Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Extraterrestrial Life?

Recently, NASA astronomers were giddy with excitement as they announced the discovery of seven new planets. A Wall Street Journal headline read, “Seven Earth-Size Worlds Discovered Orbiting Nearby Star.” The article then reported:  

“Seven alien worlds about the size of Earth have been discovered orbiting a tiny nearby star, and six of them appear warm enough that liquid water—necessary for life—could exist on their surfaces . . . Called Trappist-1, the dwarf star, located about 40 light years away from Earth in the constellation Aquarius, is so small that it is barely bigger than Jupiter, the largest planet in our own solar system. Yet it is home to the largest collection of Earth-sized planets found in the galaxy so far.”
One of the scientists involved in the study said, “The star is so small and cold that the planets are temperate, which means they could have liquid water and possibly life on their surface.”
The article concludes, “The discovery adds to mounting evidence that billions of such worlds may exist in the Milky Way galaxy. The new findings indicate that these planets are even more common than previously thought. All told, astronomers have confirmed the existence of more than 3,500 exoplanets.”[1]

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For the disciples of Darwin and the heralds of humanism, discoveries like this hold out the hope that one day mankind will find an answer to one of the deep mysteries of the universe—are we alone?

The secular scientist is searching for the answer to this question for several reasons. For one, they are committed to an evolutionary worldview. As such they believe that life came about in the universe without God’s help. If extraterrestrial life was found on another planet this would confirm their assumption that on a cosmic scale what happened here on Earth wasn’t really all that special. Statically speaking, they reason, with all the trillions of stars and planets in our universe there’s bound to be another like ours teeming with life.

Another reason why astronomers are so enthralled with finding other life-sustaining planets is because many believe that humanity will likely need an insurance policy in case we are threatened by a rogue asteroid or we destroy our planet by nuclear war. Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, who has promised a Mars colony by the year 2030, explained, “We’ve got all our eggs in one basket, and that’s a terrible risk-management strategy. We should diversify our planetary portfolio to insure against the worst—and soon. The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn’t have a space program.”[2]  

The problem with discoveries like the seven planets orbiting Trappist-1 is that they are so far away. The seven sisters of Trappist-1 are 40 lightyears away from earth, meaning that even if we had a Millennium Falcon that could reach the speed of light we couldn’t get there for 40 years! This is simply not a trip we are going to make anytime soon.

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.

So this begs the question, why did God make the universe so big? Why so much extra space if it’s just us? Atheist astronomer Carl Sagan famously said, “The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.”

However, Christian astronomer Hugh Ross points out in his mind-bending book, The Creator and the Cosmos, that the universe must be as big and as dense as it is for life to exist anywhere. According to Ross, “for life to be possible in the universe, that is to obtain the stars and planets necessary for life, the value of the mass density must be fine-tuned to better than one part in 1060.” Ross goes on to explain, “An analogy that does not even come close to describing the precarious nature of this cosmic balance would be a billion pencils all simultaneously positioned upright on their sharpened points on a smooth glass surface with no vertical supports.”[3]

This incredibly precise ratio of space to matter must be balanced for the building blocks of life to be present. I’m not sure I understand all of this but, simply put, given the laws of physics in our universe, we need a universe as massive as it is for the construction of the materials that make life possible on our planet. If the universe were much smaller or bigger, we would not exist. It turns out the universe is not full of wasted space. In fact, if the universe were not this massive, Carl Sagan and the rest of us could never even have been here to reflect upon it. Thank God we live in such a big universe.

And of course, the massiveness of the universe is a testament to the greatness of our God. When we consider the power of the Lord who made all this, we cannot help but feel humbled. Truly, the God who created this universe is glorious and worthy of praise. As Palm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (NIV). -DM

[1] Robert Lee Hotz, “Seven Earth-Size Worlds Discovered Orbiting Nearby Star,” The Wall Street Journal, 22 February 2017 <https://www.wsj.com/articles/seven-earth-size-worlds-discovered-orbiting-nearby-star-1487786401>  
[2] Jason Dorrier, “Elon Musk Is Right: Colonizing the Solar System Is Humankind’s Insurance Policy Against Extinction,” Singularity Hub 15 October 2014, <https://singularityhub.com/2014/10/05/elon-musk-is-right-colonizing-the-solar-system-is-humankinds-insurance-policy-against-extinction/>  
[3] Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2001), 151. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Waiting on Purpose

There he was waiting on me—again. His nose was pressed up against the glass of our storm door. A patch of fog had formed under his nose. When he spied my car heading up the driveway to our home he was practically halfway out the door and bounding down the steps.

Across the yard he runs, arms waving high and sporting million dollar smile. For him, this is better than winning the lottery, because daddy is home. He meets me in the middle of the driveway and I roll down the window. “I want to ride,” he says. So, he climbs in, sits in my lap, and we ride around the neighborhood. “I’m glad you got me Daddy.” There is no greater feeling in the world that this. I have made his day and he has made mine. It was well worth the wait.  

The Lord has taught me many lessons through my children, one of which is the value of waiting on purpose. The way my son anticipates my arrival is the same excitement and expectancy we are to have when it comes to the return of Christ. As Martin Luther has said, “We ought to live as though Christ died yesterday, rose from the grave today, and is coming back tomorrow.”

Examine the New Testament and you’ll discover that the apostles were practically on their tip-toes awaiting Christ to come back, the reason being Jesus said, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:44).

·         Live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:12-13).

·         You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. (James 5:8)

·         Children, it is the last hour . . . abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming (1 John 2:18, 28)

·         Yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry (Heb. 10:37)

This is known as the “doctrine of imminence,” and as it relates to Bible prophecy, it simply means that the return of Jesus Christ for the Church can happen at any moment. We as Christians remain on alert 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In short, we must be rapture ready. 

One of the greatest reasons why Christ didn’t reveal the time of His appearing is because if the lost knew they would be tempted to postpone any decisions about Christ until the last minute so they could sin up to the day of His return then get Hell insurance. Conversely, if believers knew they would be tempted to live without any evangelistic urgency or moral purity.

C.S. Lewis has written, “We must never speak to simple, excitable people about the Day of Christ’s return without emphasizing again and again the utter impossibility of prediction . . . His teaching on the subject quite clearly consisted of three propositions: (1) That He will certainly return; (2) That we cannot possibly find out when; (3) And that therefore we must always be ready for Him. Note that because we cannot precisely predict the moment, we must be ready at all moments. . . The schoolboy does not know which part of his lesson he will be made to translate: that is why he must be prepared to translate any passage in the assignment. The sentry does not know at what time an enemy will attack, or an officer will inspect, his post: that is why he must keep awake all the time. The Return is wholly unpredictable. You cannot guess it.  If you could, one chief purpose for which it was foretold would be frustrated. And God’s purposes are not so easily frustrated as that.”[1]

[1]C.S. Lewis, The World’s Last Night and Other Essays, “The World’s Last Night” (1952), 107.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Love That Will Not Let Go

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One of the great preachers of the nineteenth century was a Scotsman named, George Matheson (1842-1906). As a young man Matheson had his sights set on becoming a lawyer. Because of degenerating eyesight, he wore thick lenses through school, but by the age of eighteen he was practically blind. He identified with Paul’s suffering and prayed for his “thorn in the flesh” to be removed (2 Cor. 12:7), but it never was. He once described his plight as “a life which has beaten persistently against the cage of circumstances.”

Unable to become a lawyer, Matheson decided to become a preacher. However, while he was studying for the ministry his faith was shaken by the onset of German philosophers like Kant and Hegel which undermined Christianity. Then Darwin’s theory of evolution gained traction and seemed to destroy the need for a Creator. Matheson had just become a clergyman when he said, “with a great thrill of horror, I found myself an absolute atheist. I believed nothing, neither God nor immortality.”

At the same time, heartbreak was added to his mounting doubts. While in school, a twenty-year-old Matheson fell in love and was soon engaged to be married. When he broke the news to his fiancĂ©e that he was losing his eyesight, she decided she could not go through life with a blind husband. She left him. Matheson was utterly devastated having been rejected by the love of his youth.[1]      

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                                                                    George Matheson 

In spite of his blindness and his intellectual doubts, Matheson could not shake one reality that he knew to be true—God’s love for him which was manifested by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It was in that pit of despondency in 1882 that God spoke to Matheson like never before and he was inspired to write a hymn that has blessed so many. [2]  

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

In the darkness of that moment George Matheson wrote this hymn. He remarked afterward that it took him five minutes and that it was the only hymn he ever wrote that required no editing. Though Matheson was physically blind, his spiritual vision was 20/20. He learned to live in the assurance of those glorious words penned by Paul in Romans 8:35-38:  

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


[1] David Jeremiah, God Loves You (New York: Faith Words, 2012), 213.
[2] Warren Wiersbe, 50 People Every Christian Should Know (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2009), 197-202. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Go. See. Feel. Act.

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Wess Stafford is an internationally recognized advocate for children in poverty. He has also been the president of Compassion International for over two decades, a ministry that leads the world in child sponsorships. In one of his books, Stafford wrote about a teacher who learned a valuable lesson about compassion.

Several years ago, a public school teacher was hired and assigned to visit children who were patients in a large city hospital. Her job was to tutor them so they wouldn’t fall too far behind in their studies while they were recovering.

One day this teacher received a routine assignment. She took the boy’s name, hospital and room number. She contacted the boy’s regular teacher by phone and was told on the other side of the line, “We’re studying nouns and adverbs in class right now. I’d be grateful if you could help him with his homework.”

It wasn’t until she got outside the boy’s room that she realized it was located in the hospital’s burn unit. No one had prepared her for what she was about to discover on the other side of the door. Before being allowed to enter, she had to put on a sterile hospital gown and cap because of the possibility of infection. She was told not to touch the boy or his bed. She could stand near, but must speak through the mask she had to wear.

When she finally had completed all the preliminary washings and was dressed in the prescribed coverings, she took a deep breath and walked into the room. The young boy, horribly burned, was in a great deal of pain. The teacher felt awkward and didn’t know what to say, but she had gone too far to just walk out. Finally, she was able to stammer out, “I’m the special visiting hospital teacher, and your regular teacher sent me to help you with your nouns and adverbs.” Afterward, she thought it was not one her more successful tutoring sessions.

The next morning when she returned, one of the nurses on the burn unit asked her, “What did you say to that boy?” Before she could finish apologizing, the nurse interrupted her by saying, “You don’t understand. We’ve been worried about him, but ever since you were here yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He’s fighting back, responding to treatment . . . It’s as though he’s decided to live.”

The boy later explained that he had completely given up hope and felt like he was going to die, until he saw that special teacher. With happy years in his eyes, the little boy who had been burned so badly expressed his transformation like this, “They wouldn’t send a special teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, now would they?”[1]

Sometimes we impart hope to others by just showing up with compassion and doing what we can in the name of Christ. Never discount the small acts of compassion. A few encouraging words, a short visit, a warm hug, a cup of cold water—can change someone’s life for eternity.

There is a simple passage in Matt. 9:36-37 which contains a profound truth, “35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

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Now obviously, we can’t do miracles like Jesus did, but notice what this passage tells us about his pattern. He went to where hurting people were, “their cities and villages.” Then He saw their suffering and that’s when His heart was moved into action. A four-step pattern emerges: Go. See. Feel. Act. The first step is always that most daunting. We have to get beyond the gated community, off the couch and out of your comfort zone. If we are going to display Christ-like compassion, we must enter the poverty and brokenness of this world. Allow our eyes to behold ugly things that break our hearts. We must be wounded by the plight of the people that inhabit our fallen planet. Instead of blogging, tweeting or posting about it, we must respond like Jesus did. True compassion crushes our heart and then moves our hands into action. -DM    

[1] Wess Stafford, Just a Minute (Chicago: Moody Press, 2012), 145-146. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Immigration and the Bible

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Unless you have been living under a rock the past few days, you have no doubt heard and seen the furor caused by President Donald Trump’s signing of an executive order that places a temporary halt on refugees from seven different countries entering the United States. The liberal media, Hollywood celebrities and protestors angrily denounced this policy as “unconstitutional,” “un-American,” “racist,” “Islam-a-phobic” and just plain “mean-spirited.”

What is even more fascinating is how many people on my Facebook newsfeed started citing Scripture to justify an open borders policy. I thought this to be deliciously ironic since most of these same folks reject the Bible as oppressive and outdated when it comes to abortion, homosexuality, drunkenness and fornication. Now they want to quote Scripture! The Bible isn’t a Chipotle where you can make your own spiritual burrito based on your pet sins and preferences and throw out the stuff that doesn’t fit your pallet. We can’t have it both ways.

But, all this acrimony got me wondering, “What does the Bible actually say concerning immigration?” So, I started to do some digging and I was surprised what I found.

First, nations and borders were God’s idea. Remember back to the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11? Mankind tried to build a civilization unified by one language and one religion. God put a stop to that by introducing the language barrier and scattering people to the four winds.

“7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth.” (Gen. 11:7-8). This judgment resulted in the different cultures and ethnic groups we still see today.  

In fact, the national separateness we experience today is a God-ordained protection against man’s prideful craving for absolute power and domination. The Apostle Paul preached to a group of philosophers in Athens saying:
            “26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27)

Nationalism, not globalism is God’s will. We must be wary of the current trend towards the call for a one-world government. This the sure way to tyranny (in fact, this is one reason why the Tribulation period headed up by the Antichrist will be so bad). But, I digress.

Second, God’s people are to assist and assimilate the stranger in their land as best they can. Many of these principles were given to the Jewish people by God and were to be instituted as part of their national policy. (Now we understand that America is not ancient Israel. We are not a theocracy like they were intended to be. We ought not take those things which God intended for Israel and wrongly misapply them to our situation.) Here are a few general principles.     

The Lord told Israel soon after their deliverance from Egyptian bondage, “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 23:9). In ancient Israel, foreigners were to have proper rest from their work like everyone else (Ex. 20:10; 23:12; Deut. 5:14) and receive a fair wage on time (Deut. 24:14-15). Law courts were to be fair and impartial to outsiders (Deut. 1:16-17; 24:17-18; 27:19). There also were provisions for food in times of hunger (Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 14:28-29; 24:19-22). Even more impressive was the command to allow foreigners to participate in Israel’s worship, the most precious part of their culture (Ex. 12:45-49; Lev. 16:29).

The Old Testament cites examples of foreign-born men and women who were accepted and become productive citizens of Israel. Rahab, a prostitute from Jericho, and Ruth, a widow from Moab come to mind. Both of these women are included in the genealogy of Jesus (Matt. 1:5-6).  

Moreover, Jesus showed kindness and compassion towards outsiders. Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, even though upstanding Jews thought of the Samaritans as half-breeds (John 4). On another occasion, Jesus healed the demon-possessed daughter of a Canaanite woman (Matt. 15:28). And don’t forget that Jesus was a refugee for a short period during his infancy when Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to escape wicked king Herod (Matt. 2:13-15).   

On the flip side of the issue, strangers—or immigrants—in the land of Israel were expected to assimilate into the Jewish society and obey many of the civil and religious laws. They would have had to learn Israel’s laws and speak the language to work and take part in the religious life of Israel (Deut. 31:8-13). Consider just a handful of passages from the Law:

“10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.” (Exodus 20:10)

“26 But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you.” (Leviticus 18:26)

“16 Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.” (Leviticus 24:16).

David Jeremiah summarizes the issue of immigration and the Bible, “The message of the Bible concerning strangers in the land is clear: If they accept the national culture and work as participants in the national economy, they are welcomed and allowed full participation in the life of the nation. If they refuse to assimilate and cling to their old laws, beliefs and customs, their customs, their activities must be restricted for the good of the nation.”[1]

Third, ancient people practiced what we today would call “vetting” or “documentation.” So how did people become legal aliens in another country? The classic example is when Jacob’s family went to Egypt to escape a famine in Canaan. By divine providence, Jacob’s son, Joseph was already the Prime Minister in Egypt and helped with the immigration process. Still, Joseph’s family asked Pharaoh for permission to move to Egypt:

And they said to Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, as our fathers were” … “We have come to sojourn in the land, for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. And now, please let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen.” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. The land of Egypt is before you. Settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land. Let them settle in the land of Goshen” (Genesis 47:3-6).

This means that the Hebrews, though foreigners, obtained legal status in Egypt. They went through a “vetting” process by standing before the Pharaoh.

Fourth, as Christians we must submit to government authorities and the laws of the land. Paul writes in Romans 13:1-2, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

God has instituted governments and kings for His sovereign purpose and to ensure law and order. God expects us to obey the laws of the government. The only exception to this is when a law of the government forces us to disobey a command of God (Acts 5:29). Illegal immigration is the breaking of a government’s law and is not supported biblically. Moreover, there is nothing in Scripture that contradicts the idea of a sovereign nation having immigration laws, imposing “bans,” building walls or closing the borders all together.

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Immigration is a complex issue. The vast majority of immigrants in the United States have come for the purpose of having a better life, providing for their families, and escaping poverty. These are admirable goals. Certainly, the U.S. is still a beacon of hope for many. As Christians we should be compassionate to the poor and the needy who come to our land. As Americans we should be wise and realize that immigration is not “a right,” but a privilege. It is wise to protect our own citizens first. It is wise to have a screening process to see if immigrants have ties to terrorism. It is wise to make sure that immigrants are willing to assimilate, obey the laws of the land and contribute to upholding the fabric of this society.  

Franklin Graham, evangelist and leader of Samaritan’s Purse, was recently interviewed by the media on the topic of immigration and I think he had a good response, “We live in a very dangerous world and I think the president’s first priority is to protect the American people and until there is a better system in place for vetting and knowing who comes into America, I believe every person who comes unto the U.S. should be vetted. We need to know who they are and what they believe, if they share the same core values of freedom and liberty.”[2]

There is no reason why we cannot have a balanced approach—we must be compassionate and wise. The Bible holds these truths in tension. In fact, it was Jesus who said to his disciples, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16).    

[1] David Jeremiah, Is This The End? (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2016), 50.
[2] <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/frankling-graham-refugees_us_5889049ce4b061cf898c6c42>