Friday, December 13, 2013

Christianity: The greatest hoax of all time?

Many religions have started from an individual claiming that they gained some sort of new knowledge or understanding from a god, an angel, or through some other mystical way. Islam started when Muhammad was meditating in caves, and a spiritual being (later identified as Gabriel) spoke and wrote through him the Qur'an. It was spiritual experience that only Mohammad went through. When a young teenage boy named Joseph Smith went into the woods to pray, he asked God which of the Christian denominations was the correct one. God the Father, and Jesus had appeared to Joseph Smith, and they told him that none of the Christian sects were right, and that all of their creeds and doctrine were "an abomination in his sight (Pearl of Great Price)." Based off of this experience that Joseph Smith "claimed" he had, the Mormon church was created.

When we look at the Christian religion, we find something interesting. It is not based off of something that one individual saw or experienced. It is based off of what Jesus did for everyone to see. As Peter was addressing the crowd of thousands in Acts 2:22, he tells of the wonders and miracles of Jesus, and he caps it off by saying: "just as you yourselves know." In Acts 26:26 Paul tells Festus in court that the miraculous acts of Jesus "were not done in a corner!" The things that Jesus did were for everyone to see!

The works of Jesus, the life he lived and the death he died were so visible to society, that the New Testament is not the only ancient book that tells about the life of Christ. Josephus, Tactius, and Pliny the Younger are all historians of Jesus's time who wrote about, or at least mentioned the life of Jesus. Based on non-biblical works, we are able to know a lot about Jesus's life. Without even looking at the New Testament, we know that Jesus did in fact exist, that he was a Jewish teacher, that many people believed that he performed healings and exorcisms, that he was rejected by Jewish leaders, that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Teberius, and that his followers claimed that Jesus rose from the dead, and spread Christianity all the way to Rome by 64 AD, and eventually all over the world.

While we know that many things about Jesus are true, there is one particular event that is of great importance. This is the resurrection. If Jesus truly rose from the grave, every living and breathing person needs to pay attention to this. However, if Jesus did not raise from the dead, then we as Christians have been living our lives in vain. Even the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:14: "..if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless." Everything hinges on the resurrection.

So, this bring us to the question: did the resurrection really happen? Was it an actual historical event? If it did not happen, this would mean that the apostles, and many other disciples who saw the risen Jesus lied about it. Let's just focus on the original eleven disciples of Jesus. They all claimed that they saw the risen Jesus. They then went on to proclaim it all over the known world. Because of this outlandish claim that Jesus was still alive, they faced terrible persecution. They were imprisoned, tortured, and killed for their faith. Let's look at of few of their deaths: James was killed with the sword. Peter was crucified upside down. Andrew and Phillip were crucified. Thomas ("Doubting Thomas") was thrust through with spears, burned with red-hot plates, and burned to death. Matthew was beheaded. Nathaniel (or Bartholomew) had his skin torn off, and then was crucified. Judas Thaddeus (not Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus) was beaten to death with sticks.

These men died not for what they simply believed, but for what they claimed they saw. Every religion has martyrs, but not every religion has martyrs who died for what they saw with their own eyes.

If the eleven disciples of Jesus really did make up the resurrection, and if they were lying, wouldn't you think that somewhere along the line one of them would have cracked? That while they were spending their lives in prison, and being tortured, that at least one of them would have had a weak moment and told them that it was all a lie? Yet not one of them did. Every one of Jesus' eleven disciples died for what they believed in (with the exception of John, who still went through his fair share of hardship).

Christianity is either the greatest hoax of all time, or it is the truth. It's one of the two. I will wrap this up with something that Chuck Colson said. Colson was an aid of President Nixon during the Watergate scandal. Listen to what he says:

"Watergate involved a conspiracy to cover up, perpetuated by the closest aides to the President of the United States...who were intensely loyal to their president. But one of them, John Dean...testified against Nixon, as he put it, "to save his own skin"--and he did so only two weeks after informing the president about what was really going on--two weeks! The real cover up, the lie, could only be held together for two weeks, and then everybody else jumped ship in order to save themselves. Now, the fact is that all those around the president were facing embarrassment, maybe prison. Nobody's life was at stake. But what about the disciples? Twelve powerless men, peasants really, were facing not just embarrassment or political disgrace, but beatings, stonings, and execution. Every single one of the disciples insisted, to their dying breaths, that they had seen Jesus bodily raised from the dead. Don't you think that one of those apostles would have cracked before being beheaded or stoned?...None did." (I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, pages 292-293)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Is the Bible really the Word of God? Part II: Authenticity

Going forward in examining whether or not the Bible truly is the Word of God (thus, confirming the validity of the Christian faith), it is important for us to look at a claim that some people make. This is the claim that the Bible has been changed over time. This idea supposes that the 66 books that we have in our Bible today are not the same as when they were written down thousands of years ago. While we know the historical accounts in the Bible are true, some argue that certain things about Jesus, and what he preached, and who he claimed to be, has been tampered with in the New Testament. If this is true, and the primary teachings from the Bible have been changed over time, we have a serious problem. If the Bible's main teachings and claims have not changed over thousands of years, then we see evidence that our God has protected his Word. If the Bible really is the Word of God, the evidence should reveal that the Bible is authentic, and has not changed over time.

We can easily see if a text has changed over time by comparing it to the autograph, or the original text. For example, we can know that the Declaration of Independence that we read online is the same as the original by comparing it to the actual Declaration of Independence from 1776. However, when we don't have the original of a text, more work must be done to verify its authenticity. Unfortunately, we do not have the originals of the Bible. However, this is not a serious problem. We do not have any originals of ancient works. So, how can we know that the Bible is authentic? Let's look at some facts.

When examining the authenticity of ancient works, we need to do a couple things. First we need to find out how many years went by between the date the text was originally written, and the earliest copy of that text that we have. Secondly, we need to see how many copies of the text have been discovered. The results are quite interesting. Let's take a look at a couple examples before we see how the Bible does (the New Testament specifically). 

Thucydides and Herodotus were both great historians, whose works are widely accepted by scholars. They both lived around 400 BC. However, the earliest copies of their texts date back to 900 AD. This is 1,300 years apart from when the texts were originally written, to the earliest copy we have. And, we have 8 copies of each text (McDowell, More Than a Carpenter, page 71). Only 8! Looking at that, a the highly regarded scholar F.F. Bruce said the following: "No classical scholar would listen to an argument that the authenticity of Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the earliest manuscripts of their works which are of use to us are over 1,300 years later than the originals (The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable)." 

Let's look at some more examples (McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict):

Aristotle (any one work): 7 copies found, with 1,400 years between original and earliest copy.
Plato Tetralogies: 49 copies found, with 1,300 years between original and earliest copy.
Homer's Illiad: 643 copies found, with 500 years between original and earliest copy.
Josephus's The Jewish War: 9 copies found, with 900 years between original and earliest copy.

Now let's take a look at the New Testament. Over 5,000 copies of the New Testament in the original language (Greek) have been discovered. Over 5,000! This is an amazing number, especially when we compare it to other ancient texts. This number does not include the thousands of Latin manuscripts, which would bring the number over 25,000! And, this number continues to grow as discoveries are made! What is the span of years between the original and the earliest manuscript of the New Testament? 50 years max. Simply amazing. Because of the many copies of the New Testament, we are able to compare them, and find out with great accuracy the authenticity of the New Testament that we have today. We can find out whether our New Testament is the same as when it was written 2,000 years ago. 

What do we find when we compare the ancient manuscripts? Bart Ehrman published a book nearly a decade ago on this subject called Misquoting Jesus. In this work, Ehrman discusses how there are many variances within the New Testament manuscripts. He estimates that there are between 300,000 to 400,000 variants within the manuscripts. At first glance, this is a serious problem! However, it should not be a big surprise that there are variances within New Testament manuscripts. The New Testament was copied by scribes, word for word, for many years! Another thing to consider is the large amount of manuscripts that have been found. With the thousands of copies, along with humans--who are prone to mistakes--copying them, of course there are going to be errors. 

However, we need to look at what these variances are. If they are minor, and nothing of doctrinal importance is violated, then we know God has protected his Word. If different manuscripts are teaching different things about who Jesus was, or what he did, then we have a problem. 

What we now know is that 75% of these variances are spelling errors (Komoszewski, Reinventing Jesus). Many of these were differences in spelling names. Even today the same names are spelled differently. This does not change the meaning of the text whatsoever. 

Another large chunk of these variances is the use of synonyms. Once again, these do not affect the meaning of the text whatsoever. 

The amount of variances which affect the meaning of the text are less than one percent. And, even these are all footnoted in our Bibles. And to be honest, none of these affect any doctrine of importance. Look for yourself in you Bible if you don't believe me.

So, what is the conclusion we have come to today? The Bible we have today is authentic. We know that the Bible has not changed over time. While there are slight variances that have been found, God has protected his Word. The main message of the Bible, and the main teachings of Jesus and the Apostles has not been tampered or changed in any ways. We can read our Bibles with confidence, knowing that God has protected his Word, and we are reading the same message Jesus, Paul, Peter, and the rest of the disciples preached. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Is the Bible really the Word of God? Part I: Historical Accuracy

Is the Bible really the Word of God? Is it inherent? Infallible? Completely without errors? If the Bible truly is the inspired Word of God, we must realize what this means. This would mean that Jesus really is the ONLY path that leads to salvation (all other religions would then be obsolete), that Jesus is God who came in flesh, and that we as people need to repent of our wickedness. These are just a few of the bold claims that the Bible makes. 

Therefore, before we get into whether or not the Bible is the Word of God (which we will explore in future posts), let us first ask: is the Bible historically accurate? 

The short answer is: yes, very accurate. Both the Old and New Testaments have been proven historically accurate through both archaeology and from what we know from other texts or inscriptions that date back to Biblical times. 

For example: the Old Testament talks about several ancient cities and nations, and sometimes gives names of the leaders of those cities and nations. We can match what archaeologists have found with what we read in our Bible. What do we find when we do this? That the Old and New Testaments are incredibly reliable, historically speaking. I will give you a couple specific examples as to the historical accuracy of the Bible.

Sir William Ramsay was a very well known archaeologist. He doubted the historical accuracy of the Bible. However, he thought that he would test what the New Testament said, specifically the book of Acts, which tells the history of the early church. After he came to a conclusion, he said this: "I began with a mind unfavorable to it...but more recently I found myself brought into contact with the Book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth (St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen, p. 189)." He later said this: "Luke [the author of Acts] is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy...this author should be placed along with the very greatest historians (The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, p. 222)." Ramsay discovered that Acts was extremely accurate, and without error, historically speaking. He was so convinced that he was actually converted to Christianity!

Another example of Biblical accuracy is not only historical, but also implies proof of divine intervention. We all remember the story in Sunday school of God parting the Red Sea for the Israelites, and how He closed the parted sea on top of the Egyptians, killing every one of them. In the 1990's an interesting discovery was made in the Gulf of Aqaba, which is part of the Red Sea. Chariot wheels and axles covered in coral were discovered, along with a gold plated chariot wheel which matches what historians and archaeologists know chariot wheels of the Pharaoh looked like during the time of the exodus. The bottom of the sea looks like an ancient battlefield, with various coral growing on objects all over. This shows that the event we read in Exodus really did take place.This also implies that a "divine being" intervened, leaving the Egyptian army to rest at the bottom of the sea.

I could go on and on about the historical accuracy of the Bible. There have been thousands of discoveries that verify the Bible as historically accurate. However, many claim that while the Bible is in fact historically true, it is wrong in what it teaches about God and Jesus. Many even claim that over time the Old and New Testaments were changed, and what we have today is very much different than what was originally written down. If the Bible truly is the Word of God, would our omnipotent God not protect it? Of course he would. We will dive into this topic next week, to discover whether or not the text of the Bible has been altered over time. But for now, we can know that the historical component of the Bible is reliable and accurate.  

Friday, November 15, 2013

Is God Really Real? Evolution

When discussing the validity of the Christian faith, the topic of evolution must be looked at. Many teachers and professors in middle schools, high schools, and universities often teach evolution as a fact. However, the THEORY of evolution is increasingly being exposed. We know more today than Charles Darwin did when he first published: On the Origin of Species, in 1859. Today I want to share a couple important things that we know, and the scientific data that we have, that Darwin did not have access to. But, first, what is evolution, and what evidence is there for it?

Intro to Evolution

Darwin theorized that the organisms and living things that the earth has today are the result of millions of years of natural selection. Darwin went to the Galapagos Islands to observe the unique animals. He was especially intrigued by the finches. He observed that the finches each had different beaks, and they used them for different reasons and in different ways. This led him to the idea that organisms adapt over time, in order to survive. Life is the "survival of the fittest." It is natural selection. The animals with the ability to live survive, while the others die.When a certain organism is able to survive they reproduce, and pass those survival traits on to their offspring. What is interesting is that we did not learn about genes until the early 1900's. This part of Darwin's theory was proven to be true--that organisms pass down traits to their offspring.

We also must differentiate between micro evolution and macro evolution. Micro evolution is adaptation within a kind. A perfect example would be Darwin's finches. They adapted in order to survive, but they remained finches. They never turned into mammals, or any other kind of organism. They stayed finches. Macro evolution teaches that over millions of years all the species we have today came from a common ancestor--that common ancestor being a single cell organism. While micro evolution has proven itself to be true, macro evolution lacks any real evidence.

Evidence against Macro-Evolution

One of Darwin's main concerns with his theory of evolution was the lack of transitional fossils. Transitional fossils are the "in-between" forms of organisms. For example, the organism that would be in between a fish and an amphibian. Here is what Darwin said: "Why, if a species has descended from other species by insensibly fine gradations, do we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms (On the Origin of Species)?" Darwin saw that there was a lack of transitional fossils to support his argument. He thought, however, that over time transitional fossils would be found, and that his theory would be proven. However, we sit here over 150 years later, and still have a difficult time coming up with any transitional fossils.

A second argument against macro-evolution is our current knowledge of cells. We know much more today about cells than Darwin did. Darwin thought a cell was a very simple blob of living goo. However, we now know how much is going on in a single cell. It is like a mini factory! There is a nucleus, mitochondria, vacuoles, ribosomes, cytoplasm, and much more. Each of these parts has a specific job. Our bodies are made up of trillions of these complex cells. Amazing! Life is extremely complex, and we know that now. Darwin did not know the complexity of life as we do today. Because of the complexity of even a single cell, Darwin's theory that everything evolved from one living cell become unlikely. Especially considering the question: How did that first cell receive life? If cells and life are simple (as Darwin thought), life could theoretically derive from certain conditions. However, knowing what we know about cells and life, the possibility of this is highly unlikely. Scientists have been trying to create life from non-life for over a century, yet they have failed. So, if scientists can't even create life in a lab how could a life-filled cell come naturally and by chance?

A third argument has to do with the complexity of cells. There is something called a flagellum, which is an amazing machine that enables a cell to move. A flagellum is extremely complex. It is made up of 40 protein parts which all work together for the purpose of moving the cell. However, if you take out any one of those 40 protein parts, the flagellum does not work. It become useless. Macro-evolution teaches that organisms evolve slowly and over time. It would be impossible for all 40 protein parts to randomly assemble themselves into a fully functioning flagellum. And, according to evolution, the cell would not randomly assemble protein parts, unless it had a function. Therefore, evolution is shown to be highly unlikely because of the flagellum. This is called irreducible complexity. It is when we find something that could not have evolved over time, but must have been created.


Darwin had certain things right in his theory. Micro-evolution, or adaptation within a species, has been proven to be true. A parent passing down their traits to their offspring has also proven to be true. However, macro evolution has no evidence. There is even evidence against it when we view the complexity of the cells. However, when someone comes to the conclusion that evolution is not true, they have to accept the fact that organisms were created. The naturalist explanation of everything is suddenly invalid. They then have to accept the fact that there is a creator, someone or something bigger them themselves. Many people do not like to face this reality.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Is God really real? Moral Argument

There is something that all people have in common. There is something that is recognized by Christians, Atheists, Agnostics, Buddhists, Hindus, and everyone in between. This recognition by all people is the idea that there is evil in the world. This is evident to all. It is hard to find a sane person who looks back at the holocaust, and does NOT admit that it was a horrible, evil, and wicked event. It is difficult to find a sane person who likes the idea of a neighbor being brutally murdered. Evil is in this world, and we as people recognize it. For this very reason, many are convinced that there is no God. This was an idea held by C.S. Lewis. He was at one point an Atheist. He looked at all the evil in the world, and did not think a God could exist if there was so much evil in the world. However, the fact that there is evil eventually led Lewis to a belief in God.

We as people are able to recognize evil. We can distinguish between good and evil. We as the human race have a moral code written on our consciences. However, where do these morals come from? How are we even able to differentiate between good and bad? Many people say that human beings have evolved over millions of years to what we are today. Where then did we as humans get consciences and morals? How did we evolve the ability to differentiate from right and wrong? How are we able to recognize something as evil?

Scientifically speaking, and assuming that evolution is true, is there such thing as morals? Is there such a thing as evil? Is it even possible to differentiate between right and wrong? Could an ability to see what is evil and what is good somehow evolve through natural selection?

C.S. Lewis discusses this idea of morals in the first portion of Mere Christianity. Lewis was once an Atheist. After further thought he was led to believe that there was a God, and he eventually became a Christian. He came to the conclusion that there was a God after he began to think about evil. He knew it existed, and he didn't like it. But, just the fact that he knew that there was evil in the world, showed him that there has to be an outside source that put the idea of good versus evil inside of him. This source must be a higher power of some sort.

If there is no higher power, then we would not have the ability to even see evil, if evil was even real. Because, everything would be based off of survival. There would be no natural or moral law. The only law would be survival of the fittest.

The idea of morals, and the ability to differentiate between good and evil, is something that points to a higher power. If you would like to learn more about this thought, and in more detail, I would encourage you to read Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis does a much better job than I do in detailing this argument.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Is God really real? Teleological Argument

In our journey to explore the validity of our Christian faith, I continued with our students the idea of a supreme being. Do we have any evidence to support the idea that there is an intelligent designer behind creation? This is a summary of the discussion and the main points of it:

In discussing the possibility of a supreme being, or an intelligent designer, it is important to look closely at the world around around us. Look at the universe, look at our solar system, look at our planet, look at ourselves. Now let's ask this question: is our universe one of order, or one of disorder? Do things appear to be guided and set in place? Or does everything seem to be going about at random? If our universe was created and set into place by a higher power, then there would definitely be evidence for this. Just as a building reflects the builder, so our universe would reflect the creator. But, if the universe came into existence by chance, or by random occurrence, then it would be just that; random.

What does science tell us about our universe? Let's take a look at our planet. We know that the earth is the perfect distance from a perfect sized star that we call the sun. If the sun was any bigger, or if we were a little closer to the sun, our planet would be too warm for life to exist. If the sun was any smaller, or if we were further from the sun, our planet would be too cold for life to exist.

The rotation of the earth is also very interesting, and something we must consider. The earth makes a full rotation in 24 hours. It takes the same time to rotate each day. This is obvious, considering the length of our days stay the same. It would be odd if one day was long, and the next was suddenly and unexpectedly short. Instead we see a reflection of amazing order.

The revolution of the earth around the sun is also quite remarkable. It takes 365.25 days for the earth to make a full revolution around the sun (the .25 is the reason for leap years). The Earth must travel about 585 million miles to make a full revolution. The time it takes for the earth to do this always remains the same. The earth's orbit around the sun does not change. Once again, amazing order is reflected.

Let's take a look at the human body. Our bodies are made up of trillions of cells. Molecular Biology tells us a lot of the complexity of cells. Each cell is like a little factory, with many parts, and specific jobs for each of those parts. The things that are going on in our body at this very moment are absolutely amazing. Our bodies are not a reflection of disorder, but of order.

Through what we discover through science we are able to see the systematic, planned, and order that we are able to observe all around us. Now considering this, let me give you an example that one our students shared this last Sunday, as we discussed this topic: Do we ever see a building or a structure come from an explosion? When a bomb goes off does the debris and shrapnel ever come together perfectly to create a structure of any sort? It never has, it never does and it never will! It would be ridiculous to suggest that this would be possible.

So, is it possible that the universe we see today (including ourselves) resulted from a "big bang" which took place billions of years ago? Is it possible that such an event of disorder, such as the big bang theory suggests, resulted in a universe of incredible order? It is evident and logical that some other power, being, or person was behind the creation of the universe. This higher power is the one who put everything into place. Let's not be ignorant of the order around us. Instead, let's observe it and come to the rational conclusion that our universe is not random, but planned and designed.

This is known as the Teleological argument. In summary, our universe is one of order. The idea that what we have today came from a random explosion is absurd. The more we look deeper the more we find order, and the more we find the work of a supreme being.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Is God really real? Cosmological Argument

A large portion of our nation still believes that God exists. However, there is a growing number of people who claim that there is no God. Many people have the idea that science and evolution have proved that God does not exist. As Christians, we cannot avoid these supposedly "scientific" claims. We need to look into them, and see if there is any validity. We need to be people of truth. If God is really real, we will find this to be truer and truer the more we dig deeper.

I am a Youth Pastor in Rochester, MN, and I am taking our youth students on a journey to discover the truth. Many of them have a lot of questions about our faith--why does God allow suffering? Why did God create people, knowing that some of them would go to hell? Considering that there are thousands of religions, how can we know that the Christian faith is the right one?

Before we get to these questions, we need to start at the beginning. This starts with our basic belief of God. Is God really real? We are even going to take it a step back further, and ask if we can even know if there is any evidence for a supreme being of some sort.

Before we go any further, I want to make one thing clear. Anyone who says that science has proven that there is no God and that Christianity is false is ignorant of what science is. The scientific method is as follows:

1. Ask a question.
2. Do background research.
3. Create a hypothesis, or a educational guess that can be tested.
4. Test that hypothesis through observations and an experiment.
5. Analyze the data from the experiment to come to a conclusion.

So, is it scientifically possible to prove that a spiritual and invisible God (which is what the Christian God is)  does not exist? Absolutely not. Why? Because the hypothesis that the invisible and spiritual Christian God does not exist is not able to be tested by an experiment or through observation. So, by the definition of what science is, it is impossible to scientifically prove that God does or does not exist. However, we can still look at the universe, our planet, and organisms, to help us discover if everything came by chance, or if there is a God, a supreme being, or some sort of intelligent designer behind it all.

So, is there evidence for a supreme being? Can we know that there is a God of some sort behind creation? I believe yes. Last Sunday our youth discussed something called the "Cosmological Argument." This is something Lee Strobel discusses in: A Case for a Creator.

In ancient times, many people groups believed that the universe was eternal; that is never had a beginning point. Today we know that this idea is false. To summarize it, Einstein had the idea (or hypothesis) that the universe had a beginning point, and it was later validated by using the Hubble Telescope. Scientists found that galaxies and stars are all moving away from each other. If we were to rewind this, the stars and galaxies would come closer together, until everything is in one place.

So, we know that our universe had a beginning point. This is where the Big Bang Theory comes into play. The main atheistic view is that about 13 billion years ago, there was a "Big Bang," of the matter which existed at the time. This big bang was the beginning of the universe, as everything that was created from this beginning point went flying away from each other. A couple other views include wormholes, multiple universes, and even aliens....

The Christian view is that God created the universe, and put it into motion.

From these viewpoints, and from pure logic, one can conclude that one thing is for certain: there has to be something that is eternal, without beginning or end. If you take a moment and think about it, there must be something or someone who never had a beginning. Some ancient cultures thought this was the universe itself. As Christians we believe that God is eternal. However, what do atheists believe today? Is the matter which collided together to create the big bang eternal? Are gases that created a reaction eternal? The interesting thing is, there has to be something that never had a beginning point. What was this thing? Or could it be a being? I think so.

It might just be my Christian bias, but I believe it is much more logical and even scientific to say that there is an eternal God who created the universe, our planet, and everything on it, than to say that matter has always existed, and one day it randomly collided together to create the universe, which includes everything we see here on earth.

Through experimentation and observation, science tells us the requirements for life to exist on a planet. This includes things like: the perfect distance from the perfect type and size of sun, the right amount of oxygen in the air, the perfect tilt of the axis of the planet, and liquid water, just to name a few. With the many other requirements needed in order for life even to exist, the odds of this happening are 1/1,000,000,000,000,000. How you pronounce that number I don't know, but I do know that life is extremely rare, and logically impossible if the universe is just an accident which came about by chance.

However, the idea that a God created everything, and created the Earth to sustain life, is not such an illogical or non-scientific thought after all! Unless one truly believes that what we see today, the complexity of life and our universe, happened by chance.

We have gotten to this point without talking about something very important, which is the fact that there must have been something or someone to cause the universe to come into being. The idea that the matter which already existed randomly and by chance exploded is ridiculous. There is always a cause when we have an effect (Kalam's Argument). When we look at the universe today, it would be quite ignorant to say that it all happened without a cause of some sort, along with some serious direction and designing!

What conclusion have we come to today? There is definite evidence for a supreme being of some sort, and intelligent designer. Logic and science tell us this, unless you truly believe that matter is eternal. The complexity of our universe, our planet, and ourselves also shows evidence for a creator. While this will not change the mind of the atheist, it should at least provoke some thoughts. It will also strengthen our faith as believers, to help us truly believer what we claim we believe, which is the fact that God is really real.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Hometown Syndrome

When we as Christians look at the Bible, we read of many amazing things that Jesus did. From feeding the 5,000, to walking on water, to casting out demons, and healing every kind of sickness, disease, and disability, Jesus did it all. However, there is a story in Scripture that appears in three of the four gospels. This is when Jesus goes to his hometown, Nazareth.

This story takes place in Mark 6. Up to this point in Mark, Jesus has already raised the dead, healed a paralyzed man, cast out demons, and calmed a storm, just to name a few. His fame began to spread all over Israel, as a man who spoke with authority, and backed up what he said with miracles. However, in Mark 6, when he went to his hometown, everything was different. In verses 5 and 6 it says: "He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith." I will repeat that part one more time: "He could not do any miracles there, except..." Jesus could NOT do any miracles there. And, the miracles that he did were "exceptions."

I read that verse growing up, and was always bothered by it. Then this summer I heard a word from an evangelist that sparked a lot of thought in me. Eric Samuel Timm was preaching and he mentioned this passage. He noted that he had also been bothered by it in the past. Until he realized something. Jesus's power never had any limitations, it was the people that put limitations on Jesus. 

That is just as true today as it was back then. Christ's power has no limitations, yet people still put their own limitations on Jesus. In this passage I can see Jesus going into his hometown. Seeing people that he grew up with. His old neighbors. His old friends. People who already had in their mind who they thought Jesus was, and what he was capable of. So, Jesus comes strolling in, wanting to preach the good news that the Kingdom of God is near, and perform miracles. Then, he runs into a roadblock. These people don't believe that he can do what is rumored about him. They hear that he healed the sick, and raised the dead. But they think: "I know Jesus. I know what he is capable of. He can't do that stuff!" They had a "lack of faith."

The church in America has been around for a few hundred years now. You go on the street and ask someone if they know Jesus, and they have at least heard of him. They probably know that he died for us, or something like that. Many people grow up going to church, going to confirmation, or maybe youth group. Everyone thinks that they know who this Jesus guy is, and what he is capable of. Some don't believe he ever really existed, while others think he was a good guy who did a lot good deeds. So, when they hear that he can heal, they laugh it off. They doubt it. They don't believe it. But then in other countries, where the gospel has gone in recent times, we hear of amazing miracles. I just went to Africa last month, where churches are constantly seeing God demonstrate his power. But we wonder, why doesn't that happen here in America?

The reason: the Hometown Syndrome. America has become Jesus's home town. Everybody recognizes his name. Everyone thinks that they know what he is capable of. They place limitations upon Jesus. Because of this, Jesus doesn't do any miracles. The only miracles he does are "exceptions," just like in Mark 6. We still hear of miracles in America, but they are very rare.

In other nations, where miracles occur more regularly, the church is constantly praying. They see a need, and they pray. They pray for someone with cancer, then after they pray they tell them to go to the hospital to get a scan, because the cancer is gone in Jesus name. They expect Jesus to move.They have no limitations on Jesus. They have no preconceived notions. No ideas of what Jesus is capable of, outside of what the Word of God tells them. So, God moves in His power. 

Jesus does not want the demonstration of his power to be rare. We need to stop placing limitations upon Jesus's power. This change starts in the church. Jesus has the power to do miracles, and he wants to do them through each of us. So, let's start praying for and expecting miracles. Let's start being bold and start stepping out for people who need a miracle. Let's truly expect of Jesus what we claim we believe, which is, Jesus heals. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Irrelevance of Relevance

There is an idea among many Christians today that we as the church need to become more relevant to the world around us. I completely agree with this! If the church is not a relevant source of influence within society, then we as the church are not operating the way God intends us to. However, many Christians have gone in the wrong direction in regards to becoming more "relevant."

I believe that the intentions of many Christians to become more "relevant" are honest and good. They want to reach out to the lost around them. I am all for that! However, many Christians believe that in order to properly reach the world we need to become more like the world, so we can better relate to them, and so they can better relate to us. In doing this they believe that they will become more "relevant" to those people.

In this attempt to become more relevant, Christians become completely irrelevant to the very people they are trying to witness to. If a follower of Jesus is no different from an unbeliever, why would anyone want to become a Christian? God commands us to be holy, a people set apart (1 Peter 1:16). We cannot neglect holiness for the sake of relevance. If relevance take priority over holiness, we then need to begin to question our motives and our intent. We can still be relevant and keep our holiness. In fact, part of the church being relevant is by the people within the church living holy lives. By doing this, Christians are no longer the people that can't party on Saturday night because they have church the next morning. But instead, the church is a people set apart from the world, not living for themselves, but for God.

Then there is the idea of making church services more "relevant." Let me be real and honest, I enjoy having drums, fancy lights, and sub-woofers at church. However, if our main focus to reach people is our cool music, we have lost the point. It needs to be about Jesus! If people aren't coming into our churches and eventually staying because of Jesus, then we are not accomplishing the mission that Jesus gave us to make disciples (Matthew 28:19), and we are becoming eternally irrelevant.

So, if our current attempt to be relevant is not the right way to reach the lost, what should we do? We need to be the church that God calls us to be! We can't forsake our holiness in order to be relevant. Instead, we need to stick to the message of Jesus, which transcends all periods of time and is always relevant! We as the church should not try to do anything else to win the lost! We shouldn't try to reach the lost with loud  and "relevant" music, or by being like them, but through the message of the gospel! It is only when we stick to Jesus, and what he did, that the church is truly relevant. Otherwise, in our own attempt to become relevant, we will become utterly and sadly irrelevant.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Slippery Slope of Liberal Christianity

There was a movement that began in the late 19th century that has had a very negative impact on the church. Today this movement is as strong as ever within the church, specifically the western church. It is important that we are aware of what this is, as it will affect the future of the church in America in a very serious way. This movement that I speak of is that of Liberal Christianity.

The term Liberal Christianity does not refer to "Liberal" in a political sense, rather a theological one. What does that mean exactly? Well, at the core of Liberal Christianity is the thought that the Bible is not the infallible and inherent Word of God. Therefore, the Bible is treated by Liberal theologians in the same way as other ancient documents are treated. In doing this, the ideologies of Christianity are drastically changed. 

Liberalism's roots were in the Enlightenment, or the age of reason. This is why man's reason and logic are equal or even elevated above Scripture in Liberalism. Where a Conservative theologian or Christian uses the Bible as the authoritative rule of faith and conduct, a Liberal theologian or Christian reads Scripture through the lens of modern thinking and reasoning. If the Bible says something different than what science is theorizing or people are philosophizing, then the Bible is either wrong or we are reading it wrong, according to a Liberal Christian.  

An example of an issue that is in an interesting phase in America right now is the topic of homosexuality. It is obvious in the Bible that homosexuality is a sin. This is really not an argument. However, many in the Liberal camp say that homosexuality is not a sin, and they accept the gay lifestyle. While I believe strongly that we should love homosexuals, the Bible makes it clear that homosexuality is a sin. However, Liberal Christians will not accept that homosexuality is a sin, because of their own reasoning. "Why would homosexuality be wrong if homosexuals are not hurting anyone?" "Why should we stop them from marriage if they truly love each other?" "People are born gay, so why should we change or oppose what God has created?" These are questions we have all heard from those who are in support of gay marriage, often times from Christians. This all stems from Liberalism, and denying the infallibility of Scripture in favor of mankind's own reason and logic.

If Scripture is not our foundation as Christians, we might as well make up whatever we want to believe out of thin air; Liberalism basically does this already! Our God has spoken to us through his Word, and we must stand firm to what God has spoken. Even if the Bible goes against our own human ideas of values, we must submit to God's values. We cannot get to the point of taking what we like from Scripture, but ignoring what we don't like. We can't get to the point where something is not "from God" because it doesn't make sense to us. God's Word is truth. When we put our own reason at the same level as Scripture, we get Liberal Christianity, and we get a mess. Liberalism truly is a slippery slope. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Prayer Changes Things!

Prayer is something that we as Christians all know we are "supposed" to do. The Bible tells us that our prayers are "powerful and effective," in James 5:16. If we truly believe what we claim to believe, should we not pray more? If we truly believe that our prayers carry power, and that they truly have an effect, shouldn't we pray more. If we believe that in prayer we are approaching the all-powerful and all-loving God, who has the power to do anything, should we not go to him more often? And, actually expect something to happen? Instead, far too often the extent of a Christian's prayer life consists of thanking God for their food. God does not want us to have some prayers in our life, he wants us to have a life of prayer! A life that realizes the need for God to intervene. A life of constant intercession for the lost. A life of dependence on God and His power. This is what having a life of prayer looks like.

Many issues within the American church and the lives of Christians stem from prayerlessness. If we as the church would just get on our knees before the Almighty God and ask for His divine intervention, God would move in a mighty way! If those of us within the church would develop a real life of prayer, a move of God would take place like we have never seen before. Instead, we are too caught up with the things of this world. Not necessarily sin, but other things that distract us from God and what really matters. If Facebook is a larger part of your life than prayer is, we have a problem.

We wonder why we don't see the power of God in America like we read in the Bible, or hear about in other countries. Why don't we see God perform miracles on a consistent basis? I believe the answer lies in our prayerlessness. Yes we pray for our sick. However, God does not want us to throw up a few prayers here and there, God wants us to have a life of prayer. It is only when we develop a life of prayer that we will truly witness the awesome power of God.

Then there is faith. Do we truly believe that our prayers do something? That they are "powerful and effective?" Or do we just pray every now and then because that is what good Christians do? Let's start truly believing what we claim we believe, and let our prayer life reflect it! God will move if we seek Him in faith. Not seek Him because it seems like the right thing to do, but seek Him because we believe he will move in power. For, our prayers truly are "powerful and effective." Our prayers change things. Our prayers access a power greater than us, and greater than anything in the universe. Our prayers call upon the omnipotent God to intervene. 

Our prayers do things. When we pray, things happen. We often get discouraged when we don't see our prayers being answered. When in reality, our prayers do so much more than we will ever be able to see. Our prayers truly are "powerful and effective." Let's start believing that! Let's start believing that God does not merely have the ability to answer prayers, but that he IS going to answer our prayers. Let's start believing what the Bible says, and believing that our prayers really do change things. Let's stop blaming God for the lack of answered prayers, and start taking action by coming before God consistently in faith.  

Our prayers are truly "powerful and effective." If you confess to be a Christian, I challenge you to develop a life of prayer. Find a time to prayer every day. Beyond this daily prayer time that you set aside, pray throughout your day. Pray when you wake up. Pray when you go to sleep. Pray on your way to work or school. Pray when you want to. Pray when you don't want to. I urge you to do this for the sake of this world. This world needs Jesus. We can change things through our prayers. Let's go!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Seeing is Believing?

Philosophy. As boring as the word may sound, philosophies throughout history have had a large impact on people. Many times without people even noticing, philosophies have been embedded and infused into cultures. Simply put,  a philosophy is a way of thinking. There have been many different ways of thinking throughout history, many of which are contrary to the Word of God. We as Christians need to be aware of these philosophies. Sometimes we wonder why it can be so difficult to be a Christian in America today. I hope to shed some light on a certain way of thinking that has been implanted in our culture, and that very much affects our thinking and analysis process.

There was a guy that lived in the 300's B.C. named Aristotle. I am sure you have at least heard of him. He had the idea that we can only know something is real if we can experience it through our fives senses. For example, in examining whether or not the electronic device that you are using is real, we must ask these questions: Can you see it? Can you hear it? Can you feel it? Can you taste it? Can you smell it? Your computer or smart phone is only real if you can experience it through your senses, or at least one of them.

A very simple way of putting this way of thinking, or philosophy, is a phrase that every person has heard before in reference to Santa: "Seeing is believing." It's the idea that if you cannot see something, or experience it with your senses, it's not real! This is an idea that is very much alive in America and the world today.

Now, this is where we run into a problem. For in Hebrews 11:1 we read: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and CERTAIN of what we DO NOT SEE." Faith is a central focus in the Bible. Our relationship with God hinges upon our faith. Faith is believing in something you cannot see! Or, experience with your five senses! Generally speaking, we can't physically see God, hear Him, taste Him, smell Him, or touch Him! However, faith is still believing, even when our five senses deny His existence. This is completely contradictory to Aristotle's philosophy.

Aristotle was Greek, which meant he first influenced the Greeks. However, his way of thinking soon spread to other people within the Greek empire. The Greek way of thinking was infused into the lives of the people over time. Therefore, when the New Testament was written, this philosophy of Aristotle was everywhere. Paul even addresses this way of thinking in relation to the message of the cross, in 1 Corinthians 1:20-25. Read this, and it will make a lot of sense considering Aristotle's way of thinking:

From this passage we see that mankind's wisdom will fail. The Greeks and the Jews are both pointed out here. The truth is, their ways of thinking were not much different from one another, because the Jews had been infused with much of Greek culture. It says in this passage that the Jews were demanding "signs" from God. They wanted to "see" before they "believed." I think this is true for much of us and other people today. We want to see with our eyes what God can do before we believe. While that does happen, and many people do believe because of what they have seen (i.e. Miracles), God tells us to believe even if we have not seen! That is what true faith is!

What we believe goes against the wisdom and philosophies of man, specifically this philosophy of Aristotle. We have wisdom from God. Therefore, let us stand on God's wisdom, not on the wisdom of this world. For, man's wisdom is foolishness compared to God's. The world rejects what we believe, and we should expect that! 1 Corinthians 1:18 says that "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing." If you are a Christian, God has opened your eyes to His wisdom; to truth, and reality. However, we all have people around us who still consider our beliefs to be foolish. This should be expected that they see it as foolish, but we need to pray for them. Each of us believers were once lost, but now we are found! We at one time believed the wisdom of this world, but now we believe the wisdom and truth of God! Be encouraged by this today, but may it humble you as well. Stay strong in the faith, and do not let the wisdom of this world sway you from truth.

Friday, April 12, 2013

"Be Holy, For I am Holy"

In 1 Peter 1:16, we are given the command by God: "Be holy, for I am holy." While this command is quoted here in the book of 1 Peter--which is in the New Testament--this original command from God to be holy is actually found in Leviticus (11:44-45 and 19:2)--which is in the Old Testament. Contrary to popular thought in Christian and church culture, just because something is in the Old Testament that does not mean we should disregard it. Being holy as God is holy somethings that God commands us to do. However, what does "holy" even mean? What does it look like? We have this command from God, how do we go about living it out?

"Be holy, for I am holy." First let's look at the word "holy." The simplest definition of this word is to be set apart. From this, we can gather that God is set apart, and that we are then called to be a people that are set apart.

The idea of God being holy--and set apart--speaks of his very nature. God is so set apart from everything and everybody else, that when we compare God to others, no one can compare. For example, let's look at God's creation versus some of mankind's creations. This is just one aspect that reveals how God is holy, but let's take a look to help us better understand the idea of God being holy.

Man has built some amazing things. From the pyramids of Egypt, to the great wall of china, to the empire state building, and even to the more recent technological advancements, we are able to see the incredible intelligence and ability that people have to create some amazing things. Now we compare man-made creations to what God created...

God created the entire universe, which includes billions of galaxies, which each include billions of stars, which each include their own planets, included in those planets is earth, which is filled with millions of species of plants and animals, as well as human beings, who are made up of trillions of cells. Oh, and by the way, God created mankind in such a way that we have the ability to think, and create things on our own. If God can create a human brain that can do that, just think of how far above us he really is! The truth is, God is holy. This example helps us see that. He is set apart from us puny human beings!

Now let's turn to ourselves. We are also called to be holy, to be a people set apart. This world is at a place where it accepts and practices many different lifestyles and practices that go against the standards of God that we find in Scripture. Just because the world accepts something, this does not mean we as Christians should. We cannot let the culture influence us in a way that pulls us away from the standards of God. Issues like drunkenness, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, pornography, deception, and many other things are everywhere around us, and very much accepted by our culture. However, we are called to be a people set apart for God. If our culture accepts something, that does not mean we should!

If our lives do not look different than those who are unbelievers, we have a problem. If God did not have the ability and the intelligence to create things in such a way that makes our creations as people look pathetic, then in regards to that specific example, he would not be holy. And with us as Christians, if nothing separates us and sets us apart from the rest of the world (outside of going to church on Sundays), we need to examine our lives and see where we are going wrong. We should be different than the world, and we SHOULD disagree with the world when it comes to morality.

My challenge to you today is to examine each part of your life. Are your actions, your thoughts, and your attitudes any different from unbelievers you know? If not it's time to change some things. Otherwise, don't bother calling yourself a Christian, because all it is doing is giving a bad name for Jesus. It's time that the church stops blending in with the culture and starts to do what we are called by God to do, thus following the command: "Be holy, for I am holy."