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Sovereignty

A Response from a Calvinist Woman to Andy Stanley

My wife, Christie, listened to the recent discussion between Andy Stanley and Dr. Flowers and felt compelled to write a letter to Pastor Stanley.

“Dear Pastor Stanley,

This morning my husband was listening to an interview you did with Dr. Flowers a couple of days ago.  He came across it through a Twitter post.  I later went back to listen to the entire thing for myself.  I have never listened to either of you before, but felt drawn to offer you my point of view on an area that you stated ignorance of, which is how someone (particularly a mother) who believes Calvinist teachings could, with honesty, teach their own children or be part of children’s or student ministry. 

By way of introduction, I grew up in a GARBC church (you may or may not be familiar with this relatively small group of Baptists).  I remember my mother teaching me that God “didn’t want us to be robots” and emphasizing our free will in coming to Christ.  I have never been part of a truly Calvinistic church, although my understanding of Scripture through plain reading has led me to believe Calvinistic doctrine (I would affirm all 5 points of Calvinism).  I am not a “Reformed” person and don’t claim to know all that they teach.  In fact, I am presently a member of a charismatic church where my theology doesn’t fit with most other people, but where I know God is working and the Word of God is preached. I understand people can be seeking God sincerely and come to differing understanding, but it doesn’t mean I have to hold my firmly held convictions loosely, and there are doctrines which are so crucial to me that if they were taught in opposition to my understanding of Scripture would cause me to leave to minister elsewhere. 

That said, I do believe in God’s sovereignty in election because it’s what I see clearly in passages such as Ephesians 1 or Romans 9 (I see his divine sovereignty in many other places as well, but I realize I don’t need to load you up with “proofs” on the matter).  Listening to the discussion this morning, I disagree with the idea that believing in God’s sovereign election and enablement of belief would cause a person to have a lower view of evangelism or ministry preparedness.  I have taught children for years and earnestly desire them to see the beauty and glory of God in all his magnificence and grace.  I can’t even imagine a person who believes in God’s election putting that forward as the main thing for someone to understand in order to come to Christ.  That doesn’t even come up in my Gospel presentation, but God’s divine work enables me to go out at all.  Honestly, if I felt it was my persuasiveness on which their salvation hinged I would be petrified to speak for fear of doing it wrong.  Believing that God enables us to come to him and has chosen to use flawed instruments for this purpose gives me the ability to present to them the Gospel, knowing that no matter how well I prepare (and I spend a LOT of time in preparation every time I teach—I want to give God and others my very best and represent my Savior well) I will miss something but He will take my sincere efforts and multiply it for his purposes. 

I am a mother of six sons, and I can affirm that it is not only men who believe that God sovereignly determines those who are his.  I do believe that if any of my sons rejected the faith, God would have a purpose in it and would be glorified in some way.  That does not blur the lines between evil and good, making evil good and good evil as you stated—but recognizes that everything serves to glorify him, including punishing the sin we bring onto ourselves through our own decisions/actions. Belief in God’s sovereignty in salvation doesn’t dismiss our own will/choice in the matter.  This is a false representation of my beliefs (and, I would expect, the beliefs of most Calvinists).  The Bible clearly teaches both the sovereignty of God and the will of man (for example, Proverbs 16:9, Genesis 50:20, Exodus 4:21/Exodus 8:15).  It is not one or the other separately, but in the end we understand that no matter how I freely choose (freely being limited by my own sinful nature apart from God’s intervention), God will work his purposes. His will supersedes mine, to his glory.  In regard to a child wandering from the faith, even if my own heart was breaking and I begged God to bring them back to Himself, I would trust him.  How could I possibly even pray for Him to bring them to salvation if I didn’t believe he could sovereignly overcome their unbelief?  I was struck by your example of your church member, Amber, praying for God to show truth to her parents.  That alone shows that we are utterly dependent on God to do the work of revelation and salvation in our lives—he uses us, yes, but we are helpless apart from his ultimate work in opening our minds/hearts to be able to see and love Him.

 I believe that Christ died for the ones the Father has given him (John 6: 35-40: John 17:6, 9-12, 24-25). Yes, a Calvinist can preach with intellectual honestly through the book of John.  I believe in sovereign election, and that God ordains the use of the folly of preaching to reach the lost.  As a mother, I struggle with the same things every parent does—things like second guessing myself, being discouraged when I don’t handle things well, hoping the best for my children in spite of my shortcomings—but because I know God uses all things for his purposes and that he works all things together for good for those who are called according to his purpose, I trust that even my failures can be used to as an example to my children of the loving grace of God to rescue even a screw-up like me (or them).  I can trust them to him.  I do my best, but am freed from the burden (should they choose to reject Christ, although I do my best to show him to them experientially) that if I had only done/said something differently they would have made a different decision.

It is my belief in the sovereign election of God which enabled me to have the courage to step out in faith and lead Good News Clubs in local schools (granted, I generally downplayed some of the material that I viewed as rather legalistic and emphasized more strongly the beauty of our sovereign God stepping into the mess of humanity).  I don’t trust myself to be eloquent enough to convince anyone of anything, and if I believed that it was up to me to do it right, I would likely have stayed home for fear of “doing it wrong.”  Trusting that God can use my feeble efforts and overcome my shortcomings to reach children for adoption into his family gave me the courage necessary to step out in faith and preach the good news of God’s Son coming to take our place, paying for our sin and reconciling us with the Father.  I teach the children in my own church as well, with the confidence that God will be the one to soften anyone’s hearts and enable them to love him while knowing that his chosen method of doing so is the sincere preaching of the Word to them.

You asked how I could present a sincere invitation to them.  Simple.  I present the truth, as you stated, that whosoever will may come.  I understand (without needing to explain it all to others in my presentation) that apart from God stepping in to cause us to see him rightly, we are limited by our sinful nature to always choose to reject him but that, in his mercy and for his own purposes, he opens the hearts and minds of those whom he chooses (John 9:35-41; 2 Corinthians 3:12-18; Ephesians 1:17-21; 1 Peter 2:4-10).  I present the Gospel that Jesus has come to rescue sinners, not based on our worthiness but on his goodness.  I present to them the penalty of sin and the provision of our Savior.  It is up to God to use that in the hearts and minds of the hearers.  I always assume that unbelievers are in the room.  The fact is, the message is the same whether we are already a believer or not—Sin must be punished, Christ satisfied that requirement by taking our place on the cross, and because of his resurrection and the grace of God we can come to God for forgiveness, reconciliation, and the hope that he will transform us into his likeness (in part now, and fully when we see him face to face).  Both believers and unbelievers need to hear the truth of law and grace distinctly so that our hope is in God and not ourselves.  Unbelievers can be drawn to him and believers freed to cling to him even after we still sin.

I was actually stunned that Dr. Flowers indicated that an example of the pre-eminence of man’s free will was that Paul was striving to convince the hearers in Acts 28.  Of course, when we preach we want people to understand and turn to God, so we prepare and do our best, trusting God with the outcome.  Evangelism is so important—God has ordained the foolishness of preaching as the means for those who are called to come (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)! And preparation is important—we should be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:14-17).  Paul obviously did his best, but did not trust persuasive words to be the draw to salvation, but the work of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:1-5), and that is how I, as a Calvinist, approach evangelism and ministry as well.  It is not dishonest to recognize both that both God’s sovereignty and man’s choice work together in a way we cannot fully explain, but believe because God’s word presents it so.  The primary difference between us, I think, is which we believe to be the final determining factor in salvation:  God’s will or our own. I believe that the sinful nature in any person will cause them to always freely choose to reject God’s salvation, but that when he graciously chooses to open the eyes of that person (change their nature) to see him clearly, they will freely choose to love him.  I am comforted by the Bible’s teaching that while I am living out my salvation, it is God who works in me, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).

I recognize that this may be a somewhat lengthy answer to your question of how a Calvinist (particularly a woman/mother) can honestly present the invitation of the Gospel to children, students, or anyone anywhere else in the world for that matter.  I know others could more eloquently have answered you, and that I have not exhausted the matter, but I thank you for your time in hearing my perspective.”

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Romans 9 on the Free Will of God to Save

Romans 9

The Statement

“Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

WHOOOAAAA God …hates???? That would be unjust!!

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!

This must be about something else not about God saving people…

15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

But I thought salvation was based upon my free will….

16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

But surely God has mercy on everyone right?

17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

Well if God is hardening people and saving people without regard to the person and based only on his own will, then it would be immoral of God to hold people accountable for their actions

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”

SEE!! I told you!!
*Note Paul does not retract his statement or say “No, No you have misunderstood me.”

Response 1

20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

Response 2

22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—

This passage is amazingly clear that God is the initiator of salvation and HIS will is the decisive will in the salvation of individuals.

The Glory of this truth is that no matter how far you wandered from the Lord, no matter how deeply you have indulged sin God is able to rescue and redeem. And the corollary is no matter how good you imagine yourself to be or how much work you have done to reach God – your strivings are insufficient to move God towards you at all. NO!! If we are to be saved it is by free grace alone. God is the complete Savior or none at all.

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Brief Thoughts on Acts 9

field

The bent of Paul’s heart to rage against God is the same bent of every heart apart from awakening grace.

The need of Paul to be knocked off his horse by the blinding light of the Lord is not a “Paul” need. God must reveal himself or we perish.

The response of faith in Paul once the Lord revealed himself personally to Paul, is the same response everyone has when the Lord reveals himself to you. Faith

Believers are all “chosen instruments.”

“And when he (Paul) had come to Jerusalem” Paul went to the church where it all started. The place he had approved of the murder of one of its deacons. Paul attended church in a place where he had murdered one of the beloved congregants. What amazing power the Gospel has to reconcile the vilest offender.

The church was multiplied as it Walked in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

When illness and death struck a church member, Peter an apostle was called by disciples of the Lord, and Peter raised her from the dead. By this means the gospel was spread throughout Joppa and many believed.

Application:

1) Thank you Father, for calling me – saving me, how I sense my desperate and wicked heart apart from Your saving grace. I am unworthy but grace to be a chosen instrument

2) Lord Let me embrace the vile, love sinners, trust the greatness of your call and your gospel as I encounter the broken.

3) Lead my heart to the fear and comfort of the Lord that your name may be magnified in my life.

4) Lord do the necessary miracles to spread your Good News in Moses Lake so that many will believe.

Sermon: The Sovereignty of God and the Sufficiency of Christ

KJV was requested by the host church – It had been a while 🙂

Would a Loving God Kill?

 

Powerful sequence in Amos 4

“I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities,
And lack of bread in all your places,

Yet you did not return to me, declares the Lord.

 

I also withheld the rain from you
When there were yet three months to the harvest…
…So two or three cities would wander to another city
To drink water, and would not be satisfied;

Yet you did not return to me, declares the Lord.

I struck you with blight and mildew…

Yet you did not return to me, declares the Lord

I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt;
I killed your young men with the sword…

Yet you did not return to me, declares the Lord

I overthrew some of you,
As when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah…

Yet you did not return to me declares the Lord.

Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel;
because I will do this to you,
prepare to meet your God, O Israel!

For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,
And declares to man what is his thought,
Who makes the morning darkness,
And treads on the heights of the earth –
The Lord, The God of Hosts, is his Name!”

Questions and Implications.

1) What degree of sovereignty and involvement does God have over nature?

2) What degree of sovereignty and involvement does God have over the “bad” stuff that happens in our lives?

3) What is God’s ‘commitment level’ to maintaining our personal comforts?

4) What does God desire most for us to have according to this text?

5) How does a God who according to this passage causes hunger and thirst – destroys and kills fit with your definition of a loving God?

6) What is God’s purpose from the text for taking these actions?

7) What does the passage say about man’s stubborn pursuit of the creation over the creator?

8) Why do you think God would be so dramatically committed to this purpose?

Continue reading “Would a Loving God Kill?”

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Why Did Jesus Weep?

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John 11:14 “Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.

John 11:35 “Jesus Wept”

What is Jesus glad about in verse 14? That “he was not there” Glad that he was not there to prevent Lazarus’ death! Not there to heal him of his sickness! Jesus says he is glad he was not there. Let this verse alone sink into your theology. God has something greater in mind for us than only healing or even preventing us from dying – Something so much greater in his mind that he says something as seemingly calloused as “I am glad I was not there” to heal and prevent death.

So what is this thing Jesus so passionately wants for us? Continue reading “Why Did Jesus Weep?”

So Let it Be – Peace in the Storm

light in the storm.jpg

Reading today in I Kings 11 and 12

Due to Solomon’s sin of going after other gods, God says his kingdom will not endure. And the prophet Ahijah says this to Jeroboam: “Behold I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon and will give you ten tribes…”

But how will he do that? After all Rehoboam, son of Solomon – the greatest king ever – is the king over all Israel.

Well, basically Rehoboam ignores the pleas of the people and the advice of his older advisors to lighten the yoke on his people. He instead says to the people. “My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” (Note to self: not a good campaign message)

And then this verse in the Holy Writ:

“So the king did not listen to the people, FOR it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the Son of Nebat.”

What “a turn of events!” Young counselors had to give the bad advice to the king – Rehoboam had to ignore the advice of his wisest advisors and the pleas of his people – And the people had to chose to revolt just days after the death of the wisest king in their history and most prosperous years of their existence.

God is not passive in the affairs of men. He does not surrender his sovereignty nor bow at the altar of man’s free will. Man chooses as his sin-oriented nature desires and God’s sovereign will is not in the least thwarted. He will accomplish what he desires. His will reigns supreme!

Isaiah 55:8-11                                                                            

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Being convinced of God’s sovereignty and being convinced of God’s goodness and being convinced that by the blood of His son you are His child – is a powerful trinity of truths that I have found to be a strong anchor in the midst of my darkest days. They are like bright rays of the most beautiful and compelling light penetrating to the depths of my grey-clouded world. Let these truths be fastened firmly in your heart and you will find you have the ballast in your boat to weather any storm. So let it be.

Does God Ordain Evil?

mountain

Observation on God’s sovereignty in today’s Bible reading:

1) Jeremiah 1 “Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

God’s sovereign choice does not mean Jeremiah is a robot (without will and incapable demerit or merit) Jeremiah has a will but it is a contingent will not a sovereign or free will that God alone has. Continue reading “Does God Ordain Evil?”

Sovereign God or Sovereign Me?

tall-trees

In Isaiah, Assyria is “the rod of God’s anger” against a godless nation. And God uses them to plunder and spoil the “people of his wrath.” And when God has completed his appointed purpose for the nation of Assyria,
Assyria says,

“By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I have understanding; I remove the boundaries of peoples and plunder their treasures; like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones.”

God says he will punish the arrogant heart of the King of Assyria and replies:

“Shall an axe boast over him who hews with it, or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it? As if a rod should wield him who lifts it, or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood!”

“Behold, the Lord God of Hosts will lop the boughs with terrifying power; the great in height will be hewn down, and the lofty will be brought low.”

How often have you said, “by the strength of my hand or my wisdom I have done it?” God replies, “Oh really – you have done it? You are an instrument in my hand to do with what I please. Will you give me the glory due my name or continue to claim that you are the greatest “axe handle” in the history of the world?”

Who do you worship a Sovereign God or a Sovereign Me?

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Does God Control Lightning Strikes?

lightening

Philip Yancey writes in his book on prayer, “A hundred times a second lightning strikes somewhere on earth, and I for one do not believe God personally programs each course.” Why does Yancey say this? Why would it bother him if God was planning the path of every lightning bolt? Is he concerned about God being a micromanager? Is he concerned about God be accused of destroying or killing with lightning? Does he feel randomness to be more comforting than a God who destroys? Continue reading “Does God Control Lightning Strikes?”

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