Thursday, September 3, 2015

Serving for Him

Jesus died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. – 2 Corinthians 5:15

Christians are saved by faith; however, if we are truly saved there will be evidence of that salvation through our works.  We do not need works to be saved, but works will come as a result of our saving faith.  Think of it like the chicken and egg paradox.  Which came first?  In the case of each individual person, faith or the egg comes first.  Once we have faith, it will hatch and out comes the works or the chicken.  As we grow spiritually, our faith will be the fuel to grow the chicken, which will grow larger and larger until it is able to lead and protect other chickens and lay eggs of its own (leading others’ to faith).

If you are truly saved, works will not be a burden or obligation to you, but an opportunity that you look forward to.  I suspect there are two main reasons why Christians don’t do more works.  The first reason is because many of them only pay lip service to believing in Jesus but do not truly believe in him.  “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter (Matthew 7:21 NASB).  The other reason is that people just may not know what to do or where to start.  They may think that to serve means that they must sell everything tomorrow and then spend the rest of their lives as roaming preachers.  While that may be a goal, it’s not the only way to serve God and do His will.

I want to offer some suggestions to people, regardless of where one truly is in their belief in Jesus, on how to get started and what to shoot for.  If you’re a Christian and have no desire to do works or don’t think it’s necessary, read, reread, and study the books of James and 1 John.  It’s never too late to truly commit your life to following Christ.  If you want to do works but don’t know what to do, here is a list of things you can do to get started and a guide on where to go.

On last note before I offer a list of ways to serve.  Always remember that everything we do as Christians is done in the name of Jesus ( Col 3:17), to bring glory to God (1 Cor 10:31), and is a direct result of what He has done for us (2 Cor 5:15).  This is vitally important to remember because people will see what you are doing and ask you why you are doing these things.  There may be many reasons why, but the first and most important answer you should give is because of Jesus.  There are lots of ways to tell people this so find a way to say it that works for you.  Simply saying “I just wanted to help out” does not honor God.  Find a way to let people know who gives you the power and desire to serve.

Lastly, doing any type of service is a great opportunity to invite other people to serve alongside you.  Just a simple text or Facebook post can be enough, but you’ll find more success if you call people and .  Without further ado, here is a list, which is not all inclusive, of some things you can do to serve people and your community in order to bring glory to God.  Nothing is too small and you don’t have to be a saint to go all in.

To view the list of service activites, please clikc the link below.
http://www.christianityforeveryone.org/serving

Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Christian Guide to Sports


 I grew up playing all kinds of sports.  I played baseball, soccer, football, and hockey when I was young, but mostly I focused on hockey.  I just loved it and could not get enough of it.  I made it to the Division I level and while many of my teammates burned out during college or right after, I did not.  I still love playing and have a blast every time I get on the ice. Because of hockey, I stayed out of jail, off of drugs, and did not become a teen dad.  I have had the opportunity travel all over the United States, spent a year in Canada, and got to go to Germany and Austria to play.  It led me to meet my wife, got me a free college education, and a good job after college.  I have a lot of reasons to be thankful for sports, especially hockey.  However, when looking back, I also see the damage it caused in my life.  It contributed to my getting lower grades; the money spent on hockey almost kept me from going to college; it kept me from just about every other experience you can think of; and it prevented me from building genuine friendships which still makes it hard for me to relate to people today.

I would venture to guess that most people just accept sports as good and acceptable because they are such a big part of our culture and to question that makes you weird.  Have you ever considered how sports fit into a Christian worldview and the principles of the Bible?  What about the impact that sports have on people and society?  Before reading on, think for a few minutes about the impact sports have had on your life and how you think God might view sports... To read the rest of the article, click the link below.
http://www.christianityforeveryone.org/jesus-sports

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Can Atheists be Good?

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Morality with and without God
Christians will sometime claim that atheists have no morals.  Atheists sometimes accuse Christians of making that claim.  The point of this article to combat the claim that atheists have no morals, they do, but I want to go two steps further by showing the weakness of a moral framework that does not include an objective source and to convict Christians who live just like everyone else.   Everybody has selfish desires and everybody acts on them to some extent, not just atheists. The bulk of the article will focus on how believing in God has made me a better person than I would be without God by helping me act in ways that oppose my selfish desires (Galatians 5:16).

Atheists can be, and often are, good1 people.  In fact, I know atheists who are better than some Christians I know; however, this does not mean their moral framework is on equal grounds with Christians’ moral framework.  Atheists have many sources for moral knowledge ranging from evolution, reason, science, social contracts, and feelings, but these sources are not objective and unchanging.  Even if moral laws are agreed upon, there is still no reason for anyone to obey or exceed them in ordinary scenarios, not to mention extreme or unfavorable situations.  It is merely a personal preference, which is the result of DNA, character development, and the situation.

For Christians, a love of God encourages and arguably even compels (not against our will, but in accordance with our will) us to obey and even exceed moral expectations to the point of self-sacrifice.  Christians have an objective source in God and the Bible that tells us there is no greater love than to give your life (John 15:13), to consider others as more important that yourself (Philippians 2:3-4 & Romans 12:10), and to love your enemy (Matt 5:44).  There’s no exception for being in a bad mood, not liking someone, or being in a hurry. The Christian (and most theistic) moral framework sets a higher standard of behavior and because it is absolute and objective (i.e. true), it also have the power to convict people to obey it, making it superior to any morality that can result from atheism.


The rest of the article will focus on how my personal life would be different if I became an atheist.  I was a little hesitant to post this article because it might seem like boasting, so let me be clear, I am far from being a saint.  Additionally, as you read how my life would be different if I was an atheist, you’ll see the exact opposite of boasting or, as Paul says, boasting about things that show my weakness (2 Cor 11:30 & 2 Cor 12:9,).   While this article is meant to show the superiority of Christian morality and challenge the atheist perspective, it might also convict many Christians. Most of the actions listed below are not wrong, but are small actions that are above and beyond normal moral standards, which can impact or potentially impact other people.  Just imagine the difference these seemingly small things would make if over 200 million american adults or a person of influence did the same things.


The truth is that without God, I was and still am just as selfish as anyone else and probably even more than most.  If I became an atheist today, I would still be a good person by normal social standards, but I wouldn’t be merely as good of a person.  I humbly admit that I need God to help me consistently obey and exceed moral laws, especially when nobody else would notice.  I just cannot do it without Him and I wouldn’t even want to try to if it weren’t for God.


If I was an atheist
So, if I became an atheist (when I say this, I am assuming my wife would also be an atheist since we make decisions together regarding many of the following topics and situations), how would my life be the same and different as it pertains to being good or bad?  I would still make a positive contribution to society by working, spending, raising children, and mostly obeying the laws.  I would still be nice and friendly most the time, get along well with others, and occasionally offer to help other people.  However, I would be much more self-serving in the way I spend my time and money, and I would be much less considerate of other people and how my actions affect them.  


Driving
If I was an atheist, I would not drive old or beat up vehicles.  Both of my family’s vehicles have over 100,000 miles and were at least four years old when we bought them.  If my wife and I were atheists, we would spend more money to drive new vehicles with the latest features to make our life easier and more comfortable.  We’d probably drive bigger vehicles out of concern for our own safety, ability to see, to feel more important, and to be more comfortable.  We would not be as concerned for other drivers’ ability to see around us nor would we be concerned about how our unnecessarily large vehicle would affect their safety.  We would be willing to spend thousands of dollars more than we do on newer, larger, and more luxurious vehicles that require thousands of dollars of extra gas, are more hazardous or inconvenient to others, and do greater harm to the environment.


In addition to driving different vehicles, we would also drive differently.  As it is now, I do not speed or use my phone when driving because it is dangerous, not just for me, but for others on the road.  If I was an atheist, I would’'t be as concerned for others or the law, so I would speed (just a little, only 5-10 mph over, unless I was really in a hurry), I would drive a little more recklessly by cutting in and out of traffic, being more aggressive at stop lights, and using my phone while driving.  I would save myself time and I’d be able to accomplish other tasks while driving.  I would further rationalize this behavior by saying that everyone does it and that it’s very unlikely that I will get in or cause an accident.  My selfish pursuits would endanger other people, while offering them no benefit in return.


Health and Appearance
As a Christian, I strive to glorify God with my body (1 Cor 6:18), which means I try to live a healthy lifestyle by practicing good eating and fitness habits.  Having a good physical appearance is the result, not the goal.  If my wife and I were atheists, we would spend more time and money on our appearance and likely be willing to achieve it through unhealthy means.  For instance, my wife and I would go to the spa on a regular basis to get massages, manicures, pedicures, facials, and expensive hair care or maintenance (I’d probably just get massages).  On top of that, we wouldn’t be opposed to the occasional cosmetic nip and tuck to make sure we both look our best while practicing unhealthy eating habits by eating out continuously and overindulging in food.  I would still workout since I enjoy it, but it is likely that I would spend a fair amount of money on supplements to achieve artificial results.  Surgery and supplements would be necessary since I wouldn’t be concerned about the quantity of food I ate.  Overeating is a struggle I am currently fighting as a Christian, but if I was an atheist, I wouldn’t even care and would just give in.  


Furthermore, if I was an atheist, I would take other steps to improve my appearance.  I certainly would’'t wear $20 jeans that are only semi-comfortable.  My wife and I would spend ten times more money on clothes, only buying items that are comfortable and stylish (name brands).  Instead of wearing old clothes or fixing up holes, we would throw clothes away as soon as it showed any signs of wear.  I wouldn’t be concerned with what else I could do with the extra money I spent, having a few less years of life, how my health negatively impacts my work, or how my abuse of my body affects the health care system.  It just wouldn’t matter because individually, those are such minor or distant repercussions that I would rather enjoy the moment.


Other
There are countless other ways in which my wife and I would live differently as atheists that do not fall under one of the previous categories.  I would be less tolerant and forgiving of other people.  My family would live in a bigger, more luxurious house and use the extra space or amenities for our own enjoyment.  We’d have a home theatre, I’d have a man-cave, my kids would each have their own bedrooms and a playroom, we’d have a bar, we’d have bigger, newer and more TVs, and my wife would probably have her own room or office.  We certainly wouldn’t use the extra space in our house to let others live or stay with us (except visiting family) like we currently do.  This means we wouldn’t be foster parents, wouldn’t have let interns stay with us during the past year, and wouldn’t sponsor Air Force Academy cadets.  We would keep up on the latest technology by having smart phones, newer computer equipment, and more tech devices (iPads, iPods, 3D TV, computers, etc.).


We would eat out more often and when doing so, we wouldn’t tip as well (especially when the service isn’t very good), nor would we clean up after ourselves (that’s what busboys are for right? *sarcasm*).  Since we live in Colorado, we would probably go skiing a couple times a month throughout the winter.  We would also go on multiple vacations every year, including international destinations, and stay at expensive resorts.  I would also be more careless about using resources (money, water, electricity, gas, food, paper, etc.) whether in my personal life, or at work, the gym, hotels, restaurants, and any other place (and probably be just plain wasteful when other people are paying for those resources).  We would save much much more money for our retirement (so we could continue to live lavishly in the future), we would save more for our kids’ college, and maybe even put them in expensive private schools.


We could afford all these things because my wife would work instead of staying home with our kids (which is best for them, however, not every situation is the same and not every family has that opportunity), we would stop giving away so much money, and we would be less honest on our taxes.  As a Christian, I go through great pains to do my taxes correctly, often resulting in owing more money.  If I was an atheist, I wouldn’t blatantly cheat on my taxes, but I wouldn’t put in extra effort to make sure I do them right...unless it would get me more money back!  I would be content taking other people’s tax advice (which is often wrong) on what I can claim for deductions or credits, which would save me time and money, and afterall, everyone else does it, right?


Conclusion
None of the things I described above are necessarily bad, nor am I claiming that doing any or all of them makes you a bad person.  The point is that all of the actions I described above would serve virtually nobody else except the individual doing them.  Ultimately, if I was an atheist, I would be completely dedicated to achieving comfort, safety, happiness, and power for myself and my family.  In the atheist worldview, there is no objective power that encourages people to be more virtuous or even obey accepted moral laws.  At best, the atheist worldview can only curb selfish desires by appealing to self- interest and the benefits of conforming to socially accepted moral rules.  It cannot inspire sacrificial love.  At worst, atheism is inept at preventing self-interest when it can be gained at the expense of others and fails to restrain evil acts such as those committed by atheists such as Hitler2, Stalin, and others.


As a Christian, my beliefs drive everything I do in life and encourage me to continue to grow into a more loving, considerate, honest, and generous person.  If I was an atheist, I would still be a good person by social standards, but I would be less fun to be around and less helpful to society.  I would be “good” but not nearly AS good as I am as a Christian.  I suspect the same is true for most other people as well, even atheists who are model citizens.


I leave you with a quote from Douglas Coupland in his book Life After God, which is perhaps a little more extreme than my position, but closely parallels it.  “I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.”


Footnotes
  1. When I say good, I mean good by normal social standards and usage of the term.  I am not speaking in deeper theological terms.
  2. Hitler was indeed an atheist.  He publicly used religion as a political tool when it would benefit him.  He denounced it privately to his confidants and more publicly when as he gained power.  Moreover, even if we grant that he really viewed himself as a Christian, there is an objective standard, the Bible, which can be used to evaluate whether he really was a Christian.  When comparing his words and actions to the teachings of the Bible, we discover that he was not a Christian.  Although this link, Religious views of Hitler, is from Wikipedia, I am posting it because it is the best article I could find that is the most comprehensive of all of Hitler’s statements and views on religion...and it has almost 300 external links or sources for fact checking!  Even more on the point, if you want to just remove Hitler’s name, you can do that and replace it with other atheist dictators such as Mao Zedong, Pol Pott, Benito Mussolini, Fidel Castro, Kim Jong Il, or others.


Thanks for reading.  If you have a question, comment, or disagreement, please write it in the comments.


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Friday, May 16, 2014

Why is Jesus the only way? Part 1


Part I - Actions
Estimated reading time: Under 5 Mins
Main points: 1 & 2


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The Bible says that the only way to attain salvation is by believing in Jesus (John 8:24).1  Based on this doctrine, many atheists conclude that the Christian God is a narcissist with poor self-esteem. I admit that on the surface, that claim seems a bit silly, petty, arrogant, and could even be offensive.  So why do Christians believe Jesus is the only way and espouse that belief to others? Good question.  I'm glad you asked.  Whether you reject the truth of the Bible, seek to test its authority, or want confirmation of its claims, we can and should find evidence of its truth and authority from external sources and through critical thinking, including that claim that Jesus is the only way.  In doing so, I think we will find that this claim is much more sensible than it might seem on the surface.

1.) Purpose
worldview-pyramid-larger.jpgI suspect that most people want to know why beliefs about God matter as much or more than behavior.  They don’t necessarily matter more, but our beliefs about God affect your views on everything else in life, including your purpose in life, which affects how you behave.  Beliefs and behaviors go hand in hand.  If you truly believe (and trust) in Jesus, then you will spend the bulk of your time, money, and resources to help others meet and know Him. Having a relationship with God is the most wonderful and meaningful experience a person can have, so helping others attain that experience is the most loving thing you can do for them.  On the other hand, if you do not believe in Jesus, you will spend your time, money, and resources other ways, many of which are probably harmful to you or others.

To illustrate my point, imagine that you develop a new medication that cures every illness, from a common cold to AIDS.  It has no negative side effects, and it costs virtually nothing to produce or purchase.  The pill is so effective that it sells itself, but you still need to hire employees to manufacture and distribute your medication to the world.  Would you reward employees who sat around the warehouse all day gratifying their own desires by watching TV, surfing the Internet, playing games, socializing, eating, and drinking, instead of doing the work you hired them for?  What if some employees were fooled into thinking that a placebo look-a-like pill was somehow better, and so they filled your pill bottles with the placebo and packaged it up to be distributed to the masses.  Would you reward those employees?  Absolutely not!  In fact, you would probably fire all them immediately.

Please don’t take this analogy too far as no analogy is a perfect comparison to God.  The point is that we humans are God’s “employees” and He put us on this earth for a purpose.  We were created to glorify God, serve God and the people He created, and spread the word so others can do the same (1 Cor 10:31, Eph 2:10, Matt 28:19).  If you don’t believe in Jesus, you are not fulfilling the purpose God gave you, which means that you’re either not working at all or you’re working directly against God.2  If we are not fulfilling the purpose we’ve been given, we should expect to be fired, not rewarded.  

2.) Love
The next point concerns what it means to love or be kind to someone.  God gives us commands because He is a loving God who wants and knows what is best for us.  His commands are to protect us and help us flourish individually and collectively.  His commands are not designed to prevent us from having fun or to make us miserable.  On the contrary, by following His commands, we experience greater joy in everything we do, and so do those around us, because we are experiencing life within the confines of how our minds and bodies were created.  Moreover, if you don’t know what is right and loving, you will likely bring some harm on other people.  If someone is dying and you intentionally give them a placebo instead of the cure, you are not showing kindness; you are acting maliciously!

Let’s take sex for example.  It is generally thought of as a good thing between couples, but if you don’t enjoy it the way God intended (within a monogamous & heterosexual marriage), it will lead to negative consequences such as STDs, unwanted pregnancy and the potential negative effects of abortion, decreased trust and intimacy when you do eventually get married, and increased likelihood of divorce when you do get married.3-6  If you have sex outside of marriage, you are probably causing at least a small degree of harm to yourself and those you sleep with (especially if you have an STD or are less than honorable in your seduction methods).  In addition to that, when others see or know about your actions, whether they are strangers or your children, you are normalizing the behavior and implicitly encouraging them to do the same.  Therefore, your actions indirectly lead to harm in others, which might be minimal, but it also might be life threatening (AIDS, abortion, etc.).  Let’s go a step further and say that you’ve only had sex within marriage, but you vocally advocate for people to have sex outside of marriage.  In this case, you may not necessarily be harming yourself, but you are once again making this behavior more acceptable and likely others will do it.  As a result, you are contributing to the harm others bring on themselves or their children when their parents divorce as a result of your ‘advice.’7,8  This same reasoning can be applied to other issues, from the controversial such as abortion and homosexuality, to the mundane such as driving habits and the way you speak.

Conclusion
Your beliefs and actions have consequences; whether you or someone else experiences those consequences will depend on the situation.  If you believe wrong things about God, your views about other topics and at least some of your actions will also be wrong, and therefore, damaging to yourself or others.  While any wrong action or belief may only result in small or unlikely consequences, it is reckless and selfish not to think of the impact it could have, especially on others.  Consider driving and using a cell phone.  Usually, it usually results in little or no harm such as slowing down traffic or being an annoying driver.  However, sometimes this needless distraction is the cause behind severe or deadly accident.  With a world population of 7 billion people, one in a million chances occur 7,000 times per day.  If you want to be a kind and loving person, you have to have right beliefs about God so you know how to be kind and loving.  Your actions are just as important, if not more important than your intent. Our words and actions have the power to bring pleasure or pain to many people.  The choice is yours, will you help or harm others?

Part II discusses truth and knowledge.  You can read it by scrolling down or clicking here.  I am also working on an article that details how I would act differently if I were an atheist.  Check back soon.  I will post that link here when it’s done.

Thanks for reading.  If you have a question, comment, or disagreement, please write it in the comments.

Footnotes:
1. Many popular verses (John 3:16, etc.) on salvation are ambiguous or leave ‘loopholes’ for people to be saved without being a Christian.  These verses tell us that people who believe will be saved, but don’t explicitly mention those who don’t believe.  John 8:24 is very clear.  It says, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” (NASB).
2. If you are not living your life for God, yet claim to be a Christian, perhaps you are not really a Christian, or you are a spiritually immature Christian.  Believing God exists isn’t enough (James 2:19), you must have faith in God, which means you must actually put your trust in Him.  Truly and humbly examine yourself to see if you’re really in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5) by reading read the book of James and 1 John (specifically chapter 2).  Let the Bible judge whether or not you really are a Christian, and if not, respond by making a genuine commitment to Jesus.
3. Booth, A., & Johnson, D. (1988). Premarital cohabitation and marital success.Journal of Family Issues, 9(2), 255-272.
4. Brown, S. L., Sanchez, L. A., Nock, S. L., & Wright, J. D. (2006). Links between premarital cohabitation and subsequent marital quality, stability, and divorce: A comparison of covenant versus standard marriages. Social Science Research, 35(2), 454-470.
5. Kahn, J. R., & London, K. A. (1991). Premarital sex and the risk of divorce.Journal of Marriage and the Family, 53(4), 845-55.
6. Teachman, J. (2003). Premarital sex, premarital cohabitation, and the risk of subsequent marital dissolution among women. Journal of Marriage and Family,65(2), 444-455.
7. Not all pain and suffering are the result of disobedience to God (although some claim it is the result of Adam and Eve’s actions).  I am merely commenting on pain and suffering that is the direct result of someone’s disobedience or rejection of God..
8. You may be asking, is it loving to send people to hell and what about those who have never heard?  For those who haven’t heard, the Bible says (Acts 17:26-27) that God determined our time and place in the world so we would seek Him.  Whether or not hell is just is very deep issue that is better saved for another time.  Until I get a chance to research it more and write that article, I highly recommend you check other sources, read what the Bible actually says about hell and what it contrasts with everlasting life, or ask a question in the comments.
9. Jesus said He told us of earthly things so we could believe the things He told us of heavenly things (John 3:12).  We are supposed to evaluate the claims of the Bible!

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Why is Jesus the only way? Part 2

Part II - Truth & Knowledge
Estimated reading time: Under 5 Mins
Main points: all
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Part I of this article discussed how our beliefs about God affect our behavior, and so we need to have right beliefs so that we can act accordingly.  You can read that article by clicking here.  Part II, while still intertwined with human behavior, focuses more on truth and knowledge.


3.) Knowing God  
look alike 3 amy ilsa.jpgGod wants to have a relationship with us (Galatians 3:26, 1 John 4:10).  If our knowledge of God is wrong, then we cannot have a very good relationship with Him, nor can we love Him very well.  Think of this in terms of actual people.  For example, let's assume that you are a world famous celebrity who is very nice and caring (hopefully the second part isn’t too much of a stretch of the imagination).  One day you meet a few people at a party and really hit it off, so you exchange contact information.  Over the next few months, you hang out, talk on the phone, and send e-mails to each other.  However, your new friends start to believe bad and untrue things about you based on unreliable sources instead of believing what you say is true.  To add insult to injury, they constantly confuse you with another celebrity that looks like you (like Amy Adams & Isla Fisher).


You may feel you know these people pretty well, but how well do they know you?  How will their inaccurate knowledge of you affect how their friends, family, and coworkers view you?  You could not have a genuine and meaningful relationship with them and it would be very difficult to have a relationship with anyone who they've gossiped to about you.  How can you love God and have a meaningful relationship with Him if your knowledge of Him is inaccurate?  If you view Him as angry or indifferent, why would you bother to put your trust in Him?  If you don’t think He even exists, how can you experience the joy He can bring to your life?  If you think He is weak or controlling, why would you bother to follow His commands and make disciples for Him?


4.) Exclusion
Many people criticise Christianity because it is exclusivistic, only accepting one way.  Yes, Christianity excludes certain beliefs, but it does not exclude people, not anyone at all.  Anybody can come to Christ, at any time, in anyway, and Christians should be accepting of all people.  What Christianity excludes is ideas.  While this may seem unique to Christianity, all worldviews and religions exclude others, some just might be more subtle about it.  The reason for this is because truth, by definition, is exclusive.  For instance, 2+2=4.  The correct answer is the one and only right answer and, therefore, all other answers are wrong or excluded.  We should actually be leery of inclusion rather than exclusion because the inclusivists are making claims that at the very least, are excluding the exclusivists.


Ironically, despite the accusations, Christianity should be the least exclusive worldview in terms of acceptance and respect of other people (I recognize it is not always practiced or portrayed this way, but this is what it SHOULD be).  What other worldview so clearly says to love your neighbor and even your enemy?  The view of Christians should be that, yes, we have the truth and will do anything we can to help you see it, but you are free to reject it.  Whether you accept or reject it, we will still love and respect you as a person.  This balance is possible because Christianity says all people are made in the image of God and worthy of respect, regardless of what they do or what they believe.


5.) What is right or good?
Most people want to do what is right and be a good person.  Unfortunately, without the existence of God (an absolute and objective standard), right and wrong are man-made constructs that are defined by personal or cultural preferences.  There is no such thing as absolute right or absolute wrong without God.  Therefore, if God does not exist, then it does not even make sense to criticize a religion for being exclusivistic because exclusion is not wrong or bad.  Any particular person or culture may not like it; however, others might like it.  It is only preference, just like choosing a favorite color.


On top of that, we live in a world that is created by God and will be judged by God.  There is no appealing to a higher standard because God is the highest standard.  We have no choice to accept it and if we do not like it, then we must realize that the problem is that our selfish desires are giving us an incorrect view of reality.  Luckily, we were created by a loving and forgiving God who judges us based on who we really are in our heart.  We all make mistakes and act out of character at times, but those rare instances don't reflect who we are.  If we are to be judged, wouldn’t you want to be judged fairly, by who you actually are in your heart and not on your imperfections?  If, at your core, you really love truth and honestly desire to know it, He will be revealed to you (Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9, James 4:8).


6.) Because the Bible says so
The Bible is true; however, not everyone accepts it as true.  The standard dogmatic answer to the question of “why is Jesus the only way?” is because the Bible says so.  To the skeptic or honest doubter, this is a terrible answer by itself.  To make is a good answer, we must support that claim that Bible is true.  We can support this claim by evaluating the full ranges of evidence, which comes from areas such as philosophy (logic and  reason), science, history, and more.  There are piles of evidence supporting the truth of the Bible.  If, by those other means, it is determined that the Bible is true, it would be foolish to reject what it says about things that cannot be tested (even if we don't like it).1  The gravity really exists, even if I don’t want it to.  It would be foolish of me to admit it’s true, but refuse to accept it because I don’t like it.  No matter how much I don’t like gravity or don’t believe it, I will still fall if I decide to jump off a building.












Conclusion
Everything we do in life can be traced back to what we believe about God.  The God of the universe is personal, loving, and is concerned with truth.  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).  As a result, we should only expect one way to salvation and that is what He's given us. If we have an accurate view of God, our actions will also be accurate (morally right), which will lead our lives and the lives of those around us to be more fulfilling and joyful.


Thanks for reading.  If you have a question, comment, or disagreement, please write it in the comments.


Footnotes:
1. Jesus said He told us of earthly things so we could believe the things He told us of heavenly things (John 3:12).  We are supposed to evaluate the claims of the Bible!


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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Why I choose science over religion...and you should too!

Estimated reading time: Under 10 Minutes
Main point: Paragraph 1-3



Main Point
The title of this article may seem shocking and unorthodox coming from a Christian, but it’s really not as radical as you might think.  If you give me a chance to explain, I think I can justify it and maybe even convince you to share my view.  I choose science over religion because doing so is logical and even biblical.  The Bible tells us to examine everything carefully (1 Thess 5:21) and not to judge hypocritically (Matt 7:1-5, Matt 23:27, Rom 12:9); two commands I am obeying and advocating by choosing science over religion.  However, don’t think that my view is just a blanket statement that applies to every situation.  I will only choose science if making a choice is necessary and after very carefully considering and understanding both sides.  


For the most part, science and religion do not overlap, so there is usually no reason to choose one over the other.  Science and religion serve different purposes and answer different questions.  The purpose of science is to learn about the physical aspects of the universe while religion answers questions about the supernatural and immaterial, such as who is God, what is the purpose of life, and what is morally right, etc.  However, there are instances where specific religious claims pertain to the physical universe.  Jesus even echoed this statement by saying He tells us of earthly things so we can believe what He tells us about heavenly things (John 3:12).  It is only in those rare instances of overlap that I elevate science over religion because the scientific method, although limited to the physical universe, is the most reliable and accurate method for uncovering truth.  Science transcends personal experience and can mostly rule out chance, other extraneous factors, personal biases, and errors in reasoning.  It uses objective measures and produces results that are testable and repeatable1.  It doesn't matter what your beliefs are, where you live, or what your state of mind is - if you do the same experiment, the results will always be the same2.  The scientific method is the best and only way to carefully examine religious claims about the physical universe.


It would be foolish to disregard knowledge from a reliable source in favor of a less reliable source.  If your doctor looked at the results of medical tests and said you have cancer, but your child said you didn’t have cancer, who would you believe?  Absolutely 100% of rational people would choose the doctor.  We need to accept belief in God in the same way: based on the best and most reliable information.  Christians often do this and recognize the importance of reliability when building a case for the supremacy of the Bible and when rejecting other religious beliefs (including atheism).  However, if Christians are not willing to fully apply science (and reason) to their own beliefs, then they are hypocrites! We must evaluate Christianity with the same standards we use for evaluating other people’s views about God, otherwise we lose our claim to truth and our beliefs are merely opinions.



Deeper Understanding
There are many reasons why people become Christians, all of which boil down to truth (if it doesn’t, then I question whether that person is truly a Christian).  Christians believe the Bible to be the word of God (2 Tim 3:16, 2 Peter 1:20) and that God cannot lie (Numbers 23:19, Hebrews 6:18, Titus 1:2)3.  We really believe God exists and that His son, Jesus, died for our sins (Romans 10:9).  Jesus claimed to be the truth (John 14:6) and that knowing the truth would set us free (John 8:32).  Truth is of the utmost importance.  If Christians don’t hold truth in extremely high regard, there is nothing separating us from the rest of the world.


While the scientific method is the most reliable method for knowing truth, it is limited and imperfect, so we must critically evaluate science and recognize other methods of attaining knowledge such as philosophy (i.e. logic and reason), history and other humanities, personal experience, and divine revelation.  Understanding the relationship between all these domains, the limitations of each, and when to use them will help us discern what is really true.  In the quest for truth, it is important to gain an understanding of whatever it is we are evaluated.  It is just as important to critically evaluate science as it is to critically evaluate religion.  In order to do that, we must have a deep understanding of both and their relationship.  We need to be aware of their flaws and limitations4, know how science and religion might come in conflict, and recognize how they can help each other.  


1.) Science is limited to the material universe, whereas the existence of God is a metaphysical question.  Science will never be able to answer the question of whether or not God exists because science cannot give us infinite knowledge.  If science can one day tell us what caused the Big Bang, then we will ask what caused that Cause.  If it answers that question, then we will ask what caused that, and so on.  Eventually we have to recognize that only metaphysics can answer the questions of whether everything needs a cause or if there can be an infinite regression of causes.  However, since specific religions make claims pertaining to the material universe, science can evaluate the truth of these claims.  For instance, Greek mythology tells us that Apollo literally pulls the sun across the horizon every day.  Science has disproved this because we can see with a telescope that there is nothing pulling the sun, not to mention that the sun’s apparent movement is due to earth’s rotation, not a moving sun.  Science has disproved Greek mythology.  Miracles, on the other hand, are a different question.  Atheists often point out that miracles contradict science and therefore, all religions that accept miracles are false.  This is the result of confusing science with philosophy.  Miracles are instances of supernatural intervention and are beyond the realm of science.  When scientists investigate miracles, sometimes they find natural explanations and other times they find no explanation.  In either case, they have not shown that miracles do not occur or that there is no supernatural cause. Logically speaking, if the universe was created by an all-powerful supernatural being, then it logically follows that said being could also intervene in the universe anytime He wants to.  The difference is in explaining how the universe works based on the laws of nature versus whether or not God occasionally intervenes in the laws He created.


2.) Human error is always present, whether in reading the Bible or doing science.  The creation and evolution debate is a perfect example of this for both cases.  Most of the Bible is clear and easily understandable, but some verses, including those on creation, are ambiguous.  There are very knowledgeable theologians on both sides of the debate that use sound reasoning to support their conclusion.  It essentially comes down to the translation of the Hebrew word for day.  Because it is used figuratively and literally throughout the Bible, it could be used either way in Genesis as well.  Additionally, and I say this as someone who has no bias or conclusion regarding the creation and evolution debate, the science for evolution and creation is also subject to human error.  The physical evidence for evolution is the same exact physical evidence used to support creation.  Different conclusions are reached due to the underlying philosophical presuppositions of the person who interprets the physical evidence. I have yet to see any evidence for either side that is able to eliminate the other as a possibility4.  This is why it is important to recognize where human error can play a role in objective science.  Even when the scientific method is properly followed, it is human reasoning that draws conclusions based on the empirical evidence.  This means that even objective science often relies on human reasoning ability, and even though it is very good at removing human error, assumptions, and biases, it is still somewhat prone to the same biases and errors as less reliable disciplines or methods for discovering truth.


To recognize human error or ambiguity in science, we need to increase our scientific literacy so that we can distinguish between the different types of sciences and the difference between empirical evidence and reasoned conclusions.  Math is fairly certain.  The Bible tells us that pi equals 3 (1 Kings 7:23 & 2 Chronicles 4:2; it might even say 3.14 depending on how you do the calculations, click here for more on this issue).  This is an estimate, rounded to the nearest whole number so it fits with actual value (3.14159…).  If the Bible said pi was 2, 4, any other whole number, or even if it rounded to a closer decimal and did so incorrectly (3.2, 3.3, etc.), then the Bible would be wrong!  While math is virtually indisputable, other sciences leave more to question.  Physics and chemistry are quite certain; biology, archeology, and geology are less certain; and the social sciences are the least certain. Regardless of the type of science, we also need to consider limitations within any specific experiment and be aware of the potential for human error is reaching conclusions that extend beyond the observation-based results.


3.) Science and religion can inform each other.  That statement is probably very controversial to many scientists and many theists, but a little critical thinking shows it to be historically true and it will likely be true in the future as well..  As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the Bible (or other religious texts) is sometimes vague or ambiguous.  If we simply do not know what the Bible is telling us, then we can and should use science to inform our knowledge of the Bible.  This was the case when Galileo discovered that earth orbits the sun.  The Bible uses common and poetic language, some of which was used to support the view that the earth is the center of the universe (Genesis 1:14-18, Psalm 104:5, Job 26:7 & Isaiah 40:22).  In this case, people read too much into the Bible and science was able to point this out to us and give us a better understanding of God and His Word.  On the other hand, religion can also inform science.  It can give us moral boundaries to use while doing science (cloning, stem cells, ethics boards, etc.) and it can also offer hypotheses for us to test.  The benefits of this are probably most clear in archeology where the Bible has led to numerous discoveries.  Even more broadly, science assumes a uniform and logical universe, an assumption that is unfounded without God, and something that led many early scientists to do their work.



Conclusion
Faith is believing what is not seen (Heb 11:1), but this does not mean believing without reason. Faith should be the product of reason (1 Peter 3:15), not an enemy of it.  Christians have a vast and comprehensive list of reasons on which we can build our faith.  We have strong philosophical and scientific arguments that make sense of the beginning and design of the universe beyond what naturalism can explain.  We have historical evidence for the resurrection and the reliability of the Bible.  We have personal experiences ranging from miracles, drastic life change, and being filled with joy from our relationship with Him.  We have scientific confirmation of numerous specific claims in the Bible and despite many opportunities for science to disprove the Bible, it never has in any instance.  Not even once, regardless of the claims of ill-informed skeptics.


There are certainly what appear to be disagreements between the science and the Bible, but closer investigation reveals these to be the result of ambiguity or linguistic misunderstandings.  One instance that initially gave me trouble is that the Bible says rabbits chew the cud (Lev 11:6 & Deut 14:7), which means they regurgitate their food and eat it again.  Rabbits do not chew the cud; however, they do practice refection (they eat their poo).  The word used is usually translated as chew the cud, but a more accurate translation of the Hebrew is to say eat partially digested food, which is aligned with scientific observation.  


All truth is God’s truth and so the more we learn through science, the more we learn about God.  All biblical claims are either supported by science or are yet to be tested.  My view of science and religion should not be revolutionary, nor should it be scary.  Christians do not need to fear science.  We need to embrace it and do so fully.  Increasing our scientific literacy will lead to stronger faith, a deeper and more fulfilling relationship with God by helping us learn about Him, and it will help us fulfill our God given purpose of bringing the Gospel to non-believers, especially those who are scientifically oriented.


When there seems to be a disagreement between science and faith, I am not advocating that anyone just blindly choose one over the other.  I am advocating that everyone should take the time to fully understand both sides; to check for ambiguity, uncertainty, and sound reasoning.  Additionally we should also apply this type of scrutiny to information that supports ours views, not only when our views our challenged. So in theory, I will choose science over religion if there ever is a disagreement, but the science has to be sound and the contradiction must be unambiguous.  However, in practice, I am reasonably certain that there never will be a real, genuine disagreement between science and the Bible, so I will never have to make a choice between the two.  In fact, I cannot even think of a possible instance where there could be a clear contradiction between the two (beyond what is already in agreement).  Hopefully, I have convinced you to share my view.



Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.


“Test everything. Hold on to the good" (1 Thess. 5:21). The Bible calls for an exploration of the truth with eyes wide open and mind engaged. Permitting scientific and spiritual curiosity to work together sets people free to run toward, not away from, the complex why questions. – Hugh Ross (from, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is)




Footnotes:
1. God is the most reliable source; however, He chose to reveal Himself most thoroughly through the Bible, which we know is true mostly due to historical and philosophical support.  God could have made it so that nature even more clearly points to His glory or He could speak to us through large scale, miraculous, and indisputable ways, but for reasons which we can only guess at such as free will, the fall, or others, He decided to use more uncertain methods.


2.  You may get different results occasionally, especially in the social sciences; however, the differences will be attributable to slightly different conditions, which means it was not the same experiment.


3. The Bible was written by God, not men, and so it must be true (otherwise it would be written by men).  To paraphrase Norman Geisler, the Bible is literally true, but every word is not true literally.  The Bible can and does use figurative, poetic, metaphorical, or common language and still be true in the same way we use that type of language in our speech.  While it was written for people of that time, it was also written to transcend culture, so the principles apply even today and always will.


4. Religion is limited by its concept of God and logic (which is usually part of the concept of God, but is a factor regardless of recognizing it).  For instance, the Christian God is love, good, and logically.  These attributes are part of Him character and He is limited by them.  He can not act in a way that is opposed to His attributes.


5. If you haven’t investigated creationism and it seems kooky, I know, I’ve been there.  I thought it was completely irrational, unscientific, and anti-intellectual until I honestly and humbly took the time to try to understand it and think things through from that perspective.  If you want to know more about it,  Answers in Genesis has a plethora of great resources.




Thanks for reading.  If you have a question, comment, or disagreement, please write it in the comments.



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