Then and Now

     It began in Dayton, Tennessee, on May 25, 1925.  That was the day that high school science teacher John Thomas Scopes was indicted for teaching evolution.  It was against the law to teach evolution in a Tennessee public school back then.  The Scopes Monkey Trial, as it became known, pitted William Jennings Bryant for the prosecution against Clarence Darrow for the defense.  It proved to be a pivotal case for public education.
     It was a media spectacle.  In an unprecedented move prosecutor Bryant took the stand to be cross-examined by Darrow.  Playing up to public opinion Bryant’s testimony drew heavily on Christian sentiment instead of addressing the scientific premises of evolution.  Christians were afraid and suspicious of science.  They considered science an enemy to their faith.  That was then.
     Likewise scientists were afraid and suspicious of religion.  They considered religion an enemy of science.  The result was the competing issues became politicized.  School boards at the local and state levels became the battlefield for what would be taught in public classrooms.  The ongoing controversy generated a lot of heat and little light with evolutionists succeeding in framing the issue as fact versus faith.  Time and again faith was defeated.
     The vote of the Ohio State School Board in 2006 was typical.  The board voted eleven to four to remove language in the state’s science standards that encourages students to “investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.”  One school board member Martha Wise (poorly named) said her reason for voting to delete the language is because “it is deeply unfair to the children of this state to mislead them about science.”  Too late.
     The heart and soul of science is to investigate and critically analyze everything in the physical realm, including evolution.  I cannot fathom how it is misleading to teach children to do this very thing.  Anything less is not science, it is shamanism.
     Removal of such language and the reasoning for doing so reveal the fissure in the supposed factual arguments of evolutionists.  If evolution is more fact than theory, if it is so unquestionably true, if its underlying foundation is so faultless, why do evolutionists fear its examination?  If all roads of life’s origins and continued existence lead to evolution, why are evolutionists saying don’t read the map?
     This issue raised its head again in Tennessee.  Tennessee State Senator Bo Watson said, “It came to my attention that some teachers did not know how to respond when certain scientific theories were disputed in the classroom.”  If students raised questions regarding certain scientific theories the teachers were in a quandary as to their legal footing in engaging the students in honest dialogue.
     Senator Watson proposed SB 893.  It was the Tennessee Senate’s version of a bill that had already passed in the Tennessee House of Representatives.  It allows teachers, in keeping with the curriculum established by the Tennessee Board of Education, “to respond to the debate and dispute that may occur when certain scientific subjects are taught in the classroom.”  The ultimate purpose of the bill is to foster the “critical thinking skills of students and their ability to analyze information.”  Last month, May, the bill was adopted by the Tennessee Senate, about eighty-seven years after the Scopes Monkey Trial.  This is now.
     Of course the bill’s detractors claim it is an attempt to slip creation science and intelligent design in the back door of the schoolhouse.  So what if it is?  The bill is not a directive or mandate to teach a prescribed course of study.  It is a bill that allows open dialogue and honest debate.  That is something no true scientist should shy away from.
     Paul warned Timothy “guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge” which some have professed and thus gone away from the faith (1 Timothy 6:20-21 NASB).”  In the King James Version the Greek word gnosis (i.e., knowledge) is translated science.  Paul is not suggesting the avoidance of science, but the avoidance “of what is falsely called science.”
     I have maintained there is no contradiction between true science and true religion.  I have never read of any fact revealed by science that has caused me to doubt the Bible and I have never read anything in the Bible that caused me to doubt the facts revealed by science.  Science without religion is godless knowledge and religion without science is blind faith.  Mankind can ill afford either.
     Believers are beginning to recognize that what they thought was their enemy then is our friend now.

Rattlesnake Religion

Mark Wolford was highlighted in a November 2011 article in the Washington Post.  This “flamboyant Pentecostal pastor from West Virginia” is not media-shy and was not reluctant to call attention to his crusade to keep the practice of snake-handling alive.  Mark and his fellow followers take the words of Christ from Mark 16:18, “they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them,” as a command.  Mark made the news again last Sunday, possibly for the last time, when he was bitten by a rattlesnake he had just handled.  He died later that evening from the bite.  He was forty-four.

Mark was practicing a religious tradition that is popular among a few believers.  They handle snakes and some drink poison to prove their faith.  In fact, Mark’s father had died in 1983 at the age of thirty-nine in the same manner.  Those who believe like Mark interpret the words of Christ in the aforementioned passage literally.  They think they are obeying the command of Christ, and are putting their faith in Him to the test, by handling poisonous snakes.  They believe they will not be bitten, or if bitten, they will suffer no harm.

I believe in the literal meaning of Christ’ words also, but with a distinction.  The words they believe are an imperative, I believe to be prophetic.  In the twenty-eighth chapter of the book of Acts beginning in verse three we have an account of the apostle Paul, who along with his fellow travelers, is shipwrecked on the island of Malta.  While gathering wood for a fire Paul is bitten by a viper.  Paul shakes the serpent off into the fire and suffers no harm from the venom.

The words of Christ become clear in the light of this account.  If a messenger of the Gospel is by chance bitten by a poisonous serpent, he will be divinely protected so that the spread of the Gospel is unhindered.  The promise of protection is extended to those messengers who others may attempt to poison with a tainted drink.  Jesus’ statements were His prophetic insight that such events would occur by chance, and the design of the enemies of the Gospel, not a command to deliberately subject ourselves to such things to prove our faith.

When Jesus was tempted by the devil to prove his faith by throwing Himself of the pinnacle of the temple He responded, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test (Matthew 4:7).”  Jesus quoted these words from Deuteronomy 6:16 to show God the Father has commanded us to do nothing to deliberately put Him to the test or attempt to force His hand.  We should not think that the Creator can be manipulated by His creatures.

Mark Wolford, and his father before him, and others like them, who have died handling poisonous snakes or drinking a poisonous concoction, did not die because they lacked faith.  They died because they misunderstood the Scriptures.

In like manner, many today suffer physical and spiritual injury because they either do not understand or purposefully misinterpret the Scriptures.  The apostle Peter addresses this issue when talking about the writings of the apostle Paul.  He refers to Paul’s letters “which the untaught and the unstable distort, as they do the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.”  Misapprehension of the Scriptures can be both deadly and damnable.

Peter warns against allowing the Scriptures to become “a matter of one’s own interpretation (2 Peter 1:20-21).”  When God inspired the various biblical authors to write His Word, He was communicating a specific message within a historical context.  The Bible is to be studied objectively.  That is to say Bible scholars study to understand God’s specific message then, so they can understand how to properly apply its principles now.  The Bible is not a book that is meant to be subjected to interpretation according to one’s personal perspective or philosophy, or their likes and dislikes.  God’s word is not meant to be twisted and distorted to suit one’s politics, lifestyle, or culture.  God says what he means, and means what He says.

Mark Wolford’s misguided understanding of the declaration of Jesus proved deadly, but I am not convinced his actions are damnable.  Our first parents did not prove to be good serpent handlers either.  Failing to trust God’s command and declared consequences of doing so resulted in Adam and Eve mishandling the serpent’s sales pitch.  The result of their actions proved damnable, and that is why some serpents’ bite is deadly.

No matter how you look at it, man does not have good outcomes when he tries to handle serpents.

Gifted Hands

     Ben was born on September 18, 1951, in Detroit, Michigan.  When he was eight years old his parents divorced.  His mother only had a third grade education, but worked hard at several menial jobs to provide for Ben and his brother Curtis.  A poor student, Ben was mocked by his classmates and he began to respond violently.  Poor and troubled, Ben’s life was in a downward spiral.    
     Concerned her sons were not doing well academically, Ben’s mother Sonya restricted their TV time requiring them to do their homework first.  She made the boys get library cards and read two books a week and submit a book report to her on what they read.  Within the year Ben’s scholastic progress amazed his teachers and fellow students.  When he won an achievement award, a white teacher ridiculed the white students for allowing a black student to best them academically.    
     Though he was improving in school, he still had a violent temper.  Once he threatened his mother with a hammer and in another incident seriously injured a classmate by bashing his head into a locker.  Then in an argument with a friend over which radio station to listen to, he tried to stab him with a knife.  The knife struck his friend’s belt buckle and broke.  Fearing he had hurt his friend he ran home and locked himself in the bathroom with a Bible.  He asked God to help him control his anger and read Proverbs 16:32, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.”    
     Ben graduated from Yale in 1973, and then attended the School of Medicine at the University of Michigan.  He became a resident at John Hopkins University in 1977.  Specializing in neurosurgery he made medical history when he successfully separated the craniopagus Binder twins in 1987.  It was the first time siamese twins conjoined at the head had been surgically parted and lived.    
     Today Benjamin Solomon Carson, Sr., has been the head of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins University’s Children Center for more than twenty-five years.  He continues to perform three hundred surgeries a year and is a board member of numerous educational institutions and businesses.  He is an internationally respected neurosurgeon and has earned recognition and awards that time and space prevent being shared here.  In 2008 President Bush awarded him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor of the United States of America.    
     When Jim Wagner, President of Emory University, invited Carson to give the commencement address this past May 14, he said, “Few men or women have demonstrated to so inspiring a degree the transformational effect of liberal learning and the humanities.  Dr. Carson has transformed lives both inside the operating room and beyond.”  But four professors, one hundred sixty faculty members and a number of students protested Wagner’s choice of Carson.    
     Carson is a dedicated Christian and flatly rejects the theory of evolution.  He has said the fossil record does not “provide evidence for the evolution of humans from a common ancestor with other apes.”  Carson correctly surmises the theory of evolution is morally bankrupt, and also holds that “life is too complex to have originated by the natural process of evolution.”      
     His detractors claim “the theory of evolution is as strongly supported as the theory of gravity and the theory that infectious diseases are caused by microorganisms.”  Gravity and germs causing disease are not theories, they are observable facts.  Evolution is not even in the same ballpark, and to think it and say it is the best evidence, at least in respect to evolutionists, that they may share a simian ancestry.  Carson knows what sounds good in the classroom does not always work in the operating room.    
     The made for television movie Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story was my introduction to the life and achievements of Ben Carson.  My brother in Christ believes man is created in the image of God.  I have often said and I believe Ben would agree, that “man has an image to live up to, not a lineage to live down.”    
     One would think that out of respect for the sheer magnitude of his accomplishments and the height of his achievements, Ben Carson’s detractors could have tolerated his remarks and presence at Emory’s graduation ceremony and remained silent.  But wounded intellects seem to unerringly default to their pigheaded nature.  In the end the man whose “gifted hands” could separate the shared brains of conjoined twins could not separate the professors of evolution from their own prejudices.

The Resurrection

“Why do you seek the living One among the dead?  He is not here, but He has risen (Luke 24:5-6).”

The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most pivotal event in Christianity and human history.  Christianity is founded upon it and human history is divided by it.  This year on April 8, 2012, Christians around the world from every nation, race and tongue will celebrate Easter Sunday commemorating this singular event.

As Easter approaches the resurrection of Jesus Christ is foremost in the thoughts of the faithful and those not so faithful.  Undoubtedly critics will arise.  Enemies of the faith point to the miracles declared in the Bible as evidence that it is filled with myths and fairy tales.  The Scriptures, they say, cannot be trusted or believed.

Of those miracles recorded in Holy Writ probably the hardest to believe is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  To most, the idea that a dead man can live again seems incredible.  But this truth is central to the Christian creed, and, indeed, Christianity stands or falls on its historical authenticity.  So, what happened almost two thousand years ago?

I have maintained there is a difference in faith and blind faith.  Are Christians called to blindly believe in the Resurrection?  Where is the evidence for it?  While faith will always be a necessary ingredient in the life of every believer, we have not been left totally in the dark.  The evidence of the Resurrection can be clearly seen in the lives of the disciples, and the faith that was founded on their eyewitness accounts.

Anticipating that the disciples would attempt to steal the body of Christ and fake his resurrection, the Sanhedrin requested the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, to place a Roman seal on the tomb of Christ and to post a Roman guard to prevent the theft of the body.  Pilate agreed.

The following statement is a loose adaptation from the words of Scottish theologian Dr. Principal Hill.

If you do not believe Christ rose from the dead you must believe the following.  That a handful of fishermen, one ex-tax collector, and some unemployed fellow followers, who were born to a lower class and had no inside connections, who were overcome by grief at the death of their teacher, and whose hopes that He was the Messiah had been shattered when He was crucified, and were afraid of being arrested, regained their composure, formulated a plan, and within three days executed it so well, they completely outwitted the Jewish and Roman authorities, caught unawares and over-powered a fully armed Roman detail superior in number, and did it under cover of darkness without raising an alarm or awakening a single citizen in overcrowded Jerusalem.  They hid the body of Christ so well it was never discovered.  These same men then proceed to preach this lie of the Resurrection of Christ without ever profiting from it and, in fact, they were disinherited, pilloried, and persecuted, so they could trick the world into being good and honest.  Each was eventually martyred, and not one attempted to save himself by revealing the truth.  You must believe they suffered ridicule, beatings, persecutions, and death for what they knew to be a lie.  If you can believe that then you should not have any problem believing in miracles.

History is inundated with accounts of those who have died for what they believed.  But those who sacrificed their lives for the things they believed did so believing them to be true.  I am not aware of a single instance in the history of mankind in which someone died for what he knew to be false.  If, as some say, the disciples stole the body of Christ and hid it, is it reasonable to believe they gave the remainder of their lives to suffer privations, persecutions and death knowing that the Resurrection was a lie?

What did Peter see that transformed him from the fearful follower who had denied Christ three times, to the man who, when standing before the same Sanhedrin that had condemned Christ, declared, “We must obey God rather than men.  The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross…we are witnesses of these things (Acts 5:29-32).”  How could Peter fear death when he had spoken with the One who had conquered it?  No, ours is not a blind faith.

 

Lest We Forget

On March 2, 2012, thirty-eight people in four states died from tornadoes.  One report told of Teri Kleopferi of Chelsea, Indiana, who lost her husband’s aunt and uncle and their four year old grandchild.  Fighting back tears she said the homes and other possessions lost were “just things.”  She said “I tried to gather my thoughts…about the family.  It’s been hard.  We can’t replace them.”  You can hear her heart break in her words.

This homeland tragedy, like the tsunami that struck Japan last year and the earthquake that rocked Haiti the year before, leave people of faith asking a simple question; why?

Pat Robertson, who said the earthquake that hit Haiti was God’s judgment, now says God was not responsible for the tornadoes that killed so many.  He was quick to infer the victims were to blame for living in an area prone to tornadoes and for not having enough faith to pray the tornadoes away.  I do not like to criticize Pat Robertson because his ministry has given birth to such charities as Operation Blessing International providing humanitarian aid to people in need around the world.  But his willy-nilly statements regarding a number of recent issues do not serve biblical truth well.  His misstatements run the risk of making him irrelevant.

Bestselling author John Piper said “Jesus rules the wind.  The tornadoes were His.”  His perspective is that of the Calvinist who is quick to emphasize the sovereignty of God which seems to bespeak an indifferent attitude to the human suffering in the midst of these recent disasters.

I know it can get confusing.  One preacher says God is not responsible for these tornadoes and another says He is.  This is why I urge believers to read their Bibles.  When Christians read and discover the truth for themselves it brings a faith and peace to the human heart that the conflicting views of others will never be able to accomplish.

It seems clear to me that the disobedience of Adam and Eve introduced an evil that was universal in scope.  I do not know, and the Bible has not given us any specific details of what Eden was like before the Fall, but I believe it was a very different kind of place than what the world is today.  Their fall ushered in a fallen world.  Our first parents desired to know good and evil, and evil cannot be understood with the intellect alone, it must be experienced to fully know it.  Ergo, God has allowed each successive generation to experience the reality of a fallen world to remind us afresh of the folly of not trusting what He has said.

Mankind is a forgetful lot.  We sometimes grow comfortable and think this is our home, when the truth is we are just passing through.  Both believer and unbeliever are here temporarily.  We live in a world with an enemy hostile to our presence, where our existence can be obliterated suddenly and without warning.  There is not a moment here when we are safe and secure in the purely natural sense.

Paul has assured us “that neither, death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).”  True security is found in Christ alone; to seek security elsewhere is foolish.

What should be the Christian response to these tragedies?  We should support the relief efforts.  We should take comfort in knowing what happened did not escape God’s notice and He was there in the midst of the storm.  He is infinitely concerned with each one that was spared and each one that was lost.  We can rest on the truth that the Judge of the whole earth did what was right in each individual case.  Amid the chaos God was still in control.  Death is only tragic if you believe it is the end of life, for the believer death is merely the doorway to heaven.

I believe in the sovereignty of God.  The recent catastrophes do not lead me to think God has lost His grip on the universe.  These events serve to remind me of where I am at, how I should be living my life, and where I am going.  They should be a reminder to us all that life is short and death is certain.  They should serve as a reminder, lest we forget.

Thanksliving

    There are a host of Scriptures that enjoin us to give thanks to God.  In the midst of prayer, when we are asking Him for things, we should always be mindful of what He has already accomplished for us, what He is doing on our behalf, and what He has promised in the future lest we seem ungrateful.  In the midst of an ungrateful culture possessed with a sense of entitlement, bound by materialism, and blinded by hedonism, the Christian should be distinguished by an “attitude of gratitude.”  For the Christian, thanksgiving is not celebrated just one day out of the year; our daily lives should be characterized by “thanksliving.”
     Of the ten legally recognized Federal holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas are the only two that have a religious heritage.  Although the term “holiday” is a compound derivative of the term “Holy Day,” the other eight federal holidays are secular in nature in that they merely memorialize an important event in our nation’s history, or they recognize the contribution a group or individual has made to our country.  Calling them secular is not to slight their importance.  The secular holidays help form our country’s national identity predicated on our history.  And our history is “His story” displaying the sovereign hand of God shaping our nation’s destiny and its role in the history of mankind.
     But our two religious holidays are significant as well.  Christmas is a decidedly Christian holiday and while thanksgiving for God’s providence has a long established tradition in the Jewish economy of worship, but in this country its practice has been adopted and sustained by the Christian community.  Historically speaking, it was the Pilgrims of Plymouth that introduced its practice to the New World and whose purpose for settling here was declared in the Mayflower Compact.  These Christian pioneers made it clear that their colony had been “undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith.”  While the pluralistic perspective in our culture leads some to say we are not a Christian nation, the historical record says otherwise regarding our inception.
     I am not saying that our country has maintained the Christian consensus that existed in our nation’s formative years.  One can hardly ignore the fact that many in our society have drifted from their spiritual moorings to lash their hopes to false gods and false religions.  The words of G. K. Chesterton speak with fresh relevance to our generation.  He said, “It has often been supposed that when people stop believing in God they believe in nothing.  Alas, it worse than that, when they stop believing in God they will believe in anything.”  For many, this is where our country is at, away from God.  But it is an ever present truth that when people break the law of God, ultimately, the law of God breaks them.  God’s commandments are meant for our good.  Just as a father would warn his child of danger, God tells us not to do things that are inexorably self-destructive.
     It has been this way since the beginning.  While the sin of Adam and Eve broke God’s heart, it was they who suffered the consequences.  We do not break the law of God as much as God’s law breaks us.  When we break God’s law it is we who suffer the consequences.  It is my prayer that this nation will experience revival and a return to the God of our fathers, the God of the Bible.
     Thanksgiving means many things to many people.  For many it will be a day away from work and time spent with family and friends.  Even the poorest among us will dine on a feast and eat enough to probably feed a third-world family for a week.  Then there is the entertainment.  There will be parades and football games galore for your viewing pleasure.  Wikipedia says Thanksgiving Day “was a holiday to express thankfulness, gratitude, and appreciation to God, family and friends for which all have been blessed of material blessings and relationships.  Traditionally, it has been a time to give thanks for a bountiful harvest.  This holiday has since moved away from its religious roots.”  Given the distractions afforded by our affluence many probably have “moved away from its religious roots.”
     Here’s a news flash for Wikipedia; we are still depend on a bountiful harvest.  We are still dependent on twelve inches of topsoil and some rain at the right time or we would all starve.  Given that truth would it not be wise to return to our “religious roots,” to return to the Lord of the harvest.  To my family in the faith I say celebrate this Thanksgiving by “keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2).”  Then practice “thanksliving” the other 364 days.
Yours in His service,
 
Gary B. King, Pastor
WayWord Ministries
 
“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.”
Isaiah 40:8 (NASB)