The Pastor's Buzz

Pastor Buzz Trexler's blog for God's people in The Meadow.

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Name: Buzz Trexler
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Journalist for 29 years; married to Donna for 28 years; parent of David, 27, and Elizabeth, 24; pastor of Green Meadow United Methodist Church in Alcoa since 2002.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Do we learn our convictions?

Many times people will make a quick comment concerning the message after worship on Sunday; other times, a probing question. That was the case this past Sunday, and I had to take some time to think it through and come to an answer.

Question: ... in light of your observation that since we are always learning more if we, in fact, should question all of our convictions since we may grow beyond them as we know more of God (your statement). If we are self-deluded by sin how do we become convinced of anytruth? Can anyone who claims absolute certainty be trusted?

Wow.

I had to think about that and e-mail him an answer. This is what I said:

It's an intriguing question you pose, but I can only answer through my own personal experience. Admittedly, this is a long answer, but I don't believe in quick and easy answers. So, you might want to set this aside for when you have time to read.

At some point, someone told me about this thing called "sin." Usually it came through through attempting to teach me the mores and taboos of the society in which we live. In so doing, I was also taught about God and the Ten Commandments. I remember as a little boy (perhaps about age 5 or so) stealing some balloons from a local drug store. I remember sitting in the living room with my mother and others and feeling pretty bad about the whole thing; however, I'm not sure whether the "learning" came before that point or whether it was at that point that I learned it was wrong.

The interesting thing about "learning" my conviction that we live in a world filled with sin is that I also learned that some sin goes beyond the Ten Commandments ... and I'm not sure whether that was a "learned" understanding from someone or something in this world, or whether it is something that has been revealed through the Holy Spirit. I guess my point there is that some things are taught by man and others are taught by God ... and sometimes God uses man to teach us something. The trick is discerning which is man's teaching and which is God's teaching. (Of course, there are some that say it is all man's teaching.)

Someone once "taught" me that the way to determine what is of man and what is of God is through His Word, the excercise of prayer, and the Holy Spirit within me. When I became part of the Wesleyan tradition, I learned that the way to discern between the two is through Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. (The cynic would say that all of those things have their origin in man but, again, I would say that each has been impacted/influenced/or originated by God in some way.) Since I have no other way in which to discern the difference between man's teaching and that of God, I must use those tools. I am confident of their validity.

Likewise, at some point someone told there was an answer to this thing of sin, and then told me about Jesus Christ. For the life of me, I can not remember who it was or where I first learned there was a Savior. I'm just eternally thankful they did.

Suffice it to say that I developed an intellectual ascent to the existence of God, the concept of sin, the need for a Savior, and the understanding that Jesus is this Savior. While it's possible that these were mere things taught by man for man's purposes, I'm holding firm to the belief that God used man to plant the seeds of faith within me ... seeds that took me from an intellectual ascent within my mind to an ascent of the heart, or spirit.

This is where I moved from knowing in mind, to knowing in mind and spirit. There were several road signs along the way of that ascent, but the most signifcant of those are my baptism at 13, my conversion experience at 29, followed soon after by a true assurance that God forgives me of my sin. (The latter was something of an Aldersgate experience I had, alone, in the middle of the night, at the foot of a crude cross made of locust.) I would have to say that all of those were God's doing, not mere learned experiences from man. How do I know? My heart, and my life.

All of that having been said, it is important to point out that I consider those as "hard" convictions that I believe are unalterable and beyond debate ... at least, with me. Here's why I consider them unalterable and beyond debate:

-- Man may have taught me about God, but the confirmation came through the experience of God in my own life and the evidence I have seen in this world.

-- Man may have taught me about sin, but the confirmation came through the experience of sin in my own life and the evidence I have seen in this world.

-- Man may have taught me that God is a God of love and grace, but the confirmation came through the experience of his love and grace in my own life and the evidence I have seen in this world.

-- Man may have taught me that Jesus is the way to this forgiveness and grace, but the confirmation came through the experience of his forgiveness and grace in my own life and the evidence I have seen in this world. (How do I know it was Jesus? Because until I "claimed the name," and received that assurance in my spirit, it was all for naught.)

These are "hard" convictions and I trust them, for I believe they are unaltered by man's sin. This is the "message," which is the truth of God, his revelation, his action and his expression. ("The Church on the Other Side," p65)

So, if those are "hard" convictions, where do the "soft" convictions come into play? Well, basically it is our theology. I love how Brian McLaren puts this: "When we 'do theology,' we are clay pots pondering the potter, kids pondering their father, ants discussing the elephant." (ibid)

Theology is "our" imperfect message ("our task, our work, our language, our search to understand and articulate God's message," also McLaren), and I believe that theology changes through the influence of man; however, it can be influenced by God ... if, in his free will, man will allow God into that theology. Those are the things that I believe God is still revealing.

Can we claim absolute certainty about anything? I know I threw you a curveball on the "round earth" question, but I have to trust man on that one, for I never flew into space myself and looked back at the earth. (There is still a small existential side of me that plays with the idea of illusion, just for fun. You know, the "what if's.")

Still, I'm certain I'm alive, and I'm certain there have been absolute changes in my life. I believe I was created by God, and those changes were wrought by God.

We know nothing of the other world for certain; we see only 'through the glass darkly.' But one day we will know all things. In the meantime ... between here and there ... I feel there are things I must believe. (It's the "radar" in me, I guess.)

I know this has been a long answer, but as I said: I don't believe in quick, easy, answers. Nonetheless, I have to share one more thing with you.

When I was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, the darkness swooned over me. As Donna drove the van from UT Hospital, I sat in the passenger seat and broke down. The only “truth” I was convinced of at that moment was of being scared. The biggest fear I had was that in the face of what could become a fatal medical problem I would not live out what I professed to believe. At that point, I could only claim, "Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief."

I continue to stand on that plea.

Grace and peace ...