Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Calvinistic Thinking- Irresistible Grace

I have been thinking about this post for a long time now. I know, I know, some of you have given up on me even writing it. The truth is that I have been very sidetracked these days with the Ministry of Justice trying to close us down, our moving back out to Gondor after six months in the West, and now our local office manager leaving us after ten years of very faithful service. In the midst of this I want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. In the midst of this I want to write a post that is the continuation of a series and yet also a very seasonal topic to discuss. In the midst of busyness and transition and everything else that is going on I want to talk about the efficacy of Love.

If you have not figured it out by now I am not that interested in a 'you're wrong', 'I'm right' kind of debate. What I have been trying to get at in these Calvinistic Thinking posts is more of what is Jesus really like rather than why is my systematic theology better than yours. I am convinced that we miss the truth on both sides of this issue. A good example of what I am talking about is found in the last post on Limited Atonement. 1 John 2:2 is a slam dunk verse defeating this idea. You can't get around it. Limited Atonement states that Jesus only died for the elect and yet this verse clearly states that Christ died not only for our sins but also for the whole world. Like I said, "Slam dunk." I am right, you are wrong and that is the end of it. There is only one problem. The whole world is not saved. So, what are we talking about again? Yeah, we kind of lose track of God and what He is doing in this world as we parse each other's systematic theology. There is obviously a lot more going on here than who Jesus died for. Apparently this is a very big and complicated story. As we look to Irresistible Grace I would like to get past the whose right and wrong and get to the 'what is really going on here' part. I will try at least.

What Calvinists get accused of on this concept is that if Grace is irresistible then all those whom God wants to save will get saved. His love and grace can not be resisted. It kind of makes us sound like robots with no free will. More than that if this is true why am I working so darn hard to reach others for Jesus if all of those whom God wants saved will be saved without any effort on my part. I could just go home and watch TV and stop all this insanity right now. Calvinists on the other hand love this concept because they say that this means that their toil and effort which they are commanded to do will not be in vain. We can go confidently out to the fields of harvest knowing that we will have the victory. This is a great comfort and motivator for them.

Biblically we can look to passages like those in Romans 8 and the word 'predestination' is actually used. For all of you opposed to the concept of Irresistible Grace I caution you not to be opposed to the concept of predestination. It is in the Bible, you can look it up. Now, we can argue about what predestination means but we don't really have the right to discount it as a biblical concept- it's right there in the Book. Calvinist might also point to passages like Paul's conversion in Acts as proof of God's overwhelming Grace in His relentless pursuit of those He has chosen. I have been asked on more than one occasion why God does not just strike down blind those whom He is pursuing more often. It sure would seem to make my job easier. But on the other hand the reason so many do not believe in Irresistible Grace is because we have seen it resisted with our own eyes so often. The sister story to Paul's is the story of Balam who while on his way to curse the Israelites was told off by his own donkey. An angel stopped him on the road and Balam's donkey spoke to him to warn him. A great story. Unfortunately for Balam the story does not end there. Later we see this same 'prophet' giving advice to Israel's enemies on how to defeat them. This so-called prophet of God had a huge capacity for resistance. Of course, the good Calvinist could reply that Balam was destined to play the role that he played. But this line of reasoning goes no where fast because then I might reply that I am not predestined to be a Calvinist and then the Calvinists could rejoice in this fact and be at peace that all is exactly as God would have it. Except it isn't and we all know it isn't. There is more going on here....

The bottom line is that I believe that Grace is irresistible. If I get to define what that means. I also believe that very very few people believe this. Grace is God's unmerited favor. I like to call it God's love. I believe that the love of God is the most powerful effective force in the Universe. I believe that it transforms all that it touches. I believe that it creates life and breathes out beauty wherever it goes. You probably think that you agree with me on this. I wonder if you really do? I was sitting in a hotel room at a conference not long ago with a man that I think God has truly transformed into someone wonderful. This man works for our company and as we were debriefing at the end of the day about the conference we were at I spoke to him about an evangelist friend of mine. My evangelist friend was talking about the most effective evangelistic methods he used. He talked about love. He told me that if he could just communicate love to others that was enough. As I shared this with my friend I could see his eyes narrow. Doubt and concern lined his face. Love? That word is so watered down that it has lost its meaning. My friend doubted that a Gospel presentation that consisted solely of love would be effective. I could read his mind as clear as a book- what about sin? what about repentance? what about so many other issues? Love? Is that enough? Most don't really think so.

The reason of course that we don't believe in love is because we have lost what it means. The love of God is the unmerited favor of God. To love is to meet another's needs. To set aside your own desires and to promote the good of someone else. Real love is oblivious to selfish ambition or self gratification. It's all in 1 Corinthians 13, look it up. We think of love as fluffy and sentimental. That is why we jump in so quickly to say that the Gospel is not 'just' about love, it also means sin and repentance and whatever else we are feeling particularly passionate about just now. For some an effective Gospel means love and being baptized in my church, others believe the Gospel is love and being against drinking alcohol. Still others demand that the Gospel be presented as love and being anti-President Elect Obama or anti-abortion or anti-everyone else who is not just like me. Is love really that complicated? I don't think so.

It is not that love is so complicated as much as it is just so wholly other than what we are. We can hardly conceive of real love. Look at the Nativity story. God comes to earth and 'Immanuel' happens. He is with us. Ah, we think, 'this is going to be big. Now His enemies are going to get it. Now everything will be put right.' But what do we get? A baby. The baby is helpless. He just lies there. He does not 'do' anything. What a big disappointment the love of God turned out to be. But wait! What happens? Judgment on a huge scale. As the helpless baby lies there truth is revealed in unprecedented ways. As God invites us into relationship Herod judges himself to be a liar and a murderer. The wise men are judged to be true worshipers. Joseph is judged to be selfless and faithful. Mary is judged to be obedient and is found to be blessed. Maybe we don't need to put all kinds of restrictions on love after all. Maybe it comes with its own built in power to judge, to transform, to make right. Maybe it is in fact, irresistible. It was to all involved in the Christmas story. That story continues to this day and that helpless baby grew to be a helpless man who was violently taken and crucified... helplessly. But the love demonstrated there continues to transform hearts and reveal true judgment to this day. I believe in the efficacy of love. I believe that it is powerful to change lives and that it alone is the Gospel we are to present. There is more to this story than predestined robots or a giant throw of the dice. The reason some people are saved is because a loving God invited them in and that love was irresistible. The reason some people are not saved is because a loving God has sent out the invitation and the call of love has not been heard or understood. The enemy is waging war and there is the part of the story we are missing. Revelation 12 is a reality we live in. We are not free to choose, we are not robots predestined, we are a people caught between titanic forces. Love is the only way out. Believe that, live it, present it as a saving Gospel to all. The little baby judges me and you even today.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Games People Play

I sat down with the national team yesterday and we had a great time of sharing together after my absence of six months. I often write here about spiritual warfare and it seems today I need to write some more. When will we grow up I don't know but until we do we will continue to be vulnerable to the enemy's attacks. Defeat is not inevitable however, in fact victory is certain as this story will show.

I heard a couple of months ago that Kili's wife was attacked in their village of Anfalas. You may remember that Kili and Fili and their wives comprise a small house church in the remote village of Anfalas that is more than three and a half hours drive from the Capitol of Minas Tirith where I live. The full story is a warning and a testimony for all of us. One day Kili's wife was walking in the village when a neighbor came up to her and began verbally abusing her. She said that she was a loose woman and a despicable person because she had become a Christian. Kili's wife's character is well known in the village and these accusations are completely without basis. But as this woman began attacking verbally she got more and more animated and finally hit Kili's wife and began repeatedly striking her. Kili approached them at this point and struck the woman and pushed her back off of his wife. Then other nearby villagers joined in and began beating on Kili and he was fighting back furiously. Before he accepted Christ Kili had a great reputation as a fighter and a hot head. This was the first time he had struck anyone since before his baptism in 2006. Fili happened along at this point and tried to break up the fight. Kili hit Fili and the fight broke up but now the two men were furious at each other. Kili was mad because Fili did not join his side and Fili was angry that Kili was fighting- and I think because he got hit. The team was called and Frodo, Sam, and Merry headed on down to see what could be done. Frodo was totally discouraged at the scene. He could see everyone was angry and that the testimony of the group was greatly damaged if not destroyed. It all looked hopeless as the two families would not talk to each other and the whole village was saying, 'this is how Christians act'. Frodo wanted to get back in the car and drive away for good but that is not what the King wanted. Frodo, Sam, and Merry got out a guitar and started singing praise choruses. They prayed together and sang together for some time. Finally, the two families came together and the haze of anger and resentment dissipated. They hugged each other and cried and forgave each other. The village was amazed.

Since then they have had to get more Bibles to hand out to all who want them. They meet daily to pray and worship together and encourage one another. Worship is a powerful and effective weapon in our arsenal. As Frodo found out it is even effective when we don't feel like doing it! Let us draw near to God and discover the promise that He will draw near to us. When He comes near He will deal with the evil one Himself and we will find the strength to love and serve each other with joy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Home Again?

We are home again... or are we? We arrived in Minas Tirith at 3:30am on Monday early morning after a 36 hour trip. The very good news is that after four flights we arrived with all of our bags. The bad news is that since we have all of our bags we will now spend the next week or so trying to figure out where to put all the stuff. But I don't want to talk about stuff just now- maybe later- now I want to talk about home.

We were talking to a friend of ours last Sunday and we told him how much we were looking forward to going 'home'. He said he had a problem with that. He said he knew that most M's referred to their assignments overseas as home but he didn't understand it. Were we not patriotic Americans? Well, the answer is yes, I am. My father was a pilot in the US Air Force and I grew up on base. I was born in Kittery, Maine- a place that I never lived even two full days. I actually lived at that time on the Air Force base across the river in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We moved when I was one to Mobile, Alabama. When I was two we moved back to New Hampshire and when I was three we moved to California. We then moved to Nebraska, where my parents were originally from, when I was seven but moved to Florida when I was ten. When I was twelve we made the big move to Okinawa, Japan which was very significant because that is where I accepted Christ and was baptized in a Southern Baptist Church- actually, it was an SB affiliated Church as there are no SB Churches outside the US. When I was fifteen we moved to Germany. I was called into International Mission work then but a significant event happened then that cemented how I felt about America. On base we always stood for the National Anthem before the movie began in the movie theater. One day I was standing with my best friend and he started acting silly- well, we were just 17 at the time. I had taken off my hat as the anthem began but he grabbed it from me and put it on his own head. I was offended and took it from him but he grabbed it back and placed it on his head again. Just then a large man behind us in an officer's uniform snatched my hat off of my friend's head- with no small amount of hair- and pushed the hat forcibly into my friend's chest. My friend looked very sheepish and said softly, 'thank you, sir.' As I stared at my friend I understood something that I hoped that the officer understood. My friend was really grateful. He was grateful to be reminded of the importance of our anthem and he was ashamed that he had momentarily forgotten it. I was proud of my friend for feeling this depth of patriotism and I realized that I loved my country very much as well; that my Country was not something that I took for granted but something I chose to be thankful for and responsible for.

This last time I was home I heard a lot of Christians complaining about our Country and it saddened me. I know we have a lot of problems but I wish others could see our country from a global perspective. Here's an example. My wife and I were talking about this issue in a local fast food place. As we discussed what a real post-christian nation would look like and what a real financial meltdown would be like a worker came by cleaning the tables around us. It was obvious he had down-syndrome or some such handicap. As he worked his fellow workers treated him with respect and dignity, so did the customers. In fact, I began to suspect that this young man was actually a very popular person in this community. Do you know how many communities there are in the world that accept and respect people with disabilities? How about none, especially with mental handicaps. Zero, zilch, nada. No community in the rest of the world is capable of accepting mentally disabled people. Only in America. I could be wrong, maybe there are places where the disabled are loved and respected, maybe in England for example. I don't know about them. I am proud to be an American. But I don't live in America. I am home now in Minas Tirith, Gondor. A country where the disabled are hidden and shamed. A country where the banks do not function and people suffer under the oppression of a truly non-existent economy.

I received some encouragement this morning as I pondered all of this. I read in Hebrews 11:15-16:
If they had been thinking of the land they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

Let us all be proud to belong to the nations that have sheltered us but at the same time let us work for the promise of a new home. A home provided for by our loving heavenly Father himself. The old writers were right, 'This world is not my home, I'm just passing through.'

Friday, December 05, 2008

Trying Again

Well dear friends, we arrived at the airport on Tuesday morning 4 am only to be told that the travel agent messed up and we did not in fact, have tickets. I guess all of us who have ever flown on e-tickets have waited for this to happen. But after some wrangling the travel agent has us booked on Saturday's flight and we will go early tomorrow to discover if we will really be seated or not. Surely we will. Surely I did not say 'surely'. If all goes well we will land at the Minas Tirith airport in Gondor on Monday morning somewhere around 3:30am.