Gold Coast Bereans

Out of Ghana, West Africa; Christian hearts and critical minds seeking, speaking and writing the truth with love. This is a conversation of a group of friends, now living in the USA and the UK, who have known each other for more than 20 years.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

DISCERNING GOD’S WILL. Part 2, Gaius Columbus provides some answers

I am happy to report that the the comments and discussions in response to Part 1 of this topic have brought us all closer to the core of this matter. For now, what I seem to hear everyone saying is that we cannot divorce a quest for God’s guidance from a right relationship with Him.

The data we gather by any method in our effort to do God’s will almost never speak for itself. I now believe that the data, whether it is prophecy, signs, circumstance or brotherly counsel, is neutral. By that I mean the very same data can be used to support rather different courses of action. The course on which one actually embarks appears to be determined by a deeper sense of God’s will for ones life. This is the inner compass I made reference to in my earlier post. It is this identification of the framework of God’s general direction for our lives that helps us to make sense of the guidance we receive.

I believe this explains the perplexing choices made by Jesus, Paul and David. Jesus knew and stayed focused on His overall mission on earth. For this reason, He correctly interpreted the information that came His way. For example, He saw immediately that an earthly kingdom and avoidance of the cross were not directions God wanted Him to take no matter how “irrational” these choices must have seemed to His followers. His disciples, unaware of this internal framework, were bewildered that He did not take advantage of the golden opportunities afforded Him by His popularity. Some speculate that this be one of the reasons that Judas eventually abandoned and betrayed Him.

Peter too seemed genuinely perplexed that our Lord, the Son of God, would accept an ignominious death when he could clearly choose a different path. Living and guided by a different framework, these disciples found Jesus’ choices peculiarly irrational. It was only later when they came to understand the framework under which our Lord operated that His choices made sense to them.

Similarly, David must have frustrated some of his generals. He, being a righteous man, knew that the “opportunity” presented to him when Saul was found asleep in the cave was no opportunity at all. Likewise, Paul’s companions seemed equally distraught by his decision to go to Jerusalem despite what they perceived to be a prophetic warning from Agabus. For Paul, however, knowing that apostleship meant suffering with Christ allowed him to put the right “spin” on the prophecy. He saw the prophecy not as a warning to avoid Jerusalem but merely as a confirmation of his mission. In all of these cases, the relationship each man had with God helped define the course of action he was to take and provided meaning and direction to signals that everyone else interpreted to suggest a different conclusion.

So how do we define this framework or inner compass for our lives without which we become ships tossed to and fro by unintelligible information? Unfortunately, this inner compass is hard to define exactly. It is probably an attitude of the heart that seeks God’s kingdom first, as you guys have all suggested. A man who has the right attitude to life—one that places God’s pleasure foremost in his life day and night—probably does not ask God what brand of socks he should wear, or what cereal box to pick for breakfast, however, this man’s general orientation, because it is pleasing to God means that God directs His steps. This man’s desire is to honor God so the Lord leads Him or partners with Him in all of His decisions—both the mundane and profound. In contrast, the man who is not seeking God’s will and pleasure in His life can probably not hear God’s voice even if it were to be given.

Remember the story of the war between Absalom and David. David had a really wise counselor, Ahithophel, who defected to Absalom during the civil war. Unfortunately, Absalom whose heart was in the wrong place (and encouraged by another advisor actually planted by David) spurned this wise man’s advice to his own detriment and to the demise of the counselor himself. Ahithophel was so annoyed at being overruled that he committed suicide.

We spend a lot of time seeking foolproof methods for determining God’s will. Instead, we should really be seeking to right our relationship with Him. If this inner compass is broken, if our lives’ priorities are misplaced, if God’s pleasure is not foremost on our minds, perhaps we waste our time when we attempt to use these tools to discern God’s will. We will remain uncertain even if given a sign and perhaps for that reason none will be given us. Tools such as the counsel of the godly, prophecy, signs, circumstance all become useless because none of these decision-making instruments by themselves—being essentially neutral and subject to differing interpretations—can determine what course we should take in any particular situation.

In contrast a right relationship with God will point the way consciously or unconsciously. If our hearts are right—if we seek His pleasure in our daily lives—He may use one, none, all of these tools or some other unnamed tool to guide us to the right decisions. He will enable us to place the right interpretation on the information garnered from these tools, even when our interpretation seems perplexing to those around us. For me, therefore, the question ceases to be what the best tools are for unequivocally determining God’s will in a particular situation. Instead, the key question has become “Is He truly Lord of my life? Are His purposes paramount in my life? Am I seeking to please Him in my daily walk?

True, I understand that out of His boundless mercy and grace I can and often am an unwitting recipient of His wisdom and direction. However, I have the opportunity, if I have the right guiding framework in life, to be a partner with Him in the tough decisions of my life and to rightly discern His will no matter how He makes it manifest. Unfortunately, like some of you have said also, I can hardly say that I am presently living daily for His pleasure or factoring His plans for the kingdom into my plans for present or future employment. This deficiency expressed by all of us is serious enough that I think we need to pray for each other. God bless - Gaius Columbus

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Monday, February 19, 2007

DISCERNING GOD'S WILL, G Columbus asks some questions

We interviewed for a new job in Madison, Wisconsin this last week but increasingly, we seem to be moving in the direction of staying put in Columbus, OH. The entire exercise made me think again about the recurring issue of how to seek and know God’s will for our lives. I have a few thoughts on this matter but would like to first hear some input. Specifically, the question that I pose for discussion is based on Proverbs 3, versus 5 and 6,

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

There are problems with the traditional methods that we depend on for guidance. I will mention a few

1. Wisdom through the counsel of many. This is helpful, but not infallible. Why? Because the counsel we receive is very much determined by the way we present a problem—how much weight we assign to particular pros and cons. Also the counsel of humans may not reflect God’s will. I am sure the disciples if asked about the cross, would have counseled Jesus to avoid it, like Peter did.

2. Guidance through prophecy/signs. This is again, useful but not infallible. Even when established to be from God, the interpretation of the prophecy and thespecific action called for by such guidance may not be straightforward. Remember the prophet Agabus who warned about what was about to happen to the Apostle Paul if he went on to Jerusalem. How many of us given that prophecy would have gone to Jerusalem anyway? It appears, therefore, that Paul had an inner compass or calling that led him to interpret the prophecy in a manner different from the way most else would have so that he went to Jerusalem despite the prophetic warning.

3. Discernment through expediency of circumstance. This is the argument that things have fallen so nicely in place that our only conclusion has to be that our decision/situation must be God’s will. David did not follow this prescription. When Saul essentially fell into his hands, he did not take advantage of his situation or justify murder by recalling Saul’s wickedness or the promise given to David that he himself would be king. Some must have argued that in doing so, he let the “golden opportunity” slip away. Again, it appears that an inner compass guided him away from this course of action. There are other things I want to say but I will first wait to hear from you guys. God bless. - Gauis Columbus

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Tickets to hear the Good News, should we pay?

A well respected Bible Teacher, (not one of the popular tele-evangelists and a man who is particularly respected by Alien Warrior) is coming to a church in my neighborhood. I just saw the flyer at my local bakery shop where we buy our "bunz" bread. I was about to make a note to find time to attend when I saw

"Ten dollar donation to be taken at the door"

What's up with dat? Why not just come out and say tickets cost 10 dollars? I suppose if you press them they will say they have to cover their costs and no one will be refused entry for lack of 10 dollars. I probably would have put more than that in the offering bowl but I am going to give it a miss. - Robbo-not-buying-no-10-dollar tickets to hear AW’s "mentor"

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I am disappointed to hear that. I also respect that man greatly. We used his Bible study guide recently and it's pretty good, although a bit too hard to get through. Their Study Bible is pretty solid too- my wife has one. I'm also disturbed by gate fees at these things. I've argued against them ever since that gospel singer at Orion Cinema in Accra. I think it is the better way to make such events free. My reasons are:

1. The Gospel ought to be free. "Freely you have received, freely give", ".... the Good News is preached to the poor." The Apostle Paul also describes how important this was to him.

2. Sometimes they say the event is for people who are already Christians. I believe some amount of the basic Gospel message should be there regardless, because some non-Christians always attend.

3. I do know some people for whom ten bucks is a significant amount. They just won't go.

4. I suspect it's a tax cop out. Send me a donation of 20 bucks and we will mail you, without obligation, a copy of Dr. ...'s new book. In the business expense book they can call the book a gift that they gave out, and still call the money you gave them a donation. Win, win. I think it's dishonest- an example of the situation we talked about before, in which something that is legal is ethically and morally questionable.

5. It turns people off.

6. It embarrasses Christianity. We ought to be supporting the ministry, not leaving our full timers out dry so they have to resort to this kind of stuff. We have surpassed even the non-Christians. If I go to a marketing event they don't ask me for money. Some even pay me for my time. I would love to see a ministry that raises money from within the church in order to have events where non-Christians are induced to come by offering them something. Remember when the disciples observed that people were hungry at the big sermon, and they suggested that Jesus send the people into the villages so they could go eat something. The Lord said: "you give them something to eat". And it led to a miracle.

He later did have to correct the impression it created, but at least it set an example. If I may quote from the Achimota School Chapel Prayer book

"Remember the words of Jesus, how He said ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’. Let us pray for all those who in various parts of the world work to relieve the suffering of the sick, the poor and the hungry.

“Lord, hear our prayer, And let our cry come unto Thee"

7. It is interesting to see how this has evolved. At first it was a suggested donation AFTER the gift. Then they started stating the amount that would be good to give. Now the donation is taken at the door. Some people actually call it a ticket.

What my brother would say is this, since it's the same door one enters that they will leave through, why not collect the donation on the way out? That way they can be sure that those who can't afford it are still allowed in, and those who are very blessed can give more. After all, at the restaurant you pay after you eat.

Finally, I find it hard to believe that a Bible teacher of this stature, with the knowledge of the Bible that they have, cannot see how unchristian this is. It must be an example of compromise, possibly for the sake of gain. But I cannot say that with certainty because no-one (with the possible exception of…….) can read another man's heart. Maybe it's an honest mistake. -Calorius-who-wouldn’t-attend-either.

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I agree with all your sentiments, Calorius. I have also struggled with the same thoughts. I suspect that the meeting was organized by the church and some misguided church leaders sought to defray their costs rather brazenly like the heathens do. That said we do not know if the man himself was or was not aware of it. I feel that the church should pay the cost and seek to defray their expenses by taking an offering and being open about how much was spent on books, food etc. I always give more meaningfully when I know what the money is to be spent on.

Having said that I feel there is nothing wrong with asking people to pay for the books etc. If one can't pay for the books then taking notes is sometimes a better option. I have the workbook for that conference.. It reminds me of Our Daily Guide in our Scripture Union days. Robbo, sorry if Our Daily Guide sounds unfamiliar to you but you were still a heathen at the time and in the throes of Pope John Paul 1 or perhaps 2. I have never found it user friendly and the video recording with notes is all I need. I do the study once every other year in our prison ministry and I am not ashamed to say that I have never read the book in its entirety.

I have sometimes wondered with all the materials we have to study today whether we are better Christians today than our mostly illiterate brethren of the 1st century? All they had was the spoken word and they had to commit it to memory or perish for lack of knowledge. There is a passage in Daniel about how in the last days there shall be an increase in knowledge and men shall run to and fro. I guess women too. Today we underline our Bibles with all the rainbow spectra of highlighters, we have prayer diaries, we have a zillion Bible study aids and I wonder if we ever read these things or if we are any better off.

My recommendations: cut out all the pork of study aids. Have the man teach the people by all means and let the church pay him a handsome amount of money for his work and then let us give to the church as needed. If you go on line, you actually buy the video and work book. I must warn you that the video is expensive and rightly so since you refused to pay $10 to see the man in person. ;-) – Alien Warrior

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I think they should have just offered the workbook/study materials/video for a fee. I am sure after the presentation people would have snapped up any books or videos offered for sale. I like Calorius’s idea of collecting the donation as people leave. Instead of "10 dollar donation at the door" they should have said "a freewill offering will be taken'. I may be wrong but I think more money is raised by freewill offerings at such events than will be raised by gate fees.

Maybe past experience has taught the guys in this church that attendees at such events are rather tightfisted, hence this approach. What will be really bad is if you take gate fees and then take an offering as well. When that same gospel singer came to the Great Hall in Legon, I coughed up savings from my allowance of 42 cedis per week to buy the 50 cedi ticket and during the interlude in the musical show (while she changed her outfit) a certain Rev Dr came on the stage and made a further passionate appeal for funds to support her career and I obliged and went to the front to put a further 5 cedis kelewele money in the offering bowl.

I think the Rev Dr’s main point which swayed me was that one day when that lady became a superstar gospel singer we the people could also say that we helped launch her career. I could picture her accepting her Grammy award and thanking God, her family and those good people of Legon who had faith in her. As it turned out, her performance at the Great Hall in Legon that day turned out to be the peak of her career. If I ever meet her again I may ask for my five cedis back (with interest and corrected for inflation).

But seriously speaking, there is a fine balance to be made here. Books and videos cost money to produce and I am all for selling then at whatever the writers want to sell them. I agree with Calorius that the NPR method of "for a donation of 25 dollars we will send you a book and for 100 dollars we send you a book, video and DVDs” that has now been appropriated by many ministries where they will send you that book "for a suggested donation" is fishy, to say the least.

So let them sell books and videos all they like. I draw the line at buying tickets at the door to hear a politician, a motivational speaker or a Preacher speak. If the man was going to sing and play the Ukulele then I may reconsider. – Robbo

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