Monday, September 14, 2009

The Heathen In My Mind - II

We are on a quest, a spiritual journey. Our goal is to discover all we can about The God Who Is. But, we have run into an obstacle and that obstacle is in our very own minds.

God approaches us through reason. Yes, emotion is an important part of our relationship with God, but our emotion must be informed by reason or it is not genuine, but foolish.

How does faith come to the individual?

Romans 10:
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
We hear the Word. That Word is processed by our minds. We believe.

This is not to lower faith to a mere act of reason. Faith is much more than that. But we must recognize that when God is calling his people to himself he approaches them through the faculties of reason.

Isaiah 1:
“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
Yet, as we learned from the passage in Romans 8 that we looked at yesterday, our minds (before Christ) are naturally bent against and hostile to God.

For the purpose of this devotional I do not wish to look into how God deals with that, though it is an important study. What I would rather do is assume that if you are reading this it is because you already have a genuine interest in learning the truths of God and that would be because you already belong to him.

Is it important that all my thoughts be obedient to him, to his truth? Look at how Paul describes his ministry to the church of Corinth:

2 Corinthians 10:
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,
The battle for the human soul is a battle for the mind. God wins that battle in the individual by supernaturally breaking down those strongholds (arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God) and bringing them into submission to God's truth.

My problem, and I expect yours as well, is that my mind still struggles against the truth of God. There are still vestiges of my sin nature around and they are still at war with God's truth. There is a part of me that still does not like God's law, God's truth, even the reality of God himself and what he reveals about himself in Scripture. Though I have been brought out of Egypt spiritually, I still find much of Egypt still in my desires and my thoughts--my thinking.

In short, each day I am confronted with the heathen in my mind. Paul knew this and wrote about it in his letter to the Romans.

Romans 12:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
The ESV has a footnote next to the phrase translated "spiritual worship" at the end of verse one and gives an alternate translation of "rational service." The Greek connotes both and can be (and has been) translated both ways. This is because spiritual worship is rational worship.

And in verse two I am told not to be conformed to this world, not to yield to the desires, to the thinking, of those vestiges of inner heathen still in my mind. Rather, I am told to be transformed by the renewing of my mind. What that means and how we are to approach it we will look at next, but until then we should ask God each day, this day, to govern our thinking by his Spirit and yield ourselves completely to his truth.

Prayer: Holy Father, again we ask that you conform us to yourself. Govern our thinking by your Spirit, guide us by your truth. Give us a heart, a desire for holiness and the Holy. Teach us godly reason, give us discernment, help us to discern what your will is and what your truth is and guide us in it. We need you and are helpless without you. We ask it for Christ's sake and in his name. Amen.

The Heathen In My Mind - I

Romans 8:
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
I am a slave to my mind. Indeed, all of us are. The great Apostle to the Gentiles explains this to us. He does so by juxtaposing the Christian with the heathen. The heathen is the one in verse five above who lives "according to the flesh". In Paul's vernacular, the "flesh" is a metaphor for our carnal, fallen nature. The Christian, by contrast, is the one who lives "according to the Spirit". Each of these, according to Paul, lives his life in accordance with whatever his mind is set on, whether it be the flesh or the Spirit.

Here is the Christian and the heathen. The heathen is what we all were without the Spirit of God--slaves of our fallen, sinful nature.

Ephesians 2:
remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
But when the Spirit of God regenerated us, claiming us as his own and making us alive in Christ, we were freed from our bondage to sin and made slaves of the Spirit of Christ.

Romans 6:
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
The Christian, then, is the one whose mind is set on the Spirit of God, as opposed to the heathen who is still enslaved to his sin nature.

Now, let us look at our original passage again:

Romans 8:
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
The heathen, whose mind is set on his sinful nature, is dead spiritually (verse 6), is hostile to God (verse 7), does not submit to God, indeed cannot (for he will not, verse 7), and cannot please God in any way (verse 8).

The heathen is hostile to the teachings of God. His mind is enslaved to sin and he will not, does not wish to countenance any of the truths of the God of Scripture.

This is the heathen. He may make to himself a god fashioned after his own desires and whims. He may make to himself a multiplicity of gods. He may be willing to consider any of a host of ideas about God that are foreign to or contrary to Scripture. But he is hostile to anything true about the Holy God Who Is. This God he does not want.

The heathen is what we once were. But what are we now? This is what I want us to think about and I want us to make it personal. Is my mind "set" on the things of the Spirit of God? How so? How often? How easy is it for me to lose focus? How much of my thinking is still heathen and how much of it has been attuned to the Spirit?

Prayer: Holy Father, help us today to focus our minds upon you, your word, and what you want from us. Change our desires and appetites daily to be in line with what you would have for us. Help us to be in tune with your Spirit in this way. Give us a greater desire to know you, a hunger and thirst for you like we have never had before. May our words and our thoughts be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Transcendent God - II

Isaiah 55
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Let us take a moment and meditate on this statement. God is again speaking through his prophet Isaiah. He is "reasoning together" with his people, as the Old King James puts it.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
To what, exactly, is he comparing the earth? To the celestial heavens. No doubt he refers to the night sky, something with which the ancients were more familiar than most of us moderns.

How much higher are these "heavens" than the earth? How far away are they? The distance, my friends, is beyond comprehension. If we take just what we can see with the naked eye (and relative to the entirety of the universe this is not very far) it is still mind-boggling. Probably the most distant object observable by the naked eye is the Andromeda Galaxy which happens to be the nearest galaxy to ours. The Andromeda Galaxy is approximately 2.5 million light years away--just a short putt from us on this golf course known as "Universe." Travelling at 186,000 miles per second it would still take us 2.5 million years to get there.

Think about how much "higher than the earth" that is. That's how much higher God's thoughts are than our thoughts, God's ways than our ways. That's the comparison God makes to try to demonstrate to us the transcendency of his nature, his being. Thinking about this it is easy to see why we should never "liken" him to anything in creation. To do so only diminishes his glory.

Prayer: Our great Father, we ask that you humble us, that you forgive us for elevating ourselves, our wants, our desires, our thoughts, beyond what they really are, and at the same time esteeming you less than what you are. Help us to be in awe of you and to submit to you in every detail of our lives. As we grow in our knowledge of you, magnify yourself in our eyes. Show yourself mighty, we ask, in behalf of your own great name. Amen.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Transcendent God

Listen as the Spirit speaks through the prophet. Listen as the old prophet magnifies the name of God.

Isaiah 40:
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
16 Lebanon would not suffice for fuel,
nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before him,
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

The question is rhetorical and the answer is God. The LORD, Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel is much larger than we often imagine. We are small creatures, and to us, the universe we live in seems large, foreboding. You and I, thanks to the wonders of science, are much more aware of the size of our universe than was Isaiah some 3000 years ago. I once heard a cosmologist use the following analogy to help explain the scope and size of the universe we live in. He said that if one were to place a quarter on the sidewalk on a street corner in Manhattan, and that if this quarter represented the sun, then the next closest star system, Alpha Centauri, would be represented by a quarter placed on a sidewalk in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

That's quite a distance. And that's our nearest star. Now imagine a universe filled with billions of stars in millions of galaxies. Astronomers say there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on all the beaches of all the world.

Isaiah, can you measure these? Isaiah, can you know these things? Obviously, no. And neither can we, even in our age, actually measure these things with traditional implements. It is an impossibility. We cannot actually count the stars, neither can we even see them all. Ours is an educated estimate. But not only does God know, not only does he measure, but these things are small to him.

It is a way of saying that God is infinite, immeasurable. Not only are these things small to God, but he is intimately knowledgeable of them. He calls his stars by name.

Isaiah 40:
To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name,
by the greatness of his might,
and because he is strong in power
not one is missing.

O LORD, teach us your transcendence. Remind us of it. Help us to see your greatness and, in seeing it, help us to recognize our smallness. Help us not to doubt you or your ability, but help us to trust you. Though we are small, and many, yet you call us by name and know us intimately. Praise your name. Amen.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Passionate Devotion

To be devotional with and in the Scriptures involves both the emotions and the intellect. Too many modern "devotionals" are merely shallow, emotional dribble. You may like chicken soup for the Christian soul. Wonderful. Please keep it to yourself over in the shallow end of the pool. I find it, frankly, annoying because it is shallow and, therefore, insulting. If we really want to have meaning to our devotional life we must go deeper.

The more we understand of the Scriptures, the more we understand about God. The more we understand about God, the greater our fear, awe, and need of him becomes. You may say you love Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors, but if you've never been inside and spent quality time enjoying each and every flavor, how much do you really love it? Maybe the truth is more like, "I like the vanilla that they sell at Baskin Robbins, but I don't really need to get into all those complicated flavors. Just give me the vanilla, thank-you."

We are too easily satisfied.

Most modern Christians think they know the Bible. They don't. I know this because I have spent thirty years passionately studying it and the more I learn the more I realize how much I do not yet know. Don't think that just because you know almost as much as your pastor that this makes you pretty knowledgeable and pretty much an elite. The truth is, your pastor is probably pretty ignorant himself, to the shame of us all.

I'm not knocking pastors. Certainly there are many who know a great deal, many who know a great deal more than I do. But, sadly, in our day they are the exception and not the rule. "My people perish for lack of knowledge" could have been written last week, or last month, or last year.

We need to know God, and if we are to know him it will involve the intellect as well as the emotions. We do not study God as a scientist might study the movement of molecular particles. We study him with zeal and passion and eager, emotional interest. Our hearts, our souls, our future, our joy is at stake. We want to know Him and we will never know Him without knowing his Word. But let us not forget that we must study Him if we are to know Him. We cannot divorce the intellect from our devotion.

So let us dive into his Word with a lust and a reverence like never before. Let us pore over it like Indiana Jones might pore over a map leading to an ancient Inca treasure city. And when we're done may we have a greater fear, and awe, and love, for God, and may we be able to say that we find our satisfaction in Him.