Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Scripture and Sanctification

Words are important. Words communicate. Communication is a matter of one person communicating to a person about something. It is not always another person, however: sometimes it is me communicating something to myself. We do talk to ourselves. Sometimes it is not clear who is communicating. Words say something about how the world is.

Habits are also important. Habits provide a structure to lives. On this structure, other things can hang. Without a structure, lives seem to float. Whether they are routines for getting up or going to bed, patterns of thought or speech, or ways of carrying oneself, habits form the basic framework of life.

Habits of thought provide the framework for thinking. Thought often occurs in words. Thus, effecting patterns of speech ends up effecting patterns of thought.

Consider how you think about things. Often, we have a background collection of stories which provide an idea of how things go in the world. You might also have phrases which come to mind when you consider what to do. I have heard people, in Bible studies and sermons, say, "what is the therefore there for?" Questions like that--words--provide a reminder of what to think about. So do the key parts of the stories we carry around with us. Another source for patterns of thought, which is harder for me to show, is music. I doubt I need to show that music is an excellent memory aid, but notice, too, that music provides some guidance as to how to feel. There is happy music and sad music. This happiness and sadness is linked with any words. The words then stick in the memory along with the way that the music is teaching you to feel about them. As in the previous two cases, the words are then available to structure thought.

Now, the point: Reading, praying, and singing Scripture imbeds it into our hearts so that we think in Scripture--so that we might have, more and more, the mind of Christ. This is part of why I want preaching to be a matter of pointing to Scripture. This is also why I care about what gets sung--despite having no real musical ability of my own. This is why we are to take ever thought captive, and to meditate on what is good: because that will change how we think and feel, and, thus, how we act.

Scripture is where God is present. If you love him: go, spend time with him! If you don't love him yet: go, meet him, he is awesome! (I preach to myself here)

But we are also dependent on the Spirit to give us the mind of Christ so that we may understand Scripture. Apart from God we won't so much as seek God. Go, read Scripture, for it is God who works in you, to teach you by the Spirit, to raise you up into Christ's likeness. So long as we depend on human understanding, Scripture will probably look absurd, unless God gives us grace (and we will continue to depend on our own understanding apart from his grace), and we will not understand, let alone begin to think as Christ does.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Inconceivable Stable

As we read the History of Israel we come to Christ and find the absurdities:
The glorious one who came to lead Abraham to a new home, who came to Moses in a burning bush, and to all of Israel in a column of smoke and fire, now comes to Mary and Joseph in the form of a helpless babe, born in a manger. He who fed Israel with manna is now fed at his mother's breast. He who is the shepherd of Israel is now visited by sheep, by shepherds, and he leads them nowhere (but look: they were led to him). Wise men came from afar, to visit the king in a manger, the wisest of all, but who does not yet speak--yet this is the one who spoke the world into existence! The incarnation is quite obviously strange when we look at how it began.
It doesn't stop being strange, though...
The glorious God of the universe made himself one of us, wretched small beings who are as nothing in comparison to the universe--let alone God--in order to save us from our sins.

How great the price he payed for us!

How much in need of saving we must have been! How wretched we humans are!

Christ Jesus died--the great I AM died--to save us from our sins.

An offense to the proud. Surely it didn't require that much? Yes, it did. You really are that lost without him.
Unbelievable to the despairing. Surely we are not worth that much? Yes, you are. We are the keystone of creation.

Our God is awesome. Our God is incredible.
When we look around and go "I sure hope God knows what he's doing..." Well, he has done something far stranger in the incarnation.

Monday, December 23, 2013

God is God and There is No Other

I have a god. It might be God, it might not be. If my god is not one who deserves to be my god, then that is idolatry. To be my god is to be that which is my highest end. If something is my god, that means that I desire the good of that thing ahead of the good of any other thing. To have a god is to have one desire according to which all others are ordered.

We all have various desires, aims, goals. These come into conflict with one another. My god is that according to which I decide which desire ranks ahead of which in such a conflict. It is that according to which I can tell whether my desires are good or evil.

I tend to consider myself my god. I order my desires according to how much they serve to please me, how much they make things good for me. To have myself as my god means that I consider how my desires will effect my well-being as the deciding factor in how I order my desires. If I make myself my god, then I will desire what makes life pleasant for me. If I am my god, then I do everything for my own pleasure.

Recognizing that this pleasure need not be merely the pleasures of animals, but might also be those which are unique to humans. Recognize, too, that this manner of life is the one we often suppose others have. If you want to convince someone that something would be good for them to do, you usually try to point out how it will advantage them in some way. The problem comes when you notice that having oneself as one's god backfires: there are great pleasures which cannot be attained if they are done for the pleasure. The attitude of "how can I get the most pleasure out of this social interaction" removes the available pleasure from it. To live with oneself as one's god leaves one unable to do what one considers that one should do.

It is also common to try to make all of humanity one's god. It sounds nice. It is the god of the utilitarian: the ideal of the greatest good for the greatest number. If I have humanity as my god, then my aim is to produce as much pleasure as possible. That would be my aim in life. If humanity were my god, though, it would be bad to mourn if I could help it--unless I thought it would produce more pleasure overall.

It is hard to maximize pleasure in this way. It is also impersonal. I do not matter if my god is humanity in general. If my god is humanity in general, it does not matter what will bring me or those close to me pleasure. If my god is humanity, then it is not any particular humans. Much can be justified by finite and ignorant humans if humanity is their god. Indeed, much looks like something which should be done, if one's god is humanity, which may well turn out poorly.

If God is God, then what I must do is desire his pleasure above all else. My life must become oriented around him. My desires must be evaluated against the standard of whether they are for him or against him. Good desires are those which are for him. It is good to do that which will show one's dependency on him. It is good to act out of one's dependency on him. This is not to desire to fail, but to desire that one's successes would be of God, and one's failures would be such as would allow one to exhibit one's safety in God. One is, then, safe to be weak because it offers a glimpse of the God who is one's strength. It is good to be pained by the evil of the world because in doing so I argue that it is not an evil to be lived with, but to be revolted against. If God is God, then it becomes possible to do what seems foolish because he is the one who brings success.

Would you be free to act without fear of failure? Would you be free to obey in your weakness? Would you be one of those who does what is good? Would you know what is good? Then let all your desires, let all that you do--even what you do against God--be for God. Act for God. When you act against him, let your reaction to that be to let it be made for him. Let your rebellion become his conquest over your sin--as it was on the cross.

Emmanuel: God with us. So that we can act in the knowledge that whatever we do, he is drawing us to himself. He has come as good news--there is no other way to reach the greatest pleasure, whether for ourselves or for any others, apart from seeking him as God.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Baa Baa Splat

Where are the pastors?

In the Churches? Are those what you call "pastors"? Maybe a few count. Maybe a few, but not many.

There are Christians scattered about who know that what they need to hear each week is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There are pastors who get up each week and preach something else. Do they count as pastors? Do they feed the sheep? We're starving. We're wandering.

This is a problem. Christ came to be the shepherd of Israel. He said he would be with us. He fed multitudes. He called, and his sheep followed him. He said he would be with us always. Why are we starving? Where is the good shepherd now? When his sheep are starving, what is he doing about it?

I'm not talking about biblical illiteracy, as big a problem as it is. I'm talking about a failure where there are bibles. I'm talking about sermons where God's voice is peripheral to the message, if it is there at all. You have food in front of you, why won't you give any to us? Or are you starving to? Is Scripture inedible to our pastors as well? What has gone wrong? Where is the bread of life?

Remind me, who is God? Is he not able and willing, as he raised up prophets and judges before, to raise up more people to feed us? Where are they? If he is not able, then what has changed? If he is unwilling, then what is good about him? Surely he knows, surely he sees how we are starving for spiritual food? Where is the God who fed Elijah? Where is the God who fed his people with manna? Is not our spiritual hunger much more important than their physical hunger? If I must, I would give up all my physical food for the sake of spiritual food, even if it meant I would starve to death.

Where is the Church? That is where we are supposed to be fed, right? It is divided. Split in two: Protestants, Catholics; Calvinists, Arminians; High-church, Low-church; Young-earth, Old-earth; Paedobaptists, Credobaptists; Cessationists, Pentecostals; and on and on it goes. It does not--we do not--act like "one holy catholic Church." Are we competing with "Holy Roman Empire" for worst name or something?

Where is the shepherd leading us? Where is the Spirit leading us into all righteousness? What unity is there in the body? Do we even strive for unity? Do we even hear those who say that they are a part of the body? Do we even listen? There are Christians elsewhere, do we hear them? Do they count for us? You will live with them in heaven. We cannot just let them wander off on their own. It is important that we be the Church. Where is the Church seeking to follow Christ? Where are we going to one another with our disagreements and seeking to see how we can live as one Church? I have seen Arminians speak with such faith in God's sovereign goodness that it sounds like something a Calvinist would love to have said. Our doctrines may be varied, but we do all worship the same God. Can't we seek him together?

Because Christ said there would be one Church. He said that he would be with us. Where am I supposed to look to see that? Where is the Church of Christ? Why hasn't God kept his Church together and whole and under the guidance of his shepherds and fed from his Word? Has God failed? It looks like it. We better hope not. But how is this not God's failure?

This is the problem of evil as it applies to the existence (or not) of pastors and distinct denominations.