The Bible: Our True North

In this social media/personal opinion driven culture we are in desperate need of truth. (Especially during election years.)

“What is truth?”, Pilate asked Jesus.

The great theologian, Foghorn Leghorn, used to say, “It’s more confusing than a termite in a yo-yo – which way is up?”

Satan is a smooth operator. He usually includes a nugget of truth in his lies. But, a half truth is still a whole lie.

Falling for slick rhetoric is nothing new.

Paul warned the Ephesian believers to study the scriptures so they could safely discern what was true from what wasn’t. As a result, he said,…

“We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.” (4:14)

Don’t be deceived or beguiled into believing what someone espouses just because it sounds convincing. Weigh everything against scripture.

What is truth? The Bible tells us…

“…the truth is in Jesus.” (Eph. 4:21)

“Your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

“The sum of your word is truth.” (Ps. 119:160)

“I am the…Truth.” (Jesus Christ: John 14:6)

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

The God Who Hurts Us

“Yet is was the Lord’s will to crush [his Son] and cause him to suffer…” (Isaiah 53:10)

I’ve studied the book of Job (the “o” in “Job” is long as in “stove”) numerous times. But, until recently, I haven’t had the courage to read it devotionally (daily readings) since 2013 when my 19 year old son, Jordan, took his own life.

Of all 66 books that comprise the Bible, no book is more perplexing and disturbing as Job when considering the age old mystery, “Why do seemingly good people suffer?”

I have screamed at the heavens standing next to my son’s grave.

Job stood next to ten graves.

It was after burying all ten of his children Job’s wife told him, “Curse God and die!” She sometimes gets a bad rap. But I have felt her rage and resolution. Consequently, she sounds quite normal to me.

The first two chapters of Job are hard to read. Even though I knew well the story, I still wept as I began daily readings. I can feel Job’s and his wife’s acute pain. What is even harder to accept is this:

Job’s suffering was God’s idea.

It was God who asked Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?”

Of course, Satan was, as he incessantly does, attacking the character and faith of God’s children, accusing God of favoritism and special treatment. “Of course Job loves you – his life is good,” Satan hissed. “But let me have him for just a few minutes and he’ll curse you to your face.”

So God gave Satan permission (Satan can do only what God allows him to do) to hurt Job.

There’s no way I can dive into the deep end of what the Bible says about God and his relationship to human suffering here. It’s the No. 1 argument for atheism. And rightly so.  I have studied the topic at length since my son – who, at 14 years of age, committed his life to global missions – took his own life after suffering from debilitating depression.

Job begged God to let him die (cf. Job 6:8-9). So did I. Which is why I spent 10 days in a Psychiactric Ward.

I get it.

I have no cheap, hollow bumper-sticker cliches for you here.

Despite what some round-the-clock “Smile, Jesus Loves You” people may say, pain is very much a part of the Christian life. You need to search no further than what’s recorded in scripture and secular ancient – and modern – history to know this to be true. (For crying out loud, an entire Old Testament book is titled, “Lamentations.”)

In defense of God’s relationship to human suffering (I am well aware he doesn’t need me to defend him), he pulls no punches where this fallen, corrupt world is concerned.

David wrote, “The righteous person faces many troubles…”

Jesus, himself, on the night before his execution, said, “In this world you will have many trials and sorrows…”

But, don’t stop reading there. The other half of David’s and Jesus’s words are as follows:

“…but the Lord comes to the rescue each time”, and “But take heart – I have overcome the world.” (Psalm 34:19; John 16:33)

God not once answers Job’s deepest question, “Why?”

He hasn’t answered mine either.

Job was rightfully hurt and angry and demanded a face-to-face meeting with God. In chapter 38, God honors that request. And it scares the you-know-what out of Job.

Wanting to put God on trial, God shows up and a plot-twist ensues: Job is the one on trial.

There are explanations for human suffering sprinkled throughout scripture: the testing and strengthening of our faith; God may use pain to get our attention; judgment and natural consequences of sin, etc.

But these explanations don’t make the pain any less painful.

One theologian wrote about the overriding theme of the book of Job,

“When there is no rational or even theological explanations for disaster or suffering, trust God.”

Even as I now type that statement everything within me wants to mock and say with dripping sarcasm, “Sure – I’ll do that.”

But, what alternatives does the world or atheism give me?

None.

What i’ve discovered Christ gives us in our suffering is hope.

We’re told,

“…And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,…” (12:1-2)

Translation: Jesus says to us, “I saw the eternal joy on the other side of my temporary pain. If you’ll let me, I’ll help you do the same.”

Indeed, we do not have a Savior who, from his safe ivory tower in heaven, offers empty cheers, “Come on! It’s not so bad!” Nothing could be further from what is true.  The Bible records:

“[Jesus] was a man of sorrows and pain, acquainted with grief… [therefore] we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses,…” (Isaiah 53:3; Hebrews 4:15)

My son was merely 10 years old when, with tears in his eyes, he walked up to me and said, “Dad, God told me to paint this.”  It hangs in our home today.  Jordan titled it, “When we hurt, God hurts.”

Christ doesn’t “wait for us on the other side of our pain”.  He is with us in our pain – carrying us through it.

Jesus whispers to us in our pain, “I’ve got this.  Trust me.”

I began this post with the startling messianic prophecy written by Isaiah: “It was the Lord’s will to crush [his Son] and cause him to suffer…” (53:10)

The purpose of this post is to simply encourage those who are suffering.

I can’t offer satisfying reasons or answers to human suffering.  But, I can offer you hope that it will not always be this way.

The maddening pain of human suffering, for me, is only resolved by the truth given me in scripture:

Because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb “weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

No other worldview offers me that hope.

Paul, who suffered greatly, encourages his readers:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)

According to God: I’ll see my son again; he’s more alive than he’s ever been; and he is in the presence of the risen Christ, forever free of debilitating depression.

And, because of what Christ gave twenty centuries ago on a cross just outside of Jerusalem – a reunion is coming.

Oh to hold my son in my arms once again – completely free from my own often crushing depression. To quote the popular song, “I can only imagine.”

Because of the suffering – and triumph – of Christ, I choose to stand with Job and say,

“The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (1:21)

Satan again loses his haughty, myopic bet with God.

I love you, my precious son.

For Jordan Watts.

#ForNarnia.

For Christ.

Love and hope to all who are suffering, Nick  (see Side Note immediately below)

(Side note: beginning with chapter 4, Job’s “friends” spend over 30 chapters attempting to explain Job’s suffering based on their mere human logic, intellect and reason. In the final chapter of the book God basically calls them all idiots, indicting them: “You have not spoken the truth about me.” Job’s prayer for them is the only thing that kept them from God’s severe judgment. Our well-meaning “friends”, feeling they must offer an explanation when suffering takes place, can easily fall into the same category as Job’s friends.)

Every Christian is a Theologian

“Theology” simply means “the study of God.”

That means all believers are theologians – or, at least, should be.  To be clear – and fair – this does not mean that everyone is an academic or scholar i.e. someone who has made a career out of studying the Bible.  But, nonetheless, we’re all biblically commanded to be theologians: a person who studies the Word of God.

I ran across a wonderful article on this topic this past week.  You can access the article here.

From the article:

“Laypeople have no biblical warrant (argument) to leave the duty of doctrine (a set of beliefs) up to pastors and professors alone.”

Besides, pastors being human and flawed, it is completely possible for a Bible teacher to actually misinterpret something and get it flat wrong.    Paul would end up writing a third of the New Testament.  But that hadn’t happened yet.  And the Bereans took no chances:

“…they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Finally, it’s simply what we’re commanded to do:

Study and do your best to present yourself to God…accurately handling and skillfully teaching the word of truth.”

By the way, it’s vital for us all to remember that Paul’s instruction to Timothy above was a command, not a suggestion. 🙂

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Hell Under Fire

In their 2004 book, Hell Under Fire, general editors, Christopher Moran and Robert Peterson write,

A business was opening a new store, and a friend of the owner sent flowers for the occasion. The flowers arrived at the new business site, and the owner read the card, inscribed “Rest in Peace.” The angry owner called the florist to complain. After he told the florist of the obvious mistake and how angry he was, the florist said, “Sir, I’m really sorry for the mistake, but rather than getting angry, you should imagine this: Somewhere there is a funeral taking place today, and they have flowers with a note that reads, “Congratulations on your new location.”

They then add,

Hell is under fire. In one sense that is nothing new. It has been the case ever since the Enlightenment, but the past fifty years have seen a noteworthy turn of affairs. Attacks on the historic doctrine of hell that used to come from without the church are now coming from within.

If we believe the message sent by the contemporary media, the “new location” of everyone who dies is heaven. At first glance, popular polls seem to disagree with that conclusion, for they reveal that a large majority of Americans believe in the existence of hell. However, the same polls show that almost no one thinks that he or she is going there. Everyone hopes for heaven.

Most remember how celebrity preacher, Joel Osteen, side-stepped Larry King’s straight-forward question:  “What if you’re Jew or Muslim and you don’t accept Christ at all?”  (Begin watching at 1:16)

Like Osteen, I do not enjoy talking about what the Bible calls hell.  I wish it wasn’t in there.

But it is.

Further, it’s not my call to address a clear teaching of the Bible based on how I feel about it.  To quote Luther – “I am bound by the Scriptures…and my conscience is captive to the Word of God.”

Finally, and most importantly, there’s the testimony and example of Jesus, himself, who not only talked about hell,  he talked about it a lot.  (cf. Matthew  23:33; 25:41; Mark 9:48; Luke 12:5)  Search the gospels and you’ll discover Christ talked about hell more often than heavenno doubt as a dire warning to those who would reject him.

If Jesus fails to get our attention in the gospels, the last book of the Bible, Revelation, clearly describes the final destination of those who choose to reject Christ as the lake of fire.

Based on the clear testimony of scripture itself, even a cursory reading of the New Testament presents the existence of hell as fact in crystal clear fashion.

There is simply no getting around it.

Certainly, one may try to explain it away or ignore it.  But choosing to twist a clear, biblical doctrine into something that better suits our mere human logic, reason and intellect doesn’t remove  or lessen what Jesus says about it.

Recently, I ran across an article written as a warning to church leaders titled, Question the doctrine of hell at your peril. It could tear your church apart.

The author, Sam Hailes, cites the demise of celebrity pastors, Carlton Pearson, Steve Chalke and Rob Bell, as well as alleged recent statements by the Pope.  He rightly asserts,

For many Christians, questioning the existence (or nature) of hell is tantamount to denying the gospel. “If everyone goes to heaven, then what was the point of Jesus dying on the cross?”

I will confess to you: there are things in the Bible I do not understand and, as such, I wish were not in there.  But, I’m not God.  My logic is fallen and corrupt while he is perfect, holy and righteous.

Hailes also does a wonderful job of helping the reader to have compassion on, and pray for, those who would attempt to rewrite scripture – including church leaders.  No one in their right mind loves the biblical doctrine of hell.  Nonetheless, as Hailes bluntly writes,

Some things are true whether we like them or not.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

A Legacy of Biblical Defense & Faith

Josh McDowell (left) is a former atheist and has been teaching the Biblical faith to teens and adults for decades.  His son, Sean, has followed in his father’s footsteps and is, himself, a gifted theologian and defender of the Christian faith. Sean presently serves on the faculty of Biola University in southern California.

Below are linked two recent, brief articles by both men on why Christianity is an intelligent, reasonable faith.

Josh, as usual, writes in an extremely intelligent, reasonable and articulate fashion – as he does here in this FOX News article. Read the article here.

Sean, equally intelligent and eloquent, offers evidence of the overwhelming reliability of the New Testament here.

May the words of these men encourage and strengthen you in your Christian faith.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

The Bible: Gospel, Guide or Garbage?

Linked for you here is a dialogue between New Testament scholar and theologian, NT Wright, and Harvard philosopher, Sean Kelly, as they discuss one of history’s most influential books – the Bible.

It’s an audio link only (no video) and is over an hour in length.  Whether you listen in “small bites” or “swallow the entire dialogue whole”, please consider listening and thinking deeply about what is said.

I have in my library Wright’s 700 page classic, The Resurrection of the Son of God. It is heady, but a rewarding read.

The audio clip is just below the photo at the top of the linked page.

You can access the link here.

Enjoy, nick

Teaching Christians to be Thinkers, and Thinkers to be Christians

The title of this blog has been championed by HBU professor, Dr. Jeremiah Johnston. It’s something I believe in deeply.

Presently, I am in the process of assuming the leadership of the Biblical Learning & Literacy ministry of our church, the above axiom will be heavily employed as we create responsible and devoted “young theologians” who, as Paul commanded, learn how to “rightly handle the word of God.”

The biblical illiteracy of North American church culture is at an alarming and embarrassing level. However,…

It’s never too late to read, learn how to understand, and apply your Bible.   The Bible is a virtual treasure trove of truth, wisdom and hope.

It’s God’s love letter to mankind.

Further, someone wisely once said, “The easiest lessons to learn are from the mistakes of others.” The Bible is full of “failures.” Significantly, “failures” are who God chose to use – and that should make people like me feel pretty darn good. 🙂  So, the Bible gives us a storehouse of life-lessons from which to learn.

There’s a reason skeptics/atheists describe Christianity as a backwoods, uneducated mode of thinking: most believers don’t know how to think critically about hard biblical questions and, in turn, can’t dialogue intelligently where Christianity is concerned.

Michael Sherrard offers this stinging paragraph in his editorial, “How the Church’s Anti-Intellectualism Will Be Her Jailer“:

“The pursuit of the knowledge of God is replaced in many with a pursuit of something that merely works. And by works, often what is pursued is a version of Christianity that brings forth the American dream rather than the Kingdom of God.

This prosperity and selfish attitude has caused a slumber, a slumber in the proverbial classroom, and the church is now awakening to an exam for which it is not prepared.

There was a time in American history…when clergy were thought to have answers. And it was not just because people didn’t know any better back then. It was because many men and women of faith were intellectuals.

They knew their bible and their history. They could speak about theology and [science].

Now many believers are ill equipped to speak about anything that does not have a mascot…

And in that regard, society should place us at the kids table.”

Ouch.

Former atheist, Lee Strobel, was the legal editor for the Chicago Tribune and a Yale Law School grad.  Clearly, he’s no intellectual slouch.  The first time I heard him speak in person he said quite boldly and confidently, “Christianity is an intelligent faith.

Jesus commanded his followers to “love the Lord your God with all of your….mind.”

Paul told the Thessalonian believers to “test everything,” to see if it’s true.

Solomon wrote, “Search for [truth and wisdom] like a prospector panning for gold, like an adventurer on a treasure hunt, Believe me, before you know it…you’ll have come upon the Knowledge of God.”

Join me – and let’s “pan for gold” together,

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick