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. My complete profile...
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
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
My mother grew up on a farm in rural Manitoba. She attended the one room, school-house along with every other kid in the community. The teacher was a Catholic nun, which suited the dead Catholicism of the community. By grade five she had dropped out of school and was living with her sister in the big city – “Winnipeg.”
My father, a Dutch immigrant, came to Canada with his family when he was a young boy – he too came from a dead Catholic tradition – though by the time he had met my mother he wall all but an outright atheistic. By the time myself and my siblings came along, my father had already decided that God was the invention of man, and Christianity was something worthy of scorn.
My mother always held to an ignorant, superstitious faith – having understood that Jesus was the Christ who died and rose again to save sinners – but being entirely ignorant of the bible, and somewhat inundated with Catholic error, her understanding of justification was – “do good and you might go to heaven.”
We never talked about God per se, though we were allowed to pursue faith if we wanted – we were certainly never encouraged in that direction.
I recall, at the age of three or four my mother asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up – and I said I wanted to be a priest. The first turning point in my life was the day that my mother told me about death – that everyone died. I was three, and terrified, and the only balm for my terror was the carrot of heaven – dangled as it were before me - a hope that I might not have to go to hell.
Of course, even with my limited knowledge of Catholicism, I knew enough to reason that surely - priests must go to heaven! And it may be that this influenced my aspirations at the time – but alongside that I recall clearly that I had an interest in Jesus. I even asked my mother if I could become Jewish because Jesus was Jewish. I wanted to be like Him. My mother didn’t seem too impressed by that – but I didn't care - saying as I did that I would become a Jew with or without her blessing as soon as I was old enough!
It is funny to look back on that sort of stuff now – the naivety of my very early youth. This same boy I am describing, upon being sent to his room, once prayed for God to make his mother call him down and stop the punishment. The prayer came in the form of an ultimatum – God, if you are real, make my mom let me come downstairs – I am going to count to ten, and if you don’t answer my prayer, I will not believe in you anymore. One… Two… and so on. Of course God didn’t heed my prayer, and I decided that I would show him – I think I said it out loud – “Fine then. I don’t believe in You!” But I cried and cried after saying that.
We moved out of the big city when I was seven. My father had purchased a business in a rural, French speaking community in southern Manitoba. While living there, someone came to our door one day and asked if any of the children would be interested in attending Sunday School. They would provide the bus - picking them up at the door, and dropping them off afterwards.
The community we lived in was entirely Catholic - there was no evangelical church, and to be sure - our family was so ignorant of the bible and religion that we didn’t really see any real difference between evangelicals and Catholics - such was our ignorance! Had we known that evangelicalism was another name for "protestant" I think I would not have been allowed to go. We may not have known much - but we did know that protestants were enemies of the true Catholic faith.
My father was polite but firmly told the fellow that none of us were interested. Except that I happened to be near the door at the time – and hearing the conversation I chirped up – “I am interested!”
If you knew my father, you would understand that this was a very big breach of protocol – it made him look foolish, and that was not something you ever wanted to do – yet I spoke before I knew what I was doing – and my father quickly back pedaled. So it was agreed – the fellow would show up with a bus on Sunday Mornings and pick me up. I had four other siblings – but I was the only one going to Sunday School (though eventually my older sister began to tag along).
To be sure, we went to another town on Sundays, and as soon as the service began we were herded into the basement of some dank old church – where we were taught a whole bunch of old testament stories. Most of them I knew already, because my Kindergarten teacher from Winnipeg had made a point of reading to us from a big book of bible stories every single day (back when such things were permissible in Canada).
Eventually a “Billy Graham” crusade came through the area. I don’t think Billy actually came to town – but some representative came, and distributed those little red new testaments to everyone who prayed the salvation prayer and “signed the card.” Now – having my own bible seemed like the coolest thing in the world to me. My Mom and Dad didn’t even have a bible! I said the prayer on the card, and signed it – and was “welcomed into the family of Christ” – but frankly, I had never heard the gospel even once. I knew I was a sinner, and although I was assured by the adults that saying this prayer would get me into heaven – even at my age I was quite skeptical. But I wanted the bible – so I said the prayer.
At around this time my father’s business went bankrupt - someone actually sabotaged the building – setting off explosive charges on a propane tank the size of a semi trailer. The resulting explosion leveled my father’s business – and put our family immediately into bankruptcy (my father didn’t have insurance for that sort of thing). It is an amazing story, but I won’t bother with it now (if you are really interested you can dig through the autobiographical links in the left column for more details.)
Immediately following this explosion-induced bankruptcy, our family moved back to the big city. My father found work as a janitor, and our standard of living fell through the floor.
The only connection I had with anything spiritual for the first year or so after that was my association with the Boy Scouts of Canada (I was in “cubs”) – God wasn’t spoken of directly, though there was a time of prayer.
Later we moved from that part of the city to another part – and there I was invited to attend a weekly outreach program at a local school called “Stockaders” – I am not sure who put it on, but we would play games in the school gym, and pray, and talk a little about the Lord.
It was through this group that I was invited to attend Sunday School again at the evangelical church who sponsored the stockader program at the school. It turned out that one of the ladies who attended that church lived close to us, and so she volunteered to take myself and some of my cousins to church with her each Sunday. Once again I was given a bible in exchange for signing a card – but this time it was a KJV – Old and New Testament! It was a cheap-o hard cardboard cover made to look sort of like leather - at the time it seemed so mature! I remember trying to read it and giving up as the English was all weird sounding. They also gave me a paper back NIV New Testament – which was much easier to read – but frankly, wasn’t as cool looking as the KJV.
Of course, Sunday school meant yet another dank cellar, where some seemingly disinterested teacher taught us more Old Testament stories. By this time I wanted to know more about Jesus. So once in a while I would stay upstairs when the kids were dismissed (to go downstairs to Sunday School) – but I couldn’t even tell you what the preacher looked like – all I remember was that he spoke for a long time, and once in a while his sermons would convict me.
I don’t know how things would have turned out had my cousin not been stealing money from the purse of that same kind lady who gave us rides to church every Sunday. I found out about it after the fact – and I was devastated. How could they steal from this dear and kind lady? Don’t mistake me – I was as much a willing thief as anyone who was living in poverty – but I knew enough not to steal from nice people – and especially if it was blatantly obvious who the culprits were. My cousins however, were either very stupid, or simply didn’t care. I suspect a bit of both. So one day I showed up at her doorstep to go to Sunday School and found a hand written note that said plainly that until someone confessed to their crime, there would be no more rides to Sunday School.
Now – that might seem harsh – but my cousins weren’t stealing pennies – they were going into her wallet and stealing lots of money – and doing so on a weekly basis. I found out about this at the door that morning. My memory is cloudy, I think she may have seen me out there and even opened the door and rebuked me – not knowing my own ignorance and innocence in the matter. Whatever the case, I was hurt, and disgusted at my cousins. They laughed about it – and were happy to “get out of” having to go to Sunday School. I think their mother put them up to it – I don’t recall them ever enjoying it – and as I have said, they didn’t seem too concerned about hurting this lady, or making things right.
So it was that the door closed on my religious pursuit for the next eight or nine years.
Then came another turning point in my life. The day I knew I was going to hell for sure.
Recall that I grew up more or less superstitious (doctrinally speaking). I “knew” that salvation depended on a few things – first, you had to be good, and second, you had to be sure that you didn’t commit one of the big sins.
Premarital “indulgence” was one of those sins that I “knew” would send you straight to hell. Even though I already had three bibles, I hadn’t read much in them – and my ignorance was profound. Being full of “youthful vigor” and not unattractive it wasn’t long before I found myself weeping uncontrollably one morning in my seventeenth year.
The day before I had “sealed my fate” as it were, having given into youthful lust and so had certainly, according to my superstition, damned myself. Convinced that my salvation was now impossible, I determined (after a time of inconsolable mourning) to get on with life - and at least enjoy the ride to hell as best I could.
From that day forward I gave up “trying not to sin” – what was the point? My heart quickly hardened and over the course of the next two or three years I fell into the drug culture, crime, and flagrant debauchery.
I moved out at 18, and being free from the last of my moral shackles – I began to pursue with vigor and abandon every pleasure my wiles and circumstance made available to me.
In this pursuit it happened that I one day suffered a bad “break up” with a girl I had been going with. Being hopelessly insecure I jumped at the possibility of reconciliation when she suggested that I should stop calling her and “go become a missionary” so that I wouldn’t call her any more. I thought that if I went out and did become a missionary - perhaps I would demonstrate the profound nature of my “love” and she would feel guilty for dumpting me and take me back. I was an idiot teenager - what can I say?
This happenstance however, heralded the next turning point in my “religion.”
Immediately after she dumped me thus - I flipped open the phonebook, and looked up churches in the yellow pages. I called the first one that had the word “missionary” in its ad – and the pastor answered and arranged for an interview either that day or the next - I really can't remember.
It was at that interview that I first heard the gospel. Now, I had presumed I could fake out this pastor – convince him that I was a Christian – then get sent somewhere cool – like Africa – where I could do some good deeds and come back worldly, and thus more attractive to my ex-girlfriend. His first question however derailed that plan - as he wanted to "hear my testimony."
I wasn’t familiar with any of the lingo – “testimony?” He explained that he wanted to know when I was “saved.” Saved? “When did you become a Christian?” – I still didn’t get it. “You mean when was I baptized? I was baptized as a baby! I have always been a Christian – I am Catholic!” I explained.
At that point he didn’t give me a big doctrinal lecture about the differences between Catholicism and Evangelical Christianity – he simply asked if I had ever heard the gospel. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about – so he explained it to me.
He started off by showing me in scripture that the wages of sin were death – that is, that the soul that sins shall perish. That even the smallest or slightest sin condemns a person to hell.
It took about ten minutes or so – but he had his bible right there and let me read these verses for myself. I knew the bible was true – In my upbringing I had been taught that the bible was sacred, but this was the first time anyone had shown me that the word of God actually condemned me for my sin. I had always felt there was some “do good” clause – but this guy had me convinced from scripture itself that I was lost.
Prior to that I had always held out some hope that perhaps, just maybe, I could do some great and good thing to redeem myself in God’s eyes – but this hope was utterly removed when God’s word condemned me utterly.
I will always recall that moment - the moment I knew that I was truly condemned. I was near frozen with fear. What if I tripped and fell down the stairs and died – I was going to go to hell if I died – and suddenly my life was very dear to me. But if I had felt bad upon losing my “innocence” at 17 – this was much worse – God’s word had made this truth so real to me, I could feel hell licking at my heels.
Into the dread of that moment I managed to squeak out something like, “How can anyone go to heaven then?” – I knew that everyone I knew was a sinner, how could anyone go to heaven if sin sends you to hell? My question wasn’t one of concern for others, but of concern for myself. I was really asking – how can I be saved if I am a sinner?
The pastor then explained that Christ died for my sins. That Christ took the sins of all believers to the cross and that God punished those sins there – and that everyone who calls on the name of Christ – asking Him to take their sins to the cross – and believes that Christ will do just as He promised to do – that person will be saved by Christ. This was the way of salvation – and it was the reason Christ died on the cross.
I had never heard that before. Oh I am sure that people mouthed the words in my ears in the past – but I tell you – I had never heard it. Suddenly the cross made sense – it was as if a million pieces suddenly fell into place, and I saw with clarity a picture that couldn’t be comprehended only moments ago.
The pastor was silent as I took this all in. He then asked me if I was willing to give my life to Christ in this way – to trust him to save me instead of my good works. I couldn’t fathom the idea of being a “Christian” – Some part of me knew that “giving my life to Christ” meant that I would have to be willing to do whatever Christ wanted me to do. I knew deep down that this couldn’t be done with my lips – it had to be done with my heart – I had to mean it.
I felt like a man standing between life and death. The next step I took with damn me with all certainty – or save me from that damnation with as much certainty. I don’t understand how I did it – but somehow I believed. My heart spoke to me then as though it had a voice – “I will believe!” it said – and I prayed to Christ, and asked Him to forgive me for all my sin – then I asked Him to come into my life and rule it – to save me from my sins.
Something happened at that moment that is more profound that I can ever explain – but it was like a wind of cleanness blew right through me – and as it blew through me it cleansed me from all my sin. I suddenly felt like I could die right then and there – and I would surely go straight to heaven. I would love to say that the burden of all my sins fell to the floor – but I can’t even say that – the burden of my sin wasn’t there – I felt as clean as a man can be.
I wonder to this day what my face must have looked like. I was so filled with joy, I tried to explain it to the pastor – this profound, unearthly experience – I didn’t really know what was happening – and inquiring of the pastor what this was that I was going through he said – that is the Holy Spirit.
I walked home – I was too elated to take a bus – within a few steps of the church I literally jumped up and clicked my heals together!
The next morning however, I sinned – and the sensation departed. Like a junkie who comes off a fix, I sat there trembling and certain that I had, by knowingly sinning that morning, messed up my salvation. I knew I shouldn't have done it - and the conviction of sin was a flaming wall ten stories tall - but for some reason, I stiffened my neck and sinned anyway. Immediately the clean feeling was replaced with dread.
The pastor phoned later that day – but I was ashamed at having lost my salvation forever (such was my understanding) so I made excuses not to come and see him – and in the coming days I did so many times. Eventually I pretended I was my room-mate and said that I had moved away and that I (the pretend room-mate) didn’t know where Daniel had moved to. I even lied and said that he (me) had stolen my (the pretend room-mate’s) television when he left.
I turned back to a life of sin after that – but it wasn’t the same. Prior to this I could sin with ease – but now, even though I was convinced that I could never be saved again – I still found it offensive to sin. I knew I was sinning in a way I never had before – I was sensitive to it – and I literally had to train myself to sin again – and even then I could never fully ignore the guilt of it. I knew that when I died and went to hell – I would still love Christ – even if I was a useless wretched sinner – I would still love Him. I didn’t care how inconsistent that was.
I got married in a Lutheran church about six or seven years later. My wife was a Lutheran by birth – but she wasn’t saved, having never heard the gospel in all her time at church (which was only at Christmas, Easter, weddings, and funerals). Her family wasn’t saved either. We were interviewed by the pastor and he wanted to know if I was a Christian – he never thought to ask if my wife was – since she was a church member, it was assumed that she was saved. I gave him the gospel top to bottom – leaving out the part about how I lost my salvation. He was convinced and we were married.
My wife describes the first five years of our marriage as a “living hell” – I would like to disagree with her – but I have to agree, I was almost impossible to live with.
I had lied to her about every single aspect of my life. She truly married a stranger – the only thing I was careful not to mask was my personality. I was always “me” even if the me she had dated and become engaged to had an entirely made up history.
Frankly, had we been Catholics, she could have had the marriage annulled years later simply because she truly married a lie.
But it was around the fifth year of our marriage that the next turning point came in my walk with God. I come into contact with a genuine born again believer – not the kind that warms the pews on Sunday, then lives like the world the rest of the week – but the kind that lives out his faith all the time and in every way.
He was my martial arts instructor.
He was always talking about God – and since it was an atheist friend of mine who had dragged me into joining this martial arts club – we would always laugh about how absolutely brainwashed this guy was. It didn’t make any sense – he was university educated – even brilliant – yet he continued to cling to this religious superstition. By this time I had fallen so far away from the Lord that I was openly denying Him. I couldn’t deny Him in my heart – but I certainly could with everything else – and I did.
My martial arts instructor however wasn’t phased by my cantankerous ridicule of his faith – instead he challenged me in all that I thought I believed. We got onto the discussion of homosexuality one day – and I said something like “Why would God create homosexuals then condemn them for being homosexuals?” – since everyone knew that ten percent of the population was genetically ordained to be homosexual. He point blank rejected my “common knowledge” as fact – and challenged me to demonstrate to him through whatever scientific method I chose that homosexuality was anything more than a moral choice. This was his manner with me. I would show what an idiot he was according to common knowledge – and he would challenge me to verify that the “common knowledge” was actually factual. Again and again – as I did the research I was thwarted. homosexuality was not genetic. homosexuality did not occur naturally in all species. The instance of homosexuality was far less than ten percent – arguably being less than even one percent.
When I could not belittle his beliefs from science, I began to challenge his interpretation of scripture. Where does it say that homosexuality is wrong? Leviticus? Let’s see that verse. Yeah – well Jesus never said anything about it. What’s this – Peter writes that the Spirit of Christ was speaking through the old testament prophets and Moses was a prophet – thus Christ Himself condemns homosexuality? Fine - you win with homosexuality. But I don’t think it is right for you to judge them – doesn’t the bible say not to judge people? What do you mean context? Oh.
One day, I suppose I began to frustrate him, and he finally said, “Look Daniel, I would love to instruct you out of all your error – but if you want to talk to me about scripture – you really should read if first. You never know what you are talking about, and frankly, until you do, you really don’t have a leg to stand on.”
Now, of all the things I admired about myself – my intellect was the crown jewel. I alone of all my extended family (from near 50 grandchildren) had graduated high school. I put myself through university and then college – I was “smart” and I knew it – and this condescending remark hit me where I was soft.
I began to read the bible (I bought a “good news” bible) – not to learn anything, but to brush up so that I could rub his nose in it. Of course with that motive, I didn’t last long.
This was where the next turning point in my faith came. My martial arts instructor was driving me home one day, and trying to share the gospel, and I had had enough. I had been reading the bible a bit, and it was re-awakening in me the guilt of my sin. So as he once again brought the conversation to Christ I simply said I already knew the gospel. He didn’t seem convinced – so I shared the gospel top to bottom with him, and told him how I had given my life to Christ a decade earlier.
He was stunned. Even struck dumb. For a few long breaths he was silent – then when he spoke there was such joy in his voice I couldn’t believe it. I had told him everything – including how I had “lost” my salvation forever.
He politely, though a little too gleefully, explained that I hadn’t “lost my salvation” – that if my salvation was genuine, it could not be lost – it was an eternal possession – you either have it eternally, or you do not – that you cannot lose something eternal once you have it. Likewise, since I had done nothing to “purchase it” I could do nothing to lose it. I didn’t buy it. I knew I was still lost – but he began to speak scripture to me – and by the time I got home, I had hope again.
Of course, I had fallen so far, that faith seemed impossible to me. I had trained myself for so long to ignore those promptings inside me that I felt I could never have faith to believe like I did that day in that pastor’s office – to believe with all my heart. I began to read the bible – but I doubted it. These writers were ignorant and unsophisticated. They didn’t know about modern science or evolution – I began to pick out the parts of scripture that could be believed, and ignored the parts that I reasoned were full of error by way of primitive ignorance.
I didn’t grow at all.
It was around that time however that the next turning point came – and this one was perhaps the biggest and most profound.
My martial arts instructor was the son of a pastor. One day he told me that his younger brother had just received the “call” to become a pastor. I wasn’t sure what he was on about – but he explained that God “called” his brother to be a pastor – that is, God impressed it upon his brother’s heart to leave his job and become a pastor. His brother, regarding the office of the pastorate to be too high a calling to enter into whimsically “threw out a fleece” and waited to see what the Lord would do.
I didn’t understand what it meant to throw out a fleece – but my friend explained that you asked the Lord to verify the call in a way that would be unmistakable. His brother chose a way that was impossible – so flaky and whacky that it could never happen in a billion lifetimes. He didn’t tell a soul his prayer – yet the very next day God answered it 110%.
I won’t bother with the details – but it was unbelievable. Had it been anyone else telling me this I would have suspected that it was an entirely fabricated affair – or at the very most a wild, unscrupulous, exaggeration. But the prayer had been answered in a way that was entirely verifiable.
You would think that I would have been filled with wonder and joy, but it was a death knoll to me. By this time I was convinced that I might still stand a chance at being saved – but I was not convinced that God really heard my prayers, and whatever faith I had, couldn’t be measured even with a micrometer. To hear that God answered this man’s prayer in such an obvious and indisputable way – it was as if God was saying, “this is what it looks like when I really love someone.” My own pitiful relationship with God came into full relief, and I was sick with doubt – though I took it all in stride on the outside – yet within I crumbled like a thrice dried leaf in a rusty mulcher.
That night I prayed like I did that first time in the pastor’s office. Not to be saved – but I prayed for faith to believe. I knew I didn’t have it – and for the first time I knew that I couldn’t make myself have faith by simply wanting it. I had tried, honestly tried, to generate faith. I rehearsed the facts, called them facts – believed them to be true as much as anyone believes anything to be true – yet even though I could acknowledge these things as being true – at the same time I could not believe them to be true “for me.”
So I had it out with God that night. I prayed and prayed, and finally came to that great awareness that I could do nothing, that God would have to do it if it was going to be done – and that if God didn’t do it, I could say on that last day that I had given Him the full reign to give me faith – but that He had dropped the ball.
It was a rash and childish prayer I suppose – but it was a grueling prayer too. I shed tear after tear into a well of despair – I wanted faith with all my being – and I wanted it so bad that I was even willing to put it in God’s hands – having failed to achieve it with my best efforts.
The next morning I woke up from a profound dream (see my autobiographical links for more details) and found to my amazement that I was suddenly hungry for scripture - I was “alive.”
I hadn’t felt that wonderful cleansing wind like I felt in the pastor’s office – though I begged for that the night before – yet something had changed...
That night in prayer I had determined before God to read His word and believe it – trusting that God would provide me with faith according to Romans 10:17. That morning I could have devoured the bible on a plate – I ran from my sleep to pull out my bible – and I began to read it and I found belieiving it to be the most natural thing in the world. Naturally I started at Genesis 1:1.
Scripture was suddenly alive! Every inconsistency that previously had plagued and encumbered my reading – disappeared. I can’t really explain it – but scripture suddenly was simple and easy to understand. Everything fit into place like a puzzle, and the joy! I could read for hour after hour.
My prayer time suddenly was long and searching – I could pray for hours. One thing I noticed – sin was sin again. I suddenly was sensitive to my own sin again, but this time I had scripture to show me how to deal with my failures. I began to confess sin, and trust that the Lord had truly forgiven me my confessed sins.
It was a sort of wonderful honeymoon that lasted for five or six years, saved my marriage – nay, absolutely transformed my marriage and family life – and set my heart to ministry.
The next turning point would have been when I had come to see my need for fellowship with other Christians. I hadn’t joined myself to a church, nor had I submitted myself to Christ in the matter of baptism – two things I was under sore conviction about.
My wife and I joined a church and within months I was volunteering in the youth ministry. To be sure - I hated working with youth. Not these youth – but in general. I don’t know what I was thinking, but a need came up, and I seemed to have the skills needed to fill the need – and so (trembling) I offered myself as a candidate for that ministry.
I won’t lie – I truly felt that I was not worthy of the ministry. Oh, how my heart trembled under the idea of being responsible for these youth in any way. The pastor of the church felt certain that I was the man for the position – but I felt that I wasn’t worthy of it – thinking that I was surely insane for having even dared to offer myself to the ministry. Yet the pastor thought it was a perfect fit, and I soon found myself ministering to these youth in a lesser capacity.
Strangely enough – almost immediately I loved these kids. If you knew me before you would drop your jaw in awe – but seriously, I loved them, and I suddenly found myself paternally concerned for their spiritual growth.
It was only about six or eight months into this ministry that both pastors resigned. There was corruption in the leadership (not in the pastors, but in the other elders). The pastors had tried unsuccessfully for over a year to bring this corruption to discipline – but the church constitution was constructed in such a way as to utterly insulate the elders from this discipline. After a year of trying to work around it the Senior pastor resigned, and the associate pastor resigned as well.
The whole thing came out and when the elders in question refused to step down, many in the congregation felt inclined to resign from membership. My wife and I were amongst this group.
It was the most difficult decision we ever had to make – and I recall fasting over it for three days – but there was nothing to be done for it. The only thing I was really concerned about was who would take the youth group?
As it turns out, the youth group fell apart – and with it my heart. I couldn’t stay in fellowship with this church for the sake of the youth group – but I thought, I could continue meeting with them at my house until the church started up its own youth group. By now most of those attending the youth group were young adults – and we felt there was nothing untoward about like minded Christians meeting for fellowship.
I should mention this wasn’t your pizza and pop style youth group – where we simply got them off the street for an hour a week – this was a serious group of believers who met to sing, pray, and especially study scripture.
When we began to meet at my house we called it the “Renegade Bible Study” – each week we sang songs, prayed together, and did a John MacArthur Bible study. This went on for about a year before the other church started up a youth group again. At that point we lost some of the younger people – but a core group of young adults – now college age students, continued to meet weekly for the next couple of years for a time of song, prayer and study.
Those of us who left the old church formed a new church. We were Baptists after all (haha) - so I suppose it was almost expected of us. Nevertheless we had enough of a group to form a new church, and so we did - calling these same two pastors who had resigned to be the pastors of our new church.
It was about a year or so later that we purchased a church building. The younger of the two pastors resigned to start a house church - and the older one stayed on to train a new pastor - when the new pastor had been there a month, the old pastor resigned, but stayed on as a member of the congregation - teaching bible studies and occasionally preaching.
Yet it had been around the time that I entered into this youth ministry that another turning point came in my spiritual life - I had begun to attend a “shepherd’s college” – a ministry that trained men for full time work in Christian ministry.
Three years later I felt that perhaps God would use me in the pulpit, and so I pursued and entered into a “personal mentorship” with that same senior pastor who had retired from the pulpit. His "retirement" wasn't from ministry, but rather into a "pastor of pastors" ministry. I have been in this mentorship now for two years – and the anticipation is that I will become a pastor.
It was (in fact) because of this personal mentoring that a new and significant turning point once again came in my life.
After four years of shepherd’s college, and a year of personal mentoring under a gifted and thoroughly experienced pastor – I was asked to preach in a church!
I prepared for that first sermon for weeks, but especially in the week prior to preaching. I was in prayer constantly that week and fasting like crazy; above all this I strained as much as a man can strain - to keep myself absolutely spotless from sin.
Now, you might say – hey, you’re a Christian! Aren’t you supposed to be keeping yourself spotless all the time anyway?
Well, yes I am. But I had become rather comfortable in my Christianity by this time. I had come to a place in my walk where I had dealt with more or less all of my sinful habits - I had trained myself to be suppress the desire to sin when it came up - and with the exception of some "strongholds" I had more or less come to a place of "rest." Not that wonderful rest from sin that scripture portrays - rather a settled laziness that comes from wearing yourself out suppressing sin on a daily basis.
I had trained myself to suppress sin as soon as any temptation arose – and in the strength of this "skill" I managed to free myself from all sorts of sinful habits. In fact, my Christianity had become a series of "good habits" loosely tied together through a sort of "Romans Six" reckoning - at least that was what I had convinced myself. The end result (at least regarding external exprestions of sin) was that I wasn't really struggling with sin anymore.
Not that there was less sin in my life - but that I began to rest in those areas where I had had "victory" - and silently fretted about those areas where I could not gain the victory. The outside of my cup was starting to look pretty clean - but coinciding with this external sheen, was a realization that I had only really dealt with the sin that "didn't matter."
I didn't like swearing anymore, so I didn't have any trouble with corrupt communication. Oh, occasionally I would say something off color - but by and large I was a right speaking fellow. I quit drinking alcohol - just to be safe - but frankly I hadn't really been drinking all that much lately anyway. I quit television, which was perhaps one of the best things I could have ever done for my faith - I quit all sorts of things in fact - the list is profound to me, since at some point they all seemed so crucial to my life. Never-the-less, all I had really done was get rid of (as best I could) every weight that was hindering my walk.
But that week as I prepared to preach for the first time - I brought my entire awareness to bear on the problem of residual sin in my life. Not the external expression - but the internal reality: my motives, my thought life – that whole week long I brought everything into the captivity of my will – if spirituality was a muscle – I remained clenched like a quivering fist all week long.
When that Sunday came, I came into the pulpit trembling to speak before God in Christ a message for his lambs – profoundly aware that I had done all I was able to keep myself from sin – and I preached a powerful sermon on sin (it had been my constant thought all week, after all). Upon stepping down from the pulpit I felt that I had discharged my service to God to the utmost of my ability, and I was even glad to have been used by God in that capacity.
But a funny thing happened on the way home.
As I mused over the past week I suddenly came to realize that my most profound effort – and I mean it when I say profound – my most profound effort to deal with internal sin, did not do away with it, neither had it lessened it's power in my life one iota. My all out, hard won, unprecedented suppression, while it produced a lessened sense of guilt because there was less outward sin to confess - yet it in no way affected me internally. Nothing in me had changed – I had simply given my best effort to keep myself from sin – and my best effort hadn’t changed a thing about the inside of my cup. Still within me was a desire to sin that I had to either suppress or release.
It was on that ride home that I began to fully realize - to my utter horror – that I could not clean the inside of my cup. I realized that suppression of sin doesn't clean the inside of the cup at all - it simply cleans the outside – the inside of my cup would remain filthy no matter how I railed against sin.
I suddenly understood that suppression doesn't make you have sweet water bubbling up from within – but rather temporarily corks the bitter water that is coming up from within. It was as if you plucked the apples off an apple tree as soon as they began to form - and then hung oranges on the limbs - and by continually doing so you insisted that this was in fact an orange tree - but the sprouts (no matter how you might suppress them) bore witness to the tree.
I was still in the bondage to sin, and all my efforts, while they may have made me look like Christ on the outside to some degree - certainly weren't making me be like Christ on the inside. This was the first time perhaps that I had a real, fundamental understanding of the power of sin – nay – of my own bondage -to- that power.
All my external holiness amounted to a hill of beans. I taught myself Greek – what of it? I read the bible thrice every year – so what? My understanding of the Christian condition seemed unparalleled amongst my peers – what pride! Had any of this saved me from the bondage to sin?
Now -- don't get me wrong -- I am the first to preach from Romans six – dead to sin. Amen – a thousand times Amen. I regarded Romans six as something sacred – the Holy Grail of scripture – here was the answer, clearly stated, but for some reason obscured and clumsy in my understanding. I knew that “freedom from sin” meant I was supposed to reckon myself dead to the sin, and alive to God. And in the strength of suggested reasoning I had managed to free myself from all sorts of sinful habits (giving God all the glory of course) – and in this way I managed to purge from my life some of my worst sinful habits. But this "old man" was -NOT- powerless, as scripture was saying, but was in fact full of power, and all I had ever done was suppress that power. It wasn't rendered powerless - rather I had learned along with Plato and humanism in general - that if I were willing, I could positively reinforcement better behavior in myself - except when I did it, I dressed it up as something spiritual.
I had become, but only just then began to realize - a Pharisee.
Not unlike a good Jew, or even a pious Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu - I had identified something of my fallen condition - and through good habits and hard effort I had trained myself to automatically suppress any wicked desire that came up from within.
I had become the “model” Christian – except that it was all hinging on autosuggestion, positive reinforcement, and a profound hypocrisy that thanked God for doing in me what really was my own personal effort. Really, I was doing it all – and giving God credit for it.
So when I suddenly understood that I was a big faker and a hypocrite – I began to slack off. Oh, I still read the bible and prayed – but my bible reading became a trickle –taking an entire year to read the bible cover to cover, and praying no more than half an hour at a time. I would still confess my sin – but it began to be very generic – I am a “sinner” etc.
At a time when you would expect my ministry to whither and decrease, instead it was flourishing. I felt like in spite of my wretchedness I was miles ahead of my contemporaries - a “rising star” – yet because of my inability to have true victory of the source of sin in my life - I felt myself to be an utter hypocrite.
Truly, I had dealt with all the little things. I didn’t smoke, drink, swear, or look at porn. I stopped watching television, and we homeschooled our children. I gave up everything that took me away from God – yet I was no closer to the Lord than I had been at the start. I could see God in my life in the same way that a person sees the wind – by the evidence of what the wind does – so too, I knew that God was working in me, but I had a hunger for righteousness that wasn’t being slaked by all my personal effort. Had you asked me about a "personal witness" of the Holy Spirit I would have described this sort of thing to you - but I really didn't have any internal affirmation except in this indirect sort of way.
I note of course that scripture doesn’t actually say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall fill themselves with righteousness and then pretend that God did it so that they can give God the glory and live another day pretending that everything is okay” – yet again and again that is what I continued to do. Whatever righteousness I did possess - if you could call it that - was not springing up from within me – rather it was being forced into me by the sheer effort of my own will entirely because (having read the bible) I knew what righteousness was supposed to look like - and knowing myself to be a believer - I did what everyone else I knew was doing - I tried to look be the part.
But I was really stuck in Romans Seven. O many would pat me on the back and say, you’re being too hard on yourself, no one ever gets free from that internal sin – the best you can do is just push it down with all your might until you can make a 'victorious' habit of doing so. The trouble with that is –that kind of “sanctification” is available to every single false religion on the planet – and I knew it.
It was at this point that I began to study what exactly Christ died to free me from, that is, I began to study sanctification. I wanted to know what the bible taught about it – and how that compared to what modern theology teaches.
Our "gospel" hangs much of itself on our atonement model. Christ died to pay the "penalty" of our sins - God punished Him instead of us. Thus our gospel because, Come to Jesus and You will be saved from the penalty of your sins - but that is not what Matthew 1:21 says is it?
I began to think of Jesus as the one who saved me, not only from the penalty for my sin - but especially from the power of my sin - really, that is what Paul talks about in Romans six. We all stand up and say AMEN with regards to reckoning ourselves dead to sin - as long as we don't mean by that that we are actually free from sin's power in any practical way...
Seriously - I don’t know why, but I began to look at this whole thing by studying the humanity of Christ. Soon I was convinced by scripture that while Christ was indeed 100% God, his incarnation was truly 100% human. That meant that every time Jesus did a miracle, or knew something, or anything out of the ordinary – anything that a normal man couldn’t do – these things he did not in his own power, but in the power of the Holy Spirit who indwelled Him.
Until one actually does the study – one might not agree with that – but scripture isn’t silent on the matter. Clearly the reformers understood the importance of understanding Christ’s humanity – and all our historic theology demonstrates this.
Being convinced that Christ was perfectly human – different from me only in that he did not suffer the “taint” of original sin – I reasoned that it was through the power of the Holy Spirit that Christ remained sinless through out his earthly life – an impossibility for a “tainted” believer – having (as we do) a fountain of filth within us that is (by nature) at enmity with God’s Spirit – and being such, is entirely unable to submit to God’s Spirit.
Introspection: Can I really obey God’s Spirit?
I began to understand that Christianity isn't about moulding yourself to the form - that was Paul's charge against the Jews - they had a "form" (like a jello mould) of righteousness that they were pressing themselves into - but in doing so they denied the real righteousness that comes from God.
Clearly I had always understood the righteousness from God to be that imputed righteousness that comes with justification. Yet as I began to explore that thought it didn't play itself out. No one pursues some thing that they have already obtained - yet scripture encourages believers to pursue holiness (without which no one will see God).
I suddenly saw that Christianity isn't about following rules - it is about obeying the Holy Spirit whom God has given. So utterly simplistic I was embarrassed that I hadn't noticed it up front.
This should have been obvious since obedience is a choice. By that I mean that when a “command” is tactical such as “go and do this!” I can obey it from my will, not that my heart is obeying it - but that I am obeying it externally. When the command is immaterial however, such as – “love God!” I suddenly find that I was unable to obey - unless God Himself granted me that obedience.
This inability to obey from the heart is called “Total Depravity” and I suspect that many of the internet theologians who talk about it haven’t the first idea how deep the rabbit hole goes – having been taught the concept intellectually rather than having experienced it first hand.
While I absolutely understood that justification and sanctification happen simultaneously – the former being instantaneous, judicial, and forensic, and the latter being a progressive consecration that God does to you – yet I in looking at this I began to question the validity of some of our Christian vocabulary. I was begining to see that Christ isn't formed in us the moment we are saved - we certainly receive something - but was it correct to say we were born from above while we justified yet walking in the flesh? Seriously - how many new believers are walking in the Spirit - how many old believers? How many believers actually have the first idea what it means to walk in obedience to God's Spirit?
Luke tells us that they were first called “Little Christs” at Antioch. I had always taken this verse as an historical footnote: the label - "Christian" - was first applied to believers at Antioch.
But as I began to study it, I asked myself why Paul always spoke of laboring in birth for believers so that Christ would be formed in them. Weren't they already believers? Can you be a believer and not have Christ formed in you? As I pondered this I began to knit together inconsistencies - why wasn't a river of life flowing out of me? Why didn't I love God with all my heart? Why didn't I want to evangelize the world? Why wasn't I like Christ - a little "Chirst" , really - I was getting tired of applying all these promises to myself when it was plain to my reason that while these things were supposed to be true, they were in fact deficient in my experience.
Oooooo hush, hush - mustn't talk about that. ;-)
I began to get very honest about my faith - I was convinced entirely that I was “justified" - that is, saved, but I was finding a difference in scripture itself between being saved from sin's penalty and saved from sins power. The one being a matter of justification - the other a matter of consecration/sanctification - but both being appropriated by faith.
I had certainly appropriated my justification - the gopsel I had been presented was all about justification - but it was silent on sanctification. The gospel I was presented spoke of sin's penalty - and I believed as much - but it didn't speak of sanctification at all - so I didn't believe anything about sanctification.
Now – when you start talking about the gospel and sanctification - people start getting nervous. You are walking on the borderline (if not ten miles past the border) into what is commonly regarded as "heresy" and everyone knows it. Yet I cannot deny that the only gospel that was ever presented to me equated being “born again” with being justified/saved. Yet scripture seems to tie being born again with salvation from sin (as opposed to from sin's penalty). Justification happens in a moment - and sanctification, accompanies it like a stillborn siamese twin.
So I say I began to question the terminology. When are we born again? When Christ saves us from hell, or from sin? Or does Christ not save us from sin? If he doesn't save us from sin, what is sanctification? If he does sanctify us, why does scripture every speak of growing to maturity/completion/perfection? Not that we become perfect, but perfectly complete.
Doesn't scripture describe “Christ being formed” in a person in such a way as to suggest that until Christ is actually and fully formed in you? When Christ is formed in you, wouldn't you be like Him - wouldn't someone call you a "little Christ"?
Now - I am --NOT-- suggesting that we can become “sinless” or unable to sin – but I am wondering out loud if the tainted fountain within us – that well of darkness within us that motivates us to obey sin – can this same thing be removed through faith in Christ? Did he die to take away our sin (as the scripture says) or to take away sin's penalty (as we everywhere infer because the presense of sin in our life goads us to make this inferrence)?
What was it that Christ took to the cross and rendered powerless? The penalty? We know what Romans six teaches - but can we believe it? Does it not teach that the reason a Christian stops sinning isn’t gratitude over being saved – it is that they have been set free from a heart that was previously in bondage to sin! Has that internal desire to sin that motivates and decieves both us and the children of darkness - has this same heart of stone been replaced with a heart of flesh upon which God's law is etched - or are we truly playing mind games with the cross of Chirst - yes our sins is powerless over us - but no, that doesn't mean you have power over sin - except to slowly, progress from a darker to a less darker state over the course of your walk on earth.
I am coming to suspect that only when the spring within that bubbles up this bitter water is removed (as opposed to putting our own finger in it through continual supression) only then can rivers of living water truly flow out of a person’s innermost being.
I may be wrong of course, and that is why I share this - to be corrected if I am off in la-la land, but I am coming to believe that Romans six, properly understood can free a person from the power of sin such that, while a person might still choose to sin, the motivation to do so, won’t be rising out of their own heart - but will only enter in externally through daily circumstance. In this way I believe the believer will no longer sit in Romans seven hoping to (at best) gain a facility at suppressing “who they are” at heart. This seems to me to be the very cleaning of the inside of the cup.
So this last turning point in my faith has been perhaps the most troubling – being (as it is) seemingly at odds with the popular faith. Everyone I know seems content to suppress sin – and any suggestion that we can actually have a “practical” solution for internal sin is met with stout resistance - and cries of “Sinless Perfection” – and “Entire Sanctification!” No one, they quickly add, can have actual victory over sin – unless it is of a progressive and incomplete variety – that same variety that sober reflection will demonstrate is actually common to all religions.
So with this last turning point, I am becoming more and more convinced that Christ can clean the inside of my cup - and my faith seems to be soaring through the roof. Where before I couldn't believe the Lord for much - suddenly I am regarding my Savior - not as some distant fellow who kindly released me from my sin debt - but as the living Savior who is working even today to deliver from sin itself.
I am of course concerned, as my heart seems more and more drawn to this. Is it a pipe dream? Can Christ deliver a man from the power of sin - that is, can I love God for real - the kind of love that causes a man to willingly go wherever he is called - or am I always going to have to beggarly and approximate sort of love - the kind that relies not on God's but my own ability to generate affection and gratitude?
What you’re your thoughts on this? And feel free to be Frank.
The fellow in the seat beside me on the bus was perhaps in his late forties or early fifties. He had come on the bus with another fellow perhaps fifteen years his junior.
The fellow clutched in his hand a printout from a placement agency - the kind that gives out laborers to day service - you know, you show up at their office at five in the morning with some work boots, and maybe someone will need a laborer that day. It isn't what you want to do, but welfare will cut you off if you don't show up.
The fellow seated beside me absolutely reeked of cigarette smoke, and his speech and mannerisms told me that he was not very educated, and the fact that he was near fifty and working in this way told me that he really hadn't any marketable skills, and probably never had any.
The younger of the two - was chatty, but his crooked, yellow - toothed smile was nervous - these two were clearly not compadres - rather they likely happened to be in the placement office together and found their fates suddenly twined together in having been sent to the same assignment. Other than being younger, this fellow was a carbon copy of the other fellow.
Perhaps these gentlemen had been dealt a poor hand, or perhaps they were of that sort of worthless character that throws away winning hands - it really wasn't important to the here and now - what was important was that my heart felt a deep pity and compassion for them. I mused soberly to myself that this life could have been mine - or if God permitted, could still be mine.
If we are clumsy, or just plain ignorant we might paint my compassion and pity as noble or even godly. But there is nothing godly about that sort of compassion. It is simple humanism, and finds its root not in God, but in self.
Here is where our heart can deceive us if we are foolish, or clumsy. Ultimately my pity was a reaction to a "what if this was me" scenario - that is, I was pitying myself vicariously through this fellow. Oh - my compassion was genuine, being rooted deceitfully in my own self-preserving heart.
My point at this time however isn't to instruct in the true motives of the deceived heart - though if in passing I have shed some light I am glad for that - but I want to talk about how this same vicarious self-preservation masquerading as it always does as compassion and even "love for my fellow man" can motivate some to evangelize.
They go another step in their hearts - they recall the joy of their own salvation - and consider that same joy projected into this miserable life - and so they share the gospel - hoping to rescue this poor soul from the misery of his or her current life, and into the joy that comes with salvation.
Oh brothers and sisters, this stuff is subtle, so I want to be sure you are with me on this.
The motive here is entirely humanistic - we are concerned that God would "do something nice for this sinner" - that is, our desire is to see the sinner enjoy a more comfortable life.
Some are not so easily fooled - and they instead fall for the same problem, but at a deeper level - they want to save this poor sot from hell - concerned not with the sinner having a comfortable life - so much as the sinner having a more comfortable after-life.
The motive is still the same - the comfort we ourselves desire - projected into the life of another.
Oh some who are blind will rally against this, but I say - let 'em rally.
The motive for the sharing the gospel is this: Jesus died for them, and Jesus deserves the salvation of every soul He died to free. The Love of Christ constrains the true evangelists - Christ MUST be glorified - it is His right - it is our passion to see our Saviour receive the glory due Him.
Anything less is carnal effort - no matter how it is dressed up.
Scenario One The congregation came to church week after week, year after year.
With the exception of their own children, and the occasional "man off the street" the congregation saw no new converts.
The congregation wasn't sharing their "faith."
In comes a new pastor who is determined to see this small church grow into a large church. Not a sermon goes by that he doesn't mention how a Christian is "supposed to be an evangelist" - inside two months the whole congregation has absorbed through constant repetition the verse where Paul encourages Timothy to "do the work of an evangelist."
Still, nothing happens.
The pastor then turns to various Evangelism programs - putting his people through the paces - teaching them techniques on "how to share their faith." Months go by, and much money and energy is spent on training.
Still, nothing happens. The pastor calls in an "evangelist" - who sets up special meetings - and the congregation is encouraged to drag in as many unsaved people as they can - the hope is that some of them might be saved.
A couple of decisions are made, but amount to nothing - and more than a few "re-dedications" happen, but in three weeks it is as if nothing had happened.
The pastor decides to give up, and is "called" somewhere else - and after a time, a new pastor comes in and the whole process starts again.
Scenario Two The congregation came to church week after week, year after year.
With the exception of their own children, and the occasional "man off the street" the congregation saw no new converts.
The congregation wasn't sharing their "faith."
In comes a new pastor who is determined to see this small church grow into a large church. He looks to the market to see what other pastors are doing to make their churches bigger - and he begins to adopt the latest greatest approach.
He finds a way to market the church to the community, and in a few short years its standing room only. The band gets up and plays for 45 minutes, and everyone smiles and claps their hands and "worships" - nothing too heavy or convicting - we don't want to lay a trip on these people.
They have to build a bigger church - something with better lighting and a bigger "stage" and better acoustics. The latest audio/visual is needed, and new and interesting ways are being found to "share" the "truth." It is a no-holds barred church - come as you are... and stay that way.
Scenario Three The congregation came to church week after week, year after year.
With the exception of their own children, and the occasional "man off the street" the congregation saw no new converts.
The congregation wasn't sharing their "faith."
In comes a new pastor who (frankly) could care less how big the church is - his job isn't to make the church big - it is to shepherd the church so that all the sheep are healthy, well fed, and safe.
In no time at all the shepherd notices that something is wrong with the flock - they have the glassy eyed stare of carnality. They have no hunger to re-produce because they are not living in obedience to God's Spirit. In fact, their "Christianity" has become nothing more than a form - a series of habitual obligations intended to suppress the outward expression of sin. There is no life in them per say, but their meticulously bandaged corpse is dressed to the nines.
His ministry over the next few years is to take these dead bones and speak life into them again. But there are some in the congregation who are utterly opposed to this - they are satisfied with their lovelessness - have grown used to it, and regard it as healthy and even normative. They want the church to be big and pleasant - they want methods, they want numbers, and they especially want their pet theologies stroked regularly. These rail behind the back of the pastor until they have enlisted enough of a following to rail to his face.
The pastor doesn't seem alarmed by this turn of events - in fact he was expecting it, and isn't even put off by it, because he isn't in it for his reputation, he isn't in it for himself, and he isn't in it for the church either. He is in it for the Lord.
I recall, with morbid fascination, lying on my living room floor in a state of exhaustion.
Not that I had run a marathon, or finished some laborious task. I was just entirely out of shape and having put on lots of weight through my inactivity - I was finding that more and more, my interest in physical activity was waning.
I looked at myself in the mirror and didn't like the reflection one bit - and though I longed to be thin, energetic, and even athletic again - I didn't seem to have the energy to make it happen.
I fiddled here and there with exercise - but it just didn't happen. After a few weeks I wouldn't see much of a change - and frankly, I didn't want it that much. I wanted to be fit if it could magically happen without my effort - but I wasn't about to purchase fitness through dedication and perseverance.
So I remained out of shape and "soft" for many years.
It was around that time (about ten years ago) that a friend of mine decided he wanted to practice a martial art. We had discussed it many times since university - but it never seemed to happen. So finally he bit the bullet and signed up for Aikido - a Japanese art. I reluctantly agreed to join with him - but secretly planned to quit after a couple of weeks.
It was ridiculously grueling - at the end of a twenty minute "warm-up" I was drenched in sweat - and near passing out from exhaustion. The pace of the class was what you would call "high energy" - and at the end of two weeks I was more than ready to quit. Martial arts isn't like contemporary dance - you basically go and get beat up every night for a few hours then go home, nurse your bruises, and do it all over again the next day.
Perhaps it was because everyone agreed that I was just the latest "newbie" and that like most newbies, I wouldn't pass muster - and it was widely and vocally made known that I wasn't expected to last very long. I was a little chubby, and red faced most of the time, being so out of shape as I was. I think it was because I was expected to "wimp out" that I determined to persevere - to prove them wrong.
At the end of these four years I was quite fit - I had put on plenty of muscle, and I could run a mile without breaking a sweat. The man who had once lain on the floor in a pathetic state of lethargy - was transformed by perseverance and dedication.
I wonder how many people today are lying on the carpet of their living room spiritually speaking? How many have put on a few pounds around their spiritual middle - such that they have no hunger for spiritual things?
Really - just as an out of shape man has no hunger for exercise - so too someone who is out of shape spiritually will have no hunger for spiritual things. The solution is the same - get up and start exercising. Read the bible and pray, root out the sin in your life - and butta-bing butta-boom! You will suddenly find yourself hungry again for the things of God.
Are you a spiritual couch potato? No one is going to come and hit you with a wand and make you a dynamo - you need to set you mind on God to lose the worldly pounds you've gained.
A conversation I recently had about what constitutes "appropriate church attire" got me to thinking that I should interrupt my brief hiatus from blogging with a "quick" post on a form of legalism that is often overlooked (and perhaps even encouraged) in many conservative evangelical churches.
I am talking about “dressing up” for church – and perhaps in particular about men wearing neckties.
I am sure that most of us (by now) have heard the old stand-by:
"If you were going to meet with the Queen of England, you'd wear a tie – wouldn't you?"
But few of those who would ask this question would actually ask it if the comparison were made valid: Consider how I might answer that question were the Queen my own dear mommy - the woman who nursed me a babe, changed my nappies as an infant, and bathed me when we I was little! If I have eaten every meal with the Queen informally for the past forty years - Let me tell you right now – I most certainly would not put on my "Sunday best" to go and see her – and neither would you. I don't care how “conservative” you are!
Now some who hear me "dis" the sacred "Q of E" example will imagine that in doing so I am suggesting that Christians should feel "free to dress as provocatively and/or immodestly as they want" - to that I say:
Seriously, if the Spirit of God is in a person, they really don't need anyone to teach them how to dress modestly because God will do that; I don't imply by that that everyone is going to be obedient to God's leading – only that deep, down genuine believers have had the truth etched into their hearts by the Spirit of God – and if they are willing to be obedient to that truth – they won't need any other instruction in the matter.
"Aaron's holy garments were made 'for glory and for beauty' (c.f. Ex 28:2) – likewise we too are 'a royal priesthood' (c.f. 1 Peter 2:9) – and therefore we ought to dress up when we come to church - 'for glory and for beauty'"
Okay – this one is sad because not only is it moot, but it uses scripture to make its moot point.
In case you don't have God's Spirit to help you understand what is being "pictured" by Aaron's garment, I will tell you straight out – it is the person of Jesus Christ.
The holy garment worn by Aaron during his priestly ministry is a picture of the Spirit of Christ in the New Testament believer. Just as Aaron was unfit for ministry until he was rightly dressed – so we in the New Covenant are unfit for ministry unless we are clothed in Christ.
I think its a crime to pimp these verses that way - but it happens. I have even seen (otherwise) godly men do this. To be sure - when someone asks me for a example of eisegesis – I usually use this gem for the illustration.
I am not on a rant against neckties however; I am actually making a more general point (a point I will get to in a minute once I wrap up the necktie thing.) I see nothing wrong with wearing a necktie to church – but I see nothing right with it either; and that applies to both pew and pulpit. There is a way to dress that is acceptable to God – and anything more than that is catering to men. Period.
But the issue at hand isn't really neckties – it is legalism.
"You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads the grain" – Deuteronomy 25:4
Paul saw the following "truism" in this verse: "the laborer is worthy of his wages" (c.f. 1 Corinthians 9:9; & 1 Timothy 5:18). Paul then (correctly) applied that truism to those who minister the word. The command for the ox can be applied to anyone who labors – whether the worker be an ox treading grain or a preacher preaching the gospel – the truth is still true: the laborer is entitled by God to eat from the fruits of his or her labor.
That is called arguing from the lesser to the greater – and I mention it because most legalistic arguments attempt to apply this style of reasoning using opinions rather than truisms – and thereafter insist that their conclusions are as binding on other believers as scripture itself.
Take this tie thing. In the conversation I mentioned earlier the fellow cycled through a small, memorized, list of reasons why you ought to wear a tie to church - but in only a few moments the well ran dry, and he hadn’t been able to biblical support his view. Never-the-less it was evident that his expectation was that every right thinking Christian male ought to wear a tie to church, and that failure to do so was “unchristian” (or at the very least – less than acceptable).
As he sounded off each of the various articles from his personal litany - I got the distinct impression that this was not some untried opinion he was testing - but rather a firmly rooted conviction drawing moisture (no doubt) from some ancient, central well in the congregation.
It didn’t really matter if neckties were biblical or not – what mattered was that my inclusion into his “group” suddenly rested upon my ability to accept speculation as doctrine – and a rather faulty speculation at that. In failing to acknowledge how biblical neckties are I was painting myself to this fellow as either an outsider, a troublemaker, or just plain “unspiritual.”
It was only minutes before I was about to preach, and to be fair, he had actually interrupted me while I was praying through that church’s prayer items (from the bulletin). There was no time for this conversation to play itself out, and so I cut to the chase of my position – I don’t care much what a man wears to church as long as he comes dressed in Christ. I excused myself and went back to prayer – but I thought it might make good blog fodder.
I am still on hiatus - so I am not going to be very active in the meta - just warning you now...
There comes a point in blogging when you are blogging just because you haven't blogged today - when you are motivated to post simply because you want people to come to your blog and find something new for the day.
At that point you are not "blogging because you have something to say" rather "you have something to say because you are blogging."
So this morning I plan to start a small hiatus. If I have something to say I will prepare it outside of blogdom and post it at a later time, but for the next week or two I will be pressed with other needs in our church, at home, and at work.
I am hopelessly prolific, so even if I try not to, I may still spit out a post here and there.
Try to do this today - obey God. Don't be discouraged if you fail, but get up and obey some more. Do this and continue to do this - God will show you things you haven't seen before (not only if you are successful, but especially as you fail). We serve a loving God - the teacher Himself designed us - so trust the Lord even in your failures; but make no excuse for your failures.
Can you say this? I don't mean can you say I do some of that, or I try and do all of that. I am saying does this describe who you are right now?
I am patient and kind I never envy or exalt myself (I am not puffed up) I never act unseemly or seek anything for myself I cannot be provoked or do evil I rejoice over truth and not unrighteousness I bear all, believe all, hope all, endure all for the sake of others.
Does it amaze you that as Jesus underwent "the passion" He was beaten, spit upon, flogged, and even had His beard plucked from His face (c.f. Isaiah 50:6) - yet all the while His love for those who were doing these things to him didn't fail, or even diminish, such that His parting words included a genuine desire that God would forgive them for the wicked things they were doing to Him?
Or does it amaze you that at Antioch this same character was found in the saints there so that they began to call them little Christ's (Christians).
Or does it amaze you that scripture holds this standard out as obtainable and even appropriate - dare I say it - even normal?
If we say that this isn't our present experience, and has never been our experience we are left to conclude either: 1] There is something wrong with our Christian experience, or 2] No one ever really experiences this sort of love - it is just an ideal.
Not surprisingly, something within us hints that it is #1, yet we reason to ourselves that it is #2.
We say, "No one can be like that" - but scripture shows that Jesus was like that.
We say - "Yeah, well that was Jesus, and I am not Jesus - He was like that because He was God and since I am not God, I cannot be like that"
But that is inconsistent with our orthodoxy. Do we not say that Jesus was a man? Does scripture not teach that everything Jesus did, He did in the power of the Holy Spirit and not in His own divinity? We make a fundamental error when we write off the Christ's behavior as being a side effect of His divinity, rather than something that the Holy Spirit enabled his mortal flesh to do.
Did you catch that? I hope it wasn't muddied. If Jesus was a man (we say 100% man) then he couldn't do anything supernatural could he? "Wait!" you say, "He was God too!" - but that is painting Christ as a 50/50 hybrid - half man/half God - and it doesn't line up with scripture. Scripture paints Jesus as entirely human (though uncorrupted), and as having emptied Himself of all divine prerogative. He lived in utter reliance upon the Holy Spirit - the first Christian.
It was His utter reliance upon the Holy Spirit that shed God's love abroad in Christ's heart so that Christ was able to love as God loved. It was the Holy Spirit whom Christ received in fullness in the Jordan - it was through the Holy Spirit that Christ offered Himself to God - and brothers, sisters: It is only through the Holy Spirit that you can offer yourself to God.
Obey the voice of God (that is, humble yourself), and God will minister to you.
One of the things I like about Frank Turk (a.k.a. Centuri0n - note that is a zero and not an uppercase "o") is that he is a real soldier. Not the kind that sits behind a desk in a war room somewhere calling shots in a pressed uniform sipping designer coffee - no Frank is a down in the dirt, slugging it out on the front line grunt, and I love him for that.
I like the way he tackles the real stinker issues - the ones that no one wants to touch because doing so is like walking through 10 miles of deep, wet mud the kind that sucks your legs down so that you lose a shoe, and maybe even your pants if you stay put long enough. The kind of issues that dissuade our participation in them because doing so means taking heat from well meaning, but otherwise confused believers who forego their Christian temperance when it comes to pouring vinegar on others with whom they vehemently disagree. No one wants to be on the receiving end of that sort of stuff - and most of us will never put ourselves in harms way - even were it to defend a truth we believe to be true. That is the work of the grunt soldier, and we fancy ourselves more of a "home guard" than front line material.
I also appreciate Frank's disciplined use of emphasis - what some would call "snark." Anyone can boil hot dogs, but how few of us can make our own curry? Seasoning is an art form, and Frank is an artist. His blog is obviously a labor of love, dressed up with flair and even style. Like a caring mother, Frank dotes over the eye-candy aspect of his blog - and this is an endearing trait since it isn't hid away in some closet, but paraded for all to see.
We mustn't forget, how Frank can convey a subtle thought with a well placed, and only slightly modified comic book image. I just about died when I saw this particular gem - it says it all doesn't it?
If you read my blog, I hope that you will give Frank's blog a real read. He is a prolific poster - entertaining and relevant, and he loves the Lord. Can you ask for more?
For the first five or six years of my life, I thought my parents could do anything. Didn't we all?
I never worried about food or clothing or shelter or safety. Yet I remember at least one time that I had a bad dream and my parents were impotent to help. Yeah, they pacify and comfort me - but they couldn't really help me, and if I made to big a fuss I would be punished. This was perhaps the first crack in that image I had of them being able to do anything. Whether it was the first such crack is not really an issue - it only matters that I noticed it at some point.
When my mother's uncle died (I was three or so) I remember learning about death for the first time. I remember everyone crying and I remember asking why they were all crying. My mother sat me down and I remember her trying to gently explain "death" to me. I remember what she said, though I don't remember the exact order of the conversation. She explained that everyone dies, and that she too would one day die (a serious crack in my "mom and dad are invincible" image) and that I too would die, and that she would not be able to change that. I cried and cried and cried.
She described death as gently as she could - that a person kinda goes to sleep and never wakes up (Okay - don't tell a three year old that if you ever want them to fall asleep again.) The point is she said that there was nothing she could do about it - we all were going to die, she was going to die, I was going to die etc. I cried and cried - but that didn't change it, and no matter how I wanted her to change it so that she didn't have to die, or I didn't have to die - she couldn't. Another crack.
Soon I learned that money figured significantly in the way things run - and jobs. I learned that bad things could happen even to good people - and somewhere along the way, the image of my parents began to fracture so that a shift began to take place.
I began to trust in my own wiles. I could lie and get away with it if I was good at it (and I was). I could steal if I had need, and I did. By the time I was fifteen, whatever "security" my parents could offer me was lost in my own self-sufficiency. I moved out when I turned 18, went on welfare, and lived in utter debauchery.
That loss of innocence is worse in some people, and we deal with it differently - but the end result is the same - our "sin nature" begins to exert itself in us - we begin to look out for ourselves.
When scripture says that we must come to Christ like a child - I wonder that it doesn't mean simply this - that we must give up relying on our selves - and even as a child relies utterly on (and has perfect confidence in) his or her parents - so too, we as believers ought to rely on God and I expect that in doing so we feel the rest and security that we felt when we had genuine trust in our parents...
Jim, over at Faith Classics asked this question the other day, "Are fruit and works synonymous?"
Rather than answer Jim directly, I thought it would be good to handle the question generically, and especially in such a way as to dispel some of the mythology about Calvinism that is either generated or perpetuated by certain Arminians. I am not suggesting that Jim is doing this by the way, rather in responding to Jim's question I see an opportunity to put to rest some of the old wives tales being told about Calvinism by the very people who are least fit to do so.
I would add also, that like most Calvinistic Baptists, I do not subscribe to that sort of practical syllogism that leads to covenant theology; that is, I am no covenant theologian. I mention this up front to avoid some tangents.
For those of who are don't know what "practical syllogism" is: it is a logical construction (c.f. Aristotle) that reasons in this way:
"all cogs are red" and "bloggo is a cog" Therefore "bloggo is red."
Theologically speaking, this is the core logistic about which covenant theology orbits. Beginning with a premise a conclusion is drawn which is then turned around submitted as the premise of a new inference, like building a house of cards one layer upon the previous layer, ad infinitum. In covenant theology you eventually argue yourself into baptizing infants because the house of cards you have built requires you to replace the old covenant sacrament of circumcision with the new covenant sacrament of baptism - thus according to covenant theology, you enter the new covenant - not because Christ has immersed (baptized) you into "the body of Christ" - that is, not by being saved, but rather you enter the new covenant by being immersed (baptized) in water, whether you are a willing participant in the procedure or not.
As a computer programmer however, I am careful to apply the adage: "Garbage in, garbage out..." to my theological views. I know that any conclusion I arrive at syllogistically is only as valid as the premise that inferred it. Because this is self evident, I am careful to limit my use of syllogism to the plain truths of scripture - rejecting as "input" anything that would have to be inferred - especially if these same inferences rely on a particular interpretive slant.
In the book of Isaiah, the prophet describes how Israel had fallen backward, and become broken, snared and caught because "the word of the Lord was to them, precept upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little". Plainly stated, Israel erred (theologically and practically) when they embraced practical syllogism (building one precept upon a previous precept rather than upon a definite truth).
What I am saying is that having examined and rejected those major premises ("inputs")that eventually infer (via practical syllogism) the standard "covenant theology" position, I want it understood that I am not a Covenant Theologian. Sometimes people presume that since most (all?) Covenant Theologians are Calvinists that all Calvinists must therefore be Covenant Theologians; and I must affirm vigorously that they are not. That would be like saying that since All dogs have fur, everything that has fur is a dog.
Okay, have I pre-loaded this thought enough?? Onto the topic at hand...
Perhaps the best place to begin is Colossians 1:9-10 ("For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;") ...since this passage ties the two thoughts together in the same context. The idea Paul describes here is being "fruitful" -in- every good work.
Note: Paul doesn't say fruitful by every good work.
The preposition translated as "in" in the Greek is "en" - and it means in, or among - had Paul wanted to say "through good works" he would have used the preposition "dia" - had he wanted to say "according (or corresponding) to good works" he would have used the preposition "kata" - had Paul wanted to say "by good works" he would have used the preposition "hupo" - my point is that we want to avoid being sloppy in our interpretation here - that is, we want to be certain that had Paul meant to say "bearing fruit corresponding to/according to/through/by good works - he could have, and would have done so explicitly. His word choice however suggests that he understood a distinction between the two, and it is that distinction that I hope to expound.
I believe that Paul's prayer for the Colossians would be empty and redundant when he prays that they bear fruit in every good work if there wasn't a possibility of doing good works without bearing fruit . We note that if every good work always bears fruit then one would not need to pray for those same good works to bear fruit as they would (by this supposed nature) always bear fruit.
This shows us that there is a possibility of doing "good works" without actually bearing fruit, and this we know not only from Paul's usage, but from our own experience. We see the "Mother Teresas" of this world doing good works, and in fact, we see many people in every cult and world religion doing good works - but we don't imagine that God's Spirit is producing fruit in them. Thus we draw a hard line between good works and fruit, even if we haven't articulated the exact nature of the distinction at this point. A person may bear fruit in good works, but good works do not generate fruit in a person.
I have so far given the standard position I expect a Calvinist to have (though I cannot speak for all Calvinists).
In John 15 we read, "
As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing."
Here Christ argues from the lesser to the greater - just as the Vine produces fruit in the branch (lesser), so too it is Christ who produces the fruit in the believer (greater) and not the believer himself or the works that the believer does.
Plugging this truth back into Paul's prayer, we observe that Paul is really praying that Christ will produce fruit -in- every good work that each believer obediently performs.
The Calvinist recognizes that because it is Christ who is producing the fruit (as opposed to the believer), it must follow that all true believers will always produce "fruit" (some thirty fold, some sixty, and some an hundred fold).
This is not to be confused with the notion that "every genuine faith is evidenced by good works" - since most right thinking Calvinists would agree that good works are not necessarily indicative of saving faith. I don't deny that there may be some (who wear the label: "Calvinist") who might believe and even teach others that good works the evidence of saving faith - but by and large this is the exception and not the rule. If a Calvinist believers this or teaches it one must understand that this particular quirk has nothing to do with Calvinism and everything to do with the personal theology of that particular believer - and only that believer. We wouldn't imagine that every Europeans is a spouse abuser just because we know one or two who abuse their spouses; in the same manner we accept that there may be a Calvinist out there thinks that you have to do good works to be saved - but this isn't a charge against Calvinism, rather it is charged against the man himself. We must keep the two separate in our thinking if we are to avoid spiritual bigotism.
It happens from time to time that a Calvinist will rightly affirm the nature of genuine faith - that genuine faith is always evidenced by genuine fruit, but this thought will be twisted by the hearer and transformed into the idea that "Good works are the only evidence of genuine salvation" - as though the Calvinist were saying that one must prove they are a Christian to themselves, the world, and God above, by performing good works, and that failure to do so indicates a disingenuous faith. I have watched in morbid fascination, even (otherwise) godly men put these sort of words in the mouths of their brothers in Christ - then defame their brothers for having supposedly "said" them. Surely our enemy slaps his knee in delight every time this happens.
The Calvinist affirms that works do not determine your salvation while insisting that genuine salvation cannot be fruitless. Notwithstanding, the typical Calvinist recognizes that some of the saints at Corinth died because they continued in disobedience; they recognize that Annanias and Sapphira died before the whole church because of their sin - that is, they recognize that it is indeed possible for a Christian to fall into a lapse of disobedience so profound that the Lord chastises them by taking them home. What I am saying is that (most) Calvinists are not witless buffoons - they recognize that it is entirely possible to be saved and yet at some point in life be living in fruitless disobedience. But the Calvinists argues that "as many as God loves He chastens and rebukes" and "if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons." The Calvinist rightly expects God to deal with the lawlessness of legitimate sons, and reasons from scripture that "wayward saints" receive chastisement where wayward "counterfeit saints" do not.
The Calvinist therefore denies that a true saint can live as though he were unregenerate - that is the Calvinist says along with John that no true believer can "continue in sin" because God's seed (Christ) is in them. We are not saved (the Calvinist says) by professing to be saved, we are saved by faith - those who are saved are a new creation in Christ, and because they are, they do not continue to live as they used to live. Because Christ is in every true believer, every true believer bears fruit immediately - but that isn't to say that this fruit is always clear and evident to the observer (Christ implied that even the angels couldn't always accurately discern who the genuine wheat was and who was only chaff).
Simply put, the Calvinist believes:
That all believers bear fruit (since it is Christ who produces that fruit in the true believer);
That this same fruit is manifest in (but in no way produced by) good works;
That while good works in and of themselves are not necessarily proofs of genuine salvation, yet a lack of the same is indicative of either  a false conversion or  a wayward walk that will manifest itself as genuine only in that God himself will chastise that son whom He loves.
It isn't a Calvinist "thing" (therefore) to insist that once a person is saved they must immediately embark on a regiment of good works in order to secure, prove, or maintain their salvation. This notion doesn't come from Calvinism, but is painted onto Calvinism by people who ought to know better but don't.
Jim says in the comment section of that same post:
It is true that our views are formed by prior generations and many times we are not aware of the factors that caused us to hold certain perspectives.
Typically, (and I don't suggest that this is what Jim is doing, rather I am only noting how this sort of reasoning is typically used) this sort of reasoning is used to summarily dismiss what others believe without having to go through examining it to see whether it is true or not. I can't apply the dismissive to myself however, since I came to 95% of my theological opinions by studying scripture in isolation. I point that out because a statement like that can be tossed out as a way to dismiss the Calvinist on fruit bearing - painting all things Calvinistic as tradition more than a personal conviction - an inheritance that one receives with ample theological baggage which supposedly cripples one spiritually or something like that. Again, poor Jim, I don't suppose for a minute that he wasn't suggesting anything of the sort, but this same rhetoric he uses has been used traditionally by many in the way I have described.
That is why I point out that I didn't even know the first thing about "theology" (or the reformation for that matter) until I had been a Christian for some time. I read the bible cover to cover about a half dozen times before I ever heard of John Calvin or any of the labels we bandy about nowadays. Truly I was well established in my Calvinistic understanding of scripture before I ever embarked on any study of theology. My presumption was that everyone who read the bible and believed must believe it in the same way that I did. It is the sort of naivete that a new believer would have. I knew that the Lord wanted me to attend and join a church long before I determined to do so. In my pride I imagined that I would be treated with contempt because I hadn't become a Christian as a child. I was worried that everyone would be looking down their noses at me spiritually speaking because they had been Christians for so long and I had only just come into the fold. I was worried that I would not understand all their exalted speech and profound biblical wisdom - so I stayed home and read the bible over and over again. Eventually however God overcame my pride in this area and I began to attend a church - it was then that I discovered that what I believed had a label, and that others didn't believe the same as me. Even though I hadn't studied the reformation or church history (Luther? Wasn't he that preacher who was assassinated when film was still in black and white?) yet I had come to the same conclusion as the reformers came to, even though I came to them in isolation as it were.
Because my own views have not been overly impacted by previous generational teachings my testimony itself shows that the Calvinistic persuasion in this matter is not generated by or inherited through previous generational teachings or traditional interpretations or what have you. An honest contemplation therefore cannot use history or inheritance to suggest that the Calvinistic understanding of these things is flawed. Sadly, or perhaps "appropriately" - if we are sincere in knowing the truth about these matters, we ought to be careful what we toss away and what we keep.
Okay - back to fruit/works.
The relationship between "fruit" and "good works" is this: every genuine believer will bear fruit, and furthermore this same fruit is typically (but not necessarily) borne out when we engage in good works. Not that good works produce fruit, but that the Lord produces the fruit when we submit ourselves to Him in doing those good works that God has prepared beforehand for us to do.
A man might give all he has to the poor - a tremendous "good work;" but the same man is helpless in that he cannot make himself love the poor. Anyone who gives all they have to the poor when they do not really love the poor has done a fruitless good work.
Likewise, anyone who recognizes their lovelessness, and confesses their lovelessness to God, calling on Him to cleanse them of it, into these hearts the Lord will pour a genuine love for the poor - and this same love will producedrive a believer to do good works for the poor, but we do well to note that the fruit is there long before the works show up.
That is the heart of the difference as I see it, and I am a Calvinist.