Predestined?

Star Trek

Sorry, red shirt. I know you’re a platinum belt in Nguni stick fighting, but some alien Yeti-looking thing is going to throw you over a cliff about three seconds after you beam down to the planet. Yeah, Spock’s brain was taken out of his skull, but don’t worry viewers, McCoy can get it back in there once Kirk seduces the band of young women that stole it.

Kirk, Spock and McCoy will never pull the short straw. Why? Because the writers of the show want to make money. Keep the viewers in suspense, but make sure they turn off their TV’s feeling good about their favorite characters, looking forward to another episode.

What about God? He made the world. He must have done it for a reason. Has he written a script for history that turns the earth into a giant chess board where players are predetermined to win or lose? Some verses certainly seem to suggest that:

He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will. Eph. 1:5

Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. Rom. 8:29

“You did not choose me, but I chose you.” John 15:16

A simple Google search will find you dozens of verses just like these. It seems that God has a plan that he is working out in his Creation. But why would God create a universe where everything is predetermined? The writers of Star Trek do it to make money and earn some notoriety, but God doesn’t need anything like that. He’s God.

So what can he possibly have to gain by predetermining everything? Wouldn’t a free universe be more entertaining, or at least more interesting?   Continue reading

Eternally Secure?

Judges-Gavel

Paint me conservative. Call me narrow-minded. But it seems that if we want to stand with Scripture, we have to accept that no one is saved apart from Christ.

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

This may seem reasonable to those of us who grew up surrounded by heaven-bound, Jesus-loving, like-minded people. But if you pause long enough to consider the ramifications of these verses, a number of disturbing questions come to mind.

For example: Is there really a cut-off age where Jesus decides that a child has had enough time to consider his or her eternal destiny, or is this age-of-accountability concept something we made up to make sure that no infants or children go to hell?

If we go with that, we should also be able say that people raised outside the sphere of the gospel should be exempt as well. Are they not just as innocent? What do we do with the untold billions throughout history that were raised in a Christless culture?

But if we start down that path, where does it end? We might have to take those verses about salvation and . . . well, take it from Captain Barbossa.

Barbosa

I think Scripture gives us an answer to these tricky questions. And the answer is not as complicated as you might think.   Continue reading

Death Threats from God

mount_sinai_as_volcano

You get into the passenger seat of the DeLorean and Doc Brown turns to you and says, “What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done? Let’s go back and fix it.”

For Israel the choice would be easy. They would set the dials to the day when the twelve spies returned from scouting the Promise Land, and try to convince the Infamous Ten to remember how they had been so dramatically saved from Egypt, how they had been sustained in the desert for so long, and how, despite the giants and walled cities, God had promised Abraham that Canaan would belong to them.

If that didn’t work, they could bribe them with a ride in the flying car.   Continue reading

My Favorite Post

light bulb.png

The devil must be stupid. He takes Jesus to a high mountain, shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and says, “All these things I will give to you if you fall down and worship me.”

Does he know who he’s talking to? Jesus created the world. What does Satan hope to gain by offering something that he doesn’t have to the one person that would know better and might take offense?

But Jesus doesn’t argue. In fact, he actually affirms the reality of Satan as “ruler of this world” in John 12:31, 14:30 and 16:11. Paul agrees. He goes so far as to call Satan the “god of this world” in II Corinthians 4:4. John claims that “the whole world lies under the power of the evil one” (I John 5:19).

Before you go back to the Old Testament and start pulling verses to defend the absolute sovereignty of God, take a moment to respect the witness of Christ and the apostles. Then take a look around. If Satan truly is the ruler of this world, that would explain a whole heck of a lot.  Continue reading

Oldie, but a Goodie

Today I am giving an exam in my Bible classes that reinforces the overarching stories of the Old and New Testaments with an A – Z Timeline. Twice a year I teach through the timelines, driving the story into my brain, keeping it fresh. More than ever I think the Church has lost touch with its own history and, as the saying goes, may be destined to repeat it.

Why do we even need the Old Testament? Sure, it’s fun to tell children stories about Moses splitting the Red Sea, and David killing Goliath, and Daniel not getting eaten by lions, but in the grand scheme isn’t it just one big set-up for Jesus? How much of it remains relevant? The first three chapters of Genesis? Maybe the Ten Commandments? Prophecy?

In my opinion, our discontinuity with the Old Testament story is not just an intellectual tragedy, but an oversight that may lead us down a dangerous path.  Continue reading

My apologies to Martin Luther

I will never recover from the injustice of my childhood. My life was driven by a pair of tyrannical hypocrites who said that they loved me, then forced me to go to bed, get up, go to school, do my homework, eat bad-tasting food, work in the yard, apologize to chumps, and on and on and on. They had all the money. They had the car. They could do whatever they wanted.

But I had hope. Someday I would be free of their tyrannical oppression. Someday I would have the money and the car.

We all know that this scenario quickly flips on its head with a simple change of perspective. Parents have a vision for their children, one that should result in responsible, well-adjusted, well-educated adults. A child’s vision is limited by a lack of experience and an existence that revolves around emotion and immediacy. A conflict of vision can make love look like tyranny.

Can this explain how God can claim to be loving and gracious, then seem to act like an unreasonable, violent dictator at times? Maybe we should consider that our vision for humanity is limited, almost childish.

When it comes to life with God, we all know what we want—salvation from hell, salvation from sin, salvation from poverty, sickness, stress, rebellious children, traffic and that lady at the post office. Oh, and world peace. But what does God want?

I think God wants most of these things as well, just like parents want to protect their children, keep them healthy and make them as happy as possible, even spoil them a little bit. But what else is God looking for?

God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 poses an interesting consideration:

I will bless you,
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse, 
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. 

Simply put: God’s people are blessed, but they are also supposed to be a blessing to others.

Think about where God planted his people: Israel is a strip of land between Egypt and Assyria, forming a natural trade route. In biblical times, people from every known country would pass through Israel on a regular basis. What an opportunity to show the world what it means to be a part of a community that embodies the life and holiness of God.

But Israel was not exactly an island paradise. Nations like Egypt, Assyria and Babylon would be looking for any opportunity to take that little strip of land in order to control and tax the trade routes. That made Israel a dangerous place to live, a place that required constant obedience and faith.

So what did they do? Ultimately, they stiff-armed those pagans, taking solace in their circumcision, seeing the Gentiles as something to avoid rather than approach. One could argue that God wanted them to steer clear of Gentiles, but in truth, they were only supposed to steer clear of their lifestyle. Why else would God tell Isaiah that Israel was meant to be “a light to the nations, that salvation might reach to the ends of the earth” (49:6)? Why else would he send Jonah to preach in the capital of Assyria?

When Jesus arrived, he stripped away the Jew’s false securities, claiming that he could call sons of Abraham from the very stones at their feet, calling them “children of the devil” because of their pride and murderous thoughts. They had never engaged with the second half of Abraham’s promise. The salt had lost its saltiness, the lamp was securely under a basket, the branches had refused to abide in the vine. Tragically, according to Romans 11, the Jews were grafted out, and the Gentiles were grafted in.

Do Christians make the same mistake? Are we so secure in our salvation experience that we consider any form of ministry or spiritual growth as a bonus, just jewels in a crown? Will God smile when we show him our “Not Perfect, Just Forgiven” bumper stickers, as if sanctification holds a backseat to justification?

In Romans 11, Paul warns the new believers that they should not get arrogant in their salvation, because the unnatural branches (Gentiles) are easier to remove from the vine than the natural (Jews). We should be concerned that the separation of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25 was about what they did, not just what they said at youth camp that one night. Sorry, Martin Luther. I know you’d like to add a word of caution here.

There is much more to life than being born and being blessed. Just ask a parent.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. 

Home Security

So Lucas comes home from kindergarten and tells us that he’s a Christian. Honestly, Laurie and I were a little miffed. This is the sort of thing that a parent might want to be involved with, or at least get a heads up. We discovered that his class was taken into a chapel where they were given a solid dose of hellfire and brimstone. Then they went off alone with their third grade “buddies” and were asked if they wanted to go “down there.” Lucas didn’t, so his “buddy” led him in a prayer.

BOOM! Insta-Christian.

I emailed the teacher. She was surprised. Why wouldn’t I want my son to be a Christian? She explained that the school had been doing this sort of thing for years. I contacted the superintendent, and he explained that, based on statistics, the best age to get people saved is when they’re young. Besides, what if they go to another school? At least we got those little souls locked into a heavenly eternity while we still had them.

If you don’t see a problem with this, I would advise you to stop reading. You’re not going to like the rest.

Think about the way that you became a Christian. A baptism? A confession? A combination? What gives you the assurance that whatever you did truly activated your fire insurance policy and keeps the policy current? We hold to the tenants of our denominations, the claims of our pastors and priests, specific verses, ignoring the counterclaims of other faiths. But how can we be absolutely sure that our salvation is secure?

I propose that our assurance should be established in a relationship, not in tradition or doctrine.

When Jesus came to the Jews, their assurance was based firmly in their biological connection with Abraham, and their faithfulness to the Law of Moses. Tradition. Circumcision. But Jesus was not happy with them. He said that he could raise sons of Abraham from the very stones at their feet (Matt. 3). Paul said that true circumcision was of the heart, not the flesh (Rom. 2).

What if God showed up and said that your baptism was useless, or that your confession didn’t really qualify?

Jesus looked at his circumcised brethren, saw their wicked minds and hearts, and called them children of the devil (John 8). By implication, they would share the devil’s fate. Jesus said that hell was made for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25). The earth was made for men. But when men make fathers of gods, they retire to the homes of their fathers. Man’s eternity is based in relationships.

God approached Israel in relational terms. He called them his bride. And when Israel rejected Yahweh for pagan gods and killed the prophets he sent to urge them back, he stopped listening to their prayers, rejected their festivals and sacrifices, and sent them a certificate of divorce (Jer. 3).

Okay, that’s Israel. Shouldn’t our security in Christ be stronger than Israel’s security in the Law?

Well, consider Paul. In II Cor. 5, he reminds his Christian readers that their actions will be accountable to Christ, explaining how this fear of this judgment motivates him in his ministry. Paul? Afraid of judgment? In I Cor. 4, Paul refuses to pass judgment on his own heart, yielding himself to the examination of Christ who will judge even his thoughts and motives. It’s not as if Paul believed his salvation was in jeopardy, but he was not as quick as his brethren to rest on his Jewish laurels when it came to sharing life with God.

Why do we think that when it comes to Christ the wedding vows are more important than the marriage?

I don’t want to stand before Christ with nothing beyond a childhood confession or a sprinkling of water. I don’t want to live a life of sin, then use the Four Spiritual Laws as my key defense on Judgment Day.

No (and this is as much for me as any of you), I want to establish a genuine, holy relationship with Christ now, and nurture that relationship, so when my spirit leaves this body there is no risk that Christ would look at me, despite my protests, and say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

Relational.