An Enlightening Debate with an Anti-Theist

Yesterday, I was conducting research on the writers of the Gospels. Did Bibleyou know that the writers were very likely not the apostles attached to their book names? That is to say, Matthew didn’t write the Book of Matthew and Mark likely didn’t write the Book of Mark and so on. Anyway, that is a discussion for another blog topic.

While researching, I came across a blog written by a well-educated, intelligent astrophysicist with a passionate hobby for using the Bible and his scientific background to attempt to discredit the Scripture. As much as I disagree with many of the points he argued, I appreciated the fact that he was well-versed in his arguments, had the educational and research background to stand firmly on his views of the topics he covered and laid out a clinical, mostly unbiased view of why he did not believe the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God.

As I finished reading the astrophysicist’s blog entry, I noticed several comments by others who had read the post followed. Some of the commenters were complimentary of his research, style and point of view. Others commenters were Christians who argued defensively as to why the post was fundamentally wrong. In response to the Christian comments, many of whom were unnecessarily obnoxious in the their own right, the writer was extremely condescending and hateful. As a result, the comment thread went from cordial to ugly very quickly — an unfortunately common theme if you’ve read any other open forums on the web (and I don’t just mean open forums related to religion or faith). Obviously, in this case, no one was going to change anyone else’s opinion through a comment thread.

There are a few fly-on-the-wall observations of the astrophysicist’s blog that I’d like to share. First, the writer is clearly an anti-theist with an agenda, but he did his homework. He knows why he believes what he believes. In contrast, the Christian commenters argued their points of view; but, in this case, they did not seem well-versed or prepared for the writer’s in-depth, well-researched critiques on their comments. Shouldn’t we as Christians become intimately knowledgeable of the doctrine upon which we stand? I argue we should be. If I was to use a successful example, I would point to Paul. Detailed knowledge of the Torah was a critical part of his ministry. He was well-educated and knew the opposing point of view of his intellectual, religious peers better than most scholars of the day. Second, the Christian commenters on astrophysicist’s blog mainly used Scripture to prove their statements. I’m not sure arguing scripture with a non believer is productive. After all, the author dedicated his whole blog site to discrediting the Bible; therefore, any “proof” was already invalid in his mind. I would submit if we only use the Bible to argue against someone else’s belief, we’ve already failed the debate.

Scripture is a great thing. I’m not trying to dismiss its importance; however, the core of our beliefs should be based on our relationship with God instead of doctrine. If I had spoken to the writer, I might have provided a personal testimony about my relationship with Jesus and how that has radically transformed my life. I would have told him about the debilitating anxiety disorder that controlled me and generations of my family; but Jesus freed me from that lifelong struggle in a moment of prayer. It is likely the writer would have dismissed such testimony because he didn’t experience my personal transformation for himself, but at least the discussion might have disarmed his defensive stance and the scientifically-based, intellectual argument which he is clearly better equipped to make than I. At this point, after such a vile, out-of-control thread on his blog, I don’t plan to leave a comment. Any well-meaning thought would probably not be well received at this point anyway.

I realized before leaving the blog site, I found myself frustrated with the overall discussion. We as Christians should be prepared for discussions with other people we encounter. People who don’t believe what we believe are going to have different views and values about things we hold as core truths. We shouldn’t be shocked by this fact, and we should be careful not to feed and validate a negative stereotype they may already have about Christianity. Once we validate a negative stereotype, the doorway to discussion with the other person shuts — sometimes permanently. We impact people we interact with whether we think we do or not.

We should also remember not everyone feels what we feel. If you’ve never experienced a relationship with God, you don’t know you’re missing anything. There’s nothing to which the feeling can be compared. Trying to argue with someone who doesn’t know God about faith is a bit like encountering someone who speaks a different language and speaking more loudly in a futile attempt to make the other person understand. This is a silly example that I borrowed from a friend, but he’s right. It just doesn’t work that way.

All that said, it is important to remember it is not our job to change someone’s heart. Only God can do that (Matthew 13). We are simply called to bear witness to the truth of change in our own lives and represent Him well. Be gracious, quick to forgive and always willing to listen before attempting to argue a point of view. The way I see it, God is certainly more capable than I when it comes to defending Him. He doesn’t need my help.

Lasting Happiness

Earlier this week, a friend shared an article with me about maintaining lasting happiness. Since my friend thought the article was useful, I agreed to read it. After all, we can all benefit from learning positive techniques to better ourselves, right?

smilesAccording to the article, psychological studies over the past several years have consistently shown many of us are dissatisfied with our lives and depressed due to daily pressures, stressful life circumstances, money concerns or family strife. The article’s author followed the analysis by giving several suggestions on how to maintain happiness: act happy even if you don’t feel it, indulge more frequently in pampering yourself and focus on the things you have and not on the things you don’t.

An Analysis

The article, although well-meaning, seems to provide little comfort for anyone who has suffered with long-term situational depression or difficult moments in life. I know, at least for me, the solutions the author suggested to maintain happiness rarely ever equal anything lasting. However, I will concede to the fact that feelings associated with experiencing happiness can temporarily relieve mental anguish. I also agree there are benefits to filling our lives with encouraging people and things that reinforce positivity and improve our general sense of wellbeing. But if happiness is temporary, what is long lasting?

Why the Difference between Happiness and Joy Matters

As a follower of Christ, I have learned over the years that happiness is a byproduct of joy and a renewed mind, meaning happiness is a product of what resides in the deepest recesses of our hearts (Romans 12:2). I may seem too picky about separating the terms “happiness” and “joy” which most people swap out interchangeably; however, these terms are starkly different from each other. It’s important to recognize and discuss these differences within Christian circles as well as with non-believing friends to discover lasting fulfillment in our lives.

Like anything we choose to make a primary focus in life, “happiness” can become an idol, which, like a spoiled, needy child, constantly demands attention. I believe this is why so many people who seek permanent happiness outside of spiritual fulfillment in Christ never find it. Life happens. Things go wrong. We experience great sorrows. Suddenly, happiness becomes non-existent.

Just as happiness is a byproduct of joy, joy is a byproduct of the One who lives within me. It is not dependent on my circumstances or emotions of the moment. I have joy so that I may bless others and wear it as a living testament of a life changed by the love, mercy and grace of Jesus. It is my identity in Christ, and when I use the gift of joy to bless others, I find the true meaning of long-lasting joy and fulfilling happiness.

When I use the gift of joy to bless others, I find the true meaning of long-lasting joy and fulfilling happiness.

Personal Lessons Learned

A couple of years ago, I experienced several painful sorrows. Those hard moments defined the weakest and most human aspects of my life. During that time, I forgot my identity. Although my happiness was completely gone for several long weeks and months, I never truly lost my joy and hope in Christ for a new day just beyond the dark clouds.

It is likely many of us have faced or will face hard times at least once in our lives. If you are struggling to find joy in your circumstances, you are not alone. Keep going. There is hope just beyond your clouds of sorrow.

Peace, love and joy to you, dear readers.
The In-Place Missionary

A Respecter of All People

As a Christ follower in the Western World, I amfriends talking regularly reminded Christianity is not the only faith around me. I know people who are Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and some who are nothing at all. I also have friends who are Universalists. In case you are wondering what a Universalist believes, in some religious Universalist circles “religion is a universal human quality, emphasizing the universal principles of most religions and accepting other religions in an inclusive manner, believing in a universal reconciliation between humanity and the divine.” (Wikipedia)

Society frequently demands for me to accept all other faiths and religions as equal to mine. I’m told I’m not loving people if I don’t share the belief of the equality of other faiths, but this is not something I can do. I base this stance on Jesus’s own words: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) In many ways, I feel if I accept all faiths as equal, I’m stating Christ died for some people but not for all. But I believe He died for everyone. For me to deny the importance of His death and resurrection would be a betrayal of confidence in His promise. If I trust Him, I must believe Him.

“If I trust Him, I must believe Him.”

Now, I’m not suggesting at all that my disagreements with the idea of religious equality gives me the free license to bash others or their beliefs. In fact, such behavior is abhorrent because it is not the heart of Christ to behave this way. I base this belief on the teachings of Paul in his writings to the church in Corinth which states: “Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14) and in Galatians 5:22 which states: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” How else do I share the love of Christ with others who do not know Him if I never wear His nature as my mantel?

How do we walk the fine line of sharing the love of Christ with others and offending them? This is a hard and careful line to walk on some occasions. It is important to be a respecter of all people even when we disagree when it comes to beliefs. I believe sharing the love of Christ with others is so much more than witnessing. Love people. Do good and be patient with others. Show compassion and mercy. Exhibit the qualities of Christ. Be a reason for others to see Christ in you so much that people feel the words that Christ spoke about Himself when they look at you: “If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” (John 14:7)

What Divides Us is not as Powerful as What Unites Us

The body of Christ is going through a “division crisis.” I call it thepraying_on_bible_red “Sneetches on the Beaches Affect” after the Dr. Suess story about creatures called Sneetches who divide themselves into groups based on who has stars on their bellies and who does not. As a friend likes to remind me, if we continue to divide ourselves into smaller and smaller groups over things that make us different from our neighbors, eventually we will find ourselves alone. There’s a lot of wisdom in that statement because we will likely never completely agree all the time on every issue.

Why do I bring this issue up?

In our culture, it is easy to define ourselves by all sorts of things. We like our niches — customizable digital radio stations, anyone? We like being comfortable around others who talk like us, look like us and sound like us. This seems especially true within the body of Christ. Did you know there are approximately 30,000 Christian denominations? That number is staggering, especially since Jesus and Paul were extremely concerned about unity within the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:12-13; 3:4).

Why are we so divided?

It seems we divide ourselves over just about anything within the body of Christ (Church): traditional vs. contemporary, style of music, formality of clothing, instruments used, preaching style, church adornment, rituals and sacraments and all sorts of other things (In case you’re interested, I’ve also written about this topic from a different perspective in a previous article: “Unity“). However, one topic seems to divide more sharply and cut more deeply than most issues within the Church — social issues and politics.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I think social and political issues are important; but no matter how important these problems/differences are, they distract from the message of Christ. Before we separate ourselves from our brothers and sisters, shouldn’t we consider the impact of such a divide on our non-beliving family, friends and neighbors? Perhaps, our judgmental, unforgiving reputation is well deserved when we allow ourselves to become a disorganized bunch of hypocrites who backbite each other and point out each other’s flaws in a merciless manner. I recognize not everyone fits into this generalization, and there are lot of truly wonderful Christian people around the world. However, based on some fairly common sterotypes I see in the media and society in general about Christianity, I’m standing firm on my view about how we are perceived by many non-Christians. Let’s change that view.

And before it is suggested, I’m not insinuating we should ignore sin. I’m simply suggesting we change our primary focus to be more Christ-centered above all else. If we, the body of Christ, modeled ourselves after Jesus, would society see us differently? Would they see us as less judgmental and feel like they wanted to be part of the Church if we were more unified, less divisive and more welcoming to non-Christians than we are currently?

Christ is Our Model

Jesus’s primary mission on earth was to demonstrate the depth of the love of the Father and to provide the ultimate sacrifice to cover our sins by dying on the cross. He also healed the sick, set free the oppressed and cast out demons. Everything He said and did was rooted in love. He showed mercy instead of judgment. He released grace upon people who didn’t deserve it. Shouldn’t we strive to do the same even if we disagree with our neighbors?

Our Challenge

The challenge to those of us who claim to follow Christ is simple: love without conditions. Welcome others with open arms. Stop being shocked by the actions of people who don’t know Christ — of course they won’t align with all of your values — love them anyway. Throw aside pride and disagreements within the Church. Be the difference. Be a person of substance and character. Watch the world change around you one person at a time as they see the truth of Christ in your life.

Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols, and Ponderings Series Part 3 – Sodom and Gomorrah

What pops into your head when I mention “Sodom and Gomorrah”? Do you think of social/sexual Bibleissues, fire and brimstone and Lot’s wife becoming a pillar of salt? This Genesis account is frequently used to explain how angry God is with sinners; but this one-sided view of God troubles me because it leaves out God’s mercy. How do we reconcile the story of Sodom and Gomorrah with Psalm 100:5 which states God is always good?

As I researched this topic, I began to realize one reason why this story appears one-sided is due to the emphasis we as a society place on certain elements in the story. What if instead of fire and brimstone, the story’s true focus illustrates God’s redemption of a good man who made poor choices? Is it possible to see the God of the Old Testament as the God of Love even in a story like Sodom and Gomorrah? I believe the answer is yes. Context and emphasis are key to fully grasping the depth of this story and the characters involved. Let’s take a closer look.

The Genesis account of Sodom and Gomorrah begins with two men named Abraham, the patriarch of the Hebrews, and Lot, his nephew. As with many stories in the Bible, God’s relationship to His people takes center stage, and the places and events that occur during the around the main characters frame the story. The Bible states Abraham obeyed God with his life and his decisions. In contrast, Lot made plenty of poor choices. Both men are referred to by the Scriptures as “righteous”, but Lot’s lapses in judgement nearly get him killed and followed his family line throughout history. Below is a timeline of events.

Timeline of Poor Decisions, Consequences and Mercy:

Lot Chooses the Best Land for Himself: Early in the Genesis account, we learn Abraham and Lot were forced to divide the region in which they lived because their wealth, herds and households had grown too large to share the same land. When Abraham gave his nephew first pick, Lot chose the lush and fertile land stretching towards Egypt. This region included the large, glamorous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. This poor decision would be the first of many as it positioned Lot closely to the temptations he found hardest to resist — the lure of fame, fortune and acceptance among the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Lot Tries to Fit In: Lot moved his home to Sodom, hoping to find favor with the people who lived there; however, he never really “fit in” because they knew he wasn’t like them.  Instead, they thought of him as a hypocrite.  Peter tells us in the New Testament Lot was “distressed…” and “tormented…” by the people of Sodom (II Peter 2:7-8). This attitude reveals a lot about Lot’s righteous character. The Bible describes the people there as prideful; gluttonous; willfully ignorant of the plight of the poor, oppressed, orphaned and widowed; adulterous; dishonest; unjust; and wicked (summarized from Ezekiel 16:49, Jeremiah 23, Isaiah 1, and Amos 5).

Lot Becomes a Prisoner of War: Almost immediately after Lot moved to Sodom, war broke out among the neighboring kings. As a result of the war, the invading kings conquered and took Lot prisoner and stole all of his possessions.

This part of the story is interesting, because according to cultural experts, Abraham was not required to rescue Lot due to the circumstances surrounding his capture. However, out of mercy and love, Abraham reclaimed and restored his nephew, the city’s captives and all of Lot’s stolen possessions.

Abraham’s Christ-Like Plea: At the climax of the story, the Lord tells Abraham the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah was so great He sent two angels to bear witness, and if they agreed, He would destroy the cities. In response, Abraham begged for mercy on behalf of the people living there because he cared about them but also feared for Lot’s safety (Genesis 18:16-33; 19:1-29). God agreed to spare the cities if there was even one righteous person living there. However, since there were no righteous people except for Lot living there, God vowed to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because their wickedness had become too great. The Bible says God “remembered His promise to Abraham” and sent His angels to rescue Lot.

Lot Offers His Daughters to an Angry Mob: When the angels arrived in Sodom, an angry mob of men pressed against Lot’s front door and demanded for Lot to allow the crowd to gang rape them. In Lot’s day, it was a customary norm and obligation to protect his guests at all costs. As a gesture to appease the men, he offered his daughters to fulfill the sexual desires of the mob. Thankfully, the mob refused Lot’s daughters. This part of the story was likely included for us an example of the level of depravity and darkness that filled the people’s hearts.

If you are wondering at this stage how the Bible can still refer to Lot as righteous, you’re not alone. As we’ve seen up to this point in the story, Lot has seemly committed an unforgivable and egregious crime against his own family, but God saw a man who believed in the coming Messiah and was worth saving despite his failures. If you want to read more about this section of the story, check out this link: http://www.gotquestions.org/Lots-daughters.html. I found it very helpful when trying to understand the context and cultural influences.

Lot is Rescued by Angels: Since Lot refused to present the angels to the angry mob, they became infuriated with Lot and beat on the door of his house and lunged at him, requiring the angels to blind the men and pull Lot inside to save his life.

During the night, the angels informed Lot that God intended to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their level of wickedness and he needed to flee with his family as soon as possible.

The next morning, the angels took Lot and his family by the hands and fled from Sodom. Although Lot hesitated, the Lord was merciful and spared his life and the lives of his family. Unfortunately, although the angels warned the family not to look back upon the cities as they fled, Lot’s wife was unable to resist the temptation to look a final time upon the city she loved. As a result, the Bible says she became a pillar of salt.

Lot Gets Drunk and Makes More Poor Decisions: And if you thought Lot’s decisions couldn’t get any worse, the story ends with Lot getting drunk and sleeping with his daughters. As a result, the two nations produced from this incestuous act have been a thorn in the side of Israel throughout history (GotQuestions.Org, http://www.gotquestions.org/Lots-daughters.html).

Lessons Learned: The story of Lot gives me hope. The Bible points out Lot’s numerous character flaws to teach us about His grace and about the importance of good decision making as a person of God. Lot was blinded by the temptations of wealth, the “big city” and positional stature. He temporarily walked away from his godly lifestyle for the sake of appearances; but in his heart, he longed to escape the sin that trapped him. As a result, he suffered the consequences of his choices by losing his wife, status and all of his material possessions; but his life was spared from destruction. In summary, Lot made poor decisions, but God chose to redeem him in spite of his failures.

Parallels: In some ways, this story parallels Christ’s work on the cross. God had mercy for Lot and saved his life because of the pleas of his uncle to spare him.

God always choses mercy over judgment, completely consistent with His character; and it is another lesson on how we should treat others who fail us.

Does physical evidence of Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed by fire still exist today? Here is an interesting argument on the issue: “Is there any evidence for the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction by fire and brimstone (sulfur)? “, ChristianAnswers.Net

Peace, love and hope to you always,

The In-Place Missionary

Love Beyond Understanding

This blog post was written by my better half.  May it bless you and remind you of God’s promises, love and mercy. – The In-Place Missionary

One thing I will never understand is how much God loves us. I cannot begin to comprehend the depths of His love displayed by sending His son, Jesus, to earth to die for us. He is God. He didn’t have to do that. We definitely didn’t do anything to deserve that love, grace, and mercy.loch_oich_rainbow

I have been reading through the Bible starting from the beginning, Genesis, on forward. As I have made my way through the Old Testament, I am struck by God’s love and mercy. He could have given up on man after Adam and Eve sinned. He could have destroyed mankind with the great flood, but he chose to spare us through Noah and his family.

He made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants, but they constantly rebelled against Him. They constantly whined while traveling from Egypt, where God rescued them from slavery. When Moses went up the mountain to get God’s commandments, the people made an idol. When they got to the promised land and settled, they constantly worshipped other gods and idols. God always brought them back to Himself.

This brings us back to the cross. The place where God made a way for all who would believe in Him to have a relationship with the creator of the universe. After we make that decision to repent and give our lives to Jesus, we still sin. We still turn from God. But just like in the Old Testament, God is faithful. He still loves us and wants a relationship with us. It is a beautiful thing, this relationship. I cannot begin to describe it. I just hope you believe and experience it for yourself. Then you will know true love, joy, and freedom.