The Message In Your Misfortunes

Supreme Court Justice John Roberts

Recently, in preparing the content for one of the chapters of the study guide I’m writing for my book, The God I Won’t Believe In: Facing Nine Common Barriers to Embracing Christianity, I came across this quote from Supreme Court Justice John Roberts.

Justice Roberts was asked to give the commencement speech for his son’s graduating class, but the speech he gave was different than the advice and platitudes commonly given at such events. Rather than wishing them good luck, he essentially told them that he wished they would experience hardship, because of the important things which can only be learned through these experiences.

Now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why.

From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted.

I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time,

I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.

Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.

What John Roberts says here is true. Some of the most formative moments in my life have been as a result of experiencing pain and hurt from other people. Sometimes we develop our most deeply held convictions and values as a result of negative experiences.

In ministry, I know that some of the most important lessons I’ve learned have been from negative examples and experiences, which I then determined not to replicate or perpetuate.

Sometimes we learn to treat people well, as a result of being treating poorly and realizing that it isn’t right.

If we are able to turn those negative experiences into positive lessons, rather than becoming bitter, it can be something that helps us grow more into the image of Christ.

This is why James is able to say: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

It’s why Paul is able to write that we, as Christians, rejoice not only in the hope of the glory of God, but we can also “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

May the pains things we experience in this life be used by God to shape us more into the image of Christ, to the glory of God, and may it better equip us to show the compassion and love of Christ to others.

My Thoughts on the Supreme Court Ruling on Gay Marriage

I have been hesitant to write anything about the SCOTUS ruling which disallowed States to ban gay marriage, simply because I have seen how social media has been so consumed by it, and it is clearly an issue which people have made a dividing line, which greatly saddens me. My initial feeling was that it is a lose-lose to write anything on the issue for these reasons, but I keep returning to the idea that I should share some thoughts, since the purpose of this blog is to give a pastor’s voice on happenings in society.

So here are some thoughts:

I’m not surprised by the decision. It didn’t happen overnight. This is the culmination of things which have been in the works for a long time. The debate is basically between identity and practice. For some time now in our society, there has been a movement pushing to see homosexuality as an identity which a person is inherently given, and therefore not to act on it would be to betray who they fundamentally are. The Bible, on the other hand, doesn’t say that homosexuality is a person’s fundamental identity, but that it is a practice – but not who a person is. A person may have inclinations towards certain behavior, but that doesn’t mean that they must act on those inclinations at risk of betraying who they are – rather every person must choose to deny certain inclinations and act on others, and the Bible says that homosexuality is a behavior which should be denied – not an identity which defines who a person is.

The Supreme Court’s decision marks a change in the cultural climate – where now homosexuality is to be celebrated and anyone who doesn’t celebrate it will be marginalized. Whereas historically in America, for the most part churches and religious organizations have been regarded in a positive light, that is less and less the case, as they are increasingly being portrayed as “hate” groups, unless they are willing to compromise convictions held for thousands of years. This change of climate is something American Christians are not used to, although it does exist in other places in the world – namely Canada and France.

The biggest implication for churches will not be in the realm of officiating or hosting homosexual marriages. See this article for more details on that.  The biggest implication in the long term for churches will be in the area of tax exempt status. Just this past week, Time published an article in which the author stated that “Now’s the time to end tax exemptions for religious institutions”. The author references a 1983 court ruling from a case involving Bob Jones University, which stated that a school could lose tax-exempt status if its policies violated “fundamental national public policy,” and states that in light of the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, this might now be applied to religious organizations.
That prospect seems daunting to many Christians, and I personally wouldn’t like to see that happen – but I do keep in mind that the early Christians had no money, no tax exemptions, they were considered an illegal religion for hundreds of years and were considered radical in their statement that Jesus was the only way to heaven.  And yet, the message of the Gospel changed lives and brought about love and new life, whether it was legal or illegal, preached in a tax exempt mega-church or an underground meeting.
You may not agree with the direction things are changing, but we can have confidence both historically and eschatologically of the victory of Jesus and the ultimate need of every person in the world for the Good News of the Gospel to give them new life.

Supreme Court Upholds Allowing Christian Prayers at City Council Meetings

Supreme Court Upholds Allowing Christian Prayers at City Council Meetings

A narrowly divided Supreme Court upheld decidedly Christian prayers at the start of local council meetings Monday, declaring them in line with long national traditions although the country has grown more religiously diverse.

Yes, our country is increasingly diverse, and we should respect that diversity, but I think this is a victory for the American people. 

What do you think?  Take this poll over at the Longmont Times-Call, and see what other people think.