We are about to begin the third decade of the 21st century, and we can sum up the message of the century with the word “change.” We tend to fight change. I have an older friend who says that he has seen a lot of changes in America and he’s been opposed to every one of them. He is also an atheist. When I pointed out to him that Jesus Christ was an agent of change and Christianity is a religion of change, he asked me to explain that. Let me point out five reasons.
#1) The Bible we use is the NEW Testament. Jesus used that term repeatedly using the Greek word “kaimos” meaning new, fresh, recent. (See Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24 and Luke 22:20).
#2) Newness means giving up old ways that either didn’t work or have quit working. Jesus Christ was an agent of change as He consistently gave new and better answers to old ways. In Mark 10:4, some Pharisees asked Jesus about the law of Moses, which allowed a man to divorce his wife for virtually any reason. This made women the property of their husbands. Jesus gave a new perspective on this whole issue by saying, “A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two of them shall become one, so then they are not two but one. What, therefore, God has joined together, let no man tear asunder.” This is not a sexual reference, and it made women partners, not property, and radically changed the view of women to a new and critical role. (See Genesis 2:24.)
#3) Newness in Christianity knocked down old prejudices and racial issues, making the walls that divide people non-existent. Galatians 3:28 expresses this new concept beautifully, saying, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” All of this newness was very hard for the religious and political establishment of Jesus’ day to accept, and it is still hard for many today.
#4) Newness involves changing. Christianity is not legalistic and is not run by a bunch of laws. Paul says it well in 2 Corinthians 3:6: “Christ has made us ministers of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the Spirit: for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life.” Hebrews 10:20 talks about Christianity being a new a living way and Hebrews 8:8-12 puts to rest animal sacrifice and other ineffective practices of the past.
#5) Jesus Christ is an agent of change because He has given us a new commandment that replaces the old ways. John tells about it in 2 John 5. Over and over, Jesus talked about love in a way peculiar to Christ, using the Greek word “agapao” to describe how the new way of life should function. All of Matthew 5 – 7 emphasizes this new way of living.
People rejected the newness that Jesus brought then, and people fight it now. The fact remains that Jesus Christ is an agent of change, and in Him, all things are made new. (See 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Ephesians 4:24.) As you celebrate the start of a new year, let us urge you to become a new person. Be born again and live in the newness that “looks for new heavens and a new earth” ( 2 Peter 3:13). Ultimately we look forward to the joy of having the best new existence that we can imagine. (See Revelation 21:4-5.) HAPPY NEW YEAR !!
Christmas reminds us of the birth of Jesus, but why is the birth of a baby two millennia ago relevant today? The answer to that question depends on the answer to another question. Who is Jesus? People have various ideas of who Jesus is. Some say He is God. Others say He was just a man who was a good moral teacher. But, if Jesus is not God, He could not have been a good moral teacher. Let me explain why.
There is no doubt that Jesus was born a human being. The shepherds who saw Him in the stable and the people who watched Him grow up in His hometown of Nazareth could verify that. He grew to be a rabbi, a teacher, and He had many followers. His select group of disciples who talked with Him and ate with Him and lived with Him knew that He was a man. But His teaching was like no other man. He taught with the authority of God. He claimed to be God. He claimed to forgive sins, which only God can do.
Thus, if that baby born in Bethlehem were merely a human being who grew to be a man and said the things He said, He would not be a good moral teacher. He claimed to teach the truth, and He even claimed to be the truth. He claimed to be God! If He were not God, He would be a liar or a madman, but He would not a good moral teacher.
So who is Jesus? What do we celebrate at Christmas? We remember that God took on flesh as a baby who grew to be a man. He lived a sinless life because He is God. But He did not come merely to show us how to live a sinless life. He knew that we could not. He came to redeem us—to be a sacrifice for our sins.
When Jesus was on Earth, He was truly man and truly God. He could be the sacrifice for sins only because He was God. Although Jesus was sinless, He was not a third-party victim selected to bear our punishment. It would be immoral to punish an innocent man for the sins of all the guilty people. He was also the divine lawgiver and judge, so He could choose to suffer the penalty of His own law and bear the sins of all people. One man could only bear the punishment for His own sins. God can bear the punishment for all.
So who is Jesus? On that night near Bethlehem, the angel did not merely announce the birth of a baby boy. The angel said, “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11 CSB). Have you allowed Him to be your Savior?
What if we could speed up time to test the concept of evolution? A scientist can’t wait millions or billions of years to study the process of natural selection as it creates new creatures. With that in mind, science must devise evolution experiments to study many generations in a much shorter time.
More than thirty years ago, Richard Lenski, who teaches at Michigan State University, began a project to study the evolution of the bacteria Escherichia coli, commonly known as E. coli. The project is called the Long-Term Evolution Experiment (LTEE). The scientist and his assistants carefully track the naturally-occurring random mutations in succeeding generations of E. coli. The environment for the bacteria is optimized for these one-cell creatures to grow and reproduce. Mutations are often harmful, but sometimes beneficial mutations lead to an improvement in the bacteria’s reproductive ability. Natural selection removes the bacteria with harmful mutations while those with beneficial mutations become more fit and reproduce. It’s what we call survival of the fittest.
Since 1988, the evolution experiment has continued, and scientists have kept careful records of the changes. Since the generation period of these bacteria is much shorter than that of humans, the study has gone through 70,000 generations. That is equivalent to more than 1.75 million years of human generations.
Through thousands of generations, there have been billions of mutations. Beneficial mutations that have lasted and accumulated amount to dozens. It is interesting that as time passes, successful mutations become increasingly rare. What the scientists are looking for is what they call “historical contingency,” which means a succession of small, almost inconsequential changes that accumulate to create significant changes.
So how has the E. coli changed after the 70,000 generations in this evolution experiment? The latest generation of E. coli can reproduce 70% faster than their ancestors. They are still bacteria. In fact, they are still E. coli bacteria. They have not mutated into some more advanced form of life. Dr. Lenski wants to see funding made available to continue the experiment for another 30 or even 300 years in the hope of seeing more dramatic results.
The LTEE has inspired other scientists to conduct evolution experiments. There is one at Harvard experimenting with yeast. Other scientists have experimented with fruit flies (Drosophila) to study the evolution of multi-cell creatures. They have bombarded the fruit flies with radiation and chemicals, changing light levels, and changing temperatures. After thousands of generations, the result has been mutant fruit flies with extra eyes or wings that didn’t function. They were still fruit flies.
The bottom line is that multi-generation evolution experiments have not resulted in new creatures or even greatly improved old creatures. The changes resulting from mutations and natural selection are either harmful or insignificant. God created animals to adapt and change due to environmental forces. Humans can change and sometimes improve animals by selective breeding. We see that very clearly in the many and very different breeds of dogs. But the evidence seems to indicate that only God can make a Canine or a Drosophila or an Escherichia—or a human.
People often refer to him as “Doubting Thomas.” That label is inaccurate and unfair. Identifying the apostle as Thomas the doubter fails to understand his real nature. When Jesus’ life was in danger, it was Thomas who said, “Let us go die with Him” (John 11: 16). At that time, Thomas was the one full of commitment who was willing to die for his convictions about Jesus. One has to wonder why it was not Peter who was labeled as “the doubter” due to his triple denial of Christ. What we can learn from Thomas is how doubt can help a person to become a seeker of truth.
Doubt has to be confronted. When the other disciples came to Thomas with the outrageous claim that they had seen Jesus alive after his crucifixion, what do you think his reaction should have been? What would your response be? Many false Christs had risen in the world even in that day. There was good reason to question the claims. As a matter of fact, the first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection were the women in Luke 24, and no one even among the apostles believed them.
The kind of doubt that Thomas had was a healthy skepticism. He did not back off, soft soap, or withdraw from the situation, but he openly and honestly expressed his doubt. Most people in today’s world do not explore their doubts. When they have doubts about God, Christ, the Church, or some doctrinal issue, they tend to bury their concerns. The load of unaddressed doubt can create physical illness, and it can kill us spiritually. Thomas the doubter shared his doubt with his fellow disciples and did not withdraw but became a seeker of truth.
In today’ s world, people who have doubts usually leave the Church. Keeping quiet and walking away seems like the easy way out, but it leads to stress, ignorance, isolation, and a failure to grow and mature in the faith. Thomas could have walked away. Instead, the Bible tells us that a week later, when the disciples were together, “Thomas was with them” (John 20:26). He continued to study, grow, and learn and did not discard the lessons and learning of the past.
Thomas maintained his relationships with his fellow disciples and was willing to respond to the evidence presented to him. I have often wondered if Thomas actually put his finger into the nail prints and the wound in Jesus’ side. Or was the fact that his search for evidence had been responded to enough to motivate him to say, “My Lord and my God!” Those words are not just an acceptance of evidence. They are a realization that the evidence he was seeing was going to change his life. The Bible does not tell us what happened to Thomas, but secular history says he went to India and died there teaching people in that area of the world about Jesus.
We do not know all that took place between the time that Thomas shared his doubts with his fellow disciples, and when Jesus appeared to him. It is difficult not to believe that the others tried to convince him. I think God gave us the story of Thomas the doubter and seeker of truth to let us know that doubt is a normal part of maturing as a Christian.
Unlike Thomas, we have multiple ways of resolving our doubts. Today we have evidence from history, science, scripture, and thousands of years of testimony. The purpose of the DOES GOD EXIST? ministry is to assist any seeker of truth in resolving their doubts. This website, as well as DoesGodExist.org and DoesGodExist.tv, are sources of help if you are a seeker of truth. We do not have all the answers, but sharing with others and learning from them goes a long way toward building dynamic faith.
One of the least publicized aspects of atheism is the question of what has happened when atheist beliefs are incorporated on a practical level. In short, does atheism work when applied to the real world and real people? Some atheist experiments have tested that idea.
A good example is the story of Liberal, Missouri, which was founded in 1880 by an atheist named George Walser. Walser was a lawyer, and he bought 2000 acres of land in southwest Missouri to start an experimental community. He advertised across the country for atheists to come and live in a town without a church “where unbelievers could bring up their children without religious training.” He said in Liberal there would be “neither God, Hell, Church, nor Saloon.” Supporters of Walser published a boast that Liberal “is the only town of its size in the United States without a priest, preacher, church, saloon, God, Jesus, hell, or devil.”
Similar atheist experiments have been tried elsewhere, such as in France in the late 18th century. The government issued a declaration that God did not exist and condemned any public worship, including observance of any Sabbath. Atheist-based political systems exist today, including several communist states such as North Korea, and China.
In the case of Liberal, Missouri, the crime level, violence, and abuse became so bad that people left the town. They made written statements such as, “I’ll never live in another town that does not have a church.” Today Liberal has a population of less than 800, and there are five churches in town. Walser became a believer and wrote a book titled The Life and Teachings of Jesus. He called himself “a converted infidel who had searched for hope through materialism, atheism, agnosticism, and spiritualism, but found none.” Atheism fails all tests of practical application. Atheist experiments such as Liberal, Missouri are testimonies to what happens when God is excluded from human activities.
The Psalmist said it best “The fool has said in his heart ‘there is no God.’ Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that does good. God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that seek God. Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that does good, no, not one.” Psalms 53:1-3.
As an atheist in my earlier days, I would have vociferously argued against that statement. Looking back at my life as an atheist and at the atheists who shared my belief system, I have to say the Psalmist was correct.
Have you ever been thirsty? I mean, REALLY thirsty!! Thirsty to the point of being willing to give anything for a drink of water? Water is precious. We are seeing the results of a lack of water in many places in the world today. There are entire cities where water is in such short supply that people have to go to extremes to get enough to stay alive. Because the design of water makes it essential for life, scientists looking for evidence of life on other planets start by searching for signs of water. The design of water makes it an excellent illustration of the miracle of living water.
We have discussed water’s chemistry before. The atomic structure of oxygen and hydrogen produces the polar nature of the water molecule, which gives water its incredible properties. The design of water is an amazing example of God’s engineering skills at all levels of complexity.
In ancient times having water was just as critical as it is today. Those of us who live in areas with abundant water have no idea how much the search for it dominated people’s lives in Jesus’ day. It is hard for us to fully appreciate the meaning of the teaching of Jesus in John 4 when He met the woman at the well and offered her the miracle of living water. The person who was assigned the task of keeping the family supplied with water had to be strong enough to walk long distances and carry heavy loads. This woman was going to carry something back to her family that was even more precious than the water she came to get.
“Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whosoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’” John 4:13-14.
To the secular world, that statement is ludicrous, and yet Jesus refers to “rivers of living water” many times. In John 7:38, for example, Jesus says, “Whosoever believes in me… out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” The next few verses explain, “He said this about the Spirit whom those who believed in Him were about to receive.” Because of our thirst, we understand the importance of water. For unbelievers, the miracle of living water is hard to comprehend, until they have a thirst for a better existence. In Acts 2:38, Peter told the people who WERE convinced that they needed a better existence that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The design of water not only gives us life, but it helps us to understand the importance of the miracle of living water that Jesus offers. When you water a seed, it grows and begins a new existence. When you obey His commands and become a Christian, you begin a new and eternal life. That life brings peace and love, even to the most downcast and sinful person. Living water from Jesus is truly a miracle.
4. I wouldn’t have a basis of secure family relationships – neither physical, emotional, nor spiritual. All the ingredients of “family” are rooted in the concept of there being a God. Terminating a life that has nobody to speak up for it is a function of one’s moral behavior. Abortion and involuntary euthanasia are both functions of rejecting the value of all human life. The survival of the fittest necessarily places one in the position of rejecting family when that family interferes with your fitness. Belief in God fosters a desire to have a role that puts others above yourself and breeds love and fulfilling peace. It even spreads to those of like faith so that brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and children can be family even if there isn’t a blood relationship.
5. I wouldn’t have hope for anything beyond this life. If there is no God, then our entire existence is couched in what happens in this life. If I am not fit, then death is the best I can hope for. I will never be in a positive survival mode, no matter how hard I struggle. If I am fit, it will only be for a short time until old age makes me less fit. Faith in God means that whatever my lot in this life, this is the worst thing I will ever experience. I have great hope for what lies ahead, and obeying and serving God, which involves serving others, is a real joy for me.
Those are two things I wouldn’t have without God. As an atheist, I didn’t have any of the five things I mentioned yesterday and today. Neither did my atheist family and my atheist friends. For many years now, I have lived a life based on belief in God. It hasn’t always been easy, and I have failed in many ways. But even if someone were to convince me there is no God, I would still want to be a Christian. I have seen the love and hope and joy of living as Christ has called us to live. The evidence for the existence of God is massive, and that simply elevates the importance of the five things I wouldn’t have without God.
1. I wouldn’t have a meaningful explanation for why there is something instead of nothing. If there is no God, then the creation is meaningless. Even if a model is eventually constructed that explains how time, matter/energy and space came into existence, the purpose for the existence of time and space remains unanswered. The existence of God, who is love, goodness, peace, and the creator of all kinds of beauty, opens the door to an understanding of the things we all enjoy. The struggle between good and evil gives us a role to play as sentient beings who can choose and facilitate love, goodness, and beauty. Being created in the image of God embodies our very make up, so there is a reason for us to exist. That means there is a reason for something to exist instead of blind, silent, unthinking nothingness.
2. I wouldn’t have a pattern for life except “survival of the fittest.” If there is no God, then each of us is independent of any responsibility for anyone or anything else. Why would I do or give anything to anyone that would detract from my own existence? If the strong survive and the weak die, why would I not want to devote myself to being strong? The foundation of survival of the fittest is not only being strong but also being selfish and dominant. There is no room for altruism in a belief system that tells me to make sure I am the best and the strongest and the smartest. Looking after number one is my passion and guide to behavior.
3. I wouldn’t have a fixed standard of moral behavior. To be the strongest and most fit, I must have a moral standard that accommodates those attributes. That means that I must have a flexible moral standard so that I can adapt it to what fits me the best. My sexual morals must match my physical capabilities. My concept of ownership must revolve around my capabilities. There are times when lying will promote my station in life. Deception in the natural world is a key to survival in many situations, so why would it not be a part of my basis for making moral decisions? If there is no God, then trust ceases to exist. No contract of any kind has meaning if there are no absolute concepts of what is right and what is wrong.
Those are three things I wouldn’t have without God., but they are not all. There are two more I want to share with you tomorrow.
It is interesting to observe how many times we hear heaven or paradise mentioned in our daily lives. John Denver sang a song titled “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” which began with the words “Almost Heaven.” It was a song about West Virginia. I have been to the town of Paradise, Michigan, and I remember a wide variety of songs that talk about being in paradise, such as Tony Bennett’s “Stranger in Paradise.”
The fact is that all of these references to heaven or paradise are misguidedas far as being an accurate description. West Virginia is beautiful, but poverty, black lung disease, and unemployment are issues that make the state less than heaven for many residents. Paradise, Michigan has its share of mosquitoes and cold weather. Songs about paradise or heaven are statements about a temporary condition or hope.
In reality, what we all desire is freedom from all those things that make life on Earth less than heaven or paradise. Tragically, many people follow a religion or teaching that promises not freedom from all the negatives but the fulfillment of the pleasures of Earth. Physical gratification of any kind is not heaven.
The biblical portrayal of heaven is unique.In heaven, time ceases to exist, and all things of the material world come to an end. (See Hebrews 9:25, 1 Corinthians 15:24, and 2 Peter 3:10-12.) If space/time and matter/energy disappear, then all the negatives that exist in the physical world go as well. Revelation 21:4 describes it well: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
I went with my grandson to a musical instrument mega-store, where he was looking for an amplifier for his bass guitar. In addition to being a guitarist, he is also a drummer. While there, my ears were accosted as he tested a drum set and then tried out several bass guitar amps. The bass was so loud it rattled objects in the vicinity, and I could feel it pounding on my body. The experience reminded me of the connections between humans and music of all kinds.
My grandson purchased nothing because he didn’t find anything he liked in his price range. As we left the store, I was a bit relieved since my ears were still ringing. Stepping out into the parking lot, the sound of heavy traffic on the busy New Jersey street was relatively quiet.
Humans and music have been connected from the beginning. The artifacts left behind by the earliest humans include primitive musical instruments. Music styles change, and tastes in music vary from person to person. Just think of all the different musical genres and styles that people create and enjoy from country to classical, from jazz to gospel.
Music can stir our emotions. It can transport us to new places in our minds or stimulate us to action. Music can soothe our troubled souls, or a sad song can make us cry. The words of Christian songs can inspire us, and music can also tempt us into sin. Music goes beyond our minds and reaches into our emotions. What is it about music that so moves us? Perhaps it’s a desire for heaven.
Read the book of Revelation, and you will get an idea of the role of music in heaven. Music and worship go together, both in this life and in the life ahead. One of the things that distinguishes humans is our ability to create, perform, and appreciate music. Since we are created in the image of God, that must mean that God appreciates music also. Revelation indicates that singing for God before His throne will be a joyful experience. Until then, humans and music will go together as we long for the time when we are at home with God. For now, singing as we worship Him in our assemblies brings us joy as we honor our Creator.