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Found: God’s Will by John MacArthur

February 21, 2016 1 comment

FoundThis is a book written to help Christians understand God’s will in the life of the believer. The first 66 pages list out numerous scriptural references showing five elements to God’s will for one’s life – which include:

  1. Saved
  2. Spirit-filled
  3. Sanctified
  4. Submissive
  5. Suffer

After which, paraphrasing MacArthur – if you’re doing all five of the basic elements and wanting direction for something, well, do whatever you want [68]. MacArthur explains that if those five elements of God’s will are preeminent in your life, then you can trust that according to Ps 37:4, God is giving you the desires of your heart.

MacArthur goes on, 

You may bounce off a lot of closed doors, but that is God’s way of forcing you into His open one. [74]

Hmmm – time to pause. In my estimation, at least, the belief that God uses “open” or “closed” doors to direct us is an easy way out of the responsibility of decision-making. Personally, I find decision making hard. For me, it’s much easier to be the “worker-bee” on the manufacturing line. On the other hand, it’s all together a lot more complicated (and difficult!) to be responsible for decisions made to ensure that the manufacturing line is operating at maximum efficiency. Hence, “decision makers” [aka managers] typically earn more money. It’s almost as though people aren’t necessarily paid for the work they do. Rather, people are compensated by the kinds of decisions they make. Therefore, the greater one’s responsibilities and magnitude of decisions made, the fatter the paycheck – at least on average. But, perhaps that’s a topic for another conversation.

Still, the concept of “open doors” and “closed doors” is foreign to me. My own understanding of verses within the Bible coupled with life-events has brought about numerous times when differing counsel, conflicting scriptures, hard to understand circumstances and even the good-willed intention of other people provide, at best, ambiguity with regard to personal direction.

Ultimately, we make the best decisions we can with the knowledge we have at the time. We can ‘decide yes’ or ‘decide no’. And then, like it or not, we have to deal with what is best described as the natural occurring outcomes (or consequences). And, those naturally occurring consequences can be good, bad or even indifferent. Lots of examples come to mind i.e. purchasing a house, investing, going back to school, taking a new job, whom to marry, having children, moving to a new city, etc. All too often I see Christians feeling duped or otherwise “beating themselves up” over decisions they’ve made wherein they suffer from the “I must have missed God’s will” syndrome. The ironic commonality amongst so many believers, however, is the belief that if something works out well then it must have been God’s will. And conversely, if something didn’t work out so well, then the poor schlep feels as though God is bringing about punishment for their going around God’s will. To me, this is nuts!

I think we can trust the writings of Paul in Rom 12:1-2 that:

  1. We are to present our bodies as a living an holy sacrifice
  2. This is our spiritual service of worship
  3. We are not to be conformed to this world
  4. Rather, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind
  5. So that we may prove what the will of God is

Subsequently, experiencing God’s will in one life is not complicated. We are to:

  • Work hard
  • Live in peace
  • Warn those who are idle
  • Encourage the timid
  • Help the weak
  • Be patient with everyone
  • Don’t pay back wrong for wrong
  • Be kind
  • Be joyful always
  • Pray continually
  • Give thanks in all circumstances

Because [all of the above] is God’s stated will for us (1Thess 5:12-18).

I respectfully disagree with MacArthur that God is using the experiences in our lives to shape us into his will [75]. I remain unconvinced that God has a ‘blueprint plan’ for each person’s life. Nor do I believe that God reveals that ‘blueprint’ through open or closed windows. I have no doubt as to Paul’s account of his Damascus Road experience. However, such events are exceedingly rare within the Bible. To which, where are the verses teaching how to interpret and understand circumstances?

In conclusion, God wants our hearts and our minds. The details relating to what I decide (or don’t decide) will take their own course and therefore I don’t need to concern myself with specific outcomes or trying to figure out if something is (or is not) his plan via open or closed doors. So, simply put, God’s will is living our life as he intends and making decisions that honor him. It’s not anymore complicated than that.

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Gifted Mind

February 19, 2016 Leave a comment

Raymond DamadianA recently published book entitled Gifted Mind is an interesting read about the life-story of Dr. Raymond Damadian. He is credited with having invented the MRI. A key element throughout the book is Damadian’s adamant belief that he experienced God’s intentional  leading into a “new truth” through the invention of the MRI. A quote on the back cover of the book is testament to Damadian’s belief:

To me, the highest purpose a man can find for life is to serve the will of God.

As becomes obvious in the book, this will of God is not a general will of salvation. Rather, the will of God is personal and specific for each person.

With an admitted bias towards Open Theism and a completely different understanding of the nature of God’s will in the life of the believer, I tried to read Gifted Mind in an open and honest manner. Aspects of Damadian’s life and the invention (along with the explanation) of how MRI differentiates K+ (potassium) and Na+ (sodium) structures of normal and cancerous cells are fascinating. There’s no doubt that Damadian possesses a ‘gifted mind’. And, throughout the book, Damadian comes across as a humble guy dealing with day-to-day difficulties and coping as best he can.

As noted above, an important element in the book is that God gives or otherwise doles out specific knowledge to particular people at given times throughout history. If that’s true, it could reasonably be argued, then, that there’s a basis to believe God has intentionally withheld medical advances which would have otherwise helped or benefited people. And, as one who struggles with Calvinistic doctrines, I unfortunately find such a concept of God benefitting some but not others consistent with the Calvinist teaching of election wherein only some people are created for salvation and others are to be reprobate.

Damadian’s scriptural references are, to me, poorly interpreted and only vaguely tied to applications he puts forth. Some examples include:

  • John 14:6 I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. [10-11]
  • John 8:32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. [11]

Damadian uses these verses to show that God is the author and creator of all truth and that God ‘allowed’ (or chose) Damadian to unfold a ‘new truth’ – namely, develop the MRI. To me, the very clear intent of these verses have to do with salvation and not the development of a high-tech widget.

  • Prov 16:9 The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. [164]

The clear inference is that God determined that Damadian was the one who would bring MRI into the world at a certain point in time. Can I then infer from Damadian’s understanding of this verse that God also directs the steps of the wicked? I personally don’t think so. However, I would submit that God is able to ‘use’ man’s plan – and direct those freely chosen steps to that which God wants.

The book is replete with numerous and specific claims of God “directing Damaian’s steps” i.e.:

  • “Astounded by the coincidence” [89]
  • “I was meant to construct the first MRI” [91]
  • “I knew what God wanted me to do in that moment” [129]
  • “[The invention of the] MRI was the unfolding of God’s plan for my life” [164]

In spite of the number of claimed instances where Damadian believes God was “directing his steps”, however, I remain unconvinced. To which, I’m often troubled that good-willed Christians can have such divergent thought as to the nature of God’s will. Two books I’ve found which underscore that variance are:

  • God’s Will, God’s Best – Josh McDowell
  • Decision Making and the Will of God – Garry Friesen

McDowell’s book goes into detail as to using various “tools” such as circumstances and counsel in ascertaining whether something is indeed part of God’s will for one’s life. Friesen, on the other hand, believes that anything we do (or decide) that is not in conflict with Scripture is perfectly acceptable to God. Furthermore, Friesen encourages ‘Kingdom thinking’ such that should a decision be required between A or B, do that which will bring about greater glory for God.

I don’t doubt the difficulty as to the nature of the work that Damadian and his team did. However, it seems curious for one who’s adamant as to God’s specific leading to also express doubts about that leading and there are numerous examples where Damadian appears to doubt God’s leading:

  • Sought help from President Carter [96]
  • Chasing ‘ghost theories” [107]

To which, it’s unclear as to why in these instances (and likely many others) Damadian didn’t claim John 14:14 to ‘ask anything in my name’. [91]

In conclusion, I believe this book will likely enhance or otherwise confirm what one already believes about matters of faith and the nature of the will of God in the lives of believers. People who are comforted by God’s sovereign decree(s) over his creation will likely agree with Damadian being led by the spirit and periodic revelations of “new truth” (in this case, the MRI). For myself, I struggle with the overt generalization of scriptural references being applied to concepts and notions for which the writers had no intention. I did, however, enjoy reading the book and learning about this man. But ultimately, I find that this story is not compelling that God was indeed leading Damadian. And therefore, I am not convinced that this book provides compelling evidence that God has a specific will for believers.

Would Esther Have Been Considered a Calvinist?

April 22, 2012 5 comments

Recently I pondered whether delving into the Old Testament Torah would help bring about some understanding to Calvinistic/sovereign grace issues within my own faith. Unbeknownst to me, my bride has been studying the book Esther in a women’s Bible study. She’s well aware of my consternation regarding Reformed theology in general and unconditional election in particular. She believes a sovereign God can, and does, direct the events in the lives of believers – and for that matter, non-believers as well. With her permission, I have copied her summary of the book of Esther and how this book has helped to bring about a new sense of purpose and understanding within her own life. 

Can everything that happens in the book of Esther be explained by naturally-occurring events?

    • The king can’t sleep one night and asks the archives of his kingdom to be read to him – which happened to be of the time Mordecai reported a coup against the king and was never rewarded for it.
    • The king is invited to a dinner by Esther.
    • Esther rose to be queen based on her beauty and personality. 
    • The king sees someone in the courtyard which happens to be Haman.  
    • A prideful Haman gives the king a grandiose idea of how to honor someone – the honor Haman actually wishes to have bestowed upon himself. 
    • Haman just happens to be “falling on the queen’s couch” when the king reenters the room. 
    • The king makes a decisive decision to have Haman executed. 
    • A newly built gallows had just been built by Haman which had been intended to hang Mordecai. 

Is it all just happenstance? It seems impossible that all of those events, taken together,  could randomly have lined up that way. It appears that everything was orchestrated and planned out. And none of the players could possibly have seen, understood or even imagined that each event had been specifically designed. 

Is there a lesson for us? Does God work this way in our lives? How do we know if God orchestrates circumstances in our lives today? The book of Esther teaches that God can use people to bring about events he desires – even through people who don’t acknowledge or worship him. The book of Esther also shows God’s heart and compassion for his people. God has good intentions toward us and the power to orchestrate human events in our favor. I believe God has the power to answer my prayers, the power to influence my mind and help me make wise decisions.

Did God orchestrate the approval process at Hamline so that I would enter their education program? Does God specifically want me to be a reading teacher? I still can’t answer these questions with 100% assurance. However, I think it’s much easier looking back over time at events to see a plan and that’s why it’s so evident in the book of Esther that there was a plan. We are looking back over time. No one in the story saw the plan as it was unfolding. The book of Esther teaches that God sees and cares and works on behalf of his people. May we trust in God’s good intentions and his providence over our lives. 

Romans 8:38-39 states, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I’m not sure it really means anything, per se, but I find it interesting that I’ve never come across any Calvinistic reference pertaining to God exercising his sovereignty within the Book of Esther. Still, it’s hard to argue against the “lessons” of Esther that my better 7/8ths elaborated on in her journal. And, it’s hard to argue against those passages in scripture in which God takes an active role or against those individuals specifically called out by God – including Moses, Abraham, David, the disciples, Paul, et al. I don’t doubt that God, being God, can do as he pleases. That said, I’m not a “determinist” and as such am not convinced that God directs the actions and activities of each and every “free agent” (a philosophical term I seem to be coming across more often). Nevertheless, perhaps it is only through the long lens of time that we can understand the path on which we’ve walked and how all that we have encountered on that path has indeed, per Rom 8:28, worked together for the good of those who love God and have been called according to his purpose. 

Wanted: My Definition of Calvinism

March 27, 2011 9 comments

I recently received an email which stated:

From time to time I lurk on your blog.  Interesting thoughts.  From what I read, however, I think there might be some weaknesses in your arguments.  It’s not that your logic is off, but I question some of your starting assumptions.

So here’s a challenge for you:  Define what you think Calvinism is.

Two ground rules:

  1. Make it short rather than long.  When you write things in your blog you’re using your stream-of-consciousness definition of Calvinism 90% of the time.  Not the nuanced points, just the primary points.  I realize something like this has plenty of nuance, but making it short forces you to stick to your fundamental ideas.
  2. Don’t look anything up or say what others think.  Once again, when you are writing for your blog you’ve got your definition in mind, not someone else’s.

Based on what I’ve read, my suspicion is that some of what you call Calvinism is not what most Calvinists would call Calvinism.  And thinking through that might help sort through some of the questions you raise.

Looking forward to your response.

Dear Lurker,

Thank-you for your interest in this blog. Your criticism is, I believe, a fair one. I do tend to write in a stream-of consciousness manner. I don’t know that I intend to, per se – and I don’t know that it’s bad, either. However, when I read or hear things, for better or worse the way I “process” through and come to some understanding of thoughts, ideas or concepts is doing what I do.

Nevertheless, I appreciate your suggestion to provide a definition. And so, here in a nutshell is my definition of Calvinism:

  • God predestines and controls everything for His glory

There’s a strong temptation to dig up a bunch of information that I believe would support that definition and also to provide examples of statements of other people. But following your suggestion – I won’t. However, I would like to simply state that there are numerous manifestations of Calvinism that (to me, at least) naturally come about from this definition including salvation only for “the elect” and an inability of God’s creation to exercise free will. In my own mind and experience, these manifestations have led to a perception that God intentionally limits His love to only a very select few and God ‘wills’ evil. Lastly, I’ve experienced terrible frustrations pertaining to assurance of salvation. Am I saved? Or, am I simply going through “Christian motions” on my own? Or worse, is God intentionally deceiving me?

I welcome your reply.

Bob

Believing God’s Sovereignty in Sickness – and in Health, too?

June 29, 2010 22 comments

I am saddened to hear of Joni Eareckson Tada’s breast cancer and only wish her the very best with her surgery and following treatments.  In the video, Joni said:

Our afflictions come from the hand of our all wise and sovereign God.

We believe that God can and does heal.

Given her own words, I sense that doubt is revealed and a lack of confidence in God’s ability to heal is displayed because Joni has sought out medical assistance through surgery and (presumably) subsequent chemotherapy and/or radiation.  According to Joni, it was God who determined that she was to contract cancer.  The question I seem to ask of Christians who make the assertions that God inflicts some with life-threatening disease (or any other kind of malady or calamity) is; do Joni’s actions in seeking medical treatment indicate that she really does rest in her stated view of God’s sovereignty and God’s will in the matter of her healing?

Update: From the latest video and posting on her site above, it’s good to hear that Joni appears to be doing well after surgery.

Update (7/6): Joni continues to recover after her surgery.  I’ve enjoyed reading the comments that people have posted.  Although I have my doubts that it was God who brought about cancer within Joni, it is apparent Joni that has peace about the whole situation and her faith is a testament to God working out all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28)

Trying to Understand Calvinist Thought & Logic Related to the Will of God

February 4, 2010 9 comments

This post came about from comments written by myself and two others elsewhere on this blog.  For the sake of clarity and to keep a post on a given topic, I’ve decided to bring those references and comments under a new post.

My previous post on “Calvinitus” was an attempt to show my struggle with Calvinist doctrines infusing themselves and otherwise coloring (maybe blinding?) my perception of God.  However, after recently watching an old movie about Lou Gehrig, Pride of the Yankees (1942), it occurred to me that perhaps Calvinists also struggle with the reality of their own doctrines – particularly unconditional election.

Most people probably associate Lou Gehrig with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”.  ALS is an insidious progressive neurodegenerative disease affecting the nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord for which there’s currently no cure.  I have no idea as to what Lou Gehrig’s religious beliefs were.  If I may, however, let’s assume Lou Gehrig was an ardent Calvinist.  There’s a scene from the movie, where Lou Gehrig learns that he has ALS, which goes something like this:

Lou: Give it to me straight, doc.  Is it three strikes?

Doc: Yes, Lou, I’m afraid so.

Lou: Well, I’ve learned something over my life.  You can’t change the call of the umpire.

Calvinists I know believe that God ordains all things.  That being true, then Lou Gehrig’s “Calvinist” example is one of humbling accepting God’s will when he’s diagnosed with ALS because of his realization that “you can’t change the call of [God]”.  Lou further exemplifies his submission to God’s will when he says during his retirement speech, “I consider myself to be the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

It was interesting, then to find a story (here) where a Calvinist man goes to visit his grandfather in a hospital.  Also present at the hospital are his grandmother and a Eucharist minister.  The Calvinist man is upset that the Eucharist minister is offering his grandparents feel-good prayers, pseudo-repentance and communion.  The Calvinist man was struck by the wretchedness, hostility, false assurance and blasphemy of the Eucharist minister’s actions and his grandparents attitudes toward God.  The story continues that later, and without success, the Calvinist man tries to convey the gospel message to his grandfather.

It surprises me that Calvinists appear blinded by the logic inherent within their own doctrines.  According to the doctrines of total depravity and unconditional election, God determines who will be saved and conversely who will be eternally lost.  Therefore, why is this Calvinist man dismayed at his grandparents or the Eucharist minister?  God hasn’t elected them.  They’re toast.  The Calvinist man understands that no witnessing, no praying, nothing the Calvinist man could do is going to change what God has sovereignty decreed.  As such, I submit that the Calvinist man’s frustrations towards his grandparents and the Eucharist minister are misdirected.  Consider:

  • The Calvinist man believes God has predetermined the decisions his grandparents have made.
  • God, however, has not chosen to save the Calvinist man’s grandparents.
  • The Calvinist man is dismayed that his grandparents are not elect.
  • And, the Calvinist man realizes that because God is in control, there’s nothing he can do.
  • As such aren’t those feelings of loss and separation related to his grandparent’s eternal destiny directly attributable to God’s sovereignty in the matter?
  • The grief the Calvinist man displays would seem (to me at least) to indicate a desire for God to change the inevitable outcome.
  • Therefore, the Calvinist man is in reality opposed to God’s will in this matter.  And if we’re not in favor of some act or condition, then by definition we’re opposed to that very same thing.

What I don’t see from the Calvinist man in this story is the humility exhibited by Lou Gehrig.  Wouldn’t the Calvinist man, if he truly believes in his doctrines, say something to the effect of, “I thank God for his sovereignty and for having blessed me with the greatest grandparents on the face of the earth.  I hope and pray that God may change my grandparent’s attitudes toward himself.  But I willingly accept God’s sovereign will and know that even my grandparent’s eternal separation will bring glory to God if only through his perfect wrath.”

That’s just a story some might argue.  Fair enough – but I think it ties in well to an MSNBC news story (here) of a young Calvinist pastor, Matt Chandler, currently undergoing treatments for brain cancer.  After reading the story, here are the comments I made to my good friend and ardent Calvinist, Mike:

Is there not something incongruous between Matt’s statements versus his actions as related to Calvinist thought and logic regarding the will of God?

“Lord, you gave [me cancer] for a reason.”

[Matt] is praying that God will heal him.

Whatever happens, [Matt] says, is God’s will, and God has his reasons.

As I understand Matt’s statements, he’s as much saying that God ordained him to contract brain cancer.  However, according to Matt, that doesn’t mean waiting for fate to occur.  Rather, it means fighting for his life, and to that end, Matt is undergoing surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.  I hope this question doesn’t come across as belittling.  However, if Matt truly believes God gave him cancer, then why doesn’t Matt have the faith to accept the cancer along with the significant potential of him dying and leaving behind his wife and two young daughters?

From reading the article, I sense Matt believes that God could cure him without all the standard fare of cancer treatments?  Yet, Matt appears to have decided that it’s best to undergo all of the treatments.  Isn’t Matt in essence saying, “Dear Lord, I know that if it’s your will to cure me, I’ll be healed.  No if’s, ands, or or’s about it.  Now, please don’t be angry at my lack of faith – but just in case, I’ll start all these different treatment options because maybe, just maybe, it’s your will that I’ll be healed through one of them.  Okay?”

Honestly, this seems to be more of the thought process Gideon used.  In this case, Matt seems to be hedging his “faith-bet” by putting down sheepskins of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy in order to ensure that all the bases are covered – and all the options for God to use are available .  Is Matt showing his faith?  Or, is Matt showing his desire to live irrespective of what God may have ordained?

With regret, I say that this appears to be somewhat of a false-faith. All the Calvinists know I emphatically emphasize God’s sovereignty and his being in control of everything in our lives.  And yet, when confronting an obvious life-or-death situation such as cancer, I’ve NEVER known anyone who was willing to sit back, praise God for the cancer (or any other serious or life-altering disease) they contracted, and look forward to their death.  Granted, I’ve only known of a few people who’ve dealt with cancer and the like.  But irrespective of the situation or circumstance, no one I know (Calvinists or not) simply allows “God’s will” to occur.  Everyone employs some subtle theological argument that “maybe, just maybe I had better play it safe in case God might be leading in ‘this’ direction.”

By definition then (at least as I see it), this Calvinist pastor is fighting God’s will and in essence trying to wrest control of the end results from God (most likely his death from cancer) by undergoing treatments.  So, I’m curious as to what you think: is Matt is trying to take control away from and/or otherwise alter the sovereign will of God?

Seeking God’s Will?

January 21, 2010 Leave a comment

All too often I’ve had discussions with people who are “seeking God’s will” about something.  Trying to think through how we one can ascertain God’s will, the thought of marriage came to mind.  On the one hand, God lays out a principle in 2 Cor 6:14 that we shouldn’t marry a non-Christian.  Within this clearly defined boundary of believers, God allows us to choose the one we like best if for no other reason than God didn’t provide an “instruction manual” as to how individuals should choose a mate.  It seems simple enough; God lays out a framework (his sovereignty) and we live within that framework (our responsibility).

Hasn’t God, through the Bible, given us everything we need to know him and live our lives according to his principles – his revealed will for our lives?  To that end, I can think of no better passage as to how Christians should live their lives than Rom 12.  I can conclusively state that it’s the will of God for me to:

  • Offer my body as a living sacrifice to God, Be transformed by the renewing of my mind, Do not think of myself more highly than I ought, Use my gift(s), Love with sincerity, Hate what is evil, Cling to what is good, Be devoted to one another, Never be lacking in zeal, Keep my spiritual fervor, Be joyful in hope, Be patient in affliction, Be faithful in prayer, Share with God’s people who are in need, Practice hospitality, Bless those who persecute me, Rejoice with those who rejoice, Mourn with those who mourn, Live in harmony with one another, Do not be proud, Be willing to associate with people of low position, Do not be conceited, Do not repay anyone evil for evil, Be careful to do what is right, Live at peace with everyone, Do not take revenge, Do good to your enemies, Overcome evil with good.

My conclusion, then, is that with their different gifts and talents, Christians have a lot of freedom in exercising how they live out “God’s will” in their lives.  So long as believers don’t violate what God has clearly stated as his revealed will, there shouldn’t be any reasons for Christians to worry about “missing God’s will”.