Be Safe…

Have you happened to notice the stressed importance on safety? It seems to me nothing, and I mean NOTHING, is more important these days. Have a safe flight, be careful, watch out… these have become mantras in our apparently unsafe existence.

I’m certainly not against safety. I say some of these things to our daughters as they leave the house. It’s a dangerous world after-all. But when did safety become a god to be worshipped?

I’m flying as I write this, and the safety obsession on the airlines is good in my opinion when it comes to things like the plane staying in the air. But is it necessary for contactless payments to protect me from disease? I mean for Pete’s sake I’m in an aluminum can with hundreds of people. Will this mask really stop a virus from penitrating my nasal passages? No chance.

I was walking down the jet bridge thinking how all of this comes back (mostly) to who we serve. Has the god of the age blinded us to the reality of death? Have we forgotten it’s looming?

As a Christian I’m called to reject this idea. God has me in the palm of His hand. I’m in the beloved and there is no safer place to be. I’m not calling you or me to take silly chances, but the reality is this has more to do with control than actual safety.

Cory tenBoom-s sister Betsy recognized God’s control over the seemingly smallest details when she left her bed to go downstairs and returned later to find shrapnel had penetrated the home and lodged right where she lay.

You and I will die when it is appointed for us to die. So stop stressing it.

Mark 6:20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.

Herod kept John alive until it was his time to go. It is no more complicated than that.

Mark 6:27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison.

I hope not to lose my head or go down in a fiery ball of metal falling from the sky, but if that is God’s plan, that’s the way it will be.

Stay safe my friends, stay in the word.

(Forgive my typos and sloppy punctuation, I’m writing on the fly, literally)

Post flight update: I was asked by the 20 something year old to pull my mask up during the remaining 30 minutes of the flight. I guess she was safety conscious, and since safety is United’s number one concern I didn’t want to offend…or get escorted off the plane in Houston. Insert smiley face emoji here.

Update on the story of Cory and Betsy tenBoom

One night I tossed for an hour while dogfights (war planes) raged overhead, streaking my patch of sky with fire. At last I heard Betsie stirring in the kitchen and ran down to join her.

She was making tea. She brought it into the dining room where we had covered the windows with heavy black paper and set out the best cups. Somewhere in the night there was an explosion; the dishes in the cupboard rattled. 

For an hour we sipped our tea and talked, until the sound of planes died away and the sky was silent. I said goodnight to Betsie at the door to Tante Jans’s rooms and groped my way up the dark stairs to my own. The fiery light was gone from the sky. I felt for my bed: there was the pillow. Then in the darkness my hand closed over something hard. Sharp too! I felt blood trickle along a finger.
It was a jagged piece of metal, ten inches long.

“Betsie!” I raced down the stairs with the shrapnel shard in my hand. We went back to the dining room and stared at it in the light while Betsie bandaged my hand. 

“On your pillow,” she kept saying. 

“Betsie, if I hadn’t heard you in the kitchen—” 

But Betsie put a finger on my mouth. “Don’t say it, Corrie! There are no ‘ifs’ in God’s world. And no places that are safer than other places. The center of His will is our only safety—Oh Corrie, let us pray that we may always know it!

Kevin

When Life isn’t Always “Fabulous”

Life is hard.

Christianity is hard.

Life isn’t always black and white, and it isn’t always that Jesus makes your life perfect. I’ve always loved the song I asked the Lord that I Might Grow by John Newton. Newton knew the grace of God, and he also knew the difficulties associated with Christianity.

There are others, of course, that knew it well—significant players in redemptive history.

David

Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!

O Lord, make haste to help me! (Psalm 40:13)

He felt the pain and the bitterness of life and sin. He knew the wickedness in his own heart. Who could forget his calls for help, and who could forget the heinous nature of his sin?

Job

Dare I mention Job? Was Job’s testing because of his sin? Was it for his sanctification, or was it for purposes beyond our understanding?

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil (Job 1:1).

I’ve heard the things that happen to us are for our good and our sanctification. Why this may be very true, but does this mean that we must never lament the pain that comes along with it for us to be sanctified?

After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth (Job 3:1).

Job spends the rest of chapter 3 lamenting his life and wishing he had never been born, yet the Scripture says that Job never charged God with wrong, nor did he sin with his lips. But Job mourned, and Job cried, and Job hated his life. But no sin.

Jesus

Jesus was the perfect lamb of God, and we know there was no sin in Him.

He was despised and rejected by men,

a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).

How can we so easily forget the suffering servant and His call to the Father and His desire to be free of the burden He must bear for the sin of man? He indeed was acquainted with grief in ways we will never know.

The Apostle Paul

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

Paul’s despair was unto death, and I’ve never related to his experience here to the concept of suicide until a dear friend of mine preached a funeral of a soldier that took his own life.

Sometimes life can be so heavy, so overwhelming that we despair of life itself. I’m not suggesting Paul contemplated suicide, nor should this be a viable option. If you’ve had these thoughts, please seek help, but understand these thoughts are not a sin.

I suggest that they are real for people, and living as if your life is always “fabulous” is the sin. Why is it a sin because it’s a lie? No matter how you think of yourself or how holy or righteous you are, you sometimes suffer.

And it’s not wrong, nor is it sin to suffer, be angry, have emotions, or let those emotions out…. If you don’t let them out, you may corkscrew yourself into the ground. That might be where we need to define proper outlets for grief, despair, and dare I say “depression?”

Notice what Paul says just before verse 8.

These are my favorite verses in the Bible. Why? Because I’ve been there, and I’m still there more often than I want to let on.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

If you need help, please reach out. If I need help, I hope you’re available to help me. We need each other. Our Lord is gracious, and although He grows us in ways we don’t often or always, or rarely enjoy, He does grow us for our good and His glory.

The Christian life is not about being happy all the time. It is for our joy, but that’s another topic for another day. Today, I want to focus you and me on the reality that sometimes life is hard. And it’s okay to live in your emotions sometimes. I’m not condoning sin in those emotions, lest I be accused of it, but God gave us emotions, and to deny them, I would argue, is sinful.

Kevin

Running to Stand Still – A Theology Lesson from Bono

I hopped in my truck today and began driving down the road. I had a plan to go to a house I’ve been renovating with a friend. Life has been hard lately for numerous reasons, and so when I face some difficulties, I have a few CDs (don’t laugh) in my truck, and I listen to them. George Strait seems to identify with my problems sometimes, but today it happened that U2 was up to bat.

The Joshua Tree has been a favorite, and I still love the songs. I’ve heard the song Running to Stand Still countless times, but I’ve never REALLY listened to it. I even know the words or some of them. I hadn’t thought through what Bono is trying to say. Okay, I’m behind the times, obviously, but I played the song at least five times and was dumb-struck by the lyrics. 

If you don’t know, the song is about a heroin addict living in a place called the Ballymun Flats in Dublin. One line is “I see seven towers, but I only see one way out,” describes the seven-building tenement. The helplessness with which this song screams I’ve related to being under the bondage of legalistic, authoritarian churches and church leaders.

A stretch, you might say, No, I don’t believe so, and allow me and these lyrics to explain.

Here are the verses that grabbed hold of me, but as I continued to relisten and then read the lyrics, it became even more apparent.

                You got to cry without weeping

                Talk without speaking

                Scream without raising your voice

                You know I took the poison

                From the poison stream

                Then I floated out of here

Bono is a brilliant lyricist, musician, and singer, and dare I say, theologian? Probably not, but if you’ve ever been in an overly controlling environment, living in a fishbowl-type church you’ll recognize these words speak not only to heroin addicts but to high-demand church survivors.

What do you do? How do you get out if you are in an environment like this?

                And so she woke up

                Woke from where she was

                            Lying still

                Said I gotta do something

                About where we’re going

Please do something about it. There are many great resources out there to help you make a move away from the control-oriented group/pastor/members/elders or whatever. Help is available; many of us out there want to help and are willing to talk.

Get in a real church. Find a pastor that is a humble man. Alpha-male leaders are probably trouble. Find a gentle and caring leadership group. Find a church that preaches the gospel by and about the grace of God. Ensure they actually live out His grace in their lives.

Depending on the amount of time spent in such a place, healing can take a while. It’s not easy. I know. Seek out a godly friend to confide. A good friend is closer than a brother. Show compassion to others as the Lord repairs you. Find your purpose in what you’ve been through to help others.

There is so much I could say, but please take a few minutes and listen to this song. Perhaps it will affect you as it did me today.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1).

Kevin

Authority, Obey, Submit?

I recently made a Facebook post which had more activity than most of mine attract. It had to do with the topic of biblical submission to a pastor or elder. I love this topic of discussion because we know something about the quote from personal experience. Here is the Tweet from the “pastor,” which I assume he is but didn’t check to see.

It spurred enough discussion that a friend reached out and asked if I had any articles on the topic. I couldn’t recall any at that time, but now that I’ve searched the memory banks, I remember an article I wrote a long time ago.

I’ve since removed it because I don’t believe in what I wrote any longer. I want to clarify that I’m not against biblical submission, I’m not against biblical authority, and I think that pastors/elders have a certain amount of both. However, it must be within the context of the limits of how far the Bible extends this authority. Herein lies the rub for the fundamentalist crowd.

Here is how I started that article from 2012

“The human condition is to rebel against authority.  It’s in our fleshly nature.  Our desire is to seek self and when someone tells us what to do that generally goes against our own self interest.  If you had a negative thought when you read the title of this post, maybe I’ve already made my case.”

The tone with which I spoke is enough to nauseate me today. While I don’t believe the paragraph is untrue, it needs a different presentation. While I also think that I made some decent points, I lacked experience, and I also lacked grace.

Suffice it to say that we need to be careful who we listen to and how much stock we place in their analysis of the Scriptures. I’m not trying to discount my knowledge or my sincerity, but sometimes we/me can be wrong.

So what about it?

Where do we allow the authority of elders to enter into our lives? Many that I call my friends are fundamentalist survivors. They’ve been through the over-shepherding model of church, and they have rightly rejected it. Whether knowingly or not, this over-shepherding is a product of the 1970s. I’ve written briefly on the topic before here.

John MacArthur famously said when asked how much authority he has, he said “none.” I like the answer because he was expressing his power only comes from God. In Fundamentalism, overly anxious elders love authority, submission, and obedience.

Diotrephes loved authority, but only his own.

I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority  (3 John 9).

Pastors and elders that love authority tends to place themselves in a hierarchical position. They are the leaders, now obey. At the root of the problem is the desire for control or power. The leader elevates himself to the top position where there are usually rules for thee but not for me. It is all very predictable.  

What’s the right balance?

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you (Hebrews 13:17).

The biblical call to obey leaders is evident from this passage. It is a good passage, I love the passage, but if I’m to be a Bible student, I need to prevent this from being an authoritarian’s delight.

A quick aside: since leaving former fundy church (over three years ago now), I’ve never heard this passage brought up by any leadership we’ve been apart. Not once. In the former fundy church, Hebrews 13:17 made the quotation rotation regularly.  I dare not say weekly, but it might have been weekly.

If I need to boil it down to the most base position, it’s these areas where church leaders possess authority, and by no means is this comprehensive, but it outlines some basics.

Humility – all flows from a humble spirit

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews (Acts 20:18-19).

Paul sets an example of how to lead and how to live before the people of God. Any leader that does not walk in humility is not worthy of following.

Preaching – a primary task of pastoral care is appropriately handling the word of God

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

False teachers, unqualified leaders, and Diotrephes types will distort the truth, bend the truth, and manipulate the truth to suit their desires. Be on the watch.

Error in the church – conflict is inevitable, and the humble, servant leader must confront blatant sin

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them (Acts 20:28-30).

Notice, I said blatant sin. Sin that is really sin. Not some hyped-up, made-up sin. I have something in mind, and those that know, know what I’m talking about.

I was thankful to have an opportunity to preach on this topic:

Love People – Most people recognize love when they see it

For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you (2 Corinthians 2:4).

Through humility and love, Paul’s example of servant leadership is an example we should all seek after. His love for the church was evident. He confronted when needed, but it was always in humility and with a desire for restoration.

These are just a few of the ways pastors and elders should exercise authority, but none of them should ever be in an authoritarian manner.

The above quote (Tweet) is an attitude of entitlement and authoritarianism. The man above has a desire for preeminence. He desires to be the go-to guy. If you need advice, he has it. If you don’t need advice, you should ask him anyhow.

“Hey pastor, should I wear the blue suede shoes or the red shoes?” Unless he’s asking you to sin, you should take his advice, says the authoritarian pastor. Be aware, dear friends, there are many of them out there waiting to prey on their next victims. Stay in the word, stay in prayer, seek discernment and wisdom. Stay humble, or get humble.

Kevin

What About Free Will?

“But what about free will?”

“What about it, I said”

“Doesn’t free will provide the answer to the problems in the world?”

“Can I ask you a question?” “When you finish college and get a job, will you have to show up to work?”

“I suppose if I want to get paid, then I will have to show up.”

“Yes, so is your will free? We are always subject to something.”

“Oh, look what time it is, I’ve got to go, or I’ll be late for class…”

Point made. 

I’ve had this sort of a conversation dozens of times. The question revolves around making choices and making choices without consequences, from my experiences, in discussing free will with people, especially on a college campus. Some of them are genuine inquiries, and some are hoping to deliver the death-blow to the conversation.

What is it about man’s free will, and how does God factor into the ability for us to make real choices. How can God be sovereign over all things? It’s not an easy topic. I’m writing some articles that defend the Christian faith, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to do so—being forced to defend what you believe is an essential aspect of the Christian faith.

Christianity requires faith but not blind faith.

Free will, Defined:

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary provides this:

  1. : voluntary choice or decision
  2. : freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention

Webster’s 1828  dictionary says this:

  1. The power of directing our own actions without restraint by necessity or fate.
  2. Voluntariness; spontaneousness.

It seems to me both of these are similar and accurate. The newer definition says there is no divine intervention, and the 1828 version says without restraint by necessity or fate. The difference in thought is quite different it seems. In 1828 Noah Webster knew that God was involved in everything. I’ll get to that point later on.

I want to firmly say that we make “free will” decisions every day that have consequences. God is not forcing our hand, nor is He influencing these decisions so that we are puppets on a string. I will argue God’s Divine control, but not in the way Determinism posits.

The brilliant men that wrote the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith have nicely summarized the argument, and I would commend anyone interested in further study to investigate the 2nd London Baptist Confession in Modern English.

Chapter 9 – Free Will – paragraph 1.

1. God has endowed human will with natural liberty and power to act on choices so that it is neither forced nor inherently bound by nature to do good or evil.1

1Matthew 17:12; James 1:14; Deuteronomy 30:19.

It is also critical to recognize how God factors into the created world and His creation’s management. God has decreed all things from the beginning to the end but provides us (the creature) decision making power.

Chapter 3 – God’s Decree – paragraph 1.

1. From all eternity God decreed everything that occurs, without reference to anything outside himself.1  He did this by the perfectly wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably. Yet God did this in such a way that he is neither the author of sin nor has fellowship with any in their sin.2  This decree does not violate the will of the creature or take away the free working or contingency of second causes. On the contrary, these are established by God’s decree.3  In this decree God’s wisdom is displayed in directing all things, and his power and faithfulness are demonstrated in accomplishing his decree.4

1Isaiah 46:10; Ephesians 1:11; Hebrews 6:17; Romans 9:15, 18. 2James 1:13; 1 John 1:5. 3Acts 4:27, 28; John 19:11. 4Numbers 23:19; Ephesians 1:3–5.

The Confession provides a critical understanding of how God works in His creation and how humanity can function consistently with clear and legitimate choices. If we reconsider our dictionary definitions, the modern Merriam-Webster definition seems to be more aligned with the Confession than one might give at first blush; however, we know that if God has decreed all things that will come to pass, at the bottom of it all, God has a purpose.

The most important conclusion we can draw is that the universe is purposeless without the Divine influence. In the article I wrote on God and Evil, I outlined that God can control all things and even allow or decree evil and still not be the author of evil. I’m sure this is distasteful to many, and I’ll admit sometimes causes me grief. I don’t believe we are truly human if we don’t recoil at the trouble with evil. Similarly, God controls all things (ultimately) but allows and even decrees specific actions and so-called “Free Will” decisions that bring Him glory. For example, how can we not rejoice at Corey ten Boom’s faith and courage without there being a Holocaust? How could Arthur Schindler’s “list” not inspire us to help others? How can we even know goodness without badness, or light without dark?

God’s ways and thoughts are far higher than ours, and while to some, it may sound too simple, it is far from simple. 

Man’s Decision-making Ability

If I have correctly defined free will, my task next is to show that man has the rational ability to decide on matters, and they are, in effect, “real.” I believe the real decision and God’s providence are inextricably linked, so I want to use a well-known Bible narrative to illustrate my point.

So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan. They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits (Genesis 37:17b-20).

Joseph was the favored son of Jacob was despised and hated by his brothers. When Joseph finds his brothers, the brothers seize the opportunity to throw Joseph in a pit, sell him as a slave to be sent to Egypt, and lie to their father that wild animals have killed Joseph. The decisions these brothers made were their own. They freely made them, and they had severe consequences. Joseph, Jacob, and many others were affected by these wicked and evil choices. God had a good reason for this to happen, and it plays out in the Redemption story, but it is a long and grueling journey that eventually lands Joseph in the number two spot in all of Egypt. God had a plan to use it for good and His glory.

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today (Genesis 50:19-20).

We see that ultimately God had decreed that the brothers would commit evil acts against Joseph for good. The decisions these brothers made were real, they had consequences, and God allowed it to happen, and we can even say, caused it to happen, but yet was not the author of sin. How does that work?

Second Causes

Joseph’s brothers perfectly illustrate an agent of second cause. God didn’t come down to Dothan and make the brothers conspire to kill Joseph. Why did the brothers do this? Once again, I believe the Bible can answer our question, and it begins back at the beginning.  Adam and Eve are serving God in the garden. They are naming the animals, Adam is tending the garden, and Eve is preparing a delicious meal of…. Oops.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:6-11).

It is “simple” from this point forward. The ground is cursed, man is cursed, the woman is cursed, and all humanity has been plunged into sin. Adam served as a representative of all of us. Man’s free will is now corrupt. 

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—  (Romans 5:12).

We have inherited sin from Adam, and we are born into sin through the curse, which is the explanation of it all. The world we inhabit is full of sinners. I don’t think I would need to convince most people this is true, but the issue is not convincing you others are sinners. The problem is convincing you that you are a sinner.

Most will say, yes, I know that I sin. I’ve told lies, I’ve stolen things, I’ve blasphemed the Name of God, but in comparison to those around me, I’m pretty good. I give money to the poor, and I provide for my family. I might send money to an organization that helps people. On the scales of justice, I’m better than the average Joe. 

And you know what? You’ve got me convinced. I’m, however, not the one that matters. God’s requirement for justice and holiness is perfection, and the way we judge ourselves is by comparing it to the law of God.

The Free Will Argument Summarized

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:15-18).

The Protestant Reformation began with a Catholic Munk, Martin Luther, nailing 95 theses to the Whittenberg castle door in Whittenberg, Germany. Luther saw many contradictions between the church of Rome and what the Bible taught. To reform the church of Rome, he started a revolution. Luther wrote a brilliant article with 19 arguments against the concept of Free Will called The Bondage of the Will. You can obtain a free download here from our friends at Chapel Library.

In Argument 2, Luther says this:

“This universal slavery to sin includes those who appear to be the best and most upright. No matter how much goodness men may naturally achieve, this is not the same thing as the knowledge of God. The most excellent thing about men is their reason and their will, but it has to be acknowledged that this noblest part is corrupt.

Paul argues the same thing in Romans 6 and throughout much of Romans. Man is corrupt, and while we are all capable of good and decent things, they cannot put us in a right relationship with God.

The ability to get right with God, to have our will conformed to God’s and the image of Christ comes via the new birth (John 3:3). We must believe that Jesus is the Christ and that He came to earth and lived the life we can’t, being a substitute for us on the cross and paying for our sins through His life, death, burial, and resurrection.

Jesus is the ultimate reality.  Anyone who desires knowledge of God and man’s ability to have a free will pleasing to God must reconcile with God through Christ. One day we all must stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and dealing with Him in the here and now is a necessity to dealing with Him in the judgment.

Jesus says this about Himself: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36).

If you want ultimate free will, the Son provides that in Him, and this leads to a bigger question, the ultimate question. Who is Jesus, and why did He come to earth? Was He just a good man, a moral teacher, or some obscure Jew living in ancient Palestine? All history flows through this man, and He makes many claims about Himself that, if not true, made Him the ultimate con-man in all history.

Perhaps, we will deal with this next time.

Kevin