Why Will God Not Show Me A Sign?

I have often wondered through the wilderness of doubt. As a teenager, I constantly battled with the hiddenness of God–to the point to where I considered myself an agnostic. Even as an adult Christian, I have gone through periods of questioning whether or not God cares at all about my circumstances. In the past, I have thought—and even said—things like, “God, if you hear me, please do X right now.” Typically X looked like something miraculous; usually something small and innocent—but just enough to comfort me and to let me know that God is there. After all, isn’t God our father? Do fathers not want their children to know that they are there for them? There more I’ve reflected on this issue of the hiddenness of God, the more I’ve noticed a few things.

  • What God wants me to do is to trust him—he does not necessarily want me to be comfortable. This is very hard to swallow, because I love comfort. But in serious difficulties, as hard as it is for me to sit back and trust him, this is what he wants from me. I know this in my head better than I know this in my heart; and in my opinion, this is a large part of what makes the Christian life difficult. Nevertheless, how I feel about it is ultimately beside the point. Learning to trust God is of paramount importance.
  • God has revealed the reasons for trusting him in his word. The Bible is not running on a short supply of people who have struggled to trust God. One serious benefit of having the Bible is that you have a collection of books filled with true stories of people who have trusted God, as well as those who have not. You also get the results. So the point is that the Bible is partially meant to give you reasons to trust God. It does not provide a phantom picture of God and say, “Well, trust him because he’s God and you don’t seem to have any other options.” Quite the contrary. It says, “Trust God, because: look at his character. Look at what he has done, and doing, and going to do.”
  • A sign is not enough to ensure my indefinite trust in God. Most likely sooner than later the doubts will reappear. The lack of trust will resurface, and another sign will be needed to secure my belief. I don’t need another sign—what I really need is a reminder. And God has supplied reminders all throughout his word.

Let me encourage you and I both, that in moments of despair, when we are wondering where God is, what we need is not another sign, but a reminder. The reminders are in God’s word—reminders that claim that “he himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I forsake you…’” (Heb. 13:5)

(Questions? Thoughts? Comments? Feel free to share in the comment section or contact me at zacklocklear@outlook.com)

A Christian Response to Islamic Immigration?

Recently, in light of the shootings in Chattanooga by an Islamic extremist, Franklin Graham posted the following statement on his Facebook page:

“Four innocent Marines (United States Marine Corps) killed and three others wounded in ‪#‎Chattanooga yesterday including a policeman and another Marine–all by a radical Muslim whose family was allowed to immigrate to this country from Kuwait. We are under attack by Muslims at home and abroad. We should stop all immigration of Muslims to the U.S. until this threat with Islam has been settled. Every Muslim that comes into this country has the potential to be radicalized–and they do their killing to honor their religion and Muhammad. During World War 2, we didn’t allow Japanese to immigrate to America, nor did we allow Germans. Why are we allowing Muslims now? Do you agree? Let your Congressman know that we’ve got to put a stop to this and close the flood gates. Pray for the men and women who serve this nation in uniform, that God would protect them.”

This isn’t the first time something similar to this has been suggested. But is this the right response? And if not, what is? I would encourage Franklin Graham, along with you and I, to ponder whether or not as Christians this is the best course of action. Here are 5 relevant questions we need to consider:

1: Shouldn’t we, as American Christians, be thrilled that the nations are coming to our homeland?

2: Does it not seem contrary to the Great Commission for Christians to suggest prohibiting people from a certain religious group from entering the country?

3: Even if certain people groups could pose a risk to someone’s safety—did Jesus not warn his followers about the risks involved in proclaiming the gospel?

4: Did Jesus not die for us when we were far off?

5: If Christ risked everything to come to us, can we not allow risks for those who need Christ—especially if they are knocking on our front door?

The thing that worries me is that if we’re not careful, we’ll be using the similar logic that many of the New Atheists used against religion, which looks something like: every religious practitioner is a potential extremist. Is that really the right direction we, as American Christians, want to go in? Furthermore, this attitude seems to call into question the proposed nature of religious freedom in America. Is that freedom only for Christians?

Food for thought.

(Thoughts? Comments? Feel free to share in the comment section or contact me at zacklocklear@outlook.com)

The Paradox of Being Bad – Lessons with CS Lewis

Perhaps one of the most defeating tasks of the Christian life is the attempt to live up to it. One of the first exams anyone must past in order to be a Christian, is an acknowledgement that whatever the standard that I as a human being am to live up to, I’m certainly not reaching it. After a person becomes a Christian, the very process of sanctification—becoming who we ought to be, in Christ—is a constant chafing from exposure to everyday life. We find ourselves groveling back to God after each failure, wondering when we’ll ever reach invulnerability from the restless seductions of whatever sin we currently find ourselves in.

I can vouch personally: it seems to be that the harder I try, the harder I fall. Often, regardless of how much I pray for the removal of some thorn in the flesh or cup of self-inflicted sorrow that swims with my most current failures and weaknesses–the thorn and cup remain. In fact it often seems that the harder you try, the more aware of personal deficiencies you become:

“When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right.”[1]

CS Lewis provides a lot of insight into the internal paradox of sanctification. It would seem natural that the closer a person gets to God, the deeper the realization of personal depravity. If God is light[2], then our appearance out of the darkness and into that light would certainly expose the ugly bits of who we are. Therefore, the closer you draw near to God, the more you begin to understand your unworthiness. The paradox lies in that fact that this exposure is agonizing, yet comforting.

At this point, we remember the gospel. God’s love for us, and his acceptance of us in Christ, are both boundless in quantity. We cannot fake a Christian life. Many people try, and it can only lead to disaster. God calls us to draw near to him as a father, and to rest in the work of Christ even in the wake of our worst failures. We are called to live up to a standard, but that standard only begins to be actualized once the darkest corners of our heart are exposed by the light of Christ. The standard acts as a mirror: when God is close, the room is illuminated, and the reflection we see in that mirror is frightening because we begin to see the state of our condition. But the mirror does not clean us up—no standard is capable—it simply shows us who we are. It is only Christ who can clean us up.[3] He invites us to rest in him.

In the midst of your struggles and failures, rest in the work that Christ has done for you.

[1] C. S. Lewis and Kathleen Norris, Mere Christianity, Revised & Enlarged edition (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2001), 57.

[2] John 1:5

[3] Isa. 1:18

Are Christians to Judge Others?

Increasingly Christians are becoming more aware that we do not live in a Christianity society. I’m hesitant to call our society post-Christian because I’m not convinced it ever was truly a Christian society. A society may have values that square remarkably well with Christianity, or may even be influenced by Christianity, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that the society itself is “Christian.” This awareness of American secularization in particular has left many Christians confused. They wonder: How in the world do we relate to non-Christians?

There seems to be two groups of Christians with polarized opinions that speak rather loudly: Group 1 says that we are to judge those who live lifestyles contrary to Scriptural teachings, and Group 2 who says, “We aren’t to judge others, so who cares how people live?”

JD Greear clears up much of the ambiguity concerning what it means to judge someone: “You judge someone not when you asses their position, but when you dismiss them as a person.”[1]

This is an important distinction that, frankly, many people get wrong and it causes incredible damage in their relationships and it diminishes the gospel.

Jesus provides a great example of how this worked out. He didn’t look at sinners and say, “I love you, live however you want.” He also didn’t say, “Get your act together or get out of here.” Jesus called sinners to follow him. That means two things: 1) He recognized that they were sinners (he didn’t excuse them); 2) He drew near to them (he didn’t reject them). Thus, the very act of Jesus calling someone to follow him assumes communion. When Jesus says that he did not come to judge the world, but to save the world[2], he’s saying that he did not come to reject the people of the world, but to draw them close to them.

The application here is that there is nothing wrong with assessing people’s lifestyles and communicating in love and grace that these lifestyles are contrary to God’s intentions. Where the judgmental attitude comes in is when you reject a person based on their lifestyle and push them away.[3]

We must always remember Christ’s example in our interactions with both Christians and non-Christians. Christ drew near to us, loved us, forgave us, and sacrificed for us while we were at our ugliest. This will say far more to the outside world about the beauty of the gospel than any boycott ever could. Pray that we will all have Christ’s love for others, and that God would put people into our lives who have worldviews completely different from our own.

( Note: I strongly recommend reading JD Greear’s 7 Signs That You’re “Judging” Others for a practical list of ways we may be wrongly relating to others.)

________________________________

[1] J.D. Greear, “7 Signs That You’re “Judging” Others,” JD Greear, June 2, 2014, accessed July 16, 2015, http://www.jdgreear.com/my_weblog/2014/06/7-signs-that-youre-judging-others.html.

[2] John 3:17.

[3] I’m speaking of interpersonal relationships. This is different from, say, a church refusing grant membership to an openly homosexual couple. Refusal to grant membership is not a rejection of the person(s), but a call to live in accordance with Biblical teaching.

(Thoughts? Comments? Feel free to share in the comment section or contact me at zacklocklear@outlook.com)

Is Christianity All About Following Rules?

For many Christians, there is an exhausting struggle between grace and works. For others, there is no struggle at all, and the dichotomy looks something like this: on one side of the fence you have the legalists—the people who are all about works; on the other side you have the antinomians—the people who are all about grace. Many Christians struggle to walk the tightrope in-between the two worlds. If you fall to the left, you land on the side of the legalist who is all wrapped up in the rules of Christianity. If you fall to the right, you land in the antinomian camp who disregards the rules in the name of grace. I’ve heard pastors criticize other pastors for being “too heavy on grace” claiming that they “need more judgement in their message” and vice versa. For others, Christianity either becomes all about what you do (works), or about doing what you want (which typically results in a need for grace). So how do these two competitors play out in the Christian life? A few quick notes:

  1. Well, actually, Grace and works are not competitors. While they are distinct from one another, they are not in opposition. Grace operates as a disposition, while works operates as a product or “fruit” of a particular motivation.
  2. Part of what makes the gospel the good news is that salvation is the result of grace and not works (Eph. 2:8). So a person can only be as heavy on grace as God is heavy on grace. And the Apostle Paul claims that the riches of God’s grace is “immeasurable” (Eph. 2:7).
  3. Works will distinguish a genuine believer from a non-believer, in a similar way that Jesus talks about the fruit of repentance being displayed in a person’s actions (Matt. 3:8; 7:15-17). Some people might take this to mean that if you continue to sin as a Christian, you conversion was not genuine. However, I do not think that is the point that Jesus is trying to communicate.

So how do these two things work together? Let me put it into practical terms: Grace and works will both operate naturally in a love relationship between two individuals. If I love my wife, I should naturally extend grace to her when she makes a mistake. Additionally, I should also want to please her. I take little mental notes of things that she likes—“actions” (or works) that I can do that will make her happy. I kiss her when she walks in the door. I hold her hand in public. I offer to put on movies that she likes and watch them with her. The point is that because she is the object of my affections, grace and works should flow naturally from my love for her. But of course, in order for this relationship to work, it must be mutual. She must also extend grace and works towards me.

God is a perfect being. He is also a relational being. Therefore God’s relationship with us is only strained if we’re the ones doing the straining. God showed us ultimate grace (and continues to) and ultimate works on the cross. In that regard, his extreme love for us is obvious. The question: if God is love and if God gives grace, does he care how I live? is ultimately answered this way: if I love God, I will do everything I can to maintain and richen my relationship with him. From the beginning of the Bible, to the very end, the words of Jesus encapsulate the common thread regarding our relationship to God: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”[1] We can all relate to this. Every equal, functioning human relationship operates this way. Grace and works are fundamental to our relationships, and no one picks one over the other. They’re another way of saying. “If you love me, you will show it. But if you fail to show it, I will forgive you.”

Thus, the question, “Is Christianity all about following rules?” is almost identical to, “Are relationships all about following rules?” The answer is: No–but a relationship won’t last without them.

(Thoughts? Comments? Feel free to share in the comment section or contact me at zacklocklear@outlook.com)

[1] John 14:15

Before You Go… Responding to Responses

As the article “Christians, Be Careful What You Say On Facebook” approaches two million views, I would like to express my sincere thanks to everyone who has read it and shared it. The overwhelming majority of comments that I have received on social media websites from fellow Christians have been positive, which has been very encouraging. Thanks for the kind emails, messages, and comments. That being said, there are a few more grey hairs on my head from sorting through everything that’s been said. Most of the readers understood it; many readers walked away with different conclusions. It’s been an interesting experience.

Since I’ve received a lot of email asking me to expand on certain statements, what I’ve decided to do is to take the top three biggest misconceptions and questions about the article, and attempt to briefly answer them below:

Why are you saying that Christians should be quiet about social issues?

  • I’m not saying that. I explicitly state that “There is nothing wrong about outwardly expressing your disgust at sin.” All I’m saying is to be careful how you speak about issues. If we’re merely launching attacks at people without being broken for them, there’s a problem. That’s what the article was meant to address.

Why did you say that all Christians look at porn, and what does that have to do with anything?

  • I said “many” Christians are looking at porn or something close to it. Obviously, not “all” Christians are currently doing this. The intent behind bringing up pornography was not to say, “Shut up about other people’s sins because you’re a sinner too.” Not at all. The reason I brought up pornography is because it looks bad for fellow Christians to talk about sexual perversion when, without their knowledge, my Facebook feed is lighting up with adult content that they have liked.

If you article is about acceptance, why won’t you change your pronouns?

  • You may not like this, but the point of the article is not acceptance. That’s a different issue for a different day. The pronouns remain masculine because of my personal convictions on human sexuality. I’m not expecting anyone else to understand or accept this conviction, but it is deeply tied to my theological views on God, humanity, eschatology, ecclesiology and other things you might not be aware of. I say that, simply to point out that a Christian’s view of sexuality is deeper than the “one man, one woman, end of story” statement on marriage. So while it may seem ridiculous for Christians to be tenacious with their pronouns, many of them legitimately mean no disrespect. It’s just that you’re asking them to change their doctrines.

Many of your questions were worthy of their own blog post. Perhaps they will be something I can address in the near future. For now, I hope this adds a little clarity.

Thanks for reading,

-Zack

(Thoughts? Comments? Feel free to contact me at zacklocklear@outlook.com)

Christians, Be Careful What You Say On Facebook

(Note: Comments have been disabled since it’s become impossible to sift through them all for moderation. I’ve responded to the most frequently asked questions here. Please take the time to read them.)

While the Bruce Jenner* controversy is at its peak, be very careful about what you are tempted to say about it on social media. Though your gut reaction might be to post a comment/article that articulates your disgust, I beg you to reconsider. Here’s a couple of reasons why.

  1. Many of you are either looking at porn, or something close to it. I know this because some of the pages and videos that you “like” on Facebook show up on my news feed. You probably don’t realize this, because you keep doing it, and I keep seeing it. Unfortunately, all sexual perversion is a result of human corruption. You have it, I have it too. But you might want to reconsider publicly shaming one perversion when you have another.
  2. Related to reason #1, you don’t understand the gospel. There is nothing wrong about outwardly expressing your disgust at sin. The problem is, many of you aren’t really disgusted at sin—you’re disgusted by homosexuals, transgender people and so on. This leads you to posting hateful diatribe towards these people for reasons that often have nothing to do with Christian beliefs. The result is that we’re called bigots and hypocrites. And we are. We cherry pick sins, and compare our lives to these individuals because it makes us feel a little bit less screwed up. We do this because we don’t understand the gospel. There is a way to condemn sin, but many of us are doing it wrong because, again, we don’t understand the gospel. Please remember that Christ died for us when we are at our absolute ugliest state. “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” [1] If we really understood this, we’d be more careful about what we say.
  3. Many of you aren’t praying for people like Bruce Jenner. If we are not praying, we probably do not care. If we do not care, then we do not love. If we do not love, then we’re in direct opposition to God. In fact, we may not even love God (1 John 4:20). Please, instead of placing these people further away, pray that God would draw them close to himself. In fact, pray that for all of us. And if you’re finding it impossible in your heart to love someone like Bruce Jenner, pray that God would make that happen.

Please, I beg you. Be careful how you respond to cultural curve balls. It is not my intention to be harsh, or unloving. The reality is that many of us believe that we are being “Biblical” in our approach to these scenarios, but we could not be further from the truth. The reason that many people reject Christianity is not because it’s “conservative,” but because we, as Christians, act and react in ways that are genuinely repulsive. Be careful.

[1] Quote by Tim Keller.


*This is not a post about gender identity, nor is it primarily about the Jenner controversy. This article was written by a Christian, and is directed towards Christians—it is important that you understand the context of the article before you comment.

(Thoughts? Comments? Feel free to contact me at zacklocklear@outlook.com)