Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My Friend Doesn't Believe in God Anymore

by Jim Burns
Q. I have a friend who grew up believing in the Bible, but now she says she can't accept some of the things the Bible teaches. She says that the harder she tried to get close to God, the more lonely and guilty she became.
She didn't feel God was answering her prayers. Now she's not sure if God even exists. How could she try so hard to seek God and still feel nothing? I pray for her often, but I don't know how else to help her.
A. You ask a great question. The way our faith and our feelings interact is difficult for any of us to understand. For some people, the intense feelings of love and forgiveness are what lead them to God. For others, the feelings come later, when they've grasped more fully what it means to follow God. The important thing for all Christians to remember is that regardless of our feelings, God is still alive and well.
You mention two reasons for your friend's change of heart. The first has to do with her sense of guilt. Sometimes well-meaning people follow a set of beliefs that emphasize guilt, not the love and grace of God. In those cases, it's very difficult for people to feel God's presence in their lives. They are too caught up in focusing on the ways they don't measure up to accept God's forgiveness. If that's the case with your friend, it will be tough, but not impossible, for you to get her to think differently.
The second reason your friend has given up on God has to do with her belief that God wasn't answering her prayers. Many Christians feel this same frustration. We ask God for something, then wait for him to do what we want. We forget that God knows what's best for us. I think God gets blamed for a lot of unanswered prayers that he actually did answer, just not in the way we wanted him to. God's response to our sometimes selfish and immature prayers is often "let's wait" or "this isn't best for you." For some people, these "negative" answers feel like non-answers.
So how can you help her? First of all, you're doing the right thing by keeping her in your prayers. God is the only one who can change your friend's heart. Then, show her the loving God you know through your actions, lifestyle and faithfulness to God. Disturb your friend with your faith! Whenever possible, let her see and feel the positive experiences of your faith. When the apostle Paul stood before the Roman leaders in Acts 26, he didn't argue intellectually. He simply said, "Here's my experience." Paul disturbed the Romans with his testimony. A life lived for God speaks for itself.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Why You Should Believe the Bible

What exactly is the Bible?

The Bible is the collected writings of people who knew God over many centuries. But more than that, as Christians we understand that God has spoken through these people.
Some Bible books recite what God has done in people's lives—like 1 and 2 Kings. Other books, like Isaiah, show God speaking directly to us through the voice of a prophet. Isaiah doesn't just reflect for God, and God actually speaks through him. And the New Testament Gospel writers have Jesus speaking directly to us.
on his personal experiences with God. He speaks 


How did the Bible come about?
Centuries ago, Jews and Christians had to settle which writings were inspired by God and which weren't. But there were many more writings floating around than we now have in our Bible.
The Jewish community met about A.D. 90 to decide which writings were authoritative. The books of Moses? No question. The great prophets? No debate. But other books were discussed more. The collection of writings that was selected is what we now call the Old Testament.
Christians had a harder time coming up with the New Testament, because early Christianity was an underground movement; Christians couldn't even hold public meetings until the 4th century. But 2nd-century bishops (overseers of groups of churches) were already writing to individual churches saying, "Read these books, don't read those books"—even before there was an "official" New Testament. So, there were already books considered authentic and books considered fraudulent.
How did the church decide which books were authentic and which were frauds?
It boils down to two issues: historical credibility and spiritual benefit.
Historical credibility simply means asking, "Does an apostle—one of the 12 disciples or Paul, for instance—stand behind this writing?" Matthew was an apostle, and he was with Jesus, so his book holds a lot of weight. Mark wasn't an apostle, but he worked with Peter, and Peter was with Jesus; that's why Mark's book holds weight.
Many books claimed "apostolic connection," but some of those claims—like the Gospel of Thomas—were fraudulent. Which brings up the spiritual benefit issue. Wise bishops in the early church examined these writings and asked: "Is Thomas really the author? Does this writing reflect the spiritual and theological commitments of the other books?" With the Gospel of Thomas, the answer was "no" on both counts.

Why are there so many translations of the Bible?
Translators want to reflect the original Greek and Hebrew as accurately as they can, but in a way that communicates clearly. It might be that one Greek word really should be translated as three English words.
Some translations, like the New American Standard (NAS), give an almost one-for-one correspondence between Hebrew and English or Greek and English. You can set a NAS right next to a Greek text and follow along quite closely.
But the New Living Translation, on the other hand, attempts to represent the heart and soul of the original languages, even though the sentence structure might be different from the original.
What does it mean to say the Bible is "true"?
Partly, it means the Bible is factual. It successfully and accurately records historical events.
But truth goes beyond accuracy. Something can be true factually, but have no real significance. I could tell you how many buttons are on the shirt I'm wearing right now, but who cares?
The Bible has real significance. When I say the Bible is true, I'm saying it explains life in a way that is beyond question. The Bible says something profound about human experience.
Does modern science disprove Bible miracles like the crossing of the Red Sea and Jesus' resurrection?
No, although many people are critical of the Bible because it records events that seem fantastic, the stuff of fairy tales. But I think this discussion is less about what the Bible records than about our beliefs concerning the nature of reality.
Most people believe in a God. Most people believe God was involved in the creation of the world. And most people would say God is bigger than the world itself. So why are they skeptical of supernatural events?
If God created the world, doesn't it make sense that he'd be interested in what goes on in the world? And if God is bigger and more powerful than all creation, and he steps into the world, wouldn't people be dazzled by what he does? Fantastic events are possible. Miracles can happen. You can't just disqualify them.
What sets the Bible apart from other great religious writings?
Christians believe the Bible is unique for a number of reasons. The problem is, most of those reasons only work for Christians; they're not very convincing reasons to non-Christians.
Take personal experience, for instance. Throughout the history of the Church, the Bible has had the power to transform lives. But Islam makes the same claim about its scriptures, the Qur'an.
Another "proof" I often hear is, "Jesus fulfilled so many Old Testament prophecies that it couldn't be an accident." If you use that in your high school classroom, you'll get hammered, because skeptics will just rearrange the timeline. The Old Testament prophesies that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem; non-Christians will say that after Jesus was born, Matthew added Bethlehem to his book to make sure the prophecy was fulfilled.
Here's something about the Bible that I think holds water with non-Christians: The Bible wasn't put together in secret; it was a very public process. People have been able to closely examine its claims all along, even to this day. And Christians welcome that kind of scrutiny, because we know our Bible can