Sunday, November 1, 2009

Prayer, Yet Again

I've read studies that say prayer doesn't work. Why are you so sure that it does?

Brad: Did you know 87% of statistics are wrong?
Obviously, that was a joke, but my point is that you can find a study to support whatever view you want. You can't take any particular study seriously. I've seen studies that say prayer does work. I actually do take those studies seriously, because they happen to be true.
I would like you to remember that all prayers are not equal. Sometimes a prayer isn't genuine. Do the researchers conducting your studies realize this? Can you put someone in a little room and stand there with a stopwatch forcing them to pray for things? Well you can, but I question how heartfelt such prayers would be.
It does no good to indiscriminately pray for whatever strikes your fancy. You see God will only respond to your prayers when your requests are in step with his will. If you're not praying for God's will, you're wasting your time. You might be wondering, if God wills it, then why do I have to pray for it? Well, God wants you to will it too. That's part of growing in our faith--figuring out what God wants, and then asking him for it. It's a difficult challenge, but nothing worthwhile is easy.

Eric: What was my answer the last time we had this question? Oh yeah, God doesn't exist. Something to that effect.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Devil Made Me Think It

Where do evil thoughts come from? Does Satan put them there? I think that he must, because they pop into my head against my will. Like whenever I try to pray to Jesus, I picture him looking like Spiderman. I can't seem to control it. Sometimes he morphs into Spongebob Squarepants or other characters. And sometimes he shoots rays from his eyes and blows things up.
-- Tyler

Brad: We know from the Bible that Satan can have an influence over us. We read of Judas, who betrayed Jesus, that "Satan entered into him," causing him to sin. And yet at the same time we are fully responsible for our actions, so we can't use that scripture to let ourselves off the hook. So what can be done?
The more we stray from God, the more susceptible we become to Satan's attacks. You can see how this becomes a vicious cycle -- as you move further from God, Satan becomes more powerful to pull you further yet, until it seems like you are hopelessly removed from God. It is your responsibility to stay "close" to God, and you do this through prayer. If you pray earnestly for Jesus to stop appearing as cartoon characters, he will answer that prayer, and will appear in his true form -- an Aryan in a white robe with a glowing halo.

Eric: Jesus was black.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

God Can Kick Your Habit

I'm addicted to a bad habit, and I can't seem to stop no matter how hard I try. If I continue with this habit it might cause cancer or something. Can God help?

Brad: It would help if we knew what your cancer-causing habit was, so don't get upset if this advice isn't very good. Normally our advice is stellar.
For starters, remember that God wants you to quit even more than you do. He may have created you with a physiological susceptibility to this addiction, and then also created a world in which this same temptation is readily available, possibly even occurring in plants, but truly He never wants to see His children suffering under the crushing weight of such a burden.
The first step to recovery is to be honest about your own helplessness. You are pathetic and weak compared to God, and you need to acknowledge this before Him. He won't have anything to do with you until then. I would even grovel if I were you. It wouldn't hurt. But it has to be sincere groveling, as God can easily tell the difference. Don't grovel just because I said to; grovel because you really mean it.
Only then will God reveal His practical wisdom to you that will help you quit, like using a nicotine patch if your habit happens to be smoking.

Eric: You might even go ahead and invest in the patch now, pre-grovel. Unless your vice is tanning beds. In that case the patch won't help.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Is Contemporary Christian Music Bad?

I really like contemporary Christian music, but recently when I was visiting relatives my aunt said it was just "noise" and even that God wouldn't approve of it. What's your opinion?
I'm 16

Brad: We are all created as unique individuals, and so we'll all have our own ways of worshiping God through song. Then there will be other ways of worship that don't quite click with us. You might find, for instance, that worship music from your aunt's generation is boring and slow.
Luckily for you, the Bible says to "make a joyful noise unto the Lord." Is your music joyful? I bet it is.
This isn't always the case. So many times I've visited different churches and the congregation doesn't seem very joyful as they slog their way through the worship songs. If the people themselves aren't enjoying this music, I doubt God likes sitting through it either. And while we go to a few services a week tops, He goes to all of them! Like every single one ever. And some of those songs seem to keep repeating endlessly. If the tired, clich├ęd refrain wasn't inspiring the first time, it's not going be fifteen minutes from now either! I end up thinking God you can do anything--please make this stop!
But I digress. My point is that your music should express or facilitate a genuine closeness to God. How would you feel if your friend wrote a song about you and when he performed it it turned out to be dreary, intolerable dreck? You would wonder what it was about you that inspired that. And he wouldn't be doing you any favors if he insisted on singing it every week.

Eric: There are many great Christian bands. For example there's. . . uh. . . Actually maybe there aren't any.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Gospel Truth

My son-in-law is becoming interested in Jesus and wants to learn more. What would you recommend?

Brad: The true story of Christ can not only be found in the Bible, but it is recorded there four times, in the four gospels. There are many other accounts of Jesus' life, but they are filled with errors and fabrications. Only the Biblical (canonical) gospels truly contain God's words. They are perfect and without flaw. We know this because they are in the Bible.
I don't know exactly how the other (non-canonical) accounts of Christ's life got so many things wrong. Maybe they didn't pray hard enough, and God was like "you can write your little gospel there, but I don't want anything to do with it." As a result, like every ancient text that has ever been written other than the Bible, the non-canonical gospels contain factual inaccuracies.
For example, in the Gospel of Thomas Jesus kills some people as a child, and then later brings them back to life. That never happened! In another totally ridiculous story, Jesus casts a bunch of demons into a herd of pigs and the pigs proceed to drown themselves. Laughable, right?
Fooled ya! That story is actually from the "real" gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John chose to leave it out (John's account is a little different from the others in general. But equally true). So you can see that separating the Holy word of God from worthless fakes is not that easy, and certainly was a challenge to the early church leaders when they had to figure out which of the dozens of different gospels were genuine. But they did it--with divine inspiration. Thanks to them we don't have to even worry about it. If it's in the Bible, you can trust it.

Eric: I would recommend The Life of Brian by Monty Python.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Suicide is Forgivable

After battling depression for many years our son overdosed on antidepressants last year. He was a sincere Christian, but we still worry that if he took his life God might not have forgiven him.
Heartbroken and Worried

Brad: I'm deeply sorry for your loss, Heartbroken and Worried, but I have good news. It's only a myth that God will not forgive a suicide. God can forgive any sin, even the sins a person didn't have a chance to confess, just so long as that person had previously and genuinely committed to living for Christ. Theoretically a Christian could forgo confessing altogether and still be admitted into heaven.
However, I do have some concerns. If your son was truly a Christian, why was he so depressed? A life lived for Christ should be filled with love, joy, peace, and other fruits of the spirit. Your son did not have much, if any, joy apparently. So was he really a Christian? Only God knows for sure but if he wasn't saved to begin with (he might only have been telling you what you wanted to hear) then he is certainly not forgiven and is burning in hell. Something to think about.

Eric: Not to keep repeating myself, but your son is not in hell. He's rotting in a box. On the bright side, the worms eating him are extremely happy.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Dying Where Is Thy Sting?

I'm not afraid of death because I've committed my life to Jesus and I know I'll be in heaven with Him someday. But I am afraid of the process of dying. Especially after seeing my aunt's painful battle with cancer. Is this just a lack of faith on my part?
Scared Of Dying

Brad: They say you can only be sure of death and taxes. But there's something else you can always count on too--Christ loves you and is with you through all afflictions, including death. Whether you go peacefully in your sleep, or die after a long painful struggle with a terminal illness, or if your body slowly succumbs to the ravages of a degenerative disease like Parkinson's, or if you end up in a vegetative state for years hooked up to machines, or suffer from something even the doctors can't identify, or if you die in a fire or gruesome auto accident, or fall to your death from a balcony, or accidentally take the wrong combination of pills, or have a heart attack or a stroke when no one is around to help you, or have a heavy object fall and crush you and you lay immobile for hours as your life force slowly drains from your body in excruciating fashion, or if you go down in a plane crash, or if a flesh-eating bacteria infects your head, or if you drown, or get trapped in meat locker, or shot, or whatever the case may be, Christ is there with you every step of the way, watching over you. No one can ever know how they will die, only that it will certainly happen, and could happen at any time, any place. Trust me, it will happen. But with Jesus by your side, what's there to worry about? Do you feel better now?

Eric: I'm also afraid of dying. Who wouldn't be?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Prayer Revisited

How do I know God is really listening when I pray? To be honest, I've just about given up praying because it doesn't seem to do any good.

Brad: I guess you missed our previous post on this topic. But since it's something I hear a lot--Why doesn't God answer my prayers? Why doesn't prayer work? Why does it feel like I'm talking to a wall? and so forth--that I feel it would be worthwhile to revisit these concerns.
First, what you must understand is that you can't have a discourse with God when your heart's full of sin. Sin absolutely erects a barrier between ourselves and God, preventing our prayers from getting through at all! In an analogy that my daughter made up, sin makes us kind of like a damp stinky sock and God's all like "Eeeew!" Let me be clear: God will not answer a prayer from a sinful heart. So first you need to pray to God to absolve your sins. Once he has answered and purified you, only then can you begin to pray. Get it?
Secondly, even with a pure heart, God will only grant our requests when it is His will. If it's not something He wants to happen, you can pray for it all day long to no avail.
Now you may be asking If God only responds in ways that were His intent all along, how is prayer doing anything at all?
God sometimes refrains from doing things that He wants for us. We have to ask Him specifically for these things. We have to prove that we want what He wants sometimes before He'll do it. First pray and ask God what He wants, and then wait for Him to tell you, and then pray for that. That's how it works. I hope this post has cleared things up for you.

Eric: If you pray loudly enough, maybe at least the neighbors will hear.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

God's Grace Knows No Ideological Bounds

Do you think there will be different denominations in heaven? I have a friend that goes to a different kind of church. We'll both get to heaven, right?

Brad: They say "the devil is in the details." It's a shame that minor differences can come between people of faith isn't it? Whether you're Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, Anabaptist, Mennonite, Methodist, Quaker, Shaker, Church of God, Church of Christ, Pentecostal, Messianic Jewish, Seven Day Adventist, Universalist, Unitarian, Non-denominational, Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, Scientologist, or any of the legions of other denominations and subdenominations, God's grace is meant for you as long as you're willing to accept it.
My wife often reminds me that we will be surprised who we see in heaven someday. While we bicker and nitpick here on Earth, in heaven all of God's truths will be clear. When you get there maybe you might get to razz your friend about believing in predestination, say, or transubstantiation, if it turns out those ideas are bogus. Or maybe he'll razz you about your bogus doctrines. But probably not if you're a Fundamentalist. They pretty much have it right. In fact, those belonging to the weirder denominations (you know who you are), might consider switching just in case.

Eric: You can believe whatever you want to. Just try not to believe something stupid.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Found In Translation

How do I know which Bible to buy? I'm a new Christian and want to start reading it, but when I went to the bookstore there seemed to be dozens and dozens of different versions.

Brad: The Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek (don't worry--you can pray in English!) and later it was translated into other languages. The text of the Bible is very rich and stylized in parts, and contains many deep, sometimes nearly impenetrable, spiritual concepts. The translators would have had a tough time of it without God's assistance. Luckily, God inspired and guided them in their work, and as a result the Bible remains His holy and perfect word, regardless of the translation. God would not allow an imperfect Bible--He doesn't make mistakes, and He wouldn't allow the meaning of His message to be obfuscated or compromised in any way whatsoever. The Bible is the only book which has been translated perfectly every time.
Still, some versions may be better suited to you than others. You should keep reading different versions until you find the one that makes God's word crystal clear. If you discover that a lot of it is incomprehensible or vague then you're probably not reading the right one.
And don't forget to pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance. It's really only through the Holy Spirit that we truly know God's truths. In fact, He could even impart His truths without any Bible at all if He wanted to, but we can't expect Him to just do everything for us can we?

Eric: I might go for the Catholic Bible if I were you because it has extra books in it. Better safe than sorry, right?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Wish And A Prayer

Do you think we can change our lives by having positive thoughts about what we want and living according to those thoughts?

Brad: There has been a resurgence lately of the notion that "positive thinking" can change your life for the better. How is this supposed to work exactly? You focus on your wants and needs and then some sort of invisible cosmic energy responds in kind? Sounds like a lot of hooey to me!
No, you need to pray to God. The difference between God and your "cosmic force" is that God is real. God knows you and loves you. Does your "cosmic force" love you? I don't think so.
Only through God can we truly achieve the most in life. And only through God can we truly know what exactly that is. On our own we're likely to long for all the wrong things. The things we really need are probably a lot less enticing, and involve much more self-sacrifice and temperance. You wouldn't know that without God, if you're wandering aimlessly around with your magic hippie energy.

Eric: One man's positive thinking is another man's path to eternal damnation.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Christ, Hurry Up

I was just thinking--the longer Jesus waits to return to Earth, the greater the number of people that wind up in hell, correct? I was doing some math, and found that if 14,709 people are born every hour and roughly a third of them become Christian (about a third of the world's population identifies as Christian), then that means for every hour Jesus delays His return approximately 4,901 unsaved people are going to go to hell. What's up with that?

Brad: Well, I can't vouch for the validity of those numbers, but think about all the people that will be saved and will know everlasting happiness in paradise someday. If Christ had come long ago, those people would never have had that chance.
We can't rush God's timetable. He is giving the world a chance to come around to His light, and it is our fault because we are so stubborn that it's taking such a long long time. Christians need to help the world by being witnesses for the gospel of Christ. We can always do better on that count.
Imagine if there is a person who is almost ready to give his life to Christ. If Christ were to come now it would be too late for that person. And you can't expect a free pass if you were "just about" to accept Christ and He returns to Earth right before you do. That is not how God's mercy and sense of justice work. When Christ returns it will be obvious to everybody that He is Lord. "Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess" it, according to the Bible. But in order for your faith to count, you have to believe it when there is no tangible evidence. I pray that you come to the Lord today, Concerned, before it's too late. Then you'll be glad Christ waited for you.

Eric: Ha ha! I wrote that question.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

No Sin is Unforgivable Except Failing to Accept Forgiveness

I'd give anything to know that God has forgiven me for a terrible sin I committed many years ago. But how can I know that He has? Maybe He decided I don't deserve to be forgiven, and He's condemned me to carry this burden the rest of my life.
The Unforgivable?

Brad: There is only one sin that God can't forgive, and that is the sin of rejecting God's grace. All other sins, no matter how heinous and disgusting, are forgivable. Even a sin that would make you a pariah in the eyes of all humanity for all time does not place you beyond redemption. But you have to accept this gift. You have to truly believe in all your heart that God forgives you. If you can't truly believe that, you're in trouble. If you can, you're in the clear. Even Adolph Hitler or Jeffrey Dahmer might have been forgiven if they had been truly repentant before God prior to death. Won't you be surprised if you're singing in the heavenly choir one day and you see Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer next to you? In heaven, we'll all be laughing, singing, and praising God together.
On the other hand, a person who rejects God's grace, no matter how "good" they seem, will burn eternally in Hell. If you choose that path, don't be surprised if you meet folks like Gandhi and Buddha down there. I don't think they ever became Christians.

Eric: Hopefully Brad can be forgiven for that answer.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Worship The One True God

Does it really matter which religion you follow if you're sincere about it? Don't they all lead to the same place, only by different paths?

Brad: Let me ask you--what would happen if you applied this logic to other aspects of life? If the doctor prescribes a certain medicine, do you then take just whatever pill you want to? Do you run red lights because all colors are "basically the same?" Would you jump off a balcony because it "leads to the same place" as the stairs?
Of course not. There are indeed many different faiths and many may seem attractive to you, but as in all parts of life there's a right and a wrong way. Christ is the right way, and the only way to salvation. Follow Him, or suffer the consequences.

Eric: All religions lead to the same place. They end up with you rotting in the ground.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Fourth Time's A Charm?

I think my marriages must have come from the devil. I'm only two years into my third marriage and already it's breaking up. How can I be sure my next marriage won't end up the same way?
Remarrying Is Not Good

Brad: God didn't intend marriage to be a source of conflict and unhappiness when He invented it by creating Eve and presenting her to Adam. As in the case of Adam, God has created a special perfect someone for each of us. But this person is rarely placed right in front of us. We have to find our soulmate, and that can be difficult. Along the way you can end up trying out husbands like outfits at a department store. Don't worry. The special someone God created for you might just be husband number four--you just didn't wait long enough and married the first three guys that came along.
Or, it's possible that you were married to the right person(s) and you didn't try hard enough to make it work. Because marriage is a lot, and I mean a lot, of hard work. It's the hardest job you'll ever have and some days--many days as you are well aware--you just want to give up. My wife likes to quip that although she's never considered divorce, she has thought about murder!
But we have a secret ingredient in our marriage that holds it together: Christ. Marriage should be a kind of three-way between you, your spouse, and Him. Maybe it was Christ that was missing for you all along. Did you ever think of that?

Eric: You can put an end to the failed marriages if you stop getting married.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

False Gods

How do I know when I pray that I'm praying to the right God?

Brad: Excellent question, Norm. God commands in the Bible "thou shalt have no other gods before me." So you must be thinking who are these other gods? They are false gods, meaning they don't really exist. You should never pray to, or believe in, a god that doesn't really exist. The One True God will hear prayers to false gods (He hears everything), but will not answer. Because consider this: if you were praying to say, the Muslim god Allah, and the Real God answered, you would think that Allah was answering, and that Allah was the same thing as the Real God.
The Bible makes it clear: the One True God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If you're praying to that God, then you'll be fine.

Eric: My invisible magic sky person is better than your invisible magic sky person.

Friday, August 14, 2009

We May Not Like Answer To Prayer

I've just about given up praying because it doesn't seem to do any good. Is God testing me or something?

Brad: We are so very limited in our understanding. We are ignorant and foolish compared to God, and His ways often seem confounding, frustrating, unfair, or capricious to us with our little bitty minds. I would ask you this: you have been talking to God. But have you been listening?
This may be a test, Sloan, and you're failing! Your faith is not nearly as strong as it's supposed to be. Silence can be God's passive-aggressive way of telling you to try harder, to be more faithful, not less.

Eric: No one hears you when you pray. No one.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Hard Time Had By All

My husband lost his job months ago and it's placing a strain on our marriage. It's not just the lack of money, it's his foul moods and even his belief that God has turned His back on us. How can I get through this?
For Richer Or Poorer

Brad: In this situation, your husband may seem like a far cry from the guy you thought you married. You may feel embarrassed at his inability to fulfill his duties as the man of the house. On top of that, he's in a bad mood!
He's upset, FROP, because he has failed in every criterium which you use to evaluate his worth, and he's taking it out on you--and God. You certainly are going through a rough patch here.
But consider the story of Job. God allowed the devil to take from Job every thing he had in the world--every last possession, his children and his health. He ended up sitting around in the dirt covered with sores. How do you suppose his wife felt? Puts things into perspective, doesn't it?

Eric: God didn't abandon you. He was never there to begin with. Good luck!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Thy Kingdom Come

We pray the Lord's prayer at our church every week, but I wonder if the time will ever really come when God's will is "done on earth as it is in heaven."
Waiting in Biloxi

Brad: The Bible promises this will happen when Christ comes again to establish his kingdom of perfect peace and justice. It's easy for humans to be impatient, whining "What's he waiting for?? Why doesn't he make it perfect now? He could easily do so." But God's sense of time is different from ours. What seems like interminable centuries of strife to us is but a fleeting moment to Him.
Still, we must be vigilent. He is purposefully keeping the time of the second coming a complete mystery and He hasn't given us the vaguest hint of when it will occur. Why, the apostle Paul thought it might happen in his lifetime. Boy, was he off! We might have expected Christ to say somethng like "hey guys, just forget about my return for at least a couple millenia, ok?" but that's not the way He rolls.
And who knows? Christ might return before I finish writing this. Wouldn't that be something!
Still, don't stop doing the Lord's work, thinking He'll be here any moment to make everything perfect. Because realistically speaking, that could be a long ways off.

Eric: Cherishing delusions about a better future can help soften the pain of life, and that's why a proclivity for such ideas evolved. But only by recognizing and relinquishing our false hopes can humankind begin to take full responsibility for social ills and start to seek solutions in an objective manner.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Resisting The Devil

How much power does the devil really have? How can we resist when we aren't nearly as strong as he is?
Name Withheld

Brad: Although you should never underestimate the devil's power, don't fear it. The devil will ultimately be defeated in a final battle with God and be cast into a lake of fire.
Which kind of makes you wonder what his deal is, doesn't it? What's he getting out of this whole "evil" business? Doesn't he know his fate is sealed? Well, you see the devil
is amazingly crafty and formidable. But he's also a complete idiot, slaving away at a lost cause for no reason.
I ought to point out here as well that even when the "devil makes you do it" it's still your fault! So don't think you can just blame all your iniquities on him, sinner.
Conversely, you can't take credit for any good you do, because it's only through God's power that we resist temptation.

Eric: What you personify as the devil are really natural biological inclinations which at one time had an adaptive purpose but which we have collectively suppressed in order for our modern societies to function better.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Origins of God

Where did God come from? Did God have a Mommy and Daddy?

Brad: That's an excellent question, Spencer. It's an old question too, but not as old as God--God has no beginning! Can you imagine that? So no, He doesn't have a mom and pop. But He does have a son. And the son has a father. And the father is God, and so is the son. Make sense?

Eric: God doesn't exist, Spencer.