Thursday, May 3

Secrets of the Heart


Stonrbriar Mall has not fallen on hard times.  I know many malls in America, some even here in Dallas, have become virtual ghost towns, but not Stonebriar.  Now, I personally avoid malls as a general rule, [this year I actually went a few times with the fam around the Christmas holidays, on average I probably go once a year] however, when any of my family goes to a mall, about 95% of the time it is Stonebriar.  They have most of the stores we like, it is clean, well lit, well patrolled by security officers, its facility is modern and well maintained, it has wifi, they actually have their own app for the mall, in most respects, it is a great place to shop.  

Today in Plano Texas a 17 year old High School Student was arrested for planning an 'ISIS style terrorist attack' on our mall.  Turns out he's supposedly been lurking around the mall, planning this since at least last December.  Walking around us, watching us, scheming...hidden in plain sight.  I may have seen this kid, sitting in the food court, or standing by a kiosk, and I never knew.  He looked like most of the other 10,000 teenagers I saw at that mall.  I never noticed because I couldn't see his heart.

I wonder what it was like for him, realizing that he could walk through that mall, planning evil, watching the security officers and scheming their death, and no-one was the wiser.  No one could tell what nefarious plans were being hatched in his heart, no one knew.  He could stand right beside you, dreaming of the day he would 'douse you with gas and burn' you while video taping it, and you'd probably smile at him and say "hi" as you walked on by.

Let me tell you another story, true just as this one.  There was a young man I knew in college.  He was not a perfect young man by a long shot, but he was seeking the Lord Jesus.  This young man was trying to be more consistent in his personal spiritual disciplines, praying, studying his Bible, and it was changing him.  Then one day he realized that no-one could see the secret life he was living in the privacy of his own heart.

Heading to breakfast in the dorm cafeteria he took a
seat by himself in a far corner.  At this early hour there weren't many students in the cafeteria, the few who were there gathered in small groups of around the center tables.  Nibbling on his crispy bacon, he looked around as he spoke to God and he it struck him that no one noticed him.  No one at all.  Now on that particular morning, that was great, because he really wanted to talk to God, but for some reason, that day it really stood out to him.  No matter when, no matter where, God is always with me.  I can talk to Him anywhere.  I can sit in a college cafeteria and I don't have to 'bow my head and close my eyes' to talk to God, I can eat my bacon and look around the room, and the crazy part is, although I look alone, I'm not alone.  God is here with me, and no-one even notices.

Do you see the parallel?  We all have this 'hidden man of the heart', that inward life we live, only in the presence of God.  One young man used that secret life to plan and scheme unimaginable evil, the other to plan and scheme a close relationship and more time with God.


So what do you do in that secret place in your heart?  Do you joyfully share your hidden life with your father?  Do you ever meditate on the words of God?  Do you puzzle over a cryptic saying of Jesus, seeking understanding?  Do you sing a song of praise in your heart?  Or do you scheme and plot, reveling in some thought of wickedness?  I know, I know, you wouldn't ever do something like an ISIS style murder spree, but do you dream
about how to get something for free by taking advantage of someone's mistake?  Do you fantasize about some immoral encounter with the prettiest girl in school?  Do you imagine revenge on someone who has wronged you?  Maybe not murder but public humiliation?  Do you day dream about how to get away with cheating, or hope everyone else will realize what a bum your teacher is?  Do you visualize being the school hero by sinking the buzzer beating shot for the championship and finally proving you are the G.O.A.T?  Do you secretly rejoice at the misfortune of someone you think is prideful?

Its' up to you.  No one controls your mind but you, you choose for yourself.  Oh, God knows, yes.  He watches, He listens, He knows.


"For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." - 1 Samuel 16:7

He is watching your heart, He can even discern between your thoughts and your intentions.  You can't fool him.  ISIS can't fool him.  I can't fool him.  Why?  Because He can see your heart.  He sees who that secret you really is, and what you really want, what you dream and scheme about.
"For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person." - Matthew 15:19-20

So is this guy in Plano [assuming the charges against him are true] a wicked young man?  I'm sure he would tell you he's not.  He would tell you his barbaric plans were deserved by the people who would suffer.  He would tell you with
pride that he is committed to his islamic beliefs, even to the point of being a martyr.  He would tell you how glorious it would be and of the fame he would enjoy at having carried out this horrific attack.  And you know what else?  He has wasted his life.  Already, at 17 years old.  He will likely spend the rest of his life in prison, miserable, alone, angry.

The other young man?  He got married to a wonderful woman who loves him, had a house full of children who love and respect him, they have many Christian friends who love them, they have peace and harmony in their home, he has preached the gospel to thousands of people on three continents.  So is he some kind of beacon of virtue?  He would tell you he's not.  He would tell you of the times his selfishness has broken his wife's heart, and of his harshness that crushed his children's spirit.  He would tell you in his shame that a relative died without Christ, and how he had never really tried very much to
teach him about Jesus.  He would tell you that he is a deeply flawed, broken man who deserves nothing but is clinging tenaciously to his Christian faith and the promises of a gracious God, who loved him and gave Himself for him.


 "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life." - Proverbs 4:23

Take care of your heart.  Guard it.  Keep it.  You may be able to walk among us, filled with hate, lust, pride, greed, and we never know it.  But you can also walk among us filled with love, humility, graciousness and goodness.  It's your choice.

Thursday, April 26

What Shall we do?

In Acts 2 we have a record of the first time the Gospel was preached.  It began with the Holy Spirit giving the apostles the ability [gift] to speak in other languages [tongues], and culminated in 3000 people being baptized and the Lord "adding to the church those who were being saved" [Acts 2:47].  We also read of a man in Philippi who came to Paul and Silas and said "What must I do to be saved?"  That's a pretty good question isn't it?  I mean after you learn that you are separated from God by your sin, that "all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone" but that it is possible to be saved from that, "What do I need to do?" is a really good [and natural] question.  This blog is about how to answer that question, for ourselves and those we teach.

In studying Apologetics, the defense of Christianity, we are told to be ready always to give an answer to everyone who asks us a reason of the hope that is in us.  We are also told in scripture to preach the gospel to everyone, those who believe and are baptized will be saved.  Matthew records that Jesus calls us to make disciples by 1. baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and 2. teaching them to obey all things Christ commanded.

So what is it, exactly, that we should be telling people?  We've learned that the Gospel is the good news that Christ died for our sins, was buried and was resurrected 3 days later [fulfilling prophesy] and that in doing so He defeated death and became a 'propitiation' [an acceptable sacrifice] to God and that His shed blood can wash us clean from our sins [1Corinthians 15:1-4; Ephesians 1:7]  Jesus' blood for your soul.

When you teach someone this, when they are convicted of their sin and want to receive forgiveness in Jesus, what do you tell them to do?  Ask Jesus into their heart?  Pray a prayer telling Jesus you believe in Him?  Confess your sins to a priest? Speak in tongues?  Take a vow of poverty, or celibacy? Ask God to forgive you?  Go on a mission trip to a malaria infested swamp country?  Be baptized?  Give all your possessions to the poor?  Begin hating your family?  Build a cross and carry it along I-35?  There is no end to what we might come up with, but to be faithful to God, it seems obvious to me that whatever we tell them should come from the Bible right?

The thing is, there are many many things we find in the Bible that have to do with Salvation.  Jesus' blood saves us [Ephesians 1:7].  Paul told the Romans "With the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with your  mouth, confession is made unto salvation" [Romans 10, 9-10], but just later he says "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved" [Romans 10:17].  Peter says "baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not the removal of dirt from the body, but the appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."  Jesus himself said "If you confess me before men, I will confess you before my father in heaven" [Matthew 10:32], and Peter, actually told the listeners in Acts 2 to "Save yourselves".  Many different aspects of our righteous standing with God are explained throughout scripture, but what I'm really interested in here is what, if anything, should we tell people God wants them to do?

What shall we do was the question asked by those who heard the first gospel sermon in Jerusalem [Acts 2:37].  So, when someone asks you "What should I do?" What would God have you tell them?  I believe one way to know the answer to that question is to look in the book of Acts, which is an historical account of the evangelism of [primarily] the apostles when the church was started.  So, this is a short blog today because, instead of giving you something to think about, I want you to do something different today.

Look in the book of Acts, read about the times people were taught the gospel, and write down what [if anything] they were told to do by the preacher, and what they did.  It will be instructive if they are often told "there is nothing for you to do, Jesus did it all", or if they are told "You must speak in angelic languages", or you must believe, repent, confess, be baptized, etc. 

I think you will see some common themes and maybe be able to determine what was the answer of the apostles to that question and I challenge you to read for yourself, think about it yourself, prepare for yourself to give the answer that the apostles gave to people who ask you this question.

So, where do you start?  Here is a list of several places in Acts where people were taught the gospel and what they were told to do.  Read them, in their context, and see if you can find any others, and write a paper recording what they were told to do, and what they did in each instance.

Acts 2:36-41
Acts 4:3-4
Acts 8:9-13
Acts 8:30-39
Acts 9:3-18; Acts 22:3-16 [The Apostle Paul's conversion]
Acts 10:37-48
Acts 16:25-34



Wednesday, April 11

The Flying Spaghetti Monster


In 2005, a 24 year old Oregon State University physics student named Bobby Henderson had a brilliant idea.  The Kansas State Board of Education [KSBE] had decided to allow the teaching of Intelligent Design which, to Mr. Henderson was ludicrous.  He decided to do something about it, and believing that a sense of humor is the best way to fight “religious nuts”, he penned a letter to the KSBE demanding equal time in the science classrooms of Kansas to teach "Flying Spaghetti Monsterism".  It was classic satire, using ridicule to mock what you perceive to be other peoples stupidity.

His letter was posted and became an internet phenomenon.  Because of it's popularity it has found its way even into the lingo of the worlds most famous atheist, Richard Dawkins who, in agreement with Bobby Henderson, equates belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster to belief in God.  It has become so popular that Bobby Henderson has written a book "The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster" and started a 'church' for his new religion.

His basic argument is this:  You can't prove there isn't a Flying Spaghetti Monster [FSM] anymore than I can prove there isn't a God, but the truth is they both don't exist.  Or, stated another way "it's just as silly to believe in God as to believe in a FSM".

This is really just a clever repackaging of an argument made for generations, most famously Agnostic Bertrand Russell's "Teapot" where he argues that you can't prove there isn't a teapot orbiting the sun, and Carl Sagan's "Invisible Dragon in my Garage" where he argues we can't prove there's not an immaterial invisible dragon breathing heatless fire in his garage.

The argument on burden of proof is often stated this way:"inability to disprove does not prove".  In other words, the fact that I can't prove there isn't a FSM doesn't prove there is one.  Applied to Christianity, it becomes "Just because we cannot prove God doesn't exist does not prove that He does".  The person who asserts that God [or the FSM] exists has the burden of proof, they are required [in logical debate] to prove God's existence.

So what do you make of that argument?  There is truth in it, isn't there?  Failure to disprove something is not the same as proving it, right?  So it's not really a good argument for God's existence to say "You can't prove he doesn't exist!" is it?    However, our question is not whether the philosophy is sound, but rather to examine the analogy.  Are the arguments for FSM and God essentially the same and therefore equally silly?  I [obviously] don't think so, and here is why.

FSM is a joke.  Really.  It is a clever joke gone viral.  Suppose that, when approached by a FSM evangelist you asked "Why do you believe in the FSM?"  Their answer is "because...why not?  You can't prove it isn't true".  Would that convince you to be a genuine follower of the FSM faith?  Of course not and, btw, that reasoning would never convince you to be a Christian either.  However, with his clever satire, Mr. Henderson [Russell, Sagan, Dawkins, et. al.] is suggesting that Christianity depends on the same type of inane, irrational, evidence-less blind-faith.

Although it is witty and attention grabbing, maybe a great twitter feed, it's just not true, and in the matter of religion as well as science, truth matters.  Christianity, unlike FSM, is not a joke, but to see that, let's consider for a moment what the FSM evangelist would sound like if FSM faith was really like Christian faith.

If his claims were really like Christianity he would show you an ancient collection of books, written over the course of thousands of years by many different authors, all testifying to the existence and trustworthiness of the FSM.  These books would not be frauds, but genuine, ancient books,  more thoroughly verified historically and archaeologically than any other ancient texts.

He would point you to hundreds of prophesies in those verified ancient texts, and he would then point to an actual person in history who fulfilled those prophesies.  Once again, with historical verification in the form of letters and written accounts by eyewitnesses.

He would show you that the faith was originally taught and written down by those eyewitnesses, virtually all of whom were tortured and/or executed for proclaiming their belief in the FSM.  [BTW, is there anyone who thinks Bobby Henderson would willingly allow himself to be executed as the apostles were when he could stop it by simply denying FSM faith is true as they could've by denying Christ's resurrection?]

He would show you how all verifiable historical and archaeological facts from these books are accurate and how time after time, supposed inaccuracies have fallen under the light of new archaeological discoveries and been found to actually be error-free.

He would also mention to you others who did not believe in the FSM but who, in their own verifiable writings unintentionally corroborated these writings of believers.

He would show you lines of argument from science [like the law of Biogenesis - life only comes from other life, or the laws of Thermodynamics.]

He would also call mathematical and philosophical arguments in the quest to provide you evidence [Ontological and Cosmological arguments for instance].

He would invite you to examine the moral teachings of the founder of the FSM faith.  Instead of heaven being a world of prostitutes and a beer volcano [FSM actual satirical doctrine], he would teach you about loving those around you, being a servant to the needy, alleviating suffering and showing kindness to everyone, even your enemies.

He would explain to you how the FSM faith was to be founded only on the condition of the founders death and verifiable resurrection.

He would offer as evidence the millions upon millions of people whose lives have been demonstrably changed [I mean a genuine change in character, not a goofball wearing a colander on his head] because of their faith in the FSM.

And that's just a small bit of the evidence he would offer.  So you see, it may be clever, it may be catchy, it may even seem daunting when you first hear it, but it's really an empty deception in the skin of clever satire.  Christianity doesn't just stand on some college kids "said so".  As satire it's clever and funny, as real intellectual reason it leaves much to be desired.

Thursday, March 1

It's All About You, Means It's Not About You


Hannah was a great woman of God, and her son Samuel was a great man of God, but even great men and women of God have blindspots, prejudices and selfish motives sometimes.  Samuel's sons were not great men of God, but that didn't dissuade Samuel from appointing them as judges in Israel.

When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel...yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.

The Philistines had a king, as did the Moabites, the Amonites, the Amalekites, even Egypt [Pharoah], but not Israel.  For 450 years Israel has been governed by court system of judges, and now, when Samuel, who has judged Israel for many years gets old, he appoints his corrupt sons as judges.  

We are not told anything about Samuel's motive in this appointment.  Maybe he really was, as many parents are, blind to the character flaws of his boys, or maybe he just looked the other way.  What we do know is that it caused a terrible problem in Israel.  You can imagine can't you?  Corrupt judges who take bribes and pervert justice are a stench to honest God-fearing people.  So the elders take the problem to Samuel.
 
 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.”But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord.

So why do you think it displeased Samuel?  Why did it upset him?  I mean, we all hate corrupt judges right?  Samuel loved Israel, surely he didn't want them to suffer at the hands of unjust judges?  Actually, the next sentence tells us why Samuel was upset.

And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me

You see, Samuel was upset because he felt rejected by Israel.  HE was their prophet.  HE was their judge.  HE appointed his sons.  It is the same mistake that Moses made when he struck the rock instead of speaking to it [Numbers 20].  He got his eyes on the wrong person.  He took Israel's rejection/rebellion personally, and here God tells Samuel, "they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me".  It really wasn't about Samuel, it was about God, but the rejection felt personal and Samuel made the mistake of thinking this was all about him.

The reason I wanted to blog about this today is that I think one of the main reasons we don't talk to other people about Jesus is that when they reject what we say, we think they are rejecting us.  We feel their rejection personally and no-one likes to feel rejected.  One time, years ago, when I was working in an evangelistic campaign a woman in the church asked me about a successful campaign in another congregation.  I explained how the members of that congregations had worked together as a team all reaching out to their family and friends who were not Christians, setting up appointments for us to teach them about Jesus.  She responded "Oh I could never do that.  My friends have their own beliefs and I don't want to lose our friendship."  You see, she was worried about the reaction of her friends toward her.  In her mind, the rejection would be personal.
 
Jesus told his disciples: 

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.
 
Jesus was telling them a fundamental truth, and it was the same truth given to Samuel so many years before.  "They have not rejected you, but they have rejected me".  
 
 
By the title of this post, I mean that everyone responds to those around them for personal reasons.  If I get angry about something you did, I'm likely to say "You made me angry" but that's really not true.  You could have done the same thing to other people and they wouldn't have become angry.  I get angry because of
what is going on inside me, not because of what you've done.  I'm convinced the same thing is true about one's acceptance or rejection of Christ.  
 
When people reject your mention of Christ, if you have not been offensive in your approach, they are rejecting Christ, not you.  They are accepting or rejecting based on what is going on within them, not because of you.  It's really all about them, how they respond to the gospel, which means it's not about you. [note:  You must remember to not offend by the way you talk to them about Jesus.  If you are rude and arrogant they may reject Christ because of your attitude"] 
 
And when it comes to telling others the gospel of Jesus, it's all about you, not them.  If you don't talk to them about Christ, that isn't because of them, it's because of you.  The take away here is that I  want you to quit thinking about yourself, and instead think about Jesus and those around you who need the gospel.  So is there someone you've needed to talk to, but have been afraid of their rejection?  Just remember Samuel!

Thursday, February 15

Drinking the Kool-Aid

Are you familiar with the term "Drinking the Kool-Aid"?  It means blindly believing and obeying something that is foolish and wrong.  We recently saw a documentary on the People's Temple cult.  It was a socialist cult led by Jim Jones in the 1970's that ended when 909 members, 304 of them
children, committed suicide by drinking Kool-Aid poisoned with cyanide.  Now, it appears to be true that some of the parents forced their children to drink, and others may have been forced by men with guns obeying Jim Jones orders.  However, the majority it seems, drank the Kool-Aid of their own free will.  Were those people Martyrs?  No.  Not in the strict sense.  They were not put to death because others found their beliefs to be abhorrent.  They committed suicide, or were murdered, and yes it was a result of their beliefs, but they were not martyrs.

A martyr is: someone who is murdered because someone else objects to them believing what they believe, and objects strong enough to kill them over it.  It is important to distinguish this from others who die because of their actions, such as the hijackers on 911.  They were not martyrs, they took their own lives while murdering others.

In John 21, Jesus speaking to Peter says "Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.”  This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God."
And in 2 Timothy 4 Paul says "I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
History records that Peter and Paul were both martyred for their faith in Christ.  So how did they die?  Not really sure.  In works such as The Acts of Peter [end of 2nd century]
that the Apostles [except for John] we find some stories about their death, but there is doubt over whether the accounts are historical or metaphorical, but really, the exact method of their deaths is not all that relevant.  Oh, I guess it may be inspiring if Peter refused to be crucified right side up and was instead crucified upside down because he wasn't worthy to die like his Savior [and it is fair to note that there are historical accounts of people being crucified upside down] but the particularly heinous nature of his death [read sometime of the heinous death of Sir William Wallace] really doesn't tell us a lot about the truth of what he believed.

Of interest in this post is that the truth of Christianity is often argued from the martyrdom of the Apostles.  The argument goes like this:  The Apostles all died for their faith, so we can know from that it is true."  Is that a convincing argument to you?  It is often tempting to quote an argument we've heard that we don't really understand, and although occasionally you can win a point that way, it is most common that you cannot.  This argument for instance.  In response, skeptics reply, “Although not common, it is not unheard of for people to die for religious beliefs today, just as the 911 terrorists did. Just because someone is willing to die for a belief, doesn’t make that belief true.” 

What do you think about that?  Should we accept the deaths of the 911 attackers as evidence that
Islam is true?  No?  What about the followers of Jim Jones? No?  Why not?  They were really committed to their belief system weren't they?  Are you so committed to your beliefs that you would willingly sacrifice your life in such a dramatic fashion?  Maybe, maybe not, but I really believe that is the wrong question.  A better question is not "how committed were they", but "Does dying for a belief mean that belief is true?"  Nah, I don't buy it either.

 So why even talk about the martyrdom of the Apostles?  Is there anything we can learn from their deaths?  Yes!  Absolutely!  I submit to you that the horrific deaths of the Apostles as they were murdered for believing Jesus rose from the dead, is not proof that Jesus did rise, but it is proof that these men themselves did believe he rose.  They believed they saw and talked to the risen Son of God.

"Okay, so they really believed it, what does that matter?" you ask.  Their belief goes to integrity which DOES inform us about the veracity of their eyewitness testimony.  You see, if a man tells you he loves his wife more than anyone or anything in the world, and then, at some point she is kidnapped and he can save her life for $10,000, but he says "$10,000, are you kidding me?" and lets her die, that makes his declaration of love suspect.

Back to the Apostles.  They died proclaiming that they truly saw the risen Christ.  They wrote about what they saw, they followed what they taught, all their lives, it truly was a matter worth dying for to them.  This is unlike other witnesses.  The Three Witnesses to the book of Mormon for instance.  All 3 of them, at some later point repudiated Mormonism.  Not what you'd expect from men who are witnesses to the truth of the founding of a true religion is it?

You see, the proper benefit we gain from learning of the martyrdom of the Apostles is that these eyewitnesses didn't just talk the talk, they walked the walk, and if they had been imposters, lying about Jesus, it is unreasonable to believe that they would all be willing to live a life of suffering and finally die all on account of that lie.

Thursday, February 8

God could convince me...

Recently I saw a video where Frank Turek was answering questions on the Ohio State University campus.  Most of the questioners were believers, but there was this one guy, Javier who wasn't.  He jousted with Dr. Turek, and artfully evaded questions and arguments offered, however it was a good natured exchange.  One question he asked Dr. Turek though has stuck with me and I want to consider it with you today.

As I understood the exchange, and in my words, he argued that God, if he is God, would know exactly what type of evidence it would take to convince Javier that He [God] exists, so it is futile for him to seriously consider this 'unconvincing evidence' that was being presented, but instead it was incumbent on this 'God' to present sufficiently convincing evidence to convert him.

What do you think about that?  At least part of his point holds doesn't it?  I buy that since God is God, He knows and is capable of presenting evidence that would convince an honest skeptic right?  Oh, wait, did you catch that?  An honest skeptic.  Now I can't judge the heart of anyone, much less someone like Javier that I've just seen on a YouTube clip, however the question he artfully evaded was "If Christianity were true, would you be a Christian?"  Not exactly a hardball.  He argued [among other things] "Well, that depends on what you mean by truth...blah, blah, blah".  Anyone who is honest can be almost brain-dead and answer a "If this is true, would you accept it" question, but for some reason Javier couldn't bring himself to say "Yes, if Christianity is true, I will be a Christian".  Really?  If there really is a heaven and a hell, Jesus truly was resurrected, I will die and actually face Jehovah, standing before the Judgment seat of Christ and be eternally rewarded or condemned based on my response to this...and I can't bring myself to say, yes, if all that's true I'll follow Jesus?

That brings up my thought about Javier's question.  What kind of evidence would it take to convince Javier [or some other skeptic like him]?  He asked for direct evidence from God that he cannot reject.  But think about that request...there is a fundamental flaw in the request.  Unrejectable  evidence would remove the key human aspect of Christianity, faith. 
Consider the irony, he is using his free will to argue that, if there is a God, he should present evidence so undeniable that I will have no option than to accept it.  But if evidence is that strong, there is no point to free will, no need for faith, it is undeniable.  So his argument amounts to "If God wants me to believe in Him, he needs to remove my freedom to refuse to believe in Him."  Do you see the irony?

What I really think is that even if God presented undeniable evidence to someone who doesn't want to believe, they will still reject Him.  Doubt that?  Think about this.  Did Satan have undeniable evidence of God?  Oh yes.  Is there any doubt in Satan or his minions about God?  None.  But do they follow God?  No.  Why?  You'd think, if God is God He could give the devil sufficient evidence to convince them to follow Him, yes?  You see, the problem isn't with the evidence, the problem is with the heart of the one weighing the evidence.



A few years ago a young man approached me at church with questions [presumably from 'friends'] about the Christian faith.  Turns out he is a skeptic, just not 'sure' God exists.  Presenting it as though it is something noble, he tells me that he doesn't want to believe until/unless he's 100% sure that God is real and Jesus is His son.  Okay, that sounds noble, but it's really not.  What he is doing instead is believing that there [probably] isn't a God, even though he isn't 100% sure of that either.  He's just choosing to believe one less than sure option while rejecting another less that sure option because he "can't be sure".

Arguments like Javier's, on the surface have real appeal, but when you step back and think them through, they are just another smoke screen from someone who doesn't want to believe.

Thursday, February 1

It was a God thing

It was a God thing, and I know it because I...
  • Got tickets to a sold out play...
  • Won $500 to pay my bills from a Radio Station...
  • Found cancer at an early stage, by accident...
  • Saw a photo that was so amazing, it just touched my heart...

In modern American Christendom, I hear things like this all the time.  Pulling into the mall and
getting a good parking spot brings out a chorus of "Oh, there is a great spot! Go God!!!"  My question in today's post is simple: are these really "God things?" Does God reach down here and sweep someone out of a parking spot near the door because He loves you so much?

Don't go running for cover right now, I'm not denying or downplaying God's amazing love [Romans 5:8-10] in any way, it is Amazing! And I do believe it's wonderful to thank Him for all blessings, so just hear me out on this.  On the one hand, I agree that there is a sense in which we can attribute all these things to God.  Scripture teaches us that He "gives us richly all things to enjoy" [1 Timothy 6:17] and "every good and perfect gift is from above" [James 1:17].  Yes, it is appropriate to praise God when you score a touchdown or to thank God that He created you with the ability to experience emotion.

However, that grand overarching "everything good comes from God" isn't the sense I'm concerned about in this post, and it's not what's meant when one gets a selfish desire fulfilled and yells "Go God!".  You see, the same scriptures that teach us to give thanks to God in all things, [1 Thessalonians 5:18] also tell us He makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust [Matthew 5:45].  Normal blessings of life are for everyone, not just those who believe in Him.  Since that's true, a radio station contest, or a game winning touchdown may be blessings given to Christians, or they may be given to those who don't serve God at all.

The other side of that coin deals with our attitude of praise.  Do you praise God when you're tackled on the 1 yard line causing you to lose the game and ending your season?  Do you thank God that he created you with emotion when you're so frustrated and angry your hands shake and you 'can't see straight'?  "Oh, well, I praise Him when I win, but sometimes forget to when I lose."  Interesting...

There is a sense, all too common among Christian folk, that God is specifically, minutely and personally orchestrating every experience I have to coddle me, clear obstacles and generally make me have a problem free life.  The mindset is often that "God loves me so much, he wants me to have a good parking place at the mall."  And that argument goes something like this: "Don't you love your kids enough to give them the good parking place?  Don't you think God loves His children as much as we love our children?"  Yes, I would, and yes I do, however, because I really love them a bunch, I would give them not just a good place, but the best place wouldn't you?
The problems with this should be obvious.  First, sometimes I go to the mall and have to park half a mile away.  What message about God's love does that give me?  Does God, for some reason not love me so much today?  "Oh no", you say, "He knows I need the exercise."  Great, so did you say "Go God!" when you got that far away space?  And what about the days when you get a close spot at the mall, but later have to walk the parking lot at Walmart?  Did you need exercise at 10am, but not at noon?  This may seem petty, or even a bit unappreciative to some of you, and please know that I
mean no disrespect to God at all in this, what I do mean is let's think carefully with the minds God gave us.  I am perfectly aware that if you want to believe He is orchestrating parking places and touchdowns like Bobby Fischer at a chess board then you can explain away every instance I could raise, but this isn't my only problem with this mindset.

Measuring God's love by things like sports or conveniences doesn't make good biblical sense.  Jesus Christ did not live a hassle-free, trouble free life, and we know God loved Him.  None of the apostles lived a 'charmed life', in fact, all of them but one were murdered for their faith. God Himself warns us that "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" [2 Timothy 3:12]






Another problem is that very often when people say these things, as I dig a little deeper, I find out that the "sold out play"

that they got tickets to was filled with profanity and immorality.  Or the 'bills I'm gonna pay' with that $500 are my cable bill with the HBO/Showtime package, where my kids are going to learn about sex in graphic detail at 2am, and a ticket I got for speeding while texting in a school zone.  Do we really think God is in the business of blessing us by specifically, minutely, and personally removing obstacles to and funding our immorality and bad choices?

The final problem I want to mention, which plays directly to the issue of faith is this.  If God loves you so much He will open up the best parking space at the mall for you, what do you say, how do you process it, what coping mechanism do you break out when you get cancer? 
Does God not love you anymore?  You just told me He gives you touchdowns and good parking places because He loves you and those who love their kids give them good things.  Remember?  you'd give your kid the good parking space...?  So, would you give your kid cancer?  No.  Would you cure them if you could?  Of course you would.  I've seen it over and over, people who believe [without any biblical evidence] that God walks along moving pebbles from their path, when they are faced with a boulder feel abandoned by God, and that becomes justification for abandoning God.

I want you to consider this question because your life will get hard sometimes, and when it does, if you've lived in the fairy tale world of "health, wealth and prosperity" thinking it is so because you
have found favor in God's eyes, you will be overwhelmingly tempted to turn on Him for abandoning you,when that hasn't happened at all. He didn't abandon Esther in her time of trouble, or David, or Sarah, or Deborah, or Abraham, or Daniel, or Mary, or Paul, or Job...and he won't abandon you.  Quit judging your life by circumstantial blessings, and judge it by the relationship you genuinely have with God and Jesus Christ His son.