Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Adulthood: When Does it Start?

I wrote the following article for our church's newsletter.  I would welcome any feedback.

When does someone enter adulthood?  The obvious answer most would give is, “When they turn 18.”  Those who are a little more thoughtful, or consider their own life, may give a benchmark: When they graduate from high school, when they support themselves financially, when they get married, or for some even, when they have children.  Both fall short, though.  What about the person who never marries, are they not a true adult?  Or if a couple decides not to have children or are unable to have children, do they remain children themselves?  And on the other side, what about someone who, at sixteen years old, is working a full-time job in order to support their single parent and younger siblings: have they not entered adulthood simply because they haven’t reached some magical age?

I have come to see the transition to adulthood as just that: a transition, a process.  So if there isn’t a specific time that you “become an adult”, if adulthood isn’t measured by an age or a benchmark in life, then what is adulthood?  Why do we even differentiate between someone who is a “child” and someone who is an “adult”?  In the simplest terms, our society defines adulthood as the age when an individual can be held responsible for their actions.  So when you are 17 years and 364 days old, you are not responsible for a great number of possible actions.  In fact, not only are you not held responsible, but your parents can actually be held responsible for what you have done.  Rather than looking at it as a day, though, a moment in time, I would suggest that one enters adulthood when they begin making decisions that will affect the rest of their life.

Some may argue that this makes everyone an adult.  A 6 year old can make the decision to jump out of a window or not, and that decision will very well affect the rest of their life.  I would agree and even take it the step further to say, in that small area of their life that 6 year old has more responsibility, and is closer to adulthood, than an infant, who cannot make that decision.  In effect, I am defining adulthood as responsibility.  In our culture we recognize adulthood as a time when a person can be held responsible, so parents allow their child to live under their roof, adding no value to their own life or the lives of others, and then suddenly when that child turns 18 the parents expect them to hold a steady job, pay rent, and make life altering decisions.  But in reality, that “child” was already making life altering decisions, they just weren’t being held responsible.  And since they weren’t being held responsible, they didn’t feel responsible.

So adulthood is responsibility: making decisions that will affect the rest of your own or somebody else’s life.  But I would make a further distinction between adulthood and maturity.  Adulthood is when society allows you to make decisions that affect the rest of your life; maturity is when you realize that the decisions you make are affecting the rest of your life (and others’ lives).  So, the 25 year old who continues to live in their parents’ basement playing video games instead of trying to get a full-time, life supporting job has made a decision that will affect the rest of their life.  They have decided NOT to pursue a life-sustaining income.  However, they do not yet realize that by deciding not to act they are altering the outcome of their own and other’s lives, so they are an adult, but they are an immature adult.  And the 16 year old who takes everything seriously, tries their best at school, and thinks about where and who they want be in 10, 20, and 50 years but whose parents still control every decision that they make: not allowing them to get their driver’s license, choosing their college for them, and perhaps even pushing them into a career, is mature even though not being allowed to function as an adult.  In fact, it is possible to have mature children not functioning as adults because of immature adults who are parents.

Adulthood doesn’t entitle you to anything; in fact, it requires things of you (maturity, wisdom, and caring for those who can’t care for themselves).  Too often we’ve presented adulthood to our children as an age, a point in life, rather than teaching them how every decision they make has consequences.  We shouldn’t teach our children to be adults, we should teach them to be mature; and once we see maturity then they can be rewarded with the responsibilities (and privileges) of adulthood, even if only in some small area of their life.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Regret, Realism, and Hope

When I look back at my life, there are things that I wish I had done differently. I wish, when I was a preteen and read countless books a year, that I had been more interested in learning and read more non-fiction rather than fiction. I wish, when I was a teenager and making money with little to no financial responsibilities, that I had understood investing, finances, and compounding interest more fully. So how do I handle those experiences and my reflection on them? It seems to me that there are two common ways of dealing with past mistakes: we can learn from them and move forward with more confidence and wisdom, or we can wallow in them and live stuck in the past and full of regret.
Recently, I've been finding myself living more and more in that place of regret rather than learning, and today I began to realize that and consider why it was. As I followed the thought processes that went through my head, I realized something I was doing that led to a point of regret. When I considered alternative scenarios, had a made a decision different from the one I made, I only considered the good things that could have come from it. Also, when considering the effects of the decision I had made, I only considered the bad things that had come from it.
But the truth is, every decision that we make brings both good and bad. We are always faced with opportunities, and by the very nature of time we will take some of those opportunities and others we will leave behind. So I am going to work on being more realistic when thinking about where I am at, where I have been, where I will be, and where I could be.
Life will always contain good and bad, but ultimately what defines us is not our situation, but our relationship to our Father. We are not what we could be, but we are what He has made us to be; we are not where we should be, but we are where He wants us right now.
So, may you live out of a love for God, recognizing your faults and failures, not so that you beat yourself up and live in the past, regretful of what you have or have not done, but so that you can accept His love and forgiveness, turning from yourself and your sin, and running into the future that God is preparing for you in Christ Jesus. He is our hope and he is our salvation. Trust in him and you will never be disappointed.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Update: Life and Blogging

I haven't had any time to follow up on my Bible Study plan from the beginning of the year.  I still plan to do an in-depth study through Scripture on the nature of the atonement, but work and seminary have been keeping me pretty busy so far this year.

I always wrestle with what to post on this blog.  My original intention in starting this blog was for it to be a place for me to write things I was wrestling through as I got to know God and understand His mission, but since I now hold a position in a church where my ideas influence the beliefs and lives of others I recognize that it may not be wise to post everything I work through personally and theologically.  Sometimes the path of learning, especially when it comes to hearing and discerning the voice of the Spirit, can take us down some odd trails.

So rather than writing intellectual pondering only, which is what this blog has mostly been up until this point, I may throw in some personal/life updates as well.

I was asked recently where I saw God at work.  Here is how I responded:

God’s really been working on my heart as far as future direction in ministry. Nothing concrete, but wrestling through whether full-time “church work” is the direction I’m heading, or if bi-vocational ministry is more the direction. On Sunday morning I really felt God give me the affirmative that some of the ideas I've been toying with are from Him and not my own. Basically, my idea is to lead a church towards seeing themselves as a missionary outpost in the community rather than a program for their members, and in order to do that I feel that I should be working in the community some rather than spending 50-70 hours per week on “church” things.

Later I was talking with a friend who is really passionate for God but has been very inward-church focused. They told me that God has been completely changing their long-term vision and they're not even sure that they'll be working in a church in the future, but instead they're hoping to be a “community pastor”.

Add onto that, we’re heading towards a series on evangelism, and there have been at least 5 people in the past week who have been very vocal about a new/renewed desire to share the gospel in our local community.

Tell me that’s not all God at work!!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Psalm 62:1-8: A Paraphrase

I did this for youth group tonight and thought it might be worth sharing.  Tried to put Psalm 62:1-8 in words that we would use in everyday speech.  I found it to be moving...I hope you will too.

The only way I have peace inside is in God
He comes through for me.
He’s like a rock for me, I can count on Him;
He’s like a bomb shelter from life; nothing shakes me.

How long are you guys gonna come after me?
Are you trying to push me over –
because I’m already partially broken,
because I’m hurting and weak?

I’m sure they’re out to get me!
Trying to push me down!
They love to lie…
When they’re around me they say nice things,
but inside I know they hate me.

Yes, inside, I only find peace in God,
My belief in a better tomorrow is because of Him.
He is my rock, I can count on Him;
He’s like a bomb shelter from life, nothing shakes me.

You can trust in him for everything too!
Pour out your insides to Him, the things you hide from everyone else.
Because God is a refuge!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Studying the Scriptures: My Approach

I wrote the other day about my goal to read the entire Bible with this question in mind: How is it that Jesus has corrected the problem of sin thereby allowing rebellious people to turn in faith to God?  My goal is to develop an understanding of atonement, the nature of sin and salvation, based on the entirety of Scripture.  Since then I read a post from April 2012 where I suggested that there are two basic questions that the entire Bible is answering: Who is God? and What does He want with me?  While these two questions do not directly relate to the question of how God has accomplished salvation, it seems that they would be appropriate to consider as I read through the Bible asking the question about the nature of the atonement.

So this is how I will approach my goal:
Tuesday and Wednesday I will read a passage of Scripture and begin to reflect on these four questions:
     1) Who is God?
     2) What does He want with me?
     3) What is the nature of sin?
     4) What is the remedy for sin?
Thursday I will write my thoughts in relation to the first question: Who is God?
Saturday or Sunday I will write in relation to the second question: What does He want with me?
Monday I will write in relation to the last two questions: What is the nature of sin? and What is the remedy for sin?

In approaching it in this way I hope to give a full week of thought to each passage before writing my conclusions on what it says about atonement.  Hopefully asking all four questions rather than just the last two will also make the whole exercise more fruitful.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What is Salvation? The beginning of a daunting task

Assuming that a person believes that Jesus is God in the flesh and has committed their life to following Him, it seems that the most important question relating to matters of faith becomes: How is it that Jesus has corrected the problem of sin thereby allowing rebellious people to turn in faith to God?

I recently wrote a five-page biblical plotline paper, and as I tried to strip away everything that is periphery to the Christian faith and consider what constitutes the basic storyline of the Bible, I realized that it is the answer to this very question; so it follows that the way you answer this question will effect the way you read the entirety of Scripture and understand every facet of the Christian faith.

These are not new thoughts, two years ago I began reading the book "Four Views on the Atonement" which centers on this very question, but I have once again realized how important it is for Christians to understand how sin is conquered and communion with God made possible (my basic definition of "atonement").  Not only does this affect how we read and understand Scripture, it has an inestimable impact on how we live each day in a broken world, how we worship the Almighty Creator, and how we approach sharing our faith with those around us.  This question of the atonement, the nature of sin and salvation, is of utmost importance.

So, I have decided to dedicate a series of blogposts to this topic.  I realize from the start that I am biting off more than I can chew, but I will set out to chew it anyways.  My goal is to take a passage of Scripture each week (some weeks that may be 5 verses, other weeks it may be 5 chapters) and consider what implications it has for our understanding of atonement, starting in Genesis and going through Revelation.  There are 1189 chapters in the Bible and 52 weeks in a year, so if I am actually faithful in doing these every week and if I average a chapter each week, it will only take 23 years to complete.  As I said, I'm biting off more than I can chew, but chew I will.

If you've read this blog for any length of time you may realize that, while I am dedicated to thinking and writing, I am not consistent.  I started this blog in order to have a place to write my thoughts about God and life as I walk in faith with Jesus.  There have been times with many thoughts and much writing and times with little thought and no writing.  While I will be writing my findings as I search the Scriptures concerning the atonement, this is ultimately a personal goal to continue to grow in my faith and relationship with God.

May we be near God always, as He is near to us.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 2:2-3:3

This was another thought assignment for my Biblical Interpretation class, although I think many of you will find this one much more interesting.  It is based upon 1 Corinthians 2:2-3:3 as well as some specific questions provided by my professor.  Since what I wrote assumes general knowledge of the passage, it may be helpful to read it before continuing to read this post.

We find from 1 Corinthians 2:2-3:3 that when a believer finds sin in their life the only appropriate response is to turn and seek God with all their heart; when they do they will learn that there is always more to find, discover, and love.

Paul begins by stating in very stark terms that the only way we can understand God or the things of God is through the Spirit of God.  There are echoes of Isaiah 55:8-11 where God says that His thoughts are greater than the thoughts of man and then calls people to abandon their own thoughts in order to embrace His.  Paul goes on to contrast the spiritual person, who learns the thoughts of God directly from the Spirit of God, and the carnal person, who cannot understand the wisdom of God but instead hears it as foolishness.  This is a common theme in Scripture that is often forgotten in the modern church.  John tells the disciples in his first epistle that they have no need for any man to teach them because the anointing they received would teach them all things (1 John 2:27).  This seems to be repeating the explanation Jesus gives for the Spirit’s coming in John 16:13 and follows the same themes as James 1:1-8 and Peter’s interpretation of Joel 2:28-29.

If it is only through the Spirit that we learn anything of God, then the only conceivable posture for a Christian, whether a spiritually immature Corinthian believer or Paul himself, is on their knees begging God to reveal Himself.  Once a person understands that they know nothing except for what they have received, it will constantly drive them to God to receive.  This is in line with the common teaching of the New Testament (and indeed the whole Bible) that God is looking for those who will seek Him (Matt 7:7-8, Heb 11:6, Deut 4:29, Is 55:6-7, as a few instances).  Within the context of 1 Corinthians, this concept is further developed in chapter 8 when Paul says, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.  The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.  But the man who loves God is known by God.”  Clearly, this refers to Paul as much as it refers to the Corinthian believers.  Thus, Paul’s statements regarding the differences between those taught by the Spirit and those who are carnal, worldly, and receive the wisdom as God as foolishness, which could sound pompous, proud, and judgemental (and have often been used by others in such a way), are actually a humble appeal from Paul for those in conflict in Corinth to seek God and the wisdom that He gives.

In the midst of Greek logic and Jewish naturalism, Paul declares that truth comes in neither form.  For Paul, Truth (YHWH) cannot be known through observation or study, rather, He is known when He makes Himself known.  When Paul speaks of spiritual words to spiritual men he is not saying that they are using different words to communicate the gospel, as in a new language or lingo, rather, the spirit (Spirit) behind the words is different, and thus he calls them spiritual words that are communicating spiritual truths to spiritual people.  The reason this can be said at all is because it is not the words that are communicating, but rather the Spirit of God through those words and the people speaking the words (vs 11).  The Spirit must act to reveal God to an individual before that individual can comprehend anything of God.  In this context Paul is showing that this can take place in multiple ways, specifically through the preached word or directly through the teaching of the Spirit.  However, Paul never addresses HOW the Spirit communicates with these “spiritual men”, so the only solid conclusion that we can draw is that there are those capable of receiving from the Spirit and those who are not capable.

Paul then goes on to speak of the carnal man in the beginning of chapter 3.  The carnal man is the one who has not received the Spirit or the words of the Spirit.  He is the one who is a “mere man” and is prone to quarrels, false judgements, and dissension.  There seems to be a dilemma here because Paul refers to the Corinthians as “infants in Christ” while also maintaining that they are “carnal”.  How can this be?  Since we have established that the one who has received the Spirit is spiritually minded and the one who has not received the spirit is fleshly, how can Paul say that they are fleshly but also call them “infants in Christ”?  It would seem that Paul himself is unwilling to completely cast them aside as carnal.  He states it in terms of his own predicament; looking on at them from the outside it appears that they are carnal and not spiritual in any way, but he trusts that they are infants in Christ which is the only reason he still appeals to them as “brothers” at all.  And so he leaves them with a question, “...since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?”  Paul is not yet prepared to make this judgement, so he provides the evidence and asks them to make the judgement themselves.  Based on their actions, Paul is calling the Corinthian church out.  He is saying, in effect, “You know not God nor the things of God.  Your actions betray you.”  And they have no choice but to recognize that what he says is the truth.  Beyond that, Paul is saying to them that he was already aware of it and would have pointed it out to them but their own pride restricted him from doing so.  Conflict was necessary for the real spiritual issues to surface and to allow Paul to address them.

Paul’s warnings here to the Corinthians, as well as his words in Romans 8, show that he considered it impossible to behold God and remain unchanged.  The man who has the Spirit is being consistently given greater revelations of God through the face of Jesus (2 Cor 3:7-18) and is being transformed from one degree of glory to another.  The test as to whether one has received from the Spirit of God is their life, and the warning is to those who think they stand (1 Cor 10:1-13) because the moment one takes their eyes off of Jesus they have already begun to fall, just as Peter began to sink as he walked out to meet Jesus on the sea (Matt 14:22-33).  Like Peter, the only proper response of a spiritual person upon realizing they are falling, is to cry out to God to save them.  In neither context does Paul seem to be suggesting that one ought measure their spirituality against another, rather, he is suggesting that when that person finds areas of weakness they ought to turn but back to Jesus to be refilled, once again, with His Spirit.  Both in 1 Corinthians 2 and Romans 8 Paul is clearly stating that true spiritual transformation will always result in life transformation.  The purpose is not to identify who is spiritual and who is not, but rather to question if I am spiritual or not!

And so, the main thrust of 1 Corinthians 2:2-3:3 is an encouragement for believers in conflict to consider whether they have truly received the words of the Spirit and whether they are living transformed lives.  Whenever a believer sees sin in their heart or life it should cause them to once again fall at the feet of their Savior seeking His Spirit to fill and renew them.