1) God should be allowed the opportunity to speak to us through any circumstance, whether blessing and gain, trial or disaster, either personal or large scale. “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (C.S. Lewis; The Problem of Pain, 1940). I am not pointing fingers at Haiti. I am pointing fingers at all of us. Me too.
2) God has not changed. I say this in response to reading one part of Miller's blog. There seemed to be an implication of some difference in God's character between Old Testament & New… “We live in the New Testament, not the old. Lets spread God’s unconditional love.” Just as God required a faith response in the Old Testament in order to experience the full benefits of what Jesus would do in the New, He still requires this today. This means that to some degree, we have a choice in how we will experience the unconditional love of God. I am not pointing fingers at Haiti. I am pointing fingers at all of us. Me too.
3) God’s unconditional love has not changed. Just as God loved people in the Old Testament, so God continues to love everyone on earth today, despite how they react to Him, and Matthew 25:35-36 ("For I was... and you gave...") continues to be the way Christians are to echo the compassion of God. We can be sure that the suffering in Haiti breaks God's heart. And that He is there.
Father, we ask that you would manifest your mercy-- spiritually, physically, emotionally, in the lives of the Haitian people right now. Heal sick bodies. Perform miracles. Expedite rescue and relief. Glorify your Son. In Jesus' name, and for His sake, Amen.
Once saved, always saved? Is our salvation secure once it is received? Does “eternal security” really exist? If you sin bad enough or lapse long enough can you ‘lose’ your salvation? Maybe you have questions about how sure you can be of your salvation. Maybe you wonder if you can lose it. Well, can you? The nature of our salvation is a crucial doctrine, if for no other reason because so much else in our faith is built on it— for instance the nature of our sanctification, or the nature of our forgiveness (if salvation can be ‘lost,’ so can forgiveness; if salvation is potentially temporary, so is forgiveness. If salvation is secure, however, affecting a permanent change of status once received, then so is your position before God of being eternally, ‘once and for all’ forgiven). What I come back to again and again is that, when examining the nature of any doctrine, what must be established first is the nature of God.
1. THEOLOGICAL DOCTRINES MUST BE IN LINE WITH THE REVEALED CHARACTER OF GOD, AS FOUND IN THE ENTIRETY OF SCRIPTURE.
A.W. Tozer once said that “A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure must sooner or later collapse. I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God” (Tozer, p.2 The Knowledge of the Holy).
Theology is the study of God. As we study God through His Word, the Bible, which is God’s authorized and inerrant means of self-disclosure, we can’t help but notice that He has taken great pains to put His character on display in story after story after story. In light of this standard, this plumb line— the revealed character of God as it is found in the entirety of Scripture— our doctrines are judged to be ‘true’ or ‘untrue.’ When we understand what the whole Bible has to say about the nature of God, we can better interpret and understand the whole council of God, specific doctrines included (salvation, sanctification, prayer, forgiveness, etc.). The central key to understanding any specific doctrine of Scripture is first understanding the character of God.
2. FOR INSTANCE… GOD IS FAITHFUL: IF GOD SAVES YOU; GOD KEEPS YOU SAVED.
One of the most amazing statements about God’s nature/character that I’ve ever heard was spoken by Dr. R.C. Sproul. It went something like this--‘God always reserves the right to temper His threats of justice with mercy, but He never tampers with a promise of mercy by withdrawing it and replacing it with justice’ (R.C. Sproul, summarized). This statement about the character of God, about His justice, His grace and His faithfulness, has helped me understand many otherwise troubling passages of scripture. When I apply this to the doctrine of salvation, for instance, I see that the promise of grace, once given by God to us both temporally and eternally, could never be withdrawn and replaced with judgment (= justice). God is simply not like that. God is faithful; if He saves you, He keeps you saved.
But maybe R.C. Sproul is not enough of an authority to satisfy your doubts on these particular character traits, or on the example of eternal security. Which is good. Don’t take his word for it. Don’t take my word for it. Don’t even take pastor Bill’s word for it. But please, take God’s word for it… “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 1:6).” (See also: 1 Thess. 5:24,1 Cor. 1:8)
-- “a good work” = regeneration/salvation. When God saves you, He is responsible to follow through with your life. The grace that saves you is the same grace that keeps you saved and maturing (Titus 2:11-12).
-- This is a promise. God does not break promises. If He did, would He still be God?
God’s Promise of an eternal inheritance, once received (as a free gift-Rom. 6:23) cannot be set aside or added to. 14”He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. 15Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case.” …29”If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3). We don’t inherit redemption, eternal life and the gift of the Spirit according to our behaviors, before or after our salvation, but “by faith,” and according “to the promise” of God. Like Abraham and many others listed in Hebrews 11 who received God’s promise of a savior and an eternal inheritance as a gift, we are encouraged to accept this same gift by faith, living our lives with the assurance that we already and permanently possess what has been promised. “1Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)
How can we have this assurance of a gift and a covenant (Salvation through Jesus Christ) that is unchangeable and certain? Because our faith is placed in and dependant on the character of a God who does not break promises. “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19)
As if the character of God wasn’t enough to assure us of His intentions, God has added grace to grace by leaving with us a permanent reminder, comforter, counselor, empower-er…“13In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:13-15)-(See also 2 Cor. 1:21-23).
3. A PICTURE OF ETERNAL SECURITY:
So that the composite, box-top picture of your salvation that emerges from the puzzle pieces of scripture begins to look like this…
Find “YOU” (#2) in the above diagram. Does your position seem vulnerable, or protected? Within you is Christ, united with you in marriage, and He’s guarding your soul from the inside. But not only is He within you, Christ is also around you, like a strong hand, a protective older brother. But there’s more—you and this strong hand that surrounds you are likewise surrounded and sealed in—as if by a waterproof glove—by the Holy Spirit. And it doesn’t stop there. As if that’s not enough, Christ in you, Christ holding you and the Holy Spirit surrounding you are all likewise grasped and hidden away in the almighty Fort Knox of God. Jesus echoes this picture of security in John chapter 10- "27My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30I and the Father are one." You and your promised inheritance are triple-sealed inside the secure vault of the everlasting Father, which is locked from the outside-- and no one but Him has the combination. Can you lose your salvation? Sure… if it was up to you to keep it safe. Thankfully, Biblically, it isn’t.
Jesus is both “The Promise” of God to humankind, as well as THE promise-keeper. Proclaimed from the Old Testament to the New Testament, He’s ‘The Promise’ that God still offers today. Only through Jesus can we have peace with God, and only through Jesus can we possess and experience a fabulous inheritance from God. Once we choose to believe & accept the promise that is Jesus, it’s an eternal transaction resulting in an eternal ceasefire and an eternal homesteading. Jesus is not a squatter. He’s not a nomad. He may have had no place to call home while He walked on earth, but when you invite Him into your life, He’s there to stay. "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5). Can you lose the promise of Jesus? Sure… if it was up to you not to leave Him. Thankfully, Biblically, it isn’t.
9After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried out in a loud voice:
"Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb."
Can you lose your salvation? Sure… if it belonged to you. If you were responsible for it. Thankfully, Biblically, you aren’t.
“…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (Jn. 8:36)
“It doesn’t start with a plan” is a sentence which stuck in the back of my head this week like a strand of stray jerky gets stuck between those back teeth you can’t quite reach with your fingernail. Fetching imagery, I know. What’s important is that it was a statement about peace. ‘Peace doesn’t start with a plan,’ the person said. Interesting… because I always act like it does. I see in front of me a host of circumstances I feel or know I can’t handle, and I lose my peace to fear. So what’s my next step? I try to fight my fear by planning; I try to plan my way out. I wrestle with mental schematics, I juggle schedules, I scheme and second-guess and obsess about what I can or could have done better, about what might be or what might have been. But still… no peace. Why?
As I write this, it’s day 7 of 2010, we’re exactly one week into a new year, and for many, the months that stretch ahead are a dark mist of frightening uncertainty. Will you still have a job by the end of this year? Will you be able to pay rent each month? Will you ever figure out who you are and what you were made for? Are you doomed to repeat last year’s failures, or is there hope in 2010 for change? These are the footprints of fear. In 2 Chronicles chapter 20, there is a story that captures, in 26 verses, the perfect response to fear of any kind. In this story, Jehoshaphat king of Judah discovers a plot by a multitude of rival peoples to overthrow his kingdom. His reaction? “And Jehoshaphat feared…”
Maybe instead of trying to fight fear head-on like me, you deal with it by ignoring it. My son used to think, since he couldn’t see me when he closed his eyes, that I couldn’t see him either… That tactic works until the thing you think you’re hiding from walks over, picks you up and throws you over its shoulder. Or, another tactic—we water reality down by calling our fear ‘anxiety’ or ‘worry.’ But that’s like arguing the differences between a maple leaf and an oak leaf— they’re both leaves! The truth is, we all have to deal with fear, on a daily basis. Until the day we die, fear will stalk us, trying to cripple us and all we do by coaxing us to focus on it. Fear is real. The real issue is – if freedom from fear doesn’t start with a plan, what does it start with? What do you do with the fears in your life?
I used to play a lot of soccer growing up. That was before my feet grew into skis. Anyway, unless you’re in the position to shoot a goal, you really only have two options when playing soccer. You can dribble or you can pass. Dribbling is the more glamorous of the two because it draws attention to one person’s valiant efforts. But passing is wiser, because it increases the odds of success and better distributes the responsibility (as well as the ball). Back in those pre-ski days, I vividly remember a game when I played halfback, which in soccer just means the coach is mad at you and wants you to run twice as much as everyone else. As we scrimmaged that day, my team pushed the ball up towards the opposing goal until one of our forwards got stuck trying to dribble through everyone on the right side of the field. Meanwhile, wide open and right in front of the goal for a center pass was our striker. He waited and waited for the pass that could have produced a goal, but no pass came. Finally, in frustration, he shouted out the lyrics of a song we used to sing in chapel, with a minor change: “Isn’t it amazing,” he screamed off-key, “what a PASS can do?”
In reality, that striker could have left in the original word of the song, ‘PRAYER,’ and conveyed the same meaning, because victory in the face of our fears doesn’t start with a lone-ranger dribbling effort, it doesn’t start with you, coming up with a plan— it starts with a prayer. When you try to dribble your way through obstacles, you’re on your own. Meanwhile, God stands alone and unnoticed, waiting for a pass that could change the game. Let me spell this out for you: When it comes to dealing with fear, prayer is a pass to God.
Here is what King Jehoshaphat did when he faced obstacles of uncertainty in his life: “And Jehoshaphat feared -- and set himself to seek the LORD” (2 Chron. 20:3)… He prayed. Verses 6—11 chronicle this prayer, which ends in verse 12 – “O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” And what was God’s response?
17 “’You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged…' "
Our peace doesn’t start with a plan. It starts with a prayer— and it really is amazing what a prayer can do. “The Lord is at hand,” says Philippians 4, He’s open, He’s waiting for you to pass your needs, your concerns, your fears to Him. You can dribble the ball all you like, take on your fears with bravado even, but God knows you’ll fail. Wrestling with your fears is God’s job. You do not have to fight that battle. He is in charge of outcomes, and He’s already promised they’ll be ‘good.’ Your job is to pass the ball. Your job is to pray. “…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” And do you know what happens then? When you give Him the ball, He passes you back something in return: peace. Name your fears to God, the ones 'out there' and the ones you feel you deserve. Own your mistakes and the consequences they'll produce (confession), but then stop trying to control what happens next. Take your fears and lay them all on the table and then pass them across to Him, “And-” in return, “-the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”(Phil. 4:5-7). Peace in your heart, that 'all things will work together for good.' Peace of mind, that the battle belongs to the Lord. Kind of makes me want to go play soccer.