Saturday, March 28, 2015

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

It has been awhile since my previous post but I have finished my notes for your review.  I pray you find Dr. Keller's wisdom as illuminating and helpful as I have while experiencing my own "furnace".

Chapter Fourteen: Praying

In order to understand what the Bible says about suffering, one must come to grips with the book of Job.  Rabbi Abraham Heschel famously stated, “God is not nice.  God is not an uncle.  God is an earthquake.”  Philosopher Peter Kreeft says “Job is a mystery.  A mystery satisfies something in us, but not our reason.  The rationalist is repelled by Job…[but] something deeper in us is satisfied by Job, and is nourished…It puts iron in your blood.”  Job conveys that the problem of suffering is both a philosophical and emotional problem.  The traditional religious answer is that the sufferer must have done something wrong.  Yet Job’s suffering is because of his goodness.  The secular answer is that there is no good reason.  A good God wouldn’t allow this, so either he doesn’t exist or is cruel.  But Job tells us that both of these are wrong.

The book opens with Satan in heaven accusing Job before God.  This raises a question, what is Satan doing in heaven?  Wasn’t he cast out?  We must remember that the Bible is quite selective about what we are told.  We must also keep in mind the author’s purpose in the details we are given.  The Bible gives us few details about the supernatural and it can be noted that Satan does not show any deference to God – he does not address him as Lord, does not bow to him, nor show him any respect.  What we are told is that Satan, which means “accuser”, is before God accusing Job of only being in relationship with God because of the benefits he receives from God.  Just think of any love relationship.  How would you feel if someone you loved left you because of a financial reversal?  Wouldn’t you feel used?  They’ve loved you for the benefits, instead of for who you essentially are.  It’s the same with God, we should love him for who he is, not for the benefits he gives us.  But how do we get there?  One of the primary ways is hardship.  Suffering affords the opportunity to focus on God in ways we haven’t before.

As the story unfolds, the book does not depict a dualistic view of the world with equal and opposite forces of good and evil.  God is completely in charge.  Satan can only go so far.  And we see also that God is not the one inflicting the pain.  Evil is not God’s will, but Satan’s.  The first calamities to come to Job are the loss of his wealth and his children.  He is not stoic.  He grieves, yet shows proper gratitude and appropriate deference.  Next, Job loses his health and his composure.  He blames God and struggles with what feels like a grave injustice, yet he does not turn away.

Job’s friends, with typical conventional piety, say many things that are true propositions in the abstract.  There is moral order, bad behavior has consequences, we should humble ourselves, examine ourselves and trust God.  But true words and moralistic theology “can be thin medicine for a man in the depths.”  God could never be so unjust to let all this happen unless Job had done something wrong.  All Job needs to do is confess his sin, get his life straight and everything will be good again, guaranteed.

Then we see that God appears, and Job lives.  He answers Job out of the storm and invites Job to answer him in dialogue.  We see Job “put in his place – not by a rebuke, nor by a warning against questioning God, but by the gracious advent of God who allows himself to be seen inasmuch as that is humanly possible.  As a result, the [appearance of God] can only be understood as an act of grace.”  The paradox should not be missed.  God appears as both a gracious, personal God and an overwhelming force – at the same time.  On the cross we see that God is so holy and just that Jesus had to die, but also so loving that he laid down his own life willingly.  The God explained by the gospel as both loving and furious meets Job on a dark and stormy day.

We also see that God answers, but does not.  Job expects explanation.  His friends expect condemnation.  Instead, God gives a discourse about the wonders of the natural world.  He could have said, “Job, I know it has been painful.  But you must realize that because of all this, you will become great and someday be an inspiration to hundreds of millions of sufferers until the very end of time.  No one except my own Son will be better known for patience under affliction.”  But God says nothing, why?  Francis Anderson explains, “It is one of the many excellences of the book that Job is brought to contentment without ever knowing all the facts…To withhold the full story from Job, even after the test was over, keeps him walking by faith, not by sight.  He does not say in the end, ‘Now I see it all.’  He never sees it all.  He sees God.  Perhaps it is better if God never tells any of us the whole of our life story.”

When we become truly free lovers of God and leave our mercenary, conditional religion behind, we will understand that obeying God will bring us no benefits.  And that is when we reach the point where seeking, praying and obeying God will begin to change us.  Job never sees the big picture, he only sees God, and that is all we really need.  Gods plan includes evil and that confuses and angers us.  But Job helps us see that God allows evil just enough space so that it will defeat itself and bring about the opposite of what it intends.

Next we see that God is God, and we are not.  God’s catalogue of natural wonders makes this simple point.  A seven-year-old cannot question the calculations of a world class mathematician, yet we think we can question how God is running the universe.  Job does not have the power to be judge, and neither do we.  This is the way of wisdom, that we willingly admit that God alone is God.  Anderson notes, “There is a rebuke in it for any person who, by complaining about particular events in his life, implies that he could propose to God better ways of running the universe than those God currently uses.  Men are eager to use force to combat evil and in their impatience they wish God would do the same more often.  But by such destructive acts men do and become evil…Only God can destroy creatively.  Only God can transmute evil into good.”

Dr. Keller quotes Elisabeth Elliot, “God is God.  If He is God, He is worthy of my worship and my service.  I will find rest nowhere but in His will, and that will is infinitely, immeasurable, unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what He is up to.”

When we get to the end of the book of Job, we find God affirming Job who earlier cursed the day he was born, challenged God’s wisdom, complained bitterly and expressed deep doubts.  Why did God vindicate him?  Because Job never stopped praying.  He complained to God, he screamed and yelled at God, but he did it all to God.  His suffering did not drive him away from God, but toward him, and that makes all the difference.  Even if we cannot feel God, he is still there.  We must seek him, go to him, read, study, fellowship, serve, pray and obey.

To pour out your heart to God means to look honestly at your doubts, desires, fears and hopes.  While you examine and listen to your heart, you must also remember to talk to it as well.  Much of what we experience as unhappiness is due to the fact that we are listening to ourselves too much.  If you are suffering or depressed, you should spend regular time reading the Bible.  But this must be done as study for content and truth.  To attempt to read devotionally seeking inspiration and uplift can become quite unhelpful.  “Remind yourself of who God is, and who you are in Christ, and what he has done for you.”  Ponder the truth, pray to God and wait.  And, like Job, you can gain assurance in the midst of suffering, you can be sure that you are loved and accepted and that you can trust God’s grace.  And how can we know this?  Because of Jesus Christ.  He was homeless, naked, penniless and innocent.  He took the condemnation we deserve. And ultimately, he was willing to give his life for us and experienced the abandonment of God so we won’t have to.  “[When] you suffer without relief, when you feel absolutely alone you can know that, because he bore your sin, he will be with you.  You can know you are walking the same path Jesus walked, so you are not alone – and that path is only taking you to him.”

Next week (yes) Chapter Fifteen: Thinking, Thanking, Loving

Until then, don’t take my word for it, read the book – don’t wait for the movie,
and have a little hope on me,

To learn more about Timothy Keller and his work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, you can check out his 
personal website, his Facebook page or the church homepage.

Keller, Timothy (2013), Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-525-95245-9

Friday, March 27, 2015

Why the 14th Amendment Can't Possibly Require Same Sex Marriage

This article, written by Frank Turek for the American Family News Network (AFN), gives five reasons why the Supreme Court should not require states to redefine marriage to include same sex relationships.

Does the U.S. Constitution require same-sex marriage? No, the U.S. Constitution requires the Court to leave this issue to the states. If you believe otherwise, then amend the Constitution.

The Supreme Court is about to decide if the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution requires the states to redefine marriage to include same-sex relationships. There are several reasons why the answer is no.

The most decisive of these reasons is the fact that when the 14th Amendment was passed in 1868, homosexual behavior was a felony in every state in the union. So if the 14th Amendment was intended to require same-sex marriage, then every state in the union intended to throw the new couple into prison as soon as the marriage was consummated!
Some may say, "Who cares what they believed in 1868 about homosexuality? We've evolved since then."

That's addressed by the second reason: laws and words have specific scopes and meanings. They don't have unlimited flexibility as liberal justices tend to think. Neither the intent nor the text of the Constitution requires the states to redefine marriage. If the people of the United States have "evolved" on the issue, then the Constitution provides them with a very clear and fair way for the document to intelligently "evolve" – they need to convince a supermajority of federal and state legislatures to amend the Constitution. That's the very reason our Constitution has an amendment process!

If we fail to use the amendment process and permit judges to substitute their own definitions and judgments for what the people actually meant when they passed the law in the first place, then we no longer govern ourselves. Why vote or use the political process if unelected justices strike down our laws and impose their own as they go? In fact, why have a Constitution at all? If it's "evolving" or "living," then it's not really a collective agreement of the people – it's a pretext that allows judges to invent rights and impose any moral (or immoral) position they want against the will of the people.
Imagine if the people were to pass an amendment guaranteeing a right to same-sex marriage. Would you consider the Supreme Court to be legitimate if it imposed its own position and overturned the amendment? No – the people decide what the laws are, not the Court.

Third, the 14th Amendment was intended to prevent states from discriminating against newly freed slaves. At that time blacks and women didn't even have the right to vote, yet no court ever thought it could use the "equal protection" clause to change state voting laws. So why do some district courts think they can use it now to change state marriage laws? Are we to believe that "equal protection" does not guarantee a woman's right to vote but does guarantee a woman's right to marry another woman?

Since the people "evolved" on voting rights, they convinced supermajorities in Congress and of the state legislatures voted to add the 15th and 19th Amendments in 1870 and 1920 respectively. The courts knew they shouldn't act as legislatures to grant rights not addressed by the Constitution. Neither should this Supreme Court.

Fourth, despite all the talk about equal rights, everyone already has equal marriage rights. Every person has the same equal right to marry someone of the opposite sex. That law treats all people equally, but not every behavior they may desire equally. If people with homosexual desires do not have equal rights, then people with desires to marry their relatives or more than one person don't have equal rights. The "born that way" justification doesn't work either because that same justification could make any desired arrangement "marriage," which means the logic behind it is absurd. The Court needs to acknowledge the fact that natural marriage, same sex-marriage, incestuous marriage, and polygamous marriage are all different behaviors with different outcomes, so the law rightfully treats those behaviors differently while giving every citizen the equal right to participate in marriage whatever its legal definition is.

Finally, the states make marriage law, not the feds. The U.S. Constitution says nothing about marriage. While the Supreme Court did overturn Virginia's ban on inter-racial marriage, it did so because Virginia discriminated on the basis of race, which is precisely what the 14th Amendment was intended to prevent. There is no rational reason to discriminate on the basis of race because race is irrelevant to marriage. However, gender is essential to it. Even the 2013 Windsor decision, which partially struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, recognized that marriage is a state, not a federal issue. Since there is no 14th Amendment issue here, the Court must leave marriage to the states.
Legal reasons such as these are all the Court is constitutionally permitted to consider. Polls and policy considerations are for the people or their legislatures, not the courts. Ryan T. Anderson writes in his recent column titled "Memo to Supreme Court: Nothing in the Constitution Requires States to Redefine Marriage":

"The overarching question before the Supreme Court is not whether an exclusively male-female marriage policy is the best, but only whether it is allowed by the U.S. Constitution. The question is not whether government-recognized same-sex marriage is good or bad policy, but only whether it is required by the U.S. Constitution."

Does the U.S. Constitution require same-sex marriage? No, the U.S. Constitution requires the Court to leave this issue to the states. If you believe otherwise, then amend the Constitution.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Toward a Graciously Historic Sexual Ethic

The article below is an adaption from the book Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who are Tired of Taking Sides which was written by Scott Saul.

The centuries-old, universal consensus among Christians, Jews, and Muslims—that God gave sex for marriage between one man and one woman—is being questioned not only by secular society, but within Christianity itself. Individuals, churches, and even whole denominations are shifting in their views and practices. Many contest the long-held belief that porneia—the New Testament Greek term for all sexual activity outside of marriage between one man and one woman—is synonymous with “immorality.” Ours is a different age, the Western (and mostly white and well-educated) “progressive Christian” says. Biblical prohibitions against divorce, unmarried cohabitation, and same-sex relationships, they say, were written for situations unique to the first century but shouldn’t apply to our modern context. Indeed, those who are unpersuaded by the new interpretations are increasingly viewed as unenlightened at best and bigoted at worst.
So what do we make of this new cultural landscape? How do we understand the Scriptures on this matter? And what should we do with that understanding?

Have We Misunderstood Scripture?

Expressions of sexuality that were once seen as taboo have now become mainstream. As friends and family “come out” with news of a pending divorce or a same-sex or cohabiting hetero relationship, Christians—especially when friendships and family ties hang in the balance—feel pressed to sympathize instead of condemn, to support instead of separate, to affirm instead of deny. To reinforce this instinct, sexual minorities are often compared to victims of slavery.Christians eventually shifted on slavery because they finally saw slavery was biblically wrong, the thinking goes. This is no different. Sexual minorities are the new oppressed minority.
This is a difficult leap, however, since every reference in Scripture to sex outside of heterosexual marriage is negative. The pro-slavery mindset is repudiated by Paul’s letter to Philemon, a slaveowner commanded to stop treating Onesimus like a slave and instead as a brother. No such parallel pushes against the historic Christian view of sexuality.
As Scripture unfolds from Old Testament to New, we see a progressive tone in the way it dignifies and empowers women, ethnic minorities, the enslaved, the infirm, and the oppressed. But when it comes to sex and marriage, we actually see a more conservative tone. Jesus reaffirms the male-female, one-flesh union in marriage. Qualified elders must either be single and chaste like Paul and Jesus or be the “husband of one wife” (that is, one-woman men). Jesus restores dignity to an adulteress and then tells her that if she’s going to identify as his follower she must stop committing adultery. Unlike Philemon and the slave issue, then, there is no hint in Scripture of “emancipation” for sexual relationships—including committed and monogamous ones—outside the male-female marital union.
This teaching is admittedly unpopular in our late modern times. Yet Scripture shows no interest in being popular or relevant—that is, in being adapted, revised, or censored to align with ever-shifting times. We must remain countercultural wherever the culture and the truth are at odds. It is this posture that makes Christians truly relevant in the culture.

Counterculture for the Healing of Culture

What’s the way forward, then, for Christians? I believe the way of grace and truth avoids the polar extremes of both the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
First, we must resist the inner Pharisee, whose instinct is to scornfully separate from a sexually damaged world. Compelled by the love of Christ, we must extend kindness and friendship to those who don’t embrace a biblical sex ethic, and we must never engage in negative posturing and caricature. This in itself is countercultural, as evidenced by Slate identifying 2014 as “the year of outrage.” Christians, then, have an opportunity to stand out as a gracious, life-giving minority in this regard. This entails staying true to the biblical text and also genuinely loving, listening to, and serving those who don’t share our beliefs. Jesus, who welcomed and ate with sinners, and who never once had a harsh word to say to a sexually damaged image-bearer, beckons us to follow in his footsteps.
But we also need to resist the inner Sadducee, whose instinct is to follow—and even be discipled by—the world. We must honor, champion, and obey the Creator’s design, at all times in a spirit of gentleness and respect, even if we lose friends and influence fewer people. We must be okay with living in light of thoughts and ways higher than our own (Isa. 55:8–9). In the end, capitulation to culture is neither faithful nor fruitful as a missionary method.
Pharisees scorn the world.
Sadducees follow the world.
Jesus, who both affirmed sex and kept it within its protective moral boundaries, was countercultural for the healing of the world.

Affirming Sex (and Chastity)

As a lifelong unmarried celibate man tempted in every way we are, Jesus affirmed sex within the male-female marital union. He created sex. Sex is not a “no-no.” It’s not taboo. It is a gift that welcomes husbands and wives to taste Eden together—naked and unashamed, known and embraced, exposed and not rejected. Proverbs invites a husband to enjoy his wife’s breasts. Song of Solomon pictures a husband and wife admiring and adventurously enjoying one another’s naked bodies. Paul, also unmarried and celibate, says that except for short seasons dedicated to prayer, able-bodied husbands and wives should have sex, and have it often.
Scripture also warns against sex being distorted, abused, turned into a pseudo-savior, or made into an identity. As one church historian has observed, the early Christians were promiscuous with their money (financially generous) but guarded with their bodies (sexually chaste). The surrounding Greco-Roman culture was the reverse.
Why is our Creator’s design so liberating for sex inside the male-female marital union, yet so limiting for every other setting? Tim Keller says it’s because sex is the most delightful—and also the most dangerous—of all human capacities. It is a transcendent, otherworldly experience. Sex works a lot like fire. Though it can warm and purify, if not properly contained and handled with care it can burn, scar, infect, and destroy. I’ve seen this play out in scores of pastoral situations over the years. “There is a way that seems right to a man,” the proverb puts it, “but in the end it leads to death” (Prov. 14:12).

You Are the Light of the World

The more I engage with these issues, the more I’m convinced that the church’s best opportunity to encourage a biblical ethic of sex and marriage is by living out a biblical ethic of sex and marriage. As Madeleine L’Engle reminds us, we draw people to Christ by showing them a light so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know its source.
In other words, in the eyes of a watching world, showing the light makes the telling about the light palpable and credible. The Christian witness cannot be in word alone. It must also be in deed.
Rather than condemning “sex and the city,” then, what if we made it our chief task to simply be the “city on a hill” Jesus intended?
To start we must remove the planks in our own eyes, wherever they may exist. We must forsake hard-core and soft-core porn habits, take captive thoughts and fantasies that objectify God’s image, and reduce unbiblical divorces. We must also nurture fidelity and forgiveness, hand-holding and lingering conversation—living face to face (in intimacy) and side by side (on mission) within Christian marriages.
Additionally, becoming L’Engle’s “light so lovely” amid a sexually damaged culture will require a renewed and robust vision for marriage and singleness. What if we reaffirmed that being unmarried and chaste (like Paul and Jesus) is a noble and fruitful calling, not a curse? What if we reaffirmed that the call to singleness is “far better,” since it frees people to devote themselves fully to God’s concerns? What if we embraced a renewed vision for the church as a surrogate family where everyone—single and married and divorced, hetero attracted and same-sex attracted—finds opportunity for spiritual friendships as deep as David and Jonathan, with long-term love and loyalty rivaling that of a man and a woman?
Most significantly, what if we renewed our emphasis on The Marriage of which all others are a shadow—the mystical union between Jesus and his bride, the church? No matter your temporary marital status on earth, union with him through faith makes you as married and complete as you’ll ever be. From the moment we believe, Jesus is our bridegroom, and we are his bride.
We are our beloved’s, and our beloved is ours.

Editors’ note: This article is adapted from Scott Sauls’s new book, Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who are Tired of Taking Sides (Tyndale House, 2015).

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Article: Learning from an Apostle- Christianity in the Marketplace of Ideas by Doug Groothuis

In this featured article, apologist Doug Groothuis considers the Apostle Paul's visit to Athens and shares insights regarding how believers can better communicate the gospel message to those who are willing to sincerely listen.

Groothuis writes:

"By understanding how Paul presented the Christian message to this ancient and unbelieving audience, Christians today can discover principles that will empower them to speak the Christian worldview into the contemporary marketplace of ideas."

You can checkout the article here.  For more from Doug Groothuis, go here.

Finally, I highly recommend Groothuis' excellent book Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith.

Courage and Godspeed,


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Do Atheists Believe in Miracles Without a Miracle Worker?

In his new book Stealing from God [1], author and speaker Frank Turek quotes a post written by blogger Roddy Bullock called "Everyone Believes Something Unbelievable" as follows:

"Virgin Birth.  Abiogenesis.  Resurrection from the dead.  Random mutations producing the raw material for new organs.  Intelligent creation ex nihilo.  Eternal matter.  Eternal mind.  Heaven. Multiverses.  Speciation, by unguided, natural selection.  Hell.  Natural DNA information generation. Adam.  Panspermia.  Angels.  Not immaterial soul.  Miracles.  Space aliens.  God.  No God." [2]

Turek goes on to write, "...both atheists and theists believe in at least some incredible things that they haven't seen.  Yet somehow just theists are viewed as unreasonable for believing in them...Atheists are given a pass for believing without evidence that the universe, life, the genetic code, consciousness, etc. all arose by mindless, repetitive natural forces, which have no explanation either." [3]

Turek sums it up nicely on his blog:

"Since the universe requires an intelligent cause cause beyond itself, and life, as Francis Crick put it, appears to be 'almost a miracle,' what is the most reasonable conclusion?  Atheists and abiogenesis proponents have faith that 'miracles' can occur without a miracle worker...So while atheists and theists both believe what appears to be unbelievable, someone creating is a far more believable than no one creating." [4]

Courage and Godspeed,


1. Our review is here.
2. Roddy Bullock, "Everyone Believes Something Unbelievable," The ID Report, March 31, 2009 as quoted by Frank Turek in Stealing from God, p. 186-187.
3. Frank Turek, Stealing from God, 187.
4. Frank Turek, "Everyone Believes Something Unbelievable,", Dec. 29, 2009.

Monday, March 23, 2015

HBU Podcast: Doubts for Kids

In the subject podcast, Melissa Cain Travis discussed her Young Defenders Series of books with Dr. Holly Ordway and Cate MacDonald. In the process, they also talk about doubt and how parents can address it when it manifests in their children and themselves. Enjoy!

Stand firm in Christ,

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Friday, March 20, 2015

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Pastor David Legge on the Rationality of the Gospel

"You see, it's important for us to understand...that salvation is not an emotion. It is not without emotion, but it is not in essence an emotion. It is a rational knowledge, whereby you rationalize that you must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to have your sins forgiven and to be saved. We dare not, in our circles, minimize the intellectual sense of the Gospel. You must think to believe." [1]

Courage and Godspeed,

1. Pastor David Legge, Sermon: "The Christian Warrior's Armor- Part 3, Italics mine.