Saturday, January 26, 2013

How Nature Proves There is a Designer

In my previous post I talked about the logical path toward faith that we can help young people, or skeptics of any age, discover. Step one in a logical path toward faith begins with the understanding that the incredible level of organization in the universe is mathematically improbable without an intelligent designer behind it. Scientists are amazed at the complex level of order in the universe. Whole websites have been dedicated to this reality, such as, which gives an array of articles about how the design of the human body, the level of order in plant life, and the complex level of design in the animal world show the fingerprints of a designer.

It is not just theologians who see these designs in nature. John Ashton, an Australian research scientist with a PhD from the University of Newcastle, where his dissertation won the university’s educational research prize, recently edited In Six Days: Why Fifty Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation. As the title suggests, it contains articles written by fifty dierent scientists who see God through science. Mere Creation: Science, Faith & Intelligent Design, edited by William Dembski, an analytic philosopher and a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, contains articles from nineteen experts who are trained in mathematics, mechanical engineering, philosophy, astrophysics, ecology, and evolutionary biology. Each article debunks materialistic naturalism on both scientific and philosophical grounds. Additional books by scientists espousing some form of intelligent design in the universe are being published regularly as increasingly more and more scientists see evidence for a designer in nature. The point I am making is that nature itself screams out that there is a Designer. This is just one step in a logical path toward faith. We will discuss other steps on that path in the next few posts.

Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Logical Path Toward Faith

Lately we have been discussing on this blog how to help skeptics find a logical path toward a God of truth. Just telling them, “the Bible says so” is not enough because they do not believe the Bible and are not even sure there is a God. Though there are many ways in which we may go about having this discussion with our skeptical friends, I suggest that we can help them consider this path of logic toward God:

1. The incredible level of organization in the universe is mathematically improbable without an intelligent designer behind it.

2.  The sheer number of supernatural events that happen in the world indicates that designer is a supernatural being, which many cultures would call God.

3. If such a supernatural designer (God) exists, that God must have designed the universe for a purpose.

4. If we discover that purpose, our lives will have more meaning because we will then understand why we are experiencing life to begin with.

5. Since only God knows our purpose, if we come to know and understand God, we are more likely to discover our purpose.

6.  Therefore, we must make knowing and understanding God a key priority in our lives.

This logical path toward God does require a certain level of faith, but it is not a blind leap of faith. It is a more-logical path toward faith. Each logical fact that is established is a step toward a rational belief in God. Each step of faith is based on facts that have already been established. Therefore, it is not illogical to take a step of faith if the previous steps were based on facts. A number of points exist to support this flow of logic and I will write about each one points in my next few posts.

Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Praying for Dishonest Skeptics

It is vital for Christians to re-engage young skeptics in honest discussion. While some young skeptics are genuinely searching for truth, others are just looking for someone to argue with. I often encounter individuals my friend Adrian Despres refers to as “dishonest skeptics.” He travels across the nation speaking to young adults about issues of faith. He has debated a number of self-proclaimed anti-God experts, including Dr. Terry Cousins from the University of South Carolina, a geology professor in Memphis, and a group of atheists in a series of televised debates in Traverse City, Michigan. Despres says that dishonest skeptics are people who claim to be looking for truth but actually have already made up their minds about what they believe. They are not really interested in learning the truth; they simply want to argue with anyone who will listen. Perhaps they like the attention, or perhaps they think they will win people to their cause through their aggressive actions. Despres calls them dishonest skeptics because they have lied to themselves about being open minded. Dishonest skeptics are narrow-minded and have closed themselves to learning and growing. Dishonest skeptics frequently accuse Christians of ignoring the facts, yet when Christians show them the facts, dishonest skeptics choose to ignore them.

One reason it can be frustrating to talk to dishonest skeptics is that they tend to change the rules mid-conversation. For example, they may say they cannot accept the Bible as truth for a certain reason, but when they are shown a logical way to resolve that particular conflict, instead of accepting the logical reason, they discard the logic and simply come up with another reason for not accepting the Bible. And if they are shown the answer to that objection, they just come up with yet another reason. The reality is that they have already decided they are not going to accept the Bible as truth, and no amount of logical discussion will convince them.

Some time ago I met a young man whom I will call Thomas Youngfellow. Thomas had grown up in a home that was very strict in its religious views but lacked emotional depth or warmth. His parents often kicked him out of the house for minor issues, while espousing belief in God at the same time. Thomas’s parents bounced from church to church, always finding fault with the pastor or other leaders in the church. It was not surprising when Thomas rebelled against his parents’ unhealthy religious expression and experienced what he calls a “de-conversion.” Though Thomas enrolled in college for a time, he did not complete his bachelor’s degree. He eventually moved back in with his parents because he was unable to find a job that could fully support him. He spends much of his time surfing the Internet for articles about how religion is evil and God is immoral. In one conversation with Thomas, I pointed out how he was simply replacing God’s opinions for his own opinions. He responded by saying if he had to choose his opinions or God’s opinions, he would go with his own ideas. He trusts himself more than he trusts God. That is simply not a logical conclusion for a young man in his situation. After all, he lacks a complete college education. He is underemployed. He is in a constant state of tension with his parents. He has alienated most of the friends. He is often depressed and angry.

Despite all this, he thinks his opinion is better than God’s, and no amount of logical discussion with him can move him from his position. Though Thomas tells himself he is a seeker of truth, many people who have discussed issues of faith with him have concluded that he is a dishonest skeptic. Thomas is just one example of tens of thousands of young people who think they are seeking truth when in reality they are simply ignoring it. My prayer for Thomas, and for so many others like him, is that the truth of the Gospel would penetrate the hard exterior of his heart.

Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Fallacies of Anti-God Logic

From many conversations I have had with young people who are seeking to deconstruct Christianity, I have summarized their rationale for not believing in God as being something like this:

1. Evil exists in the world.

2. If God is real, He would stop evil things from happening.
 3. Since God has not stopped evil, He must not exist, or if He does exist, He is not worthy to be followed.

4. Since intelligent people feel this way, anyone who does not feel this way must not be intelligent. 

5. Christians, therefore, must be categorically ignorant and/or illogical.

Obvious variations on that flow of logic exist, but the basic ideas are essentially the same. Anti-religious people say this is a logical conclusion based on reasoning and facts, but if we examine the flow of ideas carefully, they are not based on logic but on opinions. These opinions are often based on emotional reactions to the presence of evil.

For example, someone might say if there really were a God, He would eliminate suffering in the world. While many may sympathize with that statement, it is an emotional statement, not a logical one. Pain and suffering will always exist in the world. Removing God from the picture will not remove pain from the world. If anything, removing God from the equation only makes the situation worse.     

The people who hold to these views feel a certain way about God and a certain way about people who believe in God. They think their feelings are right and everyone else’s feelings are wrong. Though they may sincerely believe their arguments are based on logic, those arguments are more often based on feelings and are no more logical than the arguments Christians may give for how they feel God in their lives.

Postmodern people need Christians to help them think through a more logical path to discover truth. However, since postmodern people are not going to accept everything carte blanche, they need time to process information and evaluate that information through the filter of their own experiences and relationships. This will require honest dialogue and discussion on both sides. It will require a putting away of feelings and emotions and an opened minded look at the facts. It can be an enlightening experience for all parties. We will discuss this more in our next post.

Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Fallacies of Anti-God Propaganda

Statistics tell us that more and more young adults are claiming no religious affiliation. Many young people blame God for the pain in their lives and have chosen not to follow God. Others have decided that God does not exist at all. Many of those who have chosen not to believe in God have become quite evangelistic in their anti-God rhetoric, using YouTube videos, seminars, blogs, and books that bolster their anti-God stance.

After having read several books written by authors who seek to deconstruct Christianity, I have noticed a number of similarities in them. It seems that several of the authors had a connection with more formal or liturgical churches during their childhood but dropped out of church in their teens or early adult life, primarily because that highly structured and often overly ritualistic church experience did not meet their spiritual needs. They falsely equate their personal church experiences with God. They also falsely believe that their church experience is the norm for all churches. They theorize that since their church experience was not relevant to their worldview, then God must not be relevant. They assume that churches, and by extension, God, cannot meet the spiritual needs of postmodern people. These writers are convinced that their negative personal experiences with religion somehow negate the positive personal experiences of hundreds of millions of Christians around the world. They are also convinced that since they have concluded that churches and God are both irrelevant to life, then God must not exist, and it would be acceptable to them if churches did not either.

Another similarity is that these writers find extreme examples of religious abuse and then try to make the case that the extreme is actually the norm. For example, many of them will refer to violence that has happened somewhere in the world due to religious extremism.  Then they wrongly conclude that all religious people are prone to violence. This could not be further from the truth. This approach ignores the reality that the vast majority of the followers of all religions are nonviolent. There will always be a small group of people who are willing to use religion to force their will on others. That has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with those individuals’ quest for power. Those same types of people will also use money, politics, education, or the legal system to force their will on others. Their quest for power is what fuels their fervor, not their faith.

Another similarity is that these authors omit any discussion of the weaknesses of nonreligious people. They will discuss in great detail the violence of a handful of religious extremists, but they fail to mention the violence of atheist governments such as China, Cuba, or the former Soviet Union. These nations did terrible things to their own people in the name of atheism. And they were not led by a handful of extremists; they were led by large numbers of officials who enacted policies for entire nations. Yet somehow this fact escapes the notice of those who want to portray only religious people in a negative light.

Many young people have read these books and have been deeply influenced by them. These books automatically classify religious ideas as illogical. They portray people who hold to a sincere faith in God as naive or uneducated at best, and at worst, as using faith to deliberately manipulate people’s emotions for selfish gain. It is easy to see why so many young people consider themselves as non-religious after enduring this barrage of anti-religious propaganda. In the next few posts we will continue to explore this strain of thinking that has become so prevalent in our society.

Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.

Monday, January 14, 2013

It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better

When I was a teenager, I remember someone saying, “It will get worse before it gets better.” At the time I thought it was a terrible thing to say and wondered what kind of person says such things to a young person. In retrospect, I think the person was just trying to be realistic, though perhaps a bit negative, about life. For many people, though not for all people, things will indeed get worse before it gets better. I wish that was not true, but wishful thinking does not change reality.

There are many reasons why things get worse for some people before they get better, but I only want to focus on one reason in this post. That reason is the deceptive web that sin plays in our lives. We often become involved in sinful behavior. At first it seems like we are getting away with it. But eventually we begin to feel the pain of our bad choices. At first, we think we can handle the consequences. But like a snowball rolling down a hill, sin grows and grows until it consumes our lives. Suddenly, there comes a point when we realize it has gotten out of control and the pain it has caused us can no longer be ignored. We have hit the bottom. (Someone reading this right now who is going through a hard time is thinking to themselves, "But I have been trying to live right and do right." If that is true, then this post does not apply to you. But the rest of us need to keep reading.)

In those moments when we realize we have hit bottom, we tend to be more open to understanding the truth of the gospel. That is when we tend to show up at church because the deep pain that is the result of sinful actions threatens to destroy our lives and we are looking for hope. It is in that moment of crisis that we need someone to reach out to us and offer a way out of pain through faith in Jesus Christ. But the church often rejects people who are on the bottom because of their behavior just when they need Christians the most. It is easy for biblically minded Christians to forget to express the love of God while also exposing sin for what it is. Churches that can find the right balance between expressing love and pointing out how much sin hurts will connect well with the postmodern people who now make up the majority of our society.

Postmodern adults who live in a culture of brokenness are looking for something that can ease their pain. Churches can help people understand the hurt that is caused by bad choices. People are not interested in hearing about a fairy-tale world where people just say a prayer and all their problems go away. They know that world does not exist. Instead they need to hear about our own spiritual journey with all its bumps, setbacks, troubles, and hardships. They need to hear about the times we doubted and were afraid. They also need to hear that we received the strength we needed from our faith to keep going despite our troubles. They need to know there is hope to be found through faith in Jesus Christ.

The day of fifteen-minute feel-good devotionals that masquerade as sermons is over, if we want to have real impact on our culture. In our postmodern culture, church leaders should better plan for lengthy discussions that will not have simple conclusions or easy answers. That does not mean that postmodern people do not want to feel good about themselves, of course they do, everyone does. But a feel good only approach will not satisfy the deep longing postmodern adults have for answers to the complex world into which they have been thrust. Churches willing to invest the necessary time, energy, and love into the lives of young adults and journey with them through the dicult questions and experiences will find those young adults quite  interested in what churches have to say.

If churches fail to help young people deal with pain, those churches should not be surprised when the next generation looks for comfort in other places. Churches have been called to hold the keys to the kingdom of God. Too many churches have lost the keys. It is important for churches to rediscover those keys before they lose a whole generation. One of the ways churches can rediscover the keys to the kingdom and unlock spiritual truth for young people is to help them deal with the pain they have experienced in life and the evil they observe in the world around them. Fortunately, the Bible is filled with practical advice about these subjects. If churches can communicate these biblical truths in ways the next generation can understand, they will find ears eager to listen.

Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.

Monday, January 7, 2013

In Memory of Roscoe Anderson

In my mind, I can see the golden streets of heaven at 2:15 PM today, each side of the street lined by the saints of old, cheering as Roscoe Anderson, one of God's greatest heroes, crossed the finish line to glory. Roscoe, being the humble man that he was, did not hear the cheers of the crowds, nor did he hear the whisper of angels' wings hovering overhead. Roscoe, as a faithful follower of Jesus, only heard the words of his Master say, "Well done thou good and faithful servant, enter into thy reward."

Roscoe Anderson was the layman who began Southern Baptist work in Vermont in 1961. He had very little formal education, but His knowledge of the Lord surpassed that of many great theologians. He was a prayer warrior for Vermont all the way to the end, calling me on a regular basis to pray with me. Though he was a man of modest means, he often would send small gifts from his meager income so that the Gospel could go forth in Vermont. Today, at 2:15 PM, he passed from this world into Glory and he is now with his beloved Savior and his precious wife Daisy, who preceded him in death many years ago.
I recall Roscoe sharing the story of how he knew God wanted him to come to Vermont to serve Him. When Roscoe visited Vermont to look things over, he asked God to give him a sign if he was to move to Vermont to do mission work. After several days with no sign from the Lord, Roscoe prepared to go to the airport. Just before he left for the airport to catch his plane, there was a plane accident at the connecting airport and his plane was rerouted away from Vermont. Back then there were only a couple of flights a day out of Vermont and Roscoe was suddenly stranded. Roscoe decided that was the sign he was waiting for and by faith went to look at houses. A stranger showed him a property that was perfect for a house and a church. Roscoe bought it and started Bible studies there. Eventually it grew into a church. From that humble beginning, by a Baptist layman, the Green Mountain Baptist Association was born.
Roscoe is a great example of a man who was willing to be used by God to do amazing things. I do not believe Roscoe ever realized the history he created in Vermont, nor the number of lives he had impacted for the Kingdom of God. Perhaps that is what made Roscoe so special.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

New Year's Resolutions for Christians

2013 is a new year and a new chance to start living our lives the way we really want to. As part of this process, we often make New Year’s resolutions. We may promise to START doing the good things we always wanted to do. We may promise to STOP doing the bad stuff we really do not want to do. Whatever type of resolution we make, the goal is for the New Year to be better than the old one. But as Christians, should we make resolutions that look differently than the world's? How does God want us to look at the New Year? What resolutions might God want us to make? We can find some answers to those questions in 2 Corinthians 5:17-19.

Verse 17 - Therefore if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.
                        Christians have an advantage in the New Year’s resolution process, because Christ is helping us become new creations.
                        In a theological sense, if we are Christians, we have already been made new.
                        For Christians, the sins, mistakes and stupid things we did in the past have already been washed away by the blood of Christ.
                        Though theologically Christians may already be new in Christ, from a practical perspective, we still have a lot of changing to do in order to be all that God wants us to be.
                        One resolution God wants us to make is to START one new spiritual discipline while getting rid of one old bad habit.
                        It is important to realize that when an old thing goes away, it creates a vacuum in our lives.
                        We must put a good thing in that vacuum or else the old thing will just come right back.
                        We must learn to replace the negative aspects of our lives with positive things.

Verse 18 - Now everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.
                        In the context of this verse, the word everything is referring to all the new things God has brought into our lives to replace the old things that need to go.
                        We should pray and ask God to help us keep everything good He is bringing into our lives instead of trying to do it all in our own strength.
                        If we pray and ask God for help, we can be sure God will listen and respond.
                        One difference between Christians and non-Christians is that we are guaranteed God’s help in overcoming our difficulties and becoming new.
                        Non-Christians do not have that guarantee.
                        God does often listen to the prayers of non-Christians, and because He is a God of grace and mercy, He often responds to them, but God is not obligated to do so.
                        But God has promised that every Christian can come before Him and have access to Him through prayer. (Romans 5:2)
                        Prayer works for Christians because we have been reconciled with God through Jesus Christ.
                        The word reconciled refers to the reunion of those who had been estranged from each other.
                        Reconciled means the animosity between people has been removed and there is no longer a barrier between them.
                        Reconciled means that the relationship has changed from one of hostility to one of friendship.
                        Christians have been reconciled to God.
                        Before we became Christians, we were not friends with God.
                        We were not living our lives the way God wanted us to.
                        In fact, we were living in a way that opposed God, even if we did not realize it.
                        We did not have a meaningful relationship with God before we were Christians.
                        But when we became Christians, things began to change in our lives.
                        Our perspectives and our priorities change.
                        The way we spend our time, our energy and our resources all change.
                        Once we became friends of God, we began to work with God instead of against Him.
                        Once we begin to realize that everything good in our lives is a gift from God, it changes our motivation.
                        We become filled with gratitude toward God for all His kindness to us.
                        One resolution that Christians should make is to serve the Lord this year out of love and devotion instead of guilt or obligation.
                        One of the greatest things that changes in our lives is that God gives us a ministry of reconciliation.
                        That means that God calls us to help others become friends of God as well. This is not just the pastor’s job. It is the ministry of every Christian.
                        Our culture is so far from God that pastors, elders and deacons alone will never be able to reach everyone.
                        Every Christian should resolve to share the faith with others during the New Year.
                        We can do this in a variety of ways, but we should ALL be involved in sharing Jesus in some way.

Verse 19 - that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us.
                        Notice that as God is working to reconcile the world to Himself, He does not pay attention to the sins of those He is trying to reach.
                        This does not mean that God is not saddened by our sin. It means that God reaches out to us despite our sinfulness.
                        Though God sees each of us as a sinner and in need of Savior, He does not count one person as more sinful than another.
                        God wants all of us to choose Him and continues to love us until we do.
                        Just as God loves us all, regardless of our sin, we should make sure we do not share the Gospel ONLY with people whom we think are good enough.
                        We should share Jesus with anyone who will listen and trust God to draw sinners to Himself and change them in His time.

New Year’s Resolutions for Christians:
                                    Start one new spiritual discipline while eliminating one old bad habit.
                                    Serve the Lord out of love and devotion, instead of guilt or obligation.
                                    Share our faith with others without judging them in the process.