Pain and Betrayal

Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. . . .  But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2 Tim. 4:9-10, 17-18).

Life is full of detours . . . bumps in the road. But in the midst of the mess God is making something beautiful. Problem is, we can’t see it while it’s happening; we only glimpse it in hindsight. The challenge, however, is making it through the twists and turns without being swallowed up by a spirit of cynicism.

In the verses above, Paul informs us that pain and betrayal are part of life and ministry in this fallen world. We would wish it were otherwise, but God has chosen to allow these moments to come into our lives to shape us, to make us into the person he wants us to be. As I read these verses this morning in my devotions, three thoughts came to mind. (If you read this blog often, by now I assume you’re not surprised by this.)

God is telling a story. Psychologist Dan Allender makes the point that not only is God our Creator, he’s our Author; that is, he’s writing a story with your life. Not only is he the supreme Architect of all the lives of all people, he’s the supreme Architect of your life as well. When I realize that God is telling a story with my life, I am more apt to pay attention to the pain he’s allowed into my story and ask what he wants to teach me. I ask him, “Why have you allowed this, God? What do you want me to learn? What are you trying to teach me?”

God is in control. We know this but we don’t know it. When I’m in my right mind, I pull from Genesis 50:20 and Romans 8:28 and remind myself that, although the pain someone has inflicted on me was not right, God must have allowed it; and if he allowed it then there’s a purpose for it. If I had it my way, I would always have a trouble-free life, but thankfully God knows what I need better than I do. It takes faith to believe that, of course. God will do what is necessary to draw me into closer communion with himself. And if you’re anything like me, your prayer life is stronger and more consistent in times of trial. Unfortunately, it takes hard days to show me my pride and self-will.

I love these words by Paul Miller: “At the center of self-will is me, carving a world in my image, but at the center of prayer is God, carving me in his Son’s image.”

How you respond is important. When someone brings pain in my life, I’m faced with a choice. I can respond in kind or I can respond in love. Jesus tells me to love my enemies and pray for them (Matt. 5:43-45). Similarly, Proverbs 25:21-22 reads: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”

When we respond in this way to pain and betrayal we can begin to write a new story into our lives and into the lives of others. In this way we serve as signs and agents of the new creation.

Stop the Requiem

She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has none to comfort her (Lam. 1:2).

She defiled herself with immorality and gave no thought to her future (Lam. 1:9).

Lord, see my anguish! My heart is broken and my soul despairs, for I have rebelled against you (Lam. 1:20).

A question friends and former mentors often ask me is how pastoral life is different from what I expected. I always respond by saying that I was naïve regarding peoples’ lives before entering ministry. Showing up on Sunday mornings and exchanging pleasantries with people for a few minutes, asking the obligatory, “How’s everything going?” and hearing the superficial answers doesn’t give you an insight into the details of one’s life. The truth is people are hurting; they’re depressed; their home life is a wreck; their marriages are crumbling; and parents are distraught due to their children’s destructive decisions. This is real life. We live in a fallen world.

Reading through Lamentations 1 this morning brought three thoughts to mind.

Sin always leads to disappointment. Lamentations was written after the fall of Jerusalem. Despite God’s warnings, the people continued to live in sin; they continued to trust in their foreign allies to protect them, their “lovers” as Jeremiah calls them in verse 2. But now that the peoples’ lives are in shambles, she (Jerusalem) “has none to comfort her.” Hear this: Sin always over-promises and under-delivers.

I’ve experienced this in my own life and seen it countless times in others’ lives. People start using drugs recreationally and end up addicted. Their lives are destroyed and they lose everything. Others pursue more sanitized versions of destruction. A wife walks out on her husband and children on some pursuit to “find herself,” motivated by her reading of Eat, Pray, Love, without any thought to what she’s leaving behind.

You climb to the top of the mountain but find yourself drowning in a flood of regrets.

Sin should lead to personal grief. We all sin. And as believers in Jesus Christ, we still sin. But verse 20 should be the cry of our heart when we do: My heart is broken and my soul despairs, for I have rebelled against you. After David was confronted about his adultery with Bathsheba, he wrote Psalm 51. If Psalm 32 is connected to this event (as many scholars think), David’s words in verses 3-4 should be the experience of every believer living in sin: For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

Simply put, a believer who is living in sin should be the most miserable person you know. If not, then we have reason to question such a person’s profession of faith. After All, John writes, No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God (1 Jn. 3:9).

Sins can be forgiven. This is the beauty of the gospel. In it we hear the declaration that sins can be forgiven, that one’s transgressions can be wiped away. What would you say if I told you that every sin you’ve ever committed could be forgiven? If you’re thinking correctly you would say, “That sounds too good to be true.” But it’s the message of the gospel.

Why? Because Christ came to earth to live the perfect life that none of us could live. Sin brings death (Rom. 3:23; Rom. 6:23). But Christ faced death on our behalf so that we wouldn’t have to. If we cry out for forgiveness and ask God to come into our lives and forgive us and change us, he really will.

Basking in God’s abundant forgiveness, David wrote: He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

 God brings life out of death. He makes beauty from ashes.

Wisdom Wednesday

Theologian John Frame asked the question once, “Can modern people be brought to worship a God who is an intellectual authoritarian?” Of course, this can only happen if God changes a person’s heart and grants regeneration. Frame goes on to say: “The fact is, however, that this authoritarianism is the source of true intellectual freedom. Human thinking must be subject to a norm, to a criterion. If we reject God as our norm, we must find another (rationalism) or despair of knowledge (skepticism)” – From his book The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 124.

I bring this up because I think J. I. Packer was on to something when he said, many years ago, that intellectual pride is the “root sin” of humanity (Fundamentalism and the Word of God, 153). We see this clearly in the present day where many people conceive of freedom as the “absence of external direction” (Peter Jenson). Without reference to any metaphysical realm, however, how can we account for our most deeply held intuitions and beliefs? San Diego State law professor Steven D. Smith is right that most of our most deeply held beliefs cannot be accounted for on purely naturalistic grounds.

The late philosopher Hans Jonas commented once that all ethics must be grounded in metaphysics. He went on lament the current state of affairs in his book Philosophical Essays:

Living now constantly in the shadow of unwanted, built-in, automatic utopianism, we are constantly confronted with issues whose positive choice requires supreme wisdom–an impossible, and in particular for contemporary man, who denies the very existence of its object: viz, objective value and truth. We need wisdom most when we believe in it least. . . . The very nature of the age which cries out for an ethical theory makes it suspiciously look like a fools’ errand. . . . Now we shrivel in the nakedness of a nihilism in which near-omnipotence is paired with near-emptiness, greatest capacity with  knowing least what for.

Admittedly this is a grim outlook. Thankfully, we believe in a God who can raise the dead.

Robert Gagnon Challenges David Gushee to a Debate

If you haven’t read David Gushee’s article “Christians, Conflict, and Change,” you should. In said article Gushee urges conservative Christians to change their views regarding homosexuality “voluntarily,” implying that if we don’t, we will be in hot water with the thought police. A number of thoughtful conservatives have written responses. However, the one that caught my attention was written by theologian Robert Gagnon. Gagnon made headlines with his massive tome The Bible and Homosexuality: Texts and Hermeneutics. Although I haven’t read it yet, reviewers suggest that this is the go-to advanced study on the topic. Here’s his reaction to Gushee’s post:

Could a more theologically vacuous attack piece be written by a theologian? Where’s the theology? David Gushee, who switched positions on homosexual practice and “transgenderism” and who is timid about subjecting his views about Jesus, Paul, and Scripture to a rigorous public debate, now tries to scare all the rest of us, not with an argument about God’s judgment but rather with an argument about society’s judgment of us if we don’t comply. We are all bigots, the moral equivalent of racists, who don’t agree with Gushee’s theological “conversion” away from Jesus’ sexual ethics.

Somebody famous once said: Don’t fear humans who can only kill the body; fear God who can send both body and soul to hell.

According to Gushee: “As with the fight against racial discrimination in the 1960s and 1970s, sexual-orientation and gender-identity discrimination is rapidly being rejected by society…. If Hillary Clinton is elected president, making for 12 to 16 straight years of Democratic control of the White House, it is quite possible that by Supreme Court ruling and federal regulation any kind of discrimination against gay people will have the same legal rights and social acceptance as any kind of racial discrimination. Which is, none.”

True enough about the election of Hillary Clinton. Yet Gushee approves of this and indeed relishes making the connection himself in order to shut the rest of us up.

I’ve been warning for years about how the “GLBT” movement is the biggest threat to our civil and religious liberties; but (unlike Gushee) not for the purpose of encouraging people to abandon Jesus’ foundational view of sexual ethics; rather, partly to warn Christians to exercise their freedoms in this country vigorously, while they still have them, to make this the paramount concern in voting against those who would deny them and their children important religious and civil liberties; and partly to tell Christians to prepare themselves for persecution so that they will not fall away when difficulties arise. Christianity for much of its history has faced persecution from the state for holding fast to its God-given convictions. We’re now going back to the future.

Can someone, anyone, get David Gushee to stand up with me in a public forum so that we can get to the bottom of what Jesus and the apostolic witness to him thought and then assess whether the so-called “new knowledge” arguments are really all that new, or accurate (the hermeneutics of it all)? Because these are the matters that alone matter: Truth in Love. Not the threats of the state or the various structures of this-worldly power.

File Gushee’s piece under the heading of bullying.

I sincerely hope this debate takes place.


Meditation on 1 John 3:2

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).

As believers in Jesus Christ, we are loved by God, accepted by God, and adopted into his family, the church. The aim of lives is to please him (2 Cor. 5:9) and to be conformed into Christ’s image (Rom. 8:29). The beauty of 1 John 3:2 is that we will “follow our exalted Head” (Wesley) and receive a glorious resurrected body. We are going to a place where there is no sickness, death, or disease (Isa. 33:24; Rev. 21:4). Because of what awaits us, we “set our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13) and we seek to live “lives of holiness and godliness” (2 Pet. 3:11). We continue to seek his will in our daily lives and we pray that he would give us life according to his steadfast love.

So renew and deepen my love for you Jesus, for you alone are worthy of our adoration, affection, and allegiance. Dazzle my heart with your beauty; fill my gaze with your wonder; free my hands with your mercy ~ Scotty Smith

What I Learned in My Science and Technology Class

Well, I’m a day late in posting this blog, but I guess it’s better late than never. As I mentioned previously, last week I took a course called “Church Issues in Science and Technology.” The professor, Tim Sansbury, has a background in science and theology and is one of the few voices in the church today who has published in this area. He’s unique in that he holds degrees in physics, theology, and philosophy. In particular, he’s well-versed in the philosophy of science. Also, he’s up to date on how technology is changing our world and the unique challenges it presents for the church. New technology raises ethical questions that all of us will confront.

Although I still need to write my major paper for the class, after finishing up the lectures last Friday, I went to a Starbucks and wrote down some things I learned. These aren’t listed in order of importance. Here goes:

  1. Science explains the uniformities of nature.
  2. No ethics without metaphysics.
  3. Science can’t answer metaphysical questions.
  4. Pornography is quite literally destroying peoples’ lives. It’s scary.
  5. Science can’t disprove the literal existence of Adam and Eve.
  6. The statement, “Science has shown that miracles cannot take place” is beyond the realm of science.
  7. Science can explain causes but it can’t explain everything.
  8. The way Christians often talk about science is a blight on the church.
  9. It’s important to remember that many scientists have not taken a course on the philosophy of science.
  10. Christianity is a falsifiable religion.
  11. Peoples’ issues with Christianity are not intellectual.
  12. “If you try to get God to fit in your brain, you’ll have problems” (Tim Sansbury).
  13. Metaphysical naturalism is a religion.
  14. No one can be a consistent moral relativist.
  15. If it’s true that theologians aren’t often good scientists, it’s also true that scientists aren’t often good theologians and philosophers.
  16. Finding a genetic link to explain a person’s behavior (i.e. a gay gene, a violent gene, etc.) doesn’t justify a person’s behavior. “Is” still doesn’t imply “ought.”
  17. Scientists interpret data differently because they read the evidence in line with different narratives. “Paradigms drive interpretations of evidence” (Sansbury).
  18. Was there a talking snake in Genesis? Yes. God can do miracles. He raised Jesus from the dead!
  19. No coherent worldview can ever say, “Miracles are impossible.”
  20. Technology always brings a downside.
  21. Science is designed to force objectivity, but it rarely does that. Biases live within all of us.
  22. Our emotions affect what we believe is reasonable.

Upcoming Blog

I recently returned from Florida where I was taking a course entitled “Church Issues in Science and Technology,” taught by Dr. Tim Sansbury. The first part of the course was essentially a philosophy of science. The second part was about the impact technology is having on churches worldwide. I’m planning on writing a separate blog, outlining some things I learned in bullet point fashion.