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If You Go, They Will Come

November 26, 2012 1 comment

My wife and I recently made a commitment to be more intentional and proactive in ministry. We decided to make a weekly commitment to go somewhere – so far it’s been a local park – and try to find at least one person with whom to share Christ.

The first week, we met Junior. He grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness, but hadn’t been to church in years. We invited him to our church and to our Life Group and encouraged him to seek the Lord for himself, and told him that God had an awesome plan for him. Though I believe he was encouraged, and though I know I planted a seed, he has not come to church or our Life Group.

The next week we went back to the same park, this time with an infant and a two-year-old in tow. This made things more challenging. We didn’t get a chance to share Jesus specifically with anyone, but we met a lady and her granddaughter who come to the park often, and we felt we may have made a connection that would pay off in the future.

This last week, we weren’t able to make it out to the park, but we met someone at church who had come for the first time, so we decided to invite him out to lunch. He never showed.

I chronicle all of this to show that, quite frankly, I don’t feel our efforts have been particularly fruitful. Honestly, its been a bit discouraging. Of course, as an  optimistic young preacher, I assumed that the second I opened my mouth, the heavens would open and the audible voice of God would boom out, “This is my servant! Hear him!” None of that happened.

Then there was this morning. As I am leaving my house to go to work, my next door neighbor was rolling out her trash to the curb (kinda weird because trash day is tomorrow). Anyway, I say hello and start getting into my car. All of a sudden, she’s knocking on my window. She proceeds to tell me that her husband is in the hospital having problems with his heart, and since she knows we are Christians (they are Catholic), she asks us to remember him in our prayers. I say, “Let’s pray right now!” So we grab hands, and I pray the prayer of faith for her husband. When I look up there are tears in her eyes, and she thanks me profusely. Tomorrow, Lauren and I will knock on her door and follow up. Maybe she’ll even come to Life Group.

Here’s my point in all of this – and it’s something I’ve experienced in the past, but somehow forgot. When we begin to step out in faith, when we leave the comforts of our couches and homes to try and advance the Kingdom of God, God sees. Even though it seemed that I was not having much of an effect, I was out there, trying my best, doing my part. Then, lo and behold, God brings someone to me!

There’s a reality that the more willing we are, the more we will be used. I remember the story of Philip. He started a city-wide revival in Samaria. Then, for some strange reason, the Holy Spirit led him away from the revival out into the wilderness to minister to one man. That man turned to Christ and believed, and Philip baptized him. Then, something weird happened. Philip vanished and appeared a few miles away in the city of Azotus preaching the Gospel.

As freaky as this incident may be, I think it tells us something about Philip, and about God’s attitude toward us when we are obedient. Think about this man. First, he is a faithful member of the Jerusalem church, which lands him a position serving tables for widows. Then, when persecution hits, he flees the city, preaching Jesus as he goes. Then he gets to Samaria, and God moves powerfully, and many in the city turn to Jesus. Then when God tells him to leave and go preach to one man, Philip obeys without question. Here’s a story of a faithful and committed Christian, determined to advance the Kingdom wherever he goes, even willing to leave the revival he started, to preach to a single man who needed Jesus. I think God saw the faithfulness of Philip and said, “Now here’s a man I can use! No need for him to waste time walking to the next town, I’ll just beam him up!”

Similarly, I think that when God sees our faithfulness, He will give us opportunities we would never have otherwise had. How often do we have people literally knocking on our door asking for our ministry? I know it doesn’t happen too often to me – maybe its because I am only now gathering up the courage to step outside of myself and make a difference for Jesus.

What are you doing for the Kingdom of God these days?

 

Why Calvinism is Wrong, pt. 3 – Grammar

November 15, 2012 Leave a comment

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

This is one the great verses of the Bible. In many ways this is our spiritual Emancipation Proclamation. It tells us that we are no longer obligated to earn God’s favor, but that only through faith may we be accepted in Him. What freedom!

However, those pesky Calvinists have to come in and ruin it! They interpret this verse differently than most, and it is all based on their understanding of the grammar in this verse. Their whole understanding hinges on one word in the verse. Believe it or not, that one word is “it.” No, really. When you come to that part of the passage which says, “it is the gift of God,” Calvinists will tell you that you’ve misunderstood the passage all along. Let’s parse this verse out, shall we?

For by grace you have been saved…

This is the main proposition of the passage, the statement which guides the rest of the context. This defining concept – that you have been saved by grace – is the cornerstone of our understanding for the rest of the passage. Until this basic premise is understood, none of the rest of the passage may be understood.

“Grace,” in its most basic definition means simply “a gift.” Thus, our salvation is a gift – not earned, but simply received or accepted.

…through faith…

Secondly, this whole process occurs through faith. That is, this transaction which we call “salvation” occurs through our faith, our believing. God (the giver) extends this gift of salvation to us (the receivers) and we accept the gift through faith.

It’s the next part that gets tricky (well, it’s tricky for the Calvinists…to the rest of us the plain meaning works just fine).

…And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.

We must define here what “this” and “it” are referring to. That is, when it says “this is not your own doing,” we must ask, what is not your own doing. And when it says, “it is the gift of God,” we must ask, what is the gift of God.

For the typical Christian who prefers not to over-complicate or over-explain things, we understand immediately that the  “this” and the “it” refer to salvation. Thus the verse may be rendered as follows:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this [salvation] is not from yourselves; [salvation] is the gift of God.”

But the Calvinists disagree. They say that the “this” and the “it” refer to faith. Thus the verse should read:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this [faith] is not from yourselves; [faith] is the gift of God.”

Clever though it may be, this kind of grammatical chicanery serves only to obfuscate its syntactical perspicuity.

Okay, I was showing off there. But it actually had a purpose. If you understood that sentence, good for you. But for the rest of you, all I said was that they made something that is simple, complicated. I made that simple sentence complicated by using a thesaurus. The Calvinists make this verse complicated by using grammar.

The idea that it is faith itself which is the gift of God, is a concept which is foreign to the rest of scripture. Thus, if this is the true meaning of this verse, then it, at best, becomes one of those troubling verses we would prefer not to talk about – like the verse about baptizing for the dead.

However, if interpreted rightly, it fits in perfectly with the rest of Paul’s (yea, the whole Bible’s) teachings about salvation as a free gift not obtained through works. Take the following verses as examples:

Galatians 2:16, 21 – “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified…I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

Romans 3:20-24 – “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

Thus, the clear and sensible interpretation of Ephesians 2:8-9 is the correct one, following in the clear theology of Paul that salvation (not faith) is the free gift of God, and not received by works.