Solutions for the Moral Problems We Face

Christian conversion involves confession and repentance. Without an awareness of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of our own heart, confession and repentance is not likely to happen. It is difficult to confess and repent if we have no awareness of the sin condition of our own heart.

At its core, Christian conversion is about identity. It is moving toward an identity of life with the Risen Christ. To identify with Jesus Christ is to identify with the cause for which He came. A cause for which no ambiguity existed within His own heart and mind as He walked this earth. Sinful humankind needed Someone to save them and Jesus Christ knew that we were incapable of saving ourselves. This was an altruistic way of life that was grounded in reality. The uncompromising truth that moved Jesus to the cross was the malady facing humankind, which at its core, is a condition of the heart. In essence, we could adequately describe this malady as a moral problem.

Anytime we begin to address the moral deficiencies of our society with solutions that have nothing to do with Jesus Christ, it reveals where we find the grounding for our identity. If we believe government can fix our moral problems then we likely believe our primary problem is societal constructs that have gone awry and can be fixed by political and legislative power. Our identity will be grounded in political figures and political parties.

If we believe our moral problems can be fixed by enlightenment, we will identify with academia and will begin to believe that education will lift us out of the trappings of an immoral society. We will begin to find our identity grounded in philosophies espoused by scholars we deem intellectual enough to educate the masses.

If we believe our moral problems can be fixed by science, we will identify with scientific endeavors. Our identity will be grounded in the belief that given enough time, we will be able to discover the answers that will allow us to rewire the human race so that we can scientifically engineer the moral outcomes we so desire.

Yet, it all boils down to this. If Jesus Christ actually rose from the dead then it validates His existence and the cause for which He came to address. If the resurrection is true then it eliminates all other possible solutions as being adequate for the moral problems we face. The evidential reality of the Risen Christ is convincing but it is the most resisted because if it is true, it puts to rest all other possible solutions for the chief problem facing humankind.

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Is a Claim of Possessing Moral Certainty an Unloving Act?

We live in a unique time. The foundation of our economy, our families, our institutions, and our societal mores is shaking and I think all of us feel it. The question is not so much about whether or not our foundations are shaking. The question revolves around how to interpret these societal changes in order to make sense of it.

When it comes to the Christian, the changes in moral constructs can be frightening. We fear the consequences to come if we neglect objective moral truths because we believe the grounding of those moral truths in God Himself. Our relationship with God is what is at play. There is also a grieving process as we mourn what we claim to know to be true slipping away from mainstream acceptance. This grieving process is natural.

In recent days, the discussion has centered around marriage and whether or not it can be redefined. This turns out to be a significant moral discussion as it forces us to examine our sexual ethic. This happens to be an emotionally charged discussion that causes some to engage in conversations which quickly become defensive and shrill in tone. These discussions resemble a fight in which one side tries to prove the other side wrong and the tone is often flavored in arrogance and a spirit of anything, but love. When Christians move into these discussions in such a manner, people repel Christ and rarely moved toward Christ.

As a result, others just remain silent. They fear being labeled a hateful bigot if they voice a stated belief in objective moral truths. They see the danger of such violent conversations, which resort to using bullying as a tactic to win an argument. They know this is not reflective of Christ. So, they want to get along and the best way to get along in their mind, is to remain silent. Why take the risk of being marginalized? Yet, I would venture to say many in this category remain silent because as they have listened to the arguments, particularly among Christians supporting a new moral stance on an issue we have traditionally never questioned, they do not know what to think. The argument sounds appealing in part because it calls for love, peace, and unity. Those Christian virtues are noble and something we achieve to embody. In our heart of hearts and in the deepest places in our mind, we know the arguments presented in favor of the redefinition of marriage or homosexuality doesn’t seem quite right, but we cannot put our finger on exactly why. Therefore, we see those arguments couched in a call for love and conclude the argument itself must be valid because the call for love is a valid Christian virtue.

Having said this, I want to settle the question up front. I too prefer to be silent. I find myself fearful of being labeled a fundamentalist or bigot so my preference is to say nothing. Let me also confess that my rhetoric has not always been perfect. I have been in conversations where I didn’t reflect the love of Christ and in so doing, have had to apologize. I have learned that love is the better way. I am completely on board with the call for a posture of humility and a tone flavored with grace and love. At the same time, I do not believe a posture of humility and a tone of grace and love automatically mean we do not think critically about the issues at hand. Nor do I believe it means we can not have good reasons to disagree with those who are desiring to change our moral stance.

As it turns out, the hot button moral issues of the day are not the primary point of reflection I am having. The primary reflection doesn’t turn out to be about the definition of marriage or homosexuality. It has more to do with philosophical underpinning for which we view any moral issue. This, in particular, is what I want to camp out on. While I may reference the topic of the day, please understand I only do so because this is the hot button issue being discussed. However, we could replace this topic with any other moral topic.

Let’s first look at the issue of humility. Is it possible to be humble while possessing moral certainty about a particular act or lifestyle? The question I ask is this. Does a claim to know something is true, disqualify one from exhibiting an attitude of humility? If I say I know XYZ behavior or lifestyle is morally bad, does this automatically mean I am arrogant? It seems to me humility is defined in how I perceive myself in relation to others not in how I find myself in relation to truth. If I, in the Christian context, see myself as a steward of truth rather than the originator of truth, I recognize that everyone is subject to the Originator (God) of truth and therefore, my position with God is equal with all other people. With that understanding, humility would become a byproduct as I understand my rightful place in God’s economy and my place with my fellow man.

The one observation I have had in recent months is that in Christian circles, there is an argument in support of redefining marriage or accepting monogamous homosexual relationships. The argument, as I understand it, reaches a conclusion based on the following line of thinking. First, the Bible tells the story of polygamy and slave owners and seems to justify these positions. Second, the church has committed sins in the past and we have changed our position on issues like divorce, polygamy, and owning slaves. Third, we have been wrong about things we thought we knew were moral absolutes. Therefore, the conclusion from these three premises is that we have to concede that objective, moral certainty does not exist because we may be wrong on other issues such as the definition of marriage and homosexuality. Of course, this concession is the only path to humility and anyone that claims moral certainty is arrogant. Those who claim to have moral certainty are often viewed as being overly reductionistic in the approach to moral issues and unable to think critically about complex issues.

At this point we could chase many trails of which have merit but I will not do so here. Namely, I think there is an honest discussion to be had about the basic premises that are being presented regarding the Bible’s endorsement of polygamy and owning slaves. The truth is, there are many good responses to this point. Granted, not every answer is as tidy as we would like it to be and not all answers fit in a perfectly shaped box, but this does not mean there is not a reasonable explanation to understanding these issues in Scripture. For now, we will pass on this and look at the philosophical underpinning of morality.

When someone claims moral certainty this begs the question in the mind of one who does not make such a claim. Is it possible to know anything with certainty or do we simply conclude everything we have claimed to know in the past may be wrong? Is moral truth knowable with any degree of certainty? If so, HOW do we know it with certainty?

I am just reflecting on the basic premises presented above which seems to be based on the following syllogism. 1. If objective, moral truth exists we will have perfect knowledge of that truth. 2. We do not have perfect knowledge as demonstrated through history. 3. Objective, moral truth does not exist. Therefore, we conclude the only way to exhibit humility is to concede we cannot know anything with certainty. So, humility is only actualized in my life when I accept the basic premise that we cannot know anything with certainty, particularly from a moral framework.

Of course, if this is the case, the question we now have to wrestle with is, what other moral issues do we currently take a stand on and have not yet discovered that we are wrong? Can we be certain of any moral standard we adhere to? Or does our moral framework merely come down to our preferences (individually or collectively as a group of people)? If we cannot have moral certainty we are simply left with saying I believe XYZ position BUT my belief in XYZ position is not grounded in objective truth. Our belief in the position we hold may be grounded in my preference, my individual interpretation of faith, or an allegiance to an institutional position, but it is not grounded in objective reality.

For now, my questions, from the perspective of moral truth boils down to this. Is there anything wrong with anything? Forget homosexuality. Just plug in any moral issue. Is there anything wrong with anything (fill in the blank)? If so, on the basis of what will I know with certainty that it is wrong? These are important questions to wrestle with.

For me, this issue is the real issue we need to be discussing. We need to be talking about whether there is any grounding for morality and if so, what is the basis of that grounding? Homosexuality just happens to be the hot topic of the day. Until we answer these underlying issues we will never know how to navigate the complexities of any moral issue.

So, there is way more to discuss than time will allow, but let’s start with this thought. As Greg Koukl reminds us there is something called moral intuition and moral intuition is more than just a hunch. Unless someone is completely deranged, this moral intuition exist within each person. This is not something that can be validated empirically nor does it need to be in order to be considered a legitimate category. Our culture has come to believe the only thing we can know is that which is measured by our five senses in empirical testing. However, morality is not measured by empirical testing. Let’s demonstrate what this means.

Let’s suppose we took a random, on the street survey, and asked the following question. “Is it morally good to torture babies for fun?” My assumption would be that zero out of a hundred people would say, “Yes, torturing babies for fun is morally good.” I think you would agree. Why? What scientific data would inform such a conclusion? The answer is, empirical data is not needed to know that torturing babies for fun is wrong. We just know it. That’s moral intuition.

Here is a practical way to demonstrate this point. If I say, 1. All men or mortal; 2. Socrates is a man; 3. Therefore, Socrates is mortal; we would all agree. How did we know that to be true? The premise that all men are mortal and that Socrates is a man follows the conclusion that Socrates is mortal. It makes sense. I did not have to be taught this at school. There is something within me that just knows this is the case. This is akin to what moral intuition is.

Some will try to invalidate a moral stance by looking at the abuses of a specific group of people. This is the position of those who want to change the our moral stance on marriage. This line of reasoning argues that since we as a Church have committed sins in the past and have been wrong before, therefore maybe nothing can be known with certainty. This is a false argument. You never invalidate a moral system based on its abuses. Any system will have evidence of abuse. A moral system would more correctly be validated based on the evidential reality of from which it derives its grounding. More can be discussed later in regard to this.

However, may it be said that I think most Christians agree with the call for a posture of humility and a tone flavored in grace and love. Yet, the question remains. Does a posture of humility and a tone flavored in grace and love mean we can not have objective, moral certainty? My response for now is this. It is truth that gives love its substance. It just seems to me that Christian love has real substantive qualities only when it correlates with truth. Otherwise, my love without a commitment to truth is about as stable as the changing of the wind. My commitment to Christian love and my commitment to truth seeking must go hand in hand in order for it to have legitimate meaning. Truth without love is obnoxious but love without truth is meaningless and can reduce love to sentimentalism at best or indifference at worse. Truth becomes the skeletal framework while love becomes the muscle, ligaments, tendons and skin tissue that make the skeletal framework function. Imagine the contents of a physical body piled in a heap because there is no skeletal framework to enable actual movement. That is what I think of when I think of any attempt to love without a commitment to truth. In conclusion, it is my humble opinion that the most loving act is to seek the grounding for which we can derive moral certainty.

Does the Pursuit of Truth Make You Unloving?

Love is an interesting word because it is used so often that its meaning can easily be lost in a the tidal wave of societal chaos. We talk about God’s love for the world and our call to love all people, yet I am not sure we do an adequate job of defining our terms.

I have been reflecting on what love truly means and how to align my life accordingly, rather than impulsively trying to find a way to adjust the meaning of love in order to accommodate my preferred way of living.

It seems to me, love is a word that implies intentional motion. When I look at injustices in the world around me, a posture of inaction is not adequate if love is a defining virtue of my life. The movement of my life will always be toward the object of my love. As I move toward the object of love, I do so with a desire for righteousness and that righteousness must be grounded in a pursuit for truth.

Therefore, movement alone is not enough. Although love has an inclusive quality there are exclusive realities to love that I must accept. The movement of Christian love adheres to these inclusive and exclusive realities. When I tell my wife I love her what I am in essence saying to her is, “I am excluding the possibility of loving any other woman in the same way I love you. My commitment and my loyalty is to you and to you alone.” When I tell a friend that I love them what I am saying is, “I will live my life in a manner that excludes certain behaviors because I want you to know you have value and that I cherish and honor our relationship.”

What this means is that love is not primarily a feeling I pursue but a commitment to a particular ethos. Feelings may come as I express love in tangible ways, but the essence of love is not in the emotion itself. There will be days that I feel opposite of what I think love should feel like but my commitment to the object of my love remains the one constant in my life.

This brings up a question I wrestle with. Is the pursuit of truth in conflict with the pursuit of love? Or, to ask it another way, is it possible to speak truth and still have fidelity in my commitment to love? The reason this question arises in my mind is that in this new world, objective truth is often times considered antiquated and truth telling is seen as one of the most unloving acts. When someone speaks of objective truth it is automatically assumed by some that they must not love those they speak truth to. Even in Christian circles, objective truth is seen by some to be unknowable at best or resisted at worst for fear that it is unloving to embrace truth with any conviction. It seems some believe you can either pursue truth or pursue love but you cannot pursue both because they are mutually exclusive realities.

Personally, I observe that truth can feel harsh when it confronts the deficiencies of my own life or it challenges presuppositions I have nurtured, which when uncovered, turn out to be a lie. Truth stands outside of myself as a gauge of reality. It is the compass that helps me navigate through the confusion of the storms. When I am seeking true north, it points the way and therefore informs my “love commitments”.

Yet truth, when grasped and affirmed by my mind, most often finds a bridge to travel into my heart when it is accompanied by love. While my emotional preference may at times align with truth, often times I find that my desire can be to avoid truth and take the path of “least resistance”. Yet, the irony is simply this. When I step into truth it turns out to be the path of least resistance; especially when comparing and contrasting that journey with the path of lies. The consequence of living in a narrative of lies will only create a false (perceived) reality that conflicts with true reality and that friction is rarely resistance free in the long run. Is it possible to embody true love without the pursuit of truth? Does our commitment to Christian love also require we make every effort to be grounded in true reality? Let me explain what I mean by asking this question.

Like love, the essence of truth requires exclusivity. When I say something is true, I also commit to exclude all other options that contradict that truth. If I state that my wife is Amy, I am saying that any other woman, by another name, cannot be my wife too. I only have one wife. If I were to say that I love Amy as my wife BUT Sue is actually my wife, the conflict rests in my love commitment to Amy and the truth about who my wife really is; Sue. I cannot say on one hand I love Amy as my wife but the truth is she is not my wife. My commitment to love Amy as my wife may exist but the truth keeps my commitment to love from taking root. At some point my commitment to love will have to align with my commitment to truth in order for love to make any sense.

It just seems to me that Christian love has real substantive qualities only when it correlates with truth. Otherwise, my love is more akin to sentimentalism and is a commitment that is about as stable as the changing of the wind. My commitment to Christian love and my commitment to truth seeking must go hand in hand in order for context and meaning to ensue. Truth without love is obnoxious but love without truth is meaningless and is merely reduced to sentimentalism. Truth becomes the skeletal framework while love becomes the muscle, ligaments, tendons and skin tissue that make the skeletal framework function. Imagine the contents of a physical body piled in a heap because there is no skeletal framework to enable actual movement. That is what I think of when I think of any attempt to love without a commitment to truth.

Sin? Is this Word Even Relevant Today?

If the church stops speaking about the truthfulness of sin, the only conclusion, it seems to me, is that we no longer believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Jesus Christ only makes sense if the doctrine of sin holds water. I believe the doctrine of sin is one of the most validated doctrines we have. As Malcolm Muggeridge said, “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.”

If the church fails to speak truth regarding sin and thereby nullifies the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the church can do great compassionate work and engage in social justice issues but those works, as good as they may be, will never be grounded in the essence of Christianity.

If the church decides sin is something we should cozy up to, entertain ourselves with, wink at, and never be broken by, we will be nothing more than a moral agency that does good things for society. We will run the risk of having a Christ-less “Christianity.” The good news is that the choice is ours but the choice can only be grounded in our core belief about humanity.

Some may think “speaking the truth about sin” means being loud, annoying, and shrill. When I think of speaking the truth about sin, I think of doing so with tears and a broken heart for those who are hurting, lost, and affected by the consequences of sin. I think speaking of sin is only appropriate from a posture of humility, compassion, and love which are not mutually exclusive characteristics to truth speaking. Truth is offensive enough so I do not want to add offense to it. If I ever have been guilty of doing so, may God forgive me.

Do we REALLY believe humanity is fallen, broken, and in bondage to sin? Do we really believe sin is a serious threat to humankind? Do we REALLY believe that Jesus Christ is the answer to sin? Do we?  Do I?

So you understand, these are questions I have been asking myself. Thanks for listening to the conversation going on in my own heart and mind. I am thinking out loud and these are things I am looking at with serious, inward-focused introspection first, and then outwardly as I think about my place in the body of Christ.

Is Christ Really Present in Our Pain?

The traumatic events we experience, which we attribute to our emotional pain, is typically not in-and-of-itself the source of our ongoing emotional pain. The memory created from painful events will always be accompanied by emotional beliefs that were created from that moment in time. Therefore, the emotional beliefs we hold on to, long after the event has taken place, is typically the source of the ongoing emotional pain. Emotional beliefs will be fed and nurtured as a way to validate their existence in our mind and heart.

For example, if we experience trauma in the form of abuse, we will likely develop the belief that we are unlovable. The shame is intense. We will begin to act in ways, out of our pain, that will serve to validate that core, emotional belief. Of course, this only perpetuates a cycle which facilitate more wounding. Emotional beliefs are persuasive and even if they are not grounded in objective truth, they are real to the one who holds those beliefs. Those beliefs become our reality and serve to shape the narrative of our life.

This is why, when we have deep emotional pain from an experience, merely giving truth in the form of information to consume, will not likely result in transformation. Why? We are bound up in emotional beliefs that are so gripping that truth is not allowed to integrate itself into the fabric of our essence.

Sure. The bound up person may get smarter and may be able to repeat the truths taught them. In fact, they may even be able to explain why they feel the way they do. Yet, the ability for someone to regurgitate truth does not mean they have become unstuck and unbound by their emotional wounding.

When the Risen Christ is able to enter the memory of that traumatic event and be present in such a way that a person can experience grace and love from Him, in that memory, new emotional beliefs about the traumatic event can emerge. When those new emotional beliefs emerge they are on the way to integrating truth into their DNA and healing is the outcome. Jesus does set the captives free. He really does.

Work from men like Dr. Ed Smith help us really understand the power of theophostic prayer.

Where’s Your Confidence?

Self-confidence seems to be a currency we use throughout our life. While self-confidence, in and of itself, will likely not be enough to buy your groceries or put gasoline in your car, it can be the factor which will help you receive the job promotion or allow you to close the deal, giving you a huge sales commission. Let’s face it. Self-confidence “buys” a lot of things for us in life. In fact, millions of dollars have been spent by people seeking gurus who can teach them how to build self-confidence. These seminars will teach you positive thinking techniques and share strategies on how to develop stronger self-confidence. Some seminars simply help you gain competence in a given area of professional or personal life and the outcome of that competence is confidence. In these cases, self-confidence becomes a benefit of the seminar, yet it is still a selling point of the seminar.

People want leaders who are confident. We look to those who possess a “belief in their abilities” and are characterized by “self-reliance and self-assurance.” Don’t take me wrong. I know confidence does have a place in this world. Sales people know the importance of self-confidence as well as the necessity of possessing confidence in the product or service they are selling. Yes. This world trades on the currency of confidence and we cannot deny the role of self-confidence in our lives as we move through this fallen world. However, there are some things from a spiritual framework that is worth considering.

I believe sin and depravity is a foundational truth of life. This reality always causes me to think twice about how much confidence I can have in another person. People are capable of dastardly acts and no one is exempt. Not even myself. The possibility for someone to act in selfish or evil ways is not reserved to a special demographic group in our society. Education doesn’t make people better. In fact, it was D.L. Moody who said,  “If a man is stealing nuts and bolts from a railway track, and, in order to change him, you send him to college, at the end of his education, he will steal the whole railway track.” Money doesn’t change people. When a poor person attains wealth they will only become more of what they already were. If they were greedy when they were poor, they will simply have new ways to express the greed when they attain wealth. None of this should surprise us. History repeats the stories of scandals and outlandish evil acts performed by the rich and poor, the educated and uneducated, the minister and the heathen, as well as the politician and the lobbyist.

So the question is this. For a person who struggles with self-confidence and self-worth, how do you attain more of it? I think this is a fair question since we live in a world that seems to require self-confidence. From a Christian framework, I will offer what I have learned in life so you can take it or leave it. An effort to build myself up or appeal primarily to positive thinking tactics is not very transformational. Positive thinking has a place when it is grounded in a Christian worldview as opposed to mere pop psychology. However, in the end, I am coming to believe that attaining self-confidence is the wrong pursuit. The truth is, I don’t put a lot of confidence in myself. I am only a sinner saved by grace. In fact, I am capable of becoming the next Adolf Hilter or Joseph Stalin. How do I know this? I know this because the doctrine of sin is true. If we think we can escape the possibility of embodying evil, we are only fooling ourselves.

For me, I am deciding to trade-in the constant pursuit of acquiring self-confidence for the pursuit of attaining confidence in the Risen Christ and the truth claims about Him. As I do this, my confidence in Him grows and when my confidence is in Him, the confidence I have in myself is really not that much of an issue. My focus will begin to shift to the point where nothing in this world that I will face is going to destroy me if I KNOW He REALLY is who we as Christians claim Him to be. I can face every situation in life, not in “self-confidence”, but in “Christ-confidence”. It is He who is in me that I look to in order to find the courage I need to move forward as I confront the monumental mountains of my life.

I believe we are in a precarious place if our confidence in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is compromised. In regard to the resurrection of Jesus, I have had some people challenge the confidence I have in the evidential truth claims about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. These individuals, say things like “You are confusing fact with truth. You are saying the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a fact. We BELIEVE truth and we KNOW fact.”  They go on to explain how we KNOW facts with confidence because facts can be empirically proven. Of course, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not empirical in nature. So, the result of this reasoning is that we can never really know truth. We simply believe it with faith (which becomes blind faith). For those who make this case, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a historical fact. They simply believe it without ever knowing if that which they claim about Christ is actually so. They accept it on blind faith, although they may not like me to characterize their faith that way.

Let’s dig a little deeper though about what is actually being said by those who desire to disown the evidential reality of the Risen Christ. Essentially, their philosophical underpinning is that we cannot KNOW truth, we just BELIEVE it. For these individuals, we do not believe something because it is true. Instead, our beliefs are true simply because we believe it to be so.

Do you catch the difference? It is the same as saying, I believe Santa Clause is true, therefore he must be. Despite the lack of evidence to point me in the direction of affirming the existence of Santa Clause, I fancy it is true primarily out of my desire that it be the case. Therefore, since I want Santa Clause to be real (primarily on the basis of wishful thinking) my belief alone is enough for me to justify an ongoing faith in his existence. I think we can understand cognitive development and how it is possible for the mind of a child to rationalize the existence of Santa Clause. However, hang with me as I play this out.

Let’s imagine I move from childhood into adulthood and insist, purely out of wishful thinking, that Santa Clause exist. Even though I learned gifts show up by loving parents rather than an overweight man in a red suit, I maintain my right to believe in Santa Clause simply because I desperately want him to exist. So, I suspend my growing awareness that no evidence for him is available. Yet, I still insist I have the right to exercise blind faith. If I believe Santa Clause exist, then he will, right? That’s the same as saying we do not know Jesus rose from the dead, we simply believe He did.

It is interesting how we read Scripture, which we affirm as being the revelation of God, and never reflect on what that revelation really was all about. As we read the narrative of the Risen Christ, we see how Jesus showed himself to the disciples. Nearly 500 people saw Jesus. He even let them touch his nail-scarred hand and side. He gave them enough evidence to encourage a sound belief in His resurrection. This was then written down so that we could validate the story and see that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Yet, when you begin to move into the arena of sharing the evidences and rationale for belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, well meaning Christians can sometimes think it is a replacement for faith if we examine the evidence.

The reality is, I wouldn’t want anyone to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ just because I say it is so. They need to examine the evidence. Can I be really candid and transparent for a moment? If the evidence for the Risen Christ is not valid and we are to blindly believe just like believing in Santa Clause, count me out. I am not going to blindly accept something just because I am told it is true. If this is the case, Christianity has nothing different to offer than any other world religion. If so, all it would really boil down to is flavors of ice cream. Some like chocolate ice cream and some like vanilla and if this is all it amounts to, I am not sure I care to have ice cream at all. The truth is, Christianity is grounded in revelation that revelation is grounded in the historical record. Our revelation is based on the fingerprints of God in our midst. He revealed Himself in time and space. That has always been the claim of Christianity. We have always believed God to be a personal God, not a figment of our imagination.

Just examine the narrative of the disciples and how they lived their life post resurrection. Their confidence was in the revelation of the Risen Christ not in their own genius and self-confidence. They actually saw and touched the Risen Christ and this gave them “Christ-confidence.” Everything changed after Pentecost. No threat made against them could keep them from talking about Jesus Christ. No amount of prison time and no threat on their life would change their “Christ-confidence.” They didn’t have “self-confidence” even though some may have looked at the assurance they had as being such. They had confidence in the truth about the Risen Christ. Period.

People throughout history have died for a lie but did so not knowing that for which they gave their life was a lie. Yet, it is not likely that people will die for a lie if they KNOW they are believing a lie. What would be the benefit in giving your life for something you know is a not true? What is there to gain? Therefore, the question becomes, “Do we know that which the disciples professed about Jesus Christ was actually true?” Here is a place you can go to do your own homework. It is a starting point, not an ending point. The “Minimal Facts of the Resurrection” is a good place to begin and feel free to bring your skepticism. In fact I would encourage your doubts, questions, and skepticism. Here is an article worth looking at: http://pleaseconvinceme.com/2013/the-minimal-facts-of-the-resurrection/.

When I have been at my lowest points in life and in my faith walk, it was the work that I did studying the arguments for and against the resurrection of Jesus Christ that kept me engaged. I did not know what to do with Jesus Christ and the evidential reality of these truth claims. It wasn’t the church that kept me in the “game.” It wasn’t all the shiny church programming and great music in the worship services.

However, I will tell you that it is the homework I did that makes the songs we sing in worship much more meaningful. As those songs connect with my emotional self it does not do so without also engaging my intellectual self. These songs therefore take on meaning that moves me into a place of worship that it otherwise would not if I had not challenged my own beliefs and did the homework.

So, bring your doubts. Bring your questions. Bring your criticisms. Bring your skepticism. It is all welcome. You may not look at the evidence and make the same conclusions I have. I still think it is worth the investigation.

Feel free to pursue tactics that will help you grow in “self-confidence” but I would encourage you to start by investigating the truth claims concerning the Risen Christ and pursue “Christ-confidence” first. I think you will find it worth the work and investment of time. It can also save you a lot of money.

Is it Possible to Be Moving Toward Heaven With Your Back to God?

You are deeply loved. Don’t let the voices of this world drown out the constant whisper of God, calling you His beloved.

When you are the apple of someone’s eye it means you are close enough to the other person that you can see the reflection of yourself in the pupil of their eye. God desires that you get close enough to Him that you will be the apple of His eye. Stop and think about that for a second. His desire is that you be so close, in an intimate relationship with Him, that you would see yourself reflected in His eye. This is the personal nature of our God. This is just how good our God is. It is a holy love.

So, the question is this. What is holding you back from being loved by Him? If it is sin, all you need to do is repent and go running to Him. If it is fear, then trust that He is good. Press in on the Risen Christ.

Bob Sjogren has helped me understand a truth that is so important to recognize as I seek intimacy with God. What he helped me understand is that many Christians have repented but they have their back to God, facing hell, walking backward toward God. Facing hell, walking backwards to God, they are saying, “I don’t want to go to hell. I don’t want to go to hell.” Yet, other Christians, are facing God with their back to hell moving toward God. These Christians are saying, “I want more of God. I want more of God.”

In both cases, the Christian is moving away from hell and in both cases they acknowledge the seriousness of sin and the consequence that sin will bring. Yet, one Christian has their gaze on hell while the other Christian has their gaze fixed on God. Both are moving toward God yet one is not experiencing the goodness of God because they have yet to set their gaze on Him. Only one is able to experience what it means to be the apple of God’s eye because they are facing Him; learning how to be intimate with Him.

When you taste and see God is good, you will no longer desire the hellish things of this earth. Come. Taste and see that God is good and see if you will not soon discover that God is EVERYTHING your heart desires.

What in the World is a Recovering Pharisee?

As a recovering Pharisee myself, I know first-hand the torture of constantly trying to prove myself worthy of God’s love. The false assumption is that my brokenness is despised by a perfect God and since He despises my fallen condition, I myself am unable to experience His relentless love. An acceptance by Jesus Christ is something I crave deep down but in the quiet moments of my life I never experience that love when I am at my best as a Pharisee.

So, as a substitute, I get frantic with activity. I perform, obtain as much knowledge about God as I can, and I work hard at projecting an image to others I know is false but in the end, is all I know to do. I think my performance will make the Risen Christ happy with me. I presume my knowledge ABOUT Him will be the closest to an experience OF Him that I will ever obtain.

I fear the exposure of my brokenness because after all, I tell others that they should be mature in their faith with God. So, I create God in my own image. In my broken, fallen image. I then project that image onto others and pile expectation after expectation on the trash heap of my own life and I then wonder where the wretched smell comes from. I have sometimes blamed God Himself for the smell.

Yet, it is only when the brokenness and pain of my life brings me to my senses that I realize my blaming of God was nothing more than self-hatred. After all, I created this “God” out of my broken self instead of out of the revelation of Jesus Christ.

When He comes close and takes the lenses of my self-hatred off, I am appalled. How could He be this good? As the Risen Christ loves lavishly I find myself at times resisting. The self-hatred is familiar. The facade, as much as it doesn’t work, is oddly safe to me. Yet, He holds me close and as He does I find myself falling in love with the Risen Christ. Yeah, I am still tempted to put the old lenses on, but the more I press in on Him the more those old lenses make everything look unfamiliar.

Intellectual Elitism . . . What is It?

Intellectual elitism is something we must guard against. Christian education is essential to all of us and has immense value. However, this education turns into a vice when intellectual elitism becomes the attitude we adopt.

Intellectual elitism is NOT equivalent with having education or degrees. Intellectual elitism is an attitude we wear and it becomes a condescending posture toward those who may have ignorance or be less fortunate and unable to have advanced degrees. When intellectual elitism rears its ugly head, it is unattractive and uninviting to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Why, it elevates education as an idol and assumes that if people only had more knowledge, things would be better. It looks down on the “less sophisticated” among us as, however that is defined, as if they have less value because they are not enlightened.

When we come to the place that we no longer think we have anything to learn from a child and the person with no degrees, we are in a dangerous place. That is an indication that humility just vanished and was replaced with arrogance. In that place, Christ is not present. That spirit does not come from Christ. It comes from the father of lies and from the pit of hell.

Jesus Christ, the one who held the keys of the Kingdom of God, never nurtured the spirit of intellectual elitism. The children sat on His lap and He let people know that unless we become like them, we will not enter the Kingdom of God. He was not saying we should be “childish”. He was saying we should be “child-like” in our spirit. It is important to remember that our education should serve one purpose. To bring people into a fuller knowledge and experience of the Risen Christ. Jesus taught with great knowledge but His knowledge was grounded in love, mercy, grace, and tremendous compassion for the hurting, the lost, and the hopeless. Those He was the most hard on were the ones that thought they had the corner on God because they held more knowledge.

Let’s help one another keep some simple things in mind. Knowledge is not the same as wisdom. Children can always teach us something and when we believe we can no longer learn from the “least of these among us”, we will be tempted to build our own empire which is nothing more than empire building for Satan himself. If we don’t start and end with Jesus Christ, we have lost our way. It is ALL about Jesus Christ and helping people encounter Him. This only happens though when we have more of hunger for Jesus Christ than we do for our ministries, our image, and our promotion. Let’s help one another create an appetite for the Risen Christ. May our insatiable desire for Him consume us and be the only driving factor in our lives.

This comes from a recovering addict for knowledge. I myself, am guilty of often times thinking the solution to all of life’s problems is more knowledge rather than an encounter with the Risen Christ. I am the first to confess my own guilt. This is not about stone throwing. If we have a stone casting party, I will be the first one that will need to duck because many stones will be coming my way, and justifiable so. So, I confess my own need for accountability and help from loving people to remind me that Jesus Christ is the center of the universe and the center of my small world. May it be so in me first. May it be so in me.

My Journey with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – Part 2

During the lowest period in my life with OCD, there was another person that helped me more than she ever probably realizes. I remember a specific phone call in which a friend experienced me in a very raw moment of that intense battle. I immediately felt shame as I realized I had been exposed to someone I considered a friend. Yet, the desperation was greater than the fear of being shamed. However, Danna never shamed me. She didn’t act appalled or disgusted. She, in a very calming way, helped me navigate the terror I was experiencing. While I do not care to go into the details of the situation, it was a matter of confronting the driving force behind the many years of my struggle with OCD. The tool she gave me is something I use to this day. She said, “John, you need to remember that it is your mental illness talking. Whenever you have those thoughts, look at the evidence of what it is you are afraid of and remind yourself those are not your thoughts. They are the thoughts of mental illness.” This was very similar advice that I had also received from Paul Fitzgerald when he said, “You need to pretend that you have a tumor in your head and your tumor is talking to you.” Paul’s descriptive way of giving the same advice created a word picture I cannot get out of my mind.

A self awareness I have had in the last six months of my life is that I can easily be triggered emotionally when I feel like I encounter a lie. Whether the lie comes from myself, from someone else, or an institution; I can easily be triggered into feelings of anger and it can come quickly. The reason I am so easily triggered when I encounter a particular lie is that my whole life has been a WAR fought against lies from my own mind. The war of OCD and the lies behind it has created some battle wounds. I have won some battles and some skirmishes I have been nearly destroyed in. The lies that OCD brings to the forefront of my mind have been embedded into my emotional DNA. I know the pain that a lie can bring. This is why truth matters to me. Anger is a secondary emotion which is God-given. We typical move into states of anger as we experience hurt, frustration, or fear. So, the learning curve is to step back from the anger and deal with the cause of that anger.

For me, lies represent hurt, frustration,or fear. Like pain, anger can facilitate moments of much need healing if we will lean into it and allow the Risen Christ to step into that anger. Yes, I said it. I know to some this sounds like sacrilege and if so, I am sorry. I am of the belief the Risen Christ desires to step into our ANGER because when He does, He will begin to nurture us in ways that will bring healing to the hurt, fear, and frustration. Perfect love drives out fear. Jesus has perfect love. Actually, that is not good enough. Jesus Christ IS perfect love. His presence in the midst of the anger is enough to diffuse the anger IF we give Him permission to be there. If we cast guilt and shame upon ourselves for experiencing those feelings of anger, we will run the risk of keeping the Risen Christ out of that space. The lie many Christians have come to believe is that anger is in itself, sinful. The emotion of anger is not the sin. It is how we respond when we are in states of anger that can be sinful.

This may be why I appreciate the discipline of Christian apologetics. In today’s world, Christian apologetics is almost like a four letter word to some in the church. Because the discipline has been abused, I can understand why some see it as such. Yet, in my lowest points, when I have almost thrown away my faith for the temptation to believe it was all a hoax, it has been the evidential reality of the Risen Christ that has kept me hanging on. Yes, sometimes only by a thread. However, if the work of men like Greg Koukl, Gary Habermas, Josh McDowell, William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, and others had not influenced me and my thinking about the truth claims of Christianity, I would have easily walked away from it all just thinking Christianity was simply a fairytale for adults who want to live moral lives. You see, in the low points of almost throwing away the faith, I have never known how to dismiss Jesus Christ and the evidential truth surrounding the truth claims about Him. Then, God has always brought someone into my life to BE Jesus Christ to me. There have been about four or five times in my life where this pattern has happened in the dark night of the soul.

Truth matters. Lies always bring pain. Anytime a person or an institution lives in a lie and fails to confront the lie with brutal honesty and then replace it with truth, that person or institution will encounter dis-ease and pain. It is a principle that just works not because I fancy that it will, but because it is a principle that is proven over and over again in the history of mankind. Someone can speak truth without love, yet it is hard to conceive that someone who loves will fail to speak truth. When love and truth converge on the mind and heart like ocean waves, lies get washed away. Love and truth are grounded in the character of God and it is in this space we have the greatest chance of experiencing the fullness of the Risen Christ.

The challenge for all of us is to learn to be self-aware of those lies we live with and when we begin to believe those lies remind ourselves this is not from Father. Sometimes our lies become like a cute pet. Knowingly or unknowingly, we nuture and feed the lie(s). We take it on walks, ask it to come sleep with us on our bed, and we wake up with it. The biggest lie of all is the lie that tells you that for XYZ reason you are out of the reach of the embrace of the Risen Christ. The heart of Father is understood in the revelation of Christ. Today, if you are caught in this lie, consider praying one prayer and one simple prayer alone that Brennan Manning has taught many to pray, “Abba, I belong to you.” That’s it. Replace the lie with that prayer today. Practice self-awareness so that you can recognize when you are being lied to, whether it is your tape or a lie spoken from someone else. Breath in as you say the word “Abba” and breath out as you say the words, “I belong to you.” Let this truth sink deep into the fabric of your soul. Let it sink so deep that your identity gets wrapped up in Abba. Not in your brokenness. Not in your job. Not in the opinion of others. May your primary identity be wrapped up in Abba. You belong. You belong to Him; not to the lies.