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The Remaining Big Questions You Asked

This will be the final week in which I will answer questions submitted during the “Big Questions” series. I will try to cover the remaining ones not answered directly or indirectly through related questions or during the weekend messages. 

How is God the “father to the fatherless”? What sets that difference apart from those with “fathers/mothers”?
The Bible speaks of God as the “father to the fatherless (see for example Psalm 68:5). At its root, this idea reminds us that God does all the things fathers are called to do (and often fail) -- loving us, helping us in times of trouble, providing protection, guiding us, etc. The idea God conveys with this statement is that even when there is brokenness in the home, God still cares for His people and those who do not have a father still can look beyond the earth to find the care and support that they lacked here. Here is a good article with some more ways describing how God is the father to the fatherless.

What is the difference between existing and living?
One way we can answer this is to talk about how we can be alive but not experience true life -- eternal life (which is not just quantity but also quality). When we know God, we have eternal life (John 17:3), and Jesus comes to give us the abundant life (John 10:10). Finding true life actually involves dying to self, as we then find the life that God created us for (Matthew 16:24-26).

What is the difference between grace and forgiveness?
A common explanation I have heard for grace that I found helpful is that “grace is getting what you do not deserve; this is in contrast to mercy which is not getting what you desire (in a negative sense).” Mercy would thus be not getting punished when you deserve to be, while grace is getting the reward you do not deserve. Forgiveness may involve not punishing someone for what they have done, though we need to make it clear that our behavior has consequences and we might still feel the impact of them, but the idea is that in God’s eyes, all our wrongs can be forgiven. It is not just forgiven in that the wrong is not punished, but also grace in that we have Christ’s righteousness (which we do not deserve) given to us.

We know God loves us, but does He like/tolerate us?
God’s love for us is not an obligatory love, as if He has to love us because He created us. First of all, the act of creation itself is a sign of love, as God was not lacking and thus chose to make humans. Second, He has sent Jesus for us, entering into the brokenness of the world and experiencing the pain involved in the Son of God going to the cross. May we not doubt God’s love for us and recognize His great delight in us.

How does depression fit into God’s big plan? How can I have less anxiety/stress/depression when all this is going on?
Christians Get Depressed Too By David Murray is a great book that deals with depression. Dr. Murray spoke at Faith Church in 2019 on the topic as well (you can see it here). He notes that there are many causes of depression and it does affect Christians; it should not be viewed as something that happens because of a lack of faith. Like all trials and struggles, these things occur because the broken world that we live in affects every part of our lives and our world. However,  God can enter into these situations and show us His grace and also bring glory to Himself as we walk through them in faith. Dr. Murray’s book and writing can also help people who are going through mental health challenges in this season, which affects all ages in light of the challenges at work (or lack of work), health, relationships, and the general feeling of the world right now.

How are single young individuals in their 20’s and early 30’s supposed to get through this time? A lot of us have lost our jobs and are not only struggling mentally, but also physically. Any advice on our generation that is struggling?
I think the biggest piece of advice to give to people who are struggling in this time is that we need each other and we need community; this is something that people experienced in a new way in this season of COVID-19 and lockdown. We need to recognize that we can’t handle the things of this world on our own and were not meant to do so. We all need community, and we also need to recognize that there is no silver bullet answer for the challenges that we face in life. At times, we might think things should always be advancing or improving, but when we read Scripture and also hear from the lives of others, we recognize that there are challenges and that God works in the challenges as well. Hopefully, that gives some help in this season for this generation.

What should I think about LGBTQ+? Can you still be a Christian and be gay?
A couple of years ago we had Preston Sprinkle of the “Center for Faith, Gender, and Sexuality” speak at Faith Church, and he shared a great message that discussed what the Bible says in terms of marriage and human sexuality and how we can hold to biblical truth and teaching while also loving people who struggle with same-sex attraction. The answer is to live a life of truth and grace - and recognize that Christians may wrestle with same-sex attractions. His book, A People to Be Loved, is an excellent book that combines good biblical scholarship and pastoral wisdom and is highly recommended. For more on the topic, I would encourage you to reach out to one of our pastors and/or to check out the resources at the Center for Faith, Gender, and Sexuality.

Why are there no women pastors at Faith Church? I understand when the Bible was written, women were not reliable sources in the culture, is this why? Why do we still follow this?
Faith Church leadership engaged in a study of the Bible on the topic of church officers and gender and came to the conclusion that the requirement for a pastor/elder to be male was not tied to culture at the time, but part of God’s design for the genders and for the church, the household of faith; therefore, it is something that continues today. For more on the qualifications for an elder, see this message on 1 Timothy 3 from a couple of years ago that discusses the offices of elder and deacon. I would also encourage you to listen to this message from earlier in 2020 on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 on how the genders complement each other in this world. If you are interested in more on this topic, I would encourage you to reach out to a pastor who could pass along the church’s statement on church leadership and talk further about it. 

How can you tell if you are following God's plan vs. a selfish plan? How will I know where God is leading me next, to sort of reset? How will I know I'm taking the right path, not just acting out of anxiousness, which I know is wrong?
The first thing we always have to do when making decisions is to make sure that what we are doing is not violating God’s will as revealed in the Bible. If you are doing what God forbids, then you know it is a selfish plan, and not God’s plan. There is also great wisdom in getting many godly people to process your options. While we often think we have to wait and find the exact thing God has for us, I think it is better to think of God’s will as a boundary that gives clear parameters on what we shouldn’t do, and also our motivations and drives for what we should do. There then is freedom to choose between various options, looking for what is best. At times we can be so paralyzed by analysis that we may not move forward with anything. If your motive is not pure (whether anxiousness or escape), it may not be the right decision, but if you are seeking prayer and wisdom and it is not out of line with God’s will, then it would seem that you can move forward and follow Him in the new path.

When do you know your faith is strong? I see all the good things happening, but yet I still live paycheck to paycheck. I’m wondering if this is because I haven’t been a good Christian.
Having faith in God does not mean that we never experience challenges in life; many of God’s people through the years have lived in the equivalent of a paycheck-to-paycheck sort of life. That alone does not mean that someone is not a good Christian. I would encourage someone who is living paycheck to paycheck to consider connecting with fellow Christians with financial knowledge to see if there are any principles or practices that might help them move out of this situation. The Financial Peace University course (from Dave Ramsey) we occasionally offer at Faith Church gives good principles to help in financial management and has helped many people move forward out of debt and into a place of security rather than scarcity financially with some easy steps. Again, this does not mean that one is not a good Christian, as there are many factors involved in our financial situation. In addition, many people who are not struggling financially could learn good principles of financial stewardship and be able to grow in their generosity towards others, as well as the goals they might have in their life.

Why do humans have a hard time forgiving someone for something that they have done, yet, when we ask for forgiveness of our sins, God forgives us immediately and moves on?
This difference in terms of forgiveness may stem from the sheer fact that God is perfect and we are not; we need to be forgiven while God does not because He is perfect. This difference means that we struggle to forgive others (and ourselves) while God does not. God is perfect and thus does not struggle with how forgiveness may affect how others perceive Him or will hurt Him in the long run. The fact that we can forgive is something that connects us with God -- and the fact that we need to be forgiven (including being forgiven because we struggle to forgive others), reminds us that we are not God, but need the God who forgives.

Even though I trust in the Lord for everything,  why do I still feel so angry that this is happening in our world ?
The Bible says in Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry and do not sin.” Anger is the sense that something is not right and out of accord with the way things should be. It may not be wrong to be angry, as we see Jesus had anger at times when he confronts sin, and sin brings the wrath of God. We need to make sure that what makes us angry is what brings the wrath of God and not our own motives. Let us be slow to anger, because the anger of humans does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20). Let us not become calloused to the things that are not right in this world, but bring them to God, crying out about the injustices and evil we see and trusting God to take care of them (not taking them into our own hands).

I see Christians on social media saying to never allow yourself to receive the microchip that some are advocating for because it is the mark of the beast, as mentioned in Revelation. I am not sure about this and would love to hear thoughts from our pastors.
There are a variety of ways to read the Book of Revelation and to make sense of all the symbolism that is found in this book. The mark of the beast is discussed in Revelation 13:16-18. There has been a lot of ink spilled through the years and speculation about what this mark is (and who the beast or antichrist is). Perhaps the most prominent idea through the years was that this was tied to credit cards (as VISA has the number 6 in it according to different numbering schemes), with others suggesting it was tied to Ronald Reagan because there are 6 letters in his first, middle, and last name (I don’t think either of these are true!). I think it can be dangerous to speculate too much about these details, as the point of the Book of Revelation is to encourage the persecuted church as they may face death and to push us to live holy lives as we wait for Jesus to return. It was written in language and symbols that would speak to the time while also teaching we who live 2,000 years later. The number 666 could have been connected by the original audience to the Roman Emperor Nero with Christians at the time the Book of Revelation called to worship the emperor. Moreover, marking it on one’s hand or forehead uses the imagery of the team branding that would bring shame and subjection. However, there is some dispute if it would be connected to Nero, as this is not found in a lot of early interpretations of the passage. It should be noted that the number 666 is called the number of humans and falls short (but is close to) to what could be viewed in the ancient world as the perfect number -777; it is the devil’s imitation. Could this mark be some sort of imitation of the initiative of Christian baptism? All in all, I think the point of Revelation warns us to be careful not to worship the state or any leader, but to remain faithful in Christ. Rather than looking for things that might fulfill symbols, I think we need to focus on worshipping Christ and be careful of the various speculations we see (which only have increased in the world of social media and the internet).

Final Note on Big Questions
As always, if you have more questions to cover on the blog, or ones you would like me to handle personally with you in email correspondence (either not answered in the Big Questions series or ones you have had for a while), please reach out. While not answering more big questions received as a result of the series, I hope to answer and address various questions or topics you may be thinking about or that are helpful for us at this time.

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