Monday, December 21, 2009

A Forgotten Christmas Virtue

A well-known Christmas passage is found in the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel.


I just watched an outstanding movie called “The Blind Side.” In the movie a Christian family takes in and raises a gigantic African-American teenager who has no stable family life of his own. His life is transformed by the love of his new “family.” It turns out the boy, Michael Oher, is a tremendous football player. Eventually he gets wooed by many of the major college football programs in the South.

In one scene, the scout from one program talks with Michael’s adoptive mother about taking her son to visit the campus. As a conscientious mother she lays down the guidelines for her son’s visit. “Two other schools took him to visit “titty clubs,” … you’re not going to do that. That confused Michael. Take him to a movie. Have him in bed by 10 o’clock.” I kept waiting for the usual Hollywood portrayal of the Christian family as narrow, bigoted, and living in a blind and irrational faith. But it didn’t happen. Instead the mother viewed sexual purity as a quality that her son should aspire to. The portrayal of the Christian love was genuine and life-changing for Michael. I guess that’s because it’s based on a true story, that’s the way reality is.

Back to our Christmas theme, the original Greek word for virgin was “parthenos.” It means a “maiden” or by implication an unmarried daughter. The Cambridge Dictionary defines the word as “someone who has never had sex.”[1] This is the understood meaning of the passage in Matthew. Mary was a young maiden who had never had sex. Not material for a Hollywood movie!

One important application of this fact is that Jesus, who is called “Immanuel,” (God with us) was born from a mother who had not had sex. Mary “was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.” [2] and not by a human father. This truth confirms Jesus as the Son of God.

It is interesting that the synonyms of the word “virgin” given by the same Cambridge dictionary run in two veins. The modern application of virgin is to think of it as “frigid”, “asexual”, and “sex-starved.” The second is what many consider the more outdated Victorian idea of “chaste” or “pure.” The latter is the intended meaning regarding Mary.

Today, many in our culture define a virgin in the first sense. “Do you mean you’re still a virgin? What is wrong with you?” Virginity has now become cause for shame. The modern idea of a virgin is a geek or someone so unattractive that no one would want to have sex with him/her. Sex before marriage provides bragging rights. It is not shameful. Virginity no longer has value.

The Bible teaches chastity before marriage. It is this positive purity that our modern society has been robbed of. In Mary’s time virginity was seen as socially acceptable, normal, and indeed required. Her pregnancy out of wedlock could only have been cause for reproach. This explains why Joseph nearly bailed out of the relationship.

Yet most parents wish that their child would remain a virgin until the right person comes along. And that too in spite of the fact that we parents haven’t, in most cases, followed our own advice. It’s often out of this pain that our very wish for their virginity springs. If virginity has no value, then why do many still wish it for their children?

Marriage is a life-long partnership of mutual sexual enjoyment and giving between one man and one woman. This is the Christian ideal and it is a badge of honor! Today that idea is derided. It is as G.K. Chesterton put it, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.”

If you have lost your virginity before marriage, don’t despair, although something precious has been missed. Christ loves you. He is the one who forgives, cleanses, and restores our lives. In a relationship with Jesus Christ, we can begin anew. We can experience God’s best plan for our sexuality. There is hope! For “THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL," which translated means, "GOD WITH US."

[2] Matthew 1:18, New American Standard Bible

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Journalism of Fear

On Monday, December 7, the Hindu newspaper in India ran a front page editorial. It was an “unprecedented common editorial” that was run by 56 newspapers in 45 countries. The title was “Copenhagen: seize the chance.”1 It was of course, about the climate summit that is now happening in Denmark.

This common editorial included major western papers such as The Miami Herald, Le Monde and the Guardian (“the world’s leading liberal voice”)2 . There were also some lesser known fish in the kettle too, like the Zimbabwe Independent and the Vietnamese Tuoi Tre (originally a publication of the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Organization). These papers warned of the “profound emergency” that faces humanity. The tenor of the editorial and the panicky agenda of the climate change proponents seek to get its way by mobilizing world opinion to reduce carbon emissions.

To begin with, the editorial makes no acknowledgement that any debate on the subject exists. “The science is complex but the facts are clear,” they smugly announce. Because science has supposedly settled the issue, no dissent or discussion is tolerated. It is labeled “obstructionism.” The only question is “how little time we have left to limit the damage.”

Secondly, this editorial is journalism of fear at its most irresponsible. If we follow the course of inaction, we are threatened that in 5 to 10 years continents will be parched “turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct … whole nations drowned by the sea.” Please remember this journalistic prophecy. They claim that in 2016-20 nations will be drowned by the sea. Which nations? Are they now building massive sea walls as they only have 5-10 years left? This sensationalism is creating widespread anxiety and fear on data that is still debatable at its core.

Most unbelievably and blatantly the editorial brandishes the humanist credo. They set the goal of limiting global carbon emissions as “a collaborative effort to achieve collective salvation.” Man has declared the planet is doomed in 5-10 years and man is going to save it.

This kind of fear-based, political journalism reminds me of the 10 Israelite spies in the Old Testament. They said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us… the land … is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people … are men of great size… we became like grasshoppers … in their sight.”3 Fear and exaggeration does not mobilize. It immobilizes. It’s interesting to note that the ten spies presented ‘scientific’ facts in verses 27-29. Resource evaluations and demographic studies based on observations of the land were part of their report. The science of the day was on their side. The picture was bleak.

Their problem, like ours today, is that they did not factor in a sovereign God. “We shall surely overcome it,”4 said Caleb and Joshua. Theirs were two voices of assurance and hope versus ten of doom. There is a demonic motivation behind this current fear, working through human-inspired pessimism that does not acknowledge even the existence of God. Didn’t God promise that man would never be destroyed by water again?5

Is the climate crisis a lot of hog-wash? No. There are concerns and we all collectively must work to preserve our beautiful planet. We hope that the summit will make progress in cooperation and action.

But like Caleb and Joshua, we must not succumb to the fear and anxiety that is gripping so many today. It was Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones who said, "Faith is the refusal to panic."

God has spoken. “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.”6

1- The Hindu, Monday, December 7, 2009 (Vol.132 No. 289)
3- Numbers 13:31-33, New American Standard Bible (NASB)
4- Numbers 13:30, NASB
5- Genesis 9:11, NASB
6- Genesis 8:22, NASB

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Tree is a Tree is a Tree

“The trees of the Lord drink their fill, The cedars of Lebanon which He planted, Where the birds build their nests…” Psalm 104:16-17a

In this Psalm we read about trees. They are the Lord’s trees. He “planted” them. In a devotion I heard by David Hamilton of the University of the Nations, he said the Hebrew verb used for the creation of the trees in Genesis implies that they grew. Could it have been a “natural” process of growing as opposed to the trees suddenly appearing fully grown? We don’t know, except that they are the “trees of the Lord.”

It is inspiring to consider what He planted them for.

On a hot days in India there is nothing like getting into the shade of a tree. This shade not only cools us, but also the ground under the tree. The cooler ground retains the water better. This affects the climate, as a group of Christians in Tanzania have discovered. They have planted many, many trees and this has begun to change a portion of Tanzania’s climate. It’s a cycle of life.

Trees provide an aesthetic effect. Do you enjoy birds singing? That is a pleasant sound for us. We have read that trees make a wonderful habitat for birds. Trees are pleasant to the eye as well. Whether covered by snow, or with leaves turning orange and red, or standing purple in the distance, tree covered landscapes are among our favorite simply by reason of their beauty. And what about the smell of trees? Isn’t pine a favorite scent of many? Or sandlewood? What could be the purely evolutionary purpose of having that odor?

The roots of the trees tend to hold the soil together as well. Hills with a forest are much less likely to slough off in a landslide than are treeless hillsides. In many places trees are planted as wind barriers to protect against the elements.

Trees are intensely practical. They can be a place of refuge and survival for an animal or person who is in danger! Trees make great places to tie things too, or to hang things. From trees we have a vantage point to see long distances. Cedar is a wonderful building material. Yet we burn the cedar for heat or cooking on other occasions. Many trees produce the very food we cook.
An even more basic benefit of trees is the process of photosynthesis in which they are an integral part. We survive by the oxygen produced in large part by the leaves and needles of trees. Possibly the one thing we do FOR trees is breath. There is a life nexus between us and trees.

From all this we can surmise that trees have purpose. They generally benefit man, rather than the other way around. We “use” them in many ways depending on our particular need.

It is highly probable then, that trees exist for man as well as for other creatures. This adds weight to the Biblical view that we live in an Anthropocentric Earth. It is a designer Earth made with man in mind. The “trees of the Lord,” then, are a provision for us. So there is a purpose for the Cedar tree. If that is so, don’t you think the one who “planted” them has a purpose for your life too? I do.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Is God a Monster?

Is God A Monster?

Famed atheist Richard Dawkins has said, “The God of the Old Testament is a monster.”1 Even Christians have had this stereotype. Jesus is gentle and meek. He turns the other cheek and is all about love and forgiveness. But God in the Old Testament, or “Yahweh,” was a different cup of tea. He is always “smiting,” a King James word for striking. He smites Pharaoh with plagues, he smites Sodom with fire, he smites Miriam with leprosy, and he smites the Assyrians with a death angel for starters.

How do we respond to Dawkins? To answer, “True, but we believe in Jesus now,” is really lame. Christians claim Jesus and Yahweh are one in the same in nature. Jesus radically proclaimed, “He who has seen me has seen the Father”2 So in Christ’s words He is identical in nature and in action with Yahweh. Let’s dust off our thinking about this. What are the things Jesus has done? Did Yahweh do those same things?

Consider What Jesus Did

Pick a random incident from the life of Jesus. One of the dramatic ones was the raising of Lazarus, who had been dead for three days. In the Gospel of John it is recorded that, “Jesus shouted, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ And the dead man came out…”3 Did Yahweh ever raise someone from the dead in the Old Testament? Yes, there’s the lesser known story of the resuscitation of a widows son. “The Lord heard Elijah’s prayer, and the life of the child returned, and he revived!”4 Okay, that one checks out, but are there more?

In another widely-known story, “About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water.”5 Yahweh had not done that. How could He, not being in human form? But a parallel can be drawn. “So the people of Israel walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side!”6 Equally impressive, I must say.

Think of other events:

Jesus famed “Sermon on the Mount”; Yahweh spoke His law to Moses on Mount Sinai…

Christ drove the merchants out of the temple shortly before His crucifixion; Yahweh stirred up young King Josiah to purge the temple.

Is there anything in Jesus’ life like Dawkins’ “monster” of the Old Testament, the smiter of nations? Dare we forget the vision of Jesus in Revelation? “Out of His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.”7
With the help of a friend, my list now stands at seventeen. There was either the same act or a parallel one in the Old Testament. For example, Yahweh did not make water into wine, but He did bring water out of a rock!

Author Philip Yancey writes, “Jesus offered a long, slow look at the face of God… We no longer have to wonder how God feels or what he is like…”8One Unique Event

Importantly, I did find one thing that is unparalleled in the Old Testament. Jesus rose from the dead never to die again. Only a human being could have died, a requirement for resurrection. Yahweh, revealing His Christlikeness, has promised that we too will rise from the dead if we trust in the Son, Jesus Christ. So let’s get our thinking straight. As one author says, “In God is no unChristlikeness at all.”9

1 - Richard Dawkins, “Darwin’s Rottweiler,” Newsweek, by Lisa Miller, Sept 26, 2009
2 - John 14:9 (New American Standard Bible or NASB)
3 - John 11:43-44 (New Living Translation or NLT)
4 - I Kings 17:22 (NLT)
5 - Matthew 14:25 (NLT)
6 - Exodus 14:22 (NLT)
7 - Revelation 19:15 (NASB)
8 - Philip Yancey, “Disappointment With God,” (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1988) p. 124
9 - Ibid, quoting Michael Ramsey, p 124

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Sawtooth Miracle

Recently, I was in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Looking up at one of the towering peaks it was obvious where the mountains got their name. It was a huge, spiked tower of rock rising 2000 feet above me. All down the side of the mountain in front of me was a field of boulders of all sizes.

Sitting on a Toyota-sized boulder embedded in a creek my mind went to work. Either a massive landslide had occurred at some time in the distant past, or gradually, piece by piece, rocks of varying sizes had tumbled down the mountain and into the creek bed where I sat.

“If these rocks are continuously breaking off and rolling down the mountain, then the Sawtooths are getting smaller,” I thought. For every rock that comes down, whether it’s the size of a cantaloupe or the Toyota-sized one I sat on, the cliff-like mountains above diminish. It seemed certain that nothing can be done about it. I scanned the pock-marked cliffs above, worried about the fact that my tent was so close to the slide area.

The Bible says God made the mountains. “… His hands formed the dry land.” (1) But is there any purpose in this seemingly random event, this gradual breaking down of the mountains? In searching for an answer we can consider two facts about the mountains.

We have mountains!

First is the fact that mountains exist at all. Scientists say the mountains formed in the distant past as the result of “plate tectonics.” As superheated magma rose up from the earth’s core, gigantic plates of the earth’s crust moved and volcanic activity took place. These massive chunks of plate were forced downward and others upward resulting in… the Sawtooth mountains! “Then God said… ‘let the dry land appear’; and it was so” . (2)

Earth is the only planet in the Solar System that has mountain ranges formed this way. That is because the Earth alone, among the planets, has a molten core making it “live.” Mars, in contrast, is a “dead” planet with no interior heat. There are no known Sawtooth Mountains, Himalayas, or Rockies elsewhere in the solar system, although there are individual volcanic peaks on Mars (now dormant) and elsewhere. One of the things that make the Earth unique are mountain ranges.

If it’s too hot… turn down the thermostat

Secondly, the mountains exist for more than just the view. The affects of weather on the mountains gradually erodes and breaks them down. That causes the landslides that I saw. This process is called weathering. Scientists believe that as these rocks break down, particularly granite and limestone, that they react chemically with the atmosphere. The result is that the greenhouse gas (CO2) levels are affected. The net result is that the crumbling of the Sawtooth Mountains is part of an enormous thermostat system for the Earth. Two University of Washington scientists say, “Weathering of rocks … (such as granite) plays a crucial part in regulating the planetary thermostat… as a planet warms, … weathering on its surface increases… more carbon dioxide is removed, thus causing cooling. Yet as the planet cools, … weathering decreases, and the CO2 content of the atmosphere begins to rise, causing warming to occur.”(3) So every boulder that falls off the Sawtooth Mountains is part of a massive stabilizing effect in keeping the Earth’s temperature conducive to life.

Even something we take for granted like the existence of mountains or rocks falling off cliffs has a purpose in God’s creation. It is awe-inspiring to consider how brilliant God is in all He has made. So sleep tight tonight… but not too close to a mountain, God just might adjust the temperature.

(1) Psalm 95:5, New American Standard Bible (NASB)
(2) Genesis 1:9, New American Standard Bible (NASB)
(3) Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee, “Rare Earth,” (New York: Copernicus Books, 2000), 210

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Anatomy of a Supreme Court Ruling

On June 26, 2003 the United States Supreme Court overturned the conviction of John Geddes Lawrence who had been convicted under Texas Law of committing a lewd sexual act (sodomy) with another male. Previously a Texas appeals court had upheld the conviction. Ultimately the Supremes reversed the Texas ruling by a 6-3 vote.

In this decision the Court overruled its earlier decision in “Bower vs. Hardwick” that had upheld the constitutionality of the anti-sodomy law in Georgia, and became supporting precedent for laws based on moral choices.

In these excerpts from Lawrence vs. Texas, Justice Anthony Kennedy argues against the validity of anti-sodomy laws (majority opinion) and Justice Antonin Scalia argues for the validity of these laws (dissenting opinion).

Justice Kennedy (right): “When homosexual conduct is made criminal by the law of the State, that declaration … is an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination both in the public and in the private spheres… The laws… purport to do no more than prohibit a particular sexual act. Their penalties and purposes, though, have more far-reaching consequences, touching upon the most private human conduct, sexual behavior, and in the most private of places, the home.”

Justice Scalia: “One of the most revealing statements in today's opinion is the Court's grim warning that the criminalization of homosexual conduct is "an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination both in the public and in the private spheres." … It is clear from this that the Court has taken sides in the culture war… Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children's schools, or as boarders in their home. They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive. The Court views it as "discrimination" … Let me be clear that I have nothing against homosexuals … promoting their agenda through normal democratic means… But persuading one's fellow citizens is one thing, and imposing one's views in absence of democratic majority will is something else… What Texas has chosen to do is well within the range of traditional democratic action, and its hand should not be stayed through the invention of a brand-new "constitutional right" … it is the premise of our system that those judgments are to be made by the people, and not imposed by a governing caste that knows best.”

Justice Kennedy: “The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to make this choice.”

Justice Scalia: “The Texas Penal Code … undoubtedly imposes constraints on liberty. So do laws prohibiting prostitution, recreational use of heroin, and, for that matter, working more than 60 hours per week in a bakery… The Fourteenth Amendment expressly allows States to deprive their citizens of "liberty," so long as "due process of law" is provided…”

“We have held repeatedly, in cases the Court today does not overrule, that … fundamental liberty interests must be "so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental"“an interest traditionally protected by our society”Bowers concluded that a right to engage in homosexual sodomy was not "deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition…“

Justice Kennedy: “Old US laws were derived from English criminal laws passed in the 1533 Reformation Parliament. They didn’t specify homosexuality as a distinct category. They included male-female relationships … according to some scholars the concept of the homosexual as a distinct category of person did not emerge until the late 19th century… Thus early American sodomy laws were not directed at homosexuals as such but instead sought to prohibit non-procreative sexual activity more generally. This does not suggest approval of homosexual conduct. It does tend to show that this particular form of conduct was not thought of as a separate category from like conduct between heterosexual persons.”

Justice Scalia (below): “This observation in no way casts into doubt the "definitive [historical] conclusion," … on which Bowers relied: that our Nation has a longstanding history of laws prohibiting sodomy in general--regardless of whether it was performed by same-sex or opposite-sex couples… the only relevant point is that it was criminalized--which suffices to establish that homosexual sodomy is not a right "deeply rooted in our Nation's history and tradition."

“Proscriptions against that conduct have ancient roots. Sodomy was a criminal offense … forbidden by the laws of the original 13 States when they ratified the Bill of Rights. In 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, all but 5 of the 37 States in the Union had criminal sodomy laws. In fact, until 1961, all 50 States outlawed sodomy, and today, 24 States and the District of Columbia continue to provide criminal penalties for sodomy performed in private and between consenting adults. Against this background, to claim that a right to engage in such conduct is 'deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition' … is, at best, facetious."

Justice Kennedy: “Laws prohibiting sodomy do not seem to have been enforced against consenting adults acting in private. A substantial number of sodomy prosecutions and convictions for which there are surviving records were for predatory acts against those who … did not consent… infrequency makes it difficult to say that society approved of a rigorous and systematic punishment of the consensual acts committed in private and by adults… far from possessing “ancient roots,” … American laws targeting same-sex couples did not develop until the last third of the 20th century.”

Justice Scalia: “The key qualifier here is "acting in private" --since the Court admits that sodomy laws were enforced against consenting adults … although the Court contends that prosecutions were "infrequent," … I do not know what "acting in private" means; surely consensual sodomy, like heterosexual intercourse, is rarely performed on stage. If all the Court means by "acting in private" is "on private premises, with the doors closed and windows covered," it is entirely unsurprising that evidence of enforcement would be hard to come by.”

“There are 203 prosecutions for consensual, adult homosexual sodomy reported … from the years 1880-1995… There are also records of 20 sodomy prosecutions and 4 executions during the colonial period.”

In Bowers, Chief Justice Burger wrote in the majority opinion (supporting anti-sodomy laws), “Decisions of individuals relating to homosexual conduct have been subject to state intervention throughout the history of western civilization. Condemnation of those practices is firmly rooted in Judeao-Christian moral and ethical standards.”

Justice Kennedy: “…scholarship casts some doubt on the sweeping nature of the statement by Chief Justice Burger as it pertains to private homosexual conduct between consenting adults… In all events we think that our laws and traditions in the past half century are of most relevance here. These references show an emerging awareness that liberty gives substantial protection to adult persons in deciding how to conduct their private lives in matters pertaining to sex.”

Justice Scalia: “the statement is factually false. States continue to prosecute all sorts of crimes by adults "in matters pertaining to sex" … in the past half century… there have been 134 reported cases involving prosecutions for consensual, adult, homosexual sodomy.”

Justice Kennedy: “… times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress.”

Justice Scalia: “Countless judicial decisions and legislative enactments have relied on the ancient proposition that a governing majority's belief that certain sexual behavior is "immoral and unacceptable" constitutes a rational basis for regulation… the crafting and safeguarding of public morality ... indisputably is a legitimate government interest”

Justice Kennedy:Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent. Bowers v. Hardwick should be and now is overruled.”

In Bowers, Justice Stevens had declared in his dissent (opposing anti-sodomy laws), “the fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice,"

Justice Scalia: “I turn now to the ground … that there is no rational basis for the law here under attack… The Texas statute undeniably seeks to further the belief of its citizens that certain forms of sexual behavior are "immoral and unacceptable," … the same interest furthered by criminal laws against fornication, bigamy, adultery, adult incest, bestiality, and obscenity. Bowers held that this was a legitimate state interest… This (overturning of Bowers) effectively decrees the end of all morals legislation.”

“State laws against (objectionable sexual practices) are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers' validation of laws based on moral choices. Every single one of these laws is called into question by today's decision… What a massive disruption of the current social order, therefore, the overruling of Bowers entails.”

Friday, July 24, 2009

Answering Objections About Jesus' Birth

“I didn’t know there was a controversy,” my wife said the other morning over coffee. “Most Christians don’t,” I replied. She had been editing this article, and I was dealing with the emotions of being critiqued. Appreciating her insights and yet wanting her to just say, “Good job. I like it.”
We were talking about the controversy over some of the facts of Jesus’ birth. First of all, in Luke’s Gospel it is written that Jesus was born during a census. He reports, “This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.”[1] Critics argue that no record, other than the Bible, exists of a world-wide Roman census during Herod’s reign from 7 to 4 B.C. Secondly, Matthew’s Gospel dates Christ’s birth in reference to Herod. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, Quirinius began to govern Syria from 6 A.D. That is an apparent ten year gap between what Luke and Matthew have written. On this basis, some say Luke is in error. I’ve looked at some of the criticism leveled on Luke and have some thoughts. Do you have your coffee ready?

A Question to Ask

Once when my friend was preaching a sermon in India, he said, “back during World War II, in the fifties…” Another friend and I looked at each other and tried to conceal our laughter. For the next week we ragged him about that gaffe. Obvious errors have a way of becoming public. If Luke was in error, then I wonder why the early church did not correct him? The census and name of the Governor would have been common knowledge in that day.

The Author

We know a little bit about Luke. He was a physician. We know he intended to write accurately. He opens his Gospel with “It seemed fitting for me … having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order… so that you may know the exact truth…”[2] He writes like someone who recognized the significance of what he was doing.

A portion of his other biblical writing, Acts, was once labeled as error. In Acts 14:6 Luke states that the city of Iconium was located outside of the province of Lycaonia. The Roman historian Cicero had written that it was part of Lycaonia. Both cannot be true. In 1910 Sir William Ramsay (right) found a monument that showed that Iconium was in Phrygia. So Luke got that one right.

The Census

Records show that Augustus considered census-taking as one of his important accomplishments. The issue is whether one occurred during Herod’s reign from 7 to 4 B.C., the time when Jesus was born. Critics say there is no record. Some Christian writers disagree. Let’s say it’s still controversial. I like what historian Edwin Yamauichi had to say. “…there are many things that occur only in a given text without corroborative evidence of other texts or inscriptions." That is true.

The Governor

The 10 year gap between Herod’s death (Matthew’s account) and Quirinius being Governor of Syria (Luke’s account) is also a controversy. Matthew and Luke are literally and figuratively on two different pages here it seems. Let’s consider some evidence.

The historian Josephus (below) writes that before 6 A.D., Quirinius was “… a Roman senator, and one who had gone through other magistracies, and had passed through them till he had been consul…” “Other magistracies” means other posts. It is known that Quirinius was in Syria and neighboring Cilicia from 12 B.C. onward. Writer John Ankerberg says, “… Quirinius had a government assignment in Syria between 12 B.C. to 2 B.C. He was responsible for reducing the number of rebellious mountaineers in the highlands of Pisidia. As such, he was a highly placed military figure in the Near East and highly trusted by Emperor Caesar Augustus.”[3]Quirinius was definitely around and he was in leadership during the time Luke speaks of.
So I’ve taken my wife’s editorial advice. I’ve rewritten this article. My coffee cup is empty, and it’s time to move on with the day. I believe there is a plausible explanation for what Luke has written. But even if we only have partial supporting evidence, would that mean the facts recorded about Jesus are untrue? I mean we know World War II didn’t happen in the fifties, but hey, it did happen!

[1] Luke 2:2 (New American Standard Bible)
[2] Luke 1:3 (NASB)
[3] John Ankerberg, “Was Luke Wrong about the Census Under Quirinius?”,

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Jesus Birthplace Predicted 700 Years In Advance

When our first daughter was born we lived in Kolkata. Within two weeks we had to take her on an airplane to Thailand. She was so small; I remember her sleeping for a few nights in a makeshift bed in the lid of our suitcase. I have a picture of her with my shoe beside her, and they’re about the same size. Why did we travel with her so soon? It was because our visa was expiring. Although it was not an optimum time to travel with a newborn and my wife just getting back on her feet, we had no choice.

Jesus travelled even earlier in life than my daughter did. The emperor Augustus had ordered a worldwide census. Joseph was required to enroll at Bethlehem late in Mary’s pregnancy. It was a risky time to travel and much less comfortable than our jet ride to Bangkok. This “forced” journey provides a subtle yet powerful verification that Jesus is the Son of God.

Old Testament Prophecy and Jesus

Christians say that fulfilled Old Testament prophecy substantiates Jesus’ divinity. The mathematical probability of one person fulfilling multiple old prophecies is very slight. It is remarkable that one person’s life events aligned with so many centuries-old prognostications. Consider just this one regarding Jesus birthplace.

The Gospel writer Matthew states, “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a ruler, who will shepherd My people Israel.” [1] King Herod was hunting for the newborn boy who might one day threaten his reign. Where was the Messiah to be born? The experts in the Jewish law summoned to Herod quoted an Old Testament passage to answer his question. The Jews believed that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (left) near Jerusalem. It had been spoken by the prophet Micah more than 700 years earlier. The Jews believed that Micah 5:2 was a Messianic reference. It is interesting that Herod didn’t know about Micah’s forecast. It was well-known by those who were informed about the Scriptures. After seven centuries, it is astounding that Micah’s words still bore authority.

Bethlehem was not Jesus’ hometown. We know he grew up in Nazareth to the far north. Many assumed He was a native-born Nazarene, like his disciple Nathanael who said, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”[2] There is no record of Jesus telling his critics he was born in Bethlehem.

Critics discount Jesus’ fulfilling of prophecies by saying that he maneuvered his life to fulfill the predictions. He and his disciples found Old Testament verses that fit His life and applied them. In other words, the cart came before the horse. Two facts make this theory implausible. First, the Messianic passages were identified long before Jesus lifetime. That is why Herod’s counselors knew Bethlehem was his predicted birthplace. Second Jesus had no control over his birthplace. Mary and Joseph were already engaged when Gabriel, the angel, spoke to her about Jesus so Bethlehem was fixed as Joseph’s ancestral home.

The Providence of God

Barring a human plot, we reflect on God working behind the scenes, many years in advance, to fulfill His word concerning Bethlehem. It was nearly impossible that Jesus would be born there. It took a series of events including the census decree by Augustus (left). Micah had to speak the words regarding Messiah’s birth. Joseph had to be of the lineage of David, for it was linked to Bethlehem. Another clan would have registered at another city. Additionally, the implementation of the census had to be synchronized with Mary’s delivery while they were in the city. What if Jesus had been born en route? All these events of divine/human interaction paint us a picture of God’s providence at work.

Perhaps God providentially guides our lives much more than we give Him credit for?

What are the odds that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem? Miniscule. Of all the places in Israel, His parents went to Bethlehem just before he was born. Later the Jews who believed in the Messiah, such as the Gospel writer Matthew, made the connection. This was not a flashy proof of His identity like raising the dead. Yet it demonstrates the power of a sovereign God working over the centuries.

In the concluding article I’ll look at criticism that has arisen concerning Christ’s birthplace and time.

[1] Matthew 2:6 (New American Standard Bible)
[2] John 1:46 (NASB)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Billions and Billions of Years Ago (Conclusion)

What is God Like?
If there is a God, and if He created the world and the universe, then what kind of a God is He? Science tells us the universe is 14 billion plus years old and the earth 4.67 billion. If it was “created” by God then why did He take so long? From the initial “big bang” until today is 14 billion years. That’s a 14 followed by nine zeroes. What was He doing all that time? Famed physicist Stephen Hawking suggests, “Science seems to have uncovered a set of laws… These laws may have been originally decreed by God, but it appears that He has since left the universe to evolve according to them and does not now intervene in it.”[1] This seems an apathetic God. Still others who favor this “deep time” timeline basically don’t care what He was doing. God is of no interest and they don’t believe in Him anyway. But for those who do believe in a Creator God this loooooonnnnnng, loooooonnnnnng time span from creation until man appeared on the scene presents an enigma. Why would he wait 14 billion years? Why would he wait 10 billion years to even begin the earth? That’s ten BILLION years! The Bible says, “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.” [2]Still at that accelerated rate of experiencing time 14 billion years from Big Bang until man came on the scene would still be 14 million “God days” which is over 38,000 “God years.”

You see, the “god” of evolutionary process, the god of 14 billion years, is so slow that it almost appears He is doing nothing. He started the ball rolling with a bang, and then allowed thousands of millions of years to pass with change taking place at a glacial pace. In fact a glacier is like Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt (right) compared to the speed at which the 14 billion year god “worked.” Can it even be called working?

The God Who Cares?
This is in dramatic contrast to the God spoken of in the Bible. In our unfathomably long scenario, where is this God whose priority was to have relationship with man? Where is the God who sent His Son into the world on a specific date to save man from sin? Why did the God in Scripture suddenly part the Red Sea when his processes in nature took billions of years? Thousands of millions of years? Countless millennia? Endless centuries? Multiplied millions of human lifetimes? Someone said billions of years are a measurable fact while eternity is a philosophical idea. But I am not so sure. I can’t really wrap my head around 4.67 billion years. A giant Sequoia tree can live 2000 or 3000 years or even longer. The scientific guesstimate of the earth’s age is over 155,000 generations of 3000-year-old Sequoias. Just one and a half Sequoia lifetimes would take us back to the dawn of recorded history. We’re not talking ten generations of these behemoth trees, not 1000, not even 5000, for that would be just a small amount of the earth’s history.

The “god” who “creates” through evolutionary process is indeed quite different from the God in the Bible. The Bible God acts suddenly. We do see Him work out processes over decades or even several hundred years (as in his dealings with the Israelites in Egypt), but never millions, let alone billions of years! It looks like we’re talking about two different gods.

Can Science be Wrong?
Can the modern guesstimate be wrong? Science has been wrong before. Prolific writer Richard Harter summarizes, “In 1640 Ussher produced his famous calculation that the Earth was created in 4004 BC … Ussher accepted the Biblical account at face value… In the 1700's … Attempts to calculate the age of the Earth from physical considerations yielded estimates that ranged from 75,000 years (Buffon, 1774) to several billion years (de Maillet, Buffon)…By the early 1800's it was generally accepted that the Earth had a long history… There were various attempts to estimate the Earth's age…The attempts produced estimates from about 100 million years up to several billion years…In 1862 Lord Kelvin (left) estimated the age of the Earth to be 98 million years, based on a model of the rate of cooling. …Later in 1897 he revised his estimate downwards to 20-40 million years… his estimates were completely wrong ... The first radiometric dating was done in 1905; it and subsequent measurements confirmed that the Earth was several billion years old. Currently the best estimate of the age of the Earth is 4.55 billion years.”[3] Each generation of scientists has been pretty sure they have the right answer.

So how old is the earth, really? I don’t know. But I suspect it’s not as old as our pat scientific answers tell us. After all, the age of the earth is the foundation of the evolutionary, modern scientific worldview. It’s not just some random figure open for discussion by the establishment. Moreover, if God took 14 billion years to slowly evolve the universe, then what kind of a god is he? What kind of a creation is that?

So the next time someone rolls his arms outward on both sides and says, “billions and billions of years ago…” we might be justified in saying, “oh really?”

[1] Stephen Hawking, “A Brief History of Time,” (Great Britain, Bantam Press, 1988) p. 129
[2] 2 Peter 3:8 (NASB)
[3] Changing Views of the History of the Earth, by Richard Harter, Copyright © 1998-2005
(See entire article at

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Billions and Billions of Years Ago (Part 1)

Billions and Billions of Years Ago… (part 1)

The best scientific guesstimates of the age of the earth are in the ballpark of 4.67 billion years old. That’s a humongous ballpark. It’s a ballpark in which you cannot see the fence. 4.67 billion years is a really big number. It’s a 467 followed by seven zeros. Even 467 years is a long time! If we look back in time 467 years, we would be looking at 1542. What happened in 1542? Henry VIII’s fifth wife Catherine Howard (right) was executed for adultery, which seems to have been missing the point, and Cabrillo landed in what is now San Diego Bay. That’s what we call the “olden days.” Yet 467 years is only one millionth of the commonly accepted age of the earth. A million 467-year periods, a million of them… would take us back to the guesstimated beginning of the earth.

Two Views
I called the figure of 4.67 billion years a “guesstimate.” I used that word, because it’s sort of an educated guess on the part of experts. I mean, the earth might have started 4.7 billion years ago, or maybe it was 4.5 billion years ago. What’s 20 million years when we’re talking about 47 ten million year periods? But 20 million years is itself an unfathomable period of time. Even the experts can’t fine-tune the calculations much more than millions of years! It’s such a long span that 20 million years is considered insignificant. So 4.67 billion is an educated guess.

Is there evidence that the earth is 4.67 billion years old? Yes. That is primarily in the radiometric measurements of the decay of elements like uranium in organic matter. This form of dating materials is a complicated subject that is too deep for me. Basically fossils and rocks are dated with numbers followed by lots of zeros. Knowledgeable people will say there are many other proofs for the old dating of the earth. So it is an educated, guess.

The figure of 4.67 billion years goes hand in glove with the theory of evolution. In fact, a staggering time period is required by evolution. If the earth was much younger, then evolution could not be true, as it is now taught. One website puts it this way, “Mutation, Gene Flow, Genetic Drift, Natural Selection + 3.8 billion years = Macroevolution.” [1] The widespread presupposition now popular is that the earth is very, very old, and it must be old, or the modern scientific perspective based on evolution would crumble. A lot rides on those billions of years.

Is there evidence for an earth that is not billions of years old? Yes. Many claim proof exists in things like the relatively thin layer of silt on the ocean floor. This and many other anomalies, according to “young earthers,” seem to indicate the earth’s age might have a few less zeros. Qualified scientists still contend the evidence shows that the earth is not billions of years old. They are a minority and are pretty much marginalized and discredited by the majority opinion. However, they do exist. There is a counterpoint no matter how it is derided.

Deep Time

When we talk about billions of years we enter into what we call “deep time.” Basically deep time means it’s so long we cannot comprehend it. P.H.D. John Morris says, “One billion years cannot be grasped, neither can 4.67 billion years for the supposed age of the Earth or 14 billion years or so since the Big Bang. These words may be easy to say, and within our mathematical calculations, but I suggest they carry no meaning. The invariable accompaniment of the outward rolling of the hands, suggest that tales of "billions and billions" of years are nothing more than arm-waving, perhaps capable of impressing or intimidating, but not of communicating understandable information.”[2] The only way we can think about one billion years, let alone a 467 followed by seven zeroes… is by making a metaphor. Many geology students are given an assignment of creating a metaphor to give some kind of a concept of this time length that we can grasp. So how long is a billion years? One metaphor I liked says that if we compressed the 4.67 billion years into a 24-hour period, man only showed up in the last two seconds. For 23 hours, 59 minutes and 58 seconds came all the formation, cataclysms, evolution, extinctions, mutations, and natural selection prior to man.

To count from one to a billion would take 95 years. A fish tank that would hold 1 billion goldfish would be the size of a stadium. These word pictures describe the immensity of this number. But the common opinion across the board is that we can’t grasp it. It’s just too much for our puny brains to digest. The GSA website states, “For many people, however, deep time is a critical barrier to learning science; the meaning of immense spans of time is elusive and unfamiliar…”[3]

If we go back 4670 years, we’re kind of back at the dawn of recorded time. That’s the age of the earth minus six zeroes. That is 2670 years before the events of the life of Jesus Christ. Forty-seven centuries ago is a staggering amount of time. Yet that would be one ten thousandth part of the entire history of the world. You would have to have 10,000 lengths of recorded history, 10,000 – to equal the age of mother earth.

How do we reconcile this enormity of time with belief in God? That's coming in part 2.

[1] http://

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Exclusiveness of Christ

There are many ways to God

A popular opinion here in India states, “All religions are the same. For you Christianity is true, for me Hinduism is true, and for a Thai, Buddhism is true, but all religions are the same. They all lead to the same god. It’s like all the various rivers in the world that lead to the one ocean. (like in the Niger Delta at right) God is one, you call him Jesus and I call him Rama but all religions are the same.”

Some call this argument universalism. How would you reply to that statement? Would you agree with it or attempt to give an answer? Think about it for a second.

Universalism has been in the news in the US for the past few years. Rev. Carlton Pearson, a popular preacher / evangelist has begun to proclaim a “Gospel of Inclusion.” Pearson’s web site says, “Carlton Pearson has made a choice… to move away from the exclusiveness of the religious traditions he was raised in (Bible-believing Protestant Christianity) and adopt a more embracing, affirming, welcoming and inclusive approach to faith… Furthermore, Pearson, through both scriptural re-interpretation and heartfelt conviction, is absolutely convinced that God is not sending people to …hell nor does such a place exist except in an un-regenerated or unenlightened mind ... He believes that institutionalized religion has misinterpreted and misrepresented the infinite Intelligence called God, causing destructive and counter-productive fear and paranoia.” [1] The scriptural re-interpretation of Bishop Pearson is really just good old-fashioned universalism. It seems the only real bad guys for Pearson are those who hold to the exclusiveness of Jesus Christ. The teaching of Carlton Pearson has been widely condemned as heresy by many Christians.

The Bible teaches that there is one universal God. About 2000 years ago that God became man and lived among us. God became known to us in Jesus. He did not espouse a Universalist view. He demanded repentance, spoke of a real place called hell, and said He was the door to God. Christ claimed exclusiveness. At the same time, He was inclusive in loving and blessing all kinds of imperfect people. But Jesus clearly called people to holiness and to faith in Him for salvation.

The Exclusiveness of Jesus Christ

"Truly, truly I say unto you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber... I am the door; if anyone enters through me he shall be saved..." John 10:1,9

In the verse where Christ said “I am the door,” He himself claimed to be the one true way to God. This is the flashpoint of Christian belief in India and elsewhere. At this declaration, people are often offended. It smacks of arrogance. But nevertheless, it is a claim that Jesus and the Apostles made. It may rub some the wrong way, but it is either true or false. It would be contradictory to say that He is both the one way and also that all ways lead to God.

Logically then, it is possible that Jesus Christ is the only way. It is not a logical impossibility. Exclusivity is a valid principle in this universe.

“But all rivers run into the sea,” it is argued by the Universalist. Yes, but it’s also true that there are many possible answers to a mathematical problem. Some are closer to correct than others, but only one is the actual correct product. Of all the planets in the Universe, there is only one that we know of now that has a large reservoir of liquid water. At this point, that makes the earth the exclusive domain of water.

Where Universalism Breaks Down

On a purely logical basis, if universalism is correct, then even Christians would still be on a valid path to God. They would still be progressing toward the one ocean. But if Christ’s claim is true, and He is the only way, then all who reject Him are in danger of being separated from God. It seems that a Universalist approach is a little more risky if we reason it out.

The Universalist struggles to live consistently with their presuppositions. If all ways lead to God, then why the problem with conversions from one religion to another here in South Asia? A Hindu father probably would not want a marriage for his child with a Muslim or a Christian. Although Gautama Buddha was an Indian, his religion has not been embraced by Indians. Is it not one of the valid rivers that lead to the ocean? It seems that all adherents of the world religions show a bias toward their own. Universalists proclaim many ways but practically show bias toward their own thinking. Does this indicate that they believe one way is superior? If superior, then are all the ways to God truly equal?

Differences in the Religions

To say that “all religions are not the same” is more true to what we observe than saying “all religions are the same.” Christians, Muslims, and Jews do not claim that all the rivers empty into the same sea. Even the Dalai Lama, the head of Tibetan Buddhism calls his religion and Christianity “our two very different traditions.”[2] Christians and Muslims don’t agree on the identity of Jesus. Neither do Jews and Christians. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all expressly forbid idolatry and condemn the practice. For Hindus, it is an integral part of their religion. The list of differences goes on and on.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Once in Kolkata, I saw a billboard with the Indian Guru, Baba Lokenath on it. There was a quotation, “Wherever you are, be it at home or on the battlefield, I am with you.” That is very similar to what Jesus said, “…I am with you always.”[3] I thought to myself, what’s the difference? It’s the same claim Jesus made. My fleeting thought was a seed of Universalist reasoning. In reality, anyone can say “I am with you always.” The difference is the authority of the one who said it. On what evidence can Lokenath or Jesus base that kind of a statement?

In conclusion, a compelling reason to embrace Christ as the one true way is the authority declared through His life and deeds. He stands unique among all the figures of world history. Consider the centuries old prophecies about the Coming One that were fulfilled in His life. The circumstances of His birth from a virgin are exceptional. The eyewitness accounts of miracles he performed, the nature and purpose of His death, and His resurrection after being dead and in a grave for three days. Finally, the way of salvation through Christ is unique. It is not man reaching out to God, but God reaching out to man. It is attainable, amazingly easily attainable! It is not what we do for God, but what He’s already done for us. Philip Yancey writes, “The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and the Muslim code of Law – each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.”[4]

History has no parallel to this life and mission. If anyone could claim, “I am the Way… no one comes to the Father but by me…”[5] it is Jesus.

[2] Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, Freedom In Exile, (Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 1991)
[3] Matthew 28:20 (NASB)
[4] Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), p. 45
[5] John 14:6 (NASB)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Shout of the Sunrise (Conclusion)

“And they who dwell in the ends of the earth stand in awe of Thy signs; Thou dost make the dawn and the sunset shout for joy.”[1]

C.S. Lewis wrote during the World War II era, “There is no reason why our reaction to a beautiful landscape should not be the response, however humanly blurred and partial, to a something that is really there.”
[2] In the first part of this article, I presented the debate that exists between the humanist with his evolutionary presuppositions and the Christian theist with his biblical perspective of creation. I conclude this article with two arguments in support of the latter point of view.

Proof 1: The sense of beauty and awe

It is a fact that nature’s spectacles such as a sunrise attract people all over the world. Today, thousands of photographs will be taken of the dawns and sunsets around the world. Travellers will upload photos of the rising sun onto various web sites. We gaze at the bright, shining beauty of the dawn. We ponder the precision that brings about the sunrise at the exactly predicted moment. As Lewis observed, we have a “reaction” to what we see.

We call this reaction an aesthetic sense. We’re attracted to the beautiful, the inspiring. Even scientists, in their quest to discover what makes the universe tick, employ language that often sounds strangely theological. Two time Apollo astronaut Eugene Cernan is one of the few human beings to have viewed the earth from the moon. Being interviewed in a documentary of the Apollo missions Cernan recalled, “I felt I was literally standing on a plateau out there in space, a plateau that science and technology had allowed me to get to. Now what I was seeing, even more importantly what I was feeling at that point in time, science and technology had no answers for. Literally no answers. Because there I was, and (looking up) there you are… there you are, the earth, dynamic, overwhelming, and I felt that there was just too much purpose, too much logic, it was just too beautiful to have happened by accident. There has to be someone bigger than you and bigger than me, and I mean this in a spiritual sense, I’m not religious, but there has to be a Creator of the universe who stands above the religions that we create to govern our lives.”[3]

It is a reality that man has a sense of beauty and amazement. Why? If we are random products of nature with no purpose for being here beyond survival of the species as evolution states, then why does the Divine “shout for joy” attract us? Why do we feel inspired to paint the scene, photograph it, and plan our honeymoon to see it, or memorialize it in a song? From a strictly evolutionary basis, why would humans have this sense of appreciating beauty that leads us to higher, nobler thinking?

People’s attraction to majestic, powerful, or beautiful sights is not only pleasing to our senses. It also often causes us to consider transcendent things, as was the case with Cernan. Philip Yancey writes, “Despite the awesome emptiness of our universe, despite the pain that haunts it, something lingers, like a scent of old perfume, from that moment of beginnings in Genesis 1. I too have sensed it. The first time I rounded a bend and saw Yosemite Valley spread out before me, its angel-hair waterfalls spilling over the snow glazed granite. On a small peninsula of Ontario where five million migrating monarch butterflies stop to rest, their papery wings adorning every tree with shimmering, translucent orange… In the beginning, the very beginning, there was … Only joy.”

Man’s aesthetic capacity is an observable fact. This is a universal phenomenon. People all over the world watch, admire, and wonder. When we look at a vast sunrise panorama, a waterfall or the massive rolling waves, we feel small and our thoughts are drawn upward.

Proof 2: Religions everywhere!

That inner attraction and curiosity at the natural world contributes to a second proof that the creation announces a Designer. The universal presence of religion supports the biblical claim regarding nature’s origin. It is partly this fearfulness of nature that explains the worldwide presence of religions. In every culture there is a belief in something beyond what is seen. Often the form of the world’s religions has been the worship of nature. This is human religion in its most primitive form. The ancient Egyptians worshiped the sun and the Norse, among other things, venerated thunder. Other civilizations worshipped the moon, the sea, or other observable phenomena. Why? Partly at least because of the admiration they inspire. Through observing the dawn, the moon, the lightening, through hearing the thunder, men were drawn to look beyond themselves and worship. Bible translator J. B. Philips reasoned, “Arguing… from what we know to what we don’t know, we may fairly say that as food is the answer to hunger, water the answer to thirst, and a mate to sexual desire, this universal hunger for Truth is unlikely to be without its answer and fulfillment...”

Many mistakenly say that nature itself is god. Because this tendency to worship nature was so strong, in the pre-Christian era, God strictly forbade Israel from this practice. He wanted no confusion between creation and Creator. Some equate the two, but that’s not the scope of this article. The Christian view is the uniqueness and separateness of the Creator and the created.

Many would have us believe religion exists because of what our parents and their parents, and their parents ad infinitum have taught us. It is social conditioning. From an evolutionary point of view, how would this contribute to the survival of our species? Is it not reasonable to say that religion is in every place and culture down through history at least in part because nature “shouts for joy” that ‘something big’ is up? For me, this is a self-evident truth.

The Mercy of God

The Apostle Paul declares that the Lord is not hiding. He writes, “…because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”
[6] The Creator has made Himself evident through His handiwork. In the Old Testament for a human to see God’s actual being was fatal. Maybe His indirect revealing of Himself through the exquisiteness and greatness of nature is done in mercy? Is it possible that God simply cannot wait to show Himself to us? He wants to share his glory with us but not destroy us in the process. First light attracts us because of its color it doesn’t kill us! To fix your eyes on the divine inventions draws us to worship; it does not end our lives.

Final Word

Have you ever stared at the blurring wings of a hummingbird? Or considered the tiny foot and toes of a newborn? Looked up at the enormity of the towering clouds? Have you ever commented on the color of the sea? The entire universe is an evidence of God’s creative work that communicates to our senses that someone is its Architect. This “general” revelation from God, as theologians call it, is obvious to men. To deny this is a denial of us in some sense. We appreciate nature through an inner artistic-like capacity. Due in part to this detection of God’s fingerprints in nature, man is religious everywhere. The Lord has surrounded us with the works of His hands and they shout with joy to us. Let us not lightly stand by as scoffers declare there is no substantiation for God in the natural world. The proof is all around us! Just get up early tomorrow morning and see!

[1] Psalm 65:8 (NASB)
[2] C.S. Lewis, “Christian Reflections,” (William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd, Glasgow, 1967) p 96-97
[3] “In the Shadow of the Moon,” 2007, a film by Ron Howard
[4] Philip Yancey, “Disappointment With God,” (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1988) p. 59
[5] J.B. Philips, “Your God is Too Small (Touchstone Books, New York, 2004 (from 1952 original)), p. 71
[6] Romans 1:19-20 (NASB)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Shout of the Sunrise (Part 1)

The Shout of the Sunrise
(Part one of 2)
I have a favorite picture of my wife and me with two of our daughters taken early one morning in South India. We’re standing on the roof of a hotel at Cape Comorin, at the very southern tip of India. The four of us are in silhouette against the beautiful morning sunrise. As we watched the sun come up over the Bay of Bengal, it was an amazing light show.

The beauty, color, and intricacy of nature tend to inspire us. People everywhere pause, gaze, and comment on the sheer glory of what they’re seeing. Some write poems or compose songs. The Bible says, “They who dwell in the ends of the earth stand in awe of your signs; You make the dawn and the sunset shout for joy.”
[1] The word translated “signs” in Psalm 65:8 is interesting. The Hebrew word is “oth,” which can also be translated flag, beacon, or evidence. The point is these attention-getting events communicate a message to us. God shines like a beacon, or lighthouse, each morning and evening. He waves a flag to get our attention. These “oth” are evidence that, “I am here. I am big. What you are seeing reflects who I am.”

Scripture is telling us that the Lord gives man daily evidence of His reality. The rising and the setting of the sun are two of these signs. They literally “shout for joy” to those who are watching them. As a heavenly drum roll to begin the day and solemn bugle call to end it, we look on admiringly. There is no music; no voice is heard, yet for us that morning at Cape Comorin, the sunrise literally shouted with joy to our family.

Modern Thinking

Today, many disagree with the biblical claim that God communicates to us through natural events. Science can break down a sunrise into its components and explain why it happens. Sunrises, and natural events, are reducible to basic physical principles. Given these elements of angle, light, clouds, the earth’s atmosphere and rotation, it is no wonder that a sunrise or sunset occurs! Unfortunately, the fashion today is proving that a rising sun is “no wonder.” In this climate of scientific reductionism modern man has minimized God in our perception. Man-centered secularism says the sunrise and sunset are natural and just ‘happen’ given all the conditions that have evolved. Claiming proof for a Creator in nature is labeled hogwash.

This perspective is the result of decades of humanistic, post-Christian worldview. Denial of evidence for God in the universe around us leaves us with an evolutionary worldview. A God who is mighty enough to create everything would be scary to many. That would mean He is really God, and cannot be ignored. So man promotes the notion of a god that fits his lifestyle and that can be controlled. Learned men pay attention to the whys and hows of the universe and interpret what they learn to explain away God. The Biblical account is ridiculed. Influential scientists, professors, intellectuals and even judges say there is no evidence for design in the universe. Those who deny design in the facts of nature around us, are like those who the Psalmist says “…do not pay attention to the deeds of the Lord, nor do they consider the work of His hands.”

The Biblical Perspective

We were meant to consider the works of Gods hands! The Christian believes that the entire creation “shouts for joy” that God exists. Well did Isaiah say, “That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the … Holy One of Israel has created it.”
[3] This was evident to scientists in the past such as Johannes Kepler. He said, “The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God.”[4] He saw science’s role as studying Gods creation, not explaining God out of it!

As we turn to the words of Scripture, we learn over and over that the very creation itself is a “sign,” or evidence for mankind to see, hear, smell, and sense. Literally all creation exists to reveal God, the Creator. Rick Warren writes, “The ultimate goal of the universe is to show the glory of God… Where is the glory of God? Just look around. Everything created by God reflects his glory in some way. We see it everywhere, from the smallest microscopic form of life to the vast Milky Way, from sunsets and stars to storms and seasons. Creation reveals our Creator’s glory.”

What is True?

So this is the modern debate. Many people oppose the biblical view of God’s revelation in nature and deny evidence for design. Yet we Christians sing, “...early in the morning, I will celebrate the light...” [6] as we observe the beauty of a sunrise. Two opposing views! What does the evidence suggest? Does reality, that which is observed, support the Biblical account or the naturalistic explanations that began with ´´the Age of Enlightenment and Newton’s mechanical description of the universe? ``
[7] We turn in the next installment to proofs in support of the biblical account.

References[1] Psalm 65:8 (NASB)[2] Isaiah 5:12-13 (NASB)[3] Isaiah 41:20 (NASB)[4] Charles Colson, “Developing a Christian World View of Science and Evolution, (Tyndale House Publishers, 2001) p 17[5] Rick Warren, “The Purpose Driven Life,” (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002) p 53-54[6] Marc Byrd & Steve Hindalong, “God of Wonders”, Copyright 2000 by New Spring

[7] Norman L. Geisler & Chad V. Meister, `Reasons for Faith, Making a Case for the Christian Faith, (Secunderabad, India, Authentic Books, 2007) p 219

Quotes of Note ... The Invisible World

“Spiritual warfare is learning to recognize the strategies, refusing to cooperate with them, and aggressively cutting off the schemes of the devil in Jesus’ name.” Dean Sherman

“those who protest that God cannot exist because there is too much evil evident in life… Evil exists; therefore, the Creator does not. That is categorically stated… If evil exists, one must assume that good exists in order to know the difference. If good exists, one must assume that a moral law exists by which to measure good and evil. But if a moral law exists, must not one posit an ultimate source of moral law, or at least an objective basis for a moral law? By an objective basis, I mean something that is transcendingly true at all times, regardless of whether I believed it or not.” Ravi Zacharias

“But the Devil is no big threat to God’s purposes; he is not even remotely comparable in power. He has been given a limited time before his final judgment to try to prove his case, just as all other moral beings who have chosen to live in rebellion against heaven.” W.A. Pratney

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I've served as a life-long missionary in Samoa, the Pacific region, India, and now in Pennsylvania. The Christian faith is reasonable and works in real life. It is true to the facts. Hope you enjoy some of the thoughts. I appreciate feedback.

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