Tag Archives: Christian

Fasting for Advent?

We normally think of the holiday season as a time of celebration and feasting. In the history of the Christian church, however, the days leading up to Christmas were spent in contemplation, prayer, repentance and fasting. It is the time of Advent, which refers to the coming of the Lord. Jesus Christ came as a baby in a manger, and that is what Christmas is about. However, the resurrected Christ promised to return in a Second Advent to bring justice to earth. Are we ready?

In light of all the darkness and evil going on in our world today, I believe it is time to return to the age old practice of observing Advent as a time of reflection and repentance, and this may include fasting.

The truth is everyone has thoughts or desires, which, if acted upon, would be destructive to self and others. If we do not learn to say no to these inborn incessant urges when we are young, then we wind up dead, in debt or in prison before too long. We are conditioned to say yes to our whims from the time we are tiny via an array convincing consumer ads. Our economy surges when we splurge and buy what we are persuaded we want. In addition to this, we are taught that virtually nothing we do is really our fault. We are victims of time and chance and genetics, to say nothing of the people who have scarred us emotionally and psychologically. I need to eat comfort food to feel better; I need to buy myself something; I need to escape by playing my video games, trolling the internet for ever more interesting porn, watching countless hours of television or movies. Entitlement is a destructive mental illness because it is the excuse keeping us from saying no to ourselves.

Jesus said that unless we deny ourselves, take up the cross and follow him we cannot be his disciples. Christianity in our time has followed the consumer culture by presenting a Jesus who wants to boost our sagging self-esteem, and enable our sense of entitlement by providing us with anything and everything we ask for in prayer. We are promised that we can receive whatever we ask for, but Jesus said, “if you abide in me and my word abides in you, then ask whatever you will and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). He also instructed his followers to ask in His name, which means asking by proxy for the kinds of things and with the kind of faith Jesus himself would. This is not self-interested asking. The only way to get to the place where we are asking like the Son of God is to become like the Son of God, and the only way to get there is to deny ourselves and be filled with the Spirit of Christ.

This denial of self is a cognitive process that involves seeing ourselves differently. It involves realizing a mysterious metaphysical reality: I have been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). This cannot be a theoretical understanding only, or even a remarkable personal revelation into the teaching of Scripture. The Apostle said, “I die daily.” Thus, it is a daily, even moment-by-moment, recognition that the old person of mere flesh and blood is dead. The old me is a false self. I am a new creation in Christ. My life is now hidden with Christ in God. I need to deny the false self and affirm the true new me.

Self-denial requires faith that results in self-discipline. Without faith we likely will fail to continue in the discipline. After all, why should I deny myself what I desire? Moreover, without assistance from outside myself I remain captive to the tyranny of “me,” even while seeking to deny certain desires or perceived needs. Therefore, faith in Christ is essential to self-denial, both as the reason and the power to deny the self. This is much stronger than so called “will-power.”

I confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and the Lord has commanded that I deny self. In fact, he stated plainly that I couldn’t follow him until I do this (Mark 10:34, Luke 14:26-27).  To assist me in keeping this command Jesus has died on the cross, risen from the dead and sent His Spirit to live within me. The Holy Spirit connects me to Christ’s death and resurrection. Now the spiritual reality is: I have died; my old life is buried; a new creation has been resurrected. In order to make this truth a reality in my experience I must believe and continually discipline myself to act upon that faith. Certain spiritual disciplines may aid in this practice.

For thousands of years people in many different religious traditions have practiced fasting. Consider the following examples of people who fasted: Confucius, Plato, Aristotle and Hippocrates (father of medicine).  In the Bible we find Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel and Esther fasting in the Old Testament. In the Mosaic Law

Israel is commanded to fast once per year on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:27). In the New Testament Paul the apostle and Jesus fasted. Such eminent Christian leaders as Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards also fasted. Why?

There are many reasons and benefits, but in keeping with the teaching above I have observed the following truth. Fasting teaches me to say, “no” to me. It is denying something that I need, usually food, in order to focus on what I need more: God and his truth. Jesus was tempted by the devil to end his 40 day inaugrual fast miraculously by turning rocks into loaves of bread. The Lord quoted Deuteronomy: “Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4 & Deut. 8:3). There is something, or rather Someone, more important in life than me.

Eating is essential for physical life to continue. Unlike air, or even water, food is something I can limit or go without for an extended period of time without serious health risks. In fact, if done correctly and not recklessly, fasting may actually be healthy for the body. For example, recent studies done with both animals and humans indicate that eating 30% fewer calories results in a longer and healthier life.

Fasting doesn’t have to be limited to food, however. Scripture records this interesting fast of the prophet Daniel during a period of serious prayer and mourning: “I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks” (Daniel 10:3, ESV). So, Daniel kept himself from self indulgence during this time. Later in the passage we see that he had chosen this kind of fast as a way of humbling himself before God to seek understanding into the future plight of his people Israel (ibid. 10:12). The Apostle Paul observed that married couples might abstain from sexual activity in order to focus on prayer. However, he encourages such couples to come back together after a limited time to avoid temptations, which may result from a lack of self-control (see 1 Corinthians 7:5). During the Christian season of Lent some people come up with an activity or indulgence in their lives to give up, which is a kind of fasting.

Here are Five Reasons to Fast.

Fast as an Act of Dedication–  Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted after his baptism and prior to entering into his ministry. Perhaps he did this to gain confirmation and clarity by intensely focusing on God.  By denying the body what it needs most essentially, I am saying that something, in this case Someone, else is more important

Fast as an Exercise of Discipline–  Learn to say no to “me.” All of the temptations were for Jesus to act expediently and egotistically. If Jesus had given in it would not have been an exercise of faith, but, rather, the wildly alternating swings between self-doubt and presumption. My body cries out for food, but I say no. This teaches me to say no in other areas where my flesh cries out. It teaches me to resist temptation.

Fast as an Affirmation of Dependence– Learn to rely on the power of God. Jesus’ first statement in response to Satan’s temptation. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3 as quoted in Matthew 4:4, also John 4:34). I am dependent upon food for survival. I transfer my fundamental dependence from a substance to the Sustainer of life.

Fast to Establish Determination–  Learn to have a tenacious and unshakeable faith. “This kind can only come out by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29, Matthew 17:21). I fast for a breakthrough, as Daniel did when he needed God to answer his prayer for this people (Daniel 9:3). I fast to prove I am serious, both to myself and to God.

Fast as an Act of Desperation–  Cry out to God in repentance (Joel & Israel, Jonah and Ninevah). A need to hear from God at all costs (Daniel10:2-3 & 21 days of prayer). Repentance may be part of fasting. Joel called a fast for the people when disaster loomed (Joel 2:12, 15). This includes mourning for sin, and prayer for transformation.

Below are some practical guidelines and suggestions for possible fasts.

 

Remember the following principles. 1) If you make a vow, keep it.  2) Choose something that will really require discipline to give up. 3) Giving up what you shouldn’t be doing to begin with is not fasting, it’s obedience.

Consider one several of the following fasts.

  1. Pick a legitimate pleasurable food or activity and deny yourself this.
    1. Why? You are learning to discipline yourself for the sake of Christ.
    2. For example eliminate: candy, soda, dessert, coffee, alcohol, TV, watching or listening to sports, secular music,  talk radio, movies, video games, Facebook, texting.
  2. Fast at least once per week during the day. Eat a light breakfast early and don’t eat lunch. Break the fast after sundown with a sensible supper.
  3. Juice fast for 24 hours. Drink only pure vegetable juice (ie. V8).
  4. Eat no flesh. Abstain from eating meat.
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The Merge

Church splits are common. However, I only know of only one church that reunited after dividing, and I was part of it. “The Merge” of First Baptist Church, The Colony was official 28 years ago today.

In January of 1988 I began the Master of Divinity program at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth. I filed my resume’ in the placement office with the hopes of serving in a church during my seminary career. By the end of the semester I received a call from the newly appointed pastor of First Baptist Church, The Colony. Pastor WB had seen my resume’,  and, after an interview, wanted me to be their Youth Minister. He invited me to introduce myself to the congregation during a Sunday morning worship service.

On the drive from Ft. Worth to The Colony that Sunday morning I took a wrong turn and ended up passing by the old Texas Stadium in Irving. First time I’d seen the fabled home of the Dallas Cowboys in person. As I walked up to the church I encountered two middle school boys sitting on the monkey bars in the children’s playground. They would be part of the small youth group I led beginning in the summer. Our first official activity was to attend the Youth Evangelism Conference at Reunion Arena in downtown Dallas.

Every weekend I commuted from Ft. Worth to The Colony and built a Saturday-Sunday youth program. Over the next six months our group doubled in size, from a dozen members to a high attendance of 26. I really enjoyed working with those kids.

At that time The Colony had around 20,000 residents, many of whom were younger families, so you’d probably expect the First Baptist Church to have more teenagers. In fact, you’d anticipate more members. Our auditorium seated 200 and it was never filled on Sunday mornings. You see, something had happened to this church before I arrived.

When Pastor WB first interviewed me he mentioned that the church had exprienced a split. A large group had left First Baptist and formed a new church called Calvary Heights, which met at the local high school. They called the former youth minster of FBC to be their pastor. The old pastor of First Baptist had evidently been the source of the contention that resulted in the split, and had subsequently resigned. First Baptist had called WB to be their pastor only a few months before he brought me in as their new youth minister.

So, the church had split over a disagreement concerning their former pastor. I was leary about this when I interviewed, but once I met the youth it didn’t matter. Several months into my tenure at First Baptist talk of a merger began. Each church appointed three members of a committee, which met for several months to discuss the possibility. By the end of the year, the committee had a recommendation: Merge! Wow, I was amazed at this. However, the pastor that hired me was not so enthusiastic. In fact, WB wholeheartedly opposed the merger.

You see, the committee’s recommendation was for the 27 year old pastor of Calvary Heights to be the senior pastor of a re-formed First Baptist Church, and for 60-something WB to be the associate pastor. I would be the youth minister. I was in favor of the merger. However, I had been hired by, and called by the church to, serve under WB, and he was opposed.  During my brief time in ministry training I’d been taught that staff at a church are called to serve under the pastor. That means submit to his authority. However, I was still a member of the congregation of First Baptist Church, and the church would make the decsion here. What should I do?

I remember the meeting I had with WB to discuss the issue. He was angry with me. He accused me of undermining his authority because of my support for the merger. In fact, at one point he began to yell, then lunged at me over his desk. It was not a very Christlike display of character. However, it helped me decide what I must do.

A business meeting where the congregation would vote on the merger was scheduled for a Sunday night in December. I knew what I must do. At the appropriate time in the meeting, before the merger vote, I stood up and read my letter of resignation. Then I walked out the back door, expecting never to return to First Baptist Church, The Colony. I met with a couple of my students at the McDonald’s across the street to say goodbye. I drove back to Fort Worth that night sad and shaken.

Now, that’s not the end of the story, or I wouldn’t be writing this today. But perhaps I should explain why I resigned rather than remain and vote for the merger. My primary responsibility if I am not the pastor is to serve the church under the pastor’s authority. If I cannot support the pastor, I do not oppose him or try to undermine him, I simply seek another place of service. That’s why I resigned.

On Monday morning I received a call from a congregational leader, perhaps one of the deacons (I don’t recall), informing me that my resignation had not been accepted. Ok, what, how could they refuse my resignation? This leader continued: WB had quit, stormed out the back door (and broke the glass on his way out!), the congregation had voted to merge, call the pastor of Calvary Heights, as pastor and me as youth minister. My objection to supporting the unstable and unChristlike WB was eliminated when he quit. I chose to serve the newly merged congregation under the new pastor, Bill Wilks. I would serve alongside two wonderful men: Morris Seay, education minister, and Ralph Baxter, music minister. It was like being called to a new church, except I got to keep the youth I’d worked with over the previous months.

The first official day of the merger was Monday, January 9, 1989. I remember the date distinctly because it was listed on so many records as the date people had joined the First Baptist Church. I had nine youth in attendance the last Sunday before the merger. On the first Sunday after the church reunited we had 90 youth!

There is so much angry energy expended when we disagree with one another. Divorce, political division, church splits and many other examples abound. It’s like the power of an atomic bomb, the destructive power of which was unleashed by the USA at Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Those bombs worked by splitting atoms. However, there is exponentially more energy released when atoms unite in nuclear fusion. That is, when atoms unite.

When the church unites to do God’s will, His power is released, and people are saved, delivered and healed. Our families, our churches and our nation need to come together in the name of Jesus. I believe that will only happen when we who claim to be Christians actually follow Jesus, and allow the Holy Spirit to fill us so that we have “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

“… walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ephesians 4:2–6.

 

Payback Is Foolish

I am not a pacifist. I am a follower of Jesus. The Lord taught his us to “turn the other cheek,” and that’s more than a metaphor for being nice. It represents a way of life. Love people, even your enemies, and trust God as your loving Father to protect and reward you. Trouble is, we don’t really follow Jesus. Oh, we say we do, but when it comes to the hard stuff we don’t really. And that’s why the world is unimpressed with Christians, so much so that they’re turning away in droves.

Let’s look at this idea of turning the other cheek and apply it to a recent sports incident, or series of incidents. So, apparently, there’s “bad blood” between the Texas Rangers baseball club, and the Toronto Blue Jays. Near as I can tell this is the result of an arrogant Toronto player named Jose Bautista who performed an infamous “bat flip” last season during a playoff game with the Rangers. Nobody was injured, well, not physically injured, but Rangers pride was evidently hurt by this example of arrogance. So, fast forward to the current season, seventh game of a seven game series. A Rangers pitcher (Matt Bush) appears to intentionally throw inside to hit Bautista with a 96 mph fastball. Presumably this is payback for Bautista’s unforgivable bat flip. Bautista didn’t wait until next season to deliver his version of payback; he slid hard into second, and past the bag in order to hit the Ranger second baseman Rougned Odor. Now payback is applied immediately upon the offense, and to the offender. Odor throws a right cross and nearly decks Bautista. Texas and Toronto benches clear, players run onto the field ready to fight (or stop the other guys from it). Foolishness. Turning the other cheek, at any point, would have stopped this series of events, which may well continue to play out at a later time.

If the Rangers had been more secure as a ball club last season they wouldn’t have allowed the arrogant celebration of one player to affect them so. If the Rangers leadership (players or coaching staff) was wise, they would have let this go and ensured that lesser players wouldn’t retaliate (such as the pitcher who hit Bautista, during only his second major league game). You want to get back at Toronto? Beat them fair and square.

Jesus’ teaching about turning the other cheek is not a rule against self-defense; it is teaching us not to seek revenge. A slap in the face is an insult. That was the case in Jesus’ day; it is still the case today. If someone hits me and then stops, I have no need to hit them back. They are seeking to offend me, to demean me, to hurt my pride. What if I have no pride to hurt? What if I am so secure in my identity that a slap in the face from someone cannot diminish me or alter my self-worth in any way? What if I have inner strength that keeps me from being concerned about the opinion of the crowd around me? THAT is what a genuine follower of Jesus possesses.

So, Jesus taught his followers to turn the other cheek. The Apostle Paul quoted from the Old Testament Law when he taught against seeking payback. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19, see also Deuteronomy 32:25). The wisdom book of Proverbs speaks to this too. “Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you” (20:22). So, Christians have no business seeking payback.

Ah, but I can hear some of you say, “We can’t expect those Rangers players to live like Christians!” Perhaps not, but I CAN expect YOU who claim to be Christians to refrain from supporting or promoting revenge, violence and poor sportsmanship. My timeline on Facebook is FULL of pictures of Odor clocking Bautista (I took the pic with this blogpost from one of them). If you watched the video, Odor was ready to keep hitting him. DO YOU REALLY THINK THAT IS RIGHT? Is it self-defense? No, it is not. It is a man saying, “You hurt me, I’m going to hurt you back.” In fact, it is a man doing exactly what the Old Testament principle of eye for eye and tooth for tooth was intended to PREVENT: injustice. That’s the trouble with vengeance. It is rarely just and it never ends. In fact, it escalates. That’s how wars start. World War I began as a murderous offense, and escalated until 65 million people were dead. This may be multiplied further if the unfair treatment of the German people after World War I is taken into consideration as a motivation for their willingness to follow Hitler into World War II.

I believe we have the right, indeed the responsibility, to protect ourselves and our families from serious harm. If, instead of a “bat flip” a baseball player went after another in an attempt to do more than hurt his feelings, then I would uphold the other’s right to stop the offender. That doesn’t mean kill or destroy or seriously injure the offender. I taught martial arts for many years, and I always led my students to cause the minimal amount of damage necessary to the opponent to stop or escape a fight. I believe that is what Jesus would do. If you follow Jesus, I believe that is what you must do. However, I assure you, payback is not a Christian’s response to offense or harm.

Identity and Purpose: Male or Female

“He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female,” and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” (Jesus speaking in Matthew 19:4-5)

God made you either a male or a female. Your physical body demonstrates this clearly. If you are male, you have male body parts. If you are female, you have female body parts. Biologically, if you are male you have XY chromosomes. If you are female, you have an XX chromosmes.

This is a fallen world. As a result, deformities and abnormalities exist. Some studies indicate that there may be as many as one in 1,000 babies born with some type of genetic abnormality. This may or may not result in a physical deformity. In rare instances a person may be born with both male and female body parts. These are exceptions, not the norm. However, Jesus’ authoritative and inspired teaching about sexuality and gender apply, even to those who have to deal with such a challenge. 

Jesus’ teaching should be a comfort to anyone who must deal with gender confusion. You are either a male or a female. God has created you, in spite of any apparent contradictions that arise in a fallen world, apart from God’s immediate care and control. You don’t have to live apart from God’s care and control, though. Affirm that Jesus is Lord, and believe his teaching. Give your life to him. Recieve his Spirit and be transformed from the inside out.

Once in the care and control of God, once filled with his Holy Spirit, you will be convicted of the truth. Follow those convictions; they are Jesus Christ’s teaching being made real to you. You are a male, and Christ will work by his Spirit to make you a man of God. You are a female, and Jesus, through his Holy Spirit, will raise you up to be a woman of God.

Your identity is in Christ, not the world. The world is deceieved by the god it has chosen to believe in, and that god is a liar, a thief and a murderer (John 8:44, 10:10). “…the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). If you look to the world, if you listen to the prevailing voices in our culture today, you are going to be deluded into belieiving in a distorted image of personhood and humanity. If you identify with anyone or anything in the world, you will be kept from realizing your true identity.

You have been created in the image of God. In this fallen world, the divine image in you is damaged; it is broken. Jesus Christ is one with God, and he became a human being to restore the image of God in us. The natural tendency of every human being in this fallen world is to sin. Sin is falling short of God’s design and standard for human life. It is logical that apart from God we cannot be what he wants us to be. How would we know? Why would we care? Apart from God, I just make it up as I go. I choose my own identity, follow my own path. The problem with that approach to life is, human beings are created for the purpose of fellowship with, and service to, their loving Creator. Apart from that purpose, we are lost.

Jesus is “the image of the invisible God,” and “the exact representation of his (God’s) nature” (Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3). Jesus is the only one who can restore the broken image of God in you. He will not do that without your permission. You see, as a person made in God’s image, you have something that only persons possess, something that proves you are made in God’s image. You have free will. God will not violate your free will, not even to keep you from living a self-destructive life, not even to keep you from being ultimately destroyed in hell. Will you give Jesus that permission?

In fact, the reason the world is fallen, deceived and headed for destruction is due to human beings rejecting God’s care and control over them. God gave us the earth (Genesis 1:28, Psalm 115:16), we turned away from him and chose to believe the Father of Lies, who is also “the spirit now at work in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). That is how Satan became god of this world. Human beings believed him and gave up their rights to him. You don’t have to continue to believe his lies, however. 

The lie we are being told today sounds like good news: “You can be whatever you want to be.” The trouble with this truism is, it dooms those who believe it to failure. Why? Most adults, if they are honest with themselves, realize it just isn’t true. Perhaps as a youth you were told this and believed it. You wanted to be a professional athlete or singer or actor. You tried. You tried out. You were rejected. You aren’t talented enough, or attractive enough according to cultural standards. You were disillusioned. That’s not bad when you’ve been living an illusion, so long as you realize you can do many great things. However, many experience more than disappointment; they fall into depression.

Another result of believing this lie extends to sexuality and gender. “You can be whatever you want to be.” So, in some places children are now being taught to choose their gender. This in spite of the fact that the American College of Pediatricians has called the practice child abuse. “The American College of Pediatricians urges educators and legislators to reject all policies that condition children to accept as normal a life of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex… Facts – not ideology – determine reality.” Nonetheless, it is gaining support as the result of a militant group that fervently believes the lie, and is transforming our culture accordingly.

Then there’s this principle, which on the surface seems reasonable: “Be true to your feelings.” The problem with this principle is, feelings may decieve and be deceived. Feelings are dynamic, even erratic. Making decsions, especially life-altering ones, based upon feelings is, at best, unwise. I’ve heard children express a desire to be the gender opposite their own biological sex. I’ve heard the same child express a desire to be a dog. It is interesting that, biologically speaking, the regions of the brain that generate emotion develop very early, logic and reason come later. It is inherently childish and foolish to rely on feelings to determine reality, or identity. Better to discover the facts and follow the evidence.

Here’s a better principle for you to live by: “God made me for a purpose.” And here is something you can believe in and not be disappointed: “I can be whatever God created me to be.” God created you for a purpose. Spend your life discovering and accompishing that.

God designed and created the universe, and that includes our planet and our amazing bodies. Therefore, there is a way things are supposed to be. It is my responsibility to live according to God’s purpose and design for my body and life. The Bible contains God’s revelation, and the Spirit of God will enable me to understand it if I approach him with a willingness to learn and do his will. Everything I’ve written today comes from the Bible

You must realize that clinging to the values you’ve received and opinions you’ve derived from the world puts you at odds with the Lord. In fact, the Bible uses stronger language than that. “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4). I invite you to turn away from the world and toward God. Change your thinking; change your ways. Follow Jesus Christ and his teaching, and that includes his teaching about gender and identity.

Open your heart and invite the Spirit of Jesus to enter. Be filled with the Holy Spirit and be at peace with God and yourself. “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12). In Christ, there is neither male nor female, only children of God. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Everybody Has an Agenda

Everybody has an agenda. You can log that somewhere so you’ll remember it. Nobody is just out on a quest to find the truth or follow the evidence wherever it leads. Now, I’m not saying there are none who allow the evidence to convince them contrary to their agenda, but those who permit the evidence to have an influence on their preconceived notions are a rare breed. Most of us have already arrived at a conclusion and hold onto the evidence that supports it, while ignoring, rejecting and forgetting any facts that might seriously test that conclusion (and therefore challenge us).
Let’s take the belief in God as a primary example. There are three types of people when it comes to faith in God: those who believe, those who disbelieve, and those who refuse to make up their mind one way or the other. Now, the final group might at first seem like the ones who would be most apt to seek an answer, but I think it is just as likely that they are just more lazy or indecisive than either theists or atheists. “God? Who can know if God exists or not. I have better things to think about, more important matters to attend to.” So, the agnostic typically has an agenda too: She doesn’t want to be bothered to seek. He is more interested in something else and doesn’t wish to be distracted.
There are atheists who used to be theists–I’ve only encountered former Christians in this category, but I’m sure there are former Muslims, Jews or former believers in polytheist religious ideas as well (Mormonism, Hinduism). Each of these former Christians have a story to tell. Christians would call this a “testimony”. The story follows a pattern: “I was raised in church. I encountered certain evidence against the existence of God, or for evolution, or against the Bible, and since I’m a rational person I don’t believe in God. Faith in God is like belief in fairies or Santa Claus.” However, I often find that the more vocal atheists are not merely logical and intelligent people who just followed the evidence, or failed to find evidence for God, but emotional people (like all people) who are angry with God for one reason or another. Many atheists are not really logical non-believers, but actually anti-theists, or God haters. Richard Dawkins fits this category perfectly. The man hates God. Evolution is his religion (I’m not making a judgment on the validity of evolutionary theory here, but on Dawkins’ fundamentalist devotion to it.) Dawkins famous quote from the God Delusion verifies this. 

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” 
Then there are theists who used to be atheists. My exposure is to Christians who converted from atheism. The two popular authors who exemplify this are Oxford don C. S. Lewis, and the former crime journalist for the Chicago Tribune Lee Strobel. Lewis’s journey is a bit more complex to describe, so I’ll focus on Strobel. His wife had become a Christian, and so he wanted to prove that the Bible or the Christian faith, or, most likely both, were fake. After two years of research, he became a Christian. Now, on the surface this would seem to be one of those rare cases where someone allowed the evidence to change their agenda. Perhaps. However, the fact that Strobel’s wife had become a devout believer had to have been a powerful motivator for him to follow suit. I should hasten to add that that motivation in itself doesn’t invalidate the evidence that Strobel discovered, but it may help us to understand why he accepted that evidence and dismissed the arguments of atheists. Lewis is harder to pin down because his thinking is more complex. In my reading of his work it would seem that the powerful sense that he had that “there must be something beyond this,” that the mythology he loved carried him to a world he desperately wanted to exist, worked as a motivator. “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
I am going to give an example of one person for whom I can find no agenda other than “following the evidence wherever it leads,” and that is philosopher Anthony Flew. He was a towering figure among atheists for half a century. He wrote many books espousing and defending atheism. Flew wrote a paper called “Theology and Falsification,” which he first presented at a meeting of the Oxford University Socratic Club in 1950. The chairman of that club was none other than C. S. Lewis. Flew’s paper, which sought to demonstrate the absurdity of theism due to its inability or unwillingness to admit falsifiers, was the most widely reprinted philosophical publication of the 20th century. Yet at the end of his life Anthony Flew authored a brief, non-technical book tellingly titled “There Is a God.” When the critics got wind of Flew’s change of mind they assumed what I’ve asserted here” there is an agenda. 

“When reports of my change of mind were spread by the media and the ubiquitous internet, some commentators were quick to claim that my advanced age had something to do with my “conversion.” It has been said that fear concentrates the mind powerfully, and these critics had concluded that expectations of an impending entrance into the afterlife had triggered a deathbed conversion. Clearly these people were familiar with neither my writings on the nonexistence of an afterlife nor with my current views on the topic. For over 50 years I have not only denied the existence of God, but also the existence of an afterlife” (There Is a God, p. 2).

So, if this was not Flew’s motivation or agenda, what was? Well, his father was a minister, and somewhat of a contrarian. Perhaps Flew was following in his father’s footsteps. It should be noted that Flew did not claim to be a Christian. He didn’t even have faith that the God he had come to believe exists may be known at all. Anthony Flew called himself a Deist, which is a theist who believes God created the world and let it run on its own.
As one reads Anthony Flew’s book, There Is a God, however, it does seem that the old philosopher did what he believed he had done his entire life, what I’ve said here that nobody does. He followed the evidence.

“My departure from atheism was not occasioned by an new phenomenon or argument. Over the last two decades my whole framework of thought has been in a state of migration. This was a consequence of my continuing assessment of the evidence of nature. When I finally came to recognize the existence of a God, it was not a paradigm shift, because my paradigm remains, as Plato in his Republic scripted his Socrates to insist: ‘We must follow the argument wherever it leads.'” (There Is a God, p. 89).
I don’t have Flew’s temperament as a scholar or his apparent willingness to continue seeking, but I can admit to my biases, attempt to have insight into my own agenda, and factor those into my research and study of God and the Bible. Perhaps you can do the same? I think we may each aspire to follow the argument and evidence wherever they may lead, even at the expense of an emotional investment into our preconceived notions. Atheists should admit that they either hate God, and/or do not want a God over them telling them what to do. Christians should admit that they need to have a God in control of their chaotic world, and/or deeply desire a father to love them and tell them that they are ok. Admit your bias. Look for your agenda. Are you just trying to prove to everybody that you are right? Are there certain people whom you have something against and seek to prove wrong?
I do believe that the evidence clearly leads to the existence of an unimaginably powerful Being who sustains existence, an incalculably intelligent Mind behind the creation of the universe. I do believe that this Being is capable, willing, and has made efforts to communicate with human beings. I am astounded and appalled at the profound stupidity I see parading as intelligence in our culture. This article was occasioned by an editorial I read in the Washington Post wherein a man advanced what appears to be a growing thesis, that Jesus Christ never existed. Now, it doesn’t bother me than one person, or even a small group, espouse such nonsense. After all, there is also a growing community that believe the earth is flat. As a Christian, someone who worships Jesus Christ as the Son of God, denying his existence is not only ridiculous but deeply offensive because such wide publicity may serve to make the lie more believable by people who would be helped immeasurably by believing in Jesus. It is also infuriating that the editorial came out around Easter. The disrespect shown to Christians by the media demonstrates their agenda. However, I need to put my emotions aside and publicize the evidence, which overwhelmingly supports the existence of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Even skeptic Bart Ehrman, author of How Jesus Became the Son of God and similar books, who holds the New Testament to be no more than a collection of human documents, affirms the existence of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. 
If you dismiss the Jesus of history, you must dismiss antiquity. For example, there is better and more prolific evidence for Jesus Christ’s existence than there is for Alexander the Great. Both of these men changed history. Yet the earliest full biographies we have of Alexander come from 400 years after his life, and they are obviously written by those who are very favorable to the conqueror. The earliest oral tradition, which is recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 dates to within two to five years of Jesus’ crucifixion. Nearly 500 witnesses of the resurrection were still alive at the writing of that Corinthian letter. The Gospels, Jesus’ biographies, date to within 40 years of his life. These are also written by those who favored Jesus; yet they present potentially embarrassing incidents about the followers of Jesus, and even about the first witnesses of his resurrection. It was Jesus’ women followers who were the first to see him alive on that Easter Sunday; their testimony would have been inadmissible in a first century Jewish court because women’s opinions or observations weren’t respected. Even the chosen male disciples intially rejected these women’s testimony. The earliest manuscripts of the New Testament come from the second and third centuries. More importantly, there are more than 5,000 manuscript fragments that date earlier than the fifth century. The manuscripts detailing Alexander’s life by contrast come from the 11th century, over a millennium after his life.
I know my motivation and agenda and try to admit it when I’m looking at evidence, but what could be the agenda of someone who wants to erase Jesus from history? Perhaps the same as that of the atheist, an unwillingness to believe in God and Jesus is the Son of God, or perhaps it has become trendy and these pseudo-historians are looking for attention, or they are inveterate contrarians who must always be against something in order to have a sense of meaning. Dan Brown in his DaVinci Code novel seems to have been of the final type, in that he wanted to shock readers with the news that Jesus was really a feminist who wanted to turn the church over to his wife! Anything to sell a book. I see something more insidious than commerce at work here, however. There is a concerted effort among many in the media, big business, and especially the academic community, to oppose Christianity. They want to change the Christian worldview. Indeed, they have been quite successful. Although our calendar still has Christmas and Easter, fewer young people than ever know what these holidays are supposed to celebrate. Near Easter of this year our youth minister asked a group of teenagers what Good Friday meant; none of them knew.
There is an agenda in the media, in academia and in big business. It is to recreate our culture and remove the Christian basis of a previous era. However, our most cherished values are being destroyed in the process: life, liberty and the pursuit of deep and meaningful happiness.