A Question About Calvinism

August 17, 2017 at 8:10 am | Posted in It's All About God, Questions for Pastor Glenn, Theology | Leave a comment

I work with a college ministry called Campus Ventures, and occasionally get questions of a theological nature from the staff there.  I got a question yesterday, and the following text conversation ensued.   I wanted to keep the wording, and thought it would be appropriate to post here.

Glenn, what’s your take on the Five Solas of the Reformation?  We have a volunteer staff that is from a Reformed background wanting to do a Bible study on this.  Any chance this can twist off into Calvinism?  Doesn’t seem like it, but I wanted your thoughts about both questions.

The authority of the scriptures alone.  Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone.  To me that’s just good solid Christian doctrine.  The real Gospel.  Yes there are some areas you can get off into Calvinism, especially grace and glory.  Personally, I have trouble with the Arminian doctrine actually expressing those five things in truth.  But that shows my own bias in the matter.

Thanks, Glenn.  I couldn’t see any problem with it either, but there has been such a problem of late with people here going off the deep end with Calvinism, I wanted to make sure before getting back to him.

The true heart of Calvinism is the glory of God in all things, unfortunately too many people who call themselves Calvinists emphasize things in such a way that they give the glory to themselves. They’re the ones who know it all.
They’re proud to be the elect, but that misunderstands the whole point!

Wow!  That is good stuff, Glenn.  Thanks for sharing that with me.

I would add here that Calvinism correctly understood should make us fully aware that we are very sinful people; that we are separated from God; that we can do nothing about our situation; that our salvation is completely the work of God; that even our good deeds after salvation are God working through us; that it is ultimately all about God.  That should promote humility.

Note how much of what I said in the last paragraph is expressed in this famous passage:  “By grace you have been saved through faith, and not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works that no one should boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Forgive me, God, when I am proud of what I know or of what I think are my own accomplishments.


Safely Home: An Awesome Book!

July 20, 2016 at 9:43 pm | Posted in Books and Movies, It's All About God | Leave a comment

My family spent part of last week camping in the mountains where I had time to do some fun reading.  I read the best novel I have read in years, probably one of the best ever.  It was Randy Alcorn’s Safely HomeI had read Alcorn’s theology of Heaven, which I reviewed in this blog, but had never read his novels.  I will be sure to read more of them now.  I hesitate to use the word awesome for much, but this book was awesome!  I may have to add it to my list of most influential books ever read; time will tell.

Safely Home tells the story of two college roommates who reconnected twenty years after they graduated from college and had lost touch.  One was a successful business executive in America, the other a locksmith’s assistant and house church leader in China.

Alcorn researched the book carefully, and though it is fiction, he claims the statistics reported are true as are many of the stories out of China; those that are not actual stories are in line with things that do happen in China.  Though the characters are fictional, they ring true to life, so much so, I got caught up in the book as though it were a real story.  The way they learn from each other is a great education for the reader.

The presentation of the persecuted church in contrast with American materialism is absolutely fascinating and convicting.  It caused me to question a lot of my assumptions about the world-wide church, about persecution, and about American church values.

I would give you some great quotes from the book, except I got caught up in the story and didn’t bother to write anything down,  Besides I was so impressed with it, the others in my family hijacked the book as soon as I was done so they could read it too!

All proceeds from the sale of the book go to ministries supporting the persecuted church around the world, so buy a copy and read it.

Here is a link to a site that has 14 quotes from the book.  My favorite from this page is “If you are looking for a religion centered around yourself, Ben, I must agree that Christianity is a poor choice.”

I Hate the Doctrine of Hell

March 3, 2016 at 2:15 pm | Posted in Eschatology, It's All About God, Theology | Leave a comment

“I hate the doctrine of hell.”  So begins the video by R.C. Sproul linked in this post.  I would agree with him.  An eternal hell is one of those things we Christians don’t like to talk much about, because we are so uncomfortable with what we say we believe.  Dr. Sproul explains our discomfort with hell while defending why it is still true.  One of the best things I’ve heard in a while.  The video is well worth the 3-1/2 minutes it takes to listen.  R. C. Sproul on God’s Glory in Judgment.

All Matter Is Part of an Unending Cycle. Really?

March 31, 2015 at 8:41 pm | Posted in Books and Movies, It's All About God | Leave a comment

“Even the smallest stone in the riverbed has the entire history of the universe inscribed upon it.”  So begins the Japanese novel The Stones Cry Out by Hikaru Okuizumi.  The author was very popular in Japan, and this was the first of his novels translated into English.  It has won some awards in Japan, including the country’s most prestigious literary award.  I picked it up because the biblical reference in the title, and I noticed the author was educated at International Christian University.  I thought a Christian (maybe) novel from an Eastern perspective would be insightful.

The first two-thirds of the book were interesting, though not an exciting page turner, but the last third was dark and often confusing.  The ending was both sudden and weird, and it was unclear what the author was doing with it.

However, the most insightful thing to me was the emptiness the book portrayed.  Life, outside of God, is vain and this book paints a picture of one man’s hollow life.  Tsuyoshi Manase suffers from nightmares and memories of World War II.  The war ended when Manase was in a cave with a commanding officer killing off his troops, and a dying corporal telling him about his fascination with stones.  Eventually Manase too falls in love with stones and becomes quite an accomplished amateur geologist.  As he shrinks further and further into his fascination with geology, he becomes more and more isolated from his wife and family.  In the end, his life and the lives of his sons prove to be meaningless.

It occurred to me after finishing the book, that most of the world’s population probably views life as this novel presents it.  It is an existential, almost nihilistic, view that there is no meaning in anything.  Manase hears the following story from the dying corporal and relates it to each of his sons later in the book.  It summarizes what my earlier studies indicated to be the Eastern view of history, a cyclical, no direction no purpose, view.

Even the most ordinary pebble has the history of this heavenly body we call earth written on it. For instance, do you know how rocks are formed? Rocks are formed when red-hot magma cools and solidifies; rock erodes under the influence of wind and weather on the surface of the earth. That’s how you get stones. Stones are eventually ground into sand, sand into soil; then stones and sand and soil are carried away by streams and settle on the bottom of lakes, fens, or the sea, where they once again harden into rock. That rock crumbles and changes back into stones and sand and soil, or it may be pushed deep beneath the surface of the earth and, under the influence of heat and tremendous pressure, reborn as rock, in all shapes and sizes; or sometimes it melts into magma and returns to its origins. The form of minerals is never static, not for a second; on the contrary, it undergoes constant change. All matter is part of an unending cycle.  (pp. 2-3)

Life goes on unendingly.  There is no ultimate goal or purpose to history.  So the main point of the story seems to be.

However, we who believe there is a sovereign God controlling the universe have to believe that he has an ultimate purpose and plan, and that all history is moving toward that goal.  We have hope and purpose because ultimately God brings about his plan.  With God in the picture, life is not an empty unending cycle of all matter, but a meaningful and significant progression with a glorious end in view.

One passage I have been pondering the past few weeks is appropriate to this discussion.  “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” Romans 8:28-30 (NASB)

King Solomon of Israel also had some thoughts related to this.  Checkout my popular post called Life Can Be Empty to see his perspective.

Grocery List Prayer

June 30, 2014 at 9:29 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, It's All About God, Prayer | Leave a comment

I have always believed in praying the scriptures, and have tried to learn more about that practice in recent days.  I have been using scripture-based prayer in all of our church prayer sessions since I took over that area of ministry a few months ago.  Daniel Henderson, prayer pastor at Mission Hills Church here in Colorado, has had a positive impact on my thinking in this regard.  Here is a great quote from an article he wrote n the “Prayer First” Newsletter from Converge Worldwide (June 2014).  It talks about “grocery list” prayer, coming to God only with a list of my requests.

Grocery list prayer, while very common, is an approach to God that stems from our persuasion that prayer exists for us to inform Him about our problems, hoping He will order the universe according to our expectations.  These expectations are usually rooted in our desire to avoid suffering or difficulty.  God is reduced to a heavenly vending machine that exists for our temporal satisfaction.

Prayer is so much more than our list.  Praying through the Psalms has been a huge help to me.  Don’t just read the Bible, pray it back to God as you read.  It might just transform your thinking about prayer, about yourself, about life, about God.

If you are interested in a conference on scripture-based prayer, check out the 64 Fellowship website.  Cathy and I are attending the conference in Denver on July 30-31.

It’s All About God — Joshua Edition

March 13, 2013 at 7:50 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Grace and Faith, It's All About God | Leave a comment

The book of Joshua is the story of God’s people entering the Promised Land.  The book makes it clear that the land the people were going in to possess was given to them by God – that it had nothing to do with their goodness but was all about his grace.  And it makes clear that they were his people by his grace and not by their choice.  The book begins with God’s first words to Joshua: “Arise, go over this Jordan, you and all the people with you, into the land that I am giving to them.” (1:2 ESV)  In that same commission are these famous words for Joshua, “I will not leave you or forsake you.  Be strong and courageous.”  The reason for this is clearly stated:  “for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.”

I underlined every reference to what God did as I read through this book this past week.  I was surprised at how often it shows up.  There is only one two-page spread where I didn’t underline anything, and that is in the list of how the land was divided between the tribes in chapters 18-21.  But even that section ends with these words: “The LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. . . .  And the LORD gave them rest on every side. . . .  Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.” (21:43-45)

Finally, the book ends with a renewal of the covenant at Shechem.  Here God again reminds the people of all that he did for them.  He is the subject of the entire section.  “I took your father Abraham from beyond the river . . .  I gave him Isaac . . .  I gave Jacob . . .  I sent Moses . . .  I plagued Egypt . . .  I brought you out.”  And so it goes for 13 verses – half a page in my Bible.  That section concludes with perhaps the most famous verse in the book, Joshua’s challenge: “Choose this day whom you will serve . . .  As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (24:15)

And then the people made their commitment to God.  “It is the LORD our God who brought us and our fathers up from Egypt . . .  who did those great signs in our sight. . . .  And the LORD drove out before us all the peoples who lived in the land.  Therefore we will serve the LORD, for he is our God.” (24:16-18)

This is how it always works.  God did everything for a people who didn’t deserve anything – that’s called grace.  Their choice to follow him and serve came as a result of his goodness and grace.  It isn’t the other way around.  God does it all, and he gets all the praise.

Astonished at the Majesty of God

November 14, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, It's All About God, Worship | Leave a comment

“And all were astonished at the majesty of God.”  (Luke 9:43 ESV)  These words jumped out during my quite time reading recently.  I wondered how often am I astonished at the majesty of God.  Yet if we comprehend his majesty, his might, his holiness, his grace, then we should be astonished in a major way.  Jesus had just recently healed a woman who had spent her entire 401(k) on doctors who could do nothing for her.  Just the touch of Jesus’ robe brought her complete healing (8:42-48).  Astonishing!  He went to the home of a dead girl and with only two words brought her back to life (8:49-56).  Even more astonishing!  Jesus sent out the twelve and gave them power and authority over demons and disease (9:1).  That also impressed me on the same morning: If Jesus cold give away that kind of power and never lack it himself, what kind of power and authority does he have?  Astonishing!  He took a few loaves and a few fish and fed over 5,000 people – an act of creation (9:10-17).  Even more astonishing!  Then Jesus healed a boy with a demon that his disciples (with their given-by-Jesus authority) could not (9:37-42).  Astonishing!

No wonder all were astonished.  So I had to ask myself, “Does Jesus astonish me?  Or am I so used to these stories that I simply don’t react any more?”  Jesus is astonishingly powerful and astonishingly majestic.  Yet I often miss it.

It was in that context of thought that the next words jumped out to me as well.  “But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.’” (Luke 9:43-44 ESV).  The most marvelous thing about Jesus is not the miracles he performed while walking on earth; the most marvelous thing about Jesus is what he came to earth to accomplish.  Let this sink into your ears, he said; something more marvelous than all these astonishing miracles is about to take place.  I will be put to death by the authorities (9:44, see also 9:21-22).

I should marvel at the amazing power and authority of Jesus, but I should marvel even more at what he accomplished in his death.  He purchased my forgiveness and life in full.  “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”  Amen.

True Worshipers

June 15, 2012 at 11:07 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, It's All About God, Worship | 2 Comments

John 3-4.  These two chapters are full of some pretty incredible things.  There is so much that could be written, said, preached about them:  There is Jesus’ talk about being “born again;” there is the most famous verse in the Bible (3:16), a verse that presents the Gospel in a sentence; that is followed by 3:20-21, a statement that has fascinated me in recent years – those who trust Jesus show their works to be done by God; there is John’s incredible statement, “He must become greater and I must become less (3:30); there is a contrast between those who believe and those who do not in 3:36, a verse that convinced me once and for all that punishment is in store for those who don’t know Jesus; these are followed by the amazing story of the Samaritan woman at the well in chapter 4, which includes Jesus’ teaching about giving the living water (4:13-14), Jesus’ only direct claim to be the Messiah other than his testimony under oath (4:26), and a passage which demonstrates that Jesus was all-knowing (4:18, 29); these chapters possibly include the first non-Jews to believe that Jesus was the Savior of the world (4:42); and finally,there is an official’s son whom Jesus healed from a distance (4:49-53).

However, I was pondering 4:23, where Jesus said to the woman at the well that true worshipers worship the Father in spirit and in truth.  The Jews and Samaritans had a debate about proper worship, whether it should be done on the Samaritan mountain where Abraham built his altar, or in Jerusalem where Solomon built the temple.  Jesus seemed to say that place didn’t matter as much as the heart of the worshiper.  Today we also have debates about worship, whether it should be done in this or that style.  I think Jesus would say that style doesn’t matter near as much as the heart of the worshiper.  As I age, I hope I can worship with any style the people I worship with use.  I hope I can worship with any age group no matter the music they use, as long as it is God-exalting music.  I hope I age with a heart of worship rather than with a form I happen to like.

With that thought, I love the words of this song we sing occasionally on Sunday:  “I’ll give you more than a song, for a song in itself is not what you have required.  You look much deeper within, through the way things appear; you’re looking into my heart.  I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about you.  I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it when it’s all about you, it’s all about you Jesus.”

Herod Agrippa I – A Life of Self-Glory

May 4, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, It's All About God | 1 Comment

The third generation Herod to rule in the biblical narrative was Herod Agrippa I.  Though he was the grandson of Herod the Great, he was not the son of Herod the Tetrarch.  This Herod appears in Acts 12 where he put the Apostle James to death and later arrested Peter.  This chapter contains the fun story of the angel who releases Peter in the middle of the night and Rhoda who wouldn’t open the door when she heard Peter’s voice.  It’s dramatic and comical; go read it if you aren’t familiar with it.  However, the chapter ends with the sad story of Herod Agrippa’s death, and that is what concerns us today.

Luke, in the New Testament, and Josephus, the Jewish historian, both tell us of his death.  Luke tells the story quite simply, “On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them.  And the people were shouting, ‘The voice of a god, and not of a man!’  Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.” (Acts 12:21-23 ESV).  However, Josephus adds some sparkling details:

“On the second day of the spectacle he put on a garment made wholly of silver, of a truly wonderful texture, and came into the theater early in the morning.  There the silver of his garment, being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun’s rays, shone out in a wonderful manner, and was so resplendent as to spread awe over those that looked intently upon him.  Presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another, (though not for his good) that he was a god.  . . .  Upon this the king neither rebuked them nor rejected their impious flattery.  But he shortly afterward looked up and saw an owl sitting on a certain rope over his head, and immediately understood that this bird was the messenger of ill tidings.  . . .  A severe pain arose in his belly, striking with a most violent intensity.  He therefore looked upon his friends, and said, “I, whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death.  . . .  And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in the fifty-fourth year of his age and in the seventh year of his reign.  (Antiquities 19.8.2)

Josephus isn’t inspired, and he has a reputation for exaggeration, but I still find it interesting that even his secular history credits Herod’s death to his arrogance against God.  Of course, the inspired writer hits it on the head when he says “because he did not give God the glory.”  So many people in places of power suffer from the malady of self-glory.  They take credit for everything good thing that happens while they are in power.  The actions of our presidents and congressional leaders during times of prosperity and depression are a perfect example.  But in this case, God ended the self-glory abruptly.  I sometimes wish God would treat self-glorifying politicians that way today, but then I am reminded that I too rob God of his glory in various ways, and am grateful for his grace.  Herod Agrippa reminds us that God should get all glory and praise for anything that happens in our lives.

Herod’s Self-Protection and God’s Sovereignty

April 25, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, It's All About God | 1 Comment

Herod the Great is an interesting study in light of God’s sovereignty.   There are many things that could be said along that line, but one in particular stood out in my devotional reading of Matthew 2 today.  When the Magi say they are looking for the one who was born “King of the Jews,” Herod asks the priests and scribes where the “Christ” was to be born.  When he gets the scriptural answer of Bethlehem, he tells the Magi where to find the answer to their search.  All this indicates that Herod believes, at least to some degree, the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament.  He believes the one born King of the Jews is the same as the Christ (Greek word for Hebrew Messiah); he believes, or maybe fears, that the Christ would come; and he believes that the scriptures which foretell of the Christ’s birthplace are accurate.  That is interesting.  Somewhere in the back of his mind, he must know, or fear, that God can orchestrate all the events of history to bring the right child to the predicted place at the right time.  If he didn’t believe that, Herod would have viewed the appearance of the Magi as some crazy Easterners who follow the myths of the stars and would have ignored them.  Instead, he feels compelled to act on their information and on the scriptures.

Yet this same Herod still believes he can overrule God’s sovereign activity by his choices and actions.  “Though God has moved the entire world to bring this about,” Herod seems to think, “I can upset his plan with one stroke.”  Do you see the inconsistency in that?

Herod’s action stems from fear and self-protection.  (Much of what he did in his reign stemmed from fear and self-protection.  For example, Herod killed some of his sons and wives because they became a threat to his throne.  So, by the way, his actions in Bethlehem, though not recorded anywhere else than Matthew, are consistent with Herod’s character.)  In other words, out of fear that God, in sovereignty, would replace him with someone else, Herod acts on his own sovereignty to overrule God.  From an outsider’s perspective, Herod’s action in this matter is completely mad.  His best and only reasonable choice would be to trust that God will carry out his plan.  But Herod can’t go there.

Now we may laugh at the seeming senselessness of Herod, but don’t we do a similar thing?  Don’t we, in many ways, believe God is sovereign, but, out of fear and self-protection, hope that he is not?  It’s good to praise God as sovereign when mountains are moved for me to get a job, but I can’t believe he is sovereign when I lose my job in what seems to be an unfair judgment (I’ve been there myself).  It’s easy to praise God as sovereign when our miracle baby is born (We’ve been there too), but it’s much harder when someone we love dies a seemingly premature death.  When good things happen, God is to be praised for his sovereign control; when something shakes our world, we hold on to our own sovereignty.  Oh that we would see God’s hand in all that happens and trust that he is in ultimate control.

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