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Posts Tagged ‘witnesses’

I open the bible and read a passage like Genesis 15.13 and it is obvious that God knows in advance Israel will serve as slaves to Pharaoh. Further into the Genesis narrative (chapter 41) I read that Pharaoh has a dream and it is obvious that God knows things, in fact God can make things happen. Malachi 3.6 says clearly, “I the Lord, do not change.” I love these portrayals of God. They make it clear that God is sovereign and is actively involved in history. But please, do not call me a classical theist.

I also open the bible to read Exodus 4.24-26 and find that God planned to put Moses “to death.” But Zipporah intervened. The prophet Isaiah tells us that God “expected” his vineyard to produce good grapes and it instead produced worthless ones. The prophet Jeremiah quotes God to say “Perhaps they will listen and everyone will turn from his evil way, that I may repent of the calamity which I am planning to do to them because of the evil of their deeds.” I love portrayals of God that remind me of God’s interest in creation and relationship with his people. But please, do not call me an open theist.

Both classical theists and open theists claim biblical support for their positions. This reminds us of the complications that emerge when we attempt to answer questions the text is not asking. Neither classical theists nor open theists use the bible faithfully when they use it as a manual to support their claims. The bible is clear that to walk in relationship with God is to experience both sovereignty and surprise.

Traditionally the church has always had a diversity of opinion about multiple matters, including the sovereignty of God and the free will of humans. While not all of us have ever agreed with all proposed positions, we have continued to consider these views within orthodoxy. I am puzzled why some think it necessary to think differently about open theism.

Put me on record as saying those who lean towards open theism would benefit from conversation with those who have a stronger view of sovereignty. I also think that classical theists would benefit by being challenged by those who emphasize free will. And we all should allow ourselves to be challenged by biblical texts that raise these questions.

The church will be strengthened by honest conversation about our differences. This becomes very important. Our witness demands that we demonstrate what such conversation looks like to a world that does not talk about different opinions very well. We must be careful not to label something a heresy because it is different than the way we think. It would be preferable and certainly more Christian if we were able to see differences as opportunities for learning to disagree in ways that are in line with what we teach.

The bible is clear that God is in charge. God is aware of our eschatological futures. God has a plan for the world. On these things we can agree. But it is not our place to tell God what specifics God knows or to convince ourselves we have God figured out. Quite frankly, it is difficult to find the God of systematic theology debates very interesting. I prefer the God of the bible who appears to do whatever he wants and who surprises us with the way it is done.

Open theism and classical theism are both attempts to explain God in ways that make sense to the explainer. It is complicated to address something with clarity when it may not be intended for us to be clear about it. That is why we must constantly enter and reenter the muddy waters of the text. Acknowledging we do not know everything that is under the surface. We want to be a people willing to walk into the text and stay there – no matter what happens.

For those who think that to not argue for one side or the other is to settle for contradiction. I submit we should remind ourselves the bible does not appear to be bothered by this. Perhaps we shouldn’t be either.

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So John MacArthur is challenging N. T. Wright. He calls Wright’s writings “a mass confusing ambiguity, contradiction, and obfuscation.” (Extra credit to MacArthur for using the word obfuscation). He credits Wright with “academic sleight of hand.” In the end, MacArthur accuses Wright of propagating a false gospel. You can watch the video here… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZJEZiLfYHk

Regardless of whether one takes sides in this situation, we ought to ask ourselves how disagreement should be handled in the church.

MacArthur may come across as funny or clever when he makes a statement like “N. T. Wrong.” Still, to vilify our sisters and brothers does not communicate that we are one body. Even in our differences we are to communicate unity not division. Anything else hinders our witness.

I wish we could see disagreement as an opportunity to demonstrate how we are different than the world. Can we not talk to one another rather than about one another? There will be disagreement. Of that we can be sure. But the way we disagree becomes very important.

I admit to be influenced by a book I’ve been reading this past month. Perhaps I should send MacArthur a copy. Maybe he has read it. The title is I Corinthians. This book has had it with division. Every page is seeking unity. Throughout I Corinthians we are reminded that in a context of disagreement we will learn much about who we are. I Corinthians may not be against the world, but it is against bringing the ways of the world into the church. I Corinthians wants us to know the church is a different way to live. Why would the world be interested in what we say or do in our disagreements if we disagree the same way as everyone else?

Even our disagreements should insist on unity. The way we disagree matters much to not only our unity, but also our public witness.

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In Genesis chapter twelve God calls unlikely, aged, childless Abraham and promises future generations who would become a blessing for the world. We may wonder what is up with a God who dreams such impossible plans and makes such impossible promises. Yet Genesis insists that God is serious about such impossible promises.

God’s plan was to form a people to be an instrument to unite humanity with God and with one another. Those of us who have witnessed or experienced some relationships in the church may think it easier for a barren couple to have a baby. Obvious challenges come when walking with others. Brothers and sisters are not exempt from scandal, nor are they exempt from causing problems for us. Sometimes the whole thing can seem overwhelming yet God brings us together to be witnesses. In fact, it is through one another with all our gifts and limitations that God makes Himself known to us. God has assigned a group project.

This becomes important. God did not select Abraham to be a solo agent who would one day hand off to another solo agent. We sometimes act as if we are solo agents and even talk about alone time with God as if it is the goal. In our wiser moments we would be talking about the dangers of attempting to follow alone.

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It is my best guess that your opinion of the Supreme Court is related to the decisions they make regarding cases that you have an interest in. If that is true, you may have some strong opinions about the court at this time. Whatever you may think about it, the court has ruled to legalize same-sex marriage. My best guess is that some feel this is a step of progress. And that others feel it confirms the decay of culture. No matter your opinion, we are given opportunity to explore some important issues.

Much discussion has already taken place about this, plenty more will follow. I hope that future discussion realizes that the Supreme Court did not arrive at this decision simply to please or anger you. Nor did they attempt to define what marriage looks like in the church. No government body is even capable of this. This becomes difficult for us because for so long we have seen marriage in the sight of God and these witnesses as synonymous to marriage recognized by the state. Because of this, it may shock some when the state recognizes marriage that the church may not (I suppose the opposite of this is also true). Yet, the state has never decided what relationships the church will recognize as marriage.

The state may disagree but the church is not subject to the state. We are subject to a different King. Government does not become God when it makes decisions that we disagree with. No matter where government stands on any issue – Jesus is risen! Although we have long appreciated and enjoyed religious freedom, we do not want to be fooled into thinking that our battle is taking place in the culture wars. To have our feet in two kingdoms at once is not where we are called to be.

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A witness is someone who has made a discovery and attempts to pass the news on to someone else. It always happens this way; it has to happen this way. Witness always happens in relationship. This becomes important for us because some still try to convince us that following Jesus is similar to mastering a doctrine. One could not be further from the truth. Following Jesus is a way to live in relationship. Following Jesus allows us to interpret life meaningfully and influences our relationships significantly. Therefore, a Christian witness is someone who demonstrates that following Jesus has done something significant to them.

This emphasis on relationship directs us toward the systemic nature of this thing called church. We should be taking a more eccle-systemic approach to witness. In fact, we misunderstand Christian witness if we overlook its corporate and relational nature. At our best we are a collection of people who are called out in a way that cuts across the natural boundaries (culture, geography, language, gender, race) that we use to divide ourselves from one another.

It is my opinion that our witness has been hindered by our emphasis on personal witness over corporate witness.  Also, by our emphasis that Jesus has done something “for me.” While I am not adamantly opposed to either of these ideas, I do think they are more the product of an individualized consumer oriented western mindset than of a New Testament picture of witness.

We get ourselves into trouble when we start to think about following Jesus in ways that isolate some of us from others. Sometimes it seems that we prefer differences over a common desire to follow Jesus.  A case can be made that the church should be the safest place to discuss differences. Instead we often act as if we cannot welcome others into the body unless we are in agreement with everything they believe. We fail in our corporate witness when we act as if the sins of others are greater than our own. We fail when we are uninviting to people who are unlike us.

To be a corporate reflection of God is to shift our allegiances by gathering in a fellowship that re-orients and re-prioritizes the way that we live our lives. All prior commitments are brought into conflict with the allegiance now given to King Jesus. This will create tension with the allegiances that others have invested in. This will put the church in the sometimes awkward position of being concerned with the affairs of the world while at the same time those we are concerned about are at odds with us.

This seems to be right where we belong. In relationship with this God who significantly alters all other relationships, including both those who see things similarly to us and those who do not. We are living in a place where people we are concerned about overlaps with people who line up against us.

This all makes witness something that is rather unpredictable. Yet, we cannot stop the fact that we are in relationship with one another, with a world that does not understand our allegiance, and with a God who is unwilling to stop this relational way of doing things. Witness will continue to happen in relationship. The impact of our witness will be directly related to how serious we are about belonging to a fellowship that is witness to what God has done.

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Despite much attention given in the area of evangelism, there does not appear to be much emphasis placed on sharing faith with the children that live in our homes.  We are careful to provide good food, stylish clothes, and plentiful activities, but often overlook intentional seeking of ways to share what matters most.  Perhaps we have ideas of what we want our children to become, but have forgotten the real matter – “who does God want them to be?”

We cannot overemphasize the importance for parents to witness in bold ways.  Parents must demonstrate that in a world of real danger, where others appear to have the upper hand, we find our true identity as part of a community that follows God.  Parents need to demonstrate that God is indeed the one who shapes our lives.

The fact is that children will receive faith more readily if they witness their parents demonstrating it in every facet of their lifestyle.  Instructing children in the faith involves an ongoing conversation.  This is to go on whether at home or away from home.  Our worship of God is to shape us so that we will be witnesses that God has changed everything and we are obedient to His desires.  The call to parent is certainly a call to discipleship on the front row.

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Genesis twelve eventually brings us to Egypt where Abraham seems to be wondering if God is able to keep His promises.  This brings us into more familiar territory.  When God said “Go” and Abraham just went, we may have felt that this is someone else’s story.  But this more suspicious Abraham, this is someone we can relate to.  We live in this land where we struggle with believing the promises of God.  We can relate with Abraham when he decides to secure his own survival instead of trusting God.  This Abraham is not yet ready to sing out that “many sons had father Abraham.”

Fearing death, Abraham lies to save himself (after all doesn’t he need to protect the promise).  In Egypt, Abraham may not live like one believing the promise.  Meanwhile God continues to keep the promise.  Abraham appears to be blessed by God.  And though it is not Pharaoh’s fault that Abraham lies, Pharaoh is cursed.  Something becomes very clear.  The way that God’s people believe the promise of God does affect the nations.  It is important that we live like we believe the promise.  Trusting God matters.  The Federal Treasury might remove it from our money but it must be printed on our hearts “In God We Trust.”

Here in Genesis we meet people of faith who demonstrate for us the human response to following a promise making God.  Like them, we struggle with wanting to know when and how these promises will become reality.  Like them, we are tempted to work things out by our own efforts.  Like them, we are called to follow by faith into the unknown.  Like them, we are to trust in the reality of this promise making God.  “Father Abraham had many sons…  I am one of them, and so are you…”

I once told my friend Dale that I wanted to write a book titled Witness is a Noun.  (I haven’t done that yet, but I have written the title).  The point is this.  Abraham was the witness.  His family was the witness.  You and I are witnesses.  How we live matters.  Living among those who do not believe the promises.  The way we live matters.  Others may be blessed or cursed by our presence.  It is important that we believe in the promise of God.

We take comfort that so many centuries have gone since God spoke the word “Go.”  We are glad because we like what we have, we like where we are, we have worked hard to get what we have and where we are.  So we like to think that “Go” was a word for Abraham.  A necessary word for Israel.

It would be easy to leave this passage with Abraham.  But God still says “Go.”  We are called to leave the comfort, the security, the familiarity of what we know.  We are asked to go out into an unknown adventure.  An adventure called by and led by God.  And then we get to the NT and we hear it again.  Jesus says “Go.”  We are called to be witnesses.

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