Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The War to End All Wars

Plato once said, “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” Perhaps the philosopher was uttering a prophecy because historians have tabulated that since 3,600 BC the world has known only 292 years of peace. In fact, since 1495, no 25-year period has been without war. 

The 20th century was the bloodiest in human history. In Humanity: A Moral History of the 20th Century, Jonathan Glover estimates that 86 million people died in wars fought from 1900 to 1989. That means 2,500 people every day, or 100 people every hour, for 90 years. What’s even more staggering is that more people were killed during conflicts in the 20th century than the previous 19 centuries combined.1 

According to the U.S. Army Military Institute, in its brief existence as a nation the United States has been involved in twenty-nine wars or military conflicts which led to the demise of 1.4 million troops who have died for their country. 

Dr. David Jeremiah has written, “The fact is 50% of all research scientists today are involved in arms development. Despite all the arms limitations and treaties, there is at least one military weapon and four thousand pounds of explosives for every man woman and child on earth. Most of us are simply hoping somebody doesn’t get careless. But the Bible says that as we move towards the end times war will become an industry unto itself.”2 

Jesus pointed out in the Olivet Discourse that in the last days no one will be exempt from the fallout of war. There will be hot wars and cold wars, “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Matt. 24:6-7). In other words, as we draw closer to His return we should expect to see more bloodshed. 

A buzzword in our culture for war is "Armageddon," yet few people realize its biblical connection. All they know is that Armageddon will be the war to end all wars and draw the final curtain on modern civilization. Actually, Armageddon is not really a battle, but more so a place. The name translates from the Hebrew to mean “Mount of Slaughter,” and it corresponds to an actual geographical feature located about ten miles southwest of Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus. 

Megiddo, as it is properly called, includes an extended plain that stretches from the Mediterranean Sea across northern Israel. According to scholar Alan Johnson, “More than 200 battles have been fought at or near Megiddo.”3 In 1799 General Napoleon Bonaparte stood at Megiddo and declared, “All the armies of the could maneuver their forces on this vast plain…There is no place in the whole world more suited for war than this…It is the most natural battleground on the whole earth.”4 No wonder that God chose this place to defeat His enemies. 

Earth's final battle will end abruptly. The Antichrist will deploy the armies of the world from his headquarters at Armageddon, planning to destroy the nation of Israel once and for all. In the nick of time, Jesus Christ will burst from heaven with a shout, with a word of power, and He will win the victory--instantly, decisively, gloriously. Paul commented on this event saying, "And then the lawless one [the antichrist] will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming" (2 Thess. 2:8).  

As Christians, we'll have a front-row seat to the action. Until then, we can visualize and anticipate victory every time we read Revelation 19 and its description of Him whose name is called Faithful and True. Such an epic scene calls to mind scenes from great fantasies such as The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, where humans fight alongside otherworldly creatures to defeat the forces of evil. It's a thrilling picture to think of the Church side-by-side with Jesus Christ, the God-man, defeating evil once and for all. The only question is whose side are you on?  

1. Jonathan Glover, Humanity: A Moral History of the 20th Century (Yale University Press, 2012).

2. David Jeremiah, Sings of the Second Coming (San Diego: Turning Point, 2005), 22.

3. Alan Johnson, The Expositors Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 12:551.

4. J. Vernon McGee, Through the Bible, vol. 3 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 513. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

In God We Trust?

Have you noticed the inscription that is found on every piece of American currency? “In God we trust,” first appeared on U.S. coins in 1864 and has appeared on paper currency since 1957. I point this out because it seems to me that a single letter was left out of the motto—that is the letter “L.” Wouldn’t it be more accurate if American currency said, “In gold we trust?” We live in a society that is obsessed with managing hedge funds, building robust stock portfolios and investing in a secure 401-K. However, all those accumulated riches can be gone in a day.

An illustration of this happened to a Chinese man earlier this year. According to the British news source, The Telegraph, Mr. Zhao, a resident of Shanghai, asked his wife to store their life’s savings inside a coat pocket tucked away in the back of their closet. Mr. Zhao, was shocked one evening when he went to make a deposit one evening and found that rodents had broken into his closet and munched their way through a stash of money he had been hoarding. Their life’s savings, which was around $1,250 U.S. dollars, was turned into confetti by the mice. One bank said they would honor Mr. Zhao’s money if he was somehow able to reassemble the shredded bank notes.1 

Another article reported that a woman lost $65,000 of her life’s savings because termites invaded a wooden chest and chewed their way through her cash.2 

If that wasn’t painful enough, a contestant on Wheel of Fortune named Paul was about to win a shot at the million dollar grand prize when he bumbled his answer and lost out big time. The contestant simply had to solve a puzzle that was missing just one letter when his brain and tongue failed on him. As you might imagine the YouTube video of this costly stutter went viral on the internet as the epic fail of the year.3

Need I remind you that the stock market isn't a safe place either? Remember what happened on September 29, 2008? The stock market plummeted 777 points in a single day and the market lost approximately $1.2 trillion of its value. Economists referred to that year as the "Financial Armageddon" when skidding stocks coupled with the bursting of the housing bubble.  

According to Jesus materialism isn’t just sinful, it’s plain stupid. The reason is because everything in this world is passing away. Investing in the things of this earth is like buying a first class ticket for a place on the Titanic, or giving your life savings to Bernie Madeoff, or converting your cash over to Monopoly money. Proverbs 18:11 says, “A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his imagination.” In other words, trusting in riches to bring security or satisfaction is like thinking you can get a cool drink water from a desert mirage.

Moreover, Jesus added that storing up stuff on earth will only lead to loss, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (Matt. 6:19). Jesus pointed out that all earthly treasure is susceptible to one of three things—ruin, rust and robbery. 

Instead, you and I should be investing in eternity. Even though we cannot take anything with us beyond the grave, we can send it ahead when use the money God has entrusted to us for Kingdom purposes. According to the Bible, there are only two things that will outlast death--the souls of men and women (Mark 8:36) and the Word of God (Mark 13:31). Therefore, we would be wise to put as much of our income as we can into those endeavors. 

Perhaps, Randy Alcorn offers the most sensible analogy: "Imagine you are at the end of the Civil War. You're living in the South but you are a Northerner. You plan to move home as soon as the war is over. While in the South you've accumulated lots of Confederate currency. Now suppose you know for a fact that the North is going to win the war and the end is imminent. What will you do with your confederate money? If you're smart there's only one answer. You should immediately cash in your Confederate currency for U.S. currency--the only money that will have value once the war is over. Keep only enough Confederate currency to meet your short term needs. As a Christian, you have inside knowledge of an eventual worldwide upheaval caused by Christ's return. This is the ultimate insider trading tip: Earth's currency will become worthless when Christ returns--or when you die, which ever comes first."4

1. Tom Phillips, "Chinese Mice Devour Man's Life Savings," The Telegraph, 12 March 2013, <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/9926426/Chinese-mice-devour-mans-life-savings.html> accessed 22 October 2013. 

2. Lee Morgan, "Termites Eat through $65,000 Worth of Chinese Woman's Savings," New York Daily News, 14 June 2013, <http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/termites-eat-chinese-woman-savings-65-000-article-1.1372721#ixzz2iU5si6EW> accessed 22 October 2013. 

4. Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2001), 14-15.     

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Loving a Terrorist

During the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, two pressure cooker bombs exploded, killing 3 people and injuring an estimated 264 others. Analysts from the FBI combed over surveillance video and released the images of two suspects—brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev. A massive manhunt ensued to find these terrorists. A gunfight in the streets of a Boston suburb resulted in the death of Tamerlan, while the police apprehended the other brother later. Since the brothers were Muslims, their religion dictated that the body of Tamerlan should be buried in a white shroud within 24 hours of death. However, because of the public outrage created over the bombing, no cemetery was willing to bury the body of Tamerlan. 

That’s when Martha Mullen stepped in to help. Mullen said she was at a Starbucks when she heard a radio news report about the difficulty finding a burial spot for Tamerlan. Mullen, a committed Christian, said, “My first thought was Jesus said ‘love your enemies.’” Then she had an epiphany, "I thought someone ought to do something about this–and I am someone." Mullen placed several phone calls and found a Muslim cemetery in Virginia that would accept the remains of Tamerlan. 

As you might imagine, Mullen was scorned and vilified by angry protestors. Despite the persecution, Mullen told a reporter from NPR, “Jesus tells us in the parable of the Good Samaritan to love your neighbor as yourself. And your neighbor is not just someone you belong with but someone who is alien to you. If I'm going to live my faith, then I'm going to do that which is uncomfortable.”1 

The example of Martha Mullen living out her faith just goes to show the radical nature of the Gospel. Extending grace to those that have wronged us goes totally against human nature and the desire for retaliation. But grace is the only thing that can stop the cycle of hate and show a supernatural alternative. 

In Romans 12:25 Paul wrote, “To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” What did Paul mean with that strange imagery? The phrase “heap burning coals upon his head” referred to an ancient Egyptian custom. When a person wanted to demonstrate public contrition, he would carry on his head a pan of burning coals to represent the burning pain of his shame and guilt.2 The point being that when show grace to an enemy we are more apt to lead him to repentance over his evil deeds than if we return with uppercut of revenge. 

We live in a world of un-grace so when we show Christ-like love to an enemy it seems so scandalous. That’s because grace is God’s way of disarming hostile hearts. Grace eradicates the virus of hate, baffles our enemies, defies logic, breaks down barriers and produces tears of repentance. Unmerited, undeserved, unexpected, grace is God’s most intoxicating fragrance to woo sinners to Himself. As Gordon MacDonald said, “The world can do almost anything as well or better than the Church. You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick. There is only one thing the world cannot do. It cannot offer grace.”3

1. Audie Cornish, "The Search Is Over: Boston Bombing Suspect Has Been Buried," NPR News, All Things Considered, 10 May 2013, <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=182938654> accessed 15 October 2013. 

2. John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Romans 9-16 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1994), 203. 

3. Gordon MacDonald, quoted by Philip Yancey, What's So Amazing About Grace? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 15.  

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Did Life Come from Mars?

We may be Martians after all. During a keynote address at the 2013 Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference in Florence, Italy, Steven Benner postulated that it did. Benner, from The Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology in Gainesville, Florida, works in the field of “applied molecular evolution” where he attempts to reconstruct conditions that may have led to the spontaneous generation of life's biochemicals from inorganic compounds. In his address, he suggested life began on Mars then somehow migrated the more than 30 million miles to Earth. Benner postulated an oxidized form of the element molybdenum, which may have been crucial to the origin of life, was likely available on the Red Planet's surface long ago, but unavailable on Earth.1 

The theory that life on Earth was seeded by a meteor crashing into the planet or by extra-terrestrials beaming down amoebas has been gaining traction in the scientific community. The technical name for this theory is called directed panspermia and it was actually proposed first by Francis Crick, one of the co-discoverers of the DNA double-helix. 

Richard Dawkins, the famed British evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist, also posits the panspermia theory as one counter to creationism and intelligent design. In Ben Stein's scathing documentary, Expelled, which critiques Darwinism, Dawkins said in an interview, "It could be that at some earlier time, somewhere in the Universe, a civilization evolved by, probably, some kind of Darwinian means, to a very, very high level of technology, and designed a form of life that they seeded onto, perhaps, this planet. Now that is a possibility, and an intriguing possibility. And I suppose it’s possible that you might find evidence for that, if you look at the details of our chemistry, molecular biology, you might find a signature of some kind of designer. And that designer could well be a higher intelligence from elsewhere in the Universe."2

Renowned British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking also weighed in on the issue when he gave a lecture entitled "Why We Should Go Into Space" for NASA's 50th Anniversary lecture series at George Washington University in 2008. Hawking said, "But we don't know how life first appeared. The probability of something as complicated as the DNA molecule being formed by random collisions of atoms in the primeval ocean is incredibly small . . .However, there is a possibility, known as panspermia, that life could spread from planet to planet, or from stellar system to stellar system, carried on meteors. We know that Earth has been hit by meteors that came from Mars, and others may have come from further afield. We have no evidence that any meteors carried life, but it remains a possibility. An important feature of life spread by panspermia is that it would have the same basis, which would be DNA for life in the neighborhood of the Earth."3

I don’t know about you, but this sounds a lot like science fiction rather than cold, hard science fact. In fact, this has been the central theme behind some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters. Big-budget, special-effects laden films like Mission to Mars, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as well as Transformers:Revenge of the Fallen have all toyed with the idea that life and man’s technology originated from outer space. 

The fact that this theory is even on the table for many serious scientists highlights the problem that evolutionists have with explaining how life came about here on Earth. In order to have life without God, naturalism has to answer the riddle of abiogenesis somehow. Since the skeptic refuses to let a divine foot in the door they are forced to come up with something besides an Intelligent Designer. Ideas like panspermia are side effects of an attempt to rationalize the emergence of complex life in a universe devoid of God. Moreover, even if panspermia were true it doesn’t really solve anything, it merely pushes the question of origins further back. 

While this theory is rich in imagination, it is poor in actual data. There is not one shred of scientific evidence that links the generation of life on Earth from Mars. Actually, this is exactly what Paul said would happen when men reject God and willingly “suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18-22). Paul wrote, "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools." 

I am amazed at the mental gymnastics and storytelling that takes place in order to shore up a crumbling belief in atheism. Isn’t it just more logical to accept Genesis 1:1? Natural science studies the matrix of matter, force, energy, space and time. Those five things are all in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning [time] God [force] created [energy] the heavens [space] and the earth [matter].” Ultimately, I think that the skeptic rejects God for moral reasons, not intellectual ones. As G.K. Chesterton once quipped, “An atheist doesn't want to find God for the same reason a thief doesn't want to find a policeman.” 

1. Mike Wall, "Earth Life Likely Came from Mars, Study Suggests" 23 August 2013, <http://www.space.com/22577-earth-life-from-mars-theory.html> accessed 8 October 2013.

2. Richard Dawkins quoted in Stein, Ben and Kevin Miller (2008), Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (Premise Media).

3. Stephen Hawking, "Why We Should Go into Space," (2008), <http://www.panspermia-theory.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=87:stephen-hawking-why-we-should-go-into-space&catid=24:videos&Itemid=97> accessed 8 October 2013.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Prayer and the Providence of God

In 1885 evangelist Daniel Whittle published a little book entitled, The Wonders of Prayer, which contained amazing stories of answered prayer, including the account of Admiral Thomas Williams. The Admiral and his men were crossing the Atlantic on September 8, 1799. While sailing past the uninhabited island of Ascension, a desolate thirty-four square mile speck of volcanic rock in the South Atlantic, Williams was suddenly “seized by an unaccountable desire to steer toward it.” 

What made this strange was that ships never stopped at this island since it had no way of supporting life. But the feeling to heads towards Ascension Island became so urgent that Williams told his crew to change course. They did so reluctantly, warning against the delay. Then a sailor spotted something unexpected through his spyglass—a white flag. They found sixteen shipwrecked men, destitute and near starvation, who had been praying for a miracle and for God to send someone to rescue them in the nick of time.1 

That’s just one example of God’s providence coupled with prayer. In the Old Testament we find a similar story from the life of Elijah. The prophet spoke in obedience to the Lord and God shut up the skies around Israel. The drought was so bad that it dried up the book of Cherith where Elijah was encamped. Then the word of the Lord came to the prophet and God commanded him to go to widow of Zarephath. 

Elijah arrived just in the nick of time. As the widow was preparing one final meal for herself and her son, Elijah showed up on her doorstep and told her to fix him some dinner as well. The Bible says, “And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah” (1 Kings 17:15-16). 

That’s the providence of God working from both ends of the equation. Elijah needed to eat and the widow had his next meal. On the other hand, the widow needed a miracle or else she and her boy would die. God directed Elijah to exactly the right place at the right time and both the prophet and the widow were the recipients of a heaven-sent blessing. 

God’s providence assures us that He will meet our needs in unexpected ways so that there will be no room for man’s boasting. Living in God’s will is exciting and surprising. When we are obedient to the direction of the Holy Spirit there is no telling how God might connect us with people and events. Keep your eyes, ears and heart open to the Lord’s leading and be ready for an adventure. 

1. Daniel Whittle, The Wonders of Prayer (1885), <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/11553/11553-h/11553-h.htm>