NonChristians Scoff at Unevagelizing Christians… And Rightly So

It’s pretty obvious that we currently live in a culture saturated by staunch policies regarding religious pluralism and tolerance, where supposedly no one wants to be to evangelized to or told what to believe. As such, the general consensus is that the topic of religion is totally off-limits to public conversation and should only be dealt with in a private manner.

But, is that assumption entirely true?

Sure, I think it’s fair to say a majority of modern people disdain the idea of evangelism, but, I also think it’s also fair to say a percentage of those modern people, however ironically, think that Christians should evangelize nevertheless. Wait, why would that be? Ultimately, it’s because some these non-Christians are quite discerning and understand that a non-evangelizing Christian is simply a hypocritical Christian after all, which indeed, is a great point! Thus, it seems like there’s this odd tension of disapproving the idea of evangelism while also disapproving the Christians who don’t evangelize.

So, is this a lose-lose situation for Christians, or what?

Well, not exactly, because conversely, according to these non-Christians, a Christian who evangelizes proves his/her authenticity, and authenticity is actually what they want to see most. Therefore, in a way, they’re encouraging Christians to evangelize and expressing how illogical and hypocritical it is for them to not evangelize! I think Jesus would agree with them on this point, too.

But don’t just take my word for it, either. In fact, the whole reason for this post was to spotlight a popular atheist who expresses these sentiments exactly.

Penn Jillette, who is a rather avowed and vocal atheist (and who is also one-half of the famous comic-illusionist act Penn and Teller), makes a profound statement about the necessity of Christian evangelism, and I don’t think he’s the only atheist or non-Christian to think or express this sentiment, either.

Check out what what he says, it’s great:

…I’ve always said, you know, that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward… How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that…†

Pretty profound and challenging, right? Jillette is right on the money. As a Christian who believes the gospel to be truly true, to not evangelize would be the essence of hate, but to evangelize would be the greatest expression of love. If Christians really want to show the world that we actually believe in the gospel and that we actually love them, then we must evangelize–despite the potential awkwardness and in spite of the personal sacrifices that it might require. That’s how we put on the display the hope that is in us.

Let this atheist’s quote sink in… let Jesus’ Great Commission command sink in… let the truth of Jesus’ love and salvation for all people sink in… and be a living vessel who demonstrates and declares the power of the gospel.

Christian, how could you possibly disagree?

________________

Sources:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fa9JE_ZVL88

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The Prayer That’s Always Answered

I recently read over Psalm 67 again, one of the most popular Psalms, except this time, I came across something fascinating that I’ve never noticed before, and it may just be the most important message of this psalm in the first place. Namely, it’s the promise that one prayer request will always be answered. I’ll first put the psalm below and then we can dig into this promise and discuss some meaningful takeaways for the Christian.

May God be gracious to us and bless us
    and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
that your way may be known on earth,
    your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
    let all the peoples praise you!

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
    for you judge the peoples with equity
    and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
    let all the peoples praise you!

The earth has yielded its increase;
    God, our God, shall bless us.
God shall bless us;
    let all the ends of the earth fear him! (Psalm 67)

You might be thinking, “Wait… I thought you said there was a promise somewhere? Didn’t see anything there…” Yeah, it’s hard to see at first. Follow me here: If you look at the first verse and then you look at the last verse, you will see the psalmist’s interesting use of verbs is what makes the promise.

In the first verse, the author says, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth.” And, significantly, he ends the psalm with, “God shall bless us, God shall bless us.” In just a couple of verses, the author goes from “God would you do this…?” to “God will do this!” What happens here? Does the author suddenly lapsed into schizophrenia, or is there something significant being communicated here about a certain type of prayer? I’m going to go with the latter. It’s obvious from this psalm that there’s something unique about this prayer because it’s a prayer that is always answered. There’s something in this type of prayer turns a simple request into a sure-fire result and transforms a humble plea into a heroic perspective. Well, what is it? What’s the secret sauce behind this bulletproof prayer ?

I think the answer lies in one word in between verse one and verse two. The word is ‘that’, which is technically the first word of verse two. I’ll bolden it below for clarity’s sake.

May God be gracious to us and bless us
    and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known on earth,
    your saving power among all nations.

The significance behind the word ‘that’ might pop if you change it to ‘so that’ instead. It would then read “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, so that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.” Do you hear how important it is? The ‘so that’ is the key that unlocks the power to this prayer. The author is praying that God would be gracious to him and bless him and to make his face to shine upon him–for what? why? Is it for selfish reasons? Does the author want God’s favor so that he can spend it on a creature comforts or self-improvement or status? No–the author is praying for God’s blessing so that he can share that blessing with others so that others might see and worship the God behind the blessing, the greatest blessing of all.

This isn’t a prosperity-health-and-wealth type of prayer for myself. It’s a type of prayer that is radically upward to God and outward towards others. It’s a prayer showing that a Christian is not to be a reservoir of blessing, but a river of blessing. God’s blessing, grace, and presence that are plead for in verse 1 are not for the purpose of dwelling statically within the Christian, but for the purpose of passing powerfully through the Christian.

Let’s expand the reservoir-river analogy a bit. Typically, a stagnant body of water increasingly becomes engrossed with algae, bacteria, and filth; yet, a running body of  water is typically cleaner because of the way that circulation purifies it. In the same way, so also is the nature of the blessings that God has put in our lives, too: if they’re sitting in us like a reservoir, they’re probably molding and losing their life-giving powers as a resource to others. Yet, if they’re passing powerfully through us, they could be resourcing entire ecosystems 0f God’s grace, blessing, and presence where others are coming to know Christ. When we retain God’s blessings inwardly, the power of our blessings will sour. But when we direct God’s blessings outwardly, the power of our blessings will multiply beyond more than we can imagine.

In other words, when we ask God to use us to bless others for the sake of expanding the kingdom, that is a prayer that he will never reject. Igniting a posture of radical surrender with the spark of prayer for others to know God will combust into a blaze of God’s work in some form or another. A life of upward-outward intent–and not one of inward focus–that is driven by a prayer for others to know God becomes a prayer we can take to the bank and cash every time. It’s a prayer that we know will always be answered.

And this type of prayer isn’t simply voiced once by the psalmist, either. It’s a type of prayer that echoes throughout the New Testament, and is a type of prayer that even Jesus himself begs us to pray. Check it out:

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:13)

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. (John 15:16)

In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:23-24)

And whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. (1 John 3:22-23)

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15)

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37-38)

I’m sure there’s more verses that speak to this idea, but I’ll just stop there. The main idea in all these passages is that if we ask according to God’s will, then he will do it.

Now, let’s address the popular objection with a disclaimer: is it his will that we win a football game, or that we make an A on a test, or that our cousin recovers from cancer? Maybe so, but also, maybe not. The waters are too murky in those situations to know exactly what God’s exact will is for each of those scenarios. To be sure, it is God’s will that we be fully healed and fully alive in Him; in fact, we see throughout the gospel accounts that Jesus was healing everyone with whom he came into contact (Matt. 9:33). Yet, his healings were a pointer of what heaven would be like one day–His ultimate will–not his exact, sure-fire will for earthly scenarios. Ultimately, concerning our circumstances on earth, we can’t be sure exactly of the greater picture going on, but we can be assured that we will get that Will one day in heaven when all things become as they ought to be.

However, there is one thing that we can know is always God’s will on earth, and that’s to share the gospel, make disciples, and leverage our resources to reach people who don’t know Christ. It is always his will for us to do that. So when we pray for opportunities to share the gospel, to disciple others, and to leverage our resources for kingdom purposes, he will make it happen! What’s interesting, in fact, is that in most of the verses above, you can see how praying according to his will and loving others are side-by-side. When the passage mentions a blessing, it’s connected–either directly or indirectly–to a will of God that has a heart of trajectory towards loving others.

You hear things like, ‘Ask for what glorifies my name and I’ll answer it’ (John 14:13)–does sharing the gospel, making disciples, and leveraging our resources for kingdom purposes glorify him? Yes. Always. So he will answer it. And ‘Abide in me, ask whatever you wish and it will done for you’ (John 15:7)? If we abide in him, we will increasingly grow to want what he wants, which is for others to be saved and matured in Christ. If we abide deeply in Christ, we will begin to ask the type of prayers that he loves to answer! And what about ‘I appointed you to bear fruit, now ask and it will given’ (John 15:6)? All in one verse, you have the command to bear fruit for the kingdom, to ask for it, and for it to be given to you. Same trend. 1 John 3:22-23 might be the verse where this idea is most obvious: “And whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another.” Asking for God to bless you so that you might be a conduit of blessing to others is something that God loves to endorse.

And ironically, this giving away of self isn’t the antithesis to personal joy, but the starting point of personal joy. We were designed to live in this way–as rivers, not reservoirs–and when we live according to our design, that’s where we experience joy. It’s precisely when we live against our design that we begin to malfunction and breakdown. God made us in his image, and he is a God who lives on mission for others and gives himself away so that others might be saved. So it is with us as well, and we must do so if our joy is ever to be made complete (John 15-16).

Overall, when we pray the type of prayers that we know are God’s will–evangelism, discipleship, and generosity–we can be assured that God will gladly answer them. When we pray prayers that start in heaven–that touch God’s heart–we can be assured that they will be heard in heaven and delivered from heaven. Then, we can begin praying prayers like the psalmist in Psalm 67, where our prayers start humbly with “God will you do this?” and end confidently with “God shall do this!”

To conclude, one way to begin praying these types of prayer is to simply insert your name and a name of a lost friend into the flow of Psalm 67 and pray it back to God. May we start praying prayers like these, and in so doing, making our prayers count.

“God be gracious to (me) and bless (me) and make your face to shine on (me) so that ________ (insert name of friend) may know of your saving way and power.”

Finally, I love how the band, Starfield, puts this truth to music. Definitely worth a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0ihxvCyrWM

Let me not be blind with privilege, give me eyes to see the pain,

Let the blessing you’ve poured out on me, not be spent on me in vain,

Let this life be used for change,

I will go.

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Unsettling Testimonials On Air

If you knew me from my sophomore year of college and back into my past, you most definitely knew me to be the most helplessly clueless person when it came to pop culture references (I’m still not where I need to be, but I’ve come a long, long way since then). A large part of my cultural-living-under-a-rock syndrome came from the fact that I grew up listening only to Christian music. Ok, sure, you probably just chuckled at that nonsense, but you gotta hand it to my loving parents who protected their little one from the greater degrees of nonsense that comes through the speakers, courtesy of secular radio. Christian music, like all music, has it’s ups and downs, but growing up, I generally liked it. And I still like listening to it from time to time now, too.

The music really is uplifting and truly allows me to praise the Lord. However, there are times when my experience of listening to Christian radio simply causes me wince–and when I say this, I’m not talking about the music, the lyrics, or the talk show hosts.

I’m talking about the testimonials. That’s when the real wincing happens. But even more than that, my main concern is that I feel like the testimonies make God wince most.

To provide some more direct context, I listen to a Christian radio station called ‘His Radio,’ which really is a great radio station that airs over most of NC, SC, and parts of GA. As a way of sharing testimonials over the air, the station hosts a brief segment between songs called “I am His because…,” which features 15-second, already-recorded testimonials of listeners who share a nugget of encouragement about why they are His. I think it’s a great idea, but the content of what is said as to why they are His is just simply a bit unsettling, quite disheartening, and greatly alarming.

First off, major disclaimer: I am in no way trying to bash this radio station in the slightest bit; what I want to discuss in particular is something that is not unique to His Radio at all, but something that I believe is a much larger, systemic problem of the church in general, namely, identifying the basis of our salvation and therefore, emphasizing that content in our testimonies. In other words, if we are telling a basis of our salvation that is incorrect, then we are communicating to the listening world something that is not the Christian’s true hope. These 15-second statement type testimonies that are broadcasted to millions of people immediately become a dangerous mistake if they communicate misleading content.

So, here are some testimonial statements that I heard not too long ago that made me wince, and I’ll discuss the danger of these statements and their implications further below.

“I am His because one day, I was in church and I was wondering if I was going to heaven… And I just felt it.”

“I know I am His because of the change he’s made in me.”

“I am His because He gives me strength to face the hardships of every day.”

“I am His because I am free of 15 years of epilepsy and free of medication.”

I don’t mean to be crass, but really? Really? You know you are God’s because you felt it? You know you are God’s because you’ve become a more moral person? You know you’re God’s because you have better stamina? You know you’re God’s because you’re healthy?

Let’s just approach this statement-by-statement, one at a time.

Concerning the first statement–What if you feel you are God’s today, but not tomorrow? Are you God’s only on the days that you feel it? Of course not. What if that feeling was chalked up to your crush noticing you (if a good feeling) or a bad Taco Bell experience (if a bad feeling)? If you feel His, does that mean you are?

Concerning the second statement–Certainly, good morality is a byproduct of your being saved. But is your good morality the basis of why you are God’s? No. Was your good morality what got you into God’s graces in the first place? So what if you fail morally? What if you’re great on Sunday, but on Monday you blow it? Are you God’s only on the days you feel accomplished and moral? Of course not.

Concerning the third statement–Facing hardships more effectively is the basis for why you are God’s? What if I read a book written by an atheist that showed me how to handle hardship better–and it helped me? Am I God’s then? What if facing hardship better is just a matter of job experience, or more sleep, or a persevering personality? Am I God’s then? And what if hardships seem too overwhelming? Am I not God’s anymore? Non-Christians can have strength to push through trials. But does that make them “His”? No.

Concerning the fourth statement–Praise God for health, but is good health the reason for why you are God’s? If you get cancer, are you not God’s anymore? If you don’t have good health, is that a sign of God forsaking you? What if I get into a car accident? Am I no longer God’s? What about the non-Christian who was healed from their sickness? Does that make her “God’s” or do we just chalk it up to ‘medicine’?

Personally, and most importantly, I think God is livid at these statements. I feel like He’s in heaven saying, “Really?! Ok, great, I’m glad you appreciated me healing you, but HELLO! Anything else….? Like….. The greatest thing I ever did for you? I LIVED AND DIED FOR YOU! I AM the reason you are Mine! I saved you from sin, death, and hell by the nails in my hands and the empty grave! THAT is why you are MINE!” These testimonials are simply offensive to God. They base their salvation ultimately in feelings they possess, morality they have acquired, ability they have nourished, and health they have loved. Feelings, morality, ability, and health are not bad things, but they are not the basis for why Christians are God’s own children! These are not the gospel of God–and it’s greatly alarming that Christians think their assurance of salvation in is things, not Jesus.

When have you ever heard, “I know I am His because even while I was his enemy, God sent Jesus to die for me because He loved me. How much more so am I His now that I am his beloved child?”

A testimony isn’t about you. It’s about God. It’s called a testimony precisely because you are testifying to something much larger than yourself. As such, a ‘Christian’ testimony is only ‘Christian’ so long as it points to the Christ behind the ‘Christianizing.’

Giving God credit for your healing, strength, ability, and growth in morality is appropriate and fitting, but it’s not primarily why you are His. You’re His primarily because of what He’s done to rescue you from your sin and to adopt you as His own.

All these testimonies improperly point to circumstances that God may have used, but they do not explain why someone is His. Only the gospel truly explains why we are His. Circumstances may happen as a byproduct of us being in Christ, but it’s not the basis as to why we are in Christ.

I feel like it’s offensive to God when we define “I am His” testimonies to the circumstances that have happened to us—which is highly subjective–all the while we ignore the most obvious truth! The truth that gives us the most assurance–the gospel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to save us–which is objective! It’s rooted in history! The reason why we are His is not because of a subjective, circumstantial, only happened-in-my-head (or stomach) type of thing. The reality of gospel happened outside of us–and it’s what we are called to point to, testify to, boast in, and rejoice in.

When we get our assurance of “I am His” from the limiting circumstances around us, we inevitably make our statements of “I am His” incredibly shallow, immediately subjective, and most importantly, theologically dangerous.

As Christians and as Christian organizations–whether we are witnessing to one friend or broadcasting to millions of listeners–it’s incredibly important to get the message right. The message is everything, and it’s what salvation hangs on. So let’s spread the message as much as possible in whatever channels necessary–let’s just make sure the content is on point before it’s on air.

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Slavery in the Old Testament

I have been chronologically reading through the book of Exodus this month, and earlier today, when I cracked my Bible open, I found out–to my dismay–that the next chapters (Exodus 21-23)  concerned laws about slavery, restitution, social justice, and Sabbath and festivals. I gotta be honest–wasn’t too pumped to discover that that was going to be the topic of my reading this morning, especially since I was still wiping the sleepy out of my eyes.

I got bummed because the past several chapters I’d read had been full of rich theology and epic narratives, and now I was about to dive into a bunch of seemingly irrelevant, outdated laws that  bear no effect on today’s world. At least that’s what I thought.

Of course, the persistent realities of racism and slavery are volatile topics in our current cultural milieu, and the Bible notoriously gets a bad rap from the non-Christian community when the words ‘slavery’ are brought up because of the apparent ‘endorsements’ of slavery in the Bible. But what I found out this morning is that many of the accusations toward the Bible about slavery simply aren’t warranted. What I discovered, however, is that the Bible powerfully upholds a convincing stance towards the sanctity of human life, especially in the issue of slavery.

Certainly, you can read Exodus 21-23 for yourself, but if you want my condensed, spark-noted version with some discussion below, be my guest. So, here are some principles that underpin the laws that God gave to Israel about how to deal with slaves:

  • Slaves are not property, but are people, and should be treated as such (21:1-32).
  • Whatever debt the person owes you (and has become a slave to you for), you must nevertheless set them free after the end of their 6th year of working to pay off that debt (21:2-4).
  • Even though the slave is set free, he has the choice to stay if he loves his master and enjoys the situation that he is in (21:5-6).
  • A daughter sold into slavery can be redeemed (21:7-8).
  • If the daughter sold into slavery marries a son of the master, then she is deemed as his daughter and treated as such (21:9).
  • If a female slave becomes married to a master, then she is ensured total marital rights. If she is not treated as such, then she may be freed without any cost (21:9-11).
  • Whoever strikes a slave and puts him to death shall be avenged (21:12, 20).
  • Whoever kidnaps someone and tries to sell them as a slave shall be put to death (21:16).
  • If you strike a slave and hurt them (but not kill them), then the slave shall go free; as a result, you effectively lose the slave’s work capacity to pay back your debts, so you functionally eat the cost of the debts they owe you (21:26-27).
  • If an ox gores a free person or slave, then the ox shall be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten (oxen were large streams of revenue in that day; to have an ox meant you were rich. So if it killed a person or slave, you pay for it big time). Additionally, if an ox kills a slave in particular, the owner pays the master of the slave 30 shekels of silver. Even if the slave only owed 5 shekels of debt to the master, the ox owner must pay 30 shekels regardless (21:28-32).
  • Additionally, if an owner’s oxen have a repeated history of goring people (free or slave) in the past, then the ox owner shall be put to death for not taming the oxen appropriately because of the way it threatened the lives of others (21:29).

In other words, God takes all human life very seriously. And this basis starts in creation when God created humanity uniquely in his own image (Gen. 1:27). Significantly, this means all humans inherently, intrinsically possess the same value in God’s eyes–whether individuals are societally deemed ‘slave’ or ‘free’ by their economic situation (Gen. 1:27). In other words, the idea that all humans are made in God’s image essentially means that the value of humanity is equally democratized into each individual person. Thus, God places a high premium upon human life across the board and legislates laws that will protect that value accordingly–even those laws about slavery.

As such, God expected the Israelites (and us today) to honor that design of the inherent value of human life. He expected that this premium on life would be manifested externally in society (including slavery) as much as it is written internally into the human design. And the results of doing so are huge, too. Upholding this God-given ordinance essentially produces two things: 1) it creates humility in each person and facilitates community between all diversities and classes of people, and 2) it destroys self-righteous, smug attitudes and safeguards against unfair subservience based on classist, sexist, or racist notions.

To be sure, the principles that underpin the Bible’s laws about slavery are nothing like what we see in the African Slave Trade, the Confederacy, or other parts of the world today. The Bible’s stance towards slavery and the value of human life is primarily shown by the way that its laws serve to protect the welfare of those aiming to pay back their debts. The main objective of these laws, as seen above in bulleted format, was to protect slaves from being abused and taken advantage of. In fact, the most startling aspect about these laws is that they were not geared specifically toward the slaves, but the slave-owners! The laws were more about constraining the sinful inclinations of the masters than about maintaining the subservience of the slaves. Ultimately, these laws, if anything, speak to the notion that all human life matters and must be honored regardless of said earning potential, skin color, or background.

Yet, to conclude, however, what might be the most compelling factor behind God’s commands surrounding slavery is not found in the imperatives themselves, ironically enough. The compelling factor behind these laws is actually found in the broader context of the entire book: Gratefulness to God for how he delivered the Israelites themselves out of the brutal, oppressive, and exploitative reality of their slavery in Egypt.

So, the laws that God gave to slave-masters about how they should treat their slaves was not predicated solely upon their observance to honor of life as God sees. It’s important to note that these laws of slavery were given in a context to a people who had just been redeemed out of a really, really bad type of slavery in Egypt. This means that these laws helped the Israelites remember what inhumane slavery feels like on the receiving end and prevented them from becoming what the Egyptians were like on the giving end.

But the critical, necessary motivation underneath all of the laws that enabled slave-masters to truly care for the welfare of their slaves was not primarily fear of God’s retribution, but gratefulness for God’s deliverance when they themselves were slaves in Egypt. A personal reminder of Egypt compelled slave-masters from exploiting their slaves and compelled slaves to respect their masters. It was personally moving. Indeed, it was this motivation, and this motivation alone, that was the ‘secret sauce’ or ‘X-factor’ that kept this whole paradigm in tact in a non-exploitative manner. It was this reminder of God’s deliverance that proved to be the fulcrum that not only kept this system of economic slavery in check, but also safeguarded it from becoming anything more than a system of paying back fair debts.

Overall, the laws concerning slavery in the Old Testament were not exploitative, but protective. Unlike other institutions of slavery throughout history, these laws show that human life is to not be demeaned, but esteemed.

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Progression & Resolve

Earlier today, I was playing my guitar and I came across a catchy, unconventional three-chord progression that really caught my interest. Problem was, there was a final fourth chord in that progression that I just couldn’t figure out. I could hear it in my head, but I couldn’t find it on the guitar. For about 15 minutes, I kept trying different combinations, inversions, and variations of notes, but I just couldn’t figure it out.

In my head, the final fourth chord was a peculiar, but satisfying one. It provided true resolve to the progression. But it was so peculiar, that I couldn’t even figure out what type of chord it was. It wasn’t totally minor, and it wasn’t totally major either. It wasn’t a fourth note, nor was it a fifth note. And it wasn’t a seventh note, either. The search for the resolve became unnerving.

But in the midst of this struggle, however, it hit me that this serves as an excellent metaphor for life in general. What do I mean? Meaning, so many aspects about life seem like they have a progressive order, but that final, fitting note of resolve often seems so hard to find. Deep in our heart of hearts, we convince ourselves, “If I have go to this school, and get this job, and marry that person, and make this much money, then there will finally be….” what? Resolve.

Don’t you hate it when a song ends with a three chord progression, but then purposefully ends the song without the final resolve note? I hate that! It ticks me off, like who does that? Musical scholars might suggest that the resolve note was left out in order to convey a thoughtful  ‘artfulness’ or ‘deeper meaning’ or ‘thematic’ rationale to the song. Please, cut the junk. It’s not artful or even deep; it’s just plain annoying. (Ok, it might be for thematic purposes, but still).

Similarly, in our own lives, we constantly get irritated because we search for a final resolve deep down in our souls. And we just can’t find it; we can’t hear it. Maybe we can hear it in our head, but everything we try never works out like we would like to think. Accordingly, (or might I say… ‘a-chord-ingly’) it leads to an endless search for resolve in any number of things in life with no success. But why? Why won’t money, sex, status, power, opportunity, or recognition satisfy us?

Why won’t things of earth give us that satisfying experience of resolve we are looking for? The only explanation is, of course, because we are not just made of things from earth. If we were just earthly, naturalistic beings, then sure, all these things would satisfy us–there would be no restlessness deep in our souls.

But we’re not just material beings. We are spiritual beings, too. Therefore, it is necessarily logical to conclude that the final resolve for our souls is not just material and not just spiritual. It’s a perfect blend of both. And as the Bible conveys, it’s Jesus.

He’s the final resolve we’ve all been looking for.

You’re earnestly trying to work your way into God’s favor with your goodness–but it will never be enough. He says “It is finished; I’ve accomplished your salvation fully.” That’s resolve.

You’re unwaveringly working for the love of this significant other with all your might–but it will never be enough. He says, “I love you maximally.” That’s resolve.

You’re constantly desire for people to know you and recognize you and admire you–but it’s never enough. He says, “I know you completely.” That’s resolve.

You’re tirelessly striving up the ladder of your company to get financial security–but it will never be enough. He says, “I’ve saved you unconditionally.” That’s resolve.

You’re strenuously seeking to get into the ‘in’ circles with all the popular people, powerful individuals, expensive neighborhoods, and private schools–but it will never be enough. He says, “I’ve adopted you permanently. If you’re ‘in’ with the Trinity, is other people’s approval that important?” That’s resolve.

You know, I actually did find that final, fourth chord that gave resolve to the unconventional chordal progression. And I was right–that final, fourth chord wasn’t major or minor. And it wasn’t a fourth or fifth, either. It was actually both. I’m not great with musical theory, so I’m not sure exactly what the type of chord would be called. But it had a major root note and a minor accent note in it. It was both.

I know this might be stretch, but just like this musical resolve chord was both major and minor, so also is the resolve for our souls a solution with dual natures. And His name is Jesus.

He’s a Person, not just a pneumatic, impersonal force. But he’s also God, not simply a sentimental, wise person.

And for those reasons–because of who Jesus and what he has done for us–we can finally experience deep resolve to every aspect in our lives. And fittingly, that alone provides us harmony–not only personally, but also with one another as well.

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” -St. Augustine

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. -Colossians 1:19

 

 

 

 

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Doubt & Belief | Tim Keller

“A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection. Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts—not only their own, but their friends’ and neighbors’.

But even as believers should learn to look for reasons behind their faith, skeptics must learn to look for a type of faith hidden within their reasoning. All doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternative beliefs. You cannot doubt Belief A from a position of faith in Belief B. For example, if you doubt Christianity because ‘There can’t be just one true religion,’ you must recognize that this statement is itself an act of faith. No one can prove it empirically, and it is not a universal truth that everyone accepts. If you went to the Middle East and said, ‘There can’t be just one true religion,’ nearly everyone would say, ‘Why not?’ The reason you doubt Christianity’s Belief A is because you hold unprovable Belief B. Every doubt, therefore, is based on a leap of faith.”

–from Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, Belief in an Age of Skepticism

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Conservatives & Liberals Both Approach Doubt Wrongly

Doubt is inevitable, and it just never goes away.

And doubt is present in every one of us, too. Some of us know its presence all too well, and it dreadfully feels like we’re gazing helplessly into the high beams of a Mac-truck, driving at full speed towards us, and we’re just fearfully awaiting its impact. But some of us, on the other hand, don’t even notice it’s there–because unbeknownst to us, it is hiding deftly and quietly in our blind spots–and all it might take is a mindless turn of the wheel to realize its frightening presence upon us.

No matter who you are, doubt subtly besets even some of our strongest beliefs, and we might not even realize it until its brought into the light with the onset of unforeseeable pain or unexpected questions. Doubt might be obvious for you right now in your present circumstance, or maybe you’ll notice it more in the probably near future when you’re confronted with probing questions about a certain tragedy or confounded with intellectual assertions from a smart skeptic.

What’s striking though, is that most(!) of the greatest leaders in the Bible experienced life-long bouts of intense, intense doubt. Abraham. Moses. Joseph. David. Paul.

Abraham, in particular, arguably tops the list for underg0ing the most extreme tests and seasons of doubt. Yet, he’s renowned as a man of great faith for striving–through failure again and again–to understand and to follow and to trust in the promises of God. Even more surprising is that this same, doubt-laden, trust-failing Abraham is notably called ‘Father of Faith.’ Why? Because 3 of today’s major world religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) all stem from the base of his personal story of faith and doubt. And it was precisely because he suffered so much doubt–and not in spite of suffering much doubt–that he became known as the Father of Faith.

In other words, we don’t become spiritual giants because we’ve never doubted. We become spiritual giants for how we’ve handled doubt over the course of our lives. So if you’ve never doubted, it probably means that you’ve never been confronted with contrary points of view and/or strong doses of personal tragedy. Regardless, if the Father of Faith was constantly stricken with doubt, we should not be shocked when our faith is rattled with doubt from time to time, too.

Which leads us to main question. Because doubt is inevitable, how should we deal with doubt when it comes?

There’s typically two different, traditional approaches for how to deal with doubt: the conservative approach and the liberal approach. But both seem like wrong ways of dealing with doubt. Here’s what I mean:

The Conservative mind ultimately thinks of doubt as a complete evil and as a spiritual failure. It approaches doubt as something to be ashamed of and something to be kept secret. So, people bottle it in–and hardly get better. The problem with this approach is that when you create a church culture like this, you are telling the world that you cannot be emotionally or intellectually authentic while at the same time being a Christian. Naturally, people in these types of churches feel so frightened and self-condemned by doubt that they never want to voice their doubts–because that would mean they wouldn’t be accepted and/or couldn’t get any answers anyways.

So what would happen if Abraham had ascribed to the conservative approach and said accordingly, “Of course! I don’t have any doubt!” (even though he clearly did)? If he did that, we would never be able to relate to him. Also, had he not struggled with doubt, and he wouldn’t have struggled through the hard questions that would have enabled him to know God in deeper ways. Certainly, Abraham wouldn’t have grown into the formidable spiritual leader that God wanted to shape him to be. The same thing will happen to us, too, if we suppress our doubts out of fear or shamefulness. A conservative approach to doubt deals with doubt by sweeping it under the proverbial rug. Their approach screams, “let’s save face for the sake of looking put-together, while never addressing the real problem.” It just doesn’t work.

The Liberal mind, on the other hand, thinks that doubt is intellectually sophisticated and emotionally mature. This view says doubt is something to be embraced and pursued in itself. It urges you to always be in doubt about everything—to be skeptical, to be cynical, and to have unresolved, eternal doubt about every aspect of life.

Yet, the reality is that it’s simply impossible to be dubious about everything. For example, if you say that you can doubt everything, you’re actually giving yourself an exemption that isn’t fair. Meaning, you can’t doubt everything, and at the same time, doubt your own skepticism about everything. If you refuse to doubt your own doubt itself, you aren’t being consistent in your own philosophy–you’re just picking and choosing. You just can’t be cynical about everything without being cynical about your own cynicism. In order to be consistent with your beliefs, you must hold yourself accountable to doubt your doubts as much as you doubt everything else. Which means, inevitably so, that you have to at least be open to the possibility of knowing something. Beneath the veneer of cynicism is sometimes a sense of fear: you don’t want to doubt your own cynicism, making yourself vulnerable to the possibility that there is something you can know, and that you might be wrong after all.

The liberal mind takes the far opposite approach of the conservative approach, yet ironically provides as much resolution and comfort as the conservative approach does: you’re right, zero. The liberal approach says, “There is no real knowledge anyways”–being equally unsympathetic to your questions and hurt as the conservative approach.

Indeed, these two approaches are dead ends, but thankfully, they are not the only approaches. There is a third approach, which the God of the Bible gives.

This third approach, Christianity, however, displays a surprisingly balanced approach for how to deal with doubt, and it does so by equally critiquing the coldness of conservatism and the fancifulness of liberalism.

Take for example, Abraham once more. Throughout his entire life, he consistently doubts God’s promises and pitifully pleads time and time again, “Buthow can I really, really, actually know…?

And what does God say in response to Abraham each time? Does God take on the demeanor of a conservative drill sergeant and say, “How dare you question me! Pitiful!”—No, never. Or does God take on the demeanor of hippie professor and say, “Well, yeah, that’s the way it is. Groovy. Embrace doubt as ultimate reality, you’ll never know.”—No, God doesn’t respond that way, either. On the one hand, God does not condemn doubt, and on the other hand, he challenges doubt.

And it’s amazingly similar to the interaction between the resurrected Jesus and Thomas, too. Thomas says, “I won’t believe unless I see the nail prints.” Does Jesus take the conservative beat-down methodology or the psychedelic liberal approach? Neither. Jesus gave Thomas what he asked for. If doubting was a sinful thing to do, then why did Jesus give Thomas what he asked for? And yet after showing Thomas the nail prints, Jesus says, “Now stop doubting and believe.” Jesus didn’t give Thomas every answer, but he did give him the sufficient ones.

There’s a fascinating balance in Christianity whereby doubt is never encouraged, but doubters are always completely welcomed and addressed. Ultimately, Christianity slices through the spectrum of conservatism and liberalism, and presents a unique and better way to deal with doubt altogether.

When you express doubt and say, “My faith is weak!” God does not say, “How dare you!” or “This is just the way it is!” God says, “This is the way to give you a masterful life. I will give you more faith, and I will grow you.God doesn’t do the liberal thing and say, “That’s fine, it’s great that you doubt;” and God doesn’t do the conservative thing either and say, “How dare you doubt!” Instead, he says, “Doubters are welcome, because honest admissions of weakness, difficulty, and struggle is the way you grow.”

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NOTE: The following blog is largely redacted, reformatted, and reworded (and some parts are indeed word-for-word) from Timothy Keller’s sermon Real Confidence and the Blazing Torch, which is part of his sermons series called, “The Gospel According To Abraham.” Check it out here if you are interested.

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