Did God chose us, or did we chose God?
This topic has been hotly debated in the church for hundreds of years, so I thought I would clear it up in this short blog.
Obviously I am kidding, but I did want to give my thoughts on this subject.
I’m talking about predestination or divine election.
Here are some of the words of the apostle Paul on predestination.
“Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will…” (Ephesians 1:4-5 NKJV).
Know this: Before the world was made, before sin came in, God chose you in Christ to be with Him though all eternity. Jesus said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you” (John 15:16 NKJV).
The first question that comes to mind upon hearing a statement like that is, “Why? Why would God choose me? What goodness or merit did God see in me that He would choose me as His child?”
I hope you’re not too disappointed in my answer: There was absolutely no merit or goodness that caused God to choose you. You and I are sinners. We have both crossed God’s line and fallen short of His glory (Romans 3:23). It is clear that in spite of our best intentions and the high opinion we may hold of ourselves, God’s choosing had nothing to do with our merit.
Imagine what you would do if you knew what would happen ahead of time.
You would make very different decisions. Some would go to the race track and bet on horses and make a boatload of money. Question: Would they pick losers or winners? Winners, of course. Yet God chose us! This is a mind-boggling thought.
Why did He choose us?’
I suppose for the same reason He chose Israel.To them He said, “The LORD did not set His heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8 NLT).
“The Lord loves you.”
Let that sink in for a moment.
You might say, “But I don’t understand that!”
Join the club. But why do we have to understand it? Just rejoice in it!
It’s been said, “Try to explain election and you may lose your mind. But try to explain it away and you may lose your soul!”
The next question that comes to mind for many is, “How?
How did God choose us? What was the basis for His choice?” I don’t have an answer to that. Some believe it was an “irresistible grace” that you had no power to rebel from. It was a done deal with or without your consent.
Some would even believe in double-predestination. They assert, “Some are chosen for heaven. Some are chosen for hell!” They also would teach something called “limited atonement.” In other words, Jesus died for the elect or “chosen ones” only and you have absolutely nothing to say about your eternal destination. I have a problem with both of those views. For Scripture is clear in pointing out that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 NKJV).
Romans 5:6–8 tells us, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (NKJV).
No, whether we like it or not, the Bible teaches both predestination and free will.
When C.H. Spurgeon was asked to reconcile these truths—God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility— he said, “I never try to reconcile friends—they are both in the Bible.”
Think of it like this:
You were rushing down that freeway of life, just “going with the flow,” yet empty, unsatisfied, frustrated, and alone, when you noticed an off-ramp up ahead leading to a building with a large door. On the outside of that door were the words “Whosoever will, let him come” (Revelation 22:17). You had met people who had taken this off-ramp and raved about the difference it had made in their lives. You thought about how much you would like to take it and find this peace they spoke of. But you were afraid. After all, the “flow of traffic” was still on that big freeway you were on.
But then again, you were getting awfully tired of the grind and the crowds. So you took that off-ramp and went up to that door and were ready to open it when you thought, “What if I’m not one of the elect? This would be a waste of time.” So you turn away. But you keep seeing that sign, day in and day out: “Whosoever will, let him come and drink the water of life freely.”
Finally, one day you reason, “What do I have to lose? I’m going for it.” So you pull off and get out of your car and walk over to that door and open it and walk in. And to your total surprise, on the other side of the door are the words, “Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.”*
You may ask, “You mean to say that God chose me before I was even born?” Yes, He did.
Again, to quote Spurgeon who humorously wrote, “It’s a good thing God chose before I was born. If He had waited until after, He would have changed His mind!”
The great evangelist D.L. Moody said, “The ‘whosoever wills’ are the elect. The ‘whosoever won’t’ are the non-elect.” I do not believe that God predestines certain people to be saved, and others to be dammed. Scripture teaches, “He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
It’s been said, “God wants every man to be saved. The devil wants every man to be damned. Man has the casting vote.”
You want to find out if you are one of the “chosen ones,” one of the elect? Walk through that doorway of God’s forgiveness and you will prove you are.
Some would say, “We can’t preach the gospel to people and offer them forgiveness. Nor can we really say ‘God loves you,’ because we might give false assurance to the non-elect.”
Again, to quote D.L. Moody, “Lord, save the elect, and then elect some more!”
It is clear in Scripture we are commanded to preach the gospel. I am the first to acknowledge that salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44 NKJV). We have nothing whatsoever to do with that.
But as in most things, there is God’s part and there is our part. Our part is to appeal to people. Colossians 1:28, “We proclaim Christ, warning everyone we meet and teaching everyone we can, all that we know about him. . .”
It’s our responsibility to reach as many as we can. 1 Corinthians 3:7–9, “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (NIV).
Paul was preaching to some Gentiles and a number of them believed: “Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48 NKJV).
The Bible is filled with the call of God to man to respond to the Good News!
• John 11:26 – “Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.”
• Romans 10:13.”Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
• Revelation 22:17 – “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.
So, instead of trying to figure out how God chose us, let’s rejoice that He did.
And let’s let other people know, without hesitation, that God Loves them!
*This illustration is an adaptation of one that the great Bible expositor H.A.Ironside used in his commentary on the book of Ephesians.
Our friend Naghmeh Abedini was able to meet with President Obama yesterday about the release of her husband, Saeed, who has been held in an Iranian prison now for three years.
His ‘‘crime”? He was doing humanitarian work there in the name of Jesus Christ.
We have long prayed for his release.
Saeed’s faithful and persistent wife, Naghmeh, has long sought for a meeting with the President to ask for his intervention, but to no avail. But she finally got her wish and an answer to her prayer. Naghmeh met with President Obama yesterday in Idaho.
Let’s pray that our President uses all the power he has to secure the release of this innocent and godly man, Pastor Saeed Abedini!
Here is Naghmeh’s account of her meeting with President Obama.
“I got to meet with President Obama today! The kids and I were in a small office room with him and he was gracious with his time (we met for over 10 minutes). I told him that I had refrained from food for 3 days and prayed and fasted and God had ordained this meeting. He shook his head and smiled. I told him that the kids and I prayed for him and loved him (that as Christians that is what we are to do). He said he needed prayer. He said that getting Saeed out is a top priority and he is working very hard to get Saeed home back to our family. Jacob then asked him” Mr. President, can you please bring my daddy home for my birthday?” President Obama asked Jacob when his birthday was and Jacob said March 17. and President Obama said “I am going to try very hard to make that happen Jacob. I am going to try very hard…” Praise God! We had great conversation. WE made the heart connection that we all had been praying for and he listed some next steps to take… God was so evidently present in the meeting. The entire time the president was holding my hand and reassuring me. At the end he gave me a hug and we took pictures (trying to get the picture from the white house…will share as soon as I get them).”
The best stories are ones that have a clear plot, and a character you can relate to. For the story to connect, there needs to be conflict and then resolution. There might even be a surprise ending.
Hollywood will make films and screen them for reaction before they are released. Many times people do not like the way the movie concluded—perhaps the hero dies, or never finds love, or whatever, so they will reshoot the end of the film.
Someone pointed out that there are certain things that are always true in movies:
• The ventilation system of any building is the perfect hiding place. No one will ever think of looking for you in there. By the way, you can travel to any other part of the building you want, without difficulty.
• When paying for a taxi, you don’t look at your wallet as you take out a bill. You just grab one at random and hand it over. It will always be the exact fare.
• The Eiffel Tower can be seen from any window in Paris.
• Also, all grocery shopping bags contain at least one stick of French bread.
• In movies, all bombs are conveniently fitted with electronic timing devices with large red readouts so you know exactly when they’re going to go off.
• It does not matter if you are heavily outnumbered in a fight involving martial arts. Your enemies will wait patiently to attack you one by one by dancing around in a threatening manner until
you have knocked out their predecessors.
• Bad guys can spray machine-gun fire everywhere, never hitting the hero (but hitting the ground and objects nearby) and the yet the hero can hit a bad guy at 100 yards with a 5-shot revolver
that can fire 20 bullets without reloading.
Our lives may not be as dramatic as the movies, but we each have a story. We are each the featured character in our own movie called life. Psalm 90:9 says, “We spend our years as a tale that is told.” Our lives it are full of conflicts and twists and turns. Too bad we can’t reshoot the ending, because sometimes we don’t like the way it is going.
Imagine how Joseph felt mid-story, around the time he was in prison. It started off well, loved by his father, but then betrayed by brothers and falsely accused.
Imagine how Job felt mid-story. Children dead, possessions stolen, health gone as well, and a wife driving him crazy.
The problem was that Job never read the Book of Job and Joseph never read Genesis. But both of those stories had a surprise ending.
Remember, there is an Author to your story, a Director in your film, and that is the Lord. There is a script, and He has a plan—that’s all you need to know for now.
And ultimately, it’s good!
Our life is like a story.
The Bible says “We spend our days as a tale that is told.” That means there is a beginning, middle, and end to this story we call life. There are times this story makes complete sense. There are other times when it makes no sense at all.
Be patient . . . your story is still unfolding. Be sure of this—your story has an author and His name is Jesus Christ. And ultimately, your story will have a very happy ending.
That’s what I want to talk about at Harvest Riverside and Orange County. We will look at two people who had great needs. And we will see how Jesus met those needs. We will also see how He can help you and help you to have a happy ending, whenever that is. The title of my message is “The Whole Story.”
P.S. We are launching a brand new series on Sunday nights called Live, Love, Fight! My message at the PM service will be “Why God Chose You.” The service starts at 6:00 PM at the Riverside campus only.
This is the time of the year when people make resolutions, go on diets, lose weight, eat healthier, spend less money, etc. According to Forbes magazine, 40 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but only 8 percent keep those resolutions.
So should we just give up?
No, because there is a place for change in our lives. However, I’m not so sure New Year’s resolutions are the best way to accomplish this.
A follower of Jesus should always be “taking stock” and wanting to get stronger. Lamentations 3:40 says, “Let us test and examine our ways. Let us turn back to the LORD” (NLT), and 2 Corinthians 13:5 tells us,
“Check up on yourselves. Are you really Christians? Do you pass the test? . . . Or are you just pretending to be Christians when actually you aren’t at all?” (TLB).
Instead of merely focusing on weight loss and exercise (there is a place for that), let’s focus primarily on our relationship with God in this coming year.
Is it really possible to change—to be a “new you” this year?
The answer is yes, people can change.
But there is God’s part and there is your part. People seem to swing to one of two extremes on this topic. Either it’s all about human effort and what we must do for God (illustrated in the cliché “God helps those who help themselves!”) or it is no effort at all on our part and God will just somehow do it for us (illustrated in the cliché, “Let go and let God!”).
Neither one of those views, in and of itself, is true.
Scripture teaches that if we want to change, there is our part and there is God’s part. A classic verse that pulls those together in found in Philippians 2:13–14, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”
The idea of “working out one’s salvation” is referring to living out one’s faith—carrying it out correctly.
The verb “work out” carries the meaning of “work to full completion.” There is work involved in living the Christian life, as well as warfare and discipline.
These are not words we necessarily want to hear, but if you want to get in good shape, you “work out,” not “sit out.” The Christian life is not an easy one.
It is not a playground, but a battleground.
When the California Gold Rush began, gold was plentiful. You would find it in the streams on the ground.
Word quickly spread and people streamed into our state by the thousands. They all thought that gold was theirs for the taking and they would become instant millionaires. Of course, that gold quickly disappeared. But there was plenty more, deep in the mines.
As Christians, there is so much God has done for and in us. But we have to mine it—discover it. “Working out what God worked in.”
Andraé Crouch went to be with the Lord on January 8. You can read about his accomplishments if you just google his name. But let me share my personal insights as someone who knew him.
I first heard Andraé Crouch and his band, The Disciples, in the early ’70s. I loved his progressive Gospel/R&B style. He was truly an innovator that had a unique gift from God. It was not just his music, amazing as it was, but the fact that God worked mightily through him. When you went to hear him sing, it was part concert, part revival meeting. Anytime I heard he was playing, I would go and hear him.
He was at the peak of his career. Yet, for some unknown reason, he became a personal friend. I was just a young preacher starting a church in Riverside, California. It was 1975 and Andraé was performing around the world to packed-out audiences, but I asked him if we would come and sing for our little church on a Sunday. To my great delight he said yes! We had an old, upright, slightly out of tune piano and Andraé sat down and sang some of his classic songs.
And those songs were amazing!
“I’ve Got the Confidence”
“The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power”
“Through It All”
“Take Me Back”
“Jesus Is the Answer”
I worked with Andraé a number of times through the years and we had him out for our Raleigh, North Carolina, Crusade in 2007. I had not spoken with him for a while and was sitting down with Linda McCrary and some other friends and we started singing some Andraé Crouch songs. Linda had been one of Andraé’s backup singers. They were shocked to find out that I knew all the lyrics! Linda had his phone number and asked, “Would you like to talk to Andraé right now?” Of course I agreed and she rang him up and the Gospel legend and I talked a bit about old times. This was a few months ago.
I, for one, will miss Andraé Crouch and I thank God he took time and made room in his life for me.
At the beginning of this new year, as resolutions are being made by millions of Americans, we wonder, can we ever really change?
In our own strength, the answer is no.
But through Christ we can do all things!
That’s what I want to talk about tomorrow at Harvest Riverside and Orange County.
“A New You in 2015!”
Join us for one of our four services: 8:00 AM, 10:00 AM, 12:00 PM, and 6:00 PM (Riverside only), all Pacific time.
These services will also be webcast live at www.harvest.org
It has been said that men talk of killing time while time quietly kills them. According to the Bible, we live our lives for a certain period of time – not a moment longer and not a moment shorter. All of the health-food solutions are not going to extend your life beyond what God has determined.
You can eat free-range chicken and organic vegetables and tofu every day of your life if you want to. You can use all of the lotions and potions and special vitamins on the market today, but you will not live one day longer than God wants you to live. Nor will you live one day shorter. He has an appointed time for each of us.
Solomon wrote, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot” (Ecclesiastes 3:1–2). And Job said, “My life passes more swiftly than a runner. It flees away without a glimpse of happiness. It disappears like a swift papyrus boat, like an eagle swooping down on its prey” (Job 9:25–26 NLT). The problem is that we spend a lot of our lives doing things we would rather not be doing. We have control over some of these things, but not all of them.
Someone compiled these statistics about the amount of time the average American will spend doing certain things over the course of a lifetime: six months sitting at traffic lights, waiting for them to change; one year searching through desk clutter for misplaced objects; and eight months opening junk mail. The average American also will spend two years trying to call people who aren’t in or whose line is busy, five years waiting in lines and three years in meetings.
But here is something we have some control over. The average American will watch 1,700 hours of television every year.
C. S. Lewis said, “The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of 60 minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”
We live by time. But God is outside of time. I am not implying that God is not aware of time, because he is completely aware of every minute and second of our lives and everything that is happening in them. But God lives in the eternal realm. His interpretation of time is quite different than ours. He has his own timing.
Of course, there are times in life when it appears to us as though God is late, that God is somehow disengaged, that God is not paying attention. Going back to what Solomon had to say in Ecclesiastes, there were two important words he used in Ecclesiastes 3:1: “season” and “time.” The word season originates from a Hebrew term that refers to a fixed, definite portion of time. And the Hebrew word for time that Solomon refers to is a beginning or a starting period.
Putting it all together, Solomon was saying that God has appointed everything that comes into our lives for a specific purpose. He knows just when to bring them, and he knows how long they should last. The things we experience are not random events that float in and out of our lives. Rather, they are specific events that have been chosen by God as timely and purposeful – and that applies to the good things as well as the bad things. It applies to the good times as well as the bad times.
As we get a little bit older, we eventually realize that many of the bad times will, in retrospect, turn out to be good times. Because it is through those so-called bad times that we will learn some of life’s most important lessons.
If I decided how my day would go, I would never experience crisis. I would never get sick or have my tire go flat there or have this unexpected disaster take place over here. I would just write in all the good stuff. I would make sure that everything would go my way, there would be no traffic on the freeways, and that it always would be green lights and blue skies.
But we are not in charge of our own lives. God is. And He will let bad things, so-called, happen. But as time goes by, you will find the important lessons you have learned in life did not come from the good times. They came from those times of crisis when perhaps you were more dependent on God.
When you put your faith in Jesus Christ, you come under His protective care. It means that God is fully aware of everything that happens to you. And thankfully, God is never asleep on the job. He is always paying careful attention to the smallest detail of your life and is in complete control of all circumstances that surround it.
As Solomon observed, there is a season for everything. We are not victims of the fickle finger of fate or dumb luck. If you are a Christian, then you have come into God’s providence, which means that he will guide and direct your steps. It means that your times are in his hands.
I am not a film reviewer, but I am a fan of film in general and have been anxiously awaiting the release of the new movie Unbroken, which is the life story of someone I got to personally know, Louis Zamperini.
I interviewed Louis on four different occasions and also spent quite a bit of time with him. His memory and attention to detail were nothing short of astounding.
I loved the book this film is based on, by the same title, written by Laura Hillenbrand. So when I heard it was finally going to make it to the big screen, I was thrilled.
Let me start by saying I loved it!
Great attention was given to the details of Louis’s story, from his rebellious childhood and early days in Torrance, California, to Olympic glory, and of course his great suffering in World War 2. Actor Jack O’Connell did an amazing job capturing the strength and commitment of this amazing man. I thought the whole cast was outstanding.
There are some powerful visual moments in Unbroken that I am sure will move the viewer as they moved me. At the end of the film, Louis returns home safely after two years in a Japanese POW camp, where he received the cruelest of treatment by Mutsuhiro Watanabe, also known as “The Bird.” Preceding this, Louis had spent 47 days adrift at sea after his plane was shot down over the Pacific Ocean. This is all well documented.
Louis’s life did not end there, of course. He returned home with severe PTSD and was a raging alcoholic. His life was spiraling downward, and at the urging of his newly converted wife, Cynthia, Louis agreed to attend an evangelistic event led by a young preacher from North Carolina, Billy Graham. Louis did go to that crusade and remembered how, when adrift at sea on that raft, he told God in a prayer that if, “He got me out of this, I will serve Him.”
The Lord did get Louis out of it, and Louis responded to the invitation from Billy Graham to follow Jesus Christ. Louis Zamperini did just that and served God for the rest of his very long life. Louis died this year at age 97.
Louis told me personally that God instantly healed him of PTSD, and he put alcohol in his past. Filled with a new love for his enemies, Louis returned to Japan to forgive and share the gospel with the very guards who had so mistreated him in the POW camp.
Louis was never able to make contact with “The Bird.” At the end of the film there is some footage of the real Louis Zamperini running in the Olympics in Japan, and some text on the screen that speaks of how, because of his faith in God, he was able to forgive those who so mistreated him.
I, for one, wish Louis’s conversion was included in the film. But here is my question: Would you rather not have it included and alluded to, or included and misrepresented?
I’m reminded of the new film about the life of Moses, Exodus: Gods and Kings, directed by Ridley Scott. I think Scott is a brilliant director, but clearly, he gutted the story so badly, I felt as if I were watching another story altogether that featured the same names as the Bible story. For instance, in Exodus: Gods and Kings the Lord comes to Moses through a small boy instead of speaking through a burning bush as the Bible states. Instead of Moses going into the court of Pharaoh, performing miracles by the hand of God, we have what appear to be a series of calamities that naturally follow one another, initiated by some very large crocodiles that are nowhere to be found in the biblical account. The miracle of the parting of the Red Sea appears to be nothing more than a low tide. At the end of the film, it is Moses, not God, who writes the Ten Commandments.
I could go on, but my point is that the film distorted the biblical story and was a huge disappointment to me. In contrast, director Angelina Jolie just alludes to Louis’s conversion, and hopefully will send the viewer wanting to see more.
So, for what it’s worth, I endorse the film.
I am asked to endorse films quite regularly, and I usually decline. No one asked me to endorse Unbroken, but I have chosen to do so because I believe it is well worth seeing and supporting. As Christians, we can use this powerful film as a springboard to tell the rest of Zamperini’s amazing life story and how Jesus Christ changed him from a man filled with hate to one filled with forgiveness.