A Biblical, not Cultural, Worldview

We all need a worldview affected by our understanding of Scripture more than it is affected by how we were raised or the culture in which we currently live. Our culture affects us in profound ways, and for many of us, learning to be Scripture-led, not culture-led, is like learning to write with your left hand after decades of writing with your right. It takes focused thought and intentional steps to break old habits of thinking and put on the new. We have to discipline our mind to take over our hand, because our hand instinctively goes toward what it has always known, what is comfortable, what is natural.

I was raised in independent, fundamentalist, baptist churches. These churches raised me to believe the Bible was the absolute, final authority in my life. For this, I will always be grateful. Those churches taught me to study the Bible and be faithful to church. Again, I will always be grateful for these spiritual disciplines. But several also exposed me to an ugly truth. Not everyone who claims the Bible as their final authority is actually obeying Scripture as their final authority. From Grace Baptist Church in Orangeburg, SC, to Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA, I have learned the hard way that some claiming the loudest the Bible as their final authority can also manipulate the Bible in order to manipulate others. Men controlled by their culture more than their Creator make all of the good guys in Scripture look like them and all of the bad guys look like their cultural opponent. They twist Scripture with the common theme of excoriating their enemy while excusing the evil of their heroes. This twisted refrain shows up again and again, generation by generation. It has forced me to go back to ground zero to think through what the Bible does and does not say about religious culture around me as well as my own religious comfort zone. Where does the Bible tell me to eat with my left hand when my fundamentalist culture trained me to use my right?

I have compiled some Bible principles that have helped me form my own worldview, one I believe is more Bible-centered than culture-centered. Yet, I recognize too that I am capable of manipulation. If you don’t feel constrained by these principles, that is between you and the Holy Spirit. My intent is to explain the principles that influence me, not pressure you to the same. But maybe something here is helpful for others. If that is the case, then praise God.

Here are some Bible principles that have shaped my worldview.

  • I believe Scripture teaches that Jesus is returning to an overcoming Church. His kingdom, Jesus says, is like leaven that leavens the whole lump of bread. It WILL come. There is no stopping it. I believe that Matthew 24 was fulfilled at the destruction of the Temple and Jewish diaspora around AD 70. RC Sproul’s Last Days According to Jesus is a helpful read on this subject. I await Jesus’s return as Paul discusses in his epistles, but I do not hold to a Left Behind understanding of the end times. That view is a relatively modern view of the end times, made popular by Scofield and Darby in the last 150 years of church history. These beliefs free me from worry about a vaccine being infected with a secret tracking agent and other interesting theories that have the government increasingly marginalizing Christians. I don’t believe Covid masks are any more invasive than asking folks to wear shirt and shoes into a restaurant or underwear in public. My lack of fear over Covid restrictions and government control is related to my convictions on the end times.
  • I don’t believe my opponent is my enemy. I have a singular enemy, Satan himself. Paul says our opponents are captive to our real enemy, Satan. This gives me hope for my enemy. I remember that it is the kindness of God that draws us to repentance. I believe this same kindness will be the thing that draws my opponents to Christ as it was for me.

2 Tim 2:24-26  The Lord’s servant must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. Then they may come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

  • The Bible has super strong commands around loving our neighbor as ourselves and is intent we understand that our neighbor is anyone in our proximity, not just people we know and like. Furthermore, the Bible explicitly states that this love is for our opponents. It’s for folks who make us mad, folks with whom we disagree politically. The Bible explicitly describes this love. It is patient and kind. It believes the best and gives the benefit of the doubt.

Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

I Cor 13 4 Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, 5 is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. 6 Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

  • I personally try to discipline myself away from conspiracy theories since the Bible explicitly states that we need two or three first person witnesses to establish an accusation.

Deut. 19:15 “One witness cannot establish any iniquity or sin against a person, whatever that person has done. A fact must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

  • While all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, Scripture is also careful to warn us against a particular kind of bad person—the fool, the scoffer, the mocker—whom destruction follows like Pig Pen’s cloud of dirt in the Peanut’s comic strip. In the Hebrew, mocker means one who boasts, scorns, speaks arrogantly, mocks, and derides. When I look at leaders, I note who can and who can’t control their tongue and who can and who can’t control their anger. I note who is consistently sarcastic and rude, who speaks with bitterness and malice, who seeks to stir up strife. I won’t touch with a ten foot pole the unrepentant mocker, because there is a certain kind of destruction they bring to all those around them. The wise avoid them.

Proverbs 19:29 Condemnation is ready for scoffers, and beating for the backs of fools.

Proverbs 22:10 Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease.

Proverbs 24:9 The devising of folly is sin, And the scoffer is an abomination to men.

Psalm 1:1 How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers!

  • I firmly believe that the Biblical instructions on Christian language and tone should still constrain me today. Malice, slander, lying—these are nonnegotiable for Christians seeking to be faithful to Scripture. Remove slander from your presence. Put away clamor and bitterness. If it’s coming in your house over your TV, turn it off. Put it away. If it’s coming into your presence through your social media, remove it from your presence.

Ephesians 4 31 All bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice.

James 1:19-20 My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry, for the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.

  • Finally, I do not hold to a Christian/American Nationalism that views American patriotism as synonymous with Christian righteousness. I am quite thankful to be an American and am particularly thankful for the freedom of religion we take for granted here. But I also believe our founding fathers were flawed men with major blind spots and some outright denial of Biblical truth. This is fairly easy to prove since the guy who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights rejected Jesus’s resurrection along with all supernatural events in the gospels. I thank God for the place and times I live, and the religious freedom I enjoy, but I also acknowledge the pervasive depravity of man as a core doctrine of Christianity. Our nation isn’t perfect, and as God sanctifies His church and His kingdom comes in our world, I expect to see changes in our nation that reflect a more just union, respecting the full human dignity of people made in God’s image, born and unborn. Our nation has been subject to the same pervasive depravity which has affected the whole world, which is why the whole world needs a Savior. To deny this seems to deny the most basic tenets of Christianity.

In summary, I believe Jesus returns to an overcoming Church, and even now, His kingdom is advancing just as Jesus said it would. This confidence equips me to engage politics with hope, not with defensive anger. I believe Christians are called to a hopeful posture in our nation and our world, confident that God will do all He said He will do.

I hope something there is helpful to you as you navigate these confusing days for believers in America.

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Childbirth Redeemed by Anna Vroon

How can you put into words what you do not understand yourself?

In Childbirth Redeemed, Anna Vroon asks this poignant question as she shares, years after the fact, the complicated emotions around her difficult pregnancies and child birth experiences. How do you reconcile a deep and fierce mother’s love with fear, anxiety, and disgust at your pregnant belly? How do you bond with your child when you are still experiencing deep trauma after an excruciatingly painful birth process?  How do you live in light of the truth of God’s love and His purposes for you and your children when your emotions do not match any of it?

Anna faces these questions honestly because she experienced them all personally. In recounting her own painful journey, she has given the Church a unique and invaluable resource on pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. She gives women permission to be honest about their own painful stories around pregnancy and childbirth, something, frankly, few resources in the Church do. And she leads those with painful stories to the foot of the cross, where they meet the suffering Savior who is well acquainted with searing pain and grief.

If you have wrestled with pregnancy and childbirth, despaired of giving birth, or struggled to bond with a child—or if you love someone who has—Anna has written a book you need to read. Her story is compelling, and the hope she shares in the good news of Jesus will bless every reader. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Check it out here.

What is Suffering?

A friend asked me recently how I would define suffering. I panicked for a moment. I just published a book on suffering, but I didn’t seem to have a quick definition for it in my head. How had I allowed such an oversight?! But it didn’t take me long to find succinct words. Deep down, I know exactly what suffering is and what is its cause.

All suffering, at its most basic level, is our groaning under the weight of the effects of the Fall.

I have found it deeply helpful to ground my understanding of my own personal suffering in terms of the Fall. God did not intend husbands and wives for divorce. There was no cancer in Eden. And in terms of the communal crises facing us today, there was no disease in Eden. There was no racial bias.

Every ounce of suffering in your world, whether from your sin, another’s sin against you, sickness, death, job loss, relational crisis, or any other cause, stems initially from brokenness that came to our world as a result of the Fall of Man. The good news, in the midst of such widespread groaning, is found singularly in Jesus. No one has groaned under this weight more than Christ. He stood up under that weight for His years on earth, clearly troubled over and over again by what He witnessed. He felt compassion, in other words, suffering with those He saw suffering. And then He suffered FOR all of us on the cross. In our place. Bearing the heaviest weight of the Fall, a weight that would have crushed us.

As you bear up under the effects of the Fall on your own life, and on our world as a whole, know that Jesus understands. He more than understands. He carries this weight WITH you. And He carried the heaviest weight of it all FOR you on the cross in your place.

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Companions in Suffering is now available on Amazon. I also have two free copies of the audio book from Audible. If you are willing to share this post on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, comment below where you shared it, and I will enter you into a drawing for the free audio books. Winners will be announced on Wednesday June 24.

Practical Help for Sufferers

Suffering plays with our body, and suffering plays with our mind. As I was going through the worst parts of my personal struggles, particularly around my cancer diagnosis and subsequent surgeries, my mind was affected every bit as much as my body. Many people find praise and worship music helpful. I’ve particularly enjoyed Latasha Morrison’s music. But I also found unexpected help to settle my mind when a friend in my inner circle sent me a coloring book of Bible verses. I had not colored in decades, but this coloring book became a dear friend in the days of waiting for doctors’ appointments, test results, and surgery dates.

So. Much. Waiting.

Waiting on test results was the worst. I couldn’t plan on the next thing until we knew exactly what we were dealing with medically. So I colored. One picture a day was all I could handle. But one picture a day gave me a tactile thing to do with my hands that stimulated me visually and gave me some minor sense of accomplishment when the picture was finished.

I am not an artist, so the coloring books that worked well for me were fairly simple to color. Others may have different tastes. Now, when a friend receives a troubling medical diagnosis, a coloring book and colors are one thing I like to share (though I make it clear I am not offended if it doesn’t really work for them). And, to go with the release of Companions in Suffering, my publisher made up some coloring cards with verses and quotes that we can give out with it. Here are a few of my favorite coloring books and some reasonably priced sets of pencils.

Inspiring Words Coloring Book

Favorite Bible Verses Coloring Book

Bible Blessings and Promises Coloring Art

Crayola Adult Coloring Pencils 50 count

Crayola Dual-ended Coloring Pencils 36 count

Coloring isn’t for everyone, but if you or a loved one needs help settling your mind, the simplicity of coloring a Bible verse may be helpful. It definitely was for me.

Comfort in Communal Suffering

When I wrote Companions in Suffering: Comfort for Times of Loss and Loneliness, I could not foresee the suffering that would be thrust upon the world just a few months after I turned in the final manuscript. I, and many others, had experienced solitary suffering, the kind of suffering that seems to alienate us from the masses. Now, the world, and the church in the world, are experiencing communal suffering on top of our own individual struggles. We are both together and separate—suffering together in our counties, states, and nations. But our circumstances also force us to isolate, with little face to face conversation and virtually no physical contact. In the United States at least, this type of crisis is unprecedented in our lifetime. We are all in new territory.

But this is not new territory for the Church.

As I was researching the history of hospitals and the Church, I cried as I read the introductory paragraph on Wikipedia’s article on the history of hospitals.

“… no civilian hospital existed in the Roman empire until the Christian period. Towards the end of the 4th century, the ‘second medical revolution’ took place with the founding of the first Christian hospital in the eastern Byzantine Empire by Basil of Caesarea, and within a few decades, such hospitals had become ubiquitous in Byzantine society. The hospital would undergo development and progress throughout Byzantine, medieval European and Islamic societies, until the early modern era where care and healing would transition into a secular affair.”

An article at The Gospel Coalition argues that it was the very type of medical crisis that we are experiencing today that caused the Church to flourish in its early history. Believers stepped into such crises with a totally different mindset than secular authorities of the day. The humane care of the critically ill we see in hospitals today is entirely tied to the Christian ethic of the value of human life. When the rest of the world discarded human life, we believed that human life was valuable because we are made in the image of God. Our historical practice was to step into medical crises, not run away from them. And, now, this Christian influence has leavened the whole lump, in you will. Instead of Christians adopting a secular view of life, secular medical professionals have in many ways adopted a Christian one.

Today, our hospitals and health care workers are the soldiers on the front lines, battling this epidemic. Though many are believers, we have a largely secular infrastructure in our modern health care system treating the critically ill. And, in a weird contrast to pandemics in history, most Christians can best help today by staying away from the sick. My own dad was in the hospital in March with a medical emergency unrelated to Covid-19. I felt strongly that I should be with him, helping him, easing pressure on his nurses. But instead, the hospital insisted I stay home. I could best help by talking to him on the phone, not helping him in person.

Perhaps you are a health care worker (or someone working in another essential industry) called to step up, exposing yourself in care of others as Christians have throughout history. Maybe you have been called on to quarantine at home, carrying a different, though still very stressful, set of weights on yourself. Whatever your current circumstances, remember that you are not alone in history. You are not alone in the Body of Christ. Each of us is carrying new weights on themselves these days. And it is normal for these weights to seem more than you can bear on your own. If Scripture teaches us anything, it is that we do indeed carry weights we can not bear without the community of Christ. But, Jesus’s striking words from John 14:18 are still true today. He has not left us as orphans to navigate these dark times alone.

Who walks with us in these dark days? Who sits with us in our quiet home offices? Who holds up the arms of the believing nurse at the end of her ability to cope? Who holds our hand as we sit on the sofa stunned at announcements on the evening news? Who waits with us and guides us when we are sick with a fever but confused about what to do? The community of Christ that accompanies us first includes Christ Himself. He is the Head of the Body. He is the keystone, the rock strategically placed in an arch to hold all of the others in place. He is the cornerstone, the large foundation stone on which the others can be built, bearing the weight of all the floors built on Him. If ever there was a time for believers to believe in Him, abide in Him, and keep our minds stayed on Him, it is these stays. Apart from Him, we can do nothing. But, in Him, we can do all things—things impossible to do or endure on our own.

“… apart from Me, you can do nothing.” John 15:5 NASB

The community of Christ also includes our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are the hands and feet of Jesus’s Body. We need our living brothers and sisters in Christ. I am thankful that I spend these days of social distancing still in contact with my pastor and church family by way of Sunday services and Zoom Wednesday night bible studies. But the Cloud of Witnesses in Hebrews 11-12 include our dead brothers and sisters in Christ as well – dead on earth, but quite alive in heaven.

When I was going through the hardest, most alienating days of my own individual suffering recounted in Companions in Suffering, I found great comfort in the Cloud of Witnesses that the author of Hebrews speaks about in Hebrews 11 and 12. I found great encouragement from the biographies of modern day saints as well, including Elisabeth Elliott and Amy Carmichael. In these new days of communal suffering around the Covid-19 pandemic, I am rethinking the encouragement these witnesses offer us. Joseph experienced the communal suffering caused by a famine that affected all of Egypt and beyond. He bore the pressure of preparing an entire nation for that famine and distributing supplies throughout the land for years, not months. Moses experienced the communal suffering of an entire nation enslaved by an oppressive pharaoh. But their cries did not fall on deaf ears. God heard their cries as well as Moses’s fears as God called him to lead them.

The author of Hebrews writes of these witnesses to believers experiencing great hardship and persecution. His Hebrew audience had been dispersed, pushed from their homeland because of increasing persecution. They had lost the land they had lived for generations and with it their livelihoods and any sense of stability. But God had not left them as orphans to figure out their unstable future on their own. The author and finisher of their faith was there with them, holding them securely. And the Cloud of Witnesses, who had endured their own communal suffering and national instability, gave testimony to them that God was faithful during societal upheaval as much as individual ones. They testify to us today as well.

13 These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised. But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. 14 Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. 16 But they now desire a better place—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews 11

Medical and financial hardship has fallen on the world. It has fallen on my community. But we have witnesses testifying to us today of God’s faithfulness in such times. This world is not our ultimate home, they remind us. We are moving toward something better. So abide in Christ, believing in Him, meditating on Him, hoping in Him. He will not default on His promises to us. You can count on these things as you endure suffering with your community now.

“I will not leave you as orphans.” John 14:18

Why does the reformed view of sanctification change when we start talking about SSA?

A recent article highlighted by the Aquila Report concerning discussions in the PCA about same-sex (homosexual) attraction included a few sentences which have me deep in thought.

The Lord does not save people in sin but from it, reaching into the depths of a sinner’s heart. In every person who has trusted in Jesus Christ, the Spirit tackles sin of every kind. The Savior so reorients the heart that it is impossible for a converted sinner to live and think as he once did.

And

For a “Christian homosexual” to announce a never changing sinful desire is to place himself outside the covenant of grace.

If you read the article, I will point out that the author’s representation of how Revoice speakers have talked about homosexual lust is not consistent with what I have heard. I think he misrepresents them quite a bit. I have heard much discussion of repentance at Revoice, and I have heard much humble praise of the God who has already forgiven participants for their sins, who has paid the full penalty of their sins upon the cross, who has made a way for participants to no longer be defined by their sin internally or externally, but to be defined by their forgiveness in Christ and His robe of righteousness that they now wear. I often think critics don’t actually listen to Revoice sessions. Here’s a good one if you want to know some of what is taught/believed.

Bekah Mason’s testimony starts around the 30 minute mark (a discussion of hope after the previous night’s theme of lament over sin).

But rather than advocating for folks to accurately reflect what Revoice does and does not believe, I am more curious (and concerned) about an emerging understanding of sanctification in my reformed circles that does not accurately reflect the reformed understanding of sanctification that I learned when I moved away from Independent Baptist Fundamentalism into Reformed/Calvinistic churches.

Are those who claim Christ but continue to struggle with homosexual temptation outside of the Covenant of Grace?

As a baseline for a succinct, Reformed view of sanctification, I am going to refer to the one in my Reformation Study Bible, edited by the formidable R. C. Sproul. I LOVE my Reformation Study Bible. I strongly agree with this entire article. You can read the entire entry here.

Here are a few excerpts.

Regeneration is a momentary act, bringing a person from spiritual death to life. It is exclusively God’s work. Sanctification is an ongoing process, dependent on God’s continuing action in the believer, and consisting of the believer’s continuous struggle against sin. …

Believers find within themselves contrary urgings. The Spirit sustains their regenerate desires and purposes, but their fallen instincts (the “flesh”) obstruct their path and drag them back. The conflict of these two is sharp. Paul says he is unable to do what is right, and unable to restrain himself from doing what is wrong (Rom. 7:14–25). This conflict and frustration will be with Christians as long as they are in the body. Yet by watching and praying against temptation, and cultivating opposite virtues, they may through the Spirit’s help “put to death” particular bad habits (Rom. 8:13Col. 3:5). They will experience many particular deliverances and victories in their battle with sin, while not being exposed to temptations that are impossible to resist (1 Cor. 10:13).

The thing I take home from the article highlighted at the Aquila Report (which is consistent with the main thrust of the criticisms I’ve heard against Revoice from the conservative end of the spectrum) is simply that you should not, in Christ, still be struggling with same sex attraction, and if you are, you most certainly should not be vocal about it. You should not praise God He has forgiven you. You should not find encouragement from others who are enduring against that temptation.

But our reformed view of sanctification is that believers will indeed “find within themselves contrary urgings.” Though the Spirit sustains those who experience same-sex attraction, their fallen instincts may very well “obstruct their path and drag them back.” And “the conflict of these two is sharp.”

“This conflict and frustration will be with Christians as long as they are in the body.”

Y’all, that’s R. C. Sproul, the editor of The Reformation Study Bible. We all still struggle against sin after we are in the Covenant of Grace. WE ALL STILL DO. To say otherwise is to reflect a false belief more like Paula White than the Apostle Paul. Around my area, that is a Pentecostal Holiness view, not a reformed one.

If you find help to endure against temptation toward pornography from other believers who are enduring against that temptation, then get encouragement to persevere through them. If you are a young mom struggling to love your children and endure against the temptation to anger or despair and you find help with other moms who are similarly enduring, loving their children faithfully even when their feelings don’t match it, then do! Are you a glutton? A thief? Do you have an ongoing anger problem that could lead to physical violence? I have a dear believing friend, a faithful lover of Christ and His word, struggling against this ongoing sin. Good grief, if you can find encouragement against ongoing temptation with other believers who regularly experience it, then DO. Why don’t tools we regularly use against other sins apply here?

If folks in our circles teach that believers struggling against ongoing homosexual desire are outside the Covenant of Grace, then we’ve got a big problem. This is going to be a big debate, one that I hope refines us, not destroys us, as there are crucial doctrinal issues involved around the nature of justification and sanctification. For my part, I don’t understand why a reformed understanding of sanctification doesn’t apply to homosexual believers with ongoing same-sex attraction?

Can someone explain it to me?