The Pastor Who Became the Grinch

Christmas is a time of celebration. It is a time set aside each December to celebrate the birth of Christ. Christmas is supposed to be a joyous occasion, filled with showing good will to one’s neighbor. However, such was not the case in a mall in Amarillo, Texas. Pastor Dave Grisham, originally from Panama City, Florida, took it upon himself to tell a group of kids, standing in line to see Santa Claus in an Amarillo, Texas mall, that Santa Claus does not exist. He was noted as saying, as quoted by the Drudge Report, “Parents, y’all need to stop lying to your children and telling them that Santa Claus is real, when in fact, he’s not.” Grisham went on to say, “When you substitute the lies of Santa Claus in heart of your child for the truth of Jesus Christ, you are bearing false witness against God.” Eventually, Grisham was silenced by a group of fathers who told him that he needed to stop and leave. Being in Texas, Grisham is lucky that is all he got from the angry dads.

grisham-texas
Grisham at an Amarillo, Texas mall before his obnoxious stunt.

Grisham is known for his confrontational tactics with his style of evangelism. He operates a ministry called Last Frontier Ministries. In Grisham’s eyes, he thought he was doing something right. I am sure that in his mind, he thought, “Hey, I’m telling these kids about Jesus. What could be wrong with that?” However, Grisham did far more harm than good. Not only did he make national headlines (perhaps the intention of his tirade), he portrayed Christians as a bunch of nagging, obnoxious, party poopers, who cannot allow children enjoy some innocent fun. In essence, Grisham turned the Nativity (the reason for the Christmas season) into the proverbial Grinch.

Some readers will say, “Yeah, but he did tell the children about Jesus. That can’t be bad, can it?” Others will argue, “Christmas has become too commercialized. Isn’t that what Grisham confronted?” Point taken. However, it must be noted that it is not only important what is said, it is equally important how something is presented. Tactless, confrontational evangelism defeats the purpose it sets out to accomplish.

Aristotle noted that there are three important tasks in communication: logos (the logic behind what is presented), ethos (the ethical and authoritative nature of the speaker), and pathos (the emotional appeal meant to persuade the audience). Grisham arguably teetered around the logos aspect of his presentation. Yet, he completely missed the ethos and pathos aspects. That is why both the Christian and secular communities are frustrated with Grisham.

Simon Peter notes in 1 Peter 3:15, a text that notes the importance of apologetics, that one should “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV, emphasis mine). Gentleness and respect! Grisham failed to display gentleness and respect, especially to the little children.

Remember, we can be right about an issue and wrong in our presentation. When that occurs, we are not persuasive. Rather, we become obnoxious. That is what happened with Grisham. May we (and he) learn from his mistakes. Jesus is the focus of our Christmas celebration. Celebrate Him! But don’t turn Him into the Grinch. To our friends in Amarillo, Texas, on behalf of the majority of the Christian community, you have our apologies. Amarillo, have a wonderful Christmas!

Click here to see the video, courtesy of the Drudge Report. http://drudgetoday.com/v2/r?n=0&s=18&c=1&pn=Anonymous&u=http://www.theamericanmirror.com/video-pastor-heckles-kids-tx-mall-no-santa/

(c) December 14, 2016. Brian Chilton.

7 Questions the Bible Answers about Miracles

On May 8th, 2016, the final episode of Morgan Freeman’s documentary The Story of God: The Story of Us aired on the National Geographic channel. The final episode of the series dealt with the issue of miracles. From the episode, 7 questions emerged. As we have done since the beginning of the show, we will examine these questions from a biblical perspective.

  1. Does God work miracles or is everything merely random?

Freeman frequently asked the question, “Is God providentially working or is life completely random?” Freeman poses an excellent question. The answer to the question depends on how one views God. Does God exist? If so, then the possibility of God working a miracle becomes at least possible. Does God care about the world? If so, then the probability of God working a miracle increases exponentially. The mere notion that everything is merely random stems from a naturalistic assumption that God is non-existent or is uninvolved.[1] The moment, however, that one miracle occurs disproves such a notion. That there are hundreds of miracles, if not thousands,[2] demonstrates that the world is not a sterile collection of random molecules in motion, but rather the world is a wondrous lush garden of divine providence.

  1. Why does God work miracles for some and not for others?

This question is more difficult to answer, mainly because we cannot know the mind of God. God can perform miracles for any person at any point in time. However, it is apparent that God intervenes in some cases but not in others. At the time I am writing this article, God worked a miracle in the life of my grandfather. He has severe COPD. He also suffered a blockage in his intestines which would have been fatal had his intestines ruptured. In addition, he suffers from other medical conditions that complicate any surgery. The doctors were unsure if he would make it through. God saw fit that he did. In addition, he was placed on a ventilator. The doctors were unsure if he would be able to come off. He came off the day I wrote this article. God performed numerous miracles with my grandfather. I told my mom, “Either Grandpa is Iron-Man or God still has some great things in store for him.”

But why does God not perform the same kind of miracles for everyone? Truthfully, I cannot answer this question. Neither can anyone. We can know that God has a plan for each person, especially for His children. Paul writes, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).[3] The promise of Romans 8:28 does not presuppose that God will make every event in life good, but that everything will work together for good. Much more about this issue could be said, especially that each person has a date with death (Hebrews 9:27). However, we should probably leave this issue for now as it deserves deeper treatment.

  1. Can we understand the will of God to perform miracles?

No. We can know the will of God to save (Matthew 28:18-20). However, we cannot know how God is going to move or work. Faith is a vital element. Faith, biblically speaking, means trust. Thus, we must trust God to do what is right, even when we do not understand what God is doing.

  1. Does probability override the possibility of miracles?

No. On the episode, it was debated whether probability overrides the possibility of the miraculous. However, this cannot be the case. Why? Even if there is a 1 in 10 billion odds that a miracle could occur, when we discuss miraculous healings and divine intervention, the probability is zero percent if God does not exist. If God does exist, then it is impossible to gauge the odds in how much or how little God would act and respond in a miraculous fashion. God could defy the odds and perform a miracle every day of the week. Then again, it may be that God would choose not to perform a miraculous deed at any time in a given year. It seems to me that the idea of probability does little to settle anything as it pertains to miracles.

  1. Is life fatalistic or free?

When I say fatalistic, I mean to say that everything is predetermined. That is, everything is a matter of fate. How much is life predetermined and how much in life is free to choose? Such is a philosophical question that has resounded for ages. The Bible seems to suggest a congruence between God’s sovereignty and human freedom.[4] For instance, the book of Proverbs states that “We may throw the dice, but the LORD determines how they fall” (Proverbs 16:33, NLT).[5] The text demonstrates that humans have the freedom to choose certain options, but God’s sovereignty uses human decisions to direct and guide. Thus, human freedom and divine sovereignty are congruent. So, God can and does work in this work in miraculous ways while remaining sovereign over His creation.

  1. Does faith in miracles matter?

God can work miracles regardless of faith. However, it appears that faith (i.e., trust) does matter and makes a difference in the working of miracles. James notes that the “prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up…Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The intense prayer of the righteous is very powerful” (James 5:15, 16b, HCSB).[6] Mark notes that in one particular instance that Jesus could “do no miracle…except that He laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He wondered at their unbelief” (Mark 6:5-6a). Miracles come from God. However, it is important that the one asking for a miracle trust in God’s ability to perform the miracle. Even still, one should note that even those who had the greatest faith (i.e., Jesus, Paul, Peter, etc.) often suffered. So, no one should suppose that faith will cure every physical ailment. God may have a purpose behind a person’s suffering. Therefore, individuals who claim that a lack of healing stems from a lack of faith are greatly in error.

  1. Do miracles come from us or do miracles come from God?

While faith is vital, miracles stem from God. God can work in ways that we cannot. It is a common assumption to believe that if we have enough willpower, we can overcome any odds. Yet, a person cannot bring oneself back from the dead. A person cannot overcome cancer by just the sheer belief that he can overcome. Often, healing requires an outside force working in a person’s body. I believe God works through the implementation of medicine. Thank the Lord for those in the medical field who seek to help the sick and suffering. But, I also believe that God can heal a person in any way He chooses. God holds the copyright on our DNA and our being. God can and does choose to heal at His discretion.

Morgan Freeman’s series entitled The Story of God: The Story of Us was incredibly fascinating. Freeman brought forth some interesting and serious questions front and center. As we have engaged the issues, I have personally found great satisfaction in the answers found in the Bible, God’s Holy Word. We may, and in fact most certainly will, find more questions to add as we journey through this life. I have no doubts that the Bible will rise to the occasion to answer any further questions that we may possess, as well.

© May 9, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Deists accept God’s existence but deny God’s involvement in the world. Thus, they would, like the atheist, accept that life is merely random.

[2] See Craig Keener’s two-volume work Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011).

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[4] As I have noted in previous articles, the harmony between divine sovereignty and human freedom is called “congrusim” as so termed by Millard J. Erickson in his book Christian Theology, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 385.

[5] Scriptures marked NLT come from the New Living Translation (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013).

[6] Scriptures marked HCSB come from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003).

7 Questions from “Who is God”

This past Sunday, the third episode of Morgan Freeman’s show The Story of God: The Story of Us as aired on the National Geographic Channel. The third episode dealt with how God is understood to be in various cultures and religions. Again, I am profoundly surprised at how well this show has been made. The show has not attacked any particular worldview, as I feared that it would. Rather, the show has taken a fairly neutral position while evaluating some major topics. This episode was no different. The third episode dealt with the issue “Who is God?” This article will seek to answer 7 questions that were raised during the show from a Christian perspective.

 

  1. Is there one God or several gods?

By sheer necessity, there is only one ultimate uncaused cause. If there were several gods or goddesses, one would have to ask “How did such a number of gods arise?” It seems to me that one would be forced to accept a first uncaused cause. While it is possible to accept a multiplicity of gods and goddesses, it makes better sense to accept that only one God exists. Why? Well, I think Thomas Aquinas answers this well. Aquinas states,

 “When the existence of a cause is demonstrated from an effect, this effect takes the place of the definition of the cause in proof of the cause’s existence. This is especially the case in regard to God, because, in order to prove the existence of anything, it is necessary to accept as a middle term the meaning of the word, and not its essence, for the question of its essence follows on the question of its existence. Now the names given to God are derived from His effects; consequently, in demonstrating the existence of God from His effects, we make take for the middle term the meaning of the word ‘God.’”[1]

From sheer necessity, only one God must exist. Thus, God could manifest himself in several ways, but in the end there is but only one God.

 

  1. How does one connect to God?

If by connecting, one means relating to God, then one can connect with God in various ways. Morgan Freeman is right when he notes that it is sometimes difficult to relate to a transcendent God. However, God has given us means to relate to him. One way people connect with God is through prayer. Prayer is a means by which we can communicate with God and a way that God communicates with us.[2] Another way a person connects to God is through the written Word of God. The Scriptures are God’s revelation to all humanity. A third way a person can connect with God is through the intellect. A person can connect with God by learning more about God. Fourth, a person can connect with God through nature. As the psalmist notes, “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).[3] Lastly, a person can ultimately connect with God through a relationship with Christ. When one receives Christ, the Bible tells us that the believer is filled with the Holy Spirit of God (John 14:15ff).

 

  1. Has God revealed himself to several people throughout the world?

There is but only one ultimate truth. However, this is not to say that God has not been trying to reveal himself to various peoples throughout the world. Solomon writes that God “has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). So, I am not saying that all religions are the same. Such is not logically possible. However, I feel it is quite possible that God has been trying to reveal himself throughout all of history. Ultimately, the full revelation came through Jesus of Nazareth, the “only begotten Son of God” (John 3:16).

 

  1. How do we know what’s divine?

Only God is truly divine in the purest sense. However, human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1-2). Thus, human beings bear the mark of divinity (although we are not divine). But in fact, all things bear the mark of God in reality because “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). So, only one person is truly divine (God), yet all things bear the imprint of the divine as God created all things.

 

  1. Can we imagine God?

In a way, yes. In a way, no. I think Norman Geisler puts it best. Geisler notes that “Although God can be apprehended, He cannot be comprehended.[4] Paul writes, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:9). Thus, we cannot say that we know everything about God. If we could, we would be God.

 

  1. Does God indwell us?

We all bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26). However, God indwells each person who receives Christ as Savior. This person is known as the Holy Spirit.

 

  1. Can we experience God?

Yes! Absolutely we can! We experience the blessings of God every day. However, the only way to fully experience God is through a relationship with Christ Jesus. See also the answer to the second question.[5]

 

Much more could be said about God. In reality, the third episode of Freeman’s documentary as well as this article has focused more upon how humanity knows God. Such a knowledge of God is called revelation. God has revealed himself both through natural revelation (available to all) and special revelation (delivered to those of faith). If a person has not experienced God, it is highly advised that the person seek God and ask God to reveal himself.

 

© April 18, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I.2.2., in Thomas Aquinas, Summa of the Summa, Peter Kreeft, ed., Fathers of the Dominican Province, trans (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), 59.

[2] Some individuals have argued that God does not communicate with a person through prayer. With all due respect, I have found such arguments greatly lacking. God has spoken to a vast array of individuals in the Bible through the means of prayer (e.g. Habakkuk, Job, Elijah, Isaiah, and so on). To claim that God cannot speak to a person in prayer discredits the power and personal nature of God. However, I agree that one should always “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1) to ensure that one is truly hearing from God.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 529.

[5] Also, check out the discipleship program Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby, Richard Blackaby, and Claude V. King.

9 Questions about the Apocalypse Answered by the Bible

On Sunday, April 10th, 2016, the National Geographic Channel presented its second installment of the series entitled The Story of God: The Story of Us hosted by Morgan Freeman. Thus far, the series has been both fascinating and well made. Thus far, the series has not been what I feared it would be: an attack on the Christian worldview. However, the second episode did purport a favored worldview according to Freeman—that of the Buddhist worldview.[1]

The second episode dealt with the issue of the apocalypse. The term apocalypse refers to an unveiling. Ultimately, the apocalypse is understood to describe those events that will take place at the end of days. Freeman evaluated the apocalypse from several different worldviews: Jewish, Christian, Muslim,[2] Mayan, and Buddhist. From his episode, I was left with nine questions pertaining to the apocalypse, that is the end of days. What does the Bible say concerning these issues?

  1. Did the Jews of Jesus’ day expect a human Messiah who would redeem the land?

Yoram Hazony, an expert in the politics and religion of Judaism, said that in Judaism, “Jews invented the Messiah. But, it’s not the same Messiah that everyone thinks about because when Christians think of the Messiah, they think of someone who is divine. What we have for a Messiah is a man, a king of this earth who will bring peace among the nations. He will not be divine.”[3] Students of the Bible should not be surprised by Hazony’s comments. In fact, Jews of Jesus’ day were not by and large expecting a divine Messiah either. However, does this correspond with the writings of the Hebrew Bible? In fact—no. Let us say two things concerning this issue.

First, it should be noted that Jesus (Yeshua) of Nazareth fulfilled over 350 prophecies found in the Hebrew Bible.[4] One must also consider Isaiah 53 which most explicitly refers to one like Jesus of Nazareth. The disciples on several occasions desired Jesus to bring about the new kingdom on earth in a militaristic campaign, yet Jesus refused (e.g. Thomas’ misunderstanding in John 11:16). Jesus even met the timeframe given in the 70 Weeks Prophecy in the book of Daniel (Daniel 9:24-27). So, if Jesus is not the Messiah, there won’t be a Messiah.

Second, it should be noted that the Hebrew Bible[5] calls for a Messiah who is divine-like. For instance, consider Daniel’s presentation of the Son of Man. Daniel writes, “behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).[6] Much more could be said concerning this issue, but we must digress.

  1. Will the Jewish Temple be rebuilt?

Yes. Yoram Hazony also notes that orthodox Jews desire the rebuilding of the Temple but they are not yet ready.[7] The Bible makes reference to the idea that the Temple would be rebuilt at the end of days. The prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel chapters 40-48) provides an idea about an eschatological temple that would be built at the end of days—a third Temple if you will. This view is also held in Haggai 2:1-9 as well as the apocalyptic work 1 Enoch 90:29; 91:3. For premillennialists like myself, there is an anticipation that Christ will return and establish a millennial reign upon earth. It will be from this new temple that Christ will rule and reign for a period of time. During this period, there will be peace on earth—a fulfillment to Yoram Hazony’s objection.

  1. Did the “Mark of the Beast” refer to Nero?

During the show, Kim Haines-Eitzen noted that the Mark of the Beast referenced the Caesar Nero. The mark of the beast, as it is popularly known, is the number 666. It was noted on Freeman’s show that Hebrew and Greek letters hold numerical values. This is, in fact, true. The use of letters as numbers is known as gematria. Gematria is “the use of the total numerical value of the letters of a Hebrew word to arrive at a hidden meaning of the word.”[8] As previously noted, it was said that the number 666, or 616 in some ancient texts, could refer to Nero. This is also true. Yet, Nero was dead by the time John wrote his apocalypse. Thus, this seems to refer to some future political leader—a leader who will lead a global campaign against Christ and his followers. Thus, the antichrist is a political leader of some sorts. Perhaps, the antichrist is the leader of what is often thought to be the new world order (NWO), a global governmental organization that is thought to be developed at the end of time.

Paige Patterson also notes concerning the mark of the beast in Revelation 13:18 the following: “Here the text makes clear that this second beast is indeed one human being. But just as six falls short of the ideal number “seven,” this false prophet who deceives the whole earth in this way is hopelessly compromised; and the repetition of the “six” in its trifold form 666 is clearly intended to underscore the intrinsic evil bound up in this individual. At this point some of the saints are killed, others taken into captivity, and all the earth is forced into an economic circumstance allowing only those faithfully serving the purposes of the beast to enact trade. Thus, the pressure and tribulation descending on the saints afflicts them in every conceivable way. The unholy trinity of the dragon, the political beast, and the false prophet are now fully revealed to John and through him to his readers.”[9]

  1. Is it possible to know the exact date of the end of time?

No. Jesus said that no one knows the coming of the Son of Man, except the Father alone (Matt. 24:36; Luke 10:22). Therefore, it is useless to speculate.

  1. Will the end come?

Most certainly! Not only is the end predicted in Revelation, the end is also predicted by Jesus and Peter. Simon Peter notes that “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:8-10). The end will most certainly come. The end of the universe is something not only accepted by faithful believers, but also scientists. The universe will eventually run out of usable energy. The day of the Lord is a certainty. While this may cause dread for many, for the believer the day will ultimately lead to great good and peace.

  1. Should we anticipate the end?

Yes and no. Yes, we should anticipate the end in that we look for Christ to return at any moment. We do not want to be caught unaware (Luke 12:35-40; 12:41-48). This level of anticipation helps us to remain grounded and faithful to the task that Christ has given to us. Yet, we should not be overwhelmed with eschatology in making the end-times our primary focus.

  1. Where should we expect the final battle to take place?

The Middle East will be the area where the final showdown will take place. The epic Battle of Armageddon is slated to take place at the valley of Megiddo.[10] For more information concerning the Battle of Armageddon, see Revelation 16:16 and following.

  1. Is the end-time linear or circular?

This may seem like a bizarre topic for the apocalypse. However, the documentary mentioned the idea of linear vs. circular time. The issue of God and time is a most difficult issue. For me, God continually exists atemporally (beyond the scope of time) and temporally (working in time). While God is atemporal in that he can see all points of time equally, he created time (as we know time) when he created the universe. This issue deserves much more focus than what we can provide in this particular article. However, one should note that the universe had a beginning. If the universe had a beginning and we operate in a sequential time-order, then we should expect a linear end to come to the universe.

  1. What does the apocalypse tell us about God?

According to some ideologies, right and wrong are not judged. One pays for their sins in the next life. Yet, the payment of right and wrong in the next life involves the idea of objective morality. Objective morality points directly to the existence of God himself. The fact that an apocalypse is going to take place assures us that God is holy. God will right the wrongs that take place here on earth. Evildoers will not escape.

Many people relish in their own deceptiveness. People like this feel that they can pull the wool over other individuals’ eyes. When they get away with great acts of immorality, they feel nearly invincible. Such people become wise in their own eyes. Yet, God is not mocked. You can fool some of the people, some of the time, or even most of the people for a brief time. However, you can never fool God any time. The apocalypse demonstrates most vividly that “the eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3). Pay day is coming someday. That day may be closer than any of us thinks.

 

© April 11, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] Freeman’s favorability of this worldview is seen from his emphasis of the Buddhist worldview to the pastor in New Orleans and also due to his generally favorable commentary throughout the episode concerning the worldview, especially towards the end of the broadcast.

[2] While we will not address much of the Islamic section of Freeman’s second episode, I do think he and Maajid Nawaz  did well to describe the difference between Islam and Islamism–Islam representing the religion and Islamism representing the small, radicalized versions of Islam.

[3] Yoram Hazony, interviewed by Morgan Freeman, “Apocalypse (Season 1, Episode 2),” The Story of God: The Story of Us, on National Geographic Channel (2016).

[4] A good chart of these prophecies and their fulfillments is found at http://www.accordingtothescriptures.org/prophecy/353prophecies.html.

[5] The Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament are one and the same.

[6] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[7] Hazony, interview, The Story of God: The Story of Us.

[8] Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms (Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International, 2002), 192.

[9] Paige Patterson, Revelation, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 39, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2012), 282.

[10] Armaggedon literally translates to “har-mountain; Megiddo” or the mountain of Megiddo.

God Can Fix This: The Role of Prayer and Service

Recently, theDaily News New York Daily Times had on its cover the words “God Isn’t Fixing This.” The cover was quite deceptive as the article was more of a political rant than a religious polemic. Rich Schapiro, the writer of the article associated with the cover, argues that “Democrats—even those not running for office—slammed the GOP presidential candidates for offering prayers instead of action” (Schapiro 2015). While I will leave the political innuendos to the exchange of pundits in the field; as a theologian and pastor, I feel that I need to address the issue of prayer as it relates to service. Walter A. Elwell notes that “both Testaments insist that while prayer and service are not to be equated with each other, they are also not to be separated from each other. With this insistence goes the belief that only the prayer of the righteous is efficacious (Prov. 15:29)” (Elwell 1996, Logos). I believe that prayer propels the person of faith to do great things for the Lord. The Scriptures provide at least 5 ways that prayer impacts the service of the believer.

Prayer provides trust to serve.

In 1 Chronicles, it is shown that prayer provides the trust necessary to do incredible things for God. The chronicler writes that “when they prevailed over them, the Hagrites and all who were with them were given into their hands, for they cried out to God in the battle, and he granted their urgent plea because they trusted in him” (1 Chronicles 5:20).[1] Their victory came by the trust that they held in God, but it was a trust that moved the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (1 Chronicles 5:18) to serve. James also notes that the “prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:15-16). Note two important elements in the preceding passage. First, prayer was based on one’s trust in God. Second, the faith of the praying persons lead the people to action. Thus, a faithful prayer life provides one with the trust in God to serve.

Prayer provides encouragement to serve.

Luke notes that the Lord “said to Paul one night in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (Acts 18:9-10). Because Paul was a man of prayer, God spoke to Paul and provided him with encouragement to go and serve. This encouragement may also address the change of mind that takes place in the person of faith. When a person commits him or herself to prayer, God begins to change the mindset of the person (Romans 12:2). The person of faith begins to see people the way God sees them. This will move the person of faith to action in order to “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17).

Prayer provides direction to serve.

People often want to see action. They want to see results. “Do something! Anything!” Such is the mindset of many. However, it is easy for a person to move in the wrong direction if they are not careful. When speaking of cutting wood for a construction project, my grandpa always advised, “Measure twice, cut once.” This means that a person needs to make sure that what they are doing is correct before taking action. Prayer provides direction. Luke notes that “the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over and join this chariot’” (Acts 8:29). Why? An Ethiopian eunuch was contemplating the meaning of Isaiah 53:7, 8. Philip was able to lead the eunuch to a saving faith in Christ. Why? It was because Philip was led by the Holy Spirit in the right direction. The Scriptures warn that “where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained” (Proverbs 29:18, NASB).[2] Thus, prayer provides us insight and direction as the Holy Spirit leads us. In stark contrast, a lack of prayer may lead one to “quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

Prayer provides empowerment to serve.

Prayer is essential, in fact critical, if one is to see anything great accomplished. Why? It is because God provides empowerment to the believer to serve in extraordinary ways. Paul notes that “you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:15-16).

As a pastor, I have seen many people perform extraordinary accomplishments due to the empowerment of God. I remember a woman named Gaynelle. Gaynelle suffered from many afflictions. As fate would have it, her husband suffered dementia. Gaynelle’s husband fell and broke his hip. Her husband had to be placed in a nursing home where he could receive appropriate care. Gaynelle, despite suffering numerous physical maladies, drove countless miles each day to spend time with her husband. After her husband died, everyone asked her, “How were you able to do so much for your husband while being so sick?” She replied, “I prayed and God gave me strength to serve.” Gaynelle is but one example of prayer’s empowering capability.

Prayer provides opportunities to serve.

Luke notes that when Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch in Syria, they gathered the church together and “declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). Jesus says to the Church of Philadelphia, “I know your works. Because you have limited strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name, look, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close” (Revelation 3:8, HCSB).[3] By prayer, God provides doors of opportunity. A person who is seeking to switch jobs does not want to proverbially “jump from the frying pan into the fire.” Rather, a person of faith will desire to follow the will and plan of God. Prayer provides the means of opportunity as God opens the eyes of the believer to the given opportunities at hand. Opportunities lead one to a chance to serve.

Conclusion

So, let us ask the question again; does prayer counteract action? Obviously not! Rich Schapiro obviously does not understand the biblical concept of prayer. Prayer and service are not antagonistic rivals. Rather, prayer and service—while not the same—are complementary. Prayer leads to great means of service. So, when we say, “You are in our thoughts and prayers,” one should not presuppose that service is negated. Rather, the believer is literally saying, “I pray that God gives you comfort in your time of need.” I make no political commentary for either side of the American political paradigm that Schapiro referenced. That being said, perhaps Schapiro is correct in noting that we cannot allow prayer to supplant action. Even James notes that “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). However, we cannot allow action to override the importance of prayer either. Instead of demanding that one choose between prayer and service, or demeaning the practice of prayer; why not accept the biblical model realizing that prayer and service coincide? Could it not be that God will fix the issues of society by people of faith? Could it not be that God will use the prayers of the faithful to propel them to service?

 

© December 6, 2015. Brian Chilton

 

Sources Cited:

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996. Logos Bible Software.

Schapiro, Rich. “GOP Presidential Candidates Offer Prayers—Not Solutions on Gun Control—after San Bernardino Massacre.” New York Daily News.com (December 3, 2015). Accessed December 6, 2015. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/gop-candidates-call-prayers-calf-massacre-article-1.2453261.

 

 

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[2] Scriptures marked NASB come from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[3] Scriptures marked HCSB comes from the Holman Christian Standard Version (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).

Answers to Arian’s Agnosticism

Recently, Arian Foster, a running back for the Houston Texans and NFL star, exposed a secret that he had been hiding for quite some time. Foster admitted that he was an atheist. Actually in an interview with Openly Secular which can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrLZkwMP8kk, Foster’s belief is far more in line with agnosticism—the confession that one does not know whether God exists—rather than atheism. From the outset, it must be acknowledged that Foster was very cordial and was not aggressively opposed to a person’s belief in God. In addition, Foster was still open to the belief that God could exist. Therefore, it is completely possible that Foster could change his mind. It is with that notion in mind that I would like to present four answers to Foster’s agnosticism.

Strong Scientism

In Foster’s interview, he seems to demonstrate a form of scientism. Scientism is the belief that science holds all the answers for life’s questions. Norman Geisler describes scientism as the “belief that the scientific method is the only method for discovering truth” (Geisler 1999, 702). However, one must inquire if science can truly answer all that scientists suppose that it can.

If one is truly devoted to find the truth of what is and what may exist, one must understand the limitations of science. Geisler notes that “Even empirical scientists recognize the limitations of the scientific method…since it can only deal with observable phenomena. It begs the question in favor of materialism to assume that there is nothing beyond the observable. Other aspects of reality cannot be captured by the scientific method…Some are known intuitively (see First Principles), others inferentially (see Causality, Principle of) or transcendentally (see Transcendental Argument), and some only by special revelation (see Revelation, Special)” (Geisler 1999, 702). Before one criticizes the notion of special revelation, one must understand that science may be able to read the brainwaves of a person thinking, but scientists cannot know the thoughts of a person unless the person reveals such thoughts to the scientist—yet another limitation of science.

 William Lane Craig answers Peter Atkin’s scientism by describing five areas that science cannot prove. The full video can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQL2YDY_LiM. Craig notes that science cannot attest to the following: “1) logical and mathematical truths cannot be attested by science. Science presupposes logic and mathematics…2) Metaphysical truths like there are other minds other than my own and that the external world is real cannot be proven by the scientific method…3) Ethical beliefs cannot be proven by the scientific method…4) Aesthetic judgments cannot be proven by the scientific method…5) Science itself cannot be proven by the scientific method…For instance the Theory of Relativity hinges upon the assumption that the state of light is constant in one direction from point A to point B” (Craig, YouTube). Therefore, Foster and other adherents to scientism should understand that their beliefs are severely limited if one’s worldview only allows observable realities limited by the scientific method as the means to their understanding.

For further references on this issue, see William Lane Craig’s book Reasonable Faith and John Lennox’s book God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?

 wlc reasonable faith Lennox Gods Undertaker book

Victimized by Syncretism

Foster states in his interview that his father was a Muslim and his mother was a Catholic. Foster has read the Quran and the Bible extensively. Yet, Foster claimed that his father was a freethinker. This brings forth some questions. Did Foster’s father profess atheism while practicing Islam? Or was Foster’s father faithful and Foster remained confused? Only Mr. Foster could answer those questions. However, it does seem that Foster may be confused by the ideological and philosophical differences between various world religions. It may have been simpler for Foster to claim neutrality. Nevertheless, if Foster is truly committed to finding the truth, he must examine the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, examine the evidence for the resurrection of Christ, and the impact of the Christian message. If Jesus is who he proclaimed to be, then everything changes.

For further information on this issue, see Ravi Zacharias’ book Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message and Nabeel Qureshi’s autobiography Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, as well as Gary Habermas and Michael Licona’s book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, J. Warner Wallace’s book Cold-case Christianity, and Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ. 

Zacharias Jesus Among other Gods bookqureshi seeking allah finding jesus    the case for the resurrection of jesus book image   cold case christianity  Case for Christ

 

Hypocritical Behavior by Christians

Another issue that seems to have plagued Foster is the unChristlike behavior by those professing to be Christians. Hypocrisy is a classic excuse used by individuals who refuse to come to Christ or who refuse to attend church. However, while Christians can never act perfectly on earth, at times Christians harm their message by becoming “super-spiritual.” Some professing Christians live as if they could never associate with those who are unbelievers or those who live lifestyles outside their acceptable boundaries. Yet, the Christian must remember that Christ associated himself with sinners. The Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?’ When Jesus heard this, he said, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do…Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners’” (Matthew 9:10-13, NLT).[1] The apostle Paul notes several sins to the Corinthian church. Yet, he ends by saying, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11, ESV).[2]

What does this mean? To Mr. Foster and those who have avoided Christianity by the bad actions of those professing Christ, understand that truth is not determined by the actions of those professing truth. It could be that a person could speak the truth and act harshly and still be correct. Also, it could be that someone behaves kindly but professes a lie. The most important issue is to discover the truth.

To the Christian, this should be a reminder that people will not hear your message if your behavior does not back up your message. If you sing “Oh how I love Jesus” and behave like you should be singing “Oh how I love myself,” then do not be surprised if the skeptic does not take your claims seriously.

For further information on this issue, see Josh McDowell’s book The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict and Craig Groeschel’s book The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living as if He Doesn’t Exist.

Mcdowell New Evidence bookChristian atheist

One-sided Research to Search

Foster noted that he had conducted his own private research. However, he noted that he was inspired by individuals like Bill Maher, Penn and Teller, and Richard Dawkins. One must question how balanced Foster’s search for truth truly was. In Foster’s defense, he may have not known that other resources in defense of Christianity existed. It is for that reason that I have listed resources for further study in this article. A good case can be made for God’s existence. J. Warner Wallace, a former atheist and cold-case investigator for the Los Angeles Police Department and current Christian apologist writes the following,

“I identified and listed four categories of evidence for consideration: 1. Cosmological Evidence, a. Our universe had a beginning, b. Our universe appears to be fine-tuned for human life; 2. Biological Evidence, a. Life in our universe emerged from non-life, b. Biological organisms appear to be designed; 3. Mental Evidence, a. Nonmaterial consciousness emerged from unconscious matter, b. As humans, we are ‘free agents’ in our otherwise ‘cause and effect’ universe; 4. Moral Evidence, a. Transcendent, objective moral truths exist in our universe, b. Evil and injustice continue to persist, in spite of our best efforts” (Wallace 2015, 24).

Good, strong reasons exist for one to believe in God. It is not a mere knowledge of the heart. It is a knowledge of the mind as well.

For more information on this issue, see J. Warner Wallace’s book God’s Crime Scene and Robert J. Spitzer’s book New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy.

J Warner Wallace Gods Crime Scene Spitzer

 Failure of Church to Engage in Apologetics

According to Foster’s interview and a report on ESPN, Foster had engaged Christians. However, no one could offer Foster a reason for the hope they held. No one. According to Foster, his mother was not allowed to ask questions as a Christian. No one in college could answer Foster’s objections. Instead of offering a defense for the faith that they held, many Christians would simply avoid engaging Foster on such issues. In this regard, Foster’s quest for truth hit the same kind of snag that I did. In the late 90s and early 2000s, I had asked individuals questions pertaining to the reliability to the Bible. No one could offer a defense. No one. For those of faith, we MUST remember that we are required to be ready “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV).

Conclusion

What if? What if Arian Foster had accessed Christian apologetic resources? What if Arian Foster had the opportunity to engage with Christian apologists? What if the church was prepared to answer such objections? Would Foster still remain a skeptic? Perhaps, but if Foster is open to seek the truth, then one must think that Foster may be willing to rethink the truth claims of Christianity. That is my prayer for Arian Foster. I was in the same position as Arian Foster is today. No, I did not have the notoriety and fame that Foster does. No, I do not possess the physical talent that Foster holds. However, I did hold some of the same questions that Foster has. I did have some of the annoyances towards those who professed Christ and did not live according to their beliefs. By the grace of God, I was led towards the reality that the truth was found in the Christian message. It is my prayer and hope that Foster will find the same. Instead of rebuking Foster for his doubts, I encourage others to pray that Foster will find the answers to life’s most pressing questions.

 Sources Cited:

Craig, William Lane, and Peter Atkins. “What Science Cannot Prove.” Video. YouTube. Accessed August 9, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQL2YDY_LiM.

Foster, Arian. “Arian Foster—Openly Secular.” Video. YouTube. Accessed August 9, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrLZkwMP8kk.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999.

Wallace, J. Warner. God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2015.


© August 9, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Scripture noted as NLT comes from the New Living Translation (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013.

[2] Scripture noted as ESV comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).