Sunday, May 25, 2008

Mother's Day Videos

Up in the mountains the snow was still hanging around and the girls had fun:

Lijah explains to everyone what Mother's Day means to him:

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Dangling out on a Limb

(This is a history of my exposure to Free Grace Theology. It explains that I had independently come to read scripture in the same ways the Free Grace movement too has been doing for some time.)

I did something a little gutsy. I emailed the president of Grace Seminary of the Northwest: Dr. Earl Radmacher.

Then I sat on my hands, nervous as heck, waiting for a reply.

I guess I had digested for some time their beliefs which were like the sweetest song I had never heard. I couldn't hold my testimony inside any longer. Let me tell you how I came to make contact with this Seminary....

My first class was Dr. Dale Taliaferro teaching "Romans and Galatians." Attending the class was a random effort on my part. One day in February of this year, I was bored and I wandered to a corner of my church where the Seminary class list was made available. I had no clue the theological background. I asked my husband to attend the class and he supported me.

What a pleasant and amazing surprise it was to hear others read it like I!! It didn't take long, actually three days of listening to Dr. Radmacher comment during class, for me to believe that they and I are kindred, and I said so when he asked me to comment at the end of class; I said, "I fit with you and you fit with me."

I took these three months for me to assess I didn't say that in haste. I began to contrast what they believe, what I believe, and my testimony. I realized that my testimony could possibly be a proof of the necessity of this theology. I even tried running into my pastor, who I know is free grace because simply because he attends these classes, to get a preliminary reaction but no such luck. If I was right about its usefulness, I'd better take some time to figure out if I really wanted them and they would really want me. I decided to withhold my story and keep taking classes.

Dr. Radmacher spoke occasionally about the free grace effort. I have mixed feelings. Honestly? It makes me nervous, because I am not a fan of movements and certainly I fear school of thought of any kind because of my former experience with a cult.

On the other hand they are organized and have amazing resources to talk about the Word in the ways I already am. I certainly should take advantage of what they can offer since here they are, an amazing five minutes away from home.

It was astounding to listen to them teach. I was inwardly shocked and thankful. I have never personally known a Christian believe in such ways as I. That feeling of being crazy? The feeling of being an outcast or just plain uneducated -- was wiped away as other human beings talked about the Word in the same ways I do. I shook my head in disbelief! For three days till the class concluded!

Then there was a second class called "Intro to Free Grace Theology" in April and I loved it, though it was way over my exposure level, including a whole section on history. The last class I finished was "Evangelism," in the end of May.

In a few moments after each class I asked the professors to tell me their thoughts about my testimony. I told them what I thought it took to be saved, and they both told me their ideas of salvation, which happen to not be identical.

Pastor Laeger, the teacher of the "Evangelism" class, made a tremendous effort to be humble in his ideas on salvation the next day... for my sake perhaps. I was impressed.

And intrigued beyond belief. Okay, so, what if I don't know yet what it is that they think? What if I am too liberal for them? At least they are conscientious about getting it right. That's a great quality for any movement. And here I was, taking classes from them for months, nodding my head along and never introducing myself in a class where everybody knew everybody else and I was a big question-mark.

So, like I said, I got gutsy. I emailed Dr. Radmacher to see if he would grant me permission to share with him my testimony. He said he would be delighted. We talked on the phone a few days later, and he was very kind to me. He treated me in such a way I could only dream of being treated: as if my convictions do matter. He encouraged me to keep learning. I was directed to the story of Cornelius in Acts 10 and doubting Thomas in John 20.

He spent time entertaining the ideas I shared from scripture as I have publicized in My Testimony. Though, ultimately his praise was reserved for having persevered enough in my circumstances to ask these kinds of questions at all.

A couple days later Dr. Radmacher forwarded an email that was written by Dr. Bob Wilkin. In that letter Dr. Wilkin detailed his thoughts over my testimony. He said that the questions I am asking are the same ones being asked by the whole Free Grace community. And it was at that time that I knew I fit into Free Grace. Wilkin's letter gave me the impression there was a healthy and lively discussion within Free Grace circles. I made the commitment that I should begin to investigate what the issues were.

This investigation was postponed till after the last class of spring term: "The Evolution of Theology," taught by Dr. Stephen Lewis. After my mind stopped tingling from that stimulation, I found this article, which introduced me to the controversy:

"The Tragedy of the Crossless Gospel," by Tom Stegall.

I had a renewed sense of doom, that I was not accepted by Free Grace after all. This was during the first week of June.

But at this point, being mid-June, I know I belong, more or less, and as I go I may make some significant adjustments. I have deep appreciation for this community, who will strengthen my own efforts at scholasticism.

My Testimony

I'm not sure if I have ever shared my testimony of becoming a Christian, on my blog. Probably I have.... I know I've shared it at different forums before.

I'd like to point out a few important things in the story. I'll point those out in a future post. Foremost I want to show here that God accomplished my salvation with very little acknowledgement of the truth on my part, and in complete isolation from other Christians and poor exposure to the Word. These qualities are important to me, because they are evidence that grace is indeed by faith apart from law, so, I beg you to bear with me as I share some critical details.

I never heard the gospel growing up. My father was atheist, or perhaps a scientific agnostic. My mother had become Mormon while our family lived in Utah, and when I was young I attended church there maybe ten times. Once we moved away, my mom became inactive and had great doubts about her worthiness. I, like my father, looked to science to answer the questions of life: where did we come from? What is our purpose? Where are we going? You see... I was sad and deeply oppressed at home, and I became hungry to know for myself anything that would bring me hope and a sense of self-respect. I turned to physical anthropology (the study of human origins (human evolution from a common ape ancestor)), animal psychology, and physics. But the theories had "holes," meaning they were incapable of giving a consistent and complete answer, and I desired a truth without any holes. I decided that I ought to investigate religion if I were going to be fair and open-minded.

I watched the movie "Jesus of Nazareth," four hours long, on public television. It was amazing. I was absolutely curious why, if He could save others, then why would He would also not save himself? Mysterious. I didn't know much else but I could see that the people who followed him in the movie were reacting to the things He taught and did, in the same way I was: He taught with authority and all the people were amazed. I was too. He performed miracles on earth such as forgiving sin that only God was supposed to do. He never seemed to make any mistakes, He always was cool under pressure. Today I might explain the personality of Jesus with doctrines from the Bible... but back then, I knew not how to describe this outstanding person.

But I heard him preaching often about three things: love, peace and joy. And, he constantly was seeking to engage people to come near, to ask, knock, and so on. So when I had watched the movie a second time at the age of seventeen, I prayed after much inward struggle: "God -- if you're real -- if you really do exist -- I'm asking you: I keep hearing about this peace, and this joy and this love, that you say you have. I don't know if I can believe in them, but, I want to know: is it for real? I wanna know and experience this "love." If you let me experience it... well, let this be the test for whether or not you are really real. If I feel it, then I will know you are real, and if nothing happens I will assume you're not." Then I paused shortly because I was called to think that I had heard somehow along the way that business with God was intended to go through His Son. So I said, almost begrudgingly, "And... I guess I could say I believe... that Jesus is who he claims to be."

The next day I woke up with joy. My personality contained joy. It was in there. It actually made my reaction to crises, different. I was not so worried, or burdened. Keep in mind that I continued living at home for another three years, and in those three years the oppression and desperation and isolation remained constant or got worse. But the joy was unquenchable. I could not lose it despite circumstance. It was that joy that caused me to think beyond my current life and make plans to grow out from under that position.

I never knew a Christian. I consider this odd. No neighbors, no people at high school. One of the attributes of the isolation I suffered was not being allowed to be around anyone except family, so, I had rare socialization with the outside world beyond school. I remember seeing signs at Christmas saying "believe in Jesus and you will be saved," but I didn't know how to process what that was about. In those three years I never knew a Christian person or attended any denomination, and today I believe I was saved all the while.

A handful of times in those three years I actually found a bible and opened it up because I wanted to know God: I only flipped through these books: Psalms, Proverbs, & Matthew. I skimmed the book of Matthew and got frustrated, because it was almost entirely about Jesus. He's only one person, I thought. Why does it need to talk so much about one man? That's rather arrogant. Why doesn't the bible have something more to say about somebody else, say... me? Why isn't there something written in there about who I am, what I can do?

After those three years, I escaped from home, and moved onto a college campus into a girls' co-op. I roomed with the strongest Christian young lady living in that house of fifty girls, all "by chance," but God had great things planned for me. Her name is Julie. On our second night of being roommates she asked me:

"Are you a Christian?"

"Umm, I don't know. [pause] I'm not sure what a Christian is," I admitted.

She said, "Well, a Christian is somebody who believes in Jesus. Do you... believe in Jesus?"

"I... don't know if I believe in Him, though I guess I could say that I know He's real." I thought for a bit. I knew He was real because I remembered how I had made that prayer, citing Him, and had received joy, and, the joy was real, to me. It had changed me. I couldn't deny it. I had even prayed for physical protection through Jesus occasionally, and God answered. "I guess I do believe in Jesus, since He was real to me when I prayed."

"If you believe in Jesus, then you ought to follow Him," she soon said a few days later when she discovered that I knew nothing about the Bible and was greatly enticed to experience everything set before me in my newfound freedom. She told me about sin. I didn't know what sin was, or perhaps I could not believe in the idea of it. For a few weeks I rebelled against her efforts. But she kept on reading scripture with me. I'll tell you what I wanted to do: I wanted to go to frat parties since I was kept isolated from people my age for most my life. With Julie's admonitions to think about living a better lifestyle, at first I delayed but soon realized that way down deep inside I already had made a decision. Jesus was real. He had been there to show me love when I couldn't believe there was such a thing. I couldn't stuff that whole experience away and pretend like it never happened, and tried to figure a way out, but to no use. So I gave in, and decided to learn the truth. After a time I agreed that sin was a real thing, and inwardly contemplated the idea that I had committed some. This happened at the age of twenty.

At the age of twenty-one I had learned enough of God's purpose for me that I knew His truth was the one "scientific theory" of my life that was flawless, with no gap in the fabric. And I loved Him for it. I became sold out for Jesus from this time on.

When I was twenty-four I unknowingly entered into a cult which told me, after leading me along in scripted bible studies for several months, that because I had not been baptized after already having become their definition of a disciple of Christ, I was not saved. They told me I had never received the Holy Spirit like I thought. God's wrath was still upon me. I went home crying. Thank God for my husband Ben: he said "That's not true. Read Ephesians 1:13." I did. But it wasn't enough. I needed to know more, a whole lot more, in order to combat the confusion in me and the various messages out there in the world. I saw, in two years of obsessive study, that baptism, repentance, confession, asking Jesus to be LORD, good works, etc. sometimes accompany the salvific statements, but there were plenty of them that had none of these -- just faith. I took the scriptures to my cultist mentor. She rejected them but years later, God answered my prayers and I received a surprise letter saying that she had finally learned and took peace knowing she was saved by faith apart from law. Praise God!

God gave me for a time a ministry with the Oneness Pentecostal church down the street from us. Many members were interwoven into my life, including the pastor and his family, and he allowed me to use the scriptures to show him that he was saved by faith alone. After several months I noticed in one of his Wednesday night sermons that he had taken my notes and rebutted each point with his opinion and occasionally a scripture. I was sad, told them I felt God was asking me to move on, they disfellowshipped me and to this day when I cross paths (and I do nearly every day) with any of those neighbors, most of them frown at me and raise an eyebrow of wariness.

My other Christian roommate from college, Jenn, humbled herself and permitted her apprentice, me, to teach her several years after we roomed together, that faith was not just the means by which we are justified, but also that faith distinct from legalism is how we are to be sanctified. She thanked me when it was all over, saying she had not realized that she herself had slipped from recognizing this all important truth, and set herself for speaking with her Pastor in Halsey, Oregon.

Online, I have been evangelizing the LDS at a religious forum. I've been there loving on them for five and a half years. In year three, an Evangelical-Lutheran came in to evangelize them too. She loved the Word of God but made mistakes in how she treated them, and how she presented the truth. She called herself someone who believed that grace is free -- but she didn't act or preach in a manner obedient to that belief. For instance, she believed in baptism for salvation. I had to make a choice: was she right that the gospel was more than just faith, or was salvation that simple? I felt peer pressure, thankful to have another evangelical to witness to this great bunch at the LDS forum. Through a year of wrestling with my thoughts over watching her methodology and message, and what I knew I already believed should be the message and methodology from scripture, I took a stand in front of the LDS, against her message, defending the simple truth: faith in Jesus is what saves. She accused me of being softened by the LDS toward heresy. That's okay. We're still in contact. I emailed her a fifteen page document of scripture I wrote showing her how simple faith really is. For a time it excited her, then she decided it was not true once more.

There are other less significant projects I have involved myself in through time in terms of using scripture in social context, to try and illuminate the simplicity of "faith apart from law."

If readers would please allow me the privilege, I would ask some questions for anyone who is marveled that salvation could be so simple to come with neither agreeing sin was real (till three years after salvation), or without confessing hardly anything about Jesus: not that He was Messiah or God's Son (I learned at the age of twenty-four that Jesus was claiming to be God in the same manner as the Father was God--an additional three years later).

There are implications to anyone's rejection of my story. I can imagine what they are.... Am I supposed to believe those six years I spent after receiving the joy and peace and love, the same kind I know now, were not God's gift of the Holy Spirit, who is living in me? In order for their assertion to be correct one would need to discredit my experience. But let me ask: What false experience of joy would lead me to confess, when asked by a stranger named Julie, that I believed in Jesus? What's more, what false experience of joy could have wrestled so powerfully in my life to win me toward trusting Him, more? Think with me about what I surrendered: I knew no doctrine about Jesus and I wanted to be in control of me and party. But I couldn't just do as I pleased. Because He was too real. And I couldn't escape that. I started to care to learn the commandments of the One who had been there for me. I willingly and even eagerly became His disciple in the truths of His Word.

What more could you ask out of a salvation experience, than this?

Aren't these the very things that we hope happen to those who have been saved? It is these behaviors, these decisions that come for those who receive the grace of God.

My assurance (of salvation by that prayer of faith) was tested, though not first by the mainstream of Free Grace....

I know that it isn't a written code that saves. It isn't doctrine, that saves. It is not knowledge that saves. It is Jesus who saves, if we believe in Him, even in His name, even to look to him for help. As Pastor Laeger taught us about Judas's repentance, all kinds of repentance brings benefit, but -- only one repentance is the kind that brings salvation. In the same way, I could have found the good in many people who share personality characteristics with Jesus Christ, and I could have put trust in them. But -- when I trusted in Jesus I got something no one else can give: eternal life.

Dr. Wilson taught in the "Intro to Free Grace Theology" course that you have to, have to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God to be saved. In the "Evangelism" class it was said the content for saving faith is what Paul affirmed in 1 Cor 15. What will someone else add, what would another well-intentioned Free Gracer select to teach about Jesus? All of these selections are so critical for understanding the LORD in truth. I confess that's true. All of them are truthful statements about what Jesus did on our behalf. But: how many of them are necessary to receive eternal life? One, two, many? All? The whole gospel of John, every chapter, every verse??

The written code kills, but the Spirit gives life. We are not saved by any arrangement of rules, scriptural or otherwise. If we start regulating by a list, are we any different than most any religion out in the world around us? I don't desire people to believe in a "false Jesus." But I'm not afraid of it to the point it cripples me into another brand of legalism. Can a person be deceived or uneducated about who Jesus is in any manner, and yet be saved? Yes, it can be propitiated by Jesus' blood, shed for our sins.

It was once taught during class at seminary that the disciples were saved while Jesus was with them on earth (something I have not personally studied out up to this time). And they did not believe in resurrection? So then, they did not get one of "the essentials" right. But I see more. How come the disciples were amazed and wondered aloud that the wind and the waves obeyed Him, and were rebuked for not knowing who He was all that time? Didn't they fail to identify his deity? How come they were amazed that He could what sounded like blaspheme God when He called himself "one" with the Father or was able to forgive sin? Did they really know Him as Messiah, and yet were saved? I was also taught that we should have a faith like a child. That as we grow older we become more pharisitical, more legalistic. If you and I could have been there and witnessed a child want to follow Jesus, want to trust Him, not knowing all the things about him that an adult can, should we have stood in the child's way, for a list? Would God not grant eternal life for a child's trust in Jesus? Anyone who trusts in Him will not be disappointed.

Those living in the era after the New Testament was canonized have the privilege of understanding progressive revelation. I want to ask whether because it has been revealed must it all be agreed upon in order to be saved? Without faith it is impossible to please God. The righteous will live by faith. Though knowledge is not opposed to justification or sanctification, it is often opposed to humility. God comes near to the humble but opposes the proud.

I understand that Dr. Wilson found two attributes of Jesus that are thematically tied to salvation. But for us to pull them out and require them is a bold move. Should such stance be made? Does God honor such a stance? My testimony and my understanding of salvation tell me no. I have been convinced since the time of my studies that even before I was aware, God did something unusual in my story to prove the power of God: to show that no man, no doctrine, no denominational distinctives need mediate between God and a man seeking His reality. Jesus is my all-sufficient Mediator.

We are so afraid because of the Calvinist's influence that the heart is desperately wicked and cannot be trusted, and in the same way we are convinced that because Satan masquerades as an angel of light so we must also not trust our experiences. But my experience led to Christ, not to deception: "wisdom is justified by her children." matt 11:19

"And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God." rom 2:27-29

There has been no one to lead or encourage me as I agonized to be sure and also vocal on what the scriptures teach. Foremost the Word and secondarily my testimony proves, that the grace of God is free by faith alone in Chirst alone. I never have met any other Christian who can keep their confidence in the face of popular corruptive Christian teachings. Till now, till attending Grace Seminary of the Northwest.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Free Grace Theology: a parable

As I work on giving a clear explanation on what I believe for how little doctrinal agreement it takes in order to be saved, I want to share with you a beautiful depiction I found at the Free Grace Alliance Forum:

When you believe in the name of Jesus, you believe on One who is God, who has died and rose again, who was born of a virgin, who did walk on water, who ascended into heaven bodily, who is the King of Israel etc. Even if you are not aware, understand, or believe these things.

My daughter believes in me as her "Dad". As her dad I work at a Costco warehouse where I am a merchandiser. She doesn't know what I do there. She doesn't understand. She may even believe that I own the whole store and run it myself!

My daughter believes in me as her "Dad", as the one who provides for her, feeds her, clothes her, shelters her, etc. When she believes in me, she is believing in a man who is a merchant at a Costco, whether or not she knows what I do, have done, or has wild misconceptions about me.

She has trusted me as her dad and I provide for her. The means by which I can provide for her is not the issue. The issue is whether or not she is going to trust me as her dad, trust me for her well-being, and I will provide for her, or is she going to doubt in me, and worry, and be anxious about where she is going to find her well-being.

Jesus purchased a gift with His death and ratified it with his resurrection. He offers that gift freely to the one who entrusts his/her eternal well-being to Him. To understand how he is able to offer this gift and how He has the authority to do so will encourage trust in Him for the gift. But it is not necessary to believe or know those things in order to receive the gift. To believe it is necessary, is to add more provisos and conditions on the gospel offer than Jesus does. Jesus says "Believe in Me and you HAVE eternal life". You believe in the Name, you believe in the Person, you are not asked to believe in individual attributes of the Person, but the Person Himself.


Written by Antonio da Rosa in the thread "Elements of Belief Necessary for Salvation?"

Monday, May 05, 2008

blog archive

Phrase Search / Concordance
Words/Phrase To Search For
(e.g. Jesus faith love, or God of my salvation, or believ* ever*)