Give Thanks for Goodness’ Sake

Why do I give thanks? While there are many things, people, and circumstances for which I am thankful, 1 Chronicles 16:34 provides the most essential reason of all when the author declares, “Give thanks to the LORD for He is good…” So why should we express gratitude for God’s goodness above anything else? Simply because God’s goodness is the foundational attribute underlying all other things for which we give thanks. A.W. Tozer explains in The Knowledge of the Holy, “The goodness of God is the drive behind all the blessings He daily bestows upon us. God created us because He felt good in His heart and He redeemed us for the same reason.” We would enjoy no other gifts, relationships, or experiences if God were not first of all good. Because of God’s goodness, I am comforted and not fearful of the remarkable power He wields over all of creation. I am encouraged rather than uneasy at His intimate knowledge of my every thought.

What does it mean to say that God is good? The Psalmist proclaims in Psalm 16:2, “I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’” Goodness itself cannot be defined without first looking to God. All that He says, does, and is reflects His goodness. Tracing the movement of His hand throughout history reveals a picture of His good plan and redemptive story that began unfolding at the first sinful act of man. I heard it said recently that the Christian faith is unique because we worship a God who, because of His goodness, became the solution to mankind’s biggest problem. No other religion offers a deity who embodies that kind of self-sacrificial goodness. He was under no obligation to offer Himself up for us, except that He was compelled by His kindness and benevolent nature to do so.

Even creation itself reveals His goodness as He generously surrounds us with amazing treasures that delight our senses and leave us in awe of our Creator. He thrills us with the brilliance of the starry heavens that span across the horizon as far as our eyes can see. He lavishes us with the refreshing fragrance of the rain following an unexpected summer storm. He provides the sweetness of a freshly picked piece of fruit to satisfy our hunger. He entertains us with the melodious songs of birds to awaken us in the morning. He shines the luminescent glow of the sun on our faces to remind us of the warmth of His love. Only a good God would do such things.

Psalm 34:8 instructs us to “Taste and see that the LORD is good.” Goodness is not just a descriptor of how He is; it’s who He is. As humans who reflect the image of God, we can be good for a time, but our imperfect nature eventually claws its way to the surface. In contrast, God is only ever good. God is good because that’s who He is. I am sometimes good because of His Holy Spirit living in me. I can be a good parent for a while, but eventually I’ll lose my temper over some act of childish misbehavior. I can be a good friend temporarily, but at some point I’ll respond selfishly and let my closest companions down. I can be a good citizen for a time, until I’m cut off in traffic or beaten in line for some awesomely amazing Black Friday deal! I can be a good wife for the short term, but I’ll inevitably say something unkind at the end of a stressful day. A.W. Tozer continues in The Knowledge of the Holy, “Divine goodness, as one of God’s attributes, is self-caused, infinite, perfect, and eternal. Since God is immutable He never varies in the intensity of His loving-kindness. He has never been kinder than He now is, nor will He ever be less kind.” What a comforting thought to know that He is so unlike me, and is always only good!

Psalms 23:6 says, “Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD as long as I live.” God’s goodness compels Him to pursue me, allowing me to reap the benefits of a life lived in relationship with Him. His pursuit of me has been relentless no matter where my spiritual journey has taken me. Sometimes He quietly tiptoes up behind me, astonishing me with some extravagant, over-the-top act of goodness. Other times He’s the Good Shepherd who sees me wandering aimlessly into danger and brings me back into the fold for my own protection. At all times He’s my patient Heavenly Father who cradles my hand in His and guides me along the good path. Where else can we find that kind of goodness except in our God?

Because I am confident that God is always only good, I can be thankful no matter the circumstance. On both dreadfully dark nights and breathtakingly bright days I know that I have a Heavenly Father working His good purposes in my life (Romans 8:28). I’m thankful for each breath I breathe, but I know that even if I never drew another breath, God would still be good. I’m thankful for the roof over my head, but I know that if it were to disastrously disappear, God would still be good. I’m thankful for my daily provision of food, but I know that I don’t live by bread alone, and if I were to go hungry, God would still be good. I’m also thankful for my family, my church, my job, my friends, and all things big and small that God provides on a moment by moment, hour by hour, and day by day basis. Apart from all that, however, is God’s goodness. We cannot truly appreciate the good gifts we receive from God’s hand without first understanding how He Himself is good, and giving thanks for that above all.

Book Review: Why I Still Believe by Mary Jo Sharp

In a culture where deconversion stories have become all too commonplace, and often leave faith in tatters, Mary Jo Sharp shines a ray of hope. She brings the reader along on her own journey from atheism, to belief, through doubt, and onward to her destination as a bold apologist for the Christian faith. She draws the reader into her story as she faces head-on the threads of ugliness woven into the fabric of the human experience, and demonstrates in a compelling fashion that even when our stories threaten to become unraveled, we have hope in Christ. Mary Jo then systematically proves how the evidences for the truth of the Christian worldview can be used to weave one’s faith back together again into a beautiful tapestry even in the midst of pain and hypocrisy. She reveals the amazing complexity of the Christian faith, stating that “To reduce Christianity to a neat-and-tidy recipe for happiness is to miss it almost entirely.”

I was eager to read Why I Still Believe because Mary Jo Sharp provided my first serious introduction to apologetics three years ago. I have followed her ministry since then and observed her passion for equipping believers to defend the Christian faith with truth and compassion. I’m impressed by her honest reflections about coming into the Christian faith from an atheistic background, and how despite painful experiences within the church, she still has reasons to believe in a good and gracious God. Through anecdotal snapshots and glimpses into personal conversations, she walks the reader through her experiences as a new Christian and candidly describes the challenges to her faith she faced even as a minister’s wife. Those who have experienced hurt from within the walls of the church will see themselves in her story, and appreciate her encouragement to find hope on the other side of disappointment.

Mary Jo walks the reader through some of the core apologetics arguments she considered while investigating the viability of the Christian worldview. She invites the reader to listen in on her conversations with both scholars and skeptics regarding the existence of God, the resurrection of Christ, the problem of evil, the divinity of Jesus, the moral argument, and the argument from beauty. She ultimately concludes that the Christian worldview is the best explanation for the reality we experience all around us, while honestly acknowledging that a tension exists in the Christian life between how things are and how we know they ought to be.

Reading Why I Still Believe has prompted within me a desire to display a greater boldness in my witness, and to better equip myself to defend the faith. I finished Sharp’s latest book realizing that while each person’s story is unique, we all explore similar questions about the meaning and purpose of life. It has affirmed to me that questioning our beliefs as followers of Christ doesn’t indicate a lack of faith. Rather, it demonstrates complete trust in Him to provide answers to our deepest questions in His perfect timing. The author concludes that “To question my beliefs takes trust…it takes the control away from me and hands it over to God.” This book is an excellent resource for those struggling with doubt and working to reconcile painful experiences, often even at the hands of other believers, with the goodness of God. I recommend it to anyone interested in a refreshingly honest look at how to wrestle well with the ultimate questions of life.

Does My Doubt Disappoint God?

Uncertainty is much more easily addressed in childhood. Remember the magic eight ball toy? You could ask it anything, give the ball a couple of shakes, and an answer would mysteriously float to the top. Another option for finding answers to life’s deepest questions was the folded paper fortune teller game. It was as easy as picking a number, watching a friend move the contraption back and forth a few times with their fingers, and lifting up a folded flap to reveal the answer. And what about twenty questions? We could easily pass hours on a road trip when my boys were young discovering answers through the process of elimination.

When it came to learning about God, I was fully immersed in church as far back as I can remember. My Sunday school teachers and youth leaders prepared lessons and engaging activities that taught me stories from the Bible with application on how to live from a Christian worldview. I don’t know if it was explicitly or implicitly implied, but in my mind, faith was defined as “just believing hard enough.” My typically compliant and trusting nature compelled me to unquestioningly take for granted the stories, verses, and Biblical principles authority figures diligently and lovingly taught me. I did believe then and I do believe now, but I now know that faith is more accurately defined as trust in what I have good reasons to believe.

The problem for me, and I’m guessing for others, too, is that life happens, and difficult circumstances require us to dig deeper for answers beyond “just believing hard enough.” As we grow up and experience broken relationships, disappointing losses, and confusing circumstances, we find that answers are harder to come by. Simple bumper-stickered or Instagrammed Bible verses are no longer enough. We seek to reconcile what we feel within us with the reality around us. This often leads to tilling up the soil of our minds, planting seeds of truth from God’s Word, and waiting for those seeds to grow roots deep down into our hearts. This process can be painstakingly slow and while the roots grow, weeds of doubt may unexpectedly spring up.

Defining Doubt

Doubt means to “feel uncertain about.” Is God disappointed in us for seeking more certainty by asking questions? I don’t think so. Dominic Done says in his book, When Faith Fails: Finding God in the Shadow of Doubt, “Doubt presses you to reevaluate the story of your life…Doubt is essentially neutral; it’s what you do with it that counts.” Doubt is neither the villain nor the hero of our story. Rather, doubt can be used as a tool to propel us into a deeper faith in Jesus, who is our hero, as He rescues us from the perils of unbelief. As the father of the child with the mute spirit says to Jesus in Mark 9:24, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

So how can we view doubt in a spiritually healthy way? I don’t believe it is healthy to take the approach that “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” That implies that we should be ashamed of our questions. There are lots of things that I believe with all my heart, but that doesn’t mean they are completely settled in my mind. I believe down to my core that God loves me, but I still haven’t completely resolved why He doesn’t always answer my prayers the way I want Him to. I absolutely trust God’s sovereignty, but I am still uneasy with the senseless pain and suffering I see all around me. Does that mean I don’t believe? Certainly not. My human nature compels me to ask questions, and God is using my wrestling with these issues to sanctify and conform me to the image of Christ.

Relating to God in Our Doubt

God relates to us as our Heavenly Father, mirroring the way in which we relate to our own children. As parents, we realize that they are born with an innate desire to ask questions. “Why is the sky blue? Who made God? Where do babies come from?” And a personal favorite asked by my older son, “Does God have legs?” Just as we patiently answer the daily barrage of questions from our children, God in even greater measure awaits and anticipates our questions. They don’t take Him by surprise. In fact, Jesus says in Matthew 18:14 that we are to come to him with the humility of a child. It is a humbling process to admit that we don’t have all the answers, and to instead lay our questions down at the feet of the one who does. Just as we don’t think less of our kids for asking questions, our Heavenly Father, who loves us even more than we love our own children, doesn’t either. I think it would be more concerning as a parent if my children were not asking questions. Apathy is a dangerous place to settle in and become comfortable.

God designed us as rational beings who learn by asking questions. We often learn best by struggling with hard issues. God, being the omnipotent creator that He is, could have created us as robots pre-programmed with all knowledge necessary to thrive in the world. If He had created us this way, we would willingly obey Him at all times and would have no need to question anything. He chose instead to create us with free will, giving us the freedom to make choices for good or evil. And if our will is free, then we are also free to question. But God doesn’t fear our questions because the Christian worldview is capable of withstanding any scrutiny. Even the design of creation invites questions. Who hasn’t looked at the stars and wondered at their brilliance, or listened to the roar of the ocean and been in awe of its power? From the tiniest cell in the human body, to the vast expanse of the universe itself, our Creator calls us to explore, discover, inquire, and seek out meaning.

Mary Jo Sharp says in her new book, Why I Still Believe, “To question my beliefs takes trust…it takes the control away from me and hands it over to God.” When my younger son was around three years old, he followed a very predictable pattern every night which could be timed almost to the minute. Our bedroom was directly down a long hallway from his, and at the same time every night he would grab his blankie, his pillow, and his dog (yes, a real live dog), jump out of bed, and hit the floor at a full sprint. We would hear his feet pounding all the way down the hardwood hallway, and he wouldn’t stop until he reached the end of our bed. At that point he would propel himself, his blankie, his pillow, and his dog up onto the bed where he would join us for the rest of the night. We were his safe place in the darkest hours of the night when anxious thoughts enveloped him. God wants to be our safe place, too, when uncertainty creeps into our lives. He welcomes us with open arms when we run toward Him, trusting that He will answer our questions in His time and in His way.

Dealing with Doubt

The Bible is full of accounts of honest truth-seeking doubters who questioned and wrestled with God amidst troubling and confusing circumstances. Sarah laughed in disbelief when God told her she would give birth in her old age (Genesis 18). Moses doubted whether or not God had chosen the right man when He called him to lead the exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 3). Job questioned God in the midst of his time of trial (Job 3). The Psalms are full of questions as David cries out to God (Psalm 22 and others). John the Baptist even wondered whether or not Jesus was the Messiah (Luke 7:20). Finally, there’s Thomas, the disciple most defined by his doubt (John 20:24-25).

Jude 22 says, “And have mercy on those who doubt.” Having experienced periods of doubt in my own life, even since I’ve been a pastor’s wife, I can attest to the fact that it can be a lonely place. But I can also say that my faith was ultimately strengthened as I honestly sought out answers through prayer and the study of God’s Word. As we experience doubt both in our own lives, and walk with others through times of doubt, the Bible is clear that we shouldn’t condemn, but rather lovingly guide toward truth. As we question, wrestle, struggle, and contend for the faith, we can be assured that God will be faithful to complete His work in us and even create something beautiful out of our confusion.

Purposeful Parenting

With the launching of my firstborn son into independent adulthood, I’ve been wrestling with how parenting is a bittersweet intermingling of celebration and sadness. From the moment a baby is placed in his parent’s arms, they wrap their arms tightly around him, knowing that the ultimate goal is to let him go one day.  As parents, we pray for our child’s good, but know that it will eventually lead him out into the world to pursue God’s purpose for his life.  When he leaves home, we simultaneously throw one hand up in triumph while discretely wiping away our tears with the other. We gently push him out of the nest, struggling against the instinctive desire to pull him back in for shelter under our wings. We cautiously observe those first tentative toddler steps, and then applaud a confident sprint to adulthood. As I pondered the paradox of this parenting moment, some questions came to mind that might be helpful to consider as we raise our children: Whose voice are we tuning their ears to listen to? What foundation are we planting their feet on? Where are we teaching them to look for guidance? Which appetites and values are we feeding and cultivating?

Discernible Voice

The parent’s voice is the first one heard by a child. He becomes familiar with it as he grows in his mother’s tummy for nine months, and this familiarity instills comfort as he hears it sing the first lullaby. He hears this same voice whisper, “I believe in you,” when he lacks confidence in himself. He recognizes this familiar voice as it prays over him during the darkest hours of the night. As familiar as our voices are to our children, God’s voice should be even more discernible. It is critical that we train them to listen for the voice of truth among all the lies of the enemy ringing so loudly in the world today. As in the process of tuning an instrument, they will only be able to recognize the dissonance of the wrong pitch when they have first been taught how to listen for harmony of the right one. When we spend time with them in God’s Word, the very definition of truth, they will recognize this truth when they hear it. As they see us valuing and prioritizing the Word in our own lives, they will be encouraged to do the same. They will then hear God clearly whispering into their souls in the dark when we are no longer physically present to do so.

Firm Foundation

Learning to stand and walk is a progressive endeavor. It begins with pulling up on a steady object, taking the first uncertain steps while holding onto a parent’s hands, and then bravely letting go to walk independently. When a toddler first attempts to let go and walk on his own, he wobbles along with a tentative trust in the ground beneath his feet. As he discovers the perfect combination of coordination, balance, and strength, he is eventually able to take a few steps away from us and gains confidence that the foundation he’s standing on is not going to give way. Similarly, we must build our child’s trust in his spiritual foundations through the practice of disciplines that encourage him to love God with his heart, soul, mind, and strength. As he discovers that the Christian worldview provides a firm foundation that is both reliable and unshakable, he is then able to step out into the world with calm assurance, knowing that this worldview is undergirded with solid evidence to back up its truth claims. He is able to walk confidently, having placed his faith in the One who set the foundations of the world in place.

Steadfast Guidance

Our children begin life looking to us to meet their every need. We feed them, clothe them, shelter them, and comfort them when they are afraid. But there comes a time when we will no longer be around. If we have modeled the Christian life faithfully, they will look to God, as revealed in His Word, for guidance. Otherwise, they may be tempted to look to worldly ideologies to guide them through life. Celebrities, politicians, athletes, or online personalities are more than willing to exercise influence if we let them. Or they may even look within at their own emotions to tell them which way to go, and that is a dangerous path to follow. Emotions shift from moment to moment and provide no absolute certainty. Just as a compass is magnetized to point to true north, we must magnetize their internal compasses to point to the truth. As we teach them that the Bible is sufficient to guide them in every area of life, it will become their go to navigational tool when they inevitably become lost at some point along the way.

Healthy Appetites

Our children are born with innate cravings and preferences. My son once told me I was ruining his whole life when I made him eat green beans. He obviously was born with a distaste for green beans. He did eventually eat his beans at my insistence because I knew they were good for him. I’m also happy to say he survived the ordeal, and his whole life was not ruined. Sometimes we have to cultivate a taste for certain things in our kids’ lives in the way of habits or entertainment choices. They may not initially like something that we know is healthy for them, but we encourage them to consume it anyway, and to stay away from unhealthy choices. It works the same way with values. If they see us acting kindly and charitably toward others, odds are they will imitate this kind and charitable behavior. If they see us acting with indifference to those in need, they will likely follow our lead. Just like when we eat our veggies, if we model the behavior we want to see in them, they are more likely to do the same.

Sending Them Off

As difficult as it is to see our children walking out into the great unknown, we can be assured that they and their future are fully known by God. Eyes that once looked to us for guidance now peer off into the distance to discern God’s direction for their lives. Ears that once listened to our words of wisdom now listen for God’s voice to follow where He leads. Feet that once tottered along with uncertain steps now walk away confidently to a world that desperately needs to know the only firm foundation. And that makes a parent’s heart happy.

The Sticks and Stones Fallacy

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Many of us heard these words spoken repeatedly on the playground as children. While it is a well meant sentiment intended to build resilience in the face of brutal verbal bullying, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Such a statement is logically unsound, implying that only physical acts have consequences; however, words do have the power to move us to action. In history’s very first recorded words, God spoke light into existence. In His omnipotence, He could have chosen to snap His fingers or illuminate the world with a silent thought, but He spoke, indicating the importance He places on the spoken word. While we don’t possess the creative ability of God, our spoken or written words have the capacity to inspire chaos or calm. Consider Proverbs 15:1 which tells us that “A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” As much as we would like to think otherwise, words do have consequences.

Words are a currency that once spent, cannot be refunded. Many times I have wished it were so, but it’s impossible to snatch them out of midair once they leave my mouth. They are instantly etched on the heart and inscribed on the mind of the recipient. My grandfather had the following statement scribbled on the inside cover of one of his Bibles: “I’ve regretted often the things I’ve said…but I’ve never regretted my silence.” He was a wise man. Words can be wielded with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel when spoken by a friend for healing, or with the carelessness of a machete when employed by an enemy for harm. Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb: sweet to the taste and health to the body.” Technology further weaponizes words in online culture as we celebrate mic drops, revel in putting others on blast, and encourage the lobbing of truth bombs. WE OFTEN FEEL THE NEED TO GO INTO ALL CAPS MODE TO FURTHER EMPHASIZE A POINT. Given the arsenal at our disposal, it’s more important than ever to remember the power of words. My words matter, our words matter, and most importantly, God’s Word matters.

My Words Matter

Research reveals that women speak between 10,000 and 20,000 words per day. If I allow myself a very generous eight hours of sleep per night, that means I speak an average of 625 words per hour that I am awake. As I engage in conversation with my daily allowance of words, my main goal should be to point others to Christ. While the name of Jesus doesn’t necessarily come up in every conversation, my words are certainly an outward manifestation of Christ’s work in me. We are admonished in Colossians 4:6 to, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.” Just as salt enhances the flavor of the food it seasons, my words should enhance the flavor of a life lived by grace through faith. Only then am I able to gently and respectfully give an answer for the hope that is in me (I Peter 3:15). Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias reminds us that behind every question is a questioner. Only when I have taken the time to listen to the person on the other side of the conversation can I chose words that adequately address the doubt, pain, or fear behind her questions. My words matter as I speak life to those divinely placed in my path each day.

Our Words Matter

With the advent of social media, we say things to each other online that we would never say face to face. We quickly tap out words on a keyboard, add a clever emoji or GIF, and press send before considering the impact on the person at the other end of the digital pipeline. Many times we are more interested in being witty or right than we are in being kind. Arguments escalate at gigahertz speed, and we forget that it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable. Colossians 3:16 provides a different approach as we are encouraged to “Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” As we consider that the living Word, Christ Himself, dwells among us, we become more aware of how we speak to each other, online or in person, and are inclined to treat each other with greater deference. We then understand that we can charitably seek clarity without insisting upon complete agreement in all things. The words we share between us matter because they are the outward demonstration of the emotions and thoughts we have settled in our hearts and minds.

His Word Matters

John 1:1 states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus, the Word wrapped in flesh, was with the Father when He spoke the world into existence. As the breath of God moved each inspired stroke of the pen, His earthly messengers inscribed this very Word throughout the pages of scripture. This Living Word then came to earth, lived sinlessly among us, died an excruciating death, and was resurrected on the third day. For us, the Living Word leaps off the pages of God’s written Word and embraces us with the truth of the gospel. As beneficiaries of God’s grace, the light of the gospel safely guides us through the dark valleys of this world, and serves as “a lamp for our feet and a light for our paths.” (Psalm 119:105) God’s Word, the gospel, matters most of all because it is the “power of God for salvation.” (Romans 1:16)

If words are so important to our Heavenly Father, shouldn’t we be more careful about how we use them in our daily interactions? We should select our words with precision, and consider their potential for both building up and tearing down. Just as a skilled sculptor chips away at the marble to reveal the masterpiece hidden within, our words have the power to bring the best in each other to the surface or to dredge up the less desirable attributes in our fellow image bearers. Keeping this in mind, let’s choose our words wisely, speak to each other kindly, and follow the light of God’s Word daily.

A Tale of Two Worldviews

In my former life as a high school English teacher, I enjoyed reading the Charles Dickens classic, A Tale of Two Cities, with my students. It is a work of literature rich with symbolism, allegory, and contrast, beginning with the famous line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” I believe that sentiment to be true today. We live in the best of times in terms of the wealth of information available to us. Anything we want to know more about is literally at our fingertips as we press a button and open up the World Wide Web. But this also puts us at serious risk of stumbling upon unhealthy and often dangerous information shared through the lenses of questionable worldviews. 

If young people unwittingly consume this information before being taught to think critically about it, they are susceptible to skepticism and doubt, wondering which truth claim they now believe will later be debunked by some new revelation. C.S. Lewis says in The Abolition of Man, “The best defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments.” So what sentiments and values are we imparting to our children as we prepare them to interact with people whose worldviews may be different from their own?

I attended two graduation ceremonies this Spring, the first at a public high school and the second at a private Christian university. The high school commencement highlighted the theme of self-helpism, a philosophy that claims that we have within ourselves all we need to succeed in life. The salutatorian claimed that, ”We are makers of our own success.” The school board member who conferred the degrees encouraged the graduates to ”Embrace being the captain of your own ship.” While I understand the encouragement toward personal responsibility, this struck me as a very self-centered philosophy.

By contrast, the speaker at the second ceremony advised the graduates to demonstrate three qualities as they entered their chosen vocation: objectivity, humility, and civility. Cultivating these qualities leads to the acknowledgement that there is an objective source of truth against which we measure our accomplishments. It also leads to the realization that we can only be truly successful when we put others before ourselves and treat them with kindness. Examining these two worldviews through the lens of scripture reveals how to most effectively engage the culture around us and point others to Christ.

Worldview #1:  Self-helpism 

Self-helpism (making our own success) is an empty philosophy cloaked within the false promise of self-confidence. It casts a broad net under the banner of “the power of positive thinking” through books, podcasts, blogs, and celebrity personalities. The message sounds appealing and often reels us in unaware of the consequences of adopting this worldview. Self-helpism ultimately promotes insecurity by placing the responsibility for success or failure squarely upon the individual’s shoulders. Self-proclaimed success is fertile ground for pride, while failure whittles away at self-worth. Contrary to popular belief, the Bible never claims that “God helps those who help themselves.” God’s Word instead says that His power is perfected in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9.) A Biblical worldview promotes confidence when we teach our children that their strength comes from God, and that their success is not dependent on them after all. It removes the burden from them and places it on Him. 

Worldview #2:  Biblical Objectivity, Humility, and Civility

Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” If this is true, then there is only one source of objective truth. It is this source of truth by which we are to define success. By contrast, if we believe that we are makers of our own success and captains of our own ships, then objective truth loses its significance. We need no outside measure of truth, and are tempted to subjectively define truth in whatever way best suits us at the moment. We remake truth in our own image to fit our own purposes; however, when my truth doesn’t line up with your truth, we stand at odds with each other for lack of an objective standard. This naturally lends itself to chaos and conflict, while the acknowledgment of an objective source of truth points us in the same direction and leads to harmony.

Philippians 2:3 instructs us to, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.” This is not a philosophy conducive with being the captain of my own ship. Any captain worth his salt puts the needs of his passengers and fellow travelers above his own. If we are to humbly travel through life, we must look around us and notice ways to build others up, rather than focusing on ways to make our own success. A self-centered attitude turns our focus inward and away from those traveling alongside us. This leads to a tunnel vision that blinds us to ways to follow the second greatest commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Paul says in Colossians 3:12, “Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…” If we view ourselves as being makers of our own success, we tend toward an “end justifies the means” mentality, and civility is the farthest thing from our minds. After all, it’s a dog eat dog world out there, so we’d better look out for number one to ensure success. On the contrary, if we clothe ourselves with kindness, we recognize that true success is achieved by demonstrating love as we interact with others. Ordinary and consistent acts of grace point our fellow travelers to Christ, which is the ultimate goal in all we do during our journey through this earthly existence.

Looking to the Horizon

As our children embark on the journey of a new school year, will they be lighthouses built on a solid foundation of truth or battleships ready to plow down everyone in their paths? As we encourage them to engage the culture through Biblical objectivity, humility, and civility, the focus shifts away from them, and toward the one who has gifted them with all they need to succeed in life. God becomes the maker of their success and the captain of their ship. The one who spoke the oceans into existence is more than capable of guiding them through both the stormy seas and quiet waters of life. He sees every yesterday and every tomorrow as if it were today, and needs no compass to assist Him in guiding His children through the course of their lives. He only needs willing passengers who place their complete confidence in Him.

Why Apologetics Matters to Me

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is, Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these. Mark 12:30

I am an occupational therapist by trade. As a practitioner in this often misunderstood profession (no, I’m not going to help you get a job) I recognize that each individual is more than just a body, or a mind, or a soul, but an integration of all three components. It is a holistic discipline in which an occupational therapist develops a plan of care while taking into consideration the complete person (body, mind, and soul,) in order to promote engagement in necessary or valued daily activities. Apologetics is a branch of theology that uses reasoned arguments to address doubt and remove barriers to unbelief. Many people view this discipline as having a singular focus on the mind; however, I have experienced a more holistic impact on my own spiritual journey. Perhaps I am drawn to apologetics because I recognize that it is a discipline like occupational therapy that integrates the heart, soul, mind, and body for one ultimate purpose…glorifying God.

I began studying apologetics about two and a half years ago after I attended a breakout session led by Mary Jo Sharp at the annual Lifeway Women’s Leadership Forum. When I returned home, I became burdened for the students I saw leaving the church in droves after graduation. Researchers in what is called the “youth exodus” report that up to seventy percent of students raised in the church leave their faith behind when they leave home. Among the reasons given are that they had doubts about their faith and did not feel that their questions were welcomed or adequately addressed. So I laid some groundwork in apologetics by reading works by well known apologists and theologians C.S. Lewis, A.W. Tozer, J.P. Moreland, William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, and others. I facilitated a couple of home study groups for college students, but had not really started putting the ideas found within the books into practice in a personal way. I discovered there’s a profound difference between knowing something and making it very practical in your own life.

About one and a half years after I began my journey into apologetics, I entered an especially difficult season in my life. Painful personal loss and disappointing ministry crisis coincided for the perfect storm within a single twenty-four hour period. At that point, I felt as if my legs had been knocked out from under me. In hindsight, I realize that I had found too much of my identity in other people and position rather than in Jesus, so when those foundations were compromised my faith was shaken. I found myself stuck in an extremely dark place mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, and God felt very distant. Apologetics and knowing why I believe what I believe became very personal for me in those moments.

During those dark days my emotions were all over the place. I was reminded of the illustration given by Ravi Zacharias in Cries of the Heart, in which he describes feelings as a person walking beside us clasped within the hand of our knowledge. If the grip is ever reversed and feelings holds the hand of knowledge, we find ourselves in trouble. I did find myself in trouble and had to consciously reverse that grip and engage the knowledge I had stored away regarding God’s character, and the purpose of suffering in our lives. In my insecurity, I was reminded of God’s love for me. In my uncertainty, I was reminded that nothing ever takes God by surprise. I had to trust that He had a purpose for the path I was walking.

The studying I had done in apologetics was a lifeline to me in a sea of doubts. I felt like I was drowning, but was able to keep my head above water by reminding myself of the undeniable truth of God’s Word. As I have walked through the lows of the last year, my faith has been strengthened as I have gone back time and time again to knowledge and reason to combat what I was feeling at the time. God had prepared me for my own crisis of faith even as I was preparing to equip others. I believe God used studying apologetics to open my heart to a deeper level of compassion, enrich my soul through worship, and undergird my faith through the renewal of my mind.

Apologetics deepens my compassion for others going through similar circumstances. Wrestling with questions about the purpose of pain in this life causes me to long for the hope of eternity and encourage others to do the same. Norm Geisler says in If God, Why Evil:  A New Way to Think About the Question, “Simply put, that we don’t know a good purpose for some evil does not mean there is no good purpose for it. There are many things we don’t know. And there are many things we once did not know but now do know. So it should be expected that in the future we will discover good purposes for things for which we do not now know a good purpose.” Going through a crisis can cause us to question God’s goodness, but coming out on the other side reveals a new appreciation for His purpose in pain.

Apologetics enriches my worship as I study and reflect on attributes of God like His love, holiness, and mercy. A.W. Tozer says in Knowledge of the Holy, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” In other words, it takes the focus off of me and places it on Him. When I understand that behind the words of the hymns and choruses I sing there is both experiential and confirmable truth, I am able to worship with a confidence that wasn’t there before. As God shows Himself to be constantly present and verifiably true, my worship becomes more personal and vibrant.

Apologetics undergirds my faith as I discover that there is reasonable evidence for believing the truth claims of Christianity. The more I study and learn about arguments from philosophy, science, and history that all point to the veracity of the Christian worldview, the more I realize that my faith is anything but blind belief. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” I can be confident that my questions or doubts will be met with unshakable assurance from evidence provided by a God who does not fear my uncertainty.

I am thankful for the gift of apologetics that ultimately enables me to engage my heart, soul, mind, and strength in serving my Heavenly Father. It is only through loving God with every part of who we are that we can then live out the second greatest commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. If we are to truly love our neighbors, we need to be prepared to gently and respectfully advocate for the Christian worldview. It provides the best answers for the biggest questions of life. If we don’t, are we truly loving our neighbors? Just as I would not as an occupational therapist neglect to address something essential to the well-being of my patient, I should not as a follower of Christ fail to engage with those around me who may have doubts or questions. Truly living the abundant Christian life is dependent upon fulfilling both of the two greatest commandments.