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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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JESUS ATE with SINNERS!

This confrontation of the All-Good meeting face-to-face with Serpent-breath in the wilderness didn’t go the way the Dragon had become accustomed to. Even more baffling to him was what the Eternal Son did next. Rather than going to the supposed ‘rulers of this world’ He went to the despised and inconsequential: the people of His hometown, Nazareth and those in the socio-economically challenged region of Galilee. 

¶ And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as was His custom, He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and He stood up to read…When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.
¶ Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to Him, and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But He rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that He was the Christ.
Luke 4:16, 28-29, 40-41

Even more baffling to the Satan was that instead whipping up the mobs and leading a rebellion, the Christ went to the shunned, the despised, the broken, the humiliated, as their dinner Guest! It seemed like an odd strategy, especially to those who had been longing for so long for the arrival of the Promised One…

CHRISTIANITY IS A PROPOSAL NOT AN IMPOSAL

I do not want to give anyone the impression that Christian is just a set of intellectually propositions. It is much more but it is certainly not less. One of the propositions that we Christians make is that Christianity is a spiritual transformation of a soul. While its propositions are true, they are not just true, they invoke a miraculous transformation in a human being. Jesus described this as being “born again” (John 3:3). The New Testament describes the moment this happens as being a transaction with God where we surrender our life and our sin to Him and He gives us His life and His pardon (1Jn. 1:8-9)! This transaction includes a hope that goes beyond the grave. God the Father adopts all those who turn to Him. It results a new way of seeing life and the world. The things that once troubled us no longer do, because we have a growing confidence that God has a plan and is currently outworking that plan. If you have never surrendered your life in a transaction with God, you can now. You are just one prayer away from peace with God and purpose for your life – both now and beyond the grave! The choice is yours. We can’t impose this offer from God on you, but I do have a proposition for you.

DIVINELY PRECIOUS TRIPLETS

Some of the profound truths in the Bible are expressed in just three words. The late J.I. Packer, one of the world’s most respected modern theologians, was asked to sum up the gospel message. He did so in just three words: “God saves sinners.” Many of the most eloquent prayers ever uttered have consisted of no more than three words: “Help me Lord”, “Thank You God”, “God save me”, “Please heal her.” One of the greatest royal invitations only consisted of three words: “Come unto Me.” Three words is all it takes to start an exciting journey: “Come and see.” Many of these three words statements, prayers, and invitations, have become divinely precious triplets that have rescued a lost soul, repaired a broken relationship, and replenished the worn-out.  

ETERNAL LIFE IS NOT JUST MERELY A MATTER OF TIME

The beauty of John 3:16 is that it is so simple it can be understood even by a child; and yet, as a believer’s knowledge of God and His Word grows, he or she will come to discover that there is a wealth of spiritually-satisfying treasure to be mined! In its simplest form, Jesus died so that all those who turn to Him in trust will go to heaven after leaving this life. Dig a little deeper though, and you also discover that the eternal life on offer is not merely about a location (‘heaven’) or a duration of time—but a quality of life and status of existence that elevates the believer into a glorified state with God Himself (Rom. 8:17; 1John 3:2). Our lives are now the training ground for our status as co-regents and co-rulers with Christ over all of His redeemed creation (1Cor. 6:2-3)! 

WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU FOUND A NEWBORN BABY AT YOUR DOORSTEP?

What would you do if you found a newborn baby that someone had left at your door? Hopefully your answer sounds similar to “I’d take care him or her.” What if it wasn’t a baby? What if it was a young child or a teenager, or an adult, who turned up at your door requesting to be helped? I hope that each of us would also be prepared to help whoever it was. What if it was not an abandoned child, a youth, or an adult? And what if it was not your front door? Instead, how might we each respond if it was a spiritually abandoned, and spiritually hungry, person who turned up at our church seeking help to know how to be saved? While you might feel a similar compassion as you might have felt for the child at your door, you may not be as confident in how you would spiritually help this person seeking a spiritual connection for God through Jesus Christ. “Where would I begin?” “How could I be an effective discipler of a new believer?” you might ask. Well, I’m glad you’ve asked. For any Christian to effectively disciple a new believer it must involve an individual, a small group, and a congregation.

A DECREASING VISION

There is one sin that is worse than all others. It is the worst because it is insidious and imperceptibly deceptive. It is always at the root of all other sins. It was the original sin. In C.S. Lewis’s classic book, Mere Christianity, it warranted an entire chapter (“The Great Sin”) and Lewis claims that it is the greatest threat to any person – including the Christian – and their standing before God. Thus, to be truly spiritual, Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered, and spiritual, demands that the man or woman of God be on guard against what Lewis called “spiritual cancer” — pride. To have any chance of guarding against the spread of this deadly spiritual and character blighting ‘cancer’ requires that we adopt a decreasing vision of ‘greatness’.

THE WIND BLOWS WHERE IT WISHES – SO IT IS WITH THE SPIRIT

This week I have heard of yet more stories of people who had no knowledge of Christianity as they grew up, yet had an almost sudden conversion to Christ. This has included the stories of several Muslims (now ‘former Muslims’) who knew nothing to very little about Christianity, and had always been taught that Islam was the one true religion, who then heard a Christian explain the gospel and were then supernaturally converted to follow Christ. (Several of these Islamic converts to Christ also had supernatural dreams where they claimed that Jesus appeared to them!) I also heard of an atheist scientist who been taught that science could explain away the need for believing in a God, who then heard the gospel and was resoundingly converted to Christ. The other story I heard was closer to home and involved a young lady who had grown up in an atheist home where her parents were actually hostile to religion and forbad her from anything to do with Christianity. Years later, she ventured into a church one Sunday morning, heard the gospel, and was converted to Christ. Each of these stories confirm what Jesus taught about the work of the Holy Spirit and His mysterious and surprising dealings with people to undergird the church’s preaching of the gospel.

I WAS IN THE SPIRIT ON THE LORD’S DAY

A year earlier all hell had broken loose when the tyrant emperor Caesar Nero had outlawed Christianity; and now, the last surviving apostle of Christ had been banished to Patmos Island. All looked bleak. The youngest of Christ’s apostles, John was just a teenager when he witnessed the brutal and protracted execution of Jesus. John, now in his fifties, had many reasons to feel disappointed and even disillusioned with God. His apostolic colleagues had each been martyred – having been put to death in often gruesome ways including: crucifixion, flaying, and beheading. On this barren rocky island, separated from the woman he had pledged to her crucified Son that he would look after, and away from the people that Christ had shed His blood for, John was alone. Ever since Jesus had risen bodily from dead, these life-time faithful sabbath-keeping Jews now recognised that Christ had sanctified the first day of the week, Sunday, as His day. It was also on this sanctified day that Christ poured out Holy Spirit on his gathered disciples. Ever since that day, no matter how he felt or the circumstances he was in, John had made it his custom to be in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. And his first Sunday on this island of banishment was no exception. He was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. While some weak Christians find disappointment with God an excuse to forsake God, John did not. While some weak Christians allow their excuses for disappointment with God to walk away from their church family, John did not. John’s example has something to teach us. 
¶ I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day…
Revelation 1:9-10a

NEVER BE AFRAID AGAIN

Fear can be crippling. Being afraid is often the result of not what is happening, but what we fear might happen. Such fears make each of us vulnerable to withdraw, give-up, hide, or excuse ourselves from ever trying something new. The result of this happening is that we each become less than who God has created us to be and in the process we deny the world the benefit of what God can do through us. In the Bible there are many stories of many heroes who learned the secret of overcoming their fears by trusting God and learning how to ‘fear’ Him despite their circumstances or fearful expectations. We read of how Kings led their vastly outnumbered army to defeat immensely more powerful and ruthless enemy armies by fearing the Lord. We read how previously unsure, uncertain, unable people became fearless, decisive, and confident and able to solve previously insurmountable problems by simply fearing the Lord. We read how the arrogant were humbled and transformed into gentle and caring souls when they experienced the fear of the Lord. Then in the early chapters of the Book of Acts when becoming a Christian could cost you your life, we read of the numbers of Christians exploded across the Empire because they also no longer had a reason to be afraid because they learned what it meant to fear the Lord.

THE FRUIT DIET WORTH MORE THAN MONEY

How different would your life be if you were filled continually with the Holy Spirit? This seems to have been the experience of at least the first Christians. We know that Jesus told His disciples after His resurrection to “receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn. 20:22) which may have been the moment that they were “regenerated” which is a fancy way of saying that they were born again (Jn. 3:3). But then Jesus told His disciples to wait for the outpouring of the Spirit (Lk. 24:39; Acts 1:4) which was yet to come. The effect on the disciples when this happened was dramatic — especially in the Simon Peter (Acts 2:14). He went from being a cowering timid fearful backslider to being a bold courageous fearless leader of the Christ’s Church (Acts 2:15-39). Then some days later, as Peter was about to bear witness before the rulers of Judaism, he was filled afresh with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8). When Peter met again with the other believers to pray, all of them were filled with Holy Spirit again (Acts 4:31). Thus, being filled continually with the Holy Spirit seems to have been the usually experience of the early believers. As the Church grew and spread, the early Christians’ understanding of who the Holy Spirit was and what He wanted to do in each believer and church also grew. They discovered that the Spirit didn’t just fill them to be bold proclaiming witnesses, He also enabled them to bear witness to the power of Christ by how they lived. The apostle Paul called this, the fruit of the Spirit.