Bad Religion?

Truth-logo-200By David Russell.

Welcome back to the Union blog.  I hope everyone is enjoying the new spring season.  On my end it has been crazy.  With house projects and family time, I haven’t been into that much on the writing side.

In this article I am going to examine something that has been bothering me.  You have seen it throughout my blogs.  That is the assault on truth.  I have learned that when a person can’t dispute the truth and logic of a claim they quickly begin to dispute truth itself.  In today’s society, and maybe throughout mans history, people have the hardest time accepting truth.  This doesn’t just apply to the God debate, but simple truths as well.  We live in an age of pure conjecture and one line quips.

Recently, I engaged in a debate about the world without religion. Where the same old adage was claimed.  They argued that religion is responsible for, basically, all the wars and conflicts man has faced.  Is that true? Check this out,

Moreover, the chief complaint against religion — that it is history’s prime instigator of intergroup conflict — does not withstand scrutiny. Religious issues motivate only a small minority of recorded wars. The Encyclopedia of Wars surveyed 1,763 violent conflicts across history; only 123 (7 percent) were religious. A BBC-sponsored “God and War” audit, which evaluated major conflicts over 3,500 years and rated them on a 0-to-5 scale for religious motivation (Punic Wars = 0, Crusades = 5), found that more than 60 percent had no religious motivation. Less than 7 percent earned a rating greater than 3. There was little religious motivation for the internecine Russian and Chinese conflicts or the world wars responsible for history’s most lethal century of international bloodshed.

So, what leads to this kind of conjecture? Is it a lack of evidence? Is it the fault of internet MEME’s? No, its the fault of those not wanting do the homework and settling for the status quo.

In response to this data, all I got was; “you have your beliefs and I have mine.”  Shocked, at the out right dismissal of evidence and the blood shed of the last century by the hands of the anti religious, all I could do was shake my head. Belief has nothing to do with it.  As Ben Shapiro puts it “facts don’t care about your feelings.”  So true when it comes to truth.  The sad notion is that even with truth staring us in the eye for some reason it is rejected. Why?

Sometimes TRUTH isn’t fashionable.  Sometimes truth is unaccepted because it isn’t pretty.  Pascal says it best, “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.”  In today’s Post Truth America, people would rather believe the skin of the truth stuffed with a big lie.  This explains the data that the Barna Group collected in 2015 and 2017.  In 2015, they found that a large number of people believe that truth is something felt, not something known.  In 2017, they found that people, one-third of Americans, didn’t trust anything but their own instincts.  This goes far in the way of saying “Ignorance is bliss. It expounds on the notion that people would rather believe the lie than except the truth.  With truth regarded as relative people fixate on what feels good or sounds good.  Who wouldn’t? But as Aldous Huxley so eloquently said, “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” 

Sometimes TRUTH isn’t what “MOMMA said,” or claimed.  Sometimes what we have been taught isn’t how things actually are.  Some people will cling onto things passed down by family they really respect, even if untrue.  This is seen across an American church culture.  We have a right to the freedom of religion, which means we deal with the good and the bad of that position.  People can start a church, in this country, with only blind faith.

These are just a few ideas I encounter on a normal basis.  The most alarming issue I found in the Barna study are those that never thought about it.  Among the trend of this post-truth culture, I am finding the numbers of the unthinking rising.  This is frightening, and as an Apologist, hard to tackle.  If we don’t even give thought to the nature of truth, how could we possibly build a better reality?

I think as the goal of an Apologist we must build relationships and include apologetic’s in our evangelism.  I also think we have to listen more than we talk.  People need to know how much you care before caring for how much you may know.  Wisdom, knowledge, and character all need to be present when engaging with people.  This also works towards presenting your case because you can then formulate questions and guide the conversation. So, stay encouraged and keep putting stones in peoples shoes.

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The Easter Assault!

bunny1

By David Russell,

Well, it’s that time of year friends.  The time for bunnies and eggs and all the MEMEs telling us of Christianities pagan roots.

Welcome back to the “Union blog!”  In this installment, we will examine Easter tradition and come to terms with what we celebrate!  Every single year we see MEME after MEME telling us that we stole from the pagans or we’re rooted in pagan traditions.  Easter specials hit the digital screen projecting documentaries that pro-port bad history and conjecturing puns! Movies and shows reflecting our current cultural norms while projecting its version of moral grandstanding.

On our most celebrated holiday we get no release from the assault the enemies and pundits of our faith throw at us.  But is there any truth in what they report? Is Christianity wrought with pagan custom?  Simply put, no.

No, because of the nature of Easter alone.  Christians worship on Sunday, because of the resurrection of Christ.  We celebrate the actual event and have since as early as the second century.  The whole faith is built on the resurrection of Christ and without it; it wouldn’t exist.  So, what about the traditions? This is where we will spend most of our time and after reading, I hope you will have a better understanding of why its okay to celebrate this.

There is something we often forget.  In today’s society, for some reason, we are obsessed with borrowing.  Just look at the national debt…or your own. Joking.  In history, we see this trend as a set practice, at least when it comes to YouTube and wiki scholars.  If there is any similarity, then it must be borrowed.  If borrowed, the early source must be where it came from.  We are obsessed with this line of argumentation.  But I approach things a little bit different.  I believe for many things in life we have a common source, especially in the way of important events.  We also have a common reality.  For example, we all share the notion that butterflies exist.  They are caterpillars who morph into beautiful flying insects.  As people, we use this in all sorts of illustrations.  Just because a Pagan religion used it in a description of fertility and new life doesn’t mean a Christian can’t use it to describe the resurrection.  The Pagan doesn’t have a patent on the metamorphosis of the butterfly or the lessons it brings.

The worst mistake is to commit some sort of genetic fallacy.  Let’s take the Easter egg and examine it closely.  Pagan religions used the egg often as a sign of fertility and new life.  Did the Christians use it because the Pagans did?  Since we live in an age where we worship sex as a god then maybe you can conclude that, but I like the truth, so let’s go there.  Eggs are common to us all, hens start laying down a bunch during the spring.  The Christians have many traditions surrounding them.  Let’s  start with the ones associated with Mary Magdalene.  One tradition says, that on her way to Jesus’ tomb she brought eggs to munch on with the ladies.  On discovering the stone rolled away, the eggs in her basket turned red.  Another account reports that when on trial, the official claimed that the likelihood that Jesus rose was as likely as the egg in her hand turning red.  Mysteriously, the egg turned red.  More than likely, the truth is what we see in history.  Christians fast during “Lent” for a time they have no meats, eggs, or dairy.  Towards the end of the fast the eggs where multiplying so they would gather them and paint them red and eat them to celebrate the ending of lent and Pasch.  What is Pasch?

1. Passover. 2. Easter. [Middle English, from Old French pasche, from Late Latin pascha, Passover, Easter, from Late Greek paskha, from Aramaic pasḥā, Passover, from Hebrew pesaḥ; see Pesach.]

Long before Easter was celebrated, this is what it was called and still is in some parts of the world today, more on that later.  From this tradition they started all sorts of things like, the Easter egg hunt and roll.  All games designed to convey a theological importance.  The hunt would represent the joy found hidden in Christ.  The Easter egg roll would represent the the stone rolling away from the tomb.

One thing often forgotten is, Christians are not just Israelite’s but converted gentile Pagans.  We are people that have grown up with family traditions, some, very loved traditions.  With Paul’s mandate in Colossians 2:16-17,

16Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

we can easily conclude that people may have kept some of those old traditions and gave them new meaning.

But what do we have evidence for?  Well, when it comes to the root of Easter being pagan it’s quite slim.  As stated before, it wasn’t called Easter until hundreds of years later.  So where did this notion that Christians are celebrating Eostre? A Anglo-Saxon Goddess of the British Isles’ orignally called Ostara.

It comes from the famous “Brothers Grimm”.  No seriously, “the fairy tale guys” Jakob Grimm, a German folklorist, writing in the 1830’s, interpreted the writings of an eighth century monk named Bede.  Bede wrote in his “De Temporum Ratione” (Reckoning of Time)

“Eosturmononath has a name which is now translated as “Paschal month,” and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honor feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate the Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.
Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/naturessacredjourney/2016/03/a-brief-history-of-ostara/2/#Ur7vXyQPqyrqBHVz.99″

 Before for this, there is so little evidence of an actual Eostre that linking any Easter customs with these Pagan customs are simply conjecture.  Matter of fact, we have no Ostara or Eostre before 725 AD.  Even today historians like Ronald Hutton wonder if the deity ever even existed and that Grimm just misinterpreted Bede.

Even our beloved Easter bunny doesn’t invade our tradition until 1772 when German professor Gerog Franck Von Franckenau spoke of a tradition in which a bunny stole eggs and hid them from children in a garden.

All this to say, we know some things are absorbed and rivaled.  We also know we aren’t rooted in paganism.  So when you see the MEME’s and the ridiculousness hit the internet don’t be alarmed.  I am going to make my own tradition when it comes to some of these things.  So, celebrate his death and rising, breathe new life in old traditions, and don’t let the idealists or pundits slow you down.  God bless you all.

Hooked on Disciples works for me!

Jesus

By David Russell

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.  (Acts 4:13)

I am often baffled from arguments I hear skeptic scholars make, from silence.  Recently, I had the pleasure of listening to a debate between Michael Licona and Bart Erhman.  One of the claims Bart often makes is that the disciples were Aramaic speaking only and were illiterate.  He then tries to justify his position and claims in his book forged,

“We know for certain of only two (1st century) authors in Palestine who produced literary works (in Greek)…Josephus…and a man named Justus (p 73).” He even says “it is highly probable that [Peter] could not write at all” (p.75).”

In the debate he said that, but in summary.  If his claim is true, he is arguing from silence.  Just because there is evidence absent doesn’t mean it’s evidence of absence. As the saying goes, “the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence” What about Paul? He holds to at least seven epistles being written by him.  But on the whole, is this claim true?

So, first of all, we see a contradiction in his own thinking.  Second, I believe there is evidence to the contrary.  Coupled with the evidence, I try to use common sense to make an inference.

I am going to examine a few characters and some recent findings.  Let’s start with Jesus.  Jesus was, by trade, a carpenter and craftsmen before he was a preacher.  Common sense tells me, that to conduct business, he probably had a general literacy.  He was probably bilingual so he could conduct business with Hellenized Jews and people visiting from all over the empire (considering Nazareth’s geographical location). Today, we call English, “the language of the business world”  because, by and large, America and Western Europe are the largest consumers in the world.  Also, during his ministry, he is often cited, asking others, “Haven’t you read” statements, which imply he’s personally familiar with the text.

John and James’ father owned a fishing fleet.  They were also tradesmen that would have had to keep records for employment purposes, taxes, etc.  For any father passing that type of business to his kids, they would also have to have a general literacy of some sort, I’d also venture to say some sort of training in money matters.

Paul was trained formally and wrote epistles in which seven are considered authentic by almost every known scholar to date.

Matthew, a tax collector, would have had to keep books/records for his job.

In 2011, Peter’s house was unearthed.  The size of his home was very large. He was a fisherman by trade and by the size of his house, successful.

All this to say, we have good evidence of a general literacy.  Before 70 AD, we see that it was encouraged among tradesman and craftsmen.  After 70 AD, we see it becoming a mandate.  During my research, I discovered a common thread in which the above careers had in common.   Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein also noted this in their work called the Chosen few,

“If Jewish children and adults learned to read the Torah in Hebrew (as their religion required), they could read other texts written in the same language (such as letters, contracts, account books, business records and other non-religious texts). Thus “religious literacy” (the ability to read the Torah in Hebrew) helped acquire “general literacy” (the ability to read any text). Back 2,000 years ago (and still many centuries later), general literacy was almost useless to farmers (Jewish and non-Jewish), but it was very valuable to craftsmen and merchants often in need of writing letters and business contracts and to keep account books.”

General literacy. That’s the common thread. We also find that there were books of the law in the possession of private citizens in pre-Christian times as Emil Schürer says,

  “It was therefore at bottom only the interest in the law, which made instruction in reading pretty widely diffused. For since in the case of the written Scripture (in distinction from oral tradition) great importance was attached to its being actually read (see below on the order of public worship), elementary instruction in the law was necessarily combined with instruction in reading. A knowledge of reading must therefore be everywhere assumed, where a somewhat more thorough knowledge of the law existed. Hence we find even in pre-Christian times books of the law in the possession of private individuals. ”(Schürer, Emil (2017-02-01). A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (Kindle Locations 10404-10408). Capella Press.).

To further this, we find that literacy was on the rise in the ancient world, which before this study, we had almost no evidence for.  This study from Tel Aviv reported and published this,

Now, a cross-disciplinary team of nine Israeli scientists from Tel Aviv University has taken a fresh look at a collection of inscriptions from circa 600 BCE, and—with the help of a machine-learning computer algorithm—has concluded that literacy was already on the rise in the ancient Kingdom of Judah (a.k.a. Judea) in the years prior to the Babylonian conquest in 587 BCE. And that, they argue, points to an “educational infrastructure” that would have made the writing of the Biblical texts possible. Their study was published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This led Arie Shaus, a Ph.D. student in applied mathematics at Tel Aviv University to quote, “Now there’s “very good evidence that hundreds of people, maybe more, could read and write.”

So why is mainstream scholarship against this, such as Bart Erhman?  I don’t know but Nazareth was close to a major trade route of the Roman Empire.  We have even found an artifact posted with a warning not to rob graves? Who was that for? I think there is also evidence in Luke’s gospel which implies general literacy and is commonly dated in the first century.

  16:6 The man replied‘A hundred measures of olive oil.’ The manager said to him‘Take your billsit down quicklyand write fifty.’ 16:7 Then he said to another‘And how much do you owe?’ The second man replied‘A hundred measures  of wheat.’

New Testament scholar Dan Wallace, thinks that the disciples were probably Bilingual as well due to the nature of the great commission. I have found that Jesus had disciples with Greek names, ministered in dominate Greek speaking places, and Galilee was often called “Galilee of the gentiles”.  I don’t know why the skeptics hold on to this notion in the face of the mounting evidence.

Finally, to deal with the passage I started with you can do it two ways.  First, no, the disciples referred to in Acts didn’t have a formal education.  Never went off to university.  Maybe they had a general literacy, maybe they learned to fulfill the great commission and bring the gospel to all nations, or maybe Jesus taught them.  My conclusion is this, I think to survive and prosper, the tradesmen and craftsmen would have a general literacy, probably bilingual to conduct business, and not illiterate, at least the men, even though there is some evidence in the Mishnah encouraging girls to learn Greek. The farmers probably did get the short straw, but all that changed after 70 AD.

 

MAGIC!

godless engineerBy David Russell

 

Welcome back to the Union blog my friends!  Yes, we have another YouTube scholar spouting off at the mouth again.  You know I don’t usually do this but I have to write about what I just saw.

I have followed the Godless Engineer for awhile now.  I first encountered his videos when I was researching Hyperionism.  I found it funny but horribly crude. I kept listening in to see if he’d ever give an actual argument against theism.  It seems the more I listened the more smoke he blew up the ears of all his expecting fans.  Again, I don’t usually go after a single person but I think its high time he was answered.

Last month he produced a video entitled,

5 Backwards Christian Concepts Explained || Anti-Atheism Debunked”

to which he declared, (which he sounded like he was in a drunken stupor) that theist think “Bass Ackwards”.  He starts by claiming that theist think the universe comes into being out of literally nothing, that there was God and then there was the universe. “Fair”  But he claims that our nothing is different than a scientific nothing.  This idea comes from a recent push by atheist to redefine the word “nothing.”  “Nothing is just that, Nothing” anything else is, actually, something. Matter of fact, the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theory confirms the theist’s idea of an absolute beginning out of nothing. Furthermore, they still deny a creator by appealing to the physically unintelligible and metaphysically dubious device of “imaginary time” or “pre-existent laws.”

Fitting with this, he also stated that there is cosmic evolution, whatever that looks like, which got me thinking he was proposing a Chaotic inflationary model, but just like the models before it, falls short.  Vilenkin, again, points out “Although inflation may be eternal into the future, it cannot be extended indefinitely to the past.” This tells us of an absolute beginning to everything, leaving us to wonder about the fine tuning of all those initial conditions wrapped up in constants and quantities.  The truth is, one can’t escape the explanatory power and the plausibility of an unembodied mind with immense power creating the universe.  Also, claiming that there are natural explanations, as the Godless Engineer does, for the beginning of the cosmos is akin to me saying “If I give it time, I’ll give birth to my mother.”  It simply doesn’t work.

He quickly moves to asserting that we have transitional forms and that evolution is true. Tell this to Daniel Dennett, an atheist who quotes “The Darwinian theory is the great cosmogenic myth of the twentieth century.” He continued on by saying, “there are transitional forms” or fossils which made me think he was holding, flimsily, to a punctuated equilibrium model, which was proposed due to a lack of transitional forms in the fossil records. One of the main promoters of this idea, Niles Eldridge, actually had this to say about the initial Darwinian theory,

 “No wonder paleontologists shied away from evolution for so long. It never seems to happen. Assiduous collecting up cliff faces yield zigzags, minor oscillations, and the very occasional slight accumulation of change–over millions of years, at a rate too slow to account for all the prodigious change that has occurred in evolutionary history. When we do see the introduction of evolutionary novelty, it usually shows up with a bang, and often with no firm evidence that the fossils did not evolve elsewhere! Evolution cannot forever be going on somewhere else. Yet that’s how the fossil record has struck many a forlorn paleontologist looking to learn something about evolution.”  Niles Eldridge, Reinventing Darwin: The Great Debate at the High Table of Evolutionary Theory (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1995), p. 95.”

So, if he wants to hold to that theory, he will have to do it in spite of believing in a very slow process of macroevolution.

After this he focuses on Christianity by ridiculing the bible and its miracles.  I am not sure if he gets that if God exists, miracles are possible. He calls it magic, but you can rant and rave about the claims it makes all you want, until you produce a good argument, it’s just rhetoric.  Let’s discuss weather the bible is reliable.

He then runs a muck!

He goes into the absurdity of life and moral argument, which confused me.  He claims he has value but can’t justify where that value comes from.  Sure, he can subjectively value anything he wants, but is it “actually valuable?”  Considering that this is the argument theist make.  We claim that there is “actual and objective” value to life. Again, don’t assert value without actually making an argument.  He then moves on to purpose, again, spouting a subjective purpose, totally missing the mark. We argue that there is “an objective purpose” and that if there is no ultimate meaning or purpose to life, then that’s just it, no OBJECTIVE meaning or purpose.  This goes a long way in saying that his views are mere delusions of grandeur.

Finally, we get to his idea of justice.  He doesn’t deny that there is justice, although it must exist in the ether somewhere. He claims it’s imperfect, whatever that means. Unaware, this “imperfect system” implies that justice is an objective moral value, something I have never heard an atheist elude to.  Seems like progress to me, but I don’t mind evoking an actual standard, he has no basis for his claim that there is.

At the end of the day he can bash Christianity all he wants.  But don’t expect us to take the heat laying down.  We believe in justice and responsibility and made laws and systems which revolutionized western thinking.  Our only escape comes from the grace God gives us through Christ when we go to him.  My suggestion, understand the theology before you make yourself look bad.

 

 

Mentonymy

12_illiteracyBy David Russell,

 

Does God hate sinners or do we need to understand literature?

Welcome back to the Union blog.  I just wanted to throw that right out there! You get many questions doing apologetics. Every so often you’ll get a fellow believer positing something like this.  First, they often act haughty thinking the have some new kind of secret knowledge or revelation.  This makes it hard to engage because they have already committed to the notion. This becomes evidently clear when they approach you and phrase it in a “I told you so” kind of way.

This question usually comes out like this, “What do you think about the phrase, God loves the siner and hates the sin?” Next they’ll ask you “Can you find it in the Word?” Springing the proverbial trap, they believe they got you cornered.

How do you respond, when they then tell you that God actually hates the sinner and throw the book at you?  Today, I want to tackle this problem because it is a symptom of a preexisting condition.  My goal is not to belittle my brothers and sisters in Christ but to expose a problem under girding the church today.

My first response is not to fall for the trap.  I try to employee Jesus methodology. Ask a question with a question.  Do you believe the bible contradicts itself? This usually dismounts the person from their “Metaphoric” high horse bringing them eye level.  I then will jump straight to a scripture that seems to contradict the ones they threw out at me, which are usually: Psalms 5:5 (The arrogant cannot stand in your presence.You hate all who do wrong;), 11:5 (The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion.), Proverbs 6:18-19 (a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.), and Malachi 1:2-3 (“I have loved you,” says the Lord. “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”).  I use this scripture first because the sinner here is engulfed with Idolatry.

Mark 10:17-22

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

If you noticed, this man was in opposition to God and continued in his idolatry and rejection.  Yet what do we see? Jesus loved him!

This gives way for the knock out blow in Romans 5:6-8,

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

This really broadens the discussion.  One is left puzzled by this, or if proud, offended.  They can’t deny any passage and remain consistent in their summations.  But why is this? I think it is a symptom of a chronic disorder that underlies many in the church.  Scriptural Illiteracy!  One of the main reasons I do apologetics is to aid me in discipleship.  I want to have good answers, I love the truth, and I believe in equipping the saints.  To make a formal defense I need to know how to read the bible.

For far too long the church has allowed this disorder to become chronic. Barna research group now calls it, “a crisis”.  People simply don’t know how to read the bible for all it’s worth.  This can lead to all sorts of confusions like the one stated above.  If there is one thing you take away from this, “Begin to hunger for the word”. I say this because it will open doors you never knew existed.  It will reinforce your faith and deepen the relationship you have with God.

But, back to the answer.  We see that God does love sinners.  So we need to take a look at what it means when the word hate is employed in the Old Testament language.  In our culture today we often look at literature in a wooden literal sense.  This serves us in our current milieu well.  But when reading scripture, we must learn the intent and the style of language the ancients used.  They used many figures of speech to convey their points.  Even the language was really expressive.  One thing they employed was the use of “me·ton·y·my” which is the title of this article.  This figure of speech is defined as “the substitution of the name of an attribute or adjunct for that of the thing meant, for example suit for business executive, or the track for horse racing.” (Google dictionary)

We can see this used elsewhere in the preceding verse in Proverbs, 6:17 states “(God hates) haughty eyes, and a lying tongue”.  This doesn’t mean God literally hates a physical tongue muscle or eye balls.  It’s what comes out of the tongue and the pride the person has reflected in those eyes. This leads us to our next inquiry with the original word used for hate in these passages. The Hebrew word for hate here is,

    “Sänë´ (שֶׂנֵא)”. “It “expresses an emotional attitude toward persons and things which are opposed, detested, despised and with which one wishes to have no contact or relationship.”2 This is not hate out of ignorance or animosity; rather it is a righteous God’s opposition to wickedness. (Warren Nozaki)

With this I’ll close. Being mindful of literacy employed through the texts and learning to do an objective study of the text,  putting to the test of correlation,  goes a long way in understanding the text.  God doesn’t hate the person. He hates the sin the person is putting in opposition to His purpose.  There is an eternal hope that we all have and it’s because of God’s divine love He lavishly hurdles upon us.  Remember that and go in peace knowing that nothing can separate you from the love of God.

 

Mo·der·ni·ty

MODERNBy David Russell

 

Welcome back to the Union blog.  I have been absent for most the month of January and the beginning this month.  Life can sure keep you busy.  Since my last post my car has broken down twice, I got robbed, and lost my bank card.  My wife lost her wallet, but praise God, it was recovered with nothing stolen.  The guys that robbed my car got caught on my neighbors camera and my car broke down in non-hazardous areas.  So, God graced me with just having to deal with the fixes and replacements.  Although it has been busy, it could have been much worse.

As many know, I have been trying to get questions for an interactive blog.  To date, I have had three.  I thought, “What a disappointment.” Over the last month and a half,  I asked people numerous times, the more I asked, the more I got a sense of a new monster.  This monster is Apathy.

What is the cause? Why does it seem that people just don’t care about things that involve the purpose of life?

My findings led me to one thing…… Modernity!

In that one phrase we can some up so many things but I want to hone the edge upon distractions that often numb us, making us apathetic.  I think the trappings of these days really distract us from what is important.  We don’t sit and think anymore, or better yet, ponder and glean.  Technology has made us to comfortable. the television tells us what to think or just mindlessly entertains us.  We traded an escape through prayer, or a good book, to an escape in a virtual world.

We now socialize through our phones neglecting the beauty of developing physical relationships.  I have often times seen the phone take away too much family time.  We wonder what’s happening to this generation, look into the mirror and ask yourself how much time have you been investing in your kids.  I know there are times when I have been so into my phone that my kids tell me something and I totally miss it.  When I think back on it, It breaks my heart.  But they also follow that example.  Next thing you know, they are doing the same and the cycle continues.

Technology is definitely a good thing in moderation.  The problem is, we never  moderate. We are so easily distracted that you’d rather unwind watching your favorite show than to get quiet and read a book.  I have always told my kids that the brain is a muscle and needs exercise.  The issue is this problem has already spun out of control.  It is to the point that over fifty percent of Gen-Z people think the church isn’t important while another forty-eight think they can find God elsewhere.

This is a major blow to anyone involved in ministry.  Even among the apologist’s, there’s  absolutely nothing we can do when the distractions numb us beyond the scope of consideration.  This will be one of the greatest battles of our ages.  The only thing I can advise is to moderate.  Keep pressing on.  I have learned that if you get a person engaged the light bulbs start lighting up.  It won’t last if you move on though.  You have to invest. Investing in people is one of the greatest parts of discipleship.  Through that investment a relationship solidifies. Then just maybe you can pull them out of that apathetic state.

In conclusion, I will continue to battle on.  May God bless you all and keep you.

Got Questions? Part 2

church-cartoon1By David Russell,

 

Welcome back for another installment of the Union blog.  Powering on we have two questions so related that we can answer them both in one blog.  These questions were given to me by a co-worker and display what things people deal with on a regular basis.  This gives us a unique opportunity to clear up areas of confusion and give insight into what goes on in the mind of every day believers.

Can you be a true Christian and not attend church?

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:40-43)

This is a good question and can be very confusing.  The answer is yes and no.  There are those that go their whole life without going to church.  Death bed conversions are a real thing.  Like the verse above, the criminal was dying on the cross next to Jesus.  He asked Jesus to remember him and Jesus response changed the criminals eternal destiny.  The beauty of the Christian system is that it’s not a merit based system.  Your salvation isn’t about going to church, it’s about humbling yourself before Christ.

The minute you think you have to go to church to be saved is the same minute you get the gospel wrong. However, to be a Christian isn’t to be a soloist.  When we leave the hopelessness of individualism, the trappings of this world, and the slavery of free thought we enter into the everlasting Kingdom.  We leave what truly binds us from our true potential.  We experience true freedom by living for the purpose the ultimate Artist designed for us.  That is in relationship and service.

Think of a married couple.  You can be married but not live together, but to experience what it means to be married you have to live in relationship.  The Christian enters into this once he gives his life over to God.  Christianity is meant to be lived in community with fellow believers.  Paul describes it as a body. Each part of your body has a role.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1st Corinthians 12:27)

The Heart pumps the blood, the feet carry us, the brain directs us, and the lungs provide oxygen.  If one of these systems don’t function, the rest of the body is affected.  Attending church is what God commands us to do.  Also, being a christian not only puts us in relationship to one another, but also makes us servants to everyone.  Our lives are lives of service. God calls us to serve in some capacity and in this our lives are filled with purpose and meaning.

The question is, what issues are keeping you back from attending church?  In certain areas, the church has failed people.  At the end of the day though, it comes down to the heart.  This leads us into the second question about sin.

If all sin is equal, how does a child of God live life and be obedient? Do they have to live a perfect life?

In relationship and service we also learn from one another.  We discover new things while sharing ideas.  The word says “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17) and with that we hold one another accountable.  Each persons experience is different but we have this incredible capacity to relate and help each other through similar experiences.  In relationship we can truly become rounded individual’s and pass on a legacy that lasts.

This also helps us avoid sin.  That said, it doesn’t make us immune.  We will continue to struggle and strive but still, we try our best.  We live in a fallen world.  The only escape and hope is Christ.  We could never live a perfect life and by the way, what is perfection?  For us, its Christ.  Perfection is a person.  We can experience it in him only, for it’s his perfection and righteousness that covers us.

Finally, one must ask what does it mean to live life?  As the question eludes to, what can we do if there’s so many don’t’s? That comes with the presuppositions about how the Christian life should be lived. Often times, people have to many stereotypes about  how we live or should live.  The truth is, we are just like everyone else, just forgiven.  So, when asked about how we should live; live by faith.  My grandmother taught me to love this passage and apply it.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

I remember it in light of another verse.

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”. (Matthew 6:33)

Through it all, do your best.  Love one another.  Look through others and not just at them.  Remember in life, we don’t just look from side to side, we look up and down too. Just like anything in life, we have to discipline ourselves and live in a perpetual state of learning.  When you love God with all your heart, mind, body, and soul nothing can keep you back.

Got Questions?…… P1: Why was the Book of Enoch not included in the Bible?

imagesenoch.jpgBy David Russell.

When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters.  Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.  Genesis 5:21-24

Welcome back and Happy New Year to all of you!  I figured, I would bring in the new year with a new series called “Got Questions” .  It is a stab at a new concept.  I am trying to make an interactive blog.  To engage with those around me and answer their deepest question about faith.  To begin with, I went to my work place and    I asked anyone that wanted to participate, to write down any question they wanted to about faith, religion, or anything that gave them a reason to doubt Christianity.

If you couldn’t guess by the title, the first question deals with the Book of Enoch.  Why wasn’t it included in the Bible?  The answer, Pseudepigrapha:  Pseudepigrapha are falsely-attributed works, texts whose claimed author is not the true author, or a work whose real author attributed it to a figure of the past.

The book of Enoch is a tricky area for many folks.  On one hand, it seems we have many first century church fathers endorsing it, including, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian.  On the other hand, there are no Jewish or Christian bibles that contain it in their cannon. Pseudepigrapha writings are like this because we don’t know the original author.  The Book of Enoch is believed to be written by different authors over different periods of time.  With this problem how could we know that Jude quotes from Enoch?  Could have one of the authors inserted Jude into Enoch to boost the story and make it seem more credible?

Again, we may never know.  It isn’t unlike Pseudepigraphical authors to do just that.  But, if so, why would some early church fathers endorse it? The Enochian tradition already must have existed. During the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Qumran, the book of Enoch was found.  Scholars now date it to be written in the 160’s BC and some parts in the 200’s BC.  They also believe parts of it to be written post Christian, due to some references it makes.  But, at the heart of the issue is, why by the fourth century was it clearly rejected by the church at large?  Jews first then the Gentiles! LOL.

I think the answer is clear when you read the The Book of Enoch in concert with the scriptures.  It doesn’t hold up.  It contradicts, more than once. Scripture, confirms certain scientific discoveries, (not claiming that the bible is a science text book) like the universe having an absolute beginning. The book of Enoch has some very incoherent ideas about the earth and universe, for example:

 “1. And from thence I went to the south to the ends of the earth, and saw there three open portals  2. of the heaven: and thence there come dew, rain, and wind. And from thence I went to the east to the ends of the heaven, and saw here the three eastern portals of heaven open and small portals 3. above them. Through each of these small portals pass the stars of heaven and run their course 4. to the west on the path which is shown to them.” 1E 36:1-4

Our sky couldn’t even have one star pass through it, let alone all the stars of the heaven.

The worst would have to be the contradictions to the bible itself.  This is undeniable.

10. 1. Then said the Most High, the Holy and Great One spake, and sent Uriel to the son of Lamech, 2 and said to him: (‘Go to Noah and) tell him in my name ” Hide thyself!”   1E 10:1-2

 For starters, Enoch was taken by God sixty nine years before Noah was even born. In 10:9 it claims that an Angel named Azazel was responsible for all sin!  That is clearly in contradiction to both Testaments!  The list goes on and on.

It’s not unusual for many of us to use certain truths prevalent in other literature.  In my view, the certain parts of Enoch were popular. During the first century, it may have had certain truths found elsewhere in scripture that made its way into cultural tradition.  All in all, due to just the problems I have mentioned above, the church was right not to include it in the bible.  The book of Enoch maybe cool and is some great reading, but compared to the story of Jesus, I don’t see how anyone can hold it in contrast to it.

The reason for the season! The Christmas celebration. No

By David Russell

Luke 2:8-12

“In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.”

Welcome back for the second installation to “The reason for the season”. In this addition we will look at the Christmas celebration itself. I promise to be brief considering it is Christmas. As I write this, I am waiting to feast with my family.

During this time of year I often get the question or the accusation that Christmas is a pagan holiday. Everything we have, we stole from other cultures and traditions. But is this true!? Should we not celebrate this holiday? Is it a sin to do so?

I once gave a Pastor a gift during this holiday. He accepted it reluctantly and then told me he doesn’t celebrate Christmas. He lectured me on all the pagan traditions infused in the holiday itself. He then showed me a scripture passage in Jeremiah (10:3-4) and told me that the Christmas tree is related to this pagan tradition. I walked out with my head hung low. Later in my walk, I would get told over and over thatwe stole the winter solstice from the pagans and that I should celebrate with out using the traditions I grew up with. That December twenty fifth should be called Yule.

I finally decided to look into this myself. I took to the internet and wound up with more questions than I started with. After months of looking into this I found that there is a general consensus on the celebration. We have early evidence that the early church celebrated the incarnation around the December 25th, Yale’s T.C. Schmidt is quoted in a recent article,

“When translating Hippolytus’ Commentary on Daniel, written just after AD 200, Schmidt notes that five of the seven manuscripts contain December 25 as the date for Jesus’ birth and another offers the 25th of either December or March.”

In Rome, we got the celebration of Sol Invictus on the 25th and Saturnalia on December 17-23. We have other cultures from all over the world celebrating some kind of solstice around this time of year. Some predate Christianity, some do not. What we do know is that the Feast of the Nativity was established by the Roman Catholic Church in the early fourth century.

It’s not a stretch to say Christians may have decided to celebrate around this time so that they weren’t tempted by the debauchery that went on during Saturnalia. Kind of like how some do a harvest festival instead of Halloween. It’s also possible that they used it to rival and try to convert their pagan counterparts. However, we will never know for sure.

After all is said and done, what I can conclude is, that there is nothing wrong with celebrating Christmas during the month of December. The unbeliever doesn’t have any, real ground, to stand on. I also can conclude, when you read Jeremiah in context, you’ll see this was about the carving and adorning of idols and not a reference to a Christmas tree. It’s more a stab at scriptural illiteracy than anything else.

Christmas, as it currently stands, may have several other traditions incorporated in it and some maybe pagan. But this is true about several celebrations. It’s also true about several things we do in life. I am sure I can find something we do that comes from pagan origins. My question is, what are you celebrating now? Is Christmas a commercialized holiday with no real meaning?

These are the most important questions. For the Christian, we celebrate the day heaven pierced the night. The day God became flesh. The one who spoke and created the universe, left his throne to dwell among us. We give gifts because the greatest gift has already been given. We put presents under a tree that symbolizes the tree of life in the garden. We put ornaments on it because we once merged, with the tree, a triangle shelf that had ornaments on it depicting the gospel.

In conclusion, I say enjoy the celebration. Don’t let anyone try to discourage you. Finally remember, HE is the reason for the season.

The Reason for the season! The virgin birth.

images mary

By David Russell,

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

Welcome to the Union blog and a very happy upcoming Christmas.  Christmas is actually what I would like to talk about.  We concluded our apologetics series with the last post called “Jesus”. That series focused on good arguments for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity.  This two part series is all about Christmas.

On the Union Facebook page I informed my audience that I was in the process of a new series I am titling “Questions”.  For this series I am making the blog more interactive.  I have gone around my workplace asking fellow coworkers to write down the most difficult questions they have about Christianity.  To make a long story short, this two part series is an intermediary as I gather the questions and compile my answers.  So, in the spirit of the holiday, sit back and enjoy the read as you eat your cookies and drink your milk.

One of the most famous stories during Christmas time is the virgin birth.  It is woven in almost every Christmas hymn.  I often think of the song “Silent Night”, especially when it rings “Round yon virgin, Mother and Child”.

As beautiful as it sounds and the actual effectual impact of the rest of the song, skeptics and atheists often ridicule believers for the belief that a virgin could actually give birth. I remember, while attending high school, the virgin birth was often sneered and snickered upon.  Students would ask, “Do you really think Mary was a virgin, come on, when have you ever seen that happen?” The student often leaves doubting the seriousness of it all, the wonder of Christmas washed over by the mere bleakness of dead trees in your living room. The lights lighting the streets become dim; the nativity scene in front of houses become as still as the material that it is made from.  The only fall back is the material gain of what is underneath the tree.

Not only that but when they visit the web the Memes litter the the bandwidth with tales of Christmas myth and theft.  The student, the parent, and many people have nowhere to turn.  The church, for a long time, answered this with “It takes faith” or “just believe”, my favorite, “the Bible says”.  No wonder we live in a post-Christian America. How can one deny, at a certain age when they no longer believe in Santa, that a virgin could give birth?

Is this the real problem though?  I claim that the problem is three fold.  In the chaos of consumerism, the trappings of modernity, and the reality of an apathetic culture the church has let its guard down, forgotten that we must love the Lord our God with not only our soul, heart, and strength. We also must love Him with all of OUR MIND. (Matthew 26:36-40)

The second problem is not that a virgin can give birth, it’s that people seem to have trouble with miracles.  What do you expect when the teachers pontificate that we are just animals and professors say were nothing more than glorified stardust?  What can you do when universities teach there is no moral compass and we are products of time, plus matter, plus chance?

Finally, there is another battle going on! A battle for the heart and of human volition!  Some people wouldn’t believe it even if it was written in the sky! They’d claim nothing more than a mere hallucination. These are the folks when asked, “If Christianity was the truth, would you accept it?”  The reply would be a resounding, “No!”   An old friend of mine would have said “Absolutely not!”

And the truth is, as the body of Christ and an Apologist, we can’t expect the pagans and unbelievers not to exercise their job description. But wait…………………

JOY TO THE WORLD, JOY OF THE WORLD!

There is an answer for the student, the seeker, and those in the pews!

For the church we have the incredible reliability of the gospels.  The early dating is like none other in ancient history.  Just due to the differences in accounts recorded in Matthew and Luke suggest a pre-Gospel tradition.  Prophecies recorded hundreds of years before the events suddenly come to pass.  For the one that asks “Why is it not mentioned in the other gospels or epistles?” this gives us the opportunity to explain the way in which the New Testament is written.  You can explain that John and Mark start after Christ’s baptism and dive into the Christology they were trying to portray.  You can then teach the relevance of why Matthew included it, which had much to do about prophetic fulfillment.  You can explain the fact that Luke gathered early eyewitness data which then launches you into a plethora of historically verifiable claims. “Why don’t the Epistles mention it?”  This gives us the opportunity to illuminate the problem specificity nature and purpose of the epistles which allows us to instruct the believer on how to live.

What you can’t do is out right deny it. This leads to our second contention.  The problem with the teachers and professors is they deny the evidence based on faulty presuppositions. Some are just plain ignorant of the historical data. They truly have a problem with miracles. Add to that their radical skepticism, which in turn violates the first principles of reason.  Radical Skepticism is self-referentially incoherent.  If one doubts everything doesn’t he actually doubt his own claim? Is he not certain that he doubts everything? No, the conclusion logically follows that he or she doesn’t.

Not only that if they want to stick to the theory that we are all animals, then we actually see virgin birth all through the animal kingdom.  We even have a word for it Parathenogenesis”.  I could never hold the belief that it could apply to this instance, I have never seen any evidence to suggest that it happened to a human, but given the reliability of the Gospels could it be possible, scientifically? I doubt it.

As I chuckle, the reality is the skeptick of miracles cannot wrap their mind around miracles.  It would shake their anti-supernatural foundation, no pull it, right from under them.  Yet, the have enough faith that something can come from nothing, that this something was so finely tuned and that by time, plus matter, plus chance, threw enough stardust around to form and create biologically complex organisms in a stew. They then evolved into deep thinking, space exploring monkey’s, or primates, if the previous offends.  I am sorry, I don’t have that much faith.

The truth is, we have great evidence for the existence of God and your average person believes in miracles.  Many report they have experienced them at one point in their life.  The brute fact is, if God exists, miracles are possible.

This should and needs to be taught to your student before they even go into the classroom.  Then the tree will be known to represent the tree of life, the lights won’t dim, and giving will mean more than receiving for they will realize that the greatest gift of all was given on Christmas day.  It will be as alive in your home as the original nativity scene was over two thousand years ago.

Finally, to our last contention.  The one that refuses and takes a stand against the truth.  I can only say it will take an encounter with the incarnate One to change their heart, an illumination in the mind that heaven has come to earth, the One who spoke and pierced the realm of men and lived among us. They must begin a relationship with the son of Mary, whom saved our soul on Calvary and showed us strength by overcoming death and the grave.  That is what we mean when we sing.

“JOY TO THE WORLD THE LORD HAS COME”