07/16/13

The Apostle Paul’s Two Part Answer to Tolstoy

Rembrandt+ +The+Apostle+Paul+ +Detail+face The Apostle Pauls Two Part Answer to Tolstoy

This is the sixth post in the Ballast & Bedrock series, a search for faith-strengthening truth.

***

 The key issue in Tolstoy’s question is whether our inevitable physical death destroys all meaning in life, or if there is something of permanence. Paul addresses the consequences of both alternatives in his letters.

1. If there is no resurrection of the dead:

What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”(1 Corinthians 15:32)

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that 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 futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only,we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:14-19)

2. In light of the resurrection of Christ:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20)

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:42-49)

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11)



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07/11/13

Conflict Between Hope in the Resurrection and Sexual Immorality

detail stone work 500 Conflict Between Hope in the Resurrection and Sexual Immorality

This is the fourth post in the Ballast & Bedrock series, a search for faith-strengthening truth.

***

I didn’t see this one coming.

I’ve recently been mulling over the centrality of the resurrection of Christ, a matter of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). The effectiveness of Christ’s sacrifice, our forgiveness of sins, and eternal life hing on this one event. Belief in the resurrection has a waterfall impact on all of life.

But I wasn’t expecting Paul to directly connect resurrection with fleeing sexual impurity. How do those fit side by side? Apparently, like this:

The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. (1 Corinthians 6:13-18)

The line of thought could be summed up like this:

  1. Christ is the resurrection and the life, therefore all those united with Christ are raised to life in Christ by his power and will never die (John 11:25-26).
  2. As much as resurrection is the result of union with Christ, so too should be a flight from sexual immorality, for Christ is not to be joined to a prostitute.

Christ died to sin. Therefore we die to sin in Christ and are set free from it.

Christ was raised. Therefore we will be raised in Christ to eternal life.

A second theme has developed in my search for bedrock and ballast: Union with Christ. Our belief in the resurrection of Christ and our union with him underpins the whole of our Christian life and battle with sin.



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07/10/13

Dealing with the Uncertainty of Future Rewards

tumblr luudfvuAlv1r1mb1vo1 1280 Dealing with the Uncertainty of Future Rewards

This is the third post in the Ballast & Bedrock series, a search for faith-strengthening truth.

***

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:7-10)

Do you often find it difficult to keep focus on heavenly rewards? I do. But God is not shy about offering them. Take Matthew 6 for example:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:3-4)

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6)

But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:17-18)

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

So why do we struggle to lay hold of promises of future rewards? I believe the first, though incomplete, answer can be summed up in two parts:

1. Our perception of value is so skewed we are incapable of accurately evaluating spiritual rewards. We place a blinding emphasis on physical that diminishes the value of spiritual as a result of the fall.

2. If the value of the ultimate reward is diminished, so is our willingness to make current sacrifices in order to achieve the reward.

But there is something more. Our most significant,  deep-rooted struggle is to fully embrace the reality of the resurrection of the dead and everlasting life. If our lives are finite, then we fall under a self-induced tyranny of the urgent. As Paul wrote, If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32).

The cure we require must come through the Spirit who instructs us as Tutor, enabling us to see clearly, to value properly, and to believe wholeheartedly. Our battle is with unbelief, and our victory is through the Spirit in Christ.



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07/9/13

This World Will Dissolve

20130709 2203251 This World Will DissolveThis is the second post in the Ballast & Bedrock series, a search for faith-strengthening truth.

***

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! (2 Peter 3:11-12)

Peter’s argument is as sharp as it is straightforward. He calls our wandering hearts to refocus, knowing with certainty that this world will be set on fire and dissolved. This terrifying reality – that all we see and often live for here on earth will burn – is joined with the sweet assurance of a new creation.

But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:11)

I continue to search for passages of Scripture that detail God’s promises and declarations as I seek ballast and bedrock for my restless, anxious heart. Maybe you are looking for the same thing. And maybe you know of a few good passages to suggest. I stumbled over these verses quite unexpectedly today. Feel free to leave references in the comment section or shoot me a message if you have ideas.



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07/8/13

Certain Completion & The Search for Ballast and Bedrock

Stone Rubble Foundation Walls 39 Certain Completion & The Search for Ballast and Bedrock

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

There can be no greater cure for an anxious, restless heart than to meditate on the certainties presented in the word of God.

This post begins what I hope to be a daily journey through the New Testament in search of bedrock and ballast. Starting with the concrete promise that the work being done in my heart right now is being done by God himself (Philippians 2:13) with a completion at the day of Jesus Christ as certain as God’s faithfulness.

Here is a list of what I’ve covered so far:

1. This World Will Dissolve

2. Dealing with the Uncertainty of Future Rewards

3. Conflict Between Hope in the Resurrection and Sexual Immorality

4. Leo Tolstoy’s Question

5. The Apostle Paul’s Two Part Answer to Tolstoy



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04/20/13

Resurfacing

Fishing with a bobber Resurfacing

I am resurfacing a bit like a wobbly cork with a fish on the line. My schedule is unpredictable but I do hope to be back here writing on the weekends.

Themes I would like to (re)explore, in the form of questions:

Where does power for the Christian life come from? Sure, I have a dusty theological answer tucked away in the archives. What I want – what my soul needs – is to discover again exactly what God says in His own words. I have a hunch that the answer offers more hope than I remember.

How can I be satisfied and content? No sense in denying the restlessness I have felt recently. Time to return to the well.

Are Christian disciplines necessary? There are those around me who place much less emphasis on Christian disciplines than I have in the past. I am less interested in an argument about legalism and more interested in highlighting whatever it takes to have a real relationship with the Living God.

What has God promised? I want to put some meat on the bones of my scrawny prayer life. Maybe you do too. I am pretty sure that if I stop trodding in the same self-absorbed circles, there is great joy in adopting the priorities of God as reflected in His promises.

To be continued.



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01/26/10

Apologetics Is Not For Convincing Atheists

3185534518 d9d53b1f09 Apologetics Is Not For Convincing Atheists 

A rodeo mentality hinders apologetics. But that is exactly what I had during my battle with skepticism.

When confronting skeptics, I thought there must be an answer so faultless that it would give all opposing arguments whiplash on the takedown. If my brain was sufficiently developed, brute intellectual muscle could hogtie and drag screaming atheists to salvation. The Holy Spirit does need a sidekick, right?

No. He doesn’t. I was missing the whole point of apologetics


The Purpose of Apologetics

Faith is not a product of intellectual strength on the inside or coercive persuasion from the outside. It is a gift from God from start to finish.

Thus the purpose of making a reasoned defense of our beliefs -  apologetics – is not to create faith in someone by arguing them to God. Apologetics is not a trump card, a cowboy’s lasso, or a checkmate move.  No man comes to the Son unless he is drawn by the Father (John 6:44).

The purpose of apologetics is to present a map that ultimately points the doubter toward Jesus Christ. There are two parts to this purpose…

1. Strengthen Believers in Their Faith

Acts 18:24-28 tells a short story of Apollos. He was eloquent, competent in the Scriptures, and instructed in the way of the Lord. He was an accurate and fervent teacher. When he showed up on the scene in Achaia, “he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.” That is Christ-centered apologetics in action, a means God uses to channel His grace to believers in need of strength.

2. Present the Gospel to the Unbeliever

In Acts 17:16-34, we find Paul reasoning with the Stoic philosophers. But Paul wasn’t there just to argue endlessly in the name of apologetics. His mission was to present the gospel, and once that was done, he left.


How to Respond to Those Who Reject the Truth

Why did Paul walk away from the stoics who mocked the gospel? Why didn’t he stay to convince them? Because that is not the goal of apologetics. Apologetics can’t convert people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

“The heart must be kept tender and pliable; otherwise agnosticism converts to skepticism. In such a case the value of apologetics is voided, for apologetics is aimed at persuading doubters, not at refuting the defiant. He who demands a kind of proof that the nature of the case renders impossible, is determined that no possible evidence shall convince him.”

- The Case for Orthodox Theology, Edward John Carnell

That is not to say that we should just blurt out the gospel and then walk away if no one responds. We are to be gentle and merciful to those who doubt or are blinded to the truth (Jude 22, 2 Timothy 2:23-26), and that might take the form of a long-term discussion with an unbeliever.

Know When to Walk Away

However, when someone is openly hostile to even hearing the truth – which is often evidenced by mockery – apologetics is not the answer. Only the Holy Spirit’s work can enlightened their minds and open their hearts to the truth. It is ok to walk away and seek another opportunity to speak to the truth to a ready heart.

As C.H. Spurgeon put it,

“How many hours in a day ought a man to give to [becoming acquainted with all the phases of modern doubt]? Twenty-five out of the twenty-four would hardly be sufficient…Am I to spend my time in going about to knock his cardhouses over?

“Not I! I have something else to do; and so has every Christian minister. He has real doubts to deal with, which vex true hearts; he has anxieties to relieve in converted souls, and in minds that are pining after the truth and the right; he has these to meet, without everlastingly tilting at windmills, and running all over the country to put down every scarecrow which learned simpletons may set up.”

- The Weaned Child, sermon by CH Spurgeon





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01/25/10

My Battle with Skepticism

3622085638 19ca429ef1 My Battle with SkepticismI left a lot of skid marks across Spring 2009. I denied it as long as I could, but eventually had to face it…

My faith was crumbling under a barrage of rapid-fire attacks hurled by quick-witted skeptics.

A Philosophy Course…for Fun

My struggle started with a college introduction to philosophy course. I was a front-row student, and my hand logged more hours of air time than the average Blue Angel pilot. As I faced swarms of questions without answers, doubts bred and populated my mind like rats.

All of my neatly packaged Sunday school answers were deflected and shredded like Nerf darts by skeptics. With an exhausted quiver and splintered bow, I turned to a familiar face: research.

Attempting to Research My Way Out

As a nationally ranked high school debater, I believed all answers could be found through research. I was raised to think critically and study rigorously. Why shouldn’t I prevail over the skeptics? (20/20 Hindsight Note: Because if prevailing was so easy, brute rational force and cunning logic would have banished skepticism into extinction long ago) So I kept a list of questions and slowly researched them at night after school.

Fuel for the Fire

By mid-semester, I ran into a Christian blogger named Demian Farnworth who was running a series of interviews with atheists at his blog. My close interaction with online skeptics in the blog’s comment section was fuel for the fire. As the atheists out gunned me in every exchange, I started losing sleep over a surging riptide of questions. I had amassed a file of nearly 400 articles – all written by skeptics – that I intended to refute.

Inadequate

But I couldn’t do it. 25 out of 24 hours a day would not have been sufficient to craft refutations to the skeptics. They spun me around in their technical lingo and smeared my face into questions I couldn’t swallow.

I wasn’t willing to say there was not a God, but…how do you figure out how to stand up when everything you used to stand on was pulled out from under you?

Broken But Not Without Hope

I was finally broken. I had no hope that I could hold my faith together by my own strength. Nor could I create the faith in my heart that I needed. I wasn’t hopeless, I just gave up hope in me.

God, in His great faithfulness, graciously crossed my path with Al Hartman. Al made noteworthy appearances in the comment section at Demian’s blog and always spoke truth with God-given clarity. That was what I needed.

Jude 22: “Have mercy on those who doubt…”

Al was patient, and brought the Truth to bear on many of my questions. One key statement by Al marked the turning point in my crisis of faith.

I wrote,

“Assuming a God exists, how do we figure out which one does without contradicting ourselves?” [Because the logic I was using to “prove” God exists was the same logic every other religion uses to argue for their gods. And if I reject their gods and logic but accept my God by the same logic, isn’t that a contradiction?]

Al responded:

“’Assuming, Brother?  Figure out, Daniel?  Contradicting ourselves? Have you come to such a crossroads, where you must decide today who you will follow? …But I ask you, whose reputation is at stake– yours or God’s?  For we walk by faith, not by sight [i.e. not by assumption, calculation, contradiction, etc.].  Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

I prayed long and hard that night after reading that email from Al. I’ve never prayed so hard in my life. It was a desperate prayer if ever there was one. I cried out to the Living God to preserve my feeble faith. That’s all I wanted. Preservation. Just get me out of the wasteland alive and don’t let me lose my God. Mark 9:24 summed up my plea: “I believe, help my unbelief.”

Things began to turn quickly after I stopping pretending reason and logic were sufficient supports for faith. I knew my faith wasn’t a result of academic knowledge or natural aptitude. Faith is a God-given gift from start to finish. It was a gift God poured out on me generously from that day forward, causing all of the arguments from skeptics to disintegrate.

“The mind is never so enlightened that there are no misgivings. With these evils of our nature, faith maintains a perpetual conflict, in which conflict it is often sorely shaken and put to great stress; but still it conquers, so that believers may be said to be [in spite of their own weakness, most secure].” – John Calvin

The Aftermath

My resolution was simple. Since I can’t know everything in order to refute everything, I will know the one thing that matters: Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). That’s it. I want to know Jesus Christ, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

 

Plowing into Romans

In the following months, I plowed into Romans. The gospel of Jesus Christ shone brightly. Prayer also became an even greater delight, a blessing that resulted from God granting me clearer eyes of faith to see how real He is. Prayer and being struck by God’s reality go hand in hand.

My writing has reflected these recent events. My passion is to see God’s people walk by faith and not by sight, with confident hope and conviction to live life in light of His unseen reality.



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11/23/09

Worry is a Symptom, Not a Sickness

Worrying 300x226 Worry is a Symptom, Not a Sickness

The profit of worry does not increase with the size and significance of the trouble. A weighty trouble is no more worthy of worry than a petty one. Worry itself is never of any profit.

If anything, worry is increasingly destructive when the load is large, for then the yoke is even more cruel on our fractured backs.

Worry is a Symptom of a Heart Condition

Worry signals that we bought into the lie of self-sufficiency during easier times, and then trouble awakened us to our own limitations without causing us to reflect upon God’s perfect power and good grace toward those who are weak and desperate. We do not worry, however, when trouble awakens us to our limitations but drives us to God, who has no such limitations.

Worry is a symptom of the sickness of unbelief. It shows that we are becoming increasingly aware of our weakness, but still lack knowledge of and faith in God’s character. This leads us to respond wrongly to trouble by trying to push farther in our weakness to do the things we know we cannot do in our own power.

In order to cease worrying without ceasing to care, we must know who God is and believe.

Trouble’s Value: Weakness Clarifies Our Need to Go Before God in Prayer

The trouble has value only inasmuch as it drives us to our knees in prayer to look to God our Strong Tower, bringing us to desire His good will and to thoughtfully dwell on perfect strength above our own.

“Whatever it is that presses thee, go tell the Father; put the whole matter over into His hand, and so shalt thou be freed from that dividing, perplexing care that the world is full of. When thou art either to do or suffer anything, when thou art about any purpose or business, go tell God of it, and acquaint Him with it; yes, burden Him with it, and thou hast done for matter of caring; no more care, but quiet, sweet, diligence in thy duty, and dependence on Him for the carriage of thy matters. Roll thy cares, and thyself with them, as one burden, all on thy God.” –R. Leighton



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08/11/09

Pondering faith: 3 questions

The following questions have been on my mind as God has continued to work in my heart to deepen my faith.

1. If faith was stripped out of your life tomorrow, what specifically would change? List them.

2. Do you do anything that requires you to walk by faith (all of life ought to be a walk by faith, but is there any specific action(s) that requires a strong faith in God)? List them.

3. How many times have you been moved by breath-taking stories Christians living by faith to God’s glory, but still have yet to do anything yourself?

Making the lists revealed my heart, intensifying my cry for God’s  Spirit to strengthen my faith. It also intensified my prayerful search for ways to exercise my faith.

How do those questions strike you?



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