Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Accidental Millionaires

Every once in a while the news will report stories of people who become accidental millionaires by stumbling into fortunes that they didn’t know they possessed. This year we have seen two such cases. First, there was the Minnesota building contractor, David Gonzales, who bought an old house for $10,000 and was doing some renovations in the attic when he came across a priceless piece of Americana. There stuffed inside the walls of the attic among old newspapers used for insulation was a copy of Action Comics No. 1, the 1938 comic book that debuted “the man of steel,” Superman. The fact that the comic book was tattered and in less than mint condition didn’t seem to matter as it sold at auction for a cool $175,000 (click here to read full article)1

Then there was the case of one lucky shopper who stumbled upon the art find of a lifetime when he purchased a bundle of unidentified sketches at a rummage sale in Las Vegas. At the time, Andy Fields, had no idea that he was buying what experts believe is a previously unknown work by Andy Warhol. That's why he paid less than $5 for it. But now the early pop art sketch, thought to have been completed by Warhol when he was 10 or 11 years old, went up for sale on eBay for a whopping $1.9 million (click here to read full article)2

Those stories reminded me of a parable that Jesus once told of another individual who serendipitously happened upon a fortune. In Matthew 13:44 Jesus said, “God’s kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic—what a find!—and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field (MSG).” 

There are various interpretations of this parable, one of them being that the Kingdom of God is of immense value. The treasure that man found was too amazing to forget about! He probably couldn’t take His mind off it until it was in his pocket. He was sitting on a gold mine, and the price tag for the plot of land was peanuts compared to value of the treasure. Just as the man sold everything he had to buy the land which contained buried treasure, so too entrance into Kingdom of God far outweighs any inconvenience or sacrifice one might encounter on Earth. 

When we discover that we can enter God’s kingdom, we have a choice to make, just as the man in the field did. We can see the treasure and just go back to our old way of life, or we can see God’s kingdom, full of peace, love, forgiveness, freedom, and joy, and want that more than anything else. Jesus is not saying that you must go out and sell everything you own in order to be saved. But He is saying that you should be willing to sacrifice anything in order to own a share in God’s Kingdom. What could be more valuable than abundant life and a relationship with the Creator of the universe? Are you willing to let go of your earthly trinkets for real treasure? 

1. Brian Truitt, "Superman Debut Comic Found in Wall Sells for $170,000," USA Today, 13 June 2013 <http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/2013/06/13/superman-action-comics-issue-found-in-wall/2419837/>.

2. "Andy Warhol Drawing Bought for $5 Could Fetch Nearly $2 Million on Ebay," Huffington Post, 5 August 2013, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/05/andy-warhol-ebay_n_3707365.html>.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Choosing the Right Company

Dr. Clarence Macartney, a preacher from another generation once told a story about the importance of forging good friendships. He wrote, “I frequently go down to the penitentiary to visit a man who is serving a life term. This is how his imprisonment started: he had not long been in this country. He went out one evening with a group of men who had invited him to accompany them. The first thing he knew they were robbing a store. In the shooting which ensued the woman in the house was fatally wounded. Sometime afterward the young man, who did not even know that a murder had been committed and who actually had nothing to do with it, was picked up and interrogated by the police, whom he frankly told that he had been out that night with a group of young men. He was tried and sentenced to death, for murder, and legally so, as he was in the company of those who had committed the crime. Just one night of thoughtless, careless friendship—and a life was all but ruined!” 

The Bible speaks often about the dangers of making friends with the foolish. Proverbs 13:20 says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. Proverbs 12:26 reinforces this same point in a different way, “The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” Paul quotes from the Greek poet Meander in 1 Cor. 15:33, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’” 

The Bible has much to say about the kinds of relationships we have with people because it is our friends who will play an influential role in molding the person we will become. Friends can be a positive influence or a spiritual hindrance. Friends will either build us up in our faith or drag us down. I have often given the object lesson to the youth group about how easily this works. I would ask one student to stand on a chair or table top. Then I would ask another student to stand on the floor beside them. I would ask the student perched atop the chair to try and pull that student on the floor up to them. You can imagine it was easier said than done. After they struggled, I would reverse the process and ask the student on the floor to pull the guy on the chair down to their level. That was much easier, since the force of gravity was working in their favor. The point was made loud and clear—it’s easier to be negatively influenced than to go against the grain. 

That is why choosing the people we associate with is a careful business. The people that we hang around will shape our opinions, values and our reputation. Few choices have greater influence over our lives–for better or worse–than our choice of friends. When choosing our friends we should measure them against four biblical principles. A friend should be consistent (Pro. 17:17, 18:24), they should treat us with candor (Pro. 27:5-6), they should give us wise counsel (Pro. 27:9), and they should challenge us to have impeccable character (Pro. 27:17). 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Confessions of a Former Skeptic

Let’s play pretend for a moment. A reporter has been given the assignment of writing an article about your life entitled, “Is John/Jane Doe an Honest Person?” In order to do his work the reporter is given full access to your personal and financial records. He’s going to do a lot of digging so he will be scrutinizing every detail. As part of his research process the reporter is going to be interviewing people who know you best. If your mother says that you are an honest person, we may have reason to believe her, but since she loves you and is no doubt biased, we can only accept her appraisal with reservation. However, if one of your enemies admits to the reporter that you are an honest person, we have an even stronger reason to believe what is being asserted, since potential bias is removed.

Historians call this “the principle of enemy attestation.” This principle asserts that any if source that does not have sympathy for a certain person, message, or cause comes to affirm something about it then it is more likely to be authentic.

Consequently, when we examine the evidence for resurrection of Christ this is one of its greatest assets. The New Testament records the testimony of hostile or unsympathetic witnesses who claim that the resurrection was a historical fact. In fact, history is replete with examples of skeptics who turned into believers after examining the evidence concerning the resurrection. In light of this, I decided to put a short list together of some of the skeptics who tried to disprove the resurrection, only being converted in the process.

Paul: No informed individual would regard Saul of Tarsus to have been a follower of Christ. He despised Christ and persecuted Christians, aiming to eradicate their whole cult. Saul of all people had no reason to become a believer, by his own account He was proud and content being a Pharisee (Phil 3:4-6). He saw killing Christians as a divine mandate that he joyfully carried out (Acts 8:1-3, 22:2-6, 26:9-11; Gal. 1:13-14). However, Saul went from being the greatest persecutor of the early church to the greatest preacher. Acts 9:1-9 records the story of Saul’s conversion to Paul on the Damascus Road when the resurrected Jesus appeared to him with such power and glory that he was blinded and knocked off his horse. Paul was never the same again. He ended up writing over half of the New Testament and giving his life for the Gospel, as he was beheaded in 64 AD under Emperor Nero. What could account for this radical transformation? Nothing short of a personal appearance by the risen Jesus, which Paul affirmed multiple times (Acts 22:6-11, 26:12-18; 1 Cor. 15:8, Gal. 1:15-16).

James: The half-brother of Jesus was another skeptic. The Gospels indicate that none of Jesus’ brothers believed Him during His lifetime (John 7:5; Mark 3:21-25). In fact they tried to fool Jesus into a death trap at a public feast in Jerusalem. Yet James later became a follower of his half-brother and joined the band of persecuted Christians. James became a key leader in the church (Acts 15:12-21; Gal 1:19), wrote an epistle in the New Testament that bears his name (James 1:1), and became one of the churches early martyrs as attested by Josephus and Clement of Alexandria. Again, what else could explain such a drastic transformation? The best reason is that James had an encounter with the risen Christ (1 Cor. 15:7).  

Both of those men gave their lives for a message they couldn’t deny. Nobody dies for something they know to be a lie. As John Stott said, “A man is prepared to die for a conviction, but not a concoction.” Charles Colson, Special Counsel to President Nixon during the Watergate scandal, knew full well how difficult it is to keep a conspiracy together. Colson explained, “I know how impossible it is for a group of people, even some of the most powerful in the world, to maintain a lie. The Watergate cover up lasted only a few weeks before the first conspirator broke and turned state’s evidence.”1 As soon as pressure mounted and the conspirators realized they could be punished, they jumped ship to save their own skin. Yet not even one of the disciples, even though they all faced horrendous persecution and even death, renounced his belief in the resurrection of Christ.

Sir Lionel Luckhoo: Luckhoo was known in the legal world as the greatest defense attorney that ever lived.  In fact, the Guinness Book of World Records has him listed with the most wins ever by a defense attorney with 245 consecutive murder acquittals. He was knighted twice by the Queen of England. Luckhoo, was an avowed atheist. Someone asked him if he had ever investigated the evidence for the resurrection and challenged him to apply his legal prowess to the New Testament. He accepted the challenge and at the end of his investigation he went from being an atheist to being a Christian. He said, “I say unequivocally that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt.”2

Dr. Simon Greenleaf: Greenleaf was for many years the professor emeritus of law at Harvard University and a renowned skeptic. His three-volume classic of American jurisprudence, A Treatise on the Law of Evidence was a standard textbook for law students during the nineteenth century. A brilliant lecturer, Dr. Greenleaf often mocked Christianity in his classes. One day some of his students challenged him to apply the laws of legal evidence he had developed to the case of Christ’s resurrection. After much persuasion, Greenleaf took on the task in the form a book with the lengthy title of An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists, by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice. After carefully, examining all the information available to him, Greenleaf concluded that the facts of the New Testament, impartially judged, spoke for themselves. He came to the conclusion that according to the laws of legal evidence used in courts of law, there is more evidence for the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ than for just about any other event in history.

Frank Morrison: In the 1930s a rationalistic English journalist named Frank Morrison set out to debunk the crazy idea of Jesus’ resurrection once and for all. He examined the historical evidence with all his legal logic and evidential expertise. Morrison sifted through every possibility that might account for the disappearance of Jesus’ body, yet the only logical solution was the biblical explanation. In the end he wrote a book called Who Moved the Stone? The only thing it debunked was his skepticism. His book has become a classic apologetic text for the historical resurrection of Christ. In the opening chapter entitled, “The Book that Refused to Be Written,” Morrison said, “The book that was originally planned was left high and dry, like those Thames barges when the great river goes out to meet the incoming sea. The writer discovered one day that not only could he no longer write the book as he had once conceived it, but that he would not if he could.”3   

Josh McDowell: As a pre-law student, Josh McDowell was also a skeptic of Christianity and believed that every Christian had two minds: one was lost while the other was out looking for it. McDowell was eventually challenged by a group of Christian friends to investigate the Christian truth claims. Thinking this a farce, he accepted the challenge and decided that he would write the definitive book which would make laughingstock of Christianity. McDowell only made it a year or so into his research until he realized that weight of the evidence in favor of the Bible was too great for his skepticism to hold up. Josh wrote:
“One day while I was sitting in a library in London, England, I sensed a voice inside me saying, “Josh, you don’t have a leg to stand on.” I immediately suppressed it. But just about every day after that I heard the same inner voice. The more I researched, the more I heard His voice. I returned to the United States and to the university, but I couldn’t sleep at night. I would go to bed at ten o’clock and lie awake until four in the morning, trying to refute the overwhelming evidence I was accumulating that Jesus Christ was God’s Son. I began to realize that I was being intellectually dishonest.”4      

McDowell eventually gave his life to Christ and wrote a number of important texts in defense of Christianity, among them Evidence That Demands a Verdict and More Than a
Carpenter. You can hear Josh’s whole story here.

If you are skeptic, why do you reject the resurrection Christ? The above examples show that it cannot be because the Christian worldview lacks sufficient evidence. I would tell you not to trust the testimonies of these men and instead do your own homework, but there is always that danger that you might end up making the same conclusion they did. Are you willing to follow the evidence where ever it leads?

1. Charles Colson, How Now Shall We Live? (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1999), 275-276.
2. Ross Clifford, The Case for the Empty Tomb (Claremont, CA: Albatross, 1991), 112.
3. Frank Morrison, Who Moved the Stone? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1958), 8.
4. Josh McDowell, Evidence for Christianity (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006), xxiii. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Why Persecution Is a Good Thing

There is a story which goes back to the days when communism reigned in Russia with an iron fist. Testimonies of the underground church would surface from time to time. On one particular Sunday, a group of believers gathered for worship. They arrived throughout the day so as to not arouse suspicion by KGB informants. By dark, they were all inside, windows closed, doors locked. They began by singing a hymn quietly, when suddenly the door was pushed open and in walked two solders with automatic weapons, demanding that they all line up on the wall. One shouted, “If you wish to renounce your commitment to Jesus Christ, leave now!” Two or three left quickly and after a few more seconds, two more. Finally, a couple more slipped out into the blackness of the night. After a few moments of complete silence, the soldiers closed and locked the door. They said, “Keep your hands up in praise to God. We too are Christians and we have learned to not trust anyone who is not willing to die for their faith.” 

We tend to think of persecution as a bad thing. However, that’s not how the early church viewed it. Peter wrote to a group of believers facing intense harassment for their faith, “If you’re abused because of Christ, count yourself fortunate. It’s the Spirit of God and his glory in you that brought you to the notice of others. If they’re on you because you broke the law or disturbed the peace, that’s a different matter. But if it’s because you’re a Christian, don’t give it a second thought. Be proud of the distinguished status reflected in that name!” (1 Peter 4:14-16, MSG). 

Passages like this one and others in the New Testament actually teach that God has a hidden purpose behind persecution. Being hated for our faith actually strengthens our resolve to serve Christ and instills godly character into our souls (Phil. 3:10). Paradoxically, persecution spreads the Gospel rather than kill it (Acts 8:1, 4). Tertullian (160-220 AD), the bishop of Carthage, once remarked that “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” 

The reason for this is because persecution gives the Gospel credibility. Yielding graciously to persecution allows one to demonstrate that he is of a superior quality than his adversaries. When we suffer for Christ then it reveals the wicked heart of those who would wish us harm and gives us a platform to speak the truth (Phil. 1:12-14). The apostle Paul warned us that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). 

While none of us desire to be persecuted for being a Christian we should be willing to take abuse for the sake of the Gospel since Jesus took the nails for us. Remember, as Christians it’s not our job to be popular. We are not contestants on American Idol. We are not Christ’s speechwriters or PR team, airbrushing Jesus so He has greater appeal to people who don’t want to hear what He said about sin and hell. He’s the King, He calls the shots, we’re just His ambassadors. So let’s represent the real Jesus, who “when He was reviled did not revile in return” (1 Peter 2:23), not just the culturally acceptable one.    

Friday, August 9, 2013

Evolution: A Religion of Faith

It was Karl Marx, the infamous atheist and father of communism, who referred to religion as “the opium of the people.” Marx’s contention was that religion gives people artificial, illusory happiness—like opium does to a drug addict—and freeing people from that unrealistic illusion was part of building a better society. Religion is nothing more than an emotional crutch for weak-minded people, or so the atheist claims. The underlying message is that those who have finally embraced atheism have evolved past man’s petty and childish need for a Supreme Being and can now move forward into a bright future of rational thinking, enlightenment, and scientific progress.  

What is ironic about this movement is that in killing God, the skeptic has merely replaced Him with another religion—the cult of science, more specifically Darwinism. The parallels between today’s scientific cult and organized religion (which they so loathe) are quite striking. Evolution is their god, Charles Darwin is their founder, The Origin of Species their Bible and the cult has its prominent evangelists—Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens.

Darwinism is appealing for several reasons. First, the theory of evolution gives skeptics the ability to explain the origin of life without bringing God into the picture. With no need for God they are free to live however they want without the threat of moral accountability. If atheism is true, and there is no God, then everything really is all about me, and what I want, and what I can get. Man now becomes God and makes the rules.

Second, Darwinism makes its disciples seem so rational, intelligent and superior to those who are still living in the stone ages praying to an invisible God. Today’s atheist is an intellectual oozing with sophistication. Doesn’t everyone want to be counted among such giants as Fredrick Nietzsche, Ernest Hemingway, and Bertrand Russell?  Moreover, the skeptic is armed to the teeth with scientific facts and data, while the believer merely takes a blind leap of faith.   

In his most recent documentary, God vs.Evolution1, Christian author and speaker, Ray Comfort, infiltrates several college campuses where Darwin’s theory is dispensed like soma to the masses. Through a series of impromptu interviews with students and professors, Comfort shows the bankruptcy of evolution as a scientific fact, as well as, showing how Darwin’s disciples surprisingly exercise faith in a theory that has zero evidence of being true.

The film brings to light some of the glaring problems with evolution that Christian apologists have been pointing out for years. Let’s examine just three.

First, there is the problem of creation. By this I mean that evolution cannot solve the problem of how the very first stands of amino acids and proteins originated. Naturalistic evolution begins with the untenable premise that somehow life came from non-life, that matter gave rise to mind, that randomness is the mother of design and that chance somehow produced the complexity of life. The technical term for this is abiogenesis. The only problem is that there have been no experiments demonstrating abiogenesis in action. It has never been observed in a natural or artificial environment. Even the famous, Miller-Urey experiment of the 1950s which filled biology textbooks has been abandoned or discredited by modern scientists. Biologist Jonathan Wells said:

“Put a sterile, balanced salt solution in a test tube. Then put in a single living cell and poke a hole in it so that its contents leak into the solution. Now the test tube has the all the molecules you would need to create a living cell, right? You would already have accomplished far more than what the Miller experiment ever could—you’ve got all the components you need for life…The problem is you can’t make a living cell…So even if you could accomplish the thousands of steps between the amino acids in the Miller test—which probably didn’t exist in the real world anyway—and the components you need for a living cell—all the enzymes, the DNA, and so forth—you’re still immeasurably far from life…the problem remains of assembling the right parts in the right way at the right time and at the right place, while keeping out the wrong material is simply insurmountable.”2

Second, there is the problem of complexity. We know a lot more today about the complexity of the cell and DNA than Darwin ever dreamed about knowing in the mid-nineteenth century. Information theory has now unveiled the impossibility of DNA assembling itself without the infusion of intelligence. If we believe that words in books, codes in computers, or archeological inscriptions were made by an intelligent source, how much more the 3.1 billion genetic letters found in the human body? How about the 2.5 petabytes (2.5 million gigabytes) of information which could be stored in the neurons of the human brain?

Let’s take the example of a house. In order to have a house you need a set of blueprints and the basic materials—cinder blocks, wood, nails, etc. The information necessary to build the house is not inherent in the materials. Leave the building materials sitting in the elements and they will never assemble themselves into a townhouse. However, additional foreign information must be imposed upon the building materials to achieve the configuration of a house. Thus, the relationship between homes and blueprints, hardware and software is the relationship between mind and matter. Both are needed. Similarly, the chemical components needed for DNA do not possess the set of instructions necessary to build an amoeba or a man. So the question for evolutionists is where does the information come from?

Paul Davies reinforced the point that obtaining the building blocks of life would not explain their arrangement: “Just as bricks alone don’t make a house, so it takes more than a random collection of amino acids to make life. Like house bricks, the building blocks of life have to be assembled in a very specific and exceedingly elaborate way before they have the desired function.”3

Third, there is the problem of corroborating evidence. If evolution were a scientific fact then shouldn’t the fossil record be replete with examples of transmutation from one species to another? Yet when we start digging we find out that the fossil record has no such data to support the idea of gradual change  of molecules into man. A common example that is often given is Darwin’s finches which shows how the birds’ beaks changed according to their environment and need. However, this is more like adaptation than evolution. The birds always stayed birds, they never cross over to another life form.

Evolutionists today are echoing these same thoughts.  Steven Jay Gould from Harvard University said, “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record is the trade secret of paleontology.”4 Professor Ronald West made a candid admission when he said, “Contrary to what most scientists write, the fossil record does not support the theory of evolution, because it is this theory which we use to interpret the fossil record. By doing so we are guilty of circular reasoning if we then say the fossil record supports this theory.”5

In fact, since 2001 over 500 doctoral scientists have now signed a statement publicly expressing their skepticism about the contemporary theory of Darwinian evolution. The Scientific Dissent from Darwinism statement reads: "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged."6

The list of 514 signatories includes member scientists from the prestigious US and Russian National Academy of Sciences. Signers include 154 biologists, the largest single scientific discipline represented on the list, as well as 76 chemists and 63 physicists. Signers hold doctorates in biological sciences, physics, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, computer science, and related disciplines. Many are professors or researchers at major universities and research institutions such as MIT, The Smithsonian, Cambridge University, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, the Ohio State University, the University of Georgia, and the University of Washington.

So let’s put this all into perspective. In order to ascribe to Darwinism I would have to:
1) Adhere to a theory that goes against reason and science (that life came from non-life)
2) Believe that complete randomness accounts for information in DNA (yet we don't believe than an explosion in a print shop could produce the Declaration of Independence)
3) Subscribe to a theory that cannot be observed scientifically and has no evidence to support it

I don’t know about you, but that would take an incredible amount of faith to subscribe to Darwinism. That would be belief in spite of the facts.

1 http://www.evolutionvsgod.com/
2 Jonathan Wells quoted by Lee Strobel, Case for a Creator, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 39.
3 Paul Davies, “Life force,” New Scientist 163 (2204):27–30, 1999; p. 28.
4 Steven Jay Gould, Natural History (May 1977), 14.
5 Ronald R. West, Compass, vol. 45 (1968), 216.
6 http://www.dissentfromdarwin.org/

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sinkhole Syndrome

In June 2013 six-year-old Nathan Woessner was enjoying the day with his parents at Indiana’s Dunes National Lakeshore Park when one of the 124 foot sand dunes collapsed under his feet and buried him under eleven feet of sand. It took rescuers working frantically with digging equipment three hours to extricate him from the sinkhole.1 It is thought that the boy may have been saved by an air pocket that was created by an old tree that was buried deep beneath the dune. Amazingly, after a few weeks in the hospital the boy was released with a clean bill of health. 

Sinkholes occur, scientists say, when underground streams drain away during seasons of drought, causing the ground at the surface to lose its underlying support. Suddenly everything simply caves in, leaving people with the sneaking suspicion that nothing—not even the earth beneath their feet—is trustworthy. There are many people whose lives are resting on the tenuous edge of a sinkhole.  It is likely that at one time or another many of us have perceived ourselves to be on the verge of a cave-in. In the feelings of numb fatigue, a taste of apparent failure, or the bitter experience of disillusionment about goals or purposes, we may have sensed something within us about to give way. 

That is what happened to the prophet Elijah when he found himself pent up in a cave of depression. Elijah had reached his breaking point in the ministry, oddly enough, after his victory over the false prophets of Baal atop Mt. Carmel. In the midst of his despair Elijah lamented, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4). Ironically, God did not answer his payer and Elijah would be one of only two men in the Scriptures who would not taste death. 

Elijah’s pity party and the sinkhole syndrome reminded me that our spiritual lives are fragile entities. If we do not take time to nourish the soul with prayer, reflection on God’s Word and moments of rest then our inner life begins to be cracked and parched. The outer appearance may appear strong and sturdy, but inside are great voids caused by long periods of spiritual drought and erosion. Go too long without nourishing the soul and you will suffer from a sinkhole-like collapse. While in the cave of Horeb, God came to Elijah’s rescue. He spoke to the weary prophet through a whispering voice, sent an angel to prepare him food and then recommissioned him for the next leg of his ministry. 

Are you beginning to wear thin? Then perhaps you could follow Elijah’s example—retreat from the front lines, recharge your spiritual batteries by spending time listening to the Lord and then review what the next step will be in your service to the God.            

1. Rob Nelson and Alex Shaw, "Boy Trapped Beneath Sand Dune May Have Been Saved By Air Pocket, Officials Say," ABC News, 13 June 2013, <http://abcnews.go.com/US/boy-rescued-indiana-sand-dune-critical-condition/story?id=19657457>. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Universe: God's Billboard

In his book, The Case for Faith, Lee Strobel records the words of a skeptic who finds the hiddenness of God an insurmountable barrier to belief:

“So if I want to avoid hell, I presumably have to believe that a snake talked to Eve, that virgin got pregnant from God, that a whale swallowed a prophet, that the Red Sea was parted, and all sorts of other crazy things. Well, if God wants me so bad . . . why does He make believing in Him so . . . impossible? It seems to me that an all-powerful God could do a much better job convincing people of His existence that any evangelist ever does. Just write it in the sky nice and big, “Here’s your proof. Ed. Believe in me or go to hell! Sincerely, the Almighty.”1

If I was sitting across the coffee table from this skeptic I think I would say to Him, “You know Ed, God has already done something like that.” Psalm 19:1-2 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” So, it appears that God has already written a message of His existence across the heavens so vividly that none of us are without excuse (Rom. 1:20).

Modern astronomers peering into deep space have revealed some amazing evidence pointing to Divine design in our universe. Recent astronomical studies suggest there are a mind-blowing 300 sextillion stars in the whole universe. Just to be sure, 300 sextillion is a 3 followed by 23 zeros or 3 trillion times 100 billion. To put that inconceivable number into perspective, one scientist suggests that the number of stars in the universe is equal to all the cells in all the seven billion-plus humans on planet Earth.2 Yet the Psalmist says that God “determines the number of the stars and gives to all of them their names (Ps. 147:4).”

Dr. Hugh Ross says that all the stars in the universe serve one supreme purpose:
“As vast and innumerable as all these galaxies and stars may seem, and as tiny and insignificant as they make us feel, this enormity is essential to life’s existence.  In order for the universe to sustain even one life support planet, each one of these stars is a necessity. If the number of stars in the observable universe were any greater or any fewer, life would be impossible.”3  

A staggering thought is that human beings will never even see most of these stars and galaxies through telescopes. There is untold and unseen beauty in our universe that must have been made just for the pleasure of God. What a mark of the extravagance of God’s creative ability.

Did you realize that the moon is the perfect size to contribute to a habitable Earth? The moon’s gravity stabilizes the earth’s tilt on axis at exactly 23.5 degrees. Without this tilt, the earth would undergo damaging temperature variations as the seasons would be thrown off balance. The moon’s gravitational pull also is responsible for the tidal forces of Earth’s oceans. As the moon rotates around the earth it pulls the tides in and out.  Without this interplay of gravity, the oceans would fail to predictably come in and out daily. Without the tides, the oceans would be a stagnant body of water.4 When was the last time you thanked God for making the moon at just the right size?

If that wasn’t enough, Earth just happens to be located in right location of our spiral galaxy. The Milky Way is about 100,000 light years across, so if you wanted to see every star just in our galaxy it would take you at least 100,000 years traveling on a rocket ship going the speed of light. The estimated galactic habitable zone ranges between 23,000 to 29,000 light years from the galactic center. Interestingly, our Earth lies exactly in the center of the galactic habitable zone. Earth is about 27,000 light years from the galactic center. In 2008 the Hubble Telescope discovered that lurking in the center of our galaxy is massive black hole. Turns out, that if Earth were too close to the center of the galaxy then harmful radiation emitted from this black hole would make life impossible. Conversely, if our planet was too far out in the periphery, not enough heavy elements like carbon and iron would be available as building blocks for a habitable planet.

Those facts inspired astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez to say, “Not only do we inhabit a location in the Milky Way that’s fortuitously optimal for life, but our location also happens to provide us with the best overall platform for making a diverse range of discoveries for astronomers and cosmologists. Our location away from the galaxy’s center and in the flat plane of the disk provides us with a privileged vantage point for observing both nearby and distant stars. We’re also in excellent position to detect the cosmic background radiation, which is critically important because it helped us realize our universe had a beginning in the Big Bang.”5       

So it appears as if God has placed us in the exact location of our universe which makes it most optimal for discovering His handiwork. Moreover, I think this message was driven home in July 2013 when NASA released new photos taken from the Cassini spacecraft. As Cassini orbited the far-side of Saturn it snapped an image of Earth—nearly 898.5 million miles away—as a faintly glimmering dot. There was our blue orb in a sea of black, dwarfed by the rings of the Saturn in the foreground.6      

Images like that highlight the awesome power of God. Not only does he sustain creation by the power of His word (Heb. 1:3), but He once visited that tiny mote of dust as man. Jesus, the creator of the cosmos (John 1:3), humbled Himself to the form of a creature and limited himself to breathing and bleeding (Phil 2:5-8). As the old preachers said, “He died on a cross of wood, but created the hill upon which it stood.”

Look into the cosmos and you will see God’s memo to humanity that He exists. Look at the Cross and you will see a letter written in red declaring how much He loves us.
1Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 140.

2 Seth Borenstein, “Number Of Stars In The Universe Could Be 300 Sextillion, Triple The Amount Scientists Previously Thought: Study,” Associated Press (December 1, 2010) <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/01/number-of-stars-in-universe_n_790563.html>

3 Hugh Ross, “Journey Toward Creation,” The John Ankerberg Show (2010), <http://www.ankerberg.com/wiki/index.php/What_the_Universe's_Most_Massive_Star_Reveals_about_God>

4Ken Croswell, Magnificent Mars, (New York, NY: Free Press, 2003), 88.

5Guillermo Gonzales quoted by Lee Strobel, The Case for a Creator (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 187.

6 Deborah Netburn, “Earth, As Seen from 900 Million Miles Away,” The Los Angeles Times, 22 July 2013, <http://www.latimes.com/news/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-earth-cassini-photos-20130722,0,1800495.story>