Thursday, February 26, 2015

We are Blessed Beyond Measure in Grace, Peace, and Gratitude



We have a lot to be grateful for as believers, don't you think?  The truth is we are truly blessed.  We've been selected by the designer of the human soul to spend eternity with him.  How marvelous is such a calling as this?  What greater purpose could there be?

Science, industry, fame, fortune, even art, music, and philosophy all pale in comparison to the humility of being in the presence of the designer of the rivers, the mountains, the animals, and the human soul.  

He is the grand architect.  Who can understand such a transcendent being?  We see God as our Father, yet he is certainly much more than that.  We see God as the architect of the universe, but he is much more than that too.  We see him as our savior, yet he is much more than that.  We see him as a being of immense power, but he is also much more complicated than that.  He is love, yet he is justice.  He is strength, yet he is tender care.  He is designer, yet he is intimate friend and companion.  He is God, yet he is also a man.  He is Spirit, yet he walked also as flesh.  He is the grand master of science, the inspiration behind art, music, sculptures, and speeches.  He dialed the constants of the universe as he designed his universe.  He set the Earth in nothingness, and painted the galaxies with stars and gas giants and nebula.  

Yet he also crafted the ears on the cat, and the jaw of the dog.  He ran his hands along the contours of the horse and the immense dimensions of the whales of the ocean.  

Despite his infinite power, and ability and knowledge, he chose of all those about, to love me.  And I have begun to learn how to love him.  He loves you also.  He loves you with a special love, a love designed live a puzzle piece that fits into your soul.  He designed humans to love and be with him.  You and I are designed in his image.  

I can't understand it.  I really truly can't.  I bump my head on the sealing.  It's very real.  So real.  God reveals a plan and a requirement through the books of the Bible.  The haunting thing about the Bible is it reveals something has gone terribly wrong.  From the world it becomes clear.  Thankfully the solution is offered, a substitute, a savior, God himself, Jesus Christ.

Blessed with grace, as children of God, we've found ourselves returned to our natural state: communion and fellowship with God and other believers.   

Did you find a Bible?




One of the craziest things about the Bible, "the book" is that every time I start reading it, and really focus on one verse at a time, it's like something very special starts happening.  They aren't like any other words I've ever read.  There's power in them.  There is a unique presence in the word of God.  That's why I hand out Bibles, and that's why I leave Bibles at laundromats, diners, and coffee shops.  Everyone ought to read the Bible.  The words are powerful.  They jump right off the page.  


John 16:33 ESV 

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Did you find a Bible?  Stick around.  I'm not anyone special, I'm just a young guy who believes that God is real.  That God actually exists.  But when you think about it, how else did the universe get here?  How else could human kind, the plants, the animals all be so complicated, yet harmonious?  

Before I began following Jesus, it was like I kept running into dead ends in my life.  Dozens and dozens of them.  I worked jobs that I didn't really like.  I felt like I wasn't where I was suppose to be in life.  I would try to force good things to happen in my life, even when I could tell they were crumbling in my hands as I tried to form them.  I tried to create the perfect relationships.  I tried to drink to have fun.  I tried to apply for jobs that maybe I might enjoy doing.  Yet it always seemed like something was missing in my life.  Do you know what I mean?

It always seemed like there was a blank spot in the middle of my chest.  What was wrong with me?  I tried to speed up my life as much as possible, so I wouldn't have to really stop and think about what life was all about.  Yet deep down I wanted peace.  I wanted peace of mind.  I wanted that spot in my soul to be filled.  

In fact I did try to fill that spot, I tried to fill it with friendship, with family, with alcohol, even drugs, and sexual acting out.  But I would always wake up the next morning feeling empty as ever.  

What is a person like me to do?  Jobs, driving here and there, living in central Wisconsin, just sort of wondering.  I went to college, got an education, yet it was all so empty.  At times I felt a sort of spiritual connectedness.  But I honestly didn't really know what I needed.  I pursued what society told me to pursue, fun, success, fame, girls, and on and on and on.  But it never led me anywhere good.

The missing piece in my life, the engine that was missing, was Jesus Christ.  Now I was raised Catholic, but I thought it was just a bunch of made up fairy tales.  I didn't think it was actually real.  In fact I'm still surprised that this Christian stuff in actually, truly, real.  But it is.  God is real.  He's revealed himself in the books of the Bible.  Now you have to understand, I'm one of those people who would be the last to say something like that.  I did not want some God telling me what to do.  And I was a well read person, Thoreau, Orwell, Huxley, Tolkien, Lewis.  But none of that helped me.  None of that really transcended life.  I thought of other religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, but there seemed to be no presence in those religions.  They were all maps to how to live a more moral life.  

But Jesus Christ and the message of the Bible is not simply a better way to try to be a good person.  Jesus Christ did not simply claim to teach the truth, he said "I am the truth."  Jesus did not simply point to the way, he said, "I am the way."  Jesus did not say 'do these things and you'll live" Jesus said, "I am the life."  

When we believe in our hearts, and really make a choice to trust that Jesus Christ is exactly who he said he was, the Son of God, then we receive eternal life through him.  All our mistakes and failings and setbacks are forgotten.  We are reconciled to God.  That empty hole in our chests is filled with the love of God.  The Holy Spirit given by God leads us in a new way of life.  I used to be a drug addict, and an alcoholic, with nothing, and Jesus Christ gave me new motivations and hungers, to seek recovery and to have it.  

So if you found a Bible, I encourage you to study it diligently.  Begin to experience a spiritual awakening in your life.  Begin taking steps toward Jesus Christ.  Begin to pray daily, and study the word.  Find a good Bible teaching church in your area.  If you've got addiction or alcoholism problems, seek out fellowships like alcoholics anonymous and narcotics anonymous.  God works through many organizations and people.  Will you let him begin to work in your life?  It's your choice.  But believe me, this is the easier, softer way.  

Trust in Jesus.  

Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Sex, Cuisine, and Television: Overcoming the World




Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What is the matrix?


The most important question of our age may be: What is the matrix?  In light of the rise in secular humanism, and the growing concerns over political, economic, and banking corruption worldwide, one must wonder... What is going on here?  Why is the depravity so pervasive?  What is causing this rise in corruption?  Why are so many institutions no longer trusted by the public? 

I first began to understand some things when I read a book called 1984 by George Orwell.  I understood a bit more after reading another book called Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.  These are two books written by atheists, ironically enough.  A certain series of movies called the Matrix helped me understand more.  Documentaries like Inside Job, Food Inc, Bowling for Columbine, For Liberty, Why We Fight, Endgame, Evolution vs. God, and Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed helped me to further understand more complex issues.  And a big book called the Bible helped me put all the pieces together.

Let's go on a little journey.  Scope out if you will, and try to look beyond the society.  Look beyond the billboards, television screens, the bar grills, the sports fields, the church conferences, and the American dream.  

What is really happening here?  What is the truth?  What is the matrix?  Why is there a matrix? And how do we escape this matrix?

To understand how to truly escape the matrix requires an understanding of faith and spirituality.  But I don't want to get ahead of myself.  This will not be an attempt to logically prove that such a matrix exists.  Anyone who investigates the entirety of the evidence, I believe, would have to come to the conclusion that there is a matrix of control.  It manufactures consent.  It builds the minds of young people to assimilate into the system.  This essay will instead be an examination of some of the allegory found within the Matrix movies regarding the system of control and the key to it's defeat.  If you've never viewed the Matrix trilogy then don't read any further; spoilers, and you won't be able to follow the ideas very well.


"Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I'm talking about?" -Morpheus

Ecclesiastes 12:1-14 Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low— they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets—

I've always known, since age four or five, that something was very wrong with planet Earth.  It didn't quite make sense.  And so began a journey.  For me, that was the journey that eventually led to the spiritual seeker mentality.  It was the deepest sensation, very real, and based on intense observation, yet also an intuitive response: Something is wrong here.

World wars?  Diseases?  Those weren't even the first questions.  The first question was why does going anywhere, doing anything require money?  Why are so many resources directed towards what seem to be foolish pursuits?  I remember wondering.. where is the community center?  Where do people go to just talk, spend time together, without having to buy something or purchase a product?  Well, there is no such place.  No "city center" as I thought of it.  There are restaurants where you pay, movie theatres where you pay, and many other establishments.  No loitering.  I found it confusing from a very young age.  What's happening here?  Is this right? 

After reading books like 1984 and Brave New World I began to consider things on a larger scale.  Why do nations war?  If the nations are all in such debt, who are they in debt to?  Why are all my friends so obsessed with trivial pursuits like clothes, sports, games, drugs, and brand names?  Why are there television screens everywhere?  Why do people have access to such information yet know so little?  Even larger issues.. like Genocide.  War. Sex slavery.  Disease.  Corruption. Poverty? 

Money, money, money... greed, greed, greed.  At the core, most everyone serving themselves and ignoring the needs of others.  Enough resources to go around, but the few hoarding to the destruction of so many.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils -1 Timothy 6:10

 The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender. Proverb 22:7

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. -Isaiah 1:17


For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  -Galatians 5:13

 

"The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it." - Morpheus

Matthew 12:30 Anyone who isn't with me opposes me, and anyone who isn't working with me is actually working against me.


Our hero Neo can sense sin all around him.  It's a splinter in his mind, and it drives him mad.  So he seeks out the truth teller, the rebel in the wilderness, he seeks out the John the baptist character, Morpheus, who is part of an underground truth movement.

The Morpheus character meets with Neo and invites him to join the resistance.  Red pill or blue pill.  Red pill, he joins, blue pill, he wakes up and believes whatever he wants to believe (kind of like the new spirituality - believe whatever you want.)  Neo selects the red pill, but Morpheus offers a warning, "Remember, all I'm offering is the truth."  The truth is not always a pretty thing.  In fact, I've found it exceedingly difficult to "swallow" at times.  But I've found the very grim truth to be best described in the Book.  And I'd rather know the difficult truth, than believe a convenient lie like "consciousness evolution" or "all paths to the same place."  There is a serious problem on planet Earth.  Every person knows it.  

After taking the red pill, the main character Neo wakes up from the illusion.  He finds himself in a broken wasteland, in a pod suspended in mid air, with millions of others, with plugs in his arms legs and body.  The system recognizes he is unplugs and rejects him, down a shoot into a garbage area, and it's there that a hovership piloted by Morpheus picks him up.  

As they bring Neo onto the hovership Morpheus says, "Welcome to the real world."

To me, this is an allegory to becoming a Christian.  Many would throw up their arms in disgust at that statement.  "You mean something so cool as the matrix could have anything to do with that!?  "Christian" is sitting in a boring wooden pew every week half asleep with pedophile priests!!"  Now now, no. That's the control system caricature.  We all know very well that more often than not, the truth is surrounded by a body guard of lies.

But think about it.  Really think about it.  The Christian leaves the world of convenience and self service to a radical new mission.  The modernist "everything is hunky-dory" mentality is shattered.  The middle class pursuits, the 9 to 5, bar life, empty existence..  It's all shattered.  At least it should be.  The Christian wakes up on a very real battlefield.  It's a spiritual battlefield of the mind.  The Christian finds himself on enemy territory, in the dominion of evil, but freed from the control system by Jesus Christ, the hero who has overcome the world.  He invites us to acts of sabotage against the control system.  If we will believe, and follow him, everything is possible (Philippians 4:13).

"You have to let it all go, Neo. Fear, doubt, and disbelief. Free your mind." -Morpheus

But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” Mark 5:36 

Phillipians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.




Morpheus trains Neo as a new member of his hovership the Nebuchadnezzar, a vessel that hacks into the matrix system to "free minds" from the control system and teach them the truth.  Much like Christians are called to "free minds" from the dominion of darkness and bring them to the light of Jesus Christ.  Neo finds himself as a member of a resistance group defending "the last human city" a place called Zion. 


For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12






So what is the matrix?  It could be said that the matrix is a sort of modernity, a modern mindset that keeps a person enslaved.  To me it's the lavish lifestyle of the American and European.  It's buying, buying, buying.  It's being exposed to thousands of advertisements a day.  It's an unnatural obsession with sexuality.  It's a depraved media.  It's a political climate that never changes.  It's the curtailing of civil liberties.  It's the dominance of industry over people.  It's the quiet rule of banking institutions.  It's the power of industry and media to manipulate the mindset of entire countries of people.  It's slavery to selfishness, greed, and superficial pursuits. 

Even after reading Orwell, Huxley, Thoreau, I was still locked in tight.  I wasn't necessarily plugged into the full mentality.  But I was plugged in through drugs, alcohol, and selfishness.  Despite my knowledge, special knowledge was not enough.  The matrix wasn't just around me, it was within me.  

It was Jesus Christ who set me free from the matrix.  He rescued me, and made me a new man.  I needed to become a new person to transcend the false reality.  Then he gave me a ministry.  He put me to work as a maquis, a soldier of the global resistance.  Just like Neo, Morpheus, and the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar I now hack into the matrix and free minds from the control system.  I write regarding the truth, I attempt to defend the truth and expose "different" folks like myself to the truth.  I'm on a hovership, dodging sentinels, fighting a spiritual war for the souls of mankind.

As a Christian, walking through a "super store" with the screens everywhere all on the same channel... or at an Applebees bar with ten different screens on the wall.. or in a waiting room, with a screen on the wall playing a cooking show... or waiting in line to make a purchase at the dollar store... I know that I am the resistance.  I know that I've been called out of the matrix, to tell people about how to escape the matrix.  And there is only one way to escape the matrix: Jesus Christ as described in the books of the Bible.  Those words bring with them His presence.  Secular humanism will not solve the problem.  New age vague spirituality will not solve the problem.  Consciousness evolution, the deification of public education, will not solve the problem.  Why?  Because they all ignore the fact that the problem is not outside us, or around us, in the wall, or in the institutions, in the technology, the problem is more fundamental than that... the problem is within all of us.  Thankfully there is a cure.  Jesus Christ.  He is freedom from this world, with it's many addictions and slaveries dressed up as delicacies.  The Matrix will be toppled by our savior outwardly in the years to come.  But it can be toppled today within you, by his indwelling presence.  Take a chance, and shimmer.

Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work... when you go to church... when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind. 

 Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed"
 
John 8:32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

John 14:6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."




 Related Post:
What is the Gospel?
Does man need God in Western Civilization: Young People are Hungry for the Truth
Real Christianity: Clothing, Buildings, Money, & Extravagance
The Stairway to Heaven
Seven Objections to the Bible and Seven Reasonable Responses
 
Logic, History, Statistics, & Astronomy: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Truth Claims of Christianity

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Love God: The First Great Command




In Light of the Gospels


The first great commandment is very simply a call to love God with a full heart. It seems fitting to start with the gospel of John, so often called the “love gospel.” Jesus was once asked what the greatest commandment is. According to Mark 12:29 (ESV) “Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” The four synoptic gospels are full of calls to love God, in accordance with the first great commandment. What does it mean to love God? The gospels, especially the gospel of John make it clear that to love God is an action, not simply a feeling (John 14:15). The gospel of John makes it clear that Christians express their love for God by obeying his commandments (John 15:12-14). Put another way, Christians who love God take the action of obeying the word of God (John 14:23-24). John 14:21 (ESV) says “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” To love God is to love Christ (John 14:7). No one may come to the Father aside from through the Son (John 14:6). God himself expressed his love for the world in an action, not just a feeling (John 3:16). The first great commandment appears in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and partially in John (Matthew 22:37-39, Luke 10:27, Mark 12:29, John 13:34-35). In the book of Matthew, the order of love is clearly established when Jesus Christ said,”Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). Jesus Christ must be loved above all else. That is the greatest command: love for God. Yet the command does not stop at a feeling, but remains an action. Just as Jesus taught later in Matthew chapter 25:31-40 regarding those who serve the poor, visit those in jail, feed the hungry, and care for the widow. Jesus said in Matthew 25 that whoever serves the least of the world in those desperate situations is actually serving him. Very truly, the poor are all Jesus Christ in disguise. This means that the second great command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is inexorably linked to the first great command to “love the Lord your God” (Matthew 22:36-40).

According to John 15:12-14 (ESV) “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Jesus Christ taught a radical, extreme reliance upon himself and a radical extreme love for God, displayed through works. Jesus said in Luke 14:33 (ESV) “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” To be saved one must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31). But to abide, in Greek “meno” one must obey the two great commands of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 15:10). The scriptures say that anyone who obeys His commands abides forever (1 John 2:17). The great command is the means by which conditional security is maintained, remaining in love with God the Father through his son Jesus Christ, by serving the poor and feeding the hungry (John 15:4-6). 


Loving God in Practice

The first great commandment to “love God” is inexorably linked to the second great command “to love your neighbor as yourself.” The first great commandment to love God is at it's core a commitment to love God when times are good and when times are difficult (Wright. 2001, p. 581). The first time in scripture when it's stated that man must “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind” its in Deuteronomy 6:5 (Wright, 2001, p. 582). Within the context of Deuteronomy the decree to love God was not so much a feeling as it was a command to obedience (Wright, 2001, p. 582). In the context of Deuteronomy which Jesus Christ quotes to his followers when instructing them, the idea of “loving God” is synonymous with political loyalty between nations (Wright, 2001, p. 584). Therefore, to “love God” is to be a loyal follower of God, in the context of the New Testament, a follower of Jesus Christ. What do followers do? They live out the teachings of those they follow. What does it mean to love God with all of the heart? The heart in western culture is often associated with emotions and feelings. Such was not the case with ancient Hebrew society (Wright, 2001, p. 583). In Hebrew culture it was the place of thought, will, decision making, and conscience (Wright, 2001, p. 583). According to Wright (2001) “Thus, to do something “with all your heart” is equivalent to saying “in all your thoughts and decision making.”” The Holy Spirit is vital to this command (Wright, 2001, p. 584). Truly one cannot even begin to express loyalty and love to God without the indwelling Holy Spirit. Since the command to “love God” is a call to loyalty and obedience, not to a sense of feeling, Christians are all the more able to obey the command to love the Lord through action and attention to the desires of God to serve thy neighbor and love thy neighbor as thyself. 

While focusing in on the obedience aspect of practicing “loving God” one must not neglect the emotional aspect of the experience. The only reason Christians are capable of loving God is because God first loved his people, even before they were his children (Anderson, 2006, p. 144). It could be said that divine love is manifested within the believer by the Holy Spirit, which helps believers to love as God loved (Anderson, 2006, p. 145). The love that God gave in Christ Jesus is a strong motivation to love for the believer (John 3:16, 1 John 3:16). It can be said that the believer has a responsibility to love, and even more so that the believer is empowered to love through the love that God gives (Anderson, 2006, p. 145). The scriptures say that God is love, and through the experience of God's perfect love a believer can in return love God as he loves the believer (Anderson, 2006, p. 145-146). Loving God is not merely about loyalty or obedience to the command's of God, but is about learning to love through the present love of God and learning to love through practicing compassion for others and oneself (Anderson, 2006, p. 146).



Living the Great Command

The great commandments to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" are useless unless they are applied practically (Luke 10:27). How can Christians love God? Christians can love God through radical devotion to the teachings of the Bible. Christians can love God through sincere prayer. Christians can love God through mercy ministries. Christians can love God through self sacrifice. Christians can love God through intense emotional affection for the Heavenly Father. Christians can love God by living for Jesus Christ. Of course all of that sounds great. But how does it really practically apply to modern life? For me personally, I recognize how much noise and distraction there is in the modern culture. If I don't keep a constant Christian message flowing into my spirit from multiple angles I'll be in danger of backsliding. To practically love God I need to include God in every aspect of my life. Prayer is vital to that. Daily Bible study is important to that also. But even more so, there are other things. I listen to Christian radio and Christian speaker CDs. I fill my social media news feed with Christian quotes and pictures. I go to church on Sundays and I run a Bible study. I need to do those things so that God remains the center of my focus and loyalty. For the church I attend, it's important that we share the gospel with others. We already do a great deal for the poor through the food pantry, homeless shelter, and after-school program. But what people need more than the social gospel, is the gospel out of the scriptures. If no one shares it word for word, then people simply don't know and don't think about it. I see that as a primary focus for obeying the first great commandment, to love God. Through my service to others and keeping the message of God flowing into my life, I am able to hold to my radical loyalty to God, and also build up my love for God through works. 
 



Bibliography





Anderson, Pamela Sue. "Can we love as God loves?." Theology & Sexuality 12, no. 2 (January 1, 2006): 143-163. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed January 28, 2015).



ESV: Study Bible : English Standard Version. ESV Text ed. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Bibles, 2007.



Rivera, Ted. The Half Gospel. 2013



Rivera, Ted. The Heart of Love: Obeying God's Two Great Commandments. Zondervan, 2013.



Rivera, Ted. Reforming Mercy Ministry: A Practical Guide to Loving Your Neighbor. IVP Books, 2014.



Wright, Rebecca Abts. "The Impossible Commandment." Anglican Theological Review 83, no. 3 (Summer, 2001): 579-84, http://search.proquest.com/docview/215265612?accountid=12085. 






Friday, February 6, 2015

Logic, History, Statistics, & Astronomy: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Truth Claims of Christianity




Before we get started today I have some prayer requests for my readers.  First I'd like to ask for prayers for my friend Amiri Ally Mdee.  He is 19 years old and lives in Tanzania, a country ravaged by AIDS and poverty.  Please pray for him and his mother, who are under the care of Compassion International.  Pray that their needs are met, and that they would prosper in the loving care of the blessed Lord Jesus Christ.  Please also pray for a missionary named David, he is an indigenous missionary to his people in India.  I can't be more specific than that given security concerns, but it is related to the work of the organization Gospel for Asia.  Pray that David is strengthened and encouraged in his efforts.  Pray that his food, water, and shelter needs are met.  Most importantly pray that God speaks boldly through David, and that the hearts of the people hearing him would be turned to the gospel and the blessed Lord Jesus Christ.  And finally, one more prayer request, much closer to home.  Please pray for my dear friend Kyle S. who struggles with drug addiction.  He's an old friend who I've stayed in contact with.  Please pray that his heart is turned to Jesus Christ, and that he would choose a life of recovery from drugs and alcohol.  Pray that he would step into a new phase of hope, healing, and flourishing in life in liberty from addiction.  Thank you very much.  I pray for these three people a great deal, but I know your prayers as well could help swing the balance.  Actually I have one more prayer request:  Please pray for my friend John M.  He has cancer and needs a bone marrow transplant.  Please pray for powerful healing through the Holy Spirit, and pray for his wife Tina and her children, that the Spirit of the Lord would be close to them in this difficult time.  

Praises to the Lord for the many blessings he's given and that I've received.  Truly I don't deserve such a prosperous life, but it has been given freely to me.  It has been two years and three months now since I was the slave of drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and self destruction.  Thankfully in God's mercy he directed me to call on Jesus Christ for help, and his help came swiftly.  Back in October 2012 I had nothing.  No job, no car, dropped out of college, depressed and addicted.  God has moved me from that, to a new day.  Recovery through twelve step groups.  Then college at Liberty University.  Then ministry opportunities.  This blog.  Eventually being hired at the Salvation Army homeless shelter.  And now preparing for a two year ministry internship in preparation for a career in the SA as a minister.  All thanks to Jesus Christ answering a call for help.  Praise be to God. 

So today, as we often do here, I'd like to build a case. Let's see how we can approach the truth claims of Christianity from an interdisciplinary approach.   

I like to look at Christianity from several different angles.  Those angles are logic (specifically logical fallacies), history (tests for historicity), mathematics (statistical probability), and science (astronomy, fine-tuning).  Those are the primary approaches I like to make to the claims of the Christian faith.  Secondary approaches that I also like to make are in the areas of empirical verification (adherence to reality), textual criticism (biblical document credibility), archaeology (discoveries verifying recorded history), philosophy (the teachings of Jesus Christ in practice), and personal experience (how I've witnessed life first hand).

I'm not going to dive too far into any one area of verification today, but at least browse through some of the major areas of inquiry.  

First up, logic.  Many have claims that challenge the validity of Christianity.  Let's look at four major objections and see if they are logically coherent.  There are certainly others, but these are some I've dealt with more recently:

1. "I don't believe in God, and I don't believe in unicorns or leprechauns either!"
2. "Yeah Christians are so great, but their priests are pedophiles.  Bunch of nasty pedophiles."
3. "Your view on homosexuality says it all.  Christians are bigots."
4. "Christianity has caused so much destruction in the past, like the crusades and the inquisition."

1. The first objection is a sort of combination of two fallacies.  The first is a logical fallacy called "ad hominem."  What it means is the person challenging the claim is throwing out insults instead of answering the argument.  In addition I would say that the objector is committing a logical fallacy we might call "appealing to absurdity."  This is a false appeal where the person appeals to the "absurd notion of a czar of the heavens" instead of making a logical argument.  Claiming something is absurd is not an argument, it's a variation on "ad hominem."

2. Objection two is what you call a "Hasty generalization fallacy."  It is reasoned that when one or a few people do something bad, then all people in that group are bad.  If one atheist commits a crime, are all atheists criminals? Of course not.  If one priest claiming to be a Christian molests a child, are all Christians child molesters?  Of course not.  One must never judge a worldview by how it is abused.  Every person has free will.  Anyone can claim to follow a teaching, but their actions tell us who they are.

3.Embedded in this objection are multiple fallacies.  First we have "the bandwagon fallacy" and an "appeal to popularity."  Because the latest trend in the past few years is that homosexuality is good, therefore since Christians believe in traditional marriage they must be bad.  The objection ends with "ad hominem" by calling the person a "bigot" in place of a solid argument.  A fourth issue is that the question is "loaded."  A "loaded question fallacy" is a question that is impossible to answer because the answerer appears guilty before even answering the question.

4. When one points to the past tragedies of a worldview, like President Obama did recently at the annual prayer breakfast, we have to ask ourselves first: What really happened in the events of the crusades?  After Muslims invaded Europe, all the way to the capital and beyond.. finally a Catholic Pope called for a counter attack, to defend Europe.  Should Christians fight wars of offense?  Certainly not.  But wars of defense against invaders?  It's debatable.  But even then, we still find a logical fallacy.  It's called a "Genetic fallacy."  Just because something bad happened in the past in regard to Christianity, does that mean that Christianity is basically bad?  Of course not.  

So those are some looks at how logic can be applied to deal with objections.  But what about a positive argument?  

I think a very powerful argument is one called "The Kalam Cosmological Argument" championed by Dr. William Lane Craig.  

It goes like this:
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Simple and very effective.  (Click here for a short video describing the Kalam argument.  Another interesting argument is called the Moral argument, click here for a short video describing that one.)

Next, history.  There are two ways to approach Christianity from the angle of history: the historical Jesus and the historicity of the Biblical documents.  I'd like to focus on the historicity factor today.  We'll start with a quote from Time magazine:

“After more than two centuries of facing the heaviest scientific guns that could be brought to bear, the Bible has survived—and is perhaps the better for the siege. Even on the critics' own terms—historical fact—the Scriptures seem more acceptable now than they did when the rationalists began the attack.” –TIME Magazine, December 30, 1974.

The Bible has certainly faced a lot of attacks over history.  We have to ask ourselves, how is ancient history confirmed?  Ancient historical documents are verified by comparing manuscripts to one another for reliability.  Such findings are also tested against archaeological findings for confirmation.  Currently there are 5,686 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.  Compared to other historical documents, the Bible has the best manuscript evidence of any historical document.  Click here for a chart comparing ancient manuscript quantities.  In other languages like Syriac, Aramaic, and Coptic there are over 25,000 manuscript copies of parts of the NT.  When compared to one another their accuracy is 99.5% which is virtually unheard of.  It's ironic how much skepticism there is toward the Biblical documents, generated by fictional novels like "The Da Vinci Code."  It truly shows the ignorance of many in the modern world.  I can't speak to that though, I used to be one of those people who thought the Da Vinci code was non-fiction and the Bible was fiction. Oh irony of ironies.

I'll close this section with a quote from the famed writer H.G. Wells: “I am a historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.” 

Next we have mathematics, or more specifically: statistical probability.  We know that the possibility of one person winning the lottery is very remote.  But it is certainly possible, however unlikely.  For example the approximate chances of winning the Powerball are 1 in 175 million (source).  

But eventually probability becomes so remote, that the chances actually drop to zero.  Not possible at all.  When dealing with the possibility of intelligent life arising from rocks and puddles of fluid the probability becomes exceedingly unlikely.  When considering how perfect the settings of gravity and mass had to be tuned to allow for the big bang to occur the way it did, we're coming up on not just improbability, but impossibility (that it could happen by random chance.)  

The need for an intelligent designer is underlined so intensely it's a wonder how anyone can argue for random chance.  Adding billions and billions to time changes very little.  Given the second law of thermodynamics, that complex systems tend to break down, how could we assume that life would grow increasingly complex?  Or as the astronomer Fred Hoyle put it: "Once we see, however, that the probability of life originating at random is so utterly miniscule as to make it absurd, it becomes sensible to think that the favorable properties of physics on which life depends are in every respect deliberate … . It is therefore almost inevitable that our own measure of intelligence must reflect … higher intelligences … even to the limit of God … such a theory is so obvious that one wonders why it is not widely accepted as being self-evident. The reasons are psychological rather than scientific."
  • Fred Hoyle and N. Chandra Wickramasinghe, Evolution from Space (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1981), pp. 141, 144, 130
Or stated in this scenario: "The chance that higher life forms might have emerged in this way is comparable with the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein."
  • Fred Hoyle, Hoyle on evolution, Nature, Vol. 294, No. 5837 (November 12, 1981), p. 105

Good stuff, but how about some positive statistical evidence?  Absolutely.  Fritz Ridenour said it best:

“The Old Testament contains over 300 references to the Messiah that were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Computations using the science of probability on just 8 of these prophecies show the chance that someone could have fulfilled all 8 prophecies is 10 (to the 17th power), or 1 in 100 quadrillion.” –Fritz Ridenour, So What’s the Difference?, p. 28. 

Next up, we have science.  I recall watching an interview where a reporter was talking with Christopher Hitchens, a renowned atheist (now deceased.)  The reporter asked Hitchens flat out, "Is there anything that causes serious doubt of your atheism?"  Or something to that effect.  He replied quite quickly, that the one thing that gave him pause was the fine tuning in the universe.  The universe appears to be finely tuned to allow for life to existence.  There are immutable laws within that universe that govern it's functions.  In fact the universe appears to be designed.  So much so that scientists arguing for their naturalist worldview must say that the universe "only appears" to be designed, but this is in fact due to the possibility of multiple universes.  Which seems like a long stretch to defend a presupposition like "naturalism" (the idea that all things must be described within natural terms.)  

Fine tuning to me makes the existence of God near total certainty.  It's only logical that if there is a design (the universe) there must be a designer (God.)  Click here to watch a short video description of the argument from fine tuning

Logic, history, math, and science.  We've really only grazed the surface of the wealth of information in these disciplines when examining Christianity.  But I hope exploring some of the key points within these disciplines was helpful to you.  

We always have to remind ourselves that we're in search of the truth, no matter what it might be.  Sometimes we begin the journey with certain preconceptions.  We have ideologies that we want to defend.  One great thinker said:

"I had motive for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves. … For myself, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political." --Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means (London: Chatto & Windus, 1946), pp. 270, 273.

The search for the truth is not always an easy one, and we sometimes have a desire for a certain outcome.  I know that I did.  But I think deep down we all want to know the real, actual truth.  For me, Christianity is that truth.  Not because of blind faith, but because of reasonable faith.  

I don't just believe in the God of the Bible. I know he is real. I've seen it first hand. Or I wouldn't be doing any of this. The evidence to me was clear.  Once again, everything that begins has a cause, the universe began to exist, therefore the universe must have a cause. That cause has to be immaterial, all powerful, and personal. 20% logic. The biblical documents are cross referenced by over 25,000 manuscripts, which makes them above reproach in tests of historicity 20% history. The universe is finely tuned to allow for life to exist, and macro evolution is statistically impossible given how complex life is (the human eye for example) 20% science. So there is 60% of my intelligent belief in God. Add another 10% of the empirical fact that Christianity has grown from 12 disciples to 2.1 billion people. Then 15% of my own personal experience with calling on Jesus and recovering from drugs and alcohol.. and I've past a shadow of a reasonable doubt. In any court room, the reasonable doubt is gone. And I can truly believe without any reservation. So many other proofs too. Like the problem of evil in the world.  Or fulfilled prophecies.  Science in the Bible.  Archaeological discoveries.  There are so many ways to approach it!

So it makes good sense.  The existence of God makes sense.  Jesus Christ in the scriptures is a perfect teaching of love and truth.  Storing up treasure in heaven seems.. wonderful to me. Plus it feels so great to do. The saying is true that you have NOT LIVED until you have done something for someone who can do nothing in return. The feeling, and presence of God at that moment is indescribably wonderful.

Truth, at the end of the day, is what best describes reality.  The problems of the world tell me that sin is real.  The majesty of the heavens tell me there must be a designer.  The love from my friends and family tells me there must be a first lover.  The scriptural accounts of the life of Jesus Christ show me that the philosophy of loving god, and loving others is practical and leads to peace and harmony for mankind.  

How does it seem to you?  Search it out.  Pray and ask for the truth to be revealed.  Pursue God with all your strength.  He will reveal himself to you, or more to the point: He will show you his son, the blessed savior Jesus Christ.  We all need a savior, forgiveness for our sins.  We all feel the weight of it.  Freedom from that guilt is not found in pretending life has no meaning, but in embracing the clean slate provided by Jesus Christ.  He has provided for our malady, through forgiveness and spiritual rebirth.  He filled the empty spot in my chest, that could never seem to be filled by anything in this world.  Let him do the same for you.  God bless you, and may you find Christ in the quiet moments of this life... staring off at the stars and the sunset wondering in peaceful contemplation... Why am I here?  Amen.

Some Quotations from Great Thinkers to Reflect on:
“They are teachers who point to their teaching or show some particular way. In all of these, there emerges an instruction, a way of living. It is not Zoroaster to whom you turn. It is Zoroaster to whom you listen. It is not Buddha who delivers you; it is his Noble Truths that instruct you. It is not Mohammed who transforms you; it is the beauty of the Koran that woos you. By contrast, Jesus did not only teach or expound His message. He was identical with His message. “In Him,” say the Scriptures, “dwelt the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” He did not just proclaim the truth. He said, “I am the truth.” He did not just show a way. He said, “I am the Way.” He did not just open up vistas. He said, “I am the door.” “I am the Good Shepherd.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” “I am the I AM.” In Him is not just an offer of life’s bread. He is the bread. That is why being a Christian is not just a way of feeding and living. Following Christ begins with a way of relating and being.”
Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message 

"All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth." -Baptist Faith and Message (2000) Chapter 15 The Christian and the Social Order 


 “Only when holiness and worship meet can evil be conquered. For that, only the Christian message has the answer.”
Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message 

"Jesus doesn't explain why there is suffering, illness, and death in the world. He brings healing and hope. He doesn't allow the problem of evil to be the subject of a seminar. He allows evil to do its worst to him. He exhausts it, drains its power, and emerges with new life."
~ N. T. Wright, from Simply Good News


"If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. Every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize, that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards, that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody." -Martin Luther King Jr.  

“The Christian in the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.”
Francis A. Schaeffer, Art & the Bible 
 


Other Articles on this Website for your Further Consideration:
  1. Resources for Seekers
  2. Video Presentations
  3. How do I become a Christian? 
  4. What is the Gospel?
  5.  Does man need God in Western Civilization?
  6. Seven Objections to the Bible and Seven Reasonable Responses
  7. Origin, Meaning, Morality, & Destiny: An atheist and a Christian on Worldview
  8. Quick Fact Sheet: Four Points to Consider
  9. 10 Answers to Common Questions Raised by Skeptics
  10. Nine Documentaries & Presentations on Atheism, Intelligent Design, and Society

 
 
  

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