Category Archives: Theism

Salt and Cultural Decay “My Name Is…I Struggle With…”

“You are the salt of the earth,” was something Jesus said to describe the affect of Christ-followers on the culture. This statement also came with an adomonition to retain the saltiness. What does this mean?

Sometimes, first century, Near Eastern salt was this mixture of salt and sand. They didn’t have processing plants. Some of their salt was very poor and had to be thrown out because it had been diluted. When salt is mixed with another substance, it changes in its impact. The other substance doesn’t become salty, but the potency of the salt is diminished to the point that it may not even be seen or tasted. The salt loses its effectiveness.

Before they had refrigeration or ice boxes, salt was their chief means of fighting decay. In the ancient world, salt was a vital staple, both as a preservative and as a seasoning. In a non-refrigerated society, salt was rubbed into the meat to keep it from decaying. If you catch a fish on the Sea of Galilee, for example, and have to transport it to Jerusalem many miles to the south, you’re in trouble without salt. The transportation was slow. Refrigeration was non-existent. And they didn’t have Morton Salt Company either. They got salt from evaporated sea water, and it was never completely pure. Occasionally what they gathered to use as seasoning or to preserve their meat was so impure that it wasn’t very salty at all. When that happened they would gather it up and cast it out in their fields to use as fertilizer. Sometimes they would throw it out the door to harden the pathway that led to their front porch.

What Jesus says in these verses is that if His followers are going to change the world, they have to be the real thing. Our lives can’t be a mixture of all kinds of impurity. We have to be uncompromised, authentic as we engage the culture. Not perfect, just authentic and real with how we live life. What the culture needs are people who own their mess, who allow the teachings of Jesus to confront their lifestyles, and who honestly live a confessional life without pretense as they struggle to live life the way Jesus asked them to live it.

How did Jesus ask them to live a “salty” life? Jesus wanted them to extend forgiveness rather than keep someone in their debt. He wanted them to honor their marriage vows rather than do adultery. He wanted them to stop objectifying women and to really see them and their hearts. He wanted them to surrender the impulse to retaliate and seek revenge. He wanted them to deny themselves, to trust Him and not to worry about tomorrow. He wanted them to resist jumping to conclusions and standing in judgment over others. He wanted them to have the right priorities so that when life is done, you’re not burdened with regret that you spent your life on the wrong things (this is a summary of Matthew 5-7). What the culture needs are people who are willing to allow Jesus’ teachings to confront their values; to engage the culture by living out this struggle in front of a society that is already suspicious about religion and spirituality.

Now, it is possible for salt to be over used, to be too salty. If we try to impose Kingdom values rather than live them for all to see, we are too salty. If we always demand conformity to our viewpoint, we’re too salty. If you’re too heavy with Jesus and his teachings, you’ll ruin your relationships. If you call your atheistic neighbor at 3 AM in the morning to invite them to church, you’re way too salty. If you’re always quoting scripture to someone and preaching to them, you’re messing up your witness. If you pull up in the car next to you at the stoplight, and yell across, “Do you know you are going to hell without Christ?”, you’re too salty. If everybody around you only knows the things in life that you are against, and they never hear the things that you are for, you’re too salty.

On the other hand, if we never pursue Jesus’ values, if we never talk of spiritual things, if we ignore God as a life focus, then our lives are bland. There’s no depth to them. We talk about shallow things all the time – the weather, the latest news, the current scandals. We are just like the rest of the culture. We can never talk about the great ideas, like how and why Christianity is true. We relegate God to a Sunday morning and then we live the way we want to the rest of the time. You have very little impact on your community, family, or culture when you refuse to pursue and even entertain thoughts of God and His way in the world. This life is bland and does very little to help a decadent culture engage their God and His Messenger.

One of the saltiest things a person can do is simply own their struggle. “Hi. My name is Joey and I am a believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with nearly everything that Jesus asked me to do.” Here’s some stuff that Jesus said. It also is stuff that I struggle with.

Matthew 5:1-12 (NIV)
1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them saying:

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Instead of poor in spirit, I’m often looking forward to the next exciting thing in life rather than just facing that I can’t handle life in my own strength. I’ll just distract myself from my truest, deepest needs and the One who can meet them.

4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Instead of mourning and dealing with the aches of life, I sidestep the hard places and difficult emotions. Mourning is that process that allows us to bleed off the toxic poison of bitterness. When you mourn, you’re saying that things matter, that dreams should be held dear, that people are important, that you care enough about them to work through the pain of losing them. I want to numb the pain rather than process through it.

5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Instead of being meek and content and submitting to God’s authority and His plan for meeting my needs, I met my needs my way. I live for the next thing – the next weekend, the next job, the next adventure, the next thrill.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

I hunger and thirst for all the wrong things and try to fill my life with them. Rather than take my soul cravings to God, I take them to other things and end up feeding on spiritual junk food.

7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

I can be harsh with those who live under my own roof and deny them grace. I can get really ticked at people who pretend and pose, especially when it comes to the spiritual life. They won’t admit anything and pretend to have it altogether. I don’t want to show them any mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

My heart is often divided among misdirected priorities. A pure heart is an undivided heart – a heart that is no longer struggling to decide where it will give its loyalty.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Rather than making peace, it’s often easier to settle just for what makes me happy.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

When push comes to shove, it’s much easier to take the path of least resistance and blend in.

My name is Joey and I am a believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with just about everything that Jesus asked me to do.

It’s about the saltiest thing I can say or do.

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Filed under Atheism, Christian Worldview, Christianity, Confession, Cultural Commission, Cultural Mandate, Jesus Christ, Salt, Theism, Worldview

Is Jesus Really God? | If So, There is No Such Thing As Atheism

“Jesus Christ is God,” an astonishing claim for a person embedded in a monotheistic religion to even write about or suggest, much less to actually claim such a thing. Jesus is not just part of God or sent by God or related to God. Jesus is God. Jesus shows up one day, does all these miraculous things, makes these remarkable claims, like existing before Abraham or “if you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father,” and then has the audacity to forgive sins. A Jewish person would never do this in his right mind. A Hindu might claim to be god. A pantheist might claim to be god. For a Jew to claim to be God, was outrageous, suggests C. S. Lewis.

Several years ago, Josh McDowell articulated some thoughts presented by C.S. Lewis in this regard. Jesus is either liar, lunatic, or Lord. We could say He was a liar but He came out of the grave like He said He would. Liar doesn’t fit the facts. He wouldn’t have laid down his life if he wasn’t telling the truth. If his claims were false and he knew they were false, then he was a liar. We could say that He was a lunatic, but all the other things He said were true. If Jesus thought he was God and he didn’t know any better, then we could call Him a lunatic.

The only viable option is that Jesus is who He claimed to be – fully God. He is Lord. He’s more than just a great moral teacher. The leaders of Jesus’ day did not seek His death because he was a good man or a liar or a lunatic. They charged Him with blasphemy for claiming to be God (Mark 14:61-64). Nevertheless, all the Messianic passages of the Old Testament came true in His life. He indirectly claimed deity and He acted as if he was God in the Gospels. He told the paralytic “Your sins are forgiven.” He gave a new commandment in addition to the Ten Commandments of Moses. He requested prayer in His name. He even accepted worship on at least nine occasions. He never rebuked their worship.

If Jesus is God, this means we must listen to Him and follow His teachings. If Jesus is not God, then Christians are idolaters because they have worshiped him as God since the first century. A mere 15 years after Jesus lived, Paul quoted a hymn in Philippians 2 that says Jesus was equal with God. What convinced these monotheistic Jewish people to assert such radical things? What must Jesus have been like, what character must He have had, what claims must He have made, and what incredible deeds must He have done, to convince these orthodox Jews that He was everything their faith said a man could never be? (Boyd, Letters, 114). It was the resurrection of a man who had already embodied God-like attributes that would move them to make such a claim. If His claim is true, then it is imperative that we become a Christian and worship Him.

Let’s not offer the patronizing nonsense of just a “good moral teacher” to echo a Lewisian line. This leads us to wrong conclusions. Here’s a common one. Jesus may have existed, but his story has been embellished by His followers. People have modified the story to fit their agenda. Here’s another: Jesus never really died. He survived the crucifixion, married Mary Magdalene, hustled off to France, and raised a family. Here’s another: Jesus was a magician. He could stage miracles and use slight of hand like David Copperfield to win an audience. Patronizing, non-historical nonsense.

The only viable option if we allow the biblical information to speak to the subject, is that Jesus is who He claimed to be. If this is true, then neutrality is not an option and atheism is a mute point. If you ignore Him, you’re ignoring God Himself.

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The Question For Atheists Is Not “How Do I Find God?” | The Question is “How do I Miss Him?”

While God is a hidden God and is surrounded by mystery (we will never totally understand Him – He transcends us), He also has revealed much about Himself in the world that He has made (cosmos) and in how He has made human beings with an in-built God awareness (conscience). This is what theologians call “Natural Revelation.” This in itself provides enough evidence for a reasonable belief in God and renders us without excuse.

In Romans 1:20, Paul states: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

God has planted evidence of Himself throughout His creation so that we are without excuse. Even if you were a non-Jew without the Torah, according to Paul, you are totally responsible for your behavior and cannot plead ignorance of God or His ways because God has revealed Himself to us in what He has made.

Paul’s argument is this: If you looked long enough at what God has made, you would come to understand something of His beauty and nature. Glittering stars flung across a black heaven. The earth in perfect orbit around the sun – close enough to sustain life but far enough away to keep from burning up. Sculpted mountains. The earth’s crust carved into breathtaking canyons. Fish that glow in the blackest depth of the sea. A butterfly breaking free from a cacoon. The meticulously spun web of a gray spider. The growth of a child in the womb. Birth. God’s fingerprints are all over.

After all of this, how could we ever come to the conclusion that we can live life any way that we want; that there is no God; that life is all about my glory, not His. From the greatest feat of forming a beautiful cosmos out of nothing to the intricate details of the smallest little insect or cell, each act of God in creation serves as a missionary in miniature form. They are sermons without preachers; they are biblical texts without Bibles. And while general revelation is not adequate to explain the Gospel, it renders all mankind without excuse and calls for a response.

God is everywhere, yet invisible. God is a hidden God. God has given us just enough evidence so that those who want Him can have him. Those who want to reject Him can do that as well. Think about it. It’s the only way a relationship with God could not be forced. If He was here in visible form, ruling with great power, would anybody choose differently? Evil melts away in his presence. So God must hide and self-limit in order for a free-will world to be possible. The direct presence of God would inevitably overwhelm our freedom. God gives everyone the room to either choose or reject. He’s a hidden God and He will not force love.

What you will find in your spiritual journey, is that it’s not so much that you find God; He finds you. And you realize you knew Him all along, but you suppressed knowledge of Him in your life (Romans 1). So don’t so much focus on “How do I find God?” Turn it around. “How has He already found me?” He brought me to this blog. He’s communicated via the Bible (Special Revelation). He’s placed me in an intelligently designed world that operates according to natural laws. He’s used crisis, confrontation, catastrophe, and even some fantastic blessings in life, like friends, baseball, family, and a day at the beach to get my attention and to cause me to tune in to Him.

Many former atheists have come to this conclusion: “God has found me! He’s known me all along and has never lost me, even though I’ve suppressed knowing Him. If I would have just looked at things close enough, I would have seen Him looking back at me. I don’t want to suppress Him anymore. I want to see and know Him.”

“How do I find God?” you ask. I reply: “How do you miss Him?” Look closely, and the very fact that you’re looking indicates this startling reality. He already found you.

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Filed under Agnosticism, Atheism, Atheist, Christian Worldview, Conscience, Creation, Earth, Existence of God, First Cause, Free Will, Hidden God, Intelligent Design, Theism, Truth

What if the New Testament Really is God’s Word? Why didn’t God Preserve the Original Documents?

This is a fair question posed by theists and atheists alike. The best we can do is speculate. It has been suggested that the New Testament might be better protected through copies than through original documents (Geisler).

If the original New Testament documents were all bound together that would mean that they would obviously all be in someone’s possession and they could potentially be changed or modified by the owning entity. However, when you have copies spread all over the ancient world, it makes it more difficult for any one scribe or priest or person who owns the originals to change things.

When the New Testament is reconstructed by copies and variants, the changes are rather easy to identify and can be easily corrected. In fact, just about all of the New Testament can be reconstructed from the Church Fathers who quoted it extensively in their works.

It’s a bit ironic, but not having the originals may actually preserve the New Testament better and keep it more accurate than having one solitary bound volume of all original New Testament books in one single volume.

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Atheists: Don’t Fear God’s Intervention | Fear His Non-Intervention

God’s wrath as revealed in Romans 1 is not so much about intervention with some cataclysmic event of judgment, but about God’s non-intervention. God who honors human freewill, will eventually hand people over to their chosen path or belief or sexual preferences or lifestyles. He allows you to have your addictions, your worldviews, your atheism and the emptiness that comes with it. Pay attention to the three italicized phrases in verses 24, 26, and 28 of Romans 1.

Romans 1:24 says “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. 26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. 28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.

Three times Paul underscores the non-intervention of God. God doesn’t zap with wrath or bully them into doing things His way. He simply lets them have what they want in full measure.

The ultimate wrath of God is when you are so belligerent and stubborn, that God says, “OK, have it your way.” God gives you over to your beliefs or non-belief (in the case of atheism), hoping that the emptiness of it all will turn you back to Him. Many people fear the intervention of God and His punishment. But our greatest concern is the non-intervention of God and living with the life that will inevitably result from such a path taken.

A philospher once opined that when we reject truth and God, we will do one of two things: we will play god over our lives and we will live for the gratification of our senses.

We all have tried living life this way, but especially the atheist. The atheists plays god (by asserting there is no God) and having removed God and any higher purpose for living life associated with this belief, they live for the gratification of their senses. And God says, “You can do it. I’ll give you what you want.” God doesn’t have to punish us or the atheist. The pleasures that we live for punish us. Our sins punish us.

Our problem (not just atheists, but all of us) is that we want independence, total freedom from any deity, even if that deity loves us and we find Him and his ways abhorrent and objectionable. Therefore, we start playing God. You say, “I don’t want anybody telling me what’s right and what’s wrong, I want to decide what’s right and what’s wrong. I want to call my own shots. I want to make my own rules. I want to put myself at the center of the universe. I want to be my own boss, live my own way, and if it feels good, do it. I don’t want anybody telling me what to do with my life.” That’s called playing God and wanting to be at the center of my universe.

When the bottom falls out, physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, relationally—what often happens is that God just has to step back and let us feel the full impact of our own stupid decisions. “You want to be God? O.K. You be God.” And He’ll just step back and let you be God (Romans 1) because God always honors free will. It’s not something that He enjoys in some kind of sadistic way. He just lets you have what you want. He allows you to be god and to have your pleasures.

Be careful about persisting for something that you think you want. The worst thing that could happen is that God just might give you over to it and you and I will have to live with the consequences of our own decisions.

And to my atheist friends: if you don’t want God in your life, you can have it your way. God will allow you to do it. But in the end, when your views have been pushed to their logical conclusions and life has been shattered by your non-belief, it will be one time in your life when you will wish that you never got what you wanted.

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Filed under Addiction, Atheism, Atheist, Christian Worldview, Free Will, Rebellion, Sexual Addiction, Theism

Tolerance and Moral Free Fall: The Revenge of Offended Absolutes (In Honor of Carrie Prejean – Miss California 2009)

Tolerance once meant listening respectfully to all points of view, freely discussed in our common search for truth. But the new creed is that knowing the truth is impossible. All ideas or propositions are placed on an equal footing, unless it’s a Christian idea, which is curtly dismissed from the marketplace of ideas. Carrie Prejean can tell us all about this.

Moral relativism is the view that when it comes to questions of morality, there are no absolutes and no objective right or wrong; moral rules are personal preferences (Beckwith).” This is reflected in many places, especially academic settings. When you forget or exclude God, relativism reigns. You become your own moral code. Objective moral standards don’t exist. You become god and usually will gratify your senses however you want, regardless of what other people say or think. When you devalue God, you devalue everything else, including human life.

What we see today is what one author called “the revenge of the offended absolutes” (Colson). Courts strike down simple prayers and religious symbols, and then wonder why barbed wire has to surround the playgrounds. Universities reject the very idea of truth, and are shocked when their brightest students loot and betray their companies. Celebrities mock the traditional family and family values, and then wonder why teenage pregnancy is a global issue. Law makers justify the taking of innocent life in sterile clinics and then act perplexed when life is disregarded in blood-soaked streets.

Sex is sacred, family is one man and one woman and children, integrity is a must in any culture, and a belief in God and obedience to Him are absolutely essential. When these absolutes are offended or ignored, they wreak a kind of revenge and culture pays a price. “We castrate and bid the gelding be fruitful,” says Lewis. We laugh at values and then wonder why people do the things they do, why they don’t “produce” more courage, honor, and noble things.

If a student comes to your school wearing a T-shirt that says ALL STATEMENTS ARE FALSE. That statement has a serious problem. If all statements are truly false, then his T-shirt motto must be false as well. See the logical knot. It’s self-defeating. The person who says, “There’s no absolute truth” just shared an absolute truth. They’ve self-defeated themselves. Stop hiding behind self-defeating nonsense, recognize that truth is discovered, not created for oneself, and that when the moral absolutes from a Moral Lawgiver are ignored, society goes into moral free fall, where anything goes.

We tend to define tolerance as moral neutrality – refusing to judge any behavior right or wrong. “It means putting up with people precisely when we believe they are wrong. It means respecting all viewpoints… (Colson).” It gives people room to work through their beliefs. It doesn’t rigidly point to the rules; tolerance reaches out with ideas that are truer, but in so doing it doesn’t suspend judgment. Tolerance requires practicing moral judgment, not suspending it. Tolerance is a virtue, like when opinions are being shared so someone can arrive at the truth. But tolerance is not a virtue when someone is being murdered or raped. Put them in jail immediately! There’s a time for the money-changers to be driven from the temple when the common good is jeopardized.

Tolerance is the wisdom to know which ideas or things to put up with and when, why, and to what degree to put up with them – and the settled disposition of acting on that wisdom (Budziszewski).

Carrie Prejean did the right thing by allowing absolutes to guide her decision and answer. How about we do the same.

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Truth, Goodness, and Beauty: Atheists Have Lost Their Intellectual Virginity

The atheist is one who assets that there is no God. He or she does so, not because there is no evidence for God, but despite the evidence that exists which points to God’s existence. And more often than not, the atheist is one who doesn’t really care if there is a God or not. They have chosen their beliefs before all the evidence has been admitted to their personal courtroom of opinion. The truth of the matter is beside the point for an atheist. By ignoring their innate desire to know things, to want to find out what reality truly is, their intellectual edge has been dulled. The atheists deliberately tries not to know that there is a God, and in doing so, they have lost their intellectual virginity, to borrow a line from C. S. Lewis. Something is lost when someone walls off an entire area of inquiry, especially when that area of inquiry impacts all the other intellectual pursuits.

There are three things that humans live for, three transcendent ideas that we never tire of as human beings: truth, goodness, and beauty. Every human culture seeks these. Our minds want to know all truth. The truth is simply “what is” or “the true state of things.” We want people to tell us the truth in school classrooms, in court, in relationships, in our places of worship, and in our books. But the atheist ignores this transcendent idea of truth. “God doesn’t exists,” as if they’ve lived and learned long enough to actually know this. “I don’t want the truth about God,” somehow is a statement that darkens every other endeavor for truth. Truth points beyond itself to One who is true. To say something is “untrue” presupposes that one knows what truth is.

We reach for goodness. The moralists and philosophers engage in open, honest debate as to what is truly good, where that goodness comes from, and why we aspire to it. Humans desire truth, beauty, honor, justice, courage, love, heroism – the truly good. We desire to be free, to discover our self-worth, to correct our immoral behavior, to piece the hurts of life into some larger picture of meaning. The atheist will never allow this transcendent idea of goodness as an attribute of the One from which goodness comes. Goodness points beyond itself to One who is truly good. To say something is not good, presupposes that we know what is good. How do we call a line crooked unless we know what is straight?

And we lose ourselves in beauty. We live for our songs, our poetry, our stories, our art that somehow captures what it means to be a human, that somehow pictures an ideal state of affairs, where all is as it should be. Beauty points beyond itself to One who is truly beautiful, good, and true. To call something beautiful, presupposes that we know innately what is beautiful.

These transcendent ideas work off of each other. The truth is good and beautiful. The beautiful is true and good. Goodness is true and beautiful. These are secrets that God has shared with mankind alone. We know these things; we experience these things; we live for these things. Take away any one of them, and life becomes absurd, without definition. Our edge is lost. We have mated with existentialism. Our intellectual virginity has been lost, and nothing makes sense unless these three transcendental ideas can be pursued and lived for and can be honest representations of the existence of One through him these ideas come and in Whom they are found.

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