Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead? – Introduction

I know it has been a few days since my last post and I apologize to all my regular viewers, things have been a bit hectic. Hopefully you’ll forgive me. I thought in the spirit of Easter this would be a good time to address the issue of the resurrection; that is whether or not Jesus really rose from the dead. Perhaps no other issue in Christianity is as important as this one. 1 Corinthians 15 states that the truth of Christianity rests on whether or not Jesus raised from the dead.

So what’s the deal? After all, people just don’t raise from the dead, that’s what makes them, well, dead. So did Jesus raise from the dead? Better yet, can we even know? I usually hear many questions like this every Easter so I’d like to take some time over my next few posts and take a look at some pivotal issues of the resurrection.

As with the series on Mormonism, there is no possible way to examine every single piece of evidence for and against the resurrection. However, I will do my best to provide a thorough yet concise (is this even possible?) examination of the evidence.

The first thing we need to do is determine what the resurrection is and is not. First off, the resurrection is not the same thing as immorality of the soul. In other words, the teaching of resurrection of the dead does not mean your soul goes to heaven when you die according to ancient Jewish teachings. Resurrection is also not the same thing as reincarnation. In most eastern philosophies, reincarnation is often thought of as the evil one faces in this life is thought to be punishment for the wrongdoings in previous lives (i.e. Hinduism). However the Bible teaches that man lives once and then stands in God’s judgment. (A good answer to someone who asks why you don’t believe in reincarnation is because you believe in the resurrection). Resurrection is not resuscitation. Resuscitation is the belief that the person is brought back from the dead to their human state and will someday die again. An example of this would be Lazarus in John 11. Rather resurrection is the raising of the dead into this world. Death is a pre-requisite for this.

Okay, so we know what the resurrection isn’t, so what is it? In a biblical view of immortality, God will, at the end of history, raise up people and reconstitute them as persons. We have a preview of this in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now this has lots of theological implications and I am not a theologian so I am going to leave it at that. My purpose in writing this was just to make sure we are all on the same page when you see the term “resurrection.”

If you are a skeptic of the historicity of the resurrection I’d like to ask you for a favor. I’d like to ask you to keep two questions in mind as we go through this series. First, I’d like you to ask “What are the facts?” Second, I’d like you to ask “What is the most reasonable explanation of these facts?”

I sincerely believe that anyone who fairly and objectively looks at the evidence that is about to be set forth, can only come to one conclusion; that Jesus Christ conquered death through His resurrection and therefore showed Himself to be who he really is, God incarnate.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Has God Brought You To A Breaking Point?

Sometimes in our life, both before and after we become followers of Jesus, God will bring us to a breaking point. A breaking point is a period in our life when we are hurting the most and nothing we can humanly do can make it better. Only reliance upon God can provide the strength to get us through. The following is an excerpt from my journal as a prison chaplain about one man’s breaking point:

“…We received a phone call from a guard stating that an inmate had just found out his mother died and was very distraught and he wanted us to come talk with him (It is the responsibility of the Chaplain department to do death notifications). When we got there I realized the guards show absolutely no sensitivity to these prisoners. As we walked up, a guard got on the PA which addresses the entire floor and stated “Will the guy whose mom just died please step forward to meet with the Chaplains.” I felt bad for the prisoner. As I turned to look I saw a man with a shaved head and covered in tattoos walk up to us and identify himself as “Chucky.” We began to talk to him and he told us his mom was in critical condition, could die at any second, and he just wanted to talk with her as he hadn’t seen her in 17 years. He said he was supposed to have been on a bus to see his mom in Pennsylvania on Monday but he got arrested for doing heroin on Sunday night, the night before he left [I met with him on Wednesday]. At that point I watched one of the most hardened looking of all men, break down in tears. We talked to him for a while and he told us that when he was in jail a year ago, he used to attend Dave’s Bible studies (Dave did remember him being there), and that while it is easy to follow that life while in jail, it is very difficult while out on the streets. I really felt God was bringing him to a breaking point. I mean, if the guy would have just said no for 12 more hours, he could have been there with his mother already. We gave him the gospel message as well as a Bible with some scripture to read, and told him we’d see if we could arrange a phone call (prison guidelines are very strict and limited in such circumstances). A half hour after we talked with Chucky we found out that his mom was still alive and at home. She does have cancer but is being treated as an outpatient. I felt really good being able to deliver this news to Chucky and pray that he uses that experience of possible loss to get his life together…In addition to the things I already talked about, I learned a lot of other things today as well. I saw how hopeless these men really are. I felt as though I was in a building designed by God for people he is breaking down and trying to get the attention of. I can’t explain how sad it is to look in the eyes of some of these men, knowing Jesus is the answer for all of their problems, and they are too stubborn to accept it. It really is heart breaking. “

As you can see, through his mother’s illness, God was definitely trying to get Chucky’s attention. Can you think of a time in your life when God brought you to a breaking point? If so, can you look back and see where your walk with God was prior to and now after that event? My guess is your walk with Christ jumped up to the next level after that event. If you are not a follower of Christ is it possible that you are going through a breaking point in your life right now? If so, is it possible that God is trying to get your attention?

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

How To Create A God

I read the following quote from Stand To Reason's monthly newsletter called Solid Ground. In it the author, Greg Koukl, poses an interesting question:

If men were to invent a god, what would he be like? If we fashioned a god of our choosing, would we create a god like the one in the Bible?

A god formed by human hands would mirror human sensibilities and human proclivities. He would think and act, more or less, like we do. As our invention, his morality would reflect our desires. When we erred, he'd cluck his disapproval and dismiss our frailties with an affectionate kids-will-be-kids shrug. After all, nobody's perfect. And this is the kind of god many people believe in. Not Christianity though.

The curious thing about the God of the Bible is how unlike us He is. His wisdom confuses us; His purity frightens us. He makes moral demands we can't live up to, then threatens retribution if we don't obey. Instead of being at our beck and call, He defies manipulation. In His economy, the weak and humble prevail and the last become first.

Is the Christian God the kind of god men would create if left to our own devices? Or have we seen the true God and trembled, closed our eyes, hid our faces, and turned our backs with distracting talk about motives and psychological states?

I think this is a great point. If we were to invent a God we would make him just like us. Or at the very least, we would make him in a way that we understand or desire him to be. His rules would be fitting to our wants (i.e. drugs are fine, marriage is not necessary for sex). However, this isn't who God is. As Greg alluded to, I think the very fact that the God of the Bible is so unlike humans, that it should be counted as a powerful evidence of His existence

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Is There One God Or Does Everyone Have Their Own God?

This question was sent to me to me not to long ago Answering this questions depends on how one looks at the question. There are many people that believe in their own God. Some people call this god “money,” others call their god “pleasure.” A god can be anything that you feel is the most important thing in your life. (Which is why the first of the ten commandments prohibits this type of behavior). Unfortunately, none of these gods last past death. As far as gods up in Heaven go, there is only one God. We can know this because God has told us in many different places in the Bible. For example, Isaiah 44:6 says "Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: 'I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me." God has shown us that there aren’t many gods like the Hindus or ancient Greeks believed but just the one true God.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Can You Give Your Soul to the Devil?

I have thought about this question quite a bit over the past few years, especially since I began prison ministry. I must have been asked this question a hundred times and each time it produces an interesting discussion. I think that in order to prevent confusion we must clarify what we are asking.

The people who regularly ask me this question are not referring to a life of rejection of God and Jesus Christ and therefore, by default, choosing an eternity in hell. (This is what Jesus was referring to in Matthew 16:26). Rather they are talking about whether or not they can physically (or rather, metaphysically for you philosophy giants out there) transfer ownership of their soul to the devil. Imagine if you are buying a used car. That car isn’t yours until the owner hands you the pink slip. Essentially they are asking if they can transfer the pink slip of their soul to the devil.

Often times when prisoners ask me this question it is because they have made some sort of pact with the devil (more often than not while under the influence of drugs). Now that they have sobered up and thought a lot about their decision, they regret it.

Few things give me more joy than to be able to see the look on their faces when I tell them they can’t give their soul to the devil because their soul doesn’t belong to them in the first place, it belongs to God. Therefore they can’t give away something that they don’t have ownership or possession of. It is one of Satan’s great pleasures to lie to us and convince us that we can give our soul to him and then he sits back and watches the depression, sorrow and helplessness it brings. The look of relief on a prisoner’s face who hears this good news is indescribable.

Now don’t get me wrong, as I already stated, a person can willfully choose to reject God and therefore is securing an eternity away from God, however, a person cannot transfer ownership, or the title deed, for the rest of their natural life, to his soul. In other words, if you are still alive, and I presume you are since you are reading this, you aren't "too far gone" or "it's already too late." Taking it further, one could ask: If one could give away his soul to the devil, than how could he come to the place where he is sorry for his sins? In other words, if his soul is gone, he has no ability to realize he is a sinner and needs Jesus in his life for forgiveness. Those qualities and abilities are found in the soul and out of Satan’s hatred for Christ it doesn’t seem likely he would want you focusing on his enemy, Jesus Christ.

God created our souls and they belong to him. We simply choose where they go after death based on our acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ. Below is an excerpt from a journal I kept about my experiences in prison ministry. As you read it, try to imagine yourself in Samuel’s shoes, sitting behind bars with nothing to do all day but think about your life, what you’ve done where you've been and where your're going.

After walking the upper row we walked down the stairs where one of the inmates chained to the TV tables was calling for us. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in hindsight I really feel that this was a “divine appointment” from God. We walked up to him and he identified himself as “Samuel.” Samuel seemed very coherent and I wondered why he was on floor 7 (the mental ward) but I decided not to ask. Samuel wanted to know whether or not it was too late for him to go to heaven because one night while doing drugs he’d given away 90% of his soul to Satan in exchange for protection of his daughter. Samuel fully understood who Christ was and why he died for him and told us that he’d accepted him into his life multiple times. We talked with Samuel for a while and I explained to him that his soul wasn’t his to give away; he could only choose to accept or deny Christ, but that was it. Samuel seemed to understand this and it seemed that a huge load had been lifted off of his shoulders. We prayed with Samuel and told him we would meet with him next week. I really felt encouraged that God is doing a work in Samuel’s life and this was the highlight of my day.

Now since Samuel had accepted Christ into his life previously we could go into a discussion about eternal security, but that isn't my point. My point is that Samuel was at a place where he knew what he did was wrong and that he wanted Christ's forgiveness. If you have given away your soul, you can't come to that place.

One final point to note is that God loves us. He sent his son to die for us. He knows we are sinners and that we do stupid stuff all the time. The character of God is that he will give us every opportunity to come to him but he will never force it. He won't withhold his love for us based on a "technicality" that we gave our soul to the devil. God is not a petty legalist rather he is a God that loves us. John 3:16 states "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." Did you notice it didn't mention anything about "except for those who have given away their souls?" Isn't it wonderful that we have a God of love.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Conclusion to the Series on Mormonism

Well friends we finally made it. After a little over a month of studying the claims of Mormonism we have finally come to the end of our series. I want to conclude this series by taking a brief look at where we’ve been.

First we looked at what Mormons believe and how they view the beginning of their religion. We studied the history of Joseph Smith’s visitation by the Angel Moroni as a 17 year old in the woods of New York and how he was given the history of the America’s by God as a means of restoring the “true church.” Looking towards their beliefs we learned they believe we all pre-existed as spirit children and were sent to this earth to work out our salvation so that when we die we can go to one of three levels of heaven.

We then began to examine the claims of Joseph Smith. We saw how both the Bible and the book of Mormon require all prophecies of a prophet to come true in order to know that person is a true prophet of God. We then looked at a few of the 60+ prophecies of Joseph Smith that didn’t come true. In other words, Joseph Smith couldn’t live up to the requirements of either the Bible or the book of Mormon.

Next we looked at the Book of Mormon. We studied it using some basic techniques of textual criticism. We learned that not long after Joseph Smith received his golden tablets, many of the original eyewitnesses denied the event ever took place. We saw that although the book of Mormon claims to record the history of the Americas, not one piece of archaeological evidence can be presented to support it. In fact, the Smithsonian has even published a document stating so. We finished up our study of the book of Mormon by looking at some of the changes made to it, as well as some of the plagiarizing that took place.

We then looked at the doctrine of salvation according to Mormonism. We learned that Mormons believe in a general salvation and an individual salvation. Individual salvation is dependent upon your good works and the doctrine of salvation by grace, as Christians believe, will, according to Joseph Fielding Smith, lead one into damnation.

We closed out our series by comparing Christianity and Mormonism side by side in areas of essential doctrine. We saw that at no time do Mormons and Christians believe the same thing in the areas of God, Jesus, the Bible, and Salvation. All of which are doctrines at the foundation of one’s faith.

When I set out on this series, I realized I would probably step on many people’s toes, especially those who are members of the Mormon Church. That was never my intention. My intention was to force Mormons to take a good, objective look at the teachings of their faith. I quoted from different Mormon texts as well as great Mormon leaders and provided references for anyone to investigate it for themselves.

I know there are literally thousands of resources on Mormonism available. Some are good others not so good. If you would like to learn more about Mormonism I would encourage you to look into the following resources:

Click Here to go to Christian Apologetics Research Ministry. This website will provide a good starting ground for learning more about Mormonism.

Click Here to go to This site is run by many ex-Mormons and provides a tremendous amount of information.

Click Here to visit perhaps the best resource available to those investigating Mormonism. This is the online version of a book written by Jerald and Sandra Tanner, two former Mormons. It is easy to use and very informative.

For those of you who prefer to read books, there are two books I really recommend. For those who want an easy book to understand I recommend Clicking Here to purchase a great book by Ron Rhodes.

For those who like a little more meat in their reading. Click Here to order a fantastic new book that is making waves in the Academic Community.

Again, thank you for your time in staying with me through this series. This series was done at the request of someone who sent me an email asking me my thoughts about Mormonism. If you have other topics, series or not, you’d like to see addressed here, you can send me an email requesting so. My email address can be found by clicking on “View My Complete Profile” located on the column on the left side.