Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Children and Salvation - a follow-up

It's been just over two years since I first blogged about the issue of children and salvation. In my first post on the subject (you can read it here) I mentioned specifically the struggle that our oldest son had been having regarding the issue of salvation. This post covers some of the same subject matter but also tells the story of Trey finding resolution to this struggle that's been going on inside him for years.


Salvation can be (and often is) an extremely confusing subject for a child. I struggled greatly with the issue as a child (and even into my adult years). The main cause of my struggle was a fundamental misunderstanding regarding the essence of salvation. For my part, I remember clearly many of the times that I made a profession of faith. From the time I was 5 years old until the time I was 20 years old I made numerous “salvation decisions”. The first time was when a drama team from a Fundamentalist University came to our church. The drama scared me to death and I went forward at the invitation. The next time was when a musical group from a Fundamentalist College came to our church….same deal. Then there was the “hellfire and brimstone” evangelist. He said that if I wasn’t ”absolutely sure” that I was saved that I needed to come forward and take care of it. So I did. Nearly the entire decade of the 80’s had me at summer camp every year. During my teen years (mid-80’s and forward) the camp experience was at a well-known Christian camp in another state. We always scheduled our camp week to coincide with one of the weeks that the biggest name amongst Fundamentalist Evangelists was there. Every year it was the same story….I’d get ”saved” (and then go home and promptly destroy all my CCM tapes!). My confusion about salvation continued on into my young adult years. I spent three summers working at two different large Christian camps. During each of the first two years I again made professions of faith. I didn’t do that the third year but I found myself praying nearly every day that the Lord would show me that I actually was saved….I was so desperate during this time that the memory of those emotions is still very real to me.

I always came back to “the prayer” I prayed at my most recent salvation experience. I would rehearse it over and again in my memory desperately trying to recollect whether or not I had said the right words in the right order. I had a rather unfortunate view of God at the time. Despite my brokenness, I figured that if I hadn’t got the prayer right then God hadn’t really saved me. This stressed me out – it caused me to lose sleep – it made me view God as some sort of a “trickster”.

I’m now 36 years old. My oldest son is a lot like me in the way he thinks about things. He began struggling with this issue of salvation when he was barely 4 years old….that was 7 years ago. I’ve struggled during that time to be so careful with how we dealt with the subject whenever it would come up. Never pushy – never leading him to pray some “words” – just watching him struggle with it and helping him through as I was able. He came to me last night with more questions. It was fairly easy to see that his long struggle with this issue was coming to a head – his tears and the anxiety on his face bore all that out. I asked him to do what I always have. I told him to read John 3 slowly and carefully using either his ESV Bible or my NIV (so he could understand more clearly). He spent a great deal of time reading through the chapter and then came back to me still crying and trembling. I asked him to tell me about the chapter which he did in a beautiful way. We then began talking about what salvation is and is not. I had Trey do most of the talking – explaining it to me in his own words.

As I quoted and paraphrased some other passages of Scripture in John, Romans, and 1 John, I would ask him again to explain the passages to me. In the end he acknowledged that he needed Christ as his Savior. So, he prayed….inaudibly. When he was done, I didn’t ask him what he prayed simply because he has always struggled with the issue of “saying the right words”. Instead I spent some time with him showing how he could know from Scripture that God had saved him. I shared with him that salvation is not about some formulaic prayer, but rather about God’s love and mercy. As I was talking I noticed that he was crying more fervently than before and I asked him why. He said, “because I’m so happy”.

My prayer for him as we ended our conversation (as well as going forward) is that he grows in God and becomes the Christian man that God wants him to be; that God would continue to work in his life and that He would constantly remind him that he is an adopted child of the King; and that his faith in God would grow and would be unshaken by anything that might happen here on this earth.

I think that adults can do a lot of long-term damage to children if these matters aren’t handled carefully. It is so important that people base their salvation on the Person and work of Jesus Christ rather than some “1-2-3” formula. It is important that, rather than trying to “scare the hell” out of someone, we explain the love and relationship that Christ offers freely to all who will believe. My heart goes out to those who never seem able to get this matter of salvation nailed down. As we share the Gospel with others and, by God’s grace, have the opportunity to lead some to Him, we need to take great care in teaching them that their assurance – their confidence – is to be in Christ and Christ alone. Not some prayer; not some stake hammered into the ground behind their house; not anything of their own merit; but in Christ. His goodness, His love, His great mercy. Him, and Him alone.

With the heavenly choir I rejoiced last night as God brought one of His own to Him!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Things that annoy me.

Just a random list here of a few things that tend to irk me...(actually, some of these things are more than annoying.....they tick me off!!!!) I'll have something more substantive coming soon......

  • People who drive too fast.
  • People who drive too slow.
  • “To” being used where “too” ought to be.
  • Red lights….especially when there are no other vehicles on the road.
  • The word “ideal” being used in place of the word “idea”.
  • The first syllable of “water” being pronounced “what”.
  • People who attempt to claim they aren’t racist by citing the fact that they used to have a really close friend who was black.
  • When I’ve got an itch on my back that I can’t quite reach.
  • People who refuse to admit that they are wrong…particularly when they are disagreeing with me!
  • Parents at sporting events who act like complete idiots when a call doesn’t go a direction that favors the team that their kid is on.
  • People smoking in a vehicle that has kids in it.
  • The sight of Brett Favre wearing that hideous purple uniform.
  • People texting while driving.
  • Texting.
  • Twitter.
  • 99% of all status updates I’ve ever read on Facebook.
  • The parent of one of the kids on my sons’ 6th grade football team who thinks it’s completely appropriate to yell out any profanity that happens to come to his mind.
  • The constant elevation of athletes as role models.
  • Road construction.
  • The unhealthy focus on entertainment in our society.
  • Sexually suggestive commercials.
  • People who think that a four-wheel drive vehicle somehow makes them invincible on the road no matter how hard it’s raining, how deep the snow is, or how thick the ice is.
  • The fact that there is a television network called “Cartoon Network” yet I can’t allow my kids to watch most of what airs there.
  • That I can’t watch national news without some story about Michael Jackson or Jon and Kate.
  • Politicians….nearly all of them.
  • Christians who think they are righteous in their laughter when calamity and / or death comes to some political figure with whom they disagree ideologically.
  • People who attempt to use the Bible to justify their own wickedness.
  • Athletes who are Christians only when their team wins a game.
  • The idea that God actually cares whether or not your team wins a game.
  • The idea that just because a thing isn’t expressly forbidden in Scripture that it must be acceptable.
  • People driving right on my rear bumper.
  • The fact that great programs like “The Andy Griffith Show” have been replaced by crap like “Family Guy”.
  • MSNBC pretending to be a news organization.
  • Some conservative talk show hosts pretending to be non-partisan.
  • Lists that go on for far too long.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Precious Jesus! Glorious Savior! My Redeemer!

Your sacred head bowed down in pain. A cross your resting place.
Your nail pierced hands blood hath stained. Your visage blood hath traced.
Your thorn crowned brow – so much pain. Your bruised and battered face.
Such selflessness – love defined… You freely took my place.

They beat you and they mocked you and they called you evil names;
Willingly ignoring the reason that You came.
Maliciously they whipped You – Your back they opened wide…
Your reaction was astounding! – “Forgive them”, was Your cry.

Precious Jesus! Glorious Savior! My Redeemer, Lord, and Friend!
You loved Your own and prayed for them. You loved them to the end.
Alone and battered, bruised, rejected. A wounded, bloodied man.
Was this the scene You had in mind? Was this salvation’s plan?

This ugly scene of sacrifice – we cannot comprehend;
My precious Jesus, loving and faithful, endured all to the end.
The Perfect Lamb, unspotted – untainted out and in,
Took my place through suffering - He died there for my sin.

I gaze with awe at Calvary’s cross as questions flood my mind:
Propitiation? Substitution? Atonement for my sin?
My questions turn to tears – my sorrow turns to joy;
He loves me! He forgave me! My penalty destroyed!

Precious Jesus! Glorious Savior! My Redeemer, Lord, and Friend!
Your grace and startling mercy! Your love that knows no end!
You sought me and You found me and You said I am Your own!
Your nail scarred hands now hold me. Your righteousness my robe!

I kneel in shame and gratefulness, my blind eyes opened wide.
I understand, though mystified, it was for me He died!
This tragic death now glorious to me it doth appear.
He changed my life! He paid my debt! He brought salvation near!

The debt I owe to You, my God, is one I’ll ne’er repay.
It’s greater than the former one – the one You washed away.
You elected to redeem me. How astounding! How sublime!
I’ll live for You, dear Jesus, though unworthy of Your name.

Precious Jesus! Glorious Savior! My Redeemer, Lord, and Guide!
I long to know You better…with You I would abide.
Precious Jesus! Glorious Savior! My Redeemer, Lord, and Friend!
I long to understand Your love…Your love that knows no end.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

"Sin Myths" or "Why I hate the color grey"

Just because something is stupid doesn’t necessarily mean that it is sinful. Smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day is absolutely stupid. It is also unhealthy. It also makes you smell bad. It might even indicate that you have some lack of self-control. BUT it is most certainly not a sin to smoke. I will concede that addiction (to anything really) is sinful. Since cigarettes contain nicotine, they can potentially become addictive. So smoking your half a pack a day is (to state it again) stupid in that it could certainly lead you to the sin of addiction.

I used to smoke cigarettes….a pack or so a day. I coughed all the time and I smelled bad. After doing this for a few years I decided to stop (with the exception of the occasional cigar on the golf course). I have no desire to smoke ever again. Mainly because of the smell and the fact that there is a chance that it could put me in an early grave. Both of those things aren’t really all that appealing to me. All that said, I respect your foolish decision to smoke. I’ll tell you it’s stupid and I might even tell you that you stink, but I won’t tell you that it’s a sin….because it’s not.

Now, please do not confuse these statements as a defense of smoking. Do not view them as an encouragement to take up smoking. Do not view them as my attempts to justify some behavior of my own. Take them for what they are….statements of fact regarding one of the “sin myths” in Conservative Christianity.

Whether the issue is drinking, smoking, divorce, dancing, a man having long hair, or a woman wearing pants, there are a number of “sin myths” that have taken an almost doctrinal status within Conservative Christianity. When one attempts to offer up a biblical perspective on these things he is often demonized for attempting to justify his own sin if he doesn’t come to the “Party line” conclusion. It makes one wonder at times if they are in the right “Party”.

The many discussions I’ve involved myself in (or simply witnessed) on 10 or 15 different websites around the internet over the last several months regarding the alcohol issue have reminded my of this. Some of the discussions have been profitable. Some have been educational. Some have been challenging. However, most have ended up digressing into utter foolishness with one or both sides attacking the motives and character of the other. Why do disagreements over “grey areas” have to get so shallow and ugly?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pharisees versus Freedom Freaks

There are two common approaches to issues of “Christian liberty”, both of which can be damaging. I term these two (1) Pharisees (not exactly original, I know), and (2) Freedom Freaks. Let me explain.

First, the “Freedom Freak”. This is commonly found in mainstream Evangelicalism but is practically nonexistent in Fundamentalism. The Freedom Freak does everything in excess and out loud. He is often unconcerned with how others might find some of his “liberties” offensive. For instance, it’s not enough for this guy to simply say that he cannot in good conscience support a tee-totaller view on alcoholic beverages based on what Scripture has to say on the subject: he feels compelled to proclaim his favorite beers and rate his top ten favorite mixed drinks on his Christian blog. It never occurs to him that there is a point where Christians might need to take advantage of the liberty they have to abstain from certain things in order to not violate the conscience of a fellow believer. This guy will draw no distinction between peripheral issues and truly contentious ones. In his mind, whether the subject is dress, hair length, music, alcohol, entertainment, language, worship style, or any number of other things, the answer is the same: “Those Pharisees aren’t going to squash my liberty”. The “Freedom Freak” usually understands that Christianity is about a relationship with Christ, but he often neglects to view Christ as a holy and mighty God, choosing instead to focus on the fact that Christ had relationships on earth with some “undesirable” people. They will often paint Christ as kind of a “happy go lucky” guy who would probably avoid most Christians in favor of hanging out at the local pub if He were on earth today.

Then there is the “Pharisee”. This guy is the antithesis of the “Freedom Freak” and is more commonly found in Fundamentalist circles. The “Pharisee” cannot process the idea that some people examine Scripture thoroughly and simply come to a different conclusion about certain things than he does. To the “Pharisee” the Christian life is about a fairly detailed list of do’s and don’ts. Even in matters in which scholars through the ages have differed, this guy sticks to his rules. After all, he probably knows better than some guy who lived 200 years ago and studied Scripture for his entire life in the languages in which they were originally written. The Pharisee tends to not engage in any sort of debate or conversation about the controversial issues. “It’s just wrong…you can see all through the Bible that it’s a sin!” is a summary of the best argument this guy will tend to lay out to defend some of his more difficult positions. The heart of the Pharisee tends to be on target…sort of. He has a desire toward righteousness…toward becoming more like Christ. However, in his zealous approach to sanctification, the Pharisee tends to relegate the Christian life to something that is more about a “look” and a “list” then it is about a relationship. Indeed, a relationship with Christ is more about reading the Bible every day than it is about anything else as far as this guy is concerned. The “Pharisee” tends to paint a horrible picture of God as some angry ogre in the sky who is going to punish you for any misstep you might make.

While there is plenty of good and bad to say about both the “Pharisee” and the “Freedom Freak”, they both tend to miss the mark. They both have an incomplete and, consequently, a distorted view of Christ. They also both have a horrid understanding of the liberty and freedom that we enjoy in Christ. One makes the Christian life impossible and the other makes it look no more difficult than eating a snow cone. Both are horribly selfish in that they ultimately make life about themselves. Both would do well to lock themselves up in a room for a month or two and carefully study Romans and 1 Corinthians.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Glorious Savior! Blessed Redeemer!

Battered and bruised, bloodied and bare
Ridiculed and shamed;
The Son of God bore all my sin.
Oh, praise His Blessed Name!

He became sin for us
Though no sin He knew.
He cloaked us in His righteousness;
He washed us white as snow.

The ugly mount called Calvary,
Wretched, vile, and stained,
Became a place of love and grace.
My sins were washed away!

Oh, glorious Savior, oh blessed Redeemer
We stand in awe of You!
You died for us. You live for us!
Your blood has made us new!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Slipping and Sliding...

The following rant brought to you courtesy of an unfortunate email exchange I recently endured. The subject matter of said email has been avoided in the rant below in order to avoid it being spilled out onto my blog…..

I absolutely abhor the “slippery slope” argument that some use to “prove” their point. The basic idea of the slippery slope argument is that if you take some liberty / engage in some activity, etc it will ultimately lead to something much more egregious and sinister. For instance, embracing certain music forms (such as Sovereign Grace Music) will eventually lead you to sympathizing with the most profane forms of music (just so long as the “message” is good) and ultimately to an complete abandonment of any discernable separation from worldliness. Obviously this form of argumentation is nuts. The inadvertent effect of one making the slippery slope argument is that the thing with which they disagree isn’t wrong, per se, it will just lead to some erroneous position down the road. Like I said…nuts!

While I fully support boundaries and rules, I think that often we attempt to make hard and fast rules where we don’t necessarily have to. I guess it’s easier to make a rule than it is to teach a biblical principle coupled with discernment in application. The application of the “slippery slope” argument caused my quite a bit of consternation during my childhood and young adult years: Listening to music with a pronounced beat would cause me to worship Satan. Holding hands with a girl would cause us to have sex. Wearing shorts would cause some innocent girl to lust after me – this would lead to premarital sex. A girl wearing pants would cause me to lust after her – this would lead to wicked thoughts and a broken relationship with God. Going to a “G” movie at the theatre would cause someone who saw me going in there to abandon Christianity. Not wearing a coat and tie to church would cause me to abandon all forms of separation from worldliness in my dress and conduct. One sip of wine would lead me to alcoholism. Missing one morning of personal devotions would cause all sorts of problems…God would punish me for it throughout the day until I got “back on track”…after all, if I didn’t have devotions this morning I was completely out of God’s will.

Not all of those examples necessarily fit the “slippery slope” mentality, but I was on a role! You get the point though….bizarre and unexplained leaps of logic to “prove” that you ought not do something that I don’t like. Recently I’ve heard more of these “slippery slope” arguments (although some are disguised). At times the argument is simply, “Embracing Calvinism is part of the slippery slope”. At times the argument goes more like, “The problem with Calvinism is that it eventually leads to a denial of the inerrancy of Scripture”. Either way, the slippery slope argument leaves out important details. In one form you aren’t told where the slippery slope lands you – you just know that you’re on it. In the other form you are told that “A” always leads to “B” without any explanation or proof….even if “A” and “B” seem to be completely incongruous!

In fundamentalism the slippery slope argument is almost always applied to matters of “personal liberty” or matters where the Bible is silent or vague. In most cases where the slippery slope card is tossed on the table a solid biblical principle will be the stake in the pot. Again, it’s the application (or misapplication) of said principle that is the issue.

To be completely honest, I’m willing to be corrected when I’m shown to be wrong. I’m willing to concede that my point of view might be incompatible with what the Bible has to say when I’m shown so. All I ask is that you demonstrate to me where I’m wrong. If you utter the words “slippery slope” you will lose me every time.