Thinking Out Loud

May 16, 2020

How Exactly Do You Wish the Death of Your Enemies?

Filed under: Christianity, personal — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:19 pm

The last eight weeks have brought many to the point of discouragement, frustration, anger and bitterness. It’s so easy to see why. I can’t imagine too many people not wishing that this plague had never happened; wishing we could reset the clock and have things exactly as they were before.

During this time there has been an increased increase in the Psalms. David wrote at least half; though we have contributions from the Sons of Korah, from Asaph, from Solomon and from unknown sources. And David poured out his heart to God. We have to marvel at the transparency of his emotions.

But David also wished his enemies dead. He asked God to bring about their swift destruction. More than once.

Is that a model for prayer in the 21st Century?

Pouring out my own heart, I wrote a piece here a few days ago about unanswered prayer. At least that what it was intended to be about. I think we need to be especially carefully dangling that carrot in front of prospective believers or new believers. Offering answered prayer as a sure thing, when it’s really something that God isn’t necessarily going to deliver.

Some of that article was personal, describing a handful of situations, one of which would fall into that general category of enemy or enemies.

However…

Despite my frustration and anger, I can’t see myself wishing the death of someone else. I just can’t bring myself to pray that prayer, ‘Lord, kill him.’

Perhaps it’s the difference of a New Testament; New Covenant perspective; a post-incarnation era unknown to the Psalmist. Perhaps it’s living at time in history when the grace of God is the only thing we have to offer the world. Perhaps I have a hint of “God is not willing that any should perish” coursing through my bones.

Please recognize that I’m thinking of this in terms of a domestic situation; this isn’t about the larger just war versus pacifism issue. This isn’t about an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

I just think that the God of the impossible is able to exceedingly beyond anything we could request or imagine. He’s capable of writing the scene so that it plays out with a creative twist we couldn’t have conceived.

I really believe that. It’s a testimony to the faith I still have.

In the middle of the doubt I increasingly wrestle with.

May 14, 2020

Root Causes of Cynicism and Doubt

Filed under: apologetics, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:41 am

Any commitment to follow to Christ is going have its basis in the truth of the resurrection. We know anecdotally that other foundations, valid as they might be, can crumble when tested. Some objections to faith recur more frequently to others and can be (a) barriers to entry, in terms of making a first time decision to be a Christ follower, or (b) the roots of doubt or cynicism which can cause even a long time faith to collapse.

A quick online search reveals some of these:

  • The Genesis / Creation / Evolution question
  • The problem of evil and suffering in the world
  • Things done, both presently and historically by Christians, often in Christ’s name
  • Things done to them personally by Christians, aka the Church at large
  • The authority and reliability of the Bible
  • Philosophical issues concerning the very existence of God

But there’s one thing I never see listed, and I can name that song in two notes:

  • Unanswered prayer

I would say this is more the case with situation (b) above, but it could also apply to the person who in coming to Christ brings with them specific petitions or to use the theological term, supplications.

It’s also something I find myself struggling with more and more.

There. I said it.

I’m not alone in this. I think of people with whom I’ve interacted over the last few years, and the long-time, ongoing prayers of their hearts have been for a son, or daughter or spouse to come (or come back) to faith, and those prayers have not been answered.

I think of two people I know who have dealt for years with intense chronic pain who in one case can’t sleep at night because of it, and in the other case can’t think clearly when it strikes with intensity.

I think of people who ache to be chosen for some type of higher activity in their workplace, or in their church, but are always ignored or passed over in favor of someone else.

I think of two couples who have special needs adult sons, who believe in a God of the impossible when it comes to healing (or even improvement) but are also resigned to the unanswered nature of their requests.

Finally, I think of people for whom outsiders would say, ‘Their lives seem okay;’ who aren’t facing world-shattering challenges but just wish some of their circumstances could be different. They ask God to simply give them something to put in the ‘win’ column…

…Apologists can spend energy coming up with answers to the first six objections, but also need to have an answer to the seventh one, ‘Why aren’t my prayers answered?’

I think of one such apologist, now reaching the end of his ministry, who never neglected to see the pastoral question when facing doubters and skeptics; to see the question behind the question.

Those are often at the roots of a faith-shaking that the theoretical, intellectual, or philosophical questions can mask.

A mature faith will recognize that not every request is granted in the affirmative. But when prayer has been offered as a means of touching the heart of God concerning our life situations, we do sometimes long for a response.


For those of you reading this on a tablet or desktop or laptop, here’s a challenge. I usually try to illustrate blog posts with an image, but when I did an image search using the phrase “unanswered prayer” it turned up an interesting collection of quotations. I decided against using any of them, but they bear checking out if you have the time. Feel free to share one in the comments if it strikes you as significant.

April 30, 2020

Singing Your Way Through Pandemic Anxiety

Filed under: Christianity, music — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:04 pm

Live To Tell – Enough (Living with Anxiety During a Pandemic)

Our friends Martin and Nancy released this two days ago, and I want to see it get more exposure. Nancy wrote the song, and Martin did the arrangement.

Nancy explains in the video notes:

This song came out of a sleepless night earlier this month when I guess I really started to freak out about the pandemic. Admittedly, I was watching too much news but when a good friend died and a proper funeral couldn’t be observed, it really hit home. From a social perspective, how challenging it is to grieve from a distance.

The lyrics you’ll hear reflect my disquieting and intimate thoughts and are very specifically written for now. The use of the term “peaceful waters” is an homage to John Prine who died from complications of COVID-19 a couple of days prior to me being inspired to write this song.

“There’s no gold in the silence, just a quiet form of violence.”

In this song, I am laying claim to my generalized anxiety disorder, the tension between how I experience my world as it is now and how I imagine it could be – and how I am coping.

Tucked inside the larger narrative is a love song to Martin. I pray that we all have such a good companion to help us get through this.

God bless you. Stay safe, stay home as much as possible, and thanks for listening.

April 7, 2020

In Times of Transition: Secure a Job, Then Relocate

Many of the job losses people are suffering right now are not temporary. For various reasons, they work in vocations which either won’t recover from the present crisis, or will recover but operating in a different paradigm.

This is our story. It’s appeared here twice before, in 2010 and 2013, but there are new readers who haven’t seen it. A lesson learned too late is still a lesson learned, right?

Was this the one time we disobeyed God? …Okay, maybe there were lots of times…

The time in particular that I’m considering is the time we moved to the city where we now live. It was 1989, and we came with some “push” factors (wanting to get out of our 9th floor apartment in the city of three million) and some “pull” factors (liking the look of the town, as seen from the highway).

Later, I would write a song with an opening sentence that talks about the “pull” factors:

The part of the town that you see from the highway
Is never the part that the people there know…

When the business we were going to start in this town didn’t happen, we got caught up with the momentum of the “push” factors and decided we would move anyway. We would go into this foreign place and trust God to work out the details for employment and income. Not so smart.

(Tangent: Never move to a town where you plan to raise a family if you don’t know anyone and therefore don’t have your potential babysitters or family supports lined up ahead of time. Ours included teenage girls who were (a) completely inexperienced — “You mean I was supposed to change him?” — with kids, (b) dealing with medical crises, (c) dealing with severe emotional breakdown.)

I think there was some element of God’s leading us to where we moved. We thought we were moving to start a business, but instead, we ended up getting involved with a church that really needed us. I was invited to write a newspaper column every weekend for ten years which paid for our groceries. My wife got to raise her boys in a house and not the apartment in the big city. I was asked to teach a year at a Christian school. My started a number of local area ministry projects which have made a big difference in the lives of people.

But did God just allow us to “make the best of it?” Was there a principle we missed?

I think there was, but I didn’t know the particular chapter and verse at the time. The verse is found in Proverbs 24:2 —

Do your planning and prepare your fields before building your house. (NLT)

First plant your fields; then build your barn. (Message)

Fix your business outside. Get your fields in shape and then build your house. (rough English translation of Louis Segond translation in French)

In other words, get a job, know where your mortgage payments are going to come from. Heck; know where your next dollar is coming from. Settle your career in that place first, then talk about your residence. Don’t move to Dallas, or Lisbon or Sydney without having a job waiting.

But we were young, we were idealistic, we were acting on a mix of faith and foolishness. I think we prayed about it — a bit — but earnestly praying together as a couple hasn’t been our strong suit. If you’re a younger married couple, and the shoe fits, take that as a personal admonition to do better than us when it comes to prayer. Starting now.

Joshua 9:14 — the story of Joshua’s ill-advised treaty with the Gibeonites — makes an even stronger case:

The Israelites … did not inquire of the Lord. (TNIV)

So the men … did not ask counsel from the Lord (ESV)

I really feel that God has journeyed with us and blessed us so many ways. But there have been some uphill battles that I believe trace back to not adhering to a basic scriptural principle. In many ways we’ve lived like monks who have taken a vow of poverty, nonetheless we’ve been blessed with some family circumstances that made it possible for us to live what appears from the outside to be a comfortable lower-middle-class life.

But my advice to people today is always the same: Prepare your work in the fields and then build your house.

March 20, 2020

The Rhythm of Life is Being Disrupted

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:59 am

So many authors — Mark Buchanan, Rebekah Lyons, Ruth Haley Barton, etc. — have written about the spiritual rhythm of life that I hesitate to enter into this topic but to say that sacred or secular, our rhythms have been greatly disturbed.

The Weekly Rhythm

I’m finding myself most affected by the absence of weekend worship. Like so many of us, there was no service this past week and there won’t be one in a few days. I didn’t realize the degree to which anchoring my week around, and focusing my week on the weekly gathering would impact me so greatly. The online alternatives — some of which I have been lending email input toward — aren’t quite the same.

The Daily Rhythm

Because I work from home already — commuting some days and staying home on others — I didn’t think I would be as greatly affected by the massive slowdown we are experiencing in our business and the reduced hours we are now following. For others of you, the switch in work/life balance (or school/life balance) is most unsettling. Or perhaps it’s the lack of a “buffer zone” between the two.

The ‘Re-Creation’ Rhythm

For others of you, sports plays a vital part of life, whether you’re watching it, or heading out to the gym several times each week. You’re missing the camaraderie of watching the game at the local sports-themed restaurant, or about to miss the Saturday pickup football game with the guys in the park. Those sports, fresh-air, or exercise activities with others provide a much need reset which energizes the days which follow.

We Can Pray

Join me in praying that “the new normal” doesn’t last all that long, and pray for the mental health of people who need those balances in their lives more than others. Think of other ways you can use this time to grow in grace and the knowledge of God.


Devotional readings at Christianity 201:

November 2, 2019

Unpacking the Meaning of Brokenness

Later today, Christianity 201 will publish its 3,500th post. It’s based on a scripture medley I found on Twitter on the subject of humility, and as we often do when a post comes in under 500 words, I often link to previous articles we’ve done on the same subject.

I came across this from 2010. It was posted by Daniel Jepsen, who many of you know from Internet Monk. It’s a summary of previous work by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. I’ll let him introduce this:

A year or two ago my friend Gina loaned me a book by Nancy Leigh DeMoss titled, Brokenness. I found the whole book helpful, but especially the description of what brokenness is. I printed this out last week to distribute to the class I am teaching on the holiness of God, and thought I would reprint it here. Warning: it is very convicting.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Proud people focus on the failures of others.
Broken people
are overwhelmed with a sense of their own spiritual need.

Proud people have a critical, fault-finding spirit; they look at everyone else’s faults with a microscope but their own with a telescope.
Broken people
are compassionate; they can forgive much because they know how much they have been forgiven.

Proud people are self-righteous; they look down on others.
Broken people
esteem all others better than themselves.

Proud people have an independent, self-sufficient spirit.
Broken people
have a dependent spirit; they recognize their need for others.

Proud people have to prove that they are right.
Broken people
are willing to yield the right to be right.

Proud people claim rights; they have a demanding spirit.
Broken people
yield their rights; they have a meek spirit.

Proud people are self-protective of their time, their rights, and their reputation.
Broken people
are self-denying.

Proud people desire to be served.
Broken people
are motivated to serve others.

Proud people desire to be a success.
Broken people
are motivated to be faithful and to make others a success.

Proud people desire self-advancement.
Broken people
desire to promote others.

Proud people have a drive to be recognized and appreciated.
Broken people
have a sense of their own unworthiness; they are thrilled that God would use them at all.

Proud people are wounded when others are promoted and they are overlooked.
Broken people
are eager for others to get the credit; they rejoice when others are lifted up.

Proud people have a subconscious feeling, “This ministry/church is privileged to have me and my gifts”; they think of what they can do for God.
Broken people
’s heart attitude is, “I don’t deserve to have a part in any ministry”; they know that they have nothing to offer God except the life of Jesus flowing through their broken lives.

Proud people feel confident in how much they know.
Broken people
are humbled by how very much they have to learn.

Proud people are self-conscious.
Broken people
are not concerned with self at all.

Proud people keep others at arms’ length.
Broken people
are willing to risk getting close to others and to take risks of loving intimately.

Proud people are quick to blame others.
Broken people accept personal responsibility and can see where they are wrong in a situation.

Proud people are unapproachable or defensive when criticized.
Broken people
receive criticism with a humble, open spirit.

Proud people are concerned with being respectable, with what others think; they work to protect their own image and reputation.
Broken people
are concerned with being real; what matters to them is not what others think but what God knows; they are willing to die to their own reputation.

Proud people find it difficult to share their spiritual need with others.
Broken people
are willing to be open and transparent with others as God directs.

Proud people want to be sure that no one finds out when they have sinned; their instinct is to cover up.
Broken people
, once broken, don’t care who knows or who finds out; they are willing to be exposed because they have nothing to lose.

Proud people have a hard time saying, “I was wrong; will you please forgive me?”
Broken people
are quick to admit failure and to seek forgiveness when necessary.

Proud people tend to deal in generalities when confessing sin.
Broken people
are able to acknowledge specifics when confessing their sin.

Proud people are concerned about the consequences of their sin.
Broken people
are grieved over the cause, the root of their sin.

Proud people are remorseful over their sin, sorry that they got found out or caught.
Broken people
are truly, genuinely repentant over their sin, evidenced in the fact that they forsake that sin.

Proud people wait for the other to come and ask forgiveness when there is a misunderstanding or conflict in a relationship.
Broken people
take the initiative to be reconciled when there is misunderstanding or conflict in relationships; they race to the cross; they see if they can get there first, no matter how wrong the other may have been.

Proud people compare themselves with others and feel worthy of honor.
Broken people
compare themselves to the holiness of God and feel a desperate need for His mercy.

Proud people are blind to their true heart condition.
Broken people
walk in the light.

Proud people don’t think they have anything to repent of.
Broken people
realize they have need of a continual heart attitude of repentance.

Proud people don’t think they need revival, but they are sure that everyone else does.
Broken people
continually sense their need for a fresh encounter with God and for a fresh filling of His Holy Spirit.

~Nancy Leigh Demoss via Daniel Jepsen

 

 

October 3, 2019

It’s How You Finish Which Matters Most

Say what you will about the original The Living Bible translation, but it has helped and inspired many people, and the spirit of it lives on today in The New Living Translation or NLT.

When Ken Taylor was wrapping up II Kings, he did something that translation experts might consider the worst thing he could have done, but I would argue that the worst thing he could have done was also the best thing he could have done.

Wearied perhaps by the kings who simply didn’t learn the lessons of history, or chose to wander from God, Taylor lapsed into point form in some of the final chapters, simply listing the kings and the characteristics of their reign.

Taking it one step further, and using bullet points, there emerges four possibilities:

  • Started badly, ended badly
  • Started well, ended badly
  • Started badly, ended well
  • Started well, ended well

I already looked at this at the beginning of the year when we considered our resolve for a new year, or if you prefer, new year’s resolutions.

I repeat mention of it today simply to remind us all that I believe how you end is of utmost importance. It’s often the legacy you leave more than anything you did previously. And the Bible is filled with scriptures that speak of continuing, abiding and enduring to the end. Of faithfulness, and not giving up.

In the past two years or so we’ve seen pastors and leaders who, when they die, their account before God may be cleaned by the remembered-no-more grace of God (provided they sought his forgiveness), but their Wikipedia article is going to reflect times of controversy, scandal or failure.

I hope that you and I are thinking in terms of our legacy.

 

September 3, 2019

In Religion Reporting, There’s a Tradeoff Between Objectivity and Accuracy

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:37 am

I’ve said before that only insiders can report a news story in Evangelicalism.

I realize this means that there is a certain loss of objectivity that a reporter borrowed from the business beat or the political department would have, but I believe it’s worth sacrificing that aspect of objectivity if it means getting the report mostly correct.

The reason is simply that there is so much terminology, so much nuance behind our stories that an outsider simply can’t appreciate. In the name of objectivity, it would be possible to get the story wrong.

I wouldn’t consider writing a piece about a Muslim cleric or a Buddhist community any more than I would consider writing about NASCAR, South African politics, or gourmet cooking.

Fortunately, there is the website Get Religion, which keeps us abreast of the missteps by (mostly) print media in attempting to cover stories of (mostly) Christianity. Usually these include things like wrong terminology, poor theological understanding, unawareness of the full history of the story, or missing entirely the sub-strands of the story being covered.

I was reminded of this on the weekend reading some tweets from religion reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey, made, as it turns out, in reference to an item I now also see covered on Get Religion.

She wrote,

I’ve been reporting on religion, especially the inner workings of U.S. evangelicals, for 12 years now. I’m fully aware of the skeletons in the closet. I have fun stories to share! BUT if your publication can’t write a fair piece about them, you risk alienating 25% of the country.

I was inspired to become a religion reporter after Bush’s re-election, when reporters were baffled by what many of them portrayed as stupid evangelicals willing to vote for a buffoon. I thought perhaps I could explain. 12 years later, I don’t think the media has woken up.

I’m tired of watching the media botch religion coverage, whether news or opinion.

If you see your faith poorly covered, you will instantly distrust the rest of that outlet’s coverage.

That last sentence is key. Can you truly put your faith in a media outlet if their coverage of the subject that is perhaps closest to your heart is being rendered carelessly?

For Sarah, I suspect it’s doubly discouraging, knowing she could have been asked to write the piece and done a better job. Full disclosure: In this instance, the piece in particular at the New York Times was an Op-Ed — an opinion piece — and not hard news. But I know for writers and reporters like Sarah and others like her this is a constant frustration.

I’ve had the privilege of writing some print pieces for nationally distributed media outlets. But for 30 years I’ve also lived in a small town, doing a somewhat visible ministry that interacts with all the churches and parachurch organizations. In all those years, I’ve never once been interviewed as a source to help the local newspapers clarify a religion story, and often it means they’ve missed the mark almost to the point of getting the story completely wrong.

It leaves the public misinformed, and leaves the media outlet looking less than they would desire.

July 12, 2019

Blessed are the Doubters

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:55 am

Recently Brant Hansen made an entire chapter of his book Blessed are the Misfits available to readers for free. It’s longer that what I’d run here, but I thought I’d steal a small part of it, but then atone for my crime by encouraging you not to read it here at all but instead to click to the link in the header below and get the full context…

Blessed are the Skeptics

…You should know something about this particular God, the God of the Bible, and it’s immediately apparent in the first words of Genesis, even if we don’t notice it.

Now, in other ancient creation stories, the universe is the result of revenge, or incest, or wars, or murderous plots. The sun, the mountains, the trees… everything is the result of some violent clash. For example, in the Enuma Elish, which is a Babylonian account of creation believed to have been written in the 12th to 18th centuries B.C., the world is made out of a lot of conflict, to put it mildly.

Briefly: There’s the freshwater god, Apsu, and Tiamat, the saltwater god. There are additional gods, and they live inside Tiamat. They make a lot of noise, which ticks off both Tiamat and Apsu. So Apsu wants to kill them.

But the most powerful god, named Ea, kills Apsu. Ea then has a son named Marduk, who’s the new greatest god. He likes to make tornadoes. This causes problems for Tiamat, who still can’t get any sleep because the gods living inside her are bothered by all the loud stuff Marduk is doing.

So Tiamat makes 11 monsters to help her do get revenge for Apsu’s death. Other gods aren’t happy about this, so they make Marduk their champion. He kills Tiamat.

…and then he forms the world out of her corpse.

(And this explains why you haven’t seen The Marduk and Tiamat Puppet Show.)

Anyway, in Genesis, God makes the world because He wants to, and He loves each part of it. He makes this, and it’s “good”. He makes that, and it’s “good”.  The way it’s written is clearly in overt contrast with the Enuma Elish. This God is different, and He loves what He made. All of it.

The world was full of gods, but this one identifies Himself this stunning way, in Exodus 15:26: “I am the Lord who heals you.”

This God is the Healing God.

As repulsed as I might be by Christian hypocrisy, including my own, I am very attracted to a God who heals. Healing isn’t a side issue. When Jesus walked among us, it’s how he demonstrated his very identity: A lame man walks. A girl is raised from the dead.

When John the Baptist’s own faith wavered, Jesus sent people to remind him of the healings. The blind see. The deaf hear. That means the Kingdom of the Healing God is here.

I could look elsewhere, but to whom else would I go? Jesus, after all, is the God who heals little girls.

No, I do not want to walk away from this. On the contrary, I want to be part of it, doubts and questions and all.

Thankfully, scripture also reveals a God who is patient with people like me. In the book of Jude, we’re even told to be merciful to people who doubt.

So I memorized that verse. “Be merciful to those who doubt.”  (Jude 1:22 NIV)

I like to memorize really short verses…

June 28, 2019

Compelling: Believable and Beautiful

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:48 am

For the past six months, my friend Pastor Clarke Dixon has been preaching an epic-length series under the title “Compelling.” Six months is a long time, but it represents a commitment to assemble all the major apologetic arguments in one place. It was truly a labor of love — in many ways — and I decided we would share it here as well as we’ve been doing every Thursday at Christianity 201 for the last six months. Each of the points below is a link, and you can access the full articles for each subject by clicking through.

NIV.I Peter.3.13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

Believable and Beautiful: Why Christianity is Compelling

by Clarke Dixon

Can we really believe what we read in books written so long ago? With so many world-views and so many religions, how could we ever pick just one? Does it really matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere, and don’t bother others with it? Don’t people need to leave their brains at the door of a Christian church? Many people are reluctant to consider Christianity. However, in our series we have considered how Christianity is compelling, both in being believable, and beautiful.

First let us review why Christianity is believable, why one need neither leave their brain at the door of the church, nor their faith in the university parking lot. (Click on the links to read the corresponding “Shrunk Sermon.”)

BELIEVABLE

  • Compelling Truth.  People who are “relativists” when it comes to faith and religion suddenly become “modernists” when they need surgery. Truth can be known and does matter. We consistently live as people who know truth can be known and does matter. The truth about Jesus can be known and does matter.
  • A Compelling Cosmos. We considered that the universe had a beginning, the “fine-tuning” of the universe to be life-permitting, and the fact that anything exists at all. What we learn from studying the universe points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Morality. Very few people will say that there are not certain behaviors that ought to be considered evil for all people at all times in all places. The reality of objective morality points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Life. Life began and now flourishes in a world that seems ideally suited for it. The realities of life point to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Minds. Thinking people point to the reality of a thinking God.
  • Compelling Religion. The appetite for the spiritual points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Evil. The existence of suffering and evil is consistent with what the Bible teaches about our experience. Suffering and evil point to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Holy Books. What caused each of the books of the Bible to be written? The documents that make up the Bible point to the reality of God whose interaction with the world stirred up much writing.
  • The Compelling Man. The most compelling man in history, compelling in his activity, his teaching, his ethics, his presence, his good works, his love, and his impact, points to the reality of God.
  • A Compelling Turn of Events. The tomb was empty and disciples were going about telling everyone that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. They were willing to die for that testimony. Naysayers like James and Paul, changed their minds. Devoted Jews took radical shifts in their theology. The events of, and following, Easter, point to the reality of God.

Cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace speaks of a cold-case trial as being a cumulative case. That is, the best explanation of the evidence is the one that explains all the evidence. With regards to religion and faith, certain world-views may explain some of the evidence. For example, with regards to suffering, Eastern religions have a nice tidy explanation. If you suffer, it is because you deserve it. Your karma is catching up to you. There is a cosmic justice and suffering makes sense. However, there are still many things that don’t makes sense. If Eastern religions are correct, then how did the Bible come into being? Why was the tomb of Jesus empty, why did the disciples go around telling everyone that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead and why were they willing to die for that? Why did naysayers like James and Paul change their tune about who Jesus is and what he is about? Likewise, atheism also gives a good explanation as to why there is suffering. However, again, atheism can not explain all the evidence. Christianity explains all the evidence! Therefore, not only are the truth claims of Christianity believable, there are compelling reasons why we can see them as being the best depiction of reality. God is for real, and in Christ, God is for us.

We can further ask if each worldview is consistent in where it leads. It would be strange if, while the evidence points to the existence of a good and loving God, belief in, and devotion to, that God led to a terrible way to live, and a horrible society. We have used the example of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. If you have read the novel, or watched the TV series, you will see the dominance of a worldview which leads to ugliness and not beauty. Does Christianity lead to ugliness, or to beauty? In our series we considered how Christianity leads to beauty.

BEAUTIFUL

  • Compelling Evidence. Science and Christianity point in the same direction. Christianity helped science get started. A perspective which denigrates science is ugly. That Christianity can work with science is beautiful!
  • Compelling Religion. While religion can, in the words of Christopher Hitchens, “poison everything,” a Biblical Spirit-led Christianity leads to healing. This is beautiful!
  • Compelling Grace. The love of God for people is beautiful. God’s grace and forgiveness is beautiful!
  • Compelling Grace, Part 2. The call to grace, forgiveness, and wisdom in human relationships is beautiful!
  • The Compelling God. The perfect justice and wonderful mercy of God is beautiful. Only at the cross do we see God being perfectly just while also being merciful. This is beautiful!
  • Compelling Mission. The sharing of good news is always beautiful. That we share the good news through words, rather than by force, and give people the space and freedom to choose for themselves, is beautiful!
  • Compelling Family. The Christian vision for parenting and marriage is beautiful. Yet the flexibility that no one is forced to fit the mold of “married with children” is also beautiful!
  • A Compelling Life. The Jesus-centered, Spirit-filled, life lived in wisdom is beautiful. That we don’t just follow rules, but grow in character, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Society. Christians are not called to takeover the government and set up a society that enforces Christian living. That Christians are called to be salt and light is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Perspective on Humanity. No one has greater value than anyone else. That all people are created in the image of God, without exception, and without exception Christ bore the cross for all people, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling People. That the Church is to be a people who do good works in Jesus’ name, in allegiance to Jesus, under the influence of the Spirit, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Future. The future of every single person, whether they receive Jesus or not, is reasonable & consistent with a good and loving God. This is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Invitation. Everyone is invited! You are invited! This is beautiful!

The outworking of the Christian faith is consistent with the good and loving God the evidence points to. There are many aspects of Christianity that make us say “of course that is how a good and loving God would do it.” However, Christians have often made a mess of things and been the cause of ugliness rather than beauty. When this happens, it results from a disconnect from Jesus, and often, an unfortunate understanding of God’s Word. The inconsistency is ours. The ugliness is ours. But there is beauty. There is beauty, because there is God.

Perhaps you still have questions. I do. We don’t need all the answers. I have long thought of faith as being like a jigsaw puzzle. As we are figuring out our view of the world, our spirituality, and the way things are, pieces come together. Some people start with the most difficult of questions and give up. But for many of us, the puzzle pieces come together in such a way that the picture begins to form. It is a beautiful picture. So beautiful, in fact, that we cannot help but keep working on it. Sometimes there are pieces that we cannot yet place. Sometimes we have the sense that we are forcing certain pieces together that don’t fit. Sometimes we need to take pieces out that we thought fit, and fit them in where they really belong. This is all a normal part of growing and maturing in our understanding. The picture that comes together as we grow in our understanding is beautiful, and well worth the effort. It is a picture of the cross, of God’s love in Christ.

My prayer throughout this whole series is that you would find the Christian faith to be believable and beautiful, that you would find Christ to be compelling.


Use the above links to read any of the posts in the series. At each you’ll find a link for the audio version of the full sermon on which they are based.


1 John.1.1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

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