Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Refining Catholic Teaching

Yes, I know I am a pastor. But, let me appeal to you. First, I was baptized Catholic. Second, I have a love for the Catholic people & the Catholic church. I do not attend a Catholic church weekly, but I don't feel this disqualifies me from input into the church I was baptized as an infant.

I have had several Catholic people ask me about works & how they correlate to salvation. So I want to address this using, what I believe is a key Scripture from the Holy Bible, found in St. Paul's letter to the Church in Ephesus.

Let's walk through this verse by verse. I think this is the clearest way to think through it. I have some notes, points of clarification, under each verse.

Ephesians 2:8-10

Verse 8- "For by grace you have been saved through the faith & this (salvation) is not out of yourselves; it is God's gift."

-God's gift to you is His grace given to you through the faith (in Jesus).
-The word "faith" is the word "pistis" to trust, to place faith in Jesus.
-Have you done this yourself? Have you ever personally asked Jesus, placed your trust in Jesus as YOUR saviour?

Verse 9- "Not out of works, so no one might glorify themself."

-Only God will get the glory this way.
-God will not share His glory with another. Our works cannot save us because a) we can never be perfect, b) God will not share the glory with us. This is why He has to give us a gift.

Verse 10- "For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before so that we would walk in them."

-For the Protestant, the word "peripatasomen" teaches us that we should walk, do these good works. Not for salvation, but as the overflow of the salvation God has given us. We are NOT off the hook to do whatever we please. Yes, we are saved by God's grace, through trusting in Jesus as our saviour, but God has prepared great works for us to do, as the fruit of our salvation.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Getting Fit for the Kingdom

“Fit for the Kingdom”

The Problem with Christian Leaders
Crawford Loritts has a great book titled, "Leadership as an Identity". In chapter two he discusses the problem with Christian leaders. Namely- young leaders are out to prove themselves, old leaders have proven themselves and run on that track record...if they are not careful & if God doesn't teach them any better. The bottom line is that all of us, young and old, are tempted to live out of pride & "survival of the fittest", proving we are fit. It is ultimately self-glorification or self-preservation.

How does God knock self-dependence & self-glorification out of us?
Romans 8:15-17
For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”
16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God,
17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. 1

-We love the first 2 1/2 verses. But the third one is not very welcome by many. We love, “Abba! Father!”, we gloss over “we suffer with Him so that...”

Like the wording of Romans 8:17 (NLT)
17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

Suffering precedes future glory. There is no glorification without suffering. It is a normal part of the Christian life.
Suffering is a tool God uses to allow Himself to shine in us. We learn dependence on Him through suffering.
Suffering is a tool God uses to allow Himself to shine through us. We often hide Christ under a bowl of pride. God cracks our bowls of pride so that His light can shine.
POSITIONALLY, we are glorified, through Christ (Romans 8:30), but PRACTICALLY, we are being ”Fit for the Kingdom” (Luke 9:62).

Monday, April 18, 2011

Do you REALLY want to follow Jesus?

Let's be honest, for many of us, we would love to follow Jesus-if he were to promise us glory & nice things, when we want/need them. We want happy, nice, good, generous, patient Jesus.
I have been gripped by Romans 8:17 lately. It won't leave my mind. It fills my random musings.

"And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering." (NLT Translation)
"and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. " (NASB Translation)

I find that I want to share in God's glory. I like the "together with Christ we are heirs of God's glory."
I never really considered the part, "But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering" or "IF indeed we suffer with Him..." being a predecessor to the glory.

To Graph it:
Physical Pain -> Spiritual Strength
Or to quote Luke 9:62- we have to be "fit for the kingdom". To follow after Jesus is to experience the suffering that He faced, for in suffering comes fruit & maturity.

Another verse that has intrigued me & seems to contradict (at first glance, because of the language barrier is ) Matthew 11:30,
"My yoke is easy and my burden is light." -Jesus
Easy = suffering?
Easy does equal- fit, useful, virtuous, good, benevolent, mild, good for use
Burden- load
Light- easy to bear, makes for good sailing

Look at the previous verse in Matthew 11:28,29, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. "

It is impossible to keep all the rules of the Law. Then, the contemporary Jewish leaders of Jesus added several hundred oral traditions to this Law. If just the Law was impossible to keep, imagine the weight of guilt from the Law + oral traditions! That is one heavy burden! One too hard for any person to carry.
So Jesus, teaches that people should come to the Messiah (savior, Christ). He fulfilled the Law & Prophets, by keeping the requirements of the Law, by fulfilling the Prophecies of the long awaited Messiah. Compared to the Law & Traditions, Jesus' yoke is very easy, very light, very relaxing. See the Law & traditions were understood as, "Do, do, do to have life." When Jesus came He taught, "It is finished. The work of salvation was done by Me. You trust me, follow me, and rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. For my yoke is easy, burden light." Easy, however, does not equal nirvana here on earth. God's people have a long history of facing persecution because of their belief. God's people are allowed to suffer or even destined to suffer, in order to fit them for the kingdom. So, Christian, when you fall upon hard times, count it as an opportunity for joy, knowing that the challenging of your faith produces a wealth of perseverance & proven character. Know that you are being fit for the kingdom. Also know that there are others, in every nation of the world, who are suffering today, just as you do, or worse.

That being said, some of you suffer because you deserve it, because you let sin reign in your body. If you are persecuted because of sin, what benefit is that? But if you are persecuted/ suffer for righteousness sake & the Kingdom's sake, then there is reward in that.

Also, there is teaching today that, "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." or, "Your best life can be now". Well, remember Romans 8:17, that a godly person needs to be fit for the kingdom, which means that God's plan for you IS to suffer, in order that you may reign with Christ. There is no way around this. no acceptions.

The only way around this is to reject Jesus, to choose not trust Him, still have suffering in life, but actually have your best life now & on the other side of the comma of death, to live with an eternity of regret. Don't choose this route! You will be missing the wonderful, beautiful, complex, mystery of being an adopted child of God. And you will live all life, here and there, with suffering. Without break, without ever having a relationship with the one you were made for. Don't be stubborn!

I have yet to accept that suffering is a welcome part of the deal. I still struggle with doubt, guilt, and my standing with God when I suffer things. I feel, I guess, a bit deceived (snookered-my fun word) by some evangelists that teach that if you accept Jesus, everything will "ROCK". While this is true on a deeper level, it takes maturity to get there on a practical, emotional, or day to day level. I am up for the challenge, but this is something I am just starting to realize. His yoke has been awesome so far, but I am just starting to learn that His yoke is not shallow or plastic. It is real, and wants, from me, real change.

Non-Christians, consider this. That God WILL really care for you, but that means that you will suffer for trusting Jesus with your salvation. True JESUS is THE provision for salvation, He is the door (or stairway, for all you Led Zeppelin fans) to Heaven, but this yoke of lordship, God's love for you, will not allow you to remain as you are. He also desires for you to become holy.

New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (Mt 11:28–29). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (Ro 8:17). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
Tyndale House Publishers. (2004). Holy Bible : New Living Translation. (2nd ed.) (Ro 8:17). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Review of "Love Wins." by Rob Bell

Alright, so I decided to listen to this book, via Rob reading it on audiobook. Here are my thoughts. First, our job, as Christians, is to rightly handle God's word. To understand what it really teaches. Second, because Rob Bell currently has a large church does not necessarily mean he is an expert at handling God's word. Third, Rob is great at laying out an argument & then leaving you wondering, "So what does he really believe about this?". Ultimately, it doesn't really matter what Rob believes, it matters what The Bible teaches. God has laid out His book, so we, your average Joes could clearly understand it. Fourth, because Rob doesn't agree with something, doesn't necessarily mean he is right, or that the Bible is unclear. Fifth, I acknowledge that most people have no interest in God or in Jesus. So here we go...

58 minutes in. Thought- Rob asks a lot of tough questions. He questions normally accepted biblical teaching. Hopefully he will also give an answer to these questions, seeing that he is a pastor who is suppose to rightly divide the word of truth. I am not too impressed with someone who is "bold enough" to ask the tough questions, because everyone asks these. In my opinion, God gave us brains to use. God is a God of truth, so seeking truth, asking questions is NORMAL (ie David-Psalm 13). I wonder who his target audience is, or the straw-man of his conversation, who he is upset with. At times, I feel he is challenging biblical Christianity. At times, I feel that he is challenging Westborough Baptist or the Puritains.

Final thoughts- "God's essence is love" is his main starting point. While I believe that God is loving, I believe that His love radiates from His HOLINESS. He struggles with God's holiness. He says that a God who destroys is not one who people would trust. While this may be true for many people, God does judge people who refuse to obey Him. Rob never gets into THOSE verses, where God does destroy things.
He believes that there is no distinct HEAVEN (where God dwells) and HELL (a place). He believes that both are together, with God, but for unbelievers being with God is HELL. A HELL of their own making. They are in this "Hell" (which is a state of mind), until they finally humble themselves & decide that God's way is better. In other words, people are able to make a choice post-death. However, he skirts around the verses that teach about the finality of the decision made in life (parable of the virgins, sheep and goats, rich man vs. Lazarus).
He sets up a pretty sweet defense for himself by saying that only closed-minded people would call him a heretic. He says they are unloving.

If I were to summarize Rob Bell's theology on Heaven, Hell, eternity-
1. Hell is not an eternal destination, necessarily. It depends how long it takes people to repent.
2. Hell is a state of mind, which people create themselves, by stubbornly refusing God.
3. Salvation is not just for the other side of death, but it is for us in life too.
4. The word eternal is not a period of time, but a state of time.
5. God is, at His core, loving and would not make an eternal final destination.
6. God gets what He wants. He wants all men to be saved, therefore, eventually, given enough time, all men will. Either in this life, or after life.
7. God is, at His core, loving and doesn't destroy people.
8. Mankind, will eventually choose to accept God, given enough time.

Problem- I will state these kindly & keep the issues before me.
1. God, at His core, is HOLY. Love radiates from His holiness. Rob Bell, never acknowledges God's holiness.
2. There is a separation between those who reject God/Jesus and those who humble themselves before Him.
3. Hell, Gehenna, the garbage dump, is an eternal place. The Bible is clear that people will go there.
4. See my other post on Hell for details and a study of it.
5. Would a good God, a loving God send someone to Hell? Answer for both is NO. Instead, a good, loving God will allow people to reject so great a salvation and choose separation if they desire too.
6. Rob struggles to reconcile God's holiness & God's love.
7. Rob starts with a definition of "love" that may not be accurate from God's angle.
8. Could Hell bring glory to God? Rob would say absolutely NOT.
9. I believe Rob underestimates the depravity/pride of people. I believe that if people do not accept Jesus here on earth, why would they ever decide to change their minds after death?
10. It is destined for man to die once, and after that to face judgment.
11. Hades, the dwelling place of unbelievers is thrown into the Lake of Fire, at the judgment. There is clearly a distinction in places. To deny this is to not accurately handle Scripture. It is to be ashamed of the gospel.
12. Rob teaches that the word aionios/eternal refers to not length but quality. However, it is NORMALLY accepted, and widely accepted by scholars, that this Greek word has to do with both quality and duration. In fact, it refers to the eternality of God. According to Rob, God would not be everlasting, but just have good quality. He neglects the thrust of the word for the sake of his argument. This is dishonest. Aionios- age, eternal, perpetual, constant, above time (Romans 16:26, 1 Timothy 6:16 of God. Matt. 18:8, 25:41, 46, Mark 3:29, 2 Thess. 1:9, Heb. 6:2, Jude 1:7 of punishment of the wicked-those who stubbornly refuse God's salvation).
I appreciate Rob pointing out that eternal life/fire is bigger than just a location. It is a state of living as well. Eternal life, for those who accept God's salvation begins now. There is a qualitative difference in this life.

Thoughts Rob left me with-
1. What was the early church's view of eternity (like pre-300AD)?
2. What does "eternity" mean, in the sense of quality of life NOW?
3. Rob is right, in the sense, that God is, at times, scary. But not because He is fickle. He is scary because I cannot control Him. His ways are different than mine, I seek pleasure, and don't want Him to put me through suffering, because I do not yet comprehend the benefit of suffering.