Wednesday, December 28, 2005

God's Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit – three words that send the Christian world into an apoplectic confusion. Ask five Christians a question about the Holy Spirit and you are likely to get up to five different answers. Why would this be given that the Holy Spirit is a very relevant figure throughout the Bible and particularly so in the New Testament?

The reason for the schism is varied, but generally comes down to a) a lack of serious study of the Bible by the average Christian b) a general avoidance of teaching by Church leaders on the realities of the Holy Spirit c) an over-emphasis of the surreal manifestation of the Holy Spirit as taught in the Bible (particularly by the Charismatic Christian movement) or d) all of the above.

All of this has combined to create much confusion and outright dissension among Christian groups with the result being an unfortunate lack of power displayed by the modern church in the face of a relentless spiritual battle with the secular non-believing world. Power is the key word. The Holy Spirit when properly understood, is the true power in the Christian’s arsenal. With the Holy Spirit’s guidance, the Christian movement operates with the limitless power of God.

But what is the Holy Spirit? Or more accurately stated Who is the Holy Spirit? Here is Jesus providing an answer to this very question in Luke 14:25-26 while He was talking to His disciples preparing them for His death, resurrection and return to Heaven: "All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit is a living being sent by God to the disciples then and to all believers since, to teach us and be a Counselor to us about the things of God.

The Holy Spirit is the way God shows us His love: “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:5); The Holy Spirit is the conscience of the believer: “I speak the truth in Christ--I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit…” (Romans 9:1); God’s true work in our lives is made credible only through the Holy Spirit: “I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:15-16); The believer’s own body is a residence for the Holy Spirit: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20); The Holy Spirit controls whether we profess the deity of Christ: “Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3); The Holy Spirit is God’s seal (His official stamp) on every believer:"… Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance…” (Ephesians 1:13-14); The Holy Spirit is grieved by a believer’s persistently bad behavior: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” (Ephesians 4:30); The Holy Spirit helps the believer to guard the precious Word that God gives to us: “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you--guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Timothy 1:14); The Holy Spirit provides the many gifts of God to all believers: “God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Hebrews 2:4); The Holy Spirit is the one through Whom God sends man His words of scripture: “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:19)

These are but some of the ways that God’s Holy Spirit works in the life of the Christian. But what happens if the believer does not believe in the Holy Spirit or does not know about the Holy Spirit or misrepresents the presence of the Holy Spirit? Unfortunately, these are the very pervasive problems facing large sections of the Christian community today. The result: a loss of the true power of God that could be working through us for His glory in a dark and dying world. Don’t believe me? Do any of the following represent the actions or behaviors of Christians that you know: marriage infidelity, impure thoughts or words, unreasonable attachment to things (sports, cars, work), jealousy of others, reading of horoscopes or belief in astrology, temper tantrums etc.? These are some behavior signs of an absence of the Holy Spirit working in one’s life: "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit; The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God...But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (Galatians 5:16-17; 19-23)

Many people have been literally scared off from any understanding or belief in the Holy Spirit due to the antics and misrepresentation of others...notably those who liberally flaunt the so-called display of “speaking in tongues”. This often-misunderstood gift of the Holy Spirit is so abused in modern American Christianity that it has served the purpose of bringing a staggering lack of credibility to Christianity, and brings dissension within the faith. The Bible is very specific about how and when this display of the Holy Spirit is to be used, and a general “broadcast” in a public forum is NOT one of them: “…So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?… If anyone speaks in a tongue, two--or at the most three--should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.” (1 Corinthians 14: 23, 27-28) The Apostle Paul provides a detailed understanding of the working of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians Chapters 12-14.

The Holy Spirit is an integral part of the believer’s life. Without Him you cannot function with the true power of God. The Lord explains Him very clearly throughout the Bible; if you are unclear, start with the Book of Acts and read the rest of the New Testament. If you are in a Church that will not discuss the Holy Spirit, ask why. Ask them to show you a scriptural basis for not doing so. I suspect they will fail to find it. As Christians we need to be equipped with the weapons that God provides to us to battle in the war that we face every day. Without the Holy Spirit, it’s like facing a sub-machine gun with a water pistol in your hand.

(All scripture courtesy of the NIV Bible)

Monday, December 26, 2005

2006 America: A Country Divided…

As we prepare to end the current year and look forward to 2006, there will be the usual retrospective of the year just finished on a number of different fronts: movies, music, fashion, culture, and politics. At first glance nothing out of the ordinary; we do this each year. However at closer inspection, one has to wonder is there a year soon coming when any retrospective on the year in the US will be done primarily by foreign countries looking back on the smoldering ruins of a once thriving empire?

In the Bible, Luke 11:17 says “Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: "Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.(NIV) On the verge of 2006, America is a house divided against itself. In politics, the two primary political groups square off daily in mortal combat. Against the backdrop of terrorists who’s stated goal is to destroy this country and our way of life – and who has already demonstrated the skill to do so, influential politicians ignore the realities of all means necessary to investigate and detect potential terrorists all because they despise the President currently sitting in office. They brazenly put their own self interest above the interest of protecting the lives of the citizenry. Their tactic is nothing new. Throughout the centuries, leaders of nations have abused their powers in the pursuit of their own self interest at the expense of their people. What is particularly galling in this case however is that the current danger to the American citizenry is not merely the loss of power and influence, the current danger is death on an unimaginably large scale.

America has been a “world power” for less than 100 years - a relatively brief period of time compared to the 400+ year world powers such as the Romans, Greeks, Babylonians and Egyptians. Each of those world powers were ultimately destroyed or brought to their knees because they had contempt for the God of the Bible. As we go through the early part of the 21st century, America has developed the very definite signs of a culture that has begun to have contempt for God. Though a majority of the population still consider themselves to be Christian, the secular minority has been much more energized to remove Christian influences from the culture starting in earnest with the removal of prayer from the public schools in the 1960s. As the children of that era now grow into their 40s and 50s, their taught sense of ambivalence to God has been naturally passed on to their children who in turn pass on an even more watered down version to theirs. The anti religious cycle is very easy to see as subsequent generations are more and more removed from the Christian sensibilities of the pre-1950s generation of Americans.

To those in the so-called religious communities God says in Lamentations 2-14: Your "prophets" have said so many foolish things, false to the core. They did not try to hold you back from exile by pointing out your sins. Instead, they painted false pictures, filling you with false hope.” (NLT) American religious leaders are very reticent to point out in very clear terms the perils of the “convenient Christianity” that pervades many church goers today. A consequence of this is the sneering uproar in the secular media over the fact that many churches decided to close on Christmas Day because it fell on a Sunday. A very pervasive thought in the minds of non-believers is that Christians are mostly hypocrites who don’t truly live what they preach. The convenient Christianity of 2005 America does nothing to dispel this notion.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina through God’s awesome power of nature literally brought a major American city to its knees. Americans openly wonder if the city will ever be the same again. Could it be that this was simply an object lesson to the rest of an increasingly ungodly nation of what God may do on a larger scale at some date in the future? He did it to Egypt, to Babylon, to Greece, to Persia. On 9/11, an astonishingly small number of individuals changed American history forever within a couple of hours. The world is replete with fanatics who are becoming increasingly capable of doing far worst.

The economic engine that drives America is incredibly susceptible to collapse due to the US trade imbalance with the rest of the world. The reliance on technology that sustains our economy can be brought to its knees by a cyber attack. The US reliance on foreign oil causes us to be deferential to Arab nations who’s stated goal it is to destroy the nation of Israel – the nation that God created. American politicians would do well to remember what God said about Israel in Genesis 12:3 - I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse. (NIV)

Despite America’s assertion of being a Christian nation, it’s true god is the god of materialism and self comfort. More people spend their Sundays in the shopping malls than in the churches. More money is spent on buying things (to add to the other things that we already own) as opposed to helping the world’s needy. Just turn on the TV and watch the round-the-clock orgy of commercialism exhorting us to worship by way of acquiring the latest…fill in the blanks. Regarding levels of debt spent in the mad pursuit of things God says in Amos 2:8 - At their religious festivals, they lounge around in clothing stolen from their debtors…” (NIV)

Going into 2006 America is indeed a country divided. From a beginning that was obviously blessed by God and acknowledged as so by the majority of the founding leaders and people, America is now hurtling towards a curse because of a lack of true acknowledgement of God by it’s latter day leaders and people.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The DaVinci Deception

With the wide commercial success of the Dan Brown book and the upcoming theatrical release of the Ron Howard movie, the DaVinci Code is sure to remain a relevant topic of spiritual conversation among Christians and non-believers alike. As a Christian, my main position on the book’s content is simply this: it takes a decidedly non-biblical view of biblical events, and perverts it in the name of supposedly true history. Some of the book’s details are so lurid as it relates to Jesus Christ (who the Bible presents as God in human form), that any credibility given to it especially by Christians is patently blasphemous.

God’s authorship of the Bible is clearly conveyed in 2 Timothy 3:16 - All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. (KJV) Here God is saying to us that everything written in the Bible is inspired by Him (not by the singular efforts of the human authors.) The DaVinci Code attempts to rewrite God’s written account in major ways, the details of which are not worth reprinting on this website. Suffice to say, it is yet another attempt by ungodly people to deceive as many as they can, and call Jesus’ finished work on the cross into disrepute.

The commercial success of the DaVinci Code does not give it credibility. In fact, it neatly fits into God’s paradox of calling people to focus on the few and not the many. Ultimately in this life God says to us in Matthew 7:13-14 - “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (NIV)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Atheists for Christmas

It appears that the "War on Christmas" controversy that has captured the attention of many in the US is not limited to our shores and may in fact be even more pronounced in England. An article by Simon Heffer published in the Daily Telegraph newspaper in London indicates that over there, political correctness is such that up until recently not even Church leaders were willing to stand up and demand that Christ not be taken out of Christmas.

There is an irony in this article however given that it's author is a self-professed non-believer in God or that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (thus the reason for the season). This however has not stopped him from acknowledging quite forcefully, the merits of Christianity's influence on the greater society, and the perversion which fuels those people who are aligned against it. People he adds who are far fewer in numbers and power than their rhetoric would suggest.

The author's reason for non-belief is quite common; he writes: "...I saw as a child that, having tried as hard as I could, I could not believe in God. I greatly regret this, but, despite extensive reflection, I can see no reason after all these years to revise my view. I accept the existence of Jesus Christ as a historical figure, but the Christian miracles are beyond me."

His need to "make sense" of the miracles of Jesus underscores a fundamental error for many who don't believe - that being that they exalt their minds (their ability to think) over what is plain to see to the eye of the simple. God alludes to this mindset most clearly in Romans Chapter 1: 19-20 - "...For the truth about God is known to them (people) instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God (NLT).

We were not created to understand everything. If so, there would be no need for faith. Our instincts know this but our minds often get in the way. Instinctively, Mr. Heffer knows the benefits of God to a society, and by way of his article eloquently cries out when others try to make the society Godless. To his own "unbelief" I prayerfully say: use your will, not your skill.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Intelligent Design - A Loser

"Intelligent Design" (ID) - a rather peculiar term that somehow fits with the contemporary times in which we live. It is a term that has risen to the forefront of the current American culture wars, as proponents push for it to be taught in school science classes while their opponents vehemently resist. But what is Intelligent Design anyway? Well simply put, it is a modern day way of saying God is the creator of life, and is to be presented as an alternative ‘theory’ to the theory of evolution. But since the word God is such a 'hot button' word in today's society, some of the presumably smarter of us who happen to believe in creationism decided that perhaps we can 'sneak' God into the schools by calling Him something else.

Well, predictably, their 'smart' counterparts in the secular movement weren’t buying the argument. As far as they were concerned, God or however you choose to refer to Him has no place being taught as science next to their revered theory of evolution. A Federal Judge in Dover, Pennsylvania agreed and today ruled that teaching "Intelligent Design" to high school biology students violates laws prohibiting the endorsement of religion in public school. Intelligent Design is not science and as such cannot be taught to schools in their jurisdiction. People say this is a landmark decision, because there are countless other school boards across the nation that are facing the same issue.

On this issue I have to agree with the secularists and atheists...but for a very different reason: If you want schools to teach about God, creationism and by extension the biblical history of the origins of life, then be bold about it and plainly say so! Don't reduce God to a modern day initialization (ID). Quite frankly I see this as further evidence of the lukewarm nature of contemporary Christianity. Jesus said in Revelation 3:15 - I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! He also said this in Matthew 10:32 - Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. (NIV). Since God has a Name, simple courtesy calls for Him to be referred to by that Name.

It is a lack of faith to assume that a watered-down pseudonym would be more palatable to modern day senses and as such would stand a better chance of being accepted by the very enemies of God. So the secularists basically said "not in our classrooms", go teach about "Intelligent Design" in your churches. Funny though, I can't recall seeing ID referred to as a name of God in any of the Bibles that I have read.

To the proponents of "Intelligent Design" I say this: if you want God taught to your children, then you be the primary teacher in your homes. Teach them about His Name - He has many, and Intelligent Designer is NOT one of them.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Tsunami Signs

This month marks the one year anniversary of the horrific Tsunami that devastated the Indian Ocean countries on December 26th, 2004, and since that time, scientists have undertaken many steps to try and understand the immense geological forces that combined to unleash the destructive waves that killed almost 300,000 people.

In 2005, a scientific team was brought together to study the ocean floor off the coast of Indonesia with a hope of learning how the gigantic waves were spawned after an undersea earthquake measuring 9.2 on the Richter Scale. Upon visiting the devastated islands in the region, the team reported being overcome by the still remaining scenes of destruction and trying to imagine the horror that faced the poor souls who experienced the coming waves that morning. During a documentary of their visit that is being broadcast on the Discovery Channel, one scientist remarked with incredible feeling that “the people died because they didn’t know the signs!” They didn’t know not to remain on the beach perplexed as to why the shoreline was suddenly receding. They didn’t know that upon feeling the earthquake that they needed to immediately run to higher ground. The scientist’s dejection was heartfelt and totally understandable.

It is this very feeling of a need to call attention to the warning signs that drive many Christians to literally annoy their friends and relatives by pleading for them to ask Jesus for forgiveness of their sins and to accept His free offering of salvation. Unlike the scientists who have studied long and hard to achieve their level of knowledge in their field of expertise, most Christians have come by their knowledge simply by way of a free gift from God – not from any unified sense of scholarship and natural insight. However for many the knowledge of the signs of coming destruction on this earth are everywhere, yet like the Indian Ocean beachgoers that morning, most people are completely unaware.

In the biblical Book of Matthew Chapter 24 verse 3, Jesus’ disciples asked him clearly to tell them the signs that would point to His return: As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" The Lord went on to discuss these signs throughout the rest of Chapter 24. He then added this comment towards the end of the Chapter: "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come…” (NIV)

It is because of these signs that true Christians implore others to accept the opportunity for salvation through Jesus Christ. The reality if you think about it, is that for most people their imminent end is not the literal “end of the world” but in fact their own mortality, their own individual death. None of the people on those beaches that morning knew that was going to be the day that “your Lord would come”.

The scientist was exactly right when he remarked “that it is our job; we should have warned people about the signs, and they would have had a chance to be saved…from that Tsunami." But there is a greater figurative Tsunami that awaits most people. As Christians we need to tell others about the signs.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Another Iran Hostage Crisis?

Conventional wisdom says that those who ignore history are bound to repeat it, and in the midst of the virulent debate about the Iraq war, the crusade against Christmas (which is really a crusade against Christ) as well as the other garden variety chaos in our modern world, a very interesting, and not very hidden development is ongoing that may very well eventually dwarf all these other issues of the day.

The script is very familiar: a maniacal nation leader is hell-bent (literally) on mass murder against people who he and a few million others deem unworthy of living (the people of Israel) and publicly states his ethnic cleansing intentions on what seems like a weekly basis. While our new leading character Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad comes out with a new verbal assault on Israel with alarming frequency, the passive United Nations (UN) wring their hands and continue to attempt to “negotiate” with him so that he may see the error of his ways, and dissuade him from continuing to develop Iran's nuclear weapons capabilities.

Though somewhat religiously biased and irreverent columnist Charles Krathhammer I believe accurately conveys the dangerous stakes at play:

Everyone knows where Iran's nuclear weapons will be aimed. Everyone knows they will be put on Shahab rockets that have been modified so they can now reach Israel. And everyone knows that if the button is ever pushed, it will be the end of Israel.

However, to all true Christians remember the following words of Jesus in Luke 12:4-5: “My friends, don't be afraid of people. They can kill you, but after that, there is nothing else they can do. God is the one you must fear. Not only can he take your life, but he can throw you into hell. God is certainly the one you should fear!” (CEV)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Religious Battlelines

I was watching a recent program on TV where the issue of the cultural effort to reduce the term Christmas and replace it with the term “holiday” was the primary topic. The focus of the moderator was on the public position or lack thereof of the Roman Catholic Church in the debate. The moderator who himself was a Catholic had two Roman Catholic priests on as guests to get their perspective on the silence of the Catholic church on this issue.

It was an interesting exchange as I thought the interviews revealed far more about the apparent position of the Catholic Church than just their views on whether Christmas was indeed being subverted by influential secularists, atheists and corporations. First of all, both priests agreed that the Catholic church have indeed been silent on the issue, with the consensus for this being that they had not been given any guidance from the Vatican on how or whether to address the issue. However, just as revealing was the priests’ assertion that the Protestant churches (primarily the Evangelical and Pentecostal groups) had essentially co-opted the role of religious leadership by their constant rhetoric in the public arena not only on the Christmas issue but on others as well. It appeared to be a bone of contention on the part of the priests that the more contemporary denominations had usurped a role that was “never given to them”. They pointed out however that mainline protestant denominations (i.e. Lutherans, Presbyterians etc.) has not been part of the issue.

I thought these interviews were quite revealing on the two issues. What effect can the Catholic church have (positively or negatively) on the fast moving moral issues of the culture, when by their own admission their ability to engage in cultural debates is dependent on the logistically challenging need for constant administrative and spiritual guidance from the Vatican. This position certainly appear to continually put Catholic leaders in being at least a step behind their secular counterparts in the fluid on going battle for the minds of people.

Secondarily, the objection of the priests to the more prominent role being forged by Evangelical and Pentecostal groups suggests a bit of antagonism towards these other denominations. The question to be asked therefore is: is the antagonism warranted? If this observation is indeed correct, this is simply the latest skirmish in a centuries old battle between the Catholic and Protestant communities. To be quite frank, the battle line is centered around the issue of who has the ultimate authority on religious matters: is it the Vatican through the leadership of the Pope or is it the Bible, which conveys virtual leadership on regular individuals through direct communication and guidance from God. Whatever your feeling is on this question, the reality is that the enemies of God has a laser like focus on opportunities to subvert the culture and spread their philosophy of secularism and humanism. Believers in Jesus Christ cannot sit passively on the sidelines or participate in inter-denominational skirmishes and expect that their influence on lost people will not be impacted.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Real Death Penalty

The state of California executed convicted killer Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams shortly after midnight on Tuesday December 13th, 2005. The notoriety of his case has once again fanned the flames of discord between supporters for and against the death penalty. In the run up to Mr. Williams’ execution all of his supporters cited time and again his changed life as evidenced by his authorship of children’s books advocating the perils of the gang lifestyle which ultimately led to his death.

In the religious community there is also another debate around this topic: that being whether or not God ‘approves’ of a legal ruling of death by any governing authority. The passions being what they are on this subject, you will likely hear from both sides that there is absolute proof in the Bible as to either position. Death penalty Christians may point to Old Testament scriptures such as Leviticus 24:17 which reads: “If anyone takes the life of a human being, he must be put to death.” Those opposing the death penalty may suggest that based on New Testament scripture, God demands mercy to all as proven in James 2:13 “…because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!" (NIV)

The fact is however there is no direct irrefutable guideline given by God in this area. What is direct is that the entire tapestry of the Bible is woven together to call all men into repentance through believing that Jesus Christ died for their sins on the cross and offers total forgiveness to all who will believe…that too includes ‘Tookie’ Williams.

Throughout all the publicity of his appeals, I have not heard any references to his asking for forgiveness of his sins through a belief in Jesus Christ. I may be wrong, and he may in fact have done this, but I have not heard evidence of such. What I have heard is a continual appeals process, request for clemency based on his “good works” and a general denial of any implications in the murder without any stated remorse for the lives lost in those murders. Generally his most recent public persona did not reflect a life that was characterized by the undeniable revelation of a true relationship with Jesus Christ. And this most of all is the tragedy in his case. Tookie Williams’ fate was clear. It was very likely that he was going to die at a very specific time – an opportunity that is not granted to most people. If he had not genuinely asked for forgiveness of his sins through Jesus Christ, then he died in defiance of Jesus Christ. If so, his fate is made very clear by the Bible in Revelation 21:8 “But cowards who turn away from me, and unbelievers, and the corrupt, and murderers, and the immoral, and those who practice witchcraft, and idol worshipers, and all liars--their doom is in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. This is the second death." (NLT)

For Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams on December 13th, 2005 he met his first death however it is very likely that on some predetermined date in the future that only God knows, he will face his second death. For his sake, I pray that I am wrong.

The Discovery Channel's Wisdom

So I’m watching the Discovery Channel recently and a program titled “Noah’s Ark – The True Story” comes on. The title of course caught my attention, as I like to watch anything on TV that appears to have a Christian component. The title right away suggested that I was in for a humanistic expose of something that must have been “untrue” in it’s original form – that being the story of Noah’s Ark in the Bible Book of Genesis Chapters 6 through 8.

Sure enough I was not ‘disappointed’. This program co-produced by the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) and the Discovery Channel took the approach that the Noah’s Ark story as told in the Bible could not have been accurate, because it violated the laws of Physics, Anthropology, Meteorology and so on. Their interesting take however was not to dismiss the story outright as a fraud, but to suggest more ‘plausible’ explanations for the details within the story.

One example: In the Bible God said to Noah “So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out” (Genesis 6:14). The program however indicated that it was impossible for the Ark to be constructed with wood, because wood could not have been bent to conform to the curvatures required of a ship. Therefore, the Ark must have been built with a more ‘appropriate’ material. Another example: In the Bible God said to Noah: “You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive.” (Genesis 6:19-20) The program countered that it would by physically impossible for Noah and his 7 family members to be able to collect all of the animals in the world to conform to God’s supposed requirement. Instead, they probably collected only the ceremonially clean animals of their region.

This program utilizes a very familiar approach when it comes to the systematic dissection of God’s Word by men who themselves were made by God – that being not to dismiss God’s Word outright, but to present a more ‘credible’ explanation that by definition causes God’s original Word to be "in error". The danger in this approach is for those viewers who are sincerely searching for truth. By using the so-called laws of the natural earth the program conveys a sense of accuracy to viewers who after all, live their lives in the natural realm. People are more accepting of such seemingly plausible explanations, because it fits in with their natural understanding of the world around them. However the true aim of this approach is to breed the seeds of doubt regarding God’s Word. After all, “how could God reasonably expect all of the animals in the world to be gathered into a single vessel within a relatively short period of time?”

This program as many of its kind tend to do, relies heavily on the corroboration of scientific experts to underscore its version of events. The experts simply confirm the lack of possibility in the events as explained by the Bible.

Faith however is a very interesting concept. The simplicity of the Bible is made so only by way of complete faith in what it says. Not by what limited human minds can “figure out” or comprehend. Hebrews 11:7 says the following - By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (NIV)

The Bible says Noah built the Ark by faith. My suggestion is that we (now some 6,000 years later) continue to believe this account also by faith. Otherwise the scientific experts are right. We can’t out-argue their wisdom based on natural laws. It is interesting to note however what God says about wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:19-20 - For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (NIV)

One last thing to consider: based on the wisdom of this world, just how did God manage to get that great big sun to hang there in the sky each day and provide us with light so that we could study and become so wise?

Saturday, December 10, 2005

God’s Separation of Church & State

There has been much talk in the culture recently regarding the desire on the part of certain elements of society to use the issue of a separation of church and state to essentially force all references to Christianity out of the public arena. Some examples include judicial attempts to remove Christian symbols and images from courthouses, state flags, public parks or other federally controlled land etc. Forty years ago the push began in earnest with the removal of prayer from school grounds. The official position by sponsors of this type of activity such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other secularists is that these symbols impose an ‘undue burden’ on the members of society who do not share a belief in the Christian religion. The fact that over 70% of the population views themselves as Christian and so are in favor of these symbols is irrelevant as far as passing the ‘undue burden’ test. Apparently it would not be an undue burden to them to have these images removed.

It is interesting to note that God too has a version of separation of church and state as well. In fact His version is likely to please groups such as the ACLU…at least in theory. His version is commonly known in Christian circles as ‘The Rapture’ - the sudden removal of all genuine Christians from the face of the earth. To illustrate this, please read the biblical verse below:

1 Thessalonians 4:15-18
I can tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not rise to meet him ahead of those who are in their graves. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the call of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, all the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with him forever. So comfort and encourage each other with these words. (The New Living Bible)

Oh the ACLU types will be thrilled – their opponents in the culture wars (the Christians) will indeed be separated from the state: physically and permanently!

The secularists will be able to reshape the culture in their own image. It is ironic to note that the shape of our current culture is close to that image now anyway. However, just think of their nirvana: no Christians to impose their outdated religious views on the rest of the enlightened world. No prayers being imposed on unsuspecting children in schools, no outcry against the aborting of children who are inconvenient. A blissful society indeed.

So just give it a little time all you fans of the separation of church and state, God is hearing your cry, and He will be responding in due time.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Religious Spokespersons

You’ve seen the cycle many times: a major event takes place either in the US or somewhere in the world (Sept. 11, the Asian Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, Earthquakes) and the media anxious to get a ‘religious’ take on the events rushes to the usual religious headliners to get God’s view on the matter at hand. To be certain, many times the media gives no real credibility to God’s perspective, but the need for such an angle fits their storytelling template. Many times though not always, the religious spokesperson provides feedback and analysis of the event by emphasizing: “what I think” or “what I believe” or “my faith teaches me” and then invariably, a skeptical media and audience is then allowed reasonably to take the position of “why is your opinion any better than mine?” or “you people are just a bunch of hypocrites” (I know I used to use that one a lot). This oftentimes has the effect of rendering the words of the spokesman to be of no more value than anyone else.

The most effective response that any Christian spokesperson can provide in any circumstances is to consistently reference the Bible as their source of analysis. Quote scripture if necessary (though I would highly recommend using an easier to understand translation) but whatever you do, use God’s Word as your primary source. The Bible has something to say on virtually anything that occurs in this world. It should – God created it! By stressing scripture above “your own feelings or analysis” you effectively disarm the skeptical masses by leaving them to contrast their position against the spoken word of God. A match-up people will lose every single time.

To be honest the viewpoint of one human being is just as valid as another regardless of their theological background. Sure the theologian is more educated in his field of expertise, however this means very little to the masses who simply “don’t believe”.

The Bible says that God’s word is “sharper than a two-edge sword” (Hebrews 4:12-13) and it is more than able to defend itself and be the absolute authority on these major issue of the day – which by the way appear to be happening with more rapidity in recent times. Ironically I suspect that a skeptical world will be asking repeatedly for biblical interpretations of such events as they continue to occur with more and more frequency.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Funerals for the Unsaved or Unbelievers

I am not a leader of a church, but I oftentimes wonder how does one lead a funeral service for someone who dies without knowing Jesus Christ as Lord? Admittedly I have not been to many funerals in my lifetime, though they are appearing to come more frequently lately, but the fact is that funerals are held daily throughout the world and as such this is a pertinent question to someone just about every day.

I’ve been to the funeral where the person lived a fairly routine life, taking care of their families and other responsibilities as best they could, paying taxes and doing the average things that we as human beings do on a consistent basis. They however had no visible relationship with God through His son Jesus Christ. When this person dies, the surviving family members are oftentimes left scrambling trying to find a person and a place to officiate the funeral services – generally because the deceased did not have a regular church that they attended. Funeral homes sometimes serve this function, but then the services are led by someone who knows very little about the deceased. It is common that biblical scripture is read and perhaps a worship song or two is sung. But it does raise the question (an admittedly awkward one): what is the connection between the scripture and the life just lived or more importantly is there any significance on the lives continuing?

The biblical Book of Ecclesiastes Chapter 7: 1-2 says the following:

A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. (NIV)

The fact of the matter is that death is appointed to everyone (Hebrews 9:27), and funerals unlike most other functions in life, is a place where people are forced to examine their own mortality. If the suggestion is going to be made that the departed is living “in a better place”, then the reason why ought to be given. Is it because they were a good person? They gave consistently of themselves to charity? They were devoted to some religious belief? Whatever the case is, I can guarantee you that the audience in the funeral service wants to know.

If during the service biblical verses are read, hymnals are sung and so on, then it is extremely deceptive to suggest that the departed is “in a better place” if their life showed no evidence of living for God through Jesus Christ. If there is no one who can confirm that the departed accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord at some point during their life, then the effect of such a service is to continue deceiving most of those in attendance that they themselves can continue on unchanged in their life until their inevitable death and go to that “better place” also. You will not find any evidence of this possibility in the Bible. As such, it should not be used unless it is being used in its true Spirit and intent – to spur people to salvation through Christ alone.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Jesus Fish Symbols

Many modern Christians have taken to using the 'Jesus Fish' car emblem to identify themselves as Christians to their fellow motorists. There are some who debate that the fish symbol pre-dates Christ and may have it's roots in paganism. Whatever the case, most modern Christians relate to the fact that early century believers in Christ utilized this symbol to identify themselves to other believers during a time of intense Christian persecution during the Roman Empire.

What is our responsibilities as motorists if we choose to use this very public representation of allegiance to Christ? One of the most obvious is to drive with more respect and care than the average motorist. When people see your 'Jesus Fish' adorned car, do they see at times running of red lights, speeding, examples of road rage etc.? If you can answer yes to any of these, what must others think of Christians or Jesus as a result? Probably that they are no different than anyone else. That they have no respect for the rules of the road "just like we do"! The worst part is it can bring Christ into disrepute.

It is obvious that we have a responsibility to let others see the attributes of Christ as a standard part of our Christian walk. As part of this fallen human race we fail many times like others. But in this area (given that it is so public) let's try and be mindful of the effects of our actions, on the view others may have of Jesus.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Coming Rise of Stem Cell Research

The government sponsorship of embryonic stem cell research has already become a divisive issue in modern culture and I predict it will become even more so in the next few years. On many issues, there is a clear dividing line that separates those who’s decision making are guided primarily by absolute moral ethics verses those who adjust their philosophy based on the transitory popular or emotional sentiment. I suspect however when it comes to the issue of federal funding and thus advocacy for more stem cell research, this dividing line will begin to disappear. The prospect of uncovering cures for killer illnesses that has impacted millions of lives will be too emotional a burden for most people regardless of their ideology. Most people will relate first and foremost to the wrenching impact of losing a loved one or preventing the loss of a future loved one, if stem cell research can produce the breakthroughs that the scientists suggest. But at what cost and to whom?

Scientists speculate that stem cells hold great potential for treating or curing illnesses, including juvenile diabetes and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Stem Cells and the Future of Regenerative Medicine, a new report from the National Academies, says that public funding of research on human stem cells derived from both adults and embryos provides the most efficient and responsible means to fulfill the promise of stem cells for achieving medical breakthroughs.1 The real promise say the scientists is in the lines of embryonic stem cells. Couples who have difficulty conceiving, go through the process of artificial fertilization in an attempt to get pregnant. It is common that in this process multiple “spare” embryos are created. The unused embryos are then discarded. The stem cell proponent’s theory is based on their interpretation that these embryos do not constitute legitimate human life. This despite the fact that it is the very humanness of the embryos that make them valuable to the scientists. Instead of throwing them away, the proponents argue that the embryos be allowed to be used for stem-cell harvesting instead. Why not use these "spare embryos" to help save lives?

Biblically, I submit that the original problem is not initially with stem-cell research, but the earlier decision to sanction another scientifically driven process namely artificial fertilization. The moral dilemma attached to embryonic stem cell harvesting is the inevitable slope that you take when you reject God's decision or timing - in this example, by not accepting apparent infertility, and working around it using human effort.

The skeptic may state: who's to say that God did not allow the knowledge of artificial fertilization in order to allow for child bearing?

I think a biblical answer to such matters can be found in the Book of Genesis, when Abraham and Sarah performed their version of artificial fertilization some 4,000 years ago (also working around apparent infertility). The outcome? Ishmael – the son born to Sarah’s Egyptian slave - and the world is still paying for that decision in the form of Ishmael's offspring the Arabs (September 11th being a vivid example). God was very predictive about this offspring when He said among other things in Genesis 16-12 "...his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him."

As the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:12 "...Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial.” Just because man can "create life" via artificial fertilization, doesn't mean that he should. Please note: this statement is not a value judgment on the children that have resulted from artificial fertilization, because ultimately it is still God who allows them to be born.

1- Stem Cells and the Future of Regenerative Medicine (2002) - Commission on Life Sciences

Christianity Under Attack?

This Christmas season there has been a lot of talk about the attempts on the part of secularists to systematically remove all signs of God out of the public arena. The extent of this phenomenon may be debatable, but taken to the extreme it could amount to a form of persecution of the faith of those who believe in God. As we consider our opinions on this issue however, a word of caution. In modern western cultures, how far are Christians really willing to go to stand up for what they believe? Consider the following as an object lesson of true persecution:

“…Nine years ago in South Pyongan province, a unit of the
North Korean army was assigned the job of widening a highway connecting
Pyongyang to the nearest seaport. Demolition of a house standing in the way
revealed, hidden between two bricks, a Bible and a list of 25 names: a Christian
pastor, two assistant pastors, two elders and 20 parishioners. The 25 were all
detained and, later that month, brought to the road construction site, where
spectators had been arranged in neat rows. The parishioners were grouped off to
one side while the pastor, the assistant pastors and the elders were bound hand
and foot and made to lie down in front of a steamroller. As if following a
script written in early Roman history, they were told they could escape death by
denying their faith and pledging to serve Dear Leader Kim Jong II and Great
Leader Kim Il Sung. They chose death. Some of the parishioners ... cried,
screamed out, or fainted when the skulls made a popping sound as they were
crushed beneath the steamroller."
– Excerpted from "Christians Afoot" - William F. Buckley

I hope the above puts our lukewarm Christian living into some perspective. These people undoubtedly showed their persecutors how important Christ is in their lives. As we live our lives of creature comfort desires and indignation at petty slights, can we say the same?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

HIV Pandemic Surging

December 1, 2005 marks the 18th "World AIDS Day" and this global pandemic continues to increase at varying rates throughout the world . Millions have died, millions more have the virus that causes the disease (many without even knowing it), and millions of dollars continue to be spent on drug treatments. However as you read the vast majority of the material on this epedimic particularly in the media, virtually absent from any prevention discussion is the most sure-fire way of avoiding transmission - abstinence. Educating people about refraining from having sex with multiple partners is the best way to avoid getting this killer disease. Media accounts will not state the obvious: the number one reason for the continued spread of AIDS is the rampant acceptability of casual sex throughout the current world culture.

Simply put: AIDS will not stop growing because a morally bankrupt world culture refuses to change its ways. I write this not in condemnation, but in the hope of exposing the primary prevention method that unfortunately you will hear little about in the modern world media.

A God who sends people to Hell?