Friday, November 17

Promises, Promises

Here's my financial study #4.
Passage: Eph. 2:1-3
2:1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.

Lessons (especially related to God & Money): Death is characterized by following three sets of impulses--we're zombies without actual power to act as we choose. We follow:
(a) the standard operating procedure of the world in which we live
(b) the ruler of the power of disobedience
(c) the passions and desires of our flesh and senses
I take "follow" to mean that these both guide us (determine our path) and energize us. We are like monorail trains, which are limited to a few tracks and dependent upon the power of the electricity carried in those tracks.

This is tough news! Without Christ, all sense of freedom is actually illusion and vapor. And I have experienced this myself--acting on impulse, unable to resist the pull and energy of food, lustful impulses, avoidance, and so on. I felt trapped and unable to do what I really wanted, what I really intended to do--like my body was a zombie inhabited by a power and energy other than my own.

In this state we were children of wrath. Chapter 1 says we have been adopted so that we have become children of God. The term "children" refers to our nature, as Paul says explicitly here in v. 3. Being children of God means we will (a) live holy and blameless and (b) share in the inheritance as God's heirs. So I wonder if being children of wrath must mean that we live by anger and share the consequences of living angry, bitter, contemptuous lives. Hmm. What do you think?

Now this would also apply to money. What impulses and energies about money guide and energize our lives in this world?
-love of comfort and luxury
-desire to do whatever we want whenever we want
-the "fix" of the new purchase
-the thrill of having new toys and gadgets
-the power money gives over people and circumstances

Principles: Money promises us a lot if we will be obedient and follow it. It promises power, freedom, comfort, joy and pleasure, energy and vitality. It also threatens us with punishments for disobeying: poverty, need, pain, limitation, and many dark scenarios.

But all those promises are "false consolations" because they are death--living only a zombie's existence. And the threats are "false desolations" because they don't acknowledge the existence, care, and blessings of God.

Do you want to live as a child of wrath or a child of God in regards to money? Oh, yes. Obviously I want to live as one who is alive to God and all his blessings.

How are you currently following the world, the devil, and the flesh in this area? In other words, what are the false consolations and false desolations money holds over you? Currently I often feel overwhelmed when I look at my finances. I think I believe that if I don't manage every penny I will reap doom and destruction, and my wife and kids will suffer horrible consequences. So I escape the pain by not dealing with them. I also have used an overdraft protection card to cushion myself from the consequences of overspending. The false desolations are that if we don't have a nice meal on a date night or don't buy something for the house that my marriage will suffer because my wife won't be happy . . . or that I won't be happy.

How are you going to apply today’s lesson to your life practically? I am going to pay attention to the false promises and threats of money that I obey by impulse. When I'm working on my finances and when I am spending money I am going to ask myself why, and whether I am doing that following the way of this world, the devil or the desires of my flesh, or whether I am moving at the impulse of God's love.

Sunday, November 5

Pecuniary Perspective

Here's my Study #3 on God and Money:

Passage: Eph. 1:8-21
With all wisdom and insight
9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Lessons (especially related to God & Money): Paul continues to use money language to describe reality: inheritance, will, pledge (or downpayment), riches of his glorious inheritance. Somehow we can grasp our life with God better by contemplating it in financial terms.

Principle: Money is a symbol, a sign to point us to the greater reality which is unseen.

How can I use money as a way to point me towards God and his goodness?
First, of course, seeing the money itself as a blessing and gift from God reminds me of the giver, and I could practice consciously being thankful every time I take a bill out of my wallet or run my debit card through the machine.

Second, I suppose many or all of us think about future security, happiness, and provision in financial terms. Every time I think about how much money I have in our bank accounts, or whether we should save, or look at the (meager) amount we're investing towards retirement, I should think about where my true future provision, security and happiness lies--in the one who has lavished every spiritual blessing upon us.

Lesson: The cosmic, universal purpose of God, planned out in God's counsel and set forth in his "will and testament" is to bring all things together in Christ, both heavenly and earthly things. That necessarily includes money and all material possessions. Jesus is head over all things, including money, for the church.

I don't get this yet. In general terms, of course it's true. But specifically, how are money and resources brought together in Christ? I suppose that like I have various kinds of cells and particles in my body, so Jesus contains all money, bank accounts, ATM and credit cards, banks, budgets, accounting software, debts and loans, and so on. What does this mean, practically, though?

I know I want my entire body to be ordered so that it functions well. My quality of life and particularly my ability to accomplish things and work well in this world depend on it. Jesus (unlike me) has the power to control and order everything within his body. All these things I named are extremely small to him, and have no life or vitality outside of him.

The other part of this is that God has placed all things under Christ's feet--including every rule, authority, power and dominion. This includes CitiBank, First USA, my credit union, the IRS, every share traded on the stock market, the Fed which sets the interest rates, the housing market with its home prices and rental costs, the utilities companies, the governments that set our taxes, and so on.

Principle: No financial institution or government has power over us or our money outside of the sovereignty of Christ. No matter how much power they seem to have over us, it's only an illusion. Jesus has all the power and though they may not know it now, they will one day. No matter how immense and fearsome they seem to me, they are miniscule to Jesus and their life is as the life of a gnat to him.

What should this mean to me? Any fears or anxieties I have related to money or any of these institutions, from financial to governmental, should prompt me to step back and look at the perspective of true reality: how small and relatively powerless they are, and where they are--under Christ's power.

Investment Strategy

Lesson 2 of my study on Money and God.

Passage: Eph. 1:3-8 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us.

Lessons (especially related to God & Money):
Spiritual blessings are much more real, weightier, valuable, dependable, and solid than tangible assets, though the opposite feels true. It only makes sense to invest first in treasure in heaven, to seek first God's kingdom, and know that everything else (food, clothing, housing) will be given to me also. (Matt. 6). In reality I already possess every spiritual blessing, our inheritance, though much of it I can't access now, much like a trust a minor will have access to when they reach a certain age. Their financial decisions (such as education, wedding, etc.) can be made on the basis of what is in the trust because it is really there and really theirs.

-We should invest first in treasure in heaven, seeking first God's kingdom, and trust all our physical needs will be provided for us.
-We should make our major financial and life decisions on the basis of the spiritual blessings in trust for us. Those blessings are more solid, reliable and dependable--more real--than money in a trust fund or retirement savings account.

Are you investing first in treasure in heaven, accessing the spiritual blessings which are yours in Christ? How?
My practices of feasting on the word and abiding have been greatly strengthened over the last year. I have clarified that this week into a commitment that when I have a focused half hour or more to do work, that my first half hour will be on doing a Bible Study lesson (like this or SCF), unless I have a clear sense from God to do email, Fund Development, or other ministry tasks.

Lessons (especially related to God & Money):
The inheritance is "our inheritance"--a corporate inheritance of blessings for God's children, in which I have a share.

All the spiritual resources we have access to--including physical assets--are not only for our own personal benefit but actually belong to all God's adopted children, and we should use them accordingly.

How are you doing this?
I'm using teaching and pastoring for the sake of others and the body, within IVCF, with partners, and within my church body. I am using my body and energy for my family and those I'm serving in those arenas. I have been using my finances primarily for my family and for those we support in a regular or one-time way, rather than spending them on myself. I have continued to discipline myself not to buy items to indulge my own desires, such as electronic gadgetry, etc. Actually, I also struggle spending money on items such as clothing which are legitimate needs, as much as food is, because it feels like I'm spending it on myself. But if God has blessed me to bless others, that includes being dressed appropriate to the occasion for those I serve.

How are you going to apply today’s lesson to your life practically?
I am going to meditate on the reality that the spiritual blessings I have are more real, solid, and trustworthy than a trust fund or retirement investment. And I am going to work to be less burdened by using the blessings Christ has made available to his children, particularly in being willing to buy clothing or other needs as I have need, as long as I'm clear how they are for the benefit of the whole body and not just satisfying a whim of my own.

Wednesday, November 1

Financial Freedom

It's funny how feasting on the Word increases my appetite for it. I have been so fed, challenged and shaped by the 2 online Bible studies over the past year that my hunger and delight in the Scriptures must have grown ten times a strong! And I thought I already loved the Word.

So I am embarking on a new daily Bible Study course in a different area of discipleship--Finances. I will go through the book of Ephesians first, and probably will do Luke after that, mining the text for lessons about money, God, and my finances. I will post my lessons here for a week or so, and if I get some positive comments I will continue to post them here. I don't need to fill up cyberspace (e.g. clog my blog) if they aren't useful to anyone.

Here's Lesson 1:

Passage: Eph. 1:1-2
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

v. 2 Both grace and peace come from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Some of a father’s roles are to provide and protect. Grace means God abundantly provides for me, so I will have all that I need, which produces peace. Peace also springs from being deeply rooted in a sense of God’s protection: no evil circumstances can befall me, no evil person can harm me, in a way that will jeopardize my life and take me out of God’s protection.

All my dealings with money need to be rooted in a deep knowledge that God is gracious—extravagantly generous. Peace comes from being rooted in that reality.

Are you peaceful as you deal with money? Specifically, where do you experience a lack of peace, and why?
-Primarily that I am going to make a mistake tracking the money and we’ll get into debt.
-That I’ll “get in trouble.” This comes from growing up and getting in trouble for things I didn’t know I was doing wrong, or for escaping from what I knew I should be doing (such as cleaning up my room). A friend told me “Procrastination can be a form of rebellion.” As a child I developed habits of procrastination as a way to rebel against my parents. Now to become humble and submissive I need to stay on top of my finances and not procrastinate with how I deal with them. So I think that my lack of peace is first sin, a fear of God not providing, but second a warning of my conscience that I am not living responsibly and being fully submitted to God in this area.

How are you going to apply today’s lesson to your life practically?
I have been resisting buying Quicken or some other financial tracking program, because of the cost and negative experiences in the past. However, it’s a powerful tool to help me and would probably help my tracking be more efficient and effective. I will probably buy one this week.

I will also check my heart for peace and a sense of God’s extravagant graciousness every time I look at my finances.

Tuesday, October 31

Ever changing from glory to glory

I have been following Jesus seriously for over 30 years, since I was a child. I began to gain weight in college--growing up we seldom had "all you can eat." Our lack of an overabundance kept my body at a healthy weight, but taught me to eat anxiously, among other things.

In college I began to put on weight, as every meal was a buffet. I "buffeted my body!" But I didn't see this as a spiritual problem. A few years ago it began to dawn on me that Scripture was serious when it talked about "gluttony" and people whose "belly is their god," but I wasn't ready to respond.

Recently I finished the Way of Purity course at, and I experienced such an incredible freedom from an oppressive lifestyle that I was almost deliriously hungry for more of God, more freedom, more righteousness. I enrolled in The Lord's Table course, hoping to find the same freedom from food.

The Lord is good, extravantly generous, and gracious. And this course was a means to cooperating with his grace and receiving his generosity. I have been completely refocused in my mindset and heartset about food, and while I still enjoy food greatly as a fantastic gift of God, I am no longer controlled by it and unable to control my urges to eat--it's like night and day.

I went from hopelessness about staying healthy to the point where I have now lost 22 pounds so far, and aiming for my target weight within the next month.

I also plan to keep up the high diet of Scripture study. I am addicted to freedom in Christ, and I plan to study the Scriptures in detail about money and finances and apply the same principles I learned here to that area of my life!

Praise God for his glorious gift. Thank you, Mike, for this excellent course. Thank you, Jason and Peter, for being great mentors and challenging me to stay the course when it got hard.

If you are reading this and hopeless that you can change, take my word for it: God has power and resources that he's putting at your disposal, and this course will help you connect with those: I am hopeless no more!

Friday, June 23

Covenental Reality

Here's the background for my previous post, which was a response to a friend of a friend who wrote an email about the Proverbs 31 woman. His contention was that the Old Testament promises are under a different covenant and therefore don't apply to us.

The Old Testament describes a series of covenants that God makes with his people--Noah, Abram, Moses, and David. In each he reveals more and more of his character and nature, and how he relates to people. The covenant with Noah clearly extends to all of us, as Noah's descendants. The covenant with Abraham is for the Jewish people, but explicitly states that all the nations will be blessed (or will bless themselves) by Israel.

The covenant with Moses is more specifically confined to the Jewish people, but it is fulfilled in Jesus. Thus the food laws, forbidding of intermarriage, and so on are abolished because the law had served its purpose once the Messiah came. Other parts of the law (sacrifices for sins, for example) are fulfilled once and for all for the whole world in Jesus Christ.

The covenant to David is to a specific family and tribe within Israel, but is a blessing to all of Israel. The Psalms and the prophets make clear that all the nations will stream to God's holy mountain, and that God's King will reign and bless all the peoples. Again, Jesus fulfills this covenant by becoming the King who sits on David's throne forever.

The surprise in the unfolding of God's will (according to Paul, Eph. 1-2) is that all peoples are united in Christ, that God's Kingdom is for everyone, not just those who become part of the Jewish nation. Paul's language is that the Gentiles are grafted into the olive tree (Romans 9-11)--we become a part of the Jewish nation in one sense, we are true children of Abraham, both uncircumcised and circumcised (Rom 4:11-12), and therefore his heirs.

So I believe most of the promises of the Old Testament are extended to those of us who are Gentiles, as we become descendants of Abraham by faith, as the law is fulfilled in us through Christ, and as we are the subjects of our King, the Son of David.

I think we can also see how easily those promises were misinterpreted by the Jewish people before Jesus came, who often thought that all the promises were here and now material blessings. Many of those promises were material but had a deeper meaning as well--an eternal, ultimate fulfillment. But in Christ the mysteries of God's will were revealed. The promises to inherit the land were not meant ultimately to be restricted to the Jewish nation possessing a small strip of land in the fertile crescent, but as Jesus put it, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." We will "recieve a hundred-fold now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, along with persecutions, and in the age to come, eternal life." God will create a new heaven and new earth, and we will reign and rule with Jesus Christ.

I have recently learned that there were a variety of kinds of covenants practiced in the ancient world among the Hittites and other people groups around Israel, and that these various covenants above (Noah, Abram, Moses, David) follow the patterns of different kinds of covenants. Some are treaty covenants with a sovereign king, which promise protection and require tribute to be paid. Others are between families or individuals. Some are permanently binding on either party even if the other reneges, while others are out of effect if either party breaks the vows.

I am deeply intrigued and want to look into this more. Somehow, God is so relational that one of God's fundamental forms of interacting with us, his creatures, is a relational one: covenants.

That Amazing Woman!

A friend of a friend wrote an email about the Proverbs 31 woman. His contention was that the Old Testament promises are under a different covenant and therefore don't apply to us. Here's my response, in two parts. First, I'll post my response specifically to Proverbs 31. Second, I'll post the background for that answer, my take on understanding the covenants of God.

As far as Proverbs 31, here is my response.

I completely agree that we need to take the cultural context and the time into account as we seek (1) to understand the text and (2) to apply it to our own situation.

Culturally at the time, my understanding is that the Jewish woman was honored in a way radically different from the surrounding cultures. The pagan worship of the surrounding nations focused on fertility rites and reduced women to the 3 roles of untouchable virgin, spiritual prostitute, or bearer of children. In other words she was reduced primarily to a sexual being and to a few functions--temple prostitute or propagator of the family.

Proverbs 31 praises very different virtues in a woman! Integrity, wisdom, vision, foresight, shrewd management both of people and finances are applauded and held up as a model to aspire to.

What a dramatic statement in that context! Jewish women were to be honored as grandmothers and mothers, and ultimately as created in God's image. Both Genesis 1 and 2 go out of their way to emphasize the sameness between male and female. Those texts don't erase the unique distinctions but highlight the similarities: in Genesis 1 both together reflect the image of God, and in Genesis 2 language of "bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh," the terms "woman" and "man" ("ishah" and "ish") and the contrast between the creation of the animals and the woman all highlight the connection and the equal standing. Genesis 3 continues this as God dialogues with both the woman and the man (he doesn't dialogue with the serpent) individually. Both are moral agents who God relates to directly, and who bear the consequences of their choices.

Proverbs 31 highlights what that looks like in a particular context. A woman is a worthy companion to a man, spiritually, intellectually, economically, and so on.

This is reflected in other ways in the Old Testament, as well. In the laws given to Israel and promoted by the prophets, God forbids goddess worship, female sexual images (Ashera statues) as well as male (Baal statues), and brings judgment upon Israel for placing those kinds of images in the Temple and creating other shrines to them. Male-female relationships are to be radically different among God's people.

Jesus, of course, continues that in the New Testament. He violates all kinds of cultural taboos within Jewish and Samaritan culture, in interacting with women as disciples (Mary & Martha, Joanna and Susanna, and so on) and revealing himself as the Messiah first of all to a woman, and a Samaritan at that. He clearly has an agenda with regard to smashing dividing walls of hostility along the lines of ethnicity and nationality as well as gender.

The contrast is even more striking in the pagan culture Paul interacts with. Here, women are not elevated as in the Jewish culture. So Paul taking Aquila and Priscilla as disciples, referring to Junia as an apostle and many other women as coworkers would stand out. Clearly he's at great pains to have Christian women avoid being seen in any way like women adherents of other religions (temple prostitutes, who would exercise spiritual/sexual power over men). So they should not braid their hair or dress in any way like a prostitute. Rather they are to marry and have children, and continue in faith (1 Timothy 2). Paul also to commands Timothy to let women learn in church and teach them how to do so, in stark contrast to the culture which saw women as unfit intellectually, where an educated woman was an anomaly. He allowed women to participate in worship services, both praying and prophesying alongside the men (1 Cor. 11), though not in ways which would be disruptive (1 Cor. 14).

To apply Proverbs 31 today, then, I would say we clearly must avoid reducing a woman to the roles of sexual object or child-bearing. As disciples of Jesus we have different standards of success and different goals than the culture around us. We need to honor women and hold up a model of womanhood which honors every dimension of being created in God's image--integrity, wisdom, vision, foresight, and shrewd management both of people and finances certainly fall into that category.

But how those are lived out and the fruits of those today will look quite different than in the Jewish culture. Then a woman's success largely reflected on her husband, and he was honored in the community. Nowadays that is much less the case. Today it is common and often acceptable for women to neglect their families for the sake of career, which has been common for men for at least the past century. Godly parents, in contrast, will not sacrifice children to the gods of the culture. In their culture, they literally sacrificed their children to Molech, by burning them to death. In our culture, the gods that we may sacrifice our children to include education, money, and status. I think the challenge in our culture is even stronger for men because men have been applauded for workaholism and neglecting everything for career, but women are more susceptible to this temptation today than ever before.

Today marriages are also sacrificed. Divorce is common, with money and work sometimes contributing seriously. Also, many wives and husbands live apart because of separate careers. I know there are some very complex situations some families face, and there aer no one-size-fits-all answers. But in general, I tend to think that, especially when children are involved, both men and women should work as hard as possible to keep the family together as in Proverbs 31.

As Christians we know we'll be hated by the world, yet we are to live honorably and give no one a reason to accuse us. So women as well as men need work hard with integrity and wisdom, working to bless others and live commendable lives.

Proverbs 31 certainly has many more applications, but those are few. I am eager to hear any thoughts you may have!

Sunday, April 16

Endarkenment (Or Close-Mindedness)

it's a wierd thing about the five senses: we think of something as really real when we can hear it, touch it, or see it. Actually, that's not wierd: what's wierd is that it's very hard for us (in the West) to think of something as real which we can't touch or see.

I think that's a legacy of the So-Called Enlightenment. I love science--I was trained as a scientist, and though I found it difficult to do, I like the ways science trained me to think: to experiment, to explore reality, to search for what is real and how things work.

But the So-Called Enlightenment started us down a particular track. We began to measure whatever we could measure, categorize it, and so on. Soon we became obsessed, in my opinion, with what we could measure, to the point that we began to say that whatever could not be measured (in some way) is not real.

But can't we all name some real things which can't be touched, seen, or measured?

For example, love in all it's forms: romantic love, familial love, and the deep love of good friends. On the other hand, I think jealousy, hatred, and greed are also very real--realities which accost us every day.

Wikipedia's entry on The Enlightenment (click here to see it) does a good job of capturing the basic gist, and I'll quote from that:

"The intellectual leaders of this movement regarded themselves as courageous and elite, and regarded their purpose as leading the world toward progress and out of a long period of doubtful tradition, full of irrationality, superstition, and tyranny (which they believed began during a historical period they called the 'Dark Ages')."

Pre-So-Called Enlightenment people would say things like, "How does the world stay suspended? God holds it up." That kind of answer seems to ends scientific exploration, so thinkers rightly said that we shouldn't give that kind of an answer.

So in the name of Reason any belief in the supernatural has come be regarded as irrationality and superstition, which lead to close-mindedness and ultimately tyranny.

Love in all its forms has gotten slashed and hacked into merely sexual drives, survival and protection drives, and so on. Jealousy, hatred and greed have been deconstructed, too.

So here we are, "Enlightened" people: we don't think God is real or anything supernatural. We don't think love or hatred are real, just romantic interpretrations of physical drives we all have by instinct. Our "brightest thinkers" don't think communicating or even thinking are real anymore, either.

Isn't that an Endarkenment? Labels are so powerful. To label the previous era "The Dark Ages"--when people believed in God, spirits, the supernatural, and so on--exerted a great deal of power over us. I grew up picturing the people before the So-Called Enlightenment as ignoramuses who believed the world was flat (not true) and illogical. Reading authors from that time period is stunning--there were actually brilliant people whose insights into human nature and this world still provoke and cut deeply today!

In other words, the So-Called Enlightenment has led to sheer close-mindedness. Yes, we are open-minded to scientific discoveries. (In fact, don't we often irrationally and blindly accept anything from the latest studies, until later studies refute those? This seems like a different kind of "superstition" to me.)

But our minds are closed to anything we can't see, feel or touch. I think it's likely that far more of reality is unseen than seen. If that's so, we are closed-minded to the vast majority of knowledge and the most exciting possibilities for discovery!

Sunday, March 12

Kinds of Knowledge

How can we have any knowledge of the unseen real?

I listened to a Mars Hill Audio piece (2 cassettes) about a
fascinating guys named Michael Polyani, a world-class scientist who
switched over to philosophy of science and of politics late in his
life. The piece is called "Tacit Knowing, Truthful Knowing" or
something close.

If you want a book, I think his book "Personal Knowledge" would be
the best starting place from what I gather. His basic point is this:

Cartesian philosophy of science says that scientists follow the
"scientific method" to reach their conclusions and advance knowledge.
The scientific method requires you to be objective and dispassionate,
come up with some hypotheses, and test them, until you find out the

As a scientist he said that his experience and his observations of
other scientists were quite different! Scientists work best on
problems they are passionate about. They often reach conclusions
intuitively, before they are able to demonstrate they are right.

And he blames the demise of Europe politically in the 20th century (2
world wars, etc.) on the false worldview promoted by scientism--that
all knowledge is objective and measureable.

He interviewed dozens of skilled craftspeople, and eventually showed
that the best people in many fields use knowledge that can never be
articulated in words. It can only be passed on by close
apprenticeship and experience. He said a lot of knowledge is like
this--what he called "Tacit Knowledge," because it is impossible to

2 common examples would be bike-riding and swimming. World-class
swimmers and cyclists may be completely unable to explain the physics
of what they're doing, but they KNOW how to cycle and swim. Heck,
even my 2-year-old son can ride his trike around, and he couldn't
begin to explain angular momentum and so forth. We know a lot of
things that we can never put into words.

Polyani argues that scientists rely heavily on tacit knowledge. And
in fact, the Mars Hill Audio folks point out, Einstein himself
repeatedly emphasized that his religious beliefs and passions took
him to his conclusions, not a strict following of the scientific
method. But scientism denies that there's any kind of knowledge
besides what is explicit, measurable, repeatable.

Since scientism or "materialism" cannot deal with issues such as
love, justice, and morality, Polyani argued that something like the
horrors of the 3rd Reich were a natural result of following this
scientific view of knowledge.

On the other hand, people who believe in "personal knowledge" can
accommodate scientific knowledge and embrace scientific progress,
since it's a legitimate kind of knowledge, though it's limited.

So learning about the unseen real is learning about things which may
never be able to be measured or even articulated. They may not even
be repeatable. But that won't make them any less real or true. (Love
is like that, isn't it?)

Wednesday, March 8

Straining Words for Greatness

I've been meditating recently on the vastness and greatness of God.
The following is a paraphrase of the ideas in Isaiah 40:10-31, when
Isaiah was obviously contemplating that aspect of unseen reality.

-God is so strong he can do anything he pleases--he has ultimate
power over everyone and everything in ths cosmos.

-Yet he is as tender as a shepherd, as a mother caring for her children.

-His size makes the entire cosmos smaller than a peanut in his hand.

-His wisdom outstrips Solomon, Plato and Socrates, Copernicus,
Einstein, and Greenspan rolled into one--their knowledge put together
amounts to a speck of dust compared to his wisdom.

-God is so great that all the billions of the earth's population are
less significant than a dust mite is to us.

-He is so worthy of praise and honor and glory that if we did
everything in our power and stripped all the resources of the
universe bare, it would not begin to honor or celebrate him adequately.

-God defies description; confounds comparison; words, images,
imaginatoin all fail miserably trying to say anything significant
about him.

-Isn't it patently obvious to all of us? You already knew this, right?

-The cosmos is like a decoration in God's house. Hitler and Mussolini
were like fleas; the former USSR, China, and the U.S. are
SuperNothings to God. Their lifespan is a nanosecond to him.

-Everything discovered by Galileo, Copernicus and the Hubble
Telescope was thought up, enacted, and currently maintained by God.

-How can you complain that God is distant, grumble that he doesn't
listen, and gripe that he doesn't care about your little needs? He
has so much energy and attention that nothing will ever wear out his
capacity to attend to and care for every minute detail in the
universe and in our lives.

-He's so smart he's got everything figured out, and he's not worried
about any of the outcomes.

-Here's the cool thing. Anyone weak can be strengthened by him,
anyone exhausted can receive limitless energy: so much so that
they'll be able to fly. They'll run marathons effortlessly. They
could walk around the entire earth without getting short of breath or
a single sore muscle.

I really wonder if that is how our bodies are designed to function,
but they need to be plugged into the right power source--the infinite
Creator of the universe--rather than all the things we use to try to
increase our energy, strength and endurance. (Food, sex, stimulation,
friendship, entertainment, steroids . . .)

Isn't that a trip?

How pinched and sorry my view of the world is when i think that i, or
anyone else, is great in any way. When i think a movie or TV show is
fantastic, or that the latest self-help therapy is really going to
change the world. What a shriveled tunnel-view!

i would somehow like to meditate on this view of reality until the
eye of my soul-imagination constantly sees this enormous God behind
and through and in everything.

Then i think i would start to relax a little and have a little bit
more perspective, wisdom, and freedom.

Tuesday, February 28


"Two more critical resources for us are energy and faith. Is faith a resource?" my friend Mike wondered in a recent email.

I used to think of faith as a resource--Jesus says the disciples have "little faith," and even faith the size of a mustard seed enables us to move mountains. (Which depresses me a little-I must not have that much faith!)

But Willard has convinced me faith isn't something quantitative, but more like knowledge or eyesight: you can certainly measure those, but better eyesight isn't so much a resource as a means to relate well with your resources. (Okay, that sounds wierd.) But you know what I mean, right? Being realistic is much more powerful than living in fantasy, obviously. I think faith is the eyesight to see the unseen reality.

So maybe the resources are God's power and grace and people and so on, and faith is the ability to see what God is doing and to get in line with that so that his resources are effective. In a sense I think of it like knowledge of gravity, momentum, friction, and so on. The more you know the laws of physics (like a race-car driver, not like a theoretical physicist) the more power you have access to. Except that God is a person, not a set of physical laws.

Obviously I'm still trying to get a grasp on this. What do you think?

Thursday, February 16

How Long, Oh Lord?

How long, O Lord?
What a range of emotions! As I’ve been praying my way through the book of Psalms, I have been struck by how many different emotions the Psalmists express—and not just the pretty ones like love, worship, adoration or even sorrow. Rage, jealousy, anger, bitterness, despair, loneliness, hopelessness, loss of faith, fear, anxiety, envy, sarcasm, complaining . . .
I don’t usually feel comfortable with these negative emotions. Somehow, I feel that a godly person shouldn’t have those kinds of feelings. Yet there they are . . . in the Bible. And not being condemned as models of wickedness, either. Some of the godliest people who have ever lived wrote those words. Scripture records them as a prayer book for us—as model prayers!
Their audacity shocks me: they’re so bold that they say all these things to God. Sometimes about God. Sometimes about others (they seem like such uncharitable thoughts). Sometimes even against God.
But . . . God didn’t strike them down with lightning.
Am I supposed to pray this way? Lord, I don’t know how! I would barely know how to start. Are you sure it’s okay? I mean, I’m not questioning whether you’re great enough to handle all my worst emotions in their rawest form . . . am I?
I’ll try if you’ll lead me . . .
Why, God? Why?

Oh, God, you know I have tried to be faithful to you.
I have put my life in your hands.
I seek first your Kingdom and your righteousness.

But . . .

Can I make it much longer?
Why do I have to wait for you?
Why don’t I feel your presence?
Why don’t I feel your love?

Show me your paths, Oh, Lord.
Teach me your ways.

Tuesday, February 14

Abraham: A Mighty Prince Among Us

Here's another slightly long post in the vein of spiritual direction: Reflections on the Life of Abraham.

What an absolute giant Abraham was, in terms of faith. For most of us faith means trusting God to work in ways that we have seen or heard of before, or perhaps a little beyond that. Abraham’s life is marked, not by perfect faith or lack of doubting, but by a striking number of spectacular faith-acts. In Genesis 23, Abraham makes a request of the Hittites, calling himself a “stranger and sojourner” among them. They reply, “My lord, you are a mighty prince among us” and grant what he wants.

The first giant faith act recorded is one of leaving, of “detachment.” God calls him to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” No clear directions are given, other than 2 promises—to make him a great nation through which all nations bless themselves, and to show him the land to settle in (12:1-3). Abram goes.

Actually, his faith journey seems to start earlier as recorded for us, with a foundation built upon the faith of his forebears. His line has been traced from Noah’s son Shem as a line of faith in Yahweh (11:10ff). Abraham’s father, Terah, actually leaves his home, taking Abram and his wife Sarai (already married) and other kin, with him on a journey to Canaan. For some reason Terah quits along the way. Did he leave his home in response to a call from Yahweh? We don’t know. But Abram is (1) following his father’s example, yet (2) persevering where his father gave up. And he is already seventy-five years old when he does this! (12:4).

Abram’s spiritual transformation seems to come at high cost to himself, through interactions with God that require traumatic choices and painful actions of cutting himself off from various natural attachments. He leaves home (12: ), cuts off his foreskin—in this case literally a traumatic, painful cutting himself off from a natural attachment (17:23-27), and goes to sacrifice his own son, the only child of promise (22:1-10).

These acts shape him deeply. Obeying God’s call to leave his home and security seems to make Abram the kind of man that can give Lot his pick of the land (13:8-11), to give generously to a priest of God Most High (14:18-20), and not to keep the spoils of victory (14:22-24).

God also forms Abram through what seem absurdly grandiose promises, such as, “I will make you a great nation” (12:2, 13:16), and “All the land which you see I will give to you and to your descendants for ever” (13:14). Abram is childless and a nomad. Yet after each of these promises he acts based upon the promise. He doesn’t just give verbal assent or try to “believe in his heart” that God will do these things; he takes physical action like packing up and walking, or cutting animals in half and waiting for God to consume them with fire (15:10-17)!

Lest we think we always need to get it right, Abram’s spiritual formation also appears to advance in fits and starts! After the gargantuan faith-act of leaving Ur and the comfortable familiarity of home, Abram lies to Pharoah about his wife to protect his own skin (12:10-20). God saves him, but instead of learning his lesson he does the identical non-faith-act with Abimelech (20:1-13). God saves him again, seemingly without reproach—in fact, Abraham is blessed with great wealth by these two rulers (12:16, 20:14-18)! He also chooses to take Hagar as a concubine, which creates great conflict and tension within his house—lasting to this very day (16:1-6)!

Perhaps the most striking is his perseverance. Abraham is transformed in great part because God speaks clearly and dramatically to him. But these epiphanies seem few and separated by lots of time. He receives his first call at age 75 (12:4), and the fourth promise and vision at age 99 (17:1), with a couple in between (13:14-17, 15:1-21). At age 100, the Lord shows up in person and Abraham has an extended and intense personal interaction with him (18:1-33). That’s on average once every five years, and it’s always on God’s own initiative. Do I have the patience to wait until I’m seventy-five?

Wednesday, January 25

Jesus the Spiritual Director

I'm doing a series of studies for a spiritual direction course I'm taking. Each one reflects on the life of a biblical character through the lens of spiritual direction. It's slightly long for a blog, but here are my reflections on Jesus from the book of Mark. If you like it, leave a comment or email me and I'll post reflections on other characters.

What does the life of Jesus, as recorded in the book of Mark, teach us about spiritual direction?

Jesus’ Empowerment: The Holy Spirit Power, The Father’s Love and Pleasure
Immediately upon Jesus’ baptism, he received “the Spirit descending upon him like a dove” (1:10). It becomes clear that this Spirit is not an unclean spirit, empowering people for destruction of self and others, but for a powerful ministry of preaching, love and healing. At the same time, “a voice came from heaven saying, ‘You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased’” (1:11, italics mine, of course). Jesus started his ministry from a profound place of the Father’s love and affirmation—nay, pleasure in him. Jesus’ ministry of leading other people to God begins with his own experience of God—the two other persons of the Trinity. Clearly, anyone would be foolhardy to undertake a Kingdom task, such as spiritual direction, without a personal experience of God’s love and empowerment.

Jesus’ Preparation: The Wilderness and Satan
“The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness,” where he was tempted by Satan (1:12-13). I’m struck by Jesus’ quick response to the Spirit’s guidance. Spiritual directors need to become sensitive and responsive to the Spirit in order to lead others into hearing and following God themselves.

Jesus’ Core Message: Availability of God’s Kingdom, Repent and Believe
The great news Jesus announced is that God and his reign is now within our reach (1:15). Fundamentally, I think people need constant encouragement that God is near, available, and welcoming. Anyone can grasp the steps into the Kingdom Jesus gives: turn around or rethink your way of life, and live a life of dependence (trust or faith) on God. Throughout Mark, Jesus leads people through those steps: the fisherman drop their nets—their way of life and their job security—to follow Jesus, Levi leaves his tax business, Bartimaeus throws away his cloak—his begging apparatus and blanket—the rich young man is invited to sell all he has. Though simple to grasp, these steps are not easy, and not everyone responds.

Those who do, however, Jesus leads through the same steps in cycles of increasing depth. He takes his disciples on a journey that involves continually letting go of their old ways of thinking and casting themselves more fully on God’s grace:
• going out to preach and heal with no money or bread,
• choosing to feed the five thousand with inadequate resources,
• rowing in a life-threatening storm,
• making the choice to feed the four thousand—Gentiles, this time,
• following Jesus into Jerusalem and to his death.
Spiritual directors can help people hear God’s invitation to enter his Kingdom more fully, and repent and believe in the Good News. What are their old ways of thinking? How is God inviting them into more dependence upon his direct action and love?

Jesus’ Style: Parables
Jesus began to teach in parables (4:1-35). Why? Mark says, “he did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything” (4:34). Again, why? Evidently, the individual’s response was critical to Jesus. He gave them the freedom to ignore his teaching by couching it in parables—stories whose meaning is not necessarily clear on the surface. A spiritual director would do well to respect the freedom of the human will like Jesus did.

Not everyone pursued the meaning of the parables, but those who did were given more (4:10, 24-25). We often miss the parables in our lives. A good spiritual director can help people see the parables, and can prod them to search beyond the surface for the deeper meaning. As the disciples needed help interpreting, so do we, and a spiritual director may be able to help bring interpretation.

Ultimately, when understood, each parable gave a challenge. Each one painted a way to repent and believe, challenging old paradigms and calling for a new way of life. If someone wants more of God and his Kingdom, a spiritual director ought to help them hear the challenges God is giving.

Jesus’ Posture: The Unexpected Word
Jesus continually scandalized the religious folks by welcoming sinners and eating with them (2:16-17). He demonstrated the unconditional love of the Father to any who felt scorned, outcast, worthless, or unworthy by his acceptance, welcome, and hospitality. A spiritual director has the opportunity to minister great grace through a posture of welcome, acceptance and hospitality to those they care for. Jesus forgave the paralytic’s sins with the warm words, “My son, your sins are forgiven” (2:5). Many times we’re trapped in sin with no hope or expectation of forgiveness. A spiritual director can minister grace through the unexpected word of Jesus’ forgiveness.

The religious people experienced Jesus’ unconditional love quite differently. He unrelentingly rebuked and confronted their hardness of heart (for example, 11:15-18 and 11:27-12:44). Few responded well—though some did, like Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Sanhedrin (15:43-46).

Those who expected rebuke or scorn received welcome and forgiveness. Those who expected praise and respect received warnings and rebukes. I expect that often the Spirit will follow that pattern, and give a spiritual director the unexpected word for a directee.

Jesus’ Encouragement: Faith
What does Jesus praise and affirm? He was by no means a flatterer, rarely speaking words of praise and respect in Mark, as most of us are accustomed to doing. His words of praise stand out starkly: “My daughter,” he told the woman with the flow of blood, “your faith has made you well” (5:34). He affirms Bartimaeus likewise: “Your faith has made you well” (10:52). He healed the paralytic in response to his friends’ faith (2:5). In his hometown, “he marveled because of their unbelief” (6:6). He chided the disciples in the boat, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (4:40). He encouraged the father of the demonized boy, “Do not fear, only believe” (5:36).

My conclusion is that Jesus was constantly looking for faith; wherever he saw faith, he affirmed it; where he saw potential faith, he drew it out; when he saw a lack of faith, he named it and challenged it. Perhaps a spiritual director should always be on the lookout for faith, in order to affirm it, to draw it out, and to challenge unbelief.

Jesus’ Pattern of Relating: No Formulas
Though I have observed these patterns in Jesus’ interactions, I am struck at how differently Jesus interacted with each individual. He had no Bridge Diagram or Four Spiritual Laws to use in each evangelistic conversation. I can discern no formula in his interactions. Each interaction was personal and unique. Jesus always interacted personally, and he always gave a call to repent and believe in the Good News, but that call was hand-tailored for each individual and group.

This gives me a clear sense that spiritual directors need to learn to interact on a very personal level, to listen to God and the directee in order to respond personally. In this way the director embodies the Kingdom of God, by relating personally to each individual and caring for them in a unique, special way. What a joy it is to join Jesus in this creative process of soul care, and what an unspeakable privilege it is that he should invite us into this partnership with him!