Monday, October 30, 2017

Memorize these Evidences for the Existence of God

Three brief truths you should memorize about the existence of God if you're in discussion with a non-Christian. (Each point links to a video describing the argument in more detail.)

1. The Kalam Cosmological argument - Everything that begins to exist has a cause, the universe began to exist, therefore the universe must have a cause, that cause can't be itself, so it's reasonable to believe that a timeless eternal being could've intelligently created it. Therefore God exists.

2. The Fine Tuning Argument - The incredible complexity we see in nature is evidence that God exists. We find complex systems in nature, incredibly complex cells that all have pre-programmed instructions to build and maintain our own bodies. We see complex animals, plants, and life forms all working relatively harmoniously. Evolution fails based on the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which states that complex systems tend to break down. A complex system will tend toward disorder, not order. If we see intelligence and information in nature, it's reasonable to believe there is an intelligent designer, God.

3. The Moral Argument - Good and evil exist, they are not just mere opinions, they really exist. If there are objective moral laws in the universe, there must be a law giver. Therefore God exists.

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

That Little Room in My Mind Where I Keep the Cross

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There's a little place in my mind where I recall the cross.  The wonderful cross of Jesus Christ, so eclipsed in this world, so half remembered, so easy to forget though so vital to remember.  Amazing the things we need most are the things that get tossed aside so quickly.  One can hear a hundred messages, but what about the cross of Christ?  What about what Christ did for us?  

What really happened on that day on calvary? Who is Jesus?  Why does it matter?  We can know one day and forget the next.  The busy day, day in and day out can take it away from us.  That's why we remind ourselves, thats why our calendar is set up for moments in the week to connect with God almighty.  It's because we forget so easily, and lose track of who we are, and what really matters.

What matters is the cross of Christ. From a worldly perspective it seems that nothing of much consequence occurred.  A man was whipped, beaten, and nailed to a cross, and left to slowly die.  A tragedy right?  

That would be incorrect.  You see, Jesus was not just a man, he was God in human form.  He came for a specific purpose, willingly, and when Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest friends, He already knew that this would happen. In fact, Jesus being God in human form, could've at any time prevented his death.  But in fact, Jesus' purpose was to come to Earth and to die a substitionary death.

Jesus said, "No one takes away my life from me, I give it up willingly"  (John 10:18).

You see, reality was broken by our ancestors, and Earth became fallen. That's why all around us we see societies in strife, poverty, crime, and corruption.  That's why we as humans suffer.

You see, God's standard is fairly straight forward: It's the ten commandments, really pretty simple stuff: Don't steal, don't lie, don't cheat on your spouse, keep the sabbath, and so on.  And our problem is that we struggle, we struggle with being good.  We want to be good, but we aren't. 

Jesus came to fulfill the requirements of the ten commandments.  In the life of Christ, we see perfection.  But not only did Christ have to fulfill the laws of the Old Testament, Christ also had to pay off our debt of sin.

That's what happened on the cross.  Jesus made a spiritual sacrifice sufficient to pay off our debt of sin. The sin problem is everything my friends, its' everything.  Every problem in the world, every evil we see around us is due to sin.  So what we really need in life and the world is Jesus Christ to make us pure, and make us good, and change us into new people.  That's the whole ball game here.  The problem isn't just around us, it's within us.  

The saying is true that's easier to convince someone of a lie than to convince someone that they've been lied to.  Most of us, myself included, were indoctrinated into a comprehensive worldview in public schools and universities that strategically excluded God and propagated a materialistic view of the world undergirded with evolutionary biology and self reliance.  The cross is foreign to our thinking and it makes it hard for us to understand it's meaning and its weight of glory.  But we must break the indoctrination and begin to understand the world from a new perspective: that of the truth.  

There are many lies in this world, and we've been much deceived in everything from relationships to education to work and culture and media and so many other things.  Becoming a Christian for me was like being unplugged from the matrix, and finding myself on a hovership being taught a seeming nightmare scenario regarding the situation of humanity.  It was hard to accept, very hard to accept.  I was like Neo when he said, "No... it's not possible."  His mind refused to accept the truth at first.  It's like that when becoming a Christian.  We're unplugged from one worldview, and shared the truth, the actual worldview and situation of humanity: Desperately lost in sin, caught in a disintegrating reality set for collapse, a house of horrors of sorts, from which we must escape.  It's not an easy thing to accept, especially when we've believed lies our entire lives.  Like the narrative of the progress of man, and the narrative of all people being basically good.  

The cross was a permanent singularity,  in which God divided by zero.  At the cross, Jesus Christ became an offering for all our sins.  Not just for the sins of one person like me, but for all people, across all of history, for all those who would be willing to access that singularity.  And this singularity of the cross is established in a timeless state, it applies infinitely backwards to all past sins before AD 33.  And it applied infinitely forward, for all sins in the future.  It was a single event, with a timeless effect.  Spiritually on the cross, the sins of mankind were placed upon Jesus on the cross, and Jesus received the punishment deserved for sin, despite his own sinless righteousness.

This is the great exchange.  We throw our sins upon Christ on the cross, and he destroys them with himself on the cross, and as a result, the return effect is that Christ's righteousness, his perfect life and character are transferred to us, as a garment that we spiritually "put on" each day.  So we're made righteous by Christ alone.  He accomplishes it all from start to finish. 

That's why Christ said, just before he died on the cross: "It is finished."  

They call this formula of salvation "penal substitutionary atonement."  Christ received the penalty (penal) as a substition (he stands in for us in receiving judgment) and he pays off our debt completely to zero (as the sins that were held against us that we committed over our lives) and then adds His righteous as a net positive to our account.  So instead of being in debt $20,000 or instead of just being at $0.00 in the account, it actually goes up to whatever amount would equal perfection.  Its an analogy, but you get the idea.

We may not understand it.  We may not fully realize the depths of our sin.  We definitely don't fully realize the righteousness of God which is so incredibly beyond us.  But this is it.  This is the formula.  As C.S. Lewis said this is Christianity.  This is what must be believed.

Christ did two other things at the cross, which are scripturally supported.  Christ defeated the works of Satan the rogue fallen angel that makes war on humanity (Christus Victor View) and Christ was subject to brutal judgment, thereby making a declaration of the authority and sovereignty of God, and the severity of sin and the importance of righteousness (Moral Government View). 

But we focus on substitutionary atonement because the application is directly to our salvation.

So through this great exchange we are born again, and give the Holy Spirit who travels with us through life.  He convicts us of sin, encourages us along the journey, strengthens us, purifies us, and puts us through trials that mature our faith.  

In effect we are given an entirely new life.  That's what I'm living out now, an entirely new life, which began 5 years ago, in 2012, ironically the time some fruitcakes thought the world would end because of the Mayan calendar.  But then again, for me, the world did end.  I died, and a new man was born.   

And that's how we ought to apply ourselves as Christians.  We see that we are dead to all sins, and alive to holy living in Christ.  We aren't the people we used to be anymore.  I'm not addicted anymore.  I'm not sexually immoral anymore.  I'm not a selfish egotistical hack anymore.  I'm born again, to be humble, kind, loving, caring, to live as a servant to others and to live in worship to God.  That's my goal now, it's a new life.

So the equasion of Christ's birth, perfect living, and serving others, and giving of himself everyday, and training his disciples, and offering His life freely on the cross is not the end of the story, as we know.  Christ died on the cross.  In fact a spear was plunged into his side after he died, to make sure he was really dead.  I mean, Jesus was seriously, fully dead.  But he had promised something that seemed impossible: He said he would rise from the dead three days later.  

Could something like that possibly happen?  His 12 disciples certainly didn't think so.  In fact they were so afraid after Jesus was killed that they went and were hiding behind locked doors. They were crying, weeping, mourning and getting ready for the funeral.  Jesus was dead.  It was all over.  

But then the impossible happened.  Jesus Christ walked through the door.  And he said, here I am, I'm alive.  Jesus Christ had been resurrected from the dead.  But why?  What's the relevance of a bodily resurrection?  It's a message to all who would dare to believe in Him: I have the power over death itself.  So we are promised, that if we believe in Christ, and trust in Him as our savior, that when we die, similarly in the way Christ died on the cross, God is promising us: I will resurrect you from the dead as well.  In effect, Christ is the tree of life.  He gives us eternal life, something that millions of people have searched after, in mayan jungles, searching in vain, but Christ is eternal life.  And we know that God can raise us from the dead after our bodily death because he has shown us he can do.  He raised Christ from the dead.

Essentially the gospel is this:  Jesus Christ died for your sins, and Jesus Christ resurrected to give you eternal life.  In effect: Jesus is alive.  Right now.  Jesus is alive right now.  He's seated right next to God the Father, he's God the Son, seated in glory, victorious, watching over his church growing across the Earth.  And He loves you.  And if you will turn to Him, then He will set you free from all your sins, and give you a new life.  Call out to Jesus.  That's what I did.  Now I have a whole new life, and all my sins are gone.  Amen.

There's a little room in my mind, though not really so little, but a big place, where I keep the cross and I remind myself of what it means and how it changed my life.  Thank you Jesus, hallelujah. 

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Friday, October 20, 2017

Walking Alone on the Streets of Chicago

I walked the streets of Chicago alone tonight.  I felt such a bittersweet feeling come over me.  I felt like all was lost.  I felt like I'd stepped into a fading dystopia.  I was listening to the Kingdom OST put together by a brilliant musician called Toy Tree.  It really fit the warm night.  It was a Friday night as I jaunted along the streets pausing to look between the buildings, down the dark alleys, and avoid the eyes of passing couples.  And I asked God, I said God, talk to me.  Tell me things.  I don't even know what to ask, just tell me something. 

I was feeling hopeless, a bit discouraged. Probably the same way the Trojans felt as they saw the armies of Greece gathered at her front gates: Like, what can we do?  What can we do against all of this?  Few seem to understand what I mean, and just assume that something is wrong with me.  But it's not that there is something wrong.  It's that I'm looking at the fall.  I'm trying my very best to see reality as it truly is.  I'm seeing the brokenness of the world, and the people in it. And I'm seeing the brokenness of the world itself.  That's what makes me sad.  And it should make all of us sad.  Though we tend to ignore it, and pass it by.  I try to see it, comprehensively, and consider what I ought to do about it.  

I've read that an introvert intuitive feeling perceiving (INFP) like myself can become overloaded with everything they see that is wrong with the world, and begin to feel overwhelmed by it.  I suppose that's fairly accurate.  But aren't we allowed nights of bitter lament for the fall of humanity?  Oh I think we are.  I've spent many such a night, in such bitter laments.  

In fact the Bible is full of laments, broken psalms, bitter Ecclesiastes, and lamentations.  Broken neighborhoods I see.  I see confused people.  I see people who need faith, hope, and love.  I see apostate churches, and I wonder if we'll be next.  I love life.  I really do. Yet I also despair of it.  I can hardly stand all that is lost in this place.  I can hardly stand all the brokenness.  

I've been meeting with a young lady who is struggles so much.  And it makes me wonder at how many thousands are out there struggling.  I hear the sirens go by in Chicago, and I wonder.  What is going on out there?  How could things become such a disaster?

I'm not used to all this big city stuff.  I come from the country, from the north woods.  I love the forests, the rivers and streams, and the rolling hills of Wisconsin.  

I've nowhere to go here among all these tall buildings, and among such an alien culture.  This is truly an alien culture to me.  The gay pride flags on every block.  It is an irony that the seminary college would be right in the midst of "boys town" Chicago.  It's quite an interesting dichotomy.  You see churches around the area, each of them apparently apostate, waving gay pride flags hanging from the church spires.  And I wonder, will we be next?  Will we compromise our gospel and go apostate as well?  Or will we stand firm, and hold our contrast to the world?  It's hard to know.  Of course we know how most people would think of us: bigotry, hatred, mean, judgmental, all of that stuff.  But is it really those things? No.  It's not really those things.  It's love.  Because love is sometimes hard, when we have to tell someone something that we know will hurt their feelings, but the truth is like that.  Sometimes it cuts us to the core.  But it transforms our lives.  

As I read history, the history of empire, as I consider the culture war between the secular left and the conservative right, and how I see the contrast.. such a divided country.  It drives me crazy as I think of it.  I walk down the streets... and what am I seeing?  Street by street, the noise in the bars, the wiffs of marijuana on the air, the drunkenness, the gay couples walking by, the tall buildings, the police stations, the downcast faces, the homeless guys slumping against the buildings... what am I seeing?  I'm seeing the fall of man.  I'm seeing the spiritual collapse of society.  

We're between worlds here, aren't we?  This isn't outer darkness.  And this isn't heaven.  This isn't as God will set things, to be right again, this isn't outside His presence either.  This is the middle ground.  This is the way station.  This is a gas station in the desert, and we're stopped, eating at the little diner in the filling station.  But we've all got amnesia.  We don't remember who we are, where we came from, or where we're going.  So we just sit in the diner, living and dying, confused, distracted by the advertisements, the menu, and the small talk of daily life.  Little do we recall, but in a half remembered dream darkly, that we are kings and queens of glory, and we can't quite remember, this darkness has set in, and we can't decide which way to go.  In fact we don't know which way is up or down.  We can't recall.  We're at the diner, and a feeling of dread comes over us, as we look out the window, a dread so deep that it brings to mind a half remembered dream, a deja'vu that shutters through our being, and for a moment we remember... something... something far away.  A different country.  A better place.  We remember our true destiny.  And then it fades away... like a dream, half-remembered.  Gone, somewhere, where did it go...? And the more we try to cling onto it, the more it slips away.  

We ache for some sort of eternity.  We see it for a glimpse in Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Narnia.  We feel it for just a moment at helm's deep.  We touch it for a moment upon the snow drifts of Hoth.  We sense it in the cold caverns of the witch's dungeon.  We feel it for a moment and we recall the glory, and then it's gone.  In a perfect song it touches us and leads us home, the northern lights and the star filled sky point us to it, and the bright moon and the wind swept plain and the snowy drifts at 3 am and the sunset sky on fire... It tells us of home.  It reminds us of a place we've never been.  And our heart aches.  

We die just a little inside as we cry out for more of it. But it escapes us again.  All of life hints it to us from time to time, yet it escapes our grasp.  This is the grasp of eternity, the home we've never been to, the paradise we can't dare to picture, and the joyous eternal glory of the presence of a God of pure, tender love.  Not fake love, not lie love, not stereotypical love, but God love, a love that understands, a love that is insanely complex, yet simple, and an all-embracing love that transforms us into perfection itself.  Don't leave us, no.  Come close now.  Because we've gone lost down the dark winter road.  We've lost our memory of home.  And we're deranged, drug addled, perverted, disturbed, a deranged alien amnesiac hobbling down a dark road labeled "oblivion" enraptured in the fall and shackled to the sorrow, amongst the neon horizon, the failing light, and the green aurora borealis of this beautifully sublime fall of all things. 

So we head off into fire and darkness, but for something, some Spirit, taking us back. Something threatens to turn us around, and something threatens to save us, that which we perceive as a threat, is the rope that offers to lead us back home.  

Are you lonely?  Is your heart in despair?  Has the ultimate goal achieved left you feeling hopeless?  Has it failed to satisfy?  The loneliest a person can ever be is when they have finally achieved that which they thought would bring ultimate fulfillment and it has let them down.  

Despite it all, there is a road home.  There is a road home.  There is a way out of this fall.  We're at the way station, but the road is vanishing, the hour glass is trickling down, and time is running out.  This fall is falling quickly.  The snow is pouring down.  And eventually this will all end.  Escape the paradox.  This time loop must be escaped.  It repeats over and over.  And could we finally step out the door.. and into a new life?  Could we be transformed inside out, and find the way home?  Stranger things have happened in this wild labyrinth of diverse chaotic competing ideologies.  Stranger things have happened indeed.  

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Salvation in Christ Alone: Eternal Security or Conditional Security?

"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. This means 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, as a full, cohesive theology.

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: The eternal security view is the idea that God will force a person to remain saved throughout their lives, no matter what they do.

The second view is that relationship found in Christ Jesus must be engaged in, and lived out; in other words, the believer must remain, or "abide" in the relationship with Jesus Christ.

Today we'll be looking at both views, and scriptures that are levied to defend each position.

First, eternal security.  The important scriptures levied in favor of eternal security include: Jude 24, John 10:28-29, Ephesians 4:30, and Romans 8:38-39.  

The most important is probably Romans 8:38-39 which states: "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Those are in fact important and valid scriptures that point to a vital aspect of our relationship with Jesus Christ: There is an active agent on the other end of that relationship guiding us, upholding us, and renewing us in His power.  

Though eternal security is a reasonable theological position with decent supporting evidence, I'd like to make the case today that "conditional security" holds more scriptural evidence.  

What's most important is the truth about scripture, that's something we can all agree on.  What matters most is what is actually true, not our entrenched positions. 

I would contend that 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.

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."  

The scenario being described in Hebrews 6 is of 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 moved away from their salvation.

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." 

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 believers who fell away from 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. Once we again we see a situation where the relationship between God and man is neglected, and eventually abandoned.  Jesus did not lose that person, that person left Jesus willingly.

Erwin Lutzer in his book "Doctrines that Divide" (1998) attempts 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 in my view, stretches of scripture, and seem to neglect a plain straight forward reading of John 15. 

Lutzer writes that it's presumptuous to decide the case of eternal or conditional security on a metaphor (Lutzer, 1998, p. 230). Warren Wiersbe also commented on this scripture that it's not wise to make theology from parables.  I would contend that parables are exactly what theology is made from.  Jesus used parables to describe spiritual truths, so we could understand them in applicable ways.  To Lutzer I would say, the scriptures are full of metaphors, including this one, which holds a clear application regarding our salvation.  One which we must not neglect. 

Erwin Lutzer does an impressive job of trying to defend his views on election and security, I won't fault him in that(Lutzer, 1998, p. 233). But I would point to the fact that Lutzer himself suggests a book by Robert Shank called Life in the Son that lists scripture after scripture indicating how salvation is conditional on perseverance (Lutzer, 1998, p. 230). Perhaps Lutzer was conflicted on his interpretation, though there is nothing wrong with that.  The scriptures ought to bring about such rigorous thought and consideration.

Another example setting aside John 15 would be the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. Specifically we read of the sower's seed landing on ground which represents a believer who receives the word and embraces it thoroughly, but thorns grow up and choke out the word.  Once again, we see that salvation is neglected due to the desires of the world.

In my view 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 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, which is of course to reject the deity of Christ (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." 

Paul uses a conditional clause "if."  And he exhorts the church in Colossae to not shift from the hope of the gospel.  If Paul must exhort us to continue in the faith, then this is a certainly an important and applicable teaching for today.  It seems to me to be dangerous to neglect this consistent teaching of scripture exhorting believers to continue in the faith.  

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? The answer to that question I believe is no. As Boyd (2009) says 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.” Calvinists might suggest that Arminian believers are turning faith into a work.  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.”  

We've come to share in Christ, only if we hold our original confidence firm to the end.  We are exhorted by the writer of Hebrews to remain in Christ, to abide in Him, and to stay firm in our faith.  This is a central aspect of the salvation message, we must not neglect it.

But what about the key scriptures levied from the eternal security view?

Jude 24 says, "To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy."

This is near the conclusion of Jude, the doxology, which indicates a perseverance of relationship. Jesus is able to keep the believer steadfast along the journey of life.  Jesus both keeps us along the way, and presents us spotless before the Father.  This scripture is simply indicating as stated earlier that Christ is at the other end of the relationship helping the believer to remain steadfast.  This doxology is of course an encouragement to the church, not a statement regarding eternal security.

What about John 10:28-29b?  It states: "28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand." 

Christ gives the believer eternal life, and promises that no one, no demon, no enemy of God can force the believer from the Father's hand.  But we can always turn away and walk away from the Father, and reject Christ as savior, by neglecting that vital relationship.  So the believer cannot be snatched by evil or an enemy, but the believer can choose to set aside such a great salvation. And what hope is there for them then?  

Ephesians 4:30 instructs believers not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God, which it says has sealed the believer for the day of redemption.  And it is suggested that if the believer is sealed, how can he be unsealed?  Well, why would Paul be writing to tell us not to grieve the Holy Spirit if it can't be done?  Can one who is sealed be unsealed?  Isn't it stated in Revelation that if one changes the words of Revelation that this person's name will be "blotted out" of the book of life? Yes indeed, Revelation 3:5 indicates a chilling possibility of having ones name blotted out, which when coupled with Revelation 22:19, indicating that if one takes away anything from the book, they will be removed from access to the tree of life, is a compelling case to say that one can certainly be unsealed, or, removed from access according to the will of God.

And finally Romans 8:38-39.  Romans 8 is once again encouraging believers to know that Satan, demons, or enemies can't just swoop in and remove a believer from Christ.  Christ upholds the relationship and guides us along the way, upholding us, reproving us, correcting us, and developing our vital relationship with Jesus.  We respond, and interact with Jesus along the way, and nothing can swipe us from His hand.  But we may shipwreck our faith through constant sin, departing from faith community, or various other ways to leave aside our trust in Christ.  

I would contend that the key scriptures for the eternal security view are dealt with in a fair manner, while many scriptures remain which point to a conditional relationship, a relationship that we participate in, a gift that we receive, but must continue in, and a faith that we must practice, not to be saved, but because we've already been saved entirely and completely by Jesus Christ.  We simply continue to engage in that reality until our final day, just as we are taught to do in scripture (Matthew 24:13, Galatians 6:9, Hebrews 3:14, Colossians 1:23). 

Here are some additional scriptures that I would commend to your careful inspection:

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.”

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 an understanding that we must continue in the faith, continuing to pursue and engage in our living relationship with Jesus Christ. Conditional security leads to good works. 

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? 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.

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.

Friday, October 13, 2017

My Hearts Longs for Something Greater: Eternity in the Human Heart & the Emptiness of Gorged Sensuality

All of life is filled with parables and metaphors that point to the meta-narrative of existence.  The four seasons are laced with it.  Media, movies, books, and stories are filled with expressions of the longings of our hearts.  We long for a place we've never been.  We desire a home we've never visited.  We're filled with desires that nothing in this life can fulfill.  We have eternity written on our souls, and this finite existence and it's fleeting pleasures leave us empty, exhausted... irritated, angry, because once again we've found a dead end on the one-thousand roads that we thought would lead to ultimate fulfillment. Yet once again we've found ourselves, let down.  

Let down, again and again.  Like that beautiful Radiohead song, "Let Down:" 

Transports, motorways and tramlines, Starting and then stopping
Taking off and landing, The emptiest of feelings
Disappointed people, clinging on to bottles
When it comes it's so, so, disappointing
Let down and hanging around, Crushed like a bug in the ground
Let down and hanging around..."

And it ends with "One day I am going to grow wings, a chemical reaction, hysterical and useless."

We exist in a gray world.  There were bright and colorful days when we were young, but slowly over time it seems like people die inside.  The world slowly goes from bright beautiful colors to gray tones and darkness.  And you see people walking around, and it's like they've lost all life in them, and there is nothing that really keeps them going aside from the pattern of steps they take each day. I call them the walking dead.

Until one day they're old and alone, suicidal and empty, broken, gorged on the delicacies of the world, and found to be... nothing at all.  And only the most perverse pleasures will indulge the longing, and soon all is lost.  Within, infinitely let down by the excesses of this world and so broken and bitter from those angry failures that to even suggest something greater makes them recoil in rage.  Almost like a man who never lived out his dreams... and despises the young idealist who wants to do something special.  

We long for eternity.  We long for a garden of beauty.  We long for a paradise of blue grass and golden skies.  We long to not only feel joy but actually be joy.  

We despair a thousand times in life chasing our goals to find that we've found another dead end.  So we shut ourselves off to any possible good end, aside from indulgence and pleasure, even though those things are fleeting and empty.  But I'm here to tell you today that there is a true end.  

No it's not in fluffy mysticism, no it's not in the ultimate triumph of man, no it's not in money, sex, or power.  It's in surrender.  It's in the end of rebellion.  It's in discovering the architect of all existence.  It's in coming to who the creator really is. And it's about total surrender to this being, and the receiving of life from him.  Believe it.  There is nothing else in this life.  There is no other way.  The code is written on your very soul.  Though we all fight it, we want something else, another way, another route, but there is no other route.  There is only one road home.  

Because the truth is, we're the ones who are lost in the dark woods.  We're the ones who can't find our way. We're the ones who are confused, troubled, disturbed, like a confused, ignorant run away teenager who doesn't have the wherewithal to return home even if it means facing the music.  Maybe we're afraid.  Maybe we want so badly to fight. And to run further away from home.  But there is nothing out there, in this vast darkness... There is nothing out there.  Nothing but loneliness and emptiness.  There is nothing in this dark wood.  There is only the road home, or to go deeper into the nothingness. And the nothingness tears at us, and eats us alive, and crushes our will to live.  Must we go even further into that great night?  Or could we turn and head home?  Even if it means letting go of the ego, letting go of the pride, and humbling ourselves...

Part I: The Journey through a Dark Wood

As C.S. Lewis said: “There is someone I love, even though I don’t approve of what he does. There is someone I accept, though some of his thoughts and actions revolt me. There is someone I forgive, though he hurts the people I love the most. That person is me.” 

This life we live could be described as a long journey through a mysterious woods.  There is beauty.  There is intrigue.  There is fear.  There is so much confusion and doubt, outmatching at times the moments of happiness and joy.  But there is great hope as well.

Sometimes along the journey of life, something very tragic and powerful happens.  Sometimes it hits us face on, and smashes us into pieces.  And sometimes we get stuck.  And instead of moving on, we stop at that place where the moment of pain occurred, and build a house, choosing to live there.  We stop maturing, stop growing.  We become cripples, as no one can stop on the journey and not crumble in the process.  Memories are things to be lived through at the time, and remembered as the moments proceed forward, but we can't pitch a tent in our pain.  We can't continue to punish ourselves for our past mistakes.  But who will forgive us if we can't forgive ourselves?

There is a savior for forgiveness.  There is a way out of the wilderness.  This is a journey that can be made, pain after pain, event after event, joy and sorrow, peace and unsettled, despair and ecstasy, knowledge after knowledge, humbled into pieces, reception of Christ Jesus, and reconnection born after, ever burdened by sin after sin, carrying the incredible weight of distance from his presence, but promised something we cannot see, taste, or touch, yet believing and hoping, against all odds, and on the way changing the world, sharing that fountain with others, day after endless day, eyes to the horizon, head in the clouds, feet on the ground, stunning and shaken, screaming in sadness, victorious shout, endless eternity awaiting those who can just hold out to the end.  Great happiness to those who finish this journey.  That's what it means to me.. being a Christian today.

I was once the grey man, in the grey tunnel, drinking grey ice water, and draining the bottle of the pleasures and indulgences of this life.  I guzzled harder and harder as the meaningfulness of those indulgences faded.  Yet they faded and faded until there was only nothingness.  So much nothingness!

Life is not a cake walk, but it's not a nightmare anymore.  I've lived the nightmare.  I've tasted years of emptiness in the desert, hot sun beating down.  I've frozen in the wastes of sensuality and addiction.  I've lived the nightmare, and I've survived to come through to the other side.  Not many can say the same! 

Life my friend, is madness. Yes, it certainly is.  Life is a winding mess full of incredible tribulation and nightmarish trials and testing fields. But there is reason for great joy and great peace in the storm of present Earth, in this opaque infinitely complex, though desperately simple sin infested dark planet. 

We see the hopelessness all around us.  We see the slowly collapsing state of civilization on this dust ball.  So at this moment of twilight for the human race, in this powerfully present Fall, a savior came called Immanuel. As the waters rocked the boat, and the storm clouds blasted the passengers, all hope had been lost aboard ship, but then on the horizon a figure appeared, walking out to us, the embattled, defeated mass of man kind, Christ Jesus, approaching us on the water.. the promised messiah... to save us from our sins, just before they threatened to toss the boat and leave us wiped from all memory of existence, battered and broken, defeated and lost, Christ Jesus walked out into our disaster and saved us from it. 

That's what he did for me.  He walked out onto the water, and cleared the sky around me, so I could see the truth.  And the clear sky showed me that I needed the son, and I received the son.

Isaiah 43:19 NIV "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."

I almost died on this path through the wilderness of Earth.  That is no stretch, and I have the memories of emergency rooms and the words of doctors to back up such statements.  I gloat in my weakness, because I was utterly unable to help myself. Only God could change me. Yes, God. I'm talking faith in Jesus. Aww you didn't want to hear about "religion" as the end all be all of life?  Maybe you want to go cry about it?  Listen, this isn't the end I hoped for, not at all.  But it is the truth.  That's really all I know.  There is nothing else in this world with any substance.  

We hate God in this world.  It's true.  We can't stand the mere mention.  Maybe it's because his perfection intrudes on our darkness?  Indeed, His power is perfection intruding into this world.

Don't get me wrong, there are so many wonderful experiences in life that remind us just how beautiful life is.  There are so many days that are filled with happiness and contentment.    

He is the reason that I still breathe oxygen.  He is the reason words are on this page.  Jesus Christ is the reason for this season, all together and completely.  All things are made by and for him.

If God is for us who can be against us? 

What is against us, is our sin nature and the forces of evil.  This is a spiritual conflict.  This is a war.  And we are soldiers for Christ. 

“It is said that in some countries trees will grow, but will bear no fruit because there is no winter there.” 
― John Bunyan

And as John Bunyan writes, perhaps we need times of great darkness and cold trial to become people capable of receiving Jesus Christ.  

Charles Spurgeon said, "Whenever God means to make a man great, he always breaks him in pieces first."  All of this could be true.  Perhaps the sin nature makes us so arrogant that we have to be crushed a bit before we can be humble enough to hear the word.  I mean truly hear it.  
I won't claim to know every experience.  I imagine there are literally millions of different ways to the cross of Christ, from all manner of backgrounds and all manner of trials and tribulations.  But it was my experience, that I needed a great deal of pain and suffering to be willing to call on Jesus Christ.  

Sin is a dangerous adversary as we go about this incredible beautiful adventure to the homeland, which is the winding rocky path of all Christians.  We are not heading to heaven, so much as we are heading home.  

No place has ever felt fully home to me in this life, not a single one.  Even memories of family, at the old white house in Rothschild, or the house on Ross ave... it's never quite felt like home.  Do you have the same experience? I think you do.  So where is home?  What is home?  What is the meaning here?

In our keen human intellectual capacity, the answer seemed too simple for it to be right.  We demanded something more complicated.  And I've seen people die demanding something more complicated.  It's simple: Jesus Christ.  People want it to be harder.  They want to achieve salvation through karma, reincarnation, secret illumination, and so on.  There is no achievement.  It's a free gift.  What we do is simply humble ourselves enough to receive it, and believe it.

Be under no illusions.  Sin can rip people from ever entering the narrow gate.  Ironically we've always looked outside ourselves for the enemy, but the enemy has always been right there.  The enemy is us.  The enemy is how we act if we don't keep ourselves in check.  And sadly many die not knowing this.  Many die not caring.  Many die consciously or subconsciously choosing to do exactly as they please.  And many today will utterly refuse to face themselves alone, without any technology blinking or text messaging or television or movie or internet or party, so that they don't have to face the realizations that flow from such a calmness of the mind.

Realizations like... What am I doing with myself?  Where is this leading me?  Wow this needs to stop! Look at me!  I'm not happy.  Hes abusing me.  Shes using me.  I feel guilty about that.  How can I change this? 

It's incredibly powerful and all consuming, the sin nature.  And what I'm about to tell you is completely true from my intensely personal view on my drug and alcohol disaster.  As I lay dying in my trashed house, having lost everything I had, month after month, year after year, the realization that I ought to call out to Jesus Christ to save me was not an option I had even considered. 

So then how did I know to?  I couldn't tell you really.  It just kind of popped into my head.  What I'm saying is that I would have overdosed, been dead with nothing without direct intercession by the Father himself.  

And it wasn't till later that I read John 6:44 and realized just how true it was.  Ever have a "wow" moment?

John 6:44 (ESV) "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day."

Be careful of sin.  It's deadly to non-believers whether they know it or are willing to accept it or not.  It's dangerous to seekers and Christians a like.  We go up against the sin nature within us everyday.  We as Christians have the Holy Spirit to help us in this.  Otherwise we tend to lose much more than win, and get strung out on all manner of addictions whether to food, money, sex, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, attention, shopping, television, pornography, and so on and so forth.  Being enslaved to addictions is ugly and strange.  

Yet it's kind of funny in retrospect I thought I was "so free" the liberated Hunter S. Thompson-esc Gonzo journalist living on the edge not tied down. But my own brain was lying to me.  The addictions progressed over time and the chains grew more and more obvious until even I could tell, in my alternative reality, my delusion, that it was killing me.  We're always the last to know these things about ourselves, aren't we? 

Be careful for the supposedly wise of the world, Mr. worldly-wise, you can always tell them by their fruit, their personality, how they act, and what kind of things they do in the world.  Arrogance is so very common in world-wise people.  Elitism.  I have found after going through all the philosophy, writing, journalism, studying politics, world religions, history, and all the various economic, social, and political mechanisms of the world, no matter how smart or seemingly wise I was, there were three factors that made such wisdom meaningless and fraudulent.  

For one, I was incapable of correctly interpreting the data because I was utterly biased, seeing all things from a bogus naturalistic worldview. (Not to mention the writers, researchers, and experts had their own agendas as well!)  Two, despite all my supposed wisdom I was greatly self-ambitious and selfish.  Thus my interpretations delved deeply into my own desire for the outcomes I preferred rather than the facts on the ground.  And three, because in the back of my mind a priori I had decided it can't be Christianity.  That was the worst possible outcome to me. 

Many never escape that.  I'm very glad that I did. 

This is a powerful journey we're on.  And I'm so very grateful to be a part of it.  I did not expect it.  I did not want it.  But now I can look at it and say I'm learning to love it.  I'm learning to start to see simile, metaphor, illusion, temptation, and inspiration in the world around me, in the snow banks, in the eyes of strangers and friends, in the words spoken, in the music playing, in the movies, in the pages of the Bible, and in my quiet prayers, my talks with my Maker.   

That completes part one, the primer to the forest, the road home, and Jesus Christ the hidden, shadowed tree in the forest of sin, that one tree that can return us to the tree of life.  Remember that Adam and Eve had a garden full of trees to eat from, and only one to avoid.  Today in this fall, we have a forest full of evil trees, and only one that can lead us back home.  Jesus is the way:  Jesus and the tree he was nailed to, is the only way home.  

Part II: The War

So we turn to phase two of this road home.  And once again, we'll begin with a quotation from C.S. Lewis: "Enemy-occupied territory---that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”

Like C.S. Lewis' classic book "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" we find ourselves in a war zone.  Plain and simple, part two of our saga is called "the war."  

You see as Christians we are anomalies in the matrix. We're essentially alien outsiders in the kingdoms of men.  People don't understand us, they can't comprehend why we do what we do.  We're near invisible quite often in the quick paced worldly world.  They can't see us, and when they do they're angry and afraid.  We've been "unplugged" from the system.  We're on our hoverships, in the fall of man, in the broken disaster area of Earth.  We're in the sewers like the U.S.S. Nebuchadnezzar, Captained by Morpheus and Trinity, we're the resistance movement fighting a desperate war against the machine consciousness. 

We're the Maquis, the french resistance in World War II, fighting in a pitch resistance movement against the Nazi oppressors.  We're the resistance fighters in shadowed rooms listening to the radio for secret messages from God almighty.  We're the soldiers of Christ launching acts of sabotage against the kingdoms of darkness. 

You'll find yourself as a solo Christian only for so long until your recruited by some resistance cell.  I'm not certain where you might end up.  I know people who've ended up in schools teaching children, I've known people who joined missionary organizations, I've known people who go overseas, I know people who do street ministry, I know people who do charity work, disaster relief, grief counseling, and I know many people who are parts of small ecclesiastical communities here and there that do their part in this righteous resistance movement.  The acts are spiritual in nature, works given to us to do by the Holy Spirit, our General and field commander.  

Some are given to be foot soldiers of the war, some are given to be leaders of the spiritual war.  I was just one of those few chosen by God for a leadership position in his forces.  

We're like the spartan program in the Halo series.  You've got your foot soldiers that you fight along side of, then you have your master chief, a front lines sort of warrior, with enhanced skills, spiritual gifts if you will, that add to his ability to fight and defeat enemies and their leaders and foot soldiers.  

Essentially we're in a struggle between the forces of darkness, commanded by the rogue angel Satan, and all his followers, his demonic forces, and the humans who submit to his will through ignorance, or lust for power, and we fight against that kingdom.  And that kingdom has had total pre-eminence since the dawn of the fall, until the death and resurrection of Christ.  Ever since the day that Jesus died for us, the kingdom of God has been moving out in all directions, making war with the kingdoms of darkness.  And we're on the frontlines of that war today.

Unfortunately we're losing more and more battles as the years go on.  I believe that is part of the plan.  Just as in C.S. Lewis's Narnia, the forces of Aslan are fighting the wicked queen, but the wicked queen is defeating them because she can freeze their warriors in place.  So we're waiting for the return of our King, Jesus Christ, who will end the war, finally, and saved Zion, the city at the center of the Earth, where it's still warm.  Oh wait, that's the Matrix series.  Yes, Jesus will return, save Israel, defeat the evil kingdom, and usher in a time of 1,000 years of peace.  

So we're the warriors, both foot soldiers and leaders of the righteous resistance.  And we're losing.  But we keep on fighting, setting souls free, saving people from the matrix, freeing minds to know the truth about life, that service to sin is slavery and Christ can set us free.  

We move from just discovering that reality to helping others to see that reality themselves.  We become soldiers of the kingdom, and leaders of the armies of God.  That is our calling now, as we push forward for the glory of God.  Find your place, take up your weapons and fight for the lost souls of mankind who need Jesus Christ.  The war is real, and billions of lives hang in the balance.  Good luck, and God bless.