Cultural Critique: Invisible Hypocrisy

Cultural Critique: Invisible Hypocrisy

Over the past few years I have been floored by how often hypocrisy and double standards are espoused in our culture without being seen for what they truly are. What is even more alarming is that many are celebrating their unrecognized hypocrisy. Let me give a few examples. The Tennes family, who own a farm in Michigan, were told that they could no longer sell their produce at the farmer’s market in East Lansing. The reason for their ban was that they had turned down a request to host a same-sex marriage at their farm. The city council stated that the Tennes family had violated the city’s discrimination ordinance. Interestingly enough, the Tennes farm is 22 miles outside of the city limits. What is actually happening is that the city is discriminating against the Tennes, not allowing them to sell their produce, because they would not violate their religious beliefs on their private property (see full story here). I wish this were the lone example, but there are many more. In 2013, Barronelle Stutzman, a florist from Richland, Washington, refused to provide flowers for a same-sex marriage. Because of her refusal, the same-sex couple sued Barronelle stating that she broke the state’s anti-discrimination laws (see story here). There are many other examples of photographers, bakers and even churches that are being bullied/sued for not complying to the beliefs of the LGBT community.

As if the hypocrisy couldn’t get worse, there are examples of businesses and individuals who are being celebrated for withholding their products from people who they disagree with. One example is the National Basketball Association. The 2017 All-Star game was moved from Charlotte to New Orleans because the NBA disagreed with the passing of the North Carolina State bill HB2. This bill states that people are to use public restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their biological gender, not their self-defined gender identity. Because the NBA disagreed with the position of the State of North Carolina, they decided to withhold their product, the All-Star Game (read more about this here). How is this any different from what the Tennes or Barronelle Stuzman did? Why is the NBA applauded for doing this, but the Tennes and Barronelle are sued? Another example of this hypocrisy comes from legendary rocker Bruce Springsteen. In a statement posted on his website, Springsteen explains that he had cancelled his concert scheduled for Greensboro, North Carolina on April 10th, 2016. The reason given for his cancellation was because he disagreed with the HB2 law. Springsteen, stated that Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them. It is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.”  (read Springsteen's full statement here). So, Springsteen is withholding his wares, a concert, from people that he disagrees with on this issue. I cannot see how this is any different from what many photographers, bakers, florists and farmers have done. Yet, they get ridiculed over standing up for what they believe while the NBA and Bruce Springsteen are applauded for standing up for what they believe in. I don’t understand how this hypocrisy goes unseen. For the record, I think that it is the right of any business owner to withhold their products and services from whomever they wish to. The government should not force anyone to go against their own morals, beliefs and conscience. I think that the NBA and Bruce Springsteen should have the right to withhold their services from the State of North Carolina. I disagree with why they are withholding their services, but I believe in the freedom to choose to do what you want with your business. I don’t understand why this same freedom is not being extended to people who disagree with the LGBT movement. It’s almost as if you can have freedom if you agree with certain values, but once you disagree with the popular values, you lose your freedom. This hypocrisy seems obvious, yet it goes unnoticed. Why? I think one of the reasons is how beliefs and opinions are characterized through positive and negative language.
 
No matter what positive spin you put on your viewpoint, or negative spin you put on others, the fact remains that both sides believe their views are right and the others are wrong. Both sides are doing the same thing: believing that their views are true. What I cannot understand is why one side is allowed to cast their views in an altruistic light, while vilifying the views of those they disagree with. The most obvious example comes from the LGBT community. When people disagree with their views on human sexuality, they characterize the opposing views as bigoted, homophobic, closed minded, on the wrong side of history and archaic. Not only do they cast opposing views in a negative light, but they posture their views in a positive manner. Their views on human sexuality are defined as open minded, tolerant, on the right side of history, loving and something to take pride in. This type of behavior is not a new experience for me, and I am sure you are familiar with it too. We all experienced this very thing at a place in our not so distant past: The School Playground.
 
Remember how harsh other children could be? Middle School was the worst because at this age bullying was not merely physical, but also mental and emotional. Middle School students are experts at cruelty and pettiness. What typically happens in playground bullying, and more currently cyber bullying, is that words are used to berate a person’s character, however the words typically have nothing to do with character. More often, the insults revolve around physical traits, socio-economic status, and false accusations of promiscuity. None of which are actual arguments, but these insults work in two ways. First, they make the person being bullied look like a fool to others who are present. Secondly, they humiliate the person being bullied into a position of submission. No one wants to be called fat, poor, or easy, especially when their peers are present. So, when called these names, the embarrassed middle school student backs down, keeps quiet, and is put into a place of submission, which makes the bully look cool, funny, and in control. Kids act this way, which is unfortunate, but they are immature. Unaware that personal attacks do not make valid arguments, they go through their days on the playground bullying people into submission. Sadly, this same thing is happening in our culture, with people who should be well beyond the immaturity of playground tactics.
 
The playground tactic of name calling is nothing new. Ad hominem attacks have been seen as an informal fallacy in argumentation for centuries. Ad hominem means “to the man”, which is pointing out how people attack the person instead of attacking the argument. Basically, this is the name calling tactic. Name calling is always an illegitimate way to argue, however it can, as mentioned before, be effective by embarrassing people into a humiliated state of submission. This is where we find ourselves today. One opinion is seen as hip, progressive and loving, and anyone who does not agree with the popular bully is embarrassed by them through name calling. So, how do we respond to these bully tactics?
 
Our response cannot be to bully in return. Jesus said In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” –Matthew 7:12
In other words, you cannot bully a bully. We need to take a different approach, and I believe that the best approach is through asking questions. When someone spouts of current, cultural clichés, at you (such as bigot, closed minded, archaic, intolerant) simply ask a question. Ask, “How is it that I am closed minded?”. They will respond that you have already made up your mind on whatever matter they are proposing and that you disagree with their view. At this point, ask a follow up question like, “How is it that I am closed minded when I disagree with you, but when you disagree with me you are open minded? Doesn’t it seem like both of us are doing the exact same thing?” The same goes for the other clichés that get hurled against the less popular cultural opinions. Ask questions by applying the claim against itself. The goal is to get the person to agree to stop name calling (ad hominem attacks) and start discussing the reasons/evidences that each of you have for holding to your beliefs/opinions. People should be persuaded through good reasoning, not through personal attacks.
 
Earlier I said that people should be beyond the immaturity of playground tactics. This doesn’t just go for the bully. It also goes for the person being bullied. We cannot respond to bully tactics by allowing them to embarrass us into submission. We do not need to retaliate through ad hominemattacks, but we should stand up for what we believe and not allow others to silence us through name calling. Stand firm and be kind.

The Dangers of Apologetics

The Dangers of Apologetics

Christian Apologetics is a robust field of study with many intriguing approaches and arguments. Because Christianity accurately explains the actual world we live in, our evidences are very difficult to refute or dismiss. Worldviews opposed to Christianity are at a disadvantage because they presuppose the world to be different than it actually is. Although their arguments sound good, they do not line up with the real world, with the way things actually are. An example of this would be the Monistic belief that good and evil are merely illusions and that the universe is in perfect balance at all times. It is one thing for a Hindu to claim this, but the real world is harsh and full of evil, which proves that this belief is untrue. No matter what a person claims, it must match up with the way things actually are. Because of this, Christianity has the best evidences, because they do in fact match up with reality. Like I said, this fact makes it very difficult to refute the truth of Christianity. However, there is a danger to Christian Apologetics that is far too often forgotten. Because our arguments are true, it is easy to slip into the mentality that our main objective is to win arguments against lesser worldviews. In my own life I have fallen prey to this idea, especially when I’m in dialogue with someone who has an opposing worldview. As easy as it is to focus on winning arguments, this is not what Jesus has called us to do. Apologetics is not about winning arguments; the end goal of Apologetics is winning people.

esus told Peter and Andrew, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). One of the goals of being a good witness, a good ambassador, a good disciple of Jesus is to win people to Christ. Jesus told Andrew and Peter that He would teach them how to catch people, not win arguments. In the day and age we live in, a person seeking to win people would be a breath of fresh air. So much of what we see on social media and hear about in the news is a culture of people trying to win arguments in order to validate their ego, insecurities, or sinful behavior. Everyone is trying to win arguments. The problem with this is that when the battle revolves around the argument and not around people having true belief, we will resort to treating people poorly in order to win. We defame the character, the physical attributes, and the intellect of the person we argue with, instead of helping them to think through ideas reasonably and logically in order to see the truth. People are marginalized and hurt in order for us to validate ourselves through our good arguments.
     
1 Peter 3:15-16 says, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with
gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are
slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.”

Often, the Christian Apologist is good at giving a defense, but not as focused on being gentle, reverent and keeping a clear conscience. These verses from 1 Peter are somewhat funny, when we remember that Peter is the one who penned these words. Peter was not the gentlest or most reverent guy in the Gospels and Acts. However, by the time he wrote these words, I think that he had learned that winning arguments does not always win people. Having good character and love toward others is the first step in them possibly listening to our arguments. Apologetics is useless without good character. If no one will listen to you because you are an arrogant jerk, it really doesn’t matter how good your arguments are.

Jesus was full of Grace and Truth (John 1:14). Grace without truth is impotent. Truth without grace is ineffective. We must have both, as Jesus did. Grace means to get something that is undeserved. Jesus has given the gift of grace, through which we can be saved (Eph. 2:8-9). This grace is unmerited, it is undeserved, it is unearned. It would do us well to remember to be gracious when we are engaged in apologetic discussions. Being gracious, in these situations, means granting the person we are talking with something that they don’t deserve. It means to listen well, to stay calm, to be gentle and respectful, even if they do not remain cordial. We cannot enter into apologetic conversations demanding our rights, forcing our opinions, and treating people poorly. These are tactics that help win arguments, but they come at the cost of losing the person. We must be gracious as we present the truth.

So, how do we practice being gracious, gentle, reverent, and keeping a good conscience as we share truth with others? Let me suggest three things.
 

  1. We have to focus on what the true objective of our conversation is. We should be focused on helping the person we are talking with see the truth. The ultimate goal for each person we converse with is that they would come to believe in Jesus. However, the goal of each conversation should be to give our opponent something that will linger in their mind, while treating them respectfully. You want to leave the conversation on good terms, so that you can continue dialoging in the future.
  2. We need to remember who we represent. We are Ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), which means we are to represent Him through our interactions with others. If we are representatives of Jesus, our character and our treatment of others must reflect Him.
  3. We need to remember who it is that we are conversing with. No matter who they are or how they are treating you, the person you are talking with is made in the Image and Likeness of God. They have intrinsic value because of what they are, not because of how they act. Because of this, we need to be gracious and treat people in a way that respects what they are. When we defame others, we do not take seriously the image of God in them, which is ultimately disrespectful to God.
  4. People are not our enemies; false ideologies, false worldviews, and false philosophies are. We want to see the person we are talking with redeemed, not further condemned. In order to do this, we must help them clear away deceptions and false beliefs in order to see the truth about Jesus.


hen these four things are kept in mind, we are more likely to be good at fishing for men. Remember, the goal is to win people to Christ, not to win arguments.

Reflections on Easter Sunday

Reflections on Easter Sunday

Death is coming for all of us. We try to push the idea out of our minds by entertaining ourselves, by staying busy, or by self-medicating. The fact remains that death is closer to us now than it was when we read the first sentence of this blog. Where is the hope? Where is the happily ever after? Who can bring good news to the fact that death is steadily drawing us closer and closer to our final breath? There is only one person that can adequately bring light to our dark situation, and that person is Jesus Christ.  If Jesus died, descended into Hades, and rose from the dead, then He is qualified to give us an informed perspective on what will become of us. He can only do this if He did in fact rise from the dead. There is a vast amount of evidence that Jesus did rise from the dead. I want to share one of these evidences with you, because most likely you play a role in this piece of evidence.
 
It is currently Saturday night before Easter Sunday, and I am planning on celebrating the resurrection of Jesus tomorrow with my church family. Sunday is an important day for Christians, because the 1st day of the week is when Jesus supposedly rose from the dead. John 20:1 says, "Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.” Throughout church history Christians have met on Sunday to pray, read Scripture, and worship the living Jesus. This tradition sprung from the belief that Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday. If Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead on a Sunday, then it is very peculiar that the early Christians would choose Sunday as their day of worship.
 
The earliest Christians were religious Jews. They followed Old Testament law, which included keeping the Sabbath day holy. The Sabbath spanned from sun down on Friday night until sun down on Saturday night. The question we need to ask is why would strict Jews abandon the Law to observe the Sabbath and replace it with the first day of the week as their day of worship? Something highly significant must have happened on the first day of the week. After Jesus’ ascension, we see the disciples meeting together on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1). Interestingly enough, the day of Pentecost was always on the first day of the week (Leviticus 23:15-16), which means the disciples were gathered together on the first day of the week. Luke gives us some insight on what was practiced on this day in Acts 20:7. “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.” Notice, it does not say “on the last day of the week”, but “on the first day of the week” they gathered to break bread and hear a message from Paul. The Apostle Paul himself gives us more insight into what was being done as Christians gathered on the first day of the week. He says in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.” Paul assumes that the Corinthians were meeting together on the first day of the week and instructs them to give money in order to help other Christians. Hearing a message, breaking bread, and giving alms was part of what was done on the first day of the week. We also have an account from 112 A.D. penned by Pliny the Younger, a Roman Senator, to Emperor Trajan that describes what Christians did as they gathered for worship on the first day of the week. It states, “they were accustomed to meet together on a stated day before it was light, and to sing hymns to Christ as to a God, and to bind themselves by a sacramentum, not for any wicked purpose, but never to commit fraud, theft, adultery; never to break their word, or to refuse, when called upon, to deliver up their trust.”[1]
 
In Revelation 1:10, we gain more insight from the Apostle John about this day. He says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet” What is the Lord’s day? Is it a holiday that John celebrates once a year? Who is the Lord that John is referring to? Interestingly enough, John gives no explanation for what the Lord’s day is. It’s as if he expects the reader to know what he is referring to. The Jews had many holidays such as Passover, the Feast of Booths, the Day of Atonement, Hanukkah, etc… All of the Jewish holidays have one thing in common: they are celebrations of divine providence. Each holiday celebrates what God had done in the history of Israel. However, there are no holidays commemorating great people in Jewish history. There is no holiday for Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah or any other great person. But John describes a specific day that belongs to the Lord, to Jesus. Not only is this day celebrated once a year, but it is celebrated on the first day of every week. Again, we must ask what would possess strict Jews such as John and Paul to abandon worship on the seventh day of the week, adopt the first day of the week as the day of worship, and attribute this day with the Lord Jesus? In addition to this question, why don’t we find any argument, any justification, any defense in the New Testament for Sunday worship? Why are all of the New Testament writers silent on this issue? It’s as if they expect us to know why Sunday is significant.
 
All of the Gospel writers are unanimous in attesting that Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1-2, Luke 24:1, John 20:1). Also, Jesus is said to appear to many different groups on this first day of the week. He appears to Mary Magdalene (John 20:14-16), the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), to the disciples without Thomas (John 20:19-25), and to the disciples with Thomas present (John 26-29). No day would be associated in the minds of the disciples with more evidence of Jesus’ triumph over death than Sunday. Additionally, if Jesus had not been raised from the dead, His followers would have commemorated Him on a Friday, the day of His death, instead of arbitrarily picking a day that had no significance. Something must have happened. The earliest Christians claimed, in the New Testament writings, that what happened was that they discovered the empty tomb and that the resurrected Jesus appeared to them. The resurrection gives us the only adequate cause for the first Christians worshipping the Lord on the first day of the week.
 
Ever since that first Easter morning, Christians have been gathering on the first day of the week to worship Jesus as God, pray, listen to God’s Word be preached, and give money to the cause. Tomorrow many of you will attend a church service to celebrate that Jesus came back from the dead, proving that He had conquered Satan, sin and death. The very act of you attending a church service on the first day of the week is a witness that something very significant happened on the first day of the week 2,000 years ago. You yourselves will be a living testament to the fact that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead on that first Easter Sunday morning. Death is coming for us all, but we have a King who conquered death and promises to resurrect our bodies in the same way that He himself was resurrected. We do not merely have empty promises, but we have an assured hope, because our savior demonstrated that He can actually raise people from the dead. Be encouraged, Jesus is Risen, and if you have believed in Him, you will be raised as well!
 
                                                 “There ain’t no grave can hold my body down.
                                             There ain’t no grave can hold my body down.
                                                        When I hear that trumpet sound
                                                    I’m gonna rise right out of the ground.
                                                    Ain’t no grave can hold my body down.” 
                                                                                                      -Johnny Cash


[1] Pliny the Younger in Epistle X, 97.

Pro-Life Apologetics: Rape, Incest and Risk of Mother's Life?

Pro-Life Apologetics: Rape, Incest and Risk of Mother's Life?

Once you start discussing your Pro-Life views, you will inevitability encounter someone who brings up the issues of rape, incest, and potential risk to the mother’s life. These are highly emotional issues to discuss, but I do think there is a kind and gentle way to navigate through them and still express a Pro-Life position. Although these are difficult issues to discuss, we need to remember that there is only one question worth discussing in the abortion debate, which is “What is the unborn?”. This question applies even if the situation that produced the pregnancy was violent, illegal, disgusting, or abusive. It is important to remember that only about 1% of abortions are performed because of Rape or Incest. So, when people bring up these extreme examples to justify the other 99% of abortions, ask them what their justification is for the 99%. With that said, if you encounter a person who has been raped or is a victim of incest the first thing you must do is empathize with them. Being Pro-Life means we value all life, including the life of those who have been victimized. As Christians, we have been called to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” –Romans 12:15. If you encounter someone who has been abused, love them, cry with them, express care and concern for them, and empathize.

Rape
Usually, when someone argues that abortions should be allowed in the case of rape, that person has not been raped, but is using an extreme example to justify abortion. The first question that you should ask if someone uses the rape argument is, “Have you or someone you know become pregnant because of rape?” If they answer, yes, you need to empathize, like stated above. However, most likely their answer will be no. Although rape is a horrific subject to discuss, do not let the emotional nature of the subject deter you from the main question. “What is the unborn?” If it is a human being, can you justify killing it because it is the product of rape? Is it the baby’s fault that its father has committed a crime? Can we punish children for the crimes of their parents?  Let’s Trot Out the Toddler. Is it justifiable to kill the three-year-old son of a serial killer in order to pay for the crimes of his father? Of course not. Why would you punish an innocent person for the crimes of someone else? That is unjust.
 
I have heard people say, “How can you ask a woman to daily relive her violent rape by looking into the face of the child of her rapist?” This statement has rhetorical power, but it is misguided. What this statement is suggesting is to kill a child because of the crime that its father committed. The real question should be, “Did the rapist get caught and was he brought to justice?” If the rapist escaped without punishment, this should bring us all to a place of anger because of the injustice of the situation. However, whether the rapist was brought to justice or not, does not justify the killing of an innocent human being. The argument for abortion based on rape is easy to answer logically, but it is very difficult emotionally. Please remember that when you are discussing this issue to be empathetic when talking with a victim of rape.

Incest
When someone uses the case of incest to argue for a Pro-Abortion position, it causes an immediate reaction. Disgust, sadness, and outrage are a few of the reactions that bubble up internally when we hear or think about incest. It is such a horrific situation, and it truly should not be. However, because incest does occur, we need to know how we can navigate through the disgust, outrage and sadness and provide a convincing Pro-Life argument.
The argument from Incest insinuates that because of a person’s heredity, it is justifiable to kill them. This may be the case, if the unborn is not a human person, but that is the only question that really matters. What is the unborn? If it is a person, we cannot justify killing it because of its parentage. History is littered with regimes that decided to eliminate people based on their lineage. Most recently, Hitler sought to exterminate Jewish people simply because of their heredity. Because it is not justifiable to kill innocent people based on their parentage, it is not justifiable to kill the unborn based upon who its father or mother is.
 
Some will argue that it is justifiable to abort a child brought about through incest because the risk of physical deformities and mental disabilities is greater. This takes us back to the S.L.E.D. test from my blog a couple weeks ago. The L in S.L.E.D. stands for Level of Development. Just because a person is not mentally or physically as developed as others, does not mean that they are any less of a human being. A boy born missing a limb is still 100% a human person. A girl born with down syndrome is still 100% a human person. A person’s level of physical or mental development does not determine their humanity. The D in the S.L.E.D. stands for Degree of Dependency. Although people with mental and physical disabilities will be more dependent on their family and friends, does not mean that they are less human than others without the same handicap. Therefore, it is an illegitimate argument to say that children produced by Incest are justifiably killed because of potential disability.
 
Risk of the Mother’s Life
 This argument is very different from the arguments based on Rape and Incest. In a case where the mother and the child will both be killed if the pregnancy continues, there is good justification for ending the pregnancy. The choice that is being made in these situations is between losing both lives or losing one and saving the other. It is a very easy decision to save the life of the person that you can, while allowing the other person to die, which would have happened even if the pregnancy continued. These types of situations are heart wrenching and require us to show compassion, care and empathy to the women and men who have had to decide to end these pregnancies. These situations are difficult emotionally, but ethically they are quite simple. We should always choose to save a life when possible, especially when the alternative choice is to lose both the mother and the child.
 
My purpose for writing this blog is to help equip you to be prepared to discuss these highly emotional issue that come up in the abortion debate. As Pro-Life proponents, we need to be prepared to make a compelling case for life, even when these difficult situations are used against us. Remember to be highly sensitive when discussing these issues because you never know what others have been through and their possible experience with rape, incest, and risk to their own life.

Pro-Life Apologetics: Trot Out the Toddler

Pro-Life Apologetics: Trot Out the Toddler

In last week’s blog I stated that the only question worth debating in regards to abortion is this, “What is the unborn?”. If the unborn is a human person, then no excuse can justify killing it. If the unborn is not a human person, then there is not a need to justify killing it, because its removal would be similar to the removal of an appendix or gall bladder. The question, “What is the unborn?” is really the only issue that matters when discussing abortion. However, it is very easy to get off track and begin discussing a woman’s choice, rape, finances, quality of life, and many other issues. Although these are important issues to consider, they do not allow us to kill the unborn if the unborn is in fact a human person. Today I want to share a tactic with you that will help keep your conversation focused on the main point of the abortion debate, “What is the unborn?”.

TROT OUT THE TODDLER          
When in a discussion about abortion, a common argument that abortion supporters make is that women should have the right to choose. When you encounter this argument, do not take the bait and spend your time arguing about women’s rights. Just employ the tactic of Trotting Out The Toddler. This tactic asks if the justification for killing the unborn would still apply if the child was a toddler. By doing this, you expose the fact that the justifications for abortion are illegitimate. For instance, if someone tells you that abortion should be allowed based on the right of a woman’s choice, ask if a woman has the choice to kill her two-year-old toddler. Your friend will answer “No”, at which you point can ask why a woman does not have the right to choose to kill her toddler. Your friend will say something like “because murder is wrong”, or “because no one has the right to kill an innocent human being”. At this point you can agree with them, and ask why abortion is not the murder of an innocent human being. By doing this, you have brought the conversation back to discussing the only question that matters, “What is the Unborn?”.
 
Some will argue that abortion is permissible if the mother cannot adequately provide for the unborn child. This argument takes the position that it is better to abort the unborn than to allow the child to grow up in poverty. When someone utilizes this argument, Trot Out The Toddler. Ask, “Is it permissible for a mother to kill her three-year-old son if she cannot provide shelter and food for him?”. The answer to this is obviously no. But what is the difference between the argument about the three-year-old boy and the unborn child? If the unborn is a human person, there is not a difference. So the main question to discuss is “What is the unborn?”.
          
Another popular argument for abortion is that teenage girls who become pregnant have their whole lives ahead of them, and to follow through with the pregnancy will greatly inhibit their future in regards to education, marital status and finances. This argument implies that forcing a teenage girl to have her child is cruel to the teenage girl. Let’s Trot Out The Toddler with this argument. If a teenage mom begins to feel trapped by her two-year-old child, is she allowed to kill it so that she can go back to school? Is she allowed to kill her toddler in order to make herself more attractive to a potential husband? Can she kill her child in order to focus on college and help secure her future career path? Of course none of these reasons justify killing a toddler, and they do not justify killing the unborn if the unborn is a human person.
 
No matter what excuse is used to make abortion allowable, you can Trot Out The Toddler to show that there is never justification for killing an innocent human being. Once you Trot Out The Toddler and show your friend that the real issue is whether the unborn is a human person or not, then you can begin to show how the unborn is in fact a human person. To do this utilize the S.L.E.D. argument which you can find in last week’s blog here.  Trotting Out The Toddler is a great tactic that will help you have a productive discussion about abortion, instead of being side tracked by arguments about choice, finances and potential futures.
           
In the next few weeks, I am going to dedicate an entire blog post to discuss the issues of incest and rape as they relate to abortion. I will also discuss how abortion relates to a situation in which the mother’s life is at risk. These situations are emotionally charged and require some time to develop a pro-life response. With that said, less than 1% of women who have abortion do so because of rape or incest. The main reasons that women give for having an abortion are convenience, financial situation, marital situation, and not being prepared to have the child.[1] You can see an exhaustive list of reasons women give for having an abortion here. Since these are the main reasons given for having an abortion, Trotting Out The Toddler is a great tactic to help your pro-abortion friends see that there is never justification for killing an innocent human being.
 
I want to close by expressing how important it is that we are kind and respectful when we engage in conversations on abortion. This is such an emotionally charged topic that it is imperative for us to be gentle, loving and compassionate as we make our case for life. Even when you have the best evidence for your argument, your delivery and demeanor will play a major role in your friends accepting your evidences. Remember, our goal is not to win an argument, our goal is to persuade people to stop killing innocent lives and to make it illegal for others to do so as well.  


[1] https://www.guttmacher.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/tables/370305/3711005t2.pdf

Pro-Life Apologetics: The SLED Test

Pro-Life Apologetics: The SLED Test

For the month of March, our church is focusing on the Sanctity of Human Life and how we can support ministries that specifically help with unplanned pregnancies. Because we are focusing on this, I thought it would be beneficial to write a series of blog posts on Pro-Life Apologetics. My hope is that these posts will equip you to discuss the issue of abortion with your friends and family and help convince them that abortion is an insidious evil that needs to be stopped.
 
Over the past 44 years, 56+ Million unborn human beings have been murdered in America. The main reason given for these killings is convenience. Some have tried to justify these murders by claiming that the victim’s quality of life wouldn’t have been very good, so it is reasonable to murder them in order to avoid the real tragedy of living below the poverty line. Abortion is a heinous evil that is happening all around us, although it is kept out of sight, hiding behind the guise of a medical procedure. We live amid a culture of death, but as Christians we have been called to do justice (Micah 6:8). It is an injustice for vulnerable, innocent people to be killed merely because they are unwanted. As believers in the life giving God, it is our duty to fight for the lives of these unborn human beings. So, how can we do this? Well, I think it starts by showing our friends, family and neighbors that abortion is the taking of an innocent human life, and not merely the removal of non-human tissue.
 
Most people who believe abortion is permissible do so based on the faulty premise that an unborn baby is not a human being. If we can show people that the unborn are human beings, they will most likely change their stance on abortion because most people do not think it is permissible to murder innocent, defenseless human beings. What I want to share with you in this blog is a simple method that will help you dialogue with abortion advocates about the humanity of the unborn.
 
STEP 1
Remember that the only question worth discussing in this debate is: “What is the unborn?” If it is a human being, there is no argument that will justify killing it. If the unborn is not a human being, then there is no need for arguments to justify it. No one tries to justify why they removed their gall bladder, tonsils, or an abscessed tooth, and if the unborn is merely tissue, there is no need to justify its removal. When talking about abortion, many people get off track from the real issue and begin arguing about choice, rape, and finances. Don’t fall for this. Stay on topic and discuss the only issue worth discussing, “What is the unborn?”.
 
STEP 2
Memorize the S.L.E.D. test. This is an acronym that stands for Size, Level of Development,Environment, and Degree of dependency.
 
Size
Does the size of a person determine their value? Most would say that it doesn’t. Are professional NFL or NBA athletes more or less valuable because of they are generally bigger than the rest of the population? Are infants less valuable because they are smaller than most of the rest of humanity? Does size equal value? It doesn’t. A human person is valuable, not because of their size, but because of the type of being that they are. Although a human being is smaller in size during the nine months it is in the womb, it is no less valuable than larger human beings.
 
Level of Development
Is human value based upon our abilities? Are female toddlers who have not gone through puberty and cannot reproduce any less valuable than adult women who can reproduce? Are middle school boys less valuable than adults because their brains have not developed to the point of having critical thinking skills such as abstract thought? Of course not. Human value is not determined based on what abilities or lack of abilities a person has. Just because a fetus’ brain or respiratory system hasn’t developed to a certain stage does not make them any less human.
 
Environment
Does a person’s location determine their value? If a person crosses an international border into another country, are they less valuable? If a person goes from the second story of their house to the first story, are they less than human? It does not make any sense that a human being can lose their value based on a change of location. Whether a person is in the womb or out of the womb cannot change their value or who they are.
 
Degree of Dependency
If a person is dependent on something for their viability, does that make them less than human? Diabetics are dependent on insulin, college students are typically dependent on their parent’s money, those with heart failure are dependent on their pacemakers. Are people in these situations less valuable than other human beings? Of course not. The argument that a baby in the womb is not a person until it is viable to live outside of the womb is untrue. That type of logic is flawed. I have yet to meet a newborn who is self-sufficient to survive on its own. Newborns are helpless. They cannot feed themselves, change their diapers, or even roll over. No one argues that a newborn baby isn’t a human being just because it is dependent on others for its survival. Why is it different when the baby is dependent on its mother while in the womb?
 
The S.L.E.D. test is a great tool to help show that there is no reason for believing that an unborn human is any less valuable than those who have been born. When you can convince others that the unborn is a human being, they will typically abandon their support for abortion.

Next week we will discuss how to keep a conversation focused on the main issue of the abortion debate, “What is the Unborn?”.

Fact or Fiction: The New Testament Miracle Claims About Jesus

Fact or Fiction: The New Testament Miracle Claims About Jesus

Is the Jesus of faith the Jesus of history? Are the stories about Jesus in the New Testament true accounts or later embellishments? There are many who argue that the Jesus depicted in the New Testament (N.T.) is not the true Jesus of history. The reason for this objection is based in their assumption that miracles are impossible. If miracles are impossible, then the stories of Jesus in the N.T. cannot be completely true. However, those who object to the miraculous claims have to answer a different question. Are the miraculous claims about Jesus in the N.T. something that could have come from the imaginations of the New Testament writers?[1] We can’t deny that these miraculous stories exist, they are in the pages of the N.T. The origination of the miraculous stories of Jesus is what we need to determine.

Powerful People
In order to determine if the N.T. writers dreamt up these stories about Jesus, we need to ask some questions. The first is this: Excluding Jesus, who are some of the most powerful people who have ever existed in actual history or in the history of human imagination (fiction)? Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, and Joseph Stalin all qualify. These were very powerful people who exerted their power on the world through military might, ideologies and politics. As for powerful people in the history of human imagination (fiction), there are characters like Thor, Superman, Odysseus, and Zeus. These fictional characters exhibit power like flying faster than a speeding bullet, wielding a hammer with magical properties, and throwing lightning bolts.

Humble and Selfless People
The second question we need to ask is: Excluding Jesus, who are some of the most humble, selfless people who have ever existed in actual history or in the history of human imagination? The people who fit this description are Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, and Gandhi. People who gave their lives serving others, sacrificing their own well-being for a certain group of people, and  disregarding their comforts and desires to help the needy. I’m sure there are fictional characters who fit the description of humble and selfless, but I honestly can’t think of any. One of the reasons for this is that humble and selfless characters do not contribute to exiting works of fiction.

Jesus' Power and Humility/Seflessness
For the sake of argument, let’s take the position that the New Testament is a work of fiction, and not God’s word. What does this work of literature claim about the power, humility and selflessness of Jesus?

For Power, the N.T. claims:
   1. Jesus can control nature
            -Jesus told the wind and waves to become perfectly still and they did-Mark 4:39-41  
  2. Jesus raises people from the dead
         -Jairus' Daughter-Mark 5:41-42
         -The Widow’s Son-Luke 7:14-15
         -Lazarus-John 11:43-44
  3. Jesus himself was raised from the dead-Matthew 28
         -Jesus is said to be the creator of all things that came into being-John 1:1-3 

Based on these statements about the power of Jesus, he is more powerful than Alexander the Great, Hitler, Zeus, and even Superman. Superman flies quickly through space, yet Jesus created space. Zeus, Hitler and Alexander can wield their militaries, ideologies and even lightning bolts, yet Jesus is the creator of all people, all matter, the intellect, and electricity. It is logical to conclude that Jesus (even as a fictional, literary character) is more powerful than any person who has existed in actual history and fictional history.
 
What does the N.T. say about the humility and selflessness of Jesus?
     1. Jesus states that his purpose is to give his life for others
        -Jesus said, “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give
             His life a ransom for many.”
 –Mathew 20:28
        -Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the
              sheep
.” –John 10:11
     2. Jesus never used his supernatural powers for Himself
        -He is willing to use his power to multiply loaves and fishes for 5,000 people
             (Matthew 14:13-21), but he is unwilling to use his power to change stones into
              bread for his own nourishment (Matthew 4:1-4)
        -He is willing to heal others (John 9:1-12Luke 17:11-19Matthew 9:20-21), but even
             when taunted to save himself from his own wounds, he would not (Mark 15:29-30)
     3. Jesus is focused on the well-being of others, even when being tortured.
        -During the torture on the cross Jesus says “Father forgive them; for they do not
             know what they are doing.
” –Luke 23:34
     4. Jesus is also said to have been been God before he humbled himself and became a
         man (Philippians 2:5-8)
 
 Based on these stories about Jesus, it is logical to conclude that he was the humblest and most selfless person in actual and fictional history. Even more than this, he would be the only person ever qualified to be so humble and so selfless considering he subjected himself to living a human life when he had previously existed outside of his creation.
 
Conclusion
According to this argument, Jesus (the literary character) is the most powerful and most humble/selfless person ever dreamt up by human imagination. So what is the point of all of this? Well, if the N.T. stories about Jesus are fictional what we would have to believe is that a group of fisherman and tax collectors in 1st century Israel were responsible for dreaming up the most powerful and most humble person in all of human literature. Not Shakespeare, not Homer, not Dante, not Mark Twain, fisherman and tax collectors! This is difficult for me to believe, especially when we consider that 90% of 1st century Israel was illiterate.[2]

So where did these stories originate? It seems that it is very plausible to conclude that these stories are not fictional at all, but actual historical accounts. The fisherman and tax collectors did not invent these stories, they saw these events occur and merely wrote down what they saw. If this is the case, which it seems to be, the Jesus of faith is in fact the Jesus of history.


[1] I first heard a version of this argument presented by Tom Gilson at the Defend the Faith Conference at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in January of 2015. I am ever grateful to his work and presentation of this argument.

[2] Ehrman, Bart D. (2012-03-20). Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (Kindle Locations 702-712). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition

Did Jesus Exist?

Did Jesus Exist?

It always amazes me when I hear or meet someone that is so skeptical of Christianity, that they even doubt the existence of Jesus. I can understand when people have a hard time believing that Jesus is God and that He rise from the dead, but it is baffling to me when someone is so skeptical that they do not even believe Jesus was a historical person. No matter how baffled I am by their skepticism, I am reminded that I need to have evidence to make the case that Jesus was an actual person in history. One of the pieces of evidence that makes a good case for Jesus being a historical person is the independent ancient sources that mention Jesus' family in their writings.
 
THE NEW TESTAMENT SOURCES
The first group of independent sources are the manuscripts that we now call the New Testament. Throughout the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles, Jesus is the figure that everything revolves around. These writings mention things that Jesus did and said, who His family was, and most notably how He died and was resurrected. The best sources we have within the New Testament are the letters of Paul. In his book Jesus Interrupted, the agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman says this:
“The seven letters that virtually all scholars agree Paul wrote—the so-called undisputed Pauline epistles—are Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon.”[1]
Since most scholars agree that Paul wrote these letters, let’s investigate them to see if we can find strong evidence to the existence of a real, historical Jesus.
In Galatians 1:18-19, Paul says:
Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed
with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s
brother.”
The fact that Paul mentions James the Lord’s brother, is great evidence for the existence of Jesus. The James being spoken of here is James, the son of Mary and Joseph, not James the disciple of Jesus who was the brother of John. Because Paul mentions that he met the brother of Jesus, doesn’t it follow that Jesus probably existed? The meeting that Paul is referring to in these verses occurred somewhere between 35-36 AD. This means that this man James was believed to be Jesus’ brother very early in Christian history. The manner in which Paul mentions meeting James is important as well. Paul does not mention this as an argument to prove the existence of Jesus, but he presents it as a secondary, non-important detail of his trip. This adds validity to the truth of his statement, because he is not adamantly trying to argue or prove anything by this statement. It is merely a detail of his time in Jerusalem. This is also an interesting side note for Paul to mention when we take Mark 6:3 into account.
“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him. –Mark 6:3
In this passage, Mark mentions Jesus’ siblings and specifically names James as being one of them. This statement does not contradict Paul’s statement about James, but reinforces it. It seems that the names of Jesus brothers were known among the writers of the New Testament.

Another statement about Jesus’ brothers is mentioned in 1 Corinthians, one of the so-called undisputed letters of Paul according to Bart Ehrman.
“Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” -1 Corinthians 9:5
The mention again of the brothers of the Lord is puzzling if a historical Jesus did not actually exist. The fact that Paul mentions meeting James and knowing that Jesus brothers had wives is good evidence for believing that Jesus existed.
 
NON-CHRISTIAN SOURCES
In addition to the New Testament documents, we also have a 2nd century Non-Christian source, Josephus, that mentions James, the brother of Jesus.
Josephus says:

Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned; -Antiquities of the Jews 20.200

The fact that Josephus was not a Christian adds tremendous weight to his statement about James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ. Why would he write this down if he did not believe it to be history? Also, I generally think it is a good rule of thumb to take more seriously the statements of multiple sources close to the times of the event, rather than people two-thousand years removed. 

Paul, Mark and Josephus all mention Jesus’ brothers, particularly James, which gives us great historical evidence that Jesus must have existed. If he did not exist, where would these people claiming to be his family have come from? Also, how could a group of people make up a conspiracy about a man who never existed and convince others that they were his family? There are many good reasons to believe that Jesus was a historical person, but the fact that He had brothers, who Paul had met, makes His existence pretty obvious.
 
HOW TO SHARE THIS
So what should we do with this information? Here are a few ways you can share these arguments with your skeptical friends.

When someone claims that Jesus didn’t exist, do not get defensive. You did not make the claim, so you do not have to defend your position. They need to defend their position. Ask them what evidence they have for their belief that Jesus did not exist. Keep asking questions to see how they have reasoned out, or haven’t reasoned out, their position. After asking them questions for some time, I would offer them the evidence about Jesus’ brothers from this blog. After you have presented the evidence continue to ask them questions. How would a man who did not exist have brothers that were well known? How could a conspiracy arise about a non-existent man and that included people lying about being his family in the town where he was supposedly killed as early as 5-6 years after his death? Help your friends think through these questions and others like them. Once a person believes that Jesus existed as a historical person, you can then start the discussion about who this man claimed to be and His resurrection from the dead.

Remember that we are called to give good arguments and evidences for what we believe as we help others see that their speculations do not hold up to the truth.
“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” -2 Cor. 10:5
[1] Ehrman, Bart. Jesus Interrupted. Pg. 63

God's Glory Revealed: Jesus Christ

God's Glory Revealed: Jesus Christ

Sometimes in life there are things that occur that will steal your attention. From an amazing play at the end of a game, a marriage proposal, or seeing someone you love after you have been away from them. When this happens, ordinary moments turn into incredible memories that stay with you for a long time.  In the life of a Christian, though, there is no greater realization or moment that someone can have than to see and take in the glory of Jesus Christ. When I talk about the glory of Christ, I mean this: that Jesus Christ is supremely great. Jesus is honorable and deserving of praise as the perfect God of the universe. In fact, the Apostle John gets to the bottom of this when he speaks about Jesus in the Bible when he refers to him as the Incarnate Word, a title only identified with Jesus. Understanding what John means by the Incarnate Word is fundamental to much of his writings. Even more so than this, is having an understanding of how Jesus shows the Glory of God to us.
            First off, it is best to understand what John means by referring to Jesus as the Word (John 1:11 John 1:1). It is certainly beyond humankind’s understanding as to all that the “Word” entails. In John’s usage, we see that he uses it to describe the one who is God, who has existed eternally, and is the creator, and truth. When coupling this understanding of the Word with “Incarnate”, we see that Jesus is God in human form. This is an idea thatJohn 1:14 addresses when the apostle writes that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us...”.
            The title of Incarnate Word then, means that Jesus is God in human form. The creator has stepped into His own creation. With this action of stepping into the world and putting on flesh, John again shows us what this means for us. In his gospel in 1:18 he states this, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”. N.T. Wright explains John’s point here when he says, “Up until this point in history, Human beings are not granted immediate, that is, unmediated, knowledge of God, but in Jesus we see, truly and undistortedly, who God is.”[1] There is a deep intensity behind this idea, because this means for the believer, we are able to see the character and nature of God in the person of Jesus. The eternal, perfect, holy God has been made known through the Incarnate Word. He clears up mankind’s misconceptions that God may be far off, that he is simply a man in the skies who casts down trouble upon people. Jesus shows mankind that God is with us and that He is a servant to all people (John 13:3-16).
Taking the Incarnate Word to the World
John, in both his gospel and first letter, uses the glory of Jesus as an introduction to the rest of his writing, which appears to show that the basis for his writings is Jesus himself. It is important then to see, what he writes following these introductions and how Jesus’ glory changes us.
In his gospel, John stresses the deity of Jesus and His nature as God. Also, we see the word “believe” appear 98 times[2], stressing John’s focus on showing that Jesus Christ is the Lord, and having others come to believe in Him. Certainly John here seeks to see people reached with the good news of Jesus Christ. This brings us to today, where we are faced with the ability to bring the truth of Christ to those around us. As one of Jesus’ disciples, John saw the goodness of Jesus in tremendous ways, it is no wonder that he seeks to tell people about the glorious Jesus and what He has accomplished. Acts 4:19-20 comes to mind, when we see Peter and John threatened by the Jewish leaders and told not to speak of Jesus anymore, to which they respond “But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard””. In the church here, and specifically with John, we see an immense love for the lost and bringing the truth to them. There is no doubt that our hearts today should have that same focus.
In 1 John, there begins with a focus again on the Incarnate Word, but this time John writes of a different topic afterwards, love. In chapter 3, John outlines the lifestyle of love that a Christian should have for other believers, as he calls on them to love one another according to the commands of Jesus. In chapter 4, John speaks again of love, focusing again on love for fellow Christians, but also on the nature of love itself. In this letter, love remains a constant word and theme portrayed. John writes that God is love, and that those who love others know God. John writes, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). John writes that once we have seen the glory of Jesus in his revealing the love of God to us, we have the ability to love others. Christ’s taking on human form and his death for us give us the chance to truly love people.
When John’s writings in his gospel and first letter are viewed in light of his understanding of Jesus as the glorious Lord and King, there is a refreshing meaning brought to his words, as Christ becomes the clear motivation for the Christian to advance the gospel, and to do so in love. So as we settle into 2017 and seek to make an impact in our sphere of life, let’s praise Jesus for what he has done and go into the world and love others by helping them see his glory, carrying the truth of 1 John 5:20 with us, “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.”

[1] O'Collins, Gerald, Daniel Kendall, and Stephen T. Davis. The Incarnation : An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Incarnation of the Son of God. Oxford: OUP Premium, 2002. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost.
[2] Bing, Charles C. "The Condition for Salvation in John's Gospel." Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 9, no. 16 (Spring 1996).

Resolve to Reflect, Reckon, and Rest

Resolve to Reflect, Reckon, and Rest

By now most people are well into their New Year’s resolutions. Some are still succeeding, others have failed and are discouraged. Every year at this time we decide to exercise more, eat less, read more, spend more time in prayer, etc.. We make the conscious decision to put our minds, bodies and spirits through a time of self-discipline in order to get our desired results. Self-discipline is a great virtue to develop, it’s biblical after all (Gal.5:23). However, in this season of resolutions, I want to suggest a different tactic. Instead of seeking to change yourself through a resolution, I suggest remembering who you are through Reflecting, Reckoning, and Resting.
 
Reflecting
The fast paced nature of our lives does not lend itself to much reflection. It seems that we are always focused on what we need to accomplish next, which leads to frenzied lives. In order to remember who you are, you need to make time to reflect. You also need to reflect on the correct things. Psalm 29:1-2 gives us instruction on this.
 
Ascribe to the LORD, O sons of the mighty,
Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name;
Worship the LORD in holy array

 
To ascribe is to attribute or credit God with Who He is and what He has done. In reflecting, it is profitable to ascribe to the Lord the things He has done in your life. To give God the credit, the recognition, the thanks for all that He has done, is a beneficial means of reflecting.
 
Practical Tip
For 30 minutes, take time to reflect on the past year. As you remember the things that have happened in the past year, write them down in a journal and ascribe to God the things He has done. Give Him praise through the words you write as you reflect on what He has done for you. By taking the time to ascribe your reflections in a journal, you will force yourself to slow down a bit and contemplate how good and faithful God has been.
 
Reckoning
Because so much of our self-worth can easily get wrapped up in our accomplishments, our success, even our resolutions, we need adequate time to reckon. Reckoning means to accurately account for the true state of a matter. It is an accounting term that seeks precision and exactitude when dealing with finances. Romans 6:11 tells us:
 
Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
 
We are told to take a true, precise, accurate account of the fact that, as Christians, we are dead to sin and alive to God. This is the identity that we need to be reminded of, this is the identity that we should be living out of. Perhaps we spend too much time chasing our own accomplishments and the applause of others, instead of reckoning the truth about our identity in God.
 
Practical Tip
Take an hour and get to a quiet place in your house or backyard. Leave all disturbances behind (phones, computers, other people), and spend the first 30 minutes slowly reading and re-reading Ephesians chapter 1. For the last 30 minutes, spend time in silence, contemplating the identity that God has given to you and how important His valuation of you is. Don’t rush. Spend time reckoning who you are in Christ.
 
Resting
Resting sounds like an easy thing to do, but I do not mean by this a physical rest and relaxation.  The type of rest I am speaking about is an active resting. A resting that is more an attitude of the heart and mind. This type of resting comes through the practice of reflection and reckoning. As we consistently reminisce about the things God has been doing in our lives and reckon our true identity as being in Christ, a peace, a rest will be evident in our daily lives. The worry of what others think of you, the stress of chasing accomplishments and accolades, the frenetic pace of keeping up with the Joneses, all of these types of unrest that intrude our lives can dissipate through reflecting and reckoning. Psalm 37:7-8 says
 
Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.
Cease from anger and forsake wrath;
Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.

 
Resting in the Lord happens when we reckon the identity that He has given us, and when we reflect on the ways He is actively at work in our lives. Rest is absent not because it is unavailable, but because sometimes we are too focused on our resolutions and not on reflecting and reckoning.
 
Practical Tip
Make a commitment to practice the practical tips for reflecting and reckoning once a month this year. Make a resolution to remember how loved you are now instead of all the changes you need to make to gain acceptance. As you practice these things there will be an inner peace that comes through resting in the Lord.
 
As you begin practicing these things, please comment and let us know how God is at work in your life and what changes you are seeing in your walk with Him.

Advent Prophecy 3

Advent Prophecy 3

Our final prophecy in this Advent series comes from Isaiah 9:6-7.
 
                  For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
                  And the government will rest on His shoulders;
                  And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
                  Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
                  There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
                  On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
                  To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
                  From then on and forevermore.
                  The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.

 
Once again, here are the three criteria that we are measuring this prophecy against
 
1.  Jesus did not manipulate His situation to fulfill prophecy.
2. The Old Testament prophecies did in fact predate His fulfillment of them.
3. The fulfillment of these prophecies could not be mere coincidence.
 
      This prophecy says that the child to be born would reign on the throne of David. This is consistent with the promise that God made to David in 2 Samuel 7:12-13:

When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.  He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

The expectations from these passages was that the Messiah would come from the family of David, and this is exactly the lineage that Jesus came from.  Matthew and Luke record the genealogies of Jesus in their Gospels, and both of them trace Jesus’ lineage to David. Matthew tracing the legal lineage of Jesus through his adoptive father Joseph, and Luke tracing the physical lineage through Jesus’ mother Mary. So, what we have are Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah coming from the lineage of David, and we have New Testament documentation that Jesus came through the lineage of David. Could it be that Jesus manipulated His situation to fulfill this prophecy? Well, no.  Just as it would be difficult to manipulate the place of His own birth (Micah 5:2), it would also be difficult for Jesus to manipulate His ancestry. Thus Isaiah 9:6-7 meets the first of our three criteria.
           
        The book of Isaiah was originally written around 740-700 B.C. However, we do not possess the original manuscript of Isaiah, or even a manuscript within 500 years of the original. So how do we know that this prophecy actually predated Jesus, and was not changed by followers of Jesus to make it look like He was the Messiah? The reason we can know this prophecy predated Jesus is found in the Great Isaiah Scroll which was discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Great Isaiah Scroll dates to 125 B.C. and it contains almost the entire book of Isaiah. Within this manuscript we have the prophecy of Isaiah 9:6-7 (see it here) and we know that it was written down more than one hundred years before Jesus’ fulfilled it. Therefore, Isaiah 9:6-7 meets our second criteria.
 
          But how can we know that Jesus’ fulfillment of these prophecies was not merely coincidental? In 1957, Professor Peter W. Stoner wrote a book entitled Science Speaks. (read it here) In chapter 3 of his book, Stoner looks at the probability of one man fulfilling eight of the prophecies from the Old Testament. His analysis shows that the probability of this would be 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 (or 1017). Stoner gives a great illustration to explain how improbable this would be. Image the state of Texas covered with 1017 silver dollars. That amount of silver dollars would cover the entire state two-feet deep. Let’s say that one of the silver dollars was painted green on one side and then mixed in with all of the others. What are the odds that a blindfolded man could wander around Texas, stop and pick up a silver dollar only once, and have that silver dollar be the one painted green on one side? They are the same odds that one man could fulfill the eight prophecies that Stoner evaluates in his book. Those seem like astronomical odds to me. To strengthen our case, Jesus didn’t only fulfill eight prophecies, but instead somewhere between 300-350 prophecies. Considering this evidence, it is an impossibility for the prophecies fulfilled by Jesus to be coincidental.

            As I write this blog I can see the Christmas tree in my living room and all of the twinkling lights on it. It reminds me that at His First Advent, Jesus came as the light of the world. He came to show us that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Not only did He come and say these things, but He came and fulfilled hundreds of prophecies so that we could have confidence in the things He was saying. God has left us with an abundance of evidence that Jesus is the promised Messiah. As you celebrate Christmas this week, and remember Christ’s First Advent, I hope that you will experience a deep sense of joy in knowing that your trust in Christ stands on such strong evidence. 

Advent Prophecy 2

Advent Prophecy 2

Continuing in our Advent Prophecy series, we are going to look at a prophecy about the death of the Messiah. But before we do, let’s recap the three criteria we are using to establish strong evidence for the validity of these prophecies being fulfilled in Jesus.
 
1.  Jesus did not manipulate His situation to fulfill prophecy.
2. The Old Testament prophecies did in fact predate His fulfillment of them.
3. The fulfillment of these prophecies could not be mere coincidence.
 
With these criteria in mind, we turn to our prophecy from Isaiah 53:9
 
His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.
 
  Just as a person does not choose where they are born, it is difficult for them to choose where they will die and in what manner they will be buried. This prophecy speaks of a person who was assigned a grave with the wicked, but was instead with a rich man in His death. This prophecy was fulfilled by Jesus in that He was crucified along with criminals, yet Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man, asked Pilate for Jesus’ body, removed it from the cross, and laid it in his own tomb (Matthew 27:57-60Mark 15:42-46). Thus we have the fulfillment of a man condemned to a grave with wicked men being buried in a rich man’s tomb. The fact that this prophecy is so specific about the rich man’s tomb calls for some reflection. If you remember, Jesus was not at all rich, and never had been rich being the son of a carpenter. How would Jesus, being poor, secure for Himself a burial in a rich man’s tomb? It seems very unlikely that He did. In addition to this, how could Jesus manipulate His condemnation to die with wicked men when He had not been deceptive or violent? It seems that Isaiah 53:9 meets the first criteria, in that Jesus could not have manipulated His situation in order to fulfill this prophecy.

  There are three ways that the body of crucified victims were treated after death.[1] The first, and most gruesome, was that the bodies were left on the cross for birds and other animals to eat. The second option was that the corpse would be taken down from the cross, dragged through the streets, and then thrown in a mass grave with other criminals. However, we learn from the ancient historian Josephus that the Romans had allowed the Jews to remove and bury the bodies of crucified victims prior to the sun going down.[2] By doing this Rome was allowing the Jews to follow the commands of God found in Deuteronomy 21:22-23. This, then brings us to the third way a crucified corpse was treated, which was being given over to family or friends to be buried. Not only are there ancient documents stating this, but archeologists discovered a tomb in Jerusalem which contained the bones of a crucified man.  This discovery reinforces the claim that crucifixion victims were allowed a proper burial.
           
   In order to meet our second criteria, we look again to the Dead Sea Scrolls. One of the greatest discoveries found among the Dead Sea Scrolls is what has come to be known as The Great Isaiah Scroll. This scroll contains almost the entire book of Isaiah in Hebrew, and fortunately for us, it contains Isaiah 53:9 (click here). The Great Isaiah Scroll dates to 125 B.C., proving that this prophecy about Jesus was not fabricated after Jesus’ death and burial, but that it had been prophesied long before Jesus was even born. In addition to validating the prophecies about Jesus, the Great Isaiah Scroll also gives us great insight into the accuracy of the transmission of the Bible. Prior to the Great Isaiah Scroll being discovered, our oldest Hebrew manuscript of the book of Isaiah was the Aleppo Codex which dates to the 10th century A.D. When the Aleppo Codex and the Great Isaiah Scroll were compared, they showed remarkable similarity, almost being identical. This means that over the one thousand years that separated these two manuscripts, the copying of the text was remarkable.
            Now, some may still claim that our prophecy from Isaiah 53:9 is nothing more than a coincidence. The question that we now need to be asking is how many of these prophecies that meet criteria 1 and 2 are needed to show that coincidence is not a possibility? It seems to me that a coincidence would be one person fulfilling one of the prophecies, and then a different person fulfilling a different prophecy. What are the odds of the same person fulfilling both prophecies while meeting criteria 1 and 2? The more prophecies that are fulfilled by the same person, the less likely coincidence can be used as the explanation.
            Next week we will continue to investigate another prophecy that was fulfilled by Jesus.


[1] Fiensy, D. A. (2016). Crucifixion. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[2] Josephus, F. Wars of the Jews 4.137

Advent Prophecy 1

Advent Prophecy 1

There are many prophecies in the Old Testament that foretell how, where, and in what manner the Messiah would come. It seems that during Advent season, we hear many of these prophecies quoted at church, in songs, and even in A Charlie Brown Christmas. As a Christian, I grew up hearing about the hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament that were fulfilled in Jesus’ first advent, yet it was hard to use these prophecies as a means of sharing the Gospel with my friends. It seems to me that the fulfillment of prophecy is a very strong argument for Christians to use in order to show that Jesus must have been the promised Messiah. Because of this, I want to share with you a good argument that you can use to show your friends and family that Jesus did fulfill prophecies that are beyond mere coincidence. My hope is that you will have many opportunities to share the Gospel through using this argument during this Advent season.
 
   In order to be prepared, we need to understand the common objections to the argument that Jesus fulfilled prophecy. One such objection is that Jesus could have purposefully fulfilled many of the prophecies spoken of in the Old Testament. An example would be Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Zechariah 9:9 speaks about the triumphal entry of the Messiah coming to Jerusalem seated on a colt, which Jesus fulfilled as recorded in Matthew 21:1-11 and John 12:12-16. The argument goes that Jesus, knowing what Zechariah 9:9 said, purposefully fulfilled this prophecy by asking for a colt and presenting Himself as the Messiah. Another objection is that the prophecies that we now find in the Old Testament did not predate Jesus, and therefore the things He did were not fulfillments of prophecy. Many of your friends will bring this objection up by asking “How do you know that those prophecies were written prior to Jesus.” The third common objection is that the fulfillments of prophecy were merely coincidental. Examples of fulfilled prophecy, such as the writings of Nostradamus, are often sighted. It seems that in order to show the uniqueness of Jesus’ fulfilment of prophecy, we need to demonstrate three things:

1.  Jesus did not manipulate His situation to fulfill prophecy.
2. The Old Testament prophecies did in fact predate His fulfillment of them.
3. The fulfillment of these prophecies could not be mere coincidence.
 
With these three criteria in mind, let’s analyze our first prophecy, Micah 5:2
                      
But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.”
 
   This prophecy tells the exact location of the Messiahs birth, Bethlehem. It obvious that Jesus could not even try to purposefully fulfill this prophecy, since infants do not have a choice over where they are born. So, this prophecy meets our first criteria because Jesus could not manipulate His own place of birth. We have the New Testament writers giving us the historical account of Jesus birth in Matthew 2:1 and Luke 2:1-7. Most likely, after you have shared this point with your skeptical friend, they will move on to the second objection and ask how you know that the prophecy predated Jesus’ birth.

   In order to answer this objection, we need to ask when the prophet Micah wrote his book, and also when the manuscripts of Micah we possess today date to. The prophet Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah and lived during the 8th century B.C.E. This means that the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem predates Christ by about 700 years. But how can we be sure that the prophecy from Micah 5:2 was not added after Christ’s birth? It would help us if we had a manuscript with Micah 5:2 in it that predates the birth of Jesus. Thankfully, this is exactly what we have. Among the manuscripts discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls is a scroll of the Twelve Minor Prophets which was found in the Cave Horror at Nahal Hever. Within this scroll is the prophecy from Micah 5:2 and it dates to 50 B.C.E. This manuscript is catalogue as 8HEVXII, and you can see an amazing digital image of it here. With this manuscript being uncovered, the prophecy of Micah 5:2 meets our second criteria since we can be certain that the prophecy predates the fulfillment of Jesus birth by at least 50 years. At this point, I hope your skeptical friends will be taking this prophecy a little more seriously, but they may brush off the evidence as being mere coincidence.
 
            Lastly do we respond when a skeptical friend claims that the prophecies Jesus fulfilled are merely a coincidence? The first thing we should ask is, “What do you mean by a coincidence?”, and the follow-up question should be “How many fulfilled prophecies would there need to be to convince you that it was not merely a coincidence?” Throughout the rest of the month of December, I will be sharing other prophecies that Jesus fulfilled, which hold up to our three criteria. After we look into the other prophecies, we will develop a very good response to the argument of coincidence.

            I hope that these posts about fulfilled prophecy do two things. First of all, I hope that they strengthen your faith in seeing that something supernatural had to be behind the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled, and that you have good reason to trust that Jesus was the Messiah. Secondly, I hope that you will use these posts to lovingly engage with your skeptical friends and help them to see the tremendous evidence that God has given us. We are called to give a good defense for the hope we have in Jesus. This Advent season, let’s be intentional about making a good defense with our skeptical friends, and sharing the reasons we have for the hope that is in us.

The Benefits of Gratitude

The Benefits of Gratitude

The time of year for giving thanks is quickly approaching. For many, the Thanksgiving season can easily become the “Oh my gosh, I have so much to get done before everyone invades my house and expects turkey” season. It is fascinating how a day set apart for giving thanks can become one of the more stressful times of year for many. Ironically cultivating gratitude and thankfulness in your life has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety. It seems that amid the busyness of the upcoming holiday, we need a reminder of the importance of gratitude, and how a thankful heart has tremendous benefits for us.

            The benefits of gratitude have been studied by Dr. Robert A Emmons of the University of California. According to Dr. Emmons research, there are tremendous benefits to cultivating a life of gratitude. The physical benefits include: stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, better sleep, and more motivation to exercise and take care of one’s self. Psychological benefits include: higher levels of positive emotions, better alertness, increased joy and pleasure, and an attitude of optimism. Gratitude also has many social benefits: increased generosity and compassion, more forgiving, more outgoing, feeling less lonely or isolated.[1] These benefits are things that we all desire to have, but how is it that a thankful disposition can make these benefits a reality?
            I find it fascinating that through observation and scientific inquiry, Dr. Emmons has concluded that gratitude can bring so many desired benefits into our lives. It is as if we were designed to be grateful, and when we are, benefits follow. Why is this the case? I believe that we benefit from living a life of gratitude because God created us to be grateful people. The Bible is full of commands from God and it is important that we ask the question, “Why did God command that?” When we take the step to investigate the reason behind the commands of God, often we find that He commands us to do the things that are best for us. Throughout the Scriptures there are many commands to be thankful. Here are a couple.
 
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. –Colossians 3:15
 
Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. –Colossians 3:17
 
These Scriptures command us to be thankful because we can live our lives in an ungrateful manner. It is a choice to be thankful, and a choice that God encourages us to make. We have seen how choosing to be grateful brings physical, psychological and social benefits, but it does more than that. Not only do we benefit with good things, but we also eliminate negative traits that harm us. There is not a neutral position in respect to gratitude. If you are grateful, there are tremendous benefits. If you are ungrateful, there are tremendous detriments. Who among us enjoys regret? Does anyone find envy to be a desirable trait? Becoming a bitter, self-absorbed person is not the future we envision for ourselves, but it can become our reality if we live ungratefully. Selfishness and a thankful heart cannot coexist within a person. By constantly being focused on what power, possessions, and positions are not ours, we create a breeding ground for envy, jealousy, regret, and bitterness. As these negative traits fester within, they lead to anger, hate, and the mistreatment toward others who possess what we desire. A thankful heart goes a long way in bringing benefit, not only to ourselves, but also to others around us.
So, how do we cultivate a life of gratitude that gives thanks to God in whatever we are doing? First of all, we must accept the fact that gratitude is impossible to exhibit apart from other persons. In order to be grateful, there must be a person that you are grateful toward. Thankfulness is not something that can be directed toward inanimate objects. Who has ever been grateful to their bank account, or their new car, or their newly acquired promotion? We can be thankful FOR our bank accounts, cars, and promotions, however we cannot be thankful to them, because they are not responsible for their existence and they did not bestow themselves to us. All forms of gratitude must be directed towards persons. We can be grateful to our spouse because of the affection, care, and comfort they bestow on us. We can be thankful to our boss for the promotion they have given to us. We can only be grateful to other persons for what they have chosen to do on our behalf. But who do we thank for our spouse, for our boss, for our intellect, for the air we breathe, for the emotion of love, or the beauty that surrounds us in nature? It is wholly inadequate to thank an inanimate object such as the universe for such things. There must be a person we give thanks to for all things, and that person must exist seeing as there are so many benefits to living a life of gratitude. This person does exist and He accepts gratitude from us for the things He has done on our behalf.
 
Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. –James 1:17
           
            The Second thing we must do to cultivate a life of gratitude is to intentionally thank God as we recognize the blessings He bestows. This intentionality must start with the seemingly small things we take for granted each day. The smell of the air after a good downpour, the beauty in the sunset, the sound of your child breathing as they sleep safely in your arms. As these small blessings, which we have labeled as common, occur in your life, tell God you are grateful. Express thanks to others around you, and also let them know that you are thankful to God for them. Actively look for things to thank other persons for. As you do this, you will be reminded of how blessed you are, and how there is a good God who actively looks to bless, even when His blessings go unrecognized.

            This Thanksgiving, let’s intentionally put away the busyness, slow down, and cultivate a heart of gratitude toward the Father of lights who is the benefactor of all blessings in our lives.
 
 
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
 
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
 
When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings. Wealth can never buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.
 
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done. 
-Johnson Oatman Jr. 1897


[1] http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good