Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Why I'm a Arminiacalvinist


And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech
or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.
For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ,
and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear  and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words
of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith
would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. 
I Corinthinians 2:1-5


I've attended churches teaching Arminian theology. I've attended churches teaching Calvinist theology. I've also attended a few that I'm pretty sure might have been teaching Oprah's theology, but that's a story for another time. Sitting under the teachings and serving among the people of all those various churches has largely been an enriching and positive experience. Though I have to confess it is not easy to follow the path of truth when different churches say it lies in different directions. 

In a nutshell, Arminianism teaches that free-will is the deciding factor in salvation. God provides grace to permit people to see and choose Him, knowing ahead of time who will say 'yes.' Calvinism teaches that God has determined beforehand who will be saved and who will be damned and Man, being dead in his sins, has nothing whatever to do with it. There is much more besides, but that's the heart of the matter. Both sides are full of people who are sincere and thoughtful and serious students of the Word. And each side is convinced that the other is mistaken...and possibly a little careless with their scholarship. 

But have we done ourselves a disservice in forcing a choice? What if it's less an either-or and more a both-and question? The God I find in Scripture seems to have no problem operating in a world in which both predestination and free-will are essential ingredients. He doesn't struggle with opposing sides both being true at the same time. This is the God who says that one must lose his life to gain it. The One who says that leaders must be the servants of all. The One who designed the universe to follow the laws of physics... then fairly regularly breaks them to make His miracles. God doesn't have a problem with paradox, in fact He seems to revel in it. The tension of holding two seemingly opposing truths doesn't wear Him out. He has offered Scriptural evidence for the truth of both pre-destination and free-will—without mentioning there might be conflict between the two. We are the ones who have trouble with this, thinking we must find and choose the one, correct side.

The God of order and decorum is also the one who delighted when David danced before the Lord with all his might...showing his underpants and possibly more besides. The God who designed the vast universe and ordained all things before they even existed, also orchestrates the details of the tiniest insect's life cycle. He is a mighty sovereign, high and exalted, enthroned above all kings and powers, yet also humble and lowly, the servant of all. How can it be that He left us an important theological muddle to figure out? Is it possible He couldn't decide which side to pick? Did He forget to erase from Scripture all the evidence for the other side?

History is full of men and women who thought long and hard about what God means in His word, which is a good thing. There have been thousands of books written on theology, saying all sorts of—sometimes conflicting—things. But all these books, as serious, well-meaning and beneficial as they are, are not the Word of God. They are simply the thoughtful opinions of good and scholarly folks.

I may be slapping some sacred cows here, but weren't John Calvin and Jacob Arminius both men and therefore by definition creatures with limited minds? Why must we make God fit into either of their particular theological boxes, as if we fail the test if we don't answer this question? It isn't that they weren't serious scholars, or sincere believers or good men. They gave their all, trying to wrap their heads around what is essentially a mystery. I'm grateful for both and for all the great minds and tender hearts who've wrestled with the big questions of the faith. But God is simply bigger, higher and wiser than any human mind's ability to understand Him. Some things He has revealed, some things we may search out and some things remain mysteries, no matter how much and how long we cogitate on them. He has simply not definitively answered all our questions.

Isn't that what we long for—a God bigger than Man's biggest minds can fathom? A God who could easily have told us that one side or the other is correct, but chose instead to give us ample evidence for both? Selah. So with a wry smile (and a little rebellion) I'm refusing to choose, unofficially calling myself an “Arminiacalvinist.”
He is too big to fit neatly into our little systems. He is too wise and too busy to involve Himself in solving our theological controversies. He delights in bringing us to the end of our own wisdom as He brings many sons to glory and builds His kingdom... which is kind of the point. I like to think that God enjoys our attempts to understand and explain Him, but prefers our loving friendship and cheerful obedience. 



But the Lord is in His holy temple;
let all the earth hush and keep silence before Him.
Habakkuk 2:20

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

On becoming a person given to prayer

My Pastor recently called our church to become people given more to prayer in 2017. His exhortation was to persistently, consistently give ourselves to prayer for just one thing. He had made it easy even...just focus on one particular thing. It was a biblical, encouraging message, yet as I mused over it I couldn’t help but feel a sense of deva vu…and a bit of dread. How many times over the course of my Christian life have I heard this same message, set myself to pray hard—even prayed hard for a time—then gradually let my schedule make me too busy for prayer time? How often have I found myself believing in prayer, yet not really praying? How do I move a call to prayer from a nice-sounding New Year’s resolution to a vital, life-giving, daily part of my life?

Prayer changed for me when I noticed that my prayer life was most consistent (and the most satisfying) during seasons when I enjoyed a particular closeness to Jesus. Which makes sense, for we tend to talk to our friends. We tell how our day has been. We share our joys and sorrows. We listen. We ask for help with our challenges. At its most basic, prayer is conversation with God, so prayer is most natural, most likely when I remember that God is a real person. He thinks and feels, sees and hears. He's not a cold, ethereal being, far, far away who bends near with Sunday School countenance to listen politely to my list of requests. Among all the things Jesus is, He is my friend. But that natural conversation is harder to maintain when the friend is invisible.

What helps is recalling what Jesus has said about me and my relationship with Him. He calls me His child, His beloved, His own. I am forgiven, chosen, and delighted in. I am His bride; He watches over me with a jealousy based not on selfishness but the right of a husband to protect his wife, guarding her affections. His wisdom is always perfect, His direction inerrant. His love is constant and complete. My relationship with Him cannot fail because it is based on His faithfulness, not mine (hallelujah!). His gentleness is never in conflict with His fierce anger at sin, or His just determination to burn away everything I've let come between us. He is my faithful shepherd, my tender guardian, my diligent protector, my greatest good. He says I am the treasure He came to Earth to redeem. I was the joy set before Him as He endured the horrible cross. My determination to hold onto Him is but dust on the balance compared to His promise never to let me go. When my mind is related rightly to Jesus, engaging in prayer becomes as natural as breathing and as necessary as air.

But knowing this does not mean I always put it into practice. I can become preoccupied with my life, growing too busy to spend time with Jesus. Then as my desire for Him cools, I 'forget' to talk to Him. I find myself guiltily throwing prayers up as I go, knowing I'm supposed to pray. I feel ashamed and begin to avoid my friend, thinking that He must be irritated with me. But I resist saying, "sorry," out of a misperception. Jesus is not angry with me—He knows in advance my every failure, fall, and outright rebellion. He is not surprised. Like the father of the prodigal, He waits with open arms for me to come to my senses and return to Him. 

Far from being an item on my spiritual 'to-do' list, prayer is necessary to the health of my soul. Through prayer I express my love, share my needs, and hear my Master's voice. It is the pipeline through which flows the fuel of satisfaction, peace and joy. Prayer fills me with power, because prayer connects me to the Source of all power. My enjoyment of prayer is directly related to my enjoyment of Jesus. 

So my resolution for this year is to stop beating myself up over needing to pray. Instead I resolve to wait quietly for my Master, meditating on His beauty and perfection, basking in His love, and listening for His voice. I resolve to repent quickly when I find myself feeling distant from Jesus, confident that as I draw near to Him, He will draw near to me. His presence will spark a fire that illuminates and warms my heart, drawing me back to conversation with Him. He is not disappointed—or surprised—when I fail, but eagerly waits for me to come to Him for restoration. He longs for my company because He loves me. To be a person of prayer is to be a person actively seeking friendship with God. So I resolve to open myself, allowing Him to woo me into spending more time with Him, listening for His heart and telling him the secrets of mine. How lovely is that?




"You make me know the path of life;
in your presence is unbounded joy,
in your right hand eternal delight."
Psalm 16:11



Thursday, February 2, 2017

"These aren't the gods you're looking for..."

Remember the scene in the first Star Wars movie when Obi-wan Kanobi uses the Force on some storm troopers, telling them "these aren't the droids you're looking for"? We were surprised when the troopers agreed and sent the Jedi, the droids and an incredulous Luke Skywalker on their way. Obi-wan explains that the Force can exert a powerful influence on the mind. Since that moment in film history we've seen the Force used over and over to persuade unsuspecting folks to do what they did not intend to do.

It's a fun bit of movie magic, but don't we have that very thing happening today? Isn't America now harvesting the fruit of believing what she's been told by news anchors and Hollywood, politicians and universities? Haven't these cultural Jedis unwittingly channeled the spirit of this world, using their talents and their platforms to allure, tease, and otherwise convince us that their philosophies are the ones to follow? And when they fail to persuade, they threaten, bully and shame us, illustrating the peril of refusing to worship as they direct. The whole world is under the deception that humanity has the answer to what ails it, that all we need do is celebrate every man doing what is right in his own eyes and we will usher in a paradise of peace, equality and abundance. Those who dare disagree are seen as obstacles to that peace—even dangers to be overcome. 


I confess that I am fighting anger. My sense of fairness has been poked hard. It seems it was perfectly fine for my values to be ridiculed, warred against, or ignored, but when the shoe is on the other foot, rioting is justified. I don't know why I expected anything different. Our Jedis are now telling us that the world is tearing itself apart because Donald Trump won the White House. But the truth is the world is fractured and hurting because the gods it trusts to protect and provide have proved inadequate to the task. Because these really aren't the gods they're looking for. Our country is terribly divided, and no election could fix that. But the divide of rich vs poor, black vs white, gay vs straight and left vs right are only symptoms. The foundational divide is between those who know God and those who don't. This divide is of God's making; He is using current events to draw a line to help us see our desperate need for Him. 

It is one thing to know that the world is lost, quite another to turn on the TV or computer and see what happens when people put their faith only in themselves and fall under the delusion that God is an irrelevance, safely mocked (Romans 1:21-32,  II Thess. 2:11-12). Every day we see new evidence of satan's rage working itself out in people who, having rejected the rule of God, have fallen under the bondage of sin. The search for love and significance has taken a very wrong turn when it results in vile proclamations and vicious rioting. Far from being convinced that there is another side to consider, the world is doubling down on its insistence that we do things its way.

But if I can look away from the drama on the brightly lit stage, my spiritual eyes can refocus on what God is doing behind the curtain. If I can quiet my understandable anger and frustration, I can begin to hear His voice giving me direction and strategy. 
If I allow His Spirit to fill and indwell me, my thinking can align more closely to His. I can chose to let His word predict the future, rather than the reports filling the evening news and social media. I can invite His peace to overcome my outrage. My anxiety fades as I worship in His presence. I can rest, trusting His faithfulness, and allow His perspective to enlarge my own. Instead of Facebook, I can get my "likes" from Jesus, the only audience that matters. He is not absent, weak or afraid. He is not confused about what to do next. He has promised to be my refuge, my portion, my joy. He is absolutely trustworthy; I can lean completely on Him with full confidence, even amidst a people given over to politically correct group think and mob rule. And that is very good news.

I am seeing as never before my deep-rooted desire for my own way. But God has a better way, if I can choose it. And that is the question. Can I set aside my desire for justice, trusting God to handle such things? Can I separate myself from the philosophy that the world demands I embrace, while developing a love for the people trapped in its net? Jesus does not want any to be lost...can I love the world as He did? Can I remain silent when reviled? Can I resolve to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified? Can I lay down my cleverness and sarcasm and go forth armed with weakness and humility, loving the enemies of God even as they hate me? Well, not so much. So I am repenting and asking my Father to hold my stony heart between his loving, faithful hands while He does the necessary crushing and reshaping. 

The times are frightening, but we needn't fear, because our God is with us. I love Daniel 11:32 which says, "By smooth words [satan] will turn to godlessness those who act wickedly toward the covenant, but the people who know their God will display strength and take action." Our enemy is the ultimate Jedi, using his power to deceive the whole world. Not only are we immune, we have Someone greater to offer confused and hurting people. If we can keep our eyes on Jesus, rather than the storm around us, we can do exploits because He is the God we are looking for.



“Understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters. 
Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], 
slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and], 
slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving]; for the [resentful, deep-seated]
anger of man does not produce the righteousness 
of God [that standard of behavior which He requires from us]. 
James 1:19-20 AMP



Saturday, January 14, 2017

Peace where there is no peace...

"Come," they say, "let us destroy them as a nation,
so that Israel's name is remembered no more."
With one mind they plot together;
they form an alliance against you. Psalm 83:4-5



Tomorrow, representatives of seventy nations will gather in Paris ostensibly to suss out the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This conference falls about two weeks after the passage of UN resolution 2334 condemning Israel (again) and two days before another meeting at the UN, at which it is expected another resolution against Israel will be passed. There is evidence that there have been secret negotiations between the Palestinians and diplomats of Western nations. The scuttlebutt is that this is a coordinated plan to force Israel to accept a two state solution with conditions and borders which not only disfavor Israel, but will endanger its existence.

It is interesting that seventy have been invited, as Jewish tradition holds that seventy nations represent all the nations of the earth. Could this be the beginning of 'all the nations of the earth' setting themselves against Israel mentioned in Zechariah 12? Add the blood moon tetrad pointing to times of change for Israel and I find myself observing these impending events both with dread and anticipation. Are we at the tipping point, or will the more favorable policies promised by the incoming administration bring this situation back into a tense status quo? It feels like an ocean wave lifting toward a flood wall—a wall behind which sits all of history. Will the wave build and overwhelm us or will it subside, rolling back with a sigh and disappear? I am praying for God's mercy and forbearance but also for His will to be done, for there is a time certain at which God will press play and the final chapters of human history will begin. Is this that? We just don't know. 

And why should we care? Why should Gentile Christians care about a small people in a small country on the other side of the world? Isn't God done with the Jews? Didn't they have their chance and blow it? Didn't their rejection of Jesus disqualify them forever? May it never be! Scripture is full of statements in which God promises never to abandon the Jewish people. Second, a God who binds Himself to a people and then abandons them in frustration when they prove problematic is a problem for us. If God does not have to keep His promises to the Jewish people, what makes us think He will keep His promises to us? And we are fooling ourselves if we think Gentiles are somehow better or more deserving than Jews. Or that the New Testament somehow is a do-over of the Old. No, the welfare of the Jewish people should matter very much to those of us who call on the name of Jesus. God's faithfulness, veracity and ability—His very reputation—are at stake.

The question of Israel and the future of the Jewish people in God's plan is contentious. Whole streams of theology have been created in order to explain it or explain it away. But it remains the quintessential, defining issue, because it asks the ultimate question, Is God really in charge? Does He have the right to do whatever He wants? The question of this very small people group remains a stubborn pebble in the world's shoe precisely because it so accurately pinpoints our heart problem--we don't want God telling us what to do. The very idea that He would choose a people group simply because He chose them, seems unfair. We don't like it, secretly believing that if anyone was going to be chosen, it should have been us.* It chafes that He feels no particular need to explain it to us or justify His decision. So Israel is a litmus test, illustrating whether we are willing to trust what God is doing. Our opinion, our words and our actions toward Israel expose our hearts. Are we willing to submit to God even when His choices don't make sense to us, even if we feel we know better?

Israel is the apple of God's eye...not because they are better or smarter or more moral. He loves them because he loves them (just like us). He has chosen them and promises to keep them. He has loved them, disciplined them, judged them and, with regard to Jesus, temporarily blinded them. Yet even during this long, spiritual time-out, He is tirelessly working to bring His wayward people back to Himself. He is preparing them for that day when they recognize Jesus as their Messiah, and repent with tears as they embrace Him. God's actions for and against Israel have never been an invitation to destroy them, though many have tried. God's discipline is always redemptive and His ultimate plan is to save them, which is why satan has always been so intent on annihilation. He has asked His church to stand with them, though we haven't always proved faithful to that call. He is asking now that we identify with them, stand with them and help them. Not because they deserve it, not because we will gain anything by it, but because God asks us to. It has never been widely popular to be friends with Israel. Eventually, it will be dangerous. This issue, at bottom, is whether or not we will submit to and obey God. Will we choose what God chooses?

The world can swell with self-important posturing. It can hold all the conferences and pass all the resolutions it wants. Genuine, lasting peace will never come to the Middle East until the Prince of Peace Himself returns. At that time, Jew and Arab will be truly and forever reconciled. The world will know peace. God has placed this people at the center of world conflict because the question of the Jewish people is not about nations or political agendas. It is about so much more than the land and who it belongs to. It is about the all too human refusal to submit to God's rule. We love the teachings of Jesus until they run counter to our personal inclinations, our pet sins. It is the problem human beings run into whenever they encounter God's reign. Then we have a decision to make—will we massage His message until we are comfortable, or bring our thinking in line with His? 

Israel the secular nation may fall, but Israel the people are ours to love because God loves them. So the wave approaches and as we watch and pray and trust in God's goodness, the question remains, "Does God have the right to do as He chooses and to tell us what to do?" Will we love and protect and serve the Jewish people simply because God asks us to?

Maranatha!






*And of course we are chosen. We are grafted into the olive tree of Israel. All the promises and blessings are ours, not because Israel forfeited them but because we are now included with them through accepting their Messiah, Jesus. And of course Jewish people must come through that same gate...there is no separate, different salvation for Jews than for Gentiles.


Why I'm a Arminiacalvinist

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. F...