Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Near Misses

One of the more difficult things to respond to are near misses. What I mean by this can be understood by a story I sometimes tell. One of my daughters as a 2 year old picked up a phrase from our neighbor. The phrase was "Jesus Christ". Now the words were fine - the problem was the inflection. Our neighbor often swore using the Lord's name. Our innocent daughter imitated it exactly! It took us a while to separate the phrase from the inflection for our dear daughter.
A lot of teaching I hear today, as well as in the past, is good but the emphasis or proportion is wrong. It is out of balance with the rest of scripture. In order to develop a biblical teaching ALL the verses that relate that concept must be considered. Now, that is a lot of work and takes a lot of time - years in fact. It is much easier to find some verses that say what you want to say and then just teach it. Except that distorts the biblical message.
So I find myself often in the spot where what someone is teaching or asserting is sort-of right but out of balance or proportion. Fortunately I need not respond to it all. But when I do, it is as difficult as getting my young daughter to stop saying "Jesus Christ" with a very wrong tone of voice.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

What About Progressive Christianity?

The first question to answer has to do with your premise. What exactly does the Bible have to say about… This is the root where most of the differing answers come from in determining what exactly the Bible means by what it says. The following is a quote from my notes on Hermeneutics:

It is impossible to come to the text of the Bible without preconceptions. Our language, our various cultures, our questions, our way of reasoning, what we have been taught, our history, all these and more will color what we read. Because of this, how we interpret the Bible will probably reflect just as much on who we are and who we are willing to become as on what the Bible actually means by what it says. We need to remember that we may start off approaching the Bible as a discerner of truth but, in the end, the Bible will be discern the truth about us. [1]
Does this mean that no one can know with confidence what the Bible means? Definitely not! My main premise is this: If we believe the Bible, the Holy Spirit can teach us, over time, how the Bible is to be interpreted and understood.[2]

            A lot of progressive Christians do not see the Bible in this light. They have been taught by many modern theologians and the influence of their own experiences to suspect the Bible, and what the Bible teaches, of subversion. This comes from a philosophical stream called Deconstructionism. “Deconstruction denotes the pursuing of the meaning of a text to the point of exposing the supposed contradictions and internal oppositions upon which it is founded—supposedly showing that those foundations are irreducibly complex, unstable, or impossible.”[3] Because of this view the text of scripture is not deemed a reliable witness, but instead becomes a tool for the oppressor to dominate with.
            The point of all this is that many people do not trust the scriptures. They feel that it was birthed in a patriarchal, ancient society, who had their own tribal god whom they exalted as God over all. Consequently, the goal of interpreting the scriptures becomes more of finding reasons why it doesn’t apply than to believe and do. And reasons can be found. Even Jesus had to ask his disciples if his teaching offended them to the point where they would leave him.[4]
            This cynicism in regard to the scripture does not provide an atmosphere wherein the Bible can be interpreted along the lines of its original intention. The question is, do you want to know what was originally intended? Or do you want to prevent the scriptures from influencing your life? Do you want the control?
Does this decision need to be made a priori[5]? Not exactly. But the scripture should be approached with an openness towards the very real possibility that it is what it says and reads like it is. I call this a relational hermeneutic. It is like when meeting a new person. If we are prejudiced against them before we get to know them, we will never really know them. This does not mean that the scripture needs to be accepted without reasons. We need a working theory so to speak. I contend that that working theory needs to be one based on trust and faith instead of cynicism.
So this is how this works out in life. One of the questions you raised was what about those who teach that the God of the Old Testament and New Testament are not the same and that Jesus came to show us the difference. This, of course, is an effort to understand why the God of the OT could command apparent genocide while Jesus commands us to love our enemies. The different God solution was proposed very early on by a guy named Marcion. “Marcionism was an early Christian dualist belief system that originated in the teachings of Marcion of Sinope at Rome around the year 144.” And “Marcion believed Jesus was the savior sent by God, and Paul the Apostle was his chief apostle, but he rejected the Hebrew Bible and the God of Israel. Marcionists believed that the wrathful Hebrew God was a separate and lower entity than the all-forgiving God of the New Testament.”[6] If we feel we can pick and choose our scriptures, we may, as did Marcion, chose to reject all scripture that appear to oppose our concept of love. This concept of love is one we have formulated outside of scripture’s influence. Mostly it comes from our own culture, which, since it is our own culture, we are probably unaware of its influence on our thinking.
If, instead of relying on our cultural worldviews, we allow the scripture to influence our thinking, we will come to different conclusions. If our concept of love is shaped by the entire corpus of scripture, we will see that although God is love and we are to love our enemies, judgment of sinful behavior is consistent with love. It is not loving for God to allow sinful behavior to go on and continue to hurt more and more people. This is why Jesus died on a cross and not in his sleep. This is why God has a day set aside for judgment. Judgment is one way in which God expresses his love.
You can see that in my view much of the progressive Christian theology has to do with applying a western cultural concept of love as a lens through which the Bible is read. This is close to what I believe is appropriate, since love is the great command and the very nature of God. But we don’t get to define love any old way we might want. Love is too important to leave up to us.

[1] “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.” (John 12:48 NIV) “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom.” (James 2:12 NIV)
[2] It has been suggested that “Neither the Bible as a whole or the New Testament in particular was meant to be a textbook on the science of hermeneutics.” A.J. Bandstra, “Interpretation in 1 Corinthians 10:1-11,” CTJ 6 (1971) 20. Cited in Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period. R.N. Longenecker, (Eerdmans) pg.198. Of course the Bible was not meant to be a textbook on the science of hermeneutics. Yet those textbooks, when referring to the Bible, should elucidate the example of the Biblical writers hermeneutic. Paul told us that whatever we “heard from him keep as a pattern of sound teaching.” (2Tim 1:13 NIV) Who would you rather have as a teacher, Jesus, Paul, or some scholar? I would rather bet on Jesus and the Apostles being right. See New Horizons in Hermeneutics. Anthony C. Thiselton (Zondervan) pg.369
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deconstruction
[4] John 6:60-61 (NIV) On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you?
[5]The terms "a priori" and "a posteriori" are used primarily to denote the foundations upon which a proposition is known. A given proposition is knowable a priori if it can be known independent of any experience other than the experience of learning the language in which the proposition is expressed, whereas a proposition that is knowable a posteriori is known on the basis of experience. For example, the proposition that all bachelors are unmarried is a priori, and the proposition that it is raining outside now is a posteriori.” http://www.iep.utm.edu/apriori/
[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcionism   

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Learning to Love

When Malana was pregnant with our first child, she became really ill with “morning sickness”. You know, the kind that lasts all day and goes on for 7-8 months. She discovered she was pregnant soon after the second month of our marriage.

I was working making office furniture that was usually covered with a plastic laminate. In order to clean off the excess contact cement I washed my hands and everything else with lacquer thinner. Now this lacquer thinner would get into my breath and would take a while for it to completely dissipate.

Since we were newly married Malana was going to be the perfect wife and greet me with a kiss as I came home and came in the front door. But these days that I worked with the contact cement were becoming more common, and, when she greeted me at the door with a kiss, she would get a biff whiff of lacquer thinner. Her poor unsettled stomach couldn’t withstand the shock and she would run to the bathroom and vomit.

This went on for some time. I would go to work, come home, get greeted at the door with a kiss, and Malana would run to the bathroom and vomit. Besides all this, the smells of food being cooked were too strong and she felt lousy all the time. Not much got done while I was away at work.

Soon afterwards I went outside to the back porch, lifted up my hands, and complained to God. “God”, I said. “This is awful. This isn’t what I though marriage would be. What am I to do?”

There have been few times in my life where God so quickly answered. He spoke clearly in my heart in a voice that allowed for no wiggle room. He said, “Go back in there and love her!”

Well, that made sense to me. The Bible does say after all the husbands are to love their wives. So I went back I there and loved her.

But nothing changed. She still greeted me at the door with a kiss and ran to the bathroom to vomit. I still needed to do most of the cooking and stuff. After two weeks I got tired of it all and went again out to the back porch to pray.

“What should I do now Lord?” I asked. “I loved her but nothing has changed.” No sooner was my complaint out of my mouth than I heard again the voice of the Lord, the voice that breaks cedars, speaking in my heart. He said, ever so clearly, “Go back in there and love her!”

Then it dawned on me. I was to love her because I was to love her, not for the changes I thought it might make. She was deserving of love, always.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Testing Prophecy

Paul exhorted us to test all things and to hold fast to the good. Because of the context it is clear that Paul wanted us to test prophecy given by fellow believers. Jesus also wanted us to test the prophets, even those in sheep’s clothing. Additionally, it appears that this testing could be extended to all Spirit ministry. The purpose of this testing was for the believer to be able to tell the difference between what has truly come from the Spirit of God and what has not. This testing is so that we will be able to separate the good from every form of evil, preventing our deception.

Why be so concerned about deception? Jesus and his apostles taught us that in the last days deception would be the main danger. When we are deceived we believe a lie, but are not aware of it. Since belief is the basis for all action and relationships, wrong beliefs result in destructive actions and relationships. Ultimately we will be judged on what we have believed as evidenced by our actions. True beliefs lead us into a love relationship with God and others while false beliefs do not. Deception then is a means by which our healthy relationships with God and others are broken.

Because of this we can see how important it is that we are not deceived. Now it is true that not all false beliefs are equally dangerous. Believing that Jesus is not our savior is far more dangerous than believing in, say, a limited atonement. (I can feel a discussion brewing!) There are areas in which differences of opinion are not necessarily debilitating and there are other areas that will destroy our relationship with God. It is important that we maintain a sense of proportion.

How then can we tell whether or not some spiritual activity is from the Holy Spirit or not? We will have to have some authority guide us here. We will have to be taught. Why do I say this? How would any of us know the answer to this question, for sure? Who has the right to say anything about this but those who undoubtedly have known this Spirit? This is why I propose scripture, the Old and New Testaments. No one in scripture has our cultural biases. And for my money, they are ones who undoubtedly knew the Holy Spirit.

Throughout time people have had to deal with the problem of who speaks authoritatively for God. Prophecy is where someone speaks for God as God directs, often in the first person singular. (Rev19:10, 22:6-9; Amos3:8) People who wanted to know the truth have always had to choose between those who spoke for God and those who claimed to speak for God. How were they able to distinguish between the two? What happened in the past and what can we learn from them?

The first situation that comes to mind is when Noah tried unsuccessfully to warn the world of the impending flood. Only his family listened. Even with the evidence of all these animals coming to the ark in pairs, people didn’t listen. No one had ever seen what Noah was talking about. Noah spoke of rain, floods, worldwide judgment, and cataclysm of a degree never before known. Besides, people didn’t want to repent. So Noah got no converts. Was Noah’s message from God? Yes. But people couldn’t tell because their hearts were hardened. They wanted their own way regardless. Noah’s message was right and he persisted with it for 120 years. He built an ark and gathered the animals (maybe even miraculously) and his family, demonstrating his sincerity. Still, his message went unheeded.

This shows us several things. The first is just because the message is strange and no one is listening does not prove that the message is not from God. It also shows that the reason we are not listening may have more to do with our hard heart than some flaw in the message. Herein is a key to knowing the voice of God รป the receptivity of our heart. Do we really want to hear from God, or do we only want God to confirm our own opinions? Unless we are open to correction we will have a very hard time hearing from God. Does this mean that when God speaks he only speaks correction? Of course not. But unless we are open to whatever God might say, we will have trouble hearing. Unless we hear, we cannot decide whether the message is from God or not.

Since Moses was afraid that the people would not believe that God had met with him, God gave him confirmatory signs. This method was used throughout the Bible. Jesus, the prophets, the apostles all had miraculous signs to confirm that their message was from God. Yet signs were never given total confirmatory power. In other words, signs could confirm the message, but the message had to conform to the standard already given. Signs alone, or signs with a suspicious message, confirmed nothing. Signs alone cannot accredit the messenger. But signs can confirm that the message, when the message was consistent with previous messages from God, is indeed from God. (Dt 13:1-3, 18:21-22)

Why the need for signs if the message was consistent with previous messages from God? Sometimes it is because the people who are being communicated with have not understood the previous messages. Take for instance the coming in of the Gentiles into the people of God. It took many signs from the Spirit of God to lead Peter to the house of Cornelius. It also took a mighty demonstration of the presence of the Spirit in the lives of those Gentiles for the Jewish believers to accept the Gentiles and baptize them. Even then Peter was called to task by the leadership in Jerusalem. His answer was simple. Who am I to resist God?

Sometimes signs are used when the message challenges our accepted beliefs. If it weren’t for the signs, we would not reconsider our beliefs. Yet signs do not have the strength to change our beliefs on their own. The message must be, as the Bereans noted, consistent with what God has communicated before in the scriptures.

Jesus also taught us to Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Matt 7:15-20 NIV So we can tell if the Spirit is working through someone by their fruit. This presupposes a few things. One is that we know this person life well enough to test for fruit. The second is that we know what good fruit looks (tastes?) like. Knowing the person who ministers by the Spirit is essential.

I suggest that the fruit Jesus mentions is the same as the fruit that Paul lists in Gal 5:22 as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. So also in Eph 5:9 the "fruit of light" is found in "all that is good and right and true." Contrasted with this are "the unfruitful works of darkness" (v. 11), the "fruitless trees" of subversive teachers in Jude 12. One of the characteristics of the "wisdom from above" is that it is "full of mercy and good fruits" (Jas 3:17, 2 Pet 1:8). In order to see such things we need to actually know that person. The more a person is disassociated with the local church the harder it is to assess fruit, and the easier it is to hide bad fruit.

If the prophetic word is consistent with scripture and is being communicated through a person of good fruit, it passes the initial test. All of this needs to done through a relationship with the Holy Spirit. You might remember when Agabus warned Paul of the binding he would receive by the Gentiles in Jerusalem. Paul wasn’t hard of hearing, he knew that what was said was true. He also knew the Lord was sending him and that he was willing to suffer for the Name. How the prophetic word given to Paul was to be interpreted by Paul, not others to whom this word was not addressed. So how the word is to be applied needs discernment.

Paul warns the Thessalonians not to put out the Spirits fire by looking down on prophecy. Instead they were to test everything and hold on to the good. Prophecy is one way that God mediates his presence though his people. If there is a need for anything now, it is for God to lovingly intervene in peoples lives. Prophecy is one way God does this. Lets avoid evil by not putting out the Spirits fire.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fulfilling of Prophetic Words

One of the important things that came out of this visit to Kamchatka for me was the realization that many people did not know how God fulfills His prophetic word to them. Many people thought that the prophecy was a snapshot of the future given to them by God that will, indeed must, come to pass. They felt that no matter what they did this word must be fulfilled. Additionally, when in the prophetic message it was stated that they would do something in the future they would begin to prepare to fulfill it in their own strength. Thus they would try to fulfill things that God said He would do for them in a way similar to Abraham and Sarah having Ishmael before Isaac. Then when things didn't work out they way they expected they would lose faith in Jesus.

This was a shock to me. I realized that 

I had not taught enough on this topic. It hurt to see a few people who, through such a misunderstanding of the way God worked, damaged and even sometimes abandoned their faith. The prophetic word can be so uplifting, generating faith and hope, that to see some hurt by this misunderstanding brought grief to my spirit.

I was able to do some teaching on this topic, going from Jonah the "false prophet" - after all, the people repented and so did the Lord - through some of my life experiences to our father Abraham's positive and negative actions in his walk of faith.

In the end, Jesus told us that the reason He tells us something before it happens so that when it does happen we will believe. Believe what? Believe that out God is able, even more than able, to fulfill every word He speaks to us. By the fulfillment we will see God's handiwork in our every day lives. Our responsibility is to believe the word He speaks to us and trust Him no matter what. By the fulfillment of the prophetic word we get to know our God that much better. He tells us in advance so that we will believe.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

For This Reason

Recently Malana and I were thinking about that verse in 1 John 3:8 "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work." NIV When we thought about what the devil's work was, our conversation went back to the very beginning in the garden where Satan tempted Eve. We noticed that the snake's tactic was to drive a wedge between Eve and God by smearing God saying that God was trying to hold something back from them. His tactic was to get Eve to mistrust God. Then when the mistrust was in place Eve was already in sin. Concerning sin Paul wrote that "everything that does not come from faith is sin". (Rom 14:23 NIV) So the devil's work is primarily get us to mistrust God.

Shortly after this conversation Malana was in the car by herself complaining to the Lord that she was getting very frustrated with the Lord because He didn't seem to be answering some specific prayers she had prayed. She then said, and I quote, "I don't know if I can trust you anymore."

Of course when she said this our previous conversation came back to her mind and she realized that the driving this wedge of mistrust between her and the Lord was the devil's work. Eureka! She discerned what was actually happening: she was being tempted by the devil to mistrust God!

So Malana and I have something to say to you all: Never mistrust the Lord. Don't give in to the devil's work. Jesus is worthy of all our trust. He came and suffered humanity's judgment so we could be freed from our bondage to death. By this He has demonstrated to us the depth of His compassion and love for us all. He took the responsibility of mankind's sin, though He was without sin, and gave to us His very life.

Through faith he now lives in us. We are now eating of the tree of life. Never go back but continually trust our Lord - for He is Worthy!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Harvest - Bible study notes

3.      The Harvest
a.      The harvest is the end of the age,
Matthew 13:39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
b.      Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Gal 6:7
c.       James 2:12-13 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!
d.      A Harvest of wickedness 
Revelation 14:17-19 Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, "Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth's vine, because its grapes are ripe." 19 The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God's wrath.
e.      A Harvest of righteousness  Galatians 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
f.        Harvest of souls for God 
Matthew 9:37-38 Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." NIV