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Life

When God Seems Distant

If you’ve been a Christian for more than a day, God has seemed distant. What I’ve learned over the years of walking with Jesus (and I’m still learning, of course) is that the the emotions we feel when God seems distant are signals that God wants to do something important in our lives. What in the world does God want to do when we think he’s so far away? Among other things, he’s training us to ask, “In these seasons, what kind of God do I want? A god I can control? Or a God who is in control?” Second, he’s training us to hunger for him. Just him. When God seems distant, we long for him more than ever. There’s probably a thousand other things. But those are two big things.

When God seems distant, he’s teaching us what we can only learn through experience. And, in that way, these times are a gift. Backwards as it seems.

Of course, what we come to see in the gospel is that Jesus is really the only one who has actually been abandoned by God. On the cross, what you and I sometimes feel, Jesus actually endured. God really left him alone. Why? So that you and I would never have to actually be alone.

The miracle of Christmas is “God with us.” The miracle of the Passion is that the One who is “God with Us” was abandoned by God so we would forever have God with us. You can’t make this up.

So what about the times we feel like God is incredibly distant, even when we know intellectually and theologically he is not distant? In those times, God is giving us a gift, backwards as it seems. We are being made more like Jesus. He’s saying to you and me in those moments, “I have been there. I’ve been to hell and back. When you feel God is distant, like he’s abandoned you, he’s not. My Father—your Father—is preparing you for resurrection.”

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Life

“So this is what God’s really like.”

This summer, I’m preaching a very short sermon series from the Psalms on praying your emotions. Last week, I preached on Psalm 3, “Pray Your Fears.” In two Sundays, I’ll be preaching from the darkest Psalm, chapter 88, “Pray Your Sadness.”

I’m re-reading parts of a few books as research for the sermon. One book I turned to was C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed. It is a tremendous little book about his journey after losing his wife Helen. When I read it the first time, I remember thinking that the book was one of the most raw, honest, yet refreshing books I had read. Essentially, A Grief Observed is the tear-stained pages of Lewis’ journal. I’m thankful his most delicate emotions were put on paper and published.

Listen to this devastating and liberating quote from Lewis in the very first chapter of his book:

[W]here is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?

I tried to put some of these thoughts to C. this afternoon. He reminded me that the same thing seems to have happened to Christ: ‘Why hast thou forsaken me?’ I know. Does that make it easier to understand?

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there is no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God is really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’

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Life

Five Reasons We Want to Be Foster Parents

My wife wrote earlier this week that we are starting the process to become foster parents. She said, “We are both well aware of the children out there who are abused and neglected, and in need of good, loving homes who can teach them about Jesus as well as care for and protect their little hearts and minds.” I love this woman, and I love her passion for Jesus and the “least of these” in our city and world.

Why would a husband and wife in their mid to upper 20s, with a two-and-a-half month old daughter want to be foster parents? Here are five reasons:

  1. The gospel has invaded our life and Jesus reigns over us. We have tasted what God has done for us in Christ and so we cannot help but show that same grace, mercy, kindness, and love to others. Foster care will be a small, but significant way to “point” to what God has done for us: he loved us while we were unlovable, wounded, broken, and alone.
  2. We want to adopt, not just because it’s the hip thing for Christians to do, but because God, in Christ, has adopted us into his family (Hos. 14:3; Eph.1:5). This is the only reason adoption on earth exists. Foster care will serve as a prologue to adoption, but not a “trial run.” It is something we can do now while adoption is not a possible.
  3. We are commanded in Scripture to seek the welfare of widows and orphans (James 1:27; 2:14-26). We aren’t doing this to “get God on our side,” for we are already perfectly accepted by in the gospel based on Jesus’ obedience, death, and resurrection. Rather, the gospel compels us to obedience. We are called to speak on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves (Isa. 1:17; 58:6). Foster children are some of the most underrepresented people in society. Obviously, we cannot do everything and help every foster child. But we can do something.
  4. Foster care will give us close relationship with non-Christians. We will rub shoulders with biological parents, therapists, case workers, foster care specialists, lawyers, judges, and scores of others, most of whom will not know Jesus. We will be able to share the gospel, and our biblical worldview. Furthermore, we will be able to provide spiritual insight for a child to families and professionals who regularly neglect this aspect of a person’s life, in favor of the behavioral and mental aspects.
  5. I so often preach about doing hard things for the Lord, forsaking middle class comfort in pursuit of true discipleship. This is practicing what I preach. Carly and I want to be an example to other Christians, our church, our family, and our friends of what a gospel-shaped life looks like.
I want to thank my wife, Carly, for pursuing this so gracefully and with passion, determination, and zeal. You are my crown, and beside Christ, you are the treasure of my life. “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.”

When you think of us, or stop by this blog, would you pray for us on this adventure? We would appreciate it.

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Life Ministry

One Reason John Piper Writes

Piper wrote a blog about his 2010 writing leave. I thought his last reason for why he writes was particularly cool — and down to earth.

Finally, there is an inner impulse that I cannot explain that drives me to write. I would write if there were no possibility of publication. I have hundreds of pages that no one has ever seen but me, and it would not matter ultimately if they were destroyed. I wrote them not to be published but because there is an impulse from within.

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Life

“I’m Called To Love Them, But I Don’t Have to Like Them!”

Have you ever heard a Christian say this?  I’ve not only heard it, but said it many times. Yesterday, talking about Barack Obama, a friend told me that they love Obama but don’t like him.  (By the way, this was right before he called Obama a “self aggrandizing, arrogant socialist…who is a piss-poor leader.”)

Sometimes I wonder if we say “I love him, but I just don’t like him,” so that we can justify our sinful and selfish attitude or behavior toward an individual who is hard to love.  We say we love them and that love is a matter of the will, not an emotion.  That is, we argue that love is a choice, not a feeling, as my friend did.

But don’t feelings necessarily arise from the choices of our will?  I think they do.

I don’t see a difference in the Scriptures between liking and loving.  I think that we say things like this simply because we don’t want to do the hard, messy work of actually loving.  Consider though how God has loved us — the untouchable, unlovable sinners that we are.  He never said, “Well, I quite dislike this group since they are a stench to me, but I guess I’ll send my Son to show them how much I love them.”  The call for us is to be like him: “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

In an article from 1970, John Piper talks about how it is impossible to have the will to love someone if we dislike them:

If we dislike another person it will be impossible to consistently will the loving thing for that person. Sometimes we will simply forget to restrain our feelings and other times when we think we have willed the loving thing, our dislike will have sneaked in through a patronizing tone of voice or a depreciating glance. We cannot love consistently if we do not like (emphasis added).

Jesus said, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,” and also, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matt. 5:16; 44).  He did not say, “Love your enemies, but feel free to not like them if want.”  No one will glorify your Father in heaven for that.

What are your thoughts?