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Posts Tagged ‘wisdom’

“Have nothing to do with the unfruitful works of darkness.”

I’m a discernment person.  Heresies are a big deal to me.  I tend to notice when teachers or authors or pastors are preaching a different gospel.  But there are other issues, too.  Focusing on tolerance and friendliness with the world – the “seeker-sensitive” movement, for example – is dangerous.  Christians are a light set on a hill, not light camouflaged to look like darkness.  Or another popular… what should I call it?  Not a heresy in the traditional sense, but a dangerous and unchristian worldview or spiritual practice?  Anyway, another one is the borderline gnosticism.  This encompasses mysticism and individualism, focusing on poetic ideas of light versus darkness, denial (or even mistreatment) of the physical, and meditation.  I see connections between seeker-sensitivity and the postmodern mysticism.  Primary in these connections are the exaltation of human effort and experience.  They are ancient perversions of the Christian life, not new, but addressed in the New Testament.

Lately it has become popular to cite “church fathers” in theological debates.  This even if the quote or position contradicts the New Testament.  Though I’m not persuaded of the “sola scriptura” of the Reformation, it did rescue us from centuries of heretical tradition enforced as the authority of the fathers.  (Jesus rebuked the same sin in the Pharisees.)  Many of those historical theologians flirted with or embraced the para-Christian spirituality mentioned above, emphasizing either their personal wisdom or their own mystical experiences as sources of truth superior to the revelation of Scripture.  They practiced this outside of the protective peer-regulation of a Spirit-led Church.  Somehow the doctrine of the indwelling Holy Spirit got exchanged for a belief in inner divinity belonging to an individual.  All of which was much more compatible with the pagan religions encountered as the ancient “Christianity” spread.

And isn’t that something to be concerned about?  Rather than being excited that the enemies of God, the spiritually dead men of planet earth, have portions of truth preserved in their religions, shouldn’t we be devastated at the subtlety of the deceits of the Evil One that has kept men captive to their sin?  (“What fellowship has light with darkness?”)  Instead of finding commonality in spiritual practices of meditation and monasticism and sacrificing to appease the gods – shouldn’t we question those practices?  If the pagans do those things, and if those things are not prescribed by our Lord in the early letters to the churches affirmed by the apostles, why not rather fear a resurgence of paganism within our faith – that the spiritual forces of wickedness have been also distracting us and leading us astray?

In our modern times we tend to disdain the primitive superstitions of pre-Christian peoples.  We think they should have been able to see through the cheap tricks of the medicine men, to rise up against the oppressive shaman and assert reason, the intelligence and ability of individuals.  But a Christian worldview suggests a different interpretation.  It teaches that the devil and demons are real, powerful, able to produce counterfeit signs and wonders to deceive men.  Demon possession is real.  And maybe those pitiable people, observing that reality, live with rituals and talismans approved by their devils – for a time – as a tax on the slaves of the Devil before they are consumed.

For us who have known only the relatively Christian Western world, it is difficult to remember the spiritual battle that is engaged even here.  We are not trained to recognize the spiritual activities of our enemy.  This may be because we have adopted it,  or excused and tolerated it…  False teaching, we believe, has been perpetrated by confused but well-meaning people.  Cultists are mostly nice people whose theology is just a little different from ours.  We wouldn’t want our children converting, but no big deal if our neighbors and coworkers believe in Jesus and good works for their salvation, God and their own divinity.  Many who identify themselves as evangelical Christians see no cause for concern when their church services begin to incorporate incense, or a ladies’ conference suggests repetitive chanting of a spiritual word or phrase as a means of getting closer to God.  Millions of us read and identify with a book that includes a manifestation of Sophia, the Gnostic “goddess” as the incarnation of wisdom.  These ideas and practices are more attractive to the unsaved world, after all (and to many inside the church).  And why shouldn’t they be; they’re familiar whispers, that we are like God, that we come to God on our own terms.

The word profanity is known as a synonym for cussing.  But who knows the word profane?  Who believes that there is a way God wants to be worshiped, a way He has set for people to come to Him – and any other way is so offensive to Him as to bring His righteous wrath?  What is fallen man to tell God why He should accept him?  Who is the liar and deceived to believe he has a hold of truth and wisdom apart from the deliverance and revelation of God?  How dare we think our filthy rags – our own righteousnesses – are acceptable sacrifices to pay for our trespasses against the ways of God?

But it is hard to reject these things, hard to point at those profanities and warn that they are part of the wide path to hell.  I don’t want to believe that my church leader is a false teacher.  I like to believe that my friends are going to heaven.  But how does that honor God?  Is my allegiance to Him or to men?  And how is that compassionate, to ignore the condition of my friends?  Making excuses is easy.  If a man says he believes in Jesus, is it such a big deal if he tolerates sin, if he keeps company with the world?  Also far too simple is reassuring myself that even though a person has not trusted in Jesus, he still seems to be a good influence, telling people to pray and read their Bibles and love their families and be wary of governments and religions out to destroy us.

Yet more and more I believe that those excuses and those subversive people are the biggest threats.  By them people are led from the power and truth of God, or worse – away from the gospel of the grace of God.  People are soothed into ignoring their spiritual neediness.  Those people, those false prophets, are the enemies of God.  And if they are enemies of God, they are enemies of His people.  They are not in your fellowship to encourage you or point you to God.  Though they may feign friendship, it is for diabolical purposes, and they can turn on you at any moment.

So what can we do?  Monasticism and individualism belong to the false religions.  We cannot run away from these dangerous people.  Tolerance and acceptance also correspond to the faith that exalts man over God.  So we cannot be silent or friendly.  Truth and God’s glory invite us to discern the lies and cast them down.  Holiness insists that we take our cues from God, supported by those men and women who exhibit the fruits of being His.  Love demands that we warn people of destruction.  Faith in God teaches us to hope for revival and redemption.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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II Corinthians 1:20

“For all the promises of God

in Him are YES,

and in Him AMEN,

to the glory of God through us.”

You don’t hear it as much as you’d expect in Christian circles.  Should it stand out so much to me when I hear a friend say, “Praise God”?  The praise and worship music movement has swept the Church up.  Some of us even mean what we sing.  But outside of the songs, do we magnify His name?  Do we let our light shine that men may glorify our Father in Heaven when they see our good works?  Can we say with the Psalmists that it is good for God to have us alive because we praise Him more than if we were dead?

Grant that our friends practice gratitude.  We’re praying people and watch for answers.  When we see good gifts, we know they are from God.  And so it is more common to say aloud, “Praise God.  He answered my prayer.”

But we only tend to say that when He answers with a “yes.”  If God gives us what we want, we praise Him.  If not…

There are any number of reactions I have observed in myself.  I may become discouraged.  I might complain.  Even a good Christian is tempted to “help themselves” when God doesn’t take the initiative we want Him to.

This year, I resolved to praise my good God.  When He says “yes” to my requests, and when He says “no.”  He is acting with wisdom and love either way.

So even when I am hurt or sad or tired because of God’s “no”, I will praise Him.  Praise Him for knowing better than I do.  For denying my making of mudpies (to refer to CS Lewis) that He may bring me to the sea.

And in acknowledging God’s worthiness, may I know Him more.  May I anticipate and accept suffering, not cheating it of its purpose nor denying its redemption.  May I see with His eyes and expect the unfathomable ocean of blessings He has prepared.  He is a God of completion, faithful to make perfect that which He begins.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Biblically, married couples should not use birth control. The Bible does say that children are a blessing, and commands us to be fruitful and multiply.  Barrenness is in a list of curses that will come on a people or a country that disobeys God.  God controls the womb.  Do we also forbid attempts to get pregnant (in vitro fertilization, for example)?  What about Natural Family Planning – no chemicals, surgeries, or other medical devices?  Is the issue taking control?  Avoiding blessings?  Or not valuing children?  Do we make exceptions for certain couples, for those with dangerous health  problems associated with pregnancy?  Yes, children are a blessing, but God describes many things as blessings, and we do not pursue them all.  Singleness is a blessing.  That blessing excludes parenthood in most cases.  Can you really choose and the blessing still be a blessing?  Who gives blessings?  Wasn’t the command to be fruitful only given to Adam and Eve and repeated to Noah?  It may be our right to pursue blessings, but as Christians, aren’t we supposed to lay down our rights in deference to God?  The Bible describes children as arrows in the hand of a warrior; if Christian couples are declining to have kids, are they shirking their responsibility to further the kingdom of God as best they can?  Our worldview has shifted, even in the last century, to see large families as abnormal or even undesirable.  Before this century it was the common teaching of Catholics and Protestants that birth control was wrong, that God wanted them to accept as many children as He granted.  We have biblical examples, if not mandates, of people regarding blessings.  Did anyone good ever refuse something that was a blessing?  What about the story of Onan where he acted the kinsman-redeemer but specifically avoided the possibility of conception in the union?  He was condemned.  But maybe he was condemned for the motives and implications of the act?

Christians become more like the world as they withdraw from the world. In what way would you describe those prime examples of religious seclusion: Amish and monks in a monastery, as being more like the world?  Worldly is defined as self-centered, reluctant to share our faith.  Though that is not particularly world-like, as they are eager to share their beliefs.  Perhaps it could be argued that Christians withdrawing from interaction with the world are growing less godly or less obedient (are we not called to be salt and light?) rather than more worldly.  There are many monasteries that, while pursuing a life apart, still engage in ministry to the community, to the “world.”  They do teaching ministries and nursing, for example.  Has not the US church become a club, withdrawing from the world in their exclusivity, because we are neglecting the command to reach out?  What made it become a club?  Maybe that itself was a consequence of becoming like the world, and inviting the world in on its terms.  If the world wants to come to church, shouldn’t they want to come for the truth?  Christians are commanded to be somewhat separate: more hospitable to other Christians than to nonbelievers; also to know who is “in” and who is “out” in order that outreach might be a definite, stand-out activity.  We as Christians are known by our love to one another.  Being so separate that the difference is obvious is a witness.  The Bible teaches Christians to engage in BOTH discipleship AND evangelism.  1 John instructs us NOT to love the world or anything in the world.  Those Christian leaders most recognized for being engaged in the world and having a large impact or effect on the world – are they having an impact for the Kingdom of God?  Billy [Graham], Joel [Osteen], and Rick [Warren] are “ruining the kingdom of God.”  Our interaction with the world should be one of confrontation.  And perhaps “Christians” in the US aren’t real Christians, so withdrawing from responsibilities to love their neighbors is a natural reaction.

(First Ever 2 Minute Debate!)  The Sun will go out before Jesus comes back, so we should colonize other solar systems. Jesus said He was coming back soon.  At that point the world had only existed for 4,000 or so years, so the absolute maximum that could have meant would be A.D. 4,000.  There is no way the Sun is burning out in 2,000 years.  If we’re still around then, though, and He hasn’t come back, maybe then we’ll look into colonizing other solar systems.  Plus we have better things to do than worrying about the survival of humanity after the earth.

Confessing sins to fellow disciples is essential for healthy community. Don’t we already confess sins to each other?  It just starts out with, “It was SO cool…”  Seriously, isn’t there a danger of confession turning into bragging?  If I tell you my sins, doesn’t that encourage you to gossip about me?  Disciple is defined as one who is pursuing godliness, trying to grow spiritually.  So the discretion used in confessing to disciples can guard against some dangers.  Another danger is the power of suggestion introducing a type of temptation to others.  But confession could – and should – be made without details.  The benefit of hearing sins confessed is to realize that other Christians are struggling with sin – maybe even the same sin – too.  That gives assurance that the temptation and failure is not a sign of being unregenerate.  Should confession be private (accountability partner) or communal?  History has recorded many times where revival followed public confession.  Pastors often set the example of public confession, apologizing for faults during sermons.  It is probably more important for leaders to confess publicly.  So what?  Now everyone knows that everyone else is a mess just like them.  How does that build healthy community?  Congregations can pray for each other when they know the need, support each other, and rejoice in the victories.  But people don’t have to wait until they’ve conquered sins to start confessing.  And a meeting could involve some confession and some victory reports.  Confession invites intimacy.  Public confession facilitates repentance, whereas not having to tell anyone about it lets a person “get over it” without being truly sorry.  Isn’t God sufficient pressure to invite true repentance?  Being one with God is tied to being one with others.  The Christian response to confession is forgiveness, especially if you were wronged by the sin.  But the Bible does record times when men confessed their sins and received judgment.  Take Achan, whose whole family was stoned with him even after he confessed.  Still, a case can be made that the stoning of Achan’s household was good for the community, which is the wording of the resolution.  Reality has Christians experiencing consequences even though we’re forgiven.

The way Protestants teach salvation by grace alone/faith alone/Christ alone leads people to faith in intellectual assent, not to faith in the Spirit of Christ (true salvation). So we shouldn’t teach that gospel?  Or we need to be very careful how it’s explained?  Christians tend to use terms with people who don’t know what we mean, like faith; in our culture it is understood as intellectual assent.  So if that isn’t what we mean, we need to define our terms or use words that anyone can understand.  Sometimes there aren’t words for concepts (some tribes have been discovered with no word for mercy or forgiveness): in such cases, longer explanations and even demonstrations may be necessary.  Part of the cause of false conversions in America today is that salvation is sold as a ticket out of hell…  But if it is true that we are saved by faith alone, why does it matter how an evangelist explains the gospel?  The gospel of intellectual assent is a Holy Spirit-less gospel; it doesn’t lead them to God.  Isn’t the Holy Spirit capable of using weak words to nonetheless convert hearts?  It is the Christian’s responsibility to be as clear as he can.  When we talk about salvation, we rarely mention that the choice brings a cost: lordship of Christ, sacrificing, how much easier it is to live without morals.  We say “God has a wonderful plan for your life” but look at Paul’s life.  Are we being dishonest?  What about using a word like “mistake” instead of sin?  Doesn’t that give the impression that your rebellion against God was an accident?  But that could be an attempt at using an understandable word when no one knows what sin is anymore.  Are there better words, though, like “wrong”?  Originally it was understood that converting to a certain religion, with its doctrines, had consequences.  It meant a conversion to that lifestyle as well.  How do we know when people are understanding us?  If our lives back up our message, we become our own visual aid.  Even the word saved can be misleading.  Most people don’t experience a feeling of danger because they were born spiritually dead.  They are not presently in Hell, so they don’t realize the importance of being saved from it.  But if you use the word “changed,” that implies that something happens to you but also that you are different.  And you are not only changed, but also changing.  Some people do get saved out of fear of Hell.  But the Great Commission was to make disciples.  To make changed people.  Aren’t Justification and Regeneration equal and indivisible parts of salvation?  Hearing the message of salvation from Hell gives people an appreciation for God’s grace, because they have a concept of His wrath.

Are you tired of being buffeted by your fan?  (Did you even know you were being buffeted?)  Try the new and fantastic Dyson* Air Foil Fan.  It works like a jet engine.  Some people have noted that wind is naturally, uh, well, buffeting, so that style of air propellant might be preferred by some people.  But when is the last time someone invented a new fan?  Start saving now!  *Dyson, the inventor, is now “Sir Dyson.”  He was knighted by the Queen.  That’s how cool his fan is.  (The preceding paragraph should not be taken as an endorsement of Dyson or any of its products or ideas.)

Christians, for efficiency, should focus on saving kids dying of natural causes than the much more difficult task of keeping other people (parents) from killing them, as in pro-life work. Both victims want to be saved.  There is less resistance from authorities and parents to saving people who are starving or without clean drinking water.  Aren’t both causes of death the result of hardened hearts and sinful people?  Maybe even the result of our sin?  So the task involves overcoming hard hearts either way.  But the resolution was about saving lives, not changing hearts.  It is easier to save people – physically – from natural threats.  But the reason to save either children is to give them a chance to hear the spiritual message of salvation by grace in the future.  Don’t pit two good things against each other.  Doing something here in your spare time is easier than packing up the family and moving to Africa to dig wells for drinking water, and corresponds better to a lot of peoples’ callings.  The Bible talks about blood guilt for a nation that commits the shedding of innocent blood; doesn’t that put some priority on us addressing the deaths in our OWN nation?  But our influence isn’t just national anymore; it is global.  And blood guilt is a global phenomenon.  Shouldn’t we start at home?  Don’t do something just because it is easier.  But we weren’t talking about easy; we were talking about efficient.  And efficiency implies limited resources; our God who is sending us to care for the weak and needy is not limited.  Unless you consider that He is limited by human willingness (our willingness to obey or others’ willingness to receive).  Are we going for results?  The biggest number of people helped?  Shouldn’t we just be trying to glorify God in whatever we do?  Is it wrong to use wisdom, taking efficiency into consideration, to make that choice?  Jesus said that thousands were starving but Elijah was sent to only one widow.  So one needs to take into account personal conviction and direction from God.  Have God’s values.  Whatever you do, do it heartily.  Efficiency is a worthy consideration, but not the sole motivator.  We need God’s direction.  And what if those we save by using our energies efficiently end up transforming the world and saving people from other kinds of death as well?  Are we not furthering the kingdom of God by saving multitudes from starvation and disease – thus ingratiating the world to us and our message?

Institutional Church is fundamentally neither worse nor less biblical than any other form of church. Institutional Church is defined as that typical of the United States, including an order of worship, a building, pastors and elders.  Though theoretically the models may have equal ground, consistent tendencies suggest a flaw in the institutional model.  Are home churches any better?  Institutional Churches have the record for longevity.  House churches don’t usually last hundreds of years.  But maybe that isn’t the goal of a house church.  Where size is concerned, Institutional Churches tend to be larger, which guards against false doctrine and gives greater accountability.  Is that true?  Doesn’t the larger congregation provide anonymity, and so hinder accountability?  In denominations, a characteristic of Institutional Church, individual congregations are accountable to the denomination, particularly for their doctrine.  Jim Elliot said the Church is God’s, and it is important to Him, so if He has a way He wants the Church to meet and worship Him, we should do it that way.  [and this is my blog, so I can edit history and give the quote for real: “The pivot point hangs on whether or not God has revealed a universal pattern for the church in the New Testament. If He has not, then anything will do so long as it works. But I am convinced that nothing so dear to the heart of Christ as His Bride should be left without explicit instructions as to her corporate conduct. I am further convinced that the 20th century has in no way simulated this pattern in its method of ‘churching’ a community . . . it is incumbent upon me, if God has a pattern for the church, to find and establish that pattern, at all costs” (Shadow of The Almighty: Life and Testimony of Jim Elliot)  See also my website: www.ChurchMoot.wordpress.com]  The Bible describes a model of church that the Institutional Church does not match.  That is what makes it inferior.  For example, 1 Corinthians 14 says that when the Church gathers, every one has a teaching, psalm, prophecy, tongue – not just a pre-scheduled pastor.  But the Bible also teaches that there should be order, that everyone should not be talking over each other.  Isn’t that an “order of worship”?  The Bible does talk about pastors, though!  What is the role of a pastor?  When the New Testament talks about pastors and apostles and evangelists giving attention to teaching and preaching, doesn’t that suggest the sermon?  Preaching is primarily for evangelism.  Christians are to honor those elders especially who minister in the Word.  Shouldn’t a Christian convicted about these matters try to reform the Institutional Church?  How can he, when the means at his disposal are the very thing he wants to change?  You could keep the same people, the same congregation, but you would have to tear the whole structure down and start over.  The issue isn’t problems in individual congregations or even necessarily those “tendencies” to which Institutional Church is prone; it is the description of the Church meetings given in the New Testament.  Where did the New Testament Church meet?  How did they facilitate the Church in Jerusalem at thousands of members if it met in houses?  They didn’t all have to meet at once in one place.  Is it wrong to meet in buildings?  Buildings cost money to maintain.  The Early Church and House Churches can use that money for other things, not needing to budget for light-bulbs and parking lots.  And the money was administered not by a church fund, but entrusted to the apostles.  Would it be best to return to an Apostolic Model, then, or even recognize Apostolic Succession as in the Catholic Church?

What Americans call consumerism isn’t consumerism; it’s collecting and hoarding, so we should stop maligning consumerism. Why do we think of consuming as bad?  Everyone consumes.  But isn’t that the threat behind “carbon footprints” of every organism?  Hoarding is entrapping; it’s worse than cigarettes.  We store all this stuff in our houses and then we lose it by the time we “need” it.  But people find security in having backups for things they use a lot.  And the reason we need a backup is because our society has manufactured (or demanded the manufacture of) consumable products, things that break or wear out.  When something breaks, we have easy access to stores, which store replacements for you.  We don’t just throw out broken things, though; we get rid of things to make way for the “new” thing, the upgrade.  What should you do with things you’re not using?  You shouldn’t keep it unless you are highly efficient at your storage and make your supplies work for you, your neighbors, and friends (hospitality: see Pigfest February 2010).  Isn’t this hoarding just the “building bigger barns” as in Jesus’ parable?  Then again, maybe it is the responsible thing to do, to work hard now and save up (not just money) for later, like the fabled ants in The Ant and the Grasshopper.  But is consuming really bad?  If you’re really using something up, and people are able to keep producing it, go ahead and consume.  Stores aren’t always as accessible as efficiency would require.  Consumption doesn’t just cost money; it costs lives and freedom.  There are some economies purposefully enslaved, where the people are kept dependent and forced to manufacture that which we consume.  Consumption is not acceptable, then, at every cost.  Isn’t the hoarding we’re talking about a sign of a lack of trust that God will take care of us in the future?

The End.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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A lot of Christians talk about the will of God.  Whether they are talking about a “call” for their lives, or direction for day to day choices, a lot of people are curious how they can know God’s will.  Part of the mystery is that whatever process we use for determining the will of God doesn’t seem to work.

We pray, sometimes using a specific method or for a scheduled amount of time.  We submit ourselves, “Thy will be done.”  We seek counsel.  We study.  And then a choice comes, and we listen closely.  Nothing.

We throw out a fleece, like Gideon, and still get nothing.  We put God in a box, making deals with Him, and however it works out we take it as confirmation that we should do whatever we want.  “God, if you want us to build that new sanctuary, supply the 1.2 million dollars for the down payment.”  Only $750,000 comes in, and we decide that God wants us to step out on faith. “I mean, it’s a big thing for God to bring in so much money for the project.”  Or we say, “God, if you don’t want me to do this, close the doors; stop me.”  And months later, we look back thinking, “The devil sure was resisting me in my service to God.  Look at all the persecution I went through!”  Which is the correct view?  Should we make deals with God?  Which voice is limiting Him?

Some people claim to know the will of God.  They get a sign.  They have dreams.  A quiet voice whispers to them.  How can we trust these mystical revelations, when the Bible has so many examples of people being influenced by other powers in the spiritual realm?

Why did the life of a prophet seem so much simpler?  How did he hear God’s voice?  When the early church gathered to pray, what did it look and sound like for the Spirit to say, “Set apart Paul and Barnabas”?  Men in the early church could not be stopped by chains or prisons or even stonings.  We see in these instances the disciples pressing forward, confident that God desires them out on the streets and in the courtyard, preaching the gospel.  What does it mean when Paul said that He tried to go to Bithynia (Acts 16:7) but the Spirit prevented Him?  If Paul wanted to bring the gospel somewhere, but God wouldn’t let him, he was obviously not just trusting that his desires were from God.  So how did Paul know?

But keep reading, because in 2 easy paragraphs, I’m going to solve the problem of the will of God!…  No, I’m not making that claim.  I think part of our problem is that we don’t want to walk by faith.  We want to know every step way in advance.  We want a list of do’s and don’t’s.  When we wait to hear from God, we get impatient and conclude that we won’t hear from Him.  God gave us brains.  Maybe we should work it out.  Or maybe God doesn’t care what we decide.

Some people really do take finding the will of God that far.  Should you give $50 to feed the poor, or $50 to send a missionary, or invest the $50?  None of those uses are sinful.  All can be good and God-honoring.  So it doesn’t matter which you choose.  God will bless you anyway.  God has a will for the big things, but the little things are up to us.  (People have to decide where to draw the line between big things and little things:  Prophecy must be a big thing.  Jesus coming to die for us had to happen.  Sometimes big things are whom we marry or where we go to school.  For other people, they consider those life-changing decisions to be some of the little ones where God leaves us to decide on our own.)  In any case, it takes a lot of study and extreme moral clarity to make sure that one of the options we’re considering is not sinful.  We’re left to make a score sheet for each choice.  And how do you add in factors like selfishness or vanity, good stewardship or discernment?  What is wisdom anyway?

Or maybe we should stop worrying about the will of God.  God’s in control, so everything that happens is what is meant to happen.  We’re not going to change that, so why stress?  Que sera, sera.  There’s an easy way to figure out God’s will: hindsight.

Here’s what I believe.  God is in control, and no one will change His plan.  His plan covers the details, even the details of how we decide and that we sought to please Him in our decisions.  His plan includes His guidance and revelation.  Wisdom is not knowing the tally sheet for all the different options.  It is a dependence on God’s perspective, even when His way doesn’t seem to be practical or likely to work out.  Part of having a relationship with God is waiting on Him.  He is faithful to provide the guidance we need, and merciful enough that, if we are seeking Him and asking for His help, our feet will not stumble; our lives won’t be ruined by our God-submitted choice.

Some things are clearly revealed as the will of God.  He desires our sanctification.  He desires us to be thankful and to pray to Him.  He tells husbands to love their wives, and disciples to preach the word.  To trespass those instructions would be sinful.  So the possibilities are narrowed down.

Duty is another way to make our decisions easier, by limiting our options.  We make a commitment (according to the will of God), and follow through.  A father may wonder whether to take a job in New Jersey or Texas, but he knows he must provide for his family.  A conference speaker may get to choose his topic or his wording, but he’s obligated to speak.  A mom must change a diaper.  My friend volunteered at an orphanage.  Once she was there, she had to do what she was told.  Her duty made the will of God for her simpler.  When Paul decided to heed his vision and go to Macedonia, he didn’t have to ask God:  “Should I move my left foot?  Now right?  What about my right foot?”

Of course God is helping us just as much to accomplish what we know He wants us to do as He helps us find out what He wants us to do.  It is easy to be relieved at knowing we are where God wants us, and forget to excel, forget to walk in the Spirit as we obey.  We think God sent us on an errand and now our own intelligence and strength will get it done.  There’s danger in duty, the danger of empty legalism.  But there is peace, too, in knowing what one ought to do: what must be done.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” – John 3:8

Many Christians have heard the story of the Pharisee coming at night to Jesus.  Jesus famously told Nicodemus that he must be born again, to the befuddlement of that teacher of Israel.  A bit later in the chapter sits the most famous verse in Scripture: John 3:16.  In between is this little verse – not its own statement, but part of the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus – a verse that gets little attention and less interpretation.  I used it after high school when people asked what I was going to do with my life; I didn’t really mean it in self-righteousness, but as a joke.  Still, I’ve wondered whether Jesus didn’t intend to warn us against lives that are too stable and predictable…  (Maybe He was warning us life isn’t stable and predictable!) 

You know the other thing that really gets me?  When someone in the Bible says that if only we had enough faith or understanding, we’d get what they’re saying – and I can’t make heads or tails of it.  I want to stand in self-righteous judgment over the blind first-century fools, benefiting from 2,000 years of Christian enlightenment, but I can’t.  Verses 10 and 12 are such a rebuke.  How am I going to understand heavenly things – I can’t even imagine what that would be – if I’m not getting this talk about wind and the Spirit? 

I believe that same Spirit indwells me, that I have been born again, and that this Spirit is guiding me into all truth.  And not me by myself, but the Church which the Spirit unites and employs.  A group of friends, a small section of the Church of our God, came together and looked into this verse – and not to be arbitrary.  Some core beliefs are either implied or contradicted by how one interprets this passage.  For example, if I don’t understand what Jesus is saying, does it mean I am not “born of the Spirit”? 

So we began to study.  I looked at the context.  Since verse and chapter numbers were added in the two millennia since John was written and are not part of the inspired flow of the narrative, this is usually a good idea.  First I expanded my reading to John 3:1-12.  But something stood out to me in verse 2 that drew me back into the preceding chapter.  John 3:2 says, “The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, ‘Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.’”  Jesus’ reply is the key that more was being said by Nicodemus than we think.  How on earth does “ye must be born again” follow a confession that Jesus comes from God? 

John is a unique gospel, everyone will admit.  It is the story of Jesus’ life that is not synoptic.  Not only focusing much more on the hard sayings of Jesus; it has an entirely different perspective.  Michael Card, in his book Parable of Joy, makes the case that whereas the other gospel writers quoted from the Law and the Prophets, John had a habit of quoting the books of poetry from the Old Testament, books some Jews in Jesus’ day discounted.  Jesus is presented as the manifestation of Paul’s words, “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness.

The Jews desire a sign.  John shows how early in Jesus’ public ministry, He turned water into wine.  But He did it quietly, almost reluctantly, unwilling to encourage the people’s enthusiasm for “signs.”  Afterward, Jesus goes to celebrate Passover at Jerusalem, and begins to seriously affront the Jewish establishment.  People might just be willing to accept this revolutionary, too, on conditions.  John 2:18 reports, “Then answered the Jews and said unto Him, ‘What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?’”  His reply in verse 19 was rather disappointing and non-immediate.  All the same, some did believe on Him that week, “when they saw the miracles which He did.” 

God gave signs for a reason: to point to something else, to call us to response.  The miracles aren’t the point in themselves, nor do they lend authority to teachings.  Rather, miracles accompany God-given authority.  Jesus had the authority to control all created things, and demonstrated it.  Knowing all men, Jesus declined to “commit Himself unto them,” despite their eagerness for Him as their miracle-worker. 

Some men spent so much time watching signs and figuring them out, that they were more like observers of life.  This man does what’s right, so he’s in the good category.  This man does what’s wrong, so he’s in the wicked category.  Do you know any information that would help us figure that fellow out?  Or that passage or prophecy?  They sort of preside over life as judges, not caring about men or God.  Proud to have discerned anything, they rush around discussing it.  I admit I’m tempted to do the same.  Nicodemus seems to be one of these men, a strong contrast to the Lord who “knew all men.” (John 2:24)

Our Bible study’s investigation had led us through a few commentaries and memories of sermons on the passage, all of which seemed to turn the verse around or omit words and phrases.  But one Bible study help proved immensely useful.  A friend of mine checked the cross-references in his margin, which led him to Ecclesiastes, one of those Wisdom Books John was so fond of. 

As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.”  – Ecclesiastes 11:5

Here is where I began to feel like jumping up and down.  We have the theme of birth, of the spirit, and of the wind, all of which are found in John 3.  Nicodemus, as a teacher of Israel, ought to have seen the reference Jesus was so clearly making.  Scholars call this an intertextualization.  By quoting a portion of a passage, a good communicator is referring to that entire passage, giving context and color to his point.  Jesus had referred to all these themes, trying to make a point (with faceted meaning along the way).  What Jesus did not directly mention is the second half of Ecclesiastes 11:5.  If Nicodemus had been paying attention to this Teacher from God, he would have finished the thought in his mind, and gotten the hint. 

You, Nicodemus, do not know the way of the spirit.  You don’t know where it comes from or where it is going.  Out of your own mouth you admit that you do not understand birth or the spirit.  You, Nicodemus, do not know the works of God like you say that you do. 

No, Nicodemus was like the man in Ecclesiastes 11:4: “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.”  There are some things, Ecclesiastes 11:3 teaches, that you cannot control (rain, trees falling one way or another, wind, new life).  But you can watch them happen.  You can even predict them when you see the signs.  If you spend all your time watching, you will forget to do something meaningful.  When harvest comes you will reap nothing. 

Back to John 3.  Verse 3, Jesus emphasizes two things.  First, He says that an event is required, a personal transforming event.  Knowledge isn’t enough.  Second, Nicodemus does not have knowledge.  He cannot see the Kingdom of God, only the works.  The Pharisee has stumbled, desiring a sign, but is facing “Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 

Verse 8.  Don’t just watch the wind (Ecc. 11:4); be the wind.  Be born of the Spirit. 

Then the crux.  If you follow only what you can figure out for yourself, unwilling to believe the testimony of God about Himself, you will not see the Kingdom of God.  You are not born again of the Spirit.  Heavenly things will not be more real to you than what you see.  Faith is essential.  Whoever believes – not in signs or miracles or wisdom – in Him, the only begotten Son, has eternal life. 

Get up from your wind-watching.  Plant the seeds whose fruit you don’t know.  (Ecc. 11:6)  If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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So young people are leaving the church: a disastrous omen for the future of Christianity.  We must do something.  Something different than what we have been doing.  Because the church is failing this generation. 

 

It is common to point to the pizza and games youth-group-without-accountability-or-education program as the culprit for the apostasy of college students.  Church should not be about entertainment, say the pious parents who with the next breath criticize the musicians on the praise team and complain that the worship style at their congregation doesn’t suit their tastes.  Perhaps we are not sheltering youth enough.  Maybe they need more authority figures, a connection with the whole church, including their parents. 

 

Some on the conservative side of the question point to the content of what we teach young people.  Survey after survey reveals that teens don’t know the basics of Christian theology, and certainly aren’t decision-making from a Christian worldview.  These kids have no foundation to abandon, Christian leaders rightly argue.  They’re hungry for answers.  And when we don’t equip them in the realm of apologetics, high school and college professors have little difficulty refuting the shallow traditional faith of their students. 

 

Maybe the church is too legalistic, parents and pastors suffocating kids with expectations of holiness, that ever-imposing scale of good deeds versus bad deeds on which to measure God’s favor and wrath.  When at last free of the oppressive constraints, these young adults bust out with a liberal longing for pleasure, enjoying an affirming group of friends that encourages them to stop stifling their own feelings.  So we the church ought to offer more grace, somehow imparting to the up-and-coming generations the relationship aspect of Christianity.  Like so many who have been in the church for decades, these teenagers just want to know that God is love, and He wants to be your friend, to give you your best life now. 

 

“These are the leaders of the future,” is quoted, by some with hope, by others with dark foreboding.  But our model of ministry leaves a wide gap between involvement in youth ministry and being incorporated with the rest of the congregation.  Smaller churches have no college ministry.  Even those with college ministries have merely moved the disconnect to a later date.  Those in the club of grown ups are unwilling to speak to or invest in the younger individuals – let alone take their advice – trying to move into life and faith that is overwhelming without examples.  There is truth to the protest that kids are irreverent and disrespectful and self-absorbed.  But listen to what we’re saying.  Those are the kids.  What toddler have you met who knows anything different than irreverence and selfishness?  Yet the older people attempt to train them, not fight them.  Church has failed to welcome the post-education demographic; can we be surprised they leave?

 

Yet maybe that is exactly what the young adults ought to do: leave.  An institution so divided and impotent as the evangelical church, so lacking in love or substance, is more likely to inspire bitter memories of religious hypocrisy and to shore up doubt in the power of a God mostly ignored in the actual workings of the organization.  I will say more: perhaps the adults should leave, and the young parents who feel they ought to raise their children in Sunday school should never come back.  Christians should take on the personal responsibility of living a communal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ: embracing grace as a gift both received and distributed; trust in the power and authority of the Creator God of the Resurrection; loving, serving, and discipling their fellow children of God; humbling themselves before the voice of God coming through Scripture, teachers, and youths; pursuing fellowship with God and with each other; and living out a life so different from the world that those exposed have no doubt that only the miracle of God could give such abundant life! 

 

And just maybe when we see such a symptom of desperate unwell in our churches, we should repent, falling on our faces before the Lord of Wisdom, desiring His healing and direction rather than the empty programs and various solutions proffered by man. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Marriage is like dancing with no music.  There is still an art, and still the beauty; there is also that dimension of more going on that you have in dancing.  But instead of the music being enough to give a girl an idea of where life is going, there is none; she must simply follow.  Give and take, go and come.  Trust.  Responsibility.  Cry for help.  Confidence.  Smile her delight.  Swing out, spin in.  Submit.  Dance. 
 
The hobbits watch in dreamlike fixation as a woman beautiful beyond their experience weaves her way around the table, in and out of the kitchen, gracefully dodging a man equally unique to the hobbits: big, clumpy, capering and energetic.  Styles so different, the two manage to make a fascinating dance of contrast and complement. How do they make it work?  What force prevents collision? 
 
Tom Bombadil sang about his lady when he thought no one was listening, and when he knew they were following, straining for his every word.  He praised her as beautiful and trusted her to be ready with hospitality.  Brave and free, each with few friends, the couple shared life and interests with each other.  Perhaps many nights were spent crafting a tale to spell his lady.  He gave her gifts and she did the washing.  They each remained who they had been before they met, but they sacrificed things and changed also, making a brand new life together.  When the hobbits asked Goldberry about her husband, she spoke with quiet respect, “He is the master.”  Perhaps there is no satisfying explanation of Tom Bombadil because he was a man who needed to be known rather than described.  There are no memorized steps of the dance with him.  Their house is full of the comforts of community: ready beds, generous tables, and long conversation by the fire.  Goldberry and Tom knew the value of relationship. 
 
Main characters in Lord of the Rings are unmarried.  Nine companions, the fellowship of the Ring, had the freedom to risk their lives and tramp across the world because they were not married.  A man or two was moving towards marriage, dreaming of the woman he’d left behind.  Tolkien was a real romantic, the kind who understood the pull of adventure and of chivalry, as well as of courting and of marriage.  This last is not too common in literature, that real married couples would be glimpsed in story and lifted up for their simple virtue and hard submission.  Immensely happy in marriage to Edith himself, this author did not shy away from representing marriage in his stories. 
 
Another example is found in The Fellowship of the Ring before the hobbits encounter Tom Bombadil.  Still in the Shire, they meet a hobbit couple, the honored Mrs. Maggot and her intimidating husband, Farmer Maggot.  It’s a dreadful name to inherit, let alone acquire, so Mrs. Maggot must have loved her husband, and made the most of it.  She too embodied hospitality.  Spin in.  Feeding a large working farm and family of sons and daughters, she didn’t mind at all to include three hungry strangers at her table, presenting them with heaping helpings of farm fare, mushrooms, and good homebrew.  Farmer Maggot was a good provider, a defender of his property – maybe less because of what it grew than of whom it harbored.  And when in the service of doing what was right he risked his own safety for newfound friends – this round hobbit reminiscent of the American rednecks – his wife stood at the door and cried out for her husband to be careful.  Swing out.  This isn’t just something people say.  Do you see women encouraging their husbands to do the right thing even though it is dangerous?  Do you hear people in unhappy marriages nervous about the other’s safety?  No, it comes from a heart of love, natural – yes, and common but only because the simple heart of marriage is common.  Isn’t that how it should be? 
 
There are other examples, men and women whose wedded bliss was interrupted by wars, disease, or accident.  Take Frodo’s parents.  Rumors ran wild that Drogo didn’t get along with his wife, and that she thought his girth was too large even for a hobbit.  They died together, though, out boating – and as far as the Gaffer was concerned, that was their only crime.  It left Frodo to the wildness of youth, an orphaned rascal living with an extended family too big to take good care of him and to teach him responsibility.  This again was the implication given by the sturdy gardener, who had carefully raised his own son under his eye and apprenticeship.  What an unlikely beginning for the Ringbearer, whose sense of responsibility called him into the darkness, surrendering forever the possibility of home!
 
Elrond’s marriage does not appear to have been happy.  His wife early (well, thousands of years into their relationship) grew weary of their home and left.  Why didn’t she stay for him?  Why didn’t he go with her?  Should he have gone, the Halfelven whose work was so large in preserving the Middle Earth for which his father had risked much more than happiness and comfort?  Should she have stayed, enduring without music, just for the following?
 
Many characters seem to have lost their mothers or fathers early, including Samwise, Frodo, Aragorn, Boromir & Faramir, and Eowyn & Eomer.  It was a hard time, and even marriage did not guard against sorrow and loss.  This is evidence that Tolkien’s ideal of marriage was not unrelated to the real world in which he moved.  His stories exemplify love and commitment in the midst of the hard times to which we can relate. 
 
Another splendid example of the exertions of marital love and the roles each person takes is the marriage of Earendil and Elwing.  Earendil, on behalf of his people, sought to reach the undying lands and plead for the help of the Valar.  He was lost at sea, hopeless, when his elven wife flew to him in the form of a white bird with a silmaril at her breast, and, lighting the way to Valinor, saved her husband and delivered his mission from doom.  He initiated risk, and she accepted the separation and the danger.  In this story the husband led the way on a mission to save the world (as all husbands should), and she supported him with strength of her own and encouragement.  I believe the story goes that the couple now above Middle Earth sails till time ends, in the heavens, her silmaril doomed to light the way for all men as the evening star. 
 
Many people in Tolkien’s tales are related to Luthien and Beren, who stole that silmaril from the crown of Morgoth.  Luthien was the daughter of Thingol (a high elf, one of the first to see Valinor) and Melian (a Maia).  Their marriage is another inspiration.  King Thingol loved Melian and worked his whole life to make her happy.  But he also respected his bride and took her advice.  This position Melian wielded to moderate her husband’s temper, thereby making him the best man, father, and king that he could be.  Ruling together, they preserved and protected a kingdom of peace, beauty, and, until fate started to unravel the spell of protection Melian had woven around Doriath, of justice. 
 
Thingol and Melian’s marriage is somewhat reminiscent of Celeborn and Galadriel, both strong and wise, with strong claims to the leadership of their people.  Yet they ruled peacefully side by side, together attending councils of the wise.  Again they both offer hospitality, but are cautious to protect their country against harm, for love both of land and of friends inside.  All the wives in Tolkien are beautiful, and all the husbands are valiant.  But not all the men are wise, nor are all women hospitable.  Celeborn and Galadriel represent together the best of Tolkien’s ideal.  They are happy and sad, serious and celebratory.  They are wise and strong, beautiful and kind.  People love them and follow them, not only in war, but also in peace.  Memory is important, and yet there is always curiosity to meet new things.  And so it ought to be in marriage.  Such I believe was Tolkien’s experience. 
 
My favorite marriage in Tolkien is one that hadn’t yet taken place.  Eowyn was independent; she was not free – not because she was a woman at home, but because she wanted things impossible for her to have.  Faramir pushed, and she took a small step away.  He pulled and she came close.  Before she knew what was happening, the simple steps were increasing in difficulty until she cried out, “My hand is ungentle!”  The princess grew frightened in the face of love and submission, though she had stood proud as the shieldmaiden of her king even against an enemy as terrible as the Lord of the Nazgul.  She cried out to one who seemed to know what he was doing, who was leading her into a place where she was less confident, where her only choice was to follow.  And the crying out was trust.  Her heart changed, or at last she understood it.  She chose freedom, stepped willingly away from her independence, and chose to love, like her partner, to see things grow well.  “Then I will wed with the White Lady,” he laughed.  She smiled her delight, and on the wall of the city their hands met and clasped, and they faced darkness and light together. 
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn 

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