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Mon, Apr 18th - 4:55AM

Articles by William Ryzek, former pastor, former college professor - Ph.D. in religion, philosophical theology.

Abiding in the Kingdom
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Tue, Mar 8th - 4:28AM

Faith and Magic
by William Ryzek

I'm assuming everyone that's reading this wants to please God and knows that without faith it is impossible to do that that. (Heb. 11:6) All of us, then, must learn as much as we can about faith so we can please Him. This, of course, is a huge topic and the space of this article is far too short to discuss all the nuances of what faith means. But what we can do is consider one thing that faith is not: faith is not magic.

Now, on the face of it, this claim that 'faith is not magic' seems obvious, almost not worth mentioning. But in fact a rather large number of Christians in many different traditions treat faith more like a magical spell than the key to understanding the true nature of all creation, our purpose in it and discerning what pleases God. I've known some who conduct their affairs as though God's Word holds magical power over objects, people or circumstances and frequently quote “ask whatever you will in my Name…” as an example. The condition is “if you have faith…” and, assuming you have it, ask away and 'poof' whatever your heart desires comes to pass, so they say. Of course, if it doesn't, that means you have no faith, or at least not enough of it, and must try harder to get more. It is as if the promise is greater than the Promise-Maker, and He is bound, or obligated, by the “ask whatever you will in my Name” as though He were a genie in a bottle. And that's the whole appeal of magic: it is something we control.

Confusing faith with magic is due in part to the common error of thinking faith is a possession, like a car or a home or that it is something that can be weighed, like a pot roast at the market. Not only does this mistake of quantifying faith make it like a magical charm to be used as needed (we think its it is ours to do with what we want) but it also creates a great deal of anxiety about whether we 'have enough' faith, how to decide when enough is enough and whether our faith is 'bigger' than someone else's. I think this is why Jesus used the example of a mustard seed to encourage us all by suggesting that 'size' (read quantity) doesn't matter as much as using what we have.

Another way turning faith into some kind of perverted magic is making it a matter of propositions rather than a way of living. By this I mean reducing faith to a list of “I believe such and such”, then going merrily along life's way and never allowing the 'such and such' to actually change the way we live and think in our day to day affairs. Consequently, we can be quite orthodox in our faith and be very clear on our doctrine and then think that, since we have the formula's right, God should respond favorably to our requests. Again, this is like magic; just learn the right formulas, say them in the right order and God will, or must, act.

I must point out that there is what might be regarded as a common faith that is part of our experience as human beings because of our limited knowledge and shortsightedness. We believe everyday, for example, and really without any evidence other than it happened yesterday, the day before and so on, that the sun will rise, that the world will still be here and that we will be alive to see it all. We don't stop and check to see if we have enough faith to really believe this but just go about our business. The obvious difference between this kind of faith and Biblical faith (the one with which we are concerned) is the object towards which it is exercised; i.e. the former is part of our nature, directed towards the natural world and our own concerns while the latter is a gift directed towards God and has to do with the supernatural world. The point is that if faith is not an unusual part of everyday life in the natural world, and certainly not magic, how much more like the air we breathe should faith be in our walk with God?

Given this propensity to turn faith into magic at least one important thing about faith can be learned: spiritual faith, the faith that really counts, is always submissive to God and is concerned only with pleasing Him. Anything else, including faith so called, is an attempt to manipulate God and reflects the ages old tactic of bringing God down to size so He can be tamed and then used for our own ends. So much more needs to be said, but we can at least take this with us: the moment we want nothing else than to do His will and please Him, then we can, and should, ask for whatever it is in His Name and it will be done. Then, not only will our faith in God be pleasing to Him but even the natural kind of faith I mentioned earlier, the kind we share with all human beings, will take on the character of something so wonderful it might seem almost 'magical'!

William Ryzek, PhD has been both a pastor and academic for several years. He has published articles in various magazines and newspapers.

Article Source: WRITERS

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Sat, Feb 26th - 8:24AM

Paying Attention to the Plan
by William Ryzek

A familiar law of physics is that for every physical cause there is a corresponding effect. By discovering the cause for any given effect scientists, for example, can explain how that effect occurred. So, for example, since two physical objects can't occupy the same space at the same time, the cause, or reason, for a car wreck is two objects trying to do the physically impossible. The effect is, among other things, higher insurance premiums.

A purpose is about why such and such occurs, and to what end. So, if a young person is killed in that car wreck someone might ask 'why' did that happen. Usually this question is really about what purpose could there possibly be for such a tragedy especially for someone with their whole life ahead of them? And it is precisely this question of 'why' that perplexes us, whatever the circumstances are.

Discovering a purpose behind causes and effects in the physical universe is beyond the scope of science because purposes imply intentions and material things can't intend to do anything. The bigger issues, the 'why this and not that' questions, questions about purpose in the universe must be left to us who believe God is involved in His creation and that nothing just happens willy nilly.

However, this view of things can be turned on its head when certain kinds of events occur, especially personal misfortune. An extreme catastrophe suggests, at least to us experiencing it, that things are not in control, that events do happen willy nilly because we can't discern any purpose for what is happening and are tempted to think that maybe, just maybe, God doesn't really care about us after all. While it seems totally natural to ask 'why' certain things happen it can literally drive a person to distraction, or worse, to unbelief. This is why I'm convinced that all the events in our lives, especially those that are burdensome, become momentous and even miraculous when we have some sense of God's overall purpose for us and for creation. Without it we will certainly miss the forest because we see only a few trees.

Our creaturely limitations are such that it is impossible to take it all in, the eternity part especially, so we get it in little snippets. Fortunately we do have a way of seeing why things are the way they are, the overarching purpose behind it all; it's in the Book and the more we read it the bigger the picture becomes. In the simplest terms I can think of, the purpose behind all the 'reasons' and the answer to all the 'why' questions is this: God is putting things right again that have gone terribly wrong. And, what is amazing to me is that the 'terribly wrong' aspect is part of the ultimate purpose as well, that He had a solution to the problem before the problem even existed, back there in that pesky eternity thing we find impossible to grasp.

Now, too really benefit from this unique perspective entails paying attention to the Plan outlined in the Book because it reveals the purpose and the purpose reveals the meaning of any occurrence in our lives, good or bad. In the broadest of strokes, the Plan instructs us that creation is not in the same condition it was when God created it. Sin and death entered it through human free will and has so altered it that it is but a shadow of its former beauty and, instead of a womb for humanity, it is now largely hostile towards it. Human lawlessness and rebellion are the order of the day and the causes of most of the tragedies we witness occur because of us, not God. And the Plan includes all people, saved and unsaved, but for His own it is of the utmost significance. Should we get knocked off track by whatever it is that comes our way, we only have to return to the Plan and realize that, as improbable as it might seem, all things (good and bad) do work for the good of those who love God and, in spite of circumstances, good or bad, are aligned with his purposes (Rom. 8:28). Part of what this means is that when we see ourselves as part of the Big Picture that spans eternity, our time-bound experiences, no matter how insignificant or grand, tragic or glorious they might seem, make sense in world that has lost its way.

But beyond just making sense of things, the Plan also gives us a foundation for hope. It tells us that God is not only setting things right again in our lives now but that all will end happily in the future. In fact, the Plan sets before us our entire future from cradle to grave and beyond. So, the Book counsels us in light of God's purposes to "count it all joy" when things seem to go awry because, in spite of appearances, all is going according to Plan. We simply cant' lose no matter what, unless of course, we don't pay attention to either the Book or the Plan. And this seems to be quite a common issue among us, this trying to take control of things when a solution from the Plan doesn't immediately present itself. Usually what happens is we start running amok and make things worse, like trying to get out of quicksand by wiggling even more; we end up sinking faster. So, when the quicksand traps us, lets reach for the Book and remember the Plan; help is on the way.

William Ryzek, PhD has been both a pastor and academic for several years. He has published articles in various magazines and newspapers.

Article Source: WRITERS

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Wed, Oct 6th - 10:56AM

Recovering from Our Insanity
by William Ryzek

Christians generally agree (although we might disagree about the details) that two kinds of realities exist. The first is called kosmos and refers to the material universe and, at the same time, to all that which is under the dominion of sin and death because of humanities rebellion against God. The other is ouranos, or heaven, and refers to, among other things, light and life and to all that which is under the dominion of God’s rule and will.

Now, we also generally agree that these two realities are at odds with one another; that they are, in fact, at war. The front lines of this conflict between good and evil, the kingdom’s of heaven and hell, is our personal life along with our neighborhood, our local school, our government, our culture and our religion and the intensity of this war upon all Christians is increasing. It is so intense that the ranks of those claiming allegiance to God are becoming divided. Christians holding fast to the traditions which they have received (represented by the Apostolic and Nicene creeds, for example) are often considered by their post-modern ‘brethren’ as a roadblock to social, political and religious reforms that, so they argue, any rational and compassionate person should readily embrace. This version of Christianity declares there is no such thing as absolute truth, that old traditions must yield to post-modern progress that morality is a matter of personal choice and preference, that one religion is as true as another, and that Jesus was not the Son of God nor did He arise bodily from the grave and so on.

But while this battle rages, we have our personal battles going on as well. Because we are both material and spiritual beings we are in the world and can feel its influences while, at the same time, not of the world because we are citizens of heaven. We are often at war with ourselves in a battle fought in our minds over what we will or will not do in response to the overtures of heaven and the temptations of hell. The enemies of God are continually pressuring His people to be conformed to their values, morals and ambitions instead of being transformed into the image of His Son. Paul spoke in his letter to the Romans in one of his many do not do/do formulas; i.e. do not be conformed to the world, do be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

The words 'conform' and 'transform' are important. They both have as their root the term "form". Now, to form something is to change it in order to fit a certain pattern or serve a certain purpose that it might not otherwise be inclined or capable. So, for example, “…the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground…” (Gen. 2:7) Dust and earth by themselves cannot become a person but in the hands of the Creator they can be patterned after His image and given the purpose of serving Him. A more mundane example is concrete. By itself, it is merely a viscous substance without pattern or purpose. When it is placed in a form, it can become a wall or a floor and serve the purposes of a builder.

With these ideas in mind, think about the word conform. When used to describe change in people’s lives it usually means they are submitting to a pattern of common expectations or set of ideals and, therefore, “fitting in’. If we conform to a particular group, then we blend into the larger whole by going along with whatever the majority deems necessary or beneficial in spite of what we might otherwise desire. It has a wider social application and is often associated with 'peer pressure'. In other words, I might change my opinions and mannerisms in order to ‘be like’ others in the same group and win their acceptance but still secretly retain my own agendas. I change but only outwardly; my inner condition remains the same.

For a Christian to conform to the world, then, is to follow its moral, political and cultural ideals, to ‘fit in’ to a pattern that is, at least at the time, the accepted norm. One word often used to describe this is ‘fashion’ and one has to think only of how things go in and out of fashion, from clothes to morals, to understand its meaning. To fashion ourselves after the world, then, is to embrace the temporary and reject the eternal; it is to think as the world thinks and into step with what is described in 2 Tim 3:1-17. In short, it is a preoccupation with all things transitory (money, power, possessions) and ignoring that which is incorruptible.

Reformation, on the other hand, is the correction of inappropriate behavior by the imposition of an alternative set of ideals or purposes that lead to a different behavior. Note the structure of the word reform. It suggests a rearranging of what is already there into something different. But because the components are the same, the overall essence of what is reformed remains the same. So, alcoholics are reformed when they stop drinking and pursue a responsible life-style but all the while they remain alcoholics. They stop doing but not necessarily desiring what is destructive to their lives. They change, but, then, not really.

The only counter to this constant and incessant pressure to conform and reform is to be "transformed by the renewing of our minds". Unlike the term conform which suggests an outward molding of a life according to a definite pattern (in this case, a pattern of rebellion against God) transformation suggests inward changes that, by proceeding outward, produce real change in our actions and attitudes. It is the actual altering of our being, the core of existence into something wholly new and unprecedented and quite impossible apart from direct divine involvement. In fact, it is nothing short of an infusion of the Divine into our souls.

It is an unfortunate fact that conformation and reformation are often confused with transformation and considered as synonyms. That is, social pressures, including religious ones, compel people to adopt certain obvious and mostly external characteristics that supposedly reflect the ideals of their religion. So, for example, smoking cigarettes might be considered contrary to ideas off holiness; a smoker in such a group is pressured to quit, to give up the external act that is offensive. Now, the smoker may indeed give up the habit, but that in itself is not holiness; it is merely ‘fitting in” to a social group and meeting their expectations of conduct. They are reforming and conforming at the same time but the real issue of transformation is forgotten because the immediate cause of offense is no longer visible. The person’s appearance now looks acceptable and mirrors the appearance of others in the group; all is well.

Frankly, judging by the decisions we make and the relationships we seek out, we are not in our right minds most of the time. I sometimes imagine that those benevolent angelic beings given charge over us must think us quite insane when we act as if the natural world is more real and important than the spiritual. We need healing from this delusional behavior because what we think and how we think determine our actions. In short, the aberrant insanity of the “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16) that motivates the world, and many Christians for that matter, must be replaced by the sanity of mind that only desires to “do the will of God” (1 John 2:17). And, according to Rom 12:2, it is only a transformed mind that is able to “discern” what God’s will is and, once determined, then actually do it.

And one fundamentally important thing a clear mind will show us is the real difference between kosmos and ouranos, that this world is under the dominion of principalities and powers bent on destroying all God has made and no compromise with it is acceptable. It will reveal just how deeply seated sin is in our lives and how opposed we really are to the things of God. It will reveal that most of what we think is valuable and important in this life will soon forever pass away and only “treasure in heaven” will remain. It will reveal that at the end of days all of creation will undergo a final transformation and only what God’s Spirit touches will remain, unmoved, eternal and permanent.

William Ryzek, PhD has been both a pastor and academic for several years. He has published articles in various magazines and newspapers. He is presently seeking to return to pastoral ministry and can be reached at

Article Source: WRITERS

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Wed, Sep 29th - 4:34AM

The Temptation to Regret
by William Ryzek

In his Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis has Aslan, the Great Lion, say that "it is not given to man to know what might have been" in order to discourage any speculation by one of the children about choices made. It refers to the great 'what if' questions like "what if I had done this and not that", "gone here and not there", or "what if I had taken another path than the one I'm on", and so on.

In real life, it seems most of the time these "what if" questions come up when we experience deep regret for inappropriate or harmful decisions made and, in some cases, have a profound and lingering sense of guilt for having made them. In milder forms, regret can get us to fantasizing about "what might have been"; in extreme examples, regret causes such despair that people exist in alternative realities of "might have beens". For Christians, this extreme kind of regret comes when it is believed the consequence of bad choices (whether made in ignorance or rebellion) has resulted in missing God's best and perfect will for their lives. They despair of ever getting back on track and think, even if they could, so much time has passed that is too late to enjoy whatever it was God had planned.

It must be admitted that our choices make a difference in what happens in life. After all, it is nearly impossible to make sense of moral responsibility and accountability without ascribing some power to the choices we make. On the other hand, it must be the case that, if God truly knows everything past, present and future, our choices, bad (or good) as they might be, must have already been anticipated by God and 'taken into account'. Therefore, our choices alone cannot be the sole reason we are here, in this place at this time.

Now, let's suppose it is true that decisions made or not made have brought us to this place and let's further suppose that, given hindsight analysis, we can imagine a much better "what might have been" scenario. This kind of thinking implies that God's will can be marked out somewhere on a scale of 'good, better, best'. If this is so, then God's will must be adjustable and with each adjustment made according to what we are deciding to do we find ourselves either closer or further away from His 'best'. It is unlikely, however, that God's intentions are so fluid and easily diverted nor is it likely His will is a matter of degree. It seems to me that God's will, whatever it might be in its details, is always the best.

All this leads us to why we might consider extreme regret a temptation. If we think that God is sovereign over all creation, then regretting our decisions flies in the face of God's will; we simply have no room for complaint because God has put us where we are, in spite of ourselves. On the other hand, if we think our freedom to make ill-advised or disastrous decisions can trump God's sovereignty, then our whole focus is on our limitations and failures and not His grace and power. So, extreme regret is a temptation to either rebellion or self-aggrandizement with the 'what might have been's of life" only chimeras and occasions for self pity. Instead of thankfulness and hope, we experience a kind of spiritual malaise of hopelessness, which is nothing more than self-centered pride and most likely the very reason for all the choices we now regret. In other words, being disappointed that God has not provided a more suitable place in life for us (He is, after all sovereign and could have had He wanted to) or disappointment at our own failures (I missed God's best because of ignorance or rebellion) seem to be focused entirely on our selves rather than God.

But, of even more serious consequence is that regret distracts us from the only thing we have in which do to anything and that is today, the present in which we live. Being preoccupied with "what might have been" hides the 'what is now the case" from our attention. It is a favored tactic of the Enemy because it is so effective, especially to those who fervently desire God's best and to those entangled in self-centeredness. Being filled with regret paralyzes us from doing anything now. We can either be afraid of making yet more regrettable decisions or so preoccupied with past decisions that the moment in which we live simply passes us by, both being the occasion for yet more regret.

Paul's advice is most helpful here: "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing you be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you."

William Ryzek, PhD has been both a pastor and academic for several years. He has published articles in various magazines and newspapers. He is presently seeking to return to pastoral ministry and can be reached at

Article Source: WRITERS

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