Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Guided Life: Part 2

[Number twenty-three in a series]

I am continuing to look at the study questions for Chapter 9 ("The Guided Life: Receiving Guidance from the Holy Spirit") of John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted. The study questions are from the back of the book, and were written by Kevin G. Harney.

The book is about spiritual disciplines. The most important thing I have gotten from the book about spiritual disciplines in general is that we should not do them just so we can check them off a list. They are not a barometer of spirituality or a way to earn favor with God. They are a way to enable the transformation God wants to make in your life.

Group Prayer Direction

Take time to thank God for the many ways he speaks through his Word, through others, through his creation, through life circumstances, and through the still small voice of his Spirit. Also, pray and ask for the ability to recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd with greater and greater clarity.

Personal Reflection

What are some of the things that get in the way of you being attentive to God? What can you do to remove some of these roadblocks in the coming week?

Additional Small-Group Questions

  1. Why are so many followers of Christ cautious about speaking of God actually leading them or giving them promotions in life?

  2. What practices, habits, or disciplines have you learned that have helped you grow in attentiveness to God

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Guided Life: Part 1

[Number twenty-two in a series]

I am beginning to look at Chapter 9 ("The Guided Life: Receiving Guidance from the Holy Spirit") of John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted. The study questions are from the back of the book, and were written by Kevin G. Harney.

The book is about spiritual disciplines. The most important thing I have gotten from the book about spiritual disciplines in general is that we should not do them just so we can check them off a list. They are not a barometer of spirituality or a way to earn favor with God. They are a way to enable the transformation God wants to make in your life.

Small-Group Discussion Questions

  1. Read:
    There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings. -- Thomas Kelly
    Describe a time, even if it was only a brief moment, when you experienced this ability to live on two levels at once.

  2. What are some of the things that can get in the way of this kind of ongoing awareness of God's presence and closeness? What have you discovered that has helped you grow in your awareness of your life in God, even in the midst of your daily responsibilities?

  3. Read:
    Psalm 121:1 I look up toward the hills.
    From where does my help come?
    2 My help comes from the Lord,
    the Creator of heaven and earth!
    3 May he not allow your foot to slip!
    May your protector not sleep!
    4 Look! Israel’s protector
    does not sleep or slumber!
    5 The Lord is your protector;
    the Lord is the shade at your right hand.
    6 The sun will not harm you by day,
    or the moon by night.
    7 The Lord will protect you from all harm;
    he will protect your life.
    8 The Lord will protect you in all you do,
    now and forevermore.
    • Take a few minutes and write down what you think God sees and thinks when he looks at you while you are sleeping.
    • Invite you small-group members to read what they wrote.
    • What can you learn about your perspective on the heart of God for his children?

  4. Read:
    John 10:1 “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The doorkeeper opens the door for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought all his own sheep out, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they recognize his voice.
    In light of this passage, respond to one of the questions below about the Shepherd and his sheep.
    • What does this passage teach you about God as our shepherd?
    • What does it teach about us as his sheep?
    • Tell about how you hear the Good Shepherd's voice and how you receive his leading in your life

  5. Read:
    Genesis 28:18 Early in the morning Jacob took the stone he had placed near his head and set it up as a sacred stone. Then he poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel, although the former name of the town was Luz. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God is with me and protects me on this journey I am taking and gives me food to eat and clothing to wear, 21 and I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will become my God. 22 Then this stone that I have set up as a sacred stone will be the house of God, and I will surely give you back a tenth of everything you give me.”
    What are some modern day "pillars" we can set up to help remind us to be attentive to God and ready to hear his Spirit speak?

  6. Read
    1 Samuel 3:1 Now the boy Samuel continued serving the Lord under Eli’s supervision. Word from the Lord was rare in those days; revelatory visions were infrequent. 2 Eli’s eyes had begun to fail, so that he was unable to see well. At that time he was lying down in his place, 3 and the lamp of God had not yet been extinguished. Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord as well; the ark of God was also there. 4 The Lord called to Samuel, and he replied, “Here I am!” 5 Then he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But Eli said, “I didn’t call you. Go back and lie down.” So he went back and lay down. 6 The Lord again called, “Samuel!” So Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But Eli said, “I didn’t call you, my son. Go back and lie down.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord; the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 3:8 Then the Lord called Samuel a third time. So he got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me!” Eli then realized that it was the Lord who was calling the boy. 9 So Eli said to Samuel, “Go back and lie down. When he calls you, say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” So Samuel went back and lay down in his place. 10 Then the Lord came and stood nearby, calling as he had previously done, “Samuel! Samuel!” Samuel replied, “Speak, for your servant is listening!”
    Tell about a time when God was speaking to you and trying to get your attention, but it took a long time for you to tune in and realize God was seeking to move you. What finally got your attention and helped you recognize that God was speaking to you?

  7. John tells the story of how God spoke to him on a number of occasions through a dear woman named Lorraine. Tell about a time you heard God speak to you through the words of another person. How did you respond to this leading or prompting?

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

On Depravity and Obedience

[Inspired by the comments to this post; and modified from this comment]

Certainly one of those most difficult Christian doctrines is the idea of total depravity

The doctrine of total depravity, rather, holds that by virtue of the Fall, human beings are turned entirely away from God. Augustine understands this in terms of love: humans love God with the love due creatures and love creatures with the kind of love due to God. Luther understood it in terms of trust: we will trust anything with our ultimate well-being other than God. Either way, all of our faculties--even our good ones--are no longer directed at the love, trust, and glorification of God but are rather turned inward towards ourselves or outward at other created things. Moreover, our own power cannot, under any circumstances, turn ourselves back to God. People in this state (i.e., everyone) are entirely capable of doing wonderful things, but they are not capable of turning those wonderful things to the love and glory of God.
I think few Christians today actually believe that "original sin" or our "sin nature" is somehow passed down from generation-to-generation as Augustine apparently did. The idea, shown above, is that we are born with a sin nature as a natural condition. This is a result of the Fall - but it is not, as some outside or inside of Christianity might suggest, some sort of genetic/physical inheritance from our parents.

While disobedience of God would be sin - many people misunderstand why my section of Christianity tries to obey. Many folks seem to think we obey because we fear that God will smite us with some big stick, or not reward us, or that we will not go to Heaven, or that we will go to Hell. At least for my herd of ilk - none of that is a concern: we are "in Christ Jesus":
Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
If we are free from the "law of sin and death" - then why do we not just do as we please: why talk about the "rules" at all?

First, because it is the least we owe God and Christ:
John 14:21 The person who has my commandments and obeys them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will reveal myself to him.

John 15:8 My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples. 9 Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete. 12 My commandment is this – to love one another just as I have loved you.
Certainly, that passage gives plenty of reason to believe that falling out of Jesus' love is both possible, and dangerous to our salvation. However, the point is that obey because we LOVE Him - and love cannot be coerced by threats or rewards.

We also attempt to obey because the rules are the right thing to do - they protect us, keep us in right relationship with each other, and in right relationship with God. The Garden of Eden illustrates this: Adam and Eve's disobedience certainly led to the Fall; but that was because of the "infection" the disobedience brought and not strictly because the broke a rule. The Fall was not a punishment for disobedience but the natural outcome of the act itself. The rule was meant to protect them from just this outcome.

The root of the word translated "evil" in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil means, at least in one of its definitions,
"to be broken, be broken in pieces, be broken asunder".
The first actions after eating can be taken a couple of ways:
  • you can make them becoming aware of their nakedness as a sexual issue;

  • you can understand it as an issue of self-focus.

When they make something to cover themselves they do not do it for each other, they do it for themselves. Certainly, God knew they had eaten of the tree because they were now ashamed of their nakedness - so that sudden awareness of self and desire to hide from the rest of the community was not His creative intent. Eating the fruit gave us a (depraved) knowledge and awareness of our own self as "a piece broken off the whole" of humanity. Our fallenness is not some continued punishment for that original disobedience - it is our selfish natures that we gained at that tree.

I think the ongoing sin after the garden is our separation from God and each other - our individualism and desire to serve ourselves at the expense of others; and, of course, relying on our own wisdom instead of God's. Certainly, Christ made it clear that obedience of His commands showed that we loved Him and God - but nearly universally the commands we were to obey had to do with taking our eyes of ourselves and taking ourselves out of the center of our universe by focusing on loving God and loving people. Time after time it is about diminishing ourselves (becoming last to become first) or becoming poor in spirit, etc. It was about letting go of what was important to us to look at what is important to God and other people. And, it is always about the heart behind the action and not necessarily the action itself.

When Paul talks about "sin nature" he talks about it as being an internal struggle between the desires of his own self, and the desires of God:
Romans 7:14 For we know that the law is spiritual – but I am unspiritual, sold into slavery to sin. 15 For I don’t understand what I am doing. For I do not do what I want – instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I do what I don’t want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But now it is no longer me doing it, but sin that lives in me. 18 For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I want to do the good, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want! 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer me doing it but sin that lives in me. 21 So, I find the law that when I want to do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inner being. 23 But I see a different law in my members waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
Paul used "flesh" and "sin nature" almost interchangeably. This is about serving ourselves and our own needs rather than the law of God - which is again those things Christ told us to obey: take our eyes off our self and place it on God and other people.

The "Original" sin, and our continuing sin, is about doing what pleases us at the expense of God and others. The disobedience only comes in because the law of God (which has only been with us since Moses) highlights our love of self and convicts us of that self-love.

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