Friday, September 30, 2005

Reflections on the day before my wedding

I've spent all week making a giant, paper mache tree. And a 4 foot wide moon. Then setting them up at church to be the backdrop for my wedding ceremony.

It's the day before my wedding. (My second and last wedding.) And I'm really thankful for what God has been doing in me. Everyone keeps asking me if I'm excited. Well, for starters, I don't usually get excited before an exciting thing, just during. I am certainly anticipating the event with joy. And I guess that makes me happier than excitement. Because joy, true joy is full of peace. I'm quite calm, content, and worry free. (I wish I could say the same for Heather!) And it's not because I'm disengaged from the process of preparing for the wedding. Like I said, I've been heavily involved in the decoration and such. I simply know in my heart of hearts that this is meant to be, so I'm not worried about what-ifs and could-bes. My fantastic church is showing what it truly means to work together as a body, giving out of love. There are so many talented people who are helping make the wedding happen for free, because they know we don't have the money. I really can't wait 'till I have the opportunity to repay the kindness I'm receiving now.

One of the positive things about being married previously is that the experience provides a great sounding board for comparisons. When I think back to my first wedding, and the time leading up to it I remember a very different bunch of emotions whirling around in me. I remember knowing that we were being foolish getting married. I had the epiphany about a month before the wedding that there was really no way I could know the woman I was marrying because we were both still kids. But the momentum was too great for my immature mind to stop the proceedings. I couldn't imagine telling her never mind. And beyond that, I really, really wanted to have sex. In fact, that was really the biggest source of excitement to me. My only defense on that matter is that I was 18… What do you expect? But that screaming urge was enough to overwhelm the still small voice that was telling me I was doing the wrong thing.

Having been through that experience lets me see just how different this situation is. It was vitally important to us that we remain sexually pure before marriage, and with God's covering it was never difficult. And the fact that it was not difficult speaks volumes to our motives, and our thought processes, and our spirits. We're not groping and panting to the finish line, barley able to contain or control our bodies until our wedding night. Sure, we are looking forward to it, (who wouldn't) but it's not our motivation.

The other big difference is the listening we have been doing. My first marriage was as much an act of defiance as it was a coming together. We knew that both our parents were not happy about the idea. We even snuck off to another church to get our prerequisite pre-marital counseling from a different pastor so we could avoid the accountability.

But this time we are welcoming all the accountability we can find. And the result has been resounding confirmation. My kids are happy and excited about it and so are our parents, pastor and elders.

So that all results in a calm, joyful confidence that the marriage I'm entering into tomorrow is truly the will of God, and therefore will be blessed with much fruit.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Feel'n it

It be September 19th matey. It's the official Talk Like A Pirate Day. Arrrrgh! So this may be the most annoying post I've ever done….

So I was stand'n thar in church yesterdee. The music was play'n the jigs be about worship'n God n' all. I be appreciat'n the lyrics but not feelin' them the same way I feel the cold, salt-stained steel of me cutlass. Not the same way I did last year when the storms of life was at their worst. Then the thought struck me like a 2 pound load of grapeshot. I remembered the talk me pastor was giving me and me bride-to-be in our second pre-marital counseling session. He told tale of a sailing ship. I suppose it could be a pirate ship if one were so inclined… He says thar be two kinds of people in a relationship: sails, and anchors. These types that are like sails tend to catch the wind and drive a relationship. They tend to make decisions faster and go with change easier. This makes them flexible and open, but more prone to crashing onto rocks. Um… Yaaaar! So they be attracted to anchors so as to be grounded. Anchors are the type that resist change. Like a sea urchin, they like t' think about their decisions for a good long time before tak'n action. So they tend to ground a relationship. They like sails because they are exciting. T'was pretty easy t' discover who be the anchor and who be the sail. I find that, 'specially in spiritual things, I be at peace. Thar be a deep, abid'n calm that keeps me still when the winds be billowing. Of course, too much calm and ye be stuck in the doldrums. I've said before, that me beauty lass be me spiritual complement; and this metaphor articulates how. She be hear'n God and following her heart, and I be keep'n her from heading into the shallows or run'n aground, 'cause I'm always check'n me map. And me compass, and me sextant, and peer'n through me telescope.

Of course this could cause all sorts of tension… Every pirate knows ye don't want ye sails billow'n whilst ye anchor is weighed. And that's where recognize'n and appreciate'n each other's roles be important. Only a bilge rat would be mad at his sail fer blow'n his ship around. And everyone knows the worth of a good anchor.

This way o' think'n helps me to appreciate who I am, and how important me role can be. And puts me at ease when me feelings don't be wellin' up when I suppose they ought. For after all, peace with oneself, and peace with God is the buried treasure we all seek, is it not?

Friday, September 16, 2005

Practical application of Calvinism

I have been reading C.S. Lewis's 'The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe' to my sons in preparation for the film coming out this Christmas. We just got to the chapter where the children are in the beaver's home and are being told that they need to meet Aslan. When they find out that Aslan is a lion, (symbolic of Christ) they are freighted. They ask, "Is he a safe lion?" Mr. Beaver chuckles, and says nothing to allay their fears. I don't think many Christians are comfortable with an un-safe God either.

I think that is why Calvinism is not very popular. There are some problems I see with Calvinism. Not so much the doctrine, as the application, and even more problematic, it can be a huge downer on Christian apologetic work. In other words, the concept can scare people away from Christianity faster than topics like abortion, gay marriage, and hell. Now this could be because it's totally wrong, and people's reactions to it are based on a natural revulsion. Or it could be because there is a necessary maturity or experience level requirement to accepting it with joy.

I guess I would call it hard doctrine. Or advanced theology. In the same way a first grade student couldn't grasp trigonometry, a young Christian, or non Christian is going to have trouble handling Calvinism. Please don't think that I'm saying mature Christians are Calvinists, and immature Christians aren't! I'm just saying that I don't know any immature Christians who even want to consider the possibility. It can make God seem, well, not nice. And modern Christianity is all about downplaying the fire and brimstone, and highlighting the self-help aspects of the Bible and God's nature. We want God to be like Dr. Phil. Tough love, but ultimately soft and loving. When confronted with scripture that contradicts the Dr. Phil template, most Christians just ignore it. They convince themselves that Aslan is a safe lion.

Paul said at some point we must abandon the milk of scripture and move on to the meat of it. And meat requires chewing. That's what I mean when I say we need to stop ignoring the scripture that makes us uncomfortable by painting a different kind of picture of God than the one that modern Christianity has painted for us. But I think the kinder, gentler God we all would prefer fails to account for a good deal of reality. When I think of tragedy and those who are comforted by God through the unexplainable grief, I believe they are understanding something that is beyond our one-sided doctrine of 'God is love and that means making people happy'. Those who suffer immensely and still praise God for it are holding onto a faith that says we can't understand God and His reasoning. God is not safe. He gives no guarantee of happiness. To expect that is to diminish God and set yourself up for disappointment, resentment, and bitterness. One of the greatest stories I've heard is about a man named Horatio Spafford. He wrote the famous hymn, 'It Is Well With My Soul.'

This hymn was writ­ten af­ter two ma­jor trau­mas in Spaf­ford’s life. The first was the great Chi­ca­go Fire of Oc­to­ber 1871, which ru­ined him fi­nan­cial­ly (he had been a weal­thy bus­i­ness­man). Short­ly af­ter, while cross­ing the At­lan­tic, all four of Spaf­ford’s daugh­ters died in a col­li­sion with an­o­ther ship. Spaf­ford’s wife Anna sur­vived and sent him the now fa­mous tel­e­gram, “Saved alone.” Sev­er­al weeks lat­er, as Spaf­ford’s own ship passed near the spot where his daugh­ters died, the Ho­ly Spir­it in­spired these words:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I have never experienced tragedy of that magnitude. Though I have had a little one, and it helped me to see that this life is not as cut and dried as I would have liked. And God is bigger and more mysterious than I would have liked. God is love, yes. But what is love? And could it include supernatural elements that you aren’t aware of? If you believe in an afterlife, you must admit that you don't know what it is going to be like. And if you don't know part of the equation, it's foolish to make assumptions about it. We could look at the tiny portion of our lives on earth and proclaim how unfair, and horrid, and evil our existence is. But without knowing what comes next, and what all the injustice, horror, and evil can bring about, our declarations and judgment-calls are faulty.

But try to explain that to a non Christian and see what you get. Calvinism is a tough sell to Christians, and an evangelist's worst nightmare. It can be so easily misapplied and misunderstood. It can be disheartening to think that all the effort in the world will not change your best friends - or heck, even my own – destiny. But here is my response to that: YOU DO NOT KNOW ANYONE'S DESTINY. Therefore you should never be disheartened by the thought that God chose to give grace to some, and not to others. You should never become lazy about evangelism, never loose patience with those who disagree, never give up because you can't possibly know who God has chosen. 20 years ago would anyone have guessed that Alice Cooper would become a Christian? Who's to say Marilyn Manson isn't next. Or Osama Bin Laden? Seriously, this view should make us work all the harder to achieve God's plan for everyone. It should make us more compassionate, not less.

So if you feel like embracing Calvinism would make you cynical, dispassionate, or arrogant, I think you're not really getting it. If you think it shows that God is mean, you're not getting it. If you think it's unfair… Well, life is unfair. But one thing the Bible is very clear about is that God loves justice. And I have faith that when the unknown part of the equation is revealed, we will see that justice will be served.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Am I a Calvinist?

I don't know. I might be. But since I don't have any schooling in theology I really can't say for certain.

One thing I love about the internet is that it can be very educational. I love forums where people debate things and post links to articles and Bible verses and such. I wish I could sit down and read a book by Thomas Aquinas or St. Augustine or Jonathan Edwards. But I can't do that right now. So I learn by reading articles about such books. Which is why I can't satisfactorily determine any sort of alignment with their thinking, which is why I can't say if I'm truly a Calvinist or not.

I've been frustrated recently by my inability to really get into some serious study of theology. It fascinates me, and as I learn more about it, I realize how important it is in shaping the way Christians interact with God and the world around them. And when I read debates about ideas like Calvin's, I can't help but wonder what process brought my protestant, evangelical, charismatic background to be. And how does that background affect my propensity to embrace or reject Calvinism? Because when you look at who influenced Calvin's ideas, you find Augustine. And so on and so forth. All of these different ideas are built on each other, and it hardly seems appropriate to simply pluck the fruit of one thinker without recognizing the branch that it's attached to… and the tree that that grows from… and the roots that nourish it. That's why C.S. Lewis recommends reading an old book for every current book you read. I just wish I had the time to read ANY book.

Anyway. Based on the very small amount I have read on the subject, here are my thoughts on Calvinism.

Basically, Calvinism says that God elects individuals to salvation. That there is absolutely no merit whatsoever in a person that does not come from God. We can't even claim that our decision to choose God was our own, but rather, came to be because He first chose us. This idea makes a lot of people uneasy because it threatens any sense of control over one's destiny. I guess I dropped that idea a long time ago. I figure that since we are corrupted and sinful we can't make any good decisions. So if we make any good ones, it's because God in His grace led us to them. The problem with believing otherwise is that you loose the idea that salvation comes by grace rather than works. If you think it was your good decision that brought you salvation you are still believing that you -to however small a degree- earned it.

Here is a summation from John Piper:

" Therefore I affirm with John 3:16 and 1 Timothy 2:4 that God loves the world with a deep compassion that desires the salvation of all men. Yet I also affirm that God has chosen from before the foundation of the world whom he will save from sin. Since not all people are saved we must choose whether we believe (with the Arminians) that God's will to save all people is restrained by his commitment to human self-determination or whether we believe (with the Calvinists) that God's will to save all people is restrained by his commitment to the glorification of his sovereign grace (Ephesians 1:6,12,14; Romans 9:22-23).

This decision should not be made on the basis of metaphysical assumptions about what we think human accountability requires. It should be made on the basis of what the scriptures teach. I do not find in the Bible that human beings have the ultimate power of self-determination. As far as I can tell it is a philosophical inference based on metaphysical presuppositions."

I think all theology about the nature of God is fundamentally flawed by our finite nature. How God does things, and Why God does things are simply too 'other' for us to comprehend. We can only take what He has told us in the Bible on faith.

I've admitted I don't have any schooling in theology so my opinions are not necessarily sound. As I have grown and matured my views on things have changed a lot. But I can count on the Bible NOT changing. So it's natural that as one ages and spends more time with the Bible one will conform towards it. I have slowly stopped glossing over the verses that don't seem to fit in with my current view of God, and will try not to rationalize them away, but rather let them inform my doctrine – stepping out in faith and accepting what can't be understood. A really over-simplistic analogy would be children and parents. When you were 3 you wouldn't understand why your parents moved, or changed religions, or told you not to run by the swimming pool. There was just no way you could understand their reasoning. But that doesn't mean that reasoning doesn't exist.

From what I can tell, Calvinist doctrine follows the most scripture the closest. And it doesn't wince when it sees something it doesn't like. (Or rather, what people wish were not the case.) I don't understand God fully. But I can believe what He wrote in the Bible. I think Calvinism is coming from that same place. I'd much rather face the truth than be comforted by lies that sound good to me.

Even if you want to say that YOU have a choice whether or not you believe and follow God, answer this… Who gave you your personality? Who gave you your proclivities? Who determined how stubborn you would be? How intelligent? What people would come through your life and influence your thinking?

I think a lot of people get hung up on the idea that God's call is undeniable because they imagine the mechanism of that call to be a forceful one. As though God straps a collar and leash around your neck and yanks you to Him. But His ways are not like that. We can not refuse the salvation He gives because He has so beautifully and invisibly woven the plan for salvation into every sphere of your life. Like a perfectly arranged set of dominos, every personality trait, event in our life, people, ideas that influence us, and decisions that we make; lead us inexorably to THE conclusion that He has for us.

That doesn't make us robots stuck in a rigid, confined role. It just means He knew all the factors in our lives before He formed us. He knew exactly how our personality and environment would affect our decisions.

So doesn't that take away from our favor all the good things we do? Yes and no. When you do something moral, yes, you are doing the action. The question is this: Who gave you the ability to do that moral action? Here is another analogy. Imagine you are a general in a war. You can pretty much 'predestine' which troops live or die by where you position them and how you arm them. If you send one troop into battle the way they came into the army, with no gun and no armor, you are pretty much sending them to destruction. In this analogy, the troops without guns are those that God did not elect. They simply lack the capacity to succeed in battle. The troops that get weapons are equipped, by grace, to succeed in their calling.

So when God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, He was telling someone who had the capacity to do so. And the only reason Abraham had that capacity was because God gave it to him. Every good thing you can do is the result of God blessing you with the heart to do it. He gave you the weapons and ammo necessary to succeed in the battle.

But how can He justify giving some troops what they need and others not? Well if you are asking that question you need to seriously ask yourself who you think you are. How do you dare to question God and His motives? How can you who knows so little, deem yourself worthy to demand an explanation from the creator of the universe? That's what the end of Job is all about. It's not a comfortable, or happy thing to think about. But it is sublime and mysterious. And I trust that it is under-girded, and woven through with Love.

It's not easy, but it makes the most sense to me right now because it addresses all those uncomfortable verses in the Bible that I used to skim through because they made me uneasy. The thought that God either choose to save us or didn't is truly humbling. But I think it is the natural conclusion of Christianity – that submittal to a God we can only trust is Love and will care for us completely. Any other approach I've seen ends up mixing in just the smallest smidgen of 'works' in the yeast. Which completely changes the outcome.

But like I said. I don't know enough about all this to say conclusively that I'm convinced one way or another. I just want to keep a record of my thoughts as I develop what I hope is sound theology.