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Doubts and Faith

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 BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     While I was learning to be a parent, I eventually acquired the skill of “half-listening.” When my children were toddlers, I would look forward to the moments when they would come running up to me and, breathlessly and with much animation, tell me stories about their day. There was always too much information and too little relevance to my life, but I was still fascinated with the fact that these cute little creatures could form words and sentences. So I would get down on my hands and knees, look them square in the eyes, and listen intently to every garbled syllable they produced. However, as they got older and the fascination wore off, I developed the habit of multitasking while conversing with them – keeping my attention on the newspaper, television, or chore before me, while being careful most of the time to utter an appropriate “uh-huh” or “really?” when there was a pause in the chatter (warning to young fathers – children are much more tolerant of this kind of behavior than wives).

     It was in the midst of one of these half-tuned-in moments that my nine-year-old son once hit me with a question of monumental metaphysical importance: “Hey Dad, how do we know that we’re right and all the other religions are wrong?” That inquiry initiated a series of questions, the most recent of which is this: “If we believe in the Bible because of Jesus and we believe in Jesus because of the Bible, what if both of them are wrong?” Even with my seminary training, questions like these make my palms sweat and my throat go dry.

     It’s not just that years of studies in the Bible, theology, apologetics, and philosophy are difficult to distill into a compelling answer for a third-grader. It’s also that we adult believers just don’t talk about our doubts. We’ll sometimes admit that we struggle with certain sins, doctrines, or aspects of spiritual discipline. But when is the last time you heard a fellow Christian say, “I’m having doubts about the Bible”, or “I’m not so sure anymore that Jesus is real?” We believe that if we admit to these kinds of lapses in our faith we would be exposed as spiritual pretenders and weaklings.

     The hard truth is that we all have those kinds of doubts from time to time, and repressing them and keeping them private doesn’t help. We often struggle to continue walking by faith; we wish that, just for a little while, we could walk by sight. Why doesn’t God make His existence and power more obvious and indisputable? Why can’t Jesus make another post-resurrection appearance? Why aren’t the enemies of His kingdom judged? The Bible promises that all of those things will happen someday, but how can we be sure?

     It helps to understand that there’s a reason for God’s “hiddenness.” Isaiah 59:2 says, “…your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you…” The privilege of seeing God face to face will only be granted when we’ve been perfected. Until then we must trust His Word.

     It also helps to understand that everyone lives by faith, whether they will admit to it or not. We trust in our senses, we trust in our hearts, we trust in science, we trust in philosophers, etc. The question isn’t whether or not you will base your life on faith; the question is…Where is the most reasonable place to base your faith? What worldview best explains reality?

     In Francis Schaeffer’s book, He is There and He Is Not Silent, Schaeffer describes the choices that lie before all humans. First of all, does the universe exist? Either it does or it doesn’t. Secondly, assuming that you decide that things really do exist, you have to make a decision about man – is he personal or non-personal? In other words, is he just the sum total of the chemicals that comprise his body, or is there something special about him - say, a personality, a soul? Related to that, how do we explain both man’s nobility and his cruelty? Finally, Schaeffer says, we need to determine how we know anything to be true. Is there an objective source for truth, and can we know truth?  

     Interestingly, in the history of mankind, very few individuals have believed that the physical universe doesn’t really exist. Very few individuals have believed that what exists came into being out of utter, absolute nothingness (no pre-existent beings or forces). Very few individuals have believed that man is nothing more than the sum of his chemical composition. Very few individuals have denied the existence of some form of objective morality. Therefore, historically, the vast majority of mankind has affirmed the reasonableness of the central elements of a Biblical worldview and philosophy.

     Is the Bible’s account of the pre-existence of a personal God who created all things and created man in His own image the most reasonable explanation for the unity, diversity, and complexity of the universe that we observe and of our human nature? Is the Bible’s description of sin and its effect on humanity the best explanation for the evil and cruelty of man that we observe in ourselves and others? If so, then the Bible’s description of God’s remedy for sin through Jesus Christ is trustworthy. He is no fool who trusts in God’s Word. It is, by far, the most reasonable faith.

     The Psalms of Scripture are given to us to help us express our doubts to God to give us reassurance. We should stop hiding our doubts from each other; instead, we should encourage one another in our faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is a gift from God, and it is a work in progress. None of us walks in this life with 100% pure, unadulterated faith in Christ. Some days for us maybe 80% faith and 20% doubt. Others may feel more like 50/50 or worse. But if the Spirit of God is at work in you, over the long haul you will see your faith increase, by His grace. Let us echo the prayer of the father of the demon-possessed boy, who said to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” As Paul promised in Philippians 1:6, “…He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Posted by Rev. Dan Kiehl with

Pornography: Its Deceptive and Destructive Power

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     Several months ago, a high school student asked to interview me for a school project on pornography. I thought his questions were very insightful, and I asked if he would mind if I were to share our dialogue with all of you.

1. What does the Bible say about how we are to view love and sex?

     The Biblical definition of love is finding your joy and satisfaction in helping others to prosper in the eyes of God. The Bible teaches that sex is given as a gift exclusively to husbands and wives in order to express their unique and deep love and intimacy due to being “one flesh” in the sight of God (Genesis 2:22-25). Any sexual experience outside of a life-long marriage covenant between a man and a woman is a sin against God and damaging to those involved. Sexual activity is intended to give pleasure, joy, and assurance to one’s spouse – it is not a self-focused activity.

2. As a pastor, what are your thoughts on how pornography has affected our view of love and sex?

     Pornography is inherently selfish and self-centered. It removes sexual experience from the loving, trusting intimacy of the marriage relationship and turns it into an ugly, abusive form of self-gratification. It objectifies men and women who are made in God’s image, treating them as mere tools of our own pleasure. It is not loving toward others (according to the definition above) and it’s deeply damaging to ourselves. Viewing other human beings who are made in the image of God in pornographic images is a violation and degradation of them (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7).

3, I know that society mainly views sex as a way to procreate, but are there any other reasons as to why God created sex?

     Actually, I would say that our depraved society views sex as a human right for everyone, no matter what their circumstances or commitments, that they see it as disconnected to the marriage relationship, and that they see procreation as an unfortunate side-effect of seeking pleasure through sex. But a primary purpose of sex as given by God is to fulfill the mandate given at creation, to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28) in the context of a committed family. But it also has the God-given purpose of expressing deep love, trust, and intimacy through shared pleasure, in the context of a lifetime commitment to one’s spouse.

4. Why does the Bible say to wait until marriage to have sex? What’s the difference between having sex inside a committed relationship while not being married vs. being married?

     Sex is an expression of the meaning of the marriage covenant - a vow to God and each other (and only each other) to be “one flesh” for the rest of your lives together. That vow is before God and His people, to both of whom you must be publicly and legally accountable. Without that vow and accountability, the relationship between a man and a woman isn’t truly a committed relationship, and without the security of a life-long covenant of marriage, there cannot be the deep trust and intimacy that a sexual relationship represents.

5. What would you say to someone who has struggled with pornography and sexual temptation and inappropriate thoughts?

     I would want a person struggling with lust and pornography first to understand the serious violation of God’s law that it represents, and the devastating damage that it does to that person and any future relationships that they hope for (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). But I would also assure them that sins of this type are a common part of our fallen nature and that there are many people and resources available to help. Most of all, I would want them to know that God is ready and anxious to forgive if they turn to Him for grace and help to repent.

     I would stress that the battle against sexual sin must be focused on your thoughts and desires, not just your actions. If the battle line is drawn in your mind, then victory there will keep you from acting outwardly (Matthew 5:27-30).

     I would stress that none of us can overcome sexual temptation by relying on our own willpower. We need the help and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, so the battle must begin with a commitment to faithfulness in using the means of grace that God has given us for our spiritual strength. Daily time in Scripture reading and study, prayer, and regular time in personal and corporate worship are essential.

     I would want to dig deeper into what lies beneath the desire for sexual gratification. It could be an inappropriate way to deal with boredom or a lack of purpose in life. It could be a way to escape unpleasant circumstances or avoid dealing with problems. It could be a result of some kind of abuse. It could be a sign of weak faith and spiritual immaturity.

     I would stress the need for a well-thought-out plan for what repentance looks like, and then finding one or more trusted and spiritually mature accountability partners to regularly hold you to the plan. You need someone who cares about you, who will commit to asking you regularly how your journey of repentance is going.

     Another part of the plan is to eliminate access to pornography and other temptations as much as possible. Scripture says, “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18) and “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14). There are internet filters like Covenant Eyes that can be a great help while growing in strength against the temptations, but the goal is to, by God’s grace and enabling, to control your desires in holiness when faced with temptations, since it is impossible to eliminate opportunities in this culture. We need to grow in the Lord to the point where we aren’t willing to do something that will displease and distance ourselves from Him in order to get a moment of selfish pleasure that leaves us alone and empty.

     I would also point someone to the many resources that are available to help in the battles. Harvest USA is a Biblical ministry focused on helping people overcome many kinds of sexual sin, including viewing pornography. CCEF (Christian Counseling and Education Foundation) also has many resources for the struggle against sexual sin. Biblical Christian counseling may also be needed, especially for identifying the deeper desires and wounds that are driving the desires for sexual sin.

6. I know that there are many Christian young men out in the world who struggle with pornography, but desire to be married and have children one day. Do you think their struggle with pornography could permanently change the way they view marriage and having children?

     Yes, a common lie of Satan is that pornography and self-gratification for sexual desires is a private sin, only affecting the one participating in it. But pornographic images stick with us, and they damage our view of the purpose of sexual relations and set up unrealistic expectations for our wives. God intends for us to be “imprinted” upon our wives as the sole focus for our sexual desires, so by viewing many images of other women we are weakening and ultimately destroying that connection to our present or future wife.

     Because pornography is inherently self-centered and selfish, it trains you to be selfish in your sexual experiences with your future wife. But as it is designed by God for marriage, sexual expression is intended to please and satisfy your spouse, and when that is the goal and desire, it is truly healthy and satisfying. 

     It is also a common but wrong belief among young men waiting for marriage that they won’t have to control their desires once they’re married – that sexual gratification will be available whenever desired. But they soon discover that there will be many reasons why you will need self-control in regard to your desires for sex after marriage, including your wife’s pregnancy, illness, times when you’re separated from one another, etc. If you don’t learn to control sexual desire before marriage, you will set yourself up for infidelity in thought and possibly in deed after marriage.

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