Break Down

I was reading a devotional this morning and it was talking about Jacob and how God changed everything for Jacob but it came at the cost of a limp. In order for God to get Jacob to rely on Him and become what He needed Jacob to be, Jacob needed to be dependent on God. It got me thinking not just about how I came to Christ but all the times God has come in and uprooted everything in my life so that I will be where He wants me. It is never pleasant but I have James 1:3-4 hanging on the wall in my office to remind me that endurance must do its complete work so that I may lack nothing. Sometimes I wish God would let me lack but in reality, that is when I start asking for the hurricane.

Maybe we should be asking for a hurricane, maybe in the storm there is an answer.

 

Just a thought,

Mike

 

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Combating the Empty Self

I do not think we should be surprised with the rise of the empty-self in society or the church. The empty self is what we have reinforced in people through slogans that act more as mantras such as “if it feels good do it” and my favorite “do what makes you happy.” We have pushed the ideas that individual happiness and instant gratification are the goals and anything outside of those immediate results are unnecessary. Instead of taking time to develop thought we have created methods and ways to reward instant and short term gratification.

Some examples of how society has produced the empty self can be seen in advertising that reinforces personal pleasure, pushing the idea of passiveness such as get rich quick schemes or instant weightless, and the rise in infantilism which can be seen all over the internet in YouTube videos and the like. Systems have been created where you are allowed a hundred and forty characters to express thoughts and ideas which leads to largely only sharing cat videos and items of little to no consequence. Internet advertisements for products and information are specifically designed just for you and exposure to foreign concepts are lost in the process. The empty self is not only pushed on people but rewarded by stardom and “shout outs” by those who have attained what the culture deems success.

The church is not immune to the effects of the empty self. Christian bookstores are filled with titles such as Your Best You, 7 Steps to Happiness, 5 Keys to Prosperity, or God is for You. Praise and worship services are designed to illicit emotion and produce a good feeling instead of imparting truth and change. Members leave one church when the good feelings wear off and start their search for a new “church home.” We now change churches like we do phone plans when someone offers us a better deal. Pastors and church leaders who are forced to combat this rising challenge start with good and sincere hearts trying to find ways to reach people who have little motivation to grow then find themselves discouraged and giving shallow sermons to feed the lethargic masses. Burnout occurs in the faithful and they find themselves becoming the very thing that caused the burnout: they become the empty.

How can the church minister to the empty self? If Jesus called the church to go out and make disciples, then how does the church accomplish this goal when the people they are called to minister to seem to have no desire to be challenged? The first step must be to make sure that we are people who are prepared and ready to rise to this challenge. We do a disservice when we give out incorrect explanations or arguments that have not been thought-out.[1] We must first be a people who think and value the life of the mind.

I do not think it should be assumed that a person who might be classified as an empty self does not have a desire to know the truth because everyone inherently has a desire to know the truth. They already have a truth or a worldview that orders their life. Whether it be that personal pleasure is prime, relaxation is best, deep thought is unnecessary, or what have you they have something they hold on to as truth. What we must do is help them analyze their truth to see if it actually holds water. If a person holds to the idea that personal pleasure is best it does no good to tell them they are wrong instead we must dig deep to find out why they hold to this idea in the first place. We must help them examine their own beliefs and get to the truth. As we do this we expose them to virtues like vigilance and fortitude so they not only see their system is wrong but that there is a better way.[2] We are then humbling leading people to the truth which they have discovered for themselves and as Blaise Pascal said: “we are generally more effectually persuaded by reasons we have ourselves discovered.”

Once a person has become aware of the truth and the value of the life of the mind we must then dig in deep to do the hard work of teaching and modeling virtues now that they have been introduced. To do this again we must first possess and live them. It is not enough for the truth to be an idea that we like but a way of life. In doing so we build ourselves up for service to Christ and model a virtuous life for those we are ministering to because most people when attempting to understand a new belief or idea will mimic before they understand why. Instruction is of great importance but it must also be accompanied by demonstration.

Most people including me do not understand how to think logically. Some may be naturally better at it than others and we may have an idea of how to think logically but we do not as a general rule study what logical thought is. However, because of the high rate of fallacies that occur during the course of arguments and public discussion regarding religion, we must study what it means to think logically. We must expose ourselves to ideas that are different than ours so we can see the issue from many possible angles. In doing so we not only become better servants of Christ but better aids to those who need to know Him. Christianity had to defend itself from its very conception it is time for the church to bring back not only the power of the Gospel but the truth of God.

[1] J.P. Moreland, Love God with all your mind 2nd ed, (NaviPress, 2012), 123

[2] Moreland, 125

 

Just a thought,

Mike

Reasoned Faith and the Gospel

In Matthew 8:10 Jesus says that He has not seen a faith in Israel that matches that of the centurion soldier who comes to Him to seek healing for his servant. What provoked this strong commendation from Jesus was that the man understood authority. He understood how it worked and that presence was not required for power to move. His faith was founded in his understanding of how things worked. This man was able to grasp the concept of authority in his mind and exercise his faith because of this.

Anti-intellectualism has impacted the church in at least five ways according to J.P. Moreland, and two of them will be discussed here. The first is a misunderstanding of faith’s relationship to reason and the second is the spawning of an irrelevant gospel.[1] These two things are not that far from each other when you examine what they result in, namely a weakened Christian presence in the community and in the world. The lack of one’s ability to link reason or knowledge to faith causes them to withhold their testimony with others because often times it is feared they cannot answer the questions posed to them. While the irrelevant gospel, when shared, is based on feeling or a perceived need and if someone is “feeling” fine then there is no need for the message.

One effect resulting in the lack of reasoned faith in the church can be seen in the high number of children who grow up and lose their faith. David Kinnaman says in his book You Lost Me that there is a forty-three percent or nearly eight million people who while they were active in the church in their teens do not participate in the church by their early thirties.[2] Now it should not be assumed that the entire cause for this is a lack of reasoned faith but it does play a large part. People are more and more unsure why they believe what they believe and if understanding is not present then the natural progression is to not believe it anymore. The world is becoming more and more post-Christian and with that, the old system of following your parent’s faith is diminishing.

One of the most effective ways that church leaders whether they be youth pastors, senior pastors or lay leaders can combat this is by becoming “dedicate[d] to the task of training believers to think theologically and biblically”[3] This is in no way a condemnation of any particular church, pastor, or group of churches but an overall encouragement that Christians do and will desire deep theological teaching. Instead of having youth groups that play games and hang out we should teach them the Scriptures and answer their hard questions. For adults not only should we be edifying them for the work of God on Sunday’s but instilling in them and understanding of Biblical truths that go beyond being a good spouse and neighbor.

Perhaps it is time to use the vast resources of technology to do virtual classes via email or web chats. Often times people must be pushed to ask the hard questions they have. Individuals can feel scared of asking such questions as is the whole Bible true, do we have proof Jesus rose from the dead, are the six days in Genesis six actual days, and so on. Non-Christians ask these questions often but more than a few believers are scared to push for such answers so we must be willing to give them chances to ask these questions. We must be willing to not only learn about what we believe but what others believed as well.

This will cause the pushing of an irrelevant gospel to almost disappear. The gospel as it is presented at times now is you need Jesus to make you better and happier. The problem arises when people feel just fine. They have no perceived need in their lives so the solution for a happier life is a non-necessity to them. They are quite happy where they are at, however, this approach is not the tradition that we see in the Bible. An important aspect of sharing the true Gospel is understanding the community you are in. Paul when speaking to the people in the Areopagus in Acts 17 not only shared the truth of God from Scripture but also from what they already thought to be true. He was able to bring in things they knew and show them how they already had some understanding of what he was saying.

Moreland suggests in his book that the more we grow intellectually in other areas the more we will understand the Bible. This will not only “enrich life and contribute to Bible study and spiritual formation” but in turn, it will give us understanding into the world God created.[4] If I want to properly share the Gospel with a Muslim then it serves me well to understand the Muslim position. By doing this I not only have a better knowledge in the truth of my faith but what they believe as well. I can then meet them where are at and in doing so I open doors.

The challenge before the church is great and task daunting but the rewards are greater. By better understanding our faith and how it is built upon reason we not only secure our own thinking but also find that the world around us changes as well. Expanding our knowledge should not be feared because while it is true that “knowledge by acquaintance is an important foundation” it must be remembered that we are commanded in the Bible to grow not only in grace but also the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).[5]

[1] J.P. Moreland, Love God with all your mind 2nd ed, (NaviPress, 2012), 19; 24.

[2] David Kennaman, You Lost Me (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books), 22.

[3] Moreland, 51

[4] Moreland, 93

[5] Moreland, 59

Loving God with your mind

In Job 19:25 Job, in the midst of his struggle makes a profound statement when he says “But I know my living Redeemer, and He will stand on the dust at last” (HCSB). I think this is important to remember when discussing why we should value the life of the mind. It was by Job’s knowing or understanding with his mind that he was able to place his confidence in God. His knowledge led him to have a faith that went beyond what he saw in the situation and gave him clarity. Feelings and emotions can play tricks on us. They can deceive us and make us focus solely on the situation at hand but knowing helps navigate us to truth. This is why Hebrews 11:1 says that faith is the substance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Faith can be blind but only in the context of it being sure and based on something. I do not blindly follow Christianity because someone told me too. I belong to the faith because I have tested it, examined it, and proved it with my heart, my experiences, and my mind. Jesus said we are to love God with our minds as well as our hearts and souls. From a biblical perspective, we are to worship God with our minds (Romans 12:1-2) and we are to love Him with our minds (Luke 10:27).  

Resistance in the church to value the mind is somewhat of a mystery to me. I want to give the benefit of the doubt though and suggest it is possibly a mix of tradition and an overwhelmed feeling. Many Christians have been taught to seek after God in prayer, to worship Him in song, and to not get caught up in the details. This has led many a believer to forget to engage the mind. As the old saying goes out of sight out of mind. If you are not thinking about increasing knowledge than you do not do it. It must become a habit. Others like myself struggle with verse memorization so we get discouraged and stop trying. When instead we must keep at it and work on our strengths. Sometimes I feel like Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof saying “as the good book says” only I know the good book actually says what I am saying. I am able to explain what the Bible says but I get confused on exactly where it is. I know I struggle here so I exercise my mind to work on it. People also become overwhelmed because of the sheer volume of information in the Bible

The mind is vitally important to spiritual growth and as J.P. Moreland says in his book Love God with all your mind “we can change our beliefs indirectly” (88). If I struggle with believing that God is good I cannot make myself believe that but I can read and study God’s claims for His being good and let the evidence change my mind and in turn that changes my perspective of everything else.

 

Just a thought,

Mike

Prayer

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In Mark 11:24 Jesus says “Therefore I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for—believe that you have received them, and you will have them” and to be honest I struggle with this. It is not that I struggle to believe that God will hear my prayers, although sometimes this is the case, it is more of do I believe this is my prayer? Do I actually believe that this is the request I want to make to the God of heaven and earth?

I am approaching the God who sustains the universe, took on human flesh, died and rose again to save my soul, sits in glory surrounded by the praises of His angels, and I am asking for this. I am stunned by my selfishness, aware of my pride, and confused by my own self-interest. When I come before the King of glory I sometimes find myself understanding Isaiah who said: “woe is me for I am undone.” How can I ask for things, because as I stand in His presence all I can do is think “holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.”

The amazing thing to me is I stand there before Him in awe of His beauty and majesty He asks what I request. The only answer I can find is that I desire to sit at your feet and worship you. Oh, how I wish this to be my daily encounter. Instead, I often allow my fears, confusions, and selfishness dictates prayers that I do not even believe.

Doubt our Doubts

I was listening some spoken word the other day and the artist said: “why do you doubt your faith when you should be doubting your doubts.” Now I cannot give credit to this individual because I have no idea who it was but I think it was brilliant.

When you have been walking with God for any length of time, doubts start to come in and try to make you question your faith, God’s love, and even your standing before Him. It can be little things like nagging doubts or even big shaking ones but doubt is doubt. When they come in we start to question and think does God love me, where is God, or why I am going through this. They are somewhat different but basically they all serve the same purpose and that is to put a strain on our relationship with Christ. Being in a place of doubt is hard because you were so sure yesterday and now you don’t know up from down or left from right. Everything is turned upside down and nothing makes sense.

Most of the time when we think about doubt in the Bible we think about Thomas in John 20:25 who said “ if I don’t see the mark of the nails in His hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will never believe.” This is a great example because Thomas had been following Jesus and was probably crushed to see Jesus die. Just because the other disciples said Jesus rose from the dead did not mean anything to him because He watched Jesus die (more or less). It is not that it is bad to use Thomas as an example but I think we can do one better.

In my opinion Job is that one better. I think Job is a great story to look at when thinking about doubt and faith because his is a story of both. Job does not get to know what is going on behind the scenes. Through the story of Job, we find that we the reader are aware that of the heavenly conversation between God and the devil but little ol’ Job has no idea. When we look at the story of Job we can see to an extent what it means to doubt our doubt.

Not to analogize Job, but Job’s friends and even his wife play the part of doubt in Jobs life. They bring up all sorts of questions, explanations, and suggestions for why Job is suffering and what to do about it. They try to get him to question his motives and actions. Sometimes they are little nagging things and sometimes bigger ones but again they all serve the point of causing strain on Jobs relationship with God. Now I am not saying Job is faultless or perfect because he is not but I do think he serves as a good example of what it can look like to have doubt attack you.

Job spends a good deal of time questioning and answering his doubters. Job understands that he cannot demand answers or explain why God does what He does (Job 42:2-3). Job did what we need to do. We need to stop doubting God and start to doubt our doubts. When the doubts come, and they will come, we need to remind ourselves of what God has already done and said. This is why when you read the Old Testament you see that every time someone had an encounter with God or God did something for the community as a whole they built a monument or tabernacle. It was so that later on when things got hard they could look to it and say “see what God did” (see Genesis 12:7, Exodus 17:15, Deuteronomy 27:4-7). Alter building was important because it was a reminder that God was for them.

So when our doubts and fears come we need to stop doubting God and questioning our faith and start to question the doubts. We need to ask the doubts where they get off making us think God is not for us. We need to spend time reading and memorizing the Word of God because when doubts come in we need to be able to go back to what God said. In the garden the snake said “did God say?” and because they did not remember they fell to their doubts. But Jesus, when tested, said, “as it is written.” So start questioning your doubts and you will find you doubt your God less.

 

Just a thought,

Mike