Thursday, May 29, 2008

A salvation metaphor

Let's pretend you are an empty cup.
In the sink the water is running from the spout. Let's name that water the Love of Christ, once it is in the cup call it grace, once it wets the outside of the cup call that works.
You have four options:
  1. You put the cup under the stream of water, and it will be filled with grace. Once the water reaches the brim it will overflow unto works, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Works (holy living by the rules in the bible) become a by product of Grace.
  2. You fill it with water, and then remove it from underneath the stream once it is full. People who oftentimes do this begin to shake their cup to get works out of it, until of course it runs dry, at which point they become bitter, rule bound, and rigid, mostly because they have lost so much of their grace. Grace saves us, they will say, but you can lose your salvation unless you get to work. Soon you will forget about grace altogether because so long as you are wet on the outside you are going to make it. Starting in grace continuing in works.
  3. You turn the cup upside down and put it under the water spout. No grace can get in, but you are throughly wet on the outside with good works. Obviously since water is rushing over you and you are wet, everyone thinks you are saved. But you're not. Good people don't go to heaven.
  4. You leave the cup alone and it remains empty.
For lack of a better vocabulary, let's call case number one protestantism, number two catholicism, number three good people, and number four atheist jerks who are, if nothing else at least honest.
The point of this is that once you start in grace, grace sanctifies you. It is the unending love of Christ that transforms your heart, from start to finish. A protestant is tempted to say "God started it, God works it, God will finish it, it belongs to God." Or you could say that since he started pouring before I got there he will go on pouring after my vessel disintegrates, to Him be the glory. Never confuse the water that comes out (that man looks at) with the water that goes in (that only God sees). Coming out it's called sanctification and going in it's called salvation.
How can someone who is a useless Christian jerk get to heaven? Because you are confusing the two. I think I can lose grace after accepting Christ into my heart. Confusing the two. I think.. there see? Thats the problem, I. I want, I'm confused, I don't like, I reject this model. I don't believe in eternal security and God producing sanctification by grace. Ok feel free not to, but at any time you can put the cup back under the fountain, accept security, accept peace, and accept your best life now. Grace is not like salvation in the sense that it is "one and done" - its a fountain. Feel free to drink eternally from it.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Once saved always saved?

There is a very big issue in Christianity that profoundly impacts the way people think about nearly everything. It is the question: Once saved am I always saved? If I accept Jesus can I turn around and reject him, or will I be with him forever no matter what?

To be sure, there are a good number of verses that can make this issue look very confusing:

John 15:3 - He who continues in my love will be saved.
Romans 11:22 - Continue in his kindness lest you be cut off
(plenty more like this)

And on the other hand..

Hebrews 6:4-6 -impossible to be brought back, as they would be crucifying Christ again
John 10:28 - Nobody can snatch you out of God's hand
Romans 8:38 - I am convinced nothing can separate us from the love of Christ
(and plenty more like this too)

John 10:34 clearly says the scriptures cannot be broken (or contradict themselves). What to do?
Firstly, put the two choices to the test. Go on and see what happens when you accept that you can lose your salvation. You will begin to wonder when exactly can salvation be lost- how much sin does it take? Why did God set the bar and then not tell me where that dang bar is? Why does God say salvation is a gift when clearly I am earning it for myself? How do I go about losing my salvation officially? This last question will typically be answered "The only sin that works to erase your salvation is to deny Christ." Try telling that to Peter.
Saying my free will is in control of my destiny sounds okay until you start practicing it, at which point you will start taking on all kinds of weird ideas. You can't save yourself at first, but get over that initial hump by having God give you a little grace, and it's more than possible to keep your own salvation from then on out. Nobody can stop me or help me, my power to sin and die is greater than Gods power to save and keep me safe. I am stronger than God. Sin is stronger than forgiveness, death stronger than life. I will never disown my earthly son, no matter what he does he will always be my son, but God doesn't work like that.
See? Weird. But it's more than absurd- it's harmful. It leaves you nervous, looking over your shoulder, fearful of God's justice poised to strike. You better see a priest and take confession, just to be sure, because if you die with sin on your conscience it could go ill for you. This thinking goes back and pollutes your view of salvation, it puts your heart back in prison, it robs you of trust in God. It's actually legalism and Judaism packaged up in nice Christian wrapping paper deceiving you. Belief in yourself like this doesn't let you experience the bottomless endless powerful love of Christ. As a result you will read the parable of the prodigal son and get angry on behalf of the older brother rather than awe at the fathers mercy for the unrighteous. You will judge others, trying to stamp out their belief in security because you don't feel it yourself. You will flog yourself for not meeting the standard. You may even acknowledge the idea of grace with your mind, but never let it into your heart.
On the other hand eternal security makes you eternally secure. As a result you never worry about displeasing or hurting God, you don't fear he will take his love away from you. You know he loved you even when you were his enemy, that leaves you free to ponder how much more will he loves you as his son. After all, God is not like man that he would change his mind, his love isn't here today gone today- it's everlasting. The trust and joy and peace and comfort that is found in eternal security cannot be described, it can only be felt. It's like marriage, or being a parent, or being in love, you can read about it understand it mentally, but you must see it for yourself. It is pure joy beyond all comparison to know that in the whole world God picked you, formed you, planned you, and takes great pride in you. When you accept this truth for yourself you will feel like you have never really lived before.
One ideology leads to joy, the other leads to... grumpiness. Hopefully it is clear now that the fruit of 'doing it my way' is fear, and that since perfect love drives out fear and God is love this theological idea is not from God. We see that we can never lose our salvation.
Now all that's left to do is reconcile the apparent discrepancy between the bible passages. The contradiction comes in that the bible teaches you that you need to continue in salvation to be saved, so naturally people think that means you have to persevere until the end. But where did it say you have to do this alone? Or do it yourself, or by your own power? I am convinced that God who has begun a good work in me will see it to the end. For not I but Christ lives in me. The verses that teach you will be saved in the future mean what they say and no more: you are not in Gods heaven yet, you do not behold him face to face yet, you see things as though through a dirty window yet one day you will see clearly, and that day has not come. Yet. All this will happen in time. God will complete the work he has started in you in the future, you are his masterpiece unfolding before every ones eyes, his flower blossoming for everyone to see, and he has something more in store for you. He has adopted you, assured you, secured you, and when he is finished his work on earth in you, he will call you home to him in glory with words of affirmation: well done good and faithful one. See how those verses, those arguments that inspired dread now overflow with promise and love? This is the power and promise of Christ - never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.
Oh how indescribably wonderful it is to believe that with your whole heart!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Luke 15 thought

Poem by Mark
The story begins with a boy gone bad
Faces in the audience light up
The boy takes full advantage of his father,
An ancient kindly man,
He wants the inheritance- everything
Faces grimace.
An upstart someone says, horsewhip him!
Teach him some manners!
Some young men smile
But they all wait eyes fixed on the face of Jesus
The father lets him go after giving everything
The whole inheritance: the gold, the silver
The favorite horse, the treasured cloak, the ring
Faces show surprise
His fathers a fool someone whispers.
The sons a cheat
But they bend forward to hear
He spends it all on prostitutes
Wine, gambling, the best hotels, loose living
An old man looks down at his friend and winks
He should have invested it he says, that’s the wise way
But this one’s a fool the other says
Heads nod in agreement
Soon the boy hits bottom, nothing left
He ends up slopping pigs
Faces flinch, stunned
But some smile
He got what he deserved an old man says
This is a good story
But then the boy remembers home
The feasts, the plenty, the laughter
He sits and weeps, his head in his hands
He decides to return home and ask for a bed in the barn
Someone laughs
A twist! He says
Faces show intrigue
The boy comes home hands gritty, legs scarred
He is penniless, ragged wasted- a scarecrow
Listeners are laughing now
Revenge they think!
The disowning
But no!
The old man sees him on the road from his chair on the porch where he has sat waiting each day
He recognizes the walk The long hair, the shoulders
He jumps up and stumbles out to him
His heat thumping, his eyes wet
He runs to the boy while the boy stands there, his head down
The old man gathers him into his arms and
He holds him long
so long
And he weeps!
Faces are stern now, their eyes slit
This father’s a fool they murmur
But still they wait
The boy beings his speech but the old man has suddenly gone deaf
He throws a cloak over the boy’s rags
Pulls off his last and best ring
Slides it onto the boys finger
And begins calling for servants
Kill the fatted calf he shouts, we’ll have a feast!
Faces are hard now many shake their heads
A bitter elders son refuses even to speak to his lost brother
He stomps off angry cursing
Some faces nod, but most are gray
Their lips pressed white their eyes aflame
And sons stand up to go
Nothing has gone right in this story
They stalk off
A bad story one says
Stupid, says another
Not one of his best
But some from the crowd linger
A prostitute
A tax collector
A thief
A liar
They glance at Jesus furtively and wait,
Then they approach slyly, slowly
And one by one fall at his feet
And weep
For joy

This is how God has chosen to portray himself to us. A kindly loving old man who no cruel word or deed can turn away. A worried father who refuses no request, who asks for no grovelling, who keeps no history, and who gives no lecture.
Utterly without dignity.
We see the same God being flung to die on a trash heap outside the city of peace, without one single display of power or shred of dignity left. God himself was left to suffocate alone to bring his children back.
Now, that's not all there is to how God has communicated Himself, God is not weak, nor will He be mocked, but the parable is astounding, and we ought to be astounded. 

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Crown of Thorns

In Genesis, in the garden, both the snake and Eve ate the apple and brought judgment on themselves, while Adam brought judgement on himself and all of nature. God had put Adam in charge of the Earth, and when its master Adam fell, nature, being subordinate to man, fell too. Nature herself became chaotic, digressed into survival of the fittest, and into a life of power struggling misery alongside with mankind. Worst, nature had rebelled under mans orders from God, but went one step forward and rebelled against man. It was a just punishment, so as Adam sowed would he reap. God would allow him to see just where the attitude of "me first" led.
That day Adam ate God told man that since he sinned the ground would produce thorns and thistles. He would struggle by the sweat and pain of his brow to eat his bread. No longer would it be in harmony with its caretaker, no, from then on nature had gained the rebellious quality man had: to fight everything and establish dominance over anything. Was he hungry for power? So would it be. Was he in conflict with the will of his Master and Lover? So would nature be.
It was not only a fallen society now, it was a fallen world that Adam and Eve had chosen.

Fast forward to the time of the crucifixion, and what do we see? The soldiers are twisting thorns into Christs brow. We see a clear picture of nature rejecting her creator. Man's curse had not only separated man from God, but all Earth from God and the Earth from man. Yet, in the same moment that God made peace with man he retook his throne over all his creation. He settled the score with man's dominion and man himself. By becoming man and submitting to God he amended the mistake from the garden so long ago.
Such great love.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The problem with Rapture Theology

The problem with the dispensationalism mentality is most clearly shown when a dispensationalist encounters verses that say things like the stars will be darkened, the moon will be turned to blood. They ask "what do I think it means?" and then take the easy out, "It sounds like nuclear war, so that's what it must be." without finding similar language in Isaiah 13, 34, Ezekiel 32, and Joel 2, or Peter's explanation in Acts 2.This is an unfortunates bedrock of dispensationalist theology: it too quickly writes off all the difficult passages as futuristic before attempting a real effort to understand them. It makes complex scripture digestible for everyone by throwing out the hard parts that require intense study. It oversimplifies. The rapture people don't bother to check where else that kind of language happens, they don't try to use one verse to explain another, it's just faster to ask what I think it means and then answer the question. As if we come to the bible to study our words.
Studying something written 3,000 years ago across the globe in another language and culture is difficult, and we must suppress the urge to get rich quick, because although the Bible is not easy to understand, it's rewarding.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Hell is the place where reason is not

This actually explains a great deal about the people who go there.