If We Found Life on Mars

For decades now, scientists and researchers have been tirelessly working towards the goal of finding life outside of earth’s atmosphere. I read an article recently that had the scientific community in a state of excitement: They discovered what seemed to be evidence indicating that Mars once had water. And as we all know, where there’s water, there could be life.

But what is “life”, exactly? What constitutes a living thing in the scope of science? Well, the geniuses at NASA provides us with this definition:

Living things tend to be complex and highly organized. They have the ability to take in energy from the environment and transform it for growth and reproduction. Organisms tend toward homeostasis: an equilibrium of parameters that define their internal environment. Living creatures respond, and their stimulation fosters a reaction-like motion, recoil, and in advanced forms, learning. Life is reproductive, as some kind of copying is needed for evolution to take hold through a population’s mutation and natural selection. To grow and develop, living creatures need foremost to be consumers, since growth includes changing biomass, creating new individuals, and the shedding of waste.  (Astrobiology Magazine, NASA)

In layman’s terms, then, for something to be identified as a life-form, the key factors are that it must consume, grow, reproduce, react and respond, and learn. And if it is ever determined that there is life on distant planets, researchers say that it would be the “beginning of an entirely new chapter in scientific history.” To date, there have been over forty spacecraft launched and an estimated 3.6 billion dollars was spent in 2012 alone to research the possibility of life on Mars.

DO NOT DISTURB-

In 1967, a United Nations treaty suggested a rigorous set of rules called “planetary protection” guidelines that would promote the protection of the potential life that might exist in the regions of space being explored by earth. In our search for microbial life-forms, careful steps are taken that would prevent us from bringing harmful foreign bacteria of our own and contaminating alien environments. The idea is that since the life that might be found would be so valuable and fragile, every possible safeguard must be adopted in order to promote and protect that life and to avoid brining harm to Mars’ ecosystem.

LIFE OUT THERE & LIFE IN HERE-

Ironically, just six years after declaring the importance of following the planetary protection guidelines for the safety of potential microbial life on Mars, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the Roe v Wade decision that human life was not so valuable as to protect it at any cost. Although an unborn human possesses all the characteristics that makes up the definition of “life” according to NASA- consuming energy and nourishment for the reproduction of cells for growth- our society has somehow reduced the significance of our own existence while simultaneously elevating the value of lesser life-forms.

It doesn’t take much to recognize the clear inconsistency and logical fallacy in attempting to defend the right to abortion. Unborn babies are living human beings, and to terminate pregnancy is nothing short of murder in the cruelest sense. But I want to suggest that our debate over this issue has little to do with the scientific discoveries, but everything to do with our spiritual realities.

IMAGO DEI-

Then God said,  “Let us make man in our image,  after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  So God created man in his own image,   in the image of God he created him;  male and female he created them.  –Genesis 1:26-27

When humanity begins to see itself as nothing more than the consequence of cosmic chance, it should not be surprising then that we perceive ourselves with little regard or value. If the human race is simply an advanced form of the microscopic crater creature that we’re so desperate to find, then it’s really no surprise that we treat our unborn with such indifference.

But our complete lack of worth as humans, and our failure to recognize the immeasurable value of life stems from our ignorance of a great biblical truth: We are made in God’s image, and for God’s glory. Scripture tells us that God made us unique, special, and for a purpose. Out of all of creation, God is said to make men and women in the Imago Dei (“the Image of God”), and that humanity bears the signs of His own character and nature. We were made for relationship, both with our Maker and with each other. We were designed to reflect His glory and beauty, and to enjoy life and its blessings under His grace and guidance.

Scripture also tells us that all of life comes from God

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  –Psalm 139:13-16

ALL LIVES MATTER-

Conception is no “accident”, no matter the consequences that surround a pregnancy. It is God who gives life, period. Only God can ordain that a living soul will come into existence, and no life exists apart from His sovereign will and decree. Simply look through the pages of Scripture to see the many instances when a life was conceived only through the power of God in giving life: Sarah conceived Isaac in her old age; Rebekah was barren when she conceived Jacob and Esau; Samson was born of a sterile woman; Hannah brought forth Samuel from a closed womb; Elizabeth was an old woman when she gave birth to John the Baptist; and God placed His Son Jesus into the womb of a virgin to remind us that “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind” (John 1:3-4).

So, would it be amazing to one day discover some strange alien organism lurking under a rock on another planet? Sure! But should we consider that life more important or valuable than the life of one made in the Image of God growing inside the womb of its mother? Of course we shouldn’t. Because although all life finds its source and origin with our Creator God, the Bible plainly teaches that mankind is special, and the very object of His love and redemption in Jesus Christ.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.  –Matthew 10:29-31

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Whats Wrong With Christmas?

Over the last month or so, since entering the holiday season, I’ve been made aware of some going back-and-forth about Christmas. Some have been convinced that, as Christians, it’s wrong (and possibly sinful) to celebrate Christmas. As strange as it may sound, let me explain this line of thought- It is not that it is wrong to acknowledge the birth of our Savior as significant, but that the celebration of Christmas as we know it is somehow stemmed from pagan rituals and rooted in anti-Semitism.  In addition to this idea, it has also been said that we as believers are to observe the seven feasts as prescribed to the Jews in Leviticus 23. Some suggest that we have been misled and are wrong to think that these are no longer necessary to observe.

In this letter, my goal is to address these two points. In truth, I find it unfortunate that there is even a need to discuss this matter with Christians who, “ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” (Heb. 5:12) We, who seek to demonstrate the complete work of Christ for salvation and the grace of God, speak as if we do not understand it ourselves. And that’s what this is- a matter of understanding grace. We are being “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” (Eph. 4:14) It is Satan’s trap, and his desire to get us so caught up in useless and pointless theology that we miss the point- the souls of men and their need for a Savior. My brothers and sisters, we cannot allow this to happen.

It is thought by some that Christmas (along with Valentine’s Day and others) is sinful to observe based on the historical nature of the holiday. It is said that the origins trace back to Roman times where the sun was worshipped, and that the false apostate church adopted and “Christianized” it. Therefore, many of our traditions (the exchanging of gifts, wreaths, and even the decorated tree) are found to be pagan in nature. And by observing these holidays, we are said to be in violation of God’s word that says: “They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” (Mark 7:7-8) And Paul, it would seem, chimed in agreement in Galatians 4:10-11: “You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!  I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.” To begin, I’d like to shed some light on these verses, and then share with you some other thoughts.

First, let us talk about Paul’s words in Galatians. What was he referring to? Some have said that, since these were Roman citizens he was talking to, them he must have been talking about the old pagan customs that they came out of. Not so! It’s easy to determine, once taking the entire scope of the book of Galatians into account, that Paul was writing about the Jewish Christians who were attempting to impose the Law of Moses onto these Gentile believers. That’s why he goes onto mention in Gal. 5:2-4, “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” This is a stark warning to those who believe that the blood of Christ is not enough for salvation- because we have been “saved by grace through faith… not of works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)

Now, in regards to Mark 7, we must not simply pull out verses while ignoring the full context of the passage. If we read the entire story, we see that Jesus is pointing to the “heart” of the matter instead of merely pointing out traditions. What Jesus says in vv. 7-8 is in harmony with Mat. 5-7, where Jesus brings clarity to the laws that the Pharisees had long sought to distort and add to in order to justify their sinful lifestyles. Not only that, but in verse 13 Jesus notes that the problem with their additions to the law was that they “nullified” God’s law.

Some would say here that this is the problem with Christmas- that 1) our keeping with the Christmas tradition conflicts with God’s commands concerning pagan worship (Isa. 2:6, 57:8); and 2) we have replaced the Holy Days of God and the Feasts with these holidays and are not obeying the Scriptures. To that I would say this:

1) We’re giving too much power to the pagans if we say that Christians cannot celebrate or glorify God on a day that has been reserved for idolatry. Or to say that God is incapable of infiltrating the dominion of darkness and bringing in under subjection to Himself is impossible is basically to say that there is no such thing as redemption! It would be as if to say that “Amazing Grace”, along with many of our classic hymns, are sinful because their musical arrangements came from old saloon songs; or to say that the Haitian voodoo priest cannot transform his temple into a church because it was once used for witchcraft; or a ministry cannot buy a bar and use it for worship and outreach. Isn’t that what God did to us, who “called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet. 2:9). “He saved them from the hand of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them” (Psa. 106:10) And if God is able to do such mighty redemptive work in man, who once was the subject of His wrath (Rom. 5:10), can He not, through His children redeem a day?

2) Are we called to keep the law, or the feasts, as a command? Some people are confused by passages such as Lev. 23, which proclaims the feasts as “lasting ordinances”, and New Testament verses that refer to keeping the law (such as Rom. 2:13). Some take this to mean that there is no difference between Old Testament regulations and New Testament practices. They can’t determine whether we are still expected to honor all of the regulations and requirements given to the people of God under the Old Covenant. Let me try to help in this matter.

First, let us notice Jesus’ words in a few passages. In Mark 10 we see the story of the “Rich Young Ruler”, who wanted to know what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. The first thing to come up was the Law- do not kill, do not steal, do not commit adultery, honor your father and mother… did you notice something? The same thing we notice when reading James 2 when it talks about the law, he focuses on the 10 Commandments. We tend to get stuck on all of these regulations and rites, and Jesus keeps with the 10. Why? Because God wrote the Ten Commandments, but the people wanted more. And “because of the hardness of your hearts” Moses gave them these laws (Mark 10:5). We need to remember the intent of the law, people. And Jesus pointed to it again, with the rich young ruler like he did with the Pharisees- it’s about exposing the true condition of the heart. Jesus said, “go sell your possessions and give it to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven”. Was that even an Old Testament law? No! But that wasn’t the point, the issue was that his heart was not to glorify God. It was selfish.

Secondly, let’s remember the woman at the well (John 4), where she talked about the tradition of worship. In verse 20, she asks Jesus about the proper place to worship, the mountain or Jerusalem. Now, according to the requirements of the feasts, the people would have to go to Jerusalem in order to participate. But what did Jesus say? He told her that a time was coming where His people would worship Him neither at a mountain, nor in Jerusalem! What? Jesus changing things? Don’t be surprised, because He had already stated that foods once considered prohibited would be made clean (Mark 7), now he is stating that how and where we worship would change. He says to the woman, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (v. 23-24)

Jesus came to transform our hearts. The Old Covenant made with Israel was one of laws and works. The New Covenant with Christ is one of grace and faith. It says, “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10) This new covenant is superior to the old one (in fact, the whole concept of “new covenant” is that it nullifies the stipulations of the former), in that our salvation is no longer based on our efforts and our righteousness, but rather the righteousness that is from God (Heb. 8:13).

If Jesus had intended the church to continue in following an Old Covenant that did not help them in any other way than to condemn them (Rom. 3:19-20; 4:15), then why do we not see the early apostles commanding the believers to do so? True, we see Paul going up to Jerusalem during Pentecost, as well as spending time in the synagogues on Sabbath, but what was he doing? He was preaching Christ! Nowhere does it say that he was observing a feast or any ceremony, and more importantly, we never find Paul urging believers to do so either. If keeping the Old Covenant law was a necessity, then why did Paul call Peter condemned for trying to persuade Gentile believers (who did not keep the law) to begin following Jewish customs? (Gal. 2:11-14) Why, if keeping the Old law was a requirement, did he not require all believers to be circumcised? Rather, he said, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.” (Gal. 6:15)

And that’s what it’s all about- the new creation. Jesus came to “make all things new”- a new hope, a new life, and a new heart for everyone who would put their trust in Him. “Therefore 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. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Col. 2:16-17) Look!! Christ, our Light, has come! Why, then, would we insist on looking at “shadows”…

The Heresy of the Rape Analogy

Not too long ago, I was meeting with a fellow pastor and our discussion turned to the issue of Irresistible Grace– the reformed doctrine which teaches that God effectually calls His elect to Himself through the Holy Spirit’s regenerating work of changing the mind, heart, and will of the sinner to repent and believe. It was already obvious from previous talks that this pastor was opposed to the Calvinistic teachings regarding predestination and election, but for the most part our conversations had always been somewhat cordial. As should be expected within the context of Christian disagreement, we regularly sought to go to Scripture to defend our views. So when we began to examine our differences regarding irresistible grace, I naturally went to Jesus’ words in John 6 for reference:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  – John 6:37-39, ESV

I explained to my pastor friend that this text clearly expresses the reality that no one comes to the Son except by the drawing of the Father (v.44), and that those who are drawn will without question come to the Son, and will ultimately be raised on the last day. I pointed out that Jesus’ words clearly demonstrate the effectual work of the Father’s drawing, and the positive work of the Son in the keeping and eternal redemption of those that are brought to Christ. From my perspective, there was no clearer evidence of the doctrine of irresistible grace in all of Scripture.

But I suppose this passage isn’t so clear for everyone.

GOD AND COSMIC RAPE

You know something, Roger? Here’s the problem with the idea of God ‘drawing’ people in an irresistible way to save them: If you believe that God saves people against their will, then that would make God no different than a rapist.

“And God is NOT a rapist.”

This was in essence the reply from my pastor friend when presented with my understanding of God’s effectual calling from John 6. Needless to say, I was a bit stunned at his response. Not only because he didn’t attempt to argue his disagreement from any text of Scripture, but because his willingness to compare God’s grace in saving sinners with “rape” was evidence of his blind, hostile prejudice toward reformed thought. More shocking though, was that he was so insistent on rejecting God’s sovereignty in salvation that he was ready to engage in outright heresy to defend his position.

While I have to admit that I had never heard it said in such volatile terms, this kind of argument isn’t a new one. Opponents of reformed theology are fond of suggesting things like, “The Holy Spirit is a gentleman, and won’t force Himself on anyone”, which is a similar yet less graphic statement. Regardless, however, of how it is phrased, the idea is the same: God does not interfere with human autonomy, lest He be regarded as offensive and intrusive. At the end of the day, it is man’s freedom that seeks to be protected and preserved at all costs- even if the cost is God’s glorious grace.

MAKING GOD’S GOODNESS EVIL

Note that I just defined this argument as heresy, and I am not one to use such a term lightly. But I believe such a condemnation applies in the case of equating the work of grace with an act of pure evil. There are so many problems with the analogy itself that for a person to even consider using it reveals a blatant ignorance of the character of God and the nature of man.

First, what are the motives behind a rapist and a God who chooses to save sinners? Are they identical? Of course they are not. On one hand, you have a wicked, perverted individual violating an unwilling, innocent person against their rights for the purpose of self-gratification. There is no love or consideration of the well-being of the recipient involved in the case of rape. But when it comes to irresistible grace, God’s act of drawing unrepentant, unregenerate sinners to Himself for the purpose of redeeming them from eternal wrath is the complete opposite.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  –Ephesians 2:4-7, ESV

Why did God choose to save “dead” sinners? Because He is “rich in mercy”, because of His “great love”, and to show the “immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us.” And what are the benefits of such an act? Is it the carnal gratification and self-pleasure of an evil person at the expense of an otherwise innocent victim? Or do we see eternally glorious benefits on the part of the undeserving recipient at the expense of an infinitely holy God?

Secondly, why does the analogy portray the person being drawn by the Father as an “innocent victim” whose rights are being so violated? I’ve often noticed how those who oppose Calvinism do so on the basis of the false notion that free creatures are “good”, and to impose upon their freedom is somehow “bad”. Therefore, for God to step in and disrupt the path and pattern of human autonomy with His sovereignty would be a morally wrong act.

Paul should file a lawsuit, then.

Where do we get the idea that mankind is a victim of God’s sovereignty when He chooses to call us from death to life, from darkness to light? When did we start to think that we are “innocent”, as the analogy portrays? What “rights” do we have that would be “wrong” for God to so violate? We need to see the error of such an illustration- because no one is innocent (Rom. 3:10-18), and the only right we have is the right to die under God’s mighty hand of judgment.

A BETTER ANALOGY

Seeing now that the “rape” analogy in regards to God’s sovereign act of grace upon dead sinners is indeed a false one, we should now replace it with one more appropriate.

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”  – Ezekiel 37:1-6, ESV

The doctrine of irresistible grace is not the idea that God forces people to be saved against their will- you will never find a true convert that will say, “I don’t want to be saved.” Such an argument is foolishness. Rather, it is the biblical teaching that fallen man’s nature is so corrupted by sin that his mind and will is bent against God, and in order for anyone to repent and believe the gospel God must first regenerate them.

And if He does not, they will not.

Man is dead in trespasses and sins- he is not an innocent, autonomous free creature in this world. Furthermore, God is righteous, holy, and sovereign, and has chosen to set His love upon the unrighteous and unwilling and to redeem them in spite of themselves. This is not an act of selfish sensuality- nor should it ever be suggested that it is likened unto sadistic violence- it is amazing grace.