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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.
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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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Sunday, January 31, 2010
Plasticity
Have you ever met a Christian and in the first few minutes you got the feeling that they were trying very hard to look like a Christian? You know what I mean? You meet them for the first time and there is a slickness to them that makes them come off like a snake oil salesman? On some subconscious level, something inside is nagging you with the growing conviction that you are witnessing something insincere. A facade that looks right, but seems wrong.

I remember attending a local church service in another church, and being greeted after the service by men who clearly found the idea of talking to strangers about as uncomfortable as imaginable. Their body language was screaming - I don't want to talk to you! but they were all smiles, smalltalk. I marvelled at what they were able to muster, not that I was impressed with how they were overcoming the flesh, because I didn't see men overcoming the flesh, I saw men suppressing the flesh for a few minutes in order to put on the Christian mask. No, I marvelled that they were so religious that they bothered to go that far.

By and large though, nothing makes me cringe more than this sort of plasticity; and this is magnified a thousand fold when I find it in a person that some congregation has called to be their pastor. I mean, if the pastor has to put on a mask, what does he possibly have to offer that congregation? Information without application can only carry you so far.

Anyway, no great point here, I am just putting a label on something that bugs me.

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posted by Daniel @ 7:47 AM   11 comment(s)
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Yeah, But What I Wanna Know is....
Like most people whom the Lord graces with eyes to see and ears to hear; I came to realize early on in my faith, that sin was not something I did, but something that defined who I was. I came to see that sin began, not in the things I did, but in desires that were welling up from within the deepest recesses of my soul. I came to realize that these desires were not alien to me, but were definitive: they defined who I was at the core - a man of sin. If I suppressed all sin for an hour, a day, or a week, all that would have happened is that I would have suppressed who I *really* am, but nothing would have been done to dent the nature within.

This is a hard lesson for anyone to learn, but a necessary one also, if one has any intention of living the Christian life that God calls us to live.

Consider this: our first impression of "sin" comes from being corrected for disobedience in our childhood. Whatever discipline we received as children will obviously influence our initial understanding of sin, and for some, it will flavor their initial understanding of the Fatherhood of God as well.

Thus most of us have learned that we are expected to behave in one way, and that when we fail to behave in that way we are "bad" and when we behave appropriately we are "good". If we were told that it was our behavior that was good or bad, as is typical in a non-christian home, then the logical presumption would be that we are basically a neutral party. Perhaps our personality inclines us one way or the other, but by and large we regard ourselves as good if we do good, and evil if we do evil. This is one of the ways that "seems right to a man" - meaning it is commonly a primary foundation for all kinds of works righteousness schemes in all kinds of religions.

When I became a Christian, I was quite influenced by this pre-existing (and mostly subconscious) conviction. The end result, of course, is that when the Holy Spirit convicted me that some thing I was doing or failing to do was sinful, I would think it was this failure to obey that produced the evil in me - the very evil that the Holy Spirit was convicting me of. Of course anyone who experiences the conviction sin under the ministry of the Holy Spirit knows that the ache in your heart is to pursue righteousness instead which is really the other side of the Holy Spirit's ministry. Yet because of the way my thinking was wired, what I wanted was to be holy in order that I might be "good".

Pay attention here: I am describing how a predilection to "works-righteousness" plays out under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Divine conviction doesn't simply and immediately inform (and thereby correct) our pre-existing errors so that we regard our own righteousness as rubbish; instead we filter conviction through the pre-existing framework of our works-righteousness system - carrying on as before, but with far more guilt and sensitivity to sin.

Whenever we are (however fleetingly) obedient, we feel like we are accepted by God, and whenever we sin we feel like we are being thereby and therefore rejected by God. We are "positively" motivated to obey then, because we see that as a way to secure (by personal merit) God's favor, and we are "negatively" motivated to obey because we see that as a way to avoid God's disfavor on account of our sin.

I believe that many Christians are stuck in that kind of system. They are rats on the same old wheel, so busy trying to stay in God's good books, that they have no time for anything else. They are like the one who knows his master is a severe man, and therefore are so afraid of spoiling what he has entrusted to them, that they bury it in the ground. They are so afraid of losing what was given, that they spend all their energy simply trying to keep it. Christianity for them is nothing more than a daily attempt to "do the right thing" as they live their own lives separated from God in all but the rule keeping. They are like little children: they know the rules, and obey them in order to attain to some reward, or to avoid some punishment. Their endeavor may look right from some external vantage, but anyone whose vision penetrates the outers shell will see and know that everything they do is actually self serving and empty. They are convicted, but they continue on as before, only moreso now that they have dressed it up as the Christian religion.

But as I said above, some will rise above this and see that they are not merely neutral parties who become good by doing good, and become evil by doing evil, but will see something in themselves that those in the former group have failed to see: they will note that no matter how much good they do, their every inclination remains evil; and conclude that evil resides in them no matter how much good they do, or desire to do.

They will see that they are trees that can only produce bad fruit; fountains that only produce corrupt water. It is at this point that they are most likely to pursue the various "perfection" doctrines.

If you are not familiar with the various doctrines on perfectionism, I will give you the briefest of summaries: perfectionism teaches that the death of Christ can set a believer free from sinning altogether.

That's right; perfectionists teach that Christ's death not only accomplishedis our justification, but also can sanctify us entirely, bringing us to a place where we no longer sin, (i.e. give in to sinful desires) at all, because we no longer desire to sin, or because our desire for obedience is so profound it swallows up entirely (by virtue of magnitude) our desire to sin.

Let's face it. That is certainly more attractive to the anguished sinner than the idea that we will sin until the day we die no matter how "holy" we are or try to be. Doesn't every heart that has seen its own sinfulness desire to be set free from the presence of sin? Of course it does. The question is whether that is supposed to happen on this side of the grave, or not.

The perfectionist says that we are supposed to be free from sin's power right now, after all, Jesus died to save His people - not from "hell", but (as the scriptures say) - from sin (c.f. Matthew 1:21). I know my own heart burns at the thought! Man, what I wouldn't give to be perfected in that way right now.

Yet, it seems plain from scripture that this level of perfection was not enjoyed even by Peter the Apostle, who clearly sinned at Antioch in perverting the gospel in order to secure the respect of certain Jews who came from Jerusalem. I can't even begin to imagine this man whom God personally singled out with the ministry of bringing the Gentiles into the church (read Acts 10 etc.), suddenly playing the "Jew" at Antioch to the detriment of the gospel of Grace, and yet there it is. Paul had to rebuke Peter before the whole church. Surely, an honest inquirer will reason that if perfection comes on this side of the grave, Peter should have attained to it, and hadn't.

John writes that if we say we have no sin, we lie and do not practice the truth (see his first epistle). Some might argue that he is speaking about unrepentant people who have joined themselves to the Christian faith without having repented from their sin on the grounds that they presume themselves to be without sin, or some such thing - but I take it to mean what it says - that anyone (believer, or unbeliever) who imagines that he doesn't sin is entirely deceived in the matter.

Indeed, some perfectionists would agree with that.

They would argue, given that scripture shows Christians (such as Peter the apostle) committing sin, that what perfectionism does is not keep you from all sin, but only stops you from doing something you "know" is sin. You might sin ten times unknowingly, but never knowingly.

I think that's a rather fanciful, intellectually dishonest dodge no matter how you dice it. If, in the new covenant, the Holy Spirit is given and if it is the ministry of the same Holy Spirit to convict us of sin, then this rests on the notion that the Holy Spirit is failing in His ministry to us on some level. Seriously, I -know- when I sin and so do you. The only time I sin "unknowingly" is when I have so hardened my heart against the conviction of the Holy Spirit in some matter (i.e. when I have formed a long standing habit of ignoring -or justifying- some sinful behavior) that I simply act without thinking about it. It isn't that I am ignorant, it is that I have become so calloused in my sin, that I sin without even thinking about it anymore.

I think that is a common enough experience, that by mentioning it, you (the reader) can affirm by your own experience that I am not speaking of things that are up in the sky and beyond our undertstanding, but am in fact speaking of things near to our own walk.

Now. My point in writing this post, is not to simply draw attention to my opinion on the teaching of perfectionism (that it is well intentioned, but bunk nontheless), but rather to wonder at the experience of those who imagine themselves to have arrived at a state of perfection in this life.

What I want to know is if these guys are [1] merely overstating a normal Christian experience; that is, are they experiencing genuine spiritual maturity - the kind that attends those who truly deliver themselves entirely to the cross daily, and are simply using the vocabulary of "perfectionism" to describe this state.

Again, are they just reinterpreting their present experience so that whatever they are experiencing they interpret it to be perfection? They have a perfectionism mold, as it were, and they are simply pressing all their experiences into that mold until they convince themselves that they fit the picture?

Again, are they just liars? Hucksters? Opportunists hoping to make a buck off the gulliblity of their disciples?

I mean, Wesley believed in perfectionism, and he died about as poor as you can be, so I don't believe that these people are all hucksters. In fact, I am not concerned at all with the fakers and opportunists at all. My interest lies in those who are sincere.

It isn't that I want to debunk the claim, as I think it has been debunked elsewhere with far greater rigor. Rather I simply wonder how those who earnestly make this claim about themselves can do so. It is one thing for the conquistador Juan Ponce de León to be so entirely convinced of a "fountain of youth" that he commits his life and fate to finding it. But quite another to be convinced that he has found it and has stopped aging.

Apollos was preaching Christ with fervor and zeal before his understanding was made more clear by Priscilla and Aquila. I see in this that our zeal and zest for the Lord is not tied to the accuracy of our knowledge. Spiritual maturity cannot help but benefit greatly from sound theological, but it is certainly not limited to those whose theology is perfectly sound. Because spiritual maturity flows from surrender to God, and not from doctrine (per se), it is not only possible, but patently obvious that even people with bad theology can be spiritually mature.

I want to say something that is going to be disturbing to those who regard theology as greater than they ought to: There are certainly some doctrines that are so heretical they will absolutely destroy a faith. Yet some teachings, even though they are wrong, will press believers unto maturity, for entirely confused reasons. That doesn't justify their errors, but it is to say that even the most perfect doctrine is only every going to be a gold ring in the snout of a pig if it doesn't get put into practice;

Some might argue that if a teaching produces maturity in the believer, it is a good teaching, but I would say that is a misleading conclusion. Better to say that God can do much with little, and that he often produces maturity in believers in spite of (rather than because of) oru doctrines.

So I wonder if the problem in some circles is simply that they mistake maturity for perfection - and having adopted a vocabulary pertaining to (and inherited expectations concerning) perfectionism, they simply misundertand or overstate (as I said way back) their experience.


I have heard some of those who are essentially claiming to be freed from their bondage to sin - that is, freed from the sin nature altogether, say that they still experience temptation, but that the temptation arises from without and not from within. Meaning that they might see something that could induce lust in them, but that nothing from within rises up to desire it - so that the exercise is almost clinically intellectual - here is a temptation, I have no desire for it personally, but I recognize it is something that I am able to do, even though I have no desire to do it. The fact that it is presented to my intellect thus is something I will regard as a "temptation" but I am not going to give into it because I have no inclination in that direction, and instead have a persisting inclination to serve my Lord.

Wouldn't that be nice? Of course it would! But I see nothing like it in the lives of the apostles, nor even in Christ who strove against temptation in the garden of Gethsemane to the point where His sweat turned to blood; yet isn't there is a real hunger in all of us? Do we not imagine that being freed from bondage to sin means that something inside us has to change experientially? How do we know we have been set free from sin's bondage if we never experience anything that testifies to the change?

I think it works this way, though your mileage may vary: As I draw near to God, He draws near to me. Maturity is linked to trust, and as I trust God more, I obey more, and as I obey, I draw close, and as I draw close, I trust more.... so that my walk is like a grand spiritual spiral, drawing closer to God, with Him drawing closer to me. I am not sinning the big obvious sins of my youth, but I am still sinning daily. I am closer to God now than ever before, but I am still separated experientially by my sin; so that I have learned to trust that I am acceptable to God in Christ, and not in my own works righteousness. I have come to believe that the greatest obstacle to my maturity is that I am inclined to believe myself to be in bondage to sin even when scripture says that I am freed from it in Christ.

Yes, Romans 6:6 says that that our old self was crucified with Christ, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin - but John 8:32 balances that thought when it says that you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. Yeah, I know that Jesus says in John 14:6 that He is "the Truth" - but he hadn't said that here, and no one listening would have imagined that He was referring to Himself when He said the truth shall set you free. It is certainly accurate to note that it is Christ who personally sets us free; so that we do not stray into heresy when we insist that Christ sets us free - it is just that this verse doesn't actually have that thrust, and we ought not to arbitrarily read it in just because it fits nice with other doctrine.

Together these verses paint a single picture: We who are in Christ were crucified with Him and that it is through this truth (or trusting in this truth) that we find our liberty. Not that we assent to the facts and the chains fall away, but that, like Peter, as we obey the commands of God (get up! c.f. Acts 12:7) the chains fall away. Clearly, if our experience were not bondage daily, we wouldn't require the truth to be set free from it. The fact is the chains that held us were death and sin, and these have been taken away in Christ - not experientially, just as none of us experience the actual crucifixion that we were *really* made partakers of in Christ, so too we do not experience some sort of "freed from sin" feeling, but it is true nonetheless.

We really have been set free from sin's bondage, but that freedom hasn't been (in my experience at least) some tangible phenomenon, nor do I imagine that it is available to a few gnostic believers who have "truly understood" the scriptures. Rather freedom from bondage to sin comes to us in Christ as it comes as we surrender our will to the Lord. The old man is in bondage, so that everything I do "in the old man" is done in bondage. But Christ has over come sin and death, so that everything done in Christ is free from sin and death.

Thus I am a debtor, not to the flesh, but to Christ. I am a man whose sinful desires are by no means diminished or extinquished but are rather challenged by the indwelling desires of Christ in the person of the Holy Spirit. Where once sin and sin alone influenced my life and so owned me, now Christ, in the person of the indwelling Holy Spirit influences my life. He is the Guarantee of the promise that has begun to be fulfilled, and will be fully fulfilled when this life and this age come to a close. Until then I am free from sin's bondage in Christ, and can experience that freedom as I obey Christ, for when I say I am a debtor to Christ, I mean it in the way a slave is a debtor to his master; where once I was a debtor to sin and through that debt inherited only death, now I am a debtor to Christ, and will inherit life. I am inclined, therefore, as much as I am able, to obey Christ who is working for my benefit, rather than sin which while it is no longer my master, can still displace life in me (produce death) so that the fount within me that ought to be sending forth rivers of living water is stopped up by sin.

I don't buy the whole perfectionism thing - but I wonder how people who not only buy into it, but imagine themselves to have arrived, deal with the sin in their life - are they blind to it, or do they just ignore it, or do they reinterpret it? I would love to be the recipient of a cosmic zap, but it hasn't happened for me - even when I was pursuing it with all my heart and soul.

Eventually I came to see that Christianity couldn't be, and certainly wasn't the way I desperately wanted it to be. I wanted to be zapped so that I didn't have to deal with sin any more, and I was striving to find out how to make that happen. Like everyone else, I hated my sin, and felt so ashamed by it, and such a hypocrite on account of it, that I was seriously concerned that I had somehow missed the Christian boat. Why couldn't I heal people, and raise the dead? Why was it that God didn't answer my prayers in miraculous ways like I had read in scripture? Why was there no power to affect the changes I wanted to see in my life happening right now!? Did I get something wrong? The wisest course of action seemed to be to just learn as much as I can, and eventually I would "discover" the secret pill that I had been missing. Only the more I studied the more convinced I became that my experience was not the exception, not some shipwrecked faith, but the very struggle of faith that scripture paints for all of us. I was just illadvised and misled by presumptions and misinformation. Once I settled it in my soul and before the Lord to believe whatever His word said, and to discard whatever was lacking that qualification - peace and comfort flowed in where doubt and fear had previously ruled.


Listen: I don't care where you are struggling. Christianity was never meant to be a complex network of doctrines that once learned produce only arrogance and intellectual superiority. Christianity sinks or floats depending on how dependant we are on Christ to do what He said He would do. That doesn't mean you should toss your bible away, but it does mean you should focus on knowing God when you study it. The purpose of scripture is to declare God; you cannot believe a God you don't know, and you will not know God unless He makes Himself known to you - and the way He has chosen to make Himself known to His children (ever since the cross) has been through the canon of scripture. Thus I read the scriptures to know Him whom I am trusting with my life. Whatever my experiences may be, I trust that they are common enough that every believers sees himself or herself in them.

So, if you believe in perfectionism, I wouldn't mind hearing your testimony. I don't want to debate you, but I would like to ask some serious questions; hoping that either all my study of scripture has been misguided and wrong, and that you can by your testimony and lucidly biblical answers persuade me that there is a pleasant zap waiting for me if I can just unlock it in some way; but being satisfied also if the only effect is that I am able to show you that perfectionism is bunk.

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posted by Daniel @ 8:26 AM   10 comment(s)
Monday, January 25, 2010
Who do men say that I am?
I have probably read a few dozen articles on this topic alone, and though I cannot recall a sermon on the topic, I am sure I have heard the topic brushed upon or perhaps even stood upon in many sermons, and (if you have been a Christian for any length of time with access to biblical teachings) you have also heard many times the texts surrounding this question exposited.

I doubt therefore that I will add much to this body of work in anything I bring to the table today, but I am inclined never the less to repeat what others have said with greater clarity and eloquence, and if by way of reminder I might in doing so provide the Spirit some opportunity to edify another, I shall (in any case) have some joy for myself.

After I graduated from grade twelve I moved out and got a job. Over the course of seven years I had many room-mates. In the seventh year I was living in a five bedroom house with five other guys in the heart of Winnipeg, two of us were working for a living, the other four attended a nearby university, and all but one of my room mates I would have considered close friends prior to our living together. It was one of those idealistic scenarios that most young men dream of - renting a place with four or five of your closest high school chums - no need to call one another and get together anymore: we all lived together!

But the situation was about as far from ideal as imaginable. In our dining room one of our room-mates had set up his ample stereo and computer. Suddenly they were public property, which at first was nice, but in a few weeks became a source of perpetual (if mild) strife in the house. The same room mate had an excessively fussy palate, and loudly complained each week that the communal pool from which we purchased groceries was being used to buy things he personally didn't want to eat. Why should he have to pay for "junk" he wouldn't eat? Pretty soon we each were buying our own food - and only getting together to purchase such staples as milk, bread, and condiments. That didn't last very long before some were considered to be abusing even this arrangement. So and so never had milk for his coffee because the other fellow was drinking milk like a camel every day. Who used all the sugar to make peanut brittle? etc.

In a short while, I found that was as offensive to others as they were to me. Certain things I did, and took for granted in doing, annoyed others, and again, things they did I regarded as over-the-top, wasteful, unnecessary (at best) or even harmful (at worst). Even though we were only six people, we were organized into opposing camps on different issues, and not always the same camps either. I sided with these fellows over the food, and set them aside when it came to the bills. There were some whose personalities were fun until you lived with them, then their personalities because liabilities to our companionship.

However high my opinion of my friends had been prior to our living together, it was sharply revised by our co-habitation. I learned that one friend was an insufferably arrogant pansy, another a spineless yes-man, and still another a lech and a pervert. I learned how each of these handled adversity, and I learned that selfishness was pretty universal. Some were better than others, even (notably) better than myself - yet all of us were flawed.

Each one of us wanted to be thought well of by the others, as was illustrated time and again when conflicts found us. We looked around for support from one another - looking for co-conspirators to come alongside us to validate our sense of indignation and self-righteousness. We strived, each of us, for approval from one another in all we did, and yet not one of us escaped being a jerk at times. Not one of us can claim that in every situation we were in the right, and above reproach.

One of the reasons marriages fail today is because cohabitation requires the kind of humility and compromise that fewer and fewer are willing to pursue. Why should I humble myself when my spouse is the one with the problem? He or she ought to change, and until they do I have nothing to say to them.

It is evident, therefore, that living in close quarters with anyone for even a few months, is sufficient time for us to learn what kind of person they really are.

It is incredible then, that the Apostles, who lived day in and day out with Jesus, even as they quarreled amongst themselves, never once found any similar flaw in Him.

The word "HOLY" - comes to mind. Separate. Alien. Not-like-us. The "other-ness" of Jesus Christ would have been noticed almost immediately. We are all better in public than in private - we are all inconsistent when pressed. Consider the unspoken testimony of the impeccable character of Jesus Christ, and its impact on those who lived with Him.

Had Jesus been selfish or self serving it could not have been hidden. Had Jesus been like every other man on earth, three years or so of living with the apostles would have revealed it. He would have been regarded as a great teacher perhaps, but any claim to His divinity would have come tumbling down had there been even one crack in the character of Christ. Just one instance where He, "let His guard down." - but instead there was no "guard" to let down. In three years, Christ's character testified as clearly as His own testimony, that He was not merely a messenger, but was in fact the Message itself.

Listen: If I lived for three years with a guy who claimed to be God, and I saw (after living with Him) that He was just like everyone else - striving to attain a moral goal, but failing to do so on account of the same fallen humanity that causes me to fail - I would not proclaim, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God!". I might acknowledge you a prophet. I might say that you were a good man, or even a great man - but I would NOT declare you to be something that transcends the human experience. I certainly wouldn't forsake my religion (Judaism) to exalt anyone above what I knew them to be, and I would certainly not do so if doing so would cost me dearly.

Most people believe that Jesus was whom He claimed to be because, above all, Jesus performed miraculous signs. I mean, if no one has ever caused the blind to see, and a man comes along and claims to be the Christ, and opens the eyes of the blind, and raised the dead to life again - we can conclude that His claims carry some persuasive weight, and most of us are satisfied to rest our certainty that Christ was who he claimed to be because no one else performed such signs and wonders.

Today, all I hope to do, is remind you that those who were closest to Christ, would never have preached that this man was the Son of God if they had seen anything in His life to suggest that He was a man like everyone else. Had he merely been an especially pious sinner - one whose flaws are so few they were easily overlooked, they would surely have believed Him to be a prophet, or God's anointed messenger - but they would never have preached the man as spotless, sinless, and perfect. They would believe Him to be a sinner because living with Him would have proven that.

The fact that those who were closest to Christ were the first to recognize His divinity should speak volumes to anyone who honestly examines the facts. If Christ were a sinner, these men would not only have recognized it, the very fact would have prevented them from pledging their lives to preach Him the spotless Lamb of God. The strength of their testimony is not that they saw miracles and believed, but that they saw the impeccable character of Christ and concluded that this man was not like other men - not just a pious person trying His best to do more good than evil - but a man who never did a single thing that wasn't godly.

How can anyone soberly deny the divinity of Christ in the wake of such an obvious testimony? The fact that He lived with His disciples for years on end and not had ever in that time seen the man sin. Even Judas, in returning the blood money said that this came from -innocent- blood. No one could charge Christ with sin. Given what you know of your own heart, and how no matter your best intentions, you always give in at some point to self interest - how can anyone deny the divinity of Christ given the positive testimony (He was without sin) and the lack of any testimony to the contrary - even amongst His detractors and critics - how can anyone rationally claim that Jesus was just a man?

His detractors were sore that he claimed to be God, calling Himself the Son of God, and using the covenant name of God ("I AM") to refer to Himself. They charged Him with blasphemy - a charge that is only valid if He wasn't God. They claimed He was a glutton and a wine-bibber, because He didn't fast as a matter of religious ritual (consider the Pharisee who exalted himself in prayer before God by claiming he fasted twice a week, presumably every week, as though God regarded ritual starving for the sake of starving to be a pious thing), at his trial they hired liars to give false testimony about Him, but their testimony was so inconsistent that nothing they said had any teeth in it. Eventually, they condemned Him, not for anything He did, but because they refused to believe His testimony about Himself.

There was no one in His day that could charge Him with sin. Not those who knew Him, not those who hated Him. Anyone who knows themselves to be a sinner, will learn from this that Jesus while being fully human, was by no means like any other human who had ever lived since Adam's fall cast the whole of the human race into damnation and sin.

Consider therefore, the holiness of Christ, that is, the "other-ness" how it was recognized both by those who knew Him and those who hated Him - and see that whatever else we think of Jesus, we cannot say (at least not with any intellectual integrity) that Jesus was just a prophet, or just a pious man, or worse, deluded. The testimony of those contemporaries who knew Him, whether in private (as friends), or in public (as enemies), testifies that Jesus not only believed He was who He claimed to be, but He lived a life that only could have been lived the way it was, if His claims were legitimate.
posted by Daniel @ 11:09 AM   8 comment(s)
Friday, January 22, 2010
Romans 8:28 and James 2:2
One of the fellows in my church volunteers in a ministry that serves street people, and those whom society at large would consider beneath their dignity to acknowledge. I think the colloquial term most often used (in mid-western Canada at least) is "bums". Praise the Lord for this brother of mine and the grace that imparts to him a willingness to set aside everything our culture, our enemy, and our flesh would say to persuade us to leave such a mantle to another, and find more "glorious" ministry for our delicate hands. I do not write today to praise my brother, for I know who is working in him, and it is that One who deserves the praise. I should add further that I am neither writing today to simply draw attention to that sort of ministry or encourage anyone in that direction, but again if the Lord will use what I have to say to that effect, I shall rejoice.

This fellow I write of one day began to bring his volunteer work home with him, and by volunteer work I mean people, and by home I mean into the company of God's family that congregates on Sunday. I think some of us, in the beginning at least, may have been a little guarded. Men will do all kinds of good things if they think other men approve, and this is never more pronounced I think, than in those who minister carnally to conform themselves to some imagined "standard" of religion. So when some of us see someone do something that would be regarded by many as "above and beyond the call" (which really is the very heart of our call, but made to seem exalted by the profound lack of anyone doing anything in that direction), these same regard the matter as an effort of showcased religion. Isn't it nice that this young fellow is putting on the show for us, these say to themselves through misty eyes that already recollect the fervor of their own early walk - when they too put on the show for others. They tell themselves that this fellow will soon learn how empty such things are, and come down to earth with the rest, and so with they give reign in their hearts to that form of patronizing that says, I am a better Christian than you because I am not faking it like you are.

Please do not be alarmed that I write such condemning things about our brothers and sisters, I only do so because I am no stranger to my own heart, and knowing myself and the sin that would reign over me, I -know- every other sinful heart as though it were my own. If I am able to express things, it only because I daily inhale the stale stench of my own sinful condition that I am able to see into the hearts of others, if I see anything at all.

At first the people this fellow would bring had only one thing in common - their poverty. Not only that they were poor, but that they were poor because of poor choices they not only had made in the past, but continued to make in the present. They were the sort of people who choose to do what destroys them daily, and for all our "Christian" love some of us continued to see only down and outers who were coming for no better reason that it was a warm place to be for an hour. Yet this young fellow continued to encourage these people, and eventually some of them began to gather with us regularly.

It is peculiar, I admit, but most in our congregation were outwardly friendly to these who made it their practice to congregate with us. Some were even careful to learn the names of these fellows whom began to show up regularly, going so far as to engage them in superficial conversation, and even warmly shake their hand regularly. If smiles and light conversation were love, then these men were well loved by many in our congregation.

So it continued for months on end, until one day one of these fellows spoke at our prayer meeting.

Let me tell you about my heart in particular before I go on, for I was sitting directly next to the man during that prayer meeting, and every word that fell from his lips drummed into my soul, and not a word was dropped.

You see, I write of these people in our church as though they were some horrible fringe group, but let me say this, that when I sat down at that prayer meeting, the man who was seated beside me was, for all my wisdom, just some guy, probably a drunk, maybe a junkie, certainly troubled but not really a "contributor" (whatever that is) - and while I knew his name, and while I held no particular dislike for him, or ill will, neither did I really care to "invest myself" in him. He was a pretty quiet fellow for whom English was either his second language, or maybe someone who simply wasn't very articulate, I never really bothered to find out, though I was quick to give him a hearty salutation on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. I even took some joy in speaking to him from time to time about the scriptures and what they said - but by and large, the man was a stranger to me. I knew we had been praying for his health, and that he might have cancer or something like that, but really, I never took enough time to get to know him better.

Yet that evening, he arrested our prayer meeting by speaking a word of testimony. No one asked him to do so, nor was his testimony an expected event - he just spoke up suddenly, as though he had been patient long enough, then (with painfully slow and labored words) he began to tell us who he was and why he was there.

His words came so slowly to him, and with such long pauses in between each word that many of us (or so I found out afterwards) just assumed he was drunk and muttering. I never really considered that English might not be his first language, nor that he might be under strong conviction as he spoke - I only saw a man stammering in a deep, rumbling baritone, and a sudden awkwardness in the room given that we all wanted to be polite, but likewise didn't want to give up our prayer time for some drunk to spend fifteen minutes trying to say something none of us could understand.

And yet the grace of God was with us because no one said a word. At first he began to speak about someone pushing needles under his fingernails. We were confused? What is he on about? Is he talking about a television show, is this a metaphor for something? What is this fellow trying to say, and why is he taking so long to say it? Seriously, there was such a pause between each word that unless you were carefully listening, you would easily lose the trail of his thought, and yet again those who were congregated there that night were given grace, for we all seemed to hang on each ponderous word, wondering within whether this was a pause in between words, or if he had decided to stop speaking in mid thought.

You see, this man had been a believer in El Salvador at a time when people were being rounded up and slaughtered in a genocidal affront that didn't get a lot of airplay in the news. You can read up on the genocide in El Salvador if you want, but I totally unaware of it until that night. He had been taken from his home and tortured daily (the needles under his fingernails), beaten so many times into unconsciousness he couldn't count. He was locked away daily in a box smaller than the typical kitchen cupboard for so long that his leg muscles shrunk to the point that when they took him out to torture him (daily) he could no longer stand up straight. He told us about how he knew that he would be executed - talking briefly of the struggle in his faith at the thought that one day they would take him out of the box, and after torturing him, they would put a bullet in him, and the soul deep dread of that thought, and how it was only Christ with him that gave him the strength to face it.

Somewhere in the middle of his testimony, the pauses in between each word because necessary because it took that long to let each word sink in - like daggers into my own heart they sunk as I listened to this unexpected and profound testimony. The day came, and they took him out, and I don't remember if they tortured him that day or not, I only remember that they took him to a deep hole, and put a gun to his back then pulled the trigger as they kicked him into his grave.

No, there was no mercy there. Not from men. They really shot him. But whether the kick was off, or whether it was his weak legs that bucked as he fell, the shot took him in the arm, but when he hit the bottom of that hole, he laid still, in a pool of his own blood, and was left for dead.

Days later some children found him, still in the hole. He had come in and out of consciousness during that time, even being aware of the swarm of flies feeding of the blood that still tricked out of him. The children returned with adults, and the adults returned with red cross workers, and they pulled him out. His arm was so infected that the infection should have killed him. He had been bleeding so long that he should have died from shock, and yet they pulled him alive from that hole where his executioners had left him for dead. They pumped him full of antibiotics, but the infection was winning, and they were prepared to amputate his arm to save his life. But before they did, he had a vision of our Lord, or some messenger of our Lord placing his hands on him even in his delirium, and healing him. In that instant, he said, the antibiotics suddenly began working, and he lived through the event.

Instead of being angry with our Lord for allowing this, this fellow was filled with praise for the nearness of his Lord throughout the ordeal, and ended his testimony with such a plea for us all to understand the glory of the Lord and the nearness of our Savior, that (frankly), every heart was instantly knit to the man.

I have seldom been rebuked in my faith, but I tell you, I was rebuked that night. We all read James 2:2 and tell ourselves that we will certainly not be like those hypothetical hypocritical Christians that regard someone in poor apparel as less than themselves, and true to form we greet everyone no matter how they are dressed, with the same superficial salutations that commonly follow us into the auditorium Sunday mornings. Yet let a man come whose soul is dressed in troubles, whose life is dressed in grief, and whose manner is dressed in something peculiar, or something less than the norm, and we make excuses within our selves to remain aloof. We may not set that man to sit in the back row of the church, but he certainly is seated as far from our affections as we can manage - and here, up front we keep close our friends, our back slappers, the popular and the fun.

Let me tell you something I left that prayer meeting a different person, and better for having been in the presence of someone whom I had regarded as less having beforehand presumed much about, and all to my shame.

But it doesn't' end there.

You see, I mentioned James 2:2 in the title, but I also mentioned Romans 8:28, and here is where that comes into play. Some might wonder why God "allows" bad things to happen to good people. The answer to that question begins with pointing out that the question itself is invalid - there are no good people. Even a new born babe is not "good" since he or she has never done anything good or bad. He is simply "not bad" (yet). The new born babe is born pre-separated from God on account of Adam's sin, so that the moment the child can choose between good and evil, he or she will always and ever choose evil - for that is our curse. There is no good in any of us, even a new born; our hearts are inclined to sin, as sparks fly upwards, even before the very first time we act on our ever present inclination to sin - that is, even while we ourselves have yet to sin, even in the long past innocence of our infancy, we were bent towards evil, and never has there been anything good thing in any life that was ever born in Adam, so that we don't ask why God allows bad things to happen to good people, because there are no good people.

Better to ask why God allows evil at all. For it is on sin's account that there is death and suffering in the world. Sin brought it in, yet God allowed sin to continue (instead of destroying Adam in the garden). He did this because rather than destroy the work of His hands (as justice demanded) God was inclined to be merciful and full of grace, even as His own perfect righteousness demanded.

So that for the sake of those whom God determined beforehand to show mercy and grace to - those whom He elected before Adam was even created - these God was showing mercy and grace when He allowed the world to continue existing after Adam's sin. He allowed life to continue, and with it sin, all for the sake of the elect - for the sake of those to whom God had determined before hand to save by and through the sacrifice of His own Son, Jesus, the incarnate God and only Messiah. Did I say His mercy demanded it? His grace demanded it? Listen: God's glory demanded it. If God's glory were not put on display, it would be a crime against God. His glory is -worthy- of proclamation - worthy of being displayed, so much so that failure to do so, even be it God, would be sinful, and God cannot sin.

So we ought not to ask why God allows bad things to happen - he allows them to happen for the sake of the elect, for the sake of His mercy, and for the sake of grace and glory.

But what about the little babe who is dying, who has never done anything wrong in his life? Where is God when the innocent die?

My question to you would be why do you think God -owes- that innocent babe life? Where do we get the idea that innocence is a commodity by which one can demand life from someone else? Don't forget that God created life. It belongs to Him even after He gives it to us. It isn't like He gives us "life autonomous" whereby once it is ours we no longer need God to sustain it. We are parasites who are sucking the God that God supplies as though it were ours by right. Then we bristle if anyone suggests that God doesn't "owe" it to us. We say, how is it that God can take a unborn, or a new born babe? They haven't sinned! Why does God take their life?? As though there were some cosmic contract bigger than, and binding upon, God that said that God must continue to supply life once (in His grace) He initiates it. But there is no cosmic contract - there is only God, and life itself is a gift we have no claim upon whatsoever. Sinlessness does not purchase it, nor does it give us a "right" to it. Even if we are without sin we have no "right" whatsoever to demand that God continue to supply us with the life we are stealing from Him.

Thus the dying babe dies, not because God is evil, but because God is more concerned about the next life than this one.

But why does God let a babe like that suffer? Why not (if God is going to allow an infant to suffer) snuff out the life in some painless way - or even as Job asks of God when distressed by the multitudes of his sufferings, "why then have You brought me out of the womb? Would that I had died and no eye had seen me!" - I can taste Job's anguish, why, why, why did you let me live if you knew that I would suffer like this? Better that I died in the womb than be born into suffering! But even as the Lord (eventually) answered Job, so scripture answers us - God allows what He allows and we have this certainty from Romans 8:28, that whatever is allowed in the of a believer will be turned to good.

It doesn't say that everything that happens to a believer will be "good" nor that every experience will be pleasant because we are believers. Jesus, after living a perfect life, endured an horrific death. If we are rewarded with a fine and pleasant life for all our innocence (and we most certainly are not), then Jesus has a lot to complain about. How much less we, who have no such perfection of our own to lean on, imagine ourselves to be deserving of comfort on account of our (spotty) obedience, or better yet, on account of our being His children. God has shown in Christ that even His own children will suffer on earth; but even as Christ's suffering was to no purpose, neither is ours or any other believers.

You see, you might read what I have recorded of that testimony given by that fellow (it really happened), and wonder why or why God ever allowed that to happen, but I will tell you, nothing stokes the embers of faith, like a testimony that clears away in one breath all the fog of our complacency and sleep - I tell you, though we have no idea what our suffering could possibly do, yet years later, even decades after the fact of our suffering, the Lord can use that same suffering for God. That is what it means that all things are turned to good - not that all things become good, but that God is at work in this sinful world, where nothing escapes the corruption of sin - and even in a world filled with sin and the rebellion, hatred and death that proclaim it - even where all is tainted, God can turn these things to a good purpose - things which by themselves are by no means "good".

How I marvel at the magnitude, my heart flutters at the majesty - my Lord, my God, my King! Daily you show me yourself, you testify to your glory, your beauty is made visible to the eyes of my understanding. I do not hear some whisper in my head, nor some voice in the night - but in life I see your footsteps, I see the work of your hands, and I marvel in ever widening awe!

God is glorified in all things glorified. He uses all things to provoke His children to see Him as He is, and not as we imagine Him, in our ignorance, to be.
posted by Daniel @ 11:39 AM   5 comment(s)
Sunday, January 17, 2010
It is the Lord's day.
Our Lord Jesus Christ was raised from the dead on a Sunday morning.

Need I say more?
posted by Daniel @ 8:54 AM   3 comment(s)
Thursday, January 14, 2010
But I don't know how to love the Lord...
Do you love your spouse?

Do you love your spouse more today than you have in times past?

Is it not fair to say that you love has a capacity to grow?

If your love has a capacity to grow, doesn't that suggest that it was once less than it is now?

Can we not reason, that at some point in the past, possibly before you knew your spouse, that you actually had no love for your spouse?

If there was a time when you had no love for your spouse, would it not be fair to say that your relationship began without love but grew into it?

Is that not how you came to love your spouse?

Did you not invest yourself in getting to know your spouse?

Did not the love flow from whom you found your spouse to be?

Is infatuation love?

Did the infatuation or attraction that drew you to your spouse turn into love, or would it not be more accurate to say that these drew you to your spouse, but it was not these that caused you to love your spouse, for love is more than infatuation and attraction?

Do you see that while attraction and infatuation make for effective catalysts, that these things by themselves do not constitute love, and that love is certainly possible in the utter absence of these things?

In fact, is is not so that attraction just a carnal opinion bolstered by carnal desire, and is not infatuation the same only less physical?

Isn't it fair then to say that whatever attraction and infatuation might be, they are carnal in origin, and while they may influence whom we choose to love, they do not dictate the same?

If these do not, and cannot dictate whom we love, then isn't it rational and reasonable to conclude that love does not depend on these, especially given that love can be had without these (do you not love your parents? siblings? children?)?

If love then can start from nothing, and grow into something, then grow stronger, and continue to do so; and if you have evidence of this in your own life so that on judgment day these things when they are set before you will be undeniable, and if I have laid them bare here today and you have read this, so that you will be twice condemned, why do you marvel that you do not love God?

Will you not love God if you invest yourself in Him?
posted by Daniel @ 9:03 AM   8 comment(s)
Thursday, January 07, 2010
Meditations on the Throne of Grace
In our prayer meeting last night, as I was praying I was convicted that unless I was actually talking to God, my prayer was just an empty, religious oration. That thought played itself out in my prayer in this way: I began to remind myself (and those who were praying with me) that my hope was not in myself, in my request, or even in my ability to articulate exactly what I was expecting from God in the most lucid language, but that my certainty was that God was hearing me, and that my personal piety was not the reason God was hearing me, but that I was heard on high because I have a mediator, Christ Jesus my Lord.

I may not have used those words exactly, but the intent was there.

As is sometimes the case, when my turn to pray passed, I remained introspective, and concerned for my brothers and sisters because I knew my own heart, and how superficial I can be during prayer meetings. It is a sad admission, but sometimes, when other people are praying, I am not praying with them - I just have my head bowed and am lost in my own walk with God. I am thinking about whether or not my prayers matter if my heart isn't in it, and I am thinking that I am not where I ought to be spiritually, even if I am where I ought to be physically - and I am using this time with my head bowed, not to "get right" with God, but rather to try and articulate why it is that I feel "wrong" with God.

Don't misunderstand me, I wasn't in some black hole of despair trying to claw my way out in order to fit in with all the spiritual people who were praying together around me. That isn't the picture I am trying to paint. I mean that I was introspective first for myself, and then for those in my congregation who are habitually silent during prayer time. Perhaps everyone who is silent during a prayer meeting is just deep in prayer, but because I know my own heart, I know that silence during corporate prayer time can point to a struggle in the faith - or more pointedly, a struggle to believe that God will listen to our prayers when we have been sinful during the day.

I cannot have a thought like this without applying it immediately to the church, like a father who groans within himself when he sees his little ones suffer under something, and wishes that he could take it away, so I feel for my brothers and sisters when I imagine them struggling under the weight of guilt over their sin. It is a battle of faith to hold fast in prayer to the truth that we are able to come to God not because we are sinless and perfectly obedient, but because we are in Christ, and only because we are in Christ. To believe in the same way we believed when we received Christ, that unworthy as we are we are nevertheless accepted, not because of any merit in us, but entirely by grace through faith.

It was in this momentary meditation, and it lasted only a few moments, that I remembered that we who are in Christ must come to a throne of grace each and every time. It dawned on me that the only way we could merit coming to God in our own righteousness would be if we had lived and continue to live without sin, and in perfect obedience. Since we all have sin in our lives already, even if we lived the last week in perfect obedience we wouldn't qualify as acceptable to God on that account - we couldn't come before God's throne on such merit, for our past sins would be plain and open before God, and our momentary obedience would by no means erase them. In a word, we cannot come to God except as sinners.

Words often fail to capture the full savor of a thought, and I feel this is especially so as I reread what I have written and have to accept that it simply fails to capture the gist of what I mean.

I realized again that no matter how perfect we might be, we will never be perfect enough to warrant the "right" to even pray. I realized that the notion of "getting right" with God is quite deceiving, since we can never be "right" with God exept by faith in Christ - that is, I realized again that Jesus removed what separates us from God, sin. Not that my personal sin is no longer sin, nor that I can live like the devil because God is all right with my sin - nothing nonsensical or abominable like that - I mean only that it isn't perfect obedience that keeps the ear of God open to my prayers, but the perfect obedience of Christ that clothes me that makes my acceptable -in- the beloved.

How I wanted to stop the prayer meeting right there and shake us all up with that encouraging word that came into my heart, and yet the opportunity didn't come. I wanted to grab people by the ears and look into their faces with the joy that sprang up in me again to recall that I come to God by the blood that is not my own - that the guilt that weighs us down so that our prayers are beggarly and halting - that guilt is about as stupid a thing as can be. Of course you sinned this week. Of course you are not worthy to stand before God and pray. No one on earth is.

That's why it is a throne of grace.

It is good that you are full of remorse over your sin. It is good that you moan inwardly at your failure - it shows you're alive. Yes, you should continue to struggle, and push on to the coming victory, and the next, and the next. Yes it all uphill - but you are never, ever separated from God because of your failure; that is just a lie straight from hell's kitchen to your heart. It is a lie that is intended to hold your heart at arms length from God; you are lied to in order to keep you from the one who can help you.

I don't know how many times I learn this same lesson, but each time I am built up by it - reminded that I have to sit down and count the cost; realize that I cannot go to war with the army of my effort and hope to defeat the world, the flesh, and the devil; and having counted the cost, become convinced of the truth - that I cannot do it, nor will I ever be able to muster the ability to do it. Only then when I have counted the cost, and found myself in poverty, will I stop trying to do for myself what God has already done for me.

I hope you see that and are encouraged by it.
posted by Daniel @ 8:51 AM   5 comment(s)
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
Not Like A Glass Of Water...
Have you ever known a genuine conspiracy theory buff? You know the sort I mean right? The ones who believe the government is covering up something - maybe aliens at area 51, or maybe the moon landing was a hoax, etc. For the sake of this illustration it doesn't really matter what their particular poison is, it only matters that you recognize a few things about such a person.

First of all no matter what you talk about, their particular fixation always enters into it. Did you buy milk this morning? Yeah, well listen man, I never drink milk from the store because the government is putting stuff in the milk. Lotta snow this morning? Yeah man, the Republicans are cloud seeding the U.S. in order to hinder the Obama administration. Okay, maybe that's a bit far fetched for most, but my point will ride on it even if it were more subdued, my point being: these people are so full of their conspiracy theories that these theories end up influencing everything they think and do.

We can, with tongue in cheek, pronounce the classic double entendre upon them when we say, "They are full of it."

We mean by that that they are at once "full of bunk" and again, that they are overly abounding in conspiracy theory stuff.

To use another illustration, the father loves his only child who was born blind, and cares for him, and always looks out for him, only to one day reach back into the car to get something, and fail to see his little one walk into the street, and you know the rest - the grief that grips this man's heart can only be described in terms like "overwhelming" or "incapacitating" - there is no balm stout enough to sooth this man's grief and remorse - he is, as we say, filled with grief, or filled with remorse.

When we use the word "fill" here - we are not suggesting that the conspiracy theory dude's life was like a cup that had to be emptied of normal things in order to be filled with conspiracy theories. We are not saying that the grieving father could not grieve until he first emptied himself of everything else. We are just using the expression as a way of painting the level of saturation - it is an entirely saturated situation.

I am using "fill" then in the same way that I might say that wind "fills" a sail, I mean that the wind exerts itself on every part of the sail, so that the sail conforms, as much as it is able, to the pressure the wind is putting on it.

The word the scripture uses to translate "fill" is πληρoω. It is pronounced: Play-raw'-oh, and it is the word that scripture uses (or derivatives of this word) when it is commonly describing being full of or being filled with/by the Holy Spirit.

When I first read the scriptures and learned that I was commanded by God to be being kept filled by/with the Holy Spirit (c.f. Ephesians 5:18) I sort of pictured that as a command to become a Spirit controlled zombie, and that I would enter into this state of pious zombification by "emptying myself of me" at which point I was certain I would receive some sort of mystical experience where by I felt in some tangible way, the immediate presence of the Holy Spirit.

I mention that because I know that my readership is wide enough (and thanks to Blogger™) random enough that some will be reading this who are trying to be filled with the Spirit, but haven't the first clue what that really means, or how to go about doing it.

I will explain it this way: Being filled with the Spirit simply means allow the conviction that comes from the Holy Spirit to saturate the choices you make. If you know a thing is sinful, you obey the conviction that to pursue that would be sin, and you instead pursue what is righteous. If you know that failure to do something would be likewise sinful, you obey the same conviction and do it.

Now when I say conviction I don't mean that you receive some kind of mystical impression, or any such nonsense. I mean that you simply are convicted that this one thing is sinful in the same way you are convicted that the sky is blue. You don't get zapped by some sort of "sky is blue" impression, nor do you go about like an open antenna trying to pick up "spiritual" signals. As you become familiar with God's word (through the reading of it) you become more and more familiar with what God expects from you. The Holy Spirit convicts your conscience that you should or should not do something, and so long as (and is as much as) your conscience is biblically informed, all you need to do to "walk in the Spirit" is walk without transgressing, or suppressing, your conscience. Being "filled" with the Holy Spirit means only that you are consciously examining your actions in light of your biblically informed, and Spirit provoked, conscience. You don't have to "empty" yourself of anything in order to be filled by the Spirit, but you do need to be obedient. When you resist the Holy Spirit's conviction, the bible calls that quenching the Holy Spirit - like dousing a fire; or more pictorially, like dousing the Holy Spirit's conviction by justifying yourself in what you do that is contrary to what you ought to do. When you quench the Holy Spirit, you are grieving the Holy Spirit, and we are told not to do that.

I know, I know. Some people really, really want an experience. They look to the passages in scripture where there was a present and experientially measurable manifestation of the Holy Spirit (the building shook! etc.), and using these passages from the book of Acts they teach that the Holy Spirit always works, or at least prefers to work, through manifesting Himself in some profound way. It can happen that something unusual will happen in your life, perhaps more than once, but again, perhaps not at all. But such phenomenon has nothing whatsoever to do with the command to be being kept filled by the Holy Spirit.

So if you every find yourself wondering what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit, it just means to keep your affections such that you are always obeying the convictions of a biblically informed, and Spiritually provoked, conscience.

Note: One of the flakiest things I see some Christians doing is interpreting their own stray thoughts as promptings from the Holy Spirit. I blame it on the sad habit many exercise when they talk with other Christians about "spiritual" things. Pretend that you overhear this side of a phone conversation:

"Yeah, Marge? Hi, it's me Pam. I was just sitting here and I suddenly felt pressure from the Lord that I should call you..."

Here is what is really happening, Pam has become convinced that everything and anything that happens in her life might be a sign from God. She is daydreaming, or whatever, and suddenly a stray thought about Marge comes into her head. She then interprets this to mean that God wants her to call Marge.

Do you see the problem with that? God sent an angel to tell John the Apostle what the vision he had seen (c.f. the book of revelation) meant, but when God impressed something just as "God ordained" on Pam, He decided to leave it open to interpretation so that Pam has to rely upon her best, subjective, guess. Follow that kind of reasoning to its abusrd conclusion (God "told" me to marry you, or alternately (why not?) divorce you!) Once we set our own subjectivity as the traffic cop that decides what "impressions" are from God and which are just stray thoughts - we embark upon a road that leads to chaos.

God doesn't speak to me in stray thoughts and questionable impressions. He speaks to me through His word, and through conviction that is provoked by knowledge of His word. To be filled with God's Spirit then is not to be filled with my own stray thoughts that I think God is sending me, nor is it to be waiting on, or being led by some sort of mystical experience or experiences - it is simply this: you determine to do what you know God intends for you to do, and you know what God intends for you to do by informing your mind and your conscience through reading (and correctly undertanding) scripture.

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posted by Daniel @ 12:38 PM   1 comment(s)
Monday, January 04, 2010
Christian Folklore
Follow me in my math here:


512
x 33
======
1536 (2x3=6, 1x3=3, 5x3=15)
1536
======
16896 (16,896)


Like the colors? I put them in to show the flow of my logic. I expect most of you have done multiplication before, so I don't think I am actually teaching you anything, but rather reviewing again with you a few things we take for granted.

Note that in order to find the product (16,896) of the two factors (512 and 33), we simply multiply each digit in the first factor (5 "hundreds", 1 "ten", and 2 "ones") with each digit in the last factor (3 "tens" and 3 "ones") then add the products so that the "hundreds", "tens", and "ones" all line up together. The sum of these two addends (1536 "tens" and 1536 "ones") is the product of the original factors (512 and 33).

Typically we don't bother memorizing the fact that 512 x 33 = 16,896 - but we do memorize the method we used to derive that answer - and prior to even attempting to solve this equation, we are presumed to have memorized a simple multiplication table (often the first ten or twelve digits).

In other words we don't solve the "5 x 3" equation by writing out "3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 = 15 - rather we memorized this fact long ago. If in our youth we failed to memorize our multiplication table, we would have had a great deal of difficulty solving these more complex equations. Most of us however have memorized these tables, just as we have memorized "how" to do more complex multiplication.

What I want to point to is the fact that having memorized the multiplication table, we no longer "solve" for simple products, but instead recall (and rely upon) our previously established convictions. Nine times nine equals eighty-one. I don't bother solving it all over again, I just remember that I have solved it, then use the information I already possess to solve more difficult problems.

We do this in reading too. We don't actually read every letter and pronounce them - we see the whole word and immediately the thought represented by that word is impressed upon us. The first time we read words like "naive" and "cliche" and "clic" we might be inclined to pronounce them phonetically - to sound them out, because we don't know how they are supposed to sound. We don't recognize the word, and so we actually read the letters and try and piece it together. Once we "know" the word, we don't bother sounding it out anymore, now we see it and just read it they way we remember it. Can yuo raed waht I am wirting, or beter yet, can yuo udnerstnad it? Did you have to sound out each word and try and reason to yourself what I was saying, or did you read it only slightly slower than you would read anything else? That's because you know how language flows, and you recognize all the letters and where they are (more or less) placed. You have committed the words themselves to memory, and no longer sound them out - you just know them.

This is just another example of the way we retain information. We learn a fact, then when we have learned it, we don't bother learning it again each time we use it, instead we retain only the end result and the methodology by which we came to that result.

Here is another example, from my own personal experience. About ten years ago my son received a Noah's Ark (complete with animals, Noah and his wife) for Christmas or his birthday, I don't remember which. You will recall that scripture fails to tell us the name of Noah's wife, so rather than calling her, "Noah's wife", I remembered a silly play on the words of the King James version of Genesis 6:8, "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord" - and so we called the plastic figurine, "Grace".

The years rolled by, and the name for Noah's wife was passed from my eldest to his sister, and then as she grew it was passed to her sister, and along the way the playful twist began to be understood as a "biblical given" - that is, my younger children having heard the Noah's wife toy referred to as "Grace", began to presume that this name was not just some family invention, but the actual name of Noah's wife. I found out about this when one of my children refused to back down from an argument with a Sunday School teacher about the name of Noah's wife - my child insisted her name was Grace! I probably wouldn't have heard about it except that during a visit this same Sunday School teacher happened to ask me (the child's father), what Noah's wife's name was.

Of course I answered without thinking: "Grace"

Thankfully I was very gently reminded that the bible doesn't say any such thing, and to my embarassment and amusement both, I realizembered (a cross between realized and remembered) that "Grace" was just a silly made up name. I laughed at my own folly till tears came into my eyes. I can be so full of myself sometimes, this was quite a reminder that I shouldn't just blindly parrot things, not to my children, and not to myself.

And we could at this point embark on a well primed discussion about being humble when we hear something that disagrees with what we have already established to be true. The worse errors we make as Christians is to assume that because we are sincere, and because we are willing to be instructed by God's word - that everything we believe and have believed is therefore settled. That is not merely close-minded, it is pig headed. We ought to be as the Bereans whenever we hear any teaching - both if it agrees, and again if it strikes us as wrong - we ought to let scripture decide.

But I am not going to follow that angle here. Here instead I plan to speak about a particular way in which both Christians and non-Christians have taken an idea that isn't biblical, and have repeated it so often that it has become a matter of Christian folklore: going to heaven when you die.

The bible doesn't say that anyone goes to heaven when they die. Not the elect, not anyone. It says that God is going to destroy the heavens (plural) and the earth, and create new ones, and that those who on judgment day are found to be in Christ Jesus, and thereby spared God's wrath - these same will not enter into the old heaven, or the new one - but will reside upon the new earth where Jesus Himself will also reside. Jesus did not leave to prepare a mansion for us in heaven, but to prepare a place for us on the new earth.

I have known this for years, and yet even I still speak of "going to heaven" when I die. I am speaking metaphorically about dying and passing through judgment and being allowed to enter into God's rest - a rest that scripture tells us will take place on the new earth in the New Jerusalem.

I often have to correct myself and others about the notion of going to heaven when we die. God dwells in heaven, men dwell on earth, so it is now, and so it will be when there is a new heaven and a new earth. We will receive new bodies etc. but that doesn't mean we will live in heaven with God, rather God will live (in Christ) on (the new) earth with those who have turned to Him in faith on this side of judgment.

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posted by Daniel @ 11:36 AM   5 comment(s)
 
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