Monday, March 9, 2015

Is it God?

I've had my share of times when I'm confused, not sure what is going on around me.  It can be disconcerting that we think we have some sense of faith, but that in everyday life we'd like to have more assurance of our faith at work in us.
In other words, I'd like to "know" that the confusion, disorientation, or questions, were all part of God's forming in my life, and not what some propose is just life's normal random actions.

A lot of people disassociate their life's events from God.  They can't associate God with the difficulties of life that are occurring in the present.
In recent weeks, I've talked to numerous people about "things", "stuff", life's struggles and even pain; and the overriding assumption I hear is that "is this God"?

I don't know that the answer of "yes" makes anything better, because a "yes" also creates a further quandry - "why is God doing this?"  At the same time the presumptive, "no, this is not God" creates a further question of "why is God allowing this?"

Doubt is not an enemy.  It can spur us on to deeper soul digging and make us reach for a faith that we've never tapped before..
Our tendency is to live in the moment, and that moment is often deceptive.
To ask the question, "where are you Lord?" is not a sign of disbelieving, but can be a doorway to new discoveries of God's Spirit at work in our life.

John Calvin wrote something in Book 2 on the nature of our will that I found really interesting.

"Augustine (in Psalm 31 and 33) compares the human will to a horse preparing to start, and God and the devil to riders. 'If God mounts, he, like a temperate and skillful rider, guides it calmly, urges it when too slow, reins it in when too fast, curbs its forwardness and over-action, checks its bad temper, and keeps it on the proper course; but if the devil has seized the saddle, like an ignorant and rash rider, he hurries it over broken ground, drives it into ditches, dashes it over precipices, spurs it into obstinacy or fury.'"

We have to think about what is going on in our soul?  Am I driven by fear and anxiety; or am I willing to be slowed and thoughtful?

Jesus said to us when addressing his own disciples on one occasion that was full of tension...  Matthew 11:1-10 
1  When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.
2  Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples
3  and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
4  And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:
5  the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.
6  And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

7  As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?
8  What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.
9  What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.
10  This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’

They were all wondering, "what's going on here?"  Even John was wondering and sent emissaries to inquire about what Jesus was doing?  Jesus' reply is two-fold:
1)  To John's emissaries he said, "go back and tell him what you see."  All that was occurring was clearly God at work.
2)  To those who wondered Jesus said, "What did you think you'd see?  Did you think you'd see comfort and luxury as a sign of God?  You're mistaken if did."

To each, Jesus points out they did not understand or see correctly what God was doing.

Are we any better?  I think it's clear, the answer is "No".

We'd like to have answers...what we get is "have faith"..."trust"... "believe in me..."

Jesus ends this passage with his famous words... Matthew 11:28-30 
28  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
30  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

While it is normal to ask the question:  "Is it God?"  The answer seems to be, "Take the yoke, harness it to Jesus, and stay in peace as you walk through the experiences that create questions and doubts."


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Everyday Faith that Knows

Back in the 1960's various philosophers made the bold statement that "God is Dead".  In essence they embraced Atheism (or at least Agnosticism) as the basis for life.  While it was not a popular movement that took over the culture, it planted enough cynicism and skepticism that it served as a breeding ground for all sorts of other philosophical nonsense.

One of those movements that is "nonsensical" is Post-modernism.  To understand Post-modernism one has to realize that it is the prevailing philosophy that guides all secular modern education in our western world today.  It is the predominant value system in public school education, in university education, in research institutes and the halls of politics.  In the post-modernist mind there is no truth.  Truth is nothing more than the construct of a group of people (literally called a tribe).  In essence, truth is relative and so "what works for you" is the mantra of individuality and social mores.

It is a ridiculous way of approaching reality.  The idea that absolutes not existing is based on the theory that there is no God, no absolute authority, and therefore no one to ultimately be accountable to. look at the fruit of this value system has demonstrated it's lacking.  The rising immorality that has led to more single parenting than we've ever had before.  Along with this an economic system that enslaves people to live in poverty dependent upon government assistance for the whole of their lives.  The sexual revolution yielded Aids, a  sexual freedom that has enslaved men and women to pornography, child porn, deviant behavior and a thirst for more.

What is missing in our civil society is a reason that is grounded in reality.  The problem is that this reason is missing because it is grounded in the foolish belief that each individual is the author of that reasoned truth.
John Calvin in writing about the human dilemma of a reason and will that is not rooted in God makes a very clear statement:

"It thus appears that none can enter the kingdom of God save those whose minds have been renewed by the enlightening of the Holy Spirit. On this subject the clearest exposition is given by Paul, who, when expressly handling it, after condemning the whole wisdom of the world as foolishness and vanity, and thereby declaring man’s utter destitution, thus concludes, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned,” (1 Cor. 2:14). 
Whom does he mean by the “natural man”? The man who trusts to the light of nature. Such a man has no understanding in the spiritual mysteries of God. Why so? Is it because through sloth he neglects them? Nay, though he exert himself, it is of no avail; they are “spiritually discerned.” And what does this mean? That altogether hidden from human discernment, they are made known only by the revelation of the Spirit; so that they are accounted foolishness wherever the Spirit does not give light. The Apostle had previously declared, that “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him;” nay, that the wisdom of the world is a kind of veil by which the mind is prevented from beholding God (1 Cor. 2:9). 
What would we more? The Apostle declares that God has “made foolish the wisdom of this world,” (1 Cor. 1:20); and shall we attribute to it an acuteness capable of penetrating to God, and the hidden mysteries of his kingdom? Far from us be such presumption! 
What the Apostle here denies to man, he, in another place, ascribes to God alone, when he prays, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation,” (Eph. 1:17). You now hear that all wisdom and revelation is the gift of God. What follows? “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened.” Surely, if they require a new enlightening, they must in themselves be blind. The next words are, “that ye may know what is the hope of his calling,” (Eph. 1:18). 

What we are witnessing our world is a "foolishness" that is far more reflective of embracing the cynicism of the "God is dead" movement, and choosing to develop a value system quite apart from divine revelation.

Is there an antidote for us in this system?  Yes!  We who have "received" the Spirit have a way of thinking that is empowered by God and the foolishness of the world is to be rejected for what it is - foolishness.
Instead, Peter reminds us again:  1 Peter 3:9-12 
9  Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
10  For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit;

11  let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.

12  For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Do we withdraw from the world?  No.  Do we condemn, or judge those around us?  No.  We are told to "go into all the world" by Jesus and we are told by Jesus to "judge not, that you are not judged."  We are not excused from discernment of what is true, good, not evil, worthy of God; but there is a distinction between judging others and exercising discernment.  What we do is engage the world with the gospel of Jesus - that there is life to be discovered in God's grace, the forgiveness of Sins, and the life of the Spirit based on Jesus' words that "when he comes, he will guide you into all truth."


Monday, March 2, 2015

Knowing that we Know, Even When We Don't

It's the 11th day of Lent (remember, Lent does not include Sundays in its numbering).

As I read through the two books I'm immersed in this Lenten season (that is, besides my own book which I also read devotionally each morning), I'm struck by the way in which they serve as mirrors to each other and provoke me to think more clearly about how to live in such a way that I can have impact on the world around me.

First of all, impact is another way of saying what Peter says in his first letter that I have addressed before:

1 Peter 3:15-16
15  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,
16  having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

Giving a defense does not mean argumentativeness.   It also does not mean its always to unbelievers since some of the ways in which we give a defense is to those who have faith in Christ but are struggling with doubts, confusion-the wrestlings of life.

Giving a defense might be best done in the context of home, family, marriage and parenting.  I know of too many families in which children walked away from the faith their parents had embraced.

There are myriads of reasons for these sorts of things to happen; but it nevertheless remains a principle that we must keep "in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy...always be prepared to make a defense...yet do it with gentleness and respect."

We must make it clear that the power of the Gospel is that God by his Spirit penetrates the darkness and brings light to all who receive His grace.  We meet people - even family - where they are at, not where we think they ought to be.

I don't struggle with people who have doubts.  It seems obvious from scripture that Jesus quite frequently had to deal with people's doubts - even those close to him.

John 20:24-25
24  Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.
25  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

To be human is to doubt.  It should not dismay us that our loved ones, those closest to us, often go through seasons of questions.  I say seasons as it's obvious from the text that Jesus left Thomas hang on to his questions, doubts, fears for a full eight days.

John 20:26-29
26  Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
27  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
28  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus was willing to allow Thomas to doubt and then to help him "see" what really was the truth that he could not see.  Jesus didn't leave Thomas to unbelief - sort of a "Well, if you don't believe than that's your problem" approach.  Instead he comes back to help him understand what he could not conceive.  Then Jesus adds:
John 20:29
29  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 

Jesus was always willing to help those who were honest in their questions to see the ultimate truth of his goodness and grace.  It strikes me that we need to remember that today.  We meet those people - and they are often in the church - who are struggling to understand.  When we throw scripture at them in the fashion of a spiritual machine gun, we do little to help fact I've met too many people who were turned off, and turned away as a result.
In times like these, our defense presented is best done with gentleness and respect.

Our goal is not to solve their problems, but instead to lead them to the one person who knows what they do not know - and I might add, what we don't know also.  Jesus is the one who is "full of grace and truth" and it is a wise person who remembers that.

I might add, a wise person once told me:  "when you are in those places of doubt, believe your beliefs and doubt your doubts."  This is how our knowledge grows.  We keep the process of learning going through questioning, seeking, discovering, learning, listening, inquiry.  It is the adventure of a learner, which by the way, I remind you is the definition of a Disciple.