Is Christianity for Real or Is It Just a Bunch of Hopeful Hooey?

She was a young adult dying from cancer. As her pastor, I was by her bedside, reading Scripture, praying with her, and pointing her toward heaven. Suddenly she turned to me with tears in her eyes and asked, “How do we know that this is all real?”

The question caught me off guard. She had always seemed strong in her Christian faith. But this was a moment of weakness…a battle with fear…a realization that death was staring at her in the face and she needed to know that her belief in Jesus Christ was more than just wishful thinking.

Faith is one thing when life is easy and death seems far away. It is another thing when you are on your death bed facing your own mortality and the prospect of eternity.

I am reminded of a quote by Diogenes Allen, Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University:

To look only for what is helpful in Christianity, largely because of this uneasiness at affirming its doctrines, has become a common practice both inside and outside the church. But there is a price to be paid. If we are concerned with finding help only, and not with truth, we are unlikely to find substantial help. For when we actually come face-to-face with temptation, danger, and death, we encounter reality—and at that point the question of who or what will guide and sustain us is no longer a side-issue. This is probably why “spirituality” in general, in spite of its initial appeal, fails us. When the chips are down, vagueness about what we believe is not an asset. (Spiritual Theology, 159)

This was one of those moments “when the chips were down.”

Thankfully three thoughts came to my mind in that moment. These three thoughts reassured her…and have reassured me in my own times of doubt.

1. The wonders of creation tell me that God exists. 

I honestly believe that it takes more faith to believe in materialistic evolution than it does to believe in theistic creation.

The heavens and the earth scream out “intelligent design.”

The complexity and order of the universe (so precise that you can set your watch on it), the fine tuning of the earth for our existence (known as the anthropic principle), and the reality that everything we see around us is more energy than matter, held together by an amazing power, all point to the existence of a Master Creator and Designer.

If that’s not enough to convince you, then just consider the wonder of DNA.

Within every cell of your body there is a six-foot strand of tightly wound DNA.

You have approximately 30 trillion cells in your body. Thus, you literally have 35 billion miles of DNA in your body. That’s enough to stretch to the sun and back 385 times.

And within this DNA is the exact code that details every aspect of your unique design. There is enough information in your DNA to fill a thousand encyclopedias. Even what was once considered “junk DNA” is now seen to contain 15 trillion bytes of raw data that would take a computer 300 years to fully process.

Scientists are just now realizing the unfathomable storage capacity of DNA. Consider this quote from a recent issue of Scientific American.

DNA can archive a staggering amount of information in an almost inconceivably small volume. Consider this: humanity will generate an estimated 33 zettabytes of data by 2025—that’s 3.3 followed by 22 zeroes. DNA storage can squeeze all that information into a ping-pong ball, with room to spare. The 74 million million bytes of information in the Library of Congress could be crammed into a DNA archive the size of a poppy seed—6,000 times over.

Every time we encounter information, we know that it comes from intelligence. To believe otherwise is to believe that a random explosion at a printing press could produce an edition of the New York Times. You can believe that if you want, but I choose to see the wonders of creation and stand in awe of a Creator whose intelligence and power far exceed anything we can imagine.

2. The wonders of the Bible tell me that God has spoken.

Okay so maybe some kind of intelligent God exists. How do we know who He is?

I believe that God not only exists but that He has spoken. And the Bible is His Word to us.

You can ignore the Bible, critique it, attack it, and even mock it but there is no question that it is the most remarkable, most read, most translated, most influential book in the history of humanity.

It has the best manuscript evidence of any ancient writing and it’s not even close. If you are going to doubt the reliability of Scripture then you are going to have to doubt the reliability of every writing in ancient history.

It has been repeatedly verified through archaeology. Nelson Glueck, one of the foremost archaeologists in history, once said:

It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or in exact detail historical statements in the Bible. And by the same token, proper evaluation of biblical descriptions has often led to amazing discoveries. (Rivers in the Desert, 31)

It has also been amazing in its prophecies with over five hundred prophecies fulfilled in exact detail by Jesus Christ. The book of Daniel, written in the 6th century BC, is also amazing in its accuracy, predicting the four world empires from Babylon to Rome. Critics have long argued that Daniel must have been written after the fact in the 1st or 2nd century BC. But this theory has been strongly refuted.

One of my favorite biblical scholars is Robert Dick Wilson (1856-1930) who served as the Professor of Semitic Languages and Old Testament Criticism at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is one of the most unique scholars that you will ever encounter. At the age of 25, he plotted out the rest of his life unto the age of 70, dividing it into three periods of fifteen years. For the first fifteen years, he learned every Semitic language that could be learned, eventually mastering 45 different languages and dialects. For the next fifteen years, he read every ancient document related to the Bible that could be read. And then for the last fifteen years, he wrote all that he had found related to the historicity of the Bible. Amazingly, he accomplished this feat and here was his conclusion:

I have come to the conviction that no man knows enough to attack the veracity of the Old Testament. Every time when anyone has been able to get together enough documentary ‘proofs’ to undertake an investigation, the biblical facts in the original text have victoriously met the test. (The Authority and Inspiration of the Bible)

Written by over forty different authors in three different languages over a span of 1500 years, the Bible stands as a complete unified document telling the story of humanity from creation to the end of time. What is lost in Genesis is regained in Revelation. And Jesus Christ stands at the center of everything.

3. The wonders of Jesus Christ tell me that God loves me.

There is no one in history like Jesus Christ.

Even Time Magazine in their millennial edition admitted as much:

It would require much exotic calculation, however, to deny that the single most powerful figure—not merely in these two millenniums but in all history—has been Jesus of Nazareth. It’s an astonishing conclusion in light of the fact that Jesus was a man who lived a short life in a rural backwater of the Roman Empire [and] who died in agony as a convicted criminal. (Time Magazine, December 6, 1999)

The Man who never wrote a book, never led an army, never held political power, never traveled more than 100 miles from where He was born, never did anything that the world attributes to greatness…literally changed the world.

He died as a criminal on a Roman cross, the worst punishment reserved for the lowest of individuals.

But something happened three days later.

His disciples claimed He physically rose from the dead and that they saw Him, talked with Him, touched Him, ate with Him.

They all died for their faith, facing their own violent deaths under the iron fist of the Roman Empire.

Yet their testimony stood firm.

They turned the world upside down with one message of good news.

Jesus Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.

And He rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures.

And all who believe in Him will have eternal life.

This was their simple creed.

And it is my creed today.

Passed down through the generations, changing innumerable lives along the way.

If Jesus Christ did not physically rise from the dead, then Christianity is a bunch of hopeful hooey.

The apostle Paul said it clearly.

And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. …And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17-19)

Christianity is falsifiable. Disprove the resurrection and the whole structure falls. Christianity is not interested in giving wishful thinking or religious opinion. It is either true or it is false. It is either reality or it is fantasy. It cannot be both.

Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important. (C. S. Lewis)

Either Jesus Christ is God in the flesh or He is a fraud.

Either He is Lord or He is a liar.

The resurrection is the dividing line.

Because He lives, death has lost its sting.

Because He lives, I will live.

Because He lives, my friend is not dead.

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.

God exists. He has spoken. And He loves us.

Jesus Christ is the proof.

You can follow whoever you want. You can believe whatever you want.

But I have cast my lot with Jesus Christ.

He is the way.

He is the truth.

And He is the life.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (John 1:1-4)

Posted in Tough Questions of Faith | 2 Comments

A Sober Eschatology (or How to Live in the End Times without Losing Your Mind)

I guess from the world’s perspective I am pretty crazy.

I believe that Jesus Christ is coming back in the clouds to snatch away His bride, the church.

I believe that a time of intense tribulation is coming on the earth in which a false world leader, speaking words of peace and love, will deceive the world and eventually demand total allegiance and worship of himself.

I believe that Jesus Christ will end this time of tribulation by coming back to the earth to destroy this false leader and his followers, to rid the world of evil, to rescue His people, and to usher in the true kingdom of peace, righteousness, and love.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

But it also seems real. Something inside of us longs for peace on this earth…for meaning in this life…for justice to prevail…for hope beyond the grave.

Deep down what we are all longing for is the kingdom of God, an earthly paradise, the echo of the Garden of Eden that is still in our hearts.

The big question is, “Do we believe the governments of the world will bring about this utopia or do we believe that only God can do so?”

Is it the kingdom of man or the kingdom of God?

Is it brought about through the most powerful military or the All-Powerful Messiah?

We are part of a grand story moving toward a climax and that climax is the rule of Jesus Christ on the earth.

Of course, the order of end-time events that I mentioned above is open to debate. There are Bible-believing Christians who have a different understanding of eschatology (i.e., the study of last things in the Bible). But orthodox Christian belief has always understood that Jesus Christ is coming back to judge the earth and resurrect the dead, some to eternal life and some to eternal condemnation.

He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered and was buried.
The third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again with glory
to judge the living and the dead.
His kingdom will never end. (The Nicene Creed, AD 325)

So how do we live in the light of this truth?

That seems to be one of the challenges in the church today.

Those who hold to a dispensational, premillennial eschatology (like I do) can easily drift into constant end-times speculation, “prophetic” pronouncements, date-setting, and “newspaper exegesis” (always looking for signs of the end in every major headline).

I often say, somewhat jokingly, that “all the nutcakes seem to be in our camp.”

But let’s face it, we are all interested in the future. We want to know what is going to happen down the road. That’s why we run after weather forecasts, sports predictions, political projections, economic prognostications, and, for some people, even horoscopes and fortune tellers.

Thus, the market for “prophets”–of both the secular and religious types–is always a potentially lucrative occupation.

This is where wisdom, discernment, and good ol’ common sense need to prevail.

The Bible gives us enough hints of the future to give us confidence as we face tomorrow but it does not reveal the full picture. This partial portrait of prophecy keeps us humble, prevents us from thinking we have it all figured out, and reminds us to live for Christ in the present, walking by faith each day.

Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Thus, when the Bible talks about the end times, it almost always mentions the word “sober-minded.”

  • Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober(1 Thessalonians 5:6)
  • Denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:12b-13)
  • Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at His coming. (1 Peter 1:13)
  • The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. (1 Peter 4:7)
  • In view of His appearing and His kingdom, I give you this charge…keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1b, 5)

I like that last translation: “Keep your head in all situations.”

In other words, don’t get crazy. Don’t go off the deep end. Don’t panic and start running after wild speculations and prophetic pronouncements that some well-dressed dude on YouTube starts spouting.

Keep your head.

Stay smart.

Be wise.

Evaluate.

Discern.

Check the fruit.

Know the Word.

If they claim to be prophets for God, then the standard is 100% accuracy (Deuteronomy 18:22).

If they claim to be prophets for God, then their lives should exhibit the humility of Christ and the fruit of the Spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

If they claim to be prophets for God, then their message must align with the revealed Word of God and put the focus on Jesus Christ (Jude 3-21).

The Bible warns that the last days will be filled with false prophets and increasing deception (Matthew 24:11; 2 Timothy 3:1-17).

We are seeing that happening.

Never has deception been so rampant.

Never has the world been so set up for a one-world government, for a false peace, for a globalistic agenda, for a worldwide war and nuclear holocaust that could bring about some of the cataclysmic scenes in Revelation.

As someone has said, “This may not be the end of the world but it sure does seem like the world of the end.”

The time seems to be at hand.

But we still do not know.

Thus, we live like Peter instructed us to live in the end times. It is the kind of life that we are called to live regardless of whether Christ comes back today or in the next 100 years.

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of the manifold grace of God. (1 Peter 4:7-10)

Be alert.

Be wise.

Pray.

Love.

Open up your hands, your home, and your life.

And serve others with the gifts that God has given you.

Or to put it in the opposite terms…

Don’t be deceived.

Don’t go crazy.

Don’t fear.

Don’t attack.

Don’t hoard your stuff.

And don’t isolate your life from others.

Keep your eyes on the skies.

But keep your head at all times.

If the world thinks that you are crazy, let it be because your hope is in Christ alone.

Posted in Eschatology/Prophecy | 3 Comments

The Strange Mix of Dispensational, Postmillennial, Pentecostal, Political, Prophetic, Apocalyptic, Gnostic Christianity

Have you noticed the newfangled Coca-Cola Freestyle dispensers in restaurants? They allow you to mix your own concoction of soft drinks with the click of a button. I have stood behind kids whisking through the screens combining a host of different drinks to create something weird and new.

I usually just stick with Dr. Pepper.

But thinking about these dispensers made me realize what is happening in modern American Christianity.

Many people are mixing their own theological concoction of the Christian faith to suit their own liking.

Jumping from YouTube video to YouTube video, website to website, cable show to cable show, preacher to preacher, commentator to commentator, talking head to talking head. Soon you have your own unique combination of dispensational, postmillennial, Pentecostal, political, prophetic, apocalyptic, gnostic Christianity and you don’t even realize it.

But you take a big ol’ gulp of your new Kool-Aid.

And it gives you a serious case of theological heartburn. In some cases, it can kill your faith.

Let me give you an example.

Recently someone sent me a YouTube video of a Christian preacher that they wanted me to watch. They loved his message. It was bold, in-your-face, and politically-charged. When I am sent a video like this, I often wonder if the goal is to say something like, “Hey, pastor, maybe you ought to preach more like this.”

But as I watched the video, I noticed that something was a little off. I did a little research about him and his church and realized that they held a postmillennial reconstructionist theology.

What does that mean? 

Basically they believe that the church will change the government and society and eventually bring in the kingdom age. Christ will come back at the end of this millennium of peace ushered in by the church.

Postmillennialism expects the proclaiming of the Spirit-blessed gospel of Jesus Christ to win the vast majority of human beings to salvation in the present age. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of people and of nations. (Kenneth Gentry)

The postmillennial conception of victory is of a progressive cultural victory and expansive influence of Christianity in history. (Gary North)

The reconstructionist part of the theology is that the church should be actively involved in politics so as ultimately to bring the nation under the law of Moses.

It’s a unique view that has been around for awhile. Many early believers in America were postmillennials who felt like America would play a role in bringing in the kingdom on earth. Many people like postmillennialism, and there are some theologians who argue for it, because it is a positive view of the victory of the church in this present age.

But what was ironic in this case is that the person who sent me the video would fit in the dispensational, premillennial category believing that the world will get worse and worse, Christ will rapture His church, the world will go through an intense time of tribulation, and then Christ will come back to set up His kingdom on earth.

So why did she like this postmillennial preacher who would be antithetically opposed to her view of eschatology? Presumably because she liked his bold attack on present-day politics which, in his mind (unbeknownst to her), is necessary for the church to take over the government and usher in the kingdom.

Here’s another recent example.

Someone in my family was telling me about a cable TV show that they were watching on the end times. I decided to watch an episode to see what it was all about.

It had cool graphics and a set designed to look like a newscast. The man sitting behind the news desk (while continually holding his new book towards the camera) proceeded to talk about Great Britain, America, Germany, the European Union, the Berlin Wall, the beast of Revelation, and all kind of other apocalyptic details. He was so sure of his interpretation of Revelation 13 that he didn’t even pause to defend it. He spoke with certainty as if he had discovered the secret that no one else had ever seen in this prophetic book. And he threw out a random assortment of news headlines to prove his point.

At the end of the TV show, he gave you a gracious opportunity to buy more of his books and DVD’s to find out exactly how all the events happening in America today are fulfilling biblical prophecy.

I decided to look up this guy and find out what he believes.

He is a Oneness Pentecostal who denies the Trinity and believes that to be saved a person has to believe in Jesus, be baptized by immersion in the name of Jesus only, and show evidence of the Spirit by speaking in tongues. (You can buy his four-part DVD set to learn how to get saved.)

He has also made a boatload of money by selling his unique view of prophecy at prophecy conferences and on his cable TV show. He doesn’t pastor a church, have any theological training, or have any accountability to a governing board. But he is a supposed expert on the book of Revelation. And he has an eager audience ready to drink in his unique, absolutely certain, American-centered prophetic pronouncements.

Again, what is ironic is that my family member is a Trinity-believing, gospel-centered Baptist who would not even be saved according to this guy on the cable prophecy channel.

Now let’s throw in bunch of other ingredients to our concoction.

The polarizing politicization of everything in our culture, separating people into firm categories labeled the “good guys” and the “bad guys.”

Modern-day “prophets” proclaiming political prophecies primarily centered around Donald Trump. These are not just prophecies about him winning an election but they often go much further, even into scary heresy.

As I was praying today I saw a vision of DJT seated on a throne holding a golden scepter. He also had a golden crown on his head. This, I was shown, is his PRESENT status from heaven’s perspective. Heaven does not recognize JB having any scepter nor wearing any crown. …DJT was called and anointed by God to lead our nation and the world into a new era. (Johnny Enlow)

QAnon conspiracy theories that claim to have the “secret knowledge” (like the Gnostics of old) of what is really going on in our government and in our world.

End times predictions that see almost every news headline as having some kind of prophetic meaning that can be found in some obscure verse in Scripture.

None of this is really “new.”

Scripture warns about conspiracy theories.

Do not call everything a conspiracy
that these people say is a conspiracy.
Do not fear what they fear;
do not be terrified.
You are to regard only the Lord of Armies as holy.
Only He should be feared;
only He should be held in awe. (Isaiah 8:12-13)

Scripture warns about false prophets.

The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and My people love it this way. (Jeremiah 5:31a)

Scripture even tells us that no one knows when Christ will come back.

But as for that day and hour no one knows it—not even the angels in heaven—except the Father alone. (Matthew 24:36)

When the disciples peppered Jesus about the timing of His coming kingdom, He replied:

“It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)

Yet history is filled with false prophecies and false predictions of the end times. Here are just some of the dates predicted to be the end: AD 70, 375, 400, 482, 500, 793, 800, 847, 1000, 1033, 1260, 1335, 1504, 1524, 1528, 1555, 1648, 1658, 1688, 1697, 1736, 1794, 1836, 1843, 1847, 1914, 1918, 1936, 1941, 1967, etc.

Just in my own lifetime, I have seen 88 Reasons Why Christ Will Come Back in 1988; Mikhail Gorbachev identified as the Anti-Christ (and Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama too); Saddam Hussein, the rebuilding of the city of Babylon, and the start of the Iraqi War as the sign of the end; Y2K; the Mayan Prophecy; the Four Blood Moons; and a whole host of other “end times events.”

Yes, I believe that Christ is coming back…and probably soon…but Scripture has not given me permission to try to nail down the date or spend all my time trying to figure out how every news event fits into the prophetic calendar.

This can be big business and attract large audiences but it is not to be my focus.

But why does any of this matter? What’s the big deal?

The Bible makes it clear that behavior flows out of belief. How you think shapes your life. An incoherent belief system leads to an incoherent lifestyle.

As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. (Proverbs 23:7)

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

In practically all of Paul’s epistles, he teaches us doctrine before he tells us what to do. We are sanctified by the truth (John 17:17). It is the truth that sets us free (John 8:32).

It is sound doctrine…healthy doctrine…that leads to a healthy life (Titus 2:1-15).

If you spend all your time drinking the world’s Coca-Cola concoctions, then it may give you a temporary sugar high but it will eventually rot out your teeth and seriously impact your health.

You need something better to drink.

Start with the pure milk of God’s Word.

In a world where evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived, I am to anchor myself firmly in the truth of Scripture. (2 Timothy 3:13-17)

This means that I need to study Scripture, understand it in its context, stay humble, stay accountable to other believers in a local church, be discerning, be wise, be sober-minded, live faithfully, and fix my eyes on Jesus alone. His return may be today. His return may be 100 years from now after I am gone.

What makes our present-day so dangerous is that we have never been exposed to so many various viewpoints by various people on various websites and various TV stations without any direct contact with who they are or any accountability for what they teach.

Jesus said that we are to judge false prophets by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20)

But it is hard to evaluate their fruits when we only see them on a computer or TV screen and know nothing else about their theology or their lives.

That’s why more than at any other time in history, we need to stay grounded in the truth. And we have to know our theology. We cannot indiscriminately combine dispensational, postmillennial, Pentecostal, political, prophetic, apocalyptic, Gnostic beliefs just because they seem to tickle our ears with whatever personal opinion, prophetic pronouncement, or political perspective that we want to hear.

So skip the world’s freestyle make-your-own sugary soda dispenser.

Order the water instead.

The living water that only Jesus can give.

Posted in Eschatology/Prophecy | 11 Comments

The Inconvenient Truth about Abortion

Abortion.

Roe v. Wade.

Supreme Court leaks.

Protests.

All of it is so emotionally and politically charged that it is hard to sort through, think through, or discuss without an argument.

But if you step back for a moment… if you separate yourself from the political crowds… if you try to take the emotion out of the issue… then you are left with one inconvenient truth.

Whether you like or not, when we are talking about the issue of abortion, we are talking about the taking of a human life.

Perhaps one can debate when “personhood” begins (which itself is a sticky debate with major philosophical implications), but, scientifically and medically, there is no question that a unique human life begins at conception.

As Dr. Maureen Condic, professor of neurobiology at the University of Utah, notes:

The conclusion that human life begins at sperm-egg fusion is uncontested, objective, based on the universally accepted scientific method of distinguishing different cell types from each other and on ample scientific evidence (thousands of independent, peer-reviewed publications). Moreover, it is entirely independent of any specific ethical, moral, political, or religious view of human life or of human embryos. Indeed, this definition does not directly address the central ethical question surrounding the embryo: What value ought society place on human life at the earliest stages of development?  A neutral examination of the evidence merely establishes the onset of a new human life at a scientifically well-defined “moment of conception,” a conclusion that unequivocally indicates that human embryos from the one-cell stage forward are indeed living individuals of the human species; i.e., human beings.

When the sperm and egg fuse together, a unique human individual is formed. All the chromosomes and genetic information needed for the rest of that unique individual’s life are immediately and entirely present. The human embryo that is formed at that moment also has the inherent ability to direct its own development, powerfully and amazingly forming all the tissues, organs, systems, and eventually the heart and brain to sustain ongoing human life.

This is basic science if one truly follows the science.

It also reflects the beauty and sanctity of life expressed in the Hebrew Scriptures:

For You formed my inward parts;
You knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are Your works;
My soul knows it very well. (Psalm 139:13-14)

If nothing else, step back and be amazed at the wonder of life and the incredible information packed into the single cell of the embryo.

Just 1 gram of DNA is theoretically capable of holding 455 exabytes – enough for all the data held by Google, Facebook and every other major tech company, with room to spare. (The New Scientist)

Now I realize that this reality alone does not solve the debate or make it any less emotional. In fact, it makes it even more emotional because in talking about abortion we are talking about the most important thing we can be talking about–human life.

What value is there in human life? When can a human life be taken? Is there a difference between human life and human “personhood”? Is there a fundamental change in the status of the fetus when it develops its own heartbeat? What role and decisions does the mother (the one supporting the human life in her own body) have in this process? Are there exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of the mother? 

These questions can be more difficult to answer.

Roe v. Wade was one answer given by our own Supreme Court.

But instead of solving the issue, Roe v. Wade inflamed the issue.

Even Ruth Bader Ginsburg acknowledged that Roe v. Wade went too far and created more of a mess than it resolved. She also argued that it was based on the wrong premise.

Doctrinal limbs too swiftly shaped, experience teaches, may prove unstable. The most prominent example in recent decades is Roe v. Wade. A less-encompassing Roe, one that merely struck down the extreme Texas law and went no further on that day … might have served to reduce rather than to fuel controversy.

The point is not to argue whether Ginsburg was right or not but to say that many legal scholars on both sides of the aisle see the glaring weaknesses of Roe v. Wade. As Dr. Solomon Stevens, a teacher of constitutional law at Boston University, observes:

Roe is vulnerable because it is a weak case based on weak precedent.

Columnist George Will, in a recent article in the Washington Post, concurs:

Intelligent people of goodwill disagree vehemently about the morality of abortion; defenders of Roe’s reasoning are, however, vanishingly rare.

Thus, whatever your view on abortion, the main role of the Supreme Court is to decide whether a law is constitutional or not, whether it honors our God-given rights and upholds justice for all. If Roe is indeed based on weak judicial reasoning and a poor interpretation of the Constitution, then it should be overturned. To react with emotional anger and protests against the Supreme Court says nothing about the merits or the constitutionality of the case. That’s the only thing that the Supreme Court should be deciding and the only thing that people should be debating when it comes to Roe itself.

But I am not a legal scholar. I understand that. I am also not a woman who has been put in the position of carrying a child in pregnancy. I can’t imagine the difficulties that a woman might face in certain circumstances, such as an unwanted pregnancy. Compassion, understanding, and grace are always in order. And sometimes answers are not easy.

But the inconvenient truth remains: abortion is the taking of a human life.

Jean Garton was an abortion advocate faced with her own unwanted pregnancy. She was a firm believer in abortion until one night, while observing the medical slides of an aborted two month fetus, her three year old wandered into the room and asked innocently, “Who broke the baby?”

Her three year old saw what she didn’t want to see.

And it changed her perspective… and her life.

She went on to oppose abortion not only because it ends a human life but because it also harms women.

When one studies the history of abortion, oftentimes the person who wanted the abortion the most was the man who fathered the child. Abortions in the Roman Empire were almost always forced on the woman by the man and most of the children aborted or killed right after birth were girls. Thus, the ratio of males to females in the Roman Empire was estimated to be as high as 140 males per 100 females. In the nations of China and India today, the ratios are similarly skewed because of the prevalence of abortion against females.

In many cases, the women who are having abortions are doing so because the father is not only unwilling to be involved or to be a help but also actively pressuring the woman to abort. These are the men who want to gratify their sexual desires but not be responsible enough to love the woman they impregnated or raise the baby they fathered. This is the side of abortion that is rarely talked about. What a pregnant woman wants is often not an abortion but the commitment of a husband and a father and the support and love of a family and community around them to help them be a mom.

Thus, a culture of abortion not only devalues human life but also reinforces the irresponsibility of men. And often the biggest victims of this kind of culture are women.

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, then it will not be the end of abortion…nor the end of the difficult debates and choices that face us as a nation. It will merely put the issue back in the hands of the States where the issue can be debated among legislators elected by the people they represent.

Ultimately no law can solve all the issues. Only changed hearts and a society bent on acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God can bring about the best solutions which not only honor the life of the child but also honor and support the life of the mother.

But perhaps it is fair to ask: “Who are you to speak?” I am not a woman. I am not a mother. I am not the one facing some of the difficult realities that a woman might face during pregnancy.

That is true. I cannot speak as a mother.

But I can speak as the child of an unwanted pregnancy.

In 1968, my mom found out that she was unexpectedly pregnant with her sixth child.

She had been on the birth control pill when I was conceived.

I was not in her plans.

With the overwhelming stresses of five kids ranging in age from 12 to 5 years old… living in a new city far from her own family… and being in a marriage that left much to be desired at the time, she was not wanting another child.

She was devastated with the news.

As my mom tells it. She sat down and cried in the doctor’s office. She was not shedding tears of joy but rather tears of sorrow… tears of frustration… tears of disappointment.

I don’t know all that went through my mom’s head the day that she discovered that I was in her womb. She doesn’t remember everything either.

The age of Roe v. Wade had not dawned yet. Abortion was certainly known and becoming more accepted but it still wasn’t legal in most of the United States nor ingrained in the minds of the culture.

Transport my mom into a different time period… into a different context with a different mindset… and there is a good chance that I would not be here today.

Based on common reasoning today, she had every reason to abort.

I am thankful that she didn’t.

I am thankful that she sacrificed so much to give me life.

I am thankful that her tears of sorrow eventually turned to tears of joy.

I am thankful that I have the mom that I have today.

I don’t take any of it for granted.

She sacrificed. She loved. She bore the pain. She gave me life.

That’s why deep down I think we all have such profound gratitude for our mothers.

We know that they did what no one else could do.

And we know that they love to an extent that few humans ever do.

No one in your life will ever love you as your mother does. There is no love as pure, unconditional and strong as a mother’s love. And I will never be loved that way again. (Hope Edelman)

So on this Mother’s Day, I praise my mom.

Because she faced the inconvenient reality of an unwanted pregancy, the inconvenient truth of another human life inside her womb, and she made the inconvenient choice to give me life.

And such love is the most beautiful choice that any person can make.

Posted in Random Thoughts | 2 Comments

What’s the Deal with the OT Laws on Clean and Unclean Food?

Preaching through Romans, I have encountered the issue of clean and unclean foods (chapters 14-15). Apparently this was a major issue and a big point of contention between the Gentile and Jewish believers in the early church.

It had to be.

Imagine something as simple as a men’s breakfast on a Saturday morning. Not only was it on the Jewish Sabbath… a big hurdle for any Jew to overcome. But it also had bacon and eggs on the menu. How could any Jew eat pig’s flesh? He had grown up his whole life eating only kosher food. It was not only part of his religious training but also an identifying mark of being a Jew. During the Maccabean period, when the Greeks tried to erase Judaism, it was the Jews’ strict allegiance to the rite of circumcision and to their dietary laws that made them distinctive and identified them as “true Jews.”

So the move from avoiding unclean foods to being free to eat them had to be a major paradigm shift in any Jew’s mind. And some could never make that leap.

Which raises the question: Why did God establish clean and unclean foods in the first place? What was the point? And why did Jesus’ coming suddenly end all of these dietary distinctions?

The laws regarding clean and unclean food are found in two primary passages: Leviticus 11:1-47 and Deuteronomy 14:3-21.

Among the clean animals which a Jew could eat: animals which chew the cud and have cloven hooves; fish that have scales and fins; flying insects which have jointed legs to leap on the earth; and most birds except those specified on the unclean list.

Among the unclean animals: all those animals with paws or don’t chew the cud, including the camel, badger, rabbit, and pig; all those fish without fins or scales; all flying insects that creep on the ground; all animals which creep on the ground; and a list of birds including the eagle, vulture, buzzard, raven, and owl.

There have been several theories as to why God makes these distinctions.

  1. Hygiene. This theory believes that the Jewish diet is just plain healthier than any other diet. It is an attractive theory…and the kosher diet does have some health advantages…but it does not explain all the animals. Camel meat is considered quite low in fat and healthy and is enjoyed by many Arabs. Rabbit meat is also considered to have some nutritional benefits and my family enjoyed eating them growing up. Even pork can be considered a good meat if it is cut right and cooked thoroughly and who doesn’t love a good piece of crisp, lean bacon. Plus, if hygiene is the major issue, then it doesn’t explain why suddenly these meats are okay to eat in the New Testament. Does health no longer matter because Jesus died and rose again? Our bodies are now even more important since they are the temple of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Pagan Associations. Since the dietary laws were part of what made Israel distinct, the thought is that the unclean animals must have been associated with pagan worship. “Pig’s flesh” is associated with pagan worship in Isaiah 65:4 and camels, dogs, cats, rabbits, snakes, and rats were known as sacred animals in Egypt and other Canaanite nations. But the bull was also considered sacred and yet was on the “clean” list. Plus, this view doesn’t explain the long list of other animals which were unclean.
  3. Carnivores. When it comes to the list of unclean birds, it does seem like all of them are carnivorous birds with claws and beaks designed for eating flesh. Jewish tradition also affirms this. Animals with paws are also typically carnivorous. So there does seem to be some association with an animal being “unclean” because it eats blood or touches dead things which are “unclean” activities. But, again, that explanation doesn’t cover every animal since camels and rabbits are herbivores. Pigs eat anything, which could make them unclean, but so do goats and they are considered clean. Plus, this reason doesn’t fully explain why these animals are suddenly okay to eat after the institution of the new covenant.
  4. Symbolic. One of the more recent theories is that the “behavior and habits of the clean animals are living illustrations of how the righteous Israelite out to behave, while the unclean represent sinful men” (Wenham). In other words, the “clean” animals function in a way which matches the way they are supposed to behave within their original creation category. Animals are supposed to eat herbs and run on hooves. Fish are supposed to have fins and scales. Birds are not supposed to eat flesh. Reptiles are not supposed to squirm on the ground. It is a little bit of convoluted theory but it does seem to have some merit. If nothing else, it points to the fact that there is a symbolic meaning behind the clean and unclean animals that we shouldn’t miss.

Just as the OT world had a division between the priests, the Jewish nation, and the Gentile nations, even so the animal world was divided into sacrificial animals, clean animals, and unclean animals. Israel was to recognize that distinction in everything they did. They were to be a holy nation, set apart for God’s purposes, distinct from the pagan nations around them. Every time they sat down to eat, they were to be reminded of this fact.

You shall therefore distinguish between clean animals and unclean, between unclean birds and clean, and you shall not make yourselves abominable by beast or by bird, or by any kind of living thing that creeps on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. And you shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine. (Leviticus 20:25-26)

Just as God chose Israel out of all the nations for His own purposes, so God also chose certain animals out of all the animal world for His purposes. The clean animal was the symbol of Israel. The sacrificial animal was the symbol of Israel’s coming Messiah.

When Israel’s Messiah came, everything changed.

All the law pointed to Christ.

And Christ fulfilled all of the law.

He was the perfect King. He was the final sacrifice. He was the display of the moral law in human form. He was the fulfillment of all the feasts. He was the Year of Jubilee. He was the Sabbath rest. And He was the One who made the unclean clean.

In the OT, if someone clean touched something unclean, then they would become unclean.

But, in Christ, this was reversed.

When Christ touched the unclean, He made them clean.

Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. (Mark 1:40-42)

Christ broke down the barriers.

The sacrificial Lamb healed the division between the clean and the unclean.

The Messiah bridged the gap between God and humanity.

The Messiah abolished the barrier between Jew and Gentile.

Everything was changed…even down to the food laws.

What was once unclean has now become clean.

What was once untouchable has now become redeemable.

What was once held at a distance has now become near.

The messianic kingdom has invaded this present world.

Israel (the clean animal) gave birth to the Messiah (the sacrifical animal) to open the kingdom gates to the Gentiles (the unclean animal).

This was God’s plan all along.

This was the purpose of the cross.

This was the picture of the kingdom.

Where the Jew and the Gentile are united as one.

Where the child plays with the serpent.

Where the lion lays down with the lamb.

Where the Messiah makes all things new.

Posted in Tough Questions of Faith | Leave a comment
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