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November 2011 entries

Tis the Season

I have loved Charles Dickens's Christmas Carol since I first heard it read in elementary school. I have watched the various cinematic adaptations from Albert Finney in 1970, George C. Scott in 1984 (my personal favorite) to Michael Caine in A Muppet Christmas Carol in '92.

On Christmas Eve Ebeneezer Scrooge's deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, warns him of three spirits that will come to visit for his benefit. If he does not heed their warning, Scrooge will spend eternity in a worse place than the miserable state Marley now finds himself. The spirits will attempt to open the eyes of the old miser to missed opportunities and poor decisions that have led to his current pathetic solitude. While Scrooge cannot alter the past, he may change the future, if he amends his ways. Ebeneezer learns that his actions have negatively affected many other lives besides his own.

The story should cause us to reflect on our own lives. How many regrettable poor decisions and missed opportunities are in the shadows of our past? Do we really know how many people we have passed without saying a kind word or offering a helping hand? How many times have we made excuses rather than listening and obeying what we know God has asked us to do? What blessings have we forfeited? How many sleepless nights have we endured because of guilt that could have been avoided by making a better choice? I believe many of us would answer; too many!

We may not be able to change the past, but we can alter the future. Only you are in control of how you treat others. You alone are responsible for making right decisions. Let's make a commitment during this season to reach out to someone and bless them. After his redemptive experience Christmas morning, Scrooge had the boy in the street to buy the big goose hanging in the window of the butcher down the street and deliver it to the Cratchits. Who could you unexpectedly bless this Christmas? All of us who have been redeemed are called by our Redeemer to offer a cup of cold water in His name. When we do we shall receive a reward. (Matthew 10:42) Tis the season to learn the truth of God's Word: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35) Have a blessed Christmas season!


It's OK to Ask Hard Questions

I have a young man speaking for me tomorrow night instead of
my weekly Bible study. I hesitate to give it up, but I feel compelled to give
this fellow a shot. He feels as if God is calling him to ministry and needs an
opportunity to expand his audience outside of just youth Bible study groups in
his home. I still remember the opportunity afforded me by my pastor.
Thankfully, my path as a Bible teacher and pastor has gone reasonably well
given that rocky start. It was not pleasant for me and I’m sure it was
downright painful to my audience. Still they encouraged me to continue and I’m
glad they did. They knew I was struggling to make my faith my own. Something
many of them had never done. Let me explain.

After the split of my parents at age nine, I began to
question everything I had been taught. I began to ask the same kind of
questions many kids do later in life when they go off to college. They are no
longer always surrounded by their parent’s culture of faith. They are
introduced to new ways of believing, or in some cases of not believing. When
suddenly confronted with the need to defend their belief before people who do
not share their faith, they often respond in one of two ways. They go on an
offensive assault to deliver a rousing judgmental sermon toward the hell bound unbelievers.
This is usually more smoke than substance but defended as righteous indignation:
a good Biblical excuse for losing your cool. The other response may be to
freeze in a defensive crouch and fail to respond at all. They realize that the
faith they have been carrying is not their faith at all. It was the faith of
their parents and pastors and Sunday school teachers. These kids either get
quickly swept up in the culture of the university or leave and go back home
where their fragile faith will no longer be under an assault.

So as a kid of nine, without constant church or parental
influence, I started to question the validity of what I had been taught in
church. I found much of it to be shallow and emotional. I was sorely
disappointed because I really wanted to believe in God. When I began to choose
my friends, who were all outside of my faith, I could not defend what I had
been taught. So I left my faith in my preteens. I became what has recently been
termed as a “leaver.” Leavers often ask their parents to explain why they believe
and are met with shock and dismay, “Why can’t you just have faith, like we do.
Where did we fail?”

Here’s a fact that comes from a former “leaver.” Most of these kids want to believe. Many of them return to church after wandering in the wilderness for a while. So many come to a happening church, with a popular youth group, and look for answers. When they arrive they find a bunch of kids who have not addressed the hard questions of faith, but instead have opted to numb themselves with activities to take their mind off their questions. Instead of addressing teens’ questions, most church youth groups focus on fun and food. The goal seems to be to create emotional attachment using loud music, silly skits, slapstick games -- and pizza. Those
are all good and fun, but they are only ways of attracting a crowd. The force of sheer emotional experience will not equip teens to address the ideas they will encounter when they leave home and face the world on their own. Hard questions have to be addressed.

Here is what I found. While I tried the youth group thing, I never really was satisfied with playing pool and roasting hot dogs. I began to seek real answers to hard questions. I looked for
people who were willing to try to give me a response instead of just turning me away. I had to go through a lot of “go ask the pastor” before I found some who would attempt an answer for themselves. Here in lies the solution to the problem of leavers. The reason why so many leave and never return is because they find too few of us who are “prepared to give an answer to everyone who
asks” (1 Pet. 3:15). They have to know it is ok to ask hard questions. Paul instructs us to “Test everything, hold on to the good” (1 Thess. 5:21). I am not nearly as discouraged by the number of teens who are leaving the faith, as I am the number of us adults who cannot challenge when they return. And they will return, I found life without faith in God to be a “dry and barren land.”
So pray for the young man who is teaching for me tomorrow. He is making his faith his own. He will stumble. We all do. I don’t expect he will wow the crowd, but I am blessed to help him on his journey of faith.


Speaking Up for Free Will

If Calvinism is right, why can't Calvinists move on? Calvinism is known as the doctrine of the elect, or reformed theology, or predestination or a number of other theological terms. It is the idea that certain people have been selected by God to eternal life while others have not. There are other aspects to this soteriological (study of salvation) philosophy such as the depravity of man (the inability of man to save him self) and perseverance of the saints (eternal security of the believer), but the one that is most often spoken about is this idea of predestination. God choosing a few to be saved as examples of His grace.

On the way home yesterday one such preacher was teaching on this subject from his pulpit in California. (Reason enough to be leary of the whole thing if you ask me.) The sure give away that he was a Calvinist was that he constantly referred to God choosing the less lovable of this world for salvation. He consistently insisted people who were honorable or lovely were not what God was seeking. Of course the speaker and his audience were named as a part of the unlovely crowd of which he spoke. I have yet to hear one Calvinist preacher talk of those who were in his audience who were not chosen. It would at least be refreshing to hear one say, "I know it doesn't seem fair that some of us here today are chosen for heaven and others of you are chosen for damnation, but let's all stand and sing, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound..."

Speaking to the idea of God not being fair, the speaker declared that God was not fair, but that He was just. That some were allowed to be saved, while no one was worthy of salvation, showed how gracious God is. Once again, I think the correctness of that statement has a lot to do with which side of the equation in which you fall; the chosen or un-chosen. I'm sorry, but I don't think people who are sentenced to hell with no options for redemption are going to think of God as gracious. His simple analogy was a grammar school soccer game. Because he was of the unlovely and unloved crowd, he was not chosen when sides were picked to play soccer at recess. He assured his listeners he knew something of the pain of not being chosen. I'm sure it wasn't pleasant, but I bet it didn't hurt like hell!

Then he went on to compare the chosen people of the Old Testament with the chosen people of the New Testament. He said the Jews did nothing to merit God's decision to choose them either. I agree whole-heartedly. But to use them as an example of Calvinism is to neglect another major teaching of the five points central to their belief. They teach that no one chosen will ever become un-chosen. No one saved will ever lose that salvation. I believe that too, but I would never use the nation of Israel to back it up. Even Paul, the great Calvinist hero, declared that all Jews were not saved. He would give his life for his brethren if they would only accept salvation through Christ.

Romans 9:1-5 (NKJV)
1 I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit,
2 that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart.
3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh,
4 who are Israelites,..."

Joshua declared that not all Israel would follow God. He and his family had made the willful decision to do so as he challenged his people to do the same.

Joshua 24:15 (NKJV)
15 And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

The whole idea of choice seems alien to Calvinists, but it seemed entirely appropriate to Joshua and his family.

Why is it necessary that Calvinist feel it necessary to continually promote their doctrinal bias? While it is an important teaching in their theology, it can't be the only one. I don't hear those who teach that man has the ability to accept or deny God's free gift of grace neglect all other great truths of Scripture.

I will probably receive unkind remarks because of my views. Those who hold to the tenets of Calvinism are often very vocal. Pastor Johnny Hunt of Atanta has had to endure their scorn for years. Even to the point where there was a blog site devoted to demeaning and hurting his character and ministry. I don't want to fight about this myself. I just wanted someone to speak up for free will. Or maybe I will just let God speak for Himself:

2 Peter 3:9 (NKJV)
9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

John 3:14-17 (NKJV)
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

 

 

 

 


Here's a good word from my morning Bible reading. "He does not punish us for all our sins. He does not deal harshly with us as we deserve. (Psalm 103:10 NLT) Why? "For He knows how weak we are; He remembers we are only dust. (Psalm 103:14 NLT) We often expect more from ourselves than we are able to deliver. "But the Love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear Him." (Psalm 103:17 NLT) PTL


Neglected Riches

I attended a spiritual retreat/deer hunt in Illinois a few days ago. Each day I spoke to a man from Oklahoma who took me where I needed to be during the week. We struck up a conversation about the many oil pumps we would pass on the way to our destination. He could talk with the same authority about these contraptions the way I can talk about the menu at Cracker Barrel. I wondered out loud how much revenue these would provide for their owners. He could not say about the financial gain for these in Illinois, but he had an interesting story about his inlaws back home in Oklahoma.

He said that an oil company approached them about buying the oil beneath their property. They hesitated to agree upon a deal because they had developed their land with beautiful landscaping, fruit trees and a large pond. While they were aware that oil was under much of Oklahoma, they had never been told that oil was beneath their property. The oil company assured them that they could detect an oil reservoir underneath the pond. That sealed it. No matter how much the company would pay, they loved their property, especially their pond, and did not want to see it marred by oil drills and pumps.

Then the oil company offered a deal they found hard not to accept. There is evidently a technique that allows the oil company to set up a rig more than a mile away and drill horizontally underground and capture the oil without any equipment on the property itself. They accepted the deal and now thousands of dollars are automatically deposited in their bank account each month from an unseen source. Sort of like the Clampetts of Beverly Hills, they were living with access to great wealth and didn't have a clue.

Deep within every believer there is a source of wealth that many never tap. The vast wealth and resources of God's Holy Spirit resides below the surface just waiting to be called upon. We struggle financially, mentally and spiritually while we have all we need to live victoriously. Either we are unawareof such riches, or do not know how to call upon them, so we settle for the things we see and do not appropriate by faith the unseen. How often do I struggle to make diffcult decisions while neglecting the source of wisdom that resides within me? How many times have I labored about my finances when riches untold are available for my use through the Holy Spirit? Thank God from that good ole boy from Oklahoma that reminded me of a spiritual truth that I too often forget.

James 1:5-7 (NLT)
5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.
6 But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.
7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.