Church Life

I was asked by a friend today if love is a work or not. By that he means, is it something we must do as a Christian to maintain or obtain our salvation, or if it’s something else.

Christian love is a mixture of philia and agape love in that we are firmly bound to those who are in four categories:

1) Christ – We are bound to Jesus by his outpouring of affection in agape love toward us, in that he died in our place while were still his enemies, and adopted us into the family of God to share in the kingdom of glory.

2) Our Spouse – This is a combination of the Eros (which can be God-centered in a committed relationship, most clearly defined in a Christian marriage where both parties love Jesus more than themselves or their spouse), philia, and agape – in that we are bound tightly together to each other, and to Christ separately, and he binds us to all of us together. One supporting, caring for, and encouraging one another. Not that Jesus needs our support, care, or encouragement, but that he facilitates all of it between all parties.

3) Other Christians – Just as in a marriage, our joint focus on Christ will breed and support the philia and agape love for other Christians which is the brotherly-love that we all share for one another as well as our self-sacrificing love where we will put ourselves in even harm’s way to assist and defend those who are other Christians in our community (in-person or online). We gladly give of whatever we have with an open hand to help those whom are in need in the Christian union. This is what’s meant by Jesus:

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” ~ John 13:35 (ESV)

4) Non-Christians – Our philia love for other Christians and the agape love we share with Christ and our community, pours into our treatment of others who are not in our faith. This allows us treat people who are not Christian and who treat us poorly with respect and understanding. Now, they don’t understand that it’s because we are able to love other because we were first loved by Jesus when we were his enemies, so that is why we endure hardship, indifference, spite, and hatred from those outside the community of Christ. We take care of all others because we were cared for. We endure because Jesus endured on our behalf. When we are wronged we don’t respond in anger or retaliation, but with understanding because we, too, were ignorant and offensive toward that which we didn’t understand at first as well.

All of this to say that our love, in its many forms, defines who we are and is the heart and soul of what we embody, but it’s most certainly not a “work” by which we obtain or maintain our salvation. It pours freely from a heart of worship to our God and King. The closer we are to God, the more deeply we understand our own sin and failures, the more intimately we are attuned to our need for Christ on a daily or minute-by-minute basis, the more the love which is born in this Christian communion flows into all aspects of our life and into our dealings in every relationship we have.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:13 (ESV)

May he grant you your heart’s desire
and fulfill all your plans!
May we shout for joy over your salvation,
and in the name of our God set up our banners!
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions! (Psalm 20:4-5, ESV)

Many people hold closely to verses like this in the Bible, despite the chapters that tell a different story. There are many, many people over the years that have prayed to God expecting them to give them what they want, when the very things they desire are ungodly. But, the idea that you can force God to do things still persists. The problem with this mentality where you can command God to give you good things because there are statements like this in the Bible is that there are conditions on everything. God doesn’t grant all of my desires, because many of my desires are wicked. God doesn’t fulfill all of my plans because some of my plans are bad for me and worse for others. I don’t even want to imagine what it would be like if God did everything that said when I spouted off in anger at someone because my pride was hurt or because I was just in a crappy mood.

So the focus changes then, and people who use text like this for their “life verse” (For the atheists, a life verse is a cherry picked verse that you have chosen to model your life around which is usually pulled from all context so it makes sense for your specific needs at the time) tend to use this as a spring board to statements like “God wants everyone to be happy and healthy and wealthy”. Well, if everyone were happy then “happiness” would cease to exist and we’d just have varying levels of joy and those who had more joy than others would be envied by those who have less and it would fall back into the same scenario. Same with health, I’ve grown closer to God through my own illnesses and the illness of others that I love so I wouldn’t give that up for anything in the world. Lastly, and this is a big point for our government, if everyone is wealthy we still fall back into the same scenario with the “happiness” mentioned a second ago, but with more fighting. Money isn’t the way to fix all the problems in the world. A heart change is. Once you are content with what you have you don’t want anything else and you can begin to pay down your bills.

Finally, finishing any prayer “In Jesus’ Name” is not the fix for everything. I’ve heard over and over when I was a kid that “prayers don’t exit the ceiling if you don’t pray ‘In Jesus’ Name'”. That isn’t a secret code word to make it work and it’s not the way to force God’s hand to your will. It’s not like God is up and heaven listening to your prayer and he says, “Well, I know that you keep asking for a Porsche and I was initially going to say ‘no’ but you did say ‘In Jesus’ Name’ so I guess I’ll have to…”. The term “In Jesus’ Name” is a reference to the character and nature of God and a statement that you’re asking God to align your desires with those of His Son. Yes, the Bible states, “Whatever you ask in my name I will do” (Jn 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-27) but the term “name” means “in accordance with my desires and will”. If my son goes to the store and signs for something in my name he’s doing something that I’ve asked him to do and approved of. Asking God to do something that’s in conflict with His character and nature and then slapping “In Jesus’ Name” on it is like telling yourself “I’m a vegan” before you eat a 1lb steak just to soothe your own conscience.

If you’re going to ask anything of God, learn his character and nature and then ask things that are in accordance with what He’s likely to do. Read your Bible, seek to know him more, and he will convert your heart and your ideals to his plans and desires and once that happens then you He will grant every desire and fulfill all of your plans because you want the same things he does. I can’t say that I understand why God does everything he does, but what I do know is that he’s right in every situation, even in those where I’ve experienced the deepest emotional or physical pain. Glory to God alone.

I’ve read quite a few comments on Facebook today stating that because of this vote in NC regarding gay marriage, that “God wins”. That’s true, but totally unrelated. Had the amendment not passed, God would win. If our next president was gay, God would win. If the entire country were to become the most god-hating, wicked, immoral nation on the planet – God would still win. Remember when Joshua met with the commander of the army of the Lord (many ppl believe this is a Christophany)? What did he say when Joshua asked him if he was for Israel or their adversaries? “NO.” What? That doesn’t make sense – what do you mean “no”. He then clarified the answer by saying that He’s for the Lord. (Joshua 5:13-15) God is not “FOR US” but for Himself. He is “for” those who are in His adopted family – purchased through the blood of Christ, but that’s because those who are in His family share His interests and seek to glorify His name.

The beginning of the Bible opens with God creating and proclaiming what is good, and man chooses to rebel against his Creator and plunge the rest of humanity into the effects of the fall. Death, disease, hatred, malice, immorality, pain, fear, all of these things come from the fall – all of them can be attributed to the sin of the first family – and even in this – God wins. 1400 years later, the entire earth has become wicked and hostile toward not only God but to themselves. God chooses one man named Noah and his small family to build a boat so that He can judge the whole of the earth. Noah and his family build that boat, God populates it with the creatures He chooses to save, and he then brings the flood which wipes out all the land-based animals on the planet. The ensuing flood and geologic changes transform the entire landscape, creating mountain ranges, burying vast mats of vegetation which then become our coal seams. At the end of the flood, vast inland seas are created and when those inland seas finally burst their temporary constraints they create deep and wide valleys and canyons. Days turn into months, months turn into years and the water finally subsides enough for those that God has spared to walk on dry land. Even in all that destruction, God wins.

The Israelites are God’s chosen people – born through adversity from a man of deep pagan roots. God spoke to Abraham and he trusted in God, leaving his former life and following after Him in the wilderness. His son Isaac had two twin boys, one was named Jacob (meaning “he cheats”) who later was named Israel. He had 12 boys who were the heads of the 12 tribes of the nation of Israel. They, through sin and deceit sold one of their brothers into slavery and God orchestrated his path until he was the prime minister of all of Egypt. His position allowed the infant nation of Israel to find a home in a safe place. That safety only lasted for a short time and they were made to be slaves in Egypt. God raised up Moses to bring them out – provided 10 plagues on Egypt to make the Israelites (now nearing 2 million people) abhorrent to the people of Egypt and they cast them out. Through another miracle at the Red Sea God delivered them finally from the reach of the Pharaoh. God wins.

That nation, now delivered into the wilderness to learn about the proper worship of their God who had delivered them from that bondage in Egypt, saw the physical manifestation of God’s glory day and night in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. At times they heard directly from God whose first premise was that they will not worship anyone or anything other than Himself and that they would not fall into idolatry. Sure enough, in the first two years with God actively interacting with them directly they not only built idols of gold to worship, but openly rejected Him, and his ability to deliver them from their enemies into the land He had promised to them, and wanted to return to Egypt, even into slavery, because they didn’t trust the God who could split the sea and who has proven His power over all of life and nature before them. All but two of those people died in the wilderness, never setting foot in the promised land. Even Moses, whom God had chosen to lead and instruct them sinned against God and was not able to enter into the land. God still wins.

The people then moved into the land, destroying the wicked nations that were occupying it. God fought for them and led them in battle, wiping out the inhabitants and setting their borders. He provided for them a fertile land that was prepared for them – a nation that they needed to merely occupy. Sure enough, one generation after Joshua and they fall into idolatry. God still wins. God allowed nations to remove them from the land and place them under slavery again, then provided deliverance for them time after time, giving them judges to rule over the people and to bring them back to worship Him. Every time a judge would die the people would rebel. God still wins.

Finally they ask for a king to be like the other nations. God allows them to have the finest looking and most worldly qualified king they could want. He rebels against God and ultimately runs a failed administration. God provides for them the man who He desires to be king – He trains him in the wilderness, sets him in power. The people flourish under him and under his son, Solomon, who was born through sin, deceit, and murder, but Solomon can’t honor God consistently and breaks God’s laws time and time again. Immediately after Solomon’s death the nation of Israel splits in two. God still wins.

Over the next 330 or so years the nations struggle with God’s rule. There are wars and troubles, and times of great restoration, but ultimately God strips them off the land due to their repeated forays into idolatry and rejection. God still wins.

God restores them to the land and then after a 400 year silence His Son, Jesus, comes onto the scene. Jesus fulfills the law, never sinning even once. He teaches the people, heals nearly every sickness and disease in the whole region, and ultimately is killed because the people He came to save wanted a conquering king, not a humble servant. God still wins.

Jesus is resurrected, proving that everything He said was true – hundreds of followers become thousands. Thousands become hundreds of thousands. Hundreds of thousands become millions. There are deep persecutions laid upon the church. Nearly all of Jesus’ inner circle of followers is martyred in one way or another and many more follow. 300 years later the Roman emperor Constantine legalizes Christianity and that’s where the church begins to encounter even more trouble as the political battles for which is the “true” church begin to take place. God still wins.

1050 years later, God’s word is finally becoming translated into common languages so the people can break free from the oppression of the Roman Catholic church. The RCC responds by killing the translators and burning their manuscripts. God still wins. This continues until a German priest finally translates it into German and distributes it. The protestant reformation of the church begins and, along with it, the birth of thousands of Christian sects. Each one thinks it to be the “one true church” and many are good but even more are very, very bad. Numerous sects become whole religious institutions. Today we see that present in the main bodies of the church -Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc. Due to issues associated with denominationalism numerous “non-denominational” churches erupt. Christian “nations” like France, England, and Germany become post-Christian and their influence wanes. America is born and now its Christian influence is waning. Other countries like China and India are beginning to eclipse the USA in their Christian influence – to the point where Christian missionaries from China are starting to hit the US borders. God still wins.

This up coming election has no influence on whether God wins or not. He is the alpha and the omega – he controls all of nature and all time. He controls nations and laws and weather and even our personal situations. God owns it all. God always wins.

At church today we were asked “what is your motivation to go to church?” This is a subject that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about in the past two years and this is pretty much what I’ve come up with. Understand that I don’t mean what I think of as the role of the Church, but what I am looking for in the heart of a church service.

My motivation to go to church is to view the deus nudus – the naked God – in all His glory: Holy, perfect, and just. He is forever separated from me because of these qualities. I want to be reminded that my humanity and my innate sin nature keeps me from standing in His presence forever, then to be reminded that it is Jesus and His sacrifice in my place – on my behalf, that purchased, cleansed, and redeemed me. That Jesus’ work on my behalf has not only paid the price for my sins but adopted me into the family of God and granted me a place at His table and free access to His holy throne room forever. Before this happened my only chance to see God was from His judgment seat but now it is from His lap, as a child speaking in prefect safety and trust with the Father who he knows loves and cares for him forever. That is my motivation when I go to church. Show me my God, my separation, and my Savior.

I’m not one to correct a pastor, especially when you have one who is, as ours is, a phenomenal man of God. This is truly his calling and I’m glad to be able to see him work so strongly for the cause of the Gospel. Unfortunately, we’ve had some issues in the past where an altar call is given where “with every head bowed and every eye closed” we are asked to call Jesus into our hearts. It’s often not in response to a strong message on the sinfulness of man versus the righteousness of the law of God but instead it’s usually in response to a message on the qualities or benefits of a repentant life in Christ. Now, let me be absolutely sure that you understand that my pastor is an AWESOME and thorough pastor who spends much of his time in the sole profession that such men are called to wherein he spends many, many hours pulling together extremely informative sermons on the portion of the Bible that we’re discussing at the time. We’re an expository church where the Word of God is read then explained in the historical grammatical method with excellence and power. What I was addressing was the only “flaw” that I can find and I use that term with the most care as it’s not a flaw in the teaching alone but merely a problem where it appears that the knee has been dropped to the easy teaching of a soft gospel as not to be offensive. In that doing, I’m afraid that the gospel has been corrupted. I am not able to see him until Sunday and he’s leaving for India on Monday – I wanted to be sure that he got the CD “Hell’s Best Kept Secret and True and False Conversions (the “two-in-one” CD that has is mentioned in the letter) so I gave it to my wife who delivered it to him and asked him to listen to it. He asked her why and she said that it was something that I had a problem with regarding his messages but that she didn’t remember exactly. He asked her to have me email him. Without any further ado, here is that e-mail:

[ Our Pastor ],

I understand that you’re busy and I want to get to the point but I need to state something first:

I want you to know that I say this with all sincerity that it has been truly awesome over the last one and a half years that my wife and I have attended and now become members at [ our church ]. I have grown by leaps and bounds as has my wife who just this last Easter really understood what all this “Christianity thing” was all about. That comes, for both of us, after years of being “touchy-feely” christians. It was more about the “God of love” and the “all accepting Christ” and I never understood what God was angry about. [ My wife ] had only been baptized in 1998 but I had been born and raised as a Lutheran. I knew all the stories, I knew all they had to teach me and they never were able to answer any of the real questions I had. Bishop Bjornberg had even come to our church and preached a sermon where he said that the ten commandments were dead religion as they were “old testament” and that, as Christians in the post-modern age, we are to adapt our teaching to match and that the only commandments from Christ that we stand by are to love one another and to love God as He has loved us. I thought I was saved under that teaching and were I to have died I would have gone to Hell. My real salvation came in April of 2003 when I lost everything I had and in tears stood naked before the condemning spirit of God who had shown me the depth of my sin by revealing it through the lives of my family. When I saw how I had offended and betrayed the love and trust of my wife and children then the Holy Spirit turned the light of God on my soul I disintegrated in my own remorse. It was at that point that I had learned that my sins were not against my wife but against the God who gave me breath. It was then that I gave my heart to and soul to God and told Him that I didn’t want anything to do with myself anymore and even if it meant losing everything that I had that I would do nothing but live for Christ from then forward.

It was that realization that showed me the flaws that are present in the common “call to salvation”. Merely calling someone to ask Christ to enter their heart is not only not Biblical but doesn’t make sense. Without a proper understanding of how deep your sinfulness goes it’s impossible to repent. It’s common knowledge that the methods we use don’t work – why else would Greg Laurie have such a strong emphasis on follow up with those who “made decisions for Christ” at his events? It’s because the method is flawed. When I heard Hell’s Best Kept Secret and True and False Conversions I saw the man that I was and why I never got it. It’s because all those times in various churches throughout all of my childhood and most of my young adult life I had only heard of the salvation but never of my NEED.

When we sing “Fire Fall Down” and that one line “you came to fix my broken life” we are emphasizing that Christ was tortured and brutally murdered to fix my marriage or to help me live a fulfilling life. How much more offensive can we be? By the same rate, when we say “we just need to call Christ into our hearts” and we’re instantly saved for all eternity, that’s simply not true. God hears only the prayers of the righteous – so how then can he hear the prayers of unrepentant sinners who only seek for their own wants and needs? The ONLY prayer that God will hear from an unsaved person is that of their broken heart melting under the pressure of the Holy Spirit in a right response to the purity and holiness of God. I’m not saying anything to do with works righteousness – the proper turning of ones heart to God is not a work of man but of God within the sinful crust of a repentant man who has repented properly and turned his heart, mind, and soul directly toward God and who has thrown his stake in the sand saying “THIS is where I stand – no more will I sin against the God who created me regardless of the world and their temptations”.

The CD that [ my wife ] gave you says just that, only much better than I could. This has been on my heart for months and I apologize that I’ve not brought it up before, just as I apologize for how long this is. It is more important to me that I get all of what I have to say out and I am unable to keep things brief. We truly enjoy the teaching and fellowship at [ our church ] and we look forward to more of that to come – my prayer is that you understand this as not criticism of your teaching and merely that I am trying to point out what I see as a flaw which has unknowingly corrupted many churches. I know that I wasn’t saved under that teaching – my fear is that it will cause more false conversions.

May God bless you and your lovely and caring wife as you both plan your trips. Our prayers are, as they have always been, with you.

In Christ,

[ Me ]

Easily one of the hardest letters I’ve ever had to write.

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(e.g., John 1 or God's love)