Friday, December 28, 2012

Free Will

The Arminian view...makes the final decision for our salvation rest upon a human choice not upon a divine action. —R.C. Sproul

I recently had this quote come across my Twitter feed.  It is an interesting quote, meant to show how wrong it is to believe in Arminianism.  The problem is that it does exactly the opposite.  What love God has shown to us, that the final decision on whether we will follow Him or not isn't a decision He makes for us, but gives us the ability to make it for ourselves.

The hesitation on the part of Calvinists comes because they believe that our will is completely destroyed by sin, to the extent when all we can do is sin.  This is called "Total Depravity."  Frankly, I don't have a problem with that as a starting point. I believe every human is born apart from God, and that without Him we can't do anything about it.  

This, though, is where Calvinists and Arminianists part ways.  The Calvinist believes that because we are this depraved, we cannot decide on our own to follow God, and therefore God makes the decision for us.  This is called "Unconditional Election".  God makes the decisions about who will and won't go to Heaven based on His will.  Nothing else, then, comes into this decision.  Therefore those who end dwelling with God for eternity are those whom God has chosen, and those who spend eternity without God are those whom God has not chosen.  

The Arminian, however, doesn't believe.  Arminius believed in what is called the "freed will" of man.  In other words, through the grace of God, man is given the ability to accept what God has done.  The work is still the work of God; it is by grace we given the ability to look to God.  Then, however, it is the choice of mankind; will we choose God, or choose our own way?  This then leads to the belief that those who dwell with God are there because they wanted to be there, not because they were chosen.

There are a lot of ways to go back and forth on this, but that will have to wait for another time.  

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Gun control - Can we have a real conversation?

We have become a nation of "sides".  We all have opinions.  Some of those opinions are even thought out after seeing all angles of an argument.  Most, quite frankly, are not.  I'm not pointing fingers here.  My opinions have gone through seasons, and there have been times I have been very staunch on a subject only to discover that there is more to this argument than at first I saw, and I have had to back down.  I'm not suggesting that isn't the case with some of my very strong opinions now either.  I just don't know which of my opinions might fit into that category, or I would seek to see more sides.

As for right now, I want to say that one of the subjects I am far less "staunch" about these days is gun control.  By the way, please don't judge what I'm about to say with any preconceived notions about me.  I still don't know that there is an answer to this argument.  I have some ideas, some of them I think are good, but might not work.  Most of them aren't as well thought out as I would like.

What I really would like is a conversation.  I want to talk about this, as a nation, but it doesn't seem like we can have that conversation.   There is too much of taking sides.  It's as if those who are siding with the NRA are suggesting that those who talk about gun control want to take all of their guns away, while the extremists who do want to take all the guns away, suggest that those in the NRA are just a bunch of gun totin' hillbillies who just want more massacres to happen.

While there might be some on the extreme sides, I believe most of America lies somewhere in the middle.  For the sake of coming generations, we need to talk about what we can do. To be fair, I don't think any laws put into effect will make a great difference for my generation, but we do have a responsibility to future generations.

So how about a conversation?  I'll start by asking a couple questions...

Is there anything with saying "No automatic or semi-automatic guns belong in the home"?  I know there are some enthusiasts who really love their guns, and I'm okay with you shooting them.  But can't you keep them at the shooting range, locked up?  Then, when you want to kick your shooting into high gear, you go shoot.  And if you need a semi-automatic gun for hunting, maybe you need some more time at the shooting range anyway!

What about this; is there a way to ensure that only the person who bought the gun can shoot it?  Some type of fingerprint system which unlocks the gun?  Then, if it is sold, it has to go through proper channels to exchange hands or it is unable to be used.  Technology has gotten us some huge guns; can't we use it to help these guns not be used in extreme ways?

Okay, so maybe there are answers to these questions I haven't thought of.  And there are likely a lot more questions which need to be asked.  I, for one, am ready to have this conversation.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sermon? Or Message?

"Anyone can preach a sermon.  It takes a man of God to preach a message."

These were the words of one of my professors in college, and they are something I have never forgotten.  Too often I'm afraid I preach sermons.  Let's be honest; it's a lot easier.  I can whip out a sermon on any topic, passage or Bible story you want in very little time.  It will be coherent and applicable.  I'm not trying to brag.  I want to school for this stuff, taking two years of Homiletics.  I have listened to people preach with an ear toward not just content, but preparation and delivery.  I read articles and books meant to help me become a better preacher.  I spend 12-15 hours every week preparing the content and delivery of my sermons.  More than anything else, I believe God has called me to preach, and has therefore equipped me to do so.  And frankly, I think it has worked.

But preaching a sermon isn't the problem.  As my professor said, anyone can do that.  Preaching a that's hard.

A message isn't just truth; it's timely truth.

A message isn't just truth; it is truth which is needed.

A message is a sermon, but more than that, it speaks directly into people's lives.

Perhaps this is what people mean when they talk about the difference between a preacher and a prophet.  Maybe I need to lean more toward seeking to speak directly into people's lives more.  I don't know.  What I do know is that in messages, it is much more about what the Holy Spirit does in me through the text than what I do with the text.  Maybe that should tell me something.

This reminds me of a quote from A. W. Tozer.

“The scribe tells us what he has read, and the prophet tells us what he has seen…We are overrun today with orthodox scribes, but the prophets, where are they?” A. W. Tozer

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christians in the Face of Tragedy

During the service this past Sunday, I spoke on how Christians should respond to tragedy, especially in light of situations like the shooting in Newtown Connecticut.  I spoke of 7 things we as Christians must do.

First, we must pray.  We need to pray for those whose lives have been destroyed through this.  The parents without a child, or those left trying to explain what happened to siblings.  We need to pray for the community, as this type of event shakes them to their core.  We need to pray for our nation.  If there was ever a time for Christians to join together and pray for our nation, this is it.

Secondly, we need to love our families.  Sometimes my life gets busy, but life is precious, and time is of considerable value.  We need to love our children enough to give them to God.

Thirdly, we need to watch our words.  Normally the phrase "everything happens for a reason" just bothers me.  Or when people say there is some "hidden" will of God through these events.  This past weekend these phrases didn't bother me; they made me angry.  God did not want this to happen.  He loved these children more than we can believe, and this was not the will of God.  God created these children with the ability to create, love and be loved.  He gave them to families to bring joy into their lives.  I say it again; God did not desire this.

Fourth, we need to acknowledge that we live in a broken world.  Since the fall of man, we have seen the way sin destroys lives and families.  This is no exception.  We live in a society which devalues life and glorifies violence.

Fifth, we need to look out for others.  There are people all around us who are hurting like this young man was who brought this violence into that school.  Most people who suffer from sin will not respond to the darkness within in the same way this young man did, but they still need to be loved.  That responsibility falls on Christians, who are called to take light into the darkness.

Sixth, we must remember our suffering Savior.  Jesus came to live and die for us to become our Great High Priest.  He suffered so sin could be washed away, so we could be free from the penalty of sin, and to free us from the fear of death.  We are also told in Scripture that Jesus suffered to better understand when we go through suffering.  He is our Priest, and He is our Good Shepherd, who walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death.

Finally, we need to long for Christ's return.  One day there will be no more tears, death, mourning or sin.  It is the return of Christ, and the final destruction of sin and Satan which will bring this about.  "Even so Lord, come quickly."

I have written on the subject of evil, and how this connects to God here and here, if you would like to read those.

If you would like to listen to the message, here is the link.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Keeping Christ in Christmas

It is a big theme this time of year, and has been for several years now.  How can we fight against atheists in order to preserve the "Christ" in Christmas.  Their calls of "Happy Holidays" really bother Christians throughout the country.

But should they?  I mean, have we stopped to think about it?  Sure, I call it Christmas, and even celebrate Christmas, but isn't it bigger than that?  I think the problem is we think we are keeping Christ in Christmas by the way we greet people this season.  If we say "Merry Christmas", we are obviously being better Christians.  It all goes back to words.

In case we forget, Jesus was rarely concerned with what you said if it did not coincide with what you did.  In other words, you can say you are a follower of Jesus all you want, but unless you are living like Christ, it really means nothing.

So by all means, keep Christ in Christmas this year.  Let's just worry about what we do more than what we say.