Calvary Church

4216 West 204th St, Matteson, IL – 708-481-8300
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    Early teaching thoughts for 12/27

    Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

    For December 27th

    Being new (rejecting the old): redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to us. The transformation that should have occurred.

    Old -> New: Transformational change

    We tend to forget that this transformational change is not about becoming a “better” person at all, but about accepting that out pursuit to be “better” is at the heart of our sinfulness.

    From Eden onward, humanity has sought to be “better” on our own terms via our own abilities. The temptation in Eden was not to eat some fruit, but rather to become better, to seek to become divine in ability and knowledge rather than in character.

    Once this desire was pursued, even seeking God-like character became a futile and undesired goal. We became dead in our trespasses and sins as every transgression declares the quest to be divine; to write one’s own morality, defining good and evil for oneself.

    Until we give up on this “will to power”, this desire to rule over even God himself, transformation from death to life is not possible in the least. We are supposed to desire to be transformed into the likeness of Christ in his love and character, but not at all in his rule and power. Be like Christ, not overrule him.

    The moment that we say to God, or to the wind for that matter, “My will, my desires will be my guide and my truth!”, we have become blasphemers, seeking to negate the rule and offered love of the infinite, almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth. We have become our own idols, our own objects of worship.

    Ephesians 2:1-3
    I Thess 1:9-10
    Colossians 1:21-23
    Philippians 3: 7-11 ~ futility to purpose
    I Corinthians 6:9-11
    I John 2:15-17

    John 1:10-13; 3:16; 5:21; 6:32-40; 14:6;

    Transition: Ephesians 4:17-19; 4:20-24

    becoming ever newer: the process of sanctification that we each should be involved with

    ” I’m not where I need to be but do thankful that I’m not where I used to be!” ~ Dawn

    As we seek to be conformed more and more to Christlikeness, we must understand the following:

    We never “arrive”, but we do get ever farther from our origin.
    self-sin ——————->>——————————————– Like Christ

    Growth comparisons are meaningless in light of the distance to the goal that we seek. (No rankings)

    Philippians 3:12-14
    John 15:1-8
    Romans 12, John 3
    Colossians 3:5-14
    Ephesians 4:1-6; 4:25-5:2

    confession, repentance, restoration as a life way.

    Being made new

    finally new: focusing on the joy set before us.

    I love the glimpses!

    I Corinthians 15:12-58
    Hebrews 12:1-3
    John 14:1-3
    “Well done”
    Revelation
    I Corinthians 13:12
    Heaven does not occur when we retire from work.

    Is Jesus enough?

     

    Other thoughts:

    II Corinthians 1:8-11
    I have often heard it said that God will not let you go through more than you can handle. I do not believe this to be true.
    Many will quote I Corinthians 10:13 to back up this contention.
    “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”
    The context here is generally thought to deal with temptation toward sin and not adversity; cancer, bad marriages. I do not think that it applies to the “bad” things that happen in life.
    I would contend that God does allow (or directly brings) circumstances into our lives that we cannot “handle” or endure. These occurrences force us to face the reality that we are woefully inadequate to deal with what God has for us as he places us, at times, in difficult areas of service. We then must default to the position that we should have never drifted from; total dependence upon God Most High, Creator of Heaven and Earth.
    The very starting point of following Christ requires the admission of total dependence upon his sacrifice for our sins because the debt was/is far beyond our ability to endure. Life after this initiative must continue to admit and embrace this dependency.

    Slave

    Sunday, April 19th, 2015

    Who am I? Romans 1:1

    1Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus (what is my identity?)

    The Greek work here translated “servant” is defined by Strong’s in this way: doulos: a slave, one bound to serve (from δέω (deō ) to bind) one whose will and capacities are wholly at the service of another . δοῦλος (doulos 1401) is used of the lowest scale of servitude, but when transferred to Christian service it expresses the highest devotion of one who is bound by love.

    I think that our translations seek to soften this concept by translating “doulos” as “servant”, rather than “slave”. Slavery is against our rebellious natures. We desire to have some degree of autonomy to cling to and the term “servant” tends to allow some degree of it. Being a slave clearly conveys that we have no independent rights or autonomy. Our fallen natures chafe against this idea. “Let us break their chains and throw off their fetters!”

    When we talk about “not my will, but yours be done”, I think that we do not really consider the implications. If doing the will of God is merely a matter of avoiding things worldly and sinful, we are all good. However, if we think about totally renouncing ownership of our entire lives, including our possessions, we might tend to balk. Avoiding this or that carnality doesn’t really cost us anything, other than the pleasures of sin for a short while. But surrendering our durable goods and what we deem that we deserve is another thing altogether.

    We forget that a slave has no personal possessions, as everything, even their very souls belongs to the master, who may do with them as he wishes. In the case of the follower of Christ, everything must be surrendered to Christ as if our very possessions were his and not our own because this is the reality for us. We own nothing. We are stewards who have been entrusted with what we “have” that it might be used in ways that are honoring to him. I am tempted to say, “mere” stewards, but that would diminish the role of being a steward of the High King of heaven. There can be no higher calling,

    We must understand that we submit to a master who’s intentions for us are the best, even though it is not the minute little kingdom of our desires that he seeks to advance. This best does not at all refer to that which would benefit me personally, but that which advances his kingdom. Therefore, everything about and about us is surrendered to his will, the advancement of his Kingdom. We surrender all to he who surrendered all for us. (See Philippians 2)

    We admire the commitment of those who have given all to Christ as we read through historical accounts of Rome using Christians for torches and as fodder for the games. We hear of the modern day martyrs and admire their courage in the face of death and torture. We are amazed at how they have given all and wonder if we could give all like they have. biblically, we each should have already have given all.

    If we are indeed douloi (slaves)of Christ then giving all should not even be an issue. It should have already been done. In spite of this surrender, we are constantly tempted to possess that which is not ours, but which is now Christ’s, by default. In this, we are, in effect, thieves or at least those who covet as our flesh fights this new bondage to a different will. This is the primary battle in seeking to live a life worthy of Christ: Is all surrendered without regret, or do we desire to take back what we have willing surrendered.

    Although this giving of all, this act of acknowledging our servitude, our absolute bondage to this gracious master, does require forfeiture of all that we are and have, there is this marvelous upside to this exchange.

    We understand that there are no material goods that we remove from this life with us. This is why we are concerned with inheritance rights. Any “ownership” of the things that we cannot take with us is actually mere stewardship at best and that for only a passing time. How are we to regard these temporary material things, even our own bodies, in the light of an eternity that recognizes them as mere vapors that one hardly can see for the second that they exist. In the end, we exchange what amounts to nothing for the eternal glory of Christ which we share in even now. We cannot lose in this exchange. In the words of Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”.

    We are to be those who seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness and not the ownership of what the world’s siren song draws us to. We who are supposed to be douloi Christos, slaves of Christ, in reality own nothing but our master’s love for us. This one possession, his infinite love for us, is what is supposed to define us in every respect in a world that constantly decrees the latest conformity.

    How easy it becomes to merge devotion to our gracious and loving master with the pursuits with the desire to please self. How smoothly we dilute our one passion with infinitely lesser ones. How simple it is for us to pass the lot of widows and the fatherless to programs rather than loving them ourselves. How possible for us to rationalize away our one devotion until it is a mere hobby that we squeeze into our spare time.

    Are we content to be slaves of Christ?

    Are we joyful in our chosen estate?
    As Paul begins this letter to the Romans, he understands that he is writing to a group of believers of which many would have been slaves. (We know that 40% of the population of Rome at that time were slaves.) They would have fully understood the depth of devotion that they were being called to; to be slaves of Christ who himself took on the very nature of a slave according to Philippians 2. There were those in the Church at Rome who would have been masters as well. The Jews in the Church there would certainly be able to recall their bondage in Egypt. They knew slavery, and the rightless estate that Paul referred to as a slave of Christ.

    A slave accepts that they are stewards of possessions that are their master’s and that these possessions are to be used at the master’s direction and discretion. A slave understands that it is the master’s business that they are to be about, and not their own. A slave submits to their master in everything.

    We struggle greatly with this concept in an effort to maintain some manner of personal pride and dignity. Jesus was not concerned with dignity or pride, and neither ought we to be. It was not easy to find an accurate picture of Jesus’ washing of the disciples feet. Almost all of the illustrations have him fully clothed, which was not the case. He stripped down to what would have been his boxers in our cultural context, taking the place of a slave so low that even clothing was not provided. Christ calls us to such utter surrender.

    We have a master who is utterly unlike human masters. This master loves us to the point that he became a slave with us that he might redeem us from the terminal bondage that sin has placed on us. We have a master who died to free us to the taskmasters of mercy, love and grace. Our Master died to redeem us to himself.
    We will submit all to him?

    called (called, invited; welcome, chosen.) to be an apostle (this is not my message, but his)

    Debt

    Monday, March 25th, 2013

    My intent here is not to be terribly political, but our governments have a real problem that our elected leaders will not face: They are spending beyond our means.  Our federal government is borrowing something like $0.43 to cover every dollar spent, with absolutely no plan of repaying the accumulating debt whatsoever.  To say that you are borrowing money without any intent to repay what has been borrowed, is, in effect, stealing from the people that you are borrowing from.  Perhaps even worse, our governments are putting children not yet born into debt, in effect, taking their earnings without their consent, which is also, in effect, stealing from them.

    There are three ways that I can see to correct this.  The first is to increase all taxes by more than 50%.  This might cover the borrowing that our governments do and give a little extra to start paying on the debt.  Included in this idea would have to be a balanced budget amendment that would punish the governing officials if they do not come up with a balanced budget.

    A second idea is to simply cut all governmental spending by 50%, which would eliminate the deficit and leave a little extra to begin paying off the debt.  This of course would cause millions to lose the income, jobs and programs upon which they are dependant.

    The third option would be a combination of the above ideas.

    When we deal with God, we need to understand that we are debtors in the extreme case and that even a speculative solution that we might suggest is worthless to help us.  No amount of “borrowing” is possible because we are dead in our transgressions and sins and dead folks can offer no collateral.

    We understand that we are extreme debtors, with a debt that we cannot survive paying as the wages of sin is death.  Unfortunately, we have been placed into this debt by the sinful actions of our forbearers.   However easy it might be to say that it is all their fault, we each continue to choose to put ourselves into deeper trouble/debt via our own sinful conduct. Apart from someone else stepping in and paying our debt for us, we have no hope whatsoever.

    Let us say that all of the nations that we owe money to stepped up and offered to pay off all of our national indebtedness.  A condition of the offer, however, would be that our government would learn to not spend more than it has so that we would not get ourselves into the same debt debacle that we have sold ourselves into at this point.  Would our nation take up this offer?  Would we be willing to swallow our pride and surrender that portion of our sovereignty with which we harm ourselves so effectively?

    I think that we would have to be pretty desperate to take such an offer.  To actually admit that we have fouled up so extremely that we are beyond our own resources and ability is reaching a bit too far.  Our tendency is to wait a little longer to see if something else works out when all long we know that nothing will.  We refuse to be honest with ourselves about our hopeless destiny.

    I think that most folks refuse the Grace of God for this same kind of reasoning: We decline the offer because our idiotic pride will not allow us to.  To accept the grace and mercy offered to us in Christ requires us to admit the following:

    1. We are utterly wrong about the way that we have been doing life.  We pursue that which is wrong from its origin in our hearts of darkness.  We each desire to be our own little deities demanding that all that surrounds us complies with our desires.

    2. We are accountable for the evil that we do.  There is an eternal destiny which will embrace us in the end which also creeps into our present.

    3. We are pathetically unable to do anything to change the darkness of our hearts or the heat of our destiny.

    4. We need Christ and have no other viable alternative to redeem anything in us.

    Nationally, I don’t think that we really have much of a choice anymore other than to take the issue head on and face the music.  I doubt that the nations that we owe over 16 trillion dollars to will be as loving as the Father has been to us.

    For us, it is not the music that we must face but rather the cross, where all of our debt has already been fully paid.  In facing the cross, we will also face the responsibility of seeking to live a life that follows the instructions of the one to whom we owe our very lives, as Paul exhorts in Ephesians 4:

    As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit —just as you were called to one hope when you were called —  one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (NIV)

    Jesus said that if we would follow him, we need to give everything else up, without a notion of looking back on what we have left behind.  We do this because of the debt that was paid for us.  Note that it was not merely erased but fully paid via Christ’s death in our place.

    Finally, we do not seek to repay the debt to be redeemed, but because we have been redeemed. Seeking to live in contradiction to the way of this world is the least that we can do to honor the one who died to redeem us fully from it.

    Corollaries

    Wednesday, January 30th, 2013
    cor·ol·lar·y /ˈkôrəˌlerē/ Noun / A proposition that follows from (and is often appended to) one already proved.

    When one accepts a world view, a system of beliefs about the world that governs how one lives their life, one also accepts the corollaries that go with it.   For example, if I hold to an atheistic world view then I must also accept that there is no fixed basis for morality, because there is nothing to base morality on other than the current societal fad. Morality then becomes merely what we like to think is beneficial to civilization at the moment. Even then, how can one determine what is beneficial seeing that we have no foresight to determine how a given moral code will work out? Then again, how can even “beneficial” be determined? What if “beneficial” is thought by some to be killing off all but a million people so that the planet can survive? What make us think that the planet’s survival is a good idea anyway?

    All world views have corollaries.

    I have yet to meet an atheist who doesn’t hold to some manner of morality, although atheism clearly excludes such a possibility. Every atheist would hold that it is a bad thing to punch him or her in the nose for no reason. On what basis do they see this as being wrong? The rationale usually is simply this: “How would you like it if someone punched you in the nose for no reason?” My response could be: “I like punching folks in the nose for no reason. It makes me happy to dominate others.” This would create a moral stalemate. One holds that it is moral to punch and the other that it is not moral to punch. Who gets to say who is right and who is wrong?

    Carol sent me a newspaper article recently reporting that over 200 pastors and rabbis signed an open letter endorsing gay marriage on the basis of justice and equality. This ends up being a total endorsement of homosexual practice which the Bible clearly condemns as sinful behavior. There is a massive problem here for these pastors and rabbis. Why haven’t they quit their “ministries” altogether seeing that they don’t really believe in any manner of Biblical God whatsoever? Why do they see any relevance of any scriptural passage seeing that they simply pick and choose what they like and don’t like, making themselves the arbitrators of truth? Seeing that they have abandoned Biblical teaching altogether, they need to act in good faith and walk away from Christianity completely.

    Now I understand that this might sound harsh and judgmental but it is merely a call for these “ministers” to be honest about what they really believe. Rather than neutering Scripture, they ought to walk away from it and admit that they are in reality, atheists, having no god whatsoever other than some vague warm fuzzy concept of infinite niceness which is utterly subjective and therefore irrelevant.

    250 “ministers” sign a document denying clear Biblical teaching, and we are supposed to be impressed? There are 1300 municipalities in Illinois. Let us guess that each municipality has 10 Churches and perhaps 12 ministers. (These numbers are ball-parked very low.)   This would mean that there are at least 15,000 ministers in Illinois, which means that this open letter was endorsed by less than 2% of the ministers in Illinois. Since when has the opinion of less than 2% of anyone been relevant enough to make the newspaper? Why pay any attention to the outliers who clearly have departed from any semblance of Christianity unless one has an agenda to use what seem to be big numbers to present fundamental Christianity as being out of touch. We are not out of touch. Rather, we are consistent with the belief system, the world view that we profess.

    We could say that homosexual behavior is a fine and wonderful thing but then we would have to flush the faith just the same as if we said that Jesus is not God come in the flesh. Once we accept that in the beginning, God created the heavens and he earth, we have to then accept the corollaries. He is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient and cares greatly for his creation. If we accept that God made us as recorded in Genesis, then we are indeed accountable to him. If we accept that he designed us, then we must also accept that there is an intended male-female relational design that should indeed be followed. Once we posit that this design is flawed, everything falls apart. The entire belief system collapses, having lost its base altogether.

    Advocating for gay “marriage” is really advocating for the abandonment of Christianity altogether.

    My primary struggle with this is not that these “ministers” have abandoned the faith, but rather that they utterly gut the gospel, claiming that they have not. They are dishonest. They don’t like the concept that everyone has sinned and is bound for the Lake of Fire in the end. That is not nice. It is judgmental. Isn’t that the very point? We are sinners, yet we are deeply loved by God to the point that he sent Christ, the Word made flesh, to bear the penalty for our sins if we choose to enter into his atoning grace. If we can say that one clearly defined sinful activity really isn’t sinful, why not just write off the concept of sin all together and declare that everyone gets into whatever kind of afterlife there might be? To do this makes redemption unnecessary. Christ’s death becomes a sad ending to a good life. (Of course the resurrection becomes symbolic.)

    I do not desire to be divisive here, but we really don’t have a lot of choice. Either we hold to the Gospel of Jesus Christ or we do not. It is either Jesus or the latest evolving philosophy that comes to tickle the ears of those who want only to deny Christ.

    A Christmas Story

    Saturday, December 15th, 2012

     

    A Christmas story.  .  .

    For as far back as I can remember, I always treated Old Man Jones, my neighbor, in the worst ways. Each April 1st, I had the “burning paper bag with dog poop in it” tradition, and although Old Man Jones never fell for it, he still had a mess to clean up each year. He always knew that it was me, and always said, without anger in his voice, “Someday, you’ll be sorry.”

    His driveway was next to ours, and in the winter, I always shoveled our snow onto his drive, giving him twice the work, which he always did without complaint.  When I was 12, just before a blizzard, a snow blower appeared in our driveway, left by someone with what must have been an irrationally kind heart. There was just a note saying, “You might need this!” I could then delight in blowing all the snow from my driveway, onto Old man Jones’s car. I would even cut a wider than needed path for my mom’s beater just to put more snow on the dinosaur’s (as my mom called him) driveway. Sometimes I even cleared some of our front yard just to add to the layers already thrown there. He always knew that it was me and always said without anger in his voice, “Someday, you’ll be sorry.”

    I asked my mom about him once and she didn’t say much other than years ago he had a kid die in a war, and that he was out of date and out of his mind.

    I keyed his car more than once. When I discovered the mint 1969 Mustang Mach series car that always stayed under a thick canvas cover, kept for someone, I quickly sought to learn how many pumps of my BB rifle it took to break it’s windows. He knew that it was me and said without anger in his voice, “Someday, you’ll be sorry.”

    Between BBs and slingshot rocks, most of his home’s windows had to be replaced at one time or another, not to mention the battered aluminum siding that still bears the myriad of little dents. He never complained about the shattered bird feeder or the constant supply of dead squirrels, sparrows, cardinals and whatever else winged its way into his yard. I can’t recall how many times he had to take his cat to the vet to remove a pellet from an infected wound, but I do remember that he always knew that it was me, and always said, without anger in his voice, “Someday, you’ll be sorry.”

    At Christmas-time he used to set up lots of lights around his house that looked like virtual BB magnets, which they were. A plastic manger scene was the prime target one year, and stayed on the relic’s front lawn until I shot the baby’s face off. He always knew that it was me and always said without anger in his voice, “Someday, you’ll be sorry.”

    There was this room in his house that I would look into sometimes when the old man was away. It was the kind of room that I would have loved to have, if my mom could ever get a real job. It was just like one of those “Good Housekeeping” kid’s bedroom that everybody is supposed to want. I always figured that Jones was on the loony side, and this “keeping a cool room for a kid he didn’t have” thing was the final proof that I needed of his senility. Maybe he just kept it up in mourning for his dead son.

    My mom never had a lot of money, but every year, on Christmas, a couple hundred dollars worth of cool stuff was left on my doorstep with “Merry Christmas” and my name written on each carefully wrapped gift. (That’s where the BB gun came from, along with a great target setup, which was never needed with the shooting range next door.) My mom, to hung over each Christmas morning to get me up early enough to meet the Gift Bearer, said that the stuff probably came from my grandfather, whom she hadn’t cared to talk to or see since long before I came around. There had been some long remembered fight over his “interference” in her affairs, of which there were many. I had never met him and really didn’t even know or care where he lived, so long as the goodies came.

    This Christmas, I got up early on my own because I thought that I might want to see what my ancestor looked like, not to mention that I was hoping for BB’s from my benefactor, ’cause Old Man Jones had just gotten a new bird feeder with real glass in it, and my Daisy was calling my name before the sun was up. Of course, he would know that it was me and he would tell me that someday, I would be sorry. Whatever.

    I was still rubbing sleep from my eyes, when I heard a shuffling on the porch. As I quietly opened the front door, the rising sun reflected off of an armload of carefully wrapped presents, in silver and gold paper, each with “Merry Christmas” and my name written on it. There were even some for my mom, but she had never mentioned them before. The arms were still holding the gifts, but the face was hidden by a tall package. The obscured gift bearer, aware that I had opened the door, carefully put the gifts down. Old Man Jones stood up slowly, without stiffness, and through moistened eyes and broken voice said, “Merry Christmas.”

    “Someday” certainly had come, and Old Man Jones could have never been more right. Grace, mercy, acceptance and love had been next to me for all of my life, but in pathetic ignorance, I had abused them, turning their very blessings against their Source.

    It was all about choice now. Do I drink deeply of shame and remorse and brokenly embrace him, or do I simply close the door and load my BB gun. There was a new plastic baby Jesus on his lawn calling my name.

    (This is an original story.)

    Minimal Commitment

    Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

    I have decreed that my school bus students are 15% smarter, 11% stronger and way more awesome than the average student at the high school that I am delivering them to. Yes, it is just a goofy speech that I give every day, and I also commend them for getting their homework done  and for studying hard the night before for the test that they are about to take.

    As they get off the bus, I say to many of them, “All A’s today, right?”  I get a lot of, “I wish!”, mixed in with unbelieving chuckles. I ask them if they studied, and find that some have not, and that they then do poorly as a result.

    They are there, most every day, going through the motions, but not really caring how they do so long as they pass. Their concern is how to do the least to get by. They are minimal students, doing the least that they can do to still graduate.

    I find that there are many who seek to approach commitment to Christ in the same kind of way: “What is the least I can do and still get to heaven?” “How seriously do I have to take this Jesus thing?”  We might wonder how much of our earthly stuff do we need to surrender in order to say that we have given all to Jesus. How much should our “religion” inconvenience us? How often should we go to Church?  Should I tithe on the gross or the net? What are the minimal standards that will assure me of the pearly gates when I die?

    We could ask the same kind of question in regard to other commitments. What is the least that I can do and still consider myself to be a good husband/wife? How much do I really need to make my children a priority and still bear the “good parent” label? The very consideration of the question is by nature troublesome.

    Philippians 2 speaks of a minimal Christianity. “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,  .  .  .” If we were to condense Paul’s words, we could rephrase it like this: “If Christ is real to you at all, even just a teeny bit,  .  .  .” What follows is an example of “minimal Christianity.”  In verses 2-4, he writes about how we need to be wholly unified and must seek the benefit of others, over ourselves. Minimally, we need to get out of the way of what Christ is seeking to do in and through us (not my will) while we get seriously humble, actually putting others first to the point that self-consideration is not a factor.

    When people came to Jesus and declared their vital allegiance to him, he often challenged their actual commitment level. He clearly communicated that you could not follow him while wanting anything for yourself, other than him.  He was calling them  to abandon of all of their earthly crap in favor of following him.  There would be no place to lay your head and no looking back. He talked about carrying a cross, and not the smooth artsy kind either. He called them/us to carry that nasty, probably been used before complete with other’s blood stains, rough and heavy beam that would be the instrument of their/our death.

    As I look around the body of Christ in America, I don’t see a lot of personal sacrifice for the sake of Christ. Our Churches are pretty cushy places, with nicely padded pews and Starbuck’s in the lobby. It is almost like we are affirming a call to carry a latte rather than a brutal and bloodied thing.

    As Paul continues in Philippians 2, he tells of the level of Christ’s commitment to us that we are supposed transmit to those around us. The one in whom all the fullness of the deity dwells humbled himself, becoming the servant of those/we who had turned against him, to the point of dying brutally in their/our place. Jesus gives us the example of minimal commitment. There is really no such thing.  There is only commitment.

    This following Jesus is an all or nothing proposition: We cannot sort of follow Jesus.  Either we do, or we don’t. There is no other level. If we are not all in, we are not in. No one said that this would be easy.

    If we look to the next chapter in Philippians, we see Paul’s personal example of being all in. He actually intentionally surrendered all earthly rank and status, seeing it as a hindrance to minimal devotion to Christ. He actually intentionally placed himself in harm’s way without complaint, embracing it that he might know Christ who placed himself in death’s coils for our sake. He died with nothing other than his devotion to Christ because of his devotion to Christ. To Paul everything was crap in comparison to knowing Christ.  Do we want the crap, or do we want Christ?

    Within our culture, we are taught to take pride in our accomplishments and possessions, having a bit of a glow of self accomplishment because of what we have laid up for ourselves. If we take Jesus seriously, if we are minimally committed, then are not all of our accomplishments and possession just a steaming pile of crap in comparison to knowing Christ? Who points to a large pile of refuse with pride?

    (And please do not think that a minimal commitment is easy or stress free.  It was not for Jesus and it will not be for us as we seek to rest in him, trusting him. A brief study of 2nd Corinthians reveals that following Christ will include time of stress.)

    Minimal commitment is just a concept that we can use to comfort ourselves with the thought; “At least we are Christians.”  Following Jesus has nothing to do with doing a little as you can.  It is all or nothing.

    Lord, here’s my heart,
    won’t you make it and mold it
    into the image of Christ?

    The least I can offer,
    everything, my God I offer.
    Lord, I surrender to you.

    Under the Ice

    Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

    Empty and still, locked in winter’s night
    the river quiet, the ice so deep
    No progress, no regress, nothing,
    only the awareness that all is still

    But under the ice,
    the river flows the same
    all the life is there,
    unseen, under the ice.

    Empty and still, locked in life’s dearth
    the day is dark, too deep the night
    No progress, no regress, nothing,
    only the fear that hope was false

    But under the ice,
    the grace flows ever on
    all the truth is there,
    unseen, under the ice.

    Sometimes the winter in frozen stillness,
    carries on more than I can bear.
    I can trust you a little farther
    But still, I look for the spring.

    under the ice,
    the truth flows ever on
    all the love is there,
    Just under the ice.

    (Please do not copy without permission, which is very easy to get. rev.steve@juno.com)

    knowing

    Monday, August 8th, 2011

    Epistemology – a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge.  How do we know what we know?

    As we deal with an ever more secularized society, we, as those who seek to follow Jesus Christ, will find ourselves increasingly labeled as those who think in nonsensical ways.  For example, popular pundit Bill Maher views us as being irrational people who have electrical fires going off in our heads.  He and other folks believe that they alone use reason and that everyone else is a bit off.  Actually, they think that we are a lot off.

    We are accused by the Maher bunch of believing in “fairy tales” like the virgin birth, the resurrection, Noah’s ark and the Nephilim of Genesis 6; events that are non-sense.  Admittedly, there is nothing about these events that we can prove in any way.  How can you look back 2000 years and prove scientifically that Jesus rose from the dead.   Seeing that this sort of event cannot be empirically tested, nor “peer reviewed”, it must be false.  When is the last time that any of us saw someone raised from the dead after being killed by experts and placed mummy-like in a tomb?  Since this event is by nature impossible, unrepeatable and unverifiable, we are told that it must be viewed as mere myth, a fairy tale that you tell to children, like Santa Claus.  At least Santa doesn’t throw you into Hell if you are naughty.

    The difficulty in this kind of Maherian rationale is that it allows only one means of knowing about anything: empiricism.  Empiricism, in its current form, holds that knowledge can only be gained through observation, experimentation and reason.  In other words, science is the only way to know anything.  If we cannot experience it with the senses, if we cannot place it in a test-tube or if is it does not make sense to the rationale people, then it is to be rejected outright as nonsense.

    There are many difficulties with this epistemology, this exclusionary means of knowing.  Allow me to entertain a few of these difficulties. 

    1. You cannot empirically prove that empiricism is the only means of knowledge.  There is no way to step away from the empirical method to test this, seeing that no other means of knowing can be allowed a priori by which to evaluate its validity.  Although the intent of empiricism’s exclusivity is to avoid uncertainty and subjectivity, this exclusivity completely devalues the philosophical branch of metaphysics as a waste of time. It allows no competition.

    2. Empiricism demands individual, personal demonstrations of knowledge.  Nothing can be taken on a hearsay basis.  For example, the testimony of the apostle John is written off as lunacy or a lie when he says “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the word of life.” (NIV)  Although John has passed on a written record of his empirical findings, his work is scoffed because the content of the testimony fails the reason test of the reasonable elite.  Because what John records here and elsewhere is deemed unreasonable it is condemned as “fairy tale” material.  At the same time, the elite demand that we all take it as indisputable that evolution is happening because some scientists say so.  Very few of us have the time or resources to gather the empirical data ourselves, so we are called upon to trust their conclusions, they being the elite rationalists and all. 

    3. Empiricism has often led to erroneous conclusions.  One need only look at the past science, now totally rejected, that labeled those of African descent as being mentally inferior to their Aryan counterparts.  Is coffee good or bad for us?  Java-science on this is in near constant flux, which it should not be if it is science.

     I have confirmed with some empiricists that science is proven to be reliable because it so often proves itself to be in error.  Although this sounds very unreasonable and downright silly, empiricism’s adherents place their full faith that science will eventually get all of the right answers, repudiating and refining today’s scientific dogma with the revised truth of tomorrow which will, in its turn, be sacked by next week’s findings. “We know that such-and-such is completely correct and true! Well, that is until we find out more and revise our ‘truth.” This seems like telling others what a good driver you are because you have had so many accidents, assuring them that tomorrow’s driving will be better.  I have noted that the grand Theory of Evolution is subject to constant and often large scale revision in the light of the latest findings which overthrow the conclusions of yesterday’s findings.  Yet it is held to be true to the point of affecting nearly everything within western culture. 

    4. As I have already alluded to, empiricism tends to entrust true knowledge to a small group of mental elites whom we are all supposed to trust simply due to their superior mental prowess.  We are supposed to take as a given that these elites are governed by nothing other than a pure desire for unfettered and uncorrupted knowledge.  If you are not in the elite peer group, then you have no place to question their findings.  To question them is to proclaim your ignorance and intellectual inability.  I always question the elite.

    The Empiricists accuse us of being irrational because our epistemology allows for knowledge that is beyond mere science.  We allow for the revelation of God through Scripture and personal experience governed by proper Biblical interpretation/hermeneutics. Biblical interpretation is not a subjective, but rather an objective science.  Texts have one meaning which can be discerned, not personalized meanings to individuals contrary of the writer’s intent.  If someone takes a text to mean other than what the writer intended, they are wrong.  Their interpretation is not valid.

    My experience is subjective to you, but objective to me.  I can confirm answered prayer and personal interactions with God that are not subject to scientific investigation, but are subject to Biblical inspection.  (For example, if I hold that Jesus wore Nike water walking shoes, I will not find a Biblical ground for this and it should be dismissed.) I accept these experiences, as well as the Biblically consistent experiences of others.  We have no elites to dispense knowledge to us, but rather we are each accountable to become experiential experts in the Faith.

    When you are mocked by the Empirical Elites, remember that they cannot allow themselves to seek or entertain in other’s knowledge that is beyond their current science.  Despite the testimony of those who experienced the flesh and blood Jesus, they refuse to accept this “irrational” belief because their system of knowing, their epistemology, allows them no other option.

    We know more.

    Addendum:

    Can we absolutely prove empirically anything about Jesus to the satisfaction of the devoted skeptic?  No. We must therefore prove demonstratively everything about Christ. Live worthy of the calling you have received.

    Nephrons

    Saturday, June 11th, 2011

    I am amazed by human anatomy. Recently, I studied nephrons, the functional unit of the kidney, each of which contains millions of these structures. The structures and their functions are too complex to explain here and a Google search on “glomerulus” will suffice to demonstrate the extreme complexity of these arrangements.

    It bothers some folks that I can study science, whether it be anatomy, ornithology or physics and end up stronger in my conviction about my belief in the Supreme Being that we call God, who sent his son, Jesus, to begin the process of setting our hearts back on the track for which they were originally intended through his death in our place. I have been told that I deny clear evidence if I can study science and come away with my faith intact, if not stronger.

    I would hold that I actually consider the physical realm with deepest regard but see it through a very different lens, which of course will lead to different conclusions. The atheist can look at the micro-structures of kidneys (nephrons) and ponder the wonders of evolutionary genetic modifications over hundreds of millions of years. But as I look at its design, I have to pause and worship. It is amazing in complexity and function and I see a wonderful intentionality to the structure that the atheist must deny. An evolutionary scheme must account for every structure and function of these microscopic networks having developed over millions of years of positive genetic mutations. I see this as an absurdity and that even with infinite time such complexity could not have been shaped by random “survival of the fittest” pressures. We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made!

    I posted on Facebook, “I wonder how kidneys evolved?” Here’s one response: “Apparently, kidneys evolved once we came out of the sea, after we had bladders, as a gill mutation that benefitted filtering seawater for vertebrates.”  I called my friend on this, and he responded that kidneys are soft tissue that does not fossilize well.  They have no idea on this and can cite no evidence at all.  All that they have is bias conjecture because there can be no allowance for design.

    So anyway, why does any of this really matter?  It matters because design shows intended function, revealing a “the way it ought to be” mentality.  Once we admit design, we have to understand that “This was meant to function thusly,” which demands a designer who intended the function.  This intent or design goes way beyond mere nephrons to human society on the individual and corporate basis.  we were designed to function in certain ways and not in others.  Change the structure of a nephron and you ruin its function.  Change the base structure of people, and you ruin their function. 

    This is what sin has done.  It has changed the nature of our being and hence, our function is ruined and the outcome is ever more dysfunctional.  Society was not supposed to work like it now does with the constant struggle to keep us from succumbing to the law of the jungle.  

    It there is a design in our physical structure and a “way it ought to be” pertaining to our social/moral outworkings, then there is a standard, an absolute to by which right and wrong may be understood.  If the loop of Henle (part of the nephron structure) fails to operate correctly, we understand that there is something “wrong” with it because we know how it ought to operate.

    When we see the societal decay all around us, from the growth of the number of fatherless children to the increase of single teen pregnancy to the housing collapse, we innately know that something is wrong.  We know this because we have a standard, if only that which is written on our hearts.  Turning from this standard places us into the decay of the second half of Romans 1.   Without a standard, ethics become whatever the biggest thug says they are.  We have seen this before in the Stalinist USSR and the inner city streets of any city.

    We are broken and we barely function at all.  There is no solution in sight that will counter the unrestrained will that we desire.  We have no clothes and ridicule those who inform us of our naked display.  We hold our heads high, shaking our corporate fist at the very notion that we are accountable for the nakedness that we deny.

    If we are indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made,” then there is a standard, a blueprint  that applies to more than just nephrons and all of the other complex structures of our bodies.  The standard applies to the way we live our lives (our “peripatew,” for you Greekers) and we fall far short.  As a skilled doctor is able to correct defects in our bodies, so Christ can correct the defect of sin in our souls, so long as we submit.  Unless you tell the doctor that he can work on you, he cannot.  Unless you intentionally consent to let Jesus cure your sin caused demise, he will not. 

    We often speak of the consequences of sin as being confined to being cast into the Lake of Fire at the end, but we need to understand that sin effects far more than mere eternity.  It affects the quality of your work efforts as well as the rationale for them.  Sin affects the quality of your marriage, your family and all of your relationships.  Turning from it and to Christ brings one back to the standard of our being, which is the base for all relationships.  In Christ, the “fearfully and wonderfully made” aspect can apply to even marriages as husbands and wives learn the secret and habit of co-submission.

    When I look at the pattern of veins on the back of my hand or consider the stars or nephrons, I fully understand that there is a design and a purpose to all of this, and that I need to be aligned with it.  I need Christ and his fullness to be the standard of my life.

     

    Bell on Hell

    Saturday, April 16th, 2011

       Pastor, author and world-wide speaker Rob Bell has published controversial new book entitled, Love Wins.  Preliminary reviews from folks who have probably not read the book indicate that Bell is now teaching universalism, the teaching that in the end, all folks are redeemed, with or without Christ.  In other words, Hell is and will always be empty.  Being familiar with Bell’s teaching style, I think that we need to wait to actually read the book before we critique any conclusions that he comes to.

       For example, suppose that Bell makes the charge that most of us don’t really believe that Hell exists as a place of eternal punishment for those who have refused grace.  If we actually believed in Hell, why are we not far more active in keeping people from going there?  If we really believed that our neighbors were lost and doomed without Christ, would we not seek to find ways to bring them to Christ?  If my co-workers as well as the students who sit before me at this very moment are doomed, what am I doing right now to seek their redemption?  Might not my lack of zeal in communicating the gospel be easily seen as a lack of belief in an actual Hell?

       I have watched a lot of the tsunami footage from the recent earthquake in Japan and find myself in awe of the terrible power of such a horrible disaster, beyond normal human comprehension.  The debris laden water just would not stop. 

       Some of the footage that I saw was taken just as the warning sirens were going off and the waters were already rising.  What if the one assigned to sound the alarm had been silent?  Would we not assume that he did not really think that disaster was on the rise? How terrible it would be if he was just too lazy to push the right button?  What if he had been fearful about peoples reaction to the alarm, that they might be angry with him for sounding it?   I would assume that the “alarmist” would have been acting on second hand information, based upon what he had been told because the alarms began half an hour before the waters began to rise.

       Other footage, filmed from a hillside, showed folks seeking to escape the deluge.  One who sought to escape was almost overtaken (as many were) but was helped by to escape as the flood reached out for her.  Her rescuers actually imperiled themselves as they helped her to get higher than the waters would reach.  They saw death coming and sought to keep others from it.

       Allow me to expand this further: Do we live like we believe in Heaven or Hell.  If we honestly evaluate our lives, would those who observe us conclude that we are assured that wither one exists?

       Colossians 3 begins like this:

     Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.   

       Are we really living in such a way that our priorities are not ordered by the culture, the life-way that surrounds us?  Is our thinking influenced adequately by a perspective that this is not where life ends?  Would others say of us, “Christ is their life!”?

       If Bell is embracing universalism, then there is no longer any need for him to have any concern for reaching others for Christ, or even to be involved with any social-based outreach at all.  In the end, if universalism is valid, everyone’s eternal destiny is already set, so why should we bother to seek to be of godly influence?

       On one of his shorter videos ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQlDOP49J7Y ), he questions whether or not Ghandi is in Hell or not.  Is his question rhetorical or actual?  As the video progresses, Bell sets up an obvious “straw man” representation of what we need to be saved from.  This leads me to wonder what Bell is actually driving at. 

       Take a few moments and read through this article if you have internet access: http://in.christiantoday.com/articledir/print.htm?id=2837

       In understanding Ghandi’s rejection of what was presented to him as “Christianity,” Bell could well reason that Ghandi “accepted” Christ, but rejected “Christianity”.  Is Bell actually confronting what he sees as a complete loss of the centrality of the Christian effort; to actually represent the person and work of Jesus in its totality rather than these cultural dilutions that we profess to be the Truth?  Is he concerned that Hell has become a central theme of what is often proclaimed rather than Jesus and the ultimate love that is found in him.

       Having read Bell’s work, I am not certain where he stands on a number of issues.  He hopes for a near-universalistic outcome but will not state that everyone in the end makes it into the Kingdom of our God and of his Christ.  Even though I believe he holds that most folks, even after death, turn to the love of God, he tirelessly seeks to proclaim the love of God incarnate in Christ.

       I disagree with Bell’s assessment on a number of Biblical fronts and fully believe that wide is the path that leads to destruction and most take that road.  There is also the narrow path that leads to life found only by a relative few. 

       Why is Bell so passionate about telling others about Christ, especially by deed, while I can be so passionless about it?  He seems to hold that God’s love will win almost all in the end, while I hold that they are senseless to God’s passion for them and are lost after this life unless I tell/show them.

       What does the way I live say about my belief regarding other’s eternal estate?