27 February 2009


I have a 19-year old female friend (the youngest daughter of some dear friends of mine) living in India right now. She is working with a couple who is raising the 70+ daughters of Hindu temple prostitutes in their town. I received an email from this young woman the other day asking me the following question:

Do you believe in Calvin's theory of predestination? It was presented to me here by one of the pastors and I have NO WAY of proving it wrong, but it seems SO wrong to me! If you have time and interest give me your thoughts.

Here is what I wrote back to my young friend ...


Hello friend. Calvin's doctrine of predestination, and it's twin and necessary sister, the doctrine of election, have so many varieties to it, that to ask a pastor, a theologian, a religion professor, or a Sunday School teacher to describe them would be like asking these different people to describe the best flavor in the world, or the sound of rain, or to paint a picture of what they think Jesus looked like. A whole slew of answers would come. And the funny thing is that Calvin would probably argue with all of them. And he certainly didn't believe these doctrines were theories ... for him they were iron-clad doctrines that he was willing to stake his life on.

This is a theological question that followers of Jesus Christ have talked about, argued over, been divided over, and even hated one another over for centuries. And the reason why? Because both emphases are found in God's Word.

THE DOCTRINE OF FREE WILL | God has given us a free will and that we either respond to His invitation to come into a relationship with Him or we don't (most Quakers, Methodists, many Pentecostals, and Nazarenes find their beliefs lingering on this side of the theological fence).

THE DOCTRINES OF PREDESTINATION AND ELECTION | God is sovereign and chooses some people ahead of time to be in relationship with Him, and chooses others to not be in relationship with Him (most Baptists, Presbyterians, Evangelical Free, and independent Bible Churches find their beliefs lingering on this side of the theological fence).

God's Word has plenty of verses that seem to speak to both sides of this theological coin that this pastor has asked you to spin (for his pleasure?). GOOGLE "free will, predestination, and election" and you'll find a curiously solid slew of Biblical answers for both. But here's the deal my friend. Why can't both be true? This is one of the things I love about Quakers. We're not afraid of paradox. We don't believe that being silenced and dumbfounded by the awesomeness and the "otherness" of God shows a lack of conviction, a lack of theological expertise, or a lack of convincement.

It's not the easy way out to sit on the fence on these two seemingly oppositional doctrines. In fact it's the height of humility, to admit that God is God and we're not. And that while we see the two sides of this theological coin spoken of throughout Scripture (in the law, in the history, in the wisdom, in the prophets, in the minor prophets, in the Gospels, and in the Epistles), we don't have to have a certainty about one being right and one being wrong in order to feel confident about our theology.

Letting both sides of this God-coin be true is just more evidence to me that there are things about God that human beings will never be able to understand in ways that solve all the doctrinal riddles that people as smart as Calvin and Wesley are able to dig out of God's Word.

But when seeking what I believe about this and other theological conundrums, a couple of the questions I always ask myself are ...
  1. To believe this proposed doctrine before me, do I need to "unbelieve" anything I believe about the character or the nature of God, Jesus Christ, or God's Holy Spirit?
  2. To believe this proposed doctrine before me, do I need to be talked into it by somebody who is acting smarter and wiser than me for the purpose of getting me to come over to their side of the argument?
Truth isn't confounding. It's liberating and nearly always ridiculously simple. I want to be teachable. But I don't want to be naive, nor do I want to be spiritually sucker-punched into adopting something as a belief just because it makes sense to someone who everyone else believes is "really smart." Remember, that almost all the interactions Jesus had with people who were "really smart" ... especially "really smart religious people" didn't turn out all that well for the ones with the degrees.

Calvin? Wesley? Augustine? Luther? Smart guys to be sure. Lovers of Jesus to be sure. But don't let their "convincement" feel like a noose around your faith-neck. Let Jesus and God's Word teach you, and lead you into all truth. Am I saying we don't need to let God use "teachers" in our lives, and that we don't need to adopt a Credo, or a Statement of Faith that makes sense to us, but that we can grow with? Of course not.

In fact, the book of PROVERBS says over an over again that the definition of a fool is "one who rejects instruction." But learn from people you know and trust, in whom you see the character and the nature of God alive and growing. And don't let people lure you into theological swamps just to prove something to you about themselves and their beliefs, or to get you to trust them and their cleverness.

The Apostle Paul uses the word "predestination" in his writings. My favorite time is when he says in ROMANS 8:29 that "those God foreknew He predestined to be conformed into the family-likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ." And the reason I'm drawn to this verse about predestination among all the others, is because here God's "predestination" is linked to God's "foreknowledge."

In other words, God doesn't make us choose Him or reject Him. But because God is beyond the "chronos" time that you and I as human beings are so easily trapped in (the passing of time that's measured by the ticking of the hands on a clock), and because God is fully engaged in "kronos" time, or "God-time", He sees the beginning, the middle, and the end of all human history as happening at the exact same moment. And so while God sees the decisions you and I will make, He doesn't make us make the choices we have made, are making, and will make. In other words ...
  • The invitation to come into the Kingdom of God is mailed to everyone who ever lived (JOHN 3:16).
  • But not everybody who opens the invitation up and reads it will make the choice to come to the party.
God gets this. It breaks His heart that some won't come to the party. But the party goes on ... and is going on right now. Welcome to the party.

If my words have become somewhat rambling, I am sorry. I'm tired. But know that I love you. And know that I'm glad that you are where you are, and that you're doing what Jesus has asked you to do. The center of God's will is the hot spot on the dance floor at the party. Dance on my little sister. Dance on. Good night and Godspeed.



09 February 2009


Have you been the caregiver to someone who is dying? About two years ago my wife Teresa was. Her mom Pat, a widow, was given 4-6 months to live. Teresa (the oldest of three children and the only daughter) cleared her schedule, flew to Spokane, and made a plan to be there every other week for the next 4-6 months.

But during her first week, her mom became so weak that Teresa stayed for five weeks until her mom died. Day and night she cared for her. Recently Teresa reflected back to the five weeks she spent with her mom and clarified the six main lessons she learned on the journey ...

  1. Caring for a person you love while they are dying is the most difficult, intimate, and holy task you will ever do in your life.
  2. Taking time to go out of the room, the house, or the hospital ... to take a walk, to drink a cup of tea or coffee, or to get some kind of exercise will make all the difference in "going the distance" as a caregiver. Doing this will help you "listen to your life" and learn the lessons you must remain open to learning while walking this difficult, and oftentimes, lonely road.
  3. Let the people who offer to help you, actually help you. Let them clean your house, tend to your yard, take care of your pets, or do whatever else they can think to do for you while you're being a caregiver ... they want their love for you to be as tangible as the love you exhibiting as a caregiver ... so let them.
  4. Touch and spoken words are beautiful things. Acts of love and kindness are a bridge that can bond two people together. But touch and the words we speak are two other important bridges. Don't buy into the doubts you might have that your loved one is unaware of your touch and/or unable to hear and find comfort in the words you speak to them. Nothing could be further from the truth.
  5. If the monitor/s in your loved one's room are a distraction to you being able to focus on them, ask the nurse to turn them away from your view. This will let you center your attention more directly onto your loved one instead of on the monitors.
  6. Prayer is simply talking with God. Let your prayers out in conversation with God, instead of holding them in. Prayers can be spoken with actual words, or just said silently. God can handle the pain, the anger, the denial, the fears, and the questions that will no doubt all be part of your prayers. And in return, God will give you a peace and comfort that can come from nowhere else. God's presence and God's voice are gifts we all need -- especially while being a caregiver.

6 Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying,
pray. Let petitions and praises shape your
worries into prayers, letting God know
your concerns.

Before you know it, a sense of God's whole-
ness, everything coming together for good,
will come and settle you down. It's wonderful
what happens when Christ displaces worry at
the center of your life.

The days and nights of a caregiver are sacred. Give God your cares, because God cares for you. Do not be afraid little ones. You are not alone.