Posted in Christian Life & Theology, Stuff No One Talks About

The Bible Does Not Promise Converts

I just read a personal account of someone who was telling of the importance of church in their life. When speaking of their daughters’ stint from church, they said this: “During the time they were out of church, we worried about them, but the Bible had promised that they would return to their faith.” (Emphasis added). That rhetoric rubs me the wrong way for two reasons: 1) That’s not Biblically sound and 2) it’s reminiscent of cult language.

The Bible does not promise that a child will not fall away from its parent’s faith if taught a thing properly and consistently. That ever-quoted verse in Proverbs is not a die-hard, one-size-fits-all kind of saying.

Train up a child in the way that he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

If this verse were an absolute truth, there would be no need for free will or personal choices. Christianity would be naught but a robotic, mechanical faith with no love as a foundational structure. If this Proverb were to be taken literally, then why is there recorded in Scripture the charge to “work out your own faith with fear and trembling”? If this were true, then atheists and agnostics, as related to the Christian faith, would not—could not—exist, as the application of that verse would make it impossible.

Furthermore, beyond the desire for a spiritual legacy to be left for their children, the writer is implying that the maintainer, so to speak, of a child’s faith, and salvation, is solely on the parent; and should that child walk away from the faith of its parents, then the parents have failed, as a result of the child’s spiritual exodus. In addition to bad theology, that is just blantant grounds for emptional manipulation and abuse. Besides, though we do have a part to play in our relationship with Him, it is God who upholds and maintains our salvation.

Having a relationship with God is a personal endeavor. She who seeks God must come boldly to the throne of grace, and she must come alone.

Posted in Christian Life & Theology, Stuff No One Talks About

Closer Than Your Next Breath: How Self-Reliance Spits in the Face of Grace

We need never shout across the spaces to an absent God. He is nearer than our own soul, closer than our most secret thoughts.

A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

I read those words yesterday morning and did little more than agree with them and marvel at the language Tozer uses throughout The Pursuit of God. I wrote a digital note on my Kindle that read: “Help me know, recognize, live in the reality of the fact that You, Lord, are indeed, closer than a breath away.” I breathed then, deeply and intentionally, to illustrate that point to myself. God is closer than our next breath.

Do me a favor and just sit with that for a minute. The God who created the stars, the planets, and every complex system in your body is not far off in some unreachable place up in the clouds, He is here. Closer than your next breath.

I did not feel the weight of Tozer’s words until later.

***

Yesterday was a trying day. I had errands to run and doing them throughout the city on the bus is no easy feat, especially when pressed for time. So when I got home, I ate, slept, ate again upon waking, and then, did the human thing and made a choice to sin. Note I didn’t say I “fell into sin” or “made a mistake.” According to the dictionary, a mistake is defined as “a wrong action or statement proceeding from faulty judgement, inadequate knowledge, or inattention.” That’s not what yesterday’s action was. And for the record, we humans “fall into sin” the way we fall in love—by choice. Nonetheless, I digress.

There is a moment between temptation and the act of sin (or escape). It is in that moment that choices are made, whether beneficial or not. I did not choose the road less traveled; I chose the wide, vast road. I chose self-reliance instead of grace. The Scriptures say that in the flesh “dwells no good thing” and the writer of Proverbs echoes this. In Proverbs 14:12 he writes, “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” I knew the action I chose to do yesterday was wrong but it did not hit me until I was in the midst of preparing for bed that I had committed more than just the obvious sin I was seeking repentance for. So I repented again. Not for the obvious sin, but for the “lesser known” ones: the sins of omission, namely the sins you don’t know you commit until the Holy Spirit reveals them to you. In relying on my own strength and in my ability to logically think my way through temptation, I, essentially, slammed shut the “way of escape” God provided and ended up with more regret than I could stomach. And that’s when Tozer’s words from the morning hit me.

GOD IS NEARER THAN OUR OWN SOULS, CLOSER THAN OUR OWN SECRET THOUGHTS

When the weight of the inspired theologian’s words hit me, I wanted to hide. I couldn’t of course, because you can’t hide from God—everybody knows that—but I wanted to try anyway.

I didn’t.

Instead, I sat in silence and I felt Him waiting on me. (Imagine that, God waiting on me to speak to Him!) I panicked through my prayer but I finished repenting and ended my prayer with thanks for His ultimate sacrifice: Jesus.

Now, I see that Tozer’s words were not meant as a threat, as if to place fear into the hearts of sinners, but as a reminder to those whose hearts belong to God, as an invitation to intimately know the God who is nearer than our own soul, closer than our next breath.

Posted in Christian Life & Theology, Stuff No One Talks About

Thoughts on Job and Anti-Intellectualism in Christianity

I just opened up my Bible for the first time in a long time and it landed in Job. My eyes landed on 35:5 which says, “God thunders marvelously with His voice; He does great things we cannot comprehend.” That is the essence, the nature of God, wrapped up in one verse. It makes me wonder why no one ever preaches on the latter half of Job? There are so many jewels within this book and all anyone remembers is that Job lost everything, after Satan got permission from God, and that his friends were jerks in the midst of his spiritual existential crisis. That’s not what the book is about…

I don’t believe there’s any other book of Scripture that has such vast, deep, and real intellectual and analytical questions. This is important. This is probably the beginning of intellectualism recorded in the ancient Script. I mean, where else in Scripture do you have rhetoric like: “Can a man be of any use to God? Can even a wise man be of any use to Him? Does it delight the Almighty if you are righteous? Does He profit if you perfect your behavior?” (Job 22:22-23) Those kinds of queries are the things that we should set our minds on, not if the latest Hillsong/Bethel song is theologically right or not.

The Bible is meant to be a guide for living and as a mirror for our souls. I know my soul needs to be cleaned and renewed. “Does it profit God if you perfect your behavior?” This question bothers me, and I have sat here wondering why. I think I know now. This query spits in the face of religion and, to a greater extent, self-reliance. Here’s why: God created us because He wanted us. But though He wants us—make no mistake—He does not need us. So no, it does not profit God if we perfect our behavior. Our good behavior, or lack thereof, does not have any bearing on Him as a person. It only shows Him where our heart is, whether it’s allegiance is to Him or elsewhere.

Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

And Jesus Asked, “Who Do You Say That I Am?”

He asked His disciples, “13Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15“But you,” He asked them, “who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” (Matthew 16:13b-16, HCSB)

I find it interesting that Jesus asked this of his followers; first concerning the Jews and second, they themselves. I could understand Jesus questioning The Twelve but the Jews? Really? I mean, he’s the Messiah for crying out loud! Unless He wanted to gauge his popularity status, it makes no sense to me why He would be concerned about the people’s opinion of Him.

Nonetheless, onto the bigger question: “Who do you say that I am?” This time directed to those who walked with Him and knew Him intimately. Peter called Him “the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” I wonder, if Jesus asked that same question today, what answers would we give?

Rabbi, Prophet, Fairytale?

In a world where everyone is “tolerant” and “spiritual” and “right”, there is no room for “wrong” unless offenses are had and feelings are hurt, and correction and teaching are misconstrued into “intolerance” and “stupidity”. We’re all just breathing to death after all. Why the need for salvation when we can have paradise here? Where the masses scream “you Christians are ignorant and bigoted and full of nonsense. Let me do me. I’m not hurting anyone,” while simultaneously pining for life and love and something worth staying here for.

In a realm where everything must be Instagramed or it didn’t happen, and instant gratification reigns over patience and legacies, it is becoming more plausible than ever that in this culture, Jesus is often reduced to a hipster-like, flower crown-wearing religious teacher who was a good person with some nice teachings and did a thing once that is irrelevant to our 21st century lives today.

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks. We most likely would say anything other than what Peter professed. We christen Him “killjoy” “control freak” “irrelevant” “uncaring tyrant” and a “fairytale for weak-minded people to help them feel better in hard times.”

And yet, we may be wrong.

~

It has been a year and six days since Something Like Love came and interrupted my way of life, since God drew me back to Himself and my, what a year it has been. I definitely was not expecting God to speak to me through flames on that cool, November night before Thanksgiving; although, considering how He caught Moses’ attention in the desert, I should not be surprised by His tactics.

It’s been a year of discovery, struggle, questions and answers, love, and the facing of harsh realities; or maybe just facing reality. I’m in the beginning of a transitional period (at the end of year, imagine that!) and my view and understanding of the Divine Being who makes his abode with me has changed several times over the past 13 months. One main thing that became apparent late in the year is that I am more at ease, more capable, and best comfortable loving God with my mind than with my heart.

That’s bothersome to me.

Maybe because I spend many days reading the words of the early theologians and find myself a bit envious. Envious of their ability to write with such candor the long-forgotten truthful essence of the Christian faith while still letting their passion and inadequacy shine through. It is the perfect marriage of heart and mind. How unlike the divorce between the two we often see in the western world. What did they know about Jesus that we seem to be missing?

A New Kind of Saviour

Writer and theologian A. W. Tozer says in his book The Pursuit of God, “The world is perishing for lack of the knowledge of God, and the church is famishing for want of His presence… We have broken with God. We have ceased to obey Him or love Him, and in guilt and fear have fled as far as possible from His presence.” We often operate in guilt and fear because we perceive God as someone who causes us harm or as someone to whose right standing and standard we could never reach. Perhaps we, like blind Bartimaeus, need a touch from the Messiah to heal the stubborn darkness of our eyes, to let His light shine forth, so we too can declare like Peter “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”

Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

If You Were a REAL Christian, You Wouldn’t Doubt (Part 2): Is There a Reason to Doubt God, Ever?

On a Facebook thread I’m currently following concerning the need for good apologetics, as nonexistent apologetics and intellectual doubts are contributing to many leaving the Christian faith, someone made this comment:

No one leaves the faith for intellectual reasons. Those who left were never of us 1 John 2:19.

I am upset, but more so deeply heartbroken by this person’s statement, as it demonstrates both his ignorance and a lack of grace.

Review of the Past Year

I feel like I can speak on these things with some authority, as I’ve been there before.

This time last year, I had renounced the Christian faith and identified as a deconvert who attended church only because of familial obligations and fear of repercussions. I had both emotional and intellectual reasons for leaving the faith. I spoke honestly with more Christians during that time than I had my entire life as a believer.

I had people respond to my stance as the gentleman above did, including one brute who told me that because of my doubt, I never knew God and needed to repent. I had good Christian friends who, once they learned of my disbelief, decided they’d rather throw away our friendship than be associated with an unbeliever. Yet, I had other Christian friends who patiently, and with much grace, loved me right where I was and answered any and every question I could think of. (Shout out to Pastor Doug for his patience, wit, and kindness! And to Paul C, Michael P, and Timothy M also, for answering both my intellectual and emotional doubts!) They loved me back to the Gospel and I am grateful for their presence in my life.

Addressing the Naysayers

Let me get this out of the way first: I am not encouraging senseless doubt of God simply for the sake of doubting. There is a difference between that kind of doubt and doubting with a purpose.

Contrary to popular belief, there are intellectual reasons for doubting the nature, character, and motive of God (e.g. The Problem of Evil). Granted, none of those reasons are ultimately good or sustainable for continued disbelief in and of God, but they do exist.

1 Peter 3:15 instructs us to “honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (HCSB).” Note that the Scripture doesn’t specify “reason.” Not a “only if I think this is a legitimate, valid concern” reason or a “this has to line up with my interpretation and view of Scripture before I answer” reason. No, you and I are to give a defense if asked for any reason for our hope in Christ.

A Final Word of Advice

Do not push away or give easy, Christianese pet answers to the kid in your church wondering why he should believe the Bible as opposed to the Qur’an or Book or Mormon. Do not scoff at the college sophomore and tell her she just “needs to have more faith” that God will “work everything out for her good” when she wonders where God is after life throat-punches her repeatedly. Give them a reason for your hope without invalidating their questions and experiences, without being an intellectual snob, and do so in and with the love of Christ.