Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Time for Some Real “Real Talk,” a Reply to Marty Sampson of Hillsong

“Time for some real talk . . .”. That’s how Marty Sampson’s widely discussed Instagram post began (you may read Marty’s post at the bottom of this page). This past weekend Marty Sampson, who was a Christian musician and songwriter who wrote songs for Hillsong and others, announced on Instragram that he was losing his Christian faith and was happy about it. In terms of being honest and open, perhaps his post was “real talk.” But in terms of aligning with ultimate reality and truth, his post was mostly fake real talk.

If I knew Marty personally, my main concern would likely be to try to listen to him and then help renew his faith in Jesus, if possible. But I don’t know Marty, and so that’s not my concern. My concern is that in the process of losing his own faith, he chose to use some of his popularity and success as a Christian songwriter to sow doubt about God into other hearts and lead others away from Christ. Further, the types of issues he raises are issues which many Christians (and non-Christians, too) struggle with. So, my concern here is to respond to some of what he wrote with some real “real talk.”

Marty wrote:  “I am so happy now, so at peace with the world.”

Dear Christian, it’s not surprising that someone who makes peace with this dark world we live in might feel some (temporary, shallow) happiness. Afterall, the world will no longer hate you if you do that. Remember the words of Christ,

"If the world hates you, understand that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you.” - Jesus (John 15:18-19 CSB17)

It might feel nice to be at peace with the world, but making peace with the darkness leads to becoming an enemy of God. You can’t have peace with both this present evil world and with the holy God who will last forever after this world is gone. James speaks to this quite clearly:

You adulterous people! Don't you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the friend of the world becomes the enemy of God. (James 4:4 CSB17)

By His grace, I’m sticking with God!

Marty wrote:  “how many preachers fall? Many.”

God does not ask us to put our faith in people, not even in Christian leaders. God asks us to put our faith in Jesus. In his post, Marty talks about other Christians, but he does not even mention Jesus. When Christians we look up to fall, may we remember these words written by Paul:

This saying is trustworthy: For if we died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.
(2 Tim. 2:11-13 CSB17)

What then? If some were unfaithful, will their unfaithfulness nullify God's faithfulness?
Absolutely not! Let God be true, even though everyone is a liar, as it is written: That you may be justified in your words and triumph when you judge.
(Romans 3:3-4 CSB17)

So, the fact that many pastors fall is neither surprising nor a reason to doubt God. But there is something else to consider here. Most of the pastors and Christian leaders I know do remain faithful. And many do so despite much opposition and difficulties of many kinds. Overall, I find that the faithfulness of mature Christians and Christian leaders is a source of encouragement and strength in my walk with the Lord.

Marty wrote: “How many miracles happen? Not many.”

This is the strangest part of what Marty wrote. How many miracles would we expect if God was not real? Zero. And yet, while miracles are not as abundant as many would like, they do still occur. I have experienced several things which, even if experienced by a skeptic, are very hard to explain aside from the supernatural. If you want to read about them, I’ve shared about them here. And I’m certainly not the only one. For example, around the world there are many reports of Muslims coming to faith in Christ in part because of dreams they’ve had of Jesus. Many of these Muslims face grave dangers and sufferings of many kinds as a result of choosing to follow Christ.

For myself, and for many others, far from being a reason to doubt Christianity, supernatural signs  confirmed and strengthen our faith in God. But even if God does not give a person any new miracles, the miracles in God’s Word should be enough to lead us to faith in Christ.

Marty wrote:  “Why is the Bible full of contradictions?”

I don’t believe the Bible has any actual contradictions. There are reasonable explanations for each alleged contradiction. But even if one thinks that some of the problem passages contain actual contradictions, the issues involved in these contradictions are minor details and involve secondary issues. What impresses me is the wonderful, deep harmony the Bible shows on all the major points of Christian doctrine. There is no passage that contradicts these truths and many that confirm them:

* God created everything.
* People have sinned against God and as a result deserve death, not eternal life.
* God sent His Son, Jesus, to save us from our sins.
* Jesus did many miracles and taught God’s truth.
* Jesus died for our sins.
* Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to many people after His resurrection.
* Faith in Jesus is the only way God’s offers for people to be saved.
* Jesus is coming back.
* God will raise everyone back to life.
* Those who are in Christ will live forever with Him in a world without pain, suffering, or sin.
* All others will perish.

Marty wrote:  “How can God be love yet send 4 billion people to a place, all coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it.”

Marty is far from the first person to list hell as part of there reason for rejecting Christianity (I’ve written about this here). It is nearly certain that what bothers Marty is not the idea of hell in general, but more specifically the traditional teaching that God will torment the unsaved in hell forever. I can see why the doctrine of eternal torment disturbs many people, but Marty is wrong to say that no one is talking about it. Did he care so little about his relationship with Jesus that he didn’t even take time to use a simple tool like Google to seek answers to some of the things that were bothering him? If he had, he would have found that lots of Christians are talking about the problem of hell (and all the other problems he mentions). I’m part of a group called Rethinking Hell (you can join our Facebook group here, and so can Marty). The leaders of our group are evangelical Christians who have studied in depth all that the Bible says about the final fate of the unrighteous. We have become convinced that the Bible never did teach eternal torment. Instead it teaches that God will destroy the bodies and souls of unbelievers in hell (Matthew 10:28), that they will not live forever but will perish (John 3:16), and that they will be burned to ashes (2 Peter 2:6). I’ve written blog posts and produced videos on this important topic myself. You can find a list of resource on the nature of hell here.

Marty wrote:  “Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion.”

Wow. Just the opposite is true. Especially in the last sixty years or so science has been providing more and more evidence that there must be a very great, super-intelligent, ancient Creator who established the very laws of physics, caused the universe to begin, and is responsible for life and all its beauty and diversity. I have stacks of books on this topic, and there are many excellent videos online. I’ve always been interested in science (before being called into full time ministry, I served as an officer in the engineering department of nuclear submarines for five years) and I’ve written some on this myself. Here are my own blog posts on this, and some of these posts contain links to much more material:

How the Sun Glorifies the Sun

Excited both as a Science Geek and a God Worshiper (discusses how the smallest cells possible give BIG evidence for God)

Marty wrote:  “Christianity just seems to me like another religion”

That’s just crazy. I’m not an expert on all other religions, but I happen to know quite a bit about the world’s second largest religion, Islam. It’s not merely that I’ve read the Quran, some of the Hadith, and books on Islam. I lived with my family in a Muslim majority nation for fourteen years. I had, and still have, many close friends who are Muslims. I spent many, many hours discussing religion with them. I love and respect my Muslim friends, but Islam is nothing like Christianity. And neither is any other religion.

Again, it is telling that Marty did not mention Jesus in his post. Jesus is what makes Christianity different and better. No other religion has a Savior like Him! And no other religion has records of multiple reliable eyewitnesses seeing their Savior rise from the dead. And no other religion has had the same positive influence wherever it has spread and been widely accepted.

Marty’s statement is quite frankly an insult to the many Muslims (and others) who have suffered in many ways as a result of becoming followers of Jesus. I’ve known some of these people (I share some stories here and here). These courageous Christians would not have left the teachings of Islam and become followers of Jesus if Christianity was like other religions. It’s time to get really real.

Finally, Marty wrote:  “Let the rain fall, the sun will come up tomorrow.”

Yes, the sun will come up tomorrow because God designed it that way. But there is no guarantee for Marty or me or you that the sun will come up for us tomorrow. We don’t know what day will be our last. And then we face God’s judgment. These issues are far too serious to be treated the way Marty has treated them. My problem with Marty’s post was not that it was too “real,” but that it was not nearly real enough. There are good answers, well-researched answers, that God has provided through Christians to all of Marty’s concerns. If he took time to seek these answers, that it is not at all evident through what he wrote. I pray that God will help Marty and others to find and hold on to His truth, the only real truth.

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

The following is the text of Marty’s Instagram message.

Time for some real talk… I’m genuinely losing my faith.. and it doesn’t bother me… like, what bothers me now is nothing… I am so happy now, so at peace with the world.. it’s crazy / this is a soapbox moment so here I go xx how many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it. How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send 4 billion people to a place, all coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgemental people on the planet – they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people… but it’s not for me. I am not in any more. I want genuine truth. Not the “I just believe it” kind of truth. Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion. Lots of things help people change their lives, not just one version of God. Got so much more to say, but for me, I keeping it real. Unfollow if you want, I’ve never been about living my life for others. All I know is what’s true to me right now, and Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point… I could go on, but I won’t. Love and forgive absolutely. Be kind absolutely. Be generous and do good to others absolutely. Some things are good no matter what you believe. Let the rain fall, the sun will come up tomorrow.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Thoughts and Prayers Related to Iran

This afternoon I read with concern the news that Iran has seized a British operated tanker in the Straight of Hormuz. This is the latest in a continuing series of provocative and evil actions taken by Iran. Just in the last couple of months they have been bombing oil tankers, capturing other tankers, shooting down a US drone over international waters, threatening other ships, and most ominously of all openly declaring that they are exceeding previous limits on both the amount and level of uranium enrichment. In the meantime, they continue to support Hezbollah, a large, radical, extremist Islamic organization and also support the evil regime in Syria.

Will all of this lead to a military response from the US and our allies? If so, will it be a limited military strike, or will it expand into a war? Hezbollah is already talking about attacking Israel from Lebanon and Syria if Iran is attacked. Of course, talking about attacking Israel and doing it are two different things. Still, the possibility of a regional war is a real danger.

There are risks if the US and other nations don’t take action against Iran. There are risks if we do. There are no easy or safe answers. I don’t know what the best course is, but I know how to pray. I also know that in addition to all these political, military, and economic issues that there are much deeper and more important things going on spiritually.

It has been widely reported for quite a few years now that many Iranians have been turning to Christ (see this article as an example of many reports on this good news). This is despite the fact that doing so risks severe persecution. It may be that part of the reason for the advance of the gospel is that many are repulsed by the extremist version of Islam that dominates Iran’s government. God can bring good out of evil.

I don’t know all the answers. I don’t even know all the questions. But I know how to pray to the One who does know and who has power to work for good. Here is my prayer. Please consider actually praying this prayer, not just reading it. Modify it as you feel led.

A Prayer Concerning Iran

Heavenly Father, You see all that is happening related to Iran.

We ask that Your Kingdom will come and Your will be done in that part of the earth called Iran and the surrounding waters and nations.

Lord, we ask You to give government leaders and their military advisors in the US, Britain, and other affected nations all the wisdom, patience, courage, strength, and understanding they need. Help them to make good and right decisions.

Heavenly Father, if military action is called for, we ask that it will be successful with as few casualties as possible on all sides. If it is right for the US and other nations to take military action, I ask that you will give us swift victory that will result in greater peace and good in the long term. If military action is not best, please don’t allow our leaders to be provoked into it. You know what is best, Lord.

Lord, we know there is much more at stake than oil, freedom of navigation, and even the threat of Iran gaining nuclear weapons. Heavenly Father, we pray that you will use all that is happening for the advance of Your gospel and for the good of those who love You.

We know You love the 82 million people of Iran. Please work powerfully so that more and more of them turn to Jesus Christ. And please especially be with those Christians there who are facing persecution or living with the constant threat and danger of persecution. Protect them from evil.

In all that happens, we pray that ultimately You will be glorified.

In Jesus Name, Amen.

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

VBS Is a Great Way to Follow Instructions from Moses

These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart.
Repeat them to your children.
Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road,
 when you lie down and when you get up.
Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead.
Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your city gates.
(Deuteronomy 6:6-9 CSB17)

We need God’s Word in our hearts. When the truth of God is worked down into our hearts it changes how we think, how we act, what we say, where we go, and everything else about us. God’s word in our hearts will protect us from temptations and produce in us the wonderful fruits of the Spirit.

Getting God’s Word into human hearts doesn’t happen automatically or quickly. Having a Bible sitting on a shelf in your house won’t do it. God gave us instructions through Moses for how to get His Word into human hearts. He specifically tells us to start the process with our children.

One of the main methods God gives us to get His truth, His instructions, and His promises down into our hearts is very simple: saturate our lives with His Word. Talk about the Bible all the time. Have Bible verses written all over the place.

I thank God that VBS is a great example of putting this important principle into action. In VBS we teach God’s Word to children. We project His Word onto screens. We sing songs based on His Word. We lead the children in memorizing parts of His Word. During VBS, God’s Word is getting into the hearts of children (and adults, too!).

I thank God for the children’s programs, including VBS, that I was a part of as a child. God has used the Bible truths I learned there to shape my entire life. Of course, getting keeping God’s Word in our hearts is a lifelong process, and as adults we are called to continually meditate on God’s Word (Psalm 1:2). In my case, that lifelong process was given a big boost by VBS and the children’s programs at the church I grew up in. The truths I learned as a child in VBS helped me through my teen years and college, through five years in the Navy on Submarines, through Bible Seminary, through fourteen years of serving the Lord in Indonesia, and for the last 9 years of pastoral ministry. We don’t know where the Lord will lead the children in our VBS. But wherever He leads them, and whatever challenges they face, they will be better equipped to face them with God’s word in their hearts.

May God bless all who serve in VBS! And May God bless our children and transform their lives through His beautiful Word!

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

Another blog post about VBS:

Other Blog Posts about Getting God’s Word into our Hearts