Friday, October 24, 2014

How Does Apostasy Occur?

"For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law."   Romans 3:28 NIV 

Justified, in regard to the verse above, means to be declared righteous or acceptable to God. You see, guilty humans at trial under a magnifying glass in a cosmic court need a verdict of "not guilty" to be freed. Without such justification they will be bound over to judgment, which in a cosmic context, unfortunately, can only be cosmically ultimate. For someone actually guilty (as are all humans before God) there can be no escape in such a court on the basis of technicalities, obfuscation, ignorance, prejudice or character (i.e. good works).

Faith, as used in the above verse and as generally understood as "saving faith", is an apprehension of who Jesus is and what he has done which moves a person to trust Christ as his or her savior and follow Christ as his or her leader. As long as a person has faith that Jesus came from God, died for his or her sins, rose bodily from the dead victorious over sin and death, and is his or her Lord, that person is justified without the possibility of change in status. However, if such faith is lost or reversed, then so too is the condition for justification, and hence salvation, and the result is apostasy or falling away. So we can lose our salvation if we lose our faith.

Works, as spoken about in that verse, are actions of mind or body which accrue toward the worker's justification. In this instance, they are specified to be in the context of the law, i.e. the Mosaic Code. However, works of the law cannot possibly effect justification because: 1) good works have no power to erase or nullify bad works; 2) even the works of law associated with sacrifices intended to remit sins cannot undo the sin nature of the sinner, which has him or her in sin, virtually, before the last whiff of smoke has dissipated; and 3) it is impossible for the blood of animals to cleanse a guilty human conscience. [How could they? Neither party (God or the sinner) has any "skin in the game."]

Since salvation is not founded upon nor attributable to works then neither can a loss of salvation be the result of such.  Sin is not apostasy!  Our works, in themselves, good or evil, do not have the power to engage, alter or to unravel what Jesus Christ has already done on the cross and in rising from the grave. Whereas keeping a clean conscience is a boon to faith, keeping or not keeping a clean conscience can neither keep one saved nor cause him or her to lose salvation. Sin, though it doubtless arises out of some sort of unbelief, cannot be the source of apostasy anymore than it is the source of salvation; otherwise, virtually every Christian would eventually apostatize.

Apostasy is departing from the faith. It starts with some disappointment or disillusionment with Christ and ends with one abandoning the trust he or she has in who Christ is and what he has done. If one does not trust in Christ as the Son of God, nor rely upon his death and resurrection for justification before God, that one cannot possibly be saved so long as he or she remains in such unbelief. It matters not that he or she believed at one time or even that he or she was baptized.

Faith is what effects justification, and a departure from faith equals a loss of salvation.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Turkey on the Brink

This is interesting...

And this makes it more so...

I am watching this very closely now, since with the advance of ISIL from Syria into Iraq, the revival of the Kingdom of the North (the Seleucid Empire) would be accomplished in one fell swoop if Turkey moved and took over ISIS. The door would then be open for the contemptible one to step forward.

If Turkey did invade and secure the area, it's not like any territory won is going to be returned to Assad (especially from a NATO ally). Furthermore, the U.S. would likely welcome such, since it would then finally have the means of keeping allied boots on the ground in Iraq to quell the contentious Sunni population.

The Antichrist would not have to immediately thereafter come to the fore, but nothing prophesied would stand in his way except, perhaps, the breaking of the sixth seal. If Turkey invades and takes over the Islamic State, it can only be a matter of days, weeks, maybe a couple of years until the Antichrist arises.

There is one wrinkle I should at least acknowledge: it is possible that ISIS could instead take over vast swaths of Turkey and thus produce the revival of the Kingdom of the North. This is much less likely at this point, but ISIS is growing in every way every day. I could see the potential of an ISIS surge which ended up gaining fifth-column Turkish support. Stranger things have happened!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Indestructible Souls and Irresistible Grace

"Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being."     Genesis 2:7 (NASB)

The breath of God is a precious thing.

God's breath imparts that something that makes a human soul, that makes one a person. Not that every person animated by that breath is the person of God, but it is God's breath that infuses all of the capacities of soul that personhood builds on and without which there would be no person. It communicates those characteristics of personhood that are analogous to God's personhood. That breath is spirit, and more than anything else in all creation represents something directly emanated from God's being. 

Think about that: something within humans that makes them persons represents a direct input from the person of God. Some repercussions of that astounding fact are easily enough perceived--humans exercise choice (freewill), are creative (even to the extant of bringing something out of nothing), love, and... wait for it... humans are eternal. Once God invested his own breath in humanity, the persons that result have an essence that will never pass away. What an astonishing thought!

God's breath may exist eternally, but that does not translate into those infused by that breath living eternally. Breath that is separated from God does not respire, it does not go out and come in (as it were). God's breath must be actively with God, in tune with God, in contact with and in the presence of God to live. Cut off from God, separated, it merely exists. It projects some measure of its capacity for personhood, but it is dark, really, lifeless.

In order for one in whom God has breathed the breath of life to live, he or she must walk in agreement with God; however, even God cannot make creatures who possess his image but who do not exercise creaturely freedom thereby. His image makes such freedom necessary and irresistible grace impossible. Creatures made in God's image, by the capacity of choice in that nature, must freely choose agreement with God. That is an action of faith (i.e. trustful reliance) without which it is impossible to please God--faith is what it takes for free creatures to live in agreement with God.

Whereas it is very true that God loves everyone he's made, those made in his image with the capacity of choice have no future without faith. The Gordian knot is that no one born since the Fall of Man can make that choice of faith unless the Spirit has enabled him or her. However, if the enablement was such that one was rewired to make that choice without the possibility of not making it, that one would cease being in the image of God. The breath that confers such is indestructible, so it is impossible for the grace that underlies enablement to be irresistible and enablement to be a guarantee.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Does God Love Our Children Less Than We Do?

Does the God who breathed life into them love our children less than we do? We would never write them off, or send them to into flames no matter what they had done. Yet, it appears that God is willing to. Do we love and care for them more than he does? No, but we certainly tolerate sin and the company of sinners more than he does.

Whatever is not of faith is sin, so faith is the key for our children. If our children do not come to trust God there will be nothing that can be done for them. There is no obligation that could be enforced upon God in the name of love which could cause him to give eternal life (freedom) to those who do not trust him. Could God allow the evil of sin and rebellion to continue just because some of those who have faith happened to have children who did not? Not without resigning his throne as God!

Since the Fall, however, no one is able to believe (at least effectively) without divine enablement. The Spirit of God attending the word of Christ is the instigator of such enablement, so if our children do not hear that word and come to faith thereby they have no possibility of life. Oh, they may be graced under a parental umbrella for a spell, but there are no reliable coattails to heaven. Those who do not trust God can have no eternal hope.

The love of God is broad and deep, but its object is humans made in his image with creaturely freedom. It is important to God that our children be in his image and have creaturely freedom. Everyone made like that must come to the place where, freely, they trust God and choose to follow him. Our children must come to that place or be separated from God forever.

Perhaps we could never bear to write-off our children and would always find a way to preserve them and commune with them. We are not God. We do not see what he sees and do not have the pure moral clarity he does. God does love our children, but not with sin-stained, sentimental affection like we are apt to. He loved them enough to make them in his image and to redeem that image eternally through the sacrifice of Christ.

God wants our children with him forever, but that is not possible if they do not trust him.

Monday, August 25, 2014

God Outside of Time

Omnitemporality is a concept which describes God's relation to time. It assumes that time is properly a dimension of matter, energy and space, and therefore is an intrinsic property of creation. Just as a creator with the quality of aseity cannot be in space, neither can he be in time. Therefore, a creator with the quality of aseity could neither be subject to nor dependent upon time.

An analog for understanding omnitemporality is omnipresence. Both attributes together speak to the Creator's relationship to space/time, and as omnipresence has been fairly well understood and defined, so too can omnitemporality be understood and defined. In relation to space, God's omnipresence is such that every point in space is before God--he is everywhere present at once. In relation to time, God's omnitemporality is such that every point in time is before God at once (in other words he doesn't have to wait, he's already there... and still before).

Time began with the beginning of creation, and only has meaning within that creation. Outside of creation, there is no before since time does not exist there. To apply a time construct to God, for instance "before the creation," is to attempt to apply a descriptor that has no meaning in the situation to which it is being applied. Such attempts can only lead to confusion and inaccuracy in describing or understanding God or his thoughts and actions apart from creation.

Time is contained in the bubble of thought in the mind of God which is creation. It has no impact nor meaning outside that bubble. It will only have existence within that bubble as long as that bubble is maintained. When that bubble is dissolved and replaced a new regimen will be established, which may or may not have a quality like time.

As for God, He is.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

God's Nature and Creaturely Freedom

God's Nature
God has the quality of aseity. He is completely self-sufficient and utterly free. Though he is immutable, he is not inactive. He has sufficient power and complete knowledge to do or not do as he pleases.

God's Relation to Creation and Time
God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has made all that is other than himself, and having created all things, he knows them completely. God is not impassible in regard to creation, but is interactive with it. All creation is before God at every point (i.e. everywhere is in his presence), but he is not in creation nor contained by it. God can step into the limitations of space and experience that space, but always with his omniscience and omnipresence intact, apart from that point of contact.

God is timeless, and is properly outside of time just as he is outside of the rest of creation. All time is equally before him at every point, although God is not in nor constrained by time. That which is in time (creation), experiences time and is limited by its sequential nature, but God is present with equal facility in the past, present and future, simultaneously (as it were). God can step into the limitations of the moment (time) and experience that moment in real time, but always has his omniscient, omnitemporality intact, apart from that point of contact.

God's Omniscience
God's knows all that can be known. In acting in regard to creation, from the perspective of creation in any time reference, God sees and knows that action and its consequences in all time references. We must plan before we execute our actions or be at the mercy of things ignorantly set in motion, but God is able to see all at once by virtue of his omniscience outside of time. Therefore, he can act, direct and know the end from the beginning, at once, without the necessity of a pre-planned blueprint.

God's Sovereignty
God governs by law and by intervention, of which he sees the effects at once without the limitations of sequence (time). From the viewpoint of creation, there is a quality to God's governance which appears as if the clock was wound at the beginning and is now unwinding. From God's perspective, he knows at once the shape of that unwinding, not because he has minutely determined every second, but because he understands what he has made and how it functions, and sees every second at once.

The laws of nature are the manifestation of God's will for nature. Things act according to law, but without the necessity that each action was specifically willed by God. God's sovereignty is not expressed in the minute detail of every occurrence, but in the laws that produce it. If one were to throw a ball against a wall, the ball would bounce as it does because God wanted a myriad of forces to act the way they do which resulted in such a bounce in time, rather than because God wanted that ball to bounce that way at that time.

Creaturely Freedom
All things in God's creation have a nature by which they are governed and are interacted with by the rest of God's creation by its nature. Some natures are more god-like than others, with human beings (and probably at least some of the angels) being made in the very image of God. The nature of human beings, in their degree of freedom to act, will be most reflective of God's freedom. Apart from an analogous freedom as that possessed by God, human beings would not be in God's image, but only reflect God's attributes as does all creation.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Worship: Express Yourself

We have been following a map, though I haven't mentioned it yet, while exploring the subject of worship. Our journey has brought us through Pause, Repent, Arise, Inhale, Sing, and ends with this article concerning Express. In discovering how we might be those worshippers that God seeks, hopefully, we've learned how to P-R-A-I-S-E (at least anagrammatically) in the process.
Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of his faithful people. Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King. Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp. For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory.         Psalm 149:1-4 (NIV)
Upon finding ourselves in the presence of God, accepted, there builds within us something that wants to be let out. It's a feeling that wells up, but which isn't really what it is until it gets out. If it is squelched, hindered, or hidden, it doesn't get to be what it really is. For it to be before God what it is meant to be, what it should be, it needs to be expressed (maybe Charles Wright was on to something back in 1970).

The text above gives us a little direction in letting that something out--in expressing ourselves in worship. Suffice it to say, worship is more than a mere mental exercise; our bodies and our voices must be engaged as well. All we are as people should be brought to bear upon expressing worship. If we take these pointers to heart, and embrace their practice, we'll be well on our way to truly praising the Lord.

Picking up on a point from the last article, something new is called for when we worship. The inference in the word "new" is something spontaneous, something that hasn't been established before. Biblical worship will express something new, something spontaneous. If all that we do in our attempt to worship is the tried and true, we may look nice or sound great, but will not actually cross the threshold of worship (so much for liturgy and precisely planned worship orders!).

Being aware of our acceptance in the presence of God is not something that can be carried without emotion. Relief and gratitude are the seeds of gladness and joy. Worship is not an austere endeavor stiffened in structure, but is a fountain of joy, splashing, gushing, getting everything it touches wet and messy. Worship should express the joy and gladness of being at one with God and will of necessity be emotionally expressive.

And there is more to musically accompanied praise than just singing. We, ourselves, can be instruments, as well as playing instruments or having instruments played. We dance, play timbrils and harps (strings), and sing. As long as I am a pastor, any flock I shepherd will be a place that welcomes expressions of musical participation from the congregation: the folk will be welcome to break out in dance, be encouraged to clap and shake a tambourine, or even let out a shout. The only underlying principle is that is must be toward God, other than that, folk should express themselves in worship.

Though such a thing may seem disorderly to some folk's way of thinking, this is not fleshly or worldly, nor out of place--it's scriptural. It may be noisy and emotional, and even a bit messy, but it is exactly what God is looking for. History cannot tell us how to worship, only the scriptures and the Holy Spirit can. If our practice gives mere lip service to what the scripture says and the Spirit stirs, then our practice isn't worth the effort it takes, even if we've done it that way for thousands of years.

There is, in fact, a "why" to all these going-ons. It is because we are accepted favorably in God's presence--we are approved, even delighted in by God. After all, we are not the ones setting the example here, God is! There is joy in the presence of angels (meaning God, not the angels, is filled with joy over repentant sinners).

If God is filled with joy, singing over the redeemed, how can they not reflect back that same sentiment toward him? God is get-off-your-seat-and-dance-happy over bringing us forgiven into his presence, why would we be any less? Things rub off on us in the presence of God. Expressive praise of the sort we've been talking about is one of those things.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Worship: Sing in the Presence of God

The series so far: Pause, Repent, Arise, Inhale and with this article, Sing.
Praise the Lord. Praise the name of the Lord; praise him, you servants of the Lord, you who minister in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God. Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing praise to his name, for that is pleasant.     Psalm 135:1-3  (NIV)
Self-consciousness can be the enemy of true worship. It is stirred naturally in the repentance phase as a consequence of the light of God, but it is not a condition the worshipper can stay in and proceed with worship. Our gaze must rise to look upon God thereafter. Worship is, after all, a God-conscious thing.

Some folk feel very self-consciousness in public, and if so, singing in a congregational setting (particularly if it is small) can be a non-starter. However, part of being a true worshipper, the kind that God seeks, is getting beyond ourselves, our nervousness and self-consciousness, to focus ourselves on God and sing. Even the self-conscious, self-admittedly bad singer, even the non-singer, will end up being a singer if they come into the presence of God to worship. When all is said and done, the likelihood is that the experience, if followed to it's ultimate conclusion, will have been found to have been exhilarating.

And there really is no way out of this, it is a biblical mandate. Within the Bible's book of songs (Psalms), there are 70 references (at least) either calling on believers to sing or referring to it as an appropriate response to God. There are several in the New Testament too, as well as the recording of incidences in which key figures sang before God. Jesus and the disciples sang hymns; Paul and Silas sang praise to God; angels sing around the throne of God; and people that have been welcomed into God's presence sing.

Let's be honest, it is not like singing should be that difficult for us. We sing at birthdays, we sing in the shower, we sing driving the car, we sing at ballgames, even drunks sing! But whereas we are never to be drunk, we are most certainly to sing!
"Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."    Ephesians 5:18-20  (NIV)
Singing is just something the saved do--singing is part of being in the breath (Spirit) of God.

Now, there are two basic biblical varieties of singing in worship (with one variety having two further subcategories).  We sing with the mind and we sing with the Spirit (i.e. in tongues). Singing with the mind is further subdivided into songs that already known, that is previously composed, and spontaneous songs (new) which are improvised. Every song sung in the Spirit (tongues) is a new song.

So, the worship of God is going to be a singing affair. Some of the songs sung will be planned, some will be spontaneous. Singing isn't the only aspect of worship, but there is no avoiding singing as part of worship. Singing in worship is not about us, it's about God--a vehicle through which God-consciousness can be expressed in the worshipping believer.

We'll be singing in the presence of God throughout eternity. The good news is that we can enter into that heavenly occupation now!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Worship: Take a Deep Breath

We have been looking into the subject of worship. The series so far: Pause, Repent, Arise, and with this post--Inhale.
“Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.” For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.     Isaiah 57:14-15  (NIV)
We instinctively hold our breath when something astonishing happens. Something which catches us by surprise, or hits us with shock tends to take our breath away. I remember the trips to the dump to get rid of the garbage while I was staying with my grandparents in northern Maine when I was a teenager. Even before we could tell otherwise, a sudden increase in flies was sufficient to tell us we were getting close. Then came the smell--youch, literally!

I would go into hibernation mode, breathing as little as possible, because the smell was so strong it was a shock to the system. You know what I did when we were finally clear of the dump? Whooosh, the biggest inhalation of fresh air I could take. That made it feel like all was well on planet earth once again. When we've gone from misery to joy it's time to inhale!

There is a refreshing for the soul that comes to one who's continued beyond the sin revealing light of God's presence. There is a breath that our soul can breathe and that is the breath of God. It is a spirit thing. Whether in Hebrew or Greek, the word translated "spirit", as in the text above (vs. 15), is the same as the word for breath. The text above tells us that a soul that is contrite is enlivened (revived) in breath (spirit) because of God's nearness. It is, in fact, God's nearness that causes the quickening.

I used to do a lot of spelunking when I was young. I don't like closed-in places so the challenge of meeting my fears gave the activity a certain allure. After you've spent a couple of hours mucking around in the dark, crawling on your knees and belly, doing contortions and squeezing through holes and cracks, you start getting a little anxious. When the decision is made to leave, you move with purpose!

Climbing out doesn't take near as long as slithering in. When you finally clear the entrance and can stand once more and see sky above you, let me tell you, you take it in with gusto. You suck all the air in around you for several cubic meters. All is good, you're truly alive, and your massive inhalation is your effort to get as much of that invigorating moment and experience in you as you possibly can.

When we come into God's presence, having paused, repented, and arisen, it's time to inhale for all we're worth! Breathe in the breath (Spirit) of God and take in the wonder and the presence of God deep into your soul. We find relief, release and the joy of our souls in the presence of the God who welcomes and accepts us. And as we breathe in, we realize,"now, this is life!"

It is astonishing to find ourselves in the presence of God, cleansed and accepted. Oh the grace that brings us welcomed into the king's chamber! In that place, God revives our soul's breath. He quickens our spirit. We know the joy of being alive with God, and that joy begins to spring up in a fountain of thankfulness and wonder.

So, in that place before God, having arisen, open your heart and soul and inhale. Take a deep breath. Breathe freely the breath of life that God so freely gives to revive your soul, and let the joy of the Lord rise up within you and spill out.