H  O  M  E          
Theological, Doctrinal, and Spiritual Musing - and whatever other else is on my mind when I notice that I haven't posted in a while.
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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
My complete profile...
The Buzz

Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
- Marc Heinrich

His posts are either funny or challenging. He is very friendly and nice.
- Rose Cole

[He has] good posts, both the serious like this one, and the humorous like yesterday. [He is] the reason that I have restrained myself from making Canadian jokes in my posts.
- C-Train

This post contains nothing that is of any use to me. What were you thinking? Anyway, it's probably the best I've read all day.
- David Kjos

Daniel, nicely done and much more original than Frank the Turk.
- Jonathan Moorhead

There are some people who are smart, deep, or funny. There are not very many people that are all 3. Daniel is one of those people. His opinion, insight and humor have kept me coming back to his blog since I first visited earlier this year.
- Carla Rolfe
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Thursday, May 19, 2016
Candid Thoughts on Justin Trudeau's "elbowing" in the House of Commons
In Canada, the Liberal government wants to push through legislation that will legalize assisted suicides (in certain cases).

Make no mistake, we are living in a secular culture during an unprecedented time of moral decay.  No right thinking person expects a godless culture to pursue godly morals; and it is for this reason that Christians ought to focus on changing the culture rather than changing the laws - since the laws will always (as we see today) begin to line up with the culture.  I am not suggesting that Christians ought to embrace moral ambiguity, or the godless culture they find themselves in.  I am not saying that Christians should throw their hands up in defeat and go along with the culture.  I'm saying that the laws of the land will always end up reflecting the values of culture.  If the culture is immoral, the laws will reflect that.  The way to effectively change the law, is to change the culture.

Consider the recent legitimizing of the LGBT culture.  Legislation only came only after the culture war had been decided.  The reason weren't discussing gender identity 30 years ago, was because the culture 30 years ago could not bear it.  In a democracy, policy reflects the cultural moral norms.  If you want to create a law that runs contrary to those norms, it won't pass, and if it does pass, it won't stick.

The Canadian culture is already primed for doctor assisted suicides.  The picture that sells this legislation is that of mercy: allowing the terminally ill patient who endures excruciating pain daily, to meet death early and with dignity.  Why should they suffer for weeks or months, if they are ready to die right now?

I don't have any statistics to back it up, but it sure seems to me that in Canada, the majority of people would be on board with that.  No one wants to suffer, and so if we have a law in place that allows terminally ill people to opt out of weeks or months of needless suffering - this culture will likely embrace that.

But in other nations where this kind of legislation has been introduced, it has been implemented without penalty or policing, in instances far more ambiguous than the show-cased scenario.  In Belgium, for instance, the organs of those who have been euthanized are harvested. Likewise, a recent study noted that in Belgium 66 out of 208 cases of ‘euthanasia’ (32%) occurred in the absence of request or consent.  In the Netherlands, dozens of disabled children have been euthanized under the Groningen protocol, and simply being "old and tired" is considered a reasonable enough reason to be euthanized.  People have been, and are being assisted in their suicides, (some without consent), for such reasons as chronic ailments, depression, or just being elderly.

What we've seen in Europe (at least in those 4 countries where this sort of legislation exists) is whole industries springing up around this sort of legislation.  It is difficult to remain objective when your industry depends upon securing the cash involved in assisting someone's death - especially when the institution that stands to benefit from the death of it's client, is given the power of attorney to make decisions on behalf of the patients.

It reminds me of that scene from Monty Python's, "The Holy Grail" where John Cleese is attempting to get Eric Idle (who is collecting the dead bodies of plague victims) to accept as dead, an old man whom John Cleese wants to be rid of.  The old man is very much alive, announcing himself to be healthy and happy.  Neither Cleese nor Idle are concerned with the life of the old man, except as it pertains to what they are each attempting to do - Cleese wants to be rid of the old man, so he argues he is dead, and idle cannot accept a live person, so he too wants the old man to be dead - but since he is clearly alive they are at an impasse.  Their discussion continues as the old man gives every indication of wanting to live, but his desires and concerns remain background noise to the decisions being made on his behalf. The solution?  A comedic club to the old man's head.  Idle gets his money, Cleese gets rid of this burden - and everyone is happy.

I don't think the skit was intended to be a social commentary on assisted suicide, but it is sobering to think that this sort of approach isn't far off the mark in countries where assisted suicide is being practiced.

The reason this kind of thing is already going on where assisted suicide has to do with the lack of clarity concerning implementation and policing.  Had more thought (and effort) gone into identifying how the law could be abused, we wouldn't be seeing (routinely) this sort of abuse of the original intention.

It follows that some politicians feel that fast-tracking this sort of legislation in Canada would be a mistake.  People who are not necessarily opposed to the notion of assisted suicide, may well be opposed to fast-tracking the same legislation, because they have legitimate reason (and ample evidence) to be concerned about how this may (and almost certainly will) go south if diligence is ignored. 

The Liberal Government is trying to have this matter wrapped up by June 6th (2016) - the arbitrary deadline given to the government by the Canadian Supreme Court.  If the bill does not pass by then, assisted suicides will still be legal, but no legislative protections would be in place to ensure that the original intent of the law is being followed.  For example:
  • You wouldn't need a second medical opinion
  • You wouldn't need a written request (proof of the request)
  • You wouldn't need a waiting period to think it over
  • You wouldn't need to be a Canadian citizen (think suicide tourism...)
  • etc.
In other words, it is crazy important to have the legislation in place before the law goes into effect.

That means either the Government must fast track everything, or alternately the Supreme Court must grant an extension to the June 6th deadline.

Given the moral impact of this kind of legislation (the definition of how/when human life is going to be legally protected in this country is about to change), many who are opposed to fast-tracking the legislation, would argue that being able to make an arbitrary deadline (and thus save political face), isn't a good enough reason to curtail the (some would say) necessary fleshing out of this bill.  It isn't about meeting arbitrary deadlines, or making your opponents lose face by missing the same deadlines - it is about making sure that when the legislation comes into being, it is as air-tight and comprehensive as something this important ought to be.

But...(sigh)...  politics.

The debate is formally a non-partisan debate - i.e. MPs are allowed to vote their conscience, and represent their constituencies accordingly.  Allowing a non-partisan vote was the right thing to do, since failure to do so would have made the Liberal party look ... well, less liberal - and frankly, this kind of vote ought to be informed, as best as can be at least, by the collective conscience of the nation.

Yet for all that, rather than pursue an extension to the arbitrary June 6th deadline, the Liberal government has curtailed debate on the matter by imposing time allocation restrictions on debate, effectively saying, we've debated this matter enough - let's move on, before the majority of those who wish to speak to the matter have had an opportunity to do so.

This is the first time curtailment measures have ever been imposed on an issue that deals with the sanctity and dignity of human life.  Time allocation exists in Parliament to overcome political filibustering and the like.  But in this case, there is no effort by the opposition to filibuster - rather it is that members of all parties (including the Liberals who hold a majority in the house) who are being told they will not be given the opportunity to speak to the issue, for themselves or their constituents, that are being shut down by what some would argue is a flagrant abuse of this particular tool.

To be fair, once a tool like this exists, it will be abused, and has been abused by other political parties when they were in power.  In other words, we shouldn't conclude that the Liberals are doing something that (for example) the Conservatives didn't do before them - when they employ this tactic - what is new is that they would employ it in something non-partisan, and something so profoundly important - something no government (to my knowledge at least), has ever been willing to do.

The average Canadian doesn't bother chewing their news before swallowing it, and by that I mean, that they haven't the time, energy, or interest to actually examine the headlines, much less examine what is going on behind those headlines. 

In this case the Liberal government was pushing through a vote before many in the House of Commons had the opportunity to discuss it.  When it came time to vote, one person from each party (called a "whip") is tasked with presenting himself or herself before the speaker to indicate that the party in question is accounted for and ready to vote.  The Torry whip, Gord Brown failed to make his way up to the speaker at the appointed time, ostensibly because he was standing behind a group of New Democratic MPs who were between himself and the speaker.

Brown could easily have walked through or around this small group of about a dozen MPs, but he chose instead to stand among them long enough that the Prime Minister himself walked out across the commons floor, through the loose crowd of MPs, to grab Brown, and drag him like a wilful child through to little crowd that Brown had refused to walk through, depositing him on the other side, to a round of applause - even as the Prime Minister returned to his own seat.

I doubt Trudeau even noticed that he elbowed New Democratic MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest when he marched Brown through the little crowd - but Brosseau was apparently so affected by the blow that she missed being there for the vote.

Where to begin?

Well, Brown shouldn't have been obstructing the political process by faking an inability to present himself to the speaker.  As the Chief Opposition whip, he has a responsibility to perform his duties efficiently and professionally - even when being efficient doesn't suit his own political agenda.  That's what responsibility looks like.  It is shameful that he, along with those New Democratic MPs, colluded to waste time in the House of Commons.

Trudeau shouldn't have grabbed Brown, and physically dragged him through the little crowd.  If Trudeau had grabbed a female MP and physically dragged her against her will through a similar crowd, we wouldn't be hearing about an accidental elbowing.

The New Democrat MPs shouldn't have been colluding with Brown to "hinder" him from performing his duties as a whip.

The Liberal Government should be more concerned about the quality of the legislation than they are pushing through than whether or not they can push it through in time to meet an arbitrary Supreme Court deadline (June 6th).

We all should be concerned that our Prime Minister physically forced another Member of Parliament to do something that member wasn't willing to do. That is not the temperament of a democratic leader, it is the temperament of a dictator.  I could care less that he accidentally elbowed someone.  We call that an accident because it wasn't intentional.  What was intentional was the fact that he grabbed another person, and dragged them along like a bully, and that he was applauded for doing so.

Brown should be ashamed that it came to that, and he shouldn't have been behaving like a child - but even if the Prime Minister was provoked by this kind of childish behavior - the Prime Minister should have risen above it rather than sullied himself by going five notches lower.

Finally, we should note the irony: what Prime Minister Trudeau did physically to Gord Brown, he did politically to the rest of Canada with regards to Bill C14 (assisted suicide).  It says something about the man - something that some people would applaud, and something that others would condemn.

I'm okay with Justin Trudeau accidentally elbowing  people.  That shouldn't be news.  What I am not okay with is the leader of our nation impatiently dragging an MP around the commons floor, because of what that says he is not only willing to do to this country - but is demonstrably doing to this country right now - in forcing a vote on Bill C14 before debate had ended on it.

posted by Daniel @ 3:29 PM   0 comment(s)
Friday, February 26, 2016
What to do about love?
The word charity shows up 26 times in the King James version (KJV) of the New Testament. In each instance the word being translated as charity is the noun agapé, which our modern translations translate as love.

I don't recommend the KJV as a study bible, since a great many (hundreds) of the words used in that translation are either obsolete in modern English, or have since come to mean something different than those same words mean today ("conversation" for example, used to mean they manner in which you conducted yourself in the world, where now it describes a dialog or discussion).

I mention the KJV's use of the word charity, not to recommend the KJV, but rather to highlight something that the translators of the KJV took into consideration in translating the word apapé, the context and implied meaning of the word.  Translators of the KJV, did not shy away from using the word "love" to translate the word agapé, when that word more readily reflected the context.

If you wish to do a study on the instances where the KJV translates the word agapé as love,  you can look up each of these verses for yourself or follow the link and view them in Mounce's Reverse-Interlinear New Testament:
  • 1 Corinthians 8:1, 13:1-4, 13:8, 14:1, 16:14;
  • Colossians 3:14; 
  • 1 Thessalonians 3:6; 
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 
  • 1 Timothy 1:5, 2:15, 4:12; 
  • 2 Timothy 2:22, 3:10; 
  • Titus 2:2; 
  • 1 Peter 4:8, 5:14; 
  • 2 Peter 1:7; 
  • 3 John 1:6; 
  • Jude 1:12; 
  • Revelation 2:19 
If you Google a definition of love, you'll find that love is most often defined first and foremost as a deep feeling of affection. The default definition of love (in Western culture) is that of a powerful emotion.  In other words, when someone in our culture is speaking of love, they are usually referring to an emotion that describes their affection for something.

It's easy enough to say that our definition of love is going to be influenced by the culture that we live in, but it's probably more helpful identify some aspects of our culture, and ask ourselves how those aspects will influence us.

If our culture regards love primarily as an emotion, then when our culture hears that God is loving, it is going to interpret that as meaning that God's love is an affection He has for the people and things He loves.  Our culture has no category for God's justice, or God's wrath, and so the notion of God's love is not tempered by, or understood as being in harmony with, any of the other known attributes of God.  This unbalanced view of God's love is going to be a hindrance to anyone's understanding of what the bible means by love.

Our culture is presently suffering from an epistemological identity crisis.  On the one hand it is considered arrogant to imagine that truth is knowable, and on the other, we should respect everyone's own personal version of what is true, so that we can all be "right" even when our opinions contradict one another. The pursuit of happiness is now a pursuit of pleasure, and we should all work to allow one another to pursue their own version of pleasure so long as that version doesn't harm anyone unwilling to be harmed by it.  Even heinous acts of evil are being justified by the thought that every perpetrator is a victim of some form of poverty (physical, mental, financial, ethical, etc.) or other.  We shouldn't punish people for becoming what their circumstances have dictated, instead we should educate them into a better life, etc.

That's the culture that shapes (to one degree or another) what is being understood by many who read, and who preach the scriptures.  Unless we are very circumspect in our study of God's word, we are at risk of reading into the bible, our culture's understanding of love, rather than the coming away with the bible's understanding.

I don't believe the difficulty can be easily overcome by simply pulling out a (Greek) dictionary and finding out what words like "agapé" and "phileo" mean.  These words, like every other word we use today, or the writers of scripture used in their day, have different meanings across a given semantic range.  In one context a word  can mean one thing, and in another, it can mean something else.

We do that in English all the time.  Throwing a ball is functionally different than throwing a party or even throwing a fight.  The context informs us how we are to understand the use of the word.

Some interpreters unwittingly read more into the words agapé and phileo than they ought to - assigning to each word to a very narrow technical meaning (i.e. agapé is a kind of "divine" love, the kind that God loves with, but phileo is more of a friendship sort of love, or brotherly love), but the truth is that even if God's love is superior in every conceivable way - that superiority isn't suggested by the word agapé nor is it necessarily omitted when the word phileo is used.

Remember King David's son Amnon? He was the one who, in 2 Samuel 13 had  crush on his step-sister Tamar.  Under the horrible advice of his friend Jonadab, he pretended to be ill, and when King David came to look in on him, Amnon asked David to send Tamar to him with food for him to eat from her hand.  When she came, he sent his servants away, and invited her into his bedroom to feed him, at which point he tried to seduce her.  When his seduction failed, he raped her.  In verse 15 we read "Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her."  In the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) the word used to translate love in this verse is agapé.  This wasn't describing a pure and selfless love - the love reserved for God.  It was describing an utterly self-serving desire, that evaporated the moment it achieved it's goal.

We err if we think that because a text uses this word, instead of that word, it is describing a necessarily superior form of "love" - especially if our understanding of the word love is informed by our culture rather than the scriptures.

The culture in England 400 years ago was different than our culture today.  The word choices made by translators 400 years ago would not have been informed by the same culture we have today - and that discrepancy ought to cause a sober reader to consider why the word charity was used then in various places, where the word love is used today.

If the translators of the KJV were compelled by their understanding of both English and Greek to translate some instances of the word agape as charity, they were not alone.  Jerome, translating the Greek New Testament into Latin, did the same thing 1200 years before that. Jerome translated agapé alternately using two different Latin words: caritas, (charity, dearness, high price, love/affection etc.) and diléctio (delight, Good will, love)If you follow along in the Latin Vulgate, you will see a remarkable thing - Jerome used the Latin word for charity to translate the Greek, in the same places the KJV translators used the English word charity...

That is pretty interesting.

It tells us that for hundreds and hundreds of years, readers of the Greek New Testament understood this one thing: the word agapé sometimes meant what we mean when we use the word charity, and they even knew when that particular meaning should be used.

One might ask, were they more discerning than we are today?

Listen: I'm not suggesting that it is "wrong" to translate the word agapé as love in our modern bibles.  What I am just suggesting is that our culture no longer thinks of love in terms of anything other than an emotion.  I am not saying we should bring "charity" back into our modern translations (though it would probably help), I am saying that because agapé doesn't necessarily describe an emotion, we should be on guard against reading our cultural definition of love back into the bible.

If love is limited to the notion of a deep affection in our culture, how will our culture understand a command to "love" the Lord? Is that a command to foster affection for the Lord?

Jesus famously spoke these words in Luke 6:46, "Why do you call me Lord! Lord! and not do what I tell you?"  Jesus was talking about the kind of discrepancy where your mouth says that Jesus has the right to command your obedience, but your heart says, I will not have this man rule over me.  That kind of Christianity, which flows out of the mouth, but not from the heart, is not the real deal.  Jesus put it out there plain and simple - if you call him Lord, but don't obey Him, He isn't your Lord, you are your own Lord.

Those of us who genuinely desire to please our Lord, will want to obey His commandments - but in order to do that we need to understand His commandments:
  • A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. - John 13:34-35 ESV
  •  As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my loveIf you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. - John 15:9-17 ESV

If your Lord commands you to love others, isn't it important to make sure you understand what He meant by love? Is Jesus commanding people to feel affections? How did James put James 2:16?, "and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?". Do good intentions fill hungry bellies?
One might might say that the command isn't just to feel the affection - but to act on it. But that has its own problems. What if I don't feel an affection? Am I fulfilling the command if I act upon an affection I don't actually have? Will God be satisfied with my half-hearted obedience?
Consider the possibility that the love that our Lord is speaking of isn't an emotion. I know that culturally speaking, that is a difficult thing to do for some of us. But consider it.
How does God demonstrate His love? He loved us while we were yet sinners, giving Himself, if I may paraphrase much, for those who hated Him. He "loved" His enemies. Does that mean He felt a deep affection for those who hated Him, or did it mean that He served them without regard to His own emotions?

Slowly now...

Is God's nature one of selfless service, or is God's selfless service a product of an underlying emotional state? Do we have an emotion driven God who is calling us to be driven by similar emotions, or do we have a God who is selfless, who serves others regardless of merit or personal emotion, because that is His true nature. Jesus said to Philip, if you have seen me, you've seen the Father. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve. He did not come to gain anything for Himself, not wealth, not fame, not pleasure, nothing - yet He came to give all of Himself, even His life. That is the nature of God that was put on display by our Lord, and I believe that is what "love" looks like.

It isn't an emotion, but it certainly can provoke our emotions. It isn't a feeling that provokes us to do good, it is the Divine Nature that, when we surrender ourselves to it, will result in our serving one another selflessly. You cannot serve your self and God at the same time - the only way to serve God is to stop serving yourself.

If that is so, the command to love one another is not a command to foster affection for one another, it is a command to put others before ourselves even as Christ put our needs before His own. It is a command that only makes sense when your understanding of love isn't being informed by your culture, but rather from the scriptures themselves.
Go read the scriptures and test these thoughts. How do you love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength if the love He requires is merely an emotion?

It is possible to serve the Lord by seeking to deny yourself in your inner most being, to deny yourself in your thoughts, to deny yourself in your life, and to do so with all your strength, in other words to live your life for God and not for yourself.  You can do that without having or even trying to generate a deep affection for God.

If our obedience and manner of living are supposed to flow from emotions - which are as much a part of our fallen self as the rest of our sinful self - then we are necessarily implying that our fallen nature not only empowers our ability to obey God, but rather our ability to overcome our own sin, is what the whole thing hinges on.

Slowly.....think.....If we could do that in the first place, we wouldn't have needed a Savior...

Our job isn't to make our fallen selves presentable to God, it is to deny our own will, which itself is informed by and lives to satisfy, our fallen nature. Love is not selfish, it is selfish - it does not serve self, it serves others.  Paul writes this so beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13, that the notion that love is driven by emotion falls apart as soon as our cultural lenses come off.

When we deny ourselves, we give Christ room to live in and through us.  The road to selfless living is one of personal denial - and it is the only way that genuine righteousness finds us in this life.  Paul wrote famously in Romans 7:18 (and we do well to comprehend the depth of his words), "I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, no good thing dwells.  He understood that He was incapable of righteousness (there is no one who does good, no one one! - Romans 3:12), even as we are, in and of ourselves.

So dear reader, if your understanding of love is more cultural than biblical - don't let that infect your understanding of the scriptures.  To do what the Lord commands you, you need to employ a biblical understanding of love in Christ's commandments, and not a cultural one.

Stop living for yourself, stop serving yourself, stop telling yourself that as long as you have an affection for people you're obeying the commands of Christ.  Ask yourself the hard questions: who am I really living for?  When was the last time I denied myself something in order to serve someone else?  Was that something exceptional - or was it an expression of how I am now living my life?

Perhaps one reason the church is weak, impotent, and dwindling is because the enemy has learned to not only attack the scriptures directly, but indirectly also - twisting the meaning of God's commands, by polluting the culture whose language is being used to interpret it.
posted by Daniel @ 10:17 AM   0 comment(s)
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
The Power in God's Command.
I had coffee with a brother in the Lord this weekend, and as we are inclined to do, we spoke of matters concerning the tragic trajectory that modern Christianity seems to be taking, and again about the perceived or imagined causes of, and possible solutions to arrest the trend.

We agreed that the main problem was immaturity - at a time when believers ought to be full grown, they are still infantile in their faith.  For some it is because they believe themselves to have attained what they came to the church to get: eternal life.  They believe they have found the "correct" religion, and have believed all that is required of them to secure for themselves a deliverance from a hellish afterlife; and having attained what they came to get, they are not just treading water by attending church - maintaining the status quo, until they receive what they perceive to be their reward.

Such as these aren't drawing near to God, because they didn't become Christians to know of draw near to God, they became Christians because they wanted to escape the wrath to come.  Insofar as they judge themselves to have escaped that wrath, they find themselves content, and have no further desire to draw any nearer to God.  They love the Lord with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him because they didn't become to know God, to love Him and to submit themselves to His rule, they became a Christian to escape the consequences of their sin (i.e. their rebellion against God's rule).  Ironically, in practice, they ignore God's rule in their day to day live, and rather live by whatever the lowest common denominator of conduct happens to be in their congregation - and consider themselves to be secure thereby.

Others are more earnest, but suffer from the notion that they personally are incapable of understanding the "deeper things of God" and justify themselves thereby, in not pursuing them. They almost (if not outright) think that only those with certain positions and gifts can draw near to God, and having found obedience both difficult, and often fruitless, they have given up trying, and justify their failure on the grounds that they are lacking something, but they aren't quite sure what that is.  More often than not, these end up pursuing the latest fads, and believe that if they could just discover, then achieve the right motivation or spiritual truth (or ultimately, the right "experience") then Christianity would become easy, and they would thrive.  But since they are seeking for something that isn't there and will never be there, they fail to find it, and eventually burn out.

I suppose I could catalog several causes of immaturity, but the main cause, whether we are talking about a genuine believer, or someone who is convinced they are saved, when they are not - the same reason lies behind both the immature tare, and the immature wheat: ignorance.  The "tares" ignorantly believe they have what they came for, so they see no value in going further.  The wheat believes that Christianity is supposed to look another way, so in their ignorance they pursue what cannot be found, and wear themselves out pursuing the wind.

In short the churches seem to contain both false and genuine converts, neither of which do much more than attend church - and the reason that continues, is because they remain ignorant.  The former because they are never challenged to examine themselves and see if they are in the faith, and the latter because they are too busy pursuing a form of Christianity that doesn't exist to learn what Christianity actually looks like.

It was the latter group that I was most concerned with.  Since I personally found that a lot of what passes for Christianity today is really just a perpetuation of tradition and even in some cases, superstition.

One of the reasons immature believers continue in pursuing the various experiences, programs, and styles that never lead anyone out of their spiritual inertia is  because everyone else is doing that.  Christians want to fit in with one another just as non-Christians do when they congregate.  People tend to adopt the status quo wherever they go.

New believers coming to a church where everyone hollers, "Amen!" and "Preach it brother!" are going to assume that such expressions demonstrate a healthy faith, and will begin aping them sooner or later.  The same goes for stoic silence.  If everyone is perfectly silent, and all heads turn because some young mother's infant giggles, you can bet that new believers there are gagging their kids to preserve the "holy" solemnity of perfect, stoic, silence during a sermon.

Whether it is hand raising, speaking in tongues, or just using the same words and expression to pray as everyone else - new believers ape the congregation they come to stay in.  Every church has its own feel - and new believers coming to that church will interpret that "feel" as the "correct" way to "do" Christianity.

Unless a congregation is aware that this is going to be the case, it is probably not going to do anything to address it - and most don't. So I'll take just a moment to do that.  Take a moment to consider the flavor of your church.  Do you clap hands when singing?  Do hands go up (ostensibly and apparently to indicate spiritual receptiveness)?  Is it quiet when the pastor speaks?  Is there humor?  Is it very serious, or is it casual?  Etc.  The bible doesn't tell us to clap our hands when we sing, or to dance, but it doesn't tell us not to.  It does speak about "lifting up holy hands" - but the context of that is almost always lost to those who make the showing of their armpits a "thing".

The posture of prayer for the Jew, was to raise up their hands when they prayed - thus the call isn't to "raise you hands up" - it is rather that when you pray your hands should be holy - which itself describes your conduct - you should be doing the will of God with your hands, and not your own.  The NT equivalent is that the "earnest prayers of a righteous man avails much"  This passage isn't suggesting that the posture of holding your hands up in the air (which, thanks to television and cowboy westerns is now associated with surrender) is more spiritual than holding them at your side.

It is talking about the necessity of personal holiness in prayer.  You want to know why your prayers aren't being answered?  It is because you are not living a holy life.  If you haven't heard that, let me say that someone ought to have told you that in the very early days of your Christianity, but it is never to late - take that to heart, and learn to pray, by learning to walk the Christian walk.  There is no Christian-lite option, there is only a Christian-useless option, and the sooner you understand that, the sooner you will want to avoid it.

Which brings me to the point I wanted to make with this post.  The first reason a lot of believers remain in a state of spiritual infancy is because they are not made aware of what is expected of them, and not expected to pursue it.  The second is because when they set out to live the Christian life in all its fullness, they find themselves failing to find the "power" to do it.  The sit in Romans 7, wanting to do good, but failing to find a way to do it.

So I'll open up on this one point, and trust the Lord to speak to whomever He will through it.

Let's start with some basics:  I wouldn't shouldn't have a difficult time convincing a biblically literate aware Christian that the universe and all that is, ever was, or ever will be, in it exists, and came to exist, and will exist by God's command.  The only folks who would deny that do so because they deny the scriptures that teach that.

Consider the weight of this thought: There was nothing until God commanded there to be something.  

You may think that this truth is limited to the act of creation, but you'd be wrong, and that particular error will have a profoundly significant impact on "how" you understand what it means to be a Christian.

Consider when Jesus commanded the lepers to show themselves to the priests.  Under the Mosaic Law a Jew who had been previously declared unclean on account of a skin disorder had to present himself to a priest when and if he had been cured of his leprosy.  The priest would inspect the former leper to see if the claims of cleansing were true, and if so, he would declare the leper clean, and admit him to the general assembly once again.  When Jesus told those lepers to go and show themselves to a priest, they were still lepers.  They obeyed the word of Christ, and as they did so, they were cleansed.

You've probably heard a sermon or two on this passage in the New Testament, and the take-away that is often presented is that because the miracle didn't happen until they exercised faith by going (even though they were still lepers) to present themselves to the priest, it follows that faith precedes the miraculous.

Here is what I want to teach from that same passage: what was it exactly that healed them?  It was the power of God (obviously), but (and I hate to use such cheesy language here) what unlocked the power of God to do this miracle?  Their faith?  No.  It was the command of God - it was the fact that God told them to go and present themselves to the priests.

Consider, if you are able, that the commandment of our Lord is no small thing.  By His word, all that has ever existed came to exist.  This is who told these lepers to go present themselves to the priest, and pregnant in that command, was the implicit notion that they would be clean before they got there.  Yes, they exercised faith that what Christ implied would come to pass, and it isn't my purpose here to correct or ignore the importance of that faith - it is important.  What I want you to see is that God's command, because it is the command of God, is pregnant with the power to do what it has been unleashed to do.

Okay, I was being a little theatrical when I used the word "unleashed" in that last sentence.  God's word isn't leashed, I just wanted to emphasize the fact that when God commands a thing, it is very, very significant.  He isn't pithy with the things that He does, such that what He commands, He grants by His own power.

You'll hear a lot of rhetoric on how to be obey God.  A lot of  that sort of stuff waters down to finding the "right" motivation, or worse, experience. So what I am saying will probably seem pretty lame and way too simple compared to what others are going to tell you.  I will let the Spirit be the judge.

There is no "power" that we have to tap into.  The power to obey is in the command itself.  God has commanded it, and because He has commanded it, it can be done.  The first example of this happened when you were saved.

Do you realize that God commands us to repent and believe the gospel?  Paul wrote instructively, and accurately in Romans 1 that the gospel was the power of God unto salvation.  We might try and expand that by saying, "Well, it isn't like the words themselves have power, it just means that the power of God is present whenever those words are understood" - and I expect that wouldn't be too far off the mark.  I don't mean to say that there is power in the words themselves, as though reading them or seeing them unleashed (I am using it correctly this time) a latent, embedded power that was pregnant in the text itself.  What I mean is that whatever God commands, He commands according to His power.

Let's take that out of the theoretical realm, and put that into practice.

You don't want to read your bible.  It's boring - or put more accurately, it isn't regarded as being as entertaining as the other things that you would rather be doing at the moment.  You feel you should read it - or rather, you are convicted by the Holy Spirit that you should read it, but because it isn't entertaining enough to overcome your default apathy, you shrug it off and do something else with your time, as you have done countless times before.

In that situation, where do you "find" the "power of God" to obey?

That is how the question is typically stated.  But I suggest it is the wrong question to ask.  The question ought to be, "Am I really being convicted by the Holy Spirit, or am I being provoked by something else?  Guilt (I haven't read it in a while)? Religious duty (if I don't read it, people at church might find out!)? Religious habit (I have to read a certain amount every day, or I won't get the bible read in such and such a time)? Conceit (I want to be known as someone who really knows the bible)?

Listen: there are all kinds of bad reasons to read the bible.  But you should understand that it is the word of the Holy Spirit within every believer who provokes/convicts them to read their bible.  This He does so that through the reading of God's word we will draw near to the actual God, and not some God of our own making.

My point is that even when I am being convicted by the Holy Spirit to obey the will of God (such as to read my bible), more often than not I will not feel like it.  For the immature believer, that is usually enough to win the contest.  So how do I overcome my own feelings which are not inclined to obedience? Does God send me power to do that?


I mean, as a general rule, no.  You will experience many things as a Christian, and sometimes you will be carried along, almost effortlessly into the will of God - but that is always (at least in my own experience) an exceptional thing.  Perhaps the infrequency of this type of phenomenon is a reflection of some as yet unearthed deficiencies in my own walk.  Yet for today, let's accept this much: most of the time, we are not inclined to obedience.

What a lot of people do in that situation is seek the proper motivation.  They reason that if they were the right kind of Christian, this would all be easy.  Therefore they must lack something, and that is why it is so difficult to obey.  So they look for motivation in their feelings, in the writings of people who claim to have solved the mystery, or in various "spiritual experiences" - most of which are either demonic counterfeits, or just plain fluff.

The problem isn't motivation, because the truth is your flesh will not be motivated, and cannot be motivated to obey the will of God.  The will to obey God is not rising up from within the "you" that you think of as "you".  It comes from Christ who is in the believer through the Holy Spirit.  He desires that you obey Him, and you experience that desire as your own.

Consider this: If your desire to obey finds its origin in Christ, and that by itself isn't enough to motivate you to obey (and, for the person living carnally, it won't be), you can bet that every other effort to find the "correct" motivation is going to come up short. If you understand that, you'll stop trying to "find" the proper motivation, and instead deal with the actual problem - you don't want to obey.

You will never make your flesh (the you that is "You") want to obey Christ.  It isn't ever going to be tamed, it isn't ever going to desire to obey.  If you're chasing a version of Christianity where you imagine you find the magic key that makes it easy and pleasant to obey Jesus, you're going to be disappointed, and you're wasting precious time chasing something that the scriptures never suggest or promise.

The moment you understand that your flesh isn't getting any better, and will not get any better, that is the point at which you will begin to understand that the solution isn't going to involve creating a situation where you suddenly "want" to obey.  That just isn't going to happen.  We do not overcome the flesh by taming the flesh, we overcome it by regarding it as dead.

That is where it starts.  First you must understand that in a moment where you can choose to obey the will of God, or choose to pursue your own will, the way to overcome your own will, is not to fight against it, but to understand that it has no power over you.  The power it used to wield over you was your own death.  But if you're in Christ, then He who overcame death, has overcome that power. If you surrender your will to the one who has already overcome death, you will overcome what death is calling you to do.

Okay, I am using some personifications there that I've taken from Paul in his letter to the Romans, and it is easy enough to get lost in the personifications, so I'll repeat that in plain language.

The desire you have to do your own will is a sinful desire - meaning it is a desire to rebel against God's will, in favor of doing our own will. The penalty for that is death - which makes perfect sense; why should God sustain a life that refuses to conform itself to the purpose for which God created it. 

Our desires run contrary to that which permits life (obedience to God).  If we pursue our own desires instead of pursuing what God has created us to do, we are not just usurping the life that God has given us - we are destroying the only reason God has, or will ever have, to sustain the life He has given.  It may be hard to wrap your mind around it, but there is no life apart from God.  The life that we live - the life itself - isn't just owned by God, it -is- preceding from Him right now, it is being sustained by His will - and the moment a person intentionally disregards God's will, in that moment the life that this person was given is eternally forfeited.

So Paul isn't using death as a metaphor in Romans 5 and 6.  Death is just the word he uses to describe both the absence of the life that God sustains, and the absence of one's right to that life.  We lose the right to live the moment we sin. In that sense Adam's setting aside of God's will to pursue his own, (i.e. Adam's "sin") brought into being a situation where he no longer had a claim on the life that he was given.  He still possessed it, but he had no right to it.  Having no right to that life, he no longer had any right to direct the course of it either.  When we say that through sin, Adam brought death into the world, what we mean is that Adam's disobedience brought into being a forfeiture of his right to claim the life he was living.

The life we have inherited from Adam was forfeit (on account of Adam's sin) before we ever inherited it.  Said another way, we have been cut off from God ever since the days of Adam.  Adam and Eve could sense God's presence in the Garden prior to the fall - but when they lost "the rights" to the lives they were living, they lost the ability to sense God's presence because they were no longer connected to the life of God in the way they had previously been.  We've inherited that disconnect.  The life we received (through procreation) is a life that has already been disconnected from the life of God - He sustains it, but it is already dead in the sense that it is already cut off from God - He will not sustain our life once our body is through with it.

That is why we need a Savior after all, because we are born dead in our sins and trespasses, and need a life that is connected to God.  When we are saved, God doesn't re-connect the life we had been living to Himself.  That life is already forfeit.  Instead God gives  us a new life - the life of Christ, which we become partakers of when we are "baptized into Jesus" (i.e. born again).  In that union, we take on the life of Christ, which is still connected to God.

So when Paul speaks about the flesh etc. in Romans 5-8 etc., he is talking about the life that is forever forfeited, and will not be fixed.  His solution is the only solution - stop trying to fix that which cannot be fixed, but regard it instead as dead - because it is dead in that sense that it is not going to be redeemed, and will not be cured, etc.  We do not fix the flesh which is still animated by the old life of Adam, instead regard that life as being dead.

That doesn't mean we pretend it is dead.  It doesn't mean that we convince ourselves that it has no power over us.  It is rather that we recognize that it cannot, and will not have any part of our life in Christ.

It follows then, that we will never find sufficient motivation to overcome our sinful desires.  Such motivation cannot arise from our old life, or our old flesh, because both our flesh and our old life are spiritually dead, and cannot please (and therefore obey) God.

The very first time a Christian obeys God, is when that Christian obeys "the gospel" and believes. 

But how does the believer obey God when there is nothing in the believer's fallen and forfeit life, or fallen and twice dead flesh to provoke that believer to obey God?

Paul tells us that the power comes from the gospel itself, which is the power of God unto salvation.  He is saying that the power itself is pregnant in the command of God.

Paul writes that we are saved by grace through faith.  Grace, we've heard (too often) is "unmerited favor" and that works well enough, but the idea is that faith itself was a gift from God that you did not earn, or deserve - and certainly didn't generate.  You believed the gospel and so you obeyed the gospel, and as you surrendered by grace to the command to believe the gospel, you believed and were saved.

When you obeyed God's command to believe the gospel, you were saved.  The command, because it came from Him who brings into existence out of nothing things that now exist, produced the faith in you through which you were saved.

I know it sounds like a cart before the horse before the cart sort of nightmare, but that is the way it is. 

You may be wondering how all this applies to the topic at hand.  It applies in this way.  New believers haven't learned that there is no trick to sanctification.  You simply obey what God has commanded you to do because God is in the business of bringing obedience out of nothingness the moment you begin to obey.

Every place where your foot falls, will be yours he told the Israelites as they entered into the promised land to take it for themselves.  They had to go out and do it, but when they did the victory was not their own - it was promised them.  As they obeyed they received.  So it has always been.

We don't have the power to obey, or even to believe, but Christ who is in us has both.  As simple as it is, we just have to "trust and obey"  There is no other way to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey.

Immature Christians are immature because they are trying to be Christians without obedience, and they believe that they cannot exercise obedience,  because they haven't found an easy way to do so.  There is no way to make the flesh obey, and as long as they try and make that happen they wear themselves out in repeated failures sprinkled only very conservatively with a few marginal, and very superficial successes.  So they give up, because they don't know that they can't make themselves obey, but must obey nonetheless.  They don't rest in the power of God's commands, and instead attempt to succeed by exercising their own futile power to obey.

My advice, if you find yourself lacking the power to obey - embrace it.  You never had the power to obey to begin with.  Ask yourself instead, am I a slave of Christ?  If I am, what kind of slave sits around and looks for motivation?  I obey because I am a slave, trusting that as I do so, I'll find the strength of my Master in the work I do - because He commands it, and what He commands, He makes happen.

posted by Daniel @ 11:07 AM   0 comment(s)
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
After 1500 generations, fruit flies are still fruit flies...
This morning I chanced upon an article that noted the environmental adaptions taking place in a line of fruit flies (drosophila melanogaster) that have been adapting to total darkness over 1500 generations (about 60 years).  Just to be sure we're all on the same page, environmental adaption isn't the sort of mutation typically envisioned by various theories of evolution. 

Environmental adaption does not introduce new information to a genome, rather existing information is switched on or off at the genetic level in response to a variety of environmental influences.  If there is a drought, and your DNA has something for that, it may switch "on" in the next generation.  if there is little food, another handful of switches may turn on, and some may turn off, etc.

The experiment in question, mapped out a couple of hundred thousand genes to determine which of these mapped genes were "adaptive" - meaning, which of these genes could "turn on" existing features that were being coaxed out by the lab-induced darkness.  Approximately 6% of the genome seemed to respond in a condition-dependent way.  When I say, "seemed to respond" I don't mean that they aren't sure whether or not they there was a change, but rather that they have no certain way to be sure which if any did change because of the lab induced condition of total darkness.  Without a deeper understanding (and experiments of this nature will eventually give us a greater understanding) of the factors involved, we aren't at liberty to do much more than guess how much of that 6% actually represents an induced change, or even whether or not the darkness was the only or prime factor.

But that is science.  The more information we have, the more certain our guesses will become.  For now we can say that after 1500 generations, a line of fruit flies left in total darkness experienced some genetic adaption.  That isn't the same as saying they "evolved" - since no new information was added to their genome, rather it is to say that their genome selectively turned on or off various latent features of their existing DNA.  This isn't the kind of "evolution" that most people mean when they speak of evolution, this is just a family of fruit flies doing what fruit flies have always been able to do - adapt according to their genome.

Don't get me wrong, this experiment has a lot going for it.  It will no doubt contribute to our understanding of how environmental adaptation works, and all that, but what caused this experiment to strike me as significant is what it tells us about changes to our genome after 1,500 generations...

Have you ever wondered how many generations it would take to re-populate the world staring from just two people?  A thousand?  A hundred thousand? Nope.  Less than 50.  Seriously, if conditions were perfect, it could be done in as little as 900 years, and in just a few dozen generations.

The big point isn't that fruit flies haven't evolved into something new even after 1500 generations, nor is it that if what most people think of as evolution is true, it happens so slow that we may never be able to verify it experimentally.  No the big thing is that if evolution actually explains our origins, we should have (over the millions of years we've allegedly been here) over-populated the world thousands of times.

Conservatively, 1500 generations of humanity should span about 35K-40K years, so we should expect the humanity from 40,000 years ago, to be just as smart, industrious, and genetically able as humanity today, since, genetically speaking, they are identical to us.  They had opposable thumbs, and certainly would have every advantage that we have in becoming the undisputed masters of this world, and over-populated the world, just as we have, many, many times over.

Yes, there is disease and famine, and all that in the world.  It has been here as long as we have.  But as convenient as it is to suggest that the reason mankind failed to thrive in the past was because we were too unsophisticated, or because disease, war and famine so limited our population that we failed to thrive until only recently.  Yet the same people who are willing to believe that the kind of spontaneous beneficial mutation that can produce a superior version in the place of previous inferior ancestors, if you just give the process enough time (millions of years), balk at the idea that mankind could ever have overcome his environment to dominate the planet has it has until only just recently.

How did we conquer this world? How did we overcome limited resources?  How have we tamed the air and the sea? What have we done that our genetically identical forefathers from thousands of years ago prior to written history couldn't have done?  In order to truly embrace evolution, we must adapt a very low opinion of mankind's ability to do anything - since we must begin with the assumption that mankind was in a state of utter indifference and idiocy prior to the last few thousand years.

One doesn't have to be a raving religious nut to question the viability of evolutionary theory.  The question we should be asking is how is it possible for all that information get into our DNA?  The human brain is far more complicated than any computer - are we to understand that the same natural processes that wear mountains down to dust, elsewhere build that dust up into super-computers?  We can understand how natural forces can destroy what is, but how can the same forces create information?  our DNA is more complex than anything you can imagine - not because it is conceptually complex, but because of the information in our DNA - how did it get there?

To believe that the kind of information that has been allegedly added to our DNA (slowly over millions of years) just wrote itself, or happened (repeatedly over the millennia) in response to an incalculable number of various natural impetuses requires a great deal of hope.  I would say, "faith" but faith has to have some anchor - you can't have faith by itself, faith has to be in something, you trust that this or that is true.  But in this case, you're trusting that the most complex information known to man came into being through changes no one has ever seen.  In other words, you're trusting that something no one has ever witnessed or recorded, has not only happened once, but happened millions of times in the past for pretty much every organism upon the earth,

People of faith - in particular those who believe the various divine creation accounts  - are ridiculed by those who believe that all the information in our DNA essentially came together through random chance.  Let's be honest - one party believes that everything came from something, the other believes that everything came from nothing.

The study produced a few articles, which produced a few conversations, most of which have or will have degenerated into an atheistic vs. a faith based debate about the origin of all things.  That's not a bad thing, as it gives atheists an opportunity to stare again into the face of their belief system: "everything originated from a very special form of nothingness - the kind of nothingness that we don't see today, but at one time created enough of a universe to start things off..."

posted by Daniel @ 11:15 AM   1 comment(s)
Tuesday, February 09, 2016
Are humans losing the ability to think critically due to technology advances?
I am not asking the question myself. I stumbled across the question here, and typed out an off-the-cuff answer to submit, only to find that my answer could not be submitted unless/until I joined the forum.

Rather than do that, I thought, I'll just cut and paste my response here:

The American Heritage Dictionary defines Relativism (the philosophy) as "The doctrine that no ideas or beliefs are universally true but that all are, instead, 'relative' — that is, their validity depends on the circumstances in which they are applied."  This philosophy can be summed up by the notion that there is no absolute (i.e. 'objective') truth.

In a similar way, Postmodernism, which promotes the notion of radical pluralism (i.e. there are many "ways of knowing" and "reality is subject to perspective", etc. etc.), promotes the complimentary notion that truth is something we interpret out of our individual realities rather than something that actually exists

These philosophies (in particular) frame our default "modern" worldview - which is what is being taught to students in our (western) public educational systems.  Pragmatically it lends itself to the notion that all religions and cultures are equal in that we cannot know which (if any of them) is right or superior.

Unfortunately, the perceived educational benefits of a postmodernism, relativistic worldview (pluralism, secularism, etc.) come at the expense of critical thinking - which posits that in order to think clearly on a matter, one's knowledge must be informed by and through factual evidence.  In a culture that has convinced itself that truth is unknowable, or that truth is a matter of perspective, knowledge can no longer be informed by factual evidence, because there is no such thing as an actual, objective fact.  All truth is inherently subjective and a matter of perspective, therefore even where evidence supports a claim, the claim may be rejected because our philosophies presuppose that even factual evidence is subject to opinion and perspective. There simply is no room to think critically, because critical thought presumes upon the objectivity of the evidence.

Therefore, if humans are in fact losing the ability to think critically, it probably doesn't spring from recent technological advances, but rather from recent trends in epistemological philosophies. A generation that is so enlightened that it teaches itself that nothing is truly knowable, can hardly escape the conclusion presupposed by its worldview: There is no longer any need for critical thinking since that archaic notion was premised upon a notion our worldview denies.
One of the beefs I have with our public school system, is that it passively promotes the memorization of knowledge rather than the learning of it. Truth is assumed, rather than demonstrated, and the student's job is to trust that what they are being told is actually true - so that all they need to do, in order to past the test, is to memorize it, and retain that knowledge until they write the test. Once the grade is given, the both the teacher and the student move past that hurdle to the next, in their race to get through all the material that the student is to be tested on.

In order to think critically, one must have a venue to actually critique what is being presented as truth - to question the authority behind any proposition until satisfied that the evidence given actually supports the claims being made.  You can't do that in a world where nothing is true anymore.
posted by Daniel @ 2:18 PM   3 comment(s)
Friday, September 04, 2015
John 4:24
"God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" [ESV]

I don't know how many times I've read this verse, and you probably don't know how many times you've read it, or heard it quoted.  If you're reading my blog, chances are good that you didn't accidentally stumble in here, but are a Christians, and have probably read that verse enough times that you no longer marvel (if ever you did) at what it says.  If you're a believer, you accept these words as true and (presumably) literal.  God -is- a spirit.  Those who worship God -must- worship God in spirit and in truth (whatever *that* means).

If you're new to the scriptures, or you aren't a Christian and have stumbled into this blog providentially rather than intentionally, the verse is a statement about the nature of God and the nature of the worship God expects from those who worship Him.  What I am about to write is an explanation of how that verse influences the way Christians both perceive and worship God, and this I will do by looking at what the author of that verse (John) was talking about when he said that.  I will also do my best to steer the reader away from common pitfalls in their understanding - so that what is being said is not clouded by notions which might come about if we read the verse out of context.

You've read or at least heard of the woman at the well whom Jesus met on the way into the town of Samaria.  Recall that Jesus asked her for a drink of water from the well, and because Jews regarded Samaritans as unclean, she wanted to know what kind of Jew Jesus was if He was asking her to draw water for him - for the "...Jews had no dealing with Samaritans" (c.f. John 4:9b). Jesus enters into a conversation with the Samaritan woman, and using the drawing of water as a word picture, begins to describe Himself as the Messiah who gives eternal life to those who ask Him for it.  He then demonstrates that He has this authority by telling her things about her life that no stranger could possibly know.  Perceiving Christ to be at the very least, a prophet, she begins to ask him questions of a theological nature. 

At this point it might help to understand who the Samaritans were.  Long before Christ's encounter with the woman from Samaria, the ten tribes of Israel had been carried away into captivity in Assyria.  As was the custom, the king of Assyria, having conquered the land that was formerly the property of the tribes of Ephraim and the half tribe of Mannesseh, displaced those who vacated the land with Assyrian settlers from Cutha, Hamath, Ava, and Sepharvaim (c.f. 2 Kings 17:24; Ezra 4:2-11).

These Assyrian settlers intermarried with the Israelite population that was still in the land (not every single person was rounded up and carted off, after all), so that the ethnic stock of what was now called "Samaria" was a mix more Gentile than Jew. At first the Samaritans worshipped various Assyrian idols which they brought with them, or fashioned in the new land,  but because their "gods" couldn't deal with the abundance of lions in the land (which had been terrorizing the population), they supposed it was because the God of this new land was dissatisfied with them.  To answer their appeal to Assyria on this point, A Jewish priest was dispatched to them in order to teach them the Jewish religion.

The Samaritans were taught about the God of the Jews through the books of Moses, and incorporated the God of the Jews into their idolatrous customs. they build their own version of the temple on Mount Gerazim, and worshiped there.  It is fair to say that the Samaritans were not proper Jews, but then again, they weren't quite Gentiles either (see 2 Kings 17:26-28).

The Samaritans worshiped the one true God (albeit improperly) and regarded the writings of Moses (and only the writings of Moses) as scripture, such that they were genuinely waiting for the Messiah of God even as the Jews were.

As soon as the woman of Samaria perceives Jesus to be a prophet, she asks him whether the Samaritans ought to worship "on this mountain" - meaning in the temple her ancestors have erected on Mount Gerazim, or in the temple at Jerusalem - as the Jews insisted?  Christ answered her that a time was coming - referring to the age of the New Covenant - when locations wouldn't matter.  What was going to matter under the New Covenant age was whether or not you were worshiping God in Spirit and in truth. God was a Spirit, and as such, you didn't actually need to go to a specific location to worship Him - what mattered was whether or not your were worshiping Him in the Spirit and in truth.

To condense all that for you, and put the verse in question into context in summary form - Jesus was answering a theological question about where it was most proper to worship God, and His answer was that location won't matter when the New Covenant begins, since God is a Spirit (and presumably not bound to any one location, and what matters therefore is not where you worship, but rather the quality of your worship.

At this point, I haven't really explained how one goes about worshiping God in spirit and in truth, I've just explained that this statement was given in answer to a theological question concerning "where" one ought to worship God.

To be pithy, I suppose, we could say that Christ answered the "where" question enigmatically, by implying that one worships God "in" their heart.  But I don't believe our Lord was trying to be pithy or clever - even if that "location" is a fairly fitting answer to the question posed by the woman of Samaria.

What I want to focus on, to answer the question I put in parenthesis in the last sentence of the first paragraph, i.e. "Whatever that means?" is the notion that God is a spirit, and how that knowledge should inform our worship.  When our Lord described God as a spirit, it is informative to remember that He was -correcting- a wrong understanding of both God and how God is worshiped.  The notion that it is right to worship God in one place, but not right in another, flows from a wrong-headed, anthropomorphic image of God - as though God had enough substance to be in one place to the exclusion of being in other places.

As creatures, we live in one place at one time.  If we are here, we are not also there. 

God, in the scriptures, often describes something of Himself using anthropomorphism.  He has no face, but we understand what He means when He says that He spoke to Moses face-to-face.  When Moses looked at God's back - He wasn't looking at a giant man walking with his back to Moses - whatever He saw, it wasn't human, and even if Moses had tried to describe it, words would very likely fail to capture it.  God is a spirit.

That fact is very important when we discuss something like the Impassibility of God.  Closely related to the immutability of God, the impassibility of God describes the thought that God does not and cannot experience such things as pain or emotions.

That isn't to say that God isn't love, or that God isn't kind, or merciful, or to diminish any of the ways in scripture our God anthropomorphically represents Himself to us - it is rather to hold firm to the *fact* that God is a spirit, and that such descriptions remain anthropomorphisms.  When the bible describes the love or mercy, or anger of God - it is not describing a temporal human emotion.

Hopefully the reader is mature enough in their thinking to see that I am not trying to diminish the character of God - rather I am saying that to regard God solely in terms of those human emotions which the scripture uses to portray what are not "human" emotions - which fluctuate according to such base things as our heart rates, body temperature, hormones, and even situation that provoke us.

God cannot be provoked, He has no hormones, not heart to beat, and no body temperature to be affected by any environment.  He is unchanging, and all knowing.  No situation surprises God, so God is not provoked by any momentary passion.  He is not a creature, and does not experience emotion in the same way we do.

That isn't to say that God isn't "angry" with sinners as the scriptures teach (c.f. Psalm 7:11), or that God isn't "merciful" (c.f. Deuteronomy 4:31).  Rather than provide a long list of the various emotions that scripture users to describe God's character in one situation or another, it is enough to say that our own emotions reflect to some degree the nature of our Creator who made us in His own image.  We *resemble* - but we are not *like* him.  We are made of dust, formed into His image, but we are not of the same substance, as it were. 

What I am trying to expound here is the gulf between our own experiences and the character of God - I want to introduce, or at least reinforce the notion that it is bad theology to read our experiences back into the character of God. Yes, God is described using language that makes sense to us - but we must remember that God is a spirit, and the language of the scriptures communicate God's character to us through anthropomorphic imagery - but the imagery isn't intended to suggest that what we are, God is - or that when God describes Himself as "angry" it is describing the exact same thing we experience when we are "angry".

God is a spirit, and not an emotional, suffering human in a fallen world.  Whatever God's love is, it isn't like our love - which waxes and wanes depending on outside factors.  It isn't injured or jeopardized by insult or injury, it cannot grow, it cannot shrink, it cannot change, because it is not dependent upon anything else.  Every emotion attributed to God must be understood in the light of the fact that God is not a man, but a spirit. 

Why does that matter - why is it important to understand that God does not "experience" emotions or pain, or suffering, or a sense of loss or gain?

I could give you a handful of reasons off the cuff, but let's keep this practical: God has told us that He is a spirit, so that we might respond accordingly - meaning, so that we will not reason from any perspective that diminishes the character of God into the an image or likeness of man.

People have emotions, people experience pleasure and  pain suffer loss and are pleased or dismayed according to circumstances.  God is not like that.  He doesn't "feel" love - He "is" love.  He doesn't act just, He "is" just, He doesn't "get" angry He "is" anger.

But even saying this much is still painting God in anthropomorphic language.  The truth is we have no language to sufficiently paint the unchanging character of God.  When we say that God is this or that - we aren't saying that God became this or that because of such and such - rather we are saying that God is always for such and such, and always against such and such, His character appears to us as "loving" when He does this, as "merciful" when He does that, and as "Wrathful" when He does this other thing.

I want the reader to understand that although God's nature is unchanging, that doesn't mean that God Himself is somehow dormant - as though He were a great big, unchanging block of stone.  If you want to think of His character in those terms - that's fine, but don't imagine for a moment that the impassibility or immutability of God means that God exists in a perpetual stasis - unmoving, unthinking, unchanging. 

Good gravy, No! It is God's character that never changes.

One of the problems we run into in the Christian life is when we try to persuade ourselves, or others, that God, when He is (momentarily) pleased with us, He will send us a blessing, or (as I have heard it described), He will "honor" our decision to do such and such; as though God is up in heaven being moved by some act of obedience, to reward His servants with some sort of blessing.  The God of the scriptures expects perfect obedience from His servants, and when they have done all that is required of them, they have done nothing worthy of praise or reward - they  are *servants* - their *perfect* obedience is what is expected of a servant - anything less means you weren't a fit servant.

That is one of those harsh lessons that a lot of nominal Christians cringe at.  What do you mean God doesn't reward obedience?  What do you mean God *expects* obedience?  What kind of monster to you think God is?

Well, I think God is a holy God, and that He commands us to be holy too.  I think that when we fail to be holy (which happens regularly for all of us) God's wrath towards us is merited.  For those of us in Christ, that wrath was poured out in full upon Christ.  The law of reaping and sowing is still in effect - if our disobedience is pregnant with consequence, we may experience the consequences our disobedience produces - and being mindful of our sin, these consequences will be understood as the fitting chastisement of a loving Father.  But make no mistake chastisement isn't punishment - it is teaching.  The punishment for sin is not worldly difficulties - it is the second death.  God's chastisement is correction, and He often uses what our sowing has reaped to chastise us. 

In the same way, our temporary obedience, if it is actual obedience, isn't worthy of merit, such that God is not rewarding us if we experience peace - rather God leads us by the still waters, if we follow Him, we will experience peace - not as a reward, but as a consequence. 

Those who picture God's dealings with them in terms of punishment and rewards, do so because they believe God is momentarily angry at their sin, and momentarily pleased by their obedience.  They imagine God is for them, when they obey, and against them when they disobey - because they believe that God rewards in his pleasure, and punishes in his displeasure.  It isn't that God is emotionally unstable - it is that the believe God is *reacting* to their situation in an emotional way.

When Jesus said that those who worship God must worship Him in spirit and in truth - I believe He was saying that God cannot be reckoned in terms of a man, but must be understood as transcending such things as time and space, but also such things as are common to the human experience.

We are ready to say that God doesn't have arms or legs - but how many are willing to understand that God doesn't have a body that reacts emotionally to situations?  How many are willing to regard God as "Holy" (meaning so entirely set apart from us as to be utterly *alien*), so holy that whatever emotions God has, they are certainly not reactionary, nor can they be "triggered" - God is not a temporal being, He knows the end from the beginning - He isn't surprised by anything.  His dealings with us are never reactionary - though we (who live bound to the laws of time and space) may interpret God as reacting to a situation - we must remember that God is not reacting, He is simply God being God as He has always been.

How do you worship God in spirit and in truth?  well, let's start with the first commandment - love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  That is not a command for people to foster a warmest possible emotional affection towards God.  It is actually a command to serve Him selflessly - as Christ served mankind selflessly.   The love that God speaks of there is demonstrative: it flows from a place of true humility - you cannot serve anyone else if you're serving yourself, so the moment you stop trying to provide for your own desires, and instead look to fulfill God's desires, you will be "loving" God.  You have to be humbled in heart, mind, soul, and strength - and frankly, you can't do that, but Christ did.  Thus the only way you can obey that first commandment is to surrender your life to Christ, and allow the life of Christ to be manifested in you.  When you surrender a moment to Christ, count yourself as nothing, and set your heart to obey, the life of Christ in you rises to the surface, as it were, and (as the apostle Paul described), Christ lives in you.

The point is that worship isn't about trying to produce or foster a right emotional state, or to find the right "Christian motivation" - as though you were an actor looking for your muse. God operates towards us in a perfectly selfless way.  He serves us, working tirelessly for us, unchanging, untiring, unstopping - because He is a spirit.  We have to worship God in the same way - not depending on our flesh (humanity), not working in our own strengths, but rather we must worship God in the Spirit (uppercase "S" denoting the Holy Spirit), through whom we have Christ indwelling within us.

There is no real way around it. Every effort in the flesh is wasted, useless, doomed to empty religion and failure - because it is carnal effort; i.e. the work of the "old man" trying to make himself into a "new man". 

Yet when we regard ourselves as humble servants of God - nay, slaves!  Slaves of God, so that we reject for ourselves the carnal "right" to do what we want, and instead, trust ourselves to be His actual servants, responding in each moment as the Lord's selfless servants ought to respond - in those moments where Christ is living in and through us even as we are putting to death the deeds of the body in order that Christ may reign - in those moments, we are truly worshiping God in spirit and in truth.

The heart of John 4:24 is that you can't worship God in the flesh, in your own power, or in your own way - you must simply surrender to God, allow the life of Christ to constrain your living, and in doing so you will be worshiping God in spirit and in truth.
posted by Daniel @ 11:01 AM   0 comment(s)
Wednesday, September 02, 2015
Sanctification? Not Optional for the Believer.
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ - Matthew 7:22-23 [NASB]

I don't know what planet some of us are living on, but when I read this, I don't imagine that it'll will have been the atheists crying "Lord, Lord!" on that day - since no atheist is going to be looking to justify his claim on Christ through having been religiously active in his or her life.

The sad truth is that there are people who profess to be, and fully believe themselves to be, Christians, and these are dying and will day only to discover that their commitment to Christ in this life was a self-serving and superficial deceit.  They believed themselves to be in the fold when they were never really in it.

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.- Hebrews 12:14 [NASB]

If we are to believe the scriptures (and I do) it follows that any person capable of reading this, who doesn't pursue sanctification in this life is not going to be welcomed into the kingdom when they die - regardless of whether or not they consider themselves to be a Christian.

Wait, you say. What about once saved, always saved?

Listen: I am not saying that a Christian will lose their salvation if they don't pursue sanctification.  What I am saying is that a Christian who doesn't pursue sanctification isn't a Christian at all.  That applies straight across the board, from the pulpit to the pew, from the religiously active to the religiously dormant - all your prayer and bible reading, all your singing worship songs, all your church attendance and fine words for others in the faith - count for a hill of beans if you are not pursuing sanctification, because if you are not pursuing sanctification, you will not see the Lord - because whatever you have, it isn't saving faith.

So I am not saying you will lose your salvation, I am saying that if you are not pursuing sanctification, you weren't saved in the first place.

She will bear a Son; and you [Joseph] shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. - Matthew 1:21 [NASB]

Here is the thing, Jesus saves His people from their sins.  When you're genuinely born again you are baptized into Christ, into His death, and into His resurrection.  One "side-effect" of this new birth is that you will have the mind of Christ within you, and you will find yourself driven to pursue sanctification. 

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. - Philippians 2:12-13 [NASB]

If Christ is in you, you will begin to work out your own salvation (from sin) with fear and trembling because God is at work in you, providing both the desire and the ability to do so.

An "aside" thought: 
 As a Calvinist, I want to speak to my camp especially on this matter, because we are the camp that (correctly) preaches that a genuine believer cannot lose his or her salvation.  I don't believe that sound doctrine necessarily means a sound salvation.  The devil can know and preach the truth, but just as his assenting to the truth does not and cannot save him, even so a Calvinist can assent to the truth without living that truth out through a genuine faith.  Make no mistake - good theology is essential to a healthy faith - but it isn't a bullet proof guarantee.  Judas was familiar with the best doctrine of his day - and when he was sent out, I expect the proclaimed the truth "faithfully" - but it never penetrated his own heart.  So also, Calvinism, unless it works its way into a faith filled heart, is no proof against hell.  So while I hate to see anyone who professes Christ to miss this, I especially want those of my own theological ilk to handle the doctrine of sanctification properly.

Back to the discussion at hand
You cannot lose your salvation, but you can certainly believe yourself to be a genuine believer when you are not one.  When the scriptures say that you will not see God if you are not pursuing sanctification, and you find yourself on the wrong side of that equation, the call isn't to begin pursuing sanctification so that the equation balances out.  The call is to re-examine your faith with judgment day sobriety.  This is one of those tests that gives clear indication if you are or if you are not, in the kingdom.

A quick word on nuances
I don't feel comfortable describing the word "pursue" in Hebrews 12:14, (pursue sanctification) a "command".  The verb is certainly in the imperative mood, but while imperatives certainly direct the reader's action, the context should inform us whether the writer is commanding a thing, or simply giving instruction on a matter.

If I wanted to tell you how to drive a nail with a hammer, I would be using a lot of imperatives to do that, "Grip" the hammer firmly, "place" the nail, and "balance" it carefully, before you "swing" the hammer, etc.  I am not commanding you to hammer in a nail, I am telling you how to hammer in a nail.

We run into trouble when our understanding of imperatives is entirely one-dimensional, such that we read every imperative as though God were giving us a direct command.  God is certainly giving instruction through the epistle to the Hebrews in this matter, and clearly the intention is for the believer to actually "pursue" sanctification - but it is more of an instruction than a command.

Not unlike saying, Do not touch the red hot element on the stove, or you will get burned.  Yes, I am telling you not to do something, but it isn't so much a command, as it is an instruction.  If you heed the instruction, you will reap the benefit, and if you fail to heed it, you will suffer the consequences.  But it isn't really me commanding you - it is me instructing you.

I think that is what the author of Hebrews intends - he giving the readers some sound instruction: unless you are pursuing peace and sanctification you will never see God. This is rather like what our Lord said in John 14:15, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.

In the case of John 14:15, our Lord is saying that love is evident in the works that same love provokes.  In the case of Hebrews 12:14, the author is saying that the pursuits of peace and sanctification are evidence of a genuine faith - a faith that will see the Lord.

In the parable of the soils, our Lord taught that the message of Christ would be received by men  in two ways: superficially or productively.  When it was productive, it produced fruit, thirty, sixty, or an hundred fold - which reminds us of the imagery of Christ as the Vine, that every branch in Christ bears fruit, and every branch that is not in Christ does not bear, and is cast into the fire.  When the seed is not productive, it either produced no growth (seed that fell on the hard packed earth), or produced superficial growth (seed in the thorny or rocky soils).

In the parable of the wheat and the tares, our Lord made it clear (to those who have ears to hear at least) that not everyone who followed Christ was genuine.  The Apostle Paul calls his readers to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith (c.f. 2 Corinthians 13:5).  Paul was under no illusions when it came to these matters - he clearly understood that many people would attach themselves to the church - being deceived into believing themselves to be Christians having only a superficial commitment to Christ.

The call then, isn't to false believers to work harder so that in working harder they will become genuine believers.  The call is to examine yourself and see if you are pursuing sanctification because God Himself is within you provoking you, giving you a desire to live a life that is pleasing to Him, and supplying that desire with the ability to do so. 

If you find yourself presently lacking in the desire to pursue holiness, you have little reason to believe yourself to be in the kingdom.  If you find that desire to live a life pleasing to God is present, but struggle with the desires of this world - you need to ask yourself whether the seed has fallen into rocky or thorny soil. 

Christ who indwells every genuine believer supplies the desire we feel to obey God, but a man who doesn't want to go to hell when he dies, may well supply from his own fear, a very real desire to please God in this life.  He will not desire to please God because of a strong sense that this is right and proper, and he wants to live in a right relationship with God in order to experience more fully the love and character of God - he will want to please God because he believes that doing so will secure for him a better afterlife.

So if you find yourself desiring to please God, but having no power to do so, examine more fully  why it is that you want to live a life that pleases God - is it for your sake, meaning, you want to please God because you secretly feel that if you don't it'll go bad for you; in which case you're not experiencing the same desire a Christian experiences - which is a desire to please God because at a soul deep level your greatest joy (in the here and now) is to know that you're "right" with God.

If you've got the right desire, it is from the Lord, and frankly, you will be pursuing sanctification.  You may not understand that you're doing that - but you will desire to live a life that is holy, and you will strive to do so in whatever power you have, whether it be doctrinally sound and therefore productive, or whether it be in the utter ignorance of an immature faith - you will find that certain things have changed since becoming a believer - it suddenly feels "wrong" to cuss, you suddenly are concerned even about what the world would consider "harmless" sins - white lies, accidentally stealing a pencil - driving over the speed limit - even just a little.

It isn't that you're forced to make these changes out of fear, it is that it seems right and natural.  Theologically speaking, Christ is at work in you, giving you the will and the ability to set these things aside.

But there will be much bigger things - things you wish you could set aside as effortlessly as these little things - and these will not go away by themselves.  Much like the demon that could not simply be cast out, but was driven out with prayer - so also there are things in the life of every believer that will not go out easily, but will only go out when the believer begins to pursue holiness (sanctification) in earnest.

That is what the author of Hebrews is talking about, and that is whom he is talking to. Every believer will pursue peace with God and with people, and every believer will pursue holiness - some thirty, some sixty, some an hundredfold.  But false believers will not long pursue holiness, if they pursue it at all - because they will not find it in their pursuit, and their failure to do so will only harden them, or at the very least so frustrate them that they will eventually give up trying and instead justify themselves in their bondage to sin.

This isn't a "do this so that you can be sure you're saved"  - it is saying, "Look at your self: if you're not pursuing holiness, something is -so- wrong with your faith that you will not see God - which is a colloquial way of saying, you will go to hell when you die."

It isn't that a Christian will lose their salvation if they aren't pursuing holiness (sanctification) - it is rather a diagnostic - you can be pretty sure your faith is not legitimate if you're not pursuing sanctification.  It isn't that you'll lose something you have, it is that even what you think you have (but actually don't have) will be taken away from you.

The attitude of some who attend modern day churches, is that justification gets you in the church, then sanctification is something you can do if you're a real keener.

That's poison.

Sanctification isn't optional, it is normal - where it is lacking in the life of a believer - hard questions need to be asked and answered, because where it is lacking, a soul is on the line.
posted by Daniel @ 10:54 AM   0 comment(s)
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