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Monthly Archives: November 2010

Postvenient Grace

John Wesley talked a lot about the idea of “Prevenient Grace” which is a basic belief that even before you are born, God is at work in your life – already drawing you towards a relationship with Him. This idea appears throughout scripture. Perhaps most clearly in this verse in Jeremiah:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you…” Jeremiah 1:5 (ESV)

I’ve heard lots of great sermons and many great stories that illustrate the truth in this principle. I absolutely love examining prevenient grace, because when we look back at our lives we so often see where God was working long before we knew it. It is a great reminder of His faithfulness to us, but that’s not what I’m posting about. I just wanted to write a brief post to introduce a thought to you.
On Christmas Eve this year my dad preached a sermon in which he mentioned that the word ‘prevenient’ comes from the latin roots “pre” and “veni” and literally means to ‘come before’ – this got me thinking about other words that have the same root: “intervene” – to come between, “convene” – to come together. Then I thought about the opposite prefix and I asked “Is there such a thing as postvenient grace?” If you’re curious, the word ‘postvenient’ does not exist, but this non-word suddenly took on a great deal of meaning to me.
If God is faithful to us before we’re even born, it stands to reason that he’s faithful to us after we’ve left this earth. God carries out the works that he begins in us.

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 (NIV)

God is big on promises and covenants to families. Scripture is clear that God blesses those who bless him – and his people.

“I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:3 (NLT)

So the only difference in prevenient grace and ‘postvenient grace’ is that we get to participate in our postvenient grace by honoring God and blessing his people in and through our lives. So, how are you being a blessing to God and his people right now?

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Ignition; What is this Fire?

3 – 2 – 1 . . . Ignition!

I’m a big fan of metaphors. My church just finished a teaching series today. ‘Ignite’ was its title and I’m pausing today to meditate on the image of ignition because I think that it’s a powerful metaphor. References to fire are very common in the Bible; there are over 500 times where fire is referred to in some way. Here’s one Patrick has used a few times for his messages.

I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!

Luke 12:49 NIV

Though 1/5 of the fire mentions in the Bible refer to God, In this particular metaphor Jesus isn’t the fire. As Jesus is a member of the trinity, to me it seems that he’s not referring to God the Father or to the Holy Spirit. I think the fire refers to something else. More on this in a moment.

About a month ago we finished a series called “Breathe” Another powerful image. Let’s take a look at another verse of scripture:

And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

John 20:22 NIV

The Holy Spirit is often referred to in scripture in terms of Air.

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

John 3:8 NIV

The Holy Spirit – breath, wind, air, oxygen

___________ – Fire, ignition, kindling

So what is this fire?

I looked up a scientific description of what take place when fire is created. Here’s a paraphrasing of what I found on citizendium.org:

The flames of a fire are the result, or side-effect, of a chemical reaction between oxygen and a fuel source (wood, or gasoline, for example). The steps for fire creation are as follows:

  • a fuel source is touched by heat until it reaches its ignition temperature
  • oxygen breaks down larger molecules into carbon dioxide and water vapour
  • this reaction produces visible, glowing heated gas

If you’re like me this gets your mind going. And going. I think that metaphors are often weakened by over-explaination, so if you want to stop there and just consider this for yourself, I don’t blame you.

So, really what is this fire?

If the Oxygen in this equation is the Holy Spirit then we are the fuel. We are what gets set on fire. So what is this fire? Craig Groeschel, pastor of LifeChurch.TV calls it … “It.” He wrote a whole book entitled “It.” Upon first reading, I thought that “It” was just the Holy Spirit, but after discussing the book, I realized that “It” had to be a special interaction of the Holy Spirit with the people of the church. So what is this fire? Well if it isn’t God – and it isn’t us I think the only thing that it could be is… Fire. Sorry if that’s anti-climactic.

When people are excited don’t we say that they are ‘fired up?’ When a sports star scores a streak of points don’t the commentators say “He’s on fire!” I don’t think there’s a better word for fire than “fire.” If you need to get specific, it’s the ‘fire of the spirit’ described in 1st Thessalonians

“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.”

1st Thessalonians 5:19 ISV

Step by Step

I think there is a TON you can draw out of this metaphor. Assuming the Holy spirit is Oxygen and we’re the fuel – consider…

  • Heat is applied to ignite something
  • Different fuels have different Ignition Temperatures
  • Oxygen breaks down the molecules within the fuel
  • The reaction produces a visible, glow.

Here’s the part  where I over-explain.

To ignite, you need Oxygen and Fuel you need people to be interacting with the Holy Spirit.

You also need the heat to be turned up. Similar to the way that a sick person’s fever burns away the flu, heat turned up on people burns away the junk in their lives. As much as no one wants to be in crisis – don’t our priorities fall in line when the heat gets turned up? Mark Batterson said “Everyone wants a miracle but no one wants to be in a situation that necessitates one.” You still need oxygen though, so be sure to allow the Holy Spirit in.

You have to reach the ignition temperature. You know, striking a match is easy – getting a large bonfire going isn’t quite as easy, but once you get it going, it’s even harder to put out.

Once the fire starts, the Oxygen has to break some things down. The person or people who are on fire will experience life-change and some of it may seem destructive or even be painful. Some relationships may change or break down – some habits and may have to come to an end while new disciplines have to replace them.

The reaction is always evident to anyone watching; it produces a glow. You cannot hide fire. It produces more heat (yes, more heat) to all those around and it creates light, chasing away darkness. The funny thing about fire is that it tends to spread the more it touches things and you can’t really control it. But keep in mind, without oxygen the fire goes out.

I could go on – there are so many good images that come out of this metaphor – pulling a coal away from the rest of the fire will cause it to burn out more quickly, putting it back in the fire reignites it. But you get the picture.

In Summary…

So when you feel like the heat is getting turned up and you can’t take it any more, try not to worry, you’re just that much closer to being ignited. So make sure you’re getting plenty of fresh air.

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Quote for the day: Veterans and passing the baton.

n honor of veterans day I researched quotes regarding veterans. I found a quote that I think applies to not only veterans of war, but also veterans of church work. See what you think:

“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.”- George Washington

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Toward a Theology of Humor

Salt: from bland to overbearing

Humor permeates through every part of our culture and this wasn’t always the case. It used to be that there were lots of places that you would never find humor and lots of subjects that were off limits for joking. That seems to be no longer true. From church worship services to funeral homes you can expect to find humor everywhere. And from death to religion no topic is too sacred.

To be clear I’m a student of humor. I don’t fault humor for its abuse. I love a good laugh and apparently I’m not the only one. According to eHarmony.com, the most desired trait by both men and women is humor. More than anything physical, more than any skill, it seems that people want to have someone with whom they can laugh.

Now while it hasn’t always been as expansive as it is now, it has been around for a long time. Humor was invented in 500 BC by a Greek philosopher named Slapamines. Slapamines was studying chickens on his farm and watching as they crossed the path between his stables and his coupe. When he began to wonder about their intentions and he became the first to ask why they were crossing the road. Okay that’s not true, but humor can be traced back hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. The Greek comedies, many of which were written between 500 and 400 years BC, have a surprising number of ‘modern’ comedic devices – including some rather risqué humor.

So humor is everywhere, its vital to relationships and humor is ancient, but as a student of humor I just want to take a look at what the Biblical view of humor is. Many Christians (myself included) make an unintentional assessment regarding what kind of humor is acceptable for Christians: the kind that makes me laugh. This isn’t a good litmus test and with as common as it is in our culture, I think its time we move toward a theology of humor. Upon researching this topic I turned up an interesting passage of scripture that I never would’ve thought much of before.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

Colossians 4:6 emphasis added

This is interesting for two reasons. First, the word picture of “seasoning” conversation with “salt” was a phrase in Greek literature. The commonly understood meaning of ‘salt’ in this context was ‘wit.’ Second, in the Greek, the word for seasoned is artuō. It means to fit or arrange – so its connotation isn’t what we think of as randomly putting salt on something, but rather meticulously allowing just the right amount.

So, it seems here that we’re actually told to include wit in our conversations, but also grace. Equally important to note, however is that we’re told to be ‘seasoned’ with wit in a measured amount – not too little, not to much.

So what is too much salt?

Here are a couple of passages that I turn to that outline what ‘too salty’ might look like.

Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

Ephesians 5:4

Honestly this is a tough scripture for me, because I don’t like to put limits on joking. Let’s take a look at it. First off, none of the words used here for ‘obscenity’, ‘foolish talk’, or ‘course joking’ appear anywhere else in the new testament so we have nothing to compare it to. Studying the words you’ll find that ‘obscenity’ in this case could be defined as ‘that which offends Christian purity.’ ‘Foolish talk’ – means just that; don’t be an idiot when you open your mouth. Course joking  – well it means course joking, but it can also mean dishonesty. Okay let’s look at another scripture.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” Matthew 7:6

I hope this one is obvious; certain things in life are sacred – if you give them up to be treated as fodder for animals, they’ll do exactly what you’d expect an animal to do.

Okay so when is there too little salt?

I think part of the answer is in that verse in Colossians. Before we’re told that our conversation is to be seasoned with salt, we’re told that it should be full of grace. Social grace is a loving act that extends a willingness to seek to understand the other person. I believe a key element in this is a willingness to joke about yourself. I also think you have to let scripture and the Holy Spirit guide you

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15

Don’t be a stick in the mud! Don’t laugh in the face of tragedy! Be willing to laugh at yourself when other laugh at you, be willing to cry when others are crying. God wants us to have a balanced, healthy temper. Jesus tells us that even while fasting we’re not supposed to be somber, tortured souls

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18

I refer to this scripture for two reasons: It shows us that Jesus doesn’t want his followers to be gloomy people. But it also shows that Jesus doesn’t mind using a little sarcasm to make a point. “I tell you they have received their reward in full.” That’s sarcasm! That’s comedy! Dr. Elton Trueblood has written a book on the Humor of Christ (the only remaining ‘new’ copy on Amazon.com can be yours for only $351.39!) In this book he outlines 30 different places where Jesus uses humor such as sarcasm, irony and hyperbole to teach. For a good article on Jesus’ use of Humor check out this one from biblestudy.org.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9

First we’re told to rejoice (twice) in the Lord! Second we’re told not to worry – that means cynicism is not a God-condoned form of humor. And finally we’re told the kind of things about which God wants us to think. This to me is the ultimate test for anything that you’re struggling with: Is it God’s will for me to dwell on this? “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy..” Can you say that about your sense of humor?

What the Bible says about humor:

  1. Harsh humor at anyone’s expense is not Christ-like. Harsh joking is clearly outlined in Eph. 5 as the opposite of being an ‘imitator of Christ.’ You cannot use “but, its the truth!” as an excuse. Harsh is harsh and as Christians we’re called to be Loving. – That being said, Jesus himself used some sarcastic humor towards others (see his introduction to Nathaniel) in John 1:47. I don’t think we’re supposed to take ourselves so seriously that we can’t have a light jab thrown our way.
  2. Humor that is not pure, is not God honoring. Let me step back and say that ‘purity’ does not mean ‘free from sex.’ If that were the case then the Shakers were the only pure people among us. “Purity” means free from sexual sin – sin like lust and sex outside of marriage. Jokes that endorse, romanticize, trivialize or promote sexual sin are not a part of a holy life. Jokes that endorse holy matrimony while upholding its sanctity are pure.
  3. What’s sacred is Sacred. Human life, salvation, the human body, Jesus’ passion and the teachings of scripture are not to be trifled with. Do I think every joke about someone going to heaven and meeting St. Peter is sinful? No. I do believe that you should think twice before making any jokes on these subjects, however. Humor is one thing, flippancy is another – be sure that you’re not throwing pearls to pigs.  Me personally? I don’t joke much about death, salvation and judgement.
  4. Intentionally deceiving people in a humorous way is still lying. Lying is still wrong. I’m not saying it’s wrong to say something outlandish to make a point or even to get a laugh; Jesus even used hyperbole. I’m saying that if you’re really lying – even if its out of amusement and not ‘malice’ its still lying.
  5. Jesus himself had a sense of humor. He used humor to teach, to get points across, to be memorable. To be humorous in a pure, holy and loving way is actually (dare I say it?) Christ-like.

In Conclusion

If I’m honest with myself, if I can read in the Bible and not feel convicted then I’m happy. That means I don’t have to change. I’ll often try to read into things in such a way that it fits my life-style as it exists. That’s not the way we’re called to live. If you, like me find these passages convicting try to consider it tomorrow. I think the final question to ask yourself is this: is my humor loving? Is it really out of love for others?

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:35

In all things we are to be loving. So next time you find yourself laughing or making a wise-crack, ask yourself “Is this too much salt?”

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