Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Combat Blogging

While I'm relatively new to blogging, I've spent years on various mailing lists interacting and debating a number of topics with a wide variety of different people. A lot of these experiences were extremely challenging in a positive way, and I've learned a lot, and became a better person for the effort.

Other times, the experience hasn't been as positive.

This blog entry is a bit about a couple of behaviors I've learned over the years that can make debates and resolving differences on an issue a positive experience.

Always, always, always address the issue, not the person.

Otherwise known as the "no ad-hominem" (literally, not arguing to the man), this prevents discussions from getting personal, insulting, and hurtful. It's one thing to strongly challenge a position on a subject, it's quite another to challenge the person or group who holds that position.

Don't get your personal identity confused with a position on an issue

It's all too easy to so strongly identify with an understanding we've had all our lives and get deeply offended when another person either doesn't see the merit, or thinks it's completely wrong.

Don't confuse their opinion on the value of the position with how they value you. It's possible for two people to have completely different perspectives on an issue and still value and respect each other.

Make sure what you think someone else is saying is actually what they mean.

Communication is a multi-phase process, and in each of those phases error can easily creep in. I'm sure there's more, but for starters here's a few:

a) Forming the thought of what you want to say
b) Expressing that thought
c) How the medium transmits the message to the receiver
d) What the receiver hears / reads / experiences
e) How the receiver interprets the information they've gotten through the filter of their own experience.

Each of those phases could result in confusion during the transition from one phase to another. Properly communicating a concept to another person so they'll "get" what you're talking about is a skill that takes a lot of practice to get right.

One of the biggest challenges of communicating pertain to the "you had to've been there" kind of things. One of them is for a man to try and understand what it's like to be pregnant. I was at a practice dinner with two (married) pregnant brides-maids and asked them what it was like, and their answer was it was similar to the Pepto-Bismol commercial, which depicted a person whose stomach bloated out and then shrunk.

Since I've never used Pepto-Bismol, I was still in the dark.

Another example is a hobby of mine - namely motorcycle riding. While I can talk about what it's like to ride all over North America on my Valkyrie motorcycle, unless you've ridden a bike headed down the highway, there's no basis for comparison to any other experience.

Right now, a friend of mine is facing some pretty intensive surgery early next month. He was talking to a couple of women about how he's getting an epidural as part of the treatment. The ladies (who were both moms) both said epidurals were highly recommended and very good. Right now my friend doesn't really know what an epidural's like, but soon he'll have a better understanding what they were talking about.

In debates about theological or other issues - a lot of times supposed differences are actually matters of resolving a common term of reference. As such, the safest thing to assume is that - if someone can mis-understand you, they will, and work to keep that from happening.

One low-risk way to kill the birds of illusionary differences and mis-understanding with one stone is to use the next technique -

Form your opposition to a position as a question

Typically it'll be "how do you resolve..."

By asking questions, you
* demonstrate an interest in what the other person has to say,
* can raise a serious issue they may not've thought of,
* may be able to lead them to the conclusion you've already arrived at,
* have improved their thinking process and get them to ask the same question in the future,
* keep the conversation going in a friendly manner
* won't needlessly risk damaging your relationship.

The minimum objective for any debate should be for both sides to better understand each other.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Getting one's self out of the picture...

In the entry "Why do we need anyone else to instruct us?" I wrote about the need to examine yourself, and look for biases and other influences when reading Scripture.

heh heh heh.

It's always fun to admonish others about something, and then find out you're doing the very same thing yourself.

When I’d written the original version and then put it "out" there, something didn’t seem right, so I “unposted” it and looked it over again.

And there - disguised as a series of rather craftily written of assertions - was the culprit. And the culprit’s name? Pride! “See how smart I am!”

Now, when something is written for publication in a professional publication, it’ll go by an editor who gives the material a critical review, suggests changes to make it better, and help keep the pride of the author from contaminating the piece.

With blogs, one has to edit their own posts, so you have to be completely and brutally honest with yourself about why you’ve included certain portions of text, why you’ve worded things the way you have, and ask the question “Does this really belong here?”

When all was said and done, a lot of the original post was edited out, the "how smart Tim is" material got plunked in the digital bit bucket, and what was left cleaned up so it was about how the Spirit works and not how smart Tim is.

I think this is an example about why we need others in our lives to share our thoughts and understandings about the Word of God with so it's about Him - rather than about about us, our pride, or what we want or think.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Why do we need anyone else to instruct us?

A blogger-buddy of mine recently cautioned about using commentaries because of their biases, and asked why one would even need them if one had the Spirit within them. While I can appreciate what he’s saying, comments like this make me extremely nervous.


Because “why do I need a commentary” is far too close to “why do I need anyone to instruct me in the Word of God.”

But if we have the Holy Spirit - who is the author of all things within us, then where’s the danger? Why do we need anyone else to instruct us?

This question - “Why do we need anyone else to instruct us?” is what I’m going to address in this blog entry.

To start, if one doesn’t use any resources other than their own discernment because of concerns about the author of the resources, one also needs to look in the mirror and ask - “What biases do I have? Where do I walk astray?” One cannot assert that the counsel of others suffer from biases and yet maintain that their own personal, occasional studies of Scripture are without bias and error of their own.

And, as it turns out, there’s another danger we need to guard from.

Scripture repeatedly tells us that the things of God cannot be understood apart from the Spirit of God. So, it’s natural to assume that if we have the Spirit within us, then right understanding should follow.

However, the Spirit of God manifests Himself to different people differently with different measures. Part of that is due to the Spirit’s choice, but it’s also due to the “old Adam” each and every believer has within them on this side of eternity.

What is this “Old Adam”? None other than the sinful nature within each and every one of us. It manifests itself as a remarkable ability for even the greatest of believers to mess up, get things wrong, and fall prey to sin. As Paul writes about his own struggles:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” Romans 7:14-19

As Paul writes about the Israelites:

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Romans 10:1-4

This is similar to the concern recorded in Hebrews about fellow believers:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Hebrews 3:12

Why did the Israelites get it wrong? Because of unbelief.

Why will someone who walks their own path and relies on their private relationship with the Spirit get things wrong? Because of unbelief.

This old-Adam blindness of unbelief in non-believers shows itself in believers as a lack of faith - a condition Christ upbraided His disciples for time and time again, a problem that has plagued all believers over all time, and results in all manner of heresy and false doctrine that leads people away from Christ, not to Him. If the disciples of Christ could fall prey to unbelief, there’s no way anyone else can think they’re immune from unbelief either.

Now Christ, being part of the Godhead, and so being all-knowing, knew this would happen, and made provision to take care of this problem even before He took on human form. What was that provision? None other than for the Father to send another member of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, otherwise known as the Comforter, to look out for and care for the flock Christ had laid His life down for.

These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” John 14:25-25

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” John 15:26

Now how the Holy Spirit does His work differs from the nature and manner of how Christ worked. The Spirit hasn’t come in bodily form, but lives in each believer, and works through different believers in different ways in a manner and nature of His choosing. Most importantly, though, is the fact that the Spirit does not bestow the gifts He has to give equally to all people.

For instance, just as the Old Testament Levitical tribe was established to care for Israel’s religious needs, the Holy Spirit has established a distinct calling for people who He works through for the care-taking of the people of God. These people went by a number of different titles in New Testament times - among which were overseers, apostles and elders.

Today we generally call them “pastors.”

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” Acts 20:28

Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.’ [...] And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Eph 4:8,11-16

(As a brief aside, this illustrates the timeless nature of God - because Ephesians 4:8 is actually a quotation of Psalm 68:18 - which was written generations before during the time of David.)

From this passage we can see that not only are Pastors a visible manifestation of the Spirit working among the people of God, but also that faithful pastors are to be considered gifts from God. Not only that, but if one considers Paul to be a prototype of what a pastor’s supposed to be, then they are Christ’s ambassadors to His people, through whom He makes His appeal (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Therefore, if pastors are one of God’s chosen means of caring for His flock in this world, we as believers walk a dangerous path if we choose to ignore them and presume to interpret the things of God for ourselves in isolation from how the Spirit provides for and protects us during our walk on this earth.

So in summary -

First, if one doesn’t use any resources because of the potential biases of their author(s), one needs to look in the mirror and make sure there’s no error in the person looking back at you.

Second, the Holy Spirit has provided for pastors to look out for and care for the members of His flock, and keep them walking in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake, and provide discernment for the members of his flock. These pastors are a means the Spirit has provided for believers to consult about matters of faith, and can be relied on to tell you what are good resources to read and what should be avoided.

Finally, a good commentary - or any other resource - written by a faithful servant of God in accordance with the leading of the Spirit, can be extremely useful for instruction and further understanding God’s Word. Bad commentaries, like any other resource that points other than to Christ, are to be avoided.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Understanding a Centurion’s Faith

Here’s another passage that had puzzled me for quite a while:

Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them.

When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. Lk 7:2-10

The centurion sends elders of the Jews to ask Christ to heal his servant, but as Christ approaches, the centurion sends his friends to tell Christ He doesn’t need to come to the centurion’s house, only say the word and the servant to be healed, and how the centurion has authority, and how he can order his soldiers around and they do what they’re told.

So what’s the connection? Why does Christ say that the centurion has such great faith?

The connection is that as the centurion had authority over the soldiers under his command, and they had to do what he ordered them to do, Christ had authority over all creation, and creation had to do what Christ commanded it to do. Hence, the centurion - by faith - knew that Christ only needed to say the word, and the centurion’s servant would be healed, because all creation was under His authority.

That he had this faith and acted on it was what Christ marveled at. That this show of faith was made by someone who wasn’t one of the children of Israel made it even more remarkable.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Understanding the Things of God

Something unique about the study of the Scriptures is how one’s knowledge and understanding evolves over the years. For instance, one little gem the Spirit showed me came from being puzzled by Matt 13:13

“Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “ ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving....’”

What had confused me about this passage was - how could one see without seeing, or hear without hearing? It didn’t make sense. At least, not until God gave me a better understanding of how discernment and the understanding of spiritual truths works.

What surprised me the most in this is that it’s not an intellectual process, so it’s not a matter of how “smart” one is. Point in fact, people who are “smarter” can have a harder time “getting” scripture compared to those who been gifted with greater faith. I'll explore this in a later blog.

The root problem is that man, by nature, will always be at odds with God on this side of eternity. This is the “old Adam” that lives within us, which gets in the way of our relationship with God, and blinds us to spiritual truths. As 1 Corinthians 2:14 states:

“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.”

The latter part of this sentence is the key here - what it’s saying is that the things of God cannot be comprehended by normal human beings. Going back a little in 1 Corinthians to 2:1, we see this elaborated on -

“ one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual’”

It’s amazing how a short little passage like this can put it all together -

1) Nobody understands the God except the Spirit of God. This means neither the angels of heaven, satan, demons, or any human being can understand God.
2) Only the Spirit of God understands the things of God.
3) Believers have received this Spirit of God within them
4) It is this indwelling Spirit that enables believers to understand the things of God
5) Right instruction in the things of God isn’t a matter of human wisdom or intellect, but of teaching by Spirit.

So then, “getting” the Word of God is not a matter of smarts, but of the working of the Spirit within us to open our eyes to understand the things of God.

One consequence of this is that the Spirit reveals the things of God to the believer at a time of His own choosing. For instance, when Jesus was walking with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the very fact of who He was was hidden from the disciples until Christ opened their eyes to recognize Him (Luke 24:31). Later on Christ appeared to the disciples, and opened their eyes to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24: 45). When this happen, did their intellectual understanding of Scriptures change? I think not, but that the spiritual dimension of understanding Scriptures was added by that act of God.

This may be why believers can read the same portion of Scripture over and over again, and then one day see something totally new. That’s the working of the Holy Spirit within them to open their eyes at the time of His own choosing.

And so we come full circle to making sense of Matt 13:13. People can “see” without “seeing” because they don’t have the Spirit within them to make the connection between what they’re seeing and the things of God. Ditto for “hearing but not hearing” - as far as the things of God, an unbeliever can listen to and read the Word of God, but without the Spirit of God to interpret for them, it might as well be a totally foreign and un-intelligible language.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Can you perform this small feat?

This passage hit me between the eyes during one of my studies:

"And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?" Lk 12:25

In this part of Scripture, Jesus is talking about the normal cares of the world everyone has like food and shelter. But in the middle of this, He says that adding a single hour to one's life is a small feat!

Think about this for a minute. Over the years, mankind's put in innumerable years of work, study, and other resources into the medical arts, and yet with all that ongoing effort the best they've accomplished is a myriad of ways to help the body heal itself or provide aids to help it function properly. It has yet to figure out how to extend a person's life past the time when the body finally breaks down and stops working.

Yet here Jesus calls adding an hour to one's life a "small" thing.

I imagine if I was the author of all creation, of all the plants, animals, and people in it, then adding an hour to someone's life would be a small thing for me as well.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Submission in the Church

One thread I've repeatedly run into in Scripture is that of submission, and one of the most familiar examples of submission in Christendom is that of wives submitting to their husbands. (Col 3:18, Eph 5:22f).

What one doesn't hear too often is that wives aren't the only ones who are instructed to be submissive. 1 Corinthians 11:3 puts it well:

But I want you to understand that
the head of every man is Christ,
the head of a wife is her husband, and
the head of Christ is God.

If one changes this around a bit and assume that "headship" on one person's part is reason for submission on another person's part, then what you have is:

Wives submit to their husbands ,
Husbands submit to Christ,
Christ submits Himself to God (presumably the Father part of the Godhead).

So both husbands and Christ Himself are to be submissive to the one who has headship over them. Ephesians 5:22f expands on this a bit further:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Now, headship over another person isn't a matter of the submitting person being a slave or give the person in the position authority cause to abuse the one they have authority over. Quite to the contrary, if one looks at the relationship between a husband and wife, you see direct parallels to the relationship of Christ to His Church.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.Eph 5:25

In short, rightly done, the submission of a wife to her husband is the wife helping him love her, take care of her, and - if need be - lay down his life for her protection and defense. This is the same as the Church submitting to Christ, who cleans the people of the church by the washing of water with the word, so that she - the church - may be holy and blameless.

In this way, both the husband and Christ - by caring for their brides - are loving themselves.

Ok, this feels really weird.

I'm a computing / information-services type professional who'se been on the Internet since the days when 1200 baud was considered fast, and the common "high-speed" services that I not only take for granted, but have come to depend on wasn't even a dream. During this time I've participated in innumerable discussions, debates, and the like that've been seen all over the world by innumerable people.

But until now, I haven't had a real, live, actually hosted by me, blog.

About anything.


So why the change?

I guess this momentous event can be "blamed" on Philip Meade of "The Beast's Lair." I've been lurking in the comments section of his blog for a while, and he finally suggested I write a blog of my own.

And here we are.

The purpose of this blog is to explore topics pertaining to the Christian faith as revealed by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God as found in Sacred Scriptures. It is my intention to look into and investigate a wealth of material and topics that are a bit "out of the way" for most believers, and isn't heard from too often in Christendom.

So without any more ado, let us begin!