Friday, April 27, 2007

Faith Is the Victory

What if there was one medium of exchange that could get anyone everything needed and desired in life? Money is fairly well established, but it can’t buy you love nor can it save your eternal soul. The satisfaction of a job well done or a life well lived lasts but for the fleeting moments that the memory is fresh: it's never too long before someone's asking, “What have you done for me lately?” A promise coming from another human being is not bankable either, just look at what the native Americans got from the new Americans, or what the baby-boomers will get out of the Social Security system.

Bible declares that God has given everyone a measure of faith. Jesus said the following about faith:
be it unto you according to your faith
if you have faith... nothing will be impossible to you
whatever you ask... you will receive if you have faith.”
The Bible tells us that we are saved by grace through faith and that we await the hope of righteousness by faith. Faith is the answer!

Faith, however, is directional, it inherently points at something. For faith to “work” it must be directed at the right “thing.” Lots of folks have some type of faith in something, but is it capable of getting all that is needed or wanted? Faith in Jesus Christ is. When one believes Jesus is at the right hand of all power and authority, that everything has been given to him by the heavenly Father, that all prayers prayed in his name are heard and answered, that he is capable of doing all things, that his work on the cross as verified by the resurrection is capable of making one eternally right with God…when one believes in Jesus for who he is, for what he’s done, and in what he’s said, that one has the currency of heaven and the means to everything necessary and desirable under God.

But we are, pitifully, more often than not those of such little faith! Thankfully, less than a mustard seed is powerful enough for most any purpose. What is your mustard seed growing? Is Jesus who he says he is to you? In your mind does he have the power he claims to have? Are His words reliable according to your value system? Does he have the goods, or not? These are the distilling questions of faith, and their answers of utmost importance, because my friend, faith is the victory.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Not A Chance

The fool says in his heart there is no God. If not God who, or what? Evolutionists posit chance as the mechanism that first strung together the chemicals of life and then sparked life itself from them. Add billions of years of natural selection working on chance mutations and the evolutionary formula handily creates the astounding variety of life that we see today and observe in the fossil record. All this from the mechanism of chance! Fortunately, chance is a statistical concept that can be treated mathematically. The odds makers in Vegas make a living doing so. So let us ask ourselves what is the likelihood that life arose by chance by doing a simple statistical exercise.

Since virtually everything within the living cell is one kind of protein or another (no proteins, no life), our statistical query will concentrate on the probability of one such protein forming by chance. Proteins are formed by linking amino acid residues into chains, most of which are hundreds of residues long, some thousands. Due to their chemical structure, amino acids form in two varieties that are mirror images of one another, called left-handed or right-handed. For whatever reason, all the proteins in living things are constructed of only left-handed varieties of the 20 amino acids found in life. Living things use these proteins in very specific ways, so shape and content are very important to function. A protein chain which is not shaped properly, with the appropriate chemicals in the appropriate places, will not function as it is intended-- either a deficiency in (as in many diseases) or a cessation of function will result.

So our query, as simplified as possible, will be: “What are the odds of a small, specific protein forming by chance in a chemical soup which has endless supplies of all the various amino acids necessary for life, all in their left-handed forms?” We pick a relatively small protein for this exercise, since by the evolutionary framework the first proteins would have been smaller on average than those we find in today’s lifeforms. For ease of calculation and visualization, we will use the number 100. This calculation does not take into account that amino acids formed outside of living things are 50% right-handed, nor is any consideration given to the decay rate of a protein chains due to water, radiation or heat, nor to the actual abundance or availability of necessary chemicals in any proposed schema for the primordial earth.

This exercise can be likened to drawing colored balls from a box. There are 20 different colors, all supplied in infinite amounts, all equally available at any given instant. We need to draw a specific color sequence from that box 100 balls long. What are the odds of doing so? The mathematics of probabilities tell us that the answer will be 1 in the total number of varieties of balls available raised by the number of balls in the sequence, or in our case 1 in 20100. That can be restated in scientific notation as 1/1.268 X 10130, the denominator representing the total number of different 100 ball sequences possible without repetition. Those are some mighty small odds, some might say vanishingly small.

Just to put these incredible numbers into some context, let’s interpose time into the problem. Let’s assume it is possible to draw six billion different 100 ball sequences every second. How long would it take in “chance time” to draw the specific sequence we were looking for? We take the odds above, 1.268 X 10-130, and divide them by 6 X 109 sequences per second, which results in odds that the one sequence desired would occur in 2.11 X 10120 seconds (or about 6.69 X 10112 years). According to most evolutionary scenarios the earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Even if it was 7 billion years, probabilities would suggest that age be raised to over the twelfth power to achieve the likelihood that one specific 100 amino acid protein chain would be produced by chance (and that, of course, assumes 6 billion chains per second could be formed).

Now there are evolutionists who argue with the use of probabilities in this way, but I haven’t found their arguments convincing, so the problem with using chance as the mechanism for the emergence of life on earth remains and is not mitigated by time—billions times billions of years do not make the odds any better, nor by including any of the complicating variables that we ignored here to make things simpler. When we consider the number of proteins that even the most basic single-celled organism uses to do what it does, the problem just gets worse and worse and worse. What the mathematics of probabilities demonstrates all too clearly is that chance is not a possible mechanism in explaining the origin of proteins, let alone life.

With odds like that, would I claim evolution as the source of all the wonders of life? Not a chance!

This illustrative exercise was originally part of a series of messages I preached on creation in November of 2003. Special thanks to Michael Behe, the contributors of "In Six Days," and a host of others whose have proposed similar statistical analyses. [I could not get my blog editor to type exponents, so smaller type was used as the convention for expressing them.]

Saturday, April 21, 2007

What's Your Story?

Never underestimate the power of your personal testimony. I would say that our own heartfelt story of how Jesus changed our life is one of the most powerful tools in our evangelistic tackle box. I know that signs and wonders and conviction are absolutely essential too, but more fundamental to the fulfillment of our commission from Christ is our personal witness: telling people from a first-hand perspective what Christ has done for us. For a great story of the power of testimony, hit the link in the post title. Now you may think that story is only stellar because it deals with a star, and it would be hard to contend that did not have something to do with the results, but let's not miss the point-- the proclamation of the life-changing power of the gospel by a life changed by the gospel has fantastic alluring affects (especially in conjunction with the conviction of the Holy Spirit).

For the past few days, the trout fishermen have been lining every brook, trickle and drip around these parts. They're not wading through frigid water, and mucking around slippery banks, and fighting their way through branch and bramble to waste their time fishing with empty hooks! They offer what they consider the best bait they have. We have some mighty fine bait in our personal testimony. Use yours and get out there and fish for people.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Death Be Not Proud

Death is not natural. I know everything dies-- bugs, trees, ocelots, and us. It's part of life as the old adage says. The avoidance of it, and ultimate succumbing to it is foundational to the unbelieving naturalistic explanation of how life develops. But deep inside my believing heart, I hate it, and chafe against its imposition.

And it is an imposition. Creation not only abides in the sustaining will of God,
all that is in creation, is an expression of who and what he is. But God by revelation and definition doesn't die, weaken, decay, rest, rust, nor turn to dust. Death just doesn't fit! How can it be baked in the cake? My answer: it isn't-- it's imposed supernaturally, a curse from God.

The natural, created state of human beings is everlasting life. Sin brought death and all of us suffer with it. Despite the marring of God's image within humankind, deep inside, most of us feel that same chafing. It doesn't feel right that it all should end. No matter how long we've lived it catches up to us too soon.

Sometimes I wish I could be translated to a spectator's seat in another dimension, observing the battle between the living and the Grim Reaper. I would hiss at his every advance. I'd boo his progress. On days like
Monday, soccer fan-like I'd rush the field and beat him with my own big stick!

But wait a minute...
I don't need Scotty to beam me afar, I do have a big stick! Jesus hung on it, and then handed it to us. He fought the ultimate contest with Death and won! He defanged the beast and unstung the bee. What was natural, is natural again. Life never ends!

At least it doesn't have to. We all still have to pass through those "three days" and feel the chafing at loss, but I find it an overwhelming, inexpressible joy and a most soothing comfort to know that the Lion has risen and death works backwards. Put your faith in Christ, my friends, and live forever!

Monday, April 16, 2007

A Test Any of Us Can Pass

Not long ago, I experienced an unexpected shock when I preached about God testing the faithful. It seems there were some in the audience who did not believe that God would ever test his children. The thought that He would led to a minor dust storm. To bring a clearing breeze, and to shine some biblical light on the subject, (not only for those who were in that audience but for whoever may read this in the broader world) let me offer the following thoughts.

The biblical concept of God testing his children has nothing to do with entrapment. God does not tempt us to do evil, only to say "gotcha!" when we fail. The process of testing is actually one of love-- God searching for that which most delights Him. It is most akin to assaying or refining, or even panning for gold. When God tests us He is attempting to uncover and reveal the best that is in us, our delightful streaks. He's never trying to prove our unworthiness; instead, he's highlighting what's good about us.

Why would God do such a thing? It's not like he doesn't already know! Since he is omniscient, our testing must be directed at some other audience. Who could that be? Angels, yes, but also, us. Our hearts are so contorted, we don't even understand ourselves. Anyone not blinded by pride, knows the pain of the awareness of our own failings. When God tests us he allows us to see what he sees: that in him we are becoming something truly wonderful to behold.

That God tests his children along these lines cannot be denied as attested by the following scriptures:

Exodus 15:25; 16:4; 20:20
Deuteronomy 8:2,16; 13:3
Judges 2:22; 3:1,4
I Chronicles 29:17
Psalms 7:9; 11:5; 17:3; 26:2; 66:10
Proverbs 17:3
Isaiah 28:16 (even Christ was)
Jeremiah 11:20; 12:3; 20:12
Daniel 12:10
Zechariah 13:9
I Thessalonians 2:4
Hebrews 11:17
James 1:2-4, 12
I Peter 1:6-7; 4:12

Be blessed in your study of the Word (and don't worry, there won't be a test afterwards!).

Thursday, April 12, 2007

It Takes A Village

Let’s consider a small factory town, about the size of Kutztown or Fleetwood, with its entire economy wrapped up in one small high-tech manufacturing plant which produces nothing but chains. Not just any chains, but very special chains that are stiffened and bent according to detailed specifications so that they fit precisely into uniquely shaped apertures on other bent and stiffened chains. Now add to the scenario that the plant and everything used in it, other than some raw materials, is itself made of specialty chains and we have our illustrative village.

What kind of businesses or departments would be necessary to support this factory town’s activity? An engineering arm to plan and produce specs; a power provider for energy; a foundry and forge to turn iron into steel ribbon; a fabricator to shape and bend chains; a machine shop to produce the equipment used; a shipping company to transport things; a recycler to recapture scrap; and some measure of quality control throughout (among other things) would all be required. Each of these activities, in its own right, requires processes, materials and expertise that is unique to it. Supplies and hand tools would be necessary, including raw materials, saws, welders, torches, fasteners, shrink wrappers, plastic, batteries, and whatnot.

The picture we have before us is of a very complex economic entity, which, though relatively small, is made up of highly complex and interrelated processes. If any of the bits and pieces were missing or not functioning as required, process and progress would come to a grinding halt. In fact, the whole picture had to be in view when the factory was started, or nothing useful to specialty chain purchasers would have ever been produced.

Call our town, Cellsville, and we can begin to appreciate the tremendous complexity that exists in the smallest unit of living matter. Every living cell, from a bacteria unto a human neuron, is functioning every bit, and actually quite a bit more complexly than our little village; but like Cellsville, it exists primarily for one purpose—to produce high-tech specialty chains, proteins in the case of the cell.

Whenever a process or function can be broken down into identifiable and interrelated steps or pieces, none of which can be missing without dooming the process to dysfunction, that process can be said to be irreducibly complex. If the whole process was not in place all at once, it would not function at all. When looking at the activity and structure of a cell, we see countless examples of such irreducibly complex interaction. The cell is a village of irreducibly complex functionalities, which interrelate, at least on a minimal level, as an irreducibly complex whole.

What does this say about evolution? Evolution theorizes that life began by a chance interaction of molecules, which were acted upon by some kind of chemical natural selection, which eventually produced a replicating cell, which in time, by natural selection operating on chance mutations, produced every other kind of life that ever existed. The evolutionary mechanism is minimal change enhancing survival sufficiently to overwhelm reproduction by unchanged specimens in a species; however, the cell is not made up of processes that can be changed by minimal additions or subtractions. Everywhere we look microscopically and molecularly at life, we find irreducible complexity. The only conclusion possible is that the organism, in all it’s complicated glory, had to be present at once, designed to function as it does, or it never would have developed at all!

In Cellsville one day the assembler got zapped by some gamma radiation from a solar flare. Instead of using a blinx link where called for, now the assembler substituted a yinx link. The fabricator tried to work as usual, but found about 30% of the bends it made on what were supposed to be blinx links ended up breaking whatever chain was being bent and stiffened. The shipping department found it could not match the apertures in finished chains to their control keys 60% of the time. The recycler soon was overwhelmed with unshippable chains that needed to be recovered and so refused any more scrap. You get the picture, one little change caused the whole operation to shut down. Irreducible complexity, rather than Mother Nature, is not something to fool with.

This illustration was originally part of a series of messages I preached on creation in November of 2003. Special thanks to Michael Behe and the contributors of "In Six Days" whose work informed and inspired mine.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Bait and Switch Evangelism

Bait and switch: a term originally coined for marketing practices in which interest and then traffic was enticed by offering or emphasizing one thing, when in reality something else was actually intended to be sold.

Is the Kingdom of God trying to sell something unwanted, overstocked, or flimsily made? Why then do we try to gain adherents by offering one thing (advice on sex, gift certificates, pop music, a noted speaker instead of a gospel preacher, etc.) when, if we're being honest about our intent, what we really want to offer is an invitation to become a follower of Jesus. God help us, we have become Condo sellers offering great weekend getaways as long as you'll sit through our spiel!

THIS IS NOT EVANGELISM! It's underhanded and reveals a jaded heart-- certainly not a heart like God's. This is not a pattern we learn from anyone in the scriptures, especially Paul, who is often cited as the poster boy for those who try to justify such things. Using these kinds of methods only reveals a total lack of trust in our "product."

Maybe our own ambitions, cloaked in spiritual garb, get the best of us and we lose judgment in the pursuit. A wise pastor once offered me sage advice in my early days in the ministry: "if you get them in by giving them a hot dog, you'll have to give them a hot dog every week to keep them." The truth in America is that we'd soon have to be serving prime rib! Make no mistake, we want them to come in, but not at the cost of gutting the gospel, or squelching spiritual gifts, or enticing the flesh, or turning the meeting of the saints into a cabaret.

We call on people to die to themselves in order to live in Christ. The only thing that can make that appealing is the conviction of the Holy Ghost, faith, and the good example of God's people. Bait and switch evangelism obscures the truth which is the only means of setting the sinner free. Therefore, it is not evangelism at all!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Count the Cost

I was 19, lost in the fog of drug abuse and crushed under the weight of self-loathing, when I remembered something I had once known about Jesus. I picked up The Way and started reading the Bible between bong hits. About 3 weeks later, a knock at my door revealed two Campus Crusaders doing their witness thing.

They wanted to "share" a little booklet with me that would tell me how I could receive Christ. I may have been a burn out, but that didn't mean I wasn't polite to strangers. I invited them in and listened with interest. At the end of their presentation they asked me if understood all they had shared, "yup," I answered.

"Did I believe it?" they wondered. "Sure," I said, "and added, "that's the coolest thing I've ever heard!" "Then let's pray to receive Christ right now!" they pressed. "No," I said, "can't do that." Why?" they asked incredulously. "Because I'm not willing to give up everything to follow Christ," I answered naively. I had been reading the Bible and I knew one couldn't follow Jesus just by acknowledging him mentally and not changing the direction of his life. I wasn't ready to do that.

They thought going through everything again would shake my reticence, and so, pencil in hand marking the words on the page as we read, we did it all again. They asked again, and I resisted again. We discussed, I resisted, they got upset, I kicked them out. I didn't receive Christ for another two years. Thank God my life didn't end before my resistance to Christ did.

I wish that we would stop playing the "bait and switch" game; that we would stop, in blatant distrust of Jesus, sugar coating the gospel. This non-evangelistic evangelism is demeaning to Christ, to the cross, and to all those who have faithfully gone before. This is not some frivolous social club, it's the kingdom of God. It comes at a price and those saved need to count the cost,  at least that's what's spelled out in the Word.