Sunday, January 21, 2007

Intentions...what are they good for...?

My friend Erica posted awhile back (Jan 3) in part about intentions counting for something.

Judi commented about intentions being a starting point and that we shouldn't be too quick to dismiss them.

I think I'm gonna say "yes and no" in no particular order. Here's why:

Matthew 21: 28"What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work today in the vineyard.'

29" 'I will not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

30"Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, 'I will, sir,' but he did not go.

31"Which of the two did what his father wanted?"
"The first," they answered.


James 4:17 Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.

I will have to agree that intentions are a starting point. But in the end I don't think they actually count for anything. I may intend to get to the store, make the reservation, call the contractor, etc. But if I don't do it my family still is hungry, has nowhere to go on holidays, and the roof will continue to have ice dams. That result will happen regardless of my intentions. They are a starting place, but if you don't actually act on them then they don't really matter, IMO. Now, if you don't have them at any time you also won't act on them - so they are a step, but a step with no value unless the next step is taken. Irrelevant.

Now, Jesus talks about the attitude of the heart being important - essential even:

Matthew 5: 27"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.'

28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

So... we can sin without actually DOING something - taking action, but it doesn't necessarily follow that we can do good without actually doing something. Intentions, it seems, only have value when they are followed through with action.

Yeah, I know it sounds harsh. Graceless even. I know that God sees my intentions and my desire to do good. He also knows that when I fail to follow through that such is exactly what the blood of Jesus covers. I've looked. I haven't found anywhere in scripture where it says that the intentions of my heart are enough. If good intentions were enough - we wouldn't need said blood.

Romans 7:15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.

17As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.

18I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.

19For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.

20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.

22For in my inner being I delight in God's law;

23but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.

24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

25Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Now that's not to say that good works can't come out of a badly oriented heart either:

Matthew 7: 21"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

22Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?'

23Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

Oh, and I've had this running through my head a lot while thinking on this topic:

John 8:32 "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (the context of this verse has to do with knowing the truth about who Jesus is and believing what He claimed about Himself.)

I couldn't help but think that it doesn't say anywhere that good intentions will set us free. Not good works or good tries, not wanting to do what's right... but truth. True truth. Verifiable truth. Objective truth. Truth that is not from within us, but from outside.

But I digress... Truth is a topic for another day.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Oh be careful, little ears, what you hear...

Warning and disclaimer: some of my readers are likely to be offended by this post. While no personal insult is intended, I suggest that you sit down with a salt shaker if you intend to pursue your curiosity and delve into the reaches of my brain.

Yes, I have once again finished a Schaeffer book. And, in spite of what may follow here, I highly recommend it. It was the easiest, least philosophically based Schaeffer book I have read so far, and it touches on many of the questions that have been looked at in earlier blog entries. This one: Joshua and the flow of Biblical History.

Here's one thing I learned from this reading which has spurred me on to the thoughts I'm about to pursue. The final test of a prophetic word is not whether or not it happens, or is true. The final test is whether or not it lines up (agrees with) the whole of Scripture.


Oh, you already knew that?

Well, on some level I did too, but it got me thinking about some stuff that was bugging me before, so I'm gonna tie them together.

See, I didn't grow up in a "charismatic" church. I come from a group of Christians who are notoriously bible-based. Yeah, I know that can sound "proud", but what I mean is that one of the biggest emphases is learning HOW to study the bible. How to exegete, if you will.
(Exegesis: an explanation or critical interpretation of a text *Merriam-Webster) The reason for this is the idea that since God's primary communication to us is this book, we need to know how to read and interpret it if we are going to know Him.

You mean you didn't know there were legitimate and non-legitimate ways to study, explain, and interpret the Bible? Really? 'Cause I've seen a lot of folks (no, not all) who read this book with 21st century eyes without any comprehension of context - time, place, geography, culture, intent, etc. - and think nothing of it. I guess that's easy to do if you've never been taught otherwise. It's even easy to forget that if you have been taught it.

Anyway, I grew up in a church where we were taught the HOWs. I went to a Bible School that was basically a one-year-overview course on the bible, but the first thing we were taught was Bible Study Methods. Now, I'm not saying that we didn't believe that God could speak to individuals. Looking back, we certainly did believe that God could do that. But we were very strict about it lining up with scripture. You didn't see folks up at the front giving out "prophetic words" as one might see in a "charismatic" setting. Not in our grid. Where was the accountability? You might see God leading the speaker/teacher to abandon their notes for something else - but you can be certain that the biblical basis for what was being taught would be investigated, and though we had very many folks who would teach, you knew that they were all well versed in methods of study. 3-point sermons were common. We usually had outlines where we could take notes. In fact, one of the first lessons I learned at Bible School was: The best way to gain good teachers was to sit in the front row and take notes. If they think you're paying attention, they'll prepare better.

So what am I saying? That "charismatics" don't know how to read the bible? No.... But to be honest, I've met several folks who were in leadership roles - teaching others and preaching - who, in spite of a Bible School education, couldn't exegete themselves out of a paper bag. And no one was holding them accountable. No one around them seemed to know that the basis for what they were teaching was faulty. Scary for a girl who grew up with James 3:1 "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." constantly in the forefront.

What I am saying is that I've heard many prophetic words over the years as I've been in the charismatic circle. What I've never seen is any instruction on what to do with a word you've received. I've never seen anyone teach people that they need to take it back to scripture and hold it lightly. All I ever hear is "does that sound right to you?"

Then you get to the more general prophetic words. Things spoken over large groups of people. Those never seem to get examined in the light of the entire scriptures, either. Unless of course I'm just not invited to those times... I suppose that's possible.

Let's take, for instance, this "word" about how God is going to move mightily through the "under 30s." Well. If you're looking for context I shall remind you that those same words were spoken when I was under 30. Am I done now? Is God finished with me? Should I be handing over everything to the youth with the passion, zeal, and may I add time to do "the work"? Did we blow it and now it's going to take the next group to finish the job?

Well, on behalf of the "over 30s" I'm officially offended. On behalf of the patterns set up in scripture that have to do with bringing people into leadership, I'm skeptical of any plan to set up the youth in leadership and just follow them with a shovel.

What?! Where did that come from? What patterns in scripture? Well, if one is taking an approach of looking at scripture as a whole then one will find many patterns. One of which is that there is a lot of preparation that goes in before God releases folks into leadership: Moses, Joshua, Jesus (he wasn't an "under-30"), etc. Are there exceptions? Sure. I know people will be quick to mention Timothy. But remember - he was an exception to a well-established pattern. I'm not saying that God can't work through folks who are young. I'm saying that in the light of the WHOLE of the patterns of scripture that one must be careful not to assume that God is saying that.

So much of what I'm hearing today is about people wanting to "experience" God and "hear" from God for themselves. I never hear anyone saying that they want to take the time to use/learn proper study methods in order to hear what God has already said - that which they should be measuring their individual "messages" against. Sure, it's harder to decode. It takes a lot more effort. But if you don't take the time to really study (with proper methods) what He's revealed in the book, how will you truly know if what you're hearing is from Him?

As an aside, I'll give you a couple of examples of things I've heard from the pulpit taught by "bible-school-educated" men.

One taught a story from the OT and made the point of the lesson the attitude/character of the main character as evidenced by his/her actions. Problem was, the text never mentioned the motivation behind the actions. It was left purely to speculation and could have been interpreted many different ways. You can't make the lesson - the point of action - based on something the text doesn't say anything about! Even if it is a good lesson! What was even more interesting was the ferocity with which I was attacked by most of the others (it was a house-church) when I dared to challenge the teacher. They, mostly, couldn't understand my point.

Another taught on Jesus' temptation in the desert. Now, that passage is very clear about what each of the temptations referred to. This teacher decided to give them different meanings. Was he teaching us bad attitudes or lessons? No, but one of the first rules is that you use scripture to explain scripture. You can't just arbitrarily change what it says to suit your latest passion! When it says "this means this" well,... that's what it means!