My Thoughts Are Not Your Thoughts

What’s going on in Isaiah 55? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many times if you see Christians talking about ideas they have, they will often say that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. Any mystery can be appealed to by going to this passage. Unfortunately, if we follow it to that conclusion, we can often get into some really contradictory messages.

Let’s look at the passage in question in Isaiah 55:8-9.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Okay. Seems straightforward enough. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are not our ways. Yet how far does that go? I have a thought that Jesus is Lord. Is that not what God thinks? I have a thought that 2 + 2 = 4 and that red is a primary color and that English is the language I speak. Does God not think those things?

You see, if we go this route, we can end up with a bunch of nonsense. It’s the idea that if we think something, then automatically God is not thinking it. Now of course, how God thinks something is radically different from how I think it and there are great differences between us, but when it comes to truth, we can think God’s thoughts after Him. It’s what we’re to strive to do.

It’s been said before that if you misunderstand a verse, not only do you misunderstand it, but you also do not get the true understanding. If this is the case, then the true understanding of this could be something great that we’re missing. Indeed, it really is. This passage is a powerful message of forgiveness and we have missed it.

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”

The passage starts with God as it were wooing His people. he wants them to come to Him. He’s offering His blessings to them regardless of their income level or what they can bring to Him. Yet there is always some hesitancy, and isn’t that often the case? Many people today can be hesitant to come to God because of fear of being judged.

So the passage goes on.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”

This immediately precedes the idea of my thoughts are not your thoughts or my ways your ways. The question to ask in exegesis is “What is the passage talking about?” It’s talking about God wanting the people to return to Him. Many of them will be thinking “God will judge us. God will destroy us. God will not have mercy on us.” Why would they think that? Because that’s the way life is for them. God is someone to be scared of. God is a judge. God will destroy them and punish them. In essence, God is a big man.

God then says His ways are not their ways and His thoughts are not theirs. Their thoughts are like that, but God’s ways are to forgive and show love and mercy. It’s not to judge.

Do you see what has happened? We’ve taken a passage about love and mercy and now it has been made that most people do not see the love and mercy in it and the way of forgiveness. If anything, we’ve made God virtually unknowable by using this passage. After all, if His thoughts are not mine, then anything I think about God by definition cannot be true nor can anything you think of Him. That would be absurd and self-contradictory. After all, “None of my thoughts about God are true” is itself a thought about God. If none of them can be true then that thought can’t be true and well, it gets confusing from there if you try to keep following it.

Please be watchful of Biblical texts and how they are used. Try to approach the text and see what is going on in the larger context. You might miss a blessing.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Thoughts on Jeremiah 29:11

What is Jeremiah really saying? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’m sure we all know the verse.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

We’ve all seen it on graduation cards and such. It’s such a wonderful and heartfelt message. A graduate opens it up and hears that God has plans to give them hope and a future and to prosper them. As the Church Lady would say, “Well, isn’t that special?”

The intention is good, but is the intention right? I can mean well giving a toddler a lollipop, but if that toddler has diabetes, I could be hurting them greatly. When we see this verse, we need to ask what is really being said.

Simple questions to ask. Who is the you? Who is God speaking to in this passage? What is the situation going on? Sadly, most Christians don’t ask these questions. They just do what’s known as the Baptist reading method of opening up the Bible and thinking it’s all about them and reading whatever verse they come to as a personal message from God.

What’s going on in this passage is Jeremiah is talking about the people that will leave Jerusalem for Babylon to be captives when God judges the city and lets the temple be destroyed. For these people, having the temple destroyed was the ultimate game over. God is done with us. There’s no hope. The covenant is broken. This is also why Jeremiah has passages about a new covenant.

Jeremiah is telling the people who are going into Babylon to stand strong there. Be praying for the good of that city. Ask God to protect that city. God is not done with them. They’re going to get to have another go at this. God will watch over them and bring them back.

In the middle of this is when we get this verse. The thing is that the overwhelming majority of people would never leave Babylon since they would be there around 70 years. Jeremiah is not speaking to them on an individualistic basis. He’s speaking on a national basis.

But does that mean that when we read this passage we just gloss over it? There’s no relevance to us? Not at all. Paul tells us that everything written was for us. Note that it was not written to us, but it was written for us.

So if I was a preacher who was preaching on this passage, what kind of thing would I say?

Probably something like this:

“I want you all to know that this passage might look nice on a graduation card, but that’s not what’s going on. You don’t know what will happen in your graduate’s life. They could go through incredibly hard times. They could go through wonderful times. You don’t know. They could get that card and die in a car accident the next day. Who knows?

What you can know is that when Israel went into exile, they would wonder if God was done with them. Had He abandoned His promises? Jeremiah is assuring them that this is not so. Regardless of how things look, God had made a promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to David, and He would bring it about.

In the same way, God has made promises to us in Christ. Though we will go through hard times, and they are promised to us, we can be assured that Christ will help us through them. He will honor His covenant to us just like He did to Israel. In the future, He will prosper us in the New Heavens and the New Earth and we do have hope in the resurrection of Jesus and the promise that what happened to Him will happen to us.”

By saying this, I have treated the historical context fair, I have not individualized it, and I have brought it to Jesus. We can trust in God that He will do for us what He has said. That doesn’t mean we won’t go through hard times. Let’s also remember to really study our Bibles and treat them with respect. Treat every verse in its proper context.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Silence of Heaven

What do you do when the Heavens are silent? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last night I was doing some Bible reading before bed. I had something else I wanted to blog on, but then I got to Hebrews 12:25 warning us about what happens if we ignore Him who speaks. It was a section that left me thinking.

You see, we often today make a big deal about the idea of hearing the voice of God. I think for the most part, it’s normally nonsense. Many people who are hearing the voice of God have a God who strangely enough tells them exactly what they want to hear, much like the pastor who feels called to go to a different church that conveniently is offering a bigger salary.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t times of questions and concerns. When the hard times in our lives hit, it’s not atheism that’s really the big fear. It’s not even that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead.

It’s that if we pulled back our ideas about God we would see a God who doesn’t care. As C.S. Lewis said, when his wife died, his fear wasn’t that there was no God. He had more than enough reason to know there was. It was that God existed and this is what He’s really like!

On the other hand, sometimes, one could hope that is. To say that God is all-good and allows suffering puzzles us. Especially if you hold to God knowing the end from the beginning, God created knowing all of this would happen as it did. God is not saying that this is a good thing, but it is good to allow us to go through it.

We often think that if God could just give us a little something, we would be able to handle it. Surely that’s not asking too much. Why not do that?

I have some thoughts on the matter, as you can expect.

For one thing, I think if that happened, we could make a steady diet of experiences. Too many of us get our theology from our experiences. If we do that, we could get a doctrine of God just because we ate too much pizza the night before.

Second, that could give us pride. Look at how special I am! God Himself did something like this for me!

Hey. That second one could be on to something. Could it be sometimes we have to look at sin seriously?

I’m not at all saying all suffering in our lives is because of our sin. Of course not. I am saying we should always be open to it. Have we looked at ourselves and examined ourselves? Could it be God has not pulled away from us, but we have pulled away from Him?

We could be asking God to do something when really we are not paying attention to what He has done. He has forgiven those of us who are Christians of everything. Why do we not rejoice about that every day? Could it be because we really don’t take sin seriously? We don’t realize what an affront our sin is to a holy God?

Perhaps we should realize God is always showing us mercy. That we are allowed to live is mercy. When we are angry and complain to God, He is showing us mercy in that He doesn’t destroy us on the spot. He could do that and who could say He was wrong for doing so? He doesn’t owe us another moment does He?

We could also be in a situation like Job. Some people think the question of Job is why is there pain and suffering in the world? When I went through a time of depression in my life, I went through Job repeatedly, because I thought that was the question of Job.

It’s not.

The question of Job is why do you serve God? If you took away Heaven and eternal life from us, would we still serve God? If we wouldn’t, then we have to ask if we’re really serving God for who He is or for what we want. A married couple is supposed to have sex together regularly, but if something happened to the wife physically that she couldn’t do that anymore, would the husband leave her? If so, you have to ask why he was there to begin with.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying the benefits of marriage any more than there is looking forward to Heaven and eternal life, There is something wrong if we exclude God from them much like if a husband excludes the person of his wife from sex and just wants her body. If God takes away the goodies, will you still serve?

This is what I think we have to ask most in these hard times. We have to ground our theology. God is there and He is good. Do we feel like serving? No? Serve any way. There have been mornings I have woken up angry with God about my life, and I still sit down at that computer and serve.

Anyone can serve God when they feel like it. Yay, you. You’re so awesome. Anyone can love their spouse when they feel like it. The times your marriage grows the most is when you love even when you don’t feel like it. The best times to grow in your walk with Christ is when you serve even when you don’t feel like it.

Feelings could come later of enjoying what you’re doing, but if they don’t, oh well. You’re still doing the right thing. Ultimately, it comes down to that. Do the right thing regardless. Your feelings should not really come into consideration with that. There is never any justification for doing the wrong thing.

And if it means just talking to God in prayer, be honest in those times. You can tell Him you’re mad or you don’t understand, but say you’re going to serve anyway. Then serve.

God will be pleased. Heaven may be seemingly silent now, but if one does this, you can expect one day you will hear Heaven. It will be the sound of applause that you hear then.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What Is Religious Passion?

What does a passionate Christian look like? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Passion is a difficult term to describe. Most of us when we hear of passion think immediately of romantic passion, and yet that is part of the problem of defining it. Watch a TV show or movie and you will think all passion takes place in the bedroom. Well, there’s supposed to be a lot of passion there, but ask most any married couple and there will be other places of passion. A wife can fix a great dinner for her husband with passion. A husband can passionately express his love through gifts or writing or music to his wife.

When it comes to religious passion, we often have some negative ideas about it. We might think of people barking like dogs and calling that the work of the Holy Spirit. Religious passion often seems to be equated with a show. It is a strongly expressed feeling or emotion.

Well, yeah. It can be. Maybe it isn’t just that. Maybe it’s something different and maybe it’s different from person to person.

My wife and I were talking about someone we admire very much who gave an excellent testimony at Celebrate Recovery and during the music in the last service talked about how she was dancing in the center aisle and she used to think there was something wrong with people like that. I asked Allie if she could ever see me doing that yesterday. Nope. Not at all.

Yet she still thinks I’m passionate about Christianity.

I think many of us know several Christians who we would say are passionate about that, but would not express that passion the same way. Get me together with some of my theological friends and there will be passionate discussion about matters of faith and practice. There won’t be dancing going on, but there’s a lot of excitement.

This doesn’t mean that we always have a strong feeling about what we are doing, and this is really a good thing. C.S. Lewis said something once similar about being in love. When you fall in love with someone, it is an emotional explosion at first, but if you stayed that way, you would not be able to function. The explosion dies down, but the will can stay there and that should be the strongest. It would be a mistake to coast from that point on after the explosion.

That passion can still show up momentarily. The great feeling shows up when you actually do the loving things you’re supposed to. So it is with religion. When my friends and I get together, I may not be feeling it at the moment, but get some discussion going and before too long, there is passion and excitement once more.

There is a mistake along those lines that we often make that we often think all genuine action must be backed by genuine feeling. Not at all. What virtue is it to you to act the way you feel? Anyone can do that. We could make a parallel to the words of Christ. You love those who love you? Wow! Aren’t you just awesome? If you love those who hate you, that is real love. You love when you feel like loving? Impressive! Your parents must be so proud! When you love when the feeling isn’t there and maybe even the opposite one is, that is real love.

As I told my wife yesterday about this, there have been mornings I have got up and thought the heavens seemed silent and I am angry with my God. What do I do? I go and serve Him anyway. Why? Because it’s just the right thing to do and nothing in Christianity says “Do the right thing provided you feel like it.”

“But I feel so fake doing that?” So what. That’s again putting the cart before the horse. Is it better to say, “I feel fake doing this so I won’t do what is the right thing to do.”? If your intention is you want to serve or you want to have a certain mindset, God knows and I believe honors your intention. Do you not feel like reading your Bible or praying but want it to be a priority? Then do it. Many times our feelings don’t change until we act. As long as we act the same way, our feelings will continue.

“But it’s just duty then!” And sometimes duty is where you have to begin. For one thing, duty does not mean that you don’t like it. For example, a husband in Scripture is required to give his wife her conjugal rights. I am sure so many husbands were saying “Well geez. If I gotta do it, I gotta do it.” That’s a duty, but it’s a wonderful duty to so many of us men.

We also have to be on guard that passion itself is not a goal. If we are coming to God because we want to feel really good, then we are just using God. Holiness is our real goal. If passion comes with that, great. If not, oh well. We have done the right thing.

But if you do want some excitement, I do have some recommendations. First, I think you really need to make sure you have some apologetic grounding. Not every Christian is meant to specialize in theology and/or apologetics, but all Christians are called to do those things. You have to do them. You might as well do them well.

At the same time, those of us more intellectually inclined need to remember that while Scripture says that there is zeal not according to knowledge which is dangerous, there is the reality that knowledge puffs up. We need to study. I think Lewis once spoke of seeing a lady in church and thinking she probably doesn’t have a clue about the Nicene Creed, but then realizing that when it comes to holy and devout prayer and living, she has him beat by spades.

Then just go and do what you are supposed to do. It doesn’t matter if you feel like it or not. Do it anyway. Let the actions and will lead the feelings instead of the other way around. Nothing says “Love your neighbor as yourself, provided you feel like it.” When our neighbor is being an agreeable person, we are to love them. When they are being a total jerk, we are also called to love them. Don’t like that? Keep in mind God’s love for you doesn’t change when you are a complete jerk, including to him.

To come back to Lewis again, when you start loving your jerk neighbor, you will notice a strange thing. You start to love him. If you wait until you feel like loving him, you will never do it. If you just do it because it is the right thing, you will eventually have the love for him.

Passion is good, but it is not to be our foundation. Enjoy emotions when they come, but do not make a steady diet out of them. Instead, shape your will to serve God more and do the right thing regardless of the feeling.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Why I Don’t Take Internet Bible Critics Seriously

Should you really pay attention to that critic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Let’s be fair. There are some skeptics out there that do their homework. They do try to really find out what scholars in the world of the Bible are saying and make reasonable cases. I disagree, but at least they are doing their due diligence.

The majority are not.

For the past couple of weeks or so, I’ve been going through a big book. It’s Behind The Scenes of the Old Testament and it’s about 512 pages and most of these pages have plenty of lines on them. It’s the kind of book that these same skeptics will not even read. It would be practically a miracle if they even skimmed it and looked at the pictures.

And yet, these same people will think they can speak with authority on the events in the Bible. They will speak on slavery in the Old Testament and all they have is their knowledge of the Civil War in America and the fact that they are offended and think that is sufficient. Never will they dare ask questions like, “What is slavery in the ancient world? What was the purpose of it? What other alternatives did they have?”

Let alone do these people really have an understanding of the Law for Christians. Many think that the Law was meant to lead us to some kind of Utopia and everything in it is a moral principle for all time. It’d be kind of hard for a Christian to say this since Jesus in the New Testament said that Moses permitted divorce to the people because their hearts were hard. This is not to say there are no moral truths in the Law, but the purpose of the Law is not to produce perfect people.

Too many critics of the Bible read the Bible from a modern Western perspective and then look back on the dumb and unenlightened culture they see in the Bible thinking they’ve made a powerful critique. Argument from outrage is a favorite. God did XYZ! What kind of God would do this? The conquest narratives are a favorite. Lately, I’ve seen David’s baby dying as a result of David’s sin as an example of this. (Strangely enough, these same people will also defend abortion. Go figure.)

My advice to Christians on this is to first off not take such critics seriously. If someone is not willing to read and study life in the Ancient Near East, they shouldn’t comment on it. If they do, we shouldn’t take their comments seriously. I say the same thing about Christians who want to go and critique evolution, but will never ever pick up a book on science in their lifetime. Reading your favorite Christian who argues against evolution without studying science yourself and just repeating what they say is just as bad as reading a new atheist on the Bible and repeating what they say without studying it yourself.

Let me make a caveat here. If you are a Christian and you do read the science and you do want to argue against evolution, have at it. It’s not the route I take as evolution is a non-issue to me. I just don’t repeat the arguments. Someone could be making powerful arguments against evolution or talking nonsense. I don’t know.

Also Christians, if I go after the atheists for doing this, I want to be fair and go after us. Too many of us who are Christians don’t bother to study the context either. We take one little section out of a prophecy and either make it about the end times in a dispensational paradigm (As if the prophets never ever said anything about their own culture) or they make it about themselves.

Let’s go with an example. In Jeremiah 29:11, God tells the people that He knows the plans He has for them, plans to prosper and not harm and to give them a hope and a future. Great passage. It’s used so many times in cards for college graduates and such. Horrible interpretation right there.

Jeremiah is making this point to Israel as they are going to Babylon. If you are sending a card to a college graduate who’s part of a covenant people and is being shipped off to Babylon, then that’s okay. If not, you might want to rethink it.

“Great. So are you saying this verse is useless aside from historical information?”

Not at all. We could apply this to us today. Picture a pastor saying this.

“The children of Israel had received a promise from God. They were about to face suffering and that suffering would make them wonder about the promise. They would doubt it and think God had failed them to let this happen. God assures them that is not so. In the same way, we today are recipients of the promises given to Israel and in Christ. We can often go through hardship and suffering still where we wonder if God has abandoned us. Hebrews tells us that God will never leave us or forsake us. As there was a purpose for the children of Israel going into Babylon, so there is a purpose for our suffering and Romans 8 tells us that God will work all things for good to those that love the Lord. Whatever you are going through in your life, realize that God is in control. As He did for the children of Israel in being with them in their suffering, so will He be with you.”

There. If anything, this is a richer understanding I think because it is connected to the New Testament. In the passage in Jeremiah, we can know that some of the people who went to Babylon never came back. After all, the return was about 70 years later. In the New Testament, some promises are individualized, such as Romans 8. We will all in Christ be resurrected in new and glorified bodies and each of us will give an account of what we have done and each of us will be treated accordingly. At the same time, we are a community in Christ and should live that way.

Studying the context of the passage goes a long way and will help us. Critics of the Bible need to really work to study the text instead of thinking that outrage is an argument. Christians need to study it because we think it comes from God and we need to treat it seriously and not misapply it. Will we always interpret it properly? Of course not, but we should always seek to bring the best information to the table that we can.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Theology

Are we staying in the shallow end? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife has been looking into Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy lately. This was really an area I never wanted to get involved in, but now I am. I want to know what claims she’s hearing and if I think they’re accurate or not. As it stands, I still remain a convinced Protestant, but I am noticing something.

While I think we Protestants have excelled at Bible Study, we’ve often neglected theology. We don’t really know much about what to do with our doctrine of God. We seem to treat the Trinity as this nice little doctrine that we keep around and we get out when we need to address Jehovah’s Witnesses.

My blog has been called Deeper Waters from the beginning because I think we have too often gone shallow. This has largely been due to a lack of discipleship on our part. We place a big emphasis on conversions. I really don’t like that term at all.

Imagine if we said we wanted to see more marriages. We worked to get people to the altar and to say their “I do” statements and then did nothing with them. Hypothetically, those people went back to live with their parents and never interacted at all.

We often do the same kind of thing with conversion. The goal is to get someone to walk down the aisle and say a prayer and make Jesus their savior. There is no investing in them. There is no training in them. There is no discipleship.

This isn’t an across the board condemnation. Of course, there are some churches that do this. There are far too many who do not. This is especially needed in an age where Christianity is being questioned left and right and most people don’t know how to make a basic defense of what they believe let alone know the basics of what they believe.

We often go to churches and sing songs about how Jesus is so important to us. Apparently, He’s so important that we don’t study anything about Him, learn about Him, read the Scripture that tells about Him, or think about Him much at all, except, you know, those times when we need something. Our Christianity is all about what Jesus does in our lives instead of what we do in His.

This is so even with our salvation. Many times, the goal of Christianity has been to get people to go to Heaven. While there, you will live forever and get to see your loved ones again. Oh yeah. God is there too, if that interests you and all. There is nothing about building up the Kingdom of God here. There is nothing about the difference salvation makes in this life. Paul said that if it is only for this life we have hope, we are above all men to be pitied. Paul knew we have hope for this life. Today could it be that Paul would write “If it is only for the next life we have hope….”?

What’s the solution?

It’s a really easy one. Return to deeper theology and study. This isn’t the area of only other traditions. Protestants in the past have done this. I suspect most of it is that here in the West, we have grown more individualistic and all about us. We spend so much time “listening for the voice of God” that we don’t really consider who it is we’re “listening” to.

At the Orthodox church, the priest told me to borrow if I wanted to learn from the library a book called The Orthodox Way. I have been going through it and wondering “Aside from a few secondary details, what about this is specifically Orthodox? I have no problem believing this about God as a Protestant.” I wonder how many people see this and don’t realize that other traditions can have the same views of God as well.

Our Christianity is supposed to be the central defining feature of our lives. Let’s make it that way. Let’s not drop our intellectual weapons. We can better know the God we say we love and serve by studying Him. A good spouse seeks to understand the other spouse so they can better love them. Should we not treat God even better?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What You Believe About God Matters

Does it matter what you believe about God? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Everyone has a worldview. Many of us are not aware of it. A worldview is your answer to the biggest questions in life. When you receive information, it is filtered through your worldview. It is possible to change the answers to the big questions, but depending on how central they are to your worldview, it will take that much more to change them.

The late Christian philosopher Ron Nash gave a list of five questions for a worldview. These are all excellent questions I think to summarize what we believe.

God is first. Does He exist? How many gods are there if they exist? Is God reality or something else? What is the nature of this God or gods that are believed in?

What is the nature of the cosmos? Is it eternal? Is it something made by a greater power? Is it real?

What is the nature of morality? Are there true objective statements of morality? Is morality up to the individual? How is morality known?

What is the nature of man? Does man have a soul? Is he an accident? Is he in the image of God? Is he God?

What is the nature of the afterlife? What happens when we die? We cease to exist? We become gods or angels? Heaven or Hell? Nirvana? Reincarnation?

These are all good questions and volumes have been written on each. I’d like to dabble a little bit at the first question. What does it matter what you believe about God?

Let’s start with the simple question of existence. Do you believe that something exists, something a group like AA would call a higher power? If so, how important is this power to you? How do you know? Picture that you are presented with undeniable proof that this higher power does not exist. How much does that change your worldview? The degree to which it changes shows how much place is given to your higher power.

For instance, if you just lose emotional comfort and personal help, well that’s all God is to you. He’s an emotional comfort and personal helper. If you lose a ground of all being and an explanation for all that is, then God is that much central to you. This is a good time to ask yourself this question. “What do I really believe about God and how central is He to what I believe?”

Something amazing about our time is that we don’t really think about God. We know so much about our favorite sports team, a video game, a TV show, a movie, but how much do we think about God? Does God not merit more attention than our favorite hobbies?

Much of Christian suffering today I think can come from bad thinking about God. One pictures God as a tyrant perhaps demanding perfection and being willing to strike us down for our sins. One pictures God as an emotional band-aid which is helpful when you’re hurting, but what happens when He doesn’t come through one time? Does God suddenly not care?

Does it matter that in much of Christian thinking God doesn’t change? You bet it does. If God loves us and is love, then He eternally loves us. We can rest assured in Him.

Speaking of love, what do we mean if we say that God is love? Is God warm sentiment? Is this love romantic love like one has for a spouse or other significant other? Does He love us for who He is or for who we are?

What about classical attributes of God? Is He omnipotent or omniscient or omnipresent or omnibenevolent? Are those terms you’re not used to? What do they mean? Is it not worth considering?

If you were to marry someone, you would want to know something about who they are first. After all, this is the person you’re going to be hopping into bed with. You are going to be sharing your own body with them and your very life with them. Should you not know who they are?

I encourage Christians to really think about God and do so with more than just your experience. Inform yourself with Scripture, but also with those who have gone before and great minds today. J.I. Packer’s Knowing God is an excellent place to go to for instance.

Good theology is extremely important for Christians to have. God is a person (Or rather tri-personal) and needs to be known for who He is. A deficit in our knowledge of God can only hurt us and we will replace truths of God with falsehoods that our own minds come up with. Naturally, we all believe some wrong things about God, but it is important that we try to eliminate those beliefs that are false.

Naturally, Christians have one other area. How has God revealed Himself? Our best answer is that the greatest revelation is in Jesus Christ. What does Jesus tell us about God? What does it mean that Jesus is fully God and fully man? What does it matter that He died and rose again bodily? Is it just a free trip to Heaven or a proof that Christianity is true?

I really encourage Christians to think about these questions. I have not attempted to really answer them here. It’s more important at this point to know that they’re there and they need to be taken seriously. If you have time to learn about your favorite hobbies but not about God, you really need to get your priorities straight.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Turn Or Burn?

What kind of choice is that? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In my last post, I wrote about the claim that God is petty. I was told I did not say much about the turn and burn aspect often given. I thought I had, but just to make sure, let’s address that. We’re often told that God is often saying to His creation “Love me or burn!” Few of us would call that love.

I don’t think I need to say much on how few conservative scholars today think that passages about Hell being a fire and brimstone place need to be interpreted in a literalistic way. Hence, if I see someone speaking in this kind of language, I know I’m talking to someone who has not read the best material on the topic. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s all a cakewalk in Hell.

Also, most don’t think that all suffering in Hell is equal nor is all joy in Heaven equal. Everyone will ultimately get a treatment that is fair. No one will be able to legitimately say that they were wronged on the day of judgment.

The problem with this choice is it’s not really accurate. The person assumes in the argument that they have done nothing that deserves any sort of punishment whatsoever. Yet if God is real, then something has been done.

I happen to think Romans 1 is accurate and it tells us that there’s enough evidence in creation alone for us to know that God is real. This doesn’t mean that there’s evidence in creation alone that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who rose from the dead. You need history for that.

Also, the more one knows about this God, the greater the culpability one has, but there is the question of how do we respond to this evidence. Do we turn and seek the one the evidence is pointing to or do we just ignore it and take light explanations and do what we want? The people in Romans 1 chose to deny that the creator was supreme and treated things that were created like they were the supreme.

For we Christians, we should fear the judgment the most because we claim to know the most about God and have the greatest revelation of God making our sin all the worst. I have often compiled a list of attributes of God we deny when we sin. Let’s go through it again.

We deny His omnipotence when we deny He has the power to bring about judgment.
We deny His omniscience when we say we know better than He does.
We deny his love when we say He’s holding out on what is good for us.
We deny His omnipresence when we say He does not see what we do.
We deny His authority when we say we have the right to rule over our lives.

In essence, we are committing divine treason every time. This is a serious charge. Even if we don’t have the revelation of Christ, everyone knows that we do not live the way we ought. We all have ways we need to improve. Interestingly, it’s often the further we get on the path of virtue that we realize how far off we are on the path.

If this is true, then the offer is not turn or burn. At least, it’s not in the way presented. It’s not, if you do not want to be with me, then you will burn. It’s more just an offer to be come and be a part of the family of God.

In the Old Testament, there’s a story about Mephibosheth, who was the grandson of Saul and the son of Jonathan. In the ninth chapter of 2 Samuel we read about him. David wanted to show kindness to someone in Saul’s family. He was not required to. It’s not as if he was up for reelection and he wanted a good gesture to be done to win the favor of the people that the media would like. He did it just to show kindness.

Something interesting in this passage is three times you find a reference to eating at the King’s table. This is a message of grace entirely. Mephibosheth did nothing to earn this. It was all a gift.

The offer is really great. Not only does God forgive us, when we have done nothing to deserve that forgiveness, but He makes us a part of His royal family and allows us to eat at His table and we’re given all the rights of a son. It is a horrible misrepresentation from atheism and the exact opposite of the real scenario.

The problem presented is a false one. Of course, there are other issues and those could be dealt with. For now, turn or burn just doesn’t work. Present instead the real offer of grace.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: In Search Of Ancient Roots

What do I think of Kenneth Stewart’s book published by IVP Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Historically, many times different denominations have not gotten along. Today, there is much more communication and with the internet here, many people are coming across other belief systems they would have no access to before. Many an orthodox Protestant can be wondering about their belief system. Where did it come from?

Stewart’s book is written to help those searching Protestants. While not for any one particular denomination, he does work to show that many of the beliefs and such that we have today go back to our ancestors. Not only that, there was great theological development even on core doctrines. One quick example is the Trinity. It’s not that Jesus rose from the dead and immediately the apostles got together and wrote the Nicene Creed. The outworking of that event took at least three centuries to get to Nicea and today we can look back and see the development of the doctrine.

One great theme of this book is that the Fathers matter. I remember asking someone well over a decade ago in talking about apologetics if they could name an early church father. The only name that came to mind was John Wesley. That’s why we have to do a better job educating. So many people know so little about these great people that many times gave their lives for the Christian faith. We not only don’t know our doctrines, but we don’t know the history behind those doctrines.

Stewart definitely wants us to return to the Fathers. He tells us that early Protestants were known for doing this. Today we think of other traditions scouring the Fathers, but he says in the past the Protestants were the ones doing this the most. There’s no reason Protestants today can’t be doing in-depth research on the Fathers.

He also speaks about examples of debates that we have today. The two he chooses are the frequency of the Lord’s Supper and if we should participate in infant baptism. Both of these chapters bring up points that will be of interest to anyone in these debates.

There’s also a chapter on the history of Newman with the look at the claim that to study church history is to cease to be Protestant. Stewart contends that there are two different Newmans. One is the one presented in many popular writings. The other is one the Catholic Church itself was unsure about.

Towards the end, he starts looking at the harder issues. Many of these chapters I thought would actually work better at the beginning of the book. These include the claim that the Roman Church does have the highest authority due to the seat of Peter being occupied. Stewart argues that the data for this is not as strong as would be like and the claim is not helped by the fact that many times there were rival popes and each pope was busy excommunicating the other.

There’s also a chapter on the history of justification by faith. I find the fact that so many have written on this to show that the early Fathers taught this as fascinating, but there was one blind spot here. I did not see any quotations from the Fathers. I would have liked to have seen some of those at least. One could not get an encyclopedic look of course, but something would be nice.

Finally, it ends with why people abandon Protestantism and go the other way. Again, the message is that we need to really study our history and our doctrine. We have had a sort of anti-intellectualism come over the church and too many have the idea that everything just fell down from heaven and the history is irrelevant. We need to know not only where we are and where we are going, but how we got here.

Those interested in church history will benefit from reading this. It would be good for those on all sides of any such debate. I hope we can return to some serious look at our history. In an age of greater skepticism, we need it more and more not just because of the constant changing of churches, but because of outside attacks on all churches.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Have We Overspiritualized The Christian Walk?

Is there a danger to putting our best foot forward? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This is the kind of post that is really hard to write. It’s because I know there are some readers who will be shocked to realize some things about me, but I hope that if they do, it will bring them comfort. I know I am an answer man to many, but there are many times that I have my own struggles and those are often with the Christian walk.

Sometimes I think we overdo how it is. I know many people who have rich and vibrant prayer lives. I don’t deny that for a moment. For me, this is an honest struggle. I have a very hard time with prayer. It could be because of my Aspergers. It’s hard enough to talk to a person. Make that person divine and in fact a being who is tri-personal and it becomes even more difficult. I more often do minute prayers than long extended prayer times. I find it hard to know what it means to wrestle in prayer for someone. If that’s you, excellent. Not knocking you. I am better at brief prayers throughout the day.

Sometimes I see Christians talking about their Bible study and how awesome it is every day. God just shows them something new that they hadn’t seen before. If that’s you, excellent, but I wonder if I’m more like other Christians want to admit. Sometimes, you’re just reading the text. You don’t get anything immediately. Maybe you can make a connection. Honestly, I seem to get more just doing my nightly Bible reading with my wife. I read it out loud for us together and sometimes I do get things that way.

Church services can be outright boring to me. I’ve grown tired of preachers who just give a text and jump straight to an application and Christianity is all about just being a good person. This doesn’t even get to the music. The music part to me seems more like a concert. I don’t really relate and I can’t remember the last time I sang along. It’s all too awkward for me.

Sometimes I think we put forward a position where we shouldn’t struggle in the church and our lives are full of joy abundantly. Excuse me, but I know I’m rarely at that level. Many times when I am in a crisis, I find it hard to follow James and count all things joy. If anything, I can find myself lashing out at God and accusing Him and asking Him if He remembers His promises or if He even cares about the suffering going on.

Yet when I read the Psalms, I wonder if I’m not the odd one out. The Psalmists seemed to do that a lot. It’s strange that the question the Psalmists normally had was not if the people remembered the covenant, but if God remembered it.

We seem to have this attitude in the church that if we put forward an image of our lives being less than perfect, there’s something wrong with us. We’re not fooling anyone. Being a Christian doesn’t mean you’re free of struggles. Sometimes a good worship service shouldn’t leave you feeling happy. It should leave you feeling miserable with the conviction of sin. (This doesn’t deny that you could have happiness when you realize grace and forgiveness.)

1 in 3 men are said to struggle with pornography in the church, yet how often at a church service do you hear guys sharing that with other guys? It’s almost like we want to treat sin as if it’s not really real. Our messages at church are more self-help and can be found in any episode of Dr. Phil more often. You won’t get the Biblical text from him, but many times the messages are awfully similar.

Maybe also this idea of putting forth this image is damaging. It damages new Christians who think there’s something wrong with them and it bewilders skeptics who think we don’t take life seriously. Christianity is just a feel-good religion to them. I try to tell them sometimes being a good Christian will mean you feel miserable. You feel the evil in the world or you feel the weight of your own sin or anything else.

I fear we can present the Christian life as just one amazing experience after another. I doubt that’s what it’s really like for most people. On the other hand, some could say I am guilty of intellectualizing matters and focusing too much on that area. They could also be right. Could it be like in most other cases, moderation is what is needed? Maybe the middle ground.

I conclude this wondering what your thoughts are. Maybe you’re out there thinking you agree with me and there’s too much show in our personal lives and very little grow. Maybe you think I’m way off base and want to tell why. Comments are always open. Let me know.

In Christ,
Nick Peters