Archive for Salvation

Doubt: Part 11–The Death of Doubt

 

Finally, THIS is the happy ending.

 

God called my bluff, and decided it was time for me to make the move to close the gap between us.  I announced my impending divorce to the church choir and tendered my resignation from the music ministry.

 

That night, as the church emptied, I hit my knees in the back of the church and finally acknowledged my need, my complete and utter dependence on the Daddy who was always there, even when I tried to run away to hide from Him.  He was with me even through the years when I publicly called his children weak-minded fools, when I lashed back at Him in anger for everything I assumed was His fault.

 

He waited, and watched.  When I finally turned around to face Him, he was right there where he had been all along.

 

Doubt died that day, once and for all.

 

There are still days when I doubt myself, but I never doubt my Abba, my Lord and my God.  What I have found is that every time I acknowledge my weakness and my dependence, God asserts His might and power by reminding me what He told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9a NIV).

 

I have still never seen God, just as I have never seen the wind.  However, just as I have seen the effects of the wind, I have seen the effects of God.  I don’t have to try to wrap my brain around the intricacies of DNA or photosynthesis or the size of the universe to try to logically point to an Intelligent Designer.  I just have to look in the mirror and around at my home and my family.

 

I am married again, and the two of us really are of one mind and spirit.  All of my children respond to God, because they have a spiritual leader in their house that is just as much, if not more, concerned with their spiritual growth as their physical and intellectual growth.  The peace and love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit reign in our house.  Now to be sure, there are times that are not peaceful, challenging, and even infuriating.  All families have these.

 

However, as a family, we are now in a place where the solid rock and firm foundation we come back to is our personal relationship with the God of the Universe, the salvation made possible by the sacrifice of His Son, and the guidance and comfort of the Holy Spirit.  I see the evidence of this every day.

 

And that is all I need to send doubt packing.

 

Us and Them: Part 5–Nineveh

God displays his heart for the people he created very explicitly in the book of Jonah, my personal favorite in the entire Bible.

 

Most people know about Jonah being swallowed by the whale/big fish, but that’s not really the point of the story.

 

Jonah was on that ship in the first place, because he was (futilely) trying to flee from God.  He was fleeing, because God had told him to go and preach in Nineveh, the Assyrian capital.  In that time, the Ninevites were the ultimate “them” to the Israelites.

 

So after his aquatic incident, God gives Jonah a second chance to preach to Nineveh.  He gives the shortest sermon in history, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned (Jonah 3:4 NIV).”

 

But then, a curious thing happens.  The Ninevites listen!  And REPENT!

 

So Jonah goes up to a high place where he will have a most excellent view of God destroying “them” down in Nineveh.  Except it doesn’t happen, because God has heard their prayers and is giving “them” a second chance.  Jonah, being one of “us” (that is, Israel), has issues with this.  But listen to God’s response:

 

“. . .  Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well.  Should I not be concerned about that great city?”  (Jonah 4:11 NIV)

 

Jonah is the only book in the Bible to end with a question.  So what’s the answer?

 

Did you notice the theme in the book of Jonah?  Both Jonah AND the Ninevites get second chances.  God does not show favoritism.  Because he made all of us, to Him, there is only “us.”

 

But here’s the catch.  We have to affirm that Truth.  God is willing to include anyone as “us,” but WE have to accept the invitation.

 

We become part of “us” by laying down our pride, which is the mother of all sin, and the creator of “them.”  We become part of “us” by trusting God with our hearts, our fears, our anxieties, even our bodies.  By submitting our will to His, he responds by meeting all of our needs.

 

Now at this point, we still have a multitude of bad habits to break (Lord knows I do), but we have an example to follow in Jesus.  His perfect love drives out fear, the constant presence of His holy spirit keeps us safe from harm (if we let Him), and if we follow Him faithfully, the hope for our future will play out in front of our eyes, day by day.

 

The key word there was “faithfully.”  We do have a part to play in this transaction.  If we allow ourselves to be polluted by the world (James 1:27), and look to the things and people of this world to meet the needs that only God can, then we will become the “them” that we had despised.

 

The Bible calls “them” sinners.  Here’s the clincher—if you look at other people and see a “them,” you are one of “them.”

 

However, if you look at other people, no matter how different they are from you, and still see an “us,” or at least a potential “us,” then that is a sign that the Holy Spirit is within you, transforming you into the likeness of the Jesus, who being one with the Father, created us to be “us.”

 

Empty Glass: Part 6–Water of Life

 

For the past five posts, I’ve beaten this glass/pitcher/pouring metaphor to death (not to mention the trees and busted faces).  So what am I REALLY talking about here?

 

The world is like a desert, and life makes you thirsty.  We all need refreshment on a regular basis. 

 

What we really need, instead of a pitcher, is something more like a faucet, or perhaps a spring.  Something that can give us water whenever our glass runs empty so that we don’t have to wander in the desert, drinking out of whatever pitcher we find.

 

Fortunately, we do have one of those available to us.  As Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well:

 Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:13-14 NIV) 

 

What is this water of life?  Later, when Jesus was alone with His disciples at the Last Supper, He explained in more detail:

 

If you love me, you will obey what I command.  And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him.  But you know Him, for he lives with you and is in you.  (John 14:15-17 NIV)

 

I have written all of this to tell you that, by the grace of God, I have found this spring of living water, the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised to be with us, and in us, until Jesus returns.

 

But the only way that this was possible was for me to take off my lid.  It wasn’t easy.  I have found that the longer the lid stays on, the harder it is to pry off.

 

I was only seven years old when I put the lid on my empty glass.  When I had questioned God’s omnipotence in Sunday school, I was condemned for doubting.

 

So the lid went on.  And on it stayed, through high school, college, and into marriage and fatherhood. 

 

In my mid-20’s, I met some people with pitchers full of living water, and I had a taste, but quickly slapped the lid back on, because by then, it was my habit. 

 

It wasn’t until the age of 33 that I finally had to admit my glass was empty.  My arrogance had destroyed my marriage and shattered my family. 

 

Alone in a church, on my knees, I finally threw my lid away once and for all, and asked God for His living water, the Holy Spirit.  And my life has never been the same. 

 

God has given me a brand new mission.  It is the same one he gives everyone who believes that Jesus was His Son, that he died on the cross as payment for our sins of pride and arrogance and was raised to life again by the power of the very same Holy Spirit that He sends to be a wellspring of life inside of every believer.

 

We are called to educate the ignorant, love the arrogant, and tolerate the stupid (leaving room for God’s wrath, of course).  We have been given the Holy Spirit, the water of life, not to keep Him to ourselves, but to pour out for the whole world.  It is not by accident that Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.” (Mark 9:41 NIV)

 

 

If you’ve stayed with me this far, your lid is definitely off.  Not only that, but you’ve got yourself a brand new pitcher.  Why not try giving it a pour?

 

 

But watch out for those lids!

           

Free Will or Fate?

 

 

If God is omniscient and omnipotent, do we really have free will, or are we merely puppets of fate?  To answer this question, we need to go back to the Garden of Eden.

Adam and Eve did not have theology or organized religion; they had ONE rule.  Don’t eat off that one tree.  That’s it.  Only one “don’t.”  Everything else was a “go ahead.”

Well, we all know how this turned out.  Eve said that the serpent deceived her, but she still chose to eat the fruit.  Adam didn’t even have deception as an excuse.  However, since a man will do whatever a naked woman says, he also chose to eat the fruit.

Now theologians have argued for centuries about whether or not Adam’s choice was predestined.  Well, if it was predestined, then it was not a choice.  If Adam had no freedom of choice, then it would follow that we don’t either.

This argument makes no sense theologically, or even just plain logically, because a complete absence of free will would make our creation devoid of purpose.  God created us in His own image, and God is not a robot.  Therefore, we are not robots.

Everything we do is a choice, whether we are conscious of the fact that we are making a choice or not.  Some of those choices may be against God’s plan for our lives.

If we were to live a perfect life, as Jesus did, then our lives would be a straight line between point A (birth) and point B (death).  This straight line represents God’s predestined will for our lives.

Only here’s the problem.  No one lives a perfect life, on account of our having free will.  The choices that we make which are not in accordance with God’s plan will direct us away from God’s straight line from point A to point B.

Since God is omniscient, He knows not only that our rebellion was possible but all the possible ways in which we could rebel, consciously or unconsciously.

So how does this concept play out in our lives?

Picture the predestined straight line of God’s will as an interstate highway taking you on the fastest and easiest route from birth to death.  Making a choice contrary to God’s will would be like getting off the interstate and taking a dirt road into the desert.

The farther you go down that road, the farther away from the interstate you are.  In addition, the dirt road may have twists and turns and lead you down into canyons and ravines.  Then, not only are you far away from the interstate, but you are also completely lost.

When we stray from God’s path, He sets up detours in our lives to divert us back to His predestined will—the straight line.  Nevertheless, we still have the free will to choose whether to allow ourselves to be detoured, or to crash the barricades and continue to go our own way.  If we do that enough times, God steps back and lets us go over the cliff.

Fortunately for us, we still have the opportunity to repent and surrender, thereby allowing God to lift us up out of the ditch we have steered ourselves into and put us back on his road (kind of like in Mario Kart).  Furthermore, as long as we are alive, God’s grace gives us an unlimited number of do-overs as we continue down the road.

When you look at it that way, the issue of whether events of our lives are predestined fades in significance.  The main question becomes not “Do I have control over my life?” so much as “What will I do with the control that I do have?”

In other words, ultimately our free will determines our fate.

 

Saved–Part 3: Comfortable

 

As we covered in Part 2, to a person in the light, light is preferable, and to one in the dark, darkness is preferable. This is simply because that people tend to get comfortable with whatever state of existence they find themselves in. This becomes what you perceive as “normal.”  The longer your “normal” exists, be it darkness or light, the more you can’t imagine life being any other way.

A person sitting in the dark is not necessarily happy about it, but they are comfortable with their surroundings. So they justify their darkness, rather than turning on the light, which would involve getting out of the chair and flipping the switch.  A very simple action, but it does involve SOME effort.

Likewise, a person outside the church may not feel as though they are missing anything that Christianity can provide. A person walking in the light of Christ knows what the others are missing. However, what we as Christians need to remember is that sharing the gospel with somebody against their will is like flipping on a 100-watt bulb in a dark room. The light of Truth can burn your brain just like a sudden flip of a light switch can burn your eyes.

That is why so many people reject the gospel when they first hear it. It really has nothing to do with “logic and reason;” it is simply too much of a shock to the system for them to absorb.

We forget that for someone in the dark, there is actual pain involved with coming into the light for the first time. The pain goes away, and is replaced by a clearer understanding, but you don’t instinctively know that when you’re experiencing the pain.

 

 

Meanwhile, it should also be noted that those in the light actually have the same problem with being comfortable. Christians can get so used to the light, that we forget what it was like in the darkness, where we all began.

We can also get comfortable where we are and forget that we were called into the light for a purpos.  Our primary job is to flip on the light switch for other people sitting in the dark. This also involves effort and change—a change of attitude toward the people in the dark.

I think Paul said it best in his letter to Titus:

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (Titus 3:3-5a)

That sounds like my life in a nutshell. No one saved me by arguing me into heaven. I did not save myself by simply deciding to “be good.” Jesus Christ chose to save me, because that is who He is, and that is what He does.

If I were to walk into a dark room now, I might stub my toe, but I could sit with an inhabitant of the darkness and talk to them about my own previously dark room. I could share that the only way I was able to light up my room was by first acknowledging that it was dark.

And who knows? By God’s mercy and grace, they might ask me to help them find the light switch. At the very least, they will know there’s a switch that needs flipping.

Saved–Part 2: Light and Darkness

I hate to break it to you babe, but I’m not drowning

There’s no one here to save.

(Sara Bareilles  “King of Anything” 2010)

A Christian would hear this song and perhaps be reminded of 1 Corinthians 1:18, which reads, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

However, it is far too easy for us as Christians to look down on “those who are perishing” as though they are lost children groping about in the darkness. Being “in the light,” we know that’s a spiritual reality.  We forget, though, that people who have spent their entire life in darkness are accustomed to the dark.

But if someone then turns on the light, you are just as blinded by the light as someone coming in from outside would be blinded by the darkness. Either way, you are probably going to whack your shin on the coffee table.

People who have spent time in the dark room don’t have a problem walking through it. They are accustomed to the darkness, and it suits them. However, a person in the dark room is missing out on so many things that could be seen in the light.

After all, once you get past the initial shock of the light coming on and the brief pain of the rhodopsin breaking down in your eyeballs, then you can see just fine. Much better in fact, than you could even when accustomed to the dark.

This is why we have light switches in our house.  We have always instinctively known that light is better than darkness, so we have developed technology that allows us to have light at the flip of a switch.

This raises a troubling question, however.

If it is so instinctive that we would prefer physical light over physical darkness, then why are we so resistant to come out of spiritual darkness into the light?

And even more troubling–why are those who are in the light, or “saved,” so hesitant to go into other dark rooms and flip on the switch?

(To find out, come back for Part 3: Comfortable)

 

Saved–Part 1: Saved From What?

 

About 20 years ago, my family and I were practicing Catholics. I had been raised in the Catholic Church, but had fallen away at an early age. My wife had converted after our marriage. Her conversion, plus the fact that we were now raising two sons in the church, had renewed my interest in the church and in my own spiritual voyage.

Having grown up either being Catholic or trying hard not to be, I was quite ignorant of other denominations. I was aware that they existed, but their histories, beliefs and the differences between them had no more meaning to me than the differences between channels on television. To me, there was simply Catholic and Not Catholic.

One afternoon, our neighbors, who attended an Assembly of God church, invited us next door to a “small group fellowship.” I had no idea what this meant, exactly. I saw a yard full of people I didn’t know and their noisy children. I knew they were people that attended the same church, about which I knew nothing.

These folks looked normal enough, but a key difference soon became apparent when a father yelled at his ornery children to “stop behaving like the Canaanites.”

It occurred to me that I recognized “Canaanite” as a Bible word, probably a geographical term, but I didn’t really know who the Canaanites were or why they were significant. Furthermore, I had no connection whatsoever in my mind regarding how the Canaanites behaved and what parallels there might have been to their behavior and that of this man’s children.

In short, I was aware in that moment that I was woefully ignorant in regard to Bible knowledge, and despite the friendly welcome I received from these folks, I felt intimidated—like they were on some totally different spiritual plane than I was.

About this time, three of the ladies came over to us and asked me if we had a home church, knowing that we were not from theirs. I told them that we were attending the local Catholic church. They looked at each other with what seemed to be delight, and one of them innocuously exclaimed, “Oh, our pastor used to be Catholic too until he got saved!”

It was clear from her tone that she meant no offense whatsoever from this remark. Nevertheless, I remember clearly that the first thought that went through my mind was, “Saved? From what?”

What my Catholic ears heard was that their pastor used to be just like me, but then he was saved from the error, the foolishness, the madness that is Catholicism. Needless to say, I found that offensive.

We stayed for the rest of the meeting, and I tried, and I think succeeded, to be gracious to the group for their hospitality, just as they were gracious about my biblical ignorance.

Even so, I just could not get past that word, “saved.”

 

Saved from…what?

 

Looking back on that afternoon 20 years later, now as a Baptist-lite Protestant, I am much more conscious of how we, as evangelical Christians, can unwittingly come across to others with our churchy words.

It is so easy for us to fall in to the trap of seeing ourselves as “saved” and everyone else as “lost.” This mindset may be Biblically factual and theologically sound, but it fails to acknowledge the reality that “lost” people don’t know they’re lost. Therefore, to hear from someone they do not even know that they need to be “saved” is offensive to them.

 

(To be continued in Part 2: Light and Darkness)