Willie Deutsch.com

Religion and Politics from a Young Christian in Northern Virginia

The Promise of Companionship

August 5th, 2013

If there is one thing that unites humanity, it is the problem of suffering and evil.  Every person will suffer, face death, and see others do the same.  Riches, title, race, gender, place of birth, etc does not change the fact that, while the forms and extent may be radically different, every human will face suffering and evil.

In light of this fact, God has one of the most incredible promises, “He will not leave you or forsake you.”

Psalm 23 has been a comfort to Christians through the ages, and in it we see the same promise made.  While the psalmist reflects on how God leads him to times of beauty and peace, he doesn’t become angry with God that the valley of the shadow of death comes.  Instead he finds comfort that God is with him during that inevitable time.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

This is the comfort of the Christian.  Not that we will escape trouble, but that in the trials we will face, we have a companion who is a comforter, protector, and savior.  While there may be a number of unknowable reasons for our trials, through Christ we have strength in our trouble like no one else can.

This reality is pictured in the Lord of the Rings through Galadriel’s gift to Frodo.  In the movies, the Elf Queen states, “I give you the light of Eärendil, our most beloved star. May it be a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”  Some jokingly wonder why the eagles aren’t summoned in the Lord of the Rings to fly the hobbits to Mount Doom and avoid the dangers that await on the journey.  However, instead of an escape from the the trouble ahead, Frodo is given help for the trouble that will come.

As the story progresses, it becomes the light by which he can see the path ahead, a light so radiant that evil retreats from it, and the light which enables his friend Sam to rescue him from the giant spider Shelob.

As we are willing to look up to God and open our hands to His gifts instead of only seeing our troubles and clenching our hands in anger and frustration, we find one of the most incredible ways to face the trials that will come.  There is nothing better than having God as your shepherd.

For my friends who can’t believe that God could be present during senseless evil.  I understand.  I’ve been there too.  Please take the time to read the two short stories at this link.

Separation from the World: An Astonishing Concept for Paul

January 16th, 2013

There is an idea among many Christians that separation from the world is an intrinsically good thing.  This stems from the idea of being “In the world, but not of it,” (John 17:14-15) and Paul’s command to “not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2) among other passages.  Many have taught that these verses teach that being separate or different from the world is an intrinsic good.  (“The World” in this case refers to people, views, and institutions that are simply non-Christian.  Not things that are militant towards Christianity, but rather those that are non-Christian.  It is similar to the concept of a distinct sacred v. secular divide.)  The idea is furthered by the idea that holiness means being separate, so when we are being separate or distinct we are being even more holy.

This has lead for many to a disassociation with non-Christians by many Christians so that they have really no friends or serious interactions with non-Christians.  Even more tragically, this focus on being distinct has lead Christians to disassociate from other Christians who don’t share their distinctions.

While discussing this issue, a friend pointed out a fascinating passage in I Corinthians 5.

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you. (I Corinthians 5:1-2,9-13)

You can hear Paul’s astonishment at the absurdity of being in the world and not associating with those who are of it.  There is almost a little chuckle in his voice as he says it.  To him it makes no sense.  It doesn’t compute.  How can one be in the world and not associate with those in it? Paul is explicitly refusing to tell people not to associate with those of the world.  He doesn’t believe it is possible for people living in the world to do this.

Probably the reason this idea is so foreign to Paul is that it is contrary to the last command of Christ, The Great Commission.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Funding missionaries is a good thing, but funding and sending missionaries isn’t everything that is meant.  If the Great Commission means anything, it has to include reaching the people right where you are.  This is impossible if you are separated from the people you are trying to reach.  Building relationships, knowing people, and reaching them where they are is crucial to obeying The Great Commission.

However, our focus on distinctions makes many more focused on building their subgroup of Christianity than bringing new people into the Kingdom.  While “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance,” (Luke 15:7) many churches are more focused on the ninety-nine.  Helping other Christians come to a “better” understanding of certain doctrines seems to be a greater focus for many.

Ironically this focus on becoming Christians who better understand various Christian teaching stems in part from the fact that most Christians only associate with other Christians, and so they are doing their best to help and teach those they associate with.  You can’t influence people you don’t know, so maybe we should rethink the idea of disassociating ourselves from those we are supposedly meant to be reaching.

Putting this a different way… When Dale Carnegie wrote How To Win Friends and Influence People I’m pretty sure separating yourself from them didn’t make it on the list for a reason.  If the church is supposed to be about influencing people to come to Christ, it’s illogical to value separating ourselves from those we are trying to influence.

How Does Love “Keep No Record of Wrongs?”

January 13th, 2013

Recently a Christian friend shared with me about an effort to reconcile with another Christian, with whom he had some relational difficulties due to a series of disagreements and altercations. He shared with me that during the course of his attempt to reconcile and heal his relationship with the other party, he was told that if he was truly loving, he should follow Paul’s description of love and “keep no record of wrongs” (I Corinthians 13:5). My friend expressed his confusion over the fact that this line of reasoning was used to justify a seeming unwillingness in the other party to admit wrongs committed in the recent past.  When he tried to address the issues hindering his relationship with this other Christian, he was essentially told that he needed to just “forgive and forget.”

In light of this conversation, I’ve been pondering the idea of love, and wondering how love intersects with working through past wrongs. Is it true that when we forgive, we are required to just forget about the past? Was that what Paul meant when he said that love “keeps no record of wrongs”?

My initial reaction was to try to look up the meaning of the Greek words involved in Paul’s description of love. I discovered that the idea expressed in I Corinthians 13:5 can be translated variously as: “love is not resentful,” “love does not count up wrongdoing,” or “love does not entertain evil thoughts.” It appears that the phrase is not equated with the idea of “forgive and forget,” but rather with the idea of being resentful and bitter towards another person because of past wrongs, and harboring evil thoughts toward them or about them.

Thinking about what the phrase could mean, I found myself turning to 2 Samuel 12 and the story of the prophet Nathan’s confrontation of King David. This is the story of Nathan’s convicting parable, and the punishment pronounced for David’s murder of Uriah and sin with Bathsheba. After Nathan pronounces the penalty, and David confesses his sin, there is a fascinating verse in 2 Samuel 12:13-14.

And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.”

Here we see God forgiving David, yet clearly not forgetting what He did, nor sweeping away the consequences for David’s evil actions. I think this passage can be insightful in terms of how God deals with sin.

While it is also true that God blots out our sin (Isaiah 43:25 and Isaiah 44:22), and removes it from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12), He does not forget them so that He could not recount them. To believe this would be to deny the omniscience of God. It also denies the fact that everyone will give an account to God for the sins they commit.  (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 and 2 Corinthians 5:10)  Instead, God in His mercy no longer holds those sins to our account. In terms of our justification, or right standing before Him, He attributes Christ’s righteousness to our account, and wipes our record of the many sins we have committed.

If God’s blotting or forgetting is in terms of holding things to our record, this is the way the idea of “keeping no record of wrongs” should be viewed. Following His example, when we forgive someone, we must choose not to “hold their hurtful actions against them.” In other words, we must choose not to view them with resentment or vengeance in our hearts. Fostering bitterness is dangerous, and contrary to love. However, this does not eliminate the need to work through issues as a consequence of sin, or in order to bring about restoration.

If you are trying to resolve an issue with someone else in a loving way, but are being told to just move on and “forgive and forget,” this is something to consider. You may not be able to forget the actions of another person, and it may not even be wise to try. However, you also can’t force people to reconcile with you, or admit past wrongdoing. If you are in this situation, it may be helpful to remind yourself that it is not a sin to remember wrongs that someone else has committed against you.

Choosing to continue acting with love towards that person is what matters. Be open to reconciliation. Walk in forgiveness. Choose grace.

Christmas: The Centerpiece of Scripture

December 24th, 2012

Recently I attended my second Andrew Peterson Behold the Lamb of God concert.  The concert begins with a passage from The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name.  After this last concert, I went ahead and bought it.  It is a children’s Bible that intentionally proclaims Christ from all of Scripture in the vein of Luke 24:27.  Over the past weeks, I have loved the life and perspective that this interpretation brings out of Scripture.

On the last Sunday before Christmas, I wanted to share the passage Andrew Peterson opens his concert with to reflect on. 

 

 “It’s like an adventure story about a young Hero who came from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne, everything to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that have come true in real life.

You see, the best thing about this story is—it’s true.

It takes the whole Bible to tell this story. And at the center of the Story there is a baby. Every story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a  puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.

And this is no ordinary baby. This is the Child upon whom everything would depend. This is the baby that would one day—but wait, our story starts where all good stories start. Right at the very beginning…”

Allowing for Mystery in Theology

December 11th, 2012

I was recently struck by reading Isaiah 55:8-9 by how much of God we probably can’t comprehend.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

We can’t measure the distance that is described in this metaphor.  Where is heaven?  How far is it from earth?  If we ever could measure the distance, could we ever comprehend the magnitude of the distance?  We can barely comprehend what 1 trillion dollars looks like.  Can we really comprehend the distance of light-years?  God’s ways are incomprehensibly higher than ours.  God thinks on a level so much higher than us that we are able to think.

The more this sinks in, the more it seems laughable to completely understand God, and instead a desire to revel in the mysteries and incomprehensibility of God.  Libertarianism is a political philosophy that thrives on logically explaining every seeming inconsistency.  Similarly many Christians try to explain away every issue.  But can we really logically explain everything about a God who thinks incomprehensibly higher than we do?  Are you willing to accept mystery in your theology, even more than that are you willing to accept that some of the things you believe may not be true?

Related Post: Is Your Theology Humble?

Why do You Believe What You Believe?

December 10th, 2012

The following is an entertaining video from Francis Chan, author of Crazy Love, about how he responded when some Jehovah’s Witnesses came to his door.  It is loving, insightful, entertaining, and very worth watching.

The last minute of the video is fascinating because he turns the issue back to Christians.  Do you believe what you do because you have searched them out yourself, or because someone else said so and you believed them?  Of course encouraging people to “search out the Bible for themselves” isn’t a magic way for everyone to come to the same conclusions.  People will always disagree, but I would rather disagree and discuss things with someone who is humbly seeking things out themselves than depending on others for their opinions.

Showing God’s Love to Homosexuals

December 5th, 2012

This summer, a website popped up entitled Queer at Patrick Henry College which is purportedly by Patrick Henry College students and alumni who talk about their struggles as a homosexual in the christianhomeschooling, and PHC communities.  When I originally saw the website a month ago, I thought it was part of an SEO attack similar to the SEO attack on Rick Santorum because of the large number of posts celebrating LGBT history.  After the website created a facebook page the school administration responded by trying to force the website to shut down, and blocking the website on the school’s network.

My initial thought is that this is an ironic response from a school which prides itself in teaching a Classical Liberal Arts education, one where students read books by people with whom they disagree in order to better understand and engage them.  Responding to criticisms of being narrow-minded by censoring a website seems to contradict PHC’s typical approach to teaching students to think for themselves.

The administration’s response also raises an issue that my generation is going to have to figure out as a result of the increasing size of the homosexual community.  How do we as the church interact with the homosexual community?

One camp says homosexuality is a sin and must be condemned.  This approach can quickly condemn the sinner for their sin.  Supporters of this view point to verses like I Corinthians 6:9 and I Timothy 1:10 for support pointing out the seriousness with which God takes this sin.

We should not condone or excuse homosexuality.  However, as Christians we should show God’s love and grace to everyone, including homosexuals.  The idea of loving the sinner but not the sin should apply to everyone.  While Paul does say that homosexuals (along with people who commit a number of other sins) won’t inherit the kingdom of heaven, two verses later he goes on to show the beauty of the gospel.

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

This is the beauty of the gospel.  The gospel saves those of whom it could once be said “they will not inherit the kingdom.”  The cross is the great leveler, and all who have faith in Christ can come to faith.

Following the I Timothy 1 passage where Paul condemns homosexuality, comes one of the most beautiful descriptions of the power of the gospel to redeem the chief of sinners.

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful,appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (I Timothy 1:12-14)

If the gospel is powerful enough to save anyone, do our interactions with the homosexual community reflect that?  Wouldn’t that require us to show God’s love and grace to them as we interact with them?

Would a homosexual feel welcome in one of our churches? Probably not.  Can we blame them? Tragically not.  But how can we reach those who, as a result of our actions, expected to be condemned instead of loved when they came to our church?  I am not suggesting we should accept sin, but we should be willing to show God’s love to sinners.

Ironically, we understand the necessity of this much more readily when it comes to the other important social issue for evangelicals: abortion.  Murder is regularly condemned in the same breath as homosexuality, and sacrificing infants is vehemently condemned in the Bible.  Yet the pro-life movement has learned the importance of showing love to those who have abortions, and even those who perform abortions.  We understand that we must love those who have abortions, and seek to show them that God’s love can forgive them even for aborting their child.  We understand that we must love those who perform abortions, so they too will understand the love of God and be open to listening to us. We understand this…in the abortion context.  For some reason we don’t understand the importance of doing the same thing to those struggling with homosexuality.

Imagine if we believed in loving homosexuals like we do the mothers who have abortions.

In closing I would encourage you to read the stories of two prominent Christians who chose to love homosexuals without condoning their lifestyle.  The first tells how the head of the SBC in Oklahoma overwhelmed Soulforce with love when they decided to picket his church.  The second tells the story of a gay person giving Rich Mullins a lift.  I would encourage you to read these articles and ask yourself what would a gay person think if they interact with you?  Would they see God’s love through you, or would the be condemned by you?

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This article is not written as a condemnation of my Alma Mater, or those involved in the situation there.  I learned a lot through my time at Patrick Henry College, and I deeply appreciate Dr. Farris and the school leadership for the investment they continue to pour into students at the school, as well as their activism on many important issues.  The recent situation simply presented an opportunity to address an issue that Christian conservatives should continue thinking about.

 

Tough Love: Is it Loving or Just Tough?

November 28th, 2012

In my previous post on love, I took a jab at the idea of “tough love.”  The post does beg the question of whether there is a place for “tough love.”  To paraphrase a friend of mine, “Does showing love mean that the person will always ‘feel the love?'”

A very pertinent passage is Hebrews 12:5-11.  The writer cites Proverbs 3:11-12.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights.

He then compares the Lord’s discipline to that of earthly fathers and finishes with a beautiful description of the purpose of discipline.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

So is someone being unloving if a person doesn’t “feel the love?”  Of course not.  However, there is a version of “tough love” where a person sees someone doing something they believe is wrong and acts in a tough and firm way.  The idea of intentionally showing love does not come into the equation because the purpose is simply showing the person how they are wrong in order to get them to change or conform.  Love becomes boiled down to “showing someone the error of their way” instead of the depth of care and long suffering that is fleshed out in I Corinthians 13.  It is this version of “tough love” that I was pushing back against.

Is there a focus on showing love and restoration in your supposedly tough version of love?  Would someone observing be able to see that you are showing love as you work towards long term restoration?  Is their an end goal of training and bringing about righteousness, or just showing guilt?

I’d like to share a story in which someone was undeniably tough but still loving.  A good friend of mine was fired by his boss.  It was a hard day for him and he cried, but he was regularly late for work and underperforming.  While a boss would be fine leaving it there, he chose instead to invite my friend to meet regularly for coffee to talk about things.  Through that choice to proactively reach out, a deeper friendship was developed that became very important to my friend.  Through showing love and care while being tough, a relationship was built, and an individual was influenced.

For some the love in “tough love” seems to be just the love it took to point out where someone was wrong.  However, through showing love to an individual while being tough, more can be accomplished.  This was how my friend was blessed, and I would argue as well it is part of God’s loving discipline.  Is your “tough love” simply tough, or is it intentional to show love as you are working to help the individual grow through it?  If your just being tough and not intentionally showing love, that’s fine. Just be willing to admit that and just call it being tough.

Is Being Right What is Most Important?

November 21st, 2012

A recent discussion online about evangelicalism made me think yet again on the question of whether there should be something more important for Christians than believing and doing the right things.  Ben Tribbett, one of the leading Democrat bloggers in the state, shared an interesting story.

Willie Deutsch, I’ll share with you a story that is non-political on why evangelicals have trouble reaching people. My mom is Jewish- my dad is southern baptist, and whenever I went to Roanoke as a kid I attended a southern baptist church with my grandmother. One summer when I was about 5 and visiting for a month and my parents were gone the youth minister came over to the farm. I went outside with him and he proceeded to tell me that my mother was going to hell, and he wanted to save me from doing so. He demonstrated this by setting up some sticks on the ground to represent heaven and hell and stomped on the “jewish” sticks. My grandmother was PISSED when she heard what happened- because even though she was a devout baptist, she didn’t like people speaking “ugly” about other religions or people. I was perfectly happy attending church with her until that happened and never liked it afterwords.

This story brought to mind I Corinthians 13:1-3 and the need for Christians to show love.  Here Paul rattles off a number of valuable actions.  Things like speaking in tongues, prophesying, having great wisdom, great faith, charity, even martyrdom.  All these are good.  But Paul declares that possessing them without love is worthless.

One of the qualities Paul mentions is understanding “all mysteries and all knowledge.”  Understanding right doctrine and right practice certainly fits within the description of “understanding all knowledge.”  Imagine someone who perfectly understands all theology, and how people should live.  Wouldn’t that be pretty impressive?  Paul says if the person doesn’t have love, he is nothing.  Paul believes that all of that knowledge doesn’t matter if the person does not possess love.

Think back to the story of the pastor I shared earlier.  One can argue with whether the pastor was “right” in what he said, but what is undeniable is that he was unloving.  This also answers the question of why love is most important.  What the pastor did turned Ben away from Christianity, and who can blame him for having that reaction?  If your presentation or discussion of truth is not couched in love, how can you expect the listener to be willing to listen?  (As an aside, humility when talking about truth is also a good thing.)  An unloving discussion of truth will burn the relational bridges necessary to be able to influence a person.  How can you expect someone to seriously consider an idea presented in an unloving way?  Even worse, what will they think of Christ, whom you claim to represent?

Before writing off what I am talking about, consider this: when you know someone thinks differently than you do, are you quicker to judge or to try to love and understand?  What about homosexuals?  Do we as Christians love them or judge them?  Abortion doctors?  Those who have had an affair?  Those who have committed other grievous sin?

Thinking closer to home… What about the Christians who don’t act exactly as we do? The church with a different style of worship?  Those who don’t have the same standards of modesty?  Someone who is an Arminian or a Calvinist or Premill or Postmill, or you name it?  Are you quick to judge and distance yourself, or do you love them as your brother or sister in Christ?

“But Willie,” you may say, “These things are important.”  I know they are, but to Paul believing the right thing is worthless if you have not love.

You may also say, “Willie, I’m just showing ‘tough love.'”  Really?  Does the way you are showing love line up with the way Paul describes love in the rest of I Corinthians 13?

Another issue is that of intentions.  You may feel love towards someone, and believe that your actions are motivated by love.  But are the actions themselves loving?  The description of love, describes actions.  It is great to have the best of intentions, but are the actions themselves loving?  Think back to the pastor.  He was probably very well intentioned in wanting Ben to come to salvation, avoid hell, etc…  The unloving way in which he displayed his presumably good intentions had the opposite affect.

Think about the “being right” v. “showing love” dichotomy another way.  It is the difference between being more concerned with what someone does than in developing a relationship or understanding why they do certain actions when responding to them.  When you are more concerned about outcomes than building a relationship, you lose the ability to influence.  When someone thinks you are more concerned with making sure you act or think the way you do, then you have lost the ability to reach them at all.  This is the dangers that Christians face when they value being right over showing love.

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For a related sermon, I would strongly recommend this one by Colby Garman entitled Love the Mark of Christian Maturity.

Encouragement

November 9th, 2012

I Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”  I wanted to take a moment to thank those who have taken the time to thank those who have taken the time to encourage me over the years, and encourage others that your encouragement can help people immensely.  Encouragement for some is one of the greatest ways you can bless them.

I was cleaning out my backpack in preparation for a trip recently and pulled out a stack of sticky notes.  They were a collection of notes from my wing that I received probably three years ago when I really needed it.  All of my wingmates took the time to write an encouraging note and cover my desk with them.  Those notes have meant the world, and for three years I’ve kept them in my backpack where I fondly look back at them from time to time.

One of the most memorable times when someone encouraged me was a text I received.  In a world where I’ve sent and received thousands of texts, this is one of the texts I will always remember.  It was one of the darkest points in my life where I felt things were being ripped from me, and I could see no light in the tunnel.  Someone I was just getting to know sent me the following text, which brought me to tears, and did more to encourage me than anything else at that time. (Philippians 4:5-7)

Willie. Good to talk tonight.

Someone read this text at our group tonight and you came to my mind. I’m sure you know but it helps to hear afresh at such times.  The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your mind in Christ Jesus.

In His Grace

Thank you to the many times people have taken the time to encourage me over the years, it has meant the world.

God can use even a few sentences, a hug, or a simple act to encourage and show someone God’s love when they need it most.  As Christians we have a lot to encourage each other about.  God is faithful and never changes.  In times of darkness we very often need to be reminded of these essential truths.  Here is a great resource of verses to use when encouraging others.

 

Willie Deutsch.com

Religion and Politics from a Young Christian in Northern Virginia