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I Gave My Life to Christ: Now What? (part 4)

Churches too often focus on evangelism to the exclusion of discipleship.  You confess Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and the Lord of life.  You’re done, right?

Nope.  I’ve already covered three of Brownlow North’s six rules for new Christians, and I believe they really apply to all Christians.

Rule #4:

If you are in doubt as to a thing being right or wrong, go to your room and kneel down and ask God’s blessing on it (Col 3:17).  If you cannot do this, it is wrong.

I like this.  It touches on the somewhat instinctual nature of moral duties.  Normal people know the difference between right and wrong.  My daughter, for example, knows what she is and is not allowed to do.  She knows that she has to listen to mommy and daddy when we tell her to do things.  She doesn’t, but whenever I get into it with her, she admits that she knows when she does something wrong and understands that it is wrong.

Similar to this would be asking yourself questions like

  1. How would my best friend feel about me if s/he knew I did this?
  2. Would I feel comfortable if my actions were reported on the front page of the newspaper?
  3. In my place, would my hero/mentor act this way?

As Dr. Tom Morris points out in Philosophy for Dummies (yes, I’m reading Philosophy for Dummies), these sorts of questions presuppose a generally good nature.  Humans, according to the Bible, are so enslaved to sin that we can often rationalize the most heinous of behaviors.  However, since we are made in the image of God, we have (at our core) a smattering of goodness that enables us to know the difference between right and wrong.

Asking whether we could, in good conscience, pray God’s blessing over an intended course of action is a great acid test for the validity of such an action.

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I Gave My Life to Christ: Now What? (part 2)

So, once you’ve realized that your doubts are emotional, not intellectual, what do you do?  You give your life to Christ.  Then, you’re supposed to begin the lifelong process of discipleship, but many churches focus so hard on filling the pews that they leave folks to fend for themselves.

Enter Brownlow North, who has devised Six Short Rules for Young Christians.  Yesterday, we covered a simple one: pray everyday.  Today’s is equally simple, and profound as well!

Never neglect daily private Bible reading; and when you read remember that God is speaking to you, and that you are to believe and act upon what he says.  I believe all backsliding begins with the neglect of these two rules (Jn 5:39).

I think that North is absolutely correct in his assessment.  Daily prayer and daily Bible reading are the most important factors of becoming a Christian.  The necessity of God for the universe is an awesome, if abstract, thing to think of and discuss.  However, the necessity of God for one’s personal life is even more interesting.  And personal.

So we’re called friends of God.  A modern friend isn’t the model, however, but a client/patron.  Still, that’s more personal than most people ever got with the king in a feudal society.  Ancient serfs probably never saw the sovereign.  But, through the power of prayer, we get to talk to the sovereign, and confess our deepest fears and desires.

What’s more, God takes them into consideration!  Look at Genesis 18:22-33.  Abraham is able to strike a conditional bargain with God–if 10 righteous people can be found in the city of Sodom, then God will spare it.  God took into consideration what Abraham had said, and did as was befitting a truly righteous judge.

Other instances can be found.  Jonah preached to Nineveh to repent or the judgement would come.  The people repented, and God averted the judgment.  The namesake of this blog, King Josiah, did the same when he heard the Law read aloud.  God listens to us, and he responds to our actions.

How do we read Scripture, though?  Some people have wildly different ideas of what the Bible means.  Look at websites like EvilBible.com and compare it to the alternative interpretations offered by Mariano Grinbank in his study of the passages used on EB.  Why is Mariano right, and EB wrong?

The answer: consistent hermeneutics.  Mariano uses them, and EB uses whatever interpretive method supports their prior conclusion that the Bible is evil.  How does one approach the Bible consistently?  Some brief points:

  1. Interpret Scripture literally, but not hyper-literally.
  2. Read Scripture in context: documentary (the surrounding paragraphs), genre (the Bible contains numerous different genres; a proverb isn’t the same as a historical book), and cultural (this requires research, humility, and empathy).
  3. Interpret unclear passages of Scripture in light of clear passages.
  4. Newer portions of Scripture supplement, or in some cases overturn, previous portions.  (This is why I confess to God and accountability partners my sins instead of slitting a bull’s throat and splattering its blood at the foot of an altar.)
  5. Do not push language meant to communicate complex, divine truths to its literal extreme (God isn’t a bricklayer per Job 38:4, nor does he have wings per Ps 17:8).
  6. Scripture is multifaceted in its application, but the truth communicated by a given passage should be understood as what the author intended to communicate to his desired audience.

For more information about prayer, check out the very thin book Sense and Nonsense About Prayer by Lehman Strauss.  One of the best volumes on the topic, with high accessibility and readability.

For an introduction to consistent hermeneutics, check out this article at your own risk; I don’t agree with the doctrine of perspicuity of Scripture which the site advocates.

Remember, neglecting these two rules will cause more backsliding in your life than anything else I will say in this series.  So get to praying and reading that Bible!

I Gave My Life to Christ: Now What? (part 1)

The focus of this blog has been on getting you to the point where you can intellectually accept that Jesus and God are very real, and that you can commit in good faith to a relationship without surrendering your intellectual integrity.  I’ve gotten mixed reviews on my ability to do this; people open to the possibility are generally convinced, but hardcore skeptics think I’m deluded beyond even psychiatric help.

Once you’ve actually made it to the point where you accept Christ (or rededicate your life to Christ, in the case of one recent e-mail correspondence I had), what do you do?  Well, Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life worked for me.

Warren’s simple 40-day devotional gave me a great introduction into what it meas to be a Christian.  It helped turn the five New Testament purposes for a church into

Shorter and better, however, are Brownlow North’s Six Short Rules for Young Christians.  These aren’t just for young or new Christians–these will work for any Christian, no matter how far along in his or spiritual journey.

First:

Never neglect daily private prayer; and when you pray, remember that God is present, and that he hears your prayers (Heb 11:6).

Short and simple, and something that I think many people forget.  Being omnipresent in our reality, God is present during your prayers and he hears your request.  This doesn’t obligate him to answer affirmatively, but he is present and he does hear you.

That’s simple, yet very deep.  Let’s just think about that for today, and I’ll have more to say on this issue tomorrow, because this rule combined with rule #2 will have a profound effect on the life of the Christian.

Returning to the God is Imaginary Rewrite

It’s been a while, but I’m now returning to the rewrite of my refutation of God is Imaginary. After reading some of my original disproofs, I’m happy to be doing the rewrite because some of my original apologetics were terrible. I’ve grown as an apologist, I’m proud to say.

Like anything, it’s a learning curve.

I have no set schedule for completing the proofs. I hope to also tackle Why Won’t God Heal Amputees in the near future as well.

What I’ve done so far:

And, co-author Dr. Joshua Rasmussen has put up his first article:

I’m probably going to edit that article a bit this week, since Dr. Rasmussen makes some points that I would like to expand on.

Prayer Request

I don’t normally put prayer requests out on the blog since the audience tends to be mostly atheist or agnostic, but the accident is serious enough that I wanted to do so anyway.

My Aunt Denise and her daughter-in-law Destiny were in Destiny’s new house when the hot water tank exploded.  The were life-flighted to the hospital with 3rd-degree burns.  Destiny is 8 1/2 months pregnant, which is the worst part of this.

I’ll post updates when I have them.  For now, any prayers would be appreciated.  Thank you.

Prayer: Provision of Wants Versus Needs

Jennifer Fulwiler

Jennifer Fulwiler has a great post on prayer on her blog, Conversion Diary. It’s nice to see someone reflect on what prayer should actually entail. Too often God is considered to be some kind of magic genie that grants our every wish.

Jennifer, on the other hand, has it right. In a theology of prayer, a balance has to be struck between specificity and generality. What do I mean?

Right now, I’m unemployed. It’s a long story. My wife’s income isn’t enough to sustain us, so something has to happen and quickly. If I pray, “God, please grant me a new job tomorrow morning,” what do you think is going to happen when I open my e-mail?

That’s right. No job offers. I doubt my cell phone is going to ring anytime soon either.

Am I missing something?

Yes, I am. Where in the Bible does God ever promise to give me everything I have ever wanted? Last I checked, Jesus called us to deny ourselves–our physical desires and perceived needs–and take up our crosses, and follow him. The Christian life isn’t one of ease, wealth, and good health-o’plenty (despite what Joel Osteen might tell you). A Christian life is one of sacrifice and (dare I say it?) persecution.

That message doesn’t sell well, especially in the United States. So hacks like Osteen spread their false prosperity gospel quite easily, even though there isn’t a shred of Scriptural evidence for what they’re saying. People buy it, hook, line, and sinker (see 2 Tim 4:3).

Why should the followers have it easy, living in the lap of luxury, when the master lived a pauper’s life and died a torturous, shameful death? The servant, Jesus wisely quips, isn’t greater than his master (Jn 15:20).

Jennifer suggests “zooming out” a bit. In other words, instead of thinking only of your health, wealth, prosperity–your perceived needs–try to think in terms of what you actually need.

So, I’m not going to get that magical job offer in my inbox tomorrow. Do I need a job? It could be argued that I do. But I think what I really need is a way to provide food for my children. We have food stamps forthcoming. And we already receive WIC benefits. God, perhaps, is working through these programs for the time being in order to provide for us.

None of us are starving. None of us will, it seems. Ah, God has promised that in his word, for we are more important to him than lesser animals, yet those do not starve.

And I have enough marketable skills that I won’t be without a job for too long. So God has provided a short term solution for us in the welfare benefits, but has also provided a long term solution in the form of the marketable skills I have gained over the years I have been employed. It’s not a clear, concise, detailed answer that magically dropped out of heaven, but it is an answer to prayer!

Next time, instead of focusing on minutely detailed answers magically provided as if from nowhere, “zoom out” a bit, as Jennifer put it. Look for the more underlying need and pray for its provision. And, as in everything, look for God’s will. Because, really, this life isn’t about you.

I’ll Never Understand This

Christopher Hitchens

Image via Wikipedia

Okay, it is time for me, once again, to put on my “naive religious person” hat and wonder why on earth people get offended over the stupidest things.

It has nothing to do with the recent decision to ban cross memorials for fallen state troopers in Utah because it allegedly is Christian proselytization forced on innocent motorists driving down the highway. That was a bit outrageous, and those judges should have their heads examined. The cross isn’t a Mormon symbol, and both the folks who erected the monuments and the troopers to whom the monuments were dedicated were Mormons. The cross has come to mean “grave marker” just as much as it symbolizes Christianity. For more information on that, see the related links below.

No, the subject of this post is one of far greater concern to me. Vjack of Atheist Revolution has written a post decrying prayers being offered for Christopher Hitchens’s recovery from cancer. He discusses why prayer, in this specific case, is offensive, then treats the broader issue of why prayer in general is offensive. Read the rest of this entry