Monday, May 24, 2010

"Nowhere in the Bible does it say..."

...that some action, inaction, thought, or activity is right or wrong solely because it isn't expressly mentioned by name in the Bible. What do I mean?

Yesterday in church, a male friend of mine made the point that, "Nowhere in the Bible does it tell husbands to hold their wives accountable to submit," the implication being that husbands are not permitted to hold their wives accountable for their duty to submit. This gentleman agreed that wives have a duty to submit, but he argued that it is the Lord's place alone to hold the wife accountable.

This issue, of submission, is but one example of the dangers associated with my friend's flawed method of interpreting the scriptures. Guess what else the Bible does not expressly say:

  • The Bible does not say that “abortion is wrong” (it does, however, say that murder is wrong);
  • The Bible does not say that “a pastor may discipline his flock” (it does however provide for church leaders holding the members accountable and for church resolution of conflicts between believers – see Matt 18);
  • The Bible does not say that women must “separate and cleave” from their families (though this is implied by that same message to men);
  • The Bible does not say “thou shalt not lie” (but it does say not to “bear false witness/give false testimony”);
  • The Bible does not say that men and women must “obtain a legal certificate of marriage from the secular government” (but it does say that believers must subject themselves to the secular authorities – see Rom 13:1).
There are myriad of activities the Bible does not expressly permit or forbid, at least not in so many words. For instance, the Bible does not expressly tell us to refrain from water-boarding small children or from eating poison ivy.  The Lord obviously intended the Bible to give us principles by which we can live our lives and know the Truth, and it is up to us to apply these principles to new situations.

The Bible identifies the nature of sin and the opposing nature of righteousness. Certainly, examples were included to help our understanding, but the Ten Commandments were never intended to be the end to all moral judgments. They were the beginning – the genesis of our understanding of sin and righteousness.

We must take what we have learned from the Bible and apply it, logically, in our own decision-making. To simply state that, “The Bible doesn’t say…” as evidence for any conclusion, is insufficient. That can never be the end to our thinking process. Otherwise, we will commit a host of sins with the flimsiest of excuses, “The Bible didn’t say I couldn’t leave that man to die in the streets – I didn’t kill him.” What of the Good Samaritan? Do the principles in that story not require us to aid those in need?

We are under a duty to ask the question, “Does this activity or thing we are contemplating align more with our understanding of sin or our understanding of righteousness as taught by the Bible?” Applying this logic to my friend’s argument, we must seek God’s intention regarding the roles of husbands and wives in marriage. Saying that the Bible does not command husbands to hold their wives accountable for submitting does nothing to aid in the evaluation of whether husband should or should not be holding their wives accountable in this fashion.

In reaching my own conclusions, I cannot ignore that the Bible has given husbands authority over their wives, albeit with specific instructions and restrictions for how to exercise that authority. Often, I wish that I could ignore this reality. The world would be simpler for me, if I did not have authority as a husband: it comes with a never-ending array of duties and responsibilities. One of those duties, I believe, is being a spiritual leader in my home by holding my wife, family, and myself accountable for our Biblical duties. As Joshua said centuries before me, I am proclaiming that, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). As a husband and father, men have the duty to make that proclamation a reality (more than words).

The Bible enumerates specific commands to husbands concerning how they treat their wives, and husbands must fulfill these duties. The Bible also enumerates specific commands to wives concerning how they treat their husbands, and wives must fulfill those duties. Along these lines, I will now explain my understanding of the scripture as it relates to submission between husbands and wives (with the understanding that all Christians are to have a submissive spirit, generally).

Simply put, the word "submit," as used in Ephesians 5 (just picking a relevant passage here), means to subject one's own will to that of another. When Christ submitted himself to the Lord, he subjected his decisions, judgments, and desires to the authority and will of the Lord. Certainly, Christ had reservations and concerns about going to the cross (e.g. “Lord … take this cup from me…”), but there was no sin, as Christ subjected his judgment and will to that of the Lord. Christ was crucified as a result of submission.

No one considers this to be a negative thing, likely due to the perfect nature of the parties involved (God the Father and Jesus Christ, the Son). However, the Word of God requires wives to submit to their husbands as to (in the same fashion as) the Lord:

"Wives, submit [ne subject] to your own [not necessarily other] husbands, as to [in the same way you submit to] the Lord. For the husband is the head [leader] of the wife even as Christ is the head [leader] of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything [not just some things] to their husbands" (Eph 5:22-23) (emphasis supplied).

This passage is extremely difficult for me. I have struggled with it for years, trying to interpret it with the mind of a man who grew up in a post-modern, secular society that believes “equal value” requires “identical roles” and options. How can a man and woman be equal when one is the leader and the other the follower? Of course, I ask myself whether the president of the United States has more constitutionally prescribed civil liberties than do I as an ordinary citizen? Of course, not: the president is subject to the same Bill of Rights as the rest of us, but he is still our leader.  Why would it be different with husbands and wives?

Now the friend I mentioned earlier, he is a man I respect and admire. Like me, however, he is not perfect. This man’s flawed logic has resulted in what I believe to be an incorrect interpretation of the Bible in this specific instance. I have been guilty myself of using this same flawed logic in times past. “The Bible doesn’t say something is a sin, so I can do it right?” I used to (and sometimes still do) rationalize in this way.

My friend argues that, because the Bible does not tell husbands to hold their wives accountable to submit, that husbands are therefore prohibited from holding their wives accountable. The Bible also does not tell men to refrain from tossing their children out into the streets, but it says a man who does not take care of his family is a scoundrel (1 Tim 5:8). The flaw in his reasoning is taking the mere absence of an express scriptural provision in the Word of God as a prohibition or as a permission.

Let me explain with an illustration. Many of us know the children’s hymn, "I'm in the Lord's Army." How would this dispute concerning submission play out in the context of an army?

Let us imagine, for a moment, that there is a certain general. This general commands an army, and he decides to establish some written rules and procedures to be followed by the officers and troops under his command. He provides every officer and soldier with access to these written rules and procedures. One of the rules he establishes is that all troops are to submit to the commands of the officers in the same way that those officers submit to the general himself – in everything.

Now let us suppose that there is a battle to be fought over a certain bridge in the jungle that is critical to controlling the surrounding region. Suppose also that one of the officers orders the troops to take the bridge despite strong opposition from the enemy. Now suppose that, out of fear, the troops hesitate to charge the bridge and that they begin second-guessing the officer. Suppose that the officer listens to the concerns of the troops but, after considering their concerns and the need to take that bridge, he orders them to charge forward anyway.

Suppose also the soldiers refuse to submit to the order to charge the bridge. Lastly, suppose that nothing in the general's written rules and procedures says, specifically, that the officer is authorized to demand that the troops submit to or to hold the men accountable for failing to submit.

Does the officer need the express, written permission of the general to demand that the troops charge the bridge, or does the written authority granted to him by the general imply that the officer has the authority to hold the soldiers accountable for refusing to submit to the officer’s commands? Remember, the general’s written, standing order is that the troops submit to the officer in everything.

Of course, in the military, the troops would be required to follow their orders of the officers with the understanding that they could approach the general (or another superior) to discuss any strongly held objections. The general has the authority to countermand the orders of any officer or to affirm those orders. Of course, husbands and wives are not (always) military personnel, but the analogy holds just as true in God’s army.

As I see it, God does not have to expressly provide that husbands may hold their wives accountable to submit. God has placed the husband in a position of leadership and authority over the wife. That's not a popular belief or position, but I believe it is an accurate portrayal of the Biblical design ("wives should submit in everything to their husbands"). That position and authority confers upon the husband, as a leader, not only a right but a responsibility to hold his wife accountable, as his supporter and follower.

Leaders who do not exercise their authority are useless as leaders. However, it is important for a leader to know when and how to exercise authority responsibly and for the benefit of others.

God has placed restrictions on how husbands are to exercise that authority, always with a view to protecting their wives, and God has also ordered the husband to love his wife in the most complete way imaginable. If the wife has an objection to the husband's use of authority, then she has the option to approach the Lord and pray for an intervention, just as the troops in our example had the option to petition the general to intervene on their behalf with the officers. Ultimately, the Lord, just like our hypothetical general, has the authority to countermand the husband's leadership, or to affirm it. The husband cannot be a leader, logically, without exercising some authority and holding his wife accountable for respecting that authority.

The question is, when the wife prays to the Lord for intervention, and when the Lord does not choose to intervene (whether overtly or by convicting the husband to alter his judgment), will the wife submit to the Lord? Silence from the Lord is not abandonment or neglect. The Lord’s silence means that the Lord’s instructions stand: wives submit to your husband. Rather than changing this Biblical command, I believe the Lord answers the prayers of wives in this sometimes difficult position of being at odds with her husband by convicting the husband to reconsider his decisions. Other times, I believe the Lord convicts the wife to follow. Regardless, I believe that both husbands and wives occasionally ignore the convictions of the Holy Spirit when experiencing a spousal dispute. However, this is not cause for the aggrieved spouse to abandon his/her duty to the Lord. Wives should continue to submit, and husbands should continue to lead in love.

The Lord knows best, and when he does not seem to answer a prayer, his silence is the answer. That is not a technicality: the Lord knows when to intervene and when to let things play out. That is why the Lord is the general in our littler metaphor. If the husband or wife does not comply when the Lord convicts him/her, then I believe there will be consequences for defying a Holy God. The Bible tells us there is at least one negative consequence when a husband abuses his authority or mistreats his wife:

"Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding [i.e. patience, love, and grace] way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered" (1 Peter 3:7) (emphasis supplied).

Wives, this is a scripture to share respectfully with your husbands. Submit to your husband, if not out of respect and love for him (which you are Biblically required to do), then for the Lord who has asked you to submit in this way. However, do be honest with your husband and remind him (holding him accountable) that he is commanded to love you as Christ loved the Church. Respectfully and lovingly, as a supporter, remind him that there are consequences to mistreating you, and that the Lord has decreed this: show him 1 Peter 3:7.

Difference in authority is not a difference in value. This is where many Christians miss the mark: the fact that a wife must submit does not mean she is less valuable to the Lord. That she, as the "weaker vessel," requires a strong leader does not mean the Lord loves or values her less than her husband. In fact, by providing her with a strong leader in her husband, the Lord has made additional provisions for her well-being beyond what has been provided for the husband. The Lord values all His children equally:

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28).

God loves and values us all equally, and we are all one in His eyes. However, He has called us to different tasks and purposes. Husbands are called to lead. Wives are called to support and follow. Husbands are to love and protect, while wives are to respect and support. This does not mean women are less valuable. Leaders are worthless without their followers and supporters, unable to accomplish anything.

My friend's logic may have been flawed in concluding that a husband, as a leader, cannot hold his wife accountable to abide by her Biblical duty to submit, but he would be right to say that there are limits to how a husband may go about holding his wife accountable. 1 Peter 3:7 tells us, without reservation, that God will not hear a husband's prayers if he is failing to be understanding with his wife, to recognize her tender fragility, and to honor her accordingly.

This means that husbands may NOT use their authority as grounds to abuse their wives in any way. Certainly, a man should NEVER strike his wife, not with fists and not with words.  This is not Biblical.

Just as the Bible does not say that “husbands are permitted to hold their wives accountable for refusing to submit,” the Bible does not say that “husbands are prohibited from screaming at their wives in anger.” I believe, however, that the Bible prohibits men from screaming at their wives in anger (unlike screaming "look out for that bus," which is necessarily different). Husbands are called to, calmly and lovingly, be the spiritual leaders in their homes. We are called lead, first and foremost, by example. When our wives are failing in their duty to submit, we also have a responsibility to the Lord to see order restored in our home. We must hold our wives (and ourselves) accountable to abiding by the Lord’s design for family.

When leading by example is insufficient (and this is far less common than many husbands would care to admit), it is our duty to: (1) break out the scripture and discuss the matter, calmly and lovingly; (2) if our wives will not listen, then we must find and ask another believer, wise in the Word, to intervene; and (3) if that does not work, then we must take it before the church leadership (Matt 18). We do NOT harm, abuse, or take our wives to court seeking a divorce.

Christian counseling, mediation, or even arbitration may be necessary in extreme cases. The husband must remember to submit to the authority of a pastor, Christian arbitrator, or church leader who espouses a Biblical worldview and provides Biblical counsel/commands.

I hope this helps my friend and others with this difficult passage of scripture. It really isn’t all that complicated, but sometimes simple concepts are the hardest to swallow. After all, the terms “simple” and “easy” are no more synonymous than the terms “equality” and “authority.” Something can be simple and hard. Someone can have or lack authority and still be equal to another that has or lacks authority.

If nothing else, I hope those of you who read this will cease to argue what the Bible doesn’t say and start prayerfully considering and discussing what it does say, without preconceptions or agendas derived from social norms. Only then will we get to the Truth.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Public apology...

We have been busy with life since the new year started, but with all that the Lord is doing - you can bet we will be posting soon...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Naturalism: Continued

I got an email from a reader arguing that rational thought could be an evolutionary development, which came about because it enabled species to survive more successfully. While I've always had difficulty imaging the short-term survival advantage of sentience, I thought I'd consider the idea of evolution giving rise to rational thought in more detail. I developed this in response to his email, but I thought it might be useful as its own post.

I'm not sure I can accept the proposition that a non-rational universe gives rise to rational creatures. I'm not sure I understand how that could be possible.

Naturalism proceeds from the assumption that natural processes are all that exist, essentially that everything that happens proceeds according to cause and effect. I can accept this with respect to animals. When a dog learns a lesson, such as "don't go on the couch," he does so because some sort of negative reinforcement indicates that something bad will happen if he goes on the couch. He doesn't understand the reasoning behind this rule, only the cause and effect. He may avoid couches altogether, because he is unable to make a logical connection, only a cause and effect relation between being on the couch and pain.

When we consider things rationally, we assume that we are operating outside the bounds of cause and effect. We must be, because we make claims about what is true, not simply about what we're thinking -- the theory of naturalism itself makes claims about truth. If we were not operating outside the bounds of cause and effect, our thoughts could still be useful, but they could make no claim to being true, being non-rational effects of physical processes. The dog's association of couch and pain is useful, but it is not true that couches cause pain or that pain will always follow being on the couch. We are able to make the logical leap that the dog cannot. The "understanding" we see in creatures that are not sentient is useful, but not rational. It is an "understanding" born of trial and error and has utility, but it has no real relationship to truth.

On the other hand, humans use reason to draw a conclusion that must be true, regardless of observation; we can draw a conclusion about truth that we have not yet observed, or in some cases may not be able to observe. For example, we can use physics equations to anticipate what we will see when we carry out an experiment. This sort of thought, rational thought following logical implication, is of a different kind than the way animals are able to think.

I can't accept that rational thought is a byproduct of a non-rational universe. It's like a painting giving birth to a real person: the painting simply does not contain anything which could give rise to such a byproduct. A universe of cause and effect cannot give rise to rational thought because rational thought operates outside of cause and effect, and must do so to be what it is. If our minds operated exclusively inside the universe, if thought was exclusively the output of non-rational physical inputs, then it would be enslaved by the non-rational inputs that generated it. Thought cannot rise above what feeds it, any more than a stream can rise above its source. Non-rational inputs can generate random outputs in some cases, so the output need not be exactly the same every time, but non-rational inputs cannot generate an output which can act freely to defy what generated it. In any configuration I can imagine, thought would still be the effect of a non-rational cause, and must therefore be non-rational itself.

As far as I can conceive, in order for thought to be unconstrained by the cause and effect relationship which we observe everywhere else in nature (a requirement for it to be capable of discerning truth), the rational mind must contain a component which does not exist within the physical universe. Each consciousness must have an element which is not a part of the physical universe, but rather utilizes the physical component of the human brain to manifest in the physical world. C.S. Lewis describes this relationship as a voice coming through a speaker: if the speaker is damaged, the quality of the transmission will be reduced; but there must be a person speaking on the other end, or else the voice would not come through at all. It is this element, unconstrained by cause and effect because it does not exist in the physical world, which allows us to use reason and act outside the otherwise universal reach of cause and effect. If there were not a component which was exempted from the laws of cause and effect, we would be cursed to think only what we must due to the physical state of the atoms which compose our brains.

That, at any rate, is what I think on the subject. I should note that all of this draws heavily from the C.S. Lewis book Miracles, in which a much smarter man than I makes the case in a more logically sound way, though I hope my version is a bit easier to understand. I highly recommend that book if this topic is of interest to you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Naturalism: Only Natural?

Atheism has been both more widespread and more vocal in our society recently. I'd like to take some time to consider one of the primary versions of atheism, known as naturalism. The assertion of naturalism is that the elements which are within nature compose the whole of reality -- that there is nothing outside of nature, defined as the observable universe.

As an engineer, my immediate reaction to such a theory is to see if it works all the way out. If we assume this theory is correct, can it explain everything we know about the universe? Does it fit with our observation of the world?

Naturalism would seem to explain most everything within the universe. As far as we can tell, everything in nature operates according to the laws that apply to it. There's no obvious and irrefutable evidence of intrusion from outside, and what circumstantial evidence we have to that effect we can explain away. We can explain most things which suggest an influence from outside our universe as random occurrence, and what's left after that we can ignore because the quantity of such events is relatively small.

The primary problem we run into when we try to accept naturalism is ourselves. I can explain a rock in terms of the materials which compose it -- but human beings contain something more than our atomic materials, a spark which seems to set us apart both from inanimate matter and from the animals.

We may consider life in terms of biological processes and evolution; for the sake of argument, let's accept that as a full explanation for how life came about and operates. What remains as a stumbling block to naturalism is our own ability to think, our own ability to consider theory at all. In the end this inflicts a fatal wound on the theory of naturalism, as I will seek to explain.

Consider the structure of an argument. In order to be persuasive, an argument must consist of a chain of linked statements which connect to some foundational proposition which is accepted by all. Here's an example:

Argument: The minimum wage should be raised.

1. The minimum wage should be raised, because
2. A higher minimum wage will raise the incomes of workers who currently make minimum wage, and therefore
3. Lower-paid workers will make more money total, therefore
4. These workers, with more money, will have a higher quality of life.

All can agree that workers having a higher quality of life is a positive thing. Therefore this argument is constructed in a logical chain, starting at that foundational proposition. The argument may not be persuasive for other reasons (and in this case I believe it is not persuasive), but in order to have logical coherence, the argument must link logically from a foundational proposition. Consider the following:

1. The minimum wage should be raised, because
2. Someone on the street just told me that the minimum wage should be raised.

This argument cannot be persuasive. It does not rest on a chain of logic, but rather on top of an event. The fact that someone on the street made a certain statement has no bearing on whether it makes sense or not. In this case my argument is based on an event, rather than logic.

The difference here is in the kind of connection between the supporting information and the argument. In the first case, the relation is logical implication: everyone agrees that A is true, A implies B, B implies C, therefore C is true. The second case is merely cause and effect: someone said A, therefore A is true.

Everyone would recognize cause and effect as an invalid method to reach a logical conclusion. Causes are inherently non-rational, that is they occur not due to some specific rational reason, but simply because they happen. They are based on the laws of nature occurring, not on any sort of logic. Any conclusion which is merely the effect of a cause is similarly non-rational.

However, we consider logical implication to be of a different class than cause and effect. Logical arguments can be constructed from logical implication because it is a different kind of relationship than cause and effect, and it is rational. It is here where naturalism runs into problems.

Naturalism states that the human mind is nothing but the atoms of which it is composed. According to naturalism, logic and reason must be an illusion, because everything that happens in the universe merely represents the laws of nature being applied to the matter and energy in the universe. I'm thinking of this topic only because the atoms in my brain are in a particular state, and if the atoms are in that particular state, I couldn't be thinking of anything else.

This is the problem: if thought is only the product of the atoms in my brain being in a particular state, then all thought is the effect of a physical cause. The physical cause is non-rational, therefore my thought is also non-rational, being only the effect of a non-rational cause. However, I used rational thought to come up with the idea of naturalism! Thus, I cannot rationally conclude that naturalism is true, as it has undercut the very possibility that I can come to a rational conclusion.

We end up in a "stopped clock" scenario. If naturalism were true, there would be no way to know it, because we would lack the capacity to rationally draw that conclusion. We might be right to believe in it, but only in the sense that a stopped clock is sometimes right -- not because the correct answer was chosen, but because the arbitrarily chosen answer happened to be correct.

In the end, we can see that it is meaningless to believe in naturalism. Even if naturalism were true, it claims that its adherents lack any rational way to come to the correct conclusion, meaning that believing in it is essentially irrational.

Often, naturalism is presented as "obvious" and "rational," as opposed to religious belief. However, looking deeper we can see that the theory of naturalism can't even explain the rational thought required to believe in it, and indeed denies its existence. Whatever this theory may be, it is neither "obvious" nor "rational." It is useful to keep in mind that these theories are far less effective at explaining our world than religion, and require just as much faith to believe in.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Global Warming: not settled science; possibly science fiction.

The BBC has posted an article on this subject here.  This is the first time I can recall citing a BBC article, but the fact that one of the most liberal news media outlets on the planet is questioning the merits of global warming - well that is news.

My thoughts: whatever your politics, it seems undeniable that we are in a period of "global cooling."  What that means, is up for debate.  To me, I find it to be clear evidence in support of my theory: God's plan dictates global climate trends.  Mans' actions may have some impact, but so rarely can man overcome the forces of nature.  We may want to believe we caused a period of global warming, but I don't really believe we were a major contributing factor for the same reason I refuse to believe mankind can stop a tornado: mother nature is far more powerful than we mere mortals give her credit.  God built the earth, and his enginnering skills are above par.  To suggest we can change the climate is like suggesting man can stop tsunamis: both sound like science fiction to me.

Friday, October 9, 2009

And the award ... means nothing? The death of the Nobel Prize.

Apparently the Nobel prize is no longer a noble prize.  Even the Associated Press is questioning the committee's motives.  Check out this article they published on Yahoo! news.

Now, I am not going to bash our president, regardless of my political views.  That is not the point I am after here.  My aim is to ask, like the author of that article, what has Obama done (not promised) to earn such a prestigious award? 

We have all heard the promises of a new world with free healthcare, no poverty, and no war, but has the President actually accomplished, past tense, any of this?  Whatever your political views, believers, none of us can claim he has delivered on those promises at this time.  Will he deliver?  That remains to be seen.  However, as it stands, he has accomplished nothing that would place him ahead of other contenders.  Even Bono (U2 lead singer) has done more, to date, to end hunger and poverty than President Obama.  Comparing their efforts, Bono probably comes out ahead of most presidents to date.

I say the prize has lost its nobility, because it is being awarded for political goals - not for rewarding actual accomplishments in achieving a better world for all.  What was once a prestigious award now is junk, at least in my eyes.  If they gave me the award (which they shouldn't - I don't deserve it no matter what I promise), it would adorn the bottom of my waste basket rather than the top of my mantle.  An award given purely for a political agenda is only truly an award to someone sharing that agenda.  Otherwise, it is just junk taking up space.

But that's just me.  Who knows - maybe they will resurrect it in the future by giving it out to someone based on his/her merits and achievements rather than political promises.

Be blessed.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

God really does help those who help themselves...

I have often heard the expression, "God helps those who help themselves," and recently I heard another believer say this is not Biblical.  I beg to differ.

Granted, the foregoing expression is not a Bible quote, but, depending on how you interpret that old saying, it is largely true.  Just read this passage from Galatians 6 (ESV), which I am so fond of quoting: 

"1Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5For each will have to bear his own load.

"6One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches. 7Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith."

It is true that Christ called us to share each others' burdens (verse 2), but that does not undo personal responsibility, and, ultimately, we must all be responsible to bear our own burdens (verse5).  God not only will not be mocked, this passage teaches us that He cannot be mocked.

What does that mean?  It means that, if we make no effort at all to carry our own load and to fulfill our own obligations (sowing good things), then God will not cause us to reap something entirely different than what we have sown (verse 7).  However, if we keep doing (sowing) good, and if we do not grow weary (enduring in faith), then we reap our harvest in "due season" (God's time - not ours) (verse 9).

I read today about a set of parents who were part of the "faith healing" crowd and who, accompanied by their pastor, allegedly prayed over their sick infant for 30 hours without seeking medical attention. Click here to read the article.  Now, I do believe that healing comes by faith in the Lord, and I do believe the Lord performs miracles.  However, I do not believe that means the Lord wants us to ignore the wordly treatment options available to us (remember, Luke was a doctor).

Instead, I believe the Lord wants us to sow our efforts into doing all we reasonably can to resolve our own problems, trusting Him to bless our efforts.  In my own life, when I have had a problem or been confronted to the obstacle, I prayed hard for God to take care of it.  Sometimes, with no more sowing than a prayer, the Lord took care of the issue, but most of the time he required me to put some effort in.  I call this reaping/sowing principal "no deposit; no return."

God doesn't need our pitiful efforts - He is the all-powerful creator of the universe.  However, he does require our efforts, no matter how insignificant they may seem to us.  God designed the universe to work a particular way, and we are mocking both that creation and the nature of our God when we expect to reap something without sowing something (but our efforts to mock will fail when we inevitably reap what we sow).  That doesn't mean God cannot perform miracles, which is His right.  However, we do not get to dictate to Almighty God how he performs miracles, including the miracle of healing. 

I once had a large, non-malignant mass/tumor on my spine show up in x-rays.  My family and friends, in a tremendous show of faith, love, and support, prayed corporately for me.  By the time my MRI results came back, the mass was gone.  It didn't shrink: it was gone.  Some have said the x-rays were wrong - whatever.  I say, and I always will, that God had other plans for my spine.  Praise Him!  He healed me, and I believe the faith of my family and friends made a huge difference.

But I went to the doctor... 

That's right: I didn't sow nothing.  I prayed (a LOT), and I went to see a doctor.  I didn't sit around with excruciating, unnatural back pain for months on end begging God to heal me without taking any actions myself to pursue treatment.  I prayed, I went to the doctor, and God blessed those efforts with a harvest of healing, in His time, not in mine.

"Faith healing," is something I whole-heartedly believe in, but I don't see that as an excuse to avoid sowing our efforts toward the healing for which we are petitioning the Lord.  Going to the doctor is not a sign of lacking faith - it is a practical measure that the Lord can bless.  We go to the doctor, and we pray to the Lord, who will decide how to heal us - through an overt display of divine power, or through the doctors hands, or via whatever other mechanism He deems wise, in His time.

If you are sick - seek medical attention, but don't stop praying.  Also, don't pray that the doctors heal you.  That is a sign of lacking faith.  I suggest this prayer:

"Lord, I am not feeling well, and I know something is wrong.  Normally I would be afraid, but I am stepping out in faith and trusting you with my future.  I pray that you heal my broken body according to your Will.  In the name of Jesus I pray this, amen."

Say it.  Pursue it.  Believe it.  Receive it.  Just don't skip the pursuing - it is an essential element. 

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A wise man seeks wise counsel (no.3).

"Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed."
-Proverbs 15:22, NIV.

This verse came to me in my email devotional, and I find it to be one of the best verses in the Bible when it comes to decision-making and dealing with confusion.  Frankly, in my own life, I have often been convicted with the reality that I cannot do everything myself. 

As an example, I broke my foot last week playing tennis.  Try as I might, I couldn't take care of myself, and I needed someone to nurse-maid me until I was back on my feet again.  I am pleased to report that I am recovering quickly, and I am even able to walk normally for brief periods with the crutches (as opposed to using only my good foot).  In a short time, I will be right as rain.  In the beginning, however, my wife was a God-send.  Were it not for her, I'd have had to hire a nurse or stay in the hospital until I was able to function again.

Similarly, we should not make important decisions all alone without seeking some wise counsel first.  I will not waste time rehashing previous posts dealing with the question of when to seek help and from whom (you may find the first two posts in this series here and here; you may also find the post "No Man an Island" to be relevant, which you can find here).  Instead, I just want to focus on the wisdom of the verse quoted at the top of this post.

My wife and I have a wonderful, happy marriage.  However, we do occasionally differ, and sometimes the decision of when to seek advice is an area in which we differ.  My wife is a very private person, and she would often prefer that we make important decisions alone (after consulting the Lord, of course).  I, on the other hand, feel like the best decision is made only after consulting others whom I consider wise and knowledgeable.  Is my wife wrong to want to keep matters private?  Not at all, and some decisions really do require discretion, especially in a marriage.

All the same, the desire for privacy is often related more to one's pride than to a desire for discretion.  My advice to you, believers, is to strike a good balance.  Seek not only wise counselors, but discreet counselors.  In my view, an advisor is not a very wise person to begin with if that person does not appreciate the value of discretion.  Certainly, we know that discretion and wisdom go hand in hand (see Prov 3:21, 5:2, and 11:22).  

Remember: the Bible teaches us that our plans fail for lack of counsel (lack of wise advice), but our plans often succeed if we have many advisors.  Of course, we shouldn't be too quick to get or take the advice of a drunkard or fool, but when a knowledgeable person offers you advice, I suggest that you consider it as a gift rather than a burden.

How often do we hear advice from parents or other elders and disregard it as outdated or as another "lecture?"  Don't be a fool: if you have wise parents or elders, then listen to their advice.  It is worth more than gold.  As an example, if you are experiencing marital difficulties, don't shrug off the advice of a happily married couple and tell them it is none of their business.  Perhaps you are right that it is not their concern, but if that couple is genuinely trying to help you, then making your business their concern is a sign of friendship, not intrusion.  The secrets to happiness in their own marriage may very well be the secret to happiness in your own.  That is just an example.

Businessmen, for another example, I advise you not to hastily shirk the advice of your more successful colleagues.  Successful business models are often reproduceable, and for a successful businessman to share his insight with you, well that is invaluable.  Seize the opportunity!  Don't let pride be your downfall.

And remember, ultimately every decision that confronts you is your right and responsibility to make, but, knowing the every decision has consequences, would you not prefer your decisions to be informed decisions?  Having many advisors means understanding the facets of the situation with insights beyond/in addition to your own.  Listening to advisors is no excuse to refuse the ultimate responsibility for the decision.  You cannot sacrifice your judgment without making a choice to do just that.  Wisdom is about listening and discerning.  There is middle ground between ignoring good advice and jjust taking whatever advice comes your way.  I advise you (wisely I hope) to find that balance.  

Be blessed.