Infamous Days

It’s been 76 years since the “day that will live in infamy”. It’s important that we remember days like this one, days where tragedies altered history’s course. But we must not simply remember because of the tragedy, that would be defeating and defaming the lives lost in Hawaii all those years ago.
 
We remember to honor the men and women who stood in the gap to protect freedom. We also remember because they fought, bled and died to secure something better for the future, and we live in that future today.
 
In the moment, on that day, with anger burning towards the enemy that attacked our nation, there was no love for the Japanese people. Decades later Japan grew into our strongest ally in the region. Our cultures are still markedly different, but now we respect and support one another.
 
And if that isn’t the end goal of any horrid war, then what is? As God’s people we should seek peace whenever possible, and while we remember the lives lost and the sacrifices made on December 7, 1941, we must also say a prayer of thanksgiving that the war ended and our enemies became our friends.
So thank you to those who came before and laid themselves down so I could write this today. Thank you, also, to our former enemies who realized their errors and even helped us see some of our own. Peace is our goal and we have, for now, achieved it. May it last and may we have peace on earth and goodwill to men from now on.

Why God?

Yesterday, as of this writing, a lone gunman fired on a church in a little town near San Antonio, Texas killing twenty-seven people. It’s the worst shooting in Texas state history. When we read about horrible, tragic events like this we inevitably come back to one question: Why, God…why? When we examine the history of our universe and read about its origins, we will find our answer.

In the beginning God created everything, including humans. He gave us planet earth as our home and began instructing us on how to properly care for it. But one day humans decided that was not good enough. We decided we wanted to be God ourselves, to be the same as Him, so we defied His one restriction. In that moment the creation broke as evil flooded into our universe.

Today we are living with the consequences of that fateful decision. We live in a broken world with broken people, and broken people often commit unspeakable acts. This is the result of sin and evil in the world, and God is not to blame. We must accept our responsibility for what happened and blame ourselves for the death and destruction we see around us every day.

However, if we left the story there it would be pitiful and tragic. But that is not the end. God did not simply leave us to our own devices, allowing us to rot away in our disobedience and evil. Instead, He began a centuries long plan and one day brought forth His son into the earth to reconnect Heaven with earth. Now that Jesus has completed His work, all of humanity has access back to the Father and we can overcome evil and sin through Christ.

I have heard people say, “Why would you take a tragedy and turn it into an evangelistic push?” My response is simple: because Jesus is the only answer for our questions.

We look at this tragic shooting and we ask, “Why, God…why?” His response every time is to show us Jesus. Because in Jesus we have freedom from tragedy. In Jesus we have a pathway out of the darkness. In Jesus we have peace even in the midst of heartbreak. And in Jesus we have a solution, an answer, to present to the atheists of the world that can finally answer their questions and bring them peace.

Why do horrible tragic things happen on earth? Because humans broke it, and because humans are broken. What is God’s role in all of this? He has provided a solution, a fix, a way back to Him through Jesus Christ.

And that’s the pattern for all of eternity. There is no other. We misstep, we mess up, we sin, and God’s overwhelming love offers a way to redemption. All we need to is accept and walk in that way. That’s the answer to the question, “Why, God, why?”, and it always will be.

It’s Supernatural?

Something that has always fascinated me is the ability of cessationists to attribute supernatural activities to the Devil while simultaneously denying any current supernatural works of God. Let me explain.

First, for those unfamiliar with the term, a cessationist is one who believes the supernatural gifts of the Spirit (e.g. speaking in tongues, miracles, healing, words of wisdom, etc.) ceased (hence the term cessationist) when the apostles died. Since they view those gifts as part of a special “dispensation” in a bygone era, any supernatural manifestation today must be of the Devil. And that’s where I get off the cessationist train.

Here’s the logical flaw in cessationist thinking. They claim that supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit died out with the original apostles, but since we still have supernatural occurrences here on earth they need an answer for those. Their answer is: the DEVIL. So in cessationist thinking, the Devil is still perfectly capable of instigating supernatural acts through his minions and willing human compatriots, but God is incapable of doing the same because He decided to stop doing miracles after John died.

Now, we can believe that no supernatural events happen anymore. That’s a logical possibility. If we claim that nothing supernatural happens anymore then we are off the hook, but as Christians what do we do with all the talk about the Devil in scripture? If supernatural stuff was just for a limited engagement after Christ ascended and we are totally submersed in a materialistic plane now, is the Devil just a figurative being now?

Hopefully you see how silly it all is. Either supernatural events still take place on earth (and there is ample evidence that they do…from both good and evil sources) or no supernatural events occur, at least nothing that cannot be explained by naturalistic science. So this is our choice. Do we believe that supernatural events occur or not?

For a Christian it seems foolish to take the anti-supernatural stance. After all, the core of our faith is belief that God caused a virgin to become pregnant, that child grew into a man, was unjustly killed, and then rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven where He resides today. And that’s what has always stunned me about the cessationist position.

Christians start from a place of faith and belief in the supernatural! It’s our home base, so to speak. For me, accepting and walking in the supernatural things of God is only natural. Just think about it. We believe that God Himself is dwelling within us and is connected to our spirits. We believe that God speaks to us through His Spirit. We also believe God created everything in existence. Well if we believe all that, then speaking in tongues, or healing, or words of wisdom aren’t much of a mental stretch.

So if you’ve been apprehensive about walking in the supernatural or accepting the things of the Spirit, take a little time and think through your position. God IS a supernatural being. We are inhabited by His Spirit. Surely that’s enough evidence for us to accept and believe in the supernatural lifestyle we were designed to lead.

Assumptions & Choices

One of the great divisive elements in Christian theology centers around assumptions and choices. No matter which theological camp you claim, certain assumptions and choices go along with that position. The decisions you make and accept regarding those things will align your thinking and theology in a certain direction.

An example is needed. Consider the weighty issue of salvation, specifically whether one can lose salvation once attained. Christianity is divided into two camps here: those who believe “once saved, always saved” or the “security of the believer”, and those who believe salvation is tied to sanctification and requires us to “maintain” it somehow meaning we can lose it.

Both camps have scripture to support their position. Rather than presenting arguments for both sides, just spend some time googling the two views and you will find interesting arguments both directions. The point of this post is not to focus on that particular issue. The point here is that we all must choose one or the other. Either you choose to believe you cannot lose your salvation or you choose to believe you can lose your salvation.

Whatever you choose will determine how you interpret a whole bevy of scripture, and that’s the point. When we begin studying the Word, we are forced to make many decisions that naturally affect our interpretation and theology. Someone who believes one can lose their salvation will see Hebrews 6:4–6 completely differently than one who believes in the security of the believer.

Our failure is to respect the choices of others. Some are capable of this, but most are not. Rather than respecting the choices another believer makes, we attack them because their position differs from our own. We do this while operating in self-preservation mode. If I am a “security of the believer” person and a “lose your salvation” person is making a persuasive argument or leads me to a convicting scripture, I react negatively because I’m afraid of what might happen if they are right and I am wrong. So the only thing left to do is to start tossing around the word “heretic” to get free of it.

This is our issue. We are hammering away at one another all while making the (false) assumption that we are completely right. But, as my mother is fond of saying, “Here’s a hot news flash for ya…” no one, NO ONE, is completely right. Only one human in existence was ever completely right and He’s sitting at the right hand of the Father.

As we journey with Jesus through life, we must learn to recognize our choices and assumptions and be at peace with them. Please understand that I am not advocating for relativism. I do not believe that each person makes their own truth. There is a universal truth we can know, but that truth is unending. We will never, for all eternity, reach the end of it. When all the millennia of time have passed to the nth degree, we will know one half of one percent of all there is to know about God. This is how majestic He is.

So when we get on our theological high horse and begin browbeating others because they’ve made a different set of choices and assumptions from us, let us recall our own position. We must always remember that we hold only the smallest fraction of divine revelation and we need others to help us see other facets of God. Indeed, this was always His plan. Jesus established His body to work together to reveal Him.

You’ve made assumptions and choices and so have I. They are based on our current revelation of Christ. Let us walk in what we have received, but let us not be content to sit and wallow in our little droplet of truth when there is more to taste. We can challenge one another. We can sharpen one another. We do not have to agree on everything. It’s ok if we make different choices and assumptions.

There is a small body of truth that must be adhered to for us to even be Christian. We must be in submission to Jesus. We must honor Him as God and Lord of the universe. We must recognize the authority and power of the revealed Word in written form (the Bible). We must accept and believe the miraculous.

Beyond those core beliefs, little else is self-evident no matter how clever your reasoning. In the end, to reach almost every conclusion in Christianity required either an assumption or a choice. So let us respect one another. Calvinists and Charismatics can learn to get along. Episcopalians and Baptists can fellowship together. Mystics and Methodists can share ideas and pray for one another.

We can find unity if we are willing to accept one another even as we disagree. Perhaps if we spend some time considering another viewpoint we can at least understand how someone reached their conclusions, even if we cannot share their convictions. Because in the end, it is possible we may both be wrong about whatever we are so certain about now.

And when we cross over into the glorious riches of grace Jesus has prepared for us, do you really believe any of our thinking is going to be fully accurate? Is anyone actually arrogant enough to believe that, standing in the pure light of Christ’s truth and love you will be able to say, “See everyone, I was totally right about all my theology!” And would you even want to?

Make your choices. Live with your assumptions. But have the humility to know there will always be more you don’t know. Always something else you can learn. Always another facet of God you haven’t seen yet.

As the great Bard wrote in my favorite play, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” That goes for all of us.

One Voice

One of the issues in our modern political system is the lack of dialogue between opposing sides. Those in the conservative, Fox News camp tend to be dismissive of anything from the liberal, CNN camp and vice versa. Lots of people are talking but very few are listening. Modern church life has developed the same issue.

As one who is an explorer seeking out truth in its many forms, my primary focus is on Jesus and this makes me a free agent of sorts. In other words, I’m not firmly tied to any denominational or theological camp. However, I was for many years. While living life in the “bubble” I was warned away from certain things while being firmly pushed toward others.

For example, when I was in traditional church I was told to avoid certain teachers like Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyer or basically anything on TBN. When I ventured into the charismatic world they were less focused on who I shouldn’t listen to and more focused on who I should. So the same process was happening but in a less obvious way. My brief flirtation with Calvinism produced even stronger results as the Calvinists tend to demonize anyone who does not fit their theological framework.

So, generally speaking, what we find in the average church of any kind is an acceptance of certain viewpoints and dismissal of others. While we should help newcomers to Jesus find their way, the Word does not teach us to create clones it teaches us to create disciples. We cannot do this if our attitude toward other truth-carriers is dismissive and arrogant.

Our litmus test for acceptance should be based on Jesus Christ alone. If a teacher is submitted to Christ and demonstrates the fruit of a Christ centered life (i.e., love, joy, peace, patience, and so on) then we should not dismiss them outright. There should be room at the theological table for differing views and varying interpretations. To put it another way, only one person in human history walked in complete revelation of truth and that person isn’t me or you.

So why do so many walk around like they have the market cornered on theological accuracy? Because that’s what we’ve allowed to occur. Going back to the Reformation we find the beginning of this concept. Calvin was so convinced of his position that he formed a political system around his ideas and essentially took over Geneva even going so far as to burn “heretics” at the stake. French Huguenots were forced out of their homeland by opposing Christians. Puritans were forced out of England, and the list goes on.

These ideas of “rightness” are firmly entrenched in modern Christian thinking. People either float around until they find the “right” group or they stick with the group they grew up with. Either way, most folks will never consider an alternative view on anything because they won’t bother to listen to anything outside their own bubble. This should not be.

We need to stop attacking one another and dismissing revelation others have received. No one man or woman carries within them the complete revelation of Christ because we are incapable of carrying something of such magnitude. Indeed, Christ Himself does not desire this because He wants us to function as a body, united together to carry His truth forward. We require one another to expose revelation as we have received it, and to correct error within one another.

We are quick to point out the perceived errors in others but loathe to listen to potential truth. Even those who are not followers of Christ may carry some measure of truth within them because they have been, however unwittingly, exposed to God’s truth by simply existing in His creation. So we need to stop being so arrogant, pretending we have it all figured out because we do not. All of us have questions about things. All of us are missing pieces of the full revelation of Jesus Christ…and we always will be.

To carry the full revelation of Christ would make us equal to Christ Himself and this will never be. We will spend eternity continually growing in revelation and truth because God’s truth and revelation is unending. That should be our focus and goal even today. We should expect to walk daily in ever increasing revelation.

But here’s the thing, ever increasing revelation means some old things we believed will change to more closely match God’s truth. So it is not just about learning new things, it’s also about replacing the old or updating the old as new things are given to us. When we walk with an openness, ready to receive from Holy Spirit whatever He chooses to teach us, then we will learn from all creation as we follow Christ. This is how we should live.

As we walk we must learn to hear one voice, the voice of God. His voice may speak to us through believers, unbelievers, the Word, creation, art, books, music, etc. God is not limited in how He can communicate with us. Throughout the Bible He used multiple methods to communicate including dreams, visions, and even personal visitations through angels or in human form. He still speaks in many ways today.

We have the Word of God to verify truth claims and to clarify the revelations we receive, but we cannot be so tied to a single interpretation of the Word that we fail to recognize truth outside of our bubble. To put it another way, I fully expect to meet both John Macarthur and Bill Johnson in heaven. Those in either camp may shudder at that thought, but both men demonstrate a firm reliance on their view of Jesus Christ to help and disciple others. We are the ones who have judged them.

Let us learn to walk in ever increasing revelation of Christ as He carries us from glory to glory. Let us not be so closed off to truth that we fail to recognize it when it comes from alternative voices. Let us find Jesus in every place He wants to reveal Himself. We can only do this if we are actively seeking Him and His truth.

Meditate on this word today and ask Jesus where your thinking still needs to be shaped to be more like Him. Ask Him where you’ve been dismissive of other believers and where you can grow in truth.

 

The Consequences of Freedom

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Then He created mankind and He placed us upon this little blue ball spinning round the sun. His instructions to us were clear, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” It’s that word, subdue, that is key here. See, God gave mankind the earth to be our dominion. As beings made in God’s image we inherently have the desire and capacity to govern and rule, so God created a space where we would be free to do that under His auspices.

Most of us know the end result of that story. Our forebears were not content with God’s interference with their freedom and defied the one prohibition He gave. Breaking God’s law had devastating consequences as God closed off His earthly dwelling place, Eden, and left mankind out in the untamed wilderness to make our own way.

Our relationship with God was not broken, but it was strained. If you continue to read in Genesis we do not see that God has abandoned mankind, but rather that He continues to speak to us even though we have displaced Him with false gods and our own hubris. In order to fully reflect God’s image we had to be allowed full freedom of will and expression. Indeed, this is the only way for us to truly love as well, but let us save that for another post.

As “imagers” of God, a term I borrowed from Dr. Michael Heiser, our innate desire is to be like God because we inherently are like Him. However, we were designed to be fully free under the covering rule of God. Therein lies the rub. Just as Lucifer and other divine beings grasped at the throne of God in order to permanently usurp His throne, we have done the same thing and continue to do so even to this day.

Jesus, our perfect example of how to live as an imager of God on earth, shows us how to live in perfect freedom. Paul speaks to this in Ephesians 2:6 when he says that Jesus, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Jesus, the one human being who could have upset the balance of the universe, did not seek to displace Yahweh, Father God from His throne, opting instead for a position of submission to His will and purposes and thereby uncovering His own destiny.

We cannot fulfill our purpose and destiny in life apart from submission to the Father and His Son. This is our great struggle. We desire total freedom but inherently realize that we cannot govern the cosmos for this is what total freedom would entail. As much as we would like to think we can subdue the universe, it is simply too much for our limited capabilities. We have been given an entire planet, teeming with amazing life, surely that is enough.

However, we are free to be free. God has put in place a cosmic moral code that exists independently and to which all beings are subject. God has put in place restrictions and limitations inherent to our nature. God has drawn boundary lines which we cannot cross. But within our purview, the earth, we have complete freedom. With great power comes great responsibility and this unthinkable freedom has consequences.

Consequence #1: Disorder

When Adam and Eve disobeyed God the first consequence was disorder. Following their sin we find them hiding from God in Eden. Until this moment the primordial couple existed within the divine order, protected by God’s sovereignty. Now that they sought to rule themselves and asserted their freedom beyond its limits, they were thrown into chaos and disorder.

God found them in hiding, having already realized the gravity of their choice. Since that day we have sought to restore the divine order through myriad governments and systems. In many ways the history of humanity is the story of our attempt to return to Eden. We know we need some kind of order that still allows freedom, but it has eluded us for centuries. The American form of government is, perhaps, the closest we have come to restoring a semblance of the original order of things, but we still find disorder within the American landscape.

Until Christ returns and establishes the Kingdom of God upon earth once again, we will continue to labor under systems of disorder.

Consequence #2: Death

In Romans 5:12 we see death make its entry on the earthly stage, “Just as sin entered the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” Exercising our full freedom of choice brought death into our existence. Prior to this time we had access to the Tree of Life in Eden which brought life from God. Now that we disobeyed God and sought to establish our race as preeminent on earth, our access to God’s provision was cut off.

Freedom allows us to do as we please, but there are always consequences to our actions. No consequence is more devastating that death because death is irrevocable. Or so we thought. Jesus came to earth as a forerunner of the coming Kingdom, and one of His primary tasks was the defeat of death. His actions here on earth, culminating with His resurrection, destroyed the power of death over our world and began a process of renewal that will end with His return and a complete remaking of our planet.

We still live with the effects of original sin because we still see death, sickness, disaster, disease, and so on upon the earth. Our freedom must be exercised within its proper limits to avoid the consequences of death today. There are even examples of death being overcome in the physical body through Christ’s resurrection power. But our responsibility as free will beings is to submit ourselves to Jesus so He may draw our proper boundary lines and we will be free within His will.

Consequence #3: Displacement

Freedom’s consequences can be terrible, but none has more dire results than the displacement of God. When we make choices contrary to God’s established moral code or His will, we are effectively displacing God and claiming His throne for ourselves. For the moment we have the capacity to do this because we are still living in the “in-between”, that period in history where Jesus has destroyed our spiritual barriers to completion but our physical barriers persist.

The Old Testament is a story of God’s unwavering love and commitment for His chosen people, Israel, in spite of Israel’s continued disloyalty to Yahweh. The New Testament is the story of God revealing Himself in human form through His Son Jesus Christ and restoring Edenic rule to earth through the individual. One day Christ will rule in the flesh and we will all be submitted to Him as His imagers on earth. Until that day we have the power to rule within our assigned sphere through Holy Spirit’s influence and guidance as revealed in the Word of God.

But when we make choices contrary to Yahweh’s established purposes and laws we are choosing to displace God as ruler and place ourselves on His throne. We must learn to understand and be content with our proper place in the universe, because our place is one of power and authority and peace and joy and love in Christ. It is a beautiful place where we can find completeness and fulfillment of being.

Final Thoughts

We have the power of free will on this earth because God established earth as our primary place of rulership and our domain. God did this so we could accurately reflect His image. God rules and governs and therefore we were meant to rule and govern. However, our freedom has consequences when misapplied as we have seen. Our role as Christians is to demonstrate a proper relationship to God so that others may see the beauty of that relationship and seek Him in their own lives.

Therefore, let us be imagers of God in all we do. Let us exercise our total freedom by choosing to live under the rule of Holy Spirit under the headship of Jesus and grace of the Father as revealed through His Word. Only then can we experience full freedom with no consequences because we will live as we were designed, in relationship with God.

The Trouble with Teaching

Teaching is the art of imparting knowledge utilizing effective methods to assist the student in embracing and assimilating that knowledge into their mental framework. If that sounds complicated it’s because it is complicated. The old saying, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” is one of the dumbest things anyone has ever uttered. Teaching is an incredibly challenging art form and it’s sorely missing in our churches today.

The trouble with teaching is in the nature of teaching itself. While there are a few things one can assimilate within a few hours by attending a seminar or conference, anything with depth or substance requires time to properly grasp. In other words, you can’t learn something like calculus in a day. Something that complex requires months or years of training.

For some reason the modern American church has the idea that God, the Bible, Jesus, and everything else associated with them can be assimilated by the average church attendee in a 30-45 minute sermon reflecting on, perhaps, one or two verses taken out of context. How we got here is the subject of another post, but here we are nonetheless. Modern preachers are delivering messages with the assumption that folks listening share their frame of reference. They do not. This is why teaching is required.

Teaching is the long, arduous task of helping someone discover Jesus and thereby reframing their entire worldview. When we have people “walk the aisle” and say the “sinner’s prayer” and then send them back to their seat with a pat on the back, we cannot assume their worldview has changed. Generally speaking it has not. Perhaps they had a spiritual encounter with God. Awesome! But that does not translate to changed thinking, and here we are back to teaching.

We must stop assuming that those who claim the name of Christ have shifted their thinking into alignment with Jesus. Most have not. We must return to clear, biblically based, de-cluttered teaching. Part of great teaching is inspiring the student to take matters into their own hands and study themselves, and Christian teaching carries the glorious beauty of God Himself helping us all along through Holy Spirit.

It’s easy to give people what they want to hear. It’s difficult to teach the whole counsel of the Word of God. Let us not be slack in our efforts to help others along. Let us not be lazy in our own studies. Let us find good teaching and learn and grow. Then we will see a true shift in the body of Christ.