Monday, June 30, 2014

It was crazy good in Ephesus

There were some crazy things going on in Ephesus in the first century, as recorded in Acts 19. I would call it at first blush a bad “Jerry Springer Show” episode, assuming there’s ever been a good one. But you’ve got healing hankies being handed out, wanna-be exorcists beaten up by a demon-possessed man and running out of the house naked, and people bringing the ancient equivalent of Ouija boards, crystals and Tarot cards and throwing them on a bonfire in the middle of town. The craziest thing of all? This was all a powerful act of God. Every bit of it. The healing hankies were not a televangelist’s ploy to raise money so he wouldn’t have to be called home to heaven, or worse, lose his TV show. No, they existed because the palpable presence of the Spirit of God on the Apostle Paul was so powerful that even things he touched, like handkerchiefs and aprons, were able to heal the sick and cast out demons. And you know it was a miracle because Paul had nothing to do with it. It wasn’t Paul who was passing out the hankies, or even worse, selling the hankies for a donation to his ministry. The would-be exorcists? They were pummeled by the demon because God doesn’t shrug at those who speak for Him when they don’t even know Him. He acts in such cases, and sometimes severely. The bonfire? When the fear of God falls on people, repentance leads to reformation. Bondages are broken and lives are changed. So, yes, these were crazy days in Ephesus. Good crazy.

You can read about the other events, but let me tell you more about the would-be demon slayers. They were called “itinerant Jewish exorcists” by the author of Acts. Seriously? Traveling exorcists? Did their website read, “Have demon, will travel”? Was their phone number 1-800-COME-OUT? It’s hard to take these guys seriously, but this is no laughing matter to God, as you will see. Their biggest mistake was that they “undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus.” You get that? They tried to transact business in Jesus’ name when they didn’t know him at all. That would be like me going into any bank this Monday, and saying to the manager, “I am here for Warren Buffet; give me $500K.” I would undertake to invoke the name of Warren Buffet, and they would undertake me right out of there. Simon Kistemaker said, “The term ‘name’ signifies the person, words, and works of Jesus, so that anyone who uses this name identifies completely with its bearer and becomes a true representative.” These seven men were clearly not representatives of the Lord Jesus. When they tried to cast out the demon, it said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” Then the demon-possessed man proceeded to beat the wanna-be exorcists up so badly that the seven men ran from the house wounded and naked, and were perhaps renamed after that, “The seven streakers.”

There were three huge mistakes these men made from which we can take warning. First, they had only second-hand knowledge of Jesus. There’s a huge life-changing difference between knowing about Jesus and really knowing Him. Second, Jesus was just an “add-on” to their belief system. You can add a rabbit’s foot, too, but don’t hold your breath for good luck. Third, they used Jesus’ name as a means to an end. They weren’t interested in surrendering to Jesus, only using Him.

It can be crazy sometimes to truly follow Jesus. But it’s much crazier not to.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Five marks of a strong marriage

We really don’t know how Aquila and Priscilla treated each other in little things, this couple living in Corinth when Paul found them. We don’t know whether Aquila served his wife by helping with household chores. Someone said, “The most important four words in a marriage are, ‘I’ll do the dishes.’” We don’t know whether Priscilla told Aquila often how proud she was to be married to him, even if he never made it into the Bible. We don’t know whether Aquila opened the door for Priscilla before they walked into their house. Prince Philip said once, “When a man opens the car door for his wife, it is either a new car or a new wife.” Not so, your Prince-ness! I believe real men open doors for their wives. But I digress. I would suggest that we do know five truths about this ancient couple’s marriage that we should apply in our own. They were willing to be uprooted for the sake of the church. These two moved a lot, from Corinth to Ephesus to Rome to Ephesus in order to serve the growing church. They worked together as equals. They were truly one flesh and they were always mentioned as a couple. Marriage should be like that, that whether we are together or separate, others think of us as one. The unity candle is a great picture of what marriage is positionally from the beginning, but it takes time and work and humility for that picture to become a reality. It reminded me of a couple in their nineties who died recently. Every morning for 70 years they held hands at breakfast. Their eight children said they had been inseparable since meeting as teenagers, once sharing the bottom of a bunk bed on a ferry rather than sleeping one night apart. When Helen died on the evening of April 12, her husband Kenneth quickly began to fade, and he was surrounded by 24 of his closest family members and friends when he died 15 hours later. They cared for others more than they did themselves.

We see that in the way they take Paul in, not just as a fellow worker in the tent-making trade, but into their home. We see it in the way they opened their home to the church, in nearly every place they lived. We see it in the way they ministered to Apollos. They were not intimidated by Apollos’ great eloquence and learning. They weren’t concerned that they might look foolish approaching this bold preacher with a word of encouragement and correction. They cared more about him than they cared about how they looked or were perceived by him. Also, they were gracious in their approach. “They took him aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately.” They talked to him, alone, with patient explanation of God in a way that changed the man’s life. They were workers.

Aquila and Priscilla were yoked together through marriage and yoked with Christ through salvation, fully engaged in following His lead. Paul called them “fellow workers in Christ Jesus.” You couldn’t aspire to a more fulfilling life than the one described in that phrase. They took risks.

Paul wrote that Aquila and Priscilla “risked their necks for my life.” A great marriage is sometimes marked by risks for the sake of Christ and His church. Hudson Taylor said, “Unless there is an element of risk in our exploits for God, there is no need for faith.”

Which of these five marks of a strong marriage would you agree to work on, starting today?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Did you know we're on Twitter? (Neither did half of us...)

For those of you who subscribe by email or via the RSS feed, you may not be aware that Christians In Context also has a thriving Twitter feed that is largely made up of content that never shows up here on the blog.

Recently we've begun adding a visual element to some of the tweets, and I felt compelled to share a few of my favorites with you. If you aren't following us on Twitter already, we hope you'll do so today! (Click on each image to go to the original if you want to retweet on Twitter.)

Monday, June 16, 2014

God clearly answers the big questions

All the lonely people, where do they all come from?

All the lonely people, where do they all belong?

Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name.

Nobody came.

Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave.

No one was saved. All the lonely people …

Paul McCartney and John Lennon spoke for a generation searching for truth. Are there answers? How does the Bible speak to the songwriters and philosophers of every age? In his message to the philosophers on Mars Hill (Acts 17) Paul took the four basic questions of the universe and answered them clearly. The questions include: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Who are we? Where are we going?

The first answer is that God is creator and Lord of everything. We are not a random collection of molecules, thrown together by chance. The second answer is God is sustainer of everything in the universe. God does not depend on us; we depend on God. That’s why another songwriter penned these words: “Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling … Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Savior, or I die.”

Third, we are made in the image of God. That’s who we are and whose we are.

No matter what our race or color, we each bear God’s image. I don’t feel sorry for Donald Sterling, the NBA owner banned for life because of his racial slurs. But the truth is, almost every person struggles with racism at one level or another. When we give in to the sin of thinking of ourselves as either racially superior to others not like us, or racially inferior to others not like us, we are denying one of the most basic and glorious truths of Scripture, that “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” I recommend on this subject that you find John Piper’s sermon on the internet entitled “Racial Reconciliation.” It is powerful. Let me just offer one of his eight points in this column: “In determining the significance of who you are, being a person in the image of God compares to ethnic distinctives the way the noonday sun compares to a candlestick. In other words, finding your main identity in whiteness or blackness or any other ethnic color or trait is like boasting that you carry a candle to light the cloudless noonday sky. Candles have their place. But not to light the day. So color and ethnicity have their place, but not as the main glory and wonder of our identity as human beings. The primary glory of who we are is what unites us in our God-like humanity, not what differentiates us in our ethnicity. This is the most fundamental reason why programs of ‘diversity training’ usually backfire in their attempt to foster mutual respect among ethnic groups. They focus major attention on what is comparatively minor, and virtually no attention on what is infinitely, gloriously major—our common, unique standing among all creation as persons created in the image of God.”

The fourth answer is that God is our judge. Read Acts 17 and see that the judgment of God will be universal: “all men, everywhere.” It will be fair: “He will judge the world in righteousness.” It will be unavoidable. “He has fixed a day.”

Where are you going? To meet the King! As the old Gospel song said, “Are you ready to sit by His throne?”

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Do Dinosaurs Discount the Bible?

I don't know about you, but, for me, one of the most intriguing subjects in the world is that of dinosaurs. I mean, who doesn't love dinosaurs? Whether they are cute images on a baby's footsy pajamas or vicious creatures slaughtering innocent civilians in Jurassic Park, dinosaurs offer something for everyone.
(In this case, the loving parent or the emotionally disturbed sci-fier.)
With this said, dinosaurs seem to pose one of the greatest threats to Christianity. This is because the evidence of their historical existence is incredibly overwhelming, but the biblical evidence seems to be incredibly underwhelming. The experts exploit this by clothing the historical evidence of dinosaurs in an evolutionary garb, the Bible's archenemy of how things came to be. According to evolutionists, dinosaurs first evolved 235 million years ago, long before man, and according to the Bible (a Young Earth Creationist view, YEC hereafter), dinosaurs first existed roughly 6,000 years ago (Gen 1:24-25).
Thus, the average Christian tends to view dinosaurs with such mystery that he believes he will never know the truth about them. He chalks their existence up to one of the "secret things that belong to the Lord," (Deut 29:29) and chooses to remain ignorant to the subject in fear that any real research might threaten the foundation to everything he believes. Or, in the least, he finds a way to merge evolution and YEC, which is entirely unbiblical.
This is poor form and an unfortunate reality. The truth is that the evidence of dinosaurs shouldn't scare Christians at all. The key is from which viewpoint you view them. Ken Ham writes, " ... dinosaurs are only a mystery if you accept the evolutionary story of their history" (149). This is to say that, most Christians misunderstand dinosaurs because they can't help but think of them from an evolutionary standpoint. I know that this has been the case for me. I can't fly on an airplane without subconsciously thinking about 9/11 and I can't think of dinosaurs without subconsciously thinking about millions of years of evolution. You probably can't either. Evolutionary science is that embedded into this specific topic and it has thus generated a world of issues for how many Christians view it.
If a Christian can jettison this, however, and instead view dinosaurs from a biblical worldview, he will begin to think about the subject in a brand new way, a way that reveals the truth about dinosaurs' place in creation. This is the goal of this blog.
Below I list the most substantial accusations the subject of dinosaurs has had against Christianity and it's claim of YEC, and briefly highlight some of the major problems with each claim. The goal is not to get in depth on the subject, but to offer brief thoughts that help the Christian understand the subject from a biblically based YEC viewpoint.
Evolutionists claim that dinosaurs evolved from some reptile that had originally evolved from an amphibian. The problem is that they have no archaeological link to substantiate this claim.  Ken Ham writes, "Dinosaur family trees in evolutionary books show many distinct types of dinosaurs, but only hypothetical lines join them up to some common ancestor" (Emphasis mine, 155). Ham explains that the lines are dotted "because there is no fossil evidence. Evolutionists simply cannot prove their belief in a non-dinosaur ancestor for dinosaurs" (ibid).
Evolutionists would like you to believe that when they dig up a dinosaur bone that it has a label on it that can be used to help them date how old it is. Henry Morris notes that evolutionists date these bones by "indirect" dating methods that are widely questioned among the scientific community (Morris, The Young Earth, 51-67). In short, scientists have no true way of determining how old a dinosaur bone is. Moreover, there is evidence among dinosaur bones that they might not be as old as most scientists would like us to believe.
Some years ago, for example, some scientists from the University of Montana found T-Rex bones that were not totally fossilized, which would be impossible if they were millions of years old. According to their reports, some of the bones were "like fresh bones" and some even contained "what seems to be blood cells and hemoglobin." As Ken Ham writes, "If these bones really were tens of millions of years old, then the blood cells and hemoglobin would have totally disintegrated" (162).
Many people think that because the Bible doesn't include the word "dinosaur" that it says nothing about dinosaurs. It's important to remember, however, that the word "dinosaur" is our modern way of describing ancient creatures. It wasn't until 1841 that the word "dinosaur" was invented. A man named Richard Owen, while viewing the bones of an Iguanodon and Megalosaurus, "realized these represented a unique group of reptiles that had not yet been classified" (158). He resultantly coined the term "dinosaur" from Greek words meaning "terrible lizard."
While the Bible doesn't include the word "dinosaur" to describe dinosaurs, it does include descriptions of creatures that we now call dinosaurs. Here are a few:
A Sea Monster
"You divided the sea by your strength; you broke the heads of the sea monsters in the waters" (Ps 74:13).
"In the day the Lord will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, with his fierce and great and mighty sword, even Leviathan the twisted serpent; and he will kill the dragon who lives in the sea" (Is 27:1)
"Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook? Or press down his tongue with a cord? Can you put a rope in his nose or pierce his jaw with a hook? ... Will you play with him as with a bird? ... Can you fill his skin with harpoons or his head with fishing spears? ... No one is so fierce that he dares to arouse him ... Who can strip off his outer armor? Who can come within his double mail? Who can open the doors of his face? Around his teeth there is terror. His strong scales are his pride, shut up as with a tight seal ... His sneezes flash forth light ... Out of his mouth go burning torchessparks of fire leap forth. Out of his nostrils smoke goes forth ... His breath kindles coals, and a flame goes forth from his mouth ... When he raises himself up, the mighty fear; because of the crashing they are bewildered" (selections from Job 41).
According to Ham, this "dragon" may have been something like the mighty 40 ft. Sarcosuchus imperator (Super croc), or the 82 ft. Liopleurodon dinosaurs.
A Flying Serpent
"Through a land of distress and anguish, from where come ... flying serpent" (Is 30:6).
According to Ham, this could be a reference to one of the pterodactyls, which are probably thought of as flying dinosaurs.
A Giant Land Creature
Finally, in Job 40 God shows Job how great of a creator he is by describing a land animal he had made:
"Behold now, Behemoth, which I made as well as you ... behold ... his power in the muscles of his belly. He bends his tail like a cedar" (Job 40:15-17).
Ham suggests that the behemoth's description in the Bible parallels the scientist's description of the Brachiosaurus, one of the largest dinosaurs ever discovered (the dinosaur with the really long neck).
In short, while the Bible doesn't use the modern day word "dinosaur" to describe dinosaurs, it does offer impressive descriptions of creatures that lived within the last 6,000 years that clearly parallel what we now call "dinosaurs." Thus, the Bible does talk about dinosaurs!
When we think of dinosaurs, we think of massive, gargantuan creatures, but "the average size of a dinosaur, based on the skeletons found over the earth, is about the size of a sheep" (166). The fossil records--the same often used to disprove the scriptures--suggest that only a few dinosaurs grew to be extremely large in size, but even these dinosaurs weren't as large as the largest animal in the world today, the blue whale. It's also important to know that reptiles have "the potential to grow as long as they live" (167). Thus, it's not unreasonable to suggest that the larger dinosaur skeletons are of the dinosaurs that had lived especially long. Moreover, even the largest dinosaurs were small when hatched. The biggest fossil dinosaur egg ever found is only the size of a football.
It's important to remember that the reason God had animals go on Noah's ark was to repopulate the earth, and thus, it would have been strategic of God to call younger animals in the prime of their reproductive lives onto it, not older ones that would have taken up a lot of space and been well beyond the reproductive primes of their lives.
The logic of this argument is extremely weak. A simple Google search can reveal a variety of animals that have become extinct even in recent memory. In fact, many endangered species programs have been started to keep this from happening. Thus, on this logic alone, it's thoroughly possible that many dinosaur species became extinct after the Flood, which cultivated an entirely different environment than before. This not only made it difficult for dinosaurs to survive, but it made it difficult for dinosaurs to survive for as long as they previously did (just like humans who once lived for hundreds of years).
Moreover, on the opposite spectrum, it's not unreasonable to suggest that dinosaurs might not be as extinct as we would like to believe. As Ken Ham notes, "Scientists in Australia found some living trees that they thought had become extinct with the dinosaurs. One scientist said, 'It was like finding a live dinosaur'" (171). To add to this thought, it's been reported that explorers and natives in Africa have reported sighting, as recent as the twentieth century, dinosaur-like creatures. And cave paintings by native Americans (people living in our known modern history) have been discovered depicting dinosaurs.
As Ham notes, "One cannot prove an organism is extinct without having knowledge of every part of the earth's surface simultaneously" (170).
As noted at the beginning of this blog, it is especially important that to fully understand dinosaurs, the Christian ought to view the subject from a biblical perspective, not a evolutionary-agendaed one. If the Christian can start here, then everything else easily falls into place, as seen in the aforementioned content in this blog. This is the key.
The Bible states that dinosaurs were created on the sixth day of creation, alongside humans: "Then God said, 'Let the earth bring forth living creatures father their kind' ... God made the beasts of the earth ... and God saw that it was good. Then God said, 'Let us make man in our own image ...'" (Gen 1:24-26). This means that they could not have died out prior to humans because, according to the Bible, death, bloodshed, disease, and suffering are a result of Adam's sin. As Paul writes, "The wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23). Since sin wasn't present on the earth, death was also not present on the earth. Furthermore, to suggest that dinosaurs lived and died prior to humans is to suggest that the Fall's impact was not that severe, because it's effects already existed. This is a devastating blow to the impact of sin and why we need a Savior.
Taking this thought deeper, the very idea of dinosaur fossils lends strong evidence that dinosaurs existed during the time of the Flood (God's worldwide judgment of sin), and that many died because of it. Ken Ham writes,
"Fossil formation requires a sudden burial. When an animal dies, it usually gets eaten or decays until there is nothing left. To form a fossil, unique conditions are required to preserve the animal and replace it with minerals, etc." (166).
Evolutionists once claimed that fossils were created slowly by the animal carcasses being gradually covered over by sediment. Recently they have acknowledged that dinosaur fossils were instead created by a catastrophic process. In other words, to form the fossils that we now discover, they must have been buried quickly. This fits perfectly with the Bible's description of a worldwide Flood that "destroyed from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life" (Gen 6:17), a flood that wreaked such havoc upon the world that it now "groans" because of the aftermath of it (Rom 8).
If a Christian accepts the evolutionary teachings of dinosaurs, then he rejects the Bible's description of how God created the world and also its description of the Fall and its effects, which "directly attacks the foundations of the gospel" (174). The Bible is clear that death, bloodshed, disease, and suffering are all consequences of sin, and thus, such things cannot predate the introduction of its power into the world before the Garden of Eden.
Christians have more than enough reason, biblically and scientifically, to believe that dinosaurs lived on this earth within the last 6,000 years. We have the opportunity to evaluate the exact same data as scientists do, but we should always analyze it through the Bible. This is the key to understanding that dinosaurs do not pose a threat to our YEC beliefs.
Bibliography: This blog was inspired by, and most of its information is gathered from, Ken Ham's The New Answers Book 1, chapter 12, "What Really Happened to Dinosaurs." I encourage you to check out Ham's blog to read a more detailed description about dinosaurs and the Bible.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Go and gossip the Gospel

When Paul entered Athens in the first century and was provoked to see it was a city submerged by idols, he didn’t turn around and walk out. Neither did he go to the city square holding a sign that said, “God hates Athens.” No, he reasoned with the people there, in three very different arenas.

First, he went into the synagogue and reasoned with the devout. The equivalent today would be the church, which was and is the first and best place to reason with people. The decay of our culture is largely a product of the impotence of the church and its compromise of the message of the Gospel. Pastors possessed with a low view of Scripture and a high need for numbers plus members infatuated with a “makes-me-happy-and-meets-my needs” fellowship has largely neutered the effectiveness of the church in America. Paul “was preaching Jesus and the resurrection” to the God-fearers. That must be the core of our message from the pulpit every week as we teach the Scriptures to a people starving for the Word of God.

Second, Paul went into the city square and spoke with “those who happened to be there.” He was as comfortable in church as he was in the marketplace. Not everybody is, but we need people who can make friends and meet people in the park, at the mall, in the movie theater, the Laundromat, the coffee shop and in every place life happens. Howard Schultz said his goal in creating Starbucks was to provide a place and an environment where people would be forced into community with each other. Cindy and I were in the Sherlock Holmes pub in London last July, enjoying fish and chips, and the couple next to us was speaking “American.” So we struck up a conversation with them and had fellowship for a half hour. It’s amazing what people will tell you about themselves if you just ask a question. When that happens, you have an open door to gossip the Gospel with someone who five minutes earlier was a stranger.

Third, Paul went to the Areopagus to speak to the intelligentsia. Aldous Huxley would have been there had he been alive then. He was honest enough to write in 1937 about why he objected to the world having meaning and purpose: “For myself, as no doubt for most of my friends, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.” We need young people to be raised up who can answer the intelligentsia’s arguments against faith. Not just on the university campus but in every area of life that teaches.

John Stott wrote, “There is an urgent need for more Christian thinkers who will dedicate their minds to Christ, not only as lecturers, but also as authors, journalists, dramatists and broadcasters, as television script-writers, and as artists and actors who use a variety of contemporary art forms in which to communicate the Gospel … Christ calls human beings to humble, but not to stifle, their intellect.”

Graduates and all others reading this column: How can you use what God has put in your hands to serve Him and make His name great? It need not be big or important. You do not have to be famous or rich or powerful or brilliant. You simply must use what talent and ability and intellect He has given you for His sake. Share the truth in the church, in the marketplace, and on the campus.

Go gossip the Gospel.