003 Affections and Apparatus: The Connection of Faith and Learning: Part 2
April 4, 2017 | Permalink
Q: What can we look forward to as we read of your articles and studies in the bible?
Our time together studying God’s Word will emphasize themes and theology and their application to and in our lives, and also cover such introductory issues as authorship, setting, date, and literary structure for Bible books. For some of you this will be a taste of heaven. For others, it will be “uh oh”! For the latter group, I hope that “even” these things will be attractive to you! And to the former, I pray that Christ doesn’t get lost in the details and practice. In a nutshell, we will get to issues that relate to our mind and our will; two important aspects of our lives. But there is more to it than data and information, practice and exercise. As important as these issues are, there is something that surpasses mind and will, even our attitude.
Q: Something more important than our mind and will, something more important than our attitude?
Yes! We’ve all met people who have brilliant minds but we come away sometimes feeling uncared for. And, we’ve all met people who have a strong will even to the extent that its’ their will or the highway! And, as suggested, let’s include the matter of our attitude: that is, our manner, disposition, feel, and position with regard to Christ. I should state that issues of the mind and will are important. They are necessary within the integration of faith and learning. So too is attitude. But let me give this thought. All persons have at some time or other experienced a poor attitude from someone else – and it’s not a great feeling! Indeed, with such thought we might be tempted to state that attitude is the most important act of our lives. Sure, many a sporting coach will tell you so! But, what surpasses mind and will and even attitude is something far more important: it’s love. The mind is important, so too is the will, so likewise is attitude. But none of these are premier. Let’s stay with attitude a moment. When we experience a poor attitude in another, what we find at the core, would we agree, is a lack of love. For example, they don’t want to join in with what you hope for. They have, well, a bad attitude. Why so? Well, ultimately they are focused on themselves, and that is hardly loving. But even when someone has a good attitude, guess what, they might not still love you. They do everything right, but it’s still not because they love you; instead, they have other motivations. I agree that attitude deserves some recognition, but love is premier. If Christ, Himself teaches that we should love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength* then our devotion to Him should be fully toward Him. Yes, the mind is important, and so too our will, but first in the list is the call to love with our heart. And, if we love so, we might see a change and rise in our attitude.
* In Mark 12:30 we find the Greatest Commandment to love God with all… our strength. The idea here is to give over to Him all of ourselves; not just as much as we can give but even more – our full strength, our muchness. I believe that happens fully, when we fully love.
Q: So, just to get this right, attitude is important, but not as important as love?
If our love to Christ is not pure and true, by which I mean it is adulterated with other loves (put more starkly, idolatries) we will never have the full impetus for a true attitude to Him. This might make us feel that we just need to “have the right attitude”. That’s true to an extent, but I’ll still ask ‘what is the source of that attitude?’ Something solely from within, or is it a response to the one who loves us? The apostle John made a theological truth to assist us when he stated that, “we love, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19)”. He didn’t say, “we love, because we got our attitude right”! Our truest sense of love is when it is a fully realized response to the love which He imparts to us. If it’s just from our own self, then what kind of love is it at all?
With a true affection to Him, the mind, I believe, in turn, will faithfully find itself focused on the knowledge of all things God. And, with a mind growing in the knowledge of Him, fueled by a powerful dynamic devotion, we will find ourselves living in truer practice.
Q: But what if you don’t have the right feelings for God, what if you don’t have the right attitude? Many times, we hear the exhortation “do it and then the feelings will come” isn’t there a place for that?
Some will indeed say, “do it and then the feelings will come” but is that axiom really true? I think that such teaching is not that helpful. I don’t mean to say that we shouldn’t “do something”; we should. But I’m cautious about that. We should keep in mind that doing something is always based on feelings, right? After all, if you have an aversion to something (which is a strong feeling) no matter how much people tell you to do it, no amount of prompting will get you to do it and have the right feelings!
“Drink cockroach juice? I don’t think so!”
Likewise, if you say to me “eat ice-cream” I’ll have no problem with my attitude: “how much you got?”
If I may say, perhaps true feelings for God are already in place and providing a place for practice is all that is needed; though I still retain a level of caution, even about that. We should exercise our feelings and “do” something, fair enough, but to say “do it and then the feelings will come” might lead the person into a stunted relationship. How so? If I am asked to dress up in a ballerina costume (something I definitely don’t want to do) then if that person keeps pressing me, I might start to even resent them and not just the tutu! When I was a young boy my eldest brother pressed me into helping him on his paper route. After a few days of getting up at 5:30am in the middle of winter, I soon began to resent his chiding and goading me to go quicker. No matter how much I “did it” no feelings ever came, even though he told me “it’ll be good for you!”
I think we all have feelings. We shouldn’t discount them or just do things, I think we should explore them and discover what we really feel about the person with whom we are to interact with. Imagine saying to your child, “well, I don’t have any feelings for you daughter, but I’ll play ball with you in the hopes that I’ll feel more for you.” Ouch! The reason a father spends time with his child surely should be because his feelings are rightly thriving. And if they are not, I’d say that that father needs do something simple: behold his child. As he does, other loves that have derailed him will lessen (hopefully) and the right feelings will begin to occur. Masking it in action only is easily picked up by a child… “so, you don’t really want to be with me, do you dad?” Ouch!
Much is said, even in the church, of forgetting one’s feelings. Such notions often occur and in place of feelings the mind and will and everything knowledgeable and pragmatic assumes primary importance. Such philosophy promotes that it is the cognitive and the volitional over and above the affections. The thinking goes that affections, feelings and emotions are not to be trusted! But should we be so quick to relegate that which is powerful, for that is what affections are! The issue at hand is that we don’t trust emotions, because it is believed that they lead to wrong actions. Doesn’t such a philosophy, though, prove how powerful affections and emotions are? We are too quick to relegate and discount them – but that’s interesting when God is the one who gave us feelings! Instead, our faith and learning can encompass the truth that God does not want us to jettison our feelings, but to live out our strongest affections and feelings… toward Him. The problem with emotions is not the emotions themselves, but the objects that they are attracted to and why we are attracted. The notion: “just do it and then the right feelings will come” is problematic. A person can “do it” over and over and still the feelings won’t come. What then? Instead, a careful encounter with what we feel about God should happen first.
Remember my encounter with my eldest brother and his poking me to do his paper-round? Recently, I lost my brother to cancer. I deeply loved him. Those old resentments about the paper-round had long since vanished. Here’s my point. If my brother were still alive today, and if, hypothetically he’d want me to do the paper-round with him again, what do you think my response would now be? I’d do it! Why? Because I love him. Before, I was only focused on myself and, as I mentioned, no amount of prodding was going to get me to love the paper-round nor him. But once, love flowed and was evident, then, I’d lovingly do that work with him. Why wouldn’t I? I love him.
What does God Himself say about the affections? A redirect to the narrative and the message of the Bible should prove helpful. Throughout the Bible, we see responses related to our emotional life. We’re meant to feel! Here are a few of the many examples that relate to our feelings: contentment (Exodus 20:17), peace (Colossians 3:15), zeal (Romans 12:11); sorrow and joy (Romans 12:12; Philippians 4:4), desire (1 Peter 2:2), gratitude (Ephesians 5:19,20), not to mention, heart-felt love itself (1 Peter 1:22)! We are not to relegate affections and emotions; we are to have them re-directed by the Lord. They should be powerfully exercised – exercised in response to Him.
We have feelings, but the truth is our feelings are not rightly aligned toward Him. They are attracted to other things. I think that’s why people state, “I don’t feel like studying the Bible.” I think they say that because they perceive that there are more interesting things out there. But like a train on its side, they’ve been derailed.
Q: What derails us from God?
Recently, I was given insights by one of my many mentors, Dr. Randy Furushima, that all humanity has been infected with the disease of seeking the spectacle. I concur. Humans love the spectacle and the spectacular. We prefer to see the shooting star over the static star. We prefer to see the car crash rather than the beautiful horizon ahead of us. We are attracted to news headlines rather than interest stories. And sadly, in the church we prefer the spectacle even to the displacement of a true affection in and for Christ. Simply put, we prefer the show over the Savior! On a particular Sunday in the US calendar ask the general populace if they’d prefer to see the Super Bowl or listen to the words relating to, say, God’s sovereignty? Taking a look at the parking lots of American churches on that Sunday morning will prove startling. See, I’ve used the spectacle to grab your attention! The irony is that we might find people ‘practicing church’ or ‘doing church’ thinking it is the right thing to do. Their mind and will are engaged, they’ve learned the typical fare of ‘three things to do’, which are all well and somewhat good, but is there a heart affection to worship Christ? Regrettably, our true affections show, in quality and in quantity, that in general, we’d rather wear out the couch for four hours serving ourselves, than spending time serving Christ.
Q: We’ve gotten attracted to the wrong things then?
Yes, (me included) and that is why it is my hope that our time in the Word is a mutual relationship of teaching and studying, how wonderful it will be! Yet, I also hope that even as we discover the grand vistas that each book of the Bible presents, taking in each magnificent view; that as we discover profound and comprehensive theological truths in word or phrase, in sentence, paragraph or chapter; that as we learn and are molded in discipleship, we will find ourselves elevated to the richer horizons of seeing Him in all His true glory; that we will see the Father and understand who He is and what He has given us and wants to give to us; and, that we will be touched and enlivened by the Holy Spirit with such powerful force that all our affections crescendo in ever-loving devotion. Paul knew a thing or two about the mind and the will and even about knowledge, but note what he felt was more important when he directed his beloved brothers and sisters in Ephesus, “to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:18.)” [my emphasis added]
I want to have knowledge of God, of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, but I’d rather yet know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.
I hope you are beginning to see that having knowledge of God and having an understanding of what to do, while important, is never as important as love. This is the kind of teaching I hope to engage in. I do so hope we can study together in His loving hands.
002 Affections and Apparatus: The Connection of Faith and Learning: Part 1
April 4, 2017 | Permalink
Affections: Fondness, likeness, love that emanates first from God and a similar response in kind from man (“We love because He first loved us” 1 John 4:19.)
Apparatus: Tools, helps. Technical or structural. Apparatus could be tools such as bible dictionaries, biblical commentaries; it could also be the study of the original Hebrew or Greek; it could also be the in-depth time studying context or the history of a passage; and so on, and so on! There are hundreds, if not thousands of apparatus to help you study His Word!
Introduction: I believe that it is vital, if we are to read His Word, that there be an affection for Him who wrote the Word. I also believe that we should have as full an understanding of Scripture and, to do this, we also need to understand what we might call the technical.
Many times, however, Bible studies either miss Him – being distracted by the cares of the world, or the technical part of study becomes too dominant – at the expense of seeing and responding to Him. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t have better understanding of the technical parts of the Bible: I believe that we should have good apparatus such as dictionaries, concordances, commentaries and the like. My key focus here is that faith and learning should be linked and aimed for, and done so over and above any attempts to simply understand a passage of Scripture technically. When that happens; that is, when faith and learning are vibrant, I believe it is because affection from the Father, through His Word, by the power of the Holy Spirit comes to us and we miraculously receive His abundant love.
Q: Thanks for that introduction. Unpack why you think faith and learning are linked.
A: Sure. Allow me to give further introductory thoughts! When it comes to learning, there are many attractions that we can spend our time on and many ways in which we can approach the things which attract us. We might be interested in the economy, sport, cooking, and so on. When it comes to learning, we should understand a key phenomenon. Our nature is to discard certain things and after making choices we take certain approaches to that which holds our attention (see diagram left). We study what we study because it’s of interest. If we like bible study we’ll find ourselves spending time learning about the Bible, but, as mentioned we’ll do it with different approaches. So, to try and answer the question here, I think that Bible study is good, if the object of our faith is knowing more of Him! If I have the choice between four books and one of them is the Bible, then choosing the Bible is my favored response. But once I’ve picked the Bible, how then do I read it. My hope is that it is to know more of Him. Which is really the point of reading His Word, right? Let me put it this way. If we are reading the Bible or studying the Bible without faith in view, then what kind of learning is it? If the heart is open to Him, we will find we have faith in Him as we learn about Him. I believe therefore that faith and learning are inextricably linked.
Q: So you don’t see bible reading as a purely academic exercise, it’s a faith encounter?
Absolutely, reading the Bible can very much be a faith encounter! In fact, I call it faith reading. Now, I recognize that faith reading is one approach. One can read the Bible as an academic book, one could read it as a means to simply finding a solution to a problem, or any other number of ways. But don’t such approaches rather diminish (our perspective of) who God is? Responding to God’s call to grow in the knowledge of Him, responding to God by following His call, responding to God to grow in faith, responding to God in worship, these are all better, I’d say, even greater responses in the way to engage with the God of the Bible. Our approach should then be relational: which I think is what true faith is all about. God calls us fully to Himself. Jesus wanted the same; for us to, “know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3).” How relational! To underscore this point, Jesus continues in His prayer to His Father with something of great note. Jesus reflects that those who were given to Jesus had “kept His word [John 17:6]”; and, that they had come to “know [that] everything” that God the Father had given to Jesus was indeed from God (John 17:7). Why? Because they had “received [His words] (John 17:8); and, that they had come “to know in truth that [Jesus] came from [God] (John 17:8). They believed in the content that Jesus taught, yes, but they also believed in the teacher doing the teaching. Simply put…they believed and that is not lightly to be noticed. They had faith. They had faith in God the Father and Jesus Christ! What brought about that faith? Not their works, or even their intellectual prowess, me thinks! What marked some of those early followers of Jesus was that there was a receptivity to His word and the response of belief. In a nutshell, faith and learning are inextricably linked!
Q: So if we hear His words we will believe?
Well interestingly, Paul told those in Rome, and by extension to us, that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).”
The question posed here is a bit loaded, though. Allow me to say this. The answer could be that if we hear His words then we will believe! Yes, if we hear His words, belief might happen. Then again… it might not! That’s a sober reality. I wish it were true that if we could just repeat His words then people would all miraculously believe. In which case, we should rent lots of radio space and just broadcast His words all day long and to all places! Let’s look at the real live case of the disciples. The truth is that not all believed! True they heard the Word and even saw Jesus face to face, but despite all the teaching, despite all the time spent with Jesus, when He gave the Great Commission “when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted (Matthew 28:17).” [My emphasis added]. Yes, faith comes by hearing, but just because we hear doesn’t mean that we’ll have faith. I think this understanding of their doubt must lead us to a critical question. Had Jesus become the discarded choice for these doubters? Were other attractions more appealing? Possibly, right? I think this should serve as a caution to us. We too can read the Word and while we might not see Him face to face, if we are attracted away from Him then doubts are sure to follow.
Q: So how can we read His Word and have faith?
Our view of God can magnify our relationship with Him, but at the same time can also taint how or even if we approach Him. It depends on our posture, our attitude, and more importantly our heart toward God. If we view God as inconsequential or small, then the big things we have responded to in our lives will take precedence. If we view God as a record keeper who manages and gives approval/disapproval to our behaviors, then spending time with Him will eventually become a chore; especially, if we have check lists that we use to keep tabs on our time with Him! If we view God as an obstacle to what we want, we will jettison Him. If we view God as a means to get what we want, we will prostitute Him. And so on and so on with such questions. In broad strokes, if we view God dimly other lights will attract us.
As mentioned at the beginning we are attracted to certain things. So, the question about how we can read His word and have faith really starts with whether or not we are attracted to Him. For sure, if we are not attracted to Him our attention won’t be held for long. But if we have been introduced to Him and the introduction is well done, then we might find ourselves drawn to Him. That’s key! What is good to know is that God is constantly introducing Himself. And of course, the Lord encourages, even commands His followers to further those introductions.
I think we as followers can assist in making good introductions much like we would if we wanted two people to get to know each other. “There’s this fellow called Keanu and he’s very handsome… there’s this lady and she’s very smart.” Note that our role is one of assistance – at some point we have to step aside after our introduction. While we may have a part in introducing God to others, ultimately, it is up to God to make it clear who He is. And that’s what happens. God delights in revealing Himself. How then can we read His word and have faith? Simply put: we have to allow the introduction and then allow God to speak. Of course, for the invitee (the person invited) that takes some faith to move forward – they have to want to meet God. But, and here is the wonderful thing… faith is a gift from God! He introduces faith, He authors it, He reveals it, He perfects it. The Bible says as much.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8)
“…Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” (Heb. 12:2)
“…To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ…” (2 Peter 1:1)
While the work of faith is truly all the Lord, gloriously we have a part in introducing God to others; we give some information about Him.
Knowledge of Him and faith in Him will draw us closer. To those followers who kept and received and believed Him and His word, Jesus prayed to His Father for the ultimate reward; that they, “may be with me where I am (John 17:24)”. See how well that initial introduction works out! God wants us to be in an everlasting relationship. How relational!
Q: Do you think there are certain cautions we should heed?
Yes! Too often introductions of God are put in ways that seem to neglect God. “Just read the Bible, it will help you” is one common attempt. Well, that may be true, we will find help in the Bible, but would we introduce someone like that? “Just grab insights from them, they will help you”! The purpose of learning and faith is not to control knowledge, neither even to grasp concepts in self-serving ways, for this only serves to foster our own kingdom. Our Lord and King is not a concept that we control. He is the living Savior, the living Master, not just someone who doles out conventional wisdom. Wrapped up in this caution is another aspect, the aspect of ambition. It is good to have ambition, but what kind of ambition? Students whose sole ambition is to know more and climb the ladder of their own success tragically miss the person of Christ. Ambition need not be so self-serving though. It’d be good to have the ambition to know God so that we might relate with Him truly and in ways that He desires for us.
This is why the integration of faith and learning is so important. It is a journey of engaging the mind and the will, but always it must be for a desire to be with Him. He wants us to be with Him, we want the same.
001 As the Deer pants for the water…
April 1, 2017 | Permalink
“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.” Psalm 42:1
When those sons of Korah wrote the beautiful passage of Psalm 42 for a choir director, they touched on something key to our life with God. There were people who really wanted God! Likewise, we should want God too! That sense of a deer panting for water rightly should be set to music. Can you imagine what it must have been like to have heard that Psalm played by that choir director? Stirring, thrilling, magnificent, I am sure. When our soul pants for God in such a fashion, both our heart and our mind are greatly aroused.
Welcome to “All Things Theological”!
My first article here is to talk of issues that relate to what it means to read the Bible… to truly read the Bible.
We have a heart and we have a mind and when it comes to Bible reading, I believe both are needed. The reality of experience is that, alas; I know it’s possible to read the Bible without a heart affection for God. It happens to me! How about you? Most people would tend to agree that if you ask them about, say, the book of Numbers; there just doesn’t appear to be much in the way of us having our affections stirred. Nevertheless, I believe it is vital that we always cast our eyes toward the person of God and see His love, no matter what part of Scripture one reads. Why? Because God loves us and every one of His words comes from His heart of love – no matter if it is the Book of Numbers.
Now that said, I also understand that we need to be knowledgeable about the Bible and, well, some parts are easier to understand than others. When we find ourselves in a passage that is difficult, yes, I believe we should do our best to understand it, for example, by using a Bible dictionary, or commentary etc. Yet some caution is worth addressing. Let’s go deeper.
I’m very much aware that reading the Bible can be difficult, especially when one of the following two things happen (there could be more, but let’s just focus on these two):
First, we just get distracted. And, if we’re honest, we are distracted because, well, what we read isn’t appealing enough for us. To read through the passages that list person after person after person after person… well, it’s easy to start thinking about what to have for dinner! Our affections get easily distracted. I’m aware of that; I think that you are too. We should love the Lord our God with all our heart, but as fallen creatures, well, what is on TV is of more interest than 15 chapters of reading the instructions God gave Moses to build the Tabernacle! We get sidelined by our sometimes faulty affections. Right?
Second, we read the Bible and suddenly a word or phrase we don’t understand makes us so curious that we end up studying so much technical information, we forget what we were reading in the first place. We get sidelined by chasing information. Right?
But notice this about both scenarios above. We get sidelined by what “we” love. We want dinner more than what we are reading; we want to be knowledgeable and smart, even more than relating to God. We start thinking of dinner, or about a person, and while there is nothing wrong with that, well, we suddenly aren’t reading the Bible with intent. More so, we aren’t reading the Bible with love of God central. Considering that God is communicating to us through His Word, we might ask ourselves: how would a friend react if, while listening to them, we started to get sidelined by thinking about dinner, or about someone else not there? Kind of rude, right?
The same is true of chasing information. Again, I think we should get clarity about certain words and phrases, but can we side-line God in the process? Sometimes? Yes! If you are speaking with a friend and they introduce a word you’ve never heard of before, in that situation, you might politely ask them what it means, and in normal conversation, you’d quickly carry on the main idea of the discussion. Imagine what would happen though, if you were speaking to someone and mentioned a phrase that, clearly was new to them, but they then decided to break open 5 or 6 dictionaries, a thesaurus, lexicons, and a book of etymology? Your discussion would be lost and you might feel confused to say the least.
My hope when you read the Bible is that you allow God to cultivate a relationship of love no matter what passage you read. Yes, you will get distracted, but read His Word knowing that He Himself is there communicating to you through His Word. For myself, I’ve been with friends and gotten distracted. How do you get back on track? Refocus on them! Pay attention to them! Remember you love them! Remember… they love you.
By all means have a Bible dictionary at hand, yes, open up a concordance, but be careful that you don’t lose sight of the One who loves you.
I’d encourage you to have a heart-to-heart talk with the Lord if you often find yourself “missing” Him. Tell Him that you get distracted, tell Him that you sometimes lose focus of Him as you study difficult passages. He loves you so much, He’ll welcome your candor and heart to change. He will help you find Him. And when that happens, when you see more of Him; you’ll see more of His love and how much He loves you. It’ll be hard to be distracted; it’ll be hard to lose sight of Him.
From such a love, I am confident that your Bible reading won’t be distracted, it won’t be dry, and more importantly, God won’t get side-lined! With love in view, with a better reading and hearing of God, what happens is that great trust begins to develop between you and the Lord. The love of the Lord will stir great and greater faith. And, when that happens, when love and faith exist as you read… then great learning will occur. Why? Because you will begin to realize how much the Lord loves you, you will begin to realize how much wisdom He has, and you will desire Him and His Word like the deer that pants after water.
I hope you enjoyed this first effort in “All Things Theological”. If you don’t already know, the word theology comes from two words. First, “theo”, which is the Greek word for God; and “logos”, which is the Greek for “word”. Theology, then means God-Word, or words about God.
Feel free to contact me to understand more of what I’m describing here. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In the next “All Things Theological”, I’ll unpack much more of what this all means in the article “Affections and Apparatus: The Connection of Faith and Learning.” It will build on what you’ve read here and add some further ideas. Enjoy Him! Keep following Him!