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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
- Marc Heinrich

His posts are either funny or challenging. He is very friendly and nice.
- Rose Cole

[He has] good posts, both the serious like this one, and the humorous like yesterday. [He is] the reason that I have restrained myself from making Canadian jokes in my posts.
- C-Train

This post contains nothing that is of any use to me. What were you thinking? Anyway, it's probably the best I've read all day.
- David Kjos

Daniel, nicely done and much more original than Frank the Turk.
- Jonathan Moorhead

There are some people who are smart, deep, or funny. There are not very many people that are all 3. Daniel is one of those people. His opinion, insight and humor have kept me coming back to his blog since I first visited earlier this year.
- Carla Rolfe
 
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Thursday, July 31, 2008
What's My Passion?
Whether it has always been this way, or whether this is some innovation peculiar to my generation, or my locale (or both), yet I see few believers who actually have a faith that does anything.

My passion is to see immature believers mature into productive, fruitful, and dare I say it, overflowing-with-joy, believers.

One would think that maturity is a natural and inevitable by-product of time spent as a believer. If you have been a Christian for twenty years - you are mature, and if you have been a Christian for 20 months, you are immature. But this is a flawed model.

To understand how spiritual maturity comes about, let's examine briefly physical maturity.

First let's set the clock back an hundred years. Why? Because an hundred years ago there was no such category as "teenager" in our thinking. You were either a child, or an adult - there was no group of people who were unilaterally recognized as being in between childhood and adulthood - that category is a very recent innovation, and it has to do with the unforeseen fallout of a good idea.

Let me 'splain.

Not too long ago, underprivileged children were often made to work in the most deplorable conditions, while privileged children were sent to schools etc. This deplorable state could not long be tolerated by a gentle society, and so public education was made a "right" for all children - in fact, it was against the law to not go to school.

The problem with this setup was that children were legislated to remain in school even after they had passed through puberty. Their parents were required to continue supporting them in this endeavor, and suddenly we have a new class of people - adults (physically) who are denied the expectations and responsibilities of adulthood.

This unnatural, protracted childhood really is a very new thing - though it is so universal, most of us don't realize how novel it is. In our generation, our first few years of (physical) adulthood are spent being trained and brainwashed to believe that we are simply not mature enough to be adults yet - which is why we see so many twenty and thirty somethings emotionally trapped in adolescence - they learned to accept what was being fed to them as true (you are not ready yet!), and the scar of that is with them to this day. Yes, I am over simplifying it, because that isn't my main point. It is enough to say that the first years of our adulthood are formative years, these were the years where formerly men and woman would be introduced to the mantles they were to wear and carry for the rest of their lives - it was the time when young adults took on full adult responsibilities and under the weight of those responsibilities - through trial and error, failure and success - grew in maturity.

The plain truth is that expectations and responsibilities --produce-- maturity. Just as a muscle that is constantly stressed gains strength. Do you want to see your children grow into responsible people? Don't say - you can't do that, you're not old enough - instead give them a responsibility that you are sure they can't handle (nothing dangerous though - good gravy!), and watch them grow. Monitor them and you will be amazed that rather than prove your assessment of their inability correct, these little ones will rise to the challenge, and become responsible!

Not that I am offering parenting advice here. But take it as needed.

What I am trying to show however is the link between expectation and maturity. If we tell a person that they are too immature to do a thing, they will never mature enough to do the thing. We might think of that as a self-fulfilling prophesy, but really it is more than that - it isn't merely that they hear the same thing over and over and start to have a psychological complex about the thing so that they need a self esteem boost to correct their self doubt; allow me to sneer at that... Pffffft! I say. No, it is that they have no meat on the muscle, and by long standing habit they no longer care to even bother exercising it. They have learned to cope with their lack.

Let's move the discussion back to the spiritual now.

The worst thing in the Christian world is a believer who has never had any serious expectations placed on him (or her), and in the absence of such expectation has lived a rather immature Christian life - and worse, has done so for so long, that Christianity has become a thing they cope with
. They know something is wrong, but they have come to terms with the idea that it'll probably never be fixed, and really, why bother? I mean, they are old dogs, and why bother with new tricks...

When was the last time your church practiced church discipline? When was the last time your pastor preached on the "hard sayings" of Christ? When was the last time you heard from the pulpit that God actually expects something more from you than showing up on Sunday? When was the last time that you heard that unless you love your church more than your life there is something terminally wrong with your faith? When was the last time you heard anyone tell you that unless you get up and run the race, you are going to get kicked out of the assembly?

You see, not to many people like the idea of a winnowing fan. You know, you pour the grain, chaff and all, out on the winnowing floor, and the one with the winnowing fan whips that fan up and down, creating the draft that blows the chaff away from the falling grain, so that only the grain lands in the pile, and the chaff is removed? Who wants a pastor or a preacher who is going to preach a sermon that winnows the chaff?

We want to hear messages on how to be happy and how to have joy, and we want to have nice meals with pleasant company - we don't want to do anything as believers that would make us uncomfortable, because we don't understand that being uncomfortable is the only way you grow. We think you grow by hearing sermons - by educating yourself. We think of growth as an academic by-product, and we think of those who can present theological truths accurately as being spiritually elevated, and those who can't as being spiritually normative.

My passion, my deep passion, is to see Christians mature, and maturity comes not from teaching, but from doing. Take up the mantle of expectations, and however poorly you fail to carry it - get yourself under it. So what if you stagger, and seem a fool to yourself not knowing which direction to carry the load, or how to balance it, or if you are carrying it as efficiently as possible - just get under it, and start for goodness sake!

Can I take a moment to address a problem?

What Christian do you know that hasn't labored under the burden of trying to see the line between our own carnal effort and God's spiritual provision? Do we try to pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps, work with all our might in the flesh and then tell ourselves at the end of the day that God did it all? Do we instead lay about waiting for God to miraculously impart to us some irresistible foreign desire that suddenly causes us to love doing whatever God asks of us so that no work is unpleasant, and all is done as though we were carried through our Christian walk by a team of angels as we lounge on a bed of eider down? How do we do the Christian life without doing it all in our own strength??

Here is how. Recognize that when you become a believer, it is like entering into adulthood - you now are ready for (and expected to perform) those responsibilities that God has placed upon you. He has prepared good works for you to walk in before you were ever saved - and scripture is not silent on what these are. I mean, seriously, if your neighbor was replacing pavement stones, and God appeared on your lawn as you were watching him and commanded you right there and then to "LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR" - and pointed at the guy... you probably wouldn't have to have it spelled out for you, but you would go over there and start helping. You wouldn't ask God to "give you the strength and wisdom" to go and do it - you would just do it and -trust- that God has a reason for you to do so. It isn't the work that is going to make you grow, it is the trust that God is having you do it for a reason that is going to make you grow.

To be sure, there is a poison to our faith that works like this: I expect there to be some sort of spiritual vibe associated with doing what is expected of me. Yeah, God commands this and that - but I want to -KNOW- if I should be doing this or that, and until I know for sure, I will stay here paralyzed by my own laziness that I have dressed up as an exalted piety. Don't do that. If you don't know what to do, do both.

"But!", someone will object, "I have had a wonderful experience where God has delivered me from such and such, or done some great thing! What you are saying doesn't line up with my experience."

To that I say, I have had some amazing experiences, maybe even more amazing than your own, and I glorify God for what He has done in and through such means - yet God does not want to leads us around by putting a bit of experiences in our equine mouths, he commands us not to be as dumb as donkeys that have to be led around thus - but to learn what His will is and do it.

What I see however is not Christians doing God's will so much as I see Christians doing "church" - they come, they attend, they go to all the special meetings, and they have small, internal cliques for ministries - and they go twenty years without leading a soul to Christ, because "that's not their gift".

Listen: in a church where the winnowing fan is out, those kind don't last - the wind will press the chaff away from the grain - they will be "driven out" by expectations, by responsibility - by the command to grow mature. But the grain will rise flourish, learning little by little - from glory to glory, if you will, to surrender themselves to the life of Christ in practical ways - daily. They may grow weary, but they will not tire out, and there will be refreshing.

When you step into a church where everyone loves you more than they love themselves, it is not the same as stepping into a church where people put on plastic smiles over empty hearts and play their role till the clock strikes noon, and warmly shake your hand as they exit the building and re-enter the life that was momentarily put on hold so that they could perform their religious duty.

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posted by Daniel @ 11:37 AM   7 comment(s)
What Would Happen To Your Faith If Extraterrestrials Made Contact Today?
I think most of the *serious* Christians giggle at the absurdity of this question - having long passed the "what if I got it all wrong?" stage; that is, having come to so deep a conviction that the word of God is true, that they find the question on par with something like - what would you do if spontaneously you changed genders three times a day? That is, they regard the question as so ridiculous, they would not be able to give a serious answer to it (ask a foolish question... get a.. you know how that works).

Yet this is the sort of question that one might be asked when sharing their faith, and the one asking it may conclude that the steadfastness of your conviction comes from a sort of brainwashed inability to think abstractly. One of the least helpful ways of sharing one's faith is to present it as though it were not open to reason. To be sure, faith in Christ is not only reasonable, it is rational and intelligent. Granted, one cannot come to faith unless God grants it, so it is more than a mere intellectual (read carnal) decision - but it is not an irrational one. That being true, we may think of ourselves as grand defenders of the one true faith when we laugh off some worldlings questions because they are premised on what we understand to be a ridiculous precept, but ridicule and scorn of anyone else's beliefs is not the best way to demonstrate the validity of one's own faith. If my religion -is- the one true religion, I should not fear any challenge against it.

So the question before me is what would happen to my faith if extraterrestrials made definitive contact with earth? Would my faith come crumbling down?

I would have to say, "probably".

The bible fits reality like a zillion fingered glove; extending the metaphor, if that glove could be made to not fit perfectly, that would really mess up my faith.

I know there are some Christians who would take it in stride and not even blink - because their faith is sort of a touchy-feely, not grounded in scripture kinda faith - a kind of balloon-headed "Christianity is nice" faith, that is so undefined and amorphous it wouldn't be penetrated even by an alien visit. I know also that there would be other Christians who tend to pick and choose what can be believed, and some of these who already cling to some of the bible, but ignore the rest - these could assimilate aliens easily enough - even trying to convert them as though they were part of Adam's fallen race.

But I don't think my faith could overcome something like that.

Now, whenever I read of aging astronauts telling their story about how someone on the "inside" told them that aliens are real - I chuckle. When I see various videos and hear that hundreds of witnesses have seen something in the sky, I yawn. When I learn that aliens are crossing billions of miles of space to come and alternately crash on our planet, hide in windows, make patterns in fields, or probe the orifices of people who are starved for attention, I tend to raise a dubious, and even skeptical eyebrow - not because I am Christian, but because I find it hard to believe that beings so profoundly advanced in technology that they are out there circumnavigating the universe, would come and buzz around our backwater globe like a bunch of hornets all the while unilaterally agreeing to keep their presence a secret, except for the occasional abduction here and there, and the visiting of people in remote areas.

It seems to me that if there were any aliens, there would be many aliens. I don't care how big the universe is, I can't imagine a plethora of aliens hovering around our planet - each harboring some unfathomable interest in our body cavities, playing hide and seek, and all the while having a mutual consent amongst themselves to remain aloof. That is, I would expect that if someone is advanced enough to cross the gulf of space and take an interest in our self destructive race - you would think they might make their presence known - to at least one country on the globe.

Likewise, I find it highly unlikely (read: chortlingly milk-coming-out-of-my-nose ridiculous) that the governments "know" about the aliens, but unilaterally have agreed with one another that no one country was allowed to spill the beans. Which is to say that the idea of a secret, government visitation, unknown to the general populace is categorically several notches higher on the "ridiculous scale" than aliens visiting at all.

All of which is to say that I don't need to be a man of faith to be a skeptic - I need only be a man of reason.

Yet my faith is not an empty thing - I don't just "believe" - I have to believe something. Faith isn't a commodity that one possesses, unless that faith is placed in something. I trust that [1] there is a God, and [2] He has made Himself known to His creation [3] first through His interactions with Adam and Eve, [4] then through their witness to their children, [5] eventually through the witness of men like Noah and Abraham, and [6] finally through prophets and oracles who recorded that witness as scripture. I believe that [7] God is not only able to, but actively working to keep this testimony about Himself "correct" - so that my faith is, primarily in God's revealed testimony about Himself, creation, its fall, and God's plan for redemption.

If aliens landed, my faith in scripture would erode, and the moment I can't believe even one part of scripture (such as the creation), I am left to presume that "God" can't (or won't) keep His testimony pure, and if that testimony is tainted, I cannot be sure of any of it - so that I cannot have faith, for all is undone.

Thus a question like "what about aliens" reveals (or ought to reveal) what our faith is, and what it is not. I wouldn't shy away from answering a question like that, or laughing it off, and I certainly wouldn't feel guilty about saying my faith would erode - it would, because it is more than just some decision or feeling, it is a faith that is founded upon God's surety, His ability, and, really, His faithfulness.

Anyway, I gotta leave for work.

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posted by Daniel @ 7:36 AM   16 comment(s)
Friday, July 25, 2008
I think Obama is going to win it.
Yeah. I am a Canadian who doesn't really follow 'merican politics; but from my ivory tower of ignorance I feel more than qualified to make an unsubstantiated guess.

It isn't only because Obama is the media darling, though that is certainly an undeniable factor - whatever gets put into the trough, the cattle tend to eat - and while comparing the voting public to unconcerned bovine consumers is probably more than a little simplistic, I feel (again), that my "ivory tower of ignorance" perspective is at least free from that sort of myopia that happens when one is in the thick of it.

The long drawn out Democratic campaign has only helped the democrats, who by hogging the media spotlight for months on end - simultaneously put the republicans in the "who cares about them right now" category. The problem with being left in the ditch like that, is that once the road is paved, people tend to stick to it. I may be wrong, but it does seem that Mr. Obama is tripling Mr. McCain in the media coverage department...

From one outsider's (Canadian) perspective, the presidency seems to represent more than the political office itself, the one who holds the office becomes the person who represents to the world, the nation of America. If that person is soft or hard on an issue, America is soft or hard on an issue. Not to overstate the point - but the presidential image is projected upon the whole national, and the image of the nation upon the president.

If the US buys up the world resources, someone is going to conclude that it does so at the expense of poorer nations. Rather than despise the poverty, they will be galled by those who are are prosperous, and the US will be judged by many as arrogant, uncaring, interfering, and evil - and the president who puts the US first, is going to be considered a great adversary by those who conclude that the failure of one nation is inevitably caused by the success of another.

There is an association therefore between the world-wide opinion of the USA and the image of its president, and that association, I humbly submit, may be local as well as external - that is, shallow thinking is by no means limited to those abroad, but is well and thriving locally too. I speak of a hunch I have that the thirty and under crowd, those who have been pabulum fed celebrity-ism from the cradle, those who judge by whatever image is presented to them by the media - who have no habit in themselves of digging deeper than what is presented to them - the children who are discontent because the media tells them to be that way, and having in their generation an education system that has become the endorser of all things liberal - well, I am just saying that there is likely a programmed mindset - a subconscious predilection to succumb rather uncritically to media programming.

I could be wrong, but if this generation takes its instruction in truth from the media (and I think for a large part that it does), then we need only look to the media darling to see who the next president will be - given my observation - unschooled as it is - that politically speaking, McCain isn't all that conservative; I just don't see McCain being able to really generate a buzz; that is, I expect his platform will be 80% gain-saying, and 20% of "poorly covered by the media" platform - and that may not be enough to move the conservative base to support him "just because he is a republican".

I hope I am really missing the boat here, but honestly, as an outside observer I see a younger, hipper, articulate media darling, someone who knows how to dress "conservative casual" and come across as a family man vs. a strikingly older (but not in a kind and grandfatherly way) guy in a very stiff suit. (When was the last time a guy in a stiff suit won the presidency?). Either way, I shouldn't mind some enlightened opinions on this. I don't count myself as politically astute, and as it isn't my nation, I don't really get how your politics work; it seems like most of your moral laws are created by a hand picked panel of judges who were never elected but were "appointed for life" by the political flavor of their day, that your constitution is subject to more interpretational woes than scripture - and I still don't know if congressmen are the same as senators.

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posted by Daniel @ 10:56 AM   8 comment(s)
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
But I Disagree With Everyone...
Whenever I preach or teach in an official capacity for my congregation, I preach from the King James Version or from the New King James Version of the bible, but I don't believe these to be the best translations, and if I had my say, I wouldn't be preaching and teaching from them, but I would probably be using (primarily) the NASB and the ESV.

Not because the former are no longer vogue, or because I hate old things, or because I think it is a good trend to jump on the latest, greatest translations - but simply because I like accuracy, and as a teacher I believe the NASB is simply more accurate a translation than the KJV - in fact, I think the underlying manuscripts from which the NASB is translated is superior to those from which the KJV was translated, and I hold that opinion very strongly.

Why, then, you might ask, do I teach out of the KJV and NKJV when I teach in my church?

Because our constitution mandates it.

Or rather, because godly men whom the Lord in His sovereignty has placed over me - these men determined that we should be using only the KJV and NKJV from the pulpit and for teaching - and I believe that if God, in His sovereignty has allowed these men to be leaders in the church, and has allowed this to become one of the rules by which we minister - then I submit myself to their authority, as is right and proper. They will give an answer for their decisions and conduct, and I shall have to answer for mine.

My opinions are well known in my congregation - I make no secret that I think there was a little bit of thinly veiled KJVO-ism happening at the time these were brought into our constitution, and as many as are willing to discuss why I find the other translations superior - these same discover that my opinions are neither frivolous nor shallow in the matter. Yet even if I believe that the rules that presently govern our conduct in the pulpit are "wrong" - I am satisfied to submit myself to them - for the sake of unity, and because I trust to God's sovereignty - there is a reason this was permitted, and though I hope to correct this present restriction, I do not regard it as something to be tossed aside just because I think I know better.

If God allows, we will be preaching from the NASB and ESV soon enough. Yet I would hope that if began to preach from either of these bibles while our constitution still forbids it - that I would be called on it, and even disciplined for it.

I reason that when I became a member of a local congregation, I did so with the understanding that I was becoming a part of a body - a piece in a puzzle that God was putting together through the leadership of our leaders. I had to actually trust that God really does appoint leaders, and that as flawed as they were, part of my job as a member was to respect their leadership. So though I disagree with the translation choice, I do not buck the system because in order to follow my conscience - for I cannot follow my conscience on the one hand while stepping all over it on the other.

What is more important, that I humble myself before my congregation and trust the Lord even when I think they might be mistaken, or that I trumpet their mistakes because it is better to be right than wrong.

Well, I don't cross the street just to tell someone I think they aren't all that attractive. I mean, it may well be true - but just because a thing is true doesn't mean God wants me to go say so. I mean, we aren't talking about defending the gospel here, we are talking about which is the better translation. I think if the "great awakening" is indicative at all, that the KJV is no slouch - I mean c'mon, it's a beauty, I just don't think it is as accurate as, say, the NASB. So my disagreement, even if I am right, really isn't as significant as -say- the unity in our church, or say, as submitting myself to the leadership. etc.

That is not to say that I sit with a zipped lip and pretend that I believe other than I do - rather it is to say that I believe that if my opinion is correct, that I am satisfied in God's sovereignty to wait for Him to either correct my opinion, or to correct the opinion of everyone else in my assembly - such that eventually, I will either come into line with what our constitution's praxis, or the constitution will come into line with what I believe - and that whatever happens, it will all happen in accord with God's will -- so that I do not resign my membership because of this disagreement but submit myself in trust to the guiding of the leadership, and trust God to work all things to good, just as He says He does in scripture.

What I hope I am modeling is how a member ought to deal with personal convictions that run contrary to the teaching of their local congregation. Can you say that everyone in your assembly feels the same way you do about say, tithing, or birth control? We have the "party line" and we are all expected to toe it - and the teachers are expected to show that this party line is biblical, and if they find something else that is more biblical or corrects that - they are to humbly show their folly, correct their ways, and call everyone in their congregation to the same.

Unity underscores this idea - but we draw the line when a thing is clearly (or seems clearly) wrong.

If man in our congregation marries his own mother or step mother, we are not called to ignore that. We should address it. But what if the man is a genuine believer?? What if he is the one who lead three quarters of the church to Christ? What if there is no doubt whatsoever that the fellow is soundly saved? What if he is so theologically proficient that he can build a seemingly consistent theological argument to defend his choice, and expresses that his conscience witnesses to him that this is allowed?

Do we, because he has a consistent theology, and because that theology agrees with our own theology ninety nine percent of the time - do we accept this perversion on the basis that he is convinced of his theology, and because his conscience seems unmoved by this?

No. Of course we don't. If I had a nickel for every time I heard an immature believer say that they prayed about some sinful habit, and God didn't make them feel guilty about it so that they feel they are okay in doing it - well, I should be wealthier today than I presently am. Our conscience is only as good/valid as the instruction it receives. Surely as we form our theology, our conscience gets on board...

When we get to the top of that hill, we see that whatever utterance our theology and our conscience mutters, is insufficient reason to accept as valid when our leaders have invalidated it. In the paraphrased words of Gamaliel, if a thing be of God, we cannot stop it, but a thing be of man, it will come to nothing even if we leave it alone. There is much wisdom in that, especially as we consider whether or not the paedobaptist, who joins himself to the baptist church, ought to get "re"-baptized...

You see all your theology and conscience counts for a hill of beans when you seek to put yourself under the spiritual responsibility of those who do not hold the same theological opinions. You cannot, as a paedobaptist, expect people to take responsibility for your soul if you refuse to surrender yourself to their spiritual instruction. If they say your baby baptism is not valid, and call you to respond as a believer in obedience to the ordinance that Christ commands - and you refuse to do that, what you are saying is that you will --not-- put yourself under this leadership, and the moment you do that, you demonstrate your unfitness for membership.

If on the other hand, you understand scripture through a covenantal framework such that you believe strongly that your baptism as a babe was a valid baptism, and that to submit yourself to elders who would call you to do something that would (in your estimation) endorse error - and so because of your conscience you find yourself unwilling to be re-baptized - then my advice to you is that you probably don't belong in that assembly.

But what of the person who finds themselves with no other alternative but to attend a church where they believe differently? I say, hogwash to that. No other alternative? Pffft. Look you lazy sloth, the Queen of Sheba crossed half the earth to listen to King Saul speak, and on the day of judgment she will rise up and call your lazy butt out on the tiles - for if she who was far more important than you, was so concerned about truth that she crossed half the earth to hear it - she proved that if someone really wants something, they can make it happen - and you will have nothing to say for yourself. Do you have to travel by car for an hundred miles. By bus for 200? Boo-hoo. Sorry if I have no sympathy here, but frankly, with churches on every street corner, I find it difficult to imagine that anyone in the first world would be unable to find a fellowship close enough to their own beliefs to be a member of.

Usually we pick our congregations not according to their beliefs, but according to that horrible consumer mentality - whether or not we find the speaker engaging (read: entertaining) enough. We don't look for a place to serve, we look for a place that is going to serve us - and it is into this sort of consumerism that people end up wanting to join churches that they like the speaker, but hate the church in.

I don't think we are called to facilitate for these. If they are genuine, they will join themselves and serve, and whatever doctrinal difference they bring in with them will either be scrubbed out of them, or persist until God changes everyone else.

I say we draw the line for membership at whether or not you are willing to serve under the directly of the leaders or not.

Not that I have an opinion on the matter.

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posted by Daniel @ 1:01 PM   9 comment(s)
Friday, July 18, 2008
If You Were In Your Coffin Right Now...
I dreamed last night that I was in a coffin, and that this was because I was going to die sometime in the night - and I guess it was just convenient to have me in the coffin already. Dreams are weird like that.

What was interesting was that I knew I was going to die, and I had the opportunity - if only in my dream, to examine my regrets, in that I was able to examine why I wanted to live.

Do you think it was that I was afraid to die? In my dream I wasn't I wasn't afraid of where I would go, or whether it would hurt too much, or any such thing.

Do you think I was worried that my life hadn't given Christ enough glory? Perhaps there was layered into other things, the flavor of this, but in and of itself, that wasn't really there.

My grand concern was that I hadn't finished my life's greatest work - my children. I saw in a moment all the times I had set them aside to pursue my own interests, how often I assume I can make up for it all later - and how in my dream I understood the error of banking on tomorrow. I regretted that I wouldn't be around to correct my mistakes, and I wouldn't be around to bring up my children the way I felt I am commissioned to by our Lord.

When people are on their death bed, they don't seem to be too interested in the fleeting things that tickle our attentions when we are otherwise preoccupied with the world. I knew a man who spent his life in a good moral way, but who coming to the end of his life counted his life as wasted, having said in his own words, that he now knew and understood that his life was supposed to have been "all about Jesus". The man came to real faith in those last weeks, and how that comforted us who knew both him and the Lord. For it could not be more clearly stated by an Oxford scholar.

Part of my regret, in my dream, was that I loved my family, and even the love I had for them was insufficient to move me to carry out the charge my Lord gave me regarding them. I love my wife, but have I loved her like Christ loved the church? I love my family, but have I put them before myself in all things? From a worldly perspective I suppose I am an excellent husband and father. If I were to judge myself according to the world and its relative scale - I would surely find myself on the better side of the mean - but these worldly comparisons give no comfort at all to one who is going to be judged not according to this world's standards, but according to God's standards - according to the stewardship that was given by God, and not this world...

There is a sensation of being pummeled by knowledge, when one begins to sense a parting of the fog, and with the clarity of a thousand sun's illumination they comprehend that as great as their affection is for their family, it is not sufficient for the biblical demand - there is not enough affection in myself, or in the greatest humanitarian alive to suffice for the love that is required of me - to love with God's love is not to apply my beggared affections with greater vigor - but whatever it is, begins with the acknowledge that even my best is as dung, and that even the certainty of my own lack is no doubt the Lord's grace for in removing the darkness from my eyes, and allowing me to see myself the dry, broken well that I am, I begin to appreciate the madness of imagining that I could ever impart anything other than dust and decay to those who would come looking from me to have their thirst slaked in any sense at all.

No: the cross is the place where we die to thinking we have it in ourselves. We don't. We lack even the ability to love the right way - to love as God loves. Don't get me wrong, those affection we enjoy for people whose lives touch our own, these are not weak or dispassionate - they are just self serving in a way that God's love is not, and cannot be. How can these which are weak and faulty do an unyielding, and even an uncompromising work? If it is true that these cannot do what is required, one must die to that line of thinking. One must not try harder, but one must lay it down and say, there is nothing in me that is sufficient - my life, is simply not good enough to generate what is needed - and in doing this we begin to understand the cross.

We come to our Savior with no illusions about our need - we cry out for provision not because we are weak and need strengthening, but because we are bankrupt - we have no straw to make the brick - and we call out to our taskmaster for the straw.

Anyway - that is what I think about when I dream about coffins.
posted by Daniel @ 10:22 AM   4 comment(s)
Friday, July 11, 2008
Implications
I apologize up front for the length...

Isaiah 55:11 says, "11So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. " [NASB]

We often skip the context when we use that verse to make a point, so in order to avoid that, let us examine the immediate context - just so that we don't make that mistake.

Of particular note is the Messianic reference in verses four and five, "4Behold, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5Behold, you will call a nation you do not know, and a nation which knows you not will run to you, because of the LORD your God, even the Holy One of Israel; for He has glorified you." [NASB]

The "you" of verse five is referrencing the Messiah (referred to as "David" in verse three). Isaiah is proclaiming God's announcement that His Christ will call to Himself "a nation you (Israel) do not know" - a reference to the Gentiles. Christ will call the Gentiles, and He will do so because "He (God the Father) has glorified you (Christ)". I don't think that is particularly fuzzy or obscure, and so I am not going to belabor the point.

In the next verses God proclaims through Isaiah the message that is going to be preached to this "nation Israel does not know": 6Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. 7Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." [NASB] - which we may note is exactly what Paul says He preached as "the gospel" (c.f. Acts 20:18a, 20-21, "18And when they had come to him, he said to them, "You yourselves know, ... 20how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. "

I highlighted the words faith and repentance because that is what God was proclaiming (through Isaiah) the Messiah would preach to the Gentiles, and that is exactly what Christ did, through the Apostles after His resurrection. Paul testifies through Luke (Acts) that this is what he was preaching.

We find verse eleven of Isaiah therefore, following a short "apology" (in the theological sense and not in the "I am sorry" sense) for this proclamation - where God basically says, through verses 8, 9, and 10 - that God's ways are not our ways, and that what He proclaims He will may not line up with the thoughts of the Jews - but God says here that His thoughts are far above their thoughts...

That is where verse eleven comes in - God declares that what He has said (about the Messiah calling the Gentiles) will absolutely come to pass - that this declaration shall not be empty, but that God will absolutely bring to pass the thing He has declared to do.

We shouldn't have a lot of difficulty, I think, in seeing that, or believing it. God is basically saying - look, I am going do this thing. I am going to make an everlasting covenant with my Messiah, and He is going to call the Gentiles - and regardless of what you think - I shall make it happen, for I am not speaking in emptiness - I shall make this happen.

I suppose I could repeat that ten ways, but you get the picture.

That is, I think what the verse is specifically teaching.

Yet there is more here than just the specific teaching - there is inherent in this proclamation, something instructional about God's character. That is, while the verse -does- have a specific meaning, it also reveals something of God's nature.

If someone were to ask us, "Does God ever fail to follow through on His word?" we may quote Isaiah 55:11 - but only if we are applying to what the text says about God's character.

I have seen people quote (and I myself have done this -- even on this blog) the text of Isaiah 55:11 text as a biblical proof text for the idea that every time scripture ("God's word") is employed (no matter by who, or for what purpose) it always produces some spiritual effect, -because- "God's word" does not return to Him void, but is successful in accomplishing whatever God sends it out to do.

You see, that is a very poor application of this verse.

It may well be that whenever scripture is employed God does something spiritual - but this verse doesn't "prove" that. All it "proves" is that what God said about the Messiah, would come to pass - and it did.

Yet, as I began to allude, this verse does reveal something of God's character - it shows that God accomplishes everything that He sets out to do. Although the point is obvious from this verse alone, the point does not stand in isolation. We see this truth portrayed throughout the whole of scripture in many places and many ways. Yet, the purpose of this post is not so much to expound on the text of Isaiah 55:11, so much as to examine the implications of what this text teaches us about the Character of God.

Would you agree dear reader, that God does not, and will not fail to do everything He sets out to do?

I think a lot of people are willing to go on record to say that God is sovereign - as long as they qualify what sovereignty means. It means (according to these) that God really does have control over everything -- except who goes to heaven.

Expressing that more carefully: it means that while God brings His will to pass in every other aspect of creation, when it comes to mankind, God's will is thwarted by mankind's free will. God's sovereignty (according to this schema) is now regarded as nothing more than his "right to rule" - God is sovereign, but only in the sense that He is the rightful Authority, that is, the reason we ought to obey God is because He is positionally sovereign over us.

Now the problem with having a fluctuating definition of sovereignty is that scripture never paints God's accomplishing His will as something that sometimes works and sometimes fails. God, in the witness of scripture - does - not - fail. I would even boldly submit, scripture shows that God cannot fail.

If we deny God's sovereignty in election, that is, if we say that God doesn't choose whom He will have mercy on, but rather leaves that up in the air - casting out a general invitation, and hoping that someone will answer it - we can paint over what is going on in the hues of sovereign sounding language, but even should we paint a photo-realistic horse on the side of an elephant, and even if in the right light we might only see a "horse" - we are still looking at an elephant.

Which is to say, that we can pay great lip service to the idea that God is sovereign - saying with unfeigned, pious humility that God sovereignly "chooses" to let man make the determining choice in His own election - but the moment we strip God of having any determining influence in the process - we actually are stripping God of real sovereignty.

This is where we make that theological choice that tells us something about our estimation of God's nature.


Peter tells us (in 2 Peter 3:9) that The Lord is patient toward us - not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. Likewise Paul says in his first letter to Timothy that God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (c.f. 1 Timothy 2:3-4). This sentiment cannot be thought of as some new testament change in God's character, for we read even in Ezekiel 18:23,32 that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked and would rather that the wicked would turn from his ways (repent) and live. We also see Paul expressing to Timothy and Titus something of God's nature when he writes that the living God is the Savior of all men, especially of believers (1 Timothy 4:10) and that the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men (Titus 2:11).

The picture we are painted by these (cherry picked) verses is that God is desperately trying to save everyone.

Now, without going into the exegesis for each verse - for people from both sides of this equation will have plenty of "proof" that the "only" right way to understand these verses is according to their theological conclusions - such that the text can "only mean" as much as supports their preconceived opinion.

We want, I say, to avoid that because it's been done, and frankly, people tend to come away from such "debates" - not softened in any way, but rather sharpened in their continuing ability to defend the position they have already, with longstanding fervor, dug their heels into, and while I hold very strong opinions in this regard, and while I am certain that my handling of these texts not only conforms to the conclusions I draw from them, but is the least injurious way to receive these texts - yet I will not here defend my understanding of them, and instead I ask what if anything these texts imply about God's nature.

Most of us can agree that God loves everyone. He lets the rain fall on the just and the unjust; that is, He lovingly provides sustenance (rain is needed for crops) for all men equally. Christ Himself demonstrated so much love for Judas Iscariot that when Christ proclaimed at the last supper that one of them would betray Him, no one suspected Judas. I mean, we can, for the most part, understand that God is not partial when it comes to provision and love. God loves His enemies, we are told, such if one wanted to argue that God didn't love the non-elect - it would be a pretty strained argument.

So we accept that even if scripture says that God loved Jacob, but not Esau - it cannot mean that this same God who loves even His enemies, had no such love for Esau; for God multiplied Esau and blessed him greatly. That is, we don't want to take a text like that and by it imply that God doesn't love everyone. If anything such a text shows us that God does not apply the same blessings to all unilaterally. Israel received the blessings according to God's promise, and Esau did not - though both were sons of Isaac. Isaac received the blessing and not Ishmael - though both likewise were son's of Abraham. We see in this text - at the very minimum - that there was a relationship between God's promise and God's blessing - and that this promise was not according to birthright, or anything that Ishmael or Esau did or did not do - but was in accord with God's purpose - a purpose that was in place before either of these were born.

That is, though the language of "love" is used here in scripture, we recognize that if God loves even his enemies, that what is being described here by the word "love" is referring to something that is not universal, but is according to God's purpose which He promised to fulfill.

I don't want to go off on too many tangents here - especially given that as I do so I give more opportunity for those people who disagree with some finer point to needle me in the meta about it rather than discuss the main point - yet I think I have not added too much or left out too little to begin a brief examination.

So getting back to the idea that we have to make a theological determination, based upon our understanding of God's nature, in order to handle verses that seem contrary - we must answer the question of whether or not a sovereign God can (or will) fail to make His will happen.

You see, if I presume that God -is- trying to save everyone in the world, I must deal with the implications of my presumption, not the least of which is that God -can- fail.

You have heard it said that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That is, if a man has only ever raped a child once - the chances are you are -not- going to let him babysit your little ones. That single act of violence marks the man as one who is not merely "theoretically" capable of something heinous - but as one who has demonstrated both the desire, and the capacity to carry out such a thing. The child rapist has lost forever the 'benefit of the doubt' as it were, when it comes to babysitting children. We reason that if he could do it once, he could do it again - and whether or not he does is not the issue with most parents - but that we dare not provide an opportunity him to give into that temptation.

The child rapist may live an exemplary life - a life of profound ethical and moral "regeneration" - yet all his piety, good works, and "niceness" - whether or not the man is trustworthy with a dollar, a job, or some other responsibility - yet when by this one single act of perversion - the man forever removes any hope of being trusted on that account again. It doesn't matter how strong the other links are in the chain of this man's character - the one link that is broken suffices to eliminate him from as a prospective baby-sitter.

Now, if the man had once driven three miles over the speed limit, we could care less, because we tend to reason from a state of relative morality: raping a child does far real-world "damage" than driving three miles over the speed limit. We all have been trained that evil is measured according to how disruptive it is. The more disruptive - the more evil. Stealing a pencil from work? Pffft. So what? Yeah, it's wrong, but hardly comparable to say, stealing a car. Who is inconvenienced by a stolen pencil?

You see, we do that - we reason that the greater the inconvenience, the more heinous the crime. It is a totally selfish way of looking at it. That is why when we hear that a tidal wave has killed so many people in some third world country, we look up from our meal and say - "oh" then go back to eating - but if a child falls into a sewer on our street and drowns, we are there with our own dollars to patch the sewer so it doesn't happen again. Our self-interest, the very personification of sin, drives us to deal with those things that either directly inconvenience us, or potentially might inconvenience us. It is this same thing that we use to determine who bad a thing is.

That is why we do not weep bitter tears at night over our having rolled through a stop sign. We are concerned with sin only in so much as we regard our offense to be "big". We weep that we are bad spouses, or that we yell at our children - but who cares that we take an extra five minutes on our lunch break?

This "relative perspective" on sin is what keeps most of us spiritually immature, for we stop seeing sin in our selves the moment we "clean up" enough to pass church muster. We don't think our "little" sins are worth concerning ourselves over, and so we get comfortable with the "little foxes that spoil the vine".

I digress however.

The point is that if we understood sin right, we would see that the smallest infraction is just as sinful as the biggest - for it demonstrates a truth about us - we are spiritually unfit to stand in God's presence. We don't need to do some "big" sin to become unfit - rather that we sin at all demonstrates something about us - that (as I said) we are unfit; that we are sinners.

Likewise, (arguing from the lesser to the greater here), if God can fail "at all" - it tells us something about God's nature.

Do you feel the weight of that? If God can fail in anything, it tells us something about God.

Now - as I have said, this is where we make theological presumptions. My presumption is that God cannot fail. I base that presumption upon the nature of God that I find in scripture - a nature that is revealed in verses like Isaiah 55:11 - where I see God proclaiming that His plan shall certainly come to pass. I see in such a declaration that God is not impotent, not sitting on a fence, not indifferent - God is active, God is bringing about His purpose. I see this all throughout scripture, and the verses that tell me that God loves everyone cannot mean - if God really is sovereign - that God has his hands off of the process. Nor can it mean that God is trying to save everyone, and failing to do so.

What it must mean - given my stated "presumption" - and by presumption, I remind the reader that I mean, given what I see of God's nature in scripture and applying in unilaterally, what I see is that when scripture states that God loves everyone, or that God takes no joy in condemning sinners, or that God wants everyone to repent - it is not suggesting that God is impotent and unable to make these things happen, but rather that God has determined to allow things that in and of themselves do not bring Him pleasure.

Consider the "spiritual" death of sinners. God takes no pleasure in that. It doesn't matter if that "spiritual" death happens in hell or in Christ on Calvary - it happens to -all- of us, and the displeasure that God takes in it is universal. It isn't like God hates sending sinners to hell, but loves letting believers get away "Scott-free" Believers to not get away "Scott-free" we get the same deal as the non-believers, a fullness of God's wrath poured out on us - but that wrath is received -in Christ-. It is not as if it vaporizes for believers, and sticks around for unbelievers - good gravy no. The same wrath is poured out on all sinners. The only difference is whether or not one passes through that wrath in Christ or not.

Likewise consider that God loves even His enemies. Can we find one person who is was not born God's enemy? It wasn't God's love that called us - for scripture says that we are called according to His purpose.

I know that many in my camp like to argue that God has a "special" love for his own - and I leave them to argue that. Likewise many stand on the grammar and linguistics of various texts to demonstrate that "all" means only some, etc. and I leave them to argue that too. Even if all is always universally inclusive - we find that we are either following a God who is a failure, or a God who never fails. How we regard God in this will leech into all our theology.

I ask you therefore reader, to consider whether or not God can fail. If you say that God cannot, then does your theology line up with that, or are you just painting a horse on an elephant?

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posted by Daniel @ 9:32 AM   15 comment(s)
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Snippets of Thought from my last 24 hours...
"I wonder if cyclists ever get hit in the eye by lit cigarette butts tossed out of moving cars?"

"Maybe the last few pounds are the hardest to lose because they have been there so long the fat has condensed?"

"In the spirit of not muzzling the oxen, I imagine God will feed us (spiritually) as we share the gospel."

"If I can't stand the taste of Diet 7UP, why do I keep drinking the stuff?"

"Do I still remember what 'languid' means?"

"I won't write that book about time travel, because the plot seems lame even to me."

"I wish I had more kids."

"Mustn't eat the cookies... they are for the kids..."

"Am I a good influence on others?"

"I would like to read to blind people, or maybe sick people in the hospitals, or the infirm - people who can't read anymore, but would like to hear the bible..."

"I need to pick up some more whey protein this week."

"My office fan is more than a 'riding clothes' dryer... it doubles as a white noise generator too."

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posted by Daniel @ 10:53 AM   3 comment(s)
Monday, July 07, 2008
Should-ah! Could-ah! Would-ah!
We have a nice little rhyme here in Canada that we sometimes say in response to someone else needling us for some wrong decision we have made after it is too late to fix it. We say, "Should-ah! Could-ah! Would-ah!" - and by that we mean that since it is too late now to change anything, saying that we should have or could have done something other - or even that we would have, had we known it would turn out thus - these sorts of statements are utterly pointless, and the phrase is therefore uttered to point out the uselessness of going over with a microscope what could have, or even should have been.

It works nice because it rhymes. Like when people say, "Too bad, so sad." - which is a similar comment, in that it typically is used to dismiss something that one doesn't really care to think about, beyond the superficial and almost universal acknowledgment that whatever is being set aside is certainly unfortunate, but nevertheless, not going to be discussed beyond that at any real level.

"My bad!" is a phrase that I suppose many have picked up on too. It means "I was at fault, and I acknowledge my role as such, but let's move on."

I don't know why I decided to post on these little phrases this morning. But as a blogger I reserve the right to post things of little or no significance.

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posted by Daniel @ 9:15 AM   3 comment(s)
Thursday, July 03, 2008
Strict Fetish Dress Code!
My bike ride to work in the morning takes me through the "artsy" part of town, and by artsy I mean (typically), that older, lower-middle income part of town where younger university hippies tend to live. You will know that you are entering that part of town when every post you pass along the side of the road is encapsulated by taped on (or stapled) flyers. Most of these flyers are single (8.5" x 11.5") pages printed off in someone's basement, proclaiming where and when some band (or group of bands) will soon be playing.

This morning a nauseatingly limpid green flyer caught my eye, for no other reason that because it was close to the road where I was stopped in the curb lane waiting for a light. My eyes were hooked, not by the title or the art work, but by one rather small and "bulleted" item in a list of information about the "gig":
  • Blah blah blah blah

  • Strict Fetish Dress Code!

  • blah blah

  • Blah blah blah black sheep...


I don't live my life in a bubble, or at least I try not to, so I am well aware that there are such things in the world. One of my former room mate (who was working on his Master's degree in Anthropoly at the time), was a great fan of fetish bars and what not (and by what not I mean everything that is worldly in the world); but as I was not walking in the light at the time, it was not something that struck me as either odd or untoward.

Yet what struck me this morning was the exclusivity of the call. Only people dressed up in fetishwear™ will be allowed in. I can appreciate, I suppose, the need for such a restriction - I mean, you don't want sight seers coming to gawk and poke fun at other people's fetishes ...right?

I am reminded of some of Paris Reid's comments about his missionary trip to Africa. He had gone to Africa as a missionary with a humanistic perspective on being missionary: He wanted to save those poor Africans from the horrible after life that was waiting for them if they didn't hear about Jesus in time. His primary concern was not God's glory, or even a love for God, but, by his own admission, it was that common, socially noble, notion that people deserve to live - that life is a right, and even eternal life - such that he wanted to make sure these ignorant primitives in Africa were exposed to their entitlement.

What he learned after he had been attempting to minister there was what most missionaries who go abroad find out - in his case he discovered that the African people were not ignorant of the gospel, they knew all about God and Jesus -- they just didn't want either. They loved their sin and they didn't want to be saved from it.

When Mr. Reid came to understand this he had a marvelous time in prayer with the Lord. Why did you call me out here? These people don't want you, they don't care about you, they don't care about life - all they want is their sin, and here I am telling them about how much you love them and they could care less. Why did you send me here??!

It was then that God opened Mr. Reid's understanding. You see, Reid had a turn around in his thinking that night. Suddenly he understood that God hadn't sent him out to Africa to save Africans - God sent him to Africa for His own glory. Reid came to understand something that strengthened him in that hour of weakness - nay, transformed him in that hour of weakness: He understood that Christ deserved the wages of His suffering. Christ was worthy of receiving those souls for whom he died - and Reid was not sent out there to enrich the afterlife of whoever would accept the gospel - he was out there because the glory of Christ demanded these souls for which He suffered.

Do you see the difference? At first he was a man trying to help other men have a better afterlife because he reasoned that everyong deserves a good afterlife. His missionary goal was to snatch as many men from God's unfortunate wrath as possible. But when He began to see through the humanistic facade that passes for the missionary call - the real call came to him, and it was a call that was clear and powerful: The Christ whom you worship has shed his blood for these souls - go and bring in what the blood of Christ has purchased.

Yet as I read this bizarre ad for a fetish party or club, I didn't really look all that closely, I was reminded of Mr. Reid because of the exclusivity of the requirement - it was like saying, we don't want anyone here who doesn't share our depravity. We don't want anyone to show up unless they are sold out to sin like we are. The missionary who is sent to such as these is going to fail if he or she does not go there for God's glory. It is the easiest thing in the world to say, these people don't want the gospel - they know all about it and reject it, so we ought to just leave them alone and go where the gospel isn't so hated - and for some missionaries today I suspect that is sound reasoning. They are not out in the field for God's glory - they are out in the field because it is a good "life experience", or because it looks good on a resume, or because mom and dad expect it, or because they (like Reid began with), have a humanistic, social ethic that drives them to make sure that as many people as possible have the best afterlife available.

But can such worldly motives beat against a lock door for three decades or more? I think not. How is it that some missionaries go to a place where God is hated, and stay and serve there day after day when there is no return on their investment? They go and they stay and they minister because they believe that Christ deserves to receive what was purchased by His suffering. It isn't an intellectual assent, it is a sold out love for God.

If your daughter -needs- an expensive, live giving operation, you do whatever you have to do to get the money. Her life is worth more to you than your spare time - you work and you slave and you save and you hope and you provide with the fullness of your heart because in your estimation - she is worth it. Her life demands your service - all of it - for as long as it takes; and you give it willingly because you love her - you count the cost of your labors as cheap compared to the magnitude of the possible loss. Love is real when it is willing to purchase -at any price- the life of another. That is the love our Savior has for each one of his children - and it is the only love that can sit in a fruitless mission field year after year - a love for God that demands service; because it regards the value of the one served as penultimate; as entirely worthy of that service.

We don't get to that place by spiritual navel gazing, by getting together weekly for outreach barbeques where you invite people who don't want to be there to come with you so that you have done your "Christian duty" to guard yourself against someone in church judging you as not missional enough. We get there when the veil of our own flesh - the veil that eclipses God's glory and worth from our sight - when that veil begins to be pulled back and God's worth begins to be evident.

Listen: If God isn't worth that much to you, it isn't because God lacks worth, it is because you are blind to His worth - and you need to confess that, and call upon Him to spit on the ground and rub the mud on your eyes.

Do that.

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posted by Daniel @ 9:05 AM   5 comment(s)
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Elect Individuals, Not Nations.
Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."

I often hear this verse quoted as though (in the context) God were encouraging individuals that He has a plan for each one of them, and that this plan is to give them a sort of unbroken peace - one that lacks any calamity. Okay, maybe "often" isn't the right word, how about, "often enough". I think we see this in some of the more tacky gospel presentations, "God has a plan for your life..." etc.

The original context is a letter that God instructs Jeremiah to write to those Israelites who were presently (after having refused to repent for generations) living in the very exile that God had promised Moses would come to those Israelites who reject Him. The purpose of that exile is more corrective than punitive - extreme measures for extreme apostasy.

The verse is best read with the surrounding verses to give it immediate context:
" "For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile." - [ESV (verses 10-14)]


The comfort that is offered here is first and foremost a comfort in the midst of correction - that is, even as Israel is receiving the fruit of its apostasy, God encourages the whole nation to consider the nature of their exile; That they pray that God would return them to their own lands till the cows came home but God was telling them he will not hear those prayers until after seventy years have passed. You see, Israel was instructed by God to give even their land a sabbath rest - that is, to allow the land to be fallow one year in seven, but this had been corporately ignored by Israel, and so for each year that Israel ignored the Sabbath year, one year was added to their exile.

Of note is the encouragement however that God, in correcting their behavior, was by no means abandoning them. God's encouragement was that in spite of this correction, He had real plans for Israel (speaking of, I believe, the Messianic age), plans of peace between himself and Israel, plans to be reconciled to them so that there would be no more correctional calamity as they were presently experiencing.

I could go deeper into it of course, but this is rather mentioned here as an instructional counter point to the point I was going to make. You see, some people take this one verse out of this context and they apply it to themselves as if God was promising that he was going to bless them personally in accord with some plan for their personal lives - and this without qualification. That is, they take a promise given to an entire nation, a promise that in essence is given to say I am still here with you throughout this correction - and they presume that it can be rightly applied to themselves out of that context and without qualification - for no other reason than because it is compelling and encouraging to think that God has unqualified plans for our peace and happiness, and more likely, because this is how the verse is often used - to placate doubt, to pacify during calamity, and perhaps especially to encourage individuals to personalize God's love for them.

Now, God -does- love the individual, we see that expression most clearly in Christ's dying for each elect individual -- but this verse isn't speaking about individuals, it is speaking about a whole nation - and God's plan for that nation. When we interpret this verse in such a way as to suggest it is speaking about individuals, we do a "hack job" in our exegesis.

That is, to say, while it is true that God loves each elect believer, and that scripture teaches that God has a purpose for each of us, and has set apart very specific good works for each elect individual to walk in - and that God's sovereignty in our lives is so profound that even the number of hairs on each one of our heads is determined beforehand by God, such that no hair falls out unless God has decreed to allow it - that is, we do not make this objection because we want to suggest that God's involvement in the lives of His children is distant or a matter of corporate (only) involvement - rather we simply want to use the right verses to make our points, and this verse, while putting on display God's sovereignty in that He really did have a plan for Israel, and that it is an encouragement to us in the here and how that God brought that plan about exactly as He said He would, yet we must not take a verse out of context to make it say something just because we are making it say something that is pretty much true anyway.

Yet all of this is not my point. I only, as I said, mention it because I want to have something to balance out the point I am pressing to make. Here we see that it is wrong to apply something to an individual that is (in context) directed towards a nation.

The same is true of verses that speak of individuals - it is wrong to apply them to nations.

I am referring now to Paul's exegesis of Malachi 1:2 (" 'I have loved you,' says the LORD. But you say, 'How have you loved us?' 'Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?' declares the LORD. 'Yet I have loved Jacob' " - [ESV]). Paul refers to this in the night chapter of his letter to the Romans, ("As it is written, 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.' " - Romans 9:13 [ESV]).

You see, some (very few actually), object to what Paul is teaching here - that is, they object to the notion that God elects individuals, and because Paul uses individuals in his example, they interpret these individuals as representative of nations - thereby allowing them to avoid the implications of what Paul is teaching - and this is -usually- done because unknown to them, they have come to the text with a presupposition about God's character - that is, they presume that it would be quite unfair for God to elect only certain individuals, and so they are often fortified in their opinions because they are not just defending their take on the text, but they are defending their presumptuous speculations about God's character.

The trouble with such presumptions, apart from being vacuous, is that they are entirely uncalled for, since there is nothing offensive or unjust about the alternative, but contrary understanding of God's character; that is, they impose a secular ethic upon God, and because the secular ethic seems right to them, they presume that God must be the origin of that ethic, when in fact God is not.

I am speaking of course to the notion of fairness.

If three men come to my house and build a deck for me in my back yard, it would be "just" for me to pay them their wage, in fact we call it a wage because it is something they earn - that is, they are so entitled to it that to keep it from them would be unjust.

If I were to go out into the street and choose three people according to my own purpose - whatever that was doesn't matter - and chose to give these three "wages" they hadn't earned - it would be an act of grace towards those three people.

The problems come when someone doesn't get this grace and imagines that because they (like the three) haven't earned this grace - that they should therefore be entitled to it.

Do you see the works mentality here? They have it in their head, though they don't realize this is how they are reasoning, but they have it in their head that those who receive this grace by doing nothing have, never the less, "earned it" by doing nothing - such that everyone else who does nothing likewise "earns" this grace, ending in the opinion that if grace is given to one who is undeserving, it places the giver of grace under an obligation to provide the same grace to everyone since they have all equally "earned" it by doing nothing.

That is, if I have four children (who have equally done nothing to deserve any special favor) I cannot give any one, two, or three of them a gift of grace, because in failing to give that gift to all, I am somehow putting the ones who don't receive it out.

Do you see the heart of that? It reasons from the one who doesn't receive grace, and it reasons in this way - I deserve the free gift because someone else got it who didn't deserve it. It should have been me!

The reality is that we do not deserve a blessing just because someone else receives one - no matter how undeserving they are. It is only a twisted, broken, sinful heart that can look upon grace and demand it as though it were something owed to them.

Thus, if I were to award one of my children with some grace, it is by no means "unjust" or "unfair" to the others - the only reason we would imagine this is an unjust or unfair act is because we are selfish by predisposition, and know how rotten we would have felt if one of our siblings received something they didn't deserve and we didn't - we would feel unloved, unwanted, or perhaps just less valuable. None of these would be true of course, for the only reason we feel that way in the first place is because we start off with the belief that [1] failure to give us whatever we want is an act of hatred, and [2] there is nothing wrong with our wanting something that others have.

I am laboring the point of course, to show that it is avarice (coveting) and not justice that is at work in us - and we are so entirely corrupt in our thinking that we even feel empathy for others whose avarice goes unsatisfied. So it seems quite just for us to give the same to all - just because we know what it is like to rouse our own covetousness, and do not wish to give rise to the same in our own children, or to anyone else for that matter.

But the root of it all is not justice, but sin. Not fairness, but coveting, and we impose this rule upon God's character. God would certainly never, ever do anything "unfair" - and we reason therefore that God would -never- elect an individual to salvation, since that would mean that there would be individuals whom God does not elect to salvation - and that would make God "unfair" - at least according to our own tainted-by-avarice sense of justice.

When we impose our own fallen sense of justice upon God's character, it may well force us to conclude that God cannot (regardless of what the scriptures say) elect individuals - we are driven to say that God makes it a level playing field for all, and that election is not God choosing one individual over another, so that when we read God doing exactly that - we inject into the text the idea that God was choosing one nation (Israel) over another (Esau), and we do that, not because the text warrants it, for the text is clearly speaking about individuals - surely there are Edomites who are saved, and there are Israelites who are not saved, so the whole idea of nations, even if that is what the text -did- mean, would be pointless - but they make this assumption in spite of the fact that individuals are being discussed because they come to the text having rejected beforehand the notion that God elects one individual over another.

I mention this to illustrate the dangers of a blind spot.

You see, we (who love God) all do our best to give God the benefit of the doubt in any area that we are unsure about. God is good, perfectly just, all powerful, omnipresent, and omniscient. We can assume a lot given just those attributes, and frankly we do. But even one wrong assumption about God's character or power - one well intentioned, but slightly wrong assumption about God's moral character, instructed not out of scripture, but rather presumed based upon our own corrupt sense of what is right - even the smallest error here, can have profound theological repercussions.

What do you get when you have a sincere Christian who believes the entire bible is true, and is attempting to live out that truth, defend it, and especially to understand it in a way that is free from contradiction and error - yet has presumed some small thing about God's character that doesn't come from scripture, but from the well of their own depravity?

You get heresy, theological error, pride, and blindness.

The point is that we who are His children, are supposed to be ministering to one another for the building up of the body - in truth. That is, we are to be contending for, and seeking out the truth, ready to set aside any falsehood that God illumines in us, and to embrace the truth wherever it is found.

I for one do not find the election of nations in Romans 9:13, and I believe that those who see the election of nations in this text see nations because their presuppositions demand that they do. One could turn that argument around and say, "Daniel, I believe you fail to see nations here because you bring the idea of individual election to the text with you, and because you are expecting to find it there, you do." To these I would agree that there is always that danger, but I have in my favor, the fact that the individual who wrote this account was accosted by God on the road to Damascus, and that those who were with him did not hear the conversation that took place between himself and the Lord - that Christ did not come to them (zealous Jews though they were), but to Paul personally. They were all from the same nation (Israel), but only Paul was singled out; it is this man who writes not of nations, but of two individuals - brothers, twins even - and teaches that election is not based upon individual merit, for both Jacob and Esau were without merit - they were equal by all worldly accounts, same parents, same family, twins in fact - neither had done good or bad, that is, there was no merit in either individual - and yet Jacob was chosen and Esau was not, and that choice took place before either had opportunity to influence it.

The choice of an individual is not random or arbitrary, but as Paul teaches, it is in accord with God's purpose. Individual Jews certainly benefited from the promises given to Israel regarding their coming Messiah - but those promises which God kept to the nation He by no means kept on an individual level - since not everyone who is a child of Israel is a child of the promise.

God didn't look down the corridors of time, to see who was going to choose him, and based upon their choice, made his election of them. Nor did God look down the corridors of time and do the same for nations.

The doctrine of individual election is perhaps the most Christian doctrine there is, and for that reason it is also the most attacked, and most hated. We who are fallen in our nature cannot accept that God chose us for His own purpose - our nature demands that the choice be based upon some virtue within us - either we made the right choice, or we did something, however infinitesimally minuscule on our part - yet the reason we will go to heaven is not because God chose us, but because we chose Him - that way God can send people to hell with our blessing, because they didn't choose God.

The trouble with that thinking is that we are sending people to heaven because they choose God, and sending people to hell because they don't choose God; said on a more generic level - people don't go to hell because they sin, they go to hell because they didn't make the right choice, they are condemned not for their sin, so much as their failure to make the right decision.

The bible teaches that everyone, from the first act of rebellion, deserves hell, and that in spite of their deserving hell, God chose some to redeem. These didn't deserve it, they didn't earn it, and God's choice was not based upon something good in them that was lacking in others - including just the good sense to "pick God". They choose God ---because--- they become born again, and not ---in order to--- become born again. God is by no means required to elect anyone, and His electing some by no means obligates Him to elect all.

If our theology turns election into bloatware - that is, if our theology turns election into a great big effort that ultimately does absolutely nothing - so that we say, God elected "Israel" and therefore anyone who joins himself to Israel will be counted as teh elect - what we are doing is creating a theology that makes election a self-applied label. We may has well call the elect "the green team" or something equally as pointless, because we turn election into God declaring that He will eventually have a team called the elect - but that other than giving a name to it, and declaring that He will have such a team, He otherwise steps back and has nothing to do with making it happen. It paints God as an all powerful, but intentionally impotent fortune teller.

Nicodemus was no idiot. When Christ (in John Chapter three) said that a man had to be born from above, Nicodemus wasn't all confused and shaken - as if he had no idea that Christ was using a metaphor; rather Nicodemus asks his question again, this time in the flavor of Christ's metaphor: Can a man crawl into his mother's womb and be born again?? That is, Nicodemus was extending the metaphor to ask the same question again - what must I do to be saved? Be born again? okay, what must I do to be born again? How do I crawl into the womb again - what do I do to make it happen? The answer is stunningly perfect - just as you could not make yourself be born the first time, neither can you generate it in your own will the second time. It is God who wills it to happen, just as He did for your first birth. The Spirit does what he does, and although you can witness what God has done, you have no more control over it than you have control over the wind.

The question we ought to ask is not why God does not elect everyone, rather we marvel instead that God elects anyone.

A quick parting note: If I believe that ultimately a person's salvation is dependent upon their own decision - then my job in presenting the gospel is to persuade people into heaven. Those who reject the gospel I present may well have received it had someone with more knowledge and persuasive ability presented it - likewise, if I "botch" the presentation such that this person sours towards Christianity and therefore never again is willing to hear the gospel, then more than simply saying nothing - my presentation has driven that person to hell. I think the idea that people's eternal destiny rests upon my ability to make the gospel attractive is the exact same gospel the rest of the world religions teach.

If on the other hand, God's sovereignty is genuine, and not in "label form" only - if God really has elected some individuals, and the point of my sharing the gospel is not to try to "save hell bound sinners ", but rather to walk in the good work that God has prepared for me beforehand, both for His glory, and for my joy, then there is no pressure on me to inflate the gospel with worldly wisdom or persuasive argumentation - nor is the onus on me to succeed, but rather the onus is on God to give life where there is none - to His glory alone.

Anyway, I don't want to ramble. Bottom line, it is just as wrong to read into the text an individual application when the text calls for a corporate one, as it is to impose a corporate meaning where the examples are all individuals.

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posted by Daniel @ 9:20 AM   12 comment(s)
 
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