The Free Will of God

We have had many people tell us how proud of us they are that we became adoptive parents. There are so many children in the foster care system that need a good, loving, Christian home to be raised in that it is a shameful reminder that the Christian church has largely failed to address this issue. Be that as it may, I have yet to run into anyone who has chastised our family for only adopting one child when there are so many at risk. We certainly could not have adopted all the children in our state, much less the country or the world, but we could have, possibly, adopted at least one more. Does this make us horrible people, to only adopt one? Does this make us sinful, when it was in our power to affect, at least theoretically, one more life? Are we to be commended because, by our free choice, we adopted one or castigated because of our free choice not to adopt more than one?

Why am I asking these questions? Because many people object to the thought of God adopting some people to become members of His family and not everyone. The doctrine is called election and the Bible speaks of God electing some to salvation and not electing others, leaving them to their fate. Is God to be commended for saving some people, by His own free will, from an eternity without Him or is He to be castigated for not saving more or all? Your answer tells what you truly think of God — a wonderful Being that did not have to save anyone yet did or a horrible monster who didn’t save all. Or, perhaps, a willing but unable Deity who desires salvation for mankind but cannot effectively bring it about and depends on us to do what He can’t. There really isn’t any other way to look at it.

The same people who champion the freedom of the human will to accept or reject God do not seem to be willing to give God the free will to accept or reject man. The double standard screams out. People want the freedom to choose but not to give God the same right. It is not as if our Creator owes us anything. He is not beholden to us, we are to Him because all we are is His. In Him we live, breathe and have our existence. We are His creation, for His glory, a glory He will not share with any other.

I get amused at those who want the freedom to choose salvation but the guarantee that the choice cannot be taken back. A salvation dependent on the choice of man but secured by the power of the Savior. I believe in a salvation dependent on a powerful Savior who can and will keep my soul secure. A salvation given by grace because God decided to adopt me into His family like I adopted a little girl into mine. Not because of anything she had done or might possibly do but because I was filled with love toward her. God saved me not because of anything I did or might possibly do for Him but by His love and grace. My hope is built on nothing less than the grace of God my Savior, secured by the blood and righteousness of Jesus and the sealing of my spirit by the Holy Spirit.

Knowing the Heart and Soul of a Fellow Believer

One of the greatest things about the 18 years we served churches in Montana was the lack of sectarianism. By this I mean those who were of the Reformed or Armenian or Calvinist or even Wesleyan belief systems worked well together. Those issues were not a litmus test for brothers and sisters working together on projects much too large for one church. Part of the reason was the geographical situation. Churches were often isolated from other churches of the same denomination. My own, for example, was 110 miles removed from the next church of the same denomination. Throw in Montana’s abysmally cold and long winter which forbids travelling long distances much of the time and one learns how to play nice with one’s neighbors. I spoke at our churches, Lutheran churches, Methodist congregations and had great rapport with the ministers of the Assembly, 7th Day Adventist and Disciples of Christ churches. This was necessary to reach a town that had never seen an outbreak of revival in anyone’s memory. We knew each other intimately. We knew each other’s families. We prayed and labored together. Did we have our differences? Yes. We didn’t sweep them under the rug or compromise – we discussed them, rationally, like adults and joined where we could, such as on issues of the right to life. We knew each others hearts and never demonized the other.

I well remember rumors, unfounded of course, that flew one year about my family and I. At a ministerial meeting, the other pastors pledged to address this from their pulpits, set the record straight and they did so. This show of support was overwhelming and much appreciated. In this atmosphere, the gospel witness went forth.

Unfortunately,  this did not last. Even more unfortunately, the disruption came from within my own denomination. There were many who came in, from down South, with preconceived ideas and agendas that ruined a sweet fellowship. Adherence to a particular interpretation of Scripture became the basis for isolating and minimizing churches and pastors who failed to follow those in positions of power. The same has been experienced in church after church here in Georgia after our relocation. I long for the days when church leaders got together to know, intimately, the heart and soul of fellow ministers. I long for the time when differences of opinion can be discussed rationally, like adults if not like Christians without demonizing those who differ. It may be that I am wrong in an area of doctrine or you may be wrong. We may even both be wrong because I have yet to meet a single person who understands every aspect of Scripture. I have met many who think they do but that’s another story.

In the midst of this, though, I do find hope. From some in my denomination, though not many. I find it from others who have taken the time to get to know their fellow ministers as a person. They may have met them at a hospital, visiting on the same floor, traveled on the same flight together or met at a community event. This gives me hope. Our ministry spans denominations as in many countries there are ones not even represented here in the States. We don’t make churches who ask for help fill out a questionnaire – we go and help. They will take what they agree with and toss the rest, we know. But it is freely offered to all the same. Ta Ethne is somewhat Reformed in its leanings but our most faithful supporters are Wesleyan. They know our heart and work with us. We have Calvinists and Armenians both who advise us and help edit our resources. How can this be? Because God is bigger than all of us. He knows our heart and soul and we should get to know the heart and soul of His children as well. We have also been shunned by others who thought we were too “Presbyterian” and by others who felt we were too “liberal” (whatever that means). Others have questioned how a “Calvinistic-leaning” organization could be so mission-minded (guess they haven’t read our books) and still others thought we played and worked too much with our Wesleyan friends (although I would never give up those friendships). Both sides (or maybe all 4 sides) have labeled us as somethings or other at various times. I just shake my head and forge on as God directs. I would rather describe us as followers of Jesus Christ helping other followers of Jesus Christ become mature disciples.

It is far easier to dismiss someone if you don’t personally know them. Getting to know people shakes up your assumptions and the parroting of beliefs held by others. I remember my first trip to Malaysia, a Muslim nation, and having every assumption I had crushed. They were the most open and friendly of people, full of questions and having a desire to know my beliefs. From mosques to bazaars we encountered curiosity and developed friendships. I learned about the Koran and Muslim beliefs from practicing adherents and they learned of Christianity and the Bible from me. We discussed and argued civilly, respecting each other while differing. The same held true on my trips to China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and other places. I find it sad that I find more civility and respect in foreign countries from those with differing beliefs than in the Bible Belt.

Oh, how I long for an outpouring of the Spirit to bring about a melting of hearts, a desire for civility. I long for ministers of the gospel to get to know other leaders as people. Invite them over for a meal, go on a retreat with them, study Scripture together regularly — get to know their heart and soul. You may just win a friend for life or even for eternity. You might also become a far better minister

Why Jonah Is Relevant To The Western Church

The book of Jonah has much to say to contemporary Christians. Those in the Western Church should particularly take the time to re-examine their own lives in light of the teachings found in this powerful story. Let me illustrate some of the lessons we can find in Jonah.

1) Jonah shows us our failure to share God’s concerns for the salvation of others.  Why else would the Western church spend so much time and money on itself and not on evangelizing those who have yet to hear the gospel? Why else would Christianity be shrinking in the Western world? We have failed to preach the good news of the kingdom – repentance of sin. Yes I believe that salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9) and that He has elected those He will save. I also believe He has elected us, His servants, to be the means by which that salvation is offered. Otherwise He would simply take us to heaven the moment we were born again. We are called to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. Why has it taken 2,000 years and we still have thousands of unreached, unengaged people groups on our planet? The church needs to call a worldwide fast and solemn assembly for repenting to God of our blatant disregard of a simple command. As Jonah was unconcerned for the spiritual needs of the Ninevites, we are unconcerned with the spiritual needs of much of the world.

2) Jonah shows us our failure to value souls more than gourds. A mere pittance is spent by the church on missions compared with the latest gadgets, gizmos and large sanctuaries here at home. Instead of using those blessings to penetrate the darkness we have become enamored with our toys and value them more than souls. If it took all we had, if we had to bankrupt every church to see one soul come to salvation, it would be a bargain. A soul is of unbelievable worth – in fact, a human soul is worth the price of God’s Son dying to redeem it.

3) Jonah shows us our failure to let the love of God cast out our hatred of men. Just as Jonah believed the Ninevites deserved punishment (which, in fact, they did) we believe certain people are deserving of punishment. What we fail to realize is that all of have been given grace, shown unmerited mercy and favor with God who expects us to show that same kind of love and mercy to all people. This includes those trapped in Islam, spiritualism, Buddhism and all the other religious and political belief systems that exist. We cannot pick and choose who is deserving and yet we do — just crunch the number of missionaries to Sub-Saharan Africa versus the Middle East or those to South America versus SE Asia. We cannot play it safe and only concentrate on “safe” countries. God is no respecter of persons and neither should we be. Instead of that great Caribbean 10 day trip to play religious tourist, what about Bhutan or Japan where it takes actual courage to evangelize? Like Jonah faced going to Assyria?

4) Jonah shows us that our personal responsibility is to be involved in the saving of souls. If one gets nothing else out of the book of Jonah, this should slam you between the eyes. We are called by God to proclaim the good news to everyone. A Savior has come to the world. Forgiveness of sins is possible. A new life is being offered by God to all who will respond. And we are guaranteed by Scripture to see people from every tribe, tongue and nation accept this message. This is what gives us hope to go to Assyria and beyond, in the knowledge that God’s Word will not return void when it is sent out

Calvinism, Cyborgs and Baptism

Recently there has been a stir among the Web about the future possibility of wrestling with the question of baptizing cyborgs. As more and more artificial parts are integrated into human beings, the issue of creating cyborgs as pictured in science fiction movies may, indeed, become fact. The question arises when artificial intelligence is uploaded to a human body. Does it then become human? Does it have a soul? These are questions that seem far-fetched, and yet they are being discussed in places such as Christianity Today and in the Southern Baptist Convention.

At issue is the definition of a soul and the definition of salvation, as well as the means by which salvation is obtained. If salvation is by a free will choice solely determined by one’s mind (I choose to accept Jesus as Savior) then the question of an artificial intelligence choosing wisely is very real. If salvation is a grace gift given by the Lord to whom He chooses (the elect), then the question is irrelevant. Do you see how one’s theological understanding of free will impacts the discussion?

If God breathes into a life at conception, giving it a soul, then that is one issue. If one believes that the soul and intelligence are one and the same, that is another issue. If one believes the mind (intelligence) is the same as a soul, then there is a real concern of baptizing cyborgs. If one believes that the soul is placed into a body, (and by extension a new body at the resurrection) then it doesn’t matter, the whole point is moot.

Before more articles are written raising questions about such things, it would be wise for authors to clarify and define their use of terms for words such as soul, spirit and  salvation. It might even be helpful to clarify the authors understanding of cyborg versus golem. Just a random thought on a Tuesday morning, but one that might merit some consideration.

Hymn Devotions Day 34 – Must I Go, And Empty-Handed?

DAY 34 – MUST I GO, AND EMPTY-HANDED?

 

What a haunting thought, to meet Jesus in heaven and have nothing to show Him. To waste the talents He has given us, to squander the time allotted to us, to waste the opportunities to reach others for His kingdom, what a tragedy. We must work now, before He returns, to reach as many people as we can with the gospel, for when He comes again it will be in judgment and not mercy.

Jesus will not lie to us. He will not say, “Well done my good and faithful servant” if we have not done well nor been good. If we have hidden our talent, as the man in the parable did, if we have refused to live our life for His glory, it will be in shame that we stand before Him.

To live a life with no regrets, to make the most of every opportunity given, to use every minute of every day seeking His will, that should be our goal. Oh if we could have time back. Time to witness once more to friends that have passed away. Time to speak, once again, to family members that have died without Christ. But there is no turning back the clock, we must make the most of every opportunity, redeeming the time we have.

This is a good resolution to make: to seize the time, to earnestly seek after souls and ferret out opportunities to share the gospel. Will we have people in heaven come up to us, thanking us for sharing the gospel with them or will we have people in hell shrieking, asking us why we cared so little for us that we kept our gospel to ourselves? Will we meet Jesus empty-handed?

 

Lord Jesus, help me redeem the time You have allotted to me to work for the kingdom. Give me souls to witness to, give me opportunities to share. Let me lead others to You so You can save them by Your grace.

MUST I GO, AND EMPTY-HANDED by Charles Luther

 

Must I go and empty-handed

Thus my dear Redeemer meet

Not one day of service give Him

Lay no trophy at His feet?

 

Not at death I shrink nor falter

For my Savior saves me now

But to meet Him empty-handed

Thought of that now clouds my brow

 

O the years in sinning wasted

Could I but recall them now

I would give them to my Savior

To His will I’d gladly bow

 

O ye saints, arouse, be earnest

Up and work while yet ’tis day

Ere the night of death o’er-take thee

Strive for souls while you still may

 

REFRAIN:

 

Must I go and empty-handed?

Must I meet my Savior so?

Not one soul with which to greet Him:

Must I empty-handed go?