Sunday, March 27, 2011

“Love Not the World” While Enjoying the World

As I drove home the other day I heard a song on the radio that brought to my attention many worldly sentiments (when I say “worldly” here I do not necessarily mean carnal rather simply “of this world”). The singer’s voice and the song’s composition were somewhat in the form of alternative/college pop music and had the kind of appeal which brought to the surface certain ideas and values associated with the experience one gets from inclusiveness with the world. The song itself emphasized acceptance, belonging and relating. It was a celebration of both people and the world around us and the empowerment that comes from belonging to such circles.

As I drove along my mind drifted to the muscle car, that had just passed by, with me imagining myself in the driver’s seat to thinking about dinners out at various desirable restaurants with family and friends, to pleasant and indulgent vacations and then on to thoughts of detailed accouterments of this world in which I could cloak myself and from which additional esteem may be earned within this world. In fact my thoughts furthered to selfish images of the envy others may suffer at my possession of such things.

Then I woke up from a call within both of the precipitous and sinful direction such lingering brings. I am not one to make public confessions of such intimate ruminations seeing that discretion is a banner well worth following but on this occasion it serves something greater than personal discretion and that is God’s injunction. We are given a challenging command in Scripture found in 1 John 2:15 which states:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

But this does leave the question, how then are we to enjoy this world without loving it?  Instead of attempting a very broad and comprehensive examination I want to narrow my response and focus upon a single caveat of the issue.

But first and briefly we must have in view what God means when he talks about the world and the things of the world. He is not speaking of the earth itself which is the creation, rather the system and the things produced from that system. 

What system? The system that Satan, the Evil One, the god of this world, has put in place through many means and mechanisms.  Remember, while Holy Writ is inspired of God, cosmos diabolicus  is just as well inspired by Lucifer.  And this system, as Chafer notes, is multifaceted and from this are derived many products which are “things of the world”.

The Caveat

As I described above in my mental wanderings I entered a certain realm of consideration and desire which involved, in the end, a sense of empowerment that comes when we opt for cosmos diabolicus instead of God’s viewpoint and plan. Here is what I mean.

Within the world there is a value system that operates both consciously and subconsciously.  And that value system is one which rewards the worldling and punishes the believer. That’s right, it punishes the believer. Our varying media reflect that value system as do many corporations and organizations. You must have the right clothing, the right car, know the right people and be seen in and among them all and do so in a way that does not just satisfy people with you but invokes covetousness because you have what they do not. It is a mental attitude or philosophy that the world not only permits you to be aware of but encourages you to practice. It teaches you to look forward to the jealousy of others as part of your reward for gaining possessions or becoming eminent in this world. There is an empowerment because you have what others want and you and they both know it.

For the Christian, though, the world isn’t here to reward you. Your sacrifices are often considered extreme or naive. Your biblical certainty is ignorance and your modesty boring. Your fidelity is seen as bound in piousness and your acceptance of gender roles archaic, no in fact bigoted. Your morality is intolerance in action and your devotion to God purely your imagination in overdrive. At best you are religious but still, few (if any) worldlings have any interest in inviting a devout Christian to their next party.

So because this is either the conscious or subconscious message believers are bombarded with in this world it isn’t surprising we are tempted to yield, from time to time, to the value system of the world and enjoy some of its acceptance. It feels good to be rewarded by others, particularly a very hostile world that finally is willing to include you if you will simply adhere to some of its values, just enough to hide your Christianity.

But this isn’t how we are to enjoy the world, by accepting in some form, a kind of love for the world or the things in the world. Yes we can own any kind of car (including a muscle car), house, and boat and so on. It is not the owning these things that we must address but why we want them and why we own them. And as I said I am only considering a caveat of a multifaceted ring of principles that should constrain our behavior and direct our choices as believers. Beyond this one issue, whether we gain our positions or possessions because we desire worldly empowerment or inclusion, there are numerous other biblical boundaries which should be applied in making such determinations. But I bring this out simply because of my own recent thoughts and because, while profound spiritual observations are very stimulating and no less necessary, sometimes the practical are much more helpful with regard to our day to day experiences. And too, sometimes in pursuit of higher thoughts we either forget or tend to dismiss as too elementary those fundamental instructions from God which he never intended to be seen as ones we can outgrow.

For the Christian there is only one way to live in this world and that is with a divine viewpoint of everything. God has a system designed for our benefit within the structure of Christ’s body where sound doctrine is both preserved and taught by gifted teachers who will provide for us the communication of God’s viewpoint contained in Scripture. Only through a daily subjection to divine viewpoint can we fight the ever pressing tide of the world’s call to embrace its system. But in responding with divine viewpoint we also gain something so greatly needed, namely the capacity to enjoy this world and the things of this world without loving either. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Resisting the Urge: A Call for Maturity in the Pulpit

The pulpit, as it has come to be called, represents the most significant portion of a Pastor’s call in shepherding his sheep. It is from the pulpit that his congregation, his assembly of sheep, are reproved in their missteps, given correction for such and instructed in a manner that will enable them to be led away from sin into righteousness. The pulpit is premium; it is, along with that of prayer, one of the two most precious ministry minerals or dietary mediums for the welfare of God’s children that a Pastor encounters (Acts 6:4)

The pulpit represents years upon years, days upon days and hours upon hours of devoted preparation by a Pastor whose shoulders bear the responsibility of communicating sound doctrine to his children. The pulpit is the place where the signals are given by the Pastor as to where Scripture declares the direction God intends for his sheep, and it is purely and thoroughly founded in God’s Holy Writ (recognizing also that a faithful Pastor often includes information and enlightenment of related topics which also benefit his sheep. However, these are only by-products of a greater service, namely the exegesis and exposition of God’s Word for the feeding of the sheep).

Unfortunately the pulpit is also seen by some as a place of promotion, theatrics, personal aggrandizing, libertarianism, and so on. Though some may intellectually acquiesce to the above, in practice it is much about personal appeal, spiritual romantics and sermonizing. Their venture into the pulpit may have begun sincere or maybe not, it may have been inaugurated with study and teaching, maybe not, but regardless of the beginning what we do find is that at this present time many pulpits are filled with elements that must be resisted, features that can and should be identified as immature and unhealthy.

The Urge To Be Cool

The word cool, in and of itself, is a juvenile one. Its heavy use belongs to the expression of the adolescent whose immature but growing enlightenment misappropriates, mishandles and maligns much of what he or she sees and hears. Being cool is important because “self” is the emphasis of cool; that which appeals to personal esteem, personal tastes and not the tastes of some higher principle. Now some have attempted to import the term cool or the idea of cool into higher orders and seek to prescribe this lower idea to higher orders. While they may employ such a term its use falls deaf to the ears of most (due to its inadequacy) because most adults (and even adolescents) know where cool belongs. 

But when one attempts to be cool in the pulpit they reduce their profile with their audience and truthfully also imply a reduction of that audience as well. God does not have anything less than permeating intentions when He teaches us that it is not through the wisdom of man but by the power of the Word that we are enlightened and empowered. Because of this a Pastor must speak in those terms. In Scripture we do not find instruction alloyed with immature expressions or desires nor the encouragement to communicate to students of God’s Word so that we provide some kind of juvenile appeal to some immature element of our audience. Instead the Scriptures repeatedly treat its readers as those seeking to be lifted from the context of cool to that of spiritual. We must speak with sobriety, seriousness and clarity.

Does this mean cool or relevant is sinful or forbidden? No such claim is being made and in its proper context it isn’t necessarily wrong, however in serious contexts, particularly spiritual ones, while one may not go so far as to say “the bible declares it to be sin” it can and should rightly be identified as immature, lacking perspective or failing to reflect the higher order of the language of Divine communication.

I am quite aware of the claims of cultural relativism and its proponents within Christianity, particularly Evangelical Christianity. Personally I don’t buy them. In fact one of the most poignant and challenging responses to this comes from the LCMS:

However, many do not realize that Lutheran worship is its own culture, distinct from the pop culture and the evangelical culture of Christianity in our country today. The church must develop and maintain its own cultural language that reflects the values and structures of the Scriptures and not of the current culture. This church language can only be shaped by a biblical theology which affirms the real presence of Jesus Christ in worship and our belief that this presence binds the culture together as a community. The context that shapes our distinct Lutheran ethos is Scripture, theology, and history. Local circumstance is secondary. Traditionally, this Lutheran culture is liturgical, theological, and counter- cultural.

Though the statement is intended for the LCMS denomination, its truth is prescriptive to all churches. Our culture is obsessed with “cool” ad nauseam. We have, in many ways, acquiesced to the culture around us instead of, as the statement above reflects, developed and maintained “cultural language that reflects the values and structure of Scriptures”

Pastors and Teachers of God’s Word, resist the temptation to spoil the elevated nature of biblical communication and culture. God does not need the help of juvenile expressions or colloquialisms which give rise to moppet considerations. God does not need to borrow the lyrics, rhymes or phrases of a world foreign to his divine architecture whose placement among the spiritual edifice of sound teaching appears to be nothing more than cheap and tacky accouterments in a majestic hall. Your pulpits and your teaching positions are elevated for a reason. And I believe God’s principles advocates all of us to resist the urge to teach in a manner, otherwise.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Myth of the Spiritual Desert

I do not doubt that most of you who are students of God’s Word have, at some point, heard a Teacher of the Bible talk about spiritual deserts, spiritual dry seasons, or times and places where they believed they were not hearing from God. Such events are described as:

I no longer feel God’s presence.

My peace is gone.

I don’t sense God’s work.

God’s blessing seems gone.

My inner voice does not seem divinely directed.

And you often will discover these narratives being related to occasions such as the record in Matthew 4:1-11 of our Lord being taken into the desert by God’s Spirit or Elijah’s wandering in the desert in his flight from Jezebel. Of course such imposition of one’s own experiences onto the narratives and contexts of these incidents is a liberty we are not granted in Scripture nor are they appropriate corollaries for understanding our lives. In other words we do not get to imagine that we, too, are in some desert like Jesus or Elijah simply because our experiences, our senses or our emotions do not find some kind of validation that God is present (BTW God is never seen in these biblical events as not present either!).

And this is exactly my point. The Christian cannot be and never is in a spiritual desert. The idea of a spiritual desert is a myth conjured up in the minds of Teachers for various reasons. Most often it is because they are experience oriented. That is, they rely on something not taught in the Scriptures for the church age believer upon which to rely for faith and practice. And what is that something?  Experiences.

Such experiences might be defined by mysticism in the form of emotionalism. That is, if our emotions are discombobulated then there is something amiss spiritually. There are popular Teachers today that promote this kind of spirituality. For example:

Or other experiences might come from the non-biblical expectation of hearing a voice inside because you were taught this is how God’s Spirit is suppose to work today. Additionally, those within Charismatism are instructed to expect certain kinds of supernatural occurrences, far beyond what I just described and likened to the events recorded in the book of Acts where one can immediately speak in a tongue never learned or spoken before so that others using that language understand (of course no one does that any more because this temporary gift is now not operative and because it is not genuinely operative today Charismatics are reduced to babbling and calling it “tongues of Angels” in order to claim such powers).

What all of these ultimately are, is a violation and rejection of the protocol of God for the church age believer.  Today we have, in Christ, our completed revelation. And in Christ we have been left the canon of Scripture.  In fact St. Peter made a declaration that is often ignored by all of us at time but particularly by those clamoring for experiences and accoutrements:

2 Peter 1:2
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue

A Common Complaint

Many believers adhere to the boundary limit of experiences vs. God’s Word. They understand that their spiritual constancy is not to be found in emotions/mysticism or any experience but from faith in God’s Word. However, one will find a complaint expressed by some in the form of, "But I’m not getting anything personal from the Scriptures”. That is to say, they properly reject experiences as objective for their faith and indeed rest solely on God's Word but something is still, seemingly, incongruous. Let me address this particularly kind of concern.

My dear brother or sister in the Lord, it isn’t up to you to make the Scriptures personal, they are already are personal. It is your responsibility to live by faith and trust in them regardless of your experiences. In other words the Scriptures are personal; you are to receive them as such.

This reminds me of Lordship Salvation proponents. They teach that you must make Jesus “Lord” in order to be saved. Nonsense! He already is Lord just like he is already Jesus and the Christ. You are to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, not make him Lord, make him Jesus or make him the Christ, he already is all these. You, in receiving the gospel, receive the promise that the one who is Lord Jesus Christ lived and died for your sins that you may have imputed to you his righteousness and be saved from judgment.

I must admit that I have run across Teachers of the Bible who communicate the idea that when the Scriptures are read, the believer should have this undefined but real experience that gives them the impression that somehow God means to personally communicate to them this verse or this passage for the day. You see what has crept in, even here in a context of faith alone in the Scriptures? The expectations for experience once again. No, no and no. Remember, God's Word is already personal. No matter what you read, God has already made it personal. Simply learn from what you have read. Even the mildest truth of the most seemingly benign passage (notice I said "seemingly benign") is God’s intention for you. Trust him. Rest in his way.

Do Not Be Fooled

Remember the complaint by the Hebrews about the manna from heaven? At first it was spectacular but after a while the Israelites grew tired and distrusted the plan of God and wanted something better. God gave them something else alright, and they threw it up.

Many Men (and women) make a living within the body of Christ being a Guru. Often they become entrapped by their imaginations and because they have so many followers they need only utter something for it to become an expectation within the body of Christ, even if it is a departure from God's protocol. The Word of God, on the other hand, has the lightest expectation and the greatest gift with eternal and immutable relief which is simply your faith in God’s Word. You might be in a desert emotionally, physically or mentally but you are never in a desert spiritually. God never leaves you. His Word remains true. Regardless of your emotional, mental or physical state they are not that on which you should ever rest your spiritual state, instead it should always be on God. He is always with you, he is always working in you, he is always pouring out his Spirit in you, he has given you, again as Peter says, “everything” we need for “godliness”.

No too long ago, at the end of my neighborhood as it exists onto the main road was handwritten placard on a wooden post about 3 feet high and about 2 feet wide. It read, “No matter what, trust God”. Tomorrow you could be in a nursing home, incapacitated and abandoned by all humans except for those paid to attend to you. Maybe worse, you could be in a third world country and lie dying of a dreaded disease with no one to care for you. Possibly you are headed to prison for a long time or going through a devastating failure in your life. Did God leave you? Of course not. Your surroundings and experiences are not God and do not let them become God for you or you will be in a spiritual desert. But for those who are God’s possessions, the myth of a spiritual desert is just that, a myth that is unsupported by Scripture.  No matter what, trust God.