Saturday, June 22, 2013

Are the Sun and Earth Insignificant?

Have you ever heard that the Earth is "just" an insignificant planet orbiting around an "average" star? Well, forget that! I'm reading Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe, by Ward and Brownlee. These are two guys who study astrobiology, the field that looks at requirements for life to exist elsewhere in our universe.

It turns out that our star is far from average. Here's just a few quick facts:
  1. Our Sun is a yellow star. This very fact means that it is bigger than 95% of all the stars in our Milky Way galaxy. The "average" star is a red dwarf. These ruddy fellows are too small and don't put out enough energy to support any intelligent life.
  2. Our Sun is not a blue star. Blue stars are the hottest stars. They release most of their energy in the UV part of the spectrum. You know, the put-your-sunscreen-on-or-you-will-get-a-nasty-sunburn type of UV - same stuff. Living under a permanent tanning bed is not the ideal way to encourage meaningful life.
  3. Our Sun's brightness is quite stable. Some stars are variable stars, which means they, well, vary their brightness. Not good for life. It would be like trying to bake your cake as your oven fluctuates its temperature wildly and frequently.
A ton more things could be said, but I'll leave it there for now. Our Sun is very, very, very unique.

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Challenge from Friendly Flying Spaghetti Monster

Take a minute and a half to watch this video. It represents a satirical challenge to our Christian convictions that is becoming more common. Yes, it's corny. And of course, it's meant to lampoon us. But take it seriously. Pretend that a rather obnoxious atheist is standing in front of you and presenting this her "religion" to you. Post your thoughts below in how you would answer this person (just remember to do it with gentleness and respect - 1 Peter 3:15).

I will post my thoughts in a day or so of how we can respond thoughtfully to this.



So, whaddaya gonna say?
 



Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Noble Seeker?

Overheard from Greg Koukl recently at his Tactics seminar, "Why in our culture is it noble to be a seeker, but ignoble for the search to be over?"

Think about it: you can tell people all day long that you are a seeker of truth, of God, of meaning, of anything. But the moment you say that you have found the truth, God, or meaning to life, they accuse you of arrogance. Well, if reaching your destination is not considered to be possible, then why go on the trip?

My search is over. What other religion or worldview can adequately explain the following:
  • Why the universe is here? Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • Why are the fundamental laws and constants of the universe so tremendously fine-tuned?
  • Why does life exhibit information (DNA and the genetic code)?
  • Why are we conscious? Why are we aware? If all of this happened by chance and natural law, then at best we should be zombie-like creatures just bumping around and procreating.
  • Why do we have the capacity to reason if we are just a fancy chemical reaction?
  • Why do we all have this sense of having failed morally, of being guilty? Maybe we all feel guilty, because we actually are guilty...
  • How else do you explain the tremendous evidence in favor of the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazereth?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Making Decisions through Wisdom, Part 2

In my last post I laid out why I think the 'personal guidance' model of decision making is not biblical. Today I want to offer what I think the Bible does present as the method for making decisions.

The Wisdom Model

The wisdom model is not complicated. The following is adapted from Decision Making and the Will of God, by Garry Friesen and from some of Greg Koukl's work at Stand to Reason (www.str.org). When you have a decision to make, follow these four steps:
  1. Where God commands, we obey.
  2. Where God has given no command, he gives freedom.
  3. When operating in your freedom, use wisdom.
  4. When you have done what is moral and you have done what is wise, then put your plan into action, trusting in the sovereignty of God.
That's it. The wisdom model boils down to this: you have freedom to do what you want as long as it is moral and wise and you may do it with God's blessing.

1. Where God Commands, We Obey

God commands, we obey. It's that simple.

Sooo, how do we know what God commands? Do we listen for his inward voice telling me? No, we go to the God-breathed Scriptures. Paul tells Timothy that it is to the Scriptures that we must go to show us righteousness and to be fully prepared for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).

This principle should motivate us to read and study God's Word with a passion. Christians walk around fervently praying, "Show me your will, God. Tell me what to do!" But many of us rarely go to the one place where God tells us what to do: his Word. Or if we do open the Scriptures, it is for a one or two verse pep talk in the mornings with very little depth. Paul says that we need to handle accurately God's Word (2 Tim 2:15). The only way to accomplish that is to get to know it by regular study.

If you want to know what God commands, read verses in context. Greg Koukl teaches a principle that I have found to be very helpful: Never read a Bible verse. See him in a YouTube video here discussing this critical concept.



Knowing what God commands is wrapped up in knowing his Word. You can't know the first without knowing the second.

If you are looking for personalized guidance on specific decisions, such as what to do if you are considering changing jobs or moving houses or marrying your sweetheart, the Bible won't tell you specific answers. But it will give you principles

If you're considering an upcoming career change and you have an interest in becoming a drug dealer or a mob boss, obvious scriptural principles are at play here that you may want to consider before filling out your W-4 form. But if you want to take a promotion in a more mundane industry that will involve more pay, more responsibility and more hours, then you can (and should) consider your gifts (1 Pet 4:10), your ability to provide for your family (1 Tim 5:8), your responsibility to raise your children (Eph 6:4, Mark 9:42). These principles are pertinent to your situation and are a part of God's revealed moral will for all believers.

2. Where God has given no command, he gives freedom

In the book of Acts as we watch the apostles beginning to preach and to spread the Gospel outward from Jerusalem, notice what we don't see. We never witness any disciple or apostle sitting around scratching their head and praying for God's will to know where they should go and to whom they should preach. They don't listen for the voice of the Spirit to get their marching orders for the week. They just go. They just preach.

Consider how Paul begins his second missionary journey. He and Barnabas are in Antioch just after the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. Paul leans over to his partner in ministry and says, "Hey, Barney! Let's go visit all the churches that we established before and see how they're doing" (Acts 15:36). Paul simply decides to do it. He wanted to, so he makes it happen. This pattern we see repeated throughout the book of Acts.

Paul had freedom, and obviously felt free, to conduct his ministry how he wanted to.

In the midst of this freedom, God did interrupt occasionally.

It is fascinating to read as Paul begins this second missionary journey. After Paul and Barnabas split (see below), Paul travels to Derbe and Lystra and meets Timothy. Paul needs a traveling companion, and everyone spoke highly of Timothy, so Paul brings him along. They continue journeying throughout Phrygia and Galatia, but - watch this - they were "kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia" (16:6). Again in the next verse, Luke informs us that "the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them" to enter Bithynia.

So we see Paul and Timothy out there traveling from town to town preaching the Gospel and checking on Paul's churches, but occasionally God would stop them. Paul must have thought it was a good idea to preach in Asia and also in Bithynia, so he tried to. He had the freedom to conduct his ministry as he saw fit, but God is sovereign. We don't know why Paul was prevented from entering these regions - that was part of God's sovereign will. But Paul had to obey when commanded by the Lord (whatever that looked like).

The bottom line: there is freedom when there is no command.  

3. When operating in your freedom, use wisdom

God has given us an entire book in the Bible devoted just to finding wisdom. Proverbs! Clearly God considers it important for us to develop into a wise people. Why give us so much wisdom literature if he's just going to call the shots anyway? We should be reading this scriptural jewel on a regular basis to gain wisdom.

James urges us to pray for wisdom (James 1:5) when we lack it. Why pray for wisdom if God is going to lead me in every important decision?

In 1 Kings 3, the Lord offers to give Solomon anything he asks for, and Solomon asks for wisdom. Why? Solomon evidently had this conversation with God - why not just ask the Lord to lead him in all his decisions? Because this Personal Guidance model is basically brand new on the Earth. It never would have occurred to the ancients to ask God to make all their decisions for them. Thus, Solomon asks for wisdom so that he will know the best course of action.

Solomon had chosen...wisely.

The way of wisdom is also heavily modeled for us in Scripture. As another example, if we go back to the beginning of Paul's second missionary journey in Acts 15, he and Barnabas part ways over John Mark. Barnabas wants to take Mark along, but Paul doesn't. Notice how Luke records it: "Paul did not think it wise to take him" (v38, emphasis mine). What Scripture doesn't say here is almost as important as what it does say. It does not indicate that Paul and Barnabas spent a season in prayer asking for the Lord's leading. Paul simply thought it unwise because he'd been left in the lurch before by Mark (see Acts 13:13) and didn't trust him. Paul used his judgment.

Paul uses his wisdom when deciding to take Timothy with him just a few verses later. The believers in Lystra speak highly of him and "Paul wanted to take him along on the journey" (16:3). No seeking the Lord's voice or leading here. Paul simply wanted to take Timothy. It seemed good to him, and he did it. As it turns out this relationship between Paul and Timothy blossomed to the point where Paul writes to Timothy, "To Timothy, my dear son..." (2 Tim 1:2) and "my true son in the faith..." (1 Tim 1:2). God had sovereignly worked to bring Timothy into Paul's life, and they developed a close and meaningful relationship. God brought someone into Paul's life that he could trust to pass the baton on to after Paul's ministry came to a close (read 2 Timothy). 

Which leads into the last point...

4. When you have done what is moral and you have done what is wise, then put your plan into action, trusting in the sovereignty of God

From Paul's point of view, he was getting a traveling companion for his second missionary journey. But God had other plans - to give Paul and true son in the faith and fellow worker in the Gospel.

Our wisdom and freedom to act within the constraints of God's moral will is how God expects us to operate. But there are times when we try to do something, and it just won't work out. Obstacle after obstacle gets thrown in our face. If you have done your best to honor God and act wisely and yet this thing you want to do is just not coming together, then sometimes we just need to understand that God may be sovereignly preventing you from doing that thing. Remember Paul and Timothy above trying to go to Asia and then Bithynia. They were prevented somehow by the Lord.

The Wisdom model recognizes that after we have done everything we can, we must ultimately trust in God's sovereignty and his control over the events of our lives. Proverbs 16:9 has one of my favorite verses about this idea. The NIV says, "In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps."  This verse is not saying our plans are worthless (for their is no sense of judgment here), but Solomon is showing us both sides of the equation. On our side, we make plans and try to make things happen. But it is also the Lord directing our steps. Solomon recognizes that both are involved when we make plans.

Benefits of the Wisdom Model

Several benefits recommend the Wisdom model of decision making over the Personal Guidance model.

First, it has the advantage of being taught in Scripture. There is no indication from the Bible that I am to seek out God's personal, individualized guidance on an issue, but I do observe generalized commands from his moral will that are to be obeyed. I don't see in Scripture a requirement to "hear from the Lord" before I make a move, but I do discern time and time again admonitions to search for and to ask for wisdom in decision making. I haven't noticed any people in the Scriptures using language such as "I felt led," "I'm trying to find God's will," or "God gave me a peace about it," but I do observe the decision-making habits of the early apostles. They appear to simply make the wisest choice available at the time while being submitted to God's sovereignty.

Next, I don't have to try and figure out what God is telling me. This was a big problem for me when I still held to the Personal Guidance model. How do I know what God is telling me? When I asked other Christians, I always got conflicting advice on how to listen to the voice of the Lord. Was this a sign from the Lord? Is this a confirmation? That thought in my mind - is it mine or God's? The great thing about this model is that I don't have to waste time figuring that out.

Can God put thoughts in our minds? Of course! But the difference is I don't have to figure out the source. A good thought is a good thought. Maybe I'm talking with a non-Christian friend and the thought enters my mind to say something to him and that opens up a spiritual conversation where I get to share the Gospel. Where did that idea come from? I don't know, and it really doesn't matter. It was simply a great idea to say what I did.

Now, some will say that this takes away from God's glory because I could take credit for something that God said to me. Well, ok, maybe, but remember, there are no instructions from Scripture for me to discern what God is saying to me individually. None. So from my perspective a good idea is a good idea, and we can give glory to God for our ability to think and for the opportunity to share the Gospel. All of our minds are offered to the Lord for his glory (or should be, anyway).

Third, I don't have to feel left out all the time. Have you ever heard stories about Christians telling how God was really speaking to them to do this or that? Well, I hear those stories all the time. But I used to feel left out. Why wasn't God speaking to me that way? I read the Bible, I pray, I plead with him to talk to me. Why wasn't he doing talking to me? Was it my sin? That must be it...my sin is keeping me from hearing from God, and those that do hear from him, well, they must really be close to the Lord!

In a subtle way the Personal Guidance model makes some believers feel like second class citizens much like the prosperity gospel does. Here this my friends: if you are not hearing from God, you are not being left out. God isn't speaking to those people the way that they say he is. I know that this sounds harsh and unspiritual. But there just is no indication from Scripture that this hearing-from-God mentality is something we are to expect.

So what are they hearing? I don't know. As Greg Koukl says, I exegete Scripture, not experiences. In other words, we should be figuring out what the Bible means, not the significance of our experiences.

The fourth benefit of the Wisdom model is the freedom. I experienced a tremendous weight lifted from me when I began to study this issue. I don't have to constantly try and figure out what God wants me to do. Mine is to obey Scriptural commands, seek out wisdom, and then do what I want. If God does not want me going down a particular path, he will establish my steps (Prov 16:9). He will sovereignly direct me by opening up opportunities or closing others just like he did with Paul and Timothy. I will not know it at the time why certain things are or are not working out, but ultimately God's plan will be done.

Finally, the wisdom model removes superstition from the Body of Christ. Reading the signs of God's will has almost become a pagan art in some circles. Oh, we don't use pagan terminology. We would never do that! We baptize our paganism with Christian language, but its roots are the same. Modern Christians don't read chicken intestines, but how many of you have ever done this: hold your Bible up on its spine, open to a random page and point to a random verse (with your eyes closed, mind you), and accept whatever it says as God's message to you? I must confess I have done this, and it is not Christian! Treating God's holy Word like a magic 8 ball is not recommended...

Pagans read signs in nature everywhere. Have you ever encountered the same word or phrase throughout the day and interpreted that as a sign from above? Maybe I randomly hear the name "Botswana" three times today in various ways. Lord, we pray, do you want me to move to Botswana and become a missionary? This type of thing becomes normal to Christians who have been taught to looks for signs, but Christians don't do this. Pagans do. (By the way, I am not calling you a pagan if you've ever done these things - only that these practices are rooted in pagan thought and superstition.)

But God does not drop signs or hints for us. That is so not our Lord's way. Please give him more credit than that! Here's how you will know if you are receiving a message from the Lord: you will encounter a talking donkey (Num 22), a burning bush (Ex 3), a nighttime vision (Dan 7), a vision of a man from Macedonia (Acts 16), a supernatural wrestler (Gen 32) or an angel with a flaming sword (Gen 3). Now that's creative and kind of hard to miss!

Conclusion

I urge you to search the Scriptures to see if what I am saying is so. Don't just take my word for it.

If you think that I have misunderstood the thrust of the Word on this issue, then show me where. If you read this seriously, some of you may feel that something has been taken from you. The idea of hearing the voice of the Lord is so entrenched in evangelicalism that it is not uncommon to have strong emotional reactions to the Wisdom model. But if you feel something was taken from you, I assure you that it is not something that you ever really had. We have just been socialized in our Christian circles to interpret our thoughts as God's voice.

But go to the Scriptures. Find out for yourself. The following resources are great if you want to learn more about this:



If you have any comments, questions, or smart remarks, feel free to leave a comment below.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Making Decisions through Wisdom, Part 1

In my last post I introduced this topic with a recent decision that Sara and I had to make. Today I want to begin by laying out why I think the popular 'personal guidance' decision-making model is not based in Scripture. This post is a little long, but bear with me. This idea of making decisions by listening for the voice of the Spirit is so ingrained in our Christian culture that there is a lot to respond to.

The Personal Guidance Model

The unspoken assumption behind the 'personal guidance model' of decision making is that God has an individual blueprint for your life and that we must discover what he has planned for us for each of our decisions. Discovering that plan for my life is what we call "finding the will of God."

Notice the catchphrases and expressions that we use:
  • "I felt led by the Spirit to do this..."
  • "God confirmed this by giving me a peace about it."
  • "God gave me an open door..."
  • "I heard that still, small voice leading me..."
Have you ever searched the Scriptures for these phrases that have crept into the modern evangelical Christian's vocabulary? They roll off our tongue regularly with hardly a thought. Let's take a moment and look at one of them.

The "still, small voice" is commonly heard by those reporting to have heard from God. This phrase occurs in the King James version of 1 Kings 19 (the NIV chooses the phrase "gentle whisper"). Elijah is on the run from Jezebel after his triumphant Mount Carmel experience. The emotional pendulum has now swung, and Elijah is depressed, thinking himself alone as a prophet, and is a little fearful. God has looked after him, though: feeding him, giving him access to water, letting him rest. Elijah gets up and travels for 40 days and nights until he finds lodging in a cave on the side of Horeb.

While in the cave, he shares with the Lord what is on his heart, and God invites him outside to witness the presence of the Lord passing by. Not in the wind. Nor the earthquake or fire, but in a still, small voice.

I want you to notice a couple things abour this account. First, this was not an inward nudge as this phrase often is interpreted today. What does the text say? The voice was an actual sound - Elijah heard it with his ears. "When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face" (1 King 19:13, NIV) and went outside. Elijah proceeded to have an actual conversation with the voice of God.

Second, this phrase does not occur in the context of decision-making. Elijah isn't using the still, small voice to help him figure out what he should do. It is simply the manner in which the Lord chose to reveal his presence to Elijah and speak to him.

The rest of the phrases and terms mentioned above, when seen in their context, do not have anything to do with decision-making. I will save discussion of them for another day, but you may, as good Bereans, search out whether what I'm saying is true or not.

For instance, check for the phrase "led by the Spirit." This phrase only occurs three times in Scripture: Romans 8:12-14, Gal 5:16-21, and Matt 4:1. What does the text actually say about that phrase? If you want to study the idea of inner peace as a confirmation of God's will, then Colossians 3:15 is where most people go. What does the context of that verse say? Care to look up open doors? Go to 1 Cor 16:8-9, 2 Cor 2:12-13, and then Acts 16:26-28. Does Paul always go through an open door provided by God? Did Paul see an open door as indicating God's will for him and something that he must obey?

You will find that in all cases, a legitimate phrase from Scripture has been ripped from its original context and given a completely new meaning. But this is never appropriate when studying Scripture! Our new meanings to these phrases are not inspired, only God's original meaning in context is. Scripture is God's Word, not ours, and spiritual danger abounds when we walk around giving new meanings to old texts. Ours is to mine that original meaning as a '49'er looking for that first lucky strike.

Interpreting Scripture or Interpreting Our Experiences?

If listening for the voice of the Lord is so crucial for us to make decisions, where Scripture teach how I may listen for it? Where am I taught how to hear it? How shall I distinguish the Spirit's urgings from my inner emotions? I must confess that I used to really struggle with trying to figure out what God was saying to me because I certainly never heard anything audible from him like Elijah or Moses. Scripture seems to be mighty silent on an issue of utmost importance, if indeed this is the model we are to follow as Christians.

I know that many of you might have had experiences where you felt like the still, small voice gave you guidance on a particular issue. I urge you to consider that we are to interpret Scripture, not experiences. God's Word is our authority for our life and conduct, not anecdotes or experiences. We should interpret our experiences in light of Scripture, not the other way around.

God's Sovereign and Moral Wills

Now, some of you may be thinking that surely God has a plan for my life. He is sovereign and omniscient after all, and it would be best for me to seek his counsel in order to know what that plan is.

Yes, I agree. God is sovereign, he knows what will happen to us, and he most likely does have a plan for our lives. But, where does Scripture teach that God will share his sovereign plan with us?

Theologians have generally recognized in Scripture two "wills" of God: his sovereign will and his moral will.

His sovereign will cannot be thwarted, no man can stand against it, and it will be done (see Daniel 4:35, for instance). This "will" is not always revealed to us. But, looking backward on our lives, we can often understand God's sovereign plan for our lives and why things happened the way they did.

God's moral will is his will for how we are to live in a godly manner, and it is fully revealed to us in Scripture. Among other things, we are to avoid sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:18, 1 Thess 4:3), hate what is evil and cling to what is good (Rom 12:9), in fact, read all of Romans 12 - it is a treasure trove full of God's moral will for us. He tells us what we should and should not do as we interact with other people. God's will for you is to live a holy life (1 Pet 1:15-16).

So, we should not expect to know in advance his sovereign will, but God's moral will has already been revealed to us. In fact, his moral will is completely revealed to us so that we will know how to live. It is not personalized for me - it is broadly general so that all Christians will know how to live.

God's moral will does not tell us what to do, but rather how to be. God does not tell us whom to marry - it tells us what kind of husband or wife we should be. He does not reveal to us whether or not to take the job - he tells us what kind of an employee we should be. He desires for us to be more like Christ (Rom 8:28-29).

Since God is concerned with us becoming more like Christ, we should be making our decisions, not based on inner hints or feelings, but based on the answer to this question: will this endeavor give me the opportunity to be more like Christ? Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason asks, "When was the last time you made a decision based on humility, self-sacrifice, servanthood,...or the interests of proclaiming the Gospel?"

Does God Hint?

When God speaks to a person in Scripture, it is never through hints, suggestions, nudges, leadings, or checks in the spirit. God acts boldly. When he wants to get someone's attention, there is no doubt who is doing the talking. Think of any person in Scripture with whom God speaks: Paul on the road to Damascus, Moses by the burning bush, Peter with his vision in Acts, Isaiah's vision of God on his throne. Even Samuel hears an audible voice, although as a child he mistakes it for Eli at first. There is no case in Scripture where God tries to communicate to someone and they don't get it. The Lord will get your attention if he has a message for you.

More than this, though, a principle laid down by Paul is violated by the idea that God is trying to communicate to us through hints and nudges. In the context of spiritual gifts in 1 Cor 14, Paul discusses the superiority of the gift of prophecy over that of speaking in tongues, because prophecy builds up everyone in the church, not just the speaker as in the case of tongues. Now, the principle. If you are going to speak in the church, it must be clear. Otherwise, whom will your message help? Now, if we are urged to speak clearly to each other, how then can God get away with being unclear with us?

Ahh, but our sin gets in the way of our hearing God's voice some will say. Well, consider this: God had no trouble getting through to Saul on the road to Damascus even though he was out to kill or imprison Christians. Talk about sin! And yet Saul/Paul heard God's message crystal clear. The Bible just does not teach that our sin will prevent God from speaking to us if he has a message for us.

The Importance of Reading the Word

Another common response is that I am putting God in a box by not allowing him to speak to us. First, I am not saying that God can't lead us through inner promptings and the like. What I am saying is that the Bible does not teach that we should expect it as a matter of course. If God chooses to do something special, that's his prerogative. Second, if you want to hear God speak to you, read the Scriptures.

This point is so important it is worth repeating: if you want to hear from God, read God's Word! Scripture is God's personal, active Word to us. Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy that "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (3:16-17, emphasis mine). Notice the phrase "thoroughly equipped for every good work." God's Word has everything we need for every good work that we could do for the Kingdom. We do not need anything else. Not urges, hints, leadings, open doors, or voices. 

The problem is that we don't read the Word. This is a grave danger of the personal guidance model of decision making: it often hinders the reading of the Word. If I think that God will just direct my life through inner promptings, then I will not be searching his Word where he actually does speak to us. If we really believed that God's Word was living and active and that God was really speaking to us through it, we would read his Word. But we don't. My friends, God's Word is alive! He speaks! If you want to hear his voice, you have but to open the Scriptures and pour yourself into them. Are you feeling dry, parched, separate from God? Don't seek him in the inner voice of your emotions. Seek his face in the one place where the living God of the universe is guaranteed to meet you: his very Word.

J.I. Packer has written,
What shall we say of [the personal guidance model]? The first thing to say is that this idea of guidance is actually a novelty among orthodox evangelicals. It does not go back further than the last century. Second, it has lead people to so much foolish action on the other hand, and so much foolish inaction on the other, as well as puzzlement and heartbreak when the 'hotline' to God seems to go silent, that it has to be seen as discredited. Third, it must be said that Scripture gives us no more warrant constantly to expect personal 'hotline,' 'voice from the control-tower' guidance than to expect new authoritative revelations for the guidance of the whole church. [Hot Tub Religion, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1987), 116]

Ok. So far this has been a negative argument. In my next post I will lay out for you the positive case for the wisdom model of decision-making.

What are your thoughts?




Tuesday, June 4, 2013

How Do We Make Decisions? (or, Why I Had to Leave My Second Job)

How do we make decisions as followers of Christ?

Think of the last big decision that you had to make. How did you make it? Chances are that if you are a follower of Christ, you prayed for the Holy Spirit to guide you and to show you his plan for your life in this area. You probably listened for that "still, small voice" to lead you.

What I want to discuss over this and the next blogpost or so is that I do not think that this listen-for-the-Spirit's-voice is the biblical model for decision making. I know this sounds radical, but bear with me...

First, some context. Here is the latest "big" decision that Sara and I had to make. For the last three school years I have been working two jobs. I teach physics by day, and by night, I am a caped crusader fighting crime and bringing justice to...no, wait...sorry, my inner 5-year old keeps coming out.

My actual second job is only slightly less interesting. I teach alternative education at my district in the evening, which means I get all kinds of students, from students failing their classes to drug users to social adaptation issues. I've had a student come to school so hopped up on synthetic weed that his heart was banging out of his chest, and he was pale as a ghost. His parents came and took him to the hospital. I had another high school student who liked to go to the bathroom and throw poop around.

Yes. You did read that correctly. He was my little monkey. Of course I didn't know who was leaving these little gifts in the boys room was until he got kicked out for bringing a knife to school and the poo-lympics subsequently stopped. Somehow I missed the class in college on how to deal with airborne excrement...

So you can see why I might want to leave this enviable position.

The decision, however, was a difficult one for Sara and I because of the extra income that the job brought in.  Sara and I decided early on that when we had children that she would stay home with them and work in the home. Then we chose to homeschool our kids, and Sara enjoys doing this. Well, of course there are the rare days when she'd rather have her kidneys pecked by crows or be waterboarded by the CIA, but those are pretty few. We both think that our boys are best served by being educated in the home.

And that means that I am the sole wage earner for the family, and thus my second job. For three years. With drug users and poop throwers. But this past month Sara and I finally made the decision to call the second job quits. We chose family time and more limited income, and both of us are looking forward to this upcoming change.

How did we make this decision?

First, we both agreed that in a perfect world I would be home with my own family in the evenings. We knew this from the beginning. A father should be involved in the home as much as possible.

Second, we sought and received wise counsel. I spoke with several people, including one man in particular from our church, who was able to help me think through the issues and the importance of being there to help raise my children. "For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers" (Prov 11:14).

Third, we prayed, sharing with the Lord that we would trust him to provide for our needs.

Finally, I submitted my resignation letter.

Done.

Now for the controversial part. Nowhere in this decision-making process did Sara or I ask the Lord to tell us what he wanted us to do. Nor did I ever sense the "leading of the Spirit" to do this. In today's current evangelical climate that almost sounds at best foolish and at worst, arrogant.

Why did we not "seek the Spirit" on this issue? Because I am not convinced that this model of decision making is taught in Scripture. I don't think that the Bible teaches us to expect that the Lord will share his plan for our lives.

This post is long enough already, so in my next post I will outline why I think the Bible teaches a wisdom model of decision making and not a ask-the-Lord-to-show-me model. In the meantime, what are your thoughts?

By the way, I know that this is an emotional issue for many Christians, and I expect that most of you won't agree. But allow me to lay out my case before calling me a heretic!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Haunted by Scripture

The Parable of the Talents haunts me.

In Matthew 25:14-30 describes a man who goes on a journey who leaves vast resources to his three slaves. To one he gives five talents, another two , and the third one. A talent was a sum of money worth about 6000 days' wages. A tremendous amount in that day. Not too shabby in our day, I might add! Jesus surely meant to imply that the man was giving his slaves everything that they would need during his absence.

The first two slaves take their talents and immediately set about investing it, and upon the slave owner's return, they had both doubled what had been given to them. Both of these slaves are praised, and they receive more responsibility as a result.

The third slave promptly buries his resources for fear of losing them. When the slave owner returns, this slave is cursed and thrown out for being lazy and a good-for-nothing.

Of course, Jesus means for us to understand that he is the slave owner in the parable. What is this journey that he goes on? Well, consider the context. This parable falls in Matthew 25, coming right after chapter 24 where Jesus discusses the signs of his return. Immediately after this chapter 25 begins with the Parable of the 10 Virgins where Jesus warns his disciples to be ready always for his return. Next is our Parable of the Talents.

So, the journey is the time between Jesus' ascension and his return.The time in which we find ourselves today. And God's power has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3). We are those slaves that have been given so much. How much? Go read right now Ephesians 1: 15-23. Seriously - go read it. I have time.

Ok, welcome back. Here's why this parable haunts me: we have been given responsibility to invest the resources (talents and spiritual gifts) that the Lord has given us, and he will hold us accountable upon his return for what we did with those resources.

I have been thinking about this parable a lot lately. How should we respond to it? Well, what did the two good slaves do? We are told that the first slave "went at once and put his money to work" and earned five more talents. The second slave does the same thing.

This is clearly what Jesus means for us to do - put our talents and spiritual gifts to work. Jesus means for us to be active, not to sit around waiting, waiting, waiting, like the good-for-nothing slave.

We need to be strategic about using our gifts and talents. We need to first identify what our gifts and talents are, and second, we need to develop them. Finally, we need to think long and hard about how to use them in service to God's Kingdom. We cannot be passive about this process. The third slave was condemned for this.

One final thought. In modern Christian circles it is not uncommon to hear someone claim that they are "waiting on the Spirit" before they do anything. This sometimes will go on for a looooong time. Years, even. My sense is that sometimes what sounds spiritual is a mask for fear and passivity. Sometimes what we really need is to just do something. Strategize, make a plan, and then execute. Go out into the world and use your talents for God's Kingdom. That is the message of the Parable of the Talents.

And, oh by way, you do not need God's permission to obey the Great Commission. It is already a command to us. Ours is to obey. Go out of your house and do it. Make a disciple. Teach him (or her) to obey everything Jesus said.

And it haunts me because I realize how little I have done in my 37 years for his Kingdom. From this point forward I want to be more thoughtful and purposeful about using my gifts to serve the King in his power.

These blessed words do not come free: "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!"

What do you think? Does this parable haunt you as well?