RESPONDblog: The Persecution in Iraq is NOT about endings – but Resurrection

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There’s a staggering human rights crisis erupting in Iraq, right now. The Islamic terror group ISIS announced thru their Mosques last Friday that all Iraqi Christians are facing a choice.

Either – convert to Islam, or pay the exorbitant Jizya tax (in the West we call this protection money), or face the death penalty.

They are not kidding either – Fox News is reporting that …

they (ISIS) have beheaded, mutilated, raped, stoned and even crucified those whose behavior is “unIslamic” or whose religious convictions displease them.

There has been a church in Mosul since the 1st century. And yet today, the vast majority of the Christians there are fleeing for their lives.

It is an ironic truth that – in the years since the toppling of the dictator Saddam Hussein – religious extremism has been on the rise. Fast forward to today – Iraq is one of…

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RESPONDblog: the Hope of the World is NOT What You Might Think

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People from 61 nations are gathering at the O2 In London this week for the Hillsong Conference Europe, 2014

British, Norwegians, Germans, Russians, Ukrainians, Swedes…Swiss…Brazilians … the list of nations goes on. I even bumped into some Scots from Cumbernauld who were very happy being part of the UK #bettertogether

Seriously tho…International competitiveness and tensions have melted away this week…whether we are talking Russian and Ukrainian tension in the face of recent Crimean Peninsula annex. It’s gone. Or even Germany and Brazil facing each other in the aftermath of that 7 to 1 annihilation of Brazil during the World Cup! It’s not a barrier.

These issues – and so many more – are laid down. Because this isn’t a gathering of nations. It’s not even the gathering of individuals. No – this is a gathering of the church of Jesus Christ.

The Church of Jesus Christ is the hope of…

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RESPONDblog: the Hope of the World is NOT What You Might Think

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People from 61 nations are gathering at the O2 In London this week for the Hillsong Conference Europe, 2014

British, Norwegians, Germans, Russians, Ukrainians, Swedes…Swiss…Brazilians … the list of nations goes on. I even bumped into some Scots from Cumbernauld who were very happy being part of the UK #bettertogether

Seriously tho…International competitiveness and tensions have melted away this week…whether we are talking Russian and Ukrainian tension in the face of recent Crimean Peninsula annex. It’s gone. Or even Germany and Brazil facing each other in the aftermath of that 7 to 1 annihilation of Brazil during the World Cup! It’s not a barrier.

These issues – and so many more – are laid down. Because this isn’t a gathering of nations. It’s not even the gathering of individuals. No – this is a gathering of the church of Jesus Christ.

The Church of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world.

And let me make two observations about it.

FIRST – So many people have accused Christianity of being splintered…a movement of factions. Yet nothing can be further from the truth. We are not members of a club or a business organisation. We are not following a philosophy or a plan. We are not trying to impose a foreign culture on unsuspecting nations.

No – we are the church of Jesus Christ. We are the hope of the world.

We follow A PERSON not a religion.
We follow A PERSON not a code of conduct.
We follow A PERSON not a jumble of contradictory ancient texts. (But he’s ensured we’ve got a Bible which is consistent and of a single voice to lead us towards him)

SECOND – So often these days I hear people claim that THE LAST thing the world needs, is Religion. It is out of date…it is primitive…we need to embrace a more evolved sensibility.

And my response is – YES! We must ditch Religion. It is impotent…while being capable of enslaving innocent people. It is misguided – and incapable of solving humanity’s problems. Just like Humanism. Or the worship of Science (Scientism). These things do not even scratch the surface of humanity’s need.

What does?

Running to Jesus.

No Other Name can break the struggle we have in our lives with destructive behaviours.
No Other Name can give us hope for the future.
No Other Name can unite different peoples from disparate cultures
There is No Other Name we can go to to receive unconditional love and acceptance…and a forgiveness that transforms our lives from the inside out.

No wonder then that when Christians from 61 nations gather together, the barriers drop and the competitiveness dissolves. Because we can’t help but celebrate the life changing presence of Jesus Christ in our lives. And when it all comes down to it – our mission is to lift him up. To be the unique person he has made us to be – to employ the creativity he has gifted us with…to enjoy togetherness.

To worship Jesus.

The Church of Jesus Christ – in all it’s nationalities, thumb prints, flavours and varieties. We are the hope of the world.

“May the grace of The Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 2 Corinthians 13:14, NLT

RESPONDblog: The Persecution in Iraq is NOT about endings – but Resurrection

There’s a staggering human rights crisis erupting in Iraq, right now. The Islamic terror group ISIS announced thru their Mosques last Friday that all Iraqi Christians are facing a choice.

Either – convert to Islam, or pay the exorbitant Jizya tax (in the West we call this protection money), or face the death penalty.

They are not kidding either – Fox News is reporting that …

they (ISIS) have beheaded, mutilated, raped, stoned and even crucified those whose behavior is “unIslamic” or whose religious convictions displease them.

There has been a church in Mosul since the 1st century. And yet today, the vast majority of the Christians there are fleeing for their lives.

It is an ironic truth that – in the years since the toppling of the dictator Saddam Hussein – religious extremism has been on the rise. Fast forward to today – Iraq is one of the most dangerous places on the planet to be a Christian.

As a Christian living in the UK – I pray for the safety of these brothers and sisters. I am also under no illusions – religious freedom is increasingly being eroded in my country. There are regular reports of Christians being fired from their jobs because they have persisted in exercising their Christian freedom + faith – maybe by wearing a cross or talking to colleagues about Jesus. This is serious…tho the thin end of the wedge in comparison to Iraq!

Having said all of that I am aware of the following

1 – We are talking about CHRISTIANS
What is being a Christian all about? Well it is about being a CHRIST-ian. A person who bears the name of Jesus Christ. Who suffered and died as a result of the stand he took over the truth of God’s identity and His plan for the world. It is about being his arms and his legs, his hands and feet on planet earth. Of facing challenges in serving men and women. If Christ suffered and died – why should my Christian experience be devoid of suffering?

Of course – this is no justification for the criminal activity unfolding in Iraq.

2 – Jesus Christ died – yet he rose from the dead
The eyewitness testimony of the 1st century gospel accounts are unanimous that Jesus died on a cross on the Friday – but he returned from the dead on Sunday.

And as Christ-ians we can be sure that when people seek to stamp out the church of Jesus Christ – they will ultimately fail. Because resurrection is always to come.

Just look at the history of the Christian Church in China. It was thought for decades that the church had been stamped out in that nation – and yet thru the rise of technology and social media – we find that persecution has led to a phenomenal growth in the underground Church. Death cannot hold the church – resurrection follows.

I can only pray that this encourages my suffering friends in Iraq right now. This is not the end. The Church will be back – bigger and stronger than ever before.

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RESPONDblog: New Empirical Evidence Pointing Away from Darwinian Evolution

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An important experimental discovery has just been made that casts doubt on the traditional models of Darwinian Evolution. And instead, provides support for the existence of irreducibly complex – and by implication designed – mechanisms within Biology.

Biochemist Michael Behe does not believe that the incredibly intricate biological machinery in the cell has developed step by step, with natural selection acting on each viable mutation. Instead – he has contended that much cellular machinery is – like a mousetrap – irreducibly complex. In other words – if you take away the base or the spring or the lever or the trigger…the system fails to function as a mousetrap altogether. While the mousetrap example is hotly debated amongst Biologists – it is just a simple example. The real issue – is the incredible complex co-dependent mechanisms that we find, working away in the billions of cells that operate within our bodies.

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RESPONDblog: New Empirical Evidence Pointing Away from Darwinian Evolution

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An important experimental discovery has just been made that casts doubt on the traditional models of Darwinian Evolution. And instead, provides support for the existence of irreducibly complex – and by implication designed – mechanisms within Biology.

 

Biochemist Michael Behe does not believe that the incredibly intricate biological machinery in the cell has developed step by step, with natural selection acting on each viable mutation. Instead – he has contended that much cellular machinery is – like a mousetrap – irreducibly complex. In other words – if you take away the base or the spring or the lever or the trigger…the system fails to function as a mousetrap altogether. While the mousetrap example is hotly debated amongst Biologists – it is just a simple example. The real issue – is the incredible complex co-dependent mechanisms that we find, working away in the billions of cells that operate within our bodies.

 

And there is now some tantalizing experimental evidence that could just suggest that Behe has been on the right track all along.

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2014/07/so_michael_behe087901.html

 

The experiment was undertaken by the National Academy of Sciences, USA, and has focused on the proposed Darwinian process of Protein Evolution. While I’m no Biologist – I’ll explain what I know as simply as I can!

 

What are Proteins? They are the crucial biological machines that keep our bodies running. For example, Hemoglobin is the protein that allows oxygen to be carried thru your bloodstream. The protein is basically a precise, complex chain of many different amino acids. Proteins are constructed within cells – the protein has a distinctive 3 dimensional shape that determines its function. The instructions for assembling proteins from amino acids are found in our DNA, which lives in the nucleus of our cells.

hemoglobin

 

Since Charles Darwin, it has long been proposed that the evolution of life occurs one step at a time. Zooming down to the cellular level, it is proposed that protein evolution works something like this. An event causes the protein – which is composed of many amino acids – to randomly flip one of its amino acids in its chain. Assuming the newly mutated protein is still functionally viable – natural selection ensures that the system continues creating more and more proteins like the new mutated one for a while longer. Until the next new protein mutation occurs – and so on.

 

John Maynard Smith, Evolutionary Biologist, describes the process using a word game.

The object of the game is to get from one meaningful word to another meaningful word while only changing one letter at a time. Remember – each intermediate step must also be a meaningful word.

For example, to get from the word “WORD” to the word “GENE” takes 4 steps  –

WORD -> WORE -> GORE -> GONE -> GENE

 

This is the essential understanding of how protein evolution would work – one step at a time. Whenever an amino acid flips causing the intermediate to be non-meaningful (e.g. WORD -> WORQ) then natural selection ensures that that this latest protein does not continue to reproduce. This protein dies out.

 

This model makes sense – and it fits inside the wider cultural understanding of evolution in the West. Namely – day by day…step by step…we are getting better and better all the time.

 

So – what is the big deal around the latest experiments that perhaps point towards Design rather than evolution?

 

Behe has proposed in his book “The Edge of Evolution” that – for many functioning proteins, one could never ever arrive at its function by moving just one a step at a time toward it. Why? Because in order for the protein to survive – and maintain its meaningful status – more than one amino acid has to flip state simultaneously. In other words…two letters or more have to flip SIMULTANEOUSLY. Further, the nature of the protein is such that – were you to try to get to certain functions one step at a time – you would fail. The protein would die, it would become non-functional during the intermediate steps. UNLESS two or more specific amino acids flipped to the appropriate setting at the same time.

 

Behe was predicting that for the process of evolution to actually produce the complex protein mechanisms we find in life forms today – highly complex changes must happen in one evolutionary step. This is a massive problem for the theory of evolution – because science doesn’t believe the Universe is old enough to accommodate all the probabilities and random letter flipping involved. Darwin only works if we can get there one step at a time!

 

As you can imagine, many Darwinian Evolutionary Biologists have rejected Behe’s proposition. They choose instead to believe in a step by step approach to protein formation.

 

Well – this belief is now more tenuous than it used to be. The big deal this year is – Behe’s proposal of necessary highly complex mutation has been experimentally verified and documented by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA.

 

The experiment was related to how an important protein in the Malaria Parasite becomes resistant to anti-malarial drug chloroquine. They have proven experimentally that it cannot happen in a step wise fashion (WORD -> WORE -> GORE -> GONE -> GENE). Instead – for the protein to remain viable – it has to happen in a much more complex scenario (WORD -> GONE -> GENE). Two specific letters switching to a specific alterative SIMULTANEOUSLY. The Malarial Parasite does not become resistant to the drug unless this very rare and very specific complex mutation happens this precise way.

 

Now this is just one example where protein function requires highly complex mutation rather than stepwise mutation to arrive at a viable, new function. There are bound to be countless more. But it provides some experimental evidence that begins to support Michael Behe’s overarching thesis.

 

What is the overarching thesis?

 

The Universe is not old enough for all of life’s various proteins to evolve because more and more highly complex mutations would be required to get from one viable stage to another. The latest experimental results intensify this position – its not longer a theory, its experimental observation.

 

THEREFORE…maybe evolution hasn’t been the cause of these proteins after all. Rather – these irreducibly complex and co-dependent biological mechanisms are actually a small part of the work of an Intelligent Designer.

 

RESPONDblog: Does our New Testament Reflect what the Original Authors Actually Wrote?

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Imagine a classroom of 32 primary kids. As it’s a Friday afternoon – they are keen for the school week to end, and for the freedom of the weekend to begin. But before their weekend can start – you hand them a page out of a book and ask them to copy it out long hand. After the groans subside, the scribbling begins. And after a while – one by one – you gather in 32 completed copies and you send the kids off to enjoy their weekend.

 

What would you find as you start to read thru the manuscript copies they have handed in to you? Well – depending on how well the kids can read and write – you will probably find most of the kids have made a pretty good attempt at reproducing the words on the page. You will also probably find many mistakes as you read thru the hand written copies.

 

Spelling mistakes

Words missed out

Maybe whole sentences omitted

Perhaps even sentences or phrases in the wrong order

 

Now – imagine that you shred the original page that the kids started from. And your goal is to recreate that original page of text exactly. How are you going to achieve your goal? Well – you would use the kids’ copies to recreate the lost original page. It’s going to take a bit of work – but it should be doable. Right?

One kid misspells a crucial word in a sentence…but the other 20 manuscripts reproduce this word properly. We therefore know what the original word actually was…because we read it in the majority of the copies. So we use that word to recreate the original.

One kid gets a paragraph containing two sentences in the wrong order. But other manuscripts don’t make that mistake. So if we go with the majority order represented across our copies…then we have a great chance of reproducing what the original page said.

 

What has this got to do with the accuracy of the New Testament?

 

Well – let me introduce David Instone-Brewer, Senior Research Fellow in Rabbinics and the New Testament at Tyndale House.

http://www.tyndale.cam.ac.uk/index.php?page=david-instone-brewer

He says three things.

 

FIRST – there are lots and lots of ancient copies of the New Testament.  Copies of copies of copies and fragments; literally thousands. And more and more copies are being found all the time. The earliest ones date to the 2nd century. David himself has discovered some 4th century fragments of Romans chapter 8 that – many centuries ago –  were rolled up and used as part of the bindings of old leather bound books, that wound up at Christies Auction House in London. No other work of antiquity has such a vast catalog of early copies in the original language. The New Testament is a unique historical work.

 

SECOND – as the ancient copies are gathered together, it becomes clear that numerous minor copyist errors exist. After all – these copies were created by different people over a 2000 year period. From professional scribes, to people taking their own personal copy for use at home. There are three bigger issues which are also understood from the copies. The end of Mark’s Gospel has gotten lost, 1 John 5:7 is longer in late Latin translations than it is in the earliest Greek Translations, and the incident in John 8 with the woman caught in adultery sometimes appears in different places in some copies.

 

THIRD – if we go back to our classroom example of the reconstitution of the page by the school kids…this is a pretty good picture of the process Scholars use to re-construct the words and the meaning of what the original New Testament authors actually wrote.

 

Yes there are numerous copyist errors in the surviving manuscripts – and there remain some minor disputes in academia over certain words – but absolutely none of these disputes change the meaning of the New Testament text.

 

In other words – yes.  We can be sure.

 

Thru the science of textual criticism and translation of the recovered text from the original Greek into modern language…scholars assure us that the New Testament we read today is a 99.9% accurate reflection of what the original authors originally wrote.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RESPONDblog: Are Christians Just Atheists Who Believe In One More God?

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“I contend we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” — Stephen F. Roberts

I find this quote to be quite a troubling one… It leaves me wondering whether Stephen F. Roberts is really constructing an argument here…or whether he is just doing his level best to metaphorically “poke Christians in the eye” with a prickly soundbite!

Why do I say that?

First – in what universe can we equate Christianity with atheism? Atheism always involves the rejection of the existence of a deity – that’s what makes it atheism.

“Atheism : Disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods”, Oxford English Dictionary

A Christian can never be an atheist – simply because the foundation of Christianity is a belief in…

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RESPONDblog: Are Christians Just Atheists Who Believe In One More God?

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“I contend we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” — Stephen F. Roberts

I find this quote to be quite a troubling one… It leaves me wondering whether Stephen F. Roberts is really constructing an argument here…or whether he is just doing his level best to metaphorically “poke Christians in the eye” with a prickly soundbite!

Why do I say that?

First – in what universe can we equate Christianity with atheism? Atheism always involves the rejection of the existence of a deity – that’s what makes it atheism.

“Atheism : Disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods”, Oxford English Dictionary

A Christian can never be an atheist – simply because the foundation of Christianity is a belief in Jesus of Nazareth (as presented in the New Testament) as God; the second person of the Trinity that is presented throughout both Old and New Testaments. Yahweh – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Stephen and I can never both be atheists. Altho he is welcome to it if he wants it!

Second – while we are both rejecting gods, we are doing so from a very different starting point. This is where the prickly part of the soundbite emerges – because I think what Stephen is getting at…is this. He is saying, I don’t have to take time rejecting Christ as God…any more than you take the time to investigate and reject all of humanity’s other gods from history. It just happens naturally. My atheism, Stephen says, is the same as your rejection of all these other gods.

My response to this is – no, its really not the same at all. My worldview, my framework for reality, is built upon an expectation of the existence of a creator God. Yet the atheist’s worldview – by definition – excludes any such creator.

What i’m saying is this. I’m committed to the expectation that a real God does in fact exist. Stephen is committed to the very opposite. But I would – of course – argue that my position is the more rational and reasonable one.

Here’s a taste…Belief in a creator makes sense of the observable fine tuning of the Universe and for the existence of the functionally specified information that sits at the center of all life. It explains why objective moral values exist and are – in fact – consistent across all peoples and cultures.

Third – my belief in Jesus as God has got nothing at all to do with my investigation and rejection of historical pagan Gods (or indeed other World Religions). Do Stephen and I have something in common here at last? I’m not so sure.

It is all about the strength of the evidence that points to Jesus of Nazareth as the exclusive and only God. I have raised the world “evidence” now…and it is something that is conveniently denied by many atheists who I have spoken to. The evidence for Christianity is the bedrock on which it stands. It always has been.
“If Christ has not been raised then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless.” 1 Corinthians 15:14, NLT

So much evidence that so many atheists will deny…and sadly ignore when it is presented to them.

I think it is reasonable to say that – because the case for Christianity is so strong – our search for God can stop with Jesus.

Is this lazy or irresponsible? Well as J Warner Wallace points out, the legal system does this all the time. In a criminal trial, a jury is asked to weigh the evidence against a single defendant. Now – there are countless individuals who could have committed the crime. But the Jury’s job is to evaluate the evidence for just one person – the defendant. And if the evidence is strong enough – the jury will convict that person….based solely on the evidence pointing to that individual. And notice – they do this without evaluating any historical evidence around millions of different alternatives.

If Christianity’s claims are true – then ALL other religious claims are false. So we evaluate the evidence supporting Christianity. We are in the place of the jury in the trial. And if the evidence is strong enough – if the case is strong enough – we can reasonably look no further and stop with Jesus.

“…we can be confident unbelievers when it comes to every other potential god because the evidence for Christianity is more than sufficient.” — J. Warner Wallace

I’m no atheist – I accept my Creator wholeheartedly. Further, the case for Christianity is simply so strong – my search has reasonably ended. And my worship of Christ has begun.

RESPONDblog: Aha! But Who Made Your God, Then?

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It is the age-old school playground argument.

 

“You believe God created the world? Ha! Who made God then? Huh? Can’t answer that one, can you? Gotcha.”

 

In other words – belief in a creator God is absurd. And therefore – so is the question – “who made an eternal, un-caused God?”

 

While I don’t agree that belief in an eternal creator God is absurd – I  understand where the sentiment’s coming from. After all – we live each day interacting with people, we live in homes, we Google for stuff online, we feed the dog and take her walkies.  In other words – we are constantly interacting with things that had a beginning. There was a moment in time when my dog was born, when the Google servers first appeared online, and so on. We are beings with a beginning. We have a first cause. And so we view everything around us thru those lenses. And it makes belief in an eternal God feel absurd.

 

It is natural for people to assume that everything that exists today had a first cause.

This sounds logical – but actually it’s not.

It sounds scientific – but it’s not provable.

To be logical – we actually need to say – whatever BEGINS to exist has got a first cause. Our friends, pets, houses, websites etc.  That  feels right and proper, doesn’t it?

 

So here’s an interesting thought.

 

We also live each day with a bunch of things that DO NOT have a first cause. And they feel right and proper to us too. So what am I talking about?

 

Well – think about the laws of logic. The simplest is the law of identity, which states X=X. In other words – the chair you are sitting on IS a chair. It’s not something else. We work our way thru life – whether we know it or not – relying heavily on the laws of logic to make sense of our surroundings and what is happening. But these laws were not created by anyone – they were discovered. They were uncovered  – and a label was given to them. But the laws themselves have always been there.  A similar thing could be said about Mathematics, Morality, Music and so on. Humanity has not created these things – they never began to exist – but people naturally choose to use them. What caused Logic, Mathematics, Music or Morality? Nothing caused them – they just are; they are un-created. And we rely on them in our lives too.

 

Many of us will wrestle with this concept. But you know, it’s not so long since many scientists thought that something really big in our lives was also eternal and uncaused. Less than 100 years ago – Scientists believed that the Universe our planet spins thru was eternal. In other words – they rationally believed and defended the theory that the universe had been around forever. That there was no first cause of the Universe. That it was uncreated. Now – today cosmologists and physicists point to evidence of a moment of creation in the past. But for a long time, rational human brains argued for an eternal universe.

So here’s my point – if our best and brightest thinkers believed in an eternal uncaused universe just a few decades ago – why is it suddenly so irrational to point to evidence of an eternal, uncaused creator today?

 

Our lives are full of things that had a beginning – and therefore they had a cause. Our lives are also filled with things that never had a beginning – and therefore don’t have a first cause.

 

In the light of all that – and coming back to the playground question “who made God?”  – lets re-phrase the question a slightly different way.

“What caused the self-existent, uncaused Cause;  who is by definition unmade?”

When we look the question that way – we might just as well be asking “Why does the colour green look green? Why does a G chord sound like a G chord?” Well – it just does. We’ve been living with it for all our lives so far…why make such a big issue out of it?!

 

Who made God? No one made him. As the Bible tells us…He just is.

“The eternal God is your refuge, and his everlasting arms are under you.” Deuteronomy 33:27, NLT