Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summer Bible Studies

I am fortunate to be invited into a mixed-denominational bible study of women. A fellow AWANA worker and I had been talking last Spring about how important unity is in the Body of Christ, and I mentioned my blog somewhere along the way. A few weeks ago she said, "I read your blog and I think you'll be pleased. This study presents the gospel with salvation being a gift of God and given freely. It's all about God's grace and how we cannot earn it, just receive it."

I am enjoying it, and at this time I am even hosting it. The former host has recently given birth to her fifth child. The other women and I make for a total of nineteen children which need care as we gather. The system they initiated was to put them outside in the backyard with a sitter and then all of us chip in for payment. So far, so good.

This is an answer to prayer! I've been desiring to have a bible study for the neighbors just out of my reach. Look what God did. It just materialized out of thin air! So all I have to do is rely on Jesus to give me opportunities to run into my neighbor who I've been ministering to, while she's hanging out with some of them that I barely are acquainted with. Yesterday, I got my first chance. I invited this one woman. I'd guess neither of them were impressed at my Jesus-ness. I leave it in God's hands.

This Just In: Apparently, I'm still a dork. Sigh! I'm still caring too much about the answer and not enough, not enough, about people. Talk about defying the point of why I was drawn in.

Enjoying God's Grace has helped me to recognize my blind spot. I have been praying to know His will for me and this is what He's showing me at this time. The people I've known the longest really want me to participate relationally with them again. I don't know what's wrong with me. My family, my longest-time girlfriend... something's gone terribly wrong in my attitude! I'm finding their lifestyle as my own stumbling stone! :( How did this happen? That's not what they should be getting from me.... I want their soul to move! I want to win them for Christ. I don't want to convert them to a list of rules, a conformity of whatever I choose.

I'm repenting and I'm praying. Lord, give me a new heart. This one's grown cold.

The other bible study I'm attending is called Discerning the Voice of God: How to Recognize When God Speaks by Priscilla Shirer, daughter of Dr. Tony Evans who is Senior Pastor of Oak Ridge Bible Fellowship, which was the location of the late Zane Hodges' memorial service held last December. I always appreciate it when I discover unyielding strongholds of free grace people at my church. We're only on the second week but thus far I have found it greatly comforting to see that essentially I have been surrendered and "doing things right" though Priscilla doesn't believe in or teach formulas in our relationship with Him.

Finally... there is a loose cord of wonderful cohorts in my church who have caught me up and I think I may be blessed to host this gathering as well. We have all thought that we should go through the book "Created to be His Helpmeet" by Debi Pearl. The women who want to read it together are from the entire spectrum of opinions on this! It may end up like "The View" where everyone plays an important role in thinking through what it is they believe and why. I have mixed thoughts. I was sort of "raised" in my faith (Jenn) with this understanding of a woman's role and it was delightful. I actually committed myself to being silent in church for a year or two. I'm ready to hear what God wants me to learn.

(This new cover is so Jenn :D I'm blessed to have an awesome threesome)

Thursday, July 09, 2009

"I'm changing my mind"

Sounds like a bad thing when it comes to theology, I guess a majority of people may think? Dr. Radmacher tells this story again and again in class: "My former student said to me, 'Dr. R., that's not what you taught seven years ago.' Well... if I'm done learning, then just shoot me!" And he is fully joking and fully serious when he tells this; you might be able to picture his expression. :)

Sure, believers can depart from truth and embark toward error, and that's unfortunate. But if there is no mobility permitted on principle, how are those who are currently drifting in error going to learn something redeeming? I myself want others who are more knowledgeable to encourage me to reconsider whatever might be tradition, and I do that by reckoning with them that the Word as fully fit for reproof.

Is there any grace, for theological error?

Of evangelicals, those who already defend grace toward theological error are Free Grace people. Does God only declare righteous the doctrinally pristine? No! We have been debating in excess of late that one can be saved by believing the "gospel" - and let's say for the moment that the gospel was "glorious" - 1 Cor 15:1-4 (though technically it appears that Stegall's gospel may actually require the most numerous points of content though it is difficult to figure out how to enumerate; therefore my addition may be incorrect). Even the fullest Free Grace gospel does not require belief in the Trinity, or belief in the virgin birth, or belief in other things such as the infallibility of the Bible, does it? These advocates readily explain for the sake of this debate that this is not the case; otherwise, they are adding a long list of biblical ideas to the gospel message. Our justification in Jesus Christ is accomplished without these additional beliefs - in the absence of them - or in the err of them. What about our sanctification?

How long is long enough that someone can walk by faith in Christ; someone who is a new believer founded and secured in everlasting life upon the content of the gospel.... How long, and still either not know about the Trinity or not believe in the Trinity? How long is long enough till it affects someone's sanctification, jeopardizing their obedience, by faith, in Christ? At some point it does, but can you tell your neighbor exactly when and where it has become sin - impossibly they must not have been righteous, in Christ, by faith alone, while also not knowing or receiving these other doctrines?

Or would you tell them that they must believe all doctrine from scripture in order to move forward from being born again, in any intent to walk with Him after that initial moment?

What is the one doctrine requiring our theological precision, in order that one may be sanctified in faith in our LORD after being born again?

Is it not how to walk by faith in Christ?

Miss this, and I don't see how one could be perpetually transformed into the image of Christ. (Of course there is always the reality that believers practice it even while denying or being unaware of the truth, and many new believers have no clue what any doctrine is yet the Spirit leads and teaches them.) I understand faith-righteousness to be the only precise doctrine, if any, necessary for godliness - though all the Word is all Truth and in measure, our challenge for abiding in Christ. Change your mind on this one, though, and the gospel begins to be corrupted in the daily Christian devotion (Galatians 3 - "you foolish Galatians!") and then also, eventually, corrupted in the Christian declaration (Galatians 1 "no other gospel").

I asked, above, if God justifies only the doctrinally pristine; and now I'd like to inquire whether God sanctifies only the doctrinally pristine?

I've always appreciated those who have taught on the subject of "theological legalism" because this is one of Free Grace's ameliorating contributions to evangelicalism. It will minister to many brothers and sisters in my thinking, freeing them from unrealistic expectations of themselves and of others. They are freed not from abiding in the Word, nor from learning the Truth. But, they are freed from obligation to a perfect or even well-rounded understanding of it (their doctrine) as they are abiding in Him.

If I'm incorrect, I'm willing to change my mind as I learn more.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

what if He was done telling His story?

Saturday and Monday I was with my two dear girlfriends, Jenn and Julie. Jenn has been back in Oregon for several weeks because her mother was dying. In fact, Jenn has three mothers; her biological, her step and her foster mother. It was her step-mother and she was dying of lung cancer just as my grandma did. She actually passed away ten days after my grandma.

I was amazed at the similarity of the various concerns and changes that took place both during and after her death, as she told the story of her passing. Now she and her four siblings are trying to decide who gets what and prepare the house to be sold. But this is Jenn's childhood home and parting with it, will be a difficult task. So she is spending her remaining time in Oregon, busy, working on fixing up the place. Busy is an understatement; she has a seven week old newborn, and three other children ages five and under.

The fantastic stand alone peaks dotting the farmland near Lebanon

I drove down to her mother's home in Lebanon, here in the Willamette Valley, to help with the painting of the exterior and the care of the children. There was plenty to do especially when I added my three children. But we had time to talk about things. It has now been a year since her own grandma and tragically her foster sister suddenly passed away as well. Her foster dad had to step down from being an elder to process this shock, which was a huge loss to the church. But Pastor Joe Lombardi is still preaching as their interim pastor. And I am glad for it because he is such a loving and godly man. I certainly feel compassion on that family. Dr. R. preached at family camp, and Jenn enjoyed his sermon and prayed him through it. I forget that he pastored a small church somewhere in the Valley, here, and I wonder which one it was?

She was delighted to hear my encouraging memories. While we were all in college ten years ago I once stayed in this home for the weekend and it was in the living room that Jenn asked me, with that heart of obedience, "Michele, we are going to church tomorrow, and since you don't know any worship songs, I was hoping we could learn a couple so that you can participate." So she taught me the song "Lord I Lift Your Name On High." Then she pulled out "It is Well With My Soul" and asked me "Have you heard the story why this was written?" I had not, and she told me the whole thing to my amazement. I imagine both of us silently appreciated that hymn once more as we scraped and painted.

Four years later Jenn got married. I remember I stayed with her step-mom for a day and we talked personally. Even then she had been fighting against cancer and she had become intimate with Christ through it. In fact she was so attentive and normal toward me, that I remember leaving thinking, I need an older woman mentor who will invest in my life. That was now six years ago. It is because of her step-mom that I sought and found my mentor in Christ who is such to this day.

But... what if this was all there was? What if He were done telling the story of His abundant goodness through my circumstances? What if all the splendor I'd know of Him, was in my past? What if He grew tired of working with me? The Lord gave His Word at today's beginning moment:

"...persecuted, but not abandoned...." 2 Cor 4:9

Funny, how the smallest pieces of scripture speak the loudest, isn't it? The troubles I have now are not signs of being abandoned. On the contrary! They are part of His redemptive design. It is a verse which will comfort my dear bereaved friend.

Blessing came through recalling things which are both her and mine origination stories. I certainly find God's power working through being exactly where He has placed me; here in the Willamette Valley. It is a place that is known for having the lowest attendance in church in the entire country (only five percent attend any sort of church). Knowing this makes me excited for the sake of the gospel. These are the moments and events and people that are creating me into the person God has passioned me to become for His glory. No - He is not done telling the story.

May His will be done.

Have a joyful and celebrant Independence Day holiday!

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