For Those Who Have Ever Doubted Your Christian Faith

Have you ever, as a born-again Christian, secretly (or publicly) doubted God, or your faith? If so, it means one thing:

You’re normal. 🙂

I heard a wise preacher once say, “Doubt is a parasite of faith.”

British author/scholar, Os Guinness, rightly stated, “If [Christianity] is an examined faith we should be unafraid to doubt. There is no believing without some doubting; and believing is all the stronger for understanding and resolving doubt.”

Need biblical evidence that doubting God is a normal part of your spiritual journey? Here you go:

John the Baptist is the man who baptized Jesus and, upon seeing Jesus that day, exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” “There is no greater prophet that John,” Jesus, himself, affirmed.

This same John, later on in prison for preaching repentance, would ask his closest friends to find Jesus and ask him, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”

John doubted.

In an extraordinary passage (and a strong argument for the historical reliability of the gospels), Matthew records the following: “When [his disciples] saw [the risen Christ] they worshiped him; but some doubted.”

Jesus’ own followers doubted.

There is a tender story in Mark’s gospel about a man desperate to see his son healed. When the father questioned Jesus’ ability to heal his son, the broken-hearted man pleaded with Jesus, “Help me overcome my unbelief.”

So, if you’ve ever – for whatever reason – doubted your faith, know you are normal. Then, like the father in Mark’s gospel, take that doubt to Jesus.

I love you all.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Lessons from Middle Earth

[Jesus said], “A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”  (John 10:10, Message)

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (The Return of the King), Lady Éowyn desperately desires to be allowed to join in the fight against the evil Sauron. Soon-to-be-king, Aragorn, however, does his best to discourage her, desiring her to retreat to safety. Éowyn assures Aragorn she is neither afraid of fighting, nor dying. We pick up the conversation there:

‘What do you fear, lady?’ [Aragorn] asked. ‘A cage,’ [Lady Éowyn] said. ‘To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.’

Life is filled with the enemy’s subtle and, at times, not-so-subtle, attempts to keep believers “caged” i.e. enslaved to that which ruled us before we professed our faith in the liberating work of the King.  We hear the call of the King but, due to the cares of this world, coupled with the sometimes exhausting “weight of everyday life,” we are tempted to remain where it is sheltered, predictable, “safe.”

As with Lady Éowyn in the fields of Dunharrow in Middle Earth, there comes a time when all of us approach a crossroads – and a choice.  The choice cannot be ignored.  For not to choose is to choose.  As the Ring came to Frodo, so this crossroads comes to us – demanding a response.  Sometimes the “safe” way is, indeed, the right way; other times it is not.  When Luke recorded that Jesus “steadfastly and determinedly set His face to go to Jerusalem,” (to face crucifixion) this was certainly not the “safe” way.  When one thinks of Christ – and, in turn, Christianity – rather than focusing on the mild, almost demure, Jesus we see illustrated on the pages of Children’s Bibles, it would behoove us to consider C.S. Lewis’ (Tolkien’s friend and Oxford colleague) description of Aslan (representing Christ) in Narnia:

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought [Aslan] was a man. Is he— quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver ; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” “Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

As I contemplate the response to Aragorn from Lady Éowyn – when convicted that the “safer” way is not the right way, the following biblical implications come to mind and give me courage:

1. Participating in the battle gives us purpose in the victory:  And this is what Éowyn so desired. No doubt, in the world of sports, there is greater reward for those who played on the field/court/diamond than those who were forced to only observe from the sidelines. German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, could have lived a long, prosperous life had he chosen to remain teaching in the U.S. during WWII. However, in a letter to Reinhold Niebuhr, Bonhoeffer wrote, “I shall have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.”  Paul makes it clear to young Timothy that, during his life, Paul was no spectator:  “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

2. Somewhere, there lies within all of us a longing for adventure:  Author, John Eldridge, once wrote, “Life was never intended to be a problem to be solved, but rather an adventure to be lived.”   When Jesus bid the disciples, “Follow Me,” He was not suggesting they were about to enjoy the fruits of retirement.  Rather, the adventure of their lifetime lay before them.  Jesus was appealing to that which is hardwired into all of us.  Perhaps, this is, in part, what is meant by Solomon’s words, “God has placed eternity in our hearts.”

3. Tolkien’s story of Middle Earth lets none of us off the hook: The greatest adventure in human history was not fairy tale, but true. There is no greater Adventurer than God Made Flesh.  From Paul’s story of Jesus’ adventure from heaven to earth, to Jesus’ story of His return to heaven, and final return to earth – our souls are awakened to a desire to follow this terrifying, unpredictable, heroic, loving Lion from the Tribe of Judah. The story of Jesus Christ (God’s pursuit of sinful mankind) not only supersedes all other literary adventures, but it actually places us in the story. As such, we all are a part of a grand tale of peril, rescue and redemption. Jesus, Himself, then reminds us that the tale is far from over. “As the Father has sent Me,” He says, “so I send you.”

Concluding thought…

Adventure”, by definition, suggests “risk”: British theologian, J.I. Packer, wrote, “The Christian’s life is not a bed of roses; it is a battlefield, on which he has constantly to fight for his life.” Packer’s words certainly square with Scripture. Lady Éowyn knew well there would be great peril and risk, but her longing for the adventure coupled with her trust in her king reduced, or altogether removed, her fear of said peril and risk. I resonate with Lady Éowyn . Personally, I have no interest in “letting the battle pass me by.”  Certainly, the battle will, at times, be dangerous.  Certainly, there will be moments of unspeakable pain that will (that have) tempted me to give up. But I will not. I trust my King. As for me, I’d rather risk much in battle, than waste away “behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”

Join me.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

The Faith of Christianity vs. the Faith of Atheism

I saw the following quote posted in a “proof for the existence of God” debate recently. I thought it was a very kind and thought-provoking response:

“…to believe there is no God, or to lack belief in a God, still requires faith. You have to trust that the arguments of natural theology are false. You have to trust that the information in DNA arose without an intelligent mind. You have to trust that nature arose by natural causes (a self-contradiction).

You have to have faith that consciousness arose out of dead inert matter. The list goes on and on. It takes faith to look at the universe and all its creative wonder and come out thinking that atheism is a better explanation than theism.”

What the blogger is pointing out is that since it’s virtually impossible to know everything about a particular topic where the existence – or non-existence – of God is concerned, both theism and atheism require faith.

We all ultimately have faith in something – whether we want to admit it, or not.

Retired UC Berkeley law professor (and author), Phillip E. Johnson, astutely notes, “One who claims to be a skeptic of one set of beliefs is actually a true believer in another set of beliefs.”  In other words, in this particular context, one who rejects faith in Christianity is, in truth, holding to faith in some other worldview – even if that worldview boils down to faith in believing that Christianity is a fairy tale.

In sum, the atheist, Albert Camus, represents the unavoidable faith required by atheism when he said, “I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn’t, than live as if there isn’t and to die to find out that there is.”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Not Guilty (For those living under the crippling weight of guilt.)

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We’ve all blown it in one way or another.

And when we do blow it, Satan dispatches a battalion of demons assigned to deceive us, relentlessly filling our mind with this lie:  your failures define you.

For those who succumb to that lie, what follows is a life lived under a crippling mentality of  oppressive guilt.  “How could God ever love or forgive you?”, the enemy whispers. “You certainly can’t go to God with the mess you’ve made of your life,” he hisses.  “He’ll only be angry with you, lecture you, and berate you. And, frankly, why shouldn’t he? You’re worthless.”

These whispered accusations of the enemy are, in today’s vernacular, what we would call “fake news.”

Never forget:  satan is a pathological liar.  And the God he describes above is found nowhere in Scripture.  For example…

The younger son in Jesus’ story in the latter half of Luke, chapter 15, had publicly insulted his father, humiliated his family, and wasted his entire inheritance on every vice one could think of. Further, it was only when he was broke, broken and starving that he finally “came to his senses.” (vs 17)

He knew the people in the village in which he once lived hated him for the humiliation and heartbreak he had caused his father and family.  In first century Jewish culture, when a son dishonored their father on the level that this son had it was not uncommon for a village to hold a “funeral”, of sorts, declaring that son “dead” to the family. (This is most likely why, in vs 24, the father shouts, “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again…”)

To echo the lying thoughts Satan places in our minds, the young man thought to himself, “I can’t go to my father with the mess I’ve made of my life. He’ll only be angry with me and berate me. And, frankly, why shouldn’t he? I’m worthless. I’m no longer worthy to even be called his son.”

But Jesus shocked his listening audience with the rest of story.

Luke records that his father was anxiously waiting for news of his son. One can only imagine how many hours a day the father stood at the highest point of the village trying to see as far as he could see to try and catch a glimpse of a miracle: the return of his beloved child.

Jesus’ story is dramatic and pregnant with meaning. And it’s not difficult to imagine Jesus’ Jewish audience sitting on the edge of their seats as, one day, the father notices a figure on the horizon. The suspense mounts. What will the father do? Fold his arms and stare down the disrespectful child?  Publicly scold and punish him? Loudly announce to the village, “Here comes the scum who claims to be my son!”?

But nothing could prepare the listening audience for the scandal that was about to transpire – a scandal of love.

Luke records it this way: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

The early 5th century theologian, Peter Chrysologus, commenting on this passage wrote, “This is how the father judges and corrects his wayward [children]: not with beatings, but kisses….The father redeemed the sins of the his son by his kiss, and covered them by his embrace, in order not to expose the crimes or humiliate the son (the father shielded the son from hate-filled accusations). The father so healed the son’s wounds as not to leave a scar or blemish upon him. ‘Blessed are they,’ Scripture says, ‘whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.”

When the repentant son began his rehearsed apology in verse 21 (“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son”), the father, already knowing the brokenness of his son, seemingly ignores his son’s apology and orders his staff, “Quick!…Let’s celebrate!”

The legalist (portrayed in the older brother in Jesus’ story) demands justice in the story.  And, rightly so. We can’t expect to simply waltz back into our father’s presence hoping to get away with this level of rebellion.  Someone has to pay for the younger son’s sin! 

Someone did.  Twenty centuries ago.  On a hillside just outside of Jerusalem.  His name is Jesus Christ.

Are you weighed down with guilt?  Has the enemy convinced you you’re worthless?  Jesus is saying to you:  “Are you tired? Worn out?… Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me… Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” 

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick