Spiritual Gridlock: The End of Miracles?

“My grandma is in the hospital, and she needs prayer. Can you pray for healing for her?”

“Of course, let’s pray.”

There’s nothing wrong with this dialogue, but the conversation ending there is tragic—yet, this is how most prayer meetings go. We pray to God like He is going to do all the work. We act like we don’t need to be involved. Ultimately, God does do all the hard work, but that doesn’t make us exempt.

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Is Jesus the Only Way?

 “Jesus is the only way to God” may be the most controversial claim of Christianity, so we had better have good reason for it.  And I think we do.

What does Jesus say?  Let’s start with Jesus.  We certainly don’t want to claim something for him that he wouldn’t claim for himself.  If the Gospels are historically reliable (and we have overwhelming evidence they are), then we have Jesus’ own words and we discover he claims to be the only way to God.  In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Jesus doesn’t leave much room for debate.  Indeed, Jesus says whoever rejects him “rejects the One who sent [him]” (Luke 10:16).  So according to Jesus, there’s no other path to God.  If you think highly of Jesus, eventually you have to grapple with his claims about himself.  

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What is Apologetics?

I Peter 3:15 says to “always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”  Simply put, that’s apologetics.  But in this short description, we discover three important details.  

First, doing apologetics means playing defense.  The Greek word for “defense” is apologia, from which we get the word “apologetics.”  Think about a football game.  At any time during the game, one team is trying to score (the offense) while the other is trying to stop them (the defense).  If your team has a really bad defense, you’ll get blown away.  Similarly, maybe you’ve been roughed up by some really tough objections to Christianity.  You’ve heard the challenges before.  “How can a good God allow suffering?” “The Bible is full of errors.”  “Jesus can’t be the only way to God.”  Apologetics helps us defend Christianity against tough questions.   

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Did God Not Say That?

It’s better to meditate on what God’s word actually says, but it can also be useful at times to meditate on what God’s word does not say.

Here’s what I mean. Recently, I borrowed my wife's Bible and happened upon a note (from a Beth Moore Bible study I believe) she had handwritten beside Philippians 4:6-7.

This is how the verse appears in Scripture:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

This is how my wife's note, casting the verse in the negative, appears:

“Do not be calm about anything, but in everything without prayer and without humility, without any thankfulness, do not tell God what you need.  Then, you will not have any peace, nor understanding or clarity, so your heart will be open to all and your mind will be like the sea tossed to and fro by the wind.”

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Philosophy and Spiritual Formation

I have to prepare a statement on philosophy and spiritual formation for a meeting I have later this month, and so I wanted to put up some material on the blog as a way to think through the issues. From my perspective, a purely philosophical reasoning has very little to do with spiritual formation. The reasoning which governs and orders discussions of spiritual formation is primarily theological. Now, importantly, I am not talking about philosophers or theologians, but modes of reasoning. In other words, just because someone is vocationally a philosopher, does not mean that their thought is purely philosophical. If they are Christians, they are also, by necessity, theologians.

That said, let me try to draw out some differences between philosophical reasoning and theological reasoning (for those interested in such things, I am limiting my discussion of philosophy to Christian analytic philosophy). Theological reasoning, as I understand it, is thinking along the contours of the gospel. Therefore, theological reasoning is only understandable within the church. What I mean is this: Theology takes the gospel as our foundation and plum line. Things like common sense are not large issues for the theologian, because we are, in our common nature, enemies of the Gospel. As such, theological reasoning is an attack of our natural reason - we are, as it were, led through the foolishness of the cross to come to see the cross as beauty.

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Change You Can Believe In

Change is good. Except when it’s change for the sake of change.  Then it’s short-sighted, ineffective, and not entirely useful to anyone.

But real change, deep change, heartfelt change, individual change, is its own revolution. And I don’t mean to use the term revolution too lightly.  This kind of change is nothing short of a miracle.

Here’s what I have in mind when I talk about this kind of deep, heartfelt change.  Paul was a religious man who set out to destroy the church of God (so he hoped) in order to please God (so he thought).  And one day, he encountered Jesus.  Here’s what he said:  “Who are you, Lord?”

Paul goes on to be saved, begins preaching in the synagogue, goes to Arabia, goes back to Damascus, ends up in Jerusalem, and begins his missionary journeys.  Thirty years go by, and here is what we find him now writing:  “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain…My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better [than remaining in the flesh]” (Philippians 1:21, 23).

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Banishing Sunday School Teachers

What we do in church services doesn’t matter if it doesn’t change our lives and the lives of others. Biblical illiteracy is on the rise, and will continue to be until we make discipleship part of our life.

Most of us don’t have mentors, and when we do, they aren’t spiritual mentors—they’re business mentors. We rarely think about being discipled in the ways of Christ.

When we think of education, we think of universities and colleges. Biblical education, outside of Christian schools, isn’t even part of our thought process, and that’s a tragedy. We spend thousands of dollars paying for higher education, but how much do we spend on biblical education? When I think of it in those terms, I’m terrified about our future.

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Theology and Spirituality

"I acknowledge readily and immediately that the fathers never split theology off from spirituality, as though theology was an academic, mental exercise best practiced in one's study, while Christian spirituality was more appropriately focused on the heart and centered in a church sanctuary. Any split between mind and heart, theology and spirituality, study and sanctuary would have met with scant toleration from the fathers" (10). - Christopher Hall, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers

I find this to be a helpful corrective to our modern day understanding of theology. Theology, it would seem, is the thing academics have time for and no one else seems to. It is what you do when you are in seminary, but when you are in full-time ministry you have to be pragmatic.

Jesus in a Cashmere Sweater

"You should try our cashmere sweaters. They'll lift you up. I know that Jesus is supposed to lift you up, but cashmere sweaters are the next best thing." —A retailer on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving

You can't make up quotes like that. I responded, "I'm blogging that."

I don't need to stand on a soap box and tell you everything wrong with Black Friday. You already know. (And that's a big list.) I also don't need to tell you all the good things about Black Friday. (That's a big list too.) Instead, let's imagine Jesus and his prophet friends in cashmere sweaters.

We've been discussing the spiritual offices listed in 1 Corinthians 12:27–31. So far, I've asked: Are spiritual gifts really gifts, or are they more like curses? I've also said: We don't compare ourselves to Elijah, but should. And I've noted that we treat pastors like restaurant managers. Now I have another question: Do we treat prophets like retail clerks?

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Treating Pastors Like Restaurant Managers

If your pastor said he is an apostle, you probably wouldn't be thrilled. You may even hit him with the five books of Moses, or smack him with the four gospels. But you would be wrong, at least according to Paul.

I recently said that we don't compare ourselves to Elijah, but (in some cases) should. Your pastor may not call himself an apostle, but maybe he should. I'm a bit bias about this, and here's why.

I was called to a spiritual office at an early age. This experience made me ask, "Why do I meet people who fell into the pastorate after an internship, or who thought becoming a pastor sounded fun?" My experience couldn't be more different than theirs. Shouldn't every position in the church be a calling?
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