Monday, July 27, 2015

Life after Death: Law, Eternity, and the Changed Mind

There are two pieces, at least two parts of the human experience that every human will partake of: being born, and dying.  That's right.  The death rate for humans is 100%.  I don't think people like to be reminded of that.  It's a shocking thing to consider in fact.  

We all like to pretend we're immortal.  But the body dies.  There are graveyards in every town and community testifying to that fact.  Yet I've seen entire lives lived in rejection of that fact.  I've seen entire stories of people who hide from that fact in their minds.  Until the hospitals descend, and the grimaces of doctors tell the rest.  We're surprised by death.  Why?  Maybe because death isn't normal.  

Every human being born is afflicted with a disease.  It's a disease so insidious that no one even gives it a second thought.  It's accepted.  Yet the human body seems when inquired of by medicine, to have an infinite ability to replenish itself.  Cells in the body have the potential to reproduce and maintain the body structure forever.  Yet for some reason between the ages of 25-30 the stasis of that period begins to descend into deterioration.  Lines form on the face.  Aches and pains begin to develop.  More and more rest is required.  Eventually skin wrinkles and hair turns gray, then white, then loose. 

Death comes to us all.  Many dodge the topic, yet I think we all seem to understand that death is a reality.  Yet some starry eyed dreamers might still ask: "What is the cure to death?" Or:

"Where might I drink of the waters of the fountain of youth?"  

But most simply ignore the fact, dodge the fact, bury the fact, and eventually when all other options are exhausted... they accept the fact.

Death is coming for all of us.  That fact is indisputable.  The question is, can man live forever?  Is there such a thing as eternal life?  The clock is ticking on every life.  I think something like 100,000 people die worldwide per day.  Is there life after death?

For the atheist the answer is most certainly no.  A person does not live on.  In fact for the atheist, in billions of years the stars of the universe will eventually burn themselves out and all life in the universe will vanish.  And finally the great black nothingness of empty lifeless, light-less space. Entropy is complete.  Is that really the ultimate reality?  I don't think so. 

For the Christian, we believe all people have souls made in the image of God, that live forever.  Yet every person is appointed to die physically.  Even Jesus Christ, God on Earth had to endure the suffering of physical death.  The word of God says "Man is appointed once to die, and then comes the judgement" (Hebrews 9:27).  

But the answer for Christians is yes, every person has value and every soul will live forever.  The primary question of eternal life is the quality of that life which hinges on a theological concept called "the judgement seat of Christ." 

Or as it's phrased in Corinthians: We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. 2 Corinthians 5:10

God the architect of the universe, the stars, the laws of space and time and the human soul will indeed one day bring into judgement every single person who has ever lived.  I don't know that such a process is particularly surprising.  One of the most fundamental aspects of the human experience is our interaction with conscience.  We each have a sense of what is right and wrong.  We wrestle with that aspect of ourselves throughout our entire lives.  It's not surprising that a good God would indicate and enforce quality moral standards for his people.  Imagine how perfect the world would be if everyone lived in moral perfection.  

And so we come to the crux of our problem: Our own moral failings face to face with God's perfect standard.

Have you read through the various commands of the Old Testament?  There are many, over 300 I believe?  Anyway, probably the most popular are the notorious "Ten Commandments."  Shall we take a look?

Exodus 20:2-17

  1. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
  3. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
  4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
  5. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.
  6. “You shall not murder.
  7. “You shall not commit adultery.
  8. “You shall not steal.
  9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

As a Protestant I guess I'm not a huge fan of the ten commandments.  But feelings aside there really isn't anything too unreasonable here.  

Assuming God is God, don't worship false Gods, golden caves, carved figurines, and worship God only.  Since God made the universe and loves us, we ought to love him back and worship him.  That takes care of 1 and 2.  

3rd commandment, "Don't use my name as a cuss word."  I don't know but I think God is being pretty reasonable when he asks us to not use his name as a cuss word.  I wouldn't want my name used as a cuss word "Justin Steckbauer!"  God wouldn't either.  Fair enough.  

The 4th command indicates that we should take one day off to relax and honor God.  God says rest.  I'm already on board with that.  Rest is great.  I need more of it.  

5th says honor your parents.  I struggle with that one at times, I don't always get along with my dad.  And I feel the need to vent rather negatively regarding his previous conduct, har har.  But I shouldn't do that.  My parents did raise me, I think they deserve my respect.  

Let's see... don't murder.  I definitely agree.  Imagine a world where no one murdered others, or shot up churches?  That would be great.  Seven, don't sleep with someone else's husband or wife.  I agree with that.  Why do people feel the need to cut in on other peoples relationships?  I think they have a phrase for that: homewrecker. 

Eight, don't steal.  I've stolen stuff.  Many times in my life.  And I try not to do that today.  Yep, the world would be much better if people didn't steal.  Just think of Wallstreet and the Federal Reserve.  

Nine, don't lie about your friends, or even strangers.  Don't lie about what they did or didn't do.  I've done that.  I've blamed things on my sister when I was younger, when it was me.  And I felt guilty too.  I'm sure I've done that as an adult too.  Maybe to cover my poor behavior.

And ten, don't want what others have.  Or as they said in the roaring 50s and 60s, "keeping up the joneses."  Today it's competing over cell phones, Ipads, hot rods, possessions, lawn care, or even sports teams.  God says "stop wanting everything."  We've got all we need.  Stop desiring what your neighbor has.  That seems reasonable.  

As you can probably tell, when it comes to the laws of God... I'm guilty.  I've broken all ten in one way or another (No I didn't kill anyone, but the word of God says that anyone who hates a brother is guilty of murder.)  How about you?  How would you stack up in your obedience to the 10 commandments?  Click here to take the test: Are You a Good Person?

So how does this work anyway, is God grading on a curve?  Can I sneak by with a C+?

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. James 2:10 ESV  


For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. Romans 3:20 ESV

God has a perfect standard, and I am guilty.  That means I'm in serious trouble.  On judgment day, standing on my own good deeds, I will not be good enough to live in the presence of God.  I'll be found guilty, and eternally disconnected from God.  Does that seem too mean and judgmental of God?  I don't think so.  Look at how terrible our world is today because of sin.  Sin is serious.  Whenever I've sinned, I've does an offense to God himself.  I have to remember he created me, from nothing, he owns me, and all things belong to him.  I myself belong to him.  It's reasonable to say that I'm accountable, and that a just God must provide consequences for serious crimes against good conduct.  I think we've all been guilty of adding to the problems of Earth, instead of improving them.  Left on my own standing, I deserve to be disconnected from God and left in a place of isolation.  Some call that "hell."  Spooky, but in reality, a place of disconnection from God.  And I deserve it.  When I really think about it thoroughly, it's true... I really do. 


But praise God that it doesn't end there.  God himself has provided a savior for us, a certain Jesus Christ of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago.  


Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-44 ESV)


In other words: "For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,[a] he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." (Romans 8:3-4 ESV)


All of that to say: Jesus Christ is our ticket to life everlasting.  (John 3:16)  Jesus Christ is our fountain of youth. (John 4:14)  Jesus Christ is our way to eternal life. (John 14:6)


Each of us need to put on Jesus Christ.  The instant we do that his perfect life, perfect death, and perfect resurrection pay our debt in full.  God welcomes us into full communion with him.  It's a wonderful arrangement, considering our transgressions, which we work so hard to hide from.  


Death is approaching.  It's coming for all of us.  It's like a hunter, stalking us through the wilderness.  Though we will all experience physical death (the shadow of death) we can have eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  


We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. -Galatians 2:16 ESV

We believe in Jesus Christ.  We believe that he really is who he claimed to be: God in the flesh.  And we "repent."  I don't really like that word.  What it means is to "have a change of mind."  We change our mind about what is right and wrong.  We decide to abandon our own distorted views, and embrace God's teachings regarding life.  We embrace the Christian worldview.  We agree to live as Jesus lived.  We look to Jesus for how to live.

Jesus Christ gave us a new commandment that we are to obey above all the OT commands.  He said the new command is that we love one another.  We are to love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34).  Love is the commandment we are under in modern times.  


"Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law." -Romans 13:8


Let all that you do be done in love.1 Corinthians 16:14 ESV  

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.1 John 4:11-12 ESV 

So assuming we put on Jesus Christ as our "parachute" of sorts for when this world comes crashing down, how can we know that we are remaining in Christ throughout our lives?

Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.1 John 2:6 ESV 

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
James 4:8 ESV  

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. John 14:15 ESV 

This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 1 John 4:17 ESV

We can know we are abiding in Christ throughout our years on this Earth by living like Jesus did.  Jesus helped those in need, loved the unlovable, and stood up for the truth.  

This has been a difficult topic.  It's always difficult when we're trying to look at ourselves in an unfettered light.  The purpose of the laws of God were to show us, to convict us of our need for a savior.  I'm not trying to hurt anyone of you with these descriptions.  But it may be offensive.  The word of God itself says the gospel is an offense to those who are perishing, but it is the very word of life to those who are being saved.  To me, it used to be an offense.  Now it's the power and truth of God himself saving me.

These are difficult concepts to deal with.  The judgement of God, the wrath of God, the idea of eternal disconnection from God.  I hope I haven't scared anyone off with these ideas.  But they are the facts.  Yet we must believe and understand that these stark realities can, yes, can be reconciled with the incredible love and grace of God.  He loves us deeply.  He loves us with a full heart.  That's why he offered this simple agreement of believing in Jesus Christ and having a change of mind about life.  And then we are reborn as his own children.  That is beautiful.  He wants all to be saved.  

But a loving, graceful, merciful Father wouldn't be a good dad if he didn't also act justly, and punish those who are doing wrong.  When a child does something wicked, the dad scolds the child, and the child has a change of mind, and the dad lovingly welcomes the child into closeness with the Father once more.  It is similar when we sin against God, and then repent and believe in Jesus Christ.

I can't say I fully understand all of it.  In fact if I was making up my own god I would do it differently.  But that fact doesn't change the reality of my situation.  Just because I don't want to believe in a God who punishes evil doesn't mean that God suddenly disappears.  The facts on the ground are simple, this is the situation, and the arrangement for salvation is simple: have a change of mind, embrace the Christian worldview, and put on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, your righteousness forever.  

I'm sure we will understand better in the next life, but in this one our field of view is limited, and these vast concepts escape our ability to fully comprehend.  We want a God of unconditional love, yet we want justice for those who do evil.  We want Hitler, Stalin and Bin Laden punished for their sins, but we want unconditional love despite our own.  We obviously can't see the issues clearly enough, personal bias, whatever it is, better to trust God, and his plan.  His arrangement for the salvation of his people is simple: Faith in Jesus Christ, and changing our lives in response to His.

Consider these things carefully if you haven't yet made that commitment.  If you have made that commitment, are you living it?  Are you really living like Jesus Christ?  Have you had a change of mind?  Consider these issues carefully.  Pray if you are confused, and seek answers in his Holy word.  You won't be disappointed.  God is good, and God is love.  In the end analysis, though I don't fully understand these concepts of judgment and sin, I trust my God and his plan, that he is doing the right thing.  I really do.  You should too.  He made us from nothing.  He knows what hes doing.  Maybe I need to stop judging God, and let him do his job, running the universe, while I do mine, serving those in need.

Death is something we all face.  Death is terrifying when we think about it.  Physical death is a stark reality for planet Earth.  Lots of people are dead and lots of people are dying.  Do we have souls?  Yes we do.  We're all going to live forever.  The question is, when the jury is summoned, the court room laid forth before the throne of God, what shall the prosecutor say?  Will he have a long list of your crimes?  Or will Jesus Christ enter the court room, remove that list of crimes, and declare you innocent before God?  Will you then receive riches in heaven for your many good deeds?  And eternal life, transfixed with joy, with the billions before you whom have chosen the Son?  I pray so.  

I hope you will humble yourself, and accept such a simple and profound arrangement.  I find it to be the state of the absolute truth of this moral universe we engage upon.  It is the very soul stuff of existence itself.  We are moral beings, found immoral, yet for those who choose it, made perfect in Jesus Christ the one who defeated death on the cross 2,000 years ago. 

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
-1 John 2:1-6 (ESV) 

  Related Posts:

  1. Wisdom from Above: Living in Light of the Victory of Jesus Christ
  2. The Mindset of Christ: Teach Me How to Live, Lord
  3. A Rational Inquiry of the Bible: Is it reliable? Is it the word of God?
  4. You Oh Lord are my Strength: The Manifold Provision of God
  5. Love Others: The Second Great Command
  6. What is the Gospel?
  7. Does man need God in Western Civilization: Young People are Hungry for the Truth
  8. Real Christianity: Clothing, Buildings, Money, & Extravagance
  9. The Stairway to Heaven
  10. Salvation of the Soul: Is it Conditionally Secure or Eternally Secure?

 A special thanks to Living Waters, the ministry of Ray Comfort who inspired me to write this post.  Thank you for the Way of the Master. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Wisdom from Above: Living in Light of the Victory of Jesus Christ


Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 

Ephesians 5:15-17 ESV

Ah wisdom, who can have it?  Who can live wisely in such a strange corner of the universe?  Who can live on this place they call Earth?  More so, who can live rightly? 

Perspective I think, it's all about perspective.  We arm ourselves with truth, we gird ourselves with it.  We see rightly, and we learn to live rightly.  Yet blindness is common in this life.  People seem to hide from truth.  They set up systems to subvert it.  They develop industries to plod around it.  Yet it's God's wisdom, the wisdom we ought to have that allows us to see through the ploys of this world.  Or as it says in the good word:
 "Make the best use of your time, for the days are evil."  They are indeed.  Truly they are.

When one reads in the news of the body parts of exterminated fetuses being sold for profit by a government funded organization like Planned Parenthood... You start to wonder, has everyone gone crazy?  What is it our government is sanctioning and encouraging?  

On a day to day basis our society can seem, on the surface, fairly clean cut and decent.  At least that's how it seemed to me when I was growing up.  Obviously there were issues, but it seemed like society was basically good, and people were basically getting along fairly well.  As I got older that facade seemed to peel away.  Just beneath the surface it was rotting away.  With the internet and the spread of information, it's not hard to learn about how various sectors of society and government are corrupt, broken, and charging further in those directions.  

The genocide of the unborn is one of the more disturbing aspects of that systemic corruption.  Another aspect would be the sex slave industry, or what has come to be known as "human trafficking."  Military spending in the United States.  The prison population problem in the USA.  The depravity of Hollywood and the music industries.  Cable television.  The hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into Congress from special interest groups.  Need I continue?  

The point being, wisdom is needed.  Before I came to know Jesus Christ in 2012 I saw some of these problems.  I could see some of them, not all.  It was like I was looking through a glass darkly.  I couldn't see clearly.  

Upon receiving Christ as savior, my vision began to clear.  I was reborn into a new family.  I had become a foreigner in the world, and often foreigners can see the truth more readily than natives.  Yet even for the regenerate, born again believer, seeing the truth can be tough.  Wisdom is hard to gain.  

The Holy Spirit makes so much of this wisdom business possible.  And we live in light of the victory of Jesus Christ on the cross two thousand years ago.  We live in light of that tremendous victory over the forces of corruption in the heavenly places.  So much strength flows to the believer from that victory.  It means everything.  

Through the eyes of the Holy Spirit, the new eyes, we can see there are troubles in this world, and also victories for good in this world.  At times we do suffer trials, difficult circumstances, losses, and internal sorrows, yet we do so in light of eternity.  We must always caution ourselves to remember that physical death is not the end. The social and political activists of this world tend toward despair because they see no way out, and death as the final.  But death is not the end for us, it is only the shadow of death which we pass through.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4 ESV  

The wisdom from above begins with a healthy fear of God.  Yes indeed, a reverence for the Creator and a desire to shun evil.  Many don't like that, including myself.  FEAR?  WE WANT LOVE!  LOVE IS THE ANSWER!  Love is certainly very important.  But so is reverent fear.  Not a terror, but a reverent foreboding...  A trembling respect for the majesty of an infinite God.  Fear isn't always a bad thing.  Fear motivates us.  Fear warns us of boundary lines, and dangerous places where we should not go.  Fear is a good thing, when kept within it's boundaries.  A reverent fear for God keeps us humble, and reminds us of our own limitations.

I've often said that I don't like reading the Bible sometimes.  Why?  Because it upsets me.  It pisses me off.  I get angry and up in arms about what its saying to me.  I think that's a good thing! 

I just smile.  I couldn't believe in a book that I open and agree with every single sentence.  Because I'm a flawed human, and I make mistakes.  I have growing to do, a lot of it, I can see that.  The Bible is the eternal word of God, and I'm reminded of that when it offends me.  It means I'm learning and growing, and it's teaching me something that's hitting a little too close to home.  

Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool, but wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding. Proverbs 10:23 ESV

Have you ever had a friend who got into trouble, did something stupid, and it was a joke to them?  I think we all know someone like that.  They laugh callously as things get worse and worse.  They jeer at anything with moral hintings.  At times I'm sure I've been that guy.  The idiot with a beer in his hand jeering and laughing while doing something bad.  Or making fun of someone.  Or hurting someone.  

But wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding.  We should all try to be that person who enjoys gaining wisdom.  The search for wisdom and truth is a powerful and exciting one.  Doing evil is boring.  It's repetitious and stupid. 

An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge. Proverbs 18:15 ESV 


The truth is something I lust after with a passion in this life.  I'm so tired of hearing opinions and how people "feel."  Instead I want to know the truth about all these issues.  The truth is so vital.  It guides us in all things.  Without it we are blind fools stumbling about in the dark chasing our wicked hearts to ever terrible ends.  Often so cluelessly, jaunting into dark nests of addiction and despair.  I did in my past.  Truly I did.  Thank you Jesus for saving me from the chains I found in the nest they call drug addiction. 


 "And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:32 ESV

In contrast is the journey of faith, wisdom, and truth.  When we know the truth we are wise.  We follow the Spirit of God into ever brightening valleys of growth, love, goodness, and service to others all the way to our final home in the eternal dwelling of God himself.


Who is like the wise? And who knows the interpretation of a thing? A man's wisdom makes his face shine, and the hardness of his face is changed.

Ecclesiastes 8:1 ESV  


I was a hard nosed prick in the past.  I knew nothing, but thought I knew everything.  My friends and I would smoke pot and laugh at everything.  Some of the laughing was good, other times we'd make a mockery of sex, drugs, culture, society, government, and just hold up every aspect of life to mockery and ridicule.  No one could teach us anything, and we felt morally superior to society.  We could jeer and smoke drugs and feel superior; righteously rebellious.  Yet what were we doing, but buying drugs, smoking them, talking a lot of talk, and then doing it again the next day?  We never tried to change anything, we just complained, laughed, and got high.  Pretty dumb... let's just be real about it.  

Today things are very different in my life.  I work for an organization called the Salvation Army.  Soon I'll be moving from central Wisconsin to Escanaba, Michigan to begin an internship with the Salvation Army.  I'll be serving the needy.  To the glory of God.  I'll have the chance to fulfill my internal designs for mercy, love, and justice instead of just ranting about them.

I'll definitely continue writing and sharing the truth on this blog.  But I'm not just writing my friends.  I'm also doing.  That's so important that we also do.  When considering those endless drug talks of my past, I'm so clearly reminded to remember to do the Christian life.  And the Christian life is love and service, in practice.  I don't think I would have any right to write a word unless I was also living it.  So I encourage you also to live the life of faith.

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might  Ephesians 1:16-19 ESV 

This is what one calls the beauty of the scriptures.  Ephesians chapter one is so wonderful.  The words are so filled with the Spirit, so intensely meaningful.  We find in this formula an excellent mindset for wisdom.  

First of all we are reminded to live in gratitude.  The secret to joy and happiness in life is living an attitude of gratitude.  

Still in the opening we are reminded to pray endlessly.  And to pray for others.  Prayer is huge.  We find hidden treasures in prayer, on a daily basis. 

In Jesus Christ himself, our savior, who is always with us and always accessible, we find that in the study of his life and in the knowledge of his teachings we have what Paul calls a Spirit of Wisdom and of Revelation. 

He writes of "having our hearts enlightened."  I think that's absolutely true.  As we study Jesus Christ, grow in his Spirit, and live the Christian life, our hearts are transformed.  What was once a wicked heart defaulting to selfishness and personal needs is now a soft heart, gentle, kind, full of love, brave, courageous, and powerful.  And tending toward serving and thinking of others before self.  Imagine that hm?  What a change, what a change indeed!  

We are told that we are called to hope in Jesus Christ in Ephesians chapter one.  What do we hope in?  We hope in the fulfillment of the teachings of Jesus Christ.  We hope in his return.  We hope in his act of righting this broken world, and restoring it to perfection in a divine mystery called glory.  Glory.  Who can know glory?  

This scripture speaks of our inheritance.  What is our inheritance?  When we live in wisdom, serving others, loving others, and growing in Christ, we are gathering up a store house of heavenly treasure.  What does that mean?  It is certainly a mystery.  But I think in part it means gathering wealth in heaven, glory in the next life, honor and praise in the next life, perhaps somewhat like accolades that flow back to the throne of God as witnesses to the goodness of God.  What does that look like it practice?  Perhaps something as simple as a man you cared for once, maybe 10 years ago, walking up to you in the kingdom of God, thanking you with tears in his eyes, and hugging you intently.  And so much more I'm sure.  So much more.  

And finally Paul writes in Ephesians 1 of the power of God toward his people, us, who believe, and in connection to that, the acts of God in the world at large.  The work of Jesus Christ in our lives motivates us to a life of wisdom.  We get to see the work of God.  We get to smile when he smiles in our direction.  We receive the joy of Jesus Christ when we function within his will.  Those are the works of God, as his plan moves forward in the world.

While I was packing for my move to Escanaba I felt a peace come over me.  I didn't know quite how to describe the feeling.  I felt it again this last weekend when I was in East Troy at a Salvation Army retreat.  It wasn't a jubilant joyous feeling.  But it was certainly a feeling of joy, of quiet, calm, steady joy.  I felt it again today, taking a walk with my girlfriend, talking about the move.  And I finally understood what C.S. Lewis meant by "surprised by joy."  The joy of God fills the heart of the wise who remains in the willful plan of God, those being his acts of power and greatness in a broken world.  All through Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.  

In connection to that mindset is the Holy Spirit gift of sharing that faith, that wisdom with the world, and sharing the gospel.  As it is written:

For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. Luke 21:15 ESV

In conclusion, the wise person living in the light of the victory of Jesus Christ has a sense of reverent fear for his or her heavenly Father.  The wise individual lives an attitude of gratitude and prayerfully approaches every situation, praying constantly for everyone in all circumstances.  The wise individual focuses on Jesus Christ, studies his life in the scriptures, and emulates that life in the Spirit of God.  In so living the Christian life the wise person experiences a transformation of their heart, an "enlightenment of the heart."  They hope and faithfully await the return of Jesus Christ and the coming of the renewing of the world.  They also store up treasure in heaven through the good works of the kingdom of God, through love and service.  Finally the wise man (or woman) remains in the will of God, in his designs, seeking to follow God's path, not his own (even when it leads to Upper Michigan).  And through so doing the wise man gets to witness the transformative acts of God, acts of incredible greatness as he shares in the unspeakable joy of Jesus Christ.  And through all of this, the wise individual shares their journey with others, encourages others in the faith, and shares the gospel with any and all who will listen.  God is just that good.  He gives us the formula to live the wisdom from above.  In light of the victory of Jesus Christ, we indeed can live wisely.  Amen.

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family[c] in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
-Ephesians 3:14-21 (ESV)

Related Posts:
  1. The Paradox of Victory through Surrender: Rise Above
  2. Reflections on the Salvation Army Regeneration Conference
  3. How to trigger a Great Awakening
  4. You Oh Lord are my Strength: The Manifold Provision of the Architect of Reality
  5. Love Others: The Second Great Command
  6. Sex, Cuisine, and Television: Overcoming the World...
  7. What is the matrix?
  8. Love God: The First Great Command
  9. Logic, History, Statistics, & Astronomy: Interdisciplinary Approach to the Truth Claims of Christianity
  10. What is the will of God?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Mindset of Christ: Teach Me How to Live, Lord

So get rid of every filthy habit and all wicked conduct. Submit to God and accept the word that he plants in your hearts, which is able to save you.
James 1:21 GNT

You gave me a soul, Lord.  You gave me a life.  Now show me how to live it.  How do we go about living this life before us?  Where do we go from here?  

So the Christian commitment comes.  Faith in Christ descends like a dove from heaven.  A transcendent power and presence begins to dwell among us.  The journey ahead takes shape.  I had been going in one direction, now that direction changes.  I ask God where to go, what to do... where does he want me?

Being a Christian is definitely about holding and pursuing a certain mindset.  It's about embracing a different way of life.  That way is described in great detail in the books of the Bible, especially in the letters of the New Testament.  It can be challenging though.  We wonder how to translate the words on the pages into practical application.  

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name -Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV)

For me it begins with a mindset, and I have to pursue that mindset everyday.  It doesn't just happen.  I have to chase after it.  Prayer becomes absolutely vital to building on that mindset.  And of course that makes sense.  Through prayer we access the power of God to spur changes within us.  

God dealt with the sin in my life.  That was a huge part of the positive transitions in my life and mindset.  I've had to come to believe again and again that God can and will help me to overcome sins in my life.  He grants victory when I put in the daily footwork.

The primary work of Jesus Christ, God, is the legal absolution of my sins.  He legally absolves me from my sins, like I am in a court room, with a list of my crimes being displayed to the judge.  Then enters Jesus Christ, who says to the judge that he will suffer the consequences of those sins instead of me.  

Yet just as important is that I am a new creation in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).  I have been born again (John 3:1-8).  God has declared me "not guilty" in Jesus Christ, innocent, and now gifted with eternal life.  Though my body will die, my spirit will live forever.  Continuing forward, I'm asked to participate in a new plan for my remaining life on Earth though.  Many Christians seem to forget this part.  They think they are saved, and then they go do whatever they want.  Not so.

God asks me to become a servant of his kingdom and his plan on Earth.  He asks me to participate in my own sanctification, or the process of growing out of past sinful patterns.  That is a gradual process for most, taking our entire lives. 

God asks me to serve others, to become the servant of all.  In my past I was a servant of myself.  I did what I wanted, I did what felt good, and I pursued my own goals in life.  Now I look to meet the needs of others.  I look to love and serve those around me.  What does that look like?  I think it means inviting people to relationship with Jesus Christ.  I think it means volunteering and serving in ministries.  I think it means donating money to charity.  I think it means praying for others.  A big part of that process begins with prayer.

Part of my daily walk with God is praying once in the morning and once at night.  I also try to pray an "Our Father" at the mid-point in the day.  Three times a day seems reasonable, that's how Daniel did it (Daniel 6:10).

I had to watch closely for the messages I was receiving in my life.  Certain movies I stopped watching, certain music fell off my playlist.  I actually got rid of my television set altogether.  Too many ads.  Too many sexual commercials, beer ads, tempting food ads, that is a literal assault on my senses, and it triggers a lot of my sinful desires.  And of course so, that's how they make money.

I stopped spending time in certain places around town.  I began to back away from friends that were a bad influence on me.  A tough one was beginning to reform my sexual conduct.  Many, many Christian men struggle with that area of conduct.  It definitely needs to be addressed.  Masturbation, pornography, pre-marital sex...  All of those need to be removed.  

I changed a lot of the messages I was receiving in my life, I didn't just shut off all those sources and replace them with nothing.  I started listening to Christian radio, going to multiple Bible studies, church events, services, and filled my social media feeds with encouraging Christian posts.  The old mindset had to be challenged at every turn, and replaced with the new.

I was also a cigarette smoker.  And I had to deal with that issue as well.  A friend suggested a plan of sorts.  He said set a date 90 days from now.  Everyday from now until then pray once a day for God to remove the compulsion to smoke from you.  Then on the date, quit.  I did that, in conjunction with calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW.  I read some free material they sent me.  I used their website.  I even went to a few Nicotine Anonymous 12 step meetings to learn more about freedom from that addiction.  I also used a nicotine patch for the first two weeks.  In short, I accessed God's power in conjunction with my footwork.  I took practical actions to encourage the desired outcome.  And it worked.  I haven't had to smoke a cancer stick in almost two years now.  Praise God!

One powerful tool for growing in my spirituality is through reading books.  I love reading.  I love audiobooks too.  I put them on my mp3 player and listen while driving or working out.  I tend to look for books to help deal with issues in my life, or just books by Christian leaders that inspire me.  I've learned a ton and it's very enjoyable.  Some of the most powerful books were from authors like C.S. Lewis, Neil Anderson, Minirth & Meier, Stephen Arterburn, Larry Crabb, Bill Wilson, John Piper, Ravi Zacharias, and G.K. Chesterton.  But I would suggest exploring or searching topics that perhaps you struggle with or need guidance in. 

But the biggest change was a small, yet massive adjustment of attitude. 

I had treated God like a wishing well, or an errand boy at times.  "Give me this"  "I want this."  "Lord heal my friend."  "Lord give me this job."  "Lord make a leader."  And I liked to add conditions, and special agreements to my prayers.  The issue was it was almost right.  I was praying a lot.  I was asking for good things.  The goals I were pursuing were certainly reasonable.  But there was a fundamental flaw: I was trying to get God on board with what I was doing.  Whoops.  That isn't how it works.  

My job is to get on board with what God is doing.  That tweak can change a lot.  

I'm very good at defaulting back to my old mindset, of trying to manipulate events into my favor.  Left to my own devices I am a fundamentally selfish human being.  Most of us are.  And when I try to manipulate events and they don't go my way, I get angry.  And upset.  Even depressed.  What helps in those moments is whispering: "Thy will be done, not mine."  

I've got to learn continuous surrender to God's will for my life.  I've still got a lot of rebellion floating around in my soul.  I've always been a defiant type.  In fact I still am quite defiant.  The defiance is just aimed in a new direction.  Instead of defiance toward society, work, responsibility, now my defiance is toward sin, the ways of the world, and the schemes of the evil one.  In so doing, I abide (remain) in the will of God.  

It's all about God's will (Ephesians 5:17).  He's the one running this show called Earth.  He's the CEO, I'm the desk clerk.  He's the General, I'm the foot-soldier.  My emotions flow much better, in serenity, when I recognize God's sovereignty over everything.  It doesn't take long: Thy will be done.  

Philippians 2:14-15 (NIV) Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.

I believe that a sorely neglected part of the Christian life is the act of confession.  The Bible says "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed" (James 5:16a ESV).  Confession to God in prayer is vital (Proverb 28:13).  But so is confession to one another (Acts 19:18).

Why confess?  We as humans tend to lock things inside ourselves.  I know I did, and often still do.  Those hurts, pains, and troubles can eat us up inside.  They rot and fester and eventually we become bitter and broken.  I've found it extremely useful to journal about past issues.  I write things down that I've never really processed, things from the past, and share them with a trusted friend.  It has a way of clearing out wreckage from the past.  It opens me up to the sunlight of the presence of Jesus Christ.  We all have past pains and traumas, have you considered buying a notebook and pen, and writing out some of those pains in total honesty?  It can be a very powerful healing experience.  Ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse your mind and soul of past sorrows.

Ever forget to love your neighbors?  I have.  I tended to resent society in the past.  Sometimes I catch myself falling into that mindset.  I have to keep alert to make sure I'm obeying the central command of Jesus Christ: love others as I have loved you (John 15:12).  I'm a flawed human, I can very quickly become contemptuous, nit-picking the flaws of others, resenting their shortcomings, or downright loathing them.  Instead I try to remind myself, love them.  Just let yourself feel love and affection for those around you.  Let it flow out.  I think sometimes we're afraid to love, because we've been hurt or we've been rejected.  God calls us to love them anyway.  Love is definitely an emotion, it's a warm response inside us.  But it doesn't end there, it continues in actions and warm, kind words spoken.  

 This life can be ugly.  It can be very difficult.  We see death and struggle around us on a daily basis.  We hear the news, and it never seems to be good.  We see people working long hours for little pay.  We see people trapped in addictions, depression, or diseases that they can't break from.  We encounter these struggles ourselves and often on days it's just too much.  We feel broken down.  

We're thirsty for righteousness, for hope, and we're fed a mouth full of dirt.  Someone kicks us while we're down.  Then kicks us again.  It does happen, it certainly does.  One bad thing happens, then two more pile on top.  (Why does it always happen in threes?)  Yet life can also be so beautiful.  Hope sneaks in at the last moment.  When we think we can't go on another day, and all sides are closing in... a sudden faith fills us, and we survive.  God appears in the time fog, and reassures us.  Angels come in the shadows of brokenness and tend our wounds.  

Sins overwhelm us and we feel God could never love one of such intense sins.  Then Jesus reminds us, "You are mine.  I have overcome the world.  I forgive you, I love you."  Like little white flowers dotting the bushes on the sun swept trail ahead, God pours out grace and mercy, mercy after grace, forgiving us, accepting us, tending to us, changing us, and loving us with an everlasting love.  

We reflect then, in the shadow of the valley, asking ourselves, with tears in our eyes, "How is it that He is so good, always?"  It's at those moments when our breath is taken away by His presence, by his response to our turmoil that we know that God is for us, He loves us, and his ways are entirely exceeding of what we could imagine.  Jesus Christ gives us joy.

I love you just as the Father loves me; remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.
11 “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you. 13 The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them. 14 And you are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. 17 This, then, is what I command you: love one another.
18 “If the world hates you, just remember that it has hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, then the world would love you as its own. But I chose you from this world, and you do not belong to it; that is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘Slaves are not greater than their master.’ If people persecuted me, they will persecute you too; if they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours too. 21 But they will do all this to you because you are mine; for they do not know the one who sent me.

-John 15:9-21 (GNT) 

As with all things, we grow and learn and step slowly into the mindset of Jesus Christ.  Through practice, dedication, and dogged determination our spiritual muscles bulge and grow.  We learn how to be human, truly human, as we were meant to be.  We gain freedom from selfishness, and learn to love and connect with others, which is such a deep desire within all of us.  We get to become who we were always meant to be.  Slowly but surely, day in and day out, doing good and loving mercy.  It isn't easy.  But he helps us. We learn to love, we learn to be of service to those who are struggling around us and there are many.  

In the final analysis, as far as happiness and fulfillment in life goes, I've learned in my brief stint in the Christian faith one penultimate truth: You have never truly lived until you've served someone who can do nothing for you in return.  Serving those struggling is one of the greatest blessings you can receive, paradoxically.  It's at those moments when the very Spirit of God awakens feelings in my soul of warmth, connection, serenity, and love.  A temporary fire is struck in the very core of my being, a prelude, a sneak peek at what the future joy of eternal life with the blessed Jesus Christ will be like, in the next world.  The very answer to the deepest yearning of my soul... 

Lord, teach us how to live as you lived.  Teach us love and service. Grant us the mindset of Jesus Christ.  In Jesus name, Amen. 

Related Posts:
  1. The Paradox of Victory through Surrender: Rise Above
  2. Reflections on the Salvation Army Regeneration Conference
  3. How to trigger a Great Awakening
  4. You Oh Lord are my Strength: The Manifold Provision of the Architect of Reality
  5. Love Others: The Second Great Command
  6. Sex, Cuisine, and Television: Overcoming the World...
  7. What is the matrix?
  8. Love God: The First Great Command
  9. Logic, History, Statistics, & Astronomy: Interdisciplinary Approach to the Truth Claims of Christianity
  10. What is the will of God?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Gay Marriage, LGBTQ Issues, and the Christian Worldview

This post is in response to the July 2015 Synchroblog prompt: Gay Marriage.  Check out the Synchroblog, a group of Christian bloggers who blog on mutual topics.  

Gay marriage.  This is a very difficult and controversial issue.  There are fiery voices on both sides of the debate that make it difficult to discuss respectfully.  But respectful discussion is an integral part of life in the west.  Problems begin to erupt when both sides toss out insults, instead of respectfully disagreeing.

The Supreme court has legalized gay marriage.  And much of the church is divided on this issue.  How do Christians respond?  What about religious liberty?  We've discussed the issue before on this blog.  It's difficult to deal with.  I have strong views regarding this issue.  And this topic definitely brings strong emotions to the surface for me.  

But I don't hate or fear any individual with an LGBTQ preference.  I have friends who hold such sexual views presently, and some who have previously held such views, but discarded them in pursuit of Jesus Christ.  I don't hate them, or fear them.  I'm not homophobic or bigoted.  They are friends, and I love them.  But I also don't agree with their behavior.  And they are aware of that.  As the church, the body of Christ on Earth, I think it's important to continue to invite such individuals to have a change of mind about their sinful behaviors.  There is nothing new about that.  

Homosexuality is a sin.  Not because I say so, but because within the pages of the Bible it is clearly described as such.  If anyone can suddenly claim that the Bible is no longer correct on this issue, then they might as well toss out the rest of the Bible with it.  They might as well toss out the 66 books of the Bible and make up their own religion from the ground up.  There really isn't any way to disambiguate the many scriptures regarding homosexuality.  

It's discussed in the Old Testament and the New Testament and even clearly mentioned in the flagship book for all Protestants, the book of Romans (Leviticus 18:22, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Romans 1:24-28).  Some will probably try to say that those scriptures regarding homosexuality are culturally bound.  But there's no reason to think that.  And if we can approach teachings in the Bible that we don't like, and discard them as "culturally bound" then which scripture is next on the cutting board?  If a scripture doesn't agree with our inclinations, our idea of what's right, and we get to decide that they are "culturally bound" and therefore "no longer applicable" whose to say what scripture we will discard tomorrow?  Eventually might we take the axe to "grace through faith in Jesus Christ" because it's not tolerant enough?  Maybe we'll decide that Jesus Christ is culturally bound and no longer applicable?  

It's a slippery slope.  Two hundred years ago the world thought slavery was a good idea.  Some even cited slavery in the Old Testament to garner biblical support for it.  Of course slavery was wrong.  And the culture changed.  The culture will always have changing views.  The Bible doesn't change.  It is the word of God.  And my opinion is immaterial.  My opinion will tend to change based on what my heart tells me.  But I'm not suppose to trust my heart as a Christian.  I'm suppose to trust the Bible, and the Holy Spirit's inspiration toward it.     

If Jesus were walking the Earth today, what would he say about gay marriage?  I think if a man who had engaged in homosexual behavior was before a group of Christians who were condemning him, I think Jesus Christ would say to the crowd "Which of you who has committed no sin may cast the first stone at him."  Then the crowd would leave.  Then Jesus would say to the man "I do not condemn you.  But go, and don't sin again."  

If Jesus came upon a gay couple who wanted his endorsement for their practice, I think Jesus would explain to them God's design for marriage, which is between one man and one woman.  As Matthew 19:4-5 (ESV) says "He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?"

I definitely understand why the church is so divided on the issue of gay marriage though.  The culture has a firm grip on the mind of the public.  They have brilliantly portrayed gay marriage as a civil rights issue.  They have portrayed LGBTQ individuals as subjegated and driven to suicide by bigoted homophobic religious types.  But is that narrative really truthful?  I don't think it is.  But the cool new thing to do is to support gay marriage.  Facebook even offered an option for their users to change their pictures to the gay pride rainbow flag.  Young people jumped right on that band wagon in droves.  In my heart at times I wanted to jump on that band wagon too.  My heart aches for the minimized and lost.  I want to help those who are marginalized by society.  

And we all read about the civil rights movements lead by Martin Luther King Jr.  It seemed like the gay marriage issue was my generation's chance to stand for civil rights.  And part of me, part of my heart wanted to join in on that.  But my mind told me differently.  And the word of God told me differently.  My heart sways back and forth on issues, politics, society, but my firm rock is the word of God.  I have to trust that above my emotionally based opinions. 

But of course, I must love my neighbor, including those of LGBTQ persuasions.  My love and respect for them as people will speak volumes.  I can appose same sex marriage based on my biblical beliefs, while still respecting and loving my friends and neighbors who disagree with me.  Even if it means I get called a "homophobe" and "bigot" every once and while by an inflamed activist who doesn't understand my position or my love for all people under God.  We can disagree and still talk, be friends, and live as neighbors.

This has been a post in connection to the July 2015 Synchroblog.  Check out the Synchroblog link list below for additional perspectives on the issue of gay marriage.  Thanks for reading! 

Related Posts:
  1. A Rational Inquiry of the Bible: Is it reliable? Is it the Word of God?
  2. On the Fourth of July: Freedom of Speech & the New Intolerance
  3. The Supreme Court, Same Sex Marriage, Religious Liberty
  4. The Spiritual Journey of Bill Wilson & Implication of the Genesis Mindset
  5. The Information Age & the Christian Worldview: Is God Real?
  6. 25 Jesus Images to Share on Social Media
  7. An Appeal to Heaven: The Movement
  8. Being a Single Christian in a Sexualized Culture
  9. Christian Activism: Can Christianity survive the new cultural attitudes?
  10. Ten Great Minds, Ten Controversial Presentations

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Rational Inquiry of the Bible: Is it reliable? Is it the word of God?

"It's just a book of stories."

"It's the writings of man, not God." 

"It's been changed by man, there's no way of knowing if any of the original writings survived." 

"The Bible is full of contradictions."

"Miracles are impossible."

"Who knows?  There's no way to know for certain."

"It's  a book of myths, fables.  Just like Greek myths."

"It's been changed, by the council of Nicaea." 

The skepticism regarding the Bible is very extensive in our culture today.  The Bible has been trusted for generations, but in modern times people aren't as willing to trust the ancient document and it's statements about the world.  

The Bible does claim from within itself to be the word of God.  In conjunction with a sense of the presence of God, conscious contact with God through prayer, and the evidence of changed lives around them, many are willing to take the Bible on a sort of "blind faith."  There isn't anything wrong with that, in fact that may be the wiser path given a straight forward analysis of empirical reality.  

But some like myself prefer a more objective scientifically and historically rendered approach to the authority, inspiration, and reliability of the 66 books of the Bible document.  

However, we must understand ourselves.  As the Oracle said in the Matrix film: "Know thyself."  Why are we so skeptical?  Is it an honest skepticism?  Or do we have a vested interest in the Bible being false?  For many, it may be that they reject the Bible because if the Bible were true, it would mean they would have to change the way they live.  That is a very real possibility, especially for those who reject out of hand, without a moment of reasonable inquiry.  

Or as a great man once wrote: “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” -Herbert Spencer

Once we've looked at ourselves and cleared out any prejudice, we turn to the Bible documents.  Are they real?  Are they reliable?  Even if they are both, are they really instructions from God?  

Theology is the study of the documents within the Bible.  Apologetics is the study of the information surrounding the Bible (history, science, archaeology, etc) that help determine the reliability of the document.  We will start with apologetics, then move into theology.  

Before I came to believe that God was really God, I tended to believe that the Bible was nonsense.  But why did I believe that?  I think about 99% of objectors are in this same category that I was.  I hadn't really read any scholarly articles, journals, books, or essays.  I hadn't studied much of anything.  I was too preoccupied with self indulgence and the American good life, especially the young good life: parties, jaunting about the town, drinking, some light drugs, and entertaining cute girls.  And anything that might interfere with that good life needed to go.  But I still had a mind.  I needed a little dirt on the Bible, so I could quickly dismiss it under a pretense. 

And like an anti-hero riding out to save me, there it was, the Da Vinci Code.  A scholarly, deeply researched, non-fiction piece of work... but wait, when I started reading it, it was a novel.  A fiction novel.  Well, no matter.  That one disciple in the Da Vinci painting of the last supper definitely does look a bit girly.  I'm not sure if that proves anything.  But who cares?  

Yes, yes, the Da Vinci Code.  Now I didn't really care that it was a novel.  Just shut up with that God crap, and let me party already.  Let me paint my day dream walls, and stop interrupting with your "truth" nonsense.  I want to do what I want to do.  And why are you judging me anyway?  You Christians are such backwards homophobic bigots, blah blah blah, and leave me alone I'm going to show God that I don't need him.  That's just how I roll.

So really, the apologetics wouldn't have mattered to me then.  They matter to me now.  But I didn't care.  I just wanted the quickest escape from the possibility of an objective moral code.  I didn't want to have to deal with any sort of accountability.  I didn't want an arbiter of my sex conduct.  Because 'I'm just experimenting', on my journey, and that's the ethic of today: 'Do whatever works for you.'  'Just don't hurt anyone else.'  But so often, we do hurt others, don't we?  And we sweep it under the rug.  

It turns out that upon further inquiry, the truth was staggering.  There are over 25,000 partial and full manuscripts of the 66 books of the Bible.  When compared to one another they are 99.7% accurate the discrepancies being minor word changes that in no way affect the content.  Leading archaeologists have admitted that no archaeological discoveries have ever contradicted the biblical
Fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls
documents regarding ancient history.  The Bible documents are scientifically accurate, describing the Earth as a sphere (Isaiah 40:22), stars as innumerable (Jeremiah 33:22), and that the Earth hangs in empty space (Job 26:7). The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 provided further evidence for the authenticity of the biblical documents.  Within the cave of the Dead Sea Scrolls were manscripts preserved from over 2,000 years ago.  When compared with manuscripts used to translate the Bible, they matched perfectly.  The Da Vinci Code was a farce, and a lame farce at that.  The evidence is clear, the documents that we have today are the Bible of yesteryears.  

Click here to read an article that lays out an apologetic along these lines

But wasn't the Bible changed at the council of Nicaea?  The council of Nicaea was an event that took place shortly after a long period of intense persecution of the Christian faith in the ancient Roman Empire.  Many Christians were martyred for their faith during this period in history.  The survivors convened at the council of Nicaea mainly for the reason of confronting a growing heresy called Arianism.  Arianism asserted that Jesus Christ was the son of God, but was a created being made by God, not co-eternal with God.  The 66 books of the Bible were not altered or removed during the council.  Various churches at that time in history taught from the accepted books, and occasionally had to weed out forgeries and hoax books, like what have come to be called the "Gnostic gospels."  The Gnostic gospels were attempts by the inclusive mysticisms of the time period, the pagan religions, to force the exclusivist Christian faith back into the over-arching mystical framework of the time.  Those attempts failed, and the gnostic gospels were discarded as fakes.  Today the forgeries are often trotted out by college professors in an attempt to cast doubt on the biblical gospels.  Believe me, you are being mislead.  The vast majority of respected scholars are in agreement that the gnostic gospels are forgeries.  It's a historically accepted fact.  If you want an appeal to authority, or a "scholarly consensus" there it is.

The issue is that the Gnostic gospels sync well with ancient Greek philosophy.  They lend themselves to syncretism, an "all religions lead to the same place" mentality.  But that doesn't change the fact that the gnostic manuscripts tend to be internally inconsistent.  They are most certainly forgeries.  A college professor with an emphasis in the Greek philosophies might prefer them over the synoptic gospels though, given their testament to syncretism.  

Well then you say, perhaps they are the original documents.  But how do we know they aren't just the writings of man?  How can we know if they are the writings of God?  And what about all the contradictions?  What about the odd references to not eating shell fish or pork?  What about all the strange and "mean spirited" commands in the Old Testament?  

Let's look at how we can know if these are the writings of God or man.  Is there evidence to suggest that God inspired the books of the Bible?

There are several lines of reasoning to sweep down, but here is a short clipping of various tracks of argument:

1. There are numerous Old Testament prophecies (many regarding Jesus Christ) that were fulfilled later in the history of man kind (during the period of time when the New Testament was written).  If the OT was written by man, how could man predict future events?  Fulfilled prophecies suggests a divine hand in inspiring the word.

2. The testimony of empirical history, specifically how the Christian faith, after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ grew from twelve disciples and a few hundred loose followers into the dominant religion of the Roman Empire is of supreme importance.  The Roman Empire when first encountering Christianity was deeply hostile, and the first three hundred years A.D. were years when Christians were hunted down and murdered for their faith.  Yet by 1200 A.D. Christianity had spread across the entire Roman empire, into the eastern part of the world, across almost all of Europe and into North Africa.  That just doesn't happen, unless a divine hand is at work.  If Jesus had really died on the cross, and never rose to life, Christianity would not have spread.  It would have died in the cradle.  But it didn't.  Today Christianity is the #1 religion in the world with 2.1 billion adherents.  The Bible is the best selling book in human history.  That is empirical fact, it can't be ignored.  It suggest strongly that God wrote the Bible. 

3. The personal testimony of millions of people who indicate that their lives have been radically changed by Jesus Christ and the word of the Bible.  I myself am one of those people.  But I'm not alone.  Hundreds of millions of people testify that God did for them what they could not do for themselves.  Are they all crazy?  All of them?  I doubt it.  Some of them are whack jobs, some are doing it for money, but many more are doing it out of sincere love for a God who is really there.

4. The testimony of the experts, some of the greatest minds across history who have embraced the Christian faith, and the Bible.  They come from every field of inquiry, every walk of life, and from every part of the world.  This is a subject I've done a lot of research on.  There are many.  And many of the greatest names in history are people who were dedicated Christians.  Just to list a few of the great names from history (with notable accomplishments):

Martin Luther King Jr. - championed the civil rights movement
William Wilberforce - ended slavery in Great Britain
Abraham Lincoln - American president, ended slavery in the USA
Isaac Newton - famed scientist
Helen Keller - inspirational writer and overcomer
John Adams - American president, orator and statesmen
George Washington - American General, first President
Denzel Washington - famous actor
C.S. Lewis - famous author
J.R.R. Tolkien - famous author, wrote Lord of the Rings series
Francis Collins - famed for mapping the human genome
Blaise Pascal - French Scientist
Simon Greenleaf - founded Harvard Law school
John Polkinghorne - renowned theoretical physicist
Malcom Muggeridge - famed journalist
G.K. Chesterton - famed philosopher
Thomas Arnold - historian and Oxford professor

Just to name a few.  For the sake of time we'll quit there.  If expert testimony is viable evidence, the experts say Christianity is real.

5. Extrabiblical testimony corroborate the biblical documents, and archaeological discoveries support the Bible's account of history. Extrabiblical testimony - Click here to read an article along those lines.
Archaeological support - Click here to read an article on this.

Those are the apologetics.  Next we turn to theology.  Does the Bible contain contradictions?  That is a common charge.  Before I became a Christian I used to make that same charge.  Yet I had never really read all the way through the Bible.  Maybe I stopped a few times, like when it talked about God being jealous and thought "jealousy is bad so this must be fake."  But is jealousy always bad?  Wouldn't it be wise for a man whose wife has gone to be with another man to be jealous for his wife?  Wouldn't it motivate him to go after his wife and try to convince her to return to the one she ought to be with?  See jealousy isn't always a bad thing.  God said "I am a jealous God" regarding how Israel, his nation, his chosen people had turned away from him and were worshiping lumps of clay they put together with their own hands.  Assuming God is real, and he really made all of us, doesn't it make sense that we should in fact be with God, and close to him as a Father is to his children?  Isn't it good that God is "jealous for his people" and desires for his people to be close for him?  Such jealousy motivates God to come after his people, and encourage them to come back to him.  It makes sense.  There are other areas of concern, I would recommend these articles: Solutions to Bible Errors organized by book.

101 Cleared Up Contradictions  Click here to view it

In conclusion, there is strong scholarly evidence to indicate that the Bible documents are reliable, internally consistent, unaltered, and even the word of a living God.  All of that together, it's still a tough decision.  But the final closing point for me was the power of the message, both in it's description of the problem, and in it's description of the solution.  Culminating in the problem and the solution is the way of life intrinsic to the Christian worldview: Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind.  And love everyone around you with a full heart, just as you love yourself.  

1. Love God.
2. Love everyone else: friends, enemies, and strangers.
3. Love yourself too.

That is the perfect way to live life.  Those are the teachings of Jesus Christ regarding what is most important in life.  Love is most important.  And the Bible says God is love.  

Jesus describes the problem, it's sin.  A word none of us like to hear.  Yet we see it everyday.  We see it in the news.  It isn't called "sin" by the pundits, but that is the theological term for it.  Sin.  Sex slavery?  It's evil.  It's sin.  Murder, theft, violence, war, disease, death...  People living in poverty and debt.  Entire nations of people going without food or clean water.  It's sin. That's the problem.

And as many charities, political efforts, and altruistic movements try to deal with the problem, it's never really dealt with.  Why?  Because the problem is not outside ourselves.  It's within all of us. 

It's sin.  It's the empty hole in our chests that cry out for something eternal, that nothing in this world can really fill.  No fun party, no marriage, no entertainment, no drug, no drink, no massive bank account, no grand victory or goal achieved can touch: That hole of emptiness and disconnection.  

And only Jesus Christ, his perfect life, his perfect death, and his perfect resurrection, his victory over death can fill us.  When we believe that Jesus Christ really is God, and really died for us, and really accept that fact, we receive the Holy Spirit.  We're reborn, plugged in, that hole is filled and we are part of a new family.   

Despite all of the evidence, which is indeed compelling, I was finally full convinced when studying the life of Jesus Christ.  Jesus was awesome.  He lived love, and died for his friends.  As they spat on him, called him a fake, called him evil and a monster, and nailed his hands to the cross... as he lay dying on the cross, he looked to heaven and said, "Father forgive them, they don't know what they're doing."  

That is perfection my friends.  We can run from it.  We can keep trying to hide.  We can try to gorge ourselves on entertainment, self fulfillment, wealth, drugs, alcohol, sex or anything else.  But we'll always be empty, until we turn an about face, and look into the eyes of our savior and say: "God, you are truly God.  Lord Jesus Christ, you are my God.  I am through running from you.  I am through calling you a liar.  You are my Lord, and I love you, and I will serve you, so I may be with you in eternal life.  Amen." 

"Ecce Homo!" A depiction of the trial of Jesus, by Antonio Ciseri (1871)

Related Posts:
  1. The Philosophy of Jesus Christ
  2. Jesus: The God who Came
  3. Why is Jesus the perfect example to follow?
  4. Justification by Faith Alone, but What is Faith? 
  5. Journey of the Christian through the Forest called Earth
  6. True Christianity vs. the Modern Culture
  7. The Modern Mindset & Challenges we Face as the Body of Christ
  8. Academic Paper: Biblical Authority
  9. The Cross of Christ Jesus & Reflecting the Savior
  10. Academic Paper: Council of Nicaea