I want to put in a plug for F. LaGard Smith's book "Darwin's Secret Sex Problem." I just finished reading it for the second time. I believe it is a book every Christian should read and one that every young person should as well. I have a degree in biology and I have been exposed to all of the arguments for evolution. LaGard does a masterful job of showing the fatal flaw of microbe-to-man evolution, while affirming the reality of bounded evolution.
I am afraid that many Christians have placed themselves in an indefensible position by seeking to discredit the process of evolution in general. It is an observable fact that plants and animals evolve within the boundaries of their own species. This is what Darwin first observed. The problem comes when we take the boundaries away and suggest that evolution is the answer to the origin of all things.
When Genesis states that God created the animals according to their kind, it is stating a scientific fact. What makes one species distinct from another is that there is an uncrossable boundary between them in the form of the ability to interbreed. When God created this world, He placed within each species of plant and animal the ability to adapt to changing conditions. This ability to adapt is what we can readily observe today. But this ability is clearly confined within the bounds of each species.
I would be interested to hear others' response to LaGard's book, but only after an honest reading. Do not disregard what he has to say out of hand. Have the courage to look behind the popular facade that has been created and examine the issue for yourself.
Tuesday, February 25, 2020
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ--to the glory and praise of God.
The thing that sustains any plant is its root structure. It is through the roots that a plant obtains the water and the minerals that it needs to grow and thrive. There are basically two types of root structures: taproot and fibrous. A fibrous root structure spreads out many small roots in all directions, but is relatively shallow. A taproot structure is based around a central taproot that goes deep within the soil. It also puts out smaller roots, similar to a fibrous roots structure, with some of these also penetrating deeper into the soil; kind of like mini-taproots. If we look at trees as an example, trees that have a taproot are more stable and able to withstand the forces of wind, while trees with only a fibrous root structure are more easily upended in a wind storm. If you have ever ventured into the woods, you have probably encountered an upended tree, with its massive root structure protruding high into the air.
The book of Psalms opens by equating the righteous person with a tree with a well-established root structure.
Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
We live in a world that, in general, lives on the surface of life. Most people’s spiritual root structure is more akin to a fibrous root structure than to a taproot. Many people are content with a superficial, ill defined faith. We are a society of people with a wide breadth of knowledge, but little depth of understanding. When the storms of life come, our roots are not deep enough to sustain us and we are uprooted. It is not without reason that Bible portrays us a sheep in need of a shepherd.
Many professing Christians have a shallow spiritual root structure that can easily be shaken when the storms of life come. If we are going to genuinely persevere in the faith, we need to sink our roots deep into the soil of God’s Word. We also need to spread our roots wide into the soil of everyday life. A faith that can withstand life’s storms needs a root structure that goes deep into God’s truth and expands wide in practical application.
Paul prayed for the Philippians that their love for Christ (their spiritual roots) would go deep and spread wide. He wanted them to have a growing understanding of God’s love for them. He also wanted that knowledge to guide them in making wise decisions that would produce the fruit of righteousness. So how do we build this spiritual root structure?
The place where we begin is by sinking our roots deeply into God’s Word. God has given us the Bible as a spiritual resource to strengthen us for life’s journey. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17) The Bible is not a collection of interesting stories or a collection of moralistic life-lessons. It is spiritual food for our souls. It provides the needed nutrients for our faith. The more deeply we dig into God’s Word, the stronger our spiritual taproot becomes.
We can also strengthen our taproot by learning from those who have gone before us. Most people find history rather dry and boring. This is particularly true of Church history. I can vouch for that. I have struggled my way through several Church history courses. But more recently I have become aware of just how essential it is for us to understand the foundation that has been laid for us by those who have gone before us. If we will take to the time to take a careful look at the past, we will discover that it can be an excellent guide for the future.
When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he warned them to pay attention to the past so that they did not fall into the same trap as others did. He recounted the failings of Israel as a warning to the Corinthians to help them avoid the same pitfalls.
Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11-13)
The Nobel Prize winning philosopher George Santayana put it this way. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." There are many in the church today we want to ignore the past and, in essence, start from scratch. The outcome has been that some have begun to revive the heresies of the past. Others have re-fought battles that were decided long ago. To ignore the history of the Church’s faith journey is to foster a shallow faith.
In addition to studying God’s Word and Church history, the classic spiritual disciplines can also help us to grow a deep spiritual root structure. Prayer, fasting, silence, solitude are all tools that can help us to form a firm spiritual root structure. But there is another dimension to developing strong spiritual roots. We have to spread our roots wide into the soil of everyday life.
Paul brings these two dimensions of our faith together in his prayer for the church in Colosse.
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:9-12)
James warns us that it is not enough to just sink our taproot deeply into study. We also need to apply what we are learning in practical ways. Extensive study of God’s Word is essential, but it is not enough.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25)
There are many sincere believers who are content to go to Bible studies and Christian conferences and to soak up more and more information. They are filled with good knowledge, but fail to apply that knowledge to life. James goes on to chide those of us whose faith tends to focus only on the intellectual. He states that if our faith doesn’t produce good works, it is dead. John echoes the same thing when he instructs us to turn our knowledge into action.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)
If we are going to develop a solid spiritual root structure, we need both a taproot that goes deep into the truths of God and a network of spiritual fibers that penetrate every aspect of our daily lives. Then when the storms of life blow, we will be able to stand firm.
"But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit."
Tuesday, February 18, 2020
Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
By nature, we like to be served. When I go into a restaurant, I expect the waitstaff to present me with my options and then take my order. I expect them to bring my order from the kitchen, prepared in the proper way. When I have finished with my meal, I expect to leave my dirty dishes at the table for someone else to clean up. When these things do not happen, I am disappointed.
What would you think if you went to a restaurant and instead of giving you a menu, they provided you with a list of raw ingredients and an apron? You are then informed that you will have to go into the kitchen and prepare your own meal. When you are done, you will return to the kitchen to wash your dishes. Finally, you will be required to pay for the things that you have used. I’m pretty sure that you would not return to that restaurant.
In very subtle ways, we have been programmed all of our lives to expect to be served. Even the move to self-serve checkout highlights our desire to be served. Some of us (like me) avoid those lines. We see self-service as an imposition, not a benefit. Why should I do the job of a checkout person for free?!
This morning in our men’s Bible Study we examined the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, in John 13. In that day, it was the job of the lowliest servant in the house to wash the feet of the master when he came home or the feet of his guests. Everyone wore sandals and walked on dusty roads, so their feet would be dirty. Just like we ask people to take off their shoes when they come into our homes, it was expected that people would have their feet washed before they entered the house.
On this occasion, Jesus is gathered with his disciples in the upper room to celebrate the Passover. From the context, we can surmise that none of the disciples felt that it was their job to wash the other’s feet. Therefore, they reclined at the table with unwashed feet. Observing this jockeying for position, Jesus got up from the table, laid aside his outer garment, and proceeded to wash the disciples’ feet, much to their horror. When He was done, He returned to the table and told them that just as He had served them in such a lowly and humble way, they were to serve one another.
Obeying Jesus’ command is not as easy as it sounds. To truly take on the role of a servant is a challenging task. It means genuinely putting the needs of others above our own. It means setting aside our sense of pride or privilege. It means willingly doing the uncomfortable thing, the difficult thing, the demeaning thing. Being a genuine, humble servant is a challenge to our status.
Often our service is selective and done in a condescending manner. We serve out of a position of power, making sure that others know that we are voluntarily offering them something. We put limits on what we will do and when we will do it. But Jesus called for a much more radical approach.
In Matthew 20, we see the disciples in a conflict over which of them is the greatest. James and John seemed to jump to the front of the line, requesting that they be given the seats of power and privilege in Jesus’ coming kingdom. The others were indignant with the brothers. Why? Because each of them felt that that position belonged to them. It seems that this vying for position was a fairly common occurrence among the disciples. Jesus took this opportunity to redefine what it means to be great in the Kingdom of God.
Greatness in the Kingdom is not measured by power and influence over others. It is measured by humble service. In fact, Jesus said that to be truly great they would have to humble themselves and take the role of the lowliest slave in the household. To make His point very clear, He declared that He didn’t come to rule, but to serve, even to the point of giving His very life for others.
True servanthood is a radical proposition. It means being willing to be taken advantage of by others in order to serve them. It means setting aside our rights to uphold the dignity of others. It means being willing to perform the most menial tasks in order to benefit others. In essence, it means to stop putting ourselves first in everything. As C.S. Lewis has put it, true humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less. Genuine servanthood is not about us, but about giving ourselves away for Christ and for others.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Tuesday, February 11, 2020
Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.
Peer pressure is a powerful force in our lives. From the time we left the safety of our nuclear family and entered into the wider world, we have been influenced by those around us. Everyone wants to be accepted. No one wants to live their life on the fringes of society. So, from our first day at school on, we have been testing the climate of our social environment for the purpose of fitting it.
I know of a young boy who loved the TV character Barney. On his first day in school he chose to wear his favorite Barney shirt. That afternoon he came home in tears. Some of the other children made fun of him for his shirt. He never wore it again. That is the power of peer pressure.
As Jesus drew nearer to the cross, the line between belief in Jesus and rejection of Jesus became clearer. At first people flocked to Jesus in large numbers. They were impressed by this new Rabbi with his unconventional message. People came to witness the many miracles that Jesus performed. It was popular to join the crowd that surrounded him.
As Jesus’ popularity grew, so did the resistance of the spiritual leaders of the community, especially the Pharisees. Not only did Jesus challenge some of their rules, He threatened their influence over the people. So they began to openly challenge Jesus and threaten those who might follow Him. Their power resided in religious peer pressure. If a person acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, they would be excommunicated from the synagogue. The synagogue was the center of Jewish life. It was the place of acceptance and approval. If a person wanted to have a positive standing in the community, then they had to be connected with the synagogue. To be excluded meant social ruin.
John tells us that “many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue.” Many believed in Him, but were afraid of the wrath of the Pharisees, so they remained silent. Probably one of the most famous of this group of secret saints was a man by the name of Nicodemus.
His story is recorded for us in John 3. Nicodemus came to Jesus by night to discover who this young, unconventional Rabbi was. He could see the obvious power of God in Jesus’ life. He wondered if Jesus could be the Messiah; the Promised One. Jesus told Nicodemus that all of his legalistic righteousness was not enough to earn him entrance into God’s kingdom. There was only one way; he must be born again. He needed a new beginning. That new birth came through placing his complete faith in Jesus.
Nicodemus disappears from the story until almost the end. At the crucifixion of Jesus all of His followers faded into the shadows out of fear. The disciples hid behind locked doors. The women who had followed Jesus watched from a distance. Two lone figures emerged from the shadows to take their stand with Jesus; Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. They took the risk to approach Pilate and ask to be allowed to bury the body of Jesus. From their perspective, after all was lost, they were compelled to declare their allegiance. We stand with Jesus. I wonder if after the resurrection Jesus didn’t specifically seek out these two secret saints.
Although we hate to admit it, most of us lean toward being secret saints. We are comfortable affirming our faith in Jesus in the safety of the church, but silent in the antagonistic world around us. Like those Jewish leaders, we believe but fear keeps us silent. The peer pressure that those Jewish leaders felt is still at work today. It is one of Satan’s greatest weapons against us.
We can become overwhelmed by the guilt of our silence. Like Peter, after he had denied Jesus three times, we can feel defeated. What is God’s message to us? I believe His message is “My grace is sufficient for you.” We are saved by grace, not by works. We are to live out our faith through God’s grace, not by our works alone. Our faith should transform the way that we live our day by day lives. Our faith should give us the courage to take our stand with Jesus in the face of negative peer pressure. But when fear creeps in and we back into the shadows, we discover that Jesus is waiting for us there. Not to condemn us, but to redeem us.
Throughout our lives, we will find ourselves standing next to Joseph and Nicodemus. Sometimes we will hide in the shadows and sometimes we will step forward. Just as Jesus gave grace to Joseph and Nicodemus, so He gives grace to us. And we must give grace to ourselves and to one another. Every time we have the courage to step out into the light and take our stand with Jesus, it makes us stronger for the next time. And when we fail, Jesus is there to pick us up again. Ultimately it is not the strength of our will that matters, but the power of God’s grace at work within us.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Tuesday, February 4, 2020
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.
In just under two weeks we will be having a candidate coming to our church to see if he will be our next pastor. This is an exciting time and a very significant one as well. The decision that is made on that weekend will set the course for the foreseeable future for our church. With that in mind, the issue of having enough qualified members present to have a vote has been raised. There are scheduling conflicts. Some key people will be unable to be present that weekend. And that has caused me to be anxious.
Rationally I know that I can trust God with this. If it is His will that this man become our next pastor then He will ensure that enough people are present to vote. Emotionally I am struggling with the very human dimensions of this coming event. As a part of the team that has worked for over a year and a half to get to this point, I can see all of our efforts evaporating if people don’t make the effort to be participants in the process. This very human dimension causes me to be anxious.
Paul understood our emotional response to life. Writing to the church in Philippi, he challenged them to trust God. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7) I have often shared these verses with people as they were going through a challenging experience. So how do I apply them to myself?
In our men’s Sunday School class, we discussed the interplay between faith and doubt. Many people see these as polar opposites. If a person has faith, they should have no doubts. If a person has doubts, they must not have faith. Are faith and doubt mutually exclusive? Are anxiety and trust mutually exclusive?
Whenever I encounter this challenge I think of a story from Jesus’ life. It is found in Mark 9:14-27. A man brought his son, who was possessed by an evil spirit, to Jesus’ disciples to have him healed, but the disciples were unable to do it. When Jesus arrived, he took charge of the situation. Encountering this desperate man, an interesting exchange took place.
Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?"
"From childhood," he answered. "It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."
" 'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes."
Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mark 9:21-24)
This man came to Jesus with faith that Jesus might be able to help his son. He also had some doubts if Jesus would help his son. Jesus challenged the man to trust him. In genuine honesty that man declared that he did trust Jesus, but that he still had doubts. In response to this, Jesus healed the boy.
There have been so many times when I have found myself in the same place as this man. I trust Jesus, but I still struggle with doubts and anxiety. There have been times when my faith has been a white-knuckle experience. Jesus, I trust you, but my fear is still causing me anxiety.
I do not like roller coasters. The last time I road on one was when I took my youth group from Fergus Falls to Valley Fair, the amusement park outside of the Twin Cities. I felt pressured to ride the coaster with some of the youth. As I stood in the long line and waited my turn, I watched the cars do their dips and turns and return safely to the starting point. As far as I could tell, they never lost a single passenger. In my head I kept telling myself that it was safe. I could trust the roller coaster. But as soon as I sat in that seat my anxiety took over. I gripped the bar in front of me. Every muscle in my body was tense. I could feel fear welling up in me as we climbed that first hill. As we crested, my legs pressed hard against the front of the car and my grip on the bar tightened. When we finally slowed to a stop, my bottom dropped back into the seat. The entire ride I had held myself rigged, just inches off of the seat.
There are times in life when trusting God feels very much like riding that roller coaster. We trust God enough to get in the car, but we struggle with fear, doubt, and anxiety the entire time. Yet God still brings us safely to the end. Trusting God does not mean we will not feel strong emotions. It does mean that we will obediently follow Him where He leads us.
I can say that I have learned to trust God more completely over the years. I have not yet come to the place where my experience is devoid of some anxiety. Yet I know that I can trust God in spite of my anxiety.
Paul tells us to take our anxiety to God. Instead of trying to deal with it on our own, we need to bring it to His throne of grace. The more that we lay our anxiety at the feet of Jesus, the more we will learn to trust Him. We can trust Him to do what it right. We can trust Him to do what is best. We can trust Him with the outcome, even if things don’t turn out the way we want them to.
"I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"