Tuesday, August 28, 2012

But what about aliens? Did God make aliens?

So you think that the massive size of the universe, combined with the multitude of stars which presents a high likelihood of many, many habitable planets for humans, means that there must be life "out there"? Over 100 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy and over 100 billion galaxies in the Universe seems like good odds for aliens existing!

I think it is unlikely that there are aliens, or if there are it is no concern of ours.

Here are a few points to consider:
  1. The Bible is silent on this issue - beings from other parts of the universe are not mentioned (though beings from outside the universe - angels - are!). This means that they might exist, but it means that they might not. You can't make a call either way from the bible.
  2. If they don't exist, how do we reconcile the massive "waste" of space that the universe and all that is in it appears to be? The Bible says that "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Psalm 19) so perhaps He intends to show something of His nature and power through such a display of almost endless creation. The incredible order and beauty tell us that there is an intelligent and artistic mind behind all of existence, and the sheer energy required to form all of the mass in the universe (consider E=mc^2) speaks of a vast and powerful God. I think that a lifeless universe (Earth excepted) has more than enough purpose to satisfy.
  3. But the Bible is still silent on this issue! Yes, but that indicates that, even if aliens exist, we are unlikely to ever encounter them. The lack of instructions in how to deal with them (if they did arrive) means that God doesn't expect us to meet them. And if you know anything about the extraordinary vastness of space, you know that it would take many, many lifetimes to ever get anywhere for any being that could travel across those vast and empty chasms between worlds. The speed of light is a fundamental limit, and there is no known way to break that, though I guess it might be possible in the future which leaves a tiny glimmer of hope for alien enthusiasts. However...
  4. Most alien enthusiasts are actually alien crazies (no offence intended, but that's how the type of person I'm about to describe comes across). So focused on the "certainty" of the existence of aliens because it gives them a sort of hope and meaning. Something is bigger in the world than their mundane problems and daily struggles. Those who have had "visitations" are usually those who have experimented with the occult (knowingly or unknowingly), and are likely to have experienced some sort of demonic (dark angelic) encounter and have mistaken it for an alien abduction or similar. Demons aim to deceive in any case, so don't feel too bad if this is you... 
  5. If aliens did exist, they would be fallen sinful beings, as a part of a fallen creation, who are subject to God's laws. If God has revealed Himself to them with special revelation (like the Bible) it will show that He has the same character and focus for those who he created. His merciful nature, but also his desire for justice, will be wherever He is. And God is everywhere in His vast Creation. If aliens exist, they will have to face God at The Judgement to give account for their life's deeds. And if they don't have a saviour to take the punishment for their sins, as we have in Jesus Christ, then they will take their punishment for eternity in Hell too.
So, if you are a Christian, I'm sorry but I think you shouldn't spend much time pondering aliens as an exciting possibility. You should consider carefully whether aliens are an idol which distract you from God's glory.

If you are not a Christian, you can go on believing in aliens if you so desire. However, now you know that there is an answer to this issue from the Bible, i.e. God doesn't want us worrying about the possible existence of aliens because even if they exist it probably doesn't matter.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Is it enough to just listen to the bible?

Yes and no. I love to frustrate people with such an answer!

Yes, if you take it very slowly and discuss the details with a group over an extended period of time. Even better is if you listen to an expert (preacher/teacher) explaining the sense of the text you have just listened to. This is how it was done in the book of Nehemiah
"...the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. 8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading." - Nehemiah 8:7-8
And no, because there is too much detail in most of the bible for you to pick up through listening, even just careful listening.

But again, yes, because you can get the main ideas pretty easily from listening, especially if you have the Spirit helping you to understand.

Whatever you do, listen or read, don't take your daily bread lightly.  Consider how you do everything and do it deliberately, with care, with love, and with the most glory to God in mind.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What's your take on Church and State separation?

One should be kept separate from the other for sure, but not in the way you might think.

This discussion often centers around how the church should keep out of state (government) decisions because not everyone is Christian so we shouldn't make Christian laws/decisions.  And usually, those calling for separation want an all-or-nothing approach, i.e. no church involvement in state business at all.

Now here's the counter to that.  Isn't the government and the state supposed to represent all of the people as best they can?  If so, doesn't that include the wishes of everyone, regardless of religion?  So isn't it true that people, who have values influenced by their religion, have just as much say as people who have values stemming from other sources?

So we can see that it is quite silly to keep religious influence out at this level.

But what about making laws which are entirely church doctrine?  Well, that would be taking things too far the other way so that people with no religious leanings are not being considered fairly.  So you see, there must be a balance which includes all people, but just as it is wrong to have a church state (unless the vast majority of the population is of the same religion and denomination) it is wrong to have an atheistic state.  A purely secular (supposedly neutral) state is not possible either - not in the sense most would imagine.

And here's another important point.  Should the state have a say over how you worship God?  Isn't every man responsible before God for his own actions?  Remember that people have to individually give an account to God for their actions when they see Him on Judgement Day.  This means that the state would be telling you to do things for which you (not the state) are responsible for dealing with the consequences.  Religious freedom should actually be protected by a responsible state.  

The main point is that the separation shouldn't be the church keeping out of state business, it should be the other way around.  The state needs to keep out of church business because a man's faith is his alone before God.  If you look into the history of this you will uncover the truth that this is often what they were talking about in various constitutions and writings when they spoke of church/state separation.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Christians are hypocrites!

That depends on what you mean by hypocrite.

Some say that a Christian is a hypocrite if they don't live up to the perfect standard that they tell others to strive for.  This isn't hypocrisy though.

If the Christian said that they were perfect and then you saw them stealing raisins from the bulk food at the supermarket, then they would be a hypocrite.  If the Christian struggles with stealing, lying, lust, etc. and is open about that struggle, but while encouraging others to join the struggle, then there is no way that you can consider them a hypocrite.

And if you expect them to keep quiet until they have fixed their problems, until they are perfect them self, then you are creating an unreasonable expectation.  After all, we don't expect perpetually recovering alcoholics to keep quiet when they see someone abusing alcohol as they once did.  And an alcoholic will never admit to having completely conquered the craving, which is why they are perpetually recovering.

Christianity doesn't expect true perfection in this life, but it does expect a turning from evil and a striving for perfection.  The hope for attaining that perfection lies in the promised return of Christ who will complete the striving, making all those who have trusted in him perfect at his second coming.

Even so, if you still don't buy it, don't want to receive it, from a fallen human being (who might struggle not to be a hypocrite); at least take it from the perfect Son of God himself.  Jesus calls people to be perfect as God in heaven is perfect.  But knowing we can't make it, he graciously offers forgiveness anyway.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Why would anyone follow a God who can't make up his mind?

When God set out to destroy Israel, after they turned to idolatry and worshipped a golden calf, His mind was apparently changed by Moses.  You can read about this in Genesis chapter 32.

Some say that a God who changes his mind is ridiculous so that either the bible is wrong or the God of the bible is not worth following.  Some even think that this means you can make God do what you want (like giving you material things if you just have enough faith).

Here's a scripture to put this into perspective:
"Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors,  (9)  remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me,  (10)  declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,'  (11)  calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.
Isaiah 46:8-11  
If God knows the end from the beginning, and he will accomplish his purpose, do you really think he didn't know what he would choose to do in the end?  Since he clearly knew, do you think he really changed his mind?  Isn't it more likely that this exchange is either recorded from Moses' perspective, or that we need to read a bit closer to see what's being said?

If you read Genesis 32 carefully, you can see that there was no change of mind in any case.  God merely relented from pouring out his wrath on Israel.  If that's too weak for you, at least know that God had already made up his mind because his purpose will be accomplished no matter what we want.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Won't heaven be boring?

Only if you're a person who delights in wickedness.

Anyone who thinks that God is pretty awesome will never get bored.

On the flip side, hell is not a place of eternal excitement for those who might get bored in heaven (though I guess that depends on what you mean by excitement).  Hell is described by fire and eternal torment which is highly unpleasant for everyone who is there.  You might be in constant awareness of this suffering for eternity...

But isn't the devil in charge of hell?  Satan is my friend, he'll look after me.

Sorry, but Satan is being punished in hell along with you.  Hell was originally made for the devil and the fallen angels.

It might be a good time to humble yourself, admit your weakness, and repent - trusting in Jesus to take your punishment on the cross rather than taking it yourself in hell.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Are you saying that Christianity is better than my faith?

Of course I am.  And you are a hypocrite if you tell me off for this and have a faith that you defend in return!

If I didn't believe that Christianity wasn't a wise path to follow, I wouldn't follow it.  So I make no apologies about saying that my faith is better than yours.

Perhaps you don't have the confidence in your god that I have in mine!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Do I need to be baptised to be saved?

Baptism is important, and if you are a Christian you should be baptised, though if you press me I'll say, "No, definitely not".

Baptism is a bit like repentance - it is something that people do once they become a Christian (have faith) but by itself it doesn't save.  Some understand baptism slightly different from this but without saying that baptism saves.  So why get baptised?  Because Jesus commanded us to perform this ritual as an outward sign of inward change.

This isn't something to be taken lightly.

Scripture speaks very strongly about the importance of being obedient and being baptised.  Because the bible is so strong on this holy ritual, many have mistakenly said that baptism itself is necessary for salvation.  The problem with taking it this far is that you introduce a deed or action that must be performed in addition to having faith.

Precision of language is important so that you don't mislead anyone: If someone asks if baptism itself saves, you can say that salvation is a work of the Spirit, changing a person on the inside. These changes will bring about obedience (in your actions) to the commands of God.  Baptism is a matter of obedience.  Those who are saved will want to obey because they love God.

Putting it another way, baptism is an effect that is produced by salvation, not a cause of salvation.

Further reading on the heresy of baptismal regeneration
A sermon by Charles Spurgeon on baptismal regeneration
The Christian Apologetics Research Ministry comprehensive article on baptism

Sunday, January 22, 2012

What is repentance and why do I have to do it to be saved?

The very short answer:

  • Repentance is stopping the bad things and doing more good
  • You have to do it because otherwise you are not admitting that God is good and you are not good

A little longer:

Before becoming a Christian, everyone does what they want to do.  For many that is even trying to be good according to what they, themselves, think is good.  We are influenced in our understanding of "good" by many different things and people.  At the end of the day, if we aren't looking to God to guide our actions, we are not good.

Repentance means deciding that God is much smarter and wiser than yourself, then finding out what He has to say about life, and acting and believing in your life the way God says you should.  Where there is desire to be godly, God will give the ability to change, and during your life you will overcome your old ways and gradually be transformed into something new!

If you've properly understood what repentance is then it easily follows that you have to do it to be saved.  If you didn't change your ways you would be admitting (by your actions) that you don't really believe God is worth listening to.  You would be putting your own view of "good" above God's view.

Something to notice is that while repentance leads to doing good things, it is primarily a change of attitude.  Just deciding to be good, and then doing good things (often called "good works") will not save you.  You have to believe that God is the measure of what is good - this is a part of the essential saving faith.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why can't I just believe what makes me happy?

Because if the things that make you happy are wrong and there really is a hell, you will spend more time unhappy on the eternal scale of "time".

Because what makes you happy might make others unhappy. What do you do then? Who's happiness is more important? Your happiness shouldn't trump the happiness of the most important person (Jesus). Everything you do should be to make God happy. If you become happy though this, that is a nice bonus. In fact, God's happiness will lead to the most joy in His followers, which means the most joy out of everyone (believer or not).

Psalm 4:7 You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.

Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 30:4-5 Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. (5) For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

There seems to be a paradox: sacrifice happiness to receive more happiness? But if you notice from the last Psalm referenced, perfect joy is not guaranteed here and now. Psalm 16 shows that we receive our "fullness" of joy in the presence of God. Eternity. Heaven. Fullness of joy.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Vague Christianity

Here's something to be careful of.

Have you ever come out of church and then had an argument with someone else over what the sermon was about?  The preacher said X, you interpreted it as Y, and your friend thought he was talking about Z.

If you went to the preacher, he might have said, "Everyone gets something different out of a sermon," and if pressed on which was the appropriate interpretation he may have said, "It doesn't matter what I meant, it's more important what you got out of it personally, and that a conversation was started."

There are a number of troubling things about this:

  1. This is not biblical preaching where the teacher should be accountable for what he says - in the vague view it is up to the interpreter to get the message out of it that they supposedly need.
  2. To get something out of a sermon that the preacher didn't intend, that you had to work out for yourself, means that you did all the work.  The preacher is unnecessary.  All that is required is a focal point to start your own thinking and reflection.
  3. What do you do if you are not particularly gifted with teaching?  How do you get anything out of the sermon that will grow you?
  4. This raises the value of personal interaction and engagement with issues over the value of the issues and content.  Truth is relegated to the background, if it is even included.  
This vagueness, I believe is a defense used by preachers who can't teach or who refuse the responsibility of their position.  I don't think this is necessarily clear to these preachers themselves, so be as gentle as you can.  But challenge your preachers and pastors to be clear in what they are saying.

When you think about it, ministers already have a captive audience so why not just tell some simple truths from the scriptures that will help them live better.  Isn't that what preaching is?  But there is pressure to perform, pressure to make listeners happy, pressure to be relevant, pressure to fill the tithing bucket, pressure to get more people in the door next week.

If you want examples of this vague and dangerous "Christianity" (in quotation marks because it is doubtful that they are teaching Christianity, even if their intentions are good).  Try reading something written by Rob Bell or take a look at The Shack

Monday, January 9, 2012

Christians do bad things too. Why do I have to be a Christian?

It's not a question of whether Christians are better people or not.  It's a question of forgiveness of those bad things, and the response to that forgiveness.

Someone who is not religious may do something bad, but there is only his or her conscience to catch them out.  Even then, there is no reason to obey the conscience except if another person catches them out.  The craftier a non-religious person, the more they can get away with if they choose.

Now, I'm not saying that all non-religious people will try and get away with everything they can, but there is no good reason not too in their eyes.  If you are non-religious and have a reason to do good, you have to show that there is an objective 'good' and that your reason to do good is worthwhile.

Someone who is a Christian receives forgiveness for their sin, Christ taking punishment on the cross for them.  Their response to this should be gratitude, leading to a greater reluctance to do wrong in the future.  This means that someone who is a Christian (and not a pretender - there are many) will become a better member of society over time.

Eternally speaking, the biggie is Judgement Day.  The difference between a Christian and non-Christian on this day is forgiveness and heaven (eternal life) and un-forgiveness and hell (eternal death).

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Who did the children of Adam and Eve marry?

The answer to this is easy, though dealing with it as a listener is not quite so easy.

Adam and Eve's kids married each other.  They had to because there was nobody else to marry! (That's the easy part)

The natural question that then arises is, "But isn't that wrong?"
So the hard part is accepting that there was no rule (at this stage of history) that said it was wrong to marry a sibling.  Some speculate that since it was much closer to the fall, the genetics weren't quite so muddled with mutation.  This meant that harmful genetic mutation wouldn't compound the way it does with inbreeding today.  Either way, there was no rule until much later.

What is more important in this objection isn't the question and answer, it is the ability to accept an answer that is based in a very different morality than that which we are used to today.

Some more reading from www.creation.com:

Thursday, January 5, 2012

What's the big deal between Catholics and Protestants?

Have you ever heard of the Protestant Reformation, sometimes just called the Reformation?  If not, then you need to know a little something about this important historical event that has shaped the western world so much.

In the 16th Century (the 1500s), various people (reformers) began to protest against the Roman Catholic Church because of the way they did things.  Martin Luther (not Martin Luther King) wrote 95 things he saw that were wrong or unjust about the Roman Catholic Church.

This protest (where the name "Protest-ant" comes from) sparked a huge split in the church with the Protestants bringing the focus back to God and His glory.

All of the Protestant denominations have come out of the Protestant side of things as each splinter group tries to reform further.  Some have had success and some have gone too far, becoming non-Christian cult groups who you can often identify by their particular attire or presumptuous and premature titles.  Find out more about some of these groups here and here.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Why does evidence matter when the Bible is only a book of faith?

Is it "only" a book of faith?  What happens when the Bible is no longer a historically reliable account (in the parts that it claims to be)?

When you reduce these parts of the Bible down to a few general metaphorical ideas, you establish a way of interpreting scripture.  If you then apply that way of interpreting scripture in essential areas (like the historical crucifixion), you end up doing away with everything that matters about Christianity.  In short, you are calling the Bible a lie.  Joel S. Baden does this, I think without realising, in this article.

Let me make this really clear.  If you cast doubt upon one historical account, e.g. the waters parting for Israel, then you also cast doubt upon another, and Jesus no longer really rose again.

The apostle Paul has this to say about this situation:

"...if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins..." 
- 1Corinthians 15:17

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

God's chosen people are through Ishmael, not Isaac - Muslim objection

Have you ever come across this objection?  Muslims will often make this claim when you speak with them.  What is a good approach when it comes up?

You can start by pointing to the bible, and the lineage of Jesus, or the scriptures that show God's people are Israel (the children of Jacob/Israel, son of Isaac)and not Ishmael.  This will inevitably bring up the objection about the bible being corrupted which is where you want this conversation to go.

It all will come down to the bible for a conversation with a Muslim.  In this objection, they must show that their claim is more reliable.  Unfortunately for them, the bible was there first, and their belief that it was deliberately corrupted is nonsense.

It is their religious writings that are unreliable because they came later and even borrowed from the biblical texts enough to try to lend some authenticity.

A final point to try and get in there (if the conversation is still reasonable at this point) is that all nations can be God's people now.  Through Jesus, and the cross, salvation is no longer through a single race.  Circumcision is of the heart.

Monday, January 2, 2012

But won't heaven be boring?

What will we spend our time with in heaven?  At the moment we have TV, computer games, etc.  But that kind of stuff doesn't seem to be a part of heaven.  Maybe I don't want to go there if I'm not entertained...

If 3D TV is your idea of good entertainment, prepare for something infinitely more amazing.  How about viewing something that will never get boring.  Not even after a million years!

Even if heaven is merely sitting and staring at God, that will be enough to blow your mind for ever.  Think about what that means for a moment.  If you stared at your TV for a week straight you would probably be going mad with boredom.  Even your beautiful spouse can't captivate you within a billionth of what God can.

I'm sure there will be more to heaven than merely sitting and watching though.  Consider the nature of the Kingdom of God, a part of which is merely a perfect version of life and society, not too different to how we live now (though completely different at the same time!)

Heaven won't be boring.  I'm certain!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Objections - learn to face them head on

If you want an authentic faith, and want real confidence in your message, you should learn to face objections head on.

As you deal with the objections, rather than hiding them under the rug, you will gradually form a message that integrates well with the rest of your life and is harder for objectors to ignore.

At the very least, you should face objections because people are good at sensing when you are bluffing your way through.  Much better to know why the objection is no real challenge to your faith.

One strategy to prevent being overwhelmed by objections is to deal with one at a time.  Pick one and deal with it inside and out.  Often many other objections fall away when you do this.

Happy New Year, and God bless!