Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Be Strong -- Put on the Armor -- Pray

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places… praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
Ephesians 6:10-12, 18-20

A Silent Witness?

Every Church has dogmas. Even the Churches that are constantly decrying dogmas have them in effect. When they say that they want a Christianity without dogma, they are by that very statement declaring a dogma. They all have certain definite convictions in religious matters, and also ascribe to them a certain authority, though they do not always formulate them officially and acknowledge them candidly. History clearly proves that even the present day opposition, is not to dogmas as such, but simply opposition to a certain kind of dogmas, or to certain specific dogmas, which do not find favor in the eyes of modern theologians. A Church without dogmas would be a silent Church, and this is a contradiction in terms. A silent witness would be no witness at all, and would never convince anyone.
Systematic Theology, p. 31

People Trust Trustworthy People

“‘I know only one method of operation,’ he wrote in his diary: ‘To be as honest with others as I am with myself.”

“When President Franklin Roosevelt pressured him to get tough with the local French, Eisenhower refused, explaining, ‘My whole strength in dealing with the French has been based upon my refusal to quibble or to stoop to any kind of subterfuge or double dealing.’

“The French responded. One official told him, ‘As long as you say that, I believe it!’ Another said, ‘I have found that you will not lie or evade in any dealings with us, even when it appears you could easily do so.’

… “indeed, whenever associates described Eisenhower, there was one word that almost all of them, superiors or subordinates, used. It was trust. People trusted him for the most obvious reason—he was trustworthy.”
Stephen Ambrose, biographer. Quoted in Guinness, p. 60.

It's Such a Small Sin -- It Won't Matter

…The steps were small and seemingly innocuous, but within a generation, the Israelites were familiar enough with the surrounding people that they were serving their Baals (Judge. 2:1-12).

This is the way sin deceives. In order to slip past our consciences, it must begin with small steps of disobedience. Were the Israelites aware of their steps toward idolatry? Probably not. Idolatry is automatic. When the sentry of our hearts is not vigilant, idolatry is like an instinct. It happens naturally. If you had warned the Israelites oat this early stage, they probably would have denied incipient idolatry. From their perspective it certainly didn’t feel like outright rebellion. But it was.
Welch, p. 59.

Monday, February 26, 2007

It Isn't That Difficult: Call On the Name of The Lord

For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Romans 10:13-17

The Contents of Her Faith

The Church cannot perform her function in the world, unless she becomes conscious of, and give clear expression to, the contents of her faith. The Church of Jesus Christ was appointed to be a depository, a guardian, and a witness of the truth, and can only be true to her calling, if she has a definite conception of the truth. Ministers are exhorted to hold fast the pattern of sound words [2 Tim. 1:13], and believers in general, to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, but how can they accomplish their important task, if there is no agreement as to the “sound words” and as to what the Church believes.
Berkhof, Louis, Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology, (WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1932), P. 30

A Gradual Journey

It was once thought that those who were susceptible to addictions became addicts the moment they tried their desired substance. While it is true hat some people seem to fall in love quickly, for most people idolatry is a slowly developing courtship. Idolatry is a gradual journey that begins even before the first shot of booze, Internet hit, toke of a marijuana cigarette, or bulimic binge.
Welch, p. 65.

Reluctant Leaders

The truth is quite different: the state whose prospective rulers come to their duties with least enthusiasm is bound to have the best and most tranquil government, and the state whose rulers are eager to rule the worst.
Plato’s Republic quoted in Guinness, p. 57.

No Merit In the Bible

I was reading someone else’s blog the other day and noticed something about the Federal Vision Theology debate that I hadn’t known before. When FV guys say they affirm the imputation of the passive and active righteousness of Christ and deny that merit has anything to do with justification the anti-FVers’ go nuts. I couldn’t figure it out until I realized that somehow they link the two together.

When I say that Christ’s passive and active obedience work together to make my salvation sure, I am not talking about his earning (or meriting) my salvation. This is baptistic language, not covenantal language. When I was a Baptist I would use the analogy of a courtroom where the judge has just condemned me to death for my crimes. Then Jesus steps up to the bench and says something like, “I know he is a worm and not worthy of saving, but I died so that he wouldn’t have to. My holy life earned me the privilege of dying in Mike’s place and my death will cover his sins.” I noticed the injustice of this arrangement, but I never noticed that it was merit kind of system.

Jesus’ death on my behalf was unjust because I deserved my death, not Jesus. He did nothing wrong and to put him to death for my sins, while ding in my place was a noble act on his part, to kill Jesus was an unjust act on God’s part. It is unjust to kill one man in the place of another man. And it is doubly unjust to kill a righteous man in the place of a criminal.

What I was saying, as a Baptist, was that Jesus, by living a perfect life and dying an acceptable death, earned my salvation. His merit was credited to my account and thus I was saved. What I was also saying was that somehow Jesus was able to do more than what was expected of him so that his perfect life not only covered, or protected, his own life, but also accrued merit sufficient for my sins.

However, the Bible does not talk this way about salvation at all. The only time the Bible talks about wages or earning anything is when it says that our sin earns us death (Rom. 6:23). We earn death, not life. No one earns life, not even Jesus. The reasons Jesus could not have earned life was: first, because he already had life. It takes sin to earn death and apart from when God laid our sins on Christ and he became sin for us (Isa. 53:6) he didn’t earn death in the first place. Second, the whole talk about earning, life or death, assumes that good deeds have some sort of weight. But while evil deeds earn death, good deeds because they are normal, or expected, have no weight at all. Since they have no weight, they cannot earn anyone anything. No one, even Jesus, does anything more than what is expected and thus no one earns anything more than what they have already received (“We are only unworthy servants.” Lk. 17:10). Jesus did exactly what the Father asked him to do. He did it perfectly, but perfection still doesn’t go above what is asked, it only does what is expected. It is normal. It has no merit. Jesus did not earn anything by being perfect, not his own salvation, and certainly not ours.

I don’t see merit in the Bible at all except for the fact that sin merits death. We earn death by our sinfulness. The answer is in covenant, not merit. More on this next time.

Friday, February 09, 2007

He's Talking To Us

And he said to me, "Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it." Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey. And he said to me, "Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them. For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel—not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you. But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me. Because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart.”
Ezekiel 3:3-7

The Idol Wife

Dear Pastor Lawyer,

Consider the following: Suppose “Demetrius, [the] silversmith, which made silver shrines for Diana,” (a fertility goddess, no less – Acts 19) became converted to Christ (3 John 1:12?). Then suppose he had a Christian wife whose beauty he enjoyed, which, of course, is allowed him by God’s grace. But now, suppose he decides to use his experienced skills to create a silver sculpture of his wife, but for his (& her) eyes only (like, maybe he kept it under a sheet, “with password protection,” or something like that). What do you think the apostles Paul or John would say to that, and perhaps “think[ing] also that [they] have the Spirit of God” (I Cor. 7:40)?


Dear Robert,

I don't know preciselywhat Paul or John would say, but here's what I would say, "Demetrius, what does your wife think about your making a statue of her for your enjoyment (when she isn't there)?" My guess is that she wouldn't feel loved. Women, generally, don't think of themselves as objects to be "enjoyed" in that way. Love making is about giving not getting, and most women know this and feel used or abused by men who think of them as objects for their own private physical enjoyment.

I've never met a woman who would be comfortable having her body recreated in any way. They are usually their own worst critic and would "die" if they knew someone had made a statue of them; especially in the . The “internet” women who show-off their bodies to perverted men have something wrong with them (not necessarily mental, but spiritual). And so they pretend to enjoy men thinking of them in the ways they do.

So, I would say, "Demetrius, stop thinking like a pagan man and love your wife in the way she needs to be loved. Honor her, adore her, lift her up to God, and make her beautiful in a godly way rather than a worldly way."

That's what I think I'd say.

Pastor Lawyer

Forgive Your Brother

Forgive Your Brother
Suppose you are sitting in your favorite coffee shop and a fellow you know from church comes up, kicks you in the shin, and runs away. A few minutes later he comes back and apologizes profusely and begs for your forgiveness. He says he has repented and will never, with God’s help, do it or anything like it again. What do you do?

If you are a good Christian person, your response should be to graciously accept his apology, his confession of sin, and to forgive him (Luke 17:3).

Now suppose, an hour later, the same fellow comes back into the shop and repeats the exact same thing he has done earlier. He kicks you in the shin and later comes to ask for forgiveness. To make it even more dramatic, suppose he’s now in front of you, asking for your forgiveness for the seventh time today. At this point, what do you do?

Despite your hurting shin, wounded ego, and the fact that you feel a bit silly for not avoiding him sooner, the Biblical answer is—you forgive him again. Sounds pretty strange, doesn’t it? But turn in your Bible to Luke 17:3, “…if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him." You see, Jesus told us to forgive a fellow at least seven times for the same sin, even seven times for the same sin in a single day.

“Wait a minute,” I can hear you saying, “Shouldn’t repentance be accompanied by some sort of fruit? Why should I forgive him, if he clearly hasn’t repented? He keeps coming back and kicking me; that doesn’t sound like repentance.” But notice, Jesus said nothing about fruit; He said, “If he says, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” It has nothing to do with a changed life. In other words, our forgiveness and our not holding the sin against him (this is what forgiveness means) has to do with what he says, not with what he actually does or will do one hour down the road.

The reason this is true is that repentance is a function of sanctification. The word ‘repent’ means to change your mind. I used to think in the same way that the world does about this particular action, but now I think the way God thinks. This change of mind comes from the hand of God as a gracious gift, and, as with all change, is part of God’s sanctification.

Further, as we all know, sanctification is a process, not an instantaneous, complete change in a person. Change can happen instantaneously, and praise God, it often does, but it is not usually that way. People will often struggle with temptation for a long time before God grants victory, and sin is finally overcome.

How often have you sinned, been convicted, confessed and repented of the sin, and never fallen into that sin again? Usually, often, seldom, never? Most of us sin quite a bit after we have repented the first time.

If we were to wait until fruit of repentance was present before we forgave the fellow who kicked us in the shin, we would never have restored fellowship with him. We could never be sure he had truly repented because, while he hasn’t kicked us for several minutes, you never know what will happen in the next hour or even tomorrow.

The point? It is better to obey, even when we don’t understand why, than to try to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. It is better to forgive our brother and maintain fellowship than to try to read another’s heart and his level of sanctification-“If your brother sins against you…and if he repents, forgive him” (cf. Mt. 18:21ff.).

Bid the Geldings Be Fruitful

Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism….As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the ‘spirited element.’ The head rules the belly through the chest—the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest—Magnanimity—Sentiment—these are the dispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man….

And all the time—such is the tragic-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive,’ or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity.’ In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ an demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.
C.S. Lewis, “Men without Chests” in Guinness, p. 52.

A Good Academic Brawl

Literary criticism that doesn't stir a few combative juices is hardly worth writing, and there are few spectator sports as enjoyable as a good academic brawl.
Zinsser, p. 205.

Disease & Sin — Similar but Different

Have you (or has someone you know) been captivated by a disease model? Here is the point of contact. Scripture, indeed, emphasizes that sin has many things in common with a disease. For example, it affects our entire being, it is painful, it leads to death, and it is absolutely tragic. Yet there are also ways in which sin is not like a disease. It is something we do rather than catch, we confess it rather than treat it, the disease is in our hearts rather than our bodies, and only the forgiveness and cleansing found in the blood of the Great Physician is sufficient to bring thorough healing.
Welch, p. 61.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Target Audience

I told the principles that we want to think of the men and women who run our children’s schools as people not unlike ourselves. We are suspicious of pretentiousness, of all the fad words that the social scientists have coined to avoid making themselves clear to ordinary mortals. I urged them to be natural. How we write is how we talk is how we define ourselves.
Zinsser, p. 168.

Plato's Ideal Leader

In Plato’s ideal state, those who can see beyond the immediate physical realm to what is truly “good” and “just” ought to lead. And as leaders, they ought not chiefly to seek their own happiness, but rather to use the tools of the state to likewise instruct and guide those they lead into true goodness and justice—or, in other words, to craft the souls of citizens toward noble character.

The challenge of Plato’s writings to modern readers is threefold: to select leaders of character (able to see and practice true goodness and justice); to hold those leaders accountable for fostering and rewarding character in those they lead; and, as leaders in our own right, to strive to develop our own character. Then, whether in our families, churches, or communities, we can lead from that powerful core.

Guinness, p. 51.

The Lord Sees

“[God] said to me, ‘Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his own idol? They say, “The Lord does not see us….”’”

“[God] answered me, ‘The sin of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great; the land is full of bloodshed and the city is full of injustice. They say, “The Lord has forsaken the land; the Lord does not see….”’”

“This is what the Lord says: That is what you are saying, O house of Israel, but I know what is going through your mind.”

Ezekiel 8:12; 9:9; 11:5

The Fool and His Folly

The fool’s attention wanders, never focuses on wisdom (Prov. 17:24). He ignores all consequences (Prov. 9). He is persuaded that his way is the right way, so there is no reason to listen to others (Prov. 14:12; 28:26). He thinks he will always get away with it, but he will be exposed (Prov. 15:3). He goes with his feelings, not realizing that they can mislead (Prov. 14:8). Of course, the fool feels the consequences of his behavior at times, and he might even have glimpses into how he has brought pain on others (Prov. 17:25), but consequences are no deterrent (Prov. 27:22). The destructive pattern is repeated because folly is enjoyed (Prov. 26:11).
Welch, p. 58.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Exodus 2:11-25

Study Questions for Exodus 2:11-25

Context: What has gone on so far in the book?

2:11—Did Moses have any doubt about his nationality?
What do we know about Moses at this point in his life? Acts 7:22; Heb. 11:24, 25
How old was Moses at this point? Acts 7:23
What did Moses find when he went out walking?
Who was fighting? Why were they fighting?

Vs. 12—What did Moses do before he acted?
How did he act?
The same Hebrew word is used in the first part of this verse “He slew the Egyptian” and in verse 11 “he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew” and 13 “Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow?”
What did he do with the Egyptian’s body?
Why do you suppose he hid the body?

Vs. 13—What happened on another day?
Who were fighting this time?
How did Moses get involved in this fight?
Why do you suppose Moses thought it was his duty to become embroiled in another’s fight?

Vs. 14—How did the combatants respond to Moses attempt at peacemaking? Acts 7:25
How private was Moses’ first action of murdering the Egyptian?
What was Moses response to the accusation?
Why do you suppose Moses was fearful? Do you think he thought he was to be some sort of leader and savior of the Jews?

Vs. 15—Who heard about the murder next?
What did he seek to do to Moses for the murder?
What did Moses do when he heard that Pharaoh wanted to take his life? Same word in Hebrew as in 11, 12, 13.
How do you think Hebrews 11:27 fits with this passage? The word translated “flee” in Hebrew means he departed unobserved, rather than the word that means “ran away.”
Where did he run to? How far was Midian from Egypt?
What did he do when he got there? The word “sat down” means “to dwell.”
Why do you suppose the text doesn’t tell us anything about the journey?

What is this section about? Why do you suppose Moses included this section in the story?
Why didn’t God free the Israelites right then when Moses was the most strong in Egypt?

Vs. 16—Who were the Midianites? Gen17:20, Num. 22:4
What do we know about the family of the priest of Midian? Gen 14:18-20
How many daughters did he have?
Why do we care anything about the priest of Midian?
What were the daughters doing?
What is the significance of the well?
Why do we care about their water habits?

Vs. 17—What happened when the daughters came to water their flocks?
Who intervened? Why do you suppose Moses thinks he needs to get involved in everyone else’s problems?
How did Moses get involved this time? Did he kill anyone?

Vs. 18—What was the name of the priest of Midian? Ex. 3:1
What did Reuel (friend of God, or shepherd of God) ask the daughters when they came back?

Vs. 19—Why had the daughters come back so soon?
What nationality did they think Moses was?
Why do you think they thought Moses was an Egyptian?
Where was Moses at this time?

Vs. 20—What did Reuel tell the s?
Why do you suppose they left Moses at the well?
What did Reuel tell the s to do with Moses?

Vs. 21—How did Moses respond to the invitation to meal?
How long did Moses live with Reuel?
What was his reward for living there?
What was Moses’ wife’s name? Who was she?

Vs. 22—How did their marriage go?
What was their first child? What was his name?
Why did they name him Gershom? “banishment, expulsion”

Why did the author tell us some facts and not others?

Vs. 23— How much time has passed between this verse and the pervious verse?
What happened next?
What happened with regard to the Israelites because the King died?
Why were they crying?
What do you suppose they were saying?

Vs. 24—Who was listening to their cries?
What was God’s response to their groaning?
What is a covenant?
Why was the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob significant?
What does it mean that God remembered his covenant? Gen 8:1; 19:29; 30:22; 1 Sam. 1:19; Psa 78:29; 98:3; 106:49.
Remember not—Psa 25:7; Isa 43:25; Jer. 31:34; Heb. 10:17

Vs. 25—What did God do as a result of remembering the covenant?
What does it mean that he looked on them?
What does it mean that God had respect for them?

What can we learn from Moses about how to live?
Did Moses walk with God? Was there faith in his life?
What did this passage teach us about God’s plain for history? How long have the people waited to be delivered? What did they think about Moses?
Can we wait on God even when we don’t see anything happing?
Are things happening, when we don’t see them?
Why does history go the way it goes?
Who is God?

Sin is Not Rational

How can this be applied to a struggling addict? Adultery introduces more personal language for addicts. They indulge in a secret life that will eventually be exposed, either immediately or in eternity. Deception is commonplace. People are unfaithful to their spouses and enter into a relationship with their beloved. Why do they do it, especially when it could result in such pain for themselves and others? They do it because they love the pleasure and the fawning attention of the other person. They do it because they love their desires above all else. They do it because they feel like they need it. The relationship becomes their life…It all seems so foolish. Yet there will be no satisfactory answer. Sin is not rational. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t look into the future. It doesn’t consider consequences, especially if they are not immediate. All it knows is “I WANT—I WANT MORE.”
Welch, p. 57.

Who We Are

The biblical view of character, set out in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, is unquestionably the oldest, highest, and most demanding in the world. According to this view, character matters supremely because God has character, and from His own character, He both says what we should be and sees clearly what we are. Our character is, therefore, “who we are when no one sees—but God.”
Guinness, p. 45.

Start With What is Most Important

Imagine science writing as an upside-down pyramid. Start at the bottom with the one fact a reader must know before he can lean any more. The second sentence broadens what was stated first, making the pyramid wider, and the third sentence broadens the second, so that you can gradually move beyond fact into significance and speculation—how a new discovery alters what was known, what new avenues of research it might open, where the research might be applied. There’s no limit to how wide the pyramid can become, but your readers will understand the broad implications only if they start with one narrow fact.
Zinsser 149.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Exodus 2:1-10

Study Questions for Exodus 2:1-10

What has gone on so far in the book?

Can you tell where the story breaks are? Introduction…conclusion.

Generally, what is this story about? Who is the story about?

2:1 Who were Moses parents?
What does “house of Levi” mean?
Is there any significance to the fact that they were from the tribe of Levy? What?
What was the tribe of Levi’s significance later in Jewish history? Pedigree?

2—The woman bore a son. But his sister and brother (7:7) were both older than Moses. Why is it worded this way?
What does “fine child” mean? Acts 7:20; Heb 11:23
What did the parents do with Moses after he was born? For how long?
What about the king’s edict?
Does the context and the way the text is written lead you to think Moses’ mother thought of God the same way the midwives did? What did the New Testament writer think? Heb 11:23

3—What did Moses’ mother do next? Why?
Why couldn’t she hide him any longer?
What is an ark? Isa. 18:2
What did she make it out of?
Where else do you see the word ark (same Heb. Word) in the Bible? Gen 6:14; 1 Pet. 3:20
What happened in each of these instances?
Why did she put the ark in the rushes?

4—who was standing by watching? Ex. 15:20
Why don’t they mention anyone’s names?

5—How much time elapsed between when the mother put her baby in the reeds and the Pharaoh’s daughter finds him?
Why was Pharaoh’s daughter down at the water’s edge?
Why were the attendants walking along the river banks?
What did she do when she saw the basket in the reeds?

6—What happened when the basket was brought to the woman?
What did she think about the baby?
How did she know he was a Hebrew baby? Josh 5:5

7—where did the sister come from?
How did they communicate?
What did she say to the daughter of Pharaoh?
Did that make sense in the context?

8—How did Pharaoh’s daughter respond to the request?
Who did the sister get to take care of the baby?
Did this make sense?
What do you think the Pharaoh’s daughter thought about the whole event?

9—What did the daughter of Pharaoh tell the mother?
What besides allowing the mother to take care of her own baby was given to her?
What about the law about having male babies?
Is there any advantage for Moses to be raised by his own parents in his own home? 2:6

10—How much older was Moses when he was taken to the daughter of Pharaoh?
There is some evidence that he was around 9 before he was taken to the Pharaoh’s house. Notice the text says nothing about being weaned.
What did the daughter of Pharaoh name the child? Why?
How old was Moses when he was formally named?
In Egyptian the name Moses sounds like the word for “child of the Nile”
In Hebrew it sounds like the word for “drawing out.”
By naming him, she formally recognized him as her (adopted) son.

Read Aloud

When you read your writing aloud with these connecting links in mind you’ll hear a dismaying number of places where you lost the reader, or confused the reader, or failed to tell him the one fact he needed to know, or told him the same thing twice: the inevitable loose ends of every early draft. What you must do is make an arrangement—one that hold together from start to finish and that moves with economy and warmth.
Zinsser, p. 87.

Power Shows Character

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.
Abraham Lincoln in Guinness, p. 40.

A Certain Intention

The picture is reminiscent of the foolish young man who is being beckoned to the house of the eress (Prov.7)...there is a certain intention to his steps. It is as if he is throwing out the banana peel so he can slip...The young man was purposeful in his pursuit of it...Little did he know that he had walked past ual pleasure and had a one-way ticket to the "chambers of death." His sensual banquet was, in reality, a banquet in the grave.
Welch, p. 56, 57.

Faith is a Funny Thing

Faith is a funny thing. It doesn’t do anything, but you do things based on faith. For example, you are probably reading this while sitting in a chair. But why is that? Why, before you sat down, did you trust that the chair wouldn’t collapse in a heap with you in the middle of it when you sat down? I would submit that you probably trusted the structural integrity of the chair because you’ve sat in it many many times. Or perhaps if it is a new chair, right from the factory, you trusted the person who brought it to you, or perhaps you trusted the maker. Whatever the case, you are sitting in the chair because you believed that it would hold you up and that it wouldn’t let you fall to the floor.

That belief, that trust is what faith is. You had faith that your chair would hold you up and there you sit. But what is actually holding you up? The faith or the chair? I would submit that it would be sort of silly to say that it is your faith that is protecting you from splatness. So the chair is holding you up.

But you are sitting on the chair because you have faith. Faith, trust, belief causes you to have the confidence to let the chair have the chance to hold you. But it isn’t the faith that puts you in the chair in the first place. You choose to sit, based on your belief. Again faith doesn’t actually do anything.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Faith Doesn’t Do Anything

In Luke 17:6 Jesus tells his disciples that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed they could say to a mountain, “Hop into the sea,” and it would do it. Jesus says this in response to the disciple’s request for faith. They had thought that they couldn’t obey Christ when he told them to forgive their brother when he committed the same sin seven times and asked to be forgiven. When you think about this, it is a pretty tall order.

But how is Jesus’ response an answer to their request. They aren’t asking how much faith they will need to forgive their repentant brother, they are asking for more faith itself. They believe that faith does something and they need more of it in order to be more obedient. My guess is that they thought of faith like a muscle. If it is bigger or you have more of it, you can lift more weight. If Jesus gives a difficult command, more faith will be necessary in order to obey.

Jesus’ answer, however, doesn’t really help, other than to be a little bit confusing. He says if they have a little tiny bit of faith, they could cast a mountain into the sea. Does this mean that no one has ever had that much faith? In other places Jesus seems to indicate that a mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds around (cf. Mk. 4:31). There have been no mountains, either before or after, that have jumped into the sea. They never even jumped at the voice of Christ. Does that mean that Jesus didn’t have that much faith either?

Here’s how I think it works: It is true that what Jesus told his disciples was hard to obey. Forgiving a brother who sins against you once is hard enough, but to forgive him seven times for the same sin in the same day is virtually impossible (seven was not a literal number, which only makes it worse). The normal man needs something more than we have to be obedient to this command. I believe Jesus’ response is to say that more faith is not what we need. What we need is to be faithful to our Lord and to be obedient to his commands.

In the text after verse six, Jesus says that if we had a slave who had worked in the field all day we wouldn’t ask him to sit down so we could wait on him after a long hard day. Instead we would tell him to get cleaned up and feed us. After all, the relationship is one of service, not friendship. A slave is a belonging, a tool, a thing to be used for comfort. The owner does not treat his slave as if he were a buddy.

What’s more, the slave’s attitude is that he is only doing what was commanded, it is his duty. The slave knows his place and wouldn’t even imagine that he might be compensated or served when the day in the field is finished. In the same way, Jesus says we should have this same attitude toward God when he gives us a hard command. We are only servants who are doing what we are commanded to do.

What does faith have to do with all this? Believing that God is God and we are only unworthy servants is what faith is. Faith does nothing of itself. If we believe in God, if we trust in God we will do the things he has commanded. And God has promised that as we do what we have been commanded to do because Jesus is Lord, he will give us the power to succeed and will be in us doing the work. In another place in the Bible the Apostle commands us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in us for his good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13).

So faith doesn’t actually do anything. God commands and we obey. We obey because we believe that he is God and we are his unworthy servants. Because we believe God, or because we have faith in God, or because we trust God, we are being obedient. As we go on in life, trusting God’s promises, he lives in us and empowers us to do what he has commanded us to do. This is what living by faith means.

This is also what Jesus meant when he said that we didn’t need more faith to forgive our brother. What we need is a faithful God and a desire to serve him as unworthy servants. And we show that this is true by forgiving our brother seven times in the same day for the same sin.

Be Glad and Rejoice

Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and , children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
Philippians 2:14-18

There Really Isn't A Choice

[My wife] said to me that I was going to have to make a choice—either cocaine or her. Before she finished the sentence, I knew what was coming, so I told her to think carefully about what she was going to say. It was clear to me that there wasn’t a choice. I love my wife, but I’m not going to choose anything over cocaine. It’s sick, but that’s what things have come to. Nothing and nobody comes before my coke.
R. Weiss and S. Mirin, Cocaine (Washington: American Psychiatric Association, 1987), 55. Quoted in Welch, p. 56.

Anger Glorifies Ego

Like David, I thought that if I got angry enough, he would not have to die. I was w3rong, and so was he. Act Up was wrong. Anger is a useful strategy—so is foolishness—if it remains a strategy, and does not become a faith. David was angry for a living. Not only did it not keep him alive, it kept him from whatever comfort he might fleetingly have felt when he was dying. I learned a lot about anger, watching David die. The New Age premise that ‘finding your anger’ is the key to health and strength turns out to be wishful thinking. Anger generates nothing but anger. It doesn’t express truth, it glorifies ego.
David Weir, New York writing and homosexual, criticizing “gay rage’ from Guinness, p. 38.

The Essence of Writing Well

Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it’s where the game is won or lost. That idea is hard to accept. We all have an emotional equity in our first draft; we can’t believe that it wasn’t born perfect. But the odds are close to 100 percent that it wasn’t. Most writers don’t initially say what they want to say, or say it as well as they could. The newly hatched sentence almost always has something wrong with it. It’s not clear. It’s full of clutter. It’s full of clichés. It lacks rhythm. It can be read in several different ways. It doesn’t lead out of the previous sentence. It doesn’t…The point is that clear writing is the result of a lot of tinkering.
Zinsser, p. 83, 84.