Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Do You Have to Be Cold-Hearted to Be a Calvinist?

Do you have to be cold-hearted to be a Calvinist? Or does it just help?  To deal with this we first need to ask, What is the point of Calvinism?  As I see it, this is that though we were sinners and in rebellion against God so that we would not have come to Him if left to ourselves (Romans 3:10-12; 8:8; John 6:44), God chose to bring us to Himself (Ephesians 1:4-11; Acts 13:48; Romans 8:29,30).  The point of this is the greatness of God's grace and the realization that there is absolutely nothing we could do to contribute to our salvation.  Far from being a reason for pride, it is a reason for humility, and the description given of those He chooses is hardly a basis for boasting (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).  Therefore, it should cause us to have compassion on those still enmeshed in the darkness of sin.

But there is a danger here of making God's choosing into an abstraction totally divorced from the fact of the fall and the price of redemption and of seeing God as choosing between people as casually as a socialite chooses outfits.  We need to recognize that God is beyond our understanding (Romans 11:33; 1 Corinthians 3:18; Isaiah 55:9), and we cannot fully comprehend how God's sovereignty fits with human responsibility or  how or why God chooses.  But He did not have to save anyone, and He paid an enormous price to do it (Romans 5:6-8; 8:32; John 3:16).

Calvinism can be confused with Stoicism, which says life is tough and God made it that way because He wants us to be tough. Rather, the Christian says life is tough, so we need to realize we cannot deal with it ourselves, but must trust God.  (Note that the original Stoicism had no clear idea of a Fall, which distorted their idea of God and the world.)  Calvinism is also confused with psychological determinism, which says our behavior is completely the result of our heredity and environment. But it is one thing to say our behavior is controlled by a personal God and another to say we are merely the result of background influences.  Psychological determinism leaves us in doubt as to whether we can know anything at since all our thoughts are the result of irrational causes.  It also can leave us looking at other people as just mechanisms determined by their programming.

All these misconceptions can influence Calvinists or be read in by opponents. Also, Calvinism in our culture, and in some parts of the Christian church, carries with it a considerable stigma.  Therefore, only those who have or who develop considerable determination and strength of conviction can hold to it.  Such people may be perceived, fairly or unfairly, as cold-hearted.  Sometimes you produce what you perceive in people.  But to be kept in perspective, predestination must be considered in connection with the Fall and redemption.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Aletheia Rolls On

There was a great vehicle built by the All-Sufficient One before the dawn of time.  She had huge treads made to move mountains and strong armor to defect flaming darts, but there was no lock on the door and it opened to all who would come (though it was said you only came if driven aboard by the Breath of the All-Sufficient One).  She was painted with the colors of the rainbow, the colors of grace, and held together by the blood of the Lamb.  She was powered by the Breath of the All-Sufficient One, which was said to be one of the forms of the All-Sufficient One Himself.  She was dubbed Aletheia, though she was also know as Euangelion or Soteria. She rolled forth into the world with the full blessing and power of her Master.

While she had traveled since ancient times, she rolled out into the full light of history in obscure places.  A feeding trough for cattle, a fisherman's boat, a place of execution, and a tomb strangely missing its occupant.  When she reached public attention it was with a blaze of mighty words and mighty works, and she was immediately opposed.  Many of those on board were harassed and killed, but they lost only their physical lives and reached their destination quicker.  And Aletheia rolled on.

 Later, she became popular, and many lauded her and extolled her beauty.  Even those who would not come on board applauded her approach and cheered as she passed.  But many both on board and off fought to control her, though only her Master had access to the cockpit.  They tried to obscure her colors of grace and to use her to make profit and justify many shady schemes.  But Aletheia rolled on.

 Then came the great wars of control when many fought over who would possess her.  Those on board all huddled together in their little cliches in various parts of her passenger area.  And many built their own imitations of her and traveled off in their own directions. And many both on and off  board feared, hated, and even killed those of the other cliches.  And Aletheia rolled on.

Then came the time when many rejected her;  they hated her and avoided her and argued against her.  Those who were on board were shunned and sometimes even tortured and killed.  They were demeaned as stupid and uneducated for staying aboard such an obsolete vehicle.  Those on board responded  to the criticisms with logic and persuasion, and some were convinced to come on board, but many stayed off to follow the crowd.  Some of those on board became seriously concerned and took up clubs and fought those off board in order to protect the vehicle.  Many came back beaten and bruised, but those who did not proclaimed victory and said the safety of the vehicle was their doing.  But Aletheia rolled on.

One might almost suspect she knew where she was going.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Satan's Self Portrait

Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). Nowhere does this show up more than in how he pictures himself and his minions. Much of what people think they know about Satan and his demons comes not from Scripture but from sources like Hollywood and Medieval tradition.  One of Satan's chief ploys is, of course, to convince us he does not exist.  But the other false pictures can contribute to this by saying if we cannot believe in them, we cannot believe in him.  

One of Satan's other strategies is to portray himself as more powerful than he actually is.  This worked very effectively in the Middle Ages, producing great fear and ultimately encouraging people to lash out at those who were in some way painted as Satan's agents.  Today in many forms of media we have the demonic shown as powerful, and good as marginal and barely competent.  This need not involve direct reference to demons but to other powerful supernatural beings. It can end up making evil look empowering and liberating and good as hopeless.  If Satan can even get well-intentioned people to feel overwhelmed and helpless, he has won a victory.  But Scripture teaches he is a defeated foe (Colossians 2:15; 1 John 4:4), who should treated with caution but not cowered before (1 Peter 5:8,9; Ephesians 6:10-13).

His opposite move, though, is to picture himself in a crude, simplistic way--even a silly way. He becomes the guy in red tights with horns and a tail or the blatant huckster who forthrightly asks, "Want to sell your soul?"  If this does not get people to dismiss the whole thing as silly, it presents evil as obvious and easily avoided.  It also can cause people to see demonic forces as easily dealt with and their plans as easily foiled.  Even the common idea (which has no basis in Scripture) that Satan and his minions are currently torturing the lost in hell can make it seem he is off the scene on earth.  But Scripture pictures him as a clever schemer who can disguise himself and his followers as promoters of good (2 Corinthians 11:13-15; 2:11) and who is in control of this present world (2 Corinthians 4:4; Hebrews 2:14,15).  We need to be careful of underestimating Satan, but should trust in God's power to deal with him (James 4:7). But we also need to avoid taking Satan's pictures of himself as the truth.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christian Malpractice

There are many people in the world who are victims of Christian theological malpractice. This consists in telling people that if they come to Christ they will have no real problems and will be happy all the time.  I am not simply talking here of the health and wealth gospel, though they are the worst offenders.  There are multitudes of other approaches which, though they do not go as far, nonetheless teach that Jesus is some kind of happiness pill which, if you take, you will not feel pain anymore. And when people find out this does not really work, they write off Christianity as a piece of false advertising.  (Many times such people have never really been saved because they have never really dealt with the basic issues of sin and forgiveness.  But even if they are saved, they can end up struggling in their walk with God.) We set them up for a fall. Is this really what the Scripture teaches?

The Bible says we should expect trouble (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; 2 Corinthians 1:4-7) and opposition (2 Timothy 3:12; John 15:18-21; 16:1-4).  The Christian life is pictured as a battle (Ephesians 6:10-13; 2 Timothy 2:3.4; 1 Timothy 6:12) and an athletic contest (Hebrews 12:1-3; 1 Corinthians  9:24-27; 2 Timothy 2:5).  Now we are able to put these things in perspective because we know what our ultimate goal will be (2 Corinthians 4:17,18; Romans 8:18; Revelation 21:4) and know God is using the trials we go through to make us into the people that God wants us to be (James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-5; 8:28,29).  As Christians, we have reason to rejoice (John 15:11) in who God is (Philippians 4:4), in our hope of salvation (Romans 5:2; 12:12; Philippians 3:3), in the fact God hears our prayers (John 16:24), and even in our suffering for Christ's sake (Matthew 5:12; Acts 5:41).  But all this, as I said, is a matter of perspective.  To sell Jesus by the Madison Avenue method is to set both you and your converts up for failure.  You may show superficial success, but you will not be doing what God has genuinely called you to do. And you will be in danger of producing disciples like the seed that falls on rocky soil and sprouts up quickly but withers at the first sign of trouble (Mark 4:16,17).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Speaking in Tongues

I have called myself a charismatic who does not speak in tongues, but where then do I stand on the subject?  Scripture says not to forbid speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:39), but it also says not everyone is intended to speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 12:30).  There are incidents in Scripture where the Spirit's filling people resulted in their speaking in tongues (Acts 2:4; 10:44-47; 19:6; in 8:17-19 there was evidently some noticeable effect, though we are not told what).  In Scripture there are four instances of people parting bodies of water (Exodus 14:21; Joshua 3:15-17; 2 Kings 2:8,14).  Does this mean to truly follow God one must part a body of water?  In other cases people were filled with the Spirit, producing different effects (Acts 4:8,31;  13:9-11).  God does sometimes repeat miracles in order to make a point.  But it is a mistake to think God must always work that way. Is it wrong, then, to seek the gift of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1)?  These verses say to desire the best gifts (tongues is not high on the list; see 1 Corinthians 12:28), but the final determination is made by God (1 Corinthians 12:11, 1 Corinthians 12:15-19). We can ask, but God can say no (1 Corinthians 14:13).

It can be difficult to explain something if it is not your gift.  I have more then once told God if He wanted me to speak in tongues I was willing, but I wanted what He wanted. Every time, I felt He clapped my jaw shut.  I therefore conclude tongues is not my gift.  Holding that everyone should speak in tongues can encourage those who do not have the gift to somehow drum it up.  Based on my own gift of discernment of spirits, which is, of course, itself questionable, I am convinced that tongues today can be from divine, demonic, and human sources.  Whether you accept this or not, you need to be careful about regarding every instance of tongues as valid (1 Thessalonians 5:21,22).  But rejecting them all out of hand also does not have any basis in Scripture.  (1 Corinthians 13:8-12 clearly refers to the Second Coming.)

Scripture does give rules for speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:26-33), though there may be questions of how to apply these in various circumstances. If someone says they cannot obey the rules because they cannot help themselves, I have to question whether what they are speaking in Biblical tongues.  Those whose tongues  I have found most convincing seem to be able to control them.  Therefore, I do not buy that tongues are simply a hysterical response to pent-up emotion.  There may be cases of this, but I have known several people who can speak in tongues in a perfectly calm state of mind.  While I do not speak in tongues myself, I am not opposed to speaking in tongues.  But I think it should be carefully tested and done in a Biblical manner.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


There was a man who was on a journey from the land of Aion to New Jerusalem that he might live with the King.  As he was going on his trek he found his way to the town of Hype.  Now the town of Hype was run to assist pilgrims on their journey.  He therefore decided to stop and see if he could obtain anything helpful. As he passed through the town he saw hawkers everywhere loudly advertising their products.  Traffic was so thick he only made it down the main street of town by slowly weaving through vendors.

The first shop he stopped at was called Charisma.  It claimed to provide useful tools for the journey.  But as he entered there was a protest going on.  Some carried signs saying no one could be successful on their journey without certain tools.  Others were saying those same tools were fraudulent and should not be sought after.  But curiously enough, the traveler found a package of tools with his name on it selected by the King for him.  He picked up this package and went on.

Next he came to the shop of Proskunema which offered merchandise meant to honor the King.  But as he looked around he saw this was not one shop but many, all offering different types of wares, though there were a few basic types.  Some offered venerable and ornate items with deep historical significance. Others were boisterous and frenetic and favored loud celebration. And some were austere and restrained, avoiding any ostentation or excesses.  Also, while some items honored the King, many exalted the sellers or their experiences or the groups they belonged to.  Even the items the King mandated, the sign of water and the sign of bread and wine, came in a perplexing variety of forms.  The traveler took a simple form of the required signs and such other things as he felt honored the King and moved on.

The next shop, Logos, offered maps for the journey.  There were maps in older or more modern language, many with interpretative helps. There was also a variety of other aids to interpretation, ranging from brief condensations stating people's position on the contents of the map to detailed scholarly treatises to simplified popular books. There were also here many protesters arguing for their version of the map or their compilation of its contents.  The traveler picked up a version of the map and, not being so conceited as to despise wise counsel, chose carefully some aids to interpretation.

With persistence he made it to the other end of town, avoiding the multitude offering him quack remedies or quick fixes to help him on his journey.  As he left Hype behind he noticed the number of pilgrims on the road had thinned out, as many had stayed behind to sell their wares or to protest.  But the traveler let out a sigh of relief as he saw Hype vanish behind a hill.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Confusion on Confrontation

I have seen many cases of Christians trying to correct one another.  And it seems to miscarry as often as not. How do we correct a fellow believer? 

The fundamental issue is that our goal should be that of correction and reconciliation; we are to win our brother, not drive them away (Matthew 18:15; Galatians 6:1; Hebrews 12:12,13).  We need to start with direct personal confrontation (Matthew 18:15).  This does not mean to tell someone else or to try to get someone else to talk to them, but to go to them yourself.  There is a reason for this. The goal is to restore the person (the word in Galatians 6:1 is used of setting a broken bone or mending a fishing net) and to restore the relationship.  This may not be possible without explaining where you are coming from and perhaps instructing them in the issues.  You also need to hear their defense; even if you cannot agree with it, you need to show them you have heard it.  Also, if there is reconciliation they need to know you are reconciled and are not still angry with them behind their backs.  None of this can be done through a third party.  Now I do believe there is a place for invoking love covering a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).  But if it is serious enough that it must be dealt with, it should be dealt with properly.

Also, it may be necessary to bring in witnesses, either to attest to their lack of repentance (Matthew 18:16) or to establish the fact of their actions (1 Timothy 5:19).  Now these witnesses need to be two or three (Numbers 35:30) and to be open and public witnesses who can testify to the actual facts of the case.  In the Old Testament the witnesses were to cast the first stones (Deuteronomy 17:7) and, if false, were liable to the punishment they tried to get imposed on the accused (Deuteronomy 19:15-19).  No anonymous or second-hand witnesses should be accepted.

But everything must be done with gentleness (Galatians 6:1; Hebrews 12:12,13).  This does not mean we should ignore or minimize sin (1 Corinthians 5:1,2; 2 Thessalonians 3:6), but we must attempt to turn the sinner back to the right way.  Even if the church is required to take the final step and exercise discipline (Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5:3-8), it should be done lovingly, with the hope for restoration (2 Thessalonians 3:14,15; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11).  Confronting sin is a difficult task.  It should not be undertaken lightly, but it is also dangerous to ignore, if it is necessary.  We need to trust God to lead us in the right way to handle these situations. We also need to look to ourselves, that we are not drawn down into the errors of the people we are correcting (Galatians 6:1, Jude 22,23). But we must be careful to approach the situation in a Biblical manner if we hope to genuinely restore people.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Do You Have to Be Crazy to Be a Charismatic?

Do you have to be crazy to be a charismatic? Or does it just help?  Let's look at the issues involved.

The idea that certain spiritual gifts have passed away has no solid basis in Scripture, and we are told not to forbid people to speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:39). (I know it is claimed that modern tongues are not real tongues,  but would God command not to forbid something that is about to pass away?)  Now there are rules laid down for the use of the gifts (1 Corinthians 14:26-40).  However, the description given is fairly informal. We are instructed not to all talk at once and not to do things, such as speaking in tongues without an interpreter, which are not understandable.  But we need to be careful of  looking down on something because it is not dignified enough (2 Samuel 6:20-23).  Also, the fact a gift is misused does not mean it is not legitimate. 1 Corinthians 12-14 was written to check the misuse of spiritual gifts. (Note that Paul was not shy, and if the gifts being used were largely counterfeit, we would expect him to say so.)

There is an emotional aspect to our response to God's truth.  We are to rejoice (Philippians 4:4), we are to have peace (John 14:27); even faith, hope, and love have emotional components (1 Corinthians 13:13).  But what is appropriate and what is overboard?  Now I am hesitant to criticize other people's spiritual experiences, if they do not result in false teaching or disobedience to God's commands.  But it is when people pursue experience rather then pursuing God and hold up their experience as necessary for everyone that it creates problems.

Scripture speaks of people being overwhelmed by the greatness of God (Daniel 10:8-12; Acts 9:3-9; Isaiah 6:1-5).  I myself have felt the Spirit fall so powerfully I felt like I had been hit by a truck.  But I have never fallen over backwards nor felt that God wanted me to.  I do not feel I can discount this in all cases as a genuine spiritual experience, but I see no Scriptural basis for requiring it.  I have known cases where God's truth has come home to me in such a powerful way I ended up crying or laughing .  I am not at all sure this is the same as "holy laughter".  As for "holy drunkenness," I do not think this is what Acts 2:13 means.  Further, regarding rolling in the aisles, barking like a dog, or roaring like a lion, I do not see a Scriptural or rational basis for these.

But the basic problem is that certain spiritual gifts and emotional experiences are seen as showing a higher level of spiritual life in those who have them.  This is contrary to Scripture (1 Corinthians 13:1-3; 12:28-30; Romans 12:3), which says God is at work in all His people to accomplish His purposes (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 2:10).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Knowing God

What does it mean to know God? What does it mean to know any person?  I like to think I know my wife. Now you could know a considerable amount about her by launching an FBI investigation and finding out facts about her.  But you would not know my wife.  On the other hand, if you asked me questions about my wife and I could not answer any of them, you would wonder if I really knew my wife.  It is not enough just to know the facts about God; the demons do that (James 2:19).  But we cannot really know God without knowing about God (Jeremiah 9:23,24).  Knowing God, therefore, refers to knowledge gained in relationship.  Now the only way to genuinely know God is to come through Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:8-11), who paid the price for our sins (1 Peter 2:24,25) and offers salvation based on faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8,9).  But we are called from there to increase in the knowledge of Him (Colossians 1:10). This involves an increase in the factual knowledge of God in the context of relationship and leads to, not just knowledge, but obedience (1 John 4:6,7).  It is this kind of knowledge, both factual and experiential, that we are to grow in.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


What is a witch? Are we to accept the idea of an old crone with a broomstick and a black cat familiar? Or should we look at a follower of the modern practice of Wicca? What does the Bible mean by a witch?

There are various things addressed in Scripture that fall into this category. There is the practice of divination, attempting to determine the future by various means (Acts 16:16-19; Ezekiel 21:21-23), of casting spells (Acts 19:19; Isaiah 47:8-15), of performing wonders by one's own power (Exodus 7:11; Acts 8:9-11), or of being involved in communicating with the dead (1 Samuel 28:3-25; Isaiah 8:19). The underlying principle is the serious practice of magic (as opposed to the stage magician).

Scripturally, God is the only legitimate source of supernatural help. And He cannot be manipulated, only asked. From the Christian viewpoint the main issue is not good intentions versus bad intentions (white versus black magic), but taking to ourselves a power that belongs solely to God. Nor is the issue explicitly worshiping Satan. While I am sure Satan is flattered to be directly worshiped, in the final analysis he does not care who you worship so long as it is not God. While much of it is charlatanism, I do believe Satan and his minions can supply the supernatural power behind serious magic. (Acts 16:16-19 suggests this.) But this is not dependent on the practitioner's consciously following Satan. I know in my youth I dabbled in such things, and it at least seemed to work for me, though only on a small scale. But whether or not it works, it is wrong.

How, then, is the Christian respond to such things? First, we should avoid the use of all such things. I have known Christians to make excuses for such practices. It is also possible to approach spiritual gifts from an attitude of witchcraft, where we start to see them as our personal power rather then depending on God. But we can also become unnecessarily paranoid of witchcraft and everything associated with it. We need to remember that God is victorious over Satan and can protect us (1 John 4:4; Colossians 2:15). Therefore, we should avoid panicking at every mention of witchcraft or reading it in when it is not there. Witchcraft is wrong, but it is no more wrong than many other things our society takes for granted. We should not condone it, but we should face it boldly through faith in Christ.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Using the Right Bait

Does whether or not people come to Christ depend entirely on our methods? And if we could just get it right, would nearly everyone believe? I think most Christians would find these statements extreme. Yet it is easy to fall into this mindset. We can think if we just approach things the right way, it would open the floodgates to people becoming Christians. But the Scripture says no one comes to God unless God draws them (John 6:44) and God chooses who will come to Him (Ephesians 1:4). Now I am not saying we must not use diligence in our approach to reaching people for Christ (2 Timothy 2:24-26; Colossians 4:4-6; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Much less am I denying the obligation to proclaim the truth of the gospel (1 Peter 3:15; Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 10:14,15). But there can often be a thin line between persuasion and manipulation (1 Thessalonians 2:3-5). This is important because if only the way a person can truly come to Christ is through the power of God, then manipulation can only produce false converts (Matthew 7:21-23). So when we start to trust in our methods rather than the power of God, we end up sabotaging our efforts to genuinely bring people to Christ (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Victory Parade

Scripture speaks of our being always led in the triumph in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 2:14). There is an aspect of this that it is easy to miss, given just the English translation. The word "triumph" is a reference to a specific Roman custom. When a Roman general won a great victory he was awarded a triumph. This was a procession through Rome followed by his soldiers. With him would be the best of the spoil and the most illustrious of his prisoners. He and his soldiers, who would be amply rewarded from the spoil, would be admired and cheered by the crowd as they marched through the city. In the same way, Christ has already conquered sin and death (John 16:33; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57), and we who have faith in Christ are victorious with Him (1 John 5:4). He has overcome and disarmed His enemies, leading them in the triumph (Colossians 2:15), and provides gifts to His followers (Ephesians 4:7,8). Therefore, we are already in the victory parade.

Why, then, does it sometimes not feel and look like this to us? I would submit that while we are overwhelming conquerors (Romans 8:35-37), this is from God's perspective and is in spite of the various trials mentioned in the passage. God causes all things to work together for good (Romans 8:28), but we often do not see them doing so at the present time. Nonetheless, we can trust God that, though we may not see it, we are victorious. And we should live our lives in view of the fact we have already won and are in the victory parade.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Smoke and Mirrors

Scripture calls Christians to live in unity (Philippians 2:1,2) and to love one another (John 13:34,35). Yet it is not uncommon to have disagreements within congregations that lead to splits or individuals leaving or just constant struggles. Now there are cases where the issues involved are real issues of doctrinal teaching or of violations of Christian moral standards. We need to deal with these. But the majority of the time we are not faced with such a clear-cut issues.

Based on my experience I would like to make a few observations about these types of situations. There is a method that Satan and his minions use which I will call "smoke and mirrors." While I have seen this at work a number of times, I need to limit my examples to protect privacy. When I was going to seminary, my wife and I had a series of problems. As we worked it through, we found that while we did have some disagreements of substance, much of the problem was really over the meaning of words. For example, I would say something and she would take it in a different way and we would end up disagreeing over it. Also, I once had to resign from the worship team over being "too charismatic." There may have been some real issues involved, but I suspect that much of the issue was over the connotations of the phrase "too charismatic." And the ironic thing is I doubt if anyone involved could have given a clear definition of what that meant.

How then do we avoid this type of thing? It helps to realize that such problems exist, that we are sinful people (1 John 1:8-10) in an imperfect world and it effects our judgment. It also helps to remember that other Christians are imperfect and won't always meet our expectations. And ultimately, we must not be concerned just with our own interests but consider the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-11). This is complicated by the fact we can sometimes confuse our interests with something that looks noble (my ministry, the fate of my church) and act on them under this disguise. Now I am not here trying to excuse clear-cut doctrinal or moral error. But I am suggesting that on the margins there is considerable room for misunderstanding.

It does not help that the present divided state of the church aids this. I can say, "If this church does not do what I want, I will look for another one." And churches can take the attitude, "If someone does not like it here, they can go somewhere else." Now sometimes there are difficult choices that have to be made. But I cannot help thinking things would be better if people had the commitment to at least try to work things out. And they would be less likely to be taken in by smoke and mirrors.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Confessions of a Point Man

I used to say there were two sacrifices I made for my church. I did not play on the softball team and did not sing on the worship team. This is a story of how I did one of those things. It is not, however, a nice simple story of how I did something I thought I could not do and succeeded. It is much more convoluted than that.

My main reason for not wanting to be on the worship team is I cannot sing. Now I have found if I sing softly, I can blend in enough that hopefully no one will notice, but this hardly seems a good reason to do it up front. I do, however, have a fairly expressive worship style. (I have been told by people from a charismatic perspective that they envied my freedom of worship.) It began when the pastor said he did not want people on the worship team who could sing well, but who could worship. And I felt a nudge in the back of my mind, saying, "You can worship." Now I resisted, thinking this was a crazy idea. But it would not go away, and things I thought were conflicts vanished, so I gave in and volunteered to go on the worship team.

Strangely enough, I found people responded favorably to what I was doing. There were even those who came up afterward to thank me for it. I also seemed to be encouraging people with charismatic tendencies to be more willing to express themselves that way. I do not think it would have gone very far, maybe more people lifting up hands than had done so before, but it was a definite difference.

Things seemed to be going well until some people began complaining I was "too charismatic". (I was never able to determine exactly what this meant; the closest I came to defining the problem was "kneeling and dancing".) But if I was encouraging people to be charismatic and the leadership did not want to go there, we had a problem. Therefore, after failing to resolve the problem, I followed the leading of God and resigned from the worship team.

Now I do believe God led me onto the worship team. (It was certainly contrary to my normal way of thinking.) But I am convinced that I was led to do what I did in order to point out the potential conflict in the congregation over things charismatic before it came to a head in a more destructive way. I was the point man. In the military, the point man is the one who goes out in front of the column to act as lookout. He is also the one most likely to get shot. If I can draw a moral from this, it is that God's will is not always simple and straightforward and does not always work out as we want it to. But we must trust Him in spite of that.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Leap of Faith?

What is faith? It is one of the most variously defined words in the world. In fact, there are so many different versions of what it is that it is clear if one is correct, many others are not. More importantly, what is the Scriptural definition? First and foremost, faith is faith in God (Hebrews 11:6) and not other things (Psalms 20:7; Isaiah 42:17). Also, faith is not against reason (Scripture gives reasons to believe; see 1 Corinthians 15:1-11), but against sight (2 Corinthians 5:7, Hebrews 1:1). We need to have faith to believe God's promises even if we do not currently possess them (Romans 4:18-21). Faith is therefore not faith in faith or a leap of faith into darkness, but reliance on God, whose truth we know.

We are also promised great things through faith the size of a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20), which is a seed known for its smallness. Now certainly, the presence of faith is relevant (Matthew 13:58), but the chief word for doubting in the New Testament is a strong word "to waver". It pictures someone actually fluctuating back and forth between two opinions (James 1:6-8), not someone who has an occasional doubt pass through their head. One example of God's graciousness, even when our faith is imperfect, is Acts 12:1-19. Herod Antipas puts to death James the son of Zebedee and throws Peter into prison. The church calls together a prayer meeting to petition God for Peter's release. So God sends an angel, who rescues Peter from prison. Then Peter goes to the house where they are praying for his freedom and knocks on the door. And when the maid runs into the gathering and tells them Peter is at the door, they do not believe her. It is only when Peter, after much knocking, is let in that they recognize it is really him. I am convinced God often does things for us in spite of our imperfect faith.

I am therefore convinced that faith is not a mental exercise; it is not a state of mind we work up; it is not an indefinable experience that flies in the face of reason. It is, rather, our imperfect reliance on the promises of God, even though we do not see them now. And if we have even a spark of a real faith, God will meet us there.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Diagnosing Demonic Involvement

How can we decide if there is demonic involvement in a particular situation? Some would attribute every illness and sin to demonic influence. But Scripture lists demonic involvement as only one of the things Jesus dealt with (Matthew 4:24) and gives the primary source of sin as our own desires (James 1:14,15) Others would minimize or deny it, particularly in the life of a believer. (This largely comes from the King James use of the word "possession," which has no basis in the Greek.) There is also the spiritual gift of discernment of spirits, which I believe still exists today and I claim to possess. But the problem with this gift is you need to start by deciding if the gift involved is real. I know of an individual who once thought they had the gift and later decided it was spurious. What is the correct approach?

There are lists of signs of demonic involvement. But while some items come from Scripture, most come from experience, tradition, or even Hollywood. While Scripture mentions blatantly supernatural cases (Mark 5:2-20) (and these may sometimes be faked), often the symptoms are those of normal illness (Matthew 12:22). The fact that Scripture does not give a list suggests that knowing the source of the problem may not always be necessary. We need to pray for our and other's problems no matter what source they come from (Ephesians 6:18). It is also important to have other people pray for you (James 5:14-18). If there is something that suggests there might be demonic activity, it is worthwhile to direct your prayers against such activity.

I remember a sin in my life that I could not get the victory over. I asked someone to pray for me specifically against demonic involvement. I really was not expecting much, but I thought I would try one more approach. He had trouble praying and could not get his thoughts together. I had a huge feeling of weakness come over me and could not stay standing and fell down to my knees. It did not immediately solve all my sin problem. But it was the first step to turning the situation around. I remember another case where I was driving to help out in a particular situation and I could not find the house. I stopped driving to look at the map and could not read the map; it was blurred (this was totally abnormal for the state of my vision at the time). I immediately became suspicious and prayed God would lead me to the house. My vision cleared, I read the map and drove directly there. Every case needs to be dealt with based on the factors involved. Nor should we neglect to make use of appropriate medical assistance if the problem persists. But since Scripture does not give a formula for dealing with these situations, they should be approached carefully, with prayer and trust in God.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

God's Leading

Does God guide us, or are we left to our own wisdom? And how do we recognize God's leading? Now God is in control of all things (Ephesians 1:11) and causes all things to work together for good to those who are called by Him (Romans 8:28). He has prepared certain good works beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10), and the Spirit's leading is based on our being sons of God (Romans 8:14). I would therefore conclude that God guides every genuine child of God. This is a fact and is not dependent on my feelings or on my figuring it out. Nor does the fact God leads us mean it will always be easy, but it does mean He will go through troubles with us (John 16:33)

Now sometimes God allows us to feel that He is leading us, but knowing His leading is not just based on our feelings. On the contrary, while I believe God can use our careful weighing of the facts or circumstances or feelings to lead us where He wants us to go, I do not believe we should trust in any of these. Nor do I believe we should direct our lives based purely on what makes sense to us from a human point of view. Rather, we should trust in God that He will direct us to where we should be. And in any situation we must prayerfully ask whether something is indeed God guiding us or our imagination. But we need to do so with the confidence that God is in control of our life and will direct us where we need to be. I remember walking into a church for the first Sunday and hearing the pastor say that he was not going to be in charge of the Sunday School and maybe someone who just walked in the door was the person for the job. I felt like God tapped me on the shoulder and told me I was the one. As it turned out, I was. But I still approached the situation with caution and let God bring everything together, rather than jumping in too quickly based on my feeling. But it did direct me.

Now I want to make it clear that the main thing is obedience to God's revealed will (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Though even when we do disobey He can arrange things, like He did for Jonah, to bring us back to the right path (see the book of Jonah). But my concern is for those who honestly want to obey God but are afraid if they do not have the right feeling or use the right method they will miss God's direction in their lives. Or they may come to trust in their feelings or the method rather than God. For I am convinced the reason God does not give us a formula to determine His leading is we must not come to trust the formula rather than Him.

Monday, August 30, 2010

If the Center Holds

I remember being involved in a church that was going through a wringer. It had had problems before I got there, including the exodus of a large part of the congregation. Soon after I got there the pastor, who was burnt out by previous problems, left, and a certain part of the congregation left with him. We got a new pastor, but many of the officeholders of the church dropped out, either entirely from the congregation or from the carrying out of their office (some later came back; others did not). At one point the active leadership in the congregation seemed to consist in the pastor and five other people, and one of them kept explaining how their family was soon going to move out of town. Things came back together, but we kept having periodic minor conflicts, losing a family here and a family there.

One day I was praying through the sanctuary during a time it was empty. And the thing God impressed on me was, "If the center holds, you will make it through." (I know this ultimately comes from a pagan source, but when God brings things to my mind He normally uses the baggage that is there.) I took this as meaning that if the core of the church would stick together, we as a church would make it through.

Later, I was in a different congregation that appeared to be doing well. I knew there were potential problems, but I thought we could avoid them. Then one day when I was walking through the sanctuary, I felt the familiar nudge, "If the center holds, you will make it through." And I asked myself, Are we in that much trouble? Not long afterward we were involved in a major conflict, resulting in the loss of about half the congregation. Later, the pastor was promoted to a position in the denomination, and the new pastor had to deal with a series of problems and aftershocks. But we stuck together and made it through.

I do not want condemn people who switch churches. I have switched churches myself for various reasons on more than one occasion. But I think there is too much tendency to desert simply because things get difficult. Now there are things worth splitting a church over, and there may be individual congregations where it is just as well if they close their doors. But I do believe the Biblical exhortations to unity imply we need to stick together and work out our problems, where possible, rather than leaving at the first hint of trouble (Philippians 2:1,2; Ephesians 4:1-6; Colossians 3:12-15). One of the great innovations in ancient warfare was the shield wall. Instead of each warrior fighting for himself, they made a row of interlocking shields so they protected their neighbor's flank. We Christians need to do this for each other. Perhaps then more ministries would make it through, rather than collapse.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Trust in Horsemen and Chariots

It seemed the reasonable thing to do. The Israelites were faced with the Assyrians, the chief superpower of the day. It made sense to ally with the Egyptians and trust them to supply the military resources needed to fight the Assyrians. But God rebuked them from trusting in the resources of the Egyptians rather than trusting in Him (Isaiah 31:1-9). What are we trusting in? Our great programs, our organizational ability, our clever advertising? Francis Schaeffer once asked the question, If God were to come and remove from our Bibles every reference to the Holy Spirit and prayer, how would our life be different? Would this make a difference, or would we just go on living the way we did before because we never really put much stock in these things anyway. Sometimes I wonder if we have not followed the rest of our culture in totally discounting the supernatural, if not in principle, at least in practice.

Psalms 46:10 has been used to suggest that we should stop in the middle of our daily pursuit and recognize God is God. This is a good application, but it does not really fit the context. Rather, we are told that when the world is falling apart around us, we need to realize God is God (Psalms 46:1-3). We have no idea of the historical context of this psalm. But the picture I get is of the king of Judah running up and down upon the ramparts of the city, making sure his archers are ready here and the gates are secure there. Then there comes in the midst of His hurry the divine interruption, "Stop and know that I am God." Do we really believe that God is God? Do we live like it? Or would we rather trust in horsemen and chariots.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

What Does "Nothing" Mean to You?

How do we understand it when Christ says that apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5)? I once had an experience that helped me understand this.

I was involved in a discussion with the elders about whether some of the things I had done on the worship team were too charismatic. It had not gone as I wanted it to go. They encouraged me to continue on the worship team, but within certain boundaries. Now I did not regard the boundaries themselves to be that big a problem. But I was concerned that the issue would be divisive in the congregation, which had various opinions on charismatic issues. However, I enjoyed being on the worship team. So I convinced myself that the discussion was not over and I could still manage to convince the elders to see my point of view. The bottom line is I am stubborn and sometimes God has to do something to get my attention.

Often on the worship team I would feel the power of God flowing through me. That morning what I felt was God slowly pulling His power out. It was like God was giving me just enough for that morning . At the end of the service I felt like a dead battery, sucked dry of its last reserve of current. I had never felt a more desolate feeling in my life. I do not believe God personally ever left me, but any feeling of His power working through me was gone. I do not know if this is how King Saul felt, but if it was and it was permanent, I am not surprised he went crazy, even ignoring the help of a demon (see 1 Samuel 16). One of the elders, a very sensible man, when I said I was considering resigning from the worship team, suggested I wait a few weeks and see if I still felt that way. But there was no way I was going back up on that platform. Not without His power. Now do not get me wrong; I am sure if I gritted my teeth I could have physically walked up on the platform. But I do not know and do not want to know what the results would have looked like.

I am convinced the presence of the Holy Spirit is always with the genuine believer in Christ (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 6:19) and is at work in them to transform them into who God wants them to be (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13). But He also gives power to meet specific situations (Acts 4:23-31; 13:9-12). Now you cannot prove doctrine from personal experience, but I feel mine does illustrate the fact that apart from Him we really can do nothing. And while my feeling that God is working through me has returned since I resigned, this puts in perspective the times I simply feel dry and am not aware of God working through me as strongly as normally.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

I Cannot Take It Any More.

"I just can't take this any more." Have you ever told God that? And has it ever not gone away? I have been there, and God has brought me through. But He did not take the problem away. Romans 8:28 unfortunately has become a cliche. Something that rolls off the tongue of those who do not want to take the time to care. But it holds an important truth: that while God is in control of our lives, His goal is not to make us happy but to conform us to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29,30).

Now pressing this home to a person undergoing great suffering may not be the best strategy. (I know you are miserable now, but just think of how much better a person this is going to make you.) But on sober reflection, this is a helpful perspective. If we see the basic focus of our life as us and God as someone who is there to make us happy, every problem and setback seems enormous. But if we understand that we belong to Another (1 Corinthians 6:20; 2 Timothy 2:3,4) and our job is to carry out His purposes in this world (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:4-6), then we will look at our difficulties with a different set of eyes. This will not take the pain away when we are in a position where we feel we cannot take it anymore. But in the long run it will help us see our troubles as part of the plan of the One who controls all things (Ephesians 1:11).

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Meeting in a Park

Is the supernatural still to be found today? Is it something that vanished centuries ago? Or is it sometimes around the next corner?

I was once involved in a ministry of handing out soup to the homeless at a certain local park they were known to frequent. A friend and I met a man there. He came up and shook our hands, and I felt a creepy feeling, like I was encountering something not quite human. This individual asked for prayer, and he and my friend walked a distance away to pray in private. I could not hear what was being said except for one word "Satan." (I was not even sure which one of the two had said it.) All of sudden I felt as if a bomb had gone off in the spiritual realm, and I prayed against it. My friend came back and said he was not sure if what he had just encountered was a manifestation (a demon speaking through a demonically influenced person) or not, though it had the appearance of one. My response was I certainly felt something.

Can something like this be real, or must it be simply a figment of my imagination? Can such things happen, and can they happen today? Scripture speaks of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Now it is claimed that a certain portion of these gifts have passed away. But the Scriptures used to support this really do not stand up to examination. (The most commonly used passage, 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, in context would say exactly the opposite). Now it does say that not every person has every spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:27-30). But that is not the same as saying some set of gifts is no longer given. Note I am not claiming full-blown inspired revelation (on a par with Scripture), but simply because something does not fall under that category does not mean it is not real. There are various gifts commonly seen as among the questionable gifts (such as, for example, discerning of spirits) that need not involve a Scriptural level of revelation. Scripture does call us to test everything and use caution (1 Thessalonians 5:21). But is there a basis for dismissing them entirely?