Archive | March, 2016

Sobering logic

30 Mar

 

Alfie

What’s it all about, Alfie? You know what I mean,” so commented with subdued irony the Michael Caine character in the 1966 British film, “Alfie”.  A very important thought, maybe this was first time that Alfie had looked beyond the present moment to something more than pleasing himself.

Most human beings, unlike other mammals, DO ask the big questions of life.  Rightly so, for these issues are not whimsical ponderings, but life-altering in their implications and answers.

I haven’t seen the movie, but reading the synopsis of it see this link, gave me a sense of the emptiness of Alfie’s (Alfred) life of womanizing.  I thought about the movie and how people either do or don’t take seriously the metaphysical and very serious matters confronting each of us.

The most important choice any human must make can be framed this way as a conditional major premise:

  • If we have lived attached to Jesus Christ in this life, then we will live together with Christ in the next life (which lasts forever)
The converse is true: 
  • If we have NOT lived attached to Christ in this life, then we will NOT live with Christ in the next life (which lasts forever)

Reality is, a decision must be made in this life.  There is no karma, no second chances once we die.  There are only two paths, one with Christ and one without.

These facts are not my opinions; they come from Jesus himself.  He is the one who declared:

  •  “I am THE way, the truth and the light.” John 14:6a

So think deeply, dear logical Joe and Jane.  As pastor and teacher Dr. R. C. Sproul counsels, ‘This moment counts forever’.

2 roads

 

Truth matters…and can change your life

23 Mar

POW bracelet  When I was a junior in high school, many of us wore POW bracelets to remind ourselves of those men still held prisoner by the North Vietnamese.  I don’t know what happened to ‘my POW’ or the bracelet.  But that memory was vividly stirred when I heard someone explain how ‘news’ makes a difference.  The scenario he painted was of a wife, bereft of her POW husband, who still held on to the slim hope that he might be returned to her and their children.

One day, she picks up the phone to hear the startling news that not only is her husband alive, but he is already safely travelling home on a naval ship.  The Navy will pay for her to fly to San Diego to meet him in two weeks.

After the phone call, her circumstances have not changed, for she is still without her husband.  But the news of that future event WILL have an effect on her and the children.

What’s this example have to do with truth?  That’s easy: unless that mom trusts the veracity of the phone call, that it is NOT a hoax, then she won’t book the flight and make the arrangements to meet the ship when it docks.   Truth DOES matter.

So too does truth carry weight in a logical argument.  Recall that to have a powerful position, two conditions must be met.  Premises must be true and the way a conclusion is drawn must follow rules of logic.  An argument that abides by guidelines in how it’s formed is deemed valid.

Couple true premises with an orderly, valid proceeding from premises to conclusion, and you have a sound, or ‘unbeatable’ argument.

I saw another example of the power of true premises this morning when I was reminded of the account of Hannah, future mom of the prophet Samuel.

Mournful due to infertility and constantly belittled by ‘the other wife’ of Elkanah, Hannah refuses to eat but prays in the tabernacle during the family’s annual trek to worship at Shiloh.  Hannah receives a blessing from the priest Eli when she prays in for a son (1 Sam 1:1-18).

All she has heard is ‘news’ (Eli’s blessing) that the Lord will do for her as she requested while praying. When she arises from prayer, nothing has changed.  She is still childless, but she has heard and believed the ‘truth’ given to her by this representative of God, the priest Eli.

Here is a framework for this news and why it changed the live of our hypothetical POW’s wife and for Hannah, future mom of the renowned prophet Samuel.

P1 – I can confidently trust and act on true news of future events

P2 – My husband’s return is true news of a future event

C – Therefore, I can confidently count on my husband’s return

We can substitute the Hannah details for premise # 2

P2- My conceiving a son is true news of a future event

C – Therefore, I can confidently count on being a mom

What happens after the ‘counting on something occurring that has been foretold’?  Lives change!

  • The POW’s wife and children felt joy during the 2 weeks before Dad reached American soil.  They quickly sprang into action, prepping for Dad’s return.  Perhaps a planned spring break vacation was cancelled.
  • Hannah’s countenance immediately turned glad.  She ended her mournful fast, took food and confidently did the next step of sleeping with her husband Elkanah in order to conceive a son.

I’ll leave you with the MOST IMPORTANT news that Christians have heard:

  • Jesus, Son of God, was executed in the place of guilty sinners who are deprived of the means of coming to God and glorifying him by enjoying him (sin bars the way to commune with a holy God)
  • After dying, he was buried and came back to life 3 days later. His resurrection validated his prior public claims to BE God as well as demonstrated the truth of his announced purpose to live and die for helpless sinners. His punishment for our sins removed a holy God’s hostility toward men, opening the way to a happy father-child relationship.

Let’s put THAT news into our syllogism:

P1:  I can confidently trust and act on true news of future events

P2: Jesus’s substitutionary death for guilty sinners (as well as his substitutionary life perfectly pleasing to God and law-fulfilling) is a fact

C: Therefore, I can make decisions, both day-to-day and long term, counting on those facts.

Besides the outward impact on my life’s choices, the AFFECTIVE part is equally changed:

  • Picture the glee, delight and joy of the POW family as they make plans.  Mom is still a single parent juggling the demands of mothering, working and keeping house.  Those circumstances haven’t changed. But her whistle and glowing face point to a significant change.
  • Imagine Hannah’s attitude NOW when ‘the other wife’ with children mocks her. She still is slim and childless, but the taunting rolls off her back if she even notices it. She finds herself wanting to take in sufficient and healthy food to carry her future baby safely. Her mind is preoccupied with thoughts about the future.

And we who are Christians who trust and act on the news of what Jesus has done for us also live life differently, although we still might be suffering in today’s current circumstances.

What if we don’t EXPERIENCE joy or find ourselves meditating on meeting Jesus face to face?  What if we actually FEEL and ACT the same as our neighbor who has no certainty of this paradigm-shattering historical event?  Maybe it’s as simple as this: we haven’t been convinced what eyewitness testimony (the Gospel accounts in the New Testament) describes is true.

Remember, faith (or certainty about an unseen but true event) grows stronger by hearing reports again of what Jesus has done.

Truth DOES and should make a difference in our lives.

Romans 10:17 – So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.

 

One reason being a Christian makes me happy

16 Mar

Existential Qs

  • What is the meaning of life?
  • Who am I?  
  • Is there any point to any of this?

Paul commended the Athenian thinkers of his day for looking into the important questions of life, the deep issues.  He observed that they were indeed following the hunger that God placed in all men, to know Him.  But they had arrived at some dead ends.  Paul started where their human reason had landed them and hooked their curiosity with this pronouncement:

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God,and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for  ‘In him we live and move and have our being’.…  Acts 17:24-28a

Was their curiosity satisfied?  Yes and no. A few Athenians were able to SEE the truth, but most weren’t.  Why was that?  Were they not all smart, thinking, logical Joes and Janes?

I am the light of the world; the one who follows me will not walk in the shadows but that one will have the Light of the world.  John 8:12

I first heard someone explain who Jesus was and what He had done when I was 23.  That is when I ‘saw the light’ so to speak. At that point most of my existential questions began to be answered.  What caused me to see clearly and arrive at a true paradigm that explains those 3 questions at the beginning of this blog?  Nothing but the supernatural working of God ON me.  It happens like this for all those who treasure Jesus Christ:

  • No one can follow Jesus unless he can SEE Jesus (though invisible).
  • We can’t SEE who Jesus is until God flips on the immaterial light switch in our ‘heart’, that source of reason and imagination and will.
  • Once we ‘see’ this supernatural light, then we can ALSO ‘see’ by means of Jesus EVERYTHING else that’s ultimately or eternally important.

That Holy Spirit lightbulb moment happened for me when I was 23. As I have grown and learned to know who Jesus is in all his limitless dimensions, I have grown existentially happier and happier.  I now rest KNOWING the following:

  • The meaning of life – to know and let others know about the Triune God
  • Who I am – a RICHLY gifted and GREATLY loved, though underserving, child of God
  • What the point of life and this world is – for God to create a diverse family of human beings from across the ages who will enjoy Him by being satisfied by Him forever

Do I have the answers to all my questions?  Good heavens, NO!   But the major existential issues of life that every human grapples with and which each system of thought attempts to answer ARE settled.

And……I am free to SEE and to SAVOR the True, the Good and the Beautiful in this life that God has created.  As a dependent follower of Christ I have been given a mission to spread this good news of God’s love and purpose with others.

For all those reasons my heart IS happy, no matter how trying the day is or what suffering it brings.

The logic of assurance of faith

9 Mar

If you are a Christian, do you struggle with knowing for sure that all the promises of Christ are actually for you?  That you will be eternally with God when you die?  That you won’t have to face judgment, followed by sentencing for your crimes against the Creator and Sustainer God of the universe?

Assurance of salvation

There’s actually a logical way, I think, to know for sure whether you are IN Christ and under no condemnation from God the Father or excluded from Christ’s saving work on your behalf.

As I was thinking about this topic the other morning (prompted by reading from Puritan William Gurnall’s work on the armor of God) I mused about the state of our spiritual health before my husband and I actually became Christians.

Until the age of 22, we had NO doubt that we were Christian.  The topic never came up.  We were baptized, confirmed members of the Episcopal Church.  That denomination’s current (or at least de facto) doctrine teaches that all those who are baptized are in fact Christians. End of discussion. Period.

But once we heard the ‘bad news’ of our natural state (“all have sinned and fall short of God’s standard….and deserve death” – combo of Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23), we grasped with haste the ‘good news’ of Jesus’ atonement and fulfilling of the Law on behalf of those who will receive it by faith.

That’s when occasional doubts about our actual salvation began to jab at our assurance of pardon and peace. Those fears bothered us! The very fact of our DIS-stress over our eternal future is likely a healthy clue and evidence to the saving faith we actually possess.

But over the years, I’ve come to see how clear thinking and a logical hypothetical true statement can bolster my confidence that what Jesus has done actually DOES apply to me.

Ephesians 2:8 teaches Christians that only by a GIFT have we been saved from God’s rightful wrath. (For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God)

Gift of faith

By a gift, not by baptism, or confirmation or any work done by a religious person or us!

When I start to second-guess myself, I am tempted to imagine or hypothesize….

  • What if I believe this fact (that I’ve received the Gift) TODAY, but tomorrow I DON’T believe?  How do I know that I TRULY believe?  Maybe I’m fooling myself?

But with the temptation, the Holy Spirit reminds me of  Gospel logic so I can plug that hole in the dike holding back false fears and guarding that precious gift faith.

Here’s my pre-supposition based on Paul’s teaching in Acts:

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” Acts 16:31

The Bible defines this kind of faith or  ‘belief’ as relying on/counting on/ trusting in.

Premise 1: Either I am relying on my own merit and works to be righteous enough to please God OR I’m relying on Jesus’ work for me to please God

Premise 2: I’m not relying on myself to please God

Conclusion: Therefore, I’m relying on Jesus’ work offered to me to please God

It’s as simple as that.  I have to keep asking myself this fundamental question:

  • Maria, who are you trusting in, you or Jesus.

That’s usually enough to quiet the doubts.  What about you?

 

 

 

 

 

When is an Evangelical Christian a Christian? – terms matter!

2 Mar

Define your terms

I’ve been stymied at the increasing reports of those ‘Evangelical Christians‘ who support Donald Trump.  How can that be?  Trump doesn’t represent anything Christian, whether beliefs or actions. How can I say that? Here’s one reason:  from what I’ve READ (I don’t watch TV so I am assuming the accuracy of the reports), Donald Trump has claimed never to have asked God to forgive him.  CNN article  He explains that when he has done something wrong, he has sought to make it right.

Being right with God is a different matter.  There is objective guilt against God when we sin.  Someone has to pay, either Donald Trump or Jesus.  Christians are those who (for one thing) have turned to Jesus and accepted him as the atoning sacrifice for their sins against God.  If Donald Trump has yet to do that, then he is not a Christian by definition.

Yesterday, Al Mohler, brought up and offered a fascinating reason that had a lot of explanatory power when it comes to describing Evangelical Christians.  He shared an important distinction within the broad category of Americans who either label themselves or are called ‘Evangelical Christian’ by pollsters, media and other institutions.

If we don’t begin by clarifying the explicit meaning of a concept (a term) then confusion ensues.  No need to proceed with a discussion if there is not a ‘coming to terms’ with what something means!

So here goes:

According to Mohler’s analysis, the pure sense of the term ‘Evangelical Christian’ revolves around:

  • doctrines (beliefs) held about the Bible  (evangelical has to do with the ‘eu-angelos’ which is Greek for ‘good message’. What is the good news?  the message that Jesus has borne FOR US our deserved punishment for crimes against God AND lived a perfect life, compliant with God’s Law).
  • values held and lived out
  • participation in a church community

Evangelical Christians are those who accept the Bible as the authoritative Word of God, who hold pro-life views and are active members of a body of Christian believers.

Those outside of those boundary lines but  who have been labeled or call themselves Evangelical seem to be loosely affiliated with a church that is:

  • NEITHER Catholic NOR mainline liberal
  • are culturally Christian, but not regularly practicing
  • self-identify as believing in God

Essentially, this finer distinction falls between authentic Christians and nominal Christians, those in name only.

When Mohler described these two groups, I understand better why Trump had so many supporters among this much larger group –  those labeled ‘Evangelical Christians’, but are so in name only.

What puzzles me, now, are those who truly ARE Evangelical Christians and yet still support Donald Trump, like Jerry Falwell, Jr – president of Liberty University.  What accounts for his choice? Any thoughts?