Tag Archives: Dr. Ron Frost

“How YOU can be more Godly!”

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Nearing the end of the year—when Thanksgiving is the launching of the Christmas sales period—all the avid consumers in America go wild. With Thursday’s newspaper, full of “black Friday” sales, weighing almost as much as the turkey. Backbreaking stuff! It’s the season when things we don’t really need are being marketed with even more gusto than usual. And the marketers will have real successes even in these lean economic times. Soul breaking stuff! Which leads me to offer this ‘extra’ Thanksgiving posting on Spreadinggoodness.

Marketing speaks to our real needs, to our felt needs, and to our unimagined needs. And far too often it is mainly to the latter—to the needs we never knew we had! It’s called “creating a need”—birthed by a producer’s ambition to build new markets, with attending profits, among the consuming masses.

If this sounds manipulative. . . well, it is! But we actually enjoy it because good marketing first captures our hearts—our desires—and only then our cash. And if a new desire is well planted and watered it becomes a “natural” priority.

I think, as a very ordinary example, of what bathrooms used to be like in the homes of a century ago: one per house; a modest rectangular room with a sink, a stool, a tub, a mirror, and a towel shelf. They were basic but they satisfied the family needs. However since then—coaxed by tens of thousands of home improvement magazines and advertisements—we now have master bathrooms as big as bedrooms used to be, filled with a multitude of comfort features. And we also have annually enhanced visions of kitchens, cars, and computers. In fact almost everything gets grander each year!

Yet my point isn’t to challenge our having nice bathrooms, kitchens, cars, or computers, but to reflect on what draws us beyond our actual needs to the point of soul breaking excess. We need to remember—with a certain grace—that the ambition of good marketers is to make sure we are never satisfied—so our unending exposure to new “needs” never ends. But, given this induced climate of perpetual dissatisfaction, how can we avoid an enslavement to the stuff and status that goes with consumerism?

This is where thanksgiving offers us a wonderful solution. But let me start by asking about the problem of sin—what are we up against?

If we have an enemy of our souls—and we do—and if he (as the ultimate status-seeker) wanted to have us turn from God in order to draw us into his own alternative kingdom, how could he do it?

Augustine, the 4th century bishop of Hippo in Africa, asked just this sort of question. In answering he first affirmed a pair of Christian axioms: that God cannot be the author of evil, and that God created all things. So how did that leave space for any evil to arise? The answer is: by stepping away from God’s love. Satan, who was created as one who was good, ceased loving God and conceived an “unreal” realm away from God’s loving rule. At that moment a binary opposition between love and hate was birthed. This realm of rebellion would be a virtual world existing outside God’s realm of reality—as a shadow does to a real object—and as an opposite to all that God is and stands for. It is the realm where God (as he truly exists) is denied—“hated”—along with all his goodness, and where new versions of God are imagined.

Let me expand on Augustine’s insight. In the realm of truth—the “true realm” called God’s kingdom—all that God created is “good”, “good”, and “very good”. And the greatest goodness was for God’s new companions to be united in the communion of the Triune God by the Spirit pouring out this mutual, active love in their hearts. Satan, however, looked away from God’s goodness in order to explore a possibility God left open. The creation is never forced to love God because love is a devotion of reciprocated desire, not of demand or duty. So Satan conceived of a new sort of love—an oxymoronic “self-love”—as a new basis for goodness rooted in personal ambition. He, in turn, dismissed the relational mutuality of the triune God. God summarized what happened next: “Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor” [Ezekiel 28:17].

Evil then began and grew as the negative image to all that is positive. If, for instance, God created us to be selfless, Satan offers selfishness. When God created sexuality as a goodness in bonding the husband and his wife, Satan promoted a selfish sexuality that abandoned that goodness. In sum, God offered a wisdom from above and Satan a wisdom from below.

So it was this pseudo-reality that God’s human companions embraced. Satan’s kingdom—what God calls death, darkness, the Lie, and evil—was captivating not just for Adam and Eve, but for their offspring as well. Especially as the Spirit, who spread God’s love, joy, peace, and patience, withdrew after the Fall.

What was Satan’s marketing ploy in achieving all this? He offered the benefits of being “like God”! It wasn’t that he was suggesting God’s kingdom should be dismissed or destroyed. Instead he offered Adam the opportunity to have a free will—a will free from God’s loving ways. This would, supposedly, lead to a mature, peer-to-peer relationship with God. Adam and Eve, for instance, would become God’s partners in determining good and evil. They would have their own wisdom enhanced by seeking to develop more of an equal relationship with him. Hierarchy was now passé and unexamined trust was now naive. Instead, as Satan marketed his vision of a new kind of deity, a new motivation of self-love was offered. This was the basis of being “like God”. With it came an appetite for god-like qualities—with Satan’s version of a self-centered God now in play. This, in turn, called for more comfort, more status, more capacities, more knowledge, more security . . . more and more and more of everything.

All of which takes us back to thanksgiving. Augustine had drawn his own insights from reading the Bible, and the epistles of Paul were central to what he concluded. Paul, for instance, began the letter to the Romans with an exposé of evil. He wrote of how humanity is without excuse for its rejection of God. He chastised those who toy with sin as actually embracing futility—of claiming to be wise while actually becoming fools.

What is striking is Paul’s linkage, in Romans 1:21, between the rebellion of Satan and Adam’s offspring, and their shared refusal to be thankful: “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him . . .”

Thanksgiving, is, in effect, the first and foremost expression of our “getting it”! Faith is the restoration of a life of devotion to, and dependence on, God. Of affirming our faith as a vine-and-branch bond: “for apart from me you can do nothing.” Nothing at all. Everything depends on him, whether by creation, or by relational devotion to him. Without him we are still in the un-world of the wicked one, pretending to be real while actually living in a vast shadowland of opposition.

So now that we are children of God, how shall we grow in our faith? By giving thanks. By thanking him in everything—as we are invited to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. Of enjoying God with every breath we take, in every move we make, knowing that we are beloved by him.

Thanksgiving—full and robust—is our continuing response to the Spirit’s renewed presence in us: sometimes whispered, sometimes shouted. Thanksgiving is the heartbeat of a living faith. God, in turn, loves to hear our thanksgiving. And why not! He made us in order to be partners in his joyous, eternal, triune communion. The enthusiasm of the Son in his John 17 prayer is all about our experience of the love and glory the Son has eternally enjoyed with the Father and the Spirit. So our own exercises of giving thanks are steps into the atmosphere of heaven, and of returning to what Adam dismissed for the sake of self-love. In effect, we actually become “more Godly” by giving up our old ambition to be “like God.” True Godliness is only discovered in God’s embrace.

What, then, shelters our hearts in a consumeristic world with its systemic dissatisfaction, especially on black Friday? Our thanksgiving. And our thanksgiving is not artificial if we pause long enough to both consider and then respond to God’s ever-present mercies and love. We love him because he first loved us. And it only takes a moment for us to turn our heart towards him by saying “Thank you, Lord!” As we do his Spirit begins to reciprocate our response. The result is that now we can truly be “more Godly”.

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Dr. Ron Frost
Ron helped to launch Cor Deo UK in 2011, and retired from the ministry at the end of 2015. He continues to blog at his “A Spreading Goodness“. His doctoral thesis on Richard Sibbes is still available from Cor Deo and is well worth reading. For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Ron is now a pastoral care consultant with Barnabas International. In this role he provides care, coaching, encouragement, and educational services to those in overseas cross-cultural ministries. Go to Barnabas International for more information about this unique ministry and for a link that offers support options.

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A Spreading Goodness with Dr Ron Frost

Standing in God’s Council

I Was Caught by Surprise

After an early church service this past Sunday I drove to Hug Point. It’s an aptly named scenic section of the Oregon coast, a few miles south of Cannon Beach. I visit there at times to enjoy God’s embrace—a good time of Bible reading, praying, and taking a nap while serenaded by the thundering surf.

It turned out that I wasn’t the only person napping there on Sunday. Near the end of my stay I was surprised by a Coast Guard helicopter that slowed near the southern point of the beach where a cliff rises up out of the waves. Just 250 yards from me it came to a hover and dropped a rescue diver down on a long cable to a spot around the bend. After a few moments the diver was reeled back up but now with another person attached. Then the aircraft began to move back and forth in a search pattern over the churning sea for most of the next two hours.

I changed locations to the other side of the craggy cliff in order to watch the helicopter operate. There I heard a lady telling some other viewers that she was the person who had called 911 for emergency help. She explained to us that she spotted the couple napping on the rock. They were in terrible danger because during their sleep the incoming tide had cut off any escape from their spot. So she immediately phoned for help and then raced towards the couple to shout for them to stay up on the rock and that help was on the way.

Before she could get close a wave caught the now-awakened couple as they tried to get off the rock through the chest-high surf. It was a hopeless effort so the man helped the woman climb back up on the rock but he was then lifted by a wave and slammed against the cliff. With that he disappeared from view. The helicopter arrived minutes later and rescued his companion but the man was never seen again. Given the frigid water there was no hope of finding him alive.

This week I’ve mulled over what I watched that Sunday and what I had been reading from my safe spot up on the shoreline. In the two hours before the helicopter interrupted our peace I had completed most of Jeremiah—a book with stark warnings against spiritual danger, yet with a promise that help was on the way. What I saw and heard from the lady telling her story, with her still bare feet and sopping-wet blue jeans from her rescue efforts, was a living reminder to me of Jeremiah’s rescue efforts so many years ago. Jeremiah knew, by God’s counsel, that Judea was facing an incoming tide of the Babylonian invaders and there would be no escape. Yet they could still look to God for spiritual rescue.

Let me follow up this connection by considering some features of Jeremiah’s warning.

The problems the nation of Judah faced in Jeremiah’s days were both spiritual and tangible. Spiritual in that Judah’s religion was void of substance; and tangible in that their enemies, the Babylonians, were launching an invasion because Judea had become an unreliable vassal state. But these were not separate matters: Jeremiah linked them in a cause-and-effect unity. The perpetual sin of the people forced God to catch their attention by a sharp mercy—and Babylon was to be his instrument.

The main target in Jeremiah’s warnings were religious leaders who had separated worship from relationship. He spoke on God’s behalf: “The priests did not say, ‘Where is the LORD?’ Those who handle the law did not know me; the shepherds transgressed against me” [2:8].

Judah’s northern sister-nation, Israel, had already been carried away to captivity by the Assyrians a few decades earlier for having practiced spiritual adultery, “Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the LORD” [3:10].

The problem of Jeremiah’s day was not that the people were skipping weekly attendance at worship services but that they lacked any real transformation. They were stubbornly ungodly while claiming to be committed to God.

Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man , one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her. Though they say, “As the LORD lives, “ yet they swear falsely. [5:1-2]

But what about the academics of Jeremiah’s day? The role of the wise men of his day was to offer truth to the population, truth rooted in the Scriptures. Jeremiah answered with a rebuke: “How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us’?” Clearly he rejected their status as leaders.

What was the problem? Jeremiah answered, “behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD, so what wisdom is in them?” [8:8-9] But there was a deeper issue at stake that Jeremiah next raised: “everyone is greedy for unjust gain; from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”

Let me summarize what we’ve seen so far. God had warned Judah that the tide of his judgment was coming in. Her sin, however, had her sleeping on a sunny rock in the tidal zone. Yet the men who had the jobs of posting local tidal charts, of putting up warning signs, and of patrolling the beaches for unsafe activities, were up in the parking lot selling lattes and hot chocolates with one ambition: to get paid and to keep beach goers feeling good. No matter that there was danger at hand.

What made Jeremiah remarkable in his day is that he just would not quit. In time he had all the local preachers and politicians—and finally even his extended family members—absolutely fed up with him. All his negativism and nay saying was ultimately directed at them so they fought back. If Jeremiah warned about coming judgment, one of the local preachers would preach the exact opposite to his warning. Anything to keep the congregations happy. Yet it was God himself who was telling Jeremiah what to say!

So what were the listeners to think, with both Jeremiah and his opponents claiming to speak on God’s behalf? The book offers two main responses: the moral ground for discrimination (the other prophets of Jerusalem were committing adultery and walking in lies [23:14]), and the outcome basis for discrimination. I’ll say more about the second of these.

The premise of Jeremiah’s opponents was that Judah would have a happy ending. No warnings to worry about. No incoming tide. No insecurity. But their promises were empty. Why? Jeremiah answered: they didn’t spend time listening to God. Only when the judgment arrived would it be clear that Jeremiah was the one who, alone, had really listened to God. With his unique confidence Jeremiah reported God’s own words on the subject:

They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, “It shall be well with you”; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, “No disaster shall come upon you.” For who among them has stood in the council of the LORD to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened? Behold, the storm of the LORD! Wrath has gone forth . . . . In the latter days you will understand it clearly. [23:17-20]

As I think of the lady who tried to warn the couple on the dangerous rock I wonder at my own role in a culture that is too much like that of Jeremiah’s day. Is it time to sound a warning? Are we, as religious leaders of various stripes and standing, calling out the warning of the tide of coming trouble to a church satisfied with promises of spiritual self-fulfillment?

As I reflect on the messages being preached by many in the church today who are the contemporary counterparts of the Old Testament prophets and priests, I’m struck by how much focus is placed on “personal application.” It’s as if the whole point of the Bible is to fulfill our needs. Isn’t the real purpose of the word to offer us the “council of God”? To bring us to a moral and spiritual awakening—to offer warnings to leave the dangerous tidal zones behind us?

My invitation to us all is to become much bolder Bible readers. Not with a view to consume any personal benefits we might find—though benefits will certainly be discovered—but to hear God’s heart. To become aligned with his ways. To stand in his council. The world needs us to shout out to them on the basis of what we hear. Help is certainly on the way, but right now we face some serious dangers.

Dr. Ron Frost
Ron helped to launch Cor Deo UK in 2011, and retired from the ministry at the end of 2015. He continues to blog at his “A Spreading Goodness“. His doctoral thesis on Richard Sibbes is still available from Cor Deo and is well worth reading. For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Ron is now a pastoral care consultant with Barnabas International.  In this role he provides care, coaching, encouragement, and educational services to those in overseas cross-cultural ministries.  Go to Barnabas International for more information about this unique ministry and for a link that offers support options.

 

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