Thursday, July 30, 2009

What Faith IS and What it is NOT

How much do we really live by faith? Do we live the kinds of lives that really require us to exercise a certain amount of faith or do we base our goals and lifestyles on goals that are very achievable on the human level, within our own power? And further, can faith be merely equivocated with risk taking?

The most important aspect of faith is its object. If God is the object of faith, then it is faith. Why? Because God is fact. God is certain. God is absolute. If an educated guess or risky living is the definition of living by faith, then we are operating under an unbiblical definition, because the Bible says,

HEB 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

So under that definition, ideas like "confidence, assurance, and certainty" are necessary components to faith. This is only possible if God is the sole object. So that is why we can “live by faith” and not by sight, because we know that God is the author of life, the sustainer of life, is sovereign over all of life, and is the goal of life. So in the end, to live by faith is to trust God with all of life.

Therefore, “taking chances,” “risky investments,” and "counting the odds" are not what it means to take “a leap of faith.” Because in those things, there is no assurance and certainty of anything. Maybe it will work and maybe it won’t. But that’s not faith. Faith involves certainty. We would be much better to call those things “educated guesses.” Nothing wrong with educated guesses – just don’t call it faith.

So practically speaking, to live by faith then is to be certain that God will provide everything I need that He has promised. Not everything I want, but everything I need. We can be certain of that.

MT 6:25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

28 "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Living Theologically in the Church

One of the primary criticisms that is directed toward the arena of academia is that it often produces material that converses with the theological elite while leaving behind the common layperson who seeks to understand and encounter God throughout their daily lives, and weekly in a place of worship. An unhealthy division of the Christian faith is seemingly promoted between theory and practice. On the flip side, the evangelical Church of today is often guilty of perpetuating this gap when it focuses primarily on attainting an “experience” with God, devoid of any profound theological reflection, dialogue, or foundation

Reflection upon the doctrine of God, his attributes, names, and nature, as well as the ways in which we acquire that knowledge, may be studied in seminaries and Bible colleges, but at times is often thought to be irrelevant by the Christian on the street. However, on the other hand, John Armstrong asserts that the church for too long has been preoccupied “with everything from revivalism to church growth” and “has almost sterilized our schools and churches to serious doctrinal reflection, especially in written form.”[1]

Today, however, there seems to be a desire from both the academy and the church to come together, to increase dialogue, and to share the glorious reality of connecting the mind, the heart, and the daily walk in a more holistic approach to life and theology within the community of faith.

As Paul wrote to Timothy, God has given divine revelation for many purposes, including ones that necessitate doing theology, but the ultimate reason for giving divine revelation and for theologians doing theology is that the people of God may be fitted for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)[2]

Recent theological discussion has taken special notice of how theology, and the doctrine of God in particular, should be understood as more than a mere assent to cognitive truth claims. At its heart, the truth about God must be seen in the lives of each individual Christian and the practical, corporate life of the Church, especially in its worship and concrete, biblical practices.

This is one of the primary arguments and basic assumptions that serve as the foundation for a recent series of essays edited by James J. Buckley and David S. Yeago, found in Knowing the Triune God: The Work of the Spirit in the Practices of the Church. In these essays the authors aim to bring theology and practice together, arguing that biblically speaking there is no such thing as head knowledge of the truth that is divorced from the “faith, worship, and godly life of all who are incorporated into Christ as members of His body.”[3]

Therefore one of the primary goals of theology should not only be to help build and articulate a deeper understanding of the doctrine of God, but to help incorporate such an understanding and its relevance into the life and ministry of the church. In this way, our theology, daily walk, and church life should inform, interact, and shape one another.[4]

Bernard Ramm has pointed out the significance of theology for the Christian life when he writes,

. . .to the evangelical, theology is a matter of life and death, vindication or judgment, to be in the love of God or under the wrath of God. Theology must then be built on the most absolute foundation possible–the revelation of God in Scripture. And that revelation can only be known by the evangelical's becoming an expert in the exegesis of Scripture and a master of its contents.[5]

So the Biblical text and the theology it conveys serve as the absolute foundation and cornerstone of the Christian life and the practices of the church. As Ramm has stated, it's a matter of "life and death." Similarly, Millard Erickson, in speaking of the critical nature of one's theology, emphatically states that "our theological beliefs affect the nature of our relationship with the Lord,” and so theological reflection cannot be separated from encountering or experiencing God and his purposes for us in our daily lives.[6]

Indeed, we are to think biblically and theologically so that we, by God’s grace, may live faithfully and obediently as the children of God in a foreign world. You can’t have one without the other. Why would anyone want to? If you refuse to believe or reflect on the fact that God is sovereign then you will always question whether he has the power to have control over anything that happens in your life. If you think that Scripture may contain historical or scientific errors in it than this may inevitably cause you to question the trustworthiness of God himself, who was said to inspire every word of it. (2 Tim. 3:16) Do you see how important this is? But as we gain knowledge, the knowledge that changes us, let us also live it out with simplicity and fidelity, so that head and heart can go hand in hand. Let us master the basics and dive deeply into the waters of the Word all at the same time as the Spirit will guide us in both. Then we will be living out a healthy spiritual life.

[1]John H. Armstrong, “The Trinity: What and Why?” Reformation and Revival Journal 10, no. 3 (2001): 9.

[2]John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2001), xxiii.

[3]Thomas F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988), 33; quoted in James J. Buckley and David S. Yeago, eds., Knowing the Triune God: The Work of the Spirit in the Practices of the Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 9.

[4]Our standard for practice should proceed from a biblical theology, derived from a sound literal, grammatical, historical exegesis of the text.

[5]Bernard Ramm, The Evangelical Heritage: A Study in Historical Theology (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1973; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 154, emphasis mine.

[6]Millard J. Erickson, Where Is Theology Going? (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 12, emphasis mine.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Memorial Tribute to a Dear Brother -- Dave Hahn

At approximately 7:45 AM this morning, our dear friend and brother Dave Hahn stepped into what I like to call, “phase 2 of eternal life.” Our heavenly glory - that future glory that awaits all believers who have trusted in Christ alone for their salvation. It is as real a place as anything ever known – a place where we are more alive than we are today – spiritually alive, spiritually complete, morally perfect and fully aware of being in the Lord’s presence. For Paul said that to be “absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”

Dave had an extensive battle with cancer, much more extensive than we would have liked. The way he died has had an effect on all of us, in more ways than one. First, no one would ever pick to have something that is slow and drawn out. But even though Dave passed this way, it truly gave him a platform to speak to so many people about the love of God in Christ. There is a mountain of people who came across this man who are now changed for life because of his love and testimony. We have no idea how many people have been touched for eternity simply by seeing this man stare at the face of death with confidence and assurance of his eternal destiny because of his Christian faith.

Perhaps one of the most healthy and most powerful expressions of faith amidst the dying process came when Dave spoke in our church several months ago, sitting comfortably in a lounge chair on the stage, telling us what it was like to “get one’s house in order” while trusting in God who heals or carries us to heaven, whichever it may be. Dave’s counsel, advice, experience, and blunt honesty had a huge impact on so many. He talked of things that we don’t normally speak of, things that are often “uncomfortable” for us. He said what we all thought and wondered about, and when the time was done, he played his favorite song over the loudspeakers and sat there with his hands in the air in a spirit of worship. There was not a dry eye in the house.

Truth be known – Dave was a fighter. He was a self-avowed “analytical warrior” when it came to the medical side of his cancer fight. Just the other day, in some of final moments of lucid conversation, he told me that the dying process has been fascinating for him – calling it “Dave Hahn’s Great Scientific Experiment.” He had a real sense of humor and was refreshingly transparent. He always wanted to remain conscious for as long as he could so that he could track what was happening to his body. It wasn’t until the very last weeks that he finally agreed to some pain medication.

Always the picture of health, Dave enjoyed the study of nutrition. This is why his passing is so puzzling for us – Dave wasn’t careless with his health. He wasn’t overweight. He didn’t smoke. He exercised and took care of his body. And yet cancer invaded him anyway. Humanly speaking, we have many questions with little answers. But cancer is no respecter of persons. Our response is to put our trust in God, who numbers our days and holds our lives in His sovereign hands. We consider it a blessing from God that He gave us 49 years with Dave Hahn.

Dave’s life and death has brought us together. It has put things in perspective. We have seen a church family come together to rally around a family in need. We have been drawn into prayer as God’s people. We have seen many use their spiritual gifts to minister to his family. The love that has been expressed in so many ways is a true reflection of Christ’s love spilling out of this wonderful church. What do people do without a church family? I have no idea. This is what it’s all about. God has raised up many who have stepped forward to care for Dave. His small group, his many friends and family, you name it. Oh, how we’ve loved one another.

On Tuesday Dave and I talked about what the final moments would be like. We speculated on the fact that perhaps there will be angels that may come to usher him to glory. What would he see? How would he feel? All these were things we pondered, considering all the Scripture says and more. A glorious thought – seeing the face of Jesus. Joining the “great cloud of witnesses,” to the place where “the souls of righteous men have been made perfect” (Heb. 12:23). It’s a heavenly Jerusalem. It’s not our final place. For there will be a day when the Lord returns to earth with his angels and those like Dave who have gone before us, and there will be a resurrection body granted to Dave that will be immortal. And then glorification will be complete in the fullest sense.

Oh Lord, haste the day! It won’t be long beloved. Mind you, there are “birth pangs” to this world right now, and soon our Lord will come.

I will miss Dave. We all will. It is still for us to care for his beautiful wife and daughter, a privilege we will take seriously, I know. Faith allows us to grieve, but we do not grieve like those who have no hope. Jesus rose from the dead, victorious over death. Therefore, it is a sad day and a day of victory all wrapped into one. Finally, one more story.

The story is told of a young man by the name of William Dyke, who at the age of 10 went blind. Yet even though he was blind, William went on to be a very intelligent, witty, and handsome man. He attended graduate school in England, and he met the daughter of an English Admiral, and he fell in love.

The two were engaged. He had never seen his future wife’s face, but he loved her very much. Right before they were to be married, a new treatment was developed that could possibly reverse William’s blindness.

In a rather unusual request, William decided that he did not want the gauze from the treatment removed from his eyes until the wedding ceremony was in full swing. If the treatment worked, the first thing he wanted to see was his new bride’s face.

As the bride came down the aisle, William’s father began to unwind the gauze from his head and eyes – still not knowing whether the operation was a success. When the last piece of gauze was removed from his eyes, William blinked several times and then looked into the face of his new bride for the first time.

And his first words were, “You are more beautiful than I ever imagined.”

I can imagine that this is what Dave felt the very moment he stepped into his heavenly dwelling and saw the face of his Savior for the very first time. And I can hear him humming his favorite song, “some glad morning when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away. To a home on God’s celestial shore…I’ll fly away.”

Dave, yes indeed, that “glad morning” was this very morning. We’ll see you soon brother. We love you.

PS 27:4 One thing I ask of the LORD,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple.