Monday, October 8, 2018

Reckless Love and My Reformed Presbyterian Beliefs - how I reconcile them

The song, "Reckless Love", causes many passions in the Christian world these days.  There's people that love the passionate lyrics of God's relentless love and people who don't like that it describes God as reckless and relies too much on emotions.  I echo all sentiments but I mostly like the song as a Reformed Presbyterian Christian.

Why?  Mostly because it captures in lyrical form God's irresistible grace, the concept of Reformed soteriology that if God has called you to salvation, then he will send his Holy Spirit to change your heart until you come to believe in Jesus and surrender your life to him.

It also debunks the false notion that God will not tamper with your free will.  I tell you, I'm glad that he very much does that, and here's the lyric from "Reckless Love" that backs it up:

"There's no shadow You won't light up
Mountain You won't climb up
Coming after me
There's no wall You won't kick down
Lie You won't tear down
Coming after me"

and you also have the verses that say, "Before I spoke a word, you were singing over me."  "Before I took a breath, you breathed your life in me."

My beliefs aren't really popular.  One, people love their free wills and protest, "So we don't have a choice in our salvation?"  I say that people have wills and will follow them, but our wills aren't free.  Without God's intervention, we can choose God, but we won't because we love ourselves and our ways so much more.  Our hearts need to be changed by none other than the Holy Spirit.  It's like and illustration I've used before of me going to a graveyard and inviting people there to a party.  They have the choice to go, but they can't make that choice - they're dead.  They must be made alive.

The other objection is the idea that not all people will be saved.  What about 2 Peter 3:9 which says, "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance"?

I honestly believe Peter is directing that sentence to all people that God has called to salvation, the elect.  He will not will any of them to perish, and they won't perish.  But if God means that he wills all people everywhere to be saved, then everyone will be saved.  But not everyone will be saved, so he must just mean that God doesn't will his elect to perish.  This idea is backed by Jesus's prayer in John 17:9, "I am praying for them.  I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me."  

God wants us to share the Gospel of Jesus to all people, but only those he has called will respond and believe, and those are the people he will chase down recklessly until they turn to him.  And he will wait until the last one of them repents before he finally sends Jesus back and ends this current age.  

And if you are one of the believers, you have a lot to be thankful for.  You should not be proud or complacent.  You must be humble knowing that God's grace is not obligated, and you must not be complacent because you must still work your salvation with fear and trembling.  You must spread the Gospel to all people and you must work for justice and you must watch yourself so that you don't sin, but you go knowing you won't be alone and that you will see the fruit of your labors because God plans the means as well as the ends.  The idea of a universe where something is outside of God's control is not possible because God must be absolutely sovereign, even when we don't understand it or are comfortable with it.  But he's also good and loves his creation more than we ever could.  These things we will never quite understand because we are not him.  And for that I am glad.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

SS: Ananias and the need to obey

I write these down as the way I want them to go, now how they actually did go.  This lesson went will despite one child wanting to talk recess and nothing else and all of them learning the need to obey, not necessarily the need to follow Jesus.  Now, the lesson:

First, we played "Simon Says."  Obeying is easy when it's a game.  Why is it important to obey?  Why is it important to obey God?

Think of a carousel.  It's colorful, has music, and you get to ride animals.  You seem to be moving, but really, you are going nowhere.  You are going in circles and stuck in a rut.  Disobedience, like the ride, seems fun a first, but in the end, your life is meaningless and you are stuck.  When you start to obey God, however, life may seem more difficult, but you have more options in life and will thrive.

Next, we turned to a sheet that had a list of things to obey, and the kids had to rate whether it was easy to obey or not.

Finally, we got to the good part, the Bible story.  In Acts 9, the man who became Paul, was on his way to put Christians in jail.  Then, Jesus stopped him and his buddies with a blinding light and asked, "Why are you persecuting me?"  "Who are you?" asked Paul.  "I am Jesus, who you are hurting."  Jesus told him that he must now follow Jesus and tell non-Jewish people about him.

Then Jesus visited a Christian named Ananias to go to this house to Paul, yes that one, and pray for him to see again.  He will be a Christian now. 

Ananias had a choice to make.  He knew that Paul had been putting Christians in jail and attending their executions.  Why would he want to pray for him to see again and to become a Christian?  But Ananias went and prayed for Paul.

After that, Paul came to tell many people about Jesus, made most of Europe Christian, and wrote half of the New Testament.  If you are not Jewish, then chances are you are a Christian because of Paul. 

Luke wrote the book of Acts and told this story to show how the work of Jesus continues after he left the earth and until he comes back.  Does he need us to help?  No.  But he wants us to help, and we do that by obeying him.  Just like Ananias kept on obeying, YOU can keep obeying. 

Here is one more story of a man who obeyed God even when it was hard: John the Baptist.  He had many followers.  But God told him that when Jesus comes, he is to tell everybody to follow him because he was the one that people have to believe in to have their sins forgiven and to go to heaven.  And what happened?  More people followed Jesus than John.  In John 3:30, John tells people, "He must become greater, and I must become less."

Would it be hard to tell people to follow Jesus only to know that it will result in them loving him more than you?  It is hard for me because I like having people listen to me and follow me.  I like my fans.  But if they follow Jesus in a way that leads them away from me and to thrive more, then I will have to cheer them on even though I miss them greatly.  But I hope to talk and interact with them forever in God's completed kingdom, and maybe even for a time in the here and now.

Judges: Samson - God's dumb jock

It took me a month and a half to get around to blogging about Samson.  Why?   My schedule changed and I still don't have a rhythm.  Samson's story is 4 chapters long.  Samson is so conflicted.

First, the Philistines are attacking Israel.  Israel sinned by worshiping other gods again, and God sent an enemy to seriously scar them.  Israel is repenting again and they need a savior.

So God goes to a childless couple in the tribe of Dan to announce that Manoah and his Mrs. will have a son.  He was to be a lifelong Nazarite and avoid alcohol, grapes, and never cut his hair.  Just like Jesus, he was a longed for child, and he was supposed to be set apart and holy.  The only thing is, Jesus was the only perfect man who ever lived.  I don't see any indication that Samson ever tried to live holy.

He grew up and saw a sexy lady among the Philistines.  He wanted to marry her.  His parents warned him not to do so because she was not an Israelite.  But Samson followed his urges and married her.  Then he found a lion along a path and killed it.  He passed by the lion again, and some bees made honey in it.  Samson ate some knowing full well that it is unclean to touch a dead body.  He also gave some to his parents and defiled them.  Then he made a riddle and messed with the minds of his new in-laws.  He placed bets on if they could solve it.  They threatened Samson's new wife for the answer and she made his life miserable until he told her.  Then they found out.  In payment, he went to a Philistine town, killed some men, and took their clothes.  Then he went home and they gave his wife to the "best man."

Later on, Samson came back for his wife, found out that she had been given to another man, and then grabbed 300 foxes, tied their tails together, and set them on fire.  They ran and burned down towns.  Then, men came to attack him and he killed them all with the jawbone of a donkey.

Samson led Israel for 20 years, but in his old age, he had not learned to stay away from Philistine women.  He went into a prostitute in Gaza.  The paparazzi ambushed him, hoping to catch him in the morning, but at midnight, he took the gates of the city and marched them all the way to Hebron.

Then, he fell in love with Delilah who coaxed him into telling the secret of his strength.  He told many lies such as, "Bind me with new cords," or "Bind me with old cords" or "Tie my hair to a loom."  Each time she told her Philistine friends.  Each time they came.  He knew he couldn't trust her. Yet he still told her that he had never cut his hair.  So she told her friends and they cut his hair, captured him, gouged out his eyes, and made him do slave labor.  But then his hair grew back, he found the main poles of the place he was in, and caused the building to collapse and kill many Philistines and himself. 

Samson was a puzzle.  He slept around and never tried to honor the Lord with his choices, and yet God chose him to judge the Philistines.  He's like Donald Trump.  I can't stand him, but he still is doing what he said he would do when elected and he's still better than the alternatives.  It shows how far away from God both Israel and America had come to fall under such weak leadership.  We only have the choice between godless and more godless.

And yet, I know I have not always followed the Lord in my attitudes and practices either.  I certainly don't deserve to be leading the church in any capacity, but God can made straight lines with crooked sticks.  And I'm thankful that he uses anybody at all to carry out his will.  And I'm certainly thankful he finally sent Jesus to save us and will do so again.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Take care of what you got

For the first time in ten months, I taught Sunday School.  And it was good to be back.  And for my comeback, I taught on a parable I didn't understand for the longest time until I heard Brooks preach on it about a year ago.  It is in Luke 16:1-12.

Basically, there is a wealthy man who has a manager that is going to have to fire because he was being dishonest with his money.  The manager, let's call him Bob, was frightened and had to figure out a new source of income.

So he went to one of the men who owed the rich man money and said, "How much do you owe?"  "800 bushels of wheat."  Bob said, "Why don't you just pay me 400 bushels?' 

Bob went to another guy and said, "How much do you owe?"  "1000 jugs of oil."  Bob told him he only had to pay 800.

At the end, the wealthy man took back Bob and he had new friends.

At first, it seems like Jesus is praising Bob for cheating the rich man out of his dues. But then you remember what tax collectors did.  They would take more money than the people owed so that they could make a profit.

Suppose I worked for a library and some child had a late book and owed a dollar for a fine. If I took only a dollar, I would have to give it to the librarian, and I wouldn't have any left.  But if tell the kid he owes 4 dollars, then the library gets its dollar, and I get 3.

Basically, Bob was making the people pay more than what they owed to the rich man to make money himself.

But do you know what's more valuable than money or houses or cars or iPhones or even your friends?  Knowing Jesus.  What are we supposed to do with what we know about Jesus?  Share it with people.  Tell them how they can become right with our holy God even though we have sinned and sin can't be forgiven.

You see, we all have sin.  And if that sin goes on in itself, we can't see God or live in heaven with him.  But Jesus said that he would take the punishment for our sins by what he did when he came to earth.  He lived the only perfect life and then died on the cross.  And since he was perfect, he came back from the dead.  Knowing this and believing Jesus is the only way to be forgiven of our sins and to live in heaven.  Nothing is more valuable. 

So, what if I treated Jesus the way Bob treated the rich man's money?  I would probably go to my friend and say, "To get to heaven, you need to pay for your sins.  You need to know Jesus, but first you also have to life a perfect life starting now, oh, and give me $100."  Is that good?  No, because the only thing you need to do to get to heaven is to know Jesus.  He will make you good.  Knowing him will make you want to obey his commands.

Finally, I turned to John 1:35-37 to see how telling about Jesus was done correctly.  John the Baptist had two disciples.  Then Jesus walked by, and John said, "This is the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world."  The two men turned and followed him.  John didn't say to first get baptized or sell their money to the poor.  He said to follow Jesus and nothing more.  And his job was done.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

For my students: past and present

It's a new school year and for young people and CBC/CCS, I've missed a whole year of your lives.  And there's people before then in Loganville; I've missed 5 years of your lives.  Right now I'm watching you all from a distance and wanting to get back in to teach the Bible and to make disciples, but for now, I'll just give some advice.

1. If you were once a student of mine either in after school or at Sunday School and you see me and I say "hi" to you, seriously folks, say "hi" to me.  What is wrong with you?  I know many of you are in 4th grade and starting to mature, but if saying "hi" to adults is not cool or immature, choose to be uncool and immature.  Life is too short to care what other people think other than God and those he has placed over you.  Don't set age limits on your friendships and be friendly.

2. Be careful of your anger.  I have one main person in mind when I write this, but it can apply to all.  In fact, I can write this to myself.  Nothing makes me sadder than to see my young friends making the same mistakes over and over when it's relating to people who either anger or annoy them.  But remember, you have somebody who is already angry at injustice in the world, both in general and against you.  He is God.  He sent his Son Jesus to die for your sins and even the sins of those who have wronged you.  And he will correct all injustice.  So you don't have to do anything.  To do so is to say, "I'm better than God and know better what I'm doing."  That is idolatry and that is sin and not okay.  But Jesus died for you and you can come to him for forgiveness and correction.

Also remember, he has placed parents and teachers in your life if you need a visible reminder that God cares about injustice and is already angry so you don't have to be. 

Also, when I've been in situations where I was provoked to be angry or rude, I've found it helpful to look the people in the eyes.  Also, looking people in the eyes is the hardest thing for me to do and I can't stand it.  But practice looking people in the eyes and you may find that these people have souls and are hurting too, which is why they are hurting you.  It doesn't excuse it, but it will help you understand.  I don't know who I'm quoting, but remember, "You have more in common with people you disagree with than you do with God."  Let us all remember that, both you and me.

3.  My old students in college, I'm mostly thinking of Aubrie.  I miss you.  When you started middle school and decided to start having my dad teach the class at Trinity Grace instead of me, I regret not carrying on that class.  If I could start over, I would have split the class boy/girl and taught you.  You were always amazing and you still are, and I hope you are still growing in your faith now.  Say "hi" if you read this and maybe we can do some kind of spiritual formation. 

For both you and the ones I still see, you never outgrow your time with old Sunday School teachers/ children's ministers.  I consider myself a fellow student with you and in church situations, we are all one family.  Let's not break those ties.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Judges: Oh, Shibboleth!

I'm supposed to be moving on to Samson soon.  But here's the part of Jephthah's story that gets forgotten by me and others, but it also introduced the term "shibboleth" into out culture.  In our culture, "shibboleth" means, "a custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, especially a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important."

It's not a good thing.  

But anyway, this story goes back to Jacob's family.  Jacob had two wives and two concubines.  Their soap opera is found in Genesis 29-30.  Jacob loved Rachel more than he loved Leah, but Leah was the older one, the first wife, and the one who bore six of his 12 sons and one daughter.  Rachel finally had two sons.   Her first was Joseph.  Jacob loved Joseph the best and adopted his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, as his own.  They became tribes in Israel.  Apparently, those two tribes must have had bad blood or something.  Or possibly it was the two Joseph tribes versus Gilead, which was a clan of Manasseh who stayed on the east side of the Jordan river.  Jephthah was from Manasseh and fought to save Israel from the Ammonites.

Ephraim came late and said, "Why didn't you call us to help with the Ammonites?  We're going to burn down your house."  Jeph replied that he did call, they said no, and he won.  Why are they causing this drama now?  So conflict brewed and a battle was fought.  Gilead won.  And then, if ever an Ephraimite tried to cross the river, a guard would tell him, "Say 'Shibboleth'".  Ephraimites could only say, "Sibboleth."  If he said it without the "sh" sound, then the guard would kill him.

Sometimes I wonder about Jephthah.  Did losing his daughter over his foolish vow tip him over the edge?  It seems many men after some personal tragedy usually do something to ruin their reputations forever.  It seems like the incidents that got Bill Cosby in trouble with sexual assault happened after he lost his son to a murder.  It seems that RC Sproul, Jr. kept falling off the wagon with vices after he lost his first wife to cancer.  It shows two things.

1) When people suffer a loss, don't let them be alone.  They are suffering and need Christians around them to remind them of God's promises and his commands.  They need support.  If hurting people go unsupervised for long, their wounds will explode into further trauma.

2) If you suffer a loss, look to the past mistakes of others and never say, "this won't happen to me."  Keep going to church or start going.  Endure the awkward conversations and the dumb things that people say.  And remember, although life is hard and people fail you, God has never made a mistake and will never change.  He has not stopped loving you, and he will keep you until he calls you home.  Believe in him.  Don't be alone, and don't just lay down and die.  Do what Switchfoot says, "I dare you to move.  I dare you to life yourself up off the floor."  

I experienced a really bad job loss in October.  I didn't stop even though I wanted to.  It turns out my life was not over.  I got a job at a restaurant, and in the new year I began running for my sanity and volunteering for a pregnancy center.  I also go involved with Celebrate Recovery and my music skills have improved much.  I still feel very alone as some tragedies have more stigma than others, although that should not be the case.  We all have problems and we all need God's grace and to show God's grace.  But I also need to beware that I have to work harder not to make the same mistakes as before.  I don't know how I'll do it but I must move forward.

And Israel moved forward with three judges before Samson: Ibzan, Elon, and Abdan.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The basement and the God upstairs

Years ago I read some book by Francis Schaeffer.  I can't remember the title but I was fresh out of seminary wondering what to do with my life.  In that book, Schaeffer had described people in this house and God was supposed to be on the roof.  In today's terms, we would see the people in a basement or ground floor and God on the first floor.  It can also be said that we are in some machine and God is outside the machine.

Pre-modern people believed that people could escape the ground floor and go up to the first floor where God is.  Either that or God could come to the ground floor and bring us up.  But they believed in God and could have some kind of access to him.

Modern people believed that God was upstairs but that we couldn't get to him and he wasn't going to try to get to us.  The underlings in the basement had to make a utopia based on that belief.

Post-modern people don't believe in anything outside the basement.  This ground floor is all there is.  Even if there is a staircase or elevator, they've blocked it up and can't get upstairs and God can't get to us. 

I read that book and wrote a song that I hope to upload again someday called "God in the Machine."

Last week I read an article entitled, "When Ground Floor Projects Are Pushed One Floor Up."  It is based on the same house/machine assumption.  Stephen McAlpine is looking at the sexual revolution.  Whether its the ability to have lots of heterosexual sex without restraints, or the LGBT agenda, or abortion rights, or the wish to have children without having sex, it has all become a religion.  And it confirms my beliefs that if there is no God upstairs, then there is nothing else to live for.  We must live for our pleasures and our whims because it is all we have.  And its a poor substitute for the perfect and holy God, so it must get wilder and wilder as we get bored with it.

And it makes me thing of the women at the pregnancy center that I volunteer for and the one I volunteered for in the past.  They all are in sexual relationships outside of marriage and having children but at the same time they think that they are Christians.  They think they can serve both God and the sexual culture.  But we must find a loving way to tell them that they cannot do so.  Either you believe that there's a God outside the machine who you must serve or your go against what he has revealed in Scripture and have unmarital sex which leads to pregnancies, some pregnancies to abortions, and all of it to broken relationships and struggling to make ends meet. 

Is it judgmental for me to say all this?  Maybe.  I know I'm not perfect either and am also struggling to make ends meet.  But the main thing that kept me from having sex before I got married to Tim was my belief in God and that he has commanded to not commit adultery.  In fact, the main thing that kept me from pursuing same-sex relations is my belief in God and that he has made marriage and sex to be between a man and a woman with no room for questions.  And I'm in a healthy relationship now that is not entangled by previous relational baggage.

And I have had many people say, "well, 'adultery' simply means that you can't have sex with someone other than the one you are married to, but if you are both unmarried than you are fine."  But if you are unmarried and having sex and then break up and marry someone else, then you've already cheated on your spouse.

And I've heard just about every argument for people trying to reconcile Christianity with LGBT identity.  "God made me this way."  "That was only a cultural command."  Look, from creation, God made man male and female (binary) and commanded them to get married and have children.  He commanded sex within a male and female marriage and forbid it outside that context.  And he would not forbid you to do something and then make it impossible for you to carry that out.  1 Corinthians 10:13 says he will always provide a way out for you if you are tempted.  I can understand having strong emotions for someone, but that is not a call to be in a romantic relationship with them.  It could just simply be a call to a really good friendship.  People simply do not know how to be friends anymore because they live in a basement, have blocked up the stairs to the first floor, and have found no substitute for God other than this meaningless thing called sex.  And there is no way out of this machine until God breaks in and rescues you.

And he did that by sending Jesus to die for your sins.  There was no way to approach this holy God and live because you would die with your sins.  But God send his Son to die for your sins.  Jesus also lived the only perfect life and credits it to all who will believe in him.  It is only that way you can come upstairs and meet your God. Will you choose today between sexual perversion and serving Jesus?  You can't serve both.