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Theological, Doctrinal, and Spiritual Musing - and whatever other else is on my mind when I notice that I haven't posted in a while.
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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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The Buzz

Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
- Marc Heinrich

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

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

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

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

There are some people who are smart, deep, or funny. There are not very many people that are all 3. Daniel is one of those people. His opinion, insight and humor have kept me coming back to his blog since I first visited earlier this year.
- Carla Rolfe
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Tuesday, June 30, 2009
The Book of Revelation
There is a LOT of symbolism in it.

Seriously. Clearly it was written to be veiled even to those who lived contemporary to the author. It isn't as if John was trying to obfuscate everything he wrote either, he was writing about things that he saw, all of which were significant, but he was seeing images that were inscrutable even to him. Some of these were explained to him, and others were left unexplained.

This book comes with a promise: "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near." (Revelation 1:3 [NASB]). When the book was first delivered to the church, someone would have stood up and read it, and everyone else would have sat quiet and listened. When John writes, "blessed is he who reads" I think he was alluding to the person who stood up to read, and when John writes, "and those who hear" I think he means those who were listening to the reader. These would have been the remainder of the congregation. The blessing required more than just hearing the words of the prophesy however; those who were exposed to the prophesy, either as the one reading it to their congregation, or as the congregation hearing the words that were read - what was understood had to be heeded in order to invoke the blessing.

The word translated as "heed" here actually means to keep your eye on something so as to guard it against being stolen or lost to your sight. Think of spotting a someone in a crowd far away, and keeping your eye on that person so that you don't lose them in the crowd; or again think of keeping you eye on your towel at the beach so that when you come out of the water you know where to go. In order to be blessed by these words you must keep your eye on them. I don't mean literally, but rather that you retain the words in your understanding.

No other book in the bible has suffered such sore abuse as this book, for obvious reasons. It speaks of things past, present, and yet to come from John's perspective, and it speaks of the end of the world in spiritual imagery that has given birth to entire speculative schools of thought. If someone wants to talk to me about what such and such represents in the book of Revelation, I like to ask them how well they understand and live out the book of Romans, not because I believe that one text is superior to the other (though I admit, I am tempted on this point...) but rather that I reason that no one should obsess over that which is obscure until they have at least mastered that which is obvious and plain.

I do not (usually) make any extra effort to comprehend the book of revelation <Gasp!>, but I don't ignore it either. I read it like I read any other book of the bible, and I read it as often as I read any other book in the bible. I know that the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthias 2:14), but I don't use that to say that John was being a "natural man" when he had to have some of the imagery used in the visions explained to him. If John says he was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, I don't later on say he was a natural man simply because he couldn't interpret the visions himself. I recognize that these things are purposely obscured by God, so that even the messenger who received them (John) couldn't comprehend them without direct intervention. If John couldn't comprehend the meaning of these things fully, I don't call any person "unspiritual" if they are only as spiritual as the Apostle John.

There are some things we can understand, even many things. Yet there are things that are obscure now that will be made clear later - after they have come to pass. I mean, before the prophesies of Daniel came to pass, who could have guessed what the imagery meant? Sure you could identify the big themes (this is about wars to come... right?) but getting into the nitty-gritty (and this goat represents a man who is going to be born hundreds of years from now named Alexander the Great!) would have been impossible. So too, I think, with the book of revelation. I don't believe the blessing at the beginning of the book means that the one who studies this book disproportionately will be blessed with perfect understanding of the imagery in it, I think it means only that the person who is exposed to this book, and keeps the eyes of his heart on the message in it (Christ is coming again) will be blessed.

There is nothing wrong with rigorously studying this book, and I don't write today to discourage anyone from such study. I would only caution Christians not to make the promise at the start of this book bigger than God intended to make it, I would caution people against thinking that 1 Corinthians 2:14 guarantees them a better understanding of these images than even the Apostle John could have had, and I would caution people in giving this book greater focus than any other book in scripture.

I couldn't care less for prophesy conferences. My eschatological view is still malleable, not for lack of study, but for lack of understanding. I will understand when God opens my eyes, and until that day I am satisfied with the light He has already given. If God put a deep desire in me to pursue speculative arrangements and charts and details about the end times, I suppose I would be far more passionate about it; but then again God wouldn't do that unless it was for the building up of the body. It is good to have an interest, but unless it edifies people other than yourself, chances are it is just a selfish pursuit. Selfish pursuits are something we all can get caught up in, so we ought not to have our judgment clothes on just yet.

So if you have been reading, and waiting in your heart for me to nail the prophesy-mongers to the wall, it isn't going to happen. Yeah, some kooks fall off the deep end, and some would-be kooks hang out in that direction, and yes, we ought to speak to that sort of thing clearly and boldly (and thoughtfully and gently), but this is a splinter in someone else's hand, and I set that aside for the moment. The point we're making today is just that we should read more into the book of Revelation than is there. Treat it like the rest of scripture, that is, read it, and believe it, and trust that God will open your understanding as far as is perfect for what God wants you to do.


posted by Daniel @ 6:19 AM   2 comment(s)
Monday, June 29, 2009
Another Week Begins...
My family was out camping this week, but I remained behind. They were only gone for four days, but boy oh boy did I miss them. It didn't help that I was organizing photos for much of my free time too - reliving all the happiest moments of our lives together... sigh.

Well, they came home yesterday, but they are off again on Wednesday. My wife's parents have a camper and each summer they go all over the place with the kids and my wife, and occasionally with me. I probably could line up my vacation days with theirs, but I tend to take my vacation days throughout the year, here and there, rather than as a seasonal thing. Truly, I was spoiled by summer holidays as a child - unless I can get two months off in the summer, it doesn't feel like a "proper" vacation. Since I won't be getting eight weeks vacation any time soon, that isn't going to happen; and really, if I had eight weeks, I wouldn't spend it that way anyway. I actually like having the freedom to plan a week ahead to take a long weekend etc. I like to have vacation days left over at the end of the year so that I never have to feel like I am at work "because I have to be" - that is, I like to be there by choice.

I suppose that is part of my rebellious spirit. I don't like having anyone or anything rule over me, and this is one way in which I "control" what happens to my life.

I think there isn't any aspect of my life that when scrutinized wouldn't reveal some ulterior, carnal motive.

I was considering the remnant of Israel that returned from Babylon. Recall that they were required to make the same daily sacrifice that the once great nation of Israel used to make. That was certainly a greater drain on them than it would have been had they been a greater multitude. Yet as the nation flourished again under the blessings of God, that difficult requirement became easier. Not because the requirement changed, but because the Lord's provision grew as He blessed them with offspring, crops, and cattle.

As I grow in the Lord I see a parallel - the requirements haven't changed but as I cling to God and look to His provision, whether consciously or by unconscious default, I am given more with which to answer God's expectations. It helps to remember that these people weren't producing cattle by their own effort, they weren't causing the crops to grow - God was. Yes, they had to tend to all that God gave them for this to happen, but when it did happen it happened because God blessed their efforts.

Here is a word of encouragement then, if God blesses effort, then trust that your efforts are being blessed. If things seem hard now, trust that as God blesses, what once was hard will be less of a burden in the wake of increasing blessings, so long as our effort doesn't lag behind God's provision.

If you notice, as I do, with greater clarity the depth of depravity that saturates your carnal being, rest in this knowledge: you do not walk in the flesh (or at least you are not supposed to), but in the spirit. When God shows us more clearly the reality of the flesh, it is because He wants us to know what He is saving you from. Let's be bold and blunt here: you're not really going to want to escape the flesh if you think it is not really that bad. You may for the sake of religion or for the sake of your reputation in Christian circles, do what seems right (pray, read your bible, minister, etc.) but you won't be able to throw your whole heart into it. Why not? Because there is a part of you that is holding out for "self". You do that because deep down, you don't think that there is anything all that wrong with mixing two types of fabric. That is, you walk through your Christian faith allowing God to augment your own strength, rather then abandoning your own strengths all together, and you do this because you haven't seen what you are clearly enough - at least not enough to loathe the idea of mixing that with God's provision.

Even as I missed my family this week I learned that I am selfish and cold. Shouldn't I be praying for them with the same fervency when they are with me as when they are away? The Lord is always teaching - always! - showing us through every life experience how sick we are, how sinful. Who wants to take up their cross daily? Those who do more than pay lip service to God's condemnation of sin - those who see themselves as vile, and see God's judgment as just, and see that they are incapable in themselves of generating anything but more corruption in the world. When a person begins to see the utter depravity of self, he or she can never be wholly inclined to rely on self to please God.

The path in all my experiences has always been this way. Here I see a thing, and I see the shadow it casts, and I learn from it my depravity, and in that I learn the necessity of Christ so that I am encouraged to set the one aside and embrace with my whole being the other.

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posted by Daniel @ 7:11 AM   0 comment(s)
Friday, June 26, 2009
On Casting Out Demons of Homosexuality...
By now you have probably read, and maybe already forgotten, about the video clip of some church in Bridgeport, Connecticut performing a ritual described in the media, and by the (female) pastor as "casting out a demon of homosexuality" out of a 16 year old male.

Robin McHaelen, the executive director for a gay youth advocacy and mentoring program seems to suggest that the ritual hurt the kid, but only unintentionally. In her own words, she said, "None of the people in this video were intending to hurt this kid." What bothered McHaelen wasn't the intent, but the message, we get that in this quote from her, "He's 16 and having the feelings that he's having, the relationships he's having, and then [he's] being tormented by 'What if I'm going to go to hell because of what I feel and who I am?'"

That last quote caused me to write this post.

Listen: Do you want to know who we all are? We are all sinners. Every person who goes to hell, does so because of "what they feel" and "who they are." The fact of the matter is we are sinners, and we love sin. We don't want to surrender to God, we want to rule our own lives. If this kid weren't dealing with homosexuality, he would still suffer from the same problem - he is going to hell because He wants to indulge what he feels and wants to rule his own life (i.e. to be "who he is").

I don't think homosexuality is necessarily a demonic problem, whether demonic influence plays some role, and how big a role that is, ought not to be Christianity's prime concern. Our prime concern is that people learn that you don't go to hell because you're gay, you go to hell because you refuse to be reconciled to God on His terms; that is, you reject God's rule over your life, your mouth can pay lip service to the gospel, but if your heart doesn't bow before the King (that is, if you refuse His rightful rule in your life), you have not entered the kingdom. Your mouth can't enter in when your heart has stayed behind.

About the video itself... I haven't watched it, but I read about it. Maybe a demon was making this boy writhe around on the ground during the ceremony - maybe ... but it is just as likely he was doing it himself because he felt that was expected of him. I think the kid should have just surrendered himself to Christ instead.

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posted by Daniel @ 8:40 AM   0 comment(s)
I didn't notice.
Michael Jackson Died. I was home sick and not checking the net. I must say, I was surprised, he was only fifty.

I expect there will be a few Christian blogs (and even up and coming Sunday Sermons) that will mention Michael's death as a springboard into discussing the judgment we will all face at our own passing.

Well, I am off to work.


posted by Daniel @ 7:05 AM   1 comment(s)
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Liars and Lying.
John 8:44: "You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. [NASB]
I love the clarity of Christ's words here in that He says, "he speaks from his own nature..." I have heard even (otherwise) godly men and mature believers use the example of Rahab to suggest that it is sometimes okay to lie. They reason that a lie is no longer wicked if it is being told to spare someone else pain, death or "needless" grief.

I suggest to you this day that there is only one reason that a person lies: It is because telling the truth in the given situation won't serve that person's desires.

I suggest to you this day that there is only one reason that a person lies: It is because telling the truth in the given situation won't serve that person's desires.
Even a lie that benefits others (think Rahab in Joshua 2:3-5) is still told because the teller believes that telling the lie will yeild a better outcome for them, than telling the truth would. By faith the harlot Rahab welcomed the spies of Israel in peace, and for this she was grafted into Israel - but there was nothing faithful about her lying. Had she spilled the beans, God would have saved her just the same, and He would have preserved those spies too.

I know that some of you reading don't really believe that, and you don't believe that because you think that life is more important than anything else. You believe that unless God preserves a person's life, He is not serving the greatest good, and that is because you have exalted life as a greater good than God. I have written on this philosophical pollutant before. Try to imagine, for a moment, that God is not obligated to keep Rahab or the spies alive, and you might understand why I say that it was wrong for Rahab to lie. Her life is not so valuable, nor the lives of those spies, as to warrant telling a single lie to protect them. In lying she was relying on her own resources to spare her life, because she loved her life more than she loved truth, and since it was her opinion that the truth wouldn't serve her life, she set it aside in order to embrace what she felt would.

This post however is not a judgment of Rahab, but I go there just because if I didn't someone else would.

Until we see the lie for what it is, we are blind. When we lie, we are doing exactly what Christ described the devil as doing: we are speak from our own nature, and we do so in order to protect, pamper, and serve that nature; we lie in order to satify and gratify the flesh and its desires.

I was going preemptively answer a bunch of objections at this point - you know, the fringe examples - what about this horrible, but unlikely situation where the "best" thing you can do is tell a lie. Listen: The best thing you can do is sometimes keep your mouth shut, and if you are forced into a choice between lying or telling the truth - let me reiterate this again - the deciding reason you will lie is because it serves your interests to do so. Maybe there are ten other reasons, all of them great reasons, and each of them presenting themselves as altruistic, holy, and good - and surely you will be powerfully motivated and moved by such things, but these will not be the primary reason you will set the truth aside. The primary reason you will set aside the truth is because you are convinced that it won't serve YOUR PURPOSES as well as a lie will.

Chew on that, liar, until you can swallow it.


posted by Daniel @ 9:33 AM   6 comment(s)
Monday, June 22, 2009
Doulogos Goes Apple...
Well, as I mentioned in the meta of a few posts, we, as a family purchased a new Apple computer this weekend.

Having homeschooled all of our children for many years now, we already were projecting a sort of natural, but unconscious smugness - a sort of unspoken aura of perceived superiority, at least I presume we have, since there are some who so hate homeschooling that they presume the only reason anyone homeschools is because they think they are better than others... There wasn't much of a transition then when we purchased the apple, since we were already smug before we joined the apple tribe.

I am reminded of the Seinfeld episode where the Gentile Dentist becomes a Jew so that he can tell Jewish jokes without being branded a racist. I am watching Apple vs. PC commercials in my spare time to hype myself up. I don't want to seem blazé about being an Apple-ite. Already I have purchased casual clothes, and am scheduled for a Moderately Priced Haircut™.

The only gripe I have is that Apple has tried to reinvent the mouse and keyboard, and their efforts, while aesthetically nice, are functionally a step backwards. The mouse is the size of an half used bar of soap, and their keyboard has been designed on purpose to eliminate the sort of tactile feed back that makes typing fast easy.

I know, I know, eventually my eyes will gloss over and I will begin to appreciate the soylent greeness, but for now I regard the mouse and keyboard as being more flash than substance. I plan on picking up a non-apple mouse tonight.

Please bear with me then, gentle reader, as I navigate the first few months of obligatory scorn for all things non-apple in nature. At first I expect to be something of a bull in a China shop, using scorn in a clumsy, beginner-ish sort of way. It will probably be a few months before I begin to settle into the laid back, easy smug that comes later.

In the weeks to come, I hope to post again on this topic, just to gauge my progress.

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posted by Daniel @ 11:25 AM   3 comment(s)
Hallmark Holidays...
There is nothing wrong with giving some day on the calendar some sort of significance. In a secular society especially, these can be days that we as a culture agree to recognize things that we as a culture respect and admire. We are not commanded in scripture to ignore such things.

Having said that, my little girl came up to me just now for a hug and was interested in what I was doing. I explained that I was trying to talk to people about how we as Christians sometimes don't see how the church is influenced by secularism. I didn't use the bigger words though, because she doesn't know what secularism is. But I basically said, people like to do what everyone else is doing, and they bring that into church too. So that we sort of mix the things of the world, with the things of God, because every person who is in our church also lives in the world, and because we are social, we tend to talk about worldly things in church too.

On Mother's day, and Father's day, we tend to get sermons about mothers and fathers. On Halloween we usually get the anti-Halloween stuff (or not). Even Christmas isn't really a biblical thing - Jesus didn't record the day of His birth, nor command us to celebrate it - but it makes for a lot of sad kids if we don't.

I was just thinking about how we really do expect the church to cater to the calendar, even if most of the stuff on the calendar has nothing to do with our faith, or our walk. As someone who has preached, the one thing I have kept myself from, is catering to hallmark holidays. If you ask me to speak on Mother's day, I will gladly wish all the mothers in the congregation a Happy Mother's Day, maybe if the church wants to, we can give out roses or some such nicety - but once the service starts, the Hallmark Holiday ends. The singing is about God, not mother's, the bible reading is chosen to support the coming message, and the message is tuned to the needs of the congregation and not the significant day on the calendar.

I take a lot of flack for this attitude also. Lighten up Dan, they say. You're bitter. No, I say, I am not bitter, I am just sold out to the world in so many other ways, I want to limit, wherever I can, the amount of worldliness that creeps under the door and saturates our services.

I don't write this to criticize any congregation, I write this because I think it's true. It is fine to recognize a secular day, just don't make it the focus of your Christian worship, don't even let it give direction to your worship. Really, there are only 52 Sundays each year, and in some congregations, several of those are set aside because of the secular celebrations on the calendar. How many sermons have you heard on hell? How many on Mothers or Fathers? We let these days dictate the point of our sermons, and that's wrong.

Now, I admire my pastor's work this Sunday, because he has been preaching on the theme of love and what love looks like for the sake of getting our congregation off it's butt and learning to love one another and others, so that the message we got was about parenting new converts and immature believers in the context of love - that is, he didn't really step out of what he has been preaching these last few months, he just preached on that angle, and I thought that was a fair compromise. There is almost a silent pressure to cater to the calendar when you preach because if you don't everyone who is immature will freak out because you "forgot" to preach about whatever the world is celebrating that day.

I must go to work, but these were my morning thoughts. I may be an humbug, or overly sensitive. Who knows?
posted by Daniel @ 7:43 AM   3 comment(s)
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Father's Day thoughts that have nothing to do with Father's Day.
Happy Father's Day all you dad's out there.

There, now that hallmark has had it's way, let's move on.

One of the most difficult things I find, when giving my endorsement of a book, is that there are very few books that I can say that I wholeheartedly agree with everything the author has written. When I was a younger in the faith, and my pride was not quite as obvious to me, I used to think that was because all of Christianity was more or less off in some small way - myself included - and so I chalked these disagreements up to a sort of theological uncertainty principle which, in my pride, really mean that everyone else was theologically uncertain.

As I have grown in my faith and in my walk,presuming of course that I have and that this is the reason my perspective has shifted, I have learned that it is more likely that sometimes I am not so much disagreeing as unable to endorse a thing, because my own opinion in the matter is still undecided.

In Canada we have a multi-party political system. There are three main parties however, basically a (far) left wing party, a liberal middle, and a moderately right wing party. Our family was poor, and my father consistently voted for the party that was most likely to hand out ...well... hand outs - the left wing party. The year I turned old enough to vote, I voted for the same party my parents always voted for, and this only because I had been raised in a home listening to a lot of rhetoric and criticism about the various other parties. As I grew however, and especially as I moved away and was no longer bombarded by such rhetoric, I began to think for myself - to listen to what was said, evaluating each party's platform, and how that fit into my own life - and again, as my own agenda changed, I found myself moving steadily to the right, until now I lament that even our right wing party is more middle than right.

My point is that when I was young I hadn't learned to think for myself yet, but my certainty that I was right in whatever I thought had a blinding effect in me. I presumed that since I was sincere, and reasonably bright, if I disagreed with someone it was because they were dumb, deceived, or insincere. They didn't "get it" like I did, and if they did, they would surely agree with me.

But as wisdom begins to creep in, on the wings of humility, I see that perhaps it has not been their ignorance or guile, but rather that there are some things in the Christian faith that I simply haven't given as much thought as other Christians have. I want to be careful too, having suggested in the previous sentence that I am both wise and humble, that I only mean I have learned from hard experience that I am more sinful than I ever thought, and so weak that unless Christ holds me up, I am certain to fall every time. That kind of knowledge is wisdom, and it has a humbling effect, not because of some great character facet in me, but because of the greatness of our God who opens the eyes of the blind.

I am beginning to see that while it would be foolish and irrational to agree with everything I read, I really do need to consider that even if all things were black and white, not all things are clearly seen; that is, I need to be honest about whether I simply haven't enough experience or knowledge to give a well thought out opinion. I tend to agree or disagree, then move on. I don't find any virtue in the gray area, and I don't think there is any virtue in prolonged ignorance, willful or otherwise. I am not saying, therefore, that I suddenly think it is holy and good to stop forming opinions, or to presume myself correct in what I believe - for that kind of thinking isn't wisdom, it is just fence sitting. But I do need to be honest with myself, being less than omniscient, I must hold some uninformed opinions, and if I am not diligent in examining my opinions as I express them, I am in danger of agreeing or disagreeing with a teaching, not because I have given it any thought, but because I have an opinion that was formed before I gave the thing any thought.

The only "mystical" Christian experience I have every had in my waking life happened the moment I was born again. When I say mystical, I mean something experientially took place that wasn't normative. I didn't hear voices, I didn't see visions, but I did find myself suddenly a new man - united together with God's Christ, and I knew it experientially. Since that day I have never had anything even remotely close to it. My faith has come exactly as scripture said it would - by hearing, and not by feeling. I have tried many times in the infancy of my faith to squirm out from under the necessity of trusting in God directly, and to instead trust in some visible/tangible pointer that "proves" there is a God, and that He is there, and that He hears me, etc. I have longed for some experiential fetch, as it were, that I could look to - for I was no better than the Israelites who preferred a golden calf that they could touch and see to the living God, in that I too longed for a more visceral and tangibly present God. Yet in a day full of grace, the Lord gave me strength to set that aside, and I no longer desire such trite, in fact I abhor the thought, for I have found much strength in faith that would not have been found in sight.

So I am somewhat at odds when a Christian writer or teacher dips into mystical things. Impressions from God being one such area. I am entirely convinced that the Lord is able to give people impressions, but I am just as convinced that God doesn't work that way on purpose, since no man needs to receive an impression who is saturated by God's word and in-dwelt by God's Spirit. The Spirit of God works this way in me: He causes me to want to be pleasing to Him. I know this because God's word says that it is impossible to please God in the flesh - so that when I want to be pleasing to God, I am informed by scripture that my flesh cannot want such a thing, for it is sinful through and through. Thus I understand, not by mystical feelings and impressions, but by a biblically informed conscience, that my desire to be pleasing to God must be coming from Him who dwells in me, and not being generated by my own imagination - if my desire to be pleasing is legitimate. Thus when I want to obey what scripture has informed my conscience to be right and proper for me, I am not following some mystical impression, I am following a biblically informed and spiritually trained conscience - just as the Lord has intended and supplied.

When I hear or read another Christian talk about how one is lead by God, I am careful to filter what is said through what I understand. There are whole Christian denominations out there that are dedicated to knowing the will of God through experiential promptings, and while they talk about the sufficiency of scripture, they (more or less) they often mean that they are using scripture to interpret or validate some experiential, personal revelation from God. They are seeking a tangible God, and think they are being biblical because they use the scriptures - only they are really using the scriptures to frame their experience - like a medium uses the letters on a Ouija board to hear from demons. I use an occult image, not to make what they do seem more wicked than it is, but to show that God's word can saturate one's religion even in a religion where one is looking for personal, experiential revelation rather than being satisfied with faith.

I do believe that God prompts me throughout the day, but such promptings rise from an informed conscience, and not from a personal intervention. I don't get feelings, I just become aware that a thing I am doing is acceptable to God or not, and I know the difference because I know (and believe) the scriptures, and have a desire that I know comes from God, to live pleasing to Him.

When a Christian writes about God's will, this area is sure to come up, and I expect that most of us want to be careful not to say any more or any less than we ought to. I mean, maybe I am simply not spiritual enough to receive constant, individualized, feedback from God in the form of mystical impressions? Okay, seriously, no. Not even in jest. If God were going to give Christians such personalized revelation about which underwear they ought to put on today (or not), the bible would be pointless wouldn't it? I mean why should I study God's word to know Him and know His will if He is supposed to be micro-managing my life through direct intervention in the form of mystical impressions? That would make me more spiritual the more inclined I am to follow impressions. That's find as long as these impressions don't require guess work... but they always do, don't they?

So when a Christian writer broaches these kinds of things, I suspect he or she will want to allow for the possibility that there is more to Christianity than perhaps he or she has personally experienced. That strikes all of us as far more humble that taking a bold stand on some point that one is unsure of. When I wrote than in my infancy I was more inclined to bold stands, but am now finding myself more commonly inclined to anticipate my own possible ignorance, yet in spite of that I find myself quite bold when it comes to the whole point of personal revelation.

I want to honor God by leaving the door open - yes, God can make the sky yellow and black striped on Tuesdays. My God is able - yes, He can give direct personal revelation... But I don't think He does, and even if I am wrong, and God does give such revelation - I am convinced it wouldn't be something flighty, vague, or the kind of thing that would be left open to interpretation. God doesn't mumble. I don't think I am being a spiritual humbug when I say that I am unconvinced of personal revelation, whether that takes the form of a mile high Jesus having breakfast with us in the morning, or imagining our own thoughts are actually God trying to communicate with us if we would only listen.

Have a blessed Lord's day today, and I hope your pastor forgets that it is Father's Day and preaches a message that will be edifying because it suits where your congregation is at spiritually rather than where we are on the calendar, which is just a personal gripe of mine :P

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posted by Daniel @ 7:12 AM   5 comment(s)
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Thoughts on Ecclesiastes 11:4
"He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap." [NASB]

The sower who refuses to go out and sow because today is not a "perfect" day, will not reap. They see that it is cloudy or windy and by these observations they content themselves in inactivity because surely, unless the day is perfect, one would be crazy to sow... right?

The truism here might not be as evident to those of us who buy our bread at the store, but if you were growing everything you ate, you would understand the truth of this passage a little more clearly. Those who actually want to eat, don't sit at home waiting for the perfect day to come along so that they can sow seed. They get out there and sow, and they do so because if they don't, they will not eat. Yes, it is much easier to sow in the sunshine, on a calm day - and I bet more seed will take root on such a day as that, than would take root on a rainy or windy day - but if one only planted on the perfect days, one would not have enough to eat, for such days are few and far between. So just as "normal" people would sow regardless of the weather in order to eat later - so the passage teaches us wisdom, for what is true of sowing and reaping is true elsewhere.

I know most of us who have been raised in evangelism immediately turn to the parable of the sower, and stamp a gospel application upon the verse. The application is fit and right - don't wait for the perfect day to share the gospel, because if you do so you will have a meager harvest. Share the gospel in season and out of season - share the gospel with the mindset that there is never going to be a perfect day, and share the gospel with the mindset that God causes the seed to take root and grow, even in a storm - and that all your skill as a sower can't make even one seed grow.

Yes, do that.

But don't imagine that because this verse applies aptly to sharing the gospel that this is the full intent of the verse.

The verse is talking about justifying procrastination and inactivity.

Consider the man who is gifted as a teacher/leader/pastor, but who refuses to pursue that end because he is waiting for hismelf to become the perfect Christian first. Sure, he will make a great pastor when he becomes the perfect Christian (as if that's going to happen?), but he will actually reap more if he sows without justifying his procrastination.

Consider the older woman in the congregation who is waiting for her doctrine to be perfected before she dares to instruct the younger women, or maybe she is waiting for the younger women to like her, or some other perfect scenario.

What about you? I mean, I don't write these posts to get Amens, I write 'em in case the Lord wants to say something to you the reader about something you are procrastinating on because you are waiting for a perfection that isn't coming, and you need to be jolted by God's word so that you hear, for the first time maybe, that now is the day for sowing, and that waiting for the perfect day is a cop out that we use to excuse our inactivity. Our generation doesn't want to do anything until we got a hundred percent guarantee that it'll all work out perfectly.

Do you know there is something you ought to be doing, but you are waiting for the best day? Then this post was for you.


posted by Daniel @ 8:13 AM   2 comment(s)
Friday, June 19, 2009
Friday Fiction, Sorta...
I was an avid role player, and quickly moved from player to "Dungeon Master". I didn't care so much for canned (store bought) Dungeons, but preferred to create my own, and over the years I put together several campaigns where the same players would play once or twice a week for years on end. As I aged, the campaigns became far more intricate. medieval politics, poverty, and the elusive dangling carrot of possible magic, or world influence were powerful tools for motivating characters. I was entertaining or competent enough to keep people coming back for years to play characters in a story I was making up as we went along.

Part of what made my campaigns entertaining was that my pretend medieval world was consistent - there was a known king, and the chances of you even seeing him in your lifetime was pretty much non existant, unless you were born into nobility - and if you were, you probably wouldn't hang around with anyone who wasn't of at least a suitably elevated station. Yet, such a caste system is made to provide a springboard to the unlikely - for nothing is so entertaining as the Cinderella story - and almost every role playing campaign borrows heavily from the genre.

In my "world" there was a very important, and wealthy Duke. The land itself was heavily taxed, at war with another land, and poverty was everywhere, and even the nobles were counting their silvers - but this Duke was wealthier than the King himself, and was feared, admired, and respected by the kingdom subjects. When a character played by one of my players would meet an untimely (usually violent) death that player would "roll up" a new character. Death was not overly common, but it was a real possibility. I liked to "keep it real" - so that characters would lose fingers, toes, arms, legs, and die at intervals appropriate to a medieval fantasy venue. It happened once that one player managed to roll the dice extremely well while creating a character, and was allowed to play a petty nobleman.

One of the joys of role playing is knitting incongruent chance into the fabric of a good story. How do you take a group of guys who have been travelling together exclusively for months, who suffer the loss of a cherished companion, and immediately replace that companion with a nobleman without making the whole thing seem ridiculous? That's right, you have your band of poverty stricken adventurers stumble across (and indavertantly foil) an assasination attempt, so that the lot of them become targets for some evil group bent on the demise of the noble and tying up loose ends.

No one said role playing had to be original.

In my world the criminal underground was being led by a sort of darker version of Robin hood. He was foremost a powerful and mysterious fellow. No one knew who he was, and people who inquired after him soon ended up missing or dead. As a story teller, I loved to play that up. He seemed at times to be a patriot, at other times a mercenary, and still again, sometimes something of a Robin Hood. Over the course of a couple of years of playing, details began to surface - he was clearly connected somehow. He was always one step ahead of the law, and his activities always seemed pointed at some greater purpose, but vague enough to make speculating on the idea seem paranoid. Yet in time, I say, the players pieced together enough information to realize that he must either have a noble protector, or be under the employ of some nobleman, for only a very highly placed, and strong arm could support such a one as this slippery criminal overlord.

That's where our nobleman came into the story. He was just some petty noble, but even a petty noble has access to court, and as our little group fled here and there, piecing together not only who was trying to kill them, but why - they realized that there was a connection between this petty noble and certain political initiatives affecting the whole kingdom, the king's army, and various factions within the domain.

I write all of this to bring the reader to something of an appreciation of a scene that we played out, and to this day I still think about. Eventually the group of players learned what I have all but made obvious in this writing - that the slippery criminal overlord was actually this wealthy Duke who was manipulating the criminal underworld to bring about social change that was nigh impossible to bring about politically in a real way when the king was more concerned with his own passions than the kingdom he was born into ruling.

It is noteworty to say that the Duke was a brilliant tactician and an unparalleled swordsman. He sat over several orders of knights, not the least of which were a group he trained personally who themselves had been used in my story telling to great advantage. They were legendary, and you didn't mess with them --- ever. Whenever I wanted to remind the players just how perilous life could be, I would pass along some rumor about these guys bringing down justice upon someone who looked like maybe, just maybe he might be big, bad, and tough enough to live through such an encounter. They all had names, and everyone knew who they were, and the Duke who trained them was most famous of all.

Yet the Duke's double life was perhaps the most well guarded secret in all the kingdom, and the players became, after a time allies, for of all the men in the kingdom, this Duke did not regard noble blood as any more precious than the blood of a commoner. He had a public image that was meticulously maintained, so much so that had the party dared to suggest that he was anything less than the Duke, they would have surely been set upon by the previous order of knights, and frankly, after years of playing in my world, the players knew better than to be dumb.

As the months rolled by, the role the Duke had been playing prior to the characters learning of his other identity, began to take shape. The man was a visionary, attempting to affect a change for the better for all the people in the nation, and doing so under the drunken king's nose, as it were. He was not a usurper, but a patriot. There was one wonderful scene played out where the players began to see just how badly the king's ruinous habits and court antics were destroying the kingdom, and were conspiring to try and put the Duke on the throne. When he learned of the plot he was enraged - and this was the last man in the kingdom you wanted angry at you. They fled for their lives, and nearly lost them, and it took weeks to try an broker some kind of reconciliation. The Duke, after all, and head of the criminal underworld, truly had no need for them, except that he knew something about the petty noble that they did not.

You see, the guy who rolled up the petty noble man, had rolled quite well. He didn't know what his rolls meant, but I did - he had been born to a lesser noble house, but born the son of a bachelor (if you take my meaning). His mother, though beautiful, was scorned when found to be with child out of wedlock, and even though she wed years later, she was wed to a petty noble. The father never acknowledged the son, but we rolled to see who the father was... That's right. The king. Hey - it was my story, and holding a gem like that back for a year or so, but dropping hints here and there that there was someone who wanted this guy dead, and someone else, slightly more powerful that wanted him alive, and not knowing why and who made for some nice plot advancement.

I have said it once, and I will say it again - I mention all this to help paint a picture of a scene from the game that I worked hard to play up.

It turns out that the Duke had known all along about the king's heir - the king's eldest, -male- heir. He had kept tabs on the boy all the boys life, and when it was elsewhere discovered that the young man was a contender to the throne, a plot to kill him was put in play, and the Duke set out to foil that plot, and that became the spine upon which much of the story played out. But I let the players play a little sloppy one day (on purpose) so that they could be overheard discussing issues of state that incriminated the Duke by identifying him as the boss of the criminal underworld. This in turn set into motion a chain of events that put the group on a roller coaster ride. There were knights in the Duke's service - noble men, friends of his family, bound by honor to stand down from their order. The Duke was excommunicated from the church - which in our middle age setting was not a small thing. His lands were seized, and when he was forced to flee, he was branded an outlaw, and all the good he had done for the nation was crumbling into nothing, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it.

I liked the drama of that - but the penultimate moment was when the Duke's enemy faced him down on the highway. The Duke was the finest swordsman in all the land, and his enemy sent the Duke's own men - his former elite order - against the Duke knowing that they would be honor bound to bring him down, and that he too would be honor bound to spare them. We played out the scene in our minds - the battle taking place near the setting of the sun, on some hill of no great importance. His men relentlessly attacking their Lord, and he, refusing to harm them, and growing weary for all his skill as the battle wore on.

Now, in my "world" we played up the honor thing. The Duke was a knight, and a member of the noble race. No matter his crimes, he deserved a noble's death. We all knew that. As difficult as story line was, everyone knew that at the very least, this man would have a death befitting his rank, nobility, and skill as a swordsman. It was an epic, glorious death, and I played the scene into their hearts like a virtuoso on a Stradivarius. No one wanted to see this character whom they had all come to really enjoy (like a favorite character in a book), come to his death, and even as we played, there was that sense you get when you are coming to the end of a book you really liked, and you know it is going to end sad, but you have to keep on reading it anyway.

The only thing that made the death of this Duke palatable was the shared certainty that it was, as I say, a good death.

Which is why I had his enemy, at the last minute, call the knights off him. They stepped away in the fading light of the dusk, as he staggered beneath the sudden shift from the greatest swordsman in the land, to a tired, and older looking man trying to catch his breath. There was a pause in the room as we played, everyone wondering what the Duke's enemy (a contemptible, conniving, and cowardly Marquis), was about when he pulled his sword from it's sheath.

Was this Marquis going to try and take down the Duke, now that he was exhausted? Hope sprang back into the room like electricity, for the whole group was certain that even exhausted, the Duke would surely take down the Marquis. There was a moment of hopeful irony - sure the Duke would die, but at least the Marquis was going to get his at the Duke's hand, and that made the whole thing poetic.

I still remember however, when I described what happened when the Marquis raised his sword - you could have heard a pin drop, everyone stopped breathing - that was a signal for the archers to step forward, and when the Marquis dropped the sword, they shot the finest swordsman down like a dog on the highway.

The room was chaos. I had never seen a group of people so riled up about a story we were making up as we went. It was wrong, it was horrible, it was just wrong, wrong, wrong. It was bad enough that the Duke was being put down, but not like this - not taken down by archers at the command of a coward.

I had a hard time breaking up the game that night - no one wanted to leave or sleep or do anything except charge this Marquis and make him pay for this. The whole lot of them were a chatty and buzzing for hours afterwards, unable to put it to rest, going over the thing again and again. Mulling over what a coward the Marquis was. Replaying in their minds again the scene, the greatest swordsman, refusing to kill his own, and struggling to the point of exhaustion, and when there was hope for a noble death, even that was taken away, and he was butchered ignobly at the hands of a coward.
posted by Daniel @ 3:50 PM   1 comment(s)
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Why doesn't God save everyone?
Have you ever heard anyone ask that? If God can save one person from hell, why doesn't He save everyone?

The Universalist believes that God has saved everyone regardless of what they believe.

At the core of this conviction is the idea that life is something we all deserve, and God is obligated to respond to a moral truism that is bigger than Himself. He saves everyone because everyone deserves to live. Theological Universalism does not have scripture as its foundation, but secular humanistic opinions about the value of life.

The Arminian believes that God wants to save everyone, but only gets to save those who are fortunate enough to hear the right gospel, and who, having heard it, were personally wise enough to respond to it properly.

Arminianism is similar to Universalism in that it presupposes that God wants to save everyone and is obligated to do so by His "goodness" but Arminianism differs from Universalism in that Jesus doesn't actually cause anyone to be saved, He just facilitates the means of salvation through His own death, and only for those who freely choose to receive it. God therefore wants to save everyone, and provides the means to save everyone, but ultimately only saves those who hear and believe the gospel.

In Arminianism, it is a tragedy when someone goes to hell because God is trying to save everyone.

The Calvinist believes that sin's penalty (eternal damnation, the wrath of God, etc.) is just, and that God is not obligated by the "sanctity of life" to preserve the lives of guilty sinners. If God chooses to preserve even one life, that in no way obligates God to preserve another. Therefore the Calvinist believes that God is not trying to save everyone, but will certainly save every soul that He intended to save beforehand.

In Calvinism, it is not a tragedy when someone goes to hell - it is justice, plain and simple.

Thus the question, "Why doesn't God save everyone?" is going to be answered differently depending on who you ask. The Universalist will say, "God does save everyone!". The Arminian will say, "God wants to save everyone, but not everyone wants to be saved" and the Calvinist will say that God, "...saves as many as He chooses to save, no more, no less."

I use these labels (Universalist, Arminian, Calvinist) as a matter of convenience. When I say that someone is a universalist, I am not suggesting that they are disciples of someone named "Bob Universal"; likewise, when I say "Arminian", I don't mean these people study and believe all that Jacubus Arminius believed and taught, I merely mean they think God has provided a means to save everyone, with the purpose of trying to save as many as possible, and that God is by no means sovereign in the process. Likewise with the label Calvinist - I don't intend to say that the person studies and adheres to every nuance of Calvin's theological thought, I mean only that they ascribe to the doctrines of grace and the sovereignty of God.

My answer to the question then, is decidedly "Calvinist" in that it presumes man to be guilty and deserving of damnation, and does not impose the humanistic notion that there is a moral rule that is above God: that life must be preserved at all costs, so that God is bound to some moral "truism" that exists apart from Himself.

Let's start with the facts: Hell is a judgment. If God really is just, He isn't, and cannot be, in the business of helping men avoid justice. That must be the foundation we begin with, because God does not and will not set justice aside for anything. Every sin will be punished fully - bar none.

God is just, but God is also merciful, and full of glory, yet God's mercy is never exercised at the expense of His justice.

If I buy my child an ice cream, even if my child didn't deserve it, does that obligate me to buy an ice cream for every other person on earth? Said another way, does this act of grace to my child obligate me to give the same grace to everyone else?

Unless you're quite confused, you will see that my giving my own child an ice cream does not obligate me to give ice cream to anyone else. In fact, if I give the first reader to read this post an ice cream, that doesn't obligate me to give the next reader an ice cream, because an act of grace is not, and cannot be made, obligatory. You don't suddenly deserve an ice cream just because someone else got one.

I know, I know - the world has a moral "truism" called fairness that teaches that if everyone is equally undeserving, and I give something to one, that obligates me to give to everyone else or I am being unfair.

Let's use scripture to show that this is bunk.
"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. "When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. "And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; and to those he said, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' And so they went. "Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. "And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day long?' "They said to him, 'Because no one hired us.' He said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.' "When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.' "When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. "When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. "When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, 'These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.' "But he answered and said to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 'Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 'Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?' - Matthew 20:1-15 [NASB]
I confess, when I first read this in scripture, I sided with the workers who had worked all day. I believed that even though they agreed beforehand to work for a days wage, and were paid (as promised) a days wage, I honestly felt that unless the owners generosity was proportionately unilateral (i.e. if he paid one man a days wages for half day's work, he should be obligated to double everyone else's wages too).

It took me a while to see through my the blinders of my default, humanistic opinon, but eventually I saw that the owners generosity really didn't obligate him to be generous to the others - that the others received the wages of their work, and that the ownder's generosity shown to those who came late to the party, by no means obligated him to be generous to anyone else. I was imposing an obligation upon the owner that was not justified based on a concept of fairness that I presumed (without challenge) to be accurate and true. It was only as my eyes were opened to my error that I learned how false my default opinion was. Generosity cannot be obligatory, or it becomes a wage: something owed. I don't "owe" my other children ice cream because I have given a cone to one of them.

The heart is a wicked, deceived, insane thing and remains so until we die, but in Christ, relying on God's wisdom, the light can push out the darkness, and so it was for me when I began to see it. I used to get miffed if someone I knew inherited money. Why them? Why don't I ever inherit money? They paid off their house, and look at me, I am still saddled with a mortgage! I am pretty sure I stopped short of actually believing that I "deserved" to inherit money, but the truth is, it was not a sense of violated fairness that I was feeling - it was greed and desire being stirred up by someone else's sudden prosperity. There was nothing good about my greed, but it is the same emotion that drives the illusion of fairness.

When I was finally able to see things as they truly are, I began to see that God's mercy and grace shown to one sinner, does not, and cannot obligate Him to show the same mercy and grace to some other sinner. It was the same lesson. Grace is not grace if it is owed, and God does not owe salvation to anyone.

Thus, God is not obliged to provide salvation to me or to you, or to your neighbor down the street, and He is not wicked or evil even if He decides to allow all of humanity to receive (in full) the wages of their sin; yet in contrast, God -is- obliged by His own righteousness to pay the wages of sin in full (i.e. to condemn all of us to hell).

If showing mercy to one person, does not oblige God to show mercy to anyone else, then we answer the original question (why doesn't God save everyone?) with a sober truth: God is not obligated to do so.

You see, we need to rid ourselves of the image that God is saving people from hell. What God is doing is administering justice unilaterally, then extending generosity to some.

All of us will receive the wages of sin; some will receive the wages of their sin in hell, and some will receive the wages of their sin in Christ. Those who are in Christ will be raised to life in Christ after the judgment, those who are not in Christ will not. God will pour out His wrath on every sin: no sin shall go unpunished; but God where God's righteousness demands that He deal with all sin equalaterally, mercy and grace (by their nature) make no demand. We wouldn't even be aware of mercy and grace if everyone received it unilaterally - for we would regard the status quo as neutral, and not full of mercy and grace.

What Universalists and Arminians seem to miss is the fact that sending people to hell is an act of justice. When these insist that God is trying to save people from hell, they are unwittingly teaching that God is trying to save people from His own judgment, and therefore unwittingly proclaiming that God's judgment is unjust.

These rail against the idea that God could be satisfied in letting even one sinner receive the just penalty for his sin. God (to them) is working overtime to spare men -- from His own justice -- and when they fail to comprehend the irrationality of their position, they also fail to understand election and the scope of atonement, because this is just the kind of misunderstanding that can blind a person.

Here's the scoop: God isn't trying to save everyone. When God gave Noah the design for the ark, it wasn't designed to accommodate every living person that was on the earth, nor every living animal. It was designed to house those whom God chose beforehand to be on the ark --and no more! Was Noah instructed to build the ark to provide a possible salvation for every man woman and child on the earth at the time? No. Noah, was told to build an ark just large enough to provide salvation for those few whom God chose beforehand.

Did God change? Was He mean and cold hearted in the OT. Why didn't God tell Noah to build the ark big enough to hold everyone? Shouldn't God have done that? I mean, if God were really trying to save the world from His own wrath, shouldn't he have instructed Noah to build an ark big enough to save "whosoever would come?". Yet don't some Christians believe that God suddenly became "nicer" when He sent Jesus to be an "ark" for those of us whom God chose beforehand to pass through eternal judgment. They believe that even if God was sort of particular about who was saved from His wrath the first time, that all changed with Jesus. God is now new and improved - having grown out of His Old Testament fickleness, and into a New Testament humanitarian. Now God is trying to save everyone, and is a very nice guy, but a miserable failure.

Here is what I believe: God is not obligated to save anyone, and doesn't become obligated to save anyone by saving someone else just because neither of them deserve to be saved. I think that people who have been influenced by secular moralism and humanistic reasoning will find it hard to see what I am talking about, because their world view is partially being formed by philosophies that run contrary to scripture and contrary to truth.

God doesn't have to save anyone, and certainly doesn't have to save everyone. He saves whomever He wills, and no one whom He determines to save fails to be saved. Jesus didn't come to provide a means for everyone to be saved, but came to save those whom God chose beforehand, and only those whom God chose beforehand. Jesus doesn't merely provide everyone with a possibility of salvation, but saves every last soul whom He chose beforehand to save, and was sent here to save, dying only for them, and for no others. Period.

If hell is just, then God cannot be trying to save everyone (or anyone) from it. God must therefore be saving some, and only some (and these for some reason other than trying to preserve life at all cost).

Why does God do it that way?

I suspect the reason is, as the Westminster divines might have said it, to put God's grace, mercy, and glory on display - a thing which cannot be done unless there is some arena in which these things can be seen. In order to see mercy, we need there to be something that requires mercy. In order to show grace, we need to see something that requires grace - these attributes of God only be seen in contrast, and so we need sin (and the fall) to frame God's glory and grace otherwise they could not be comprehended.

The problem people have with that is that if a man were to put his glory on display it would be a boastful act of pride, an egoism. Why? Because that man is a creature and everything He has, He has received from God. He has nothing to boast about. Is he smart? Talented? Healthy? Born into a good family? Is there anything we can do that we can honestly and soberly say we do apart from God's enabling? Who then can boast? All such boasting is sin - scripture tells us (just in case we are too blind to reason that much out for ourselves). God is not being boastful if He puts His glory on display. If God puts His glory on display it is because His glory ought to be on display. The heart that insists that God's grace and glory are not worhty of display, is sick and confused at best.

Our lives are not something we have a right to. our lives are a privilege. God is not obligated to sustain our lives just because He graced us with them. We have been given life to put God's glory on display, and we will put God's glory on display - one way or another. Those who imagine that God exists to provide mankind with life are missing a very big boat. Life is granted by God according to God's grace, and serves a noble purpose - God's glory. We are not owed life, and when we forfeit our lives by sinning, God is not obligated to save us from the consequences of our sin. That God chooses to put His glory on display in a way that is merciful and gracious only magnifies His glory, and anyone who misses this turns God into a servant of "life" - making life itself greater than the God who is its Author and Lord. When we do that, we put ourselves in a place where we will not be able to see past the blind and we set ourselves up to remain there until that notion is corrected.

My hope of course, is that this post is corrective.

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posted by Daniel @ 12:21 PM   7 comment(s)
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
What hinders you from loving God with all your heart?
Did you ever wonder (Christian), why it is that you have difficulty loving the Lord your God with all your heart?

The answer is in scripture, and I will quickly point you to it. In Ecclesiastes 9 we read:
...the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives.
I know - you thought I was going to jump to Jeremiah 17 first, but I fooled you, I am quoting it second:
The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick;
Seriously, this is describing everyone's heart - Christian, and non-Christian. But you object, right? Isn't the new covenant promise that God will give each one of us a brand spanking new heart? I mean, don't these verses talk about the old heart that we had, and now that we are believers, that heart disappears and we get a new heart?

Well, if you read the bible a little more closely, you would have noticed that the promise of a new heart (c.f. Ezekiel 36:26) was made to Israel as a nation - the old heart was the law, and the new Heart was going to be Christ, when the prophet says that God is going to take the old heart out of Israel and give Israel a new heart, he means that God is going to remove the law as the hub around which the religion of Israel revolves, and replace it with the Messiah - a heart of stone tablets being replaced with a heart of flesh. When we make this promise about us as individuals, it fuddles the whole thing in a way that isn't very helpful.

We make the distinction because when you are joined to Christ through faith, His heart is made available to you through that union and through the indwelling presence of God in the person of the Holy Spirit. In that sense you do have a "new" heart, but not in the sense that it displaces your old one. When you are saved something happens: suddenly, alongside all your old and remaining lusts and sinful desires, you find new and compelling desires - some part of you suddenly want to live a life that is pleasing to God, and you suddenly find yourself aware of, and made guilty over, your sin. This does not come from your "old heart", but from your union with Christ. That is something that the law couldn't do - it (being nothing more than a set of commandments) couldn't produce in you the desire to obey, but when God began to live in you He began to produce a real desire to obey Him. But that desire lives right alongside a desire to indulge yourself in the same old sin you always have indulged yourself in. The flesh and the Spirit are contrary to one another, so that you cannot please one without displeasing the other.

So when we talk about your heart being full of evil and insanity and remaining so all your life, we should not be assuming that because we have come to faith that heart suddenly is vaporized and replaced with a new one. Hardly! Our heart (the core "us") is still more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick, so that when we obey it we cannot please God.

You see, that heart cannot love God at all, and when we try to coax it into loving God, the best we can do is to try and muster up enough guilt or gratitude and hope that doing so will make our old heart suddenly love God. But it can't, and it won't. Love is not something we can coax ourselves into feeling, much less when we realize that our heart is still insane, deceitful and entirely wicked.

How then are we to love the Lord with all our heart?

We do it in Christ, silly!

You see, what we cannot do, God can do. God loves God, and the Holy Spirit within us loves Christ and Loves God, and we can partake of that love - in fact we do partake of that love because it was poured out in us through the Holy Spirit as the scriptures say. Thus instead of trying to muster up a loving feeling towards from your insanely wicked heart, you need to look to God by faith through the Holy Spirit to partake of a love that already is there. It is not being produced by you, but rather it is present with and produced by the Holy Spirit who is in you if you're in Christ. You partake of that love in surrender - thus, you cannot love God unless you surrender to God.

So that's what hinders you from loving God with all your heart.

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posted by Daniel @ 7:11 AM   7 comment(s)
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
A Small Minded Gripe...
There is a song we sing sometimes in our congregation called "I will bless the Lord", and the first stanza goes like this:
I will bless the lord
And give him glory
Oh I will bless the lord
And give him glory
The lord is gracious and merciful
And great in kindness and good to all
The lord is righteous in all his ways
Bless the lord and give him praise

I suppose it is a small peeve of mine, but I would rather bless the Lord outright, than talk (or sing) about how I am going to bless Him eventually.

Don't get me wrong, even though the lyrics are rather ambiguous about the point, I think there is room for them to be understood as a promise of faithfulness:
"I (promise) I will (eventually) bless the Lord and give Him glory."
I mean, it isn't much different than what David wrote in Psalm 34:
I will bless the LORD at all times;His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
So I certainly don't think it is wrong to sing about a promise you are making to God.

My small minded gripe is that I wonder how many people who are singing this are actually making that promise and how many are just singing the words they see up there - and this goes for all the songs we sing.

I really do start thinking to myself that if we can't bless the Lord and give Him glory right now, what good is (sort of) promising to do so later?

You know, sometimes I excuse my critical spirit as discernment. It's true, most of us will sing whatever the words say whether we give any thought to them or not. Are we singing a promise we have no intention of keeping because the promise itself is hidden (as it were)in the rhyming lyrics that accompany the pleasant ditty of the song we're expected to sing for no other reason than it is presently on the program? I am probably less spiritual than most of you because it happens sometimes that after a song or two I sort of zone out - usually when we do a song where we are singing the same verse over and over. It is a weakness of mine, I suppose, but I seldom can really worship in song. Not because I think it is inappropriate to worship in song, or that I think you can only worship when the "feeling" hits you - rather I just find it difficult to worship if I am distracted, and (weak as I am) I get distracted easily.

I find the distraction level goes up when we sing songs that I consider 'mindless' filler - you know what I mean, like when the grade school teacher gives a coloring assignment - it's just make work to fill in time? Repetition is good for the memory, but it is not good to talk in repetition is it? It is not good to talk in repetition is it? It is not good to talk in repetition is it? That is, when I am singing something that is a prayer to the Lord, or a statement of intent, such as, I will do such and such - I find myself feeling satisfied as having "sent the message" without resorting to mindlessly repeating the thing, and when I do repeat it, I feel that the whole has been cheapened in doing so - like I have taken worship and prostituted it out for the wages of "musical niceness".

So when we sing a song like that, I am easily be distracted with thoughts that we should actually just bless the Lord right now and give Him glory, rather than go on and on about how we will one day do that, and once the train is off the track, it is easy to ditch the thing - then I am all over the map, daydreaming as my mind-mouth link switches to autopilot. How I can read words off a projection, and sing them in tune while thinking about other things is a mystery to me, and something of a point of shame, but there it is.

I am sure there is a legitimate gripe in all that, but it is so couched in my own small mindedness, it probably isn't worth reading, but I don't have much time for anything edifying this morning - except where my own failures and follies inform others in some edifying way.

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posted by Daniel @ 7:06 AM   2 comment(s)
Monday, June 15, 2009
Once More On The Sinfulness Of Sin. (part one)
Not many of us think of ourselves as essentially evil. We typically think of ourselves as good, regardless of where we actually are on the spectrum. Those of us with biblical instruction (whether partial or complete) often know that in times past we committed acts that scripture describes as evil (lying, deceiving, stealing, etc. etc.), but because we try to keep ourselves from lapsing into these again, recognizing that they are evil, we tend to think of ourselves as having once been evil, but now we are on the path to being good, of not essentially good already.

To set this thought proper in our thinking, I am talking about how we honestly think of ourselves deep down. We don't typically think of ourselves as "evil" - we think of ourselves as good people who (sometimes) do bad things. We reserve the category of evil for those people who commit cold-blooded murder, rape, kidnapping, and the like. We think of evil in terms of how upsetting to harmonious balance of our life a thing is. Did a many lie to his wife about how many cookies he ate after lunch? Big deal, right? I mean, that isn't going to upset the cosmic balance, so that's not evil. No, I mean, if the man killed someone for fun, we all understand that that's evil because we weight the consequences. Who cares that the man had a few too many cookies after lunch, but let him deprive a man of his life and we see clearly that something 'evil' has been done.

In fact, we tend to reserve the idea of evil for those things whose consequences are sorely felt, and everything is we consider simply as "bad" - I mean, we quote the ideal, that we should never lie or steal, but even as we do, we only mean we shouldn't lie about anything important, and we shouldn't steal anything that will be missed.

Many of us were brought up to live "good" lives, and by good we simply mean we were brought up having been trained not to harm others in any significant we, as much as we can help it. Thus the average person regards himself or herself, as basically a "good" person because they do what they can to avoid hurting other people.

From this perspective many who regard themselves as basically good people, do not flinch from crimes that don't hurt individuals. They believe it is wrong to steal a starving man's bread, but shoplifting an iPod - hey, no one gets hurt, and really, they are so over priced, maybe stealing one will send a message to the company to stop ripping off people. You would be surprised how many criminals regard their crimes as morally neutral - yes, I stole, or I didn't tell the whole truth, but I wasn't hurting anyone, or I did it for some justifiable reason.

I could walk the whole gambit here and show that from the most seemingly innocent person to the most seemingly wicked person - almost all of these share the notion that whatever they do has nothing to do with their moral core. Because they regard their own moral core as being basically good, if they do something that they would be ashamed of, they then think of it as a moral lapse or some perhaps a justifiable situational choice, even if they can recognize that what they have done is shameful - they may well present it to their own conscience as though they really had no choice in the matter, because they paint themselves as victims or justified, or whatever they have to paint themselves because they [1] presume themselves to be good, [2] these things must therefore be exceptions.

The Lord has blessed me for many years now. I have had a desire to know Him, and to obey Him. Yet even for all the Lord has done for me, I find that sometimes I still operate from the ivory tower, as it were. I forget sometimes that I am not basically good - but entirely evil.

A sow wallows in the mire because it is a sow. It isn't that it becomes a sow by wallowing in the mire, rather no matter how you clean it up, it will always return to the mire to wallow because that is it's nature. In the same way a sinner returns to sin because he is a sinner.

Christ died to save His people from their sin - but a Christian remains a sinner until the day he dies. If he lapses back into sin it is because he is still, and has never ceased to be, a sinner.

It is a weird relationship, I think. You see, the Christian is a sinner whom Christ personally released from sin's bondage.

I don't mean ropes and incarceration, I mean slavery. The man who sins is the slave of sin. The Christian is a sinner who was previously a slave to sin but now has been set free from sin's bondage. That doesn't mean that he isn't a sinner anymore, it doesn't mean that all his sinful desires disappear - it means that the Holy Spirit has come to indwell him, and in doing so has provided a real means out of every single temptation. It means that the Christian now is being influenced by the Holy Spirit, who begins to convict that sinner (Christian though he is) that his sins are sinful, and offensive to God. Conviction means being made to believe a thing truly is wrong. It is more than just being made aware that some rule is being broken - the law can do that much. It is an intellectual exercise to assent to the breaking of a law, but it is the work of the Holy Spirit to [1]convince a sinner that he has sinned against God, and [2] produce a desire in that sinner to please God.

More on this later. This is just part one.


posted by Daniel @ 7:11 AM   2 comment(s)
Thursday, June 11, 2009
There are billions of religious people in the world who are sincere. I suspect that nowadays you pretty much have to be sincere if you are going to believe in any religion, otherwise why would anyone choose to endure the many and various secular prejudices aimed against any kind of faith (though Christianity in particular gets the worst shake)?

I don't want to confuse sincerity with zeal, for zeal doesn't require sincerity, nor does sincerity require zeal. By sincerity I simply mean that one is satisfied that as much as they know how, they are being honest in what they believe; that is, they believe what they do because they are satisfied that what they believe is really true.

I made the distinction between zeal and sincerity because it is sincerity that typically drives zeal in some people. If a man is truly convinced that he is correct in what he believes, it may seem reasonable to him to presume that anyone who still disagrees with him after he has fully explained himself [1] probably hasn't really understood him, or [2] isn't able to understand him because because he or she is either not spiritual (unsaved) or not spiritual enough (too immature).

It is sincerity then, that puffs a man up with pride so that he is willing to believe that anyone who disagrees with his opinion must either be unsaved, or simply lacks the intellect or spiritual maturity to understood it yet.

The humble man allows a possibility that the puffed up man does not - he allows for the possibility that he may be mistaken in what he understands.

Where sincerity mixed with humility produces a teachable spirit, sincerity mixed with pride produces an unteachable spirit.

Strangely enough, those who are unteachable because of pride, fail to see both their pride and their unteachable spirit - having convinced themselves that sincerity has saved them from both.


posted by Daniel @ 8:41 AM   7 comment(s)
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
Corrupt Speech
Let's start with scripture:
An observation: Matthew 12:34 - 34You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.

A command: Colossians 3:8 - 8But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.

Another command: Colossians 4:5-6 - 5Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. 6Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.

Good advice, couched in a command: Titus 2:7-8 - 7in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, 8sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us.

An unequivocal command: Ephesians 5:4 - 4and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.

Another straight forward imperative: Ephesians 4:29 - 29Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

all quotes taken from the NASB translation

Everyone who reads and believes the teaching of the New Testament agrees that the Christian is only to speak what is edifying, and is prohibited from unwholesome, filthy language and coarse jesting. To deny these things is to deny the scriptures and place oneself as a higher authority than clear, inspired texts from which we take our instruction.

By now, most of us are aware that Pastor Mark Driscoll used the text of Ecclesiastes 9:10 (10Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might) as a tongue-in-cheek response to an interviewer's "try to stump the pastor" kind of question.

I admit it: I cringed when I heard God's words being used as a punchline in this context; and all the more because the one doing so was a well known pastor who was already (in)famous for his choice of language in the pulpit.

If Mark Driscoll feels justified in using language like this, I presume that he does so because he believes that "corruption" is relative.

Do you understand what I mean when I say that?

If I think of corruption as relative, what I am saying is that a thing is only corrupt if it is worse than the culture around it. Thus, if I am hanging around with a bunch of foul mouthed sailors, as long as I don't say anything "more" corrupt than I think they are used to hearing, I am not engaging in corrupt speech. Corrupt becomes something I cannot really measure since what is corrupt in one situation is acceptable in another. As is always the case in relativism, the bottom line is I become the final arbiter of what is corrupt and what is not corrupt. Anything and everything I say is only corrupt if I meant for it to be corrupt.

If we applied relativism to something as cut and dry as adultery or fornication, or stealing, or blasphemy - we would quickly see how ridiculous it is, or at least we should.

You see the problem with relativism is the sort of reasoning that says it is only okay to spit in someone's face if that person is already covered in spittle, and we reserve for ourselves the right to decide how much spittle is "enough" to validate our own spitting. We will always vociferously recoil from spitting on the "ideal" - but in practice we will be able to argue that no one is ever really free from spittle, and inevitably and eventually we begin to feel justified spitting on anyone and everyone - as long as we can make ourselves believe that doing so (in this situation) is okay.

That is what happens when we start to apply worldly thinking to scripture - we profess to agree with the scriptures, and imagine our selves to be in harmony with the texts, when really we are just justifying our worldliness.

Listen: I don't care how much corruption is on a wall - the moment we add more to it we are contributing to it. It doesn't become okay to do so simply because we believe that our contribution hasn't made it any worse. Covering our eyes and plugging our ears and singing, "la la la la" doesn't make our contribution any less corrupt.

I believe it works this way: Don't say anything that anyone anywhere would consider impolite or inappropriate, and if something you do say offends, then apologize, stop saying it that way, and find a better non-offensive way of saying it. The only people who would balk at this advice are those who would use their liberty as a cloak for vice.

And when I say "use liberty as a cloak for vice" - I am talking about the practice of defining the line between what is permissible and what isn't for the sake of pursuing their vices as close to the line as possible. When I was saved, let me tell you, I couldn't care where the line was, I just needed to know what direction it was in so I could run with all my heart in the other direction.

That's what I think.


posted by Daniel @ 1:57 PM   4 comment(s)
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Murders and Murderers.
By now you know that some abortion doctor was murdered in Kansas.

Just so you know where stand, I regard abortion as one of the most heinous and gruesome forms of murder on this planet, but that doesn't make it okay to kill a doctor who performs abortions.

I have wondered for a few days now how I, as Christian, should feel about this whole thing. I mean, here is a guy who performed third trimester abortions - you know, where they gruesomely chop up the baby as the mother is giving birth to it? They do that, you know, because if they let the child be born whole it may well live to be a "live birth" and if that happened, the child would become a person and be granted human rights (such as the right to life) under the law.

Third trimester abortions make the war atrocities of the likes of Josef Mengele look tame by comparison. Yet some people are employed in our culture to mutilate babies "almost born babies" on a daily basis - and they are convinced that in doing so they are providing a needed public service. About 80% of these kinds of abortions, are elective - that is, the choice to kill this child is entirely arbitrary, no one is in danger, the mother simply doesn't want the inconvenience now that the stretch marks have come...

Allow me a moment to fight back to mounting urge to vomit.

So if you ask me what I think: I think what this doctor did on a daily basis was monstrous, but that doesn't make me happy that some kook murdered him. Murdering a murderer isn't an act of justice, it is an act of murder, and there is no justifying it.

The problem in Wichita was not that some doctor was butchering babies, deplorable as that was. The problem wasn't even the abundance of clients willing to have their unborn children cut to pieces as they were born in order to secure a more convenient existence for their mothers, despicable as that may be.

No, the problem is sin, and the solution is Christ, not murder.

Now having said that I (sadly) have to qualify it. I don't mean that the solution is to show up at the door of the abortion clinic with a bus load of angry "Christians" bent on violently intervening on behalf of the unborn. That isn't the way to save souls, nor is it the way to save lives. That isn't to say that one cannot camp out on the door step hoping to offer light and alternatives to those who have gone so far as the come to this, the eleventh hour - sure, do that if you're inclined - offer hope, light, love, and genuine alternatives, do it with all your heart - but listen, while you might have a victory now and again, this is not the place where the real battle needs to be fought.

Let's turn our attention to the real battle field with a simple question: How many people have you led to Christ this year? How many disciples have you made in the years you have been a Christian?

Did you ever hear the saying, everyone complains about the weather, but no one does anything about it? It means, don't open your mouth to complain about a problem that it is within your power to fix - if you never use that power to fix it.

I am saying that the solution is to start doing the work of an evangelist. Do you really want to stop abortion? You can't. Christ can. Do you really want to stop gunmen from shooting people? You can't - Christ can. When you explain the truths of scripture to people, explain who Christ is and what he has done - guess what? Some of them will become Chrsitians, and fewer of them will hire people to kill their babies.

Listen: I know some of you reading are more concerned with trying to be sinless Christians than anything else. You want to make sure you come to all the meetings, read all the books, sing all the songs, and pray all the time - but you are so afraid of sharing your faith that you tell yourself it isn't all that important.

It may be that you don't understand why your generation is morally falling apart at the seams, but I will tell you. It's because people like you are not fighting the "good fight".

When I say the good fight, by the way, I am not talking about the one where you get all frustrated that the world doesn't work the way you want it to, so you take matters into your own murderous hands, that isn't the good fight - that's acting and thinking like a worldling!

No the good fight is just a metaphor for ministering to your generation the plain truths about Jesus Christ. If you don't like the things you see in the world that's FANTASTIC! Because that means you see have eyes to see how your culture is enslaved to sin. Now that you see it, you must implement the solution that opened your eyes, for if you are a Christian it is because someone shared the truth with you one day, and God opened your eyes to see it. When you see that the real problem is sin, then you will see that the only solution is Christ, and that you are in a unique position in the world, because you are in possession of the solution to the problem.

Ya know, some Christians sit around waiting for a mystical impression to pressure them into real Christian ministry (i.e. sharing their faith with others and making disciples). They don't understand that God gives you eyes to see, so that you can use them to make informed decisions about your conduct on earth - like giving you talents of Gold, God expects you to invest what your eyes see wisely. Use the certainty that sin is the problem, and that Christ is the only solution to motivate your sorry behind into impacting your generation.

Don't wait for the holy SHAZAM! It ain't coming. God has already made you a light in a very dark place, now that you see the darkness is real, and you know it needs light - don't waste the light you have been given by putting it under a basket. Look: you weren't given light so that you could scrutinize how dark the darkness really is and offer up opinions about it. Good gravy! You have light? Let it shine in the darkness - that is, do not withhold what you know from those around you.

Gracious me, you don't have to go on a door to door crusade, getting in people's faces - all you need to do is make a conscious effort to stop hiding what you know.

We will not change the face of our culture through politics or religious omphaloskepsis, in fact we shouldn't even try. What we can do however, is what we were called to do - be light and salt. If you don't know how to do that, find a Christian who does and hang out with them until you get it.

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posted by Daniel @ 2:51 PM   3 comment(s)
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