Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Paul's Wilderness Experience. A theory based on Gal. 1:18

It appears to me that all great men in the Bible who are chosen by God have some sort of ‘wilderness’ experience or time of testing prior to beginning ‘full-time’ ministry. Jacob was led into the wilderness to ‘wrestle with God,’ John the Baptist also, and of course Jesus, by the Spirit, was led to defeat Satan’s tempting. Paul I believe is no exception.

There are many interpretations of Galatians 1:18 were Paul spends 2-3 years in Arabia. I believe that this was Paul’s wilderness experience. I believe this for three reasons, first the ‘pilgrimage shape’ to his journey as described in 1:13-18, second because of where he spent the bulk of His time, and third, because of His Jerusalem destination.

So first, Paul’s description of his journey is very similar to many Pilgrimage journeys where one reconnects with oneself, with the world, and with God. Paul starts in his dark, confused, cornered life as a Pharisee persecuting the church (vv.13-14) then goes through His spiritual ‘eye-opening,’ physical blinding experience in Damascus. Paul then travels through wilderness to digest this and reflect on it and build a personal relationship with Jesus, and then returns to ‘the scene of the crime’ in Damascus to close the experience and launch his ministry (v.17). His first journey to Damascus was bathed in darkness, blindness of heart, and then blindness of eye. He then repeats the journey to Damascus, this time with both his heart and his eyes open.

Second, Paul did not go straight to Jerusalem, or the other Apostles, or (I believe) straight into ministry. He instead went where the ways of the world are different to his experience. Away from both Jewish culture, and Roman culture, Paul goes into Arabia. He spends three years here, as did Jesus spend three days in a tomb, or Jonah in the belly of a fish. And then at the end of this experience he went on to Jerusalem to receive counsel, advice, and validation from the other Apostles.

Third, and finally, we must consider the journey significance of Jerusalem. Throughout the Scriptures chosen men of God ascend mountains, meet with God, receive instructions, then go on to fulfil their calling. Moses for instance, ascended Mt. Sinai, met with God, received the 10 commandments, and then delivered the Law to Israel. Jerusalem is considered Mt. Zion, the Holy Hill (Micah 4), and Jerusalem is of course also where God’s glory dwells. So Jesus in Mark 1-8 ascends the mountain, Mark 9 meets with God (with the disciples), accepts validation ‘this is my Son’ then goes down to Jerusalem to fulfil His work on the cross. So too, Paul goes up to Jerusalem, meets with God’s chosen, receives instruction, then moves on to the ministry that will occupy the rest of His life.

It is therefore likely that Paul, a man of deep spiritual fever, contemplation, Pastoralness, and a deep relationship with God, foundered this on His own 3 year, wilderness experience in Arabia.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Unlearning of the Will

Don’t you think we spend copious (ridiculous?) amounts of time debating the nature and extent of God’s sovereign will without hardly ever mentioning the sinful mess of our own wills? It appears to me that if the mind really is fallen and sin permeates every part of our wills (Rom. 7:21-25), it’s at very least rather handy and comforting to know that there is an exhaustively sovereign God who ‘works all things together for the good of those who love him’ (Rom. 8:28). I mean, doesn’t falleness necessitate sovereignty in a system of unconditional grace?

Rom. 12:2 tells us not to conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. THEN you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will, [emphasis mine]. Thus in the renewing of our minds to become more like the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16) we are transformed to a place where we can truly understand God’s will. Further, becoming Christlike in our minds is shaping our minds like the eternal sovereign mind of God, making our pilgrimage of Christlike holiness an eternal, inexhaustible path… i.e. there’s always more way to go!

In fact, the way in which Paul qualifies the quote from Isaiah 40 in 1 Cor 2:16 seems to suggest that to know the mind of the Lord necessitates having the mind of Christ. This is strengthened by the parallel immediately preceding this. Paul there tells us that no-one can know the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God, then goes on to tell us that we have the Spirit of God within us, thus our words are God’s words flowing from His thoughts/will (vv.10-14).

So it’s possible that the reason we’re so stuck in debating the nature and extent of God’s sovereign will is because we’re not discussing, sharpening, and encouraging each other to submit our wills/minds to God for his sanctifying. This is of course a process of grace.

Grace is unconditional, and entirely unmerited. We cannot earn God’s favour, we in fact are totally blind (2 Cor. 4:4) and dead (Eph. 2:1-5) before we meet God, and then when we meet Him we are His far off enemies (Luke 15:11-31; Rom. 5:10). However, in contrast to blind we have sight, to death we have life, and to our blind, dead will we a have God’s completely seeing, alive will. If God’s will was not all sovereign, then the renewing, transforming of my own will through grace alone and not by any effort of mine, would be impossible.

If we believe in Grace, then let’s begin by submitting our minds to God, becoming holy and blameless through Him in our cognitive self. If we seek to understand the will of God, and be driven by God-glorifying motives, then let’s begin with our sinful state and the work of Christ and submit our minds to Him. God’s exhaustive sovereignty is a sweet taste when it’s not viewed in a test tube but instead experienced as a need, and a cure to our sinful selves. When we view God’s character in a test tube, we approach it with a false objectivity. Lets observe ourselves, and submit to God; not the other way around.

Aggression and John 2.

So I’ve been working a lot recently with my youth groups on the place of ‘aggression’ in the hearts of young men, and what the Bible may have to say about it. A passage that keeps coming up is John 2:13-16 where Jesus cleanses the Temple. (Also see Matthew 21:12-16; Mark 11:12-19; Luke 19:4-47).

A key feature of this passage is it stands in dramatic contrast to the classic, westernised picture of Jesus as the ‘meek and mild, lamb-on-the-shoulder, socks and sandals’ kind of guy. Instead we have a picture of Jesus who makes a weapon, a whip of chords, and drives out those who were buying and selling in the Temple.

One member of my youth group responded to this passage by saying, ‘Well, He didn’t actually hit anybody though did he?’ It’s true, nothing is technically said about him physically ‘attacking’ anyone, however he has a weapon, he is driving people out, turning over tables, and scattering money. Thus it takes a lot for us to think Jesus was being careful not to hit anyone.

This represents much of what is taught to youth and children in churches these days. For instance, if a young person in a Sunday School (particularly a boy) shows any sign of aggression, immediately this young person is told off. Even if this aggression was defence from subtle and more worrying manipulation from another child, the aggression must be immediately snuffed out; rather than contextualised, replaced, corrected, or disciplined.

So because of this, when we get to the Temple cleansing, we need to first say, however obvious it may seem, that weapons making and using, table turning, and money scattering is an act of aggression.

Next we need to affirm that Jesus was totally without sin, never disobeyed the law, and only did what He saw His Father doing. Thus this act of aggression and its origins were not wrong or sinful.

So finally we need to think through the origins/motives of this aggression. Where did it come from, what did it spark? Lets start with what Jesus says…

“My house will be called ‘a house of prayer for all nations’, but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’” [Mark 11:17].

This we know is zeal for His Father’s house consuming Jesus (John 2:17), but His choice of quotation is very important. The Temple was a whole load of things; it was a house of prayer, but perhaps more clearly it was a house of worship, of sacrifice, of meeting, of teaching; it was the house where God’s glory dwelled, etc.; so why does Jesus pinpoint on a house of prayer for all nations?

Jesus focus is on clear communication with God. This is what the Temple was, a place of communication with God. In fact, when you really think about it, all the Temple was was a place of communication with God. Sacrifices, worship, fellowship, teaching, were all used for the purpose of opening the people up to hear God's voice clearly, and then respond to Him appropriately.

In the same way now, Jesus, our Temple, is our place of communication with God. Godward Communication is clear, open, and not cluttered by hidden things. A ‘den’ of ‘robbers’ in contrast to this is a hiding place for people who wish to hide themselves, and hide their loot.

Thus, Jesus’ aggression is driven by responding to a cluttering of the means of communication with God. Its origins are to open up the communication channels.

This is especially important in light of the latter part of the first quote, ‘for all nations.’ All nations includes those outside Jewish nations who understand the Temple, the law, and the language of communication with God. The house of prayer should be so clear a communication space so all nations can find God accessible.

Furthermore, Jesus creates space in the Temple. He doesn’t just drive out the people; he drives out the animals, and turns the tables. He makes space. The aggression in Jesus made space; space for clear communication with God.

This seems to me to be a good parable of and test for Godly aggression. Is aggression always wrong, and where can it be right? Jesus used aggression here; it was motivated by responding to a cluttering of a means of prayer/communication with God. Put another way, it was motivated by seeing a lot of hidden things in a place where everything should be clear; the prayer space.

Jesus aggression came from and concluded with a longing to be close to, talk to, and hear from God clearly. Thus aggression can glorify God if it seeks to make space for God to be God, and to speak clearly. This can probably be applied in a variety of ways; I believe it should validate those who feel guilty because they know that should someone attack their wife/children, they would aggressively respond in order to protect. If it creates space for God’s love of justice, leadership, care, and self-sacrifice, then defending a loved one can be a righteous aggression.

However there is one far more accessible application from the passage and that is aggressively defend your prayer space. This doesn’t mean set booby traps around your bedroom; however it does mean passionately guard your heart and its space. Satan is a robber that desires your heart to be His den, and he will try to clutter up the space in your heart which should be used for prayer. Defend your prayer space. Spend time actively creating -space- to pray; go for walks so you can talk with God, get up the hour early, spend time looking at and mediating on God’s Word and God’s creation. Ask God to talk to you more clearly and show you hindering clutter. Meditate on the God you’re praying to, allow that to fill you up, and believe in the majestic privilege of prayer. Defend your prayer space.

Just one more application linked to this; defend your Jesus. In the same passage (John 2:19-20) Jesus refers to Himself as the Temple. Our house of prayer now is Jesus Christ. He is the Temple, the only way to the Father. It is through Him we come to God. Spend time with Jesus and you will spend time in the perfectly clear house of prayer. So read His word, meditate on His life, and think deeply about His last days on earth.

This deep thinking, meditating, getting up and hour early, forcing our minds on the Bible etc., takes a good deal of heart, and dare I say a deal of aggression also. Godly aggression creates space and that space is space to talk to and hear from God. So don’t simply snuff out aggression, instead ask yourself, ‘does this aggression make things hidden, or create space for God.’ The beauty of this question is it takes a lifetime to work with and grow with; so start with God. Why don’t you pray now that God will teach you about all the areas and reflexes of your heart so you can more fully and completely know Him.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

My Fav. Bubblegum Greetings Card Company Poem

' When sometimes things don't go too well
You're the butt of people's rants
But don't get down or even frown
just smile and then shout "pants!" '

Monday, March 31, 2008

The mystery of God found in the fathomability of Creation.

A popular apologetic idea is that creation is not-fathomable, but mysterious. Thus there must be a God. - The easy response to this is 'we'll figure it out' thus God-of-the-gaps philosophy comes in, academia fills in the gaps and squeezes God out of the picture. Needless to say its not a very good apologetic to start with. The apologetic should run, creation is fathomable, thus God is not, therefore God *is* God.

The very mystery of life itself is not that its mysterious, but that it is fathomable. Its fathomable because it is revealed. A revelation from the divine creator. In every hum and whistle, branch and bark there is the imprint of the eternal attributes of God. Mystery does not stop with creation (nor ideally should it start there), the magni-finitude of creation all bears the fingerprints of the magni-infinitude of another, and thats where mystery exists in its true form; the being, nature, person, and character of God.

Creation (contra to popular belief) is exhaustible, because its exists in time and space, it has bounds and contexts. It of course is not exhaustible or even attainable apart from revelation, but the fact remains that all is revelation. God however is not created, all things were made through him, thus, He is not made.

This is what sets Christianity apart from all other eastern religion, and new-age westernism. We don't stop at creation. As much as life, and essence flows through all things and connects all things, that is not an impersonal 'Soul of the World.' The very essence is not creation itself - it is creator. Behind every finite piece, there is infinite person. The eternal God.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Eugene Peterson on the Nature of Language + Creation (Forming)

This is a quick quote from the intro to Ch.3 of 'Eat this book' (found HERE) by Eugene Peterson, the Author of The Message. The quote happens to happily agree with my last post. :)

"It is the very nature of language to form rather than inform. When language is personal, which it is at best, it reveals; and revelation is always formative - we don't know more, we become more. Our best users of language, poets and lovers and children and saints, use words to make - make intimacies, make character, make beauty, make goodness, make truth."

So it just goes to show... theres always someone who says it first, and they normally say it better. ;) Praise God for Eugene Peterson!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Language In Its Purity: Creational/Communicative?

As a believer in Sola Scriptura, I love Words, the Word of God is indeed infallible and the final uncompromising revelation of God. However as a musician and a poet I believe Words are not black and white, in fact as a note can sing a thousand songs, a word can progressively colour and create God's true revelation.

Sometimes it seems, Reformed writers talk about the Sola Scriptura as the 'exegetically exhausted doctrines of God' rather than the living, breathing, fluid, inspired, universally-and-intergenerationally-applicable, creational, double-edged (s)word it actually is. Or, another way, if we apply all our exegetical techniques to verses x, y, and z, and derive at a premise or two in those verses, that is the meaning of this portion of God's Word. Now there are 31,103 verses in the Bible, and if we apply this principle to all of them we will have exhausted God's revelation; and perhaps therefore the finality of God-revealed also in no time at all, a couple of gifted exegete's lifes work perhaps. There is obviously a problem with this.

The first words spoken were God's words, and they were creational, i.e. they created. Every time God spoke, something was made, light - stars - earth - plants - people - laws. When man spoke however, he named things so as to communicate. God's language was creational, it was man who made it communicative. Thus when man overdoes communication (Genesis 11) God disrupts what? ... their Language! Their abilities of communication.

God's language however is creational. This creational language is profoundly metaphoric. A metaphor can be thought of as an illustrative, poetic use of language which gives substance to something which isn't readily seen without the metaphor. Thus everytime God spoke in creation it was a metaphor, for the true form of the words did not exist until they were uttered.

Metaphor, Poetry, and sometimes even Parable is often viewed in evangelicalism as a form of lesser language, at best fluffy, and at worse dangerously-misinterpreting. However, responsibly embrace, the language of metaphor is far closer to the language of God than the language of communication. It still sends shudders down my spine to see how some exegetees exhaust meaning and prose and doctrine from lamentations, and the psalms, and parts of Isaiah, without ever mention the movement in the language, the meter, the rhyme, the allegory, the illustrations, the metaphor; the poetry.

Language in its purity is pre-Babel, it is creational, it is Godlike, it is focally-metaphoric. Do read God's word as creational language, seek to understand the poetic as more than just poems, and do speak to God from the metaphoric-language center of your heart.

The Pentatonic Scale and Godly Communication

Godly communication; that is communication to and from God, not communication about God, can be perhaps likened much more readily with music than with words, the latter in submission to the former.

The pentatonic scale is the mother of all blues and rock and roll, it is the Guitar-Soloists dream, and the Celtics heartbeat. In its most basic form a pentatonic is a scale with five pitches per octave. For instance a G pentatonic would have the following notes: G (root), Bb, C, D, F. During mastery of this scale the notes would be played in order at a certain tempo over, and over, and over. This gets the musician to recognise and retain the scale though logic, sound, and physical habit.

But this is not the end, and not the music, because once the scale is mastered and its forms/boundaries are submitted to, there is no end to its musicality. The notes can be played in any order, with any eventuality of tempo, over any timing and chord structure. Techniques can be added, and 'feel' can be introduced. The more a piece of music is 'felt' the more the music communicates. Heart - owns - this scale. Notice that the notes themselves are not changed, in fact in order for the music to be felt, the individual notes must ring out all the more clearly.

God's eternal attributes are clearly seen since the creation of the world, not in communicative-words, but in nature and image and sound and sense and experience (Rom. 1:19-20). Thus deep truths of God, enough to know Him, are revealed in means of communicate expressed in ways other than words. These things stir and communicate not just to our reason, but deep to our hearts. Do we 'understand' God in a sunset, or do we 'experience' His assurance (as taught in His word) in our hearts? God supports His truths with our hearts. Our heart/feelings are not the context for truth, they are the truths (or notes), themselves, 'played with feeling.'

The difference between dry truths and heartfelt truths is how they exist in our beings, how they are played. Are they static and repeated, or moving and dynamic? Scales are never meant to remain in order, they are meant to backbone music, to colour and create music, to be ordered and move in ways which makes us 'feel each note.' If the notes are the truths, then we must hold them, interweave them, resound, resonate and sustain them to create the music that holds our heart. Only then will we retain and love these individual truths.

The pentatonic scale as a scale of heart, teaches us this. Our heart when filled with truths (notes in the scale) and Spirit (playing the notes) breathes sounds to God, it sings and colours our words, it makes sentences real and not simply recited, it makes works worship and not duty.

At what level do we communicate with God? Do we pray/act out of a legalistic exegetically-exhausted thesaurus of words/actions (a repeated and ordered scale), and expect them to move us? Or does our moved, Spirit-filled and steered heart submit to, take, offer, sacrifice, bless, hold, and play the words and actions as creational-musical-living-language to God? Do we embrace God in prayer as we embrace the movement and melody of our favourite song? Do we caress the heart of God like our fingers caress the fretboard of our guitars? - Does he communicate to us through static scale, -or- dynamic solo? How do we feel when God reveals himself to us? Static?... or moved?

Submit your heart, your life, your circumstances, and your realities to God. Let Him stir your heart where it is meant to be stirred. Don't let His truths remain static, allow them to penetrate your heart, and allow you heart to be stirred up within your life, circumstances, and realities.