Archives For February 2009

Sacrifices for Lent?

February 27, 2009 — 1 Comment

 I know I promised another book review for this post but I want to slip in a personal lesson I recently learned. At the Ash Wednesday service at my church our pastor’s sermon was about some of the things we Christians do during the Lenten season. He mentioned that a common sacrifice for Catholics, he was one as a child, was to not eat meat. Other people try to give up things like chocolate, special foods, TV and such.

But pastor suggested something entirely different. Why not try to live out part of the Lord’s prayer and truly forgive someone who has wronged you in the past! I think we all, I am definitely included in this group, have negative baggage associated with past relationships. Mine includes a close family member. I have never been quite able to put some things that occurred as I was growing up behind me. Although I have “sort” of forgiven the person, their wrongs frequently creep into my thoughts. I am going to try and do everything I can to remedy that condition the next forty days.

Lord help me to truly forgive those who have sinned against me in my thoughts as well as my actions. I need the strength that you constantly provide me to accomplish this task. Jesus Christ made the ultimate sacrifice by dying for humanity’s sins so surly I can do this.

Thanks Pastor for putting this on my Lenten to do list.

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The Politics of Jesus

February 25, 2009 — 2 Comments

I am going to spend this post studying John Howard Yoder and particularly his book The Politics of Jesus written in 1972.

Here is what Wikipedia says about him.

John Howard Yoder (December 29, 1927 – December 30, 1997) was a Christian theologian, ethicist, and Biblical scholar best known for his radical Christian pacifism, his mentoring of future theologians such as Stanley Hauerwas, his loyalty to his Mennonite faith, and his 1972 magnum opus, The Politics of Jesus

It is obvious from his books that Yoder is a pacifist who strongly believes that it is not God’s will for us to be constantly killing each other through politically invoked wars. Of his many books, the most widely recognized has undoubtedly been The Politics of Jesus; it has been translated into at least ten languages.

The book was written in 1972. In it, Yoder argues against the then popular views of Jesus, particularly those views held by Reinhold Niebuhr, which he believed to be dominant in the day. Niebuhr argued for he called Realism philosophy. Yoder felt this philosophy failed to take seriously the call or person of Jesus Christ. For me here is one of the most notable quotes from the book:
Recent systematic tradition tells us that we must choose between the Jesus of History and the Jesus of dogma. If Jesus is the divine Word incarnate, then what we will be concerned about is the metaphysical transactions by means of which he saved humanity by entering into it. We will then leap like the creed from the birth of Jesus to the cross. His teachings and his social and political involvement will be of little interest and not binding for us. (underlining is mine)

He goes on to say that we seek to understand the “Jesus of history” as well as the Jesus of dogma. In other words the life of Jesus was meant to teach us how to live our lives and was therefore a very important part of our existence.
Yoder attempted to demonstrate by the Gospel of Luke and parts of Paul’s letter to the Romans that, in his view, a radical Christian pacifism was the most faithful approach for the disciple of Christ. He argued that being Christian is a political standpoint, and Christians ought not ignore that calling. He believed the primary responsibility of Christians is not to take over society and impose their convictions and values on people who don’t share their faith, but to “be the church.” By refusing to return evil for evil, by living in peace, sharing goods, and doing deeds of charity as opportunities arise.
In my opinion The Politics of Jesus is a little dry and boring in places, but if you hang in there it is a book well worth reading. The book was named by evangelical publication “Christianity Today” as one of the most important Christian books of the 20th century. I’m not sure of that but for those interested in the philosophy behind Christian pacifism it is a good book to have on your shelf.

 
 


 

On the last post I let it be known that I am definitely not a Calvinist. I will give you a few more reasons on this post. Some time ago I read a book entitled Why I am not a Calvinists by Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell that very much influenced my views of Calvinism. For those of you who need some more info about Calvinists I suggest you look up the word on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calvinism.

 Here is an excerpt from the book:

Does God love all of us and desire our well-being? Calvinists cannot answer this question in the affirmative without equivocation and inconsistency. The breathtaking vision of God’s Trinitarian love is obscured by the Calvinists claim that God passes over persons he could just as easily save and thereby consigns them to eternal agony. The exhilarating message of the gospel that should be good news to all sinners is muted by the Calvinist claim that only the elect are truly able to join the dance. While Scripture teaches that not all will come, the Calvinist account of why this is so ultimately goes back to God’s choice to save those persons rather than their refusal to accept the invitation. Indeed Calvinists hold that God’s sovereign choice not to save some sinners enhances his glory. By subordinating love to will, Calvinism fails to glorify God as he has revealed himself in history and ultimately in the incarnation of his Son.

This is one of the biggest problems I have with Calvinism that they put God’s power/will far above His love. They seem to be deathly afraid of the word “works” and therefore are not willing to even give man the power to accept God’s grace so they say it is God’s will that you are going to hell because He did not chose you for salvation. No matter how much debating of Calvinist theology I am exposed to I will not accept that position as it is totally foreign to my personal understanding of the teaching of Jesus Christ.  

Here is another quote that I found helpful:

The love of God as revealed in the incarnation is not a matter of mere words but the Word made flesh who actively seeks the well-being of his fallen children. A love that is truly and passionately promotes the well-being of the beloved, even when it is costly, is the sort of love that has existed from all eternity in the Trinity and was revealed in the life of Jesus. This kind of love, moreover, that God commands his children to by following his example (1 Jn 3:16-18). Because God loves ALL sinners in this fashion and actively works to promote their eternal well-being, this is rejoicing in heaven when one of them repents (Lk 15:7-10). A God who commands this sort of love and who positively delights in repentance of sinners surely has no need or desire to show his sovereign power by passing over some fallen humans, nor would he truly glorify himself by doing so. This is why we are not Calvinists. Our reasons are not merely personal but rather they are theological, philosophical and most of all biblical.

I don’t often do this but here are some bible verses that also reflect my views against Calvinism 

John 6:40

My Father wants all those who see the Son and believe in him to have eternal life. He wants me to bring them back to life on the last day.”

1 Tim 2:3-7

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men — the testimony given in its proper time.

2 Peter 3:9
The Lord isn’t slow to do what he promised, as some people think. Rather, he is patient for your sake. He doesn’t want to destroy anyone but wants all people to have an opportunity to turn to him and change the way they think and act.

RC Sproul Book Review

February 20, 2009 — 5 Comments

  I am going to spend the next few posts reviewing books that I have recently read or reread. I must admit that the emphasis of these current reviews are to generally show areas that some, if not many, Christians believe but I tend to disagree with. As always, even if as I disagree with these things I will respect your not seeing things the same way. It is not for me to judge you, God will do that to all of us in His time.

This post is a book by RC Sproul entitled “Essential Truths of the Christian Faith”. For brevity I will be using some terms (Calvinism, Arminianism, Pelagianism) some of you may not be familiar with. I apologize in advance for that. I’m sure I will be covering those topics in a future post but do not want to take the space to do that here. I would encourage you to look them up on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page .

 As usual, I am going to be the contrarian here and say this is a pretty good book but… I have read the book a couple of times and for the most part it is helpful. Generally the book is informative but there are exceptions to that. Mr. Sproul is indeed a gifted writer. As I read this book I had to keep reminding myself that Sproul is a good little Calvinist and there are other opinions on what God’s true theology might be. Mr. Sproul goes out of his way to mention that , yes, there are some who align with Calvinism who are “hyper-Calvinist” and therefore not representative of the true Calvinist doctrine but he never says the same thing of Arminian theology he puts them all in the same boat. That is patently Calvinist and patently unfair. I totally agree that “Open Theology” and Pelagianism is not from God and is, even if Sproul refuses to say it, “hyper-Arminism”.

One controversial section in the book is topic 58 about Predestination and Reprobation (unconditional election). It is part of the Calvinist 5 point mantra. Sproul says “the reprobate, who are passed over by God, are ultimately doomed and their damnation is as certain and sure as the ultimate salvation of the elect”. If a Calvinist, like Sproul, is true to his doctrine then when he approaches someone trying to exercise the Great Commission he should say “Maybe the Lord loves you and wants you to come to Him but maybe he didn’t choose you to be saved”. If God has already chosen some and rejected others then what is the purpose of the Trinity. It seems that God the Father has taken care of everything so the other two members of the trinity are really not necessary. That is a very troubling thought to me.
For an opposing view of this topic I would suggest reading “Why I am not a Calvinist” by Walls and Dongell. I will be putting out a review of this book in the next post. It is up to each of us to find the heart of God and not depend on any one theologian or doctrinal practice for all the answers.  

So, again this is a pretty good book but very aware of it’s author’s underlying foundation. Not all of his “Essential Truths” are what others believe.

Why???

February 18, 2009 — 3 Comments

I know I promised a book review for this post but something else has been on my mind lately so the book review post will come on Friday.

Is it OK to question things about your faith, your religion, your theology, or must you take everything at face value with the so called “leap of faith”?  To me, that is a very important question. I seem to be saying “Why” a lot the last few years.  That even seems to be the reoccurring theme of this blog. Some think I am reverting back to my childhood 😉 . I don’t remember what age it was but, like most kids, I probably had the word “why” in every other sentence way back then.  I went on to be an engineer so I guess I have been saying “why”  or maybe “why not” probably my whole life but it has become more pronounced lately. I get the feeling that when I say why when referring to theological or biblical matters some look at me in a strange way! They seem to be thinking “how can you be questioning God?”.  I don’t see it as  questioning God so much as questioning man’s interpretation of God.

Paul, I think it was, told us to question everything but I think that had to do with weeding out false prophets.  But, in a way isn’t questioning theological matters and even our belief system the same as weeding out false prophets? Obviously thelogians, past and present, can’t seem to agree with each other on much of anything. It seems therefore that we must always be questioning their interpretations of God’s word. So I think it is very appropriate for all of us to have our own questions.  After all theologians don’t have a lock on this any more that the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. I just had to get this off my mind. Thanks for listening and if you feel like it add your two cents here.

I am making an unusual Tuesday post to add a little to the study of the Lord’s prayer.  As I mentioned before the only part of the prayer that I have significant trouble with is the petition “lead us not…” I recently received a message from a good friend trying to help me figure this out. Here is his comments:

If you read Luke 22:40, Jesus warns his disciples to pray lest they fall into temptation during his trial. One commentary says about the petition to “lead us not into temptation, “To pray not to be led into temptation is to pray not to succumb to that temptation. Taken together, the petitions for bread, forgiveness, and keeping them from succumbing to temptation are petitions to help the disciples be kept in the one true, saving faith, so that they may finally prevail and gain the victory.”

We call on God to keep us strong, to avoid temptation, and to bring us out of trouble when we do fall.

This definitely helps me, and I hope some of you, but it still doesn’t fully explain the word “lead”. As I said before I guess that is just a question I will have to ask the source when I see Him.

Today I am going to close out the study of the Lord’s prayer with an almost overwhelming task. That is to try and put the prayer into my own words. This endeavor is for my own sake. For those of you who think this is approaching sacrilegious please forgive me. If any of you want to suggest alternate wording please let me know. Thanks to everyone who has helped me along this journey through the most powerful prayer in Christianity.

Humbly here is my interpretation:

 Lord God in heaven, as you taught us we will always praise and adore you for your omnipotent power, glory and especially for your total unending and undeserved love for us.

Help us while we are on this earth to always seek your will and live in the way you have taught us; we will certainly do this when we are in heaven.

Help us to always remember that you make us everything we are and provide us with everything we need.

As you commanded, help all of us on this earth to always love each other, care for each other, and treat each other as we would want others to treat us.

We reluctantly welcome those times in our lives where you challenge us in order to strengthen our faith; give us the ability to bear these burdens so that they do not overwhelm us.

Help us to constantly fight the temptations of the devil and of the world so that all our actions give glory to your name.

 Well that’s it. As you can see my words primarily seek God’s help in these petitions; we can do nothing without it. I still don’t feel totally comfortable with the words that replace “lead us not into temptation”. But, I guess that is the way it will have to be until I am standing in front of our maker and can ask him myself!

I welcome any suggestions of different words. Starting on the next post I will be spending a few week reviewing some of the books I have read (or reread) in the past year. All the glory goes to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Now that I am done with the “official Lord’s prayer” I want to address the red letter that come immediately after the prayer.

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

I understand that Jesus by dying on the cross earned us our salvation so that we can stand before God on that last day and He will welcome us into heaven in spite of our sins. St. Paul in his many epistles, and many other Christians believe that God has also forgotten our sins entirely due to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. If that is the case what do the red letters above mean? To me they mean that yes we will be welcomed into heaven but not before we stand accountable to God for what we did, or maybe more importantly didn’t do on this earth. I wonder if these words above should also be in the Lord’s prayer. If so they would give a quite different meaning from what many believe today.

Finally, many of us have memorized an additional statement to end the Lord’s Prayer “for thine…”. Of course this ending cannot be found in the Bible as it seems to have been generated by the Protestant reformers in the 16th century. Some say a variation of it was in a very early Christian document called the Didache. I don’t know that to be the case or not. I know reformers had good intentions but I personally am a little uncomfortable adding our own words to the perfect prayer that Jesus gave us in the gospels. It is almost as if we insist on having the last word! Ok, don’t flame me too much for that statement. I do say them as well but I still feel that way to some small extent.

Next time I will humbly attempt to put this prayer in my own words!

We are now at the final part of the Lord’s Prayer which is:

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one. ‘

I must admit these are some of the most challenging words in this prayer for me. I certainly don’t expect God to tempt me with sin. He did that to Job but I think that was a very special case which I don’t really understand either but… The devil constantly tempts us but not God. In Luther’s Catechism he says: “God surely tempts no one to sin, but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world and our flesh may not deceive us or lead us into false belief…..” (I left out the last half of this very long sentence; I don’t know why theologians must be so long winded 😉 ).

Luther seems to be just bypassing the “lead us” phrase. I don’t understand that? There seems to be quite a variety of interpretation of this statement even to the extent of questioning the translation of the original Greek text. I don’t believe that God leads anyone to sin!

Certainly we must pray to God to help us overcome the devil and his ways so the second part of this study is very appropriate. If anyone wants to chime in on their interpretation of “And lead us not” it would certainly be welcomed.

 
 

The call to action: We must ask God for the strength to resist the devil’s daily temptations.

We are now at the third part of the prayer which is

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Of course we depend on God for our very existence. If he doesn’t want us around then we would no longer exist. We have free will to make our own decisions but not whether we exist or not. So, it is proper for us to thank God everyday for what we eat, where we live, and for our every breath.

Forgiving people who have done us wrong is the second issue in this petition. God seems to be putting a condition on His forgiveness! If we don’t forgive others He won’t forgive us. This again seems to go in the face of “grace alone”. If God has truly given us unconditional grace then what are these words about and why are they in this all important prayer? Many theologians say this means that we all desperately need God’s forgiveness as we are all sinners. I certainly agree with that but why “as we also forgive”? I take these words more literally than many I guess. Yes, on the last day God will forgive us our sins because Jesus earned that for us but we will still be accountable for not forgiving those who sin against us. What being accountable means, I don’t know but I’m sure God has it worked out. That will be an embarrassing time for all of us. We must face our perfect God with our imperfect actions.

The call to action: Thank God daily, if not constantly, for the gifts He gives us and as God forgive us He calls for us to forgive others who sin against us.