sexual identity – again…

I’ve posted before on this topic, and thought I’d share a bit more about it. Hopefully, these thoughts will be helpful in aiding fruitful discussion…

I’ve observed a distinction between 3 things that I feel are necessary to distinguish between in order to most helpfully discuss the topic of sexuality. Actually, these three things can, I suggest, be distinguished helpfully when discussing other topics as well… See what you think…

Continue reading “sexual identity – again…”

the abc’s of tolerance

Tolerance…

The topic of tolerance came up in the comments of my last post, so I thought I’d re-post them here to offer a focussed discussion of them…

This t-word is used in interesting ways. I think it’s used far too loosely. You tolerate things (certain actions or persons whose identity is defined by those same actions) which you don’t agree with or like. If you agree with and/or like some action (or person affiliated with it), then you –by definition, I insist– cannot ‘tolerate’ it. Therefore, it should be obvious that you can only ‘tolerate’ things (or persons) which you disagree with or don’t like. Continue reading “the abc’s of tolerance”

languages of love?

In 1992, Gary Chapman published the first edition of ‘The Five Love Languages‘, which is a well-known book in Christian circles. It offers 5 very practical ways of understanding how your mate shows affection.

  1. Quality Time
  2. Words of Affirmation
  3. Gifts
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Physical Touch

I don’t want to disagree with his 5 points, because I think they are quite helpful, but I do want to share some further thoughts I’ve had about them. Continue reading “languages of love?”

truth hurts real good

What an inconvenience!

I mean, seriously. Doesn’t it just stink that the thing that people need to hear most is what they enjoy hearing the least?

It’s just the way we are, isn’t it? We love people as long as they always tell us what we want to hear and smile at us a lot. Are these expectations of others healthy? Are they even based in reality? Continue reading “truth hurts real good”

mary elizabeth toalson cottingham

My grandma passed away early this morning.

She lived in Columbia, Missouri, with my aunt Mary Jane, which is about a 3 hours drive from where I grew up in Bolivar. We probably went up to see them a couple times a year, and I always enjoyed grandma.

There are two memories of her that I will always cherish:

1. She had this really… well… unique way of greeting you. (this was when I was young – and shorter than her!) She would hug you really tightly and press her teeth — yes, her teeth! — against the top of your head – hair and all! It was the strangest thing AND the most endearing at the same time! :)

2. Much later, after she had one of her strokes (and when she could still for the most part recognise who you were), I went up by myself to visit. I brought my guitar and we all sang some hymns together. My favourite song that we did was ‘Trust and Obey.’ The chorus goes: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus – than to trust and obey.”

The reason it was my favourite song was not the theology of the song or whatever. It was the experience of singing it with my grandma, and seeing the smile on her face. And most of all, the fact that it didn’t matter at ALL that she wasn’t articulating all of the words too well. I remember her sort of singing, “Trust and obey, for is no other way …(mumbling)… Jesus – …mm… trust and obey.”

Priceless moment.

Where is my grandma now? That depends on how you define what a human being is, and how you interpret reality.

Some ‘spiritual’ religions would say that her ‘soul’ has finally been ‘freed’ from it’s prison-like cage, and is now able to perhaps be re-incarnated into another body, or in other religions re-join the ‘oneness’ of the universe. I talked to a Hare Krishna guy the other week that said that the state that the soul is in when it leaves the body is the state it will stay in afterward. Therefore, the goal is to get your soul in a ‘good’ state before you die, I guess…

Some versions of Christianity (not completely unlike the ‘spiritual’ religions) would say that her ‘soul’ went either to ‘heaven’ or to ‘hell’, depending on whether she had signed on with the correct religious group. The goal for some of these people is first to ensure that they are in the correct group, and second to get everyone else in their group. Choose carefully, I guess…

The atheists/naturalists would say that my grandma, like all humans, was only made up of atoms, chemicals and elements, and that her body will simply decompose. They would say that the best thing to do is remember her. Well, lucky for me, I’ve got good memories! Unlucky for those whose deceased family weren’t so nice… I guess you try to forget them…

I can’t make sense of the ‘spiritual’ worldview where your ‘immortal soul’ floats around somewhere and perhaps does something interesting every once and a while for the rest of eternity. A soul without a body seems to me like software with no CPU (central processing unit) – a set of strings with no guitar – words with nobody to say them. I’m very nervous about this sharp distinction between soul and body.

I also can’t make sense of the worldview that says reality is only material. I can’t make the logic work that the universe of matter and ideas caused itself into being. I’m not interested in hiding from scientific discoveries or trying to prove God from what science has not discovered yet. I think every discovery science makes simply shows how interesting and bewildering God’s universe is.

I also can’t make sense of the obsession of some Christians with trying to ensure that you’ve got the right group, the right list of beliefs, the right day of the week, the right rules and regulations. It seems ironic how consistently each type of group assumes that their group is the right one. And wasn’t this kind of assumption about being the right group precisely the kind of thing John the Baptist (not to mention Jesus) warned against when he said, “Don’t say to yourselves ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones!”

It does, however, make sense to me that the universe, reality – Life; is the result, intention and action of a Creator. It makes sense to me that a good Creator would create a creation that was not mechanistic, predictable and tied-down, but rather a creation that was alive, teeming with chance and possibility – a free creation full of danger, mystery, beauty and grandmas that press their teeth against your head.

It makes sense to me that human beings are just as dangerous and free as the rest of the universe. It makes sense to me that human beings are more than atoms and particles. It makes sense to me that a soul and a body would be so over-lapping and intertwined, you wouldn’t know where one stopped and the other began.

It makes sense to me that these heart/soul/mind/body/spirit/strength interwoven realities called human beings would be God’s primary means of caring for each other and creation. It makes sense to me that the Creator would have a plan to renew all things. It makes sense that a Creator would re-create things at the end of the story.

It makes sense to me that my grandma is not merely decomposed forever. It makes sense that her ‘soul’ is not flying laps around Jupiter. It makes sense that my grandma is somewhere between now and the end of the story. It makes sense that the finer details of the end of the story are not things I’ve got advanced information on. It makes sense that we’ll all be surprised.

It makes sense, to me at least, that I’ll be able to feel teeth on my head again some day.

tongues: another look

Yes, this article is about the phenomenon known as ‘speaking in tongues’. The subject of ‘tongues’ is perhaps the most clouded of any biblical topic today. In hope to honour God, the Scripture and Christian spirituality, I offer my current understanding of this issue.

‘Tongues’ in the book of Acts – The Gospel in ALL languages
The first[1] chronological occurrence of ‘tongues’[2] in Scripture is at Pentecost in Acts 2.

Luke describes it as amazing and perplexing. “So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘Whatever could this mean?’ ” (2:12) The Apostles, who likely could only speak in the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek ‘tongues’ (languages), were speaking ‘the wonderful works of God’ (2:11) in the language of MANY different language groups present at Pentecost – Parthians, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, (the list goes on in 2:9-11.)

They weren’t speaking gibberish, and they weren’t speaking unknown or ‘heavenly’ languages. The Spirit was miraculously giving them the ability (2:4) to speak ‘the wonderful works of God’ in many different, human, every-day languages.[3]

I’m not sure if we understand how important the Hebrew language was to Jewish people (and still is!).[4] The idea of nation (as in, God’s holy nation of Israel) was inseperable from the tongue (language) of that nation. The attitude of most Jews was that the other nations/tongues weren’t God’s chosen nations/tongues! What was going on at Pentecost was very significant! God was working outside the box! In short, the Gospel was going to go to the filthy, pagan, stinking, non-Hebrew-speaking Gentiles – at least the ones who had faith in Christ.

This was a big deal. Later, in the book of Acts, Peter receives a vision that (among other things) makes it clear that Gentiles were no longer to be shunned. “…You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nations. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” (10:28 – and surrounding verses!)

Later on, after Paul is converted to the ‘Way’ of Christ, Luke records a specific occurrence of Gentiles who received the Spirit upon hearing ‘the word’ (the Gospel). The Jewish people couldn’t believe it. “…those of the circumcision who believed (Jewish believers in Christ) were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues (other languages) and magnify God.” Acts 10:45-46

That’s right. Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit that ‘those of the circumcision’ thought was only for them! Gentiles magnifying God in their filthy non-Hebrew language!

Again, these converts weren’t speaking gibberish or unknown languages. The Apostles (possibly themselves knowing these ‘other Gentile languages’ – or at least enough of them to discern what was being said…) knew that God was being glorified.[5] Their ‘astonishment’ wasn’t because of the speaking itself (as if it was something weird), but was rather because of their surprise that ‘the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also’ (which was VERY weird for a pious Jew!).

I won’t take the time to show all the verses in Acts about the ‘door of faith’ being opened to the Gentiles – there are too many of them! This new movement of God is actually one of the primary themes of the entire Book of Acts. Just read the book of Acts and look for this theme. It’s obvious. (and I try not to use that word too often…)

‘Tongues’ in 1 Corinthians – ‘It’s not about you. It’s about the body.’
If we are to read Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians well, we need to understand why he wrote to them in the first place. We get some key clues from within the letter itself. The Corinthians were good examples of the Roman mindset and lifestyle. In the letter, we clearly see that the Corinthians were prideful about many things. For example, when Paul reminds them in 1:5 that their ‘knowledge’ and ‘utterance’ were enrichments ‘in Him’, we can safely assume that they needed to be reminded of that. You get the idea that they had forgotten this – or needed to be informed of it.

Paul doesn’t waste any time in getting into rebuking the Corinthians for many things. We see that the Corinthians were quite proud of their ‘wisdom’, which Paul humbles them on. Paul points to his own ‘foolish’ preaching when he was with them and suggests that true ‘wisdom’ is found within this ‘foolishness’ (chapters 1 & 2). I would love to go on, but this article is about ‘tongues’; so on to chapter 12 we must go.

The first mention of ‘tongues’ in chapter 12 is verse 10, which is within a series of activities that Paul is mentioning. “…to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues…” Two things feature here for me: 1) the word ‘kinds’ means that there are not just one type of ‘tongue’ but rather several/many ‘kinds’ – which would make sense if we see ‘tongues’ as languages. 2) ‘Tongues’ is here (and elsewhere) paired with the ‘interpretation’ of them – which again makes sense if they are foreign/Gentile/human languages.

After this, Paul takes about 15 verses to discuss the need for unity in the ‘body’[6] and then the chapter ends with another series of roles/activities, and that not everyone has these roles/activities. The series seems divided into at least two: the ‘appointed’, numbered ones (“…first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…”) and those ‘after’ that (“…miracles, then gifts of healings, helps administrations, varieties of tongues.”). It seems interesting to note that the non-normative activities (miracles and healings) are grouped with the seemingly more normative ones (helps, administrations and the varieties of tongues).[7]

Then comes Chapter 13. It begins with a literary pattern that is not mentioned often. Paul moves through various activities, giving a ‘big’ example followed by a ‘lofty’ example.

-Though I speak with the tongues of men…

…and of angels

-though I have the gift of prophecy…

…and understand all mysteries and all knowledge

-though I have all faith…

…so that I could remove mountains

-though I bestow all my goods…

…and give my body to be burned

I don’t know anyone who claims to understand all mysteries and all knowledge; or to have removed mountains; or to have the ‘gift’ of giving their body to be burned, but strangely, I often hear people describe their ‘gift of tongues’ as a ‘heavenly’ or ‘angelic’ language based on this passage. I’m not sure that’s what Paul’s point is… The point, of course, is the supremacy of Love.

The only other place ‘tongues’ is mentioned in chapter 13 is when it is said that they will ‘cease’. The next 2 verses seem to suggest that this will happen ‘when that which is perfect (complete) has come’. I’ve heard this passage used to support the view that ‘tongues, miracles, healings – and probably anything else non-normative – ‘ceased’ after the Bible was written, or after the Apostles died. That seems forced to me, to say the least. Verse 12 seems to suggest that the ‘perfect’ that will come is either Jesus Himself or the New Heaven/Earth (or both?). So I say with no hesitation, whatever ‘tongues’ are, they most certainly have not ‘ceased’.

We have finally reached chapter 14 – THE ‘tongues’ chapter.[8] As we move through the chapter, keep in mind that the main goal for Paul is for the church to grow and be edified. Everyone agrees that people in this church were speaking in ‘tongues’ and some (many? all?) didn’t understand what was being said.

This chapter is where the conversation about tongues takes many different directions. Words like ‘spirit’, ‘mysteries’, ‘mind’, ‘understanding’, and ‘sign’ are taken in wildly different ways. Indeed, it is a daunting task to try and sort through them all.

I offer the following statements from what I see in chapter 14 (with verses noted):

  • The ‘tongues’ here are (as everywhere else) human languages/dialects. (14:10-11)
  • Paul strongly suggests (demands?) that ‘tongues’ be interpreted for edification. (14:5, 13, 26-28)
  • The speaker him/herself should try to interpret the ‘tongues’. (14:5, 9, 13, 15?, 19?)
  • Speaking/praying ‘in(by) the Spirit’ is simply to speak/pray truthful, godly, spirit-directed statements/prayers. ALL speaking/praying ‘in(by) they Spirit is good for YOU (and God certainly understands you!), but Paul reminds the Corinthians that when ‘in church (gathering)’, they must seek to ensure that the speaking/praying is not only ‘in(by) the Spirit’, but also is understandable for others to be edified. (14:2, 4, 5, 9, 11, 13-17, 19)[9]
  • The Lord speaks to/through people of all languages (Isaiah 28:11 – quoted in 14:21), which is a ‘sign’ to unbelievers of God’s character, but ‘in the church’, if everyone spoke with ‘tongues’ those unbelievers would have quite a different impression! (14:23)

Other things to consider: 1) Corinth was a multi-lingual city, having two sea-ports and being a large center for trading from all over the known world. Speaking and interpreting other languages would have been more than a little helpful! 2) The Greek language was the most widely spoken/written/known language. You were on safe ground using it. If you used another language, you risked not being understood. 3) The Greeks/Romans called the ‘uncivilized’ people on the edges of their Empire ‘barbarians’. They didn’t speak Greek.

I offer these further statements with these 3 points in mind:

  • A ‘tongue’-speaker may indeed mean ‘someone who isn’t (at least for the moment) speaking Greek’ (14:5, 13)
  • Paul would have known many languages of the Greek/Roman world. (14:6, 10, 14, 18)
  • If Paul prayed in a language other than Greek (which he probably knew best – other than Hebrew, perhaps), his prayer was indeed ‘in(by) the Spirit’, but praying in Greek was better for others – and even his own understanding of his prayer. (14:6, 11, 14-15)
  • The frequency of the idea of ‘edification’ in chapter 14, and its ending suggest that the main point is for order, learning and instruction. Which probably means that there was dis-order, confusion and arguments present – and pride. (14:1, 12, 20, 31, 33, 37-40)

Today – Miracles, Experiences and Love
Let me be blunt. To suggest that God ‘doesn’t do miracles’ today is not only dependent on shabby Bible interpretation, but is to deny the God of all power His power. Also, let me assert that my ‘non-miraculous’ reading of ‘tongues’ (excepting the Acts 2 occurrence) in NO way needs to be seen as ‘de-miracle-izing’ God.

God is holding the entire universe together, and without his power, not a single blade of grass would grow. The distinction between the so-called ‘natural’ and ‘super-natural’ is a post-Enlightenment distinction, not a Biblical one. God caused and called nature itself into being – including the surprising and miraculous things that seem to defy nature. The Bible gives us no ‘laws of nature’ for which God must ‘break’ to do a miracle. He is God, and that… is the end of that.

Also, let me say that I fully believe God can and does give people TODAY miraculous language-speaking-abilities in similar fashion to the Acts 2 occurrence. But again, these are not private, heavenly languages, but languages of humans. Humans whom God wants to hear the Gospel of Christ. He is God. He is able to do anything consistent with His own nature.

I do not, however, believe everything I hear, nor everything I read, nor everything I see on T.V. Experience alone, while not to be ridiculed or devalued, is not the final say. Though God can and does heal physically, people at healing meetings full of adrenaline who can honestly ‘feel’ healed, all-too-often end up not being.

Sadly, people can ‘feel’, ‘see’ and ‘hear’ things that aren’t real. I don’t believe in the monster under the bed, but I nearly convinced myself as a kid that he was there. To put it another way, if you think you have to be baptised by immersion to be saved, you’re probably going to be baptised by immersion. If you think you have to ‘speak in tongues’ to be saved or a ‘full-on’ believer, you’re certainly more likely to give it a try.

It has to do with our expectations. Well-meaning and genuine believers in Jesus[10] who see and hear others in their faith community speaking in ecstatic ‘gibberish’ (I know of no better word to describe what is often seen/heard) are certainly more likely to do it themselves. In some church settings, the teaching is that this is an essential for true conversion – commonly with back-room ‘training’ sessions where people are ‘taught’ how.[11]

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, much of the modern practise of ‘speaking in tongues’ seems to me to contradict the primary nature, character and personality of the Holy Spirit. ‘Just let it flow’, ‘say whatever comes to mind’, and ‘start with a random syllable and get it going’ don’t fit at all with the pattern of experiences in Scripture.

When the Apostles (and I suggest us as well!) were filled with the Spirit, they spoke the Gospel with boldness. Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit as ‘gentleness, patience, self-control’, etc. Ultimately, the primary role/function of the Holy Spirit (who, by the way, is the Spirit of Jesus!), is to direct us to Jesus. To glorify Him, to re-make us into His image. To renew our hearts and minds according to the character of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

The Spirit leads us not into our prayer closets (though we depend on Him mightily in prayer), but rather out into the world in loving and humble service of others. This is the kind of Spirituality that the world desperately needs.

As Christians, let us seek to major on the majors. To whisper where the Scripture whisper – and SHOUT where the Scripture shout! This is where we have true, un-shakable unity. In Christ and His death and resurrection. Let us share THIS love with the world.

———————–

Endnotes

[1] Paul likely wrote the Corinthian Letters before Luke wrote the book of Acts, but I’m referring to the sequence of actual events, not the records/writings of them.

[2] Actually, ‘tongues’ (as different human languages) is first mentioned in the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11, when God ‘confounded’ their ‘tongues’ (languages) – causing humanity to spread. It has been well said that Pentecost is the ‘un-doing’ of Babel. The Gospel (and God!) is not partial to any one language.

[3] Which resulted in the representatives from the various places being able to take the Gospel of Christ back to where they lived! In other words, the ‘tongues’ in Acts 2 was for a reason.

[4] Indeed, just the idea of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures) was offensive to say the least for many Jews. For them, speaking Greek and reading Greek would inevitably lead to living a Greek lifestyle.

[5] The text doesn’t separate ‘speaking with tongues’ and ‘magnifying God’ as though they were two things. The speaking itself is magnifying God.

[6] Actually, the verses before this (12:4-11) also speak of this unity. Read them and look for the words ‘same Spirit’. This is the main point of chapter 12.

[7] Again, the word ‘varieties’ demands that this is not referring to a single language (heavenly, etc.)

[8] Actually, the chapter downplays the importance of ‘tongues’, and raises the importance of prophecy – so that the body may be edified. Read chapter 14 and look for the word ‘edify’, ‘edifies’ or ‘edified’. See the main point?

[9] For example, a Parthian person praying ‘by the Spirit’ in the Parthian tongue (in the midst of the church/gathering), would be ‘giving thanks well’, but others that didn’t know the Parthian tongue would not be able to understand it, be edified by it, or know whether or not to say ‘Amen’ to it. (14:15-17)

[10] Others have demonised moder-day ‘tongue’-speakers (or claim they are doing so because of demons). I see absolutely NO reason or grounds to do this. My desire is to have unity in the essentials and seek clarity on the non-essentials.

[11] On that note, I find it incredible the amount of detail given in many instructions for speaking in this manner. 99% of it doesn’t even bother trying to tie it in with Scripture, and are rather built purely on the recent (less than 150 years) tradition of experience.

pure imagination

I try to limit how often I quote individual bible-verses out of context, but this one is quite a hard one to twist into meaning something else…

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” – Phillipians 4:8 NASB

Your imagination is under attack.

No, this is not some silly alarmism or ‘boy that cried wolf’ nonsense. It’s true. If you live in a place where billboards, magazines, internet, shopping malls and television are the norm – in other words, if you are a Westerner – you are being influenced. You might as well be aware of it.

What we think about matters.

Now, most of us would agree without hesitation, but I wonder if we give much thought to it.

Whether we realise it or not, many decisions we make are the result of carefully planned attempts to ‘capture our imagination’.(1) Advertising works hard to capture our imagination. One of the main ways it does this is to try to get you to identify with the product/service being advertised. Once this is accomplished, when it comes time to make a purchase, you are much more likely to buy their brand, etc.

What I’d like us to notice, however, is that there is a ‘macro’ (large) reality to the ‘micro’ (small) example I just gave. For Westerners, there are so many products being offerred to us, so much hi-jacking of our thoughts, that we get de-sensitised to it. I once knew a missionary couple that came back from years of service in a so-called ‘developing country’ (developing into what, may I ask?), and went to ‘Wal-mart’ to get groceries. Upon entering the beverage aisle, they were stopped in their tracks. There were so many drink choices in front of them, they quite literally didn’t know what to do.

But we’re used to it, aren’t we?

The ‘macro’ reality for far too many of us is this: We are enslaved to a the Western standard of living.(2) Like it or not, you are simply expected to ‘have’ what ‘everyone else’ has.(3) You are expected to be an average Westerner. Complain, argue or disagree with the system, and you’ll get funny looks.

What I’m trying to suggest is simply that we are more influenced than we are ready to admit. I’ve been fond of saying – as I’ve heard from many others – that the best way to tell what you value is to look at your time/calendar and your money/spending. Another interesting value-indicator is this: what you talk about with your friends.

A friend recently vented to me how frustrated he was that basically ALL his conversations were about no more than 2 things. Everywhere I go, I over-hear conversations about TV shows, movies, video-games and fashion. Do we not have other things to talk about?

For crying out loud, I’m NOT saying these things are the devil incarnate. I am saying, however (with no hesitation at all), that they occupy too much of our time, money and discussions. They affect our imaginations!

Here’s the point. Instead of making some ridiculous list of ‘things’ that are OK to think about or not, we are told to think about things that are good, pure, praise-worthy, etc. (above verse). We are instructed by Jesus Himself to pray for God’s will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” Unfortunately, we only think about that when we are at our churches.

Our imaginations are being sold to the highest bidder, and programmed to be more and more concerned with getting what we want in life. God’s kingdom is about a different mindset than that. Philippians 2:4 (and the verses before and after it) is beautiful – ‘Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

This will not make you ‘famous’ or ‘successful’.

This is not entertaining or fashionable.

But it is God’s will (a.k.a. His ‘desire’ – what He wants.).(4)

So, be aware of the attempts to capture your imagination. It’s one of the most valuable things for you to protect.

Blessings,

Dale

1. I dare you to read “Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire” by Brian J Walsh and Sylvia C Keesmaat. It will scare you – in a good way.
2. ‘Enslaved’ too strong a word? OK, then… Just try to stop living the Western lifestyle and see how easy it is.
3. Though the result is indeed, being clones of everyone else, the language advertisers use is that of ‘diversity’, ‘choice’ and ‘uniqueness’.
4. Though time forbids me from fully explaining, the best catalyst for staying committed to God’s will is community (true community) with others who want to do the same.

feelings on theology

Everyone is a theologian.

Theology is simply the ‘logic’ (thought, ideas, study) of ‘theos’ (god), and everyone does this. Even atheists, who claim to be quite certain that the idea of god is silly, spend much time, energy and thought trying to demonstrate this – and therefore, I suggest, they engage in theology.

Anyway, some people put theology on a spectrum with something else – like theology on one end and emotions on the other (as if the ‘goal’ was to stay in the safe ‘middle-ground’ between the two). This is making less and less sense to me. Are not emotions present in all that we do; and – is not even simple reflection about god at least some form of theology?

Emotions matter. Ideas about god matter. We don’t need 50% of each – we need 100% of both.

Having said that, let me be quite clear: I am convinced that emotions (though we need them 100%) cannot be trusted. Sure, feelings are god-given and must not be rejected or disregarded, but were never meant to be relied upon. They are more a ‘thermometer’ to life than a road-map…

Now, the ‘road-map’ of theology can also be trusted too much. We can delude ourselves into thinking we have got it all sorted and sussed. If the apostle Paul can say that ‘we know in part’ (1 Cor. 13) then I think that goes for all of us. But there are certain things (assurance of salvation in Christ alone, the will[desire] of God, etc.) that we can know.

Just as God has given some people more sensitive emotions and feelings, he has given others more critical and thinking minds – and neither is more ‘spiritual’! Both must continually strive to use these things for God’s glory – because it all matters!

We get this messed up all the time. Some christian communities value feelings/emotions so much that critical thought and discernment goes out the window, while others value theology/’truth’ so much that any sign of life or vibrancy is absent.

We must work hard to not be emotion-less or emotional-istic. And we must work hard at theology – because it matters. How we feel and what we think can cause us to do and believe some very interesting (and possibly tragic) things (i.e. – belief that national Israel has to go back into ‘the land’ and restore the ‘temple’ before Christ can return can result in indifference to the atrocious militant actions of the nation of Israel against Palestine that seem to clearly go aganst God’s will[desire]).

Don’t mock people whose emotions are more vibrant than yours. And – don’t think for a moment that theology gets in the way of ‘real’ worship. Instead, love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, soul, mind and strength… together.

building for god’s kingdom

I won’t embarrass myself, but just know that I could share many stories of times I’ve done things ‘for’ someone and found myself eventually having to apologise and say, “Sorry, I was just trying to help!” However well-intentioned our actions may be, they can be un-helpful or even harmful. Even sincere people can be sincerely wrong.From age 11-18, I spent my summers working for my Dad in construction. I learned a lot about building in those summers, but I also learned about working with a team. When you’re building a house, you have to understand and appreciate the overall process in everything you do. You may have an idea that seems helpful by itself, but in the whole scheme of things can end up being unhelpful. It could make more work for someone else, cause confusion, or a host of other things. For example, I may see that some boards on the roof need cutting. By itself, this is fine for me to do. However, if someone else is already making preparations to do it, then one of us is going to be wasting time. Also, cutting boards on the roof creates saw-dust, which can cause people to lose their footing on the roof. What’s more, there could be a reason that the boards haven’t been cut yet – maybe on this specific house there is another design feature in mind.

Another example; I may notice that a stack of boards are on the other side of the job-site from where they are going to be used. I could save someone a lot of time walking back and forth by moving them closer. There could be several things I’m not considering, though. Maybe the area I would move them to is about to be used for something else. Perhaps moving the boards at all would just confuse the person who was going to be using them, etc.

As you can see, there’s a lot that can go wrong on a job site. Intentions may be good and effort may be expended, but sometimes with distorted results. You could think it was wonderful that you cut a lot of boards, but maybe they were supposed to be cut later or differently. You may feel proud that you solved an apparent board location problem, but maybe that was the best place for them in the long run. Perhaps you can think of similar examples for other environments.

On a job site, these problems can be easy to deal with. In fact, the longer a team works together, the easier they are to deal with. You learn to ask questions and think before you just ‘do’ something. You learn how to see the big picture. You learn to work together.

In church life, however, the things we do are often close to or at the heart of our very identities. The tasks that we perform are marks of our spirituality and if the tasks that I’m doing are thought by others to be contradictory to the big picture, then we feel that our very spirituality has been attacked.

In the same way that simply ‘doing stuff’ on a job-site is not always the right thing, in the church also, simply doing things just because we can doesn’t mean that we always should in view of the big picture. Could it be that sometimes we may be just ‘moving spiritual boards’ around the job-site when we need to be cutting them according to the plan and installing them where they go, etc.?

In the world of construction, corrections have to be made. The workers have to accept it, grow, learn, move on – and most importantly – get to building the right way! At least in some ways, it is no different in the church. We’ve got a job to do. Let’s keep the big picture in mind. Let’s communicate with one another. Let’s not take advice too personally. Let’s grow. Let’s sharpen each other, making us sharper tools in God’s hands. Let’s get on with building for God’s Kingdom.

help! i’m not acting right!

Thoughts, Feelings, Actions

Here’s a theologically loaded statement:
Right beliefs (ortho-doxy) create right feelings and lead to right actions (ortho-praxy).

As Christ-ians, our life (and thereby, our life-STYLE as well) is all about Christ. This is true isn’t it? Whatever we think, feel or do ought to be thought, felt or done in regard to Christ. Pretty amazing to think that Christ wants to renew our thinking, give us joy, and (as if that’s not enough) DO great things through us.

Thoughts
It starts with our thinking or our beliefs, doesn’t it? They are of utmost importance. When we actually believe that the God of the universe would not just merely be interested in us, but also would be willing to die for us, that has an effect on us!

Feelings
Once we are thinking straight, and it starts to sink in that Christ paid a debt that we would never have been able to pay, I’m just guessing that our feelings should take perhaps a small positive turn! That is what joy is all about! Would a prisoner that had been freed from a death-sentence show no emotion? Well, whether you realise it or not, or just have forgotten, If you are a Christian, you were a prisoner, and you have been set free from your death sentence!

Actions
This is where it gets interesting. We tend to be terribly distracted when our actions (or someone else’s) are either lacking or not of the right “kind.” If we’re not careful, we can slip into a pattern of thinking that our actions shape and form our beliefs. It’s the other way around. Our REAL thoughts and beliefs are seen in the way we act. It’s a tricky distinction that can easily be missed. Put plainly, you can’t serve your way into having Christian beliefs. You can, however, believe your way into serving in a Christian way. As church-type-people, we often act like the former statement is true. We care less about what people believe or how they feel, and instead just try to find ways to get all of the Christian jobs done! We must not do this.

If you are experiencing a ‘dry spell’ in your Christian life, check your beliefs and feelings. One of the many great things about the Christian life is that we are not simply converted and then put on a shelf, we are grown, tested, tried, bruised, etc. These bumps are to cause us to remember Who we are intended to rely upon. The dry spells aren’t there to get us to try harder, but to help us realise our inability to please God with our flesh, and remember Who our strength is. One of the greatest passages in the Bible about God’s will for living the Christian life is the beginning of the 12th chapter of Romans. Among other things, it says to “be transformed (continually) by the renewing of your mind.”

Thoughts are important.

Blessings,

Dale