In the Midst of Peril

Today is not an easy day for me, which I’m sure many can relate to. In the midst of difficulties questioning God’s goodness is not reserved to the Atheist and Agnostic. Every Christian I know, including myself, has at one point or another faced pain. And in the pain we’ve wondered where God disappeared to. If he is good and just, why does he allow certain things to happen? If he loves us, why doesn’t he step in and stop the pain? It’s a very personal question that touches us all. As an apologist, I wrestle with this not only intellectually, but spiritually and emotionally.

In this post I don’t want to give you all the intellectual reasons on why you can trust that God is good (though I will recommend you listen to Lee Strobel’s talk on why God allows suffering here.) Instead, I want to share with you a thought close to my heart and a prayer.

One of my favorite verses is found in John’s Gospel. On the night Jesus was betrayed, a few short hours before he went to the cross, he looked at his disciples and said something very profound. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” This is a big promise from a man about to die. Yet it is a promise he can make and keep because he did not stay dead. He is alive. He has defeated, is defeating, and will ultimately defeat all that is wrong and evil; not only the evil out there, but the evil within me. He is my reason for hope and trust in the goodness of God, because he is God, the Word made flesh.

The prayer I want to share with you comes from a book called Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. It’s not nearly as archaic and boring as the title sounds. It’s an amazing little book filled with prayers that beautifully show what it looks like to know God and to communicate honestly with him. Wherever you are in questioning God’s goodness, I hope it speaks to you as it has me.

Peril

Sovereign Commander of the Universe,

I am sadly harassed by doubts, fears, unbelief,

In a felt spiritual darkness.

My heart is full of evil surmisings and disquietude,

And I cannot act faith at all.

My heavenly Pilot has disappeared,

And I have lost my hold on the Rock of Ages;

I sink in deep mire beneath storms and waves,

In horror and distress unutterable.

Help me, O Lord,

To throw myself absolutely and wholly on thee,

For better, for worse, without comfort,

And all but hopeless.

Give me peace of soul, confidence, enlargement of mind,

Morning joy that comes after night heaviness;

Water my soul richly with divine blessings;

Grant that I may welcome thy humbling in private

So that I might enjoy thee in public;

Give me a mountain top as high as the valley is low.

Thy grace can melt the worst sinner, and I am

As vile as he;

Yet thou hast made me a monument of mercy,

A trophy of redeeming power;

In my distress let me not forget this.

All-wise God,

Thy never-failing providence orders every event,

Sweetens every fear,

Reveals evil’s presence lurking in seeming good,

Brings real good out of seeming evil,

Makes unsatisfactory what I set my heart upon,

To show me what a short-sighted creature I am,

And to teach me to live by faith upon thy blessed self.

Out of my sorrow and night

Give me the name Naphtali –

‘satisfied with favor’ –

Help me to love thee as thy child,

And to walk worthy of my heavenly pedigree.

Mourning with Aurora, Colorado

This morning I woke up with the rest of the country to learn about the horror of the theatre shooting massacre in Aurora, Colorado. My heart breaks for the family and friends who have been devastated by the loss of loved ones. It’s in these moments of deep anguish and evil that I’m at a loss for words. There are no words that can comfort. Nothing I say or write can diminish the hurt or remove the intense emotions and questions that come in the wake of such tragedy.

I, like many, want to step in and help. I want to offer hope and strength. Yet I struggle to know how to do this knowing that in times like this help often feels trite and hope meaningless. What can I do? What can we do?

I remember a time a few years ago when I was studying the difficult topic of the problem of evil in Oxford. The day we happened to begin dealing with this subject was also the day that evil and injustice hit very close to home. It overwhelmed me to the point of breaking.  I burst in to tears in the middle of the lecture, ran out, and spent the next hour locked in the bathroom sobbing.  In my pain I had so many questions with unsatisfactory answers.

When the lecture ended, my tutor and a close friend came and found me. They sat with me and let me know it was ok to be broken. They didn’t try to fix me or give me answers to take away the pain. They simply loved me. They sat with me in silence, letting me talk when I was ready. They cried and prayed with me, sharing in my grief. And it was in that moment that God came near. He had been there all along, but through these two friends he clearly showed himself to me. He loved me through them. When life’s pain caused me to question the goodness of God, he demonstrated his love for me in the comfort they offered by their presence. They were a tangible demonstration that the Man of Sorrows had not abandoned me as I walked through the valley of the shadow of death. Through them God reminded me that healing is possible through Jesus, the one who was broken so that I could be made whole.

Today and in the days ahead the people of Aurora will need tangible demonstrations that hope is not meaningless. They will need us to cling to hope for them. Whether we know them or not, let us sit with them, cry with them, pray for them, and allow God’s love to pour out through us. The hurt and pain will not go away. Yet Jesus, who is acquainted with grief, offers strength and hope in the midst of sorrow. And for those who trust in him, he promises that one day he will wipe away every tear and replace every sorrow with joy. He sits with the hurting in Aurora. He weeps with them, just as we do.

In Tebow we Trust

A recent article by NBC Sports reported that the New York Jets are expecting crowds of church groups  to show up during their training camp to watch Tim Tebow practice.  Like many in this country I am a Tebow fan. I’ve followed his career since his days at Florida. I even follow him on Twitter. Even if you’re not a football fan (which I am) it is almost impossible NOT to follow him in some way.  He has the tendency to pop up everywhere. There is a constant media frenzy around him. People either love him or hate him for his outspoken beliefs and choice to talk about Christ as often as he can. 

Christians and non-Christians alike have debated his outspoken behavior and have weighed in on every aspect of how he lives. To be honest, it baffles me. He’s not the first Christian athlete to bow in prayer during games, be vocal about his faith, or seek to live with integrity in what’s often an immoral environment. While I commend him for doing these things and pray that his love for Christ will keep him grounded in his fame, all of this hype that surrounds him has caused me to start asking some questions about American Christian culture.

Why are we obsessed with celebrities?

We live in a culture obsessed with celebrities. We idolize them, want to meet them, look like them, and be like them. We read, blog, and tweet about their lives, dissecting their successes and failures. The Christian culture is not immune to this. Whether it’s Tebow or any number of well-known “celebrity” believers, we tend to put them on a pedestal, treating them as a super-Christian.  It is good and right to have Christian role models for encouragement in our journey with the Lord. But what is it that makes us look to and follow someone whom the media has put in the spotlight and not the family member, friend, or neighbor who daily invests in our life and (hopefully) points our attention to Christ? It’s impossible not to admire Tebow for his confident faith, but do we also admire the confident faith of the janitor, stay-at-home mom, grocery store clerk, or mediocre student athlete?

Who are we worshipping?

Worship is part of every human experience. We all worship someone, whether it’s our favorite actor, singer, athlete, God, or ourselves. As Christians, we know and believe that we are to worship the Lord and serve him alone. When we follow and sing the praises of our favorite Christian celebrity, whether it’s Tebow or someone else, we need to ask ourselves who we are elevating, the person or God whose grace we see in their life. I can’t help but think of the words of the Apostle Paul in one of his letters to the church at Corinth.

 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 1 Corinthians 3:4-7

The believers in Corinth were wrongfully focusing on Paul and Apollos and not the One these two men were pointing to. I know I fall into this trap all the time, worshipping the created and not the Creator. Is this what we are doing today with men and women who, like Tebow, are Christians in the spotlight?

What happens when our celebrities fail us?

Today we love Tebow, flocking to his games, following his life, and wearing his jersey number. But where will we be if he fails? What happens if he falls off of the pedestal we’ve place him on? Will we still love him, support him, and pray for him? If he messes up will we offer him grace or will we move on to the next Christian celebrity, hoping they won’t let us down? Have we placed unrealistic expectations on him, holding him to a standard of perfection that no Christian can live up to this side of heaven? We rightfully want him to do well and succeed, but the world wants him to fail. If he does and the world rejoices, will we stand by him?

Refocusing

Tebow is a good role model and we can learn a great deal from his faithfulness to Christ, but we were never meant to focus on him. We are to focus on the God who is the founder and perfecter of his faith and ours. If we flock to his games, let us do so to encourage him in his walk with the Lord. Let’s cheer him on, not just with our voices, but with our prayers, asking God to create in him a clean heart in a very unclean culture. When he and other Christian celebrities succeed we should praise God for his goodness, grace, and that he uses them for his glory. And if they fail, we need to support them because God’s same goodness and grace is at work, transforming their lives and ours.