December 2, 2010

Leadership: Character, Connection and Direction

Leadership is the ability to influence others to move in a certain direction.

There are many books filled with leadership principles and long lists of the qualities that make for a good leader: courage, vision, compassion, perseverance, and the list continues.  Others have lists about what a leader is and what a leader does.  But in my thinking about leadership I have come to the conclusion that all these attributes and axioms can be grouped under three heads.   A person's effectiveness as a leader will be determined by (1) character, (2) connection, and (3) direction.  All leadership qualities fit under one of these categories, and each of them is essential.  No one will be an effective leader who is strong in only one or two of these areas. 

Character

Leaders lead others. They exert influence. This influence is driven by the power of their character. A leader's character is their strength to pull others toward a goal. A train with no engine goes nowhere. Weak character is like a puny train engine, but strong character is a mighty engine.  The Lord told Joshua, "Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people" (Joshua 1:6).  To grow as a leader you must consistently develop traits such as integrity, courage, honesty, initiative, humility, consistency and perseverance.  You cannot grow as a leader without the hard work of focusing on the growth of your own moral character.

Connection

It has been said that if you think you lead but no one is following, you're just going for a walk.  A driven visionary who sets forth on his own is not a leader unless there are other people he is causing to move with him.  By definition you cannot be a leader on your own.  Connection is like the coupler on a train that connects the engine to the cars.  Without connection the strongest engine is a worthless leader.  This is why leaders cannot be self-oriented or isolated.  Connection grows through relationships with people as you care about them, pour time and energy into them, and cast your lot with them.  Think of the connection that Joshua had with the people of Israel after spending 40 years wandering the desert with them.

Direction

Not all good leaders are good leaders.  Hitler was a good leader, but not a good leader.  In Numbers 13 most of the leaders were successful in influencing the people... to disobey the Lord by not moving forward to take the Promised Land.  Thus you can have powerful character (or a sort) and an iron connection to everyone around you but fail miserably as a leader because you influenced them in the wrong direction.  Leaders need to have a vision of the right goal and they need to know the wisest way to get there.  This is why God told Joshua, "Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.  Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; mediate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful" (Joshua 1:7-8). 

People follow leaders when they want to go where the leader is going.  Make sure you are heading to the best destination and inspire others to come with you.

There is a lot more to say about leadership.  In a recent series of talks, I was able to pull several dozen bullet points on leadership from the passages I was working with.  However I wanted to find something simple and memorable that would tie everything together.  What I came up with was character, connection, and direction illustrated by a train.  If this is helpful to anyone reading this, I am glad!  I realize that some of these qualities often amplify each other; for example good character should help strengthen connection with others.  Still, I haven't been able to think of any leadership quality or principle that doesn't fall under one of these three heads.  However I want to test this hypothesis, so if you can think of something, let me know! 


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October 30, 2010

Martin Luther and Anfechtungen

For all you who love both the Reformation and techno-industrial music, here is something I put together that I think all five of you will enjoy.


Happy Reformation Day!

September 30, 2010

Just Like Earth?


an artist's interpretation of the
newly discovered planet,
complete with visible oceans
(of which there is no evidence)
Are we alone in the universe?  Is earth nothing all that special?

There is an assumption by many naturalists that since there is life on earth, life must be easy to come by.  But for life to be easy to come by, you need planets that are at least potentially capable of developing life.  The problem is that we haven't found any.  Out of the 500 planets that have been found outside our galaxy, none of them have been found to be enough like earth to potentially support life.  Gas giants in close rotation to their stars just won't work. 

But it is now claimed that this this has all changed.  A planet "just like earth" has been found.

In a recent article AP science writer Seth Borenstein describes the recent discovery of a earth-like planet by astronomers R. Paul Butler and Steven Vogt.  The article states:
Astronomers say they have for the first time spotted a planet beyond our own in what is sometimes called the Goldilocks zone for life: Not too hot, not too cold. Juuuust right.

Not too far from its star, not too close. So it could contain liquid water. The planet itself is neither too big nor too small for the proper surface, gravity and atmosphere.

It's just right. Just like Earth.
Well, maybe not.  Before you head up to the roof to wait for the Vulcans to beam you up, let's think through some of the details in this particular article.  If anything, this is a good opportunity to notice how facts are sometimes presented in a way to lead people to a conclusion that is assumed ahead of time.  For example, in this article there are a few things that you might find strange. 

Strange comparison

Just like earth?

This new planet is three times the mass of earth and much closer to its star.  While earth is 93 million miles away from our yellow star, this planet is 14 million miles away from Gliese 581, a red dwarf star.  The planet, "g" orbits Gliese 581 every 37 days.  Because it is so close to the star the planet's orbit is locked so that it does not rotate.  One side is constantly exposed to the sun with estimated temperatures, according to this article, of 160 degrees and the other side always away from the sun with temperatures of negative 25. This means that the best chances life supporting temperatures and for liquid water--if there is any water--would be at the thin rim between the permanent-night half and the permanent-day half... just like earth.

In The Privileged Planet, Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards point out many of the problems for a planet with a close orbit around a M dwarf star, the coolest type of dwarf stars.  The dark side of the planet would act as a cold trap "not unlike cold traps used in vacuum pump systems to extract water from the air" and would eventually trap and freeze all the water--if there was any--on the planet's cold dark side, leaving the bright side hot and dry (133-4).  The thin rim between the two halves would experience indirect and weak starlight which would only leave a potential for very weak biological productivity.  Further, M dwarf stars exhibit flares just like our sun.  Fortunately for us, we are 93 million miles away rather than only 14 million miles away. 

Strange math

Out of the other 500 planets outside of our solar system that have been found, this is the first one that seems to be somewhere in the habitable zone.  Yet the article later states that, "Vogt and Butler ran some calculations, with giant fudge factors built in, and figured that as much as one out of five to 10 stars in the universe have planets that are Earth-sized and in the habitable zone."  That is 10 to 20% of all stars!  Yet none of the other 500 planets discovered so far are potentially habitable. 

These astronomers seem more influenced by the "Principle of Mediocrity" than by actual data on hand.  The Principle of Mediocrity is the assumption that earth is a fairly ordinary planet orbiting a fairly ordinary star, thus there must be a countless number of life supporting planets out there as well.  On the contrary, others such as Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee, the authors of Rare Earth, discuss the multitude of factors that are needed for a planet to be even potentially life-supporting.  These include everything from being the right distance from the right star, in the right part of the right type of galaxy, with the right mass, plate tectonics, a large moon, liquid water, the right tilt, the right atmosphere, the right amount of giant impacts, and many more.  If any of these have a factor of zero, the chances for potential life to develop on that planet is zero.  Factored together, the odds are so miniscule that even with billions of galaxies with billions of stars, we should be surprised that there is even one planet in the universe that is capable of supporting life. 

Yet according to Vogt and Butler's calculations the odds are 10 to 20% for each star.  Perhaps the "giant fudge factors" had something to do with that?  Magic fudge, after all, is the essential ingredient for life.

Strange optimism

These astronomers deeply want to believe that earth-like planets are common and that life evolves easily.  If not, that might seem to suggest some sort of intelligent designer for the planet earth and human life, and that is not a popular option in some circles. 

Here is the most amazing part of the article.  You don't need the Hubble telescope to see the galaxy-size presupposition in this paragraph:
It's unknown whether water actually exists on the planet, and what kind of atmosphere it has. But because conditions are ideal for liquid water, and because there always seems to be life on Earth where there is water, Vogt believes "that chances for life on this planet are 100 percent."
This astronomer is actually telling us that if there is water there is a 100% chance there will be life.  That means that if there is water, there is 0.00% chance of not finding life!  Why?  Because there seems to be life everywhere on earth where there is water, of course. 

And as Vogt is quoted as saying, ""It's pretty hard to stop life once you give it the right conditions."

You see, once you start with the assumption that there is no intelligent designer, then since life does exist we know that it must be easy to come by.  The logic is as tight and circular as this planet's orbit around Gliese 581.

Also notice that the artist's rendering of planet g shows it complete with oceans.  I've seen some news reports now that haven't even mentioned that this is merely an artist's interpretation.  It gives people the impression that we've actually been able to see the planet through a telescope.  That isn't the case.  Astronomers detect these planets by noticing the periodic dimming of the star because of the planet passing in front of it blocking some of the light. 

Keep Looking

In April of 2007 Gliese 581c, another planet orbiting this same star, was hailed as an earth like planet in the Goldilocks zone.  However it was later concluded that planet c would have runaway greenhouse conditions like Venus, making it an impossible host for life.  The conclusion about planet g might end up the same.  But if and when that happens, I doubt that it will make any headlines.  (Do you remember any headlines when planet c was discredited?)  All of this leaves the public with the impression that earth like planets are a dime a dozen. 

Let's keep looking to see what can be discovered, but don't assume ahead of time that earth is not something special.

September 2, 2010

Universe, Create Thyself

Very smart people can say things that make no sense.  For example, Stephen Hawking is reported to have written in his new book The Grand Design, "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. . ."  Because of this, a Creator God is redundant and unnecessary. 

Hawking is dealing with the deep question of why there is something rather than nothing. This question is more profound and troubling that it may first appear.  If something--anything--exists, then we are forces to ask why it exists.  Things would be much simpler if nothing existed.  But since things do exist, what is the sufficient cause of everything?

Hawking's book doesn't come out until next week, but for now let's look at some of the difficulties in the quotation above.  (1) It violates the law of non-contradiction to say that the universe created itself.  (2) If the laws of gravity exist, then it is not true that nothing exists.

First, Hawking states that the universe created itself.  This cannot be true because it violates the law of non-contradiction.  This law states that something cannot be both A and not-A at the same time and with the same meaning.  For example, a bird cannot be dead and not-dead at the same time and in the same way.  It can be both of these in different times and different ways, but not at the same time and in the same way.

So, in order for the universe to create itself it would have to exist and not exist at the same time and in the same way. Why? If the universe needs to be created, then it must not exist. This is obvious, because if it already existed at that time, then it didn't need to be created.  But if it doesn't exists, then it can't do anything since it isn't around to do anything.  Nothing can't do anything!  So for the universe to create itself, it would need to exist and not-exist at the same time and in the same way, which is impossible.

Second, Hawking states that the universe can create itself from nothing "[b]ecause there is a law such as gravity. . ."  But how does the law of gravity exist if nothing exists?  If the law of gravity exists, then how can someone say that nothing exists, since at least this law exists?  Is there a sufficient reason for this law to exist?  And even if the law of gravity exists--without anything at all to act upon--how does help get anything going at all?

If you are looking for reasons to push God out of your mind, you can take comfort in the fact that an incredibly smart person like Stephen Hawking has said that God isn't necessary.  But please be aware that for whatever reasons, very smart people can say things that make no sense.

September 1, 2010

Eric vs. the Volcano

Last year at school one kid from Eric's kindergarten class ot to bring home Eeyore the stuffed donkey. They were supposed to take some pictures and write about what they did over the weekend and bring it back the next week for the teacher to read to the class. This is what we wrote:


Today is Eric's seventh birthday, so I post these today in honor of him.

August 8, 2010

A Long Time Ago...

Today is our twelfth wedding anniversary, and why yes, we did have Han Solo and Princess Leia on the top of our wedding cake.

Hope also agreed to walk down the aisle to the Throne Room March from the end of Star Wars: A New Hope.  Wow, I love her!

August 5, 2010

When Do Children Do the Best?

This week a United States district court ruled against California’s Proposition 8 which specified marriage as being between one man and one woman. Among other problematic statements, the court asserted in it’s “finding of facts” that “Children raised by gay or lesbian parents are as likely as children raised by heterosexual parents to be healthy, successful and well-adjusted. The research supporting this conclusion is accepted beyond serious debate in the field of developmental psychology” (finding #70, p. 95). This is a misleading and incorrect assertion.  Children with same-sex parents are statistically much more prone to have behavioral and psychological problems compared to children being raised by two biological parents.

Numerous studies have consistently shown that children do best when being raised by two biological parents.  This is documented “not in tens or hundreds but in thousands of published studies over the past decades.”1 For example, Timothy J. Biblarz and Greg Gottainer in the Journal of Marriage and the Family report that “Evidence over the past 30 years shows that children raised in single-parent households generally have lower average levels of psychological well-being and socioeconomic achievement than those raised by two biological parents.”Sociologist James Q. Wilson wrote, “Almost everyone—a few retrograde scholars excepted—agrees that children in mother-only homes suffer harmful consequences: the best studies show that these youngsters are more likely than those in two-parent families to be suspended from school, have emotional problems, become delinquent, suffer from abuse, and take drugs.” Although some of the difference can be explained by income, “[T]he rest of the difference is explained by a mother living without a husband.”3

Same-sex advocates often point to a 2002 technical report made by the American Academy of Pediatrics which stated that, “a growing body of scientific literature demonstrates that children who grow up with 1 or 2 gay or lesbian parents fare as well in emotional, cognitive, social, and sexual functioning as do children whose parents are heterosexual.”4  However, this report produced by an eight-member committee received the strongest negative reaction from its members on any issue. The report also cautioned that, “The small and non-representative samples studied and the relatively young age of most of the children suggest some reserve.”

Importantly, although the AAP report states that these children do “as well as” children in heterosexual homes, the comparison is actually being made between children in same-sex households and “stepfamilies formed after heterosexual couples divorce”.5 Thus it is highly misleading to give the impression that children raised in same-sex households do as well as children raised with their biological mother and father.

There are exceptions, but unfortunately stepfamilies are statistically associated with a host of serious behavioral and emotional problems, equal to or greater than the problems of children in single-parent families. One researcher concluded, “The best strategy for dealing with them is to do everything possible to minimize their occurrence.”6 Judith Wallerstein, in her twenty-five-year study concluded that children from divorced and remarried families are more aggressive toward parents and teachers, experience more depression, have more learning difficulties, have more problems with their peers, are two to three times more likely to be referred for psychological help, more often end up in mental health clinics and hospital settings, have earlier sexual activity, more children out of wedlock, less marriage, and more divorce.7

If children raised in homes with same-sex parents “closely resemble stepfamilies formed after heterosexual couples divorce” this does not indicate a healthy environment for these children. On the contrary, the sharp difference between stepfamilies/same-sex families and families with intact biological parents is so striking that the AAP report actually confirms that strengthening heterosexual marriage is in the best interest of children. We must remember, “It is not just marriage between any two adults that benefits children, but the marriage of their own mothers and fathers.”8

Since it is to the benefit of society for marriages to be strong since children do best in all aspects of life when raised by their natural father and mother, it would be wrong for society not to treat these unions specially. As Allan Carlson comments:

To extend the same honor and special benefits [of marriage] to gay and lesbian couples (or, by logical extension, to bisexual arrangements and ‘polyamorous’ households) undoes, by definition, the very point of granting special status. If all group living arrangements enjoy equal ‘honor’ and ‘special benefits,’ then no arrangement has recognizable honor or special status. And in this case, the only proven, effective incubator of new and healthy human life would be cast aside as merely another lifestyle choice.9
Although advocates of same-sex marriage insist that same-sex marriage would not devalue heterosexual marriage, James Spiegel likens this to giving the purple heart to all military personnel who see battle, not just those who are wounded or killed. Whatever the intent, this would necessarily devalue the special significance of the Purple Heart. Spiegel argues that to deny the special social value of what has special social value is unjust; therefore, gay marriage is unjust.10 There is something special about the time-honored arrangement of marriage as being a man and a woman. We are not doing children or our country a service by devaluing it.

1 Glenn T. Stanton and Bill Maier, Marriage on Trial: The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage and Parenting (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 73.
2 Timothy J. Biblarz and Greg Gottainer, “Family Structure and Children’s Success: A Comparison of Widowed and Divorced Single-Mother Families,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 62 (May 2000): 534.
3 James Q. Wilson, “Why We Don’t Marry,” City Journal, Winter 2002, < http://www.city-journal.org/html/12_1_why_we.html>
4 Ellen C. Perrin, “Technical Report: Coparent and Second-Parent Adoption by Same-Sex Parents,” Pediatrics 109, no. 2 (2002):341.
5 Perrin, “Technical Report,” 341.
6 David Popenoe, quoted in Stanton and Maier, Marriage on Trial, 83.
7 Judith Wallerstein, quoted in Stanton and Maier, Marriage on Trial, 86.
8 Stanton and Maier, Marriage on Trial, 109. Emphasis added.
9 Allan C. Carlson, Conjugal America: On the Public Purposes of Marriage (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2007), 112. Carlson also states, “. . . public policy on marriage must be built on this ideal family structure, and not on some lowest common denominator” (44).
10 James S. Spiegel, “Why Gay Marriage is Unjust,” Paper delivered at the National Meeting of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, New Orleans, Louisiana, November, 2009.

July 25, 2010

Is God to Blame for My Daughter's Birth Defect?

Today my daughter Zoe turns four year old. The following is something I wrote shortly after she was born:

Sometime about three weeks after conception—before my wife even knew she was pregnant—the small ribbon inside her that should have become our baby’s spine didn’t form correctly. By the time we found out about the spinal bifida, the damage was already done. When the specialist told us there was very little chance that our unborn child would ever be able to walk without assistance I got clammy and lightheaded and I had to sit down. I felt like all my blood had just evaporated.

The car was very quiet as I drove my wife home. By God’s grace, she was being very strong. I was having a harder time. Suddenly a thought ran in front of my mind. “Did God plan this? Some people would say that if God is responsible for this then He is to blame for this.”

Rewind one year: I had just finished my master’s thesis on God’s sovereignty, using Jonathan Edwards’ Freedom of the Will to critique openness theology. One openness theology book is titled Is God to Blame? Its author, Gregory Boyd, says no. God does not know the future until it happens. God does not plan our pain and suffering. If they were part of God’s plan, then God would be to blame for them. We can’t get God off the hook by appealing to some higher purpose that supposedly makes pain acceptable. Boyd writes, “If every evil event could have been avoided had God so willed, how are we to avoid thinking of God as a conspirator in evil?” (Boyd, 56.)

This was the theology I had examined and rejected. After years of studying this subject, I had come to some settled conclusions. But now it wasn’t abstract. Theology can look different when you are driving home after a doctor’s appointment.

As I drove, the question suddenly divided like the lanes in front of me. Is God responsible? Is He to blame? There are two questions, not one. “Is God responsible?” is not the same question as “Is God to blame?”

Was God responsible for the spinal bifida? Did He plan it? Yes. Was God to blame? No.

Yes, God was in control of my baby’s problem. God has revealed too much in His Word for me to believe anything else. If a sparrow can’t fall without his permission, how can a human be born paralyzed apart from His ordination? I couldn’t deny God’s sovereign plan just because I didn’t like part of it.

But was God to blame? No. Definitely no! That is a completely different question. Being blamed for something means having done something wrong. It means being blameworthy.

Thus Greg Boyd and I agree that God is not to blame for my child’s birth defect—but for different reasons. Open theists say it is because God does not control the situation. I say it is because God has done nothing wrong. God has committed no fault. As I continued to drive, I felt indignation—not at God, but at the idea of accusing God of guilt.

God knows what He is doing with our lives. I’ve heard some say not to throw Romans 8:28 at people in pain. They say it’s glib, insensitive, and unhelpful. Now, we need to be careful how we use Scripture to counsel people—but isn’t it true that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose? Painful times are when we need God’s truth the most. The promises of God are not placeboes. They are only glib clich├ęs when they are not believed. When believed, they are a fortress.

Pain and tragedy force Christians to ask ourselves if we really believe what we say we believe. Be sure of what you believe before hurt hits home. To do otherwise is like waiting until the car crash to strap your seat belt.

As the c-section grew closer I grew in experiential—not just theoretical—knowledge of God’s providence and goodness. I pray that Zoe might someday be able to walk, but even more that she would walk with Christ. I don’t know God’s plan, but it is up to Him to decide how He wants to be glorified. I don’t say this as if it’s not hard. God knows it’s hard. The Father is no stranger to the pain parents experience when their children suffer. My daughter was born with a hole in her back. God’s Son was born to have holes in His hands and feet.


July 19, 2010

Death is Such an Ugly Enemy

This is an excellent section from D.A. Carson's book Scandalous.  John 11:33 says that when Jesus saw Mary and others weeping over Lazarus' death He was "deeply moved" in His spirit.  Carson stresses that the phrase “deeply moved” really should be translated as “outraged” because the language communicates anger.  Part of what Jesus was experiencing was anger.  Jesus was angry because death is always ultimately because of sin, the ultimate tragedy. Although God brings good out of the death of a believer, death itself is something evil.  Carson writes:

“There is a compassion in these tears, but there is also outrage. Jesus is outraged not because he has lost a friend but because of death itself. Death is such an ugly enemy. It generates endless and incalculable anguish. And for anyone steeped in the entire biblical heritage, death itself is a mark of sin. How is death introduced to the [human] race? Death itself is nothing other than God’s insistence that human hubris [prideful arrogance] will go so far and no farther. It is God’s judicial response to our warped rebellion. Whether death afflicts us at five or ten or thirty or fifty or seventy or eighty years, it comes and it is implacable [it can not be bribed away]. We are sinners, and we will die. Every time there is death, it still hurts. It is still painful. It is still ugly. And it is still the result of sin. This is not the way God made the creation in the first place. Jesus is outraged by the whole thing. He is outraged by the death that has called forth this loss, by the sin that lies behind that, and by the unbelief that characterizes everyone’s response to it. . . [The Bible] dares to recognize death as the last enemy. Death is an enemy, and it can be a fierce one. Death is not normal when you look at it from the vantage point of what God created in the first place. It is normal this side of the fall, but that is not saying much. It is an enemy. It is ugly. It destroys relationships. It is to be feared. It is repulsive. There is something odious about death. Never pretend otherwise. But death does not have the last word. It is the last enemy, but more to be feared is the second death. Thank God for a Savior who could claim, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’” (132-2.)

July 7, 2010

What Would Jesus Say to an Agnostic?

What's An Agnostic?

Every person is either a theist, an atheist, or an agnostic depending on how you answer the question, "Does God Exist?" These terms come from Greek.

Theos = God
a = no
Gnosis = knowledge

Therefore…
Theist: believes God exists
Atheist: believes God doesn’t exist*
Agnostic: doesn’t know if God exists


Two Types of Agnostics
There are two types of agnostics. So, if you claim to be an agnostic, which kind are you? One kind of agnostic personally doesn't know if God exists or not, but the other kind also believes that no one can possibly know!


"Can't Know" agnostics believe not only that they don’t know if God exists, but that no one can possibly know. They believe that because God is beyond this world there is no way we could find out anything about Him even if He did exist. But is this right? How can they be sure that no one can know if God exists? First, it is a contradiction to say that we can't know anything about God. If someone says that God is completely unknowable, they are saying that there is at least one thing that we can know about God… that He is unknowable. But if we know this about God, then He really isn’t completely unknowable! Second, even if it is true that there is no way that we can gain knowledge of God from our end, there is no reason why God couldn't make Himself known to us. We may not be able to peer through the "great divide" but an all-powerful God would have no problem making Himself known to us if He wanted to. Third, I believe that there have been times in history where God has made Himself known. Just because they don't know doesn’t mean that other people can't know.

So, I don’t think it is a good idea to be a "can’t know" agnostic. But what about "don’t know" agnostics? If you’re a "don’t know" agnostic, here is the main thing I want to ask you… When are you going to find out!?


What Would Jesus Say?
Now, I don't really know exactly what Jesus would say to each agnostic. People are different and I am sure that Jesus would say different things to different people depending on what is in their heart and what they need to hear. But on the other hand, Jesus doesn't contradict Himself. He might say different things to different people, but He wouldn't say contradictory things to different people. Also, Jesus taught that He was God and that the Bible was God’s Word, so Jesus would agree with everything that the Bible teaches. So, although we might not know exactly what Jesus would say to each individual agnostic, we can know, from the Bible, for certain what He could say. Therefore, if you are an agnostic, the following are five things that Jesus might say to you. All of them are true and I hope you spend some time thinking about them.

1. If you doubt, find out!
There weren't too many agnostics around in Bible days. Almost everyone believed in God or gods. (The only question was, which one?) However, I think that what Jesus said to Thomas would apply to agnostics. After Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after being put to death, He appeared to his disciples. Thomas wasn't there at the time, but the other apostles told him about it. But Thomas doubted. He said, "Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger were the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." (See John 20:20-29)

Thomas has his doubts. Jesus told him to examine the evidence. Yes, Jesus said, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" but he didn’t stop Thomas from examining the evidence. In fact, He commanded Thomas to do touch His wound, and to stop doubting and believe.

No, Jesus isn't going to appear to you to touch, but that doesn’t mean that there is no evidence out there for you to examine. No one will be able to stand before God and claim that they didn’t believe because of lack of evidence. I think God will ask, "Oh? How hard did you try to find out?" There are great books. There are people you can talk to. If you are honestly seeking to find out, there is enough evidence out there for you. If you doubt; find out!

2. I have revealed Myself to mankind in and through the Scriptures.
God has not kept Himself hidden. He has revealed Himself to mankind, especially through Jesus Christ. The Bible is truth from God and it is a record of the times God has shown Himself. John 20:30-31 says, "Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name." The Bible was written to bring people to belief. There is something very powerful about God’s Word. Seek Him there. The Gospel of John is a good place to start. It specifically said that it was written so that you would believe that Jesus Christ is who He claimed to be, God in flesh.

3. The most unwise thing you can do is to ignore God.
Now, you might get offended by this, but let me explain. Psalm 14:1 says, "The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.'" The Bible has a lot to say about wisdom. Wisdom is living skillfully for the best long-term results. The opposite of a wise person is a fool. According to the way that the Bible uses the word "fool" a fool might be someone incredibly smart, who makes unwise choices. And the most unwise thing that you can possibly do is to blow off the God who rules the universe, who made you, who must judge you, and who died to offer you forgiveness and true life. If God exists, it is an incredibly unwise thing to pretend He doesn't. Don't be a fool!

4. I didn’t just create you to know about Me, I created you to know Me.
Jesus told the religious leaders of His day, "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to Me to have life." (John 5:31-47)

It is one thing to know about someone. It is another thing to know them. For example, I know about George Bush. I do not know him. Jesus is reminding us that He doesn’t just want us to know about Him, as if He is just some character from ancient history. He wants us to have a relationship with Him. God isn’t an abstract theory to study. He is a person to have a relationship with.

5. I love you.
Simple, but true. God wants you to know that He loves you. John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."

If you are an agnostic, I think that Jesus might be saying to you, "I loved you enough to go to the cross and die for you. I already did. I died in your place to take your punishment for your sins… that is, unless you don’t want me as your God and sin-bearer. I have made my feelings clear about you. Your future depends on whether or not you reject or accept me."


God in the Dock
One last thing...

C.S. Lewis has a book titled God in the Dock. For a long time I thought it was called God in the Duck, and that didn't make sense to me, but then I realized I was reading the title wrong. But God in the Dock didn't make sense to me either until I read it.

One of the chapters in the book is actually called God in the Dock. As I read it, I figured out that in a British courtroom, the "dock" is where the person who is on trial sits. With that in mind, C.S. Lewis' words were very profound. He wrote,

"The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man, the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen. The trial may even end in God's acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God in the Dock."

If you are an agnostic, look into the reasons for believing that God exists and that Jesus Christ is God. I believe that if you honestly look into these things, you will find the answers. However, please take C.S. Lewis' words to heart and consider the attitude in which you are doing it. It is one thing to have faith that seeks understanding, or to discover the evidence for belief... but it is another thing to force the Judge of the Universe into the dock and to take His place as His judge. James 4:10 gives some good advice, "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up."


*Some atheists believe that the word "atheist" should refer to anyone who doesn't believe that God exists, not just people who believe that God doesn't exist. Did you catch the difference? There is a subtle difference between not believing that God exists, and believing that God doesn't exist. The first way means that you don't believe in God, but you don't claim to know for sure that He doesn't exist. Therefore, you don’t know either way. The second way means that you specifically believe that He does not exist. Now, I think that the word atheist should specifically refer to someone who believes that God does not exist, because the word agnostic fits better for people who don't know either way. But no matter what terms you use, there are four categories that each of us fall into: (1) people who believe that God exists, (2) people who believe that God doesn't exist, (3) people would don't know either way, and (4) people who believe that no one can know either way.

June 15, 2010

Touchdown Jesus Burns to the Ground

If your church has an extra $250,000 sitting around doing no good, you can use it to build yourself a sweet six-story statue of Jesus that makes Him look like a football referee. Solid Rock Church in Monroe, Ohio, had one of these, built to inspire drivers along Interstate 75 just north of Cincinnati. This colossus was made of plastic foam and fiberglass over a steel frame and on Monday it was hit by lightning and burned to the ground. The steel frame is all that is left.

So, how should we interpret it when God in His wisdom ordains lightening to burn down your expensive giant Jesus statue? I'm sure that people have different theories.

Perhaps God did not want to be represented as something that I would be inescapably tempted to kick a field goal through.  Or perhaps God is trying to send a subtle message that there are better uses for a quarter of a million dollars. It's hard to say.

If I were an atheist I would find it very deliciously ironic and satisfying that "God" choose to burn down His own statue. Seriously, if there is a God, how could he choose to dishonor himself like that?

This isn't an explanation, but here is a thought: God the Father didn't treat this statue of His Son any worse than He treated His real Son.

God the Father "did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all" (Romans 8:32). Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be "stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted" (Isaiah 53:4). Although He was innocent, "Yet it was the Lord's will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer" (Isaiah 53:10). We, as sinners, are the ones who have rebelled and like sheep have gone astray, but "the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6).

This is not "divine child abuse." Although God the Father delivered up the Son, Jesus also did this willingly (John 10:17-18). Yet the Bible states "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith" (Romans 3:23-25 ESV). A propitiation is a sacrifice that satisfies and absorbs the righteous wrath of God against sin. God treated His Son as a sinner so that He could treat sinners as His sons.

The state of the Son was struck by lightning. The real Son was struck by the wrath of God, for our salvation.

June 5, 2010

Death as an Argument for God

Death is usually viewed as an argument against the existence of God. A good God wouldn't allow suffering and evil and death, or at least so the argument goes. However it struck me that there is something about death that actually makes it a good argument for God.

If evolution caused the seemingly infinite variety of life forms and intricate biological functions that we observe, why is it that in the billions upon billions of adaptations found in nature, evolution has not found the one adaptation that--by far--would be the most beneficial to a species, namely, a lack of mortality?

I do not mean immortality in the sense that an animal could fall into a volcano and live. What I mean to ask is why there is not one single organism, from cockroach to man to bacteria, that does not possess natural mortality? Certainly pre-programmed death cannot be more beneficial to a species than an unlimited lifespan? Nor is there any inherent reason why, with as much complexity as life has, could it not find a way for at least one single organism to sustain itself indefinitely?

If blind nature can supposedly find a way to create eyesight and consciousness, then why couldn't it find a way for one simply organism to just keep on living unless meets a violent death? All that would be necessary for this would be the adequate repair or replacement or parts. Certainly that would have been easier for blind nature to achieve rather than biological reproduction--especially when it involves two different gendered parents. If blind nature can find a way for life to build itself automatically from a single cell after conception, then why can it not find a way for one organism to sustain itself indefinitely?

But death is a fact. And it is a fact that is explained by a Biblical worldview. Human death, at least, came into the world when Adam rebelled against God and cut himself off from the source of life (Genesis 3; Romans 5). Death is part of the curse that is now over this world, and which one day will be lifted because of Jesus' death on the cross. The existence of death is better explained by a Biblical worldview than by blind naturalism, and thus strangely enough death is actually an argument for the existence of God

April 26, 2010

Adam and Eve and Incest

In a question and answer forum I was asked by a student how Adam and Eve's children could have had children without incest. I gave a two-part reply. They appreciated the last part the best.

I replied that they didn't. Since there were no other humans, Adam and Eve's children would have had no one else to marry but each other. But, this was before incest was specifically forbidden and it wouldn't have been sin. And as far as deformities caused by incest, I think it is safe to presume that there must have been something genetically pure or different about the early humans. In Genesis we read about early humans living extremely long lives.  Also, Adam and Eve's DNA would have contained the diversity of all the races.  So there was probably something special about their genetics that kept everyone from being born with arms growing out of their heads.

But if someone thinks to themselves that this is a far-fetched and stupid and that evolution makes more sense, then think about this: If Adam and Eve's kids had a problem, what kind of problem would there be for evolution? When the first monkey evolves into a human, there is just one human being. Who does that guy have to marry? A monkey. At least with Adam and Eve there were two human beings to get things started. With evolution, the first human being has to hook up with an animal. So you tell me which is more messed up?

Burn.

Yes, I know that no one thinks that monkeys evolved directly into human beings. I was obviously being rhetorical. Still, the inescapable fact is that if evolution is true, then the first human had no one to mate with except for a non-human.

April 15, 2010

Life Lessons from Jonathan Edwards


Mike Wittmer had a great post a few days ago about ministry lessons from Jonathan Edwards.  I didn't see it right away because I've been preoccupied writing a "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" VBS curriculum.

I completely agree that Prof. Marsden's biography of Edwards is absolutely fantastic. Edwards was both a pastor and a theologian and there is much that we can learn from his life in both of these areas. I just finished reading it a second time and enjoyed it just a much as the first time through.

One scene from Edwards' life could probably win an award for "most awkward moment." After his ugly dismissal from the church in Northampton, Edwards and his family had nowhere else to go and stayed in the town for about a year. On certain weeks the church was not able to find pulpit supply and had to suck it up and ask Edwards to fill in. I'm sure those Sundays were fun for everyone.

The fact that he was willing to do it says a lot about what kind of a man he was. Not too bad for a guy whose great-uncle was an ax-murderer.

One of the effects that Edwards' biography had on me was to remind me not to covet anyone's life. It is easy for an aspiring theologian to see grand achievements and accolades in Edwards' life and think that he would like to have them for himself. However, it is one thing to pick and choose the highlights of someone's life but another thing to want the whole package. After reading Prof. Marsden's book, I realized that although I admire Jonathan Edwards, I do not actually want his life.

Here is Dr. Wittmer's post:

Last week I made the time to carefully read through George Marsden’s magisterial biography, Jonathan Edwards: A Life. This is an important book for pastors, especially those in America. It seems important to know the finest pastor-theologian that our country has ever produced. At risk of oversimplifying an engrossing 500 page story, here in random order are a few things that we can learn from and about Edwards. Nate Archer recently took a doctoral class from Marsden on Edwards, so Nate, if you’re around, feel free to chime in.
1. Edwards died from a smallpox vaccination which he received when he became the president of Princeton. So there you have it—America’s greatest theologian, killed by Wellness Week.

2. Edwards was frugal. He wrote his indecipherably small script on the front and back of receipts and other scraps of paper. Edwards didn’t believe in wasting things, and he would probably approve of me and my old CRX.

3. Edwards always had scraps of paper with him so he could jot ideas down as they came to him and then pin them to his clothes. When he came home from a ride on his horse he would unpin his notes and organize them. He would have gone nuts with post-its.

4. Edwards was a perfectionist who probably wouldn’t have been too much fun to have around. He was better than you and he wasn’t shy about letting you know it. He was willing to die on principle, which is admirable but also got him fired.

5. America’s greatest theologian was fired from his pastorate in Northampton. This should encourage any pastor who feels like a failure in ministry.

6. Edwards intended to become an international figure. I didn’t appreciate this until I read Marsden, but Edwards’ rise was not an afterthought. He believed that he had the ability to become a significant theological force and he went for it.

7. It’s easy to go liberal but it’s hard to come back to a conservative position. The church in Northampton easily adopted the half-way covenant and even gave the Lord’s Supper to non-Christians (Solomon Stoddard called it a “converting ordinance”). But when Edwards sought to restrict the Lord’s Supper to genuine believers he got into trouble and ultimately lost his job.

8. Edwards emphasized both right doctrine and right practice. He taught that following Jesus lay as much in the affections as it did in sound theology and he sought ways to determine that a professing Christian truly was converted. See his Nature of Religious Affections for the definitive word on the subject.

9. Edwards and his generation lived under the constant threat of death. Whether it was from disease or from Indian attacks, death was never far away. Today we are more insulated from death and don’t appreciate how quickly we can die, even those of us who drive a CRX.

10. Whitefield was more gregarious and extemporaneous than Edwards. God uses a variety of temperaments and personalities, and we don’t have to become someone we’re not to have a worthwhile ministry.

11. Because it focused on the authenticity of the individual’s walk with God, the Great Awakening encouraged individualism and anti-authoritarianism. This in turn fostered the rise of those denominations, such as the Baptists and Methodists, who favored a more democratic, bottom-up approach.

12. In ways that sound similar to today’s world, Edwards sought to defend and develop orthodoxy to confront the dangers of rising secularism and liberalism. We are not the first American Christians to care about the boundaries of orthodoxy. For his part, Edwards seemed concerned about the slippery slope of Arminianism.

13. Edwards had one of the few good marriages among our Christian heroes of his day. Compared to Whitefield’s loveless marriage to an older woman and John Wesley’s decades-long separation from his wife, Edwards and his wife were the Brangelina of the 18th century. I’m pretty sure that last phrase has never been written before.

14. Because of the lack of available farmland and jobs, young people in Edwards’ day didn’t marry until their late twenties. This gave rise to sexual immorality, immaturity, and general debauchery, which provided fertile ground for the revivals to take hold (there were many unconverted church members).

15. Genuine conversion requires both drop and rescue. People must recognize their sin and guilt before they can be saved, but if they drop too far they may fall into despair and give up hope of salvation. We probably don’t drop sinners far enough today, while the first Great Awakening ended when Edwards’ uncle fell too far and committed suicide.

February 23, 2010

The More the Miracle


In John 14:12 Jesus told his disciples that they would do greater things than the miracles that He Himself did. This has always been a tough statement to believe, at least for those Christians who aren’t on TV claiming to make diamonds materialize out of thin air. Let’s face it, Jesus’ miracles were more impressive than casting out the demon of restless leg syndrome.

One good explanation is that while Jesus did more impressive works, He was only one person. In contrast, God is able to do a far greater amount of works today through the millions of Christians in the world. These works are greater in the sense of greater quantity, not because they are more obviously supernatural.

Right now I am taking a seminar on Thomas Aquinas and reading from his Summa Theologica. Thomas described miracles as “those things which God does outside those causes which we know” (Ia., Q. 105, A. 7). In other words, a miracle is an effect the cause of which is outside of the natural order. It is something that happens because of a direct supernatural cause, not because of normal cause and effect within this world. Thomas also asked whether some miracles are greater than others. When compared to God’s power, one miracle is as easy for God as any other miracle. But, if we compare them to the amount of natural power—the powers of nature—that the miracle must overcome, then some miracles are indeed greater than others. (ST. I. Q. 105, A. 8)

If a miracle is greater the more it overcomes the powers of the natural order, what does that say about the works that God does through believers today? Consider which is more difficult: to cure a disease or to cause someone to turn to the Lord Jesus as their Savior? If God decided to work through a person to supernaturally cure a disease, that would be a miracle. However, many diseases can be cured by doctors without immediate divine intervention. Perhaps one day all diseases may be cured by medicine and therapy. The same thing could be true about many miracles. Maybe we could even build a machine that could part the Red Sea. But, we can never cause someone to turn to Christ without God’s work in their heart.

When someone turns to Christ in saving faith, it is because God has done a supernatural work in their heart. If left on their own—cause and effect—no one would do anything besides walk away from God forever. The sinful heart of the natural man is hard. There is no one who seeks God. (Romans 3:11)

So what is the greater miracle? Is it greater when God works through a person to do something that man could theoretically do by natural means, or is it greater when He works through a Christian to cause a hardened sinner to be born again? Let me suggest that when God uses a believer to explain the gospel message to an unbeliever, causing him or her to believe, that God is overcoming a greater natural force than if He caused the world to spin backwards.

- - -

Alas, Thomas himself would disagree with this since he holds that "the justification of the ungodly is not miraculous, because the soul is naturally capable of grace" (ST. I-II. Q. 113, A. 10).  And by justification, Thomas means the transmutation of a person from a state of ungodliness to a state of justice, that is, of right order.

February 10, 2010

Sola Scriptura?

Christianity, in its best moments has always believed that our faith rests only on the Bible... and that these Scriptures were given without error.
"For our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors. Hence Augustine says (Epis. ad Hieron. xix, 1): 'Only those books of Scripture which are called canonical have I learned to hold in such honor as to believe their authors have not erred in any way in writing them. But other authors I so read as not to deem everything in their works to be true, merely on account of their having so thought and written, whatever may have been their holiness and learning.'"
-Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I.Q1. 8
If only we had always all been consistent with this...

January 31, 2010

How the Bible is Not Like the Telephone Game

It is not unusual to hear someone say that our Bibles are like the bad results of the telephone game. When kids play the telephone game, one kid whispers a sentence to the next kid who whispers it to another and on down the line. Finally the last kid repeats the garbled mess out loud and everyone gets a kick out of how butchered the message got in transmission. Critics assert that all we have are copies of copies of copies of copies, etc., of the original manuscripts and thus our current Bibles are like the results of the telephone game and we have no way of knowing what the original message was. (Some people will also say that the Bible is a translation of a translation of a translation, etc. Anyone making this claim doesn't know that all modern translations are made directly from the original languages.)

In reality, the manuscripts of the Bible are more like a tree. Imagine a tree with several branches coming off of the main trunk, splitting into other branches and then smaller ones yet. When the original copies of a Biblical letter—such as Paul’s letter to the Colossians—were written, other copies would be made for churches in other cities. Many copies would be made from the original and sent to various places in the Roman Empire. From those copies, other copies would be made for more Christians, and eventually to replace the old copies as they wore out. This means that there are multiple lines of transmission. This means that even if a change was made on one branch of the tree, it would not affect every other copy. Other branches would still be okay.

This also means—contrary to The DaVinci Code—that it would have been impossible for someone such as Emperor Constantine to change the text of the Bible, even if he had wanted to. There would be no way to gather and change all of these documents.

Scholars are able to determine where many manuscripts fit on this family tree by their age and shared characteristics. By comparing manuscripts, they are able to weed out any alterations and determine with great accuracy what the original text said.

In addition, there are several good reasons why the Bible is not like the telephone game.

1. The New Testament documents were in writing. They were not whispered one time, with the chance of mishearing one word for another. They were in writing and could be copied carefully and reviewed.

2. As mentioned, there were multiple lines of transmission. In the telephone game there is only one chain. The Bible has many branches. Even if someone got it wrong, other branches would get it right. Imagine a different version of the telephone game: One person whispers a message to four different people, and each of them whispers it to four more people, and so forth. Even if someone intentionally tried to sabotage the message, it would still be very easy to figure out what the original message was at the end of the game when you compared all of the final answers.

3. Bible scholars don’t just rely on the last version of the message. Imagine the same game of telephone from the paragraph above. Now imagine that not only do you get to hear the report from all the last people, you also get to hear other reports from many people early on in the tree. That would make it even easier to know with certainty what the original message was.

4. In addition to ancient manuscripts, we have over one million quotations from the New Testament by the early church fathers. Even if the entire New Testament was destroyed, it could be almost entirely reassembled just by using these quotes. Also, these quotes are from various points in history, meaning that changes in the Bible would also be reflected in these quotes. Further, in addition to the 5,700 Greek manuscripts that we have and the million plus quotations, we also have thousands of ancient translations of the Bible in languages such as Latin and Coptic. There are more than 10,000 manuscripts in Latin alone. Although these are translations, there are also very helpful witnesses to the original text.

5. Finally, there is a motivational difference between the New Testament scribes and kids playing the telephone game. Many kids—myself included—would intentionally try to garble the message in the telephone game. In contrast, the scribes were professionals who took great pride in their work. Copying these manuscripts by hand was painstaking work and they were motivated to do the best they could. They viewed these texts as sacred, not something to be careless with. The fact that many scribes would knowingly recopy a type-o, rather than fix it, shows that they were dedicated to copying the text as it was in front of them. Yes, sometimes there were mistakes as they looked at the wrong line, or a word with a similar ending. And there were times when the scribe would wrongly think that the text in front of him had a copying error in it, and by ‘fixing’ the ‘error’ would actually be making a copy error. But all of this shows that they were trying very hard to create an accurate copy.

In conclusion, the telephone game is a very bad and misleading analogy of how the Bible was copied.

Sources include Dan Wallace's debate with Bart Ehrman.


January 30, 2010

A Brief Message

I'm not sure how a kid wouldn't notice this, but...

My wife called me at the office and told me that my five-year old son had something to tell me. She put Eric on the phone and he told me that he was at school when he discovered that he was wearing two pair of underwear. When he got himself dressed in the morning, he put a new pair of underwear on but forgot to take the old pair off.

People may wonder how many times we dropped him when he was a baby, but this will not stop me from using this in a sermon the first time I get a chance. Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3 tell us that the Christian life is about taking off the old and putting on the new. As Ephesians 4:22-24 says, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” This should be our response to the free gift of salvation given to us through faith in Christ.

God doesn’t want spiritual nudists—who take off the old but do not replace it with new character. It’s not enough just to stop stealing; God wants us to work, doing something useful so that we can have something to share with those in need (Eph. 4:28). Don’t just stop being a drain on others, but be productive so you can help those in need. Don’t just take off unwholesome talk, but put on speech that builds up others according to their need (Eph. 4:29).

Don’t be a spiritual nudist, but don’t make the opposite mistake either. Don’t just add the good but fail to take off the bad. You may think it looks better on the outside, but it’s still disgusting.

I wish only five-year olds made this mistake.

Try to notice that you are still wearing your dirty underwear before you put the clean pair over them. Don’t just layer Jesus on top of your sin.

January 26, 2010

Why Faith Isn't a Work

A student wrote me with a good question that I remember struggling through in the past as well. Scripture teaches that we each need to receive the Lord Jesus as our personal Savior in order to actually be saved. Scripture also teaches that salvation is 100% a free gift of God. It is 100% grace and 0% works. So the question is, why isn't faith a work? If it is something that we must do, why wouldn't it be considered a work?

I wrote this as a reply and I'm posting it for other people it might be helpful to.

First off, I think we can be really clear that faith is not a work. We can know this because the Bible repeatedly contrasts faith and works:

Ephesians 2:8-9, "For it is by grace you have been saved, thought faith--and this is not from yourselves--it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast."

Galatians 2:15-16, "We... know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Christ Jesus. So, too, we have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified."

Romans 3:28, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law."

So, I think it is clear that faith is not a work according to the Bible. But why not? Isn't it something we DO? What makes it different than, let's say, going through some ceremony or something else that people could do?

I think that one of the passages that helped me the most on this was Romans 4:4-5, "Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited to him as righteousness." What I noticed here is that for Paul, saving faith means that we need to stop working. That is, we need to stop working in order to earn or contribute to our salvation. To trust 100% in Christ means by necessity that we are trusting 0% in human effort. It has to mean that because if a person is trusting 10% in their own effort, it means they are only depending on Christ 90%. Saving faith means shifting all of our trust on to Christ alone for salvation. That is why a certain kind of faith is the way God saves us, rather than something else. Since faith means reliance or trusting, salvation by faith alone gives God all the glory since it means that we are relying 0% on human merit and 100% on Him.

The type of faith that saves needs to be faith in which we “let go” of anything else that we are depending on to save us. It is like the guy hanging onto the tree branch off the cliff. We need to stop depending on the branch and let go so that God can save us.

And that is why this type of faith is not a work. This type of faith is a repudiation of our work. It is a repudiation of our own merit. This type of faith is declaring ourselves to be spiritually bankrupt before God, depending on Him alone to save us. And this isn’t the “chapter 11” type of temporary bankruptcy in which a company gets some help, reorganizes it’s assets and then moves out of bankruptcy. This is “chapter 7” bankruptcy, the kind in which a company declares that it is done and without hope.

Saving faith is the kind of faith that says, “I have no other argument. I have no other plea. It is enough that Jesus died, and that He died for me.”

I’m convinced this is also what Paul meant in Philippians 3:3-8 when he talked about his own salvation. He had said that if anyone could be saved depending on human effort, it would have been him. He was as dedicated as a person could get. But then he wrote, "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ... I consider them rubbish [literally "dung"] that I might gain Christ." Paul ceased depending on his own righteousness and started depending on Jesus' work alone to make him right with God. Instead of depending on his own spiritual merit badges, Paul changed his mind and considered them as worthless as dung as far as gaining righteousness. He continues in verses 8-9, “…I consider them rubbish [dung] that [in order that] I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law [works], but that which is [received] through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is [received] by faith.”

This similar to what Paul says about his fellow Jews who did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. In Romans 10:2 Paul says that "they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge." They were fired up and "committed" to God, but something was wrong. Being fired up for God is not the same thing as having saving faith. In the next verse, Romans 10:3, Paul explains what was wrong. "Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness." Their problem was that they were trying to establish their own righteousness. That is, they were trying to do their part to earn their own salvation. They were trying to become right with God by their own efforts.

Now, in John 6:28-29, the people asked Jesus, “What must we do to work the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.” Yes, in this passage Jesus calls believing a “work.” But I think we need to think of it as a “work” in quotation marks. The people were asking Jesus what they needed to “do” to be right with God. The main point of Jesus’ reply was that all they had to “do” was to put their faith in Him. He wasn’t teaching that believing is something that earns salvation.

The book of Galatians shows us how much God dislikes the idea that salvation could be combined with works. Paul starts this book by writing in chapter 1:6-7a, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all.” In Galatia, the “different gospel”, which was not gospel at all, was the teaching that people had to believe Christ and be circumcised [a work] to be saved.

Depending on Christ + 0 = the true gospel of salvation

Depending on Christ + anything else = a different, false gospel

If we have a backup plan to save us, it is an insult to God. Let me give you an example that I think is helpful. Imagine that you are at a racetrack and a professional driver offers to take you around the track in his car. However he tells you that you don’t have to buckle up since there is no chance that he is going to get into an accident. If you buckle up, just to be safe, it means that you actually don’t fully trust that he will not get into an accident. After all, no matter how good of a driver he is, he can’t know for certain that an accident won’t happen. By putting on the seat belt, you prove that you do not 100% trust him.

Now imagine that Jesus is the driver. Since He is God and knows the future, He can actually tell you with 100% certainty that there is no way there will be an accident. Now, if He tells you not to put your seat belt on, what would it be saying to Him if you put it on anyway? It would show that you don’t really believe Him.

This is why it doesn’t make any sense to think that salvation could be by a combination of faith and works. If we depend on human merit at all, it means that we do not really trust Jesus to save us. It means that we think that Jesus’ perfect life and His death on the cross in our place might not actually be enough! It is crazy arrogant to think that need to add anything to what Jesus did. It is an insult to Him to think that we need a backup plan in case He doesn’t keep is promise to come through for us.

Anyway, I hope this was a bit of help. On an even deeper level, I believe that we are so dead in sin that none of us would choose to receive Christ as Savior unless God first did a work to change our hearts. Romans 3:11 says there is no one who seeks God. If God hadn't done a work in my heart first, I would have willingly continued to push Him away forever. Even saving faith itself is a gift of God, therefore God gets all the glory. This is a second layer that explains why faith isn't a work; because it doesn't originate in us. Not all who are saved understand or completely agree with this, but it is true that all who are saved have stopped trusting in their own merit and instead trust in Christ alone for their salvation.

Faith is not a work because it doesn’t earn anything, it just receives what Christ earned in our place.

January 20, 2010

God Has No Purpose


God is not made. He is self-existing. He is the eternal "I AM."

These statements are true and have apologetic value, but what is the application of these truths? As I thought about this I asked myself, "What makes something that is 'made' different from something that is 'not made'?" I realized that everything that is 'made' is made for a purpose. Things are made for specific reasons. Hammers are made to pound nails. Nails are made to hold things together. Chairs are made to sit on. Even people are made for a purpose.

But, if God is not made, then He is not made for a purpose. Thus, could it be that God does not have a purpose?

Now, it sounds odd to suggest that God doesn't have a purpose, because for something not to have a purpose makes it seem worthless. But the opposite is true: It is not that God has a purpose... God is the purpose.

As Romans 11:36 states, "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen."

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that God doesn’t do things with purposes in mind. God is purposeful. God’s creation has purposes. God’s actions have purposes. But God Himself is not a means to a greater end. In that sense He does not have a purpose.

So basically...
-Everything that is made is made for a purpose.
-God is not made.
-God is not made for a purpose.
-God does not have a purpose.
-God is the purpose.

Stop treating God like He is a means to and end. Stop treating Him like a magic jinnee. He is not a tool. God is not a path to a greater goal; God is the ultimate goal. We are created for Him because He is the purpose.
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