A Personal Apologetic – Introduction

(What follows is the beginning of a series of blog posts I’m putting together on the defense of the gospel. Because my intended audience is those who have a purely materialistic world view, I’m going to use what I believe are reasonable arguments, personally convincing if given serious thought. My approach is to use arguments that the reader can investigate on his own, rather than rely on hearsay. I intend to express the results of my own thoughts and research rather than just reword what others have already said.

Some Christians dismiss apologetics, saying you can’t argue someone into the kingdom of God. I agree with the premise, but disagree with the conclusion. I know I can’t argue someone to salvation but there is no limit to what God can do through me. I believe the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of the lost to their need for Jesus through many different means, including apologetics, therefore I have no problem using an intellectual approach. Consider what follows as scattering seed for God to increase.)

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Dear friends, although I have been eager to write to you about our common salvation, I now feel compelled instead to write to encourage you to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.

– Jude 1:3 (NET)

For years I’ve wanted to put something together in writing that explains why I think it makes intellectual sense to believe in the existence of God and the inspiration of the Bible. (I don’t think well “on my feet”, but writing gives me a chance to get my thoughts better organized.) I’ve heard many anti-God arguments, but none are convincing to me. For example, most apparent Bible contradictions that are brought up only reveal a superficial understanding of what the Bible says. (The converse is also true. I see some Christians misunderstand atheist beliefs and use faulty and illogical arguments. This doesn’t help matters.)

One thing anti-Bible arguments have in common is that they’re all based on theory: philosophy, intellectual puzzles, apparent contradictions, supposed conflicts with known scientific facts, and the like. You can argue these things sitting in an armchair without getting your hands dirty with reality. But I have something that, for me, trumps all that. You see, I have the experience of a personal relationship with the God described in the Bible. There is real fellowship between us. I talk to Him, and He speaks to me (not audibly, but He speaks none-the-less). He regularly answers my prayers in often surprising ways. And I know others who have the same kind of relationship with Him. My faith is not based on these experiences, but it does help ‘seal the deal’ in my mind. With such a relationship, biblical puzzles don’t bother me, even if I don’t have answers for all of them.

I don’t expect my experiences, however, to convince you if you’re a skeptic. I know because I’m a skeptic by nature as well. Whenever people tell me some fantastic story they’ve heard or that’s happened to them, even if they’re Christian, my mind usually goes, “Yeah… right. Show me some proof!” I don’t expect you to believe my experiences because they haven’t happened to you. So instead of relating the ways God has revealed Himself to me, in the following posts I’m going to use the armchair approach by appealing to your intellect.

It’s human nature for each of us to interpret reality by our own personal world views, rather than modify our world views to match reality. Any evidence, however feeble, that supports what we believe we are likely to accept as true. Any evidence that runs counter to what we believe we will likely discount as false. (Our self-confidence may even blind us to real evidence!) We’ll do anything, including look the other way, to make sure our world view is not disturbed. This is true of almost everyone, atheists and Christians alike. But we really can’t know the truth by using our world view as a litmus test. We have to be open-minded and look at the evidence in detail.

When a scientist comes across a phenomenon that appears to contradict his world view, he don’t immediately lose faith in science. Instead, he sees it as an opportunity for more in-depth study and experimentation to resolve the problem. But when a non-believing scientist sees an apparent contradiction in the scriptures, he immediately stops, saying the Bible is full of errors. He doesn’t treat the seeming discrepancy the same way he treats any natural mystery. There is no in-depth and unbiased study of the scriptures, no taking into account the literary, social, and historical context, no looking up the meanings, tenses, and usages of words in the original languages, and so on. It’s quite obvious from most of the anti-Bible arguments I’ve heard that this is the case. All this person does is win other close-minded people over to his side who are also either unable or unwilling to do their own research. Unfortunately, this tends to be the majority response.

Good answers to anti-God arguments are available in books and on the internet. But rather than repeat what others have already said, I’d like to give some personal reasons why I believe the existence of God and the inspiration of the Bible are worth believing in as true. What follows are not so much the reasons why I believe or how I came to faith, but why I think you should consider believing the God who is revealed in the Bible.

Fashion Show

(Here’s a half-developed idea for your perusal…)

In the clothing industry, big name fashion designers show off their latest designs at fashion shows. Each model wears the designer’s clothes and walks up and down a catwalk while photographers and others look on. This is so they can see how the clothing looks and fits as the model moves and poses.

Yesterday, I thought of a strange twist on this. I’m a down-to-earth guy who’s not so much interested in form as function. I’d rather see how useful the clothing is than how it looks. (My wife would rather me be otherwise.) So, I wondered how typical designer fashions would fare in real-world conditions. My idea is to have a fashion show with powerful fans blowing lots of cold air, rain, and snow on the models. I want to see how well the fashions perform in bad really weather. After all, I don’t want to wear something that can’t handle the real world!

Ok, so it’s a stupid idea, even if it would make for a cool LL Bean outerwear commercial. But, I am going somewhere with this.

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, …

– Romans 13:14

When Paul told us to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, he used a picture of putting on clothing. I usually take this to mean I need to put on Christ for the personal benefit of my day-to-day living in the world. But yesterday it occurred to me that we Christians are also to be like fashion show models, walking up and down the catwalk for all world to see. Like those models, our job is to draw attention to what we’re wearing, not ourselves. We’re displaying the Lord Jesus Christ.

In order to do that, before we get in the spotlight, we have to take all our raggity old clothes off, and put on the Designer’s clothes exclusively (Colossians 3:5-11). We’re here to showcase Jesus and Him only. Everything else is a distraction. (That means no prideful strutting about.) Like all fashion shows, all the glory must go to the Designer, not the models.

This show we’re in is not like any earthly fashion show or beauty pageant. It runs 24 hours a day for the rest of our lives. Instead of photographers and fans of the Designer, we’re surrounded by His competitors – His enemies. They don’t want Jesus to look good, so they throw mud and all kinds of nasty stuff. When we get hit, we mustn’t take it personally. After all, it’s not us they hate so much as Christ.

And so the show goes on. But because we’re wearing Christ, we don’t respond in kind. When they curse, we bless (Luke 6:28). When they abuse us, we intercede for them. When they hate us, we show love to them. (The garment of Christ enables us to do this.) And after all is said and done, the clothing of Christ is no worse for wear. He wears well no matter what we’ve been through!

January 2014 Update

My posts have been sporadic lately, but that’s kinda normal for me. Writing still doesn’t come easy. But I do have some more posts in the works.

I haven’t abandoned the Church Impossible series of posts. I have the next one mostly finished, but there are some other things in the works that I think are more important, so it might be a while before you see the series continue.

I am putting together a personal apologetic where I give my own intellectual reasons for belief in God and the inspiration of the Bible. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time, and I’m finally getting around to it. This will initially be released as a series of posts, but when complete, I’ll make an all-in-one version.

I’m also writing an expanded version of Victory Over Sin to replace the existing work. This will also be available as a free book, downloadable as a PDF and probably in various e-pub formats. This is mostly finished.

Lastly, I’ve started working on some new mazes in my free time. The last one I drew was way back in 1996. I have a small one that is mostly finished, and a larger one just started based on van Gogh’s Starry Night. I plan this one to be a “12-in-one” maze. You’ll see what that means if and when I finish it.

That’s all for now!

First Or Last

Supernatural revelation played a major part in how people saw Jesus when He was born. There were those who welcomed Him as the Messiah, and there were those who knew nothing of Him or tried to kill Him. Zacharias knew Jesus was coming through an angelic visit in the temple. Mary also received a visit from an angel. Joseph saw an angel in a vision, and the shepherds saw a host of angels. God told Simeon he would see Jesus before he died, and the Magi came through a supernatural star.

Without revelation from God, nobody would have known who Jesus is. Everyone would have assumed Mary was a fornicator, and Jesus an ordinary child born out of wedlock. (Even today many think this because God hasn’t revealed it to them through the testimony of the biblical witnesses.) No doubt those at the inn in Bethlehem had no idea Who Mary was about to give birth to or they would have made room somehow. After all, if Herod had stooped to stay the night in Bethlehem (…not that he would), he wouldn’t have been forced to spend it in a stable!

She brought forth her firstborn son, and she wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a feeding trough, because there was no room for them in the inn.

-Luke 2:7

Last Saturday I went to Walmart to do some shopping and pick up a Christmas card for my wife. There was a huge selection of cards available – maybe 30 feet or more of aisle space full of Christmas cards. Since Christmas is supposed to be about the birth of Christ, I tried to find a card that spoke about Jesus, but I didn’t find any. Even the ‘religious’ cards were not about Christ. Two thousand years after His birth, there was no room for Jesus in the Christmas card aisle either.

Jesus is either all or nothing to you. If you don’t put Him first in your life, He becomes last. You cannot put Him in second place, because over time He will be completely crowded out. He will become a threat to your goals and aspirations. You either see Him as your Savior or your enemy.

For a much better take on this, take a look at The Threatened King or the Sacrifical Father at Michael Kelly Ministries.

Post-Examination Action

But be ye doers of the word,
and not hearers only,
deluding your own selves.
For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer,
he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror:
for he beholdeth himself, and goeth away,
and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.

(James 1:22-25 ASV)

The word of God provides a thorough examination of the heart. If we were graded on the results of our examination, most of us (myself included) would not even receive a C-. (And the few who have A’s or B’s probably wouldn’t be aware of it anyway.)

But even with a failing grade, this examination is a good thing if it leads us to call out to God for the grace of a lasting change of heart, mind, and actions.

Without this change, the examination is useless. It is like someone who looks in a mirror, then leaves and forgets what he looks like. This is a believer whose Christianity is relegated to a limited portion of his life: Sunday mornings, morning devotions, or the occasional prayer. Jesus Christ is something added to life, rather than what life is all about. There is no continual meditation and communion with the Father and Son. There is no fellowship of the Spirit. There is little difference between that person and the world.

This is a man who has fooled himself, and is probably plagued with doubts. I do not want to be this man.

Every one therefore that heareth these words of mine,
and doeth them,
shall be likened unto a wise man,

And every one that heareth these words of mine,
and doeth them not,
shall be likened unto a foolish man,
who built his house upon the sand:

(Matthew 7:24-27 ASV)

The way out of self-deception and into real, tangible, spiritual union with Jesus is to act on what He says. I can be both a doctrinal genious and a fool at the same time if I don’t obey my Lord.

The examination continues, but the time for action is now. Let us examine ourselves closely, grit our teeth, and through the power of the Holy Spirit painfully pull out all of the thorns in our lives, living only for the Lord Jesus Christ.

If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them.

– John 13:7 ASV

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, And light unto my path.

– Psalm 119:105 ASV

Examine me, O Jehovah, and prove me; Try my heart and my mind.

– Psalm 26:2 ASV

Note: This series is now available in an all-in-one page at http://dtjsoft.com/examination-scriptures-one/.

Examination – Appearances Or Fruit?

Abide in me, and I in you.
As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine;
so neither can ye, except ye abide in me.

I am the vine, ye are the branches:
He that abideth in me, and I in him,
the same beareth much fruit:
for apart from me ye can do nothing.

(John 15:4-5 ASV)

Jesus’ words search me in various ways here:

As one branch connected to the Vine, I desire to look good, with lots of healthy green leaves. But God is not concerned with looks. He did not plant the Vine for decoration but for fruit. Am I concerned with appearances, or the goal at hand?

Assuming I desire fruit, why do I desire it? The Father placed me in Christ so that I would bear much fruit for Him. Is my desire to satisfy myself or get the admiration of others, or is it purely to satisfy God?

Twice Jesus stated the absolute necessity of abiding in Him to produce fruit. I can do nothing without Him. But do I really believe this? How essential do I view my connection to Christ for hour-by-hour living?

Awareness of my need to abide in Christ is good, but am I really abiding in Him? It is very easy to fool myself here. Abiding in Christ is not just listening to Him or agreeing with Him but doing what He says. Do I do what He says?

Examination – Sowing To My Flesh Or The Spirit?

Be not deceived;
God is not mocked:
for whatsoever a man soweth,
that shall he also reap

(Galatians 6:7 ASV)

As any farmer knows, if you want to harvest wheat, you need to sow wheat. You can’t sow one thing and expect something else to crop up. This God-given law has been in effect since the beginning of creation and it can’t be circumvented.

For he that soweth unto his own flesh
shall of the flesh reap corruption;
but he that soweth unto the Spirit
shall of the Spirit reap eternal life

(Galatians 6:8 ASV)

Another sure God-given law is presented in this passage. I can sow to my flesh, or I can sow to the Holy Spirit. What I sow to determines what I reap. It matters not what I intend to reap or desire to reap or think I will reap. If I sow to the flesh (i.e. my desires) I will reap corruption. If I sow to the Spirit (i.e. His desires), I will reap eternal life (which is the kind of life, not just the length). I believe there is no way around this law; it is just as sure as the law the farmer relies on.

When it comes down to it, sowing to the flesh is no different than sowing thorns. So why do I still sow to my flesh at times? I don’t know. I may do many good things for the right reasons, but if I also cater to my fleshly desires, why should I expect a good harvest?

Thorns are whatever I do that hinders the life and work of the Holy Spirit in me, and they must be dealt with right away. Thorns start out seemly innocent enough, but as time goes on they grow harder and become more entrenched – more difficult and painful to pull up. I must pull them up anyway by denying myself in those areas that grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). And I must sow to the Spirit instead.

Examination – Thorns Or Fruit?

And others fell upon the thorns;
and the thorns grew up and choked them…

this is he that heareth the word;
and the care of the world,
and the deceitfulness of riches,
choke the word,
and he becometh unfruitful.

(Matthew 13:7,22 ASV)

These words of Jesus are frequently on my mind. The “cares of the world” and the “deceitfulness of riches” are the things that the world is concerned about: food, clothing, family, employment, a good retirement, entertainment, comfort, pleasure, happiness. These are not evil in themselves, but they become evil when they form the basis of my goals, desires and motivations. This happens all too often, and when it does, Jesus ends up taking the backseat in my life. Then I find it more difficult to hear Him speak to me. This hinders my growth in Christ to the point where it becomes impossible to bear fruit.

The fruit that love of the world prevents is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-24), which is headed up with love. So love of the world prevents the love of the Spirit. If I allow the world to attract me, I shouldn’t wonder that I’m not making progress in loving my enemies, growing in patience towards those who irritate me, growing in my relationship with the Lord, and so on.

What thorns have I allowed, and even now am allowing and nurturing, in my life? (It’s time to do an inventory!) The cares of the world and deceitfulness of riches are the number one cause for stunted spiritual growth. God only knows how much spiritual fruit I’ve already dropped prematurely due to the thorns in my life!

Examination – Love Of The World Or The Father?

Love not the world,
neither the things that are in the world.
If any man love the world,
the love of the Father is not in him.

(1 John 2:15 ASV)

I like to think I don’t love the world. But when it comes down to specifics, there are some things in the world I do find attractive and pleasing: certain foods, books, songs, movies, TV shows, philosophies, … rollercoasters.

But Jesus presented an exclusive choice. I can either love the world, or I can love God. I can’t do both. I don’t even have the option of loving the world less than God. I am not to love the world at all. (I’m talking love here, not the mere use of the world’s things. We can’t isolate ourselves from the world. We have to be in the world, but not of it. …just as Jesus was.)

Of course, it’s easy to say “I love God and not the world”, but what do my actions show? What kinds of thoughts do I find pleasing? What motivates me? If I examine myself according to my thoughts and actions, will I find I love the Father or hate Him?

The Examination Of The Scriptures

Search me, O God, and know my heart:
Try me, and know my thoughts;

And see if there be any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.

(Psalm 139:23-24 ASV)

It is good to regularly take time to examine the Bible, but it is far better to let the Bible take time to regularly examine us. The former gives us knowledge of the scriptures that can puff us up. The later gives us knowledge of ourselves that humbles us, opening the door to repentance and the building-up that is of God. The former happens as we read and study the scriptures. The later happens afterwards as we take time to meditate on what we have read and studied.

The Bible is not a religious textbook or doctrinal repository. It is the word of God: living, active, powerful. It has the power to probe our minds, our hearts, our inmost being (Hebrews 4:12). But the benefit is only experienced by those who submit to its scrutiny

This examination of the scriptures is usually painful. Knowing this, I don’t let God’s word examine me as often as I should. I expect this is due to fear of what it will reveal. A quote from The Neverending Story comes to mind:

“Confronted by their true selves, most men run away, screaming!”

I already know there’s bad stuff deep inside me, but I’m comfortable keeping this knowledge as general or theoretical as can be. I don’t want to be confronted with the specifics. However, avoiding the doctor for fear of his diagnosis of cancer will do serious harm if there really is cancer. There can be no cure without there first being a diagnosis.

Regardless of how God’s word makes me feel, it is always a good thing to submit to His probing of the deeper recesses of my heart. How else can those fleshly strongholds I’m only vaguely aware of be fully revealed in all their ugliness and torn down? It is those very areas that have hindered my walk with the Lord since I’ve known Him. Why should I let them continue to hinder God’s will for me?

In the following posts I’d like to share a few of these painful, probing scripture passages that have been on my mind lately. You will probably find them very familiar and not painful at all, especially if you just give them a quick read-through and forget about them. But the more I let them examine me, the clearer I see the true condition of my heart. I find myself becoming more desperate for the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to work in me God’s cure.

Another relevant post: Two Signposts for Diagnosing Your Heart (michaelkelleyministries.com)