Thursday, November 19, 2009

Jesus Christ: Our Help

"8 For because he himself has suffered qwhen tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted "(Heb 2:18)

What does this mean? How does this help come to us? This is the question that I came across in the commentary that I referenced in my earlier post. In this season I do not feel "helped". When I think of help in this sense I think of someone coming to my rescue. I think of a merciful outpouring of the Spirit that my faith would increase as the man in Mark 9 cried out "I believe. Help my unbelief!" (by the way, it's the same word for help that is used in Hebrews). In that passage, we don't know how the man was helped. We know that the demon was cast out, and the boy was restored. Was that Christ's act of helping his unbelief: performing the miraculous exorcism? Or was there a split second Spirit-imparted faith before the casting out of the demon? We don't know. Can we find the answer to what this help is, and is it something tangible that I can say, "look, see how I was helped!" Know that we are not speaking of a miraculous event that will have physical evidence to point to. My fear is that things can happen to cause an emotional change within me that I mistake for real, lasting change within the foundation of my being. My synapses fire differently, I am a different being. You may say, "that is too much to ask, we can't expect that kind of change instantaneously." Really? How is it then that we can accept the doctrine of regeneration that states just that? In an instant we become children of light and our affections turn from death to life, we are made new, yet in a sanctificatory sense we settle for less. This is where my frustration lies. I am paddling in the mist and all of the "help" I have access to doesn't affect my inner-most being. What can I do?

To find the answer, I started by looking for the writer of Hebrews other usage of that word for "tempted".

14 Since then we have da great high priest ewho has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, flet us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest gwho is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been dtempted as we are, hyet without sin.

Here we have the author of Hebrews telling me that Jesus can sympathize with me, He's been there.

A man has found that his wife no longer stirs up feelings of ecstasy, no longer brings him any pleasure while realizing that he only married her because she was wealthy, attractive, and showed him affection. Does the fact that his father also made the same mistake years before, but remained married and ultimately found joy in his bride change the man in question? Maybe he has become infatuated with another woman. Will knowing his father's history and victory help him? Can that change the things that he feels within himself? It may give him some hope, but if he has become weary with trying and no longer wants to, what help is it? That his father has sympathy for him doesn't seem to matter.

A man, while rock climbing alone has fallen and caught himself on a precipice overhanging certain death. He has no support other than the waning strength of his fingertips. At once, he realizes that his doom has drawn nigh. He cannot be saved apart from the miraculous appearance of a helper to pull him up onto the solid ground. Does the fact that other climbers have had similar experiences and survived help him when he realizes that his fingers are exhausted and are now slipping beyond his control?

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

The letter to the Hebrews continues. "with confidence…that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need". Once again, what is this mercy and grace in time of need? It must be substantive, tangible and real, not theoretical concept. After all, if faith is the "conviction of things not seen", I must be persuaded from an objective source.

"In Heb. 11:1, however, the sense of elénchos is "persuasion," but not in a subjective sense. Normal usage suggests that "things not seen" is an objective, not a subjective genitive. An elénchos is present as the basis of resting on what is hoped for. Faith does not do the convincing, but God, for the whole point in Hebrews is that faith stands on the revelation, word, and promise of God. Faith is the divinely given conviction of things unseen and is thus the assurance of what is hoped for. "

Therefore, I can't do it. The Spirit of God must persuade me…here I wait…what next?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Learning to Tread Through an Impasse

Working through James Boice's commentary on John's gospel, I have come to an impasse. In the past, I would adopt the best theological theory I could find and move on pretending that I had figured it out. That's not good enough anymore. I have to come up with my own answers from now on. Not just finding that someone else figured it out, but really searching internally and seeking true spiritual union with The Answer. My Christian life has been filled with men and women who have found substance in the person and work of Jesus Christ. They find joy in union with Him and delight in a heart-felt relationship with His person. My fear is that most of my pilgrimage has been vicarious through them, finding comfort in abstract concepts rather than connecting with the reality that He is.

In eight years of trying to minister to my family, myself, and others, I have essentially burned up a wick that may have never been soaked in the oil of the Spirit. Although it may have produced an impressive flame, it was exaggerated and has left me feeling disillusioned, empty, confused, alone, and in despair. I have found myself doubting. Not doubting the existence of God, but rather not finding any faith in the reality or power of the Holy Spirit to ignite real, lasting change. Not the kind of change that says that by having a desire to read the Bible and understand God means that I am regenerate. I can certainly desire those things with a motive to impress others with my knowledge, to find a path to ministry, or simply to satisfy my own curiosity. I assume that I am guilty of all three. I have studied enough that I feel confident enough in my understanding of theology to be of help to others. At the same time, those answers bring no help to me in my time of need. My three alternate conclusions are: I have been deceiving myself for the past eight years; I understand God's redeeming grace, yet haven't apprehended it spiritually; the spiritual experiences expressed by others are simply emotional phenomenon that have more to do with personality traits than an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Understanding the biblical doctrine of grace motivates us to gratitude and reverence because we know that our adoption as sons and daughters of God has nothing to do with our merit. The same is said of our sanctification. We grow because God causes us to grow. We desire to seek after God because he gives those desires. However, when we find ourselves in a stalemate condition, the first questions are man-centered: Have YOU been reading your Bible? When was the last time YOU prayed? Is there unconfessed sin in YOUR life? Why does such bias exist? When I believe that I first became a Christian, I had fervor for reading, praying, and avoiding sin and I believed that it was the Holy Spirit transforming my desires. I certainly had no interest in the Bible and I got plenty of kicks from drugs, alcohol, and illicit sex. Yet somehow I was stimulated by this new-found spiritual realm. Was I really in communication with the Master of the Universe? (Not He-Man!) Did He really give a flip about me? I certainly thought so, to the extent that I was willing to give up much of my 20 years of friendships, and my life as I knew it was forever altered. Is it really possible that I can undo the beautiful work of the Creator of all things? It doesn't seem likely. That is where I am. My head is just as senseless and choppy as my writing.

I started by saying that I reached a question in Boice's commentary that I could not skip over. I am going to conduct an experiment with my life. I will not give up on this thing, but rather continue to study. I will not study with intentions of "knowledge", but rather seeking real answers. Life transforming answers. Things I will not put on my tongue until I have begun practicing them. If I adopt it, I will live it or I won't move on. Spiritual hypocrisy is not always easy to detect, even internally, but given that it is damnable I should take it soberly for my sake and for the sake of my family. I will no longer conform to the "evangelical mold", if I don't believe it I will say it, if I have a problem with it, I will wrestle it, I will not fake it to fit in, or to impress you. I will only rely on the Spirit's power to truly transform my affections towards Christ. As I study I will confront answers, challenge my own thinking at the risk of being stupid and showing my ignorance. If the Spirit is real, He will change me before those closest to me. My prayer is that He WILL be my bridge over these austere waters of discontentment, discouragement, and bitter feelings.

I realize that all of this could be in vain and I could remain in the same depressed state forever, but at least I am seeking…right?