Is Your Faith Based on Circumstances?

“Rejoice always, pray continuously, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Matthew Henry tells us in Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, “A truly religious life is a life of constant joy” (p. 1175). Paul was a living example of this. While under house arrest, he wrote his letter to the Philippians. Although he was living at home, he was chained to a Roman guard around the clock and was not able to go anywhere. He knew his trial was likely years away. Given that God had called him to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, he was stuck in Rome unable to plant new churches or visit with those he was nurturing by letter. Certainly, he had every right to complain. He’d been beaten, shipwrecked, and persecuted for Jesus. Instead, his letter to the church at Philippi was filled with rejoicing. He wrote, “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the Gospel” (Philippians 1:12, NIV).

Eugene Peterson puts an amazing focus on Philippians 1. In essence, Paul is saying, “I want to report to you, friends, that my imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the Message has actually prospered. All the soldiers here, and everyone else, too, found out that I’m in jail because of this Messiah. That piqued their curiosity, and now they’ve learned all about him. Not only that, but most of the followers of Jesus here have become far more sure of themselves in the faith than ever, speaking out fearlessly about God, about the Messiah” (v. 12-14, MSG).

Paul essentially said his sufferings for Christ had furthered the Gospel by provoking others to zeal for Him. Paul focused on preaching the Gospel no matter the circumstances in which he found himself. He wanted nothing more than to worship God in Spirit, rejoice in Christ, deny his flesh, forge ahead toward the prize, looking only toward the Savior, striving to be an example for others. He added, “As long as I’m alive in this body, there is good work for me to do. If I had to choose right now, I hardly know which I’d choose. Hard choice! The desire to break camp here and be with Christ is powerful. Some days I can think of nothing better. But most days, because of what you are going through, I am sure that it’s better for me to stick it out here. So I plan to be around awhile, companion to you as your growth and joy in this life of trusting God continues. You can start looking forward to a great reunion when I come visit you again. We’ll be praising Christ, enjoying each other” (v. 22-26, MSG).

TRUST REQUIRES PATIENCE

Trusting God always requires patience, because God doesn’t work on our timetable. Patience allows us to enjoy life while we wait. No doubt this is a difficult proposition. We are, after all, only human. We measure success and failure, happiness and disappointment, in terms of emotion first and then in actual results. When we feel bad, especially when we really, truly hurt, we want a way out right away. For many, including me, that can include drugs and alcohol. I ran from hurt and pain for decades. I simply had no concept of or capacity for patience.

Quite often the reason God is requiring us to wait is simply that He is using our difficulty to work patience in us. Learning to be patient is important enough to God’s plan—for us and for those whom we will touch with our lives—that I believe he ordains everything we go through. He is not going to short-change His plans by giving us what we want the second we want it. Sadly, however, the desire for instant gratification causes many people to make snap decisions. Some get high or drunk. Some spend beyond their means. Others have sex without thinking. Some marry someone who is wrong for them because they’re not willing to wait for the right someone. The false belief that we should have instant gratification is at the root of our unwillingness to suffer through the bad times.

It’s not easy being a Christian in today’s pluralistic society where moral relativism, hatred, distrust, bigotry, and fear run rampant. There seems to be an increasing tension between Christians and non-believers. When we focus on others rather than Jesus, we see them as enemies instead of children of God worthy of our love and respect. Admittedly, culture has taken a dramatic shift recently. Religion is no longer seen as a social good. Instead, it is considered an old, awkward, worldview that is no longer relevant.

GOD’S VOICE IN OUR CIRCUMSTANCES

As Christians, we all want to hear from God. I’ve often dropped to my knees and begged Him to say something—anything—as long as it was aloud. I wanted to know if He was there. Was He listening to me at all? Did He care about what was happening to me? What did He want me to do? It is even more challenging to determine what God is not saying in any given situation. He spoke to the prophets in the Old Testament. He appeared before non-believers. He sent angels. He told people what to do. He even told them what not to do. And He often accompanied these directives with promises—blessings and curses. He was often extremely clear about His wishes.

Today, we tend to expect the grandiose voice of God—and sometimes God speaks that way. More often, though, His voice comes through more subtly. God often speaks to us through the quiet moments, through other people, and through life’s circumstances. It can be difficult to distinguish His voice from the chaos of our situation. In order to decipher what God is saying, it is important to know and understand His Word. Spending time in the Scriptures will help us hear His voice. He will never contradict Himself. He will never speak to us through our circumstances in a manner that goes against His written Word. The Bible must be our yard stick. And when He puts others in our path to guide us, we need to distinguish between those who practice seeking the heart of God from those whose ambition is to control and manipulate others.

It is extremely important to remember that one incident is not necessarily indicative of God’s intent for our entire life. One swallow does not a summer make. (Google it!) Never make a life-changing decision on one event or one set of circumstances because God may or may not be speaking through this particular event. We need to look over the span of months and years. It is critical that we ask ourselves, Where is God leading me? He chose us and ordained our lives even before we were formed in the womb. I met a recovered addict last summer while serving as on-site manager for a motel. He was working as an itinerant electrician at a new gas-fired power plant being built in my area. He said, “God wants me to tell you something.” My ears always perk up when I hear someone say that! “God says everything you’ve been through from the moment you were born until you met me right now, all the good and the bad, was ordained by Him to help make you into the man He needs you to be in order to fulfill your calling.”

We must never put God in a box. He is much more infinite and all-knowing than we can ever grasp. No matter what the dire, dreary circumstance, God can turn each into a hopeful future. He can reverse, restore, revive, and renew. We need only look for His plans that are already in motion right now, even in the midst of our difficult time. Trust Him. He can take any circumstance and use it for our good and His glory.

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Is Faith Irrational?

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The truth about God is too important not to be seriously investigated and honestly and fairly discussed. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for friendly conversations about religion to escalate into shouting matches—and this helps no one. Belief and unbelief are two sides to the same coin. The debate over faith and spirituality is here to stay. However, it does no good to vilify the other side. If any real ground is to be reached, we need to change the tone of this conversation.

WHY ALL THIS HOSTILITY AGAINST RELIGION?

It wasn’t too long ago that the idea of books on atheism and apologetics becoming New York Times best-sellers would have been hard to imagine. So what happened? Why are people reading books bashing God and ridiculing the faithful, or proffering a defense of the Gospel? Of course, that’s a rather complex question.

Lower Manhattan Just After Towers Fell

First, we live in a much different world following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The events of that horrific day, when 2,996 people were murdered and more than 6,000 were injured, are burned into our collective memory. We all had front-row seats to religious fanaticism run amok. Until that day, such zealotry had always been going on “somewhere else” in the world. It is impossible to overstate how drastically the events of 9/11 changed our world.

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In the days that followed, the cultural conversation turned to the role and value of religion in the public square and throughout the globe. Such conversations are certainly legitimate and appropriate and, if conducted properly, can be quite healthy. But events like 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, 2013, or the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2016, helped create the cultural context in which the hyper-aggressive claims of today’s militant atheists could actually be entertained by a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles.

Second, there is a growing undercurrent of unbelief in America. A Newsweek cover story written by John Meacham, published on April 16, 2009, titles “The End of Christian America,” reported that “the number of Americans who claim no religious belief or affiliation has nearly doubled since 1990, rising from 8 to 15 percent.” Why is this? While sociologists have more than enough polling data to analyze, I think Timothy Keller offers a plausible explanation in his book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism:

Three generations ago, most people inherited rather than chose their religious faith. The great majority of people belonged to one of the historic mainline Protestant churches or the Roman Catholic Church. Today, however, the now-dubbed “old-line” Protestant churches of cultural, inherited faith are aging and losing members rapidly. People are opting instead for a non-religious life, for non-institutional personally constructed spirituality, or for orthodox, high-commitment religious groups that expect members to have a conversion experience. Therefore the population is paradoxically growing both more religious and less religious at once.

This post 9/11 rejection of God and religion has its roots in pluralism and secularization. It seems a growing number of people—on both sides of the God question—are no longer content to “play church.” It is likely many see “religion” as a training ground for extremism, dogma, elitism, and narrow-mindedness. Either what people believe is true and they are going to attempt to live out their faith in all areas of their life, or it’s false and people shouldn’t waste their time going through the motions of their childhood faith if belief makes no difference whatever.

So these two factors have generated a cultural conversation about faith and God in the 21st century. This is both an opportunity and a challenge for those who attempt to share the Gospel. In addition, the events of 9/11 and after also created room in culture for militant atheists whose advocates tell anyone who’ll listen that if we get rid of religion, we can free ourselves from what they call childish nonsense. Atheism, of course, is not new. It’s been with us for quite a long time. The media fueled atheism, starting perhaps with the April 8, 1966 cover story of Time magazine, “Is God Dead?” Friedrich Nietzsche infamously said Gott ist tot God is dead) in his 1882 collection titled “The Joyful Pursuit of Knowledge and Understanding.”

What is new, however, is the biting and powerful rhetoric, as well as the cultural visibility, of these so-called militant atheist, the likes of which include Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Bill Nye. Naturally, their visibility has increased secondary to the explosion of the Internet, blogs, and 24/7 media coverage of every imaginable topic. The more controversial and polarizing, the better. Hoping that something hits the mark, these militant atheists tend to throw everything at people. They appeal primarily to the emotions, lacking any evidence regarding the non-existence of God. Granted, it’s impossible to prove a negative. But these individuals skillfully dodge the concept of proof and instead use sarcasm and innuendo to rattle their theist counterparts and paint religion—especially Christianity—as delusional.

SO, IS FAITH IRRATIONAL?

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A distinct feature of the rhetoric being espoused by the militant atheists today is their belief that religion is blind, irrational, and, well, just plain stupid. This is evident in the title of Richard Dawkins’ seminal work: The God Delusion. His intent is clear—those who believe in God are fools who have been brainwashed by their parents and ancestors into believing something absurd. Dawkins thinks religious people are deluded. I find myself asking, What could possibly cause Dawkins and others like him to be so adamantly against religion? Why resort to attacking fellow citizens simply because they believe in God? A major reason is because Dawkins has decided religious belief is not based in evidence. He said, “In all areas except religion, we believe what we believe as a result of evidence.”  In other words, he believes religious faith is blind but in other disciplines—especially science—we demand physical proof for what we believe. Dawkins concludes that religion is a “nonsensical enterprise” that “poisons everything.”

Dawkins’ definition of a “delusion” is “a persistent false belief in the face of strong contradictory evidence.” Now wait just a minute! Isn’t it nearly impossible to prove a negative? What is this strong contradictory evidence? Daniel Dennett—an American philosopher, writer, cognitive scientist, atheist, and secularist—claims that Christians are addicted to their blind faith. According to militant atheist Sam Harris, “Faith is generally nothing more than the permission religious people give one another to believe things strongly without evidence.” Harris said, “Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.”

Doubting Thomas

Dawkins often cites the story of doubting Thomas as proof that Christianity requires blind faith. When the other disciples reported that they had seen the risen Christ, Thomas refused to believe until he could see the nail marks and put his hands where the nails had been and into Jesus’ side where He had been speared. A week later, Jesus showed up and gave Thomas the evidence he demanded. Then Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29, NIV). True to form, Dawkins says this Scripture passage proves that Christianity opposes reason. He adds, “Thomas demanded [physical] evidence… the other apostles, whose faith was so strong that they did not need evidence, are help up to us as worthy of imitation.”

BIBLICAL FAITH

The fact that some Christians may have so-called “blind faith” is not the same as Christianity itself valuing blind faith and irrationality. Frankly, the Bible does not tell us to irrationally believe something in the face of reliable physical evidence to the contrary. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (NIV). Eugene Peterson, in his translation of Hebrews 11:1, writes, “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see” (MSG) [Emphasis added]. To me, this wonderfully written paraphrase shows that Christianity does not require blind faith in face of scientific evidence to the contrary. Hebrews 11 (the “faith” chapter) explains trust in God.

Faith Hebrews 11

Many individuals—believers, non-believers, and agnostics alike—have a gross misunderstanding of what constitutes faith. Faith is not merely a manner by which we “fill in the gaps” in the absence of, or in the face of, real, tangible, evidence. Carl Sagan, for example, once said, “Faith is believing in something in the absence of evidence.” This is a rather narrow definition. Let’s take a closer look at the word substance. It comes from the Greek word hupostasis, meaning “a placing or setting under, a substructure or foundation.” This word can also be translated as “confidence.” The Greek word for evidence, elengchos, means “that by which a thing is proved or tested; conviction.”

Biblical faith comes from careful observation and the weighing of all available evidence. Faith, therefore, is dynamic rather than static. The militant atheists like to lump all religions together and dismiss them with sweeping generalizations. But Christianity is unique in valuing the role of the mind which includes the proper use of reasoning and argumentation. In fact 1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…” (NIV). The King James Bible uses this same terminology: the substance of things hoped for. Jesus tells us to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind. God said to Israel, “Come now, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18, NKJV).

EVERYONE HAS FAITH!

When people hear the word faith, they typically think of religion. No doubt religious people have faith in God. Christians have faith in the Word and many unseen things such as heaven, angels, and the spirit. The point that’s often passed over is that Christians are not the only ones who have faith—everyone does. Everyone has faith in something, including Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. If you don’t have faith, you wouldn’t eat, leave your house, get in an airplane, or go to the fiftieth floor of a skyscraper in an elevator car.

The philosophical revolution over the past few decades has lead to the strengthening of the traditional arguments for God’s existence with new insights and evidence. In their writings, militant atheists hardly interact with these arguments, and, until recently, they have refused to engage leading Christian thinkers in public. As part of my class on World Views at Colorado Christian University, I watched a debate between Dinesh D’Souza and the late Christopher Hitchens. I was shocked by Hitchens’ vilification of Christianity and the vitriolic and mean-spirited comments he threw at D’Souza in an attempt to throw his opponent off his game.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Faulty views of Christianity and its followers are not countered solely by good arguments, but also through relationships. The apostle Paul spoke of imparting not only the truth of the Gospel, but also his very own life. We typically refer to this as our “witness.” Perhaps Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens simply haven’t gotten to know thoughtful and intelligent Christians who value the role of evidence and reason. In other words, believers who grasp the importance of 1 Peter 3:15.

If the human condition limits our ability to know what is true, how do we determine what to believe? It’s been said that we have no criterion for truth—only the means to recognize error. In other words, our knowledge is finite but our ignorance is infinite. Philosophy has long recognized this fact and uses dialectics to assist in our quest to understand what is true. This process involves repeated and thorough criticism of our assumptions. After all, our Christian worldview is more inherited than undertaken by us. Of course, most atheists are fond of stating that faith is defined as believing without evidence. This is actually a faith that mirrors Hebrews 11:1. Even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith the existence of law-like order in nature and throughout the universe that is at least comprehensible to Christians.

 

Salvation By Grace Through Faith

The doctrine of soteriology (salvation) is one of the most precious doctrines in all the Word of God. At the same time, it is one of the most debated and misunderstood doctrines.

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The Independent Fundamental Churches of America adopted the following edict relative to salvation: “We believe that salvation is the gift of God brought to man by grace and received by personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, whose precious blood was shed on Calvary for the forgiveness of our sins (Ephesians 2:8-10; John 1:12; Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:18, 19).” Constitution of IFCA International, Article IV, Section 1, Paragraph 6.

Faith That Does Not Save

Religion teaches that we try to please God through our own efforts. We need to “earn it.” Some individuals profess faith in Christ but have failed to trust in the person and work of Christ alone. This kind of faith will show no evidence of spiritual life. A person must be prepared to believe in Christ. He must be aware of his need of salvation as was the jailer at Philippi (Acts 16:30). He must be conscious of his hopeless condition apart from God and the sinfulness that has caused this estrangement (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:10, 11, 18, 23; Ephesians 2:12). He must also have had presented to him information about the death of Christ and His resurrection and the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice in dealing with his sin (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

True salvation requires the work of God. An unsaved man, who is spiritually dead, must be enabled by the Spirit of God to believe. This involves the convicting work of the Spirit of God concerning sin and unbelief, God’s righteousness which can be bestowed on the individual, and that Christ died for the sins of the world (John 16:7-11; 1 John 2:1-2). The unsaved person must receive grace and enablement from God to believe as stated in Ephesians 2:8-10, “Saving is all His idea, and all His work. All we do is trust Him enough to let Him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish. We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing. No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join Him in the work He does, the good work He has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing” (MSG).

In Ephesians 2:1-3, Paul does not identify people without Christ as unfulfilled or incomplete; he describes them as dead. Their spirits were dead because they had broken their relationship with the source of life itself: God. We are not saved by our good works, but we are saved for good works. Our salvation, and our ability to do good works, is 100% God, not 99% God and 1% us. Prior to our salvation, we were spiritually dead—unable to do any good work sufficient enough to assure our salvation. God made each of us unique. We each have a specific calling or capacity to participate in the redemption and restoration of the entirety of creation. The greatest miracle—aside from the resurrection which makes all other miracles possible—is the changed life.

Definition of Faith

Saving faith consists of two indispensable elements. First, there’s the intellectual element—an awareness of the facts of the Gospel, particularly about Christ’s sacrificial death for sins and His physical resurrection, and a persuasion that these facts are true (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). Second, there is the volitional element—a total personal reliance upon Christ and the power inherent in His death to provide forgiveness of sins and everlasting life (John 3:16; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 16:31; Romans 1:16; 3:21-26). This is a matter of will; of wanting to choose Christ.

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The absence of either of these elements indicates that the seeker’s faith is not of a quality that leads to salvation. The intellectual apprehension of orthodox doctrine alone will avail nothing (James 2:19). A volitional act of faith in the wrong object (e.g., John 2:23-24; 6:26-27; 8:31, 44) is useless. To save, faith must be directed toward the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22). Some suitable expressions equivalent to the reliance on Christ that brings salvation include “believe in,” “trust in,” and “depend on.” Other terminology that may be misleading in representing this relationship include “submit to,” “yield to,” “dedicate [oneself] to,” and “make Jesus Lord of one’s life.” These are better reserved for a stage of sanctification that usually comes subsequent to saving faith. Two additional phrases, “make a commitment to” and “become a disciple of,” are ambiguous because they could or could not refer to reliance on Christ, depending on how they are defined. “Repent” is not a suitable way to describe saving faith, because it only partially represents what it is to rely on Christ.

Responsibility For Faith

The exercise of saving faith is the responsibility of the sinner in need of salvation. For the one coming to Christ, saving faith is uncomplicated (Acts 16:31). He decides to put his eternal well-being into the hands of Christ as his Savior. Subsequent to regeneration, he has a growing awareness of the far-reaching effects of what he has done, but this fuller grasp of the implications of saving faith is not a condition for salvation. The responsibility for the choice is wholly his. At the time of or subsequent to regeneration, he realizes that the totality of the salvation process is a gift of God, including the grace of God and his own choice to believe (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is something for which he himself can take no credit.

Implications of Faith

Faith that is saving faith carries with it certain implications, characteristics if you will, which a new believer might not be conscious of at the point of initial trust in Christ. The one under conviction is persuaded that the finished work of Christ is sufficient and that nothing else is needed. At the time of his decision, he may be so overwhelmed with his dependence on Christ that the implications of such dependence are not his primary focus of attention.

The absence of the following implications may indicate that his dependence is not on Christ alone:

  1. Christ is God and consequently sovereign Lord over all things and as such is the object of saving faith (Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9; Hebrews 1:8). Few people at the moment of salvation understand fully the implications of Christ’s sovereignty for their own lives well enough to comply with the exhortation of Romans 12:1-2.
  2. Obedience to the command of the Gospel to believe in Christ (Romans 1:5; 10:16) is another way of looking at saving faith, but beyond that initial obedience is implied an absence of rebellion against what Christ stands for (John 3:36). One can hardly place his full trust in Christ while harboring enmity against Him or having a predisposition to oppose Him.
  3. Repentance is a change of mind toward sin, self, and the Savior (Acts 2:38; 17:30; 1 Thessalonians 1:9). A person can hardly seek forgiveness for something toward which he has no aversion (Acts 2:36; 11:18; 20:21; 26:20; 1 Peter 2:24).

Results of Faith

GOOD WORKS

At the time of saving faith, a believer is regenerated by the Spirit (Titus 3:5), indwelt by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), sealed by the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), and baptized by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). Always associated with saving faith is the impartation to the believer of a new nature (Romans 6:5-7; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 3:9-10) which displays its presence through good works (1 Corinthians 4:5; James 2:18, 21-26). Good works may not always be immediately discernible by man, but are an inevitable consequence of the new birth which occurs in conjunction with saving faith (John 3:3, 5; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:11-12, 14; 3:8; 1 Peter 1:3, 23). Salvation is in no way contingent on good works.

Faith in Christ which does not result in “good works” (Ephesians 2:9-10) is not saving faith, but is actually dead faith (James 2:17, 20, 26). The missing element in such faith may be intellectual, a failure to grasp or accept the truthfulness of the facts of the Gospel, or it may be volitional, a failure to trust Christ wholly for forgiveness of sins. Failure to trust Christ completely may be traceable to attempts to accumulate merit through the performance of human works by attempting to add to the finished work of Christ (Romans 4:5; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 2:16; 2 Timothy 1:9).

SANCTIFICATION

Sanctification in the experience of the believer is the logical continuation of saving faith, namely:

  1. The believer is expected to submit to the lordship of Christ over all things in his life (Romans 6:11-13; 12:1-2).
  2. The implied obedience to Christ is expected to become an active obedience to Christ’s explicit commands (James 4:7-10; 1 John 2:3-10).
  3. The implied repentance is expected to become explicit, resulting in a purging of sinful behavior (1 Corinthians 5:7; 6:9-10, 18; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8; 1 Peter 4:15-16).

The lack of such progress in sanctification is characteristic of a carnal Christian (1 Corinthians 3:1-4). God may tolerate this lack of response to the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit for a time, but will eventually bring chastening against the delinquent saved person. Such delinquency without correction may serve notice that the person’s profession was not saving faith (1 Corinthians 11:30-32; Titus 1:15-16; Hebrews 12:5-11).

The best method of confronting the carnal or pretending Christian with the insufficiency of his faith is through showing him that God judges sin (Matthew 16:24-28; 1 John 3:6, 9; 5:18). The carnal Christian is faced with the illogical nature of his behavior and forced to reevaluate his spiritual standing; the pretending Christian is faced with the realization that he was never saved.

Assurance of eternal life is provided by God’s written Word (1 John 5:13). Yet, the Scripture brings reminders and tests to cause those who have professed faith in Christ to examine themselves (1 Corinthians 11:28, 15:2; 2 Corinthians 13:5, 2 Peter 1:10). When carnality creeps into the life of a believer, causing him to fail the test of self-examination, he may entertain doubts about whether he has met the biblical criteria of saving faith. The solution for such doubt is for the believer to confess the sin which has broken his fellowship with God (1 John 1:5-10).

For the Sake of Clarification

When it comes to the subject of “salvation and good works,” there are two serious errors that plague the church. One is that of Roman Catholicism, which teaches that in order to gain enough merit for salvation, we must add our “good works” to what Christ did on the cross. Under this view, you can never know for sure whether or not you are saved. Accordingly, you feel compelled to keep adding good works to your account.

The other error, which is more prevalent in evangelical churches, is that good works have no connection whatsoever with salvation. This view teaches that since we are saved through faith by grace alone, a person may believe in Christ as Savior without a life of good works to follow. A person may recite the sinner’s prayer and profess to believe in Jesus Christ as his Savior, yet later profess to be an atheist and live in gross sin. Still, because he professed aloud to believe in Christ, he thinks he will be in heaven simply because of the words he spoke. Salvation requires God raising a sinner from death to life, which ultimately results in a changed life. It severs repentance from saving faith and teaches that saving faith is based solely on believing the facts of the Gospel.

Genuine salvation is entirely of God and inevitably results in a life of good works.

Some biblical scholars have noted a conflict between Paul and James over the matter of justification by faith versus works (compare Romans 3:24, 28 and James 2:18-26). But both men are saying the same thing from different angles to address different issues. Paul attacked the claim of the Pharisees that our good works will commend us to God. He argues that no one can ever be good enough to earn salvation. God justifies guilty sinners through faith in Christ alone. James was attacking the view that saving faith does not necessarily result in good works, but genuine faith produces good works.

That is precisely what Paul is clarifying in Ephesians 2:10. While salvation is entirely of God, so are the good works that follow salvation. God has ordained the entire process. Just as we cannot claim any glory for ourselves in our initial salvation, even so we cannot claim any glory in our subsequent good works. God is behind the entirety of our salvation from start to finish. Thus He gets all the glory.

Concluding Remarks

In closing, there are two main applications to consider. First, make sure that you are a new creation in Christ. Have you truly been saved by His grace through faith in Christ alone? We can only become a Christian by being created. “But we cannot create ourselves,” you may say. This is true, and accordingly we need to quit all pretense about being creators. The further we retreat from self-conceit the better, for it is God who must create us anew. We cannot work for God until God first has done His work of saving grace in us.

Second, if you have been saved, the focus of your life should be, “Lord, what will You have me to do?” Paul asked God that question immediately after his experience on the road to Damascus. The Lord replied, “Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do” (Acts 22:10). God had already prepared Paul’s future ministry long before Paul’s conversion. Paul had to learn God’s plan and walk in it. So do you!

Salvation is not simply a ticket to heaven after death. Rather, it is about being brought from death to life by the love and grace of God, communicated through Jesus Christ. When we are saved into new life, we begin to live now, on this earth, in an altogether different way. At least that’s God’s plan for us. We can also truncate His salvation and continue to live a deathly existence. But God has other things in store for us as His masterpiece. He has good works for us to do, works that contribute to His restoration of the world, works that build up rather than break down, works that fulfill us and make our lives meaningful.

Dover Beach

April is National Poetry Month. Typically, I celebrate by sharing poetry with my blog followers. If ambitious enough, I will be posting a new poem each day for the remainder of April. Below you will find a poem by the great Victorian “poet of doubt,” Matthew Arnold. The poem recalls a brief moment from Arnold’s honeymoon in 1851. While standing by an open window, overlooking the cliffs of Dover, England, Arnold takes in the shoreline below, mesmerized by the sights and sounds of the sea as the tide goes out…

The sea is calm to-night,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits—on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and and vast, out in the tranquil bay.

Listen! You hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling.

At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! For the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.

And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

 

Nabeel Qureshi (1983-2017)

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I’ve been presenting a weekly series that follows the book Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, by Nabeel Qureshi. (A new post each Friday.) I had entertained the thought of meeting Qureshi some day. I recently changed the direction of my life and ministry, deciding to earn a master’s degree in Biblical Studies rather than Professional Counseling. As is often the case, when we pray and seek God’s face relative to His plans for us, we find ourselves changing course.

My interest in biblical studies and Christian apologetics began in 2017 after completing a college course called World Views, which did a great job introducing the concept of worldviews, perspectives, culture, and the presuppositions we all have regarding the big questions of life: Who am I? How do I fit in? What is the purpose of my existence? Is God real?

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In order to better prepare me for defending the faith (See 1 Peter 3:15), I did an Internet search on the top books from today’s Christian apologists. It was through this that I found several posts regarding the death of Nabeel Qureshi. Qureshi was a 34-year-old convert from Islam who, after scrutinizing the Qur’an, the hadith (written traditions handed down by Muhammad), and other seminal Islamic texts, and reflecting on the comments of Imams he studied under as a young man, he converted to Christianity.

Qureshi was diagnosed with stomach cancer last summer. He underwent months of aggressive treatment, including the removal of his stomach. He posted a video to Facebook on September 8 that doctors had “given up” on treating his cancer, and had resorted to palliative care. Naturally, Qureshi faced a multitude of questions, including whether he had the faith to be healed. He wondered if there was something he needed to do – did he need to perform in a particular way in order to be walking in faith? He said, “Honestly, I don’t think so. I think God understands where I am right now, and He comes alongside us in that He loves us and gives us the strength.”

Qureshi said God “…reached me through investigations, dreams, and visions and called me to prayer… It was there that I found Jesus. To follow Him means everything to me.” I discovered Qureshi while hard at work on my own walk with Christ. I’d spent so many decades walking in the flesh, then going to God in prayer, asking for forgiveness. What I have come to understand is that I was making a conscious decision to walk in the flesh. I’ve been given the power through the death and resurrection of Jesus to choose walking in the Spirit, but I was treating my salvation as “permission to sin.” After all, I was under grace, right? Truly, I was choosing to count the suffering and death of Jesus as though it meant nothing; that I was too far gone for His death to be a propitiation for my sins. What a slap in the face of my Lord!

Qureshi wrote three fine books before his death. Seeking Allah: Finding Jesus, Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, and No God But One: Allah or Jesus. Although he spent many years as a devout Muslim, defending Islam, he finally met his match when he entered into a years-long discussion with David Wood, a fellow student and practicing Christian, on the merits of Islam versus Christianity. Eventually, Qureshi realized his arguments for Islam crumbled under the evidence for Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, as well as the truth of His divinity. Qureshi faced severe disappointment and rejection from his parents after he told them of his conversion.

Qureshi made the announcement of his cancer in August of 2016. He posted the following comment on Facebook:

“This is an announcement that I never expected to make, but God in his infinite and sovereign wisdom has chosen me for this refining, and I pray he will be glorified through my body and my spirit. My family and I have received the news that I had advanced stomach cancer and the prognosis is quite grim.”

Some of you may already know of Qureshi’s passing, but it hit me between the eyes this morning. Regardless of the sadness, pain, and suffering Qureshi endured, he maintained a love and dedication to Christ. My pastor once said to me, relative to my chronic severe low back pain, “Have you ever considered that your pain provides you with the opportunity to understand and share in the pain Christ endured at Calvary?” Now that’s what I call a very provocative question.

Nabeel, my brother in Christ, rest in peace my friend. Thank you for sharing your story with the world. Your work has had a substantial impact on my walk with God, and has helped me to understand His plans for me.

Righteous in His Sight

Our great initial need before God is to be justified. To have God declare us not guilty, and pronounce us righteous in His sight. At first glance this appears to be an impossible situation for man. God, our Judge, is holy by His nature. Because of sin, man is unholy by nature. “But we are all like an unclean thing, and our righteousness is like filthy rags” (See Isaiah 64:6). The consequences of such ungodliness are inevitably universal and appropriately severe. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… for the wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:23 and 6:23a). The appropriate sentence for all of humanity, in light of their sins against a pure, holy, and eternal God, is death—everlasting separation from God.

The Law of God offers no help, and provides no hope of remedying this dire situation. People are not justified by the works of the Law. Trying your best to measure up to God’s standards never produces a verdict of not guilty. In all of history, Jesus was the only one who could stand up to the scrutiny of God’s Law and receive a declaration of being righteous. Jesus was in all ways tempted as we are, yet without sin (See Hebrews 4:15). No other person could ever perform sufficiently under the Law to achieve a declaration of righteousness. No one is justified by the Law in the sight of God.

Clothed-in-the-Righteousness-of-ChristWe are clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

Vows and pledges of personal improvement offer no hope. Asking others for advice on how to strive more earnestly provides no answer. Only faith supplies the necessary remedy. Man is not justified by the works of the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. Trusting in our own best efforts leaves us guilty before God. Trusting in Christ’s perfect work on the cross makes us justified before God. God’s Word tells us, “Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off, having been brought near by the blood of Christ” (See Ephesians 2:12-13).  Verse 16 tells us that we are reconciled to God through the cross. It is a command, not a suggestion. We must remember that we are hopeless!

What Exactly is Righteousness?

Dictionaries define righteousness as behavior that is morally justifiable or right. Such behavior is characterized by accepted standards of morality, justice, virtue, or uprightness. The Bible’s standard of human righteousness is God’s own perfection in every attribute, attitude, behavior, and spoken word. Thus, God’s Law, as given in the Bible, both describe His own character and the very plumb-line by which He  measures human righteousness. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible says, “The work of religion is to no purpose, unless the heart is in it, and we must worship God in the strength and grace of the Divine Spirit.” It’s important to note that things Paul counted as gain while a Pharisee he counted for loss for Christ.

Righteousness is an attribute of moral purity belonging solely to God. It is He alone who is truly righteous. No one in the world is righteous in the eyes of the Lord except the Christian. We are counted righteous in the eyes of God when we receive Jesus by faith. Paul counted all things but rubbish so that he may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having righteousness of his own—derived from the Law—but that which is through faith in Christ (See Philippians 3:9). Our righteousness is based only on the work done by Jesus on the cross. Through propitiation, the righteousness that was Christ’s is counted to us. This is why when God looks at us, He sees us as righteous. Though we are actually worthy of damnation, we are made blameless.

As Paul notes in 2 Corinthians 5:17, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and all things have become new.” Without regeneration of his spirit, it is vain for any man to profess a relationship with Christ according to the flesh, while he is unchanged in heart and lifestyle; accordingly, he is dead in trespasses and sins. Let’s take a look at the blessings of the Gospel. It brings us into Christ. Through it, we become a new creation; old things are passed away. The Gospel allows us to put on a new life, which is literally opposite the old life. With the new believer, all things are of God. The true Christian does not permit anything in his life which is ungodly. The cross allows us to be reconciled to God. We become the righteousness of Christ in the eyes of the Father.

Self-Righteousness and Legalism

We are accepted as righteous by God because of what Jesus has done. He was made sin, while we are made righteous. On the cross, Jesus was treated as if He were a sinner, though He was perfectly holy and pure, and we are treated as if we were righteous, though we are defiled and depraved. Put another way, we are treated as though we had entirely fulfilled the Law and had never been exposed to its penalty. Self-righteousness is defined as “confidence in one’s own righteousness, especially when smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others.” Basically, self-righteousness—which is related to legalism—is the misconception that we can somehow generate within ourselves a holiness that will be acceptable to God. As it is written, there is no one who is righteous on their own merits (See Romans 3:10).

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Jesus had harsh words for the puffed-up self-righteousness of the Jewish leadership. He said, “Everything they do is done for people to see… they love the place of honor at banquets, and the most important seats in they synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called Rabbi by others… [but] those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:5-7; 23:12, NIV). Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Whoa to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Matthew 23:27, NIV). This scenario plays out many times between Jesus and the Pharisees and scribes.

The Apostle Paul on Self-Righteousness

Paul’s treatment of self-righteousness is no less harsh than that of Jesus. Let’s look at what he had to say in the Book of Romans. “For in the Gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith'” (Romans 1:17). Paul notes in Romans 10:3, “Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the Law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”

He addressed this same issue with the Galatians. They were convinced that they had to do certain things to be acceptable to God, including circumcision. Paul astutely called their belief “another gospel,” calling those who advocated it “accursed” (See Galatians 1:8-9). Paul said if righteousness could come from the mere actions of man, then Jesus died “for no purpose” (See Galatians 2:21). He concluded that the Galatians were foolish in their attempt to be perfected by the flesh.

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Concluding Remarks

It is in our sin nature to attempt to behave ourselves into God’s grace. While under the lash of active addiction, I did whatever I could to appear righteous. Admittedly, I was trying to convince friends, family, and employers that I was finally doing things the right way. I was a modern-day Pharisee, bent on presenting a public self-righteousness while privately drinking and drugging. I went to church every Sunday, taught Bible study at two local county prisons, prayed publicly at mealtimes, and attended 12-step meetings. I was driven by pride, fear, and delusions of self-sufficiency.

Most of us are always trying to do something to merit our salvation. The costly freedom of grace, bought for us by the blood of Jesus with no contribution from us, is difficult for our prideful hearts to understand or appreciate. It is far easier to compare ourselves with one another than it is to recognize that we cannot measure up to the standards of a holy God. However, in Christ we can know true righteousness. Through Him, we can know the forgiveness of sin that comes to us through grace and not through works. Because He stood in our place, we benefit from His sinless life and His sin-bearing death on the cross. We are told in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (NIV). Through His sacrifice, we can bring our sin to the cross instead of trying to be good enough to earn appear sacred and holy before God. Only through the cross can we see the grace that covers all our sin and defeat the constant tendency toward self-righteousness in our hearts.

 

Overcoming Suffering

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:1-4)

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There seems to be two types of suffering: (1) the suffering that comes of our own making, and (2) the suffering that comes when God prunes us. I’m sure you have experienced both. The suffering of brokenness is never easy. This second brand of suffering refers to the state of surrender and defeat we experience when hardship comes to our usually steady and painless life. Certainly, you can imagine that many of us bring about hardship based upon choices we make. In any event, the suffering of brokenness is never easy.

What’s the Point in Bringing up Suffering?

Why talk about this subject of suffering? Can we please just talk about something else? You’re going to ruin a great day. The sun’s shining. Your belly is full. You love your job. What suffering? After all, just thinking about the word or recalling the trials of Job is enough to frighten anyone. But what happens when God calls us to experience suffering firsthand? How can we bear it? It is a difficult pill to swallow, but we all suffer in one way or another. There are those who suffer physically; some suffer emotionally; others seem to suffer mentally; and, finally, many who constantly fight God’s calling in their lives suffer spiritually. Why? We suffer because we refuse to surrender and yield everything to God’s lordship. Suffering is a difficult truth, and without God in our lives, it’s impossible to understand or see any good in it. But with God’s help and His Spirit’s empowerment, it can be the sweetest thing a believer ever experiences.

God’s Spirit chooses certain people that He knows will accept the pain and sorrow of suffering.  He knows they will trust Him fully and learn How work to work.  He will make them an instrument so powerful, so special, and so sweet that no one will be able to resist them. He’s only asking us to do one thing for Him – simply put our trust completely in Him. We often forget what God has already declared in His Word. God’s ways are higher than ours. (See Isaiah 55:8-9) His wisdom and insight into who we are and what we need in our lives are perfect. And, much to our dismay, the Lord does not always reveal to us what He is doing in our lives.

When we get into the arena of suffering, often our faith begins to waver in disbelief, our hearts begin to question everything about God’s love, and our minds begin to challenge God’s authority. We take our eyes off of His love and begin to question God Himself. Satan then throws us into the pit of despair. We start spiraling out of control and we end up in a horrible and sinful place, crying out, “It doesn’t seem fair!” A question from our heart: “Why do the wicked prosper and the righteous have to suffer?” Why, for example, does a young Christian woman, who is living her life for the Lord and with great virtuousness, get raped? Why must a Christian couple have to experience the pain of a child suffering from cancer?

Even in my own life I have questioned why I have needed to wrestle endlessly with the bondage of addiction despite my sincere desire to break free? Quite frankly, I don’t think any of us can truly answer these tough questions. If we didn’t know God, we could likely brush it off as the way of human existence on go on, moving forward. But because we know the goodness of God; because we know that He is filled with grace, mercy, and compassion; and because we know that no experience – painful or otherwise – can touch us unless it goes through His hands, we struggle to make sense of the pain and suffering in life. When we are struck with pain and suffering, we automatically think that we have done something wrong and that God is trying to teach us a lesson. This is not always the case. In fact, some of the most horrific suffering can take place when we are doing exactly what we should be doing! One thing is certain: suffering produces character.

SOME TRUTHS ABOUT SUFFERING

When we encounter trials, tribulations, and sufferings, it’s then that our Christian walk really meets the road. It is often during these times that the Scriptures truly become alive to us and the Holy Spirit does His greatest work in our lives.

Suffering Helps Us Comfort Others

The Bible promises us that we will be comforted in our suffering. It does not promise that we will always understand our suffering, nor does it promise that God will deliver us from pain, suffering, or even death; but it does promise He will always be with us. Perhaps the prophet Isaiah says it best: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” (Isaiah 44:2) We receive our comfort from God, and He will use the very experience that is causing our suffering to help us comfort someone else. This concept is very much alive in the realm of addictions counseling and 12-step meetings.

Paul wrote, in his second letter to the Corinthians, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same things we suffer.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-6, NIV)

At times God shakes up our lives. He brings us to a place in which we are uncomfortable in order to mold and correct us. As these verses state, sometimes we will suffer for no other reason but to make our hearts tender, and to give us great compassion toward other people. When we experience difficulty in life, we are able to turn to the Lord for His comfort. We get to mirror to others how God moves us from despair to victory. The comfort of God is something that your spouse or your best friend cannot give you. The Lord strengthens us by coming alongside us and walking with us through the storm. This coming alongside another is the very essence of the ministry of helps. (See 1 Corinthians 12:28) The Greek translation of this verse indicates literally “to relieve, succor, participate in, and/or support.” Those with the gift of helps are individuals who can aid, render assistance, or counsel others with compassion and grace.

Suffering Turns Our Focus on God

The Apostle Paul talks about the extent of his own suffering when he wrote, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-11) What was the reason for Paul’s suffering? He suffered so that he would not trust in himself, but in God, who raises the dead.

I believe that every bit of suffering God allows us to experience has at its core the purpose of bringing us to a place where we do not look to ourselves, but rather to God. He wants to destroy that place of self-confidence in our lives, and to bring us to a place in which we trust only Him. God wants us to understand and know His place of comfort and, in turn, be able to reach out and comfort others just as He has comforted and taken care of us.

Suffering Allows Us to Better Glorify God

In all ways, we want the Lord to be glorified in our lives. Sometimes He gets greater glory in what may seem like nothing but suffering on our end. Remember in the book of John when Martha and Mary were crying because their brother, Lazarus, had died? Martha told Jesus that if only He had been there, Lazarus would not have died. It’s likely that the sisters had a hard time understanding why Jesus didn’t drop everything to come and rescue His friend. And, understandably so, this furthered the suffering they were experiencing. But Jesus said to them, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4) Jesus loved Mary and Martha. He allowed them to suffer temporarily because it was part of God’s plan to do an even greater work than healing Lazarus. That is, to raise him from the dead. Not only would this greater miracle reveal the deity of Christ and give God glory, it would also give Mary and Martha tremendous hope. God loves His children and uses suffering to bring about far greater glory than what we could ever imagine.

Suffering Allows Us to Be More Appreciative

When we struggle through difficult times, we find ourselves being thankful for the simple things, the blessings the Lord has given us. Think of it this way: When we are sick, we become very appreciative of our health. When we are broke, we become appreciative of basic provisions. When we experience a broken relationship, we become very grateful of just having someone to eat meals with. So often we ignore God’s daily provisions for our lives and the many blessings He has bestowed on us. Not taking things for granted is a key lesson of suffering. We need to appreciate what God has given us (including each breath we take) and live each day with a thankful heart. No one likes to suffer, but it’s a necessary part of life. If our attitude is right, we will thrive during the suffering and, on the other side, be better because of it.

HOW TO VIEW SUFFERING AND COPE WITH IT

Ultimately, there are two ways to look at suffering. One way is like looking in a mirror. When trials come and difficulty hits, we immediately look in the mirror and all we see is ourselves. We see our hurts, our problems, our pain, and what others have done to us, but we are oblivious both to God and to what is going on in other people’s lives. The more we look in the mirror, the further we slide into despair. If we deal with suffering when it comes by looking into a mirror, we will never overcome it. We will never enjoy and experience the fruit God wants to bring into our lives through our suffering.

However, God wants to take the mirror away and replace it with a window – a view on the rest of the world! If we look out the window, we will see other people who are also hurting. Although we may not see the purpose of our suffering at the time, we will see that God is moving, and He is placing people and circumstances in our life for a reason. When we are looking out the window, we have no time to look in the mirror.

It’s Time for a New View

I have spent way too much time staring in the mirror, feeling sorry for myself, and blaming others for my circumstances. Looking in the mirror at my own pitiful reflection causes me to dwell on the negative aspects of my situation. I develop the attitude that no one understands, no one has experienced what I am going through, and nobody cares. It took a while for me to realize that I was staring in the mirror every day, moping, seeing nothing but heartache and suffering and loneliness. Frankly, that’s enough to destroy anyone! But the day we all choose to through the mirror away and look out the window, then we can look through our pain and suffering – the agony of our own life – and see another human being.

The Lord will lift us out of the sorrow, out of the situation, and use us as an instrument of righteousness within His kingdom. He will give us His compassion to reach out to others who are suffering, to comfort them with the same comfort that we have received. Suffering is common to all men and women. Every one of us goes through difficult times. Jesus, who did nothing wrong, suffered more than any other man or woman in history. Yet, He was able to say from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Throughout His life and His suffering, Jesus looked through a window instead of a mirror and was able to see others, not Himself.

Help to Cope With Suffering

We need to get out from our looking position (the inward focus, the looking in the mirror) to a helping position –  taking our eyes off our own situation and helping others through their suffering. But how do we do this? We do it by receiving God’s comfort and strength. In the Bible, the word paraclete is given to describe the Holy Spirit. In the Greek, it means “one who comes as a pillar of fire by your side.” God will be with us through the fire. He will be with us through the fire. He will be with us through the storm. He will be with us when the rivers begin to overflow. The Lord is able to comfort and help us in all situations of life. The apostle Paul, who had his own share of suffering, wrote, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Concluding Remarks

Are you battling a painful time in your life? Are you trying to make sense of it all? It’s important to stick with what you know. The Bible promises to help dispel the horrible and nagging question of “Why?” So stick with these truths: You know God loves you. You know God is true. You know He is righteous and Holy. You know God will not allow anything to come into your life that you cannot handle. You know God will use your suffering to help you minister to someone else. You know God will use your suffering for ultimate good.

We must look to the Lord and stand upon His promises. This is the only way to get through our personal suffering. We must remember what Jesus said: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Paul suffered through beatings and stonings and shipwrecks and imprisonments and rejection and hunger and thirst and homelessness – far more pain than most of us will ever have to endure. What did Paul say in Romans 8:18? “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

God is always around us. He is with us in every situation. When we’re ready to drop with exhaustion, or we fear we’re losing our way, are we to think, “I can handle this?” No, we remind ourselves, “It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.” (See Psalm 18:32)

 

An Argument for the Existence of God

Routinely, three tests for truth are applied regarding the existence of God: (1) logical consistency, (2) empirical adequacy, and (3) experiential relevance. When submitted to these tests, the Christian message meets the demand for truth. Belief in a world birthed by accident, a life that has no purpose, morality without a point of reference except for those absolutes that have been smuggled in – well hidden behind the mask of relativism – and death that ends in oblivion makes me prefer the possibility of this oblivion to the sheer weight of the emptiness of a God-less world.

Judging that life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. As we know, everyone has a worldview. A worldview basically offers answers to four necessary questions – questions that relate to origin, meaning, morality, and hope that assures a destiny.

Origin

Big Bang cosmology, along with Einstein’s theory of general relativity, implies that there is indeed an In the Beginning. All the data indicates a universe that is exploding outward from a point of infinite density. Of course, singularity is not really a point; it is the whole of three-dimensional space compressed to zero size. It is the point at which space ceases to exist. What’s important to note is at the point of the universe’s origin, there is something rather than nothing – a mystery that leaves science totally silent.

Nothing Cannot Produce Something

The very starting point for an atheistic universe is based on something that cannot explain its own existence. The scientific laws by which atheists want all certainty established do not even exist as a category at the beginning of the universe because, according to those laws of science by which atheists want to measure all things, matter cannot simply “pop into existence” on its own. In fact, the very mathematics and physics by which atheists define or explain the universe did not exist at the time the universe came together.

The Odds of Random Life

Donald Page of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Science has calculated the odds against our universe randomly taking a form suitable for life as one out of 10,000,000,000¹²³ – a number that exceeds all imagination. Astronomers Fred Hoyle and N.C. Wickramasinghe found that the odds of the random formation of a single enzyme from amino acids anywhere on our planet’s surface are 1 in 10 to the 20th power. The trouble is that there are about two thousand enzymes and the chance of obtaining them all in a random trial is only 1 part in 10 to the 40,000th power, an outrageously small probability that could not be faced even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup. Moreover, nothing has been said about DNA and where it came from, or of the transcription of DNA to RNA, which scientists admit cannot even be numerically computed.

If you know enough about a subject, you can confuse anybody by a selective use of the facts. The inescapable fact for the atheist is that life is the random product of time plus matter plus chance. An unfathomable proposition.

MEANING

If life is random, then the inescapable consequence, first and foremost, is that there can be no ultimate meaning and purpose to existence. This consequence is the existential Achilles’ heel of atheistic belief. As individuals and collectively as cultures, we humans long for meaning. But if life is random, we have climbed the evolutionary ladder only to find nothing at the top. Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain, but from being weary of pleasure. Pleasure, not pain, is the death knell of meaning.  We have all come to know that our problem is not that pain has produced emptiness in our lives; the real problem is that even pleasure ultimately leaves us empty and unfulfilled. When the pleasure button is pushed incessantly – especially in the case of a drug addict or sex addict – we are left feeling bewilderingly empty and betrayed.

The greatest disappointment (and resulting pain) you can feel is when you have just experienced that which you thought would bring you the ultimate pleasure – and it has let you down. Pleasure without boundaries produces a life without purpose. That is real pain. No death, no tragedy, no atrocity – nothing really matters. Life is sheer hollowness, with no purpose.

Voltaire and the Fallacies of Religion

Philosophers such as Voltaire, who theorized on the fallacies of religion, had no better answer to give to the masses they had rescued from what they considered religious “tyranny.” Here is what Voltaire wrote:

I am a puny part of the great whole,
Yes; but all animals condemned to live,
All sentient things, born by the same stern law,
Suffer like me, and like me also die.
The vulture fastens on his timid prey,
And stabs with bloody beak the quivering limbs:
All’s well, it seems, for it. But in a while
An eagle is transfixed by shaft of man;
The man, prone in the dust of battlefield,
Mingling his blood with dying fellow-men,
Becomes in turn the food of ravenous birds.

Thus the whole world in every member groans;
All born for torment and for mutual death.
And o’er this ghastly chaos you would say
The ills of each make up the good of all!
What blessedness! And as, with quaking voice,
Mortal and pitiful, ye cry, “All’s well,”
The universe belies you, and your heart
Refutes a hundred times your mind’s conceit…
What is the verdict of the vastest mind?
Silence: the book of fate is closed to us.
Man is a stranger to his own research;
He knows not whence he comes, nor whither goes.
Tormented atoms in a bed of mud,
Devoured by death, a mockery of fate.

Contemporary atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are so blind to the conceit of their own minds that they try to present this view of life as some sort of triumphal liberation. Sartre, as atheistic intellectual elites know but are embarrassed to acknowledge, denounced atheism on his deathbed as philosophically unlivable. Sartre said, “I do not feel that I am the product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured. In short, a being whom only a Creator could put here; and this idea of a creating hand refers to God.” And he used to be an atheist.

MORALITY

Not only does atheism’s worldview lead to the death of meaning, it also leads to the death of moral reasoning. Rather than a philosophy or a worldview, atheist Sam Harris says atheism is simply a refusal to deny what a person should see as obvious – that there is no God. Therefore, Harris believes atheism shouldn’t exist, saying “just as no one needs to identify himself as a ‘non-astrologer’ or a ‘non-alchemist.'” Examples of what Harris sees as God’s failure to protect humanity are to be seen everywhere, he says, such as the massive destruction in the city of New Orleans brought about by a hurricane in 2005. What was God doing while Katrina laid waste to New Orleans, he asks? Didn’t he hear the prayers of those who “fled the rising waters for the safety of their attics, only to be slowly drowned there?” These people, Harris insists, “died talking to an imaginary friend.”

Does the Reality of Evil Mean There is no God?

How conveniently the atheist plays word games. When it is Stalin or Pol Pot who slaughters thousands, it is because they are deranged or irrational ideologues; their atheism has nothing to do with their actions. But when a Holocaust is engendered by an ideologue, it is the culmination of four hundred years of Christian intolerance for the Jew. Atheists can’t have it both ways. If the murder of innocents is wrong, it is wrong not because science tells us it is wrong, but because every life has intrinsic worth – a postulate that atheism simply cannot deduce. There is no way for an atheist to argue for moral preferences except by this own subjective means. It is not okay to make absolute statements based on one’s personal feelings.

The antagonism of atheists toward God ends up proving that they intuitively find some things reprehensible. But they cannot explain this innate sense of right and wrong – the reality of God’s Law written on their hearts – because there is no logical explanation for how that intuition toward morality could develop from sheer matter and chemistry. When you assert that there is such a thing as evil, you must assume there is such a thing as good. When you say there is such a thing as good, you must assume there is a moral law by which to distinguish between good and evil. There must be some standard by which to determine what is good and what is evil. When you assume a moral law, you must posit a moral lawgiver – the source of the moral law. But this moral lawgiver is precisely who atheists are trying to disprove.

Can Morality Exist Apart from a Moral Lawgiver?

Why is a moral lawgiver necessary in order to recognize good and evil? For the simple reason that a moral affirmation cannot remain an abstraction. The person who moralizes assumes intrinsic worth in himself or herself, and transfers intrinsic worth to the life of another; thus he or she considers that life worthy of protection. Transcending value, by definition, must come from a person of transcending worth. But in a world in which matter alone exists there can be no intrinsic worth. Look at it this way: objective moral values exist only if God exists; objective moral values do exist; therefore God exists. Atheists, of course, will not admit that moral values are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events, without an all-powerful God to create them.

But What About Reason? Can’t It Provide a Moral Framework?

Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and other leading atheists opt for reason as the source for their unbelief while maintaining belief in a moral code. Reason, however, cannot decide for us what is good and what is evil. Pure practical reason, even with a good knowledge of the facts, will not take us to morality. Harris claims that God breaks His own laws and is therefore evil or contradictory. This is to assume that God kills innocent people. When atheists do this, they are actually borrowing from the biblical revelation of justice and retribution while ignoring the big story into which it fits and by which it gains its purpose. In other words, they are taking God out of context.

We Can’t Have Free Will Without Suffering

Any discussion about why things are the way they are must include human autonomy (free will) versus God’s story of why we are the way we are. Though the sacred is offered to us, our will is arrogant and refuses to submit to God’s authority. No one of us is any different from or better than any other. This is true no matter their sin. Intrinsic value is not about behavior. It’s about who God says we are, and what He’s done to make us who we can become.

Could God really have created in us the ability to love without giving us the option to reject that love, the desire to trust and to be trusted without the freedom to doubt, or the privilege of making a choice without the responsibility of accepting the ramifications of that choice? A person may dismissively say that he or she does not see a moral order. The real issue is not an absence of moral order in the world, but the insistence on determining for oneself what is good and what is evil, in spite of what we intuitively know to be true. To believe that there is no moral order, one must assume knowledge of what a moral order would look like if there were one. If there truly is no moral order, any attempt to enforce one is sheer pragmatism, and is open to any challenge for other pragmatic reasons.

The Human Heart is Bent Toward Evil

Do you want empirical evidence that the heart of mankind is naturally bent toward evil? Witness the atrocities we see around us in our world. Today, October 2, 2017, we woke up to the news of a mass shooting in Las Vegas. The worst in U.S. history. As I am writing this blog post, the death toll stands at 59, with 527 people injured. The gunman waited until cover of darkness, then, using an assault rifle modified to operate on full-auto, he fired hundreds of rounds of bullets into a crowd enjoying a country music concert on the square below his hotel room. It would seem this man decided he knew what was an appropriate way to act out his frustrations. We cannot keep blaming this “ism” and that “ism.” The decisions and actions of each individual are determined by what is important to that individual.

The Need for Faith

The worldview of the Christian faith is simple enough. God has put enough into this world to make faith in Him a most reasonable thing. But He has left enough out to make it impossible to live by sheer reason alone. Many atheists tend to misinterpret Pascal’s wager. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal didn’t say he was wagering his belief. It was not a gamble, or a hedging of his bets. He was essentially saying that there are two tests for belief in God: the empirical test – that which is based on investigation – and the existential test – that which is based on personal experience. By denying the existence of God, atheists leave just one option in their pursuit of happiness and purpose, namely, the existential test of self-fulfillment.

It appears that no matter what evidence was offered, God could never prove Himself to atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins because it’s not proof they’re looking for. The are looking for a God they can cast in their own image. Neither of these men are the first to ask God to stoop to providing proof of Himself according to another person’s agenda. I immediately think of Satan’s temptations of Christ in the desert. (See Matthew 4:3, 6, and 9)

Jesus worked by changing the heart, not by legislating. Legislation can only force compliance. It can never produce the love necessary to change an attitude.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Routinely, three tests for truth are applied to the argument for the existence of God: (1) logical consistency, (2) empirical adequacy, and (3) experiential relevance. When submitted to these tests, the Christian message meets the demand for truth. No physical entity can explain its own existence. Regardless of how physical reality is sectioned out, we end up with a state where the evidence of any physical entity explaining its own existence is zero. Obviously, something does not come from nothing. This violates the very laws of science atheists worship.

A can of alphabet soup dumped onto a table implies that somebody made that soup. You would absolutely deny that those letters fell out of the can in sequence every time; you would never even consider the possibility that it was accidental. In the same manner, the “raw materials” that have resulted in this universe have been brought together simultaneously in the most amazing combinations – combinations too amazing to have just happened by accident. The mathematics alone is unfathomable. This is the basis for the argument of intelligent design.

The one thing that atheists leave unaddressed is how to persuade the human heart to do, and to want to do, that which is true, good, and beautiful. Technological advance without virtue in the technician is like the nuclear button in the hands of a madman. Consider, if you will, the example of Muhammad. Islam is a religion that is academically bankrupt, for it fails to meet the ordinary tests of truth. How can a religion that claims its prophet came to the entire world then restrict its miracle to a language that is not spoken by the vast majority of the people of the world? How can a man whose own passions were so untamed gain the right to speak moral platitudes? An honest Muslim open to considering these things will readily see that the “god” of the Qur’an is not the same God spoken of in the Old and New Testaments, and that the edifice of Islam is built on a geopolitical worldview masquerading as a religion. Islam is a religion of power, willing to destroy for the sake of its ideology; the Christian faith is one of communion and relationship with the One who made us.

The greatest sacrament, compared to which all the others are types and shadows, is the Incarnation in which “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth,” We have beheld His glory as of the only Son from the Father. The word, the logos, combines two notions, one Greek, one Hebrew. For the Greek, the logos was the rational ordering principle of the universe. For the Hebrew, the word of the Lord was God’s activity in the world. In Hebrew, dabar means both word and deed. Science discerns a world of rational order developing through the unfolding of process devoid of a higher power. Theology declares the world in its scientific character to be an expression of the Word of God – literally the words spoken by God. For “all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:3, RSV)

The Blind Shall See

The following is an excerpt from “As Easy as Drinking Water: A Muslim Forgiven,” by Afshin Javid. Afshin, an extremely devout Muslim boy, had sought to please God in every way by following the words of the Qur’an. Having committed himself to live and die for Islam, at the age of 12 he joined Hezbollah. Later, in obedience to his grandfather’s commission to preach Islam to North Americans, Afshin attempted illegal immigration to the West. Plans went awry when he was arrested and imprisoned in Malaysia’s infamous Pudu Jail.

“As Easy as Drinking Water” is the life story of Afshin Javid, who, in an hour of darkness, had an encounter with Jesus that would change his life forever. As you will see from reading Afshin’s memoir, he cried out to God in desperation in his cell one night. He felt a hand on his shoulder and asked who it was. A voice said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Not sure what this meant, or who the presence was, Afshin again asked, “What is your name?” The voice said, “I am Jesus Christ.” Afshin said he fell immediately to his face on the floor of his cell. From that point on, he was commissioned to tell the world of God’s marvelous love and His desire to forgive. This excerpt is from the chapter titled “The Blind Shall See.”

***

DURING ONE OF OUR Friday evening services, a young blind Bengali man in his late twenties or early thirties tapped his way through the entrance of the church with a cane. He sat and listened to the service, and at the end he came forward during the prayer time. One of our members greeted him at the front.

“How can we pray for you?”

“I was born blind, but I would like to see. Can you pray for me to be able to see?”

“Of course we can pray for this,” someone said.

“Yes,” I said, “there is no reason why you cannot be healed today. There are plenty of stories in the Bible where Jesus healed incurable diseases, including blindness. There is no reason why He can’t do it today.”

There happened to be a doctor in attendance who was visiting our church. Having overheard the story, he felt he needed to protect us from embarrassing ourselves and making God look bad in the process.

“Everyone should know that if this man was born blind, it probably means he had an infection in the womb that destroyed his retina, or maybe he has some other inherited problem. Whatever the cause, the nerves from his eyes cannot carry any signal to his brain. The connections are broken. I don’t think that praying is going to work here.”

“I really don’t understand what you are trying to explain to us, and further, I don’t want your thoughts to stand in the way of us trying to pray for healing,” I said.

“It’s like the plug for a lamp,” he said. “If you cut the cord, you can’t get any power to the lamp. Praying for this man is going to put us all in an awkward position. When nothing happens, we will have to explain why. It would be better to not pray at all.”

I didn’t understand anything about how eyes work, how nerves work, or how the brain works – and I still don’t. What he was saying was all mumbo jumbo. I only knew one thing. James 5:14-15 says, “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” (NASB)

It does not say, “Pray only for people with certain diseases.” It says, “Pray for the sick.” For me, praying for the sick was as simple as that: “Pray for the sick.” It did not seem all that complicated. It was not my responsibility to be certain that God was going to do what I asked for. It was my responsibility to be obedient to His command, which was to pray.

Sometimes God does not heal but says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9), and other times He says, “Yes, I will heal.” Why He says what He says, and how He answers prayers, are His business. These are management decisions. I am a soldier. I don’t get to make management decisions. I just have to do what I am told.

So I turned and said, “Doctor, I don’t care what you say. I am not deterred by the specifics of this man’s medical problems. I am approaching the One who created this man, and I am asking Him for healing. I can assure you I have no power of my own to do anything. I just take orders.” I felt a little bad for the doctor. I understand that as a medical professional and an intellectual, he was trying to help us out. But sometimes, too much knowledge has a negative effect on our ability to take God at His word.

We all gathered around the man and prayed a very simple prayer, short, to the point, in faith, and in obedience. “Lord, would you stretch out your hand and heal this man in the Name of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Please give him back his eyesight, Lord.”

The next thing we knew the man said, “I can see something! It’s kind of blurry, but I can see!” We all immediately burst into praise and shouts to the Lord. We were so excited to see such a miracle happen right in front of us.

“Hallelujah!” people were shouting.

“Praise God!” echoed around the room. It sounded like the home team had won a football game. The doctor tried to calm us all down and assure us that we were completely deluded.

“Hey, everyone, just settle down. There is no way this man can see anything,” he assured us. “Look, I will show you.” The doctor raised four fingers in front of the man’s face. “How many fingers am I holding up, sir?” he said. Without waiting for a response, he looked over to us smugly. He was certain that the man would not be able to answer. “Four,” the man said.

“You see? He can’t see anything.” The doctor looked down at his own hand and realized he was holding up four fingers. I must confess that the fact that the doctor could not remember how many fingers he had held up added to the moment in a most gratifying way. I am not sure who was more shocked – the man who had been healed or the doctor. Jesus performed this miracle for the Father’s glory in the same manner as when He was living among us: “As He went along, He saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.'” (John 9:1-3)

Sometimes, as Christians, we try too hard to protect the reputation of the God we serve. Because we are afraid He might not answer our prayer, we avoid praying altogether. We don’t want anyone to say, “Your god does not exist!” or “Your god never answers!” That day I learned we should never assume the role of God’s protector and defender because it may lead us to misguided inaction, preventing Him from doing a miracle. On the flip side, many have tried to defend God with misguided action, and in so doing have wrongly shed blood in His name. It’s best to let God defend His own reputation, and do only what He commands.

This experience built my faith tremendously. After that day, I fully believed that whenever I had the opportunity to pray for the lame, the blind, or the sick of any sort, they would be healed instantly and restored to health. I thought of these words from Scripture: “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” (Mark 16:17-18)

Afshin Javid

And Death Shall Have No Dominion

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead man naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan’t crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

By Dylan Thomas