Thursday, June 28, 2012

God's Sovereignty is Like a Children's Book

GOD'S sovereignty is like one of those pick your own story books where you choose what happens next. No matter what you choose as the next chapter, it's always the same ending. His will prevails.

Remember Jacob in the Old Testament? He and his mother schemed so that he would get his older brother's blessing and inheritance. When Esau and Jacob were born, God told Isaac that the younger would rule over the older, but Isaac favored Esau and tried to give him the blessing instead of following God's guidance. Although Jacob and his mother acted wrongly, God used the bad to bring about His good purpose.

We find similar situations throughout the Bible. God lets most things take their own course; but He does place boundaries on enough select events so that His will comes to pass.

Does God know everything, past, present and future? What other ways are there of understanding God's sovereignty? How do you relate to the story of Jacob?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Amazing Grace Lyrics

In light of yesterday's post, which briefly touched on our complete and utter imperfection before God, I want to post the lyrics to the classic hymn, Amazing Grace. I love the film of the same name - even met the producer. There's a moment in the film where a group of men are gambling and gossiping without care for the lives of slaves or those less fortunate than them, and William Wilberforce comes in and sings this song - Amazing Grace. It's such a powerful moment when the laughter begins to die and silence resounds as William sings the song with a powerful, beautiful, passionate voice.

What goes through your mind when you sing Amazing Grace? How do you react to it?

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me....
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.
T'was Grace that taught...
my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear...
the hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares...
we have already come.
T'was Grace that brought us safe thus far...
and Grace will lead us home.
The Lord has promised good to me...
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be...
as long as life endures.
When we've been here ten thousand years...
bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise...
then when we've first begun.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me....
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Undone by God's presence: Not one is righteous

I love the description of God's presence as disturbing - of Isaiah (chapter 6) being "undone" by God's presence as he realizes he is so imperfect and lost. Many people have a hard time realizing this. They think God is all about their revelation of love and refuse to see the truth because they're too busy justifying themselves as self-righteous beings.

As a former porn addict still dealing with obesity and food addiction issues, I come to this realization - that I am undone by God, but that Christ saves me - over and over again. It took me so long to get there, too. I can't tell you how many times I woke up in the middle of the night thinking my parents would be raptured and I'd be left behind because I was stuck in my sin. All that time, I was saved. I had accepted Christ in simplicity and was still growing in a process of sanctification. No one is perfect, not even after saving grace, but Christ washes away our sins.

Still, I tremble at the thought of judgment day. I know what I have done, and I know a whole lot more sin will be revealed to me one day. I am undone.

How should the reality that you are a sinner affect the way you live life?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Some agreed-upon facts and Scripture on Speaking in Tongues

Does Speaking of Tongues still exist today? 
Given my brief reference to the Speaking of Tongues yesterday, I thought I'd expand upon that with some basic facts and Bible passages to do with the controversial topic. Personally, I have a lot of complaints about the way certain (not all) Charismatic churches have used their beliefs in the spiritual gift, but I won't get into those for now - they can be discussed without specific reference to the Charismatic church. I've already stated my opinion on the gift, itself. I came to that opinion through the evidence that was presented to me by my father, whom I greatly respect and admire for his intellect and knowledge of the Bible. However, I have not heard any one extensive argument from the other side, so, for now, I will not go beyond the basic facts.:

The main idea here is to present what we know for sure, what we agree on, or what is already presented in Scripture. Many of these concepts apply to the gifts of prophecy and healing, as well. My hope is that what is presented below will lead you to do your own research and make your own conclusions.

Basic facts or verses that have to do with Christianity and the spiritual gift of Speaking in Tongues:
  1. The Bible does indeed tell us that people spoke in tongues. The existence of the gift is not disputed. But many question whether the gift remains available to us today.
  2. Speaking in Tongues is one of many spiritual gifts, which are not all listed in the Bible. 
  3. Speaking in Tongues is a spiritual gift that has little to no references in the writings of the church following the apostolic age.
  4. Spiritual gifts have different purposes and are given to different people so that Christians might work together as the Church and edify the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12-14). The flawed idea that you must be able to speak in tongues to be saved does not agree with the gifts of the body idea presented in 1 Cor.
  5. The 1 Cor 12-14 passage on spiritual gifts is written by Paul to the Corinthians. The context of the passages tells us that the purpose of this portion of his letter was to point out the importance of the unity of the church through love (which chapter 13 focuses on) and through the use of God's gifts to individuals.
  6. Tongues is meant as a sign - specifically it was meant as a sign to the Jews that Jesus was the Son of God and that His followers told the truth. 1 Cor 14:22 states, "Tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers." In Acts 2:1-4 we learn that a group of believers spoke in tongues to signify the Pentecost - that is, the coming of the Holy Spirit - the dawn of a new covenant - and to serve as a sign to unbelievers, Jews who heard their own languages being spoken. Later, in Acts 10:44-46, Gentiles speak in tongues, serving as a sign to the "circumcised" Jews that the Gentiles could, indeed, have the Holy Spirit within them.
  7. Tongues is for the edification of the church, not for the edification of self. That is why Paul points out that tongues only lead to confusion when used in the context of the church and used without a translator. He does not say tongues cannot be used in the church. In fact, he implies that it can be used within the church and that it can be used by the individual, but, as pointed to before, he does state that the gift is not meant for believers (so the implication here seems to be that the gift can be misused in other situations and places). Even when a translator is present, the message must be tested and weighed (1 Cor 14:29).
  8. Whether or not tongues still exists, God is not limited in what He can do. He can heal. He can cause a person to hear one language when another is being spoken. He can perform works of miracles.
  9. Even in admittance of God's ability to perform miracles, we must still line up what we experience and hear with the Word of God. False prophets exist. Satan and his demons are able to masquerade as the light. And we must ultimately depend on the Bible for our ultimate truth.
On a final note, I'd like to bring up 1 Cor 13:8-12. The passage plays an essential role to both sides of the debate. It implies that certain spiritual gifts ("the partial") will pass away "when the perfect comes." Christians debate over whether this whole refers to Christ's second coming or to the completion of the Bible.

Upon casual reading, the passage, itself, seems to indicate the former. But those in favor of the latter ask, Why do we still need prophecy and tongues? We no longer are in the right time for tongues to serve as a sign to the Jews, and, since we have the Bible, we have no need for prophecy or any further revelation in the way the original church and the people of the Old Testament did. The New Testament fulfilled the Old Testament, and we have no need to add on to it with prophecy and tongues. Of course, the opposition then asks, If the Bible is for all generations, why does Paul talk about these gifts in such a way? As if all his readers would live in a time when these gifts were active?

Now it's your turn to discuss. Did I leave anything out that you've noticed in Scripture? What is your position on the matter?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Searching out God's truth

Salvation is simple. But once you are saved, you should not and cannot stay in one place. We are meant for better things. That's why I stay away from feel-good pastors like Joel Osteen and search for teachers who will lead me deep into God's word, which I also read regularly, expecting that the Holy Spirit will lead me to God's truth through these efforts.

I guess I have a hard time understanding why a Christian would not be concerned with spiritual growth. Or, like a friend of mine, how someone can be concerned with only the feel good spiritual discussions. People seem too content with where they are - content to follow their leaders blindly, content to search out only what is beneficial to them. But we aren't called to live perfect, comfortable lives.

I was talking to a friend today, and somehow the subject of charismatic beliefs came up. I wanted to discuss speaking of tongues, which I believe no longer exist. She grew agitated and made it clear she did not even want to discuss it. I was not judging her or her beliefs. I stated that speaking of tongues is not an essential doctrine - that it plays no role in whether or not we are truly saved, and I asked her why she believed in the speaking of tongues in modern day context. Throwing me aside, she replied that it was the way she was brought up and that she had experienced speaking of tongues. She also said that there were some verses in the Bible that mentioned it, but gave no specifics, nor was she willing to discuss the context of those verses. And she knew from past discussions that I was open to the idea of speaking of tongues.

My friend is a very "spiritual" person, in the Christian sense of the word, so it surprised me that she was so unwilling to merely discuss. In this case, she depended on what she's been taught and what she has experienced rather on the Word of God - rather than seeking answers herself.

Now, I know others who believe in the speaking of tongues who have done their research. Of course, those who believe doctrines more clearly disagreeing with the Bible have also done their homework (you can convince yourself of anything if all that matters is justifying yourself). But in this post, in the simpler part of the issue, I ask, why wouldn't you test things according to Scripture? Why wouldn't you seek to grow in your relationship with Christ?

How much do you hunger for God's truth? How deep do you go in your studies? Are you willing to read the Bible for yourself? And are you willing to test life's experiences and teachers' claims with Scripture?

Simplicity in faith is important, but how important are the steps we take afterward? Is our willingness to learn and our study of the Scripture just as important?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Carmen Carrera transgender Cake Boss controvery: Caring for the LGBT community without compromise

There's been a lot of buzz in the LGBT community lately about an episode of Cake Boss that supposedly treated a transgender woman in a derogatory way. The producers had promised that the episode would be educational and respectful, but according to GLAAD, the episode did not stay true to the agreement. Carmen Carrera, the transgender woman involved, started a petition to have the episode removed. The petition succeeded.

A transgender friend of mine posted on the controversy after signing the petition. I did not sign the petition because I did not see the episode, and I find that things are sometimes taken out of context by more zealous LGBT advocates. While I cannot take a stand on this specific controversy, it has led me to consider what it means to be a Christian and to treat the LGBT community with respect at the same time.

We complain about the reformation of schools to include classes on tolerance, but we do nothing to teach our own children about what it means to live in the world, but not be of the world – what it means to love a person without accepting his particular lifestyle – what it means to support free speech and to stand up for your beliefs without becoming a bigot. 

Education starts at the home. If we allow our children to treat others with disrespect, it leads to a can of worms and then some. So while I don't agree with all the tolerance "indoctrination" going on in public schools, I see why schools have felt the need to create those tolerance classes. I won't get into my arguments against such classes here, but even if you're against such classes, you have to admit, there are a lot of LGBT suicides and bullying going on out there, and as much as we dislike their lifestyles, we have no right to violently hurt them - nor do our children.

I am by no means supporting Ms. Carrera’s lifestyle. I consider homosexuality, transgender, and other similar lifestyles wrong because I base my convictions on the Bible. But I do have friends who live those lifestyles. They know my position, but they also know I care deeply about them. I refuse to degrade a person in the way that so many do – calling names, allowing those “dude, that’s a man” moments such as the one on Cake Boss. I didn’t watch the actual Cake Boss episode, so I can’t speak to that, but considering the matter I ask myself, would I call the prostitute who gives herself to men  a whore (with hateful slur intended), even if she may be only living that way in order to protect her children and keep them alive? Do I know the stories of these people? Would I accomplish anything by condemning them as sinners in a rude, harsh judgmental way?

We need to start thinking instead of hating, loving instead of hurting, telling the truth in peaceful ways instead of mistreating a person because of it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

In Light of the Tony Awards: Christianity On Jesus Christ Superstar

Meet me in person and it won't take you long to figure out that I have a strong passion for musical theatre. I've been involved in the theatre community for quite some time, and that involvement has led me into quite a few intellectual dilemmas that I play out often in my head. One of those dramas comes from a musical by a favorite composer of mine: Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Webber wrote the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar" along with lyricist Tim Rice, who has been quoted as saying that the musical and its creators view Jesus as a man and nothing more. I find this interesting because, aside from one particular song, the "pop opera" seems to covey the contrary. In fact, when Jesus goes before the authorities, he still uses the famous "I am" statement that clearly portrays him as the promised Messiah and as God himself.

The show takes certain liberties with characters, especially Judas, who drives the narrative of the story, and Mary, who falls in love with Jesus and has an entire song about how she doesn't "know how to love him." I have little to know problem with these changes. It's entirely possible that a woman could fall in love with Jesus. That love doesn't affect essential doctrine at all.

As for Judas, his character is strongly critical of the direction Jesus' ministry takes. His concern for his own life and the lives of Jesus' followers leads him to betray Jesus, and the show's title comes from Judas' misunderstanding of Jesus' mission and purpose. There are plenty of ways the historical Judas can be viewed. The Bible doesn't give us too many details, and the way that Webber's musical portrays the character is in no way blasphemous. In fact, Judas' point of view serves as the perfect example of the ignorance and misunderstanding that so many had - even the disciples (until Jesus rose from the dead and opened their eyes).

If the show were just from Judas' perspective, I would have no problem with the musical - not even its lack of a resurrection scene. The problem is, there are certain scenes that cannot be from Judas' perspective, as he is not present to witness them. One of these scenes, in particular, poses the essential problem for the Christian who wants to like this musical (and I do want to like it - I quite love the music, itself).

In the Garden of Gethsemane scene Jesus sings the song "I Only Want To Say." Take a look at the lyrics below and tell me if you see the problem.
I have changed I'm not as sure
As when we started
Then I was inspired
Now I'm sad and tired
Listen surely I've exceeded
Tried for three years
Seems like thirty
Could you ask as much
From any other man?
I'd want to know
I'd want to know my God
I'd want to know
I'd want to know my God
I'd want to see
I'd want to see my God
I'd want to see
I'd want to see my God
Why I should die
Would I be more noticed
Than I ever was before?
Would the things I've said and done
If I die what will be my reward?
If I die what will be my reward?
I'd have to know
I'd have to know my Lord
I'd have to know
I'd have to know my Lord
Why, why should I die?
Oh, why should I die?
Can you show me now
That I would not be killed in vain?
Show me just a little
Of your omnipresent brain
Show me there's a reason
For your wanting me to die
You're far too keen on where and how
But not so hot on why
Alright I'll die!
Just watch me die!
See how, see how I die!

Oh, just watch me die!
This one song presents Jesus as a mere man with no knowledge of God's will and no certainty in his purpose, a man without God's omniscience. But we know from the Bible that Jesus did indeed understand God's will, even if he also felt weak and tired and did not want to suffer the fate of the cross. Scripture also confirms that Jesus was not mere man, but fully man and fully God. He may have held back his omniscience at times to make a point or to lead someone to faith, but he always had those "powers."

Thus, unfortunately, much to my regret, I cannot approve of the musical. "Jesus Christ Superstar" clearly purports a view of Jesus as just man, one that contradicts Scripture and that contradicts other elements within the musical. If Judas had witnessed the Gethsemane scene, perhaps Jesus' lyrics could have taken on a meaning filtered through Judas' eyes, but without that, Jesus takes on a persona that is indeed wrong and contrary to Scripture. Furthermore, the answers to Judas' questions are staring us straight in the face. It's ironic that the creators of this musical can't seem to figure that out.

On the subject of Christian approval of the musical - I can support the creators' rights to put their viewpoint out there, and I can appreciate their talent displayed in the wonderful music of the show, but just because I support someone's right to believe in a particular political position, does not mean I am going to go out and financially support it or protest right along those who do support it.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

What it means to give your anything: Part 3

In Part 1 I wrote about the experiences that inspired me to be willing to give God my everything. In Part 2 I wrote about recognizing that everything we have we owe to God and should use for his glory. And this all started with Jennie Allen's book "Anything," which inspired me to start this blog. Today's post will be short, but hopefully sweet.

Recently, I was contemplating what it means to give God your anything when I came across John 15:5.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
How perfectly does this verse describe the exact thing we've been talking about this week? It's the perfect summary and pretty much speaks for itself. God is the vine. Everything we have comes from him. If we are to give God our "anything," we must recognize this fact and abide in Christ. As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit "remaining" in us, directing us, prodding us, and leading us to the truth. Through his guidance and using the gifts God has given us, we "bear much fruit," that is, as we represent Christ, our actions have amazing results, even if we don't always get the chance to see those results become realities. Apart from God, we are nothing, we can do nothing. But abiding in God, offering up our "anything," we truly live and we accomplish much.

Friday, June 8, 2012

From Marilyn Meberg on Twitter: Victory in Grace

@MarilynMeberg on Twitter.

"The enemy has lost the battle for my soul but fights against the Jesus victory in my soul. If I lose sight of grace I become enemy target."

"I fight enemy with name of Jesus. Rev 2:13 'hold fast to my name' Phil2:9 'name above every name'Acts 4:12 'no other name.' His name: Grace!"

So true! Satan makes me feel worthless and unsaved, but Christ's grace assures me and transforms me, even in my sin.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

What it means to give your anything: Part 2

The other day I wrote about my desire to do something big for God, about my experiences that have given me such desires, and about my lack of resources and talents to do such things (Read the post here.). I concluded that God has used those other people I've witnessed - he has used the resources he has given them, and he will use me. After all, God has a good and perfect plan for each of us. I do not currently know what his call is for me in my life, but I'm ready and waiting. And, as I wrote in my introductory post for this blog, for now, I consider this blog a portion of my "anything."

What does it mean to give your anything? Or, as in my case, to just be ready to give your anything for Christ? I'm currently reading Bob Hostetler's "Quit Going to Church." In it, Hostetler advocates a life in which we stop going to church and start being the church. In his chapter on tithing, Hostetler makes a wonderful point that applies well to our conversation on "anything."

Hostetler points to the poor widow who put two coins - all she had - in the offering box. Jesus said that the widow's gift was more than that of all others because she gave all she had. According to Hostetler, the tithe established in the Old Testament was very much so about recognizing that everything we have belongs to God, not just about giving money and property as a routine habit.

Hostetler writes, "The way of Jesus is not the way of the ten percent. It is the way of the one hundred percent."

We must recognize that what we have, however little it may be, is a gift from God to be used for his glory. We must be ready to give one hundred percent of ourselves. As Jennie Allen suggests in her book "Anything," we must tell God we are willing and wait for his call, listen for his voice, and then be willing to act on how he guides us, no matter how much it stretches us.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What it means to give your anything: Part 1

A family friend I know has a rich relative. His heart and soul belong to Christ, and he uses his money for that cause. I remember becoming incredibly jealous when I saw how he used the money to buy a huge mansion that he uses just for the community, specifically as a place for outreach to orphaned children.

More recently, I traveled to a third world country for a school project. While there, I held to my typical shy self (something I wish I could redo), but I also witnessed amazing people doing amazing things and a nation with joy in its heart despite its troubles. And I thought to myself, if only I were good with languages. Then I'd learn Spanish and return to this country as a volunteer at one of these great Christian centers.

At this point in my life, I don't have the resources or talents for these things. It hurts me deeply because I so badly want to become a part of something - I want to have the resources and talents so that I can volunteer for a month in a third world country or so that I can build a place for orphans to find love. But as much as God uses the witnessing of these things in my life, God doesn't seem to be calling to them. I'm at a loss for what God wants from me. I only know that, as I said in my introductory post for this blog, I am willing to give it.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Hank Hanegraaff Answers: Does Repetitive Sin Mean We Aren't Save

Hank Hanegraaff has a wonderful explanation for those who question whether they are really saved. In the video below, he notes that you can keep slipping on board the boat, but you can't slip when you're already sinking. You can slip on board, but you do not want to slip overboard. Your salvation is not based on your feelings. It is based on the promises of God. Watch the video below for more.