Monday, April 28, 2014

Wovenist Answers, Does God Choose Some For Hell Pt 3

In the last post, we posed more problems than solutions, but today I want to try to tackle the solutions to our issue. We have this conflict, the scripture seems to communicate an idea of God choosing, God ordaining and even predestining some for heaven, and by the same nature, some for hell. We know that God is love and God loves people, so how does He work this? Is God neutral or passive in salvation, just allowing man to choose or not to choose? Even if He does, we are still stuck with a God who created people who He knows will reject Him. No matter how we slice it, God chooses for some to go to hell, either actively or passively. Eternity is in God's hands, so how do we deal with these seemingly contradictory facts?

The aspect in which everything hinges is time. The way we view time and the way we have begun to limit God in time has caused most of our issues. We assume that God experiences time as we do, linear and progressive. We say that God sees the future and God knows the future, but those statements are incorrect. For God, there is no future. God exists in every time period at the same time, and is able to be, act and move in all time periods. To say that God predestined is only true from human perspective, from where God sits, we are predestined, justified, glorified all at the same moment. God exists in this eternal nature and there is only now for God. Before we continue, let me explain how I know God must be outside of time.

First, imagine a river flowing. Every river has a starting place. Now, a boat is going to begin floating the river and it will begin at the beginning. There must be a place to begin if the boat is going to make progress down the river. Now, let's imagine the river never had a beginning, it is eternal. If this is the case and the boat has to start at the beginning of the river to move forward, would it ever make progress? There would be no place for the boat to begin to make progress down stream. If God is inside time, then when would He begin to move forward? Either time had a beginning or God had a beginning, but not both. I believe that God is eternal and never had a beginning, which means time is subject to God. God is not subject to time.

So, God exists outside of time and has orchestrated all of time. He created man, was at the fall, created the nation of Israel, brought Christ, crucified and resurrected Christ, began the church, called forth those in salvation, justified and sanctified them all outside of time. Everything happened in His plan, He put together the good and salvation, He stayed His hand and allowed evil to happen, He let blessings and curses all happen in His creation for His purpose. Everything is put together to make this picture we call life. Nothing happens that is not part of His will and His purpose, and He is completely just in everything He does. Every atheist who rejects Him, every Muslim and Hindu they are all part of the world that He laid out and orchestrate and it's the best it can possibly be. Every sinner that goes to hell does so because that is the best plan for His glory and for creation. I don't understand it, but I don't have too. It's all part of the tapestry that is woven together, and it fits perfectly. We can doubt it, we can argue with it, we can hate it, but it's scriptural and it's a reality. People are predestined not because of what they did and didn't do, but because of who they are and how they fit into this plan. Each person who goes to hell does so because they 100% deserve to go to hell, and there is no other option for them. Even if God didn't predestine or ordain them, they would still choose to go to hell, because that is who they are. There is no “going to be” or “they did because” to argue. In this perspective of God, people just are. There is no past or future, they just are who they are. Sinners are sinners, saints are saints, there is no changing or becoming or choosing from God's point of view, they just are. They get to choose and they choose to be who they are, God makes them who they are, they are predestined because of who they are, it just is.

This is a difficult thing to understand for us, because things are always changing for us. Time moves, people change, we can change our mind, change our bodies, change jobs and locations and all sorts of things. We change. To an eternal, timeless God, we do not change. We just are, and it's final. If you are saved, you have always been saved and you will always be saved when you see who you are outside of time. The progress is meaningless in eternity, it just is. I have no doubt that many who are very concrete will reject this premise because it's so contrary to the way we think. We want to think “everyone has an opportunity to change” and that is true inside of time. Outside of time, that change is already done, already accounted for, they already are.

Let's use a very imperfect example. In the original Star Wars movies, we see Luke Skywalker, he begins as a farm boy. He becomes a pilot, a rebel, a student and in the Return of the Jedi, he finally becomes a Jedi. If you buy the action figure from Return of the Jedi, Luke is already a Jedi. All the choices he made, all the things he does, even if you have never seen the movies are complete in that action figure. He already is who he is. If you want the movies, he goes through the process, he learns and makes mistakes and makes choices and stumbles and changes and finally reaches his goal. The journey is not less of a journey, it's not less important, Luke becomes who he is, but the end is the end, he is a Jedi. Watch the movie 100 times, Luke will always become a Jedi. It's an imperfect analogy, but work with me.

So, the choices and all the things we do inside time, they matter. The choices we make, the things we do, the story is being written inside time. We can't interact with God outside of time, but God loves us, so He comes to us inside time. He talks with us, we pray and praise and fellowship and have communion with God. He loves us inside time and makes Himself available to us. We have opportunity to choose and to act and react. We take this journey that is shaping who we are. When we are inside time, the future is not written. Outside of time, God is already there, but inside time, we are not. We still have opportunity to share our faith. We can plead with sinners, we can share the gospel, and it will have an impact. There is still power in the word, we pray that God will change people's hearts. We have will and choice and evangelism is real and powerful and wonderful. Time is changing and we can work to make the future, inside time, it's not written.

I know that many of you are going to say “that doesn't make sense, if God already knows and already sees, how can we change anything”. It's not that we don't choose outside of time, it's simply that we have already chosen. If you take a trip into the future, you will find your future self who have already made choices and already come to the consequences either good or bad. That doesn't make the choices any less important, or change your ability to make those choices, it just means they are in the past for your future self. God is the ultimate future self, what He sees is what we haven't done yet. He will see what we choose to do now, and because it's already fixed from His vantage point doesn't make it any less meaningful for us. God has put us on the perfect path in the perfect place at the perfect time, but the choices we make are still meaningful.

Inside and outside time, it's a hard concept, and an even harder one to try to explain in a blog. I could write (and have and probably will) pages and pages of Biblical examples of how this works. Let me give you a few quickly. When God was going to destroy Israel and make a great nation from Moses, Moses pleads with God, and God changed His mind. The Bible states elsewhere that God doesn't change, so He doesn't change His mind. So, did the Bible lie when it said God changed His mind, or when it says He doesn't change His mind? Neither, God is fully capable of acting with Moses inside of time in a temporal way and change His mind, while eternally, in His eternal nature He doesn't change or change His mind. Time and time again, we see this happen. The most incredible expression of God inside and outside time is Christ praying to the Father for the cup to pass from Him. God the Son asking the Father to change His will, but them submitting to His will. This is God inside and outside of time. It's a complex issue and it's hard to fathom, but it's something that brings together all the concepts of scripture, weaving a complex nature of a complex God in the complexity of creation for something as complex as salvation. It's simply beautiful.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Wovenist Answers, Does God Choose Some For Hell Pt 2

From the Wovenist perspective, there is one pivotal point to the entire question. What is the difference between those who are on the right as sheep and those who are on the left as goats? In Wovenist theology, God transcends time. Being outside of time, the questions of “when” make little difference. If we were predestined to be saved or not, at the end we will all be in one of two camps. We will either be sheep or goats. What makes a person a sheep or a goat, more importantly, what makes a person accept or reject the Gospel? This is the key, the thing that we have been arguing without arguing about it. Does man have the ability to accept God on his own, by his own will, or is it required for God to draw and call the person, to give them the ability and affinity to accept Christ? Is it man’s choice, or God’s choice? This is the struggle in most theological conflicts, but the question that drives the Wovenist is, what is the difference between the sheep and goat? Is man makes the choice, what is it that causes him to choose God? If God chooses the man, what is the requirement that causes God to choose?

For a Wovenist, the answer cannot come from logic or philosophy, it cannot be something that makes sense or reason, it must come from scripture. Unfortunately the scripture doesn’t specifically answer this question, so we will start with the evidence. First, in the Old Testament we find those who were chosen. Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and others. What did they have that caused God to choose them and reveal Himself to them. Let’s start with Abraham, the friend of God and the man who received the Covenant. When Abram is first called, there is no indication to why. He was living in the land of Ur with his dad and his wife and his nephew. God tells him to go, and he goes. Abram had faith, is that why he was called? What about Issac and Jacob? They were called before they were born, Issac was the son of the promise before he was born. Jacob was chosen, Esau was rejected before they were born. Romans 9 points out that God made the choice before they were born. Neither of them were particularly noble men of faith. David was chosen while he was a boy tending sheep and Jeremiah was told he was known while in the womb. So was it God knowing their future that caused them to be called, or God shaping their future by calling them?

So these men are Old Testament, and some say it was the nation being chosen, not these men so much. Has nothing to do with Salvation, right? Well, since the OT is the place we learn about the character of God, we can't dismiss these realities, that God choose some, they didn't necessarily choose God. Isaiah, however, was in the temple and had a vision of God, and he replied “here am I, send me”. When he experienced God, he made a profession that he wanted to go. We cannot discount that either. The nature of God we find in the Old Testament is God choosing some, revealing Himself to some so they can choose, and having others choose to do the right thing, like some of the righteous kings. We can't base our theology on just Old Testament case studies can we? Let's examine what we see in the New Testament.

To begin at the beginning, we have 12 guys who were chosen. Jesus picked His disciples, and He told them in John 15:16 “You did not choose me, I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit”. So Jesus chose the 12, but the Apostles were a special case, right? After all, they were the foundation of the church, so they had to be a specific set of guys. In talking about Salvation, don't we choose? Jesus appeared to Saul who became Paul, but again, an Apostle, so does that really apply? It seems harder and harder to find case studies of people choosing God. What makes this harder is Romans 3:11 says no one seeks God. Well, that may be true, that no one seeks God, but that doesn't mean that no one chooses God when given the choice, right?

We have this in our head, that if we don't choose God, then it's not real love. God doesn't want us to be robots, which is true, He wants us to make our own choices. God is a gentleman, He never makes people do what they don't otherwise want to do. He doesn't force our hand, make us do things that we don't want to do. If I choose to sin, God will not force me to stop, unless you lie about how much money you are giving to the church during it's infancy, then you fall down dead, but Ananias and Sapphira had the choice. When presented with the Gospel, do we have a choice, or does God force some to heaven and others to hell? If God calls, but God does not force us to be saved, how are we saved? Are we as humans able to choose God, even though Romans 3 says that no one chooses God? We are left with a paradox that we either violate (or ignore) scripture or we create a theology that seems to force a nature on God that isn't expressed in scripture.

The more time you spend pouring over scripture, the harder this becomes. There are passages that tell us that if we call on the name of the Lord, we will be saved, that whoever believes in Christ will not perish but have eternal life. We are also told that no one seeks God, that all have sinned, that God saves us, not by our will, not by our works it's a gift of God. We see predestined and elect repeated, the very word Church means “called out ones”. No one chooses to be called out, they one calling chooses who is going to be called out. Every were we turn, we are faced with this issue.

It boils down to these points.
  1. Does man accept God apart from God's call?
  2. Does man have the ability to reject God's call?
  3. Does man have any influence over God's call?
  4. If God does call, who can be saved?
These are difficult questions, because we want to believe that every person on the earth has the opportunity and the ability to be saved. If God is loving, wouldn't He call everyone to be saved? In many ways, what we see in scripture contradicts what we know about God from scripture, so how can both things be true? Does God call everyone to be saved, and if so does that call only have an effect when man chooses to obey? Does the work of the cross have no power until man accepts the cross, or is man judged solely on his response to the cross? At what point are sins forgiven, did Christ pay for them at the moment of death or are they forgiven at the moment of belief and faith? These are hard questions, and the more we look, the more difficult it becomes.

In the same way, we can't just become lazy and negligent of scripture and belief whatever the easiest position is to hold. We cannot be swayed by popular opinion, by peer or academic pressure or by notable voices, but by scripture alone. In this post, we have raised more questions than answers, so in the next post, I will propose the possible solution to this complex issue. We are unable to find the difference between the sheep and the goats without looking at one more key component. The next post will deal specifically with that one component.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Wovenist Answers, Does God Choose Some For Hell? Pt 1

Today we are answering concern number one, which is, does God arbitrarily choose some to go to Heaven and some to go to Hell?  If God predestines and election is unconditional like a Calvinist says, that means that God just chooses that some will suffer for eternity.  That doesn't sound like a loving God, does it.  Many will also say this doesn't match the character of God being just if He chooses some and condemns others.  What about man's free will, don't we have a say in the matter?

Let's examine the scriptural evidence against this position.  The scriptures flat out say in 2 Peter 3:9 and in 1 Timothy 2:4 that God wants all people to be saved, right?  John 3:16 says Whoever, right?  So it seems pretty case closed, God wants all people to be saved.  If God wants it, but it doesn't happen, it must be left up to man, that seems logical.  This is where many Non-Calvinists land, that Salvation is a work of man, only they wouldn't call it that.  The problem is, we bump into other scriptures.  Many, like Acts 13:48 says that those that are appointed to eternal life, they believed.  Predestination and election are talked about in Romans.  Romans 9 tells us about God choosing Jacob, Abraham and others.  It speaks openly about God being the one who chooses.  Many would argue that it's talking about people groups and not individuals, but if that were the case, and God choose a people group, wouldn't they all be saved?

Romans tells us that if you believe in your heart, you will be saved.  Acts 13:48 shows us that those who are appointed believe.  John 1:13 says those who believe are born from the will of God.  This poses a problem, because if those who are saved are saved by God and through His will, the verses we looked at say that God desires for all men (people) to be saved.  If no one comes to Christ unless they are drawn by the Father, what is really going on?  How do we make these passages work together without doing damage to the text?  We can't simply ignore the passages that seem to contradict,
we can't isogete them away either.

First, we need to look at some basic truth and understand that sometimes the Bible contains figures of speech.  For example, the scriptures say that God wants, but that must be a figure of speech.  To want, you must be lacking something that you desire to have.  For God to lack is contrary to Christian theology, God does not have lack.  God does not want, He does not need, He does not lack.  When we see a text that says God wants, we need to understand what it's actually saying.  There is a truth being communicated in a way that is a figure of speech.

Lets look at the couple of examples.  In 1 Timothy 2, we are told to pray for all people, for kings and people in high places.  Christians were the persecuted and the down and outs, but God wants salvation to be available to rich and poor, free and slave, Jew and Greek, male and female.  All people, this isn't expressing a lack, that God wants people to be saved by powerless to do so.  God desires people from all walks of life to be saved, and this is exactly the case.  In 2 Peter chapter 3, we see the same phrase.  This usage is a little different, that God is waiting for all to reach repentance.  Does this mean that God is waiting until everyone is saved before He brings about the end of time?  No, but God knows when the time is complete and when the last man will be saved.  When the last man is saved, there will be completion and the end will come.  No one knows when that day is or who the last man (or woman or child) will be, but God does not want (ie will not) end time until time and salvation is complete.

We are still not any closer to answer our original question, does God choose for some to go to hell?  This is a complicated question, because nothing happens outside of God's control. A sparrow does not fall without His knowledge, Matthew 10:29 says not one falls apart from the Father. God has complete and ultimate control, if God knows that someone will spend eternity in hell, why even create them to begin with? In many ways, there are no answers for either theological side, it is a mystery to humans how a God with infinite love and infinite mercy creates people who He knows will betray Him and spend eternity in Hell. We trust that His ways are perfectly just and all He does is right. Even if they are not predestined, God knows those who will betray Him, as He did with Judas, yet still chooses to allow the tares to grow with the wheat. In the same way, God spared Lucifer, allowing him to roam the earth instead of destroying him at the moment of his fall, condemning him to the pit immediately, or not creating him at all.

Romans 9 gives us a little insight to why God allows some to go un-saved. Whether this is talking about a nation being chosen or an individual, some are allowed to act in opposition to God, never to be saved to show His mercy to those who are being saved, see Romans 9:22 & 23. If it’s individuals or nations, Romans nine tells us that there is a group set apart to be recipients of mercy and those who are set to be recipients of wrath. In the end, those who are on the side of the goats at the day of judgment will bring glory and honor to God, for He showed them patience, but will now show His justice and wrath in the punishment for sin. Does the fact they are condemned make God unjust? Not at all, since we all deserve to be in the place of judgment for our actions, chosen by us and acted out of our desire to do evil. Every one of those who are cast into Hell are cast there because they completely and totally deserve judgment.

So, in final answer to the question, does God choose some to suffer and some to not suffer, the answer in one sense is clearly yes. If God does know all things and know where each person will spend eternity, even if you discount every Calvinist teaching, God still chooses to create people knowing they will reject Him. God chooses to make these people regardless of their choice, giving them the opportunity to live life, to make choices both good and bad. He watches as they reject Him, turn away from His law and embraces sin, knowing this will cause them to spend eternity in hell. He loves them regardless. Those who will reject Christ, those who will never be saved are part of God’s creation, part of what He has given the opportunity at life. They are part of the tapastry that is woven together in creation. They will be part that reveals God’s full character of wrath and his judgement on sin. God allows each human to have life and to choose sin, and each human chooses sin. Each human breaks God’s laws, God allows them the freedom to sin. The question is not then if God chooses for some to go to hell, but does God choose those to spend eternity in Heaven?

In the next post, we will examine what the difference is between the sheep and the goats, why some accepts and some reject.  I hope you'll join me for pt 2.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Wovenist Answers to Non-Calvinist Concerns- Overview

After many years of reading, writing and browsing blogs, I have found that there are three major concerns that plague the non-Calvinist crowd when it comes to Calvinism.  These are the issues that get argued about but never resolved, and this is why I set out to start with just scripture to write down a Biblical theological outline, which I call Wovenism.  It's not new or original, it probably overlaps several things that are out there now.  One of the things I focus heavily on is the way God works and moves and interacts with us inside and outside of time.  The main focus, however, is the woven intricacies of how God works in relation to His sovereignty, grace, preaching and outreach, man's ability to choose and how we all interact.  These things are all woven together to create a simple and yet beautiful picture of soteriology.
In my discussions with many who are outside the Calvinist camp, who go by names like Traditionalists, Armenians and the "I don't want a label" group  seem to have three major concerns.

1. If God predestines some and not others, that means God chooses who gets to go to Heaven and who doesn't.  That means that God chooses some to go to hell, and why would a loving God choose some to go to hell?  This seems to contradict scripture that God loves the world and desires all to be saved.

2.  If God predestines some, then those who are being saved is set.  If someone hears the gospel and wishes to be saved but has not been predestined, they cannot be saved.  Man loses the ability to choose, and this contradicts the belief in our free will.  

3.  The Great Commission is pointless if people are predestined, there is no need to share our faith.  If a person is predestined and has no choice if they are going to be saved, there is no point in even sharing faith.  They will come to Christ when God does it.

I find these three things are the most common struggles with Calvinism, and they need to be addressed.  In the concept of Wovenism, I have attempted to put these three issues to rest in a way that is supported by scripture, brings all of the concepts together and weaves an accurate picture of how God is working in our lives.  My number one concern is how to put these things together in a way that is Biblical, uses Biblical evidence, text, support and does not contradict any other verses.  Too often we argue using texts and cause the Scripture to disagree with itself.  This, in my opinion, is very wrong and needs to be addressed.  This was my number one concern when I began looking at soteriology.  We have to stay true to the Scriptures and what it tells us about God and Salvation.  In the coming post, I'll address these three issues and how I have found the scripture answers then and deals with them, as well as some thought about time and weaving.  Hope you'll join me.

Monday, April 21, 2014


I had a dream (while asleep, this isn't a I have a dream speech) that I was teaching.  It was an open room and it was full of people from all ages, some kids some youth and adults and we were talking about taking scripture seriously.  I was really getting into the teaching, and people were interacting with me.  Afterwords, we have some fellowship and I talked with a guy who was leaving to go on missions.  It was pretty vivid, and I remember it days later.

I'm not one to say "i've dreamed the future", but I know this dream has reignited for me the hope that one day I'll be able to plant a house church network.  I have heard reports of men in the midwest using a program that I have looked at, having great success and leading people to Christ.  My dream, my hope is to plant a house church and plants more house churches that are made up mostly, if not entirely of new believers.  I want to plant house churches in neighborhoods that church folks don't like to visit.  Low income areas where they can reach out to the community from inside the community.

I don't know that the future holds.  I have a good job right now and paying bills and paying off debt and doing better.  I know in my heart that this is not what I am called to do.  There is that line between responsibility and stepping out on faith, and right now I feel like I need to be responsible with what I have.  I need to get things taken care of in my home, with my family and then I can begin to look to this dream.  It's hard to have a passion for something and never be able to do it.  I hope one day the door opens and I can see this dream come true.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Become the Watchman Against Human Trafficking

Most of us have studied in history about the heinous activities during the early days of this country when people were taken from Africa and brought to the United States and sold as slaves.  Many lives were given to stop this act, the Civil War separated families, and the civil rights movement spanned decades of struggle, and the work is still not done.  It has been a long road, but unfortunately there is still so much to be done.  Much of what is happening is happening today in our country and we are often unaware of it.  The issue of human trafficking is larger now than at any time in history.  Children are being stolen, sold and transported constantly in the United States, but for the most part, we are unaware. About 3/4 of human trafficking today is for the sex trade, which is why it remains behind closed doors.  Adults and children are both taken, raped and abused and put in a live of slavery.  There are currently more slaves in the world today than any other point in time.  Slaves are sold for sex, labor, organ harvesting and for criminal activities.

Human trafficking has occurred in all 50 states.  It happens on our interstate systems, people are taken from other countries and brought through the US.  Some are taken from the US to other countries, it's become an international issue.  The rise of orphans in Africa due to the AIDS crisis gives great opportunity for these criminals to take advantage of the situation and traffic children all over the world.

This issue came to my attention as I read and reviewed a book by Jennifer Pitkin called Watchmen for Morning.  This is a great book about a young girl studying in Italy who meets the man of her dreams but ends up involved in a feud that involves organized crime and human trafficking.  This is a great story and blend of story telling, but also educating us to the reality of organized crime involved in human trafficking.  I knew of some of the issues that came from Mexico from human smuggling into the US and human trafficking, but I was unaware of the global crisis.  Jennifer Pitkin helped to shed some light on the issue, especially the plight of orphans in Africa being sold and smuggled with little care given to their well being.

You can check out some Little Know Facts about human trafficking, and I recommend you check out Watchmen For Morning.  Jennifer and her husband are parents of an adopted child, knowing first hand of the international issues overseas and the plight of the orphan as well as the desperate situation for women globally.  As a father of a daughter, my heart breaks and cries out to God for His people to stand up for the abused and repressed.  Please join me to pray against human trafficking.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Pros of Having a Little Fear

Ever heard someone say "I'm not afraid of anything?"  Well, people may say that, but I think that is often untrue.  I have said that, but there are a few things I'm afraid of.  I have lost a lot of people in my life, I am not real keen on the idea of losing my wife or my kids.  I am sorta concerned about cancer, having lost so many family members too it.  I am also scared of birds in enclosed places.  It's a phobia, I can't explain it.  I have also discovered this applies to bats as well.  When I get a bat in the house, I get a little panicked.

Now, there are good fears that are good for us.  Most of us are afraid of falling off large drop offs, deep bodies of water with man eating creatures, fire and explosions and things that cause us death or dismemberment.  Our natural instinct is not to die.  Most of us prefer to live rather than to suffer a painful, gruesome and awful fate.  It's self preservation to survive, and the fight or flight reaction is often a life saving reaction.

Many fears in life effect us negatively, however.  Fears keep us captive, hold us back, stop of from fulfilling our dreams or moving forward.  They stop us from saying the things that need to be said, doing the things that need done and keeping us captive.  Many fears can be bad negatively effect the quality of live, but there is one fear that I want to focus on.  This fear is necessary for our healthy living and our well being.

The Bible tells us over and over that we should fear the Lord.  Solomon said the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  In our American Christian culture, we dismiss this idea we say "well it's not really fear, it's more like reverence or respect." Sure, reverence and respect is part of it, but we have lost our minds if we think we need not fear God.  We approach God without even giving thought to the power and holiness of God.  Every person in the Bible who saw God experienced fear.  Isaiah fell down as dead, Moses changed forever, John the Apostle fell down at the feet of the Glorified Lord and Savior when He appeared to him.  Fear is the beginning of wisdom, because of the power of God, His holiness and the fact He punishes sin.  We sin without even thinking that we are offending a God who is all powerful.  He holds our lives, our eternity, our very existence in His hands, some reverence, respect and yes, even fear is warranted.

We fear God, but we rest in knowing He loves and cares of us.  He is gentle, He is loving and caring and while He could choose to destroy all mankind in their sin, He chooses instead to redeem us.  He has every right to destroy us, but He instead chooses to be patient.  Don't be fooled, however, one day time will run out and He will reveal His wrath against sin and evil and unrighteousness.  At that day, many will understand what it means to fear the Lord.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What God Told Me About "Strange Fire" By John MacArthur

I recently finished Strange Fire by MacArthur, and I learned a lot.  He goes through a lot of history and I learned about a denomination and a movement that I have never really been a part of.  So, as a Baptist, as a non-Charismatic I opened MacArthur's book thinking I would probably agree with most of what he wrote.  What I found was what I typically see of MacArthur and why I choose not to read a lot of his books.  I like and respect John MacArthur a great deal.  He is brilliant, he has a mature and discipled congregation, he stand firm on what he believes and for the most part I think his theology is good.  I agree with much of MacArthur, but there are things that make me shy away from his writings and teachings.

I have found that MacArthur can push to the extreme in much of what he says.  In his book, he finds the most obvious issues, men like Benny Hinn and many of the men who have had moral failure and uses them as an example.  I agree, there is a side of the charismatic movement that I would call destructive and heretical.  MacArthur then pushes all charismatics into this category, saying they are all degenerate heretics. There are some out there in the charismatic world who are doing great things for the kingdom.  He also lumps in things that I don't find to be the evil he calls them.  MacArthur lumps "Experiencing God" by Blackaby in as a negative thing, since it teaches to listen for God speaking in your life.  He also spins "Jesus Calling" as a negative book, since it writes devotions from God's point of view.  Discussing this with fans of "Jesus Calling", the consensus is that MacArthur is taking this out of context, since the devotions always point to scripture, not detract from it.  In the end, MacArthur calls for all Continuists to renounce their views, become Cessationists and condemn Charismatics.  I would call myself a Continuist.  I don't believe that speaking in tongues as the gift appears in the New Testament is practiced, I have never experienced the gift of prayer language or glossolalia and I have mixed emotions about it.  I don't believe that the office of Apostle is legitimate, since the requirements of a Apostle is to see Christ resurrected.  Paul was the last Apostle.  I don't believe that there are modern day prophets, but instead those who have a gift of prophecy simply illuminate and communicate scripture.  I don't believe that anything trumps God's word, adds to it or is as authoritative as it.  That being said, I don't call myself a Cessationist for a few reasons.  First, I'm not a dispensationalist.  I believe that God did some things in the past that He is not doing now, but I would not go as far to say that it's a time that He cannot do similar things.  I believe that God continues to do the same things in different ways, He doesn't change, things just naturally change.  He called men to pour the foundation, he called men to build the frame, he is calling men today to finish the work, and one day the church will be complete as Jesus returns.  God is continuing to do what He began, the structure just needs different work.

When it comes to the issue of Charismatics, MacArthur calls for us to make a stand and to purge them, take away all legitimacy from their movement and condemn them as a heresy.  While I agree that there are frauds that are getting rich by taking advantage of people, but I think we need to focus on one area.  Paul told his followers what to watch for, who to listen and who to avoid.  We need to teach our people to listen to the right voices, shun those who teach false doctrines and test everything by scripture.  If we teach and train people to be correct, we will have done our part.  Those deceived by false teachers will be deceived by something, if not these men, then other heretics.  It has existed as long as Christian faith.

When it comes to men like Hinn, when it comes to others that I believe teach false doctrines, I don't mind pointing out what they teach that is false, but I will avoid condemning the person.  If they claim to serve Jesus Christ, I have three verses that I use when it comes to this issue.

Mark 9:38-41 tells the story of some disciples who tried to stop men from casting out demons in Jesus name, since they were not part of the disciple's group.  Jesus told them not to stop them, because men serving in the name of Jesus today will not curse and turn against Him tomorrow.

John 21 tells us about Peter asking Jesus about John, what John was going to do.  Jesus replied in verse 22 that if Jesus wants John to remain until He returns, that's not Peter's concern, that Peter should just follow Jesus.

Finally, Romans 14:4. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. I will trust in the Lord when it comes to those who proclaim His name.  This doesn't mean that I won't warn those around me not to listen to some of the things they say, but I will not cast judgement on them as Christ's servant, that is not my place.  While I agree with much that MacArthur says, and I will encourage those that I teach and disciple to watch out for over emotional, non-Scriptural teachings that are contrary to sound doctrine.  I think MacArthur goes a little overboard in his book.

All in all, it was a good read, it was well written and I learned a lot.  I would recommend this book to those who want to see where the Cessationist viewpoint is.  It should be read with an open mind, MacArthur uses very strong verbiage and descriptors when it comes to this group.  If you are a Charismatic, you will probably be offended.  I wouldn't say it open up for dialogue, but it makes strong points.  If you are on the fence about the issue, give it a read and consider what MacArthur says, but also look at other opinions.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

If You Can't Be Productive, at Least Be Amusing

Life is hard.  Money is getting harder to come by, and the price of stuff keeps going up.  They raise the bottom, and up goes the ceiling, so no one really gets ahead.  Time is always in short supply, and to top it off, things break.  That was vague enough that you can probably relate, we all know that life is hard.  People are frail and bad things happen, so what do we do?  How do we make it through the daily grind of life's in and outs.  I learned a valuable lesson years ago, that not everything has to be productive, as long at it has some entertainment value.

Now, we all know that when we sit down to watch TV.  That is unproductive (unless we are watching educational tv, which is neither productive or that amusing).  Maybe what you need is some amusement time away from the TV.  When is the last time you threw a snowball at someone?  Living in Iowa, we have lots of opportunities for that.  When is the last time you acted goofy with your kids, or your friends kids, or some stranger's kids in the mall?  Sometimes we need to break out of the serious mode and act a little goofy once in a while.

In all seriousness, we know that one of the most devastating factors on health and wellness is stress.  Stress will destroy you, which is why Jesus reminds us not to worry.  Stress won't add time to your life, it will actually take it away.  Stressing never fixes anything, and sometimes we need to break out, have fun and do something that is amusing.  It's good for the soul to be a little silly, even at work or church.  I have enjoyed my job so much, and it's not because I have the most amazing or amusing job, but I work with great guys who crack me up.  Find some joy in the every day, and if it's not there, put it there.  Maybe you are the only stress relief others will find.

So, to sum up, relax some, have fun and be funny.  It will do you some good, and even if it doesn't, it will probably help those around you.  Enjoy life, this is the only one you get.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Why We Lost the Culture War

You have heard many say there is a war on Christianity, or a war on faith or a war on the church.  I want to submit to you today that it was slightly larger, there was an all out culture war, and it's pretty clear that Christianity lost.  We are now in a "Post Christian" culture in the United States, and there has been a radical value shift.  If you look at church attendance and membership, it's down.  Churches are closing their doors and shutting down.  There are still strong and healthy churches out there, but we have seen the slide away from faith accelerate.  There was a culture war, and we lost.  I want to provide a few reasons why I think we lost the war and what we can do about it.

1.  We have no idea who we are fighting.  We are not fighting people, we are fighting ideals.  The ideals of hedonism, secularism, humanism, atheism and pluralism.  They are telling us that there is no room at the table for Christianity, but we are more than welcome to a stop at the little kids table.  These ideals have pushed Christianity to the side and no longer take anything that is said seriously.  This has happened because we have tried to destroy people, institutions, organizations and groups.  We used tactics like boycotting, picketing, campaigning and lobbying.  While many groups focused on presenting their view as the compassionate and accepting thing, we ended up looking condemning, hate filled and unloving.  There are some groups that claim the name of "church" that express beliefs that contradict almost every other church in the United States, those groups seem to make the most noise by picking funerals and making a disturbance.  They have not helped our cause, but the judgmental sentiment that we have thrown around, it hasn't helped much either.  All these things gave their ideals a boost and we began to lose.

2.  We fought each other. A lot.  Put 5 Baptists in a room, they can find something to fight about.  Calvinism, Cessationism, drinking, smoking, communion, Eschatology, and if all else fails we can argue over worship style.  The culture war was lost while we were busy fighting internal battles.  Many of the -isms that over took Christianity did so while we were too busy to notice.  We were too busy with our church splits to notice that we were losing traction quickly.

3.  We lack the language to communicate outside our sub-culture.  We use words that no one else uses and they have no idea what we are even talking about.  We talk about sin and atonement and depravity and salvation and redemption.  They sorta know what sin is, they have heard of the Salvation Army, and redemption is when you take a coupon into the store and use it.  They don't understand what we are talking about, and they don't care.  They use strong language, we use Church language.  We talk past each other, we have not engaged the culture in a way that is meaningful to them in regards to language.

4.  We assume they will come to us.  Let's face it, we buy glowing signs, open the doors and expect people to visit our churches.  They aren't.  They don't.  They don't even think about it most of the time.  The days are gone when people come to church.  We are slowly dying waiting for people to just show up, and they are not showing up.  Sure, the occasional person trickles in, but they are almost always previously churched.  The unchurched are not visiting churches.  We haven't made the attempt necessary to go out and share that the competing ideals have.  They have been active in the community while we have been in the building.

5.  We have forgotten it's a war.  We just assume no one is competing for the souls of humanity.  We are on the winning side when it comes to earth, time, space and all of history, but the goal is not to be one of the few that gets to Heaven.  The goal is to share with others so they can be there with us.  The casualties of war are the spoils of the enemy's camp.  Satan is using all the tricks he knows and he has been active while we have been passive.  He has used media, music, society and social networking and made sin look so appealing.  We haven't exposed the chains and torments of sin as they are, and the world is seeing what Satan is selling, not what Christ is giving away.

When I look at the world, it's ideals and how fringe Christianity is becoming, I am convinced that we are going to have to change tactics soon.  This is one reason I am so passionate about a House Church network, about reading students in the public schools, reaching coworkers at work and sharing faith in the marketplace and in the community.  We may have to change our tactics to make a real difference.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Why Do We Want to Belong

I have seen and read and studied a lot about church growth, and I have come to one conclusion.  We really want our churches to grow, and we have little to no idea how to do it.  We find markers and correlation, but you have probably heard me say "correlation does not equal causation".  We look at worship styles and preaching styles and decor in the worship center, parking and seating and lighting.  We look at all these things, but if you really get down to it, if you ask yourself why you attend the church you do, what is the reason?  Chances are, it's relationships.

I have been a part of great churches, I have been part of lousy churches.  I have known worship leaders who should cut a CD, and I have led worship, and everyone should have left screaming.  I have heard the most gifted preachers share the most amazing messages, and I have walked out of church with no idea what the sermon was about (and neither did anyone else).  I once heard a sermon about stealing a pig.  I have no idea what the point of that message was, but I don't think I'll steal any pigs, so maybe it was effective.  We may like, love or tolerate the preaching and the worship.  The reality is, church becomes a family and you stay with your family.

People want to belong.  Kids join gangs and do illegal things because they want to belong.  Men physically push themselves to the breaking point to get strong enough to join the team.  Many turn to illegal (or barely legal) substances to help them excel.  You can say it's for the fame or the money, but many of them just want to be on the team.  We have an innate desire to belong, even those of us who are introverted, we want to belong in the back and left alone, but we still want to belong.  Everyone wants to be part of a group, a family, a circle of friends.  We want to be part of the team, the band, the circle, no one want to be left out.

This is true of church too, this is one of the reasons I'm always harping about Sunday School and Small Group.  It gives people a place to connect and belong.  Sure, people can feel like they belong in Worship Service, but it's more difficult to connect with people.  Sunday School is a great place, it's a natural place to connect.  Invite people you know and you like to come connect with you in Sunday School.  It's amazing thing that takes place when you build your class into a community.  When you spend time together in and out of class.  When you have fellowships and go out and do things, play softball and watch the Superbowl.  It builds a community and people want that.  They want to belong, they want to be invited, they want to be in on the inside jokes.  Invite people, connect with people, actually care about people.  It's amazing what a difference community makes.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Yoga Pants, Rape Culture and Raising Kids

There is a debate out there right now about yoga pants, you know the skin tight pants women use to wear during exercise are not worn everywhere.  A read an article about a Middle School who requires girls to have a shirt or skirt that is fingertip length to cover their rear.  There are lost of groups who are upset, like the Jezebel organization who says it promotes rape culture to expect women to dress modestly.  These groups say we just need to teach boys to not look.  I have a girl and two boys, so this hits me right where I live, and I want to say, the statement "teach boys not to look" is close to the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

First, people wear "fashion" for people to notice, so if the boys aren't going to look, what is the point of wearing it?  Just from a surface argument, this is a dumb statement.  On a deeper level, there are so many things wrong with the whole situation.  There is so many things wrong with the mindset of these groups that want to chalk boys looking to the establishment of "rape culture".  Let's start with that one.

Rape is not a culture, degrading women is not a culture, it's a form of depravity.  Reality check, you can't pick and choose morality.  When morals are in decline, they all decline.  When pornography becomes acceptable, when sexuality in any situation becomes acceptable, when disrespect and indifference become acceptable, rape will occur.  Bad moral and bad actions breed bad morals and bad actions.  When you expose young boys to sexuality at a young age, you change the way their mind process when it comes to interaction with women.  When you build a culture the depends on how people look and how successful they are sexually, you have put all the ingredients together.  It's not a rape culture, it's a culture of selfish pleasure and self seeking.

In raising my kids, there are things I need to think about.  First all, all the yoga pants promoters, you can say the solution is to teach little boys to behave, but every parent have tried to teach their children to behave, yet there is still crime.  If it was that easy, it would be done.  We are told not to hurt our child's self-esteem, no corporal punishment, but we must teach a boy to disregard a primal instinct that is hard wired into his hormone filled brains.  It's not gonna happen, and the reality when they have done surveys at universities across the country, more than 50% of boys say they would rape a girl if they knew they wouldn't get in trouble.  Boys want sex, and no amount of teaching and training will make them not want sex.  Boys are going to look at girls in yoga pants, it's a fact you can't stop it.

My daughter is not allowed to wear those sorts of clothing out of the house.  It's not even the little boys I'm worried about, it's the adult men who have been shown to try to prey on children.  Face it, we live in a perverse world, so instead of dealing with it, we add to the issue by sending our daughters out to the wolves wearing the things that draw attention of the perverse.  You can say "that's isn't right" or "a girl should be able to wear whatever she wants" but the reality is that we live in a world that if full of evil,  Children starve and suffer and are attacked and trafficked.  Human trafficking exists in the United States, people take kids to sell them into a sex trade that shouldn't exist.  It shouldn't, but it does and we can't ignore it.

As a dad of boys, these groups that say girls should wear what they want and boys just shouldn't look make me angry beyond belief.  This is the equivalence of telling my kids not to eat candy and then sending them to the candy store. Young boys go to school and are surrounded by girls who look much older, more mature and more sexualized that the boys are ready to handle emotionally.  The boys, who mature at a faster rate, are not cognitively or emotionally prepared to deal with the stimulus they are not surrounded.  It completely destroyed the work I try to do as a parent, and these groups have no respect for teachers, administrators and parents of boys who are working hard to raise gentlemen.  They are constantly bombarded by these women's groups that seem to want to destroy males more than elevate women.  It's absurd and I want my daughter no where near these groups, and I can say with much certainty that my wife agrees completely.  My daughter is more than just a frame to put tight clothing on and parade for whatever reason.

It is time for adults to think like adults and less like perverted children.  Let's realize the world is evil, fallen and filled with trials and temptations.  Let's not make it harder on our kids than it already is.  Let them dress like little girls and not like yoga instructors.  By the way, yoga pants are best for yoga studios, not so much for everywhere, all the time.  Just sayin.