I saw this title, “How to Destroy Christianity in One Easy Step,” and couldn’t help but watch. If you too are intrigued, here you go:
I saw this title, “How to Destroy Christianity in One Easy Step,” and couldn’t help but watch. If you too are intrigued, here you go:
Matt Chandler, a pastor from Texas, shares some great advice on these questions:
You can read the whole thing here.
Have you ever thought about why God uses angels to do his work? Check out this passage from John Calvin’s Institutes:
Why it is through angels, rather than through himself without their service that God is wont to declare his power, to provide for the safety of believers, and to communicate the gifts of his beneficence to them? Surely, he does not do this out of necessity as if he could not do without them, for as often as he pleases, he disregards them and carries out his work though his will alone, so far are they from being to him a means of lightening difficulty.
See his point? God could, of course just do things, all by himself, so to speak, without employing lesser spiritual beings (whom he created) to do his work (or at least some of his work) for him. Maybe we can’t know the answer as to why he doesn’t do it that way, but I thought Calvin’s try at an answer was as good as any, and actually, I found it pretty encouraging and helpful. Check it out:
Therefore, he makes use of angles to comfort our weakness, that we may lack nothing at all that can raise up our minds to good hope or confirm them in security. One thing, indeed, ought to be quite enough for us: that the Lord declares himself to be our protector. But when we see ourselves beset by so many perils, so many harmful things, so many kinds of enemies – such is our softness and frailty – we would sometimes be filled with trepidation or yield to despair if the Lord did not make us realize the presence of his grace according to our capacity.
For this reason, he not only promises to take care of us, but tells us he has innumerable guardians whom he has bidden to look after our safety; that so long as we are hedged about by their defense and keeping, whatever perils may threaten, we have been placed beyond all chance of evil. I confess that we act wrongly when, after that simple promise of the protection of the one God, we still seek whence our help may come. But because the Lord, out of his immeasurable kindness and gentleness, wishes to remedy this fault of ours, we have no reason to disregard his great benefit.
We have an example of this thing in Elisha’s servant, who, when he saw the mountain besieged by the Syrian army and that there was no escape, was overwhelmed with fear, as if all was over for himself and his master. Here Elisha prayed to God that He might open his servant’s eyes. Straightway the servant saw the mountain filled with fiery horses and chariots, that is, with a host of angles, who were to protect him as well as the prophet [II Kings 6:17]. Strengthened by this vision, he recovered himself and was able with undaunted courage to look down upon his enemies, at sight of whom he had almost expired.
God makes use of the angels, not for his own sake, but for ours.
What should be our focus as we read the scriptures? Consider these thoughts from John Calvin:
Not to take too long, let us remember here, as in all religious doctrine, that we ought to hold to one rule of modesty and sobriety: not to speak, or guess, or even to seek to know, concerning obscure matters anything except what has been imparted to us by God’s Word.
Furthermore, in the reading of Scripture we ought ceaselessly to endeavor to seek out and meditate upon those things which make for edification.
Let us not indulge in curiosity or in the investigation of unprofitable things. And because the Lord willed to instruct us, not in fruitless questions, but in sound godliness, in the fear of his name, in true trust, and in the duties of holiness, let us be satisfied with this knowledge. For this reason, if we would be duly wise, we must leave those empty speculations which idle men have taught apart from God’s Word concerning the nature, orders, and number of angles. I know that many persons more greedily seize upon and take more delight in them than in such things as have been put to daily use.
See what Calvin’s doing here? He’s trying to show us that our focus, when we read the bible should be on the big, central truths of the scriptures, and those things which can be “put to daily use.” He points out that this was how Jesus himself taught:
But, if we are not ashamed of being Christ’s disciples, let us not be ashamed to follow that method which he has prescribed. Thus it will come to pass that, content with his teaching, we shall not only abandon but also abhor those utterly empty speculations from which he calls us back. (Calvin, Institutes, 1.16.5)
In every age, there’s always a temptation for Christians to get sidetracked by pursuing very peripheral (and often weirdly speculative) things that kind of have to with the bible, but are only weakly related to the central truths of God and creation and redemption–in other words, the big truths of the gospel. To be direct, the internet, and YouTube in particular, have made it very easy to waste a lot of time looking into things that claim to be related to the bible but have no value at all in understanding God, trusting and spreading the gospel, and living the Christian life. Ever found yourself more interested in things like aliens or conspiracies than the person of God or the meaning of the cross? Let’s not get sidetracked!
In other words, let’s major on the majors.
Here is a powerful article by Andrew Sullivan, on the opiate crisis in America. He writes:
It’s been several decades since Daniel Bell wrote The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, but his insights have proven prescient. Ever-more-powerful market forces actually undermine the foundations of social stability, wreaking havoc on tradition, religion, and robust civil associations, destroying what conservatives value the most. They create a less human world. They make us less happy. They generate pain.
This is an important observation. Haven’t we all been told, from our earliest days, that to live in this capitalistic society, with this huge economy that produces so much stuff for us to get (Ice Cream! xBox! Hot Tub! Tesla!) is the best possible world to live in, where people can be so happy and fulfilled, because we can have all these things? Sullivan continues:
This was always a worry about the American experiment in capitalist liberal democracy. The pace of change, the ethos of individualism, the relentless dehumanization that capitalism abets, the constant moving and disruption, combined with a relatively small government and the absence of official religion, risked the construction of an overly atomized society, where everyone has to create his or her own meaning, and everyone feels alone. The American project always left an empty center of collective meaning, but for a long time Americans filled it with their own extraordinary work ethic, an unprecedented web of associations and clubs and communal or ethnic ties far surpassing Europe’s, and such a plethora of religious options that almost no one was left without a purpose or some kind of easily available meaning to their lives. Tocqueville marveled at this American exceptionalism as the key to democratic success, but he worried that it might not endure forever.
And it hasn’t. What has happened in the past few decades is an accelerated waning of all these traditional American supports for a meaningful, collective life, and their replacement with various forms of cheap distraction. Addiction — to work, to food, to phones, to TV, to video games, to porn, to news, and to drugs — is all around us. The core habit of bourgeois life — deferred gratification — has lost its grip on the American soul. We seek the instant, easy highs, and it’s hard not to see this as the broader context for the opioid wave. This was not originally a conscious choice for most of those caught up in it: Most were introduced to the poppy’s joys by their own family members and friends, the last link in a chain that included the medical establishment and began with the pharmaceutical companies.
It may be best to think of this wave therefore not as a function of miserable people turning to drugs en masse but of people who didn’t realize how miserable they were until they found out what life without misery could be. To return to their previous lives became unthinkable. For so many, it still is.
If Marx posited that religion is the opiate of the people, then we have reached a new, more clarifying moment in the history of the West: Opiates are now the religion of the people.
And then, later in the article, Sullivan makes an essential observation. What is it, really, that’s driving so many people to want to chemically check out of life? We could say, “sin.” And we wouldn’t be wrong. However, if we look around and think about the cultural world we’re all living in, we can see certain features of our culture—things we been told since our earliest days, the songs we sing, the shows we watch, the scientific theories of humanity we promote—and we might realize that we’ve created a world with absolutely no meaning. And then we’ve expected men and women to be happy and fulfilled living in that world.
And it just doesn’t work that way.
To see this epidemic as simply a pharmaceutical or chemically addictive problem is to miss something: the despair that currently makes so many want to fly away. Opioids are just one of the ways Americans are trying to cope with an inhuman new world where everything is flat, where communication is virtual, and where those core elements of human happiness — faith, family, community — seem to elude so many. Until we resolve these deeper social, cultural, and psychological problems, until we discover a new meaning or reimagine our old religion or reinvent our way of life, the poppy will flourish.
We have seen this story before — in America and elsewhere. The allure of opiates’ joys are filling a hole in the human heart and soul today as they have since the dawn of civilization. But this time, the drugs are not merely laced with danger and addiction. In a way never experienced by humanity before, the pharmaceutically sophisticated and ever more intense bastard children of the sturdy little flower bring mass death in their wake. This time, they are agents of an eternal and enveloping darkness. And there is a long, long path ahead, and many more bodies to count, before we will see any light.
Can you believe that last paragraph was published in New York Magazine? Listen to the biblical allusions. It should fortify us to remember that Christians have the only answer. Rehab, Capitalism, “a good job”—none of these things can fill “the hole in the human heart.” But we know the One who can. Maybe he wants to turn us from that long path ahead, and help us all see the light, before there really are many more bodies to count.
I posted this passage from A.W. Tozer back in 2012. Here it is again, because it’s so great, and because a lot of you probably weren’t around Young Adults in 2012. Enjoy, and let’s all think about growing in this direction, no?
It is my experience that the totality of our Christian lives-our entire attitude as persons-must be towards the worship of God! If you do not know the presence of God in your office, your factory, your home-then God is not in the church you attend, either!
I became a Christian when I was a young man working in a tire factory in Akron, Ohio. I remember my work there–but I remember my worship there, too! I had plenty of worshipful tears in my eyes. No one ever asked me about them, but I would not have hesitated to explain them.
You can learn to use certain skills until they are automatic. I became so skillful that I could do my work and then I could worship God even while my hands were busy. If the love of God is in us and the Spirit of God is breathing praise within us, all the musical instruments in heaven are suddenly playing in full support! Even our thoughts become a sanctuary in which God can dwell.
How do we actually see the Trinity in scripture?
Everything by Fred Sanders is worth your time. So, for you viewing or listening edification, here’s a lecture that helps you answer that question…
Last night I shared this quote from theologian John Frame:
“Wherever God is, the word is, and wherever the word is, God is. Whenever God speaks, he himself is there with us.”
Here is the passage the quote is from, from his book, The Doctrine of the Word of God (p.63).
Because God is Lord, he lives in and with his creation. Indeed, he chooses people to encounter his presence in a special measure. So Israel is his special people, and he is their God. In the tabernacle and temple, he is literally “God with them.” His Son is named Immanuel, “God with us” as he takes on human form and takes the place of sinners before God’s judgment. And his Spirit dwells with us and in us as his temple.
…In his word, God speaks as Lord. His word is his controlling power and his meaningful authority. Should we see the word also as God’s personal presence? I believe so.
From a general theological perspective, this conclusion is unavoidable. God’s speech is, as we have seen, a necessary divine attribute, so that wherever God is, his word is. We have also seen that Word is a title of the second person of the Trinity, and whenever one divine person acts in the world, the other two persons act together with him. God is the word, and the word is God.
So we conclude that wherever God is, the word is, and wherever the word is, God is. Whenever God speaks, he himself is there with us.
The same conclusion follows from God’s attribute of omnipresence.
Since God is everywhere, God and his word are always near to us.
On Monday we spoke about conviction, that deep inner grasp on the reality and trustworthiness of God. Next Monday, Lord willing, we’ll press into how this works in terms of God’s presence and the Bible. The following passage is deep, and speaks to both concerns. Enjoy…
God’s speech to man is real speech. It is very much like one person speaking to another. God speaks so that we can understand him and respond appropriately. Appropriate responses are of many kinds: belief, obedience, affection, repentance, laughter, pain, sadness, and so on. God’s speech is often propositional: God’s conveying information to us. But it is far more than that. It includes all the features, functions, beauty, and richness of language that we see in human communication, and more.
…God’s word, in all its qualities and aspects, is a personal communication from him to us.
Imagine God speaking to you right now, as realistically as you can imagine, perhaps standing at the foot of your bed at night.
He speaks to you like your best friend, your parents, or your spouse.
There is no question in your mind as to who he is: he is God. In the Bible, God often spoke to people in this way: to Adam and Eve in the garden; to Noah; to Abraham; to Moses.
For some reason, these were all fully persuaded that the speaker was God, even when the speaker told them to do things they didn’t understand. Had God asked me to take my son up a mountain to burn him as a sacrifice, as he asked of Abraham in Genesis 22, I would have decided that it wasn’t God and could not be God, because God could never command such a thing.
But somehow Abraham didn’t raise that question.
He knew, somehow, that God had spoken to him, and he knew what God expected him to do.
We question Abraham at this point… But if God is God, if God is who he claims to be, isn’t it likely that he is able to persuade Abraham that the speaker is really he? Isn’t he able to unambiguously identify himself to Abraham’s mind? Now imagine that when God speaks to you personally, he gives you some information, or commands you to do something. Will you then be inclined to argue with him? Will you criticize what he says? Will you find something inadequate in his knowledge or in the rightness of his commands?
I hope not. For that is the path to disaster. When God speaks, our role is to believe, obey, delight, repent, mourn—whatever he wants us to do. Our response should be without reservation, from the heart. Once we understand (and of course we often misunderstand), we must not hesitate. We may at times find occasion to criticize one another’s words, but God’s
words are not the subject of criticism.
Scripture is plain that this is the very nature of the Christian life: having God’s word and doing it. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (John 14:21). Everything we know about God we know because he has told us, through his personal speech. All our duties to God are from his commands. All the promises of salvation through the grace of Christ are God’s promises, from his own mouth. What other source could there possibly be, for a salvation message that so contradicts our own feelings of self-worth, our own ideas of how to earn God’s favor?
Now, to be sure, there are questions about where we can find God’s personal words today, for he does not normally speak to us now as he did to Abraham… And there are questions about how we can come to understand God’s words, given our distance from the culture in which they were given… I will address these questions in due course. But the answer cannot be that God’s personal words are unavailable to us, or unintelligible to us. If we say either of those things, then we lose all touch with the biblical gospel.
The idea that God communicates with human beings in personal words pervades all of Scripture, and it is central to every doctrine of Scripture. If God has, in fact, not spoken to us personally, then we lose any basis for believing in salvation by grace, in judgment, in Christ’s atonement—indeed, for believing in the biblical God at all. Indeed, if God has not spoken
to us personally, then everything important in Christianity is human speculation and fantasy.
Yet it should be evident to anyone who has studied the recent history of theology that the mainstream liberal and neoorthodox traditions have in fact denied that such personal words have occurred, even that they can occur. Others have said that although God’s personal words may have occurred in the past, they are no longer available to us as personal words because of the problems of hermeneutics and canon.
If those theologies are true, all is lost.
Last night’s study was centered around this idea: We do not live by feelings, but by conviction. Here are the notes:
Question: How do I know what is real? Specifically, how do I know what is real about God—how do I know if God is real? And how do I know him if he is? And how do I know God is with me? How do I know that the things that the Bible says about God are real? In America, feelings, including visceral experience, are considered the ultimate proof that something is real. But consider: how many of us struggle because we don’t sense or “feel” God’s presence? …and consider this: if I suggest that you don’t need to feel God’s presence, for a lot of people that immediately makes their minds think that I’m trying to pull one over on you, that I’m going to suggest that you just take someone’s word for it without any proof…and the proof would be—that you really feel it?
For instance, in the Bible, God says:
He exists. He is God. He made the earth.
He is everywhere. He is close.
He made me.
He hears my prayers. He cares about my life.
He is working out his plan for the whole world.
So how do I know if all of this is true? A lot of people talk like the way they know these things is that they have a constant feeling of God’s love, or a visceral sense of God close by, or they hear God speaking all the time. But what about if and when you don’t feel these things. A lot of times we just conclude that…well, either it’s all fake, and those people are lying or just fooling themselves or whatever, or that maybe it’s real for those other people but for some reason it’s not real for me, so…I’m done with all of it. Maybe God doesn’t love me. Maybe I’m not chosen. Maybe I’m just spiritually dull. Who knows?
But what if the issue has to do with how we’re trying to know what’s real? Because of course, the bible does not say that our feelings are the ultimate proof of something. In fact, it seems to indicate just the opposite. Consider verses like these…
Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man And makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the LORD. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, And shall not see when good comes, But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, In a salt land which is not inhabited. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, And whose hope is the LORD. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit. The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.” (Jeremiah 17:5-10)
He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But whoever walks wisely will be delivered. (Proverbs 28:26 )
Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
The bible does not say that our feelings, or even our senses, are the ultimate proof that something is true. It points in a different direction:
The entirety of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever. (Psalm 119:160)
“Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. (John 17:1)
Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. (Proverbs 30:5)
God’s word is ultimate proof. If he says it, it is true. And if he says it, it’s because it is true, and he never lies.
So here’s the crucial question: How can I know that? How can I know it’s true? How can it go from being true out there to being something that I am aware of as true? How can I connect to this truth or be convinced of this truth?
Now, the bible is very clear that one day soon, when Jesus returns, and puts everything in the world right, we will have all the experience we could ever need. Every sense, and all the emotions and feelings inside, will be flooded with the reality of everything God every promised. Why isn’t that happening now? The bible says it’s because God is allowing humanity to have its way for a time—and typically our way is to ignore God, deny him, create lies that obscure his truth, offend his Spirit with sin—in other words, all of humanity is on a quest to drive God away from our consciousness. And so that creates a world where we’re all influenced by these things, and it becomes a battle to know God and hear his voice amidst all the noise and lies. So it’s not that God is anti-experience, but it’s that right now, we can’t rely on experience or feelings as our ultimate proof, because there is so much to mess up our ability to know God. That’s the issue.
So, for today, if feelings are not my ultimate proof, what is? The Bible’s answer is that there is something deeper than feelings. It lives at a deeper level in our souls. The bible talks about it in a few different ways. For instance:
[we are part of Christ’s house] …if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end. (This is the Greek word “Katexo” (hold fast).)
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. (In these last two verses the Greek word “Krateo” (grasp, hold fast) is used.)
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (This is the Greek word “Plerophoria” (full assurance))
2 Timothy 1:12-13
For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day. 13 Hold fast (echo) the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. (This is the Greek word “Peitho” (be persuaded/ be sure).)
This thing that is deeper than feelings…It might be called “conviction” or “apprehension,” or “grasp.” It’s a deep inner rest, or awareness, or firmness, that something is true. It stands and rests on God’s word. It thinks, “if God says it, it’s true.”
It’s the hand in the center of our being that is wrapped tight around what God says. And that is how the bible describes the experience of trusting God’s truth.
God says it. Believe it. Hold it fast. Know it. Rest on it. Find it to be true.
Sometimes this inner grasp, this conviction, is accompanied by feelings, and sometimes it isn’t. But that doesn’t matter to this settled conviction.
Here’s two illustrations of this in other areas of life:
Example 1: My Wife’s Love. I don’t always feel my wife’s love for me. Sometimes I can’t even sense her presence (when, for instance, I’m not around her). And sometimes I do. But at a level deeper than feeling or not feeling it, I know it. It’s not up for discussion. It isn’t called into question by presence or absence of feeling. Those waves might toss around on the surface of things, but they don’t disturb the bedrock below.
Example 2: Deep Ocean Currents v. Waves.
Deep Ocean Currents: “Invisible to us terrestrial creatures, an underwater current circles the globe with a force 16 times as strong as all the world’s rivers combined. This deep-water current is known as the global conveyor belt and is driven by density differences in the water.” (that quote is from howstuffworks.com)
Think about this. Here you have a contrast between
1. Waves on the surface of the ocean—driven by winds, unstable, unproductive, dangerous—and,
2. Currents beneath the surface—unseen, but huge and powerful.
Emotions, feelings, are like waves. Conviction is that deep underwater current.
Now, consider a famous verse like Proverbs 3:5—Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding. What does it tell us?
Don’t trust in your heart. But trust in the Lord, with all your heart. Make your heart serve the greater purpose of your life—to trust God. Don’t let your heart lead you. Don’t let your heart be your master. Make it a servant. Make it serve your trust in the Lord. Train and bend your feelings, your innermost being, to assist the greater thing—trusting God.
Even in this life, feelings do come. There are times in the Christian life when we have awesome feelings of God’s presence. He can speak things into our hearts or even into our ears. Sometimes these things do happen. It is not that Christians are against feelings, or that we don’t want feelings. It is that we don’t rely on them. We rely on God’s word. We let ourselves be persuaded, in the depths of our beings, that he is trustworthy, and that his word is the most true thing there is.
His promises can be trusted. He is there when we don’t sense him. He sees us when we don’t see him. He hears us when we don’t hear him. He loves us when we don’t feel loved. He is accomplishing his purpose for the world when we don’t understand our lives. And his word never changes.
Friends, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.
Is that something we feel?
Or do we know it to be true in the depths of our being?
It just seems to me that this is a perfect picture of temptation, right? I mean, we’ve all been that fish…
Hey everyone, if there’s any fake pink worms wriggling around in front of you, please, beware… (And remember the giant ugly turtle-monster hoping you’ll bite…)
Marshall Segal has a helpful article out today entitled: Date Differently This Year: Four Resolutions for Better Relationships. Here his four resolutions:
1. Above all else, I will look for Jesus.
“If you resolve to change nothing else about your patterns in relationships, resolve to make Jesus the most important thing in your dating…Before you entrust your heart to someone else, resolve to love Jesus with all your heart. Before you let yourself daydream about potential futures with him or her, resolve to love Jesus with all your mind.”
2. I will grow where I have failed before.
“One reason we fail in the same ways year after year is that we fail to admit and address our failures. If you have a sexual past or a trail of mistakes behind you, you need to know there is nowhere safer to deal with your failures than in Christ…”
3. I will pursue clarity, and postpone intimacy.
“Date for something far more satisfying than physical and emotional intimacy. Date for a deeper purpose…”
4. I will ask God for help.
“The most important change in your love life may not be between you and your significant other, but between you and God…”
If these thoughts hit you, you might want to read the whole thing.
Check out this quote from John Calvin:
Today, all sorts of subjects are eagerly pursued; but the knowledge of God is neglected. Yet to know God is man’s chief end, and justifies his existence.
Even if a hundred lives were yours, this one aim would be sufficient for them all.
Pretty searching, right? It’s always a great question to ask ourselves… I spend time pursuing lots of things, some necessary, some discretionary. Do I spend time pursuing the knowledge of God? Do I know how to do that? Do I actually do it?
Will I, in 2019, purse God, and therefore, know him better in January 2020 then I do today?
From John Calvin:
“No one gives himself freely and willingly to God’s service unless, having tasted his fatherly love, he is drawn to love and worship Him in return.”
In the first few chapters of the book of Ezekiel, the prophet records what it was like for him to be called by God to serve as a prophet. Ezekiel’s situation was a little different than ours (he was an Old Testament prophet, living before the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, who had God’s direct words to speak and write), and yet, there are some real parallels and things to learn for anyone who wants to serve God and speak for him in our generation. I ran across a helpful summary of these lessons in Daniel Block’s commentary on Ezekiel. This is a little long, but I encourage you to grab your bible and read Ezekiel 1:1-3:15, and then contemplate Block’s observations. Here they are:
If the account of Ezekiel’s inaugural vision provides the reader with important lessons about God, the commission narrative offers vital information on the relationship between God and those whom he calls into his service.
First, whoever would serve as a messenger of God must recognize that the calling comes from God alone. Neither the needs of the field, nor oratorical gifts, nor any other external qualifications authorize one to enter divine service. Moreover, the God who appoints his servants also defines the task, chooses the fields of service, provides the message, and assumes responsibility for the outcome. The less evident the fruit for one’s ministry, the more critical is a clear sense of calling.
Second, whoever would serve as God’s messenger must first have a clear vision of the one who sends him or her. Although Yahweh prepared Ezekiel for his ministry by hardening him commensurate with the hardness of his audience, the primary preparation occurred in chapter 1. Unless the servant of God enters divine service with a sense of awe at the privilege of representing the glorious King of heaven and earth, and unless one is convinced of God’s sovereignty over all the earth and over all of human history, the ministry may be a burden. Without a firm conviction of God’s call the ministry may be one’s undoing – especially when the opposition is strong and fruit is absent.
Third, whoever would serve as God’s messenger must be empowered by the Spirit of God. Ezekiel was “the prophet of the Spirit.” Animated and energized by the infusion of God’s Holy Spirit, he serves as a model to all who would stand in the Lord’s presence and all who would enter his service.
Fourth, whoever would serve as the messenger of God must be inspired by the message of God. To be sure, the personalities of God’s agents color the manner in which the calling is fulfilled. This was certainly the case with Ezekiel. But the prophet is primarily accountable to God and the divine word. Twice Ezekiel’s word is labeled “Thus has the Lord Yahweh declared” (2:4; 3:11); three times the prophet is charged to speak “my words” (2:7; 3:4, 10); three times he is told to ingest the divine message, which he is to proclaim (2:8; 3:10). Merely hearing the message is obviously not enough: it must be digested, internalized, incorporated, embodied, and lived. The medium becomes the message. Furthermore, the message of God’s spokespersons derives not from private reasoning or logic, or from mystical reflection, but from revelation. Even so, prophetic “inspiration” does not cancel out or overwhelm natural abilities and qualities – it uplifts and quickens them.
Fifth, whoever would serve as the messenger of God will be divinely equipped commensurate with the calling. God is aware of the challenges his agents face. When he assigns a task, he assumes responsibility for preparing them for that work. Indeed, God’s call to service is not made on the basis of gifts, but vice versa; gifts are given on the basis of the assignment.
Sixth, whoever would serve as the messenger of God must recognize that the calling is not to success but to faithfulness. Every aspect of vocational service remains under the sovereign control of God, especially the results. Accordingly, apparent effectiveness is no proof of calling, nor even a sure criterion by which to measure faithfulness. The messenger embarks on his or her mission as an emissary of the divine King. That privilege alone should provide sufficient motivation for unconditional service.
Some food for thought. In what ways might God be calling you to serve him this year? …with your life? How do these biblical principles apply to your situation?
There is a scene in the movie Inception which I’ve never forgotten, because I think it perfectly captures the situation of our modern culture, especially when it comes to our interaction with mass visual media. In the movie, there is a technology which lets people roam around in their own (and others’) unconscious, creating whatever worlds they want to inhabit, for as long as they want to be there. At one point, the main character happens on a room where a bunch of people are sleeping and using this technology, and he learns that every day after work they come straight here and do this all night. He asks, “They come here just to go to sleep?” and the reply he gets is: “They come here…to wake up!”
Think about that for a moment. The picture is of a people who don’t like their actual lives, and want to live instead in false worlds in their minds, and so they live their real lives to get back to their fake lives, because their fake lives are more preferable than their real lives. And so they’ve told themselves that their real lives are not who they really are, but that their pretend lives are the life they’re really living.
I thought about this recently when I read this definition of pop culture (and pop entertainment) in an article by Robert Koons. He writes:
“Pop entertainment is a purely commercial enterprise, an imitation and perversion of folk culture. It is addictive but transitory, appealing to an appetite for novelty and distraction. Pop entertainment is truly the opiate of the masses in a leveling society: numbing, anesthetic, escapist.”
Those last three words he uses are important, and, I think, spot on: Numbing, anesthetic, and escapist. Designed to deaden you sensitivity to the real world, and make you unable to feel it. Designed to put make you unaware of your surroundings, and put you to sleep in terms of the world around you. Designed to help you ignore and leave the real world. Directly opposed to true feeling and sensitivity, true awareness, and true engagement.
In other words, the technology in Inception is a perfect metaphor for our modern media, pop-culture, and pop-entertainment. People love pop-entertainment, don’t they? Aren’t many, many people in America right now in a situation where they trudge through days they consider boring, meaningless or even painful, just so they can get to the lives they consider their “real” lives–their gaming or their shows or their parties or their TV sports? No judgment here–just recognition. It’s not being critical to notice that this is, in fact, the case.
But it is tragic. Why? Because human life wasn’t created to be escaped; it was created to be lived. It wasn’t created to feel less real and meaningful than fantasy. As Christians, we’ve begun to discover the truth that reality is better than fantasy. And we’re committed to experiencing and spreading the knowledge of that life-changing truth everywhere.
Sure, we might read a work of fantasy or watch a movie (like say, some good old Tolkien or Lewis). Fantasy works, like all fiction, can illuminate things about the real world, and make profound points about actual truths. They can be great food for the mind, especially in book form. But followers of Jesus don’t live in fantasy worlds, because the real world God made is better–more alive, more rewarding, more meaningful. To follow Jesus is to respond to an invitation to turn away from all fantasy-lies, and from preferring even “good” fantasy to reality, and instead, to embrace the real world and our real place in it. It’s better. And it’s what we were made for.
Can I make a suggestion for the new year? If this particular subject affects you…
…take some time as 2018 closes and 2019 begins, and talk to God about all of that. Ask him to reignite your interest in, and passion for, the real world. Ask him to impress on you the best thing about the real world–that God himself dwells in it, ready to reveal himself and work on behalf of those who seek him. Ask him to show you, freshly, how purpose and meaning and the hope of Christ’s return and the presence of the Spirit and the real risk and even more real reward of living a life pointed towards the coming Kingdom of God all add up to make the real world the best possible place in which to be alive.
A prayer, and a thought, for Christmas…
Lord our God, you wanted to live not only in heaven, but also with us, here on earth; not only to be high and great, but also to be small and lowly, as we are; not only to rule, but also to serve us; not only to be God in eternity, but also to be born as a person, to live, and to die.
In your dear Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, you have given us none other than yourself, that we may wholly belong to you.
This affects all of us, none of us has deserved this.
What remains for us to do but wonder, to rejoice, to be thankful, and to hold fast to what you have done for us?
To put it in the simplest way, what unites God and [humanity] is that He does not will to be God without us, that He creates us rather to share with us–and therefore with our being and life and act–His own incomparable being and life and act; that He does not allow His history to be His and ours ours, but causes them to take place as a common history.
That is the special truth which the Christian message has to proclaim at its very heart.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
Maybe you’re one of those people whose brain always works right. But for most of us, we have times when, to put it mildly, weird thoughts come into our heads. Richard Baxter offers some helpful advice on what to do about that…
None of God’s servants are free of inconsistent and sinful thoughts.
For such thoughts, they must:
But if they should excessively attend to and be troubles by every groundless thought, it would merely be a snare to divert them from almost all their greater duties. Would you like it if your employee began noticing and worrying about insignificant imperfections in his work instead of doing his work?
In other words:
Crossway Books recently published a great article on five common myths about the bible.
What are these myths? I’m glad you asked…
There’s tons of good information packed in to this short article. Those five things are things a lot of people commonly assume about the bible. If you don’t know how to respond to any (or all) of these points when someone mentions them, you should really take 10 minutes and go read it.
One of the most obvious aspects of a lot of contemporary Western Christianity (American, Australian, European) is the emphasis on feelings and emotions. All you have to do is look at the lyrics to popular worship songs, listen to many sermons, or witness many Christian concerts and worship services to see what a huge part of our Christianity we deem our emotions to be. The picture of true Christianity that many paint is the picture of someone who is always emotionally engaged and filled with things like visceral love and passion. We want tidal waves, not ripples.
But what happens when you don’t really have those feelings for God or the Christian life? Or what if you do sometimes, but not other times? Can you walk with Jesus when the emotions aren’t running high? What about when you feel your passion ebb? Or what about if you are just more of an even-keeled person? Are you less spiritual than the person who’s emotional dial always seems to be at 10?
Once again, here’s Richard Baxter with some sound insight. He notes that it is true that, at some point, passion for God is part of serving God(that’s what he means by our “duty”). And yet, he says…
Do not value too highly the passionate aspect of duty, but understand this: judgment, will, practice, high esteem of God and holiness, resolute choice, and sincere endeavor are the life of grace and duty; felt emotions are lesser and uncertain things.
You don’t know what you do when you so emphasize the emotional aspect, or when you strive so much for deep and transcendent revelations. These are not the important things or the essentials of holiness. Too much of such feelings may distract you. God knows how much you are able to bear. Passionate feelings depend considerably upon nature [meaning, our personal natures]. Some persons are more expressive than others. A little thing affects some deeply. The wisest and most worthy persons are usually the least passionate. The weakest hardly control their feelings. [The editor notes here: “I believe Baxter is here arguing for self-control, not absence of expressed emotions.”]
God is not apprehended by our sense, and therefore is better experienced through the understanding and will than through the emotions.
Notice Baxter’s discussion of these three points. If, in our day, many assume that God is best “apprehended” by our emotions, what are we missing if the truth is that we also need our understanding and (think about it!) our will to truly know God as well? In fact, what word is most used when people talk about what Baxter seems to mean by “apprehending”? Isn’t usually the word experience? There is a lot of talk (and singing) about experiencing God, but it is typically only speaking about an emotional experience with God. But by “apprehending,” Baxter means something more like grasp or lay hold of or know relationally. And all that includes, not less, but more, than emotions. He continues:
The holiest soul is the one most inclined toward God, resolved for him, and conformed to his will, not the one affected with the deepest griefs, and fears, and joys, and other such transporting emotions.
Even if it’s becoming common in many circles to define holiness by the perceived depth of emotional experience revolving around God, this is a great reminder not to have our views of God colored by all of that. And yet, Baxter is not saying emotions are worthless. He just wants to encourage all of us who aren’t often surfing the tidal waves of feelings…
Nevertheless, it would be best if holy emotions could be stirred up at will, to a degree that would best equip is for duty.
But I have known many who complain, for lack of deeper feelings, who if their feelings (as they call their emotions) had been more intense, might have been distracted. I would rather be a Christian who loathes himself for sin, resolves against it, and forsakes it (though he cannot cry over it) than one of those who can weep today and sin again tomorrow, one whose sinful emotions are as quickly stirred as his better ones.
What great insight! Don’t worry about your emotional level. God knows what each of us can handle in terms of feelings. Better to actually grow in holiness (for instance, in getting sin out of our lives) than to experience huge emotions that can flip either way.