Friday, December 25, 2009

Celebrate Christmas with a Family Devotional

( by Fred Sanders

Reflect upon the importance of Jesus' birth

Christmas is a big deal, and Christians know that they should celebrate it in a big way. In fact, there is something strange about how big a deal we are supposed to make of it. The most important things Jesus Christ did for our salvation, after all, did not happen at the beginning of his life, but at the end of it. His death and resurrection are the central events for our faith, and those lie at the other end of the gospels from the nativity story. At the end of the gospels, Jesus Christ does everything: He takes up his cross, lays down his life for us, offers himself up to the Father, descends into the grave, rises from it, and ascends to the right hand of God the Father.

But at the beginning of the gospels, he just lies there, doing nothing. He is a baby. There is a flurry of activity around him: Mary and Joseph are busy, the angels are running up and down between heaven and earth with messages, and shepherds are coming to adore him. Off in the distance are government censuses, murderous kings, and wise men from the East. Ancient prophecies are ringing in everybody’s ears as they come to fulfillment.

But baby Jesus does nothing. In the Christmas play, you don’t need to cast any young actor in the role of baby Jesus, because there is nothing for him to do. A doll is perfectly suited to carry out all the actions of the little Lord Jesus, because the script does not call for him to do or say anything whatsoever. He is carried around a little bit, but mostly he just lies there in the manger, sleeping.

And that passiveness is the secret of why Christmas is so important. It is not a celebration of what Jesus did, or of what he does, but of who he is. At the cross, Jesus accomplished salvation through what he did. That’s why the heart of the Christian gospel really does lie a few months away in our church calendar, in Easter. But Christmas recognizes that all of his work on our behalf is only possible because of who he is: The eternal Son of God, who took on our human nature in order to work out our salvation.

Of course it’s possible to focus on who Jesus is, even while telling the story of his death and resurrection. But at Christmas, it is unavoidable: the baby is not doing anything, and we can only stand amazed at who he is. Easter may be the festival of what Jesus did, but Christmas is the festival of who Jesus is. That is why so many of the Christmas carols come back to the note of simple adoration: “Come, let us adore him.” It is also why so many of them pose questions to us like “What child is this?” Adoration for who Jesus is, rather than thanksgiving for what he does, is the secret of the strange hush that steals over us at the center of this holiday. It is why all we can do is celebrate, gather with loved ones, and exchange gifts and gratefulness.

In My Utmost For His Highest, Oswald Chambers says, “After the amazing delight and liberty of realizing what Jesus Christ does, comes the impenetrable darkness of realizing Who He is.” It is impenetrable darkness because Jesus is not just anybody. He is not just another prophet from God, or a faithful servant, or a messenger. He does not just step into the role of being the son of God for a while. He is the eternal Son of God, the Word who was in the beginning, the Word who is both with God, and is God in person.

Reading: John 1:1-14

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Jolly Mr. Nelson Celebrates Christmas

( by John Mark Reynolds

Mr. Ben Nelson is a jolly old United States Senator for Nebraska. He was fighting for principle in opposing abortion funding in the health care reform moving through Congress.

Now he is backing health care reform without the language he originally demanded.

It would be easy to caricature Senator Nelson’s move unfairly. Some will say he is a Judas for betraying his ideals for money, but this is wrong. Judas personally benefited from his betrayal, while Senator Nelson merely got graft for his entire state.

Mr. Nelson will not get thirty pieces of silver . . . every Nebraskan will. Each one of them can share in the betrayal of their ideals, because Mr. Nelson has graciously made sure benefits will go to each one of them.

Judas compromised only his integrity, but Nelson has given the voters of Nebraska a chance to compromise the integrity of an entire state. Will they take the benefit at the cost of their values?

Is this comparison fair to a man like good old Ben Nelson? After all Ben Nelson is a modest man, a retiring man, a man eager to represent the values of Nebraska. Is there a more charitable read on his actions?

After all Mr. Nelson meant to do good. Comparing Nelson to Judas must surely be as overblown and overly partisan as comparing him to Benedict Arnold. Arnold betrayed the United States for money, but Mr. Nelson will only vote for a mess of a bill for money.

After all, the bill is not so bad that it will not do some good. The good-old Senator was trying to do a noble deed by extending health care to millions, not cause the death of the Messiah or betraying his oath of office! It is by his intentions we should judge him, not by the results. He meant well and that is all we should expect of our elected officials.

Heaven knows Judas and Benedict Arnold did not mean to do good by their evil actions. Call Mr. Nelson incompetent and venal, but never call him a traitor.

Let us not be inflexible in our evaluation of Mr. Nelson. Of course to get the good things, he had to allow Nebraskan tax dollars to go to abortion, give money and favors to wealthy donors to his campaigns, and expand the scope of government.

Mr. Nelson simply has done what so many parents have to do every Christmas. He has compromised what he wishes he could do so to do some good. He is giving some Nebraska children a gift of health care and to do so had to fund the death of other Nebraskan children.

Many would have dodged this hard decision, but not Senator Nelson. Having paraded his convictions that no children should die using tax money, he was forced to bend a bit and kill a few by indirect means in order to help some.

This is a profile in flexibility.

Senator Ben Nelson, if all turns out as he wishes, will be able to celebrate Christmas this year knowing that he gained graft for his state, passed a bill his constituents did not want, all the while standing at the center of the media spot light. This is the job a Democratic senator is elected to do and he did it.

Some will mock him, others misunderstand him, but Mr. Nelson is merely celebrating Christmas in his own way: the season when a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed and an order went out from Herod for the government slaughter of innocents.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

If You Believe People Are Basically Good

( by Dennis Prager

No issue has a greater influence on determining your social and political views than whether you view human nature as basically good or not. In 20 years as a radio talk show host, I have dialogued with thousands of people, of both sexes and from virtually every religious, ethnic and national background. Very early on, I realized that perhaps the major reason for political and other disagreements I had with callers was that they believed people are basically good, and I did not. I believe that we are born with tendencies toward both good and evil. Yes, babies are born innocent, but not good. Why is this issue so important?

First, if you believe people are born good, you will attribute evil to forces outside the individual. That is why, for example, our secular humanistic culture so often attributes evil to poverty. Washington Sen. Patty Murray, former President Jimmy Carter and millions of other Westerners believe that the cause of Islamic terror is poverty. They really believe that people who strap bombs to their bodies to blow up families in pizzerias in Israel, plant bombs at a nightclub in Bali, slit stewardesses' throats and ram airplanes filled with innocent Americans into office buildings do so because they lack sufficient incomes. Something in these people cannot accept the fact that many people have evil values and choose evil for reasons having nothing to do with their economic situation. The Carters and Murrays of the West -- representatives of that huge group of naive Westerners identified by the once proud title "liberal" -- do not understand that no amount of money will dissuade those who believe that God wants them to rule the world and murder all those they deem infidels.

Second, if you believe people are born good, you will not stress character development when you raise children. You will have schools teach young people how to use condoms, how to avoid first and secondhand tobacco smoke, how to recycle and how to prevent rainforests from disappearing. You will teach them how to struggle against the evils of society -- its sexism, its racism, its classism and its homophobia. But you will not teach them that the primary struggle they have to wage to make a better world is against their own nature. I attended Jewish religious schools (yeshivas) until the age of 18, and aside from being taught that moral rules come from God rather than from personal or world opinion, this was the greatest difference between my education and those who attended public and private secular schools. They learned that their greatest struggles were with society, and I learned that the greatest struggle was with me, and my natural inclinations to laziness, insatiable appetites and self-centeredness.

Third, if you believe that people are basically good, God and religion are morally unnecessary, even harmful. Why would basically good people need a God or religion to provide moral standards? Therefore, the crowd that believes in innate human goodness tends to either be secular or to reduce God and religion to social workers, providers of compassion rather than of moral standards and moral judgments.

Fourth, if you believe people are basically good, you, of course, believe that you are good -- and therefore those who disagree with you must be bad, not merely wrong. You also believe that the more power that you and those you agree with have, the better the society will be. That is why such people are so committed to powerful government and to powerful judges. On the other hand, those of us who believe that people are not basically good do not want power concentrated in any one group, and are therefore profoundly suspicious of big government, big labor, big corporations, and even big religious institutions. As Lord Acton said long ago, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Lord Acton did not believe people are basically good. No great body of wisdom, East or West, ever posited that people were basically good. This naive and dangerous notion originated in modern secular Western thought, probably with Jean Jacques Rousseau, the Frenchman who gave us the notion of pre-modern man as a noble savage. He was half right. Savage, yes, noble, no. If the West does not soon reject Rousseau and humanism and begin to recognize evil, judge it and confront it, it will find itself incapable of fighting savages who are not noble.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Arrogance and Cowardice of Dickie Dawkins

James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries had this to say regarding Richard Dawkins: is fascinating to observe the level of hubris, simple personal self-deception and arrogance, that defines Richard Dawkins as a human being who has dedicated his every moment of existence to his leadership of, and membership in, τῶν τὴν ἀλήθειαν ἐν ἀδικίᾳ κατεχόντων, those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Dawkins' published works have been juvenile in their philosophical, historical, and biblical errors, yet, being a "scientist" overshadows all of that, of course. Hence, he will not debate the very people who would be able to expose his numerous errors. Behold the creature in denial of his Creator:

Friday, December 11, 2009

Debate Feedback

On Wednesday, Dr. Hugh Ross (Reasons to Believe), Dr. Clay Jones (Biola), and I debated three atheists at the Costa Mesa Community Center in a packed room of about 300. The crowd appeared evenly split between skeptics and Christians based on a hand tally requested by two of the debaters in an early exchange.

It was one of the most unique experiences I've ever had in my apologetics ministry. In general, I've received positive feedback from Christians, but I'm curious to hear honest feedback from others who were there that night. Soon, I plan to write a summary of the arguments and give my perspective, but for now, I'm asking for input on the event. Perhaps we can start another discussion here on the Junkie. I know my perspective from on stage, but what's yours?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Myths about Christmas

( by Allen Yeh

OK, you might think that I’m being a Grinch for posting this blog, but I hope that we as Evangelicals are being biblical at all times, especially when it comes to something as important as the birth of our Savior! So here are some common myths I’d like to bust regarding Christmas:

-Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.
On the night of Jesus’ birth, it was not a silent night — and probably not calm! Jesus was fully human; he almost certainly cried. It is no sin to cry, it is how babies communicate since they can’t talk. Not only did Baby Jesus probably cry, the animals made noise. Cows, sheep, and donkeys are noisy animals. The Silent Night myth probably comes from us wanting hushed reverence and awe, but I think that noise can be just as meaningful if it is celebratory and social! Those shepherds and angels, if nothing else, were making noise out there!

-Hark the herald angels sing … and angels we have heard on high sweetly singing o’er the plains.
Unfortunately, angels do not sing! Though a couple of times in the NIV it does say that angels “sing” (e.g. Rev. 5:12), in the Greek the word is always “say.” Angels always speak; only humans have the ability to sing. So when you sing your Christmas carols, sing it with gusto — this is a privilege that God only affords humans!

-The Magi presented gifts at Jesus’ birth. (see the lyrics to “The First Noel”). The Magi (Wise Men) from the East did not come when Jesus was born! The dirty stinky shepherds were there (Luke 2:15-16) but not the Magi. Jesus was actually two years old when the Magi arrived, as Herod tried to kill all the boys under two years old in accordance with the time the Magi had said (Matt. 2:7,16). So I’m afraid all those Nativity scenes showing the wise men with the gifts at the manger are a couple of years too early!

-Christmas trees are Christian. Nope — they are pagan (see Jeremiah 10:1-5). That being said, I don’t think they are wrong to have, unless they are seen as biblical or taking the place of Christ. The injunction in Jeremiah is against pagan idolatry, but I think it’s fine to “baptize” pagan things as Christian (after all, we Christians did that when we changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, when we changed the pagan fertility goddess cult of Ishtar into our Easter, when we turned the Roman pagan holiday of Yule into Christmas, and when we use words like “God” and “church” which are pagan words which have been Christianized (even the Greek words theos and ekklesia are pagan in origin).

Where do most of these myths come from? Unfortunately, often from our beloved Christmas carols and from Christmas cards. We want our picture-perfect Nativity scene, but a lot of that is not biblically correct. However, Jesus was not born into perfection but into a broken world. And it is precisely this world He came to save. So let’s not paint an inaccurate picture of Christmas — it was a messy, noisy night, with a lot of chaos and crying and animal sounds. There were no angelic choirs, though angels did make a heavenly pronouncement. Those shepherds probably stank as they’d been out all day with the sheep. The Magi didn’t come until two years later, and they were not Jews. (But it is interesting that these three “unclean” Gentiles recognized the Messiah before most of the “pure” Jewish people did. This isn’t even the book of Acts yet, and Gentiles are already coming to worship the Christ!) And Jesus quickly became a political refugee, fleeing to Egypt because a death mark was placed upon his head by a lunatic king who massacred all other boys of Jesus’ age.

Why all this imperfection at the original Christmas? Because Jesus is the only one who is perfect. I think it provides a stark contrast, which is this: Even while Creation is groaning, only in Jesus is light and goodness and salvation.

Oh yeah, and while we’re at it … there is no Santa Claus.
Just in case this one slipped through the cracks.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Obama Administration OKs First Taxpayer-Funded Embryonic Stem Cell Research

( by Steven Ertelt

The Obama administration today authorized the first study using embryonic stem cells paid for at taxpayer expense. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama issued an executive order overturning President Bush's limits preventing taxpayers from being forced to pay for the destruction of human life.

Because embryonic stem cells can only be obtained by destroying human life, Bush put limits in place directing taxpayer dollars to adult stem cell research.

That science has already proven to help patients facing more than 100 diseases and adverse medical conditions.

The National Institutes of Health, following Obama's order, approved 13 embryonic stem cell lines for use by researchers conducting studies funded with federal funds.

The lines NIH approved are in use by researchers at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Rockefeller University in New York, according to a Bloomberg News report.

The Associated Press indicates as much as $21 million in taxpayer money could be used by the Obama administration to fund studies using these embryonic stem cell lines.

They were created with private dollars during the Bush administration, showing that Bush's limits did not prevent scientists from moving ahead with their research with private dollars, contrary to the assertions of Obama and other opponents.

The lines were created by destroying days-old unborn children -- human embryos who were supposedly "leftover" at fertility clinics. Adoption agencies have emerged that have allowed parents to adopt these human beings and carry them to term in a pregnancy.

NIH is also reviewing hundreds of other embryonic stem cell lines for federal funding under the guidelines the agency issued to implement Obama's order. The initial round of approval includes 13 batches of embryonic stem cells and NIH said today that it has 96 more batches to review -- with perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars paying for the destructive research.

About 20 of the additional lines will be reviewed on Friday, the agency indicated.

What we are announcing today is just the beginning," NIH official Francis Collins said today.

George Daley of Children's Hospital Boston, submitted 11 of the 13 lines and the other two come from the lab of Ali Brivanlou at Rockefeller University in New York.

In comments about the funding, Daley called the human beings "low-grade" human embryos who were rejected for fertility treatments, and then donated by couples for research.

Richard Doerflinger, of the pro-life office of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, told USA Today the announcement is a "political event, but the science is all moving in the other direction."

He noted how most scientists around the world are moving ahead with iPS cells, or induced pluripotent stem cells, that are adult stem cells reverted through direct reprogramming to an embryonic-like state without the destruction of human life.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Three Passions

(Stand to Reason) by Greg Koukl

Crucifixion is a cruel form of execution, generally reserved for slaves and rebels. Death is agonizing and slow, the result of shock, exposure and, eventually, asphyxiation. Hanging from a cross constricts the diaphragm, inhibiting breathing. The only way to get air is to release pressure on the arms by pushing up against the nails that pierce the feet, requiring continual effort that could go on for days. Exhaustion eventually overtakes the victim and he suffocates.

For Jesus, though, the pain of the cross pales in the face of a greater anguish. There is a deeper torment that cannot be seen, one no camera can capture and no words can express, more excruciating than nails pinning Jesus’ body to the timbers, more dreadful than lashes ripping flesh from His frame. It is a dark, terrible, incalculable agony, an infinite misery, as God the Father unleashes his fury upon His sinless Son as if guilty of an immeasurable evil.

Why punish the innocent One? Nailed to the top of the cross is an official notice, a certificate of debt to Caesar, a public display of Jesus’ crime: “The King of the Jews.” The cross is payment for this crime. When punishment is complete, Caesar’s court will cancel the debt with a single Greek word stamped upon the parchment’s face: tetelestai. Finished. Paid in full.

Being king of the Jews is not the crime Jesus pays for, however. Hidden to all but the Father is another certificate nailed to that cross. In the darkness that shrouds Calvary from the sixth to the ninth hour, a divine transaction is taking place; Jesus makes a trade with the Father. The crimes of all of humanity—every murder, every theft, every lustful glance; every hidden act of vice, every modest moment of pride, and every monstrous deed of evil; every crime of every man who ever lived—these Jesus takes upon Himself as if guilty of all.

At the last, it is not the cross that takes Jesus’ life. He does not die of exposure, or loss of blood, or asphyxiation. When the full payment is made, when the last of the debt melts away and the justice of God is fully satisfied, Jesus simply dismisses His spirit with a single Greek word that falls from His lips: “Tetelestai.” It is finished. The divine transaction is complete.

You see, the Passion actually consists of three passions. The passionate intensity of God’s anger at us for our sins collides with the passionate intensity of God’s love for us, causing the passionate intensity of the agony of the cross to be shouldered by God Himself in human form: Jesus.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ouch! Intelligent Design Guys Put the Sleeperhold on Darwin's Defenders

( by Robert Crowther

The great debate over the adequacy of evolution continues. Sort of. The latest head to head meeting had Dr. Stephen Meyer and Dr. Richard Sternberg debating Dr. Michael Shermer and Dr. Donald Prothero. Heading into the debate I was quite excited; these aren't lightweights, after all. The defenders of evolution are well known in science circles and to followers of the overall debate. Indeed, we've blogged a fair amount on Dr. Prothero who has, shall we say, a colorful and cavalier way with the facts. He is known more for polemical bromides and spurious personal attacks than for any serious science.

Waiting for the event to start, I was wondering if Prothero would be better behaved in person than he is hiding behind a keyboard. His partner was Skeptic magazine's head honcho, Michael Shermer, who has debated Stephen Meyer before, and is known for making more theological arguments against ID, as opposed to bringing any serious scientific criticisms bear. I expected he would be the good cop to Prothero's keystone cop. What I didn't know was that Prothero would be Ed McMahon to his Johnny Carson.

On the other side, the contenders are just as well credentialed — maybe more so — with one holding a philosophy of science degree from Cambridge (Meyer) being the less qualified, since Sternberg holds two degrees in evolutionary and theoretical biology. Not to mention that Meyer's new book, Signature in the Cell, is by far the most prominent book of any of the participants, having just been named a bestseller by, and last week honored in the Times Literary Supplement of the London Times as one of the best books of the year.

It was all shaping up to be a serious heavyweight bout. And then Meyer and Sternberg simply KO'd the competition in the opening round. If I were being generous I might say that Prothero tripped over his own arrogance and impaled himself on his condescension, but let's be honest; he was completely knocked out by Sternberg. I think Sternberg earned a third degree tonight, one in evolutionary bulldozing.

The debate video will be made available at some point by American Freedom Alliance, the sponsors of the debate, along with Center for Inquiry, The Skeptics Society and Discovery Institute.

Shermer opened by denouncing intelligent design as not science and not to be confused with science, which is what he and Prothero apparently assumed to be the topic of the debate. (It wasn't, sadly.) Then he turned it over to Prothero, who — after repeatedly repeating that science cannot resort to the supernatural — proceeded to race through a litany of complaints against intelligent design and assertions about the creation of amino acids and proteins, most of which was non-controversial and also not evidence for Darwinian evolution. Prothero made a number of claims about RNA chains, about how the evidence of the fossil record is "ironclad" or would be if people treated it fairly, and about how the Miller-Urey experiment was right, "and even if they weren't it still works" (quit laughing, he was serious!). His Darwinian motivational rant went on about how the Cambrian explosion was really a "slow fuse," not an explosion. Amazingly, he claimed that almost all the major phyla had ancestors 50 million years before the Cambrian. Alas, he was so far wrong that it wasn't all that much effort to point it out, completely discredit him, and then let him hang himself with his twisted rope of unearned arrogance and condescension. If you're going to be arrogant, you'd better be able to back it up with something better than, "I climbed some rocks in Russia and read an article in The New Scientist."

To call the debate a massacre would be a discredit to Sitting Bull. The only thing I can say is that Shermer needs to add a point to his booklet on how to debate "creationists" — namely, leave Donald Prothero at home in his van by the river.

This guy is to be taken seriously? I had to remind myself not to laugh every so often during his presentation — it was so pathetic and ill-informed. Basically, Shermer and Prothero blathered on about supernaturalism, and Meyer ceded his time to Sternberg, who made an interesting presentation about whale evolution. Then he proceeded to point out the topic of the debate to Shermer and Prothero: Has Evolutionary Theory Adequately Explained the Origins of Life?, something which they never addressed because they were so busy falling all over themselves to denounce intelligent design.

Some of the best points came later in the debate, when Sternberg slammed Prothero with factual put down after factual put down, citing the current literature time and again. His command of the subject matter — from population genetics to junk DNA — was so far and above beyond Shermer and Prothero's knowledge, so far above their pay grade, that it was almost painful to watch him school them point after point. As I said before, shortly you'll be able to watch the debate for yourself. But be warned, it isn't pretty.

Brian at Apologetics315 recently posted the audio for the debate:

Full MP3 Audio here.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

On What Date Was Christ Born?

( by C Michael Patton

“The traditional date for the birth of Christ from as early as Hippolytus (ca. A.D. 165-235) has been December 25th. In the Eastern Church January 6th was the date for not only Christ’s birth, but also the arrival of the Magi on Christ’s second birthday, His baptism in His twenty-ninth year, and the sign at Cana in His thirtieth year. However Chrysostom (A.D. 345-407) in 386 stated that December 25th is the correct date and hence it became the official date for Christ’s birth in the Eastern Church (January 6th was still considered the day for the manifestations of the coming of the Magi, the baptism, and the sign at Cana.

Although the exact date may not be pinpointed it seems that there is a relatively old tradition of a midwinter birth, therefore a date in December or January is not in itself unlikely.

The one objection raised for the winter date is the fact of the shepherds attending their flock in the night (Luke 2:8). Usually, it is noted, the sheep were taken into enclosures from November until March and were not in the fields at night. However, this is not conclusive evidence against December being the time of Christ’s birth for the following reasons. First, it could have been a mild winter and hence the shepherds would have been outside with their sheep. Second, it is not at all certain that sheep were brought under cover during the winter months. Third, it is true that during the winter months the sheep were brought in the from the wilderness. The Lukan narrative states that the shepherds were around Bethlehem (rather than the wilderness), thus indicating that the nativity was in the winter months. Finally, the Mishnah (Shekalim 7:4) implies that the sheep around Bethlehem were outside all year, and those that were worthy for the Passover offerings were in the fields thirty days before the feast, which would be as early as February, one of the coldest and rainiest months of the year. Therefore, a December date for the nativity is acceptable.

In conclusion, the exact date of the birth of Christ is difficult to know with finality. However, a midwinter date is most likely. It is clear that Christ was born before Herod the Great’s death and after the census. In looking at the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke one would need to conclude that Christ was born of Mary within a year or two of Herod’s death. In looking to some of the other chronological notations in the Gospels, the evidence led to the conclusion that Christ was born in the winter of 5/4 B.C. Although the exact date of Christ’s birth cannot be known, either December of 5 B.C., or January of 4 B.C. is most reasonable.”

Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1981) pp. 25-27