THE GOSPEL and Processing The Epic Fail

blog - failureWARNING: I’m writing this mostly for myself. But I hope those who have been here will know I’m not trying to whine, just longing out loud for the life we were meant for.

Truth be told, I’m going through something of an early, existential, midlife crisis at the moment. It’s awful. And at its core, I think, is this realization I’ve come to – that I JUST CAN’T WIN.

Now, I’ve always intellectually recognized, at least to some extent, that Christianity wasn’t going to overcome this world by winning a popularity contest. But I think I’ve finally come to know that experientially.

My feelings right now are telling me this: I’m getting a little tired of living in a world where, when Christians act together in united beliefs, it’s dehumanized as “The Evangelical Machine”, but when the LGBT moves to make a change, it’s more sympathetic “advocates” or “activists” or “a community” being true to themselves. I’m getting tired of a world that finds a groundswell of support for hopping on moral high horses while simultaneously denying any basis for universal morality, i.e. God. I’m getting tired of a world where the only conceivable way for a biblically-based movie to get a positive consensus review is if the director distorts the actual biblical account into a dysmorphic monstrosity of itself. I’m getting tired of living in a world that is okay with inconsistently preaching to us that our biological arising was accidental and meaningless but that our main psychological problem is that we lack self-esteem.

Yes, I find all that exhausting. Nonetheless, any pastor will tell you that opposition from outside the church is infinitely less frustrating than opposition from within the church. After all, Jesus did warn his disciples, “You will be hated by everyone because of me,but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matt. 10:22) 

Consequently, I find even more maddening the idea of Christian leaders who refuse to acknowledge biblical Creationism and are too near-sighted to see the longterm difficulties such incongruity causes the church. I’m also getting tired of the hypocritical self-righteousness of so many that label themselves Christians, the single thing that seems to annoy non-believers the most. I’m also getting a little impatient with reading countless books on ministry methodology that, while well-intentioned, and often helpful, seem to lack a tone that suggests “We’re at war!”, failing to acknowledge that our goal, our bottom line in this world, is less to triumph and more to merely stay standing (Eph. 6:10-13). And having recently dealt (albeit indirectly) with some of the scandal that sometimes devours churches, I’m also getting somewhat disheartened with continually addressing the biblically naive question, “How does something like this (i.e. something sinful) happen in the church?” I remember a seminary professor, who had once served as Dean of Students at one of our parochial schools, saying that he routinely had to answer this question from parents and appalled onlookers when some student was caught in sin. It’s a failure to recognize the nature of the ugly beast called “sin” which leeches on inside every living human being. This also makes me think of a passage from the memoirs of Frances Perkins, the first woman ever appointed to the U.S. Cabinet. Working under Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Perkins records F.D.R as saying,

“Frances, have you ever read Kierkegaard?….you ought to read him,…It will teach you about the Nazis….Kierkegaard explains the Nazis to me as nothing else ever has. I have never been able to make out why people who were obviously human beings [obviously educated, obviously refined] could behave like that. They are human, but they behave like demons. Kierkegaard gives you an understanding of what it is in man that makes it possible for these Germans to be so evil.” (Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I Knew)

We now know that F.D.R. and other Americans in charge were being told for years by Jewish leaders what the Nazi Germans were doing. But F.D.R. refused to come to grips with the full brokenness of humanity – to fully believe it – until he read Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard, who, writing on the nature of mankind’s sinfulness, explained to him how The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” (Rom. 8:7) Christians that are most in tune with their Bibles are always less surprised by sin than those who are not. They recognize that the Bible contains one good man and a thousand case studies of those who are not, by nature, good. 

And lest anyone get the impression that I’m suggesting there’s something wrong with everyone else in the world except me, make no mistake, I frustrate myself more than anyone else frustrates me. I’ve known for a long time that I’m my own worst enemy. The Apostle Paul’s words so clearly resonate with me: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me….waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.” (Rom. 7:21-23) I certainly don’t measure up to God’s perfect standard (Matt. 5:48; Lev. 19:2). For that matter, I don’t even measure up to the standard by which I’m inclined to judge others.

My point in all this is that both those outside the church AND those inside the church seem to be strangely united in one basic and important way – they’re disappointed in the church, disappointed in humanity, and even frustrated with God.

I get angry too. One of the Bible stories that has been something of a theme for me the past several months is the account of Elijah after the Mount Carmel victory. We’re told in 1 Kings 19 that shortly after he emphatically, courageously defeated all the false prophets of Baal commissioned by the wicked king and queen of Israel at the time, Elijah went into the wilderness around Beersheba, laid down under a bush, and prayed to God that he would die: “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. (1 Kings 19:4) I’m no Elijah, but I think I know exactly what he’s feeling. I think every Christian does at some point. Even after victory, sometimes more so after victory, we crumble at the prospect of still having to fight, and the truth that we’re simply not going to win this one (i.e. this life).

That’s okay. That probably deserves some mourning. Still, knowing the future can/should be a major source of relief for Christians.  I often tell people that you can face anything in this life with confidence if you know how the last chapter of your story ends – the splendor of meeting Jesus face-to-face for all eternity (Rev. 22:1-5). This is the very truth from which comes the notion of “happily ever after.”

However, if we’re to accept what the Bible says about our fairy tale ending, then we must also accept its teaching on the climax of the narrative’s conflict. The life of the Church on earth, to some extent, will pattern the life of Christ. That is, the culmination of Jesus’ life on earth was crucifixion, occasioned by opposition from within and without. Similarly, Jesus tells us, in detail, that we, as the Church, can expect something similar in the Last Days (Matt. 24-25). It’s not pretty.

Nonetheless, what Christians have to keep in mind is that while Christ’s death on the cross seemed like defeat, it was an unequivocal victory that needed to come in the manner it did. In the same way, we, the Church, need to be humbled before we become exalted. We need to die before we can rise. We need to fall defeated in death before we can lay claim to Jesus’ victory.

Does this mean that, in some respects, we Christians must necessarily serve as punching bags for the rest of humanity? How much would it scare you if I said, “Yes, maybe.”? But am I really saying anything different from what Paul himself said? “This (humbly, but confidently absorbing opposition in this world) is a sign…that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.” (Phil. 1:28-29)

It’s troubling. But you’ll be okay. Believing the gospel makes you tough. And you can only show how tough you are by what you’re able to take. True Christianity is sort of like those flashlights that are powered by how much you shake them. Christian light in a dark world shines that much brighter the more you try to rattle it.

Take heart. You’re not going to win this world – interpret that however you’d like. I’m not suggesting there won’t be periods of happiness that somewhat balance times of sadness. Nor am I compromising the truth that as God’s redeemed child, you have his holy, sovereign, omnipotent hand blessing you. The Bible speaks of various seasons of life which bring corresponding levels of satisfaction. But if the prince of this world is Satan himself (John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11), how far up in the hierarchy here would you really like to climb anyways?

Victory is coming. But not in this world, at least not in the way you’re probably hoping. Jesus’ promise means that the coming victory (and its accompanying peace) is actually much better than whatever you or I have dreamed up for ourselves: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

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14 thoughts on “THE GOSPEL and Processing The Epic Fail

  1. This spoke to my heart. I’ve had a lot of 1 Kings 19:4 moments this past month, and some anger too. When I feel so alone, I know I’m not. It’s comforting, too, to know I’m not the only one having feelings like that. And we fight on.

  2. Adam Goede says:

    You took the words right out of my heart–thank you. I just wanted to share how–maybe it’s the abundance of media today or maybe things really are getting worse–all of these types of challenges for Christians had me thinking the end of the world must be close. Then I read the history of the Christian Church and it put things in perspective. There were many points where those people had to feel the end of the world was close as there were religious wars, executions, great deceptions, the crushing power of the papacy, etc. I was also encouraged to learn that, like you said, the Church was always spiritually stronger when, worldly speaking, it was weak–Christians stood strong and the gospel spread more quickly (unfortunately when the Church was blessed in the world with money and popularity it became corrupt). As bad as things are getting, look for the opportunities to tell the good news–and pray that increasingly more people will now be ready to listen. (For an inspiring read I recommend the “Voice of the Martyrs” magazine. Those Christians lose it all but stand strong, even forgive and often convert their persecutors. It’s an awesome reminder how God is truly our Rock and our Victory, period.)

  3. J Merritt says:

    Pastor Hein,

    I always enjoy your thoughts and inspiration. This article caused me to again take heart in the fact this “fight” we find ourselves waging is 180 degrees different from any other. We fight knowing we’ve already won. No matter what we endure, how we are disparaged, or how we are hurt, the ultimate victory is ours. At times, I grow tired, fail in my witness, fall short in my example, suffer disappointment in my fellow Christians and mostly with myself. Each night as I review the day in my mind, I am overcome by the love and mercy of my Savior knowing that when I wake, the Father will see me as a “winner” because of the blood of Jesus. As Satan prowls in this world, it is not surprising that some of his deepest claw marks are on the doors of the church. It can be terribly frightening and spiritually draining to see someone fall. For that reason, God has given us brothers, sisters, and pastors like you to comfort each other and console one another with the blessed assurance that is ours. Keep your articles coming! They offer strength, inspire repentance, and add to the very armor we all so desperately need. May we all endure the fight, and because of the blood of our Savior, arrive in the arms of our Lord with the stench of battle still upon us and lets us all hear those words we so desire, “Well done!”

  4. Yeah, I’m tired too.

    I’m tired of having to watch 10,000 children be abandoned by their sponsors at World Vision because Evangelicals wanted to kick down the LGBT community a little bit more. Children who are now lacking the basic necessities they were relying on. Children to whom a promise was made and then broken because gay people might touch the food.

    I’m tired of watching you tell these people that they are not even worthy to serve starving children. I’m tired of you treating people like commodities to be used in your sad little power games.

    I’m tired of people like you who think you are being dehumanised when the rate of suicide for LGBT kids is soaring and they make up 40% of homeless youth because you can’t even bear to validate their existence.

    I’m tired of watching you trying to force people to adhere to your religion. I’m tired of the shame and guilt you heap on people who deviate from your chosen idol.

    I’m tired of you citing the Holocaust as a force for evil when you venerate a man who called for the destruction of the Jewish people.

    I’m tired of watching you sit upon a palanquin of morality, telling everyone being trampled below your feet that they deserve to be there.

    I’m tired of the harassment. I’m tired of the persecution complex. I’m tired of the rape and murder and slavery that was my first introduction to the Christian church as a child.

    You are an emotionally manipulative and abusive man, Mr. Hein. I truly fear for any young person in your congregation who finds themselves in a faith crises, or is LGBT, or is different in any way. I fear how they will be subject to your ‘tiredness’ and your ‘anger.’

    You can’t win, you won’t win, and the world will be better for it. You are complaining because you are blowing a loud and braying trumpet and the walls of Jericho won’t fall down for you.

    • Jordan says:

      Irish,

      I don’t think you’re being fair to Pastor Hein. I can say with a fair degree of certainty that neither he, nor the people of his faith, are the kind of people who take pleasure in “gay-bashing”. They are not the kind of people who are looking to use Christianity as a means for obtaining worldly power. They are not the kind of people who think Luther did nothing wrong, nor would they seek to reflect his hostility toward Jewish people.

      Quite frankly, I find it hard to believe that you’ve read many of the articles on this blog. If you had, I don’t think you could with a straight face accuse Pastor Hein of being someone who sits in an ivory tower, contentedly exalting himself above the unwashed masses. Come to think of it, did you even read this article? Did you read the part about how no one is perfect? Not you, not me, not Pastor Hein, not anyone. Doesn’t sound like someone who thinks he’s better than anyone else to me.

      I am genuinely sorry that you faced such abuse when you were introduced to the Christian church. I find it infuriating that my faith can be so misrepresented and distorted in the eyes of many by the wicked actions of the few. But I would encourage you not to paint all of us Christians with that proverbial broad brush.

      Finally, I don’t think you’re doing yourself or your goals any good by coming at someone with the same vitriolic anger and judgment of which you claim to be so “tired”.

      • “I don’t think you’re being fair to Pastor Hein. I can say with a fair degree of certainty that neither he, nor the people of his faith, are the kind of people who take pleasure in “gay-bashing”

        I’m actually familiar with Mr. Hein’s particular denomination, as my mum converted to a similar conservative Lutheran denomination a number of years ago. From my observational experience, yes, they actually do take pleasure in gay-bashing. The LCMS, WELS, and other organisations like them are virulently anti-gay, supporting conversion therapy and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, etc. And yes, I heard one WELS pastor advocate the criminalisation of homosexuality.

        “Nor would they seek to reflect his hostility toward Jewish people.”

        False. The WELS stance is that Luther was a product of his time and not responsible for his words. The WELS website describes his condemnation of the Jews as similar to Isaiah and Jeremiah.

        “Quite frankly, I find it hard to believe that you’ve read many of the articles on this blog.”

        I have.

        “If you had, I don’t think you could with a straight face accuse Pastor Hein of being someone who sits in an ivory tower.”

        Every other article on the blog is a condemnation against someone, whether it’s LGBT people, or people who believe in evolution, or Meryl Streep for taking a selfie.

        “Come to think of it, did you even read this article?”

        Yes. Clearly. Is this seriously the best argument you can muster?

        “Did you read the part about how no one is perfect? Not you, not me, not Pastor Hein, not anyone.”

        Yes. I read that particular paragraph. I also read the line where Hein claims he is impatient with Christian writers who “seem to lack a tone that suggests ”We’re at war!”” Hein is frustrated by Christians who are not war-like enough? What was that you were saying about Christians not seeking power?

        “I am genuinely sorry that you faced such abuse when you were introduced to the Christian church.”

        I welcome any challenge to my arguments and words, but spare me your piety.

    • “I’m tired of the rape and murder and slavery that was my first introduction to the Christian church as a child.”

      Irish,
      I know you’re a long time reader and responder. I appreciate that. SOMETHING keeps drawing you back. I’m really quite thankful that I have a dozen or so professed atheists that I’m aware of who subscribe here and keep coming back. It keeps me sharp. It personalizes opposing beliefs, which helps me transition my thoughts from misplaced anger to empathy.

      It’s very clear to me that you’re coming at all of this from a place of hurt. You as much as said that in the above quote. Isn’t it possible, even likely, that something so traumatic would negatively impact your view of anything any Christian says? Isn’t it possible that you now have a filter that hates anyone associated with the name of Christ? And wouldn’t such an emotionally charged reaction naturally be capable of causing one to misinterpret information?

      Here’s just one example: In your response to Jordan, you mentioned my encouragement for Christians to have a war-like attitude. You had such an overwhelming reaction to those words, that you completely misinterpreted what I was saying. If you had looked up the cited passage from Ephesians, you’d notice it specifically says, “our struggle is NOT against flesh and blood….but against the spiritual forces of evil” (Eph. 6:12) Consequently, the Christian’s call to a war-like attitude is that it NOT be against other humans, but that it be to fight against Satan’s temptations to use, abuse, or hurt other humans. I’m not claiming to be the greatest writer, but it seems fairly obviously that you had such an effusive reaction to this, that you are not, at this point, processing the points rationally. That’s not at all a criticism of intelligence. It’s a just the typical behavior of an abuse victim.

      But it seems like whatever happened in the past, to some extent, is still controlling you. I think it will continue to until it’s been fully processed. I would encourage that. I think the Christian concept of forgiveness is an enormously liberating resource to those who have been abused. And I think then you’ll be able to see Christian teaching for what it is, and not some Nietzschian power play to control people.

      I hurt too. Every human I know hurts. I believe that the gospel of Jesus can take the hurt away. That’s all I’m inviting you to. You sound like you’d like to punch me in the face. And if you do, the only thing I’m going to throw back at you is another invitation to take the hurt away.

      • There are 2.1 billion Christians in this world. To say that I hate all of them because they are ‘associated with Christ’ is quite a bit of hyperbole. Even from you. It is also completely untrue.

        Never once have I indicated that I wished to physically harm you. I would appreciate it if you didn’t try to project something onto me that I never indicated.

        Something does keep bringing me back here. The desire to stand up to people who are emotionally abusive to others and call it ‘love.’

        If you claim that you didn’t mean an actual call to fight your enemies with your words, so be it. But don’t blame me for taking your words at face value, especially when that’s how you claim to interpret your own holy book.

        I have no interest in Christian forgiveness. Take a look at how Christians act in the world and you might get a good idea of why.

  5. Matt says:

    I love a good discussion, as long as people want to debate the actual issues. In the case of Biblical Chrisianity and LGBT orientation, the true issue is an analysis of moral categories for erotic expressions of love.

    But in all fairness, it’s an interesting accusation to call someone emotionally manipulative after an appeal to the tough time that LGBT youth are subject to.

    That’s par for the course though. This sounds harsh but it is something that must be said until it’s recognized, opponents to the Christian faith rarely understand their own positions under an application of the same standards with which they use to argue.

  6. Jordan says:

    Irish,
    “I’m actually familiar with Mr. Hein’s particular denomination, as my mum converted to a similar conservative Lutheran denomination a number of years ago. From my observational experience, yes, they actually do take pleasure in gay-bashing. The LCMS, WELS, and other organisations like them are virulently anti-gay, supporting conversion therapy and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, etc. And yes, I heard one WELS pastor advocate the criminalisation of homosexuality.”

    I suppose we may be talking past each other depending on how exactly we define “gay-bashing”. I see it as using derogatory slurs, thinking homosexuals are less than human, and just being mean spirited in general. However, if you view Christians holding the biblical position that homosexuality is sinful as “gay-bashing”, then I don’t think we’ll have a meeting of the minds on this point. Just because I may maintain that something is sinful which the Bible calls sinful, doesn’t mean I think less of the individual who does it because I by nature am a sinner too. Also, you point to hearing one WELS pastor advocating for the criminalization of homosexuality. One piece of anecdotal evidence does not a universal principle make. See my previous comment about broad brushes.

    “False. The WELS stance is that Luther was a product of his time and not responsible for his words. The WELS website describes his condemnation of the Jews as similar to Isaiah and Jeremiah”

    What the WELS website says about Luther and his actions does not speak to the point I made. My point was that, as a rule, WELS people aren’t looking to show hostility to Jewish people today.

    As for the rest of your points in which you insist that Pastor Hein is judgmental and “sitting on a palanquin of morality” and thinks himself better than others, I’d point you to these words of his which you read… “And lest anyone get the impression that I’m suggesting there’s something wrong with everyone else in the world except me, make no mistake, I frustrate myself more than anyone else frustrates me….For that matter, I don’t even measure up to the standard by which I’m inclined to judge others.” Again, sounds to me like he got off of his palanquin of morality. I don’t doubt that you read those words, but it seems to me that they didn’t sink in with you.

    Finally, if you insist on writing my sincerity off as “piety”, then that is your problem, not mine.

  7. Jason Berg says:

    Hi Pastor,

    I just wanted to send a quick note thanking you for including this blog in your ministry.  I enjoy reading it and am encouraged by your writing.  I, too, get frustrated and tired living through the “lower story”.  Just like when God told Elijah that despite appearances to the contrary there were still 7,000 believers in Israel , I have to remind myself that God’s will is being done today and He will be glorified.  I long for the day when the “lower story” is complete and we are all together fully experiencing the glory of the “upper story”.

    Have a good week!  Jason

    ________________________________

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