You, Theologian : Where We Begin

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As we accept our call to be theologians, the next logical question is to ask what that means. Many in the Christian community will default to the image of the sequestered scholar, surrounded by mountains of books and poring over the scattered papers piled before him. Theology, in this narrow view, is a field with high barriers to entry, only to be approached by a select few while the rest of us wait to receive their wisdom. Nonsense. This stereotype is not only damaging to the faith, it is flat out wrong. Go look in a mirror Christian. There is a theologian. Regardless of background, social group, education, or denomination even, you and I are called to be theologians and our theology is formed in two ways. One is by our experience of being a Christian. This is known as our embedded theology.

Our first order theology comes from the Christian environment that surrounds us. This environment, usually our church and this immediate community, usually drives what we believe about our faith. Since every church believes itself to be living by Christian principles, the initial framework of how we think about faith is organized on a similar framework to that which guides our church. The practices, stated doctrine, and general atmosphere give us some idea of what it means to be a Christian. We trust that those who developed the doctrines and traditions knew what they were doing and this confidence tells us we can accept these things without too much worry.

This is as far as many believers will ever go. If our church teaches it, regardless of the initial reasons, it’s good enough for us. Embedded theology works well for a while but some cracks in the firmness of the foundation begin to show when it is challenged. The first challenge often arrives in the form of a comparison between our church and our neighbor’s church. We may worship within a tradition that has a dry tradition toward alcohol and so we live as teetotalers. One fine summer day our neighbor Ed invites us over for a barbecue. Ed and his family are Christians who go to a different church but we still look forward to some fine fellowship. Knocking on the door brings Ed quickly to answer it, swinging the door wide with the hand that isn’t gripping his beer. Beer! Your embedded theology sends a message to your brain: smile, but watch this guy carefully since you know that no Christians use alcohol.

The barbecue is fine and later, as you nurse your third cola, you get a chance to talk to Ed alone. “Say Ed,” you say. “I noticed you drink beer.”

“Yep, I have a couple now and then. Why?”

You don’t want to lecture (but secretly you do) so you put a big smile on your face and say “Well, my pastor speaks against alcohol at least once every couple of months. I was just wondering how often yours does.”

“I’ve only heard him talk about it once.” Ed replies and takes the last sip of his beverage. “He taught us that the Bible talks about drunkenness but doesn’t say we must not drink alcohol. Didn’t Jesus drink wine?”

So it seems that some Christians do drink alcohol. How can the Bible teach both things? We trust our embedded ideas but often find them quickly challenged.

Second order challenges are much more difficult for this type of theological thinking. Imagine the family of the child who wandered away at the beach and got too close to the surf. She was swept out of reach of her searching parents and they lost her. How will the shallow theology of our community answer this tragedy. Why did God take the child? Were the parents secret sinners who were being punished? Was the child herself punished? Embedded theology is usually to fragile to deal with something like effectively. To come to grips with a loss like this requires a depth in the answers. It requires an intentional approach to theological questions. It requires that we practice deliberative theology.

Deliberative theology begins work right where we are by setting forth to reflect upon our embedded convictions. We question the beliefs that we have taken for granted and seek to place them among the spectrum of Christian belief on a subject. The deliberative approach looks into the various positions and seeks to understand that which is most satisfactory. Sometimes this is easier said than done since seeking answers outside of our narrow understanding can lead to challenges that we would rather not face. Beloved traditions and beliefs can be toppled in an instant and many will retreat to the shallow end of the pool when this threat becomes too real.

Sadly, we discover our need for a more intentional approach to theological thinking when the deeper tragedies of life occur. Our embedded beliefs prove unsatisfactory to answer the questions we have and we embark on a quest to understand. When we are prepared to set aside simply believing what we are told to believe and to make the effort to understand why we believe what we believe, we finally grow and mature as Christians. We see God as more than just Daddy. We seek out a deeper knowledge of His revealed nature and character. The result is a more satisfying faith and a more complete worship. We are living out our calling.

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Psalm 66 – He Has Not Withheld His Love

imageCome and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. ( v16 )

God has a history with each of us. He has pursued us and extended immeasurable grace to us that we do not deserve. Many of us have been brought to repentance and restored into relationship with our Savior. No matter how many years have passed in this relationship, or if it is still brand new, our proper attitude is ensured by a consistent practice of rehearsing in our minds and with our lips all of the things that God has done for us.

Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works in man’s behalf!

He turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the waters on foot – come let us rejoice in him. (vv 5-6)

You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance. (v 12)

If we turn back through the preceding pages of the Old Testament, we find that over and over the people of Israel recite all of their history with God as they praise Him. The blessings and the testing are all there, and from the rehearsal of this history His people are reminded of how deeply God loves and wants to restore them to holiness and relationship with Him. Both His loving blessing and His difficult testing are meant to achieve the same purpose, that you and I become who we were meant by His design to be.

Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you.

All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing praise to your name.” (vv 3-4)

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Day 21 in the School of Prayer : Remain in Me!

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If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. (John 15:7)

As we sit at the feet of the master and learn the art of prayer from the One who knows, the easiest lesson we are given is also the most obvious. Embedded in His teaching regarding the vine and the branches is this point; it is impossible to pray correctly separate from relationship with and faith in Christ. To send prayers heavenward apart from knowing Jesus as Savior results in silence. To gain the promise of answered prayer we must fulfill the Answerers command to abide in Him.

This lesson greets us as Jesus as explains interconnectedness of He and His people. Our salvation reconnects us to the vine of life from which the new life flows into us and quickens our life. Our fruitfulness is a product of how well we build the bonds of our connection to the vine. To separate is to die. To nourish and grow the bond is to be graced with the ability to communicate our prayers directly. Connected to the vine we are connected to God and our prayer is His prayer. Our fruit is God’s glory.

Psalm 65 – Praise Awaits You, O God

imagePraise awaits you, O God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled.

O you who hear prayer, to you all men will come. (vv 1-2)

When we reach the 65th psalm, the psalter takes a sudden turn to effusive praise and leaves behind the psalms of lament temporarily. God has been praised by the psalmist over and over without hesitation thus far, despite the threatening clouds that seemed to shadow each entry in the book. Here there is no lament; it is either cured or forgotten in favor of pure praise for the goodness of God toward those who love him.

When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions.

Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! (vv 3-4)

Though we should worship God simply because He is who He is, we most often associate our relationship to Him via his remarkable grace toward us sinners. We who were separated from Him by the chasm of our unholiness are given the opportunity to rejoin the community of belief through His grace. Washing us clean, God provides the way for us to move closer and kneel in the courts of praise.

Our response to the grace we are extended is praise for His righteous acts:

You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas,

who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength, who stilled the roaring of the seas,

the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations.

Those living far away fear your wonders; where morning dawns and evening fades you call forth songs of joy. (vv 5-8)

Our Father is not content to merely forgive us for our transgressions, he installs us in paradise in a lesser, but still overwhelming, expression of His love for us:

You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly.

The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. (v 9)

Look around you, find a reason and praise Him today.

 

 

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Day 20 in the School of Prayer : Glorify!

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And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. John 14:13

Self-centered as we are wont to be, we often envision the chief aim of prayer as having something to do with us and our satisfaction. The communion with our Father that is engenders is often viewed peripherally. We pray most often to seek answers from God and these answers feed the ego that we try to suppress with little success.

Jesus turns our thinking around with this brief statement found in the Upper Room discourse, his last moments with His disciples before heading to the cross. Prayer and its answers, He says, are not intended to show the recipient/participant as favored (though we certainly are). The chief aim of prayer to bring glory to God. Unlike the powerless Baal who ignored the pleas and histrionic contortions of his followers (since he didn’t exist in the first place), our Father and Lord does respond to our prayers. In this display of power He is glorified, unlike the false gods who constantly attempt to replace him in our hearts.

Confess. Be forgiven. Glorify through obedience.

Ask. Receive. Proclaim.

Psalm 64 All Mankind Will Fear

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Hear me, O God, as I voice my complaint;

protect my life from the threat of the enemy.

Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked, from that noisy crowd of evildoers. (vv 1-2)

The psalmist hides much of the depth of this psalm in the Hebrew but the English reading expresses the trusting relationship between the victims of the wicked and God. They will be attacked publicly but fear nothing that the earthbound can do. Their trust is rooted in the long term. God will prove the righteous true.

All mankind will fear; they will proclaim the works of God and ponder what he has done.

Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him;

let all the upright in heart praise him! (vv 9-10)

This psalm embraces familiar territory. As Jesus reminded his disciples (for all of history), we will have trouble in this life. The strength we show, rooted in our trust in the Lord, will demonstrate His strength to an unbelieving world.

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Getting In Shape for Worship

Much of what passes for worship these days has drifted far from its biblical definition. In the minds of many, worship is the praise-singing portion of a church service and nothing more. It gets compartmentalized into a small part of life and becomes a checklist item… read my bible (check!), said grace at dinner (check!), sang a praise chorus at church (check!). This segmentation extends to the whole of our faith. Rather than faith permeating our life and all things passing through that filter, Christianity becomes simply a part of who we are.

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Modern worship has become I shaped. It is still pointed at God but notice how narrow it has become. It is just a portion of our life, perhaps as little as twenty minutes on Sunday morning. We have allowed worship to become associated solely with the praise choruses of the worship. Many of these contribute to our weak worship as they encourage us to express our singular love for the Lord without expressing the magnitude of his being, his creation or his acts. Segmentation also allows for worship to be put aside as the band lays down their instruments. We fail to make it a part of everything in life.

image When we decide to get in shape for worshipping God, the first improvements we see are that our worship life begins to look more like an upside-down T. Our worship is focused on our love for God but maturity helps us to see that it is a lifestyle. Being a Christian defines who we are rather than being one of many attributes. We have been reborn and given the Holy Ghost to dwell within and guide all we do. Worship is reflected in right thought and right action as we take all things captive to the will of God. The Apostle Paul spoke of this in Romans 12:1-2 in which he preaches that our (whole) lives should be an act of worship.

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We can declare ourselves in shape for worship when we can see the capital I taking root. In addition to expressing worship through all aspects of our life, our worship of God is told through all available channels. We see the musical, prayer, and teaching events of Sunday service as a part of worship in which our hearts and minds are stretched by the glory of all of God’s acts laid out before us. We express awe as the psalmist did and though the seas were not parted for us, we can look to equally momentous changes in our new birth. We are unsatisfied with prom songs for our friend God and we demand depth; we are convinced that All Is Well with our souls despite the crashing waves, that the grace we know truly is amazing. Prayer encompasses the entire body and not just our own wants and desires. The words of the pastor build muscle and strengthen us in areas that we may not have even seen the weakness.

We cannot afford to continue allowing worship to atrophy, even if our intentions in restraining it seem to be good (such as seeker sensitivity.) Whether we face joy or cataclysm, our first attitude should be that of a worshipper. Remember, others are watching.

Day 19 in the School of Prayer – Work!

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I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. (John 14:12-13)

As the Lord prepared His disciples for His departure from this plane, He left them with a new tier of prayer to attain to. At first, Jesus taught the disciples to pray for themselves and their role in the Kingdom. Their prayers were childlike, simply learning to trust in God as their Father but now the time had come from a new maturity. As the Lord would leave He would expect the disciples to take His place and continue His ministry. For this, they would need to learn that prayer would be their source of direction and power in ministry. With enough faith and a deep relationship with Christ, the disciples would do even greater ministry than He.

Work in the name of the Lord must be accompanied accomplished by prayer. There’s no way around it. Without the guidance, power, and shield that comes of a deep relationship with Jesus, our work is in vain, or worse, it is self-centered and humanist. We must be consumed with prayer and power that emanates from that conduit. The promise that whatever Kingdom objective we raise will be granted energizes our work. The ministry of Jesus is now expanded by billions as each new disciple takes this message to heart. Pray. Ask. Work.

Psalm 63 Your Love is Better Than Life

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O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you;

my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (v1)

Moments of desperation often find men seeking the presence of God, even when their lives prior to that moment have not recognized his existence. Mumbled prayers that begin with “if you really are there, save me” are whispered when the realization that no amount of human effort can extract the supplicant from their troubles. The opposite end of the spectrum also sees people proclaiming allegiance to God in times of desperation. The people of God know that there is no land or depth of struggle that is beyond the reach of the Lord and that He is present even in our darkest moments. Rather than sensing abandonment and giving in to the press of doom, God’s people seek Him, rehearsing their memories of His great triumphs throughout history.

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.

Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.

I will praise you as long as I live, and in you name I will lift up my hands. ( vv 2-4 )

The psalms are perfect to hide in our hearts and recite when we face moments in a vast wasteland, devoid of water and filled with predators waiting to make a move on our lives. When all seems lost the remaining brokenness that remains in our hearts will be tempted to question His presence, the new heart will say ‘God is here, I have no fear.’

…All who swear by God’s name will praise Him…