FCC Questions Post #1

I preached a sermon on 5/11/14 that challenged our church community to be courageous enough to ask questions. The church practiced asking questions by… submitting 1 question that they had about the Christian faith at the end of the service.

The questions were compiled and organized into different categories. I’ve been challenged to answer a question routinely, so I am going to post my response (not necessarily ‘official church positions’) on the blog. I will answer in 500ish words or less, which will hopefully spur on further conversations and not more data mining.

I received 2 questions that are getting at the same thing, so I’ll start there today.

“Do you believe in once saved always saved?”

“Is it possible to once have ‘accepted’ Christ and lose your salvation?”

This discussion is interesting. One position (Eternal Security or “Perseverance of the Saints”) says that one cannot lose salvation, ever. If it appears that one is turning away from God after Christian conversion, some would conclude that they were not a Christian to begin with, in order to retain their position.

The other position says that one can leave Christianity/lose salvation after a genuine conversions.

These positions are usually the result of other doctrines, not least one’s preference to Reformed or Arminian/Wesleyan positions on election/free will, etc.

A couple of things to consider:

1. Both positions can be defended with an array of NT texts. Here is a sample of each to get a flavor:

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)

“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” (Hebrews 6:4-6)

1b. The texts written to support the idea that one can lose their salvation is (generally) written to Jewish-Christian communities.  The Jewish doctrine of “zeal” stressed obedience to God at all and any cost. This zeal doctrine shaped mid-to-late 1st century Jewish revolution movements and convinced those faithful to God to kill/assassinate their enemies as devotion to God. Perhaps the spirit behind the warning passages are a different application to this same development in the 1st century.

These warning texts, then, should be expected. These texts were used to provoke faithfulness to Jesus amid communities that had entered into a malaise of faith. (e.g. Hebrews and James)

The texts to support the Perseverance idea are generally written to the Gentile-Christian audience. These promises would have been equally evocative for them as the warning passages for the Jewish-Christians. The Gentiles were non-Jews entering into the Jewish story at its climax. It would have been easy to assume that one in their community was a 2nd class citizen, that (s)he didn’t belong. Hearing of one’s secure state before God, regardless of their starting point or family of origin, would have been massive.

Both sets of texts in this issue help to nudge a believer in different situations to the same place. I had a doctrine teacher once say that this stale mate cannot be resolved. Ministers, then, need to use these texts at different moments in congregational life, whether their community needs to hear security or if they need to hear warning.

2. The “thing behind the thing” in this issue is the classic legalism vs antinomianism (“cheap grace”) stale mate. On the one hand, we need to help people feel secure in their faith in Christ, that God loves them and that Jesus died for them “while they were sinners.” (Romans 5:8) On the other hand, being a Christian also means engaging in transformation. God meets us where we are, but doesn’t leave us where we are.

What is asked is, “Will salvation ‘stick’ to/in me, even if I make mistakes?” Some say, “Yes and always yes.” Others say, “Yes, but you’ve got to grow up, or else.”

One of the question-askers wanted my take on the issue.

Reminder: this is not the official church position or even shared by all staff persons, perhaps.

I’ll put it this way: God’s ability to keep me in the covenant family is greater than my ability to walk away.

Sounds like “Switzerland,” perhaps. But, that is how I’d answer it today.


Bieber and A Curious Phone Call

My Office Manager at church received what initially was a call from an anonymous person who, “had a Bible question.” I eagerly took the phone call, anticipating a great conversation.

Yeah, right.

The person on the other end wanted to debate their theological vantage point. He was rude, he avoided my questions, etc. The caller was so heated that I anticipated that he’d show up to our church to engage in round 2 of his assault.

After the phone call, as I thought about what had just happened, I wondered, “Did this guy really want to win a convert or to just argue with someone, to have a story to tell his buddies (if he had any left) about his zealous exploits for their faith?”

It reminded me of the reaction that Ginger gave me when I read a headline that Justin Bieber was arrested on suspicion of robbery.

“Why would he need to rob anyone,” she wondered.

“Maybe to prove to himself and others that he was tough enough to do it,” I thought.

Religious zeal is fine, but we have to check why our chutzpah-rate-per-second is soaring, right?

Does it come from a pure place?

Is our attempt to passionately serve God and others really have to do with serving our own selves?


‘The Bachelor’ and God Talk

I was working in Starbucks one day long enough to hear two different conversations in the seats directly behind me. Same seats. Both conversations had two people, reclined in coffee-scented, leather chairs. One conversation’s main theme was The Bachelor (or The Bachelorette), commenting on who went home and who the conversation partners “could not believe is still on the show,” along with their predictions as to what would happen next.

The conversation’s tone went up and down, each person taking turns raising their voice and expressing amazing passion about the topic at hand.

The next pair’s conversation had a main theme of church. They talked about author’s they were reading and whether or not they should tithe to the church that they were going to because they were unsure about the doctrine of eschatology that the associate pastor hinted at in his last sermon.

The conversation’s tone went up and down, each person taking turns raising their voice and expressing amazing passion about the topic at hand.

I found this to be an interesting phenomenon. I came to a conclusion that The Bachelor had somehow crafted a religious response in their fan base or that religion has created a spectator response among its adherents.

Deciding which could be more accurate is not easy; one could make an argument for both and for either.

Of course, my concern is for the latter, for it speaks to the nature of belief. What intrigues me is that a spectating faith could actually separate what a person believes from how that belief works in his/her life. Beliefs become commodities that one can stack on a shelf (metaphorically), safe and tucked away until there is an opportunity to take it off the shelf to use it, like in a conversation or in a FB post battle.

Vincent Miller suggests that beliefs used to hold people; today people hold beliefs.

This is why we can have spirited conversations about God and “be there” but then “switched a gear” when the experience is over and say, “Wow. That was nice. I haven’t talked about God like that in a long time.” And it really had been a long time.

This is why we can have a conversation with someone at church with enough Church-inese stuffed into our part of the conversation so as to give the other person the conclusion that many words were used but nothing was really said.

 

It is why we can have a “Christian self” that runs alongside other selves that we’ve hatched into the world. Everything is fine with that set up until our Christian self bumps into another self that doesn’t get along with the Christian self. We then ask ourselves, “Selves… who am I?” And all three of you say, “Not sure.”

This is why we can say that we love someone all-the-while express acute (and not-so-acute) postures of distaste. No wonder they cannot hear us even when we say I love you in frantic, angry tones.

Have you ever asked someone to explain exactly how they see you and you would not let them out of the conversation until everything that needed to be said could be said?

Who knows… an interesting revelation about the nature of our faith could be realized.

Who knows… maybe we’d experience this amazing opportunity of conversion and repentance.

Just add Eucharist and everything will be ok.

Let’s start chatting, people.


9th Anniversary Thoughts

ImageI celebrate 9 years of marriage with Ginger today. She is an incredible wife and our life together has been amazing. The past 9 years has been filled with so much goodness and joy.

Ginger insists that our wedding day was cold. I used to have a hard time thinking that April 29th could have been a cold day. But, today is pretty cold and it is April 29th… you’re right, Ging.

I remember a lot of things from that day. I remember the dudes that stood with me in my wedding party (ushers and groomsmen). Those are still some of the best dudes in my life, even after all of these years and the direction each of our lives are going.

We almost burned down the church with the ungodly amount of candles that were lit. I felt sorry for my sisters having to light all of them during the prelude… They have stronger deltoid muscles because of it.

I enjoyed how our wedding party danced to “Happy to Be Stuck with You” by Huey Lewis and the News as we walked out. It also proved that Jess Langvardt is still pretty challenged when it comes to dancing.

We got to drive a Chevy Corvette away from the reception hall. I didn’t drive it over 65, though. Typical Joe Skillen.

We surfed in Oceanside for our honeymoon. Truth be told, Ging caught the first wave… then dribbled her head on the ocean floor when she wiped out.

We went to Legoland while we were there… we were the only adults with no kids at the park… We’ve been the coolest cats ever since.

We’ve got the cutest kids, the most amazing friends, and the fullest life I can imagine. 

I love you, Ging. Happy anniversary.


Re-Calibrate

I drank coffee for the first time, in a long time, last night. I gave it up for Lent and because Lent gave way to the Triduum season during the Holy Week, nothing was stopping me from enjoying one cup… at 7:30pm… which meant that I was up most of the night, unable to shut off my brain.

It was as if my brain was being re-calibrated to it’s full working potential. During those wakeful hours, I kid you not, I heard email notifications ding on my iPad even though the device was downstairs. I could feel the hair on my head grow (not really, but it seemed like it). I came up with 3 helpful sermon illustrations for sermons a month from now (that I have forgotten because I eventually drifted off to sleep, naturally).

The whole world seems to be in the right working order now that I’ve been re-calibrated.

Good Friday is the chance to re-calibrate. (awkward transition, I know) The question that eager persons ask is “Why on earth (or heaven) do we call the day we remember Jesus being crucified as ‘Good Friday?'”

Some folks say that Good Friday is good because it shows God’s serious commitment towards justice and mercy, that God would pour the wrath destined for all humanity on the Son, in order for it to be dealt with, once and for all.

Others suggest that Good Friday is the radical display of the love of God, in that God would willingly lay down God’s life before the most disturbing and rebellious actions of humanity. That God takes it all in, and doesn’t retaliate, but repays evil with good. Now, through Christ’s presence in the Godhead, God permanently and eternally resonates with the victim because God was the one who was victimized.

Whatever one’s assumptions may be about the significance of this day, we all have a chance to be re-calibrated, to have a moment of deep reflection and wonder about the mysterious events of this monumental day.


We Offer

The Jewish people gave offerings to God as their way of showing honor, life, and devotion. These were always meticulous offerings, giving the -

First

Best

Finest

Contrary to what some may think, a sacrifice/offering was lifted up not cast downward.

Think of a baseball player who uses his at-bat as a sacrifice fly ball to the deep outfield to move a base runner from third base to home (also known as a “sacrifice fly ball”). That player doesn’t go to the dugout feeling defeated, as if his at-bat was a waste. Nor do his teammates feel sorry for him because he suffered a loss, a wasted at-bat. No, they greet him with celebration because his effort lifted the team.

That is how an offering works. It lifts someone else and the expense of another, but it is not categorized as a waste.

An offering is a gift for someone else.

So, when a church is asked “what do you offer,” we often describe a worship service, counseling help, youth and children’s programs, etc. These items are intended to be a service from the church to benefit others.

I think that it would be good (and a step in the right direction) if we as church folks began to answer this question a bit differently.

Instead of offering services, events, etc… what if when asked about what we offer we say…

“We offer the Robertson’s. They are a great family and have an incredible story. Jim is an excellent coach in little league. Karen is an advocate for alternative housing for those in poverty in our city.

“We offer the Peterson’s. Harold has worked for the same company for 30 years and his peers suggest that he is dedicated, trustworthy, calm under pressure, and that he keeps no record of wrongs. His wife Cheryl is an amazing host and softens up the hardest heart with her famous chicken casserole and apple fritters.

“We offer Steve Williams because he has a passion for kids. He is at the top of the list for substitute teachers in our area because the kids love him and that he doesn’t mind subbing for Mrs. Hilliard’s 7th grade English class, because we know that it takes guts to be a 7th grade English class substitute teacher.

“We offer Fran Billings because even though her kids tell her it is time to settle down and rest (after all she’s 84), Fran wakes up every morning to be at the downtown YMCA to fold towels and to share stories of how things “used to be,” which makes her younger audience laugh and dream of having amazing stories to share by the time they are Fran’s age.

“We offer Greg, Sylvia, Hector, and Drew because they have committed to pool their Christmas bonuses together and buy water wells for communities who do not have fresh drinking water until (as they say together in unison) ‘everyone has fresh drinking water.'”

And on, and on…

This may not make the best promo video or mass mailer to the neighborhood, but it may be the most faithful representation of a church community. That we are not only committed to our gathering, but also to our scattering. Or, as Rick Warren has said along the way, a church should be evaluated not for its seating capacity, but its sending capacity.

 


Culture Conversation instead of Culture Wars

Wow, there’s been a fair amount of material for the wider audience to witness our in-fighting as Christians. Twitter has reminded me of that awkward opening scene of Romeo and Juliet where representatives from two sets of families are “biting thumbs” at one another. I wasn’t aware of how serious of a deal it was for someone to bite his/her thumb at another person the first time I read the great Shakespeare play so I thought the whole thing was absurd.

Which is probably the reaction of the multitudes that have to witness at the broken way we grapple and discuss what we might consider significant issues because the back and forth dominates their Facebook feeds. Then, we have to turn around and convince everyone that it is because of love that we treat each other this way.

It reminds me of the absurd scenario of kids listening to their parents scream at each other, and afterwards, the father trying to reassure the kids that he loves their mother and she is curled up in the bathroom, frightened.

No one is buying it.

I think that what may be the thing worth trying to work on is the way the conversation is framed, in general. I’m getting tired of the term culture war. Wars are terrible and nasty. Wars happen because egomaniacs can’t stand staying put and working it out. Wars happen because we push our chairs away from the table and refuse to understand the others in attendance.

The heart of Christianity is a Christ that had the guts to face his enemies and to attempt to reason with them. Christ enacted palpable, subversive discourse that lifted humanity instead of crushing it.

Paul, an early follower of Jesus, launched communities with a conversation piece, a gospel, a royal announcement that God had become king through the saving work of Jesus. All along, though, Paul insisted that the believing community serve and suffer and be comfortable with being the scum of the earth. Misunderstood, probably? Marginalized, perhaps? But, nevertheless, Paul encouraged this community to enact love and to tell a better story than the rest.

Because, after all, the freight of truth is carried in stories.

Here is the story that (appears) to be in the control tower of the some of the Christian Cultural War camp: We are going to demand being in on every conversation about what is going on in the world, all-the-while holding on to a cosmic evacuation plan to escape this world someday.

Yeah, it’s hard to be taken seriously. It’s like watching a teenager who just got his driver’s license and walk into the Porsche dealership asking to drive the fanciest car on the lot, knowing full well that a car purchase will not be the result.

Here’s the deal. The resurrection demands for us to hang in here. God raised Jesus from the dead and sent him back into the cruel world that just crucified him. So, let’s allow that to be our starting point with cultural engagement. Orthodox Christianity might just be the most benevolent, kind, sacrificial, and thoughtful camp in every contemporary discussion.

 


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