Tuesday, September 30, 2014

2013 Mt. Airy Apologetics Conference Audio

With Mt. Airy's 2014 "Defending the Faith" conference quickly approaching [For details, see here.], I thought it would be useful to list the audio from last year's conference.  This was one of the best conferences I have attended and the speakers were excellent.  They were as follows:

1. "Why I Became a Christian:"Understanding Truth  -Brett Kunkle

2. "Cold Case Christianity:"Understanding the Facts of Christianity  -J. Warner Wallace

3. "Truth and Compassion:"What You Need to Know about Homosexuality  -Alan Shlemon

4. "The Case for Life:" Does Being Pro-Life Even Matter?   -Jay Watts

5. "How to Become a Apolojedi:" Using Practical Apologetics  -Nathan Hansen [1]

Enjoy and be sure to register for the upcoming Mt. Airy "Defending the Faith" Conference here.

Courage and Godspeed,

1. Audio originally found here.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Context is King

Greg Koukl’s advice to never read a Bible verse but rather to read the context in which the verse resides is an effective principle to follow when studying and applying scripture.  The following are a couple of passages in which its effectiveness can be seen1:

Titus 2:  This passage is sometimes used to argue for intergenerational discipleship. By this it is meant that middle aged men and women are to mentor men and women in their twenties and thirties who in turn are to mentor those in their teens who are to mentor those from ages seven to twelve and so on. Let’s take a look at the passage:

But you must speak what is consistent with sound teaching. Older men are to be self-controlled, worthy of respect, sensible, and sound in faith, love, and endurance. In the same way, older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not addicted to much wine. They are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and children, to be sensible, pure, good homemakers, and submissive to their husbands, so that God’s message will not be slandered.
Likewise, encourage the young men to be sensible about everything. Set an example of good works yourself, with integrity and dignity in your teaching.2

Now, granted each one of us is to be an example of Christ to those younger than us, but the concept of intergenerational discipleship is just not here. Take a look at what I have put in bold font. From this it is clear that older married men and women are to disciple younger married men and women. I have a three year old son and I do not want him to be a disciple of a seven or eight year old.

Philippians 4:13:  This passage is often read as a promise that with any task we set out to accomplish, say run a four minute mile, Christ will give us the strength to get it done. Is that really what Paul meant? Let us put this paraphrase in bold within the text to see if it works.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last you have renewed your care about me, but lacked the opportunity to show it. I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content-whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to run a four minute mile through Him who strengthens me.3

Obviously, this does not work so what is Paul talking about? Perhaps he is talking about having contentment in all circumstances. Now let us put this paraphrase within the text and see what results.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last you have renewed your care about me, but lacked the opportunity to show it. I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content-whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to have contentment in all circumstances through Him who strengthens me.

Clearly this fits much better in the context of the larger passage. In conclusion, never read a Bible verse. Always read at least a paragraph.

Stand firm in Christ,

1. All references are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
2. Titus 2:1-7.
3. Philippians 4:10-13.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Praise: Beautiful Rider by Jake Hamilton & The Sound

My sister-in-law recently sent me this album as a gift as she felt strongly I would enjoy it.  She was right!  I thought I would share the song Beautiful Rider which is also the name of the album that was released earlier this year.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Video: Naturalism and How it is Affecting Culture by J.P. Moreland

In this lecture J.P. Moreland explains:
  • why you not only need to know your Bible, but you also need to learn to think philosophically 
  • naturalism, post-modernism and Christianity
  • the importance of the soul
  • dualism
  • consciousness vs. the brain

Courage and Godspeed,

Friday, September 26, 2014

Quote: Nancy Pearcy on the Importance of Apologetics

"The only way teens become truly 'prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks' (1 Pet. 3:15) is by wrestling personally with the questions. Ironically, those who have never grappled with diverse worldviews are actually the most likely to be swept away by them. As G. K. Chesterton wrote, ideas can be dangerous — but they are far more dangerous to the person who has never studied them…we should always couch discussions of Christianity in the language of reasons and evidence. We should be giving apologetics from the pulpit and in the Sunday school classroom. Every course in a Christian school should be an opportunity to show that a biblical perspective does a better job than any secular theory of accounting for the facts in that field, whether psychology, biology, government, or business. Apologetics should be naturally woven in to all our discourse." [1]

Courage and Godspeed,

1. HT: The Poached Egg

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

Part Three: Walking with God in the Furnace

In Part One, Dr. Keller explored the philosophical aspects of suffering.  In Part Two, he took us through what the Bible teaches about it. In Part Three, he is going to take us through the most practical material. Going through the “furnace of affliction” is not a matter of technique, but one of walking with God, or orienting ourselves towards him so that the changes that occur help make us better rather than worse.

Chapter Eleven: Walking

On page 225, Dr. Keller states, “How can we actually, practical, face and get through the suffering that has come upon us?  Most books and resources for sufferers today no longer talk about enduring affliction but instead use a vocabulary drawn from business and psychology to enable people to manage, reduce, and cope with stress, strain, or trauma.   Sufferers are counseled to avoid negative thoughts; to buffer themselves with time off, exercise, and supportive relationships; to problem solve; and to “learn to accept things we can’t change.” But all the focus is on controlling your immediate emotional responses and environment.”

One of the main metaphors given in the Bible for facing affliction is walking.  In many ancient societies, as in our modern western culture, suffering is seen as something to avoid or insulate ourselves from, something that must be endured without flinching or feeling until it passes.  But we are not supposed to just stand our ground against it, but to meet it and move through it without shock, surprise, denial, resentment, fear, surrender or despair.

In Isaiah chapter 43 God says to Israel, “When you pass through the waters…when you pass through the rivers…when you walk through the fire…”  He doesn’t say “if”, but “when”.  And he encourages them by reminding them “do not be afraid, for I am with you.”  This is our promise that God is with us, walking beside us.

In the New Testament, Peter takes the metaphor and drives it further.  In 1 Peter 1:7, he states, “Trials…have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”  Gold, when put through fire, is not destroyed, but melts and the impurities within it are burned off or removed.

Our faith is mixed with all sorts of impurities – commitments to comfort, power, pride, pleasure and self.  Our faith may be abstract and intellectual, thinking we are sinners saved by grace, yet actually thinking we are doing well because we are more decent, open-minded, hardworking or loving than others.  We may have many blemishes on our character.  We may be too harsh, ungenerous, impulsive, controlling, unreliable, fragile, timid or cowardly.  Going through the furnace, we can see who we really are.  Or not.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego found themselves required to conform their religious faith and practice to the dictates of the state.  When confronted with their refusal, they declared that God was able to deliver them, yet could confidently state, “But if not…”  They declared that their confidence was in God, not because they somehow knew he would deliver them, which they did not, but simply because their God is God.  When we trust God for an answer to prayer and it seems that he lets us down when we don’t what we sought, it is because we treat God as a means to an end and our faith and trust is in our own agenda.  Our greatest joy comes from honoring God, not from him giving us what we want in life.  And while Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego found another in the furnace to walk beside them, Jesus went through the furnace of the cross alone.  Why?  Because on the cross he not only suffered with us but for us.

So what can we learn?  We can learn who we are – our strengths and weaknesses.  We can learn to compassionately help others who are hurting.  We can learn to trust in God in a way that will fortify us against life’s impending disappointments.  And we can learn to be wise about life.  God walks with us, but the real question is will we walk with him?  In Dr. Keller’s words, “If we have created a false God-of-my-program, then when life falls apart we will simply assume he has abandoned us and we won’t seek him…So what do you have to do in order to grow instead of being destroyed by your suffering?  The answer is that you must walk with God.  And what is that?  It means we must treat God as God and as there…it means to see with the eyes of your heart how Jesus plunged into the fire for you when he went to the cross… This means remembering the gospel.”

Then you can say to yourself in the furnace, “This is my furnace.  I am not being punished for my sins, because Jesus was thrown into that ultimate fire for me.  And so if he went through that greatest fire steadfastly for me, I can go through this smaller furnace steadfastly for him.  And I also know it means that if I trust in him, this furnace will only make me better.”

On page 236 Dr. Keller says, “There are many people who think of spiritual growth as something like high diving.  They say, ‘I am going to give my life to the Lord…I am really going to transform!’…[but that] is not what a walk is.  A walk is day in and day out praying; day in and day out Bible and Psalms reading; day in and day out obeying, talking to Christian friends, and going to corporate worship, committing yourself to and fully participating in the life of a church.  It is rhythmic, on and on and on…So walking with God through suffering means that, in general, you will not experience some kind of instant deliverance from your questions, your sorrow, your fears…in general it will be slow and steady progress that comes only if you stick to the regular, daily activities of the walking itself...We are called to walk, to grieve and weep, to trust and pray, to think, thank, and love, and to hope.”

Next week Chapter Twelve: Weeping

Until then, don’t take my word for it, read the book – don’t wait for the movie,
and have a little hope on me,

To learn more about Timothy Keller and his work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, you can check out his 
personal website, his Facebook page or the church homepage.

Keller, Timothy (2013), Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-525-95245-9

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Article: Intellectual Faith? by Brett Kunkle

I remember once asking my wife why it is that I sometimes feel more comfortable talking to atheists than I do with fellow Christians.  I then realized that it is because atheists often care more about evidence and reason than most Christians do.  As Brett Kunkle explains in this featured article:

 "Christians tend to talk in terms of feelings and emotions. Atheists tend to talk in terms of science and rationality. "

Now, it should be stated that historic Christianity has always been a rational and intellectually robust worldview and that it is only in recent years that it has become so emotional and feeling driven. Whether you agree with their theology or not, the faith of Calvin, Luther and Aquinas was well thought-out and passionately defended.  

As Kunkle explains about the state of the church today:

"The church has succumbed to a culture that has cordoned off Christianity from all areas of knowledge and reason. Instead, we are relegated to the outskirts of personal private faith, which can only draw upon the resources of feelings and experience. The language Christians use betrays this very fact."

For more details on how the church has retreated from the life of the mind, I recommend J.P. Moreland's Loving God with All Your Mind

So, how can we begin to turn the tide?  Kunkle offers the following practical suggestion:

"It’s time to talk differently. A first step is to pay careful attention to your language. How do you talk about Christianity? Do you merely employ language of feelings and sentiments? Start using cognitive-oriented terms. Talk more about knowledge than faith. Indeed, the New Testament does just that, as knowledge is referenced almost twice as much as faith. Of course, we’re not eliminating talk of faith, just offering a biblical balance."

Amen!  And as I have suggested here, Christians need to learn a new language!

You can read Brett's full article here and I highly recommend his ministry.  

Courage and Godspeed,

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Video: The Fine Turning of the Universe

Here is an excellent video on the fine turning of the universe from the drcraigvideos Youtube Channel.

You can see the first video in this series on the Kalam cosmological argument here.

Courage and Godspeed,

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Book Review: Connecting with Muslims

Book: Connecting With Muslims: A Guide to Communicating Effectively
Author: Fouad Masri
Publisher: InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL., 2014
Pages: 194

About the Author:

Fouad Masri is the founder and president of the CrescentProject, which nurtures transformational relationships between Christians and Muslim and overcomes misconceptions about Islam and Christianity.  He was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon, and received an MA in Islamic studies at Fuller Theological Seminary.  His previous works include the Bridges: Christians Connecting with Muslims DVD curriculum and the books Is the Injeel Corrupted? and Ambassadors to Muslims.


How many Christians can honestly say that they understand Islam?  Are their views of Islam being driven by a stereotype that has instilled a reluctance, or even fear in befriending their Muslim neighbors, coworkers, classmates, shop owners, or those that they may see in the local grocery store?  In his very practical and easy to read book Connecting With Muslims: A Guide to Communicating Effectively, Fouad Masri provides the reader with helpful tools in order that they may be able to initiate conversations with Muslims.  Further, he addresses seven critical questions that Muslims have concerning Christianity.  It is the author’s hope that Christians would see themselves as ambassadors for Jesus Christ to the Muslim people so that the gospel may be shared effectively and without fear.

The book is broken into two main parts.  Part one covers Practical Ways to Connect with Muslims, and Part two, Always be Prepared to Give an Answer, which provides the reader with the tools to be able to respond to seven common questions that Muslims may ask concerning Christianity.

Part One: Practical Ways to Connect with Muslims

In chapter one of the book, titled Our Role in the Great Commission, the author describes how he came to faith in Christ as a Muslim, living in the midst of a war torn Beirut, Lebanon.  Having read the Bible and studied Christianity, he found himself humbled by the love of Jesus Christ and believed that the only way that he could personally make a difference in the midst of the chaos of war was to surrender his life to Christ.  Masri writes, “When you are a follower of Jesus, when you are committed to the teachings of Christ, when you have received Jesus as your Savior, you don’t see people by their religion, race or background.  You don’t see people by their level of education.  You see them as God’s creation.  You see they need a Savior” [pp. 23,24].  This would include those Muslims who have just moved into our neighborhoods, and those we see in the local coffee shops.  He goes on to explain that in sharing the gospel with Muslims, the Christian does not need to be fearful, because we are doing so under the power and authority that is given by Christ. 

In chapter two, titled Compelling Evangelism: Witnessing Like Jesus, the author gives examples from the life of Jesus Christ as to how to effectively share the gospel by focusing on Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well in John 4, and how it provides the believer with some invaluable tools in reaching Muslims.  He points out the importance of meeting Muslims where they are at, and opening conversations with them by asking them their opinions of Christians or what their feelings are concerning religion, rather than asking questions that may be theologically deep and intimidating.  In doing this, the author believes that the conversation may lead into deeper ideas such as what they believe about God and Jesus.  In continuing to use the example of Jesus in John 4, he points out how the woman at the well took the things that Jesus told her and shared with others.  Of this, Masri writes, “Be intentional about sharing the gospel message with Muslims.  You never know how your message to one Muslim could impact an entire community or network of Muslims” [51].

Masri goes on in chapter three, titled Compelling Evangelism: Practical Approaches, to provide the reader with some “biblical approaches that show respect to Muslims and create compelling conversations that lead to Savior Jesus” [p. 55].  This includes samples of simple and clarifying questions to ask, how to integrate scripture into the conversation, the importance of sharing personal testimonies of how God has worked in your life and answered prayer, as well as other stories or examples of the faith, the cultural importance of giving gifts, praying with and for Muslims, and showing hospitality.   

In chapter four of the book, titled Bridge-Building Approaches, the author examines the religious and cultural divides that exist between Christians and Muslims, as he provides the reader with some practical suggestions on how they might be able to close this gap in order to cultivate meaningful relationships.  He reiterates the fact that the believer is to be an ambassador of Christ, and as an ambassador, does not have the task of making people citizens of God’s kingdom, but rather, they are to represent Christ in such a way that they show His love toward them.  One important aspect of this, Masri points out, is gaining a better understanding about “their current worldview and assumptions about God and themselves, and you and your culture” [p. 71].  Masri describes the importance of reading up on the culture of the Muslim people, and learning about things that are important to them, such as their traditional meals, clothing, customs, and beliefs.  Masri’s main point in this chapter is that an ambassador of Christ can better reach Muslims by showing an interest in learning and knowing more about them as a people, and showing them love and friendship.  In this chapter, the author goes on to provide a valuable list of eight important how-tos in building bridges with Muslims.

Part Two: Always Be Prepared to Give an Answer: Responding to Seven Common Questions That Muslims Ask

In the second part of the book, Masri focuses on the beliefs and misconceptions that Muslims may have concerning some of the teachings of the Bible, and how to answer their questions confidently and respectfully.  He points out that the questions that most Muslims ask are not for the purpose of argument, but rather because they are genuinely curious, as he writes, “These questions alone demonstrate to us that they have been wrestling with their questions, maybe for years – and asking you, a follower of Jesus, to answer their questions takes an enormous amount of courage on their behalf” [p. 87].  The common questions that Muslims may have that are covered in this section of the book are, What Do You Think of Muhammad? (chapter 5), Hasn’t the Injeel Been Corrupted? (chapter 6), Who is Jesus, the Son of Mary? (chapter 7), Who Actually Died on the Cross? (chapter 8), Don’t Christians Worship Three Gods? (chapter 9), Why Did Jesus Have to Be Sacrificed?” (chapter 10), and Is the Gospel of Barnabas True?” (chapter 11).  Each of these chapters provide the reader some very useful insights into what Muslims believe on these subjects and how the Christian can provide them with answers in a very respectful and non-argumentative way. 

In the final chapter of the book (chapter 12), titled Use Your Tools, Masri encourages the reader to put the things they have learned in his book into practice, with an urgency in mind, stating that, “In the time it took to read this book, about 6,316 Muslims died without knowing Jesus.  And about 15,000 were born into homes in which the family doesn’t know Jesus” [p. 168].  He closes the book with the challenge, “Meet Muslims.  Talk to Muslims.  Get into spiritual conversations with Muslims.  Welcome Muslims.  Be hospitable to Muslims in your home.  Visit Muslims.  It’s time to reap the harvest God puts in your path.  Use your tools.  Go” [p. 170).

The book also contains eight appendixes which provide the reader with some additional information on The Parables of Jesus, Jesus in the Bible and the Qur’an, The Miracles of Jesus, List of Terms, Translations of the Bible, Five Basic Beliefs of All Christians, and Five Practices of Christians Who Are Following Jesus.

Assessment of the Book:

Connecting WithMuslims: A Guide to Communicating Effectively is a must read for those who are seeking to build relationships with those Muslims that they may come into contact with in their daily lives.  It is a very concise and well written book, making it difficult to put down.  Masri’s use of personal stories in building relationships and sharing the gospel with Muslims are riveting and help the reader to better understand how to put that which is discussed in this book into practice.  Another aspect of this book, is the author’s use of “Action Points” throughout each chapter, which provide the reader with short insights and advice.  While the first part of the book really focuses on the necessity of Christians in being ambassadors for Christ to the Muslim people, I personally found part two to be extremely helpful as it focused on some of the beliefs and misconceptions that Muslims have concerning Christianity and provided some great tools in effectively answering them.  I can see this book as being a continued resource for the reader to refer back to in helping them best communicate the gospel to Muslims. 

One reoccurring thought that this book has left me with is that Islam is not just the religion of those living in the Middle East or other countries throughout the world.  It is the religion of those who live, work, shop, and go to school in our own communities.  While the majority of Christians may not have the opportunity to go to another country on a mission trip, God has brought the mission field to them.  We have been given Christ’s command to “Go,” and this book provides us with some invaluable tools to carry this mission out to the Muslim people.  Therefore, we have no excuse.

May the God of all truth be with you,
Rob Welty

Many thanks to Intervarsity Press for the review copy. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

Frank Tipler on Physics and the Claims of Christianity

"When I began my career as a cosmologist some twenty years ago, I was a convinced atheist. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that one day I would be writing a book purporting to show that the central claims of Judeo-Christian theology are in fact true, that these claims are straightforward deductions of the laws of physics as we now understand them. I have been forced into these conclusions by the inexorable logic of my own special branch of physics." [1]

Courage and Godspeed,

1. Tipler, F.J. 1994. The Physics Of Immortality. New York, Doubleday, Preface.  HT: Evidence for God

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Article: 18 Reasons Christian Leaders Should be Apologists by Saints and Sceptics

Saints and Sceptics is a great blog to find Gospel centered apologetics.  In this featured article, they share 18 reasons why Christian leaders should be apologists.

You can check it out here.

For more of their work, see here.  I highly recommend it!

Courage and Godspeed,

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Everyday Virtues of an Ambassador for Christ

It is my desire to be an effective ambassador for Jesus Christ and I am willing to bet that many of you reading this share that same desire.

Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason has compiled an "Ambassador's Creed" that is worth repeating here:

An ambassador for Christ is…
  • Ready. An Ambassador is alert for chances to represent Christ, will not back away from a challenge or an opportunity, and will not be stumped by the same challenge twice.
  • Patient. An Ambassador won’t quarrel, but will listen in order to understand, then will with gentleness seek to respectfully engage those who disagree.
  • Reasonable. An Ambassador has informed convictions (not just feelings), gives reasons, asks questions, and aggressively seeks answers.
  • Tactical. An Ambassador adapts to each unique person and situation, maneuvering with wisdom to challenge bad thinking, presenting the truth in an understandable and compelling way.
  • Clear. An Ambassador is careful with language and will not rely on Christian lingo or gain unfair advantage by resorting to empty rhetoric.
  • Fair. An Ambassador is sympathetic and understanding towards others and will acknowledge the merits of contrary views.
  • Honest. An Ambassador is careful with the facts and will not misrepresent another’s view, overstate his own case, or understate the demands of the Gospel.
  • Humble. An Ambassador is provisional in his claims, knowing that his understanding of truth is fallible. He will not press a point beyond what his justification allows. 
  • Attractive. An Ambassador will act with grace, kindness, and good manners. He will not dishonor Christ in his conduct.
  • Dependent. An Ambassador knows that effectiveness requires joining his best efforts with God’s power. [1]
Koukl suggests revisiting the creed on a regular basis:

"The creed has been a great help to me. I reread it every month as a regular reminder of the kind of man I want to be for Christ.

I find that if I’m not vigilant and intentional about my character, it’s easy to become shrill, thoughtless, unkind, uncharitable, self-centered…Christ and His Kingdom deserve better than that, though, and reflecting on the Ambassador’s Creed helps me to live closer to my calling." [2]

Courage and Godspeed,

1. Greg Koukl, Virtues of an Ambassador for Christ- Everyday, Jul. 25, 2013.
2. Ibid.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Video: Why Don't Christians Witness? by Bobby Conway

Bobby Conway lays out the reasons Christians do not share the gospel.

Stand firm in, and proclaim, Christ,

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

Chapter Ten: The Varieties of Suffering

So as we have seen, some people are ruined while others are able to gain strength and happiness despite experiencing the same traumatic experiences.  We want a one-size-fits-all solution for handling suffering despite the fact that we come in so many different temperaments and spiritual conditions.  Yet there is nothing less practical.  Also, the suffering itself comes in a wide variety of forms.  So not only can we not think that the same solutions will work for the same situations with different people, but that there are also so many different forms of suffering.  Dr. Keller discusses four basic forms that the Bible speaks of.

The first is simply the direct effects of our own failures.  David violated the law by committing adultery with another man’s wife and then having him murdered.  Jonah tried running from God and later was bitterly angry because God did not destroy Ninevah.  In both cases, God is not punishing them for their sins, but waking them to be humbled and realize something particular in their lives that needed to be dealt.

Other suffering is the result of good and brave behavior that causes betrayal or attacks from others.  Paul was constantly under attack by his own people as well as the Gentiles.  Jeremiah was put in stocks and imprisoned for simply “speaking the truth to power” (Jer 20:1-6).  Such suffering is accompanied by the temptation to become bitter and hardened under the guise of being the noble victim.  While confrontation and the pursuit of justice is required, the desire for vengeance must be resisted and forgiveness pursued.

The third type is considered “universal” because at one time or another, we all face it: grief and loss in the face of our mortality – accident, disease, decay and death.  We see this in Mary and Martha when Jesus comforts them at the loss of their brother.  Christians must learn to direct their minds and hearts to the comfort and hope that Christianity offers.  As Paul exhorted, we do not grieve like those who have no hope, we do not lose heart.

The final type is what many call “senseless”, the mysterious, sudden, overwhelming, horrendous, or needless for which there is no understanding of “why”.  While the Bible pays particular attention to this (see Psalm 44), there is the story of Job.  He wanted to know a specific sin.  He wanted a clear lesson from God.  He wanted to know what in his life had caused this.  But there was nothing in his life.  That was the point of his suffering.  God was leading him to the place where he would obey God simply because he was God, not in order to receive something or get something done.  Such suffering requires honest prayer and crying, the hard work of trusting God and the re-ordering of our lives.

The diversities of suffering not only stem from the external, but from the internal as well.  The different ways we tend to deal with pain and sorrow is described by Simone Weil in her essay “The Love of God and Affliction”.  One way is through isolation.  Either because we no longer feel a shared common experience with those around us or because others stay away because they don’t know what to say or do or they simply fear being drawn in themselves.  Another is implosion where we become so self-absorbed that we get sucked down into ourselves and are unable to see what is happening around us.  The third mark is condemnation when we feel we are being punished and our sense of self-hatred and guilt crushes us with a sense of doom and hopelessness.  Finally, there is the temptation toward complicity.  The noble victim becomes so wrapped in self-pity that it becomes a sweet addiction, an excuse to justify all sorts of behaviors.  Or it could be possible that at some level we feel we need to pay for what we’ve done, so our suffering becomes the means to some end.

Every affliction is virtually unique and every sufferer will need to find their own pathway.  But we can help one another.  We must be careful though not to be like Jobs friends and give true statements with inappropriate applications.  As Don Carson writes about them, “There is a way of using theology and theological arguments that wounds rather than heals.  This is not the fault of theology and theological arguments; it is the fault of the ‘miserable comforter’ who fastens on an inappropriate fragment of truth, or whose timing is off, or whose attitude is condescending, or whose application is insensitive, or whose true theology is couched in such culture-laden clichés that they grate rather than comfort.”

There are things that we can say or do that may encourage some but at the same time discourage others.  We want to be encouraging, to let the sufferer know we understand or share a nugget of wisdom that we find helpful ourselves.  I can recall my own experience sitting in an ER listening to a counselor who was a Christian spout off a dozen or so cliches of encouragement and feeling each one land on my heart like a brick.  Such “help” can be discouraging because it implicitly says to the sufferer that they’re somehow spiritually immature because they are not experiencing peace or knowing the goodness and wisdom of God.  But if every affliction is unique, and every sufferer is unique, and every path through the suffering is unique, how can we help and comfort others in pain?  Be with them, listen to them.  Allow them to lament, wail or cry and lament, wail or cry with them.

Next week we begin Part Three: Walking with God in the Furnace, Chapter Eleven: Walking

Until then, don’t take my word for it, read the book – don’t wait for the movie,
and have a little hope on me,

To learn more about Timothy Keller and his work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, you can check out his 
personal website, his Facebook page or the church homepage.

Keller, Timothy (2013), Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-525-95245-9

Friday, September 12, 2014

Free Advance Pro-Life Argument Course

Below you will find links to a free course on pro-life arguments taught by Scott Klusendorf of the Life Training Institute and Scott Rae.

The course description is as follows:

Successful pro-life apologists pursue four essential tasks. First, they clarify the debate by focusing public attention on one key question: What is the unborn? Second, they establish a foundation for the debate, demonstrating to critics that metaphysical neutrality is impossible. Third, they answer objections persuasively. Fourth, they teach and equip.

The course videos are as follows:

Scott Klusendorf

Session #1: What is the Issue--The Nature of Moral Reasoning (52 Min.)

Session #2: What is the Unborn? (1:08)

Session #3: What Makes Humans Valuable? Part 1: The Substance View of Persons (52 min.)

Session #4: What Makes Humans Valuable? Part 2: The Religion Objection (15 Min.)

Session #5: Who Makes the Rules? Abortion: Law, Metaphysics, and Moral Neutrality (38 Min.)

Session #6: What is my Duty? The Bodily Autonomy Arguments of Thomson, etc. (54 Min.)

Session #7: Catholic Social Justice Teaching and Other Common Objections (46 Min.)

Session #8: Equipping Yourself to Engage at Your Church (46 Min.)

Course notes can be found here.

Dr. Scott Rae taught the other half of the course. His sessions, dealing with reproductive technologies and end of life issues, are found here.

Courage and Godspeed,

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Video: Should Marriage be Changed to Promote Same-Sex Couples?

This video argues that traditional marriage benefits society while same-sex marriage does not.

Courage and Godspeed,

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Dr. Holly Ordway on Truth

"It is a hard thing to look at the truth when it runs contrary to what you've always believed. The experience is like pulling back the curtains in a dimly lit room and looking out the window to see what’s really outside. When your eyes are used to artificial light, the bright sunlight is almost blinding; your eyes may sting and even water at the brightness, and the temptation is to turn away to the more comfortable dimness. But consider: the electricity that powers artificial light is produced by fossil fuel, made from plants that long ago took in the light of the sun—or from windmills, powered by air currents moved by the sun’s heat—or from solar panels, absorbing the sun’s rays. We may think we are in control of the light when we can turn it on or off by a flick of a switch—but ultimately that tame, comfortable indoor light has its source in the wild heart of the sun. Just so with the truth. Whatever we know of what is right and good and true comes from God, the Author of all Truth—whether we know it or not. But His truth is so much greater than our little partial glimpses of the truth that it can be blinding." [1]

Courage and Godspeed,

1. As quoted by Greg West at "The Poached Egg" here.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Article: Ten Important Questions for the Jehovah's Witness Worldview by J. Warner Wallace

Here is another great article by J. Warner Wallace that offers 10 sincere questions for Jehovah's Witnesses.

You can check it out here.

Courage and Godspeed,

Share Your Thoughts: The Substance View of Persons

Francis Beckwith writes the following description of the substance view of persons in his book, Defending Life:  A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice:

According to the substance view, a human being is intrinsically valuable because of the sort of thing it is and the human being remains that sort of thing as long as it exists. What sort of thing is it?  The human being is a particular type of substance - a rational moral agent - that remains identical to itself as long as it exists, even if it is not presently exhibiting the functions, behaving in ways, or currently able to immediately exercise these activities that we typically attribute to active and mature rational moral agents.1

He goes on:

Another way to put it is to say that organisms, including human beings, are ontologically prior to their parts, which means that the organism as a whole maintains absolute identity through time while it grows, develops, and undergoes numerous changes, largely as a result of the organism's nature that directs and informs these changes and their limits. The organs and parts of the organism, and their role in actualizing the intrinsic, basic capcities of the whole, acquire their purpose and function because of their roles in maintaining, sustaining, and perfecting the being as a whole. This is in contrast to a thing that is not ontologically prior to it parts, like an automobile, cruise ship, or computer. Just as a sporting event (e.g., a basketball game, a golf match) does not subsist through time as a unified whole, an automobile, ship, or computer does not as well. It is, rather, in the words of Moreland, "a sum of each temporal (and spatial) part."  Called mereological essentialism (from the Greek "meros" for "part"), it "means that the parts of a thing are essential to it as a whole; if the object gains or loses parts, it is a different object."  Organisms, however, are different, for they may lose and gain parts, and yet remain the same thing over time.2

Do you hold to this view of persons?  If so, why or why not? Feel free to weigh in in the comments below.

Stand firm in Christ,

1. Page 132
2. Page 133

Monday, September 08, 2014

Video: The Kalam Cosmological Argument by J.P. Moreland

In this lecture Dr. J.P. Moreland explains the Kalam Cosmological Argument.  

Courage and Godspeed,

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

Chapter Nine: Learning to Walk

In our modern culture, we pursue methods of self-improvement in order to achieve happiness.  But happiness is not an end product, but the by-product of right relations with God and our neighbors.  Trying to achieve comfort and satisfaction on your own without a life centered on God in Christ will leave you with a lack of self-knowledge and inner emptiness.

Why should we trust God?  “[We] should trust God because he is God and not our personal assistant or life coach.  We should trust him because it is his due, he is worthy of it, not because it will get us something.  If we love and obey God for his own sake, not ours, it begins to turn us into something strong and great and wise.”  Suffering can lead to personal growth, training, and transformation so long as we do not become self-absorbed and make it about improving ourselves.

Much of present therapy consists of removing or managing feelings of low self-esteem, incompetence or worthlessness.  These are considered errors or distortions in thinking.  But what if such negative thoughts are actually correct?  Psychologist James Davies points out that psychological research demonstrates that many people, instead of being plagued with low self-esteem, “are so infected with self-love that they are unable to love others…[and] cannot see beyond the horizon of their own needs and concerns.  They are therefore unable to put themselves to one side and empathize with the needs and pains of others – their reality is best so all should adapt to it.”  Dr. Paul Keedwell writes, “[It] is not the depressive who distorts reality but the so-called healthy population…Even if depression does distort reality in a negative way…the fact remains that it removes the positive self-biases that are seen in the non-depressed.”

Whether one’s life can find improvement from suffering can depend on the strategy used to cope.  Avoidance coping and denial can lead to disaster by blunting emotional reactions or by seeking other distractions such as drinking or drugs.  Active coping and reappraisal combines the “hard inner work of learning and growing with seeking to change the painful external circumstances…Suffering will either leave you a much better person or a much worse one than you were before.”

Dr. Keller than describes four ways the Bible teaches that God uses suffering.  The first is to transform our attitude toward ourselves by engendering humility and removing unrealistic self-regard and pride.  Second, we will realize that some things have become too important in our lives and we must change our relationship to them.  Third, it strengthens our relationship to God.  C. S. Lewis arugued that it is only in suffering that we can hear God ‘shouting’ a set of questions at us: “Were things all right between us as long as I waited on you hand and foot?  Did you get into this relationship for me to serve you of for you to serve me?  Were you loving me before, or only loving the things I was giving you?”  Only in suffering can we come to understand that our faith and trust is truly in God and not just what he does for us.  Finally, suffering enables us to become more tenderhearted and able to comfort others.  As such, the church should be “a community of profound consolation, a place where you get enormous support for suffering and where people find themselves growing, through their troubles, into the persons God wants them to become.”

The Greek word gymnazdo, from which we get our word gymnasium literally meant to be “stripped naked” – to “exercise naked, to train.”  When everything is going well for us, our flaws can be masked and hidden from others.  When difficulties hit us though, we suddenly find ourselves in God’s gymnasium – exposed.  And how do we use a gymnasium?  We put pressure on our limbs and muscles to strengthen and build them.  Too much pressure can cause you to break down.  Too little pressure will have little or no effect and you’ll break down.  What we need to do is put just the right amount of pressure and the right amount of discomfort and pain.  I Corinthians 10:13 encourages us that we can trust God in his gymnasium.  Everything that happens in our life has both a purpose and a limit.

But we must also be prepared, both in our minds and in our hearts so that we are not surprised when suffering occurs.  We prepare our minds by “developing a deep enough knowledge of the Bible and a strong and vital enough prayer life that you will neither be surprised by nor overthrown by affliction.”  This is simple but crucial.  “Some people have the naïve view that because they are fairly savvy people, or self-disciplined, or morally decent, or good Christians – that really, really bad things simply can’t happen to them.  That is nothing but bad theology.  And so many people’s misery and distress in suffering is doubled and trebled, coming not from the trouble itself but from the shock that they are suffering at all.”  It is also helpful to remember that we not expect to understand all God’s ways.  It wouldn’t make sense that all his does make sense.

In our heart’s we know that suffering isn’t just intellectual – “Why is there so much evil and suffering in life?”, but suffering is personal – “How will I get through this?”  Preparation for this requires a prayer life that is consistent, vibrant, theologically deep and existentially rich.  When John S. Feinberg’s wife was diagnosed with a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that had a 50% chance of being passed on to each of his children, he initially struggled with denial, but eventually came to realize “[Who] was I, the creature, to contest the Creator?...the creature has no right to haul the Creator into the courtroom of human moral judgments and put him on trial as though he has done something wrong.  God has total power and authority over me.”

On page 201, Dr. Keller states, “It is one thing to believe in God but it is quite another thing to trust God.  It is one thing to have an intellectual explanation for why God allows suffering; it is another thing to actually find a path through suffering so that, instead of becoming more bitter, cynical, despondent, and broken, you become more wise, grounded, humble, strong, and even content.”

Next week Chapter Ten: The Varieties of Suffering

Until then, don’t take my word for it, read the book – don’t wait for the movie,
and have a little hope on me,

To learn more about Timothy Keller and his work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, you can check out his 
personal website, his Facebook page or the church homepage.

Keller, Timothy (2013), Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-525-95245-9

Friday, September 05, 2014

Article: A Brief Overview of the Jehovah's Witness Worldview by J. Warner Wallace

A few Saturdays ago I had the opportunity to chat with a few Jehovah's Witnesses that came knocking on my door.  Some find these visits to be annoying or intrusive, but for a few reasons I really enjoy them!  First of all, these people are coming to your door wanting to talk about spiritual matters.  How often does that happen?  I know that with family and co-workers it can many times be difficult to get them to want to talk about eternal things, but these folks are primed and ready!

Second, it is a great opportunity for me to learn from a Jehovah's Witness what Jehovah's Witnesses believe.  Articles and books are great, but discussing these issues with them gives you first hand experience in witnessing and assures that you understand what they believe directly from them.

Finally, this occasion provides you with an outstanding chance to share the true gospel of Jesus Christ and share with them why they are mistaken.  Today's featured article from J. Warner Wallace is a great way to prepare for those types of opportunities.

You can check it out here.

Also, do you avoid discussions with Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses because you don't know what to say?  If so, I encourage you to read this article from Stand to Reason's Alan Shlemon.

Courage and Godspeed,