The Old Rugged Cross

NOTE: I wrote this four months after finding my 19 year old son after he’d taken his own life…

There have been moments these past months that I’ve wanted to give up on God.

I’m simply being honest.

As one who grew up in a violent, alcoholic home, I witnessed more violence as a child than I care to remember.

As a full-time pastor now for 30+ years, I’ve had, on occasion, the unfortunate opportunity to see the very ugly side of what some have otherwise called “Christianity.”

But those pale in comparison to the events of May 13th, 2013, when my world caved in around me.

In light of the pain we suffer on planet earth, what proof is there that there is a God? More than that, what proof is there that that God really loves me?

From their outstanding work, “Name Above All Names,” Alistair Begg & Sinclair Ferguson write,

It is the cross alone that ultimately proves the love of God to us – not the circumstances of our lives.

We must not allow ourselves to be tricked into thinking that if things are going well with us, Then we can be sure of God’s love. For life can often seem dark and painful. Things do not always go well for us.

Rather, we look to the sacrifice of the cross and the proof God gave there of His love. ‘God [demonstrated proof of] His love toward us, in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8)

This is the proof I need. This is the truth I need to hear. This dispels the lies of the enemy.”

This is the unstoppable, indefensible, indisputable love of God in Christ Jesus.

I love you, Nick

The Faith of Christianity vs. the Faith of Atheism

I saw the following quote posted in a “proof for the existence of God” debate recently. I thought it was a very kind and thought-provoking response:

“…to believe there is no God, or to lack belief in a God, still requires faith. You have to trust that the arguments of natural theology are false. You have to trust that the information in DNA arose without an intelligent mind. You have to trust that nature arose by natural causes (a self-contradiction).

You have to have faith that consciousness arose out of dead inert matter. The list goes on and on. It takes faith to look at the universe and all its creative wonder and come out thinking that atheism is a better explanation than theism.”

What the blogger is pointing out is that since it’s virtually impossible to know everything about a particular topic where the existence – or non-existence – of God is concerned, both theism and atheism require faith.

We all ultimately have faith in something – whether we want to admit it, or not.

Retired UC Berkeley law professor (and author), Phillip E. Johnson, astutely notes, “One who claims to be a skeptic of one set of beliefs is actually a true believer in another set of beliefs.”  In other words, in this particular context, one who rejects faith in Christianity is, in truth, holding to faith in some other worldview – even if that worldview boils down to faith in believing that Christianity is a fairy tale.

In sum, the atheist, Albert Camus, represents the unavoidable faith required by atheism when he said, “I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn’t, than live as if there isn’t and to die to find out that there is.”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Pascal’s Wager

When we die, what do you think is on the other side?  (good question)

Recently, I read a story of a son (a Christian) asking his father (not a Christian) if he ever worried about what happens after we die.  “The next life?” the father said. “I’ll worry about that when I get there!”

But, what if “when I get there” is too late?

Blaise Pascal was a 17th century French philosopher, mathematician, scientist and inventor.  He was also a Christian who is famous for what is commonly known as Pascal’s Wager:

If Christianity is false, both non-Christians and Christians have nothing to gain and nothing to lose.  But what if Christianity is true?  For, if Christianity is true, the Christian has everything to gain (heaven) while the non-Christian has everything to lose (hell).

Does one really want to wager that Christianity is false and risk spending eternity in what the Bible calls hell?

Pascal’s Wager is not without its opponents.  Writing for Christianity Today, Michael Rota cites atheist, Richard Dawkins, who asked whether God might not respect a courageous skeptic “far more than he would respect Pascal for his cowardly bet-hedging.”

Fair enough.

Make no mistake though.  Christianity is not an unreasonable option when one is considering whether or not it is true.  Taking together the order of the cosmos, the intelligent design of the human body, the historical reliability of the gospels, and the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, the cumulative evidence for Christianity is, to say the least, compelling.

Contrary to how Dawkins may respond, Pascal was not a coward but rather quite courageous, himself, in posing such a pointed question to whomever will pause long enough to consider the gravity of what he is asking: What if the Bible is true after all?

Certainly, Christianity requires faith.  But, make no mistake: so does atheism. 

In his article, Rota concludes, “If I find myself thinking that Christianity might be false, I remember that it [also] might be true.  Do I want to take a real risk of turning my back on Jesus?  Never.”

Nor do I.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

“How I Almost Lost the Bible”

 This brief story represents precisely why I am pursuing a Masters Degree in Apologetics.

Like Dr. Thornbury, the story’s author, “I [have] covenanted with God to help people like the 18-year-old version of [Dr. Thornbury] —people who are on the boundary of leaving the church, and are looking for just one good reason to stay.

I have highlighted various statements that stood out to me, personally.  For instance, it’s “after high school/beginning of college” that most Christian students are confronted with intelligent challenges to their faith, catapulting them into a philosophical and theological whirlwind.

Dr. Gregory Thornbury is President of The King’s College in NYC.

Below are two links.  The first a PDF file of the story, while the second is to the actual web address of the story.  Enjoy. 🙂

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

How I Almost Lost the Bible – CT – Jan 2015

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/januaryfebruary/how-i-almost-lost-bible.html

 

 

 

Atheism Failed Me

Allow me to begin by saying those who hold to an atheistic worldview are precious in the sight of God.  I have friends who are atheists.  And I love them deeply.  This is, in no way, a personal attack on those who hold to atheism. You won’t find any snide remarks or insults in this post. It is simply my story of why atheism didn’t work for me. nw

 

For some, atheism works. For me, it didn’t.

Believing that God exists, that He is good, and that He is trustworthy was as much an intellectual decision for me as it was a matter of faith. Faith and reason, at first glance, appear to be at odds with one another. While still an ardent atheist, C.S. Lewis wrote, “I was at this time living, like so many Atheists, in a world of contradictions.”

When, in 2013, my 19 year old son, Jordan, took his own life, my entire life became one single contradiction. As a result, with all my heart, mind & soul, I tried to resolve that contradiction with a worldview that included a world void of God. For, on the day I found my son’s body (and the days immediately following), believing in a God who would allow this tortuous nightmare made no logical sense.  Discovering that God certainly did not exist would have made it far easier for me to deal with my son’s suicide.

In way of introduction, I ended up choosing not to embrace atheism after my son died.  However, this was not for lack of trying.  Frankly, the reason I ended up not embracing atheism was because atheism provided for me no hope, no answers to my biggest questions i.e. “Why is there something instead of nothing?”, “What is human consciousness and cognition, and where did it come from?”, etc.  I found atheism had much to say about the origin of species, but little or nothing to say about the origin of life. So, although I deeply desired to be satisfied by atheistic philosophy, I was sorely disappointed.  And this is what I mean by the title, “Atheism Failed Me.”

When I finally returned to the Bible, I found, for me, a “better explanation.”  Alister McGrath holds a Ph.D. in Molecular Biophysics.  A former atheist, he explains, “I became a Christian at the age of 18 while studying chemistry at Oxford University. My conversion related to my perception that Christianity offered a more comprehensive, coherent and compelling account of reality than the atheism I had embraced in my earlier teenage years.”  Former atheist, C.S. Lewis, said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

Then there’s the resurrection of Christ.  While lecturing at the University of Uruguay, former atheist, Josh McDowell, was asked by a student, “Sir, why don’t you refute Christianity?”  McDowell calmly answered, “I would except for one thing: I can’t explain away the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  As one theologian once said, “Prove the resurrection was a farce and Christianity comes tumbling down like a house of cards.”  But, just as I conclude the article below, “the tomb is still empty. And that changes everything.”

In early 2015, The Lubbock Metro Leader Magazine contacted me about writing an article. I submitted to them this one entitled, “Atheism Failed Me”:

I tried to disprove the existence of God, immediately after finding my 19-year-old son dead in his bedroom from suicide.

I looked at the most recent, most compelling evidence to make God sound like a ludicrous alternative. I looked at the best arguments from the best atheists, both in modern and historical times.

You must understand that I wanted desperately to know, in those first 48 hours after finding my son, that there was no God.  God’s non-existence would have made more sense to me than “a loving God who would allow my son to suffer so much from clinical depression that he would take his life.”

But atheism failed me. The words of the best, most intelligent atheists rang hollow. Their rebuttals and refutations against the existence of God were, in my opinion, incomplete, short-sighted, and at times, ludicrous. While the atheists scream loudly trying to speak for their evidence, the theists, in my opinion, simply step back and allow the evidence to speak for itself. For the arguments of theists were akin to the familiar statement: “You don’t need to defend a lion; you simply open the cage and allow him to defend himself.”

In the end of my investigation for a God-less universe, I found myself like Peter in John 6. (I tend to resonate with Peter – impetuous, speaks before he thinks, reckless at times, etc., but always passionate.) By chapter 6 of John’s gospel account, Jesus has fed the thousands, healed the sick, and cast out demons. But now, he’s teaching the crowd what following him really means. The response is heartbreaking. Most of them, it turns out, had no interest in following Jesus. They wanted the sizzle, but not the substance; the blessing, but not the commitment.  In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, they wanted grace that was “cheap” rather than “costly.” In short, they wanted an “A” in the course without doing the homework. And, in verse 66, John records, “It was at this time many of those who followed Jesus turned away and deserted him.” Jesus then turned to the twelve and asked, “Are you going to leave me too?”

After trying as hard as I could to prove God was a fairy-tale, I found myself repeating those exact words stated by Peter, 20 centuries ago.

Peter replied, “Lord, where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Can I prove the existence of God in a laboratory? No. Frankly, I don’t want a God I can explain – the Incarnation, the Trinity, etc., are all inexplicable. A God we can explain would be … well, more like a man than God; at best, a super-hero. On the flip side, I was reminded that God can’t be disproved in a laboratory either.  The metaphysical is simply beyond the grasp of scientific method.

Like so many others far more intelligent than myself, I eventually arrived at the following conclusion: The cumulative evidence (from cosmology, astronomy, biology, chemistry and the other hard sciences) for the existence of a transcendent, outside-the-laws-of-physics, “wholly other” (as Soren Kierkagaard described him) is startlingly compelling.

Add to this the evidence from history and archaeology, the historical reliability of the New Testament and the empty tomb, and the evidence is simply overwhelming.

Does faith in the God of the Bible still require faith?  Of course.  But so does atheism.  And, frankly, I have found I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.  As Yale Law School grad and former atheist, Lee Strobel, said,

“To continue in atheism, I’d need to believe nothing produces everything; non-life produces life; randomness produces fine-tuning; chaos produces information; unconsciousness produces consciousness; and non-reason produces reason. I just didn’t have that much faith.”

I considered at length the words of British philosopher, Antony Flew, a champion of 20th century atheism:  “One must go where the evidence leads.”  This led Flew to belief in God.  It led me back to Christ.

I cannot overstate how I felt in the moments immediately following finding my dead son: I. Hated. God. But, God – who we see in the person of Jesus Christ – held me.  Even as I fought to run away, he wouldn’t let go.The same love that drove Christ to the cross drove him to love me deeply, holding me tenderly in his arms. He was patient with me, allowing me time to scream at him, accuse him, and even hate him(all of these emotions, by the way, are found in the imprecatory psalms in our Bible).

Despite the best I could hurl at God, he never left me. Ever. He nursed me back to psychological and emotional health. And, in those early hours, when I began to investigate whether I had been wrong all my life about him, He didn’t punish me – he loved me. In the darkest moment of my life, Jesus whispered to me, “I. Am. Here. I’ve got this. Trust Me.”I do, my King. Where else would I go? You have the words of eternal life.

To those of you trying to figure out life’s pain, know this: God is faithful; his Word is true. “He is close to the broken-hearted, and he saves those who are crushed in spirit” — Ps. 34:18; Jesus did exist, lived a sinless life, and died on a Roman cross. The tomb is still empty. And, that changes everything.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Atheism Failed Me

You know – I tried to disprove the existence of God – immediately after finding my 19-year-old son dead in his bedroom from suicide.

I looked at the most recent, most compelling evidence to make God sound like a ludicrous alternative. I looked at the best arguments from the best atheists, both in modern & historical times.

You must understand that I wanted desperately to know, in those first 48 hours after finding my son, that there was no God.  God’s non-existence would have made more sense to me than “a loving God who would allow my son to suffer so much from clinical depression that he would take his life.”

But atheism failed me.

The words of the best, most intelligent atheists rang hollow. Their rebuttals and refutations against the existence of God were, in my opinion, incomplete, short-sighted, and, at times, as ludicrous as the very arguments for God they attack. While the atheists scream loudly trying to speak for their evidence, the theists, in my opinion, simply step back and allow the evidence to speak for itself. For the arguments of theists, it was akin to the familiar statement: “You don’t need to defend a lion; you simply open the cage and allow him to defend himself.”

In the end of my investigation for a God-less universe, I found myself like Peter in John 6 (I tend to so resonate with Peter – impetuous, speaks before he thinks, reckless at times, etc., but always passionate.) By chapter 6 of John’s gospel account, Jesus has fed the thousands, healed the sick, and cast out demons. But now, he’s teaching the crowd what following Him really means. The response is heartbreaking. For most of them, it turns out, had no interest in following Jesus. They wanted the sizzle, but not the substance; the blessing, but not the commitment.  In the words of Bonhoeffer, they wanted grace that was “cheap” rather than “costly”. In short, they wanted an “A in the course” without doing the homework. And in verse 66, John records, “It was at this time many of those who followed Jesus turned away and deserted him.” Jesus then turned to the twelve and asked, “Are you going to leave me too?” Peter replied, “Lord, where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

After trying as hard as I could to prove God was a fairy-tale, I found myself repeating those exact words stated by Peter, 20 centuries ago.

Can I prove the existence of God in a laboratory? No. (Frankly, I don’t want a God I can explain – the Incarnation, the Trinity, etc. are all inexplicable.) A God we can explain would be,…well, more like a man than God; at best, a super-hero. But, what I was reminded of following my son’s death was this: the evidence for the existence of a transcendent, outside-the-laws-of-physics, “wholly other” (as Kierkagaard described Him) is not merely compelling, it’s overwhelming.

I cannot overstate how I felt in the moments immediately following finding my dead son: I. Hated. God.

But, God – who we see in the Person of Jesus Christ – held me.  Even as I fought to run away, He wouldn’t let go. The same love that drove Christ to the cross drove Him to love me deeply, holding me tenderly in His arms. He was patient with me, allowing me time to scream at Him, accuse Him, and even hate Him (all of these emotions,by the way, are found in the imprecatory psalms in our Bible).

Despite the best I could hurl at God, He never left me. Ever. He nursed me back to psychological and emotional health. And, in those early hours, when I began to investigate whether I had been wrong all my life about Him, He didn’t punish me – He loved me, and told me, “I’ve got this.”

In the darkest moment of my life, Jesus whispered to me, “I. Am. Here. I’ve got this. Trust Me.”

“I do, my King. Where else would I go? You have the words of eternal life.”

To those of you trying to figure out life’s pain, know this: God is faithful; His Word is true; “He is close to the broken-hearted, and He saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18); Jesus did exist, live a sinless life, and die on a Roman cross.

The tomb is still empty. And, that changes everything.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

What Atheists Wish Christians Knew About Them

In light of various quote/articles/thoughts i post regarding arguments for the existence of God, I thought this video clip was a wonderful resource for remembering that “atheists” are, first of all, people. And, in many way, just like you and me.

Neil Carter is a high school Geometry teacher, a tutor, a swim coach, a father of five children, and a skeptic living in the Bible Belt. A former church elder with a seminary education, Neil mostly writes now about the struggles of former evangelicals living in the midst of a highly religious subculture.

A year ago, Carter was invited to a church to be interviewed in front of their congregation. The video clip here is an excerpt from that interview. You will find he is kind, articulate, and personable. And he does not, in any way, believe in God, that the Bible is true, etc.

Watch the clip (it’s 15 minutes so you’ll need to wait until you have some time). And when he says things that are contrary to God’s Word, try not to roll your eyes, smirk, snicker, laugh, etc. Listen to him. Understand him. Try to see this man as Jesus would see him – as a person God deeply, deeply loves, and died for – a person God wants to reach. Then, when the video clip is over, pray for Neil. Pray he would know the love and power of the risen Christ.