So…..What's the Point?

Musings from a Fellow Struggler

Archive for the month “February, 2012”

Egypt or Exodus: How Memory Defines Us

As a species we are time and space bound creatures. Our bodies move us through space and provide contact with the external world while our minds provide the means of understanding the external world and give us an inner sense of self-awareness.

Now, this much seems fairly obvious but it raises an interesting question concerning the issue of self-identity: what is the ‘I’ in ‘I am feeling happy now’ or ‘I had an episode of indigestion yesterday’ or ‘I’m looking forward to my vacation in two months’?  To complicate things further, how can we say we are the same person today as we were yesterday or thirty years ago when many of the identifying features of our existence have undergone physical, emotional and mental changes?

Although the details differ, most people who study this sort of thing agree that memory is one key component to the experience of self-identity. The memories I have are obviously mine and therefore provide a sense of centered experience through time. In other words, I’m quite sure I’m me today because I distinctly remember being me a few seconds ago, minutes ago, hours ago, days ago etc and having had certain experiences during those seconds, hours, days and years. The fact is our past continuously grows larger behind us while our future grows smaller the closer we come to the end of life’s journey.  Memories are drawn from this ever-increasing pool of events and are vital to the kinds of expectations and potential we have in this present moment.

These issues of self-identity and memory are especially important for Christians because we have undergone the most radical change possible for a human being; we have been born again. This created second pool of memories that are sacred and identify us as “in the world but not of the world” and uniquely and forever as sons and daughter of God. And, as we progress along this new, sacred time-line of past, present and future, the way we think is radically changed; we just don’t see things the way we used to, our values and judgments are changing, our friends are new.  Even though we now have memories of two different worlds at the same time it is the sacred memories around which our sense of self-identity is grounded.

The importance of memory and remembering to our spiritual lives is paradigmatically illustrated by the history of Israel. The rehearsing of history was integral toIsrael’s ongoing relationship with, and worship of, Yahweh. That is, the relationship was defined by historical events, the revelations, the covenants and the actions of Yahweh on behalf of His people.  The recitation of these events was a reminder to Israel of God’s dealings with them, His promises to them, His faithfulness to them and His power and protection on their behalf.  It was also a reminder of His judgments of sin, idolatry, andIsrael’s unfaithfulness.  All of this  gave Israel a sense of meaning, purpose, and destiny; it defined their reason for being.

So, in like manner for all of us of the New Testament, sacred memories of the Gospel history, the history of the church from its inception, our personal salvation history, the history of our local church community all provide a framework for our sacred experience now, this day, and this moment. They define who and what we have become through God’s grace.  Remembering has the effect of reorienting us when the path is no longer clear. This is especially true when things aren’t going particularly well for us. The bottom line for us is this: are we remembering the attractions of our Egypt or the miracles of our past and continuing Exodus? Who we are and where we are going is in the answer.


Faith and Magic


I’m assuming everyone that’s reading this wants to please God and knows that without faith it is impossible to do that . (Heb. 11:6)   All of us, then, must learn as much as we can about faith so we can please Him.  This, of course, is a huge topic and the space of this article is far too short to discuss all the nuances of what faith means.  But what we can do is consider one thing that faith is not: faith is not magic.

Now, on the face of it, this claim that ‘faith is not magic’ seems obvious, almost not worth mentioning.  But in fact a rather large number of Christians in many different traditions treat faith more like a magical spell than the key to understanding the true nature of all creation, our purpose in it and discerning what pleases God.  I’ve known some who conduct their affairs as though God’s Word holds magical power over objects, people or circumstances and frequently quote “ask whatever you will in my Name…” as an example.  The condition is “if you have faith…” and, assuming you have it, ask away and ‘poof’ whatever your heart desires comes to pass, so they say.  Of course, if it doesn’t, that means you have no faith, or at least not enough of it, and must try harder to get more.  It is as if the promise is greater than the Promise-Maker, and He is bound, or obligated, by the “ask whatever you will in my Name” as though He is a genie in a bottle.  And that’s the whole appeal of magic: it is something we control.

Confusing faith with magic is due in part to the common error of thinking faith is a possession, like a car or a home or that it is something that can be weighed, like a pot roast at the market.  Not only does this mistake of quantifying faith make it like a magical charm to be used as needed ( it is ours, after all) but it also creates a great deal of anxiety about whether we ‘have enough’ faith, how to decide when enough is enough and whether our faith is ‘bigger’ than someone else’s.  I think this is why Jesus used the example of a mustard seed to encourage us all by suggesting that ‘size’ (read quantity) doesn’t matter as much as using what we have.

Another way turning faith into some kind of perverted magic is making it a matter of propositions rather than a way of living.  By this I mean reducing faith to a list of  “I believe such and such”, then going merrily along life’s way and never allowing the ‘such and such’ to actually change the way we live and think in our day-to-day affairs.  Consequently, we can be quite orthodox in our faith and be very clear on our doctrine and then think that, since we have the formula’s right, God should respond favorably to our requests.  Again, this is like magic; just learn the right formulas, say them in the right order and God will, or must, act.

Given this propensity to turn faith into magic at least one important thing about faith can be learned: spiritual faith, the faith that really counts, is always submissive to God and is concerned only with pleasing Him.  Anything else, including faith so-called, is an attempt to manipulate God and reflects the ages old tactic of bringing God down to size so He can be tamed and then used for our own ends.

So much more needs to be said, but we can at least take this with us: the moment we want nothing else than to do His will and please Him, then we can, and should, ask for whatever it is in His Name and it will be done.  Then, not only will our faith in God be pleasing to Him but will take on the character of something so wonderful it might seem almost ‘magical’!


The Temptation to Regret


 In his Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis has Aslan, the Great Lion, say that “it is not given to man to know what might have been…” in order to discourage any speculation by one of the children about choices made.  It refers to the great ‘what if’ questions like “what if I had done this and not that”, “gone here and not there”, or “what if I had taken another path than the one I’m on”, and so on.

In real life, it seems most of the time these “what if” questions come up when we experience deep regret for inappropriate or harmful decisions made and, in some cases, have a profound and lingering sense of guilt for having made them.  In milder forms, regret can get us to fantasizing about “what might have been”; in extreme examples, regret causes such despair that people exist in alternative realities of “might have beens”.  For Christians, this extreme kind of regret comes when it is believed the consequence of bad choices (whether made in ignorance or rebellion) has resulted in missing God’s best and perfect will for their lives.  They despair of ever getting back on track and think, even if they could, so much time has passed that is too late to enjoy whatever it was God had planned.

It must be admitted that our choices make a difference in what happens in life. After all, it is nearly impossible to make sense of moral responsibility and accountability without ascribing some power to the choices we make.  On the other hand, it must be the case that, if God truly knows everything past, present and future, our choices, bad (or good) as they might be, must have already been anticipated by God and ‘taken into account’. Therefore, our choices alone cannot be the sole reason we are here, in this place at this time.

Now, let’s suppose it is true that decisions made or not made have brought us to this place and let’s further suppose that, given hindsight analysis, we can imagine a much better “what might have been” scenario. This kind of thinking implies that God’s will can be marked out somewhere on a scale of ‘good, better, best’.  If this is so, then God’s will must be adjustable and with each adjustment made according to what we are deciding to do we find ourselves either closer or further away from His ‘best’.  It is unlikely, however, that God’s intentions are so fluid and easily diverted nor is it likely His will is a matter of degree. It seems to me that God’s will, whatever it might be in its details, is always the best.

All this leads us to why we might consider extreme regret a temptation.   If we think that God is sovereign over all creation, then regretting our decisions flies in the face of God’s will; we simply have no room for complaint because God has put us where we are, in spite of ourselves. On the other hand, if we think our freedom to make ill-advised or disastrous decisions can trump God’s sovereignty, then our whole focus is on our limitations and failures and not His grace and power. So, extreme regret is a temptation to either rebellion or self-aggrandizement with the ’what might have been’s of life” only chimeras and occasions for self-pity. Instead of thankfulness and hope, we experience a kind of spiritual malaise of hopelessness, which is nothing more than self-centered pride and most likely the very reason for all the choices we now regret. In other words, being disappointed that God has not provided a more suitable place in life for us (He is, after all sovereign and could have had He wanted to) or disappointment at our own failures (I missed God’s best because of ignorance or rebellion) seem to be focused entirely on our selves rather than God.

But, of even more serious consequence is that regret distracts us from the only thing we have in which do to anything and that is today, the present in which we live.  Being preoccupied with “what might have been” hides the ‘what is now the case” from our attention.  It is a favored tactic of the Enemy because it is so effective, especially to those who fervently desire God’s best and to those entangled in self-centeredness.  Being filled with regret paralyzes us from doing anything now.  We can either be afraid of making yet more regrettable decisions or so preoccupied with past decisions that the moment in which we live simply passes us by, both being the occasion for yet more regret.  Paul’s advice is most helpful here: “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.  Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing you be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.”

Whatever Happened to Repentance?

The first message Jesus preached was: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” The operative word here, of course, is repent. Repentance means to turn around, change one’s mind and go in the opposite direction one is heading, in this case from sin to God. It’s clear you would have to know what the right direction is in order to turn around which, at the very least, demands a proper understanding of sin.

We’ve been told by postmodern gurus ranging from psychologists to atheists that the notion of sin is really just a social construct based on ever shifting opinions of right and wrong. And our culture has bought into this so there really isn’t a compelling reason to change directions because (with the exception of God) there really is no other direction to choose.  However, if sin turns out to not be a social construct but a violation of absolute truths revealed to us by a Perfect, Holy and Righteous Being to whom we owe our very existence and the penalty for such violations is eternal death then changing directions is of utmost importance.

Now, I have been to churches (the ‘seeker friendly’ type) where invitations to become followers of Jesus are given without even the mention of repentance. In fact, every attempt is made to remove negativity from the messages and emphasize all the positive aspects of being a Christian. This fits nicely into our cultural milieu of ‘make me feel good’ and instant self-gratification (the natural result of ‘there is no such thing as sin’) which is the very worldly attitude the church should denounce. In the absence of such censure, the “godly sorrow” (2 Cor. 7:10-11) that true repentance generates is out-of-place. I mean just imagine scores of people crying, weeping, feeling horrible about their lives, prostrating before God and asking His forgiveness (like the ministries of say Billy Sunday) during a church service; this just wouldn’t be compatible with a ‘feel good’ atmosphere. It would no doubt compel many seekers to seek the first door out of the sanctuary.

Anyway, the argument goes that society has changed and people see the world differently than they did centuries ago. Therefore, we must change along with it to remain ‘relevant’. I counter this fallacious thinking by invoking the one constant that remains no matter what a culture is like: all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Therefore, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand” is as relevant today as it was during the time of Jesus and, just as in the times of Jesus, some will be offended at the message while others will embrace it along with its Messenger. Only the right message will bring about the right result and the Church is responsible, not for its content, but only for its accurate and complete proclamation including repentance.

On a final note, repentance is enjoined upon Christians and must continue long after initial conversion.  Read the letters to the churches found in the first three chapters of John’s Revelation. With the exception of one, the final word of Jesus to His churches was “repent…”. What this tells me is that repentance is part of any genuine Christian experience. This means that the preaching of repentance in our churches should be an ongoing practice which, in turn, requires reminding us all that sin must be taken seriously, very seriously. More on this later.


Trench Warfare

Trench warfare, militant church. spiritual warfare, spiritual weapons, armor of God, fighting the good fight.  These and other terms depict  Christ’s Church as anything but passive or nicey nice.

There was a time in her history that the Christian church acted militarily to subdue its perceived enemies and acted on the assumption of God’s blessing for conquering His enemies. This came about from the sometimes unfortunate alliance of church and state where political and power agendas could be easily disguised as spiritual. And, given the power of the state with its standing armies the church could accomplish its ends without appearing sullied. Thus, so-called Christian imperialism was born and remains a source of contention, embarrassment, and cause for timidity for many churches and Christians to this day. However, the point here is simple- that in spite of past misconduct, the Church as the Body of Christ has always been called to battle, to fight the good fight, to die for the faith if necessary. By so doing it continues what Jesus started, a ministry of trench warfare, a messy foray into the depths of humanities propensity for both blatantly obvious and subtly enlightened evil. So, every local church, at least in my opinion, has a trench it is supposed to be fighting in for the cause of Christ and the advancement of the kingdom.

Now, I cannot say what specific trenches might be for specific churches. Each church is unique, its members placed by the Holy Spirit in that Body and no other which itself is cause for wonderment. The people in a church (I mean, of course, a Christ centered, Bible based congregation) might think they are there by choice or accident and the leadership might think they are there because of their ingenious programs.  But, the fact is, they are Christ’s people, saved by His blood, given gifts and placed there by the always mysterious machinations of His Spirit.

And I must emphasize it is trench warfare, it is a place where sin and evil is met head-on so to speak. We must think of ourselves as warriors, as aggressors against the Enemy and learn that behind every physical manifestation of evil and sin there are spiritual powers that cannot be overcome by anything other than spiritual weaponry.

So, the church and its leaders must set out to discover that trench they are to fight in, prepare themselves for battle, and then go on the offensive in the Name of Jesus.  Not any easy task, any of it really. Scary in fact because such adventures are usually into unknown territory but herein lies the secret of success. Any successful offensive is only brought about by the Lord Himself. What He asks of us is that we yield to Him so that we become His hands, feet, eyes, ears and mouth. He does the ministry, not us.  That is, if we lose sight that it is His ministry, His power, His cause, His Spirit by which we fight, I seriously doubt any of us will every engage in trench warfare. We will always have a shortcoming, a flaw, a secret sin, a less than dedicated heart that stand in the way of our full effectiveness; it might even the reason we don’t get involved in the first place. Or maybe we think ourselves to powerless, too old, to uneducated, to ill trained, to busy, to something to ever get involved in something like trench warfare. The fact is, however, that like it or not every one of us is in a fight; the difference between us is whether we simply find a hiding place in the trenches or whether we take up arms and fight back.

I have also noticed that given all the resistance to Christianity we might become apologetic for our beliefs rather than overwhelmingly confident we hold the truth about the ways things have been, the way things are, and the way things will be. I refer you to an earlier blog “Truth…What Truth?” for a discussion about this. The point is when you and I take a stand, it is a stand against something and for something.  Standing for the truth identifies who we are, standing against all untruth reveals the power that is ours through Him.

The upshot is that success or defeat in the trenches depends on whether we are led and empowered by His Spirit or whether we are pursuing our own agendas and empowered only by the flesh. Our lives will be a witness to which one of these options we choose.

God Particles and Immortality

Scientists say they’re close to unlocking the secrets of immortality.

I saw this article today about living forever. This along with numerous articles on the “God” particle that physicists say might soon be verified all reminded me of the Tower of Babel. I mean, the tower incident was about humanities attempt to reach God with neither God’s permission or His help and thereby bringing God down to their level. Both represent the arrogance of human pride and are  examples of the pride I spoke of in the “Wow!” blog.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not an adversary of discovering how the universe works nor do I disdain long, healthy life spans. The peril I see is the cleverness of our species warped by sin and its ambitions squarely under the dominion of malevolent forces it can scarcely imagine. I mean, look at the condition of the world. Here we are on the brink of unprecedented disaster and understanding how the universe works or how to live longer will not fix the planet or the people living on it. Why? Because there is a fatal flaw in the very structure of human existence that compels it towards sin and death. Living a lot longer only delays the inevitable and, in the meantime, allows more time for mischief. I mean, living longer only means more time to sin. The only worthwhile eternal life is one of purity, righteousness and holiness and this is simply beyond the reach of human beings to achieve no matter how long  they live.

Oh, and by the way, God is not a particle.



Job 21:14–15(ESV)

14    They say to God, ‘Depart from us!

We do not desire the knowledge of your ways.

15    What is the Almighty, that we should serve him?

And what profit do we get if we pray to him?’


In other words, don’t hang around with us God, we are happy with our ignorance and your Presence is a distraction. You may not even be that almighty after all and therefore unworthy of our service and besides, service without profit is not something we are interested in anyway. This is Job’s description of the wicked who, in spite of their wickedness, seem to get along just fine ( vv 1-13).

When I read this today I just went ‘wow’ because it is a description of the nature and depth of human pride and is in every way the same that led to Lucifer’s fall. It infected our parents in Eden and has been passed to all generations since. Hence, Romans 1 is an absolutely accurate description of humanities rejection of God’s knowledge and the consequences of that rejection; it forms the conclusion to this passage. Anyone in their right mind, angelic or human, understands that rebellious humanity has lost its mind and fallen into utter insanity.

Note the idea of ‘profit’ in these verses. The implication here is that God is seen not in the light of His utter majesty and transcendence (the Almighty) but as another way to get what we want; prayer is reduced to a “what’s in it for me” exercise. What’s more, serving God is viewed the same; i.e. if I serve God what will the benefits be?

Now, I’m certainly not saying that being a Christian is without benefits, quite the contrary. But these benefits cannot be our motivation for Christian service or for prayer because the whole impetus behind them is giving and sacrifice, not getting and accumulating. I have witnessed preachers frame the gospel message solely in terms of its benefits and little else. And this sort of message appeals to those in a materialistic culture like ours. The fact is that only by losing one’s life can it be gained, the last will be first, and the greatest are the servants of all.

A day of reckoning is coming (vv 27-34) when evil and evil men will be judged. This is both a hope and a warning; a hope insofar as we know that righteousness and goodness will prevail over all injustice and a warning insofar as we know God is neither blind nor deaf to what goes on in His creation.






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