eating: mandatory or optional (pt 2)

When someone asks “do I have to read my Bible every day?” the focus is immediately turned to the respondent and/or his response. Will the answer be too soft or too severe, too lazy or too legalistic? But I’m increasingly convinced that the question itself should be our focus. The problem lies not in the answer but in the fact that such a question should even be raised.

Take just two examples from the book of Psalms:
Psalm 19:7a, 8a The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul…The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart…
Psalm 119:103 How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Verses like these speak to an objective and subjective element to Scripture. The objective element is heard in declarations that the Word is perfect and right; the subjective is contained in the effects or the experience of that perfect Word: the soul is restored, the heart rejoices, the words are found to be sweet. If the Word is true on these points, how is that we get to the place where we ask whether or not we’re required to read perfection every day, or if our heart must experience joy, or if we’re obligated to enjoy the sweetest food of this life? Queries like these would be like a man asking if he must enjoy the “perfect” woman (and how often) when he found her or a teen wondering why his parents insist on giving him his favorite dessert after every meal. In those cases we find a certain absurdity to the inquiry that says more about the nature of the interrogator than the matter under review.

To be continued…

eating: mandatory or optional? [a quick read]

Before returning to the “eating” discussion I’d encourage you to take in the 2 comments made on the previous post. Also, I came across this brief article that touches on a significant point I’ll make in the follow-up post tomorrow.

Your comments are always welcome.

eating: mandatory or optional?

Sunday morning’s study revolved around a discussion of the importance of a Christian spending regular time in God’s Word. Our church has a statement in its covenant that reads We will seek to maintain private devotions as we pray for ourselves and others which is a bit curious when you consider that the covenant is an agreement between two or more parties. Why should my private devotions be anyone else’s business? Additionally, why should I covenant to maintain private devotions–doesn’t that carry a whiff of legalism?

The latter of these two questions received the majority of our attention (the corporate aspect of private devotions is a discussion for another time). So, do I have to read the Bible daily? every other day? weekly? when I feel like it? when I don’t feel like it? Here’s a brief sampling of some of the suggestions put forward:

(i) regularly reading the Word may not carry the same weight as you move from one person to another. One man reads and another prays but both commune with God in their respective ways.

(ii) to assert that we must read the Bible is to create a rule or a duty that undermines the freedom & grace found in a relationship with Christ.

(iii) time in the Word should be a joy so a Christian is better served when he is moved to the Word by a sense of longing or need.

(iv) spending time in the Word is accomplished in a variety of ways–sermons, podcasts, Christian books, etc

(v) the Word is to our spirit what food is to the body–I can choose not to eat but I shouldn’t expect to stay healthy.

What do you think? Is reading the Word mandatory?

to be continued…

homo unius libri

I have thought I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God and returning to God; just hovering over the great gulf, till a few moments hence I am no more seen. I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing, the way to heaven–how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: for this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God! I have it. Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri [a man of one book].
John Wesley, “Preface to Sermons on Several Occasions”

thanksgiving in a reward I’ll never see

Psalm 103:8-12 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always strive with [me], Nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with [me] according to [my] sins, Nor rewarded [me] according to [my] iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed [my] transgressions from [me].

giving under grace in freedom with priorities (pt 2)

The previous post laid out several statements in the NT that, when taken together, depict a certain priority and/or pattern for Christian giving. The view taken here is that Scripture makes the care of one’s home and church the central tenet of Christian giving. Without denying that we also give as an essential act of mercy in the church’s mission to the world, we can’t ignore the number of times that the Bible names our natural and spiritual family as our primary dependents. Whatever else Scripture has to say about our giving it certainly communicates an expectation that we will take care of our own.

I recognize that any biblical directive can be twisted or abused so I don’t mean to suggest that a “family first” approach should be pursued without qualification or exception. The fact of the matter is that all giving is open to abuse (whether by the giver or the recipient) and church history is replete with men & movements that have been corrupted by a creeping materialism masked in Christian generosity.

In the interest of brevity (this being Thanksgiving eve and all), I would advocate the following as a good faith effort toward a biblical pattern of giving (in descending order):

1) Give to provide for the needs of my family including any extended dependents (e.g. aging parents).

2) Give to support the ministers, ministries, and expenses of my local church. With the exception of family, this will represent the largest proportion of giving. [I take it that giving to a local church will serve the broader goals of meeting the needs of local/foreign missions, alleviating burdens on the poor, etc.]

3) Give for the assistance of various para-church ministries and/or workers as I may be led, whether a singular gift or regular giving.

4) Give spontaneously as the Spirit leads in unexpected opportunities.

Neither my interpretation nor the resulting model is assumed to be infallible. I’d be eager to hear any other thoughts or to see something I missed.

giving under grace in freedom with priorities

Our adult Sunday school classes have been moving through our church covenant and this week’s section addressed giving: We will regularly and cheerfully give of ourselves and our resources to support the ministry of this church and its expenses, relief of the poor, and the advance of the gospel through all nations.

As is often the case, affirming is one thing but practicing is another. What was interesting was that in our brief discussion we seemed to have in essential agreement on two principles: (a) we have no rules/regulations for the amount that we give (b) we have no rules/regulations concerning the recipient(s) of our giving. In sum, Christians are free to give according to the dictates of their conscience under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I have no qualms w/ affirming the explicit freedom in Christian giving. However, I wonder if the emphasis on conscience-driven giving doesn’t create the (false) impression that Scripture is largely silent on this issue. The New Testament (NT) actually has much to say on this matter and we would do well to see and emulate the biblical pattern. [for the purposes of this post I’m assuming that OT directives for giving either (i) were fulfilled in/by Christ’s work and/or (ii) have found their full expression in the giving that results from a new covenant heart] Consider the following:

1) Jesus taught that certain acts of “religious” giving actually nullify God’s word for the sake of tradition (Mk 7:9-13).

2) The Spirit-led church in Acts gave to meet the needs within their immediate fellowship (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32, 34-35)

3) The Corinthian collection spoken of in 1Cor 16:1 and 2Cor 8-9 was a collection for the Jerusalem church.

4) We find specific instructions (i.e. commands) as to how, when, and from whom widows are to receive financial support (1Tim 5:3-16).

5) We’re told that men who labored in preaching/teaching should be compensated by the beneficiaries of their ministry (Gal 6:6; 1Tim 5:17-18).

6) We’re commanded to do good to all, especially to those who are in the church. (Gal 6:10)

7) We ought to receive and support those who have gone out to spread the gospel (3Jn 5-8)

The point to be made in all of this is that Christians do find biblical parameters for their grace giving which means that true Spirit-led giving should bear some resemblance to the Spirit-written Word. The next post will consider what this might mean for us in practice.

then who can repent?

Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms…This process of surrender–this movement full speed astern–is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It is killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death. In fact, it needs a good man to repent. And here comes the catch. Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person–and he would not need it.
–C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I have a problem with ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (pt. 2)

So how do you respond to a Christian who essentially tells you “I understand the command but I don’t seem to obey it (even when I try)”?

Depending on the person and the situation I could see a couple of different ways to deal with this question. What’s offered here isn’t a verbatim response as much as the reasoning behind the response I landed on:

1) God regularly commands us to do the impossible. Even a casual reading of Scripture makes this apparent. God directs aging Abraham to father a child with a barren wife (Gen 17:15-19). Gideon is told to defeat an army of more than 100,000 with only 300 men (Judges 7-8). Lazarus is told to come out of his tomb (John 11). We are told to be perfect as God the Father is perfect (Mat 5:48). And in our present case, we’re commanded to love our neighbor as yourself (Mat 22:39). To comfort a Christian by asserting that God doesn’t ask us to do the impossible doesn’t hold up under further reflection.

2) Impossible commands can’t be fulfilled by making them more reasonable/attainable. To use just one example from the previous point, Abraham couldn’t assert that God’s word had been fulfilled because he had fathered a child with a younger, fertile woman. Ishmael seemed a logical solution to an impossible scenario but the effort found no favor with God. Redefining the impossible to make it possible may comfort the man but it contorts the message.

3) All things are possible with God. We must remind ourselves that impossible commands are to drive us to the place where we can find the power to do what we can’t do (Luke 18:26-27; Rom 4:19-21; Heb 4:16). His power is at work in us to accomplish all that He requires (Phil 2:12-13).

When our senior adult came with his problem concerning the 2nd greatest commandment, it seemed best to agree with him: he did have a problem with the command and the problem was him. The sooner we see our helplessness the better prepared we are to humble ourselves and seek an enabling power greater than my reason and effort.

I have a problem with ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’

About a week ago one of the church’s senior adults asked if he could speak to me. In his words he had a “problem” with the biblical command “love your neighbor as yourself”. His problem, as he explained it, was that he didn’t obey the command. For example, he was willing to help his neighbor(s) in any number of ways but only to the point that it didn’t affect his schedule; he was willing to consider the interests of his neighbor but not to the same degree that he considered his family’s interests. Simply put, the needs and interests of his neighbors weren’t elevated to the level of his (or his family’s) needs and interests.

He wasn’t comfortable with his disobedience nor was he trying to justify his behavior. Rather, the root of his “problem” lay in the perceived impossibility of fulfilling the command. To really love his neighbor as himself seemed unrealistic. He had mentioned this to several others and had listened to their reassurances but nothing he heard seemed to alleviate the tension. I imagine he was encouraged to reconsider the meaning of “love” for that particular demand or that the directive was never intended to diminish the greater love held in reserve for one’s family.

Regardless of what he heard, none of the explanations were satisfactory–they all seemed to undercut the plain meaning of Scripture. So how do you respond to a Christian who essentially tells you “I understand the command but I don’t seem to obey it (even when I try)”?

to be continued…

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