Monthly Archives: November 2008

Can An Atheist Change? Ask Ebenezer Scrooge this Christmas…

The wonderful thing about life is that we all can change. The future is not settled. We have the capacity to surprise and delight God in the decisions that we make. Even an atheist can change!

In the famous story, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge, in reference to the tombstone which he saw in the vision, asks: “Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they the shadows of the things that may be, only?” Scrooge adds: “Men’s course will foreshadow certain ends to which, if persevered in, they must lead, but if the courses be departed form, the ends will change.”

Scrooge pleads: “Assure me that I may yet change these shadows you have thrown at me, by an altered life. Oh, tell me that I may sponge away the writing on this stone.” (Narrative help from Clark H. Pinnock, Most Moved Mover)

Ebenezer Scrooge wanted to know if the future was still open; if he could in fact, shape it, choose differently, and write a new story with his life. He wanted to know if his actions could affect it. And the story goes on to answer that question.

Can people change? Specifically, can an atheist change? Can one who has built this very complex philosophical structure around their lives, abandon a worldview that is unable to answer the deeper life questions? Can one turn his or her back on rationalizations once held dear? Can an atheist actually become a theist, who honors their true Creator and live their life for Him? Can an atheist be brave enough to challenge the arguments of his or her atheistic friends because the evidence has begun to point toward theism?

Yes, a thousand times, “Yes!”

Elie(zer) Wiesel, the concentration camp survivor, remarked: “God made man because he loves stories.” I want to modify his statement slightly. “God made man with free will because he loves stories with surprise endings.” All human beings, especially atheists, have the capacity to surprise and delight God with the decisions that we make. He’s watching your story and has been for a long time.

You’ve been writing a story all your life, a story full of unique characters, some that make you laugh, others that make you cry; a story that has taken place in a variety of settings and locations, some pleasant, some not so pleasant; and a story that has had many digressions of plot which have taken you down many roads, some of which were dead-end ally-ways.

Christmas says that there needs to be a chapter written into the story of your life where character, setting, and plot all converge into a moment – a here and now moment; a moment when you realize that God has been tracking your story all along the way; a moment when you realize that you’ve had many opportunities to surprise and delight Him, to turn the plot of your life into a favorable, God-honoring direction. And for whatever reason, your life story has taken a different path.

The greatest application of what we as human beings have experienced at Christmas would be for us to turn the pen over to God and say “God, you write my story now. I need Someone who can take all the bits and pieces, all the bad decisions, and self-centered chapters, the selfish streaks, the ugly impulses, the lust and the hate and the simple ambition to make something of myself – Someone who can take all of this complexity and conundrums and weave it into an incredible, surprise ending.

Don Miller gives a wonderful talk on the subject of story. He suggests in his talk that God begins from our mistakes. We make a mistake and God says, “Well, I didn’t necessarily want that in your story, but let’s begin again from there and let me use it in some incredible, unsuspecting way.”

Time after time, because of our free will, God has pieces and characters and locations thrown at Him, and at times, we are doubtful that He could do anything redeeming with it. And yet He writes on, and creates something beautiful, even inspiring from all the pieces, even atheistic pieces. God will even take the pieces of “atheism” and weave it into a grand theme for a God-honoring life if you will, but allow Him to do it.

It’s not the evil that we do in our stories that amazes me; it’s the good that comes from the evil that we do (and this includes everybody by the way, not just atheists!). How does God do it? How does he create so much good from bad? There is no decision that God cannot use, no character beyond his reach, no plot that He cannot turn, no setting that he cannot remake and renew. Every lie told, every dollar taken, every promise broken, every bad attitude, every virtue we’ve abandoned, every opportunity we’ve wasted, God can use all of it for good in your story, but you’ve got to give Him the pen. God is a great writer, and you’ll love the surprise ending.

But can someone like an atheist change; someone who has even denied that there is even a Story-teller? You bet. Just ask Scrooge. And maybe this blog could represent a “new character” in your story, that points toward the one true God, Lover of all men, and Friend of humanity.

The future is not set in stone; you can change. Shape a better future this Christmas. Write a better story over this holiday season. And tell me about it (don’t allow your atheistic friends to intimidate you; you have a place at my table). I’d love to read your story.

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Filed under Atheism, Christmas, Free Will

Atheists Have No One to Thank This Thanksgiving

A favorite author, Chuck Colson, gives a great insight on this topic. He tells about a time in his life when he was “distinctly irreligious”. “I was on a lake in New Hampshire where I had taken a fourteen-foot Day Sailer to teach my two sons to sail. On one of our ventures across the lake, Christian, who was then ten, grabbed the sheet and was so excited over actually being able to sail the boat that his eyes sparkled. I was in the stern holding the tiller. I saw in my son’s expression the joy of a new discovery as he felt the wind’s power in his hands.

In that unguarded moment, I found myself saying, ‘Thank you, God, for giving me this son – for giving us this one wonderful moment.’ I went on to tell God that if I were to die tomorrow, I would feel my life had been fulfilled. When I realized what I had done, I was startled. I had no intention of trying to talk to God, whoever He was – if He did exist and was even knowable. I was certainly not intellectually convinced that God existed. But I had to admit that I was simply overcome with gratitude for that unforgettably rich experience with my son Chris, and I needed to thank someone – God…

What moved me that day to talk to God was an overwhelming sense of gratitude for that incredibly joyous experience… Gratitude, I have discovered, is built into every one of us, as much as a universal human characteristic as guilt. When you wake up in the morning, lift the window, feel the fresh [fall] breezes, and see the sun rising, aren’t you filled with gratitude? (Good Life, 272).”

Perhaps, in an unguarded moment, an atheist will look up this Thanksgiving and say, “Thank you” to the One who has made their life possible. Otherwise, the thing about atheism is that you have no One to thank. Someone even suggested that you cannot be grateful for some thing without being grateful to a someone. One can express gratittude only toward another intelligent, conscious being. You cannot be grateful to a fencepost, or the moon, or some collection of atoms. An atheist can be happy that the sun sets over Maui, be he/she can’t be truly grateful for these things since there is no one to whom to be grateful.

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Always Winter But Never Christmas for An Atheist

Without Jesus it would have been always winter, but never Christmas on this planet (to borrow a line from Lewis). This is especially true for an atheist. If there is no God, then there most certainly is no “Son of God” – no Jesus, no birth in Bethlehem, no 33 years of authenticating our humanity, no cross, no resurrection, no larger story to live for. For the athiest, it’s winter but never a true Christmas.

I’ve got a book entitled What if Jesus had never been Born? by D. James Kennedy. He walks the reader through every area of human endeavor and field of study or inquiry and shows how Christianity has positively impacted those areas.

Kennedy uses as a springboard for his book the 1946 film classic It’s a Wonderful Life wherein the character played by Jimmy Stewart gets a chance to see what life would be like had he never been born. George Bailey (played superbly by James Stewart) grows up in the small town of Bedford Falls, dreaming dreams of adventure and travel, but circumstances conspire to keep him enslaved to his home turf. Frustrated by his life, and haunted by an impending scandal, George prepares to commit suicide on Christmas Eve. A heavenly messenger arrives to show him a vision: what the world would have been like if George had never been born.

Kennedy borrows this and transitions it to this question: What would planet earth have been like without Jesus and true Christianity? Hospitals and universities were first built by Christians. Christians championed the cause of literacy and education for the masses.

Did you know that many of our Ivy League schools and public universities were started by Christians who wanted to train pastors and teach the queen of the sciences – theology? Christians championed capitalism and free enterprise. They abolished slavery. They elevated the status of women. They took in the unwanted children. They clothed the poor and fed the hungry. They discovered new continents. They provided ethics and morality that holds civilizations together. They developed the arts and advanced music. They’ve explored and advanced science and philosophy and every realm of inquiry. They helped author constitutions and books on law. They have proclaimed the gospel. Why? Because Jesus came.

How many institutions of education have the atheists started? (Most atheist and/or naturalistic scholars have simply hijacked institutions for their own purposes) What atheists joined Wilberforce to abolish slavery? How many homes for the orphans have the atheists began? How many hospitals have the atheist built?

Someone once said “Well, the atheists don’t typically organize like the Christian Theists do?” Well, why do the theists organize themselves to do these great and noble things for all mankind (even Christian hospitals will nurse an atheist back to health!) Why do they do it? It’s simple really. Christmas. Jesus came to our planet in the humble manger, denied himself a privileged place, and radically served mankind, and that is our reason. It’s always Christmas for the theist.

But for the atheist… it’s always winter, but never truly Christmas.

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How A Father Can Avoid Raising An Atheist Son

I learned recently how many renown atheists had poor relationships with their fathers (I would venture to say that 95% of atheists have had poor relationships with their dads). This is indicative of the “Father Wound” that so many children take on early in life. Our concepts of God are formed from the type of father that we have. An aloof, harsh, disconnected, obnoxious (even religious) dad has produced far more atheists than any “evil God” argument, or “fairy-tale Bible” argument, or a “bad church experience” argument has ever thought about producing. Check out the de-conversion blog for more “arguments”. But what they will never tell you is that “My father wounded me deeply and I’ve never been able to get over it.” De-converting and rejecting belief in God is my way of getting back.

Fatherlessness is the most harmful demographic trend of this generation. Many of our social problems can be traced to fatherlessness – to dads who refuse to be dads. Newsweek ran a cover story about “The Boy Crisis”. The author said, “A boy without a father figure is like an explorer without a map (Eldredge, Way of the Wild Heart…xii).” So many boys are pretty much on their own. “Figure life out yourself and good luck.”

God recognizes the stupidity of such an approach. Even Jesus needed to know that His Father loved him and was going to guide Him. Two of the most prominent occasions where God speaks in the New Testament occur when He is blessing His Son, Jesus.

At his baptism, Jesus comes out of the water and a voice from heaven says,

“Mark 1:9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased (NIV)’.”

Then at Jesus’ transfiguration, the voice says again:

Mark 9:7 Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him! (NIV).”

Three valuable blessings were bestowed on Jesus from his Daddy (Canfield, They Call Me Dad, 39-40).

First, God communicated belonging. “This is my Son.” We must communicate our acceptance of our sons and our pride in them, no matter what. If there’s something we can’t be proud of, let’s deal with it openly. But they must always have a special place in your heart that no one else will have. Affirm who he is – “You’re mine. I’ll stand up for you and fight your battles with you. I’ll provide for you. The heavenly Father loves his children. He never abandons his own and I will never abandon you.”

Second, God communicates value. God said “Whom I love.” Jesus could live with confidence knowing that God, His Father, loved Him. A quiet confidence exudes from a child who rests in his fathers love. God was so committed to His well-being. “I love being your dad” are words every son needs to hear. The greatest words you’ll ever hear as a Dad are “Dad, I love you.” A boy needs another man to look up to and learn from.

Third, God communicates that Jesus was competent. “Listen to Him.” When we tell our sons, “Great job!” it conveys competence, adequacy – that they have what it takes. A dad is to watch and observe his boy and notice what he’s good at and encourage and affirm that. Admire his work. Affirm what he does.

We must have fathering. You have to give your sons your words. They convey importance, protection, comfort, tenderness, and caring. Many atheist sons have never heard an “I love you” from a dad. Or “I’m proud of you son.” Unaffectionate dads fail to bestow these fatherly blessings and end up creating multiple atheists who are still looking for a father to love them.

Be authentic and real with your sons. If you’re afraid; admit it. If you don’t know; say so. But, whatever you do, stop posing, faking, and wannabeing, and be a real man – love your boy, represent God well, and set your affection on your son.

Dads, make sure the sum total of your relationship with your children is encouragement. The world is tough enough on them as it is. Give them the gift of a nurturing, loving, supportive, present father. Let your son hang out with you. You can’t influence him if you’re never with them. Talk to him about key topics from an early age while you’re doing other stuff. Stay attached no matter what and be nurturing in that attachment. Avoid the “Cat’s in the Cradle” kind of stuff.

Jean Lush adds that the ripe age of 13 is absolutely critical mass between a boy and his dad. Don’t get disconnected, washed out to sea, when everything is on the line. Don’t pretend like you have the answers for everything; just walk with them through the issues.

A godly father is one who participates in the lives of the people in his home. He is active in the rearing of his children. He does not avoid responsibility; he seeks it. He sees his commitment to become responsible as a God-given calling. He provides the financial resources needed for his family. He is the one who makes sure the family is at church where their spiritual needs are ministered to. He is the primary one in the home who talks about God, right and wrong, and leading an honorable life. He leads by example by living out the values he espouses.

Larry Crabb said that what impressed him as a boy was that his father loved something and Someone more than he loved anything else, even his family. But he didn’t feel rejection. He knew he was loved. It was a mystery, an invitation to discover what that Something was all about for his father and for him personally.

What kind of father and father-legacy do you want? Place yourself on the spectrum from “I want to be just like him, he is showing me how” to “Good guy, but not who I want to be” to “Checked out, no clue” to “An evil man. May God deliver me from his legacy.” What are you saying with the message of your life? Accept the fathering challenge and leave a great legacy and avoid raising an atheist.

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Legitimate God Questions + Cliche Answers = Atheist

Nancy Pearcey in her book Total Truth tells just a part of her story. She said she went to a church in her childhood that would never answer her questions. She had all these God Questions that she would ask, and what she got was a pat on the back and cliché statements like “Just pray about it” or “You’re just in a phase right now” or “Don’t worry, we all have doubts sometimes honey” or “Just get in the Word” or “Stop rebelling. You’re not supposed to ask questions like that!”

Since no one ever bothered to answer her deepest questions about why and how Christianity is true, she decided the best thing to do would be to reject the faith and to search out all other faith systems and that’s what she did. Several years later she encountered L’Abri in Switzerland, the residential ministry of Francis Schaeffer.

Writes Pearcey: “It was the first time I had ever encountered Christians who actually answered my questions – who gave reasons and arguments for the truth of Christianity instead of simply urging me to have faith (53).”

She recovered her faith. She writes: “No one can live without a sense of purpose or direction, a sense that his or her life has significance as part of a cosmic story. We may limp along for a while, extracting small installments of meaning from short-term goals like earning a degree, landing a job, getting married, establishing a family. But at some point, these temporal things fail to fulfill the deep hunger for eternity in the human spirit. For we were made for God, and every part of our personality is oriented toward relationship with Him. ‘Our hearts are restless, Augustine said, until we find our rest in Him’.”

But in the mean time, let’s give better answers; well thought-out, cohesive replies to those with God Questions, minus the cliches. Blogs like the De-Conversion blog is where people end up when we settle for pat answers and cliche responses.

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Filed under Agnosticism, Atheism, Christian Worldview, Christianity, Conversion, Deconversion, God, Larger Story, Life Purpose, Questions, Reconversion, Theism

God’s Image Defines My Life Purpose

Genesis really defines what our purpose in life really is. It makes clear our true purpose.

We read in Genesis: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.

No other creature was given this kind of mandate. In this simple mandate, we have someone to love (male and female), we have a job to do (rule over), we have an adventure to live (explore the Outback), and a God to enjoy (made in His image). God sums up our purpose in two short verses with one key phrase “the image of God”. Something of God is crammed into every life.

We are scaled down copies of God. Some people tarnish it and some people polish it, but we are all responsible for it. If we are not made in the image of God life is cheapened; but if we are, we have inestimable worth.

At the time the Book of Genesis was written, ancient kings of the Near East, who ruled vast territories, knew that they could not be physically present everywhere in their kingdoms, so they commissioned statues of themselves to be placed in all the major cities of their realms. When people looked at these statues, they were reminded of the authority of the king who ruled them. The statue was not the same as the king, but it represented the king and was due the same glory and honor. To dishonor the statue of the king was sacrilege, treason.

Humanity was to function in the same way. We are reflections, rough representations of the Creator in ways that his other creatures are not (Intimate Allies, 18). You are God’s representative on earth. There is no higher calling. When we create, and excel at something and are able to stand back and admire what we have created and accomplished through His power and creativity at work in us image-bearers, we are most like the image of God as it is presented in Genesis 1 and 2.

Because we are made in God’s image, we are capable of great things in the area of mathematics, science, technology, philosophy, the arts, sports, medicine, construction, and serving causes that change people’s lives, and so on and so forth. Our greatness is a result of God’s image in us. We reflect the glory of our Maker. Knowing that we are fulfilling God’s purpose of representation in our world and moving the largers story along, is the only thing that really gives rest to the restless human heart.

Like so many worldviews today (like atheism or secular humanism), we still have communities of people who will deny that we are image-bearers, either by denouncing the existence of the King or offering naturalistic explanations for how we came to exist. As a result, life purpose is lost, our image-bearing status is denied. Oh, there are still people to love, places to go, adventures to live. But there is no God to reflect. Cut off from this connection, we don’t view people right, we don’t view our jobs right, and we don’t fully live the adventure of making an eternal difference.

In a post-Fallen world, God’s image has become marred; it is defaced but not erased. In this defaced state, we don’t create or do things or admire what we’ve created for the right reasons. We use our abilities to do evil things sometimes or to selfishly enjoy the benefits that they bring. And instead of creating in community, we fragment into disunity, filled with jealousy, envy, pride, sloth, and wasted potential.

The glory of the Creator in you is demonstrated when you find yourself enjoying God, created in His image, reflecting His purposes, caught up in His love-story, and partnering with Him to restore a broken humanity. The body He gave you to live in; the globe He gave you to live on; the abilities He infused you with; the brain he placed in your cranium; the property and possessions He has allowed you to own – it’s all to be creatively shaped, cared for, and used in a way that reflects the One whose image you bear.

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Why are There so Many Atheism Blogs? – Part 2

The Image of God – Even in an Atheistic Blog

Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Mankind is made in the image of God. What does this mean? Simply stated, we reflect our Creator.

Dorothy Sayers has questioned: “How then can [man] be said to resemble God? Is it his immortal soul, his rationality, his self-consciousness, his free will, or what, that gives him a claim to this rather startling distinction? A case may be argued for all these elements in the complex nature of man (The Whimsical… 114).” What she goes on to state is that we can observe God in Genesis 1 and begin to understand what or Who it is that we are reflecting. One of the things that stands out is our creativity. Like God, we love to create.

We love to write stories (even untrue ones reflect a bit of God’s image in us through the very fact that we are writing at all), produce movies (even immoral ones express some of God’s image as we tell a story we love), express poetry (even bad poetry indicates a measure of artistic expression), – you’re getting the picture now…

…We build buildings, create community, assemble machines, produce websites, explore the unknown, construct a great meal, and build a family with our spouse, and even write a blog. And even if that blog is atheistic – it still expresses God’s image.

We love to create! And what we create is not complete until it has been offered and shared with others in community. This is ironic for atheists, who proport that they don’t believe in God, but yet they reflect His image by bloging in community so much. They are expressing God’s image, even while they deny His existence.

By the way, these “reflective images” don’t sound like a machine to me for some reason? This is a living person we’re talking about here, shaped by God, not a collection of chemicals, or at one time cosmic garbage. These things we make are not distorted physical drives; they are expressions of God in us. It’s unique to human beings. (How many dogs do you see admiring a sunset in the evening?)

In Genesis, God said it was all good after the first week of creation, and then he told Adam and Eve, “Now, you guys keep this going. Keep creating and shaping, knowing and loving.”

To all people, including atheists, keep blogging! You are a reflection of the One you deny. But what do you say? Let’s polish His image, rather than tarnish it.

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