Real-Life Religion: A Presentation Sponsored by Bethany Lutheran College's Student Senate
On April 7, 2019 Marie MacPherson joined BLC’s campus for a presentation sponsored by the student senate to share some insights regarding misleading “pop-Christian” sentiments. The advertising for the event was as follows:
Join “Mrs. Mac” on her spiritual soapbox in a round robin conversation. An educator, author, speaker, and mother of six (on earth), Marie will guide discussion on real-life implementation of your faith in a discussion format. Topics include following your heart, handling depression, and sharing God’s love with those around you. Come one, come all, and bring your questions!
The provocative statements below served as the outline for the presentation. Each member of the audience picked up a slip of paper with one of the statements, and read it aloud to the group, attempting a Scriptural response. Marie moderated the discussion, adding her own thoughts and perspective as a summary, which are listed below. If you are interested in having Marie present to your group, contact her here.
1. That stuff in the Old Testament is misogynist and anti-woman!
Certainly, horrible and tragic things happen to many women in the Old Testament. But, reading the context, it is clear that these accounts are historical, not condoned by God. Even so, some ceremonial or civil laws of the Old Testament, viewed through modern lenses, may seem oppressive to some women. However, Christians of today are bound only by God’s moral laws (The Ten Commandments), which apply equally to men and women.
Rose Adle and Rebekah Curtis write in Ladylike, “The OT is a place where bad things happen to bad and good people, and lots of them women. Ancient Near East ladies find themselves in bad situations: they are taken advantage of, they have their honor stolen and their features ruined, they deal with the physical and social taxes on their complicated biology, nobody remembers their names, and they still have to pick up after everybody. Sounds pretty familiar with today’s society, except that the families of rape victims aren’t allowed to kill rapists anymore. There is nothing new under the sun. Let’s not forget that the Old Testament also speaks tenderly and sensitively of many women, and it even attributes to God the characteristics of a nursing mother. God shows that the female experience is thoroughly human.”
2. God will never give you more than you can handle.
This phrase is often spoken to comfort others by well-meaning friends or family members. It may be based on a similar, but not indentical, Bible passage, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). While the cultural cliché is not specifically from Scripture, it can still be seen as Scriptural, depending on the definitions of the words “you” and “handle.”
God is always with His people, no matter their circumstances. If “you” means an isolated narcissistic individual and “handle” means being confident and successful, then this phrase would not be true. However, if “you” means “you with God at your side,” and “handle” can include even unimaginable suffering, then it is true that God will never give you more than you can handle as He shepherds you through this valley of sorrow to Himself in Heaven.
3. I can be a witness of my faith to others by letting my light shine through my actions.
Letting your light shine through good works is certainly an important part of the Christian walk. Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). But there are two problems with the statement above as it stands.
First, how good are your good deeds? We should be realistic about what our actions look like to others. We don’t act perfectly. We often go along with the (sinful) crowd. We might gossip, cut someone off in traffic, or use our time unwisely. If others are watching, knowing you are a Christian, they may perceive you as a hypocrite rather than as a light in the world.
Second, even if you could act perfectly, your action can’t convert anybody. God’s Word is what does this work, through the activity and power of the Holy Spirit. God promises that His Word doesn’t return to Him empty (Isaiah 55:11).
Whether you demonstrate good or bad deeds among others, share God’s Word found in Scripture. Tell others about the relief and assurance you have because of forgiveness in Jesus. Apologize to others when you are wrong. Offer to pray with them and for them. This is how to be a witness of your faith.
Of course, letting your light shine in the community can bring up conversations which more easily allow you to share God’s Word and your hope with others. Expect those opportunities to arise: the Holy Spirit can use you to tell others of God’s grace! This should be a deeply fulfilling experience as a Christian, but expect that it may also be accompanied by persecution (John 15:18–21).
4. Always be listening for God’s voice.
Many individuals have claimed to hear God’s voice: Mohammad, John Smith, cult leaders, etc. If those people did actually hear a voice, it wasn’t God’s!
God never promises to speak to His children anywhere but in Scripture. Paul says in Galatians, “Even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” It is important that the only “voice” we listen to is the one speaking God’s Words as revealed in the Bible.
Some Christians routinely use the phrase, “God told me … ” In many cases, those words simply mean that they feel God is leading them in a certain direction, not necessarily that they truly believe they hear the voice of God. If you or someone you know think you are hearing God’s actual voice, test it against Scripture. Does it fit well with everything God has already revealed? Then, there is nothing to necessarily be troubled about. However, if it contradicts what God has clearly taught in His Word, it isn’t the voice of God at all.
Don’t worry that all of your life choices must feel “led by God” telling you what to do. God gives us the freedom for most choices in life. Ladylike reminds, “God isn’t dropping sneaky clues that we’d better pick up on if we want to avoid life-long disaster.” Pray to God and ask for His guidance, but read His Word and have it read to you to hear His voice.
5. God wants you to be holy, not happy.
God does want people to be happy, but He knows they will only find true happiness by following Him and seeking holy living! Everyone who has ever lived, both Christian and non-Christian, has desired happiness. It is a built-in part of humanity. If we seek happiness through sin, though, we will never actually find it. God knows that pursuing the things of this world will leave us empty and hollow, so He gives us rules and limits in order that we would dwell within those boundaries to find deep happiness, much like a caring parent places a fence around the yard to keep a child safe and content.
Many would argue that there is a difference between happiness and joy, but they are used synonymously in Scripture. Often in our culture, joy is seen as something deeper and longer lasting than happiness, but they both indicate contentment and delight—emotions that can only be felt knowing God’s never-ending love and forgiveness in Christ.
6. Amid all the disease, natural disasters, inequity, and death in the world, God must not care. Or else He is not powerful enough to do something about it.
The Bible clearly teaches that God is both loving and powerful, perfect and almighty. If so, why is there evil in the world? Because humans choose to sin, the whole world is in anguish, and even creation groans because of it.
It simply isn’t true that God does nothing about wickedness in the world. First, He sacrificed His own Son on behalf of humanity to pay the price of our sins and restore a relationship with Him. Second, He will come again and judge the world, eternally punishing those who do evil and have not repented.
In the meantime, our Father uses Christians in His world to be a blessing to others and help those in need. He also promises to work good out of even evil, for those who loves God. Our Lord also desires that all men be saved, and often uses personal trials or physical catastrophes as an impetus for bringing more sheep into His fold. God has a higher purpose than what humans can understand, and during these light and momentary troubles, we need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and the new and glorious world He is preparing for us.
If you are not struggling with a difficult time right now, you likely will be someday. Take this time as a gift to steep yourself in God’s Word and prayer to prepare for the warfare which is ahead.
7. Depression is a physical disorder, not a spiritual issue.
Depression certainly manifests itself physically. It is caused by imbalances of chemicals and hormones in the brain. While depression is not caused by a lack of faith, it isn’t unrelated or irrelevant to faith, either.
For many, even Christians, depression is a thorn in the flesh. The apostle Paul also had a thorn, and God’s answer to him is the same as it is to anyone struggling with a thorn, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Depression is not God abandoning His child, but God walking with His child through his darkest hours. Depression can push and individual to God and His Word as their only source of comfort. Because God is in control of everything, there is spiritual meaning in every trial, even depression.
Western medicine has many useful medications to assist those who suffer from depression. Therapy can also help. There should be no shame in these. But don’t use these treatments at the expense of also seeking God through this struggle.
There are also many natural treatments for depression, including giving thanks, consuming enough healthful fats, a nourishing diet, and herbal remedies.
If you or a loved one suffer from depression, there is hope! Seek a professional who will help treat depression and seek the Lord and support from His people.
8. Follow your heart to choose a career.
Those who are young or have few responsibilities may have the freedom to consider and pursue myriad career options. However, “following you heart” should not be the reason for this! Our hearts (along with Satan and the world) can often deceive us! Our hobbies and interests can often serve as a spring-board to a paid job, but we should never believe that a career defines us, or even excuses us from our other (less exciting) vocations.
Ladylike posits, “Christians do not claim a right to do what we want or like. Vocation requires us to sacrifice pride and comfort because other people often need things beneath our imagined dignity. Our passions are not sacrifices of praise if they are indulged in at the expense of our God-given duties.” By all means, pursue a career in songwriting, but if you need to feed your family, it’s perfectly honorable to give it up and become a garbage man, regardless of what your heart says! Likewise, by all means, get an education, but if you have children to raise, it is good and right to step off the corporate ladder and devote time to them.
9. A Christian ought to pursue organ transplant if his own organ is failing.
Transplant can be a good and beautiful gift. It can reflect a Christ-like attitude. However, this is a relatively new procedure in the history of the world. That one “ought” to pursue a transplant (or even become a donor) places an undue burden on people’s consciences. Often, they are too ill to even make these choices themselves.
When someone is ill with an organ failure, transplant may be one option, but it is not the only option. To allow the body die with minimal intervention can be a God-pleasing option, depending on the circumstances, and it can be very peaceful for the family. Heroic medical interventions may place the body into a situation that degrades it, rather than restores it. There may also be natural treatment options. Since the body is still alive, there can always be hope for regeneration, or even a miracle.
For those considering a transplant, there are two main things to consider. The first is Natural Law. Things don’t go “back to normal” after a transplant. The patient will need to take six or more prescription medications for the rest of his life, which wreak havoc on the other body systems, and make another transplant likely in the future. In addition, some of the medications work by shutting down the patient’s immune system. The purpose of these are so the patient will not reject the “foreign” material of the donated organ, yet the transplant can only be successful by means of making a vital body system fail, which is troubling in itself, but also leads to a host of other interventions.
Second, where does the organ come from? Many donors are now called “brain-dead,” which used to be considered “permanent coma.” While there are certainly ethical considerations regarding initially placing an individual on life-support, there are documented cases of revival after life-support has been removed by those who have been declared “brain dead.” When it comes to transplant, the organs need to be harvested from a living “brain-dead” patient before life-support is turned off.
Transplant can be a gift of life. Not every form is intrinsically unethical, but one should do research and ask questions all along the way. Be sure your medical team supports your right for informed consent and respects your Christian belief that all life is valuable.
10. Food is irrelevant to our spiritual lives.
Like depression, food has both physical and spiritual dimensions. Physically, God uses food as a means to nourish our bodies. The gift of science shows that what we eat affects how our bodies can do their jobs, even if the researchers don’t necessarily share a Christian worldview. Some people argue that science is constantly contradicting itself when it comes to the topic of food, however, healthy diets throughout history do share many common traits. But eating isn’t just an earthly topic; the Bible talks a lot about food! When God made the first people, He gave them bodies and placed them in a beautiful garden, providing food for them. There’s also fasting, the sin of gluttony, self-control, feasting, the Passover, and freedom to eat food sacrificed to idols as long as it doesn’t offend others. There are many ways to be good stewards of our bodies, and making a conscious decision to healthy, whole foods, can be one of them. Using the Fifth Commandment as a guide for sanctified living, we should strive to care for and protect our bodies by what we choose to eat. When our bodies are working well, we can more easily expend energy in our vocations.
I’m firm believer that natural foods have a lot to offer: I have been able to treat autism, depression, and gut-issues by changing my family’s diet. But, there must also be caution to not let wholesome food become an obsession, offense, or an idol.
My friend Kristin Faugstad summarized this struggle:
[Food] is one specific area where it becomes clear what sinners we are. We can’t even perform a simple, necessary bodily function like eating without eating too much, or the wrong thing, or too often, or without thanksgiving. We live in a sinful, fallen world, and not only is our nature sinful, but the food we eat is also tainted by sin. It comes with preservatives, or high fructose corn syrup, or trans fat, or GMOs, or imperfect nutrient profiles, or whatever. We can’t do it right; it’s the nature of our sinfulness and the broken world in which we live. But instead of drowning in a sea of guilt about it, we repent and go forward in forgiveness, knowing that Christ perfectly ate to the glory of God. We also know that God has prepared a perfect feast for our bodies after Judgment Day. In heaven our food will fill us perfectly.
While caring for our bodies here and now is seeking after natural law and practicing good stewardship, we as Christians know that our life and times are in God’s hands. Even if we could eat “perfectly,” we may still find ourselves fighting disease. Thanks be to God, our eternal future is sure—including the resurrection of our perfected bodies.
12. Feminism has freed women to pursue their God-given talents to His glory!
Often, feminism is defined as equality in job opportunities and in child-bearing (meaning access to birth control and abortion on demand). Of course, women now can have sex with anyone anytime without the consequence of society’s wrath, but that doesn’t leave them without any consequences whatsoever. This phenomenon does leave men without nearly as many consequences. Somehow, that doesn’t seem like equality?
Just considering the workforce, however, let’s examine how modern women are spending their time. Ladylike states that “of the top twenty jobs held by women in this liberated nation in 2012, all but a few can be categorized as childcare or education, food service, housekeeping, nursing or personal care, and secretaries or clerical work. Kids, food, cleaning, sick people, and balancing the books…seems like I’ve heard of a job like this. These things can be done voluntarily for one’s loved ones, or an a mercenary basis for strangers while we pay strangers to do them for us. Our choice!”
Feminism has made women’s lives differently difficult, at best. While both men and women are equal in God’s sight, we are not identical. A woman’s abilities can be used to God’s glory in no matter what circumstances she find herself; it doesn’t have to be for pay or prestige.
13. Traditional churches need to modernize so they can be attractive and evangelize.
The Holy Spirit can and does work in contemporary churches, but that doesn't mean churches that have inherited a rich Scriptural tradition should be quick to trade it in.
If evangelism is the key concept here, why should a liturgical church give up traditions that have existed for centuries primarily because they worked as a tool for passing on the faith? Also, modernizing may be attractive to some young individuals, but it is generally not attractive to older folks getting on in their years, whose time of grace may be short. But, putting evangelism aside, from a purely business standpoint, many Millennials are leaving mega-churches because they are looking for something “otherworldly.” They crave something different than they see in their daily lives, which leaves them feeling hollow. Many are looking for exactly what our churches and liturgy have to offer: a spiritual experience with the holy God, united beyond time or language, to a group of Christians sharing Christ’s mercy and forgiveness.
With many people so enthusiastic about “modernizing the church,” it is easy to forget that pastor-led services led are specifically for the members of the congregation, not visitors or unbelievers. The main point of contact with God’s Word for an unbeliever will not be in a sanctuary, but rather in a conversation with a Christian who has been nourished with God’s Word in church and with personal Bible reading. The liturgy becomes a language for Christians and gives them words to fill the voids of difficult times, and times when their memory fails. A liturgical service unites Christians with other Christians of the last 2,000 years, as well as with God’s people of the Old Testament.
We must take care to not become “chronological snobs,” as C.S. Lewis says, thinking that an “old” service is no longer relevant in modern America. If you don’t like the liturgy or don’t understand a tradition, ask and learn! As with anything foreign or strange, the solution is not to abandon it, but rather to cultivate an appreciation for its beauty by spending more time with it.
14. To survive as a Christian in the American culture, one needs to make sacrifices.
Many things we take for granted in our culture are actually sinful: soft porn in movies, vulgarity in pop-music, coveting when shopping, gratuitous violence in video-games, selfishness with our phones rather than connecting with our neighbor. Movies, pop-music, shopping, video-games, phones … none of them are sinful in and of themselves, but Christians must be extremely cautious because of the aforementioned concerns. One may wisely see the need to say “no” to these things altogether to avoid inadvertently sinning. There is prudence in avoiding Hollywood, catalogs, video-games, and on-demand internet.
However, ultimately, to survive as Christians in our culture, we rely not on our own sacrifice, but on the One and Only Sacrifice Who can save us from our sin-steeped selves, and all the temptations from an enticing culture. Christ, God’s sacrifice for sin, is the payment God accepted on your behalf. You are free! Heaven is yours!
Mrs. Marie K. MacPherson, vice president of Into Your Hands LLC, lives in Mankato, Minnesota, with her husband Ryan and their children, whom she homeschools. She is a certified Classical Lutheran Educator (Consortium for Classical Lutheran Educators), author of Meditations on the Vocation of Motherhood (2018), and editor of Mothering Many: Sanity-Saving Strategies from Moms of Four or More (2016).
TAGS: Worldview, Christianity, Education, Philosophy