Friday, October 31, 2014

Oddest Rebuke in the History of Mankind

I have made it to the end of the book of Job. As most of you know, the book ends with the Lord rebuking Job for four chapters.

As I was reading Job truly to figure out what Job was being rebuked for, I was paying rather close attention to what the Lord said, so that I could determine whether my prior guesses were correct.

But the rebuke doesn't like a typical rebuke. Outside of maybe Job 40:2, the Lord says absolutely nothing of what Job's sins are, and what Job has done that has engendered this rebuke. Instead God spent His time explaining His transcendent power and majesty.

Naturally, this rebukes produces very much of the desired effect (how could God fail in His efforts?). In Job 42:5-6, Job responds,

"I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes."

And there you have it - repentance comes as the result of the Lord's rebuke. Repentance comes because of a further knowledge of who God is. I don't believe it is too much of a stretch to say that ultimately all true repentance will come from a greater knowledge of who God is.

Perhaps if we want to live a life of godliness, we ought to start by gaining a greater knowledge of who God is. And we also ought to continue by gaining a greater knowledge of who God is, and you know what? We ought to end by gaining a greater knowledge of who God is.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Whatever Happened to Ukraine?

Let's face it. The world is a huge place and a significant amount of importance happens every single day. There is no way that a news source will cover everything that happens throughout the entire world.

That's all commonplace, but I think we all tend to think a little warped about the effect that this actually has on the news. 

Because here's the thing. We tend to believe that an event simply has resolved itself to a new equilibrium if the news stops reporting on the unrest in the area. For instance, there was a ceasefire agreement in the conflict of Ukraine and Russia, but we heard reports early on that tension still remained and that the ceasefire was extremely fragile. 

Then the IS story was stressed in the news because it's kinda a big deal, so we stopped hearing about the conflict along the border of Ukraine. As we stopped hearing about it, we obviously stopped thinking about it entirely, and may even believe that it has simply stopped being an issue. 

I have posted in the past about keeping up with secondary sources to discover the truth about the news stories that are being presented, but what about doing research on issues that were in the news, but now are no longer? Do we continue to follow them to the full resolution? Or do we just let the news tell us that this other story is more important because it is more immediately dangerous and we all know danger sells? 

Yeah, so I don't think that's a good idea. I don't think we should let the news determine what we are interested in from current events around the globe. Unfortunately, we can't know everything about every culture in the world, but we should ensure that our extensive knowledge is not dictated by the coverage news sources provides.

If you were interested in the Ukraine crisis and the plight of those people when the news was covering it, you should still be interested in it now, and be looking to see what is happening as that progresses. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God, but...

Many are familiar with the text we have for today. It is the time in which Peter confesses that Jesus if the Christ.

I have decided to look at Matthew 16 because that's where the events of the story became sensitive to my life (because Matthew is the book I'm reading through for my Spiritual Formations class). The events unfolded more specifically in verses 13-18
"When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

It is hard not to admit that Peter has made an excellent proclamation here. Obviously, Peter is correct when he asserts that Jesus is the Son of God. It is clear that Peter isn't just saying this, but actively believes it, as Jesus validates what Peter has said by explaining that it was revealed to him by God.

So we must understand as we follow this passage onward that Peter truly holds to the correct belief that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Thus, it seems odd that immediately after these events, Matthew tells us (as does Mark), that Peter rebukes Jesus for explaining that He must die for salvation to occur before all men. In verses 21-23,
"From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men."

It seems that while Peter knows who Jesus is, he hasn't quite acknowledged the importance of that fact. While Peter knows that Jesus has ultimate authority on earth, he somehow still thinks he knows enough to be able to rebuke the Son of the living God.

I wouldn't be too quick to judge here; after all, God had revealed to Peter who Jesus is. I also wouldn't be too quick to judge Peter here because I think I struggle with much of the same tendency. I know who Christ is, but I don't seem to acknowledge the importance of the fact.

 I may not necessarily rebuke the Lord for his actions, but I do spend far too much time looking for my own support rather the Lord's in troublesome situations. I do spend far too much time "savoring the things that be of men," rather than those that are of God.

I wonder how many Christians go around, knowing God and yet not living as though that should have any effect on their life. As if they were self-sufficient without God in their lives to begin with. But that's absurd.

Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. We should probably trust His power and authority in our life.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Tradition! It's How We keep Our Balance

Honestly, this topic for today is one that I am surprised I haven't mentioned before. It is something that has been a concern of mine for a couple of years that I believe I have probably kept silent about for far too long.

There are certain practices within the church that do not have Biblical support that people will claim as necessary for the church. Now, I will be quick to point out that most of these practices are not denied by Scripture, but that doesn't change the fact that they are ultimately man-made traditions that are not essential for the proper functioning of the church. 

I speak of traditions such as the altar call, a particular form of music, tithing through offering plates, hymnals, having church on Sunday as opposed to another day, celebrating Christmas, or prescribing to only one translation of the Bible at all costs. 

These traditions are great tools (with the exception of the one translation tradition; that's just showing a lack of faith), but they are not essential for the proper functioning of the church. 

I don't feel I need to do much to support the idea that something that man has made within a church structure is not an integral part of the church's worship of the Lord. This is after all one of the many reasons why I would never become part of the Catholic church (the whole sacraments as a means of grace, and works to supply salvation thing would be the major ones of course). 

So to illustrate my point, we shall look at only one passage from the book of Matthew. Matthew 15:1-20 details a tie in which the Pharisees question Jesus on the fact that he doesn't have his disciples not wash their hands before they eat. This was a tradition within the Jewish religion at that time, which of course the Pharisees supported very thoroughly. 

It is important to note that there is absolutely nothing heinous about washing your hands before you eat. It's actually a rather healthy thing to do. But it will in no way harm your relationship with the Lord to do these things. Yet it is a tradition that is not necessary to actually please the Lord. 

To respond, Jesus points out another tradition that is contrary to the law of the Lord to illustrate more generally that the Law is just sort of more important than those man-made doctrines. He finishes by quoting Isaiah in Matthew 15:7-9,
"Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."

So here we have some pretty strong language in relation to teaching as doctrines that which were the creation of men. Or to apply that to our current context to treat as absolute Biblical truth the man-made traditions of a particular denomination.

Just in case there's any doubt that the Lord doesn't ultimately care about the traditions that are mentioned above as long as they don't actually deny the Lord, look to his words in Matthew 15;16-20,
"And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man."

So essentially, I'm making a fairly simple point here. Traditions are man-made tools that do not have divine sanction. Don't teach as doctrines the commandments of men.

Apologies for the lateness of this post. Had a debate tournament, got in at 2, woke up at 11, and it spaced my mind entirely. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Contentment and Sadness: An Unusual Relationship

Ecclesiastes 6, which we discussed forever ago, is all about how we should be content in the position that we find ourselves in. It seems odd that immediately thereafter Solomon begins discussing the merit and value of sorrow.

Yet that is what we see in Ecclesiastes 7:1-4
"A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth."

Now of course, the rationale for sorrow being beneficial is along the lines of James 1, in that suffering make the countenance of the heart better.

But I believe this illustrates (though doesn't prove) that contentment and joy does not imply that one is happy all the time. It is entirely acceptable to shed some tears now and then. One does not need to be an emotionless robot (or stoic) to find contentment in his circumstances.

Contentment acknowledges that the situation is undesirable but trusts God to give fulfillment in the situation anyway. It does not ignore hardship in the name of contentment.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Amusing Ourselves to Death

According to Neil Postman in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, with the transition from a print culture to a television culture, American discourse in all of the relevant and important fields have had significant decreases in quality.

The printing press emerged as a primary means of publication within the 18th century. With the printing press, information could be disbursed in an efficient manner. However, this information was not useless or amusing trivia, divorced from any meaningful context.

On the contrary, the information was provided with clarity and enough analysis for the reader to weigh upon and reflect on that which he was learning. Indeed, the medium of the printed word was specifically conducive to critical thinking. When you read, you set the distractions down to meditate upon what you are hearing.

Postman specifically argues that the medium of the printed word provided a basis for a culture “inclined toward rational argument and presentation, and therefore, made up of meaningful content.” It is easy to see how this applies to the medium of the printing press itself; however, Postman argues that the typographical culture had implications beyond that of just the printed word.

To illustrate, the Lincoln-Douglas debates involved spoken words that read much like any printed type of the era, with sentences that rival the length of many modern day paragraphs. Perhaps more surprisingly, these debates were almost always longer in length than most sporting events today. In one instance, on October 16, 1854, Lincoln and Douglas debated in a formal, organized manner for about 7 hours, with Lincoln and Douglas each giving one speech that was a good three hours long. I sincerely doubt that any human being could fill three hours worth of time without addressing arguments from a logical perspective, and the record does indeed show this to be true.

Contrast this style of debate with our televised debates today. Today, the candidates would be lucky if the entire debate lasted anywhere close to the three hour slots allotted to one speech of a Lincoln-Douglas debate. Furthermore, the points we see brought up usually lack in logical analysis, but rather involve clever slogans or carefully designed rhetoric. I will refrain from mentioning how the debates have grown informal, with candidates interrupting their opponents to gain more speaking time, or even laughing at the arguments their opponents are making.

But Postman would argue this is not the full fault of our politicians, but is also at least in part due to the fact that television is not conducive to rational discourse. As aforementioned, when you look to read, you put aside all distractions. But this is not the case with the television.

Rather, the television is something that you listen to while you make dinner, build a TV cabinet, or write a paper. Very few people make it a habit to sit down to meditate upon the discourse offered by television.

But those who do are not much better off as their focus will be diverted as the programming goes to commercial or moves onto a new topic. This “Now...this” phenomena as Postman calls it, creates a tendency to pursue knowledge for its own sake (or for the sake of entertainment), rather than to enrich our lives. In the end, all televised discourse is purely for the sake of entertainment.

But just as other forms of discourse modeled the printing press, so too do other forms of discourse in our day today model themselves after the television. This can be evidenced in the written word. Compared to the zenith of the printing press, our newspapers (both printed and online) and books are not as conducive to logical analysis as they are in the past. Indeed, they are shorter, more conversational in nature, and generally more superficial. Even Amusing Ourselves to Death is written in a way where it could easily be read out loud as a speech live or on television. The watering down of discourse in America is spread across all mediums of the culture.

But there is a solution that we should consider important. Actually spending the time necessary to fulfill adequate non-trivial information from the online news sources that we read. Yes, I did say online news sources that we read. I would agree with Postman that the medium of television is not in any way shape or form conducive for discourse (but it does give us Doctor Who). One you find the information, take the time to something unusual for our culture, analyze the information to determine how it changes the way you are to live your life, whether that be through philanthropy, political activism, or a spiritual walk with God.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Actions Speak Louder than Words? Maybe Not as Much as You Think

Actions speak louder than words. This cliched statement is one that has almost universal appeal. This is great because it is generally correct. How you act does say more about you as a person (and your subsequent beliefs) than what you profess to believe.

But an important part of our actions are the words that we use in communicating to other people. Yes, I know that this semantical argument is a bit weird and maybe a tad confuzzling (love how spell check accepts that as a word). But there is a hint distinction between the words we speak to explain our viewpoints and the words that we use in every moment of our life that ultimately reflect our heart and attitude.

I won't belabor the point further since that is not the focus of this post at all. Nonetheless, I will point out that what I am writing now are words that express my opinions and fall into the "words" part of our magnificent cliche. If I complain about the quality of food here at Cedarville (totally guilty), those are words that more accurately fit into the "actions" part.

Without further ado, I will make the case that as far as our actions are concerned, the relevant words we use are a slightly better indicator of where our heart is. I will start by letting Jesus make my case for me from the context of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Listen to what he says in Matthew 12:33-37, 
"Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned."

 Here's the thought I received as I read these words. The "actions" we make are far more deliberate and planned. It's "easy" to plan to spend time with the Lord, it's "easy" to plan time to serve others, it's "easy" to plan time to do actions that persuade you that you are ultimately pleasing the Lord.

Yet "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." The words you use to describe what you are doing usually are not quite as planned as what you are doing are. In the end, your words are more spontaneous, and thus more closely align with your heart.

And that is part of the discipline of a Christian life - to see how our heart is in relationship to the Lord, so that we can pray and work on bringing ourselves closer to the Lord.

To this end, actions speak louder than words that profess belief. But within the realm of our actions, the words we choose to describe speak volumes more than what we actually do.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Pastor as Scholar: Reflections on the Differing Roles of the Academic and Pastor (Part 2)

Last week, we discussed Carson's take on the Scholar-Pastor. Today we discuss Piper's take on the Pastor-Scholar from the same book. 

Since Piper’s work is primarily an account of his life, it seems fitting to start our discussion with just that. Specifically, we want to examine the path that led him to ministry in the first place. It was in junior high school that John Piper would make an important decision about his future. He would never become a pastor. Piper was nervous at the concept of public speaking and thus ruled out the role that would require him to preach in front of a congregation at least once a week. 

All of his passions and desires that would lead him to ministry were already in place, but he didn’t see himself as qualified for that specific role. So he instead pursued a different passion – writing. Due to his love for poetry and logical reasoning, Piper began considering himself a romantic rationalist. But ultimately, he didn’t pursue his literature even further. 

He changed direction based off of hearing key sermons by Harold John Ockenga and John Stott in 1966-67. He became impassioned with the thoughts of missions and the Bible. Additionally, he was asked to pray for a summer chapel. For some inexplicable reason, he said yes, and somehow he survived the public speaking experience. At this point, he committed to never deny a speaking role because of fear again. Yet when he entered the field of Biblical Studies, his goal was still to be a scholar. 

Thus, Piper’s account past this point is the exact opposite of his fellow writer of The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor Don Carson, who studied to be a pastor, then became a scholar. Piper started his life in Biblical Studies intending to become a scholar in the academic world, but ultimately became a pastor. 

As of now, we have already seen a distinction between the pastor and the scholar. While Carson would later in the book stress that the scholar affects more people more superficially, while the pastor would affect more people deeply. Piper points out that this is inverted when it comes to knowledge about the text. For the scholar, he will have a few topics that he covers extensively, while the Pastor will cover many topics more superficially. 

In relation to the impact among people, Piper would completely agree with Carson. He would understand that the pastor’s reach by terms of scope is limited, but that he has a greater opportunity to develop real relationships with real people. Indeed, he thinks that one of the reasons that the Lord moved him away from scholarly work is because he would never have been satisfied with the detached emotional road of scholarly work (and neither would I). 

In contrast to Carson, Piper stresses the emotional aspects of the pastoral life versus the scholarly one. Simply, to Piper, it is an extension of developing real relationships with real people that he will be required to invest far more emotionally in his congregation than most scholars would even consider doing for their students.

That is as good a place as any to start communicating about what Piper views as the dangers of scholarship. Piper would agree with Carson that a scholar should invest in people and serve in a ministerial capacity. One of Piper’s heroes is a man by the name of Dan Fuller who would take hours to answer student’s questions, researching the answer when he did not know it. Simply, Mr. Fuller cared about his students and took time to pastor them to growth. Piper believes this to be a mold that scholars should follow; however, he fears that many scholars will lose touch of this valuable emotional connection. 

Another danger that Piper specifically highlights has to do with a great desire for peer approval. Piper was beginning to notice how many scholarly articles were written in technical jargon, which greatly impressed other scholars but left it out of touch with the layman reader. Considering the role of the scholar is to reach as many people as possible with a important message, it is counter-intuitive for him to write in language that could only be understood by a select few. Simply, these scholars have fallen into what Carson labeled “The seduction of applause,” rather than actually serving the Lord with the gifts that God has entrusted to them. 

The final danger we shall highlight here is that Piper believes that it is all too possible for the scholar to disconnect the study of the gospel from its power and majesty. Since your job demands that you sit and study the Bible extensively, you can begin to see your goal to merely understand the Bible perfectly - a merely academic exercise. But the Bible is supposed to be seen and read for the purpose of bringing you closer to the Lord. Knowledge about the Bible only exists to give us a greater appreciation and love for the Lord our Savior.

The fact that knowledge is needed for greater appreciation of the Lord is one of the two ways that Piper views scholarship as specifically relating to his role as a pastor. A pastor is supposed to engender love for Christ in the lives of others and naturally have such love himself. However, it is not enough to love the Lord if you have no grounds for loving Him in the first place. 

Piper here uses the analogy of a guy who stops you on the street announcing that he is trusting you with all of his bank account information. If he tells you that he simply saw you on the street, you would not find his appreciation to be honoring. Instead, you would find it to be simply blind and irresponsible. However, if the same event happens, and he tells you that he has been watching your practices at your job and in your life and has found you to be a responsible, honorable man, you will feel honored by his trust in you. (Piper neglects to mention that you will also find this complete stranger to be a creepy stalker.) 

Trust and honor without cause or rather, without knowledge to verify is blind and irresponsible. However, trust and honor, backed by knowledge is very much more pleasing to the Lord. 

The other reason why scholarship is so intrinsically linked to the pastoral life is that a deeper study is needed for communicating to members of the congregation. A simple fact of education is that it requires more understanding to articulate a point than to just have a vague understanding of the doctrine. 

To have learned in the book of Job that there are more reasons for suffering than punishment for sin is easy enough, but to communicate why Job illustrates this fact requires deeper understanding and a deeper knowledge. 

As pastors are called upon to communicate to the people truths they have learned in God’s word, it is necessary for them to actually spend time searching the Scripture for a deeper understanding. Piper describes that as being a scholarly impact upon the pastorate.
Piper thus describes a relationship between the pastorate and the scholar that he believes at times can become too pronounced. At the end of the day, these discussions about the scholar and the pastor are just extremes used to demonstrate the different focus that each has. We must remember that they are not as distinct as our binary mind wants to think.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Answers to Prayer

I figured we'd take a break away from Job for a little while (or at least one week; cannot confirm what next week's post will be). Perhaps it is far too obvious for my readers to know what book I'm reading in my daily devotions. By now, you've probably realized that I am slowly working my way through the whole Bible, currently midway through the book of Job.

But we are going to talk about and from other ways that the Lord impacts and shares in my life. Do you ever have those moments where everything you hear about seems linked to one similar theme?

About a month ago, I had a similar experience to just that. But let's start this story a bit earlier than there. Let's start it several months ago (I'm sorry, I don't have the date written in any of my journals), when I started praying seriously for boldness and instruction on how to witness.

I started praying for that on a daily basis, yet nothing seemed really to happen for the longest time. Until about a month ago. (But then you had already figured that out because of how this narrative was flowing.)

This of course, could just stop right here, and be considered a lesson in patience in the Lord in relationship to the burdens He lays on our hearts, but we're going somewhere different today if I know what my typing fingers are going to say next.

About a month ago, every lesson I heard in a gazillion different places (daily chapel, Spiritual Formations class, the church that I will attend here at college, and special seminars) were geared specifically at the thought process of evangelism and how to tell those around you about Christ.

And so, just like that, the Lord was answering my prayers about the instruction of witnessing in the first place. This instruction should find practical application more specifically this very night, as I head with a group to Central State University to cultivate relationships and share the Gospel. It is the opportunity that I have been waiting and praying with for a long time.

But that's not the only thing the Lord has been able to do in this here walk of my life. At a time in which I feared my prayer life was getting stagnant, the Lord supplied me with an opportunity to hear from Pastor Rohm through the Honors Program here at Cedarville. I almost didn't decide to go because I didn't want to or think I could get a sub for my job here on campus.

But I tried and was able to get said sub. And wouldn't you know it? Pastor Rohm spoke a little bit about prayer and presented some necessary insight into how my prayer life should continue. Additionally, the event gave me the opportunity to meet with him in a group of 8 to get a prayer journal and to hear him describe his own prayer life, and how his prayer journal has improved it.

It was a valuable experience indeed. But why should you care about my life?

What I am simply trying to convey in this post is that God cares about our relationships with Him. If you want to see yourself serving Him greater, the best thing for you to do is to pray about it.

After all, we don't have for nothing the admonition in Matthew 7:7-12,
"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets."