A Small Step Closer to Calvinism?

Over the past months I’ve had an on again off again conversation with Jared about Calvinism and free will. Jared is an unapologetic Calvinist. I, frankly, had no idea what that meant until recently, and even now I’m not entirely sure. But thanks to Jared’s patience in answering, probably, the same question repeatedly, I’m getting there. I am still a long way away from being a Calvinist, and probably never will be entirely, but I’m finding that it is not nearly as far fetched as it seemed a few months ago. (BTW – The Calvinist belief can be summed up with the acronym TULIP. There’s an explanation of TULIP here.)
My debate with Jared began in the comments thread here. Jared had taken offense at another’s claim to sovereignty over his own life. I had written a paper on God’s putting us in control and I commented that I felt that God has given man sovereignty over his own life. (that paper has seemed incomplete ever since it was completed. There’s more to the story, but I haven’t been inspired to go back and dig into it yet. As Jared pointed out, it’s a little too ‘Deist’) A very civil conversation ensued about all things Calvin but settled down to the idea of free will or not. Jared made his points, I tried to provide examples in scripture of free will and then Jared said

Salguod, I’m not sure if you haven’t made it through my previous comments yet, but I have specifically said several times that I don’t deny the reality of the will or the reality of man’s choosing.
All you’ve done with these references is provide examples of man making choices or the call to man to make a choice. I have never denied any of those things.

If I wasn’t already confused, that did it for me. A will that is not fee? Choices but not freedom? How can this be? I attempted to understand his position, but couldn’t get it.
Then, a few days ago he posts A Will Conformed to Reality in which he makes the argument that it is our role to change our will to match God’s. I let it sit for a couple of day, but couldn’t take it any longer. So I asked

How does this idea of conforming our will to God’s square with your position that we have no free will of our own? If God’s in control of all and directing all, how can we say to have conformed our will to His, as you suggest here?

So Jared graciously explains it to me one more time and this time it clicks and I respond:

So the idea then is that we seem to have free will before we are saved, but in reality we cannot help but to sin. It (perfection or ‘being good’) is an ideal that is a lie for we are powerless to achieve it. We are perhaps more or less successful than our neighbor, but ultimately sinful beyond our control. It is only because God has given us grace in Christ that we have a chance to be saved from this depravity.
So the lack of free will is not an inability to make any choice, but rather a limitation on making all the right choices. Our freedom is limited by our tendency to sin.

It turns out that this Calvinist idea of no free will isn’t as wacky as it might seem. In fact, it makes perfect sense.
Jared, you’ve still got a long way to go on original sin and predestination, though.

Parables

Mathew 13:1-52, Mark 4:1-34, Luke 8:4-18, Luke 13:18-21
Matthew 13:13-15 – For a long time this did not make sense to me. Recently, I’ve become aware of how easy it is to think that you know what’s going on and what’s true and can be completely deceived. What my church went through in the last two years really opened my eyes. I had men around me talking of the grave sins they saw, and it sounded like utter nonsense. What world were they living in? But I knew these men and I knew they were not the type to make things up. I prayed that God would open my eyes, let me see what He saw. I began to see how we pursue correctness over love, correction over understanding, being right over treating people right. I was overwhelmed at the sin right in my midst, and in my self, so much so that for an instant I longed for the days of ignorance. I wondered if asking for God’s eyes was such a good idea. But I do not want to go back, I want to see as God sees and hopefully make a difference for His sake.

Who’s linking me?

Following up on a post at Radical Congruency, I checked Technorati to see who, if anyone, links to me. It found several that I knew about (Thinklings, Mysterium Tremendum, Country Keepers) but failed for some reason to find Virusdoc. It did, however, turn out two that I wasn’t aware of, Dawson Baily and Requiest. Rong of Requiest has commented here before, but I wasn’t aware that he’d linked to me. Thanks for the linkage guys. Go check them out, I will be. Oh, and if you’re doing some stealth surfing, be aware that Requiest has music playing on his site.

More Gospels – Hypocrisy

Luke 11:37-54, Luke 12, Luke 13:1-17
Luke 11:39-41 – This time through the gospels I am struck by how much Jesus emphasizes the inner verses the outer, more specifically our heart verses our outward obedience. I, of course, knew that this was our Lord’s message, but lately I’ve become increasingly aware of how quickly and easily we slide into relying on our own actions and rule following for our sense of righteousness. More so, we look at other’s lives and evaluate them by their outward actions. We fail to take a true measure of them, at heart level, which requires infinitely more work than summing them up by some outward checklist or standard of behavior.
Luke 12:13-15, 13:1-5 – Jesus always takes a situation directed at others and turns it back on the questioner. “What about so-and-so who did such-and-such?” “Nevermind them, I tell you that unless youstop doing such-and-such you will perish.”

More Gospels

Matthew 8:5-13, 11:2-19, 12:22-50, Mark 3:20-35, Luke 7:1-50, 8:1-3, 8:19-21, 11:14-36
Matthew 8:8-13 – He understood Jesus’ authority, obviously more than most because of Jesus’ reaction. But think about this. He didn’t even meet Jesus and his request is granted. Do I have such faith? Am I willing to take Jesus at His word like this? I think about all my wrestling of the last year or so and I’m not sure. I feel that I am constantly looking fro proof, for evidence.
Luke 7:19 – But even John had his moments f doubt, looking for reassurance.
Matthew 11:15 & Luke 7:29-30 – This is the constant challenge, to have ears that hear. And in Luke we see the consequences of not doing so. The Pharisees refused to give up their preconceived notions and see the truth.
Luke 7:49 – This type of forgiveness, at a man’s command I suppose, was foreign to them. I don’t think that it was the idea of forgiveness, but the idea that it could be granted in this way.
Matthew 12:33-37, Luke 7:35 – Jesus in his ministry constantly was concerned with the heart. But it’s in scriptures like these that he ties our actions to our heart.

Some Thoughts on Church Discipline

UPDATE: See my updated thoughts here.
The leadership team at my church is talking about how we can be unified on the idea of church disciplline of sin. The text that we’ve focused on is Matthew 18:15-17. The following is my initial thoughts on the issue. I know that some church members read my blog so I wanted to make it clear: We have not come to any consensus as a group and these thoughts are only my own. However, I thought some of my readers may have some thoughts that would be helpful.
Although Matthew 18:15-17 is directed at sin between two people, I think that it is appropriate for principles to be applied to any sin in the church. I would like to see us practice policies and develop an atmosphere that encourages people to do steps 1 and 2 on their own. We should train the disciples in resolving these issues in this manner. It’s my conviction that, as a leadership team (Deacons and Ministers), we should not be involved in these types of things until verse 17. This is to protect the sinner as he or she deals with their sin. Let them do so in private, telling only those they wish to. This shows love and respect for the sinner.
I believe that in the past we (corporately) have been too quick to tell others about someone’s sin. Frankly, it’s gossip and the Bible has much to say against it (Proverbs 11:13, 20:19, 3 John 1:10). This sort of sharing paints a picture of that person that is etched in the mind of the hearer. Does Sam need to know that Fred struggles with pornography? Is it beneficial for building up either Sam or Fred (Ephesians 4:29)? Now Sam’s image of Fred is unnecessarily polluted by the words that were spoken. Perhaps you think that Sam can help Fred deal with this sin. That may be, but the respectful and loving thing to do would be to ask Fred if he minds having Sam involved. Perhaps he would rather not tell Sam, but thinks that George might be of help. Fred gets help and feels loved and respected. It simply shows that you care.
I want to see us develop and environment with this kind of respect is the norm in our church and is a high priority. I think we can do so if we as the leadership make it our own personal conviction to be determined to avoid gossip and that we reinforce that, one on one, with others. I do not want an environment where my sin, yours or another’s might be broadcast, even with good intentions, to others. I was once in a situation where a married couple was having difficulties. One spouse shared openly about their struggles with the other and their perception of the other’s sin. In concern, that was shared with the leader of the group who shared it with others, with the idea of getting advice or having them pray. It got back to the spouse who was deeply hurt. They felt that the situation was misunderstood and that they were judged without having been heard. They were then reluctant to get together to get help with their marriage because it seemed that they were automatically going to get laid out. Had Matthew 18 been followed and gossip avoided, this could have turned out much better.
So, in terms of how we should, as a leadership team, confront sin, my thoughts are that we turn people to these scriptures first. First we should if at all possible make sure that the person bringing it to our attention does their best to do so anonymously. Cut them off before they say a name out of respect to the accused (what if it is false?). Then go through the steps outlined here. Have they approached the person privately? If not, they should do so first. If the have and it has not gone well, have they brought in someone close to both of them? We should encourage the second or third brother or sister to be a neutral party, preferably someone each person agrees on. In the past we have treated this as a ‘climb the ladder of authority’ system that can create mistrust. If you won’t listen to the bible talk leader, we’ll get the zone leader to deal with you. Instead we should strive to create as neutral an environment as possible where everyone feels that they will be treated fairly. Only if that hasn’t worked, then both persons involved in confronting that person should come together to the leadership team and get us involved.
Our Lord told us that loving each other is the most important thing we can do outside of loving Him. We must remember the definitions of love in 1Corinthians 13 when dealing with sin. It is patient and kind. It keeps no record of wrongs. It rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts and always perseveres. And love never fails. I am convinced that an atmosphere of love, which must be free of hurtful and damaging gossip, will set us up to truly help people be victorious over their sin. That is the goal, isn’t it?
What if they refuse to listen to us? Matthew 18 says to treat them as a pagan or tax collector. I used to assume that meant they were shunned. Then I remembered how Jesus treated the tax collectors. He ate with them (Matthew 9, Luke 5). He hung out with them (Matthew 11:19, Luke 15:1). He loved them. He didn’t necessarily call them his disciples, but he did not shun them and in His love, he influenced them (Luke 7:29). The world will abandon the one who sins against them. If we do the same, how will they be saved? If they deliberately refuse to repent, I think it is entirely appropriate that we ask them to leave the church for a time. We should not encourage or condone the shunning of these people, however. On the contrary, we should encourage the other disciples to serve them and love them, continuing to show them God’s love in spite of their sin. In 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 Paul say that we are not to associate with men who do not obey, but also says to warn them like a brother, not an enemy. So I believe we can exclude them from our fellowship but should encourage people, especially those close to them, to maintain a relationship and love them even more. In fact, for those who are close I would even challenge them on their lack of love if I saw them abandoning and shunning the sinner. 1 Peter 4:8 reminds us to love each other above all else, because love covers a multitude of sins.

God-Thinking Theology

I recently discovered another blogger in my ICOC family of Churches. His site is pinakidion.com I’m not sure what that means, but I’m glad I found his site. He has been wrestling with much of the same things I have over the last year or two. He’ll make it onto the links at the left in the coming days.
I’ve been going through his old posts and came across this post from a couple of weeks ago about ‘God-Thinking Theology’. In it he talks about how Barnabas’ vouching for Saul is what led to his acceptance in Jeruselem, not anything Saul did to prove himself. In fact, any attempt by Saul to prove himself would have probably backfired. Barnabas is one of my favorite NT characters because of how he stood up for Saul like he did. He didn’t have to and he had little to gain in doing so.
Pinakidion’s point is that just as Barnabas was Saul’s advocate before men, Jesus is our advocate before God. And just as Barnabas eliminated the need for Saul to prove himself before the apostles, Jesus means we have nothing to prove to anyone. God accepts us because Jesus vouches for us. Go read his post, it’s very good.

Sermon on the Mount

After a three month absence, my quiet times have resumed. there were actually a few days on vacation in August that never made it on the site, but it’s been too long since I had a regular QT. Thanks to Justin for the prompting and the accountability to do what I know is good for me.
Mathew 5:1-7:29, Luke 6:20-49
Mathew 5:3 – Humility seems to be something I lack these days. I’ve had this uncomfortable realization that I think myself more highly than I ought. I’ve been frustrated by the lack of recognition at work and thinking I ought to be more respected in general. In a performance review at the office, one of my peers (anonymously) said that I think that my way is the only right way. Ouch.
Luke 6:24-25 – I can’t help but wonder what these woes mean for us in the USA. We are so amazingly wealthy. I fear that many will miss God because of their wealth. I can only pray (as I type on my laptop in my easy chair in my living room, wirelessly connected to the internet) that I will not be one of them. With wealth comes great responsibility, I think. It makes me wonder, what am I doing with my riches besides making my self comfortable? What good am I doing with them? How can I do more?
Mathew 5:13 – May I never loose my ‘salt’, that is, may I never blend in with this world.
Mathew 5:19 – What does this mean? Breaking God’s law and promoting the breaking of God’s law, yet they are in heaven. Or is ‘the kingdom of heaven’ referring to something else? If so what? It seems odd.
Mathew 5:27-30 – One of the hardest scriptures for a man to reconcile with. Jesus’ teaching here gives insight into how important our actions, our deeds, are to God.
Mathew 5:44-48 – Why love our enemies? Because that is what God does. You don’t see God withholding blessings or good things from non-Christians. If so, we’d be able o tell easily who was God’s by their blessings. “Did you see the Smith’s lawn? God must not love them.”
Mathew 6:33 – I’ve heard ‘His Kingdom’ in this verse equated to the church, or rather this church or that church. But is Jesus referring to the church, even the universal church, here? Or is it a bigger concept of just seeking God and His ways. I suppose that those two, God’s church and God’s ways, are somewhat interchangeable.
Luke 6:37 – Is Jesus telling us, as some would believe, that to judge is a sin? It’s not really what he says. But put this verse with those that follow and there’s a clearer picture of what he’s trying to teach. If we insist on being overly critical and judgmental, that is how God will judge us as well. And the fact of the matter is that the most trivial of sins in others are obvious to us while we cannot see the glaring iniquities in our own lives. We must be careful how we look at others.
Matthew 7:7-8 – What a promise! If we are looking for answers, we are promised that we will find them. The question is, are we open to the answer which is outside of the possibilities we see? Or will we only be content with the answer we think we’ll find?
Matthew 7:24 – Jesus’ words is the solid foundation upon which we should build our lives. Our opinions and reasoning change, but his words do not. Actually, it’s not just his words, it’s our following them. The difference in this parable between the wise and foolish was not the lack of His words, it was the lack of keeping them.

Quiet Times

Justin at RC posted a lament today about his lack of consistency in his Quiet Time.
I wrote about this subject a while ago, here. I used to get so guilted out if I missed a daily reading or two. It was liberating to come to the realization that there’s nothing magic or required about a daily Bible study or prayer, at least the daily part. God doesn’t demand a certain schedule on getting into His word.
But that liberation can be paralyzing as well. If you check here you’ll see that I haven’t posted a quiet time entry since July. There’s a simple reason for that, I haven’t had one. Oh, I’ve been in my Bible sporadically for s topical research or something, but a time to just open up the Bible and read to see what God will reveal to me? Nope.
Lately I find that I don’t have the desire to just sit down and read. Since no one is going to ask me about whether I did or not, I don’t. I think that this is one of those times where a structure and accountability can be helpful. What if I knew that someone was going to ask me about it or would be looking for my post on my QT that day? I think that I would do it more, sometimes out of fear of confrontation, but I don’t think I’d regret the accountability if it kept me in the word and I was learning and growing closer to God.
I bet there are more like Justin and I out there. So here’s my idea. What if we consistency-challenged bloggers paired up? We could have a commitment to God to get into our Bibles on a regular basis. For me I’d like to see a minimum of 3 times a week. We would publish our notes on our weblog and the we’d also watch out for those posts on the other’s weblog. If we did not see it happening we could gently challenge the other to keep up with their commitment. A little accountability in the blogscape. Anyone game to this sort of thing? I for one could use the help.

A very special day.

Today is one of the most important days of the year for me. More important that the birthdays of my children and my anniversary. Without today, those other days would not have been possible. Today is the birthday of my bride. She turns 40 and I’ve had the honor and privilege to spend about a third of those years with her. They’ve been the best years of my life, and they only get better and better.
Maria is everything I had hoped for in a wife and many things I wouldn’t have thought to ask for. When I first met her, at a super bowl party in 1992, I was intrigued by her and hung on her every word. In the coming weeks, I looked for excuses to spend time with her. We had out first date the following February first and by mid March we were dating steadily. I knew right away that she was the one for me, she required a little convincing. We were engaged on Halloween that year and married the following February.
It was her passion for life that drew me in. She wants to experience life to the full and she tackles everything with zeal. I was amazed at her, and still am. I’m a laid back guy, content to sit in my chair and watch TV, no matter what’s on. The world and all its wonders could be marching by my door and I would miss it for reruns of Friends. Maria has plans and dreams and she won’t be denied and I love that about her. She calls me to do more and experience more. I can’t do more than one thing at a time without loosing my sanity, and she takes on multiple projects at once and does them all well. She has opened me up to a whole new world.
She’s an amazing servant in our church. She’s famous for her home made note cards, which she gives to nearly every woman in the church on their birthday (she’s making some as I type this). She’s the first to volunteer to help a family that needs a meal or something else. And she isn’t content to just ship off a pot of spaghetti, but making sure there are bread sticks, salad and brownies too. Did I mention that she’s an incredible cook? In 11.5 years of marriage I can count the bad meals on one hand (not counting the ones I’ve made).
Most encouraging to me is that she has stood behind me in everything. When I took a job in Detroit during our engagement, she followed without complaint. When I said I wanted to come to Columbus on the mission team for our church, she backed me up despite the fact we had no savings and no job prospects in the Buckeye state. In the past year and a half, while I was going through a sort of crisis in my faith, she listened and supported me as I tried to find my way. And when I got the lame brained idea to have a meet of Ohio members of Odyclub, she drove an hour with me to meet with strangers about a minivan (Now that’s devotion!)
Our girls are turning into amazing women because of the amazing love of their mother. She’s absolutely committed to them, toting them to dance lessons and school activities, volunteering in each of their classrooms and staying home to make sure that they are being influenced more by us (her really) than anyone else. She reads the Bible to them every morning before school and it shows in their own love for God.
She’s an avid scrapbooker, having put the last several years of our lives together into an amazing series of a dozen and a half albums. The irony there is that she’s sparsely represented, usually behind the camera taking the shots. She’s one of the leaders (On the ‘house blessing team’ I think) at The Old Front Porch a scrapbooking, crafting and homemaking site. She’s also a frequent lurker here, so watch yourself. 🙂
She’s amazing and I am truly blessed to have her in my life. I love you, Maria, Happy birthday.

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