We get a lot of questions that contain the phrase, “what is wrong with?” The idea seems to be that there is a religious issue involved in the social practices of today, but many people don’t understand what it is. Parents have asked me to tell them how to explain to their child that tattoos are biblically wrong. Others have written that being overweight is a sin and that eating foods that are not healthy is biblically wrong. Another question involves whether the Bible condemns vaping. The use of alcohol has been an issue for a very long time.
The current mantra of our culture is, “What I do with my body is up to me. What is wrong with…?” The Apostle Paul wrote something about that:
“Do you not know that you are God’s sanctuary, and that God’s Spirit has his home in you? If anyone desecrates the temple of God, God will bring him to ruin. For the temple of God is sacred, and that is what you are.” 1 Corinthians 3:16-17.
When we use the Bible to decide a moral or religious issue, it is essential to look at the context of the passage. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 3 to a congregation of people whom he says are carnal, not spiritual (Verses 1-3). Verse 9 finds Paul telling these carnal people that as Christians, they should be fellow-workers with God and that Christ must be their foundation (verse 11). What is wrong with the way they were acting? Paul’s chief complaint with the Christians in Corinth is that their carnal nature has produced a power struggle (verses 3-8).
The message here is spiritual, not physical. Paul is not saying that if you vape, God will send cancer to destroy you. God’s message and outreach to a lost world come through His workers here on Earth. In Acts 2:38, Peter promised God’s Spirit to Christians. Engaging in things that defeat God’s outreach to others can cause them to be lost. We need to take care of our bodies and do so in a way that enables us to be God’s workers to reach others.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 8 that we sin against others when we do something or eat something that causes them to be lost. I can’t be the influence that God calls me to be if I am immersed in the excesses of the culture in which I live. How I dress, what I eat or drink, and what I do is essential to my witness. I implore Christians to avoid vaping or drinking alcohol or eating unwisely for that reason.
Yesterday we reported on the LGBT conflict which is breaking the United Methodist Church apart. The dispute over sexual morality is also affecting one of the oldest and most highly regarded theological seminaries in the United States–Fuller Theological Seminary. The conflict involves Christian seminary students in same-sex marriages.
Fuller has a “Sexual Standards Policy,” which states that the seminary “holds marriage to be a covenant union between one man and one woman.” The policy also says that “homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct” are “inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture.” Two students, one man and one woman, were expelled because the seminary learned that they were in same-sex marriages. They are both suing the school for one million dollars each.
The problem here is that Fuller and many other Christian colleges and seminaries receive government assistance in scholarships and other educational funding. Title IX government funding rules bar “discrimination based on sex.” The original intent of this rule was that women could not be refused participation in educational programs just because they were women. Now LGBT supporters are mounting legal efforts to expand Title IX protections to gender identity and sexuality.
What happens here will have a profound effect on Christian colleges who participate in any scholarship program where government grants or loans allow students to get an education. This would include those with minority and military scholarships. It will also affect those schools and churches that use government commodities in benevolent programs or minority support programs.
Christian seminary students in same-sex marriages is only one aspect of a growing problem. It seems that the government’s beliefs about morality are dictating what Church programs can teach. The only option is for churches and schools not to use government support in any way, or else they must change their moral teachings.
One of the most divisive issues facing all Americans, including churches, is the question of how to handle the issue of sexuality in a changing culture. The United Methodist Church has been the most public about the struggle going on within their denomination. In an article in Christianity Today for January/February 2020, Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, discussed the Methodist Church as an indicator of religion in America. Tooley says, “The Methodist Church has boasted of being America’s church, and whatever is going on in America is going on in the Methodist Church.” What can we learn from the Methodist division about the future of religion in America?
Atheists have used the LGBT issue effectively against belief in God. They insist that refusing to accept anyone based on sexual preference is a form of abuse and a violation of human rights. The United Methodist Church added a sentence to “The Book of Discipline” in the 1970s, saying that the Methodist Church “does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” In 2019 that stance was reinforced by a vote of 438 to 384. That vote indicated the depth of division on this issue. Now the Methodists are debating how to divide into two denominations to make everyone happy. Will the Methodist division make anyone happy? What effect will it have on the future of religion in America?
The Does God Exist? Ministry maintains that God’s Word is 100% true and is the only trustworthy guide to all decisions made in life. These facts support that view and are the only way Christians can consistently deal with the LGBT issue:
*Abusing anyone because of their choices in life violates the teachings of Jesus.
*Sexual feelings do not demand sexual expression. Premarital sex, adultery, and fornication of all kinds are not mandated by being human. Same-sex attraction does not have to be consummated in sexual acts any more than being a single sexual teenager with raging hormones does. Abstinence is biblical and logical.
*LGBT lifestyles are destructive. All data shows that STDs are more prevalent in LGBT practitioners. Sex-change operations create the need for medication for the remainder of life. Psychological issues are involved in most LGBT choices.
Sexual orientation is not always a conscious choice of those with LGBT issues. Environmental issues, genetics, abuse, and family and peer issues are always involved. The Christian response to people struggling with their sexuality must be compassionate caring, and loving-kindness, with sympathetic support.The Church must lead in doing all of this. The future of religion in America must require that we NOT change the Bible to fit the current beliefs of the culture.
Many of the atheist diatribes do not try to counter the massive evidence for God’s existence. Instead, they criticize things that have been done by people who claim to be Christians. From the Crusades to inquisitions to witch hunts, people claiming to be Christ-followers have conducted themselves in un-Christlike ways.
King James 1 had a major role in the effort to eradicate witchcraft from 17th century England. The Lancashire witchcraft trials in 1612 were a part of his legacy. Of course, he also commissioned the 1611 King James translation of the Bible into English. There is no Hebrew or early Greek word for “witch,” but because of the cultural climate of the day, the term “witch” was used in passages dealing with idolaters, mediums, or sorcerers.
Denominations who came to America with the King James Bible in their hands used the word “witch” to deal with even such things as a charm or remedy. Galatians 5:20 uses the Greek word “pharmakia” to describe sorcery, which refers to casting spells. It is translated as “witchcraft” in many Bibles. In 1 Samuel 15:23, the Hebrew word “qasam” is translated “witchcraft” in the KJV. A better translation is “divination,” which is the pagan parallel to prophesying.
In the Old Testament, anyone who was into astrology or enchantments was dealt with harshly. (See Exodus 22:18, Deuteronomy 18:10, 2 Kings 9:22, 2 Chronicles 33:6, and Micah 5:12.) When Jesus canceled the old law by “nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14), He did away with the violent retaliation that the law prescribed.
Witch hunts resulted in the terrible things that happened in the witch trials of Salem, Massachusets, in 1692 and 1693. People were tortured and killed because they were accused of witchcraft. Read Matthew 5-7 to see how Jesus dealt with the opponents of His teaching. God is a God of love, full of compassion and care for all human beings. Those who claim to be witches need the same love and care that all humans seek. Instead of condemning them to torture and death, Christians should show them that Christ’s love can meet their real needs.
One of the most interesting questions about creation is how elements are produced. Simply saying that “God did it” is not the answer. The question we are asking is HOW God did it. A particular challenge to science has been the heavy element mystery.
We understand and can duplicate the production of light elements by the process of nuclear fusion. Hydrogen nuclei can be fused to produce helium, and we see this process as it takes place in the Sun. We can duplicate the process in the hydrogen bomb. As we study the stars, we see other elements produced in stellar processes. When supernova 1987A exploded, scientists saw neon being produced, which is far beyond anything we can do. In theory, the first 26 elements in the periodic chart could be produced by what we see happening in stars.
The heavy element mystery is how elements heavier than iron are produced. For example, how do you make gold? The old alchemists tried in vain to make it by reactions in the laboratory, but we have not seen it being produced even in supernovas. The number of protons present in gold is over three times the number of protons in iron. The amount of energy required to make an atom of gold by nuclear fusion is beyond our comprehension.
In 2017, scientists observed two neutron stars colliding and producing elements heavier than iron. But what would it take to produce uranium with 92 protons and a weight 238 times heavier than hydrogen? That remains a real heavy element mystery. We are not suggesting a “god of the gaps” explanation. In the distant future, science may find an answer, but what it testifies to is the incredible power we see in the cosmos and the design that allows us to have the gold, silver, platinum, and radioactive materials we use.
The heavy element mystery reminds us of how puny and small we are in the context of creation. We have an even better understanding of our insignificance than did the author of Psalms 8:3-4 who wrote, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars which you have ordained; what is man, that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him.”
Whom or What Do You Worship? For many people, the immediate reaction is to say something like, “I don’t worship anything. I am a self-made person.” A more degrading answer might be, “Worship is for sissies, and I don’t need that junk.” Webster’s dictionary defines worship as “rendering of homage to something or someone” or “rendering religious reverence to something or someone.” Worship is not confined to an activity done in a church building. Some people worship nature, some worship an experience, others worship celestial objects or animals, or even their job or their mate. God doesn’t need our worship. Worship is for our benefit, not God’s.
From a biblical perspective, there is an easy answer to why we do these things. God created us in His image, and God is a Spirit (Genesis 1:26-27 and John 4:24). We all have a spiritual component which is a part of our makeup. Romans 8:16 tells us, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Atheists have this spiritual makeup, and they express it in their obsessions in life. I have known atheists who worshipped sex or their material possessions or an activity like fishing. They would render homage to the object of their worship that would shame any preacher.
What is unique about Christian worship is that it can be controlled and directed to productive uses. Jesus warned his followers to avoid worshiping “the traditions of the elders” (See Mark 7:1-8). Paul reflected on the same idea in Colossians 2:8 warning about making philosophy the object of one’s worship. He goes on in verses 16-23 about making religious rules an object of worship. In Romans 1:25, Paul talks about “worshipping the things made instead of the maker.” Thus we must ask, “Whom or what do you worship?”
How we express the spiritual drive that is built into all of us is essential and within our control. To establish meaningful worship, 1 Timothy 4:12-13 and Hebrews 10:24-25 encourage reading and learning. James 1:27 points out that pure religion and worship comes in meeting the needs of those less fortunate than ourselves. Our worship as Christians is not just a Sunday morning thing. Worship is a continual activity. Hebrews 13:15-16 talks about worship through voices. James 5:13 talks about personal prayer, and in Matthew 6:5-15, Jesus talks about private prayer worship as a part of daily life. Even giving is an act of worship, expressed in Hebrews 13:16, 2 Corinthians 9:7, and Acts 20:35.
Worship with the wrong attitude can be destructive, even for Churches. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-22, Paul says the worship of that congregation did more harm than good. Those with no relationship to God are likely to find whatever they worship is disappointing and unfulfilling. Learning to look to a higher power is widely recognized as a technique to help us find satisfaction and overcome problems in life. Ephesians 2:18 tells us that Christians have access to the Father. Worship in private and in corporate service can be a tool to bring us great satisfaction and solutions to the major problems of life.
Whom or what do you worship? Other worship alternatives don’t benefit the worshipper or anyone else in such profound ways as when we worship God.
The more we learn about the human body, the more we see the complexity that defies any notion of mindless creation. The latest count of microscopic species that live in or on our bodies is over 10,000. The total number of single-cell microbes is over one-hundred trillion. These are not just hitchhikers that have come along for the ride. They are essential to the proper functioning of our bodies. Scientists have well studied most of these microbes, but the scientific literature continues to report on new roles for microbes that scientists previously thought to have no function. We marvel at the amazing complexity of being you.
This complexity is minor compared to DNA. The project to sequence the human genome formally began in 1990 and was completed in 2003. If you wonder why it took so long, consider the enormous size of the DNA molecule. Packed into every cell of your body is a DNA strand that, if you unwound it and stretched it out, would be about three meters long. Considering the number of cells in the human body, if you took the stretched-out DNA molecules from every cell and laid them end-to-end, they would reach from here to the Sun and back almost 70 times. A few years ago, the popular literature told us that 98% of our DNA was junk with no functional use. Since that time, science has learned that over 80% of human DNA has a function, and you don’t hear about “junk DNA” anymore.
The point of all these numbers is to show the amazing complexity of being you. The human body is an incredibly complicated machine with a blueprint that scientists are still not able to read. As we do read parts of that blueprint, we find that our assumptions about our bodies have led to unfortunate medical decisions. As a child, I can remember the polio epidemic and the pain and misery that it brought to some of my friends. It is incredible that I never contracted this virus because when I was very young, I had a lot of throat problems, and the doctor decided to remove my tonsils. We now know that the tonsils are the only area of the body that can synthesize antibodies to fight poliomyelitis. If you don’t have tonsils, your chances of developing polio increase significantly.
We hear promoters of the theory of human evolution glibly talk about the chance mutations of life that would lead to what humans are today. Assuming that the incredible complexity of the human body can come about by chance alone is to accept a faith that defies reason. The simple biblical statement that “God formed man of the dust of the Earth” ignores the intelligence and design that is required. The Psalmist had a glimpse of the amazing complexity of being you when he wrote, “I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14-15). Today we know far more about our creation than David did, and we can add our voice to that praise.
We have just finished the Christmas and New Year holiday, and Christmas cards are piled up on my desk. It isn’t that I have so many people who send me Christmas cards. Most of the cards are from organizations wanting a donation. They send a “gift” of a bunch of cards and hope it will shame me into giving to their cause. What is interesting to me is the Christmas card picture of baby Jesus in the manger.
I have Muslim and Buddhist friends who laugh at that Christmas card picture. Muhammad was an upper-class, wealthy military man who married into money and lived in comfortable conditions. Buddha was a Hindu prince who was not even allowed to see a diseased or suffering human. Sometime after the age of 29, he left the palace behind and became a wandering ascetic.
In contrast to these founders of major faiths, Jesus Christ was born in a town in which He was an alien. He grew up in Nazareth, a low-class village in the occupied territory of Galilee. (See John 1:46.) When you read passages like Matthew 5:41, you realize how much Rome controlled everything. John 19:10 points out that the Romans knew they had control. Christ had no political power and no army. He was born an “illegitimate child” to a mother who left town when she realized she was pregnant. (See Luke 1:38-39.) People wondered why Jesus spent His time with the poor, despised, and downtrodden. (See Matthew 9:11-13.) Unlike Mohammed or Buddha, Jesus came into a world of misery, war, prejudice, pain, strife, and violence and did not associate with political leaders or the social elite.
Because of the birth and upbringing of Jesus, people were amazed at His teaching. (See Matthew 7:28-29.) It is also because of the background of His life that we cannot have a problem that Jesus doesn’t understand. He had no money – only his cloak. He was “born on the wrong side of the tracks.” He was born an “illegitimate child.” Unlike followers of all other faiths on Earth, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way just as we are – yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
I have seen mangers. They are dirty with mouth slime from cattle plus insects and worms and unprotected from the elements. The sterile, clean, neat, ordered Christmas card picture is not reality. However, but it can remind us of how God in His wisdom provides for us and understands our needs. The birth and upbringing of Christ provide an apologetic for the validity of Christianity.
We have said many times before that science and faith are friends, not enemies. The conflict comes when we have bad science or bad theology, and there has been a lot of both. It becomes increasingly necessary in today’s polarized world to avoid fake science and false religious doctrines.
From the beginning of the Church, there have been preachers and teachers who were spreading false doctrines. (2 Corinthians 11:13, 1 Timothy 1:3). Today some scientists present falsified scientific research. Elisabeth Bik, a microbiology researcher, has spent the past few years searching out fraudulent science. She searched 20,000 reports of medical research and found that 800 of them (4%) contained manipulated images.
One of the fraudulent papers Bik found was the work of a Pfizer cancer lab researcher. The images had been edited to show results that were not true. After Bik alerted Pfizer, they fired the researcher, and then investigated her previous research on cancer therapeutics. They found more bogus papers that they had to retract. Scientists often use the work of their peers as a basis for further research. If they are basing their work on false information, the whole system becomes polluted, and lives may be endangered.
Publishing scientific work in prestigious academic journals can lead to respect by other scientists as well as career enhancement and increased income. That creates a “publish or perish” mentality. The temptation to falsify the data becomes strong, and sometimes scientists yield to temptation. That’s a good reason why faith in God is necessary for scientists. Furthermore, the science journals don’t have the staff or funds to catch mistakes, and they are reluctant to retract what they have printed.
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 !!