Friday, May 26, 2017

SCRIPTURE AND THE ILLUMINATION OF THE SPIRIT





On the one hand, Scripture teaches that Scripture is enough:

·       All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

However, many pastors teach that it is not enough. One pastor/professor confessed that he had memorized many of the books of the Bible as a teen and participant in Bible competitions. However, he confessed that, despite all of his Scripture knowledge, he remained depressed and confused.

While this is undoubtedly a problem for many, the pastor used this example (among others) to justify his approach to discipleship, focusing on exploring our hurts and formative traumas.

While this prescription is questionable, the pastor is certainly correct that we need more than just Bible memorization or a PHD in Scripture. We need the Holy Spirit to apply Scripture to our hearts and minds.

·       And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:13-14)

The Spirit has to make the Scriptures real for us. We call this the illumination of Scripture. If the Spirit is not part of this equation, Scripture remains foolishness to us. Why? Because ordinarily, we remain prisoners of the darkness:

  • The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God…For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:4-6)

God, the Spirit, has to take the Scriptures and apply them to our hearts. In the previous chapter, Paul explained that the Jews also had the Scriptures, but they had been blinded to them and their saving power:

  • But their [Israel’s] minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains un-lifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:14-18)

When our hearts are unveiled, we can behold God’s glory through the Word and be transformed. Israel had the Gospel in their Hebrew Scriptures, but they also needed to have minds unveiled by the Spirit. Consequently, Paul wrote that the ministry of the Word is a twofold phenomenon. It is both the product of Apostolic writing/teaching and the Spirit:

  • You are our letter…clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. (2 Cor. 3:2-3)

Therefore, understanding, appreciating, and internalizing Scripture is not possible without the Spirit. Consequently, Paul admitted that what he had written to Timothy required the Spirit’s illumination:

  • Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (2 Timothy 2:7)

The Apostle John also pointed to the essential work of the Spirit in a church rocked by the departure of a number of its members (1 John 2:19-20):

·       I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing [of the spirit] you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit--just as it has taught you, remain in him. (1 John 2:26-27)

Clearly, John wasn’t suggesting that the Apostolic teachings (including their writings) weren’t important. In the same letter, He emphasized the need for their teachings:

·       They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. (1 John 4:5-6)

Those who had the Spirit listened to the Apostles. They recognized the voice of Jesus in them and believed. This is because they had the anointing of the Spirit:

·       Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:25-27)

If we have this anointing, we believe and follow. If we lack this anointing and illumination, we do not believe and follow. Instead, the Word remains unappealing to us.

Why then do we see so little of the presence of this anointing in the Church? In retrospect, God has shown me that He first had to tear me down so that He could then lift me out of my pride. When I read Scripture, I was looking for those verses that would exalt and validate me. I wasn’t looking to exalt God. Instead, it was all about me. However, “He opposes the proud” (James 4:6), as Jesus often taught:

·       “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14; 14:11)

It required many painful years to teach me that true life is about exalting Him before all else, knowing that, in this manner, He would also provide for me (Matthew 6:33). And I am still learning this lesson. However, now, when I read the Scriptures, I pray for God’s understanding of them, and this is exactly what He wants to give us. When Jesus appeared to His Apostles after His resurrection:

·       Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:44-45; also 25-26)

Jesus is still in the business of opening our minds to understand His Holy Scriptures. Let us trust in Him to illuminate our minds and guide our feet!











Thursday, May 25, 2017

FACING SHAME, FAILURE, AND DEATH





A filmmaker had written to a Stoic-advice-column confessing that he was a failure and felt deeply ashamed of himself. Even though most Stoics deny the existence of God, I appreciate many of their values and also their advice, although they can only offer a human-centered hope.

The Stoic adviser started with a quote from Epictetus, counseling us to concentrate on doing only those things that are within our power to do:

·       Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.” (Epictetus,  Enchiridion, 1.1)

This mirrors the advice of the popular and useful “serenity prayer”:

·       God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.

The Stoic advisor then focused in on the “wisdom” part:

·       Now, is there something positive you can learn from your experiences so far, and see a way through an alternative, yet similar, career, or perhaps the same one, but adopting a different approach.

Truly, sometimes we can learn some valuable lessons from defeat and shame, and these lessons might lead us in a more fruitful direction. However, without Christ, the burden still rests upon us, and the burdens of life can prove crushing, no matter our abilities and efforts. Therefore, life must be about accepting the good with the bad. Wisely, the Stoic advisor concluded with a quote from Seneca:

·       No man has ever been so far advanced by Fortune that she did not threaten him as greatly as she had previously indulged him. Do not trust her seeming calm; in a moment the sea is moved to its depths. The very day the ships have made a brave show in the games, they are engulfed. (Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, IV. On the Terrors of Death, 7)

Using this quotation, the advisor concluded with the encouragement to be grateful for what we have, since tragedy is not far away from any of us.

This, of course, is a needful perspective. However, there is another perspective that is even more needful. The prospect of tragedy can consume and overthrow us. Stability and confidence ultimately depends on the reality a greater and eternal perspective to eclipse the inevitable tragedy of decline. Therefore, the Bible reminds us of the example of Jesus:

·       Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

How can we endure the shame, pain, and our eventual demise? Without the Lord, it is only possible by hardening ourselves, and this comes with its own costs.

Besides, how can we endure the shame of constant failure and feelings of worthlessness? Again, it is only through the assurances of our Lord, who teaches us that our worth is not determined by our performance or even by the worth that society confers upon us. Instead, it comes from an eternal relationship with a Being whose thoughts are the grounds of all worth and reality:

·       I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

I now see myself through the eyes of my Savior, and I have been set free from so much that had tormented me.




Tuesday, May 23, 2017

IS CHRISTIANITY PRIMITIVE AND TRIBAL?





Many try to disparage the Christian faith and the Bible by quoting OT passages they know are found unacceptable by today’s culture. Here is one way to counter this attack. This is what I had written to several skeptics:

“While we regard the entire Bible as inspired, we also regard Mosaic Law as temporary, symbolic, and entirely fulfilled by Jesus’ death on the Cross.

Therefore, Christians are no longer under the Mosaic Law but the New Covenant:

·       In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:13)

The NT claims that everything that had been promised in the OT has been fulfilled in Christ:

·       For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. (2 Corinthians 1:20)

Therefore, we must no longer judge those who do not follow the OT Law:

·       Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)

So much of the Mosaic Law had been symbolic and didn’t represent enduring moral principles, like those embodied within the Ten Commandments or the Golden Rule. Now that the Substance (Messiah – the Savior) has come, we no longer need the symbols of His coming. (Admittedly, much of the symbolism we no longer understand.)

·       For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:1-4)

I hope that this has been helpful. I also hope that you see that those who try to disparage the Christian faith by citing OT passages are really off-the-mark.”

Monday, May 22, 2017

AN ARGUMENT FOR GOD FROM THE NECESSITY OF NON-CONTINGENCY





I must apologize from the beginning for the terminology. Non-contingency merely means that something or someone does not depend on another cause for its existence. Another way of putting – the first cause cannot have a cause. This cause is not dependent on another cause. Instead, it is self-existing and has always existed.

Let’s now take an overview of the proof:

PREMISE #1: Something exists. 

PREMISE #2: Everything that exists either has a cause (is dependent on something else) or doesn’t have a cause.

PREMISE #3: What requires a cause depends upon what doesn’t require a cause for its existence.

CONCLUSION: Something or Someone exists without a cause.


PREMISE #1 is easy to prove. Our senses prove existence. Besides, it is impossible to deny existence without first affirming it. To say that “nothing exists” denies this denial. Why? To say “nothing exists” requires something to exist – a thought, at least – and this contradicts the assertion that “nothing exists.”

PREMISE #2 is simply a logical statement. It states either “A” or not “A.” This is either hard or impossible to refute.

PREMISE #3 requires a little more work. It claims that there must be an adequate cause, which is uncaused and causes everything that we observe in this universe – all contingent or dependent reality.

Well, why must there be something that is uncaused? If everything requires a cause, then there would be an infinite regress of unending causes and this would entail an infinite amount of time – a logical impossibility. Why? Because there would be an infinite number of years extending into the past! Therefore, to ever arrive in the present, an infinite number of years would have to be accomplished – a logical impossibility.

If time, then, is not infinite, then an infinite regress of causation cannot exist. Besides, if science has concluded that the universe is only 14 billion years old, then temporal causation must also be limited by these years and cannot be infinite.

Besides, any effect requires a sufficient cause(s). However, if there is an infinite regress of causes, there can never be a sufficient cause(s).  Cause (or explanation) X is never adequate to explain any phenomena because cause X requires the prior cause W, which requires its own cause V, ad infinitum (to infinity), implying that there is never an adequate explanation or any ultimate answer.

Nor can we claim that contingent (caused) things spring into existence without a cause. For one thing, we haven’t observed this. For another, the necessary assumption of science is that there are causes for phenomena. To claim that there are uncaused phenomena is to claim that certain observed phenomena are beyond understanding.

CONCLUSION: A non-contingent, uncaused Causer must exist. Besides, this Causer must be sufficient to account for the various phenomena – the laws of science, fine-tuning of the universe, life, consciousness, freewill…

If there are other possibilities, I am not aware of them. Admittedly, we are discussing things about which we know little. However, based upon the little we do know – this reasoning – it would appear that there must be an eternally existing uncaused First Cause.