Who’s Choice is it Anyway?

It is an understatement to say that the topic of Divine Election is a hotly debated one.  People are often very passionate and sometimes downright uncivil in their expressions of those passions.  People are cast with (what are intended as) disparaging labels, looked down upon with expressed disappointment, and dismissed as marginal when they admit to certain doctrinal beliefs.

That the Doctrine of Election is taught in Scripture is undeniable by anyone reading Scripture with honest eyes.  Getting beyond our preconceived ideas of what is taught is usually the problem and a challenge for any of us to get to the heart and truth.  Certainly, we can all find our various “proof-texts” or “spoilers” to opposing doctrinal positions.  However, a goal of theology involves avoiding outright contradictions in our formulations in our quest for the TRUTH of God.

If a seemingly opposing passage can be easily worked into a particular doctrinal position without either twisting or changing it’s basic meaning, it should be seriously considered.  If it cannot, then that position must be rejected since the teaching of Scripture does not contradict itself.  If there is interest, I may explore one or two examples in a future post.  For the moment, though, the point is that we must determine to approach the Scripture humbly and honestly, with no axes to grind but only a desire to learn of the nature and will of God.  Due to some of the inevitable implications, for many, MANY years I wrestled with this teaching, desperately wanting (kicking and screaming, as it were) to deny it on the one hand, and yet knowing that it was undeniable on the other.

On Sunday, I addressed the topic in part 15 of my series, Portrait of A Savior.  I pray I did an honest and adequate job handling this subject, building my argument from a simple reading of John 6:22-71 as well as additional supporting passages.  My goal was not only to teach how Scripture is clear of God’s sovereign choice in election, but also the great paradox of man’s responsibility to believe and freely respond (as well as to explore the origin of “belief” itself).

To the best of my ability, the only presuppositions I deliberately and unapologetically start from are that Scripture is perfect in it’s teaching and, whatever formulation of predestination, freedom, election or salvation, God must be clearly seen as the Sovereign originator of salvation.  To do otherwise is to elevate man’s position above that of God, thereby glorifying man above God, and that must not happen.  God will not allow that to happen.  Isaiah is clear that He will share His glory with no one (Isaiah 41-42).

Again, this is a tough subject, but an important one, nonetheless, and one that provides the Believer with a certainty that, regardless of the storms, the trials and circumstances, Christ will never let go of all whom the Father gives Him.  At the end of the day, we may disagree on certain aspects of God’s application of His work of salvation.  However, for Christians of various doctrinal differences, our agreement (I trust!) is that salvation is through Christ alone (John 14:6), by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), resulting in repentance of sin and the desire for holiness (Romans 10:9-10).

My prayer is that, if you watch the following video, you will do so with a desire to hear from the Spirit of God through the Word of God, not with a closed spirit simply looking for grounds upon which to disagree or pick a fight.  I am certain there are plenty of opportunities for that.  That is, however, not my purpose.  My purpose is singular in nature and focus:  Soli Deo Gloria!

Portrait of a Savior, Part 15 from The Gathering on Vimeo.

For a pretty thorough handling of the Doctrine of Election, check out this explanation. (Sorry for those of you who, like me, aren’t big KJV people.)  It’s always a good idea to first study what you say you don’t believe to make sure you don’t actually believe it.  Caricatures abound!  😉

Idols of the Heart

Rarely do I teach a class or deliver a message that hasn’t already penetrated my soul and taught me first.  I think that the only way a message is really exceptional is if the Holy Spirit has brought the hammer down first in the teacher/preacher’s life so that the passion can come from a place of real, deep conviction.

Last night, however, as I taught on really believing the Gospel (*see below for explanation of “Gospel”), the real weight of that came at that point and later as I reflected on it more and more.

I taught about how we say we believe the Gospel and and we do a lot of things that would be considered right for a disciple to do and yet it seems we tend to battle with the same surface sins over and over.  Why is that?  I say surface sins because those are the ones that we can see.  However, usually the surface sins indicate something much deeper: what Bob Thune and Will Walker, authors of The Gospel-Centered Life, call “Idols of the heart”.

Here’s the example we looked at last night – gossip.  Everybody knows when they gossip, right?…usually.  Anyway, so we realize we’re gossiping and so we feel convicted by it and repent.  Then we run along and gossip somewhere else. Doh! Why can’t we break that?! What’s going on that I keep gossiping when I know it’s wrong and don’t really want to (or do I?)

The question we explored last night was, “Why do we gossip?”  Here are some reasons suggested by the above-mentioned authors listed as “heart idols”:

  • »  The idol of approval (I want the approval of the people I’m talking to)

  • »  The idol of control (Using gossip as a way to manipulate/control others)

  • »  The idol of reputation (I want to feel important, so I cut some-one else down verbally)

  • »  The idol of success (Someone is succeeding—and I’m not—so I gossip about him)

  • »  The idol of security (Talking about others masks my own in- security)

  • »  The idol of pleasure (Someone else is enjoying life—and I’m not—so I attack her)

  • »  The idol of knowledge (Talking about people is a way of show- ing I know more)

  • »  The idol of recognition (Talking about others gets people to notice me)

  • »  The idol of respect (That person disrespected me, so I’m going to disrespect him)

What’s the problem?  I haven’t really believed the Gospel to the point that I don’t need these idols to make me feel successful, validated, accepted, respected, etc.  I haven’t realized that IN CHRIST, I am complete so that my validation, acceptance, respect and on and on are found in and completed in HIM.  I don’t need to serve and/or be held captive by these idols IF I TRULY BELIEVE THE GOSPEL and so I am freed from fear, anxiety, low self-image and all the other deep-seeded problems that are MANIFESTED through actions like gossip, lying, etc.  Make sense? 

So, I’m left with the question of whether or not I truly BELIEVE the Gospel.  If so, it should have an absolutely RADICAL affect on my entire life.  As we said last night, my whole life and everything in it should be leveraged for the sake of the Kingdom of God. That includes my family, my stuff, my money…everything.

Are you content to give lip-service to your “belief” in the Gospel of Christ?  Do you feel the same level of conviction I’ve felt?  If so, it’s time to do some spelunking of the soul and figure out what idols are living why down deep in caves and crevices of your heart.  Ask God to shine the helmet light on them and start breaking them down.  Clear them out! Be free from fear, depression, anxiety, anger and all the other manifestations that come with failing to believe in the deliverance and power of the Gospel. 

Am I minimizing or over-simplifying deliverance from things like depression, anger, etc? Absolutely not! Many, if not most of these things require some help both in identifying and removing them.  Seek Godly, qualified help and accountability if you are wrapped up in these things, but I encourage you to follow my example on this and start addressing it today. Stop saying you believe the Gospel but living as if you’ve never even heard it.

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* In this post, I am referring to the Gospel (which literally means “Good News”) as the revealed message of the work of Jesus Christ to bear the wrath of a just God towards sin and, thus, serve as a substitute for sinners in order that they can then be at peace with God, having been cleansed and adopted by God Himself. The only proper response to hearing the Gospel is to believe it and repent of the sins that evoked the wrath of God and precipitated the sacrificial death of Christ.  For more information on the Gospel, feel free to email me.

Trusting When It Counts

Most of my married life has been one of uncertainty.  I’m not talking about my marriage, specifically, but rather the circumstances we have been in most of our life together.  Two years after Karen and I were married, we were called up to New England, uncertain of what we were to do, why specifically we were going or for how long we would be there.  I know that sounds strange, but it was a very Abrahamic experience: go and I will tell you later where and why.

As things turned out, it was the most incredible character-shaping and building eight-and-a-half years of either of our lives.  We were involved in so many different types of ministries and had opportunities to learn so many different things, that I can’t imagine life without that experience.  It’s where I finished my Master of Divinity degree and where, as a church-planter, I was specifically called as a pastor (though I was called into ministry at age 15).  New England is where I fell in love with cross-cultural missions and apologetics and worldview studies.  It’s where I began to understand what it means to be a real friend, investing in people for years in order to reach their hearts (New Englanders aren’t called the “Frozen Chosen” for nothing).

Our time in New England is also where we were the most financially challenged.  In spite of Karen and I working throughout these ministry years in the northeast, we were often wondering how we would make our next house payment, how the bills would be paid, and how God was going to see us through.  We didn’t always know…but He always did.  There were times when, literally, money would come through the mail the day before a bill was due to be sent (one with the exact amount plus the exact change for the stamp!).

The point I am making is this: Faith isn’t faith until it’s put to the test.  We never know, fully in our own hearts, that God can be trusted until we really need to trust Him.  That isn’t to say that we don’t believe God is faithful in our hearts and heads prior to experience, but it is still theoretical until we experience it.  Sometimes, we walk into those experiences knowing that God will have to deliver us if we’re going to make it while other times, God does the pushing and prodding until He gets us to a place where we have no choice, only to teach us what it means to trust and to allow us the blessing of experiencing His all-sufficiency.

Most of us are in a situation right now, where it seems hard to see where things are going, economically, in these downward times.  After years of plenty (which, ironically, was when Karen and I were experiencing the least we’ve ever had), the economy has taken a dive and it is affecting everyone.  The question is how is everyone responding?  More importantly, how will I respond and how will you?

Here is where the rubber of your faith meets the road of your experience.  Is God to be trusted?  Are you going to trust Him when there is no safety net?  Our we going to declare with the Psalmist, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” (Ps 91:1-2)?  Is He still God when the 401K dries up and the stock market ebbs and flows, when the savings runs out and when the bills continue to increase?

Sorry...couldn't resist. dp

Like John Piper recently expressed, I’m not one who puts much (read: any!) stock in the prosperity Gospel.  I don’t believe that God simply wants to punch your financial ticket so that you never have to experience want.  It is exactly those experiences that God most often uses to shape us into what He wants us to be.  Why would He short-circuit the process of preparing you for eternity just so you can experience the lap of luxury in this temporal environment?

So, should we expect more difficulty?  Probably.  Is God still in control? Definitely.  Will we learn through it? Hopefully.  I am praying for myself, my family and my friends and my church, that we will trust God when there is plenty and when there is uncertainty, just the same as though there is no different.

Paul said in Philippians 4:19-20, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Look at what that says:

God will supply (HE is the source and the provider).

all your needs (with the exception of nothing that you NEED, not necessarily want).

– according to HIS riches in glory in Christ Jesus (He has all of the resources that flow through our relationship with Christ)

– God gets the glory!

– Amen…so be it.

Trust is not easy.  I don’t like to put my hope in what I cannot see, but I’ve seen that that which I can see cannot always be trusted and God has given us His glorious promises to reveal to us that He will not drop us.  He can be trusted.  The question is will He be?

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