Prayer: The Weapon Against My Hopeless Heart

I lift up my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord the Maker of heaven and earth. – Psalms 121:1-2

I’m a news addict.  I love to read everything I can get my hands (or eyes) on.  It’s a great blessing to know at any given moment what’s going on in the world, but it’s also a curse.  It’s hard not to be effected by stories of death, wars, natural disasters, crime, etc.; and it can seem paralyzing at times.  worried

As Christians, how should we respond to negative news or suffering around the world?  Pray for Christ to come quickly?  Shake our heads in condemnation?  Worry about the future?  Throw up our hands and just give up?

It would be easy to agree with the lie that we’re helpless.  After all, it’s a big world with plenty of big problems.  It often seems impossible for one, small voice to be effective.  However, it’s important for us to remember we have the most powerful weapon in the world against such chaos — prayer.

Negative things we see and hear often effect us deeply because we are made in the image of God.  As Christians, what grieves our Father should also grieve us.  We are His mirrors on the earth, reflecting His heart for humanity and His divine nature.  We are creative, emotional, inventive and Spirit-filled beings just like our Abba.  As we grow in our Christ-like world view, our compassion and love for others grows. As such, when we see terrible things happen, whether it’s in the news or a tragedy involving a loved one, it can be painful.  However, instead of feeling helpless and giving up on the situation, what if we used the burdens we feel for others as opportunities to pray?  Could our intercession and pleading on the behalf of others change the course of an event or a person’s life?  I can speak from personal testimony — Yes, prayer makes a difference!

Prayer is frequently used as our last line of defense when it should be our first.  It’s a direct communication line with the God who makes all things possible. When prayers are answered, it builds personal faith in God. It strengthens and reaffirms trust. When we share testimonies of God’s faithfulness through answered prayers, it can change someone’s helpless feelings to hope again. It can build the faith of others or renew a commitment to pray about a promise not yet fulfilled.

Here’s a true story about how someone else’s prayers and testimony changed a person’s life (and mine):

Mrs. Golightly, my middle school and high school English teacher, appeared visibly shaken one morning as we begin class. Her usual cheery smile was noticibly missing. Tears welled up in her eyes. As she explained the day’s lesson, she began to cry and had to stop.

“Class,” Mrs. Golightly began, “I found out this morning that a former student who is only a few years older than you all has been diagnosed with Lymphoma. The cancer is all over his body, and the doctors don’t expect him to live more than a couple of months. We are going to pray for that young man every morning before class until he is healed.”

I had Mrs. Golightly as a teacher for two straight years. Every day for two years, we prayed for the boy with lymphoma. Although there were bad reports some days about the progress of the cancer or lack of effectiveness of chemotherapy, we prayed anyway. When two months and then several more passed and the boy miraculously still lived, we prayed. We thanked God for the young man, his life, and his testimony. We prayed with hope that he would live despite the odds against him.

Then the news came: the boy was healed completely of cancer. The doctors ran several tests and claimed it must have been a miracle because the evidence of cancer was gone.

How did the news of they boy healed of cancer affect me? As a new Christian, I saw my Father in action. I saw that partnering and petitioning with Him matters. That day built my faith and laid a foundation to pray earnestly and expectantly, knowing my Father would here my requests and answer.

Scripture points us to the importance of intercession as a valuable tool of deliverance, healing, and divine intervention:

I pray this post will encourage you in whatever you are facing. Remember, you are not alone because God hears your prayers. Never give up. Never lose hope.

The Covert Christian: How Transformed Lives can Secretly Transform the World

In a world that’s becoming increasingly hostile to the Gospel, how do we fulfill the Great Commission to share our faith and make disciples, especially in places where it may be cropped-cropped-cropped-joyinchrist1.jpgrestricted?  For some Christians, this task may seem daunting, paralyzing or impossible.  What do we do?  Do we give up?  Do we defiantly disregard the rules placed upon us and share anyway?

As Believers, we are called to follow God’s laws over man’s laws even at great cost; however, we are also given the responsibility to exercise wisdom and good judgment when facing scenarios in which sharing our faith is restricted (Acts 5:29; Ephesians 5:15-16).  You could disregard the rules; but in many instances, this may not be the wisest option.  In some instances, disobedience may be necessary, and should be used as a last resort (Acts 5:29).  In other situations, you must weigh the degree and necessity of actions which may cause you to lose access to the people to whom God called you to minister.  We must always do what is right, but we must also ask who will reach the lost if we’re not there as His testimony and witness.

The Power of a Transformed Life

One key way to share the Gospel in our workplaces or other places where we may face restrictions is through transformed lives.  Actions almost always impact people more strongly than words.  The words we speak may tell people who we are and what we think, but our actions tell people what we believe and Who’s we are.  When others see how we live, it should cause them to wonder why we live that way and for whom we live.

A Changed Heart Begins with a Renewed Mind

Before we can live in a way that reflects Jesus, our lives must be transformed from the inside-out.  This means our minds must be renewed, and Jesus must drive our new motives and mindsets (Romans 12:2).  A renewed mind means we change our ways of thinking, hoping, believing, and trusting.  We have new perspectives, new motives, and allow His will to become ours.  It means we choose to let go of the attitudes that once controlled our thought life and drove our motives without God (Romans 6:6).  As with salvation, once we have renewed minds, we act out what we believe in our hearts (Romans 10:9-10).  What we act out should be evidence of the motives of our hearts and what we believe.

Evidence of a Transformed Life

The Scriptures place a high emphasis on our lives as a powerful witnessing tool and declaration of what we believe (James 2:17-18):

  • Our thoughts and attitudes change to reflect His Spirit within us. – 1 John 3:5-6
  • We produce the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. – Galatians 5:22-23
  • People will know we are Jesus’s followers because of our great love for each other. – John 13:35
  • Our eyes reflect His light of purity and righteousness within us. – Luke 11:34
  • We chose mercy over judgment even when the world claims we have a right to be justly unmerciful. – James 2:13
  • We speak the truth and mean what we say. – 1 John 3:18-19
  • We “do what is right” when faced with tough moral choices. – 1 John 2:29
  • We keep God’s commandments. – 1 John 2:3-5

I’ve often found that when you exhibit facets of the character of God through the fruit of the Spirit, other people notice.  I don’t say this pridefully.  After all, it’s not me whom they see.  It’s Him.  If we live our lives in a way that reflects who He is, other people will be drawn to His attractive nature within us.  Questions like: “Why is there something different about you?”, “Why do you live that way?”, and “How can you forgive when I never could in your situation?” are open doors to share the Gospel with others.

May God use your life as such a powerful testimony of His love, mercy and grace that people are drawn to the Light you carry.  May they also see the radiance and genuine expression of grace and mercy that clearly reflects the evidence of a transformed life.  In many ways, this is the call of the In-Place Missionary — which is you!

Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols, and Ponderings Series: Moses as a Type of Christ (Part 1)

Moses is one of the best known types of Christ found in the Old Testament typology. His life, teaching, preaching and predictions as a major Old Testament prophet directly parallel Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. Below, you will findegypt “Part 1” on Moses’s early life and the corresponding direct parallels to the life and ministry of Jesus. “Part 2”, which will be posted in the coming weeks, will contain the second half of Moses’s life.

Born under Foreign Rulers:

  • Moses was born in Egypt many years after Joseph, who famously saved the region from famine, died. The current reigning pharaoh knew nothing of the Hebrew-Egyptian partnership and worried about the growing Jewish population and their influence within his land. Out of fear of being overthrown, he made the Hebrews his slaves and forced them into hard labor and oppression (Exodus 2:3-10).
  • Jesus was born during the rule of the infamously power hungry, murderous and paranoid Herod the Great, the king of Judea (a client kingdom of Rome). Aside from Herod, the Romans were generally considered much less oppressive than the pharaoh of Moses’s day; however, the Jews’ activities were carefully monitored by the Roman government to ensure the peace was kept and no activity would lead to an overthrow (Franz, Gordon; Matthew 2).

Child of the Poor; Born to be a King:

  • Moses’s mother was a Jewish slave; but he became a prince of Egypt. As a prince, he could have forsaken his heritage as a Hebrew and experienced the lavish riches and lifestyle of the royal Egyptian family. However, he was nursed by his biological mother and raised in his early years with his kinsmen. It was a bond he never forgot, eventually causing him to reject the Egyptians as his adopted family and resent the unfair treatment of his people (Exodus 2:11).
  • Jesus was born in a manger, but He is the Son of God and often referred to as the “King of kings and Lord of lords”, which refers to a ruler who holds complete power to exercise dominion over His realm (GotQuestions). When He walked among His disciples, His intention was never to rule over men as a “king” in the traditional sense. For His followers who were vying for control, power and a special seat of honor, this caused a great amount of confusion (Matthew 20:20-28; Revelation 17:14, 19:16).

Lives Threatened at Birth:

  • Pharaoh feared the Hebrews in Egypt and commanded the midwives of Jewish mothers to kill all newborn boys; however, the little boys were spared because the midwives feared God and protected them. As a result, God blessed the midwives for their faithfulness (Exodus 1:15-22).
  • After Moses was born, his mother hid him to ensure his safety. When she no longer could keep him hidden, she placed Moses in a basket along the Nile to be noticed by Pharaoh’s daughter who had gone to the river to bathe. The Egyptian princess took pity on the baby in the basket, and Moses’ life was spared from death (Exodus 1:15-22).
  • Jesus’ life was also threatened at birth. King Herod, who ruled over the land where Jesus was born, was paranoid and power hungry. In fact, the fear of losing his thrown consumed him to such a horrifying degree that he murdered his own family (Frankz, Gordon; Losch, Richard).
  • After Herod heard the prophecy stating a king more powerful than he would be born in his land during his lifetime, he instructed his soldiers to murder all the little boys born within his kingdom to ensure no one could take his crown (Matthew 2:3-18).

Adopted:

  • Moses was adopted into Pharaoh’s family; Jesus was adopted into Joseph’s family. Neither man was raised by his biological father (Exodus 2:10; Matthew 1:19-21).

Childhood in Egypt:

  • Moses was raised as a prince of Egypt (Exodus 2:10).
  • Mary and Joseph fled with Jesus to Egypt to hide him from King Herod (Matthew 2:13).

An Early Calling; Realized Years Later:

  • Moses felt a deep calling to deliver his people, the Hebrews, from slavery. After Moses killed an Egyptian man for abusing a Hebrew slave, he fled to Midian and was unable to realize the calling on his life until 40 years later (Exodus 2:11-15, 3:7-10; Acts 7:25-30).
  • At the age of twelve, Jesus spoke with the religious teachers in the Temple. He began His ministry when He was about 30 years old; and He completed His calling through His death, burial and resurrection at the age of 33 (Matthew 4:12-25; Luke 3:23).

Wandered through the Wilderness before Fulfilling Calling:

  • The wilderness is used in the Bible as time of change, transition and revelation. Moses wandered through the wilderness when he fled Egypt (Exodus 3). In the wilderness, he married Zipporah, had children, and encountered God in the burning bush, changing the course of his life forever.
  • Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. In the wilderness, He fasted and was tempted by the devil. The experience in the wilderness was a necessary precursor to Jesus’s ministry (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1).

Kept the Company of Gentiles:

Performed Miracles:

Both were Tempted:

  • Moses could have enjoyed the life of a prince, but his heart was with his kinsmen, the Hebrews (Hebrews 11:24-27).
  • After 40 days of fasting, Jesus was tempted in wilderness to turn stones to bread, test God the Father and take the world as His kingdom. However, Jesus never sinned (Matthew 4:1-9).

Became Shepherds:

  • Moses watched over his father-in-law’s sheep (Exodus 3:1).
  • Jesus is the “Good Shepherd” (John 10:6-16).

Moved by Compassion for Israel:

  • Moses saw the unfair treatment of his family and friends in Egypt, and felt called to rescue them (Acts 7:23-24).
  • Jesus chose to die for us. Even as His own people called for His crucifixion, He asked the Father to forgive them (Luke 23:34).

Other Interesting Discoveries while Researching this Topic:

  • When the mummy of the Egyptian pharaoh named Thutmoses II was discovered, scientists were surprised to find cyst-like scars covering his body, indicating he may have experienced the infamous plague of boils (www.bible.ca).

Resources:

Is God Real?

Is God real? How do you know? Faith is often intangible; therefore, how do you explain to others how God is real to you? These restless questions from friends and strangers echo in my ears. The latest praying_on_bible_redPew Research polls show a record number of people leaving and rejecting organized religion.  The people who responded to that poll join the chorus of dissatisfied people who no longer see value in following the traditions of faith. Some people want nothing to do with God or church. Others are simply looking for something – anything – real. Intellectual debates about faith are fun but rarely persuade minds to think differently. In a world filled with sorrow and chaos, words often seem empty.

If words simply aren’t enough to change a mind, what can? Evidence of changed hearts often change minds where words fail. Below are eight amazing personal stories about the reality of God. The people who graciously contributed to this blog post come from different backgrounds, upbringings and views about faith. All stories paint a beautiful picture of a powerful, personal and loving God. Here are their stories:

Andrea
I experienced God’s reality from a very young age because of spiritual warfare. At night, I saw terrifying waking nightmares. They weren’t night terrors, but they were just as frightening. When I experienced those terrible visions, my mother talked about Jesus who could protect me. I memorized Scripture and cried out to Him when the tormenting images reoccurred. The Word became my armor and my sword against the enemy.  God was always there to comfort me.

As an adult, I feel His heart and His love for me and other people. I’ve seen Him perform miracles and accomplish the impossible. He is my provider and sustainer. This knowledge of His reality has changed everything about me. He is like my breath. We are one and cannot be separated.

Barbara
I had a pastor years ago who said, “God is more real than my right arm!”  I didn’t get it for years and then one day, it was like a lightbulb turned on.  I’m right right-handed.  If I couldn’t use my hand or arm, it would be extremely difficult to function.

God has done so many miracles for me.  When I was seriously ill with cancer, I thought I was dying.  God came to me, comforted me and touched me.  He is the very breath I breathe.  His Word says the Holy Spirit is always with us, and He’s a very present help in time of trouble.  I have found this statement to be true.  Belief and trust in Him has changed my life.  I don’t always get it right, but I know God is with me and will be with me until the end.  Because of His peace, I know we will be okay; and one day we will be with Him forever.

Heather W.
I’ve been a Christian for many years, but on one particular day, God encountered me.  It’s a day I’ll never forget.  In a moment of prayer, He healed me from crippling anxiety.  For the first time in my life, I felt true IMG_7190_p_smpeace and joy flood my soul.  I found Him in the midst of sweet surrender, after finally letting go of the power and control I thought I had (but never really did).

He changed the lives of others around me.  Nothing speaks louder of His reality than to see Him at work.  It’s awe inspiring to see lives completely change when people are in His presence.  It is mind blowing to see Him heal injuries, remove fevers, grow legs, heal stage four cancer and the terminally ill.  It’s impossible not to fall on your face when you hear His whispers and minutes, hours or days later see Him confirm something you’ve heard Him say.  Yes, God is real.  He is love.  He is an encounter.

Daniel
Yes, God is real. How do I know? I believe there are good, rational arguments to be made; but those reasons are not why I believe. I have witnessed and experienced too many healings, miracles and prophecies that attest to the existence of a God who loves me more than I could ever imagine to not believe He is real. This belief changed my life and caused me to reevaluate my view of myself, others and the world; and it convinced me to sacrifice many things in my life because of my relationship with Him. Grace has completely ruined my life in the best possible way.

Matt
God miraculously saved my eye once when I was a baby, and He spoke to me once when I was a young child. That being said, I’ve never been a believer in “Jesus as the Son of God.” I feel that God allows one to believe as He sees fit for you. My belief in God hasn’t really changed me other than the memories from when I was young. Whatever “God” is, it’s omnipresent.

Gary
I’ve seen God do the miraculous and become the perfect, just-in-time solution to impossible situations throughout my life. All the little pieces always fell into place at just the right moment.  It could have never happened that way by chance. He literally saved my life. I saw His hand provide for me even when I didn’t know Him as my Savior. As a result of seeing how Jesus has protected me, I recently decided to follow Him. Now, I am exploring my new life with Him.

Heather H.
I know God is there.  I see Him work in my life and through others around me.  I’ve seen too many things happen to not believe He is real.  When everything in life goes horribly wrong and you shout and scream at Him, He shows Himself.  Trust me.  He makes Himself known, especially when you’re angry with Him.  He changed everything.  If He wasn’t here, I wouldn’t be here.

Leslie
I spent most of my life as an atheist/agnostic after several bad experiences with the church. However, that all changed when I was going through a tough season in my life; and I began to feel God walking withhands-compassion me and comforting me. When I felt depressed and angry thoughts, He whispered words of encouragement. It was His relentless love that drew me into a decision to follow Him.

His reality has caused me to realize how blessed I am. I recognize how loved I am by my wife, family and friends. If I were to die tomorrow, I’d go a fulfilled man because I know what it means to feel true joy and love beyond what I ever thought I’d have.

Final Thoughts
Testimonies, encounters and love will always speak louder than words from any pulpit or through online arguments with others who believe differently.  This world is starved for hope, encouragement and reality.  I hope you will be brave and share your stories with others around you.  You are His vessel for someone else’s encounter with a very real God.

Heart Matters and the Idolatry of Religion

Here’s a provocative statement that may offend some fellow believers: love and our relationships with God and other people are more important than obeying rules and laws. If this statement is true, howBible then do we reconcile Jesus’s statement, “If you love me, obey my commandments” (John 14:15)? First, we must love, then we can demonstrate that love through obeying His laws.

The Shema (Jewish prayer) from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 emphasizes love/faith over law through this statement, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” The Shema is a filter to be applied to the laws that follow it. Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Romain in his article Why is the Shema so significant? explains this sentiment beautifully: “The Shema stands out as a cry of belief, something that cannot be simply carried out or avoided but has to be personally taken to heart.”

Religion without Relationship is Idolatry

If idolatry is the act of worshipping something other than God, than it seems fair to state religion without a personal relationship/love of God is essentially idolatry (Colossians 2:23, Acts 17:22). James A. Fowler in his article God Hates Religion puts it this way, “The English word “religion” is etymologically derived from the Latin word religo, meaning to ‘bind up.’ Religion binds people up in rules and regulations or in ritualistic patterns of devotion.” The religious spirit controls its followers through fear and guilt by demanding perfection through works to better one’s stance with God and man (Matthew 6:1-8, Philippians 2:3, and 2 Corinthians 12:7, and 1 John 4:18). In this scenario, God is viewed as a demanding boss; and His followers are underperforming employees with whom He’s frequently angry and dissatisfied.

A sacrifice given out of pride or apathy is another religious idol. It is performed out of self-exalting piety, without thought or thankfulness to God. Prideful giving is often haughty and flaunts how well one is able to meet such requirements compared to others. However, it’s the not quantity of what we give or the awe of others that makes us right with God but the quality of our motivations and the thankfulness of our hearts for all that God has given us. Isaiah 1:10-15 and Amos 5:21-24 illustrate this idea through God’s repeated rejection of “meaningless offerings.”

Cain’s Offering – An Example of Religion, Wrong Motives and Why it Matters

In Genesis 4, we see religion and love’s stark contrast. Abel was a shepherd who offered God the best of his flock which God accepted. Cain was a farmer who offered God some of his crops, but his offering was not accepted. Why? The words “best” and “some” provide clues. Abel gave God his best; Cain only gave God some of his crops, indicating he kept the best for himself. When Cain was angered by his offering’s rejection, God told him that he must first “do what is right.” Instead, jealousy over his brother’s offering lead him to kill Abel. Cain’s jealous was birthed from wrong motivations, giving from an ungrateful heart, instead of thanks. Even if Cain had given the best of his crops to God, the offering would have still been rejected due to the state of his heart.

Other Scriptures Confirming the Importance of Love/Heart over Law

  • Desiring mercy not sacrifice – “But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with such scum?’ When Jesus heard this, he said, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.’ Then he added, ‘Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices. For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (Matthew 9:11-14).
  • Food restrictions – In Romans 14, Paul instructed early church believers not to judge each other over what food should or shouldn’t be eaten. Christians in the early church were Messianic Jews (Jewish converts to Christianity) and gentiles. Jewish laws prohibited the Jewish people from eating certain foods; gentiles were not required to follow the same laws. Therefore, some believers felt convicted to not eat certain foods while others did not. Interestingly, the Bible says a believer who feels convicted that he should not eat the food in question but does it anyway has sinned; the person who did not feel the same conviction did not sin by eating the same food.
  • Giving, prayer and fasting with the wrong motives – “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them.” (Matthew 6:5-7).
  • Condition of the heart when approaching God with prayer – Before we approach the throne for prayer, God requires that we come to Him with faith and trust that He will do what we ask of Him and that we will pray with the right motives. See Why Won’t God Answer My Prayers? for a deeper study of this topic.
  • The wicked hearts of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah – these towns were destroyed for their willful disregard for others who were suffering and their depth of depravity (Ezekiel 16:49, Jeremiah 23, and Isaiah 1). See the Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols and Ponderings Series Part 3 – Sodom and Gomorrah for an in-depth study of the people who lived there.
  • Worshipping God with modesty not out of showy materialism (1 Timothy 2:9-10) – See Relevant Magazine‘s article Yoga Pants and What the Bible Really Says about Modesty about this topic.
  • Measuring gluttony  How much of something is too much? Who determines the measurement? Could it be the answer lies in the conviction of the heart about what is just enough and what is too much? (Proverbs 23:20-21)

Jesus is Our Perfection

Doesn’t God demand perfection from us? Yes, He does, and we should do the best we can to live righteously because we love the God who gave His Son for us (Matthew 5:20, Matthew 5:48). However, it’s important to remember, our measuring stick is not how well we’re able to keep the laws because we all have fallen short of the glory of God (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:23). Perfection is something we can never attain. Instead of focusing on our lack of perfection, we should fix our eyes on Jesus’s grace (Galatians 2:20). His blood sufficiently covers what we’ll never attain on our own (Romans 3:21-24, 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Who God is to Me

How do you know God is real? Various people in my life havebutterfly-lens-flare asked me this question from time to time. And it’s a good question. I truly respect people who can say they have the faith to believe in a God they never see, hear or experience; however, I struggled occasionally with a certain level of doubt about who God is and at what level He is involved with humanity. This is my open and honest self-assessment.

Most of my Christian life (about 20 years) was based on faith alone. For a while, that was good enough, but it was difficult to maintain. I grew up in a church that claimed to believe in a powerful God, but I never saw Him move. I just knew He saved me, and that was enough. And it truly IS enough based on Jesus’s “mustard seed” statement in Matthew 17:20. But I wanted more, and my whole life was about to turn upside down.

The past three and a half years have been the most transformative years of my life. My life changing journey began with a simple prayer to know God at a deeper level. I told Him I was thankful for saving me, but I wanted to actually know Him as more than my “knight in shining armor.” I wanted a real relationship beyond saving the “damsel in distress.”

A couple of weeks later, I was offered an opportunity to join a discipleship group with two other wonderful women. This was a major step for me as an introvert. I didn’t know either of the other two women very well, and it caused major stress and discomfort for me at the time. However, I decided I would never grow spiritually if I didn’t try something; and, I reluctantly agreed to join the study.

A year passed, and the strangers in my discipleship study became like close sisters. Each of us had our own journeys and struggles, but we perfectly complimented each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I’m extremely thankful to God and to those two women for those days. I’m not sure I could have made it through the months that followed without such amazing support and love as my foundation. By the end of the discipleship study, I began to realize I didn’t know God well at all. This realization broke my heart, and it pushed me even harder to keep searching. Was it a divine appointment for the three of us to meet? I’d like to think so.

The months that followed were some of the hardest in my life. I’ve mentioned different pieces of this part of my life in previous blog entries. I’ve come to understand that, at least in my story, it’s hard to truly know God if you don’t have a situation where dependence on His provision and divine intervention aren’t required. That story is long; therefore, I’ll simply point you to a previous entry that details a series of amazing events that occurred. Here’s very short summary: In a day, I was pulled out a dire situation and given a new opportunity. I was healed from a crippling anxiety disorder and learned the immensity of God’s love. These events radically changed the direction of my life and a level of understanding God.

For months after that life changing moment, I experienced and witnessed things I couldn’t explain. I was from a denomination that didn’t believe in speaking in tongues, but I spoke in tongues anyway. I watched the emotional crutches (over-planning for every situational outcome) I had been using to cope with my anxiety slowly dissolve away. Even my own family admits I’m a different person. I’m strong and confident (although still an introvert). I can speak in front of large crowds, and I don’t become a quivering puddle of gelatin. Life still has its stressful moments, but I’m not anxious. What a difference!

During the last year and half of my life, I saw two dear friends come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior. They claimed some of the events that led to their decisions to follow Jesus were supernatural in nature, and I believe them. They are both normal, logical and sane individuals. How do you explain away things like a car radio cycling through stations with static except for the words “don’t doubt the Word of God” with each word on a different station? My friend’s daughter witnessed the whole thing. If it wasn’t God, but it really happened, then how did it happen?

I’ve also witnessed and personally experienced physical healing. How do you explain away a fever leaving a body or pain and swelling leaving a pair of legs in a moment of prayer? Both occurrances happened. The girl with the fever was one of my discipleship study friends. I was the one with the swollen shins. These experiences as well as being healed from the anxiety disorder have recently stirred a passion to join a local healing ministry to help others find wholeness is Christ.

At this point in my life, I’ve experienced too many seemingly coincidental or unexplainable moments to not believe God is real and deeply cares about us. He cares not just about our final destination but about the person we become and the lives we touch along the way.

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.