Thursday, October 29, 2020

Calvin's Approach to Salvation: Do we have free will or are we robots?

Calvin essentially viewed salvation as a work done completely by God. The believer really has no part to play in salvation, and rightly so, for this is true salvation in Christ. Yet from this Calvinist perspective, the believer doesn't even have to be willing to be saved, essentially God will force them to be saved if it's in his will for them to be saved. And the believer doesn't need to respond in faith, faith is given to the believer. The believer essentially doesn't respond at all. God forces it upon them.

Basically Calvin believed that everyone is predetermined before they are even born to heaven or hell. Calvin had a very strong view in regard to the sovereignty of God. He essentially believed that whatever God decrees is what will happen. There is no free will involved. There are several problems with this approach to salvation.

First, if you're asserting that God ordained the fall, and that God ordains some to heaven and some to hell, that makes God the author and originator of evil. That's a rather big problem, when considering the moral character of God.  

Secondly, when you remove free will you remove any need to respond to the gospel. Essentially Calvin reduces the human race to robots.  How does Calvin explain our own responsibility if we're foreordained to heaven or hell? There would be no basis for personal responsibility for sin.  

Thirdly, when you suggest predestination in all things you remove the impotence to evangelism, if people are foreordained to heaven or hell, then there is no reason to evangelize. They will get saved somehow if God wants them to.  

Fourthly, when you remove the need for perseverance and simply suggest all will persevere because God will force them to, you neglect the very real reality of falling away. Thus you encourage complacency in the body by rejecting the possibility of apostasy/falling away. Believers then falsely think they can never lose their salvation, promoting spiritual laziness, or even departing the church altogether, given the fact that it can't be lost. 

Fifthly, why would the Bible constantly tell us to "choose now whom we will obey" (Joshua 24:14-15) and constantly call us to "obey God in all things" (John 14:15)? If all is foreordained by God, there would be no need for any commands, because God would simply force it to happen.

I know, I'm taking these ideas to their logical conclusions. Most Calvinists don't believe these logical conclusions. Yet they remain logical conclusions that prove the ideology is systemically contradictory. Determinism seems the logical conclusion of God decreeing some to salvation and some to hell.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Why Does God Test Us?

Why are we tested? Why are we tempted?

What an amazing question. We see numerous times throughout the old testament and new testament where god’s people are tested.  Jesus himself was required to go into the wilderness where he would tested for forty days and forty nights.  Abraham was tested by God, when God commanded him to sacrifice his only son. Peter was tested. The apostle Paul was tested in many ways.  Why are we tested?

The word of God says, Each of you are being tested and purified through the fires of affliction that through these trials you may bring glory to God. 

Let’s talk about testing, and we’ll also talk on the way about temptation, which are two different things. 

As you all know you’ve been purchased by Jesus Christ, he’s adopted you into his family and you’ve given your life to His service.  If you’re a Christian, that’s the arrangement. Jesus bought you with his blood, to make you one with God, and now you are on the journey home to paradise. But we must still walk through this life, and face many trials and tribulations.

In the book of James we see that trials are intended to build our faith, purify our faith, and test our faith.  This brings glory to God.  God is pleased with this.  So every test and trial is intended to make you just a bit more like Jesus.  And it’s also a way for God to understand what you really believe and who you really are.  We can say that we love Jesus and we serve him alone, but what about when something terrible happens?  What about when we don’t get what we want? What about when something hard happens?  These are all times when God is watching to see what we will do.  Will they hold fast or will they turn back? 

As I wrote the sermon message for today, I was sitting within my house, with no power. During the storm on Friday in the early afternoon a tree fell from the neighbors house and landed mere inches from my house.  It missed the house, but it hit the high wires connecting the house to the power lines, and it ripped the power lines in half, and there were sparks and smoke everywhere outside the window. 

I had to wait for the fire department to arrive, and then waited again for over 4 hours for consumers energy to arrive and deal with the live wires sitting on my driveway.  Not only that, I was sick with stomach flu, no fever thankfully, from Tuesday through Friday.  I missed some work, and got behind on some things.  I had recently tried to adopt a dog from the humane society with special needs, and his special needs were too much, and we had to return him to the humane society which was very sad.  I had been trying so hard to lose weight but haven’t been able to lose much more than where I’m at now, then the sickness hit and I gained a bunch back from having to lay there everyday. All moments before kettle season starts.

These are all tests we go through.  How will I respond? Will I feel sorry for myself? Will I get angry with God? Or will I patiently endure these difficulties and grow as a person as a result?

Each trial builds us more and more into God’s disciple.  We’re pretty stubborn as people. So it takes painful trials to change us.  But the question was, why are we tested by God? Right?  So let’s address that.  Why does God put us through tests?  I think every trial God puts us through can be considered a test.

Which door will we walk through? Like on the video. Often times it looks like this: two doors.  One is easy. Maybe go get some pleasure or go do something, go get wasted, or go meet up with that guy or gal who you know is bad news, but your really lonely.  Or stay at home and honor God and feel kinda lonely.  And being a Christian is making the hard choice, over and over and over again. Going through that door that looks harder, that door that looks more painful.  But as we do, we’re walking on God’s path for our lives.  And each right decision draws us closer to God. And each wrong decision draws us further away from God.  It makes sense.

If I walk through that wrong door during the test, and go sleep with that woman, or go use that drug, or go to that party, or steal that thing I want, or lie about someone to hurt them, it affects me.  It changes who I am just ever so slightly.  Every time I open that door to sin, it makes the door easier to open and the sin is stronger in my life. 

And honestly, when you go through that temptation door, that sin door, each time you become a bit more cynical, a bit more jaded, a bit more resentment at God.

And you’ll notice that every time you succeed in a trial, succeed in a test, you’ll feel just a bit closer to God. You’ll feel a bit more hopeful. You’ll feel a bit more of God’s presence. 

This is really our journey through the wilderness.  I think we can compare it to Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  If you recall, God set the Israelite's free from slavery in Egypt, and they gathered around mount Sinai, and Moses climbed the mountain and came down with the ten commandments. But then Israel began their journey through the wilderness. And if you recall, they went through all sorts of trials and difficulties as they traveled. 

Will you trust God in the trial?  Will you trust God while you’re being tempted?  Will you trust God while you’re in a test That God is putting you through himself?  That is the question.  And that will determine the outcome of your trial.  It will determine whether you succeed or fail. 

The Israelites in the wilderness complained and grumbled, and even wanted to return to slavery in Egypt rather than go with God. They built the golden calf and worshiped it, instead of God. They rebelled against Moses and Aaron. Will we do the same?  We have God’s Spirit living within us.

But I get it.  It’s tough.  There have been times where I go through the wrong door, and go for sin, or temptation, or I question God’s goodness, or argue with God, or complain to God, instead of being obedient to Him.  But we always have that chance in the next test, to make the right choice and walk through the right door. Let’s not waste that chance though. God is patient.  And God is good. But let’s not test God.  God tests us, because he’s building us into his image, but we shouldn’t test Him. That’s not our place. 

So why does God test us?  God tests us to show to us what is really in our hearts. He already knows. But when we are tested, it shows us who we are, and sometimes its great we see we really do love God, and sometimes we see that we still have a long way to go, and then we can cry out to God to change us within.

In regard to temptation, temptation is sometimes part of a test we go through. We’re often tempted to do wrong, to make the easy choice, to go into sin, but God never tempts us.  Sometimes God leads us into situations where we face temptations, but God himself does not tempt us.  He is always calling us to do good, not evil.

This life is tests, trials, and temptations. Go through them patiently.  Trust God. And don’t doubt Him. These tests are a good thing. They change us into Christ’s likeness.

The Death of Perpetua: Christian Identity

The martyrdom of Perpetua, have you ever read the account? It's absolutely incredible to read.  It's from thousands of years ago, yet it's so relevant to today.

I find it amazing to realize, though I'd read of Perpetua before, to learn that she was only 22 years old at this time.  How amazing for such a young and impressive woman give her life for the Lord!  

 I see Christian identity at work in her story. She knew who she was.

Perpetua's account articulates Christian identity in her conversation with her father in the clearest form when she says, I must call myself what I am, what am I but a Christian? Her father begs her to simply renounce Christ. Think of your baby! But she cannot deny Christ. How could she deny the chief nature of who she was?  How often have I identified myself as perhaps a learner, or a lefty, or an eccentric, or a pastor?  But what am I chiefly? A Christian.  That is the very root of Perpetua's identity. Can you say the same? Can I say the same?

She faced her own death as a temptation to recant Christ. Would you give your life for Jesus? She faced an impossible situation, seeing her own long life ahead of her. She also faced the proddings of her father, and the prodding of her baby and the needs of the child, as well as the prodding of the Romans, but could not recant from her love of Jesus. The text articulates the importance of her Christian witness, and that it be maintained unto death.

The Romans were so threatened by this simple faith in Christ, because it was an outside referent by which to judge the state.  The basic structure of roman society was that of the roman culture, the worship of the emperor, and reverence of the state as the ultimate authority.  That is what probably was thought to keep the public in line and under control.  

 How could Rome allow a different worldview, the Christian perspective to so radically challenge the roman belief structure?  From the Christian perspective, they could judge the roman society as either good or bad based on Christian beliefs.  But from the perspective of emperor worship, the state could do no wrong.

 Despite that severe pressure from outside to conform or die, Perpetua knew who she was. She was a Christian, a follower of Jesus.  And she died for it.  

She was condemned.  She had a vision of saints beckoning her to the coliseum.  And then she was brought out into the stadium, and she joined other Christians, who were devoured by wild animals, struck by Lions and armored gladiators. She died a saint and a martyr for Christ.  Would you do the same?

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Why does God love me? Why does God care about us?

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The first question from the questions we had you turn in from this new series, God Questions, Real Answers is a combination of two questions that were turned in, they are: “Why Does God love me? And “Why does God care about us?” These two questions being closely related will be addressed tonight

Raise your hand if you have children.

Hands down. Now, raise your hand if you love your children.  Yeah, same ones.

Now, the question can be asked: Why do you love your children?  Why do you care about them? 

Very easily you could say, because they’re my kids.  But that’s not really an answer is it?  Maybe you aren’t really sure why you love your kids.  Or even why you wanted to have kids in the first place. But you love them.  Why? Maybe… because you made them.  Perhaps, because they're made in your own image.  If you look at your children, they look like a combination of you and your spouse right?  You look like a combination of your mom and dad.  That’s how it works.  And maybe we love them because they’re some of us in them, and they’re in a way our creation.  Not only did we give birth to the child but we also raise the child and teach the child our values and beliefs.  So nature, and nurture, all building a person as they grow up.

I don’t think it’s a big stretch to say then, that God love you because he made you.  You are extension of God in the world.  God is like our father, and we are his children.  But it’s also much more than that.  It starts there, but there’s much more.

God is our Father.  But God didn’t give birth to us.  God actually designed our bodies.  He designed our blood, our circulatory system, he designed the anatomy of our brains, our heart, our muscles and tendons.  He conceived of the idea of creating a human being. The senses you have of seeing with your eyes, hearing with your ears, feeling with your hands and your skin, those are all creations of God.  That is one reason God loves you, you’re like his brilliant invention that he created and now he enjoys watching us walk around and do things and explore the world. 

Have you ever played that computer game called The Sims?  It’s where you have this person you made and they live in this house and they have other friends, and you can design their house.  And you try to meet their needs, have them eat, work, spend time with friends, and earn money and so on.  It’s a little like that, God watches us live our lives, and provides for us. 

Point one is that we are the invention of God, God designed our bodies and our minds. But God also created our soul.  Those are the little things about you, the fact that you like a certain flavor of ice cream, a certain kind of music, that you are gifted in a certain area, maybe you’re a writer, or a painter, or you make wonderful meals, or you decorate your home beautifully, or you have a gift for encouraging others, or a gift for serving others.  Those various traits of your soul, what you love to do and what you bless others with, is an aspect of why God loves you. 

God decided the world needed one of you.  God designed me to be a pastor, to write sermons and share them, to shepherd a flock and care for them. God designed many of you to love your children, to provide for others, maybe God designed you to be a great farmer, or to be a great architect or to be someone good at administration or good with tools and fixing things.  Maybe God designed you in your soul to be one who listens well to others, or one who talks well. Think about all the people in just the city of Owosso… you’ve got people who gifted in government, people gifted to be police officers and administrators and business leaders and cooks and cleaners and construction workers and salesmen and pastors and teachers and coaches and shift managers.  And God designed each of us to do these things, and to love doing these things.  God cared that much, and he loves who you are.

First point, you are the invention of God, second point you are a soul designed by God uniquely, third point, God created humanity with something infinite within each of us.

In Ecclesiastes it says that on the heart of every human is a longing for eternity. That’s why nothing in this life, romance, buying stuff, new houses, new cars, drugs, women, men, none of it really satisfies our longing for eternity.  We long for something beyond this world.  God created messengers, millions and millions of what we call angels, who are servants of God who do his work in the world behind the scenes.  God also created planets, stars, galaxies, and so on.  God also created plants, and all the animals and insects and creatures.  But then God created humanity, and something very special happened there, because it says God created us in His own image.  Where there is a piece of the divine nature in us.  God did not create us just to be servants like the angels, he created us to reign with him. To be in charge, to have power over the Earth.  Of course we know Adam and Eve messed that up, and ceded that authority to Satan the deceiver.  But we were originally designed to rule and reign. And the Bible says if we have Jesus christ as our savior we will one day reign with him as coheirs in Christ.

But I think part of this mystery of being created in the image and likeness of God, is explained by this concept that God created us to create. We are not satisfied just reading a beautiful poem, we want to write a new poem, with our own thoughts and ideas. We aren’t satisfied just looking at a beautiful painting we want to paint one of our own.  We aren’t satisfied seeing how beautiful someone’s child is, we want to have our own children.  An architect isn’t happy just looking at a fantastic building, he goes out and builds one just as beautiful in it’s own unique way.  We were created to create.  God told Adam and Eve to subdue the Earth and spread across it.  Build beautiful kingdoms, and God would watch us do it.  Remember God invited Adam to name each of the animals, because God was curious what Adam would name them.  He wanted Adam to have authority and to make those decisions as his chosen one. 

In the same way God invites us to create.  Just as God created the heavens and Earth. We create cities, paintings, books, children, arts crafts, and so many other things. 

And lastly, I want to return to the original picture, God loves us because he is our beloved Father.  He cares for us like a mother and father love their son or daughter.  It’s an unconditional love, a powerful love that fills them and fills the child.  God is love.  That’s what the Bible says.  The fundamental reality of the universe is love. 

But if you don’t have Jesus Christ as your savior today then you are actually an enemy of God.  You’re like the prodigal child who has left home and is away from God and his love.  And if you don’t return to God through Jesus Christ, then when you die you will have to sent away into quarantine, a place of torment called hell, where God is not, and only pain is real. 

But if you simply accept Jesus Christ as your savior, and turn away from your sins, and live holy, you have God as your Father, and He loves you so much. Even while we were still sinners God loved us enough to send Jesus to die for us.  So receive him now. 

God loves you because you are his own invention.

God loves you because He designed your own soul.

God loves you because you are made in His own likeness to create as he creates.

 God loves you because God is love, and He is your Father, and you are His child.

And God loves you because you’ve received his son Jesus Christ as savior and have turned away from your sins. 

Amen.



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