Category Archives: Theology

Never Try to Teach a Pig to Sing…

pig-01…it’s a terrible waste of time, and it annoys the pig.

Every Tuesday morning, when I entered the studio for my voice lesson, that saying – or cliche, or mantra, or philosophy – stared me in the face and sunk in to the very depths of my singing soul.  I’m not sure of the intention with which my voice teacher meant it.  But, every student who entered that room saw it, read it, lived it.

I always wondered…am I that pig?  Sure, there were days when I left my voice lesson annoyed, frustrated that I couldn’t sing a particular phrase, or melody, or song, to the satisfaction of my teacher.  It was those days when I felt sure that my time – and everyone else’s – was being wasted.

Yet, I endured to the end, and I have concluded that I can sing better than some, not as good as others.

It was not until years later, as the teacher, that I fully understood the quaint little saying.  As students stood next to the piano, performing vocalises and songs, it was abundantly clear that time was wasted and people were annoyed.  And, while at times I questioned my pedagogical skills, it was abundantly clear when a “pig” was present.  While everyone can sing, not everyone can sing well.  Singing well can’t be taught.  Either you can sing well, or you can’t.

God-given Gifts

There are other things that can’t be taught.  These are things, like singing well, that could probably be labeled as “God-given.”

Athleticism.  Some athletes are superstars because of their natural ability.  Much money is spent trying to obtain that ability, yet it remains elusive for most.  The athlete with God-given talent is, well, a freak.

For example, some people can run fast.  Really fast.  And, while you can be taught to run faster, you can’t be taught to run fast.  Either you can do it, or you can’t.

In the movie Bull Durham, Crash Davis tells the young pitching phenom, Calvin Laloosh, that “You got a gift. When you were a baby, the gods reached down and turned your right arm into a thunderbolt.” And, Crash makes a point…either you can throw hard, or you can’t.  Sure, you can learn to throw harder, but if you don’t have the “gift”, it’s just not the same.

Art.  If you’re an artist – music, painting, sculpting, drawing, and so on – you know well that some have it, and don’t.  Michaelangelo had the gift, as did Mozart and Beethoven.  We all aspire to paint and compose music and such, and many do their best to craft their skill, but no matter how much you study it or work it, the “gift” is not yours.

Intelligence.  Admit it…some people are just intelligent.  I’m talking IQ here.  If you’re like me, you’ve encountered people who are just brilliant.  Knowledge, coherence of thought, application, communicating – all are on a different level, so much so that the rest of us may even have a hard time understanding.  This intelligence isn’t acquired through much reading or study – though you can increase knowledge through much study – it’s a “gift” that some, well, just have.

So, I suppose you insert these categories into the same cliche, and it would work.

“Never try to teach a pig to run fast…it’s a terrible waste of time, and it annoys the pig.”

Or…

“Never try to teach a pig to paint…it’s a terrible waste of time, and it annoys the pig.”

Or…

“Never try to teach a pig to be intelligent…it’s a terrible waste of time, and it annoys the pig.”

I guess it works.  Maybe.  Maybe not.

What Matters

What about the things that matter, though.  These are the things that, when all else disappears, are left.  These are the things that are basic to life, to us.  Things like faith, hope, and love.  The Apostle Paul tells us

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13 ESV)

These are the things that matter, that are lasting.  If you want to be remembered for anything, let it be that you possessed great faith and hope, and that you loved well.  Athleticism, art, intelligence…these things will fade, and the accomplishments and accolades will be surpassed.  Yet, the ability to have and possess great faith, enduring hope, and true love are worth striving for.

But, can they be taught?

Sure.  We can be taught to make our faith greater, to rest in our hope, and to love everyone.  We do it better than before, but it’s work.  You and I both know, however, that there are those whose lives reflect faith, hope, and love from deep within.  When those people are cut, they bleed faith, hope and love.  When they are oppressed, they exude faith, hope and love.  When they see hurt, they give faith, hope and love.  It’s who they are.

That’s because it’s God-given.  The Apostle Paul tells us again,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)

We can be taught to possess faith, hope and love, but it is never fully who we are until it’s given by God.  The old person – who is faith-less, hope-less, and love-less – is replaced by the new person, one who can genuinely possess and demonstrate faith, hope and love.  It’s genuine.  Real.  Our DNA.

It’s God-given.

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Perseverance: a faith that endures to the end

london confessionOne of the benefits of studying history is that we discover the commonality we have with those who’ve gone before us.  As believers, this is especially good because, as the writer of Hebrews says, we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses,” and this bolsters our faith.

The Second London Confession of 1689 was a statement of beliefs written by the English (Particular) Baptists in 1689 (the first one written in 1644).  It follows closely to The Westminster Confession (1646), though in its original title, the Baptists are clear that the confession is for and by those who are “baptized upon profession of their faith.”  In the 18th century, the Philadelphia Association of Baptist Churches (1707) adopted it as their confession.

Regarding perseverance, the Second London Confession states,

Those whom God hath accepted in the beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, and given the precious faith of his elect unto, can neither totally nor finally fall from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved…This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father, upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ and union with him, the oath of God, the abiding of his Spirit, and the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace; from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.

There is comfort in knowing, like our brothers and sisters in Christ in 17th century London and 18th century Philadelphia, that the God who accepts us in Jesus Christ, and who calls us, sanctifies us, and empowers us with faith, will keep us to the end.

The salvation that God begins in us, He will keep to the end.  Hallelujah!

Soli Deo gloria.

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How to Know What God Wants You to Do

praying

Dear God,

I need help.  You see, I have this decision to make.  It’s a biggie.  It affects so much of what direction I’ll go in my life from here on.  So, if you will, God, show me what I need to do.  Amen.

Silence.

Dear God,

It’s me again.  Remember?  I need some direction in my life, and I need you to show me clearly what to do.  I need some help.  Like, if you could show me before tomorrow, that would be great.  Some sort of sign.  Anything.  Please, God! Amen.

Silence.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog titled “God Spoke to Me…”.  It spoke to the issue of seeking God’s will for us in our lives, and how – often – we’ll pray and ask God to show us his will as we make decisions.  Occasionally, we’ll hear someone  announce that God has spoken and given direction regarding what to do.  If you read the post, you probably came to the conclusion that I’m a bit skeptical of those who give an account of God speaking to them to provide answers to questions.

I still am.

But, don’t throw rocks at me, yet.  I know full well that God can speak.  It’s just that I think God speaks through general and specific ways – through his creation and through the Scriptures.  But, hearing a voice with clarity and certainty?  I doubt it.  At least, it’s never happened to me.  Maybe I’m jealous.  Or, maybe not spiritual enough.

just do somethingI’ve been reading the book I referenced in the earlier post and it has helped me clarify my thoughts.  The book, written by Kevin DeYoung, is titled Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will.  The alternate title, which I think hits the mark, is How to Make a Decision without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc.

Knowing God’s will for our lives, and for the life-altering decisions we make, is difficult.  It can be paralyzing.  We’re so worried that we’ll do the wrong thing that we do nothing.  We work ourselves into a lather, wring our hands in semi-panic,  and make no decision at all.  That’s not good, and it certainly isn’t what God intends.

In the beginning of his book,  DeYoung gives a clear explanation of God’s will.  In doing so, we begin to understand the process of living within his purpose for us.  DeYoung describes the will of God in three ways:

1.  God’s will of decree.  This is God’s sovereign plan for you, formed before the foundations of the world.  DeYoung explains, “…what God wills, will happen, and what happens is according to Gods will.”

2.  God’s will of desire.  This is what God wants, or desires for us.  DeYoung clarifies it when he says, “If the will of decree is how things are, the will of desire is how things ought to be.”  Basically, God’s will of desire for us is how he wants us to live.  In Scripture, God clearly tells us what his commands are – to love God, to love our neighbor, to be thankful, and so on, but, because we choose badly, or sin, we can live contrary to God’s will of desire.  His will of desire tells us how to live.

3.  God’s will of direction.  This is what we look for most of the time when we ask God to show us his will.  DeYoung says, “We want to know his individual, specific plan for the who, what, where, when, and how of our lives.”  He goes on to say that this direction in our lives is “not one that He expects us to figure out before we make a decision.”  This is where we put ourselves in a corner and get disappointed when answers don’t come.

DeYoung concludes with this concise statement: “Trusting in God’s will of decree is good.  Following His will of desire is obedient.  Waiting for God’s will of direction is a mess.”

Trust.  Obey.  The rest will work out just the way God intended.

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Forgiveness, Mercy, and Forgetfulness

Good words, here. Something we all have trouble with, and need to correct. Thank you Ricky, for reminding us.

The Crabtrees

It’s  been a while, eh?

Forgiveness has been on my mind lately.  I’ve asked for forgiveness from more individuals than I’d like to admit, and usually received it.  However if I wrong someone, by either intentional or unintentional circumstances, the thought always crosses my mind if they’ve completely forgiven me or if some residual malcontent still exists toward me.  Forgiveness can’t be obtained without forgetfulness.  Obviously it’s unrealistic to think the memory of any wrongdoing can simply be extracted from the brain with no recollection at all.  Memories remain.  It’s what we choose to do with those memories that defines our character.  “Forgive and forget” means showing mercy.  If I know one of my closest friends couldn’t show mercy toward me, it would affect our relationship.  But…  the friends who love me enough to push aside any animosity after forgiveness are the closest relationships I have.  Admittedly, this is something…

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God spoke to me…

I appreciate the wise counsel from my pastor, Mike Lee, in helping me sort through this issue.  His knowledge of the scripture and doctrine is a grace-gift of God to me and 3BC.  Even so, he still needs me to transpose guitar charts.

god-spoke-to-me“God spoke to me…”

I’m sure you’ve heard that said before, as have I.  Some listeners will perk up upon hearing the impending pronouncement of divine information; others, though, may settle back in the chair with skepticism.  After all, God is about to provide some sort of fresh revelation of Himself…in this, the year of our Lord, 2014.

It’s a common thing to hear, though.  TV evangelists do it.  Christian authors do it.  Songwriters are especially prone to do it.  Many pastors may do it.  They proclaim that God has spoken to them, and now, a certain response on your part is required.  It’s sort of like the prophets in the Old Testament, except now, the mouthpiece of God is popular, well-known, and liked.  I can’t ever remember many in the Old Testament who spoke the word of God who were well-received.

Making Decisions

Sometimes, the “God spoke to me…” statement is made in regard to some sort of important decision – a life-changingHuh- decision.  It could be job-related, or it may be who you’re to marry.  Sometimes, it’s a big decision like buying a house or car, or which college to attend after high school (if at all).

In any case, prayer is involved and, in due time, there’s an answer from God.  And, out comes “God spoke to me…”  The decision-making process is dumped on the Divine, and all responsibility for the results can be – and is – credited or blamed on Him. Because “God spoke to me…” we often times end up confused because it turned out to be the wrong decision.

I thought God was perfect.

God Does Speak

Well, God is perfect.  And, God does speak.  He reveals Himself to us clearly in several ways.

1.  God is revealed in His creation.  The Apostle Paul tells us this in his letter to the church in Rome.  He says,

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20 ESV)

God tells us what He’s like, in a general way, when we look around us at the things and people He’s created.  The majesty, the creativity, the uniqueness of creation all work within order that gives us a sense of what God is like.  In other words, God speaks to us through His creation.

2.  God is revealed in Jesus.  God is with us in Jesus.  God become man.  Fully God, yet fully man.  And, the words spoken by Jesus are the words of God.

So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:22-30 ESV)

3.  God is revealed in Scripture.  God’s words for us are contained in the Bible.  It is the authoritative, inerrant Word of God.  It is sufficient for all; even more, it is complete, and nothing should be added to it.  God’s directives for you and me are found in the Scriptures.  When you read the Scriptures, God is speaking.

So, will the Bible tell me who to marry?

In making decisions, there is no doubt that the Bible is sufficient to guide us.  Will it tell you which college to attend?  Will it reveal if you’re to buy a house?  Will it be clear about who you’re to marry?

Yes.  And no.

As you seek God’s will in your life, and you seek his leading in the decisions you make, ask yourself these questions:

1.  Am I in a right relationship with God?  We are called to live a life that is transformed (Romans 12), seeking to be more and more like Christ in all we do.  We are to seek His thoughts and pursue His character.  In essence, we must have a faith that’s active. If we’re not communicating with God – praying, reading His Word – then our relationship isn’t right.  Even more, if there are deliberate, known areas in our life where we are disobedient to His desire for us to be Christ-like, then we’re out of fellowship with God.

2.  Will my decision contradict Scripture?  As we seek God’s will in our decision, the answer must not stand in opposition to Scripture.  For example, if you’re wanting to make a decision about whether you should marry a particular person, I would ask you these questions: 1) do you genuinely love the person? and, 2) is that person a Christian?  Marrying someone who is, as the Scriptures say, “unequally yoked” would be going against what Scripture teaches.  So, there’s your answer.

Kevin DeYoung, in his book Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Willpresents an approach that frees us from the hyper-spirituality of those who pronounce “God spoke to me…”.  His approach tells us to love God fully, obey His Word, and, then, do what you want.  You can hear him discuss this more fully here.

As you make decisions, love God with all your heart.  Though we are not perfect, seek to be obedient to His Word.  And remember, He holds the future.

 

 

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Understanding the Glory of God

220px-Jonathan_Edwards_engravingThis past Sunday night, we concluded our class on Heroes of the Faith: Jonathan Edwards.  I can say that, for me, it was not only a learning experience, but a spiritual one, as well.  I reveled not just in history, but also in the life of one who modeled loving and knowing God and seeking after Him daily in all of life.

We concluded that the one thing we could take away from the life of Jonathan Edwards is that he saw all of life as living for the glory of God in Christ.  If we are to imitate one such as Edwards, then our joy – our supreme joy – is to be found in the glory of God in Christ.

Ok.  I agree.  But, what does that really mean?

C.s.lewis3A few days ago, I was given a copy of a sermon.  A well-known sermon. It had been delivered quite some time ago to those in attendance at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford – on June 8, 1942.  The copy I received was placed on my tall stack of things to eventually read…and, I was sure I’d get to it some day.

The sermon is titled The Weight of Glory.  It was written and given by C.S. Lewis in 1942, and, in 2013, it unwrapped for me exactly what living for the glory of God means.

Lewis begins the sermon by telling us that our desires for God are “not too strong, but too weak.”  We are too easily entertained and our attention and desires too easily captured by things that pale in comparison to God.  Lewis states,

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Imagine that.  Everything that defines beauty, or pleasure, or that gives us joy is are “mud pies in a slum” compared to the joy of the glory of God.  Certainly, the things that give us joy or pleasure can be evidences of greater things, and can hint at the glory of God, but these things so often become the end instead of the means.  We are satisfied with “mud pies” when, instead, we could have a “holiday by the sea.”  As a result, what is substituted for God becomes a god – an idol.  Lewis states,

These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

Our hearts and minds, or as Edwards puts it – our affections – should be totally given to and find joy in the glory of God.  Lewis turns his attention to this in his sermon when he says,

Glory suggests two ideas to me, of which one seems wicked and the other ridiculous. Either glory means to me fame, or it means luminosity. As for the first, since to be famous means to be better known than other people, the desire for fame appears to me as a competitive passion and therefore of hell rather than heaven. As for the second, who wishes to become a kind of living electric light bulb?

The word glory does, indeed, mean fame.  But, like Lewis says, the idea of fame, or popularity, does seem to run counter to God’s glory.  What would fame have to do with God?  Is it that God is known above all, or better than others? Because, surely, it cannot mean that the glory of God is found in our own fame.

But, it is.

Our joy, like a child, should result from the fame we have with our heavenly Father.  Ultimate pleasure, complete satisfaction, and pure, unbridled joy results when God knows us.  Lewis states,

When I began to look into this matter I was shocked to find such different Christians as Milton, Johnson and Thomas Aquinas taking heavenly glory quite frankly in the sense of fame or good report. But not fame conferred by our fellow creatures—fame with God, approval or (I might say) “appreciation’ by God. And then, when I had thought it over, I saw that this view was scriptural; nothing can eliminate from the parable the divine accolade, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

Edwards (and John Piper) would agree that God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him. Lewis, too. When we live for the glory of God, we live to hear the words “Well done…”.  It is then that we are famous…and our joy is as it should be…in God alone!

[A special thanks to Jim Rose, who sent me a copy of Lewis’ sermon.  You were used by God to open my eyes to what Jonathan Edwards meant by living for the glory of God in Christ.]

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God is Shouting at You.

sufferingSuffering. Pain.  It’s not fun.

We do not like to suffer or hurt or feel pain.  And, when we do, we wonder why it is that suffering has visited us.  Why has this burden been placed upon our shoulders to endure for who knows how long?

C.S. Lewis, as he watched his wife suffer from the effects of cancer, said,

But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

If you are suffering, or acquainted with suffering, God is shouting at you.  He wants your attention.  He wants you to turn away from whatever it is that has your momentary, superficial love and get back to loving him “with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.”

Jonathan Edwards agrees. In his Religious Affections, Edwards describes the foundation of a true and genuine love for God.  He bases his comments on 1 Peter 1 –

6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Based on this scripture, Edwards lays out four ideas for us as we suffer:

1.  Pain and suffering is temporary.  It is not eternal.  It will pass. Yet, it’s okay to grieve, to wonder, to question while we trust in him.

2.  God works through pain to purify our faith. Pain is never wasted and serves to turn our focus and attention to Christ.  And, in the midst of our suffering, God is always present. He is not indifferent.

3.  Suffering produces a trust and faith in Christ alone.  There is a purpose in our suffering.

4.  When we truly trust in Christ, and rest in him, there is joy that is inexpressible.

My pastor, Mike Lee, has told us that “you’re either in a crisis, about to be in a crisis, or you’re just coming out of a crisis.”  So, expect suffering. Expect trials. Expect pain.  Instead of yelling at God that the pain and suffering you’re experiencing is not fair, stop and listen to what God wants to say to you through this.

Listen.

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