Advent: Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

Many folks use happiness and joy synonymously, especially this time of year, but there is a world of difference between the two. Happiness is more often than not circumstantial, that is, it is dependent upon your current situation. There are times when we are happy and times when we are obviously unhappy. Happiness is dependent on things that can be out of our control and so, as I drive this morning, I may be happy when all the lights are green or a bit unhappy when all the folks on their way to the airport slow the flow of traffic down. Happiness is fleeting.

Joy, on the other hand, is an internal condition that is wholly within you. It is not connected to the ups and downs of daily life nor is it dependent on circumstances out of your control. As we say earlier this week, Jesus points to something that lives within us as the source and meaning of our joy…

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:9-11)

The true joy of the Advent season is knowing the King. Our joy as followers of Christ is rooted in relationship with Jesus and the security that this communion brings. Unlike happiness, this joy is not affected by our external circumstance. We, like Paul, learn to be content in all circumstances knowing that our greatest reward still lies ahead.

Maranatha!

Eternal Security: The Beginning

The Author, Grantor, and Securer of eternal life, promised that His followers would be the recipients of that gift…

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. (John 6:37)

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

While the Apostles warned against the possibility of loss and that there may be a conditional nature to this security…

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

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. (Col 1:21-23a)

perseverance Countless words have been written discussing the ways in which Christians believe that they have come to receive the gift of salvation. The moment of justification marks a huge turn in a human existence and people are only too happy to mark it and give voice to the joy that it brings. When talk to turns to the possibility of losing that righteous status, the volume of the conversation tends to diminish. ‘Once saved, always saved.’ is the theological ideal offered by many but, when pressed to source their belief, many are unable to point to the root of that confidence.

The discussion of perseverance goes far beyond scholastic theological wrangling, it has practical purpose in the life of the Christian. We must ask whether or not the believer who has been regenerated, justified, adopted as a Son (or daughter) of God, and united with the Savior in relationship will persist in that relationship. In other words, will the Christian persevere until his or her moment of glory or is there a risk of the loss of one’s salvation?   One end of this discussion is anchored by the ‘P’ in the TULIP – Perseverance of the Saints, in which there is no risk of apostasy extending to the far end of the thread in which apostatizing is a daily and imminent possibility in the life of an anxiety-ridden Christian. Depending on where you locate yourself on the spectrum you make look to the other as naively putting themselves at risk.

It would be foolish to introduce this topic by drawing a distinction between the two major schools of Protestant theological thought, Calvinist and Arminian, and stating that there are but a pair of positions to explore. In fact, there are a number of nuances in the views along this spectrum from one to the other. To narrow the topic down to a manageable size, I am going to organize the posts that follow into four segments that allow positions from guaranteed security to the permanence of apostasy. As with all Christian discussion (actually, any intellectual endeavor), there is an important practice of which we must be cognizant: one should not simply argue their position without engaging the facts presented by the other side. So many times we find theological debate reduced to caricature of the opposing position that is brought about either by a surfeit of knowledge of that position or the unwillingness to consider that your understanding of things may be flawed.

Thanksgiving Four

In our little corner of the world, we awoke to the first meaningful snowfall of the season with three or four inches blanketing the grass that I just cut a few days ago. There is an interesting anomaly that occurs when it snows at night; the normally pitch dark early hours of the morning are transformed into a bright-as-day panorama by the reflection of the available light. Looking out the window, one can see everything that is normally hidden under the cover of darkness. Many a nocturnal creature has revealed themselves to me as they padded across the snowy landscape.

The clean, white snow is a common metaphor in the scriptures but one comes to mind for which I am continually thankful:

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord.

“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;

though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.

If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land;

but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” (Isaiah 1:18-20)

To know that the blood of my Savior, dark and crimson washes me as white as the freshly fallen snow is that for which I am most thankful. To have the Holy Spirit in me reflects the glory of the Lord, pushing aside the darkness in the world wherever he leads me, a humbling task to which I am gratefully called. In the purity of the snowfall, there is much to appreciate…

Selfish Ambition

St. Paul reminds us of our appropriate attitude between ourselves and the world.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil 2:3-4)

Following closely in the shadow of our Lord we see over and over as He attends to others rather than himself, giving us the model for our own life of sacrifice.

The Mark of the Christian by Francis Schaeffer

Required Reading for Every Single Follower of Christ

shaeffer

Go to your library. Right now, this very moment. Scan the titles and covers. Do you find the book shown at the right? Look carefully as, at 59 pages, this slim volume could easily be hidden by larger, more ponderous volumes attempting to convey similar messages. Did you find a book by the same author entitled The Church at the End of the 20th Century? If the answer is no, you must obtain a copy of The Mark of the Christian as quickly as possible. Don’t tarry, for each moment the Body continues headlong into history without absorbing this message we move further away from one of the Lord’s most important messages,

 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  John 13:34-35

Love is to be our mark. Love within the Body is to be a light that illuminates the world showing that there is a different way, a better way. Each and every action that the world sees, both within and without of the Body, is to marked by this Love. Shaeffer turns our eyes toward the evangelistic purpose of this bond of love in John 17:20-21,

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”

And if our actions toward other Christians fall short of this ideal of love? Shaeffer indicates that we should interpret this as a dire warning; the world has every right to judge US as not being true Christians. We cannot expect the world to believe in the truth of the Lord Jesus if they do not see the mark, the distinctive imprint of oneness within the Body. Read this book. Monthly if necessary until your mark is so indelible that the world will not mistake it for anything else.