Dluxe's World

Monday, October 30

Fashion - the window to the heart? [2]

Yesterday, I started to post some thoughts on the issues of 'proper church dress'. The post was motivated by some thoughts Mark Driscoll posted on his blog.

Mark was also nice enough to post some questions which were really thought provoking. I prattled on in response to a couple of these brain-ticklers (not that Mark was really asking me what I thought) last time and thought I'd wrap it up today.

Why should we press for formal dress in church when one of the only passages in the New Testament that speaks about what to wear to church rebukes women for dressing up to the degree that they turned church into a fashion show (1 Timothy 2:9–10)?

This is the first question with which I've really taken issue... Before posting any thoughts, it's worth noting that I can't help but read these questions with a bit of Driscoll's snarky edge on them. Perhaps he's asking these things honestly, but his modus operandi is usually to make a stabbing, sarcastic point in such questions.

If I'm reading that into these questions and it isn't really there, I'm sorry!
  • There is a difference between 'formal' and 'fancy'. As Mark notes, Paul is driving at the dividing line between 'gaudy' and 'modest/respectable', not 'formal' versus 'informal'. A woman can wear a nice dress without having to look like something off of a New York runway. As such, I think it's unfair to stretch this to be a blanket indictment formal attire by the Apostle Paul.
  • Also note that Paul is pointing out that the clothing we wear says or reflects (to outsiders if to no one else) something about what we treasure. In this case, the women are displaying a desire to be exalted for their beauty/wealth/style, rather than honoring God in humility with good works.
  • It's at least possible that these were Godly women who, if asked, would've told you they valued all the right things (and meant it)! Nonetheless, their clothing is out of step with that reality and Paul challenges them to make the exterior match the interior. So, while the heart is the main thing, it isn't the only thing.
I agree that we needn't "press for formal dress". But this passage is actually hitting at something far deeper than that.

Since we are supposed to be hospitable and welcome people to church as missionaries, does it not make sense to dress like "normal" people rather than make normal people dress up like "church" people?

To answer an unqualified 'yes' to this question, you must make three assumptions that I think are dangerous. First, you must assume that "normal" dress in a given cultural context is God-honoring. Second, the implication is that "church" people have just taken a good thing to an unnecessary extreme. And lastly, you're assuming that the clothes you wear have a primary impact on your ability to present the Gospel.

Clearly assumption #1 - that "normal" dress is God-honoring - is probably not a safe one... Again, consider the 'Delicious' girl mentioned in the previous post. Or, better yet, don't.

If we hold out a three-piece suit and denim jumpers with head coverings as the only allowable clothes within a church, I agree we are going to have huge missiological problems. Then again, it should be clear that such a view also has huge Biblical problems to deal with. Outside of such unbelievable extremism, I think that clothing differences are not going to impact your ability to preach the Gospel in the United States.

Why? We live in a culture that, by and large, holds to fairly homogenous ideas of dress across most cultural groups. A suit that a Wall Street banker would wear doesn't look completely foreign to a youth in South Philly. If you go to a mall, there's probably less than 5% of people who will be wearing something that completely 'surprises' you... Everyone else will look fairly normal to you.

I think the bigger challenge is getting past the prejudices that certain looks create... If someone walks into my church dressed differently from the rest of us, will we reach out to that person? Will we go up to them and strike up a friendly conversation? Would we sit next to them in the pew if we arrived after they did?

Our ability to look past the clothing that someone wears is the critical thing. When people walk into our churches, we must be welcoming and Christlike... It strikes me that our dress isn't an issue in prolly 99% of missional contexts. Our poor attitudes, however, pose a problem 100% of the time.

So... What do I think is the right 'dress code' for church? So glad you asked. [Yes, I hear the sounds of mouse buttons clicking off to another link]
  • Clothes are good. We should wear them.
  • Our clothing should be modest and respectable. While both of those terms are very subjective, I think we grown-ups should be able to work out agreeable definitions within any given context (Speedos for guys or bikinis for girls would be overtly immodest, dressing up as Spock in full Federation regalia would be overtly disrespectful*).
  • Within those subjective bounds, allow your prayerful conscience to inform your choices. And then just have at it.
  • The spiritual shepherds of a church (whether you call 'em Pastors or Elders) must work to know the people who are in their care. They are tasked with probing the hearts of their sheep and assessing whether clothes are 'just clothes', break some reasonable expectation of decency or respect, and/or are indicative of an underlying heart issue that needs to be addressed.
At the bottom of all this is the Gospel and it's proclamation. We should be people who are being changed to conform to the image of Christ. Our lives need to be subjected to our Lord and rigorously scrutinized to root out those things that are not glorifying to God. That covers what I think, feel, do, wear, and how I react to people who are different than I am.

No matter what clothes you have on, the key question is whether or not your heart is ruled by Christ as Lord. Let's make sure we keep that as they key concern rather than "skirts versus slacks versus jeans".

Anyway, what do you think?

*Considered 'normal' if you worship here or here.


Fashion - the window to the heart? [1]

It seems that Mark Driscoll has sparked another internet firestorm thanks to a recent post re: dressing up for church. Read his post here. While I hardly think that I've got the answers nailed down, I thought I'd post some thoughts and ask my astute readers what they think.

My first thought is, I suspect, an obvious one: The real issue here isn't actually about clothing... Of primary concern should be heart-attitude of a particular person. People with nice houses and cars can be lonely and miserable. Some people who are just barely making ends meet are as happy as Red Sox fans when the Yankees lose. There are people who come to church every Sunday in a coat and tie who are nothing more than whitewashed tombs. On the other hand, the person in casual dress may be anything but 'casual' in approaching their Creator in worship.

So, the heart is the key. Agreed?

Having said that, we need to obviously recognize that our clothes are often more than simply external coverings of our private parts. Very often our choice of garb speaks volumes about our attitude, state of mind, and what is important to us. Our fashion sense can speak to our vanity or modesty, our lusts or restraint, our rebellion or our submission. So, our clothing matters at least insomuch as it expresses the condition of our heart.

Driscoll asks some interesting questions. I'll respond to a couple in this post and then knock the rest off tomorrow...

If people become overly worried about their appearance instead of their heart, are they like the Pharisees that Jesus chastised for only washing the outside of the proverbial cup?

Absolutely... But we must examine the intersection of appearance and heart. And they do intersect! I think our challenge is to discern when fashion matters (because it expresses an inward reality) and when it doesn't.

Not to pick on moody teenagers, but let's pick on them for a while. What churchgoer hasn't seen this? -- A nicely dressed family walks in, following several steps behind comes the teenager dressed all in a tattered, black sweatsuit and shuffling along sullenly. Throughout worship service, he's listening to his iPod, slouched over, and shifting in the pew impatiently. Don't all these things together (behavior, posture, and dress) give you some window into what that person thinks or feels?

Clothing is not a pure manifestation of what's in the heart, and we absolutely need to be careful about stereotyping... But at the same time, sometimes our outward appearance speaks volumes. The girl at the mall with 'Delicious' plastered on her chest or rear-end is likely (though not assured) to have a different moral position on sexuality than the Muslim girl in a burqa.

Is the church building somehow a magical sacred space like the Old Testament Temple? Or is it simply a place where God's people gather that is no more and no less sacred than the homes they live in, now that the Spirit has been released from the Holy of Holies into the whole earth?

The church is a building. We bring the real temples with us every week (1 Corinthians 6). Still, if our bodies are the temples of God then I think that has implications for our appearance as well as our conduct. If we have been redeemed from sin by Christ, I think there may well be ways in which our fashion-sense needs to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Take the previous example of two girls at the mall - one with her flesh on display, the other with it hidden. In both cases, a vital relationship with Christ should cause some change. In one case, there should be recognition that our body is for God and a spouse, not for the whole world. So, I think you'd rightly expect to see a move towards modesty and a toning down of the sexual overtones. On the side of the aisle, our burqa wearer should be able to ease up a little and put on a pair of slack or a skirt once in a while because her body is not 'dirty'.

Note how both of these hypothetical women's style issues ultimately lie at the heart. In one case an under-realization of the value/privacy of our bodies while the other side over-realizes the same things.

More on all this tomorrow...


Thursday, October 26

Whitefield for the Weekend [2]

Felt great satisfaction in being in the house of Mr. [Jonathan] Edwards. A sweeter couple I have not yet seen. Their children wee not dressed in silks and satins, but plain, as become the children of those who, in all things, ought to be examples of Christian simplicity.

Mrs. Edwards is adorned with a meek and quiet spirit; she talked solidly of the things of God, and seemed to be such a helpmeet for her husband, that she caused me to renew those prayers, which, for some months, I have put up to God, that He would be pleased to send me a daughter of Abraham to be my wife. Lord, I desire to have no choice of my own. Thou knowest my circumstances; Thou knowest I only desire to marry in and for Thee. Thou didst choose a Rebecca for Isaac, choose one to be a helpmeet for me, in carrying on that great work which is committed to my charge.

Preached this morning, and good Mr. Edwards wept during the whole time of exercise. The people were equally affected; and, in the afternoon, the power increased yet more. Our Lord seemed to keep the good wine will the last. I have not seen four such gracious meetings together since my arrival.

Oh, that my soul may be refreshed with the joyful news, that Northampton people have recovered their first love' that the Lord has revived His work in their souls, and caused them to do their first works!
Journal entry for October 19th, 1740


Mega Champ Power Battle!!! Osteen vs. Owen

I'm picking slowly through Overcoming Sin and Temptation, a fresh edited collection of the writings of the great Puritan writer, John Owen. In the midst of reading, an email from MLF prompted me to think about Joel Osteen...

What do these two men, Smilin' Joel and Puritan John, have to offer to us as followers of Christ today? Owen died a long time ago, while Osteen is so 'now'. I thought I'd offer a couple quotes, letting the authors speak for themselves, for comparison. Both come from the early, introductory sections of their books and are roughly equal in length.

First, from Osteen's bestseller:
I heard a story about a man on vacation in Hawaii with his wife. He was a good man who had achieved a modest measure of success, but he was coasting along, thinking that he’s already reached his limits in life. One day, a friend was driving the couple around the island, showing them the sights. They stopped to admire a gorgeous house set high on a hill. The property was replete with beautiful palm trees and lush green gardens in a picturesque, peaceful setting with a panoramic view overlooking the ocean.

As the man gazed at the magnificent home, he commented to his wife and friend, "I can’t even imagine living in a place like that."

Right there, something inside him said, Don’t worry. You won’t. You will never live in a great place like that.

Startled at his own thoughts, he asked himself, What do you mean?

As long as you can’t imagine it, as long as you can’t see it, then it is not going to happen for you. The man correctly realized that his own thoughts and attitudes were condemning him to mediocrity. He determined then and there to start believing better of himself, and believing better of God.

It’s the same way with us. We have to conceive it on the inside before we’re ever going to receive it on the outside. If you don’t think you can have something good, then you never will. The barrier is in your mind. It’s not God’s lack of resources or your lack of talent that prevents you from prospering. Your own wrong thinking can keep you from God’s best. (Your Best Life Now, p. 3)

Ok... Thus saith Joel. Compare and contrast his quote with with this one from John Owen:
Sin will not only be striving, acting, rebelling, troubling, disquieting, but if let alone, if not continually mortified, it will bring forth great, cursed, scandalous, soul-destroying sins. The apostle tells us what the works and fruits of it are. "The works of the flesh are manifest, which are, adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like" (Gal. 5:19-21). You know what it did in David and sundry others. Sin aims always at the utmost; every time it rises up to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go out to the utmost sin in that kind. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could; every covetous desire would be oppression, every thought of unbelief would be atheism, might it grow to its head... [E]very rise of lust, might it have its course, would come to the height of villainy: it is like the grave that is never satisfied. And herein lies no small share of the deceitfulness of sin ... [I]t is modest, as it were, in its first motions and proposals, but having once got footing in the heart by them, it constantly makes good its ground, and presses on to some farther degrees in the same kind.


Now nothing can prevent this but mortification; that withers the root and strikes at the head of sin every hour, so that whatever it aims at, it is crossed in. There is not the best saint in the world but, if he should give over this duty, would fall into as many cursed sins as ever any did of his kind. (Overcoming Sin and Temptation, pp.52-53)

Whaddaya think? Now, there are obviously differences in language... But you're all smart people and can process Owen's heavy prose!

I could start a long screed here, offering my strongly-held opinions about both writings. However, I will refrain. Instead, I just want to ask a question:

Which of the competing methodologies (self-help-cheerleader positivism on one hand, getting our hands greasy in the depth of our sinfulness on the other) is more likely to accomplish real, God-honoring change in the life of a believer? Which delivers our best life now and a life that will cross into eternity?

"Sin sets its strength against every act of holiness and against every degree we grow to. Let not that man think he makes any progress in holiness who walks not over the bellies of his lusts. He who does not kill sin in his way takes no steps toward his journey’s end. He who finds not opposition from it, and who sets not himself in every particular to its mortification, is at peace with it, not dying to it." (Overcoming Sin and Temptation, p.55)

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Wednesday, October 25

Semi-Selfish, Worldly Christmas Post '06

Just about a year ago, I started this little blog mainly so I could detail my Christmas desires to my family. Eva had posted an abbreviated list on her blog, but it didn't have the specificity that I require.

Well, 11 months later and it's time for me to post my list for this year. Those of you who missed this last year will realize that I'm an easy person to shop for.

So, without further ado:

What I Want for Christmas, 2006
by Dluxe (age 31)

Books: And lots of 'em. As some of you know, I've been (slowly) working my way through a seminary-esque curriculum. Well, the winter term kicks off in January and that means more books need to be purchased. To facilitate this, I've created two Amazon wishlists:
  • Click Here to see my Pastors Class Wishlist. All the books for next term are here. You'll see that there are a lot of 'em... Feel free to buy one, several, or all and know that I'll put it to good use. Please, please give preference to buying something off this list. That's where your gift will be most appreciated!
  • Click Here to see my Personal Wishlist. Every now and then I like to read things that I want to read, not just things I have to read for class. If you prefer, you can buy something off this list which catalogs things that just seem interesting to me.
Straight Cash, Homie: Aside from the books, there's no other 'thing' I want. However, there are always little needs outside of our normal budget that crop up (repairs for the car, buying heating oil, etc). If you don't feel like playing biblioSanta, feel free to give money to the Dellinger Operating Fund. If you want to ear-mark the dollars for some specific thing - such as "Must be used to take Eva out on a hot date" - please feel free to do so.

Support a Missionary: Did you ever stop to think about how rich we are? Though we have little financial 'crises' like everyone else in America, we really have it awful good. We have a huge house (by global standards) that we are able to heat through the winter. We have more calories on our table per night than a lot of folks have in week. We have access to better medical care than just about anywhere in the world when we're sick... And we wake up every day in relative peace while many others are persecuted daily.

So, I'd ask that you consider giving your dollars to one of the following needs, even in preference to my listings above. In the end, your resources will make a far more valuable impact there than they would in my pocket.
  • Support our friends, Kevin and Karen Shannon, in Kenya by donating to them via AIM here. UPDATE: Also be praying for the Shannons - We received word that Kevin is in the hospital (kidney stones?)...
  • If you have a heart for youth, support our local Young Life office (NH22) led by our friends Wes and Jonica. You can donate here.
  • If you love young kids, the House of Hope is a wonderful ministry to the hurting children of Haiti. You can read about them on their blog and then click here to support their work!
  • Gospel for Asia's native missionaries are reaching some of the toughest fields in the east. Pray for them, and consider investing in their work here.

iLike WWWednesdays

This is quite the mishmash of stuff...

1) It seems like iPod related stuff has been a common theme in WWWednesday posts... So, it's appropriate to note that the iPod just celebrated its fifth birthday! Our family celebrated the event early by adopting a refurbed 30gb iPod for my wife. In the midst of the iRevelry, you can read Al Mohler and Bob Kauflin's thoughts on the ups and downs of an iEverything world.

2) Speaking of Al Mohler, he posted a collection of thoughts on Richard Dawkins' new book, "The God Delusion". I must admit to taking a somewhat unrighteous amount of pleasure in seeing Dawkins getting smacked around by people other than Christians. I thought much of the same criticism should've been levelled against "The Blind Watchmaker", but we'll take what we get!

3) On the book tangent, it seems that O.J. Simpson is getting ready to release a book. Quoting the article:
The early part of the book tells how Simpson fell in love with Nicole and how the marriage collapsed, reports the tab. He goes on, according to the article, to describe in gruesome detail the killing of his ex-wife and Goldman; he stipulates that the murder scenes are “hypothetical.” But, notes the tab, the descriptions are “so detailed and so chillingly realistic” that readers are left with little doubt as to what really happened.

I think that anyone who buys this trash should be drug out into the street and flogged. Gently, of course.

3) When I say personally say mayonnaise, I mean Miracle Whip. I much prefer the tangy zip to the blandness of traditional mayo... Sadly, nothing is immune to the changes of our age. It appears that the recipe for Miracle Whip has been changed. I urge those of you who, like me, remember Miracle Whip with Oscar Meyer Bologna sandwiches to rise up and demand our trans-fat be returned to us!

4) It appears that Mars Hill Church is (re)taking exclusive control of their arts center, the Paradox. Obviously, this article cast the whole deal in the worst possible light... All of which makes me more interested to see how Mark Driscoll, being so passive and gentle, will respond to the press.

5) This video is one of the most profound and most creepiest things I have ever seen.

6) On the creepy video trail: I know this has been all over the net, but it's frightening/cool. Is it any wonder that girls (especially, though I think it impacts boys too) are freaking out over how they look?

7) Time for some crazy search madness.
  • It takes a special kinda person do a search for festschrift. It takes a 'more specialer' person to somehow weed through the results and actually end up here (I think I'm #6000 or so).
  • Though it must be noted that the terms are found in two separate posts, it's somewhat fitting that three people have come here looking for Caner sucks.
  • If you want data on Brokeback Sigur Ros, I'm the man to ask. I suppose that Brokeback Sigur Ros is the Bizarro, homosexual cousin of the real Sigur Ros.
Have a wonderful week, everyone!!


Monday, October 23

Wrap-up: Suffering and the Sovereignty of God

On the way home from church yesterday, Eva and I were talking about our pastor's Sunday sermon. Our pastor preached from James 1:2-18, focusing on rightly dealing with suffering or testing.

We have friends who recently lost their baby... Though we've really only had sporadic contact with them in the last couple of years, the wife called a couple evenings ago to talk with Eva. In the nearly two hour phone call, it became obvious just how deep and raw the pain of loss still is to them. My wife noted how the sermon we had just heard might've been viewed as cold or dismissive of their struggle ("Just consider it joy, my friends"). Of course, it wasn't that way... But I think we all know there are times in our anguish where any words, even those intended to comfort, seem to hit bare nerves.

So, when we're in the midst of suffering, what do we really need? Do we need exhortation to see Christ as exalted, even in the midst of our circumstances? Or do we perhaps need to tiptoe gently until the immediate grief passes? Are these really distinct, separate messages in the first place?

Through an offer on the web, I had received a copy of Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, a new book edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor. The book catalogues, in expanded form, the proceedings of Desiring God's 2005 National Conference. With our friend's loss and the struggles of other friends in mind, I was eager to open the pages and learn. Piper lays out his purpose for the book early:
The popular God of fun-church is simply too small and too affable to hold a hurricane in his hand. The biblical categories of God’s sovereignty lie like land mines in the pages of the Bible waiting for someone to seriously open the book. They don’t kill, but they do explode trivial notions of the Almighty.

So my prayer for this book is that God would stand forth and reassert his Creator-rights in our lives, and show us his crucified and risen Son who has all authority in heaven and on earth, and waken in us the strongest faith in the supremacy of Christ, and the deepest comforts in suffering, and the sweetest fellowship with Jesus that we have ever known. (Piper, p. 18)

Mark Talbot steps onto the platform next and offers a powerful exposition of God's supremecy over the evil that we see so rampant in our world. Two things struck me as I read Talbot's chapter:
  • I am so blessed... I'm guilty of sitting around with everyone else and shaking my head at the evil that I 'see' in the world around us. But, I can't help but realize how external most of that evil really is to me. I've never been persecuted. I've never really suffered, nor have those close to me. Much like reflecting on missions work in the world, I see how blessed and abundant my life is, how undeserving of those blessings I am, and how poorly I often steward those things.
  • Evil is real. And God permits evil to operate for His glory. Talbot cites several examples from the Holocaust - certainly one of the darkest displays of human wickedness in history. Nearing his conclusion, Talbot writes:
    During his first hour or so in Birkenau, Elie Wiesel saw the notorious Joseph Mengele, looking “like the typical SS officer: a cruel, though not unintelligent, face, complete with monocle.” Mengele was asking the new arrivals a few questions and then, with a conductor’s baton, casually directing them either to his left, so that they went immediately to the gas chambers, or to his right to the forced-labor camp. In seeing Mengele, Wiesel was seeing a very evil man whom, nevertheless, God was actively sustaining and governing, nanosecond by nanosecond, through his evil existence. And we can be sure that, from before time began, God had ordained that at that place those moments would be filled with just those persons, doing and suffering exactly as they did. We can be sure, because of what God says in places like Hebrews 1:3 and Ephesians 1:11, that even those persons in those moments did not fall out of God’s “hands” but that he actually brought the whole situation about, guiding and governing and carrying it by his all-powerful and ever-effectual word to where it would accomplish exactly what he wanted it to do.(pp71-72)
While this is hard to fathom, could there be any greater comfort? We may not understand God's purposes and plans for this world and the suffering that we all see. But, is there anything that can give us peace in the storm besides knowing that God is not only found before or after the rain but in the midst of the thunder and lightning?

The challenge with 'reviewing' solid books is that you really only want to pass along quotes. The authors present their case far better than you ever could manage to summarize. Consider the story of Steve Saint... Many will recognize Steve as the son of the famous missionary, Nate Saint. Steve's father and 4 other missionaries were killed trying to evangelize the Waodani tribe in Equador. Steve's story, recounted in the recent movie End of the Spear (which I'd recommend), is certainly one that we would link with suffering.

I hadn't realized that Steve and his wife (Ginny) had also lost their daughter. Knowing the hurt of our friends over their loss, Saint's words seemed incredibly rich:
I believe God planned my daughter’s death. In the years prior to her death, people started asking me to go around and speak, and I realized that there was a deficiency in my heart and life: I could not see the world the way God does. Oh, be careful what you pray for. I prayed and begged God and told Ginny, "I can’t keep doing this. I go out and I’m speaking from my head to people and it doesn’t work. I can’t keep going. I can’t speak unless I feel the passion of this." And so I started praying, "God, please, please let me have your heart for the hurting world out there. I see it, and I empathize a little bit but I don’t have a passion for it." (p. 118)
Why is it that we want every chapter to be good when God promises only that in the last chapter he will make all the other chapters make sense, and he doesn’t promise we’ll see that last chapter here? When [our daughter] was dying, the doctor said, "There’s no hope for recovery from an injury like this." I realized that this was either the time to lose my faith or an opportunity to show the God who gave his only Son to die for my sin that I love and trust him... And you know what God has done through this? He changed my heart. He broke it. He shredded it. And in the process he helped me see what he sees. (p. 120)

If this post is to end in something that at least resembles a reasonable word-count, I should wrap up. And I haven't even gotten to what I think is the most stirring chapter of the book - Piper's presentation of the root of suffering in our lives seen in the suffering of Christ. Or Joni Erickson Tada's exhortation to hope in the midst of trials...

I started this rambling post by asking how we are to comfort those who are hurting around us. Do we offer comforting words or assurance that God is sovereign over the trials we face? The answer is that we do both at the same time. There is no real comfort for suffering believers outside of God's grace and control in the very midst of our seemingly dire circumstances! All other sources of comfort or the will to persevere are really nothing but sand under our feet.

When such exhortations are poorly received, our tone is often to blame... We lightly offer catch-phrases to hurting people, as if quips are what they need is just to 'snap out of it'. When we stand outside of a situation and clinically tell them to "rejoice in suffering" we have to know the reaction we're likely to get... As Steve Saint rightly points out in his chapter, we try to reach out to a suffering world without suffering ourselves. More than just offering people words of wisdom, we need to connect with the hurt they are feeling and lovingly speak truth into their lives. Christ himself suffered on earth, in life and in death, to be a fitting and merciful high priest for us.

At the same time, we must be aware of how quickly we make idols. We must make sure that God, and God alone, has the supreme place in our hearts. When Job lost his family, he mourned. But he mourned while recognizing that God had taken only what rightly belonged to Him as the ruler of the universe. Our freedom, our mobility, our comfort, our families, or our friends are all things which have been given to us from God's hand - and He reserves the right to take them from us. We must not cling to things more tightly than we cling to the Creator of All.

Our tears should flow with those who are suffering... And in the midst of those tears, we all should humbly turn our eyes to the God who works all things for our good and His glory. His Sovereign Authority is the source of all comfort. Where else can we go?

If you are hurting, need encouragement, or want to deepen your understanding of a sovereign God who controls even a world as seemingly out-of-control as ours, you should give the pages of Suffering and the Sovereignty of God your time and attention. You'll be challenged, encouraged, and comforted to worship God fully, even in affliction.


Friday, October 20

Whitefield for the Weekend

You, that have in some degree experienced the quickening influence (for I must not conclude without dropping a word or two to God's children) you know how to pity, and therefore, I beseech you also to pray for those, to whose circumstances this discourse is peculiarly adapted.

But will you be content in praying for them? Will you not see reason to pray for yourselves also? Yes, doubtless, for yourselves also. For you, and you only know, how much there is yet lacking in your faith, and how far you are from being partakers in that degree, which you desire to be, of the whole mind that was in Christ Jesus. You know what a body of sin and death you carry about with you, and that you must necessarily expect many turns of God's providence and grace, before you will be wholly delivered form it.

But thanks be to God, we are in safe hands. He that has been the author, will also be the finisher of our faith. Yet a little while, and we like him shall say “It is finished;” we shall bow down our heads an give up the ghost.

Till then, (for to thee, O Lord, will we now direct our prayer) help us, O Almighty Father, in patience to posses our souls. Behold, we are the clay, and thou art the Potter. Let not the thing formed say to him that formed it, whatever the dispensations of thy future Will concerning us may be, Why dost thou deal with us thus?

Behold, we put ourselves as blanks in thine hands, deal with us as seemeth good in thy sight, only let every cross, every affliction, every temptation, be overruled to the stamping of thy blessed image in more lively characters on our hearts; that so passing from glory to glory, by the powerful operations of they blessed Spirit, we may be made thereby more and more meet for, and at last be translated to a full, perfect, endless, and uninterrupted enjoyment of glory hereafter, with thee O Father, thee O Son, and thee O blessed Spirit; to whom, three persons but one God, be ascribed, as is most due, all honor, power, might, majesty and dominion, now and to all eternity.

Amen and Amen.

George Whitefield, "The Potter and the Clay"


Tuesday, October 17

Just another manic WWWednesday...

Well, another WWWednesday is upon us... Do you want to discuss whether or not your were predestined to arrive here, or whether it was your choice to visit?

I didn't think so... On to the fun!

1) First thing is first. If you haven't listened to the audio from this year's Desiring God Conference, you need to. Now. Do not pass go or read on until you have... Might I suggest you start here, then go here, followed by this, add a little dash of this, let this cool then enjoy, and wash it down with this.

2) I don't want to make too much light of someone else's tragedy, but you have to feel that someone is trying to tell Kathleen Caronna something. First, she's almost taken out an oversized Cat-in-the-Hat... Now, her apartment was destroyed by Cory Lidle's ill-fated flight. I think it's time to move to a mountaintop in remotest Tibet.

3) Whenever you see a news story sourced from my Fatherland of Delaware, you can be assured the absurd is not far behind. Consider the story of Lucille Green of Magnolia, DE. When you receive a fruitcake this holiday season, pause and reflect on the persecution that someone endured to get it to you.

4) Ok, my geeky readers... Ain't this just cool?
With one side always hot as lava and the other chilled possibly below freezing, Upsilon Andromeda b is a giant gas planet that orbits extremely close to Upsilon Andromeda, a star 40 light-years from our solar system in the constellation Andromeda.

"If you were moving across the planet from the night side to the day side, the temperature jump would be equivalent to leaping into a volcano," said study leader Brad Hansen of the University of California, Los Angeles.

5) If you aren't reading Thabiti Anyabwile's blog, Pure Church, you really should. This recent post, like many others, is just awesome. For those not in the know, Thabiti formerly was on staff at Capitol Hill Baptist church (pastored by Mark Dever) but left to head up a church in Grand Cayman. If you want to learn more about Thabiti, check out his 'biographical' sermon entitled "From Mecca to Calvary".

6) What's a WWWednesday post without a 'Speaking of...' crack? Ok! Speaking of Thabiti, he also posted the 'White and Nerdy' video by Weird Al a little while ago. That reminded me that Deef pointed me to this hilarious video shortly after I offered my Weird Al linkage. I'd urge you to check out "Your Horoscope" and enjoy a good laugh.

7) Many people have found this site due to the cruel trickery of search engines.
  • Despite what I said in my post, Google is certain that Calvin is my homeboy.
  • I bet the people looking for info on Emil and/or Ergun Caner didn't stick around too long.
  • I'm an expert at making the Ark of Covenant levitate. I wonder if that cool of a trick makes up for my lack of literary skillz...?
  • Not many people are out on the net looking for strategies for cheating bridge and the ACBL. But, I'm glad to know that those who are will end up here.
8) Next to last, I wanted to apologize to those of you who monitor this blog via RSS. I recently ported this blog over to Blogger's new beta program. My main reason for the move was to take advantage of the new post labelling feature. In my borderline-OC zeal, I went back into past posts and applied some labels. This resulted in almost every post I've ever made being republished out on the site feed.

Er, sorry about that. I hope you'll forgive and return.

9) On a related note, if you're a lurker who regularly checks this blog I'd love to hear from you. In the last couple months, there have been a handful of people visiting regularly from around the country (and even someone in South Africa). Since I know 99.9% of my readers personally, I'm interested to know who else is out there and why you came back [for more torture]...

Have a great week everyone! :-)


(Pre)Destined for debate [4]

Part 1, Part 2, and/or Part 3 should be considered required reading before diving in here.

Reading the Bible had led proto-Dluxe (aka, Me) to conclude that salvation is a gift the God grants to those He chooses to save. I was and am convinced that Ephesians 1 & 2 clearly shows God as the 'first-mover' who softens our heart to hear and understand the Gospel.

My home church's pastor would probably have agreed with that statement, provided it was qualified that the final choice rests with the individual. The problem I had with that view is that it still puts God in the position of being selective... Think about it: If we're hardened to the Gospel and unresponsive to God then the Holy Spirit has to be 'on the hook' for our outcome. He's the one who softens me, and He determines the amount of tenderizing that my heart gets.

If He softens me only a little, my natural choice is going to be sin. If He softens me past the tipping point, I'm going to choose Christ. And He can't simply push me to a neutral position and "let me decide", because everything in me (naturally) is craving evil and I have no motive force towards good. So by getting me to the middle, I'd end up like a boat that's grounded on a reef - Stuck.

And when we get right down to it even simply 'foreknowing' whether or not I'd come to faith casts God as the choice-maker. He made me, so couldn't He choose to make me some better, more responsive, way? Couldn't He put more objects in my path to push me closer and closer to choosing Christ? God is still sovereignly shaping the little microcosm in which I make my 'choice'. Predestination, then, is an argument of semantics at its core.

This put me in an awkward spot... I was a Methodist, after all! And the beliefs I now held were on the fringe (at best) of the official position of the church. It wasn't when I was 25, married, and out of college that I first heard the word 'Calvinism' used favorably. For a long time, I would've been fairly categorized as a 4-point Calvinist. It's only been within the last year-and-a-half that I've come to affirm all 5 points of Calvin's doctrine. What I'd like to do is just go through the TULIP briefly and present my little take on each.
  • [T]otal Depravity - Though the issue I struggled with as a teenager was the idea of 'election', it was the recognition of the nature of sin that turned the lightbulb on in my heart. It's fitting then that this is the first doctrine in Calvin's system.

    We are dead in our sins and enemies of God by nature (Ephesians 2:1-5, Mark 7:21-23, Romans 3:18-32). Our sin takes us past the point of being 'deaf' to God's voice... Instead, we're actually sitting with our fingers stuck in our ears babbling "LALALALALA" like a petulant child. We're unable to understand God or respond to Him (1 Corinthians 2:14) until we undergo some radical change.

  • [U]nconditional Election - God could justly leave us dead and that would be the end of things. We'd all die, go to Hell for our sins, and God would be just and glorious. Simple.

    But God has chosen to glorify Himself by actively choosing to redeem some of us (Romans 8:28-30, Ephesians 1:3-14, Acts 13:48) out of nothing but grace. Scripture is clear that not all will be saved (Matthew 7:21-22) so some discrimination is being made here... Why would God not save everyone or give everyone an equal shot? Isn't that the obvious question?

    The default answer is simply that God has chosen a different method which must, therefore, be maximally glorious. Going beyond that quasi-philosophical (but completely Biblical) position, we should also recognize that God's desire is to display His surpassing grace and love through those He saves. While I want to tread gently here, I think it is fair to say that there must be some contrast in order to make God's love appear as awesome as it is. So, love without un-love isn't really love at all. Would we think that a husband really loves his wife if we couldn't see differences between his conduct and feelings towards her versus towards the rest of the world?

    I think it's also important to distinguish between fact and experience here... I don't know many people, Calvinist or otherwise, who'd argue that we 'make a decision' for Christ at the time of our salvation. We certainly respond to the Gospel in an act of our will... But while that is our experience, what is the reality that envelopes that experience? I love this quote from Spurgeon:
    When I was coming to Christ, I thought I was doing it all myself, and though I sought the Lord earnestly, I had no idea the Lord was seeking me. I do not think the young convert is at first aware of this.

    I can recall the very day and hour when first I received those truths in my own soul... One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher's sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me, How did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind in a moment—I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so?

    Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, "I ascribe my change wholly to God." (C.H. Spurgeon, "A Defense of Calvinism")
  • [L]imited Atonement - Ok... This is the one that took me the longest, thanks to many over-the-top, inappropriately zealous Calvinists. Some people look at the idea of Limited Atonement and simply state something like "Christ died solely for the elect" with chests puffed out. That position, while Biblical, is really only narrowly Biblical. It ignores the obvious relationship of Christ to the rest of the world (remember John 3:16).

    Properly defined, however, the concept of Limited Atonement is absolutely neccessary (baggage or no baggage) Without it, we must logically fall into one of two very heretical stances. Christ bore the active wrath of God, paying the penalty for sin while He was on the cross. If Christ's atonement is unlimited, either God is obligated to save everyone (which Scripture plainly states isn't the case) or will dish out double-punishment for some sins. In the latter case, God is effectively like bookie who decides to break your kneecaps anyway, even though you paid off your tab.

    In this case, the modern Reformed 'label' of Particular Redemption really does capture the truth of the Gospel better then 'Limited Atonement'. Christ went to the cross to redeem particular people from particular sins. This is not meant to set aside that the cross has benefit, in some way, for all mankind (the world). But it is clearly only salvific [oooh!] for those who God intended to redeem.

  • [I]rrestistable Grace - God stands at the door of Heaven and offers salvation to all mankind. The problem is that we're running away from His offer just as fast as we can. God reaches out, through election, and grabs us by the shirt collar - like a parent grabs a kid wandering into traffic - and turns us back to Himself. Those who God has purposed to save will be saved.

    John Piper, as always, puts it so well:
    The doctrine of irresistible grace does not mean that every influence of the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted. It means that the Holy Spirit can overcome all resistance and make his influence irresistible....

    More specifically irresistible grace refers to the sovereign work of God to overcome the rebellion of our heart and bring us to faith in Christ so that we can be saved. If our doctrine of total depravity is true, there can be no salvation without the reality of irresistible grace. If we are dead in our sins, totally unable to submit to God, then we will never believe in Christ unless God overcomes our rebellion.

    Someone may say, "Yes, the Holy Spirit must draw us to God, but we can use our freedom to resist or accept that drawing." Our answer is: except for the continual exertion of saving grace, we will always use our freedom to resist God. That is what it means to be "unable to submit to God." If a person becomes humble enough to submit to God it is because God has given that person a new, humble nature. If a person remains too hard hearted and proud to submit to God, it is because that person has not been given such a willing spirit. (John Piper, "What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism")

  • [P]erseverance of the Saints - Your salvation is a gift from God, wrought through Christ's sacrifice, and applied by the Holy Spirit. As such, you are eternally secure. God will preserve you and bring to a completion the work that has started in you (1 Peter 1:3-5, 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

    This does not mean that we won't sin again. It does mean that God's love for us was sufficient to overcome our weakness in the first place and will continue to do so. If we pulled ourselves out of the ocean, the next wave could easily drag us right back out to sea. But if God's hand reached down to pull us out, there's nothing that could pull us away.

    The danger here obviously that some will use God's preservation of the saints either for an excuse to go on sinning or as some sort of Anti-Hell Insurance. And such behavior makes us doubt the whole doctrine... But ask yourself: Do these people demonstrate hearts that have been softened by the Gospel and honestly submitted to Christ? I don't think we have a good framework to judge, but we shouldn't let the obvious abuse invalidate the truth of the doctrine.
This is already a long post, so I want to bring it to a close quickly... First, allow me one last quote - this time from Donald Barnhouse via Phil Ryken in "The Message of Salvation":
The famous American Bible teacher Donald Grey Barnhouse (1895–1960) often used an illustration to help people make sense of election. He asked them to imagine a cross like the one on which Jesus died, only so large that it had a door in it. Over the door were these words from Revelation: "Whosoever will may come." These words represent the free and universal offer of the gospel. By God’s grace, the message of salvation is for everyone. Every man, woman, and child who will come to the cross is invited to believe in Jesus Christ and enter eternal life.

On the other side of the door a happy surprise awaits the one who believes and enters. From the inside, anyone glancing back can see these words from Ephesians written above the door: "Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world." Election is best understood in hindsight, for it is only after coming to Christ that one can know whether one has been chosen in Christ. Those who make a decision for Christ find that God made a decision for them in eternity past."

That God would allow us to come to Him is amazing. That God pursues and brings us to Himself is too great for words... And that is the Gospel.

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Sunday, October 15

(Pre)Destined for debate [3]

Catch up by reading Part 1 or Part 2...

When we left last episode, proto-Dluxe had a problem. According to my pastor's take on Romans 8:28-30, God looks down the hallways of history and perfectly knows what will happen... This knowledge includes who will choose to embrace the salvation He offers. However, God's foreknowledge is not to be understood as 'election' - an active choice by God to save some and not others. While this sounded good, it also meant that I slammed into a theological wall at 100mph as soon as I read Romans 9.

So, back to the Pastor's office I went. As a result of reading Romans 9, I had three key questions:
  • Did God 'love Jacob and hate Esau' simply because He knew that Esau would scorn his birthright? Based on the interpretation of Romans 8:28-30 I had been offered, that's really the only option.
  • It would be unfair for God to choose salvation for [some of] us, right?
  • But Paul is clearly implying something else (especially given his defense in 9:14-21)... Is God really that mean? How could God, to borrow Mark Driscoll's terminology, play Duck-Duck-Damn with people?
As I walked up to my pastor the next Sunday, thumb stuck in the middle of Romans, I'm fairly confident that he was hoping the Rapture of the Church would arrive before I did. Nonetheless, he graciously sat down and patiently listened to my questions. Unfortunately, he really didn't have an answer... Saith the pastor:
Well, Romans 9 is hard to understand. But you'll notice that Paul never says '[Election] is the way it is, folks'... He just deals in hypotheticals. Who are we to question God's methods? Does the potter reserve the right to whatever he wants with a lump of clay? Sure. But that doesn't mean he does. Similarly, 'What if God chose?' doesn't mean that God actually did/does. It's just hypothetical." He finished with a flourish: "God does not choose to damn some people arbitrarily. God could not do that and be loving and we know that God is love. Besides, this is only one book of the Bible... Read the rest and you'll see Paul's statement is abnormal.

You know, I was literate after all! I could just read the whole thing and then see the whole picture. So, that's just what I intended to do.

Well, sorta. I wanted answers right then, rather than in 6 months after pouring through thees and thous. So, feeling that I didn't have time, I decided to become "proto-Dluxe - Master of Strong's Concordance". So, I went home and started looking for choices, choosing, election, predestination, and the like. The problem was that all of the passages seemed to tell me what I didn't want to hear:
This little 'Bible exploration' taught me two things (neither of which seemed comforting). First off, the Bible clearly shows that God both reserves and exercises His divine right to choose who is blessed or cursed. This is held in paradoxical tension with the fact that we are responsible for a 'choice' that was effectively made for us before time was time. I couldn't believe it, but God played Duck-Duck-Damn... And yet, somehow, God was also loving?!?!

The other thing I learned was that even Pastors can argue from a worldview rather than Scripture. I went back to our pastor one more time, begging him to show me the Scripture that would sway me the other way... Instead, he could only repeat that a "loving God couldn't do that".

For the next year and a half, I was very angry with God. I believed in God, but just didn't like Him all that much. I imagine I felt something like children with angry, distant fathers must feel (not that I had first-hand experience)... I can remember listening to sermon after sermon talking about a "loving God" and just hrmph-ing at the whole business. The irony is that if I had pulled out that concordance one more time, I might've saved myself a lot of headaches.

The breakthough came when I was 19. I was involved with a youth 'minstry' called Chrysalis which takes a mixed-team of adults and youth out camping with 20 unchurched kids in an effort to win them to Christ. They have one weekend for the guys and one for the gals. I was asked to serve on the guys team, the girl I had a crush on was already on the girls team, participating meant getting to sit next to her at at least two church functions (and teenage Christian girls get all googley at youth events), and so I was on-board within 5 seconds of being asked.

The patron of our team was the Godliest man I knew, Charlie Barton. 80 year old Charlie was the former district superintendant for the Methodist Church and was just cool. He always had an answer for the toughest question we could fire off, he was always right, and he always delivered his answer with an easy grace that made you think you were talking to a loving grandfather. Charlie loved reaching kids, too... To this day, my mental picture of him involves Charlie, in his sweater "since the furnace didn't work so well", playing volleyball with a bunch of under-20 guys on a humid, 90 degree summer day at Pecometh. Unreal.

During a break in that volleyball game, I walked Charlie inside and helped him to sit down. We chatted and then he asked me why I was so 'detached' from the weekend. Charlie had sponsored me when I went to Chrysalis the first time (as a 'caterpillar') and I later served on youth councils that he oversaw, so he knew me and could read that something was up.

After pouring out my heart and all the story above, I was practically in tears (no surprise to those of you who know me). Charlie smiled, patted me on the shoulder, and stood up... Flashing in my mind was the notion that he had no better response than my pastor at home. But as he shuffled past he stopped and calmly said, "Just read Ephesians 1 & 2 tonight. And talk to me tomorrow."

It's funny that the remedy to a complex, charged situation can be uttered in 2 seconds... "Just read Ephesians."
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding...

In [Christ] we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14, NIV)

Here was what had be outside of my grasp... A stone's throw away from where I was reading Romans 9 and probably one line further down in the concordance when I was looking up words. Finally, I saw it - and not just with my eyes. Here was love and sovereign choice woven together rather than set up as some either/or proposition. It had to be this way, because:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved... and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:1-10, NIV)

God had to choose us because we do/would not choose Him. We have made our choice and we choose sin 7 days a week and twice on Sundays. How much clearer can it be: "We were by nature objects of wrath." But God, because of the love He chooses to show to us, intervenes and rescues us. We have been saved not because of an act of our will nor because of what we've done - our wills could not natively make such a choice and our righteousness is pitiful at best. We have been saved by the grace of God, extended to us in love for the purpose of glorifying Him.

And so, my walk towards Calvinism started in a camp bed with a Bible and a reading light. Tomorrow, I'll try to briefly sum up the rest.

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Friday, October 13

(Pre)Destined for debate [2]

Before diving in, I wanted to tie up a loose end... In the last post, I noted that I had no interest in wearing a "Calvin is my Homeboy" t-shirt. I put a little footnote * after that, and then promptly forgot to include the footnote. So, here it is:

*Though, if anyone's interested, the "Whitefield is my Homeboy" one would be in my cart already were it available in my size.

With that done, let's pick up where I left off yesterday:

Having gotten my head totally bent outta shape on Romans 8:28-30, decided to approach the recently-installed Reverend at our church.After church one Sunday I pulled our pastor aside and just said I have a question... How could God call/predestine 'some' folks for salvation, but not others? Doesn't everyone deserve a chance?

My pastor's chubby, grandpa-esque face smiled warmly. He motioned for me to sit, deposited his vestments on their hangers, and then plopped into his chair on the other side. He calmly and carefully explained to me that God was not unfair... But God is all-knowing. So the passage tells us that God looked down the corridors of time and saw those who, if afforded the opportunity, would choose to place their faith in Christ. Those people who would come to faith were predestined for conformation to Christ. So God has chosen to give humanity the choice but He can't help knowing the outcome already. God's ultimate plan is that those who come to faith will be conformed to the image of Christ.

He explained this was very basic Wesleyan 'doctrine' (the first time I heard that word used) and handed me a little primer book. Feeling much better about things, I stood up, thanked the pastor for his time, and walked out to catch up with my mother. That night I devoured the little book which presented a pretty basic outline of [what I would now know to be] Wesleyan Arminianism. And I was content, so I took a couple days break from Romans.

When I went back, I decided to just re-read chapter 8 through new lenses. It felt really good, especially when you hit that last part from verse 31 to the end. I put the Bible down for the night and went to bed.

The next night, I happily picked up at the start of Romans 9. I thought it was awful hard to read, so I slowed way down and picked through... Until, of course, I hit this section:
Not only that, but Rebekah's children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, "The older will serve the younger." Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." (Romans 9:10-13, NIV)

These verses knocked me for a loop... Just two days ago, my pastor had told me that we make a choice for God. That God calls everyone, but foreknew those who would respond. But that's really not what Romans 9 says. Here God seems to be making a choice to love one child and not the other. Before the kids were even born to do good or bad, God had chosen how his purpose would be accomplished.

Ok, ok, ok... Lemme get my head on straight. Ok. Clearly, this must be more 'foreknowledge', right? God knew that Esau would sell his birthright, so God hated Esau because of what Esau would do. It's hard to deal with a God who's not bound by time, for sure... But then, I read on and got my first real lesson in context:
What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have

It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. (verses 14-18, NIV)

Why would Paul feel the need to defend God against charges of being unjust if God is only foreknowing the choice that Esau would make? Answer: Well, he wouldn't! So, Paul is actually accusing God of the making a sovereign choice to love someone and not love someone else. Someone had to be wrong... Was it Paul or my pastor?

Being the terrible Bible scholar that I was, I actually didn't remember where God told Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy". But thanks to some cross-references, I found it.
And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." (Exodus 33:19-20, NIV)

Famous enough passage, right? But reading it in light of Romans 9... Is God saying that part of His goodness/glory is wrapped up in His ability, and perhaps even choice, to discriminate on who receives mercy from His hand and who doesn't? Paul sure thinks that's the case. This 'study' wasn't fitting very well into my newly-minted Wesleyan framework. Well, I was in the middle of a paragraph, so perhaps the rest would clear it up.
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. (Romans 9:17-18, NIV)

Perhaps I needed a new Bible, because I didn't like the way this sounded. God placed Pharoah where he needed to be and then God hardened Pharoah's heart (actively) to accomplish the Lord's purposes. Is that really true? This must be what Paul had in mind, because look at how he continues the argument:
One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, "Why did you make me like this?" Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:19-24, NIV)

A series of thoughts zipped through my head:
  • You know, I have no problem with God reserving the right to discriminate. I'm just thankful that He didn't actually do that.
  • Wait... You know what? I do have a problem here. I don't like a God who, having made two pots, reserves the right to break one on the floor like a freak while taking the other and setting it up on a shelf to gaze at lovingly. That's not fair!
  • Does it matter what I think? I'm just a lump of clay after all...
That was it for studying the Bible for another week... I had more ammo that I needed to fire at my Pastor, and figured that it should wait 'til another Sunday.

The funny thing is that I absolutely missed the coolest part of the whole passage and a critical link that would make it all fall into place. Sadly, that would take years to break through. But more on that next time.

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