The Danger of Getting What We Want

We often choose earthly treasures that we can’t keep over eternal treasures that we can’t lose.


Tim Keller paraphrased and quoted a columnist back in the 1980’s in a recent sermon he gave. The columnist knew a number of celebrities personally. Keller paraphrased the columnist: “I knew them when they were working behind the counter the cosmetic counter at Macy’s, and I knew them when they were bouncers at the village clubs, and all that, and then they became famous, and they became movie stars, and then they became more unhappy then they were before.”

Keller paraphrased further: “That giant thing they were striving for, that ‘fame thing’ that was going to make everything OK, that was going to make their lives bearable, that was going to provide them personal fulfillment and with ‘ha ha happiness’, it had happened and nothing changed. They were still them. The disillusionment turned them howling and insufferable.”

Keller then quoted the columnist, who said, “If God really wants to play a rotten practical joke on us, He grants your deepest wish and then giggles merrily as you suddenly realize you want to kill yourself.”

God made us for Himself.

Of course, the idea of God “giggling merrily” is obviously not biblical, but the rest of it is. God made us for Himself. He weeps at our choosing to follow after the things we want instead of Him. He weeps for us because it can never fulfill us.

I write this on the heels of my last article in which I reflected on celebrity Christianity. More accurately, celebrities who have recently become Christians. In the article, I also reflected on “celebrity” Christians, people who were thrust into the Christian limelight at an early age, before a firm foundation of spiritual growth and relationship with God.

And I wonder how those celebrities turning to Christianity will fair into the future. They are used to the warm (and sometimes harsh) light of public celebrity. That is where they live, but what they need is the nutrient rich soil of God’s word, prayer, relationship to God, fellowship and all the things God must do in us in the dark recesses of our hearts, well out of the light of public life.

Like the rich young ruler who was searching, but found it too difficult to leave behind all his wealth to which he had become accustomed, celebrity  fame and fortune may difficult to give up. Even though it doesn’t satisfy the deepest longings of the soul, it is still (likely) everything they thought they wanted.

Riches, and celebrity, and comfort, and recognition become a trap. We are lured in. Our own desires propel us hard in the direction of the sunlight. We strain our whole lives with all of our effort. All of our thoughts, hopes and dreams carry us along, and the things we gain along the way, even if they turn sour in our hands, are difficult to give up…. If it was all we wanted.

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Celebrity Christianity

LOS ANGELES, CA. November 9, 2016: Actor Brad Pitt at a special fan screening for “Allied” at the Regency Village Theatre, Westwood.

Following on the heels of public “deconstruction” stories (like Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson) and the suicide of a well-known pastor, Jarrid Wilson, come the stories about newfound faith in God by public figures like Kanye West, Demi Lovato and now Brad Pitt. I feel like we need to be careful here.

Our faith shouldn’t rise or fall on the stories of public figures. The human tendency to follow and be interested in people we admire (or even idolize) is strong. A little perspective should be maintained, though.

God is no respecter of persons.

Though we put stock in what other people do or say, people are not the standard. God, alone, is the standard, and we should be careful to focus on Him. As big and bold as a person might seem, he or she is as finite as we are, flawed by sin and limited by our individual perspectives, influenced by any number of factors, many of which we may not completely appreciate (or even be aware).

One writer surmises that our reactions to celebrities becoming Christians (or renouncing Christianity) says more about us than them.

We live in a celebrity culture in which fame equals validation and significance. When we hear news about a celebrity conversion, we usually don’t picture the lone individual standing before almighty God—stripped of all earthly trinkets and worldly success—on the same level as you and me and everyone else. We still see them in their celebrity form, as the avatar created by their promotional machine. And once someone professes faith, we tend to slip into the same worldly assessment of their significance.

This leads us to put too much emphasis (and faith) in the celebrity who becomes Christian, and that is dangerous for our faith – and theirs. We are quick to hold them up as examples and leaders, but faith, redemption, sanctification and growth in the knowledge and grace of God is a process. It takes time.

Joshua Harris wrote a book, Kiss Dating Goodbye, that catapulted him into the Christian limelight at the age of 21. Marty Sampson, the once Christian songwriter, became a worship leader for the megachurch Hillsong at the age of 20. Talent and fickle fame are not substitutes for depth and strength of character and faith.

We need to be careful not too put too much emphasis in the newfound faith of celebrities. We should not expect them to become overnight spiritual leaders. Neither should we be overly skeptical. They need room to grow and mature in Christ, like anyone else, and I fear that celebrity is not fertile soil for Christian growth.

Think of the rich young ruler.

Jesus described the way to follow him. It looks like taking up a cross. It involves learning the value of being last and adopting a servant of all perspective. Paul warns us that no one should think more highly of himself than he ought. Neither should we think too highly of others – for their sakes and ours.

Our rush to establish a celebrity as a leader in matters of faith does injustice to both the celebrity and also the church, requiring a sped-up sanctification process on behalf of the celebrity (because they’re already seen as a leader) and setting the church up for letdown when the movie star disappoints.

With said, I celebrate the newfound faith of any person, celebrity or commoner, like me. Let us pray for them and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of their faith and ours.

The Hole In the God of the Gaps Argument

The fact is that all scientists are filling in the gaps with a model of reality they believe best those gaps in light of the knowledge they have. 


Most people who have entertained ultimate questions seriously abut whether God exists are familiar with the “God of the Gaps argument” that is made against the existence of God. It goes something like this: In the past, people couldn’t explain the rain, so they concluded that God must be crying. People couldn’t explain an earthquake, so they thought God must be mad at something they did. People invoked a divine perspective to fill gaps in our knowledge and understanding of how the world works.

From that observation (which is factually true as a simplistic statement), they add in the equally true observation that the progression of science over the centuries has been filling in the gaps and providing knowledge and understanding of natural processes that explain the things we didn’t know without having to resort to the conclusion that “God does it”. Thus, the argument goes, we should stop invoking divine explanations… and stop believing in God.

Scientists realized they didn’t need to invoke divine explanations at all to be able to study the natural world, and so the scientific consensus has concluded over recent centuries that divine explanations are not only not necessary, but not appropriate. Divine explanations are viewed today as anti-scientific. Many who are concerned with the purity of science would deem divine explanations as heretical.

The God of the gaps argument (an argument to prove the nonexistence of God), however, is pretty weak. The fact that we can do science (which is the study of the natural world) without appealing to a supernatural being or explanation isn’t surprising. There is an order to the natural world that we can study and know, but that order doesn’t preclude the existence of a super (other than natural) Being behind it all.

If we resign ourselves to nothing but the study of the natural world, how do we expect to know anything about the possibility of reality beyond it?  If we limit ourselves to naturalistic explanations, we have foreclosed any other possibility.

Frankly, there is a big gap between the fact that the natural world has order that we can study and the question whether anything beyond the natural world exists. I can turn the argument around and accuse the atheist of filling the gap with the conclusion that no God exists.

But all of this really misses the important point. Hugh Ross addresses the God of the gaps argument in a recent interview with Kahldoun Sweis. He says, “In science, there are always gaps. We will never learn everything. We are limited human beings.” However, when we “push back the frontiers of science”, we have to ask ourselves whether the gaps in our knowledge are getting bigger and more problematic? Or are they getting smaller and less problematic?”

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Though Every Man Be a Liar

The flaws of humanity that exist in the church negatively affect people and are a stumbling block for many.


In Romans 3, Paul asks whether a lack of faith nullifies God’s faithfulness. It’s a rhetorical question that Paul answers this way: “Even if everyone else is a liar, God is true.” (NLT)

Our faithlessness, of course, doesn’t make God faithless. Our actions don’t change God’s character. Though every man be a liar, still God is true.

This is the backdrop to this piece that is inspired by the interview of Lisa Gungor and Alisa Childers by Justin Brierley on the Unbelievable? podcast.

Alisa Childers and Lisa Gungor both grew up with evangelical Christianity. They were both Christian musical artists. They both went through a period of doubt and “deconstruction”. Alisa Childers emerged from that period of deconstruction with her faith intact, stronger than it was before, while Lisa Gungor has evolved into a progressive Christian – holding on to the title “Christian”, while letting go of nearly everything that distinguishes Christianity from other religions.

Of her own experience, Childers says that the flaws and errors in her construct of God, scripture and doctrine were removed in that process of deconstruction and replaced. Instead of giving up on Christianity, she doubled down in her testing of the faith. What could not stand up to the scrutiny, she let go. What remains is a solid foundation.

While the church, and people generally, seem to fear doubt, and shy away from it, the Bible actually encourages us to meet doubt head on. Paul urges us to “test everything” and “keep [or hold fast] what is good”. (1 Thessalonians 5:21) This is the route Alisa Childers took when faced with doubt and challenges to her faith.

More to the point of this article, though, Childers observes that many people who go through “deconstruction” of their faith often cite the behavior of the church, and the people in the church, as a primary reason for leaving the faith. It might be hypocrisy, judgmental attitudes, failure to live up to “Christian standards”, ignorance of modern science, an adherence to a blind faith that refuses to admit facts that are contrary to their understanding of Scripture.

Or worse – it might be experience with the ugliness of sin that we expect should not be present in the church. Church people can be cliquey and unapproachable. Church people can be greedy, petty, quick to get angry, lustful and worse – even church leaders. The evidence of sexual abuse and pedophilia that has come to light in Baptist churches recently reveals an ugly underside to quintessentially evangelical churches that hadn’t before come to light.

I would add that non-church people level similar complaints at the “the church” as former church people who have left.  The reasons they give for not going to church, or being “religious”, or having faith in God include apparent hypocrisy, negative personal experiences and bad behavior of church going Christians.

While people may give other reasons for “not believing” or not having faith, the examples of people who hold themselves out to be Christians is almost always one of the reasons given, if not the most compelling reason given by people who don’t consider themselves (or no longer consider themselves) “Christian” (at least in the sense of born again, evangelical (whatever that still means) Christianity).

To this point, I am reminded of what Paul says, “Though every man be a liar, still God is true!” Let me explain.

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Comment on Jay-Z, Beach Chairs, and Happiness – III. The Structure of Happiness … and Fish


My thoughts today come via Jay-Z, Beach Chairs, and Happiness – III. The Structure of Happiness.

I encourage you to read the blog I am “pressing” here before going further. the main point I take away from it is that happiness is not as subjective as we post-moderns suppose. Maybe the classicists, like Aristotle, Aquinas, etc. are right. Ultimately, truth and our own thriving is an objective end that doesn’t blow with the winds of individual tastes.

I am reminded of the analogy that Lewis makes of a fish in water that might long to be out of water. One the one hand, the water limits the fish. It can’t enjoy life out of the water,though it longs to experience it. The fish is, therefore, limited and unhappy in its watery “prison”.

I think many of us would characterize our unhappiness in this way, but I am not talking about such temporary objects of our unhappiness, like financial difficulties, hunger, a desire to be grown up, and the like. These things are not changes in our environment, and they also aren’t ultimate things.

We all know that temporal satisfaction is fleeting. (Or we should know it.) On the most basic level, we hunger; we eat and are full; but we will hunger again. We might think that having enough money to meet all our needs would provide the happiness we desire, but experience tells us that we usually want more even when we have enough.

Our desires are such that they might never be sated. They are apt to expand and keep on expanding (without some intervention). This “truism” might be evidenced by the fact that some people who seem to “have it all” nevertheless commit suicide. Actors, millionaires, etc. are not immune from the kind of unhappiness that leads them to take their own lives.

These examples might also be evidence that temporal satisfaction isn’t the same as ultimate satisfaction. We have a longing for some object that transcends the temporal things to which we gravitate for satisfaction and happiness.

Thus, I attempt to distinguish between temporal objects of our satisfaction and happiness and ultimate objects of our satisfaction and happiness. When we seek temporal things as our most prized object, we are bound to be disappointed, unsatisfied and unhappy.

I am not sure I can “prove” it, but my intuition (for lack of a better term) tells me, as with the blogger whose post I am sharing, that our ultimate satisfaction and happiness lies in some objective and ultimate object. The subjective ones we often spend most of our energy and lives pursuing can’t ultimately satisfy us or make us happy.

Continue reading “Comment on Jay-Z, Beach Chairs, and Happiness – III. The Structure of Happiness … and Fish”

Deconstruction Can Lead to a Stronger Foundation for Faith


I began writing down my thoughts as I was listening to an interview of Lisa Gungor and Alisa Childers on the Unbelievable? podcast with Justin Brierley. Both women went through what we now popularly call a period of deconstruction. We might have formerly called it backsliding (or falling away).

It’s interesting that, for years, we would have put the emphasis on sin (backsliding), rather than doubt (deconstruction). I’m not sure that people have really changed all that much. Is it the same thing? Or something different? Is what might have previously been classified simply as backsliding (or falling away), now what we call deconstruction?

Whatever the answer is, Lisa Gungor describes that she emerged from her period of deconstruction as a progressive Christian, no longer believing that Jesus is the only way, the only truth or the only life, no longer believing that Jesus definitely rose from the dead. Lisa Gungor says she now doubts that truth can really be known in any absolute or definitive way.

Alisa Childers, on the other hand, has come through her period of deconstruction, with a stronger faith and a more certain foundation. She doubled down on her quest for truth, putting her faith to the test, and she is now a Christian apologist. Both woman went through periods that they call a deconstruction of their faith, but one of them came out the other end with a stronger, more resilient and truer faith. In this blog, I explore why that might be.

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On Faith, Doubt and Truth

If faith is not robust enough to hold up to scrutiny, it isn’t worth holding on to.


I traveled for 12 hours in a car recently and spent most of that time listening to podcasts. Among the people I listened to were interviews of Tim Keller and Os Guinness, and joint interview of Lisa Gungor and Alisa Childers. They talked about their own faith journeys, doubt and such things as truth.

As I thought back on those interviews at the end of my trip, some thoughts congealed and took shape. I will try to capture them in this short piece.

Continue reading “On Faith, Doubt and Truth”