suffering

What Books Can Help me Talk to My Friend about Their Questions for God?

What Books Can Help me Talk to My Friend about Their Questions for God?

In the coming months at New Life we are looking forward to stepping into a series called Questions for God. In the series, we hope to openly and honestly engage the most difficult questions people have about Christianity. For some those questions keep them on the outside looking in. For others, it causes them to wrestle with their faith.

We hope that Questions for God invites everyone into the conversation no matter where you are spiritually. It is our aim to address these questions with respect and honesty. And it is our hope that some might lean in to engage their questions in a safe environment. It is hope as well that it might serve as an opportunity for Christians to open the doors for conversations with friends and family members.

As we prepare for this series, I would commend the following books. Maybe one of these piques your interest. I would encourage you to pick it up and start reading it in the next few weeks.

 

Two Books That Engage the Broader Questions

Confronting Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin

Deep thinkers have pointed questions for Christianity. “Aren’t we better off without religion?” “How can you say there’s only one true faith?” “Doesn’t religion cause violence?” “Hasn’t science disproved Christianity?” “Isn’t Christianity homophobic?” “How could a loving God send people to hell?”

In Confronting Christianity, Rebecca McLaughlin takes those questions seriously. As a former skeptic, McLaughlin brings both empathy and clear reasoning. She does three things particularly well:

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       Free Throws Should Be Easy. Why do Professionals Miss? I enjoyed this story from Wired: " On paper, the free throw could not be more straightforward. It's a direct, unguarded shot at a hoop 18 inches across, 10 feet off the ground, and 15 feet away."

2.       Have you Talked to Your Kids About Sex? Helpful encouragement: "The sex and gender conversations in your home don’t have to be big, awkward productions. They don’t have to be embarrassing. And they certainly don’t need to be all planned out. But they do need to happen. The sooner the better. And they need to continue, the more often the easier. They absolutely must be rooted in biblical truth about how God designed our bodies and gave us the gift of gender and sex."

3.        How Relationships Spark Spiritual Growth: This is a really helpful matrix that will help any leader consider how they can grow their group relationally. Dan Mancini says that this process will, "remove hurdles to your growth... And you’ll get down into the root of the junk you’re carrying around in your life, and it will reveal motivations, appetites, and beliefs that no one (including you) knew you were carrying around.

4.       3 Things to Do When Someone is Suffering: Chris Hulshof considers what we can learn from Job's friends: " What does it look like to show up when someone is suffering? It looks like joining them right where they are and getting dirty with them amidst their grief and sorrow."

5.       8 Questions You Must Ask as you Fight Pornography: Deepak Reju offers great counsel. Two of the eight questions are "what lies are you believing?" and "will you be radical or passive about cutting out your sin?"

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      What A Ten Year Study on Self-Centeredness Revealed: John Cacioppo concluded, "that focusing on yourself causes you to feel more isolated which causes you to focus even more on yourself. A vicious cycle of self-centeredness and loneliness ensues. To put it plainly — a focus on ourselves grows when we are continually by ourselves." 

2.      Half of Millennial Christians Say It's Wrong to Evangelize: Kate Shellnutt reports on new research from Barna, "Younger folks are tempted to believe instead, “if we just live good enough lives, we can forgo the conversation entirely, and people around us will almost magically come to know Jesus through our good actions and selfless character,” she said. “This style of evangelism is becoming more and more prevalent in a culture constantly looking for the fast track and simple fix.”

3.      What God Does for Us in Suffering: Randy Alcorn offers important wisdom, " There’s no nearness to God without dependence on God. And nothing makes us more dependent on Him than when the bottom drops out."

4.      How to Read the Book of Revelation Well: Great advice by Ian Paul. Every point packs a great punch and is well worth the read. He shares, " This is not an exercise in being ‘academic’ in our reading. It is just the normal discipline of recognising that the Bible was speaking in the language of its context and culture, and this decisively shapes its meaning."

5.      Confronting Defensive People: Jim Van Yperen with seven pieces of advice that we can all use, "A simple rule is this: never confront power with power, confront power with loving truth."

6. Making Faith Your Own or Making Up Your Own Faith? Benjamin Vrbicek reflects on stunning statements from a seminary President.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.     Just How Big is the US Economy? This visual chart is a reminder of just how big the economies of the US and China are. Wow.

2.     5 Misconceptions About Heaven and the Afterlife: This is quite the read, with a lot loaded in here, but if you enjoyed my series on heaven last year, I think you will enjoy this more academic version. J. Richard Middleton's has several pointed moments including this one: "For many decades now I have been asking my students—whether in Bible studies, Sunday School, or in my college and seminary courses—to find even one biblical passage that clearly says that Christians will live in heaven forever (or that heaven is the eternal destiny of the believer). I have even offered a reward for success. So far no one has ever found such a passage."

3.     Why God Delights to Forgive: Scott Hubbard shares this wonderful news with us, "[D]eep down, where roots sink into soil, we wonder if God is really that happy forgiving us. Our suspicions easily replace the Bridegroom’s pleasure with pursed lips, the Shepherd’s song with a lecture, and the Father’s robe with the elder brother’s hand-me-downs. If we are going to feel and not just confess that God delights to forgive those who come to him through Jesus, we will need to grasp why he forgives."

4.     Don't Downplay Your Suffering: Regan Rose with a counter-intuitive admonition: " One of the biggest mistakes believers can make when facing a tragedy is to minimize it. I think so many of us do it because we are lacking a robust theology of suffering. So, our first reaction to a tragedy is to try and explain it away. “Hey, it could be worse!” “Everything will be okay.” “This is just a season.” Like a doctor slapping a smiley face sticker over a cancerous tumor, all some Christians know to do in the face of true calamity is to pave it over with platitudes."

5.     Crowder's Happy Day: How can you not smile when you watch this?

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Thank you, God, for Failure: The author closes his brief reflection, " In my failure, I see an accurate picture of myself. No one fails at everything, but we hit the ground more often than the bullseye. Thank you for Jesus, who always hit the mark. Thank you for the gracious exchange of the gospel, in which he took my sin and gave me his righteousness. Thank you that every failure is a reminder of your patient mercy toward your children."

2.      Why 81% of Evangelicals Voted for Trump: Ed Stetzer and Andrew MacDonald dig into the research to draw nuanced conclusions around evangelical support of Trump. I found their discovery that the Supreme Court nominations and abortion weren't primary motivations surprising. It's too complicated a picture to summarize in one quick statement, but I thought this line of reasoning was illuminating: " Whether it is the Supreme Court or religious liberty, many evangelicals appeared willing to accept a presidential candidate who is able to secure policy initiatives they favor in the long term."

3.      How God Changes Our "Why Me" Questions in Suffering? Ed Welch speaks such loving truth to those who are struggling: "God’s story makes you just the right size. Everything counts, but the scale changes to something that makes much more sense. You face hard things. But you have already received something better which can never be taken away."

4.      Should Married Couples Separate? I rarely recommend separation, but I agree with Steve Cornell's advice, "When I began ministry (35 years ago), I never would have imagined advising a married couple to separate. I would have understood such a need in cases involving danger, but I never thought much beyond this scenario. Gradually, I encountered individuals dealing with mates who were persistently behaving in ways that were destroying their marriages. These people typically felt hopeless because they think they have done everything possible to save their marriages. In some cases, however, marital separation becomes a needed step for sending the ultimate wake-up call to a complacent and selfish mate."

5.      Virtual Reality Church: It's painfully funny because it's so close to reality.

The Unexpected Gift (part 1) by Anne Madhu Gammon

The Unexpected Gift (part 1) by Anne Madhu Gammon

A note from John:

It’s my pleasure to share with you the story of my friend, Madhu Gammon. Madhu and her husband Keith attend Stone Hill Church in Princeton, NJ, where I served as a pastor for eight years. Madhu and Keith’s story centers around how God stretched their faith and joy in the midst of the difficulties of their son Ajit’s medical issues.

In God’s providence, Angel and I are, right now, in the home state of Madhu and Keith: Tamil Nadu, India.

I pray that you are blessed by Madhu’s humble faith and irrepressible joy as I have been.

 ————————————————————————————————————————————————————

Setting out with a bag and an umbrella is perfect for a walk in the park. We finally got there. It was an unexpected wait to get through the checkpoints. The Waiting Room was abuzz with swiftly changing scenes as we moved from the corridor to the elevator. The sounds of trolleys with their squeaky wheels rolling by were not particularly musical. It was the easiest thing to misunderstand the unrealistic questionnaire in the dim lit room, the questions like a frisbee whizzed all around me. Frankly speaking, what does it feel like to be faced with an unexpected diagnosis, ‘the baby has an increase in head circumference’?

We had started a journey into the world of unknowns! What is normal after all? “Normal is an illusion. What is normal to the spider is chaos to the fly.” The world of disability is a deep dark pit of foggy impressions until it comes to you and you are still in a fog.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       An Open Letter to a Suffering Christian: David Powlison with simple, but powerful words, " Suffering must be walked through one step at a time. Be honest. Don’t take any shortcuts. Let each day’s trouble be sufficient for that day. Seek your Father. If you seek him, you will find him."

2.       Don't Settle for Artificial Intimacy: One of my favorite author on marriage, Gary Thomas, with an insightful look into artificial intimacy, "Every season of life tempts us to stop building our marriages. Rather than grow together in true intimacy, far too many couples exist only on what I call "artificial intimacy." They've never intentionally built intimacy but rather were trapped by an infatuation that felt like it fell from heaven. They never had to work at it; it just was. Once it died, their intimacy died with it. An artificial intimacy can be sustained for a time by the common events of life, but usually it comes to a huge crash..."

3.       Moms Have Always Worked: Hannah Nation's study of the Puritans reveals a deficiency in the way we typically think about work. I wholeheartedly agree with Nation's thesis, "Although these divides still haunt us to this day, our economy is changing once again. As more and more work goes online and we transition to an information economy, the options available to women are also changing, making the demarcation between “working mom” and “stay-at-home mom” less visible. Arguably, then, we are shifting (even if slowly) back toward the more holistic and unified world of Puritan New England."

4.       A Father's Memoir of Miscarriage: Powerful reflection by Eric Schumacher, "We discussed it and chose silence. We told no one. We feared drawing attention away from their loss onto ours. Others were suffering “worse” than we were. After all, how did the uncomplicated and almost unnoticed loss of an unexpected and unannounced pregnancy compare to their painful and public suffering? They “deserved” the sympathy and the support more than we did. And there it was, that first little fox in the vineyard of grief—comparison. A ruthless enemy, comparison is quick to use your family, your wife, your children, and your friends against you. Comparison sunk its teeth in deeper with each of the three subsequent miscarriages, further stifling my grief... The gospel speaks a better word than the bark of comparison. It speaks of a Father who notices and values the minutia of his world—even the parts that others deem worthless by comparison."

5.       It's Not You: How our Phones are Designed to Be Addicting:  The 3 design elements that make smartphones more like slot machines than tools, explained by Google’s former design ethicist.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       Discriminating Against Those With Downs Syndrome: Alan Shlemon reports on this increasingly disturbing reality, "Richard Dawkins once responded to a woman who wrote the following tweet: “I honestly don't know what I would do if I were pregnant with a kid with Down Syndrome. Real ethical dilemma.” Dawkins took no more than 60 seconds to read, deliberate, and post the following advice: “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.” Did you catch that? Not only should you have the option to kill a “kid with Down syndrome,” but it would be immoral not to abort."

2.       What if Tomorrow is Even Harder Than Today: Benjamin Vrbicek helps us re-frame how we tend to think about life, "Left to ourselves, we are always, only, ever a house of cards. Yet beneath our flimsy hope of self-sufficiency rests the rock-solid promise of a good and gracious God, always strong and sovereign. This promise sustained my friends as they waited in the ICU for their daughter to recover. It sustains me when life is hard. And it can sustain you when you fear what’s ahead. "

3.       God Strengthens Those of Weak Faith: Adrian Warnack on our faith and the object of our faith, "There is a brand of muscular faith that is promoted by some today. According to this school of thought you will be healed or blessed by God if you can only believe strongly enough... and basically be positive enough... When we struggle or become weak, Jesus prays for us too that we will not fail. Sometimes the candle might seem like it is almost out and only smouldering, but instead of snuffing us out he breathes his Spirit on us to strengthen us so we too, like Peter, can strengthen others."

4.       Jesse's Story: The Heavyweight podcast tells the story of Jesse. Four years ago, Jesse was hit by a car and nearly died. Now he wants to find the driver. And thank him. I don't think it's possible to not get misty in the final minutes of this moving podcast.

5.       Powerful Words from a Man with Downs Syndrome: Frank Stephens testifies on Capital Hill about his life experience and calls congress to action.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Driverless Dilemma: The bearing down of driverless cars on us means that soon our transportation will have to make moral calculations. How should those calculations be made? This Radio Lab episodes explores these questions at the intersection of ethics and technology.

2.      Letter to a Church Member (and Myself): Melissa Edgington with a post that is jam-packed full of truth, " Your church is here, not to give you a good self-image, but to give you a true self-image. One that stands you up next to the holy God of the universe and shows you just how far you fall short. It is meant to give you a realistic understanding of how unremarkable you really are so that you can look to Jesus and you can look to the cross and you can see your salvation unfold before your very eyes, so that you realize how unworthy you are of God’s love. So you can grasp how great this love is that would reach out to you. So that you fall down in worship just thinking about it."

3.      Statistics on Girls' Self Esteem: Some of the sobering statistics: 98% of girls feel there is "an immense pressure from external sources to look a certain way." 53% of American girls age 13 are "unhappy with their bodies." 78% of American girls age 17 are "unhappy with their bodies."

4.      You Are Not Suffering Alone: Adrian Warnock presses the truth of 1 Peter simply into the heart of the one suffering in this two part post, "Knowing that you are part of a suffering community can be encouraging. But what is more encouraging still is knowing that you are still a child of God, and that he has made certain promises to you" (part I). And, in part II " When God restores a broken person, they are still marked in some way by that suffering. Those who have truly wrestled with God through pain, walk like Jacob with a limp. He comforts us so we can comfort others.  Don’t be afraid to let those you are trying to help see a glimpse of the pain that you have been through.

5.      Master Camouflager: Watch as this Cuttlefish pretends to be a hermit crab. Wild.

Paul's Strange Reasons for Generosity: True Prosperity

Paul's Strange Reasons for Generosity: True Prosperity

The famous minister, Benny Hinn, is one of many who promises that if you are generous, God will reward you financially. “Divine prosperity is God’s will for every believer!” Hinn says, “All we must do to receive God’s blessings and abundance is to obey him.” How do we obey God? By giving. “Sow seed with great expectation of a powerful overflow in your life. Then get ready for it to be multiplied back to you abundantly. Yes, a seed may seem small in your hand, but when you sow seed in expectant faith, you release its God-given potential to produce a supernatural outpouring: ‘He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully’ (2 Corinthians 9:6).”[i]

The fourth reason Paul offers for giving is found here in 2 Corinthians 9:6, the promise that the one who “sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” That’s a pretty wild promise. Are Hinn and the other prosperity preachers correct in asserting that God promises financial reward for those who give?