Wrestling with God Through the Loss of a Friend

       It might be surprising to some that when tragedy strikes Christians they often enter a very real wrestling match with God. Maybe I shouldn’t speak for all Christians, but I will say I often wrestle with God through difficult times. I know that I have some friends who would also openly admit to this as well. I believe we follow in the footsteps of people such as David who, if you take a quick glance through the Psalms, is regularly questioning and crying out to God in anguish. Maybe some would rather present a picture of their Christian journey as peaceful and perfect; nary a hiccup or reason to feel disappointed. Perhaps they will look down on me for being honest about my recent struggles with the death of a friend. To those people I would simply say, God is big and can take my questions.

            On October 9, 2012 a friend of mine named Jon Chester passed away unexpectedly. When I heard the news, I instantly started bawling. That is no exaggeration; it was quite literally instant and intense. Now, it must be said that I am not prone to emotional outbursts. For the most part I am emotionally steady and it takes quite a bit to throw me off, but something about this was like a dagger to the chest. It was so unexpected and it was so unfair, he was so faithful to God,  how could this happen? This is was I was thinking in those moments immediately after hearing the news. Every Christian has their stock theological answers when someone passes away unexpectedly. It’s not God’s fault, death is the result of sin reigning in this world. Additionally, as a result of sin our bodies are prone to failure but God is good and He loves us and this is just good bye for now. Those are all true and great but in the emotional moments after hearing this unexpected news the stock answers weren’t good enough. I wanted to know how this could be allowed to happen to someone as faithful as Jon. Well the answer I got was this…

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?”

                             – Job 38: 4-7

            For those unfamiliar with the Bible this is God’s response to Job after Job goes through some really terrible times, and it was the first thing that popped into my head when I asked God what in the heck He was up to. Some will say that’s a coincidence, but I’ve only read the Book of Job twice in my whole life so I don’t have it memorized. I really think God was redirecting my focus from my own anguish, to the fact that He’s God and may have a little bit of a better grasp on what’s really going on. It helped but of course I was still really upset.

            My friendship with Jon started when he began an internship at the church where I was already an intern. We worked in the same department and developed a good friendship. Jon was an awesome guy who really loved people well. He didn’t look like your typical pastor but exuded a confidence and boldness that was out of this world. We spent a lot of time together during the course of our internships. We taught evangelism classes together, led Theo-Pub (a discussion group that met in Barrel 44 in the Short North) together and talked a lot about everything under the sun. Some of my favorite memories with Jon are just walking up and down High St. inviting people to Theo-Pub. We had a lot of time to talk about our hopes and dreams and the calls we felt God had placed on our lives. He unequivocally felt that he was called to church plant in Wilmington, NC and during his internship he was trying out ideas, such as Theo-Pub, that he would one day implement in Wilmington.

            I remember being struck by his faithfulness to this call. The church where we were interns is large and it is easy to get comfortable there, but Jon was always just passing through. He frequently recruited me for this church plant. He said after I finished seminary I had to come down there. He even went so far as to look up houses that might be in my budget and he pointed out several times that the largest employer in the area was a hospital so my wife wouldn’t have to change careers. Even recently on Facebook when I mentioned that I was starting my last year of seminary he wrote, “And then heading to Wilmington.” Did I mention that he was also very persistent? He tried to recruit many people, and I was actually quite flattered that one of those people was me. I never told him how much I enjoyed doing ministry together as interns, and how doing ministry with him in Wilmington would have been a complete joy. In the back of mind I always thought I’d end up in Wilmington hanging with Jon, I only wished I would have shared that with him.

            There are many things I wish I would have shared with Jon. I wish I would have told him that his confidence in regards to his call, made me more confident in my own call. Like I said, Jon didn’t look like your typical pastor. He was bald, had piercings and was covered in tattoos, but he wasn’t bound by other people’s expectations. He was able to live out his calling with confidence and boldness because he knew God and had faith in his call. I always admired that and I’m not being overly sentimental when I say that it had a profound effect on me. I wish I would have told him how much I admired his zeal and passion. Jon was an awesome guy who I appreciated so much and who was there for me as I struggled through seminary and my internship.

            Perhaps there’s a lesson here about sharing how you feel towards people in the moment because you might not have a chance in the future. Certainly that’s important but I think there’s something more. In the days following Jon’s passing every time I thought of him the phrase, “Well done my good and faithful servant,” would sound off in my mind. This is from a parable that Jesus tells in which a master gives his servants bags of gold, goes out of town and returns to see how they did with their money. The servants who do well are the ones that got a return on the investment. The master tells those servants that because they were faithful with a little, they can be trusted with more. Again, I don’t think it is a coincidence that I heard this verse in connection with Jon. Before church planting, Jon did everything that was asked of him. Even though he was restless and excited to get started, he remained faithful, and God rewarded him with Carolina Coast Vineyard Church. He was only pastor for a short time but he fulfilled the call that God placed upon his life. Hearing about that community and seeing the outpouring of support from people there, it is clear that Jon and his wife Cathy, with the aid of God, have started something that is going to impact God’s kingdom. That is how I want to live my life.

            As a Christian I do not believe that death is the end. I believe that when Christians die they go to Heaven to await the resurrection of all creation. I will see Jon again which does give me comfort, but his death still hurts. To me, this is a senseless tragedy like many senseless tragedies that happen every day. I wish God would have stopped it, but He didn’t. I don’t understand how this is the best course for God’s kingdom, and God is not obliged to give me answers. It is comforting, however, to know that God is in control. I believe that many years ago God was laying the foundations of the universe and the Earth which we now occupy. He created the planets and the stars and the millions of galaxies that exist in space. He brought forth life eventually culminating in his image bearers, humans. God is in control and that’s a beautiful thing; it can be a frustrating thing because I may feel like I’m entitled to answers but ultimately God can be trusted to run the universe. Sometimes (okay most of the time) I just need to get out of the way and have a little faith.

            There is no doubt that I am going to miss Jon, and I will be in good company in that regard. Having faith in God and believing in the resurrection makes it possible, however, to grieve with hope. So remember it’s not goodbye, it’s see you later.   


A Frank Conversation about Homosexuality, the Finale: Government & Religion

In this, the final chapter of our frank conversation about homosexuality, I want to discuss government and religion. Same-sex marriage is undoubtedly a hot button issue, one that affects the way in which people vote. In the upcoming election we have President Obama who believes that same-sex marriage should be totally legal, while on the other hand we have Mitt Romney who wants to make sure the traditional view of marriage, one man and one woman, is upheld. I’ve discussed the traditional view of marriage in part two of our discussion so I’m not going revisit it here. What I want to focus on is what I consider to be a troubling trend, Christians seeking to establish God’s kingdom through the government.

A reality that we Christians must face head-on is that candidates use issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion to get us to the polls. So, on election day, Christians will march to the polls to vote for the Republican candidate because they oppose same-sex marriage. I think this mentality changed a bit in 2008; at least it did in my circle, when Christians began to look at the candidate’s total platform and not just one or two issues. So let’s say it changed a bit but also concede in this election there will still be many Christians who vote for Romney because of this one issue. I believe that this is irresponsible voting and irresponsible Christian engagement with the secular world. Here’s why…

First, the federal government is NOT a Christian institution. Let’s say that Romney is elected and an amendment to the constitution is passed that ensures the traditional view of marriage is upheld. I’m sure that many Christians will feel that this is a major moral victory, but all that has really happened is that government is enforcing our moral standard on the entire population of America. Meanwhile, our moral guide – the federal government – is unwisely spending money, participating in activities such as drone strikes, and racking up a deficit that will never get paid off. If Christians want to the government to represent their interests they need to do A LOT more than petition the government to outlaw same-sex marriage, but it seems like many of these other issues are ignored.

I think that if Christians are going to make a difference in this world it’s going to be through the Church, not through the federal government. I have several Christian friends (maybe more than I know) who believe that a big government is a good thing. A government that redistributes wealth, ensures every person has healthcare and ensures that every person has the same high quality education seems to be the ideal. My only problem with this mentality is that you’re relying on the government to employ kingdom principles. Those things are awesome and should be valued and I’m pro-all of them, but not if it means the government is a massive, intrusive entity (which it already seems to be). Being completely honest, I find it really disturbing that the government has the power to tell people they can or cannot enter a civil union. How did the government get so big? What my Christian friends need to understand is that a big, intrusive government that ensures everything is equal is also given the power to infringe upon our freedoms particularly our religious freedom. You may say that this is ridiculous, but I would argue it’s already happening.

For example, through Obamacare (the real name is so long) companies will have to provide Plan B (morning after pill) and Levonelle (week after pill) through their insurance policies. You might say well that’s not really that big of a deal, but I would argue if you have a Christian company who morally objects to those medications then forcing them to provide them for their employees is a massive intrusion. I mean if the employees know the stance of the company and have agreed to their standards then they should be allowed to morally object to the provision of those medications. Yet, as it stands, this is still in effect.

So, I am not in favor of a massive government that “levels the playing field,” but, as I said, I am in favor of a Church that radically changes this country. I think that if we redirected our energy away from petitioning the government and put it towards taking care of the sick and the poor we would do a lot to level the playing field and establish the kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. Some communities already do this really well, but there are still those believers that think the government should be an extension of the Church. I believe we should avoid this mentality and instead establish caring and compassionate communities motivated by their faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ example is that of someone intimately connected with the downtrodden who changed them from within their midst.

Connecting this back to same-sex marriage, I have to say that I don’t think Christians should spend their time lobbying the government to outlaw it. I believe we’ll be better off treating people with kindness and compassion and modeling healthy and whole relationships by fixing the issues destroying marriages in our churches. I’m sure many people will disagree with this and that’s fine. If you find yourself saying, “Christians should continue to petition the government to outlaw same-sex marriage,” I would simply ask, if you believe the government should be the arbiter of morality are you consistently advocating for the government’s morality on all issues? If the government is going to define what is moral in one area of life, they should be defining what is moral in all areas of life. Are you demanding this of them or is it just about a single issue?

Bill Maher Believes Religion is about Power; Global Christianity Begs to Differ

         I have a love-hate relationship with the comedian Bill Maher. On the one hand, he has truly inspired me to get the truth out about Christianity; for that I am thankful. On the other hand, he has a loyal following who believe everything he says even when it is completely false. He breeds ignorant activists who never question the facts that he offers. In later blog posts I will debunk Maher’s film Religulous because there are so many flat-out lies (or terribly done research though I’m inclined to believe lies since he clearly has an agenda in the film) that someone has to point out his errors.

            Right now I just want to point out something that Maher says in a deleted scene of Religulous. He says, “But if you can’t get that [sex], power is a pretty good second one. And that’s what religion gives people. Power. Power is sex for people who can’t get or don’t want or aren’t any good at sex itself.” Obviously Maher is trying to be funny, but the idea that religion is about power is a common critique. I’ve heard it many times from my non-Christian friends. Christianity is about power and money and no one would be a part of it if they didn’t stand to gain something. This is probably believed by many, and it couldn’t be farther from the truth.

            The problem with the hypothesis that Christianity is only about power and money, is that it doesn’t evaluate all of the evidence. It looks only at the Western Church. Admittedly, the Western Church has grown comfortable. As Dr. Bill Payne, one of my professors at Ashland, said, “In America, Christianity is associated with sexism, homophobia, superstition, anti-intellectualism, slavery, colonialism, anti-science, and a host of other bad things.” This is undoubtedly true, and we have become associated with these things because in our comfort we have lost track of the Gospel.

            It doesn’t help that the media will only do stories on crazy people who want to burn Qurans and protest the funerals of soldiers. For every 1 Christian doing something like that I know about 1,000 or more who are serving in food pantries and free clinics, taking food to homeless camps, praying for the city and country, taking supplies to low-income schools and hundreds of other things like this. Be that as it may, there remains a large contingency in America and the wider Western world that, through their actions, misrepresent Christianity. It is those people that give Bill Maher fertile ground to attack the faith.

            When we expand our view beyond the Western world, however, we see a Christianity that looks very different from our own. Bill Maher claims to be a rationalist, someone who evaluates his beliefs based upon the facts, but this simply can’t be true because when we look at Christianity worldwide we see a community that is powerless and persecuted. Around the world, Christians are being killed for their beliefs, yet, despite the persecution, people continue to convert to Christianity.

            What led me to investigate worldwide Christian persecution was my Missional Church class at Ashland Seminary. Our professor, Dr. Payne, showed several videos of Christian persecution throughout the world. The one that moved me the most was the one about what’s happening in India. The video (I’ll share the link at the end but just be warned it is unbelievably graphic) was created by Christians in India in response to a rash of attacks that broke out against believers. The video opens with two men and a teenage boy being beaten to death by angry protestors. The violence is nauseating and it’s real. The attacks against Christians began because Hindus blamed Christians for the killing of a Hindu leader even though the evidence points to a communist extremist as the culprit. In any case, Christians were systematically beaten to death and their bodies were left strewn all over the streets.

            Unfortunately, the violence against Christians in India is actually quite widespread. The Gospel represents a threat (not a violent threat mind you) to the Hindu Caste System and Indian nationalist organizations have sought to stamp out Christianity from its midst. Churches are burned and people are killed simply because they have a different belief system. After learning about the persecution in India and other places, I knew I had to try to get the word out. In places like India, Christians aren’t persecuted because they represent a threat to the powers that be. On the contrary, the Christians have no power and are a minority group who a killed because they refuse to believe in an oppressive caste system. While I was startled to learn that Christians were being persecuted in India, as I investigated further I realized Christian persecution is far more widespread than I could have ever thought.

            One of the countries in which I was surprised to learn that Christians are being persecuted is Colombia. The violence in Colombia right now is astounding. A number of paramilitary organizations and guerilla forces are fighting for the southern portion of Colombia which is vitally important for the drug manufacturing and trafficking business. Caught in the fray are Christians who refuse to fight and are hated because they won’t take sides. The paramilitary organizations and guerilla forces are unable to find viable recruits amongst the Christians because of their non-violent commitment so they are killed. The violence among Christians is increasing because people are, astoundingly, converting to Christianity despite the danger.

            In Nigeria, 51% of the population is Christian yet the government operates under Islamic law. It is a common practice for young Christian women to be kidnapped, raped and then forced to marry their kidnappers. The kidnappers are protected by the law. Furthermore, just this week, a hostel in Christian neighborhood was attacked and over 40 people were killed. The details of this, the latest massacre of Christians, are too gruesome to describe. At the heart of the violence is the attempt of Muslims in the region to establish Shariah law throughout northern Nigeria.

            Iran is another country that actively persecutes the Christian church. Frequently Christians are arrested and held in prisons for years before being released. One example is Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani who was held in prison for three years under the charges of apostasy and evangelism of Muslims. For those that don’t know ‘apostasy’ is the rejection of a religious belief. So, one of the charges against Youcef was that he rejected Islam and became a Christian. Youcef  was threatened with the death penalty and while in prison the authorities frequently tried to force him to renounce Christianity and convert to Islam. While it’s good news that Youcef has been released, he’s hardly safe. Other pastors who have suffered similarly, have been murdered shortly after release. Despite the persecution, the Church in Iran is growing dramatically.  

            These are just a few examples of the MANY that illustrate what the global face of Christianity really looks like. To my non-Christian readers (if anyone has made it to this point), I know that what you most often see in America is Christianity defined by consumerism and political battles. That is truly unfortunate, but what the examples I’ve shared (and the many more that I couldn’t share) illustrate is that in places where there is little to be gained Christianity is flourishing. It’s flourishing not because people stand to gain influence, money, or power, but because the Gospel message has power and changes lives on a daily basis. In the Western world, people have the luxury of sitting in their towers and looking down on people of faith with snide remarks about rationalism and how there is no scientific basis for God but there’s no denying that people are willing to suffer and die for their profession of faith in Jesus Christ. You may call these people crazy, but just maybe they’ve experienced the love, hope and freedom of God in ways that make is possible to suffer the insufferable.

            To my Christian readers (if there are any left), I think it is important to be informed about our global community. I’ve only included a few examples, but the problem of Christian persecution is widespread. It’s good to pray for persecutions when they are brought to our attention by the mainstream media, but I don’t think it’s enough. When we hear about persecution on the news or in the paper, it’s generally because it’s a particularly terrible attack, such as the attack on the church in Egypt a year or so ago. For every incident that we hear about there are thousands more that go unnoticed. We need to make supporting our global Church a priority by praying for them every day. It’s really easy to get tunnel vision and lose focus of the fact that we are a part of a global community. We are worried about our buildings, our outreaches, our programs and we lose sight of our brothers and sisters who are being murdered for the beliefs that every day we take for granted. We are in a position to extend aid and support to our persecuted family and it’s vitally important that we do so.

            I’m not an expert on the subject of Christian persecution. In fact, I was alerted to the problem only a couple weeks ago. I don’t have the power to put an end to it, and I don’t have an excess of money to give to support my persecuted brothers and sisters. I do know, however, that what I saw that day in class and what I’ve researched since then has broken my heart and deeply convicted me. I want to give what little resources I can to help out and I want to lift the global Church up in prayer every single time I think about it. My hope is that others will join me and together we can support our Church, utilizing the freedom and resources that so many others are denied.

Helpful Links:

Voice of the Martyrs:


          – Shows incidents of persecution, has several charitable initiatives aimed at supporting the global church, displays prayer needs

International Christian Concern:


–          A lot like Voice of the Martyrs

Video Links:


        – Video put out by Voice of the Martyrs

DISCLAIMER, the link below displays a VERY graphic video showing Indian Christians being beaten to death. I wanted to provide the link so that you could watch it if you felt compelled. It’s a graphic reminder about what’s happening worldwide; these are our brothers. You’ve been warned.


        – Video made my Indian Christians in response to outbreak of violence against them. VERY GRAPHIC.

Persecution in Vietnam, a news report:


Persecution in China, a news report:


International Release, update on persecution worldwide, starts with a report about Sri Lanka:


News report about persecution in Pakistan:


A Frank Conversation about Homosexuality, Part 2: Subjecting “…Families to the Decay of Morals and Values.”

        In the last edition of A Frank Conversation about Homosexuality, I concluded by saying that I believed it was the Christian’s duty to love our neighbors as ourselves so that people outside of our community might come to know and believe the truth that they are fearfully and wonderfully made by God and deeply loved by this Creator. Today, I want to explore the most often used defense for protesting against same-sex marriage. To do so I want to look at a statement released by the organization One Million Moms in response to the new television show A New Normal. On their website this organization writes, “NBC is using public airwaves to continue to subject families to the decay of morals and values, and the sanctity of marriage in attempting to redefine marriage. These things are harmful to our society, and this program is damaging to our culture.” They continue, “NBC’s ‘The New Normal’ is attempting to desensitize America and our children. It is the opposite of how families are designed and created. You cannot recreate the biological wheel.”[1]

            To be fair to One Million Moms they do not only go after shows that feature same-sex relationships. In general, they oppose most risqué commercials and TV shows in an attempt, in their own words, to clean up the airwaves. I chose their quote because it’s relevant (it was released recently) and it mentions the two most frequent reasons cited when Christians oppose same-sex marriage. Namely, it leads to moral and ethical decay, and Christians must protect marriage by keeping it between one man and one woman. First let’s talk about marriage.

            The idea that marriage is between one man and one woman comes from Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” There is no mention of the institution of “marriage” nor are there instructions for how this should take place. When my wife and I got married there were two parts. First, we went to the courthouse, swore we weren’t cousins, signed some papers and paid some money; it was soooo romantic. In the eyes of the government that’s all we had to do to be “married,” but for us that wasn’t enough. So a few weeks later we had a ceremony in front of our friends, community and family officiated by a pastor and entered a covenant marriage with God. Neither part of the two step process we went through can be found in the Bible. The religious ceremony that has developed around weddings has done so through tradition; not because it is ordained by God. I do believe it is important and necessary, but I don’t see why Christianity and the government must agree on what marriage is. (More on government and religion in Part 3)

            Additionally, a brief survey of marriages throughout history shows that the nuclear family unit so commonly referred to by groups such as One Million Moms is actually quite uncommon. Let’s look at the Bible. In 1 Chronicles 3:1-9 the text lists several wives of King David and the children he had by them. Verse 9 reads, “All these were the sons of David, besides his sons by his concubines.” So, only the sons are listed and NOT even from all his concubines. David hardly represents the ideal. But hey, David is messed up; everyone knows that. True, but what about 1 Kings 11:3, “He (Solomon) had seven hundred wives who were from royal families and three hundred slave women who gave birth to his children.” The text does tell us that Solomon is punished but it isn’t for breaking from the ideal of one man and one woman; it’s because Solomon begins to worship other Gods. The reason I point out these two examples from the Bible is to illustrate that God didn’t disqualify these two men because they failed to live up to the ideal. On the contrary, God used them in the past and continues to use them today. I have never heard a Christian argue that we should boycott the Psalms or stop reading Proverbs because David and Solomon didn’t live up to Genesis 2:24. Outside of the Bible, examples are just as common, from Kings and Queens to Founding Fathers, the Genesis ideal has always been under attack. I can’t help but wonder why homosexuality today receives much of the ire.

            The first part of the One Million Moms statement is that shows such as A New Normal are subjecting “…families to the decay of morals and values.” I guess that’s true, if one parents via primetime television. I’m not sure that, as a society, we should look to television for our moral guidance. Also, it seems with Christians there are problems much closer to home; really what’s aired on TV should be the least of our concerns. A cursory look at some statistics should give my Christian readers pause.

  • Several studies, most notably one conducted by the Barna Group, show that the divorce rate among Christians mirrors that of the non-Christian populace.[2][3]
  • A study has shown that 80% of unmarried, Christians have had premarital sex. Some have argued that this is way too high and it is more like 42%. Either way, it’s way higher than it should be.[4]
  • A survey revealed that 50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women are addicted to pornography. Additionally, there are some troubling stats about the clergy and pornography.[5]
  • Finally, in a study done among pastors it was revealed that 77% did not believe they had a good marriage. 38% said that they were divorced or going through the divorce process (other studies have concluded that 50% of pastor marriages will end in divorce) and 30% admitted to having affairs.[6]

            These statistics reveal some very troubling moral failures WITHIN our Church. My point in sharing them is not to dump on the Church. I love the Church and believe it is a necessary institution for carrying out God’s will in the world, but I think that these statistics reveal problems that have been ignored for too long. Marriage is certainly under attack in America, but it’s not by same-sex couples; it’s by a stubborn pride that refuses to address the issues INSIDE the Church and instead latches onto a scapegoat. I’m not advocating that the Church disappear; rather, I want to see a Church that redirects its energy from the homosexual issue to the issues tearing marriages apart in our midst. Let’s truly be defenders of marriage, not by defending a definition, but by defending the covenant relationships that are falling apart before our eyes.    It’s time to be honest about our own moral failings and genuinely address them so that we can be the Church that God intends. Until we do this, we will always be fighting the wrong battle. We can protest against same-sex marriage or TV shows or commercials, and we will always miss the true enemy of families and the moral fabric of our society: a Church that does not follow the example of Jesus.

                [3] Notice that the rate of 33% is mentioned for the national average. Well I did some research and found that the “50% of marriages end in divorce” is largely conjecture. Here are some resources for your own further investigation: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/19/health/19divo.html?_r=0 ;  http://psychcentral.com/lib/2012/the-myth-of-the-high-rate-of-divorce/all/1/

                [4] The study revealing 80% is referenced in this article: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/relationships/almost-everyones-doing-it ; The following blog attempts to debunk the study and in doing so points out that it still reveals about 42% of born-again, Evangelical Christians engage in pre-marital sex; still a massively high number. Not sure why the author takes comfort from that.


                [5] http://www.covenanteyes.com/2010/01/06/updated-pornography-statistics/ ; click on the link that says ‘pornography statistics’ and a really helpful PDF comes up which lists a myriad of important stats regarding porn and its effect on people.