Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Thinking with God

The Prayer of Jabez
Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let you hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.

Bruce Wilkerson has been receiving a lot of bad press, and World Magazine has loaded on his wagon with a bit more in this month’s issue with a commentary by Joel Belz. Now, normally I greatly respect Joel’s columns and read them with delight and anticipation but this time I found myself asking why. Why did he write this column?
As one who heard Wilkerson speak during his early years of preaching on Jabez I heard a Biblical passage with strong conservative exegesis, and as a student of Biola, I watched his sermon motivate some 95 students to go overseas to witness and preach the gospel. I am aware of those who have tended to go too far with his exegesis, which I suppose is what Joel is implying when he refers to Wilkerson’s quirky philosophy.
As I read the passage waiting for Joel to explain his term “quirky” I was somewhat appalled by his never bothering to do that. He faults Wilkerson for dreaming too big in his Africa trip and makes an analogy to another person named Peter, emphasizing the smallness of his dream. I am not sure he pulls off the analogy very well because, at least in my mind, I perceive the other person must have had the very vision of God in his successful ministry. I am uncomfortable with deigning the plan of God as something “small”, and I cannot see how Peter could be very happy with it either. Perhaps the more important question would be: is God happy with being termed small?
I cannot leave this review without taking a stab at the exegesis of the passage of Jabez. I do think this passage compares favorably with many New Testament passages. In discussing this Jabez thing with my daughter, a different alumni generation from Biola, she rightly pointed out that the Bible seems to amply cover the doctrine of Jabez in other passages. For example, Jesus said that if you have the faith of a mustard seed you can move mountains. The theology of asking great things of God is replete in the Bible; I think it was A.W. Tozer who famously said, “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.”
Of course along with our expectations comes the uncomfortable doctrine of the Providence of God. I do not pretend to know whether Wilkerson has been giving proper deference to the Providence of God. For the sake of argument, let us assume that he has made a mistake in what is frequently wrongfully termed “getting ahead of God”. (I think the term to be spuriously wrong as we can never get ahead of God—at those times that we think we are ahead we are of course falling rapidly out of the plan of God.) So he has become guilty of exactly what? He has dared too dream too largely, and out of the Providence that God wishes to dispense. Which one of us has not also done the same thing? I have built what I term castles in the air many times as I have sought for the will of God in my life. I am concerned that Joel has become guilty of “casting the first stone” perhaps unconsciously implying that he is “without sin” in this area. I would that he would reconsider his hurtful remarks. As a loving Christian I do expect better of Joel.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Huge Accident or A Purposeful Happening?

By Pat Davis
I look at a single tree and the forest behind it. I look at the glorious mountain and the great green valley. I look at the bubbly spring, the raging river, and the majestic sea. I look at the moon and the shining stars in the heaven. And behind it all I see the Creator.
The evolutionist looks at a tree and sees a million accidental burps causing variation of species. The tree stands on a mountain; the mountain stands on the earth. The evolutionist declares the biggest burp of all started our universe, and that we are only one fly speck on the pattern of an uncountable number of accidental burps working to create only an illusion of purpose. It has all just been one act of ultimate randomness.
Which is easier to believe? Which view takes the most faith? Which view is the most incredible?
When the simple sense makes the best sense then seek no other sense.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Faith Seen or Unseen

by Pat Davis

How is it that when we come to faith that some demand that we show them God? They tell us they chose not to believe or alter their life based upon someone whom they cannot see?
Here is a problem of our time. We live in a place where empirical observation has led us a long way in developing technology and medicine. But it is improper to apply empiricist doctrine when we come to the field of abstract nouns. There are many such nouns that we cannot see, that communicate life-changing ideas.
I have long used the light switch as such an illustration. It works, for which of us has seen electricity work when we turn the light switch? Often we proceed into the room after hitting the switch and are walking in the dark for a nanosecond before the light comes on. We are operating on faith, trusting that that momentary darkness will turn to light.
What about kindness? Can it been seen? Can it be measured? And yet who among us does not appreciate it, when we are its recipients?
Sometimes it is not the measure of its “seenness” that tells of its reality. Sometimes the best measure of the concreteness of a noun, is how sorely it is missed when its absence is noted. How much more God?

The Last Supper

By Patrick Davis
The picture

I remember the picture so well. Judas Iscariot is portrayed as a shifty eyed fellow whom no one would trust. I would now debunk that characterization of Judas forever. Judas was the one person whom all the other Jews trusted with their money. I submit to you that he had an honest face and was probably the most trusted one of the group. After all, these were poor Jewish men who did know the value of a shekel. Who else would they chose to guard their money other than the most trustworthy and fair-haired boy of their lot?
I picture Judas as being the up and moving young man, whose character was thought to be above blemish. I picture Judas as being the outstanding Jew that mothers would want to give their daughters to.
“Ahh, look daughter,” they would say, “there goes a good man for you to catch- one that would know how to take care of you.”
And undoubtedly the daughters would preen themselves, pinching their cheeks, and smiling demurely whenever they saw his passing imposing figure.
Of our Savior, it is said that there was no form or comeliness that we should desire him; but of Judas, it might be said his form and appearance brought much notice and desire. Of course, in the absence of pictures, I am only guessing, and reading far more into the fragments of the story than I have the right to.
But I wonder a few things about the second most famous traitor in all of history. I wonder where he initiated the contacts with the Jewish elders of his day. Could it be possible that he had contact and knowledge of the leaders from his circles of acquaintances? Is it beyond imagination to think of Judas as being the fair haired boy whose very countenance precipitated trust?
Further, I cannot help but wonder what was going on in the heart of Judas. I enjoy knowing however imperfectly the pictures of hearts of those that I am around. I wonder if I were alive and acquainted with Judas if I would see anything in his demeanor that would show his heart. We know from scripture that his heart was as far from faith as the east is from the west, but we do not get any clues as to what motivated this man to join a band of paupers.
Was it the fact that he was trusted and made treasurer? Or did he bet on Jesus as the new rising king? His heart was not apparent to others until his deeds were done, and in doing those deeds, even his own soul drew back with intense loathing.
This I do know. If I had the ability, I would enjoy going back and talking to Leonardo. I wonder if I shared my point of view if he would change his masterpiece at all?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Perseverance and Providence

On the futileness of trying to understand Providence
“Providence is wonderfully intricate. Ah! You want always to see through Providence, do you not? You never will, I assure you. You have not eyes good enough. You want to see what good that affliction was to you; you must believe it. You want to see how it can bring good to the soul; you may be enabled in a little time, but you cannot see it now; you must believe it. Honor God by trusting Him.” Charles Spurgeon

It seems to me that any discussion of free will and election sort of presupposes what Spurgeon says. When we are in a particular situation we are generally denied the knowing why. Today at noon, I sat down and commiserated with a fellow worker who has a mild cancer. It looks as if surgery will easily cure him, and I pointed out that he would probably be able to walk away from this with a very good remainder of his life. His quick rejoinder was to offer to switch places with me, and he wondered how I would take it. Of course, how I would take it will never be known. I live and walk blindly in the life God has given me with very little perception of what the future will bring-- except that, if Christ does not return, I shall surely die like all of my species. I will have my pain and suffering to live through, and it will either bring me closer to God, or drive me away. Instead of pointing this out to my fellow worker, I did mention my neighbor who at the age of 59 just was diagnosed with lung cancer. He immediately got the point, and agreed that it could be worse.
In my life I have noticed many times that two postulates are possible. The first is that I could have one of the many better lives that I see others having around me. The second postulate is that I could have one of the many worse lives that I see others having around me. But the reality is in neither of the postulates; I have the life that I have and no other. Nor is there any choice about the main events of my life. I shall live a certain while and then I will get sick and die, or I will get in an accident, or etc. None of these facts of my life will I be able to control.
But as a Christian I do have something more. I cannot understand the manner of Providence in my life but I do understand somewhat of the gentleness of the hand of Providence in my life. More simply put, I do not fathom the why me but I do fathom who is allowing it. It is my duty to trust God when events in my life might dictate otherwise. I can choose to let the events of life, good and bad, to drive me closer to Christ. I will not understand the why of much of it; I do understand the duty to trust. As Spurgeon says it more poignantly, Honor God by trusting Him.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

A Grocery Store Trip

When is a grocery store trip more than a grocery store trip?
Answer: When it is done in behalf of Katrina victims.

    Recently my two brothers and their sons spent their Christmas vacations doing something useful. They went to Gulfport, Mississippi to help Katrina victims rebuild. One hundred and five men left their families and their vacations to join together with an ongoing effort put together by Calvary Chapel Ministries. Every few weeks Calvary Chapel is rotating men and crews together and rebuilding in the name of Christ.
    On a one to ten scale of life changing experiences, my 50 year old brother said this one was off the charts! One of the many stories that he told I would like to recount here. Anyway my brother was directed to be the designated gofer. He practically lived at Home Depot, which he said was so short-handed that he had to wait hours for check out, and they kept trying to give him a job! The day before he left, it was his turn to teach a replacement, who became somewhat abashed over contractors asking him to pick up unknown stuff. The guy evidently felt inept (as well I might) in picking up the right stuff to please the contractors.
    I guess the fellow expressed his frustration and their leader took him aside and suggested that he was looking at this the wrong way. Their leader said I want you to go buy groceries for all the guys and when you are in line find someone who is a Katrina victim and buy their groceries.
So, in the grocery line he introduces himself to a couple who say they are doing fine and are not victims. However someone in the next line overhears the conversation and says that they lost everything. He offers to pay for their groceries which they gratefully accept, but the first couple he had introduced himself too started crying. He asked why they were crying, and they said, “You are doing what we should be doing.”
    So why do I include this story in Building Biblical Pillars? There are several levels in which the love of Christ are showing in the story, but I am reminded of the prayer of Jesus for his church: May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me.
    My brother told me scores of stories like this, of people coming to Christ that they worked with and worked for. I think they encountered a Biblical Pillar in their unity together. What do you think?

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Four Thrones at Cair Paravel

On Sovereignty and Free Will

Did you notice that at the outset of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe that we are told by Beaver that there are four thrones waiting for two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve? Not three thrones. I do sort of speculate strangely sometimes but I can’t help but wonder what if Aslan had prophesied of three thrones instead of four? Think of the advantages. He could have avoided the whole bloody mess in one swoop. Let the Witch have the sniveling Edmund. He certainly wasn’t worth anything anyway.
    Analogies help us understand deep things in the Bible that are difficult to grasp. I want to look at the analogy of Aslan and Edmund. It is not entirely clear where the prophecy of the four thrones comes from but it certainly must have originated from Aslan. Let us assume so for the sake of this discussion. Aslan, in a sovereign act, says there are going to be four thrones. He knew beforehand that one would betray him in an act of free will. Edmund chose to follow the White Witch, knowing full well in his innermost being that the Witch was evil.
Was sovereignty compromised? No! Was free will abrogated? No! The prophecy was fulfilled exactly as told. But as Aslan says: It may be harder than you know. Edmund did his very worst, and it worked exactly into the predestined plan of Aslan.
    If I may be allowed to do something that Lewis correctly points out is wrong, let me suppose that Edmund had done everything as correctly as he possibly could. Here I am asking the “What if” question that Aslan reminds us constantly is not allowed. But I ask nonetheless: what if Edmund did everything exactly right? Would the sovereignty of Aslan nevertheless prevailed?
    My analogy thus gives us the widest spectrum of free choice. But whether Edmund says no or yes, there prevails the sovereignty of Aslan. Could not the free will of man and the sovereignty of God work in harmony in a similar fashion? To borrow from my Lewis again, Nothing is more probable.
    A final thought, if I may. I am probably more of a sniveling Edmund than Edmund ever was. What was I worth? Somehow God thought me worth the great price of his own son. Thankfully he did not eliminate my throne at Cair Paravel!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Judas and Edmund

What is to be said about the two traitors: one from history and the other from the rich literature of Lewis?  If compared, we of course find much that is similar, but startling, there are some differences.  
     Judas betrays his Lord for thirty pieces of silver and he finds the price disgusting before he is through.  Edmund betrays his lord for thirty pieces of Turkish Delight that enchant him to wicked service.  Judas recognizes that he has betrayed innocent blood; Edmund, we are told, must never learn the terrible price his lord paid for him.  Both repent, Judas in hanging himself in disgust, and Edmund in genuine sorrow for his misdeeds.
     But the odd thing I find in comparing the two is that Lewis’s Edmund is allowed repentance unto life whereas Judas perishes under the justice of God.  There is only one person whose soul I understand to be condemned to hell.  It says in Psalm 109, speaking prophetically of Judas, “When he is tried, let him be found guilty.”   Again Acts says that Judas left the office of apostle “to go where he belongs.”
     Was Lewis kinder to Edmund than God was to Judas?  I think that might be true, if taken only from the human viewpoint.  Perhaps Lewis could not stand to slay one of his fellow children with judgment, and so had Edmund seek and receive forgiveness.  Or perhaps Lewis sought to picture Edmund’s betrayal only to be allegorical to that of Judas.  He never intended a children’s story to be a forum for discussing the justice of God.
     Which leads, I think, to the far more provocative question: what is to be said of the justice of God?  Not much, if we read today’s liturgy.  Christians are given needed homilies and blessed with thought of benevolence and forgiveness- all of which ought to be properly emphasized.
But what of the demands of a holy God for complete justice?  Jesus, as the herald of the coming wrath of God, told his world that most of them were going to hell.  Of course they crucified him for his message.  As believers today, we find ourselves in sympathy with Lewis and Edmund, and hesitate to condemn others.  And in so doing, I think we ignore the second coming.     
     The first coming, our Lord came as a meek Lamb to literally be led to the slaughter.  In the second coming, our Lord comes as a lion (not a tame lion, to bespeak Lewis) who will rend and slaughter among the flocks of mankind.  I remember growing up when the opossum got in the hen house he did not stop with the killing of one chicken; he killed all that he could sink his teeth into.   I am told that lions loosed in a flock of lambs are even worse; often not a lamb survives.
     It is this bloodiness that Revelation tells us is coming upon mankind.  Aren’t we being a bit remiss in only telling our brothers and sisters of the love and forgiveness of God?  Shouldn’t we also be warning of the coming judgment?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

He's not a tame lion.you know

Problem Stated
Let me see. Today I have a problem. I want to construct a box for God to fit in. “What a ridiculous notion,” you say. “God cannot fit into a box of your creation.”

If I understand the meaning of hermeneutics it is the Biblicist’s job to try to trace outlines of the box that God has made for himself. It is a high calling and many do a wonderful job, yet sometimes the box can be drawn too narrowly. I remember many years ago arguing with my Bible college peers about something called “dual fulfillment”. I think it is a classic illustration of what I wish to discuss in this paper. I have named it the box problem.

Dual fulfillment, as I understand the term, is the belief that God can indeed make a single prophecy that has one fulfillment, often in the time of the prophet, and a second fulfillment, often a messianic one. The prime example of dual fulfillment is Isaiah 7:14 where the prophet says: The virgin shall be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. This was fulfilled in Isaiah 8:3, where it says: Then I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. It is fulfilled in a more wonderful and far more established way as is made plain by Matthew 1:23, where it says: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel.

Some professors at Biola taught dual fulfillment; others vehemently disagreed. We students were also divided; some of my good friends did not see dual fulfillment at all. I perceived that they had a box problem. In other words, they were so busy building a box for God, folding and tucking him into each corner very neatly, and then very tidily sealing the box that they forgot that God makes his own boxes. I am reminded of Aslan, of whom Lewis tells us again and again, is not a tame lion. Not wanting to establish or disestablish dual fulfillment here, I instead would like to point to the box my good friends had inadvertently built when denying dual fulfillment. I think it is easily seen when I pose the question, Can God be big enough and wise enough to say one thing that will have different meanings at different times?

If you say no, God is not that big then you have a box problem. You have just built a box for God that he himself did not build. No where in scripture is dual fulfillment denied, and if you insist on moving forward with this negative answer, then it seems to me that you will have to establish why God would restrict himself to this box.

God does restrict himself to some outlines of a box. He tells us often what he is like. For instance, scripture tells us that he cannot deny himself, he cannot lie, and he is both truth and light. But, as far as I know, nowhere does he say prophecies cannot have two meanings. And that, in a nutshell, is the box problem. If God has not stated a limit of himself, who are we to restrict him?

I am often guilty of the box problem analogy in my own life. I see something evil happening to someone, and instantly I feel that to be so wrong, and sometimes I take the next step of questioning God. Whenever that happens I am constructing a box, however large, in which I wish to fit God.

What a wonder we are that we can question our Creator! What a folly we commit we do so! He came as the Lamb of God the first time, and we in the world rejected him. He is coming as a Lion of God the second time, and he is rejecting the world. In all probability most of us living today will see his coming. It will probably be more bloody and messy than anything we wish to dwell on, but we should remember that he is not a tame lion. We are not telling him what he ought to be; he is telling us what we ought to be.