How do you handle theological controversy?
Do you run away from it by agreeing to disagree, or do you see every different viewpoint as the proverbial hill to die on?
I usually am naturally bent to agree to disagree and not come into conflict. However, I have found it is also important to express your convictions without coming across as an “angry” Fundie. As the Apostle Peter wrote,
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect”
Did you catch that last part? “…yet do it with gentleness and respect”
Peter’s words should not be used to justify your trolling habits online or the propensity to chew out relatives at family gatherings. That’s how good religious people do it, but that should not be how a follower of Jesus, and someone steeped in the gospel, should act.
We need strong convictions that are articulated with charity and kindness. Richard Mouw would say we need convicted civility, and I would happen to agree with him. We need humility in our conversations that is connected with a deep understanding of our own faith.
Know what you believe and why you believe it. Then articulate that belief with clarity and civility.
In my previous career, I attended a lot of groundbreaking and ribbon cutting ceremonies. What I found in those momentous events was an abundance of speeches, veggie trays, and watered down fruit punch, yet the hosting parties anticipated the great reveal of what could be and what something will become. However, rarely do we find people celebrating the murky middle, the time in between the pouring of the foundation and the unveiling of a completed project. For most of the project, these people just wait.
Currently, I find myself in a similar situation: I’m waiting.
Waiting for the birth of our son. Waiting for the completion of a total loss accident claim with our car insurance company. Waiting for answers to big career questions that will mean whether or not we move. Waiting for God to act in pretty sizable ways.
As I wait, I cannot help but think about the way Jesus must have felt as he waited. Waited in a womb for 9 months. Waited to walk. Waited to potty train. Waited to take up the family trade of carpentry. Waited for 30 years to start his public ministry. Waited through a trial, execution, and burial all while knowing who he was and that he will be seated at the right hand of the Father.
During this season, I take comfort in the words of Psalm 40,
I waited and waited and waited for God.
At last he looked; finally he listened…
Soften up, God, and intervene;
hurry and get me some help,
So those who are trying to kidnap my soul
will be embarrassed and lose face,
So anyone who gets a kick out of making me miserable
will be heckled and disgraced,
So those who pray for my ruin
will be booed and jeered without mercy.
But all who are hunting for you—
oh, let them sing and be happy.
Let those who know what you’re all about
tell the world you’re great and not quitting.
And me? I’m a mess. I’m nothing and have nothing:
make something of me.
You can do it; you’ve got what it takes—
but God, don’t put it off.
For me, this is how I feel while in this season of waiting: I sit on the edge of my seat, waiting for God to act, waiting for him to show up and intervene. But does that always happen? Is there an unexpected benefit to waiting on God? Let me tell you about that in my next post.
What are you waiting on?
You know what really bothers me? All this talk about suffering in the Bible. How suffering is necessary to conform us into the image of Jesus. How suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us (Romans 5:3-5). Quite honestly, I want to go all Thomas Jefferson on this and cut these passages out of the Bible.
Am I the only one here?
But here’s the thing guys and gals— I believe that the Bible is God’s Word. No, not in the sense where it was dictated word for word. No, no, not that way at all. Instead, it is a revealing of who God is through many authors and genres. While Jesus definitively reveals who God is (since he’s God in the flesh), the other books of the Bible also paint portraits of God. And the Bible speaks to suffering in a completely different way from other world religions and worldviews.
Suffering is not some esoteric debate topic— it’s a very real thing. We all suffer in life, while some might suffer greater than others, all cannot escape . However, the way we handle suffering is quite different.
Christianity is different because God himself suffered. He knows what it’s like to suffer, both in want and in hurt. Not only did the God-Man, Jesus the Messiah, suffer a brutal death through crucifixion, he also encountered separation from the Father.* The Christian faith makes the claim that God understands suffering and he is not indifferent to it. There is coming a time when wrongs will be righted and a Kingdom of Righteousness will be implemented—when the world is put to rights.
Until that day, we live in a broken world. The sunshine and rain alike will fall both on those who follow Jesus and those who reject him. And for this we wait in profound assurance that God hears our prayers in the middle of suffering.
*The second person of the Trinity experienced separation from the first person of the Trinity on the cross. If we understand that God is Trinitarian (3 in 1 and 1 in 3, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), then this separation can be seen as incredibly painful. The eternal relationship within the Trinitarian God had an incredible strain, since Jesus was forsaken by the Father on the cross.
I heard a sermon this past Advent centered on the angel’s message to Joseph and it stuck with me. See, Joseph was a good man, very kind and just. When he found out about Mary’s pregnancy and he decided to cut ties with her quietly, otherwise she could have been seriously damaged within that society. Regardless of his character, Joseph was in deep personal crisis.
In the middle of his crisis though, his world was forever altered. While the narrative played out within his house, the music seemed to stop and everything changed. The whole narrative was life altering for him as he discovered that he was called into being part of God’s rescue plan on earth and his good name would be dragged through the mud.
Have you ever had a change in your narrative, when all becomes flipped over on its head?
Have you ever had a moment when God calls you to put your name, talent, treasure, and time on the line?
Take heart, for you are in the same family as Mary and Joseph, if you, in fact, follow Jesus. He calls you to take a risk. Take a risk and follow him, even if the costs are high.
Life is like a marathon.
It’s a long, grueling race, and within Christian thought, it is a race with a prize waiting for us at the finish line. It’s a tough mudder, a long adventure of both pain and eventual glory that will often leave you exhausted. Exhausted yet still moving toward the finish line.
There are no quick fixes to this race, not even if you prefer sprinting. There is pain but no instant pain relief and obstacles but no easy fix to hurdle over them. Sure, there are straight paths with sunshine and water stations, but there is also that grueling hill at mile 7 and bottleneck when you’re almost halfway there.
The Christian life is a race with an imperishable prize of glory that will neither fade nor disappoint. The marathon of the Christian faith is one that follows after Jesus, even in exhaustion and frustration (when will this mile be over with?!).
Keep running, even if it hurts.
The founder of our faith, as the writer to the Hebrews puts it, ran this race with the joy set before him. He endured the cross with you in mind and ultimately we can draw strength from his own perfect account.
Do you want to have your heart sing? Hear this promise to you:
“But anyone who loves God is known by him.” (I Corinthians 8:3)
If you love God, if you seek after him—even if it is imperfect—you are known by him. The one who brought forth matter and gravity a gazillion years ago knows you.
And do you want to know how badly he loves you?
He chose to come down and take our place, he chose to bear the consequences of our sin, guilt, and shame. For the joy of this relationship, he endured the brutal, bloody death on the cross for you.
If you love God, you are known by him.
Why should we read the Bible?
It’s not just for the knowledge or increasing the depth of our understanding of Western civilization (since so much of Western culture is rooted from the Bible) or picking up nice proverbs we can use throughout everyday life. We should read the Bible because it is God’s Word and He uses it to transform people, no matter how good or bad they think they are.
For me, I want to read the Bible because of the transforming power it has. This transformative experience is what I desire, I want it to change and guide me, to create a heart that loves others and loves Him.
I read the Bible to be changed and to shape my will to God’s. That his will, in fact, would be done on earth as it is in heaven. Might his will start first within my bankrupt heart.
Why do you read the Bible?
Have you ever wondered if your life mattered?
Think about it. There are billions of people on the planet and we’re spinning through the darkness of space, which simply seems unending. With this cosmic dance going on all around us, why on earth would our life count for something in a cosmos so immense?
Might I suggest that you matter because our Maker made you? As Mark Labberton puts it in his excellent book “Called,”
“We matter, and our calling matters, not because we’re the supreme test of anything but because we exist for the joy and satisfaction of our Maker, whose love alone enables us to flourish…we are ‘very good’ in God’s sigh because of bearing God’s image—not because we are fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28) but just because we are.”
How joyous is this?
We matter because we’re God’s beloved. You matter because you are made by God and you are called to belong in a family.
This post really resonated with me from a blogger I really enjoy, Allison Vesterfelt. She centers the conversation around powerlessness and the work needed to change from that posture.
Allison specifically lived with powerlessness for many years and she discovered that there were four different byproducts from a sense of powerlessness (complaining, blaming, striving for acceptance, and disengaging or numbing). Fortunately, she learned to confront them through these tips:
I really love these steps of finding your voice and stepping into it. I highly recommend checking out her entire post: Some Things To Try When Life Feels Out of Control.
Remember God delivers, when your back is up against the wall or when you are caught in between the violent sea and a malicious army. When you cannot see the way out.
Remember, God will deliver.
When you have rejected the ways of the Lord and have chosen to go off the pathway. When you collected your inheritance and went out on your own, only to find out what happens when you fall flat on your face.
Remember, God will welcome you home.
When you sin. When you consciously reject the wisdom of God and others. When you wander from the goodness of the Lord. When you realize the stupidity of your ways.
Remember, God will run and embrace you as soon as you head back (read: repent) to the house of the Lord.
How easy we are to forget and how hard it is to make that U-turn. As Jesus once said, repent for the kingdom of God is at hand and believe in the good news.
Might we walk in this unbelievable good news.