Habakkuk 3: Will We Trust the Lord When Everything Looks Like We Shouldn’t?

Habakkuk 3: Will We Trust the Lord When Everything Looks Like We Shouldn’t?

If we’re honest, we don’t tend to live by faith (i.e., trust) in God, but by circumstances. If our circumstances are hunky dory, to our liking, we’re happy, if not we moan and complain. I like to think we naturally stop doing this in the process of growing in maturity, of growing up, of overcoming this penchant to act like children, but growing up isn’t easy. It is, however, necessary. For Christians this process is called sanctification, or being made holy by God. As I was going through my own sanctification process in life at some point I realized how hard it was. By nature I found I’m a moaner and whiner, and I tended to see myself as a victim easily seduced by self-pity. I came up with a phrase not too long ago some four decades into this process: the pain of sanctification.

Being molded and shaped by Almighty God into the image of his Son is not fun, nor for the faint of heart, but the fruit is sweet. If we really want God to have his way with us, it will get ugly. Our feelings will be hurt, and as Tim Keller always said, He will crush us. It is often an emotional struggle. The reason is that, as Jesus said (John 16:8), when the Holy Spirit comes, “he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” The Greek for convict, elegchó- ἐλέγχω is a tough one: reprove, rebuke, discipline, expose, show to be guilty. That word expose is especially scary. Who wants to be exposed? Not me! In fact when I was younger in the Lord I was afraid of asking God to have his way with me, to expose my sin. Now I plead with him to do it because of one very important word, in fact I’ve learned the most important word in the Christian faith: trust. Yes, it’s right up there with love, but trust has to come first because loving God, ourselves, and our neighbors is the fruit of trust.

As I finished the book of Habakkuk and read these final verses that word trust came to mind, and how difficult it can be to exercise it if we live by circumstances:

17 Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.

In the ancient world when almost everyone lived on farms and grew their own food nothing could be worse than this. It’s not just some empty store shelves like we experienced in the last few years that for us is a slight inconvenience, but imagine walking into every store in your city and they are all empty! Might we just panic? When everything that sustains life is gone what do we do? Freak out! Yet here is Habakkuk saying it doesn’t matter because he will choose a different response which will not be determined by the circumstances: trust.

I’ve found as I’ve grown older in the faith and in life that my greatest sin is not one of my most obvious sins, but my lack of trust in God. And because of that I’ve found that one of my favorite verses in the Bible is the most convicting, Isaiah 26:3:

You will keep him in perfect peace
   him whose mind is steadfast,
   because he trusts in you.

 If I don’t have perfect peace, I don’t trust in God. It’s as binary as you can get. I can say that sometimes in life I think I might have such peace, but I’ve found over the years I’m not really good at the whole perfection thing. So I’ve come to my default position in my daily prayers: I repent of this lack of trust every day. It’s reflected in things like fear, worry, anxiety, doubt, impatience, anger, and being easily annoyed. Oh, how easily annoyed I can be! After four plus decades as a Christians and God’s sanctifying work in my life, I think I’m a little better in putting my tendency to annoyance in abeyance, but its never easy. I have to constantly be aware that I just threw perfection out the window.

Where do all these attitudes and emotions not honoring to God come from? Living by circumstances and not by faith. The Greek word translated as faith or belief in the New Testament is pistis- πίστις: “Properly, persuasion (be persuaded, come to trust).” I really like the way Strong’s Concordance puts that because God never, ever requires “blind” faith, or faith without reason. This is very important to understand for a couple reasons. 

  1. The first is atheists pushing the lie that Christians (i.e., “religious people”) need faith because there is no evidence for what they believe. Or at best the evidence is so weak they have to take a “leap” of faith. In the words of Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, faith is believin’ what you know ain’t so. Thus people who are “not religious” supposedly don’t need “faith.” This is of course garbage because there is in fact an ocean’s worth of evidence pointing to Christianity’s veracity and that it’s worthy of our trust.
  2. The other reason is more important. The kind of faith that seeks the blessing of perfect peace in Him is, to coin a phrase, persuasive faith. In other words, God persuades us throughout our lives in relationship with Him (meaning we daily seek Him in his word, prayer, and in fellowship with His people, see 7:7) that we can trust Him, that He is trust-worthy, worthy of trust. He will never leave us out to dry even when “the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food. 

I will end this with a brief story. My sister-in-law was over for a visit recently, and we were talking God and things, and having recently read Habakkuk these verses were on my mind. So I pulled out my Bible at our dining room table and read the passage. Or should I say I tried to read the passage. When I got to, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord,” I could not get the words out, the tears wouldn’t let me. I’m not exactly sure why passages like this do that to me sometimes. Is it because I can approximate such trust at times, or that I’m so bad at it? I think it’s the latter because no matter how bad I continue to be at it, God in Christ loves me anyway, and continues to love and sanctify me so that I can approximate it a little more every day, and experience its blessings. Who doesn’t want peace of mind and heart rather than anxiety, fear, worry, and doubt? It’s a rhetorical question. 

When we realize just how unworthy we are, yet God loves us anyway because of Christ, tears are the appropriate response, but the emotions are not something we can manufacture because we think it’s the right thing to do. Relationships don’t work that way. They are dynamic, alive, unpredictable, coming when we least expect them, and hard to control. God in us, in Christ, in the person of the Holy Spirit is real, and the truth of who He is and what He’s done for us is stunning to contemplate. The more you do, the more real it becomes, and you won’t be able to help the emotions either.


Jim Caviezel to Jordan Peterson: “This is the Best Interview I’ve Ever Had in my Life . . . .”

Jim Caviezel to Jordan Peterson: “This is the Best Interview I’ve Ever Had in my Life . . . .”

I imagine as a famous actor Jim Caviezel has had a few interviews in his life, so when I saw that headline I simply couldn’t pass it up. By now you’re probably familiar with the blockbuster hit movie, Sound of Freedom, which has become a hit despite “Hollywood” doing everything it could to ignore it. You have to wonder why a movie about exposing the sexual trafficking of children is something to be ignored. The topic is horrific to even contemplate, but I’ve heard it’s a great film and treats the topic in a respectful and even holy way. We’ve tried to see it, but it’s been sold out in our area. We will persist!

This interview includes the man about which the movie was made, Tim Ballard, a modern hero if there ever was one. He runs an organization called Operation Underground Railroad, a reference of course to the operation of the same name before the Civil War which rescued runaway slaves. I very much encourage you, even implore you to watch/listen to the entire interview. It’s brutal, and you have to be prepared to hear of evil that is simply incomprehensible. I briefly want to share why I would encourage such a thing: evil.

Over the four plus decades I’ve been a Christian I’ve come across people, both in person and in writings and recordings, who either doubt or abandon their faith because of the existence of evil. The understandable struggle of how evil could exist if there is an all loving all powerful God is not something we can wrap our minds around. That’s one reason the struggle as been referred to as “the problem of evil,” the “problem” supposedly being one for Christians to answer. Indeed, Christianity does need to answer such a conundrum, but every worldview that human beings embrace has the same “problem.” The issue for Christianity, though, is that since the so-called Enlightenment and Voltaire, this has been pushed in the secular West as a particular problem for Christianity. The sense you get is that if Christianity can’t answer adequately, people can reject it and no longer have a “problem.” That is simply untrue.

For all of recorded history human beings have been trying to answer the question, why. Every child as he grows up and begins to experience life says, “That’s not fair!” Whence this notion of fair? Or the notion that something is “wrong”? Why do we feel a sense of injustice when we are wronged? Why when we see or experience wrong we long for justice? For wrongs to be righted, for wrongs to be punished? C.S. Lewis titled the first chapter of Mere Christianity, “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe.” He argues that all people in all places and times agree standards exist even if they disagree on the exact nature of the standards. He wrote the book, a series of talks, in the midst of World War II, and says if there no is Right and Wrong, then blaming the Nazi’s would be like blaming someone for the color of their hair. If Right, as he says is a “real thing,” only then and only then can we say what the Nazi’s did is Wrong. And remember, Lewis was an atheist into his 30s, partly because his beloved mother died when he was 9, and he experienced the horrors of World War I.

This brings me to Jordan Peterson and the interview with Caviezel and Ballard. As I said of Peterson in a recent post, he “has studied evil maybe more than any living human being,” yet for him instead of rejecting God, he clearly believes Christianity is the only thing that can make any sense of it at all. I don’t know the exact nature of his faith (God does), but he is one of the most effective Christian apologists of the 21st century, and studying evil is one reason for that. In fact I recently heard his daughter, Mikhaila, say he is currently writing a book disproving atheism. That should be interesting! When you listen to the podcast, Tim Ballard says his faith helped him deal with the horrific reality of human evil in child sex trafficking (he’s Mormon). And when Caviezel dove into Ballard’s horrifying world to prepare for the part, his Catholic faith helped him deal with it.

When we think about this “problem,” we need to understand that every religion and philosophy in all of recorded history is an attempt to deal with it, explain it, make sense of it, to answer the why. We don’t choose to be born, and before we know it we find ourselves conscious and involved in some massive cosmic drama of good and evil. The why haunts us because in so many ways it doesn’t seem to make sense, especially when we do not see wrongs and injustices righted. The only religion or philosophy that claims to know the answer is Judaism and its fulfillment Christianity. The former gives us the answer of why it exists (Genesis 1-3), and Christianity the solution. It is worth considering how this solution involved the greatest injustice ever perpetrated. An ostensibly perfect, sinless man who never did anything wrong and claimed to be God, allowed himself to be punished by a grisly and shameful death as a common criminal to pay the penalty of the wrongs others did.

Each of us had to decide for ourselves whether we believe that is true or not, but what we can confidently say is, there has never been any other answer to the “problem” like it. Especially because his followers claimed his rose from the dead in fulfillment of the Jewish religion in spite of such a thing being inconceivable to them, then being willing to give their lives for that claim. I personally find Christ’s life, death, and resurrection the only plausible explanation and answer that exists. In our day because we live in the post-Enlightenment secular West some people think if they are not “religious” they can escape having to provide an answer, but the “problem” still needs to be addressed, or just eat, drink, and be merry . . . . But as challenging as Christianity can be for some people to believe, every other ostensible explanation and “answer” has much bigger problems.

I’ll just address one. Most other religions and philosophies make no claim to know where evil comes from or why it exists—it just is. For those embracing some kind of demonic or evil force, that just is too, often like Manicheism believing good and evil are two equal forces battling it out in the universe. Augustine, the great 5th century Bishop of Hippo and one of the greatest thinkers of all time, once embraced it, but found it wanting and eventually embraced Christianity. Either option ignores or pushes aside the burning question inside the breast of every human being: why? Their answer? Who knows, just deal with it. In my mind the least plausible non-explanation is what Lewis implies in his critique, atheistic materialism. If all we are is lucky dirt, mere atoms in motion, products of random chance that come from nothing for no reason at all, right and wrong, good and evil are in the end meaningless concepts. Morals are mere preferences, like what flavor of ice cream I prefer. I prefer genocide, you prefer orphanages and hospitals. You say tomahto, I say tomaato. Que sera sera . . . I would suggest to Doris Day the future is indeed ours to see because a man 2000 years ago came back from the dead to tell us.


Uninvented Apologetics Canada Podcast Appearance

Uninvented Apologetics Canada Podcast Appearance

I was recently on the Apologetics Podcast to discuss Uninvented, and it was a blast. Especially because the young man who interviewed me, Wes Huff, is getting his Ph.D. in some kind of biblical textual studies from the University of Toronto, so he’s a budding scholar. That someone like him appreciated the book was extremely gratifying. And he was enjoyable as a discussion partner about the book and the topic.

Apologetics Canada is the grandaddy of Canadian apologetics ministries, having been founded in 2010. Here’s a bit about them:

When Andy Steiger and his wife, Nancy, founded Apologetics Canada in 2010, they were motivated to stop the exodus of young people leaving the church. God however had much more in store. This generation of young people both Christians and non-Christians alike have questions and are seeking truth.  The challenge in Western culture is communicating the message of Jesus in a way that people can understand and appreciate. Sharing the gospel requires us all to understand and speak the language of culture and address the questions being asked with intellectual honesty, gentleness and respect. When we do this in the love and winsomeness of Christ Jesus, lives are impacted and culture is changed.

“He walked away from his evangelical roots to escape feeling suffocated”

“He walked away from his evangelical roots to escape feeling suffocated”

That is the title of an NPR interview of Jon Ward in what I was sure would be a typical “deconversion” story, as they call it nowadays, especially given it’s leftwing mainstream media NPR. In case you haven’t noticed, corporate media despises, yea, loathes conservative Christianity of any stripe. So here, I thought, was yet another story of a Christian who abandoned his faith. I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t, but there are some important takeaways from his story we can learn from, positive and negative.

The first comes from the title of the book he wrote and thus the interview, Testimony: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Failed a Generation. This paints with a brushstroke entirely too broad. He experienced one slice of this so-called movement, and to imply it represents the whole is not accurate. I’m sure he would admit as much, but in the interview he’s not clear about that, or if he was, I missed it. The title of the book, though, is unfortunate and adds to the secular culture’s desire to denigrate and discredit Christianity. I listen to a lot of testimonies, people who’ve embraced Christianity for many reasons, all of which they obviously find helpful. Did the “movement” fail them? I’ve been a Christian over 44 years, and the only thing that’s failed in all that time is me! The God of Christianity revealed in creation, Scripture, and Christ has most definitely never failed even though we, his children, often do. As the famous hymn says, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; Prone to leave the God I love.”

Having said this, what he experienced was real and I can relate to his aversion to it. It sounded like a narrow kind of Pentecostal Christianity that didn’t do well with questions or doubt. I know those kind of Christians and congregations exist, but to imply or insinuate that’s a feature of Evangelical Christianity and not a bug is inaccurate. I’m confident most conservative Christians and congregations are not at all like this because that’s been my experience over all these years, and I’m sure most Christians would attest to the same. I’m not saying, however, this isn’t a problem, only that it’s a narrower one, and most importantly not exclusively a Christian problem. It is a human nature problem because people are sinners. Dogmatic narrowness and an unwillingness to entertain questions is in fact a common human malady. We find it in people of every religious stripe, and even those who think they are not at all religious (of course they are). Can anyone say . . . .  woke? Who are the most dogmatically narrow people on earth in the 21st century? Wokesters! And if you dare question them you will be silenced! Talk about a movement that failed a generation.

Speaking specifically of Christians inflicted with this myopia, though, I’ve seen it in my fellow Reformed and Calvinist Christians, but also in Arminians, Pentecostals and Charismatics, Roman Catholics and Orthodox, Bible believing non-denominational types, and every permutation in between. The problem, and this is something Ward highlights in the interview and I’d guess in the book, is the need for people to feel or think they are right. I agree with him. This is something I learned through many years and many mistakes as God was slapping me around, or as Tim Keller used to say all the time, crushing me. Thankfully, he’s really good at putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. This is not to say we should not want to be right. Who really wants to be wrong? I would guess nobody. But the question, and Ward highlights this, is can we admit we might be wrong. Dogmatism, the prototypical know-it-all, is not a terribly attractive trait because that person could never admit he just might be wrong. Or if he, or she, did, it would only be grudgingly.

Speaking of Christians, I’m afraid too many of us put our faith in our rightness rather than in Christ. I know for many years I did, but as I grew up realized just how little I know. It’s a cliché, but the more we know the more we realize we don’t know, or should. I’ve also come to realize how little we know when we declare the meaning of certain passages of Scripture, specifically things we simply can’t know even though many people pontificate confidently on them. But details of what those might be aren’t important, but what is, is our attitude when we come to the revelation of God in Scripture. Need I say our knowing should be in humility? In that we could maybe, possibly, perchance be wrong? That’s what Ward kept saying, maybe I’m wrong. In his experience he said he didn’t encounter that much.

Some people, a la Descartes, believe absolute certainty is not only attainable for finite human beings, but a worthy goal. But think about it for one second and you’ll realize by definition the finite can never be absolute. Our knowledge is always limited, which is why as I grew older it turns out one of my favorite verses in the Bible is about just how little we really know, I Corinthians 8:2: “If anyone thinks he knows anything, he does not yet know as he ought to know.” Paul in context is not calling for skepticism, that we can’t know, but for epistemological humility. We can and should have strong convictions though we must hold them firmly but lightly. Unfortunately that appears to be a problem for many people.

Human nature is a funny, perplexing, and utterly predictable thing, and the latter trait goes back to the garden and what we call the fall. It’s fascinating to realize that man’s fall from a state of fellowship with his Creator comes down to epistemology, a la Satan’s temptation, “you will be like God knowing Good and evil.” So it’s not surprising that our knowing, or the limited nature thereof, is such a significant part of our fallen condition, creating conflict, doubt, arrogance, pride, as well as blessing. It all depends on the attitude of the knower, doesn’t it. I’ve come to realize that as much as I love knowing and growing in knowledge, it’s far more important that I am known, as Paul follows up the above verse with, “But if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.” And in Galatians 4:9 he writes, “now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God. . .” Because I don’t trust myself, I often pray a couple verses of a Psalm of David (139):

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

As we are reminded by Jeremiah (17:9), “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” I heard Jordan Peterson, who has studied evil maybe more than any living human being, say something amazing about this deceitful heart of ours. Speaking of certain psychopaths, he said as they go down the labyrinth of depravity they are especially good at “the self-deception of their self-description.” As my father used say, people believe their own BS. He added, “You get to that lie by a thousand different micro-lies.” Might I remind all of us that we are all susceptible to “the self-deception of our own self-description,” and believing our own BS? Not to mention “micro-lies”? Which is why I pray the Psalm 139 verses so fervently and often because I don’t trust my deceitful heart, but I can trust our Savior God who in His almighty power in Christ by the Holy Spirit promises to “lead me in the way everlasting.”

Book Review: The Rise and Fall of Dispensationalism

Book Review: The Rise and Fall of Dispensationalism

One of the most unanticipated of my many red pill experiences of the last seven or eight years was the transformation of my eschatological position, as I’ve explained here previously. When I was born-again, as we called it back then, in the late ‘70s premillennial dispensationalism was ubiquitous, as it continued to be throughout the ‘80s and into the ‘90s. Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christians (they were two somewhat distinct groups back then) were obsessed with the rapture and Jesus’ immanent return. Rampant speculation about “end times” events was everywhere, and some were so bold as to predict the exact date when Jesus would return. I recently learned about this book, and while I can’t take the time to read it, the short book review by Joel Looper was interesting because the obsession of those early couple decades of my Christian life has disappeared. I’ve often wondered why, given most Christians are still dispensational. I’ve chalked it up to one too many predictions falling short, and people just getting tired of all the speculation, but there are also scholarly and theological reasons, which you can learn about in the piece.

The reason I’m writing about it, though, is because of what this change says about the nature of Christian and human hope in general. The most exciting thing about embracing postmillennialism is that it gives us ground for optimism and hope in this world, as fallen and dysfunctional as it is. But before I get to this, I want to quote the last two paragraphs of the book review:

The Rise and Fall of Dispensationalism obliquely but powerfully gestures toward a hole often found in the gospel that post-dispensationalist evangelicals believe today. “In the wake of dispensationalism’s collapse,” he writes in the epilogue, “the eschatological sight of the American church has blurred.” That means that our hope is less fervent, thinner, colder.

Many Protestant pastors understandably are trepidatious about even alluding to eschatological matters for fear of getting sucked into controversies about numerology, new candidates for the Antichrist, and dating the second coming. Nevertheless, Hummel reminds us, “Christianity is inescapably eschatological.” That is so because faith cannot exist without hope.

Exactly, especially religious faith. All human beings live by faith, be they “religious” or not, and in one of my favorite phrases, there is no such thing as an unbeliever. The same thing, though, applies to hope. As all people live by faith, all people need hope, need something to look forward to, something to give their lives purpose and meaning. Without hope, life is death, as we witness in our hopeless secular age in which close to 50,000 people a year kill themselves.

One of the leftovers of dispensational premillennialism, shared to one degree or another by amillennialism, is a kind of skepticism about this world, that everything is inexorably going to hell in a handbasket, and Jesus will come back soon to save the day. Before embracing postmillennialism I didn’t realize how our theology of “end times” determines how we interpret everything about the times in which we live, whether negatively or positively. As I explain in the piece I linked to above, I was as negative and often depressed as the next Christian and conservative, but found Steve Bannon’s War Room, and he turned me into an optimist. The problem was that I didn’t have the theological, specifically eschatological, framework for optimism. In the book I’m currently finishing, I started it hoping to argue theologically for that optimism, but without postmillennialism it would have been a difficult argument to make. With it we realize Jesus came to earth and now sits at the right hand of God ruling to extend his reign, advance his kingdom, and build his church. I can’t make the case again here, but I will share two passages proving that Christ’s rule is now, in this world, not merely in eternity or only in our hearts. First, Psalm 110:

The Lord says to my lord:

“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”

The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying,
“Rule in the midst of your enemies!”
Your troops will be willing
on your day of battle.

This Psalm is clearly Messianic and refers to Christ, and Paul knows that as he writes these words in I Cor. 15.

25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

The question on the table for all Christians is this. Does this “reign until” have real, substantive, positive affects in this fallen world, here and now? Or does Satan call the shots, and things will inevitably get worse until like a dues ex machina Jesus returns to save the day and change everything in an instant? I now believe the former is the biblical answer, not the latter, but that’s not why I’m writing this. I’m writing it because of hope, and why the former gives us incredible hope for this age, as well as the age to come, as Paul tells us of Jesus’ reign in Ephesian 1, and the latter falls short.

Ever since the Second Great Awakening in the 19th century, and the corresponding rise of secularism and dispensational premillennialism, Christian hope has moved its focus almost completely on the world to come, our eternal hope in Christ. I believe as important and powerful as this is, the hope of being saved from our sins and going to heaven one day, as the author of the book review says, makes our hope “less fervent, thinner, colder.” In this take, the only reign of Christ is in the Christian’s heart, and has effect primarily in our sanctification. It’s merely personal. But Jesus didn’t come to solely transform his people’s lives, but that their transformed lives would impact the world for righteousness and his kingdom, as he himself taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” Jesus didn’t teach us to pray this expecting our prayer would be futile, did he?

Imagine if we really believed God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit is working now, this very moment, to advance his kingdom through us so his rule of righteousness and peace would in some way manifest itself in the societies in which we live. The problem is we live by sight and not by faith, as if what appears as debacle and defeat is the end of the story. If you read the history of redemption in our Bibles you’ll see things are rarely as they appear on the surface to the finite human beings who haven’t a clue what God is really doing. And we must realize as I say all the time, God is never in a hurry. If in God’s providence we’re to live in a time of defeat, so be it, but we battle (Eph. 6:12) not just for our generation but for generations to come. As the Apostle Paul also says in I Corinthians, our labor in the Lord is not in vain, and thus he exhorts us to give ourselves fully to it!