Saturday, April 19, 2008

More Spiritual Survey Answers

1) What is one of your favorite promises in the Bible? (if you have time explain why)
Sorry this is so long, but I’ve been thinking about is for months:

I do have to say that what I mean by “favorite” is my current favorite. If you would have asked me two years ago it would have been totally different. If you were to ask me two years from now, it may also be different. I think we go through different stages and challenges as we grow and we change as to our most meaningful promises.

I love Luke 11:13 where Jesus says, “If you being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask.” I love how Jesus always seeks to show us the Father as a person. It’s easy to have a sub-personal idea of the Father, likes he’s more of a force and less of a personality. Jesus gives us a picture of how even an evil father takes a special delight in giving his little child something that he needs. An earthly father, who may be a drunk, neglectful, quick tempered, irritable, etc., will still have compassion on his child who is hungry and asks for a fish or an egg. He will not trick him and give him a snake. Jesus is saying that our Father in heaven is a person who has compassion on us when we are in need and genuinely ask for his help. He takes great joy in giving gifts to His children. Having the Holy Spirit is the greatest gift the Father could ever give us. Without the Holy Spirit, we would not enjoy every other gift that He could give. If we had all the wealth, houses, cars, clothes, perfect kids, perfect marriage, vacations, whatever, we would be miserable and lacking in any kind of joy and peace without His Spirit. We would be angry, jealous, spiteful, and irritable to those we love most. And the worst part about it is that we would feel crushing guilt because we would know deep down that we of all people have no excuse to be so miserable. However, if we have only His Holy Spirit, anything in life can and will be borne. There will be a deep-seated joy and peace that will accompany us through any trial no matter how difficult. So when we come to a point in our life where we realize what the greatest gift is and we ask for it, he is not going to give us something less instead, something poisonous. When we ask for His Holy Spirit he’s not going to say, never mind about that, here’s a bunch of money instead. That would be like poison to us without His Spirit.

Of course, I don’t believe that Jesus is speaking of a one-time gift—we ask, boom!, enough Holy Spirit for the rest of our life. Instead, I believe he gives His Spirit in “installments,” though perhaps at times in greater amounts. But this passage is just after the parable of the friend at midnight asking for bread. Because of the friend’s persistence, he gives him bread. He wants us to get to our midnight hour, where we are desperate and willing to do something bold, like knock on a neighbor’s door in the middle of the night. And he wants us to ask as children who trust a good father, not as orphans who do not know if they will be heard or ignored, but with courage and confidence because we know our Father loves us. Then the Holy Spirit is ours in the measure we need Him, to help us live joyfully today in whatever trial we are currently facing. Tomorrow’s another story, we might not be able to coast on yesterday’s installment but we might be back asking for another midnight loaf. (Like the manna in the desert that they weren’t allowed to save for the next day except on the Sabbath.)

[Note: The ESV translates Luke 11:8 like this: “Because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.” NAS and NKJ say “persistence.” NIV says “boldness.” I asked Chris if he was familiar with the Greek word. He wasn’t sure what the most accurate translation is but said both impudence and persistence were possible translations. I think impudence is an interesting translation; here are it’s synonyms: impertinence, rudeness; brass, brazenness, face, lip, boldness, presumption, sauce, pertness; nerve, gall. This seems to fit with the story; it takes some gall to wake a friend at midnight and ask for something. Of course I don’t think that Jesus would be advocating disrespect, sauciness, pertness. Instead, the idea being that a child has a certain confidence when asking his own father for something that he doesn’t have with other adults. We should have that same attitude of expecting goodness from God and that will allow us to have boldness. It is the opposite of the Eeyore attitude, poor me, God won’t help me, why should I even ask.]

P.S. No one’s ever complimented me for brevity before; I can’t imagine why.

2) Who is one of your favorite characters in the Bible and why?

Ruth has always held a special place in my heart. Her devotion to God is unwavering despite the intense trials of being childless and having her husband die. It is her love for her dead husband’s God that causes her to leave her home and all that’s familiar and travel to a distant land with her bitter, grief-stricken mother-in-law, where she finds herself picking grain under the intense Israeli sun. Yet still without complaint, she obeys her mother-in-law’s bazaar marriage-scheming advice and before long finds herself married and with a baby who becomes the grandfather of king David and eventually the forefather of Jesus himself. What a dramatic and beautiful storyline! Also, what an example of how God loves to use tragedy mixed with seemingly insignificant acts of obedience to bring about unexpected and undeserved blessings.

3) What is a favorite animal story (or animal reference) in the Bible?

I like to think about how before the flood people did not eat animals and animals were not afraid of people at all.

Genesis 9:1-3 “And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. 2 The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. 3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.”

I love to think about how every kind of animal in the world you could walk up to and hold, pet, or ride on. You could play with the babies, you could swim with the dolphins, everything was tame before the flood. No wonder Noah was able to gather two of every kind of animal. I don’t know what it was about the flood that made God decide to put fear in the animals and to have us start eating them. Maybe God put the dread in the animals because of the wickedness that was going on prior to the flood. Now that God was starting with a clean slate, so to speak, he wasn’t going to let his creatures be as vulnerable (pure speculation of course). But seeing that no one ate meat before the flood, the sacrifices that God commanded them to perform must have been all the more excruciating since they were not accustomed to killing animals.

4) Who would you want to talk to in heaven (besides Jesus and family members)?

I have a question for Paul: Why didn’t he make a clear statement somewhere in a letter regarding infant baptism to settle the issue once for all. I know of course it wouldn’t have totally settled it: he made some really clear statements about other things that people try to twist and deny. But at least for the genuine seeker of truth: something along the lines of: “We baptize the infants of believers just as infants were circumcised in the Old Testament.” Really, though, it’s a question to God as to why he didn’t want it clearly revealed. Do you want to know my guess? (Here it is anyway) I wonder if perhaps God didn’t want us to practice infant baptism only because of one clear verse in the Bible. Instead, maybe he wanted us to carefully and thoroughly search through the scriptures for principles, themes, and theological constructs that support the practice. That way the abuse of the sacrament is much less likely because it will be understood in the framework that God intended it. Again, pure speculation.

5) Do you have a new revelation or a new insight about something in scripture? (New to Me)

Actually, it’s not exactly new, but just something I’ve been mulling over and thinking about. Kathleen Nielson said it succinctly: “God made us word-creatures, in his image, and he gave us a Word that he means us to understand.” Okay this is going sound painfully basic but God has chosen words to be the means of both our salvation and sanctification. He could have used images, drama, dreams, visions, pictures, music, feelings, experiences but he chose to use words. The other things supplement the word (as in the case with Paul, God can use visions), and Paul emphasizes the importance of music at times, but it is words and The Word, which are held up throughout time as the transforming agent. Isn’t it weird that words are what transforms people? I know this must sound so silly but to me it is profound. Another aspect is that God has chosen not only the words of the Bible, but the words of preachers and teachers and everyday Christians to cause new spiritual life to come into being when unbelievers listen to these words. God could have been rigid and simplistic and decided that only when we quote scripture verbatim will anything effectual happen. Instead, he desires that the word is preached, taught, and shared, that we explain it, that we add our own experience in with it, that we put it into our own words. He commands this knowing that as soon as we are not quoting scripture, error is not only likely but imminent. And yet he wants to work this way anyhow. Sometimes people are saved by reading a Bible on their own. But more often God has chosen to save people when they hear Christians explaining, interpreting, teaching his word. He somehow wants it that way.

6) Do you feel that your understanding of God has been deepening or changing in a particular area?

I think I have been deepening my understanding about the importance of the church in the life of the believer. Just as few come to salvation on their own but are brought into the kingdom by God working through people, so I’ve come to realize our sanctification works this way too. God has ordained that our growth in Christ be greatly stunted if we are not in a vibrant body of believers, active in all kinds of different spheres: sitting under biblical preaching, learning from gifted teachers, in community where others know us well enough to confront us. There is no other way. Me and my Bible just aren’t going to cut it; God just didn’t create us to flourish spiritually that way. I’m not trying to downplay the importance of reading the Bible on our own I’m just saying that the importance of participating intimately in a local church body has been downplayed. The modern idea that you can grow spiritually while anonymously warming a mega-church pew Sunday after Sunday can be poisonous. When we are honest and transparent with the family of Christ so that they know about our struggles, temptations, trials, day-to-day routines, then God uses the words of those people to be healing agents that have transformative power in our path to sanctification. Just as a baby’s growth will be slowed if he’s missing iron from his diet, or protein, or vitamin C, so God has chosen that our spiritual growth will only flourish when we are interconnected in his local church through close relationships. Then God will be speaking to us through the words of his people interpreted for us, as we are not always able to do in our own quiet times. He has created us with blind spots that others must see for us. Nothing about the Christian life is simple, three-step, vending-machine-like, program-like. Instead it is a dynamic, exciting, rich, intriguing adventure with twists and surprises.

7) How do you feel you have grown spiritually recently?

I feel I have grown in my understanding of how God speaks to us through the scripture through hearing Kathleen Nielson (formerly from College Church) speak at our women’s retreat this fall. She showed us how important it is to study the literary techniques that the human authors used when studying the Bible. This goes back to the importance of words: because they are God’s chose instrument of change, literacy should be a high priority to ever Christian. When I say literacy, I don’t mean every Christian should be able to read the sentence See Spot Run. Instead, we should all be fluent in grammar, understanding the parts of speech, recognizing the tone, context, main point, theme of a passage. We should be growing in our sensitivity to word choice and order, noticing emphasis, logical connectors, ground clauses, the form of the passage (is this a history, a hymn, a narrative, a lament, a poem, a list, a letter, a proverb? etc.) To quote Kathleen: “We should take as much care to study the Bible as the original authors took to write it, paying close attention to every word that was carefully chosen to fit into its proper context.” I’m not saying that a person who only knows how to read and knows nothing else can’t open the Bible and gain insight and wisdom. However, I think that the way that God has chosen to work is that wisdom and insight will be limited by the person’s willingness to grow in the principles of interpretation and time required to learn those principles and apply them to a text. The less willing a person is to do the hard work, the less rewards they will get from the scripture. There’s no promise like, “Whatever is the first thing that pops into your head as you’re reading is probably the meaning.”

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