little by little

“Whom will he teach knowledge,
and to whom will he explain the message?
Those who are weaned from milk,
those taken from the breast?
For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
line upon line, line upon line,
here a little, there a little.”

Truly, with stammering lip
and with another tongue
he will speak to this people,
to whom he has said,
“This is rest;
give rest to the weary,
and this is repose,”
yet they would not hear.
Therefore the word of the LORD will be to them,
“Precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
line upon line, line upon line,
here a little, there a little,”
in order that they may go and fall backward
and be broken and snared and taken.

Isaiah 28:9-13

In Jesus’s time people awaiting the messianic promise of God wanted it all at once. They wanted a sign from heaven, someone who would come and get the job done, kick the Romans out, feed them, relieve them of all the stress they were in.

One of their major errors is that they were in a hurry. The other is that they were amiss, not really having the vision of God and correct assessment of things. Doesn’t that ring a bell not just for others, but for us too?

What do we need? Ears to listen. A heart to understand. A mind to assimilate. Doing so individually and together. And not letting up on that.

If we do, hopefully we’ll all find our way out of the morass we’re in, to whatever extent or wherever place we’re in it. I certainly include myself.

not dividing the head and the heart

Michael Minkhoff’s post, How Christian Rationalism Turned Me Into a Psychopath, or A Biblical Defense of Feelings is well worth the read. Even if there is only some truth in what he’s saying, and I think there’s plenty, it is enough to help one understand why either emotions are suppressed resulting in a cold, hard hearted rationalism, or why they’re given full sway resulting in a disparaging of the intellect and good, clear, coherent thought. What is needed of course is everything which makes up our humanity made in the image of the one who is moved not only with truth but in an emotional sense, with pity, compassion, anger, etc., in love.

I come to this myself, hardly knowing what to make of it, except to acknowledge that I too am a victim of the lie that we simply need to put aside our emotions for a clear understanding. When actually we need to grow both in our “emotional quotient” as well as our “intelligent quotient.” How in real life mind and emotions, the heart and the head we’re never meant to be separated.

What is often left is an emotional immaturity which actually affects the mind for ill, since good thinking was never meant to be separated from feelings. We can’t do well in one without the other. We need the full healing of our total humanity in and through Christ, a life-long process until the redemption to come, when that work will be finished into something new and dynamic and growing. Something we may be able to find in ourselves now, only with some work and imagination, but which will then be obvious and flourishing in and through Jesus.



the degree of doctorate

If there’s one thing I regret academically, it is that I did not pursue a doctorate a couple decades ago or before. I pooh poohed the idea of the need for that years back. Now I see the value in terms of opening doors and also in terms of thinking through one subject, issue or area well. I did not see a lot in those days. And no one saw that possibility in me, either. I really didn’t hang out with people in academic circles, but preferred the simple folk. In many ways I’m one of them myself, so I felt at home there and still do. But I enjoy interacting with academics.

While I respect and appreciate the degree of doctorate, I do find it a bit discouraging that so much weight is put on it. I don’t understand the ins and outs of it, what it takes to do a dissertation, though I have what I think is a good notion of it from the academic studies I have undertaken (I happen to have a Bachelor of Theology and a Masters of Divinity). Perceptions matter. I find myself to be an academic at heart. But as a late bloomer who did not see many possibilities, well very few, I see myself in many ways as one who fell through the cracks.

The degree of doctorate does not make someone. It ends up being part of the package. Sometimes I have thought that it was all about the degree so that simply by that degree the person had respect and was listened to, even esteemed. Even if they really didn’t deserve that attention. Now I respect the degree to the point that I would simply be focusing on rooting for the recipient to do well with it given the work they undertook and the hoops they jumped through to accomplish it. I would still love to do it myself, but my age and our finances make that out of the question.

I don’t see myself as an intellectual, but more like an intellectual enthusiast. I love the effort of  loving God with all of one’s mind along with all of the rest of one’s being and doing. The attempt to do that. I have often wanted to know what one field I could pursue academically to get a doctorate without ruining the rest of my life in the process. Ha.

I used to think I have something just as important to contribute. I think in terms of the Spirit’s working and as a member of Christ’s body the church, I do, and so does everyone else. That is gold and even the most humble servant can teach the most learned academic something if that academic has ears to hear. I still believe that is so, but I value in ways I did not before the doctorate and I’m happy for those who are younger who have the opportunity to pursue it.

Jesus had no doctorate and in his case we can see why that was necessarily the case. He spoke with unique authority not only as a prophet with the very words of God, but as the Word of God himself. If he would have had letters from some institution in his day, people would have chalked up his authority as deriving from that. But his authority was from the Father and in his own person as well as by the Spirit. Unique then and now, even if in him we partake in something of that.

Along came Paul with all the letters so to speak, having been taught by a renowned authority of that time, Gamaliel. The brilliance, surely sheer genius of Paul is seen in his letters we have in the New Testament (as N. T. Wright has pointed out), all of that a gift from God, but developed well by him in his reading and study which was ongoing to the end of his days. In the church some traditions have upheld the value of the work of the intellect, while others have downplayed or even downgraded it.

While a doctorate does not necessarily impart wisdom along with all of the knowledge or make one a better person in and of itself, we should appreciate the value of rigorous intellectual activity.

In the end it is what we do with what we have from God which matters. We want to hear the words from the Master, “Well done good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in a few things. I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into your Master’s happiness.”


corrective thinking

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Some of us are easily overcome with troubling thoughts. They can be recurring, a pesky thought which comes and goes. Or something entirely new can hit us out of the blue. Nowadays we have instant information, answers to nearly anything we might ask at our fingertips online. That can help, but may not answer our question to our satisfaction.

We are told in scripture what to do about this. Simply turn our thoughts elsewhere. To what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable. Anything that is excellent or praiseworthy. That will take some effort on our part simply to do so, in the first place, and to have the needed discernment to know what is good and true and what is not. For me the most common place to turn is to scripture. And a good book can help us, as well.

It is interesting that the passage quoted above follows instruction not to be anxious, but to pray, and precedes paying attention to God’s servant and his life, in this case the Apostle Paul. There is more to life than simply thinking straight. But thinking well is an important part of the life in Christ.

study and the intellect

I was once a pastor of a little church called “Faith, Hope and Love Gospel Center.” It was run down and not resurrected through my work there of only about a year. I look back on that and shake my head, partly because I really needed a mentor, someone to guide me through that time. And I had one, but due to my youth and lack of wisdom (and his use of Robert Schuller* just on the side with a book to encourage those discouraged like myself), I left that great opportunity behind. But after that time on my own with my new wife Deb, I had come to realize that I needed or at least wanted more training, precisely more theological education. And having been influenced by a Baptist pastor and church nearby, I headed off to Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary in Michigan (now called Grand Rapids Theological Seminary).

I was hungry for some intellectual food, and at the seminary, I certainly found it with some outstanding professors. That was a good season for me, I take it, laying a foundation for my life that was needed, although not enough of a foundation was laid on the church side to really get me going in the pastorate. My degree, following my Bachelor of Theology one (from Prairie Bible Institute) was a Master of Divinity. I wish I would have started on all of that when I was younger, and I wish I would have had the kind of mentoring I needed to become a pastor, or a teacher somewhere. And I wish I would have read and studied much more during my life. Some years back I thought the Lord gave me this one word: “Read.”

Study and the intellect is far more important than many of us Christians make it out to be. I am blessed in that where I work, RBC Ministries, such endeavor is valued, their/our mission being “to make the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to all.”

There is more to life than just the mind, but the mind is part and parcel of the fullness of life we are to have in Jesus. Of course how that works out for each one of us will be different. Not all of us will want to head off to school to study more, or read books, one after another. But every one of us needs to have a thirst to read and study scripture, and try to understand God’s will as it applies to our own lives as well as the mission to which we are called. I would suggest as a minimum that each of us needs to be on a Bible reading (or Bible listening) plan or agenda. At least once a year through the Bible would be good, although what is essential is to be regularly in the habit of doing it. And we need to study and meditate on various books and passages in scripture. Any and every one of them over time would be a good goal.

At the same time, we also need to read those who are gifted in communicating something of God’s full will in Jesus. In all kinds of genres. And I think we need to learn to read widely over time. Read those who are not of the faith. Learn in areas that interest us. Again, we are all wired differently so we will all go about this differently, which doesn’t make whatever we do any less of a gift than whatever anyone else does.

Back to my own story, a bit. I wish I would have been much more faithful in reading and studying.  It is over years of doing such that wisdom is developed. And the aspect of study and the intellect is underrated and therefore underplayed in the quest for a Spirit-filled life. As Jack Levison pointed out in an excellent book I recently read, Daniel is a good case in point. He studied with some of his friends in the best education of his day, even that which was not of the faith, and surely was well versed in the Hebrew scriptures as well. And it was noted repeatedly in the book by those outside the community of faith that he was one in whom was the spirit of the gods.

And so read, and study as the Lord would lead you. As we seek to follow our Lord together for the world.

*This is not meant to put down Robert Schuller. I find good along with what I see as not so good in his message. I think he would say it’s grounded in scripture, but it seems to me to be in some line with Norman Vincent Peale’s positive thinking. In my view, scripture taken out of context to support something which in the proper context is true.

are we communicating clearly?

Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?

When I went to seminary, I often found myself speaking over the heads of people in church. Really, I hardly knew that, except the people would tell me. I think my own wife told me. Of course we were reading books which were hard for us to understand, and we were hearing lectures that at times were steeped in theologically technical language, known only to those who had studied it.

I had the blessing of doing children’s church for a time, and that helped me speak concretely in simple terms. I think I remember even then a helper remarking that I was speaking over the children’s heads. And so between all of this, and being (still true) a firm believer that scripture should be translated in the (heart) language of the people, over time I learned to speak with simplicity and clarity.

I think it is good to stretch people a bit, intellectually. But pastors and teachers in churches are supposed to feed the sheep with the teaching of God’s truth from scripture and in Jesus. So that must be first and foremost, front and center. If anything else is added, it should be secondary to that in any church setting.

Of course an academic setting is another story. Some good intellectual challenge is important there, indeed essential, although I also think that the best academic setting will bring the students along. And in a pastoral or church-oriented context, the best education will work at helping the students speak in a way that is understood by the hearers. Otherwise, as Paul remarked in the scripture cited above—what good is it? To be honest, I need to translate in my mind the technical language I am reading in such education, so as to try to understand it well, myself. This does open up other subjects, beyond the scope of this post.

Yes, I think those in my culture seem averse, or not trained to think well, logically. And we are not adept in critical thinking. In a church setting there’s a place, hopefully, to help people love God with all of their minds, as well as in every other way. We are so easily given to laziness, and to not being able to think well critically. Hence the sound bite culture we live in.

But when it’s all said and done, we must all speak to God, and listen for his word to us—in our own heart language. It must be kept simple, where we live (and beware of information overload, as well, another subject I suppose, beyond this post).

As we go on together in Jesus for the world.

thinking well

While it is true that western thought makes thinking rightly a premium ahead of acting rightly, or with the idea that solving the world’s problems will simply mean a better education, or in essence educating the mind—there is no doubt that thinking well is important in scripture.

But how do we think in a way that is good? It is a mindset toward acclimating one’s self to the will of God for all of life. It is a thinking toward faith and obedience. What one might call pious thinking, or thinking on how to be godly in and through Jesus.

It is prayerful and faith-oriented. Indeed “by faith we understand.” How we think is related to our reflection and meditation on truth for life. Rooted in God’s revelation in Jesus and found in scripture.

Good thinking according to scripture can never be divorced from life. Though within God’s general revelation there is much thinking and pondering to be done which can only leave us in awe of the Creator. Thinking well in this way is to be grounded in God’s general revelation which itself is a large spectrum. All sorts of disciplines can be included in this. “All truth is God’s truth.” So to think well we are open to God’s revelation in general terms related to “common grace” given to all. That does not mean we accept everything purported to be truth. Discernment is needed, again a part of thinking well. Sometimes we will do best simply in acknowledging that we don’t know.

While it’s important that we don’t leave general revelation behind, our chief orientation will be in God’s special revelation which is gospel oriented and leads us to Christ. Our primary focus must be there, and in down to earth terms. Yes, for our lives to be sure, but also in terms of the world and all creation. Found in scripture, and dependent on God’s working in Christ within the church.

Scripture, tradition, reason and experience—what has been called the Wesleyan quadrilateral. I think not in terms of sola scriptura, but scriptura primera. In other words scripture does indeed come first, but what tradition as in the church has said about its reading is indeed important, if not infallible. And reason is important. While I would include experience, related to the words: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

May God help us to think well, even if others around us are not. And to be of the same mind in Christ Jesus in accord with the gospel, even when we will differ in other matters. We need to remember that we now “see through a glass darkly” (KJV) and “we know in part.” This means all our thinking must be tempered with humility. Even as we seek ongoing transformation by the renewing of our mind in understanding and doing the will of God. Together in Jesus for the world.

vain thoughts

How often in my life have I thought, “If only…?” If only I would have done this or that, or if only I would not have done this or that then just think of how much better life would be. Over and over again I can rehearse the same thing, keep going over it. So that it is an imbedded in my brain, and when forgotten easily remembered again.

We’re told in scripture that our thoughts are important, that we’re to think certain kinds of thoughts, and that in this context I believe, that faith can help us live in peace, not bowed down by troubled thoughts.

I would like to get a new brain track going, a new habit of life. One that is constructive rather than destructive. One that seeks God and God’s will in any given situation. That refuses to live in a kind of despair in regret over anything I can’t change.

The Spirit is present to help us, in part to counsel us, to be our advocate. So I must look to the Spirit when the track comes up for me to once again tread to  know how I might respond to start an altogether different track. One that is in line with God’s will in the truth that is in Jesus.

We need not only to abandon unhelpful, even destructive thoughts. But we need new ones in their place. I want God to direct my thoughts. I don’t want to do it on my own, nor can I.

That means I must be in prayer over a matter. Share it with a trusted person such as a pastor or wise friend.  Keep praying over it. Be in the word of course. And give it time. New ways of thinking replacing old are not snap changes. This takes time. But it also takes perseverance on our part. In all of this a dependency on God which is complete. But in accordance with his revealed will.

Something I’m working on. Wanting to see what is empty become something filled with God’s will in and through Jesus.

Father, Please give me new thoughts to replace these old ones which have plagued me for so long. Let me live according to your will in this matter in and through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

casting our cares on God

Life is full of cares and concerns which at times burden, and can even threaten to overwhelm us. We’re told in scripture to cast our cares on the Lord, that he will sustain us, that he will never let the righteous be moved. And we’re to do so, scripture says, because he cares for us.

Some people carry heavy burdens and seem to take it all to heart more than others. But the fact is, we all have troubles and trials. It’s what we do with that which matters. Work and preoccupation can help. But are we really doing what God in his word calls us to do?

To cast our cares on God would seem to take effort on our part. It is an act of faith. It is deliberate. It is something we do out of our intellect and will, of course the basis being God’s promises. And yet it is not our intellect and will which rescues us. It is God who does that. We put ourselves in the position through this act of faith so that God can deliver us.*

Our troubles are often of such a nature that we may have to keep coming to God again and again, casting the same concerns on him. Over time it is often the case that what was once a concern to us is no longer, for one reason or another. I know Paul reached a resolution concerning his thorn in the flesh, no less than a messenger of Satan to torment him. While Paul learned to delight in his weakness, because in it was the Lord’s strength, I would have to think it was still what it was. Not something that was comfortable in itself. Something that Paul over and over again had to turn over to God. Or live in that mode of faith that it is God’s to deal with. “In acceptance lies peace” (Amy Carmichael).

I long to live more and more care free as one of God’s children. But it is impossible not to have cares and concerns in this world, even if we were completely free from personal concerns. We need to cast those cares on God as well, believing that his hand can be in that matter for our loved one, or for those hurting. Part of our life of faith in and through Jesus, together as a witness and help, in and for the world.

*Our Pastor Jack shared the idea of putting ourselves in a position for God to do his work through the exercise of our intellect and will in regard to another matter, yesterday.



study as in attentiveness

I have to give a talk on study, in between talks on piety and action. Many other talks lined up as well.

I value the intellect, and agree with Mark Noll that we evangelicals have been all too either anti-intellectual, or more like apathetic in, or downplayed matters of the mind. We need to learn to think well, if we’re truly to love God with all our minds.

But study is not just an intellectual endeavor. Along with that it involves all that makes up our humanity. We were made for relationship, and we were made for community. As well as the mandate from God for humanity, and mission in this world in following Jesus.

The question becomes: How does God get our attention? How does God keep our attention? How do we remain attentive to God, and to God’s word and will for us in this world, in and through Jesus?

I can tell my story how God captured my attention years ago. My response to that, and what has followed after. Too often I’ve seen life mostly in terms of knowledge, which is essential, but by itself not enough.

Yes, we need to be in God’s word, all of it. For me listening to something like The Bible Experience facilitates that well. And reading scripture also. Hearing it read in our church gatherings.

But God’s word is meant to lead us to God himself in Jesus by the Spirit. And in that, God’s will for us individually and in community in Jesus for the world.

I want to learn to be more attentive, really honed in on that even in the midst of all life’s demands and responsibilities.

There is much that could be said about attentiveness. It will look as different as each of us are, in its outworking in our lives. And yet it will have something of the same characteristics. Some people more on the intellectual side, others the mystical, etc. So that we benefit from each other. But no part of human life that is to be neglected in any of our lives.

What is God saying to us? How is he moving in our lives? What should be our response? And how do we know any of this to be so, in the first place? All good questions. An element of mystery to be sure in God’s working, but we need to give ourselves fully, by God’s grace in Jesus, so that we can begin to attend more and more fully to God himself, and to God’s good will for us in Jesus, together in community with others, in mission for the world.