Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Time: The Intricate Riddle

Image result for time bible

Sometimes it flies, sometimes it crawls, but it always passes inexorably. We mark it, save it, waste it, bide it, race against it. We measure it incessantly, with a passion for precision that borders on the obsessive. It is a familiar stranger, because it cannot be seen, touched, smelled, heard or tasted. Yet, it has as much reality as the ground you are standing upon.

Time is so vitally enmeshed with the fabric of our existence that it’s difficult to conceive of it concretely—and when we try, the result is less than enlightening. We intuitively know what it is because we experience its passing, but as natural as the notion of time may be have you ever tried to define it?

Ben Franklin tried his best when he said, “Time is the stuff life is made of.” Henry David Thoreau once mused, “Time is but the stream that I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is.” St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “If no one asks me, I know; but if any person should require me to tell him, I cannot. My mind is on fire to understand this intricate riddle.” Perhaps the most insightful and simple explanation that I’ve ever heard goes like this, “Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.”

Not only is the concept of time tough to pin down, but our experience of time in hardly uniform. The classic poem, “Time’s Paces,” by Henry Twells encapsulates this thought well:

When I was a babe and wept and slept—time crept;
When I was a boy and laughed and talked—time walked.
Then when the years saw me a man—time ran.
But as I older grew—time flew.
Soon, as I journey on, I'll find time gone.

A minute is a funny amount of time. It's long enough to notice, but it's too short to do much of anything with. There are only about five hundred thousand of them in a year. But when you add all of humanity together, a lot starts to happen in that lowly minute. Consider what happens before the second hand of a clock completes one rotation:

25 Americans will get a passport, according to the U.S. Department of State. 58 airplanes will take off around the world, according to the International Air Traffic Association. 116 people will get married, according to data from the United Nations. 144 people will move to a new home, according to Gallup. 11,319 packages will be delivered by UPS. 243,000 photos will be uploaded to Facebook. 5,441,400 pounds of garbage will be created, according to the World Bank. 7,150,000,000 human hearts will beat 500,500,000,000 times, as their bodies create 858,282,240,000,000,000 new red blood cells, according to the National Institutes of Health. Finally, 255 babies will be born and 107 people will die, says Google.[1]

Image result for redeeming the time ephesians 5

Those amazing statistics should help us to never look at minute the same way again, especially considering that one day will be one of those 107 to step into eternity. While we may never fully grasp the nature of time, we are told in the Bible to use it wisely. Ephesians 5:15-16 has been called the Bible’s key to time management, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”

The word “redeem” contains the idea of rescuing from loss. Paul admonishes us to treat time as something precious that must be rescued from being lost to fruitlessness. But “redeeming the time” goes far beyond being efficient. It’s a wonderful phrase that can also be translated “making the most of every opportunity.” It suggests an attitude toward living that sees every situation as the perfect occasion to do God’s will and influence others for Him.

I remember a short story a preacher once told at the end of his sermon. As a sculptor showed a visitor some marble figures displayed in his studio, an unusual sculpture caught the guest's attention. It had two peculiar features. Where the statue's face normally would have been, the sculptor had chiseled a covering of hair, and on both feet were wings.

“What is the name of this one?” asked the visitor. “Opportunity,” the artist answered. “Why is its face hidden?” the onlooker wondered. “Because,” said the craftsman, “we seldom know opportunity when he comes to us.” “And why does he have wings on his feet?” “Because he is soon gone, and once gone, he cannot be overtaken.”

Keep your eyes peeled for the opportunities to present themselves this year. They are brief moments of personal contact—a passing incident, the turn of a conversation, or the “chance” meeting of an old acquaintance. Such times present golden opportunities for caring, for witnessing, for eternal good. May the Lord give us wisdom to grasp today’s opportunities and make time for what’s important to Him.  -DM

[1] Robinson Meyer, "What Happens in One Minute Around the World?" The Atlantic, 14 March 2014 < http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/03/what-happens-in-one-minute-around-the-world/284368/> 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Carols That Get It All Wrong

Image result for christmas carols

Did you hear about the little boy and girl who were singing their favorite Christmas carol in church the Sunday before Christmas? The boy concluded “Silent Night” with the words, “Sleep in heavenly beans.” “No," his sister corrected, “not beans, peas.” Then there were the kids I heard one time sing, “Joy to the World! The Lord has gum.”

Those funny stories got me thinking about how, even as adults, we often misinterpret many of the Christmas carols we sing. I don’t mean that we incorrectly hear the lyrics and misquote the words like those kids; I’m thinking instead of the inaccuracies that we mindlessly sing. These are errors that when you think about them, have no basis at all in the Biblical record. 

Consider a few examples. “Silent Night / Holy Night / All is calm / All is bright.” Do you really think that first Christmas was that tranquil? Well, if you’ve ever been in a delivery room then you know what it’s like—it’s messy, loud, and frantic. There are sights and sounds you’ll never forget. There are the agonizing cries of the mother bringing a life into the world and the high-pitched cries of the baby taking its first breaths.

I doubt the birth of Christ was any different. Mary, without the dulling effects of an epidural, screamed out as the contractions became unbearable. Jesus broke in his vocal chords with a shrill cry, as the audible voice of God finally came through a human larynx. Perhaps, Joseph celebrated the improvised delivery in his own way. A silent night, it most certainly was not.

How about this one, “I saw three ships come sailing in on Christmas Day in the morning/ O they sailed into Bethlehem on Christmas Day in the morning.” Last time I checked a map, Bethlehem is landlocked and the nearest body of water—the Dead Sea—is miles away. So it is physically impossible for this song to have any validity all. Talk about a mistaken mariner!  

“We Three Kings” is another perennial favorite. However, you’ll never find three kings coming to visit the Christ child in Matthew's account. In fact, the Bible doesn’t tell us how many wise men came to worship Jesus, only that they brought three gifts. And the Bible never calls them kings either—magi, to be technically correct. They were astrologers looking to connect the events of earth with the movements of the constellations. You can credit years of medieval traditions for these wild speculations.  

Then there is, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” which has been popularized by crooners like Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby. Even though this song has nothing to do with the birth of Christ and was probably written to comfort WWII soldiers serving in Europe and the Pacific, I think it’s ironic because that first Christmas no one was home!

Mary and Joseph were traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to be counted for the Roman census. The Magi traversed across a sea of sand following a mysterious star to where the Christ child rested. Most of all, the Son of God was not at home. He left the celestial glory of heaven for the cramped quarters of a virgin’s womb. He laid aside His royal robes for swaddling clothes, and His Father’s house for a manger. He stepped out of eternity and into time.

As Paul stated so eloquently, “When the time came, He set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, He stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, He lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion” (Phil 2:5-8, MSG).      

I hope by now you understand my point. The Christmas traditions we celebrate are part fact and part fiction. Sometimes even adults don’t know the difference. The problem is due to a lack of spiritual discernment and because many Christians just simply haven’t done their homework in the Bible. If we are going to make this holiday more about the incarnation of Christ and less about the materialism and commercialization, then we need to have our theology and history in order. Let’s not feed our minds and spirits on the equivalent of fruit cake. Let’s know what we believe and why we believe it.  

God entered time and space—“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). That’s a message so life-transforming that it doesn’t need to be crowded out with man’s empty traditions and philosophies. “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).   -DM 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Immanuel: We Are Not Alone

Image result for immanuel god with us

Astronomers at NASA were giddy in the spring of 2014 when they announced that the Kepler Space Telescope discovered the first Earth-sized planet orbiting a star in the "habitable zone"—the optimum distance from a star where liquid water might pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. Kepler-186f, as the planet has been dubbed, resides about 500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. The system is also home to four companion planets, which orbit a star half the size and mass of our sun. The star is classified as an M dwarf, or red dwarf, a class of stars that makes up 70 percent of the stars in the Milky Way galaxy.

Scientists also reported that Kepler-186f is slightly larger than earth—about 1.1 Earth radii—orbits its star once every 130-days, and receives one-third the energy from its star that Earth gets from the sun. Experts theorized that on the surface of Kepler-186f, the brightness of its star at high noon is only as bright as our sun appears to us about an hour before sunset.

So why all the excitement for a planet so far away? One astronomer put it this way, “Kepler-186f can be thought of as an Earth-cousin rather than an Earth-twin. It has many properties that resemble Earth. This discovery is a significant step toward finding worlds like our planet Earth and first signs of other life in the galaxy.”[1]

Evolutionists are interested in finding extraterrestrial life for several reasons. First, there are some who firmly believe in the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life because they are convinced that, if life evolved here, it not only could have evolved elsewhere, but must have done so.  Some scientists, like the late Carl Sagan, believe that life must exist elsewhere in the universe because on a cosmic scale what happened here on Earth wasn’t really all that special. Statically speaking, they reason, with all the billions of stars and planets in our universe there’s bound to be another like ours.

In an interview in January 17, 1980 issue of New Scientist magazine, Dr. Sagan made the following points: “There are something like 1022 stars in the universe, and as about one in a million of these stars is a yellow dwarf star like our Sun, this means there are about 1016 Sun-type stars in the universe. Now one in a million of these Sun-type stars probably has a planetary system similar to that of our Sun’s. Therefore there are about 1010 planetary systems in the universe. One in a million of these planetary systems must have a planet similar to that of Earth, and life must have evolved on those planets in the same manner in which it has evolved here on Earth. Therefore, there are at least 10,000 planets in the Universe that have life on them.”[2]   

As one character in Sagan’s popular book-turned-film, Contact, would say, “The universe is a pretty big place. If it's just us, seems like an awful waste of space.”

Second, there are those who are trying to find life elsewhere in the universe because they cannot explain how life came to be on Earth. In a sense, this is the reverse of the other situation. Whereas some say, “If you play the cosmic lottery, you’re bound to win more than once” others say, “The game has to be rigged, because we lose every time.” In the latter case, the problem of life is too complex because biologists are recognizing the impossibility of DNA arising from natural processes and random chance.

Therefore, one popular theory today is directed panspermia—the theory that life was seeded on Earth by an alien life form or brought here by meteor. Renowned British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking 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]

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, no matter how baseless it might be. Moreover, even if panspermia were true or if they did find life on Mars or some planet like Kepler-186f, it doesn’t really solve anything, it merely pushes the question of origins back one step.

The Bible offers good reasons to doubt that intelligent life exists on other planets. Scripture points out the absolute centrality of the Earth and gives us no hint that life exists elsewhere. Just look at the creation account in opening verses of Genesis. God made the earth habitable on days 1-3 before He created the rest of the planets and stars on day 4. The rest of the universe exists as a support system for the main stage of Earth where God’s Divine drama takes place.

Admittedly, the Earth is but an astronomical atom among the whirling constellations, only a speck of dust among the ocean of galaxies, nebulae and stars. Nevertheless, when we ponder the meaning of Christmas and the incarnation of Jesus we understand that our tiny blue orb has been visited by the God who spoke it all into existence. As The Message so eloquently paraphrased the prologue to John’s Gospel: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14).

Amazingly, the Creator became a creature and for a short time our planet was privileged to host its Architect. On Earth, Jesus was an artist in a gallery of His own paintings. He was a composer listening as the orchestra interpreted His music. He was the main character written into the narrative by His own pen. He was a computer engineer walking around in His own holographic simulation.      

In a way, the advent of Christ answers the question of extra-terrestrial life. Indeed, there is life outside our galaxy, even universe, but it’s not the kind that is going to show up on Kepler or Hubble’s radar anytime soon. God exists outside time and space, yet mysteriously through the person of Christ He became spatial and temporal. The One who set Kepler-186f in its orbit and dipped His finger in the center of the Milky Way to get it spinning, humbled himself into the confines of a virgin’s womb. The Creator, who commanded starlight to shine, became a speechless child. No wonder we sing, “Joy to the World” this time of year. We are not alone in this vast universe. Two-thousand years ago an angel announced, “Immanuel: God with us” (Is. 7:14; Matt. 1:23). -DM      

[1] “NASA's Kepler Discovers First Earth-Size Planet In The 'Habitable Zone' of Another Star,” NASA, 17 April 2013, <http://www.nasa.gov/ames/kepler/nasas-kepler-discovers-first-earth-size-planet-in-the-habitable-zone-of-another-star/#.VIdflzHF9Ag>

[2] Carl Sagan, New Scientist, Vol. 85, No. 1190, 17 January 1980, p.152. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What If . . .

Image result for birth of jesus

This Christmas season you will probably find yourself parked in front of the television watching Frank Capra’s 1946 holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. One reason this film has endured the generations is because of its timeless and universal message—one life, no matter how insignificant, matters.

As the film progresses we meet the desperate and discouraged George Baily (played by Jimmy Stewart) who is about to end his life. That’s when his guardian angel, Clarence, intervenes and gives George the opportunity to see what life would have been like had he never been born. Of course, George is horrified at what he sees.

Bedford Falls, his small town, was not the nice place he remembered. His children didn’t exist and his wife and mother didn’t know him. The people he had helped out in life with were despondent and down on their luck because he hadn’t been there to assist them. George’s little brother, who became a WWII Navy pilot and winner of the Medal of Honor for saving a troop transport was dead. The reason—George wasn’t there to save him from drowning when they were kids. As a result of his brother’s death the troops that would have been rescued perished as well.

The pivotal moment in the movie takes place on a snow covered iron bridge as George hangs off the edge peering into the dark, swirling waters below. When George realizes the impact of his life and the interconnectedness of his actions upon others he cries out, “I want to live again!” That stunning revelation that his life had transcendent meaning beyond himself makes George a new man.   

What Kapra brought to the screen, is actually a thought experiment that intellectuals have attempted for centuries. The hypothetical or  “What if…”  In 1964 a group of historians authored a landmark book called If—Or History Rewritten. Some of the “what ifs” those scholars considered were these: What if Robert E. Lee had not lost the Battle of Gettysburg? What if the Moors had won in Spain? What if the Dutch had kept New Amsterdam? What if Booth had missed when he shot at Abraham Lincoln? What if Napoleon had escaped to America?

The attempt to reconstruct the past on the basis of these “what ifs” (technically known as counterfactuals) is only an armchair historian’s game, but take a second and apply it to the central event in history—the advent of Jesus Christ. What if Jesus had never been born? Such a “what if” staggers the mind.

The birth of Christ forever altered the way we measure time—B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. (in the year of our Lord). The babe in the manger turned aside the river of the ages from its course and lifted the centuries off their hinges. In his book, What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?, D. James Kennedy argues that many of the institutions and discoveries we take for granted owe their existence to the entry of Christ into our timeline: hospitals, universities, capitalism, representative government, the abolition of slavery, modern science, the discovery of the New World by Columbus, the sanctity of human life, inspiration for the greatest works of art, the eternal salvation of countless souls, and much more.[1]

Kennedy’s point is well-supported. Even Time magazine agreed in 2013 when they placed Jesus at the top of the list of “The 100 Most Significant Figures in History.”[2] Jesus Christ was and still is the most influential person ever born and if you removed him from the picture then the fabric of Western Civilization would be torn asunder. As Dr. Ralph Sockman wrote, "The hinge of history is on the stable door of Bethlehem.”   

Finally, consider the eternal and spiritual ramifications if there had been no Christmas. If there were no Christmas then our Bible would be untrue, since many of the prophecies about the Messiah would have been left unfulfilled. Since Jesus was deity wrapped in humanity, then if there would have been no Christmas God would have remained distant and unknown. Most importantly, without a Christmas there would have been no cross and therefore our sins would remain unforgiven. In short, a world without Christ is a world without hope.

What if Jesus had never been born? Well, that’s a thought to painful to bear. Thankfully, we can rejoice because The Infinite became an infant. As Paul wrote, “But when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son, born among us of a woman, born under the conditions of the law so that he might redeem those of us who have been kidnapped by the law. Thus we have been set free to experience our rightful heritage” (Gal. 4:4-5, MSG).     –DM

[1] D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001).
[2] Steven Skiena and Charles B. Ward, “Who’s Biggest? The 100 Most Significant Figures in History,” Time, 10 December 2013 <http://ideas.time.com/2013/12/10/whos-biggest-the-100-most-significant-figures-in-history/>

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Who Made God?

The following dialogue has taken place countless times in homes with inquisitive children: “Mommy, who made me?” “God made you, darling.” “Well, Mommy who made the sky and trees and mountains?” “God made the sky, the trees and the mountains. Genesis 1:1 says that God made everything.” “Oh . . . well, Mommy who made God?”

For all you parents or grandparents out there you recognize the teachable moment that lies before you. But what do you say? That’s when we all wish for an “easy button.” Of course, we expect a small child or your average layman to wonder how we explain the existence of God. However, one may not expect the same from world renowned scholars and scientists.

Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist from Oxford, is known for his vitriolic attacks against God. In his best-selling book, The God Delusion, he uses the age-old schoolboy teaser as sledgehammer blow against the foundation of faith, “If we say that God created the universe we shall have to ask who created God and so on, the only way out of an infinite regress is to deny God’s existence.”[1]     

Other skeptics have voiced the same criticism, Stephen Hawking, undoubtedly one of the finest minds in astronomy and physics, wrote in his recent work, The Grand Design, “It is reasonable to ask who or what created the universe, but if the answer is God, then question has merely been defected to that of who created God.”[2]

It would seem that believers are caught dead to rights by kindergartners and eggheads with an alphabetic parade after their name. While this argument is used by many atheists to wiggle out from under the existence of God, it is actually a pretty flimsy objection—a house of cards held together by wisps of smoke.

First, the question misunderstands the Law of Causality—which does not say that everything needs a cause; it says that everything that has a beginning has a cause. However, this does not apply to God because He does not require a cause. He is eternal (Ps. 90:2), self-sufficient (Is. 40:21-22), and self-existent (Ex. 3:14). He causes all things to be, but He is caused by no one or no thing. There was no time when God started to exist. He has always been and the universe is contingent upon Him (Acts 17:28). God cannot not exist; He simply IS! 

Second, the question commits a logical fallacy known as “category error.” This is a common hiccup in reasoning that happens when we incorrectly place something into a class that it doesn’t belong. For instance, consider the following questions, “What does the color blue taste like?” or “How many seconds are in a mile?” or “Which side of the circle is shortest?” All of these are absurd questions because they commit the category error. The same is true of asking, “Who made God?” Since God is uncaused and eternal it is logically silly to put Him to put in the group of created, finite, dependent things.    

Perhaps, the Apostle Paul said it best when he wrote to the Colossians about the cosmic Christ, “For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17). God is not only the Unmoved Mover of creation, but the Uncaused Maintainer of creation.

Ultimately, we are left with only two options: either no one created something out of nothing or Someone created something out of nothing. Which view is more reasonable—an uncaused universe or an uncaused God? Even Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music knew the answer when she sang, “Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could.” So, if you can’t believe that nothing caused something, then you don’t have enough faith to be an atheist![3]

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2008), 136.
[2] Stephen Hawking and ‎Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Random House, 2010), 172.
[3] Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 94. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thankful for a Doorknob

On June 17, 1966 Paul Galanti was forced to eject from his Douglas A4 Skyhawk over North Vietnam after taking several hits from antiaircraft guns. Galanti, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, was cocky, courageous and like most twenty-six year olds, he lived with an attitude of invincibility. He was John Wayne in a supersonic jet. However, what would transpire after rocketing out of his flaming aircraft would change his cavalier demeanor forever.      

A sea breeze caused his parachute to drift away from the Gulf of Tonkin, where if we would have landed he would have certainly been rescued by friendly forces. Instead, the steady wind pushed his parachute into enemy territory. Once Galanti hit terra firma, Vietcong soldiers swarmed his position, captured him, and imprisoned him in the notorious jail—Hanoi Hilton.  

Galanti spent 6 1/2 years (2,432 days) as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. The horrors he endured were simply unimaginable for most us—regular beatings, exposure to the elements, malnutrition, burning hunger and thirst, combating vermin, depression—literally hell on earth. Paul returned home from the war in 1973. The very first letter he received at home was from the IRS. The note read, “We realize that you’ve had extenuating circumstances, but you haven’t paid taxes since 1967.”

“When I got home from Vietnam,” Galanti said, “many Americans were endlessly complaining. They complained about everything. The motto, unity over self, that had effectively held our POWs together under difficult circumstances, seemed to have been replaced at home with first-person singular: me, myself and I.

But to Paul and his fellow POWs, life’s simple blessings were not to be taken for granted. Having a hot meal, a warm bed, time with friends and family, and the ability to make choices, to do anything they wanted, were visions they had dreamed of for years, during torture, filth, hunger, handcuffs and prison bars.

Paul’s perspective today is simple. Everywhere he goes, there are ordinary reminders of the difference between prison and living free. “Here’s the deal,” He’d say with clear blue eyes and a matter-of-fact tone, “Every day that you’ve got a doorknob—on your side of the door—is a day to be thankful.”[1]

A grateful heart sees each day as a gift. Thankful people focus less on what they lack and more on the privileges they have. To the grateful, non-essentials are put in their proper place and the small things become precious treasures. Thankful people have made it a daily practice to rehearse the goodness and character of God. That’s how another POW under Roman house arrest could write, “Give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20). 

Max Lucado adds these thoughts about cultivating a heart of gratitude:
            “The grateful heart is like a magnet sweeping over the day, collecting reasons for gratitude. A zillion diamonds sparkle against the velvet of your sky every night. Thank you, God. A miracle of muscles enables your eyes to read these words and your brain to process them. Thank you, God. Your lungs inhale and exhale eleven thousand liters of air every day. Your heart will beat about three billion times in your lifetime. Your brain is a veritable electric generator of power. Thank you, God. For the jam on our toast and the milk on our cereal. For the blanket that calms us and the joke that delights us and the warm sun that reminds us of God’s love. For the thousands of planes that did not crash today. For the men who didn’t cheat on their wives, and the wives who didn’t turn from their men, and the kids who, in spite of unspeakable pressure to dishonor their parents, decided not to do so. Thank you, Lord.”[2]

Find something to be thankful for today; even if it’s something simple. Credit God for His generosity and faithfulness and you’ll discover that gratitude does to anxiety, worry and fear what the morning sun does to valley mist. -DM

[1] Ellen Vaughn, Radical Gratitude (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 184-188.
[2] Max Lucado, “An Attitude of Gratitude,” An Encouraging Word with Max, 8 October 2013

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Prayer for the Persecuted Church

We don’t hear much about persecution because we are insulated here in the United States. Our media is close-mouthed when it comes to the injustices perpetrated against Christians worldwide. However, if you are a vocal Christian today in China, Pakistan, The Middle East or the Philippines then it’s almost expected you will face beatings or torture.

The U.S. State Department said in 2013 that, “Christians are the single most widely persecuted religious group in the world today. It is estimated an average of 100 Christians around the world are killed each month for their faith.”[1]

John Phillips adds, “The church is God’s beachhead on this rebel planet. Satan hates it with a malice that defies description. He has persecuted it with tireless persistence down to the present day. He has used Roman Caesars, Spanish inquisitors, Holy Roman Emperors, Communist commissars, and other dictators as his tools . . . It is estimated that more Christians worldwide have been martyred for the cause of Christ in the last century than in all the previous nineteen centuries put together.”[2]     

This year we have seen ISIS militants running roughshod over Christians in the Middle East. The internet has been flooded with barbaric images and videos of Christians being crucified, beheaded, shot and buried alive for refusing to convert to Islam. Franklin Graham, son of world renowned evangelist Billy Graham and president of Samaritan’s Purse, recently said in a Fox News interview that there “is a war on Christians around the world” and that “the Koran gives them [ISIS] the basis” for waging holy war against Jews and Christians.”[3] So much for Islam being “the religion of peace,” as our politically-correct media outlets often claim.     

In light of these ongoing attacks against the church, I have been grieved in my heart over what is happening to our brothers and sisters in these hostile corners of the globe. Like you, I have felt a gamut of emotions—outrage, sadness, helplessness. Recently, the Lord has impressed on my heart that I do have a part to play in this battle of good vs. evil, and that I can lift these beleaguered believers up in prayer. While this seems insignificant, I am reminded of what John Calvin wrote, “Against the persecution of a tyrant, the godly have no remedy but prayer.”

So today, I have devoted to praying for the persecuted church. If you want to join in, feel free to recite the prayer below and share with others:

“Oh Lord, my heart aches today for Your Church. Troubling images of bloodshed and death have haunted me. Your followers, my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, are being persecuted, imprisoned, tortured and murdered. Just as the blood of Abel cried out from the ground, so too the blood of these martyrs screams out for justice.

If my soul is rent, then I cannot imagine how You must feel. For you first loved them, giving your life on a Cross for their sins. Amazingly, You even offer mercy to the terrorists who brazenly take life and Your Word says You “are not willing that any should perish but that all may come to repentance.” Jesus—You sympathize with deaths of your people since you too know what it’s like to be abandoned, humiliated and executed.      

Lord if it were up to me I would make the killing stop today. I would ask for You to return immediately for the Church. I desire for You to take your battered bride now and to make Your enemies a footstool. I too long for cosmic justice. But I know that your ways are not my ways. You have a purpose and a plan for this persecution. Even though I don’t fully comprehend why You allow the deaths of these believers, I trust that Your sovereign will is being worked out. Somehow, like the death of Christ, You will receive glory from these atrocities.

Lord we are told in Your Word that, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” I understand that no one, especially God’s people, gets a free pass from suffering. Didn’t You say, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” and that “no servant is greater than his master”?

With this in mind, I pray that you would strengthen those who are giving their lives for refusing to bow the knee to false gods. For those who are meeting in secret places to worship the true and living God, may they continue to have undaunted courage. For those who are imprisoned for their faith, may You give them peace in their hearts. For those who boldly proclaim the name of Jesus, may they hold fast to their confession. For those who are being martyred may their last words be of mercy and grace, so that they trouble their killers to the point of repentance. May all those who are being tested in the crucible of persecution know how much You love them and the great crown that awaits them in Your eternal kingdom.  

Like a stiff wind that blows dandelion seeds far and wide, may the gusts of persecution carry the Church outward in all directions. May others come to faith in Christ through the example of your persecuted people. Finally, Lord, even though I hope I don’t have to face these fires, I pray that in the event that I do, that I would not deny my Lord. In words of those tribulation saints who have yet to give their lives, “they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Amen." 


[1] http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/religiousfreedom/index.htm#wrapper
[2] John Phillips, Exploring the Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2004), 275.
[3] http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/michael-w-chapman/rev-graham-isis-christians-crucified-beheaded-buried-alive

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How to Be a Good Soldier

Today as our nation commemorates the sacrifices and bravery of our war veterans I am reminded of one hero whose story should not be forgotten.

Sergeant Alvin York was once described as World War I’s “greatest civilian soldier,” yet he began the conflict as a conscientious objector. A deeply devout Christian from the small mountain town of Pall Mall, Tennessee, York initially resisted serving on the grounds that violence was against his faith. His request was denied, however, and in May 1918 he arrived in France along with the 82nd Division of the U.S. Army.

York would find his courage on October 8, 1918 in a famous incident during the Battle of Argonne Forest. He and around 17 other Americans had just captured troops from a German regiment when they found themselves under heavy fire from enemy machine guns. Nine of the Americans were quickly wounded or killed, but York—a crack shot from his days as a turkey hunter—escaped unscathed and began picking off the German gunners with his rifle.

When six of the enemy tried to charge York with bayonets, he drew his .45 pistol and shot them all. He had soon forced the remaining Germans to surrender, and later claimed even more prisoners on his way back to the American lines. All told, York and his men captured 132 enemy soldiers, and he may have singlehandedly killed around 20 German troops.

For his efforts, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross and several other citations for bravery. Shunning the spotlight, the reluctant soldier returned to his home in Tennessee after the war and took up farming.[1] Actor Gary Cooper helped to perpetuate and ensconce the legacy and influence of Alvin’s life through the making of the classic Hollywood film, Sergeant York (1941). York decided to use the royalties from the film to open the York Bible Institute to train young men and women for Christian ministry.

Many who have studied York’s life have wondered what was the source of his strength. One of his journal entries from July 1, 1918 answers that best: “I carried a Testament with me through the fires of conflict. I have the Testament I carried with me during all my fighting at home now. I read it through five times during my stay in the army. I read it everywhere. I read it in dugouts, in fox holes, and on the front line. It was my rock to cling to.”[2]

In 2 Timothy 2:3-4 the Apostle Paul wrote about being a soldier on the spiritual battlefield. “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” In these verses Paul denotes two qualities that make good soldiers—sacrifice and single-mindedness.

First, we see that a soldier has to suffer. War is not a picnic. A soldier does not go out to enjoy life, to see the world, and have many wonderful experiences of adventure and travel, despite what the recruitment posters say. If warfare breaks out, it is going to mean he is faced with ugly, arduous, uncomfortable living. He will be in constant peril and may have to take human life.

Paul is saying that the Christian must make similar sacrifices. We are not called to be Christians to merely enjoy life, to have everything around us pleasant and comfortable. No, says the apostle, we are to endure hardness, we are to get involved with life in the trenches. Where is your battlefield today? A failing marriage? A hostile workplace? A secular classroom? A sickbed? A life-and-death struggle with addiction? Don’t give up, keep digging in your heels and fight the battle on your knees.

Second, we see that a soldier must be single-minded. Have you ever seen a soldier balancing his checkbook while sitting in a foxhole? What about a soldier updating his Facebook page while in a firefight? Me neither. When the bullets are flying and bombshells exploding all around soldiers don’t have time to be distracted by frivolous activities.

In the same way, Paul is saying that our Christian lives must be full-time active duty service. We live on a battlefront that demands that we be disentangled from the superfluous. As Christians we can’t be enlisted in the Lord’s army while trying to imbibe the world’s standards. In order to carry out the orders of our Commander and Chief we have to let go of pursuits that deter from total obedience.   

I think Alvin York was the epitome of these verses and there is much we can learn from his example. Moreover, thanks to men like York, Veterans Day is more than just another federal holiday when the banks and post offices are closed. It is an annual heartfelt remembrance of how blessed we Americans are to have such countrymen. To all the rest of you veterans, and those of you on active duty, thank you, too. We are forever in your debt. -DM

[1] Evan Andrews, “6 American Heroes of WWI,” History, 23 May 2014 < http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/6-american-heroes-of-wwi>
[2] Dr. Steven Flick, “Alvin C. York: Christian Hero,” Christian Heritage Fellowship, 11 November 2014 <http://christianheritagefellowship.com/alvin-c-york/>  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Lessons from Lava

Recently, the residents of “The Big Island” of Hawaii have watched with a mixture of resignation and dread, as a gray and orange, 2,000-degree, river of molten rock has carved a path of fiery destruction across the landscape. Each passing hour, lava from Kilauea Volcano has been inching closer to their homes in the small town of Pahoa.

As you might imagine the lava flow is no respecter of persons or property. Dispassionately, the dark ooze has swallowed up fences, flowed over a cemetery and enveloped major roads. In some places the lava flow is chest high and advances at the rate of 8 to 11 yards per hour. Reports say that about 950 people have been displaced by the creeping liquid.

Another inherent problem from the lava flow is the noxious methane gas emitted from the cooling rock. As vegetation is scorched by the lava, thick plumes of smoke reduce visibility and make breathing dangerous for those downwind.[1]

What is so tortuous for those in the way of this natural disaster is the sense of helplessness as they slowly watch their homes being overtaken. There is no man-made solution to stopping flowing lava and because the flow could change direction at will, any community in the vicinity of Kilauea is in danger. Of course, the pragmatist might say, “This is what happens when you decide to build a subdivision on the side of the world’s most active volcano.”

Monitoring the slow creep of the lava flow from relative safety reminded me of an apocalyptic passage in 2 Peter 3:10-13. The Message Bible offers this paraphrase:

But when the Day of God’s Judgment does come, it will be unannounced, like a thief. The sky will collapse with a thunderous bang, everything disintegrating in a huge conflagration, earth and all its works exposed to the scrutiny of Judgment. Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life? Daily expect the Day of God, eager for its arrival. The galaxies will burn up and the elements melt down that day—but we’ll hardly notice. We’ll be looking the other way, ready for the promised new heavens and the promised new earth, all landscaped with righteousness.

What Peter is talking about here is the renovation of earth by fire. You’ll remember that God already wiped the earth clean with a deluge in Noah’s time. The rainbow covenant promised that God would never again destroy the world by water, but it didn’t say anything in the fine print about fire.

When will this great inferno be lit? Biblical prophecy places this event at the end of the Millennial Reign of Christ (Rev. 21:1). The earth is going to be redeemed from the curse of sin, just like you and I. That’s when God will restore the Earth to a pristine condition, as it was before the fall of man (Gen. 1:31). Paradise lost will be paradise regained.

As I see it, there are many parallels between God’s judgment and the Hawaiian lava flow we’ve heard about in the news. Both are slow moving. The lava creeps along at a steady, but sure pace, and in the same way the Bible tells us that God is slow to anger (Num. 14:18) and it patient with unrepentant mankind (2 Peter 3:9).

Both are inevitable. Anything in the path of the lava flow will certainly be burned up. Just so, anyone who has not repented of their sin and trusted in Christ will face the inevitable judgment of God. The destruction of earth has already been planned in God’s prophetic calendar and no matter how much we’d like to disbelieve it, no amount of mental gymnastics or scripture twisting can change the sovereign will of God.

Both can be avoided. The residents of Hawaii have watched the lava inching toward their homes for weeks. They have had ample time to prepare and make an escape route. In the same way, God’s eventual wrath can be avoided. There is still time to repent of sin and help others get ready to make an escape from our doomed planet.

When Paul preached to the Athenian philosophers on Mars Hill he explained man’s situation like this, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). -DM          

[1] Ralph Ellis, Paul Vercammen and Martin Savidge, “Lava Flow Inches Closer to Homes in Hawaiian Community,” CNN, 28 October 2014 <http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/28/us/hawaii-volcano/index.html>

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Abandoning Atheism

In 2013 Thomas Nagel, a leading atheistic philosopher from NYU, was branded a heretic by many of his academic colleagues for his public dissent from Darwinism. In his controversial book, Mind and Cosmos, Nagel comes “out of the closet” and admits he has serious misgivings about the theory of evolution to explain the origin of life.

Nagel argues that evolution’s main failing is that it cannot explain how the random process of matter rearranging itself could ever give rise to consciousness. The raw elements of the universe do not have the mind or will to choose to create themselves into more complex life-forms. In short, matter cannot produce mind.

Nagel said, “For a long time I have found the materialist account of how we and our fellow organisms came to exist hard to believe, including the standard version of how the evolutionary process works . . . Believing, as Darwinists do, life arose first from accidental chemical reactions in the primordial ooze, and, once established, progressed via the mechanism of natural selection to create all the wonders of human consciousness, flies in the face of common sense.”[1]

As you might imagine Nagel received harsh criticism from others in the camp of unbelief. Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at MIT called Nagel’s work, “the shoddy reasoning of a once-great thinker.” Nagel has not abandoned his atheism just yet, but at least he is intellectually honest to concede that Darwin’s theory is seriously flawed.    

What is interesting is that Nagel is not alone. In fact, in recent times there have been many outspoken atheists who have jumped from their ivory towers of scientific skepticism. Here are just a few other examples:

Antony Flew was one of the world’s most popular and published atheists, boasting over thirty books on his godless worldview. However, in 2004 at the age of 81, Flew announced that his atheism was no longer intellectually tenable. An Associated Press story carried the news, “A British philosophy professor who has been a leading champion of atheism for more than a half-century has changed his mind. He now believes in God.”[2] Flew was adamant that he had not become a Christian, but rather a deist like Thomas Jefferson.

Flew gave his reasoning for adopting faith in a Creator, “What I think the discovery of DNA has done is show that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinary diverse elements together. It could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose.”[3]
Simply changing from “no God” to “God” was enough to send shock waves through the ranks of atheism. The cover of his 2007 book tells the whole story. The title, reads, There Is No A God. One review described the book as “a most uncomfortable jolt to those who were once his fellow atheists.”[4]       

Francis Collins grew up an avowed atheist. He enrolled in Yale University as a young man and there his studies in science further confirmed his disbelief in God. He concluded that religion and faith was a carryover from an earlier, irrational time, and now that science had begun to figure out how things really work, and so we didn’t need the crutch of God anymore.

Midway through his scientific career, Collins changed courses and became a doctor. He was not prepared for how the medical profession would challenge his airtight worldview. What changed his thinking was how his patients handled death. Many had terrible diseases from which they were probably not going to escape, and yet instead of railing at God, they seemed to lean on their faith as a source of great comfort and reassurance. This was interesting and unsettling to Dr. Collins.

Dr. Collins said, “As I began to ask a few questions of those people, I realized something very fundamental: I had made a decision to reject any faith view of the world without ever really knowing what it was that I had rejected. And that worried me. As a scientist, you're not supposed to make decisions without the data. It was pretty clear I hadn't done any data collecting here about what these faiths stood for.”[5] Collins started talking to a local Methodist minister who answered his questions about God. 

Then he started reading C.S. Lewis’ classic work, Mere Christianity. Collins long held atheism began to crack. “I didn't want this conclusion,” speaking of God’s existence. “I was very happy with the idea that God didn't exist, and had no interest in me. And yet at the same time, I could not turn away. I had to keep turning those pages. I had to keep trying to understand this. I had to see where it led. But I still didn't want to make that decision to believe.”

Collins ended up giving his life to Christ at the age of twenty-seven. In 1993 he was given one of the most prestigious jobs in all of science. He became the director of The Human Genome Project whose mission was to map out and decode the genetic code found in DNA.
In one of his books Collins wrote, “I do not believe that the God who created all the universe, and who communes with His people through prayer and spiritual insight, would expect us to deny the obvious truths of the natural world that science has revealed to us, in order to prove our love for Him . . . The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. He can be worshiped in the cathedral or the laboratory.”[6]

Whether an atheist by choice or by callousness, it takes a lot of energy to maintain atheism. It takes energy to surpass evidence that is abundantly available. In Romans 1:18-20 Paul wrote about those who suppress the truth, “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.”

We have overwhelming evidence for God, but that evidence can only lead us so far. Often times people stop at the edge of reason and the beginning of faith and insist on another piece of evidence before they take that step. However, we must come to point where we say, “God there is no way I can know everything, but I believe there is enough evidence to place my trust in what you have said about Your Son being the way to eternal life.” 

[1] Joseph Brean, “’What Has Gotten into Thomas Nagel?’: Leading Atheist Branded a ‘Heretic’ for Daring to Question Darwinism,” National Post, 23 March 2013  <http://life.nationalpost.com/2013/03/23/what-has-gotten-into-thomas-nagel-leading-atheist-branded-a-heretic-for-daring-to-question-darwinism/> 
[2] Richard Ostling, “Famous Atheist Now Believes in God,” The Associated Press, 9 December 2004 <http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory?id=315976>
[3] Ibid.
[4] A.N. Wilson, “Can You Love God and Agree with Darwin?” New Statesman, 2 April 2009
[5] Francis Collins, “The Question of God,” PBS 2004
[6] Francis Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2006), 220-211.