Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Message Within the DNA Code and the Question of 'Who Sent It?'

All across the globe, scientists have set up multi-million dollar facilities whose sole purpose is to scan the vast regions of space looking for distant radio signals. While some of these facilities come with steep price tags, the scientists who run them assure us that the price is well worth the cost.

And it appears the high investment has finally paid off. Scientists have announced that they have discovered a radio transmission from a far-away galaxy believed to have been sent by intelligent beings who, like us, are searching for other intelligent beings. The scientists are busy decoding the signal in hopes of interpreting the message contained within it. Regardless of the message contents, it is being hailed as a touchdown for the scientific community, evidence of intelligent beings aside from mankind.

The only problem is that I completely made this last part up. Yes, it's true that multi-million dollar facilities have dotted our globe for some time now, but the cost has not been recouped in the form of receiving transmission of any signal sent by an intelligent being. Not a single blip, bit of static, or scratch across the airwaves has been interpreted as evidence of an intelligent being.

Not from outer space, anyway.

But what if they had found one? No doubt the scenario would play out just as I had said it would, but with much more fanfare. And that would be fine, because it would be an exciting thing. The observance of solid, irrefutable scientific evidence of an intelligent mind existing somewhere other than with mankind. That would be exciting, right? Of course.

Why is it that if a radio signal were intercepted from deep in space, it would widely be held as evidence of an intelligent source, yet the DNA code is not? The question begs an answer: why isn't DNA, which is accept by virtually all scientists to be the conductor of all information in the human body as it relates to its make-up and functionality, not accepted as prima-facie (face value) evidence of an intelligent source? After all, if there is a message being passed through the DNA code (which there is), then there would necessarily have to be a place that the message originated from. In other words, there would have to be a mind that the message first originated from, and was then passed through the conductor called DNA.

This is very unpopular with many scientists because if we say that the DNA code is in fact a carrier of a well conceived message, it would necessitate an Original Sender of the message. This sends chills across many scientists necks because the very concept of intelligent design goes against the foundation in which they've built their careers on.

However, such a belief would be in perfect harmony because it does not violate the very principle that virtually all science is based on. The Law of Causality says that no 'effect' can be greater than its 'cause', and there must be a clear reason why the 'effect' is needed before the 'cause' initiates it. If we say that God is the originator of the message that is carried by the DNA code, then we have a Cause that is certainly greater than the 'effect', keeping in harmony with observable science.

Surely it would be hypocritical of us if we readily accept one message ("the effect") as being originated by an intelligent being ("the cause"), but not another.

Thou Shalt Not Micro-Manage Thy God

I wouldn't necessarily call it a "New Years Resolution" per-se, simply because I purposefully don't believe in New Years resolutions. I believe that we should be working on improving ourselves year-round. Not just at the beginning of the year. However with that being said, one of my goals for self-improvement this year has been to trust more in God, and less in myself. I thought I was making great success in this effort.

...That is until today.

While it is true that I have cut out any and all attempts to bargain with God to get my way, today I recognized a fatal flaw in my journey to fully trusting in God. My problem hit me like a news flash across a television screen. While I've cut out all bargaining efforts, under the surface the attempts to stay one step ahead of God have been alive and well.. and very sneaky I might add.

The problem with this behavior is that all of the supposed success I've made in my journey to faithfully trusting Him hasn't been success at all. This is because the root problem still remains the same- a lack of trust. You could rightfully say that I haven't been fully trusting in God like I thought I was. Though I have stopped negotiating with God, I have been trying to interpret every little thing that happens in my life on a daily basis, and trying to find out what it means- like a really bad boss who assigns you a project and then micro-manages every step along the way. Simply put, I've been trying to read God's play book in order to anticipate His next move.

The problem with this is that, like every other great mind, God cannot be micro-managed. And that's what I've tried to do. I've cut out the bargaining process and taken up the role of a micro-manager. However, it ends today. To paraphrase Solomon in Ecclesiastes 5, God is in heaven, and I am on Earth. What could I possibly have to tell to Him? The answer is 'Nothing.'

The good news is, this is a journey I don't mind starting over on. I've been so richly blessed in my efforts to trust Him so far that I look forward to seeing the rewards that will come from this leg of our journey together. Starting today I'm going to stop worrying so much about what goes on behind the scenes and just enjoy the show that's on stage in front of me.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Only Time God Ever Got In a Hurry

“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him."- Luke 11:20

How many of you remember your teens and twenties? How many of you would like to forget much of your teens or your twenties? I have had some very interesting experiences in both decades that I lived (miraculously) through, but would rather forget. When we're young, we think we have the world figured out. There's an old saying that goes something to the effect of, "In your entire life, you'll never be as smart as you were in your teenage years.".. or something like that. I'm sure I knew the quote better as a teen.

Before we've lived life, we believe we've got life figured out.

Before we truly know anything, we believe we know everything.

Before we are taught patience, we're extremely impatient.

God's Amazing Patience

This seems to certainly be the case of the young man whose story Jesus tells in Luke 15:11-32, a young man better known to many as 'The Prodigal Son'. We're all familiar with the story, but I want to share something interesting found in this story.

Throughout the Bible we see that God is a very patient character. When we consider the actions He took, they overwhelmingly show that He never gets into a hurry. Consider when God sent Joshua to march around the walls of Jericho in Joshua chapter 6. He could have collapsed the walls immediately upon Joshua setting his eyes on them, but He didn't. He had the army march around the walls for 6 days. This was an act of patience. Or how about God telling Naaman in 2 Kings 5:1-19? God told Naaman through the prophet to go dip into the water seven times. He could have healed him on the first plunge, yet He required Naaman to dip seven times. This again, was an act of patience. Consider how long God waited to send Jesus to Earth? Thousands of years. Again, another example of Gods great patience.

God Runs Out to Meet Us

However, lets take a look at the one time in the Bible that says that God ever got in a hurry about anything. Going back to the prodigal son (who is a representative of you and me), notice that the father (representing God) notices his son "while he was still afar off" and ran out to meet him with a hug and kissed him (Luke 15:20). The only time God ever got in a hurry in the entire Bible was when one of His children were returning to Him.

While reading this story, I notice two more things of significance that I'd like to share with you. First, the father was obviously anxious and waiting for his wayward child's return home. Notice in Luke 15:20 it says the father saw him "when he was still a great way off.." The father recognized his son's youth and waited for the day when wisdom and life experience would bring the son back home. The father was found waiting and watching, and because of this, he recognized his son from a great way off.

Second, notice that the father did not require the son to come groveling down at his feet before he accepted him back home. The father saw him from afar off, and ran to meet him where his son was on the road leading back home. The decision was already made by the son to return home, and the father met him where he was and welcomed him home there. This is symbolic of Gods acceptance of us wherever we are in life. Once we make the decision to obey His will, He doesn't require us to be perfect before He accepts us as His children. He accepts us where we are, in the condition we are in, and walks us step by step into His perfection. God accepts sinners and turns them into saints.

We've all heard the saying, "patience is a virtue". Well, when it comes to accepting His children back, I'm glad it's one that God doesn't exercise for our sake!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Not Above Us or Below Us, But Through Us


Gandhi is quoted as once saying, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

Even though he died long before I was born, and certainly before I became a Christian, I can't help but feel personally injured by this statement. But I ask myself, "who am I to be mad at?" Gandhi? No, not him. He spoke the words, true, but he merely gave commentary on the outsiders' point of view of the Christian religion during that time. No, the blame for such a sentiment belongs to the Christians representing the church, and by name, represented Christ. 

Because I feel bad about such an opinion of the Christian religion, I have to ask myself, "Am I doing anything to change it?" 

This question is one that every Christian should ask themselves. This should not be an "ask yourself once in a lifetime" type question, but a daily soul-searching. The problem is that sometimes we get so caught up in the game of being better than a group of people that we feel are inferior to us. Or perhaps we strive too hard to impress another group of people, hoping they will accept us. We have this awful habit of comparing ourselves to others and coming to one of two conclusions; that we are either better than they are, or that we need to be better so we can impress them. 

However, our generation of Christians are not alone in such a mindset. Consider what the Apostle Paul said about the Apostle Peter in Galatians 2:11, "But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed." What was Paul talking about when he said that Peter was to be blamed? In the following verse, Paul explains his criticism of Peter saying, "For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision." Paul called Peter out on his treatment toward the Gentiles, treating them like "Second-Class-Christians" (as if there were such a thing) in certain company. Paul reminded Peter that Jesus Himself ate with Gentiles, and more importantly, that Peter was no longer justified by the old law, but through Christ, whom the Gentiles were also justified (vs 14-16). Peter got wrapped up in keeping up appearances with certain others who were sent to Antioch by James that he essentially turned his nose up to those Gentiles whom he previously had fellowship with. One night at dinner Peter is seen laughing and joking with his fellow workers, both Jew and Gentile, and the next night his seat is found empty.  

However, there is application in this lesson for todays Christian. I, myself, am so often guilty of comparing myself to others and deciding that I am either better than they are, or (subconsciously) deciding they are better than me somehow. Or maybe I try to impress them. But now here I am, at this moment finding myself in an uncomfortable place, asking myself, "how much more work could I get done for the Lord if I were to adopt a neutral self image?" A self image that is truly grounded in the belief that I am no better or no worse than anyone else. How much more affective could I be? It is only when I decide to let go of the temptation to be better than someone that I can put myself into their shoes and find out what they truly need -without any preconceived notionsand know how to be a better minister to them.

I cannot affectively minister to those whom I can best reach if I am constantly trying to be someone else. It is a simple fact that I can reach people that you cannot, and visa-versa. If I am too busy trying to write like, preach like, or act like 'Joe Somebody', then the people most deeply affected by the true me are left without. Psalm 139:13 says, "For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb." God created me to be me, and you to be you. Why would we want to change His creation?

Is this what Gandhi was talking about when he said our Christians were so unlike our Christ? I honestly can't answer that. What I can say is that when we have a distorted internal image of ourselves, it causes a distorted external image of other people's true worth. If we are to see every person not as above or below us, but as the precious soul that God wants to save through us, it must first start with how we see ourselves. To remove all misconceptions should be the first step in fulfilling the commandment of '...making disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19).

As for me, I intend to change my self-image. One day and one soul at a time.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Night Jesus Left Dinner With Dirty Feet and a Broken Heart

It is a widely known fact that women love jewelry. Some more than others, but as a whole, they can't get enough jewelry. Whether it be earrings, necklaces, bracelets, or rings, women just love jewelry. The rule of thumb is the shinier, the better. But have you ever considered the process a diamond goes through in order to become that beautiful, flawless stone that attracts so many women's attention?

I wonder what the first person to find a diamond must have thought about it. After all, before a diamond is a gorgeous, flawless stone it is a dirty, deformed, dull rock. The reason it is called a "diamond in the rough" is pretty self explanatory, after all. So I can't help but be curious how the first person to find one knew the full worth of the stone. How did they know that with some cleaning, cutting, and polishing their find would be priceless?

Much like the first person to ever find a diamond, Jesus did some sifting and polishing of His own "diamonds in the rough". However, the priceless objects He worked with were not stone, and were far more valuable than any gem ever could be. His objects were made of clay, formed from dirt of the Earth and the very breathe of God Himself. When He found them, they were mere men among many, but when He finished His labors of shaping and polishing, He had formed Apostles. 

However, Jesus had His work cut out for Him. The road from men to apostles was not a smooth one. The pot holes and bumps along the way came in many forms. Some of them were innocent enough, but some had hurtful consequences. Take for example the night of the passover feast when Jesus washed His disciple's feet. 

John 13 records the scene beautifully. Jesus went into dinner knowing that the end of His life was nearing an end, and that He would soon be departing His disciples, whom verse 1 says "..He loved to no end." Jesus knew that as His life was coming to an end, so too with it His chances to put the finishing touches on polishing His disciples. So He stood up from dinner and wrapped a towel around Himself, and began to wash their feet.

Anyone who has studied the culture of Jesus' day know the significance of this act. Traditionally it was the job of a slave or the least of a company to wash the dust and dirt from the feet of everyone else in the dinner party before the meal. But notice when Jesus stood up. John 13:4 says Jesus stood up at the end of the meal to wash the feet of His disciples. I can't help but wonder what Jesus was thinking throughout the dinner. Luke 22:24 tells us that the apostles had been arguing about who was the greatest amongst them. This dispute had obviously spilled over non-verbally into dinner that night. But true to His ways, Jesus (and by default, God) used the opportunity to do a little teaching. John 13:12-17 says, "So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.

Something I want to point out is that nowhere in this passage do you read of anyone washing Jesus's feet. Even after the lesson He taught them, nobody stood up and washed The Master's feet. Sure, Peter gave a verbal objection to Christ washing his feet, but did he stand up and wash Jesus's feet?

Nope.

That night Jesus left dinner with dirty feet, and a broken heart. He received lip service from His apostles regarding their level of commitment to Him, but no one stood up to wash His feet. Is this where the saying, "Actions speak louder than words" originated from? I seriously doubt it. But is it screaming through my mind as an adequate enough description for this passage? Absolutely. Self confidence is a good thing. It does have a purpose. However, without humility it is a deadly poison that kills the soul of the person who ingests it. The damage doesn't end there, though. Often, when our self confidence becomes narcissism, as in the case of the apostles arguing over who among them is greatest, it has a negative ripple that hurts those we hold closest to us. 

The good news is, we have a Savior who is patient. We have a Savior who knows our flaws, but sees the diamond underneath. We have a Savior who is wiling to polish us until we shine.

Lessons From a Frog

I remember when I was young spending countless hours down by the river trying to catch frogs so I could keep them as a pet. I would catch them and chase my sister around, laughing at how she would run in disgust. She was completely repulsed by them, which was all the reason any brother ever needs to chase his sister!

Have you ever stopped to consider the lessons we could learn from a frog? If we sit back and think about it, we can learn a lot from them. I'd like you to get a picture of a frog in your mind. Think about the overall look of a frog. Consider its abilities. With these characteristics in mind, let's consider a few things:

A Frog Never Looks Back

Because of where its eyes are located, a frog is unable to look backward, and is therefore unable to look into the past where it came from. As a Christian, this lesson is vital to us because after we enter into Jesus, we are not to look back at where we came from. In Luke 9:62 Jesus says, "And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." Looking back does a Christian no good. As a general rule, it only stirs up negative emotions that are not beneficial to our walk with Christ. Feeling guilt, shame, hurt, or a longing for days past only serves to distract us from the wonders God has planned for us in the days that lay ahead. We should never look back, because your body follows your eyes. If you look backward, you will move backward.

A Frog Never Moves Backward

I'm convinced that a frog never moves backward because it only looks forward. However, the application for us is the fact that whether it can or it can't, it simply doesn't move backward. Also consider how a frog moves. It never moves in small steps or shuffles aimlessly along, but rather moves in leaps and bounds. As Christians, we should strive daily to move forward in our relationship with Christ in leaps and bounds, growing in knowledge, wisdom and faith.

1 Corinthians 13:11 says, "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." Paul was saying that as he grew physically, so did his wisdom and knowledge- but only because he put away childish things that would hinder his growth. The trick to growth is recognizing obstacles that would hinder it, and removing or jumping over them.

A Frog Jumps Over Roadblocks

When a frog is making his forward momentum, he never allows a roadblock to interfere with his chosen direction of travel. Whether it be a fallen log or a boulder, he jumps over them. If it is a river or lake, he swims through them. The frog finds a way around the roadblocks that stand in his way of progress. We can learn from the frog because we often let a minor stumble turn into a major fall. All too often we become discouraged by life's events and allow them way too much control over our motivation and our movement. The frog doesn't have this problem. It sees an obstacle, and finds a way around it. The answer to an obstacle is simple to the frog- just jump over it. If you can't jump over it, you jump around it. Whatever you do, you don't stop!

A Christian should count roadblocks as growth opportunities. This concept is outlined in one of my favorite books of the Bible, the book of James. When James penned the idea of "count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations" in James 1:2, he didn't mean to be glad you were having troubles. Rather he meant we should be thankful for the growing opportunities a problem provides.

It's amazing the lessons we can learn from the most unsuspecting places. When we give our lives over to God, we should never look back at the past. We should only move forward. If we run into a roadblock, we should jump over or around it, never letting a stumble turn into a fall.

Who would have thought that we could learn so much from such a small, seemingly inconsequential creature as a frog? However, when we open our eyes, we find Gods wisdom in all of His creation. Even in the creatures that disgust us. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Is Christianity a Violent Religion?

Many of its critics would like you to believe that Christianity is a violent religion, one responsible for millions upon millions of deaths and countless wars throughout its history. I have heard it said that the majority of all wars fought were religious in nature. Its attackers want you to believe that Christianity forces itself upon individuals and entire nations. This is what they want you to believe, however, to the reasonable person, the facts will prove them wrong. Let's examine a few facts regarding Christianity in regards to violence.

1. Jesus Never Advocated Violence Toward Those Who Would Not Convert to Christianity.

It is important to note the difference in what Jesus actually commanded his disciples to do. In Mark 16:15 Jesus said, "And He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.'" The command here was to go out and preach to every nation. He did not advocate any act of violence toward anyone who would not convert. However, He did give instructions to His followers regarding what they should do if someone refused to convert. He told them in Luke 9:5, "And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them." So what did Jesus mean when He said this? In modern terms we would say it something like, 'Completely forget them. Leave them to their decision, and and the fate they've chosen.' This certainly doesn't make Jesus an advocate for violence against those who will not convert. In fact, it serves as very difficult testimony against those who would like you to believe that Christianity is a religion based in violence.

There is an old saying that goes something to the effect of, "No one ever truly converts through the barrel of a gun". Jesus, in His infinite wisdom, knew this to be true and guided His disciples based on this principle.

When Jesus was brought before Pontius Pilate and questioned regarding the charges against Him, Pilate asked Him if He was in fact the king of the Jews. Jesus' response again serves as testimony against the charge of Christianity and violence being married. John 18:36 says, "Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence."  Had Jesus set up an Earthly kingdom, then would His followers (Christians) raise their swords to keep Him from being delivered. However, we are not concerned with the ways of the world, we strive for a higher purpose; to live forever with God in heaven. This is where Jesus' eternal kingdom is set up.

2. We Must Make a Distinction Between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

When Christ was crucified on the cross, one of His last statements was recorded in John 19:30, "When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost." The important question here is, what exactly is the 'it' Jesus is referring to as being finished? What exactly is finished?

When Jesus made this statement He is referring to the Old Law, or the Old Testament way of doing things. The reason we have a New Testament in the Bible is because it is a New Law. To better illustrate this point, let me ask you a question. When does a last will and testament of someone go into effect? After their death, right? This is the case with Jesus' will, the New Testament. Just as someone else's last will and testament is a binding legal document, so is the New Testament for Christ. It is separate and apart from the Old Testament.

In the Old Testament law, required obedience was necessary to every point of the law, and the punishment of disobedience was certain death. This is illustrated by the fate of Uzzah, who steadied the Ark of the Covenant from falling. Regardless of his intentions, this was unacceptable by Gods standards. 2 Samuel 6:7 says, "And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for [his] error; and there he died by the ark of God." Why would God strike Uzzah dead for a seemingly good act? Because God gave specific instructions regarding who and when someone could touch the Ark of the Covenant. Uzzah was not that person, and he touched it at the wrong time. Obedience to God was very specific, and the price for disobedience was death.

This concept is better illustrated by the New Testament authors themselves. The author of Romans says in Romans 8:1,2 "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." The days of the law of sin and death (i.e., The Old Testament) have now passed.

Regarding the concept of Christians still holding to the Old Law, James 2:10 says, "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all". In other words, if you keep one part of the law, you must keep the whole law. If you do not, then you are guilty of offending the whole law. This is impossible considering the old laws' purpose was to prepare the people for Jesus and His New Law.


3. It Is the Christians Who Have Suffered Persecution and Violence for Their Beliefs.

A study of the New Testament and the fate of its authors will clearly show that the early Christian church was persecuted on several fronts, along with its members. During the beginning chapters of the Book of Acts, this is outlined very clearly with the arrest and persecution of the apostles, and disciples of Christ. Within the first 6 chapters of the Book of Acts, Christians were arrested multiple times, thrown in jail for preaching the name of Jesus, and culminating in the stoning to death of the disciple Stephen (Acts 7:59,60).

Stephen was not the only member of the church to suffer persecution. According to many commentaries, the Apostle Paul spent approximately 5 1/2 to 6 years of his ministry in one form of prison or another. These include a Roman jail, Philippian jail with Silas, two years in a prison cell in Caesarea, and finally for a third time he is imprisoned by the Romans, this time culminating in his execution for preaching Jesus.

Through tradition, we know of many other Apostle's fate. Notice the information borrowed from Agard's Bible Timeline regarding the fate of the other apostles:


Simon surnamed Peter: died 33-34 years after the death of Christ.  According to Smith’s Bible Dictionary there is "satisfactory evidence that he and Paul were the founders of the church at Rome, and died in that city. The time and manner of the apostle’s martyrdom are less certain. According to the early writers, he died at or about the same time with Paul, and in the Neronian persecution, A.D. 67,68. All agree that he was crucified. Origen says that Peter felt himself to be unworthy to be put to death in the same manner as his Master, and was therefore, at his own request, crucified with his head downward." 
James the son of Zebedee:  He was put to death by Herod Agrippa I  shortly before the day of the Passover, in the year 44 or about 11 years after the death of Christ.  From Acts 12: 1-2. 
John: No death date given by early writers.  Death date is by conjecture only and is variously assigned as being between 89 AD to 120 AD
Andrew:  No accurate death date given. A variety of traditions say he preached in Scythia, in Greece, in Asia Minor and Thrace.  He is reported to have been crucified at Patrae in Achaia. 
Philip:  Again, the Bible does not say when he died nor do we have accurate information.  According to tradition he preached in Phrygia, and died at Hierapolis. 
Bartholomew: There is no information concerning his death, not even by tradition
Matthew: He must have lived many years as an apostle, since he was the author of the Gospel of Matthew which was written at least twenty years after the death of Christ. There is reason to believe that he stayed for fifteen years at Jerusalem, after which he went as missionary to the Persians, Parthians and Medes. There is a legend that he died a martyr in Ethiopia
Thomas: The earlier traditions, as believed in the fourth century, say he preached in Parthia or Persia, and was finally buried at Edessa. The later traditions carry him farther east.   His martyrdom whether in Persia or India, is said to have been by a lance, and is commemorated by the Latin Church on December 21 the Greek Church on October 6, and by the Indians on July 1. 
James Alpheus: We know he lived at least five years after the death of Christ because of mentions in the Bible.  According to tradition, James son of Alpheus was thrown down from the temple by the scribes and Pharisees; he was then stoned, and his brains dashed out with a fuller’s club. 
Simon the Canaanite: No information either in the Bible or by tradition.
Jude (Thaddeus): according to tradition Jude taught in Armenia, Syria and Persia where he was martyred.  Tradition tells us he was buried in Kara Kalisa in what is now Iran.
Judas Iscariot: Shortly after the death of Christ Judas killed himself. According to the Bible he hanged himself, (Matthew 27:5) at Aceldama, on the southern slope of the valley of Hinnom, near Jerusalem, and in the act he fell down a precipice and was dashed into pieces.


I would also like to note that by todays standards, the church is still persecuted. Take for example the way Christians are treated in mainly Muslim countries. By most accounts, they are outlaws, forced to worship in secret under fear of death. This is clearly seen in countries such as Iran. Also notice the way other religions are treated in "Christian" countries. There are no courts set up to persecute them, nor are there followers of other religions being put to death for their beliefs. Though you will find them in other countries, no "Christian" nation has such, because it is against our belief system.


4. It Is Incorrect to Say That a Majority of Wars Are Fought Over Religion-Let Alone Christianity.


This claim is easily refuted by simply examining the evidence. The book, Encyclopedia of Wars by Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod documents 1763 wars, of which 123 have been classified as a religious conflict. So, what atheists have considered to be "most" really amounts to less than 7% of all wars. It is interesting, however, that 66 of these wars (more than 50%) involved Islam, which did not exist as a religion for the first 3,000 years of recorded human warfare, and well over 600 years after the birth of Christianity!

The evidence is overwhelming to show that Christianity is not a violent religion. Anyone who would like to convince you otherwise is either ignorant of the facts, or is maliciously trying to spread misinformation. Both of which is unacceptable. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Worries, Problems and Promises

"I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears." Psalm 34:4

What are your difficulties in life? I can hear your answer now, "Where do you want me to begin, and how much time do we have?!" Sometimes it seems like the harder we try to model our life after God's instructions and live more Christ-like, the harder Satan tries to introduce troubles, trials, and tribulation into our lives. We anguish over the past, run like crazy through the present, and worry ourselves sick about the future.


The bad news is, it has been this way since the beginning of time. Throughout the work of the apostles and the early church until Christ's return, troubles in life are here to stay. We are no different, nor are we special; somehow exempt from the burdens of the world and its problems. 


If you looked back at your life would you say that your heartaches got harder and more frequent, or easier and less often after your submission to Christ? It has been my experience that after we truly submit ourselves to Gods will, these are the only two options that we have. Just as everything else in our life, when we surrender to God, nothing should remain "status quo", including heartache. If it does, then it is a sign that there isn't a complete surrender in your life. 


Neither answer is necessarily wrong, but rather what we choose to do about it. 


If you were to say that your troubles have magnified in intensity and frequency, that could be a sign that Satan recognizes your surrender to God, and he is doing whatever he can in order to dissuade you. After all, he walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). When a lion is on the prowl, he never comes in the clear standing straight up, where he may be seen. He crouches and sneaks, hiding where he isn't expected to be. Satan is the same way in life. That's why our heartaches hurt; they come from places we never expected them to be. 


If you were to say that they were becoming less frequent and painful, this might be a sign of maturity in your walk with God. When addressing the problem of worry, hurt and anxiety (which is at the core of every heartache), Jesus said in Matthew 6:25, "Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?" As a Christian, this may be the hardest command for any of us to follow. It may be the one commandment that we will work our entire lives to perfect. The secret in achieving this, however, lies in the amount of faith and trust we have in God. If we work to become more trusting and faithful to God, the temptation to worry or give thought to heartache will subside. It may be the case that your faith and trust in God and His promises is growing, and the decrease in life's troubles are your tangible reward.

It is not that life has stopped happening for you. Life never stops happening. However, choosing to react to it in a negative manner can stop. 1 Peter 5:6,7 says, "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you." God's Word tells us that we no longer have to react to the worries, hurt, anguish, trials and tribulations of the world; He is willing and able to take care of them for us. A worry free life! What a blessing a Father can give to His children! It is up to us to adopt and employ this life-coping technique.

When you read his letters, do you ever hear Paul complain about his lot in life? Though he has previously persecuted the church to almost extinction, spent a majority of his ministry locked in jail cells, was put on home arrest for years on end, being bound and shackled, and finally martyred for the cause of Christ, you never hear Paul complain about his life. In fact, quite the opposite. He never complains, but rather encourages others through his words so that they may cope with life's struggles and continue on with their evangelism. Paul was an optimist to a fault, but he was only following Christ's example.

Regardless of ho you answered in the beginning, it really doesn't matter. From this very moment, you can begin to build your faith and trust in the Lord, and His promises to take care of you (Matthew Chapter 6). The question that matters is, will you let Him?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Pope Exonerates the Jews for Christ's Crucifixion

"Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:" Acts 7:51,52 (Stephen addresses the Jewish Council)

Pope Benedict XVI, in his latest book, has exonerated the Jews as a nation for the crucifixion of Christ. The Pope is quoted in his book, which is due out next month, as saying that the crucifixion of Christ came at the hands of the Roman Empire, and at the behest of the Jewish aristocratic members, who chose Barrabas over Jesus. However, let us consider what the Bible says about the guilt of the Jewish nation.

In Acts 7, Stephen is brought before the council under false charges. When he is asked about his guilt regarding the charges, he does use this chance to defend himself, but rather addresses the guilt of the Jewish nation for Christ's death as a whole. In fact, he places blame of Christ's crucifixion at the feet of the Jewish nation when he says in verses 51 and 52, "Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it." 

After this, the book of Acts tells us that the people, hearing this were cut to their hearts, and put Stephen to death. One man refused to bow to pressure and threats when it came to the truth about Christ's crucifixion. For all Stephen knew, these words would be the last he would ever speak, and he made them count. He reminded those guilty of Christ's death of their sin, and implored them to turn from their sin and accept Christ. Did he stand up and speak the truth for nothing? Was he put to death only to be contradicted by Benedict XVI 2,000 years later? I would think not!

The Disciple Stephen gave his life for the truth regarding Christ's crucifixion. The Pope is correct that the Romans did the actual deed of placing Jesus on the cross. But I ask you, who was it that delivered Jesus to the doorstep of Pontius Pilate to be put to death? According to John 18:31, it was the Jews, "Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death" They did not bring Jesus to Pilate for mere punishment, but rather to be put to death. They wanted one thing, the death of Jesus. 

Stephen wasn't the only person who blamed the Jewish nation as a whole for the crucifixion of Christ. Pontius Pilate, the man whom the Jews delivered Jesus to be put to death blamed the Jews in John 18:35, "Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?" (emphasis mine). 

Pontius Pilate gave the Jews several chances to back out. He told them to judge Jesus according to their own laws; he stated he found no fault in Jesus; he even asked them who'd they rather have back, Jesus or the murderer Barrabas. However, the Jewish nation would not be swayed. They were out for the death of Jesus. 

The opportunities for the Jews to repent did not stop there. After the crucifixion, the Apostles went to Jerusalem and began to preach of the life and crucifixion of Christ (Acts 2). This greatly troubled the Jewish nation who pulled the apostles in front of the council, who on three separate occasions ordered the apostles to stop speaking of them being to blame for Christ's death. They even resorted to beating and jailing the apostles for speaking the truth of Jesus. Rather than hearing the words of the apostles in the Book of Acts, the Jewish nation and it's leaders continued to be hard-hearted, and as Stephen called them, "stiff-necked". 

So now we have to sincerely ask, who is right? On one hand, we have the apostles, the Disciple Stephen, even Pontius Pilate himself stating that the Jewish nation is to blame for Christ's crucifixion. Then on the other, we have Pope Benedict XVI stating they aren't. This is an obvious contradiction that must be reconciled. One must be wrong, and the other right. Both cannot be correct. 

Either the Bible is the inspired Word of God, as it claims to be over 3,000 times, and not one jot nor tittle shall pass from it, or it isn't. If it is, then it presents a problem for the Jewish people of today. I am not in any way saying that the Jewish people today should be held accountable for their ancestors' actions. It would be hypocritical of me as an American, whose own nation has a dark side in the form of slavery, to expect to hold the modern Jew responsible for the sins of their ancestors, but expect immunity from the sins of mine. 

Just as no American today should be held responsible for the sin of slavery, neither should a Jew today be blamed for the actual deliverance of Christ to His death. However, as a nation, America has accepted fault for their sin, repented, and turned from it. Slavery is no longer tolerated in our nation. Yet the rejection of Jesus as the Christ is still a core value held in the Jewish nation, as well as vehemently denying any responsibility of any Jew in Christ's death. This has been the practice of the Jews beginning days after putting Christ to death (Acts 4:17), and has continued for the past 2,000+ years. Put plainly, the Jewish nation has yet to repent, despite pleas from Christ Himself (Luke 9:23), the Apostles (Acts 4), and men like Stephen (Acts 7) and the Apostle Paul.

The discussion of Jewish responsibility for the crucifixion of Christ can be a touchy subject in today's politically charged world. However, history cannot be rewritten in order to spare one group of people's feelings. If this were the case, the guilt of slavery, wars, and anything else that reflects negatively on a group of people should also be erased from the text books. Please understand, antisemitism should be wholeheartedly rejected by every Christian, just as any other form of hate should be by all people. However, let's not rewrite the textbooks either.

Pascal's Wager: A Bad Bet

The argument in apologetics known as Pascals Wager is the idea that says that belief and submission to God is preferred, because it is better to be obedient in case God does truly exist. It is the belief that obedience to God based on the chance that He does exist is preferred, rather than being faced with the consequences of non-obedience. Simply put, it is the old saying "better safe than sorry" being applied to your spiritual life.

Pascal described the idea like this, "If God does not exist, then you neither gain nor lose anything from belief or disbelief. In either case, you just die and that's the end. However, if you choose to believe in God, and you are right, then the reward is infinite: Eternal bliss in heaven. On the other hand, if you choose not to believe in God, and you're wrong, your pay off is negative infinity: Eternal suffering in hell."

Without first giving this idea much consideration, this seems like a logical argument. However, I do not blame the atheist for rejecting this argument based on faulty logic. I can say this because as a Christian, I myself believe it to be faulty logic. I want to take a moment and think about a few things in regards to Pascal's Wager and attempt to show you why a Christian should not be a subscriber to it.

THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS A CASUAL CHRISTIAN

First, the theory of, "better safe than sorry" has no room in a Christians life because there is no such thing as a Christian who is not 100% dedicated to the cause of Christ. Jesus said in Revelation 3:16, "So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth." We cannot be "mediocre" in our commitment to Christ and expect Him to still accept us. 

With enough time, the person who subscribes to the concept of Pascal's Wager gains an attitude of apathy and cultivates contempt. It is inevitable that these feelings will creep in, because the subscriber has taken the "easy way out" in regards to their salvation, putting as little work into it as possible. When apathy is introduced into the Lord's church, what follows is always and without exception a careless attitude toward the work Jesus has commanded us all to do. This includes the very charge given to Christians everywhere, the charge to spread the Gospel  (Matthew 28:19). Before too long the work of the church will have completely halted, and the subscriber of Pascal's Wager finds themselves living just as the world, and Satan, would have them to. 

IT DOES NOT PROMOTE RESEARCH OR STUDY

Second, it does not promote the healthy practice of research and studying to ensure your beliefs are logical and reasonable. Rather, if we just believe in God based on the chance that He may exist, and we don't want to be punished, then we haven't done enough research to convince ourselves either way regarding His existence. It is unlikely then that we would study to find out what God wants from us. If we don't care enough about the question of God's existence to make a definitive answer, then we are not going to care enough to ask what He expects from us. 

Pascal's Wager is found lacking because it does not ask, nor does it answer, the question of which god to believe in. By being a subscriber to Pascal's Wager, you choose to believe in a god, but which one? Will it be the God of the Bible, or perhaps the god of Islam? Or how about one the Hindu gods, of which there are literally thousands? In order to subscribe to Pascal's Wager you must accept belief in one god based on the risk of punishment. However, this choice necessitates the rejection of any other god who commands your commitment based on the threat of punishment. This is because they all forbid worshiping any other god.

YOU MUST BE CONVICTED

In conclusion, Pascal's Wager should not be considered a viable option to anyone who considers the Christian faith. It is based on faulty logic that does nothing to narrow down your choice of which god to believe in, nor does it promote an attitude that would lead one to study which god to worship. To worship just one god, based solely on the idea of Pascals Wager does nothing to ease one's mind against the threat of eternal punishment. More study and research should be done in order to come to the logical conclusion. This idea is not promoted by Pascal's Wager. The Christian should reject Pascal's Wager because we are not like Agrippa who told the Apostle Paul, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian" (Acts 26:28).

The God of the Bible gave man the gift of free will. He expects each one of us to come to a conclusion regarding His existence based on evidence that He has provided us. You have the choice to either accept the evidence and believe in Him, or reject Him. However, if you choose to believe and become a Christian, God demands 100% of your dedication, 100% of the time. Luke 9:23 says, "Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (emphasis mine). We must crucify our worldly desires so that we may be wholly and completely His (Galatians 5:24). Jesus said that if any are luke warm, He will spit them out (Revelation 3:16).

The concept of Pascal's Wager has no place in the life of a Christian. Either you are a convictedrepentant Christian or you are not. There is no middle ground.