De Facto Calvinism

One of the main doctrines of Calvinism is that God alone determines who will be saved, and by exclusion, who will be damned to hell. That view is contrary to everything that scripture reveals about God and His desire that all should come to repentance.

But that is not the topic I want to discuss here.

What I’ve observed, and even realised about myself, is that many people who would reject those Calvinist ideas of “Limited Atonement” are no different to the Calvinists when it comes to other beliefs about God’s interaction with humanity.

What do I mean?

A personal example. How often I have taken for granted that my decisions will result in God’s will being done in my life? That I assume He will either endorse my decisions, or will somehow intervene and put a stop to what I’m doing before I become committed? That HE will “sovereignly” direct the outcome, even when I’ve failed to consult Him or seek His will on the matter.

A decade and a half ago I moved to a new town and bought a house – crediting God with the move, even though I’d made no effort at all to see whether that was what HE wanted.
In practice I was convincing myself  that the assumed permission and lack of interference, was an endorsement, otherwise He would “sovereignly” stop what I was doing.

Gloria, my wife, pointed out another example of De Facto Calvinism that has far more dangerous connotations than my own personal example. In my case the only ones affected were Gloria and myself.
In the following situation the effects are widespread and far more serious.

Not surprisingly, considering the content of so much of my recent writing, I’m referring to attitudes to healing. Gloria recognised that they are no different to the Calvinist belief in a Limited Atonement, that restricts forgiveness of sins and salvation to an “elect” sovereignly chosen by God.

Those attitudes insist that God sovereignly chooses who will be healed and who won’t be. That healing comes down solely to the personal decision of God. In other words it is determined much the same way that Calvinists insist that salvation is decided: by Divine whim.

While common, that view is completely at odds with scripture in so many ways.

Firstly, scripture is clear on the fact that physical healing is a benefit given by God alongside forgiveness of sins, and is included in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. (Isaiah 53:3-5, Matt 8:16-17)

Secondly, God commands His people to “choose life” after giving them the choice between life and death. That should leave no doubt about God’s will in the matter.

Thirdly, Jesus Himself, doing NOTHING that wasn’t the will of the Father, healed ALL who were brought to Him or came to Him. He  later commissioned His followers to continue that ministry in His name, after He had returned to the Father.
(Mark 16: 15-18, John 20:21-22, )

Fourthly, God made available several different ways of healing, all of which require some kind of participation from the sick person, and the exercising of faith, either by the sick one or those ministering to them. Those ways include:

  1. Laying on of hands. (Mark 5:23, Mark 6:5, Mark 16:18, Luke 4:40, Acts 28:8,)
  2. Gifts of healing. (1 Corinthians 12 and possibly demonstrated in several cases of early church healings in Acts )
  3. Prayer of faith (James 5)
  4. Receiving and attending to Word of God. (Prov 4 Matt 8:8 )
  5. Faith of the seeker (Luke 17, and a most clear example Matt 9: 20-22 , Acts 14:8-10)
  6. Intercession and faith of someone else on behalf of a seeker. (Matt 15: 21-28, Acts 3, Matt 8:5-13 )
  7.  By Jesus’ name and through faith. (Acts 3:16)
  8. General prayer for “whatever” (including healing), as long as we believe, and/or diligently seek God.  (Mark 11:24, Matt 21:22, Heb 11:6, 1 John 5: 14-15,)
  9. Deliverance from demons, (Mark 9:25, Luke 7:21, Acts 5:16, Acts 8: 7,Acts 19:12,
  10. Special miracles of healing through “handkerchiefs and aprons”, or touching garments. (Acts 19:12,)
  11. Praying for each other. (James 5:16)

So instead of considering healing as something solely determined by God’s “sovereign choice”, or the domain of select people with certain spiritual gifts, we need to start believing and obeying God and His word, and take responsibility for  those things He has commissioned us to do in the name of Jesus.

In the same way that forgiveness of sins, and our acceptance into the family of God are through faith,  so are healing and any other benefit God has provided. They are through faith in Him and His word. Believing in Him, His generous promises and His desire for us to receive them. They are not awarded according to Divine lottery.
Instead of using “the sovereignty of God” as an excuse for our failure to receive from God, the following from Hebrews gives valuable instruction.

We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

AMEN!!!
 

 

Be Healed

Gloria and I have a Christian friend suffering from some worrying health issues. We’ve been praying for him each day and both of us separately felt led to visit and pray for him in person.
Gloria contacted his wife earlier today and suggested this, but the offer was declined.

Then later, we started watching a YouTube video of a sermon “Forget Not All HIs Benefits” – based on Psalm 103.

Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases…

The very popular preacher insisted that “Heals all your diseases” did not mean physical disease, but only “diseases of the soul”.

Is it any wonder that sickness is accepted and tolerated among Christians when they are being taught such garbage?
Basically being taught that the Bible doesn’t really mean what the Bible clearly says?
And that particular teacher is the compiler of a “study bible” retailed under his own name (MacArthur Study Bible) so he can more fully explain what scripture “really” means, instead of what is actually written in the biblical text.

When are Christians going to wake up and STOP trusting in the teaching of those who deny and oppose God’s word and replace it with their own opinions?

Is it surprising that our friend – a Christian – should be hesitant/reluctant to receive personal prayer for healing, when so much false teaching has indoctrinated large sections of the church?

As an antidote to the above I share the following video.

Healing Prayer and Proclamation

Father, if I ask anything according to Your will, you hear me, and knowing that You hear me I have the assurance that I have whatever I’ve asked of You.

Your Word makes it clear that Your will for me is healing, health and life. So I ask for those in the confident expectation that I have received them and they will be mine, in accordance to Your Word.

You are the Lord Who heals me.
You will take away disease and give me a full life span.
I called out to You and You sent Your Word of life and healed me of all diseases, so I will not die but live, and will proclaim what You have done.

I choose life so that I may live and love You, LORD my God. I will listen to Your voice and hold fast to You, because You are my life.

Jesus bore my sicknesses and diseases, and by His Wounds I have been healed.
And in Jesus’ name, as one of your children through faith in Him, I believe I have received.

AMEN!!!

Giving Careful Thought to the Paths… Fellowship

It’s been several years now since I’ve been involved with a church.

After moving to my current town, I attended a sizeable (by the town’s standards) charismatic fellowship, but found it was too enthralled with a variety of fads, and had an unfortunate, close relationship with teachings and practices originating in the Toronto “Blessing”.

Following that I went to the other extreme and was involved in a traditional denominational church, that was sadly steeped in Calvinism. After a year or so I chose to leave them to prevent the increasing conflict that would have continued had I stayed.

In a small country town, there aren’t many options.

While I, and my faith, survived despite the limited fellowship opportunities – clearly my current situation shows that neither thrived.

Now, with my determination to seek God to turn things around, the church/fellowship issue has become the next thing I need to address. But how?

At the moment I’m following up two options. One local and one in Canberra.

The local fellowship is very small, but conveniently close to home. The Canberra group is quite large but too far away for frequent personal involvement – but even infrequent would be an improvement on nothing.

If both groups show potential, there should be no reason to choose one above the other. Both are affiliated with the same Pentecostal denomination, and I could combine ongoing involvement with the local people, and occasional visits to those in Canberra. If possible that could become a best of two worlds scenario. From experience and observation, having no or little contact beyond an individual group of Christians can lead to an unfruitful insularity.

But all of that depends on a few factors.

Are they in thrall to fads and non-scriptural practices and ideas? Do they look more to “anointed” men instead of to God? Following the latest celebrity preacher, prophet, or claimed miracle worker, without judging the fruit of their ministries?

Are their beliefs and teachings mostly in line with scripture? If not are they so rigidly fixed upon their doctrines that they refuse the possibility of learning something different should the Lord try to correct them?

And how committed will they be to the members of their congregation. Will they be quick to abandon and shun them should  a member leave their group, instead of maintaining ongoing contact?
Sadly EVERY past experience I’ve had has leaned more to the shunning than any ongoing contact, even when I’ve personally tried to keep in contact, it has always been one way and unreciprocated.

There are a several things I consider to be essentials.

  1. Word based – having God’s word, scripture at the heart of their beliefs
  2.  Spirit filled -recognising the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s work in the individual and the congregation through His sanctifying work, and the operation of His gifts.
  3. Faith based – not doubters, waverers or excuse makers.
  4.  Love based – genuinely caring for people, not just seeing them as seat fillers, increasing the size of their congregation. That also includes maintaining an interest and demonstrating genuine concern for the well-being of anyone who might choose to leave them.
  5.  Have a foundation of prayer, including frequent corporate prayer meetings that are more than a token event.
  6.  With committed members interested in more than only attending Sunday services.
  7.  Genuine recognition of each members role in ministry – in other words, not restricted to a one-man-band, or an elevation of “clergy” above “laity”.

Do I expect too much?
From past experience … probably yes.

But I also want to challenge myself to be more accepting and patient, willing to listen. To trust my discernment. To not dismiss everything just because some things may be wrong. To allow others the room to grow and learn, as I know I need to grow and learn.

And I need to maintain a strength of conviction, to take a stand when necessary, but to do so with love and not impatience and without giving any impression of hostility, recognising that I also need to fulfil those expectations I’ve listed above.

Giving Careful Thought to the Paths… Prayer

In my previous article I said: “Being a doer of the word includes BELIEVING it; having faith in what God has said and living our lives according to its truth”.
That includes believing what is said about prayer.

And prayer is another area of my life that I recognised needs attention and to be addressed in a way consistent with scripture.

In this article I will be going over some ground I’ve covered before, as I come to terms with the essential role for prayer in the life of the believer.

There are some important promises made about prayer, that need to be recognised as having a vital role in equipping us for both Christian living, and Christian service. Both of those aspects of our lives become severely compromised, possibly to the point of complete ineffectiveness if we don’t take those promises seriously.

If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. (Matt 21) NIV

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours (Mark 11) NIV

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.(1 John 5) NIV

A selection of wonderful promises regarding prayer, that the majority of professing Christians seem to disbelieve.

Unbelief is exposed by the excuses that are made to explain why these promises don’t really mean what they say – that sometimes God doesn’t fulfil those promises, but often says no and therefore we won’t receive, despite the promise.

They clearly don’t believe the following assurance either, that discounts the “no” answer. I’ve written about this previously here in the kind of post that doesn’t attract likes or comments of agreement.
How we love to cling to traditional ideas that help justify the failure status quo of the church.

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. (2 Cor 1) NIV

James wrote of two reasons that people fail to receive from God.

You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4) NIV

  1. A failure to ask, and
  2. A failure of motive: asking for things to fulfil pleasures

The verse following the above gives a hint to the kind of pleasure he meant: those that keep us attached to the world.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God

I’ll add a third and perhaps more common reason for not receiving.

UNBELIEF.

I’ll repeat what I said at the beginning of this article:  “Being a doer of the word includes BELIEVING it; having faith in what God has said and living our lives according to its truth.”

There is a serious warning in Hebrews 11 about the potential to displease God. But it also contains a promise at the end.

…without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Heb 11) NIV

It’s not enough to believe in His existence, we need to believe in His willingness and desire to reward those who earnestly (diligently) seek Him. And especially believe in His promises to give whatever we ask for in prayer.

Am I wrong?
Have I written heretical nonsense?

Ask God what He thinks, but do it expecting and BELIEVING you’ll receive an answer.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. (James 1) NIV

In assessing my own prayer life, I have to confess it has been seriously lacking. I don’t know whether I ever recently prayed with any conviction that I’d have a prayer answered. I didn’t have the fervency, persistence or any assurance that my prayer would lead to anything. Prayer had become a matter of obligation, realising I should be praying, and hurriedly saying a few words I thought appropriate. Or turning to the default of praying in tongues, where no personal thought was required. “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. (1 Cor 14. NIV)”.

It hadn’t always been that way. I’d frequently attended church prayer meetings, and especially appreciated those that went for several hours, staying for the full course of an evening. But those kind of meetings also seem to be neglected now. The last ones I attended barely went for an hour and had only a few participants, unlike the well attended, long meetings I had experienced a couple of decades ago.

So that’s another aspect of my life that I’m clearly having to address, making prayer a priority not an afterthought.
The above biblical references to prayer show its importance as a means of receiving from God through asking and believing.
Believing prayer is a demonstration of trust in God, and an acknowledgment of our insufficiency without Him, that we need His provision.

In the past, when I was a prolific letter writer, I found it helpful to write my prayers to God in letter form. Doing that helped to keep me focused.
Maybe that is something I’ll explore again.

Another aid is a prayer journal – something I came across in several YouTube videos. I’m creating one in an A5 sized ring binder, divided into several sections. The basic idea is to follow daily and weekly prayer schedules.

missionsIn the daily section are prayer for self, spouse and family. Then the weekly section has a different focus for each day. In mine Sunday is devoted to “Missions and Ministries”, where the ministries we support can be prayed for – such as the child we sponsor, and organisations supporting persecuted Christians.

friendsMonday is for “Friends and Enemies” – praying for people we know who have special needs, and others we come across who have been antagonistic towards the gospel.

Tuesday is for “Town and Country” – referring to my local community (town) and the nation at large (Country).

Wednesday relates to my blogs, and other personal outreach/ministry ventures.

As my journal is still in its early days, Thursday through Saturday are still open for additional needs that come to mind.

And the final aspect of prayer that I think I need to address is a return to group prayer – assuming there is such a thing in my local community, with a church holding frequent prayer meetings with a good attendance of BELIEVING Christians.

Addressing that leads me on to the next topic.

To be continued…

 

______________________

Thank you Gloria for your creative help with labelling the dividers in my prayer journal (see illustrations above)

Giving Careful Thought to the Paths… Word

Early in my new faith journey I came across the following from Proverbs.
I found it was very similar to the first part of Psalm 1 where the path to a fruitful life is described.

What to avoid, and what to focus upon.

My son, pay attention to what I say;
turn your ear to my words.
Do not let them out of your sight,
keep them within your heart;
for they are life to those who find them
and health to one’s whole body.

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
Keep your mouth free of perversity;
keep corrupt talk far from your lips.

Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways.

Do not turn to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil. (Prov 4) NIV

Those two sections of scripture have influenced the direction I became determined to take, with special attention being given to God’s word.

I wanted to approach the Bible in a much more focused way than merely fulfilling an obligation to read so many chapters per day to get from beginning to end in a certain time frame.

Both the Psalm and Proverbs references speak of a deeper level of interaction with the word.

Blessed is the one…
…whose delight is in the law (word) of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law (word) day and night. (Psalm 1) NIV

and

turn your ear to my words.
Do not let them out of your sight,
keep them within your heart (Prov 4) NIV

I was also mindful of NT references to being DOERS of the Word and not hearers only, noticing that the man who built on sand is likened to those who actually HEARD the word, but did not act on it.

My current situation became a wake-up call that I needed to take God’s Word VERY seriously; something requiring deep thought leading to action.

But what kind of action would be required that did not merely become a de facto pursuing of the law as the way of righteousness as stated in Romans 9, in which Israel had failed? I found the answer is in the immediately preceding part of scripture, where a “righteousness that is by faith” was obtained by the Gentiles.

Doing the word is much more than obeying commandments. That approach didn’t work for Israel (mainly because they more eagerly practiced the sacrifice commands done as sin offerings, than obeying the behavioural commands that would have dealt with their sin before it was committed. See Jer 7:21-24 Sadly that is a similar attitude held by some Christians who see God’s forgiveness as a foregone conclusion despite their lax attitude to sin).

Being a doer of the word includes BELIEVING it; having faith in what God has said and living our lives according to its truth.

That requires a deeper relationship with the Word than just reading it.

As noted in Psalm 1 and Proverbs 4 – the word needs to be kept in our heart, and meditated upon day and night. It needs to become PART of us, renewing our minds to transform our lives according to His will instead of being conformed to the world around us.

Back to my personal journey and how I’ve started a new and more intense relationship with scripture.

To date it has taken a number of parallel approaches.

1) Reading through the whole Bible (reasonably quickly) to understand the broad revelation it contains.

For this I’m using The Books of the Bible, a publication that removes chapter and verse numbers from the text to give a smoother reader experience, unencumbered by the often intrusive and ill-placed divisions of those man made additions to the bible, and the text is printed in a single column across the page instead of the common double columns used on most bibles. That also makes it easier to read, like a “normal” book.

It also presents the individual books in a more logical sequence than the familiar, traditional order of books. For example Luke and Acts are presented together, followed by Paul’s letters in order of writing rather than according to length.

2) Study of particular topics in which urgent understanding is needed (such as my studies regarding healing)

3) Slower book by book reading, taking notes as I go. For this I turn to a more traditional bible with chapters and verses, which despite the problems they may cause for reading, can be a worthwhile aid for study. I have a bible with slightly wider margins for notes. Like The Books of the Bible, the NIV that I use for note taking is a single column “readers” bible.

4) During my  “whole bible reading” mentioned in point 1 above, I also occasionally write down anything that stands out as significant in my note taking bible, so I keep it in easy reach as I read the other one.

This varied approach I’ve been able to apply to bible study and reading has been quite profitable, and has led to an almost natural process of meditating on the word – with my mind frequently being turned to what I’ve read and studied. I find myself making connections across scripture seeing parallels and threads of truth woven between books and even across its diversity of writers and periods of history.

I’m several weeks into this journey now and while my relationship to scripture is progressing well, there are other areas that need my attention.

To be continued…

But as a final note, as I was typing this I was able to put into practice some of what I learned in my healing study.

Gloria was cooking dinner and burned her wrist on a hot pan. As she immersed it in water, I commanded healing in the name of Jesus. She was able to remove her arm from the water completely free from pain.

Gloria has been following my healing studies with her own, and has now experienced two healings within a week. The above being the second.

A few days ago she realised that a long standing problem with her knees had gone. For more than 18 years she had experienced difficulty standing after a sitting for a lengthy time or any movement that put pressure on her knee joints. She also she found it impossible to kneel without discomfort.

About two days ago, while cleaning the bathroom floor, she realised she was kneeling to do it, on both knees without any pain or discomfort.

She can now walk better, can kneel, and even demonstrated an ability to walk on her knees (not that she’d have any reason to do that in day to day life, apart from proving that her longstanding knee problem had been healed).

That healing was clearly an unsolicited gift from God. Previously no thought had been given to ask for the problem to be fixed, having lived with it for so long.

 

 

Sometimes Yes – Sometimes No ?

We’ve all heard the claim, and have probably said it ourselves at one time or another:
“God always answers prayer, but sometimes He answers ‘yes’ and other times He answers ‘no’.”

It’s a convenient response to justify why someone appeared not to receive what they had prayed for.

But is that statement based on God’s word or man’s tradition?

Is it true or false?

What does scripture say?

 

If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. (Matt 21) NIV

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.(Mark 11)NIV

I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it (John 14) NIV

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (John 15) NIV

whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you (John 15) NIV

Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name (John 16) NIV

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us —whatever we ask — we know that we have what we asked of him, (1 John 5)NIV

If it was possible I’d highlight all of the following quote with vibrant flashing text, in the boldest print possible.

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. (2 Cor 1) NIV

Do any of the above give, or even hint at, the possibility of a ‘No’ answer from God?

Not that I can see, and the final quote specifically states that ALL of God’s promises come with a guaranteed YES! – with no hint of a possible ‘no’.

But there are some things I’d like to point out.
There are conditions to all of the statements above.

1) The reference from 2 Cor refers to God’s PROMISES, so if God hasn’t promised something, His ‘yes’ isn’t necessarily guaranteed.

2) Those in John 15 are dependant on an IF being fulfilled, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you”.

3) All of the others from the gospels have the condition of BELIEVING.

The 1 John reference explains on an important aspect of our ability to believe. Our faith needs a foundation. We need to know God’s will regarding a matter before we can genuinely believe He will give us what we ask.

“If we ask anything according to His will He hears us…”

“If we know that HE hears us…”

In other words, if we know we are asking according to His will, “we know that we have what we asked of Him”

So if it seems we aren’t getting our prayers answer, is God really giving a no answer?

Or is it more likely that we’ve failed to fulfil the conditions He has established related to prayer?