Cru @ SRU : Ask Anything Night (Part 2)

64079-ask-me-anythingCan you lose your salvation?

If you want to start a spirited discussion among a group of Christians, ask this question, step back, and watch. Unfortunately, there is no consensus view on the security of salvation. If you were to go on a proof-texting mission through the Scriptures, you would find a variety of verses that could help you lean in either direction. The question hinges on the nature of the grace given by God, and the relationship of grace to the atoning work of Christ. This is a much larger discussion in the realm of theology.

Personally, I do not believe genuine redemption can be lost. I do not believe God rescinds the gift of his grace, which I believe is effectual in accomplishing its purposes. For those who appear to exhibit genuine faith for a season, only to fall away (which I have seen quite often…), I would contend that while their outward show of faith may have seemed authentic, that it was rooted in the flesh (emotions and intellect without biblical repentance and faith) rather than in the life-giving grace of God. As John said, they were never in Christ. I find the doctrine of forever grace to be comforting in my darkest hours, in seasons of doubt or of pain.

If you go chasing this particular subject, do so gently in relationship to your brothers and sisters in Christ. Know the potential for division, and be willing to walk side-by-side with a Christian who sees this position through a different lens. Study the Scriptures, not just the words of men. And most of all, remember that the pursuit of the intellectual can become an obsession that fails to reach your heart… experience has taught me that this is more likely to produce arrogance than humility. Love must be the foundation of your pursuit.

 

Why do bad things happen to good people? How can God allow that? 

This one was covered well at the event. We start with definitions. In terms of sin and brokenness, there are no good people – in terms of righteousness. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The consequence of sin is the curse brought by God upon his creation in Genesis 3. The outworking of the curse is going to feel devastating at times and in many ways. Because this question is often first a cry for justice, we must at least consider the fact that a cursed existence is still an opportunity in this life to pursue reconciliation with God. The wages of sin is death, which means a lifetime of opportunity is an act of mercy on God’s part, from which we will have no excuse. God is indeed just, as the current condition was foretold as Adam stood in the garden representing the human race.

One struggle of a cursed existence is to watch nice people, kind people, loved ones, go through trials – all the while enduring trials of our own. Romans 8 describes all of creation as groaning, waiting for the fullness of final redemption upon the return of Christ. This is the result of sin. We, too, groan and wait.

But Romans 5 also now describes Jesus as the new Adam, the new head of humanity – received by those who come to know him by grace through faith. All of humanity stands in one of two postures – in Adam or in Christ. Those who are in Adam bear the weight of the curse now, and await the final judgment as a result. Those who are in Christ have had their portion of the curse laid upon Jesus – when he died, the final judgment was reverse because Christ bore it in fullness on the tree. In the meantime, we live a life marked by suffering – not as a form of ultimate judgment, but rather as a life of identification with our Savior who suffered. The pains of this life are the last pains we will endure. There is hope in such a statement, there is peace and even joy amidst trial in such a reality!

Bad things will happen to all people in this life. Sin guarantees as much. Death will be the ultimate bad thing. But for the Christian, there is a hope that changes everything here and now.

 

How can I know for sure that God exists? 

If you’re aiming for the extreme form of this question, in what way will God empirically and emphatically prove his existence to me so that I could not possibly hold any other belief than to worship his excellence? The answer is, he will not until the return of Christ. At that point, however, according to the Scriptures, eternity will be finalized. In this life, our response to God will always involve an element of faith, an element of stepping outside ourselves in order to trust something that is not in reach of our five senses (or even the rare sixth sense… ;)… )

If you dig into the study of apologetics, you can see the arguments for the existence of God. The ontological argument is the argument of being – the idea of God exists, which in and of itself is an argument for his existence. The teleological argument – the order of the universe suggests a source of order. The cosmological argument – every effect must have an adequate cause… the world is real, therefore the cause must be real. The moral argument suggests that objective morality requires a source… subjective morality leaves too many open doors. Obviously there are lengthy arguments into these ideas, and there are other ideas.

Ravi Zacharias describes how God meets us at the intersection of logical consistency, empirical adequacy, and experiential relevance… it’s a great clip if you’re looking for a brain exercise!

In moments of doubt, it’s easy to fall into questioning the existence of God. But the Scriptures are clear that nature reveals his divine power and attributes (Rom. 1). Vern Poythress has done some wonderful work in his book Redeeming Science to expound on this thought. However, as I’ve said already, there will necessarily be an element of trust that is born of the Spirit, not the senses – no matter how good the intellectual argument. Christianity is a matter of faith, not an academic framework – though the pursuit of the study of God is indeed fruitful at every turn!

 

If God hates wickedness, why do a lot of wicked people have really good things happen to them? 

The psalmists asked this question so very often! Were you to spend time in the psalms, you would find a kindred heart asking this question again and again! Yet again and again, the psalmist is drawn to lift his eyes from the mirror to the glory of God, to focus on him rather than obsessing over temporary earthly circumstances.

As we discussed at the Cru event, though, you can also consider the definitions of the terms. We assume that what is happening to “the wicked” is good, because in our covetous idolatry, we want the earthly blessing without an eye to the eternal consequences. We associate health, wealth, and earthly prosperity with the greatest blessings because in our sinful hearts we long to be comfy. But the call of Christ is simple, take up your cross and follow me. The phrase is not exactly cozy. Jesus suffered perfectly and completely, and the call to discipleship is akin to a call to suffer. As I was reading this afternoon – we want the blessings of the garden of Eden (peace, provision, presence of God) without first walking through the garden of Gethsemane (where Jesus sweat blood and endured the anguish of his soul). While in this sin-stained world, we must persevere. The true blessings are not of this world. We are to give thanks in every circumstance, to consider it pure joy when we face trials. Most often, the Bible brings warnings when things are going “well,” because it is in wellness that we are most prone to forget God.

God has promised to provide daily for his children. You won’t often see daily bread on an episode of MTV Cribs, though, and our sinful hearts just aren’t satisfied with that!

 

Unrelated, but related… 

I read a great quote from C.S. Lewis today, found in his essay titled God in the Dock: 

“The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He (man) is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty, and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the bench and God in the dock.”

This is convicting, indeed!

Getting Personal: The Great Divorce #4

 

jocund: (adj.) cheerful and lighthearted

 

I am quite skilled at personal conversation. Not the kind of conversation you’re imagining, though. I’m talking about the conversations that replay perpetually in my head, but never actually happen in real life. These are the conversations of conflict, the conversations of offense, the conversations of reconciliation. If I’ve known you long, chances are I’ve had one (or many?) of these imaginary conversations with you… and you never even knew it! When I summon the courage to let one of these conversations play out with another human being, reality usually works out to look nothing like the ornery world residing happily in my head.

There is an unpredictability to humanity that makes conversation interesting. Engaging people, beyond the mundane talk of the weather or traffic patterns, stands among the greatest adventures we, as people, can enjoin. Laughter, terror, wonder, frustration, agitation, resolution… all from shared words and misinterpreted body language.

 

“There are going to be affecting scenes” (The Writer)

 

The Writer seems very aware that the approach of the solid people, the bright people, means that things are about to get personal. These people move with intention, as though each has an assignment. He seems oblivious to the possibility, though, that one of the people might be coming for him. Reading the book slowly, I appreciate his naivete, which keeps us happily inside his interpretation of the events.

2539_giant_cedar_treeIn this chapter we see the Big Man’s conversation with a ghost of his past. This is the kind of encounter I play out in my head all the time. If only I could speak with this person or that person who did this or caused that. These are the conversations I tend to irrationally fear. I think that helped me press into chapter 4!

How interesting, as he faces “the ghost of his past,” that the Big Man is actually the ghost, while “the ghost” seems to have become very real! Lewis overturns our expectations as the passengers on the bus are now plainly referred to as ghosts and shadows, recognizing that this place is, in fact, the fullness of reality – and that the people and animals are to be envied for their ability to live in so solid a setting!

 

“Ask for the Bleeding Charity. Everything here is for the asking and nothing can be bought.” (Len)

 

Somehow, in this place, murder has been cleaned up. Death has been overturned. Self-centeredness has been redirected, though self-awareness seems to be complete. People have received the opposite of what they deserve, yet they have the opportunity – chasing these ghosts – to seek reconciliation for the evils of their past while pleading for a friendly future. Every last bit seems to be upside-down and backwards. The Big Ghost was certainly uncomfortable with the situation. Len (the solid/bright person) seemed quite comfortable.

I can understand the Big Ghost’s discomfort. As humans, we carry pain. To see a source of pain vindicated would certainly be strange. To be invited to spend forever and ever with a source of pain in friendliness would be even stranger. Imagine a source of pain pointing out your faults, even if in love. Imagine a source of pain providing the solution to a better eternity. No wonder he walked away, grumbling and whimpering at the same time. He faced an impossible choice.

Simply defined, grace is receiving something you do not deserve. In Christian-ese, grace is a gift. Unearned. Undeserved. This chapter reminded me of the truth that those who have received grace often seem perfectly comfortable with the concept, while those who have not seem to struggle. I believe the difficulty comes from seeing grace as an unjust outcome. After all, “letting go” of the wrongs and hurts of the past makes no sense because it is void of justice. Our hearts long for justice! Forgiveness involves absorbing the pain of loss. Humanity does not openly seek the absorption of pain. The Big Ghost wants justice. It was murder!

Ah, but what if justice has been satisfied in some other way, making grace a perfectly sensible gift? Then, I believe, we would speak of grace more like Len and less like the Big Ghost.

This is where the gospel of grace and justice speaks.

 

“I’d rather be damned than go along with you.” (the Big Ghost)

 

This hint of the good news falls on deaf ears. As he retreated to the bus, the Big Ghost boldly displays a human heart’s gut response to the gift of grace: I’m not bad enough to need it, and you’re not good enough to receive it.

 

 

 

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For his steadfast love endures forever

Excerpt from a recent sermon on the 136th psalm:

To him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt
And brought Israel out from among them
With a strong hand and an outstretched arm
To him who divided the Red Sea in two
And made Israel pass through the midst of it
But shook off Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea
To him who led his people through the wilderness
For his steadfast love endures forever. (from Psalm 136)

What is ironic in these verses and the verses that follow is that the very instances that Israel would remember in order to bolster their faith, in order to spark their affection for God, these are the verses that our Western culture turns away from, apologizes for, or otherwise avoids.

The verses Israel would recall in order to rekindle their relationship are the ones many read today and say, “well I guess the honeymoon is over.”

To him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt. We don’t sing about this today.

This verse would bring to mind the plagues that served to lead Israel from bondage in Egypt. Skeptics love to toss the plagues at Christians as a means of discrediting the love of God, and yet here Israel sings them as a means of proclaiming his steadfast love!

There is a cultural bridge to cross here.

In Christ, this shadow of Israel’s deliverance from bondage comes to fulfillment. The promise of eternal deliverance has come. Abraham’s promised seed, carried for centuries through the people of Israel, has arrived in Christ Jesus as a blessing to all nations and people groups. In Christ, the unified people of God are now gentile and Jew, independent of physical identity, physical borders, civil & national practices. Instead, these shadows of the Old come to life in the new by the power of the Spirit.

God’s people in Christ are not limited by proximity. The presence of God is carried by his children to every corner of the earth as was his plan from the very beginning.

Just as God physically delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt, bringing plagues, slaying the firstborn, shaking of Pharaoh and his army in the Sea – just as God physically delivered Israel in every physical, visible, tangible way – he has now delivered us Spiritually in Christ. In Christ, God has sent his physical, visible, tangible Son along with his cross to slay the enemies of sin, death, and Satan to deliver us from bondage and lead us towards our promised home.

Not only has God delivered us in Christ, but he has done so through the same violent, offensive, vulgar means. Have you pondered the offense of the cross lately?

We view all of these events from this side of salvation. Of course, any who stand opposed to God and his salvation will view his actions as cruel. Only those who have been delivered by such sacrificial love will kneel humbly before the true offense of it all. How wonderful to be in the loving hands of God who fights so fully on behalf of his children.

It is all too easy to get stuck in passages like these by failing to look at both sides of salvation. In other words, there is the side of salvation which we enjoy – the side where people get saved. This is the love and mercy of God that we want to see, and rightly so, for we want our own experience with the Lord, and the experience of others, to be one of joy and peace.

But there is another side to the full picture of salvation, and that is the side upon which people receive the due penalty for their sin. This is the justice of God which requires that all who sin against him, who live in continual rejection of him must one day face him in his righteousness. This is the reality that those who come to the Lord APART from Christ, APART from the cross, APART from the gift of salvation in his body broken and his blood poured, APART from the hopeful expectation of the resurrection, this is the heart breaking truth that those who do not know Jesus will find no comfort in the presence of the Lord at judgment. We do not want to see this, in our own lives or in the lives of others.

We know both sides of this situation to be true – they must be true. And because both sides are true, we should not shy away from them, either in the OT or in the New. Passages of judgment do not discredit our God – they vindicate him as both a God of love and a God of justice. They vindicate God as being exactly who he revealed himself to be when he spoke to Moses, the LORD the LORD, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in chesed and faithfulness, keeping chesed for thousands. Forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, BUT who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation. Some ask how both can be true… it is more proper to ask how we can trust a god for whom both is not true?

Yet our hearts pause in the discussion of these passages. Whether it is a desire on our part to see God’s mercy, or a failure on our part to grasp the depth of sin, our hearts pause when we hear of righteous judgment.

Perhaps I’m a little odd. Perhaps I am odd, but I am encouraged by our heart’s pause at hearing of the judgment of the OT. The cross of Christ enables us to look upon even our enemies with compassion, our hearts breaking along with the Lord, as we desire not that any would perish but that all would turn to God in repentance. Christ went to the cross for his enemies that they may experience life and life abundant. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in us, the very life of Christ shining through us, that we too should embrace such love for our enemies. It is in this sense that our heart’s pause can be a good thing.

But our heart’s pause must then also meet with God’s and our own desire for the fullness of justice. As children of God, we cannot shy away from God’s judgment as though it were not just, for it is but another aspect of the perfection of God that he should be holy and just.

I believe the passages of the OT that deal explicitly with judgment can elicit within us a tension that is healthy. A tension that wants God to be glorified through his true justice while at the same time feels empathy and pain at the eternal state of those who stand opposed to the saving power of God. Without this tension, we would either delight in the death of the wicked, or we would turn our backs on God’s righteous judgment. To engage in the tension is evidence that the mind and the heart of God are at work in us his children.

I believe we can join Israel in rejoicing, not only at the salvation at Calvary, but in every act of salvation that he has enjoined on behalf of sinners throughout history. God’s salvation is his glory on display, and we should rejoice, we should worship, embracing the tension and trusting the Lord in his goodness.