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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Childlike Wonder

One of the perks of writing a blog is the freedom to write whatever topic I choose. Normally my posts center on apologetics but I like to break from the norm and write about something else every now and then. With Thanksgiving and Christmas fast approaching I started to think about my childhood and the wonder that surrounded this magical time of year. I also recently pondered the life of C.S. Lewis; November 23 marked the 50th anniversary of his passing and I’ve thought a lot about his writing. If C.S. Lewis excelled at anything, it was his knack for literary prose and his ability to convey deep topics with such eloquent and imaginative writing. I don’t wish to write like him, but I continue to practice writing in the hopes that I can present information to audiences in a way that entertains and enlightens in a style uniquely my own. As I’ve pondered these various elements, I’ve come to realize that sometimes I become so analytical that I drift away from the childlike wonder of God.

“In that same hour [Jesus] rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” Luke 10:21

I love knowledge and I enjoy learning new things all the time, no matter the topic or subject, and I have especially taken a keen interest in science and understanding how the world works. Every time I learn something new I take a step back and I’m left in awe of Who God is and His creative power displayed by the universe. My dad is a retired carpenter who has the ability to create whatever is in his mind out of the objects and tools around him. I remember summers as a kid going to work with my dad and watching him transform rooms in houses to something totally different than before or watching him build additions and making it look as if that room existed with the house all along. I was (and still am!) enamored with the vast knowledge and experience that he could draw from to do what he did.

That same sense of awe that I have for my dad and what he makes is the same feeling I get when I look up at the night sky. One of my favorite pictures is the Hubble Telescope Deep Field Image. I first saw the image when I was in California last August and my brother took my parents and I to the Griffith Observatory outside of Los Angeles. On their largest wall they display the image and it is just breath taking. Astrophysicists pointed the telescope at an area of the night sky that seemed void of stars, an area about the size of a thumbnail, and they left the exposure open for about 2 weeks. The result is this picture provided by NASA. What we see is hundreds and hundreds of galaxies with billions of stars each. I look at that picture and I am just in childlike wonder at the power of God.

So why the verse? Why this post? Because so easily I allow the worries of this world to overtake me and I lose my childlike sense of wonder about God. I become consumed with deadlines, work, finances, studying, writing lessons and posts, and various other things. I get exhausted and I forget to look up at the night sky. I sometimes lose sight of the God we serve and just how HUGE He really is. I forget that this same powerful God loves us, cares for us, and personally knows us. I forget that this same powerful God longs and desires for us to spend time with Him and to simply rest in Him. God, the creator of everything, did not just create and abandon us; He created us and then lovingly called out to us and rescued us from our sin.

“But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to [Jesus] and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:40-42

Mary took the opportunity, amidst the chaos and confusion of trying to serve guests, to simply rest at the feet of Jesus. She allowed her childlike wonder of Christ to cause her to rest and just listen to The Lord teach. It wasn’t something to check off, it wasn’t part of a to-do list; it was just a simple act of worship: rest.

I remember waiting in agony as a child for Christmas to arrive. I remember Christmas Eve, forcing myself to try and sleep so that Christmas morning would come sooner and there would be presents under the tree. Do I approach God like that? Or do I try so hard to be counted among the wise and arrogant of this world, consumed with my knowledge? I am not in any way suggesting that we somehow turn off our minds when we come to God. Wisdom is a good thing and should be sought after (see Proverbs), but we should be extremely cautious about elevating the gift of wisdom above the Giver. At the foot of the cross everyone is equal; awards, accolades, degrees, titles, and accomplishments mean nothing. The only thing that matters is the One whom we are worshipping. God calls to us as children, not so we’ll believe anything, but that we would not come consumed with our self and our worries. Rather, we should come to Him as children on Christmas morning, excited and bounding with joy because we get to spend time with the Creator who loves us.

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
-G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Soli Deo Gloria,
Brian Ceely


Brian Ceely
is a researcher for Wycliffe Bible Translators, a College Age/Young Adult Minister at River Run Christian Church, and a very talented musician (specifically drums and guitar). He enjoys reading, writing, researching, philosophy, apologetics, playing drums like a crazy man and sharing the person and work of Jesus with young adults. Brian is also a regular at Starbucks and uses his many talents to bring glory to his God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

"And may you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi."

There are a few types of people in our world:
1. Those who do not drink coffee.
2. Those who drink coffee.
3. And those who drink "coffee."

The people who drink “coffee” are like me: the people who add so much to it - half the cup is cream, three packets of sugar - that it isn’t even coffee anymore. All my real coffee-drinking friends tell me I’m not really a coffee drinker (and they’re right!), because it won’t even be coffee anymore by the time I’m done with it. It really does become a different drink. Now, the hardcore people who drink coffee (notice, no quotation marks) are usually pretty foundational: black coffee - minimal if any cream, no sugar, no flavors. Just coffee, as it was meant to be.

Wherever you are on the spectrum, you may have noticed that the “coffee” drinkers emerge when it’s cold outside, when seasonal drinks like Pumpkin Spice Lattes and Peppermint Mochas come out. (Again, this is me.) Real coffee drinker spottings happen with coffee all year round - summer, winter, regardless. The “coffee” drinkers get “coffee” every once in a while, when they feel like it, when it’s convenient. The real, serious coffee drinkers pretty much depend on it for survival. (Am I right, coffee lovers?) They have it every day, multiple times a day. And if you’ve ever been with someone who truly has an addiction or obsession with coffee, you probably know they won’t even be the same person without it. And then, of course, there are people who hate coffee.

Coffee is like following Jesus. 

There are people who hate Jesus. There are people who "follow" Jesus, who may even follow him when it’s accessible and easy and convenient, when mission trip season rolls around, when they’re at church, when they feel like following him, when they want him. They like the taste they’ve gotten of Jesus, but they don’t depend on him. Watered down He’s great! But full-strength, full-force Jesus is a little too much.

And there are people who follow Jesus daily, who go to him for their strength and energy, who recognize their need for Jesus and go to him to fill that need. They are willing to go out of their way and be late to work or class to stop for coffee, to stop for Jesus. They are known by their friends as Jesus followers, all year round and in all types of weather. They go to him every day multiple times a day. They depend on him. And they aren't the same person without Him.

Now, this whole concept might be a bit cheesy, but bare with me. And think about it.

The question has changed from "do you drink 'coffee?'" to "do you drink coffee?" 
From "do you 'follow' Jesus?” to “how closely are you following Jesus?”

I heard someone speak on this whole idea of following Jesus closely a few years ago, and the example he gave was so brilliant and has stuck with me since. Take a look at this picture of Martin Luther King Jr. during his March on Washington.

A quarter of a million people were “following” Martin Luther on that day. All of those people behind him were “following” him, and all of them could personally attest to have been apart of the March on Washington and the civil rights movement. But if you look at a picture of the march, of Martin Luther King Jr., who do we see? Do we see the people in the back who tagged along to the crowd? 

Those people are too far back. We see the people who were literally with MLK. We see the people who were with him from the beginning and are going to be with him to the end. Fat chance that the people in the back actually knew Martin Luther to some extent personally, either; that privilege was only given to the people in the front, to the people following closely, to the people he walked with hand in hand.
And who do you think would have gotten arrested or kicked, chastised, spat on by the police along with Martin Luther? It would have been the people in the front, the people on his right and left, the people right behind him. This may be historically inaccurate, but I think you could even argue that most of the people who were truly passionate about the cause were right up there with Martin Luther. 

And so we ask ourselves, where do we stand? There were people who hated Martin Luther and his cause and didn’t follow him at all; there were people who “followed” Martin Luther because they agreed with his cause and there was a big crowd they could tag along with; and there were the people who followed Martin Luther, who knew him, who were beside him, who endured the pain he did, even though it wasn’t easy or convenient. In our pursuit of Jesus, where are we? Are we spitting at him and chastising him like the police did to MLK, are we trailing behind and following the crowd, or have we picked up our crosses, denied ourselves, and committed to following him as close as we possibly can? 

There’s an old Jewish saying that I find so beautiful, especially in regards to this concept:

"And may you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi."

It's the idea that Jesus’ disciples, not his "followers," were following so closely behind him that they were often covered in the dust that his shoes kicked up. Only if you were following closely behind Jesus could you find the dust and dirt from his shoes on yours. 

So let this be your heart's desire in your wild pursuit of Jesus and his wild pursuit of you: to become a real coffee drinker, a close and authentic Jesus-follower. Lean on his energy, depend on his strength, and seek him in all seasons. And may you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi.

posted by Taylor Fohr

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Humble Orthodoxy

"God is not an abstract truth; He is the Eternal Reality, and is discerned only by means of a personal relationship. If I preach the right thing but do not live it, I am telling an untruth about God."
-Oswald Chambers


It is critical to have both good orthodoxy and good orthopraxy.

Orthodoxy: "right belief, purity of faith"

Orthopraxy:  "correct action/activity" or an emphasis on conduct, both ethical and liturgical, as opposed to faith or grace.

We have to be people who care about truth, but be gracious toward those we disagree with. We must be willing to reach out to Christians who differ with us on points of doctrine. We need to learn the art of listening well, and practicing the discipline of not getting our own way. When we are encountered with hate, we must refuse to hate back.

There is a causal relationship between humility and orthodoxy.

As Pastor Josh Harris puts it, humility leads to orthodoxy and orthodoxy leads to humility.

Think about that. 

If we're truly humble, we'll acknowledge that we need truth from God. We won't think that we can invent or recreate our own ideas about who God is. Humility will lead us to accept God's words and his explanation for the world and our own need for salvation.
And in the same way, if we truly know and embrace orthodoxy it should humble us.

When we know the truth about God--his power, his greatness, his holiness, his mercy--it doesn't leave us boasting, it leaves us amazed.

It leaves us in awe of truth. It leaves us humbled in the presence grace.

 "Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers."
-1 Timothy 4:14-16


Nathan Bryant

Is a student of Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri. Majoring in Biblical Leadership, New Testament Studies, and Missiology, he has a combined passion for unity and discipleship in the global church. Nate is a crazed sports fan, he enjoys college football and playing fantasy football. He also enjoys watching baseball with friends. He works as an Admissions Counselor at Ozark. Nate is unashamedly a Starbucks addict. Yay Coffee!

Christ's Kingdom is bigger than our causes.
Christ's Kingdom is bigger than our boundaries.

Follow him on Twitter:


Thomas Montgomery

resides in Joplin, Missouri where he studies New Testament Theology at Ozark Christian College. His hobbies include hiking, cooking, reading, and talking to people about the person of Jesus Christ. He loves people, evidenced by his service to the church and those who do not yet know Christ.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Is God a Moral Monster? A continuation of my discussion with a New Atheist

Last week I wrote about the logical fallacy used by the New Atheist and my mistake that I made concerning that part of the discussion. For more information, follow the link to the previous blog post. This apparently drew the ire of another atheist who is a blogger and decided to give a quick response which you can read here.  Ad hominems aside, I’m not entirely sure what they mean by “distract from the OT out of convenience” and “point to Jesus as implied by the article”? If they mean my “hippie Jesus” remark, I guess I should explain further: The Atheist whom I met with a week ago on Sunday had asked about the angry God of the Old Testament and the loving God of the New Testament. I merely attempted to dispel the myth that Jesus was some hippie dude who came to only preach peace and love. Yes, He did teach those things but His first concern was with redeeming Israel and the world, showing God’s truth, and then teaching about peace and love.

I will agree that we should ask the question: “Was God morally right in what He did concerning the Canaanites in the book of Joshua?” That is a valid question and I hope to answer that. However, my claim about the loaded question fallacy was not in asking THAT question above, but in asking about my thoughts and/or feelings on the matter. The loaded question fallacy attempts to set up the person being questioned so as to either implicate them or invalidate them(1) (fallacies generally rely on attempting to discredit the person making the argument rather than the argument itself). Not all loaded questions are fallacies if both parties agree upon the presuppositions involved. But this was not the case; The Atheist whom I spoke with in person was trying to work me into a no win situation: either I am for the wonton slaughter of people or I think God is a moral monster. But that conversation and this one here is not about my thoughts or feelings on the matter, it is about whether or not God was objectively moral in His dealings with Canaanites in the book of Joshua.

The irony in all of this is that the blog author does agree with me: experience is not a measure of validity nor can it serve as evidence. Just because I feel a certain way about a topic does not make it right or wrong. So yes, it was a loaded question and it was a fallacy.

The Bible is not evidence? For whom, might I ask, is it not evidence? Is it because you do not agree with the Bible? I’m not asking you to agree with the Bible, but that doesn’t mean I cannot use it as evidence. For every scholar out there who dismisses the Scriptures as irrelevant myths, there are plenty of scholars who maintain the legitimacy of the Scriptures as reliable. Whether from the abundance of manuscripts, historical and textual criticism, or archeological discoveries, the Bible has shown to be a reliable source of information(2,3,4). Now, notice I said “reliable” and not “true”. These things mentioned cannot prove the Bible is divinely inspired, but they do show the Bible to be a reliable source for understanding the events in question. And since the information we do have shows the Bible to be reliable, there is no reason to assume the Bible is not a reliable source for knowing who God is.

Now, was God objectively right in what He did?

To say that something is right or wrong, what we are really saying is there is an objective measure to judge the difference between right and wrong. To say that God is right or wrong on a matter is to say that objectively we can know right and wrong. Without the existence of God, what is the objective standard? Because of how involved this question becomes, that will be another blog post. For now, we are starting with God exists, there are objective moral standards, and God is the objective standard of good.

So was God justified in how He dealt with the Canaanites as we read in the book of Joshua? There are a few things that need to be understood before we can continue: Christians recognize that God is the creator of everything (Genesis 1:1-3, John 1:1-4). We know that God is eternal, existing before the universe. We know that God is powerful and creative based on the size and scope of the observable (and growing) universe (Romans 1:20). Lastly, we see that God is personal because He is actively holding the universe together. In Genesis 3, we see sin enter the world and with it comes corruption and suffering. This led to violence among the people and grieved God (Genesis 6:5-6); it is important to note that violence is the product of sin and not what God intended. But why death? Because sin is direct rebellion of God, the Author of life, and the only fitting punishment is death (Romans 6:23).

I would like to pause for a moment and reiterate the point I made in my previous post: My agreement or disagreement with the punishment in no way changes whether or not this is objectively right or wrong. I can disagree with that and think that God is wrong, but this would only be my opinion. Whether or not God is indeed right or wrong is not contingent on my feelings about the matter.

So continuing on; if God is the creator of everything and the author of life and if He is the objective standard of good and if God is righteous, then it stands to reason that God is fit to judge what is good and righteous and to punish those who are evil. Paul sums it up nicely in Romans 3:3-6 that whether we believe in God or not, we are subject to His righteousness and His punishment. So God’s dealing with the Canaanites in the book of Joshua is completely justified based on who He is alone, according to the Word of God. Whether or not the Canaanites in Jericho believed in God changed nothing of how God chose to deal with them. But, they did know. Let’s look at the story a little bit further.

In Joshua 2, two Israelite spies met with Rahab, the prostitute living in Jericho who took them in and saved them from the guards. In verse 9b she makes an announcement to the spies: “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:9b-11)

Notice specifically Rahab’s confession; she acknowledges fully who God is and she states that the whole of Jericho knows this and they tremble. This passage alone shows us that Jericho had no excuse, they knew who God is and they knew what He is capable of. But is this account reliable? We can confidently say that the text is reliable for two reasons. First, historically the testimony of a woman was not considered as strongly as a man’s, and Rahab was among the lowest class being a prostitute. This means that if you were trying to propagate a lie or a myth and you wanted it to come off as true, you would not be using a female prostitute in your story. Secondly, Joshua 6:1 tells us that Jericho was not only strongly fortified but also closed its gates so that no one could enter or leave. During peacetime, a fortress or castle’s gates are open for commerce to take place, but during war the gates are closed for security. With no other war or skirmish going on, it is safe to say that Jericho was indeed afraid of the Israelites for them to close up their gates and prepare for battle.

But long before the parting of the Red Sea and the destruction Amorite kings, God had predicted this event over 430 years prior when He made His covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15:13-16. So in reality, Jericho had over 430 years to get their act together and worship God.

Were the Canaanites evil? Yep. Historically, Canaanites practiced human sacrifice for their idols(5,6) as well as sexual rituals. Why is this bad? Well, whether you are a Christian or atheist, any form of murder (sacrifice or otherwise) is universally seen as a not good thing. Worse yet, certain groups of Canaanites were known to practice child sacrifice by killing their first-born. According to the Christian faith, people bear the image of God. As image bearers, anything done to each other is representative of our feelings towards God (1 John 4:20). Murder and human sacrifice are despicable to the Lord (Leviticus 20:2, Deuteronomy 18:10).

So although the Canaanites knew God, they rejected Him and chose the things abhorrent to Him. After 430 years, their time had come. Before we continue some things need to be made clear: First, God was not calling for the killing of all Canaanites, but specifically those at Jericho (and later Ai). This was not a xenophobic move to destroy a people group; this was punishment for generations refusing to obey God. Upon Rahab’s confession, she was spared and she and her family joined the Israelites. Second, Jericho was a fortress, a strong hold, not a center for families. The reality is that Israel was going to fight soldiers stationed at a Fortress, not kill helpless families. Were there some families present? We know of at least one, Rahab and her family; but this does not automatically confirm there were other families present.

What we see is God bringing about His judgment on a people for their sins and refusal to obey Him despite all of the evidence and opportunity He gave them. We also see a God that commanded the Israelites to attack a fortress, not a civilian town. We also see God immediately pardoning those who confessed their obedience to Him. The more we examine this, the less we see a morally corrupt God and the more we see a God who is rightly passing judgment. To quote Paul Copan, “Unlike Rahab and her family, her fellow Jerichoites (and most of the canaanites) refused to acknowledge the one true God. The example of Rahab and her family (and to some extent Gibeon) reveals that consecration to the ban (herem) wasn’t absolute and irreversible. God was, as we’ve seen, more concerned about the destruction of Canaanite religion and idols than Canaanite peoples. God repeatedly expresses a willingness to relent from punishment and preserve those who acknowledge His evident rule over the nations (cf. Jeremiah 18:8).”(7)

Is God a moral monster? Despite our feelings on the matter, truth is truth. We affirm that God is good, and not because we experience His goodness but because we have evidence for it. As I’ve stated at the beginning, because we know the Bible is reliable, we can know the character and nature of God. Are there difficult texts in Scriptures that are often hard to deal with? Yes. But that doesn’t mean we just throw up our hands and assume the worst. We have to dissect the passage in question and look at it in context of the event and of who God is. To end this post, I will share a quote from Dr. John Frame that I used in an earlier post:

“The difference between unregenerate and regenerate knowledge of God may be described as ethical. The unregenerate represses his knowledge of God by disobeying God. This disobedience may lead in some cases to psychological repression, or explicit atheism, but it does not always. The apologist should recognize, therefore, that the unbeliever’s problem is primarily ethical, not intellectual. He rejects truth because he disobey’s God’s ethical standards, not the other way around.”

Soli Deo Gloria,
Brian Ceely

2 Geisler, Norman; “Has the Bible Been Accurately Copied Down Through the Centuries?” (Originally excerpted from the Apologetics Study Bible, B&H Publishers) http://kelvinho-kh.blogspot.com/2012/01/has-bible-been-accurately-copied-down.html
3 Montgomery, John Warwick; “Could the Gospel Writers Withstand the Scrutiny of a Lawyer?” (Originally excerpted from the Apologetics Study Bible, B&H Publishers) http://kelvinho-kh.blogspot.com/2012/01/could-gospel-writers-withstand-scrutiny.html
4 McDowell, Josh; “The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict”, pp. 91-98
7 Copan, Paul; “Is God a Moral Monster?” 2011, pp. 177-178


Brian Ceely
is a researcher for Wycliffe Bible Translators, a College Age/Young Adult Minister at River Run Christian Church, and a very talented musician (specifically drums and guitar). He enjoys reading, writing, researching, philosophy, apologetics, playing drums like a crazy man and sharing the person and work of Jesus with young adults. Brian is also a regular at Starbucks and uses his many talents to bring glory to his God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Toughest Thing You'll Ever Do

"God can handle your anger. God can handle your confusion, your frustration. You don't have to be falsely happy to a God who knows you better than yourself. Just as a parent learns to patiently endure the anger and frustration of her child because she knows that no matter what happens, 'I love this child.' Your God can handle your questions, your tears, your anger and your loneliness... But the most important thing we can do when we are angry with God is to worship God." -Chad Ragsdale

It took me a lot to learn this. Even longer for it to sink in.

But the truth of the matter is this...

The most holy people on this world that we look up to, the people who the Holy Spirit seems to just ooze out of (You know those people?).

People who may not know how to parse a greek verb. They may not be able to do a word study or give historical background on a text of scripture.

They might not even be the sharpest tool in the shed.

They may not be the best preachers, may not have nailed it like some other preacher could have done with that funeral sermon.

Perhaps the church they attend isn't perfect or prestigious or even healthy...

But there are these people out there who genuinely know God.


They are in love with His entire being. They know Him.

It is evident in their prayers, their service, their words, their actions, their treatment of people around them.

And the crazy thing is, most of these people, if you asked them are this way because like Jacob, they wrestled with God and prevailed. (See Genesis 32:28)

... These people have been angry at God and have shouted at Him, been uncomfortable with Him, screamed at Him, gave them a piece of their mind when trials and sufferings have attacked them.

And God is not ashamed to be called their God.

Because God is a big God, and He can handle our honesty.

It is in these moments of frustration with God that our hearts are ever more open to His leading and teaching.

In anger we turn to Him to speak with Him, hoping deep down within our consciences to lay our case before Him so well that He will change His mind and stop whatever trouble is falling on us.

Sometimes it works.

Most of the time however... He says to us, "My grace is sufficient."

He gives us His comfort through the storm.


This weekend I am in the presence of some of these people, I am attending the International Conference on Missions and absolutely melting inside as I realize the company that I am in:Thousands of missionaries that serve around the globe are here hoping for encouragement and refreshment from this conference as they get ready for the holiday season. I hope to be part of that encouragement, but I also hope that in the process I will learn from them.

Because these men and women who are serving the Lord Jesus Christ faithfully with their entire being know what it means to be frustrated with God sometimes.

But they also know how to worship Him.

Listening to this conference sing in the main sessions is like a little piece of heaven. Thousands of tribes and tongues are represented here... and many more are being prayed for at the Joshua Project's Prayer Wall of Unreached People Groups.

Sometimes the toughest thing you'll ever do is turn to Jesus in frustration, anger, hurt, dismay, even in the midst of death and worship Him.

But it is worth it my friends, always worth it.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
-Hebrews 11:32-40

For further on this topic you will be blessed by this sermon from one of my favorite preachers and professors, Chad Ragsdale:

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

My Conversation with a Neo-Atheist (Or is God a Moral Monster)

I’ve written a few blog posts about talking to someone who identifies themselves as a skeptic or a member of the FreeThought Society. To some degree I got the chance to put my money where my mouth is and use some of those tactics. One thing I learned is that theory on paper is much different than theory in practice. On paper, things are static and the world operates as I want it to. In practice, things are fluid and people are involved. What I learned was not that I was wrong in my method or conclusion, but wrong in my delivery. I did not expect the kind of ferocious arguments presented, though I should have known better. Members of the Neo-Atheist community are known for bringing up many issues at once while forcing the other side to show burden of proof for their defense, mostly through clever word play. It was a challenging, though exciting, debate. Though the Atheist used many logical fallacies, I myself did not walk away clean as I made my own mistakes, including failing to see the fallacies and calling them out.

In the coming blog posts, I will look at his other fallacies and reveal how I should have handled them in the hopes of better equipping you, dear reader, to stand firm on the Truth of God.

(Note: While I realize that not all atheists hold to the views discussed below, the person who I spoke with used many of Dr. Sam Harris’ arguments concerning God and morality. For the duration of the blog I will not be naming the person in question simply because I did not have a chance to get his permission to name him before writing this post. From here on out he shall be named as “The Atheist”.)

On Sunday evening, I had the opportunity to engage someone who identified as a Neo-Atheist and we discussed whether or not God existed. Like most Neo-Atheist, the person in question stated that even if the Judeo-Christian God did in fact exist, He would not be someone worth worshipping as He is morally bankrupt, egotistical, misogynistic, and racist and anyone who believes in this God is just as bad as He is (Note: towards the end of the evening, he nearly owned up that he thought I was stupid for believing in God and thus as morally bankrupt).

Most of the time was spent debating God and morality. In large part, he kept maintaining even if the Judeo-Christian God existed, He is morally bankrupt and therefore not worthy of worship. The conversation engaged on whether or not God was morally right in slaughter. How does this equate with the God of the New Testament who seems to be all about love and peace and not killing? After dispelling the myth of the Hippie Jesus and discussing God’s action against the Canaanites in Jericho, he then asked me if I believed God was morally right for doing this. In this moment the Atheist committed a logical fallacy of the Loaded Question. In this fallacy, by asking me that question, no matter how I answer I look guilty; I either look like I support the wonton slaughter of people or I appear to disagree with God and think He’s immoral. (I did not do a good job of answering this question. He baited me with this trap and I walked right into it and it was only while I was in the middle of it that I realized what happened.)

What I should have said: The problem with this fallacy is that it takes the view off of God and puts it on me. The argument isn’t about whether or not I THINK or FEEL what God did was morally wrong, the argument is about whether or not it is wrong independently of my thoughts or emotions. In terms of objective moral values, my feelings and thoughts about something make them no more right or wrong than my wish to go to the moon will get me to the moon. Something is objectively right or wrong independent of me. Based on who God is (Just, King, Judge, Creator) and because He does not act against His nature, we can conclude that God was just in actions against the Canaanites in Jericho. (Neo-Atheism finds much of its ideology rooted in Post-Modernism and therefore rejects many authoritative claims unless they themselves ascribe it authority over their lives. Thus if they reject the authority of Scriptures, they feel they are not bound to believe anything about Scripture.)

So was God wrong for what He did? In the next blog post we will discuss this topic further, but I want to leave you this: We must be careful about ascribing our thought process to God. His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. We must also realize that the event in question, Jericho, was not solely about taking over land; God brought punishment on the Canaanites for their despicable acts including child sacrifice. Scripture shows us they were given ample warning (400 years) to get their act together and still they refused to obey God. Until next time, dear reader, God Bless.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Brian Ceely


Brian Ceely
is a researcher for Wycliffe Bible Translators, a College Age/Young Adult Minister at River Run Christian Church, and a very talented musician (specifically drums and guitar). He enjoys reading, writing, researching, philosophy, apologetics, playing drums like a crazy man and sharing the person and work of Jesus with young adults. Brian is also a regular at Starbucks and uses his many talents to bring glory to his God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Persecuted Church and the Resurrection

This is a not so simple Sunday post today... This day in history means so much as we remember Kristallnacht, but even more than that, it is a day the church sets aside to remember our brothers and sisters all around the world as they endure persecution for Jesus.
However, I do hope to be devotional and even apologetic with this post, because the ties of persecution to history to the foundation of our faith in the Resurrection of Christ are so interwoven, we mustn't separate it in our minds and in our prayers.
It will not do … to say that Jesus’ disciples were so stunned and shocked by his death, so unable to come to terms with it, that they projected their shattered hopes onto the screen of fantasy and invented the idea of Jesus’ ‘resurrection’ as a way of coping with a cruelly broken dream. That has an initial apparent psychological plausibility, but it won’t work as serious first-century history.
We know of lots of other messianic and similar movements in the Jewish world roughly contemporary with Jesus. In many cases the leader died a violent death at the hands of the authorities. In not one single case do we hear the slightest mention of the disappointed followers claiming that their hero had been raised from the dead. They knew better. ‘Resurrection’ was not a private event. It involved human bodies. There would have to be an empty tomb somewhere.
A Jewish revolutionary whose leader had been executed by the authorities, and who managed to escape arrest himself, had two options: give up the revolution, or find another leader. We have evidence of people doing both.
Claiming that the original leader was alive again was simply not an option. Unless, of course, he was. —N.T. Wright, Who Was Jesus?
Over the years, I have had my share of discussions about what we can know about Jesus.

These three facts about the Historical Jesus are held by most critical scholars and historians:

1. Jesus died in Jerusalem by crucifixion.

The question we have to ask the person who claims Jesus was "a good guy" or "another prophet" is why. Why would such a good guy be crucified? An execution saved only for the worst of criminals by the Roman government. Perhaps because he claimed to be something more than just a good guy. We are then left with the dilemma, either Jesus was a complete lunatic who did nice things but underneath it all was a deceiver and manipulator and died for it OR Jesus was exactly who he claimed to be: God incarnate. The latter would of course been seen as blasphemy and a threat to Jewish rulers, as well as Roman occupation of the territory.

However, even amidst that, we know from history that the Roman governor, Pilate, saw no fault in him.

2. Very Shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them.

These men would later give their very lives for this claim. It makes zero logical sense to die for something you know to be a lie. The disciples would take this message to the entire known world and preach the message the experienced and knew to be true:

James, the Apostle of the Lord, was the second recorded martyr after Christ's death (Stephen was the first). His death is recorded in Acts 12:2 where it is told that Herod Agrippa killed him with a sword. Clemens Alexandrinus and Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History II.2) both tell how the executioner witnessed the courage and un-recanting spirit of James and was then convinced of Christ's resurrection and was executed along with James.

Although, just before the crucifixion, Peter denied three times that he even knew Christ, after the resurrection he did not do so again. Peter, just as Jesus told him in John 21:18-19, was crucified by Roman executioners because he could not deny his master again. According to Eusebius, he thought himself unworthy to be crucified as his Master, and, therefore, he asked to be crucified "head downward."

Andrew, who introduced his brother Peter to Christ, went to join Peter with Christ in eternity six years after Peter's death. After preaching Christ's resurrection to the Scythians and Thracians, he too was crucified for his faith. As Hippolytus tells us, Andrew was hanged on an olive tree at Patrae, a town in Achaia.

Thomas is known as "doubting Thomas" because of his reluctance to believe the other Apostles' witness of the resurrection. After they told him that Christ was alive, he stated "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe" (John 20:25). After this, Christ did appear to him and Thomas believed unto death. Thomas sealed his testimony as he was thrust through with pine spears, tormented with red-hot plates, and burned alive.

Philip was corrected by Christ when he asked Christ to “show us the Father, then this will be enough for us” (John 14:8). Christ responded, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father ‘?” (John 14:9). Philip later saw the glory of Christ after the resurrection and undoubtedly reflected with amazement on Christ's response to his request. Philip evangelized in Phrygia where hostile Jews had him tortured and then crucified.

Matthew, the tax collector, so desperately wanted the Jews to accept Christ. He wrote The Gospel According to Matthew about ten years before his death. Because of this, one can see, contained within his Gospel, the faith for which he spilled his blood. Matthew surely remembered his resurrected Savior's words, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matt. 28:20), when he professed the resurrected Christ unto his death by beheading at Nad-Davar.

Nathanael, whose name means "gift of God" was truly given as a gift to the Church through his martyrdom. Nathanael was the first to profess, early in Christ's ministry, that Christ was the Son of God (John 1:49). He  later paid for this profession through a hideous death. Unwilling to recant of his proclamation of a risen Christ, he was flayed and then crucified.

James (the lesser) some believe was appointed to be the head of the Jerusalem church for many years after Christ's death, others see this as another James. Either way, we know this Apostle remained in Jerusalem. In this, he undoubtedly came in contact with many hostile Jews (the same ones who killed Christ and stated "His [Christ's] blood be on us and our children" (Matt. 27:25). In order to make James deny Christ's resurrection, these men positioned him at the top of the Temple for all to see and hear. James, unwilling to deny what he knew to be true, was cast down from the Temple and finally beaten to death with a fuller's club to the head.

Simon was a Jewish zealot who strived to set his people free from Roman oppression. After he saw with his own eyes that Christ had been resurrected, he became a zealot of the Gospel. Historians tell of the many different places that Simon proclaimed the good news of Christ's resurrection: Egypt, Cyrene, Africa, Mauritania, (potentially Britain), Lybia, and Persia. His rest finally came when he verified his testimony and went to be with Christ, being crucified by a governor in Syria.

Judas (not Iscariot) questioned the Lord: "Judas said to him (not Iscariot), Lord, how is it that you will show yourself to us, and not unto the world?" (John 14:22). After he witnessed Christ's resurrection, Judas then knew the answer to his question. Preaching the risen Christ to those in Mesopotamia in the midst of pagan priests, Judas was beaten to death with sticks, showing to the world that Christ was indeed Lord and God.
Matthias replaced Judas Iscariot (the betrayer of Christ who hanged himself) as the twelfth Apostle of Christ (Acts 1:26). It is believed by most that Matthias was one of the seventy that Christ sent out during his earthly ministry (Luke 10:1). This qualifies him to be an apostle. Matthias, of which the least is known, is said by Eusebius to have preached in Ethiopia. He was later stoned while hanging upon a cross.
John is the only one of the twelve Apostles to have died a natural death. Although he did not die a martyr's death, he did live a martyr's life. He was exiled to the Island of Patmos under the Emperor Domitian for his proclamation of the risen Christ. It was there that he wrote the last book in the Bible, Revelation. We do know that he was brought back from Patmos just before his death and lived and preached in Ephesus. *Some* traditions tell us that he was thrown into boiling oil before the Latin Gate, where he was not killed but undoubtedly scarred for the rest of his life.

The deaths of the Apostles increase the certainty of the historicity of the resurrection to a level that is beyond excuse for disbelief. People do not die for their own lies, half-truths, or fabrications. If the Apostles truly died proclaiming to have seen Christ dead then alive and ascend into heaven, Christ is who He said He was, God incarnate who came to take away the sins of the world.

3. Within a few years after Jesus death, Paul became a follower of Jesus after a personal experience that he interpreted as a post resurrection appearance of Jesus to him.

Paul, a persecutor of the church and one of the people responsible for the first martyr of the faith, Stephen, had everything going for him: respect, dignity, power, honor among the Jewish elite. He had Roman citizenship, he was a pharisee of pharisees, taught by the greatest teachers of the day concerning Jewish law. What would cause him to throw it all away and live like a vagabond?

Paul was the greatest skeptic there was until he saw the truth of the resurrection. He then devoted his life to the proclamation of the living Christ. Writing to the Corinthians, defending his ministry, Paul tells of his sufferings for the name of Christ: "In labors more abundant, in beatings above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths often. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once was I stoned, three times I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeys often, in storms on the water, in danger of robbers, in danger by mine own countrymen, in danger by the heathen, in danger in the city, in danger in the wilderness, in the sea, among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness "(2 Cor. 11:23-27). Finally, Paul met his death at the hands of the Roman Emperor Nero when he was beheaded in Rome.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. -Hebrews 11:13-16
What is my point in this post?

Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. And my hope is that as we read about our history, and we understand the promise of redemption that is only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we understand what men and women all around the world and all throughout the pages of history are dieing for... and my hope is that this knowledge, this understanding, will give us something to live for.

Pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who are living and dieing in poverty and pain all for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus.

Because like the apostles of old, they are on the frontlines now, us, here, now. And there is a desperate, desperate cry from the battlefield for prayer warriors to pray for the softening of hearts to who Jesus is. Hundreds die every day from beatings and torture for their faith.

"We set forth our petitions before God, not in order to make known to Him our needs and desires, but rather so that we ourselves may realize that in these things it is necessary to turn to God for help."
-St. Thomas Aquinas

The lives of the martyrs become a source of inspiration for Christians, and their lives are revered. The 2nd-century Church Father Tertullian wrote that,

"the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church,"

implying that the martyrs' willing sacrifice of their lives leads to the conversion of others.

The blood, sweat, and tears of the persecuted feed that seed even today.

70 million Christians have been killed in the last 2000 years, and the number is continuing to grow. Pray. Pray for strength, endurance, patience, love for the enemies of the church, and for the Gospel to continue to flourish.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
-Hebrews 11:32-12:4

For more information on Christian persecution Voice of the Martyrs and Love Costs Everything are great resources for you to check out.

But above all, pray.


Nathan Bryant

Is a student of Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri. Majoring in Biblical Leadership, New Testament Studies, and Missiology, he has a combined passion for unity and discipleship in the global church. Nate is a crazed sports fan, he enjoys college football and playing fantasy football. He also enjoys watching baseball with friends. He works as an Admissions Counselor at Ozark. Nate is unashamedly a Starbucks addict. Yay Coffee!

Christ's Kingdom is bigger than our causes.
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