The Destination Before the Journey

April 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

My wife and I are still great friends with the first kid on my block to find Jesus. It was the Spring of 1998, the first nice day since we moved into the neighborhood, when I met this girl in the middle of the street that separated our houses. I was crossing the street to get to our mailbox and I passed her and her friend, who were both headed across the street toward my driveway (we have a basketball hoop). Before I could say hello, her first words were, “Where are you going?” I told her I was getting my mail, and I replied, “Where are YOU going?
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Long story short, after several years of outreach to her, mainly through our church’s camp and youth group, that girl came to Christ at age 15. A decade later, she is a passionate and faithful believer, married to a passionate and faithful husband. She is usually one Christian I want others to meet when I talk about how Christ can change us and make us new. How does a person come to a decision to follow Jesus? They have their eye on the prize: Love, forgiveness, in heaven, with God, forever. This is the destination of the redeemed in Christ.

There’s this popular adage—the joy is in the journey—that doesn’t quite do it for Christians. We can have joy in the journey for sure, but THE joy is the destination of our journey, the future reality where our present hope is. In 1 Corinthians 13:12 Paul explains the difference between present and future revelation: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” The greatest thing for Christians is still ahead of us.

Why have our head in the clouds while we are here on earth? Some perspective: We are here on earth for a brief 100 years, give or take a decade or two, unless a doctor or icy step informs us that we have much less. But what we do in this little life—specifically whether we accept or reject what Christ has already done for us—determines our destination. And our destintion, whether it is heaven or hell, is eternal. We can do the math: Infinity minus 100 years is still infinity. After these years are gone, they will become virtually nothing. Why would we NOT be about the destination? We should absolutely make the most of this life, but if our head is here instead of wrapped around our final destination, then this world is the cloud that enshrouds our heads.

For Christians, the journey is first and infinitely foremost about the destination. That’s why it’s always good to ask a neighbor, “Where are you going?”

Students Telling the Good News is Hardly News

September 28, 2012 § 1 Comment

Newsflash: Christians talk about their faith in school.

That’s the thrust of an article this week in The Guardian: How Evangelicals are Making Children their Missionaries in Public Schools. The subhead, “Adults can’t proselytise in schools – but kids can. Hence a new scam by fundamentalists to circumvent church-state separation.”

Katherine Stewart’s sleuthery uncovered the shocking truth that Christians encourage other Christians to evangelize. This “news” is no recent exposé, but came out around 30 A.D. at Christ’s Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, where believers are called to “go and make disciples”. In Acts 1:8, Jesus tells His disciples, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria” —speaking of a local missions effort— “and to the ends of the earth.”—to meet the need for the Gospel in other parts of the world. For the past two mellennia, evangelical Christians have been heeding the call to be missionaries for the Gospel wherever they are and wherever the Lord leads them to go.

As one serving in youth ministry, I encourage young people to follow Scripture, to live out their faith at school, or at work, or wherever they happen to be; to be prepared to have an answer for those who may ask about the hope they have; to share the love of Christ with others because it is simply too good to keep to ourselves. This adult is guilty as charged.

Also not new is the presence of various religious clubs in public schools, which date back to the pre-colonial era. Albert Mohler, on his Sept. 27th podcast notes that “from the very beginning of the school systems in America, children have been able to speak to one another, prosthelytizing for various ideas or ideologies or worldviews or of course religious faiths as well.” He rightly points out that what would be required to make sure that school kids didn’t share their beliefs, or learn at home or at church from adults how to share their beliefs, is to repeal the right to free speech and liberties guaranteed by the US Constitution. Nothing particularly new there either.

Katherine’s article continues, speaking of Christian clubs and organizations in schools: “These initiatives are “student-led” in the same sense that a pee-wee soccer league is student-led. Yes, it’s the kids kicking the ball, but you have to be pretty detached from reality to imagine that there would be kids on that playing field in the first place without the grown-ups organizing and funding their activities, and cheering them from the sidelines.” 

What kind of success would you expect of a pee-wee soccer league run exclusively by pee-wee soccer players? The expectation that such initiatives exist without any involvement from parents or other supportive adults and their vision is indeed a detachment from reality. And again, nothing new, in any context.

The article concludes: “At their core, [evangelical Christians] do not accept that we live in a diverse society with a secular form of government. If their activities degrade support for the public schools or even destroy them, they will not be sorry to see them go.”

Actually, most Christians do understand that society is diverse in its beliefs and that administrations progressively have sought to secularize government as best they can. Many Christians also see that without the fundamentals taught in Christian theology, principals of government wouldn’t exist, and neither would the value in education (Education in America was largely founded upon Christianity). The framers of the Constitution understood this too, and that the protections afforded by “separation of church and state” were meant to go both directions, that legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The Guardian has finally caught on to evangelical Christianity’s ancient zeal to spread the Gospel. Sadly, it has missed the point.

Let the Spirit Do His Thing

September 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

My eldest niece became a Christian this past weekend, as a result of my mother giving her a Bible and explaining the gospel in simple terms to her. My niece, the oldest daughter of my oldest brother, is a year older than me (due to the lateness of my own arrival). After forty or so years of wandering in passive rejection of the gospel, she is now saved.

When I think about how my mother led her to Christ, I don’t think there was much of what I’ve considered to be apologetics. My mom didn’t present any of the classic theistic proofs, or Kalam’s cosmological argument, or C.S. Lewis’ Trilemma, or any evidence for the resurrection. She gave her a Bible and told her what Jesus did for her.

William Lane Craig, an accomplished debater well-known for his reasoned defense of Christianity on the basis of the evidence, acknowledges the work of the Holy Spirit in his coming to faith:

“The way in which I know Christianity is true is first and foremost is the basis of the witness of the Holy Spirit in my heart. And this gives me self-authenticating means of knowing Christianity is true wholly apart from the evidence. And therefore, even if in some historically contingent circumstances the evidence that I have available to me should turn against Christianity, I do not think that controverts the witness of the Holy Spirit.”

Some people are persuaded by the evidence, and some are persuaded by something else in Christianity that reveals itself as the solution to a problem. My niece was battling a life crisis, and she decided with conviction that she could not go through life without a relationship with Jesus Christ.

The Spirit can use many things—reason or emotion—to open eyes to our need of a Savior. The gospel message has power, and by simply giving her granddaughter a Bible, which she began to read, my mom was letting the Spirit do His work. It’s easy to get preoccupied with apologetic method and our perceived need to reason people into belief.

In John 5:24, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

Although I lean pretty heavily on a “faith first” reformed, presuppositional apologetic method, I understand that God can and will use many things to draw someone to Himself—sometimes through some type of evidence, and sometimes even through an almost fideistic (faith independent of reason) approach to accepting the Word of God as truth. As with any worldview, some measure of faith is always necessary, even a great measure in those who “receive the kingdom of God like a little child.” (Luke 10:15).

The important thing: If you can do nothing else for an unbeliever, other than prayer, give them a Bible. “Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) Explain the Gospel if you can, but don’t make the mistake of thinking you must walk them through it and hermeneutically present all that they need to know before they will believe. Let the Holy Spirit do His thing.

From Circular Reasoning to the Gospel

July 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Presuppositional apologetics acknowledges that its arguments (and ultimately every argument) are circular. At its most basic and foundational level, every belief is taken on faith. Starting with this fact, here’s how a defense of Christianity might move on to account for the “preconditions of intelligibility” while exposing that contrary worldviews cannot, and then lead into an evangelistic opportunity.

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Skeptic: Any argument for the truth of Christianity is a circular argument. Instead of appealing to reason, you are appealing to your own conclusion as your premise. You are saying the Bible is true because the Bible is true.

Believer: Arguing for the existence of God is a circular argument, that much is true. But any argument for ultimate commitment is circular.

Skeptic: But I argue using reason.

Believer: So do I, but reason is your ultimate commitment. Your defense of reason by reason is circular. You and I both hold to circular arguments in supporting our ultimate commitments. The difference is that Christianity provides a basis for the reason we both use in the argument. The eternal and all-knowing God described in the Bible is a God of reason, who created man in His image. We can reason because God endowed us with it and invites us to use it. But without appealing to God, you can’t account for your use of reason.

Skeptic: I can account for reason by the fact that there is knowledge.

Believer: If the universe is basically matter in motion, how can your worldview account for knowledge? If knowledge is your ultimate commitment, your ultimate authority, then your use of knowledge to explain knowledge is still circular. What can knowledge appeal to? God has a mind and we’re made in His image, according to the Bible. Christians can actually make sense of knowledge.

Skeptic: I don’t have to explain why there is knowledge and reason. There are plenty of phenomenon left for us to discover, but it will be discovered through science, not religion.

Believer: In order to do science, we presuppose predictability and uniformity in nature. Why do you assume that you can expect certain results from experiments based on what happened in the past? There’s no scientific basis for uniformity that other than past experience of uniformity, but the Bible explains uniformity and predictability (for example, see Genesis 8:22).

Skeptic: That is simply a bad explanation. Science is and always has been the right way to figure out the universe.

Believer: When you talk about good and bad and the right and wrong way to do something, you are presupposing universal and objective moral absolutes that determine good and bad, and right and wrong. Moral sensibilities can’t be accounted for on any belief system that excludes a moral law giver. All that can be said is that rightness is justified on the virtue of rightness. (or “Be good because it’s good to be good.”) The God of the Bible is a moral Being, and “good” is a part of His very nature. His moral law is written on the hearts of His creation (Romans 2:15), and He offers a solution for our falling short of the requirements of the law in the atoning sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ.

Vanished

July 19, 2005 § Leave a comment

On July 9th, 2005, I spent an hour standing in my driveway talking to a 16-year-old kid named John who used to live up my street. He’d since moved to the east side of the city to be closer to the mechanic shop where he worked, living in an apartment with a friend. He was back in the neighborhood visiting his mom and grandmother. His clothes were dirty and he smelled like cigarettes. I never knew him that well, but I heard he was always getting into trouble. I would say hello and talk to him whenever I’d see him in passing.

This particular evening I waved to John as he drove down the street, and to my surprise he circled the block and pulled his rusty GMC pickup into my driveway. As we talked, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or scream as he casually unfolded his unbelievable past filled with one run-in with the law after another. His stories were so outlandish that I didn’t know whether to believe him, but some of the details led me to think at least a good portion was true.

There was a story of his family mob connections that prompted a move here from the south when John was 11. He spent time in juvi for car theft, apparently stealing a vehicle from a city pound. He described how to beat a Cobra alarm system. He talked about weapons and showed me his butterfly knife. He bragged about street fight victories, runs from the police, being able to hold his liquor, big payoffs with money from questionable sources to keep him out of jail, drug abuse, and drag races.

His truck was apparently the 3rd fastest thing on the street, and he raced nearly every night on the east side. He showed me the engine he’d built himself along with the transmission. The windows were gone because he’d shattered them by slamming the doors in a fit of rage. The truck was registered in his dad’s name in a different county. Since his dad was no longer living, that made the plates impossible to trace, so he claimed. In all this he did mention having remorse for his past, and that was the only point in the conversation where he didn’t look happy.

After all these stories, I had to ask John if he actually feared death. He said no. When I asked him if he’d wondered what might be on the other side, he claimed he’d been there once but doctors revived him after some mishap. I forget what it was.

I invited him to our church youth group on Wednesday nights, but ironically, he said he did some things with the Mormon church on Wednesdays. An elder there shook his hand firmly once and that made him want to come back. Also, the Mormons believe that once you find your true love in this life you are with them in eternity, which was nice because John had a girlfriend and they planned to get married.

My head hurt. Amy had dinner ready so I invited him in to eat, but his cell phone rang and he had somewhere to be. I shook his hand as firmly as possible and told him I would pray for him. “Yeah, I pray for myself too,” he said. I told him to stop by anytime. As he smiled and drove off, my brain was spinning as I tried to fathom this kid. I loved him. I really did, and that’s the amazing thing. It was amazing because I myself was not capable of loving him. John was a criminal, but it was Christ that enabled me to decide to love him. This was who the Savior came for. If some church leader can get a kid’s attention with a firm handshake, think of what Christ could do with the cross. I began to pray John would find Him before it was too late.

It’s now too late. Ten days later John was dead. I found out today that he wrapped his truck around a tree with two other kids with him. They survived but John was killed.

I could sit here and think of all sorts of things I could have or maybe should have said to him that night if I’d known he only had 10 more days on earth. Would he have listened? I am thinking of these words from James 4:13-17… “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” What is my life but a vapor? How do I better “redeem the time” I have left? What if we looked at every new face as if they had reached their last ten days? What is the good I ought to be doing for the lost?

That experience drove home the undeniable truth that we are all just one heartbeat away from eternity, and we are all probably within reach of someone completely unaware of how dangerously close to the fire they are playing. Hold on firmly to the next lost and dusty hand you shake. Life is truly a vapor.

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