Finding Peace: Week Four of Advent

I think I may have missed my calling to be a beauty pageant contestant—because I sincerely desire world peace.

But is world peace even possible?

Our society feeds on conflict. Whether it’s 24 hours of almost entirely negative news, inflammatory political rants from talk-radio hosts, or the latest firestorm on social media about the actions of a celebrity. It is all just noise that spoons conflict into our lives. We eat it up. And we can’t get enough of it.

Then we complain about it. We love to complain about it. We love to tell anybody who will listen, and many people who don’t want to listen, what in the world (or at least our world) is messed up.

And this of course breeds stress, anxiety, and anger, in our lives and the lives of others. With the result, that each day our world becomes a little less peaceful.

But we say it’s not our fault:

If only those people over there would stop doing….then there would be peace.

If only that leader would start doing…then there would be peace.

If only this or that person would change…then, the world, our families, and our lives would be peaceful.

But God’s Word tells us something different.

Peace is not dependent on the actions of others. Peace comes to us when we enter into the presence of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.

Paul’s Perspective

The Apostle Paul shows us what this looks like. While confined to house arrest in Rome, he wrote the following encouragement to a suffering church in Philippi:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9)

Did you catch Paul’s recipe for peace?

Peace comes through joyful worship of Jesus (4)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Peace comes through prayerful reliance on God through Jesus (6-7)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Peace comes through the enjoyment of the things of God (8-9)

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things...And the God of peace will be with you.

The point is, despite our circumstances, peace is available to us now.

It is true that this is not the same kind of peace we will have in heaven. Now, our peace is fleeting. In heaven it will be continual. But the peace we experience in heaven will come from doing the same kind of things we are now able to do on earth. That is, the continual worship, reliance, and enjoyment of Jesus Christ.

What Paul knew is that, as long as we have access to Jesus, we have access to peace- the peace of God, that transcends all understanding.

So if you, like me, sincerely desire peace, then join me this week and come into the presence of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.

Let’s turn off our 24-hour news channels. Let’s change the station on our political talking heads. And lets take a breather from our social media outrage.

And instead, lets spend time praising Jesus, relying on Jesus, and enjoying the gifts of Jesus–then we might just taste the beginnings of world peace.

 

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.

(Isaiah 9:6-7)

 

 

Thankful For Play

“Play is not a major emphasis in the Bible and it can be unhelpful to encourage play in a culture that so often and easily trivializes God and life itself. Yet, I do believe that a sense of play is necessary for a healthy Christian perspective on life. The failure to appreciate play in the Christian life could easily turn piety into sanctimony, reverence into rigidity, and sanctification into stuffiness. We must take God as seriously as we can, but never ourselves.

God invites us to approach him as his free, forgiven, secure children. We are to approach our holy God with healthy fear and hearts broken by our broken world. But God’s people are also called to rejoice, sing, play, and laugh because we know that the owner of all things is working out his perfect plan that ends with a wedding banquet and perfect resolution and rest. This sure hope in God’s sovereign power and loving-kindness enables us to play with reckless abandon, even before the Great Wedding Banquet begins.”

Predestination: Three Views

A few weeks ago I wrote a post in which I attempted  to answer how predestination is compatible with free will. But later (after reading a few FB responses), I realized it may be helpful to let people know that my view is not the only view on the Evangelical platter. In fact, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, God-glorifying Christians have at least three options to choose from when it comes to their understanding of predestination, each with strengths and weaknesses, but all attempting to be faithful to God’s Word.

Before I dive into the different options, it should be noted that all Christians agree on at least two things when it comes to predestination. First, predestination refers to God choosing to do something, before the creation of the world, that pertains to each person’s salvation. Second, predestination is biblical (Romans 8:28-30, Romans 9; Ephesians 1:3-11, see also the Elect).

But this is where the agreement ends, because Christians disagree about what the “something” is which God predestined.

Some Christians believe God predestined an inheritance, others believe God predestined the hearts of people, and still a third group believes God predestined worlds. I know it sounds crazy. Let me illustrate.

God predestined an inheritance. In general, Christians traditionally known as Wesleyan or Arminian believe,“Predestination is not the predetermination of who will believe, but rather the predetermination of the believer’s future inheritance” [1]. What is the future inheritance? It is to be  holy and blameless in the sight of God [2]. In this view, God is not choosing who will go to Heaven or Hell, that’s left to each person’s free choice. Rather God has chosen what will become of each person who puts their faith in Him through Jesus Christ.

God predestined the hearts of people. On the other end of the spectrum are Christians traditionally known as Calvinist/Reformed. This group asserts that every part of salvation is an act of God. Not only did God predestine the inheritance of believers, He also first chose to change their hearts. Why? Because, in their view, original sin has affected every part of a person, including a person’s mind and will. It is therefore impossible for anyone to choose God on their own. Thus God must first do a work in a person’s heart which enables that person to choose God. In other words, “God…actually brings about a willing response from the person who hears” the gospel [3, p.693].

God predestined the world. Sometimes called Molinist, this group of Christians seeks to present a third option to the two views above. They believe that God, before creating anything, thought about all the possible worlds He could create. Then, He thought about all the possible choices of every creature, in every situation, in every possible world. After considering all the choices and outcomes of all the situations in all the possible worlds, He chose to create the world which He liked best. That is the world (a.k.a universe/reality) that we are living in today. How does this relate to predestination? As William Lane Craig writes, “God knows in exactly what circumstances people will freely respond to His grace and places people in circumstances in which each one receives sufficient grace for salvation if only that person will avail himself of it” [4]. The point is, God, by predestining the world we live in, has also predestined the opportunities for each person to encounter Him. The view seeks to maintain the ability of all people to choose God, while maintaining God’s grace as a necessity for their choice.

So which view resonates best with you?

No matter what view you hold, the doctrine of predestination is intended to be of great comfort for Christians. It reminds us of the grace God has shown us (Ephesians 2:8-9). It motivates us to go where God sends us (2 Timothy 2:10). It encourages us that God has a purpose for each of us, even if we can’t see it (Genesis 50:20). And ultimately,it humbles us, knowing that no one wanting to come to faith in Christ will be left turned away (John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:9).

I hope these summaries have been helpful. For those interested in learning more about the above Christian views, here’s a list of recommend resources:

 

Calvinist/Reformed

Molinist

 All of them (and some more)

Reader Question: How is it that God has predestined me, and yet, I have free will?

kayak_in_the_river-wide

Imagine you’re kayaking down a river. What choices are available to you?

First, there are choices concerning what you’d like to do in the kayak. How you would like to sit. What you would like to think about. If you’d like to sing like a rock star.

Then there are the choices concerning what you’d like to do with the kayak as you paddle down the river.  You can choose to turn right or left. You can choose to go with the current or against it. Or you can choose simply to spin in circles for a while.

But of course there is also a river.  And ultimately that river determines where you end up.  You clearly have some say in your experience of the ride, but, in the end, there is a destination waiting for you.

If free will is the actions of a man kayaking down a river, predestination is the river.

Predestination says your destiny is determined and free will says you are able to make many choices before you get there.

So the answer to the question “how is it that God has predestined me, and yet, I have free will?” is that God, by His mercy and grace, according to His good pleasure, called you out of a “river” leading to death, and set you in a “river”  leading to life, by which you would be led to Him (John 6:44), see your need for Him, desire to know Him, follow Him, and ultimately do the good works prepared for you by Him (Ephesians 2:10).

This does not impede your free will because you, like the man in the kayak, have, at every point, choices available to you.  You have choices over what you’d like to do with yourself (thoughts, physical actions, etc.), and you have choices concerning how you would like to steer your life (how you interact with and react to people and situations which come into your life).

Yes, there is a destination, and yes, God assures that you will get there because, at the end of the day, God has chosen you.  And salvation (every part of it) is chiefly about God and not you (Ephesians 1:3-14).

Actually, your whole life is not about you, but about God’s work through you.  This is why, as we journey down the river of life, God the Father has given His children a Guide, called the Holy Spirit, whose job it is to point us and conform us to the Master, God’s Son, Jesus Christ.  And it is why the chief end of man is to glorify God (make Him known) and enjoy Him forever.  For it is God’s joy to see His children participate in the revealing of Himself to all people.

Thus, the doctrine of predestination is not so much a doctrine about limited choices as it is a doctrine about God’s grace.

 

What are your thoughts about free will and predestination?

Could God Make a Rock So Big He Couldn’t Lift It?

Peak_of_the_Matterhorn,_seen_from_Zermatt,_SwitzerlandLast Tuesday night at youth group Carlos, a freshman in high school, asked me, “Could God make a rock so big He couldn’t lift it?” His atheist friend had posed the question to him, and Carlos was not sure how to answer it.

The answer is no.

God could not make a rock so big He could not lift it.

Now it is true, that because God is all-powerful He could do the following two things:

Make a rock of any size, and lift a rock of any size.

But God could not make a rock so big that He could not lift it. Why? Because, God does not lift things like you and me.  God is Spirit (John 4:24). This means that God does not have a physical body. Therefore, God does not use physical strength to make things move.

When God wants to move something, He simply commands it to do so. God’s power does not come from His physical might but from His words. That is how He created the entire universe. He simply spoke things into existence (Genesis 1, John 1:1-3).

So no matter how big He made the rock, if He wanted to lift it, He would simply say to the rock, “Rise!”

The question “could God make a rock so big that He could not lift it” misunderstands who God is. God cannot be overwhelmed by a physical object (like a rock) because God is not physical. God is not a man (Numbers 23:19). Though to save us, in the person of Jesus, He became one (John 1:14).

So what about Jesus (The God-Man)? Could He make a rock so big He couldn’t lift it?

Yes and No.

Yes, He could make a rock so big that His human body physically could not lift it.  But, on the other hand, as God, He could not make a rock so big that He could not lift it, because He could always use His divine power to say to the rock, “Rise”.

What is crazy is that Jesus tells His disciples that, by God’s power (the same power He used), they too can use their words to move a rock, even a rock so big it’s called a mountain (Matthew 21:18-21).  

Review of Evolution vs. God

Evolution-vs-God-movieThe other night I watch a short thought-provoking documentary entitled Evolution vs. God.  In the film Ray Comfort interviews students and professors from well-respected universities who believe in Evolution but don’t believe in God.  Using a few  simple questions Ray attempts to show that believing in Evolution is a belief based on faith rather than science, and therefore the belief may be dubious.

The video is worth watching. The questions Ray asks are insightful and the responses he receives are interesting. But the film has one flaw. It gives the impression that belief in God is incompatible with belief in any kind of Evolution. And this is simply not true. As the chart below illustrates, there are at least three different ways someone could believe in God and still believe in Evolution.

Views On The Origins Of The Universe

The point is not that Evolution is true, but rather belief in Evolution should not be a road block to belief in God. As Christians we are free to believe a version of Evolution or to reject Evolution in all its forms. Our job is simply to go where the evidence leads and believe (by faith), the view that makes the most sense in light of who God is, and what He has done.

Who am I?

ImageWho am I?

Is this not, at times, one of life’s hardest questions to answer? Naively I thought that by the time I was in my thirties I wouldn’t wrestle with it anymore.

But occasionally I do.

Thankfully I have come to realize that I am not alone. The other night I was reading Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. Apparently, Dietrich Bonhoeffer  wrestled with the same question.   In prison, at age 39, he wrote the following poem, just one month before his execution.

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equally, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectation of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

I take great comfort in his words.

What’s something that speaks to your identity?