It’s Not About You, Christian Graduates

Graduation is upon you.

What a relief. To be freed from the hallways of the high school you’ve learned to hate and launched upon the world full of possibility. Just to be celebrated is a great feeling. Goodness knows we don’t get enough of that these days. Everyone is flying in from across the country just to attend your party, churches are holding banquets in your honor, and all of it is wonderful. It’s your moment in the sun. Bask.

The graduation speeches are exciting. Live your dreams. Reach for the stars. Realize yourself and your potential. Don’t let anyone tell you who you are or what you can’t do. Perhaps there is some truth there.

But we have a few problems here.

Continue reading

“God’s Only Excuse is Easter!”

flowersIn Disappointment with God, author Philip Yancey describes a series of conversations with a young friend named Richard, who has turned away from the faith.

One of Richard’s big beefs with the idea of God is the conundrum of suffering. This one gets us all. Why does a loving and powerful God allow suffering, and all that.

Over the last few years, I’ve felt a part of me becoming impatient with that question, as I’ve found too many skeptics to be merely hiding behind it rather than honestly seeking an answer. And there are answers. But I’ve tried to hold off my cynicism and remain understanding, for I know suffering weakens and disheartens. It’s especially true for the skeptic, as they have no hope of an “inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8) to sustain them.

After lambasting God for his treatment of Job, his apparent detachment from mankind, and every other angle he can, Richard eventually rounds it out with an interesting phrase:

“God’s only excuse is Easter!”

It was one of those phrases that sums up everything you’ve ever suspected but never quite has the eloquence or brevity to say.

I wouldn’t say Richard is theologically correct in saying that. God has, off the top of my head, at least one other great excuse for allowing suffering: the chance to demonstrate his ability to sustain and empower us in the middle of it. It’s quite Scriptural to say that this is sometimes the sole reason for our suffering: creating an opportunity for him to make our hearts ironclad, untouchable by despair and brimming with joy even in jail or on the sickbed.

But you have to admit: even if Easter were God’s only excuse, it’s a whopper of an excuse.

If the claims of Christianity are true, an afterlife is available whose gladness far outweighs any pain we experience on this earth (Romans 8:18) – and for those who reject it, a penalty whose horror far outweighs any peace, prosperity, or good we achieve on this earth.

Which means that judging God by what happens on this earth is…well, you can hardly call it a worthy verdict.

The ideas of heaven and hell may feel like cheap cop-out and motivation, respectively, for a church trying to boost its numbers. It may feel ridiculously out of touch with our modern era’s respect for what can be seen, felt, and proven. It may feel like the last thing you want to hear in the midst of today’s suffering.

But how it feels has no bearing on whether its claims are true.

That is why the claims of Christianity are too great to ignore, or dismiss as good-for-you experiential truth. They demand examination.

And if the story of the resurrection of Christ truly happened, if it bears examination then it’s all true – making the Gospel a message of enormous generosity, and enormous warning.

Though God is bringing all things together for his own glory first and foremost, he is hardly callous enough to leave our groaning hearts out of the equation. He has promised us rewards. He has prepared a great many things for those who will believe; he asks only that we receive him.

I pray fervently that the unbeliever might examine these claims.

Godly is Sexy

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Proverbs 31:30

godlyA well-known verse. But would you be interested in a male paraphrasing, overheard from an old Air Force colleague of mine?

“For every sexy woman, there are five guys in her wake who got sick of her crap.”

Crude, perhaps. Highly generalized, certainly. And you have to wonder whether all five of those men were as crap-free as he made them sound. (You’ll notice I called the guy a colleague, not a buddy.)

But if you’re rolling your eyes at a male reading of Proverbs 31, you might be surprised to learn that the chapter was written to men. Women have grabbed it and run with it as a means of educating their youngers (praise God for it), but the audience of the entire book of Proverbs is actually men. Read the book sometime; notice all the invitations for sons to learn discernment, to avoid the adulteress and the dripping faucet, to live as a pillar of wisdom.

And those words are needed.

“Desiring a healthy and vibrant sex life in marriage is a good and even wise thing. But for the Christian it’s not ultimate. As a single Christian man, I desire a spiritually healthy marriage before a sexually healthy one, though I trust the former encourages the latter. Therefore, I’m willing to trust God and wait, not because I want to have the most euphoric wedding night with someone I’m perfectly sexually compatible with, but because I want a healthy, God-honoring marriage after the wedding night with the person to whom I’ve just committed my life.” – Hafeez Baoku

I love it when I stumble across an article that speaks to what I’m pondering. It’s a God thing. Got to be. To him be the glory.

We need to be thinking about the after. When real life and boredom assert themselves over a marriage, it needs to be about more than just tan lines and muscles and things that happen after 10pm, because there’s still a 7am to deal with. Get over their surface. Get under their surface; ask God to reveal who that person really is.

That’s going to require a revolution on our part. A renewing of our minds.

Continue reading

Take Christmas Back From Your Pain

15542081_10154850484279695_2005805105793914489_nThis weekend, I put up my first Christmas tree. It was a three-foot-tall noble fir Charlie Brown tree, and it got just a simple arrangement of bulbs, lights, and miniature star.

And yes, that’s totally a Darth Vader ornament. Impulse buy. Be jealous.

I’ve never put up a tree before. Part of the reason was living alone, who else was gonna see it, etc. But part of it was my typical attitude towards Christmas. It wasn’t a holiday I’ve particularly looked forward to. Not for a while.

It was on a December 27 that I received news of my parents’ divorce. I don’t blame anyone anymore (because forgiveness doesn’t let you); I don’t even blame God; I just kinda blame life. But the fact remains that I haven’t gotten into the Christmas spirit much, either.

Some of you who have faced loss this time of year, or taken hits to that precious refuge of family, can relate. It can be frustrating to feel pressured into joyfulness by the radio stations. A friend of mine is bracing for her first Christmas without her father, a good man who passed on last February. That one carol comes on telling us From now on our troubles will be miiiiiles awaaaay and we’re all like…

orly

Because that’s TOTALLY what Jesus said in John 16:33, right? Well, not really.

So naturally, Christmas has not been my favorite time of year for a while.

But what does the rest of John 16:33 say?

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33b)

We’ve got a game-changer here. That’s where God wanted to take me this Christmas.

Continue reading

Dear Church: Stop Saying Singleness Isn’t Hard

churchI saw one of those teachings the other day, yet again. Someone saying “singleness is not something to be endured; it’s something to be celebrated!”

I sighed.

Yes. Yes, yes, yes.

And, at the same time…no.

I understand that such words aren’t exactly intended for me. I’ve got a pretty well-balanced take on my singleness by now. They’re intended for the singles who stuff their Facebook feeds with Relationship Goals memes and think of little else.

But at the same time…those words bring a sigh. It feels like they don’t get it. And while I’m grateful for the perspective, there is an uncertainty I struggle to articulate.

In the last few years, I have spoken with an increasing number of mature, God-seeking singles who have started feeling vaguely embarrassed about their desire for marriage. Reluctant to talk about it, like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. These are true-blue disciples who know the church’s mature teachings on singleness and accept them, but also hear something that might not be intended: the implication that they shouldn’t be struggling with singleness. I hear one unspoken question, in particular, emerging from this group of singles to whom nobody seems to be speaking.

“Why won’t anyone acknowledge that singleness can be hard?”

Continue reading

Struggling to Be Thankful? Just Get Older

When I was younger (not that I’m old now, thank you), I had an issue with being ungrateful.

Every parent out there probably just said “amen”.

When you’re young, you don’t know how much you don’t know. All you can see is your present problems. It rarely occurs to us that others have it worse; we just don’t see it. I often struggle with the section of my heart that just plaintively shouts “NO! I’m tired of pat, cliched solutions. Just fix this, God!” whenever hardship shows up. May God have mercy on that foolish section.

But reaching the age of 33 has shrunk that voice. Time has given me the chance to see more suffering. It’s devious, unfair, and creative, just how badly the world can go wrong for people. And it makes me thankful.

I’m seeing our clients’ bodies break down from mesothelioma, paralysis, mood disorders – even diabetes induced from head injuries in war (I didn’t even know that could happen!). Not to mention the six-figure medical bills they rack up, ensuring debt for their children no matter how well they settle with the insurance company. It leaves me grateful that I can breathe, run, even walk, or pay for something – and noticing each time I do. Noticing. I thought being grateful for my sight and my hearing was for grandparents, older folks who had ascended to some higher plane of earthly existence that I couldn’t possibly understand. Nope – it’s for me, too.

Which is good, because I am starting, almost imperceptibly, to lose my hearing.

Continue reading

Socks and Sovereignty

leafI’m thinking today of the young man who was verbally pummeled by his father his entire childhood and has emerged a porridge of an adult – or a rock-hard missile of abuse himself.

Or the young woman who experienced far more horrific abuse on the part of her father and now sees a dirty, irredeemable person in the mirror.

Or the Israelite infants who never even grew old enough for trials but were sacrificed alive in the superheated arms of bronze idols.

Or the elderly man I know who has received not only a terminal diagnosis, but a stack of medical bills that could drown his children in debt – followed by a flippant denial-of-benefits letter from an insurer who sees him as a claim number.

Would you look these people in the eye and say that their suffering is God’s will for them? That the soul-level damage, the sheer violation of God’s intention for this world, was initiated directly by God for his glory?

Thud.

Just your reaction to that question will reveal a…dilemma we face in learning God’s sovereignty. We have agendas. I do, and you do. It makes the debate prickly; we’ve staked out ground and feel compelled to defend it.

If life is a journey east on Interstate 90, I’ve only traveled as far as the state I actually live in – Montana. I’m a mere journeyman in Biblically understanding God’s sovereignty. This article isn’t a finished building but the raw materials; it’s less about finding an answer and more about honestly acknowledging our agendas.

For there are two different kinds of people approaching this problem. It affects how we debate the issue – and, crucially, how we speak of it to the sufferer.

Continue reading