Joshua Harris Abandons His Faith and Then His Marriage

There have been many reactions in the evangelical world to Joshua Harris renouncing the Christian faith. Reflections on the moralism in parts of the purity culture movement of the 90’s, speculation on what caused his “deconstruction” of faith, and the manner in which he announced it to the world – through an Instagram post of him looking out into a pristine lake surrounded by breathtaking evergreens that sit picturesquely under a towering, magnificent snow-capped mountain.  The caption could have read — Finally Free or Your Journey Awaits.  He clearly sees this as a fresh start, a fortunate new beginning. 

Harris’ abandonment of Christ is intimately connected to the abandonment of his wife, Shannon Bonne Harris, who also repudiated her Christian faith.  This isn’t speculation, it’s just biblical. For all the practical benefits marriage offers to each spouse, God’s foremost intent in joining husband and wife together is to display the love between Christ and his church.  For a husband to leave his wife is to say Christ no longer loves the church.  Yet, for a husband to continue pursuing and loving his wife, to hold fast to her through good times and bad, plenty and want, sickness and health is to declare to the world that Christ never leaves his church.  Harris and his wife announced their separation in a similar Instagram post just a week prior to his public de-conversion. Imagine reading their words as if they had been penned by Christ and the church regarding their future–

“In recent years, some significant changes have taken place in both of us.  It is with sincere love for one another and understanding of our unique story as a couple that we are moving forward with this decision.  We hope to create a generous and supportive future for each other and for our three amazing children in the years ahead.

We’ve changed, we love one other still, but we have unique stories; we’re moving forward and a generous and supportive future awaits us and our children. This is the power of positive thinking at work, and reads like something wonderful is in motion.  But under this cloak of positive thinking lies a horrifying testimony — Christ has abandoned his church.   

And so, it would have been more appropriate for Harris to post about leaving the faith first, followed by a post that he is leaving his wife and children. In that order.  This is a more accurate depiction of how this type of thing unfolds. Which means, when a marriage is crumbling, we must first examine our faith to see where it was already crumbling.  When we begin to believe that divorce could be freeing, that loves comes and goes, that my spouse and I have changed so I may pull back on my marital vows… we must quickly return to the great truth that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.  I like the New Living Translation of Paul’s admonition to Timothy – Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked (1 Timothy 1:19)  At some point, they both stopped clinging to Christ. And then to each other. Hopefully this isn’t the end of the story for their marriage or their faith.

It’s helpful to keep in mind that this didn’t happen overnight.  Harris pointed out that he had been “repenting” of his Christian faith over several years. It feels natural to speculate why, attaching it to his homeschooling upbringing, some ongoing, hidden sexual sin or ability to live up to the purity standards he set for himself, the problems within Sovereign Grace Ministries he was deeply connected to, the secular onslaught of biblical marriage he perhaps caved to, the stress of being a highly visible pastor and popular leader to the evangelical reformed crowds, or something else.  It matters surely, but it is hard to know.  Perhaps Harris isn’t even quite sure himself.  The heart is complex.  What’s more important here is that God is rich in mercy and patience.  Even when we change, he does not.  When we leave him, he calls us back… not to come with trembling hands but with confidence to draw near to him in Christ to receive mercy and find grace in the time of need.  The alternative is not a fresh start on a pristine lake, it’s a shipwreck.   And it is sobering warning to those of us that think the same couldn’t happen to our faith and marriage. 


Should I Ask Tough Questions?

As I work through some theological issues that are central to the Christian faith, I become more aware of the fact that others are going through similar exercises.  Whether it’s “Why did God allow my child to die?” or “Is double predestination really taught in the Bible?”, these questions should be asked and the person asking will benefit from the intentional help of others.  In this process of seeking out what one believes, there needs to be room for questioning and critically thinking a thing through.  On closer look, this is really something that everyone should be going through.  There is never a point in our lives where we have arrived at a full knowledge of the truth. We are always informing and reforming our thinking.  This is part of what it means to be human. Sometimes situations arrive in our laps and we realize in that moment we are left with two choices – work through this or turn a blind eye.  Seldom does turning a blind eye offer any benefit to yourself or your neighbor.  The hope is that what we believe will arrive closer and closer to that which God has said is true.  Here are seven suggestions on engaging a person who is questioning and seeking understanding:

1) Engage them. I use “engage” because so often we stand aloof in the midst of an opportunity to bless. So don’t be afraid to ask them about what issues they are thinking through and why they are thinking through them.

2) Don’t offer snap judgments, they often shut the conversation down. Hear them out and keep the conversation going.

3) Listen well. Communication can be difficult and it can take a while to really discern what a person is asking.

4) Ask questions, even tough ones. It will be fruitful for each person to think more carefully about why they believe what they believe.

5) Don’t offer up pithy comments unless you truly mean it. “God is in control” is rarely helpful when offered up as cheap sentiment.

6) Don’t turn the conversation towards you and your issues. Sharing similar stories is fine and even helpful at points, but this person doesn’t primarily need empathy through your stories. They are seeking answers. Your stories should serve them, not you.

7) Ask to pray with them. Keep praying.  Follow up.  Keep 2 Peter 3:18 in mind “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.”

A Tribute to my Grandma – Laughing Heartily, Loving Deeply, Trusting in Christ

It was June of 2014.  I remember when my mom told me that my grandmother, Emily Tierney, would have Dolly Parton played at her funeral.  I shook my head a bit, confused, but chuckled. “Ohhhhhh Grandma” I thought.  Hosparus had been taking care of my grandma, who in a short couple months had gone from holding her granddaughter Lilah in her lap and singing Bushel and a Peck to laying in a hospital bed taking her last shallow breaths. She wasn’t talking anymore. She wasn’t eating.  She was 91.  We were all awaiting the inevitable. For all of you who have waited for a loved one to die, you know how painful it is in those last days, seeing them in a futile condition and tracing through so many memories from the past.  Yet, this is the point at which caring for them becomes so important, even if uncomfortab20140313_154822le.  Honor thy father and mother.  My grandma was defenseless and unable to communicate except through groaning.  I remember watching my mom working so precisely to make her mom comfortable.  The pillows supporting her back just right, the blankets covering her ankles, her hair being combed and her skin being cleaned and lotioned.  How you love someone in the last days of their life matters.  Humble service done in love.  Jesus showed us this example when washing the disciple’s feet.  It’s not a bad idea to view your life as a foot-washer to others.  My mom the foot-washer.

My mom’s brother had died in November three years earlier.  Both suffered the cruel fate of cancer.  Both endured pain.  In my uncle Jack’s case, the cancer ate away at him for years.  He was a fighter.  And he had a huuuuge laugh.  He got all it from his mom.  They were both full of life.  My grandma was a firecracker and made an impression on just about everyone who met her.  She was near deaf for many years but she smiled and laughed through it all and loved to talk and share life together.  Interestingly enough, both her and Jack had a surge in their faith toward the end of life.  I remember talking to Jack about Christ a few years before his death and he shared so openly and with great excitement about what he was learning.  And with my grandma, well… I just wasn’t sure what her faith was made of.  She would regularly explain to me, “Scott… we just didn’t read the bible growing up.”  She had grown up in the Catholic church but later in life showed some very confused notions of who Jesus was and why he came.  In the last years, she got her daily or weekly dose of theology from Joyce Meyer and other TV preachers.  That was severely frustrating to me.  I let her know it.  We could talk like that.  My grandma was not one to shy away from conversation and in those last couple years our conversations about the Scriptures proved to be some of the best memories of my life to this day.  We talked about sin and judgment, forgiveness and redemption, faith in Christ, Genesis through Revelation.  Sometimes it seemed like two steps forward, three steps back.  But change is often slow and it is difficult to see the heart.  In the last year, however, I began to hear a change in my grandma.  It was no longer “I’m a good person and God just wants me to be happy…he knows my heart.”  It was “God knows my heart and I’m guilty, but I trust in Jesus fully for forgiveness.”  We talked about anger and forgiveness and how we do the things we don’t want to do and don’t do the things we should do.  I know a small handful of family and friends that had been talking to my grandma as well.  My uncle, my mom and a couple neighbors, and I’m sure others of whom I’m unaware.  To hear my mom talk about praying through the Psalms together with my grandma during those last months… it makes me emotional even writing it down.  Their relationship had been so seemingly irreparably fractured since the death of Jack, and most certainly even earlier than that.  I saw the deep pain in my mom.  The body language, the tight lips, the tears gathering at the corners of the eye whenever we would talk about her relationship with grandma.  The type of pain that almost shuts a person out because it’s too painful to be around them.  But somehow, by God’s strength, my mom loved my grandma through that and my grandma’s heart was made open to that love and she loved in return.  They truly reconciled, and began embracing and praying for each other. They were loving each other as mother and daughter should.  They were reaping the joy of that which so many of us long for… reconciliation. Forgive not 7 times but 70 times 7 (Matthew 18).  A soft tongue breaks a bone (Proverbs 25).  Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6).  I thank God for that and it challenges me in my own relationships.

And back to Dolly.  Dolly Parton…really mom? Grandma wants a Dolly Parton song at her funeral?  Ohhhhhhhhh K. And then Dolly sang, I Will Always Love You. I’m going to link it here:  I sat in the front row of that funeral home listening to Dolly sing, staring at my grandma’s silver casket.  And I began to cry.  I suppose I hadn’t ever carefully listened to that song, and the lyrics are beautiful.  It was my grandma’s swan song, the embodiment of her life and the legacy that she wanted to leave behind. The service and this song, it was all carefully planned.  These words…  “And I hope life treats you kind, and I just hope that you’ll have all you ever dreamed of.  And I wish you joy and happiness.  But above all of this I wish you love.  And I will always love you.”   They got me.  I will never listen to that song again without cherishing my grandma.  The last video I have of her is singing Bushel and a Peck to Lilah.  It was only a minute and 8 seconds long.  I regret not filming longer.  My grandma, in her cheery expressive voice says “Oh you beautiful baby (laughing).  You still got that book?  Can you sing?,,, Yes…you’re gonna be the kind of baby that’s gonna like everything. You’re going be like your mommy and daddy.  Yes you are.  You’re gonna love everybody.  Because I love you a bushel and peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck, a hug around the neck.”  And that’s my grandma.  Her legacy is one of laughing heartily, loving deeply and trusting in Christ.  I love you grandma.  See you soon.

A Vision Towards Spiritual Maturity for Youth

In addressing a negative view of spiritual maturity by young Christians, Thomas Bergler writes in his book, The Juvenlization of American Christianity:

  “…Early in my college teachingthe-juvenilization-of-american-christianity career, I asked a group of my students, “What   does a mature Christian look like?” They disliked the question and resisted answering it. “I don’t think we ever arrive in our spiritual growth.” “We’re not supposed to judge one another.” “No one is perfect in this life.” Sadly, these evangelical college students did not believe that Christian maturity was either attainable or desirable.  The churches that had nurtured these young people well enough to get them to pursue a Christian college education had not managed to inspire them with a  biblical vision of spiritual maturity.”  p18

Many of the reasons that could be stated for the extended adolescence among so many in American culture today are probably linked to this distaste for spiritual maturity.  He later adds:

For example, is the music we sing in church fostering a self-centered, romantic spirituality in which following Jesus is compared to “failing in love”? If so, we should not be surprised if some people have a relationship with Jesus that has all the maturity and staying power of an adolescent infatuation.  Do we ask every church member to master a shared body of basic truths, or is all of our Christian education on an “a la carte” basis? If the latter, then we should not be surprised if people pick and choose which parts of Christian truth to believe and live… Do we model service, teach about it, and provide opportunities for every believer to serve others?  If not, we should not be surprised if people continue to think the faith is “all about me.”  p227

It’s worth asking how churches and parents are reinforcing either mature or immature visions of the Christian faith.  Denying self, serving others, and graduating to adulthood do not come natural to us and feel undesirable in many ways.  Childishness is associated with being fickle, vacillating, violent outbursts, a lack of discernment and endurance, impatience and unreliability.  Notice that this describes many adults just as well as it does youth – which is actually part of Bergler’s main point in the book (how juvenilization has infected adult Christians).  It’s important to realize that we’ll never attain a perfect maturity in this lifetime.  Only Christ has accomplished that on our behalf.  We will find ourselves falling short.  And yet, the beauty of growing in patience, wisdom, long-suffering, faithfulness and servanthood is a wonderful thing and an expected thing for Christians.  It is in many ways the goal of our faith.  And it is possible in Christ.

Why Study Church History? Here are Five Reasons

Church history is an invaluable resource that often remains untapped in the life of a Christian.  Perhaps this is because we think of it as dusty, outdated and boring, or maybe because we fail to see how it has any relevance to our lives in the here and now.  But most who dive into this treasure trove of ancient wisdom find that it is overflowing with jewels that will stoke the heart and mWoodcut from Morgan Edwards, Materials Towards A History of the American Baptists.ind.  So, here are five reasons to study church history (adapted from a lecture by Michael Haykin, Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)

1) Our lives are bound up in history. Everything that’s happening now is connected to the past and if we are to understand where we are we now and where we are going, we need to learn where we have come from.

2) As Christians, we are learners.   Looking into the past is a great place to grow in knowledge and wisdom. It’s been said that a wise person learns from his or her mistakes, a wiser person learns from the mistakes of others, and a fool learns from neither.  Rather than living near-sighted, we can look to the past to gain perspective and wisdom for the present and for the future.  Summarily, “studying the past liberates from the tyranny of the present.”

3) History builds a sense of humility.  We owe much to many whom we’ve never met.  So many of the blessings we experience, like pure doctrine in our churches (thank you Athanasius!), can be attributed to men and women who lived long before us.

4) We find models to imitate. Imitation in the Christian life is biblical, and while the redemptive story traced through the Bible is one that finds its center in Christ dying for ungodly sinners, there is still so much to admire and emulate in the faith of Christians from many centuries ago.  We can look to Clement of Alexandria and learn how to engage the New Age mysticism in our current culture or gain perspective from Handel on how to compose God honoring music for our churches today. Who knows, God may just reveal a calling for your life as you read about the lives of old saints.

5) It will lead to praising God.  The history of the church is the history of God’s activity in the world is and it draws us to praise him.  We can peak into the lives of martyred saints, learn about the development of important doctrines, and ultimately marvel at God’s faithfulness to his people all over the world throughout the centuries.

For a few good introductions to get you started on church history, check out:

–131 Christians Everyone Should Know, Mark Galli

–Getting to Know the Church Fathers, Bryan Liftin

–Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, Mark Noll

–The Unquenchable Flame, Discovering the Heart of the Reformation, Michael Reeves

–Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church, Michael Haykin

The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God, Robert Louis Wilken

God’s Love Isn’t a Cliche

We often need perspective to really appreciate something.  Something once bland becomes exciting.  Something worthless suddenly becomes a great treasure.  Something cliché transforms into something powerful.  It’s amazing how children will do that to you.  The older my daughter gets, the more neurotic I become about her safety, her well-being, her future.  I can’t imagine life without her energetic feet running around our house and her cheeky and teethy grin meeting me at the front door as her button nose squishes against the glass.  Those are priceless moments.  I want the best for her.  I love her.  We feel that way about our children.  We want to protect them and love them and bless them and prepare them for all of life’s adventures.  And I imagine this feeling only grows stronger over time.

God is love

And so we come to John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  It’s probably the most well-known verse in all the Bible, and it’s powerful.  Or is it?  Some of my worst nightmares involve tragedies involving my daughter too horrible to describe, but it’s usually an accident or the result of some bad person trying to pry her from me…or worse.  And yet Christ’s hands and feet being nailed to a cross was no accident and no one was prying Jesus’ life out of God’s hands.  Luke tells us that this was all part of God’s plan (Acts 2:23) and it pleased God to crush his ONLY son (Isaiah 53:10).  It’s jaw-dropping because we struggle to understand a love like that.  The Father had no other children to turn to and find comfort in, and though Jesus had known his death was coming, the intensity at the cross was so powerful and concentrated that he couldn’t stay calm or cool or muster up a celebratory attitude over the defeat of sin that was occurring.  All he could do is cry out to His Father in great anguish, echoing David’s words from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?”  We’d be tempted to think that it was the pain of the nails that undid Jesus.  But no.  We may think we can rationalize that Jesus was in distress because of the scorn of Roman soldiers and Pharisees coupled with the abandonment of his disciples.  But no.   It was much worse than that.  Much much worse.  It was the perfect love and unbroken fellowship between Jesus and His Father, shared for all eternity, that was suddenly and amazingly shattered as God poured out His mountain-shaking, all-consuming, blazing fury for our sin upon His own Son.  It should make us pause and think, do we really understand the uncompromising, blazing holiness of God that He would do such a thing?  It should make us pause and think, what love is this that a Father would actually be pleased to crush His son on a wooden stake in order to punish sins Christ played no part in.  It was our sin that Christ took on.  What mercy is this?  What happened on the cross is 1,000 times worse than my worst nightmare of my daughter.   I can’t possibly fathom doing something like that to her for the sake of others, and I’ve only known her 2 years.

But that’s who God is.  That is His love.  The Righteous One dying for the unrighteous ones.  The lamb of God, crushed and bloody, for you and me.  The pleasure of God to wipe out our sin by smiting His own son.  Perhaps  “the love of God” is a phrase that doesn’t ignite your soul, or maybe it’s a concept  that you think more closely resembles the way we love to look at wildlife and or the way we love to care for our garden.  Maybe it’s a nice, clean, sweet love that doesn’t interfere and merely wishes well. God’s love, however, is fierce and it was demonstrated through bloody hands and broken bones.  Praise God that He loved us so much that He gave up His only son. His love is intense, it’s unbelievable, and it’s no cliché.

How to Make A Value Judgment During the Presidential Election

With the election over, it’s time to gather ourselves and continue praying for the leadership of this nation.  Even though I disagree, at a fundamental level, about what our president believes is right for the country in many areas, he is in a position of great authority and responsibility and I’m honored to pray for him.  And I hope that God will bless him with wisdom, discernment, and courage to make decisions that will benefit the people of our country.  So let’s talk about that…

This election reveals a fracture line running through our nation, one that is primarily about doctrine.  At a foundational level, we all believe something… we all make value judgments.  What is to be esteemed?  What is to be despised?  What is worthy of our affection?  What should we fight for and give our time and energy to?  That’s doctrine – what we believe.  And the collective doctrine of US citizens is widely divergent on many issues from immigration to religious liberty.  And it’s important because what we believe deeply affects people, and all people are valuable because each of us is created in God’s image.  The beliefs that we hold influence the outcomes of lives.  Many babies will be killed because of wrong doctrine.  Many people will be enslaved to poverty because of wrong doctrine.  Many Christians will be persecuted and discriminated against because of wrong doctrine.  The integrity of marriage is jeopardized by wrong doctrine.  But who am I to make those assessments, right?

Ultimately, there is a measuring stick for what we believe.  How else can we call something crooked unless we know what is straight?  Is culture our measuring stick?  Is it my own personal beliefs and experiences that define the measuring stick?  Is a group of people at a certain time in history the measuring stick?  As a Christian, I believe the measuring stick is clearly defined and revealed in the Bible by the one true God who made all things and determined what is crooked and what is straight.  Just as a watchmaker knows what makes his watch tick, God knows what will enable us to flourish as humans.  He is the One who brought us into existence by a single word.  When it all began, He called it good.  He determined what was of value and brought it into existence.  He laid down the measuring stick.  Ultimately, I don’t have the corner on what’s good and what’s evil, what’s lovely and what’s ugly, what’s honorable and what’s horrible.  Neither does culture, neither does anyone reading this.  But God does, so we must look to him and what he has said to us in the Scriptures if we truly care about people.  And when we recognize crookedness in our own hearts, consider it a gift that He designed to lead you to forgiveness.   It’s a forgiveness that He designed out of love for a broken humanity that had chosen to rebel against what He called good, exchanging truth for lies and beauty for immorality.  Most importantly, it’s a forgiveness that comes only through trusting in one man’s death in place of our own…  Jesus Christ, God in human flesh (Acts 4:12).  Yes, when it comes down to it, every political party, every organization, every culture, every individual is crooked in some way.  We each know that.  As God tells us through the prophet Isaiah, “we like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; the Lord has laid on him (Jesus) the sins of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).  Jesus took on the wrath of God that we have spent all our lives earning…we’ve worked really really hard to earn our sentence.  But God demonstrated an incredible love for us by sending Jesus to die in our place even when he knew we would all one day be born and rebel against him.

In the end, it’s not any one side of any culture war that moved God to nail His Son to a wooden stake.  Jesus came for guilty sinners, each and every one of us, out of compassion and mercy. “Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the Lord, but those of blameless ways are his delight” (Proverbs 11:20). Through Christ, crooked hearts become blameless and we can begin to see what true human flourishing is all about, delighting in the things God, the Grand Designer, delights in and hating the things He hates.  We can begin to see what is of true value and pray that the leadership of our country will see that as well.