Monday, December 7, 2009

What is Fellowship

At the Flood Zone last night we used our concordances and looked for principles of what true, Biblical fellowship is. Here's what we found:

1. Fellowship takes devotion (Acts 2:42)

2. Fellowship is found in a common relationship with Jesus (1 John 1:3-7)

3. Fellowship includes encouragement, accountability, protection, and makes the Christian walk easier. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

4. Fellowship brings joy, unity and amplifies love. (Philippians 2:1)

5. Fellowship is restorative (Galatians 6:1-2)

Be encouraged toward true Biblical fellowship!

6. Fellowship produces wisdom (Proverbs 13:10)

7. Fellowship is family (John 1:12)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Systematic Theology Part 11-The Source

Ever wondered what the child of Snoop Dog and the Queen of England would look like? How about the Governator and Byonce? You can find out at

Now, obviously this is a joke and a bit extreme, but the reality is that parents do communicate attributes to their children. Kids look like their parents in certain ways.

When we started the “Doctrine of God” part of this study we said that God has 2 different types of attributes: Incommunicable and Communicable. So far we have looked mainly at incommunicable attributes:Infinite, incomprehensible, 3-in-1, eternal, self-existent, perfect, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent.

Side Note: Remember that this does not exhaust the incommunicable attributes of God. He is infinite, so there is infinitely more about him that we do not know. The point of studying these attributes, however, is to give you a greater awe and wonder toward this GREAT and POWERFUL God we worship!

According to Genesis 1:27 God has communicated certain of his attributes to humans; however, only as a shadow. Remember that God holds these attributes infinitely. The first two communicable attributes we are looking at are really foundational to understanding who/what we are.

Jeremiah 10:10a-
But the Lord is the true God;
he is the living God and the everlasting King.

The first communicable attribute of God is Life.

Truth 1: God is Alive

What exactly does it mean that God is alive? When we think of things that are alive (people, animals and plants) we would say that they are alive "because" of some reason. A person is alive "because" he was born; "because" he has been fed; "because" his heart is beating. A plant is alive "because" a seed was planted; "because" rain falls and the sun shines. Things are alive "because".

There is no "because" when it comes to God's life. If we were to ask “why is God alive” the answer would follow, “He just is”. He Is! (I AM).

“While all other beings have their life in God, he does not derive his life from any external source.” (Millard J. Erickson, Systematic Theology, p297)

Truth 2: God is the Source of Life

Since God is the source of life then he does not just have life, He is life. He does not get his life from any outside source. Also, his life is not sustained by anything outside of himself.

If God is Life Then...
1. All life comes from God (Genesis 2:7; John 14:6)
Physical and Eternal life both find their origination and source in God.

2. God is unique (1 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 Samuel 17:26; Psalm 84:2; Jeremiah 10: Psalm 135:16-18)

There are millions of "gods" and "idols" all around the world. None of these "gods" are life in themselves like the "one true and living God" is. The God of the Bible is unique in life. Yet so many people are chasing after idols and dead "gods".

Our second communicable attribute is found in John 4:24: God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

Truth 3: God is Spirit

He is not matter and is not dependent on matter; “does not possess a physical nature.” (Erickson, p294)

God “does not have the limitations involved with a physical body.” Erickson, p294

If God is Spirit Then...
1. He cannot be destroyed (1 Timothy 1:17)
2. He is invisible (Colossians 1:15; Luke 24:39)
3. He shows himself in his acts (Romans 1:20)
-creation-general revelation

But how is this attribute communicable? Where do we see this attribute in ourselves

2 Corinthians 4:16-5:4 describes our bodies as "earthly tents" that will fall apart and decay but our spirits will always remain. Here's a video clip that might help us understand what's going on here.

When I think of Darth Vader, I think of the suit. But Darth Vader is not the suit. Darth Vader is the man inside the suit, Anakin.

When people think of me, or you, they think of our "suits"; our bodies. But this body is not who I am. This body is wasting away, but the spirit, who I truly am, is being renewed day by day.

Justin McRoberts puts it this way in his song "America and the Soul":

”I do not have a soul trapped somewhere in my body. I am a soul I carry in my skin.”

Truth 4: Our bodies are not who we are

God blessed us with bodies. There are great joys and pleasures that can be experienced in body that cannot be experienced by spirit. Our bodies are cursed by sin. We die because of sin. We get sick because of sin. Not necessarily because of a specific sin, but because of sin’s general impact on creation.

This truth can make some significant differences in our lives: our dependence on the idols of comfort and approval, the way we view death, the way we view aging and our understanding of necessity. The reality is that we should not be living for this body. This body is wasting away.

The average world life expectancy is 66.57 years worldwide. 77.5-80 in the USA. This means that I’ve lived %40 of my life. You have lived %15-22 of your life. In reality, though, you could die any moment. Will we spend the rest of the bodies life pursuing what will bring pleasure and fill want or will we live for the eternal nature of our spirits? The reality is that 2000 years from now you will have spent 65 years in body and 1935 more years in spirit only.

Eternity MUST be our focus!

If God is life, where does our life come from?
If God gives us life, who should we depend on for everything we need for life?
If God gives us everything we need for life, who should get the glory for our life?

Our lives MUST acknowledge God

This week challenge yourself to acknowledge God first and seek his kingdom by focusing on how your actions here are impacting eternity for you and the people around you. Take care of the body you've been given so you can serve here on earth for more years, but don't focus on the temporary. Live for the eternal.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Systematic Theology Part 10-The Omni's

Christie and I love to watch the show Heroes. I loved watching the X-Men cartoons when I was a kid. An interesting question that always gives a wide range of answers is, "If you could have a superpower, which one would you choose and why?"

We love superheroes. They seem unbeatable. They almost always win...ALMOST!

Some people like to think of God as a cosmic super hero wielding these great powers. The problem with this view is that superheroes have limits to their powers. God, being infinite, is unlimited in his attributes. Tonight we are going to look at three attributes that we will call the “Omni’s”.

Our goal, once again, is to understand “what” these attributes are, not “how” they work.

The First Omni
Think about the last time you went on a scavenger hunt. What makes a scavenger hunt fun? If you didn’t have to look for things, would it be fun? Scavenger hunts are fun because you don't know where the items are. You have to dig around for them. If you didn't have to look for them, it would not be fun.

The first “omni” we are going to look at tonight is difficult because our experience is that things can only be here or there, not everywhere. We know of nothing in this created world that matches this attribute. Even oxygen cannot be everywhere at is made up of individual molecules, and those molecules only exist where they are. God, however, is OMNIPRESENT.

Psalm 139:7-12- 7Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or whereshall I flee from your presence?
8If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,"
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

What does omnipresent mean? “God is present, in the totality of His presence, throughout the universe, at all times.” Dr. David Nelson, class notes p81 He is not partly here and partly there. He is altogether everywhere all at once.

Omnipresence is God’s infinity as it relates to space.

“The greatness of finite objects is measured by how much space they occupy. With God, however, the question of whereness or location is not applicable. God is the one who brought space (and time) into being. he was before there was space. He cannot be localized at a particular point. There can be no plotting of his location on a set of coordinates...There is no physical body to be located at a particular place.” Millard Erickson, Systematic Theology, p299

“Though God is present everywhere throughout the universe, he cannot be contained in any one part of it.” A Theology for the Church, p234

“There is no place where he cannot be found.” Erickson p 299

If God is Omnipresent then...

...Nothing can contain God (Acts 17:24; 1 Kings 8:27)
-”House of God” is a figure of speech-temples cannot contain him.
...No one can hide from Him (Jer 23:23-24)
-God is near and far at the same time (Grover is only near and far one at a time)
...He’s always got his eye on you (Prov 15:3)

Truth: God’s Omnipresence “reminds us that we can never outrun the power and providence of our great Lord.” (TftC p234)

Romans 8:38-39-38For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“God is not localized. He has not been left behind. He is available to us wherever we may be. It is good to assemble with believers in a regular lace of worship, but God is not prevented from meeting with us because we have been unable to come to this special place. Nor does God have any difficulty dealing with needs and problems that arise in widely differing locations at the same time. He does not, however, move from one place to another as a sort of divine superman who flies at infinite speed. Rather, he simply has access to the whole of creation at all times.” (Erickson, p300)

God is not only infinite as it relates to space. He is also infinite in power.

The Second Omni
How do we measure someone’s power? (weight can lift, # of pushups, etc.). When we talk about God’s power, we are not talking about physical ability.

Define Omnipotence: God is able to do all things that are proper objects of his power.
God’s “power to do everything that in his rational and moral perfection God wills to do.” J. I. Packer

If God is Omnipotent then...
...He must be the most powerful (Genesis 17:1-”I am God Almighty”)
...He must have power over everything (Genesis 18:10-14-Power over creation)
...Nothing can be too difficult for him (Jer 32:17; Matt 19:26)
...Nothing can stop him (Psalm 115:3; Job 42:2-he will accomplish his will)

Typical arguments against God’s omnipotence:
-Can God make a mountain he can’t move? Can he make a square circle?
-Can God sin? (Sin is an exercise in weakness, not power)

Truth: God can do everything but can do nothing that involves contradiction or are against the proper use of his power

What God "Cannot" Do:
He cannot do the logically absurd or contradictory
He cannot undo the past (can wipe away the consequences)
He cannot sin (act contrary to his nature)
He cannot break a promise

“All of these ‘inabilities’ are not weaknesses, but strengths. The inability to do evil or to lie or to fail is a mark of positive strength rather than of failure.” Erickson p 303

A lot of times when we think of the power of God we think of physical feats that God can do.

Truth: The greatest display of God’s omnipotence is his ability to change people.

“Whereas giant machinery can accomplish extraordinary types of physical work, it is not so easy to alter human nature.” (Matt 19:26-with respect to salvation)

Finally, God is also infinite as it relates to knowledge.

The Third Omni
My brother and I used to play Trivial pursuit for fun. It tests your knowledge of several different subjects. We liked to see how smart we were. I always chose the sports and geography questions. He liked the history questions. We may have been pretty knowledgeable in some subjects, but neither of us was completely knowledgeable in all subjects. God, however, is.

Psalm 147:5-5Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.

Define Omniscience: His comprehensive knowledge of all that was, is and ever shall be (TftC p231)

If God is Omniscient then...
...He never misses even the most insignificant event (Matt 10:29; Psalm 139:2)
Matt 10:30-knowledge of the impossible (hairs on head)
...He has knowledge of what no man can see (the heart) (Acts 15:8)
...He has knowledge of what has yet to happen (Psalm 139:16)
...He knows about all our needs (Matt 6:8)
...He must be the source of knowledge (Acts 15:18)
...He is infinitely wise (Romans 11:33)

“We are all completely transparent before God. He sees and knows us totally. He knows every truth, even those not yet discovered by humankind, for it was he who built them into the
creation.” Erickson p301

When we realize that God truly is OMNI then we can have confidence that what he says is true...especially this:
Isa 46:9-10-I am God and there is no other

The God we worship is everpresent, all powerful and all knowing. This should give us comfort, trust, hope and peace.

The One True God is always close
The One True God is always in control
The One True God always knows

This is why the One True God is the only one worthy of worship.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Funny or Not? Vol. 28

If you need a good laugh, please take 3 minutes to watch this...especially if you love Pop Tarts...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Systematic Theology Part 9-God Forever Past, Forever Present, Forever Future

So much of our world is based around time. “When will this class end?” “What time does the movie start?” “How much longer in the game?” “What time do I have to get up?” “How long will this take to cook?” “How much time do I have, doc?” “How much longer do I have to wait in this line?” We are so surrounded by time that it’s hard to imagine timelessness. But, that is exactly what God is. He’s timeless. He’s eternal.

Genesis 1:1 tells us that God created everything "in the beginning", before time even existed. In fact he created time. Being eternal, God is not bound by time. He is above and beyond time itself.

What does it mean that God is eternal and why does it matter?

Since God is eternal He is Self-Existent:

If I were to show you 10 objects and ask you where you think those objects were created I doubt that you would answer, "It wasn't created. It has always been."

Our experience understands that everything we see (trees, shirts, video games, books) had an origin in something. They began to exist at a particular point in time. Since this is our experience it takes great effort to even begin to comprehend that something could exist with no starting point. This is what it means to be eternal. God, being eternal, has no starting point. He always has been and always will be. Let this idea stretch your mind beyond your experience for a moment and try to fathom what being eternal really means. It means that nothing made God so his existence has to be found in himself.

What does it mean for God to be self-existent?

1. God has "life in himself." (John 5:26)
God's life does not come from an outside source. He is life.

2. God is unique (1 Thessalonians 1:9; Isaiah 45:5)
There is no other God, and there is none like him. If God came from somewhere then, based on our understanding of where things come from, he would have had to be created. But there is no other God. There is nothing greater than God, so there is nothing from which God came. God has life in himself.

3. God is not dependent on anything else for his existence (Exodus 3:14)
Contrast God's statement of his existence ("I AM") with the oft referred to and loved statement of Rene Descarte ("I think therefore I am).

Descarte is depending on his ability to do something as evidence of existence. God just is. As Millard Erickson says, "His very nature is to exist." (Systematic Theology, p298)

As people we always look toward purpose and beginning as evidence of existence. God is beyond our understanding of everything that we see because he is beyond the need of anything to make him or sustain him.

This leads to our second point about God's eternity:

Since God is eternal he is Self-Sufficient:

This means that God is "lacking nothing." We see this in several places of scripture. Here are two:

Psalm 50:10-12
Acts 17:24-25

1. God doesn't need anything to keep existing
"The continuation of God’s existence does not depend on anything outside himself.” Erickson p297

2. God doesn’t need anyone’s help to accomplish his purposes
“God has chosen to use us to accomplish his purposes, and in that sense he now needs us. he could, however, if he so chose, have bypassed us. he could simply have been--without us; and he can, if he chooses, accomplish his purposes without us. It is to our gain that he permits us to know and serve him, and it is our loss if we reject that opportunity.” p298

Since God is Eternal he is unchanging

Hebrews 13:8; Psalm 33:11; Psalm 102:27; Malachi 3:6; Numbers 23:19; James 1:17; Deut 7:9; Psalm 119:90; Lam 3:22-23; 1 John 1:9 are all very clear that God is an unchanging God. Our experience, though, is that everything changes in some way or another. Even toilet paper changes in substance and form throughout it's "life cycle" from creation to disposal.

God, however, being eternal, has no need or capacity for change. Usually something changes because it lacks something needed to fulfill it's purpose. Remember that God lacks nothing so he has no need to change. If he were to change (increase in something) then he would not have been perfect and therefore not God. If he were to diminish in something then he would no longer be perfect and no longer be God. God does not increase or decrease in any way. He is what He is!

The unchanging nature of God leads us to two conclusions about Him:

1. God is Constant
2. God is Trustworthy

But what about the apparent contradictions in the Bible where God seems to be changing his mind? (Genesis 6:6; Jonah 3:10; Exodus 32:14; 1 Samuel 15:35)

First, a simple but effective note on how to correctly interpret Scripture:
Always remember to interpret the hard to understand passages by appealing to the clear passages. We have already seen that scripture CLEARLY states that God is unchanging. But let's look at 3 other ways to deal with these apparent contradictions:

1. Human terms cannot fully describe God’s actions
ex. God does not actually experience pain or regret, but that’s the best way we can describe, with human language, what is going on. Remember that god cannot be captured fully by human language

2. God sees the big picture
He knows what he’s doing and where he’s going. his timelessness allows him to do this. We can only see his plan play out step-by-step. Did God change his mind or was this just the next step of his master plan?

3. People change in the way they relate to God
Ninevah repents, God spares
Adam sins, God judges and condemns
These are the natural outcome of a change in human relationship toward God

Is the eternity of God essential?

If God was created then there must be something greater than he.
If God was lacking something then whatever had what he needed would have power and authority over him.
If God changed then he was, is or will be imperfect, thus necessitating change.

Ultimately, if God is not eternal then he is not God.

"It is precisely this concept of no-origin which distinguishes That-which-is-God from whatever is not God.” Tozer p39

Stand in awe and amazement today of the eternal nature of God. Worship him with wonder at his incomprehensibility and infinity. May your worship this week be great toward a great God.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Questions Answered: When Does Shyness become Sinfulness?

Often people relate their emotions to just being a part of their personality. This is especially true about uncomfortable parts of someone’s personality. If a person is grouchy or off-putting, that behavior is often excused by friends as just a personality quirk. The same can be said about shyness. Shyness is regularly excused in teenagers and adults as “just a personality quirk.” It’s accepted and often expected in children and excused as a natural reaction to an unfamiliar or uncomfortable situation. But is it natural and should it be so easily accepted and excused?

All of us have been shy at one time or another. Many people would consider themselves to be shy. I think we all know someone that w would describe as shy. So, here's a question: can shyness be sinful, and if so, when does shyness become sinfulness?

Defining Shyness:In humans, shyness (also called diffidence) is a social psychology term used to describe the feeling of apprehension, lack of confidence, or awkwardness experienced when a person is in proximity to, approaching, or being approached by other people, especially in new situations or with unfamiliar people. Shyness may come from personality introversion, genetic traits, or the environment in which a person is raised. (from wikipedia)

To discover when shyness becomes sinfulness we need to take the mask off of shyness.
What is really going on when shyness takes over? What is the foundation of shyness? Where does it come from? Why does an outgoing and happy person suddenly run for cover at the first uncomfortable situation? In short, why are we shy?

Let's take the mask of shyness by exploring how it is based in 3 areas that lean toward sinfulness.

Shyness is Low Self-Esteem (AKA-Lack of Confidence)
The lie of self-esteem: Self-esteem is just the world’s way of telling you that you’re not good enough but it’s up to you to make yourself good enough. The very popular and oft taught idea of self-esteem is in direct contradiction to the Truth of Christ.
Philippians 3:3-we are not supposed to put any confidence in the flesh.
Ephesians 2:8-10-Our worth is not based in ourselves but in Christ alone and that worth does not grow or diminish.

When you walk around in shyness based on low self-esteem you reject the worth that Christ alone has paid into our lives by his death. In this we are sinning in our shyness. Reject the world's idea of self-esteem and embrace the only true worth that exists-Christ-esteem.

Shyness is Fear
Often depending on self-confidence that just isn’t there can lead to the 2nd face of shyness: fear. This is especially true in children. It’s expected and excused in children. But then it creeps into our lives as teens and adults and can become paralyzing. Again, there is a problem with fear as it relates to Christians living lives of trust in Christ and his Word.
2 Timothy 1:7-8a-In Christ there is no place for a lifestyle of fear or low self-confidence because we have been given power
Isaiah 41:10-if we have confidence in God’s truth then we will not fear

When you walk around in shyness based on fear you are rejecting the promises and power of God in your life.

Shyness is Selfishness
If we are honest with ourselves we will see the 3rd face of shyness is the one that usually appears. There have been a lot of times where we’ve done things we didn’t think we could do or done things that scare us, but when selfishness creeps in we’ll appeal to shyness to avoid having to do something we just don’t want to do.

I call this “manufactured shyness for personal comfort”. That means it’s not really shyness, it’s just a convenient excuse to not do what you don’t want to do.

This is the pinnacle of pride: putting your desires above someone else and even above God’s desires for your life. We know that God hates pride and deception (Proverbs 6:16-17) so it’s easy to see how this “manufactured shyness” is sinful.

How could shyness impact ministry and these good works that God has created us for?

Shyness as low self-esteem-”I Can’t”
Shyness as fear-”I’m scared”
Shyness as selfishness-”I don’t want to”

The excuse of shyness when it relates to ministry results in a failure to witness, a failure to encourage new believers, a failure to teach, a failure to pray, a failure to volunteer and multiple other ministry crippling failures. I do not deny that shyness is a part of some people's nature (it's even a part of mine) but I do deny that shyness is ever a valid excuse to avoid engaging in ministry. God knows your propensity toward shyness when he calls you to a ministry opportunity and promises power, courage, confidence and everything we need for every good work he calls us to do.

The next time you feel and urging by the Holy Spirit or are encouraged by a spiritiual leader to do something and you feel shyness creeping in, check it up and make sure your shyness is not just a cover/excuse for lack of confidence, fear or selfishness.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Funny or Not? Vol. 27

In this time where so many people are getting sick I thought I'd post something about sneezing. I love that different people sneeze in different ways. How do you sneeze? Quietly? Loudly? One right after the other? Or in some other strange way. Check out this sneeze and let me know what you think. What's the funniest sneeze you've ever heard?

Systematic Theology Part 7-God Unlimited

The Doctrine of God Part 1

The second topic of our study in Systematic Theology will attempt to answer the question "What is God Like?" Before we can begin to answer that question we have to ask if it is even possible for us to know what God is like. According to Jeremiah 9:23-24 it is clear that we can, at least to some extent, know what God is like.

Jeremiah 9:23-24-"Thus says the Lord: 'Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me...'"

The question that then follows is "how can we know Him and how much of Him can be known?" This question will be answered as we begin to study the attributes of God.

During this study of God we will be taking some notes from the previous books mentioned but will add the book The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer to our reference list.

When talking about God's attributes it's important to understand that it is different than when talking about a person's attributes.

God's Attributes:

1. ...are "whatever may be correctly ascribed to God." (Tozer, p20)

2. ...are "whatever God has in any way revealed as being true of Himself." (Tozer, p20)
-Remember that we can only know God by what he has revealed to us about himself. He has done this most directly through the Bible.

3. ...are not what he HAS but what he IS.
This is the most important distinction between attributes of man and attributes of God. God does not grow or diminish in His attributes but has them in perfection. He has always fully had his attributes and always will. In Deuteronomy 6:4 we see that God is declared to be ONE. Not only is there one true God but he is ONE in his nature. He must always be what he has always been. You cannot remove any one part of Gd and still have God. I may lose my patience but I am still Ryan. If God were to lose his patience he would no longer be God. God IS all that he is.

A person has patience. God is perfect patience.
A person has love. God is perfect love.
A person has goodness. God is perfect goodness.
A person has life. God is perfect life.

In God one attribute is tied to all others in a perfect and complete whole.

In Genesis 1:27 we see that God created us in his image. What does that mean? Does that mean that we have all of who God is in us? We have already seen that our attributes grow and change while God's do not. We can also know that God has some attributes that we do not find in ourselves. In fact, God has 2 different types of attributes: communicable and incommunicable.

God's communicable attributes are the ones that has a counterpart, to some extent, in creation. For example: spiritual, life, personality, knowledge, wisdom, faithfulness, love, goodness, grace, mercy, patience, and more. In God these attributes are seen in perfection. In man these attributes are limited.

God's incommunicable attributes are the ones that have no counterpart in creation. Fore example: unity, self-existence, unchangeableness, perfection, infinity, incomprehensible, eternal, immense, omnipresence and more.

Two of these incommunicable attributes in particular cause a problem with our study of God: God is incomprehensible and infinite.

God is Incomprehensible
Something that is incomprehensible is very difficult to understand. The same can be said about God. There is much about God we cannot know.

1 Timothy 6:16-God dwells in unapproachable light
Psalm 145:3-God's greatness is unsearchable
Psalm 139:6-God has such high knowledge we cannot attain it.
Isaiah 40:18-God cannot be compared to anyone
Romans 11:33-God's judgments are unsearchable

Our language is even limited in its ability to describe God. The est we can do is describe God in a "like" or "as" sort of way. We see this in Ezekiel 1:26-28 where Ezekiel is trying to describe the scene of glory he has been shown. The more he describes the more uncertain his words become because, in this life, there really is nothing to compare to the greatness and glory of God. What Ezekiel was seeing was real but unlike anything ever seen or imagined.

According to Tozer "We are trying to envision a mode of being altogether foreign to us, and wholly unlike anything we have known in our familiar world of matter, space, and time." (Tozer, p69)

Novation in On the Trinity says, "God is greater than mind itself, his greatness cannot be conceived...could we conceive of His greatness He would be less than the human mind which could form the conception. he is greater than all language, and no statement can express Him. Indeed, if any statement could express Him, He would be less than human speech which could by such statement comprehend and gather up all that He is. All our thoughts about Him will be less than He, and our loftiest utterances will be trivialities in comparison with Him." (Novation, p26-27)

"It is obviously impossible for a limited mind to grasp the Unlimited." (Tozer p69)

God is Infinite
And that is what God is...Infinite, unlimited, measureless.

I am amazed by some of the measurements science can make. Check these out:
Nucleus of an atom-0.000000000000001 meters
Diameter of a strand of hair-0.001 inches
Deepest part of the ocean-Mariana Trench-6.7 miles
Distance of Earth to moon-287,857 miles
Distance of Earth to Pluto-2,670,000,000 miles

Our human brains have figured out how to make such extreme mearsurements but cannot and will never be able to measure God.

Psalm 147:5-God's understanding is beyond measure
Job 11:7, 9-God has no limit
Isaiah 66:1-Larger than imagination can conceive
1 Kings 8:27-God cannot be contained
Romans 11:33a-Even his attributes are limitless

Even as we attempt to study the attributes of God we need to remember that his infinity relates to this area.

"God, being infinite, must possess attributes about which we can know nothing." (Tozer, p21)

We also need to remember that, though we may have some measure of understanding God's attributes, even his attributes are unlimited so we cannot measure them by human standards. As God is infinite then all of his attributes are infinite. Unlimited love. Unlimited mercy. Unlimited Grace. And more.

At this point you might be thinking, "If God is incomprehensible and infinite why bother trying to study him or know him?"

Dr. David Nelson repsonds, " Even though we cannot know God fully, we can know Him truly!"

As we start our study of the Doctrine of God keep in mind that he is incomprehensible and infinite. Don't reduce him to human terms. Always remember that when you think you have a handle on the nature of God, He is greater still. Don't give in to the temptation to reduce God to manageable terms. Instead be OK with not understanding everything about fact praise him for his infinity and un-surpassing greatness!

Joey Update Vol. 25

Let's see? What's happened since I last wrote? We took a horse trip across
the river to a new village, visited a completely new village by motorcycle,
got a few more steps completed on a few more stories.

We heard there was a koho-zi ("to grasp hands"- it is a memorial gathering
for someone who died) in a nearby village and a gathering means there is
opportunity to meet people. So we crossed the river and met the village
chief and greeted the men who were gathered together. I think the meeting
with them went well and they invited us back (which we've since done).

We wanted to travel out with a friend of ours to a more distant village by
motorcycle. The day of travel was one of the last minute changes that seem
to characterize so much of my life. Our friend could not travel with us as
he left that day to go to the capital. So, new plan: his son and the
motorcycle taxi man would take us. Off we went after some deliberation about
price and time planning. We get there, greet the chief and are allowed to
stay overnight in the village. We stay in his guest house. At night, after
supper, I drink too much tea and tell too many stories. I think those who
heard them liked them. That night, sleep was hard to come by for me, for the
heat, the bugs and drums. That's right, there was an all night celebration
of youngsters because the crops are growing nicely. We went to it the next
day and the young girls did the dance and chant part and the young men did
the drumming. I was glad to be able to see it.

Also, we got some other stories begun on their long journey and even some of
these moved along through to their next stages. It seems like there is so
much to do and there is. Still, there is a glimmer of a possibility for
regularity in some of these stages. My hope for visiting villages to is meet
people who would be willing to hear and record stories. We broached this
subject in the more distant village, but there was little forthcoming. It
was our first visit there and it is probably best not to rush things.

As for rushing things, this is a very important pr'yer request. There is a
lot to do and I do not want to be drawn (again) to that desperation to
finish that spells disaster for stories. I notice a great tendency in me
toward this very thing, so your pr'yers to keep on the better path of
regularity are requested. We've made fair progress so far, so now I guess I
would ask for the finishing power until training at the end of this month.

-Progress in the storying panorama, as far as getting new stories begun on
their process
-Visiting two new villages and the good reception at both of them
-That God is a Rock to sustain under the heaviest of pressures

-Finishing power for until we go to training in AMS
-Continuing power for when we return
-Good follow up to the villages we visited
-Strengthening of our team communication

I've been challenged lately with being a servant. It usually catches me off
guard, as it is always when I'm off guard that I'm called again to be
servant. This serving usually takes the form of something I'm able to do but
not completely willing to do; it always involves a choice to be made on my
part. Frequently, I choose against being a servant, as servanthood is really
pretty tough. I'm reminded of when Je5us went up the mountain and his
students saw a glimpse of His glory. Immediately after, they were taken into
the valley and confronted with a demon. (Matthew 17) That must have been a
stunning blast of contrast- to see the glory of heaven and the horrors of
hell so soon after each other. But it is Je5us' plan to bring the glory down
to the valley. That's what being a servant is. That's what I'm learning
lately and it is certainly challenging.

Thanks for hanging in there with me on this project. I praise God for you
all frequently.


Monday, October 19, 2009

3000 Miles of Stories to Tell

Jim and I are BACK from Mexico! We had a great week! Thank you for your prayers while we were gone.

According to the leadership in Muzquiz there were around 17 people that gave their lives to Christ last week during our ministry! We also had some great times of encouragement with the men and women who are leading the work down in Muzquiz. The next time we go, why don't you come along?

Here are a few pictures from the ministry of week. For all of the pictures from the week go to

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Virtual Deep End Part 6-The Most Powerful Canon in the World!

Well, since I'm about to hit the road for Mexico and won't be here next Tuesday for "The Deep End" I thought I'd at least give you something to read while I'm gone. it is...our next study in Systematic Theology and the last part directly dealing with the Doctrine of Revelation.

I have always been fascinated by cannons. I am amazed at how accurate artillery men can be with them and the sheer power they possess. I can't imagine the full extent of the intensity that is an artillery shelling. I probably also like cannons because I'm a math guy and using cannons correctly requires math.

Cannons are just cool and are a great asset to any army if used correctly. As Christians we have the most powerful cannon in the world...actually CANON...with 1 "n".

The Bible with it's collection of books is called the "canon" of Scripture. These are the 66 books accepted as inspired special revelation from God. A canon is a rule or standard, in this case for authoritative scripture.

But, who got to decide which books were a part of the canon of Scripture? Did man really determine which books of the Bible would be accepted? If so, how did these people determine which ones would be accepted as inspired and which ones wouldn't? Why were some writing accepted while others were left out?

As in previous discussions this topic has received exhaustive treatment from a number of scholars. The information that follows is brief and is only meant to give you a basic understanding of canonization. For a more thorough study on canonicity see A General Introduction to the Bible by Norman Geisler and William Nix, pp203-317.

Clearing up some misconceptions:
As men we often mistakenly set ourselves, or other men, as the ultimate determining authority. Often it is assumed that men determined the canon of scripture. It is important to distinguish between man's determining the canon and discovering the canon.

"Canonicity is determined by God. A book is not inspired because men made it canonical; it is canonical because God inspired it. It is not antiquity, authenticity, or religious community that makes a book canonical or authoritative. On the contrary, a book is valuable because it is canonical, and not canonical because it is or was considered valuable...Canonicity is determined or established authoritatively by God; it is merely discovered by man."
(A General Introduction to the Bible, p221)

If we get this mixed up then we will find ourselves incorrectly thinking that the church stands above Scripture. We may even consider the church the regulator, judge and master of scripture instead of recognizer, witness and servant of the canon.

But if man only discovered the canon of scripture, how did it happen? The books of the Bible mention other writings like the Book of Jasher and the Book of the Wars of the Lord. There are other books such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Shepherd of Hermas and the Gospel of Judas. Why weren't these books included in the 66 accepted books we now have in the Bible? What about the books defined as the apocrypha in many catholic Bibles?

It is important to realize that someone didn't just show up one day and say, "here they are...the books of the New Testament. Enjoy!" There was much discussion, much prayer, must testing of the books and must truth in the Holy Spirit over four centuries of church history to find us with the collection of books we have today.

23 of the 27 books of the New Testament were accepted as canonical within 100 years of the original autographs because of their reference to each other. Disputes over books such as James and 1-3 John were settled by the 4th century. But how did these men test these books leading to their recognition as canonical?

Here are several test used: (from A Theology for the Church, p168)
1. Was the book authored or sanctioned by an apostle or a prophet?
2. Was the book widely circulated?
3. Was the book Christologically centered?
4. Was the book orthodox, that is, faithful to the teachings of the apostles?
5. Did the book give internal evidence of its unique character as inspired and authoritative?

The Bible as we know it today was not settled on lightly and writings were not selected "willy-nilly". In fact, man did not select or determine which books were inspired scripture. That was predetermined by God and communicated to man through the Holy Spirit and through intelligent theological study.

God has revealed himself to us through nature and through Scripture. He protected the writers from error and directed the collection of that revelation into the Bible we know today. Praise God for preserving his revelation for us. May we be faithful to study it and hide it in our hearts, spreading it's Truth in this generation and passing it on to the next.

When I get back we're starting our next doctrine: The Doctrine of God

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Systematic Theology Part V: Trustworthy Words?

"The Bible is was written by men over 2000 years ago!"

This is a classic argument against the validity or trustworthiness of scripture, but is it a valid argument?

There are two major problems posed by this argument that have to be answered if we are going to defend the trustworthiness of scipture:

1. The Bible is Old...
a. so it can't be trusted because mistakes MUST have crept in over the past 2000 years.
b. so it is irrelevant to us today.

2. The Bible was written by men and men aren't perfect so you can't trust it's fully true.

Can we trust that a 2000 year old is not significantly different from the original?

Much work and research has gone into the area of textual criticism and the recreation of the original text of the New Testament from the available copies and fragments of handwritten manuscripts. Norman Geisler in A General Introduction to the Bible dedicates several chapters and hundreds of pages to this topic. He also recommends a book by F.F. Bruce titled The New Testament Documents, Are they Reliable?

For our purposes I will briefly give a reasons why we can trust the ancient manuscripts of the New Testament. If you would like a more in-depth scholarly look at this topic refer to one of the above books.

The number of existing manuscripts of the New Testament is overwhelming compared to other readily accepted ancient texts. There are at least 5366 fragment to full copy hand-written manuscripts of the New Testament. Comparably there are only 643 of Homer's Illiad, 19 of Livy's History of Rome and 10 of Caesar's Gallic Wars.

The earliest known fragment of the New Testament is dated within 50 years of the original autograph. For Livy's and Caesar's work the earliest know manuscript is 1000 years removed from the original. All this is to say that the evidence supporting the transmission of the text of the New Testament through the ages without change from the original autographs is overwhelming. In this case the fact that the Bible is 2000 years old is not a good enough argument to say that it's content is different today than it was when it was first written.

Is a book that was written 2000 years ago relevant to us today?

To answer this question we must first understand the purpose of the Bible. Here are two quotes dealing with the purpose of the Bible:

"To place men and women in a right standing before God and to enable believers to seek God's glory in all of life's activities and efforts." (Dockery and Nelson, A Theology for the Church, p130)

"The climax of God's special revelation is Jesus of Nazareth, the personal incarnation of God in the flesh; in Jesus Christ the source and content of revelation converge and coincide." (Carl F.H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority)

Sin is what separates us from that relationship with God, so it would stand to reason that, if sin is the same today as it was 2000 years ago, then the purpose of the Bible is still relevant to deal with the sin problem.

Genesis 8:21 and Jeremiah 17:9 both are clear that the condition of man's heart is wicked and evil. This fact has not changed since the first sin. Lust, murder, hatred, anger, jealousy, theft, idolatry, greed, and more have existed in the heart of man since the fall. The bible still answers the problem of sin and therefore remains relevant and will remain relevant even thousands of years from now.

If the Bible was written by men, and men are not perfect, then how can there not be error in the Bible?

To answer this question there are 3 words that have to be defined:
Inspiration-"God-breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16)
Inerrancy-there are no errors in the text
Infallibility-It does not mislead us if rightly interpreted


How was the Bible written? Was it written by men or by God? We call it God's word but it's written in the language of does that work?

2 Peter 1:20-21 and Hebrews 1:1-2 are very clear that both man and God had a role in the writing down of special revelation. This is called double-sided authorship. The question is to what extent? Did God whisper the exact words in the ears of the writers or control their hands to write exactly what he would have them write? Did the writers just have a general influence from the Spirit but full freedom to write about what they wanted?

The Holy Spirit protects believers from error and leads us into Truth (John 14:26 and John 16:12-15) but it is also clear that individual books or sets of books in the Bible have different personalities and perspectives behind the writing. The personality and perspective of the writers comes through in the Truth the Holy Spirit led them to write about. There is both a divine fingerprint and a human fingerprint on the Bible.

(again...this goes SO MUCH DEEPER than space allows here. Much has been discussed and written on various views of inspiration. I challenge you to pick up some good books that I've mentioned in this series of posts for a more in-depth and complete study of the issues presented here)

The human fingerprint on the Bible is important to the discussion of inerrancy/infallibility. If man wrote the Bible then it must have errors in it because men aren't perfect...right?

When looking at a passage of scripture and determining whether it is contradictory or "wrong" in a scientific or historical sense don't lose sight of the perspective of the writers. The writers wrote within the context of their community and addressed scientific and historical matters from their perspectives and from the historical and scientific accuracy expectations of the day.

For instance some would argue the Bible is wrong because it refers to the sun as rising and setting. But this is the way the sun is observed and communicated about even today. For the biblical writers to communicate in this way does not mean they erred. If a biblical writer estimated the number of troops in a battle or the circumference of a lake does not mean that they erred. Their intent was not to be exact to the 30th # of pi but to describe something with regard to their cultural expectations.

We also need to remember the infinite nature of God when critiquing passages of scripture that try to communicated great truth about the attributes of God. Sometimes human language and analogies fall short of full understanding of God's nature. God doesn't change but from a man's perspective it may appear he is repenting. We know he doesn't really repent, but that's the best way our language can describe it. This is not an error, just the best way we can describe an infinite God.

The fact is that we can TRUST the Bible, as we have it today. We can trust that it is accurate to the original text. We can trust that it still communicates truth about sin and salvation because man's heart condition has not changed. We can trust that it is accurate in all matters it discusses. We can trust the Holy Spirit will help us interpret it truthfully in the context of the original writers. We can trust that, as Christians, we do not have to blindly accept the truth of the Bible just because that's what we've always been told. It has received much attention and much support.

Questions Answered: Is It Ok that I Don't Like the President?

Think about some things that you just don't like. Here are a few that come to mind for me:

-Country Music
-Cream Cheese
-Stores that only have one register open at the busiest time of day
-Yard Word
-Ice Dancing
-House (the TV show-it's the same thing every got annoying), CSI Miami, CSI New York, CSI Clarksville (any CSI but the original)

Is it OK that I don't like these things? Absolutely! It is completely within my rights to not like these things.

How do we usually treat the things we don't like?
-we ignore them
-we tear them down with our words. Criticize them. Make "disgusted" sounds when presented with them
-we criticize others who like it
-we try to convince others how bad it is

I hear a lot of talk these days (and heard a lot of talk the previous 8 years) about people who don't like the President. Today it's talk against President Obama. In the past (and even presently) it was talk against Presidents Bush (1 & 2), Clinton, Regan, and on down the line (even Lincoln). Is it OK that people don't like the president? Absolutely! It is completely within anyone's right to not like the policies or even the personality of the leader of our country.

BUT! There is a BIG problem. Here it is...

If we, as Christians, react toward the President in the same ways we react to other things we don't like (onions for instance...blech!) then, I believe, we cross a line into sin. We Christians are good at showing hate toward something or someone and calling it passion or righteous anger.

Understand that I am not saying we can't dislike or disagree with current policy and that we cannot voice our disapproval of certain positions. We should defend what is right and speak against what is wrong. It's about HOW we do it and how I have noticed Christians expressing their disapproval of the President. Using words like "clueless", "idiot", "antichrist", or comparing him to Batman's Joker, Hitler and Cuban revolutionaries may be protected under our right to freedom of speech but is a "right" Christians should be quick to give up.

Here are 4 Biblical ways to speak of the President or any authority in your life:

1. Ephesians 4:29-Avoid corrupt speech. Understand the issues and discuss them intelligently. Know why you hold the position you hold on an issue. Don't resort to verbal attacks and cutting words to pinpoint your dislike for the President and his policies.

2. Colossians 4:6-Season your speech with grace. When speaking of authority, don't forget Grace. Remember the Grace that was poured into your life that rescued you from sinful pursuits and a futile mind.

3. 1 Timothy 2:1-4-Pray for those in authority over you. The next time you start to criticize and tear down any authority ask yourself if you have been faithful in the command to pray for them. We are often too quick to speak out with man's answers when we have not spent any time seeking the face of God.

4. Proverbs 21:1-Remember God's Sovereignty. God is not surprised by who is in authority. In fact he holds the hearts of kings in his hands. He is the King of kings. Speak truth and continue to trust God's plan for his world and the leaders he has established.

We would do well to remember these as they apply not only to our president but to the way we deal with our parents, pastors, teachers, coaches, band directors, bosses and more.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Systematic Theology Part IV: What's the Source?

Our God is an infinite God. He's unlimited. "His greatness is unsearchable" (Psalm 145:3). "Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty...Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea." (Job 11:7, 9).

Since God is infinite and we are not there is only one way we can know anything about Him.

Anything we know about God has to be revealed to us by God!

"Unless God had decided to show us who he is, unless he had chosen to make known his own life and ways, we simply could know nothing--yes, nothing!--about him. We are dependent completely on God’s kindness and goodness to make himself known to us, and for this we ought to be grateful every day of our lives.” (Big Truths for Young Hearts, Bruce A. Ware, p18)

“Humans cannot reach up to investigate God and would not understand even if they could. So God has revealed himself by a revelation...coming in human language and human categories of thought and action.” (Christian Theology, 2nd Edition, Millard J. Erickson p204)

I am grateful that God has chosen to reveal himself to us. But how? There are two ways that God has chosen to reveal himself to us.

1. General Revelation
AKA: Universal Revelation and Natural Revelation

General revelation communicates about God to all people in all places and at all times. General revelation is visible in nature, history and people. We can know that God is glorious and knowable (Psalm 19:1-3); wise, provider and powerful (Psalm 104); has eternal power, divine nature and wrath (Romans 1:18-20); in control of creation and the ruler of the nations (Acts 14:16-18). We can also know that God is a God of morality (Romans 2:12-16) and that God exists by the evidence that all people everywhere worship something (Isaiah 44:14-20).

The existence of general revelation brings up an interesting question: Can people come to a saving knowledge of God based solely on general revelation? In other words, can that people group living in the jungles of Africa that have never heard the name of Jesus still be saved by what they can know of God from what they see around them?

Some would argue "yes" and others would argue "absolutely not". For those that think "yes" they consider how people were saved in the Old Testament times, before Jesus. Salvation is through trust in the righteousness of God by faith.

Those who think "no" think the affects of sin are too great.

The purpose of General Revelation is to push us toward Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:24-he power and wisdom observed in creation is, in fact, Jesus Christ). The problem is that we see the world with eyes tainted by sin. Not only that, creation itself has been affected by sin (Romans 8:18-25). While we can recognize the existence of a creator/God and can know something of his attributes our sinfulness suppresses the Truth about Jesus and instead we become an idolatrous people.

General revelation serves, as does the law, merely to make guilty, not to make righteous” (Erickson, p198)

While general revelation is beneficial it is limited. Because of these limitations it was necessary for God to step in and “address the human race through the special revelation of Christ” (A Theology for the Church, Russell Moore, p111) This is called Special Revelation and takes priority over general revelation in our study of God. (Even in our study of general revelation tonight we have used special revelation to help our understanding.)

Trying to understand general revelation without the help of special revelation is like me trying to see without my glasses. I can see broad strokes but not details. Without the details I am susceptible to making BIG mistakes. That's where special revelation comes in.

Special revelation makes the message of general revelation clear.

2. Special Revelation
AKA: Particular Revelation

Special revelation communicates about God to particular people at definite times and places.

God has done this through divine speech, through the person of Jesus Christ and throughout history. He spoke directly to Abraham to establish his people, Israel. He spoke in dreams to Joseph to preserve his people. He told Moses his name: I AM. He spoke through the prophets and they communicated his Words to the people: "Thus says the Lord." He spoke in Jesus: "I and the Father are one." "If you have seen me then you have seen the Father."

And this special revelation has been given to us in the Bible.

Why has he stepped into general revelation to give us this special revelation? For relationship! Special revelation shows us how to have a redemptive relationship with the One True God! The book that sits on so many of our shelves is not just another book. It is the revelation the infinite God has given us of himself.

If God has chosen to disclose himself to us and that self-disclosure has been written down, should we not study it?

He is infinite so mystery will remain (Exodus 33:20; Eph 3:2-13) but he has revealed from heaven all we need for righteousness and holiness.

Receive this revelation gladly, not lightly.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Joey Update Vol. 24

The way was full of sand and thorns. The hour trip up to a village was
complete. Now, was the time for reason of our trip: to bring a horse back to
town. I took a special delight in this trip, as riding horses turns out to
be very fun. After the requisite holiday cookies that seem to make whole
meals now that Fasting is over, we went out behind my guard's hut. And there
was Braga.

Braga means Lightning, so named because he has a patch that really looks
nothing like a lightning bolt on his side. We launched right into lessons of
how to put the saddle on and tie it, how to tie his feet so he won't wander
away and all the noises to make him stop and go. The lessons were compact
but they were clear and not a half hour later, I was up and riding. The way
to make Braga move forward to make loud kissing noises, like you're kissing
a child's boo-boo. So it was, I kissed my way back home.

But first, I needed to know the way. One of our guards, who lives in this
village and took me up on his motorcycle, lead me a little way in order to
show me the road. He said if I followed the tire tracks, I would find my way
back home. No problem I thought. So, he went off on the motorcycle path
which is faster and soon I was out in the qadadi with Braga and God. I
remembered my first ride in vivid detail, the ride with Mizan, as I'm sure
you all remember too. I had the leading rope in my left hand to turn and
slow Braga and the whipping rope in my right hand to spur him on to great
speeds. The rope for the bit, also called the horse's brain, lay tangled in
his mane but within reach should I need to stop suddenly. I knew the great
temptation to the dizzying speeds of full gallop but thought it better to
opt for a more moderate approach this time. Still, we started out
ploddingly. Both I and the horse were frustrated with the pace, him snorting
in impatience and me trying in vain to tap the strength I knew was in him. I
knew this because some village guys were showing off with him by leaping up
without stirrups into the saddle and taking off by a mere flick of the rope.
It's all in the touch.

It was brought to me how desperately important it is to learn the language
if you really want to move anywhere. I could sense that both Braga and I
were of the same mind to go faster, but I was not properly speaking his
language. It IS all in the touch and the touch is not ruthlessly laying the
lash to him.

I followed the path, minding the way of thorns and turning him easily
enough. I then looked ahead and there the road turned into a lake, as a
broad puddle from a heavy rain some three weeks ago remained. No problem I
thought, I'll just go around it. So, off I went, to be met with another
puddle. I was considering going around this one too, but there was a lady
with a donkey fetching water from the puddle. She said something to me about
a direction but nothing I fully understood. So, she crossed the puddle and
lead Braga into the water. Then, she did the unthinkable- she removed the
bit from Braga's mouth. "Maybe he's thirsty," she said. Braga drank just
before we left and my guard said he wouldn't need another drink until we got
home. He also said not to remove the bit, because it could be tough
sometimes to put it in. So, she removed Braga's bit and I was thinking, "I
sure hope you know how to put the bit back in." Turns out she didn't. So, I
got kind of frustrated and dismounted and copied what I saw my guard do to
put the bit back in Braga's mouth. She laughed at me in my efforts but soon,
al hamdu l'llah, the bit was back in and we were on our way. I asked if she
knew the way back to the road, she said she did and that she would show me.
We first went to her village and I soon met some men who greeted me and
invited me for food and water, both gratefully accepted. They afterward
showed me the road and soon I was on my way again, plodding along. One of
the reasons the lady laughed at me was that she thought I was lost. Silly
nasara on a horse. I also was fingering the possibility but I knew where I
was generally (in Africa on planet Earth). It so turned out her village was
right on the road and that I was not lost at all!

Lost or not, I still had a long ways to go and I'd already been plodding for
an hour and a half. I saw some wonderful stretches of wilderness plains,
looking and smelling almost like Texas only with delicate (and thorny)
flyaway African scrub. I was only a third of the way home and I knew we
needed to move. I tried different combinations of the various noises and use
of the spurring rope. The kissing alone was not doing it. I also said, "Hur!
Hur!" in a strong low voice and whipped Braga's flank steadily. That was
just the thing and the new pace of the up and down trot was set. We made
fair time but the African sun was doing its job of being very bright and
very hot. My left hand still has the border of white meets red from sunburn,
even though I applied sunscreen that morning. I started scanning for another
village where I might get some water. I found it and was welcomed after some
kids of the village stared at me blankly when I greeted them. Perhaps they
could just not believe what they were seeing- a white guy trying to ride and
pass himself off as Arab, complete with beard and kaptani and turban. They
then ran off when I moved forward a little ways and repeated my loud
greeting. I'm used to blank stares and kids who don't know me running away,
so it was nothing new. My loud greeting was hailed by another and I was
invited inside, again to my delight, for water and this time, tea. Ahh, tea.
This village was a N. village, but the man who invited me only spoke a
little N. he said, but said this in Ar.

After replacing all the water I'd sweated away and being charged with tea I
and Braga set off again. I did not consider in my thirst that the sloshing
village water now in my belly might not be conducive to the jostling ride
back to town. So, I said the quick pr'yer I learned before I came here
("I'll put it down, You keep it down") and set off. I quickly found the road
and set a good pace. Braga and I were finally understanding each other. I
called him a radjil zen, a good man, frequently and meant it. I saw the cell
towers in the distance that marked home and headed toward it them. We passed
some horses, who Braga would neigh at (I wonder if horses can do cat calls)
and some donkeys, who Braga treated with utter disdain, but when he would
see them, he would want to trot a little faster to live up to the reputation
I clapped him with. Just as well, every step was a step in the right
direction and it is best he not be distracted with other horses.

We got to town and the many new noises of motorcycles and giggling children
and adults at the pair of us, unsettled both horse and rider. After the long
stretches of the quiet qadadi, the noise of the town takes some preparation.
We did get home though and it was a great second ride. Mission accomplished!

Then just yesterday, we (Col. and I) took Braga to the village we visited
last week. This was the third and last day of the holiday after the Fast and
we were invited. We were welcomed again and sat down to lessons in N.
vocabulary and even played a story for them to hear. Immediately after, the
person who heard the story, retold it. He did say though that he didn't
understand it all due perhaps to a difference in dialect. And Col. recorded
it and the start of testing which was interrupted by the screech of the
loudspeaker at the call to prayer. So, we checked what we recorded and to
our surprise, none of what we heard would play back!

After prayer, the men we were sitting with returned, but none seemed keen to
start up the conversation again. The man who heard and retold the story had
to leave for his field but we invited ourselves back and were welcomed for
another day. I walked back while Col. rode Braga. So, now the horse stays
this week in our courtyard so we can learn how to ride a horse well. Then
Col. will take Braga back next week. The plan at this point is at some point
in the near future, to rent other horses so we can both travel farther out
to villages.

-The 20K horse trip was successful and fun to boot!
-We did get a story retold and began with testing it
-Further exposure to people in outside villages (we tend to make quite a
stir wherever we go anyway, but news travels even faster to outside villages
when you throw a horse into the mix!)
-Horse lips are funny looking

-For further lessons in horse riding and for the return, as well as wisdom
for the future in renting other horses for travel.
-For the recorder that there we would find out the reason it did not (and
does not) play new recordings back.
-For our return to the villages we travel to and for the welcome in new

Thank you for bearing with me as I plodded along again through my first trip
by myself but not alone across country by horse. And thank you also for your
continued support of this plodding project. We are slowly learning the
language (and the touch) necessary to step up the project work from plodding
to trot to full gallop. And at that point, we can let go. Horses know how to
run by themselves.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The VIRTUAL Deep End: Maps are Good

The Deep End
Systematic Theology
September 22, 2009

A Couple of Problems...
I have a couple of problems with modern technology...specifically GPS and the internet. Let me explain:
My problem with GPS is this: I have heard more people talk about getting lost using a GPS than using a map. Mapquest and Google Maps is a subset of this. Whatever happened to the good ol' days of calling a friend for written direction and drawing a funky little map on a napkin. Or, how about going to wal-mart and buying a road atlas? Find the state...find the city...find the road...and then follow it from your house. Use whatever roads you please! The highway is your oyster! (still not sure what that really means) One day no one will know how to use a map! In fact, think about this right now: how many of you can use a map? I mean a detailed map. How many of you could get across the country with one of those fold up road maps you get at the state lines? Maps are good. They may seem a little more labor intensive, but a good map will not fail you. And if one day all of the satellites fall out of the sky you can still get around because you know how to use a map. It might not be the "easy way" but isn't it better?

My problem with the Internet is this: it is way too easy to look up information (that may or may not be accurate) on the internet. Got a question? Type it in the search bar and see what pops up! I'm sure whoever put it on there is an expert! Even worse, got a question about the Bible ? Type it in the search bar and see what pops up! If you're not careful you end up reading some man's opinion on the Scripture that in fact may not be a man who has the benefit of the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Twice last week I searched something in the Bible and ended up on a Mormon web-site. Now, in my opinion (and God's, I believe) Mormon doctrine does not always square with the Truth of Scripture. The 2nd problem is that we are forgetting where books of the Bible are, where passages of scripture are, how to use a concordance and a commentary because it's all at our fingertips. We can just type a phrase from a verse we "kind of" know and, "poof", there it is...reference and all! It's the easy way, but is doing nothing to strengthen our mind as the Mind of Christ and prepare us for the answers we need to give when the questions come.

The fact is that your generation (really starting with my generation) is satisfied with the “easy way”. The problem is that the “easy way” is so dependent on other people and structures (like technology) that when something takes effort and thought it seems overwhelming. Studying theology takes a little effort. Check out this example of effort and ask yourself, "would I ever consider the Word of God important enough to do this?"

How Far Would You Walk?
Lots of people say that "we deliver," but let me tell you about Frederick. In the last few years its been interesting to see the little motorcycles that now will bring pizzas and hamburgers to your door here (yes, in Africa!). Still, their "limitted delivery area" doesn't compare to Frederick's route.

You see, Frederick is a Bible School student at Manenekela (mah-nay-nay-KAY-lah). He comes for a week of intensive classes three times a year over a three year period to learn how to help his church grow and reach out. But the study is the easy part. Frederick lives in the most remote part of our ministry area and has to walk 100 kilometers (60 miles) to get to school. He travels on foot for two days, crossing a river and mountains on lots of paths.

And the "delivery?" Well, since these remote areas do not operate with a cash economy he had to bring along his school fees, five chickens. He carried five live chickens all the way. Two other students (who only have to walk about 40 miles) join him on the path. When the week is over, of course they have to walk back.

It makes me question my "delivery area," and humbles us all here. Frederick can teach us the worth of his most valuable delivery, the gospel of the One who left Heaven for us all. He delivers.

If you say "oh yeah, I'd do that" then ask yourself if you're willing to walk across the room, miss playing a video game or a school event or a social event to dig into the Word?

Studying theology is not the “easy way." Let's look at the way the great reformer Martin Luther encouraged us to study the Scriptures. His method is based on what we see in Psalm 119, so start by reading that Psalm. (I know...I's the longest chapter in the Bible...but MAN it's good stuff!)

Not a Little Prayer
Read Psalm 119 and keep track of how many times the Psalmist cries out to God for help in understanding His teachings.

1. Study Theology with prayer and humility
All of Psalm 119 is a prayer centered around The Word of God as it relates to David’s life.

Luther calls what the Psalmist is doing here an effort "to seize upon the real teacher of the scriptures himself” so as not to become “his own teacher." Remember that last week we talked about how the most important tool in studying the Word is the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Cry out for help and come into this study in prayerful humility that God would be so merciful as to teach you about himself. The Psalmist is continually crying out for deeper and deeper understanding through every aspect of life and fully depending on God to give him that understanding.

Are you dependent on the Spirit to give you understanding? Do you show that by your prayer life and your effort to utilize the mind and tools that God has given you? Be humble. Recognize that you don't know it all and that apart from the Spirit's help you will always stay on the surface of understanding who God is.

What does it mean?
Some things are really hard to do at the same time:
Rubbing your belly and patting your head; walking and chewing gum; talking to one person while looking at another; listening to instructions while reading; driving while texting (please don't try to do this one to prove me wrong!)...

Here's another way we study theology that is not the easy way because it requires engaging our minds in thoughts of God while doing other things:

2. Study theology even when you’re not studying theology
Luther encourages regular review and reflection as an essential step in studying theology. His encouragement is to think on the words of scripture and "see what the Holy Spirit means by them." So often we are concerned about "what this means to me" when we should be more worried about what God meant it to say.

Meditation is not a quick task. As Luther says: “take care that you do not grow weary or think that you have done enough when you have read, heard, and spoken them once or twice, and that you then have complete understanding. You will never be a particularly good theologian if you do that, for you will be like untimely fruit which falls to the ground before it is half ripe.”

Throughout Psalm 119 we see the writer meditating. Why was he meditating? Consider the following reasons:

Why Meditate:
-v11-To keep from sin
-v15-16-to keep the right perspective about the “riches” of the world (v14)
-v23-24-to learn how to deal with enemies
-v27-28-to learn how to deal with sorrow/emotional stress
-v46-48-to deepen the joy of worship
-v49-56-confidence/security in salvation
-v78-79-So you can teach others
-v97-104-for a unique level of understanding and discernment
-v145-152-Confidence in God’s promises when it’s most needed

But HOW was he meditating? here are 4 ways the Psalmist meditates and 4 ways YOU TOO can meditate:

How Meditate:
-v46-48-through praise, worship, and witnessing
-v78-79-through teaching
-v145-152-as a reminder of God’s promises

Theology in the Real World
How could knowing theological principles help in these areas?

3. Study Theology in the real world

Before man could be sent into space NASA had to test their rockets in the real. They couldn't be satisfied with theory. Failure with a life on the line was not an option. During the tests there were some failures (as seen in the video above) but with each failure sustained success got closer.

As you learn more about God, better understand His Word and His world it's time to start applying it in the real world. Apply what you learn in conversations, choices,

Luther's 3rd principle of studying theology involves Trying and fighting. He understood, as the Psalmist did, that through the attacks of Satan God “will teach you to seek and love God’s Word.”

What did the Psalmist trust God’s word/precepts/teachings/commands to do? Consider these verses of Psalm 119:

-v9-keep him from sin
-v86-keep him from slipping into deceptive traps his enemies set
-v105-help him know the right way to go when attacked from all sides
-v110-keep him away from the snare of the wicked (on the right path)
-v114-for protection
-v133-to keep sin from having any rule over his life
-v143-for joy in trouble
-v147-for hope in sorrow

See, theology is not just for the classroom. It is meant to be applied to everyday life but we cannot expect to automatically stick. We must learn more about theology by applying intentionally. As you learn about God, His Word and His world think about what it means for you at school, at home, at work. Think about what it means for what you watch, what you listen to and what you read. Think about what it means for how you speak, how you think, what friends you have, what activities you are involved in, how you talk to your friends, what you will do in the future, how you should relate to your unsaved neighbors and friends, and more.

One More Specific
One other important note on the method of studying theology is to study it in the full context of the Word of God. Be careful not to establish a belief or doctrine on one verse or and interpretation of one hard to understand verse. It is important to read the Bible with the message of the entire Bible in mind. It is important to interpret the meaning of hard to understand passages by squaring it with clear teaching from other parts of Scripture. The more you study the Bible the easier this will become because the more you will know.

A Challenge
As we start his study in Systematic theology commit to forsake the “Easy Way." Commit to taking what you learn on Tuesday nights and thinking about it for the rest of the week. Commit to taking what you learn on Tuesday nights and immediately applying it to your life when you get home and the next day. Don't come at this study looking for the "Easy Way". Come to it commited and see what God will do.

I'll conclude with this quote from a great theologian, J.I. Packer. It is a warning he has for all that will enter into a study of Theology:

"The systematic theologian’s biggest problem is always himself-that is, the unmortified arrogance and continuing darkness of his own intellect, which pleads him unwittingly, in perfect sincerity and often with painstaking labor, man-centered, culturally determined, unpractical, undevotional, undoxological, Spirit-quenching and self-aggrandizing-theological constructions that in effect put God in a box of one’s own manufacture, claiming in effect to master him by knowing exhaustively what he will and will not do. Theologians who allowed themselves to speak as if they had God in their pocket would indeed be presenting a mirage of unreality! But the true systematic theologian will carefully, prayerfully watching himself all the times o as to avoid doing such a thing.” Packer

Remember our Scripture preparation. Continue to study this week's verse:
Ephesians 4:24

and Next Week's Verses:
Psalm 19:7-11