Issue #53

Disguising Ungodliness and Righteous Anger, Elisha and the Bears, Bonding with Corrupt Leaders, and more...

Issue #53
Photo by Joshua Eckstein / Unsplash

Read and Reflect 📖

Disguising Ungodliness as Righteous Anger | Christopher Ash and Steve Midgley 📃 →

Christians sometimes use examples such as “Be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26), Jesus overturning tables (John 2:13–17) to excuse their anger. And sometimes anger is justified. But Ash and Midgley point us to the danger of using these (and other) Biblical examples to justify unrighteous anger.

But the very best of circumstances doesn’t happen very often. Much more of the time, imitation of God slides, ever so subtly, into replacement of God. We do that thing that we do. We take his place, and soon it is our honor that we are concerned about, our law that is being breached, and our own needs that are stirring us to passionate rage.

The peril here is that even though these are two such very close neighbors, they are very, very different houses to live in. And all too often we take up residence in the wrong house without even realizing it. But when that happens, the wrath we are venting becomes a wrath belonging almost entirely to us and not at all to him.

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Explore the Scriptures 📖

What’s with the Story of Elisha and the Bears? | Erik Manning 📽 →

The story of Elisha and the bears is one of the strangest stories in scripture, and it is often used by skeptics to show the “evil God” of the Old Testament. Here is the story:

From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking up the path, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, chanting, “Go up, baldy! Go up, baldy! ” He turned around, looked at them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the children. From there Elisha went to Mount Carmel, and then he returned to Samaria.
— 2 Kings 2:23–25 (CSB)

Manning walks us through the story and how skeptics use it, then gives us some tools to think about it.

  1. The translation of “small children” is probably incorrect, and it’s probably referring to young male priests.
  2. God sometimes grants his power to sinful humans and allows them to use it in ways that he doesn’t necessarily approve of.

I encourage you to watch the full video (it’s pretty short) for a deeper dive.

What’s with the Story of Elisha and the Bears? | Erik Manning | Youtube

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Church History Corner ⛪️

How the Russia-Ukraine War Is Linked to Religion | Joe Carter 📃 →

The category might be surprising. This is an article about how the ongoing war in Ukraine is linked to religion, but the category is church history. That’s because the Russian Orthodox church’s support of this war is rooted in history.

Carter walks us through Eastern Orthodoxy and the complicated history between the Russian Orthodox Church and Ukraine, which split from Moscow only a few years ago after centuries of being unified.

By breaking away from the ROC, the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine was seen as being a threat to the “spiritual security” of Russia. Putin even used it as a part of his pretext for invading Ukraine.

In effect, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church seems to view this war as a kind of modern holy crusade.

If you've enjoyed reading this letter, please share it with others and help us grow. We exist to help Christians grow in their faith and to make the name of Jesus Messiah glorified in all the earth. We grow thanks to readers like you sharing what we do with others. Thank you!

Challenge Your Brain 🧠

How Consciousness is a Window into Ultimate Reality | Cameron Bertuzzi and Josh Rasmussen 📽 →

Bertuzzi (the interviewer) and Rasmussen (the philosopher) discuss an argument for God from consciousness. We are conscious creatures, but what does that mean, and is our experience of consciousness possible if the world is only made of matter and energy?

This is a challenging subject, but Bertuzzi and Rasmussen do a good job of using understandable language and examples (such as legos) to explain.

How Consciousness is a Window into Ultimate Reality | Cameron Bertuzzi and Josh Rasmussen | Youtube

Living This Christian Life 🤴👸

Preview: 'Demystifying Decision Making' | Aimee Jospeh 🎧 →

This podcast is a preview of Aimee Joseph’s new book on decision-making from a Christian perspective. Today’s young people, especially in the West, have been told that they can be whoever they want. They can ignore anyone else’s advice and look within and pursue whatever their heart says.

There are a lot of problems with that cultural perspective, but one of them is that studies are showing that young people are overwhelmed by the variety of choices available to them. Decision-paralysis sets in.

If that sounds like you or someone you know, this book may be for you.

As Christians living in an increasingly individualistic society, what’s the best strategy for making decisions that honor God while becoming more like him in the process?

Writing from her own experience and pointing to biblical examples, Aimee Joseph offers a biblical and theological framework for decision-making. She explains God’s design for humans as decision-makers, the biblical model for making choices, common wrong approaches, practical tips, and what to do when you’ve made a poor decision. With the philosophy that “as we shape our decisions, our decisions shape us,” Joseph teaches readers how to worship and draw closer to Christ through their daily decisions.

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Best with a Cup of Tea ☕️

MacArthur Shamed, Excommunicated Wife of Child Abuser | Julie Roys 📃 →

Today I have two articles that work hand-in-hand to draw a question before all of us.

This article details allegations against John MacArthur and his church that they enabled child sexual abuse and spousal abuse by one of their own pastors. As these allegations were revealed (and confessed by the accused), the husband left the family. When the wife did not want him to return to the household where he abused their children in horrific ways, she was excommunicated, lied about, and humiliated by church leadership. I invite you to read the whole story for the details.

It has become a part of a pattern where a well-respected leader in the American Evangelical church is revealed to have made severe failings in the past and (1) it’s shown that there has been a lack of accountability, (2) and there were warnings and other failings that are seen in retrospect but were ignored at the time.

It can be easy—I see it within my own heart—to pronounce MacArthur and other failed leaders like him guilty. Yet we are called to pray for repentance failed leaders. There should be justice for authoritarian failures that harm people, but we must also pray for fallen leaders to humble themselves and recognize their need for confession and repentance so that they may be reconciled to God.

We all have sins that hurt people—perhaps not of this magnitude, but the same impulses live in our hearts—and we too need regular patterns of confession and repentance. I have linked below two additional videos by the Christian rapper Ruslan that you may find helpful.

Why Christians Bond with Corrupt Leaders | David French 📃 →

But MacArthur is not the first Christian leader to unapologetically fail. This article from a few months ago rings true today even though the story about MacArthur hadn’t been written. Nevertheless, the pattern was clear then as Jerry Falwell Jr., Ravi Zacharias, Mark Driscoll, Joe White, and other famous Evangelical leaders had their potent sins revealed.

But, as French points out, these were not the first either. Moses publicly failed in Numbers 20 as he was told to speak to a rock, but struck it instead.

It’s the most human thing in the world, however, to bond with the person whom we believe was instrumental in transforming (and sometimes even saving) our lives. Note how Moses says words we often hear from those who magnify their own power and influence: “Must we bring water out of this rock for you?” But was Moses bringing the water? Or was God?

The origin point of genuine rescue and meaningful life change is always clear. The book of James declares, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”

Yet it’s very easy to attribute to man what comes from God—or to place loyalty to any particular man as a special instrument of God. We have our favorite writers, our favorite speakers, and our favorite musicians. I know I do.

I can’t say it better than French can, but watching the reaction to the MacArthur story, in which the reporter—Roys—has been vilified and slandered by many MacArthur “fans” (though not all, thankfully), emphasizes the point.

Our hope is in Christ, and any person who points us to him should be praised and respected, but never placed on a pedestal. We must watch our own hearts’ propensity to place our trust in people we can see, rather than the Savior we cannot.

Now let’s filter that natural inclination to trust or follow people whom God in His mercy has used to bless our lives through our fallen nature and our fallen times. At the risk of oversimplification, I tend to see the same roughly three-step pattern repeat itself time and time again.

Step one is already outlined. It’s the leap from receiving a benefit or blessing through a person to granting them excessive appreciation or loyalty. A sure sign of excessive loyalty is extending trust to a man or a woman in a way that you wouldn’t extend it to anyone else.

Step two is when the personal becomes tribal. The leader becomes an avatar, a representative of us and our community. The difference from step one can be subtle, but it’s still profound. It’s the turn from saying, “I have loyalty because I’m grateful to this man” to “I have loyalty because he represents me.”

A siege mentality leads to step three: the refusal to hear criticism from the outside and crediting critique only from the inside. In part because of my three-decade experience defending religious believers, I’ve been prone to make exactly that mistake. Other people saw who Mark Driscoll was well before I did. Other people saw who Ravi Zacharias was well before I did. I often considered the source of criticism (hostile media, angry bloggers) before I considered the substance of criticism.

Take this as a reminder to check ourselves. Where have we replaced loyalty to Christ with loyalty to a man? Have we placed our own pastor on an inappropriate pedestal? Have we placed another Christian leader, alive or dead, on such a pedestal?

Keep Your Mind on Things Above

I will be praying for you this week.

“Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For you will be judged by the same standard with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use.
— Matthew 7:1–2

Joel Fischer