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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Small things matter . . .


"Prayer is where the action is." John Wesley



Dear Friends, prayer and financial partners,

Prayer is first of all a mystery. It is incomprehensible as to why God who knows everything, including our thoughts and that of others, would ask us to pray for one another. The rationale is, if God knows and can answer prayer, then why doesn’t he just do it?
 
The simple answer is because if He just did it, you would not benefit at all since your prayer request is all about the other person. God doesn’t work that way, however. He expects and wants us to get involved our concern for others, and what better way than to do than by praying for them. I know that sounds redundant, but it isn’t. The reason that prayer makes sense is that you and I are no longer depending on what we have the power to do—it’s out of our hands or control. Only a miracle will work. So, by prayer we are showing our utmost confident in God and taking Him at His word that He is a God of unquenchable love, and that love is the catalysis that gets things done.
 
Think of Jesus at the wedding of Cana (John 2:1-11). Mary, his mother turns to him and says, “They have run out of wine.” Whether this annoyed Him or not, I am not prepared to say, but His first response seems rather abrupt and to the point. He says, “Woman, what has this got to do with me?” Nonetheless, Mary, his mother, turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
 
You know the rest of the story. It was the best wine, ever!
 
Now, why did Jesus do this? He had already said, it was His time to reveal His miraculous powers; yet, he did. Why? There can be only one answer, and we best know that by the love of a son for his mother. His mother was concerned which at first glance seems like a trivial matter; however, at a Jewish wedding in those day (and no doubt even today) it was a big deal to run out of wine at a wedding. Mary wanted to spare the host the embarrassment of doing so. Which reveals a side of Mary and Jesus that perhaps we would have never seen, had she not asked.
 
First of all we learn that small things matter to God, and small things should matter to us as well. Another person’s feelings is important. We should care. Why? Because ultimately God cares. This is just the spiritual version of “If you take care of the small things, the big things will take care of themselves.” Mary cared, and love worked the miracle. Herein lies another little secret of the Kingdom, too—that is, faith initiated in love on Mary’s part resulted in a Godly miracle.
 
God is eager to respond to us in a similar way, if only we ask with real concern and with a heart of love—because when love meets love in a divine encounter, things happen for the good.
Oh, may God give us insight into this mystery.
Be blessed—better yet, bless others!



Saturday, July 18, 2015

Purgatory . . . who's eligible?



joy1 300x225 10 Things We Know About HeavenA Discussion on Purgatory with Drs. ScottHann, Catholic (Fmr. Presbyterian) and JerryL. Walls, Baptist. (Access by clicking on names above)

Dr Scott Hann gives a very Biblical answer according to Catholic Tradition; whereas, Dr. Jerry L. Walls, gives a more philosophical answer. Both accept the doctrine of Purgatory as Biblical and logical.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Enough already, what's the beef?

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us – King James Bible

____________

There is absolutely no sin more injurious to the soul and detrimental to effect Christian testimony than the sin of complaining. Often we think of sins like complaining as a little sin, not a major one that will send us to Hell or anything like that. Problem is a little sin is like having a little cancer. Before long it eats away at us and sickens our very soul. Yet, complaining has become a habit with many Christians; and it must be said there is never a lack of opportunity to complain.

Christians are known to complain about the oddest of things; as if that changes anything. Complain about the weather all you want and the truth is weather pretty much has a mind of its own. The sun shines on the just as well as the unjust. So, why complain? Yet some do.

Often the most trivial of eccentricity in others is a real source of complain. Common comments that we hear are: “Why doesn’t she do something with that mop of hair of hers? It is an absolute catastrophe?” Or, “I just can’t stand that sleazy smile of his. Bet there’s a whole lot more going on in that mind of his than you can imagine.” And, on and on it goes.

All of these complains are done in the pure light of Scripture which reminds us to—
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation (Philippians 2:14-15).

So, instead of complaining we must take advantage the God-given opportunity for growth and praise. Paul certainly had reason to complain, amongst all his hardships he was additionally given a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him humble (2 Corinthians 12:7). Although no one is really sure what that “thorn” was, however, once Paul committed it to the Lord that was the last you heard of it. What at first appears hurtful may in the long run be the very thing that nudges us on to a closer walk with God.

So, we understand that annoyances may take many forms. It may be a physical illness; or a nasty neighbor; or perhaps the dog next door, whatever—nonetheless, in each instance it is best to view them as an opportunity to commit them to the Lord like Paul did and rest in the comfort of knowing that God  hears and cares. He sees us as victors not victims. Victims complain. Victors rejoice.

So, in the words of Scripture—
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

The facts are, nothing, absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, and he is, therefore, at work in us to bring about victory (Romans 8:28-29).

In light of these things someone once remarked, “Life is all about attitudes. So, pick a good one!” And, that’s pretty good advice in my opinion.

Be blessed—



Monday, July 06, 2015

What is the Church?


“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”—C. S. Lewis
Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Bishop Salvatore Cordileone said in a ...
"Me? No, never went to seminary. I'm self appointed. What about you?"

Clive Staples Lewis, best known as C. S. Lewis, was a fascinating individual. Although, baptized in the Church of Ireland and raised in a Christian home Lewis was an avid atheist by age 15about which, he later humorously said he was angry with God for not existing. Eventually, he did come around, however, and although reluctantly at first fully embraced Christ as Savior and Lord of his life. Here is his abbreviated account as recorded in his book, Surprised by Joy:
"You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England."

Those sentiments did not last for long, however. From that day forward, he set out on a path of inquiry and discovery that few have ever been able to match. An Anglican by persuasion, although not afraid to follow his spiritual intuitions to their logical conclusions even if it did mean that at times he appeared as more of a Roman Catholic than Anglican, he nonetheless insisted that he was in truth neither, he was merely a Christian.

I find that refreshing. For the older I get, the more I am persuaded that we need to rethink our theological rigidity and remain open to new insights from the Holy Spiritafter all, Christ did say that He would lead us into all truth. Therefore, we mustn't be timid when challenged from those on the right of the theological spectrum or those on the left. Christ has not left us without answersnot always pat answers, but solid answers none the less.

Christ like the noon day sun cast throws light on all the dark spots of uncertainty in our lives and he has not left us without a compass to chart our course, either.


We have the "Church the pillar and foundation of all truth (1 Timothy 3:15)"; and we also have Scripture that "is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 2:15-17)."

We dare not ignore either, since to ignore the accrued wisdom of the Church or the infallible word of God in order that we may be thoroughly equipped for every good work is sheer foolishness. We need both. Without the Church we are left to grope for words like the Trinity or the Incarnationalthough the concepts are in Scripture, the words are not, and it took centuries to sort out what they truly mean. Without the Church we would have no Apostles Creed, really no theology except that which we could think up on our own; and God knows where that would lead considering the some 33,000 denominations and independent churches in the world today.

No, we need the Church. But first we must define the Church. What is the Church? Now, the burning question: Is it possible to be in the Church (that is in the ecclesia) and not be able to identify it? In other words, is the Church invisible like the Kingdom of God, heartfelt but elusive to the eye?

The early Church had a saying: "Where the Bishop is, there is the Chruch." With that I agree with one simple caveat, that is "which Bishop are we talking about?" 

The early Church had a saying: "Where the Bishop is, there is the Church." With that I agree with one simple caveat—that is, "It all depends on which Bishop are we talking about?" A lot of crazies are around today wearing clerical collars calling themselves “Bishop.” Some have even given themselves the lofty title of “Apostle” and “Prophet” to which I reply, “Let another's lips praise you and not your own.” Furthermore, where in Scripture did anyone ever refer to themselves as a “prophet?” Friends, that’s not a title up for grabs, it must be earned the old fashioned way, so prepare yourself for the stones if you get this one wrong. Problem is we tread on dangerous grounds when we flip these titles around as if they are ours to choose. So, my advice is that we be careful or we just might offend someone, namely, God.

Now, to define which bishop, why don’t we just stop with Jesus—the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls (1 Peter 2:25)? He does the calling, the anointing, and indeed the empowering. Personally, I think that this is in keeping with the spirit of Scripture in which Christ tells not to call any man Lord, Master, or Father.

Again, however, this is just one man's opinion, so take care—


JimR_/









Sunday, June 28, 2015

Is getting saved the same as staying saved?

We Accept All DenominationsOne of the perplexing problems of Protestantism is the lack of authority. Pray tell me which of these 33,000 separate denominations and/or independent churches[i] has that God given authority. How can anyone in their right mind claim that the Holy Spirit in these instances has lead them into all truth (John 16:13)? To make such a claim is preposterous foolishness. Yet, scripture unequivocally declares that the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:15 NIV).”

The Calvinist, primarily Reformed and Baptists churches have their lopsided theology that rules under the tyranny of eternal security championed under the hubris of “Once Saved, Always Saved.” Lutheran and Anglicans and such have theirs. Almost all—if not, indeed, all, the evangelical and fundamentalists communions more or less cherry-picked their theology, but by-in-large, that includes agreement on sola fide, sola gratia, and sola scriptura. Left out, of course is the key to authority—that is, the Church (1 Timothy 3:15). The question, therefore, is: Should we add sola ecclesia to the mix? If not, then, why not? Scripture declares that it is “the pillar and foundation of truth.” How dare we declare otherwise? Give the average Evangelical, however, a multiple choice question with “Which of the following is the pillar and foundation of truth?” and chances are if given a choice between the Scripture or the Church I guarantee you that the most likely answer will be Scripture. Why? Because we all see through rose colored glasses which have been tinted since childhood or from conversion to see what we want to see. Me included; although, I am trying to break the habit.
Let us, however, at this point back track and ask ourselves if we have not boxed in the process we call sanctification and eventually, of course, salvation by restricting it to a single act of faith?
So, may I asked you how many people have been “saved by faith alone?” I would dare venture to say that none has. That is not to say, however, that faith is not one of the ingredients necessary in salvation, but it is not the sole ingredient. In short, faith of the intellectual sort may acknowledge Christ as Lord and Savior but fail to follow through with a personal commitment. Intellectual consent is far different than committed obedient faith. However, faith, even committed faith alone will not save us, unless it is faith of the proper order. The Watch Tower Society and The Mormon Church are faith communities, but where their teaching authority, and on what basis? 
Hebrews 11:1 clearly declares that faith has substance (ὑπόστασις/hypostasis) which is something that we can place our hope in; in other words, there is structure and content to this faith—that is to say, Biblical faith has a distinctive essence. Not just any old faith will do. There are many false Christs and we must be careful not to buy into one of their twisted versions of the Gospel. "For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect (Matthew 24:24)."
I know that Paul says in Ephesians 2:8— 
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— (NIV) 
Being saved through faith is different, however, than being saved by faith. What Paul is saying here is that salvific grace will only operate in and through the substance of faith. Not just any faith; however, will do. We must “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints (Jude 1:3 NASV).”  
Thus we can readily see that in a real sense faith is both a verb and a noun—a verb because it is active (we must contend); and a noun because it is of substance with content (which was once for all handed down to the saints). The parameters of faith are, therefore, clearly circumscribed.  
Now, think with me for a moment. Which is the greatest: mustard seed faith or great faith? Shall I surprise you by saying, “Neither”?  
Here is how blogger Jeremy D. Myers put it— 
“Faith is the conviction that something is true. Jesus spoke of little faith and great faith, but He never spoke of more faith or less faith. Faith does not come in percentages or degrees. We are not made with faith containers in our souls which overflow when our faith is great, and which are nearly empty when our faith is little. Faith does not work like that.”[ii] 
So, in essence, God does the saving, we do the obeying.  
This either/or mentality that Protestants seem to obsess with is unscriptural to say the least, as it fails to take in “the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).” Now, I ask you, would it not be best, therefore, to approach theology with an open mind willing to concede that both/and may be scriptural and necessary? After all, we seek the full counsel of God. In line with this, one of my favorite questions to ask my sola fide friends is “How does one receive salvation, justification, the new birth, and eternal life? Is it — 
  1. By believing in Christ (John 3:16; Acts 16:31)? 
  2. By repentance (Acts 2:38; 2 Peter 3:9)? 
  3. By baptism (John 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21; Titus 3:5)? 
  4. By the work of the Spirit (John 3:5; 2 Corinthians 3:6)? 
  5. By declaring with our mouths (Luke 12:8; Romans 10:9)? 
  6. By coming to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4; Hebrews 10:26)? 
  7. By works (Romans 2:6, 7; James 2:24)? 
  8. By grace (Acts 15:11; Ephesians 2:8)? 
  9. By His blood (Romans 5:9; Hebrews 9:22)? 
  10. By His righteousness (Romans 5:17; 2 Peter 1:1)? 
  11. By His Cross (Ephesians 2:16; Colossians 2:14)?"  
Of course the answer is “all 11 of the above.” There is no short cut to salvation—it is obedience all the way. God does His part, but we must do ours also. To try and short circuit the process by adroit manipulation of some of these key principles, as if they exclusively stand on their own is simply not Biblical.  
 
Now, I am fully aware that faith that produces charitable works in compliant with sincere obedience to the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) is the essential ingredient; however, being fully persuaded (without rehashing the old Calvinism/Arminian debate) that the reason Calvinist so ardently fight charitable works as not just proof of their salvation but also a necessary sanctifying process is that by so doing they would have to give up the pet doctrine of “Once Saved, Always Saved (i.e., Unconditional Election).” The reason being, of course, that if anything (in their mind) can contribute to or short circuit the salvic process, then ipso facto it must be dismissed as out of hand—anything, meaning, of course, not abiding in the branch (John 15:6); making shipwreck of their faith (1 Timothy 1:19); apostasy (Hebrews 6:4-8; 2 Peter 2:20-22); straying after Satan (1 Timothy 5:15); falling from grace (Galatians 5:1-26); lukewarmness (Revelation 3:16); becoming a castaway (1 Corinthians 9:26-27); and many, many more.  

Talk about rose colored glasses! This is, of course, in direct contradiction to much of scripture, and is once again an illustration of the either/or approach to doctrinal issues. Simply put: Why warn someone of the dire effects of apostasy, if indeed apostasy is impossible? Yet, this is precisely what they would have you and I believe.  Why? Because theologically eternal security is out the window if we by the sheer strength of God’s working in us we freely cooperate in any sense of the word we have committed the horrible sin of works. So, as far as these men are concerned it is the sheer force of God’s determined will that overrides any reluctance we may possess as a product of a selfish free will, and so in essence we really have no choice.  

However, after considering all of these dire warnings, and more, [iii] as I have said, I want to pay particular attention to a quote by Charles A. Hodges a noted predestinarian theologian) which he made in regards to 1 Corinthians 9:26-27 which in my Bible reads reads—

“Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
 
Here is what Dr. Hodges had to say—

“It belongs (meaning all these verses and others of like nature) therefore to the same category as those numerous passages which make the same assumption with regard to the elect. [That] by God’s telling the elect that if they apostatize they shall perish, prevents their apostasy. And in like manner, the Bible teaching that those for whom Christ died shall perish if they violate their conscience, prevents their transgression, or brings them to repentance, God’s purposes embrace the means as well as the end. If the means fail, the end will fail. He secures the end by securing the means, it is just as certain that those for whom Christ died shall be saved, as that the elect shall be saved. Yet, it both cases the event is spoken of as conditional.  There is not only a possibility, but an absolute certainty of the perishing if they fall away. This passage, therefore, is perfectly consistent with those numerous passages which teach Christ death secures the salvation of all those who were given to him in the covenant of redemption.”[iv] 

Did you get that? In essence Dr. Hodges is calling God a deceiver? God tricks Christians into believing that they just might apostatize, but really He is just kidding because actually it is just a trick to scare them out of really apostatizing. The question is, however, why would I or God or anyone else warn someone of a danger when in fact a danger does not exist? To do so is a boldfaced lie. What else can we call it? 

Again, this illustrates the length that these predestinarians will go to maintain this damnable heresy. Strong language I realize; however, no stronger than that of scripture. A false security is in fact no security at all. Yes, God will accomplish His purposes in us, but not without our cooperation—which in itself suggest freedom to choose otherwise. Again, why suggest freedom if indeed no freedom exists? Preposterous, to say the least. 

Now, do I lie awake at night thinking I might not make it to Heaven? Absolutely not. You want to know why? The answer is that I have put my full confidence in God’s ability to keep me safe. Which is precisely what I have done; and I don’t have any intention on changing my mind, either.




[i] World Christian Encyclopedia by Barrett, Kurian, Johnson (Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 2001).
[ii] http://www.faithalone.org/magazine/y2008/faith.html
[iii] 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.
·        Matthew 18:15-18 (ESV)— “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
·        2 Timothy 1:15 (ESV)— You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.
·        Hebrews 10:26-29   (ESV)— For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?
·        1 Timothy 4:1-3   (ESV)— 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, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.
[iv] Hodges, Charles, A Commentary on 1 & 2 Corinthians, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, © 1978) pg. 149
[v] I use the words “ecclesial community” in the same sense as I would use the word fellowship or ekklesia.