The Next Level

Tonight, I am going to blog about what’s going on in my life. Dear readers. This will be the last blog for a few days. Tomorrow, I disconnect the internet here and prepare to move on ahead to go to Seminary in another city. (Actually, another state even.) I will not deny I am anxious and excited and terrified and every other emotion that can be experienced.

I am remembering a sermon I heard in Bible College where the speaker said he was going to play a tune and he was going to ask us if we recognized it. I thought “Pssh. I hardly listen to music. How could I?” Lo and behold though, it was one I knew all too well. It was the music played when finishing a stage in the Original Super Mario Brothers. The preacher wanted to speak on how we need to go to the next level.

That’s what I’m doing, and I’ll say I’ve never been more anxious about a decision I think as I’ve never taken a step of such huge proportions. Name any kind of doubt or fear you can have. I am sure I have faced it. Everyone around me says “That’s normal”, but picture telling such to a guy on his wedding day who is nervous. It is good to hear, but it doesn’t necessarily make the nerves go away.

It gives me time to think about fear also. I see fear as a parasite of sorts. It sucks off of our emotions and tries to make things other than as they are. If we saw things as they are, including the God who is there, we would not be afraid. Unfortunately, fear changes our view of God as well.

Fear makes everything else that is wrong bigger and that which is true smaller. I notice this with every fear I have. The evidence that my fear is true is “huge.” However, the counter evidence is always small. When I come across it, it is always discounted then and along comes the bigger fear.

My theory is that if we could focus on that fear, we would see how small it really is. I like the approach taken by JKR in the Harry Potter series. The creatures called Boggarts are made to be shapeshifters and take on the form of whatever the person viewing them fears most. The answer is to picture them in a ridiculous position and shout “Ridiculous!” and watch them take that shape. Then, one laughs and the Boggart is defeated.

I like that for it shows fear has no definite shape on its own. I believe all fear is like that. It doesn’t have any sort of independent exist. It is like sin. Sin can only twist that which is good. Fear can only twist that which is true. I have to learn to keep that in mind. In stories I used to write as a kid, fear was always the final enemy I fought in them. I think that could point at a truth that I saw and maybe others see. “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

I also deal with my family at this time. They’re not taking it well. They want to see it happen, but it’s just so difficult for them. My mother is especially in this case. Other mothers have told me about how it was for them. We all just need to adjust and in the end, we’ll all be stronger for it.

Dear readers. I don’t know what more to say at this point. I think I shall just close it. It could be I’m just all a jumble so not as lucid as I would normally hope I am. I just ask that you pray for me and my new roommate and my own family as this step takes place in my life. I look forward to writing again.

An Alternative To Hearing The Voice of God

I’ve lately been critiquing the modern emphasis on hearing the voice of God. My argument is simple. I do not deny that God can speak today. What I am arguing is that this is not normative. It is based largely on emotions and experiences as I believe, the texts that have been presented most for this position have been found wanting.

Proverbs 3:5-6

The above is a critique of a sermon I did on Proverbs 3:5-6 which led then to my stating my solution. I wrote the next day on the Way of Wisdom which can be found here:

The Way of Wisdom

If any of you are expecting some fancy URL terminology, it’s not from me. I know nothing about computers…

My stance is simple. I find it difficult to think that God gave us a great book on decision making called Proverbs and decided in NT times to suddenly make it be that he would make all of our decisions for us.

I think there are a number of factors that have contributed to this. My first thought is that the church abandoned rationality when Darwinian evolution rose up to challenge along with textual criticism from Germany and the Enlightenment thought as a whole. Rather than taking intellectual ground, the church largely switched to emotions, especially in such movements as the revivals of Charles Finney. Now granted, not all Christians did this, but enough did so to cause a loss.

When emotion becomes the source of truth, then it seems obvious that before too long, divine authority will be given to emotions. This is a dangerous game though as many of us are the types that our emotions simply run haywire and we could feel any way at any moment of the day.

I also think this is because frankly, we’ve become cowardly as a result. We don’t want to take steps unless we’re “sure” they’re the right ones. I ponder that it’s also possible we’re asking the wrong question on what’s the “Right thing to do” in some cases. It could be there are several right things to do.

Consider you have some extra money and want to donate it to a charity. Is there such a thing as “The right charity” to give it to, or could it be that there are several right charities that you can make a donation to? Are you going to be out of the will of God if you give to X instead of Y?

Also, consider marriage. I, being a male, definitely will be marrying a lady. Is there “the right one” out there? Probably not. Instead, there are several right ones and there’s also whether I’m going to be a “right one” for someone else. I suspect it is the same way with several other things. I don’t believe God makes a big a deal over those decisions as we do.

Now granted, there are some times when there is one right thing, but this is not in the same area. What religion do you choose? Well, you choose the one that is true, which is Christianity. Do you sleep with your significant other before you marry? No. Obviously not. Do you rob a bank to pay tuition? Obviously not either.

Friends. We have to take risks. We all know this and we all tell people to go ahead and take a chance at times, but then we think we have to wait for God to tell us what to do. In Acts, I do not see people playing it safe for Christ. Instead, I see them actively being able to take risks.

Lastly, we’ve come to a place where we despise rationality sadly. May this not be for you! Not all of us enjoy deep intellectual conversations, but let it never be said that Christianity is anti-intellectual.  I find it the only worldview that can really explain the existence of rationality and logic.

Friends. It’s time we return to our biblical basis. Emotions and experiences are good things, but they are the tail and not the dog. We cannot let these events be the decision criteria for us. Return to Scripture!

Acts and the Voice of God

The book of Acts is often cited to show the idea of hearing the voice of God as normative for Christian living today. Now I do think something should be granted. Acts is one of the unique periods in history from what I can tell. There are times when God begins a new thing and he confirms it by miracles. We have that in the Exodus, the prophets, and the ministry of Christ.

However, I looked through the book some today. I think the book probably covers a 30 year period. It should also be noted that when the Bible records someone’s life or a period of time, it records the highlights. We record the times Abraham talked to God. We do not need to record a day when Abraham sneezes.

So what did I find?

Acts 5-An angel encourages the disciples to keep speaking on Christ.

Acts8-The angel tells Philip to speak to the Ethiopian Eunuch.

Acts 9-The Damascus Road and the conversion of Paul

Acts 10-Cornelius told by an angel to send for Peter and Peter’s vision

Acts 11-Agabus prophecies a famine

Acts 12-Angel delivers Peter from prison

Acts 13-Paul and Barnabas told to go on a missionary journey

Acts 16-Verse 7 has the Spirit of Jesus preventing missionary activity in one area and then verse 9 has the Macedonian man appearing in a vision

Acts 18-The Lord tells Paul to take comfort for he has many in that city. (Which was Corinth.)

Acts 20-Holy Spirit warns Paul about Jerusalem. (Note that the text also says that through the Spirit they encouraged him not to go to Jerusalem while Paul is compelled by the Spirit.)

Acts 21-Agabus prophecies what will happen to Paul in Jerusalem

Acts 25-Paul has a vision about Rome

Acts 27-Paul told about how to save the lives of the men on the ship.

Notice some times though that this does not happen.

This does not happen when the replacement for Judas is sought.

It does not happen in Acts 6 when disciples are chosen

It does not happen at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15

It does not happen with the other two missionary journeys.

In fact, when I looked through tonight, I had to consider that the voice of God was kind of conspicuous. In fact, for the times that I see mentioned, that isn’t too often within a 30 year period.

I also found that they really didn’t have to to do with personal decision making. These were things told to get the early church started off. This was not something normative. I do believe there was supernatural direction some with the early church so the seeds could be planted, but as seen from the second and third missionary journeys, some free action on the part of the missionaries was allowed. Just go through and see how many decisions the people in Acts make.

Friends. I believe much has been examined in this idea. I hope soon to start looking at consequences I see of the idea and rest assured, I am not going to kick someone’s method out from under them without giving them something else to stand on.

Abraham and the Voice of God

Since I believe in examining the idea of hearing the voice of God, that I have looked at the verses, though if anyone has a new one and lets me know about it I’ll be glad to give my thoughts, I believe now it is time to go to stories. If there is one figure used as an example, it’s Abraham.

We all know about Abraham. He’s the one who was the friend of God. He is the father of the faithful. He is the centerpiece argument of Paul in defending justification by faith in Romans. He is the one whom the Jews claimed lineage from. Abraham is Exhibit A. Abraham is where the action is.

Now it cannot be denied that there were times in Abraham’s life when he did hear the voice of God. Note though that that doesn’t go against my view. My view is not that God can’t speak to us today. My view is that this is not to be seen as normative. In fact, I will argue that it wasn’t normative in the life of Abraham.

When we first meet Abraham, he is called out of his land and told to go to a strange land where he knows no one and leave all behind and he will be made into a great nation. Abraham does so, though he doesn’t leave all of his family behind. He takes his nephew Lot with him.

For one who is hearing the voice of God all the time, Abraham makes a lot of mistakes. Notice that he lies about his relationship with his wife, twice! Notice that when Abraham is given the promise of a child, he decides that he’s going to bring it about himself and sleeps with the servant Hagar.

At this point, you’d think if he was constantly hearing the voice of God, he would have been told, “Don’t do this Abraham! This is not the way!”Instead, Abraham makes the mistake and it’s one that costs him. If many biblical scholars are right, there is a 13 year gap in what happens. In other words, we have 13 years where God does not speak to Abraham.

Now some might argue for the silence of God. That is the problem though. The silence is the norm! It is the acting in a unique way that is the exception! Now I do believe in miracles and I do believe God can speak, but it is my belief that God likes to work through natural causes.

Why? Because God created a great working system in creation. He created it to handle things as they are and to constantly intervene would be to indicate that the creation isn’t really that good. The creation needs the constant maintenance of the designer. Now this is not going against providence. I do believe the creation exists because he exists. I don’t believe though that God has to do constant miracles to sustain it.

What’s my conclusion then? Abraham is a great man of faith, but I do not see him as valid for this position. Now if you want to argue against me, that’s fine. Again though, I want to be shown where my interpretation or exegesis is in error. An experience will not suffice to convince me.

The Still Small Voice

We’ve been talking lately about hearing the voice of God. As I consider, it seems most of the proof-texts I’ve heard have already been looked at and from my viewpoint, they’ve been found wanting. I would hope if others agree that they’ll take the time to consider the implications of that.

It means that a whole ideology has risen up and people have bought into it though it doesn’t even have remotely a biblical foundation. Now on some doctrines, there are texts that are hard to explain and you could look and see a reasonable way people come to those conclusions based on the text. With this one though, the evidence for it is nil and the evidence against it is great.

However, if there is one passage today that is used often as well, it’s Elijah’s hearing the still small voice. Let’s look at the text in 1 Kings 19.

11 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

And somehow, a whole doctrine has come out of this.

First off, I’m not convinced this is a voice. Considering earth and fire already showed up, I’m more inclined to think this was a wind. I don’t think the text is definitive though. Let’s suppose it was a voice. My reply. “So what?”

Some of you might be shocked I said that.

Let’s look at some facts though. Elijah was not like the rest of us in one regard. He was a prophet who was supposed to hear from God. This was not the experience of Joe Israelite. In fact, if it was a regular thing for Elijah as well, one wonders why he would have ran and hid in a cave for so long.

One also wonders why he didn’t point to such an experience to the Israelites when facing Baal and telling them to listen for the voice of YHWH. The prophets never tell them to listen to an internal voice. They tell them to hear the Word of the Lord, but what they mean is the message that is being given through them.

Yet I have seen too often this passage being used. I’ve seen sermons where the whole point seems to be on how to hear the voice of God and why we need to from this passage. I have heard prayers where the pastor prays that we can all listen to the still small voice. If we use this kind of exegesis though, I wonder what it will be like when we have a dating service based on the method of Judges 21.

Friends. This idea isn’t biblical, and that we take texts of Scripture so lightly to form a doctrine I think really shows how lightly we take Scripture and serious interpretation of it. Now again, some of you will disagree. If you do, I say it again, show me the problem from Scripture. Show me how I exegeted this text wrong or show me another text. Experience won’t cut it.

Samuel And Hearing God’s Voice

I’ve been writing lately about this idea in the modern church of hearing the voice of God and feeling led as normative practices in Christianity. I’ve been pleased with the responses I’ve been getting. Some of you though, I anticipate aren’t too pleased with what I’ve been saying or if you’re finding this blog at a future date, what you’re reading now.

And that’s just fine.

I can understand being raised with a system all your life and then finding out that there’s not much to it. It does require changing one’s way of thinking and indeed, I’m still having to avoid thinking in that mode of thinking at times. I would hope anyone disagreeing though would be willing to go to the Scriptures.

One example someone will give though inevitably will be going to 1 Samuel 3 and the passage where Samuel hears the voice of God. Let’s start with the chapter in question:

1 The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. 2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple  of the LORD, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the LORD called Samuel.
Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

6 Again the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”

7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD : The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.

8 The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

11 And the LORD said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible,  and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore, I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’ ”

15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the LORD. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.”
Samuel answered, “Here I am.”

17 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

19 The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD. 21 The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

My own preacher would disagree with me on this. I know so for he preached a sermon on this text recently. I do like my preacher and I enjoy talking to him, but I have to say I really disagree on this one. I will tell you that if your church teaches this and you disagree, be sure to be respectful. Don’t come at ministry with both guns blazing. It really won’t work.

My preacher also made the connection with John 10, which we looked at yesterday, and I wanted to point out why it didn’t work. For one thing, in John 10, the idea is that those who are of the sheep will hear the voice. That means that if you use this passage this way, it means that if you hear the voice of God, you must be a believer.

Anybody you see as a believer in 1 Samuel 3? Eli is hardly noted as being a righteous high priest. As for Samuel, look at verse 7. Samuel did not yet know the Lord.

So what happens? Samuel is sleeping and he hears a voice calling his name. How do we know that? He ran Eli. He did not say “Eli! I thought you were speaking to me in my spirit!” No. He heard a physical voice and he knew of only one other person who would be calling him and he went to him.

Notice also why Eli had a hard time recognizing it. The first verse tells you. The Word of the Lord was rare. If this was such a normative experience for the people of God as we are led to think, then it would seem that Eli would immediately grasp that Samuel was hearing the voice of God. He didn’t.

Why does this not work with John 10? As I told my preacher, Samuel wasn’t a believer, so you can’t draw a parallel there. Furthermore, no one in John thinks the voice is an actual voice as far as I know. Even if it’s a subjective voice of the spirit somehow, it is not an actual voice. Yet the two are constantly compared.

Greg Koukl says it well. This is a doctrine in search of a proof-text. Unfortunately for it, with a little bit of looking, the doctrine seems to fall. Now if you think I’m wrong, go ahead, but remember, if you try to contest me, I want to be told how my exegesis was wrong on this passage or be given another passage. I cannot interpret an experience and Scripture is my final authority.

My Sheep Hear My Voice

There are a lot of people that use this passage in John to justify hearing the voice of God, which we have been looking at such things lately. Let’s look at it. It’s in John 10.

1“I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them. 7Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Let’s notice something that the text says early on. This is a figure of speech. That means that you do not take the objects literally. We do not think Jesus is literally herding us who are literally sheep, into a literal pen. We do not take this text in the “literal” sense until we get to the voice part. Then “My sheep hear my voice.” What else could that be but hearing the inner voice of God?

Can I say something obvious here? (Of course I can. It’s my blog.) Everyone who was in the audience that day heard his voice. That must mean that he was talking about something other than a literal voice. (Note that it’s his voice as well.) So what is the voice that the sheep hear? It’s simple. It’s the call to salvation.

How do you know you’re a sheep? You’ve answered the call and come to the shepherd. Now we can get into the debate on if this fits into a Calvinist or Arminian view better, but that is not the point of this blog. The point of this blog is to show the false use of this passage in the modern church.

Now someone might say “But I hear the voice of God.” Alright. Show me why I should think so from Scripture. I can’t interpret your experience, but I can interpret Scripture. If you want to show this is normative, I need it backed from Scripture. If you want to show it from this text, then show where I went wrong in my exegsis and how the hearers would have known he was talking about hearing the voice of God.

Friends. It has to be Scripture. Scripture must interpret our experience. Our experiences cannot interpret Scripture.

Feeling Led

After the success of last night’s blog, I figured I’d write about the topic of being led by the Spirit tonight. This one is used far too often in a way that is not what the Bible means when it uses the term. The first usage of it is found in Mark 1 where it says Jesus was led of the Spirit to the wilderness. This, however, seems more forceful than anything else. I do not think we can find much here. The other usages of it come from Romans and Galatians.

Let’s look at the first one in Romans 8:

12Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Led by the Spirit is in the middle of this. However, where do we see anything about decision making? Where do we see anything about God telling us what we should do with our lives and having feeling being the indicator? Look all you want through that passage. It’s not in there. If you want to disagree, go ahead. Be clear on this though. I don’t want an experience. I want to be shown any exegesis I do is in error or another passage that I have overlooked.

Instead, what is Paul talking about? Paul is talking about how we ought to deny the sinful nature and serve the spiritual nature, which is the nature of God. If we are led by the Spirit, we are sons of God. That means basically that if you are X, then it is because of Y. So what is Y? Being sons of God. How can you tell you’re a son (or daughter) of God? Because you are led by the Spirit. That is in contrast to the sinful nature.

Thus, what is being said? Sinful people make bad decisions? Of course they do sometimes, but they can make good ones as well. It isn’t about decisions. It is about the way you live your life in general. If you are slaves to sin, you will please the sinful nature. If you are led by the Spirit, you will please the Christian nature. It is contrasting sinful living with righteous living.

How about Galatians 5?

16So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. 19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

In this passage, living by the Spirit is equated with being led by the Spirit and is again put in contrast with the sinful nature. If you live by the sinful nature, verses 19-21 describes the results. If you are led by the Spirit, 22-26 describe the results. Notice this: There is NOTHING about personal decision making in the context.

Unfortuantely, being led by the Spirit is used to justify everything in churches. Churches will have conferences where they vote and each one is to vote as they feel led, but apparently, the Spirit can’t get his message across because the votes are different across the board. Did you ever consider that maybe you’re using your mind to vote?

Dave Ramsey, who hosts a radio show on Christian finances, several years ago had a caller who was getting ready to make a stupid financial decision. When Ramsey asked him why he was about to make that decision, he said “Well me and my wife just feel like God is leading us this way,” to which Ramsey answered “Bull!”

I loved that answer.

Friends. We can’t afford to be simply acting on our feelings. God gave us minds and he gave us the way of wisdom. It is a shame our culture has taken a biblical phrase and turned it to mean something it never meant and even worse, made a type of spiritual cliche out of it.

Let’s return to wisdom.

Testing Experiences For Truth

I’ve been talking to a great friend of mine lately (You know who you are, and you’re a great friend indeed.) and we’ve been discussing some the material on “Experiencing God.” He’s got a friend who is highly into it. I know some readers won’t like what I say here, but I do disagree with hearing the voice of God as normative for Christian living.

The trouble comes when people do start using their experiences as the basis of truth. In other words, “You don’t believe in that? Well I’ve experienced it!” This doesn’t just apply to in-house debates though. When we are dealing with the Mormons for instance, they will point to experience as well. When the Mormons come to your door and present you their gospel, they will ask you to read Chapter 10 of the Book of Moroni and these verses:

4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

I was listening to an MP3 on Mormonism yesterday and heard a lot of good arguments. Now my problem has always been that this is too subjective. An experience does not interpret itself. You need something outside of the experience to determine any truth content. What do I mean?

Let us suppose that I had a friend who was really down and enjoyed my company. I didn’t know about his condition but he’s sitting outside his house and he looks and he is sure he sees me walking down the street to see him. Unfortunately, he is in such a depressed state looking for a friend that his mind is playing tricks on him and he is hallucinating.

Instead, I am actually at a Bible Study group.  I have numerous people there who can verify my existence and will say they saw me. How are we to know who is right in the end? It is simple. I cannot be in two places at once. Both the group and the person have the experience of seeing me, but only one is seeing me. How do we determine which is true? We look at other evidence.

Now what about the Mormon claim? First off, look at how you are to ask. You are to ask with a sincere heart and real intent. You are to ask wanting it to be true.  However, does such apply to the gospels? Do we not know of accounts of people setting out to disprove the Bible and then come back believing it?

Also, if the experience is the determining factor, then what about those who pray and do not have the experience? Could we not just as easily pray and ask “Lord, show me if these things are NOT true.” Instead, we are to go in with the answer we want and only that answer is valid and thus, only that experience is valid.

Thus, the Mormon claim has the problem. Why should only experiences that agree with the Mormon experience be true?  We must accept this from the start. People can have experiences that go against our beliefs but that does not mean that our beliefs are false. As Greg Koukl says on this, “You can’t exegete an experience.”

However, if experience is your guide, I believe you are in more danger of being led astray by the Mormons than other people are and too often, it is the guide in Christian circles. Now experience is not invalid in itself. You can learn a lot from your experiences. (And from those of others.) The experiences alone though do not determine truth.

This gets us to hearing the voice of God. I do not believe this is normative. Note what I am not saying though. I am not saying that God cannot speak to us at all. He most certainly can. I’m just saying when I look through the Bible, I don’t see this taught as common Christian practice or a way to truly live the life.

You have an experience. Okay. Can you back your experience in Scripture? That is my question. I believe too often that we use our experience to interpret Scripture instead of using Scripture to interpret our experiences.  We read the Bible and think “Wow. Paul must have felt what I am feeling now.” Maybe he did, but it could be you’re reading your experience into the text when Paul is thinking of something totally different.

So what do we do? We go back to Scripture. That is our authority and it should be the final authority of the church. I would contend that wisdom is our model for living today. It is not hearing the voice of God. If you want to argue with me, don’t give me an experience. Give me Scripture.

Remember people, Scripture is the final authority for us. When experience leads the way, we open the door to being easily misled. Even New Agers and Mormons claim to have experiences. You need something stronger.

Celebrating Existence

When it has come to writing blogs on the days of my friends, I have written a blog to honor them. Today, I am in a unique situation. I am the one with the birthday and I do not wish to write something all about me. I like to hear compliments, though I’m quite shy of them at times. Still, I can write about something on this day and that’s the celebration of existence.

I think that’s the reason I celebrate birthdays. We hear talk about how this is so self-centered and I know the JWs actively go against birthdays, but I don’t see it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in being thankful for your own existence. I am celebrating 27 years on this Earth today and I am thankful for that.

I thought about existence some today in between the visits and phone calls I got. I consider it a marvel that we exist. Of course, I consider it a marvel that God exists, but his existence is different. When we think about God and his attributes, they exist necessarily. God has to exist and all that is in his nature must then exist.

However, “I exist” uttered from me is not a necessarily true statement. Now I know that I have to exist to say the statement and I could never say “I don’t exist” and have that statement be true. However, the concept behind the statement is not a necessary truth. My non-existence is possible.

That just marvels me. I didn’t have to be, yet God chose to have me be. I can only think that there’s something about each of us that he loves. I am not a Calvinist. I do believe God does desire all people to be saved and I do believe we are all loved by God in some way. Have I worked it out entirely? No. This is where I’m at now though.

I can only then look at my existence as grace and especially my being included in God’s salvation as grace. God was just fine by himself before any of the human race came along. The fellowship of the Trinity was more than enough for him. He didn’t need any of us, but I believe we were created because such is the nature of love. Love desires to go beyond itself.

In fact, we could say most of us are here for that reason. Two people had a connection with each other and because of that, each of us came into being. Unfortunately, in our world, it seems that the love aspect is being there less and less. Flings with kids on prom nights and even sometimes now rape. Not every kid is born in love in this world, and that’s a sad state of affairs the church needs to address.

I am thankful that I was. I don’t think it downplays those who weren’t. It is not an insult to them to be thankful for what I have. I do not lower the blind man by being thankful that I can see. It is simply the recognition of what I’ve been blessed with and it does not honor God to not celebrate that which he has blessed me with.

I am extremely thankful for my friends and family today. Every phone call and email and instant message was great. The forum where I post was especially friendly to me. It’s a neat thing when you realize it personally. All of these people are essentially saying “Thank you for being alive. The world is a better place because of you.”

Sometimes, I think we fear such things will make our egos too big. Maybe it does for some people. I find myself in utter humility though each time. I am one who worries about having too big an ego, but I find the more good I hear, it seems the more humble and thankful I become. Perchance someone skilled in matters of the soul can explain that, but I can’t at this point. Of course, that gives me something new to ponder on which I will enjoy.

Tonight, I thank God then for my existence. I have been on here for 27 years. They haven’t all been great. There have been some hard times. At the end of the day though, I need to realize that every good and gracious gift comes from God. That includes the life he has given me. Thank you Lord for the time I have had. May I use it more to serve you.