Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Archive for the ‘Creation’ Category

Scientifically, We’re Not Here

EARTH IN SPACESLIDE

Most of us can’t even pronounce 700,000,000,000,000,000,000, much less count there.  For people who aren’t math geniuses, it’s 700 Quintillion.  According to recent research in Sweden, that’s the number of planets in the cosmos.  But the scientific team learned something else from their epic research project: amid those 700 quintillion planets, the Earth is one of a kind!

Astrophysicist Erik Zackrissen and his team developed a massive computer model to simulate the development of the universe.  They entered everything we know about exoplanets and then programmed in the laws of physics. They recreated 13.8 billion years of history.  The results demonstrate that life on earth defies all the odds.  Here’s how the article sums it up:  “His research indicates that, from a purely statistical standpoint, Earth perhaps shouldn’t exist.”

The writer for Discover concludes that “Earth appears to have been dealt a fairly lucky hand.”  That’s funny!  Three Aces and two kings is a lucky hand.  The scientists believe we were dealt five Aces! (Read the article here.)

The Bible never argues that the Earth is the only planet where life is possible.  But scripture is clear that the staging and adornment of our planet happened near the end of the Creation process, with the climax drawing near.  Genesis emphasizes the loving care demonstrated by God as he fashioned Eden as a splendid home for his masterpiece: men and women.

Last night I finally watched The War for the Planet of the Apes.  I was entertained but saddened.  The script is emphatic that all men and women are hopelessly destructive.  Except for one innocent child, every human being in the movie comes to a tragic, well-deserved end.  Hollywood finally agrees with the Church: all have sinned, and the wages of sin is death.

But in sharp contrast to the blind despair of Tinsel Town, the Gospel foresees a happy ending for people of this planet of apes.  The same God who so carefully crafted the planet with all the resources for life has also intervened to rescue his wayward sons and daughters.  Amid all the grief and confusion of the current age, we believe there is more here than meets the eye.

Step back and watch the Creator working in stardust and DNA.  You can see it every day in the beauty of fall foliage; in the mystery of tiny black seeds bearing giant, sweet watermelons; in the mystery and wonder of a child in the womb.  You can experience it when you read the Bible slowly enough to allow the pulse of Eternity to restart your heart.

We are unique in this dark, sprawling, mostly empty universe; but we are not alone. We are in the presence of our Father.

To hear the companion sermon, click Awe and Reverence.

Lift up the Cross!

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Resistance Thinking

GENDER NEUTRAL SIGN

The sudden demand for transgender bathrooms and locker rooms took most of us by surprise.  We had seen the movement for same-sex marriage advancing year by year for more than a decade, but who knew transgender confusion and gender dysphoria had gone viral? That’s why most of us in the church are still left speechless when the topic arises.  Nobody wants to cave in and say, “Whatever,” but we don’t want to look like troglodytes either! So I’ve established some basic principles for my conversations about gender neutral restrooms and all the other emerging civil rights in our decaying culture.

I can expand upon these and explain my rationale next.  But here are my priorities for responding to gender neutral restrooms, as well as the next social catastrophe that comes down the pike in a month or two:

  1. Not every conviction that guides a believer is a biblical truth. Think!
  2. In everything, lead with love.
  3. Love is not the same thing as approval.
  4. Christ is more powerful than rules or laws.  Trust Christ.
  5. The laws of the land do not amend the Laws of God.

First, let’s not blame every controversy on the Bible.  Like most people, I have some opinions and convictions based on natural law, practical experience, science, and history; principles that are not rooted in the Word of God. When church people insist on hurling lightning bolts from the Bible into every political debate, it gives the impression that we are blindly reactive; not rational. What’s more, if our opponents don’t respect the Bible, we are merely casting pearls to the swine.

For instance, quoting Genesis and insisting “God created them male and female” doesn’t settle the question of gender confusion.  God also made tigers orange and black, but that doesn’t mean there are no albinos.  I’ve had friends at church throw up their hands in despair: doesn’t an earthworm have both sexes?  Some children do seem terribly uncomfortable in their assigned gender. Maybe the secular progressives are right: maybe life is more complex than male and female. Perhaps gender and sexual orientation are different categories altogether.  Maybe sexual orientation is always in flux!

Or perhaps we’re talking about mental illness and emotional disorders.  There is no doubt that people should not be mocked or shamed for the way they were born. Haven’t we been telling the world for twenty years that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of?  Americans who are burdened with shame should find their most compassionate support in the church of Jesus Christ.  But there’s a great deal of scientific research that indicates we’re spinning off civil rights and special privileges for fellow travelers who suffer from fleeting adolescent uncertainty or mental illness.

  • The American College of Pediatricians asserts, “Gender Ideology Harms Children.” In a lengthy official statement, their physicians have documented the fact that 98% of gender confused boys and 88% of gender confused girls finally accept their biological sex after puberty. For the complete statement, click here.
  • The Johns Hopkins University Hospital, which pioneered sexual reassignment surgery for transsexuals in the 1960’s, eventually discontinued that procedure. The most thorough research, both here and abroad, indicated that the radical physical alterations did not measurably improve the emotional disorientation.  Dr. Paul McHugh now insists that transsexuals need counseling, not surgery.  To read his summary click here.

The next time you have an opportunity to engage in a conversation about gender issues in this country today, take a few moments to listen thoughtfully.  Ask what makes gender dysphoria different from paranoia or PTSD or claustrophobia?  Sophisticated people in the 21st Century can surely manage to be both compassionate and rational.

I’ll pick up with Priority 2 next time.  In the meantime, lift up the Cross!

 

 

 

Creationists in Denial

NOT UNBELIEVERS

You’ve heard the myth that most Americans are practicing agnostics, and they’re more hostile to the Gospel than ever.  The  hostility part may be true in the Middle East where terrorists are committing genocide against the church.  It may be valid in India where Hindus burned a group of Christians alive last week.  Not here.  Most Americans are secular and materialistic, but they aren’t generally trying to stamp out the Church of Jesus Christ.

Most Americans aren’t agnostic, either.  Granted, they don’t go to church or publicly profess faith in Christ, but many of their views depend completely on a biblical point of view! Think about it. When a skeptic argues, for instance, that people who oppress women are evil, the logical follow-up is “Where did you get that idea?”  It’s certainly not a majority view: women are still oppressed in most places around the world!

Women deserve to be treated equally by everyone only if this is a principled world created for a purpose; a world where there are universal moral laws.  If this is just a world where life developed gradually through random evolution, there is only one law: survival of the fittest.  Until Jesus came, civilized nations throughout history had upheld a standard of justice that sounds a lot like evolutionary philosophy: it was evil to help an unfortunate, suffering human being.  You would be interfering with the justice of the gods!

It is unnatural to tell a male lion that female lions have rights.  It violates all the rules of animal behavior to suggest that a hungry leopard should not attack and eat a lame antelope, even a crippled child.  Animals approach life on the planet exactly as it is.  But human beings approach life as it should be: liberty, equality, compassion, the sanctity of human life.  That is based on the biblical view of divine creation. And it leads to the question of why sin is such a problem.

So when you begin conversations about life with skeptical men and women, don’t preach at them.  Just ask questions about their views.  Listen with interest as they explain their deepest beliefs about the way life should be.  Then ask thoughtfully why they accept such moral values in a world where the law of nature is kill or be killed.  Smile mercifully as they squirm under the realization that they have always believed in a form of divine creation as taught only in the Bible.  Don’t rush, but you are already on your way to Jesus.

At Providence, we are practicing three baby steps toward being more Gospel-influential:

  1. Begin praying for five friends, relatives or co-workers who are lost and in need of the Gospel.
  2. Begin 5 new relationships (not necessarily deep friendships) that might ultimately give you an opening for meaningful conversations about life, faith and Christ.
  3. Spend 5 minutes before you leave home each day getting spiritual prepared to serve on the mission field of your life.

For the message that inspired this blog, click here.  Consider also Timothy Keller’s classic book, The Reason for God.

And lift up the Cross!

Born Naked

BORN NAKED

Adam and Eve began their lives naked and unashamed because that’s how they were created.  God invented the miracle of DNA,  the symphony of starry heavens, the splendor of  tropical rain forests; it was people who invented clothing. And they did it because they were ashamed, not because they were cold.

When A&E were standing there nude and alone, the most seductively irresistible sight  in paradise was- well–  a piece of fruit.  God had strongly encouraged them to make love and have babies, but it was impossible to get that papaya from the Tree of Knowledge out of their minds.  The first human couple had to lose paradise before they could discover sex.  It’s too bad for us it took them so long to get aroused!

Thoughts like these have been rattling around in my brain for a few months now.  It’s been widely reported that a tidal wave of generational change has just come crashing down on the American church.  Half a century after the Sexual Revolution, a whole generation of young people think Christians are too uptight about sex. Older generations insist that we had sex too; we conceived those irreverent little libertines! But that misses the point: what if they’re right?

Make a list of the 10 most divisive debates in the world today and you’ll be surprised how many have erupted from the abuse or corruption of sex.  Adultery, abortion, pornography, child molestation, same-sex marriage, the fragmentation of traditional marriages, and human trafficking have at least three elements  in common: 1) they are sexually driven;  2) they are becoming more common and widespread; and 3) they are rarely mentioned in most churches.

No wonder members of the Millennial generation have embraced a whole range of sexual behaviors that shock their grandparents and defy the Bible.  Many of them never heard anyone speak joyfully about God’s design for sexuality, the theology of marriage, why faith is more powerful than lust, or how to respectfully help young men and women who are confused about their sexuality or troubled by unhealthy yearnings. Has anyone ever explained why the battle of the sexes is a friendly competition, not a war?  Usually not. To the contrary, so much preaching and teaching over the decades has deflected many of life’s great questions- sexual questions– with shame and silence.

In a couple of weeks, I will step into the pulpit at Providence to undertake  a series of messages on the theology of sex- the joys of gender and the glory of God.  No, I won’t be preaching from giant bed or encouraging married couples to mark their calendars and have more sex.  (I think most people got that part.) And despite the fact that I will be reverent and diplomatic, children may go home asking questions. But what’s the alternative: asking their misguided friends or wandering innocently into Sex&Sadism.com on Google?  When a child begins constructing a sexual ethos for the rest of his life, he ought to begin with insights from his parents.

This is why I’ll be preaching about sex, gender, and the glory of God in a few weeks. That’s why my friends should probably start praying for me now.  To God be the glory!

Lift up the Cross!

 

 

Creature Comforts

DAWN OF PLANET OF APES 01

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes constructs a world where a thriving population of apes and a decimated community of human beings find themselves locked in mortal combat.  Caesar and his simian friends want their forest safe and undisturbed by human activity, but an emerging population of people needs to refit an abandoned hydroelectric plant at the heart of the California forest in order to reclaim their place in the world.  I thought the movie was fun to watch and extremely thought provoking.

One of my favorite lines comes as the conflict is finally coming to a boil.  The elated human beings suddenly feel alive again when they suddenly generate enough power to illuminate a small shopping dining area in San Francisco.  The apes are perfectly content in their primitive tree houses, unlighted and packed tightly together in the forest canopy outside the city. One of the humans observes the apes from a distance and comments, “They don’t need electricity. That’s their strength.”

Both the humans in the city and the apes in the trees can enjoy family, neighbors, food and a place to live.  The animals are quite content.  The people are miserable without their creature comforts. Creature comforts, really?

I will never forget one of those eureka moments I experienced in Malindi on the coast of Kenya years ago.  My team and I frequently enjoyed the hospitality of Kenyan believers who lived in very humble dwellings, but enjoyed the constant nearness of family, and the joy of simple meals.  People honored us as their guests with pure delights as simple as milk from freshly harvested coconuts or fish and rice at a table crowded with family and relatives in the middle of a weekday.

It struck me how difficult it would be for most of us back in the States to host an impromptu luncheon for special guests in the middle of a busy Tuesday and actually expect most of our relatives to be there!  Here in the USA we’re too busy working for a living to afford our houses, cars and high tech devices. I realized that these “poor” people enjoy wonderful privileges most of us could never afford.

It dawned on me: so that’s why possessions and trinkets are called the trappings of wealth.  They can trap us in demanding schedules and give us only money in return.

Here’s what Christ said: “Don’t worry about what you will eat or what you will wear, for the pagans run after those things and your heavenly father knows that you need them.  But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all those other things will be given to you as well.”  Hey, don’t  misunderstand: a good job is a good thing, but it’s not everything.

Lift up the Cross!

 

 

Legal? Maybe. Healthy? No.

SAME SEX MARRIAGE

Three years ago I wrote a blog that people still read almost every week.  The Christian Brain, Part I shows up on search engines when someone Googles, “Should a Christian attend a gay wedding?”  I made the simple point that real friends, even real gay friends, can understand if I decline to attend their wedding ceremony.  Friends don’t have to agree on everything.  And a genuine friend would never expect me to attend an event that offends my spiritual and ethical convictions.

Shortly after I moved to Virginia, a friend invited my wife and me to attend a NARAL banquet with her in order to hear a well-known celebrity guest speaker. We politely declined because we believe that abortion ends human lives, and the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws is fiercely pro-abortion.  I would never want anyone to assume I approve of abortion, so my friend understood why I would not be comfortable at the event.  We were still friends, however, and a few months later I attended an engagement dinner in her home.  We hate abortion, not her.

The same principle applies to same-sex wedding ceremonies as well.  If a gay friend or relative wants to marry his gay lover, it’s obviously legal in many states. But I would graciously decline to attend because a wedding ceremony is a celebration and I could never celebrate something I believe is destructive to people, deadly for societies, and defiant of our Creator.

Some have challenged me by asking, “But what would Jesus do?”  Didn’t Jesus attend dinner parties with disreputable people? Didn’t Christ overlook the offense of an adulteress who was about to be stoned?  Wasn’t Jesus often criticized for showing up in the homes of sinful men and women?

I completely agree.  Like Jesus, I often attend dinner parties and social functions with friends who don’t share my convictions, because God wants everyone to eat and have friends.  I could even attend a wedding ceremony for a couple of Hindu friends, because it’s perfectly normal for a Hindu man to marry a Hindu woman.  I can be happy for them, even as I hope to someday lead them both to faith in Christ.  I can eat dinner in the home of a gay couple, because I am glad all my friends are able to eat and entertain. And should one of them ever contract HIV/ AIDS, I would help out in any way humanly possible, without ever once suggesting, “I told you so.”  But I could never celebrate an event that mocks God and turns human civilization in its head.  Conjugal marriage is biblical and natural.  Gay sex meets neither of those tests.

Obviously, things are changing in America.  Those of us who oppose legalized same-sex marriage seem to be part of a shrinking minority.  Every few months, headlines shout the name of yet another fallen state where courts have struck down laws protecting marriage. There will surely be a time in the near future when same-sex marriage and will be legal in every state.  As our moral decay continues, many states will also liberalize laws about plural marriage and sex with children.  Our nation is adrift; even the unthinkable can soon be acceptable- indeed, it already is. But God’s standards are not influenced by popular culture or national elections.

Occasionally someone asks, “But what about my son or daughter?  If they opt for a same-sex marriage, shouldn’t I attend just to show that I love them?”  I simply reply: “And if your son should announce his plans to kill himself, would you meet him in the fateful parking lot to affirm his decision?  If your daughter should share her plans to renounce Christ in favor of Islam, would you meet her at the mosque to celebrate her induction?”  I would expect the answer is no.

Neither should I choke on my deepest convictions in order to show some vague, misguided support by attending a ceremony that celebrates sin, death and destruction. I will never insult homosexuals or call them names; neither will I harangue two intelligent adults or try and damage their reputations.  When they return from their honeymoon, I will still love them and invite them to a restaurant or a movie, just as I had done before.  But it would be deceitful to pretend that darkness is light, or that disobedience to God is somehow a path to greater ministry.

Lift up the Cross!

 

The Forsaken Fruit

TREE OF LIFE

Reading the creation accounts in Genesis raises provocative, unsettling questions. You might suppose the most difficult one would be “Why did God place the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden in the first place?”  Without that tree, things might have been very different.  But there’s another question we most commonly overlook that is much thornier and more haunting.  “Why didn’t Adam and Eve sample the Tree of Life first?

Genesis 2:9 explains that both trees were located in the midst of the Garden. What’s more, scripture is clear that only the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was forbidden. All the other trees and plants were readily available to them. Apparently, had they taken one bite of the fruit from the Tree of Life, they would have immediately enjoyed immortality!  Why didn’t they?  Their subsequent eviction from Eden was not divine punishment.  We learn that their removal was a preventive measure to ensure that they could not finally eat from the Tree of Life and exist forever in their fallen, broken condition.

The Tree of Knowledge stood in the Garden as an object lesson in reliance on God. To rely fully on the Lord was to trust his promise that the resources he had made available to human beings would provide all the elements for a productive and satisfying life.  The Tree of Knowledge offered an alternative, which signified the fear that God is not enough; that his plan is insufficient; that walking with him alone is not satisfying.  Eating that forbidden fruit embodied the impulse to defy God and trust our own instincts.

The presence of the Tree of Life in the Garden evidenced the endless possibilities that come through believing in God alone.  To our sorrow, the first humans could not even maintain that trust long enough to get around to tasting the fruit of immortality he had easily placed within their reach.  The seduction to rely on themselves and defy God burned so urgently that they too quickly traded away some of the greatest riches God could afford.

It’s still true today: the temptation to trust my impulses can become such an addiction that I miss Jesus Christ and his cross, the Father’s Tree of Life.  Christ is both necessary and available, but my lust for experience can drive me recklessly in the other direction.  And I think that’s the ultimate message of Genesis 2.  God is so generous that he has set eternal life within our reach, but we are so blinded by ambition that without divine intervention, we will miss that life completely.

Lift up the Cross!

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