Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Long Haul

Sometimes it is easy to base our lives around one great spiritual experience in the past. I do not want to minimize such experiences. God told the Israelites to remember what He had done for them, whether it was the deliverance from Egypt (Deuteronomy 7:18,19) or the splitting of the Jordan (Joshua 4:6,7). But it is possible for us to hold on to past victories and not go on with God. God is in the process of transforming us into the people He wants us to be (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:13). This is pictured as an ongoing growth process (Philippians 3:12-16; Hebrews 12:1,2; Colossians 2:19), which involves a continuous effort to advance in the things of God (1 Timothy 4:7-10; Hebrews 5:11-14; Romans 12:1,2). Not that we can do anything without the Spirit of God working in us (John 15:5; Romans 7:18; 8:8), but He calls us to be involved in working this out in our lives day by day (Titus 2:11-14; Colossians 1:28,29; Galatians 5:16). And not to just rest on past experiences.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Open Door

One of the common ways to try to determine God's will is to look for open doors. There is a danger in this. It can lead us to do only what we regard as reasonable and sensible (Proverbs 3:5,6). Scripture mentions the fact of open doors (1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12) and calls for prayer for open doors (Colossians 4:3), but nowhere does it make these the chief criteria for determining God's will. Now God does use circumstances to direct us. Take, for example, the story of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). He was reading Isaiah 53 when a man mysteriously came up to him and used the passage to preach to him Jesus. However, for this to happen Philip had to leave an open door in Samaria to follow God's leading to go out into the desert. Sometimes it is not God's will for us to do what makes sense to us.

I remember cases in my own life when God caused circumstances to come together to make a point. When I had first come back to following God, I was considering chickening out and not going to a meeting I had been invited to because I felt if I was a Christian I would never have any fun. I was sitting eating in the cafeteria by my college dorm when a group of people I did not know sat down at my table. They were laughing and joking and having a good time, when I noticed one of them was wearing a large cross. I thought it was probably just a piece of jewelry, but I was encouraged to go to the meeting anyway. After the meeting the same group of people came up and said that they should have said something when they sat down at my table. I have had other such experiences, but I have also had cases where nothing seemed to come together and I had no idea where God was leading me. Circumstances are relevant, but they should not be made the final judge for determining God's will.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Is God Behind Catastrophes

Is God really in control of all things, including catastrophes, especially natural catastrophes, or does He simply stand by as they occur? This idea of a limited God has an attraction to some people. It is not God's fault after all; He could not help it. But a helpless God is not only not in control of everything (Ephesians 1:11; Psalms 115:3; Isaiah 45:7), but cannot work all things together for good (Romans 8:28; Genesis 50:20; Ephesians 2:10) or accomplish His purpose in the world (Isaiah 46:10; 43:13; Acts 2:23). Now this is not simply an issue between Calvinists and Arminians. Many Arminians would affirm that while God is allows for individual choice, He is still in control of the broad course of history (how this works is not clear to me, but I would rather have them affirm this than deny God's control of history entirely). If we take this limited view, however, we end up with a God who is not really God.

The Scriptural answer is that we live in a fallen world that is under the judgment of God (Romans 8:18-23; Revelation 21:1-5; Genesis 3:16-19). Now this does not mean that those who suffer calamity are greater sinners then those who do not (John 9:1-3); we are to realize that we are just as worthy of judgment as they are (Luke 13:1-5). We are all sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9), worthy of God's wrath (Romans 1:18; Ephesians 2:1-3; Revelation 20:11-15). But God is gracious, bestowing on us good things in spite of our rebellion against Him (Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17; James 1:17) that we might be brought to repentance (Romans 2:4). But nonetheless, in a fallen world there will be exhibitions of God's judgment of sin. Now this does not negate the need to have compassion on those who are suffering. God calls us to consider the poor and afflicted (Psalms 12:5; Luke 1:51-53; James 5:1-6) and has acted to save us while we were His enemies (Romans 5:6-8; Colossians 2:13,14; 1 Peter 2:24,25). So I do not want in any way to advocate indifference to the pain of those who are suffering. But we should not ascribe helplessness to God.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What's the Word?

The Bible does not say much of the spiritual gifts of the word of knowledge and the word of wisdom. In fact, all we have is their names in a list (1 Corinthians 12:8). What are these gifts about? (I am going to deal specifically with the word of knowledge, as it is the one I am most familiar with, but I suspect the word of wisdom works the same way.)

The traditional charismatic approach is to see this gift as God's dropping statements into our minds without any previous basis for such knowledge. I have no problem in principle with this; I have had it happen to me on occasion. (There are limitations of privacy that prevent me from describing the circumstances.) Others, trying to avoid a blatantly miraculous understanding of the gift, have seen it as a gift of working with knowledge.This would be the type of gift you might find, for instance, in a seminary professor . I do not violently object to this either. After all, seminary professors need gifts too. Might I suggest something in the middle that perhaps would incorporate the extremes? Could the idea be that God leads you to the knowledge He wants you to have? It could mean the knowledge coming totally out of nowhere. But it could also mean  picking up just the right book or just the right article to answer something you needed to know, even if it was not what you went to the book or article for. Or God's bringing to mind the right thing to say at the right time. Now it should be noted that some knowledge is valuable even if you do not know where it comes from, while other knowledge is only useful if you know the source. I realize this is highly conjectural, but it seems to fit with my experience and the substance of the text.

Now the one thing it clearly does not mean is that we can trust every impulse or thought that runs through our mind as being from God. We are commanded to test all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21).Nor should the word of knowledge be equated with full, inspired revelation; it is in the same verse as prophecy, and why would there be three different terms for the same thing? It also clearly does not mean a person will know everything they want to know. Even full-blown prophets are sometimes not told everything (2 Kings 4:27). But I do find this approach helpful in understanding these two gifts.