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The Bread and Water of Faith

Anyone who knows me or has read any of my posts here knows the kind of stuff I like to discuss: issues that are, for the most part, either highly debatable or highly irrelevant.

But that’s not what I’m writing about today. I have had experiences in the past few months of my life that have shaped me profoundly and have caused me to look at my faith in new ways.

How Things Happened
On August 18, 2012, I married the love of my life (she still is by the way). As we settled into our new lives, things grew gradually worse at my job. Indeed, even before we were married I wondered whether I was going to be fired before the ceremony. In reality I kept working that job for about 7-8 months after the wedding.

It was the worst experience I have had in my life. Not only was I miserable because of the way I was treated at work, I also wondered if I was going to be fired at any moment. Suddenly, the one thing I had never been much concerned about came to the forefront of my mind: money.

I had read these verses many a time from Luke 12:

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! (NIV)

My response was always, “I know, I know….God provides.” I did not feel the weight of need because all the bare necessities had always been provided by my parents. It’s a lot different when you are on your own.

To complicate things, the fact that I hated my job so much made me want to quit it at the same time that I did not want to be fired. But what would that mean? Could I just quit my job and let God provide? That didn’t seem right.

I decided that I would just go until I could go no more. It is hard, though, to know when you really have reached your limit. When you quit something difficult, you always wonder, “Couldn’t I have gone just one more day?”

However, when the day came, both Marcella and I knew it. We knew it was time to quit that situation. I gave my three weeks notice. Why three? Because I needed to give at least two, but I didn’t want to cut myself short. I had nothing else lined up to take the place of that job. I was working on becoming a home inspector but had already failed the test two times. I knew, though, that I had done what I could. We really did believe the rest was in God’s hands. That was our only real comfort.

Then the fateful week came. It was my last week of work. I took my home inspector test for the third time on that Monday. I was sure I had failed, and the rest of that week was so difficult. I was leaving my job that Friday, and if indeed I did fail the test I would have to wait a month before I could take it again.

Friday came. I went through the final steps at my job and closed that chapter of my life for good. But the victory seemed hollow, because I didn’t know what to do. I was unemployed. But I was unemployed in God’s hands.

And He came through. No more than three hours after finishing that job, the test results came in the mail. I had passed! There was no way I could have timed that myself. He let me suffer the least amount of time I needed to at that job, and made us wait the least possible amount of time before getting another source of income.

Conclusion
There’s no way you can know what that was like for Marcella and I. Many other small things like that have happened throughout the process that have reinforced our trust in God that he will provide for our financial needs. It has established a stronghold in our minds that would be very difficult to destroy at this point. It is the only reason why now, as I sit at home waiting for the calls for home inspection requests that are not coming in, I am not overwhelmed with worry about what we are going to do. If only he would expand my faith to the other areas of my life!

I have come to see that this is the basic bread and water of Christianity: trusting God in every aspect of your life. And not just affirming it mentally (as I used to do in my parent’s house regarding those verses above). Yes, the most basic faith which you must hold in Christianity is trusting in Christ’s death on your behalf on the cross. But it seems almost silly to trust that God will pay for your sins but not help you with your rent.

Your faith must go beyond the mental affirmation. Of course, C.S. Lewis understood it best:

Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith. (Mere Christianity, 125)

This post is not an attempt to make myself look so faithful, but to show you that those verses about God’s providence really are true. And that is all I mean to say: You can trust in His provision!

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Posted by on May 8, 2013 in Theology

 

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Was it Worth it?

Two and a half years, massive piles of books and papers, and over $50,000 worth of classes later (thanks to financial aid that’s not what was actually paid), a question arises which demands an answer: Was all of that worth it? Am I any better a Christian than I was when I started at Multnomah University? Has it enabled me to be a better bearer of the image of Christ than before?

Thinking back, each semester had it’s own lessons to teach me that were beyond the curriculum of the classes I happened to be taking. It seemed I was always being taught something by God. But what about the content of the classes themselves?

There are perhaps three main benefits, I think, to going through Bible college:

  1. A Greater Ability to Defend the Faith
    I would have to say that probably the greatest thing I discovered at MU, from the very beginning, is that our faith is indeed reasonable! More Christians than not probably have the lurking suspicion in the back of their minds at one point or another that perhaps their faith has no grounds, that perhaps Christianity is just one among many of the world’s religions. I certainly thought these things in the past. It’s not as if I never question anything anymore, but what has been firmly established in my mind beyond a shadow of a doubt is that if there is anything on this earth which we are able to know is true, it’s that Jesus is God, that he has payed for our sins, and that he now commands our allegiance to him. What I discovered is that if Christianity were not true, if God was not real and active in our lives, any ability to understand anything in the fabric of our universe would disappear altogether. As C.S Lewis put it:”I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”This is what I discovered at Multnomah. Now I not only have greater assurance, but am more able to defend the faith with nonbelievers.
  2. An Appreciation of Other Theological Viewpoints
    I have already shared some of my thoughts about these things in this post. What I have learned is that there are no two Christians who agree on everything. In all my classes, I never had an instructor with whom I agreed on everything. I have learned to try to treat all views not as valid, but as worthy of being heard and considered whether they are valid on the grounds of a reasonable reading of Scripture. I therefore had to revise some of my beliefs.
  3. A Realization That I Only Scratched the Surface
    While doing in-depth papers on only one or two verses, I realized that there’s so much more to know in God’s word. It’s not as if there are hidden things which only the skilled or the wise can find out, secret messages waiting to be found. Rather, there’s simply so much to know about God himself, and our life-long journey to getting to know him only begins in Scripture. It has put in me a hunger to know God fully.

A Crucial Truth
These three benefits are great, and one thing I will never say is that I wasted my time at Bible college. But one key thing I must remember: it doesn’t matter that I’ve gone to Bible college and learned a lot if any fire that was kindled in me goes out.

God is concerned not with how much I pursued him in the past, but with how much I am pursuing him right now. May I never get to the point where the things I’ve learned are only things of the past and insignificant to my life right now.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in General, Philosophy, Theology

 

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At Least It’s Still Faith…

Image courtesy of FreeBibleIllustrations.com

Well, I’ve done it. That’s yet another semester down, two more to go. I’ve got all of this new knowledge at my finger tips; I’ve got reasons to be proud. And yet….

And yet…this knowledge does not help me with what I’m dealing with. What I’m dealing with is faith and prayer, and it’s not going as well as I’d like it to go.

I’m in a peculiar situation. My faith that God will respond to my prayers is both rising and falling. Not up, and then down, but both up and down at the same time. Why? I’ll give an example.

One thing I prayed for this semester was help with my studies. I took 18 credits and worked 10 hours a week. Most of my classmates thought I was crazy when I told them (even though I hardly have the most difficult schedule on campus).

But God definitely answered my prayer that I would be able to get through everything. I have no doubt that it was him working and not just chance. Time and time again things worked out perfectly that saved me from a total breakdown. Did I have to finish an assignment that I simply had no time to do? No problem! The instructor pushed the due date back. Did I have to complete an overload of reading that would make it impossible to even have a weekend? No big deal. Two of my classes could simply require me to do the same assignment “quite by chance”. This happened all throughout the semester and never stopped (the grand finale was when one of my classes finished two weeks early, and I was given the final take-home exam three weeks before it was due). Praise God!

This is just one example of what I call “little prayers” which God has answered and which I firmly believe he has answered. They are mostly unseen except by those who watch closely.

The problem is with the “big prayers”. It’s not necessarily something huge that I am asking for in these situations, but they are things which would be more obvious if they were granted to me. Because of this, I doubt that they will be answered in the way I request them to be answered. And so I am left in a weird position, leaning on and also trying to grab hold of God in prayer. I thank him for his blessings, and then turn around and ask why he never answers, all the while feeling guilty for treating him like a vending machine.

And so, here I will remain for the time being, joyfully praying for those small things which he answers again and again, and yet trying to figure out whether it is my doubting or his denial that is blocking me from receiving that which I request of him.

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2011 in General

 

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Faith and Reason

Image courtesy of FreeBibleIllustrations.com

You’ll find discussions about the role of reason in faith (particularly regarding Bible study) popping up quite often these days. Some objections against over-utilizing reason in studying the Bible are, “You can’t put God in a box,” and, “Don’t put reason over the Bible.” There are a couple points I want to make here because I think this issue needs to be resolved.

What is “Reason”?
This part of the definition on Wikipedia says it well:

“…Reason, like habit or intuition, is a means by which thinking comes from one idea to a related idea. But more specifically, it is the way rational beings propose and consider explanations concerning cause and effect, true and false, and what is good or bad.” (bold mine)

It is difficult to define “reason”, because that is like asking, “Why does 2 + 2 = 4?” It’s something which, while being “in opposition to ‘intuitive reason'” (see the Wikipedia page), can only be fully grasped by intuition.

Putting Reason “Above the Bible”
To start off, I want to say that I’m not sure what this statement “above the Bible” means. I think many Christians think of “reason” in the wrong way.

I do not think reason is a thing to be placed above something else. That is, it is not an object; it is a method of the mind. Reason is not a thing; rather, things are “reasonable” (that is, can be reasoned). Reason must be thought of as a tool and not what the tool is being used to achieve at a particular moment. Even so, reason is not a tool that you can ever put down. Without reason, the sentence you are reading means nothing.

One of my instructors has said that the problem with the modern/enlightenment era (roughly 1500-2000 AD, where reason and logic are said to have come to the forefront, as far as understanding the world is concerned) was that, though at first reason was in its proper place, it was eventually elevated above the Bible, so that men stopped believing in the Bible. They said it was “scientifically untenable”. Naturalism prevented faith from being an option, because everything that exists is physical. Therefore, the Bible is false, because it contains miraculous accounts.

I would argue that elevating reason was not the problem during the modern era. The reason (no pun intended) why the modern era produced atheists and why they discredited the Bible was because people abandoned reason. It is entirely unreasonable to hold to the theory of naturalism. When people in that era stated that faith is a myth, that religion only involves the physical, and that the miraculous cannot break into the physical laws of this world- at that moment when they believed this, reason, logic and wisdom died in them.

It was not logical for them to presuppose that the physical is the only reality. This makes studying the Bible impossible. This is why I say that when you study the Bible, utilize reason and logic to the fullest. Run your mind at 100% capacity.

But how does reason work with faith? I think all faith, if it is real, has a reason. If you believe, you believe for one of these reasons:

  • The Word of God proved to be true in your heart, so you believed it.
  • God miraculously spoke to you.
  • You were convicted by the Spirit in one way or another.
  • Conscience testified to the existence of God in your heart.
  • Creation was adequate evidence for you to believe in God.

These are all great, scriptural reasons to believe in God. If you believe without a reason, I am not saying you are not a believer, but that this is “blind faith”. No one suddenly says one day, “I’m just going to believe in God”, unless they have a reason, whether that be conscience, creation, or a direct word from God. In fact, I would go so far to say that man by default has reasons to believe in God because God has put that into man, but man has chosen to suppress those reasons because of sin (Psalm 19, Rom 10:18).

I think what “don’t put God in a box” really means is that we should not categorize too strictly who God is by saying, “this is what God’s love is”, and, “this is everything about God’s justice,” with an extreme sense of confinement so that we can “determine” how God will act in every possible situation. I agree wholeheartedly that this is wrong, but not because reason is being put above the scriptures. Rather, reason is being abandoned.

Studying the Bible
How does having the Holy Spirit affect studying the Bible, in relation to reason? I wish I could say precisely what this means, but I can at least say the following.

I think it’s safe to say that it is not as if a non-believer cannot grasp the statements of truth in Scripture. That is, such a person can see logically what we mean by “Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins.” He can comprehend probably all of the logic of what Scripture is saying.

However, understanding is different than simply acknowledging the logic of the statement:

“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor 2:14, NIV)

“For the message 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, NIV)

I take this verse to mean that, even though people can grasp the concept of Christ’s sacrifice, without the Spirit of God it is simply silly. It just looks foolish (not illogical). I’ve heard this when talking to Muslims: “Why would God send his Son to die?” If the guy knew that much, he probably knew the answer: “to pay for sins.” Yet he was asking because it just made no sense. He could see that “a” caused “b” which results in “c”, but it meant nothing to him. This is as much as I can say.

Conclusion
Therefore, when you study Scripture, don’t think to yourself, “Ok. Now I’m going to lessen my use of reason and rely on the Spirit.” This structure of thought is entirely off the mark. The Holy Spirit and reason are not mutually exclusive when it comes to interpretation. Rather, the Holy Spirit will tell you that which is reasonable and true.

So rely on the Spirit to teach you the truths of God, and expect that these truths will never be contradictory.

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2011 in Philosophy

 

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Defending the Bible

Image courtesy of FreeBibleIllustrations.com

One crucial question that comes up by atheists in the Western World today, when the Gospel is preached to them, is: “How do you know the Bible is the Word of God? Why not follow what another religion’s scriptures say?”

This question has probably lurked in the back of the minds of many Christians at one point or another (as it has for me). It mustn’t, however, be shunned. Questioning the sources of your belief is a good thing. If this did not happen, many who now believe might not have believed because they would not have become discontented with their prior belief system.

People are shocked when Christians show signs of awareness and thought-out arguments, because many believe that Christians have what is called “blind faith”, a faith without reason. Therefore, in doing Apologetics both inside and outside the Church, I find these four main points to be very helpful. These are reasons to trust that what the Bible says is true. I have put them in order of importance/prominence.

1. The Bible testifies, concerning itself, that it is the truth.

“But that’s circular reasoning,” you say. I guess it is. But I cannot help it. This, by conviction of the Holy Spirit, is the reason I believe. The ultimate testimony of the truth of God is the truth of God itself. It cannot be defended in this regard, but once it is accepted it defends itself in your mind and heart. You’ve heard the saying, “seeing is believing”. In this case, it is quite the opposite. Once you believe, you will truly see. But even before you believe, the scriptures testify that they are true. The issue is pride that prevents someone from believing it. More than this I cannot say.

I recommend that, if you are defending your faith based on the four points in this post, you state this point first. Also, make it clear that you realize this is circular reasoning, but from there go on to the next point.

2. The Bible is perfect.

Saying this will open a discussion that could last for hours. Many people will say that the Bible has “50,000 mistakes”, but will be unable to point to one of them. Others have genuine concerns about what we call “problem texts”, which I like to call “texts which we cannot understand yet”.

This is why it is important to be reading the Bible intensively. If you are aware of these problems, at least you will be able to say so. Then they will not think you are simply ignorant, that you are just repeating what someone else told you. A rounded out knowledge of the Scriptures is a powerful weapon to wield.

3. There are prophetic statements in the Bible that have already come true.

This is where you show them what a timeless God can do. Show them specific prophecies, such as Isaiah 43 and Psalm 22, both of which predict the coming and death of Christ. The visions of Daniel are amazing as well, because of the details God provides concerning events that were to happen later (more on these fascinating prophecies soon). Prophecies can really have an impact if presented correctly. In fact, this is what brought the eunuch to belief in Christ (though of course it must be noted that the eunuch seems to already have believed that the Old Testament was the word of God). It says:

Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture [Isaiah 53:7-8] and told him the good news about Jesus. (Acts 8:35, NIV)

4. The narrative of Jesus’ death and resurrection is historically sound.

You might think there’d be no way to give substantial proof showing that the resurrection really happened. Think again! If you get the chance, get a hold of William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith. The entire book is worth reading in my opinion, but specifically the last chapter is a real gold-mine for apologetics. In about 60 pages, Craig, treating the Bible only as a historical document (though he believes it to be much more than that), proves that the resurrection account provided therein must be true. In fact, even liberal scholars today agree that the evidence points in favor of the resurrection (though whether they would actually take the step to believe in it is a different story).

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That’s how I would defend the inspiration of the Bible. I know discussion about apologetics in evangelism is a somewhat contentious issue. Later I will be making a post explaining what I believe the role of apologetics is and how far one can take it, because many believe that apologetics has its proper place (which I agree with). Until then, I hope you find these points useful.

I will conclude with a list of books I think are must-reads for Christians today. The first one in particular is probably the best apologetics book I have ever read, and was a real page-turner:

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2011 in Philosophy

 

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