Horatio’s Blindspot

From Christianity Today – April 2020

What Skeptical Scholars Admit about the Resurrection Appearances of Jesus

The historical evidence is clear: Those who claimed to see him risen must have seen something. JUSTIN BASS; APRIL 13, 2020

What Skeptical Scholars Admit about the Resurrection Appearances of Jesus

On June 26, 2000, ABC aired a documentary called The Search for Jesus. The network’s leading news anchor, Peter Jennings, interviewed liberal and conservative scholars of early Christianity about what we can know historically concerning Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The series ended with a striking statement by New Testament scholar Paula Fredriksen, who is not a Christian herself.

Commenting on the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus, Fredriksen said,

I know in their own terms what they saw was the raised Jesus. That’s what they say, and then all the historic evidence we have afterwards attest to their conviction that that’s what they saw. I’m not saying that they really did see the raised Jesus. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what they saw. But I do know that as a historian that they must have seen something.

She’s admitting, in other words, that the best available historical evidence confirms that followers of Jesus like Mary Magdalene, his brother James, Peter and his other disciples, and even an enemy (Paul) were absolutely convinced that the crucified man Jesus appeared to them alive, raised from the dead.

Fredriksen is not alone in supposing that these followers must have seen something. Virtually every Bible scholar across the Western world, regardless of religious background, agrees that Jesus’ earliest followers believed he appeared to them alive. This is what launched the world’s largest religion. As a result of these appearances, Jewish fishermen began proclaiming to crowds in Jerusalem that “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it” (Acts 2:32). Two thousand years later, the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection is proclaimed by billions of Christians in nearly every nation and in almost every language on planet earth.

What did all these witnesses see?

A Bedrock Confession

According to the earliest source we have on record for Jesus’ death and resurrection, a hidden pearl found within 1 Corinthians 15, Jesus appeared to multiple individuals and groups, and at least one enemy. This creedal tradition, according to virtually all scholars, dates to within five years of Jesus’ death. Through this source, we can reach back to the earliest years of the Christian movement in Jerusalem, to the bedrock confession of the earliest followers of Jesus.

Here is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3–8:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

This catalog of Resurrection appearances is unparalleled in the New Testament, even in all of ancient literature. We learn from this list that Jesus appeared to three individuals: Cephas (Peter), his chief disciple; James, his brother; and Paul, his former enemy. And we also learn that he appeared to three groups: the Twelve (disciples, minus Judas); more than 500 early followers; and all the apostles.

That Jesus appeared to more than 500 men and women at the same time is a truly remarkable claim. Paul boldly puts his credibility on the line when he mentions that most of them are still alive. After all, he is essentially inviting members of the Corinthian church to travel to Jerusalem and speak to these witnesses, investigating for themselves what it was like to see the risen Jesus. We can see, then, that solid eyewitness testimony to the risen Jesus was readily available in the decades following his resurrection. As G. K. Chesterton observed in The Everlasting Man, “This is the sort of truth that is hard to explain because it is a fact; but it is a fact to which we can call witnesses.”Article continues below

Mary Magdalene also belongs on the list of key eyewitnesses, as she too was readily available to be questioned about her experience with the risen Jesus. As the agnostic New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman writes in How Jesus Became God, it is “significant that Mary Magdalene enjoys such prominence in all the Gospel Resurrection narratives, even though she is virtually absent everywhere else in the Gospels. She is mentioned in only one passage in the entire New Testament in connection with Jesus during his public ministry (Luke 8:1–3), and yet she is always the first to announce that Jesus has been raised. Why is this? One plausible explanation is that she too had a vision of Jesus after he died.” Mary Magdalene was given the high honor of being not only the first to see the risen Jesus but the first person in history to proclaim, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18).

Whatever these eyewitnesses saw, it transformed their lives to the point of being willing to suffer and die for it. In 2 Corinthians 11:23–33, Paul recounts his almost daily suffering for his conviction that Jesus appeared to him. He was beaten, imprisoned, stoned, starved, lost at sea, and daily in danger of all kinds of evil on his journeys throughout the Roman Empire.

We also possess strong historical evidence that certain key eyewitnesses were martyred for their faith. Peter, for instance, was crucified. James was stoned. Paul was beheaded. Whatever they saw, it was worth giving their lives for. They sealed their testimonies with their blood.

The Magic Wand of ‘Mass Hysteria’

In order to explain away these Resurrection appearances, some scholars have speculated that the eyewitnesses were merely hallucinating.

In his excellent book Resurrecting Jesus, New Testament scholar Dale Allison surveys the available scientific studies and literature on hallucinations. In documented cases, he concludes, there are four things that do not happen (or rarely happen). First, hallucinations are rarely seen by multiple individuals and groups over an extended period of time. Second, hallucinations are rarely seen by large groups of people, especially groups of more than eight. Third, hallucinations have neverled to the claim that a dead person has been resurrected. And fourth, hallucinations do not involve the person’s enemy. (We could also add the fact that hallucinations typically aren’t known for launching global movements or world religions.)

Yet in the case of the resurrection appearances of Jesus, every last one of these rare or seemingly impossible circumstances has come to pass.

Allison sums up the implications forcefully: “These appear to be the facts, and they raise the question of how we should explain them. The apologists for the faith say that the sightings of Jesus must, given the reports, have been objective. One person can hallucinate, but twelve at the same time? And dozens over an extended period of time? These are legitimate questions, and waving the magical wand of ‘mass hysteria’ will not make them vanish.”

Cautious Agnosticism

The only other answer given by respectable scholars wrestling with this robust historical record is some variation of “I don’t know.” Much like Fredriksen, renowned New Testament scholar E. P. Sanders also represents this cautious-agnostic approach when he writes, in The Historical Figure of Jesus: “That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had Resurrection experiences is, in my judgement, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.”Article continues below

Jordan Peterson, the popular professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, also belongs in this category. He neither affirms nor rejects the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. When asked directly if Jesus literally rose from the dead, Peterson responded, “I need to think about that for about three more years before I would even venture an answer beyond what I’ve already given.”

The cautious-agnostic’s position is a respectable one. Even the original apostles did not believe the claim of the Resurrection when the women first told them (Luke 24:8–11). Yet if someone like Peterson, with an open mind and heart, follows the evidence where it leads, I am convinced he will find himself at the feet of the risen Jesus, proclaiming with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

Convincing Horatio

The extraordinary nature of Jesus’ resurrection reminds me of my favorite scene in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The play opens with the “wondrous strange” appearances of Hamlet’s dead father to Bernardo and Marcellus and then later to Hamlet’s friend Horatio. Horatio is the skeptic of the group, and Hamlet challenges his disbelief of the supernatural in this exchange:

Horatio: O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!

Hamlet: And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Shakespeare speaks through Hamlet, telling us to expect the unexpected. Welcome the strange and extraordinary. It is indeed wondrous strange that the ghost of Hamlet’s father is appearing to people, but do not reject it for that reason alone. Your philosophy should be wide enough for the supernatural. More things are happening in our wonderful world (and beyond) than you can imagine. If your philosophy is not wide and open enough to include the miraculous and the extraordinary, then you need a new philosophy.

We should be open to miraculous claims from the ancient world and in modern times. Our philosophies should make room for the unexpected, strange, and extraordinary. And yet, the most important question to ask of any miraculous claim is “What is the evidence?”

We have seen that, even from the perspective of the most skeptical scholars, the weight of the historical record attests that a host of individuals and groups believed they saw the risen Jesus. All the evidence we have suggests that his eyewitnesses were trustworthy and honest. Why disbelieve them?

And if that doesn’t convince our modern-day Horatios, then we can go further, summoning the Twelve and the more than 500 who saw the resurrected Messiah.

We can even move beyond the first-century time frame, exploring how belief in the Resurrection laid the foundations of all Western civilization, inspiring some of the greatest art, literature, music, film, philosophy, morality, and ethics that the world has ever seen. Is this all based on a lie?

And if all that is still not enough, then let our Horatios behold the billions across the world today who readily testify to how the living Christ has transformed their lives. These include intellectual giants who have converted to Christianity from every world religion (or from atheism and agnosticism). In Christ, they have found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

On Easter, these billions were proclaiming the same message the apostles proclaimed on the Day of Pentecost: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.”

Now more than ever, in this dark, plague-ridden world, your family, friends, and neighbors are looking for hope. The living Christ is the only hope for us all. Before Easter fades into the rush of everyday life, ask your neighbor: What (or who) did all those witnesses see?

They saw hope incarnate, new creation, life in its fullness, God in the flesh.

This indeed is wondrous strange! Encourage your skeptical friends not to stop at “I don’t know.” Give the risen Jesus welcome.

Justin Bass is professor of New Testament at Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary in Amman, Jordan. He is the author of The Bedrock of Christianity: The Unalterable Facts of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection(Lexham Press) and The Battle for the Keys: Revelation 1:18 and Christ’s Descent into the Underworld (Wipf and Stock)

The Last Straw

Have you ever done something you believed was the “last straw” with God?  Have you ever felt like you’ve, finally – once and for all – ruined your life?

NOTE:  A follow-up to my message a couple of weeks ago about the Cross’s power over shame.

Tullian Tchividjian (last name is pronounced “shuh -VIJ-uhn) is the grandson of Billy Graham. (see pic of Tullian with his granddad)

Tullian pastored a large church in south Florida and was a rising star in the church world, reaching almost celebrity status. Handsome, a gifted speaker and author, and possessing an engaging personality, he forgot how quickly a man can stray off course and slowly fell into Satan’s trap. (“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” – 1 Corinthians 10:12)

Over time, Tchividjian  grew more and more blind to the moral danger awaiting us all when pride tightens its grip, giving us a false sense of invincibility.  As a result, he, like so many before him, was easily lured by the enemy into moral failure.

In 2015, he was removed from his church after getting caught in an affair.

He lost his ministry and his marriage.

Below is something Tchividjian wrote not as the celebrity-status-pastor he once was, but as a broken man.  It is powerful.

*Tullian’s note begins here*:

In a season of sin and self-destruction back in 2015, I lost everything and hurt many people in the process. At 41 years old, I broke my life, I broke my family, and I broke the hearts of those who trusted me and looked to me for leadership.

Through heaving tears of sorrow and shame, regret and remorse, I sent this note to a friend of mine the night my granddad (Billy Graham) died two years ago today:

“Watching my grandfather’s life, it has hit me afresh just how selfish and arrogant I was, how much I squandered. And for what? FOR WHAT?? What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul? Character matters. It does not gain us favor with God, but it does give us credibility with others so that we can deliver God’s favor to the world. I blew it. I’m undone.”

My friend responded with six words: “There was a man named David…”

I lost it.

My friend had the perfect words at just the right time. It was the powerful and comforting reminder I needed at that moment that God loves and uses people who fail because people who fail are all that there are. Maybe you need that reminder too.

Yes, “There was a man named David…” But even more powerful and comforting is the good news that there is a man named Jesus.

Unlike my grandfather, I soiled my record. Regardless of how I live my life from now until the day I die, my season of sinful self-destruction will always be remembered and talked about. The hurt I caused myself and countless others will linger in many hearts and cause some people to doubt me, disparage me, and distrust me for the rest of my days. I’ve accepted that my blemished reputation is here to stay. There is no going back.

But I believe that if Daddy Bill (Billy Graham) were still alive, he’d say something like this to me:

“Tullian, I may not be guilty externally of the same sins you are, but I assure you that my heart is no less sinful than yours. According to God’s standard of perfection, I’m a failure just like you. Your sin speak to what people saw. But the Gospel speaks to what only God sees. All of our records are stained with sin. But the good news of the Gospel is that Jesus’ perfect record is ours by faith. When God looks at our account, He doesn’t see all of our nasty withdrawals. Rather, he sees all of Christ’s perfect deposits. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that because of Jesus, the sins we can’t forget, God chooses not to remember. So take heart failed one, before God the righteousness of Christ is all any of us need. Before God, the righteousness of Christ is all any of us have.”

That righteousness, that gift of God, speaks louder than any voice of accusation. I may have a blemished reputation, but not in the eyes of God. When my Father sees me—and when he sees you—he sees someone who looks just like Jesus, the unblemished Lamb of God.


*Tullian’s note ends here*.

The idiom, “the last straw,” comes from the longer idiom, “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” Simply put, at some point the camel is going to break under a given amount of weight. It’s inevitable.

But, the sin of the entire world couldn’t break Jesus’ back. Not then. Not now.

Jesus is whispering to you, “I’ve got this. Trust me.”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

What to Say to a Person Considering Suicide

Here’s the scenario…

You have good reason to believe (or, at least, strongly suspect) a friend or loved one is considering taking their own life.

First of all, should you say anything?  YES.  Always err on the side of caution.  If you’re wrong, you’ve lost nothing.  But, if you’re right – you’ve just might have saved a life.

So, what can I say that may help them choose to live?

Finding my own son’s body on May 13, 2013, after he’d taken his own life, changed everything, as you can imagine.  He was 19.

When I finally began recovering psychologically I had a decision to make.  I could choose to live in despair the rest of my life, or I could muster the mental and emotional strength I had left and choose to help others choose to live.

My family and I chose the latter.

One of the workshops I attended to begin equipping myself to help suicidal people was sponsored by ASIST, an acronym for Applied Suicide Intervention Skills & Training.

The following questions were taught to us to ask a person we suspect is in immediate risk of harming themselves.

NOTE:  These questions must be asked gently, tenderly, free of any tone of guilt, shame or condemnation.  A condescending tone, alone, could serve as the final “poke in the chest” sending someone over the proverbial edge of the cliff.  A person considering suicide is operating with a brain that is, in some part, broken.  The last thing they need is to be looked upon pitifully or judgmentally.

Question No. 1:

“Are you considering taking your life?”

At first glance, this question may seem odd to ask.  But, chances are high that the person considering suicide has never admitted this out loud.  To actually hear themselves admit they are considering taking their own life may well serve as a warning siren going off in their head helping jolt them back into some sense of reality.

Should they shrug their shoulders, or say “I don’t know,” you simply reply with, “I’m not comfortable with that answer.  I’m not leaving until I know you’re ok.”

Question No. 2:

“Why do you want to die?”

NOTE: Ninety-nine percent of those who attempt to take their life don’t want to die; they just want the pain to stop.

Again, by asking this question, you are gently and tenderly validating their pain which is so crushingly severe it has brought them to a place dark enough to prompt them to the point of considering taking their own life.

This is huge:  while they are sharing reasons for which they want to die, you are listening to reasons for why they want to live.

For example:  often, a person experiencing this level of pain will reply with something like, “I am tired of being a burden to my family.”  This tells us they deeply love their family.  Or, “I am a failure at work, or school.”  This tells us they are suffering from crushingly low self-worth, or feeling void of purpose in life.

Question No. 3:

“What I’m hearing you say is that part of you wants to die.  But I’m also hearing you say part of you wants to live.  Could I be right? So we need to protect the part of you that wants to live.”

Note the latter part of this question: “So we need to protect the part of you that wants to live.”

By saying “we” you are making certain they know they are not alone.  By helping them come to grips with that part of them “wanting to live” you are giving them hope by helping them reconnect with the logical part of their brain.

More food-for-thought:

We commonly say to people who are hurting:

“If you need anything, just let me know.”

A better response: 

“I can see you’re struggling.  I’m here for you.  Can we get through this together?”

One last thing…

I am attaching here a short clip (less than 3 minutes) that I show at the close of my public talks.  It’s from the 1998 film, Patch Adams, based on the true story of physician, Hunter “Patch” Adams.  Patch, played by Robin Williams, has checked himself into a Psychiatric Ward.  During the day, everyone is free to roam around the Day Room where there is a television and opportunities to play games and visit with one another.  One patient, Arthur, angrily approaches one person after another putting his hand in their face with four fingers showing, and asks, “How many fingers do you see?”  Of course, they all reply “four”.  He retorts, “No!” and storms off.  Finally one night, Patch (Williams) visits Arthur’s room to attempt to find the answer to Arthur’s question.  Watch the clip here and I will offer insight I draw from the clip.

When a person is considering taking their life all they can see is despair, depression, shame and hopelessness.  Our goal is to help them “see beyond the fingers” and see what is true:  they are a treasure of infinite worth & value; there is hope; there is help available in abundance; their loss would be devastating; and they are loved beyond comprehension.

For Narnia, Nick

 

 

To My Fellow Pastors (and fellow believers)

NOTE: I’ve read MacDonald’s book at least twice. But, presently, I am reading the other two books referenced in this blog. And the collective wisdom – and warning – dictated I share it with you, my friends. If Satan wants to take out the sheep, he’ll begin with us – the shepherds, Love to you, all. nw

Pastor/author, Gordon MacDonald, had finally reached what he describes as “the bottomless pit of my soul.”

In his best-selling book, Ordering Your Private World, he recounts the steps he consciously took to reach that pit.

By nature I was an idea man, a visionary of sorts, and I possessed an ability to persuade people to follow me.  You call of these things, at least I do, natural gifts or talents.  And they lead to what I call fast starts.

By fast start, I am referring to those things that might (but shouldn’t) dazzle people.  Fast start fits with the vocabulary of perceived success: large numbers, big bucks, sudden victories, quick recognition, and meeting ‘important’ people.

Natural gifts such as personal charisma, mental brightness, emotional strength, and organized ability can impress and motivate people for a long time.  Sometimes, though, they can be mistaken for spiritual vitality and depth.  [This type of leader] often projects a bravado of confidence as they forge ahead with their achievement-oriented life plan. And, sadly, we do not have a Christian culture today that easily recognizes a person of spiritual depth vs. a person of natural talent.

The result is that more than a few people can be fooled into thinking they are being influenced by a spiritual giant when, in fact, they are being manipulated by a dwarf.

We must always be aware that there are leaders who can build great organizations (including churches) on natural gifts Say the right words, be smart enough to do the right things, be insightful enough to connect with the right people, and one can go a long time before anyone discovers their inner life is close to empty.

Later in life, and broken, MacDonald continues,

This ultimately led me to the bottomless pit of my soul.  I had a choice to make.  I knew I had to forget the gadgets and start with the interior, my private world.  The order in my life I was now seeking had to begin with a thorough scouring of the inside of my life.

I once was told about a pastor who commonly used the phrase “constructive manipulation” to describe his strategy to further his agendas. This phrase is an oxymoron and should send chills down the spine of every pastor as there is nothing ‘constructive’ about manipulation. Rather, manipulation is nothing but ‘destructive’ since it has nothing to do with reliance on Sovereign God, but on one’s deceptive human efforts.

Further, manipulation usually contains a half-truth. And a half-truth is still a whole lie. Even a cursory reading of the scriptures reveals God’s certain judgment on these types of leaders. Moses warned, “Your sins will find you out.” The Hebrew imagery behind this statement is that of prey being hunted by the inevitable consequences of their sin (God’s judgment).

Henry & Richard Blackaby address this same pride/self-driven trap in their book on the Old Testament character, Joshua:

Some aspiring leaders constantly seek ‘the big break.’ They distribute resumes, applying for important, prestigious positions.  They use political tactics to gain friends and forge alliances.  People scheme and plan to improve their positions.

They may achieve prominent positions, but these come through their own efforts.

Contrary to this pattern, humble faithfulness was fundamental to Joshua’s success.  He never set out to climb the ladder of success, nor did he pursue a career path in leadership.  He served Moses humbly and faithfully because that was God’s assignment on him.  The plan for Joshua to be Moses’ successor was due to God’s initiative, not Joshua’s.

A leadership position without corresponding character based on a humble devotion to Christ inevitably leads to failure.

For the rest of his life, Joshua pursued not becoming a religious leader, but rather an intimate relationship with God.  And this is why God could use him mightily.

To round out this trilogy of sage, biblical wisdom, I offer the following from Leonard Ravenhill’s brilliant, Why Revival Tarries:

Pastors, we could well manage to be half as intellectual (of the modern pseudo kind) if we were twice as spiritually mature.  Preaching is a spiritual task.  A sermon born in the head reaches the head; a sermon born in the heart reaches the heart.

‘Busy-ness’ is the ‘religion’ of our time.  Where are our pulpit crusaders driven by fervent prayer?  Preachers who should be ‘fishing for men’ are too often fishing for compliments from men.

Preaching is not won in the pulpit by status, or firing off intellectual bullets or humorous anecdotes, but in intimate times of prayer.  The messages we preach are won or lost before the preacher’s foot enters the pulpit. 

Away with the palsied, powerless preaching which is unmoving because it was born in human effort rather than in the heart of God, and nourished in a fireless, prayerless soul.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Tell Me About Your Jesus

I posted on social media recently a question to others who’ve professed their faith in Christ.

If someone said to you, “Tell me about your Jesus,” how would you respond?

There were some good online dialogue.

Then one friend commented, “Nick, how would you respond?”

Hopefully, the “nuts & bolts” below will help bring confidence to so many of us who are timid about sharing our faith.  It can be fairly terrifying.  (Satan will make certain of it.) But, nothing will more infuse your soul with supernatural adrenaline than telling someone about Jesus.

Below is my reply:

With a statement as powerful as “Tell me about your Jesus,” I, personally, would be careful to ask questions often to better understand if I am going in the right direction. The answers offered to my questions would help me understand the person’s present worldview (atheistic, agnostic, seeker, works-based religion, mysticism, etc.)

Understanding a person’s worldview helps tremendously.  Author and defender of the Christian faith, Gregory Koukl, in his book, The Story of Reality, proposes that every worldview attempts, at some point, to answer four basic questions: (1) Where did we come from? (2) What went wrong? i.e. why is the world a mess, (3) What is the solution to this mess?, and (4) How does it end for us?

By far, the Bible does the best job of answering all four of these questions.

1. I would most likely begin with making certain they understand that the Jesus of history truly existed and that the vast majority of historians (Christian & non-Christian) agree on four basic tenets about Christ: (1) Jesus certainly existed – even UNC New Testament professor, Bart Ehrman, who describes himself as “agnostic with atheistic leanings” states that Jesus “certainly existed”, (2) he was executed by crucifixion by the Romans, (3) he was buried in a borrowed grave, and (4) on Sunday the tomb was empty. Of course, it’s point No. 4 where the debate begins – “why was the tomb empty?”

2. Then, I would do my best to explain the simple gospel story (“gospel” means “good news”). I would let them know that God gifted us with not one – but four – perspectives of the life of Jesus: the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John. Together, the four stories provide a rich and powerful story of love and hope through the man, Christ Jesus. I would then provide various scriptures from those stories about the love of God given to us in his Son.

3. It’s important to allow the person to stop us any time they desire and ask questions. Also, should the questions come across as dismissive about the Bible, try not to come across defensive. Jesus not only encountered the same responses, he seemed to welcomed them as it gave way to healthy dialogue.  Search the gospels and you will discover it is full of people who strongly questioned Jesus’ claims. Even Jesus’ own family, early on, thought he was a nut case. So, should your friend have objections simply reply with something like, “That’s actually a great point. And a lot of people feel that way. (Pilate looked at Jesus and asked, “What is truth?”) Could I try and bring some clarity to your question from the Bible?” Or, if you have no clue how to answer their question simply reply, “That’s a wonderful question. Would you mind if i do some research and get back to you on what i find?”  It is critical to always be kind and respectful. 

4. Most of all, our ability to share our faith depends on prayer and study of the scriptures as it defends on nothing else. One can have the New Testament memorized (Satan does), but if that person is not allowing the Holy Spirit to fill and control them they will be of little use to impact the kingdom. And the old saying is true: people don’t care how much we know until they know how much they care. Per that last statement, make certain they can tell you’re simply discussing the answer to their query and not attempting for force the Christian faith on them (Jesus never imposed himself or his message on a single person.)

5. Also, never worry about an initial conversation turning out to be “part one” of an ongoing conversation. I had a “part one” conversation just a couple of weeks ago with a person seeking truth. Only God can change a heart. We are merely the messenger.

Sometimes, people are more philosophical and have many great (and hard) questions. And, then there are times when the Holy Spirit will use the most simple of responses to the statement, “Tell me about your Jesus,” to convict a listener’s heart. Such an account is recorded in Acts 16 when the Philippian jailer asked Paul & Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” It appears that was enough for the jailer – as well as his entire family.

6. Finally, I like to inform people with whom I’m visiting that the Christian faith is nothing close to the “opium of the people” as Karl Marx once described religion. Nor is it an emotional crutch or a fairy tale, as some derisively call it. Quite the contrary, it is a rational, intelligent faith – a faith God actually encourages people to test and examine. The Bible is based on actual history – history that can be fact-checked. The gospels, according to historians, seem to fit best in the category of ancient Greco-Roman biography and, when scrutinized and weighed against the same criteria as other ancient literature, prove to be overwhelmingly reliable. The Homeric Epics come nowhere close to manuscript evidence of the New Testament, and no one questions their validity. Further, scholars, scientists and academics from the likes of Yale, MIT, Cornell, Harvard, Dartmouth, Stanford, UC-Irvine, Notre Dame, Cambridge and Oxford, just to name a few of the myriad of scholars, have placed their faith in the risen Christ.

The first verses I learned when being taught to share the gospel are commonly referred to as The Roman Road.  Simple and brief, I would encourage you to have them highlighted in your Bible and, even better, memorized. They are:

Romans 3:23 – If the Bible is indeed true, we have a serious, life-impacting problem: we are separated from God because of our sin.

Romans  6:23 – A bad news/good news verse.  There is a horrific consequence for this problem.  And there is also a solution: the “free” gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus. This “gift” had to be provided because of the first part of this verse: sin has a inviolable consequence: death.  Because of human sin, someone had to die.

Romans  5:8  –  The gift is free to us, but it was not truly “free” for it cost God the life of his Son.  Jesus died in our place, absorbing all the wrath of God on himself – for our sin. Why did Jesus do this?  Because of his boundless love for us.

Romans 10:9-10 – How do we accept this gift?  A gift can’t be earned by human effort; it is, by faith, accepted by a willing and believing heart.  So, when we agree with God that our sin has separated us from him and that he has provided for us a saving solution through the sacrifice and resurrection of his Son, the Bible says, “you will be saved.”  Saved from what?  The Bible calls it the second death (following physical death), or hell.  Further, those who profess faith in the risen Christ are made righteous in the sight of God – in right standing before God.  This means that a holy, terrifying Judge no longer sees us in our sin, but as he intended for us to be.  In short, he sees in us the righteousness, purity and holiness of his Son imputed to us through faith.

Hope this helps. Much love, Nick

Atheism Failed Me – Part 2

Think deeply – and honestly – with me for a moment.

(In 2015, I posted a blog titled, Atheism Failed Me.  I further that conviction here.)

I just finished reading Bertrand Russell’s speech given after winning the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Of course, Russell was a brilliant philosopher and avowed atheist, known for his book (which i have in my library), Why I Am Not a Christian.

As I read philosophers who possess an atheistic worldview I never cease to be surprised at reading nothing the Bible hasn’t already addressed. It was philosophy professor, Paul Copan, who, when asked who is favorite philosopher was, replied, “Jesus.”

Copan cites another brilliant philosopher, Douglas Groothuis,

who presents Jesus of Nazareth as a rigorous philosopher. Groothuis defines a philosopher as “one having a strong inclination to pursue truth about philosophical matters.” These philosophical matters include “life’s meaning, purpose, and value as they relate to all the major divisions of philosophy”—especially the areas of knowledge (epistemology), ultimate reality (metaphysics), and ethics. A philosopher’s task is accomplished “through the rigorous use of human reasoning and . . . with some intellectual facility.”

In addition to Russell, I own books by the great philosophers Nietzsche, Hume, Descartes as well as contemporary philosophers like NYU’s Nagel.   Further, I enjoy listening to the brilliant, contemporary physicist, Sean Carroll, of Cal Tech.  All of these men hold to an atheistic worldview.

After my son, Jordan, took his life in 2013, I was through with God and experienced what I describe as “situational atheism.”

I went back and re-studied the writings of the atheistic philosophers mentioned above.

But, atheism failed me.

The more I read, the clearer it became: these men don’t have life any more figured out than anyone else.

Then, what began leading me back to my faith in God took place as I was standing in my driveway one hot summer afternoon. I remember the moment distinctly. I glanced up at the hot son and thought, “Why is the sun 93 millions miles away and not closer, or farther? How did the sun land where it did?” My rational argument for the existence of a creator quickly gave way to a philosophical question: Why did the sun land where it did?”

In regard to Jordan, atheism failed me because (1) it gave me nowhere to place my rage, anger, confusion, depression, hopelessness, etc. And, (2) it offered me no hope of seeing my son again. In short, it made life meaningless.

Contrarily, the Cross offered all of this, and more. It offered me, both, a place to put my pain, and then it offered me hope for meaning in life – and the afterlife. In a sense, I could hear Christ whisper to me, “I’ve got this, Nick. Trust me. Life on earth is painful. But, because I suffered for you, it will not always be this way. I love you, my child.”

Never forget: atheism, like Christianity, is a faith worldview. Further, in my opinion, atheism requires far more faith than the Christian faith.

It was former ardent atheist and Yale Law School grad, Lee Strobel, who 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.”

It’s a brilliant plan God has set in place, really. By faith, we choose our worldview and hold fast to hope that it’s true. But, it’s not until the nanosecond after we die that we discover who’s right. It’s known as Pascal’s Wager, set forth by the 17th century physicist and mathematician, Blaise Pascal. Personally, based on the mountain of evidence for the existence of God, I’m not willing to wager that the Bible’s a lie.

Contrary to what “internet atheists” spout, the Christian faith is an intelligent, rational faith. Which is why, numerous times, God tells us in the Bible, “Test me. Examine me. And make your decision.”

Even the renowned British, atheist philosopher, Antony Flew, as he put it, chose to “abide by Plato’s Socrates and follow the argument where it leads.” It led him to a decision that rocked the atheistic world: given the overwhelming evidence, he decided God existed.

Lastly, I have always believed that it’s not Christ that affects one’s choice to deny God’s existence, but rather, Christians. We can be horribly pathetic advertisements for the love and goodness of God.

When confronted with the evidence for a Creator, even the most intelligent skeptics are commonly left wondering, “I’ve never thought about that” (see video clip below).

Please consider taking 9 1/2  minutes and watch this video clip. Both the Christian giving the interviews and the atheists with whom he’s visiting are very kind. To me, it’s always refreshing listening to civil discourse related to typically controversial topics.

For Narnia, Nick

Stop Trying to be Good Enough

freedom

Good works are not required for salvation. Rather, they are evidence of our salvation.

Whether it’s being faithful to our spouse, honest in our business/academic dealings, keeping our thought-life pure, being patient behind a slow-as-Christmas driver, or even attending church…

These “good works,” albeit moral, don’t “get us into heaven.” Further, by God’s standards, there’s no one on planet earth who is “good.” (cf. Romans 3:10-12)

The “older brother” in Jesus’ story of the two sons in Luke 15:11-31 did everything “right” i.e. checked off all his “good works” boxes – and he still was just as lost as his prodigal bother had been.

The Bible is crystal clear: placing our faith in the death of Christ on the cross and in his resurrection “gets us into heaven.”  Paul wrote,

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

If even the tiniest “good work” saved us, Christ died for nothing. But, not only did his death mean something, it meant everything. This is what Jesus meant when, from the cross, he cried, “It is finished.”

Paul wrote,

“It was for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1)

Free from what? Free from tirelessly trying to “check off a list of ‘good works’”, thinking our human effort will make us good enough for God to love us.

Stop trying to be “good enough” for God to love you. This is known as legalism And it is a crippling form of spiritual bondage.

In the words of author, Philip Yancey,

“There’s nothing you can do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do to make God love you any less.

God’s love for us is fixed, inexorably, because of Christ’s excruciating death and resurrection.

Again, “good works” are not required for salvation. But rather, they are evidence of our salvation.

This is precisely why Jesus said, “If you love me, you’ll do what I’ve told you to do.” (Jn. 14:15) It all begins with our love for, and devotion to, him.

Anyone can fake their love for someone by going through the motions of kindness and goodness using calculated pretense and deception.

We can fool some people some of the time.

But we can never fool God.

Place your faith in the risen Christ. Be free.

The “good works” will supernaturally follow. )

Love to you all, Nick