Thursday, September 29, 2011

PREVIEW: INTRODUCTION TO "CHANGE YOUR MIND" (the current book I am writing)

In this book, we will consider the importance of understanding. In Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary, he defines understanding as “The faculty of the human mind by which it apprehends the real state of things presented to it, or by which it receives or comprehends the ideas which others express and intend to communicate.” If we, as human beings, are to operate properly and cooperate with the God who created us in His image, we must attempt to understand God and His design for life on planet earth.

In the first volume, Change Your Heart, of this series, Equipping the Saints, the topic was repentance. Repentance is a climactic point when a human being who had been living in supreme self-interest resolves that he/she will cease living for Self and begin to live for the Supreme Being supremely. Repentance is a change of purpose. Sin is characterized as choosing, either consciously or by “default”, the ultimate purpose of pleasing, honoring, satisfying, serving and worshipping Self supremely. This is not necessarily a bold, verbal declaration but, rather, a way of life. Repentance involves firmly establishing as one’s new and ultimate purpose that of pleasing, honoring, serving and worshipping God supremely. Many people allow God to possess a little corner of their lives if it serves their interest. In such cases, people use God rather than serve God, rather than love Him with all their heart. They might give God permission to bless them, serve them, benefit them or take them to heaven when they die but the heart of this arrangement is Them. Repentance strikes at the heart of this wrong arrangement and leads to relating to God in His rightful position of supremacy. The individual no longer views God simply as a means to their own personal happiness but resolves that living to please, honor, serve and worship God is the end to which they strive. This is done, not because of what they get out of it, though there is enormous benefit in the long run (not always in the immediate) but because it is right. This is the most fundamental step back into reality and entrance into the kingdom of God. All of this is initiated by God and is done in response to the calling and drawing of the self-sacrificial love and kindness of our great God and Savior who desires that none should perish but that all should come to repentance. Repentance is a change of why one does what he does not just a change of what one does. It is an internal resolve and purpose of pleasing God supremely. This internal “why” naturally affects all of the external “whats”.

This volume is entitled Change Your Mind. Once a person has the purpose of pleasing God the question becomes, “What pleases Him and how do I do it?” This necessitates gaining understanding. Understanding is associated with our mental function and is a word that relates to a proper perception of information and of truth. Understanding is a crucial step in the process of fulfilling one’s purpose of pleasing God. This book is an investigation of certain areas of understanding that are instrumental in one’s attempt to fulfill the purpose of pleasing God.[1]

A very important parable given by Jesus is the parable of the seed, the sower and the soil found in Matthew 13:18-23. Though we will consider this more thoroughly in a later chapter, a brief reference to it here should prove beneficial. It is a parable that emphasizes the absolute necessity of understanding if we are to produce new and good fruit. Without entering into a detailed evaluation of the text, I will simply highlight the fact that there are many ways that we might respond to truth that keep us from arriving at the understanding needed to be productive (productivity and fruit having to do with pleasing God). Very clearly, however, one will not be fruitful until having gained understanding. The passage indicates that this parable was given to those who had eyes to see and ears to hear and yet did not see, hear or understand (Mt.13:13). Jesus stated that those who had (understanding) would be given more, but those without (understanding) would lose even what they had (Mt.13:12). This is not only an aspect of His explanation about why He taught in parable but was, as well, part of the parable itself as we see those who do not understand have that which was sown taken away by Satan (Mt.13:19). Finally, it is only “the man who hears the word and understands it” (Mt.13:23) who bears fruit.

Paul recognizes that the only way we can have a change of life is by having a renewal of the mind. We are transformed by the renewing of the mind (Ro.12:2). If we have the purpose of pleasing God and we get information and understanding about what pleases Him, we can then act upon this understanding and fulfill our purpose. This is the process in which we must engage or we will produce no new fruit.

Chapter One will consider an overview of God’s governmental relationship with various spheres of His creation. Special emphasis will be upon the mode of government He practices with the human race. In the second chapter, we will consider the relationship between hearing truth, understanding truth and acting upon truth. The third chapter deals with the relationship between the mind, the emotions and the will. Chapter Four contains information about the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride of life and Satan’s attempt to use these areas to pervert and defeat us. In the fifth chapter, we consider the importance of growth and “increase” in God’s redemption of man. The final chapter revisits the parable of the seed, sower and soil in an effort to gain deeper insight than was offered in this introduction.

Another very important area of understanding is our view of God. This point is made, in a powerful way, by the prophet Jeremiah. He spoke on behalf of the Lord by saying, "Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things". In a future book, we will specifically look into this area of understanding.

It is my hope that the limited information contained in the small volume will contribute to the process of growing in your ability to please God.


[1] In the introduction of Change Your Heart there was emphasis placed upon Design, Function / Purpose and Process. If we are to produce new and good fruit we must honor the design for doing so which involves engaging in the right process. This process relates to having a change of heart (purpose) and then a change of mind (understanding) so we can have a change of life (choices, action and behavior). Too often, it is assumed that we can experience a change of life directly, without engaging in this process. Many people want to bypass understanding and simply act upon feelings, impulses and instinct. In some significant way, this is part of the problem, not the solution.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

DON’T BORROW FROM MY VIEW TO DISCREDIT MY VIEW

A number of years ago I oversaw a discipleship class for the seniors of a local Christian school. The academic success of the school was very impressive and I was honored to contribute to the educational process. I began the discipleship process by explaining that the Biblical term “heart” referred to that to which an individual is committed supremely. I then emphasized that it resolves to one of two ultimate options; Self (in some manifestation) or God. This was followed by an explanation of the nature of genuine repentance. Repentance involves abandoning Self-supremacy (living to serve and please Self supremely) and resolving to live for the purpose of loving, pleasing, honoring, worshipping and serving God supremely. I then challenged the students to reflect personally and individually upon the supreme purpose of their own hearts. At this point, one of the students raised his hand and declared that we have no ability to repent and that God and God alone was in charge of who would and would not be saved. This single comment was the result of seventeen years of poor theological influence. This comment also ignited very significant, ongoing discussion about the nature of the relationship between God and man. In short, I explained that Scripture clearly commands us (sinner and saint) to respond to God the way we should with whatever measure of understanding and ability we possess. This is the reasonable requirement of God and He would not command us to do that which we could not do. This implied the presence of, either, natural or gracious ability. I went on to emphasize that, together with God (or in some cases in rebellion to God) we are actually involved in deciding the nature of the future we enter into in some significant measure. This involves genuine freedom and voluntary interaction on our part.

Three students demonstrated real interest in discussing these ideas though they were not necessarily receptive to them. I purchased and gave them copies of The God Who Risks by John Sanders and The God of the Possible by Greg Boyd. In response to possessing such books, the father of one of the students contacted the school and complained that they had hired someone who taught what I was teaching. Through a series of emails to me and the school, he emphasized that he was disturbed that I did not believe that God is sovereign (I do believe He is but define the idea differently than this father) and that God was in absolute control of everything that happens (his concept of sovereignty). He wanted the school to dismiss me.

Here is the dilemma. According to the view I was suggesting, human beings can actually choose to resist God or cooperate with God. According to his view, everything (including the behavior of man) happens just the way God ordained or actively causes it to happen. Therefore, in an email response to this concerned father I stated, “In order to be upset with the school for hiring me and in order to be upset with me for my beliefs and the teaching of such beliefs, you must borrow from my belief system. According to your view, why did the school hire me? According to your view, why do I believe what I believe? You see, according to your view, the school hired me and I believe what I believe because God has ordained it as such. So, my conclusion is, you do not have a problem with the school or with me, you have a problem with God. According to your view, the school could do nothing other than what it did and I can believe nothing other than what I believe. You need to borrow from my view to assume otherwise."

I never heard from him again. I finished the school year and graciously resigned. What do you believe?

Thursday, September 01, 2011

HOW LOVE WINS - Thank you Mr. Charles Finney

God desires and purposes that all (1 Ti.2:4, 2 Pe.3:9) should repent, be forgiven, transformed and filled with the knowledge of the truth. This is clearly and certainly what God is working toward. Whether or not individuals respond appropriately is another issue. But, GOD IS WORKING TOWARD THE SALVATION OF ALL. Regarding love we can say that love is to purpose and pursue the highest good identifiable. It is universal good-will, or willing the highest good in general. As difficult as it is for human beings, with their distorted minds, to comprehend, love does everything for one reason or ultimate end; the highest good of being in general. Within this context, however, we must realize that there are expressions of love that we would categorize as “kindness” but there are also expressions which fit under the category of “severity.” Both kindness and “severity” are attributes of love (Ro.11:22). Another word, sometimes, used for “kindness” is “gentleness.” Severity is not cruelty, it is love shown in strictness, rigor and purity. In order to bring a dimension of clarity, I often refer to severity as severe kindness. Love always shows a regard for the well-being of others and will be gentle and kind toward all, except in those cases where either the good of the individual, or of the public, requires a different approach. It is a mistake to suppose that love is all softness under all circumstances. It will be gentle or severe, depending upon which is required to pursue the highest good. It is important to understand that kindness is the rule and severity is the exception but it is just as important to realize that though kindness is the rule, it might not be possible to express it most often in light of outward circumstances such as the character and conduct of the individual(s) with which God (or you) are dealing. If kindness is appropriate and severity is shown, this is not love. In the same way, if severity is require, for the highest well being of the individual and/or the public interest, and kindness is shown, this is not love. Both, however, are equally and necessarily attributes of love. Let me emphasize that the general approach of love is to treat others kindly and gently, unless circumstances and/or the character of the one loved requires a different treatment. When a person or persons conduct themselves so as to endanger the public good, severity is just as natural, and as necessary to love, as kindness and forbearance are under other circumstances. WITH GOD, IT IS LOVE THAT LEADS TO THE APPROACH HE TAKES. However, “It is one of the most shallow of dreams, that the Divine character is all softness and sweetness, in all its manifestations and in all circumstances.” “It is impossible that love to the whole should not manifest severity and indignation to the part which rebels against the interests of the whole.”