Train As You Fight

Mark 19 GunneryLast week, I mentioned that one of the young kids in my Sunday School class had been confronted with an objection to Christianity by an atheist classmate at his school. For Christian parents, this brings up some good points to remember.

  • Prepare your kids early. I enjoyed both God’s Not Dead movies, but if you think your kids aren’t going to be facing challenges to their beliefs until high school or college, or that the challenge will just be from adults like professors, think again. Most of the boys in my class said they knew an atheist classmate or online friend. Depending on their age, challenges like that from peers may be more likely to have an impact than those from authority figures like teachers.
  • Understand the nature of the conflict. The apostle Paul tells us that we do not battle against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces.[1] And it’s a battle for their very souls. These are high stakes, parents. Invest in your kids accordingly.
  • Recognize your part. I love getting to answer questions from kids and see them connect with ideas. But one hour a week with me or any other Sunday school teacher or youth group leader isn’t going to prepare them adequately. You can delegate some tasks to others, but your kids need you to lead the way. And fathers: it’s time to man up. The Bible actually calls for you to train up your children.[2] Too many dads are physically present but spiritual deadbeats that leave any spiritual training up to the mother. But if your kids see you sleeping through church, or finding anything else to do other than going to church, or never see you open a Bible, they’ll notice. And they’ll remember that.
  • Understand the difference between teaching and training. In my time in the Army, I experienced a lot of both. For a lot of the teaching, the memory of struggling to stay awake in hot, stuffy classrooms is all that remains. For the training, and especially the more realistic training like room-clearing scenarios, I can feel my heart rate go up just remembering it. Seeing a demonstration, or discussing tactics in a classroom setting, or reviewing historical successes and failures all have their time and place. But applying theory – putting knowledge into practice – is where the rubber meets the road, as they say. Martial arts was the same way. Joint locks in Hapkido are very nuanced, and you just don’t develop effective technique without lots of good, correct practice. Likewise for getting my pilot’s license. I learn a lot by reading, but reading about stalls just isn’t the same as pulling back on the yoke, feeling the controls start to get mushy, and suddenly feeling the plane break over into a dive!  Are you teaching your kids? Good! Now, take it up a notch and start training them.[3]
  • Train like you fight. We had a saying in the Army: “Train as you fight; fight as you train.” The more realistic the training, the more likely you’ll respond appropriately in a real fight. Training that doesn’t prepare you for what you’ll actually face in battle isn’t just a waste – it can develop bad habits and overconfidence that can hurt you in the actual fight. Your kids will face tough questions in life. Go through real-life examples with them of how they can apply Scripture to different situations they may face. You can start out with “softball” situations, but don’t stay there.[4] Stretch them. Could you blame them if they got bored with baseball if all you ever did was toss them slow-pitch softballs? Is it any wonder when they leave the church if they never see their parents addressing the tough stuff, and their youth group is more about playing games and eating pizza than learning to actually apply the Bible to the hard issues of their lives?
  • Prepare yourself. I am often impressed with the sophistication of the arguments or objections I’ve heard from young people. You can’t teach knowledge (or train for skills) that you don’t already possess. When I took martial arts, my instructor was a black belt, so he could teach any of us. As we moved up the ranks, we could teach the lower ranks because we were already familiar with what they were just learning. Don’t wait for your kids’ questions before you investigate a topic. I can answer my students’ questions (generally) because I’ve already wrestled with the question before they’ve asked it. Check out resources like J. Warner Wallace’s Cold Case Christianity (www.coldcasechristianity.com), Greg Koukl’s Stand to Reason (www.str.org), William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith (www.reasonablefaith.org), or Frank Turek’s Cross-Examined (www.crossexamined.org).
  • Be honest. Finally, kids are often surprisingly good polygraphs. If you don’t know how to address a question, the appropriate response is “That’s a great question. Let me do some research and get back with you with an answer.” And then follow up. While you may have to write down that you need to follow up, they’ll remember if you say you’ll get back to them and forget (as I found out my first year teaching).

Hopefully, this gives you a place to start your own training program with your own kids. 🙂


[1] Ephesians 6:12-13
[2] Ephesians 6:4 – “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
[3] Proverbs 22:6 – “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
[4] 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, Hebrews 5:12-14.

Hypocrisy vs Ontology

The Pharissee & the Publican - James Tissot 1894
The Pharisee & the Publican – James Tissot 1894

This past Sunday, one of the kids in my Sunday school class mentioned that a girl in his class at school was an atheist, and that she didn’t believe in God because of the hypocrisy of Christians. Is that a good reason to believe God doesn’t exist? While it is sad to hear such life-altering views becoming entrenched in one so young, what’s worse is that she is basing her worldview on faulty reasoning. A little dose of logic could keep her from even going down that dead-end road! But since she and others have down this road, let’s dig into this objection.

First, let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that her charge of hypocrisy is not simply true of some Christians, or even most Christians, but that all of us Christians were complete hypocrites. The question we have to answer is, would that have any impact on whether God exists or not? No, it wouldn’t, for the behavior of Christians is an ethical issue, while God’s existence is an ontological issue. Hypocrisy – saying one thing while doing something contradictory – is essentially “lying lived out”, hence a question of ethics. Ontology, on the other hand, studies the nature of being or existence itself, rather than behavior, so these really are unrelated categories.  What can we say about the question of existence? First and foremost, existence is objective. Something either exists or it doesn’t. If God doesn’t exist, then my saying that He does won’t change that fact. Likewise, if He does exist, the atheist saying He doesn’t won’t change that fact. For existence, like truth, is independent of our subjective observations. And ethical or unethical behavior on the part of either side won’t settle the ontological question. For instance, if Adolf Hitler looked at a lush green field of grass one day, and commented that the grass was green, we should recognize that  he would be speaking the truth in this case, regardless of how repellent the rest of his life may be to us. We should be able to separate the truth of that specific statement from his otherwise reprehensible behavior. Likewise, even if atheists find Christian behavior completely abhorrent, they are still stuck with the task of refuting the truth claim of God’s existence as a separate issue.

What does the hypocrisy of some Christians actually demonstrate? If becoming a Christian meant that God instantly transformed us into perfect people, then observed hypocrisy could prove that real Christians don’t actually exist, for then you would have a necessary condition unfulfilled. But even that still wouldn’t show that God doesn’t exist. However, that isn’t what the Bible says. In fact, the Bible explains that none of us are “righteous“[1], that we have all fallen short of the perfection that is God’s standard of judgement[2], that we are all in desperate need of intervention to fix a problem we can’t solve on our own[3], that accepting Christ as our Lord makes us “new creations”[4], that we are to be like Christ[5], but that this is only possible through Him and not of our own hard work[6], that this is a process that will continue as long as we live[7], and that some will claim to be followers of Christ who really aren’t.[8] So what does Christian hypocrisy prove? That all of us that are works in progress, and that some us have a lot farther to go than others; that despite being spiritually a new creation, we are still very much human; and that some are Christians “in name only”, and the skeptic must be careful to distinguish genuine from counterfeit when assessing the words and deeds of suspected Christians.

Now, lest I be misunderstood here, let me be clear that I am not excusing hypocrisy. God specifically tells Christians to not be hypocritical, repeatedly.[9] And when we are, we are not being Christlike, we are not being obedient, we are not being the good ambassadors He has called us to be. My case today is a modest one: simply that ungodly behavior does not negate the evidence for God. If you’ve been burned by the hypocrisy of Christians in the past, I can only say that we are but smudged reflections of our perfect Lord, hopefully pointing you to the One who never disappoints.


[1] Romans 3:10
[2] Romans 3:23
[3] Romans 5:6
[4] 2 Corinthians 5:17, Romans 12:2
[5] 1 Peter 1:15-16
[6] Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5, 2 Timothy 1:9
[7] Romans 7:14-25.
[8] Matthew 7:21-23
[9] Romans 12:9, 1 Peter 2:1, James 3:17, most of Matthew 23, and on and on….

Permanence

churchAs an engineer, most of the states I’m licensed in require that I take continuing education courses to keep up with new technology, new laws and codes, new analysis methods, and so forth. A recent email advertised a webinar on “Design Considerations for Wood Frame Construction for Permanence.” I admit, I work primarily with steel, and live in a part of the US with high humidity and termites, so I tend to not associate the words “wood” and “permanence”. But the picture in the email caught my eye because it was something I’ve had the opportunity to see for myself: a Norwegian Stave Church. These are wooden church buildings built in Norway in the Middle Ages, with the oldest surviving one being almost 900 years old. That’s about as permanent as you can get with wood construction! They are beautiful buildings to walk through, and a real testament to the craftsmanship of those early builders.

That reminder of permanence made me think of a project I played a small part in recently, at the opposite end of the spectrum, where I did some steel connection design for a new multipurpose community center being built in a nearby city. What was surprising about that project was that this new building was being built over an old airport. In fact, the swimming pool was going to be practically in the middle of where the runway had been. Now, an airport is usually a big infrastructure investment for a city. Yet that airport was being demolished to build a community athletic center. Soon there will be no evidence left of this significant land use other than a few oddly aviation-related street names, and a listing in outdated maps that will get replaced shortly. Eventually, streets will be renamed and/or rerouted, and there will be no physical evidence left that there was ever an airport there. So it is with much of what we design and build. Even when we design for an indefinite service life, most of our finished projects will likely be demolished at some point because their location is more valuable for some future enterprise than the building we invested so much time in designing.

What will archaeologists 1000 years from now find to tell them about our culture? With our culture’s emphasis on updating, recycling, “planned obsolescence”, and designing for defined product lifecycles instead of indefinite use, would future people be able to ascertain any specific details of our civilization? Especially in our digital age, there is surprisingly little durable evidence of much of what we do. That’s something to keep in mind when approaching the Bible. We don’t have physical evidence for everything described in the Bible, but it’s actually pretty amazing that we have any evidence from so long ago.  And what we have found matches up well with what the Bible describes. Rather than look at the absence of confirming evidence as a strike against the Bible as so many have, look at how much is confirmed. As the archeologist Sir William Ramsey found when he went to Asia Minor in the late 1800’s to investigate the historicity of the biblical book of Acts, the evidence speaks for itself. In fact, he tells us that “I may fairly claim to have entered on this investigation without any prejudice in favour of the conclusion which I shall now attempt to justify to the reader. On the contrary, I began with a mind unfavourable to it, …. It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth.”[1] You see, Ramsey approached the case regarding the authorship of Acts from the then-currently espoused view that Acts was written by an anonymous Christian centuries after the events described, motivated more by pushing an agenda than telling the truth. But he was open to other possibilities and willing to follow the evidence wherever it led him. And it led him to the conviction that Luke was the author of Acts and was an eyewitness and was, in fact, a historian of impeccable quality. In the 100+ years since Ramsay investigated the claims of the Bible, even more corroborating evidence has been discovered to support the book of Acts and many other accounts in the Bible (read more here).

We live in a constantly changing world where permanence is a very relative term. “Here today, gone tomorrow”, as the saying goes. Knowing that, a lack of evidence for historical events shouldn’t surprise us. Many ancient events took place in oral cultures where little was written down. Even when they were recorded, those records have often been lost forever due to wars, political purges, floods, fires, earthquakes, and other destructive events. But when we have a record like the Bible that continues to be confirmed over and over again,  we have to set aside whatever skepticism we approached it with, and be willing to admit when we’ve gone beyond “reasonable” doubt. As Ramsay would say, “We must face the facts boldly.”[2] When we do, we find that they lead straight to God.


[1] William Ramsay,  St Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen (Illustrated), Kindle Edition, Kindle Locations 304-309.
[2] ibid., Location 390.

Called to Investigate

Sherlock HolmesSkeptics will often accuse Christians of “blind faith”, of believing in spite of the evidence to the contrary. If you think that’s the case, I invite you today to consider who is actually commended in the Bible. In Acts 17:11, Luke is recording the results of Paul’s missionary activities among the Bereans, and states,

“Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”

These Jews were highlighted as role models not for blindly accepting this teaching from Paul, but rather for fact-checking him. He came proclaiming that the Jewish prophecies of a coming Messiah had been fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. What did they do? They went back to the original sources, the writings of Moses and the prophets, and verified for themselves each day whether what Paul had said matched up like he said it did. And this wasn’t just skimming Paul’s citations to spot-check him. The Greek word used for “examining” the Scriptures is ἀνακρίνοντες (anakrinontes), meaning to examine or investigate someone or something thoroughly (even by torture); to interrogate; or to subject something to careful study, evaluation and judgment. In fact, this word is used often in the New Testament (and secular Greek writings) to refer to the process of a judge interrogating a witness or defendant.[1] Luke also notes that they did this daily. This wasn’t just a thorough check the first time they heard Paul speak; they were verifying what he said each day that he was there. Why? Because this is important stuff. The world will try to say that religious belief is a back burner issue – something that can be a quaint little compartment in your life if you choose, or can have no part in your life if you choose that route, but it doesn’t really matter one way or the other. Yet, your beliefs about the existence of God, His attributes, whether He is involved in His creation or not – these have major impacts in every area of our lives. These are “big-picture” questions that send ripples through every little detail of our lives. And while the world may encourage apathy toward spiritual questions, the stakes are higher than most people are comfortable admitting. So be like the Bereans, and  keep investigating to see if these things are so.

Now, was this just a fluke, or do we see this call to investigate elsewhere in the Bible? We do, actually. Paul wrote a letter to the new Christians in Thessalonica, that “less-noble” city he’d been run out of before going to Berea. In it, he encouraged them to “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.”[2] Here, it’s the word δοκιμάζετε (dokimazete), meaning to test or try something to prove that something is good or genuine, as in the case with precious metals. Is anything exempt from this, like religious claims? No! John uses this same term when he wrote in his letter to the church to “test the spirits” to see whether they are from God, lest believers be led astray.[3]  Again, Paul uses this term when he admonishes the Corinthians,  “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”[4] .

In each case, we have a call to investigate, to examine everything, even ourselves, according to God’s unchanging standard. Does that leave any room for believing something blindly, “in spite of the evidence”? No. On the contrary, Peter tells the Christian he must always be “ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you”.[5] We must know what we believe and why we believe it, both for our own sake (that we not be led off track by false teaching) and for the sake of others (that we may be able to explain to them why they, too, should believe what we do). So dig in to the Scriptures like a Berean, and discover that rich, reliable, and inexhaustible vein of gold that is God’s Word.


[1] Luke 23:14 – Pilate’s examination of Jesus; Acts 4:9 – Peter & John before the Sanhedrin; Acts 12:19 – Herod’s examination (and execution) of the guards tasked with keeping Peter imprisoned.
[2] 1 Thessalonians 5:21, NASB.
[3] 1 John 4:1, NASB.
[4] 2 Corinthians 13:5, NASB.
[5] 1 Peter 3:15, NASB.