Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

An argument for the historicity of the resurrection.

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One of the challenges that I face as a Mom is countering our culture’s belief that all faith systems are legitimate. My child’s belief system is assaulted by the media and the population at large, accusing the Christian worldview of intolerance even to the extreme of claiming Christian beliefs are hateful.  How do I teach my children that the belief that Jesus is the only way is a legitimate belief?

The basis for the attack is a belief that religion is all about choice. This is a free country; we are free to believe as we choose. Why would anyone choose a religion that insists that everyone who does not believe as you do will go to hell? On the surface this argument seems legitimate and justified. But if choosing a religion is about choosing what is true rather than choosing what appeals to us, the argument fails.

The reality is that we do not get to choose what happens to be true. I like to believe I have a million dollar balance in my checking account. Believing I am a millionaire appeals to me. Living according to my belief, I write checks all over town that upsets retailers who do not get the funds promised. When I act out of faith, I cannot live consistently with my belief because my faith does not correspond with reality. I can then conclude that my belief is false.

Is it possible to determine to the same degree of certainty that a religion is true or false? The answer is probably not since we are dealing with spiritual matters. Spiritual matters correspond to a realm outside of our material universe and cannot be measured with any degree of precision or even experienced according to our physical senses. Then how can any faith system claim to be true?

My Atheist/Humanist friends like to use a phrase to replace of the word “faith” when they speak of matters that cannot be or have not been proven. They like to say, “I have a conditional acceptance that it is true.” In the same manner we can apply that phrase to matters of faith. As fallible beings we must acknowledge that we hold an incomplete understanding of many things. For this reason many of our beliefs about reality require an element of faith, or conditional acceptance.

Paul recognized this principle when he wrote to the Corinthians approximately 20 years after Christ’s crucifixion.

“Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 (NASB95)

Paul had a conditional acceptance in the Christian faith dependent upon the truth of the resurrection. If the resurrection is not true, Christianity is false and Paul knew it. He wanted the Corinthians to know it, too. Paul was writing at time when witnesses to the truth of the resurrection were still alive and could easily corroborate or deny his testimony. He believed as people have for over 2000 years that Christianity is true, reasonable and corresponds to reality. The miracle of the resurrection affirmed that what Jesus testified about himself was true.

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” John 14:6

Jesus said it. I believe it. And that settles it for me.

December 20th was the night of the first lunar eclipse visible in the United States since the Salem Witch trials. That night I stayed up with my teens till 12:30AM waiting for the event. We cuddled in the den with only the lights from the Christmas tree illuminating the house and talked for hours. I love nights like that. We discussed everything from girlfriends to politics and everything in between. I especially appreciate their discussions about faith. It confirms for me that they are not blindly accepting everything they hear. They are analyzing beliefs for truth value.

Sometimes I am surprised by their questions, or some of their beliefs. Their mother is an apologist so explaining and defending the faith is part of our daily conversation. My twelve year old made a statement eluding that all religions basically worship the same God. While I remained calm, cool and collected on the outside, inside I was shocked! Haven’t we covered this before?

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. One conversation cannot outweigh the daily assault on the biblical worldview their parents are establishing for them. Everything they watch on television, many of their conversations with friends, most information they receive from news media or the internet screams relativism. And if a child is not a naturally critical thinker, they will not recognize the inconsistencies within this view and will blindly embrace all that goes along with it. So I am grateful for the opportunity to revisit this topic with my kids. If I don’t give them answers to their pressing questions about faith, I become one more reason for them not to believe.

Over the last 150 years or so relativism has gained most of the philosophical ground in our culture. Dogmatism or fundamentalism is viewed as intolerant. (Isn’t the relativist claiming relativism is true being dogmatic?) People are open to the idea that there is no such thing as absolute truth. What’s true for me is true for me; what’s true for you is true for you. (Isn’t that an absolute truth claim?) And since there is no such thing as absolute truth, then there cannot be one way to God; that is, if He even exists in the first place. So America embraces Universalism with open arms.

Universalism embodies the belief that everyone will be saved and go to heaven. There are two claims that must be true in order for Universalism to work. One, truth depends on choice. I can choose what is true. And since in this great country we are free to choose what to believe, the best choice would be the one that allows for all choices to be true. Anything less would be intolerant and intolerance is bad, very bad. Second, it must deny universal damnation. After all, a good God would not condemn people He loves to hell, right?

As with all relativistic beliefs, this one too is wrought with self-contradiction and self-defeat. Let’s deal with the claim that I can choose what is true. Another way to phrase this is “I can determine what is true.” If I believe it is true, then it is. If you believe the opposite is true, then it is. This subjective view of truth is fully dependent upon self rather than any objective standard. But does this belief correspond with reality? Can I live consistently with this belief? Let’s test it.

Jack and I are standing on top of the Eiffel Tower. I turn to Jack and claim, “I believe gravity does not exist.”

Jack looks at me and claims, “Well, I believe gravity does exist.” According to relativism, both claims are equally valid and equally true. We smile and nod accepting the validity of the other’s belief, proud of our liberal tolerance of opposing claims.

I decide to put my belief to the test and jump off the Eiffel Tower. Since Jack is a tolerant relativist as well, he quietly allows me to take the plunge. At some point during my descent I discover that both claims are not in fact true. Gravity does exist, there are consequences to our ideas as we live and die by our beliefs. I can neither create nor sustain my own existence. How arrogant of me to think that I can determine truth. At best as a fallible being with incomplete understanding I can discover truth. Wouldn’t it be in our best interest and the interest of others to discover what is absolutely true and live by that? Are you willing to die for a lie? Is it tolerant and loving to quietly stand by like Jack as the people around you live and die by a lie?

If all belief systems make contradictory truth claims about God, they cannot all lead to the same true God: one or none, but not all. So if we are seeking a true “religion” we can rule out anything that embraces contradictory claims as all true. This eliminates Universalism among others. But what about universal damnation, that doesn’t seem very loving . . . or is it?

How can a good God condemn people to hell? Let’s look at this from another perspective. If God saves everyone and allows them into heaven as Universalism claims, what exactly is God saving us from? A universal salvation requires universal damnation. If heaven is to be in the presence of God, then hell would be a state of eternal separation. The Bible is very clear that all of humanity is perishing in sin, condemned already (Rom. 3:23). Salvation comes by grace through faith alone in Christ (Rom. 3:24). The work of salvation is wholly God’s, we the condemned are the unworthy receivers of this grace. However, if I am offered a gift and reject it, I do not receive the gift. Regardless of the universal offering, the Bible is clear that the gift of grace is not universally received. God does not force anyone into His arms; it is only in agreement with our will that we are sanctified (Rom. 2:4). As with any gift, grace is freely given, freely received or freely rejected. So is God just in allowing us to live and die by the consequences of our beliefs?

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16

God is love, all Christians believe this including Universalist. But what is love? Love persuades, it does not coerce. Forced love is by definition, not love at all. To yield to the presence of the Almighty is not to embrace a loving and holy God, but to allow Him to embrace us; for we are the mere creation and by what power can we approach the Creator, but by His power alone. Unlike Jack, God does not stand silently on the sidelines allowing us to destroy ourselves. He pursues, He persuades and at times He wrestles us to the ground. (Gen. 32:28) God desires that no one perish, but it does not follow that no one will perish.

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Cor. 1:18

Mom and Dad, encourage your kids to evaluate their beliefs for truth value. Be prepared to give an answer for what you believe and why. Don’t become another reason for your child not to believe.
If you have questions, this site is a safe place to ask them. Together we can seek the truth in all things.

The house is quiet. Not even the slow drip of the icemaker in the fridge interrupts the silence. There was a time when I longed for quiet, but not today. Today, I am alone with my thoughts and I do not feel as if I am among friends. My anxious glance evaluates the room and drops to the floor. I notice the carpet might benefit from a brief relationship with the vacuum cleaner. The crumbs will still be there tomorrow, convicting me of a wasted yesterday. I wonder sometimes if I have a purpose beyond the walls of this house. Today I wonder. I wonder if my life makes a difference at all.

Oh, sure, to my family and some friends I matter. But when the house is quiet and there is really nothing pressing to do, this suburban housewife does not seem to have purpose. Well, I should probably clarify. The cold hard truth is that beyond the temporal, purpose is fleeting for any human existence. I cannot create nor sustain my own existence. Every breath is predetermined by some elusive power of Whom even the most brilliant of beings cannot fathom. And, yet, I breathe . . . in and out . . . day after day.

These are not the ramblings of a depressed woman . . . maybe an introspective student . . .  or an invisible mother, perhaps.

It is Christmas. I imagine the day after Thanksgiving, there must be a grand director who announces from the ecumenical throne, “Lights, camera, action!” and myriads of trained players upon the world stage scramble to play their parts. I don’t feel like playing today. The house is decorated in fashion with the Biltmore with three full sized Christmas trees this year and three inflatable animatrons entertaining on the front lawn and competing with the neighbor’s. Yes, we’re doing Christmas Texas style this year . . . big and gaudy. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it’s just that there seems to be something missing . . . something important.

Twice in the gospel of Luke there is reference to a pondering mother of Jesus. However, Mary is not wondering about her own life, but of the life and purpose of her son.

Every mother has a colorful birth story to tell, but none involve visits from angels and shepherds as for this 15 year old new mom. Mary considers the grand entrance of God’s son into the world in Luke 2:13-20.

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14    “Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Then again as Jesus grows and his passion for truth and his devotion to God is revealed, Mary considers the gradual revelation of his purpose in Luke 2:41-52.

41 Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. 43 After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

I try to imagine myself as Mary, watching the Creator of life grow in wisdom and stature from human child to man. I imagine the heart wrenching cries of a mother witnessing the cruel crucifixion of her first born.

And then it hits me…

I know it is not the first time I acknowledged this truth, but I have renewed clarity…a purification of sorts. My purpose is tied to His. I have purpose because He gives me value. Every breath I breathe is for His glory, not mine. It is as if someone lifted a weighty burden from my heart and mind. I am free!

Do you know what it is to be free? Try this, imagine yourself at the foot of the cross at Calvary witnessing the death of the most significant person ever to walk this earth. All of the major traditions of man recognize His existence and significance. Imagine His blood falling in droplets on the hair upon your head. Imagine His loving glance and His voice above you pleading, “Father, forgive them.” Now, is it possible for you to walk away unchanged?

Even vacuuming the floor has value when it is done for the glory of God.

(I wrote this last year and for some reason never published it. I hope you enjoy my ramblings.)

“Be perfect as I am perfect.”

Our Sunday school teacher said we need to be perfect as Jesus was perfect. But is that true? What does it mean to be perfect? Surely Jesus does not expect us to be as perfect as God? If so, then we have all been set up for failure. What did Jesus mean?

First of all, the teacher quoted scripture blending two passages:

Matthew 5:48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Leviticus 19:2  “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.”

Secondly, the context of the passage in Matthew is a comparison of the righteous versus the unrighteous (Mt. 5:45), but it is not limited to behavior. He is correcting traditional pharisaical teachings throughout chapter 5. Verse 48 is the summarizing statement of Jesus’ discourse. To gain an accurate interpretation, we need to consider not only the context of Matthew, but also the context of the Leviticus passage. When a New Testament writer quotes from another source, he is not just invoking the semantic text, he is invoking the context of the passage as well. When we consider the context of Lev. 19 we see that the Lord is expressing His wholehearted covenantal devotion to His people. He loves us completely, never wavering, always steadfast. It is to this covenantal devotion that Jesus is calling his disciples to as they gathered around him listening to his teaching.

Finally, to love the Lord completely means that we must love our enemies, just as Christ loved those who spat on him, those who cursed him, and those who drove the nails into his hands. We must remember that we were once enemies of God, worthy of His wrath. It is easy to love those who love us back, but what of those who want to destroy us, those who hate us, and those who wish that we would just shut up and die? I don’t know about you, but the closer I draw to the Lord the more the world hates me. Members of my own family detest when I speak about God, what He is doing in my life, His Word, or pray for them accusing me of “advertising” my faith. What a compliment from someone who wishes I would just shut up!

Dorothy Day once wrote, “I really only love God as much as the person I love the least.” Who do you love the least? Commit today to love completely as Christ with wholehearted devotion, perfectly. I am so in awe that God loves such an imperfect mess such as me. I am so grateful He is not willing to leave me this way. For as long as God allows me to breathe, I pray I have the courage to advertise my faith in this broken vessel.