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Mission statements can obscure

5 Apr

Our church mission is “Joyfully to love all, serve all, and to share Jesus Christ with the world.”

A friend who belongs to a Methodist church mentioned her church’s guiding mission in the context of a discussion about homosexuality and a church association to which her church belongs.  This local group of churches had united to serve the community, but differing policies and doctrine threatened to derail some of their momentum.

I got to thinking about the importance and difficulty of choosing words.  Words carry not only verbal descriptive meanings, but also emotional messages, both positive and negative. Just like one’s tone of voice and delivery can alter the explicit meaning of a word, so can culture and the times add layers that color and influence communication.

God does not ignore such obstacles but takes them into account.  He responds by calling us FIRST to think, ponder, and invest time in understanding HIS divine words to us.  In turn, we are to be truthful in how we use words, especially the WORD of God.  Recall Paul’s exhortation to his protégé Timothy: “…Rightfully handle the word of truth!” in 2 Tim 2:15.

Mission statements matter – every word counts.  The verbs my friend’s church chose demand examination.  Let’s just look at the first one, to love:

Since it’s a church that is using this term, does it not make sense to turn first to the Bible to see God’s use?  Besides, should we begin with man’s definition, that is culture’s use, we’d immediately step into a morass.  We can’t assume consensus even within one country. What I consider ‘loving’ probably doesn’t match your personal view.  My ‘love’ might tap into the American ideal of pursuing happiness.  Translated, this has come to signify ‘allowing one freedom to do whatever one pleases, regardless of the consequences’ as long as it doesn’t impinge on my happiness.  But if I’m an alcoholic or drug addict, how loving is it to let me abuse substances and die?

God doesn’t leave us to wonder about what HE says is love.  Here is His standard:  You shall love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  And your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12:30-31  God cares not just about people’s temporary physical desires and needs, but their eternal soul’s condition.   Is it loving to clothe, feed and house someone for just their fleeting years on earth?

For a flesh and blood case of love in action, I’ll mention ‘Uncle Paul’.  He shows clearly how he himself loves in his letter to the Corinthians.

  • 1 Cor 10:33 I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

It is quite possible that my friend’s church had this kind of love in view when they crafted their mission statement.  But in giving them the benefit of the doubt, I’ll tell you that I have grown cautious in making assumptions about the meaning of terms. Just because a church uses the word ‘love’ or a colleague talks about ‘God’ or even mentions that they ‘pray’, I stop now and ask them what they mean.  More often than I would have imagined, that person’s usage does not match mine.

When it comes to terms, logical Joes and Janes seek clarity above all.

Your wants won’t hurt you!

15 Mar

“Your wants won’t hurt you!”

Did your parents feed you that line when you were a kid?  Remember those trips to the grocery store?  The ones when you BEGGED them to put THEIR money in one of those contraptions where the claw swings out and SOMETIMES grabbed hold of some prize?

grocerystore-claw

So was it true, that living with an unfulfilled WANT caused you no pain?  After all, you probably heard that line time and time again.  Bet you never thought about it, you just knew what it meant – NO TOY!

I heard that adage the other day and with my ‘Logical Jane’ ears started to think it through.  Actually I DO think our ‘wants’ can harm us.

Before I explain why, I had better start where all clear thinkers begin – with the definition and clarification of terms.  How do I define ‘wants’?

This is actually not quite as simple as it appears. In talking with a fellow Christian a few weeks ago, I learned that the Hebrew word for ‘heart’ is layered. At the bottom of one’s heart are God-given desires.  Out of these desires form feelings of WANT and then on top of that layer percolate thoughts and schemes – the justifying kind and the strategizing kind. Our actions and words are what roll off the assembly line of our factory.

What was new to me was the realization that God has planted desires in us.  But because of the Fall, our feelings, thoughts, words and actions have been corrupted.  Therefore when our wants and needs filter up through our sinful outlook and ungoverned by God, they can’t be trusted.  By nature, our feelings/thoughts (what WE call desires) are dis-ordered.

The world preaches a counter message:

  • Follow your heart
  • Trust your instincts
  • Look inside

(as though correct answers and guidance originate from within us!)

So what can we do?  This is no minor struggle.  Paul pulled out his hair in despair and committed the struggle to his parchments:

  • I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Romans 7:23-24

Paul’s number one remedy for aligning one’s actions with God’s will is to LOOK at Jesus.

  • 2 Cor 3:18 – And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Isn’t that a relief?  By looking AT Jesus and His desire to submit to the eternal plan to take our place at the cross, the transforming work on our wants begins.  And it continues as we nurture our union with Him with on-going looks at His work on our behalf.

We don’t have to remain a slave to our wants.  With Jesus we can begin to see how to meet those God-given desires in God-pleasing ways.  Only then can we agree with Mom that our wants won’t hurt us.

Can you be a Christian and not believe the Bible?

22 Feb

Did that question get your attention?  I hope so, because it is one I ponder often.

Why?  Run your eyes over some of these responses I’ve encountered when talking about God with friends and family:

  • I worship the God of the New Testament
  • The Bible was written by men
  • How can we trust what the Bible says?  It got corrupted through all the oral retellings passed down from one generation to another
  • The Bible represents primitive man’s best explanation at the time
  • Because of science, the Bible is obsolete
  • What applied then doesn’t fit society today
  • I don’t think Jesus really said that
  • That’s just Paul’s opinion
  • I attended divinity school and my professors taught us how the Bible actually came to be.  We are to take it metaphorically

Do you see why I am drawn to sort out what one must accept/adhere to in order to be a Christian?

How do we even begin to answer the question?

All adept Logical Joes and Janes start with clarifying terms.  So which terms need parsing and comparing to reality?

  • Christian
  • Believe
  • (the Bible is concrete and unequivocal)

The terms ‘Christian’ and ‘believe’ could potentially require a long time to arrive at a truth-reflecting definition.  (It’s not consensus we aim for, but accuracy and clarity of terms.)

For does it matter what the world calls a Christian?  Would any one disagree that many who self-identify as Christians are not in the least?  I don’t know if Hitler considered himself to be a follower of Christ, but atheists often trot him out as poster-boy of a supposed Christian who perpetrated untold evil.

More difficult to discern are those people who attend church, who do kind things, who serve humanity and choose to self-identify as Christian.  Here is the rub.  Can we tell from one’s outward behavior whether one is a Christian or not?

Turning to what it means ‘to believe‘, how is this concept often taken?

It can mean to agree, to follow, to espouse.  But isn’t our church replete with people who say they ‘believe’ the Bible?  Yet upon a fair assessment of their actions, temperaments and words, one wonders.  I do acknowledge that true Christians are always growing, with fits and starts, so we should be careful about judging.

Why am I even bothering with this analysis?  Because many people dear to me are on this spectrum of:

  • a sort of Christian
  • a sort of belief in the Bible

My husband and I were once members of that ‘sort of category’.  Although had you asked us to explain ourselves, we would have avowed without reservation that we were Christian. I do think we would have equivocated with the second question – Do you believe the Bible? For we had not READ the Bible.  We had read/heard bits and pieces of the Bible, for sure. But read it?  No, not in our Episcopal Church experiences growing up.

Now, having been given light to SEE and having acquired Biblical truth through Bible studies, evangelical pastors’ sermons, books, podcasts, church community, small groups and friendships with Christians, we can easily ‘catch’ the aroma of a true Christian.  They can be as distinct from me as you could imagine, yet we recognize each other as blood -bought brothers and sisters in Christ.  We talk the same language, cherish the same Jesus, marvel over God’s goodness, and enjoy boasting about His magnificence.

I’m curious to know what and how you define these two terms.  Please post a comment. And in a few weeks, I’ll summarize your responses as well as clarify and delimit those terms.  In the meantime, let us not stop praying for ‘heart-transplants’ in those whom we love, about whom we are not sure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Explore what the question even means and how we would go about setting up a discussion and then at the end invite readers to respond to the question I don’t have to answer it myself

Stating the obvious – words matter!

18 Jan

Aren’t you thankful that God created us with communicative language skills?  I often take that gift for granted.

Two recent ‘aha!’ moments brightened my day and made me grateful for the insights words can provide.

The first one:

This morning, while walking for exercise, I listened to a John Piper sermon where he mentioned God’s purpose for creating you & me.  He cited Isaiah 43:8 when describing what God says His reasons:

  • everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.

What was new to me was that the fact that God WILL be glorified by every person.  Piper framed it like this.  Are we going to glorify God like Judas or like Peter? It’s not up to US whether we glorify Him or not.  If God says He created us with the express purpose of showcasing His glory, then He will. For being God, by ontological nature, everything that He wills to be done IS/WILL BE done.  And how do WE know what His will is?  From what He says, what is written in the Bible.  Words!

The import of this fact that God will be glorified by each of the people He creates is this: Whether we die as a hardened God-hater or rather as a person whose heart burns to proclaim and point to the wonders of God, each of us WILL bring glory to Him when He rewards or punishes us.

The second one: 

Alan Shlemon from Stand to Reason wrote a letter about how Jesus modeled truth and compassion while on earth.

As I began to read, I assumed I knew what sense of ‘truth’ Alan was addressing:  the truth that Jesus, as God, had about the moral failures of everyone He met.

But the way Alan described Jesus’ use of truth was in focused study of someone.  Read this excerpt from his letter dated Thursday, 5 January 2017:

In Matthew 9:35–36, for example, Jesus is going through all the towns and villages, healing diseases and sickness, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. Matthew writes, Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” Notice the order. Jesus learns the truth and then is motivated by compassion. He sees that the people are distressed, dispirited, and like sheep without a shepherd and, because of that truth, He is driven to compassion.

I had never considered that use of truth.  But because of how Alan painted Jesus’ actions toward people, I now WANT to look more carefully at those around me, to study their tone, their faces, their postures and ask the kind of questions that will give me some true insight into their burdens.  I know this:  only THAT kind of truth will soften my heart.

 

The other kind of truth can puff up, even if it’s accurate and well grounded.  (I’m not arguing against the responsibility we all have to KNOW truth and live by it.)

So here’s to WORDS and the power of eloquent and accurate communication, whether from a fellow created being or our Creator!

Meaningful definitions require boundaries

19 Oct

human-animal-stem-cell-research

Scientists at the National Institutes for Health apparently are talking about lifting a ban on research that would co-mingle human stem cells with animal embryos.

Human-Animal Embryo Stem Cell Research

Listening to a discussion about this back in August, the commentator who mentioned this new development posed the question:

  • What does it mean to be human?  If you have 99% human DNA and 1 % ‘other’, are you still considered human?

In other words, “How do we define the term, HUMAN?”

What came to mind was how TODAY, we seem to be playing fast and easy with definitions.

Two examples come to mind:

1a. Tolerance once referred to the restraining civil behavior between two or more people who held and articulated differing and/or contradictory beliefs and positions.  If you think about, one doesn’t tolerate what one find acceptable, one AGREES with it.  By definition, the ‘classic’ view of tolerance presupposes contrary views.

1b. Tolerance today seems to require that a ‘minority, despicable viewpoint’ be shut down, shamed and disbarred from the discussion table.

The term has remained the same, but the concept has changed.

2a. Marriage once referred to the legal union between one suitable (not a close relative) man and one suitable woman of appropriate age.

2b. Marriage today refers to a state-granted status that recognizes a two-person, gender-indifferent union with the same legal rights of a married biological male and female.  (A temporary quantity and constituent view – down the road who knows how many humans and what/who else might fit into this new definition!)

Logical friends, definitions matter!!!

These are but two current examples.

Think about other terms in the area of religion, for example:  God’s love, Faith in God or Prayer.  These ALSO seem to stand for a multiplicity of concepts.  So what exactly is the relationship between TERM and CONCEPT?

First of all, a concept is the immaterial idea of something one pictures, the image of which one holds in his head.  A concept can indicate something real or imagined like a tree or a unicorn. A term is the written or verbal name we give to that concept.

Terms can be confusing because the same term can refer to different concepts.  Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason teaches that before ANY discussion about a topic can ensue, two people must clarify and agree on the definition of terms used.  Conversational partners must know and state the concepts they have in mind when each employs a term.

So back to those religious terms I mentioned. Today, in Christianity, people seem to talk with ease and certitude about ‘the love of God’ or they announce: ‘I believe in God’ or ‘I pray’.  We cannot assume that they and we are picturing the same thing.  As the fox in Le Petit Prince says ‘Words are the source of misunderstandings.’

As the social climate across the literate world grows more fractured and sharp, logical and reasoning men and women CAN make a difference by gently asking the clarifying questions that will guide others to think about what they mean.

Who knows?   In bringing a concept to light, in employing the discipline of articulating WHAT WE MEAN, someone or even we ourselves might decide to modify what we believe. Not a bad result. For thinking is never wasted effort or time.

 

 

What are your questions?

10 Aug

Effective thinkers depend on the clarity of terms.  Whatever they think, speak or write must proceed and build on a foundation of precise and unambiguous language.  Unless they intentionally set out to deceive!

If this building block of good argumentation is indispensable, then next in importance I believe are one’s questions.

I know I’ve written about questions before, but I have come late in life to the value of examining what is said/written and NOT mentioned.  Some question templates are:

  • what COULD the author have said had he not said it that particular way?
  • what did he leave out?
  • if we exchange the predicate for the subject, what does that reveal? (yes, I recognize that converting  X is Y to Y is X is only valid for E & I propositions,  but what is uncovered through a brief look at the is often rich!)

Credit is not due me to have stumbled upon the value of questioning the speaker/writer.  I am being trained through the accumulated and daily posting of the sermons of pastor John Piper.  Listening daily to his teaching has helped me articulate some implicit assumptions or at least some hypothetical assumptions.

Thus schooled, yesterday as I read a bit of puritan pastor William Gurnall writing in The Christian in Complete Armor, I asked myself the obvious question and got back a very pointed poke!

“Whatever is the object of a saint’s (Christian’s) hope is the subject of his prayer.”

I swapped the predicate for the subject and stated the premise this way:

What I pray about reveals what I’m hoping in. 

God immediately convicted me of the nature of multitudes of past prayers over the years. Many have been of this variety:

  • Give us a nice day, Lord!

That’s pretty lame AND it reveals that my hope is effectively that I have a pleasant life with no hardship and minor problems easy to resolve, few interruptions and plenty of time and money to do what I want.

Reassuring to me IS the fact that as I take in God’s Word through daily study and God-centered prayer, my prayers are changing to reflect biblical truth.  I’m moving away from God as butler to my life to God as CENTER of my life and me as His redeemed child and servant.

My plea THIS morning was based on Colossians 1:9, 10

Father, fill me with the knowledge of your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding SO THAT I may live a life worthy of Christ, pleasing him fully.

Looking at the blanks, what is not said or written often reveals startling insights!  But that’s the fun of clear thinking.

Which question have you posed recently that has revealed something new or startling?

 

 

It depends on what ‘is’ is!

22 Jun

Bill Clinton We laughed at his disclaimer, but Bill Clinton had a point.  A naked word is clueless.  The first rule in logic is: Clarify your terms!

But what is a term? A word set in a context.  So, in one sense, Bill pointed out the obvious – ‘IS’ as a word takes on significance only in a context.

Take, for example, the unaccompanied word, ‘set’.  How can ‘set’ be employed?

  • a lamp, set upon a hill
  • a man, set out on a journey
  • my cat, set upon lapping some milk
  • a victim, set up by a Ponzi scheme
  • the book, set down on a table

Words and terms matter, dear friend. May we take time to use particular care to avoid confusion and communicate with accuracy and clarity.