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“Cut to the Chase” as to Decision Making and the Will of God

March 28, 2008 4 comments

“From the Experts”, pg 34 in the April, 2008 Focus on the Family magazine, a young woman is trying to work through a decision-making process regarding either law school or medical school and how that would be compatible with being a wife and mother, and staying home with the children. 

Dr. Dobson defines the three competing choices before this woman:

  • Have a career
  • Be a wife and mother
  • Have a career and be a wife and mother

Since she does not yet have plans to marry, Dr. Dobson recommends that she press ahead with her academic goals and that once her training is complete, she will still have all of the above options available to her.  Dr. Dobson continues that she could put her career on hold should she marry and want to become a full-time mother. 

That sounds like sage and pragmatic advice; try not to limit your options.  Dr. Dobson goes on to state that only she can decide what is best for her.  However, Dr. Dobson then closes with, “I would strongly suggest that you make it a matter of prayer as you seek the Lord’s will for your life.” 

Please – help me understand.  How on the one hand can you state that one can only decide for themselves what is best and on the other hand tell that person to seek the Lord’s will? 

In considering the three aspects of the will of God, the question posed by this young woman obviously is not related to the sovereign will of God.  Granted, there are inherent ramifications to each of the three choices before this woman.  However, I do not sense any conflict regarding the moral will of God.  As such, I can only conclude that Dr. Dobson believes that God does indeed have a plan as to which option she should choose.   If that is the case, then why not “cut to the chase” and advise this woman how to go about finding God’s will for her life? 

A Specific Will for Each Believer?

March 24, 2008 Leave a comment

As noted before, I have been trying to determine the truth regarding a personal will that God would have for Christians. From my previous post on John Piper’s interpretation of Rom 12:1-2, I wish to better summarize and clarify some points:

John Piper offered two aspects of the will of God:

  1. The will of decree: God’s “control of everything that comes-to-pass” such as how it was God’s plan for Christ to be crucified.
  2. The will of command: Those things God has told us to do by way of His moral law – the Ten Commandments.

My preference is to separate the moral and individual aspects of God’s will. In part, this is because it has been my observation that nearly every Christian relates to three distinct aspects of the will of God. Those three aspects and some definitions are:

 

  1. The sovereign will of God: I understand this to be God’s overall or “cosmic” plan. It will happen no matter what we do or even if we do not believe in it. Jesus’ second coming would be an example of the sovereign will of God.
  2. The moral will of God: I understand this to be God’s revealed plan and truth for all of mankind. In essence, it is basic morality – the Ten Commandments
  3. The specific will of God: I understand this to describe God’s detailed plan for each believer. The specific will of God is revealed by the Holy Spirit, is specific for each believer and is not found in the Bible. Examples would be such things as what school to attend, whom to marry, whether or not to go on a mission, which job offer to accept, which house to purchase, etc.

Personally, I do not believe that God has a specific will. I simply do not see that concept taught in scripture. However, perhaps to some greater or lesser degree, virtually every Christian I have ever met does believe this. In general, Christians seem “married” to the idea that God has something already planned out for them.

Noted Christian author, Josh McDowell, clearly believes in a specific will that God has for each believer. Below are some quotes from his book, God’s Will, God’s Best for Your Life (the italics are mine):

· Pg 39: Understand that there are two big areas where God shows His will. The first is His will for all Christians. The second is His will just for you. God’s will for all Christians is what we can call His universal will. God’s will specifically for you is His specific will.

· Pg 61: Scripture is the first place you to go to know God’s specific will just for you.

· Pg 61: God isn’t going to tell you everything right now, and detecting His specific will is an ongoing process. Don’t be frustrated that you have to work at it. God usually leads you little by little.

· Pg 92: What you discern to be God’s specific will for you isn’t likely to come just from one source of guidance. (Mr. McDowell goes on to talk about making use of scripture, prayer, counsel and understanding circumstances.)

· Pg 112: Reading your circumstances will tell you a lot about God’s specific will for your getting things.

· Pg 113: God uses circumstances to direct us.

Here are some examples I have come across to help illustrate how people seem to actualize God’s specific will:

  • The many times that our pastor and members of the board prayed for God to reveal His will whether or not there should be a building program.
  • A letter to the congregation regarding the hiring of a children’s director; “However, we do not know what the Lord has in His plans.”
  • An email from the church secretary regarding a couple trying to adopt a child: “God may have presented this couple an opportunity out of the blue”.
  • Another email: “Due to the death of (name withheld from the church family): “God has opened this door for us.”
  • Printed in the church bulletin: “(a former intern and his finance’) are waiting on God’s timing for setting a specific wedding date.”
  • A letter to the congregation: “God has confirmed to (a staff member) that it is time for him to pursue other ministry avenues.”
  • My daughter-in-law’s belief that God led them to the house they purchased.
  • A 2006 candidate for mayor in Eagan MN who said, “The Lord told me I should run.”
  • Joni Eareckson Tada’s comment: “It’s no mistake that you got that bad medical report last week, that the economic downturn is affecting your retirement fund, (that) your children are not turning out the way you’d hoped they would, or that your grandchild was born with a disability.”
  • “Discover God’s Direction” – the cover page of an Indiana Wesleyan University admission brochure.

None of the above examples is in reference to a moral decision. Certainly, there are instances in scripture where God led or otherwise directed people. But, does that mean that God has a plan for each and every decision one encounters? As far as I can determine, evangelism seems to be the main motivator whenever God is leading or directing – not the ordinary and mundane things we earthly mortals confront everyday

Comments re John Piper’s Sermon: What is the Will of God and How Do We Know It?

March 20, 2008 Leave a comment

Some time ago, I listened to John Piper’s sermon: What Is the Will of God and How Do We Know It?

http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/MediaPlayer/179/Audio/

Below is the essence of the letter I wrote to the friend who pointed me towards this sermon. I doubt there is any disagreement regarding the sovereign will of God – or as Dr. Piper calls it – the will of decree. Jesus’ second coming would be an example of God’s sovereign will. It doesn’t matter whether one believes it or not, it’s going to happen. That said, however, I’m struggling with many comments Dr. Piper said related to God’s sovereign will such as:

  • God forbids things He brings about.
  • In one sense, something is the will of God and in another sense it is not the will of God.
  • God can ordain that sin happen without being a sinner.
  • Everything is the will of God.
  • His will might be that sin happen.

I agree that God is sovereign over everything and that He has the power to control everything. What Dr. Piper calls the will of command, however, I would break into two distinct parts – the moral will of God (i.e. all of the “thou shall” & “thou shall not”) and the personal will of God which I’ll define as the individual and specific plan espoused by many that God has for each believer.

Dr. Piper’s overview of the will of God My overview of the will of God:
Will of decreeWill of command Sovereign will of GodMoral will of GodPersonal will of God

Dr. Piper references the moral will of God in regards to sanctification. I would add that the Ten Commandments are the epi-center of God’s moral will for us. Everything else in the Bible that relates to how we’re to behave emanates from the Ten Commandments. For example, as referenced in 1 Thes 4:3; stay away from sexual immorality is rooted in the seventh commandment – Thou shall not commit adultery. My sense is that the renewing of one’s mind has to do with believers, who still very much have a sin nature in spite of being saved from their sins, continually realize that God’s ways are best. The bottom line is that we’ll only experience the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) when we follow God’s moral commands instead the naturally occurring ugliness of our sinful nature (Gal 5:19-21). I believe this ties into what Paul is saying when he begins Rom 12:1 with the word, “Therefore”. As I read and understand the passage, Paul is referencing his earlier thoughts in Romans regarding:

  • Obedience (1:5)      (This list is from my NIV Topical Bible)
  • Righteousness (1:17)
  • Sin (2:12)
  • Justification (3:24)
  • Visible signs (4:11) including miracles, rainbows, circumcision
  • Body (6:13)
  • Calling (8:30)
  • Confessions of faith (10:9)
  • Grace (11:6)

Therefore (12:1), we’re to offer our bodies as living sacrifices which is a spiritual act of worship. The next sentence that follows states that we should not conform to the pattern of this world (sin?) but rather that we should be transformed by the renewing of our minds (holiness?) so that we will be able to test (ask: is this from God? – and if the answer is yes, then it’s holy in its nature, character, desire, etc.) and approve what God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will is. In these verses (12:1-2), I believe Paul is culminating his teaching about Christian living in order that we can have:

  • Victory over sin (6:2-7)
  • Experience the power of the Holy Spirit (8:9-11, 13)
  • Use gifts God has given us (12:3-8)
  • Live a life of love (12:9-21)
  • Have respect for government (13:1-7)
  • Experience Christian freedom (14:1)
  • Hope (15:13)

As such, it appears to me that Rom 12:1-2 relates to the moral will of God (how we are to act) and has nothing to do with the “personal will” of God. But Dr. Piper, toward the end of his sermon listed three expressions or statements, one of which is: if we want to obey the will of command then we must have a renewed mind to know how to eat, which cars to drive, which houses to live in, what lifestyles to choose, what missions to go on, etc. If I’m understanding Dr. Piper correctly, he’s as much saying that that there is a personal will for each believer and in order for each believer to discover what that personal will is, the believer must be continually renewing their mind to follow it. Dr. Piper seems to lump together all of the non-moral decisions that individuals have to make into God’s “will of command” and that without the continual renewing of our minds, it will be impossible for believers to make the “correct” decision. In looking at the life and actions of Paul, however, there appear to be many instances for which Paul makes a decision or otherwise takes an action without first praying about it or otherwise “renewing” his mind. Ref: Phil 2:25, 1 Cor 16:3-4, Acts 6:1-7, Acts 15:24-29. I suppose you could argue that Paul was continually “renewing” his mind and in reality, I probably wouldn’t disagree. Nevertheless, Gary Friesen, in his book Decision Making and the Will of God identifies within Paul what Mr. Friesen calls “spiritual expediency”. That is, if Paul had to make a moral decision then the teachings of the Bible had to be followed. However, in non-moral decisions, Paul was free to decide what he thought was best. Mr. Friesen goes on to explain that Paul made decisions that brought about the greatest glory for God. In any event, it seems to me that Christians have been given an awesome level of freedom (and responsibility) when we live by the Spirit. And, as I read and understand scripture, part of this freedom is the ability to make non-moral decisions without worry or concern. From what I understand about grace, I don’t think I have to worry about making “wrong” decisions so long as those decisions are within the boundaries which scripture has clearly defined – even if I’m not “feeling close” to God. Dr. Piper asked the question as to whether it’s the will of God that one is subjected to child abuse. Dr. Piper’s answer had two parts:

  • No – because God commands that we love each other and not abuse each other.
  • Yes – it was God’s sovereign will that this happen because God did not “hinder” or otherwise intervene or stop the abuse. Being a bit blunt – this a lot of spiritual gymnastics. I know that the Bible teaches that God hardened Herod’s heart. I suppose one could extrapolate that God, then, is the giver and taker of good and evil and that God gives to some children wonderful parents and to other children God gives crappy parents who would abuse them in order that God’s sovereign will take place. But if I look at the life of Jesus – who is God Himself – and how Jesus related to those around Him, I am hard-pressed to believe that God would intentionally bring about child abuse. I’ll accept that God actually did harden Herod’s heart but only such that Herod’s heart was already hardened against God. Furthermore, referring back to God subjecting someone to child abuse, Rom 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose”. I don’t read that God causes all things. Rather, I understand that God can use all things – even terrible experiences such as child abuse in the life of a believer. And that yes, something as horrible as child abuse can even bring about glory for God.

So, what does all of this mean and what am I to make of Dr. Piper’s sermon? Well, much as a chemist sets out to prove (or disprove) a hypothesis, I’m trying to validate my hypothesis that God gives the believer freedom to make any choice that is within His moral boundary (His law). I also believe that God give us wisdom to make wise choices but I don’t think that God has a predetermined objective for us to discover. I do not see where in scripture the concept of a pre-determined and specific will for each believer is taught as Dr. Piper seems to imply. As always, I welcome any thoughts or insights regarding Dr. Piper’s sermon or my $0.02 worth.

Books I’ve Been Reading

March 12, 2008 1 comment

It certainly has been my intention to write more often than I have.  However, sometimes life i.e. family, job, and normal everyday mundane things get in the way.  I’ve been asked – what have I been reading?  Well, the books I have been reading (or re-reading) include:

  • Discovering God’s Will For Your Life (Ray Pritchard)
  • Is God Really In Control (Jerry Bridges)
  • Is God to Blame (Greg Boyd)
  • Living Above Your Circumstances (Bob George)
  • The Purpose Driven Life (Rick Warren)
  • God’s Will, God’s Best (Josh McDowell & Kevin Johnson)
  • Decision Making and The Will of God (Garry Friesen)
  • The Mystery of God’s Will (Charles Swindoll)
  • What is the Will of God and How Do We Know it? (John Piper sermon)

I know there is a whole boatload of books and information about this topic and I don’t pretend to have even scratched the surface.  However, this is where I have started because these books were in our church’s library or someone has referred me to them.  Please post other books that you may have found relevant to this topic.

A Desire for Truth Pertaining to the Will of God

March 5, 2008 Leave a comment

The issue of God having a specific plan for each believer is something that I have been trying to understand for a long time.  Until recently, I would “agree to disagree”.  I accepted that I did not have sufficient understanding to comprehend this issue and I was content to leave it at that.  Then, I came across a book entitled Decision Making and the Will of God.   For the first time, I found myself (I think) thinking Biblically about the nature of God’s will in my life.  I did not have to “discover” what God had planned for me.  I did not have to figure out what His personal will is for my life.  Per Garry Friesen’s book, God’s will is clearly stated in scripture.  I did not have to deal with those proverbial open or closed doors anymore.     

As the saying goes, a funny thing happened on the way to church.  I kept hearing what sounded like (to me, anyway) “Christian speak” type statements.  Many devout believers are convinced that God has/had shown them a plan for their lives.  They have “peace in their hearts”, “a clear conscience”, and scads of verses to support their contention that God had given them a particular house, led them to their spouse, children, opened the door for a job, gave them a disease and then cured them of it, etc.  I’ve never experienced anything like this.  Was I missing something?       

This issue began to “fester” and really gnaw at me when the pastor and members of the board at our church were talking about whether or not it was “God’s will” to have a building expansion program.  I asked the obvious question, “What are the criteria to determine whether or not a building program would be part of God’s specific plan for this church?”  It seemed a simple enough question.   However, this led to many conversations and emails with the pastor and many others in the church over the next couple of months.  In the end, I became uncomfortable with the pastor and the church leadership and left to worship at another church.       

So, what is my point: much as a chemist sets out to prove (or disprove) a hypothesis, I am trying to validate my belief that God gives the believer freedom to make any choice that is within His moral boundary (His law).  I do not believe that God has a predetermined objective for us to discover.       

A good question as been asked of me – am I in pursuit of truth?  In addition, am I willing to follow the truth wherever it leads?  I wish I could give a straight-up “yes!” answer.   However, I think I am coming to grips with how little faith I truly have.  I am confused and I can no longer swallow the nice little expressions of faith – the “Christian speak”.  For example: in an Aug/Sept 2003 Focus On the Family article on Joni Eareckson and Ken Tada, Joni says, “But God has a plan.  It’s no mistake that you got that bad medical report last week, that the economic downturn is affecting your retirement fund, that your children are not turning out the way you’d hoped they would or that your grandchild was born with a disability.”  Certainly these are things that can draw individuals and families closer to Christ.  And certainly God can use any situation for His glory.  But I am not convinced that God has brought about those situations.              

Well, I trust that I have provided a little perspective regarding my concern and confusion as to the will of God in the life of the believer.  I welcome thoughts, opinions, and the opportunity to engage in a dialog.  I look forward to posting on various books I have read, and statements that I have come across where I find myself in disagreement as to the will of God from people such as Jerry Bridges, John Piper, Josh McDowell, Ray Pritchard, and Rick Warren.  So, stop back from time to time and we will see where this journey leads.   

A Review of Ray Pritchard’s book, Discovering God’s Will for Your Life

March 3, 2008 Leave a comment

ray-pritchardAuthor Ray Pritchard states in his book, Discovering God’s Will for Your Life, “Nothing is more comforting to the child of God than knowing that amid the confusion of everyday life God is slowly leading him or her along the path of his will.  In fact, he (God) is working in and through your decisions (and often in spite of your decisions) to see that his will is actually done in your life.”

Mr. Pritchard, references Proverbs 3:5-6 in chapter five – How to Make a Tough Decision and highlights five words:

Trust

To trust in the Lord is to rest your whole weight upon

him – to depend on him completely.

Lean

To lean means to rest upon something for partial support

or when you are not strong enough to stand alone.

Understanding

Understanding refers to mental process by which you

analyze a problem.  Use all your mental powers, but do

not lean on them for total support.  Don’t trust in your

own ability to figure out your life.  Lean instead on the

Lord.  Rest your weight on him.

Acknowledge

In all your ways know him deeply and intimately.  It’s

the kind of knowing that comes with personal experience.

It means to know something through and through.

Direct

He will make your straight your paths.

So, then, according to Mr. Pritchard (emphasis mine), “Here is God’s message to you from Proverbs 3:5-6.  If you will know God in every area of your life, he will take personal responsibility to make your way smooth and straight.  He will remove the obstacles if they need to be removed.  He will fill in the pot-holes if they need to be filled.  He will redirect the detour so that what seemed to be a dead-end turns out to be the shortest way to reach your destination.”

However, if I look at Proverbs 3:5-6 in the context of the chapter, I come to a different conclusion.  The NIV Topical Bible I use has the third chapter of Proverbs under the heading of “Further Benefits of Wisdom”.  In addition, if I look at the headings of chapters one through four, I see:

Chapter 1:20-33            Warning Against Rejecting Wisdom

Chapter 2:1-22              Moral Benefits of Wisdom

Chapter 3:1-35              Further Benefits of Wisdom

Chapter 4:1-27              Wisdom Is Supreme

Also, Proverbs 3:5-6 are squarely in the middle of a bunch of verses that relate to various aspects of wisdom.  The NIV Topical Bible has a “theme verse” related to Proverbs 3:5 entitled, “Direction” which states:

  • The book of Proverbs offers direction for life by concentrating on those patterns operable in daily life that offer some measure of consistency.  For example, fearing God and shunning evil produces a healthy body.  Hard work brings rewards, whereas laziness courts disaster.  Consistent discipline of a child results in a well-adjusted adult.  Pride and arrogance lead to destruction.  The wicked die young while law-abiding citizens (the righteous) live long.  There may be exceptions to these rules, but generally we can depend on them.

I can only surmise that the people who produced the NIV Topical Bible did not see anything within Proverbs 3:5-6 related to:

  • God taking a personal responsibility
  • God making one’s way smooth and straight
  • God removing obstacles
  • God filling in “pot-holes”
  • God redirecting detours
  • God ensuring that we reach our destinations via the shortest way

In addition, Proverbs 3:1-10 are arranged in pairs i.e. 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8, and 9-10.

Verses

If you –

Then –

1-2

Do not forget my teaching

You’ll live long and prosperous

3-4

Let love and faithfulness never leave you

You’ll win favor and a good name

5-6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

He’ll make your paths smooth

7-8

Are humble, fear the Lord, and shun evil

You’ll be healthy

9-10

Honor the Lord with your wealth

You’ll have plenty

Certainly, we can come up with exceptions to these “rules”.  And that’s the point!  These are not absolute statements!  They’re generalities!  The founder of The Navigators, Dawson Trottman, did not have a long life.  And yet, when I read his bibliography, it’s clear that he didn’t forget the teachings of the Bible.  And certainly his paths weren’t always smooth even though he trusted in the Lord with all his heart.

Mr. Pritchard uses a number of OT references i.e. Ex 13:20-22 and Num 9:15-23 to show how God used supernatural events and did indeed guide people.  The question for me, then, is can one use a singular historical event denoted in Scripture to ascertain a general mode in which God shows His will to all Christians.  Mr. Pritchard goes on to state that the secret of knowing God’s personal and specific will for each believer is to know God better.  For myself, I believe that any decision I make, so long as it is within the moral will of God, is pleasing and acceptable to God.  Perhaps I’ll post another time of my reaction to reading Gary Friesen’s book, Decision Making and the Will of God.

Rhythm Anchors

March 2, 2008 Leave a comment

Jeff Wachter, a fabulous mandolin player, and I have gotten together occasionally over the last year or so to noodle around (that’s a musical term which means “to putz”) on jazz standards.  For grins and giggles we’ve played twice at The Sage Market’s end of the month open mic in Mendota Heights, MN.  Some pictures of us playing last month can be found here:

http://4guyswhoknownothing.wordpress.com/2008/02/28/rhythm-anchors-at-the-sage/

I had a chance to talk with the manager at The Sage Market after we played and she wanted to have us come and play “a real gig”.  Wednesday, June 18th from 6-9pm is the date.  Good food, a great wine selection, and (hopefully) wonderful background music should make for a nice evening.