Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Unity in Diversity: Beings in Relationship

What is man?  Is man a dream in the eye of his creator?  It would seem so, by the Christian worldview.  What is man for?  How can man find fulfillment in life?  

Human kind, one by one may find ultimate fulfillment in relationship.  I have learned slowly but surely, that I am a being made for community and relationship.  

First and foremost I am made for deep connection and relationship to God the creator.  Yet I am also made for relationship with a female whom I will one day call wife.  In addition, I am made for relationship with other believers.  And also with my own children (someday), and extended family.  And at the fringe, I am made for relationship with all people, with animals, and the natural environment around me.

Every human is born with the most important relationship broken.  The relationship with God is not present upon birth.  In fact God is not immediately approachable.  One must approach God through Christ.  Outside of Christ, no approach to God can be made.  Upon the reception of Jesus Christ, the way is open to approach God.  The Holy Spirit distributes a connective force between God and the believer, through the imputed righteousness of Christ.  Very literally, the believer and follower of Jesus Christ wears the perfection of his life, death, and resurrection as a garment of borrowed holiness.  

Meanwhile the Holy Spirit works on the heart and mind of the believer, gently and sometimes firmly the believer is molded into the likeness of Christ, in personality.  This does not mean that every believer is forced into a carbon copy of Jesus Christ, but that every believer is molded with deep attention to their uniqueness and passions toward a perfection of character.  The believer is molded into who they truly are underneath all the sin, darkness, pain, and confusion caused by this world.

In example, a believer may be womanizer, a fan of music, prideful, deceitful, inquisitive, a talented painter, and proficient at science.  The Holy Spirit would not transform this person into a Jewish carpenter with healing powers and oratory skills. Instead the Holy Spirit might turn the pridefulness into humility.  The talent for womanizing would be crafted into a talent for meeting the needs of his wife and family.  The love for music would not be snuffed out but developed and shaped into perhaps a study of an instrument, or a more profound and complex appreciation for the listening experience.  The Holy Spirit might craft the deceitfulness into a cunning zeal for the works of righteousness or serving the poor.  The Holy Spirit might also develop the artistic talents of the individual inspiring them and leading them to produce great works of art.  Given the love for science, the individual might be lead by the Spirit into an organization like NASA or the Human Genome project where those skills could be pushed to the max, and stressed to produce still higher levels of scientific skill and creativity.  The believer does not consign to being forced into the mold of a Galilean peasant, but instead the Holy Spirit maximizes the talents, and transforms and adapts the ugly traits into useful skills.

This process is never completed in life.  We seem to have to learn the same lessons over and over in life.  Thus, when I am in community with others, I am often hurt and I often hurt others.  That is the difficult part of being a being made for community and relationship.  Relationships are often painful.  Of course they are often wonderful and blessed.

I find myself sometimes in daily life slumping back in my chair, realizing that I am finding whatever I happen to be doing at the time wildly unfulfilling.  A sort of angst flashes over my being, jumps about neocortex.  I feel the pain of it.  I feel my own despair and apprehension.  My own fear of the unknown.  I am made for relationship to God, above all else.  

If Jesus Christ connects God and myself, which I believe he does, then the Holy Spirit provides the conduit between us.  A prime ingredient that passes within those conduits must then be love.  The Bible says that God is love.  Love, healing, light, truth.  Conviction, and the romancing of my soul.  I do go off in my own directions sometimes.  And at times I am fearful to come before the architect of reality.  Given the implications, the logical outworking of my beliefs, it is progressively more and more stunning to realize just who I'm coming before.  Indeed if I were to fully realize just who I'm coming before, I would probably find myself frozen with awe, terror, and unspeakable love.  

I did not recognize the beauty of the cross when I first called upon Jesus Christ in the midst of my disaster.  I didn't understand it.  It's only now that I've begun to fully recognize the beauty of the cross.  In Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis we see that God of himself could not identify with or reach out to man in his present state.  God had to become a man, Christ Jesus, and live the life in the flesh day by day, just as we do, and thus he could then step one foot into the water, one foot on shore, and toss a rescue to us.  He tossed the life preserver, the gift of restored relationship.  He offers an emergency transport to return us to right relationship.

Man has often wondered how to find unity in diversity.  One way mankind has attempted to find unity in diversity is by attempting to unify all the worlds religions along a single line of "love."  Since we have so often been told that wars are caused by religion, one might attempt to synchronize all the worlds religions into a system that recognizes similarities for a sort of "coexistence" as the bumper stickers say.  But as Dr. Zacharias has often written, all religions are not the same.  All religions are not fundamentally the same.  All religions are at best superficially similar, while remaining fundamentally different.  I've found that to be quite true when studying Hinduism, Buddhism, and other world religions.  These religions are quite different.  And while synchronizing world religions fails as a solution, in addition, the problem is not even properly understood.  Religion has never been the penultimate problem for humanity.  Selfishness and corruption are the penultimate problems.  The wicked heart of man is the problem.  The great wars across the ages have not been linked to religion.  Instead the great wars across the ages have always been linked to the selfish desires of the few for power, money, and control of the many.  The problem is the evil heart of man, and the outworking of that fact.  The fact is obvious when examining the world wars in the past 100 years.  The desire for power and wealth have devestated the Earth.  Religion is not the problem, and one cannot synchronize world religions that fundamentally contradict one another.

So how can man kind meet the deep seeded desire for unity in diversity?  Humanity must first admit the problem: That the problem is not outside me somewhere, the problem is within my own heart.  Then Humanity can ask: What is the solution to the problem of my own heart?  The solution is Jesus Christ, through whom a person is set in right relationship to God the creator.  With relationship to God at the #1 position of importance, we find that every other area of relationship is progressively set right.  Within the personality of our loving creator is a unity in diversity.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Indeed within you is a unity in diversity!  What do I mean?

Within your body is the DNA of your mother, the DNA of your father, and within your own experience and life choices is an amalgam of personality and identity, uniquely yours!  Consider even further, how your DNA is connected to the DNA of all your extended family members, down along the ages, all the way back to the very first humans, and indeed to God the creator himself.  Wondrous, truly wondrous!  You friend, are the embodiment of the paradox of unity in diversity, and relationship of life within life inherent in the God-head of our blessed Lord.  

Did the new atheists tell you that you are nothing?  A whisp on the air?  A determined automaton destined for nothingness and meaning nothing?  Is that an adequate trade off for sexual freedom?  In my view, not in the least. 

Since you in fact are a representation of unity in diversity genetically, what then is the ultimate community unity in diversity?  I see the perfection of unity in diversity as the community of Christ-followers told in the Bible to be the "body of Christ" on Earth.  Every believer has unique skills, shepherding, preaching, showing mercy, caring for the poor, exhortation, creativity, writing, and on and on it goes.  The body of Christ on Earth, made up of over 1 billion Christians on Earth, imperfect, deeply flawed, yet moving in unison as the hands and feet of Jesus Christ who is the head of it all. 

In the politics of the United States we see how liberal and conservative war over how to best deal with the problems of evil and corruption.  One side distrusts the individual and the other distrusts the group.  One side sees the problem in big business and the other sees the problem in big government.  Indeed at times both have been problematic.  But the problem does not begin outside ourselves, it begins within ourselves.  Many of my fellow libertarians see the problem as getting people educated.  But that is not the solution.  As they say, if you sober up a horse thief, all you get is a sober horse thief, who can now steal horses without getting caught.  If you send a drug addict to prison he comes out a trained drug dealer.  If you send a bank robber to college, he comes out a professional trained to steal money on a Wallstreet level.  If you send a young man to Princeton, Harvard, or Yale for business, they are told all truth is relative, truth is what you make it, and when they enter the business world and are told there are certain rules to abide by, what do they do?  They assume the truth is what you make it, they run a scam, steal some money, and pretty soon the economies of Europe and the United States are tanking.  The problem is not education.  The problem is the human heart.  

The solution to that problem is the transformation found through Jesus Christ.  One can smirk at the problems of organized Christian groups who so often make fools of themselves, but do the failures of others get me off the hook?  If I rail about the failings of organized religion, does that give me a free ticket to a life of depravity and selfishness?  Of course not.  Let me just say, that if you've noticed that Christians do not live up to the likeness of Christ, and oh, everyone has made that assessment from time to time.  Well, perhaps instead of sitting back and judging, perhaps you should step up, get close with Jesus Christ, and show them how it's done right!  Don't do it wrong because they're doing it wrong!  Do it right, and set the example for those around you!  

We all have free will.  And no joke, Christianity as practiced has many problems.  But it has always had many problems.  All the way back to the book of Acts, and the letters of the New Testament.  Paul describes serious issues in virtually all of his letters to the first churches (Romans, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, etc).  Even from the very outset, there were serious problems.  Indeed Jesus himself taught that such issues are to be expected.  In the parable of the weeds (a.k.a. the parable of the wheat and tares) Jesus teaches that the kingdom of God is like a field of wheat in which an enemy came and sowed weeds in the garden.  Instead of pulling up the weeds, the owner of the garden allows the wheat and weeds to grow up together, and will separate them at the harvest.  This is a representation of the body of Christ.  The wheat are the true followers of Christ and the weeds are those who claim to be Christian (over 80% of Americans claim to be Christian) but aren't really followers of Jesus at all (Matthew 13:24-43).  Despite all the weeds, even the true followers of Jesus will make many mistakes as well. The Christian message is not that once you receive Jesus you suddenly never make another mistake.  We aren't instantly made perfect.  But we do consign ourselves to live on a spiritual basis for the rest of our lives, and cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the works of something Christians call "sanctification."  

As the writer of Hebrews eloquently put it: "For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy" (Hebrews 10:14).  At the beginning I had a tendency to view God as a cruel task master!  Do this, do that!  Be better!  But in retrospect I now realize the process of sanctification is a profound gift.  The end result is me, Justin, becoming more and more myself.  I hadn't even realized how much damage sin had done.  The process of sanctification is difficult, but so very rewarding.  The reward is in a growing love for God, gratitude for what I have, and a legitimate interest in the affairs of others.  In other words, the destruction of selfishness.  Within that process is the growing reliance upon community and relationship.  It all begins with God, and out-flowing from that connection is my individuality respected, yet placed within a context of divine fellowship with a growing body of broken sinners made perfect in Jesus Christ.

In conclusion, we are people made for community.  God made us for community with him and with others.  He made us to enjoy love and fellowship.  Though man sinned and fell from God, he has offered grace and justification through Jesus Christ.  All one must do is believe in the lord Jesus Christ, living in relationship to him, and his or her place is set in the next phase of existence ahead.  The ultimate expression of unity in diversity, the great quest of the colleges is found within God, in connection to his family of believers.  This unity can not be synchronized to include all beliefs and views on the Earth.  The problem remains within the heart of every person, no matter what they believe!  There is a choice to be made, to either enter that magnificent unity in diversity or to remain excluded from it forever.  When traced back to it's source, one can see that the problem is within us.  That is not an easy answer, but it's the real one.  It's not society, or conditions, of societal conditions or religion or war or Osama Bin Laden or George Bush or even Hitler.  The problem is me.  If I want to continue on in my selfishness, of course that's my choice, to reject God, to keep adding to the problem.  But I then willfully exclude myself from the magnificent unity in diversity.  Of course there is a price to be paid for that unity of community.  The price is death of my own infinite selfishness.  That death can only be achieved through Christ Jesus the all sufficient savior, the transformer of the human soul.  

The problem is me, the solution is Jesus Christ, and I choose today to enter into that rest, the unity of believers under the Creator, as we wait for the final perfecting of our souls for the ultimate reality, in the next life, of the perfection of unity in diversity found in relationship, community with God and people.  Amen. 

Related Posts:
Living in the Suburban Sprawl (Mountains beyond Mountains)
Origin, Meaning, Morality, & Destiny: An atheist and a Christian square off on Worldview
Ancient Doorways in the Brickhouse: Fields of Green in your Dreams
Depression & Meaninglessness: Where is God in the Depths of Despair?
The Awe of Dreams & the Surreal

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Salvation of the Soul: Is it Conditionally Secure or Eternally Secure?

Conditional Security or Eternal Security?
By Justin Steckbauer, Liberty University

"Salvation is God's way of making us real people." - Augustine

The exegesis of scripture surrounding salvation is perhaps the most important to understand.  Christology is just as vital.  It's important we understand the complexities of what salvation is, how we can have it, and how we can keep it.  The highest authority must be the scriptures.  The entirety of scripture.  Not only select scriptures from select books of the Bible.  We must understand theology in the light of every book in the Bible.  

To this end, one must ask: Once we are saved in Christ Jesus, reborn and made new in his love.. is there a possibility of losing that relationship, or is that connection unbreakable?  

There are two primary views.  Most Calvinists would probably say that salvation is eternally secure.  There is no way of losing that connection.  Most Arminians would tell you that salvation is conditionally secure on faith.  So who is correct?

The eternal security view has some scriptures to back it up, but not near as many as conditional security.  Eternal security relies on isolating a few key verses while ignoring a great many others.  But in my studies I've found that the eternal security seems to be the prominent view in the evangelical circles where I walk.  Being a champion of the underdog over my life, I felt pulled to write something regarding the theology of conditional security.  
There is a treasure trove of scripture to back up the idea of conditional security.  Again and again in scripture we see phrases like "departing from the faith", "falling away", and "being lead astray.”
1 Timothy 1:4 (ESV) says "Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons."  One can only depart from a faith they already have.  There is absolutely no possibility here of "well that person was never truly saved."  It would be a speculative stretch to assume that, at best, if not a clear distortion of scripture. 

Hebrews 6:4-6 (ESV) says "For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt."  How could anyone assume that this person was "close, but not quite a Christian?"  The scenario being described is one who has fallen away, after being a Christian.  One cannot share in the Holy Spirit unless they are a saved Christian, who has then fallen away and effectively lost their salvation.  There is no reason to think that this would refer to "fellowship with God only” and not to the soul itself.  There is no scripture to back up an idea like that.  

Consider Revelation 2:4-5 (ESV) which states "But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent."  Is this yet another case of a person, a church who were not really truly Christians?  Of course not.  This is an example of Christians who did very well in serving Christ at first, but slowly moved in the wrong direction.  Jesus warns them; do what you did at first or I will remove your lamp stand from it's place.  That would be an example of lost salvation.  

In John 15:1-15 Jesus Christ describes Christians as branches, who are connected to the vine (Jesus) who are being pruned by the gardener (the Father).  In this parable Jesus says that those branches who bear fruit will be pruned by the Father so they bear more fruit.  He also says that those who do not bear fruit will shrivel up and be tossed into the fire.  

Erwin Lutzer in his book "Doctrines that Divide" (1998) tries to point out two defenses against this verse; that those people were never truly saved, or that the fire only represents the fire at the judgement seat of Christ, and does not affect salvation.  Both of those defenses are clear stretches of scripture, and seem dishonest and manipulative toward the plain and simple scripture in John 15.  Lutzer writes that it's presumptuous to decide the case of eternal or conditional security on a metaphor (Lutzer, 1998, p. 230). Once again we see Lutzer dishonestly attempting to justify a way out of the clear words of Jesus, metaphor or no metaphor, the meaning is clear.  Erwin Lutzer does an impressive job of trying to defend his clearly Calvinist views on election and security, while simultaneously trying to appear neutral, but fails (Lutzer, 1998, p. 233).  In addition, Lutzer himself points to a book by Robert Shank called Life in the Son that points out scripture after scripture indicating how salvation is conditional on perseverance (Lutzer, 1998, p. 230).  

Another example setting aside John 15 would be the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. In addition, the view of eternal security is unable to survive the parables of Jesus including: the parable of the faithful servant, the parable of the two debtors, the parable of the unforgiving servant, and the parable of the talents.

Since scripture clearly shows that salvation is conditional on the actions of the faithful, what are the possible ways of losing salvation? From scripture we can see that Christians who fail to bear fruit for God will be lost (John 15:1-15). Salvation can be lost through being unforgiving of your neighbor (Matthew 18:21-35). Salvation can also be lost through committing the unforgivable sin (Mark 3:28-30). Salvation can also be lost by denying Christ (2 Timothy 2:12). Though there are some clear ways to lose salvation, sinning, or willful sinning are not included on the list. All believers sin. Though multiplied sinning can lead to habitual sinning, which can then give birth to disillusionment, and more sin, leading to death (James 1:15, Psalm 7:14). 

One could say that sin is the road that leads to lost salvation. At the same time, God promises to protect believers and help them persevere to the very end (John 10:27-29, John 6:37, Romans 8:38-39). 

Philippians 1:6 (ESV) says “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  By divorcing Philippians 1:6 from the context of a letter to believers in Philippi one could assume this scripture is pointing toward eternal security, however when carefully exegesis is done, one sees that Philippians 1:6 is bound to it's historical audience and when passing over the bridge to modern times, it is a message of encouragement to perseverance, not eternal security. 

Colossians 1:23 (ESV) says "if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister."  One must look outside the Bible to find the doctrine of eternal security, making it a false doctrine, unsupported by scripture.  There are key verses that can be used to defend eternal security, assuming one isolates those verses from their contexts and ignores the full revelation of scripture.  

Again and again, we see conditional clauses in scripture "if indeed you continue" or "take care brothers lest you fall away" (Hebrews 3:12-14).  The Bible speaks of believers who fall from grace (Galatians 5:4). God gives instructions in his word, to those who have free will choices to make, which must include the possibility of falling away.  

Does this mean that the believer is taking credit for his own salvation? Of course not. As Boyd (2009) says it in his book Across the Spectrum “Salvation is a gracious gift by God, but a gift is not less of a gift because it is accepted.” Faith is not a work, but a gift that is freely received (Boyd, 2009, p. 159). One final scripture points it out elegantly and simply, Hebrews 3:14 (ESV) which states: “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” Italics added for emphasis. Additional scriptures that should be inspected are:

Matthew 24:10-13 ESV

And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

Revelation 3:11 ESV

I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.

James 1:12 ESV

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

1 Corinthians 9:27 ESV

But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

James 5:19-20 ESV

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

2 Peter 2:20-22 ESV

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” 

Philippians 2:12-14 ESV
12  Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13  for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Now many would say that it doesn't really matter.  As long as we both love Jesus, that's what matters.  I agree that as long as we both love Jesus, we're on the same team.  Calvinists and Arminians are family.  So what we're discussing here is a family dispute.  But I would be bold enough to say that it does matter.  I've seen ministries like Liberty University, CARM Apologetics, Answers in Genesis, and Got Questions? all supporting an eternal security view of scripture.  So I thought I would chime in with a view that seems much more grounded in the fullness of scripture.  If you'd like to view articles on the eternal security view, click the two links above which will take you to articles by CARM and Got Questions? defending eternal security.  Many of the reformed preachers that have deeply influenced my ministry are also supporters of eternal security; including James MacDonald, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and many others.  Of course many others hold Arminian/Molinist views on salvation, like Ravi Zacharias, Norm Geisler, William Lane Craig, and A.W. Tozer.

A new believer may say one prayer, and assume they are saved, but later fall away, thinking all the while that their salvation is eternally secure and there is nothing they can do, no matter how much they sin, to lose it.  Conditional security leads to holiness.  Conditional security leads to good works.  Consider in your mind for a moment, which church, of all the churches on the planet Earth most looks like followers of Jesus Christ.  One organization immediately comes to mind: The Salvation Army.  Churches can talk all they want about holiness and following Jesus Christ, but who is living it?  Who is out there on the front lines, living it?  The church serving communities quietly across the entire planet, the Salvation Army, armed with Wesleyan holiness theology.  They are living it.  Some are writing books and having conferences upon conferences, building bigger buildings, shaking hands in fancy suits, appearing on television... but who is really following Jesus Christ, in the trenches, meeting needs and preaching the gospel?  The Salvation Army.  I don't want a bogus Christianity.  I refuse it!  I want a real Christianity, that really practices what it preaches.  So let's do that, together.  Amen.

I'm not interested in traditional divides between Calvinists and Arminians.  I'm not interested in unwaveringly defending the views of others.  I'm interested in what the Bible really, actually teaches.  That is the foundation.  We must always approach our questions and theology from that vantage.  I'm not on anyone's team aside from team Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior.  Amen.


Boyd, Gregory A., and Paul R. Eddy. Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2002.

ESV: Study Bible : English Standard Version. ESV Text ed. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Bibles, 2007.

Lutzer, Erwin W. The Doctrines That Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines That Separate Christians. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Celebrating Christmas: Controversy, Culture, and Jesus Christ

Merry Christmas!  Yes, I said it!  Merry Christmas!  This is the time of the year when we remember the birth of Jesus Christ.  Was he really born on December 25th?  Probably not!  And oh does the controversy begin to rumble in the backdrop.  

Some Christians say we shouldn't celebrate Christmas at all because it's rooted in pagan rituals.  Other Christians don't like Santa and think it means "Satan" in another guise.  Still others simply see it as a time of family and gratitude for the birth of the savior.  Others see the December 25th date as the beginning of a spiritual birth that cusps on Easter in the resurrection, all in relation to sacraments and the Eucharist.

It's certainly very confusing.  At the same time outside the church a "war on Christmas" is being waged by a culture hostile to Christian values.  

Recently Kirk Cameron's "Saving Christmas" came out in theaters.  It was later trending on the internet worldwide as the lowest rated film in the history of the movie database IMDB.  It became a giant controversy, and another in road by which Christians we made to look like simple minded conservative fools.  

In my neck of the woods, out here in central Wisconsin everyone still says "Merry Christmas."  But in bigger cities, and other parts of the country one may only say "happy holidays."  

I myself find it confusing.  How am I to think of the Christmas season?  I was raised Catholic and it was a time in the church of nativities and the repeated literal birth of Christ, every year.  Very confusing for a kid my age.  Why is Jesus born over and over again every year?  

In a more practical sense, Jesus never came up at family events.  There was a tree with lights and ornaments.  There was food.  There were wrapped up presents under the tree.  And there was Santa in the red suit with reindeer and more presents.  If anyone ever even mentioned Jesus, it was grandma or grandpa, and all the aunts and uncles would just get a little quiet and awkward for a second.  Then the conversation would pick back up, and that was it.  No further mention of Jesus.

So now, myself, as a dedicated Protestant Christian.. how do I go about celebrating a Christmas that honors the birth of Jesus Christ?  Is that something I even need to do?  There isn't anything in the Bible about a Christmas season, or celebrating the birth of Christ.  Yet in the Old Testament God did encourage Israel to set up yearly "holidays" of a sort to remember his provision in times of need.  A prominent example would  be the festival of booths (Leviticus Chapter 23 - Commentary).

In the New Testament believers in Jesus Christ are encouraged to fellowship together regularly to celebrate the savior (Acts 2:42-47).  So perhaps it's not such a terrible idea to have a season when we remember the provision of God to the malady of sin.

We all remember Isaiah 9:6 (ESV) For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

This was a prophecy found in the Old Testament regarding the coming of Jesus Christ.  The coming of Christ changed everything.  Before Christ, man kind had no way of getting right with God.  There was no forgiveness for sins, there was no new birth, and the world was in trouble.  But through grace, unmerited favor, God comes in person to deal with sin, heal the sick, and speak the truth.

That's what Christmas is about.  It's about God coming.  It's about God saving.  It's about the birth of hope.  

So why not celebrate Christmas?  Many cite the pagan rituals that have crept into the practice of Christmas.  The Christmas tree, the giving of gifts, and the mistletoe among many other traditions do have roots in paganism.  If we go back to 4th century ancient Rome, we see a Christianity struggling to evangelize a pagan society.  One of the key ways those early missionaries evangelized the pagans was by taking pagan rituals and infusing them with Christian meaning.  Those missionaries matched pagan holidays with new Christian holidays to help the pagans make smooth transitions into Christianity.  There is nothing wrong with that.  It's a somewhat drastic method of missionary work where you help new believers to remain in their cultural context while allowing the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to transform the cultural practices.  This allows people to remain in their "people groups" making "people movements" toward Jesus a much more likely possibility.  And what do we see as a result?  The ancient Christians succeeded, and the church grew by leaps and bounds.

Many would say that the Christmas season has become consumeristic and materialistic.  Granted.  It certainly has become something it was never intended to be.  But that's how stores make money.  All kinds of additions are made to existing holidays to encourage people to purchase things in regard to those holidays.  We as Christians don't have to participate however.  Why does Christmas involve giving gifts to one another?  Is that a bad thing?  Certainly not.  We give gifts to one another to remind ourselves of the ultimate gift God gave us in Christ Jesus.  Salvation and the forgiveness of sins, adoption into the family of God.  

Jesus Christ changed my life completely.  And he has given me a ministry.  I've nearly finished my bachelors of science in Religion at Liberty University.  In addition, I'm meeting with recruiters from a Salvation Army officer's training facility.  I'm seriously considering becoming an officer in the Salvation Army, a pastor.  I have a lot to be grateful for!

I started A Lifestyle Change for Peace Blog nearly two years to write about my journey in recovery and my walk with Jesus. Since then, the blog has been viewed over 35,000 times in hundreds of countries. Amazing, and humbling that Jesus would be so kind as to save someone as doomed as I was, and grant him a ministry to help others. It's all about Jesus. Always. Again and again in poetry and writing I asked the questions "Where do we go from here?" and "What is the truth?" "What is the meaning of life?" And in the book of John I received my answers. When I asked where do I go? Jesus said, "I am the way." When I asked what is the truth? He said "I am the truth." And when I asked "What is the meaning of life?" He replied "I am the life." In John 14:6 Jesus said I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me. All of my endless questioning, my disaster, was finally answered by the words of Jesus, and his powerful presence at the outset of hope in my life. Praise be to Jesus, my very real savior.

Jesus Christ was born one day, two thousand years ago.  Born of a virgin, humbly in a manger.  The world had no place for him, yet he was God himself.  The motel was full, so he was born in the barn.  This world does not recognize the savior.  But we recognize the savior, maybe, because we're just a little different.  Jesus was not born in a palace, amongst the wealth of this world.  He wasn't built in a mansion.  And those who live in mansions often cannot see him, despite him being everything.  But those like you and I, accept the savior, despite the poor condition within us, and he lives within us, and his Holy Spirit works on us and through us.  Let's remember during this season, this time of year, and Jesus Christ was born in humility, and came to save those who are the most marginalized and lost in this world.  Praise be to the Lord Jesus Christ, our blessed redeemer.

Matthew 5:3-12 (NIV)

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Difficult month of December: A Cold Journey

“Whenever God means to make a man great, he always breaks him in pieces first.”Charles Spurgeon 


I've struggled hard over this month of December to get words to flow out of my soul, onto these pages.  I've been met with mixed results.  My spiritual life has suffered recently.  The old depression approaches around this month.  For a variety of reasons I'm sure.  The truth is, it's tough.  There is a lot of hurt today, buried somewhere in the past, affecting today.  There is a lot of hurt yet to come as well.  


 Around such difficult times.. I try to hunker down and reclaim old, cold wonders.  Old fascinations.  I listen to songs that inspire.  I watch movies that perplex me.  I read words that remind me of times long ago, when winter crept into the bones, and these eyes saw snow falling, slanted, just so the side, in the great forest nights of the Great Lakes.  

Life is a twisting, turning adventure that at times seems joyous and sublime, yet at other times seems to be so devastatingly terrible that one wishes for nothing but for it to be over. I've experienced life in both extremes.  


My life, like a dying camp fire, I watched it slowly dim.  Like a sunset, I fought to clinch the horizon and hold it in it's place.  I didn't know there would be a new beginning on the other side of spiritual death.  I didn't know I would wake up a new man.  But before the new man could come, the old Justin had to die.  And he died slowly.  He truly did.  And then he died.  He remained dead for a time.  Then Jesus.  And then the new man.


 Dark times remind us of the light.  Only in darkness can we see the stars, the moon.  Only by the sun's light can we see the world.  And the only reason I can breath, that plants can grow, is the sun.  Very similar, is Jesus Christ.  


Everything exists by him and through him.


Without which, not. 


There are things, that without them, life is completely meaningless.  


Let's see if I can weave the strands together, of my journey to death.  


I always thought, in retrospect, that the reason for my self destructive tendencies was the collapse of my family during the divorce.  I realize now, it wasn't that.  The divorce was certainly part of it.  A hot part of it.  But there was something much more fundamental going on.  


I could feel it at still quiet moments of my journey downward.  For some reason, every once in a while I would know, and think deep down.. this has to happen.     


 There is no other way.  The psychiatrists and doctors and friends would tell me this was my "self fulfilling prophecy."  Certainly a reasonable conclusion for a naturalist to make.  Of course it was nonsense.  I had tried to force myself, by sheer will, determination, out of my predicament time and again.  Always trying to fight the collapse.   But eventually, like a dying cancer patient, you accept your situation as exactly as it must beNothing, after all happens in God's world by mistake.


 At the core I was suffering from a lack of meaning in my life.  I was suffering from a lack of Jesus Christ in my life.  And without him, life is nothing.  Life is simply, what I made of it.. phone Kyle.  Dxm?  Yeah.  Great.  He comes and picks me up.  We drive over to Target, and walk down the medicine aisle.  I grab four packages of Coricidin Cough and Cold from the shelf.  We buy them, drive home, slam 32 red pills each, and then fade away into my dark bedroom, Bear McCreary playing in the background "Something Dark is Coming" or Clint Mansell's "Death is the Road to Awe." 


There was something very honest about that.  Nothingness.  Sheer slipping away... A complete rejection of the consumer society and it's hollowness.  There seemed to be nothing there for us.  For me. 


Something so fundamental... as destruction.  Self destruction.  Embracing darkness and death.  That was one strand of it.  Yet there were so many others.  


I think of a hospital visit in 2009.. as I recorded it then:


I was in the sun room.  I was wearing all black that day; a black hoodie and black pants. Sun was shining through the tips of the bare oak trees. A bit of snow was on the ground outside. It was warmer out there. The warmth was breaching into the long room. I had been sitting in one of the large leather seats, but had stood up.
There was a white board against the opposite wall. There were a few random statements jotted down on it. I stood up, staring across the board reading the random comments. I smiled, and lifted the blue pen to the board. As I was writing my statement, the door opened and a girl walked in.

The girl was wearing a red polka-dotted shirt, and dark blue pants. She had long curly blonde hair and bright blue eyes.

"Hi," she said with a funny voice.

"Hi," I replied, smiling.

There was something different about her. I couldn't quite place it.

"Your tears will rise up to soar with the birds," She read what I had written on the board.

The sun was shining against her face as she spoke. A swift wind was blowing against the blue sky out the window, among the shining silver-brown tips of the oak trees. Clouds passed over the sun quickly, some wind blew creaking against the side of the building. We stared at each other. She sat in a chair near mine. The soft dark broke and the sun was shining in again. It blasted against the board lighting up the words I had written.

"How long have you been here?" She asked.

"Oh.. A long collusion of days, marked by unending propaganda, and.. Little progress," I smirked.

"And I have just arrived, in such a place as this," She smiled, sitting down in a chair next to mine.

"What does that statement mean to you?" She asked, pointing to the board.

"Well, " I said rubbing my chin thinking. "It means that.. There is hope out here. In this wilderness we seem trapped in. We are lost. Being lost is what defines us. It hurts like hell.. We are dying. But that's the point. We have to die to live. Everything we do in life is trial or a nudge or a gift."

"So true."

"And we are on journeys.. To the bottom now. We cry at the bottom, in the mud, and the mud is made from us. But then... our tears rise up.. And sing songs.. They soar. This is a natural law. Water evaporates. Our tears will rise up. We have nowhere to go but up."

There was a short pause. I hadn't even realized I'd felt that way.

"You remind me of Donnie Darko," She said.

I smiled.

"But more, " I continued. "When I'm gone. When this destroys me, my tears will still rise up. Even if I am gone, some of me will still rise."

"Life is an endless circle," She said. "You'll survive this."

"What if I don't want to?"

"You'll have to. We all have a destiny."

"Yes we do," I replied. "Whether dark or light. It will come about. People like us.. And people like us are rare. We know this."

I smiled at her.

"It's such a gift to meet somehow right now," I said. "Right now, this moment."

I was staring out the window now, leaning against my chair for support.

"This moment," I emphasized, staring at her. "I mean.. Is it possible? Right now? It's so perfect. It's so fateful. We're in this moment right now. It's ours. I'm meeting you, you meeting me. Will we ever forget it?"

"I am honored to be in this moment, " She said.

"I mean it's so perfect, so real, so incredible, so-"

She stood up, and walked over to me, leaning down, touching her hand underneath my chin, kissing me softly on the lips.


Another strand.. the movie "The Fountain."  The hopeless war on death.


Another strand.. the movie "Donnie Darko."  Time paradox.  The search for God.  Saving the world.


Another strand.. the series "Battlestar Galactica."  The nuked colonies, the last 50,000 survivors of man kind fleeing into deep space, fighting to survive, against a deadly enemy..


Another strand.. a band called "Death Cab for Cutie."  The hopeless search for a perfect sexuality.


Another strand.. the movie "Dawn of the Dead."  Fighting the consumerist nightmare surrounding, living as a survivor in a zombified apocalypse.  


Another strand.. the movie "Star Wars."  The hope of victory over the darkness.  The rebellion fighting the evil empire.  


Another strand.. a song by Bear McCreary called "Something Dark is Coming."  The quiet acceptance of a dark time, a dark period of life approaching.


 Another strand.. The Mayan calendar, the date the world would end November 21st, 2012.  The hope for an end.


Another strand.. musicians named Nick Drake and Elliott Smith, dead beauty distributors that I hoped to join at 27.


Another strand.. The Matrix movies.  Escaping the control system, freedom of the mind.  


Another strand.. despair.


Another strand.. the three books, Jacob and the Meadow, David and the Fall, Joshua and the Rise.. predicting my own future.


 Another strand.. reading the Bible at Perkins every night.. strange fascination.


 Another strand.. the thousands and thousands of pages of free writing and journaling I did over the years.. seeking, describing, immersed, amazed, in awe.


Another strand.. dreams of the future.  


Another strand.. the night walks of quiet contemplation on spring, summer, fall, and winter nights.  Mind wandering freely.  


Another strand.. The Gospel of John movie, script directly from the book itself.  Over and over, in a dark room, bright screen, light shining in the darkness..


Strands upon strands, God weaving my thoughts together, allowing it all to fall apart.  Strands upon strands, folded in and out, pieces together, leading to.. something special.  Something beautiful.  That's what one might call a spiritual journey.  Always so different for all people.  Mine was a journey from confusion, to self destruction, to death, to waiting, and to new life, through Christ Jesus. Yeshua, the savior, the renewer of my soul.


Psalm 18:He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
    but the Lord was my support.
19 He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me.  

“Only when holiness and worship meet can evil be conquered. For that, only the Christian message has the answer.”
Ravi Zacharias,
Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message

When God is our Holy Father, sovereignty, holiness, omniscience, and immutability do not terrify us; they leave us full of awe and gratitude. Sovereignty is only tyrannical if it is unbounded by goodness; holiness is only terrifying if it is untempered by grace; omniscience is only taunting if it is unaccompanied by mercy; and immutability is only torturous if there is no guarantee of goodwill.”
Ravi Zacharias