Monthly Archives: March 2013

Thinking On Apologetics

I’m not a philosopher, or a particularly deep thinker. I like to think as deeply as I can, but the more I read, the more I realize how far I am from true philosophy. This week, I’ve been reading a book by C.S. Lewis as well as a couple of debates by William Lane Craig. If you ever want to feel mentally outclassed, that would be my recommendation.

Why do I share this? Because I can.

Now to this week’s topic (it’s kind of related)

1 Peter 3:15 talks about being prepared to give a defense of the hope that is within us. This verse informs and supports a very important discipline within the Christian community- the discipline of apologetics.

Apologetics provoke a range of responses among Christians. Some love them and see them as the only (or most effective) method of evangelism. Others, often quoting lines like, “nobody was ever argued into the kingdom,” avoid apologetics and see little value in the discipline. We have Christian philosophers who have built a career around defending the faith, pastors who’ve built a ministry on proving God through the miraculous, and theologians who’ve spent a lifetime presenting scripture as the ultimate revelation of God’s existence. Apologetics are most dangerous in the hands of the young. Without the wisdom of age and experience, it is tempting to build your faith on the foundations of Ravi Zacharias or Lee Strobel.

I’m not an apologist. If I had to classify my approach to engaging with Christianity, I would (cautiously) define myself as a theologian. As a theologian, I would like to let theology guide my views on apologetics. There are a lot of topics covered under the banner of apologetics, but I’m going to focus on the branch of apologetics that seeks to prove God’s existence.

First, the Bible doesn’t go to much length to prove that God exists. Genesis 1 begins with, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The Bible says that evidence of God is in nature and pretty much expects us to find this evidence ourselves. “The heavens declare the Glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). Paul says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (Romans 1:18,19).

In a way, this almost feels like a cop out. It’s like God is saying, “I exist, get over it”. And to everyone who doesn’t see it, He doesn’t do too much to convince them otherwise. Well He does, which leads to my second point…

Jesus is presented to us as God’s clearest evidence of Himself. Hebrews, Colossians, and John make this most clear. In the book of John, Jesus tells people that to believe in Him is to believe in the Father. “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3).

I once heard someone say, “If God was real, He could very easily arrange the stars into a message or something like that, and then we’d know.” John says, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Why did God choose to reveal Himself this way? I don’t know. One possible clue: Jesus frequently says things that suggest that He is not interested in revealing Himself in such a way that everyone will see, but He deliberately obscures the truth so that only certain people will see.

Finally, Peter doesn’t instruct us to PROVE God, but to DEFEND our hope in Him with gentleness and respect. One would be tempted to argue that Peter lived in a time when everyone believed in some concept of God, which is fair. However, except for the Jews, almost no one believed in a transcendent God. The Greek gods were essentially immortal humans. They were bound in time like us, more interested in sleeping with each other than holding man accountable for our sins (If anything, they were more sinful than humans, because they lived longer). The early disciples, even the highly educated Apostle Paul, didn’t put a lot of effort into challenging their ideas of God.

If people doubted the divinity of Jesus while He was on earth, then they will be very easily able to reject our best arguments today. Defending the hope that is within us is more about presenting the real reasons why we personally believe. It requires us to wrestle with our faith, but it remains very personal. For some people, their testimony is the apologetic they will present for why they believe. Some wrestle with philosophical constructs and find the worldview presented by the Bible to be the most plausible. Whatever evidence supports your faith, be ready to express that clearly and confidently, with gentleness and respect.

I’m not saying all this to dissuade the discipline of apologetics. I have a number of conversations with friends and with students in the context of Power to Change ministry about why I believe God exists. I love the intellectual challenge that these conversations usually present. It’s generally beneficial to have your worldview challenged because it either strengthens or refines it. Some people are particularly gifted at thinking philosophically or leveraging science to support belief in God through Jesus. I believe in using the gifts God has given us to advance His kingdom. My purpose in this post is to give two pieces of advice:

  • Build your faith on the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.
  • Build your evangelism around the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ

I believe this is what makes C.S Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, and others, so effective. Their works always present Jesus as central to the Christianity they defend. Very few people, if any, will become Christians because of your defence. At the same time, your defence may remove obstacles that prevent people from engaging in the life changing message of Jesus.

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Two Simple Truths

There are two simple truths I want to express every week in my blog posts: the weakness of man and the power of God. I believe that the heart of the gospel is fully understood in light of these two truths. My life is a testimony of this. Every day I’m seeing my weakness being transformed by the power of God and I share my experiences to help others understand these truths. As the Christian comes face to face with the corruption of the flesh that keeps them from meeting their moral expectations, they are invited to trust God to carry them on a journey to holiness. This is what we call sanctification.

It’s surprisingly easy to observe the weakness of man when we look at the world. I heard the testimonies of two men yesterday who experienced the rock bottom of human sexuality. A friend shared with me a news story of a man who recently got arrested for having sexual relations with children in Cuba. Sickening, disgusting, appalling… words somehow don’t express appropriate repulsion. And we as people try to distance ourselves from the evil of others whenever possible.

But can we really? Is there anyone who can say for certain that if they were in Germany in 1945, they would have stood against the systemic murder of millions? I can’t. For many of us, the only thing separating us from that depth of evil is circumstance. Evil isn’t caused by the world around us; the world simply defines how our innate darkness gets expressed.

I see it in myself often. I’m a good person, indoctrinated in Christian culture since birth and I look out for my own interests first. On cold days, I push to get on the bus before it gets full. I’m willing to listen to you talk as long as I don’t have anything I want to say. I invest primarily in relationships that have the most potential to benefit me. I hate being exposed to the needs of others, because I want to focus on my own needs. And those are just the things I’m willing to confess over the internet.

Many of you would be very surprised if you could enter my mind for a day. You would be exposed to imaginations of actions that would make the front page of every newspaper in the world if I ever acted on them. I’ve planned robberies, murder, rape and terrorism. I would never act on them, and yet… It feels good to think. Evil lurks within; I’m not by nature a good person.

None of this surprises God (thanks, Captain Obvious). The bible is full of people who are much worse than you and I. Unlike us, they actually acted on their impulses. King David, a man after God’s heart, got a woman pregnant and had her husband killed. Jeremiah the prophet prayed for his opponents to die horrible deaths- them and their families. Jonah refused to call Nineveh to repentance because he wanted God to destroy them- all 120,000 of them. Peter, the leader of the early church, was racist and didn’t want to share the message of Jesus with non-Jews. Jesus teaches, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:19) He predicts that as it was in the days of Noah (and God wasn’t particularly impressed with people back then), so it would be before He returns again (Matthew 24:37).

Simply because I’m a Christian doesn’t mean all this is in the past for me. Paul who teaches the Roman church that they are dead to sin and alive to God, also shares that he regularly does the things he doesn’t want to and struggles with doing what he know he should do (Romans 6:11-14, 7:14-24). I know exactly what he means.

The story doesn’t end there though…

Christianity is not a religion of people fighting a losing war against their nature. I’ve heard psychologists talk of how damaging it can be to tell people they are sinners when they can do nothing about it: it leads to self hatred, depression, bitterness and brokenness. Speaking from experience, I would have to agree.

Jesus, however, promises us His Spirit so He can take us on a journey towards holiness. He tells His disciples that those who love Him will keep His commandments and He will send them a Helper (John 14:15-17). He even says that it’s better for us to have His Spirit than His incarnated presence (John 16:7). Paul often encourages churches that God’s Spirit is making them holy, sometimes despite what their experiences tell them (Romans 8:9-11, Galatians 5:22-23, Ephesians 3:14-19, Philippians 1:6, 2 Thessalonians 1:11, 2:13, 2 Timothy 1:7).

Ever heard of the word ‘grace’? Christians like it a lot and for good reason. Grace is the foundation of our faith: Grace is how we receive (Ephesians 2:8-9) and maintain (2 Corinthians 12:9) our transforming relationship with God. Grace means that though we don’t deserve it, because we’re not good people, God acts in love towards us. He forgives all our evil and makes us good… over time.

Grace is what enables me to be open on this blog about my sin, my failures, my weakness and my evil. I’m not depending on my goodness to earn either His love or the love of the family of Christians. I can share honestly because we all recognize that we are desperately broken and are journeying together towards holiness. When I invite people to know God personally, I’m not inviting them to be better, but to wrestle honestly with the depth of evil that’s within all of us, and offer a cure.

God’s power, by His grace, cures our weakness.

I struggle every day to understand this.

I write every week to express this.

Be blessed.

Pride: The Struggle is Real

I struggle with pride. I know what I’m capable of accomplishing and it’s very easy for me to trust in myself. I know what I’m good at; I know what other people are bad at. Pride is something that comes naturally to me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been good at almost everything I’ve ever attempted: school, sports, socializing and, for the most part, faith have always come very easy for me. I’m not looking to brag (I don’t think), but I’m hoping to give some context to my reflection for this week.

Because of my pride, I fear failure. Ego is a very fragile thing and very easily shattered. I’m the kind of person who generally doesn’t try anything unless I know I’m good at it. I’m very sensitive to cues that I might be less than adequate. I’m constantly comparing myself to others, mentally calculating how I stack up against those in my environment. Even now, I’m hoping my confession doesn’t make you think any less of me. This is my reality, my constant struggle. Every waking moment, I must war against a mindset that demands my glory at all costs.

Pride has many appearances. This week, I saw it most clearly evident in a surge of jealousy towards a Christian brother. He was getting an opportunity to do ministry in a context that I particularly enjoy, and I found myself becoming upset. In that moment, it mattered little to me that he was being used by God to bless others because it wasn’t me being used. For a moment, my desire to feel needed was more important than the edification of another.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. -Philippians 2:1-4

What does it mean to “do ministry”? To minister is to serve. Paul describes a humility that makes the needs of others more important than ours. This is the antithesis of pride. Pride is selfish by nature: its focus is completely on self. Pride thinks about what I can do, how I am being perceived, if I am getting praised, whether I can make myself stand out even more. Paul speaks of humility as counting others more significant than oneself.

I’m struck by the words Paul uses to open up this section of discourse. Essentially he tells us, if we are to claim any experience of God, we must walk in unity. Unity is built through humility. Pride is not only detrimental to our personal walk, but to the unity of the Church. Pride divides because it makes us seek our individual good above the good of the community.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. -Philippians 2:5-8

Humility in its purest form was modelled to us by Jesus. This is the message of the gospel. God, in Jesus, became man and suffered death for our good. No human in history has had more justification for pride than Jesus, and yet He died the painful death of a common criminal for us. If God could elevate the needs of treasonous sinners above His own, how much more is required of us who are recipients of His grace and called to be His followers? The solution to pride is to be reminded of the gospel again.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11

What should be our primary motivation for killing pride? God’s glory. God is on a mission to redeem mankind and free all creation from the curse of sin. At the end of time, He will bring about a new heaven and earth and unite all creation under the banner of His worship. Today, He calls us to be His hands and feet building His kingdom. We pray for His Kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We don’t lose our individuality but leverage our unique gifts to proclaim His great name. Our pride, our glory can only get in the way of that. We kill pride by remembering the gospel and we kill pride for the sake of God’s glory.

Yet pride is more resilient than headless cockroach and has more rebirths than the Batman franchise. Pride doesn’t ever really go away; it simply hides in new disguises. I’ll likely struggles with pride until the day I die, fighting a constant battle to remember the gospel. And because I don’t think I’m the only one that fights this battle, I’d like to conclude with a wonderful scripture for meditation.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
-Psalm 139:23-24

 

The Challenge of The Great Commandment

What is the great commandment in the law? Jesus is asked this question in Matthew 22:36 and in Mark 12:28. Recently I’ve found myself struck by Jesus’ response. He quotes Deuteronomy 6:5, which reads, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Looking at its context in Deuteronomy, this command seems to be phrased in the language of consecration or holiness. Moses is speaking to the people as they are about to enter the land promised to them by God. A land flowing in milk and honey, but also a land overrun with false gods. They were going to be wooed and courted by the worship of the land. The Canaanite gods were going to promise to provide for them in exchange for their worship (Hosea 2:5). Already the people of Israel had been seduced (Exodus 32) and had repeatedly grumbled against God and been punished a lot. They had suffered through 40 years in the desert as a consequence of unfaithfulness. And now, as they were going into a new land, into new temptations and under a new leader, Moses is reminding the people to be consecrated. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” He is telling them, “God is not a member of a pantheon, like the gods you will encounter in Canaan. He is not constantly wooing you with promises in order to earn your worship. You are His by virtue of the covenant you committed to (Ex. 24:3).” The chapter begins, “Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules[a]—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it.” Not a request but a command.

So loving God here is a matter of consecration. Everything within you must be assigned to the task of loving God. There is to be no room for the love of another. He is to be the primary object of your adoration, primary lesson you teach your kids, the primary subject of your speech, the primary identification of your character, the primary distinction of your household. God is FIRST and FOREMOST in your life. When you begin to enjoy His blessings, do not desire them above God or let them begin to interfere with your worship of Him.

Loving God is an act of the heart, the soul and the might. The New Testament passages include the mind as an avenue through which God is to be loved. The totally of love demanded is more than I can muster. It’s easy for me to love God with my mind (thoughts/intellect). I crave knowledge. I am fascinated with the study of scripture, calling together passages to create and support deep intricate theology and to build a rich understanding of God’s nature through His actions and words. It’s easy for me to love God through raising and/or answering tough questions about God, His Word and His actions in our fallen world. Jeremiah 33:3 is a dream to me because I want to see these great mysterious things which I haven’t known before. I want to be that worker who rightly handles the Word of truth (2 Tim 2:15). I do well at loving God with all of my mind.

It’s easy for me to love God with my strength (time/activities). The DIRT test pegs me as an influencer/doer. I love being active, being involved and doing things. Leading bible studies, teaching, sharing the gospel with my friends, going to conferences and retreats, challenging guys to grow, counselling, encouraging, serving, etc – these are things that come naturally to me. I love being busy, and busy for God is no huge challenge. I am a person who is refreshed and energized by a new project or opportunity. I have a mindset to wage active war against sin in my life and I’m constantly challenging myself to grow in purity. I see my life as God’s masterpiece and I strive to accomplish every good work God has set before me (Eph. 2:10). I do well at loving God with all of my might.

Loving God with my soul (vitality/reflections)… now that’s hard. I’m not naturally a reflective person. I don’t do well at sitting down to meditate on God’s Word, reflecting on His goodness in my life especially over the last 4 years since He adopted me as His son. I don’t like to stop and give Him thanks because I’d rather be moving on the next thing. I know I love God; I just struggle with thinking too deeply about it. I don’t like loving God through rest. When my body is relaxed, it simply means my mind is free to race through all the things I’m doing, and could be doing, and should be doing, and should be doing better, and need to do differently. There is something wonderful about the Psalms and their quiet reflections of God. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” I long for that in my life. It’s hard for me to love God with all of my soul.

Loving God with all my heart (feelings/emotions) is another challenge for me. It’s so rare that I am moved to emotion by the truths of God’s attributes. One of my favorite preachers paints a picture of being “taken to the mat” with the truths about God’s greatness. I remember reading the book of Revelation once before I committed my life to following Jesus. It was such a frightful image of judgement that it kept me up all night. I was so aware of the dreadful power of God’s judgement; I experienced what the bible describes as the fear of the Lord. But now, I don’t often feel that same awareness of God’s awesomeness. Not only that, I find in myself a lack of desire to feel about God. I don’t naturally place value on the importance of responding emotionally to God. And yet it’s an important part of our worship. How often do the prophets appeal to the fearsome power of God in calling His people to repentance? Before Jesus commissions Peter in John 21, He asks three times, “Do you love me?” And all three times, Jesus calls Peter to care for His church as Peter affirms His love for Jesus. Paul urges us to rejoice in the Lord always (Phil 4:4). The truth is that knowing something is never enough to drive us to action. We must feel. It’s hard for me to love God with all my heart.

When you take a brief skim through scripture, you notice that the bible calls us to worship using a number of genres. Poetry calls on rich imagery and relatable metaphors to inspire us to worship, narratives remind us to worship in reflecting on God’s faithfulness to His people, theologies explain the need for worship through drawing on philosophy and reason, and commands teach us to worship through providing examples and concrete actions. Not being intentional to love God with everything opens the door for idols to rest in our heart and to steal our worship. When I’m not loving God with my mind, the foundation of my worship is removed and can be shaken by the moral philosophies of our society. When I’m not loving God with my strength, my worship grows lazy and ineffective and subject to moods and circumstances. When I’m not loving God with my soul, my worship grows tired and stale as my source becomes emotional experiences from years ago rather than ongoing intimacy with God through Jesus. When I’m not loving God with my heart, my worship becomes legalism as I’m no longer enjoying God but simply trying to do enough to please Him.

These aspects of love do not function in isolation. The truth is that love is not complete unless all our faculties are engaged in the act of love. My passion for knowledge is pursued through the things that I do and my reflections teach me how to apply theology. My emotional response to God is informed by knowledge of Him and in gratitude for the things I can do. To neglect loving God in any one domain is to restrict the expression of love in the others.

Loving God like this is beyond our ability. It’s the perfect harmonization of internal motivation and external action. One without the other is incomplete.

Holiness is total consecration to God and anything less is simply unacceptable (Leviticus 19:2, Matthew 5:48, Joshua 24:19). There are no part marks with God. We need God’s grace. Grace goes beyond getting us saved, but to maintaining our salvation (Galatians 3:3, Philippians 1:6). So how do we learn to love God more? For this I turn to what has become my favorite verse in the bible, 2 Corinthians 3:18 which reads, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Our job is to continue looking into the glory of the Lord, and He transforms us. I struggle with loving God with all my heart and all my soul and with all my mind and with all my strength, and so I turn to scripture. I am choosing to read and meditate on Psalms as they seem to naturally draw out reflective and emotional responses in me. I’m not planning to work harder to love God. That would be foolishness. I simply want to do what He’s asked me to do: Look to Him.