The Lie: Evolution versus Creation

Raised in a Christian Home

I WAS RAISED IN A Christian home where the Bible was believed to be the infallible, inerrant Word of God. When I entered high school I came face-to-face with the idea of evolution. If Genesis was not literally true, then what part of the Bible could I trust? Genesis clearly details the creation of the world. One of my friends is a pastor. I recall him suggesting that I accept evolution, but then add it to the Bible—in other words, it is okay to believe that God used evolution and millions of years to bring all forms of life into being. Certainly, this is not what we’re told in Genesis. Another pastor friend of mine whose blog I follow commented that believing God’s creation was helped along by evolution is “a slippery slope.”

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If God did not mean what He said in Genesis, then how could I put stock in the rest of the Scriptures? Not only this, but believing in evolution and millions of years meant allowing death, disease, fossils, thorns, animals eating each other, and suffering to be in existence millions of years before man! How could this be true given God’s proclamation that His creation was “very good” before the Fall?

Christianity is Under Attack!

We are living in challenging times. On the whole, our Western culture, once permeated by Christian thinking, is becoming increasingly anti-Christian. We are seeing steady increases in gay marriage, support for abortion on demand, unwillingness to obey authority, reluctance to work, marriages being abandoned, an increase in pornography, a growing level of lawlessness, and increasing promulgation of atheism. Christians are fighting for their own religious freedom and being labeled as the bad guys.

Under Attack

What has happened in society to bring about these drastic changes? Why is it that many people are cynical and seem to be closed to the Gospel when we talk about Jesus? There must be some foundational reason for this change. In 1 Chronicles 12:32, we read of the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times. Do we have a good grasp of the times in which we live? What is the fundamental reason for the collapse of Christianity in America? Consider the recent proliferation of the phrase “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” Nativity scenes, crosses, and the Ten Commandments are being banned from view in public places. Creation, prayer, and the Bible have largely been eliminated from the nation’s secular education system. Today we see culture invading and changing the church rather than the church having an impact on culture.

No Single Birthplace?

Secular researchers say it is time to drop the idea that modern humans originated from a single population in a single location. The origin of our species has long been traced to east Africa, where the world’s oldest Homo sapiens fossils were discovered. About 300,000 years ago, the story went, a group of primitive humans there underwent a series of genetic and cultural shifts that set them on a unique evolutionary path resulting in the human population we have today. You. Me. My mom. Your brother. Everyone.

Evolution Graphic

Recently, a team of prominent scientists called for a rewriting of this traditional narrative, based on a comprehensive survey of fossil, archaeological and genetic evidence. Instead, the international team argue, the distinctive features that make us human emerged mosaic-like across different populations spanning the entire African continent. Only after tens or hundreds of thousands of years of interbreeding and cultural exchange between these semi-isolated groups, did the fully-fledged modern human come into being.

Secular scientists note telltale characteristics of a modern human – globular brain case, a chin, a more delicate brow and a small face – seem to first appear in different places at different times. Previously, this has either been explained as evidence of a single, large population trekking around the continent en masse or by dismissing certain fossils as side-branches of the modern human lineage that just happened to have developed certain anatomical similarities. The latest analysis suggests that this patchwork emergence of human traits can be explained by the existence of multiple populations that were periodically separated for millennia by rivers, deserts, forests and mountains before coming into contact again due to shifts in the climate. Natural barriers such as theses created migration and contact opportunities for groups that may previously have been separated, and later fluctuation might have meant populations that mixed for a short while became isolated again.

Some experts paint a picture of humans as a far-more diverse collection of species and sub-populations than exists today. They allege between 200,000 and 400,000 years ago our own ancestors lived alongside a primitive human species called Homo naledi found in southern Africa, a larger brained species called  Homo heidelbergensis in central Africa, and perhaps myriad other humans yet to be discovered.

Replacing Darwin

Unlike typical jigsaw puzzles, the puzzle of the origin of species does not come in a box. No cover exists. The final number of pieces is unknown. In fact, nearly all pieces must be actively sought. Consequently, with each new discovery, the potential for massive overhaul lurks in the background. I’m reminded of the comment I heard from a facilitator at a Werner Erhard seminar. He said, “There’s what we know, and there’s what we don’t know, but more importantly there’s what we don’t know that we don’t know.” Keeping with the jigsaw analogy, let’s consider the state of the puzzle prior to Darwin’s day. Just a century before Darwin published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, the first pieces were discovered.

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In a jigsaw puzzle, edge pieces constrain the arrangement of the center pieces. Since species are defined by their traits, the origin of traits constrains the puzzle of the origin of species. The origin of leopards and cheetahs depends on an answer to the origin of spots. The origin of toucans relies on the answer to the origin of large, colorful beaks. The origin of the blue whale is bound up in the origin of baleen. The origin of scorpions and the origin of stingers go hand-in-hand. The answer to the origin of traits represents the edge pieces to the puzzle.

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Exactly how does DNA control traits? The mystery of the how concealed the answers to several critical questions. Could the mechanism by which DNA controlled the behavior of traits be altered? Could it be changed to an entirely different program? Could leopards become whales? Could toucans change into scorpions? Could jellyfish become jaguars? These might sound like ridiculous questions, but the answers awaited the discovery of the mechanism by which DNA interfaced with traits. But alas, there are several paradoxes regarding this issue. In in each generation all traits are erased—only to be rebuilt again.

Consider what it takes to form a new species. For a fish to become a spider, significant morphological changes must occur—an endoskeleton must transform into an exoskeleton, fins must become legs, an aquatic form of respiration must transform into a terrestrial form of respiration. Prior to the discovery of DNA, scientists looked for various solutions to these paradoxes. One theory centered on physics and chemistry. For example, consider the physics of transforming a single cell into a complex adult. Many chemical and physical barriers would have to be overcome. Obviously, physical beings don’t spontaneously assemble themselves.

Darwin and Genetics

Darwin Portrait

Darwin wrote the following comment in a notebook in 1837: “One species does change into another” [Italics mine]. Yet his theory of natural selection lacked an adequate account of inheritance, making it logically incomplete. Lack of a model of the mechanism of inheritance left him unable to interpret his own data. Instead, Darwin proposed a rather bizarre developmental theory of heredity (which he called pangenesis). Essentially, he suggested that all cells in an organism are capable of shedding minute particles of inheritance he called gemmules, which are able to circulate throughout the body and ultimately accumulate in the gonads. The theory of pangenesis originated from the claim that characteristics acquired during an organism’s life were inheritable.

Many criticized Darwin’s pangenesis. To test the theory, Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton in London conducted a series of blood transfusion experiments. Galton transfused blood between different colored rabbits. Galton hypothesized that the blood contained gemmules that would influence the color of the offspring. By transfusing the blood from a white rabbit to a black rabbit, the black rabbit would have different colored descendants than normal black rabbits, which did not get transfused blood. But the result of the experiment contrasted Darwin’s prediction. Black rabbits with the blood from white rabbits produced offspring that were all black. Galton concluded that gemmules did not exist. Darwin’s comeback was perhaps gemmules existed in bodily fluids other than blood.

Creation and Religion

Biblical creation is based on the Genesis account of origins from the Word of God—the One who is a witness to all that occurred when the universe was created. Most non-believers have a difficult time with the concept that God is “outside of time itself.” God’s creation consists basically of a threefold view of history—a perfect creation, corrupted by sin, to be restored by Jesus Christ. This account is divided into seven distinct periods referred to by Ken Ham as the Seven Cs of Creation.

  1. Creation: In six days God created the heavens, the earth, and all that is in them from nothing. Each part is designed to work with all the others in perfect harmony. God created the different kinds of plants and animals, and He made a special garden (the Garden of Eden) in which He created the first two human beings. When God completed His work of creation, He called it all “very good.”
  2. Corruption: We no longer live in the world God originally created. Because our first parents (Adam and Eve) placed human opinion about God’s Word (as we still tend to do today), struggle and death entered the world, and God cursed creation. Charles Darwin called this “struggle to the death” natural selection and offered his idea as a substitute for an Intelligent Designer. Evolutionists later added accidental changes in heredity (mutations) to their evolutionary belief. But such processes as natural selection and mutations do not creat; instead, they bring disease, defects, and decay into the world God created. Paul describes this now fallen world in Romans: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22, NIV).
  3. Catastrophe: After mankind’s sin and rebellion (the Fall), the earth became so filled with violence and corruption that God destroyed the world with a global Flood and gave it a fresh start with Noah, his family, and the animals in the ark. Fossils—billions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth—remind us of God’s judgment on sin. Most of the fossil record is actually the graveyard of the Flood that occurred about 4,300 years ago. Of course, this same fossil record is used and manipulated by secularists as purported evidence for millions of years.
  4. Confusion: In Genesis 11, we see that after the Flood, man disobeyed God’s command to spread out over the earth. Instead, they congregated together to build a tower to the heavens, likely to worship the heavens instead of worshiping and obeying the God who made the heavens. As a result, God simply confused their language so that groups began speaking in different languages. Family groups then began separating from each other and moving out over the earth to  develop various people groups, which resulted in the diverse cultures and nations we have today.
  5. Christ: It is unfortunate that despite the Flood the earth again became filled with violence, corruption, and death because of human sin putting man’s opinion above God’s Word. God had a plan from eternity promised back at the beginning (Genesis 3:15) to save man from sin and its consequence of eternal separation from God. God’s Son stepped into human history to become Jesus Christ, the God-man. Fully God and fully human, Christ came to heal and restore, and by His death and resurrection, He conquered death. We may be born again into eternal life as new creations in Christ. As Romans 10:9 tells us, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
  6. Cross: What was God doing on the cross? What was He accomplishing through the crucifixion? Unfortunately, there are growing numbers of Christians who are having an increasingly difficult time answering that question. There is a diminishing sense of God’s holiness, an increasing denial of man’s sin nature, and a disproportionate sense of self-worth. Both the shame and the shear brutality of the cross have become blurred. The Roman Empire was notorious for performing crucifixions. In fact, they coined the word excruciating to describe the horrible act. Excruciating is an adjective which means extremely painful, causing intense suffering. The Latin word excruciātus (derivative of crux cross) translates as “to torment or torture.”
  7. Consummation: As surely as God created the world and judged the world with the Flood, our ungodly world will be destroyed by fire (2 Peter 3:10). For those who trust in Jesus, however, there awaits eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth. There will be no more corruption because God’s curse will have been removed. But for those who reject God’s free gift of salvation, the Bible tells us they will suffer a second death—eternal separation from God (Revelation 20:14).

Is Evolution a Religion?

Why do evolutionists not want to admit that the molecules-to-man evolution belief is really a religion? This is so because whatever you believe about your origins affects your whole worldview, the meaning of life, and so on. If there is no God and we are the result of chance, random process, it means there is no absolute authority. And if there is no one who sets the rules, then people can do whatever he likes or hopes he can get away with.

Evolution is a religion that enables people to justify writing their own rules. The sin of Adam was that he did not want to obey the rules God set. Instead, he wanted to do what he wanted to do. He rebelled against God, and we all suffer from this same sin: rebellion against the absolute authority of God. The evolutionary (millions of years) belief has become the so-called scientific justification in today’s world for people to continue in this rebellion against God.

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The Book of Genesis gives us the true and reliable account of the origin and early history of life on earth. Increasing numbers of scientists are realizing that when you take the Bible as your basis and build your worldview upon it, then the evidence from the living animals and plants, the fossils, and the cultures fit with what this account details to us. This confirms that the Bible really is the Word of God and can be trusted completely. The secular humanists, of course, oppose this because they cannot allow the possibility of God being Creator. They have fought successfully to have prayer, Bible readings, and the teaching of creation forced out of the public school curriculum. They have deceived the public into thinking this is eliminating religion from schools and leaving a neutral situation. This is absolutely false! God’s Word states, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad” (Matthew 12:30).

How Old is the Earth?

The question of the age of our planet has produced heated debate for centuries. The primary positions are simply stated thus: (a) young-earth proponents believe the biblical age of the earth and universe is about 6,000 years; (b) old-earth proponents believe the age of the earth to be about 4.5 billion years and the age of the universe is about 14 billion years. Obviously the range between these two schools of thought are immense.

Where Did a Young-Earth Worldview Come From?

Simply put, it came from the Bible. Of course, the Bible doesn’t say explicitly anywhere, “The earth is 6,000 years old.” Good thing it doesn’t; otherwise it would be out of date the following year. God gave us something better. In essence, He gave us a “birth certificate.” Genesis 1 says that the earth says that the earth was created on the first day of creation (Genesis 1:1-5). From there, scientists are able to begin calculating the age of the earth. Ken Ham suggests a rough calculation to show how this works. The age of the earth can be estimated by taking the first five days of creation (from earth’s creation to Adam), then following the genealogies from Adam to Abraham in Genesis 5 and 11, then adding in the time from Abraham to today.

Ham tells us Adam was created on Day Six, so there were five days before him. If we add up the dates from Adam to Abraham, we get about 2000 B.C. (4,000 years ago). So a simple calculation is as follows: 5 days + ~2,000 years + ~4,000 years = ~6,000 years. Of course, the first five days are quite negligible. Cultures throughout the world have kept track of history as well. From a biblical perspective, we can expect the dates given for creation of the earth to align more closely to the biblical date than billions of years. The examples are provocative. The Anglo-Saxons believe there were 5,200 years from creation to Christ. Ancient British history indicates 5,228 years from creation to Christ. The Irish chronology shows creation occurring at approximately 4000 B.C. Historians have done meticulous work that cannot be ignored. Their dates of only thousands of years are good support for the biblical date of about 6,000 years, not billions of years.

The Origin of the Old-Earth Worldview

Prior to the 1700s, few believed in an old earth. The approximate age of 6,000 years was not really challenged until the 18th century. Opponents, as Ken Ham notes, essentially “left God out of the picture.” The idea of millions of years really got traction through geology. It is noteworthy that geologists believed geological layers were formed slowly over long periods of time based on the rates at which we see them accumulating today. James Hutton (1726-1797) is considered the father of modern geology. Hutton said, “The past history of our globe must be explained by what can be seen to be happening now… No powers are to be employed that are not natural to the globe, no action to be admitted except those of which we know the principle.”

This viewpoint is called naturalistic uniformitarianism. It ignores any major catastrophes like The Great Flood. Thinking biblically, we know that the global Flood in Genesis 6-8 would wipe away the concept of millions of years, for this Flood would explain massive amounts of fossil layers. Most Christians fail to realize that a global flood could rip up many of the previous rock layers and redeposit them elsewhere, destroying the previous fragile contents. This would destroy any evidence of alleged millions of years anyway. So the rock layers can theoretically represent the evidence of either millions of years or a global flood, but not both.

Concluding Remarks

When we start our reflection on these types of questions with God’s Word in mind, we see that the world is about 6,000 years old. When we rely on man’s fallible (and often demonstrably false) dating methods, we can get a confusing range of ages from a few thousand to billions of years, though the vast majority of methods do not give dates even close to billions. Cultures around the world give an age of the earth that confirms the Bible. Radiometric dates, on the other hand, have been shown to be wildly in error. The age of the earth, as well as questions regarding evolution versus creation, ultimately comes down to a matter of trust—it’s a worldview issue. The question is, will you trust what an all-knowing God says on the subject or will you trust imperfect man’s assumptions and imaginations about the past that regularly are changing.

 

The Peacemaker (Part 4)

The Peacemaker: A Biblical Perspective on Resolving Personal Conflicts and Letting Go of Resentment.

The goal of a peacemaker is to magnify the marvelous undeserved forgiveness that God has given to us through Christ, and to inspire people to imitate such forgiveness to others. We’re directed by Scripture to make peace as part of the plan to reconcile and restore the whole of humanity. Peacemaking never occurs in a vacuum. It is a purposeful act. In Part 3 we looked at the importance of pursuing peacemaking from a position of love. It is essential when working to resolve conflict that we are patient, especially while listening to what others have to say. We must avoid blaming, judging, or condemning.

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Correction is not a nicety; it’s a necessity. If we’re left to veer off-course and continue in the wrong direction, it can result in shipwrecked faith. I’ve had to work hard at confrontation most of my life. First, I avoided responsibility and resisted change as a teen and young adult. Second, I was convinced nothing untoward would ever happen to me regardless of my habits, choices, or lifestyle. No one could teach me a thing. I already knew what I needed to know, and had no plans to change.

Avoid Going It Alone

Why did Jesus send His disciples out in pairs (“two by two”) to preach the Gospel? Simply, two people provide a more valid witness than just one. The twelve disciples were more than companions for Jesus during His ministry; they served as witnesses to His teachings and miracles. They were called to give a first-person account of the ministry of Jesus. Paul told Timothy to never accept an accusation against an elder unless there are two or three witnesses (see 1 Timothy 5:19). Paul also noted in Hebrews 10:28 that it took the words of two or three witnesses to condemn someone to die for breaking God’s law.

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Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over” (NIV). In the event they do not listen, Jesus said, “Take one or two others along so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (vs. 15).

Correct Others With Wisdom and Love

First, we must learn to pick our battles. Some quarrels are not worth having. 2 Timothy 2:23 says, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels” (NIV). Of course, some doctrinal controversies are clearly important and worth defending. While we should not get into foolish and ignorant debates, we may need to confront the argumentative spirit of those promoting them. It is critical that believers learn how to give biblical correction to those who are in sin or in serious doctrinal error. It is unwise to allow fellow Christians to continue operating in a manner inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus. Without correction, individuals—indeed, entire families—tend to run into a ditch.

Correction must be done gently and in love. We cannot correct someone for the purpose of showing his error rather than helping him. Correcting someone is not simply telling them that they are wrong. Our motive and intent should always be to promote repentance and restoration. Accordingly, our attitude is extremely important. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (NIV). Taking this approach allows us to speak the truth in love. Paul tells us in Galatians 6:1 that we should restore one another gently. Christians are called to peace.

The Opportunity to be Like Christ

News stories are replete with crime, wars, terrorism, violence, hatred, and anger. I often ask myself how much longer this deepening trend can continue before God decides enough is enough. Where do we find a place of quiet rest, peace and tranquility in today’s world? Ephesians 2:16-18 says, “Christ brought us together through His death on the cross. The cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders” (MSG). Jesus was able to destroy the enmity that separated Jews and Gentiles. As a result, people of different cultures, languages, races, religions, and customs who had centuries full of war after war began to worship together, break bread together, and strive to change the world. This peace was made possible through the cross.

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Our role in this “peace process” is to reconcile others to God, with others, and with themselves. Jesus embraced even the worst sinner, touched the vilest leper, purified the most despicable prostitute, and reconciled people under the universal family of God. He saw peacemaking as a large part of his ministry. During His time on earth, the world was divided among nations, races, and religions. Hatred was the norm. Today, we’re faced with racial tension, murder, school shootings, terrorism, and religious bigotry. Human nature has not changed much over the centuries. Jesus said, “…I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me” (John 17:21, NIV).

Teaching Our Children to Become Peacemakers

If we teach our children how to resolve conflicts among themselves or with their friends or others they know, imagine how much better life could be for you and them. Of course, there are several key elements to peacemaking that we need to share with our kids.

Conflict is a slippery slope. Some children try to escape from a conflict, while others try to solve it by going back on the attack. This only serves to delay resolution and healing. Children often pretend a conflict doesn’t exist or refuse to do what it takes to address the problem. They are prone to play the blame-game, putting the onus on others for the problem, often lying or covering up the situation. Children are known to simply run away from conflict rather than work to resolve it. On the other hand, some children choose to attack others rather than work out a resolution. They respond with put-downs, talking about the other individual behind his or her back, or become physical.

Conflict starts in the heart. The choices we make to get our own way are deliberate. We make a conscious decision to be obedient or defiant, wise or foolish, caring or unloving. For good or bad, the choices we make will have an impact on us and others. Conflict is often the result of a choice we’ve made. Selfishness is unproductive and does not lead to peacemaking.

Conflict is not necessarily bad or destructive. Even when conflict is caused by wrongdoing, it can lead to good. We can use conflict to teach our children a valuable life lesson. Our kids can learn to glorify God by trusting, obeying, and imitating Christ. We can serve others by helping to carry their burdens or by confronting them in love. It is easy for children to overlook the upside to conflict because they’re more likely preoccupied with how to get out of or escape from what they perceive as an uncomfortable situation.

The 5 As of  conflict resolution. Children, like adults, can learn to confess their wrongs in a way that demonstrates they are taking full responsibility for their part in a conflict. The following are key elements to conflict resolution. Admit what you did wrong, including wrong desires and bad choices. Apologize for how your choice affected the other person. Express the sorrow you feel. Accept the consequences for your wrongdoing without argument or excuses. Don’t rationalize what you’ve done. Ask for forgiveness. Alter your choices going forward. Think about how you’re going to act differently next time.

Final Thoughs

If it feels like the entire world is embroiled in conflict, instability, and war, that’s because it is. In fact, of 163 countries in the world surveyed by the Institute for Economics and Peace, only 11 are not currently involved in conflict. We live in a world that is essentially defined by conflict and violence. But world conflict doesn’t start just because one person woke up one day and decided to go to war. Before there are bombs and bullets, there are fists. Before fists there are words. Before there are words, there is the condition of our heart. Violence and conflict tends to originate in the heart.

As we look at the world and see all this violence and conflict, it can feel overwhelming. I find myself wondering what I can possibly do about it. Should I just sit on the sidelines and pray? How can I possibly change the world or make a difference? It is paramount that we remember the road to peace starts with you and me. The road to a world restored begins with each of us in our own way waging peace. Before we can wage peace in the world, we need to wage peace in our own hearts and in each of our personal relationships.

As we close, consider the words of the apostle James:

Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats. Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor (James 3:13-18, MSG).

Salvation By Grace Through Faith

The doctrine of soteriology (salvation) is one of the most precious doctrines in all the Word of God. At the same time, it is one of the most debated and misunderstood doctrines.

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The Independent Fundamental Churches of America adopted the following edict relative to salvation: “We believe that salvation is the gift of God brought to man by grace and received by personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, whose precious blood was shed on Calvary for the forgiveness of our sins (Ephesians 2:8-10; John 1:12; Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:18, 19).” Constitution of IFCA International, Article IV, Section 1, Paragraph 6.

Faith That Does Not Save

Religion teaches that we try to please God through our own efforts. We need to “earn it.” Some individuals profess faith in Christ but have failed to trust in the person and work of Christ alone. This kind of faith will show no evidence of spiritual life. A person must be prepared to believe in Christ. He must be aware of his need of salvation as was the jailer at Philippi (Acts 16:30). He must be conscious of his hopeless condition apart from God and the sinfulness that has caused this estrangement (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:10, 11, 18, 23; Ephesians 2:12). He must also have had presented to him information about the death of Christ and His resurrection and the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice in dealing with his sin (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

True salvation requires the work of God. An unsaved man, who is spiritually dead, must be enabled by the Spirit of God to believe. This involves the convicting work of the Spirit of God concerning sin and unbelief, God’s righteousness which can be bestowed on the individual, and that Christ died for the sins of the world (John 16:7-11; 1 John 2:1-2). The unsaved person must receive grace and enablement from God to believe as stated in Ephesians 2:8-10, “Saving is all His idea, and all His work. All we do is trust Him enough to let Him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish. We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing. No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join Him in the work He does, the good work He has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing” (MSG).

In Ephesians 2:1-3, Paul does not identify people without Christ as unfulfilled or incomplete; he describes them as dead. Their spirits were dead because they had broken their relationship with the source of life itself: God. We are not saved by our good works, but we are saved for good works. Our salvation, and our ability to do good works, is 100% God, not 99% God and 1% us. Prior to our salvation, we were spiritually dead—unable to do any good work sufficient enough to assure our salvation. God made each of us unique. We each have a specific calling or capacity to participate in the redemption and restoration of the entirety of creation. The greatest miracle—aside from the resurrection which makes all other miracles possible—is the changed life.

Definition of Faith

Saving faith consists of two indispensable elements. First, there’s the intellectual element—an awareness of the facts of the Gospel, particularly about Christ’s sacrificial death for sins and His physical resurrection, and a persuasion that these facts are true (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). Second, there is the volitional element—a total personal reliance upon Christ and the power inherent in His death to provide forgiveness of sins and everlasting life (John 3:16; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 16:31; Romans 1:16; 3:21-26). This is a matter of will; of wanting to choose Christ.

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The absence of either of these elements indicates that the seeker’s faith is not of a quality that leads to salvation. The intellectual apprehension of orthodox doctrine alone will avail nothing (James 2:19). A volitional act of faith in the wrong object (e.g., John 2:23-24; 6:26-27; 8:31, 44) is useless. To save, faith must be directed toward the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22). Some suitable expressions equivalent to the reliance on Christ that brings salvation include “believe in,” “trust in,” and “depend on.” Other terminology that may be misleading in representing this relationship include “submit to,” “yield to,” “dedicate [oneself] to,” and “make Jesus Lord of one’s life.” These are better reserved for a stage of sanctification that usually comes subsequent to saving faith. Two additional phrases, “make a commitment to” and “become a disciple of,” are ambiguous because they could or could not refer to reliance on Christ, depending on how they are defined. “Repent” is not a suitable way to describe saving faith, because it only partially represents what it is to rely on Christ.

Responsibility For Faith

The exercise of saving faith is the responsibility of the sinner in need of salvation. For the one coming to Christ, saving faith is uncomplicated (Acts 16:31). He decides to put his eternal well-being into the hands of Christ as his Savior. Subsequent to regeneration, he has a growing awareness of the far-reaching effects of what he has done, but this fuller grasp of the implications of saving faith is not a condition for salvation. The responsibility for the choice is wholly his. At the time of or subsequent to regeneration, he realizes that the totality of the salvation process is a gift of God, including the grace of God and his own choice to believe (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is something for which he himself can take no credit.

Implications of Faith

Faith that is saving faith carries with it certain implications, characteristics if you will, which a new believer might not be conscious of at the point of initial trust in Christ. The one under conviction is persuaded that the finished work of Christ is sufficient and that nothing else is needed. At the time of his decision, he may be so overwhelmed with his dependence on Christ that the implications of such dependence are not his primary focus of attention.

The absence of the following implications may indicate that his dependence is not on Christ alone:

  1. Christ is God and consequently sovereign Lord over all things and as such is the object of saving faith (Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9; Hebrews 1:8). Few people at the moment of salvation understand fully the implications of Christ’s sovereignty for their own lives well enough to comply with the exhortation of Romans 12:1-2.
  2. Obedience to the command of the Gospel to believe in Christ (Romans 1:5; 10:16) is another way of looking at saving faith, but beyond that initial obedience is implied an absence of rebellion against what Christ stands for (John 3:36). One can hardly place his full trust in Christ while harboring enmity against Him or having a predisposition to oppose Him.
  3. Repentance is a change of mind toward sin, self, and the Savior (Acts 2:38; 17:30; 1 Thessalonians 1:9). A person can hardly seek forgiveness for something toward which he has no aversion (Acts 2:36; 11:18; 20:21; 26:20; 1 Peter 2:24).

Results of Faith

GOOD WORKS

At the time of saving faith, a believer is regenerated by the Spirit (Titus 3:5), indwelt by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), sealed by the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), and baptized by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). Always associated with saving faith is the impartation to the believer of a new nature (Romans 6:5-7; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 3:9-10) which displays its presence through good works (1 Corinthians 4:5; James 2:18, 21-26). Good works may not always be immediately discernible by man, but are an inevitable consequence of the new birth which occurs in conjunction with saving faith (John 3:3, 5; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:11-12, 14; 3:8; 1 Peter 1:3, 23). Salvation is in no way contingent on good works.

Faith in Christ which does not result in “good works” (Ephesians 2:9-10) is not saving faith, but is actually dead faith (James 2:17, 20, 26). The missing element in such faith may be intellectual, a failure to grasp or accept the truthfulness of the facts of the Gospel, or it may be volitional, a failure to trust Christ wholly for forgiveness of sins. Failure to trust Christ completely may be traceable to attempts to accumulate merit through the performance of human works by attempting to add to the finished work of Christ (Romans 4:5; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 2:16; 2 Timothy 1:9).

SANCTIFICATION

Sanctification in the experience of the believer is the logical continuation of saving faith, namely:

  1. The believer is expected to submit to the lordship of Christ over all things in his life (Romans 6:11-13; 12:1-2).
  2. The implied obedience to Christ is expected to become an active obedience to Christ’s explicit commands (James 4:7-10; 1 John 2:3-10).
  3. The implied repentance is expected to become explicit, resulting in a purging of sinful behavior (1 Corinthians 5:7; 6:9-10, 18; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8; 1 Peter 4:15-16).

The lack of such progress in sanctification is characteristic of a carnal Christian (1 Corinthians 3:1-4). God may tolerate this lack of response to the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit for a time, but will eventually bring chastening against the delinquent saved person. Such delinquency without correction may serve notice that the person’s profession was not saving faith (1 Corinthians 11:30-32; Titus 1:15-16; Hebrews 12:5-11).

The best method of confronting the carnal or pretending Christian with the insufficiency of his faith is through showing him that God judges sin (Matthew 16:24-28; 1 John 3:6, 9; 5:18). The carnal Christian is faced with the illogical nature of his behavior and forced to reevaluate his spiritual standing; the pretending Christian is faced with the realization that he was never saved.

Assurance of eternal life is provided by God’s written Word (1 John 5:13). Yet, the Scripture brings reminders and tests to cause those who have professed faith in Christ to examine themselves (1 Corinthians 11:28, 15:2; 2 Corinthians 13:5, 2 Peter 1:10). When carnality creeps into the life of a believer, causing him to fail the test of self-examination, he may entertain doubts about whether he has met the biblical criteria of saving faith. The solution for such doubt is for the believer to confess the sin which has broken his fellowship with God (1 John 1:5-10).

For the Sake of Clarification

When it comes to the subject of “salvation and good works,” there are two serious errors that plague the church. One is that of Roman Catholicism, which teaches that in order to gain enough merit for salvation, we must add our “good works” to what Christ did on the cross. Under this view, you can never know for sure whether or not you are saved. Accordingly, you feel compelled to keep adding good works to your account.

The other error, which is more prevalent in evangelical churches, is that good works have no connection whatsoever with salvation. This view teaches that since we are saved through faith by grace alone, a person may believe in Christ as Savior without a life of good works to follow. A person may recite the sinner’s prayer and profess to believe in Jesus Christ as his Savior, yet later profess to be an atheist and live in gross sin. Still, because he professed aloud to believe in Christ, he thinks he will be in heaven simply because of the words he spoke. Salvation requires God raising a sinner from death to life, which ultimately results in a changed life. It severs repentance from saving faith and teaches that saving faith is based solely on believing the facts of the Gospel.

Genuine salvation is entirely of God and inevitably results in a life of good works.

Some biblical scholars have noted a conflict between Paul and James over the matter of justification by faith versus works (compare Romans 3:24, 28 and James 2:18-26). But both men are saying the same thing from different angles to address different issues. Paul attacked the claim of the Pharisees that our good works will commend us to God. He argues that no one can ever be good enough to earn salvation. God justifies guilty sinners through faith in Christ alone. James was attacking the view that saving faith does not necessarily result in good works, but genuine faith produces good works.

That is precisely what Paul is clarifying in Ephesians 2:10. While salvation is entirely of God, so are the good works that follow salvation. God has ordained the entire process. Just as we cannot claim any glory for ourselves in our initial salvation, even so we cannot claim any glory in our subsequent good works. God is behind the entirety of our salvation from start to finish. Thus He gets all the glory.

Concluding Remarks

In closing, there are two main applications to consider. First, make sure that you are a new creation in Christ. Have you truly been saved by His grace through faith in Christ alone? We can only become a Christian by being created. “But we cannot create ourselves,” you may say. This is true, and accordingly we need to quit all pretense about being creators. The further we retreat from self-conceit the better, for it is God who must create us anew. We cannot work for God until God first has done His work of saving grace in us.

Second, if you have been saved, the focus of your life should be, “Lord, what will You have me to do?” Paul asked God that question immediately after his experience on the road to Damascus. The Lord replied, “Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do” (Acts 22:10). God had already prepared Paul’s future ministry long before Paul’s conversion. Paul had to learn God’s plan and walk in it. So do you!

Salvation is not simply a ticket to heaven after death. Rather, it is about being brought from death to life by the love and grace of God, communicated through Jesus Christ. When we are saved into new life, we begin to live now, on this earth, in an altogether different way. At least that’s God’s plan for us. We can also truncate His salvation and continue to live a deathly existence. But God has other things in store for us as His masterpiece. He has good works for us to do, works that contribute to His restoration of the world, works that build up rather than break down, works that fulfill us and make our lives meaningful.

I am Barabbas. You are Barabbas.

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THE ROMANS WERE INFAMOUS for how they cruelly lined their roadways with crucifixions as a warning to those who would dare go against the State. Crucifixion is a notoriously slow death designed to torture the condemned for up to three agonizing days. Criminals punished in this manner typically died of asphyxiation, no longer able to push up and lift their chests for one more breath. The pain of crucifixion was so great that it gave its name to extreme agony—excruciating. The etymology of the word is from two Latin words ex and cruciatus, meaning “out of the cross.” Transliteration of ex cruciatus is “the pain one experiences when crucified.”

A Convicted and Condemned Murderer

His name was Barabbas. A murderer, convicted previously of sedition and robbery. He knew he was guilty. No question. Today, we’d say he had reached the “three strikes and you’re out” stage. He was slumped against the wall in a filthy, dank cell, watched closely by a massive Roman guard. His mind was fixated on how excruciatingly painful his crucifixion would be. He had witnessed a number of such horrendous deaths at the hands of the Roman authorities. Certainly, the next time the guards came for him he would be brought before his executioner.

He had led an insurrection that resulted in a number of people being murdered. He was known to support himself and his cause through robbery. He had broken the law and deserved to die. If he were to be executed, no one would have questioned it. In fact, no one stood in his defense. He should have been on the cross. As such, Barabbas represents every person who has violated God’s holy law. We all stand guilty as charged. The Bible has declared, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Of course, the wages of sin is death. Like Barabbas, we deserve God’s sentence of death.

“Whom Shall I Set Free? Jesus or Barabbas?”

The release of a Jewish prisoner—a tradition known as paschal pardon—was customary before the feast of Passover. The Roman governor granted clemency to one prisoner as an act of good will toward those he governed. Mark notes, “Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested” (Mark 15:6, NIV). The choice Pilate set before the crowd that day could not have been more clear-cut: a high-profile killer and rabble-rouser who was unquestionably guilty, or a teacher and miracle worker who was demonstrably innocent. The crowd chose Barabbas to be released. Interestingly, Pilate had a sense that Jesus was an innocent man. He was rather surprised at the crowd’s choice. He asked the crowd three times to choose sensibly, but with loud shouts they chose the death of Jesus, yelling, “Crucify him, crucify him.”

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Barabbas is mentioned in all four Gospels. Certainly, it came as a shock that his life would intersect with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Jesus went before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who had already declared Him innocent of anything worthy of death (see Luke 23:15). Pilate was aware that the Sanhedrin was essentially railroading Jesus. It was out of self-interest that the chief priests handed Jesus over to him. In fact, it was these very religious leaders that incited the crowd to demand for the release of Barabbas rather than Jesus (see Mark 15:11). Pilate was most likely unaware of the prophesy unfolding before him.

Three times in the short span of eight versus, Pilate points to the innocence of Jesus. Pilate noted that not even Herod found any fault in Jesus. Regardless, when Pilate said, “Nothing deserving of death has been done by this man,” they all cried out, “Away with him! Crucify him!” Interestingly, Barabbas was guilty of insurrection and murder. He was among the “rebels” in prison who had committed murder in the insurrection. Murder and rebellion. The Jewish leaders charged Jesus with rebellion when they claimed he was misleading the people. Luke 23:5 says, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here” (NIV).

It Should Have Been Me up on the Cross!

We all feel a certain disdain for Judas who betrayed Christ, Peter who denied Him, the chief priests who despised Him, Herod who mocked Him, the people who called for His crucifixion, Pilate who appeased the mob and washed his hands, and Barabbas who was guilty but was set free. But wait! Aren’t we all, to some degree, guilty of betraying, denying, mocking, doubting, and walking away from Christ?

As we’ve seen through Luke’s emphasis on the innocence of Jesus and the guilt of Barabbas, Luke is leading us (as sinners) in his careful telling of the story, encouraging us to identify with Barabbas. As Jesus’ condemnation leads to the release of a multitude of spiritual captives from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, so also his death sentence leads to the release of the physical captive Barabbas. This is a foretaste of the grace that will be unleashed at the cross. As Pilate releases Barabbas the guilty, and delivers over to death Jesus the innocent, we are given a picture of our own release effected by the cross through faith. In Barabbas we have a glimpse of our guilt deserving death, and a preview of the arresting grace of Jesus and his embrace of the cross through which we are set free. As Jesus is delivered to death, and Barabbas is released to new life, we have the first substitution of the cross. The innocent Jesus is condemned as a sinner, while the guilty sinner is released as if innocent.

I am Barabbas

Luke wants us to identify with both Jesus and Barabbas. When we identify with Jesus we are able to see that through faith His death is our death, and His resurrection is our resurrection. When we align ourselves with Barabbas we see that we, too, are sinners—criminals who have broken God’s law, guilty as charged, deserving of death for our rebel lives of sin against the Creator. Jesus, through the grace of giving Himself for us at the cross, takes our place and we are released.

As we come to understand the depths of our sin, we see with Luke, “I am Barabbas.” I am the one so clearly guilty and deserving of condemnation, but I’ve been set free because of the willing substitution of the Messiah in my place.

 

 

 

What If?

What happens in the chamber
of a narrow mind?
Does the air grow thin?
Does the dim light flicker?
What would happen if
a door opened?
If they dared to look beyond it? If they viewed the world as it is, cracked but not broken?
If they acknowledged not only voices that speak with the loudest inflections, but those small voices that bend?
Imagine if they saw liberty as
not just a ruse but something
that belongs to everyone?
The axis of the Earth not
just them, but you and me too.

©2018 Tosha Michelle

To read more from Tosha Michelle or follow her blog please click here: https://laliterati.com/2018/06/20/what-if/

Ambitious Research Plan to Help Solve the Opioid Crisis

From the blog of Dr. Lora Volkow, National Institute on Drug Abuse Posted June 12, 2018

NIDA Banner Science of Abuse and Addiction

In spring 2018 Congress added an additional $500 million to the NIH budget to invest in the search for solutions to the opioid crisis. The Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) initiative is being kicked off June 12th with the announcement of several bold projects across NIH focusing on two main areas: improving opioid addiction treatments and enhancing pain management to prevent addiction and overdose. The funding NIDA is receiving will go toward the goal of addressing addiction in new ways, and creating better delivery systems for addictions counseling for those in need.

NIH will be developing new addiction treatments and overdose-reversal tools. Three medications are currently FDA-approved to treat opioid addiction. Lofexidine—a drug initially developed to treat high blood pressure—has just been approved to treat physical symptoms of opioid withdrawal. Narcan (naloxone) is available in injectable and intranasal formulations to reverse overdose. Regardless, more options are needed. One area of need involves new formulations of existing drugs, such as longer-acting formulations of opioid agonists and longer-acting naloxone formulations more suitable for reversing fentanyl overdoses. Compounds are also needed that target different receptor systems or immunotherapies for treating symptoms of withdrawal and craving in addition to the progression of opioid use disorders.

Much research already points to the benefits of increasing the availability of treatment options for Opioid Use Disorder (“OUD”), especially among populations currently embroiled in the justice system. Justice Community Opioid Innovation Network is working to create a network of researchers who can rapidly conduct studies aimed at improving access to high-quality, evidence-based addiction treatment in justice settings. It will involve implementing a national survey of addiction treatment delivery services in local and state justice systems; studying the effectiveness and adoption of medications, interventions, and technologies in those settings; and finding ways to use existing data sources as well as developing new research methods to ensure that interventions have the maximum impact.

The National Drug Abuse Treatment Clinical Trials Network (“CTN”) facilitates collaboration between NIDA, research scientists at universities, and a myriad of treatment providers in the community, with the aim of developing, testing, and implementing addiction treatments. As part of the HEAL initiative, the CTN Opioid Research Enhancement Project will greatly expand the CTN’s capacity to conduct trials by adding new sites and new investigators. The funds will also enable the expansion of existing studies and facilitate developing and implementing new studies to improve identification of opioid misuse and OUD. Further, it will enhance engagement and retention of patients in treatment in a variety of general medical settings, including primary care, emergency departments, ob/gyn, and pediatrics.

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A great tragedy of the opioid crisis is that there are a number of effective tools not being deployed effectively in communities in need. Only a fraction of people with OUD receive any treatment, and of those less than half receive medications that are universally acknowledged to be the standard of care. Moreover, patients often receive medications for too short a duration. As part of its HEAL efforts, NIDA will launch a multi-site implementation research study called the HEALing Communities Study in partnership with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The HEALing Communities Study will support research in up to three communities highly affected by the opioid crisis, which should help evaluate how the implementation of an integrated set of evidence-based interventions within healthcare, behavioral health, justice systems, and community organizations can work to decrease opioid overdoses and prevent and treat OUD. Lessons learned from this study will yield best practices that can then be applied to other communities across the nation.

The HEAL Initiative is a tremendous opportunity to focus taxpayer dollars effectively where they are needed the most: in applying science to find solutions to the worst drug crisis our country has ever seen.

Find Help Near You

The following website can help you find substance abuse or other mental health services in your area: www.samhsa.gov/Treatment. If you are in an emergency situation, people at this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: 1-800-273-TALK. Or click on: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member on our Treatment page.

Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (Part Four)

“But sanctify the LORD God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15, NASB).

Born Again

What is Conversion?

The word conversion when used in a cultural sense typically means buying into acceptance of a religious dogma or belief system. The fundamental biblical meaning of conversion is “to turn” toward God. The key question always is Am I born again? Exactly when did I get converted? It is typical for new believers to assume conversion is an instantaneous event. Someone gave me a suggestion when they learned I was addressing conversion in my series on apologetics. They said, “Read all four Gospels and try to determine when Peter was converted. Was it when he was following Jesus? When he realized Jesus was the Messiah? When he was sent out to preach and heal? When Jesus forgave him for denying him?” Apparently, it’s just not that clear-cut.

Of course conversion is not simply a shift in our relationship with God. Justification is required before conversion can occur. Romans 1:17 reminds us that the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. It is written, “The just shall live by faith.” Conversion, however, is a much larger reality in which our restored relationship with God begins to touch and change every area of our lives. Justification is not something visible. It is purely a work of the heart. The New Testament speaks of conversion as metanoia, which is literally a change of mind, but is not merely altering your opinion about God. Instead, it is a redirection of your fundamental outlook—what we might call mind-set or worldview. Because it involves a change in affection and will, the very core of self, it is not simply a matter of opinion.

The Bible tells us, “You must be born again” (John 3:7, NIV). Colossians 1:13 states, “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves” (NIV).  Christian theology speaks of regeneration, which is the fundamental work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the repentant sinner. This “in or out” language finally appears also in the terminology of contemporary sociology of conversion. But the complexity of this phraseology—of conversion, yes, but also of alteration, transference, renewal, affiliation, adhesion, and other terms for religious moves one might make—points to biblical and theological counterparts indicating there is more to conversion than just “getting it.”

What Are We Converted From and Transformed To?

The apostle Peter taught that one needs to “repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19, NKJV). Many believe conversion is just accepting Jesus into your heart or professing Jesus with your mouth. It is true that many today are testifying to religious experiences in which they met true reality. At first glance, the Christian sounds like everyone else because he is also claiming to have experienced ultimate truth. The unbeliever or casual observer needs more than a mere testimony of subjective experience as a criterion to judge who, if anyone, is right.

Christian conversion is linked inextricably to the person of Jesus Christ. It is rooted in fact, not wishful thinking. Of course, this statement is at the very heart of apologetics. Jesus demonstrated that He had the credentials to be called the Son of God. He challenged men and women to put their faith in Him. Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). When a person puts his faith in Jesus Christ, he enters into a personal relationship with God Almighty, which leads to changes taking place in his life.

It is not a matter of self-improvement or cultural conditioning. Besides the fact that Christian conversion is based upon something objective—the resurrection of Christ—there is also a universality of Christian conversion. Since the date of his death and resurrection, people from every conceivable background, culture, philosophy, and intellectual stance have been converted by the person of Jesus Christ. Some of the vilest individuals who ever walked the face of the Earth have become some of the most remarkable saints after trusting Jesus Christ. This must be considered. Because of the diversity of the people, it cannot be explained away by simple cultural conditioning. Christian experience is universal regardless of culture.

Concluding Remarks

God looks on the heart, the attitude, the intent. As long as one, in his heart, has a real desire to walk in God’s will—is deeply sorrowful for past sins and repents when he commits the occasional sin—and seeks to overcome sin and make God’s way his way, he will be forgiven. But if, following conversion, he is diligent in his Christian life, his occasional sinning will become less and less. He will make solid progress, maturing, overcoming, growing spiritually and in righteous godly character.

The experience of a new Christian —not just knowledge but experience—of who he is and what has happened to him, is profoundly determined by what he knows about the miracle of conversion. That knowledge is based upon Scripture. God ordained that the miracle of the Christian life be powered by his sovereign grace in the soul, but guided and shaped by His Word in the Bible. It important to note that God does not give the joys of conversion through the conversion alone. The fullness of conversion takes place when the new life within intersects with the old word from without.

On a final note, to “convert” is to repent or “turn away from” one thing and toward something new. When one becomes a Christian, he is given the power to essentially do a 180 and go an entirely different way. Conversion is based solely on faith or belief. Christianity is not a religion; rather, it is a relationship with Christ. Christianity is God offering salvation to anyone who believes and trusts the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Conversion is accepting the gift that God offers and beginning a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that results in the forgiveness of sins and eternity in heaven after death.

 

Opioids

Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as Fentanyl, and pain relievers available by prescription such as codeine, oxycodone, Vicodin, morphine, and others.

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All opioids are chemically related and interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the brain and on the spinal column. Opioid pain relievers are generally safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor, but because they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief, they can be misused (taken in a different way or in a larger quantity than prescribed, or taken without a doctor’s prescription). Regular use—even as prescribed by a doctor—can lead to dependence and, when misused, opioid pain relievers can lead to addiction, overdose, and death. 

An opioid overdose can be reversed with the drug naloxone (Narcan) when given right away. Improvements have been seen in some regions of the country in the form of decreasing availability of prescription opioid pain relievers and decreasing misuse among the Nation’s teens. However, since 2007, overdose deaths related to heroin have been increasing. Fortunately, effective medications exist to treat opioid use disorders including methadone, Buprenex and Vivitrol. 

A National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) study found that once treatment is initiated, both a Buprenex/Vivitrol combination and an extended-release Vivitrol formulation are similarly effective in treating opioid addiction. However, Vivitrol requires full detoxification, so initiating treatment among active users is difficult. These medications help many people recover from opioid addiction.

What are Prescription Opioids?

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Opioids are a class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant. Some prescription opioids are made from the plant directly, and others are made by scientists in labs using the same chemical structure. Opioids are often used as medicines because they contain chemicals that relax the body and can relieve pain. Prescription opioids are used mostly to treat moderate to severe pain, though some opioids can be used to treat coughing and diarrhea. Opioids can also make people feel very relaxed and high, which is why they are sometimes used for non-medical reasons. This can be dangerous because opioids can be highly addictive. Overdoses and death are common. Heroin is one of the world’s most dangerous opioids, and is never used as a medicine in the United States.

How Do People Misuse Opioids?

Prescription opioids used for pain relief are generally safe when taken for a short time and as directed by a doctor, but they can be misused. People misuse prescription opioids by:

  • taking the medicine in a way or dose other than prescribed
  • taking someone else’s prescription medicine
  • taking the medicine for the effect it causes—getting high

How Do Prescription Opioids Affect the Brain?

Opioids bind to and activate opioid receptors on cells located in many areas of the brain, spinal cord, and other organs in the body, especially those involved in feelings of pain and pleasure. When opioids attach to these receptors, they block pain signals sent from the brain to the body and release large amounts of dopamine throughout the body. This release can strongly reinforce the act of taking the drug, making the user want to repeat the experience.

Opioid misuse can cause slowed breathing, which can cause hypoxia, a condition that results when too little oxygen reaches the brain. Hypoxia can have short- and long-term psychological and neurological effects, including coma, permanent brain damage, or death. Researchers are also investigating the long-term effects of opioid addiction on the brain, including whether damage can be reversed.

What are Other Health Effects of Opioid Medications?

Older adults are at higher risk of accidental misuse or abuse because they typically have multiple prescriptions and chronic diseases, increasing the risk of drug-drug and drug-disease interactions, as well as a slowed metabolism that affects the breakdown of drugs. Sharing drug injection equipment and having impaired judgment from drug use can increase the risk of contracting infectious diseases such as HIV.

Prescription Opioids and Heroin

Prescription opioids and heroin are chemically similar and can produce a similar high. Heroin is typically cheaper and easier to get than prescription opioids, so some people switch to using heroin instead. Nearly 80 percent of Americans using heroin (including those in treatment) reported misusing prescription opioids prior to using heroin. However, while prescription opioid misuse is a risk factor for starting heroin use, only a small fraction of people who misuse pain relievers switch to heroin. This suggests that prescription opioid misuse is just one factor leading to heroin use.

The Numbers

More than 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids. This number has nearly doubled over the past ten years. 2015 was the worst year for drug overdoses in U.S. history. Then 2016 came along. In that year alone, drug overdoses killed more people than the entire Vietnam War did.

A chart of US drug overdoses going back to 1999.

The Opioid Epidemic Explained

This latest drug epidemic is not solely about illegal drugs. It began, in fact, with a legal drug. Back in the 1990s, doctors were persuaded to treat pain as a serious medical issue. There’s a good reason for that: About 100 million U. S. adults suffer from chronic pain, according to a report from the Institute of Medicine.

Chronic Pain The Silent Condition

Pharmaceutical companies took advantage of this concern. Through a big marketing campaign they got doctors to prescribe products like OxyContin and Percocet in droves — even though the evidence for opioids treating long-term non-cancer related chronic pain is very weak despite their effectiveness for severe short-term, acute pain—while the evidence that opioids cause harm in the long term is very strong. So painkillers inundated society, landing in the hands of not just patients but also teens rummaging through their parents’ medicine cabinets, other family members and friends of patients, and the black market.

As a result, opioid overdose deaths trended up — sometimes involving opioids alone, other times involving drugs like alcohol and benzodiazepines (Xanax, Ativan, Valium) typically prescribed to relieve anxiety. By 2015, opioid overdose deaths totaled more than 33,000 — close to two-thirds of all drug overdose deaths. The numbers have grown exponentially over the past three years.

What Can We Do?

Seeing the rise in opioid misuse and deaths, officials have cracked down on prescription painkillers. Law enforcement, for instance, now threaten doctors with incarceration and loss of their medical licenses if they prescribed the drugs unscrupulously. Ideally, doctors should still be able to get painkillers to patients who truly need them — after, for example, evaluating whether the patient has a history of drug addiction. But doctors, who weren’t conducting even such basic checks, are now being instructed to give more thought to their prescriptions.

Yet many people who lost access to painkillers are still addicted. So some who could no longer obtain prescribed painkillers turned to cheaper, more potent opioids bought off the street, such as heroin and Fentanyl. Not all painkiller users went this direction, and not all opioid users started with painkillers. But statistics suggest many did. A 2014 study in JAMA Psychiatry found many painkiller users were moving on to heroin, and a 2015 analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that people who are addicted to prescription painkillers are 40 times more likely to be addicted to heroin.

So other types of opioid overdoses, excluding painkillers, also rose. That doesn’t mean cracking down on painkillers was a mistake. It appears to have slowed the rise in painkiller deaths, and it may have prevented doctors from prescribing the drugs to new generations of people with drug use disorders. But the likely solution is to get opioid users into treatment. According to a 2016 report by the Surgeon General of the United States, just 10 percent of Americans with a drug use disorder obtain specialty treatment. The report found that the low rate was largely explained by a shortage of treatment options. Given the exorbitant cost of health care in America today, that is simply unacceptable. Federal and state officials have pushed for more treatment funding, including medication-assisted treatment like methadone and Buprenex.

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Peacemaker (Part 3)

The Peacemaker: A Biblical Perspective on Resolving Personal Conflicts and Letting Go of Resentment.

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The goal of a peacemaker is to magnify the marvelous undeserved forgiveness that God has given to us through Christ and to inspire people to imitate such forgiveness to others. Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). As Christians, it is very important that we understand this verse correctly. Note we’re admonished to be peacemakers not peacekeepers. It would be a drastic error to misquote the Words of Jesus. Although it might sound like mere semantics, Christ urges that we make peace rather than keep the peace. The Gospel and peacemaking are interdependent. The Gospel is the very catalyst for peace. As believers, we are incapable of promoting real peace in the flesh. It requires the power of the Holy Spirit.

Peacemakers strive to make peace and attempt to reconcile things and people that are at odds with one another. Peacekeepers, on the other hand, strive to keep peace at all costs. Proverbs 10:10 says, “People who wink at wrong cause trouble, but a bold reproof promotes peace” (NTL). Peacekeepers, by not acknowledging wrongdoings in an effort to make peace, are actually winking at them. We must be about peacemaking as believers. My church contains in its bylaws language about peacemaking being part of our mission.

Speak the Truth in Love

Peacemaking does not—indeed, cannot—happen by accident. It is a purposeful act. In fact, peacemaking is a higher priority than worship. Of course, love is the underlying commandment. John 13:34-35 says, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another. By this everyone will know that you’re my disciples, if you love one another” (NIV). People should be able to catch a glimpse of the Father when they look at us.

Ephesians 4:15 says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is Christ.” Words play a key role in almost every conflict. When used properly, words promote understanding and encourage agreement. When misused, they usually aggravate conflicts and drive people further apart. If your words seem to do more harm than good when you try to resolve a disagreement, don’t give up. With God’s help you can improve your ability to communicate constructively.

Bring Hope Through the Gospel

When someone has disappointed or offended us, our human reaction is to come at them with the law, lecturing them about what they have done wrong and what they should do now to make things right. This approach generally makes people defensive and reluctant to admit their wrongs, which makes a conflict worse. The Lord is graciously working to teach us a better way to approach others about their failures. Instead of coming at them from a position of legalism, we need to bring them the Gospel. In other words, rather than dwelling on what people should do or have failed to do, we must focus primarily on what God has done and is doing for them in Christ. This is commanded throughout Scripture.

When Jesus confronted the Samaritan woman, instead of hammering away at her sinful lifestyle (as many pastors sadly do today), He spent most of His time engaging her in a conversation about salvation, eternal life, true worship, and the coming of the Messiah (see John 4:7-26). The woman responded eagerly to this Gospel-focused approach, let down her defenses, and put her trust in Christ. Although Jesus changed this focus when rebuking hard-hearted Pharisees, His typical approach to bringing people to repentance was to bring them the Good News of God’s forgiveness (see Luke 19:1-10; John 8:10-11).

The apostle Paul had a similar approach, even when he had to deal with serious sin. In his first letter the Corinthians, he had to address divisions, immorality, lawsuits, food sacrificed to idols, and the misuse of the Lord’s Supper and spiritual gifts. But before addressing these terrible sins, Paul’s gracious greeting held out hope for forgiveness and change by reminding the Corinthians of what God had already done for them through Christ. What a marvelous way to set the stage for repentance and change. Paul always kept Jesus in the center of his instruction and admonishment by first providing the believers a detailed description of God’s redemptive plan. When Paul finally got around to addressing errors in the congregation, his readers were already standing on a foundation of hope and encouragement.

Paul took the same approach with the Philippians and Colossians, who also needed correction and instruction. He begins his letters to these two churches by drawing attention to what God has done in each of them. As he continued, he frequently referred to the Gospel as he moved from issue to issue. For example, look at what Paul writes in Colossians 3:12: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Before admonishing these believers, Paul reminds them of who they are in Christ.

Be Quick to Listen

Another element of effective communication is to listen carefully to what others are actually saying. Knowing this is not in our human nature, James gave this warning: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20, NIV). Good listening is particularly important for a peacemaker. It improves your ability to understand others, it shows that you realize you do not have all the answers, and it tells the other person that you value his or her thoughts and opinions. Even if you don’t agree with what others say or do, your willingness to listen demonstrates respect and shows that you are trying to comprehend their perspective. This typically helps create an atmosphere of mutual respect that will improve communication.

Waiting…

Waiting patiently while others talk is a key listening skill that is a must for all peacemakers. Without this skill, you will often fail to understand the root cause of a conflict, and you may complicate matters with inappropriate reactions. As Proverbs 18:13 tells us, “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame” (NIV). In other words, avoid jumping to premature conclusions about what others are thinking; give them time and hear them out. Discipline yourself not to interrupt others while they are speaking. Learn to be comfortable with silence and do not respond the moment there is a pause. Moreover, do not offer immediate solutions to every problem others bring to you.

Reflecting or “paraphrasing” is the process of summarizing the other person’s main points in your own words and sending them back in a constructive way. This is the very definition of active listening. Reflecting may deal with both the content of what the other person has said and the associated feelings. Reflecting does not require that you agree with what the other person says; it simply reveals whether you comprehend another person’s thoughts and feelings. Reflecting shows that you are paying attention and you are trying to understand or empathize with them. Besides, reflecting what others are saying can make them more willing to listen to what you want to say.

Engage Rather than Pronounce or Declare

One of the fastest ways to make people defensive is to abruptly announce what they have done wrong. If you launch into a direct and detailed description of their faults, they are likely to close their ears and launch a counterattack. It is wise to think carefully about how to open a conversation in a way that shows genuine concern for the other person and engages him in listening to your words without becoming defensive. If you are going to be candid—this is often doable when speaking to a close friend—you should first affirm your respect and friendship and then describe your concern in direct terms. If strong trust has not been built between you, however, or if the issue is likely to trigger defensiveness, you would be wise to broach your concern in an indirect way that engages the other person’s heart and mind without putting him instantly on guard.

Whatever approach you use, your goal should be to describe your concern in a way that captures others’ attention, appeals to their values, and gives hope that the issue can be resolved constructively. The more you engage another person’s heart and the less you declare his or her wrongs, the more likely he or she is to listen to you. Communicate clearly enough that you cannot be misunderstood. Many conflicts are caused or aggravating by misunderstandings. People may say things that are actually true or inappropriate, but because they did not choose their words carefully they leave room for others to misconstrue what they mean and take offense. Fewer factors can derail peacemaking than miscommunication.

Use the Bible Carefully

It is often helpful to refer to the Bible as a source of objective truth when you have a disagreement with another Christian. If this is not done with great care, however, it will alienate people rather than persuade them. Never quote the Bible to tear others down, but only to build them up in the Lord. Make sure to use Scripture passages for their intended purpose. Never pull a verse out of context and try to make it say something other than its clear meaning. It’s advisable to encourage others to read the passage from their own Bibles; then ask, “What do you think that means?” This typically yields far better results than imposing your interpretation on them.

It is also paramount that you know when to stop. If the other person appears to be getting irritated by your references to Scripture, it may be wise to back off and give him or her time to think about what you’ve presented to them.

Summary and Application

Effective confrontation is like a graceful dance from being supportive to assertive and back again. This dance may feel awkward at first for those who are just learning it, but perseverance pays off. With God’s help you can learn to speak the truth in love by saying only what will build others up, by listening responsibly to what others say, and by using principles of wisdom. As you practice these skills and make them a normal part of your everyday conversation, you will be well prepared to use them when conflict breaks out.  In developing the skills of loving confrontation, you can see for yourself that “the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

God bless and thanks for reading.

Join me next Monday when I wrap up this series on peacemaking. We’ll look at the importance of taking one or two others along when confronting others in the interest of peace. Matthew 18:16 says, “But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

 

 

Just a Simple Soldier

He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast, 
and he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past. 
Of a war that he had fought in and the deeds that he had done. 
In his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, everyone. 
And ‘tho sometimes to his neighbors, his tales became a joke, 
all his buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke. 
But we’ll hear his tales no longer, for ol’ Bob has passed away, 
and the world’s a little poorer, for a soldier died today. 
He won’t be mourned by many, just his children and his wife. 
For he lived an ordinary, very quiet sort of life. 
He held a job and raised a family, quietly going on his way; 
and the world won’t note his passing; ‘tho a Soldier died today. 
lest we forget
When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state. 
While thousands note their passing, and proclaim that they were great. 
Papers tell of their life stories, from the time that they were young, 
but the passing of a soldier, goes unnoticed, and unsung. 
Is the greatest contribution, to the welfare of our land, 
some jerk who breaks his promise, and cons his fellow man? 
Or the ordinary fellow, who in times of war and strife, 
goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life? 
The politician’s stipend and the style in which he lives, 
are sometimes disproportionate, to the service he gives. 
While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all, 
is paid off with a medal and perhaps a pension, small. 
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It’s so easy to forget them, for it is so long ago, 
that our Bob’s and Jim’s and Johnny’s, went to battle, but we know. 
It was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys, 
who won for us the freedom, that our Country now enjoys. 
Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand, 
would you really want some cop-out, with his ever waffling stand? 
Or would you want a Soldier, who has sworn to defend, 
his home, his kin, and Country, and would fight until the end? 
He was just a common Soldier and his ranks are growing thin. 
But his presence should remind us, we may need his like again. 
For when countries are in conflict, then we find the Soldier’s part, 
is to clean up all the troubles, that the politicians start. 
If we cannot do him honor, while he’s here to hear the praise, 
then at least let’s give him homage, at the ending of his days. 
Perhaps just a simple headline, in the paper that might say: 
“OUR COUNTRY IS IN MOURNING, FOR A SOLDIER DIED TODAY.”
©1985 A. Lawrence Vaincourt