A Wise Heart

                        There are two verses in Proverbs that appear contradictory. In fact, some use them to try and prove that scripture is flawed or not inspired.

4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him.

5 Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own eyes. Proverbs 26:4–5 (NKJV)

            On the surface these two verses are contradictory as they give opposing exhortations. We cannot simultaneously answer and not answer at the same time. To understand we dig a little bit. The point of verse 4 is that we are not be like a fool and the point of verse 5 is that we are not to let a fool be deceived into thinking he is wise. Here an explanatory note is needed. In the book of Proverbs, the term ‘fool’ refers not to a lack of intelligence but to one who rejects the knowledge of God. 

            We now come back to understanding these verses. The warning in verse 4 is ‘Lest you also be like him’ while in verse 5 the warning is ‘Lest he be wise in his own eyes.’ It is the endings in each statement that enable us to make sense of the seeming contradictions.

In verse 4 heeding the warning is similar to the idea of ‘getting in the mud with someone.’ Think of politics. People speak of maintaining the ‘moral high ground.’ That is what this Proverb is referring to. We can argue and debate with someone and become quite vociferous in our exchanges. However, that approach generally alienates people and builds walls rather than bridges. When someone is engaged in folly it is folly to try and point out their folly if they don’t have a teachable spirit. I am in some online theological debate groups and try to avoid this approach. I am not 100% successful but I am working at it. In an exchange with one fellow, we disagreed on a theological point. One of the many doctrines he dismissed while claiming to be a Christian was that Jesus was God or part of the Trinity. When we disagreed he challenged me by asking what my credentials were. In response I went over my decades of bible study and teaching scripture along with my academic credentials, none of which he possessed. He quickly conceded my point and acknowledge that I was correct – just kidding! His response was, “I don’t care.” While his response was in direct opposition to what he had asked it was clear that I had fallen into the verse 4 trap of answering a fool according to folly! I should have simply said that I did not agree and left the matter there as this fellow was not open to examining his position.

In other instances, I have simply asked questions to get others to reflect on their position then highlighted what the scriptures actually say. This works better at creating accountability and fits with answering them according to their folly. Truth is highlighted for them to consider. This fits with what I used to say when doing a lot of adult education. I would tell participants that my teaching philosophy was to open doors and offer them opportunities and they needed to decide whether to walk through the door.

Another example, I recently had a debate with an articulate Mormon who identifies himself as a Mormon apologist. We obviously didn’t agree on what scripture said so I suggested we each share what we believed and why from a dialogue rather than a debate perspective. Trying to learn from one another first. While I am convinced his belief system falls under the broader category of ‘fool’ as stated in Proverbs, I sought to answer him according to his folly. There was no response from him once I made the offer and essentially asked him to ‘put his cards on the table.’

The conclusion, we need to discern how to respond in different situations. We don’t want to leave people in the wrong place with the wrong conclusions if we can help them extricate themselves. At the same time, we can’t help those who refuse help. It is like a dream a friend of mine had years ago. In the dream someone he knew was in the water drowning and needed help to get out. He offered his hand and the person refused. They wanted help, just not his help! Let’s try to help where we can and recognize when we can’t.

Draw Me Away

There is an interesting phrase early in the Song of Solomon. Chapter 1 verse 4 begins with the phrase “Draw me away!” There is ardour inherent in this expression of a desire for the heart to be drawn to following the one we love. Whether we view the focus or intent of the Song of Solomon as being primarily about Israel and Yahweh, Jesus and the church or a bride and bridegroom, we can know one thing, as believers we are called to passionately love Jesus with everything we have (Deuteronomy 6:5, Mark 12:30). Thus, the Song of Solomon can teach us about the love relationship we are called to have with Jesus.

            The bride begins by expressing a heart cry, the desire to be drawn away by her beloved, to be with him. Later in the book we find her desire compromised by inconvenience.

2 I sleep, but my heart is awake; It is the voice of my beloved! He knocks, saying, “Open for me, my sister, my love, My dove, my perfect one; For my head is covered with dew, My locks with the drops of the night.” 3 I have taken off my robe; How can I put it on again? I have washed my feet; How can I defile them? 4 My beloved put his hand By the latch of the door, And my heart yearned for him. 5 I arose to open for my beloved, And my hands dripped with myrrh, My fingers with liquid myrrh, On the handles of the lock. 6 I opened for my beloved, But my beloved had turned away and was gone. My heart leaped up when he spoke. I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer. Song of Solomon 5:2–6 (NKJV)

In this scene the bridegroom came for the bride but she found it inconvenient to respond even though she longed for him. As a result, she lost out. If we carry that over to our relationship with Jesus, He sometimes calls our hearts to engage with His at inconvenient times. I know at times I have not responded because I was ‘busy.’ What a foolish choice. Other times my heart has simply responded to His drawing and I have rested in His presence, even in the midst of activity. I don’t need to stop and assume the right posture or breathe the right way to know and enjoy His presence. I can simply let my heart encounter His.

In the above scene the bride was left with myrrh on her fingers, scented oil. In our walk with Jesus the scented oil represents anointing and the fragrance of His presence. We can be left with a measure of anointing even if we miss responding to His presence but it will fade over time. We need more than a reminder of His presence; we need to daily walk closely with Him knowing His heart.

The danger of not responding to His call is found in Revelation and Hebrews. In Revelation Jesus commends the church at Ephesus for many things but chastises them for their failure in their call to love Him.

2 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. 4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Revelation 2:2–4 (NKJV)

The primary message in this warning is that good works are no substitute for a good relationship. Jesus may be pleased with our works but what He desires is our hearts. Similarly, in Hebrews 2:1 we are warned of the danger of drifting away. Not walking away, drifting. We see that with the bride in the Song of Solomon. Her passion was intense in her desire to be drawn away but then when the bridegroom came for her later, she failed to respond with the same intensity. She had to some extent drifted away.

            We too can drift away simply by becoming caught up in other things or being busy doing things ‘for Jesus’ rather than being with Him. The good news for the bride in the Song of Solomon is that she came to the place where her one desire was the bridegroom and she gave expression to it when she asked not to be drawn but to be set as a seal upon his heart (Song of Solomon 8:5-6).

For us, we may start by asking to be drawn and we may then drift. Yet, if we look at the pattern in the Song of Solomon, when we renew our pursuit of Him we find Him and again find ourselves in the place of intimacy with Him. I don’t know if can we be sealed in this lifetime, I do know we can always reorient our heart to pursuing His presence and thus His purpose. I pray we all remain sensitive to His call and respond when He calls.   

As I reflected on what I had written He brought a well known hymn to mind, here are the last two verse of an 18th century hymn by Robert Robinson, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, they capture what I have tried to write quite well.

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

Here’s my heart
Oh take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

The Restrainer Removed

            I recently commented on a Facebook post in a Christian theological group. The poster was asking about the identity of the restrainer in 2 Thessalonians 2 and whether it was the Holy Spirit, the church, an angelic force or something similar. I commented that for over 30 years I have believed that the restrainer is something evil not good. My comment was the only one that didn’t identify the restrainer as something positive. Since I hadn’t looked in the past, this time I decided to review some commentaries, including the Ancient Christian Commentary that I have. The church fathers also saw the restrainer in a similar manner as the Holy Spirit or similar with some viewing the retraining force as the government. I did find a solitary comment in a Dallas Theological Seminary commentary that said some people saw the restrainer as satanic or evil but they stated this wasn’t a tenable viewpoint. I will let you decide.

Over the years when I have shared my view with people many said it made sense of the passage. To explain why I believe what I do I will dig into the passage below and you decide if it makes scriptural sense.

1 Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, 2 not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. 3 Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. 2 Thessalonians 2:1–8 (NKJV)

This passage is about the end time return of Jesus and gathering of the church to Him. Paul gives the Thessalonians an indicator of when the church would be gathered. The timing is tied to a falling away that happens in conjunction with the man of sin being revealed. Paul is here echoing Jewish thought and Messianic expectations. The teaching in Judaism in Paul’s day was that there would be a great apostasy and an anti-Messiah, a great deceiver, just prior to the Messianic age. Thus, Paul is affirming a belief he was culturally familiar with but applying it to Jesus and the church.    

In this passage the temple in verse 4 is a focal point. The Greek word translated as temple is just that, temple. It is the word used to refer to the temple in Jerusalem throughout the gospels. The exception being how Jesus uses the term to refer to His physical body. As we move into the letters in the New Testament the word temple refers to the church, the body of believers both individually and corporately. There is a good deal of teaching in the church that the lawless one/antichrist will take a seat in a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem so many see the temple reference in verse 4 as referring to a physical temple.

There is a problem with this interpretation. When Paul wrote 1 and 2 Thessalonians, some of his earlier letters, along with Galatians, the temple in Jerusalem was still standing (it was destroyed by Rome in 70 AD).  Yet consistently Paul referred to the individual believer or corporate church as the temple, not a physical structure in Jerusalem. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16 and Ephesians 2:21 present this view. Jesus uses the same type of language.

18  So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?” 19  Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20  Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” 21  But He was speaking of the temple of His body. John 2:18-21 (NKJV)

Paul is consistent in using the term temple to refer to the church (individually or corporately) but those who believe Paul was referring to a physical structure in 2 Thessalonians 2 would have us believe Paul suddenly changed his use of the term. That approach violates the context. If we think of the temple as the church then we can make sense of Paul’s reference in 2 Thessalonians. First a little history.

In the intertestamental period during the time of the Maccabees, Antiochus IV Epiphanes (his name means God Manifest) a Greek ruler desecrated the temple in Jerusalem by sacrificing a pig on the altar, the abomination of desolation (Daniel 11:31, Matthew 24:15). Matthew 24 deals with tribulation and persecution which Jesus referenced as future. The one referenced by Daniel with Antiochus was the template.

Now back to Thessalonians. Expecting a rebuilt temple and someone sitting in it claiming to be God or the Messiah is one option. Another option is that this scenario plays out in the church, His temple in this age. For someone to take on that role would require great deception within the church, the working of darkness. However, we wouldn’t expect someone to stand up in the church and declare, “I am the man of lawlessness, please follow me!” People within the church would need to be deceived to follow someone like that. This leads us to the restrainer or restraining force.

In Greek restrains and restraining are the same word, katecho. The word means to hold back, hinder or prevent. Revealed is apokalupto, meaning to reveal, uncover or disclose. A very literal meaning is to ‘take off the cover.’ Applying this think of the man of lawlessness working undercover, being hidden and then revealed when the cover is taken off. Think of the restrainer as the cover, hiding what is taking place. For decades I have looked at this passage as describing the work of a demonic principality or principalities covering up or hiding the work of the lawless one in the church and preventing many of us from seeing what is really happening. I have seen the ‘restrainer’ as restraining us from seeing the truth rather than preventing the work of evil. After all the theme of 2 Thessalonians 2 is Paul warning about the danger of being deceived.

We have historical examples. In the early decades of Protestantism and the ongoing conflicts with Roman Catholicism this is exactly what was described. Protestants leaders saw the Pope or Papacy as the false Christ leading a deceived church. Much of the ‘rift’ between Catholicism and Protestantism was repaired in the 20th century with Vatican II and the Charismatic movement spilling across conflicting church boundaries. Without regard to what we may think of the issue I share it to highlight a pattern. There have been many movements in church history where movement A has viewed movement B as heretical and vice versa.

A current example is ‘progressive Christianity,’ which denies most of the basic tenets of Christianity but claims that it is Christian. Those who have embraced the movement have ‘fallen away’ from basic scriptural truth. We walk in wisdom by exercising discernment. As noted in an earlier post, for decades I have defined discernment as ‘seeing the reality that lies behind appearances.’ Discernment is what is needed to apply what Paul taught in 2 Thessalonians.

In 2 Corinthians 2:11 Paul spoke of not being ignorant of Satan’s devices and in 11:14 spoke of Satan transforming himself into an angel of light, not looking like the darkness he actually represents. I see this pattern in church history, Satan actively working in the church and his work being hidden from many. In operating this way he is sitting in the temple of God mocking God by deceiving His people. Just like Antiochus mocked by sacrificing a pig, something unclean, on the altar in the temple. Movements like ‘progressive Christianity’ mock God by working in His church to affirm what He denies and deny what He affirms.

Whenever Satan’s work is revealed, our eyes are no longer restrained from seeing how he is deceiving us. So, let us exercise discernment and in intercession ask the Father to open our eyes so that in His church we see the reality that lies behind appearances and love the truth and take pleasure in it (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). This is our protection in these times.

Building the Wall Part 2

In my last post I used the example of how Nehemiah rebuilt the wall in Jerusalem to look at the importance of rebuilding an actual scriptural worldview in the church. I noted the need to assess our own worldview to identify whether we hold a worldview at odds with scripture (most of us do), seek the Lord in intercession and then respond with a plan of action. As noted in Part 1, research demonstrates the terrible lack of a scriptural worldview in the church. Thus, using my definition of worldview, ‘The lens through which we view and interpret reality’ let’s take a look at our lens to determine whether we individually hold a scriptural worldview.

We begin by acknowledging the obvious, for the most part, the church rather than influencing the culture has been greatly influenced by the surrounding culture. It is like the idea of a ship in the sea. If the ship is in the sea, it can travel and navigate. If the sea is in the ship, it may sink or flounder. It is certainly difficult to navigate! Now that the need is so glaringly obvious let’s get the sea out of our ship by applying what Paul presented.

1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:1-2 (NKJV)

If we apply Romans 12:1-2 our right thinking should lead to right behaviour. The challenge of course is that there is a difference between professing a belief and living out a belief. In theological terms the distinction is between orthodoxy (right beliefs) and orthopraxy (right practice or actions). I can tell you from surveying a broad spectrum of Evangelical doctrinal statements that our issue in the church is not our doctrine, it is clearly our practice! Broadly, as the church, we profess a lot that the majority of us don’t live out.  

In looking at how to shift our worldview to align with scripture a critical point is that we tend to think with rather than about our worldview. Knowing the stats and research we have the opportunity to intentionally think about our worldview in order to shift it. Making a shift in our thinking, examining whether something is unscriptural or unfamiliar, requires reflection. This requires a conscious choice, stepping back from our regular practices (thinking with) and thinking and reflecting (thinking about) on what has led us to our present beliefs in order to determine whether they align with scripture. Applying this idea takes us to Paul’s first letter and a verse I referenced in Part 1. Paul’s ongoing apostolic heart cry throughout his ministry is summed up in this verse.

19 My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, Galatians 4:19 NKJV

In the normal course of Christian growth Christ should be formed in us after we come to faith. That is, we reflect His nature and character. This process requires our active and intentional cooperation and that is what most in the Western church have failed to do. Though we may find the idea of change and growth daunting, consider those who followed Jesus in the gospels. They had to stand against the familiar beliefs of their culture and embrace beliefs at odds with how the majority of their culture understood scripture. We are now in a similar place in our culture. Christians and the scripture are not held in high regard by most of our culture and to truly walk with Him requires the church to once again become a counter culture.

To the end of bringing about a worldview shift here is a tool for self assessment. I have covered orthodoxy, orthopraxy and samples of different worldviews. Review them, prayerfully  reflect on whether what you believe and how you act is aligned with scripture so you can determine the change required. In areas where change is needed make a plan, review the scriptures and act on the plan.

Statements of Orthodoxy

  1. I believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.
  2. I believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  3. I believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His future personal return in power and glory.
  4. I believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling power I am able to live a godly life.
  5. I believe in the future resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.

Statements of Orthopraxy

  1. I give regularly to support the ministry of the church.
  2. I regularly read the Bible and desire to align my behavior with what it says
  3. I regularly pray for myself, my family and others.
  4. I have a clear sense of what Jesus has called me to do in my daily life and seek to be faithful to His call.
  5. I regularly speak to others about my faith and the importance of knowing Jesus.

Worldview Examples

  1. I believe in what I can see, feel and touch. These things are what are truly real.
  2. I believe there are influences beyond what we can see, feel and touch that have an effect on my behavior and that of others.
  3. I believe that truth is truth no matter where I am in the world and that I am objective in what I believe.
  4. I believe that my life experiences and culture give me my truth and you have your truth.
  5. I believe that while my experience and perspective is subjective and different than yours that truth is objective and can be known.

The numbers below correspond to the Worldview Examples above.

1. Reflects Materialism.

2. Reflects a Scriptural Worldview.

3. Reflects Modernism.

4. Reflects Post-Modernism.

5. Reflects a Scriptural Worldview.

Take and prayerfully assess your beliefs and practices in light of what I have shared above. Ideally, engage others and begin a shared journey of aligning or realigning your views with scripture. If want more detail in my book (Worldview: The Adventure of Seeing Through Scripture available on Amazon) I include the role of repentance and plausibility structures in the change process.

Building the Wall Part 1

Whenever we hear teaching regarding the book of Nehemiah the subject of the wall around Jerusalem is generally raised (okay, pun intended). In reading Nehemiah, we discover that his major focus as a leader was the rebuilding of the wall to protect the city. He had a God-given mission birthed in intercession, that was rooted in his concern for Jerusalem. If you are not familiar with the book of Nehemiah, once he started rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, he monitored progress, encouraged others, dealt with opposition and remained focused until the task was complete.

We see Nehemiah’s mission come about in chapter one (1:1-8) when he identified the problem and responded with intercession. In chapter two he acted when given the opportunity to do something about the problem he saw (2:1-8). We see Nehemiah’s motivation here.

3 And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.” 4 So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. Nehemiah 1:3-4 (NKJV)

Let’s connect rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem to rebuilding a scriptural worldview. If you are not familiar with the concept of worldview, think of it like wearing glasses. Our prescription determines how we see. In my book, and daily life, I define worldview simply as, “The lens through which we view and interpret reality.” For us as the church to change our worldview to align with scripture, we, like Nehemiah, first need to do an assessment of the present state of the worldview of the church. This requires an honest look at what Christians believe to understand how badly the “walls” of our worldview have been neglected. Warning, the numbers are sobering and the walls are badly in need of repair!

Here is some of what Christians believe about their world. The following statistics are excerpts from my book, Worldview: The Adventure of Seeing Through Scripture (available on Amazon). The statistics highlight the problem in the church regarding what Christians believe.

In the 2018 State of Theology Study sponsored by Ligonier Ministries, LifeWay Research polled 3,000 Americans and asked them a number of questions about God, Christian ethics and religion in general. They found:

  • 32 percent of those with evangelical beliefs say their religious beliefs are not objectively true.
  • 51 percent of those with evangelical beliefs also believe God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
  • 78 percent of those with evangelical beliefs also believe Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.

Many Americans who hold evangelical beliefs about the Bible, salvation, and Jesus Christ, also hold beliefs that are not (in) keeping with Scripture.[1]

More recent research on worldview continues to paint a bleak picture. Here are some highlights from the 2021 worldview survey completed by George Barna and the Cultural Research Center (CRC) at Arizona Christian University in Glendale, Arizona and released August 31, 2021. The CRC uses the following categories in their research.

“The segments explored include those who call themselves Christian; self-identified born-again Christians; self-described evangelical Christians; people who theological beliefs establish them as born-again Christians; and people who possess a biblical worldview (referred to as Integrated Disciples).”[2]

The percentages who hold to biblical worldview is very telling. The study found that only 6% of those who claim to be Christian hold to a biblical worldview, that is those who live their beliefs. I won’t go through the data on every category. Samples will suffice. Here is what those who profess to be Christians believe that is at odds with scripture. Among the errant perspectives most widely embraced are:

• 72% argue that people are basically good

• 71% consider feelings, experience, or the input of friends and family as their most trusted sources of moral guidance

• 66% say that having faith matters more than which faith you pursue

• 64% say that all religious faiths are of equal value

• 58% believe that if a person is good enough, or does enough good things, they can earn their way into Heaven

• 58% contend that the Holy Spirit is not a real, living being but is merely a symbol of God’s power, presence, or purity

• 57% believe in karma

• 52% claim that determining moral truth is up to each individual; there are no moral absolutes that apply to everyone, all the time.[3]

By contrast, those who embrace a biblical worldview, the Integrated Disciples, hold to the following. There are a number of issues for which a shockingly large minority of Integrated Disciples challenges biblical principles include the following beliefs:

• 25% say there is no absolute moral truth

• 33% believe in karma

• 39% contend that the Holy Spirit is not a real, living being but is merely a symbol of God’s power, presence, or purity

• 42% believe that having faith matters more than which faith you pursue

• 52% argue that people are basically good[4]

These stats highlight the errant beliefs that the best of the best in the church hold. While the above stats are from the US, there is reason to see a major difference in Canada given how much our two countries are affected by similar cultural and social media influences. This is sadly the present state of the church.

However, if we follow Nehemiah’s process, we in the church can rebuild the wall of our worldview. We can assess our own worldview to identify whether we hold a worldview at odds with scripture (most of us do), seek the Lord in intercession and then respond with a plan of action. To that end in my next post (Part 2) I will look more specifically at a plan of action regarding how we shift our worldview to align with scripture based around Paul’s great apostolic heart cry ‘Until Christ be formed in you’ (Galatians 4:19).

[1] Aaron Earls https://factsandtrends.net/2018/10/26/what-do-evangelicals-believe-about-god/ Accessed March 5, 2019.

[2] CRC_AWVI2021_Release06_Digital_01_20210831.pdf (arizonachristian.edu) Accessed September 24, 2021

[3]  CRC_AWVI2021_Release06_Digital_01_20210831.pdf (arizonachristian.edu) Accessed September 24, 2021

[4] CRC_AWVI2021_Release06_Digital_01_20210831.pdf (arizonachristian.edu) Accessed September 24, 2021