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Intersection of Life and Faith

Regis Nicoll

Regis Nicoll's weblog

“When God calls you to do something,” the speaker cautioned, “your only response is, yes.” I saw a number of heads nodding in agreement, but I sensed a question stirring in the heads of others: “But how do I know when God is calling?”

It’s an important question. In fact, there is no question more important for Christians. For how can we follow Christ, if we can’t tell his call from that of the culture or of those darker angels that would lead us into temptation or prod us to another have-to, got-to, need-to duty that seems good and feels good—and maybe, is good—but is not God sent?

The answer is, we can’t—without first recognizing the means by which God calls us.

Prior to Pentecost, God called individuals in four ways: Directly, through some physical manifestation of himself (the burning bush); indirectly, through divine messengers (angels); subconsciously, through a dream or vision (Jacob’s “stairway to heaven”); or personally, through God incarnate (during Jesus’s earthly ministry).

But what was the norm then, is exceptional today. The Christian who waits for a theophany or Danielic dream to receive a word from God, could be waiting a long time. And, yet, while God’s call may no longer come through angelic visitations or blinding lights, it can be discerned with the help of two books: The Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture.

The Book of Nature
The psalmist tells us that God speaks through his creation: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hand. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” And since humans are part of his creation, God speaks through human nature too.

Our design, as with any intelligently crafted object, reflects our purpose and, thus, is indicative of what God may or may not be calling us to. Here, the Socratic dictum, “Know thyself,” is particularly apt.

At 6’4” and 200 lbs, I am not fit to be a jockey, nor is a jockey fit to be an NFL player. From design considerations alone, the desire of either of us for those careers can be dismissed, out of hand, as originating from God.

The same goes for someone contemplating a same-sex relationship. Because homosexual couples cannot combine to accomplish the primary function of sex—namely, reproduction—God’s call would not be to a same-sex union, committed or otherwise, but to celibacy or to a union that, by design (if not in effect), is compatible with that function.

Added to a unique mix of inborn physical, mental, and psychological features, each Christian is endowed with spiritual gifts that equip him for service in God’s kingdom. Thus, spiritual gifts—and, how spiritual gifts align with inborn traits—are important “pointers” to calling.

For example, a Myer-Briggs ENFJ personality type combined with the gift of shepherding could point to a calling as a pastor. On the other hand, an ISTJ who has the gift of teaching is not likely to be called to a ministry of hospitality. (By the way, that’s me.)

But while spiritual gifts and natural traits can indicate a calling, they are not sufficient to confirm a calling. For that, we need the other Book—the Book of Scripture.

The Book of Scripture
We know, or should know, that God will never direct us to something that is contrary to his Word. Thus, any notion enticing us down a path that is intrinsically sinful (adultery) or that will lead us into sin, is counterindicative of God’s calling.

Rather, God’s calling will always be consistent with his revealed will. It is a tragedy that many Christians have left their spouses, aborted their children, or taken on huge debt in the belief that God’s will for them is to be happy. But God’s will is not that we would be happy, but that we would be content in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

His ultimate intent, of course, is that we “be conformed into the likeness of his son.” With that in mind, we should be wary of any nudging that, while not sinful, immoral or unethical, is not conducive toward that end.

Thankfully, believers are not left alone with their unaided reason to puzzle out the written Word. We have the indwelling Word, the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus, the incarnate Word, promised, “will teach [us] all things” and “guide [us] into all truth.” But to receive his counsel, we must create space for him to speak through the disciplines of prayer, silence, contemplation, and study.

We also have the corporate Word—that is, the Church—the body of one-another knitted together under the Lordship of Christ for mutual support, accountability, encouragement, and… let’s not forget, teaching, correction, and discipline.

As to how the Books of Nature and Scripture might apply in a real life situation, I’ll share a personal experience. Continue reading here.

In the wake of the recent Florida school shooting, a chorus of well-meaning folks is demanding, “Enough—it’s time to do something!” As usual that “something” includes tougher gun controls and universal background checks—technocratic “solutions” that are ineffective at best and detrimental at worst.

In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s epic novel, The Idiot, a well-meaning prince is driven to do something for a woman who, through no fault of her own, was under public shame from a scandalous relationship. Although the prince is engaged to someone else, his “something” is to jilt his true love and marry the disgraced woman in hopes of restoring her honor. It is an ill-conceived move that leads to the woman’s murder and his institutionalization.

Likewise, the “something” called for to end school shootings is not only impotent to accomplish the goal, it could actually exacerbate the problem.

Consider gun control and the proposed ban on the AR-15. (As an aside, “AR” stands for “Armalite” the manufacturer, not “assault rifle” or “automatic rifle.”)

Had 19-year-old Nikolaus Cruz not had access to an AR-15, his killing spree could have been equally horrific with an auto-loading handgun and multiple magazines; without access to those, any number of means was available to him with the potential of achieving a much greater death count.

On July 14, 2016 one of the most efficient attacks occurred in France. In only a matter of minutes, one man in a 19-ton cargo truck barreled down a busy thoroughfare in Nice, killing 84 people and injuring over 300 others.

Three years earlier, a perpetrator used a pipe bomb at a Hindu shrine in Bangkok killing 20 people. And let’s not forget Timothy McVeigh who drove a truck loaded with ammonium nitrate into a federal building and killed 168 people in 1995.

I could go on, but these examples are sufficient to show that the savage hell-bent on unleashing havoc on society will find a way—be it with firearms, explosives, incendiaries, chemicals, biotoxins, or vehicles—some having a much greater potential for mass tragedy than, what amounts to, a deer rifle with an extended magazine.

There’s also the inconvenient fact, documented by Harvard and others, that the correlation between firearm restrictions and gun-related deaths is weak to non-existent. For example, the murder rate in Russia, where handguns are banned, is nearly four times higher than the U.S.

Another “something” demanded by the chorus is better mental health care. The problem is, most people with mental health issues have no violent tendencies, and mostmass killers have no mental issues that signal the need for forcible intervention, much less institutionalization. Prior to the Parkland shooting, one Florida mental health professional found Nikolaus Cruz “stable enough not to be hospitalized,” another concluded that he posed no risk to himself or anyone else.

However, Cruz shares something with other young mass killers that is a symptom of our social and moral health. Continue reading here. 

As eighteenth century English writer Samuel Johnson might have put it, “Nothing concentrates the mind like knowing that I am dust, and to dust I shall return.” And nothing is a more bracing reminder of that reality than the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday. Placed on the forehead in the form of the cross, the ashes symbolize the Great Paradox: to live, I must die.

The Ash Wednesday Rite marks the beginning of the forty-day process from mortification to renewal through the Lenten practices of self-examination, repentance, and spiritual discipline. Although the extent of this process for most early Christians was limited to Holy Week, the current period can be traced to St. Athanasius in the early fourth century based on a rich biblical tradition:

  • Noah spent 40 days on the ark
  • Moses sojourned 40 days on Mt. Sinai
  • The people of Nineveh fasted 40 days after receiving Jonah’s message
  • Elijah traveled 40 days to Mt. Horeb
  • Jesus spent 40 days in desert

In each case, the period of self-denial and deprivation was the means to a higher end than relief from want and need:

  • On the ark, Noah was preparing to replenish the earth
  • On Mt. Sinai, Moses was being groomed to lead the Israelites
  • In Nineveh, the people were making ready for the greatest pagan revival in history
  • On the road to Horeb, Elijah was preparing to meet God for a mission
  • In the desert, Jesus was preparing for his earthly ministry (after his resurrection, he spent 40 days preparing his disciples for Pentecost and the Great Commission).

In the early Church, catechumens who had completed a three-year period of catechesis underwent the forty-day period leading up to Holy week in preparation for baptism and their new life in Christ.

Lent, then, following the pattern of Scripture and early Church tradition, is a period of preparation that looks beyond a one-time event or annual observance to a calling and ministry. Accordingly, we should approach Lent, not just as a time of spiritual reflection and refinement preparing us for Easter, but for our life-long role in making the invisible kingdom visible. And that gets us back to the Great Paradox. Continue reading here.