December 20, 2012

The Longest Descent

This was a big drop. On October 14, 2012 Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner set a record by jumping from an altitude of approximately 128,100 feet. To give you an idea of how high that is, consider that a commercial airliner typically flies at about 30,000 feet. That's only 5.68 miles high. Baumgartner's Red Bull Stratos jump was from over 24 miles. He was so high that he had to wear a pressurized space suit. You can clearly see the curvature of the earth in the video of the jump.

I like to think that because of all the Red Bull I've consumed I was part of making this happen.

There are some edited versions of the jump, but I think you should watch the full version to get the feel for how long this guy fell. (He actually jumps 3:30 minutes into this video.) He was in free fall for close to four and a half minutes and even broke the speed of sound on his descent.

That jump may seem impressive to you, but it is not the greatest descent ever recorded. Long ago, someone else descended from a much, much higher position. Consider this from Philippians 2:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
    taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

No one has ever came down as far as the Son of God came down in humility. He existed eternally as God, but was willing to let go of those privileges and to put on genuine humanity. Jesus left the glory and comforts of heaven to live as human being. Not only that, but He, the Creator and Lord of the universe, became a servant. He came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mt. 20:28.) He served even to the point of death, and the most painful and humiliating death of all--crucifixion. 

When you celebrate Christmas, remember that Christmas is about the biggest descent of all time. Christmas is about the voluntary descent of the Son of God so that He could become fully human (and yet fully God). But Christmas was only the start. On Good Friday, Jesus completed His descent by dying on the cross as a substitute for everyone who would put their trust in Him as their Sin-bearer. That is why the Son of God came to earth. Remember that this Christmas.

However, there is one more thing to remember. For man, what goes up must come down. But for the Son of God, the route was reversed. Philippians 2 continues:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

    to the glory of God the Father.

September 30, 2012

Double Jesuses and Play-Doh

It must be difficult those pastors who want to support same-sex marriage and still use the Bible. This summer as I was preparing to perform a wedding it struck me how difficult it would be to explain a particular passage if I were an advocate of same-sex marriage. So for those who are pushing for the transformation of marriage and are at a loss to explain this passage in a modern and progressively acceptable way, I have some ideas to help. But first I need to describe the problem.

The couple I was going to marry (a guy and a girl) specifically asked me to preach on Ephesians 5:22-33 as the text for their wedding message. Read this passage and think of the conundrum this would be for a supporter of gay marriage. The Apostle Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her (vs. 25). Wives are to submit to their husbands and “as the church submits to Christ” (vs. 24). Now, even if we leave aside the sticky issue of submission it still leaves a big problem. 'Husbands' and 'wives' are viewed as two distinct things that are not interchangeable. It describes marriage as corresponding to the relationship between Jesus Christ and the church. And since there is only one Christ, and only one church—and since Christ and the church are not the same—this passage presents us with a very narrow-minded interpretation of what a marriage is supposed to be.

The problem gets worse as we read on. Paul explains:
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
To start with, Paul quotes from Genesis 2:24—also quoted by Jesus (Mt. 19:5)—which describes marriage as being created by God, from the beginning, as the union of one man and one woman. Further, when Paul talks about this being a 'mystery' he is using a technical term meaning a ‘previously unrevealed truth.’ This means that God, from the beginning, created marriage to illustrate the relationship between Jesus Christ and something else. Thus, for many of today's politically correct pastors this passage would be considered hopelessly heterocentric. It would be hard for them to preach this passage to a progressive audience without giving the impression that Paul, Moses, and Jesus were all "on the wrong side of history."

If I were a pastor who wanted to promote same-sex marriage I would avoid passages like Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, and Ephesians 5:22-33 like the plague. But if you support same-sex marriage and you are pressed into a situation where you have to deal with Ephesians 5, here is my (less than serious) suggestion of what to do: Since there is no politically correct way to explain Ephesians 5:22-33 in a way that the authors of the Bible would have agreed with, you might as well rewrite the whole thing in a way that is much more same-sex friendly. Since Christ and the church are not the same thing, one of them has to be swapped out. So, to make a nice matching pair, just replace the church with another Jesus. After all, two are better than one. Now, you can explain that marriage is like the union of one Jesus with another matching Jesus. This is the perfect analogy for a same-sex marriage.

I also have a second great suggestion for today’s progressive wedding ceremony. In an old-style wedding, when the couple exchanges rings, the pastor will often make some comments about what the rings symbolize—being a circle symbolizes that marriage is unending, and being made of gold symbolizes that it is precious. Instead, have the wedding rings made out of Play-Doh. That way the pastor can talk about how the rings symbolize that we can twist and shape marriage into anything we want.

September 13, 2012

Cruciform Love in Marriage

What passes for love today is usually nothing more than feelings of attraction or self-gratification. To know what love really is we need to look to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

In his excellent book on marriage, What Did You ExpectPaul Tripp describes this as cruciform love--that is, love that shapes itself to the cross of Christ. Tripp defines this type of love as "willing self-sacrifice for the good of another that does not require reciprocation or that the person being loved is deserving" (188). 

Tripp then unpacks this with about two dozen examples of what cruciform love looks like in a Christian marriage. This section is so powerful and convicting that I can only read a short bit at a time without stopping--sometimes to ponder, and sometimes to put the book down and act on it. In the book these descriptions are longer, but I think it is worth listing his points as insights for God to use to help us look at our hearts and actions.

  • Love is being willing to have your life complicated by the by the needs and struggles of your husband or wife without impatience or anger. 
  • Love is actively fighting the temptation to be critical and judgmental toward your spouse, while looking for ways to encourage and praise.
  • Love is the daily commitment to resist the needless moments of conflict that come from pointing out and responding to minor offenses.
  • Love is being lovingly honest and humbly approachable in times of misunderstanding, and being more committed to unity and love than you are to winning, accusing, or being right. 
  • Love is a daily commitment to admit your sin, weakness, and failure and to resist the temptation to offer excuse or shift blame. 
  • Love is a daily commitment to grow in love so that the love you offer to your husband or wife is increasingly selfless, mature, and patient. 
  • Love is being unwilling to do what is wrong when you have been wronged but to look for concrete and specific ways to overcome evil with good, 
  • Love is being a good student of your spouse, looking for his physical, emotional, and spiritual needs so that in some way you can remove the burden, support him as he carries it, or encourage him along the way.
  • Love means being willing to invest the time necessary to discuss, examine, and understand the problems that you face as a couple, staying on task until the problem is removed or you have agreed on a strategy of response.
  • Love is always being willing to ask for forgiveness and always being committed to grant forgiveness when it is requested. 
  • Love is recognizing the high value of trust in a marriage and being faithful to your promises and true to your word.
  • Love is speaking kindly and gently, even in moments of disagreement, refusing to attack your spouse's character or assault his or her intelligence. 
  • Love is being unwilling to flatter, lie, manipulate, or deceive in any way in order to co-op your spouse into giving you what you want or doing something your way. 
  • Love is being unwilling to ask your spouse to be the source of your identity, meaning and purpose, or inner sense of well-being, while refusing to be the source of his or hers.
  • Love is the willingness to have less free time, less sleep, and a busier schedule in order to be faithful to what God has called you to be and to do as a husband or a wife. 
  • Love is a commitment to say no to selfish instincts and to do everything that is within your ability to promote real unity, functional understanding, and active love in your marriage. 
  • Love is staying faithful to your commitment to treat your spouse with appreciation, respect, and grace, even in moments when he or she doesn't seem to deserve it or is unwilling to reciprocate. 
  • Love is never letting the failure of your spouse become a reason for changing the rules of the game.
  • Love is the willingness to make regular and costly sacrifices for the sake of your marriage without asking anything in return or using your sacrifices to place your spouse in your debt.
  • Love is being unwilling to make any personal decision or choice that would harm your marriage, hurt your husband or wife, or weaken the bond of trust between you.
  • Love is refusing to be self-focused or demanding but instead looking for specific ways to serve, support, and encourage, even when you are busy or tired.
  • Love is daily admitting to yourself, your spouse, and God that you are not able to love this way without God's protecting, providing, forgiving, rescuing, and delivering grace.
  • Love is a specific commitment of the heart to a specific person that causes you to give yourself to a specific lifestyle of care that requires you to be willing to make sacrifices that have that person's good in view. 
Let me also add, love is reading this list and thinking about your own heart rather than the shortcomings of your wife or husband. As Christians, this is the kind of genuine love that we need to seek by God's power and grace.

August 10, 2012

Evidence from Design in the Universe

Design points to a designer. If we see evidence of intelligent design in the universe, then the reasonable conclusion is that this evidence points to an intelligent designer. 

For example, if you see rocks scattered in a random pattern on a beach, you would not assume that someone arranged them.  If you saw that the rocks were arranged so that the smaller ones were closer to the water, and the bigger ones away from the water, you would assume that they had been washed to those places by the waves.  Again, this would not be an example of intelligent design.  However, if the rocks spelled out the words “Nate Archer was here” then you would conclude that someone must have arranged the rocks. 

When you see something that is complex that communicates specific information, you know it was caused by intelligent design.  Let me give you another example.  If you saw a rock formation that looked somewhat like a person, you would probably assume it was a coincidence.  However, if you saw a mountain that looked exactly like the heads of four U.S. presidents, you would never assume that it just happened by chance.  You would assume that someone designed it and made it that way on purpose. 

This isn't a "God of the gaps" argument; instead it is what is known as "inference to the best explanation." Even in the world's fallen state, I believe that when we look honestly at the world around us overwhelming design we see should push drive us to realize that there is something greater than an accident at work. 

We see amazing examples of design in the design of the universe and the planet earth as well as the design of life. There are great books that go into more detail about these examples of design, but here are a few samples about the design of the universe that impress me: 

The Design of the Universe

  • The oxygen level on earth is 21%.  If the oxygen level was 25% fires would erupt spontaneously.  If the level was 15%, human beings would suffocate.
  • According to a UCLA research physicist, if the gravitational constant in the universe was different by 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000001% our sun would not exist and neither would we.  To get an idea of how precise this is, imagine a radio dial that stretched across the entire universe.  This radio dial represents every possible value that the gravitational constant might have been.  If you moved the dial one inch to the right or one inch to the left, the universe would not be capable of sustaining life.   
  • The fine-tuning of the cosmological constant has been called the single greatest problem facing physics and cosmology today.  The fine-tuning of the cosmological constant has been conservatively estimated to be at least one part in a hundred million billion billion billion billion billion.  That is 10 followed by 53 zeros.  That would like throwing a dart at random from the far reaches of space and hitting a bull’s eyes on earth that is smaller than the size of an atom.
  • Assuming the Big Bang, if the universe had expanded at a rate one millionth more slowly than it did, the universe would have stopped expanding and collapsed back in on itself before any stars had formed.  If the universe had expanded faster, no galaxies would have formed.
  • There are many other factors that need to be just right for life to be possible, including the size of the earth, tilt of the earth, the distance of the earth from the sun, the right kind of star, the transparency of the atmosphere, the existence of the right kind of a moon, seismic activity, Jupiter, water vapor levels, and the list goes on.  Astrophysicist Hugh Ross has calculated that there are 122 of these variables in all (and they are constantly finding more.)  Dr. Ross has calculated that the odds of any planet in the universe having all of these correct variables would be one chance in the number 1 with 138 zeros after it.  This is incredible when you consider that the number of atoms in the entire universe is only 1 with 70 zeros after it!  (And remember, each zero makes the number ten times larger.)  The number of planets in the universe is only 1 with 22 zeros behind it.  Therefore, we would be absolutely shocked that there is even one single planet in the universe with all of the factors needed for life!
A hardcore skeptic might say that we shouldn’t be surprised at the odds because if life were impossible, we wouldn’t be here to notice. They often say that it would be like someone who was about to be killed by a firing squad but survived because all of the guns happened to jam.  The odds are bad for that to happen, but if it didn’t happen the man wouldn’t be around to notice. This is a poor example. If 19 guns jammed all at once, you would naturally assume that someone had sabotaged the guns… an act of design! If billions of guns jammed all at once, no one would assume that it was blind chance!

There are also massive amounts of evidence for design in the design of life. However, I will save that for another post. The design in the universe and the earth is enough to chew on for a while.

Consider these quotes: 
“Through my scientific work I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact… I cannot believe that our existence in this universe is a mere quirk of fate, an accident of history, an incidental blip in the great cosmic drama.”  -Paul Davis, prolific science writer and former professor of theoretical physics at University of Adelaide, Australia
 “I do not believe that any scientist who examines the evidence would fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed with regard to the consequences they produce in stars.”  -Sir Fred Hoyle, eminent astrophysicist
Even though our world is fallen and marred because of sin, I don’t believe that you need to be a scientist to look out at the world and realize that it was designed by an intelligent creator.  I believe that this fits perfectly with that Paul wrote in Romans 1:18-21, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” In fact, the evidence of design in the universe and life is what finally caused the famous atheist philosopher and debater Antony Flew to renounce atheism in 2005.  

See also The Creator and the Cosmos by Hugh Ross, and The Privileged Planet by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards. Examples also drawn from I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, as well as The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel.  

The Universe: Caused, Self-Caused, or Uncaused?
Faith With Reasons
How God Lets Us Know He Exists
Just Like Earth?
Universe, Create Thyself

July 21, 2012

Finishing Monopoly Faster

My oldest son knows how to play Monopoly now and wants us to play it all the time. Monopoly is a classic but we all dread playing it because it can drag out to four or five hours.

So, when we play, I set the alarm on my iphone to go off in one hour. After the alarm sounds, all payments to other players are doubled. (Payments to and from the bank stay the same.) This allows us to bankrupt each other more quickly. Then we set the alarm again to give us another hour (or so) of play. When it sounds, whoever has the most cash is the winner.

There you have it. No deep message; just a tip on playing monopoly.

June 27, 2012

When God Seems Like a Bad GPS

Sometimes a badly programmed GPS can seem to make more sense than following God. We expect God to take us on the most efficient route to our destination, but He doesn’t. Sometimes, we get driven right into a lake.

This shouldn’t surprise us, since God did the same thing to the Israelites as He was bringing them out of Egypt. These people were being directly led by God. He led them as a pillar of cloud during the day and as a pillar of fire at night. (I don’t think many of these people were writing books at this time debating the existence of God or the difficult mystery of finding God’s will.) Wherever the pillar went, the people followed as God set the route. And from the way God led them, we can learn at least two things about the way that God sometimes leads. God leads us for what we need and for His glory.

God leads us for what we need. In Exodus 13:17-18 we read:
 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’ But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.  And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle.
God knew that the direct route would not have been good for the Israelites. They thought they were ready for a fight, but they weren’t. Out of His wisdom and love for His people, He would not give them what they wanted right away. It would not have been good for them. 

God leads us for His glory. Then we read that God specifically led them to the sea so that He would get glory over Pharaoh and His army. Exodus 14:1-4 reads:
 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, ‘They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.’ And they did so.
First God leads them away from the direct route. Then He leads them to the sea and pins their back against the wall. The point is that you can be following God, exactly like you should be, and He may lead you on a detour or He might lead you into a tight place. 

In those situations, you might be tempted to think—as the Egyptians would have thought—that God no longer has your best interests in mind. You might think that God has abandoned you, or that He no longer cares, or that God is not in control, or that He is mad at you, or that He no longer loves you.

I don’t know what kind of curve ball God might have thrown into your plans, but remember that the God of the Bible is not like the capricious gods of the Egyptians; He faithful and keeps his promises. When God leads you on a detour or into a tight place, remember: God leads us for what we need and God leads us for His glory.

June 1, 2012

City in Vietnam or Jedi Master


This may be the stupidest thing I've ever created... or the most awesome.

(You may not be able to view the slide show on mobile devices. If so, click here or check back later from a computer.)

May 29, 2012

The Universe: Caused, Self-Caused, or Uncaused?

The First-Cause Argument 

Why is there something rather than nothing? This is a big question. Everything that we see around us was caused by something else. The chair you are sitting on was built by someone. The screen you’re using to read this was built by someone. You yourself were caused by your parents, and they were caused by their parents. Like a chain of dominoes, everything we see was caused by something else.

This idea of cause and effect is at the heart of the first-cause argument for God. This family of arguments is also known as the cosmological argument because cosmos is the Greek word for world. There are different forms of the cosmological argument, but one that I find very persuasive goes like this:

·         Whatever began to exist has a cause.
·         The universe began to exist.
·         Therefore, the universe has a cause.

This argument is based on the law of cause and effect: whatever began to exist has a cause. However it is very important to state this law correctly. This law does not state that everything has a cause. Misstating the law like that results in the inevitable question, “Well, if everything has a cause, then what made God? Got ya!” I’ve heard university professors dismiss the first-cause argument in this way, demonstrating that they did’t really understand it in the first place. Instead, it is important to state that everything that began to exist must have a cause. If something never had a beginning—if it is eternal—then it didn’t need a cause. (In philosophy, this type of being would be referred to as a necessary being rather than a contingent being.) Therefore God doesn’t need a cause since God is eternal and never started to exist.

Further, if the universe has a cause, this cause must be outside of the universe. This is true since everything that has a beginning is caused by something outside of itself. Also, the chain of cause and effect cannot go back forever. There has to be a first-cause—a first domino that was pushed. Therefore, there has to be an eternal first-cause that exists outside of the universe and is powerful enough to bring the universe into existence. If this is true, it is a strong argument for the existence of God.

Caused, Self-caused, or Uncaused?

Let’s think about this another way. Was the universe created, self-created, or uncreated? There are only three options. Either (a) the universe was uncaused, or (b) it was self-caused, or it was (c) caused. If you’re having a discussion with someone, write these three options on a napkin and the other person to pick which one he or she things is correct. If you’re thinking through this for yourself, which one do you think is correct?

We can eliminate one of these three options right away. It is impossible for the universe to be self-caused.  That would violate the law of non-contradiction. The law of non-contradiction states that something cannot be both “A” and “Not-A” at the same time and in the same way. For example, something cannot be both “completely blue” and “not completely blue” at the same time and in the same way. But if the universe was self-created, it would need to exist and not-exist at the same time and in the same way. Unless the universe existed, it would have no ability to create anything—because it doesn’t exist. But if it already exists, it doesn’t need to be created! Therefore the universe cannot be self-caused. Being self-caused or self-created simply doesn’t make sense. We should eliminate it as an option.

If the universe is not self-caused it must be either caused or uncaused. If it is uncaused, there are two theoretical options: the universe could have came into existence with no reason, or it could be eternal and therefore does not need a cause. The first of these options—that the universe came into existence without a cause and for no reason—asks us to sacrifice a lot. That idea would sacrifice the law of cause and effect as well as the principle of sufficient reason. I do not think we should consider this a serious option. From nothing nothing comes. 

A more common response is to proposed that the universe itself is eternal. After all, it is asked, if something must be eternal, why can’t this thing be the universe rather than God? That is a valid question, however I believe there are two solid replies to this, one scientific and one philosophical.

1. The scientific reply is that eternal existence of the universe doesn't fit the current scientific understanding of cosmology. The eternal existence of the universe seemed possible when the dominant model for the universe was the steady state theory. However, the steady state theory has been supplanted by the Big Bang model, and one of the significant implications of the Big Bang theory is that is includes a beginning to time and space. In fact, some scientists resisted converting to the Big Bang theory because of this implication. If the universe began with the Big Bang, we need to ask what caused the Big Bang. The Big Bang is not something eternal and it did not cause itself. (Please note: This argument does not require anyone to believe in the Big Bang or an old universe. The point is that even if that model is true, it does not eliminate the need for a cause for the universe.)

(If the universe begins with a singularity approximately 14-16 billion years ago this is the temporal limit for the universe. Based on Einsteinian physics, time and space could not exist before this point. And even if we could conceive of a temporal eternity for this singularity before this point, there would still need to be an outside force to cause this singularity to move out of its equilibrium—which it must have been in if it was eternal. Although some physicists have speculated that there have been a series of oscillating universes, it is calculated that because of entropy these oscillations could not be eternal and must end in the hot or cold heat death of the universe. If the universe were eternal, this would have already occurred.)

2. The other reason that the universe cannot be eternal is because it is impossible for there to have been an infinite amount of time that has passed before now. This is a fascinating and brain bending argument that I find absolutely convincing. Imagine that there is a series of dominoes extending from inside the room you are in, out the door and out of view. For all you know, perhaps there are an infinite number of dominoes. But, now imagine that you see the dominoes falling, one knocking over the next, as this series of falling dominoes comes into your room. If you saw the dominoes fall, you could know with certainty that there was not an infinite number of falling dominoes. Why? It would take an infinite amount of time for an actual infinite amount of dominoes to fall. And just like a person can never finish counting to infinity, an actual infinite number of dominoes could never finish falling. Therefore, if an actual infinite number of dominoes had to fall before getting to your door, then the falling dominoes would never reach your door. In the same way, if an actual infinite number of minutes had to take place before yesterday, time would have never reached yesterday, much less today. Therefore, just as there had to be a finite number of falling dominoes, there also had to be a finite—not infinite—amount of time before today. An infinite past simply doesn’t make sense. Therefore time must have a beginning. And if time had a beginning it must have a cause.

If the universe is neither self-caused or uncaused, the only remaining option is that it was caused. Whatever this cause was, it must be something that transcends the universe and something with the level of power needed to bring a universe into existence. Added to this, there must be some sort of necessary and eternal first-cause that—itself not requiting a causeexists as the sufficient reason for contingent reality. With this in mind, it seems very reasonable to believe “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
Universe, Create Thyself
Why God But Not Thor?
Faith With Reasons

May 23, 2012

Podcasts for Understanding the Times

This is not a time for Christians to stick their heads in the sand. We need to be people who understand our times. I would like to recommend two podcasts to you that I think are extremely valuable for helping us understand and think about our times from a Christian worldview.

The Briefing with Albert Mohler
I listen to The Briefing every day, Monday through Friday. I am amazed how much news and analysis Albert Mohler packs into each of these 15-minute programs. Some Christians respond to cultural controversies with knee-jerk reactions while others sacrifice Biblical truth on the altar of social correctness. We should do neither. Mohler does an outstanding job of helping Christians think about current headlines and cultural controversies in a way that is careful, informed, and deeply perceptive. I highly recommend this program and I wish I could make it mandatory listening for all Christians!

The Dividing Line with James White
The other podcast I currently listen to on a regular basis is The Dividing Line with James White. This is an apologetics (defending the faith) program dealing with a wide range of topics. I want to especially recommend downloading the broadcasts, starting on May 1, 2012, in which White responds to pro-homosexual arguments by activists Dan Savage (anti-Christian), Matthew Vines (professes to be a Christian), and President Obama. White's two-hour presentation on the May 8 broadcast is especially valuable, as more and more people attempt to argue that the Bible permits homosexual sex within a committed relationship. This issue is being pushed on society so strongly and manipulatively that Christians must not let themselves be unequipped.  (Download past Dividing Line programs via iTunes. The complete reply to Matthew Vines can be downloaded here.)

May 16, 2012

Bowling and Heaven

Bowling can help us understand the Bible’s message about salvation. A perfect score in bowling is 300. To get this you need to throw a strike in all ten frames plus the two extra balls at the end. If you leave any pins standing, your hope of a perfect game is shot.

Now, imagine that you’re in a bowling contest and the prize for bowling a perfect 300 in one game is a million dollars. If you find yourself in the middle of the game with several open frames and gutter balls, you have no hope of a 300. At that point it won’t help to get serious and bowl perfectly from then on out. You can improve your score, but your chance of winning the prize is totally gone.

Many people treat their lives like a bowling game they are trying to salvage. We look back on our lives and realize that we have thrown a lot of gutter balls and left a lot of pins standing. We get convicted and realize that this isn’t a score that we would want to bring before God one day. So we decide that from here on out were going to turn over a new leaf. We think that if we can get very serious and try for perfection from this time forward, we can salvage the final score and please God in the end.

We can’t.

The truth is, God demands perfection. Jesus actually said this. He didn’t say, “Try your best and it will be okay.” Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). James 2:10 states, "whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking it all." Only perfect is perfect. Yet, we have not been perfect. We’ve sinned, and trying hard from here on out can never erase the gutter balls in the frames of life we’ve already played. 

Think of it another way. What if each of the ten frames were one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17).  If that were the case, would you have a 300 game going? I know I don’t. In fact, when I really think about God’s commands, I don’t think I’ve had a strike in any of them. Have you? Have you consistently kept God number one in your life (commandment #1)? Have you always honored Him with your words (#3) and your time (#4)? Have you ever told a lie, even a small one (#8)?  

Maybe you’re proud because you have a few strikes because you have never murdered someone (#6) or committed adultery (#7).  Okay, but Jesus taught that if you hate someone you have murdered them in your heart (Matthew 5:21-22). As far as adultery, Jesus also said, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). There go those strikes.

This is bad news because not only does our score fail to win the prize, but it also earns us a penalty. The Bible says that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). What we earn—what we deserve—from our life of sin is spiritual death—eternal punishment and separation from God.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that Romans 6:23 goes on to say, “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

God demands perfection, but he knows that we’re not going to be able to give it. We come into this life with a bad score from the first frame. To be right with God, He needed to make another way. That is why God came into this world.

Jesus Christ is the only human being to ever throw strikes in all ten frames. The Bible says that Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He always knocked down every pin and never left any standing. Jesus, the Son of God, was the only person to ever get the perfect 300. He is the only one to win the prize rather than the penalty.

When we look at the score board, we see our gutter balls and Christ’s perfect game. The amazing thing is what Jesus offers to do for us. Jesus offers to switch scores.
The Bible states, “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:20b-21). In effect, Jesus offers to erase His name from His score and to put your name there. In exchange, He agrees to claim your failed score. You get His prize. He takes your penalty. That is what the sinless Son of God was doing on the cross. The Lord died on the cross in the place of everyone who will trust Him as their substitute. Because of what Christ did, God is willing to look at you and see Christ’s 300 rather than what you threw.

Will you turn to Him and accept Christ’s offer? Or will you keep trying to get your own perfect score?

April 27, 2012

How God Lets Us Know He Exists

God lets us know of His existence through two complementary channels rather than just one. Thus I want to describe a “two-pronged” apologetic. Each of these prongs can work without the other one, but they both have different advantages and disadvantages. One prong has the advantage of being immediate and certain, but has the disadvantage of being subjective (in the sense that it can’t be verified by anyone beside yourself.) The other prong has the disadvantage of not immediate and certain—because it takes work and investigation—but it has the advantage of being objective, meaning that it can be examined and tested by other people. Prong A is based on a God-given intuition that He exists. Prong B is based on evidence, including empirical evidence (things we can learn from our senses) and historical evidence.

(Note: In this post I am not talking about the difference between general revelation and special revelation.)

Prong A: God-Given Intuition that He Exists

If God wanted to be certain that everyone knew that He existed, He could use His power to simply “make” everyone know that He exists. He could hard-wire this conviction into our inner being. If God did this, then no one could ever legitimately accuse God of hiding Himself from humanity. Also, it would mean that no one could legitimately accuse God of making it too difficult to know that He exists.

If an all-powerful God exists, then we have to admit that it is at least logically possible that this is something God could do. Now, I am not suggesting that this is true merely because anyone feels it or claims it. Anyone could claim this about any false religion. People can also be mistaken. However, if God does exist and if God chooses to do something like this, then this could be something real and effective.

I do believe that this is exactly what God has done. I believe that He has hard-wired each of us to know that He is there. The Bible hits on this in Romans 1:18-20 as well as Romans 2:15 and Psalm 14:1. This doesn’t mean that we intuitively know everything about Him, but I believe that we all, deep down, know that God exists.

The big drawback of this way of knowing that God exists is that there is no way to prove it to other people. In addition, other people can deny that they have this inner awareness. In fact, the Bible specifically says that people “suppress” this awareness. Romans 1:18-23 teaches that although God made Himself plain to humanity, men suppress this truth. Of course, if everyone really has this awareness, this might be the reason why some atheists work so hard to convince themselves that God doesn’t exist. Just because we all know He exists doesn’t mean that everyone likes it.

This way of knowing God is completely effective between God and individual people, but it is ineffective from person to person. God can convince you this way, but I can’t. I can’t cut open my chest and show you that God has put this knowledge in my heart. Likewise, atheists can fervently maintain that they themselves don’t have any deeply suppressed God-given awareness of God. I can’t cut open their heart and show it to them. Atheists can give alternate theories for why most of humanity believes in God. I could point to sociologists and scientists who are starting to believe that our minds are hard-wired to believe in God, but an atheist could claim that this is the result of evolution or other factors. At the same time, an atheist could try to convince me that I merely have a God delusion, but there is no way that he can cut open my heart to show me that either. This does not mean that different people have different truths, but it does mean that we can’t directly prove this to one another.

However, if God does exist and has done this, then this is knowledge that you and I will be accountable for whether we deny it or not. If it is true, then none of us will be able to stand before God and claim that He hid himself or that He made it too hard to know that He is there.

Prong B: God Reveals Himself through Evidence

God has also revealed Himself to humanity in a way that is not just internal. He has also revealed Himself in a way that can be examined objectively, using empirical and historical evidence, and presented to other people. While prong A was immediate and certain, prong B take effort and investigation.  However, prong B has the advantage that it is something that can be presented to other people and examined by other people.  God gives us certainty with prong A and evidence with prong B. 

God-Given Internal Conviction that He Exists
God Reveals Himself through Evidence
Takes effort and investigation
Certainty (although it can be suppressed)
Relative certainty at best (doubts always possible)
Available to all
Not everyone has access to all information
Private (cannot be examined by others)
Public (can be examined by others)

There are several disadvantages to this second avenue. First, this method takes a great deal of effort. Not everyone can or will exert this effort. Second, not everyone has access to all the relevant information. This was especially true in earlier eras of history. Also, this method cannot lead to absolute certainty. There is always something that a hardnosed skeptic could question. This is especially important when we remember that fallen human beings are not morally neutral about the question of the existence of God.

On the other hand, this avenue has some great advantages. Unlike internal intuition, evidence is something that can be shared with others. It is public. Other people can examine the same facts along with us. We can look at these things and discuss them together.

This is also something very helpful for those of us who already admit the belief in God. Without public evidence, one might wonder if their internal conviction is merely a delusion. External evidence and arguments help to strengthen our faith by seeing that there are reasons for what we already believe. Biblical faith is not blind faith.

In further posts we will explore these reasons in greater detail, but for now let me give you a summary of a non-circular argument for belief in the God of the Bible.

Overview  of a Case for God

1.    It makes sense to believe in God. There are strong reasons to believe that God, or at least something like God, exists. These reasons include arguments from the origin of the universe, the design of the universe, the existence of real moral standards, and the fact of human self-consciousness. At the very least, these reasons demonstrate that it is not crazy talk to think that God might exist. In fact, it makes very good sense. Also, if it is possible that God exists, then it is possible for God to interact with our world. This means that miracles are possible and should not be dismissed out of hand.

2.    Next, the New Testament documents are generally reliable historical documents. Contrary to the claims of some skeptics, the texts of the Bible have been accurately transmitted to us. We have over 5,700 handwritten copies of the Greek New Testament. This is far more than other ancient manuscripts. The time gap between the original writings and the earliest existing copies is far less than other ancient manuscripts. Finally, the texts were carefully copied. There were multiple lines of transmission ensuring that no one could person or group could have changed the text. The small amount of variations can be eliminated by comparing copies with each other. Also, the documents have earmarks of historical honesty and accuracy. This includes detailed knowledge of the culture and geography, embarrassing details, hard sayings and unpopular teachings, and other details they would not have invented. (Please note carefully, at this point in the conversation I am not claiming to prove that the Bible is the flawless Word of God. Please notice this so that you don’t give a wrongful accusation of circular reasoning.)

3.    Using historical evidence, including the generally reliable New Testament documents, history and logic show that Jesus had a tomb that was empty on the Sunday after He was buried. The best explanation for this is that Jesus rose from the dead, just as He had predicted. Other explanations do not stand up under scrutiny. (Remember, no one should claim this is “impossible” unless one has already assumed that God does not exist. That would be circular reasoning.)

4.    Finally, if Jesus rose from the dead, it validates His claim to be the God of the Old Testament. In addition, if Jesus really is God, then His view of the Bible is correct. (God wouldn’t be wrong about the Bible.) And since the generally reliable New Testament documents show us that Jesus viewed Scripture as the inerrant Word of God, this is the view of the Bible that we should have as well.

If God exists, this fact changes everything about the meaning of your life. These questions are worth your time exercising a few brain cells and searching your conscience. 

Faith with Reasons
The Universe: Caused, Self-Caused, or Uncaused?

April 13, 2012

Faith With Reasons

Why doesn't everybody believe in God?
Did you ever wonder if you would be a Christian if you were born in India? I remember asking myself that when I was younger. If you were born in a Christian home, maybe you’ve had that thought as well. Are there reasons to believe the Christian worldview, or is that merely the result of what someone is brought up to believe? Is Christianity just a leap in the dark, or are there reasons to believe?

Some Christians think it is a lack of faith to have these kinds of questions, but I think it is natural and healthy. When I thought through these questions, I came to answers that helped me realize that there really was something to Christianity. Seeing the reasons why this worldview made sense made my belief stronger. Likewise, if you’re not a Christian I hope you care enough to seriously think about these things.  The whole meaning of our existence, and eternity, changes depending on what the truth is about God.

“Apologetics” is the discipline of giving a reasonable answer or defense for Christian belief. This word doesn’t mean to “apologize” in the modern sense. Instead, it means “to give an answer” in the sense of 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” This article is the first in a series that will give a basic overview of the reasons for believing in the reality of God, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. However, before we can launch into the reasons there are some things we need to say first.

1. God doesn’t believe in atheists.
If God is real, why doesn’t everyone believe in Him? Why are there atheists? The Bible answers this question in the opposite way that you might expect. We usually describe “atheists” as people who don’t believe in God, but according to the Bible, God doesn’t believe in atheists. I’m not saying this to be cute. Look at what Romans 1:18-20 teaches:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Notice some of the key words in these verse: “made known,” “plain,” clearly seen,” “being understood,” and “without excuse.” What this passage teaches is that—at least deep down—everyone knows that God exists. The reason for this is that God Himself “has made it plain to them.” God has designed us so that we are automatically aware that God is real. It is as if this sense of God has been hardwired in our hearts.  Another way to think about it is as if we’re built with automatic God-detectors that look at God’s creation and detect His presence just as a smoke detector detects smoke. We can look at the stars or our own hard and infer that there must be something behind all of this.  I think this explains why the vast majority of people throughout history have believed in some sort of God. Even today in America, between 85% and 90% of people believe in some sort of God.

This doesn’t mean that anyone can look at the mountains and know that Jesus Christ is the person of the Trinity who became fully man while still remaining fully God so that He could die on the cross as a substitute for all who will place their faith in Him as their sin-bearer. We need special revelation to know that. What we can know from creation is more basic: there is a God, He must be powerful and intelligent, and we owe Him our obedience.

2. Sinners suppress the truth that is plain to them.
But still, you ask, why are there atheists if this passage is true? Look at what this passage also says. It says that people “suppress the truth by their wickedness.” We all have some knowledge of the true God, but we suppress it; we push it down and deny it because we don’t like that truth. The passage goes on in verses 21-23 to say that we substitute our knowledge of the true God with ideas of our own making. The real God terrifies us so we try to substitute Him with something more comfortable—something more to our liking that we can control. This explains why most people who believe in God do not believe in the true God of the Bible. We’re aware that God is holy and that we are sinful. These feelings of guilt make us want to run from God rather than running to Him.

Suppressing the knowledge of God is like a little boy trying to hide a dog from his parents by stuffing it in a hamper. The more it barks, the more we have to push it down. This explains why some atheists have so much anger while denying a God they claim doesn’t exist. As it has been said, there are two things that many atheists believe: (1) There is no God. (2) I hate Him.

Still, we all have enough true knowledge of God to make us accountable to Him. If these verses are true, no one on Judgment Day is going to be able to say, “God, I would have believed in You, but I had no idea that you were there!”  God will say, “You had some knowledge of Me? What did you do with it? You didn’t seek after more truth—You squandered what I gave you and did what you wanted to do.”

3. Unbelief is more of a heart problem than a head problem.
When I was young I thought I could write a book answering every possible objection to Christianity. People would read it and they would have to believe. Now I realize how foolish that idea was. Unbelief is more of a heart problem than a head problem. Sure, there are intellectual obstacles that people have, but even when they are cleared away it does not mean that people will want to believe in the real God. The Israelites that God brought through the Red Sea had plenty of reasons to believe that God was real, but they still turned away from Him. We are rebels. The real God makes people uncomfortable and cramps our style. You can know that God exists but not like Him.

4. Nobody is neutral.
People can always find some sort of smokescreen excuse not to believe in God.  This means that just because someone doesn’t accept some of the evidence for God that there is a problem with the evidence. If Romans 1 is true, then we are not impartial judges. We have reasons of the heart that keep us from looking at the evidence clearly. We tend to see what we want to see. Don’t expect yourself or anyone you talk to to be neutral. If God exists, then He is the real judge. Don’t try to take over His job.

5. Don’t have unreasonable standards for certainty.
There are not many things that we can know with absolute, mathematical certainty. You can know that you yourself exist, and that  2 + 2 = 4, but beyond that there is always some remote possibility that you are being deceived. Some people can find a way to doubt anything—that George Washington existed, or that the sky is blue. If you’re skeptical enough, I couldn’t even prove to you that I really exist. Even if I come to your house and hit you upside the head, you could still claim that maybe you’re in the Matrix or high on acid. Still, we never demand that level of certainty with other things in life. If you intentionally run over some people with your car, you’re going to go to jail. It won’t help if your attorney claims that maybe those people were holograms. In the same way, don’t think that you will be off the hook with God just because you think some bizarre loophole might still be possible.

6. Our attitude should be described as faith seeking understanding.
There is a difference between asking questions and questioning. Having questions about Christianity isn’t a bad thing as long as you are seeking answers, not excuses.  Christians should have the attitude of Anselm of Canterbury who wrote, “I do not seek to understand so that I may believe; but I believe so that I may understand.” Having this attitude keep us from forgetting that God is the judge, not us.

7. Doubt Your Doubts
Some people have a superhuman ability to doubt everything about Christianity. But what if those same people applied as much effort in doubting the alternatives to Christianity? You have to believe in something. If you think that the Christian worldview is wrong, then what do you replace it with? Skeptics should invest as much effort in doubting their own worldviews, not just Christianity. Personally, this is a main reason that I think the Christian worldview is true. I can’t bring myself to consistently believe in anything else. If Christianity isn’t true, then I assume materialism would be. But when I’ve tried to seriously imagine that we are all nothing more than physical and chemistry, thrown together by accident with no purpose—I can’t believe it. I can’t consistently believe that love, goodness, and beauty are just chemicals in my brain. I can’t believe that I can be self-aware if I’m nothing more than an advanced calculator. And I can’t believe that this all came about with no design. I doubt the alternative to Christianity more than I doubt Christianity. It has the least contradictions, the least problems, the best evidence, and the most power to explain all of reality. We should believe whatever complete worldview makes the most sense.

If God exists, He could let us know that he exists just by planting this knowledge within us. He could also let us know that He exists by giving us evidence. I believe that He has done both of these things. We will think about that more in the next post.

How God Lets Us Know He Exists
The Universe; Caused, Self-Caused, or Uncaused?
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