Theology

Where is God?

 “Since Evil and Suffering exist, a Loving God cannot.”

After watching God’s Not Dead and doing a post about it, I’ve refocused on my personal study of Apologetics.  I recently picked up The Case for Faith by Atheist turned Christian, Lee Strobel.  The subtitle reads “A Journalist Investigates the toughest Objections to Christianity”  The table of contents is lain out with what are considered the eight strongest arguments against God.  The first chapter and the chapter I’m on is “Since Evil and Suffering exist, a Loving God cannot.”

The Problem of Evil

Greek Philosophers debated this thousands of years ago, and is the primary reason Charles Templeton, contemporary of Billy Graham and fellow evangelist, abandoned the Christian faith, and spend the rest of his life writing and speaking against Theism.  Strobel tells his own stories of travelling as a journalist, seeing starving families in his home town of Chicago, while he lived in comfort in is townhouse, and seeing abandoned and diseased boy while travelling in India.  Why? Where is God?  Those are legitimate questions.  When you look at all the pain in this world it’s heartbreaking, but sadly we then go back to cute cat videos on Youtube to ease our empathy, forgetting about those whom God has seemingly forgotten.

Why Doesn’t God do Anything?

Why doesn’t he?  Why don’t we do anything? I’m not writing today about defending God against “the problem of evil” argument.  There are plenty of well written responses; Lee Strobel being one, Ravi Zacharias being another.  You either find the Christian response reasonable or you don’t.  I write today because we, as followers of Jesus Christ, are supposed to be his hands and his feet (1 Corinthians 12), Christ’s ambassadors to this world.

Templeton said that the moment he gave up belief in a loving God, was when he saw a picture of an African woman, holding her dead son in her arms.  The reason was drought.  A drought had devastated that region.  Templeton’s thought was simple, “Rain! All you had to do was send rain!”  I don’t care how strong your faith is, that shakes it.

You may consider this a “cop-out” answer but I believe that God created this world to run like a clock.  Sin fundamentally broke this clock.  This is where, hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, and all types of disasters come from.  It’s not necessarily God’s wrath smiting a godless New Orleans (As some have said about Katrina), but rather God’s continued judgement against a world full of sin.  You see, in scripture you have almost a paradox between God’s grace and God’s wrath.  In God’s love and grace, Jesus Christ absorbed God’s wrath on the cross.  So when you hear people say “God is Love” you must also remember “God is Wrath.”   An uncomfortable and unpopular concept, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Human Responsibility

Now, it’s easy for me to sit in my nice office in front of a laptop and say this, but I’m going to do it anyway.  Why didn’t Templeton with all of his influence that he had as one of the leading evangelicals in the world, use his influence to bring relief to those suffering in Africa?  Isn’t that the Christian thing to Do?  The Bible says from the beginning Mankind was given primary authority and responsibility to govern this world. Think about it, how is the Gospel spread?  Through people sharing?  Why didn’t Jesus just appear to everyone after his resurrection?  Because this is our world, God expects us to play a part in fixing it.  If we are “God’s Children” and he is our father it makes since.  You can pick up your child’s room for them, fix their mistakes while they play video games, or you can teach them how to do these things and help them.  I think this is part of why God doesn’t just automatically fix every evil, how else would we learn?

So next time you or I are presented with the evil of human suffering, instead of “asking where is God?” Why don’t we ask ourselves “How should I as a follower of Jesus bring about healing?”  Didn’t Jesus come to save, heal, and restore?  If he is our example shouldn’t we do the same?  Maybe God wants to use us to fix the evil in the this world.

Personally, I’m selfish.  I lack compassion.  Our recent Sunday School lesson was over generosity.  To begin this lesson everyone was given a piece of paper and told “You’ve just been given 1 Million dollars, what would you do?”  I listed several things, nothing frivolous (Pay off debt, buy a car with less than 150,000 miles on it, etc). Nowhere on my list was giving money away to help people.  The truth is if most of us were given 1 Million dollars we could give every dime of it away to those in real need, and never miss a meal, never lack shelter, never lack clothing, never lack anything.

So in the light of human suffering
Where is God?
Where are you?
Where am I?
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Categories: Apologetics, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God’s Not Dead – My Take

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Right off the bat, let me just say that this is one of the better “Christian” movies I’ve seen.  It had a great story line and had a clear message.  Unlike some other films in this genre it presented Christ and the Gospel clearly without sounding forced and preachy.

Let’s get a few things out of the way.

I’ve taken philosophy classes, read both atheistic and theistic philosophy but spend most of my time in the study of Theology.  Philosophy literally means: Philo (Love) sophy (wisdom). Theology means: Theos (God) logy (study of), “the study of God.”  I’m a Christian and I’m a Pastor, so I believe Proverbs 9:10 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. (Proverbs 9:10 ESV).”  So for me Theology is the highest form of philosophy.  Now you know my bias.

Next I will concede that a college freshman would not be able to debate an experienced college professor.  The level of experience and knowledge on the subject just makes this impractical.  As a side note I enjoyed “debating” my philosophy professor in college, he also was my Theology professor.  Let’s just say he’d heard all of my brilliant arguments for years and knew how to put me in my place.

Also, while possible, I doubt that any College professor would coerce a student into signing a paper denying the existence of a God, or a “debate” being set up in this format.  Do some Atheistic philosophy professors attack Christianity and theism in the classroom?  Yes they do, some border on militant, some are militant against Christianity.  There are even documented cases of this hostility.  You can click here to view some legal cases involving religious liberty on college campuses.  The plot of this movie was chosen because it made a better, faster, and more exciting story.  All movies do this so get over it.  (Tom Bombidil anyone?!)

Let’s Get Down to Business

Believing in God doesn’t make you an idiotic redneck who is scared of learning anything.  Not believing in God doesn’t make you stupid either. Although, “the fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God'” – Psalm 14:1 (sorry, I couldn’t resist).  I’ve met very smart people with “alphabet soup” behind their names from prestigious universities, are tenured scientists, and devout Christians.  I’ve also met some fairly ignorant people who are also devout Christians.  And I can say the same for Atheists.  I think we’d get a lot further in our conversations if both theists and atheists would stop stereotyping each other as idiots.  Maybe this is just my bias, but it often feels theists are more often portrayed as the idiots and atheists are the “intellectuals.”

In the movie, Professor Radison says, “most of the most devoted atheists were once Christians.”  I wonder why?  Maybe it’s just that our culture has been primarily influenced by the Judeo-Christian worldview.  But I’ve never heard of a former Muslim who is a militant atheist, or a former Hindu who is a militant atheist.  That’s something to think about.  Radison then tells the student, Josh Weaton, about losing his mother to cancer when he was 12.

If you are an Atheist and are reading this, I would honestly like to know your story on how you became an Atheist.  Please share in the comments.

I’m a Christian, so obviously we disagree.  I ask for your story not to tear you down or have a debate that leads to name calling.  I’m curious.  From my bias and experience, most of the Atheists I’ve met became Atheists because of some trauma or tragedy.  That has little to do with “scientific proofs” and more to do with emotion than “facts.” What happened?  This movie paints a picture that Atheists, especially those who are “former Christians” are actually so angry at God, or hurt from some past trauma that they decide that God simply cannot exist.  I find that an interesting concept.  There seems to be a correlation, so is this true for you?

For the Christians, you can have all the clever arguments in the world for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity and still be a complete Jerk.

I enjoy the mental exercise of defending Christianity.  This is called Apologetics in the Christian world.  Apologetics is not apologizing for you beliefs, but goes to the Greek root which means “to give a defense.” I enjoy science, and like learning.  For me it’s very important to know not only what I believe, but why I believe it.  But as the Apostle Paul says “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-2 ESV).”  Christians should be defined by love.  I don’t believe that people are “won over” to Christianity by clever arguments for the existence of God, I think they are won over by love, compassion, and forgiveness.  The Holy Spirit brings about change and salvation in a person’s life, not you not me, we are just called to bear witness.

I think the study of Apologetics is more for believers than for non-believers.  Faith is a fickle thing, look at the life of Peter, he had enough faith in Jesus to walk on water with him, if only for a moment.  Then he denied even knowing Jesus, after all he had seen all Jesus’s miracles.  I’ve seen and experienced Jesus do powerful things, I’ve even devoted my life to teaching others about Jesus Christ, but there are times when my faith is weak.  Apologetics, studying all the evidence for God, and seeing his Majesty as Creator and King of this universe builds up my faith.

I share this verse with my youth often: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”(1 Peter 3:15 ESV).  There are three things that I like to point out in this verse.  The first is that Jesus is Lord.  Jesus is the ruler of our lives as his disciples and as Christians.  Second, we need to be prepared to share our faith and hope in Jesus.  This means knowing what we believe as Christians and why.  This involves sharing the Gospel, and the field of Apologetics.  The Greek root for apologetics is the word translated “to make a defense” in this verse. The third thing to notice, is the emphasis on both gentleness and respect.  If we’re not going to be respectful and loving to people we have no business calling ourselves Christians.  There is a big difference in speaking the truth of scripture and disagreeing with someone’s chosen beliefs and lifestyle, and being hateful, belittling, and unloving.

Jesus came to save you from your sin

To the Atheist reading this, to the agnostic, to the whatever you are.  I believe that there is a God that created this entire universe. I believe that He created mankind in his image and likeness.  I believe that God gave mankind freewill to obey him or disobey him, and that we chose disobedience (ie sin).  I believe that sin has broken this world, sin is the root cause for death and all the evils that are in this world.  I believe that God is just and will punish sin.  I believe that God is loving and merciful and offered up his only Son, Jesus Christ to die on a Cross in your place and my place to pay the price for our sin.  I believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and is alive and is ready and able to forgive our sin, and give us a new life if we ask him.  I believe that no matter how screwed up you think you are, the power of Jesus can save you, all you have to do is ask him.  This is what I believe

GOD’S NOT DEAD

[It’s 1:40am, I don’t feel like proof reading this, I’ll fix any typos tomorrow. Forgive me]

Categories: Apologetics, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

I am afraid of this indisputable pro-choice argument

This is a brilliant answer to the most disturbing argument for abortion I’ve ever heard. – from Matt Walsh.

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Why I like teaching through books of the Bible

open-bibleFor the last year and a half I have been teaching through the book of Hebrews.  I just finished chapter 6.   I teach through books of the Bible at a snail’s pace for several reasons, if you don’t that is OK, God still loves you…probably.  It’s not the only way to teach the Bible but some would say it’s “the only right way.”

(Disclaimer, I don’t think verse-by-verse teaching is the only right way to teach the Bible, I just prefer it)

I’m going to outline four reasons that I prefer teaching verse by verse through books of the Bible

Reason 1: It’s how I learned the Bible

The first is from my formative years as a follower of Jesus.  I was saved by grace my senior year of high school.  It was then I started attending church regularly again (I grew up going to Sunday School, but had stopped at the start of High School).  I became a little frustrated by the discontinuity of our youth lessons that were mostly topical.  I wanted to know how the Bible fit together and the overarching narrative, not just random tidbits.  I had decided that I would read through the Bible starting from the beginning to see who God really was for myself, and was getting a little bogged down in Leviticus.  I needed someone to teach me how to study the Bible, and a purely topical approach with fancy handouts, wasn’t doing it for me.  

When I started college I went to a BIG church that ran over 3000 on a Sunday morning.  It was a little overwhelming since there were only 43 people in my senior class and 587 on the population sign.  But something happened Sunday after Sunday that I had never experienced.  The preacher was preaching verse by verse through a book of the Bible (I think it was 1 Peter).  He was tying the whole book together, week after week.  The whole church operated that way.  The college small groups spent the semester going trough a book of the Bible.  To me it was amazing, and it taught me to see Scripture as part of a whole.  The single verse is part of a paragraph, the paragraph is part of a section, the section is part of a book, the book is part of a set (Gospel, Pauline epistle, Historical Book, etc) and that is part of the Bible.  And the Bible tells a single story, the story of God’s redemption of his creation through the Life, the Death, the Burial, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.  I’m not going to lie, when I first started teaching others about Jesus and the Bible I copied this approach.  Even today if I’m dealing with a difficult passage I can go this church’s website and search chapter and verse to see if this pastor has preached it.  (He never concerned himself with fancy titles.  His sermon title would be “John 3:16-17” and so forth.  He spent over five years in Matthew).  So the first reason, I like teaching verse by verse is that it just clicks with me, and it suits my personality.  (Here is a link to this church http://centralbcs.org/sermons if you are interested)

Reason 2: I do it for myself

My second reason is also personal.  I teach through books of the Bible for myself.  I like doing in-depth studies and many have said that “you learn more by preparing to teach than you ever do in a classroom.”  Many times it is extremely difficult to teach a section of Scripture.  I can’t keep the my audience captive for hours at a time.  And I’m not good enough of a preacher to hold their attention for hours at a time.  (Also I don’t confuse length with quality)  You have to break things down into bite size chunks, while still maintaining unity with a whole.  The first book I ever taught through was Romans.  It took me 48 sermons.  I was young, 21 years old, inexperienced, untrained, and pastoring a small rural church while attending the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor  where I got a degree in Christian Ministry & History.  A mentoring pastor told me that I should go with something easier.  “Romans, is a difficult book to teach through,” he said.  And he was right!  But it was the right thing for me.  I was forced to study, to wrestle with texts that I didn’t fully understand, theological issues that I didn’t know the proper names for, correct a lot of false assumptions, and most importantly admit that I don’t have all the answers. I read so many commentaries, had three study Bibles, it was SO hard, but entirely worth it. So selfishly. I preach through books because I grow from it.

Reason 3: I force myself to cover difficult and unpopular issues

My third reason is to force myself to cover hard issues in scripture.  Try preaching verse by verse through 1 Corinthians.  And tell me about what you do when you come across Paul telling people not to marry, about women not being allowed to speak in church, about head coverings, etc.  I don’t know about you but I’m not looking forward to that sermon, but one day I will preach through 1 Corinthians verse by verse and I’ll have to.  Taken out of context, these passages and topics have been misused to a great deal. (Ok the Bible has been twisted for evil purposes for thousands of years, see Matthew 4 when Satan misquotes scripture to Jesus.)

Some try to explain these truly difficult passages away, or ignore them.  But when you go verse by verse you maintain the historical whole of the Book, and are able to look at these difficult passages through their cultural and historical lens to see the bigger truth that God was communicating.  If you just pick and pull verses you can honestly make the Bible SEEM to say whatever you want it to.  That puts you in the same category as Satan, and that’s not a position that you or I want to put ourselves in.

Reason 4: I believe in the long run this best helps my youth.

My fourth reason is that I have a limited time with my youth.  My previous post is about how my core group will be gone in a year and a half.  That’s not much time to teach them all I think they need to know about their faith.  But if I can have them walk with me, verse by verse through a single book of the Bible, they will know that Book very well and will be able to go back to it.  At some point whether they stay in church or not they are going to face a trial.  My hope is that they will remember, “Hey, back in youth group ‘what’s-his-name’ went through Hebrews and there was a part that said something about what I’m going through.”  And, because I make everyone open a bible every week, they will be able to find Hebrews and as they read it they’ll see all the truth of God’s Word.  So the fourth reason is that I believe it helps people learn to use the Bible and learn to understand the whole chapter and verse thing.

I do not lock myself into a single method of teaching, even though I have my preferences.  

Finally I would like to say I’m not saying that this is the one and only way to teach the Bible.  We all have different personalities and gifts that God uses to bring glory to himself.  I do not exclusively teach verse by verse.  I like using the book I’m teaching through as a backdrop to work in short topical series.  For example; when I got to Hebrews 6:1 “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” (ESV).  I did a 6 week topical study called “Moving toward Maturity” and I covered some basic tenants of the faith that I felt the youth needed to know.  Back when we were studying how Jesus is greater that Moses, I spent a few weeks teaching through the story of Moses, using the Experiencing God study.  I’ll also take breaks to teach about important subjects.  I’m going to kick off the new year with the 5 Solas of the Reformation and as we head into Valentines day I’m doing a series on what the Bible teaches about marriage.  (I’ve got a lot of annoying teenage couples in my group, and 83% of people get married, so it seems like something I should make time for).   [83% is a made up stat, and is a running TV show character’s joke]

So should you teach verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible?  Absolutely, YES!  Should it be the only way you teach? NO!  I say you should because I think you personally will be edified by the effort and so will those you teach.  We should always be pushing ourselves and our congregations to grow deeper in their understanding and relationship with God, and that means doing something different from time to time.  It shouldn’t be the only way you teach because you need to know the people God has placed in your charge and teach them what they most need.  It’s really cool though when your verse by verse teaching happens to hit the right subject on just the right day for and just the right people are there to hear it.  But at the same time, if you are a born again follower of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit lives within you and gives you discernment to know what you should teach.

My hope is that if you are a Bible teacher that has never taught verse by verse through anything you will give it a shot.  If you are a fuddy-duddy who thinks that the only way to faithfully teach the Word of God is to do it verse by verse…well…um… maybe it would be better if you just unread this… and not leave mean comments.  It hurts my feelings.

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. – 2 Timothy 4:2 (ESV)
Categories: Apologetics, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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