Monday, October 25, 2010

Elect Complacency?

It's probably no huge secret that if it would not look utterly ridiculous, I would probably tattoo "Just Read Calvin's Institutes" somewhere visibly on my body for all to see.  But since I love my husband, and I really don't want to outright offend some people, I will not be doing that any time soon.  This past week I have been in two discussions that involved the acronym T.U.L.I.P. and wouldn't you know it, in both conversations the opposing converser brought up the idea formatted below:

1. You are elect to be saved by God.
2. If you are truly elect, you will persevere throughout said elect life until the end.
3. Why then evangelize, and why go to church?

Now, there are vast holes in that logical formula, but go with it for a moment.  I am continually baffled that non-Calvinists will think that Calvinists believe that evangelism, missions, preaching of the Gospel is not necessary because if someone is elect by God to be saved, well then clearly God will save them.  Maybe its the term "elect" that immediately puts in to mind a small, collective group - but I am telling you, that as a Calvinist, I hope and pray that God's elect is the majority, not the minority.  A Calvinist does not believe in a small god; a Calvinist does not believe that God's works are minor; a Calvinist does not sit back and wait for God to take care of that small portion known as "the elect."  We read the same Bible that you do.  I sit back, in tears, marveling over Paul's words in Ephesians 3:14-21:

"For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith - that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen!!"  (emphasis mine)

I feel a little like Shylock saying this, but if we read it, are we not moved?  Is the Holy Spirit not at work within us?  Is the power of the Almighty, Amazing, Wonderful God of the Universe not at work WITHIN us?  No one comes to the Father except through Christ.  How are they to believe if they have not heard? How are they to hear without someone preaching?  How are they to preach unless they are sent?  Why would a Calvinist ever deny this?

Just because we believe that the elect are chosen by God to be saved at His appointed time, does not mean that God magically reaches down from the Heavenly throne and stamps their forehead with a tattoo that says, "Elected!" and that's it, they are saved.  No!  They are saved because they heard the Gospel, repented and believed.  This happens because God ordained it from the beginning of time by His gracious and good will.

Ah, and here is where all the wonderful "what if" questions come up.  "What if that person was elect and  at that time they were supposed to hear, and they didn't.  What then?"  Please see blog post here.  Nonsense is still nonsense even when we talk it about God.  This is the great and wonderful thing of missions and evangelism that the church of God gets to be a part of.  Is there no better time in the life of a follower of Christ than to pray with someone as they believe in Jesus as their Savior?  Is there no better time that is more precious and more wonderful than that?  Think about it on a vastly huge, cosmological level for a second.  God ordained for that moment to happen not only in the life of the vessel chosen for glory, but in your own life as a harvester of the Word that was sown.  You are given the opportunity to see God's greatest action of all, salvation, happen!  PRAISE GOD!  IS THERE ANYTHING THAT IS BETTER THAN THAT?

So, I would like to correct the assumption that is out there that Calvinist's don't do missions, don't see the need for church, don't evangelize to people.  Instead, let's think of it this way:

1. You are elect to be saved by God.
2. If you are truly elect, you will persevere throughout said elect life until the end.
3. If you are elect, someone will have come into your life to tell you about your Savior Jesus Christ, and you will grow in the grace and knowledge of your Savior both personally and corporately as you worship God here on this earth and in eternity.  

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What Nonsense!

This week I have been reading The Problem of Pain by none other than C.S. Lewis (I know, shocker of the century, I am yet again reading another Lewis work).  The first time I read this book, I was entirely too young, too stupid, and my brain not yet fully formed, so I understood probably next to nothing in it.  This time around though, I have my highlighter set to stun, because I am literally coloring in almost every page as Lewis waxes on.  

Sharing with you a bit of the second chapter - Divine Omnipotence, Lewis writes:

"If you choose to say 'God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it', you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words 'God can'. ... It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God."

I'm going to try my hardest not to turn this blog post into a gush on how much I LOVE LEWIS and his wonderful words, instead I want to point out the utter simplistic genius of Lewis statement - "nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God."  

Dr. Hawking, a man much smarter than myself and most of the lowly human life forms on this planet, recently published a new book, The Grand Design, in which much hoopla was given over him stating: "Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going."  

Clearly, I am no mathematician, scientist or physicist - if anything I probably belong to that wing of the world called "Philosophy" which Dr. Hawking insists in this very book that it is dead.  So, being a part of the world that is dead, I am going to start off by taking offense.  A very good friend and deeper thinker than myself wrote a wonderful response to this already, please read it here.  Dr. Hawking has vast contradictions in his statement, something cannot come from nothing.  The universe cannot cause its existence unless something was there to cause it.  Come on, that's Philosophy 101.  It also should be a part of Logic 101 in the wonderful world of Mathematics, but whatever; let's get to the point of this blog.

The fact of the matter is that sometimes we say wild and crazy things and think that they are immensely intelligent and universe shattering all because we begin the sentence with "If God can" or "What if it was possible to."  But let's face it, nonsense is still nonsense.  The very laws of science do not allow for the fantastical "what ifs" that we dream up.  Just because my brain imagines a world where every time I put my hands in the air I, and only I, am able to grab a beautiful, brilliant rock called a diamond that is worth millions of dollars does not mean that this is possible.  

We become indignant and full of self-righteousness at times, saying that God should have done this to change the world, or that God should have created this world without certain people or things if he was really all powerful, all loving, all knowing.  That's the rub though, we try so hard to talk about creating a perfect world according to our own standards and thoughts, but what if (yep I said it) our own thoughts and standards are evil to someone else in the world.  We would be creating what is supposedly perfect, but yet would still be harmful to someone else.  

That is the wonderful and amazing thing about God.  This world may not be perfect, but He is and He was - living in this world as the God-man Jesus.  So, while we try to imagine a perfect world that God should have created, He is sitting there offering you abundant life in this fallen world now, and a perfect eternity to come in the new heaven, new earth.  It might sound "crazy."  It might sound entirely stupid to you, but it's the only thing that is not nonsense, because the Creator, the Perfect God, has said it.  Instead of constantly putting the blame on God for this world and the harms it has done to you, try learning more about who God is, why He loves you even though you have done nothing to deserve it, and why He is even now preparing a place for you that is, for all intents and purposes, something that would be nonsense in this world.  

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

When living is Christ

There was this guy back at my alma mater who would literally walk around with a smile plastered on his face.  He would often be humming a tune, typically a hymn, and say, "Hi" to anyone that caught his gaze.  Now, I must confess, I never got to know this guy, because let's face it, I was a little creeped out by him and his "perma-smile."  He was genuine though, genuine in his happiness, genuine in his faith, and I am sure that today he is a great pastor somewhere - bringing hope to many through the Gospel of Christ.

He knew exactly what it meant to be "living as Christ" with his own unique personality.  The passage of Philippians 1:19-30 has always been one has completely fascinated me - because it is so incredibly straight-forward and simple, but also so deeply complex.

"For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."  This statement has been plastered over and over again by Christians on their blogs, their Facebook status, and a whole world of social networking.  It has become a sort of brand, if you will - "I am the type of Christian that knows that living is Christ."  But do we really know?  Do we really get it?

You see, because for Paul, "to live is Christ" means fruitful labor.  Yep, FRUITFUL labor.  Check it out, verse 22, it's right there.  "If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me."  Paul, ever the honest man, would much rather die and be in heaven with Christ - this is gain.  I think that we all understand that - this world is fallen, broken, miserable (at times), and dying for those in Christ, means a heavenly home, eternity with an Almighty, Amazing God, Love Unbounded - pretty much incredibleness.  Dying in Christ is gain.

What I think that we misunderstand though is the "To live is Christ" part.  For Paul, it was fruitful labor. It was necessary for his churches (see verse 24).  It was all for the glory of Christ, not only in his life and faith, but in the lives and faith of the churches that he planted, led and wrote to (see verses 25-26).  Not only is it for the glory of Christ, it is for missions!  Reading verses 27-30, Paul had every aim that as the people of Philippi were finding out what "living is Christ" means, that the Gospel, their faith, would become unified under their oppression and persecution - causing their persecutors to see their unified faith that would be glorifying God, and showing them that there is only destruction or salvation from the road that they have chosen.

Paul knew this road as a persecutor all too well.  He, the chief of sinners, the chief persecutor of the church (at one time) knew that road.  He was on his way to the path of destruction, but Jesus stopped him on a road to Damascus.  Jesus stopped him completely and changed his life forever.  No longer was his life living to destroy people, but it was "living is Christ."  This is why he shows no fear in front of mobs in Ephesus; shipwrecks and snake bites don't stop him from sharing the good news that Jesus came to this earth to save sinners; imprisonment, what should be a shameful and despairing time, is filled with hope and opportunity to share the Gospel even more to those surrounding him on their way to death, even to those who keep him in the prison.  To live is Christ, is to take all of who you are, all that God has given you the capability to be, and in every single situation present the Gospel in a worthy manner (verse 27).

There are parts of the world today where Christians can identify completely with Paul's imprisoned circumstances, but for the majority of us, our lives do not present us with such dire, life-threatening circumstances.  There is still incredible hardships though.  Most of my family lives in Michigan, which has been suffering for a decade in an economic downward spiral.  In one day, 6,000 people were laid off from Ford.  6,000 people were out of a job in one day.  6,000 people were added to the already hundreds of thousands of people looking for a job in the state of Michigan.

Career goals, job potential, all of that no longer matters.  Finding a job to feed your family, finding any sort of work just so you don't lose your house - this is the goal.  The challenge now, as a Christian, as someone who professes that "to live is Christ" is to realize that the Gospel is more important than even your situation.  The Gospel, your faith, being unified together as a church in order that more and more may come to know the salvation through Jesus, is what you live for - even as you hunt for a job every day, even as you struggle to make ends meet when your wages are cut, or bonuses are denied.  Even when they foreclose on your home - to live is Christ, because there are those out there who dying and not gaining.

There should be some sort of comfort to know that Paul was in prison, and not a Martha Stewart, fluff prison, when he wrote these words.  Paul could have sunk into a deep depression; Paul could have given up on everything and turned from God; but he stayed firm, he persevered, he found that the only way to live was in a way where the Gospel would be presented in a worthy manner in spite of every situation he was thrown into.  "Living is Christ" is not an easy thing.  Every step of the way there will be things to throw you off, but there is comfort in prayers and the knowledge that the Spirit is with you, guiding and helping you every step of the way (verse 19).

"To live is Christ, and to die is gain."  Once again, I am blown away by how deep and vast faith truly is.