About arbooye

Rick is the senior and founding pastor of the Trail Christian Fellowship in Eagle Point, Oregon where he has been the main teaching pastor for over 37 years. He is married to Barbara and they have two grown daughters and seven grandchildren. Rick is a graduate of Biola University (BA in Bible) and Western Seminary in Portland Oregon (M.A. Exegetical Theology; D.Min.)

Does God Hate Sinners?


A Pastoral Letter

Dear Offended Brother,

I understand why you would take offense at the idea that God actually hates unrepentant sinners. We never talk that way these days, and in fact many Christians and almost all non-Christians would reject the idea out of hand. When I said that God “hated us before we became Christians” I was referring to the idea that outside of Christ, before our conversion, before the Lord separates us from our sin, we are under the actual wrath of God, His real anger (Rom.1:18; Eph.2:1-3). I did not say, nor do I mean, that God has nothing but hatred for sinners. He has other feelings toward them as well. But I did want to clarify that wrath is personal, eternal, divine anger directed at people. We can use the term “hate” for this judicial emotion because it is one of several terms the Bible itself uses (Ps.5:5, 21:9, 78:59) and the synonym “wrath” conveys precisely the same reality (Ps.79:6; 2 Thess.1:5-10). I know it is shocking to put it the way I did. Yet it is not inaccurate to refer to unrepentant sinners as under God’s hatred for their sin. In Ephesians 2:1-3 Paul includes himself as a religious Jew, a very godly man by all outward evidence. He says that we all, before our conversion, were “Children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”  Elsewhere he says that we (including himself again) were sinners and enemies of God prior to conversion (Rom.5:6-11). These are strong terms. If they don’t mean that God is truly angry at us, then they don’t mean anything at all. John concurs in John 3:36, where he writes, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” This can only mean that people are under God’s personal wrath until they repent and trust the Lord Jesus Christ.

On the other hand, as I tried to clarify, God also says he loves us so much that He sent His Son (Jn.3:16; Eph.2:4-11 and many other places). What’s that about?  How is it that the Bible says God hates sinners and loves them at the same time? I’ll quote at length D. A. Carson, one of the best-known evangelical theologians of our day:

“How, then, should the love of God and the wrath of God be understood to relate to each other? One evangelical cliché has it that God hates the sin but loves the sinner. There is a small element of truth in these words: God has nothing but hate for the sin, but it would be wrong to conclude that God has nothing but hate for the sinner. A difference must be maintained between God’s view of sin and his view of the sinner. Nevertheless the cliché (God hates the sin but loves the sinner) is false on the face of it and should be abandoned. Fourteen times in the first fifty psalms alone, we are told that God hates the sinner, his wrath is on the liar, and so forth. In the Bible, the wrath of God rests both on the sin (Rom.1:18) and on the sinner (John 3:36).

Our problem, in part, is that in human experience wrath and love normally abide in mutually exclusive compartments. Love drives wrath out, or wrath drives love out. We come closest to bringing them together, perhaps, in our responses to a wayward act by one of our children, but normally we do not think that a wrathful person is loving.

But this is not the way it is with God. God’s wrath is not an implacable, blind rage. However emotional it may be, it is an entirely reasonable and willed response to offenses against his holiness. But his love … wells up amidst his perfections and is not generated by the loveliness of the loved. Thus there is nothing intrinsically impossible about wrath and love being directed toward the same individual or people at the same time. God in his perfections must be wrathful against his rebel image-bearers, for they have offended him; God in his perfections must be loving toward his rebel image-bearers, for he is that kind of God.” (Emphasis his) D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God [Crossway Books, 2000] p.69

In much (not all) American preaching, the love of God is declared without the dark biblical backdrop of the real wrath of God. The result is a huge mass of unconverted people who do not realize that their souls are in jeopardy and a large number of possibly converted people who are not surprised or grateful for the love of God in Christ. They are not amazed by grace; they are shocked and offended by judgment against their sin. They expect God to love them because they are lovable (the mantra of western society is that all people are basically good) and are offended to hear that this is not the case, that He loves us because He is loving. When they hear that God loves sinners they think, “Well, what’s not to love?” Yet, it is precisely the juxtaposition of God’s righteous personal anger and his amazing sacrificial grace in Christ that the Spirit uses to transform people (Rom.5:6-11; 7:21-8:4; Eph.2:1-11; 1 Jn.4:10 and many others).

So I apologize for causing offense or confusion by my wording. And I thank you for asking for clarification because it forces us to think clearly. I hope that clarity is the result of my offering here.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Rick

A Pastoral Letter About Gay Marriage

Dear Christian,

Your questions about how to respond to your pro-gay friend regarding homosexual marriage are common these days. One of the reasons they arise is that the gay community forcefully asserts that sexual orientation is analogous to race. In other words, they contend (with no real proof) that a person’s desire to have sex with their own gender is as fixed and morally neutral as the color of his or her skin. So to attach moral significance to sexuality, to hold that it is immoral or against nature to perform homosexual acts makes one a “bigot.” This assertion, this analogy, is the lynchpin of the entire argument in favor of legitimizing homosexuality as an honorable lifestyle and thus endorsing the idea of gay marriage. It is also a form of subtle slight-of-hand that seems to fool vast numbers of people into believing that sex is not really a moral issue. There has never been a time in Western Civilization when sex was considered a morally neutral subject. The analogy between race and homosexuality breaks down at several different levels. Others have written about this as well. (See for instance Joe Carter’s excellent article: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2014/02/24/is-sexual-orientation-analogous-to-race/ )

We should be aware of two important points that our world seems not to grasp at all. First, if there is a God (as we believe) then sex is sacred because he created and designed it, just like race. God made people in different races (many) and insists that we respect that and live in the reality of it. He also made people in different sexes (only two) and we should treat that as sacred as well. Sex is not simply a bodily function, but a sacred trust to be experienced in what the Bible calls marriage—a heterosexual, life-long, legal union (Gen.2:24; Rom.1:26-27; 1 Cor.6:9-20). The Bible is abundantly clear that all forms of sexual immorality (sexual relationships outside of the biblical definition of marriage just mentioned) are aspects of the evil of our age and part of why the Lord will ultimately judge the world (Col.3:5-6). That’s why when a person comes to the Lord they repent of all forms of sin and ask the Lord to forgive them, which he does. Repentant people are not always successful in their resistance to temptation of course, but they feel bad about that, knowing that the thing they have done is wrong and wishing that they did not do it. The Lord picks us up and takes us forward in our battle against what theologians call “indwelling sin” (1 Jn.1:8-2:2; Rom.7:21-25; 1 Jn.1:8-10). But to arbitrarily change God’s definition of sex and marriage and then insist that because we have done this what He calls wrong is actually right, simply makes hash of moral reality.

But second, even if one is not a theist, doesn’t believe in God, and therefore does believe in Darwinian evolution (the only other possibility), homosexuality is an oddity to say the least. If Darwinism is true then reproduction is the prime directive for the human race. Given how the human body has “evolved” with male and female models specifically suited for reproduction, how can we possibly say that homosexuality is anything but an anomaly? It is hard to see how it should command so much attention and approbation. It is also hard to see why people should be criticized for not signing on to the blanket endorsement of it.

It is no surprise that your friend does not accept what the Bible says about this. The social pressure to not think of homosexuality as backward sex is immense and growing. Even many Christians are swayed by the cultural undercurrents. On the other hand, it is your right morally and legally to disagree with the minority report—and it is a minority, just a militantly vocal and influential minority. My advice is that you make your point and realize that your friend has been influenced more by a sentimental, westernized, and amoral view of sex and love than by a rational, spiritual, biblical or historical grasp of these things. The pro-gay movement is culturally arrogant in that they assume that any person, culture, or country that doesn’t think homosexuality is a good thing is backward, bigoted, and essentially evil. They are openly disdainful of all cultures that are not like theirs. This is odd, because they often consider themselves unbearably bright, enlightened and tolerant. Nevertheless they look down on all those who disagree with them, eagerly taking the “moral high ground” to defend their actions.

Your friend asked the question, “Why would God keep two people who love each other from marrying?” But of course by that logic anybody who “loves” anybody should be able to have sex with them and “marry” them. Really? This moral reasoning breaks down the minute it hits the oxygen of actual life. Just because people supposedly “love” each other does not mean that their sexual relationship is a morally right or good thing. God tells people all sorts of things that are right or wrong independent of human emotions on the subject.

You asked the question, “How do people become gay?” This is complex, as are all forms of human brokenness in a fallen world. If you ask the gay community, they will usually say it’s because they’re born that way. This mantra is more a dogma than a proof. No doubt some do feel homosexual desires from early on in their lives. But research does not conclusively support the biological theory for the cause of homosexuality. In fact, research supports no particular cause for it. There is much mystery apparently. American Psychological Association has weighed in on this subject with a firm opinion that we should not be dogmatic about how homosexuality occurs:

There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.

(“Answers to Your Questions about Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality,” American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/topics/sorientation.html#whatcauses.)

Whatever else this statement implies, it at least makes us step back from the preachy media propaganda that homosexuality is always and only a biological predisposition.

 Then too, there is the power of plain old seduction, the manipulation of sexual pleasure, which can become such a persuasive force in the human soul. Sexual desire is easily molded among young people, which is why we still have harsh laws against adults having sex with minors. Furthermore the “I was born that way” defense is slippery. Most humans are born with a more or less strong desire for the opposite sex, right? Does that mean that they should always follow their instincts with regard to that? No. That’s why we have laws against pornography and prostitution. Some men have always felt sexual desire for very young girls and boys. Is that OK? Of course not. I cannot think of any other area of human moral or ethical endeavor where we allow ourselves to use the excuse that we were “born that way,” as the primary justification for our behavior.

Does this mean that homosexuals are “worse sinners” than anybody else and should be shunned and persecuted? Of course not. The Bible says that we are all constantly falling short of the glory of God (Rom.3:23). That’s why the Lord saves us by grace! The best of us is not that much better than the worst of us when we compare our deeds with God Himself. And God’s grace is just as available to homosexuals as to heterosexuals (1 Cor.6:9-11). We should have compassion for each other and tell each other to repent and trust the Lord. Many Christians have not found a balance of honesty and compassion for those in the gay world.  On the other hand, compassion and civility do not necessarily mean endorsement and agreement. My advice is to be calm, loving, patient, and well-informed. But do not feel that you must agree with what is essentially an illogical and unbiblical view of human sexuality.

I hope this helps a bit in your difficult discussions with your friend.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Rick 

A Story of Grace

Once upon a time there was a wealthy and generous businessman.  He had a wife and a small son.  Since his wealth enabled him to pursue personal interests, he put his mind to improving the lot of those less fortunate.  In his research he found a tribe of cannibals in the Amazon jungle that was suffering in a stone-age culture.  He decided to go and see if he could help them.

 He moved his family to the area, made contact, learned the language, and slowly moved into the outskirts of the village.  Things seemed to work well for a time and he thought perhaps he might be able to teach these people about farming, medicine, and other beneficial practices.  But the tribe never really accepted him or his family and one night they surrounded his hut, attacked and slaughtered his wife and son in front of him.  Miraculously he escaped to his riverboat and was able to return to civilization.

 Against all odds and still wracked with grief, the generous man re-provisioned himself and within a few weeks sought to re-enter the tribe.  He talked to the leaders who were so surprised at his return that they didn’t kill him.  Again he set up camp on the outskirts of the village and began to seek relationship with the people.  They all pushed him away, threatening his life.  So he decided to chose one particular family and make it his mission to care for them in a special way.  He did this through gifts, which were at first refused.  But as time passed the family was wooed toward him by his gracious deeds and gradually they completely turned around in their attitude toward him.  Though they were not able to convince any other villagers, they themselves began a loving and close relationship with the man.  He taught them a new way of life and gave them the benefit of his wealth, his position, and his name.  They even moved into the man’s hut, which was expanded to accommodate them.  In addition the man promised to bring his new family to his own land and country, where there would be a wonderful place for them to live according to the new things they had learned from him.

The tribe continued in their stone-age behaviors, all the while looking with suspicion and hatred on the man and even extending that hatred now to the family he had befriended.  Though the doors remained open to any who would enter a personal relationship with the man, none did.  And he did not pursue them.

As the day drew near for the man and his adopted family to return to his country a very volatile situation arose.  Angry village residents, men, women and children, surrounded his hut.  They intended to kill him and his new family.  As the tension rose, the philanthropist stepped out the front door and demanded an explanation from the tribal council for their threats and impending attack.

The tribal leaders angrily responded by charging the man with being unfair to the rest of the tribe by not taking them with him and blessing them in the same way as the family who had turned around.  The leaders were so incensed by this unfairness that they had decided to kill everybody in the man’s hut and burn it to the ground.



  1. If you were the philanthropist, how do you think you would respond to the charge of being unfair?
    1. Did the philanthropist owe the tribe anything before he went there?
    2. Did he owe them anything after they killed his family?
    3. Who among the cannibals did the man not treat fairly?
    4. Did anybody in the tribe not get what they really wanted?


  1. What are the most amazing things in the story?
    1. Not that he did not initiate a relationship with all of them, but that he initiated one with any of them!
    2. Not that the man went in the first place, but that he want back!  That he didn’t just wash his hands of the tribe completely, reject them all.


  1. Should we deny to God the sovereignty over his mercy that we ourselves would insist upon if we were the philanthropist in this story?
  1. If I were among these cannibals offered a pardon and a new destiny in Grace, how would I respond?

Just a Thought,

Pastor Rick

Feeling Thougtful

Some years ago I sat in my study with a middle-aged, moderately successful, single Christian man I’ll call Mitch (not his real name of course).  He had made the appointment to discuss his frustration with life in general and his confusion about God’s guidance.  He was articulate, outspoken in his faith, regular in attendance at an evangelical church.  He was also a veteran of several marriages and affairs.  As we talked I asked him if he was sleeping with his current girlfriend (whom he recently met at church by the way, because he wouldn’t dream of dating anybody who wasn’t a Christian).

 “Yes,” he said, slightly surprised at my blunt, personal question.  “We know others might disapprove, but sometimes one thing leads to another and, well, you know … it’s a part of life.”

“Hmmm,” I murmured.  “So, why did you make this appointment with me?”

“Well, I need some perspective on where this relationship is going,” he said.

“Which relationship?” I asked.

Mitch frowned slightly but pleasantly with that Haven’t-you-heard-a-word-I’ve-said look.  “The one with Phyllis, of course.” (not her real name)

“Oh,” I responded.  “I thought perhaps you were wondering about your relationship with the Lord.”

“No,” he said. “That’s fine.  I’m wondering if the Lord wants me to marry Phyllis.”

“I don’t think so,” I said flatly.

His eyes widened as he sat back in his chair.  “Why not?” he asked.  It was obvious that my role in this conversation was to affirm his strong walk with the Lord and his deep desire to marry yet again, which, being God’s primary purpose for his life, would make him supremely happy … finally.

“Well, you’re not very good at marriage,” I said.  “You’ve had three, in between your girlfriends, and have not seemed to get the knack of it.  If a pilot who had flown several planes into different objects asked me if he should buy a new flying machine, I’d advise him to take up jogging.  He’s not a pilot; he’s a wrecker of aircraft.”

Mitch was speechless for a moment.  “But,” he exclaimed. “What shall I do about dating?”

“Stop,” I said simply.

“What?!” he exclaimed, leaning forward across the table.  “I have needs for companionship, intimacy.  What about that?”  He was becoming agitated now.

“I don’t think there is a biblical mandate for you to date,” I explained.  “And you’re constantly falling into evil when you get emotionally involved with women.  There is a mandate about that.  So, I’m advising celibacy instead of marriage for you.”

You would have thought I had suggested amputation (It crossed my mind actually).

“Well, I’ll have to pray about that,” he said.  He sat still, hands flat on the table between us, eyes down, scanning like a line of lights on a computer with too much data to process.

After many seconds of silence, I suggested praying.  He nodded blankly.  I prayed.  He didn’t.  He shook my hand and thanked me for my time.

I heard several months later that Mitch had married, but that things were not well.  They were seeking counsel, Christian of course.

How can a person be so well conditioned to church life that he seeks advice from his pastor, but live so immorally that the idea of celibacy seems utterly foreign?  It’s about what we consider real knowledge.  The tip-off to Mitch’s mind-set, his worldview, was in the first part of his conversation, when he essentially excused his sexual evil by assuming that this was “a part of life.”  It may be a part of life in a sense, but is God’s will not a part of life?  Apparently God’s word was not as ‘factual’ a part of Mitch’s life as his own need for intimacy.  He obviously ‘knew’ that his needs were paramount and must be met.  But God’s instruction was not quite so convincing, so ‘factual.’  Why is that?  Because Mitch’s mind has been trained in the ‘fact’ of his psychological needs, but is deficient in the perspective God presents on these needs.  He simply didn’t believe God’s view of relationships.

People always do what they truly believe, and they tend to believe what they think most about.  Thinking and believing eventually blend to form the mind.  Which is why Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”  It does not say that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of faith, but of knowledge.  The presence and power of the Lord is apparently a fact God wants us to put at the front of everything else we call knowledge.  Mitch had relegated his faith in the Lord to the area of feeling, opinion, while firmly grounding his life-choices in the ‘facts’ of his needs.

The mind is the central organ of faith.  J. P. Moreland, professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, points out that the Bible says more about knowledge than it does about faith.  He’s right.  But the statement sounds strange to our ears because most of us have been taught since we were young that vibrant faith and factual knowledge are two different things.  With our hearts we “feel and believe” and with our minds we “think and learn.”  It becomes possible then to ‘think’ one way and ‘believe’ another.  Jesus didn’t think so.  In Matt 22:37, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, he says we should “… love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind.”  He is equating these three, not dividing them.

In the biblical worldview God presents real knowledge, which we should absorb mentally and use to interpret everything else in life.  Wisdom (the ability to live faithfully and well) grows organically out of God’s revelation in His word and His world.  Scripture sees no distinction between the mind and the heart, like we assume when we say things like, “My mind is telling me one thing but my heart is telling me another!”  Or, “Don’t think about it, just do it – follow your heart.”   These statements reflect not a difference between feeling and thinking, but a conflict between desire and virtue.  The mind is very active in all such decisions.  The only question is whether it is thinking faithfully, based on God’s wisdom, or crookedly based on fallen presuppositions.

So, we must think and feel like Christians.  To do that we must treat God’s word as factual in a way that puts all other knowledge into perspective.

When a person says, “I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”  I ask, “Is that a fact …?”

Just a Thought,

Pastor Rick

Of Rocks and Stones

by Rick Booye

            They were rocks, just plain old rocks lying in the dirt, all relaxed and laid back. The rain washed them. The sun warmed them. The dust covered them. Life was as they hoped, utterly stressless, utterly useless. The rocks loved it. But it didn’t last.

Rock-life ended the day a man came by and picked a few of them up. His hands dug down around their dirty undersides and pried them out of their comfortable dust. He brushed them off, viewing them from different angles, and took them home.

At first the rocks were quite pleased with all this attention and somewhat excited to belong to a real person. After all, it’s not normal for a rock to be considered valuable enough to belong to a living being (though they secretly think they are quite important).  Certainly, it seemed that their rock-lives had taken an enjoyable turn for the better now that the man had gathered them and made them his.

The journey to their new home was pleasant enough, even if rocks are not accustomed to being carried very much (they prefer to think of themselves as self-motivated).

Once inside the house however, the rocks experienced several new sensations.  First, they were scrubbed thoroughly with water. This offended them since a certain rocky dirtiness had always been admired among them.

Next, their new owner placed them into a large cylindrical steel can. Once inside they felt a cool, thick, gritty liquid poured over them. It squished down between them and filled the cylinder past the half-way mark. Good thing rocks don’t need much air. Then a cap was screwed tight to the top. They felt the whole container tipped on its side as their new owner placed it on a motor-driven roller. He flipped the switch and the motor hummed to life. Over and over it turned the can, slowly, relentlessly. The grit scrapped their skins. They tumbled end over end.

Well, they didn’t enjoy this at all. Rocks don’t like being lumped together in close quarters. They prefer open spaces where they can imagine that they are the only ones that matter. Neither do they appreciate the implication that all rocks are basically alike in most ways, and that none is inherently better than another. Being all bunched together hurt their pride. And they really hated the friction and constant movement. They were all rolling around together, bumping, scraping, rubbing each other’s rough spots. Even when they tried hard not to rub another the wrong way, it seemed the can would turn just so and the friction would sand edges off both of them. All this was quite painful, especially at first. (Many began to think how easy life was when they were just lying around on the ground.)

The process also took a lot of time, which is something rocks usually have plenty of, but in this case they resented.

Finally it ended. The man lifted the cylinder off the motor, unscrewed the cap and tumbled the rocks out of their rolling prison. Interestingly, they had begun to roll together rather smoothly by the end of the ordeal. So many of the rough edges had been removed that the whole experience took on a new dimension. The rugged individuality that had once caused so much trouble was reduced to a very smooth surface, which retained the original shape but allowed movement and cooperation. They had become more than ordinary rocks.

As the owner rinsed them all (this last washing was quite enjoyable) he smiled his approval. They were now stones, polished and beautiful, each unique, yet fitting together perfectly. Each had a luster and depth all its own, reflecting the owner’s light in a different way, bringing a special beauty to his home. And yet, together they seemed to be more beautiful than as individuals. There was a harmony of the colors and shapes, a glorious blending of the uniquenesses.

All the former roughness was forgotten now. The stones enjoyed touching each other and belonging to their owner. They began to realize that somehow in the polisher there had been a profound change in their basic essence, something much deeper than the shine alone. They had begun to live … like Him.

Looking back now the stones view it all from a new perspective. They had never realized how dead and alone they were before the Master picked them up. Somehow, they had convinced themselves that they were not in need of polishing or change or any other life than the one they were “born” with. But now they knew the truth, that there is a life infinitely beyond the ability of a rock to understand.

They also understand that the process of grinding, scraping, and polishing was purposeful, effective. At the time it seemed inefficient and needlessly painful. All they wanted was to get out of the can and on with the program. But the can was the program.  The shine they needed was developed in the process they hated. Far from being a waste of time, the despised polisher was miraculously effective in transforming the character of the stones, which turned out to be the real project all along.

They saw now how much they needed each other. Before, as they lay in the dirt, smudged and smug in their rocky individuality, they were completely unaware of their potential as a group. Closeness and cooperation were of no value. Unity (the kind they had now) was unheard of, unimaginable. But now they couldn’t imagine being utterly alone again. Their unity was their greatest advantage. They were so much more complete together, so much more luminous and glorious belonging to each other than they could ever have hoped to be on their own.

So it was all worth it. What had appeared easy and fun had turned out to be difficult and painful. But then, what had appeared useless and destructive turned out to be transforming and rewarding. The Person had used everything to benefit His stones and they were glad of it, all of it. And His purposes for them in the future? Who knows? Anyone wise enough to turn dead rocks into living gems can be counted on to think of something.  (I Peter 2:4-5, Rom.8:28-30, Eph.4:1-6).


Frankly, I’m tired of books about the church. With some exceptions, they are impatient critiques. And for a working pastor, though they have some salient points, as a steady diet they become deeply wearying. The church is never “missional” enough, “radical” enough, “spiritually disciplined” enough, “relevant” enough, “creedal” enough, “Reformed” enough, “doing justice enough,” or “growing” enough. But none of this is news to any experienced pastor who is trying to nourish the Lord’s sheep, most of whom are just surviving amid cancer, divorce, bankruptcy and temptation. I have discovered that an obsession with the failures of the church instead of the victory of Christ will not help the church in the ways some sociologists imagine. Plus, it’s depressing and unbiblical.

All this critique tempts pastors to try to shape the church to appear more like what they think the latest emphasis is, and be anxious when their church is not impressive in these ways. This shaping has to do with pleasing often imaginary pastoral peers, the authors of the books that line the shelves. But the church is not our project, or at least not primarily ours. It is Christ’s church. He trims it for fruit, not for looks.

Topiary is the science and art of trimming bushes or trees to look like various “non-bush” things—like Mickey Mouse for instance. You see a lot of it at Disney Land. It takes considerable skill and is quite impressive when done right. The problem with topiary is that the actual fruit of the bush or tree is an obstacle to the beautification project. When I worked as a grounds keeper I remember spraying giant olive trees so they would not bear olives because the olives were messy. I think much pastoral literature coerces us into being grounds keepers instead of farmers.

One thing I have learned is that, though I must keep learning even from critiques, the church is not Disney Land. It is a working farm, with all the mess and inefficiency that a working farm experiences. Pastoring is not marketing, manufacturing, or topiary. It is not glamorous or flattering. Farming is hard, seasonal, long-term, humble work with lots of set-backs, dependent on many forces outside our control (weather, God’s providence), and focused on fruit, not impressiveness. There is virtue in patience, as every farmer knows (James 5:7).


Just a Thought,

Pastor Rick

Humility and Anxiety

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

 1 Peter 5:6-7 (ESV)

At first glance humility and anxiety do not seem connected. They feel like two different categories of our thought life. What would one have to do with the other? In fact, most people only memorize the second section of this passage, the one about casting our anxiety on the Lord because he cares for us. This of course it the right thing and perfectly true. Yet Peter bases his exhortation to release our worries to God on the foundation of our humbling ourselves under his mighty hand. Some translations obscure the connection by making the second clause its own sentence, as if Peter were saying two different things, one about humility and another about anxiety. But the Greek sentence makes the second exhortation a continuation of the first. Which means that humbling ourselves under God’s personal sovereign providence actually sources the peace that replaces the anxiety.

What Peter is saying in this passage then, is that we can rest in the providence of God, but not if we insist that we know how everything ought to turn out. That’s the problem. We try to rest in God’s providence without letting go of our own sovereignty over the outcome. That insistence on our own wisdom regarding the issues that pertain to us is the essence of our pride, which in turn is the source of our anxiety, because we manifestly do not have control over our lives the way we like to think we do. So, humility reduces anxiety by undermining the very American idea that we are entirely in charge of our own future and that we must make it a good one. Or to put it another way; anxiety grows in the soil of our pride as we plan how our lives, families, careers, ministries and futures ought to go (see Jas.4:13-17).

So, part of trusting God’s providence is letting go of the idea that our plan is the only one or the best one. This is humility because it keeps us in mind of our responsibility to live as wisely as we can, yet rests in the fact that we are not the gods of our own lives and that our wisdom is not the ultimate answer to anything. And self-humbling under God’s providence is a safe thing to do because the Lord actually cares for us. It doesn’t always feel like it, though. Which is why Peter emphasizes it. Faith in Christ means knowing that he loves us so much that he died for us, then wrestled sin and death … to death … on our behalf. That being the case, one of the prime entailments of real faith in Christ is trusting that the Lord cares for us and loves us even when our feelings and circumstances do not seem to bear this out.

It stings a bit to realize that our most painful anxieties may find their origins in our own fallen pride. We have a settled conviction (cultivated in fact by our culture) that we always know what’s best for us, and that what’s best for us is a life of ease, success, happiness at all levels, and upward mobility at all times. Our latent moralism tends to give us the intuition that if we are good little boys and girls, God will certainly let us have “our best life now.” But a life of unbroken comfort and ease never produces the character we know we want or the faith we really need. Faith and character only grow by being stretched to the breaking point from time to time. That breaking point can feel like the opposite of faith to us, but our feelings are not reliable guides to spiritual growth. In reality, when faith feels like it’s being stretched too far it is actually being exercised in order to become stronger (Jas.1:2-4; Rom.5:3-6). This is why the Lord often answers our prayers by not giving us what we ask for in the timing we ask for it. Not only does he know what we really need, but the stress of having to trust him without knowing that he’s up to is precisely the growth of faith that we asked him for in the first place.

Just a Thought,

Pastor Rick