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Do Miracles Happen?

MiracleWhen I was about 6 years old, my family was having a picnic at Lake Allatoona.  Little Oliver, to prove his strength, was picking up big rocks and carrying them around the campsite.  One of my conquests lay right beside my sleeping baby sister.  As I lifted the rock right over her head, the unthinkable happened; I dropped the boulder over my baby sister’s skull.  As the rock fell, it changed direction and landed harmlessly a few inches from my sleeping sister’s head.

Was that story an incorrect recollection?  Did it happen as I explained it but there was a natural explanation, or did I just make it up and it never really even happened?  I can honestly and sincerely say, “no” to those three questions.

I believe that it was a miracle.

A miracle is an event that is contrary to the established laws of nature and attributed to a supernatural cause.

But, do miracles happen?

The universe.  Most of us take for granted that the universe exists, but why and how does it Universeexist?  For most of modern history people thought that the universe simply always existed, but in the 1940’s evidence began to point to the fact that the universe, which is all matter, energy, space, and time, popped into existence in a cataclysmic event now known as the Big Bang. But how?  One of the first rules of metaphysics is that “from nothing, nothing comes” or to quote the great Billy Preston, “Nothing from nothing leaves nothing. You gotta have something if you want to be with me.” So, there is no current explanation for the beginning of the universe.

The moon.  Our moon is unique in the solar system.  Firstly, we only have one.  Some planets like Mercury and Venus have none and some planet like Jupiter and Saturn have upwards of 50 moons.  Relative to their planet, our moon is far and away the largest.  The moon gives us our gently ebbing and flowing tides, but if the moon were slightly bigger the tides would be hundreds of feet and your beach property would be worthless but if the moon were smaller, the tides would be insufficient to cleanse coastal seawater and replenish nutrients. The moon is the Moonperfect distance from the earth to stabilize our rotational axis which allows seasons and regulates our temperature.  Also, do you take eclipses for granted?  The sun is almost 400 times the size of the moon but because of the earths distance from the sun, the sun and moon look the same size therefore, total solar and lunar eclipses are possible on earth.  No other planet in our solar system has that distinction.  So, the moon seems to enable life on its planet.

Life on earth.  I, as a child, before I started trying to drop rocks on my baby sister’s head, would look up at the night sky and think there’s got to be another little kid on another planet somewhere in the galaxy looking back at me.  We all thought that.  Even the government.  They funded a project called the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence or SETI.  But, the more scientist studied the universe, the more they realized that the conditions for life are far more stringent than we thought.  One condition is the size of our planet.  If our earth were more massive, methane and ammonia with molecular weights of 16 and 17 would stay close to the surface of earth.  Anyone with kids knows that if methane stayed near earth, the surface would be unlivable. But, if the earth were just a little smaller, water vapor, which has a molecular weight of 18 would not stay close to the surface.  No water, no life, right?  If the earth’s rotation was slower, the days would be too hot and nights would get too cold and the consequences would be deadly.  If the earth’s rotation was faster, catastrophic high winds would be produced.  Scientists have calculated that the odds of a planet supporting life are less than one in ten toEarth the seventy-third power which is one followed by seventy-three zeros.  Considering that there are only ten to the twenty-third planets in our galaxy, it doesn’t make sense that earth beat the odds.  So, in the 60 years that the SETI project has been looking for life in our galaxy, what have they found?  Bupkis (maybe that’s why they were defunded in 2011.) So, the odds tell us that we shouldn’t even be here.

The universe popping into existence, the moon’s helping to enable life on earth, and the fact the we live on earth despite the incomprehensible odds go to show me that miracles do indeed happen.

Is Christianity Arrogant?

It is often said that Christians are arrogant to say that Jesus is the only way to salvation, as this regards everyone who disagrees with Christianity as mistaken. The issue here is that the truth of a proposition is independent of the attitude displayed by those who hold it.

RepentenceI have studied other religions and tried my utmost to discover the truth about Christianity.  J. Warner Wallace says it much better than I when he eloquently states, “I’m a Christian because it is true. I’m a Christian because I want to live in a way that reflects the truth. I’m a Christian because my high regard for the truth leaves me no alternative.”

Am I arrogant for embracing a worldview that I sincerely hold as true? Also, the pluralist (one who holds to a diversity of views) also believes that his view is the only correct view. So, can the pluralist not also be accused of arrogance?

So, the question is not, “Is Christianity Arrogant?”  The question is, “Is Christianity True?” With the absence of valid arguments against Christianity,  what else are we to believe?

 

Why Did The Disciples Come To Worship Jesus?

“You shall have no other gods besides me.” Exodus 20:3

Jesus’ disciples were first century Jews. They knew the faith, the culture, and the belief system that only God was worthy of worship (Deut 6:13-16, Isaiah 8:13.) and Jesus himself quoted the scriptures (Luke 4:8.) Both the Old and New Testament was clear about this truth: to worship idols was a violation of God’s first commandment.Jesus Statue

Amazingly, from birth, Jesus was worshiped: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” (Matt 2:10-12)

He was worshiped by those he healed: “Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.” (John 9:35-38)

He was worshiped upon his entry into Jerusalem: “Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
“Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”(Mark 11:8-10)

The astonishing implication is that Jesus’ humanity did not interfere with the disciples offering him worship that was due to God alone. The only explanation is that they recognized that he was more than just a man. How this recognition was formed in the minds of the disciples is hard to say outside of Jesus’ acts reported in the Gospels, but it is plain to see, as put by Princeton theologian John Murray, “But with varying degrees of awareness there must have entered into their consciousness the implications of the witness borne to him. In this connection it should be observed that his identity as the Son of God is of paramount importance. The import of his divine Sonship is no less than equality with God and Godhood (cf. John 5:17-18, 10:22). Matt. 14:33 is a noteworthy example of the relation that the intradivine Sonship sustains to worship: “And these who were in the boat worshiped him saying: Verily of God thou art Son.”

Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension (Matt 28:16-17)  vindicated his radical claims. This  cemented in the disciples that the worship belonging only to God was fit for Jesus. As God incarnate, Jesus was Lord, therefore,  worship of him was worship of Yahweh.

Understanding The Trinity

During this season of Advent, it is essential that we understand one of the Cardinal doctrines of Christianity; the Doctrine of the Trinity. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is the doctrine that God exists as a unity of three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy

TrinitySpirit. Each of the persons is distinct from the other yet identical in essence. In other words, each is fully divine in nature, but each is not the totality of the other persons of the Trinity.  This doctrine gives us logical affirmation for the Incarnation, the Atonement, and the Resurrection and allows us to be confident in the intellectual veracity of the hope that is within us.

My favorite analogy is explained by philosopher Peter S. Williams:

“…A musical chord is essentially composed of three different notes (to be a chord all three notes must be present), namely the first, third and fifth notes of a given musical scale. For example, the chord of C major is composed of the notes C (the root of the chord), E (the third from the root) and G (the fifth from the root). Each individual note is ‘a sound’, and all three notes played together are likewise ‘a sound’. Hence a chord is essentially three sounds in one sound, or one sound essentially composed of three different sounds (each of which has an individual identity as well as a corporate identity). By analogy, God is three divine persons in one divine personal being, or one divine personal being essentially composed of three divine persons. Moreover, when middle C (the root of the chord) is played it ‘fills’ the entire ‘heard space’. When the E above middle C is played at the same time, that second note simultaneously ‘fills’ the whole of the ‘heard space’; yet one can still hear both notes distinctly. When the G above middle C is added as well, a complete chord exists; one sound composed of three distinct sounds:” [1]

The Christian concept of God seems to be superior to the unitarian concept in that God, as the greatest conceivable being, must be loving rather than unloving. Love, however, reaches out to another person rather than centering wholly in oneself, as the very nature of love is to give oneself away. So if God is perfectly loving by His very nature, He must be giving Himself in love to another. But who is that other? Since God is eternal and creation is not, we can imagine a possible world in which God is perfectly loving and yet no created persons exist, as was the case without our space/time universe. So created persons cannot sufficiently explain whom God loves. Since God is a plurality of persons, as the Christian doctrine of the Trinity affirms, He can be in an eternal loving relationship without creation.

On the unitarian view God, however, God does not give Himself away in love for another; He is focused essentially only on Himself. Since God is essentially loving, the doctrine of the Trinity is more plausible than any unitarian doctrine of God.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 2 Cor 13:14

1. Peter S. Williams, Understanding the Trinity, 2012.

Is There Any Extra Biblical Evidence of Jesus Of Nazareth?

Although extra Biblical writing concerning the historical Jesus are simply redundant (since the Gospels and Acts are the earliest and most reliable sources of the life of Jesus of Nazareth) there are extra Biblical writings, enough to satisfy the most skeptical unbeliever.

Lawrence Mykytiuk is associate professor of library science and the history librarian at Purdue University. He holds a Ph.D. in Hebrew and Semitic Studies and is the author of the book Identifying Biblical Persons in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions of 1200–539 B.C.E. (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004).

Here are the major sections:

Works of Flavius Josephus
Works of Flavius Josephus

Roman historian Tacitus

Jewish historian Josephus

Greek satirist Lucian of Samosata

Platonist philosopher Celsus

Roman governor Pliny the Younger

Roman historian Suetonius

Roman prisoner Mara bar Serapion

And this useful excerpt captures the broad facts about Jesus that we get from just the first two sources:

We can learn quite a bit about Jesus from Tacitus and Josephus, two famous historians who were not Christian. Almost all the following statements about Jesus, which are asserted in the New Testament, are corroborated or confirmed by the relevant passages in Tacitus and Josephus. These independent historical sources—one a non-Christian Roman and the other Jewish—confirm what we are told in the Gospels:31

  1. He existed as a man. The historian Josephus grew up in a priestly family in first-century Palestine and wrote only decades after Jesus’ death. Jesus’ known associates, such as Jesus’ brother James, were his contemporaries. The historical and cultural context was second nature to Josephus. “If any Jewish writer were ever in a position to know about the non-existence of Jesus, it would have been Josephus. His implicit affirmation of the existence of Jesus has been, and still is, the most significant obstacle for those who argue that the extra-Biblical evidence is not probative on this point,” Robert Van Voorst observes.32 And Tacitus was careful enough not to report real executions of nonexistent people.
  1. His personal name was Jesus, as Josephus informs us.
  1. He was called Christos in Greek, which is a translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, both of which mean “anointed” or “(the) anointed one,” as Josephus states and Tacitus implies, unaware, by reporting, as Romans thought, that his name was Christus.
  1. He had a brother named James (Jacob), as Josephus reports.
  1. He won over both Jews and “Greeks” (i.e., Gentiles of Hellenistic culture), according to Josephus, although it is anachronistic to say that they were “many” at the end of his life. Large growthin the number of Jesus’ actual followers came only after his death.
  1. Jewish leaders of the day expressed unfavorable opinions about him, at least according to some versions of the Testimonium Flavianum.
  1. Pilate rendered the decision that he should be executed, as both Tacitus and Josephus state.
  1. His execution was specifically by crucifixion, according to Josephus.
  1. He was executed during Pontius Pilate’s governorship over Judea (26–36 C.E.), as Josephus implies and Tacitus states, adding that it was during Tiberius’s reign.

Some of Jesus’ followers did not abandon their personal loyalty to him even after his crucifixion but submitted to his teaching. They believed that Jesus later appeared to them alive in accordance with prophecies, most likely those found in the Hebrew Bible. A well-attested link between Jesus and Christians is that Christ, as a term used to identify Jesus, became the basis of the term used to identify his followers: Christians. The Christian movement began in Judea, according to Tacitus. Josephus observes that it continued during the first century. Tacitus deplores the fact that during the second century it had spread as far as Rome.

Was Hitler A Christian?

I was recently challenged by an unbelieving friend that Hitler was a Christian.  My response was: “As far as Hitler, he may have called himself a Christian, but he persecuted the Jews. Do you really think that a man who tortured, experimented on, and sought to eliminate the Jews would follow the teachings of the Jew, Jesus of Nazareth?”

Dr. Frank Turek puts it more succinctly in his book Stealing from God: “…please don’t tell me Hitler was a Christian.  David Silverman suggested that in our debate, and it’s completely contrary to the facts.  Hitler may have used religious language for political gain.  But does anyone really think that Hitler was sincerely and consistently worshiping a Jew whoseHitler guiding principle was to love God and your neighbor as yourself?  Whatever Hitler believed, it wasn’t orthodox Christianity…Hitler called Christianity one of the great ‘scourges’ in history and wanted Germans to be the ‘only people immunized against this disease.'” [1]

But why should you lend credence to my  opinion or even that of Dr. Turek?  Let’s let Adolph Hitler speak for himself.  The book, Hitler’s Secret Conversations 1941-1944 published by Farrar, Straus and Young, Inc.first edition, 1953, contains Hitler’s real views. The book was published in Britain under the title, _Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944, which title was used for the Oxford University Press paperback edition in the United States.

Hitler says, “National Socialism and religion cannot exist together…. The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity’s illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew. The deliberate lie in the matter of religion was introduced into the world by Christianity…. Let it not be said that Christianity brought man the life of the soul, for that evolution was in the natural order of things.” (p 6 & 7)

“Christianity is a rebellion against natural law, a protest against nature. Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure.” (p 43)

“Christianity is rebellion against this constitution, a protest against the creation; performed consistently, it would lead to the breeding of inferior.” (p 76)

“The best thing is to let Christianity die a natural death…. When understanding of the universe has become widespread… Christian doctrine will be convicted of absurdity…. Christianity has reached the peak of absurdity…. And that’s whysomeday its structure will collapse…. …the only way to get rid of Christianity is to allow it to die little by little….Christianity the liar…. We’ll see to it that the Churches cannot spread abroad teachings in conflict with the interests of the State.” (p 49-52)

“The reason why the ancient world was so pure, light and serene was that it knew nothing of the two great scourges: the pox and Christianity.” (p 96)

As is evident, Adolph Hitler was not only not a Christian, he was anti-Christian.

[1] Frank Turek, Stealing from God, p. 119.

Halloween

All Hallows Eve

Traditionally, there have been two parts of the Church.  The Church is best known to be the local body of believers or the universal body of Christ.  The part of the Church that is often forgotten, however, according to traditional Christian theology, is the Ecclesia.

All Saints' DayThe Ecclesia is composed of two parts:  the ecclesia triumphans and the ecclesia militans or the church triumphant and the militant church.

We, as believers, are still engaged in the earthly struggle of the Great Commission, we are part of the ecclesia militans.  Those that have gone on to glory before us is the ecclesia triumphans; our brothers and sisters that are already with Christ.  It is they who we remember on All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints’ Day.

For All the Saints

For all the saints, who from their labours rest,

Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,

Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;

Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;

Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Apostles’ glorious company,

Who bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,

Shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:

Alleluia, Alleluia!

O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,

Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,

And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,

Like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,

Is fair and fruitful, be Thy Name adored.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,

Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,

And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!

We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;

Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,

Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,

And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;

Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;

Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;

The saints triumphant rise in bright array;

The King of glory passes on His way.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,

Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,

Singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:

Alleluia, Alleluia! [1]

[1] William Walsham How, For All the Saints (1864)

Vestigial Structures

As I became a Believer in the spring of 2003, I remember hearing of the concept of “vestigial structures.” Vestigial structures are body parts that once had a purpose  but somewhere along the way, due to evolution, they lost their functionality. Over the years, I had heard refutation of this concept in popular literature so imagine my surprise when I recently heard vestigial structures, once again, proffered as a proof of evolution and an argument against theism.

The Appendix

The appendix is a tube-shaped sac that’s attached to the large intestine. Seemingly without function, Charles Darwin proposed that it was once used by primates to digest leaves and has long been used by atheists to argue for evolution.  Recent research from theappendix Duke University Medical Center, however, suggests that the appendix serves as a “reservoir” for beneficial gut flora. When illness reduces good bacteria from the intestines, the appendix may store some of that good bacteria for back up [1] It’s also been shown that individuals without an appendix may be four times more likely to suffer from recurrent Clostridium difficile colitis, an irritation of the large intestine by spore-forming bacteria. [2]

The Coccyx

coccyxEvolutionary biologists suggest that the coccyx would be where the tail was attached to the skeleton. Since tails on humans have been selected against in nature, the coccyx is unnecessary in modern day humans. Yet, it is still a part of the human skeleton. But, the coccyx serves as an attachment site for tendons, ligaments, and muscles. It also functions as an insertion point of some of the muscles of the pelvic floor. The coccyx also functions to support and stabilize a person while he or she is in a sitting position. [3]

Wisdom Teeth

It has been suggested that since wisdom teeth give a great many people a lot of trouble, and that chewing is not impaired when they are surgically removed, this third and final set of molars have no modern function.  Anthropologists have said that the human jaw is smaller now than it was just 300 years ago, because we chew less. The bones we use more get more developed. But this would not be an evolutionary change. In evolutionary theory, the genes change. It is now understood that the problem was seldom seen in pre-industrial societies. It has been discovered that the way in which soft foodstuffs have come to be preferred to harder ones, over the last few hundred years in particular, has negatively affected the way the human jaw develops. It has thus been realized that most wisdom tooth troubles emerge as a result of jaw development problems relating to dietary habits. [4]

Male Nipples

It is suggested that nipples in male mammals illustrate a constrained evolutionary result. In a now-famous paper, Stephen Jay Gould and Richard C. Lewontin emphasize that we should not immediately assume that every trait has an adaptive explanation. Just as the spandrels of St. Mark’s domed cathedral in Venice are simply an architectural consequence of the meeting of a vaulted ceiling with its supporting pillars, the presence of nipples in male mammals is a genetic architectural by-product of nipples in females. So, why do men have nipples? Because females do.[5]

[1] R. Randal Bollinger, Andrew S. Barbas, Errol L. Bush, Shu S. Lin, William Parker. Biofilms in the large bowel suggest an apparent function of the human vermiform appendix. Journal of Theoretical Biology. Volume 249, Issue 4, 21 December 2007, Pages 826-831.

[2] Rob Dunn. Your Appendix Could Save Your Life. Scientific American.

[3] http://www.healthline.com/human-body-maps/coccyx

[4] http://www.darwinismrefuted.com/20questions12.html

[5] http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-do-men-have-nipples/

800 Years? Really?

First century Roman-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, in Antiquities of the Jews — Book I wrote: “Now when Noah had lived three hundred and fifty years after the flood, and that all that time happily, he died: having lived the number of nine hundred and fifty years. But let no one, upon comparing the lives of the ancients with our lives, and with the few years which we now live, think, that what we have said of them is false; or make the shortness of our lives at present an argument that neither did they attain to so long a duration of life: for those ancients were beloved of God, and [lately] made by God himself: and because their food was then fitter for the prolongation of life, might well live so great a number of years. And besides, God afforded them a longer time of life on account of their virtue, and the good use they made of it in astronomical and geometrical discoveries…”

Old manRecently, I became aware of a discussion between a Christian and an atheist about the longevity of biblical figures.  The atheist was incredulous that the Christian believed that someone could live for 800 years.

“Lol 800 years? Really?” the atheist asked, “800 years? Science which surrounds you every day. What you used to reply to this post, brought to you by science means nothing? But you read in some ancient fairytale text that someone lived 800 years and you believe it?”

It seems, though, that the Bible is not the only ancient text that has listed life spans of more than 800 years.  Ancient writings from many cultures have listed life spans that most modern people (including myself) find unbelievable. Could the dating be misunderstandings in translation, or maybe the numbers are merely symbolic?   Is it possible that there are arguments that leave the historian wondering whether the human lifespan has actually decreased so significantly over thousands of years?
One theory is that in the ancient Near East, the understanding of a year was different than our concept of a modern calendar year. Perhaps a year meant an orbit of the moon (a month) instead of an orbit of the earth around the sun (12 months). If we extrapolate, while it brings the age of the biblical figure Adam down from 930 to 77 at the time of hisold woman death, it also means he would have fathered his son Enoch at the age of 11. And Enoch would have only been 5 years old when he fathered Methuselah.
Similar inconsistencies arise when we adjust the year figures to represent seasons instead of solar orbits. Carol A. Hill in her article “Making Sense of the Numbers of Genesis,” published in the journal “Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith” in December 2003 noted, “Numbers [in Genesis] could have both real (numerical) and sacred (numerological or symbolic) meaning,”
In both Genesis and in the 4,000-year-old Sumerian King List—which lists the reigns of single kings in Sumer (ancient southern Iraq) as exceeding 30,000 years in some cases—there is a steady decline in lifespans. Genesis and the King List differentiates between pre-flood and post-flood reigns. The pre-flood reigns are significantly longer than the post-flood, though even post-flood lifespans are shown to be several hundred years. In the Bible, we see a  decline over the generations from Adam’s 930-year life, to Noah’s 500 years, to Abraham’s 175.

In ancient China, accounts of super-centenarians were also commonplace, according to many texts. Acupuncturist Joseph P. Hou, Ph.D., wrote in his book “Healthy Longevity Techniques”: “According to Chinese medical records, a doctor named Cuie Wenze of the Qin dynasty lived to be 300 years old. Gee Yule of the later Han dynasty lived to be 280 years old. A high ranking Taoist master monk, Hui Zhao, lived to be 290 years old and Lo Zichange lived to be 180 years old. As recorded in the The Chinese Encyclopedia of Materia Medica, He Nengci of the Tang dynasty lived to be 168 years old. A Taoist master, Li Qingyuan, lived to be 250 years old. In modern times, a traditional Chinese medicine doctor, Lo Mingshan of Sichuan province, lived to be 124 years old.” According to Guinness World Records, the greatest fully authenticated age was Jeanne Louise Calment who lived to 122 years and 164 days. At the writing of this blog, Holocaust survivor Mr Israel Kristal of Haifa, Israel, is the world’s oldest person at the age of 112 years and 287 days.
Someday we’ll know, but for now, skeptics as well as believers are left either to believe what ancient records have to say about astonishing lifespans, or to consider the accounts as exaggerations or misunderstandings. For many, though, if we were created to live for eternity (Gen 2:16-17), an earthly existence of less than a millennium is actually a drop in the bucket.

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