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Showing posts with label Theology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Theology. Show all posts

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Ouch . . . suffering at it's best!

The remedial power of suffering is often overlooked. Often we fail to appreciate the opportunity that suffering offers us as a sanctifying process in our journey heavenward. Paul so joyfully reminds us that:

Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us (Romans 5:3-5).

But why rejoice? Because, he also said:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death (Philippians 3:10).

This in a nutshell is the purpose of suffering; that is, to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29). That means Christlikeness in the good times as well as the bad and everything in-between. Christ did not come just to show us the way but to be the way for no man shall see God without holiness (Hebrews 12:14) which is without a doubt Christlikeness. Job recognized the value of his suffering when he said:

“When he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” (23:10)

Someone has said that the chief cause for atheism is that there seems to be no plausible answer to:” Why does a good God allow bad things to happen to good people?” I am not suggesting that I have all the answers; however, part of the answer, I believe, lays in the response Aron Moss gave to someone who once complained:

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is this world so unfair? Please don't tell me "We can't understand God's ways." I am sick of hearing that. I want an explanation.

His response was simple:

Are you sure you want an explanation? Do you really want to know why the innocent suffer? I think not. You are far better off with the question than with an answer.

You are bothered by the fact that people suffer undeservedly. As you should be. Any person with an ounce of moral sensitivity is outraged by the injustices of our world. Abraham, the first Jew, asked God, "Should the Judge of the whole world not act fairly?" Moses asked, "Why have You treated this people badly?" And today we still ask, "Why God, why?"

But what if we found the answer? What if someone came along and gave us a satisfying explanation? What if the mystery were finally solved? What if we asked why, and actually got an answer?

If this ultimate question were answered, then we would be able to make peace with the suffering of innocents. And that is unthinkable. Worse than innocent people suffering is others watching their suffering unmoved. And that's exactly what would happen if we were to understand why innocents suffer. We would no longer be bothered by their cry, we would no longer feel their pain, because we would understand why it is happening.

Aron Moss continues:

Imagine you are in a hospital and you hear a woman screaming with pain. Outside her room, her family is standing around chatting, all smiling and happy. You scream at them, "What's wrong with you? Can't you hear how much pain she is in?" They answer, "This is the delivery ward. She is having a baby. Of course we are happy."

When you have an explanation, pain doesn't seem so bad anymore. We can tolerate suffering when we know why it is happening.

And so, if we could make sense of innocent people suffering, if we could rationalize tragedy, then we could live with it. We would be able to hear the cry of sweet children in pain and not be horrified. We would tolerate seeing broken hearts and shattered lives, for we would be able to neatly explain them away. Our question would be answered, and we could move on.

But as long as the pain of innocents remains a burning question, we are bothered by its existence. And as long as we can't explain pain, we must alleviate it. If innocent people suffering does not fit into our worldview, we must eradicate it. Rather than justifying their pain, we need to get rid of it.

So keep asking the question, why bad things happen to good people. But stop looking for answers. Start formulating a response. Take your righteous anger and turn it into a force for doing good. Redirect your frustration with injustice and unfairness and channel it into a drive to fight injustice and unfairness. Let your outrage propel you into action. When you see innocent people suffering, help them. Combat the pain in the world with goodness. Alleviate suffering wherever you can.

We don't want answers, we don't want explanations, and we don't want closure. We want an end to suffering. And we dare not leave it up to God to alleviate suffering. He is waiting for us to do it. That's what we are here for.
That is precisely what all of us must do. That is, give a cup of cold water to those who thirst. Feed and care for the widow an orphan. Do good even to “Love our enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and our reward will be great, and we will be sons of the Most High … Luke 6:35.”

We may not be able to fully understand or elevate evil, but we can, however, to share each others burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).

Take care . . .

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Navigating the anger zone . . .

Anger is never without a reason, but seldom with a good one. — Benjamin Franklin

Dear Friends,

Anger is one of the few moral reactions that can be both a virtue and a vice. Love doesn’t fit that category—at least not agape love. Neither does meekness or honesty, or almost any other virtue that I can think of. This is why anger can be so dangerous. One, for instance, may say, “I love the sinner but hate the sin” and yet do everything they can to make life miserable for the sinner.

Take the gay bashing Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) out of Topeka, Kansas, which  in the name of Christ picket military funerals simply because the solider wore the uniform and sacrificed his or her life to protect American freedom, including homosexual rights. Even though their protest signs may read “We love the sinner, but hate sin” these Baptist are angry people, and I might say unchristlike to say the least. Why? Well, the answer is that they have tried to sanitize their free float homophobia to disguise their true feelings. Instead of taking the Biblical route to control their disgust, they have allowed their anger to control them. They have appointed themselves moral policemen of the public at large.

Strangely enough, I find nowhere in Scripture that God has appoint them or anyone else as forceful arbitrators of morality. Not even Christ did that. He came to offer hope not condemnation. It is not the church’s duty, either, to take the law in their own hand, even if it is the moral law. To do so violates human freedom. God will judge the sinner in His own time.

Coincidentally, this is precisely what Omar Mateen did in Orlando at the gay nightclub where he shot and killed 49 people—that is, he set himself up as judge and executor. Yes, he was Muslim; however, had he been Christian would that have lessened the pain and suffering or awfulness of this hideous crime? Certainly, not.
Make no mistake, homosexuality is condemned in Scripture, and, no, Jesus did not condone the practice, either. Stretch his Gospel of love as far as you can and it will never get beyond one man and one woman (Matt. 19:4-6).

Be that as it may, however, we must never let our anger go beyond that which God allows. Personally, I am against indiscriminate abortion, as I believe any Christian should be. That, however, does not give me a God given right to blow up abortion clinics or murder abortion providers.

We must not just assuage our anger with kindness, we must channel it into a loving response.
“Be angry and sin not” is still an active command, as is “we should not let the sun go down on our wrath (Eph. 4:26).” And, in doing so, I believe it is high time that we get over our homophobia and learn what it truly means to minister to the  LGBT community, as well as the jihadist Muslims in our midst or abortionist. We have our pulpits and the voting booth to register our complaints, and we should. Our local and state, as well as, national legislators have their responsibilities, too.

Now, stop and think with me for a minute: Could you imagine Mother Teresa carrying a hate sign against anyone regardless of the atrocity of their sin? Perhaps, a placard inviting them for an evening meal, but never one of hate. Christ expects no less from us, either.

On a practical level, this election, in my opinion, is going to be settled on the issue of anger and hatred, may we have the God given wisdom to direct our anger in the right direction—that being, the direction of love, not a seething hatred.

As ever, may you be blessed,

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.

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—


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).
[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.