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Posts Tagged ‘grace’

Why would God make a world that He knew would be corrupted by sin?  If God truly created people, as evangelicals are so fond of saying, so that He could be in a love relationship with them, and if that is why He gave them free will, so they could choose Him or reject Him… then why didn’t God destroy mankind immediately after they rejected Him, and start again?  Why not keep flipping the coin until it turns up heads?

Ok.  Love isn’t like that, you say.  God already loved mankind, and so devised a way to rescue them from the consequences of their rebellion.  He planned to demonstrate His love to them.  Unpersuaded by creation, perhaps people would choose to love God because of His merciful sacrifice of His Son.  So.  Why did God let any more people come into the world?  Why, knowing that there would be millions of men and women who still reject His grace and refuse to love Him, would He allow those men and women to exist – or if free will is still a possibility with the sin nature, why not eliminate them immediately after their first devastating choice (thereby preserving the rest of the world from much of the wickedness it has actually suffered)?

People are quite often posing God-impugning questions to Calvinists.  They see our God as a cruel puppeteer, causing suffering for no good reason.  Such a God cannot be loved, for He forces those who love Him to love Him, and those who hate Him to hate Him.  Then He judges the haters by sending them to hell for His choice.  And He judges His Son for God’s choice in causing the redeemed to sin in the first place and need redemption.

Calvinists, because they believe in a God who is above their judgment, rarely pose to Arminians what are equally troublesome questions – questions that, to the created vessel accustomed to think the world was created so that God could shower love on him, also indict their God.  I wish for the Arminians to realize their contradiction not because it defeats them, but because it directs them to a view of God that brings Him worship, and a view of self that creates humility.

Another complaint leveled against the God of the sovereignists (tired of using “Calvinist” so I coined a new word) is the question of whether, when a person gets sick, it is an intentional act of God.  Is God so cruel as to cause pain and death and tragedy just because He likes some of the outcomes, somewhere down the line (it brings people closer to Him, teaches people patience or compassion…)?  But is it not more cruel to imagine a God who has the power to prevent pain, but doesn’t use it?

The God of the Arminian “sovereignly” chose to exalt man’s will above His intervention.  In the beginning, He stood back and let man choose to eat the forbidden fruit.  As a result, there is death and pain and toil, sadness and continued wickedness.  But, we know, because it has been recorded in the Bible, that God still sometimes uses His power to intervene, to prevent or alleviate suffering.  He heals the blind and the lame.  Jesus brought dead children back to life so that their parents would weep no more.  If God can and sometimes does stop the natural, deserved suffering – why not do it all the time?  God lets a child be born with AIDS, knowing only that, being all-powerful, He will work everything for good for those who love Him.  That is a God who has no better motive than that He wants us to experience the consequences of our free will.  He is the God who is still waiting for men to love Him.  He isn’t even continuing to try to buy their love.  He made His final offer: Jesus on a cross.  If God was really trying to persuade us to love Him, wouldn’t He be more successful if He held back more of this pain and death stuff that makes life so hard?

Look.  You may not like my God’s motives for causing suffering.  You may not like that the damnation of millions brings God glory.  That’s a position I can understand.  But stop pretending that some invented God can escape those same accusations or worse.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

PS: I really like the Wikipedia article on Arminianism.  It’s well-written, concise, interesting, and seems fair.

PPS: See also my Tough Questions for Calvinists

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Your God is Too Safe by Mark Buchanan – A well-written book about Christian living.  Dare to believe in a God who is not about rules, whose way is not comfortable or easy or popular.  Practice His presence.  Wait on Him and don’t give up, taking matters into your own hands.  It took me a while to read this book.  But every time I picked it up, it echoed the very lessons God was driving home in my lived-out life.

The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning – All about grace.  And grace is always good.  I knew before I read it to be wary of some of Brennan Manning’s ideas, so that didn’t hang me up.  Even when I disagreed, I talked to my Jesus about it, and *that* made my week.

Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo – Was not a great story, not great writing, and not a great ending.  But I read it anyway, my first venture into Austen fan-fiction.  The title was the best part.  (To be Austen purist, I am pretty sure the author mis-identifies the inhabitants of Mansfield Park.  She should have said Bertram, but she said Rushworth.)

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (see full review)

Castles in the Sand by Carolyn A. Greene – A novel about the subtle ways pagan spirituality and eastern mysticism are becoming accepted in evangelical Christian organizations.  Focuses on the teachings and life of Teresa of Avila.

Annotated Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and David M. Shapard – The classic Jane Austen novel with lots of extra commentary as well as notes about history, economics, and fashion.  I liked it a lot!

Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul – Explanation of Calvinism especially versus Arminianism.  Focuses on the doctrine of predestination.

Tristan and Isolt, A Play in Verse by John Masefield – A short play telling a story of thoughtless love leading to tragedy.  What is real love?  How does Destiny figure in?

Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart by Beth Patillo – Another adventure in England with the Formidables, this time featuring a codependent heroine who has the chance to reinvent her life for a couple weeks without worrying what anyone needs her to be.  The exercise reveals her insecurity and causes her to confront her life choices.  Can a woman build a life on other people?

Green by Ted Dekker – Book 0 of the Circle Series, the beginning and end of the Thomas Hunter story.  I haven’t read any of the other books in the series, which Ted Dekker says is ok.  But it was confusing.  And I don’t think I like reading the end before the beginning.  I did like all the talk about hope.  And remembering that spiritual realities are real, even if they are unseen.

Miniatures and Morals: the Christian Novels of Jane Austen by Peter Leithart – A wonderful look at the beloved authoress’ use of satire, contrast, irony, and very good story-telling to communicate a morality originating in a deeply Christian worldview.


The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary by Peter Gilliver, Jeremy Marshall, and Edmund Weiner (see full review)

Why Pro-Life?  Caring for the Unborn and their Mothers by Randy Alcorn A short summary of the major points of pro-life Christianity.  Pro-life is also pro-woman.  The “choice” is a moral one.  Preborn babies are people, too.  Pro-life ministries also help women after the babies are born.

That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis (see full review)

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I read a story last week: Return of the Guardian King.  Fourth and final of a vividly epic fantasy series written by a woman who knows my world, my type, and my God.  Her name is Karen Hancock, and her stories have invaded my imagination permanently.

It is a book about temptation, I told a friend.  Resisting in the slow way, wearied by the persistence, common days, small things.  And massive temptations: to betray all you have believed in, to denounce the promises of God for the power of ruling kingdoms, to trade love in the good God and His simple gifts to the extravagant suit of the alluring devil.  But the large and the small are the same. 

The characters are strong against deception and temptation when they have been faithful in the daily denying of self.  To live for others, in kindness and patience, prepares each person against bitterness and despair.  Immersion in the truth and promises of God is comfort and hope.  Even if their prayer is a single cry for help from God, bad things trun to good when people talk to their God. 

The story isn’t about what is happening on the outside as much as it is about whether the characters are trusting God, whether they know with all their might that He loves them and that His plans for them are good.  When they are rebelling against him, they are miserable.  So are those around them.  So am I. 

Kiriath is in the hands of the jealous and vengeful brother Gillard, possessed by a demon rhu’ema.  Already they treat and ally with the archenemy, Belthe’adi, Abramm had warned them of.  Abramm is known to be dead.  But Abramm is also walking the mountains, chafing under the waiting in a snowed-in monastery.  Maddie is back at her childhood home, a palatial life she never embraced, and her newest royal duty is to marry some rich aristocrat who can offer troops to defend the last stand of her homeland.  But her dreams linked with her beloved’s are back, and something tugs hope alive in her that maybe Abramm survived after all. 

Shapeshifters, dragons, and the critical people who are supposed to be his friends plague Abramm on his Odyssey-like journey back to his wife and sons.  Trap and Carissa mirror Abramm’s struggle with pride and longing but in a quiet domestic setting.  Detours take the exiled king and longed-for husband to places of faith and doubt he never would have imagined – and sometimes wishes he had never asked for. 

Every character learns the power of friends: locking them against temptation, praying for their dearest concerns, teaching and challenging with the truth, dividing the attacks of dragons, delivering messages, watching with unbiased eyes, guarding against betrayal.  Again Abramm learns that it is not his strength that conquers, and that God has not gifted him with leadership and military prowess to fight God’s battles for Him.  He is but a vessel. 

Maddie meets a charming man who is attractive in all the ways Abramm never was.  Tirus wants her, wants to help her.  He understands her and shows her off, showers her with gifts and protects her from scorn.  How long can she wait for her husband whom even her dearest friends still believe is dead?  Will she believe the light-born visions and promises from God, or the technological, repeatable sight from the stone sent to her by her suitor?  Will she change her mind about regal living and the purpose of marriage?  The things that stood in Maddie’s way when she wanted to marry Abramm, and the undeniable need they had for each other – will she forget those? 

When things go from bad to worse, whose job is it to protect the ones they love?  At what cost will they buy safety and love?  Will the armies of the Moon, and the powers of the air – dragons winging terror across the skies – will they succeed in doing their worst, in taking everything from those faithful to God?  Or will they be utterly defeated?  If they cannot be defeated, what is the point in fighting and sacrificing? 

And when God’s people fail, bitterly weak, The Return of the Guardian King resounds with display of God’s mercy.  God knew we were weak when He chose us.  He knew we would fail when He sent His Son to suffer for those sins.  And a single prayer, sometimes the end of God’s longsuffering chase, brings grace empowering His servants to do the right thing.  He cannot deny Himself.  His promises will be true, however faithless we are. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Orion is out tonight, aiming his bow at the rising moon. We reunite each fall and winter, Orion and I. He is my companion in the stars, keeping the same hours as I. It’s chilly out tonight. Clear in that cool dry way that Colorado is known for.

I’ve been through a lot since last Orion and I were out together. My life is definitely patterned in seasons. Some years have had their own theme, but usually the lessons are shorter and more diverse. This year was a scattered year, learning things that built in each other but not in obvious ways. A soldier will learn to march and learn to shoot, and both are related in that they come in handy during battles, but they don’t really build on each other.

Last year when I was almost twenty-four I almost went crazy. I couldn’t believe the life I had; my life seemed inevitable, not chosen. And I didn’t know how to be a twenty-four year old in my situation. Never had my dreams imagined me here. Yet I came to the conclusion that I ought to be myself, trusting God, and not worry about what twenty-four year olds are supposed to be. So I have told myself many times these months.

I don’t miss the soul-searching that comes with autumn. It comes around each year, and I don’t regret it. Nor do I look forward to the restless questioning. My soul never seems satisfied in the fall, the season of Thanksgiving. This November opens with a focus on open-handed gratitude. That’s what I call it. Each day’s blessings are cause to rejoice, never a reason to demand more.

I don’t require more blessings, but I have learned to ask. Such was my summer theme: Hope. Do I have confidence in my Heavenly Father’s goodness, enough to discuss with Him what I want and rejoice that in Him all answers, yes and no, are yea? Will I dare holding out my heart to wait on Him? And when I did this year, oh! how the peace came in. Before, I was silly not to ask for His good gifts.

Spring was hard, an exercise in love. Love hopes all things. It holds on and does not abandon. But it speaks the truth and rejoices in it rather than in evil. Love means sacrifice in the sense of a drop everything to help attitude. It is consuming, on your mind all the time. God never promised love would be painless. Though love has to do with community, it often feels lonely.

This year has brought thoughts about truth and calling and compromise. Faith and that not-tame God have kept popping up. I asked myself what I was willing to suffer for Christ, and for the first time truly doubted that I would rejoice to risk life and happiness and all I’ve worked for. Rejection has been on my mind lately. I’m more honest about reality than I used to be: eyes open to the vanity and hopelessness apart from the work of God to grace us.

And now that I’m facing twenty-five in the next several weeks, I must praise my God that I have a life that I run after. The friends I have are ones I choose. My weeks are spent doing things I believe are important, not just floating through an existence. Though twenty-five seems to have come upon me without my consent, the rest of my life is intentional. That is due only to the grace of God. He has helped me through some hard decisions. Some of my waiting and patience has ended, and other parts remain.

By many standards this year has little to show for it. I still have not written a book or started a successful business. No prince charming has swept me off my feet. Like Orion, I’m back and rising over the same horizon. But those who know astronomy realize that relative to the rest of the firmament, Orion’s position has changed. He will move among the stars and planets like he has not done in my lifetime. And a new year is here: the Hunter is chasing life down.

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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Shadow over Kiriath opens with a conversation between Hazmul and a lesser demon, plotting to ruin Abramm and defame his God, beginning on the day of the grand coronation.  The demons have been spiritually attacking Abramm in the months since his victory over the Morwhol, also attacking his friends so that they will be unable or unwilling to help strengthen the king against the shadow-attack awaiting him. 

I was interested to notice how it affected me to know what the bad guys plotted.  I sat on the edge of my seat, fearing when things went the way the demons wanted.  Then the coronation happened, and when everything looked to be going over to the Shadow, the bad guys were thwarted by the grace and might of God alone, whose ways are unpredictable.  As the story progressed I learned to judge things not by who was getting their way, but by whether decisions were made out of love and faith and based on the truth of God.  Even if a character was having the worst day spiritually, in a single moment of humble request, God would come shining through, proving again that we are much less dependent upon our own performance than we would like to think.

Strange for a book about suffering to so emphasize the grace and sovereignty of God. 

For Shadow over Kiriath is about suffering, asking of its readers the questions Abramm had to struggle with: Does God restore what we sacrifice for Him?  Is suffering easy when we do it for the right reasons?  What does it mean when we read that all those who follow God will share in His sufferings?  If we lost everything, would we still trust God? 

From the coronation, the entrancing story flows into a dark attack from Beltha-adi, Abramm’s wrenching courtship and romance, attempts to relight the ancient guardstars in fortresses around Kiriath, and the seditious plot of the Mataians to take back the kingdom.  I found myself very involved in this book, relating to the questions asked of God and the huge difficulty of self-denial to do what is right – and desperate for everything to turn out ok for the characters, especially the unconventional Princess Maddie: royalty, detective, and friend. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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So young people are leaving the church: a disastrous omen for the future of Christianity.  We must do something.  Something different than what we have been doing.  Because the church is failing this generation. 

 

It is common to point to the pizza and games youth-group-without-accountability-or-education program as the culprit for the apostasy of college students.  Church should not be about entertainment, say the pious parents who with the next breath criticize the musicians on the praise team and complain that the worship style at their congregation doesn’t suit their tastes.  Perhaps we are not sheltering youth enough.  Maybe they need more authority figures, a connection with the whole church, including their parents. 

 

Some on the conservative side of the question point to the content of what we teach young people.  Survey after survey reveals that teens don’t know the basics of Christian theology, and certainly aren’t decision-making from a Christian worldview.  These kids have no foundation to abandon, Christian leaders rightly argue.  They’re hungry for answers.  And when we don’t equip them in the realm of apologetics, high school and college professors have little difficulty refuting the shallow traditional faith of their students. 

 

Maybe the church is too legalistic, parents and pastors suffocating kids with expectations of holiness, that ever-imposing scale of good deeds versus bad deeds on which to measure God’s favor and wrath.  When at last free of the oppressive constraints, these young adults bust out with a liberal longing for pleasure, enjoying an affirming group of friends that encourages them to stop stifling their own feelings.  So we the church ought to offer more grace, somehow imparting to the up-and-coming generations the relationship aspect of Christianity.  Like so many who have been in the church for decades, these teenagers just want to know that God is love, and He wants to be your friend, to give you your best life now. 

 

“These are the leaders of the future,” is quoted, by some with hope, by others with dark foreboding.  But our model of ministry leaves a wide gap between involvement in youth ministry and being incorporated with the rest of the congregation.  Smaller churches have no college ministry.  Even those with college ministries have merely moved the disconnect to a later date.  Those in the club of grown ups are unwilling to speak to or invest in the younger individuals – let alone take their advice – trying to move into life and faith that is overwhelming without examples.  There is truth to the protest that kids are irreverent and disrespectful and self-absorbed.  But listen to what we’re saying.  Those are the kids.  What toddler have you met who knows anything different than irreverence and selfishness?  Yet the older people attempt to train them, not fight them.  Church has failed to welcome the post-education demographic; can we be surprised they leave?

 

Yet maybe that is exactly what the young adults ought to do: leave.  An institution so divided and impotent as the evangelical church, so lacking in love or substance, is more likely to inspire bitter memories of religious hypocrisy and to shore up doubt in the power of a God mostly ignored in the actual workings of the organization.  I will say more: perhaps the adults should leave, and the young parents who feel they ought to raise their children in Sunday school should never come back.  Christians should take on the personal responsibility of living a communal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ: embracing grace as a gift both received and distributed; trust in the power and authority of the Creator God of the Resurrection; loving, serving, and discipling their fellow children of God; humbling themselves before the voice of God coming through Scripture, teachers, and youths; pursuing fellowship with God and with each other; and living out a life so different from the world that those exposed have no doubt that only the miracle of God could give such abundant life! 

 

And just maybe when we see such a symptom of desperate unwell in our churches, we should repent, falling on our faces before the Lord of Wisdom, desiring His healing and direction rather than the empty programs and various solutions proffered by man. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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The hero stays long enough to be sure the citizens are safe and able to continue their lives. He goes on to the next needy village, in each town met with both opposition and a grateful following. Without asking for anything in return, he does whatever it takes and risks his life to save the common people from enslavement and despair.

After some time of absence, his enemies begin to creep back in. First one citizen at a time and then groups at once, these wicked men reassert their power. With subtle trickery they ensnare the people, weighing them down with tasks and restrictions. When a brave man remembers the hero, the bad guys devise a new plan. They defame the hero. “He was a liar,” they say. “Didn’t he just come here to get power?” “He is not who he says he is, and has no authority to talk to you.” “You’re smart people. Does it make sense? He told you to change everything you’d ever believed in, your whole way of life. And now he’s not here. We’re going to stand by you and help you.”

It’s a classic tale of good guys versus bad guys, and the innocent bystanders used as pawns by the bad guys. Of course the hero is trying to rescue them, to grant them freedom from their self-serving oppressors. We have a showdown of sorts, some harsh words calling each other out. The little people hang in the balance, uncertain which man has their best interest at heart. Which man is telling the truth?

In such an epic tale of good versus evil, how do we decide? Who do we root for? Who do we follow? How do we determine which man is good?

The story at the beginning is the background of the book of Galatians. Paul is our hero, bringing the good news about salvation through Jesus to the province of Galatia. Wherever he went, he met opposition, whether it was from the Jews who didn’t embrace Jesus or from the pagans who felt threatened by a religion that worshiped God without temples, rituals, and idols. He also freed a bunch of people from the purposeless lives and oppressive requirements of their old religions. Paul taught the people about grace, about a God who wants to dwell with us – not in a castle on a hill, but right with us, even inside us. After establishing the believers and teaching them for a while, he moved to the next city, running a circuit around the Mediterranean.

In his absence, some Jews who infiltrated the Christian church, began to teach and insist that salvation was not only the work of Jesus; men had to add to it. They taught that to be saved and to continue to live a life pleasing to God, every Christian had to keep the Mosaic Law. This law included rituals about diets, hand-washing, illnesses, sacrifices, commerce, as well as moral regulations.

When the Galatians protested that Paul had taught them that nothing good they did was good enough to earn salvation, these false teachers challenged Paul. He isn’t an apostle, they said. He lied to you. He was out for his own gain. And now he has abandoned you. Many were swayed, and returned voluntarily to their oppressed way of life. Some wrote to Paul.

Obviously, we’re on Paul’s side, because he wrote half the New Testament. But put yourself in the Galatians’ shoes. How would you know which person was truthful? Which was the good guy? I mean, the Jewish teachers were all about doing good things. So was Paul.

Galatians 5 is Paul’s explanation for why a Christian is expected to do good things. Based on this chapter, goodness comes from the Holy Spirit at work in every believer. This is why a Christian may be anticipated to do good things: not because he is in need of goodness to get or maintain his standing with God, but because the works are automatic.

Ephesians 2:8-10 puts this whole thing rather concisely: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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