Tag Archives: Greg Koukl

“Why do you believe in Jesus? And how can I?”

Are you equipped to answer those questions in a clear, winsome and biblical way?

I actually got an email with those two questions in the subject line.  The sender was a guy from  a Sunday school class I was teaching.  He attended with his wife, who was a committed believer, but he was a skeptic. We ended up having a great conversation about the real Gospel, the importance of reading the Bible, etc.  (We ended up leaving that church so I’m not sure of his current beliefs.  But I trust the process.)

Those are the ultimate softball questions for Christians, right?  They recognize that you believe in Jesus, they are interested in the reasons and they want to know how to do it as well.  Not all encounters will be that tailor made, but my question is this: Are you ready to give effective answers to those questions?  If you aren’t then you need to equip yourselves starting now.

I always start any evangelism / apologetics training with that anecdote.  I want people to get away from thinking that evangelism is only about knocking on doors (not that there is anything wrong with that) and pushing through hostile encounters (Jesus gave us the pearls before swine commandment in Matthew 7:6 for a reason).  I want people to be prepared, but not to give up before they start.

I highly recommend reading this book and having extra copies to share with people.  You will learn how to give an effective presentation of the Gospel, explain the main themes of the Bible and Christianity and address common objections.

P.S. There was an interesting side note with the email.  The guy was a trustee of a 3,000 person Methodist church at the time.   They didn’t even know he was an explicit non-believer.  I knew the church had agnostics in other roles who thought they are Christians, but this guy knew his real spiritual status.  Maybe churches should get to know their leaders first, and as a bonus, their members.  /sarcasm

Decision, decisions

My favorite apologist linked to this so I thought I’d re-run it.  Still the most practical biblical lesson I know of for daily living.  As Greg Koukl says, we are constantly either making decisions or living with their consequences.  I use this method and share it regularly.  I just used it with the high school kids at church to talk about careers, dating, marriage, college, etc.  

Click here to download a set of PowerPoint slides to read or to teach others.

And here is a new video of this lesson!

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Decision Making and the Will of God is one of my all-time favorite lessons to teach.  This is such a crucial topic, because we make big and small decisions all the time and are constantly living with the consequences of past decisions.

Does God speak to you about specific decisions when you are reading the Bible, such as whether you should pay off your mortgage, whom you should marry, what job you should take, etc.?  I think this is about how you apply the Bible to decision making and not about whether God sends individual messages through his word.

For example, if you want to know whether paying off your mortgage is the right thing to do, you have a couple options:

1. Ask God for a supernatural sign for the answer, whether it is a yes or a no (a la Gideon).  My guess is that He won’t decide for you that way, but it is always his option.  One thing we know about God is that if He wants to tell you something directly He isn’t very subtle.  There are zero examples of him trying to tell someone something in the Bible and not getting through.

2. Use the wisdom model of decision making.  You don’t have access to God’s sovereign knowledge (Will I lose my job?  Will interest rates go up or down?  Etc.).  You do have unrestricted access to his moral will via the Bible. Example: Is it immoral to pay off your mortgage early?  No, unless that means you won’t have enough money to feed your kids.  After moral considerations, look to the wisdom angle.  Ask God for wisdom, as He promises to deliver.  But as with Solomon, He doesn’t promise to decide everything for you.  Read Proverbs (and more).  Seek the counsel of others.  Consider the pros and cons.  That’s how to make wise decisions.  Finally, provided the options are moral and wise, consider your personal preferences.  We have tremendous freedom in Christ to do many things with our time and money.  Will paying off your mortgage make you happy?  If so, then do it.

Here’s a picture of what is looks like:

Decision making and the will of God

Really short version: Aside from direct and clear personal revelation from God, you don’t have access to his sovereign will when making decisions.  Therefore you must look at other factors.  If it isn’t moral, don’t do it.  If it is moral but not wise, don’t do it.  If it is moral and wise, then use your personal preferences.

Using this model you can end up with a wise and biblical decision, but you have avoided the traps of the “God told me to ____” routine.  People who run around saying that God told them this and that convey a super-spirituality that can leave less mature believers wondering if they really have a relationship with God (i.e., “God doesn’t tell me every little thing to do, so maybe I don’t really know him.”).

The “God told me ___” routine can also be outright blasphemy, as when “Christians” claim that God is moving in a new direction counter to what He revealed in the Bible.  The United Church of Christ “God is still speaking;” theme is a good example of that.  They didn’t believe what He said the first time around, so why trust them on allegedly new revelations?

Saturating yourself in the word is a key success factor in making good decisions. If we focus on worldly wisdom things go badly:

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

But if we repent and do everything we can to see things from God’s point of view we will make better decisions.

Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Romans 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

This model will help you make good decisions in all areas of life — dating, marriage, college, careers, purchases, giving, ministry and more.  You can also use it to help friends, children, etc. make good decisions.  I even use it at work as a “faith flag” at times.  If people ask career advice, for example, I pull out this diagram and share it with them (i.e., “At the risk of getting all religious on you, here’s the method I use to make decisions like that.”)

Click here to download a set of PowerPoint slides to read or to use yourself to teach others.

P.S. A kid came into my wife’s elementary school library yesterday and asked if she had any books on how to make good choices.  She thought of the diagram above and laughed.  Let’s just say I refer to this model now and then.  She thinks I should write a children’s book on decision making.  I think she is kidding.

Hat tip to Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason for much of this, including the diagram.

Decision, decisions

Decision Making and the Will of God is one of my all-time favorite lessons to teach.  This is such a crucial topic, because we make big and small decisions all the time and are constantly living with the consequences of past decisions.

Does God speak to you about specific decisions when you are reading the Bible, such as whether you should pay off your mortgage, whom you should marry, what job you should take, etc.?  I think this is about how you apply the Bible to decision making and not about whether God sends individual messages through his word.

For example, if you want to know whether paying off your mortgage is the right thing to do, you have a couple options:

1. Ask God for a supernatural sign for the answer, whether it is a yes or a no (a la Gideon).  My guess is that He won’t decide for you that way, but it is always his option.  One thing we know about God is that if He wants to tell you something directly He isn’t very subtle.  There are zero examples of him trying to tell someone something in the Bible and not getting through.

2. Use the wisdom model of decision making.  You don’t have access to God’s sovereign knowledge (Will I lose my job?  Will interest rates go up or down?  Etc.).  You do have unrestricted access to his moral will via the Bible. Example: Is it immoral to pay off your mortgage early?  No, unless that means you won’t have enough money to feed your kids.  After moral considerations, look to the wisdom angle.  Ask God for wisdom, as He promises to deliver.  But as with Solomon, He doesn’t promise to decide everything for you.  Read the Proverbs (and more).  Seek the counsel of others.  Consider the pros and cons.  That’s how to make wise decisions.  Finally, provided the options are moral and wise, consider your personal preferences.  We have tremendous freedom in Christ to do many things with our time and money.  Will paying off your mortgage make you happy?  If so, then do it.

Here’s a picture of what is looks like:

Decision making and the will of God

Really short version: Aside from direct and clear personal revelation from God, you don’t have access to his sovereign will when making decisions.  Therefore you must look at other factors.  If it isn’t moral, don’t do it.  If it is moral but not wise, don’t do it.  If it is moral and wise, then use your personal preferences.

Using this model you can end up with a wise and biblical decision, but you have avoided the traps of the “God told me to ____” routine.  People who run around saying that God told them this and that convey a super-spirituality that can leave less mature believers wondering if they really have a relationship with God (i.e., “God doesn’t tell me every little thing to do, so maybe I don’t really know him.”).

The “God told me ___” routine can also be outright blasphemy, as when “Christians” claim that God is moving in a new direction counter to what He revealed in the Bible.  The United Church of Christ “God is still speaking;” theme is a good example of that.  They didn’t believe what He said the first time around, so why trust them on allegedly new revelations?

Saturating yourself in the word is a key success factor in making good decisions. If we focus on worldly wisdom things go badly:

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

But if we repent and do everything we can to see things from God’s point of view we will make better decisions.

Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Romans 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

This model will help you make good decisions in all areas of life.  You can also use it to help friends, children, etc. make good decisions.  I even use it at work as a “faith flag” at times.  If people ask career advice, for example, I pull out this diagram and share it with them (i.e., “At the risk of getting all religious on you, here’s the method I use to make decisions like that.”)

Click here to download a set of PowerPoint slides to read or to use yourself to teach others.

P.S. A kid came into my wife’s elementary school library yesterday and asked if she had any books on how to make good choices.  She thought of the diagram above and laughed.  Let’s just say I refer to this model now and then.  She thinks I should write a children’s book on decision making.  I think she is kidding.

Hat tip to Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason for much of this, including the diagram.

Parts of the Pachyderm

A favorite updated for your reading pleasure.  If you haven’t encountered the “parts of the elephant” argument yet, you probably will.  Even some people who claim the name of Christ use it to bolster their “all paths lead to God” mistake.

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IMG_0098

Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason has an excellent piece called the Trouble with the Elephant.

The ancient fable of the blind men and the elephant is often used to illustrate the fact that every faith represents just one part of the larger truth about God. However, the attempt is doomed before it gets started.

In the story, multiple blind men feel different parts of an elephant and describe it in different ways.  Someone who is not blind then points out the truth to them.

The typical application of the story is that religious pluralism is true – i.e., we’re worshiping the same God in different ways.

A good question to ask anyone who repeats this parable is, “Where do you fit into the story?”  If he is one of the blind men, then why would he have anything to offer you?  If he claims to be the person with sight, then what are his qualifications that he understands this world and you don’t?

Note that the blind men are describing different parts of the elephant, but it is still an elephant.  But if one religion says God is personal and another says He is impersonal, then they can’t both be right.  You can’t be an elephant and not an elephant.  I wrote more on the irreconcilable differences in the essential truth claims of religions in Religious Pluralism is Intellectually Bankrupt.

In a sense, the whole story is self refuting.  While the principle message is that we can only know a certain piece about God, the message itself claims to have the big picture.

It also has a rather odd premise: The “real” religion would be to follow every religion.  That way you’d have the whole elephant.

The only way the parable would work is if the elephant described itself to the blind people – sort of the way the God reveals himself to us in the Bible.  As Koukl says:

If everyone truly is blind, then no one can know if he or anyone else is mistaken.  Only someone who knows the whole truth can identify another on the fringes of it.  In this story, only the king can do that–no one else.

The most ironic turn of all is that the parable of the six blind men and the elephant, to a great degree, is an accurate picture of reality.  It’s just been misapplied.

We are like blind men, fumbling around in the world searching for answers to life’s deepest questions.  From time to time, we seem to stumble upon some things that are true, but we’re often confused and mistaken, just as the blind men were.

How do I know this?  Because the King has spoken.  He is above, instructing us, advising us of our mistakes, and correcting our error.  The real question is:  Will we listen?

Remember that if the elephant illustration is true, then Christianity is false.  The Bible teaches 100+ times that Jesus is the only way to salvation.  This is an argument that no Christian should use.

Accurate answers to any “Why did God __________?” questions

I’m paraphrasing here, but Greg Koukl made some good points on an old Podcast of Stand To Reason that I thought were useful in answering common questions from both Christians and non-Christians.  The question from the show was, “Why didn’t God just kill Adam and Eve after they disobeyed God?”  When we get questions like that the following answers are usually accurate, even if they aren’t completely satisfying to the questioner.

  1. I don’t know.
  2. Because He wanted to.
  3. For his glory.

Sometimes the answers are in the Bible, but not always.  But that shouldn’t rock your world.  It can be interesting to speculate on the answers based on what we do know about God. In this case, Koukl noted that by letting humans live and ultimately coming to earth as a substitutionary atonement for our sins that God was able to demonstrate more of his attributes.  It would have been completely legitimate for him to kill Adam and Eve for their rebellion, but He chose not to.

It is often more productive to focus on what we do know than on what we don’t know.  The end of Job is in the Bible for a reason.  Ask all the questions you like, but don’t pretend that God didn’t reveal everything to us that we need to know.

And don’t get spooked if there are tough questions you can’t answer, whether the questions are your own, from other believers or from skeptics.  In an even greater sense than how a toddler can’t understand why his parent does something, we don’t know near enough to explain why God is or isn’t doing something in every situation.

If you like the “Left Behind” end times teachings, you may not like this post

And by “may not” I mean “definitely not.”  I updated this because I saw a Facebook thread that advanced the pre-tribulation rapture with a lot of bad arguments.  I was about to write a new post, then did a search and realized I had already done one!  I’m not sure if that is good because the work was already done or bad that I have such a poor memory.

I think it is valuable to understand the different orthodox interpretations of the book of Revelation.  But the most important thing is to ensure that you have trusted in Jesus for you salvation.  If you get run over by a bus today that will be your own “personal rapture,” in that you’ll be facing Jesus with your eternity already determined, one way or the other.

An agnostic friend used to have a bumper sticker that said, “Come the rapture, can I have your car?”  We had few things in common theologically but we both weren’t keen on the likelihood of the pre-tribulation rapture (that is, the teaching that Jesus will bring all believers to him before 7 years of his final return, thus avoiding a period of mayhem and intense persecution).  This is a sadly serious issue these days, what with Harold Camping’s claims a while back that brought such embarrassment to the church.  Such foolishness is un-biblical and is a distraction and embarrassment to Christianity.  Atheists had a field day mocking it, and who can blame them?

While I think we should be charitable about non-essential Christian beliefs, this is a teaching that can be harmful to people.  What does it do to someone’s faith when they think they’ll escape worldly persecution via the rapture and then it doesn’t happen?

Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason gives two good reasons why the pre-tribulation rapture is not what the Bible teaches.

The first observation I made was that this doctrine, the disappearance of the church seven years prior to the return of Christ, is not a doctrine that anyone in the history of the church ever held to until about 150 years ago. That was the first red flag. There might be justifiable explanations for that and some people make those explanations. But my question is, if the Bible teaches this, why didn’t anybody see it for almost 2000 years? All of the church fathers expected to see the Antichrist which would leave at least a mid-trib rapture. My suspicion was, the reason the church didn’t see it for 2000 years is because it wasn’t there. The information about the rapture actually came from a prophecy that was external to the Scriptures, the Plymouth Brethren prophecy. With that prophecy in place, people went back to the Scriptures and then began to see what they saw as hints of this doctrine in different passages.

It is technically possible that the church just got it wrong for 1,850 years, but it seems that the burden of proof is on those introducing a new theology.

More importantly, what does the Bible say?  Greg explains that  1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15, the two most commonly cited passages, give a time frame, and it isn’t pre-tribulation.

Let’s try to pull this together. It is very important for us to start from a foundation of an explicit Biblical teaching on this issue so that we can build from there and take what is really clear and then answer the other objections based on what we know to be true from the clear text. We have two passages that give, by all counts, an explicit description of what has been called the rapture. Both accounts tell when it is going to happen. They say it is going to happen at the coming of the Lord. That is our explicit foundation. Both describe it, both tell when. Now the question becomes, which coming of the Lord does the author here, Paul, have in mind?

Here is my answer. The second coming. Not the third coming, not the one-and-a-half coming. The passages call it the coming of the Lord. Not a coming. They call it the coming of the Lord. I don’t know how it can be made more clear. It is very straight-forward. What some want to do is bring a lot of theology from the outside and twist the plain sense of those words. They say, “Well, he’s coming in the air.” What does that have to do with anything? In both cases, Paul calls it the coming of the Lord. And he says, right after that, then comes the end. That’s the order. The writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 9 “In as much as Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin to those who eagerly await him.” My point is that there are only two comings. The coming when Jesus accomplished the work of the cross, and the second coming.

And here is a simple explanation about Matthew 24, often cited by pre-Trib folks as a proof-text.

We read about the second coming in Matthew 24. That is a visible, powerful and conclusive coming. He says everyone will be able to see Him, right? Paul says these events that are called the rapture happen at the coming of the Lord and the coming of the Lord, according to Jesus, is visible and there is only one second coming. This falls together so neatly, I don’t know why it isn’t more obvious to more people.

Read the whole thing.

 

Life still begins at fertilization

This is a great example of “sibling rivalry”* in action.  Just because some people question whether the unborn are living human beings doesn’t mean they have any facts on their side.  Pro-lifers have all the embryology textbooks to support their view, not to mention concessions from leading pro-abortion people (see this link for a lot of examples of both).

Dream all you like about finding life elsewhere in the universe, but don’t be anti-science and ignore the logical and scientific fact of human life in the womb.

“Sibling rivalry” is a phrase used by Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason to describe the situation where people hold opposing ideas at the same time.

Sometimes objections come in pairs that are logically inconsistent and therefore oppose each other. I call this “sibling rivalry” because they are like children fighting.

About those extremists . . .

no-right.jpg

Update: Consider how many people who identify as pro-choice agree with pro-life positions on specific topics, then consider how radical the Democrat’s platform is (unrestricted taxpayer-funded abortions at any time, including “partial-birth abortions”/infanticide).

Pro-choice views (Gallup, 2011)
–Make abortion illegal in the 3rd trimester – 79%
–Make abortion illegal in the 2nd trimester – 52%
–Ban “partial-birth abortion” – 63%
–Require parental consent for minors – 60%
–Require 24 waiting period – 60%
“The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.”
The Democrats, and the media who advance their cause, are the real extremists.
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Many media types, politicians and false teachers reflexively use the “extremist” label against conservatives and say we’re being divisive.  Apparently that is easier than addressing the issues and arguments themselves, but it seems more like a concession speech to me.

Read CNN: making it illegal to kill girls for being girls is “divisive” for the latest example.  Let’s see: nearly four out of 5 people think gender-selection and partial-birth abortions should be illegal, but we’re the extremists?  It seems to me that killing a female human being for the sole reason that she is a female human being is pretty extreme — especially when those in favor of it being legal are accusing us of waging a war on women.  Being divisive is good when one of the options is so deadly.

Granted, some people are extremists and unnecessarily divisive, such as Democrat Fred Phelps*.

But those who hyperventilate about the “radical right” (or “extremists,” “fundie nutjobs,” “wacky fundies,” or other eloquent terms of endearment) are either disingenuous or really bad at math, because the majority of Americans share our views on the most controversial topics.  Consider this by Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason:

A poll of readers of the L.A. Times once showed that, in the area of abortion, prayer, in school, homosexuality and traditional family values, the majority of Americans agree with so-called “extreme fundamentalists.” 70% of Americans believe that the traditional family structure is always best; 76% favor prayer in public schools; 55% are against legalized abortion; 61% think that homosexual relations are always wrong. These are the views of the “radical right,” but these are also the views of a majority of rank and file Americans.

Let that bolster your confidence, the next time you’re being marginalized for your conservative moral values. The “radical right” isn’t so radical. It’s actually mainstream.

If we’re so extreme, why have citizens in over 30 states voted to maintain the original meaning of marriage?  This issue has never lost at the ballot box.  If they think we’re so extreme, why don’t they just use their faux majority to elect legislators to legalize partial-birth abortion and such?  Then they wouldn’t need judges to ignore their duties and make up their own laws.

The “extremist” label is just a cheap way to attack the person and not the arguments, just like they do with the passive-aggressive “intolerant” label (Because whoever yells intolerant first must be the kind, tolerant one – right?).

I submit that if the media, entertainment and education establishments weren’t so outrageously biased the numbers would shift even further to the right.  For example, consider that 90% or more of the media are die-hard pro-choicers and they do everything in their power to spin stories in their favor.  Yet the population is still split pretty evenly on the topic and the pro-choice % is shrinking — and the more clearly survey questions are worded the more pro-life the results are.

The only way you can categorize majority views as the radical right is if you are perched comfortably on the radical left.

* Yes, Democrat Fred Phelps is a Democrat.  Did I mention that he’s a Democrat and not a Republican?  Because he is.  A Democrat.

The Titanic movie is back, and still misses the best real account

Just re-running a post I enjoyed and adding the bonus picture above. Several interesting things about the Titanic that relate to Christianity.  It is too bad they didn’t put item 3 in the movie.

1.  Just because a fictional account predates an event doesn’t mean the event didn’t happen.  A book titled The Wreck of the Titan was written 14 years before the Titanic sank but had some remarkable parallels*.  But that doesn’t mean the Titanic didn’t really sink.   This analysis of the Zeitgeist movie (a film with many spurious claims, such as that Christianity was just borrowed from other religions) notes the following:

Did you know there’s a book that was written around the turn-of-the-last-century about a ship that was an unsinkable ship, which hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage and sank?  The name of the ship was the Titan.  This is remarkable because some 15 years later the Titanic sunk on its maiden voyage after hitting an iceberg.   Now what if you had read the novel and then later heard that a ship called the Titanic had actually sunk?  I’m sure you can see that rejecting the story of the Titanic on its face would be foolish only because you’d read a novel similar to the actual event.   Whether or not the Titanic sank is determined by the evidence for its sinking, unrelated to any other fictional stories that were like it.

By the same token, the story of Jesus described in the primary source documents, the historical documents we know popularly as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, stands alone on its own merit.  The story stands or falls on the strength of the historical evidence.

There are many other reasons to dismiss the copycat religion claims leveled at Christianity.

2. Just because there are differing accounts of an event doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  Some eyewitnesses thought the ship split in two pieces before sinking (they were ultimately proved right) and some claimed it did not.  But what did they all know with certainty?  The ship sunk.

The application to challenges to the accounts in the Bible is this: Even though there are, in my view, satisfactory explanations for alleged discrepancies in eyewitness accounts in the Bible, even if they were truly different it wouldn’t mean the event didn’t happen.  Even if two people gave slightly different accounts of the post-resurrection events it doesn’t mean the resurrection didn’t happen.

For example, one Gospel account mentions a single angel and another mentions two angels.  But there is no contradiction, because one doesn’t say there was one and only one angel at all times with the other claiming that there were two angels.  Perhaps one account just mentioned the angel that spoke, or there was just one angel present at the time being described.  But even if the claims were contradictory it doesn’t mean the tomb had a body or that there were zero angels.

And of course, if eyewitness claims were identical in all reported details then people would assume there was collusion.

3. John Harper was a real hero from the Titanic, calling out, ” Women, children and unsaved into the lifeboats!” and sharing the Gospel until he drowned.  How many Christians work to share the Gospel with the lost even when times are comfortable?

4. Marconi’s wireless had just gone mainstream in the previous few years and was the reason many people were rescued.

Hat tip for items 1 & 2 — Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason

Similarities between Titanic and Titan:

  • Unsinkable
    • The Titanic was the world’s largest luxury liner (882 feet, displacing 53,000 long tons), and was once described as being practically “unsinkable”.
    • The Titan was the largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men (800 feet, displacing 75,000 tons), and was considered “unsinkable”.
  • Lifeboats
    • The Titanic carried only 16 lifeboats, plus 4 Engelhardt folding lifeboats,[3] less than half the number required for her passenger capacity of 3000.
    • The Titan carried “as few as the law allowed”, 24 lifeboats, less than half needed for her 3000 capacity.
  • Struck an iceberg
    • Moving too fast at 22½ knots,[citation needed] the Titanic struck an iceberg on the starboard side on the night of April 14, 1912 in the North Atlantic 400 miles away from Newfoundland.
    • Also on an April night, in the North Atlantic 400 miles from Newfoundland (Terranova), the Titan hit an iceberg while traveling at 25 knots, also on the starboard side.
  • The Unsinkable Sank
    • The unsinkable Titanic sank, and more than half of her 2200 passengers died.
    • The indestructible Titan also sank, more than half of her 2500 passengers drowning.
    • Went down bow first, the Titan actually capsizing before it sank.
    • The names being similar (Titan = Titanic – ic)

Photo credit

Science already recognizes Intelligent Design

dna2.gifIt has for a long, long time.  As Greg Koukl notes, consider archaeology, forensics and the search for extra terrestrial intelligence. All infer, with good reason, that you can detect whether something happened without being caused by another agent or whether there was an intelligent being behind the creation of something.

The movie “Contact” was a shining example of the self-parody of materialists.  While mocking those who believe in Intelligent Design, their litmus test for extraterrestrial life was whether patterns they viewed had evidence of design.

Forensics is all about looking for evidence of design. And archaeology correctly infers design.

We agree there is a gap in understanding some things about the universe. The Darwinists plug it with the “naturalism of the gaps.”  They don’t know what caused it, but it definitely wasn’t an intelligent designer. They have no argument other than blind faith.  We don’t have the same gap.  We logically infer from the evidence that some things — such as life and the indescribable complexity and design of the universe — had to have come from a powerful designer.  Even atheists like Richard Dawkins concede that the universe appears to be designed.

Mmmmm . . . Oreos . . . and Intelligent Design?

As usual, philosophy has some fancy terms to describe simple concepts.  Things are caused by agents or events.  The 10th domino falls because of the event preceding it (the 9th domino falling), but the first domino fell because an agent pushed it over.

Ignoring agent causation is a problem for Darwinists.  We use the inference of agent causation — or design — all day, every day.  The classic “watch on the beach” illustration is just one of countless examples one could use.  If you find a watch on a beach you infer that someone dropped it, not that it came into being by an infinitely long series of random events.  Crime investigations assume agent causation.  And on and on.

Greg Koukl makes this distinction in his essay on Oreos & Origins:

Now to give you an illustration about how the game is fixed by the courts and by the educational system and by the scientific community, I have suggested what I have called the Oreo Experiment. You go to your chemistry teacher and ask if he is able to look at a solution and describe, based on his scientific testing, what is in the solution and how the solution, the precipitate, came to be. The precipitate is the heavy stuff that falls out, precipitates in the solution. In a beaker, for example. It seems that someone who is well-versed in the area of chemistry and well-versed in the area of physics can look and measure and test and describe what happened in a simple kind of thing.

Your chemist teacher takes the challenge and you say, “Okay, I’m going to put out a beaker full of stuff. There you see it, and now I’m covering it. Tomorrow we’ll uncover it and you’ll see something that has precipitated. Then it is your job to figure out how that happened.” Sure. Fair enough. I know science. I know the laws of chemistry. We’ll do it.

However, just before the chemist comes into the room the next morning to begin his experiments to look and observe the precipitate and begin to measure it to solve the problem, you lift the cover on the beaker and drop in an Oreo cookie. He walks in, you remove the cover to the beaker, and there is this discolored solution, but clearly visible is this rapidly decaying Oreo cookie. Very obvious. You can still see the word “Oreo” on it. And you say, “Okay, now using the laws of physics and chemistry, explain to me how that Oreo cookie got there.” And he says, “Wait a minute, it’s obvious that someone put it there because Oreo cookies don’t just manufacture themselves out of nowhere in the middle of a beaker. You are playing a trick on me. Someone dropped it in there.” And then you say, “Foul. You’ve broken the rules. You’ve inferred an outside agent here. You’re not being scientific. It’s your job to be a scientist. This is a chemistry lab. Let’s stick with science. You are obliged to come up with some kind of explanation limited to the laws of chemistry and physics and time plus chance to explain how that Oreo cookie got there in the last twelve hours.” Now, he would be hard pressed to do so. Why? Because it was put there. You know it was. The evidence indicates it was. There was an agent that caused that, but the rules have restricted him from concluding what it obvious in the circumstances.

As Koukl points out, Intelligent Design isn’t a “God of the gaps” argument where we fill in the unknown with God.  Many times agent causation is the most likely and obvious answer, but scientists use a “science of the gaps” fallacy.  Their blind faith in science leads them to assume that “science” will explain it later.

But in this case, agent causation is a perfectly reasonable explanation for the “gap” of how the Oreo got there.  The materialists — who ignore agent causation when it is convenient — have a gap, but we don’t.  In the same way, when you examine the complexity and fine-tuning of the universe, DNA, etc., along with the simple logic of the “first cause” argument, it is perfectly reasonable to infer a designer.

I saw this with a conservation I observed years ago.  One friend was making a case for Intelligent Design and the flaws of Darwinism to another friend, who is an atheist.  The atheist couldn’t refute a single point, but merely reiterated his faith that science would figure it out later.

Does God love unconditionally? Sort of.

Our last church, which we left over 15 years ago for reasons like this, had a billboard and a weekly sermon theme that “God loves you unconditionally.”  Alternate versions used by other churches go something like, “God loves you just as you are.”

Guess how your average non-believer will interpret that, with plenty of help from Satan?  “Yes, God loves you unconditionally, just as you are, so no need for any change or to repent!   And you definitely don’t need Jesus!”

In the agape term for love, which is having someone’s long-term best interests at heart, God does love unconditionally.  But He doesn’t provide salvation unconditionally.  You must repent and believe.  Those who only teach part of the Gospel don’t teach the Gospel at all.  They demonstrate that they are ashamed of the real Gospel.

Romans 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

Greg Koukl likes to point out that, “God catches his fish and then He cleans them.”  I think it is important to remember that when sharing the Gospel.  If someone had come to you or me and said, “As soon as you stop being greedy, lustful, idolatrous, selfish, etc. I will share some great news with you!” I don’t think we’d have been interested in hearing more.  According to the Bible, we can’t have power over sin until we are saved.

God does love us: Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

But a response is required: Romans 10:9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Run, don’t walk, from churches that are ashamed of the real Gospel.  If they teach that you can be saved without Jesus or that your good deeds will earn your salvation, or that God doesn’t require you to repent and believe, then get out and find a real church.

Somewhere Greg Koukl is smiling . . .

Never read a Bible verse is one of the simplest and most important Bible study lessons you’ll ever get.  Always read what surrounds the text to ensure you understand the context of it.  I expanded on that theme in a class I taught to high school students a couple months ago.  One challenge with that age group they are hard to read.  They sit there politely, but often it is hard to tell if they are really engaged.

But I got some nice news today: One of the students loved the lesson and shared it with her mom.  Her mom got a lot out of it and shared it with someone at Care Net Pregnancy Center, who may use it there.  So the benefits of this lesson spread out quickly and effectively without me knowing about it until today.  Sometimes you just have to trust the process.  Sow the seed generously and let God make it grow where He likes.

I also picked up a new thought on the importance of reading in context.  I had already noted in the lesson below how often Jeremiah 29:11 is misused.  But in talking to the Care Net volunteer today I realized another problem with it that I added:

Also, deep down people know that is a false promise.  Try telling that to someone who has seen nothing but misery in the lives of those around her.  How can she believe in a God like that?

If you haven’t checked out the web site, blog or Podcast of Stand to Reason I highly encourage it.  It is the best organization I know for clear thinking Christianity.

Here is my outline from the class.

——

How to read in context: Don’t just read a Bible verse (a great slogan and lesson from Stand to Reason – http://www.str.org).  Always read at least a paragraph, and preferably a section or a chapter.  Looking at what came before and after will help ensure you are getting the right meaning.

A simple and effective way to read the Bible
  • Read it – 1-3 chapters (less for doctrine, more for history)
  • Question it
    • What portion stands out to me?  Why?
    • Is there an example for me to follow?
    • Is there an error for me to avoid?
    • Is there a duty for me to perform?
    • Is there a promise for me to claim?
    • Is there a sin for me to confess?
    • What does it not mean?  (If a difficult passage says the opposite of other more clear teachings, you know what it can’t mean)
    • Plan it – make a plan for how you will use it
    • Pray it – pray scripture back to God
    • Share it – helps others, and helps us to remember it

We should read it in the way the authors intended it, depending on the context and type of writing.

  • When was it written?
  • Who was it written by / to?
  • Type of writing
    • History
    • Metaphor / illustrations / parables
    • Doctrine
    • Poetry
    • Figures of speech – i.e., exaggerations

Important points about reading in context

  • We don’t like to admit we’ve made mistakes, so we hold onto bad interpretations
    • Solution: Swallow your pride, get it right and remember to read in context next time.  For the record, I have misused every verse in this lesson.  Some mistakes are more serious than others.
    • We have all been guilty of reading out of context.  Our choice is to dig in our heels and continue to use it incorrectly or humbly accept and use the correct teaching.  2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
    • God can forgive this error just like He delights to forgive everything else done by those who trust in Jesus.
    • Fear of getting it wrong
      • Reading in context isn’t that hard to do!  Don’t be afraid of misinterpreting – just read surrounding passages and study notes.
      • We have an important point we want to make and we can’t use that verse for it any more
        • Find another passage to prove the point you wanted to make.
        • If you can’t find another verse to support it, maybe your point isn’t valid or particularly important.
        • Once you get it right, don’t be smug about it.  You’ll need to bite your tongue a lot and only correct people inappropriate settings and ways (e.g., Bible studies, one-on-one, etc.).
        • Great news: Even though you may have misunderstood the meaning, it still has a meaning – and it may be better than the one you thought it had!

Sample passages – the part in bold is what is frequently used out of context.  Note how just reading a couple surrounding verses shows the real meaning.

 Even one of the most famous verses ever gets misused.  Not everyone goes to Heaven – only those who trust in Jesus.

John 3:16-18 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Philippians 4:13 is one of the most commonly misused passages.  It isn’t about achieving great sporting victories or leaping tall buildings.

 Philippians 4:12-13 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

 You only have to go back ½ of one verse to get the context.  Paul has a secret!  A secret about what?  A secret about how to be content in every situation.  It is a great message – actually, much better than the typical application.

And another very commonly misused verse is Jeremiah 29:11.  I see this abused on a regular basis in sermons, on t-shirts, signs, etc.

Jeremiah 29:1, 4, 10-11 This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon . . .
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon . . .  This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

 There is actually a great message in Jeremiah 29:11: God makes huge promises and keeps them.  The Israelites had been taken into captivity because of their rebellion and worship of false gods, but God promised to bring them back.  And He did.  But He did not make a generic promise to all people and at all times to prosper them.

People even throw that verse at non-believers, but that would give them a false sense of security.  God’s message to them is the opposite.  If they don’t repent and believe, his plans for them are horrible!

Also, deep down people know that is a false promise.  Try telling that to someone who has seen nothing but misery in the lives of those around her.  How can she believe in a God like that?

If you want to encourage people, try Matthew 11:28-30 instead (Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”)  That points them to the Jesus.

Both Christians and non-Christians abuse Matthew 7:1.  Jesus isn’t saying to never judge, He is saying not to judge hypocritically.

Matthew 7:1-5 Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

People have used Matthew 5:39 to oppose capital punishment.  But it is hard to turn the other cheek when you are dead, and it is unjust for the government to “turn the other cheek.”  It would mean that we’d never punish anyone for anything.

Matthew 5:39  But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Christians often use Matthew 18:20 reflexively when talking about praying together, but is Jesus not there with you when you are by yourself?

Matthew 18:15–20 (ESV) If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. . . . And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.

The part in bold makes people squirm.  Reading the whole passage helps put it in perspective.   I doubt many wives will complain about husbands who love them as Christ loves the church.

Ephesians 5:22–33 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior . . . Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . . In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself . . . “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” . . . However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Malachi 3:8 gets misused a lot in stewardship campaigns.  Robbing God?!  That can’t be good.  But it is not a New Testament concept (see 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.).

Malachi 3:6–10 “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.

Good tips for engaging Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons

funny pictures - Or else!

As Christians we want to be more welcoming than that, of course!

See Greg Koukl responds to cultists knocking on his door « Wintery Knight for some good tips. These folks are notoriously hard to convert, but if they are going to come to you then you might as well be equipped to offer some brief challenges to them. You never know how God might use your efforts to save someone.

More importantly, you and your loved ones should know the basics of why these are cults. It is easier to play defense (keeping people out of false religions) than offense (converting them away from false religions).

My standard approach with Jehovah’s Witnesses is to focus like a friendly pit pull on a couple things: First, their Bible’s mistranslation of John 1:1 (“a God” instead of “God,” as all the ancient manuscripts say). They will try to change the subject but I keep bringing them back. (I need to add Koukl’s point about John 1:3, which demonstrates Jesus’ deity and role as creator even in their version of the Bible.)

Then I offer them literature, knowing they aren’t allowed to take it. I emphasize how my religion — Christianity — tells me to test everything and hold onto the good, and to test everything in light of scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:21, Acts 17:11) . Hopefully it plants a seed that they are in a cult that won’t let them examine alternative views.

With Mormons, I focus on Galatians 1:8-9. I ask if their Gospel is the same as Paul’s. If yes, then the rest of their works are redundant. If no, then I should immediately reject it.

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

I’m pretty sure we’re now on the “do not call” list for both groups.

More stuff

Three great posts on the Mormon religion

Are Mormons really Christians? Are Christians really Christians?

A whole bunch of articles on Mormonism

Witnessing to the Witnesses


I want this T-shirt the next time I teach Decision Making and Will of God

I love how it highlights that if someone claims God told them something then the burden of proof is on them to prove it.

Decision Making and Will of God is one of my favorite lessons to teach.  From a previous post:

This is such a crucial topic, because we make big and small decisions all the time and are constantly living with the consequences of past decisions.  Someone asked if God speaks to you about specific decisions when you are reading the Bible, such as whether you should pay off your mortgage.   I think this is about how you apply the Bible to decision making and not about whether God sends individual messages through his word.

For example, if you want to know whether paying off your mortgage is the right thing to do, you have a couple options:

  1. Ask God for a supernatural sign for the answer, whether it is a yes or a no (a la Gideon).  My guess is that He won’t decide for you that way, but it is always his option.  One thing we know about God is that if He wants to tell you something directly He isn’t very subtle.
  2. Use the wisdom model of decision making.  You don’t have access to God’s sovereign knowledge (Will I lose my job?  Will interest rates go up or down?  Etc.).  You do have unrestricted access to his moral will via the Bible. Example: Is it immoral to pay off your mortgage early?  No, unless that means you won’t have enough money to feed your kids.  After moral considerations, look to the wisdom angle.  Ask God for wisdom, as He promises to deliver — but as with Solomon, He doesn’t promise to decide everything for you.  Read the Proverbs (and more).  Seek the counsel of others.  Consider the pros and cons.  That’s how to make wise decisions.  Finally, provided the options are moral and wise, consider your personal preferences.  We have tremendous freedom in Christ to do many things with our time and money.  Will paying off your mortgage make you happy?  If so, then do it.

Here’s a picture of what is looks like:

Decision making and the will of God

Really short version: Aside from direct and clear personal revelation from God, you don’t have access to his sovereign will when making decisions.  Therefore you must look at other factors.  If it isn’t moral, don’t do it.  If it is moral but not wise, don’t do it.  If it is moral and wise, then use your personal preferences.

Using this model you can end up with a wise and biblical decision, but you have avoided the traps of the “God told me to ____” routine.  People who run around saying that God told them this and that convey a super-spirituality that can leave less mature believers wondering if they really have a relationship with God (i.e., “God doesn’t tell me every little thing to do, so maybe I don’t really know him.”).

The “God told me ___” routine can also be outright blasphemy, as when “Christians” claim that God is moving in a new direction counter to what He revealed in the Bible.  The United Church of Christ “God is still speaking;” theme is a good example of that.

Saturating yourself in the word is a key success factor in making good decisions. If we focus on worldly wisdom things go badly:

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

But if we repent and do everything we can to see things from God’s point of view we will make better decisions.

Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Romans 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

This model will help you make good decisions in all areas of life.  You can also use it to help friends, children, etc. make good decisions.  I even use it at work as a “faith flag” at times.  If people ask career advice, for example, I pull out this diagram and share it with them (i.e., “At the risk of getting all religious on you, here’s the method I use to make decisions like that.”)

P.S. A kid came into my wife’s elementary school library yesterday and asked if she had any books on how to make good choices.  She thought of the diagram above and laughed.  Let’s just say I refer to this model now and then.  She thinks I should write a children’s book on decision making.  I think she is kidding.

Hat tip to Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason for much of this, including the diagram.