Friday, April 7, 2017

Proof That God Is The Maker of Heaven and Earth (and of All things Visible and Invisible)

By Mike Sares
Nothing comes out of nothing; something comes out of something.  The energy and matter which sent the galaxies spinning with stars came from something.  Any attempt to retreat into the brute fact that the universe is “just there” is a cop-out.  The universe does not appear to be infinite in the face the Big Bang Theory and of entropy. Entropy is the second law of thermodynamics and tells us that the universe is winding down without hope of ever winding back up.  It is heading toward a state of maximum disorder and uniform energy distribution.  The sun will burn up and all fuels will eventually burn up as well.  But since a state of maximum entropy has not yet been reached, the universe has not been here forever. (1)
The universe is amazingly complex.  Time magazine devoted a cover story to the subject, “What Does Science Tell Us About God?”  The lead article was written by an unbeliever, Dr. Robert Wright, who called himself a fairly hard-core scientific materialist.  But in the course of the article, Dr. Wright admitted:
“One intriguing observation that it has bubbled up from physics is that the universe seems calibrated for life’s existence.  If the force of gravity were pushed upward a bit, stars would burn out faster, leaving little time for life to evolve on the planets circling them.  If the relative masses of protons and neutrons were changed by a hair, stars might never be born, since the hydrogen and they eat wouldn’t exist.  If, at the Big Bang some basic numbers — the initial conditions — had been jiggled, matter and energy would never have coagulated into galaxies, stars, planets or any other platform stable enough for life as we know it.  And so on.” (2)
Beings as complex as humans don’t just happen by accident. If you were walking along a mountain trail and saw a watch in the middle of the path, you wouldn’t think to yourself, “My, what amazing accident of atoms and energy occurred which formed this chronographic mechanism?”  You’d figure somebody designed and made it.  A human being is much more complex than a watch.  What are the chances that we are an accident of atoms and energy?

Darwin himself stated that discovery of a “complex organ which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications would absolutely break down” (3) his theory of evolution.  A good example of this complex organ is the cilium.  Cilia are hair-like structures on the surfaces of many animal and lower plant cells that can move fluid over the cell’s surface or row single cells through a fluid. … Just as a mousetrap does not work unless all of its constituent parts are present, ciliary motion simply does not exist in the absence of micro-tubules, connectors, and motors.  Therefore, we can conclude that the cilium is irreducibly complex — an enormous monkey wrench thrown into its presumed, Darwinian evolution. (4)
Even invisible concepts such as beauty are difficult to explain from a naturalistic worldview.  Is there any reason in natural selection why humans should view the Rocky Mountains, a midnight meteor shower, or waves crashing onto the shore as anything beautiful?  On the contrary, preoccupation with such things as these might actually decrease the rate of survival—especially if an enemy or predator were nearby!  Certain concepts of beauty (women and men’s fashions, for example) seem to change with each passing decade; but some things in creation have always been “inexplicably” beautiful.  Other invisible concepts such as honor, courage, sacrifice, fairness, forgiveness, and the like are also difficult to explain without appealing to an objective standard of thinking and behavior outside a strictly material universe. There is no reason to believe that a merely physical universe would explain these pervasive human notions. The existence of God certainly does.
To sum up: the reality of the universe, the complexity of living organisms, and humanity’s awareness of any kind of virtue all point to to the existence of God.

(1) J.P. Morgan, Scaling the Secular City  (Grand Rapids, Michigan:Baker, 1987), p. 35
(2) Robert Wright, “Science, God and Man,” Time Magazine  December 28th, 1992, p. 40
(3)  Charles Darwin, Origin of the Species, 6th ed. (New York: New York University Press, 1988), p. 154
(4)  Michael Behe, in Dembski and Kushiner, Signs of Intelligence (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2001), p. 96

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Looking Good

by Mike Sares

Our Western Culture is obsessed with physical beauty. You probably already knew that. The Bible tells us, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart..” (1Samuel 16:7) Obviously, the human race has been getting it wrong for thousands of years. This puts us all under a lot of stress to present well.

I wonder what things would have been like if we were still in the Garden of Eden. We would not prefer anyone based upon looks. We’d experience racial equality! Money would be saved and invested in much more worthy causes (since inner beauty would be valued over outer beauty.)
And then, I think about Heaven. Imagine a place where the beauty of men’s and women’s souls would shine through and be the most apparent thing about them. A person’s capacity for being loved by God and ability to love others would be visible.
Since Jesus came establishing the Kingdom of Heaven, those becoming citizens of that kingdom can expect to watch their views on beauty change. Outward appearances become less and less important. We cease judging people on the color of their skin, the shape of their eyes, the size of their noses, the largeness of their breasts, the tone of their bodies, their height, their width, their age, hair, or the whiteness of their teeth. We will instead relate to them based upon the quality of their hearts.
We begin to see why Leonard Sweet says, “For outer-beauty shopping, go to your mall. For inner-beauty development, go to your church.” He just echoes what Jesus’ friend Peter said:
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment … Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight .  (1Peter 3:3-4)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Reasons That The Bible Is True

February 28, 2017
by Mike Sares

Old Testament:  
The question of the reliability of the Old Testament is a good place to begin.  While we do not currently have any external evidence to corroborate the accounts in the book of Genesis, all the customs described in it ring true to what we know about ancient cultures.  Until the recent discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls, the oldest complete extant Hebrew manuscript was around A.D. 900.  This made a time gap of 1,300 years (the Hebrew Old Testament was completed around 400 B.C.). …With the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls, however, a number of Old Testament manuscripts have been found which scholars date before the time of Christ.(1)
Egyptian records from the time of the Exodus refer to a large group of foreigners who are slaves of Pharaoh and involved in construction projects, who suddenly leave when a new leader emerges.  Archaeology from the 1300 to 1000 B.C. era in Palestine confirms rapid settlements as depicted in the book of Joshua, in addition to the slow steady growth of villages in Israel as depicted in the book of Judges.  In 1993, the oldest known inscription into a Bible character — King David — was found in northern Israel.  Additionally, the writings of the Assyrians and the Babylonians boast about their conquests of the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel circa 700 to 586 B.C., verifying those Old Testament accounts.  Ancient Persian documents confirm the names of their rulers as also found in the Bible.  Even minor figures from the rebuilding of Jerusalem are confirmed, like Nehemiah’s opponent Sanballat.(2)
New Testament:   

The veracity of the New Testament is even more stunning when studied.  The extremely short span of time from when the events of the New Testament happened to when they were recorded is astounding.  External documentary evidence for the Gospels and several of the apostle Paul’s letters comes from the writings of the early church fathers.  Polycarp, Ignatius, and Clement (writing from 110 to 96 A. D.) refer to the Philippian epistle, all four Gospels, the book of Acts, and many other New Testament books.  By virtue of these three ancient documents, we can conclude that at least 25 of the 27 books of the New Testament were in circulation by about the year 100.  But they could very likely be dated considerably earlier … the Gospels depict Jesus as repeatedly predicting the fall of Jerusalem because of its rejection of the Messiah (Luke 13:22-35, etc.).  Would the author of the Gospel of Luke, if writing after 70 A.D., not mention this fulfillment of prophesy, especially when the Gospel of Luke itself records Jesus’ life as a fulfillment of various prophecies?(3)
As for the accounts of the life of Jesus, the earliest written was by Mark, traditionally as related to him by the apostle Peter. The short period of time between the actual events described (circa A.D. 27-30) and the time in which Mark wrote (circa A.D. 70-75 at the latest, and probably pre-70) distinguishes the Gospels from most other allegedly parallel processes of oral transmission in antiquity, which generally span several centuries.  Eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry, including hostile ones, could easily have refuted and discredited the Christian claims during this period if they were in any way mistaken. … Additionally, as with all the disciples of the ancient Jewish rabbis, Jesus’ followers may well have privately kept written notes while passing along the tradition orally in public.  There’s no reason why Jesus’ disciples could not have begun such note taking even while he was still alive, since Jesus sent them out on their own on at least two missions to preach the gospel.  After Jesus’ ascension into heaven this practice would have become even more likely.(4)
In defense of the faith,
(1) Josh McDowell, A Ready Defense (San Bernardino, California: Here’s Life Publishers, 1992), p.48
(2) Craig Blomberg, sermon: “Can I Believe the Bible?”  (Denver, Colorado: Scum of the Earth Church, December 9, 2001)
(3) Douglas Groothuis, Jesus in an Age of Controversy, (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1996), pp. 42-43
(4) Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1987), p. 24-25

Thursday, February 16, 2017

One of the Most Misapplied Old Testament Bible Verses

One of the Most Misapplied Old Testament Bible Verses
By Mike Sares

"... If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."  (2Chronicles 7:14
So often I hear this verse used in reference to the U.S.A., quoted by well-meaning Christians who sense our society's moral decline.  Well, perhaps it could apply—I mean, God can do whatever He wants.  Originally, though, the context was for the land of ancient Israel (the preceding verse is about droughts, locusts and plagues).  
For Christians, I think this promise becomes metaphorical.  Christians were never given a piece of real estate by God as the Jews were given Israel.  We are God's people, sure enough; but, what is "our land"?  Could it be the church—that piece of Jesus' Kingdom which we inhabit right now?  If God's people humble themselves, pray, seek God's face, and turn from their wicked ways—then might God heal the drought of love in the church?  Might God destroy the "locusts of laziness" that are robbing us of fruitful labor in ministry?  Might He heal us of the plague of self-centeredness?  It's tempting to point fingers at the society around us and urge it to repent (for, indeed, it needs to), but this verse actually asks us to do the repenting.  In return, God (who has forgiven our sins through the cross of Jesus Christ) will heal the churches we currently call home.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

My Perplexing Relationship with Christmas

by Mike Sares

There’s nothing like sitting by a fireplace on a cold wintry night, sipping hot chocolate, and listening to Christmas music while gazing at a brightly-lit Christmas tree.

I love Christmastime, but the truth is that a lot of what I enjoy has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. That can bother me. Actually, there is far greater reason, theologically, for Easter to be my favorite holiday. After all, the Nativity is the warm-up for the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. But I don’t have those warm fuzzy feelings at Easter, and that bothers me, too. The Gospel writers spend thousands of words retelling the events of the last week of Jesus’ life and shortly thereafter. They spend hundreds of words writing about Jesus birth. It seems that Jesus himself wants me to concentrate more upon his mission than on his being born. He instructed the disciples to take communion by saying, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me,” and, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1Corinthians 11) We are to proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes—not his birth in Bethlehem.

The world around us seems to like the baby Jesus better than the grown-up Jesus, however. I can understand that ... after all, the Baby Jesus didn’t overturn the tables of merchants or talk about Hell. Christmas is also about giving and receiving presents, and maybe that’s part of the reason that the world makes such a huge deal about Christmas. And, um ... it’s also probably another reason why I like the Yuletide Season so much. I’ve written nostalgic songs about Christmas; but even if I am singing about all the trappings of the holiday, the lyrics always end up with the hope that springs from the birth of Jesus. 

The hope of Christmas is that a Savior has been born. Verily, verily I say unto you – if Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead, nobody would be celebrating His birthday over 2000 years later. Nobody. Not even Christians. (Because there wouldn’t be any!)

So, I celebrate this holiday with one eye on the manger and another on the cross. Truly, there are no warm, fuzzy feelings of peace, joy and goodwill at Christmas without the rest of the story.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Healing Prayer

By Fran Blomberg

In 1986 Craig and I had dinner with a Pentecostal pastor. It came out that we couldn’t have children, and his response was immediate. “You need to tell God the desires of your heart! Claim his promises! Show your faith!”
“I am NOT going to tell God what to do!  He knows the desires of my heart, he knows my faith, but I want his will, “I replied.
“Well, I’m going to pray for you,” the pastor shot back.
“Fine, pray for me!”  I responded, rather sarcastically.
The next month I was pregnant.

Here’s the mystery of healing: Both the pastor and I were right.  You can’t manipulate God, and God responds to our prayers.

When we pray for healing at Scum, we rely on certain principles:
God is sovereign—in a nutshell, we cannot guarantee that God will at in any specific way in any specific situation.   Isaiah 55:9 reminds us: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” 1 Cor. 2:9 tells us “…no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him.” How limiting it would be if God only did what I imagined possible!
Healing isn’t dependent on our emotions--I sat with a 33 -year-old friend who was racked with grief that she didn’t have 100% confidence that God would heal her of breast cancer. The more she cried the more anxious she got that God would think she was doubting him.  She had been told that you had to present a certain ‘face’ to God, full of confidence and boldness.  But God knows our fears, thoughts, desires, and doubts already!  The father of a sick child cried, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” Jesus healed the child.
Healing doesn’t even depend on our faith. Half of the miracles Jesus performed in his life were on people who expressed faith, such as the woman cured of 18 years of bleeding, or blind Bartimeaus. The other half seemed to generate faith in either the person who received the miracle or people who saw it happen, like the crowd that saw a legion of demons enter a herd of pigs, or the disabled man who sat complaining that no one would put him into the supposed healing pool. 

 So healing is a crap shoot, there’s nothing I can do to win God’s favor?  Yes, and no.

            Obedience and humility position us to hear God and discern his will. If I want food, I go to the fridge, not the closet.  If I want to hear a band, I go to a music venue, not the library. We put ourselves in the “place” to speak with God, hear from him, and understand his purposes.  We pray, we use Scriptures, we seek support from other believers. 
          We acknowledge God works in many ways. 
Some miracles are outright.  “Get up and walk,” Jesus told the paralytic.
Some are gradual. A broken bone mends.  Fewer things trigger a PTSD response. 
Some miracles use human intervention as well as divine intervention, perhaps a particularly meaningful sermon, therapist, or doctor.
Some require our cooperation and follow through.  The person immediately healed of a craving for drugs still needs the discipline to not use again.
          God won’t override my actual will. If lifestyle choices are furthering the problem, God will not override what I actually do to “rescue” me from my own desires.  If I struggle with internet porn, I need to be accountable, tighten the filters, and do my part. 
          Sin can stand between us and healing.  James 5:16 urges us: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” The first healing is often of our pride and shame.

Sometimes the miracle is the change in attitude we experience; the ability to persevere despite the affliction. Or the miracle could be that profound change in desire that then allows the addiction to be put aside. When we pray for healing at Scum, it’s because we know God is able.  We have seen miracles.  We pray for many more.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

I Don't Need Celebrate Recovery

I hear it a lot. From both ends of the spectrum.

“I’m fine, I’m not an addict.”  (Denial)
“Really, this is a stupid little problem, I should just get over it.” (Shame)

CR is a Christian 12-step program that has the advantage of covering the whole gamut between very visible, hard-core addictions and the quieter but no less damaging “hooks, hang-ups, and habits” that keep us from being whole and healthy.  We’re working on food addictions, low self-esteem, people- pleasing, anger, porn, recovery from sexual abuse, and substance abuse issues. We’re open for folks who can’t even name what is ‘wrong,’ but just sense that life isn’t all it’s meant to be.

Our meeting starts with worship to settle our minds and relax from the stress of the day.  We alternate between a story from someone who’s a bit down the road in recovery, or a lesson from the curriculum.  This is Scum, we are very informal, but reciting the principles, steps and serenity prayer together weekly gives us a sense of predictability and commonality.

We break into separate groups for men and women for an hour of “open share.”  Confidentiality is stressed, and we’re not here to fix, advise, or compare stories—we are here to listen.  We catch up on each other’s week and interact with the story or lesson we just heard. We share prayer requests.  No one has to speak, and no one is allowed to monopolize.

We end the evening with healthy snacks and hang-out time.

For those who want to go deeper, we offer step studies in which we work with a sponsor and a step study leader to really probe what it takes to experience release and recovery from our issues.

CR is for everyone who feels “stuck.” That stuck feeling often comes when there is an unresolved issue, a recurrent bad habit, or a lack of support.  Try it out any Monday evening, 7-9 at Scum.