Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Our battle: genetics vs faith

Some know, some don't about our daughter.  We've been through highs and lows waiting for a definitive answer on what type of disorder she has.  Now we have an answer.  I wish I could say I was happy about it but I'm not.  Actually it is by far the worst news I have ever received.  Chloe has Rett's Syndrome and we have a serious challenge to our faith.  Google it and you'll understand why.

At this point I think I would rather change places with Job.  At least God took everything away from Him quickly.  We get to watch our daughter slowly debilitate and hope against hope that the next seizure doesn't take her last breath.  We get to be the family everyone talks about when they get home from Wal-Mart with the uncontrollable kid who screams, bites and kicks.  We get to do what no one else wants to do, not because we're strong enough or able enough but because we have no choice.

This is one of those situations where we find ourselves helpless yet hopeful.  There is no cure, no medication and no treatment for Rett's.  Even so, we are still hopeful that God would give her grace to overcome and us grace to endure.  I'm certain we will learn more from Chloe than words could express if she had them.  I already see Christ working to reveal His strength through her weakness.

Neverland is being deconstructed for sure.  Bit by bit, piece by painful piece we are being broken down to the place where we only have Christ.  It hurts, we cry and wonder why but He is still nearer than the air we breath.  Holding us, comforting us and crying with us.  He cries with us even though He can see the end from the beginning.  He hurts with us even though He already knows how it will work together for good.

It would take a mighty God to work all of this together for good and we have the ALL Mighty as our advocate and provider.  We expect nothing less than a miriacle that will make the world stop and recognize His glory and power.  We expect these great and marvelous things not because we deserve it but because He is faithful and desires to prove it through us.  So, with Christ, Paul and the countless saints before us and beside us we rejoice in our trials for the upward call and the fame of the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  His mercies never cease.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lord have mercy

As I read books and study scripture, the things I thought I knew as truth I find to be only half true and sometimes untrue.  This is one of those times.

I'm reading a book by A.W.Tozer on the gospel of John called "And He Dwelt Among Us".  In the seventh chapter entitled "what really matters to God" he takes up the lofty goal of speaking and writing on the famous verse John 3:16.  He writes much about God's love for the individual, every individual.  He speaks of how God demonstrates His love toward the unrighteous by sending His only begotten Son.  He tells of the message contained in this all-encompassing passage that is for every man.  "I matter to God, God loves me".

While Tozer writes with great eloquence, these are all things I have heard before.  Nonetheless, there is a sense of awe that comes over us when we see the wonder of this statement.  God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.  For me there is a lot of teaching which I received from the feet of the "reformed" that I read into that simple verse.  Those teachings deal with defining the "whosoever" as those elected and chosen before the foundation of the world.  References are made to Romans 9 and God's purpose of election along with His right as God to do whatever He wants to.  He can harden whomever He wills and He can show mercy to whomever He will.  My understanding of election still stands, but my interpretation of John 3:16 according to that set of doctrines has changed.

Since Tozer is very respected among the reformed camp, I was surprised to see him write these words:
"Do not listen to those interpreters of truth who say God has chosen some and not chosen others, and that the ones He has chosen are good and the ones that He has not chosen are no good.  They are vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, and God created them to have the fun of damning them.  There is nobody like that in the universe...everybody matters to God."

Of course, at this point I close my book and turn to the passage in Romans 9 he is speaking of.  It reads:

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, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—(Romans 9:22-23 ESV)
So as I meditate on this passage and ask God what it is that I have missed, what it is that I misinterpreted, where I've gone wrong, I begin to see things differently.  Paul is not saying that God has predestined some for eternal wrath and others for glory.  Paul is saying that God has endured the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.  Does he say eternal destruction in Hell?  No, he says destruction.  Well I can certainly testify to that.  I was once a child of wrath and now my flesh is being destroyed by the power of God as I walk in the Spirit according to the mercy He has shown in Christ Jesus.

I was a vessel of wrath and I am a vessel of mercy.  God loved me so He sent Jesus so that if I believe in Him I would have His life.  This can be true for every unrighteous, unbelieving, destitute, depraved and evil person.  There is no-one you and I will ever meet whom God does not love enough to send His Son to die for and that is a very great love.  That is the kind of unstoppable love that doesn't take no for an answer.  The kind of love that can be rejected over and over again and not condemn.  How can we further condemn an already condemned person?  Christ did not come in to the word to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through Him.  These extraordinary statements in John's gospel have lost their lustre to our over-sermonized ears.  There is much wonder wrapped up in these two verses.  Christ came because God loved, not to condemn but to save and redeem.

Lord have mercy on your children when we condemn others for unrighteousness and think that they are hopeless because they have been predestined to be apart from you forever.  Rather let us hope in their destruction only in that they will be made new in Christ and know the riches of your glory as a vessel of mercy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

An organic expression of Christ

I write a lot about the church and often you will notice I use the phrase "an organic expression of Christ" to describe our goal as a body of believers. In this post I will open up that term in an effort to define what I mean by that.

I use the word organic very purposefully. What I'm hoping to convey is the fact that life comes from within. Therefore growth and fruit comes from within and proceeds outward. As new creations in Christ, He has given us the same life that He and the Father shared before creation. This life He has placed within us. By His life we are changed from the inside out. This is what I mean when I use the term organic especially as it pertains to our lives as individuals.

This organic life that comes from within must be expressed. We simply cannot be filled with divine life from Christ and not overflow like a fountain of living water. The more we partake of Christ by eating His flesh and drinking His blood the more we share in His life. As we share in His life we pour His life back out onto others. Similar to the way the Father pours His Divine love into the Son and the son reciprocates by pouring back into the Father via the Spirit. This abounding and overflowing of Divine life in the Godhead is the community we have been grafted into. A pouring out of ourselves toward one another is the way we build one another up. All fifty-some one anothers in Scripture are lived out in this type of community. Such is the nature of the family of God. When I use the words "organic expression of Christ" to describe the Church all these thoughts and more are wrapped up in those words.  A new nature within that is fed with Christ's life which proceeds outward to one another and ultimately in abundant praise to God for His glory.

These thoughts and definitions are not simply rhetoric or lofty dreams of an ideallistic fellowship. Living by and sharing in the Divine life of the Godhead by partaking of Christ is very practical.  The problem is that defining it practically and giving instructions as to how to live it out fall short because giving specific instructions go against the very heart and purpose of organic church life.  In order to live out organic church life we must be submitted to the Spirit and His leading as we share our lives together throughout the week and then come together as a corporate body and share what the Spirit has revealled of Christ to each member while we were apart.  This can (and likely will) look different from week to week.  I simply cannot express what an organic expression of Christ will look like other than by saying that at the end of the gathering Christ will have been seen more in His fullness through every member's participation and it will be very orderly because He is the true Head and He is in charge.  It will be the kind of gathering that would convince an unbeliever that God is real and that He is in your midst.

The difficulty lies in the fact that I am trying to express spiritual matters with human language.  In spiritual matters, words will always fall short because the things of the Spirit transcend word and thought.  Yet, I trust that if you know anything of the power of God and the fellowship of the Spirit, if you have had a revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, then these words will be seen and heard in a way that speaks volumes more than the words that are written here.  Spiritual things are discerned spiritually.  Every person has a desire to be in fellowship with one another and with our Triune God.  It is why we were created.  I believe that we can experience it today with the same fervor and power that we see in the New Testament if only we would abandon all things (including good things we have built for Him) for the person of Christ.  We must go to Him, sup with Him, eat of Him, drink of Him, abide in Him, and carry our cross with Him everyday and then come together and share the life we have received from Him with one another.

The ultimate goal of the assembly of the church is to be built into Christ.  This is why the organic expression of Christ is so necessary.  As we abide in Christ, each branch bears fruit that builds up the body.  This order is reversed by most Christian gatherings today.  Any habits, forms, liturgies, or other types of organized patterns that the gathering is expected to follow get in the way of the free flowing organic expression of Christ through His body.  This could be due to either a stronghold from the leadership that keeps these patterns in place, a lack of vital nutrients for the members that come from a daily communion with our indwelling Lord, or a combination of both.  If each of us are partaking of the life of Christ regularly then there is no need for these forms, patterns and systems.  His Life will pour forth from each one and we will grow up in every way into Him who is the Head.

Rather, speaking the truth in love,
 we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped,
 when each part is working properly, 
makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.  Eph 4:15-16

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Responding to the responders

This is the kind of stuff I dig. Two opposing viewpoints held by folks who come together and hash it out amongst themselves in love and grace toward one another. I'm referring to my post and the response to my thoughts on open theism which was followed by another guest post responding to that response. Now I'm going to respond to the responders.  I love the heart of these brothers who have reached out to me. I have recently been immersed in the topic by several writers from their perspective. It has been edifying and encouraging to say the least. Even so, I'm still not jumping on to the open theist wagon.  I do love that we can come together in love and search for the truth together.

In order to avoid waxing long over how I differ with this school of thought, I would like to build on what has already been said previously and deal directly with the responses I have received thus far. As we continue to build on one another, more posts may be necessary. No doubt this issue touches all sorts of areas. Way too much for a handful of blog posts.  But I wanna stick with it as long as it remains edifying.

When I use terms like "in spite of" I am not trying to convey the thought of God contending against us.  No, God is much better than that.  Rather than contending against us He has determined how to use evil for His purposes.  To us it may seem more expedient to use only good things according to our definition of good, but God demonstrates His glory by using what men and the devils intend as evil for good.  These truths are evident in the life of Joseph and especially in the crucifixion of Christ. God is infinitely wiser than we are.  Therefore I don't believe that God changes the bad things to good.  I believe He means evil for good, big difference. If the greatest evil man has ever committed in crucifying our beloved Lord was known before the foundation of the world and the injustices that Joseph faced were all leading up to the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham (Acts 7:6-7 ESV) then we can face anything with the faith that God is working all things for good.

I do not believe in the free will of man that cannot be violated by a sovereign God.  Contrarily I see myself as one who's will was completely violated by God.  I was having a great time enjoying my sin before He gave me a revelation of His holiness.  I saw myself as a slave to my sin, unable to change and cried out for mercy.  Now I am free from sin but a servant of my new master.  Therefore my choices meant nothing and my faith in His character and promises are everything.  I know that the God who will give us His Son will give us everything.

I get it.  I get the strength, faith, and encouragement that comes from knowing that God answers prayer.  I understand that logic says that if God has it all laid out then our prayers change nothing.  Still, prayer itself is illogical.  We pray to a God we cannot see to change things that are impossible to change.  No matter which side of the aisle we are on, we stand on illogical ground.  Yet, as believers we do not rest in the logical, we rest on faith.  The question is not what is more believable or more logical, the question is what is our faith in?

Is our faith in our own prayers or is it in the power of God to answer prayer?  If we say it is in our God who answers prayer, how powerful is our God?  Is He needy of our petitions, or is He fully capable without us?  I submit that any god who has need of man is no god at all.  He is no more than a figment of our imagination.  A truly imaginary friend with whom we converse.  That is the description of an idol.  Our God who is, was, and will be...is the One who planned all things before setting them into place, before giving their names, before setting their boundaries, the God who declares the beginning from the end and displays no need for us and only our need for Him.  He is a God who is not only worthy of our prayers but is worthy of our worship.

You see, according to what has been written, we do our good works according to the leading of the Holy Spirit within us.  These good works include the prayers we claim as our own.  Our prayers are not our own if they are to be effectual.  They must be God's prayers pouring through us if we expect them to be answered.  It must be us agreeing with His divine will and asking that those things be brought about if we desire to be heard.  Anything less are empty words.  Anything that proceeds from the mind of man is worthless.  Only that which proceed from our new birth, our new identity in Christ, according to the Spirit, is acceptable and effectual.  How could we take credit for that?  Where is our boasting?  Do we boast in our words or our fervency?  Or do we boast in the work of Christ in us who was also with the Father before anything was made?  All things were made by Him, through Him, and to Him.  I say along with Paul, if we boast in anything let us boast in the Lord and in His work in us and through us.  That means submitting to the truth that our prayers are His, our righteous desires are His, and we are His.  We were predestined before the foundation of the world to bring about His purposes by His power and all for the praise of His glorious grace.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Guest Post: Continuing the discussion on Open Theism

This is the second guest post ever published on Deconstructing Neverland.  It comes from Tom Jones, the nephew of Mark Jones who wrote the first guest post (although he didn't know it) as a response to my post on Open Theism.  As far as I know, Tom is not a blogger but you can find him on Facebook and Twitter.

I received this as an email response from Tom to uncle Mark.  (For some unknown reason Blogger would not let either of these responses be published in the comments.  Is anyone else having this problem posting comments?)  Like Mark's response to my first post, I thought this was too good to be left in the comments so I asked permission to post it as a guest blog.

Voila!  I submit the following for your reading pleasure...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Listener Wooden Heart

This video moved me. I hope it does the same for you.  Poets like this must be shared.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Update on our journey

Now that I'm back to blogging I wanted to share some of the developments we've had in answer to our prayers for Christ to build His church.  Sort of an update.  No, we are not regularly gathering with the house church as we once were.  The time spent with those families was very good.  We gained some experience with participatory gatherings and some of the difficulties that come when you really get to know other believers intimately.  In time it became clear that we did not share the same vision as others who gathered there and so we parted rather than bringing contention and division to the church.  We began to build some relationships there that I hope will continue to grow but the gathering itself did not fill the yearning I had for an organic expression of Christ.

Around the same time we attended the Threshold conference and left with a renewed sense that God wanted us to stay in Savannah rather than move to a location with an established organic church.  Milt gave some very practical advise to those who, like us, find ourselves in a wilderness of sorts teetering between institutionalism and isolationism.  The most helpful thing he said was to avoid jumping right into having meetings.  He advised the saints to find other people who share a heart for God's eternal purpose and begin to build relationships with them.  We can share meals, spend a day on the town, have bible studies and find numerous other ways to get to know one another and share Christ together.  The goal is to avoid becoming a mini version of an institution by being devoted to one another.
Now all that sounds well and good if you can find people near you who share your passion for Christ's headship in the gathering of the saints.  This is where prayer comes in.  A lot of prayer.  We've been praying for quite some time for God to bring us together with other folks who want to be a part of an organic church.  He is beginning to reveal His answer to those prayers.

In the span of the last few weeks or so we have become more acquainted with a family that is (in his words) "in the foyer" of the institution wondering what they are still doing there.  They've read several books on the topic and have a passion for knowing and sharing Christ's life outside the four walls.  So far we have met for frozen yogurt, dinner at our home, and a Saturday of swimming.  It has been some of the greatest times of fellowship I've had in quite some time.  We'll see one another again on Thursday for some cardio exercise.  I'm anxiously looking forward to it.

On top of that wonderful news, some other things are happening.  So far two people have contacted me who are interested in moving here to be built up together with us.  A family that resides in NY and another that is currently a part of the organic church in Gainsville, FL which have plans to move back into our area.  It has been great to watch God answer our prayers and bring His people together.
I'm greatly encouraged by what God is doing.  Our journey out of Neverland has had it's share of ups and downs.  Our Father has been right there with us and in us, working all things together for our good and His purpose.  I hope my words can encourage all of you who are on a similar journey.

So, what's happening in your neck of the woods?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A response to my post on Open Theism

A while back I wrote a post titled My thoughts on Open Theism.  If you haven't read it or don't remember it well I encourage you to go there first before continuing or this all will make no sense. What follows is a very thoughtful and gracious email response I received for that post from Mike Jones.  It has taken some time to get it here but I wanted to post it for you all to have an opportunity to  interact with his comment.  I know I have readers on both sides of this discussion so I remind you to speak the truth in love to one another. In the days to come I will be writing a blog post as a response.

Greetings in Christ: 
I just read your post on Open Theism, and clearly it is not an idea you are fond of.  Your distaste for what you perceive as a powerless, "quadrapalegic" God is clear, and also your distaste for those who might hold an Open theology about God.
I'd like to lovingly respond, but for some reason my browser won't bring up the comment box on your blog page, so I'll resort to this venue, not for privacy sake, just because the other way won't work!
You wrote a well worded, passionate discourse for why you don't believe in or have any desire to consider Open theology, but if I may be so bold: you write as if you are an Open theist in your discourse.  This is one of the reasons I've come to embrace the Open theism, or a God of possibilities.  It fits with the way most people already live our their beliefs, whether they realize it or not.
For example, you write that  "Inexpressible joys are in store for those who know he is at work in spite of our failings."   I would ask, why would God, who decrees all things past, present, and future, have to work "in spite" of anything?  Would not His plan be the only plan, "failings" and all?  To suppose God has to work "in spite" of something would be to think that something or someone can stand against His will, if something or someone were to so choose.
I agree, inexpressible joys ARE in store for those who know He is work, even in spite of our failings.  How glorious is a God who could work His divine will in all things, even in spite of our working against Him at times?
Elsewhere you make a wonderfully Open theist statement, when you say "He is glorious and worthy of praise because he works out his will in spite of our evil, even through our evils and the works of the evil one."  Again, if all were set and planned, past, present and future, and God's will and plan was inviolate, why would God ever have to "work out his plan, in spite of our evil"?  This would imply that you believe we humans have the capability and free-will to stand opposed to God, if we so chose.
This is Open theism at it's most essential.
Further down you write,  "We must see ourselves as the helpless little children that we are and trust our hands to our father's guidance.  He knows his plans for us and the world and he wants us to join with him in bringing it to pass."  In the Calvinist view, God has already laid his plans, and needs no joining with Him to make anything come to pass.  We are simply acting as God plotted from the beginning. It is in Open theism where I've found a God who wants me to join with him, making a positive choice to serve and obey Him, and step willingly into His plans to "join with Him in bringing it to pass".
"God knows the future and is bringing it to pass exactly according to his plan.  We can trust in him to work all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.  We may not fully understand because we cannot see the future but we can trust." .  
In order for God to bring about good, something must happen that is bad. If God pre-ordained and planned all things, that means He also planned the bad things.  Since bad things must happen in order for us to trust Him to work all things together for good, that means God is responsible for evil .  I personally do not believe that God has pre-ordained evil,  or any bad things so that He can bring about good for those who trust Him.  From your own statement of trusting God to bring about good for those who love him, I don't think you do either.   So what then? Why are we trusting God to bring about good from bad things, if in fact He caused the bad things?
That leads me to the conclusion that God did not ordain evil, but evil is a consequence of men and Satan using our God given free-will to chose things in opposition to God's will.  And yet..... God still works things out for the good of those who love God, and are called according to His purpose.  Pretty wonderful!
"May we bask in the delight of being a part of His marvelous work of bringing all things into Christ.  All things were made by him, through him, and to him and all things will be brought and laid at his feet.  Let us go to him be the firstfruits of those who find pleasure at his feet and listen as he dictates our part of bringing about his purposes for the future."
To this, brother, I say Amen! Let's find pleasure in being a part of bringing out God's plans for the future.  Christ is the center of all things, and on that, I think you and I can joyously agree! 
In Christ's love,  
Mike Jones

Friday, August 12, 2011

A change of plans (again)

The last couple of weeks have been pretty crazy.  My wife and I set aside a great number of things in order to prepare for the upcoming school year.  Since then we have put together the work for the first quarter.  Then  it happened.  Our daughter displayed another one of the anticipated symptoms of her disorder.  It frightened my wife to tears.

So, we are now back with the same plan that we had at the end of last school year.  Our boys have been enrolled in the public school system.  There's just no way my wife can teach the boys and run to and fro from therapist to therapist adding up to several trips a week.  Well, there is a way but it would take a lot of willing, helping hands from the community to take care of our boys during the therapy hours.  As of yet, there have been no offers and so we are far short of filling that need.  But the public school system is there for homeschool families such as ours.  They have been very helpful and supportive, something we desperately needed.  I suppose that is their job though, right?

Anyway, we are somewhat apprehensive yet relieved at the thought of putting our sons in school.  We are both disappointed that we could not homeschool this year but we know our limits.  Besides, we still have after school hours to teach and spend with the boys.

(sigh)  Sometimes things just don't go according to plan.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Neverland Vacation

I'll be dropping off the grid for the next few weeks.  I may occasionally toss out a few quick tweets here and there but there will not be much time for blogging.  With the new school year fast approaching, my blue-eyed girl and I have our work cut out for us in getting the curriculum ready for the first quarter (we have a theme and many online helps but she mostly makes the lessons up herself).   

There are several blog ideas I have hanging right now.  Some of which are half written drafts like the follow-up post on maturity, a response to the zombie theology post that was published at Alan Knox's blog the Assembly of the Church and a response to an email comment I received on my post on open theism.  I should be able to turn these out once we get ahead of the impending school year.
So I leave you all with a question and a thought.  
The question is:  what is God's ultimate purpose for the existence of the Church?  
As I think of a way to answer that is short and sweet I am inclined to revert to the answer that T. Austin-Sparks gave.    

"What, in the thought of God do Christians exist for? What does the Church exist for? There is only one answer. The existence and the function is to be an expression of Christ. There is nothing less and nothing more than that. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and all between! Let that be the starting point; let that be the governing rule and reality in all matters of life and work, and see at once the nature and vocation of the Church."
Chew on that some and browse the archives in my absence.  I'll have time to respond to your comments here as the conversation ensues.  I wouldn't want Neverland to feel abandoned.