Monday, January 26, 2009

Recent Thoughts on Life and God

"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."

"He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."
2 Peter 2:9-10 & John 1:10-12

I have not written anything really personal in quite some time so I felt like it would be a good idea to share what all has been going on in the past few weeks. I graduated from college in December but have just recently had the revelation that I am no longer in school. The first couple of weeks following graduation had me mentally lulled into subconsciously believing that I was on Christmas break, as I was still under the dread of having to go back to school in a few weeks. Perhaps the feeling of dread that accompanied Christmas break was actually a sign that I am burnt out on formalized education, as the idea of being out of school has finally sunk in but the "ugh!" feelings regarding school still remain.

I have been somewhat broken these past few weeks and am glad for the work that God is doing in my heart. I am finally at a place where I am beginning to understand what it means for me to call God my Father and what it means that I can call Him that.

People often have a picture in their minds that they were once drowning in the ocean and that God threw out a lifesaver to them and all that they had to do was close their fingers on the lifesaver and God would save them. This is an idea that I once held and thought was correct.

The Bible, however, tells us of a different story. I was not a person drowning in the ocean: I was drowned and dead at the bottom of the ocean when God dove in, threw me on the boat, and brought me back to life. I had no ability to bring myself to life. I had no hope, none at all.

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast"
-Ephesians 2:4-9

When I was unable to help myself, God saved me and did the work from beginning to end. I was once a person who deserved wrath, death, and eternal damnation but because of the great work of God, I am now a child of God. I came from being a person who had no rights to God to becoming a person who can call the God who made the universe his very own Daddy. This revelation has both humbled and broken me in some many ways but has truly given me life and joy in ways I cannot explain in words.

I praise God for all that I experienced in the years that preceded where I am now because all of those things that happened were preparing the way for God to open up the space in my heart to recieve Him more fully. Many of you went through those very rough and intense years with me and I am grateful for your presence and prayers during those times. There have been several of you who have been used in mighty ways to show me what an "Abba" relationship with God is like and how it is lived out. My mom, dad, sister and another close friend I had during this time have largely been the people God used to keep me together and keep me going. I am grateful for them and for all of the people God has used to help to bring me to where I am today.

My hope and prayer is that God will give His children a fuller revelation of what it means for us to be able to be called His children, and that this revelation changes who we are and how we live down to the deepest parts of our hearts and minds.

I cannot wait to know my Father more and more and am excited for the Day when I will see Him as He is.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Friday, January 16, 2009

Most US Christians define own theology

"Most US Christians Define Own Theology" by Jane Lampman, The Christian Science Monitor, January 14, 2009.

American individualism has made its imprint on Christianity.

A sizable majority of the country's faithful no longer hew closely to orthodox teachings, and look more to themselves than to churches or denominations to define their religious convictions, according to two recent surveys. More than half of all Christians also believe that some non-Christians can get into heaven.

"Growing numbers of people now serve as their own theologian-in-residence," said George Barna, president of Barna Group, on releasing findings of one of the polls on Jan. 12.

In the Barna survey, 71 percent of American adults say they are more likely to develop their own set of religious beliefs than to accept a defined set of teachings from a particular church. Even among born-again Christians, 61 percent pick and choose from the beliefs of different denominations. For people under the age of 25, the number rises to 82 percent.

Many "cafeteria Christians" go beyond the teachings of Christian denominations to embrace parts of other world religions.

Half of Americans also believe that Christianity is now just one of many faith options people can choose from (44 percent disagree with that perception). Residents of the Northeast and West were more likely than those in the South and Midwest to say Christianity has lost its status as the favored American religion.

Christians expressed a variety of unorthodox beliefs in the poll. Nearly half of those interviewed do not believe in the existence of Satan, one-third believe Jesus sinned while on earth, and two-fifths say they don't have a responsibility to share their faith with others.

The most striking divergence from orthodoxy, however, was first revealed in the 2007 US Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. That comprehensive survey of 35,000 Americans found a majority of Christians saying that people of other religions can find salvation and eternal life.

The results stirred controversy among some Christian leaders for whom Jesus as the only path to salvation is a paramount teaching. Some questioned whether those surveyed about "other religions" might have been thinking of Christian denominations or traditions – such as Protestants referring to Roman Catholicism – rather than non-Christian faiths.

Pew undertook a follow-up survey, which it released in late December. That poll found 65 percent of American Christians (including 47 percent of Evangelicals) do indeed think that many different religions can lead to eternal life. Among these Christians, 80 percent cited one non-Christian faith as a route to salvation; 61 percent named two or more.

The survey also asked about views on how one obtains eternal life. Among all adults with a religious affiliation, 30 percent say correct beliefs are what counts, 29 percent say salvation depends on one's actions during life, while 10 percent say both are essential. Those who emphasize the impact of actions are more inclined to believe that practitioners of non-Christian faiths can achieve eternal life. Most of those who emphasize beliefs say non-Christian paths do not lead to heaven.

The poll confirms a broad rejection of religious exclusivity. Among all religious adults interviewed, 65 percent say many religions lead to eternal life and only 29 percent say theirs is the one true faith. Sixty-nine percent of all non-Jews say Judaism can lead to eternal life and 52 percent of non-Muslims say that of Islam.

Forty-two percent of religious Americans also say atheists are able to find eternal life.

While some people hail these findings as heartening for American pluralism, others see them as a wake-up call. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary writes on his blog about biblical Christianity's role in countering such inclusive views and helping people find the true Christian way. Others point to the power of egalitarian American culture.

"It's just part of a 200-year working out of ideas about personal autonomy and equality that are sort of built into the American experience," says Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College. "The notion that someone is going to burn in hell because they have their own beliefs is just not resonant within our larger political ideals."

The "American Experience" and the Death of Evangelism

The article below is found on Albert Mohler's Blog.

Every culture and civilization embraces a certain set of assumptions about life, truth, significance, and what it means to be human. Without these shared assumptions, common life would be impossible. Individuals within these societies may not give much active thought to these common assumptions, but their decisions, expectations, and general dispositions reflect the presence of these assumptions as what some philosophers call background ideas.

Out of these assumptions an entire way of life emerges. Background ideas move into the foreground as morals, manners, and the culture at large begins to reflect the decisive influence if these ideas. In America, an identifiable "American way of life" rules as an operational worldview for many persons -- perhaps even replacing more fundamental convictions.

"The American way" involves, among other things, patriotism, a sense of fair play, equality, personal autonomy, and limitless opportunity. We expect each other to respect these assumptions and ideals.

But, is God accountable to the American way?

Responding to a recent report from the Barna Research Group indicating that Americans Christians are increasingly unwilling to believe that their non-Christian neighbors are going to hell, Boston College sociologist Alan Wolfe explained:

"It's just part of a 200-year working out of ideas about personal autonomy and equality that are sort of built into the American experience. The notion that someone is going to burn in hell because they have their own beliefs is just not resonant within our larger political ideals."

Wolfe, who directs the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College, suggests that Americans are confusing the American experience with the ways of God. Without doubt, assumptions about autonomy and equality "are sort of built into the American experience." These ideas are now just taken for granted. Americans generally assume themselves and their fellow citizens to be unconditionally autonomous, free to make and remake themselves in protean fashion, and thus the unfettered captains of their own souls.

Americans are not sure what to do with ideals of equality and fairness, but we are generally certain that equality and fairness are the right categories to employ, regardless of the idea or context.

People who think themselves autonomous will claim the right to define all meaning for themselves. Any truth claim they reject or resist is simply ruled out of bounds. We will make our own world of meaning and dare anyone to violate our autonomy.

The same research report indicates that a majority of American Christians pick and choose doctrines, more or less on the basis of those they like as opposed to those they dislike.

This certainly explains a great deal about the current shape of Christianity in American today. Specifically, it points to at least one fundamental reason that so many Christians -- including a significant number who claim to be evangelical -- no longer believe that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven.

That reason: Eternal punishment in hell is not consistent with "the American experience" or "the American way." The God of the Bible, in other words, does not act in ways consistent with what many people consider to be American ideals. Sending people to hell is just not fair.

The Bible never claims that God acts fairly, of course. Fairness is the best we mortals can often hope to achieve. We want our children to learn to play fairly and each child learns all too quickly to cry out, "No fair!"

But God does not claim to be fair. The God of the Bible is infinitely greater than we are. He is faithful, just, holy, merciful, gracious, and righteous. A morally perfect being does not operate at the level of mere and faulty human fairness, but at the level of his own omnipotent righteousness. We hope to make things fair. God makes things right.

I think Alan Wolfe is on to something really important here, and Christians should think carefully about what he is saying. The Holy One of Israel, the ruler of all and the sovereign of universe, is now to be judged by his own sinful creatures by the standard of fairness. Doctrines ruled to be "unfair" are cast aside and overridden by our cherished cultural assumptions. Evangelism will die the thousand deaths of cultural awkwardness.

As much as Christians in this blessed nation should respect and cherish our democratic ideals and system of government, we must keep ever in mind that the Kingdom of God is ruled by a higher and infinitely more perfect law and system of governance.

Be warned: God is not running for office, and heaven is not a democracy.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Word of God Endures Forever

"For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed." (Malachi 3:6)

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." (Hebrews 13:8)

"The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever." (Isaiah 40:8)

"But the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you." (1 Peter 1:25)

Psalm 46
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Getting the Gospel Right

Sometimes what is not said speaks more loudly than actual words. The silence, as we say, is deafening.

In the opening verses of his letter to the churches of Galatia the Apostle Paul employs this communication technique to underscore the seriousness of the subject at hand. As he does in all of his letters, Paul begins by identifying himself as the author (1:1), naming the intended recipients (1:2) and expressing a blessing on them (1:3-5).

It is what comes next that is so uncharacteristic for him. Immediately after his introductory comments and before launching into the body of the letter Paul writes nothing. He offers no expression of gratitude to God for them or words of encouragement about their spiritual vitality.

When compared to his warm greetings in his other letters (ie. Ephesians 1:15ff, Philippians 1:3ff, Romans 1:8, 1 Corinthians 1:4ff, etc.), what Paul does not say to the Galatians speaks volumes.

He leaves no doubt about the seriousness and urgency of the topic of his letter. His burden is to explain and defend the true gospel of God's grace. He launches into the subject early and writes with fiery tone employing sarcasm, threats, warnings and rebukes to get his points across.

Like a soldier rushing into battle with guns blazing, Paul immediately begins contending for the truth of the gospel. His purpose is not simply to win a theological argument. Rather, he is determined to fight for the spiritual lives of the Galatian believers.

Getting the gospel right is crucial. It is a matter of spiritual life and death. If you miss this it does not matter what you get, you will miss God.

Paul understands this and therefore strongly refutes the false teaching of those who have begun to undermine the Galatians' confidence in the simple gospel that he had preached to them.

That message is all about finished work of Jesus Christ "who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father" (1:4). The gospel that Paul preached to them proclaimed salvation by grace alone received through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

This message is great news for sinners, because it reveals that salvation, from first to last, is God's work and not dependent on anything in us. It eliminates any basis for pride as well as any cause to despair. Those whom God saves are made right with him not because anything they have done or not done, but because they have been "called in the grace of Christ" (1:6).

On the one hand the worst of people are genuine candidates for salvation because the only way that God saves is by grace. On the other hand if the most respectable people are to be saved it will not be because of any goodness in them but, again, only by the grace of God.

No wonder Paul was "astonished" to learn that the Galatians were so quickly and easily being led away from the gospel of God's grace (1:6). The false teachers insisted that trusting Christ was not enough--to be right with God a person must also keep certain Old Testament ceremonies. But adding to the gospel is just as disastrous as subtracting from it. Both "distort the gospel of Christ" (1:7).

Any change in message of Jesus Christ turns it into "a different gospel" (1:6) that keeps people from knowing God. This is why Paul writes with such passion, warning the Galatians never to tolerate anyone--not even an apostle or an angel--who would dare to preach as the gospel any other message than salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, plus nothing.

Twice Paul says that any creature who distorts the gospel should be "accursed." He literally pronounces "anathema" on such a person. Those who spread false gospels are worthy of God's damnation.

Paul intends that his use of such strong language should have a sobering affect on us. Misrepresenting the gospel is serious business. Those who believe false gospels will wind up in hell. Those who teach false gospels deserve nothing less.

The churches of Galatia were very young when Paul sent them this letter. Yet, he expected that they--all of the members and not just the leaders--would be doctrinally alert enough to discern the true gospel from counterfeits.

This is the responsibility of every Christian. Like sheep who will follow only the voice of their shepherd, we must learn to recognize the simplicity and fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and refuse to tolerate any teaching that deviates from it.

Our very souls depend on it.

(Ascol, Tom. Getting the Gospel Right. TableTalk. January 2009, pp. 26-27.)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Fifty Million

“If you faint in the day of adversity,
your strength is small.
Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.

If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?”
-Proverbs 24:10-12, ESV

The number of abortions performed in the US since 1973 is approaching 50 million, an easy number to read, and a hard one to comprehend.

The Mississippi Baptist Convention has sought to put together a visual reminder: the Memorial to the Missing (pictured above), being filled with 50 million pennies.

The memorial structure weighs 300,000 pounds and the pennies add up to $500,000.

The plaque reads:

"Before you is a collection of 50 million pennies! Each penny represents one child who has been aborted since the Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade in 1973. A penny like a baby seems to be so small and sometimes of very little worth, but when seen in a collection of 50 million it becomes enormous.

Each coin is a person, but in many cases it also represents the difficult process of decision-making, fear, and loneliness. While some speak of pro-choice, these babies had no choice. While some speak of a mother's right to control her own body, 50 million babies were not given their right to live.

Fifty million missing children represented by these pennies must be cause for us to stop, pray, consider what we are doing as a nation, ask God to forgive us, seek ways to help those who are struggling with the decision, and look to the Lord to restore each of us."

“If you faint in the day of adversity,
your strength is small.
Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.

If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?”
-Proverbs 24:10-12, ESV

Dangers of Religious Externalism - Alistair Begg