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Naturally Supernatural: it doesn’t have to be weird to be God

I won’t lie: emotionalism is fun. The experience of experiencing – the feeling of being in that moment when you feel with such intensity that you’re absolutely positive that something unique is taking place. However, that “feeling” is so easily misunderstood, and actually encourages the “fake” and “artificial”, lifting a ‘special experience’ above the day-to-day can be dangerous, and misleading. The day-to-day IS miraculous – it IS supernatural. Think about our call as Christians: “You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, will all your soul, and will all your strength, and will all your mind” (Luke 10:27). Is that anything, if it isn’t all of life – emotions, spirituality, action, and thought – being ultimately spiritual? A trip to the doctor can be an act of worship as much as Sunday morning, done with a right Spirit – it may even be more genuine and holy, depending on the circumstances you may find yourself responding to while there. I struggle in my heart when we as Christians seem to put on a “show” of the supernatural – using the supposedly unusual or weird to stir up the emotions, until we are whipped into a Spiritual frenzy, as though our passion and the intensity of the moment makes God somehow more present (I mean, He’s here, or He’s not, right?), and the supernatural even more likely. Aren’t we called to be like Jesus? I mean, I believe it – I believe in not only the fruit, but also the gifts: prophecy, healing, tongues – the whole package. However, there seems to be a HUGE disconnect between how I see Jesus working miracles, and we often tend to attempt as Christians – wild, emotionally charged, intense Sunday morning meetings, seemingly attempting to stir up our faith to the point where (maybe) we can work the miracle ourselves, rather than simply trusting in a God who often works in the mundane – the normal – the everyday. Looking at Jesus’ miracles, they didn’t draw attention to themselves because his methods were odd, or out of the ordinary – Jesus’ miracles drew the attention of others because they WORKED. He was the real deal. He was “NATURALLY SUPERNATURAL”. So, while we’ve made something mystical out of “anointing with oil” when praying for healing, we don’t realize that Olive Oil was considered medicinal in Jesus day, so the modern-day equivalent is to pray for someone’s healing, and take them to the doctor, both – and the later is no less spiritual, or faith-filled, than the former, no matter how less exiting it may seem. When Jesus heals the man born blind he uses not only the commonplace – can’t imagine anything more easily come across than spit and mud – but again, saliva was considered medicinal, and it was common practice to spit on sick parts of the body in his time. Again, his methods were not the sort to draw any attention to themselves – the attention result in the fact that Jesus’ prayers were effectual – people were actually healed! As I’ve heard it said, “it doesn’t have to be weird to be God.” Looking at the works of Jesus it may more accurate to consider that if it IS weird, it’s not much at all like Jesus’ miracles. The weird may not be God working at all, but may simply be the flesh – mere “religion”, and man-made. As many in the VINEYARD MOVEMENT likes to say, Jesus was naturally supernatural. So, you can keep your show, if it’s only for Sunday morning – I want to live all of life as spiritual, expecting God to work in my day-to-day. If I live my life expecting to experience God in anyplace and in anyone I should not be surprised when He meets me, and works an amazing feet in my life. That’s the sort of God He is – celebrate it, but know that it’s not your weirdness, it’s not your working yourself into an emotional frenzy one morning a week, that is somehow twisting God’s arm to make Him work. God meets us in the mundane – the doctor’s visit, the dirty-floored house – on the street corner, asking for change. He meets us in the normal, the every-day. With olive oil, or a little dirt and spit, and very little fan-fare, Jesus does his work. With a quiet confidence, we should expect the supernatural – naturally – expect God to work as a part of daily life in a world in which the Kingdom of God is breaking through, as we choose daily to follow Him as King: “…the Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21b) Don’t even be surprised when it happens. Be expectant – this is who God IS, why expect any less? Come, Holy Spirit. So be it.

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REVIEW: Your Jesus is too Safe

JesusTooSafe

As a worship leader, I am convinced that to worship Christ fully we must know him truly. JARED WILSON is an immensely POPULAR BLOGGER, missional church planter/pastor, with impeccable theology, and a decent sense of humor to boot. His book, YOUR JESUS IS TOO SAFE, is an excellent correction to the man-made Jesus’s of our imagination, pointing clearly to the Christ of revelation. The style reminds me of Mark Driscoll’s personality, N.T. Wright’s historical insight, and the basic doctrinal leanings of Timothy Keller, all put in a blender. That is just to say, that this book would serve as an excellent corrective for us worship leaders to all the false-Christ’s we tend to pursue. You see, for being the most popular – or at least most well-known – person in all of history, we have a hard time at agreeing on who Jesus is, even within the church. Jared spends most of this book debunking each of our own Jesus myth’s – some of which may surprise you – and replacing them with a full-orbed, Biblical portrait of Christ. The highlight of the book is Jared’s excellent overview of the life of Christ, which is both easy to understand, yet nuanced enough to take into account the complexity of modern historical research. It really brings the gospels to life, and gives fresh insight into those books, without having to read the academically dense work of N.T. Wright. I had a minor squabble with his critique of the modern prophecy (quote: “…a prophet isn’t someone who has a special spiritual sense, or who, in our feel-good vernacular, ‘feels led’…), as my personal walk with Christ has been informed by both the reformed, and charismatic camps, but in all honesty, it doesn’t hinder the overall thrust of his message whatsoever. Overall, Your Jesus… is probably my favorite book so far on ’09. A well recommended read, indeed.

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5 points I’ll stand behind…

Though in many ways I consider myself a Calvinist, I often prefer the label “Reformed”.  You see, I find my grounding as a Reformed believer far more in line with Richard Mouw’s “Kuyperian Calvinism”, than folks like R.C. Sproul & John McAurther. That is to say, the center of my “Calvinism” isn’t so much the 5 points, but rather the Biblical concept that Abraham Kuyper summarized so perfectly: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” Also, with John Piper, I affirm “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever.” That is to say, I am ‘reformed’ because I don’t believe the story is really about US: we were made by Him and for Him, and I think that Biblical concept is best brought to the forefront by a ‘reformed/calvinist’ reading of the Word.  That said, I’m very uncomfortable with most Calvinist’s emphasis on the 5 points, and even most interpretations of what each of those points actually MEANS.

Well, recently Jared Hanley, an e-friend I met some time back over myspace, re-worded the 5 points in a way that I could affirm 100%, and I can’t help but share these with you:

1. We’re so messed up that we need a miracle to restore our broken fellowship with God.
2. God chooses us, not based on what He knew that we would do, but simply out of love.
3. Christ gave Himself for the church.
4. When the light of the gospel fully shines in our hearts, we find God’s love to be irresistible.
5. Those who truly belong to Christ are able to stand strong only by the grace of God.

He’s stripped away, at least for me, all of the primary areas of debate, and left behind a simple, modern phrasing which succinctly summarizes some powerful Biblical truths.  Re-reading these, I was reminded of another, more famous author, who had also summarized the 5 points in a way that really made sense to me.

John Piper organized the 5 points below as we subjectively experience them, which seems to make a whole lot more sense than the traditional TULIP formation:

  1. We experience first our depravity and need of salvation.
  2. Then we experience the irresistible grace of God leading us toward faith.
  3. Then we trust the sufficiency of the atoning death of Christ for our sins.
  4. Then we discover that behind the work of God to atone for our sins and bring us to faith was the unconditional election of God.
  5. And finally we rest in his electing grace to give us the strength and will to persevere to the end in faith.

Gives one much to ponder, indeed.  God is the star in our story – we are the supporting actors.  So very glad to be in a movie with such a big name, aren’t you? 😉

Filed under: Bible, Books, Calvinism, Christian Hedonism, Contraversy, Debate, Doctrine, Gospel, Grace, John Piper, Reformed, Salvation, Theology, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , ,

Still more Lakeland blog-love (and some)…

Still more people are chiming in on Lakeland & the goings on there. Again, I don’t agree with all that’s written below – in fact, some I disagree with, but they are helpful perspectives to get a bigger picture of what’s happening:

My visit to Lakeland

When is a “Revival” Genuine?

Leaving Lakeland

Lakeland – real revival?

Does Todd Bentley have anything to do with Jesus?

Todd Bentley and the Lakeland Revival

There is much to take in, but I will let these speak for themselves: real people, honest thoughts, sincere emotions…seeking the truth.  Some have left the church entirely and are taking one last peak inside, some are in the middle of the excitement yet voicing concerns, some are sympathetic but have questions, and others are diametrically opposed.  Read, pray, listen.  Amen.

Filed under: Bible, Blog-Love, Bloggers, Charismatic, Continualist, Contraversy, Debate, Doctrine, Emotionalism, Flesh, Gospel, Holy Laughter, Holy Spirit, Lakeland Revival, Miracles, Mystery, Pentecostalism, Philosophy, Prayer, prophecy, Revival, Salvation, Sermon, Signs of the Spirit, Theology, Tongues, Uncategorized, Unity, Word of Faith, , , ,

Lakeland: current thoughts…

Last night I watched the Lakeland Revival on GodTV for the first time in over a month. This was brought about by the encouragement of a few friends, and then me stumbling across a recent YouTube ‘interview’ of sorts with Bentley. Though by no means do I ‘recant’ of my blogs on the subject (Be the Revival, Be the Miracle, Sound Doctrine, & Drop Kick), I was encouraged by much of what I saw.

Although I would love to see some ‘clarification’ (and correction of?) on some points of doctrine from Bentley, I will give him kudos in that he apparently listens to criticism from other believers. Last night there was far less talk of angels, no mention of ‘Emma’, and a LOT more talk of Jesus (though if I were a non-believer I’d still have pretty much no idea who Jesus was or what he did for me from the actual content of the revival teaching). In fact, there was far less ‘Todd’, and more ‘Jesus’, which is a considerable improvement over the last few times I had watched. More Jesus and less of anything else is always an improvement.

Another thing I really appreciated was the fact that he emphasized that – even with the world watching (and one has to admit that it adds a degree of risk to each possible healing) – he would pray for healing for anyone that came up to be prayed for. Now, though I don’t think illnesses, diseases, or viruses are all demons to be addressed ‘in Jesus name’, nor have I any idea what “Bam” or any of the other bizarre things Bentley says during ‘healings’ are intended to mean, as a “Third Wave Charismatic”, I love the openess to ‘pray’ for anyone. It would be even more powerful to me if it weren’t on a stage – move this thing to the streets, begin going door to door, meeting people’s needs then ask “Excuse me, may I…” BAM – healed! Maybe if there were less sound effects, and casting out diseases, and more actual prayers addressing God, and clearly trusting Him and His power to heal – then I would feel even less concerned by the Lakeland Outpouring.

Lastly, Todd claims they are trying to verify every healing testimony that is given on stage. That is an honorable thing indeed – I would expect no less from anyone that wasn’t a fake. However, given that Bentley himself gives no update from stage when healing testimonies are discovered to have not been true (which would increase the credibility factor 100% were he to do so), might it be better to do a full follow-up with the doctors and such FIRST, then – if it all pans out unquestionably – invite them to give their testimony at the revival? The fact that to-date none of the individuals having been raised from the dead as a result of this revival can be confirmed, and at least one has been proven false, as have a number of the healings (one husband was called after his wife was supposedly healed of deafness – he said his wife had never been deaf), leaves a great deal to be desired. I believe in healing – I’ve prayed for a man who was dying in the hospital with less than hours to live, who made a miraculous turn around and was home 2 days later (he’s still well, last I heard), but we shouldn’t expect sheeple to believe every radical testimony given on that stage, especially when some are shortly thereafter being shown untrue. Verify first, testify later. That said, kudos for pursuing any sort of verification whatsoever – that is a step in the right direction.

If I had one last request it would be this: TEACH JESUS. Thank you for mentioning Jesus more, and angels less (though, in an off-handed way, which I assumed Todd didn’t even realize, he did mention Jesus even more than he knows: in the Old Testament “the Angel of the Lord” IS the pre-incarnate Christ, since He is the only angel which receives worship without rebuking), however – as I mentioned before – if I were a non-believer watching I would have no idea, in reality, who this Jesus was. He could have been merely a miracle worker for all I know. Take time to teach Jesus – explain the Gospel more often, even if in simple terms. Acknowledge the indwelling problem of sin, and show how Jesus is the answer to that, Then the real miracles which may take place will have a larger context: they will make sense in the resurrected life of Jesus working through His Spirit in the church. That would be good news, indeed.

So, though I have no intentions of visiting Lakeland, and I still have my criticisms, doubts, & concerns, even I am not beyond acknowledging where I see growth and blessings. Don’t leave your head at the door, but don’t let me keep you from visiting either.

So be it! Amen…

Filed under: Bible, Charismatic, Continualist, Contraversy, Debate, Doctrine, Emotionalism, Flesh, Forgiveness, Gospel, Holy Laughter, Holy Spirit, Lakeland Revival, Miracles, Mystery, Prayer, prophecy, Revival, Salvation, Signs of the Spirit, Theology, Tongues, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , ,

the Holy Spirit told me to drop-kick you

I realize that God doesn’t always work in nice neat categories, and obey every rule that we may set out for him (that may be why I call myself a ‘charismatic’), however much of this is too much to take. I’m tempted to laugh, but some of it doesn’t strike me a very funny

Now, having watched that – and recognizing that it was edited (he didn’t say all of those things in a row, but each from from various sessions – seems he has a general tendency to hear violent commands from the Spirit, though), is there Biblical justification for these things. That is to say, if you heard a voice in your head ask you to drop-kick someone, does that sound like the Spirit of Christ that you encounter in His Word? Why or why not? Discuss.

Filed under: Bible, Charismatic, Continualist, Contraversy, Debate, Holy Spirit, Knowing God, Lakeland Revival, Miracles, Revival, Uncategorized, Word of Faith, , , , ,

Sound Doctrine & Correct Practice in Revival

In the midst of all the discussion about the Lakeland Revival, the unusual over-emotional expressions of the first great awakening are often brought up. Having read Jonathan Edwards‘ biography, his collected sermons, and his ‘Religious Affections’, as well as being midway through Sam Storm’s “Signs of the Spirit”, and having long research the life and teaching of George Whitefield, I can honestly say that there is a very significant difference between the revivals of old, and the so-called revivals of today, and those differences are what give me pause.

The difference is that Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and most (if not all) of preachers involved in the First Great Awakening, were Orthodox Evangelical Christians – they taught sound doctrine, and modeled correct practice. Yes, the crowds, when some were touched by the Spirit of God, sometimes responded with a mix of Spirit and flesh, and there were – to be sure, by Edward’s own account – many among them who were merely caught up in the emotion of it all, who acted not in response to a move of God’s Spirit on their hearts, but merely to the buzz of emotion in the air. However, all the while they heard the Gospel proclaimed – the Scriptures taught with an attention to detail, and truthfulness. It was not the goal of Edwards or Whitefield to work the churches they stood before into an emotional frenzy, but to teach the truth of God, and see people respond appropriately.

I can look beyond unorthopraxy in those attending the Lakeland Revival, but what grieves my Spirit is that so many of those allowed to take the pulpit aren’t orthodox in what they teach or practice, both of which are important to genuine, full-orbed Christian faith.

A few years ago I taught on this passage from 1st John:

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist–he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us–even eternal life. I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit–just as it has taught you, remain in him.1 John 2:18-27

Here is what I wrote about these important verses…

“Here John gives us couple of ways that we can identify saving faith. He asks, “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is antichrist – he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” It appears as though individuals had left the congregation because they no longer believed the truth about Jesus.

Notice that by denying that Jesus is the Christ, we also deny God the Father. Since Jesus revealed the one true God who spoke through the prophets, by denying Jesus we show that we also do not truly believe in the one true God of the Old Testament, since one testified to the truth of the other.

Notice, also, the results of this false belief: they left the church. Remember this; it is SO IMPORTANT that we believe what is ultimately true because what we believe has an effect on what we DO — on how we live! Here the results of their misconceptions were divisions in the church, but every time we accept what Paul called deceptive philosophy over the truth of God it will have some sort of negative results. We were made to live out what we believe, whether it be true saving faith, or falsehood and lies. Either way we will live according to what we believe is ultimately true.

Later John expands on this thought by saying, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God “(from 1 John 4:1-6). We should strive to know the Biblical truth about God, and to live out the teachings of Scripture, in order that we might present ourselves as a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

There are ways of denying the Father & the Son that are not overt – in fact, as an Angel of Light, those are the means that Satan most often employs. When one is actively acknowledging Jesus – that He is of God, and came ‘in the flesh’ – that individual is by necessity being Cross-Centered, & Gospel-Driven. To focus attention primarily on the Holy Spirit, who’s central goal is the guide eyes to Christ, is to actually go against the Spirit, and to risk submitting to another spirit entirely – one that is not quite so Holy.

Sound doctrine and correct practice should accompany the Spirit-filled, Spirit-guided man of God, as the Holy Spirit not only teaches us the Scriptures, but even more-so, applies them to our hearts and lives. To claim to have come in the name of God, and to claim to be led by His Holy Spirit, yet to not teach Cross-Centered sound doctrine, and to not practice Biblical orthopraxy – well, of that person we should at least set our ‘discernment’ on ‘high’, and be very careful to ‘test the spirits’ in every thing we hear them say or see them do.

Please don’t leave your brain at the door in exchange for an experience. If you do so, there is no promise that the experience you have will be one from God, no matter how good it may make you feel at the time. Be blessed.

Filed under: Bible, Books, Charismatic, Continualist, Contraversy, Debate, Doctrine, Emotionalism, Evangelical, Flesh, Gospel, Holy Laughter, Holy Spirit, Jonathan Edwards, Lakeland Revival, Miracles, Pastors, prophecy, Revival, Sam Storms, Sermon, Signs of the Spirit, Theology, Tongues, Uncategorized, Word of Faith, , , , , , , , , ,

The Miracle Worker: be the miracle…

Having never read it from cover-to-cover, I’ve still found much to agree with – in what little I’ve read – in John Wimber‘s POWER EVANGELISM, and the overall portrait he set forth for what the Christian life should look like. Though I was wary of him during his life (when he was living I was far more skeptical of the pentecostal/charismatic movement – even the 3rd Wave – than I am now), in hindsight, he had a degree of humility that many modern ‘healers’ seem to greatly lack.

Wimber made a Biblical case that, as Jesus disciples, we are to walk as Jesus walked. Even though Jesus was sinless, and we sinful, he still – setting aside the benefits of his divinity – lived as a Spirit-filled man during his life-time, and as his disciples, so should we. As a result, though maybe not in magnitude or perfection (sin didn’t trip up Jesus’ miracles – it may our own), we should walk in the miraculous much the same way that Jesus did. Jesus was not only our ‘Savior’, but also our example of what Kingdom living should look like. Amen, Mr. Wimber – and again I say, AMEN!

So, where are the miracle workers who run from the spotlight, instead of revel in it – you know, like Jesus? If we are to be ‘little-Christs’ (the meaning of the word ‘Christian’), walking in the ‘Kingdom of God’ (meaning submitted to Christ’s Lordship/Kingship), and to display the restored Image of God (which is what it means to be conformed to Christ – a restoration of what we lost in Adam’s fall), should we not only walk in the miraculous, but walk AS JESUS WALKED in the miraculous.

When I skim the Gospels, the healings He offered were personal – often he even told the ones healed to tell no one about it. When crowds gathered to see a display of miracles, He fled. His miracles had 2 purposes: the most important was to reveal God, or an aspect of God, to the individual or individuals present, and the 2nd was to enable the one healed to give glory to God. Even Jesus, who deserved the glory, didn’t glorify Himself – He gave glory to the Father, who in turn glorified His Son. One thing is for sure: when I look through all of the accounts of healings in the Bible I absolutely never see ANYTHING that even moderately resembled a show of any kind. It’s not there.

As I said in response to another blog earlier this morning, if you suspect you have the gift of healing, or God has annointed you to heal, or however you see it, do us all a favor: get a list of the sick from your church, and go to them, find the sick homeless under a nearby bridge or down a dark alleyway, then visit your local hospital, or even hospice, if they’ll let you in. If God moves powerfully, delight yourself in HIM, and not in what He’s done through you – remove yourself from the picture, empty that hospital, if God so wills – clear the beds of your local hospice. Whatever you do, don’t seek a stage, where people thirsty for a miraculous ‘tickle’ – a ‘God-show’ – will come for miles to catch a glimpse of ‘power’. It’s not about ‘power’ – particularly, it’s not about your power. At least, for Jesus it wasn’t – I guess I expect to much to hope that Christians will want to live like Christ.

Honestly, I suspect that’s what has happened to many of our famous, continually re-discredited big-time healing ministers today. There was a time when God really and truly used them to heal – I believe it is entirely possible – then they put it on stage as a show, and took the show on the road. At that point it becomes far more about the supposed miracle-worker than about Jesus – more about the ‘show’ than about Jesus – and what do you know: at that point the Holy Spirit has left the building! God wants none of it! But now they are a superstar – it’s how they make the bacon, so they have to fake it, to use artificial methods to work people into an emotional buzz which they call ‘faith’, and their doctrine creeps downhill to justify their actions. Voila – we end up putting on revivals, instead of God visiting on His own accord and bringing one about!

Yes, this moves me deeply, and I am saddened by so much of what I see. And, as always, the change begins in – and with – me. Be the miracle, and walk it like Jesus did – that’s the only place we can begin.

Amen…

Filed under: Charismatic, Continualist, Contraversy, Emotionalism, Flesh, Holy Spirit, Lakeland Revival, Miracles, Revival, Signs of the Spirit, TeamPyro, Uncategorized, Word of Faith, , , , , , ,

God should be praised…

We should always praise God for the outcome – no matter what it be – of God’s response to believing prayer, whether His response be what we desired, it’s opposite, or something else entirely. Discuss.

Filed under: Calvinism, Charismatic, Doctrine, Holy Spirit, Reformed, Theology, Uncategorized, , , , ,

Friday Morning Blog Love

For those of you following my Reflections of Suffering & the Sovereignty of God, here is a powerful video called “Life without Limbs”, as well a a portion of an audio message by John Piper on suffering.

Also, surely of interest to nearly all of my readers, Cerulean Sanctum has been posting some challenging blogs on the gifts: THAT GIFT, & MORE ON CHARISMATIC GIFTS. As a double blessing of sorts, so has the Blue Fish Project: SPIRITUAL IS GOSPEL, & GIFTS FOR THE COMMON GOOD. I don’t necessarily agree with their every word, but there is indeed some meat there, and it’s content worth mulling over.

And it never hurts to be reminded of the Gospel, which is why Living the Cross-Centered Life is one of my favorite books of all time. Well 21st Century Reformation has given us a healthy reminder: JESUS IS THE CHRIST – THE GOSPEL PROPER.

Lastly, given how loosely Christian have been throwing around the word ‘Evangelical’ in recent years, it’s sure refreshing to hear that some truly ‘Evangelical’ believers are working to bring the church back to it’s center again. Tim Challies reports on THE EVANGELICAL MANIFESTO, and Between Two Worlds gives a good summary of it. All I can say is “it’s about time“.

Filed under: Blog-Love, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

Reflections on Suffering & the Sovereignty of God: Discussions…

As I’m still working on Chapter 4, I thought I’d bring some of our more interesting discussions to the fore-front. To keep up-to-date on the discussion to far, please also read INTRO & CHAPTER 1, CHAPTER 2 PART 1, CHAPTER 2 PART 2, CHAPTER 3, & A DETOUR.

The primary issue that keeps coming up in my ‘response’ box is that of “free will”.

I will be the first to admit that I don’t have all the answers on this – I am convinced of one thing: there is a LOT of mystery in God and God has not chosen to answer all of our questions in the here & now. Look at Job, whom God not only allowed, but even seemed to direct Satan to (”Look at my servant, Job…”) bring trouble upon: God’s response to Job’s “WHY?!” was “Who are you?” – not in the rude sense, but in the sense that He let Job have a BIG revelation of God INSTEAD of a direct answer to his question.  And that’s, more often than not, what we really need in those circumstances: we don’t need answers, we need His presence, and revelation.

For years, I too struggled with the issue of “Free Will”, but now I struggle with it from the other-side: the Bible clearly says, “But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3). “Free Will” is a troubling man-made term, but IF “Free Will” exists in any sense, the only being that can have it is God, otherwise it could be possible for us to make decisions which could trump (and as a result “bound” – tied His hands) God’s will, making Psalm 115 no longer true.

Also, what is the ‘will’ – isn’t it simply our ‘desires’: what we want to see ‘come to be’? Do we really get to freely choose what those desires are? How much of what we desire comes from 1.) Family pressures, 2.) Cultural influence, 3.) our upbringing, 4.) psychological issues, 5.) social issues, 6 past experiences, 7.) Genetics (alcoholism is – in-part – genetic), etc. Can a will so shaped by so many factors be called ‘free’, when we seem most-times DRAWN to make the decisions we do?

As a result, the issue that is most often brought up by ‘free will’ proponents is the “If God is truly sovereign, how can we be held responsible?”. A good question, but more a philosophical question than a Biblical one. However, there are rare cases in the Bible where those sorts of questions are asked of God.

Romans 9;19-20 addresses this question directly: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’”

The issue in Romans 9 is exactly the one you bring up: if God chooses, how can we be held responsible. The answer seems to be “Who do you think you are?” Basically, God is so holy, so high above our thinking, that this is something we could never adequately understand, so we need to be very careful making such accusations (and such a question is, in all reality, an accusation veiled – that God is not ‘just’). The Bible affirms that God is just. The Bible affirms that He is absolutely sovereign. The Bible affirms that man is responsible for his actions. End of story. All three should be affirmed as true by Biblical Christians, even if we don’t philosophically understand perfectly how the three work together.

Lastly, I should note: I don’t believe that ‘predestination’ means what many of my readers may think I think it means. Biblically, predestination is used differently than it often is doctrinally and philosophically. Philosophy and Doctrine/Theology often use the word predestination to talk about any and all events that are planned out before-hand, and are pre-ordained to happen. However, in the Bible, ‘predestination’ is used of believers being conformed into the image of Christ. I know many ‘Reformed/Calvinist’ folks will take issue with me ‘giving away ground’ like that, but it is true – what is predestined, according to the Scriptures, is believers being made like Christ Jesus. Now, that doesn’t get non-Reformed folks off of the hook, as they still have to wrestle with the issue of ‘election’, but that’s an entirely different matter altogether.

I hope that helped and as you wrestle with these issues! Stay tuned for chapter 4!

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Reflections on Suffering & the Sovereignty of God: a momentary detour for deeper clarification…

Having used one of my own analogies on human ‘will’ in a recent blog post in this series, utilizing the bicyclist attempting to avoid a drunk driver, I thought of another useful analogy when considering the relationship of God’s will to human will: the Scriptures themselves.

When we read the Scripture, we immediately recognize its human origin. For instance, Peter wrote in chapter 2, verse 16, of his second letter;“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” Notice who is doing the “telling” – Peter, who is claiming that his testimony should be believed NOT BECAUSE GOD IS SPEAKING THROUGH HIM, but because he was an eyewitness to the things of which he wrote. Also, in 1 Peter 1:10-11, he speaks of the Old Testament prophets searching “intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing…” Here, again, human effort is put into seeking out the truth that was then written down for us.

The human origin of the Bible is made even clearer by passages such as Luke 1:3-4. Here he states; “Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Here, not only do we see the author speaking of his own effort in researching the events about which he wrote, but that the book was a personal letter, written to a specific individual, Theophilus, by a specific individual, Paul’s disciple, Luke. In fact, many of the New Testament books in particular are letters to either individuals or churches, each displaying the authors’ own styles, personalities, and concerns.

In all reality, the human origin of the Scripture is so clear that no case really needs to be made for it, but that is not ALL the Bible is…

Isaiah 51:16 says; “I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand– I who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth, and who say to Zion, `You are my people.’”Hebrews 1:1-3 speaks to this when it says, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.” The Bible is overflowing with the words “thus sayeth the Lord.” In fact, Robert Reymond, a professor of Systematic Theology at Knox Theological Seminary, counted more than 3,800 time in the Old Testament alone where the writer’s message is introduced with some form or another of “the mouth of the Lord has spoken”, “the Lord says”, “the Lord spoke”, “hear the word of the Lord”, “thus the Lord has shown to me”, or “the word of the Lord came unto me, saying…”

The Bible seems to claim for itself, therefore, not to be merely a just another book written by men, but rather a book chronicling the works and words of a God who SPEAKS. The authors weren’t left playing a total guessing game as to the nature and purpose of the God about which they wrote. The author’s didn’t write about a distant Greek god, or a god of their imagination, but they wrote about the God of revelation – a God that they purport to have KNOWN in a ‘personal’ way.

We notice that Paul claims God’s authority for he and the Apostles’ own words in 1 Thessalonians 2:13; “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” In fact, Scripture is so closely equated with the very words of God that when the New Testament quotes the Old to say “God said” or “(the human author) said” are virtually interchangeable.

Why is this? Because Scripture is “God-breathed.” 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…”, and much has been said about this. I’ve been told numerous times by others that we simply don’t know WHAT “God-breathed” means. Well, if understood in a literal sense, the Greek here – and I am not a Greek scholar but am trusting the scholarship of others – has the sense not that God “breathed into” the words of man, as He breathed life into Adam, but rather that he “breathed out” the words of Scripture through men. If this is true, we can only affirm that in some sense the human authored words of Scripture are God’s very own. B. B. Warfield wrote, “The Biblical writers do not conceive of the Scriptures as a human product breathed into by the divine Spirit and heightened in its qualities or endowed with new qualities; but as a Divine product produced through the instrumentality of men.”

It is also clear that the words of the Bible are much more than just normal human prose because, for instance, mishandling As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, great book though it may be, will not likely have negative eternal consequences for your soul. However, Peter, when referring to Paul’s letters states in 2 Peter 3:15-16; “…our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” Notice here that Peter, long before the canonization of the New Testament, and most likely even before the writing of the four Gospels, already considers Paul’s letters to be of the same quality as the Old Testament Scriptures – and equally dangerous if misunderstood or misused.

Is it logically consistent to believe that the Bible was truly written by men, and yet is fully the Word of God?  Yes, in as much as it is also logically consistent to believe that God is absolutely sovereign, yet man is responsible for his own actions. Isn’t it true, that if God totally overwhelmed a human, and dictated Scripture through them, that that text would not be the words of men at all? But clearly this isn’t the case – again, we see the author’s own personalities, styles, and concerns ALL OVER the Scripture.

The authors of the Gospels were all eyewitnesses or disciples of eyewitnesses to the life or resurrected life of Jesus. They not only relied on their own experience and memories, which Jesus promised would be quickened by the Spirit, but, as Luke mentions, also relied upon other eyewitness accounts of the events that had taken place. Now, though the Spirit of God might have led Luke to have a great concern for Theophilus, and thus given him the desire to write to him an “orderly account”, and the Spirit also was at reminding his apostolic sources of all that Jesus had taught (John 14:26) and leading them “into all understanding”( John 16:12-13), the desire to write, and the words themselves would be Luke’s very own. In fact, even to get an inerrant Bible, all God would have to do is suppress ideas and concepts in the minds of the authors that might be misleading to their audience or misrepresent the truth! This is not outside the way God sometimes works; regularly God redirected Paul by blocking him from going one way or another during his missionary journeys. If so, can the Holy Spirit not also block a neural pathway in the brain, so a certain faulty or misleading idea might not be retrievable? So, if this were how God inspired the Gospels, what you would have is this; Jesus as God taught the importance of spreading the good news, to which Luke was responding by writing an account of the Good News for Theophilus. The content of the Gospel, though remembered in detail and understood by the apostles by the aid of the Spirit, was researched and written by Luke’s own effort. The teachings contained within that Gospel would reflect the mind of God for they are the words and acts of God working in the world through Christ Jesus and by the Holy Spirit. God, by suppressing content or ideas that might be misleading, maintains that Luke’s letter to Theophilus contains nothing more than what God wants conveyed. However, Luke himself is choosing terms, ordering sentences, and doing the writing reflecting his own style and concerns. If this were so, the whole content, message, and truth of the text of Luke would be from God, yet written by a man using his own skills ultimately of his own free-will. This being one possible route for God to have worked, and containing no logical inconsistencies, we are perfectly reasonable in saying that the Scripture is both the words of men AND the Word of God.

And, then – if we believe that the Bible, a book written by sinful men – which even documents many sinful acts – can be the ‘Word of God’, why do we find it hard to believe that the same God, in allowing sin and suffering, cannot maintain His sovereign control and direction over and through it all?  I think He can, and does.

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Mid-April Blog-Love

Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with all the blogging out there – that’s why I like doing these ‘blog-loves’, and enjoy reading other people’s blog-loves: it helps me to not miss the good stuff, when it’s hard to find the time to read the numerous blogs in my reader every morning.  So, since last time – here it goes!

Stephen Altrogge over at THE BLAZING CENTER posted a powerful blog entitled DO YOU LOVE THE WRATH OF GOD? A question I’m sure most of us have never asked ourselves.  Well worth reading.

Brad Hightower at 21ST CENTURY REFORMATION reflected on Lloyd-Jones’ comments on the Kingdom of God in THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AT HAND.  As I’ve been doing a LOT of thinking about the Kingdom of God recently, this was a helpful and challenging read for me.

John Piper posted a sermon of his from 1990 on WHY THE GIFT OF PROPHECY IS NOT THE USUAL WAY OF KNOWING GOD’S WILL.  As is most Piper, this is worth using during your devotional time.

Lastly, new music & books worth looking into!  As you should know by now, Sovereign Grace Music recently released their newest c.d., COME WEARY SAINTS, and while waiting to finish my own review, I’d suggest you read Dave Bish’s over at THE BLUE FISH PROJECT.  Also, Graham Cole just released what looks to be an excellent book, ENGAGING WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT, which Justin Taylor said a few words on HERE.  It’s definitely being added to my reading list.

Stay tuned for more blogs on SUFFERING & THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD, and my own review of COME WEARY SAINTS soon!

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