The problem of pain and suffering is probably the greatest cause for people losing faith. That makes sense. It does seem like a good God who is also an all-powerful God should snuff out suffering and prevent it from ever happening. Terrible things happen to some really wonderful people, and it doesn’t always make sense. So how can we continue to live by faith and trust in God?
The existence of suffering comes down to these three realities:
We are not robots. God created us with freewill. Every Christian believes this (not only Arminians). It is incredibly ironic to criticize God for allowing suffering while also shaking your fist at him and telling him to stay out of your life. You can’t have it both ways… God gave us responsibility, and we need to own that.
We make a train wreck of our lives and of the world. Pointing all the way back to the first humans, Adam and Eve, we have a way of choosing sin over righteousness. We aren’t as sinful as we could be, but we are all sinners and that has effected everything in our world: our relationship with God, with others, with ourselves, and with nature. We know things aren’t “the way they’re supposed to be,” but our efforts often make things worse, not better. God must intervene somehow.
God has a greater dream for our lives than we could imagine for ourselves. While we try to define a successful life by our bank account, or family, or power, or influence, or whatever… God has a greater dream for us. The truth is, our dream is not too big for God, but too small! Because of sin, there will be a day of judgment to make things right, and suffering is often God’s warning light calling us to repentance now before it’s too late.
I was in college when I read a book that captivated me. It was an apologetics book where a theology professor was writing letters back-and-forth with his atheist father, and he carefully and winsomely explained his Christian views. The problem was, some of those views were radical reinterpretations of what the Bible teaches. Because of this book there were a number of significant doctrines that I misunderstood for years. Since then, I have grown more discerning and careful about evaluating what I read and listen.
We are all called to be careful readers and listeners, to be on guard against false teachers. Sometimes it might come off as spiritual superiority (“I know better than they do, I’m not falling for it!”) or spiritual arrogance (“I can’t believe you’d read that book”). We need to remain humble even as we grow in our spiritual discernment, but one of my great concerns for Christians today is a lack of spiritual discernment.
There are authors and musicians (yes, our Christian music can easily spread false teaching) who are on the Christian best seller’s list, but they’re false teachers who should be avoided. Sure, maybe their books are really fun to read, their personalities are engaging, and some of their stuff is helpful. But the Bible calls Christians to be spiritually discerning, because there are false teachers who can lead well-intentioned believers astray.
Do false teachers concern you? Do you ask theological questions about the books you read, music you listen to, shows you watch, or teachers you learn from? Sadly, we cannot simply trust anyone who talks about Jesus and quotes the Bible.
Another school shooting took place last week. 17 dead in Parkland, Florida as a former student entered campus to take the lives of his classmates and teachers. It seems like this type of violent event keeps happening so frequently we’re becoming numb.
Where so many in positions of legal authority respond with “Thoughts and Prayers” but with little action, the nonChristian world has come to despise the phrase “thoughts and prayers” because it has come to mean, “I’m really sad this happened. Let’s be sad together for a week or two until we all move on… until this happens again.” In this way, “thoughts and prayers” aren’t enough.
The Apostle Paul encourages Christians to put on the full armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-20. This is a common theme for children’s ministry, but it’s incredibly important for every Christian to consider the meaning and symbolism. In this post I hope to unpack the various pieces of armor along with its relevance today.
Our True Enemy
Take a minute to consider the three greatest challenges facing Christians and the Church today. Now consider this quote from John Calvin:
“Let us remember that our battle is not against flesh and blood when the painful treatment of others provokes us to revenge. Our natural disposition would lead us to direct all our efforts against the men themselves; but this foolish desire will be restrained by remembering that the men who annoy us are nothing more than darts thrown by the hand of satan. While we are focused on destroying those darts, we leave ourselves open to be wounded on all sides.”
John Calvin (Calvin’s Commentary on Ephesians 6:12, slightly edited for understandability)
The Christian enemy is not the fiery arrows, but the archer who is shooting them. If we ignore the arrows then we’ll get struck, but the enemy isn’t the arrows themselves. Instead, we guard ourselves from the devil’s schemes which seek to destroy our faith and witness while remembering the bigger picture.
One of the details about Christ’s birth that can be overlooked is the poverty of Mary and Joseph. When we consider that the infinite, holy, Triune God who created the heavens and earth became a baby boy, we would expect him to choose an appropriate home. How many parents, when presented with the option to choose what type of home in which choose poverty?
But this is exactly what God did. He was not born in a mansion. He did not entrust Jesus to a powerful or influential family. God didn’t even choose the equivalent of a middle-class family. Instead, he choose a young woman who was engaged to a poor but godly man… knowing that their family would be shrouded in rumors and suspicion because of the apparent-infidelity that surrounded Jesus’ birth.
Luke 2:22-24 tells of Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus in the Temple. Each family, upon the birth of their firstborn child, would present an offering to the Lord (see Leviticus 12:6-8). The offering would be a lamb and either a dove or pigeon. This was an offering most middle-class families would be able to afford. It wasn’t extravagant, but required enough sacrifice that it was a meaningful offering to the Lord. But if the family was poor and could not afford such an offering, they could present two doves or pigeons.
Do you think you have little to offer God?
Remember Mary and Joseph. Of all the people God could have chosen, he chose them. Their godliness was of greater value than any offering they could have presented in the temple. Do not allow your lack of resources or prominence to keep you from believing God is able to use you.
They simply obeyed God. When the angel declared to them that the child would be the Messiah, they obeyed. When the Torah told them to offer a sacrifice in the temple for their firstborn, they obeyed. When the angel told them to escape to Egypt, they obeyed. In the midst of their simple obedience… God was at work in miraculous ways.
Doesn’t that just sound like the way of the gospel? God choosing those who have nothing to offer except faith-filled obedience, trusting in the power of God to provide.
Hanukkah is not the “Jewish Christmas,” but a celebration of God’s provision for his people and a call to resist the allure of assimilating into a faithless culture. As a Christian pastor, I am well aware that the best person to offer a brief overview of the history and meaning of Hanukkah isn’t me… so please watch this instead.
I get asked by multiple people every year, “What do you think about Hanukkah? As Christians, what should we think about it?” Continue reading →
God isn’t honored by Christians becoming “scrooges” who criticize everything about the Christmas season in an effort to “purify” Christmas. At the same time, don’t allow yourself to lose Jesus under the Christmas tree. Unfortunately, I know quite a few Christians who fall into both of those extremes. Recovering the Advent Season is our best way to be joyfully focused on God during this Christmas season.
Advent is more than a calendar with cheap chocolate leading up to December 25th. It is a season of “expectant waiting.” Does that describe your attitude today, or are you so bogged down by busyness and shopping that you don’t have time to expect anything but stress? The article below summarizes the message and meaning of Advent for the everyday Christian.
This season, create space to slow down. Watch less TV. Delete social media apps from your phone. Wake up earlier. Do what you need to do to spend time in Scripture each day, meditating on God’s work of salvation and his glorious promises to his children.
When you think about “heaven,” what comes to mind?
Many people think about about clouds, white light, pearly gates, and eternal happiness. My mind was completely blown when I discovered that Scripture teaches about eternity as a physical life. I had always imagined that heaven would be some disembodied life, floating around as spirits who are worshipping before God’s throne.
But the Bible consistently teaches about an eternal, earthly kingdom where God’s people will live. The New Testament calls this the “New Heavens and New Earth.” Here just a few places in Scripture that point to our future eternal-bodily life.
Every Christian continues to endure temptation and sinful desires… sometimes victoriously, and sometimes we indulge our sinful nature. How should we make sense of this?
Sometimes we can get the impression that once we become Christians our lives are immediately characterized by holiness and purity. But that’s just not the case. Sometimes, yes, the Lord graciously frees us from crushing temptations or addictions; but most Christians experience a more gradual and subtle growth in holiness.
I know some people who have seriously struggled with the question, “Am I really a Christian?” because of their lingering struggles with specific temptations (usually sexual ones). With this in mind, I believe Martin Luther’s theology of Christian identity as “Simultaneously Saint and Sinner” is extremely helpful. Continue reading →
Hope is more than a wish. It’s a confident expectation that the future is bright and that good things await. A wish, however, is a shot-in-the-dark… like heading into a test that you didn’t study for, and just wishing to do well. Hope is built on a foundation; wishes float “out there” without any real substance.
The Christian life is built on a foundation of hope, not upon a wish.
The Foundation of Christian Hope
One of my favorite people in the Bible is the Apostle Thomas. After Jesus’ death, all the disciples were in the Upper Room when Jesus suddenly appeared (even though the doors were all locked, because they were afraid of being arrested). The disciples saw Jesus, talked with him, and were astounded that he was alive again. They had heard the rumors, but now they saw him with their own eyes. But Thomas wasn’t there. In days that followed, Thomas would insist that he wouldn’t believe unless he could put his fingers in the holes in Jesus’ hands. That week must have been excruciating for Thomas… feeling hopeless while everyone else is full of hope.