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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A Little Nudge

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Yesterday we prayed that God would remove the spirit of slothfulness within us. That we would use the days He has given us well and that He would help us live an unwasted life.

But let me ask you: How did you follow up on this today?

Did the love of God overflow into actions for God? Did you look at your Sunday and postpone what should have been done so that you could take a nap? Or watch Netflix? Or play a video game?

Did you think about the prayer we prayed yesterday, consider the time you have left, and ask, “What can I do today? How can I spend today for God’s glory?”

I don’t ask this because I want you to feel guilty.

I ask this because, personally, I failed.

I went to church today. I read my Bible. I prayed. But when I looked at my backyard, I thought, “I’ll get my son to do that later.” And when I realized that he wouldn’t have time, I thought, “Well, it can be postponed at least one more week.”

Umm. No, it can’t.

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And when I considered the letter I got from my HOA a week ago about alleged mildew on the side of my chimney, did I go buy the Spray and Forget like I knew I should?

No. I didn’t.

You know what I did instead?

I read a few pages out of Eric Metaxas’ book Martin Luther, told myself I should finish writing a new blog post on the marriage blog I have, and then…

I turned on my computer, logged into the website of my favorite baseball team “just to see what the score was” and wound up watching the last few innings of what turned out to be an incredible ballgame.

By the time that was done, it was almost supper time. I knew my wife had been feeling ill all day and that I would most likely be in charge of cooking, but it was late now and I had NO idea how to make a chicken pot pie.

I mean, I could try.

I’m smart.

I could’ve probably done it, had I bothered looking for the recipe. Instead, I ordered pizza for the family, watched an episode of Seinfeld, and used a piece of key lime pie “to erase that thirsty feeling pepperoni makes in your mouth.” (No, really.)

And that’s when I finally slowed down my procrastinating long enough to hear a still, small voice remind me about yesterday’s post, specifically about how I had typed the following words as a sincere prayer to my Lord: “Kill the spirit of slothfulness that has strapped itself to my soul.”

I wanted to say, “Hey. That’s not fair, God. Using my words against me?”

But I knew He’d just shrug and say, “You prayed for this.”

And He’d be right. Because that’s the way it is with prayer.

Prayer is not only a problem I lay at God’s feet to resolve but also an invitation He lays at my feet to become more involved in His work. Prayer is not a package I drop off at God’s post office. It is a process of God shaping my heart so that I may publicly demonstrate His goodness and perfection to others.

It is not a singular event I engage in for five minutes every morning. It is an unceasing, persistent pleading, an intentional listening to the Spirit’s urgings, and a fearless obedience to follow Him wherever He may lead.

But, prayer is also failing.

It is staying in the boat while others walk on water. It is being lazy when we should be at war. It is loving ourselves more than we love God. It is exchanging infinite joy for finite pleasures, water for dirt, holidays for prison, and it is fueled by rationalization, justification, intellectualization, and good ol’ procrastination.

Yet, God still looks at us and says, “You wanted this change…So, let’s change.”

Prayer is confession. It is repentance, an intentional turning away from all that has trapped us in sin. It is working out our own salvation with fear and trembling. In short, prayer is a daily battle.

So, if you’re like me, and you failed today at what you prayed for yesterday, look at your calendar for tomorrow. Look at your wants and your needs. Pull up in your mind who you will be meeting with at work and the deadlines you have to meet.

Spread your day and your fears and the tauntings in your mind out before the Lord like Hezekiah, begging God to take your day and use it for His glory (2 Kings 19:14-19). To incline your heart to His testimonies, not for selfish gain. (Ps. 119:36) For there will be many enemies to fight, the most cunning of which is ourselves, but although the day will be a battle, “the victory belongs to the Lord.” (Pr. 21:31)

 

 

Prayer for an Unwasted Life

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Thank you, God, for giving me this day. But do not let my focus on you stop at my gratefulness for your gifts.

Teach me to understand your will for my life today. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear so that I may see the truth and know how to respond to it.

Kill the spirit of slothfulness that has strapped itself to my soul. Free me from casually observing the passing of the day and wasting my time on the omnifarious offerings of this world. For if tonight I die in my sleep, or if I am killed in a fatal crash while running errands, or if today is the beginning of an unknown disease growing inside of me that will impede my energy or shorten my time, I want to hear you say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” when you evaluate how I spent the days you loaned me.

Crush the fears that my heart knows so well and mute the doubts in mind. Remind me, Lord, that I am not my own, for I have been bought with a price. So, grant that every aspect of my life, whether it be for pleasure, for mourning, for necessity, or for fun always glorify you in my body.

“Even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” (Ps. 71:18)

Amen.

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).

Quick Thoughts: The Death of Billy Graham

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When I was a child, there were three giant figures within Christianity: Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, and Billy Graham. And regardless of what occurred in the world, I always felt that these three (though separated by thousands of miles) continually worked together through prayer and faith to secure the mainsail of Christianity. One dedicated her life to the poor. One led nations and people in the way of Christ. And one preached the Gospel so unwaveringly that millions accepted Jesus as their Savior and Lord.

Each one, I knew, prayed continually for the souls of mankind and worked in their own way to ensure God’s kingdom expanded, not their own.

But time, as it always does, eventually collected Mother Teresa as well as Pope John Paul II. Only Billy Graham remained in these last decades as the One who prayerfully stood in the gap interceding for both the lost and the saved. For me, there was always security in that knowledge, for I knew that “the prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” And I was confident that when he prayed, miracles formed like thunderclouds on the horizon.

That is why it saddened me so much when I heard of Billy Graham’s death on Wednesday.

He was a man I admired. He was a man I listened to and read. But, if I’m completely honest, he was a man I relied upon.

Who will lead us now, I prayed that morning during my devotional.

Then I remembered: Isaiah’s answer was “Here am I. SEND ME!” Ananias’ answer was “Yes, LORD,” when told to go that murderous man, Saul. And Christ made it very clear that no one who puts his hand to the plow and turns back is worthy to be His disciple.

In other words, it is not up to another. It is up to all of us. We Christians have not lost our leader. Our leader is Jesus Christ. We have only lost a great man of God. A compass who continually showed us the way to God.

Now, it is our turn. We are a people who have been commanded to “Go”. And it is time to put our hands and feet to the task. To pick up the loose cords and secure the mainsail again. To rise up as one in Christ by devoting ourselves in prayer for revival and awakening in your country and by faithfully following the Spirit’s leading to accomplish the task assigned to you.

It is up to us now to ensure that the generation behind us does not forget who God is or turn to false idols. It is up to us to preach the Gospel both from the pulpit and through our lives. Good behavior cannot be simply enough. It must be clear. There is only one way to heal your brokenness and that is through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So, I would like to challenge you to pray this year for revival within your country. Billy Graham will no longer be doing it for you. The mantle must be picked up by us.

The End of Fear

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Fear ends where redemption begins. Once you are no longer your own but belong to God, rest and security can finally belong to you. Fear is only reserved for those who are still in charge of themselves and their future. And why shouldn’t it be? No man can see the future nor control all the variables to accomplish his will 100% of the time. Uncertainty, doubt, and fear will certainly surround the shadowed sight of man, for, despite one’s cleverness, they will always, inevitably fail.

But once your life no longer belongs to you, once it has been redeemed by God, fear is no longer necessary. Continue reading

The Final Race

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The smoke fired before the gun. I was in the third lane from the left when it sounded and had to remind myself to be patient. It was only two laps. A brief two minutes and twenty-five seconds. But I was here, running the half-mile event in the state track final for single-A schools.

As I rounded the first turn, I heard my father’s voice in my head: Continue reading