Resource on Spiritual Discipline

The other day in downtown Seoul I met up with an American pastor, who suggested to me a resource on the need for spiritual disciplines in the Christian life.  I was recommended Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, and thought I would mention it here to encourage others.  We all need spiritual discipline in our lives, and I can do with SO much more!   This is reflected in something that the affable Don Carson recently wrote, while reflecting on Psalm 27:

“The Lord is my direction (Ps. 27:7-12). David does not envisage his relation with God as something static, but as his lifelong pursuit. Moreover, he understands that this pursuit simultaneously shapes him. If he seeks God’s face as he ought (Ps. 27:8), if he begs for mercy so that God will deal with him in compassion and not in wrath (Ps. 27:9-10), then he will also learn God’s ways and walk in a straight path (Ps. 27:11). This cannot be said too strongly or too often: to claim that one is pursuing God without concomitant reformation of life and growing conformity to the ways of God is wicked and dangerous nonsense.”

Homosexuality can be defeated

So many people, even Christians, have regurgitated the lie that same-sex sexual attractions cannot be overcome (often because they haven’t experienced it as they had assumed). But this testimony by American speaker David Kyle Foster reveals the truth that it can be overcome. In the same way that killing a plant by not watering it means that the plant dies gradually over some time, so the same is true in this situation. This is how my own sanctification is playing out with respect to this issue. The key to this journey is a close, intimate walk with God the Father, through Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit.  I feel quite sad and frustrated when people insist, even with seemingly good motives, that homosexuality cannot be overcome because it casts doubt on the power of God to work in a person.  In the end that is blasphemous because it questions God’s goodness and power to do as He pleases (not to mention fails to explain passages like 1 Peter 2:11 and Colossians 3:5, which both say that sinful desires can and must be defeated by the power of Christ!).  Well done, David.

Robin Williams and the reality of Hell

Robin-Williams-robin-williams-23812079-1000-1176 This week has admittedly been a bad one for many who have enjoyed the comedic talent of Robin Williams, who killed himself two days ago.  I in particular have enjoyed many of his films, especially Good Will Hunting, Mrs Doubtfire, Hook, Good Morning Vietnam, Jumanji, The Dead Poets Society, and Licence to Wed.  Yet the reality is about Robin Williams is that he was an avid anti-Christian who often used his stand-up ‘comedy’ to slander the Judeo-Christian God and to mock Christians (this can be seen in some of the Youtube videos).  In many of his movies (e.g. Patch Adams, Bicentennial Man, AI Artificial Intelligence, One Hour Photo, and Insomnia) the characters he played were quite dark, and on many occasions, Williams gave the distinct impression that the problems of the characters were mirrors of his own inner demons (e.g. the angry prayer of the character Patch Adams in the movie which bears that name).  It is very likely, given such circumstances, that when Williams died his soul went to the place for those who have ignored God and rejected His good and pleasurable will for their lives: Hell.  That is not a cause for happiness or celebration since God wished all to come to repentance (1 Timothy 2:4 says “[God] desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.“).  

pollyanna-1 This is the sad thing about Hell and judgement: they will meet every human soul that does not welcome the presence of God.  Male, female, gifted, untalented, funny, serious, bipolar, melancholic, African, Asian, Caucasian, whatever.  And yet there is life for everyone who does welcome the salvation wrought by trusting in Christ (John 3:36).  Yet for many in the Christian community there is much embarrassment about the doctrine of Hell.  In the last few days there has been on social media much obscure reaction among many of my Christian friends about Williams.  They’ve rightfully said that prayers are in order for his family and children.  They’ve rightly pointed out that battling with depression is real and that people with it need to seek help – especially the help of the Holy Spirit (who costs nothing and can be accessed anywhere, at any time and in any situation).  However, some also offered prayers for the salvation of his soul!  This makes no sense, given that praying for the souls of the dead is an unbiblical teaching of the Roman Catholic church that was denounced at the Reformation.  Worse, many Christians just could not cognitively accept the fact that Williams was a blasphemous man by insisting ad nauseum that he might have/could have/probably did accept Christ in his final moments.  Such thinking is lovely if it is true, but it does tend to verge on the Pollyanna-ish given that in all likelihood Williams did not do such a thing.  (In the same way Pollyanna thought everyone should just drop their complaints and hold hands so that everyone could be friends, some Christian folk assume the same thing should happen between non-Christians and God).  If Williams did not do this, why be so hasty to assume that he did?  Conjecturing what a man may or may not have done in his final moments does not make the reality of his being in Hell any more or less true, or the consequences more or less painless.  

Yes, Williams was very talented but he was also a very turbulent person and by various accounts of those who’ve known him not an easy person always to get along with (with two ex-wives behind him).  An anonymous friend spoke to the media recently and said that his finances had run out after his alcohol abuse had taken a nasty turn and that he was only making more films because he needed the money.  He actually hated making films because they ‘brought out his inner demons’.  

The issue is, what has God said in His revealed Word to mankind about a person like Williams who has renounced God?  It says that they are fools whose minds are warped (Psalm 14:1).  They are out of their minds and they go from bad to worse as God’s passive judgement ‘gives them over’ to what they crave (Romans 18:18-32).  They are so lost that even in Hell they do not repent but blame God and others for their fate (Luke 16:19-31), just as they did when they were alive.  

Hell is not an easy doctrine for people – even Christians – to consider.  It’s horrible, the idea of spending eternity separated from others and the pleasures of life and to not be beholding the glorious presence of God.  Little wonder many fallen Christian preachers such a Rob Bell and even John Stott) have capitulated, respectively, to the false doctrines of Universalism (which says that everyone will one day be saved when they are ‘overwhelmed’ with God’s love) or Annihilationism (which teaches that people will not suffer everlasting torment in Hell but only suffer for a short time and then eventually ‘peter out’).  But a person’s ubiquity and talent do not change their fate concerning Hell.  Hell is everlasting.  It’s personal because the offence of a life lived in ignorance of the One who created life, God the Father, is very personal to Him.  It’s personal for Him because He went to the most extraordinary lengths to save people from Hell – by sending His own Son Jesus to die a gruesome death on a Cross and be hated by the people He came to save!  Why would God bother doing such a thing if judgement is not going to be forever upon the unrepentant, if His wrath is not personal, and if human souls will be merely ‘overwhelmed’ by His love at the end of the day?  Alas, the death and resurrection of Jesus justify the doctrines of Hell and judgement, just as the good administration of a government justifies the punishment of those who break the law.

I encourage other Christians to resist the urge to try and smooth out or dumb down the doctrine of Hell in order to make God more palatable for others.  Doing so means you also doubt the necessity and the efficacy of what Jesus did on the cross.  The media sentimentalises the death of people like Robin Williams because it does not understand Hell or God’s Word, and going along with such things is not going to be a faithful witness.  Rather, it’s best to use Hell to bring others to repentance (Luke 13:1-5) and to reflect on how good God’s grace is in saving us all from the most horrible fate (Romans 5:6-8, 1 John 4:9-10).  One day, like all human souls, Williams will bow his knee to the Name of Jesus; but the question for us all is: will we be forcibly made to bend it while suffering in judgement, or bend it now, willingly, while God’s mercy is still available?   

****

Here is a poignant article on how Williams’ ‘depression’ was actually connected with opening his soul to demonic influences.

The best Robin Williams scene

The best scene Robin Williams ever made, reminding me of my own time in counselling :)

Williams’ unexpected suicide and death are terrible.  It’s no shameful thing to have depression, and the best person to resolve it is the Holy Spirit (Ps. 16:11).  That is NOT to say that the solutions are simple or run like a computer programme- but God knows how to heal broken hearts and will ultimately do so when one day His people stand with Him in heaven.

Apologetics: the Pre-Suppositional approach

This afternoon I finally polished off an essay that I had to write for Apologetics at Bible college.  For those who don’t know, apologetics is the art of defending the Christian faith in public from attack and critique, and it is a partner (if not a part of) evangelism.  There are five basic and various ways to approach apologetics and I don’t have the time to go into all of them.  However, the one that I very much subscribe to is Pre-Suppositional Apologetics.  It was first established by Dutch Reformed scholar Cornelius Van Til and has since been refined and used by others such as John Frame and K. Scott Oliphant (who has pioneered what is known as Covenantal Apologetics).

Pre-Suppositional apologetics is basically a framework of engaging with non-Christians whereby in order to have a conversation about God, the non-believer must first understand certain pre-suppositions about Him.  Crudely put, the reason and faculties of non-Christians is darkened because they deliberately suppress the truth even though there are some self-evident proofs of God’s existence and an understanding of His ethical expectations (Romans 1:18-22).  Consequentially they have ended up in idolatry (v. 23), but it’s not their idolatry that is the source of the problem, but the abandonment of God in their hearts.  When a person becomes regenerated by the Holy Spirit and is saved by becoming justified in Christ Jesus, their eyes are then opened to apprehend and delight in God.  Their minds can then begin – and only in minute detail (Prov. 3:5b) – comprehend the deeper things of God (1 Cor 2:16b) such as the Trinity.  As such for Pre-Suppositional apologetics this means when engaging non-Christians, it is essential for them to understand the God whom they are dealing with.  This approach stands firmly on the infallibility of the Bible (2 Tim 3:16-17) and seeks to make God’s word both intelligible and understood to non-Christians.  Whereas unbelievers use their own reason as the final authority to understand spiritual matters, Pre-Suppositional apologetics rightly sees this as a faulty premise and assumes the Bible to be the final and lasting arbiter.

Cornelius Van Til, being more of a purist, discounted the need to dialogue with non-Christians by answering their questions.  Like most responding to Van Til, I believe that is a step too far: Christians are told to be always ready to give an answer for their faith (1 Peter 3:15).  Men of faith are to go about “instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. Then they may come to their senses and escape the Devil’s trap, having been captured by him to do his will” (2 Tim 2:25-26).  However, the means by this is through the Holy Spirit (Luke 12:12; Matt 10:20; Mark 13:11) because evangelism and apologetics are the property and work, ultimately, of God Himself.  Human reason and drawing endless analogies to ‘self-evident’ proofs of God’s existence in creation can have apologists and unbelievers alike walking in circles.  If there IS proof that a God made the world by looking at the majesty of creation, it begs the question: which God?  As Richard Dawkins once stated (and quite rightly in my view), that even if you could prove that the world is made by a divine being, that being could be Yahweh, Jesus, Allah, Amon Ra, Zeus, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  The American scientist Carl Sagan, who wrote, “… if, by ‘God’ one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. [However], this God is emotionally unsatisfying … it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Sydney: Random House), 19, emphasis added).  Even C.S. Lewis once admitted that there is no one foolproof means of proving God’s existence.  

In my limited experience of doing apologetics in the media and in normal life, 80% of it is demonstrating that the God of the Bible is who He says He is.  It is (re-) introducing people to a God who has been misunderstood and warped Satan’s lies.  The trick then is not to argue people into belief by appealing to their fallen reason but to speak to their hearts and often to the lies and wounds that have infected their hearts.  Almost all of the time such lies come from past wounds from family, friends, and significant others; hence what sinful people need is a realistic understanding of God and most importantly a personal encounter with Him (Psalm 34:8-10).  This means apologists spend less time getting bogged down in endless (and fruitless) debates about proofs, first principals, and other things and can ‘cut to the chase’ about what is really going on at the heart-level that is driving the intellectual objections.

For me though, 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 really sums up the theology of this well (see below):

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away.  But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.  None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians was not about who had the best apologetic argument: in fact using the language of worldly wisdom was a hindrance to evangelism, not a help.  In Colossians 2:8,16,20-23 he lambasts worldly wisdom in scathing language.  Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 1:18-21 he writes:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved. For it is written:

I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and I will set aside the understanding of the experts.

Where is the philosopher? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish? For since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached.

The Corinthians had tried to import such ‘wisdom’ to prove who was ‘in’ on all the good stuff and who wasn’t and Paul chastised them for it because, he said, When I came to you, brothers, announcing the testimony of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom.  (The wisdom he’s referring to is the Greek notion of wisdom, which centred on rhetorical ability to win arguments and live certain ways to prove virtue.)  For Paul though, using ‘clever arguments’ and ‘brilliant speech’ is not how you win people who are already thinking they’re ‘wise’.  Pride has silenced their ears.  And in fact appealing to and using forms of human wisdom in order to claim it for Christ can actually entrench people in their pride and falsely lead them to think that they’ve ‘reasoned’ their way into faith.

For me this is a very important reason why I see Pre-Suppositional apologetics as so helpful and important.  It’s not a foolproof method: but then again, nothing is in this fallen world.  Even the Lord Jesus didn’t convince everyone that He was who He was and lead everyone He met to salvation!  But that’s OK because in apologetics – and everything – evangelists cannot make people choose: they can only offer them the choice and leave it up to the person, with the power of the Holy Spirit working in their hearts.  

***

If you wish to read my essay on apologetics feel free to send a request.

 

King Saul, a man like Samuel?

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been busy with translating 1 Samuel 9 and exploring the narrative in scrupulous detail. This is the story of where Saul becomes the king of Israel.  There are many things that are interesting in Hebrew, but one thing in particular that struck me was the similarity between the names of the two protagonists, Samuel and Saul.  The English translations of these names (especially Saul’s) don’t do justice in this respect but the names in Hebrew are unmistakably similar (see below):

Samuel, the prophet: שְׁמוּאֵל /ʃəmu:eɪl/, or Shu-moo-ail

Saul, the king: שָׁאוּל /ʃʌu:l/, or Sha-ool

It seems that the narrator is very deliberately trying to draw a parallel between the two, though exactly what parallel at this stage I am not sure.  The name Saul is a derivative of the verb ‘he answered’ (√שׁאל, sha-al), and it is likely that his name demonstrates that he is an answer to the petition of the Israeli people to have a king like the pagan nations.  Since Samuel’s mother prayed for a son, the name Shu-moo-ail = God answered.  I wanted to share this insight here because I suspect that readers of English would not pick up on this, which is a shame given how deliberately the book is trying to parallel these two men.  

My suspicion is that Saul, having a similar name to Samuel, is meant to be seen as the answer to the people’s prayers for a king.  (Remember that Samuel was the answer to his mother, Hannah’s, prayer when in 1 Samuel 1 and following she prayed at the temple, asking God to remove her shame at not producing a son.)  God answered Hannah’s prayer  and gave her Samuel, who in turn became a mighty man of God who ruled Israel for a time.  Perhaps by associating Saul’s name with Samuel, there is a hope that Saul too will be the hope of godly leadership in Israel.  In the books just before Samuel (Judges and Ruth) the days of the judges were so black, spiritually and socially speaking.  With a new king there was hope that things might be put back to rights under Sha’ool, who seems to follow in the footsteps of Shu’moo’ail.  Of course, it didn’t turn out that way…

Strategy Against Sin

“Whatever I see to be sin, I ought to set my whole soul against it, using all Scriptural methods to mortify it, as confession, contrition of soul, special prayer for the Spirit, fasting, watching…I ought to mark strictly the occasions when I have fallen, and avoid the occasion as much as the sin itself. Satan often tempts me to go as near to temptations as possible without committing the sin. This is fearful, tempting God and grieving the Holy Ghost. It is a deep-laid plot of Satan” – Robert Murray McCheyne.