Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hanging in the Balance Part 1

I have been meaning to write for a long time but have been prevented by various causes, some of which has been laziness, most of which has been that I haven't had the time.

A lot of what is written in this post are random thoughts that came together. I wrote far more than I intended to and did not get to any of the topics I really wanted to write about. My mind is heavy, and has been for the past two weeks.

There is more to come, but for now, enjoy some ramblings...

I have had to deal with another death recently, the death of a friend from church. It was a very unexpected death, a car accident. The man always seemed to be thankful for everything in life. He didn't pretend that life was always rainbows and butterfly's, but He did have a sense of real joy and appreciation for all of life. My heart feels grief in a very deep way. My Black Dog has been following rather closely these past two weeks because of this. A lot of other things I have been stressing about lately probably haven't helped this either, but overall my Black Dog seems to not be following me around as much as it used to. Grief and anger are definitely appropriate emotions to stressors in life, something I am finally getting used to understanding.

Since I recieved the Lord I have noticed that I have become much more broken and much more healed as a person the longer that I walk with Him. It's funny because although I am often convinced that I know what is what in life, I am getting to a place more and more where I know that I really don't have a clue about anything other than that I need God. It is kind of strange that, while coming to faith in Christ is something we must do by crying out to Him, we are so hard-bent to attribute our being saved to our own free will and ability. I do believe in Reformed Theology in regards to salvation, but even a biblical Arminian knows that apart from a miraculous gift of God opening our hearts to come to Him, even if it is just to the possibility of being able to come to Him, we have NO HOPE. I think when we attribute our salvation to anything except for God's grace, we rob Him of glory. When we say that we, as DEAD people, can lift ourselves out of our graves without any help and come to God, we just show that we know NOTHING of what it means to be saved. This does not mean that we are not saved when we do this, but it does show that we do not at all understand how hopeless we were (and are) and how amazing and gracious God's gift of salvation truly is.

Even the Roman Catholic Church proclaimed that a person cannot come to Christ without the assistance of grace. Isn't it, then, strange that the people who proclaim to be justified by faith alone apart from works will often deny this?

It has often been stated that while the Church had long ago decided that man does, in fact, need God to give Him grace to Him, that the Reformation was largely about the extent of man's need for grace.

How all of the reformers before Calvin were "Calvinists" before the man was born, is an interesting thing. The same thing goes for how there were "Arminians" in the Church before Jacobus Arminius ever stated His doctrine in 5 Points.

Oddly enough still, "those silly Calvinists who put all of their doctrine into a 5-Point System" only did so in response to a 5-Point System made by a person in the Church who had strayed from what the Church already traditionally taught without the make-up of "the 5 Points of Calvinism". Sadly, most people don't know this, nor do they care.

I have had a lot of stress over a friend of mine who has been suffering (for years) with mental health issues. He is a brilliant person in many ways; He has a true gem of a mind and intellect. However, he is often raved by the "madness" I have known in times past and does not realize how desperately he needs help. There isn't much good in trying to help someone who doesn't want to be helped or know that they need it. It breaks my heart to see them continuing to struggle, but there is little that I can do but pray and cry. This situation has broken my heart in many ways.

Even in getting help for mental health issues, it is hard to define what "help" is and how it is given. I definitely know that medication is necessary for some people, as is therapy, but, in my opinion, the whole field of psychology and psychiatry is largely all a matter of grey areas, with very little that we actually know. I had a psychology teacher in my Human Services degree program that taught us how to examine scientific evidence in a way that we could actually see and note what the evidence itself stated as opposed to what people have interpretted the evidence to mean. There lies a big difference between what we actually know and what we assume we know from science. Science is not a bad thing in itself, but when scientists answer the wrong question with the data they gather, nothing they do is of any real value.

I take a medication for mental health and neurological reasons that helps very much. The older type of this type of medication can cause people to have tardive dyskinesia if the medicine is used for a prolonged period of time. The newer type of medication is supposed to decrease the risk of having tardive dyskinesia, as is advertised, but the truth is that no one has lived long on these medications to actually find out, as the drugs haven't been out long enough to tell. The drug is supposed to do better at not having this to occur, but truthfully no one knows. It may not. The new drugs certainly have other benefits that the older versions lack, but I could very well end up dealing with the same side effects that people who took the older versions sometimes have.

My point is not whether or not I will have to deal with drastic side effects, or whether or not it bothers (I haven't really thought about, to be honest), but that getting help in the mental health world, regardless of from whom, is, for the most part, a walk in the dark. If you are just hopeless enough to stumble through the dark with a doctor for long enough, eventually you might get helped. I am very grateful for the help I have recieved, but I can't pretend that any part of this process is easy in any sense at all. What do you tell someone who is asking you what getting treated for mental health reasons is like? There is a vast difference of opinion of "brain treatment" from those who deal with "brain issues" as a real part of their everyday life and those who work in this field professionally. A person can't "clock out" from their brain or take a vacation if they need to: it's always there with you. I do not say this for the purpose of disparaging those who work in these fields who have never had any real-life experience in dealing with these issues themselves, but I am stating that a person who suffers from these issues has a very different picture of what "getting helped" means.

I graduated from college with a degree in the helping profession but I am still sorting out a lot of the things I learned. Quite frankly, I don't know what "helping" someone means, what it looks like, or what the overall goal is. I know I need the Gospel; I also know I need medication. Where does "helping" someone end and giving them more tools to run from God begin? How does a Christian interact as a genuine Bible-Believer with a field built largely upon secular humanism? I don't really have any answers in all of this in any sense. I will say that people who are not spiritually discerning and analytical people will find that most secular education is severely damaging, if not damning, to the souls of those who are truly seeking to know God. That is not to say that a person will lose their salvation in college, it may just mean that they will arrive in heaven having lived their life with some very confused beliefs thrown in with the Gospel.

Thank God for Grace and for His Providence. I know nothing, except the following:

"The terrors of Law and of God
with me can have nothing to do.
For My Savior's obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view."
-Augustus Toplady

More to come...

Why post this? Simply because I

This short clip is one of many reasons why I strongly dislike liberal politics. Why post this, you ask?

The clip speaks for itself.

Friday, June 19, 2009

America's debt to John Calvin by John Piper

(This article was originally posted in WORLD magazine, July 4, 2009.)

In this year of John Calvin’s 500th birthday, I don’t know of a better place to read about his impact on America than Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism given at Princeton Seminary in October 1898. Kuyper was a pastor, a journalist, the founder of the Free University of Amsterdam, and Prime Minister of the Netherlands.

John Calvin and Martin Luther were the twin pillars of the Protestant Reformation. Why do fewer people speak of Luther’s culture-shaping impact on America, but for centuries Calvin has been seen in this light? Kuyper argues,

"Luther’s starting-point was the . . . principle of justifying faith; while Calvin’s . . . lay in the general cosmological principle of the sovereignty of God. . . . [Hence] Lutheranism restricted itself to an exclusively ecclesiastical and theological character, while Calvinism put its impress in and outside the Church upon every department of human life."

It is the personal pervasiveness of God’s sovereignty that makes all the difference. This means that “the whole of a man’s life is to be lived as in the Divine Presence.” This “fundamental thought of Calvinism” shaped all of life. “It is from this mother-thought that the all-embracing life system of Calvinism sprang.”

For example, Calvin’s doctrine of “vocation” follows from the fact that every person, great and small, lives “in the Divine Presence.” God’s sovereign purposes govern the simplest occupation. He attends to everyone’s work. This yielded the Protestant work ethic. Huge benefits flow from a cultural shift in which all work is done earnestly and honestly with an eye to God.

Or consider how Calvinism breathed an impulse of freedom into modern history. The decisive principle

"was the sovereignty of the Triune God over the whole Cosmos, in all its spheres and kingdoms, visible and invisible. A primordial Sovereignty which eradicates in mankind . . . a threefold . . . supremacy, viz., (1) the sovereignty of the State; (2) the sovereignty in Society; and (3) the sovereignty in the Church."

God’s sovereign claim on every person and every sphere of society relativized all other claims. It began with the churches.

"The sovereignty of Christ remains absolutely monarchical, but the government of the Church on earth becomes democratic to its bones and marrow. . . No church may exercise any dominion over another, but . . . all local churches are of equal rank."

This impulse of freedom spread to the political sphere. Calvin and his heirs had a strong predilection for republican government—and an aversion to monarchy. A benevolent dictatorship would be ideal in a sinless world. But in a sinful world, it brings the horrors of tyranny. “Call to mind . . . that Calvinism has captured and guaranteed to us our constitutional civil rights.”

We ask: Why then did Calvin endorse the death of Servetus for heresy? How was this part of his liberating impulse? Kuyper’s answer is helpful.

"I not only deplore that . . . I unconditionally disapprove of it; yet not as if it were the expression of a special characteristic of Calvinism, but on the contrary as the fatal after-effect of a system, grey with age, which Calvinism found in existence, under which it had grown up, and from which it had not yet been able entirely to liberate itself."

A thousand years of abuses are not thrown off overnight. But the impulses of liberty, flowing from the decisive principle of the all-embracing sovereignty of God, proved to be unstoppable. “Calvinism has liberated Switzerland, the Netherlands, and England, and in the Pilgrim Fathers has provided the impulse to the prosperity of the United States.”

Kuyper closed his lectures with a claim that for many today sounds preposterous. Do not write him off. Get the book Lectures on Calvinism, and test these words, spoken to Americans in 1898.

"In the rise of your university education . . .; in the decentralized . . . character of your local governments; . . . in your championship of free speech, and in your unlimited regard for freedom of conscience; in all this . . . it is demonstrable that you owe this to Calvinism and to Calvinism alone."

Life is Short

Earlier this morning I found out that a friend from church died in a car accident. Normally it takes me a long time to process things through, but for some reason upon hearing the news it hit me immediately like a ton of bricks. I could say something like "The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away", all of which is true, but isn't what I need at the moment. He is gone and I find myself rudely awakened by the brevity of life that I am all too often unaware of, both of my own inevitable death and the death of every single person until Christ so chooses to return. As Christians we do not grieve as those who have no hope; there is a redemption that will soon be fully realized and those who have gone before us will be resurrected. We do not grieve as those who have no hope, but we still grieve.

I find comfort in the fact that even Jesus wept; we too are okay to let ourselves feel the weight of our sorrow or anger if we need to do so. God has promised that He will never leave us or forsake, which is good news for messed-up people living in a messed-up world. I cannot make it without the blessing of Christ following me and keeping me.

My sorrow feels heavy right now so I am going to not write much more, but I wanted to share with you all a song called "Life Means So Much". It is a powerful song; one that reminds that life is short and the life truly does mean so much.

Every day is a journal page
Every man holds a quill and ink
And there's plenty of room for writing in
All we do is believe and think
So will you compose a curse
Or will today bring the blessing
Fill the page with rhyming verse
Or some random sketching

Teach us to count the days
Teach us to make the days count
Lead us in better ways
Cause somehow our souls forgot
Life means so much
Life means so much
Life means so much

Every day is a bank account
And time is our currency
So nobody's rich, nobody's poor
We get 24 hours each
So how are you gonna spend
Will you invest, or squander
Try to get ahead
Or help someone who's under

Teach us to count the days
Teach us to make the days count
Lead us in better ways
Cause somehow our souls forgot
Life means so much
Life means so much
Life means so much

Has anybody ever lived who knew the value of a life
And don't you think giving is all
What proves the worth of yours and mine

Teach us to count the days
Teach us to make the days count
Lead us in better ways
Cause somehow our souls forgot
Life means so much

Every day is a gift you've been given
Make the most of the time every minute you're living

-Chris Rice

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Quote of the Year on Pop Christianity

As many of you know, I passionately despise the book "The Shack" for many, many reasons. I was reading an article earlier today that had a quote that very much so summed up my sentiments about the book and why I try to persuade people NOT to read it.

"The thing that bothers me the most about the Shack is that it wraps destructive ideas up in an appealing package and feeds it to people who have neither the discernment nor the desire to carefully separate truth from error."
-Mary Kassian

Blown Away

On a very rare occasion I will venture to a certain skateboarding website to see what new things have been posted. I watched the video below and was BLOWN AWAY by how good this guy is on a skateboard. The video may not seem super-spectacular to people who have never ridden a skateboard, but for anyone who has ever skated this video will leave you with your mouth open.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Thoughts as of late

Sola Scriptura
Recently I have become very much disenfranchised by what is commonly classified as evangelicalism; I more or less mean pop-culture Christianity than actual evangelicalism, but the blur between the two often makes it hard to see. A lot of my negative feelings have a lot to do with me feeling like I have been lied to about a number of things, although I have no doubt that the intentions of the people who told me these things were good.

A VERY large part of the Protestant Reformation was the idea of Scripture alone being our sole source of doctrine and practice; that is, the only way we can have ANY true knowledge of what we know about God or how we are to function as His creatures has to be validated by Scripture and by nothing else. There have been, and still are, many debates about what is and is not reading too much into Scripture itself (The Bible wasn't written in a bubble). Even taking this into consideration, nearly all of the teachings taught by people who have strongly believed in Sola Scriptura have been identical. The Bible inteprets the Bible, making it very understandable when the whole of Scripture is taken into consideration.

I fear that the idea of Scripture alone being our only source of how we can know about God is largely being left behind by many who profess the Bible to be God's Word. I point the finger outward towards others AND I point the finger at myself for not taking God's Word seriously enough. I do not mean that people have to be dogmatic about minor points, but I do mean that it is not wise for us to assume that something is true simply because it sounds good or right. We must go to Scripture, all of Scripture to look to see what it says.There is no area of life that God has not spoken over in some way for us to know what He has said about any given topic. It is sometimes hard to put this knowledge together in our minds so that we can apply it to complex life situations, but He has spoken to us. We are not in the dark. Of that I am certain.

"We affirm together with the Scripture, that we are redeemed by the life, death and resurrection of Christ alone. That all blessings (including faith, love and strength to persevere) find their source in the grace of God in Jesus Christ (Eph 1:3). And that the natural man (a person without the Holy Spirit) is wholly helpless in his sin, but God, by His great love and mercy, saves His people by a free, unconditional, invincible grace, not only justifying us in Christ when we come to faith, but also raising us from the death and bondage of sin by His life-giving Spirit in order to bring us to faith. Knowing that we come empty handed and spiritually bankrupt, we repent of both our good and bad works so as to trust in Christ alone for our salvation. For the Scripture says, "no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' apart from the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:3). Indeed, it is only because the Spirit first unites us to Christ that we can cry out "Abba, Father"(Rom. 8:15; Gal 4:6). For Jesus said, "no one can come to Me unless God grants it"(John 6:65). Scripture is our only authority for all our affirmations or denials and presuppositions related to the truth of the gospel, which is our only hope. May the Lord richly bless His word as we cast the seed of the gospel to those God has placed in the paths of each of our various callings."

(From Monergism)

I have healed a lot from getting my heart broken in the situation with a girl I used to date. I am still somewhat skeptical of things surrounding dating and girl/guy relationships, but my pessimism has very slowly been lifted (and still is being lifted) into a more realistic view of myself and the limitations of other people. I can say these things quite easily now, I just hope that when I do get involved with someone that my brain doesn't get so flooded with dopamine that I forget all of this and be as stupid as I have been known to be in the past. I doubt this will be the case, but it would not surprise me if it did happen.

I am really glad that I'm not getting married anytime soon and that I don't have to rush into anything. To be sure, "it is better to marry than to burn", but marriage and sex aren't the same thing and getting married in an attempt to avoid dealing with the difficluties of being sexual creatures in a fallen world may create more problems than it will actually solve.

Living as humans packed with all sorts of types of energys is an issue all people struggle with, whether the need be sexual, emotional or any other kind of need we may have.

But getting back to females...

I spent a large part of my teenage years dealing with thyroid problems, depression, and sleep apnea. This pretty much meant I did not take too much notice in girls, as my libido was very low. Flash forward to today with all of my health issues dealt with, and I have woken up to what it is like to be a 20-something year old guy.

I have begun to wonder if God packed guys with such strong testosterone to drive us outwards.

It's kind of like we are driven outwards to go and do, to mark our spot in the world, so to speak. For ancient people it may have been that they were driven outwards to go hunt to provide food for other people and earn the respect of the other men. It is still the same way today, although the ways in which we do the same behaviors has changed.

I think the whole God driving us outwards is how guys get together with girls too. It is not necessarily anything perverted that drives us out of ourselves but it is that something attracts us to go talk to certain girls. I don't know that if guys didn't have such strong drives outwards that we would ever stay interested in girls.

I say this not because girls are boring, but primarily because I think that if guys didn't feel drawn outwards towards girls we would not talk as often because we couldn't deal with the confusion. Given, not all girls are confusing. But generally speaking, men and women communicate and see the world very differently.

I often wonder what aspects of God or ourselves God has put into the dimensions of being male and female created equally in His image.

I don't know how it is for girls to understand guys, but I definitely believe that no matter how much time guys are around girls there will always be this mysterious, confusing, and wonderful aspect of girls simply being girls that guys will never understand.

I think God knew how different girls and guys are and made us so that we would only have to get to know one other person intimately through marriage. Having to figure out every girl or guy would probably be too much for us. lol.

I have been increasingly blessed by the River Church over these past several months. There is actually a real sense of community. It's messy, but it's good. I don't, in any sense, feel as though I need to be any certain way around the people there other than how I am in any other situation. That may seem like an odd statement, but I definitely think that people put up more defenses when they are at Church or any other large group or organization; I don't think it's a conscious thing most of the time when people do it, but we still do it.

Being able to have a lot of frank discussions with people about life, the Bible, and other things has been a real relief for me. Sometimes these conversations happen at something church related but often times I find them happening more and more out in the community. I talked with some friends from church at Sheetz gas station for a long time in the parking lot last night. We ran into each other randomly and just hung out for a bit. A few days before that I saw another friend from church with their two kids at my work. They stopped by to pick up some food and we got to talk for a little bit.

It is really cool to see how the way Joey is preaching is changing the church too. A lot of people make comments that they are finally "getting it" and are now able to see how the text applies to their life. I have overheard a lot of comments and questions from people drawing out some of the implications from the text and sermon, which means that people are probably thinking about the Gospel in ways they may not have thought about before.

There is much more to say but for now my ranting is done.