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DECONVERTING FUTILITY

Over the past couple of years there has been several celebrity Christian leaders, including pastors and performing artists, who have walked away from Christ in what they call deconverting. They have offered various reasons for their deconversions, including – How could a good God allow evil and suffering in the world? The Bible cannot be inspired since science has disproven it. Why would God create people just to damn most of them to hell? Christianity is arrogant in claiming it is the only true religion! Sometimes these deconversions take years to come to the surface as these various doubts simmer and brew. Sometimes these deconversions are prompted by a tragedy. My guess is that being a ‘Christian celebrity’ also complicates things because the nature of celebrityness is often marked by social disconnection and loneliness where the opportunity to unburden a soul of its doubts isn’t freely available or welcome. This is why the stories of three Christian celebrities in particular is all the more remarkable.

But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.
John 20:31

WHY JOHN COOPER DIDN’T DECONVERT

John Cooper is the lead singer of the heavy metal Christian band, Skillet, one of the most popular Christian rocks in the world. On the Skillet website it says, “Grammy-nominated and platinum selling rock band Skillet has sold more than 11 million albums and singles in the U.S., racked up more than 160 million YouTube views and amassed a diehard following whose members number more than five million on Facebook alone.”

John describes part of his story in his book, Awake and Alive To Truth. He refers to growing up in a home where he never got on with dad. He describes his mother though as someone who was passionate about Jesus. She taught John the Bible stories as he grew up and inspired him to love Christ. But then she got sick. As she was in her final moments of her cancer, she said to John that he should never blame God or be bitter toward God, because God was always good! After the passing of his mum, John’s relationship with his dad deteriorated even further. It reached a new level of hostility when his father remarried. John says that he even prayed to God that He would make his father try to hit him so that he could have a reason to physically hurt his father. John retreated into heavy rock music and was part of the formation of the Christian rock band Skillet which were widely popular among Christian and non-Christian music fans. But even though John was growing as a follower of Christ, he was a bitter and angry man and he was now a Christian celebrity. When he married Korey, he refused to allow his father to attend his wedding. (It would be years before the Lord led and enabled John and his father to be reconciled.)

As John rubbed shoulders with other Christian celebrities he became increasingly aware of how shallow their Christianity was and also how scant their theological knowledge was. He was grateful that his mother had not only read Scripture to him, but she had also introduced him to several Christian classics and works of theology. John recently stated that most his best mentors are “dead guys” — great Christian thinkers of the past whose books still speak. His breadth of biblical and theological knowledge is quite impressive. Which is why in contrast to other Christian celebrities who have deconverted for the reasons given above John is so puzzled since their stated reasons are so easily and reasonably responded to both biblically and theologically. His perplexity is compounded when most of these deconverters state that they are “walking away from Christianity but not Jesus” and that they are tired with Christianity’s restrictive code of ethics and from now on they are “going to love all people and be kind to everyone.” John recently told the former lead singer of the Christian Pop group ‘Zoe Girl’, Alisa Childers, that this was like saying, ‘From now on I’m not going to live as a Christian, instead I’m going to following Christ and do unto others as I would want them to do unto me!’ which he says sounds remarkably like Christianity. When Alisa interviewed John on her YouTube podcast she asked him why he hadn’t deconverted. [You can watch their discussion here.]

I greatly respect John Cooper. He’s a young man who has the burden of celebrity status who operates in a world were ‘cool’ is prized and truth is not. 

 

WHY STEPHEN COLBERT DIDN’T DECONVERT

Stephen Colbert is not just one of the funniest men on the planet, he’s also one of the cleverest. Although possibly disagreeing with their view of human personhood, Colbert’s response to the inauguration of President Biden and VP Harris was a model of Christian statesmanship and charity. Like John Cooper, Stephen Colbert is a Christian celebrity who operates in a world where Christianity is viewed as repressive and out-of-step with the current moral proclivities. Yet Stephen Colbert doesn’t take a back-step when it comes to being challenged about his Christianity. This is despite him having plenty of reasons to deconvert. His Wikipedia entry notes, “On September 11, 1974, when Colbert was ten years old, his father and his two brothers nearest in age, Peter and Paul, died in the crash of Eastern Air Lines Flight 212 while it was attempting to land in Charlotte, North Carolina.” In an article by the New York journalist, , he noted – 

Colbert was just 10 years old when he lost his father and brothers. “There’s this big break in the cable of my memory at their death. Everything before that has got an odd, ghostly tone,” Colbert told Anderson Cooper in 2019. “I was personally shattered and then you reform yourself in this quiet, grieving world that was created in the house. My mother had me to take care of, which I think was sort of a gift for her, a sense of purpose at that point. But I also had her to take care of. It became a very quiet house, very dark, and ordinary concerns of childhood kind of disappeared.”

Colbert’s struggle with grief only grew. He told Rolling Stone magazine –  

I needed to be medicated when I was younger to deal with my anxiety that I had thrown my life away by attempting to do something that so few people actually get away with, or succeed at … Xanax was just lovely. Y’know, for a while. And then I realized that the gears were still smoking. I just couldn’t hear them anymore. But I could feel them, I could feel the gearbox heating up and smoke pouring out of me … I stopped the Xanax after, like, nine days. I went, ‘This isn’t helping.’ So I just suffered through it. I’d sometimes hold the bottle, to go like, ‘I could stop this feeling if I wanted, but I’m not going to. Because I know if I stop the feeling, somehow I’m not working through it, like I have got to go through the tunnel with the spiders in it.’

Colbert found great comfort and help in the writings of Tolkien and other Catholic philosophers. He completed a degree in philosophy at Hampden–Sydney College in Virginia. Rather than allowing the tragedy of the loss of his father and brothers to drive him away from God, it led him to seek and find God. He has often said that his journey of suffering and loss has actually helped him to empathise with those who are going through their own suffering from loss and tragedy. 

 

JONI EARECKSON TADA DID NOT DECONVERT

Joni (pronounced ‘Johny’) was the daughter of an Olympic wrestling champion. Their family was very sporty and active. One day in 1967 Joni and some friends went down to Chesapeake Bay for a swim. Joni dived in head first but hadn’t noticed that what she thought was a metre-and-a-half of water was only half-a-metre of water. That was the fateful day that Joni became a quadriplegic. After her accident there was months spent in hospital undergoing rehabilitation to no avail. Realising that her injury was permanent and that she had movement from her shoulders down, she went into depression and became suicidal. Through the grace of God and the patience of friends and family she came to a point of surrender to God’s will.

In 1974 she appeared on the Today Show and gained national notoriety in the United States. By this time she had learned to use her mouth to paint, sketch and write. Her first book, the story of her journey to that point, including her injury, her battle with depression and her suicideation were included, along with her surrender to Christ, came out in 1976 and was instant international best-seller. It was translated into 38 languages and sold over five million copies. In 1979, a movie about her life was released and in that year it was estimated that 250,000 people placed their hope in Christ.

Through the 1980s Joni formed the ministry Joni and Friends which worked to provide aid and practical support to those with disabilities. In 1988 President Ronald Reagan appointed her to the National Council on Disabilities. Joni advocated for the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act which was signed into law by President George Bush Snr. in 1990. In 1994 she launched Wheels For The World which used incarcerated prisoners to renovate used donated wheelchairs which were distributed to those with disabilities in the Third World. In 2000, Joni flew to Australia to be the Olympic Chaplain to the athletes competing in the Para-Olympics. In 2001, Joni began campaigning against euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

All the while that God was using Joni and her story to touch the lives of millions of people around the world, there was also much happening in Joni. She has said that in the early years of her quadriplegia, she hated her wheelchair. As the Lord continued to challenge her to trust Him, she said that she came to place in her soul where she thanked God that she was in a wheelchair! Over the years her chronic pain has intensified. Then in 2010 she was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer. This led to her having a double mastectomy. After five years of treatment she declared cancer-free in 2015. Then in November 2018 she was diagnosed with a malignant nodule on her chest near the wall of where she had had the previous cancer removed. In December 2020, the 71-year-old Joni was diagnosed with COVID-19! If anyone had reasons to deconvert on the criteria offered by the handful of celebrity Christian deconverters, Joni did! 

Tada wrote for Christianity Today about how her paralysis and desire for healing has changed her view of heaven, saying, “Physical affliction and emotional pain are, frankly, part of my daily routine. But these hardships are God’s way of helping me to get my mind on the hereafter.”

Joni now says that in the midst of her increasing pain and difficulties in breathing and swallowing, she has found that Christ is her comfort and Redeemer. Rather than shaking her fist at God in anger for all her difficulties, she has learned to “lift her hand” (although not literally) to God in worship and surrendering prayer.

 

WHY ROMANS 8 SHOULD STOP ANY CHRISTIAN FROM DECONVERTING

Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is considered to be his finest exposition of what the Christian gospel is all about. In Romans 8 he discusses disappointments. The Christian is not exempt from disappointments, the apostle states. In Romans 8:20, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he writes-

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope.
Romans 8:20

“Futility” sums up all of our disappointments. Cancer, death, tragedy, loss, divorce, quadriplegia, and covid — are all expressions of futility. But far from being grounds for deconverting, the apostle Paul, who would spend a good deal of his latter life in chronic pain and discomfort, imprisoned, and then finally led to his death by beheading at the decree of Caesar Nero, could write these words (again) under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit-

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
Romans 8:28, 35

 

THEREFORE, HERE’S HOW WE HANDLE FUTILITY

Firstly, when we experience any futility, it is not necessarily (and probably isn’t) an attack from Satan. Rather than getting angry at the forces of evil, lift your hands to heaven and worship God. Don’t let your futility be a distraction from you beholding Christ.

Secondly, God’s grace is sufficient for you in the moment you need it. Whatever your futility, God’s grace will be sufficient for you to deal with it.

Thirdly, not all of your good desires will be satisfied in this life and our futilities should remind us of that. In the Resurrection we will have bodies that will never experience sadness, sorrow, pain, sin, shame, grief, sickness, rejection, or humiliation.

If you’re a world famous Christian celebrity reading this, you have an almost unbearable burden to bear. You are also subject to more attacks than any of us could ever imagine. And you are also subject to doubts and temptations. For each of the reasons I listed in the opening paragraph, I have written responses over at Finding Truth Matters. We, the ordinary, work-a-day Christians of the world, need you to represent us and Christ well. You have our prayers. But I hope that I have given you good reasons and encouragement to never doubt God’s goodness or succumb to the temptation to deconvert because of the futility you see in the world. As it happens, I have just recently returned from Hobart where I heard Tim Costello, the former CEO of World Vision, talk about the plight of the poor, the impoverished sick, and the oppressed of the world, who have, since the inception of Christianity, been the subject of Christian aid, care, support, and relief — and continue to be. As Christians we don’t turn our back on God because of futility, we lift up our faces toward heaven and ask God to enable us to be His hands and feet wherever He might use us to minister His grace to those whom we can who are affected by the futility that shall one day be done away with altogether! 

Your pastor,

Andrew

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5 INDISPENSABLE GUIDELINES FOR NEW PARENTS

This is not for everyone. If you are already a parent, this is not for you. Instead of reading this I suggest you read one of my other more abstract Pastor’s Desk articles. If you are not a parent and have no intention of ever being a parent, this is not for you. Instead of reading this I suggest you read one of my more weighty articles on FindingTruthMatters.org. If you are not yet a parent and one day hope to become a parent, this is for you. Find a quiet place, take the next six minutes thirteen seconds and use the reading of this article as an investment into your future parenting strategies. I did not invent these guidelines. Like many parents who have also discovered the value of these guidelines, once discovered, they seem obvious. These successful parents probably grew up with own parents who inculcated these guidelines almost intuitively. However, my suspicion is that this is becoming increasingly rarer. As with all true guidelines they are adaptable, flexible, and are not a guarantee of parental success — but if ignored they become the point in the mathematical problem solving where you can see you made an error in your working out. In other words, while these guidelines may not guarantee success, if ignored their neglect almost certainly leads to frustration and disappointment. Here are five indispensable guidelines for every prospective new parent.

WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR ATHEIST & MAGICIAN PENN JILLETTE TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN?

I’ve been praying for Penn Jillette for some time now. It began when I first heard him ridicule the Bible and Christianity. My fascination with Penn (and Teller), and other world-class magicians, has been due to my pursuit to develop my craft of preaching. There are a lot of similarities between preachers and magicians (just as there is also a lot similarities between solo musicians and preachers). I seek to learn from magicians about how to keep an audience’s attention, how to tell a story, and how to make a point by employing the element of surprise. But there are some significant differences between what magicians do and what preachers do though. A magician is deliberately deceptive. A preacher is striving to uphold truth in an honest way.

THINK ABOUT THIS

In Australia, it’s football finals time and the U.S. the last Grand Slam event for the year has just concluded. I find a lot of life lessons from observing elite athletes — including and especially those who play football and those who play tennis. Most people might consider football to be a team sport and tennis to be individual sport. But the distinction is not so clear these days. Often times footballers are individually coached by “position coaches” and a tennis player is often just who the public sees of a team of people responsible for the performance of that player. At the time of writing, there are remaining four Australian Rules Football (AFL) teams about to play off in the Preliminary Finals (including my beloved Geelong Cats). Last weekend, Carlos Alcaraz of Spain defeated Casper Ruud of Norway. Both players have intriguing stories which I will mention shortly. In the AFL, after a disastrous last season, the Collingwood Magpies appointed a new coach for this season, Craig McRae. Even though they got off to a slow start this season, under McRae’s oversight ended up having an 11-straight winning streak toward the end of the season and now look like genuine  Premiership contenders. What do Carlos Alcaraz, Casper Ruud, Craig McRae, and the Collingwood football team, all have in common? All the players at the elite level of their sport make an enormous commitment to train, practice, sleep, hydrate, and eat a regulated diet. Yet at the very highest levels in their respective sporting codes the difference between the elite and the extra-elite is no longer skill or fitness. In fact, the difference between them is so applicable to everyday life that it may be the most relevant and do-able thing you hear for a long time. So, think about this.

LOOKING BACK OVER THE PAST 200 YEARS

As Kim and I enjoyed our weekly coffee-date this morning at Stillwater, she looked out ruminatively across at all of the development that has taken place over the years where the North and South Esks merge to form the Tamar River.

“I wonder if the settlers who came here two hundred years ago” she asked, “could have imagined the silos would have been built over there and then turned into a luxury hotel, or that two bridges would have been built here, or that their tiny village would grow into a large city?”

“What’s more interesting” I responded, “is if anyone today can envision what it will all look like in another two hundred years!”

And my response then got me thinking. Could it be possible to imagine what Launceston will end up looking like in two hundred years—and, what about our church? What will our church will look like in two hundred years?

relevance-intact-the-place-of-the-church-in-tasmania

Tasmanian churches play a vital role in our state as a moral compass and social leader. Our moral compass was given to us 2,000 years ago by Christ  who then commissioned the Church to preach, teach, and care in His Name. The Church’s role as a social leader was instigated by Jesus who embraced the shunned, condemned oppressors of the vulnerable, and upheld the sacredness of every human life and taught His followers to do likewise. Two thousand years later, Tasmanian churches gather weekly and continue proclaim the good news that Jesus taught, care for the poor and homeless, feed the hungry, welcome refugees, and provide thousands of young Tasmanians with an education. This is why the former Examiner deputy editor recently described the Tasmanian Church as “the most fundamental pillar in society” but then described it as being led by “a pious clique of fancy robed hypocrites, with less and less relevance each year to the wider community” (28/8/2022). The basis for his sharp criticism is grounded in his assessment that the Tasmanian Church has not recalibrated its moral compass to align itself with culture’s progressive values. Here’s why I disagree with the esteemed former deputy editor.

THE GOOD SAMARITAN AND THE INN-KEEPER

WHO IS MY NEIGHBOUR? The Jewish leaders had a very strict understanding of who God accepted and who God rejected. Obviously, they taught, God had accepted the Jews as His favourite – particularly Jewish men. Jewish women were sort of accepted, but only as second-class members of God’s people. This obviously also meant that unless a gentile (a non-Jew) converted to Judaism they could not be accepted by God. Therefore, God rejected all gentiles — and He especially rejected Roman gentiles — but He reserved His ultimate rejection for Samaritans! Jesus then tells the Temple-lawyer the story of the Good Samaritan.

THE PRODIGAL FATHER

 Does anyone know what the word prodigal means? Perhaps most people assume that it means: “wanderer”, or “rebel”, or perhaps even “backslider” or that it only applies to sons. This seems to be based on the story that Jesus told in Luke 15 to which most Bible Publishers assign the division title – The Parable of the Prodigal Son. But the word prodigal does not occur in this parable. Interestingly, there are three lead characters in this shocking and famous parable: the father and his two sons. One of these was genuinely ‘prodigal’, and, as Tim Keller points out, it was neither son! To appreciate what Keller means we might need to take another look at what the word prodigal actually means. It comes from the verb prodigious which means remarkably great in extent, size, or degree (New Oxford American Dictionary). It is a word often used to describe an author who regularly writes books – John Grisham is a prodigious author. A prodigal person is therefore, prolific, extravagant, excessive, and, lavish. Keller points out that even though most people ascribe this to the wayward son in the parable, it is more appropriately a designation for the lead character in the story, the father!

SUPER SUCCESSFUL CHRISTIANS

Spare a thought for those people who are often overlooked by churches—and if they are Christians—they frequently struggle to even find a suitable church where they can deepen their relationship with Christ. Often we think of those who struggle with life as those who are “down and out” and blighted by impoverishment, or destitution, or ill-health, or family breakdown, or poor mental health. But surprisingly, even those who are seen as super-successful because of their wealth, social stature, public acclaim or amazing achievements, are actually struggling with loneliness, emptiness, and poor mental health — even if they are a Christian. These super-successful Christians are CEOs of large companies, or world-class or national sporting champions, or internationally renowned performing artists, or A-lister actors, or media personalities, or highly sought after professionals such as surgeons or barristers. They often pay a high price for their success, including, long work hours, constant stress, public criticism, extended time away from their families, fierce competition, and strained marriages. These pressures are exacerbated by their constant travel associated with their work which also makes them vulnerable to exhaustion and extraordinary temptations. This is why these super-successful Christians need to join the kind of church that can provide them with the kind of support, counsel, and accountability that every Christian needs. Here’s how a church can become this kind of church.

MAKING CHURCH A WELCOMING HOME

For many people, making a decision to attend a church is a significant and potentially daunting decision. As they come through the front door they are entering an unfamiliar environment. It is also an environment that may be associated with preconceived ideas of what the expectations and rules of the church community may be. These people probably will not know anybody and they might have concerns that relate to their previous or current lifestyle. For those of us who are regular church attendees, it is possible that we may not fully appreciate the challenges a new attendee may be facing. When we can relate to these concerns, I believe we are better equipped to provide a warm and patient “welcome” to what we hope will become their new church home.

LOVE IN ACTION

Physical illnesses and stressful events are endemic in our society. They can be likened to the thorns that cause both pain and damage. It doesn’t take much for them to impact a person’s life in ways that they did not expect. I believe that we can become more resilient as followers of Jesus by applying an appropriate solution to a known problem. I believe that an appropriate and important part of the solution is for us to show love the way that Jesus demonstrated love during His ministry on earth.