We are All Theologians

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Dear Friend,

I was excited and intrigued the other day when you sent me a text message that stated you were feeling God’s call to be a theologian. I think this is exciting and wonderful and a glorious thing and would love to talk to you more about it in detail. But first I have some preliminary things I want to say.

First, please be aware that we are all theologians. From the most strident atheist to the most devout moralist to the most humble evangelist, all of us humans participate in the study and analysis of God, His attributes, and His relationship with the universe.

The atheist does this through denial. He examines the evidence to the best of his ability, analyzes God, the premises established regarding God’s character, and how God is to relate to the universe (particularly on an individual level), and he denies the existence of a supreme being. For him, something else is more valuable in this universe than any proposed god, particularly a Christian one. For some that is the universe itself. For some it is science. For others it is hedonism. But whatever it is that they decide to attribute supreme value to, then that thing becomes the object of their study and analysis and the defining framework for their lives. In other words, it becomes their god.

The moralist is only slightly different. Like the atheist, moralists have examined the evidence and done some analysis as well but they have concluded that there is a supreme being; however, they may or may not agree that this god is the Christian god. The moralist’s approach this supreme being, though, through the lens of works, not denial. They believe that it is the accumulation of good deeds that gains the favor of the supreme being, so they spend the majority of their lives performing good works in an attempt to outweigh all the bad that they have also done. Moralists, it must be pointed out, can be avid students (or followers) of other religions or they can be non-religious altogether. It doesn’t really matter, because their god is not the supreme being that they acknowledge. It is themselves and the good works that they can accomplish. And they spend their lives organizing their lives around this central ideal.

The last category of theologian, I would argue, is the Christian. This is the most difficult position to maintain, not because there is no evidence to support their position but because they are called to do everything in their lives in such a way as to make Christ appear more valuable than anything else.  Christians are called to live their lives defiantly. To organize their lives around the central principle of “whether through my life or through my death, I will endeavor to display Christ as not only supremely valuable to me but to also make His value and His perfections publicly seen and experienced so clearly through ALL that I do, that He is recognized as supremely valuable over all.” (Php. 1:20-21; 1 Cor. 10:31) Such a calling is both convicting and conforming at the same time. For as we seek through our lives to make others see and experience the supreme value, worth, and desirability of God, we find ourselves constantly being challenged to release the selfish ambitions of moralism and the intellectual conceit of atheism so that we may, in humility, put on the mind of Christ and conform more and more to His image (Php. 2:3-8).

We Christians are theologians of a different stripe. We are not called to love ourselves. We are called to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Because we are self-centered people we do love ourselves, as is pointed out in “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But this is not a command to love yourself. It is a command to love your neighbor. It works off of the assumption that you do and you will love yourself and that this selfish, self-centered action can teach you how you ought to act towards others. Indeed, Jesus paraphrased this command in the famous Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matt. 7:12)

“Christians,” He seems to be saying, “as you study and analyze the attributes and character of God, as you make Him the center of your life (and not yourself) love God so passionately that your love for Him overflows into your love for others…Remember, you are God’s representative on this earth and He makes His appeal to the lost through you.” (2 Cor. 5:20)

Therefore, my dear friend, I would ask you to please consider what you mean when you say, “God is calling me to be a theologian.” If you imagine a theologian to be a deep thinker about God or a seminarian or even a pastor/priest of some kind, that’s all well and good, but please do not fall into the trap of being so intellectually or morally invested in Christianity that you fail to actually apply or live out the truth of the Gospel among the lost. Good theologians are not only good students or good citizens. They are people of defiant faith. The ones who stand up against the tide of a post-truth culture and create a fixed reference point for all those seeking land in a fluid-truth society.

Good theologians are not ashamed. They are full of courage so that Christ is always honored in their body, whether by life or by death (Php. 1:20). They hear the edict, know the consequences of honoring God, and say, “I am trusting in God, and regardless of whether I die or not, I will only worship and serve Him.” (Daniel 3:17-18) Such faith can be found throughout both the Old and New Testaments as well as in modern examples, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who faced down the Nazi regime and its horrible atrocities with a steely will and the Word of God.

Make no mistake, my friend, if God is calling you to be a theologian, He is calling you to action. He is calling you to take the Word and show the world how it is not only an efficacious and viable option for life but how it is the supreme framework for living. The absolute truth among many choices. Be aware that such living comes prepackaged with danger and suffering as well as with rewards and the eternal echo of “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

God may be calling you to learn more. He may be calling to live better. But please, be the theologian who also “plays the man,” (2 Sa. 10:12) facing down the evil within this world, and making the value and the glory of God shine brightly within the encroaching darkness, whether it be by your life or your death.

Go with God,

Mark

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Quick Thoughts: The God of Possibilities

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord , my rock and my redeemer.
Psalms 19:14 (ESV)

To pray that my words and the meditation of my heart “be acceptable” means that there are words and meditations that are NOT acceptable. You don’t ask God for things you don’t need. You only ask Him for what you do need.

So what is the Psalmist asking for? He is asking that his mouth and his heart be pleasing to God. Why? Because he knows that the mouth speaks out of the overflow of the heart. And even if his words could somehow pass inspection, he knows that his heart meditates on wrong things, i.e. unacceptable things. In other words, the Psalmist is confessing that he, like all.of us, does not just have bad thoughts. He has unacceptable MEDITATIONS. He has things, evil things, that he continuously rolls across the tongue of his heart like a sweet peppermint candy. They feel good to him. They seem right. In fact, these thoughts are so familiar to him they form the core of his desires. But in the end they only bring him death. What were these meditations? I don’t know what his were. But that’s not the important thing. The important question is what are yours?

What beliefs, ideas, opinions, and desires continually roll around in your mind? What do you seek to know? Where does your heart feel most empty and how do you try to fill it? The answer to all these questions shape the contours of your heart.

But more than that, the answer to these questions also shape what your mind accepts as possible and impossible. The possible you inhabit. The impossible you reject. And the longer you live within these boundaries the more convinced of them you become. Thus, the one who meditates on a vast territory of possibilities has a boundless, unmapped terrain of hope to pioneer, while the one who yields to a plethora of impossibilities lives out his life in a prison of despair.

Our meditations define these mental and emotional realities and our words confirm them. Therefore, let our words and our meditations be acceptable in God’s sight. May our thoughts dwell on the God of possibilities and know Him intimately. May we remember His character and His power and trust Him to transform our hearts in spite of our circumstances. For in the end, it is not the alleviation of pain that we need, but the holiness and goodness of God. In this way, we can, like Job, see possibilities at the outset of pain (“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Job 2:10) as well as at the conclusion  (“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” Job 42:2)

Go today and meditate on the God of possibilities and may the comforts of God not be too small for you (Job 15:11).

Daffy Duck and Doing Good

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Heb. 13:16, ESV

Doing good. Sharing. These are things we learned to do in kindergarten. They are what most people would consider “basic moral principles for living.” And they are encouraged across multiple cultures as well as religions. So why is something so universally accepted deemed a sacrifice? Wouldn’t a lifetime of practicing these characteristics make them not sacrificial but habitual? An act of desire, not duty?

Apparently not.

I think what the apostle Paul is getting at is that we human beings are by nature selfish. Like Daffy Duck in the above cartoon, we cling to our stuff, proclaiming, “MINE! MINE! MINE….I’m a happy miser” instead of sharing what we have and doing good. It takes self-discipline, empathy, and compassion to deny ourselves all that is ours and willingly give it to others. Whether that thing is something material or whether it is something immaterial (like a talent or ability), we struggle to selflessly release what we have and share it with others.

Why? Because on some level we always want a form of reimbursement. Some want money.  Others want fame and a life of ease. While still others desire recognition, a returned favor later in life, or even the little warm fuzzy feeling that comes with helping another person in need.

But this venal currency is useless in the kingdom of God.

Echoing Christ’s statement to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” the author of Hebrews strikes at the heart of normal human behavior and calls us to exchange reimbursement for pleasing God.

Such end goals make our actions sacrificial.

For as long as we strive to balance what we have given with what we will receive, we remain in a continual state of self-centeredness with a morality that asks, “what’s in it for me?” But when pleasing God is our goal, God receives and transforms our self in His image. No longer do we pursue some form of self-glorification. Instead, we lay aside the self so that the beauty and perfections of Christ shine through our good works and ignite the people of this dark world to lay aside their selves to do the same. (Matt.5 :15-16)

This is the ultimate good: when we share what we have in Christ with another person. It is not only about obeying a certain list of do’s and don’ts or following a moral code of loving your fellow man. It is more than that. It is about proclaiming through our actions and our choices who Christ is and what He has done for us. It is about giving Him the glory at the expense of ourselves. It is about exchanging the “MINE! MINE! MINE!” for a life that proclaims “HIS! HIS! HIS!”

Quick Thoughts: The Discipline of God

​The discipline of both God and parents must include more than instruction. Teaching provides knowledge but knowledge by itself is nothing without application. As in school, it is insufficient for the chemistry teacher to only lecture. He must also include a lab so that the objective truth of what he taught can be subjectively observed and verified. It is the lab that tests and proves the student’s understanding of and ability to apply the truth he has learned. Without such personal interaction with the truth, the teacher’s words fail to transform the seed of knowledge into a thriving, fruit-bearing tree. 

Most students view knowledge as malleable, subject to change, and constantly evolving; therefore, the knowledge they hear is often dismissed as either irrelevant, incomplete, or inapplicable and effects little to no change in their life. But the student who has wrestled with the teacher’s words, tested them in the lab of life, and has seen them proven true knows that these lessons are not mere words. They are more than that. For now they have been internalized. No longer are they part of an ever-changing body of knowledge. Now, they resonate within the student as transforming, eternal truths.

Therefore, “Count it all joy, my brethren, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (James 1:2-3) Mere words cannot produce such a response. Nor can “a good talking to.” The only discipline that produces the proper response is the one that provides a test. 

Why Pray?

man_in_prayeyrjpg-800x258God

Why do you pray?

Me

Because I have a problem and I either don’t know what to do

or need help with the solution.

 God

In other words, you require supernatural intervention, either in word or in deed?

Me

Yeah. I guess that sounds about right.

God

And what would you do if I immediately gave you the answer

or performed the miracle upon request?

 Me

What would I do?! I’d be happy! I’d praise you!

I’d tell everyone about what you did for me!

God

And after that?

Me

After what?

God

After the adrenaline and the joy wore off? What would you do then?

How would you be on Thursday of next week if your boss came in

and laid you off from your job?

Me

Wait! I’m losing my job next week?!

God

No. No. No. Hypothetically. What would you do?

Me

I guess I’d pray again.

(You promise I’m not losing my job?)

 God

Why?

Me

Because I need a job! I need to eat, pay off debt, have a place to live,

provide for my family, etc.

 God

Have I not been providing for you this whole time?

Have you ever gone without?

 Me

No.

God

Then why are you worried?

Me

Because I need money to survive in this world.

(Come on, God, don’t be coy with me. Am I really getting laid off?)

 God

My dear child, is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

Me

Philosophically? Sure…I guess. But practically I’ve got to pay my bills, God.

My family has to eat.

God sighs heavily

Me

What?

God

Do you not know that the silver is mine and the gold is mine?

That the earth and all it contains belongs to me? Have you

not heard that if you honor me, I will shower you with so

much blessing you will not be able to handle it all?

 Me

Well….yeah.

God

My child, I AM the most practical answer to all of your concerns.

But if I am only a piece of philosophy to calm your anxious soul or

a rational argument that provides order for your worldview, then

what are we doing here?

 Me

What do you mean?

God

I mean, why are we talking?

Me

Because, God, You know all things! You can do all things!

God

But what good does any of my wisdom or help do for you if you value your personal security above your relationship with me? I do not want to be another method that you use to increase your happiness. I want to be the end that you are pursuing, not another means by which you seek yourself.

God places His hand on my shoulder and looks me in the eye.

God

Do you understand?

Me (sheepishly)

I’m trying, Lord.

God

Prayer is not about receiving more of what you want.

It never has been that way and it never will be.

Me

 You mean, it’s not about the answers, the healings, or the money?

God

No.

Me

 Then why pray?

God

Because every answer I grant your prayers, whether a “yes” or a “no,” is not done to make your life easier. It’s done to give you a newer, brighter, and cleaner revelation of who I am. I do not act on your behalf for any other reason than to help you receive the one thing that will never wear out or fade in value.

Me

And what would that be?

God

Me. Prayer is about receiving ALL of me.

Me

 Oh, God, I don’t know that I can do this on my own. Teach me how to pray.

God

Just start with the words “Our Father” and filter everything else, both your petition and my answer, through these two simple words. Everything else will flow from there.

Have Faith in God


When I awoke yesterday for work, an old hymn began playing through my head. I could only remember the chorus, but it was a good reminder to put my hope in God, not any one man or woman. Remember this truth, whether you are pleased with the election results or not. Our prayers are to be for God and His will, not for a person and their politics. Red or Blue, all of us should pray for our leaders and for God’s will be done. All of us should Have Faith in God. Therefore, I offer the following hymn. The lyrics are below.

Have faith in God when your pathway is lonely; 
He sees and knows all the way you have trod. 
Never alone are the least of His children; 
Have faith in God, have faith in God. 

Chorus:
Have faith in God, He’s on His throne; 
Have faith in God, He watches o’er His own. 
He cannot fail, He must prevail; 
Have faith in God, have faith in God.

2 Have faith in God when your prayers are unanswered; 
Your earnest plea He will never forget. 
Wait on the Lord trust His Word and be patient; 
Have faith in God, He’ll answer yet. [Chorus] 

3 Have faith in God in your pain and your sorrow; 
His heart is touched with your grief and despair. 
Cast all your cares and your burdens upon Him; 
And leave them there, oh, leave them there. [Chorus]

4 Have faith in God though all else fail about you; 
Have faith in God, He provides for His own. 
He cannot fail though all kingdoms shall perish; 
He rules, He reigns, upon His throne. [Chorus]

Psalms for the Election – Day 7

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As we conclude this 7-day journey for praying for the election, I hope you hold on to God’s call to recalibrate our lives around Him and not our political parties or dogmas. May we live with strength and courage; without fear or discouragement, because we know that the Lord will be us wherever we go.

Have the courage to stand up among the assembly, to be that one person who refuses to bow to the pressures of tyranny, regardless of the threat to your life, wealth, or family. Rest in the truth that your victory does not come in the votes of an electoral college but in God. It is He who pushes back your enemies and gives you victory. Put your faith in Him. He is our only hope.


Read Psalm 46

Identify what God is saying about Himself in this passage. Boil it down into a one or two-word summary (e.g., God is ____ ) and confess that truth back to God, asking Him to reveal Himself in this way through your day and this election cycle.

v. 1 Look at the election. If it has not taken place yet, pray this verse as a declaration of trust that God will protect His people and will not abandon us when trouble occurs. If it has ended, pray this verse as a declaration of faith for the future, regardless of who has been elected President.

v.2-3 State how your security does not depend on the circumstances that have played out in this election. Rather, your security is in God alone. Therefore, you will not fear.

Even if you feel like this election has produced results in which “the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters foam and the mountains quake with their surging,” declare your faith and your trust in God.

v.4-6 Confess that you were not created for this nation that we call America. Rather, you were created for the holy city of God where the Most High dwells. Your residence is within a kingdom that will not fall and where God will always help her survive and thrive. Other nations will come and go. Other kingdoms will fall, because God rules not with a scepter or a sword, but with the power of His spoken word. He is the One who spoke and the earth was created. He is the One who wrapped Himself in flesh to pay the penalty for our sins. He is the One who lifts his voice and the earth melts; who reigns forever and ever and invites the one who wishes to take the free gift of the water of life.

v.7-9 Declare the wonders and the works of the LORD Almighty. Ask God to reveal to you what He has done. In this passage, the Psalmist writes that God has “made wars cease … He breaks the bow and shatters the spears; He burns the shields with fire.”  Take a moment and ask yourself: What

Take a moment and consider the symbolism for our country: What are the “wars” that God has stopped in our country? What “bows and spears” has He broken? What “shields” of the enemy has He “burned with fire?”

v.10 Take a minute. Be still before God and know that He is the Lord. Confess the mighty works of His hands. Declare His greatness among the nations. Exalt Him in all the earth.

v. 11 Reaffirm this truth, regardless of who won the election: “The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Thank each of you who have prayed with me over these last 7 days for the condition and future of our country. May our hearts be continually turned towards God as we seek His face and declare that our trust rests not in man, but in Him.

Blessings on you all.