Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Same Old Debate: An Introduction

Is faith sufficient by itself or is obeying the law a necessary component?

Evangelicals make their doctrine of Christ distinct from all others by claiming that we are made righteous in His sight by faith that is alone, stipulating a faith that is the forerunner of good works, as in, faith is the kind which is a foundation for righteous deeds naturally coming about as byproduct.

The question I want to ask, though, is this: do evangelicals also believe that creating a life which reflects the righteousness Christ modeled (sanctification) is indeed created by faith + obedience, or is it too, created by faith alone; a faith that is apart from (or rather before) obedience?

Once again, the sanctifying faith we are talking of is the kind which ignites foundation for naturally obedient living as a byproduct.

Is the byproduct -- that obedience -- a necessary component to holiness?

We had to cut the discussion short last night, so it's still out what Ben means when he says, "Yes, faith and obedience are necessary for sanctification."

As for Jeff, this is what he said to me: "I'm a James chapter two kind of guy. I think we are fruit inspectors and it's fine if people say they have faith, but, when they do that, I want to see them back it up. Sanctification [pausing to think]... is faith and obedience."

It is my assertion that, as far as I understand it, the model of righteousness in salvation is identical to the model of righteousness in sanctification: we are told over and over again, hold to the teachings you have heard from the beginning. The message doesn't change once we get in the door. It was Christ by faith then, it still is and always will be, Christ by faith alone. Paul wasn't fighting the Judiazers moreso for salvation's model, it was equally insisting for the preservation of the model of sanctification. Jesus is the only way to the Father both as the door and as the path to walk in all the days of our life.

The answer is critically pragmatic; we warn incessantly about the false churches and their doctrines of faith in Jesus combined with some arrangement of law (deeds proving faith). Paul warned us about this teaching, calling it false. If this is the case, shouldn't we be ever so protective not to stray into suggestions of faith + obedience as requirement of growth in Christ?

Ramifications: if so many of us are naively, ignorantly falling into the same form of applied belief as everyone else is choosing by design, can we really be so confident about how our church has it all figured out?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


I've been talking when not writing.

Ben and I had a discussion on Tuesday night, where he explained some of what Jeff may have meant when teaching last Sunday. I took those points with me and dropped in to see Pastor Jeff around lunchtime today. He and I talked for an hour and then later today Ben and I rehashed what Jeff and I talked about, for over an hour again tonight.

I learned from Ben that what points I am raising are correct, and they are good. However I'm probably expecting the doctrinal efficiency level of a seminary class when all it is is just sunday school -- a more casual, narrow focus.

I learned from Jeff that, in the context of the beatitudes of matt 5, there is an audience assumed, that audience being those who are believers and therefore those that understand how we are saved by faith and also how sanctification works. And what's more, the responses offered up in class probably don't need to be put into place with an acknowledgement of the doctrine of faith because, again, the audience of whom is receiving the teaching (an admonition to righteous living so that the testimony of Christ to the world by us is not blurred), is assumed to be Christian -- one who believes in the sufficiency or the supremacy of faith.

So, I've been put to rest and put into place. I know what's going on, and I can accept the tiny and fragile framework of sunday morning teachings. There's only one problem left. And that is, it sounds like both Jeff and Ben haven't decided in some or all applications that faith is enough to complete sanctification, meaning (present-tense) relational holiness, or being conformed into the image of Christ, or, simply explained as:

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God -- this is your spiritual act of worship." Rom 12:1

This is old-school, orthodox, Christian teaching. But somehow, God allows it to be very challenging to hold tight to the simplicity of the gospel's model. It took me a couple of years, too, to wrap my mind around the application.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A little bolder

For a few years I've had trouble speaking up in sunday school. Most of it stems from a belief that women should be as silent as possible at church, what's more they should never teach or have authority over men. But I'm just about ready to give that up. It seems I'm fighting a cultural monster that can never be defeated. You're not going to see me subbing in for Pastor Jeff (though he offered it to me and a small group of others from our class a couple times) anytime soon. I think, that for now I will stick to only sharing my opinions during class.

I did that two times today! :)

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

We're working through the gospel of Matthew and landed on this principle out of chapter 5. Pastor Jeff asked the class "How do we preach letting our hearers stumble over the message, and not over us?" He answered a bit after some discussion and said, "Yeah, if we want people to believe that Jesus is real then we need to live lives that correspondingly act in line with the truth. And it is also important to make yourself an informed Christian; one that knows who Jesus is, instead of being out there spreading misinformation through lack of knowledge."

I raised my hand and said, "I agree that it is somewhat relevant to be a righeteous person in the way we live, and to have the right kind of Jesus that we teach or preach. But it is a lot more maybe about faith. It says that we are a fragrance, by the fact that we live in growing faith, to draw the ones who will believe. And our righteousness isn't our deeds anyway. It's faith that makes us righteous, it's faith that God is looking for. It's not so much that we are qualified by having a life that's squared away. It is more a faith by which we hope for righteousness even in the future tense, that makes us His children."

He just kind of said yeah. Hmm. I wonder if he really was listening? Doesn't he know his doctrine that we teach? It is faith which makes us righteous, even after salvation. It is faith which qualifies, it is faith which gives a clean conscience, it is faith which employs God's power. This is the evangelical hang-up I care most about exposing.

He later on asked, "How can we make the message palatable?" Within the ensuing discussion he said, "I've spoken with a number of cults and they quote this passage saying, 'Jesus foresaw that this would happen to me, that because you are telling me that I'm wrong, I am being persecuted for having the truth.' But I think they take this and misapply it. There's a difference between belittling someone and using scripture to point out Jesus or how they need to take their sin to the cross."

I raised my hand and said "You asked the question 'how can we make the message attractive,' and Paul said, 'to the Jews I became a Jew.' This may disagree somewhat with your point, but I am wondering if, for some of us, God is calling us not to preach the word but to let it go. Speaking for myself personally, I know that I love the scriptures more than I do getting along with others. But it shouldn't be that way. And when I surrender my right to preach or correct others, what is that really composed of? It looks irresponsible to some, but, really what I am doing is storing up all of the grace needed in their lives by faith in God, and I don't think that can go wrong. So, for the culture of our church, some of us may find it very helpful to lay these things down."

"Yes," Jeff said, "I don't think you're way off there, I think that the way we preach needs to be careful and thoughtful, and that's essentially what you said," he confirmed.

That went well. Now that my neo-evangelical mind has been fully screwed back into place, I'm able to share exactly what God has taught me these last few years. I've been writing about it so long, it just pours out of me second-nature. But to everyone else, I'm not sure how well it flies wih orthodox teaching or if there are some who have even heard it before.

There were a few heads that turned. I'm alright with that though.


They make me nervous!

Until I can get to trusting one, I can't be okay in their presence. Today I was so ancy about it while at church that I was almost talking angry. I just wanted to get the heck out of there. I guess I do that a lot. You've heard of shivers; I'm getting them right now while I type this. I just can't stand the thought that they're looking at me while having a conversation.

I mean, I know I'm a human being, so that's probably what makes interaction with them perfectly normal. I just think that they're all bad, you know? Like, they might be perfectly harmless in what comes out of their mouth, but, underneath there's something which I'd be scared or disgusted by.

I have three brother-in-laws and two of them are Christian, so after all this time I am well adjusted to being somewhat near normal around them. The other non-Christian one I spend a lot more time around, and I happily report that it's been reduced to only the nervousness now.

Have you ever seen someone who talks loudly and adamantly and goes on and on and doesn't really seem to be listening? That's me, around the opposite gender. It's like a pain-soothing technique I utilize so that the conversation will end as quickly as possible. I consistently imagine myself breaking social etiquette and running away right in the middle of whatever I'm blabbing on and on about.

I'm weird.

Friday, November 23, 2007

A slice of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day was fun, but celebrating the holiday is not finished.

As usual my extended family was out of order for the holiday; my mom is an RN and has to recover from night shifts, and my sister and her husband have his side of the family to gather with. And unusually Ben's family was gone this time to California, with his brother too, to spend it at his sister's house. We will celebrate therefore with my side of the family tomorrow (Saturday).

I put the idea in Ben's mind earier in the week to open up our meal and home to another family who were as lonely as we are ;). Becky and her family moved here about a year ago from Idaho and they don't have any family in the area. We go to church together.

Here are some random shots. The ones with the baby and the game "Carcassone" were taken by me, the rest were taken with permission by my daughter Grace:

Okay, this is the only picture that needs a caption: Grace is trying to take a picture of the potatoes being peeled (she's that small to the world!)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Reason for Thanks

I prepped Grace for the last couple weeks, asking her "Grace, tell me again; why are you getting baptized?"

"Uh, I forgot," she stammers. Then I imagine Grace getting up there and being asked in front of the whole congregation some similar question and she botches it. Of course, everyone would understand and that'd ultimately be okay. But since she is young I have the desire to help her as much as possible to explore exactly why she is doing what she is doing.

Then we rehash: "Remember what we read together? The red words Jesus said to everyone were, after they believed 'go and make disciples and baptize them.' Those three things are what He taught us to do: believe, follow, and get baptized. You believe, right? And you follow Him. So all that's left is to be baptized."

As I write this, I'm asking her a final time to see if it's sunk in: "Grace, can you tell me what three things Jesus told us to do?"

Her eyebrow raises and she says confidently, "Get baptized, follow Him, and... believe in Him!"

She was ready. She was the fourth of five girls to get baptized, though all the others were near about ten years old. She did just fine. He said, "This little one is Grace, Grace Painter. That's a great name; Grace. Did you know it means God's most precious gift? You're here today because you put your faith in Jesus who is God's gift to us, isn't that right?"

She said yes, and he continued, "Well then my little sister, it is my privilege to baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." And then he dunked her backward and helped her back up and out. Grace rejoined us at our seats later on in the service and said, "I can't believe I was baptized! Except I got some water in my nose."

We were so proud of her. Ben and I told her in the car on the way there that we were so pleased with her that she was taking this step. That she didn't have to do it, because God loves her anyway because of the cross, but she is obeying Him and that is a wonderful thing.

The whole congregation celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday through combining our usual two services into just one. There was special music with a small orchestra and a full choir. Ben's mom and dad drove down very early in the morning which was such a neat gift to all of us to have them present. My dad, mom and sister also came, which was also neat because we have not been to church all at one time that I can recall. Monica had six assignments to work on and my mom was still recovering from a night shift but Ben's parents could join us for lunch at the Olive Garden. It was a slow and happy meal.

The day's events reminded me of the way I felt when I conceived and first got to know our firstborn. She had always been a gift to me from God that had proven His lovingkindness. I stand back, not claiming any credit, amazed.

His Grace is the occasion of our gratitude; with the family all gathered together right before the holiday, I couldn't have been more thankful.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Grace's Baptism

We're all pretty proud of her, though she doesn't really know or understand that.

This Sunday she will be baptized sometime during the special Thanksgiving service. A lot of family are coming to witness it. Ben's parents and brother, and my parents and sister and her family are all planning to be there.

We were watching some home movies this summer and in them was a clip of me getting baptized when Liz was just a newborn. Grace thought about it and asked, "Mom, when can I get baptized?"

Yes, she's six. It's kinda young. But we talked about it. What does she lack when we think about what it means to be a Christian? She desires to be with God, to not go to "the bad place," she confesses that God helps her to not sin so much, that she can feel God's love for her, and she has seen God answer her prayers over and over. She loves to pray and has no qualms doing so nor asking her cousins and friends to pray with her. She tells others at school and at play about Jesus all the time. She loves her bible.

Last night however she had a not-so-good moment. I had Colette, Emma, Liz, Grace and Elijah and we were eating dinner at church right before it was time for AWANA, and as we were herding through the life center on the way out Grace said, "Mom, I was wondering where you were," and then she belted out with all feeling, "What the hell?"

I stopped dead in my tracks and spun around. Everybody around us had stopped talking and they were all looking at me. Me, wearing a "Cubbies" leader club shirt no less. I told her that she couldn't say that word, that I know she probably hears it a lot on tv, but she'll just have to be careful not to say things in that way. My face was red with embarassment so I just left it at that, and she said she didn't realize, and we kept on walking. Then I couldn't help but just laugh. What a moment that was!

Even with this little episode of exploration, I think she's doing really well. I'm very pleased with her as she moves forward to do this.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Respect a baby

Is there anyone else you know who will gladly stretch their stomach full, with spoonful after spoonful of chilled, liquified garden carrots?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What 's worth staying awake for?

Everyone is quiet in bed and all is dark. One of many escapades answering the middle-of -the-night call of my son, I finally tuck a returned babe into his crib and then try and fall back asleep. But the wind is blowing outside, and the rain is falling on every surface. I love the sound. The swaying pattern of strong and tender music in taps and drips invigorates a sense of peace. There is a loud thud suddenly, and I realize that the garbage can has been knocked off the curb. "Dang, that's gonna be a mess," I carelessly lament, and roll on cue to get back to sleep.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

You are what you [read]

Lately it's become apparent to me that who I am is pretty well defined by what I most often read. And not just me, but everyone else seems to function this way. What is on the tongue, what is on the mind, what ideas are being used to frame the lens of life? This can be powerful, but also unfortuate because of omission....

I realize that if I want to understand... no; think, process, and feel, what someone else does, I ought more to read what they read and less of the same-old I prefer.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

"'You can break your knees or you can bend them, but either way your're going down; amen?'--God"


Thursday, November 01, 2007

The spiritual formation of these two girls

Grace was around the age of four when I used the illustration of a T-chart, which took the good things and the bad things she has done and tallied them up. We tried to think of all the good things she does, and with each one I would make a mark under the "good" column. Then we made a tally of bad items. I asked, "How do you get rid of the bad ones?"

"Um, maybe if I put more good ones on the paper," she thought, and I said try again. She didn't know what to think. "God... is perfect; He only does the good things, never does any bad things, and one day we can be with Him again when we go to heaven but, none of us can go up there if we have bad things we've done. Because God is good and He cannot have bad parts with him in heaven."

She began to squirm, and asked if we could use the eraser on the pencil to take them off.

"Yeah, we use an eraser to take them off this list, but when God is writing these things down do you know how He takes the bad things away? He did make a way. It's Jesus. Because He died on the cross, he was punished for all your bad marks and mine too, so now... [erasing a couple to show] we can have them taken away and we'll be ready to meet God."

She breathed a sigh of relief and said that she was glad Jesus did that for us. Then she began to wander onto a new topic and I said, "Whoa, wait a minute! Before you go I just want to tell you that I don't take these things off; Jesus does, and if you want Jesus to make you clean then this is something you need to talk to God about."

"Okay," she said, and paused. "Uh, I don't know what to say."

"If you ask Him to come into your heart, He says He will wash away all your bad parts so that you're ready to be with Him forever. And, He also comes inside you to stay, so He can help you to stop doing so many bad things, and to let you feel His love. Do you want Him to come into your heart?" Yes, she replied, and then we prayed.

A month or so later, one time after we were through praying she exclaimed, "God is helping me to not do what's wrong!" Many months we spent praying together and then for many months after that, Ben prayed with both children. Whenever Grace prayed because she was sick or scared, God always seemed to answer her prayer, and we would talk about that.

With Elizabeth, in the last year or so when Grace and I would pray I would ask her if she wanted to pray too, and she would get a squirmed up face and decline. I let her choose to do that. Meanwhile Ben was leading her in "repeat after me" prayers at bedtime. On a couple of occasions Grace had discussed about Jesus coming into her heart and I asked Liz, "Liz, do you want to ask Jesus to come into your heart?" No, she had said.

A few days before her fourth birthday I pulled out a pencil and notepad and made a T-chart, because she had been asking me questions about God and who He is. Once again we tallied her good and bad deeds, and then I let her sit in a quandry over how to get rid of the bads. Then I told her about Jesus dying on the cross as "spankings," and asked her if she wanted Him to come in. She said yes, and we prayed. She was happy afterward, like a lot of people are after they make that decision.

So far, it hasn't really come up for her to testify herself that she knows Jesus is dwelling in her, and has forgiven her; in good time however we will find out how much she understands.

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