Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How to Avoid Gossip

One obvious way to avoid gossip is to not be the gossiper. But how does one avoid gossip when people are constantly coming to you for advice? How do you avoid grasping on the choice morsels? 

The reality is, you can be a party to gossip without even uttering one word on your own. So how do you avoid that end of gossip?

Proverbs 26:22 The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.

Here are some practical tips.

a) Check your own heart. Do I delight in hearing this? Does it satisfy me? Do I take pride that people sought me in counsel? Do I savor what I hear? Do I remember such-and-such about so-and-so so that it influences how I think about them? Do I find myself coming to believe what I hear in a manner the prejudices me? Do I then contribute my own experiences to "put the pieces together"?

b) Do I speak against bad reports and bad attitudes I hear in others?

c) When someone comes to me, do I caution someone over the dangers of bitterness? 

d) Do I evaluate whether the person’s comments can stir up strife? Gossip often begins with the pretense of innocence--meaning the person may come with the notion of "I need your help with this problem." Sometimes there is a fine line between true advice seeking and the poisonous attempts to create bias against someone.

e) Do I challenge the person to examine their motives?

f) Do I suggest alternative perspective as to why the person who supposedly did wrong might have had cause to act?

g) Do I always assume people have the best motives? --is the person coming to you for counsel assuming the best motives or are they certain that they absolutely know why the person did such-and-such. A person who comes and is absolutely sure that they've discerned evil motives in someone else may have their own heart issues first.

h) Does my regular ‘being sought for advice’ cause me to think a certain way about the person whom I hear ‘stories’ about?

*This post simply reflects some devotional notes from a Bible study I did a few years back*

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On Conspiracy Theories -p2

Gossip can contribute to conspiracy theories too.

Gossip can build conspiracy theories. We put all the pieces of the puzzle together and we think we know the problem. We think we know the solution. Scripture teaches that church discipline should be done when there are two or three witnesses. This is two or three witnesses per event. Hearing what someone did or did not do is not a witness—but it can become a choice morsel. We need to evaluate based upon facts not whispers.

The way conspiracy theories develop through gossip reminds me of an episode of Star Trek Voyager called The Voyager Conspiracy. In it Seven-of-Nine downloads logs and records from Voyager’s five years lost in space. Suddenly she takes real information and connects the dots in all the wrong places. Voyager was composed of two crews when she started her journey—suddenly this becomes a theory of mutiny. Starfleet Captain Janeway has a secret agenda, her diplomacy decisions look like a military agenda—her first officer is secretly plotting to overthrow her. The crew is split in two as Seven-of-Nine shares part of her “facts” with both parties—suddenly division is created where there is none.

One of the ironies of conspiracy theories that develop over how people view others with whom they are supposed to have relationships with is you can have all the "facts" but you can spin just about any set of facts into a narrative theory with the notion that you've "proven" it. In other words, bad judgment and mixed motives can make the impossible seem true.

A person stirring up the right things at the wrong time can create a division just about anywhere.

(You can read Conspiracy Theories part 1 here)

*This post simply reflects some devotional notes from a Bible study I did a few years back*

Monday, November 28, 2011

On Conspiracy Theories

Here's a good little video from the NY Times on the "Umbrella Man" in Kennedy Assassination.

(here's the wikipedia page on the "Umbrella Man") 

What struck me is that I have seen this kind of conspiracy thinking happen in the church in a number of contexts. Someone witnesses something and they are so sure that the motives "must" be sinister. It is so "obvious" what kind of other explanation could there be.

But when someone does a little bit of digging, goes to the source, asks the person what is going on--suddenly a reasonable and sane explanation comes to light. Often times, the explanation can be a bit silly--as in the Umbrella Man case. 

But upon investigating and actually talking to the other individuals the situation resolves itself. In fact, there really was never a "situation" except for the person who had all the "evidence" to make one.

It can ruin people's lives, ministries and relationships. There must be a spirit of trust, but people constructing conspiracy theories so convinced of 'the facts' can actually destroy things particularly when they are certain they can prove the sinister motives of an individual.

I believe this is why Scripture says: "The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. (Proverbs 18:17)"

Don't assume the person to speak first is in the right--especially when no one else has come along to examine things or offer plausible alternative explanations.

(go to part 2 here)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Diagram of Christ's Two Natures & Two States

In theology it is important to distinguish between Christ's two natures and his two states.

Jesus Christ's two natures relate to his deity and his humanity. He has a divine nature: He is eternally God. He takes on a human nature: he becomes truly man. He becomes truly man without ceasing to be truly God. To use the word nature we mean: Jesus has all the attributes of what it means to be a particularly being (that's my quick crass non-techinical definition). Anything basic and foundational to what it means to be God is something that can be described of Jesus.

So... Jesus has all the attributes of what it means to be God. Anything that can be predicated of the divine is a statement that can be made of Jesus. So for example, God is omniscient and so Jesus is omniscient. In the Bible, the Lord God has the name "I AM WHO I AM" --in John's Gospel Jesus is shown to be the "I AM". In the book of Revelation Jesus is the "Alpha and Omega--Beginning and End"--harking back to Old Testament descriptions of God. We could go on here but this should suffice.

Jesus has a human nature. Everything that is basic to humanity--can be described of Jesus. In his humanity, Jesus had weakness--he could die. Jesus did not have any sin because this was not basic to humanity in its creation. But Jesus could in his humanity bear our sin because he is just like us in all of our humanity.

That is the two natures.

The two states refer only to two states of the human nature. So while there are two natures (human & divine) only (and we cannot stress that enough) the human nature has two states. Jesus' human life experience goes through two stages. First he is humiliated--Second he is exalted. This echoes back to the Garden of Eden-- Adam was created in a state of lowliness but granted a kingship so that had he exercised it he would have been exalted in glorification. Creation was made for that eschatological moment.

This movement is basic to redemptive history: humiliation and exaltation. Of course, for Christ his humiliation entails (1) full obedience in humanity [as Adam should have done] but also entailed (2) paying for sin in his propitiatory sacrifice. The cross does two things: (1) pay for sin in the post fall world but (2) offers the obedience to the Father that humanity should have offered pre-fall. This is not to say that Adam's obedience would have been his death but rather that Jesus still must obey as a human being--because sons learn obedience. It is unique to Jesus' obedience that now the act obedience entails a redemptive end as well as the original eschatological end. His 'Adamic' obedience in post-fall took on the uniqueness of being a representative and substitutionary sacrifice--which Adam could never have done. So Christ is the Second  Adam or the Last Adam.

This brings Christ's exaltation where the Father sees the work of the Son and is satisfied. His exaltation includes his resurrection, ascension, session at the right hand of the Father and His return and judgment of creation. Christ's exaltation is his glorification.

I have often found this concept to be refreshing for meditation for is the core of the redemptive history that is the gospel. But I have also found that for people hearing for the first time there can be a bit of confusion about the distinction between natures and states. Not only that the fact that there are two of each can be confusing.

Here is a little set of diagrams I came up with years ago. Maybe you can benefit from it.

Christ's Nature &; States

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Christ's Own Glorification

Christ’s true humanity necessitates that he be exalted for us and for our salvation.

It is important for Biblical Christology that we understand Christ has two natures. He is truly God and truly man. He was always for all eternity past truly God and in addition he takes on true humanity at the point of incarnation.

But what many do not realize is that Christ's humanity has two states. First, is the state of Christ's humiliation which culminates in death on the cross (of course this 'high point is an ultimate 'low point'--he is at his most humbled). After his humiliation, Christ's humanity enters a state of exaltation which includes the resurrection and ascension. See Philippians 2:6-11 for this progression of the two 'states' of Christ's humanity.

One other passage that walks us through the conception of “two states” in Christ’s humanity comes in Hebrews 2:5-11 which is powerfully important for the work of Jesus in his humanity. First, in verse 7 Christ described has having been made a little lower than the angels. This refers to the initial state of his humanity--not a statement about his divine status. As to his rank as a human being: he was a nobody. In the celestial hierarchy Jesus in his humanity did not even rank with angels. However, upon his suffering death he is subsequently in exaltation (v.7-8) crowned with all glory and honor in his humanity. All things are put under his feet. Hebrews 2:9 “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” 

All this is why Hebrews in 1:4 can describe Jesus as becoming superior to angels and inheriting the superior divine name. It is about the exercise of rank within creation. Jesus who was the creator of all things, Col 1:16; John 1:3; Heb 1:2 (a statement of eternal deity), stepped down into his creation and in doing so took upon himself a rank within creation that was lower than much of what he had created. In due time, through his humble obedience of God and for our benefit, he dies but it is such a glorious death and the Father is so well-pleased that the only fitting response is to exalt him and give him the rank of king over all things.

While we could explore this more, suffice it to say: Jesus’ exaltation is the state of the glorification of his human nature. The human nature is not deified or made divine but as proper of good Biblical theology human nature is an appropriate vehicle for displaying the image of God. In the Son’s exalted state we have the seen the glory of God shining forth. He is a shining of the exact imprint of God’s glory that Jesus possessed from all eternity past but it is a shining forth in a human nature that he only took upon himself in the fulness of time. 

You and I worship a wondrous God whose chief end is to glorify himself. He has done that supremely in his Son Jesus. He has done it in the most awesome of events: the humiliation and the exaltation of the one who became just like us in all things. For the Christian, our humanity will one day join Jesus in a glorified and resurrected state. No, we never take on divinity or become gods but we will share the glory of our king (Heb 2:10-11) because like his human nature, ours too can be raised up to exaltation. We are raised up because of his working on our behalf that was ‘for us and for our salvation.’ God’s plan for humanity in Eden is fulfilled in the fullness of time through the Son so that in the New Creation we can glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Faith and Works

James chapter 2 is an important passage to balance with Paul's statements in Romans 3 and 4.

Paul clearly excludes works from having any saving value.
Romans 3:28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 
Romans 4:2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 
Works clearly do not contribute to salvation. The word "apart from" is an exclusion word. It excludes works entirely from justification. Thus, Protestants rightly say we are justified by faith alone.

Yet on the surface, at first it appears that this contradicts James. In careful reading and exegesis, it does not. Scripture does not contradict Scripture.

James writes:

2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. 
Clearly, the evidence of faith is not just saying "I have faith" but demonstrating it by good works. In that sense, if I can't show you my faith by what I am doing then my faith is dead. The distinguishing mark of whether or not my faith is dead or alive will be whether or not I have works but works do not make my faith alive.

True faith always brings works with it. 

Consider the analogy of a heart and a pulse. An active heart (in this analogy likened to faith) is what makes a person alive or dead. But an active pulse that someone can feel take and measure will be a sign I have an active heart. But the pulse does not make the heart alive rather the heart that is alive makes the pulse. So too the faith that is real, alive and saving will brings works. Ephesians 2:8-10 is instructive in this respect. Salvation is not of works but we are created to do good works.

Faith is perfected by good works--"and faith was completed by his works." 

This is not to say that "faith + works = justification." 

But rather what is it about faith--that trust in God where I through myself upon Jesus Christ--what confirms that act? When I do that, true faith inseparably and invariably pulls works with it. Faith then is active with works.

It is more like this:
faith = justification + works

Our justification is not self evident in the sense that we do not wear a stamp that says to the world 'I am justified.' But are works will be evidenced to all. If people can see my works they can look at my faith and say "yes, he is justified before God because I can see that works have flowed from his living faith (a living faith which brings justification).

Clearly dead faith does not save. How can I identify dead faith? Well, are there accompanying works? BUT only a living faith saves and works do not make faith alive--they only testify to whether or not the faith is dead or alive.
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...