Saturday, December 31, 2005

Toward a Definition of Theocracy

This could be seen as a response to Fredrick Clarkson's When is a theocrat, not a theocrat? but it really isn't. As a "fungelical" (or is that "evandamentalist" - I like that better it doesn't make me sound like such a mushroom) I pretty much crack up every time I hear the word "theocracy". I am sorry - but if there were a convention of Christians to re-write the US Constitution it would last about 50 years; and only about 50 people would come our alive. That is only if theologically conservative Christians were allowed in (some lie-detector test would be necessary). Throw in a few liberal theologians and it would never get done. Now that is intended to be humorous - but we know this about ourselves. I doubt if the elder/pastor board at my church could re-write the Constitution.

For those who want to start to understand this issue from both sides - this is a pretty good post on the subject: On Earth As It Is In Heaven: Americans and the "Theocracy" Canard. Now I personally have never figured out this "theocracy" thing. As Dervish points out in the other post:

Every organized political group of any stripe can be expected to push for the policies that are favored by it's members... that is precisely why these groups are politically active... so why the surprise? This is a perfectly legitimate activity and a part of our political process. To oppose these groups is also a part of the process... no big deal.
Someone suggested here at Street Prophets that Christians should start their moral positions and not say where they came from. That is free speech in action. Joe Carter's quote from Eugene Volokh:
I like to ask these critics: What do you think about the abolitionist movement of the 1800s? As I understand it, many -- perhaps most or nearly all -- of its members were deeply religious people, who were trying to impose their religious dogma of liberty on the legal system that at the time legally protected slavery.

Or what do you think about the civil rights movement? The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., after all, was one of its main leaders, and he supported and defended civil rights legislation as a matter of God's will, often in overtly religious terms. He too tried to impose his religious dogma on the legal system, which at the time allowed private discrimination, and in practice allowed governmental discrimination as well.

Or how about religious opponents of the draft, opponents of the death penalty, supporters of labor unions, supporters of welfare programs, who were motivated by their religious beliefs -- because deeply religious people's moral beliefs are generally motivated by their religious beliefs -- in trying to repeal the draft, abolish the death penalty, protect labor, or better the lot of the poor? Perhaps their actions were wrong on the merits; for instance, maybe some anti-poverty problems caused more problems than they solved, or wrongly took money from some to give to others. But would you condemn these people on the grounds that it was simply wrong for them to try to impose their religious beliefs on the legal system?

My sense is that the critics of the Religious Right would very rarely levy the same charges at the Religious Left. Rather, they'd acknowledge that religious people are entitled to try to enact their moral views (which stem from their religious views) into law, just as secular people are entitled to try to enact their moral views (which stem from their secular, but generally equally unprovable, moral axioms) into law.

We need a definition of theocracy that actually makes sense. I will throw out a few I read just today:

The Constitution is NOT their highest authority for the governing of the USA. They subscribe to the notion that their interpretation of their holy book trumps the Constitution - that's theocratic, by any definition.
This is pretty bad as definitions go. First of all, most of the time folks are talking about legislating morality as being "theocracy"; and in the common cases - gay rights/marriage and abortion - most of American constitutional history has supported laws against homosexuality and gay marriage; and abortion. No one has seen the liberalization of these laws to be some alteration of the US Constitutional system; and changing them back wouldn't be either. No one is asking for a US Protestant Pope; or divine right of Presidents. Heck, since I believe in an afterlife and judgement I am more concerned about my eternal allegiance than my earthly one - and I guarantee that while I might engage in civil disobediance I will not support theocracy.
Theocracy == Creating a legal system using religion as it's primary focus point.
This is probably better - but no one is asking for it. The closest is the Ten Commandments debate - and most of that is arguing that the Amercian justice system (and English Common Law it arose from) have some grounding in this that simply should not be waved away or ignored. Even at that, no one is asking that the Ten Commandments be added to the Constitution. This really goes to why someone recommends a law - if they base their moral standards on the Bible that's bad. If they suggest the same law based on some other belief system that is okay. Now Joe Clark tries for a little historical accuracy:
Theocracy, which literally means "rule by the deity," is the name given to political regimes that claim to represent God on earth both directly and immediately. The role of the theocratic leader is to play the role of both priest and king, implementing and enforcing divine laws.

The term was first used by the Jewish historian Josephus to describe the way the Jews were under the direct government of God himself. In ancient Israel everyone was a direct subject of Jehovah, who ruled over all and communicated through the prophets. This arrangement was short-lived, though, and the Jews eventually rejected theocratic rule in favor of an earthly king. While the sovereign did not always enforce all of the laws of the former theocracy, he retained the authority given to him "by God." During the medieval era, a version of this concept was adopted by the Roman Catholic Church. The idea of the divine right of kings combined the secular government with the spiritual authority of the Christian Church to form caesaropapism.

This last term may be close to what folks are talking about; but there is a difference between governing with the authority of the "Christian church" and governing using authority from ones religious beliefs. For instance, George Bush saying he invaded Iraq because he was following God is not the same as getting authority from the church.

Finally, as referenced by Joe Clark:

This double standard is embarrassingly obvious. When the Religious Left supports abortion and gay marriage they are praised as compassionate and progressive. When the Religious Right opposes these same issues they are denounced as religious zealots who want to impose their morality on others. There's a sense that these critics believe that the right to vote and influence legislation should be limited to the people who have politically correct religious views. The enthusiastic applause that followed Garrison Keillor's plan [in fairness, a very undemocratic and bad joke really] to "pass a constitutional amendment to take the right to vote away from born-again Christians"
My feeling is that born-again people are citizens of heaven, that is where there citizenship is, [laughter] is in heaven, it's not here among us in America. If you feel that war in the Middle East is simply prophecy fulfilled, if you believe that tribulation and suffering are just the natural conditions of life, if you believe that higher education is vanity, unnecessary, there is only one book that one need to read, if you feel that unemployment is -[glitch]- dependent on him and drawn you closer to him. [laughter] If you feel -[glitch]- lousy healthcare is a portal to paradise, [applause] then you don't really share our same interests, do you? No, you do not.
is a shocking reminder of the bias against religiously orthodox Americans.
That should get a discussion going.

This is a cross-post from Street Prophets. On to Part Deux

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Christian Carnival CII (102 for non-Romans) is up

The introduction from Gary at The Secret Life of Gary:

Aside from making a gingerbread house I haven't posted anything about Christmas, but apparently plenty of other people have. We also have a few humorous anecdotes, more on the raging topic of evolution (although incidently, no one has mentioned the Flying Spaghetti Monster), and a rather large miscellaneous category.
About Christian Carnival:
Contributing a Post to the Christian Carnival:

The Christian Carnival is open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this Carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought.

Posts need not be of a theological topic. Posts about home life, politics, or current events, for example, written from a Christian worldview are welcome.

Update: As the goal of this Carnival is to highlight Christian thought in the blogosphere, entries will be limited to blogs that share that goal. Blogs with content that is focused on a business, that has potentially offensive material Christians may not want to link to on their sites, or has no reference to distinctively Christian thought may not be included in this Carnival. There are other Carnivals that would be a more appropriate venue for that material. I realize that this will be a judgment call on the part of the Carnival administrator, and being human she may make mistakes. However, as the Christian Carnival is getting quite large, and it is sometimes questionable whether the entrants are seeking to promote Christian thought, I find this necessary.

Update: We also expect a level of discourse that is suitable for a Christian showcase. Thus entries may be refused if they engage in name-calling, ad hominem attacks, offensive language, or for any similar reason as judged by the administrator.

So, if you have a post in this framework - go here to find out more: Christian Carnival info.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Back to Basics: Loving God with All Your Mind

This is number ten (10) in the "Back to Basics Series": this link leads to an index post that will direct you to the rest of the series. The first six mainly had to do with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, in our lives and the ways the Spirit enables us to live out the Great Commandment. The seventh examined why love is the Great Command. Now, Carl examines the Great Commandment itself in detail.

Loving God With All Your Mind
Carl Palmer, Pastor-Teacher; Mark 12:30; November 20, 2005

God never says to leave our brain outside; or to check our minds at the door. What God tells us is what we are studying in these days - the Great Commandment:
Mark 12:30 " 'and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength’ "[Deuteronomy 6:5]
Carl has found it helpful to separate and examine each of these four parts of us separately - although they really cannot be separated. We are one being that has heart, soul, mind, and strength. God in His wisdom did divide these up in this passage; and it has been useful, if difficult, to look at them separately. Loving God with all our heart meant to love God first - and to relate to all things through our "first love" for God. Our heart is our control center, and with it we decide who we are going to love first. Loving God with all of our soul meant to love God with a real and passionate whole–life love. The soul as the part of human nature that integrates our inner nature into one being. This is a real love; and a passionate love. So, loving God with our heart is about "first" love; and loving God with our soul is about "life" love. This brings us to:

How can I love God with all my mind?

Even apart from God, the human mind is an amazing gift from God; and it can be everything from fairly feeble to an incredible genius. We get this amazing gift from God with its varied abilities; and then God says it must be made new. That is because there is a problem in the world: that problem is called sin - the whole creation has experienced a fall (a descent, an impurity). That descent has even filtered into the human mind; and that is why, for instance, you do not have to teach a 1 to 2 year old child to say "no" - they just do it naturally.

God says He wants His Holy Spirit to come into our life and begin to change us from the inside. The Holy Spirit unites together with our spirit and begins to renew our mind:
Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Our human mind, our natural mind, must be renewed - made new. That is pretty amazing if you stop and think about it.
Ephesians 4:23 ". . . and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind . . ."

1 Corinthians 2:16 [Start with verse 10] For 'who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him?'[Isaiah 40:13] But we have the mind of Christ.
Have you ever thought about that one? We have the mind of Christ. That is not for a few Christians - it is for every believer. That is why there is a battle going on in your mind because along with the mind of Christ we still have our natural human mind as well. So, our natural human mind is gradually being taken over and renewed; and the Spirit of God gives us the mind of Christ. Jesus, if He is in you, is talking to you - and your mind - all the time. The entire thrust of these 10 sermons so far is that we need God to do this new thing in our lives - including the renewing of our mind.

Carl has said that we "know so much" - at times in opposition to what we do. Carl has not said we "know too much". He has not said we use our minds too much; or that we know all the things we need to know. What he has said is that what we do know does not seem to change our lives as much as it ought to. We will continue to think and know - and learn more - until the Lord takes us home. What has to happen is that what we know must move from our mind to our heart, then into our will and out of our hands - move from our minds into living out that knowledge.

* * *
In the 1980's there was a rather strange religious commune called Rashneeshpurim established on the old Big Muddy Ranch near a central Oregon town named Antelope. It was there that 5-6,000 people gathered together to follow the teachings of the Bhagwan Sri Rashneesh. On the doorway to their main meeting hall was a sign which said:

"Please remove your shoes and your minds outside"

You may think that sign is a rather extreme example; but Carl sees that everywhere in our society and culture - and even creeps into the church of Jesus Christ to some extent. We live in a culture that could easily be described as anti-intellectual. It is based on the idea of subjectivism - the idea that what is true is whatever is true for the person viewing it. Another way to say this is that our own personal experience determines what is true and what we will follow. At root it says that we as individuals - the subjects - are the best ones to evaluate what is true.

We live in a culture that is very opposed to critical thinking. By critical thinking, Carl means carefully examining something to see if it is true or not. We are so bombarded with lies that (since we have lived in a culture where we are told we determine what is true) now people no longer know how to think very well. That should not be true of followers of Jesus Christ. We should be leading the way in the right use of the mind.

Some Christians in America have also become anti-intellectual. They will say things like:
  • "Do not try to understand this with your mind - just believe"; or
  • "Faith is not really a reasonable thing"; or
  • "Faith is not intended to be logical"; or
  • "Faith is a leap in the dark".
  • "God's thoughts are above our thoughts".
What do all these mean? Does that mean God is not logical? That His logic is different from ours? That He would say 2+2=15; but we cannot understand that so we just have to believe? If you hear something like that you should hear a large warning horn going off somewhere - these things are not true.

The message of God - the Bible, the Cross, the blood of Christ, salvation - is logical. It is reasonable. It is coherent. It is consistent. It is sound. It is true. It is not true because someone says it is; or because you believe it - it is true because it is real. There is such a thing as an absolute objective reality. God has said He wants you to know; and He has given you a mind with which to understand the truth. Our faith is not based upon a leap in the dark - it is based on eyewitness testimony. Our faith is a reasonable, logical, coherent, consistent system of truth that is understandable.

You can understand salvation: why we have to be saved and how it works. How would you do that? Study the book of Romans: read it and understand it through the power of your mind - and through the power of the Spirit of God - and you will understand salvation. Again:
The truth about God, and the truth about the cross, and the truth about the blood of Christ, and the truth about our salvation - are logical, understandable, they are sound, consistent, and are to be appropriated with the human mind through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Your mind matters very much to God. Carl believes we live in a time that is opposed to a critical use of the mind; and we, as followers of Christ, have to oppose that. We are in a war: objective absolute truth does exist; and our minds have been designed by God so we can grasp it. Someone once said that "ideas have consequences" and indeed they do. People like Francis Schaeffer have watched the decline of our culture; watched the new ideas that arose; and predicted where we would be in this day. We are in a war: not fought with bullets but with ideas. We are the people that need to understand that we must love God with all of our heart, and all of our soul, and all of our mind. Our minds are a critical part of what God has given us so that we can understand and believe in God.

If you turn away from God, then you turn away from God first in your thoughts - that is where it starts. If you return to God, then you return to God first in your thoughts - that is where it starts. As we accept ideas and thoughts that lead away from God; those ideas and thoughts lead to action - action which takes us farther and farther from God. We start to say things are okay even if we know God has said otherwise - because we have become the determiner of what is really true, and not God. When Satan came to tempt Adam and Eve in the garden, he did not hit them with a stick: Satan hit Adam and Eve with the idea that you really cannot trust God to give you what you really want so you must take things into your own hands and go a different way. That is the same idea that has been promoted down through history; and it is the same one we struggle with now.

We, as followers of Jesus Christ, are in the process of transformation: we are being renewed in our minds and turned into different people. That is what we want. We have been satisfied with tiny, incremental steps of being changed. God wants to transform us on the inside: in our hearts, our souls, and our minds - so that it moves out into our strength and the rest of the world benefits from it. For this to happen, your mind has to get engaged with this and you must say: "I need to think rightly - my mind must be engaged with loving God." We can reason with God; and in fact He wants you to:
Isaiah 1:18 "Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool."
What God wants is for our minds to be a place of love for Him. Our minds are to be like a tool - an instrument. It is part of our abilities as human beings to love God with our minds. How are we going to do that? Carl suggests [the obligatory] three things:

First, we must give our minds to a determined pursuit of truth. We must come to God with our minds "fully in gear". If you have been indoctrinated with the idea that your mind is not part of your faith you have been falsely taught - your mind is to be part of your faith for you are to love God with all of your mind.

The question we must be asking is: where do we find what is true? When Carl says true, he means real absolute truth: if everyone got up tomorrow and didn't believe it - it would still be real and true. It is fascinating that we even have to talk like this today; but it is part of the culture we live in. People now believe that there is no such thing as objective absolute truth - something that is going to be true regardless of what anyone believes. Regretfully, when they come into churches and take polls they find that Christians believe the same things as everyone else by the same percentages. Forty percent of Christians in evangelical Churches in America no longer believe in the concept of absolute truth. Was Jesus really taken outside Jerusalem and nailed to a cross; or did that happen because you believe He was, or you wish He was? Is it part of your religious system of belief, or did it really, objectively happen?

That is the struggle we are in today. We are in a struggle for truth and the authority of that truth. We go to school and learn "the truth"; our parents teach us "the truth"; we open books and read "the truth" - and it doesn't take us very long to realize these are different stories. They conflict and so we started seeking authority - some way to know what to really believe. Children start to say "well, everyone believes this"; so the authority is what everyone thinks; or "we voted on this"; "the teacher says"; "I think"; or "I cannot believe in a God that would do that" That is why we study the Bible - because around Cedar Mill Bible we believe it is true. That is why we have a written book, with the Spirit of God to help us understand it. We can see Him in creation and all the miracles; but He had to write something down because He knows the way we are. That is why we read and study the Bible and seek to apply it.

So how are you doing with the Book? Isn't it easy to start living life without believing the authority anymore; and putting all sorts of other things from other sources into our mind instead? God intends to change us by His truth and power. Our mind is engaged by His truth; but the world tells us all sorts of things, the devil has a way to whisper things to us - he gets his lies in, and our own human flesh says things to us. Have you ever heard any of this:
  • "You're worthless"
  • "You will never amount to anything"
  • "You are unforgivable"
  • "You are hopeless"
  • "Nobody really loves you"
Ever heard any of this - whispered to you in the darkness when you are alone? God says: "You are my beloved" Who are you going to believe? What is true? It is primarily with your mind, and not your emotions, that you have to deal with this one. You must figure out which is the voice of authority; and which is absolutely true. Are you the beloved of God, or are you something less? Carl's mind goes back to an objective little song he learned in Sunday school:

Jesus Loves Me

Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong;
They are weak, but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

How do we trust the authority of the Bible? Christians are famous for circular reasoning: we believe the Bible is the word of God and study it because in the Bible it says it is the word of God. So, how do we know it is the word of God (without circular reasoning)? This is a question we should be able to answer. Carl went through a period of time in his life during his teenage years when he really began to wonder if it was true or not. He spent about a year and a half trying to figure out whether the Bible was trustworthy or not. People say: "It is full of mistakes - there are errors everywhere". Ask them to show you one; and they might show you one that looks like a mistake or an error. It was here that Carl did his investigation: Has it been protected for 2000 years - is it true to what was written long ago? So he studied the ancient manuscripts and how the canon was set. There are huge, incredible books written on that. There is the internal evidence that it is the word of God; and there are great books written on that. There are books written on questions that skeptics ask - so you get and read some of those.

The people who say the Bible isn't reliable and has mistakes have never investigated carefully. It is fascinating the number of people who have gone to the Bible to prove it is false; and ended up being followers of Jesus Christ. When we do our own investigation, and engage our minds, we can pile up huge amounts of evidence to prove the reliability of the word of God. Most people do not do the work - they just believe what they hear - and that is not the proper use of our minds.

So, if you are one of those people who do not know whether they can really trust the Bible - then you need to deal with that first. Do not primarily read the Bible if you do not trust it. Carl has spent time in the Bible for 30 years preparing to teach others - and he has yet to find a mistake. There are a few things he cannot quite understand and a few things that are beyond him; but he has yet to find proof that the Bible is full of errors - that is just not true. So, for those that are not certain, this is where you need to do your work and engage your mind. If your faith is at the place where you just do not know if the Bible is true or not - that is where you need to focus. Carl has six books (or at least one) he would like you to read [coming by separate post]. If you approach it with an open mind, God will meet you there. He will establish the Bible as the word of God in your heart and your life; and then you will go forward with confidence.

The second thing: we must bring our minds under the Lordship of Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:3 For though we walk in the flesh [sarx. NIV="world"], we do not war according to the flesh, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing [uyoma. NIV="pretension"] raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,
This world is full of pretensions set out against God; and if we look for them we will see them everywhere. What God wants is for His people to realize we are in a war; and that we do not fight like those that fight physical battles - we fight with ideas and truth. God wants every thought in our minds to be taken captive for Christ.

Think about that for a second - that is why God gave us a mind. Some of us know that our minds are just running rampant with all sorts of really dumb stuff. Maybe it is because we give ourselves to other things: for some it is fear, for some it is fantasy, for some it is sex, and our minds are just full of these other things - because they have power. God wants your mind to glorify Him in the way in which you think; the clarity with which you think; and the purity in which you think.

This is why pornography is just stupid. It has a power to distract us and defile us to the point where we just do not want the purity of God's word - it dominates us. So many other things are like that too: fantasy, fear, anxiety, and worries can all distract us from the ability to glorify God with our minds. What we must do with the many forms of revelation in this world that come to us, and disagree with each other, is to engage our minds and ask: "what is the truth?" We must learn how to distinguish truth from error - as Christians particularly. There is somebody at the very center of this who will help you; and His name is Jesus.

It is not just that there is truth "about" Jesus - Jesus is the truth. He said that about Himself: "I am the way, the truth, and the life". If you are going to become a wholehearted follower of Jesus Christ then you must focus on the truth - Jesus. When you hear an idea that competes with what you believe about God; then you say: "Jesus help me" and it is fascinating how many times Jesus will help you. You do not close your mind; or refuse to face the difficult questions - you ask for help.

God's way of changing us is for our minds to be deeply committed to knowing more about Jesus; and to use our minds to resolve the questions God wants us to resolve. Ask Christ if He wants you to spend time on something; and if He does then spend time there.

Finally, the third thing: I must pursue having "a mind on fire" – with love of God!. Some of the most wonderful people to be around are those who realize that their intellect and their passion go together. Jonathan Edwards said that the "intellectual life and the passionate life are friends and not enemies". Our passion for Christ and our intellect go together: the deepest thinkers should be the deepest lovers.

We live in a world that says you cannot really love an unseen God if you are very smart at all. If we are really smart, then we should understand and love Him so deeply. God wants people on fire for Him; and that is not lodged primarily in the emotions - it is lodged in the mind.

The fire God wants for you is in your mind; and it works its way out through the emotions. The passionate emotional love for God Carl talked about under loving God with all our soul is fueled by the fire in our mind. If you feel cold toward God do you try to correct that by "feeling" warm toward God? No, you feed your mind with God. You investigate, you work, and you try to discover more about God. You get a book like A.W. Tozer's Knowledge of the Holy; or spend more time reading the word of God. What you need is a constant supply of fuel to stoke the fire for God in your mind.

As we learn day-to-day about Jesus' love, faithfulness, His incredible mercy, His amazing patience just to endure us as His followers - the more our minds should be filled with a deeper knowledge of Him and that should act as fuel for our love for God. If you have walked with God for 30 years and your heart is cold; then something is wrong. This is the same way that if we have had the same spouse for 30 years and our love is cold - something is wrong. We need to fix this.

This may be the most important thing we need to fix; and firing up our passion for God must start in our minds. All of those people telling us it is not about our brain and understanding are lying. The Bible must be engaged and digested with our minds; and we must engage our thinking and ask if this is the truth. Once we learn how wonderful God is then our feelings will follow; and our actions must follow that.

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Monday, December 26, 2005

The Monday Tour

My days off are Monday and Tuesday, and they are regretfully the only time I get to cruise around to some of my favorite blogs and discussion forums.

Here is a round-up of what struck me today

The Washington State Democratic Party distributed this car magnet until public outrage forced them to withdraw it. From Outraged Christians and Scardy Cats:
Now the woman that owns the rights to this sacrilegious symbol is using the uproar that it has caused to spread her desires for legalizing marijuana.

The person that created the symbol has chosen to remain anonymous because he fears for the safety of his cats. That’s right he is afraid for the safety of his cats. As well he should be, for we are all well aware of the propensity of Christian fanatics to slaughter innocent cats when offended by ignorant muttonheads.

No one here thinks this was wise politics – right?
After last weeks elections, the losers complained about election fraud; and a number of parties have talked about not accepting the results. Here is one view: The Rigged Elections - A New Game by Sunnis at Baghdadee
Iraq the Model has five posts in the last week on the election crisis - which they think is going to be resolved peacefully.
Okay, I will apologize in advance for this. It is, however, a pretty good satire piece on the P.C. controversies of this holiday season: Yuletide News Niblets. Again, forgive me.
To make amends, conservative Barron's has joined the impeachment noise with: Unwarranted Executive Power. I think it is a pretty even look at the issue as well. (HT: TalkLeft)
My wife and I got a kick out of these two "Ask Joe" pieces from Evangelical Outpost: The Secret to a Happy Marriage; and How to Handle a Divorce.

BTW: These are humor articles. If you do not think they were funny, that doesn't mean Joe was serious.
A "what was that judge thinking?" moment: David Letterman was served with a temporary restraining order by a New Mexico judge. A copy of the letter from the women is here; while the TPO is here. The hat tip is to Volokh Conspiracy which goes on to ask Is it Illegal for David Letterman to Own a Gun?
The NY Times compares areas in Mississippi as they cleanup after Katrina - while all use government money, some have contracted with private companies directly while others have contracted with the Corp of Army Engineers and their contractors. (HT: WorldMagBlog)

David Klinghoffer, an orthodox Jew, takes Judge Jones of Dover PA fame, to task with Judging Darwin and God. (HT: WorldMagBlog)

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Back to Basics: Loving God with All Your Soul

This is number nine (9) in the ”Back to Basics Series”: this link leads to an index post that will direct you to the rest of the series. The first six mainly had to do with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, in our lives and the ways the Spirit enables us to live out the Great Commandment. The seventh examined why love is the Great Command. Now, Carl begins to examine the Great Commandment itself in detail. The last post was “How to Love God with All My Heart”; and now we come to:

How to Love God with All Your Soul
Carl Palmer, Pastor-Teacher; Mark 12:30; November 20, 2005

The Great Commandment is:
Mark 12:30 “ ‘and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength’ “ [Deuteronomy 6:5] 31 The second is this, `You shall love your neighbor as yourself ' [Leviticus 19:18]. There is no other commandment greater than these."
Some people when they view that commandment see it as a figure of speech. When they see the words “heart, soul, mind and strength” it is somewhat like when we say “they bought it ‘lock, stock and barrel’ “ or “hook, line, and sinker” – it is a phrase meaning everything, or all. Some folks would go on to say that it is not that useful to look at the four words – heart, soul, mind, and strength – separately.

While it is impossible to pull the words completely apart – they overlap so much - Carl has gained a great insight in asking “How do I love God with all my ________” with each of the four words. First it was “heart”, and Carl’s best sense of “loving God with all of your heart” was to to love God first, and to relate to all things through my “first love” for God. Next it will be “mind” and then “strength”. Now it is “soul”; and this has been the most difficult for Carl to figure out.

Heart is that deepest, most innermost part – your control center – that decides what is important to you; and then radiates that out into your soul, mind, and strength. That is why it was first in the list; and why God has to be your “first love”. The next phrase is “love God with all of your soul” and that phrase is difficult to define. That is because soul is a term that describes our inner nature.

People have been trying to describe and understand our inner, invisible human nature for a long time; and it is not simple to understand. Some of our members are going to Kazakhstan to help with “soul care”. Even in giving “soul care” we are not sure what the soul is; but we do get the sense that our soul gets out of balance and needs soul care in order to be healthy. Now God says to love Him with all of your soul.

When we look at the Old Testament scripture we see that sometimes “heart” and “soul” are used interchangeably; and so are the words “soul” and “spirit”. Scripturally, “heart”, “soul” and “spirit” are tough to define. God, however, tells us to love Him with all of your soul; and all of your heart. God is trying to get at something here.

Occasionally scripture will make a distinction between some of these words:
Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

1 Thessalonians 5:23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Carl has never know what “piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit” means; but the word of God does this; and then goes on to “judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart”.

In the Old Testament the word “soul” is the Hebrew word “Xpn” (nepesh) and it really had to do with life. The Hebrews didn’t have a real definitive psychology of the soul. They didn’t analyze all of these things, and tended to think in more holistic terms – which was probably healthy and good. They did talk about these things individually; and when they talked about “soul” they tended to mean “your whole life” – you just loved God with your whole life (your inner life primarily). So, to the Hebrews loving God with your soul was an inner thing – not an external religion – and it was primarily a life kind of thing. Jews historically interpreted “love God with all your ‘Xpn’” as loving God to the point of sacrificing our lives for Him.

When you move to the New Testament Greek culture had infiltrated Jewish culture, and the Greeks had a lot of different ideas about what the soul (Greek = ”yuce”) was so they defined it in many different ways. It still carried the idea that this was our “inner being”. We had our body, but our soul was what was inside of us – in a sense the “real us” – and that someday we would leave this body behind. Our heart, soul, and mind will leave when we die. Soul then has to do with our inner, spiritual life – the real, valuable part that makes us us.
Matthew 16:26 "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
There are three main things that Carl thinks God means when He says to love Him with all your soul

To “love God with all my soul” is to . . .

. . . love Him with real love.
Some of you are saying “Well duh pastor – we are paying you the big bucks for this?” Really though, do you understand what loving with “real love” means as opposed to something put on or fake? It is not something religious or exterior; and it has something to do with the inner part of our life. It has to do with loving God with who we are - the very core of us. So, not only are we to place God first in our control center – the heart – but we are to love Him with all of our inner being.

The Greeks thought of the soul as the thing that integrates our whole inside. If something is messed up in our soul, your whole life is messed up. If we have bitterness or unforgiveness in your soul, it saturates everything in your life. That is what Soul Care is about: to get our soul right with God – clean and balanced so our life can be better. To the Greeks then the soul is the thing that tied heart, mind and strength together. Loving God with all our heart means to love God first; and loving God with all of our soul means to love Him with our entire inner being. That means real love: not put on, not “religious”, and external.

A lot of people do a religious thing on the outside, but it hasn’t affected their inner being – their life is not different – and they are not thinking that the primary part of us is not material. We tend to think of ourselves as a body that happens to have a soul; but the reality is we are a soul that happens to have a body. We are going to leave this body behind and get a new one someday. You hear this whole concept really vividly when you picture Jesus in John 21. sitting at the campfire with the disciples. They have eaten breakfast and Jesus is looking across the campfire into Peter’s eyes. Jesus asks the same question three times:
15 . . . "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend My lambs." 16 He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Shepherd My sheep." 17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Tend My sheep.
There were a lot of things happening around that campfire; but the primary thing was that Jesus was driving deep into the soul of Peter that this love that Peter felt for Jesus was real. Jesus wanted Peter to leave that campfire and be absolutely certain for the rest of his life that the love Peter felt for Jesus was real. Three questions, and three yes’s, to erase the three denials.

. . . love Him with whole-life love. Your soul is that part of your that integrates your whole life. It’s that part of you struggling to figure out how you keep your priorities right; what to do when part of your life is out of balance; or when there is great hurt in part of your life. The soul is the part of you that hurts sometimes. The heart is the inner control center; and the soul is your whole inner life as a person – your whole inner nature. Some might say your personality is locked up with your soul.

To love God with all your soul is to love God with your entire inner life. This means everything your inner life experiences - everything you feel, decide, believe, think, choose, want, dwell on, turn to, and pursue – is about your soul. The soul is about what makes you happy, what fills you with joy, where your sorrow and sadness is, and what gives you peace. All of these things you experience in your soul are to be related to your love for God. God wants a kind of love that “saturates” us. God wants the kind of love that “permeates” every part of us and “unites” us into one great lover of God.

We sing songs that say (to God) “You’re all I want” or “You’re all I need”. Does that ever twinge your conscience a little?

. . . love Him with passionate love. It is a deeply passionate love. It is like this:
O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.
Because Your loving-kindness is better than life,
My lips will praise You.
So I will bless You as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.
When I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches,
For You have been my help,
And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to You;
Your right hand upholds me.
(Psalm 63:1-8)

That is passionate love. It is real. Our soul is the place of our emotions; our feelings; our desires; and our appetites. The Puritans used to call these our affections (we need to reclaim that word – it is a good one). They used the word affections to mean everything we long for or have an appetite for; and all the hopes and desires that stir up in us sometimes and often frustrate us.

As soon as you say the word “emotions” in church some people immediately get a little nervous. We are creatures of imbalance – we swing from one extreme to another – especially in the area of emotions. Some people say emotions are dangerous, and Carl supposes they are: a lot of strange things can happen when we get really emotional and “unbalanced”. We have brought that into the church.

Carl was raised in that kind of environment. You just didn’t get emotional in church. If you did, some usher would likely come up alongside your pew and just look at you; or talk to you afterwards – certain that you really had intended to go to the Assembly of God Church down the street. When Carl was growing up he could count on one hand the times he saw what he would call passionate emotion in church. Occasionally you would see a little tear in somebody’s eyes. No one ever raised a hand – there were no physical, outward expressions of passion for God.

Carl was trained from an early age that your love for God was primarily a mental love – a cerebral love that doesn’t move from the brain. The other extreme was people being controlled by emotion and doing wild emotional things in which they lost control – and Carl was trained that you didn’t want to go there. Who knows what might happen – and “those people” are really unbalanced.

Then Carl read the Bible more – particularly the Book of Psalms. Psalms is so long because it is primarily about the soul. Every now and then when we read a Psalm we think of the psalmist “this guy is really a mess”. They are depressed. They feel like they are on the edge of suicide. And it is true: the psalms go from joy and happiness; to death and anguish. The psalmists question whether God is there; and if He is real. Psalms is full of depression, discouragement, fear, anxiety, sadness, perplexity, impatience, frustration, and anger – even anger against God: all of the things that we Christians actually experience. Psalms is also full of wonderful joy, delight, gladness, and desire. You need to read the book.

Carl discovered that the Bible does not teach, in any sense, what some Christians seem to believe: that if you are not happy in every sense all the time then you are a bad Christian. In fact, God wants us to mourn: Jesus said “Blessed are those who mourn . . . “. There is a need for mourning – a need for God to grip my heart and for me to experience sadness, and sorrow, and repentance. There is a time in our lives where all of these things are essential. Jesus knew, and taught, that our lives are often full of perplexity and pain; and that things do not always work out. People who preach that things will always work out if you have enough faith are telling a lie.

We need to love God with all our soul. God does not avoid emotion; and we tend to. We should not avoid emotion because every single emotion we experience can point us back to God. Every time you are angry at the great injustice in the world, it can point you back to the One who is greatly just. Every time you are frustrated it can turn you back to the peace and power of God. Every single emotion you experience can be a God thing in your life. God does not just want you to love Him when you feel good – He especially wants you to love Him when life sucks.

We cannot fully grasp what this entire “Great Commandment” means if we do not recognize that loving God with all our soul means a total love: it is what we feel, and what we think, and what is happening in our lives. God wants us to have a big, big love that is passionate, fervent, zealous, and even fiery; and involves our whole being. We must reach the place in our lives where we decide if this is the kind of love we will have for God.

How did we ever arrive at the idea that love for God can be:
  • limited to a very small part of our lives?
  • so “calm” and “cool” that we never weep?
  • so cerebral, mental, and intellectual that you never dance?
  • so small and limited that we never get really excited?
This is about passionate love. Carl says you may never see him dance in this world [he said his dancing was so bad people would leave the church – because of his lack of rhythm]; but you will see him dance in the next. If dancing in church is a little “over the top” for you – what about raising a hand or two in praise?

One more time, Carl grew up in a church where you did not raise your hand in praise to God. He was 19 years old before he saw that happen. It wasn’t at church but at some camp where someone (“who didn’t know any better”) closed their eyes (Carl’s church didn’t do that either) and raised their hand in praise. They were on the second row (“those people always go to the front”) and every one of the 60 kids eyes went to that “wild, crazy emotional person”; who was totally oblivious – closing their eyes while praising God. Carl started reading the Bible:
Nehemiah 8:6 Then Ezra blessed the LORD the great God. And all the people answered, "Amen, Amen!" while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the LORD with {their} faces to the ground.

Psalm 63:4 So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.

Psalm 134:2 Lift up your hands to the sanctuary And bless the LORD.

There’s lots more. Some of you are thinking of some questions:
  • Does raising hands in worship mean the heart is right or more sincere? No, of course not.
  • Is this the main thing we really need? No, of course not.
  • Do we want worship times that are full of unrestrained emotion; where people are made nervous and perhaps made to stumble? No, of course not.
  • Do we want it to be genuine, wholehearted worship? Yes.
Do we refuse to raise our hands in praise because we are uncomfortable at first? For Carl this was true, but once he tried it he discovered that his hands were connected to his heart – and he was uncomfortable at first. Then he began to realize that so many parts of worship and praise are uncomfortable at first. Service of others is uncomfortable at first. Tithing is uncomfortable at first. Almost every form of prayer is uncomfortable at first. Almost everything God tells us to do is in some way uncomfortable at first.

Your hands are connected to your heart. It was a helpful breakthrough for Carl to realize that worship was not primarily about his brain. He discovered that with his hands raised in worship he would weep more. He is not sure why, but it has something to do with the soul. Again, Carl is not saying hand-raising is the most essential thing. Is he saying you should do it? Maybe.

What we must actually do is find many ways to express passionate love for God. How do you express this passion for God? You need to understand that it is not good for your soul to hold back from physically expressing emotional love for God. This is in the same way as its not good for you to hold back from physically expressing love for the person you married. You need to touch them and hold them and hug them and make love to them. We need to express physical love. God gave you a body; and that body is connected to your heart and your soul.

To “love God with all my soul” is to love God with strong desire, true emotion and powerful enthusiasm.
As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;
When shall I come and appear before God?
(Psalm 42:1-2)

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Iraq Is Waking Up Gradually

Read these three stories from Iraq the Model: The first, and the one the post is named after, is here.

The second, Words From Iraq

The third, We Got Our Purple Fingers

From "Waking Up":

We saw clearly that the vast majority of Iraqis now believe even more in the political process and in democratic practices and I believe this will undermine the ideology of those who use arms as a way of expression . . .

. . . Salih al-Mutlaq who was known for his inflammatory statements like "if we don't get our representation we will consider other options including armed resistance or leaving Iraq..." now changed his tone after realizing that his list is going to win several seats in the parliament so now he's saying that he will stay to "defend the cause of those who gave him their votes from his place in the parliament . . .

. . . I think the worst scenario we can have is a religious She'at domination but this is not likely to happen considering the current facts; the UIA will certainly fail to achieve the number of seats they got last time and their ambitions cannot exceed the 90 seat-ceiling (140 last January) . . .

. . . Although the liberal and secular powers aren't yet ready to take the lead for a number of reasons related to 35 years of oppression and destruction but still, the progress they made in a very short time is impressive and I think their main duty now is to establish balance with the religious parties during the coming four years and I believe we already have a partial balance but the next round of election will witness a gain for the liberals and seculars over the religious.

Anyway, from taking a look at the history of nations and in a simple comparison between Iraq and experiments in other countries I think Iraqis have the best record in making substantial progress in a short time in a tough environment.

From "Words From Iraq"
We marched to vote and we respected our differences while Saddam is creeping in his cage chewing on his hatred.

From 59 to 64 to one year our people have proven that the future belongs to them and not those whose claws scarred Iraq's neck . . .

It was a day of happiness for Iraqis and a day of loss for the strangers who thought their camels brought them to a land void of patriots.

It is a day we will await to come again for four long do the right thing again or to correct the mistake if we did one yesterday.

Anyway, I believe we left a mark on the face of history, a purple mark that will not be forgotten easily.

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The Christian Carnival 100 is up

With yours truly not entered (please do not let that keep you from looking)

The introduction from Nick Queen, the founder, at Nick

I began the Christian Carnival on January 21, 2004 with this prayer:
I thank you for this day, and for this opportunity to spread your word and message in a new way. I thank you for the opportunity that you have given us all, and the freedom and privelage to spread our thoughts and ideas on a tool such as the interent, and I ask you now to bless all of our endeavours, and to help us each to bring others to your precious embrace. I ask now Father that you will open the eyes and hearts of all who come and read these thoughts, and to help them see and understand your love. I ask this all in Jesus's precious name.

About Christian Carnival:
Contributing a Post to the Christian Carnival

The Christian Carnival is open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this Carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought.

Posts need not be of a theological topic. Posts about home life, politics, or current events, for example, written from a Christian worldview are welcome.

Update: As the goal of this Carnival is to highlight Christian thought in the blogosphere, entries will be limited to blogs that share that goal. Blogs with content that is focused on a business, that has potentially offensive material Christians may not want to link to on their sites, or has no reference to distinctively Christian thought may not be included in this Carnival. There are other Carnivals that would be a more appropriate venue for that material. I realize that this will be a judgment call on the part of the Carnival administrator, and being human she may make mistakes. However, as the Christian Carnival is getting quite large, and it is sometimes questionable whether the entrants are seeking to promote Christian thought, I find this necessary.

Update: We also expect a level of discourse that is suitable for a Christian showcase. Thus entries may be refused if they engage in name-calling, ad hominem attacks, offensive language, or for any similar reason as judged by the administrator.

So, if you have a post in this framework - go here to find out more: Christian Carnival info. BTW, if you really want progressive Christian thought to have wider presence . . .

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Back to Basics: How to Love God With All Your Heart

This is number eight (8) in the ”Back to Basics Series”: this link leads to an index post that will direct you to the rest of the series. The first six mainly had to do with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, in our lives and the ways the Spirit enables us to live out the Great Commandment. The seventh examined why love is the Great Command. Now, Carl begins to examine the Great Commandment itself in detail.

May The Words Of My Mouth

For this is what I'm glad to do
It's time to live a life of love that pleases You
And I will give my all to You
Surrender everything I have and follow You
I'll follow You

How To Love God With All Your Heart

Carl Palmer, Pastor-Teacher; Mark 12:30; November 13, 2005

“Its time to live a life of love that pleases you”. Carl tells folks visiting for the first time that our church is trying to find the way on a new journey – a life of love that pleases God. Now we have actually been on this journey for awhile, so it may be more accurate to say we are asking God to do a new work in us that allows us to “get it” and “go there” and “do what it takes” to live the life that God calls us to live.

We sang that old hymn
And Can It Be?.

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior's blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God shouldst die for me?
We know – at least we know in our minds – that there is no way we can live the life of love God intends us to live unless we receive His amazing and incredible love for us. We must know and believe this again – and maybe believe more than we currently do. We must know this again so that God can do a deeper work in us.

God speaks to Carl most through His word. Carl is trying to learn to meditate on that word better – just to let one verse go around and around in his mind. The next few weeks we are going to meditate on the Great Commandment. This first and Great Commandment shows us passion for God! We need a new fire in our hearts. We need to be redder hot for God than we currently are. Carl has never met anyone who has arrived where they want to be. Some are closer than others; but no one is “there”. We need to be able to love God with our ALL: all of our hearts, all of our minds, all of our soul, and all of our strength.

When we look at the four-time repetition of “all” in this verse we see that God wants a love that is big. God wants a love that permeates and that is unlimited. God wants a very special kind of love. Notice that the second command (“love your neighbor”) is not the same as the first. The first commandment is you should love the Lord your God with all. The second is “just” to love people as much as we love ourselves (that couldn’t be too hard [laughter from crowd] – we will work on it later). You do not need to love people as much as you love God.

We have a Maker to love – before we have a neighbor to love. Once you think about heart, soul, mind and strength you realize that is all of us – we have nothing left. You do have a body, but it is a shell in which you do these other things. Eventually, the real you is going to eject out of this body and you are going to get a new suit – not like this earth suit but much better. We will still have our heart, soul, mind, and strength in this new suit.

Why Heart First?

God wants us to love Him with all that we have, and He starts out with heart - Why? The Greek word is kardia from which we get the words cardiac and cardiovascular about the physical heart. Immediately you know you have a physical heart; but you also have a soul-heart – a spiritual heart. Jesus never talked about the physical heart at all – but He talked about the heart all the time. Jesus didn’t talk about spirit much – He talked about heart. If you want an interesting study, look up “heart” in a concordance or computer concordance and see how much the Bible talks about the word. In the New Testament alone (NIV), the Bible mentions the word heart 162 times. [the New American Standard is only 157 in 150 verses – still a bunch]. In the Old Testament (NIV), 621 times [NAS: 586 times].

Jesus talked said things like this:

Matthew 15:18 "But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders . . .”

Matthew 15:8 `This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me” [quoting Isaiah 29:13]

Matthew 13:15 “For the heart of this people has become dull . . .” [pacuno. NIV and Carl=”calloused”] [quoting Isaiah 6:10]

Matthew 12:34 ". . . For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.”

Matthew 6:21 “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.

Matthew 5:8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Why heart? Heart is where we must begin because nothing is as important to God; and nothing is as important to us as our heart. You may have all sorts of physical maladies and, in fact, your body may be falling apart; but one thing that you discover is that if your heart is okay (again, not the physical organ) you may not be happy about your body coming apart – but you will be okay. On the other hand, if your heart is a mess you can just get a cold and come apart. The heart is the most important part:
Proverbs 4:23 Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it {flow} the springs of life.
The NIV used the words “wellspring of life”. This is the idea of a fountain, an artesian spring, which bubbles up and is the source of everything else. All the really crucial issues of life are heart issues. God says He wants you to love Him with all of your heart.

The best understanding of this links the heart to the human spirit – if fact some say it is the same. Within the spirit and heart of a person, resides their will as a function of their heart. Jesus talked about this all the time: out of the heart came good, and out of the heart came evil. Paul says that faith lives in and flows out of the heart:
Romans 10:9 if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved
The human heart is the “control center” of the person. The heart controls what you do and what you want. Another person said “we live from our heart”. Now you may not think you do, and sometimes you may not be able to do that. This is frustrating because your heart is leading you one way; and you are not able to follow that completely – but if you could you would go with your heart.

The heart is the part of us that compels us, motivates us, draws us, fuels us, and moves us. Of course, that is why God wants all of our heart. Jesus wants our hearts to be like His – devoted to loving the Father. One thing about Jesus is that He deeply loved His Father. Have you ever wondered about that “going out all night to pray” thing? For Jesus it was love – it was His heart; and it was the way in which He connected most deeply with His Father.

Jesus wants to change our hearts. This goes right back to the beginning: becoming a Christian is about receiving a new heart – having our heart changed. Jesus called it “the new birth” (born from above}. God has got to do something to the heart because it is deceitfully wicked and tends toward evil. The heart is also the thing that strays away from God, rather than toward Him. The change of your heart to desire and love God rather than turning away and pursuing evil is a “heart transplant” – a spiritual transformation. Christ is being formed in my heart; and, more and more, we want to be what Jesus was – deeply in love with His Father.

Why am I to “love God” with “all my heart”?

Because God is a person.
Not everybody knows that today in these times of spiritual hunger. There is a great deal of spiritual hunger in the world, but the world is confused about spiritual issues. To many people God is “a force” [may it be with you Luke]; a cloud; an idea; or a concept. God is not any of those things – He is a person. God has heart, soul, mind, and strength. His are way beyond ours; but He has them. He apparently does not have a body even though He can show up in one anytime He wants to.

God wants to connect with us. We were created (the Bible says) “in His image”. God gave us heart, soul, mind and strength (in His image); and now He wants us to relate to Him with what He gave us. One of the most astounding things that will happen to you is when you deeply realize that your God is a person; and you are to relate to Him person-to-person. This is not about a religion, or about a church. Church is the place you go, and the family you belong to, to help you relate to the person of God.

A crucial key to the joyful Christian life is a simple constant realization that God is a Person to be loved! You have to understand this: God is a Person, and you can have a person-to-person relationship with God. The God who made the heavens and the earth; that sent His own Son; and that is eternal – that God is a person you can know, and (while He knows you inside and out) wants to have a relationship with you and is dependent (that’s an amazing concept) on you to seek that relationship.

Carl can love people with just a little part of him. He can just give a little part of his mind; or know them by acquaintance. Just a small part of his heart, soul, mind and strength is committed to that person. Occasionally, someone will come along and Carl will say: “I hold you in my heart; and I love you with all of my heart”. This is a deeper kind of love, and this is the kind of love God wants from us.

God actually feels that right now about you. He loves you; and, in fact, He likes you. Isn’t it amazing that we can go to the whole “God loves you” thing; but when we say “He likes you” we balk? We kind of do not really like ourselves, and we find it impossible that God could like us. He wants to do a little bit of work on you; but He likes you. He is a person and He wants to touch you (speak to you, communicate with you, make you feel, fill your heart, give you a sense of joy, give a sense of security) in a way that no one else can. God can do things for you that you cannot begin to grasp. Some have felt this and want more – and this is great. We need to want more.

Because I was created to love God with my whole being.

Once again, notice that 4 time repetition: “with all your”. We need a love relationship that is “all” not part. We have settled for too long for part. He wants you to love Him with everything you are.

Because only loving God “with all” will break the power of the self-life.

Who do we love most? Carl doesn’t want to talk about this too much because he doesn’t want to project too much that he really loves himself. Of course, the reason he doesn’t want to project that is because he really loves himself; and he doesn’t want you to think about him – badly at least. So he is willing to deceive you a little about him focusing on himself; because he is focusing on himself. This self thing is really sneaky. We try to be humble (or loving) – so we can be known as humble (or loving). Do you ever think about things and wonder whether you ever do things for the right motive? Jesus said:
Matthew 16:24 . . . "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”
Carl doesn’t want you to misunderstand: there is no way loving God has the power to overcome the self – the flesh. There is no way we can overcome our flesh by our flesh. Only one power in the universe can do that and that is the Spirit of God. That is what we looked at a few weeks ago in Galatians 5. We will never be able to depend upon the Spirit of God in our lives until we love God. Until we love God in our heart – our control center – we will not be able:
  • to ask Him to give us a religion that is real and not fake;
  • to want Him to help us with our flesh;
  • to want Him to help us love Him more;
  • to want Him to help us with our selfishness;
Every attempt we make to love God with our whole heart is a confrontation with our self; and that is exactly where God wants us to be. Carl is talking about that self that tends toward selfishness. There is a part of our self that is redeemed and holy.

How can I love God with all my heart?

First, this is huge; and it is life-long – it is a quest. One of the reasons He has left us here is that He is apparently glorified by this journey. He is apparently not glorified by our existing in lukewarmness; but by our living by faith in this world - struggling against evil and learning to love Him. He apparently wants us to show up on heaven’s shore someday and be able to say “I walked by faith”. Carl wants to say that this is a struggle – it is not easy. Having said that, he wants to tell you it is simple.

Loving God with all of your heart was a command before Jesus even came. God’s people have loved God with all of their heart for thousands of years. Carl has libraries of commentaries; computer Bible programs; notebooks; been to many seminars (seminared to death); he knows stuff (oh he knows stuff); and in fact he has forgotten so much that he once knew. He brings this up to point out that for hundreds and thousands of years people have loved God without the commentaries, notebooks, seminars, churches, pastors, teachers, study of the Greek, etc. God has given this command to people who cannot read the Bible; and cultures where the Bible doesn’t even exist in their language yet. Do you need to be smart? Does intelligence help here? No. Actually, being childlike is best. Test this out: Ask a 6 or 7 year old who knows God what it means to love God with all of their heart – and they will tell you: without a 40 minute sermon. They will probably sum it up in a sentence or two.

Carl suggests two simple things – two “musts”. We must choose to make heart-love for God our first-love. The word “first” means primary – number one. It is like the First Commandment: you shall have no other gods before God. This doesn’t mean God is first on the list – it means no other Gods in His presence, and He is everywhere. It could literally be taken to mean “no other Gods at all”. First-love therefore does not mean first in a sequence; but first and only. The truth is that our lives are full of competing loves and attractions. We are therefore painfully aware of how easy it is for too many good things to squeeze out the very best thing.

God is not concerned about many our loves. He is not saying to love Him and only Him. He commands us to love our neighbors, children, spouses, enemies, etc – to love people. Interestingly enough, God does not say to love the world; or the things of the world. Imagine a large room as your heart. In it are all of the people you love. If you make a list it will probably be pretty long. All of the things that compete for the attention of your control center are here; but God must be the only god in this room. God does not expect that every waking moment will be spent thinking of Him (because this is impossible); but that His throne will be right in the center of your heart and nothing else will take His place as God.

This brings up the second “must”: In order to keep God in His rightful place you must relate to everything and everyone through your first-love for God. All the other competing demands (loves, requirements, obligations, jobs, good things and bad things, positives and negatives and neutrals) in our lives are to be related to and through our first love for God. First-love then becomes like a set of glasses through which we look at everything and everybody in our lives. Once you are looking at your life through these lens, you can ask God to help you love your wife as Christ loved the church; or love that neighbor you do not even like.

God wants you to look at everything and everybody in your heart through the lens of your first-love for Him. The encouraging news is that God is in your heart. The Gigantic, Eternal Being that created the Universe is in your heart (that shouldn’t just be easy to say).

2 Corinthians 1:21 Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, 22 who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.

Galatians 4:6 Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!"
When we realize that everything and everybody is to be seen through this lens of love of God, we realize that every part of our life can be lived for love of God. Have you reached that place in your life where you realize that every part of your life is to be lived in love of God?

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Sunday, December 04, 2005

Back to Basics: Why Love Is the Great Command

This is number seven (7) in the series. The first six mainly had to do with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, in our lives and the ways the Spirit enables us to live out the Great Commandment:

Mark 12:30 AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.' "[Deuteronomy 6:5] 31 The second is this, `YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF' [Leviticus 19:18]. There is no other commandment greater than these."
The index ptost so you can be directed to the parts of the series you haven’t read is: ”Back to Basics: The Series”. Now, the question is:

Why Is Love the Great Command?
Carl Palmer, Pastor-Teacher; 1 Corinthians 13; November 6, 2005

Carl starts:”I love chocolate; I love pepperoni pizzas; I love my wife; I love my sons; I love my God”. This word love is really a broad word. We use it in so many different ways so it is good that we spend some time thinking about this word – it needs a little more definition and clarity. When we say we love pizza and we love God we mean different things (don’t we?).
1 Corinthians 13:[Actually starting with the last half of the last verse of chapter 12] 31 . . . I show you a still more excellent way. 1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Carl’s prayer:
Lord, help us now to understand love better that we might obey your command. We pray this knowing this is your will for us - help us now Lord. Holy Spirit, teach us now we pray in Christ’s name. Amen
There are so many things in this chapter and Carl said it is not his goal today to teach that except to notice one major truth out of this chapter: Love is “the most excellent way”. Why is love the Great Command? Carl gives four reasons (there are more of course):

Love accomplishes what God requires (desires).

Love is a broad word that can go out of our mouth rather easily for all sorts of reasons. It is a word that does not penetrate our brain sometimes because it is such a familiar word. However, God is very concerned about this word – it is, after all, not what He does but who He is. God says to love Him with your all, and your neighbor as yourself. If this “way of love” is “wonderful” and “nice”; but does not accomplish what God requires of us – it is meaningless! The main reason Jesus said to love God and love people was that it accomplished what God wants to accomplish – what He requires of us. One of the places the Great Commandment appears in scripture, Matthew 22:37, ends this way:
Matthew 22:40 "On these two commandments depend [kremannumi. NIV and Carl: “Hang”] the whole Law and the Prophets."
The entirety of Old Testament scripture (and New) hangs on these two great truths. That is why we believe God has led Cedar Mill to this as an emphasis because all of the rest of the commands and requirements of God are sub-points of these two great realities. If you love God with your all; and love people as yourself you will be okay. In fact, if you do this the way God wants you to do it you almost do not have to worry about anything else – you will be just fine in the eyes of God.

The Old Testament saints had many laws, rituals, requirements, sacrifices, etc. that they had to perform. They had to love God by the means of all these things they had to perform. Jesus calls us to a different kind of life. He didn’t give us a long list of rules. What He did was tell us He wanted us to live a certain way – in love. This will accomplish what God wants – it is the way of life God wants for you. If you get confused - and we do get confused as day-to-day life presses on us and we hear about one more rule, and read one more verse, with one more command – it is helpful if we step back and realize that EVERYTHING hangs on these two truths: Love God with your all; and your neighbor as yourself. Throughout the New Testament this same theme occurs. Paul writes:
Romans 13:8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9 For this, "YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET," and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
For centuries, God has been trying to get people to love Him and to love one another because love accomplishes what God requires! If you love God and love people you will be doing what God wants you to do; and you will be the kind of person God wants you to be.

Love lifts us above trying to earn our way.

Some of us grew up in religious backgrounds where we were just trying to earn it. Perhaps we didn’t know we were trying to earn it; but we were sent this message that if we were going to make it we were going to have to do “this” or “that”. In order to get to heaven, or be right with God, then you have to “do do do do” and then you might be okay. If you don’t “do” these “things”, then you are not going to make it. This whole thing about love lifts us above trying to earn it. Some of us are still trying to earn our way; but love is superior to all efforts to earn or deserve heaven.

Every religion that has ever been on this planet has what could be called a legal code, or a legal list of requirements. If you meet these minimum requirements, then you will be on your way to heaven, or to whatever place that religion says we should be on our way to. In other words, you have fulfilled the law. This is called legal justification. So the question becomes, what is the minimum I have to do in order to meet the legal requirements. In some things this is adequate – like traffic laws. However, it does not work very well in life. When you are talking about pleasing God, and you are starting out from the minimums you need to do – you are on a whole wrong foundation to begin with. Do you ever struggle with these things: “how much” do you have to pray, read, give and serve?

This is not the system at all. If you open your Bible you read that “the just will live by faith” believing and trusting God. Faith is really an acting out of love: when I believe God I start loving. Faith and love are really inseparable. Faith is not just a mental thing. It is a conviction about what’s true; but then it does something – it actually loves. You can tell someone with genuine faith by how they live; how they love; and what they do. They give, they pray, they serve, and they read – but they are not trying to figure out what the minimum is. As soon as we try to figure out the minimum to “get in” then we are on the wrong basis. It is just like saying:
“I love my wife; but what is the absolute minimum (well maybe a little more) I can do to show I love her. I need to figure this out. If I could figure that out, I could save a lot of time.”
You know that this is ridiculous – it just doesn’t work this way. Are you going to ask what the absolute minimum you have to do to show you love your kids? No, we do not talk that way. In relationships, this is not how it works.

We must “just love”. It is not about figuring out a minimum and a maximum. It is about:
  • opportunity and capacity: what are my opportunities to love; and what capacities has God given me to love with;
  • Willingness and desire
  • Seeking the good of the other person.
The way of love lifts you above the whole “self-effort religion thing” and sets you free of that. Some of you need to be free of this: you are still stuck trying to make it, or earn it – and trying to figure out the absolute minimum you need to do to be right with God. It just doesn’t work that way. It never has, and it never will.

God asks us to worship Him, serve Him, and give to Him not to “earn” salvation or to “deserve” what He gives us; but because we have a relationship with Him. He is our Father, and we are His children; and He loves us with a love that will stagger us forever. So just love Him:
  • Seek opportunities to love Him; and use your God-given capacities to love Him.
  • Have willingness and a desire to love Him.
  • Seek His good.
Love is the most effective motivation.

If you want to motivate someone for a long-term reality have them fall in love – it changes everything. The most powerful, long – term motivator on the planet is love: not hate and not violence. Love is the Great Command because God knows us so well. He is the one that made us; He is the one that wired us up; and He understands how we operate. God wants us to operate much as He operates; understand things as He understands things; live like He lives; and God Is Love. So, God wants us to be motivated as He is motivated; and He knows what motivates us.

God knows how to motivate us; and this whole thing about love transcends any sense of duty. It is larger than duty, and Carl wants to tell you he believes in duty. He believes in duty to God; duty to country; duty to family; duty to church; and duty to community. He is “into duty”; but there is something so much more powerful than duty and that’s love.

Here is an interesting thing: God commands us to love and He also know that love cannot be produced by a command. Again, use the analogy of your marriage. We can say to our spouse: “I command you to love me! I demand it”. Carl says [After the laughter dies down] he has known people who have gone there; but does it work? We cannot force our spouses to love us by commanding it - compelled love is contrary to the nature of love. So God commands us to love Him with our all; but at the same time God knows this doesn’t produce love. We have a problem here. You have to be free to love. Love and freedom work together. Love has got to be a choice; otherwise it is compulsion or slavery. So God doesn’t simply demand and command our love – He invites us. He says come freely of your own choice and He doesn’t force us.

God invites and tells us there are two reasons we should love Him. One reason is: He loves us. He invites and expects our love because of His love. Carl received an email when he said this a few weeks ago and was questioned on whether we really loved just because God loved us first. Have you ever been in that situation where someone is sitting across from you and says “I love you” and then sits back and waits for your response; and you were thinking to yourself “Oh no!” because they are a nice person – but they were not the one. It is very uncomfortable because what they want to hear more than anything else is “I love you too”; and you cannot say it.

God looks you in the eye and says “I love you” and then sits back and expects a response. He loves you so much He sent His Son. We take the Lord’s Supper every week because we need to be reminded (often) that this incredible thing happened out of the Love of God. He did the most sacrificial thing to demonstrate His love for us. Could He have figured out another way to forgive us? Maybe so – that is a mystery to Carl. What Carl knows is that God did the most painful, loving, sacrificial thing to show His love for us.
John 3:16 “. . . so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

Romans 5:8 “. . . God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

1 John 4:19 “We love because he first loved us.”

2 Corinthians 5:14 “For the love of Christ controls us . . .”

However, God loving us first just doesn’t seem compelling enough. It should be – it just isn’t. The email pointed out that we love God not just because He loves us first; but because of whom He is. It is not just that He first loves us” but that HE first loves us! This incredible being; this perfect God; this savior of the world; this magnificently pure, glorious, kind, incredible being loves us. It is not that just anyone loves me – this is the One.

The best kind of love is a response to a magnificent lover. If that person who looked you in the eye and said “I love you” had been the one then you would have said “I love you”. There would have been no hesitancy. Many of you have been in that exact place: when they said they loved you your heart just leapt and you said “this one loves me and they are the one”. That is what makes the difference, and Carl wants to tell you: God is the one. He loves you, and He has already told you. The question is: what will you do? Carl put in his notes: “I am loved – by the Most Beautiful Being In The Universe with A Staggering Love that ‘surpasses knowledge’ (Ephesians 3:14-19). How can I not love?

The reality is that some of us are unaffected by this – because we do not understand how staggering God’s love is. Someday we will understand, and we will be staggered. The problem today is that we need to be staggered more.

Love is the most excellent way to live.

Do you want an excellent journey? Go on this one: being loved by the most excellent person. There is a beauty about God’s method! It really is all about the wonder of God and what He has done: God is love; He does love; and He gives love. God does not ask a single thing of you that He does not give you already; or will give you when you ask Him.

God only asks of you what He has given you. When you understand that basic spiritual principle that God will never demand of you anything He doesn’t provide for you – then you will understand the basic life flow that Jesus talked about. He said:
John 15: 4 "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7 "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. 9 "Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10 "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.
The beauty about this “way of love” is that it is inward – it is inside of us flowing from the heart. You can live religion on the outside. Many of us have lived this type of religion: it was all about duty and activity. It did not flow from the inside; but seemed to be pressed on us from the outside. It was an obligation and, again, a sense of duty.

This “outside” religion with its duty and obligation tends to generate hypocrisy. While duty and obligation are not bad, and can be important – what Carl realized at a very young age is that it could be faked. The outward stuff – going to church, reading the Bible, prayer – can all be put on. Even prayer can be faked – Carl remembers faking prayer. Religion can be faked – it can be so unauthentic.

The way of love is on the inside. When you are in love:
  • It is about passion.
  • it is authentic.
  • There is realness about it.
Religion on the outside:
  • will harden your heart; but love will soften it.
  • can make it all about pride; but love will humble you
  • can make you demanding; but love will make you a servant
It is totally different; and God tells you to “abide in this love” – to live in it. Love is the best way to live..

Here is your assignment this week: you are to love the Lord your God with all of your heart. You ask the Holy Spirit what this means. If you think you already know, ask Him for a deeper understanding – because you do not know it all.

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