Saturday, July 30, 2011
Friday, July 29, 2011
My journey to Calvinism is an unusual one. I went to a Presbyterian (PCA) church my whole life, went to a Christian school, and yet never learned the doctrines of grace. If they were taught to me at all as a child in my church, I do not remember. Once, as a senior in high school, I remember our new pastor talking about the five points of Calvinism. We went through them briefly, but for various reasons, including the lightness with which we studied the points and my own failure to see their importance and understand what was being taught, no real impact was left on me.
Evangelistic Methods Hit Rock Bottom
A few months after that, my senior class went on what can best be described as a senior trip where we do some ministering to the locals in the Dominican Republic. We fed them some, played with them for an hour or so, sang silly songs, did a few silly skits, gave a testimony or two, and then gave an invitation for the Dominicans to ask Jesus into their hearts if they would like to be forgiven of their sins and go to heaven. Yes, we said Jesus died for them. No, we did not explain what that meant, or even why we needed a Savior in the first place. Repentance was not preached. It was simply A-B-C evangelism. Admit you are a sinner (what being a sinner actually means wasn’t important enough to discuss, except perhaps to say that everyone does bad things sometimes). Believe Jesus died for you (how did He die for us, the issue of justification, wasn’t really presented). Confess your sins to Jesus (you would think this might mean repent, but no, it basically meant to tell Jesus you wanted to go to heaven, and wanted him to come into your heart).
So of course, “hundreds” of souls were saved on this trip, because we asked them to pray that prayer that would magically save them. Now I had been skeptical of the evangelistic methods of my Christian school for quite some time at this point, but this reached rock bottom. And I wasn’t alone. Two of my other friends saw the manipulation, the absence of repentance being preached, the skimming over of our sinfulness and what Christ did to save us from sin. While we decried these things privately, a few other students overheard us and scoffed at us, saying we were simply suppressing the Spirit, denying what God was doing down here.
It was at that point that I finally realized, in full measure, how this type of evangelism was ruining the Church. It dawned on me that most all mission trips done by my Christian school were likely very much like this, and that many of the students were imbibing this shallow evangelism as if it were gospel truth. The desire to experience and see God move so radically resulted in an unbiblical, sinful way of bringing about those desired ends, where now the willpower of man, coupled with a shallow, less offensive gospel was confused with the power of the Holy Spirit and the finished work of Christ on the cross. A very serious error indeed.
Getting Involved With the Baptist Student Union
Still, even after graduating high school, I had no desire to attend Christian college. I figured most of them were all like my Christian high school. After all, the colleges that came during chapel to pitch themselves seemed no different than what I had grown accustomed to. I didn’t realize at the time that it only made sense that a Christian school with free will theology would invite like minded Christian colleges to try and lure students to their campuses. I decided on attending a public university and major in English. To be honest, I just liked writing; I liked reading too, but not Shakespeare or poems. English was really my only option at the time, and I knew I would have to wade through the bits I didn’t care for.
I also wanted to involve myself with the Baptist Student Union, not because I was Baptist, but because it was the only Christian organization at the college. I didn’t know what to expect, if there would be many students there or not, if they would be serious about their faith or not. What I found, oddly enough, was that most everyone who went to the BSU were very sincere about their faith. I know this is because, at a public university, you have to seek out Christians and that godly atmosphere. At Christian schools, and even in Christian college, it is expected, it’s supposed to be the norm, and oftentimes parents are the ones who send their kids there, more so than the kids actually wanting to be there.
I talked to a guy named Lars at the BSU, who was a student in his last semester and headed up the Bible studies. I wanted to lead one, but that wasn’t something that a freshman usually did. He asked me what denomination I was, and I told him I was Presbyterian in the PCA. He said he liked Presbyterians, and then asked me if I was “reformed.” Reformed? What does that mean? I had no clue. I was about to tell him that I wasn’t sure what he was asking, but then I remembered my father, who went to Westminster Theological Seminary, sometimes talk about being reformed, and I thought maybe I had heard that once or twice at church. So, I decided to nod yes, I was reformed, because I was pretty confident that was what I was supposed to be, even though I had no idea what the word meant.
This very much pleased Lars. It turned out that he was reformed too. Then we started talking, and I really connected with the guy. To this day, he remains the most influential person in my Christian walk, and was the key person that God used to bring me to Calvinism, even though I only knew him for one semester. I still remember how, on that first day I met him when he asked me if I was reformed, he told me to check out Paul Washer on YouTube. I did so, and found the famous shocking youth message.
Paul Washer's Message Changed My Life
Paul Washer’s message changed my life. More than any sermon, any praise and worship song, this hour-long message turned my world upside down. The Spirit moved in my powerfully. Everything that was wrong with Christianity and the Christian school I went to, Paul Washer addressed. Not only did he rightly diagnose and point out its problems (some of which I had yet to realize myself), he gave a solution to them. That solution was the gospel, the true gospel. Particularly, it was the supernatural nature of the gospel, how God alone grants faith and repentance through regeneration. This passionate, gospel centered, monergistic message had a profound effect on my thinking. I had an 8 AM class the next morning, but watched that hour long message three times, back to back to back, the first time by myself, the second time I called a friend and made him watch it from his house with me, and the third time I called my Dad and made him watch it with me from his home.
It was through Lars and a few other Calvinists at the BSU that I was introduced to the doctrines of grace. Really, I studied them for hours as soon as I heard of them. Quickly I accepted them, in less than a month. I was missing classes because I was staying up all night learning from the Word of God and from gifted, reformed teachers.
Lars Suggested I Start a Blog
At the end of the first semester, Lars was set to graduate, and I was set to take his place as Christian growth coordinator. I knew I wasn’t ready for that. I was a Calvinist for only about three months, and now I was to lead the other Bible study leaders, who would in turn lead the masses. That was too much responsibility for an ignorant freshman. On top of that, I had a strong yearning to quit college, to take a semester off and simply study the Word of God, and to return home and share this new gospel, the true gospel, with some of my old high school friends.
That is precisely what I ended up doing. The way I did it, firstly, was through blogging. Lars suggested that I start a blog, so I did. Actually, I just used notes on Facebook and posted on there. I cannot explain to you the madness, the anger, the vitriol with which my blogs were greeted. Granted, I was angry, and I wrote angry at times. The tone more than suggests that. At the same time, I was challenging very fundamental beliefs of many of my Christian friends, and they didn’t like it. I was getting blocked by the dozens, and had a major fiasco when I wrote about a former student who I said was outright lying about many things, and yet was on his way to becoming a pastor at the age of 20.
Over time, I have learned to season my words with salt. I blog much more evenly now, trying to speak the Truth in love, which simply means speaking the Truth boldly in such a way that everyone understands you are not doing this because you want them to see how wrong they are, but because you want to show them how concerned you are that they are wrong. I try to write so others can see that yes, we are getting many things wrong, including the gospel, in Christianity, but also that this stuff matters, that it is rightly understanding God that increases our love for God by the power of the Holy Spirit, and if our love for God is increased, our lives will be increasingly lived out for Him, not for ourselves.
Calvinism Increased My Evangelistic Zeal
In the end, it’s about glorifying God, and Calvinism does that, because Calvinism is simply what the Bible teaches. When I first understood that I never would have chosen to trust in Christ as Savior unless He made me willing to do so, and that the difference between me the believer and the unbeliever was nothing but the blood of Christ and the grace of God, this actually increased my evangelistic zeal. Before I was a Calvinist, I was too afraid and too ignorant to share the gospel. After I became a Calvinist, I shared the gospel as if it was the secret to curing cancer (because it is, and then some). The one thing that changes you more than any other when you understand Calvinism, is that Christ alone melts our hearts of stone. We have no willpower, and thus, we are totally reliant on the grace and mercy of God. I don’t get heaven because I asked Christ to give it to me. I get heaven because Christ died for me, and His sacrifice secured my belief. When you understand that, you understand that you didn’t sign a contract with God, that you didn’t administer salvation by your own willpower, healing your cancer, but rather He signed a contract with you before the world began, and He applied the saving ointment, the blood of Christ, by giving you faith as a gift, not something you create by your own will. He chose to save you, to change you, to make you willing, to grow you in the faith.
I finally realized what it meant to be called. I understood that salvation had a purpose, and that purpose wasn’t that God couldn’t bear the thought of sinners getting what they deserved, but rather, God’s purpose was to glorify Himself, through His grace and mercy as well as His wrath and justice. That difference is profound- it is the difference between having a man-centered view of God and His purposes, and a God-centered view of God and His purposes. I began to see that everything we do, should be done to glorify God, and indeed that there was a way in which we must understand God in order to do things for His glory.
God-Centered, Not Man-Centered
In short, Calvinism taught me that God wasn’t saying “Will you please do this for Me?” but rather, “I chose to save you, I will do this for you, and for my name’s sake, for my glory, and for your greatest joy .” I became God dependent, not self-dependent; more God-centered, less man-centered. I trusted in the power of the Holy Spirit, not the power of my own will. I realized that in myself, I have no power of will. Ever since then, I have been staying right in that lane. I think the narrow road is trusting in the power of God, his sovereignty, His Spirit, and giving up on self altogether. How else will we resist the sinful flesh? How else will we resist the wiles of the devil? How else will we stay on the narrow road that leads to eternal life? We are to live and walk by the Spirit. The flesh profits nothing. God is shaping and directing the entire course of human history according to His predestined plan. I have been called as a vessel, a means by which He shapes the world, and shapes me.
It is to this end that I strive, by the grace of God, and it is to this end that I hope you will strive too, by the grace and power of God.
'I remember being a freshman in high school, believing heart and soul that I would wait for marriage to have sex. I'd never kissed a boy, and I didn't plan on it until I was engaged. Fast-forward four or five years, and I've made out for fun, for comfort, for love and for revenge. Fast-forward another two or three years, and I'm sleeping with someone I'm not even dating. Why does it happen? Because we are broken people. And because God created sex and physical affection as a phenomenal part of what is meant to heal us: intimate, committed love with another human being. But when we don't know how our body and heart work, we tend to do long-term damage to ourselves instead of long-term good.'
'If God is to be glorified through our gifts, we must rely on him, which can be hard, especially when it comes to our strengths. When you lead your Bible study, do you wing it because you are intelligent and quick on your feet, or do you commit yourself to prayer and reflection because you need God’s help? When you swing a hammer in Katrina relief, is it in dependence on God for his glory or are you just another humanitarian doing a good thing for hurting people? God doesn’t get the glory when we do good things on our own. He gets glory when we do good things in the strength he supplies by his Spirit.'
'The following is not an attempt to track and categorize all of the concepts of “sin” in the book of 1 John. To do that one would need to look at walking in darkness, loving the world, not keeping commandments, not practicing righteousness, idolatry, etc. Rather, I simply want to highlight some of the various ways that John instructs us to think about what he explicitly calls “sin” (ἁμαρτ–).'
'How often do you think of heaven and rejoice as you think of it? Does it give you a sense of strangeness and of fear, and a desire, as it were, to avoid it? If it does so to any degree, I fear we must plead guilty that we are living on too low a level. Thoughts of heaven ought to make us rejoice and be exceeding glad. True Christian living is to be like Paul and to say, `to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.’ Why? Because it means, `to be with Christ; which is far better,’ to see Him and to be like Him. Let us think more about these things, realizing increasingly, and reminding ourselves constantly, that if we are in Christ these things are awaiting us. We should desire them above everything else. Therefore, `Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.’
'The daunting statistics about church going youth keep rolling in. Panic ensues. What are we doing wrong in our churches? In our youth ministries? It’s hard to sort through the various reports and find the real story. And there is no one easy solution for bringing all of those “lost” kids back into the church, other than continuing to pray for them and speaking the gospel into their lives. However, we can all look at the 20-somethings in our churches who are engaged and involved in ministry. What is it that sets apart the kids who stay in the church? Here are just a few observations I have made about such kids, with a few applications for those of us serving in youth ministry.'
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Good luck trying to live in the image of God if you can't even figure out who He is or what He's like. Take today's topic for example: If God is a Trinity -one being, in three persons- then that means some things for how we live out His image. If there's one God (James 2.19), and the Father and Jesus are both the only God (1 Corinthians 8.6 and 1 John 5.20), and yet they are both different (Matthew 24.36), and on top of that we also have the Holy Spirit thrown in the mix (John 14.16-17 and Acts 5.3-4), then all of that gets played out into what it means to represent God's nature as people who are made in His image. And if Jesus also submits to the Father, even though they're equals, then that really changes some things. What we know about God being three, and at the same time one, gets played out for us in community, in sexuality, and family. God is Yahweh (one) and yet also the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (three). If we can see Him clearly, then we'll begin to understand what it looks like to be a human being -or a human community- fashioned after the holy three-and-one Image of God.
The Father In Sex, Community, and Family Roles
Can you live the human life without being around other people? No. God didn't create just one person when He spoke the world into existence and formed Adam from the dust; He said 'It is not good for man to be alone' and made a woman to be with him (Genesis 2.18). This is sexuality and family. And it means something. One of the great things about being married has been where Kendra and I realize that we're representing God in a way that we never could have alone: I lead my home and (with mixed success so far) care for Kendra, and I come up with the basic vision of where our lives are going as husband and wife; Kendra, even though she's my equal, trusts me and supports that vision (with mixed success). We're representing the Trinity as a married couple: even though the Father and Jesus Christ are equally and totally God, the Father alone knows the plan for how history is going to unfold and Jesus follows His lead on that (Matthew 24.36). In our marriage, Kendra follows my lead, like Jesus, and I do planning like the Father. And if Kendra and I weren't married, cultural roles would fill the void: all people are made equal, but some are national leaders (Kings) or spiritual leaders (Priests), and even though we're equals we are still under their authority - we submit to them just like Jesus submits to the Father. Submission isn't like a UFC 'I'm tapping because you've got me in a kimura armbar and I've lost' sort of thing, it's just choosing to say 'Hey, I'll follow your lead.' So God the Father is the leader in the Trinity, and we represent Him by stepping up into leadership roles in our communities and families (or, by being like Jesus and following the lead of someone else).
Papa God Don't Have No Body
The other thing is that we represent the Father by just being visible. He is the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). He does not need eyes to see, or ears to hear, or a mouth to speak, or a stomach for digestion, or anatomical structure for the creation of offspring. He is beyond that. There isn't really one specific shape or a body that we can point to and say 'THAT'S what God looks like!' This is why God appears in all sort of different ways in the Old Testament: As a fire in Exodus 3.1-6; as a whirlwind and a pillar of fire in Exodus 13.21-22; or as a shining cloud in Leviticus 16.2. God does not have a physical form because, as Jesus said, "The Father... is spirit" (John 4.24). So when people say, “I think the Image of God means that we look like Him,” there are a lot of problems that come with that. God is infinite and beyond comprehension – and having a body like ours makes Him little more than some kind of ascended human being (which is what the Mormons believe). It takes away from His omnipresence –the teaching that God is everywhere at once- and ties Him to a specific place wherever His body is. Teaching that God has a physical form lowers our view of who He is. We are God's visible image, not because we're filling some kind of gap that God can't fill on His own, but because God can't be reduced to some bodily, visible form.
What This Means In Everyday Life
Like I have written over the past couple of posts, what we do reflects what kind of God we believe in. If we're visible liars, we show the world that we believe in an invisible God whose character is full of deceit. If we visibly neglect gender roles in our marriages, we show the world that we do not believe the Father leads or cares for the other members of the Trinity. When we go a step beyond that and visibly endorse gay marriages, we show the world that we believe there's no difference between the members of the Trinity at all. But if we accept the roles of parent, husband, king (national leader), and priest (Christian leader), and submit to the people who embody those roles, then we are carrying on in the tradition of God the Father - a tradition that started within the character of Yahweh Himself. If we shirk responsibility and rebel against authority, then we shirk the Image of God and rebel against the Lord who made us. And that's a heavy thing to think about. All this abstract stuff is practical.