I thought I’d post the text from my upcoming Sunday sermon.    Currently, I’m only speaking about once every couple of months.   I really wrestled with what to do this time around; I started to write an outline only to be driven back to old notes.   But then these notes kind of jumped off the page, and with a little reworking, here’s what I’ve got so far:

This Means War!

  • Imagine you are one of the people being sworn in as a new citizen
  • You correctly answer all the questions about George Washington or Sir John A. MacDonald if you’re in Canada
  • You attend a ceremony where you are officially welcomed as a citizen
  • You’re then told the country is at war and you are needed to serve
  • You’ve been drafted, and you truly didn’t see that coming!

(more…)