Romans 9 – Fear & Gratefulness

What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Ex 33:19)

It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth”(Ex 9:16).

Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”(Is 29:16). Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory. –Romans 9:14-23 (NIV)

One of the most contentious issues in Christianity is that of predestination. It is so easy to become mired in this – and this is important and true – unknowable argument. There is no way for you or I to know what the right answer is with predestination. We can say we think it is that way or this way, but to know for sure requires more processing power than our minds possess.

Let us suppose, though, that predestination in its most Calvinist form is true and that only predestination is true – that we play no part in our salvation, not choosing God or reaching back to Him and so on. Let us take this passage from Romans 9 on its own. If we do we have one of two overpowering responses: fear or gratefulness.

Fear: If only predestination is true then God, in His sovereignty, determined some of His creation for glory and salvation and others for damnation all before there was an opportunity for any other choice and prior to any sinful act. Some were created only for destruction, or as Paul describes above, to “make his power known” to those He had chosen to save. What if that vessel, chosen for damnation, is you? What if it is me? What if we have no choice?

Here is where it gets tricky: remember from my last post that those controlled with a sinful mind would not ever want or even be capable of pleasing God. So here is where the fear ends for those of us worried about pleasing God, right? If we are worried about pleasing God we are trying to, or desirous of, pleasing Him so we cannot be, at the same time, a vessel made for destruction. On the other hand, Jesus says in the horrific parable of the sheep and goats that some will go to their damnation after living lives that they thought were for God.

So which is it? I don’t know, but I do have a better understanding of the proverb that Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Pr 1:7). God is worthy of our fear indeed!

Gratefulness: The alternative response to fear is to be grateful. If only predestination is true and somehow we find ourselves on the road to Heaven and glory then we have nothing but gratefulness to show to the Lord because this result would be only by His mercy and grace because He chose us. It would have nothing to do with our actions (so none of us could boast, so to speak.)

If we believed that predestination is true and that we are saved by God’s grace it seems very likely that our gratitude would lead us to a full out, 100% on-fire life for the Lord. It would be the only appropriate response.

For the purpose of this post, we have imagined that predestination is true, but let me assert that since it is in the Bible it is undeniably true. Believers have no option but to believe that. So regardless of which side of the argument you are on, there can be no doubt that at the least predestination is also true and at the most it is solely true.

Since that is the case, even for those of us who are Arminian and believe that we are saved based upon our choice to follow Jesus or not to follow Him, we are also, at the same time, predestined to choose God or reject Him based upon His mercy and determination before creation began. Our only response should be fear or gratefulness, regardless of whether or not we believe we chose God or not.

What do you think?


Romans 8 – Impossible Expectations

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

As I read this passage, the question that comes to mind is: If the sinful mind, that is the non-Christian mind, is unable to submit to God’s law or please God why do we who (presumably) have the mind of the Spirit expect them to?

Here is what I mean: No one can become a Christian or follow Christ unless the Sprit first gives them the revelation of who Jesus is (John 6:37). So to be a Christian and to have the mind of the Spirit, which is the mind to do good and God-pleasing things, God must first enable a man who is in sin to have an exchange of heart and mind. Until that time, not only do these men not please God and do not want to please God but are unable to please God.

So why do Christians try to make sinful man follow rules that we recognize that we ourselves cannot follow, even with the Spirit? Why do we try to legislate morality on the macro level, and expect personal interactions with sinful man to follow morals that stem from the Spirit, such as loving our neighbors as ourselves?

Should we simply pray for God to intercede in a friend’s life who is not a follower of God instead of trying to get them to change their actions? Is it a fruitless endeavor to try to change the actions of someone who is an unbeliever so that they act like something that they are not? Can that even work? Is it our job to get people to act like they are Christians?

What do you think?

Romans 7 – The Dual Natures of Christians

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
-Romans 7:21-25 The Message

So then, with my mind I myself am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh, to the law of sin.
-Romans 7:25b HCSB

We are dual natures. Christians are supposed to be slaves to Christ – following His will all the time because we have given ourselves over to Him. But we, at the same time, are also still slaves to sin. This is the duality that Paul speaks of in Romans 6 and 7. It explains how Christians, who are supposed to be full of love and righteousness, continue to live lives of sinfulness.

In reality the hypocrite may not be one, even though they look like one. They may be someone with the best intentions and the greatest desire to follow Christ but find that they are completely and utterly failures at doing so. And those of us who jump on them for failing are showing just how we also suffer from this dual nature.

This is not to say that Christians should remain in the same state of duality as they were from the time they first gave their lives to, that is became slaves of, Christ. At that time, that small spark of righteousness and right thinking that rebelled against their sinful nature at the behest of the Spirit left Christians with a nature that may be best understood to be 99% sinful and only 1% righteous. Over time those percentages should change in favor of righteousness.

That is called conforming to the likeness of Christ, or becoming more Christilike. Hence the name Christian.

The real question then is where are we at? Are we, after years and years, still only 20% righteous and 80% sinful? If our move towards holiness is stunted even after time maybe we need to look at what we have done with that time. Have we spent it actively pursuing holiness? Reading the Word? Praying for help from the Spirit? Worshiping with believers? Studying and discussing the Word with others?

Where are you at?

Romans 6 – Are We Really Slaves to Christ?

Don’t you know that when you say to someone, “Take my life, I will follow you,” you are promising to obey that person as slaves do to their masters? You are slaves to the one whom you obey, who you follow — whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness.

Thank God that though you used to be slaves to sin, you gave your life to Jesus Christ instead of your old sinful way of life. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

…Just like you used to offer yourself to sinful lusts, actions and thoughts, which lead to an ever-increasing spiral of wickedness, now decide to offer yourself in slavery to righteousness, which leads to holiness… What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? None! Those things result in death!

But now that you have been set free from sin and have decided to become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

-Romans 6:16-23 (my paraphrase)

I know a lot of people know that last part by heart about wages of sin being death. We memorize it to evangelize people, to tell them about their sins. The question I have is whether or not we understand the parts of the Word that come before it.

Do we really understand that we are supposed to be slaves to Christ’s will? That we have no choice but to do what He wants us to?

Judging only myself, I would say that I do not understand what it means to be a slave to Christ. I am very much still a slave to my sinful nature.

The question is, what does that mean for my Christianity? Can I be a Christian – a follower of Christ – and still be a slave to my sins?

What do you think?

The Fresh Prince

OK. Here’s the situation:
My parents went away for a week’s vacation.
They left the keys to the brand new Porsche!
It ain’t mine…
Ah well, of course not!
I’ll just take it for a little spin,
And maybe show it off to a couple of friends…I don’t care what you think. Will Smith does not exist.

The performer of these inimitable lyrics will forever be the “Fresh Prince.” Not of Bel Air. Of everywhere. That’s how I know him. And I see no reason to change my opinion on him.

If I were to take into consideration the Prince’s TV show or his movies I’d have to say – being honest with myself – that the Fresh Prince just isn’t as cool as I remember. (Wild Wild West, anyone?) But if I refuse to adjust my opinion of the Fresh Prince he can forever be the same amazing performer that he was in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

Nightmare on My Street stays hip. Parent’s Just Don’t Understand (above) stays relevant.

“He’s the D.J. I’m the rapper!” says the Fresh Prince. Not, “I’m the actor.”

Refusing to allow people to grow, in our minds, allows us to neatly pack them into the corners of our mind. Who has room for non-neatly packed people? Brains are only so big.

So what I do – which I share for free because I’m awesome – is look at people, get a good read on what I think about them then I mentally make a statue of them in my mind. (Statues are cool because they last forever. Their arms fall off after a while, but who needs arms in memories?)

Once the statue is completed, maybe 5 or 10 seconds later, I quickly draw up a big yellow label with lines on it (like a 3×5 card from elementary school only yellow with green lines, not blue lines because that’s so passé,) tie it around the statue’s neck and move on to the next person. This allows me to quickly sift through people I meet, neatly sorting them into categories like, “socialist,” “liberal,” “conservative,” “emergent,” “fundamentalist,” “right,” “wrong,” “great American,” “taco,” and so on.

Very efficient, right?

Antagonistic and stupid people will argue with me here. They’ll say, “But Scott, people change. They grow up. They mature. They shouldn’t be labeled or judged like this.”

What these bleeding hearts seem to ignore is that what they are asking of us takes way too much time and effort! We’d have to constantly be interacting with these people on the slim chance that they’ll change. When do you stop “getting to know them?” Never? Ridiculous!

People are like snap shots. Once you take the picture they’re done. They don’t learn or grow or get better. They are exactly the same as they have always been.

Just like the Fresh Prince.

Hand What Man Over to Satan?

OK. Dude is sleeping with his step mom (or possibly his mom) and the Corinthians are proud of this because “there is freedom in the Lord.” Paul says:

“You’re proud? Shouldn’t you be filled with sadness and grief? Shouldn’t you send this man out of your church? I’m not there with you except for in spirit but even I can see that this is a terrible sin! When you meet at church again, in the name of our Lord Jesus, hand this man over to Satan so his sinful self will be destroyed and his soul saved” (1 Cor 5:2-5).

What the Hell does this mean?

(Ha! I get to say Hell because we are talking about Satan. Sweet Christian liberty!)

I get the idea behind chapter 5. The bad influence ruins the whole congregation. Or bad meat ruins the taco, as some have been known to say. OK. We kick them out until they turn away from their active sin, right?

I’m cool with it except I wonder:

Who will vacuum the church? Empty the trash? Serve Communion? No, strike that: take Communion?

How many people in a church are not actively sinning? If we kicked them all out would there be anyone left? Surely there must be at least one good Christian!

Let’s find out.

First off, gays gotta go, right? I mean Christians are always kicking out gays first. Everyone knows that their sin is worse than our sins… er, I mean other sins. So there goes like 10%.

Fornicators gotta go next. After that the adulterers. I have no idea how many of these there are. Lets guess 9% each (see? Less than the gays.) So now we are up to 28%.

Pedophiles should go next… but I doubt there are any of these in the church. Never mind.

I think thieves gotta go. Not sure how to tell if someone is an active thief. Lets go with 15% and randomly kick out people dressed in dark clothes that are good for skulking around. Up to 42%.

Next we will get rid of the liars. If we ask for them they are sure to lie so we will kick out everyone who says they don’t lie. Then we will throw out the ones who said they do lie. We will call this the Smyrna Liar Trials. Sink or swim, baby! Some people will refuse to answer so I’m gonna go with 40% on this one. Up to 82%.

I guess cussers are next. I’d throw out everyone who ever used the Lord’s name in vain. Like, “I am as hot as Jesus!” Or “God, I look good.” Vanity is a sin. Kick out all the good looking people. Lucky for Christians there just aren’t that many in church. +3% (because it makes us even at 85%).

Rich people are undoubtedly sinning. Greedy scum-bags! Why do they get the cool cars? Why do they get the big houses? 5% more brings us to 90% total.

Envious people, you know who you are = 90%. Now we are up to 180% of the people in the church. Looks like we will have to go out into the community (it will be scary at first, I know we haven’t been in a while,) and invite people to church so we can kick them out. Paul commands it.

I guess that means that only the lady who plays the organ… oh, she was kicked out. How about the pastor? Out, huh? Well I guess that leaves me.

Great idea, Paul! Seriously?

With no one but me here who will help in the nursery?!

Wearing a Robe Dipped in Blood

I turned to see who was talking to me. When I turned I saw a Son of Man. He was dressed like a dignitary, in a long robe with a golden sash. His head and hair were white like wool or snow. His eyes were burning like a blazing fire. His feet left blazing marks on the land as if melted bronze had been poured out on it. His voice was like the noise of a roaring flood of water. He held seven angels that looked like radiant stars in his right hand, and his words were like a wicked sharp sword, full of power. Looking at him was like looking straight into the Sun at its brightest time.

When I saw him I fell at his feet and laid still with fear.

He put his hand on me and said, “I am the first and the last. I am the One who lives; I was dead, but look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys to death and to the place of the dead. But do not be afraid because I am on your side. “
Oh. My. God.
Later, I saw Heaven open up and there before me was a white horse. The rider on the horse is called Faithful and True and his decisions on what is right or wrong and when to make war or make peace are righteous. His eyes are blazing flames and he is crowned the King of Everything. He has a name written on him that is too much for anyone to understand or know. He is dressed in a robe, but this time it is dipped in blood because it is time for the judgement.
He is known as the Word of God.
The armies of Heaven are following him on white horses, dressed for battle in white robes signifying purity. Out of the rider’s mouth comes words filled with power, like a wicked sharp sword, that he will use to make war. At his mere words, the rulers of the Earth will be stricken down and then he will rule the world with his iron staff. But first he will crush the empires of the world beneath his feet like someone crushing grapes to make wine.
This is how angry God is! God the All-Powerful! This is his terrible wrath!
On his blood stained robe this was written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Oh. My. God.After the battle, I saw all the Universe unmade and then remade in peace and harmony with God. I saw a new city, Jerusalem, coming down from Heaven with God. I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold! Now God will dwell with his people! God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and there will be no more death, sadness, crying or pain because those ways are gone and done.”

The One sitting on the throne said, “Look! I have made everything new! It is finished! I am the first and the last, the beginning and the end. I will give water from the spring of eternal life to anyone who is thirsty.”
He said, “These things will come to pass when I come back. And I am coming soon.”
Oh! My! God!

What’s Wrong With Me?

This has happened before. (No, not like Battlestar Galactica. I mean, at least not as far as I know.)

I’ve been here. After trying to do a “good work” and feeling like all I did was an “ok work.”
At church today, Bruce Coble, the missions pastor, was preaching and one of the things that caught my attention and stuck with me was a comment he made about approaching people to help them when we feel the stirring to do so. He said, “I’ve gotten in the habit of telling them, ‘God told me to help you.’ So that they know it was from God and not just me.”
I think, if I do a good deed but don’t tell the person I am doing it because my faith in God or because God loves them then person has no possible outlet for their gratitude other than me. And good works should direct people to God.
Driving home today after church I see a guy on a motorcycle. He is pushing it, the thing is clearly dead. I drive past him but I keep looking back. It looked like he was out of gas.
As I continued on several things popped into my mind:
I have time before I have to go to work today. I could help him.
He’ll have to walk a long way to get gas. That would suck.
I’m alone so I wouldn’t be putting anyone in my family at risk.And then the big one:

I was created by God to do good works for his glory.That one got me. So I turned around and went back. I found him and called out, “Hey Dude,” because I speak surfer, “Do you need gas?”

He said, “No it’s dead. Do you have jumper cables?”
I took out the cables and plugged them in. I told him, “I passed you and but I kept thinking of you. At church we just talked about this so I came back.”
After he drove off I couldn’t help but run through the whole event again and again. This had happened before. And like that time, I just wasn’t prepared.
I choked.
I know some of you are thinking that I did good. That’s because we Christians have set the bar so low. I mean, I appreciate your encourgament but in reality I didn’t do what I should have.
Let me prove it: what is this?
Can’t answer? Well then how is the guy supposed to know what this is that we were talking about at church?
I want to be the kind of Christian who will speak the truth with boldness; not choke-ness. I want to be so comfortable talking about God that it’s second nature. I want to do good works but I also want people to be moved towards God because of them.
In the end, I want a, “Well done my good and faithful servant!”
Not a, “Good effort.”
Know what I mean?

Leading Worship

Something that’s been on my heart for some time that I struggle to find the words for is the relationship of worship leader to their personal worship. If you are confused so far then I’ve made my point.I was challenged by a conversation I had with Ronnie Meek while we were talking about what a worship leader does. He said, “Sometimes [the people on stage] are leading worship exactly the same way they would if they were in the audience with the congregation or alone worshiping.” I remember thinking, isn’t this exactly how it should be?

But he continued, “But a worship leaders job is to get the congregation to worship.”

At church, during service, I tend to watch the singers, musicians and dancers.

I’m looking for authenticity. I love watching someone worship!

What I see from Wayne Berry, and am confused about, is someone who is not singing along with the rest of us a lot of the time. That’s confusing because my preconceived idea of a worship leader is one who leads by example. I think, why isn’t Wayne singing?

And why is he so happy not singing?

(Please don’t misunderstand what I am about to say. I am by no means demeaning the singers or musicians who have the courage to get up in front of the church body and worship in front of us.)

What I’ve determined (so far, I haven’t got this figured out yet!) is that there are worship leaders and there are artists. But many times they are not the same person on the stage.

When I see the singers and musicians on the stage I recognize that they are worshiping God through their voices and instruments. But a worship leader does not worship God through their voice or instrument.

They worship God through us. We are their instrument.

Watching Wayne after the conversation with Ronnie has opened my eyes. I see Wayne and his job differently now.

I imagine him standing before the Lord, one of a thousand thousand worship leaders in the audience room described in Revelation.

I see Wayne bringing us and our praise as his offering.

And I see the Lord smile.

Then I see Wayne again at SA in front of the body of believers. I see him eyes closed, smiling, with tears flowing. I see him not singing.

And I am certain he is worshiping.

That’s what I think a worship leader does.

Wild at Brain

A friend of mine lent me Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. He said, on a post-it note, “Didn’t know if you had this. Another good read.” Coming so highly recommended as it did I had to jump in right away! (Right after I finished Rob Bell’s Jesus Wants to Save Christians, get through a few more pages of Terry Pratchett’s Thief of Time and start in on Chazown by Craig Groeschel. Oh, and I’m working through D.A. Carson’s Becoming Conversant with the Emergent Church. Oh and then there is that other book on Rethinking Small Groups or something by someone. Anyway, I was eager to start!)I haven’t finished the book yet. I can’t, in fact. I am too busy wrestling with the ideas the book inspired in me. (I say “wrestling” because it’s manly. I’m trying to be manly. Tell me what you think, OK?)

I’ve been wrestling… no… tackling-with-fierce-intent some really interesting ideas that Eldredge brought up. For instance, I didn’t know “Little girls do not invent games where large numbers of people die” (p10). What next? Boys aren’t supposed to play with Strawberry Shortcake dolls because they smell good? Yeah right!

As I grappled-with-enormous-animosity the comments that Eldredge was making it dawned on me: I wasn’t dressed for this kind of book! I put the book down and went upstairs to my room. In my drawer (that holds my drawers, ha! I am so frakkin funny!) I found what I was looking for: a Mexican wrestling mask. I donned the dangerous accoutrement and went back to reading.

(In fact, while my co-workers and family think it odd, I have still to take it off! Wild at Heart indeed!)

I was surprised to find out that Eldredge thinks men think Jesus is “meek and mild” (p22). I personally think this is because of communion. Wafers with no taste and watered down grape juice? Gimme a break! If communion was served with better tasting body and blood I bet men wouldn’t think of Jesus as such a wimp.

Seriously, if a guy tastes like buffalo wings and vodka he had to have been one bad man!

On page 29, Eldredge says that men are supposed to swim with pods of killer whales and get bull moosesmeese? mad at you. Even though I’m wearing a wrestling mask, red and black and all danger no less, and pouncing-like-a-mad-gorilla-that-is-really-angry over these thoughts I have to admit it. To myself and to you.

I am not a man.

I mean, I’ve never once said to myself, “Self, we need to get a bull moose mad at us today. Adventure! YeeHaa!” Have you?

Probably not, non-man.

(To feel more manly, I just put on an eye patch and ripped my shirt so it looks tattered. Maybe from a fight with a mad iguana or perhaps caused by the scream of a banshee.)

(Also, I’m gonna talk in pirate from this point on. Matey. I be a bad mama-jama. Yar!)

On page 41, Eldredge spouts through his lame non-pirate mouth that yonder men who wear trousers don’t look like passionate, fierce, wild at heart men! Arrgh! I like wearing me pants! But to prove I be more of a man than ye, I’ll go without!

So here I stand, matey! Talking pirate, wearing a Mexican wrestling mask and eye patch, with a ripped shirt, and now no trousers! Argh! I be a fierce and wild at heart man now, eye? Eiyaiy.. aye?

By yon time that Eldredge the non-man (argh, he be a writer, right?) says that Adam was ashamed because he be naked (p52) me mind starts to hammer-punch-a-donkey-in-the-kidneys-with-me-pirate-hook (I cut off me hand and had yon hook installed to prove me manliness) and I says to meself, “Self Pirate, Ye be nakid too! Shant you feel… Shunt ye feel… whatever. Shouldn’t I be ashamed?”

I give up on the pirate accent, I take off my mask and my eye patch. I’ll probably have to toss the shirt. I get real with myself.

Am I a man? Have I traded my dreams of adventure for the reality of a keyboard? Has this affected my relationship with my wife? Is she not pursued and loved romantically and passionately like she should be? Has this affected my view of God and Jesus? Meek and mild and “all impotent God” as I once heard sung.

Maybe so.

On the inside, I see myself as buff and sexy and strong and out-doorsy. On the inside.

So I resolved to do something handy and out-doorsy. I am going to design a play-set for me and my boy(s) to dress up with swords and shields and water guns and “kill” each other to save the beauty!

I’ll get started on my days off. But now, I have to go to work!

It’s only at the time that I walk into work and pass my reps desks that I realize I never put my trousers back on.