Doctrinal Convictions and Spiritual Growth

In my years of listening to Christians, I have become aware of a fascinating phenomena: One person’s heresy was another person’s life-giving doctrine.

Let me illustrate.

Not long ago I saw a couple of Christians rejoicing in their Calvinism. They both claimed that they did not see the power of the Gospel until they were taught Calvinist doctrine. Since that day their faith blossomed.

I also know other believers, myself included, who say that ever since they were shown the errors of Calvinism and were taught non-Calvinist doctrine they saw deeper beauty in the Gospel and their faith blossomed.

I have seen this with churches–one group claims massive spiritual growth due to their church, while other people found growth by leaving that church.

I have seen this with adhering to a pastor or professor or author. I’ve seen this with Charismatic experience and deliverance from Charismatic experience. I could go on and on. Each side worked growth for opposite groups.

So, what gives? Here are some possible answers, solely based on my experience and observation of the phenomena.

Continue reading “Doctrinal Convictions and Spiritual Growth”

Trying to Humbly Be Right

Yesterday I talked about being humble in our opinions whether we are scientific, religious, or both, or neither. Not everyone knows everything.

At the same time, some people do know some things! We’re not floating around in an incomprehensible void of mush. Some things can be known.

Science can help us know many things, but not all things. The Bible can help us know many things, but not all things. I think both have their place and the person who embraces both will know more than the one who embraces only one or neither.

But humility is key. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Being humble is how learning starts.

Some people are right and some are wrong. There are times when the person who is right needs to correct the person who is wrong, but that correction must be humble too.

Here is a recent conversation I had on the internet, which did not involve me desiring to be in any argument. The question I responded to was asked by a non-Calvinist on his non-Calvinist web site. Here is his question:

What are the potential effects of teaching the Calvinistic claim that if God wants you then He will make you want Him?

Here is my answer:

Then God doesn’t want everyone, eliminates God being good & not a respecter of persons, Christ not a propitiation for sins of the world etc

Not bad for 140 characters! Of course, being the internet, it devolved into an argument. Here is the flow of what ensued.

ANONYMOUS INTERNET ARGUER: Eliminates God being good????? Even if He chose to not save anyone at all He would still be good! He owes us no mercy!!

ME: You are defending the point that being unmerciful would be consistent with being good?

AIA: Yes because He is God and doesn’t HAVE to be merciful. He is good to give justice. Is He not good to give justice to unbelievers? That’s what mercy is!! Exodus 33:19 Titus 3:5
He doesn’t owe anyone mercy. He could damn us all to hell like we deserve. He would still be good. Sorry you have a poor view of Him.

ME: I’m aware of what mercy is. Your point is that God can still be good if He were unmerciful and I disagree.

AIA: God is not unmerciful……He does however withhold His mercy from some….He is still good though.

ME: thank you for making my point. Been a pleasure.

The conversation was dropped here, much to my surprise. I can only assume it’s because the Calvinist at hand was not male.

Now, I have a certain amount of pride in posting this. I think I have a very legitimate point and I think I made it well without going into personal attacks and diversions. I stuck to the original point and I think I made it.

That’s right, so you might want to back off.

AIA’s point is that God is good, therefore, everything He does is inherently good. So, even if God did something that wasn’t good–if He were always unmerciful–He would still be good. Therefore, His hypothetical mercilessness would be good.

This is very bad logic. This rips the word “good” right out of any common-sensical meaning. In order for someone to be good, someone else must be able to recognize the goodness.

God is good, which is why He’s merciful; and God is merciful, which is why God is good. It’s not like one came before the other.

To claim you are good means you do things that are good in and of themselves. Saying you are good, and then doing all manner of bad things, and yet claiming your bad things still define good, is arbitrary and not very orderly. Language falls apart at that point. Words don’t mean anything, so we might as well figglemunch dasser wooblesnouse.

I believe I am right. I believe I am right based on scripture, logic, and word etymology.

I believe I am right based on the arguments against me. The main issue is not addressed, but verse references are given about mercy that don’t touch on the pivotal point at hand, points that are not essential to the debate are brought up, and then there’s this nugget, “Sorry you have a poor view of Him.”

Anytime such responses are used, you know you’re on to something. I ignored it and went back to the original point.

Again, I’m showing this to you so you can see what flawless arguing looks like. I nailed it! Notice my “Been a pleasure!” At the end? That is one sarcastic “!”! I am now an arrogant jerk bragging about my awesomeness to others, thus showing I did not argue out of love, but rather to show intellectual superiority and frustration with non-sensical Calvinist reasoning.

Knowledge puffs up. That’s what it does. I don’t know how to beat it. I just know it when I sees it. I seens it big time. Good luck out there. Stay humble, my friends.

Resurrection and Creation

There are people who worry that cremating a corpse will prevent God from resurrecting the body, or so I’ve heard. This may be one of those apocryphal issues that no one truly has.

There are other ways to die that would seem to cause a problem then, like people who die in real fires. Or bodies that were eaten by animals, digested, and deposited around the forest. Or bodies thrown into the ocean so their decaying bits are carried around by currents.

You get the idea.

The Bible says that from the dust we came, and to the dust we will return. Genesis tells us that “the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

I think this gives us assurance that if your body is dust and spread about, God can put it back together. He made it once; He can do it again.

1 Corinthians 15 says that our bodies will be raised from the dead. Our bodies will be changed. We currently have an earthly body; it will be raised in a heavenly body. We have a corruptible body; it will be raised incorruptible. We have a mortal body; it will be raised immortal.

Paul points to the resurrection of Jesus Christ as proof that resurrection is possible. If God can raise up Christ; He can raise up anyone else. If Christ did not rise and there is no resurrection, then you won’t rise either, and we are of all men most miserable. Amen.

Christ’s resurrection is a model for how resurrection takes place. Christ is the firstfruit from the dead. A “firstfruit” is the early harvest that lets you know the rest is coming. It’s a guarantee of more to come.

Christ’s resurrection and the creation of humanity are both types of our future bodily resurrection.

Genesis says that God made us. We did not evolve. There was a moment when God formed man and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul.

Resurrection will happen the same way creation did. Both involve God taking us from the dust of the ground and sticking us together and giving us life.

How was Christ raised from the dead? Did He evolve over time, or did He just get up?

Resurrection is a new creation. It’ll happen the same way the old creation did–there will be a change, in the blink of an eye. A pile of dust will become a living being. The second creation will reflect the first one.

If God is powerful enough to create us the first time; He’s powerful enough to do it again. If God is powerful enough to raise the dead; He’s powerful enough to re-create your pile of dust body, decaying in the ground.

Resurrection of a decayed corpse is no more a problem for God than making you the first time. He’s a pretty big God. He can handle it.

Why God Allows Suffering: A Hypothetical Conversation

If God allows people an opportunity to defend themselves on Judgment Day, this is one way I imagine the conversation to go (I say this with all reservation about putting words in God’s mouth):

GOD: You did a lot of sin down there.

PEOPLE: You’re blaming me for that?

GOD: You’re the one who did it.

PEOPLE: Well, then Satan made me do it.

GOD: I don’t recall telling you to listen to Satan.

PEOPLE: OK, but scientists told me my genes made me do it.

GOD: I don’t recall telling you you had to listen to genes.

PEOPLE: But John Calvin told me you made me do sin for your glory.

GOD: Seriously? I don’t recall telling you to listen to Calvin.

PEOPLE: Well, who were we supposed to listen to?

GOD: You were supposed to listen to me.

PEOPLE: Yeah, well, we would have, but you were always ruining our fun. All those “Thou shalt nots” and so forth.

GOD: I told you those things because I love you and wanted you to avoid pain.

PEOPLE: Yeah, right. Nice spin there. #AlternativeFacts #FakeNews

GOD: #No. That’s pretty much what I told you when I gave you those commands–love is the fulfilling of the law.

PEOPLE: We just wanted to be free. We can’t be free with you dumping commands on us all the time. Why do you have a problem with us being free?

GOD: I have no problem with you being free. You’re the ones who keep bringing yourselves under someone else’s control and saying you have no choice. I gave you freewill.

PEOPLE: Yeah, well, we don’t get that either. Why did you allow sin in the first place?

GOD: It’s part of freedom.

PEOPLE: Why couldn’t you have eliminated evil and suffering though? How can you talk about love and yet sit indifferently by and let us suffer?

GOD: I was not indifferent to evil and suffering. I told you not to do evil because evil brings suffering. All you had to do was listen to me.

PEOPLE: Yeah, but if all we could do is listen to you, we wouldn’t be free!

GOD: I’m aware of that. You’re the ones saying you want to be free. I let you be free. Now you complain because you get the consequences of being free.

PEOPLE: But why couldn’t we be free without suffering?

GOD: Because freedom means you don’t have to listen to me, and I’m the Creator, the God of order. When you break the order; stuff breaks.

PEOPLE: So, what you’re saying is that you gave us our freedom, and then let us suffer under those consequences? You just let us rot in our suffering?

GOD: I joined in your suffering. That whole Jesus and the cross thing. I showed you I still loved you. I showed you I could restore all the pain of your sinful freedom. But you persisted in your sinful choices, complaining about me the whole way, and even making up doctrines to blame me for your rebellion.

PEOPLE: Well, that was dumb of us.

GOD: I agree. Remember that part where I said “every mouth will be stopped?” That happens now.

PEOPLE:

Manic-Depressive Christianity

Over my years as a pastor I have worked with several people who were bi-polar. This is sometimes referred to as being Manic Depressive.

The Manic phase refers to ideas of superiority, taking over the world, on top of it all, and looking down on all the losers around you.

The Depressive state refers to, well, being depressed. The world has stomped me, there is no hope, no reason to continue, I will go enjoy my favorite reality drowning sin.

The Depressed state is replaced with the Manic state, the Manic replaced with the Depressed, and around and around it goes. Each stage is an over-reaction followed by another over-reaction in the opposite direction. It’s one thing to observe it from the outside, it’s another thing to be stuck in the cycle.

There’s another brand of Manic Depressive out there too, beyond human psychology: Manic Depressive Christianity.

When people are down, the Church shoves happy verses at them: all things work together for good, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, all things are possible with God.

The depressed person goes away chanting these out of context phrases, bucked up by the happy sentiments, they go out in the power of the Spirit to conquer the world. We are more than conquerors after all! Rah-Rah, go get em, boys!

After a couple weeks of exhausting one’s self in uber-happy Christian out of context mantra chanting that has not made any difference or taken over any world, depression sets in.

The Church hands the depressed girl the happy verses. The happy verses are repeated. The depressed girl is bucked up. Rah-rah! Go win one for the Gipper! Only to find out the Gipper died a long time ago and everything stinks.

It’s a discouraging to watch people stuck in this cycle. Facebook is the greatest venue for watching this cycle in action. People post way too much stuff, revealing way too many personal things.

If you have many Christians on your Facebook page, you probably have two or three of these people. One day everything is awesome, and them and God are doing it all! Next week everything is horrible, struggling, pain, failure. Nest week, posting pictures of sunsets with out of context biblical phrases. Next week, on top of the world with Jesus! Repeat.

I get depressed for what the Church does to people. Instead of chanting out of context phrases from verses, rest on the solid rock of God’s Word.

Teaching the Bible is not easy. The Bible is very long. There are many things “hard to be understood,” says the Apostle Peter.

Most churches skip the hard work and settle for self-improvement and bucking up people with happy thoughts torn out of context.

All things do work together for good–and the good, according to the context, includes suffering and being counted as sheep for the slaughter. The good is conformity to Christ; not worldly achievements.

We are more than conquerors, because one day we will be dead and we will have lost our lives, but we will have gained Christ.

All things are possible with God. And, based on the context of this verse, the impossible that will be made possible is rich people will give away their money to the poor, not you getting the girl, or the job, or the new car.

You can do all things through Christ, but the all things don’t mean overcoming obstacles to worldly pleasure and enjoyment. The all things, based on the context, means being content in whatever state you are in regardless of your present state of worldly pleasure and enjoyment.

But the Church doesn’t teach this any more. Too depressing. Not happy enough. Who would come and listen to that? Well, not too many people, but preaching a false message of hope to hopeless people only leads to hopelessness.

Many may not listen to the Bible’s message, but those who do will at least be helped. Changing the Bible’s message so more will hear you, only makes you accountable for destroying those souls by your false, incomplete message.

I pray for the Church. I pray for those stuck in the Manic-Depressive cycle and those stuck in the Christian version of it, too.

How Not to Talk to Kids About Sin

“And, if you play this record backwards, you can hear a voice saying ‘Satan has his own religion. Satan has his own religion.’”

“How awesome is that?” my friend whispered to me.

Our youth group was dragged to a series of lectures about the dangers of Rock Music. It was the late ‘80’s, when rock music was at its dangerestest.

We learned about subliminal messages heard while playing records backwards. I was never quite clear how backward messages were picked up by my subconscious. I don’t recall that ever being explained. However, the invention of the iPod seems to have put an end to this nefarious Satanic scheme.

We learned about album artwork and the dangerous occult symbols hidden in paintings of scantily clad women. I believe I saw more scantily clad women at this Christian conference than anywhere else at that point in my life.

We learned about highways to hell and all my friends being there to party. We learned about sex and drugs. It was quite the education.

It was firmly ground into our little heads that listening to rock music will make us a drugged up minion of Satan that impregnates scantily clad women.

Mostly what these lectures did was fill us with an intense desire to listen to rock music. My radio was soon moved next to my bed so I could quietly listen to AC/DC and Metallica without anyone knowing.

As I familiarized myself with rock music, I did no drugs, I worshipped no Satans, and much to my junior highish hormonal regret, impregnated no scantily clad women. Rock music was a giant letdown.

Kids don’t always know what they are doing or why. Adults appear to be authorities, people who have been around and know more. There is a responsibility inherent in adulthood: look out for those youngsters and help them out.

Unfortunately, adults lack sense ourselves. Although we know sin is dangerous, we can go overboard in explaining its danger. We revert to the worst case scenario. Tiny sins always lead to slippery slopes to doom, no exceptions, so BE AFRAID!

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, has been around the block a few times. In his treatise on the vanity of life, the Book of Ecclesiastes, he talks about sin and appears to be much less alarmed.

“Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time?” Ecclesiastes 7:16-18

“It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath.” Ecclesiastes 9:2

Here, perhaps, is the clincher of all clinchers, Ecclesiastes 11:9a, “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes.”

Did you catch that one?! Solomon tells young men to follow their heart and go after everything they see! Really? That’s what the God-inspired Scriptures say to young idiot men raging in hormonal lust? “Go for it?” That’s the message?

Wow, I‘m glad Solomon was only a king and not a youth pastor.

But hold up a second. Solomon has a lot of other things to say about sin, too.

“Let not your mouth lead you into sin” Ecclesiastes 5:6a

“But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God.” Ecclesiastes 8:13

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13,14

OK, now that’s better. Now we’re on safe ground with Brother Solomon.

But this is the same guy and the same book saying these things. How can Solomon, in the same breath, say that sin doesn’t seem to end up all that bad and yet also say we should pursue righteousness and avoid evil?

Solomon has two arenas in view. When it comes to temporal benefit, doing right and avoiding sin is mostly a waste. You will see the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. Avoiding sin and doing good doesn’t pay well on this earth.

But Solomon also speaks about sin in light of the eternal arena. When it comes to judgment day, your sin will cost you and your righteous deeds will win praise.

I quoted Ecclesiastes 11:9a earlier about letting young men sin. Look at the entire verse (include the “b” part) and see how it conveys this point:

“Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.”

Yeah, OK young men, go for it. Live it up. Go get what you see and follow your ridiculous heart. Live it up. But remember, you’ll stand before God with that someday.

When it comes to talking about sin with young people, I think we should follow Solomon’s lead. Solomon has no problem telling young men that sin is kind of fun and more than likely you’ll get away with it.

Now, wow. Even I can’t quite see myself saying that. But let’s be honest. I remember the scare tactics used to get kids in youth groups to take purity vows and to abstain from pre-marital sex. We were constantly told what evils would befall us if we got a girl pregnant. Well, wouldn’t you know it; two young people in that group went out and had a baby outside of marriage.

They didn’t die. They didn’t lose their baby. They didn’t become Satan worshippers. They aren’t on drugs. In fact, 30 years later, these young people turned out quite normal. They are married, attend church, and have a well-functioning family.

As we are told, many young people leave the church once they get the freedom to do so. One of the many reasons why is because they have discovered that awful things generally do not happen when you sin. Oh sure, we can share the story about what happened to that one kid who is now on drugs and life is totally destroyed. It happens, but for the large extent, sin is something that happens and then life goes on. All those dire youth group warnings didn’t come true. What other lies did youth group tell me?

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, knew sinners often get away with sin and do fine. “In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing.”

We must be careful to not overplay the dangers of sin. Stealing cookies from mom won’t necessarily lead to a life of robbing banks. I stole many cookies: I have yet to rob a bank.

Sin is bad. In no way is Solomon telling us to tell kids to go ahead and sin with impunity. What Solomon says is that sin is often overcome. Doing what is right doesn’t pay well on earth. But this earth isn’t all there is. Eternity is a long time and you will stand before God with all you’ve done. Sin and righteousness matter—this life may not prove it, but Judgment Day will. Layoff the heavy-handed “your life will be destroyed” doom about sin. Instead, point kids’ minds to eternity and their stand before God.

Arguing and The Cold War

The US at one time was the only nation on the earth that had an atomic bomb. But in 1949 Stalin and Russia got one.

President Truman had a decision to make. What should the US do now? Bomb Russia? Ban the bomb? Truman decided to call a bunch of scientists together to see if there was any possibility of building a larger bomb.

Their answer: Yeah, we could, but should we?

Truman’s doctrine here was called Escalation Dominance.

The concept holds that the United States can best contain conflicts and avoid escalation if it is dominant at each successive rung up the “ladder of escalation,” all the way to the top rung of nuclear weapons.

Whoever has the biggest weapon can use it as a threat to force other nations to back off. But to effectively use this threat, you have to keep going up the ladder to more powerful weapons.

This term, Escalation Dominance, reminds me of arguing theology, or anything else for that matter.

Both sides state their claims. Both disagree on the Bible passages. Both disagree on the proper interpretation or definitions. Stalemate.

“You need to talk to my pastor. He knows this subject better than I do.”

“Your pastor? What does he know? You need to read Doctor So-And-So, he has studied this for 20 years and has written four books on the subject.”

“Yeah, well, you need to read Doctor This-And-That, he has studied this subject for 34 years and has written seven books.”

“Pssh, you should listen to St. DeadGuy who wrote 1,650 years ago and shaped all theologians.”

“What? That’s nothing. Early Church Father WhatsHisName knew a guy who knew Paul and practically wrote the first ever commentary on Romans.”

“An English speaking ignoramus would trust him. If you knew Arabic and the writings of WeirdNamedGuy of WeirdNamedPlace, who used to change the Apostle Paul’s diapers, then you would truly understand.”

On and on it goes. It’s the argument from Authority. In essence, “My dad is bigger than your dad.”

This probably isn’t true all the time, but for the most part, if you begin quoting people in your arguments, you’ve probably entered Escalation Dominance territory.

Your desire is to bring out the Big Guns and silence the moron. It’s too bad people have more respect for degrees, prestige, and honors than they do simple humble dependence on the Spirit.

So, what happened with Truman’s Escalation Dominance theory? For many years both the US and Russia built bigger and more bombs than the other guy. I suppose it worked, since we’re all still here. At the same time, there is still tension between the US and Russia, and now also with a few other nations who escalated their weapons too.

Escalation Dominance doesn’t ever really solve a conflict. When it comes to the Bible, either you know what you’re talking about or you don’t. Resist the urge to one-up each others authorities into infinity. The argument is already over. You’ve reached stalemate.

Let it go.