Unscriptural or Unfamiliar

Continuing on the theme of discernment here is a discernment tool the Lord gave to me years ago. I was helping to lead a small group and two friends were going to share with the group that evening on journaling as a way to hear the Lord’s voice. Personally, I have used a journal off and on over the years to record my thoughts. However, I had not used it in the way it was presented that evening nor after the presentation. I did however see it as a useful tool many had used to great effective in their relationship with Jesus.

Having a measure of responsibility for the group I was reflecting on what would be taught as I was driving there with a friend. On the way the Holy Spirit spoke to my spirit and gave me a question to ask the group as an introduction to the teaching. He prompted me to ask the group to reflect on whether what they were about to hear was ‘unscriptural or unfamiliar.’

In the subsequent years I have applied this test regularly and it highlights for me where many run into difficulties. People resist change and new ideas because they like the familiarity of routine, structure and shared worldviews. Routine and structure are good things that help us to organize our lives and move through our days in a somewhat predictable manner. The problem crops up in how we think. In my book, Worldview: The Adventure of Seeing Through Scripture, an idea I highlighted is that we tend to think with instead of about our worldview. Thinking with is fine for our daily activities. Not for more significant issues. Here thinking about needs to be brought into play.

To illustrate the issue, I am part of more than one theological debate group on Facebook. More than once the topic of cessationism (the idea that the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12 ceased with the completion of scripture) has come up in opposition to continuationism (the idea that the spiritual gifts are still active in the church today). I have always been a continuationist and in decades of debating the subject, in person or online, I have never heard a sound scriptural argument for cessationism. Yet in my experience few people change their position. There have been prominent examples like Jack Deere or Sam Storms, both well known theologians and both graduates of the famed Dallas Theological Seminary, which is thoroughly cessationist. Over time they re-examined their views and became continuationists, promoting the use of spiritual gifts.

This leads to the need to look at why others do not make the shift, even in the face of strong evidence that undermines their viewpoint. It comes back to thinking with instead of about our worldview. We all hold what are termed plausibility structures, ideas about what is or is not plausible. For example, treating anything that is unfamiliar in relation to our view of scripture as unscriptural is a plausibility structure. Paul referred to them as strongholds, ways of thinking in 2 Corinthians 10:4-6. If we believe that what we have been taught is correct, whether it is from a trusted teacher or elsewhere, we need to make a conscious decision to examine it to shift it.

In this process questions are useful and I am prone to asking people questions around why they believe what they do or whether they are open to change or seeing things differently. A few are able to explore new perspectives while others are so entrenched in their view that even though they may acknowledge they are unable to defend their position from scripture, they continue to hold to it because it is what they ‘believe.’   

 To make a shift in our thinking, to examine whether something is unscriptural or unfamiliar, we need to be reflective. This requires making a conscious choice to step back from our regular practices and thinking and reflect on what has led us to our present beliefs in order to determine whether they align with scripture.

Though we may find the idea 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. Personally, I am thankful that they didn’t treat the unfamiliar as unscriptural because they followed Jesus and laid the foundation for the faith that I follow. Let’s seek to emulate them.   

New Wineskins Part 1

Over the decades I have heard a great deal of talk about the need for new wineskins. Yet there has been little accompanying explanation of how they are made and the purpose they serve. I believe we are in a season where we need clear and sound explanations accompanied by spiritual strategies and right actions. 

Jesus introduced us to the concept of new wineskins when He said the following.

21  No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. 22  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.” Mark 2:21-22 (NKJV)

The difference between new and old wineskins is their flexibility. New wine expands and will burst hard inflexible wineskins. I’m not sure how many of us see that in the three and a half years that Jesus walked with His followers teaching about and demonstrating the kingdom of God He was forming a new wineskin to hold the wine that was to be poured out on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).

A concept I have come across over the years is the idea of plausibility structures, presented here by professor and philosopher J. P. Moreland, a committed evangelical, “The lesson here is that culture, which has a set of background assumptions – or, a plausibility structure – set a framework for what people think, which affects how they are willing to listen, evaluate, feel, and behave. The framework shapes what people consider plausible or implausible.” I believe plausibility structures are akin to wineskins. They are a filter or way of viewing the world that determines what we accept or reject. We tend to think with rather than about our wineskins while they sit in the background influencing our thoughts and actions.

I see in Jesus life that He spent His ministry time here teaching, demonstrating and sharing parables that were designed to help people actually look at how they viewed the world and what they believed was or was not possible. Jesus demonstrated over and over that many things people thought implausible were in fact not only plausible, they could happen right in front of them – healings, the dead being raised, the religious leaders being silenced. Jesus released hope for something new and better, a kingdom that cared about and ministered to people. He publicly declared His kingdom charter when He began His ministry.

18  “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; 19  To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” Luke 4:18-19 (NKJV)

This kingdom charter was a new wineskin that embodied freedom and hope because the kingdom of God had drawn near. In our lives let’s allow Jesus to help us take a look at the wineskins that are guiding our thinking, what we think is plausible or implausible. We can start by reflecting on whether we have a wineskin that is alive with hope, expectation and confidence in Jesus.

I leave you with those thoughts for now – more to come as we seek new wineskins and new wine.  

A New Year

We are a week into a new year, 2020, when many are expecting new or improved vision. At the same time it is easy for our resolutions to fade in the light of the reality of the day to day tasks of the post holiday season. Given that the scriptures encourage us to embrace one primary resolution.  

18  But the path of the just is like the shining sun, That shines ever brighter unto the perfect day. Proverbs 4:18 (NKJV)

Our calling is to continually seek to get closer to Him, to draw near to His heart. In the process something I think we need to reflect on is our corporate rather than individual calling. Our culture encourages a great deal of focus on self, and while we need an awareness of our purpose and calling, the context is always as part of a body.

The New Testament places great value on the individual soul but not in isolation. In our calling to walk deeper into Him we are called to the following.

15  but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – 16  from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. Ephesians 4:15-16 (NKJV)

We are to speak the truth, be motivated by love and seek to see each one of us take our place in the body and see the whole body strengthened and each member effectively doing their part. The context is that we are together being built into His dwelling place.

19  Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20  having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone, 21  in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22  in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22 (NKJV)

It is a joined together body that Jesus is building for His dwelling place. This past week. A friend sent a note asking what I sensed the Spirit was saying for this year. I prayed and what He spoke to my heart was, “We need to find our voice.” My understanding of this is that ‘we’ the church as a corporate body need to understand and embrace our authority and discern His strategy in speaking into our culture.

In conclusion, my prayer is that this year we would resolve to find our place in His body and see it strengthened to accomplish His corporate purposes.