Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pondering the Existence of Dinosaurs...

Last night in Q&A at FBC Odessa I attempted to answer one of the most asked questions we have received over the past four weeks – Dinosaurs. Were their dinosaurs on earth? When were the dinosaurs present? What happened to dinosaurs? Where is the reference to dinosaurs in the Bible? Were their dinosaurs on the Ark?

These are good questions because they challenge us to dig deeply to determine what we believe regarding the Bible, science and creation. To this end, I want to ponder the issue of dinosaurs a little further for those who may not have been able to attend last night but have some of the same questions. I begin with some basic presuppositions.

First, I am not a paleontologist and did not take courses on paleontology in college or seminary. I also am not a physicist or archeologist. The following has originated from personal study and is the basic understanding that forms my beliefs in this area. Second, I am a creationist. The Bible teaches creationism. Any attempt to substantiate an evolutionary hypothesis from Scripture is a stretch that does not work. I do believe in the adaptation of animals over time to their environment but strongly oppose evolution as a viable thesis regarding the origin of man. Third, I hold to a “young earth” belief that dates the earth to be about 10,000 years old. I believe when God created the earth He created a mature earth. This poses no problem in my biblical hermeneutic of Genesis. When God created Adam & Eve – the first human beings – He created them as mature adults. When God created the animal and plant kingdoms, again they were created mature. If God created mature inhabitants, and we accept that, why would we not accept Him creating a mature earth? Now let’s talk about dinosaurs.

1. Dinosaurs existed on earth. I realize God could have provided fossil records to show only the appearance of them existing, but I do not believe that to be correct. I believe God created dinosaurs like He did all other animals on earth. This is supported by the abundance of fossil records that have been found principally in the Mesozoic strata proving the existence of dinosaurs on earth.

2. Since dinosaurs did exist, they were created on day six of the Genesis account of creation. Yes, I support a literal day being 24 hours in Genesis. Scientists and skeptics have long argued over the Hebrew translation of “day” and its meaning. I prefer to believe what God has said rather than diminish the authority of Scripture by postulating my beliefs of how creation took place and over what period of time. God defined the creation process in Genesis and He was the only eye witness. Not only this, but when using Scripture to interpret Scripture, the Bible supports a literal 24 hour day. For example, in Exodus 20:9-11 the Bible says “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” We readily accept a 24 hour literal day in this passage, why would we not accept it just one book previous in Genesis? Besides, the quoted verses from Exodus are translated from the Hebrew Bible, the Bible Jesus read and He never appears to be confused about the length of a day.

3. Dinosaurs became extinct at some point in time – no person knows exactly how that occurred. There were no eye-witnesses and the Bible does not speak directly to how or why they became extinct. Multiple scientific theories exist for their extinction – volcanoes, changes in environments, eating of dinosaur eggs, a dinosaur disease epidemic, food shortages, or a universal flood – but there is no ultimate proof. Therefore, to definitively state how dinosaurs became extinct is presumptuous when Scripture does not give a clear word on how this happened.

4. Dinosaurs were reptiles but most were not huge like the T-Rex we see on the movie Jurassic Park. Okay, assuming they were small, what if they were allowed to live and grow for many years, continuing to grow until they die? Before the flood the age of man was huge – Adam, 930 years; Seth, 912 years; Methuselah, 969 years. After the flood the age of life began to drop significantly with every successive generation. Terah, Abraham’s father lived 205 years. Abraham, 175, Isaac lived 180 years; Jacob lived 147, and Joseph lived 110 years. Imagine how large a West Texas rattlesnake that lived a total of 930 years feasting on jackrabbits would grow. I would not want to be around when it became hungry. I attach a picture of a rattlesnake recently killed in Odessa that proves my point to some degree.

5. Before the flood Dinosaurs were grass/plant eating animals. This seems apparent in light of Genesis 1:30 wherein God gave “to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” Then in post-flood Genesis 9:1-3, God provides meat for sustenance to man. He places the fear of man upon the animal kingdom and provides that “every moving thing that lives shall be food for you.” Based upon these texts, it seems logical that if dinosaurs still roamed the earth post-flood they began eating meat at that time.

6. Were dinosaurs on the Ark and how was the Ark big enough to handle all of the animals? If dinosaurs survived the world-wide flood described in the Bible, they would have to have been on Noah’s Ark. Was the Ark large enough to handle the large influx of animals? The answer is “yes” it was. The Ark was a gigantic barge (450 ft. long x 75 feet wide x 45 feet high) with a displacement of 43,000 tons and an inside capacity/volume of 1.4 million cubic feet (one cubit = 17.5 inches). There were multiple decks and levels within the Ark. The total deck area is estimated at over 100,000 Sq. Ft. The Ark had a carrying capacity equal to that of 522 standard railroad freight cars or the equivalent of 8 freight trains with 65 freight cars each. This means that at least 240 animals the size of a sheep could be accommodated in a standard 2-deck stock car. Multiply that out (240 x 522) and you can see the ark’s capacity for animals the size of a sheep to be 125,280. Now most likely the animals on the Ark were young so replenishing of the earth could occur. To this end, if there were dinosaurs on the Ark, they would have been young and certainly smaller. But can I definitively state without reservation there were dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark? No, but it is totally possible. (See "The Genesis Flood" by Whitcomb and Morris for more information on this subject.)

7. Where are dinosaurs found in the Bible? The clearest description of an animal that is extinct today but fits the profile of a dinosaur is the behemoth found in Job 40:15-24. This animal doesn’t exist today but did during the time of Job. It has been described as a brontosaurus – a creature not unlike Dino in the Flintstones cartoon. Now wouldn’t that have been a great pet?

As you can tell, this was not an exhaustive study on the creation and extinction of dinosaurs. There are Christian scientists like Dr. Kurt Wise, a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who holds a PhD in Paleontology from Harvard University, that spend their entire lives studying what I have only touched upon today. Could I be wrong in some of the information I have provided above? I would never be so arrogant as to presume to speak with final authority on that which God’s Word does not present a thorough discourse, so yes, I could be wrong in some areas. However, God’s Word is authoritative and regardless of differing opinions, when God’s Word speaks it is accurate and without error. As Adrian Rogers stated on more than one occasion, "I would rather be accused of taking the Bible too literally than not taking it literally enough." To that I give a hearty amen!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pondering the Great White Throne of Judgment...

Last night in Q&A I answered a question regarding the Great White Throne of Judgment as described in Revelation 20:11-15. Without argument this is one of the most gripping and serious passages in the entire Bible. Particular verse 15 which states that “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” We are dealing with a most sobering passage of Scripture.

Upon being asked who was going to stand before this Great White Throne of Judgment, I exclaimed that I was not, nor would any other believers having professed faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. At this point a statement was emphatically made that every person would stand before this fearful Great White Throne and be judged. Some of the biblical reasons for my disagreement with that statement follow.

1. The sins of the Christ follower were judged at the Cross. On the day I accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, I received total and complete forgiveness of my sin. The blood of Jesus Christ was shed so that my sin would be atoned and His righteousness would become my righteousness. Through this glorious act of divine grace, I received positional (imputed) righteousness before God for eternity. 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us that “For our sake He (God) made Him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him (Jesus) we might become the righteousness of God.” Couple this magnificent act of mercy, love and grace on God’s part with Romans 8:1 and the believer rests assured that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” When one is “in Christ Jesus” it means that he has been purchased/redeemed by the blood of Christ shed at the cross and is forgiven because the sin debt he could not pay has been “paid in full” by the Lord Jesus. As such, the sins of the Christ follower were judged at the Cross when Jesus shed His sinless blood and there will be no future judgment of sin upon the Christian. Because of this, I can rest assured that I will not stand before the horrible Great White Throne of Judgment.

2. The Great White Throne of Judgment is for the unredeemed of all the ages. This is the last court that will ever convene and come to order. The unredeemed dead of all the ages will be arraigned before this throne, guilty of crimes committed against God. The out-and-out flagrant sinner will be there along with those who rejected Jesus because they felt salvation came through just being a good person. Hitler, Stalin, and other world leaders who sought power on this earth will be finally and ultimately judged for eternity as they come before this throne. There will be no place to hide. There will be no cross examination or rebuttal. All that has been done in opposition to God – particularly the rejection of God’s Son – will have been recorded in the books that testify to the guilt of all who stand before this throne. When the sentence is read – “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Mt. 25:41) – God’s justice will be fulfilled and the unredeemed of all the ages will be cast into the lake of fire for eternity.

3. The “Bema” seat of Judgment is not the Great White Throne of Judgment. But, you may reply, the Bible says “we must all appear before the judgment (bema) seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10). This is exactly true, but this is not the Great White Throne of Judgment referred to in Revelation 20. This is a time when all Christ followers are before God and the work done, or not done, for Christ will be judged with rewards distributed accordingly. Scripture is clear in stating “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:14-15). So, yes, all Christians will be judged, but not at the Great White Throne of Judgment and not for our sin to determine our eternal destiny. The works that a Christian has done for Jesus Christ post-salvation will be examined and judged to determine reward and on that Scripture is very clear.

What does this mean to me? First, if you are a believer in Christ, you have eternal security in Jesus. You are now to live each day with an eye on eternity, honoring Jesus Christ with your life on this earth through what you do for Him. An unproductive Christ follower is an oxymoron. Every Christian is to produce fruit for the Kingdom of God and will be rewarded accordingly. Second, if you are not a believer in Christ, you have no eternal security in Jesus but only a fearful pending judgment that is to come before you are cast into the lake of fire. Call upon Jesus Christ today for salvation so you too can be saved. God's free gift of salvation is available by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Why not confess your belief in Him and receive salvation right now. What are you waiting for?

Monday, July 20, 2009

More Church Picnic Thoughts...

It seems I was a little remiss a moment ago when I thanked my pastoral staff only for pulling off a great picnic. No, nobody has called to tell me I blew it, I just kind of figured that one out on my own. So, here goes...

To all of you who volunteered your time cooking hamburgers, preparing the feeding lines, cutting watermelons, and contributing your service in any way possible to ensure success - THANK YOU! Without you, nothing happens. Thanks for serving the Lord by serving your friends and family.

Church Picnic Brings Out the Soreness in Some of Us...

Yesterday was the 4th annual First Baptist Church family picnic at Sherwood Park here in Odessa. We had a blast just hanging out and being a family together. My pastoral staff did an outstanding job in coordinating the activities - especially Earl Claypool our Pastor of Junior High and Recreation. Thanks Earl!

Each pastor spent time in the dunking booth with my allocated time being 5:30. Now I have swam in some really brown lake water before, but I'm thinking this is pretty close to the top on the dirty scale. Could it be because I got in the water after my two music guys? Not sure on that just yet.

There was an egg toss that transpired while I was being dunked. Afterwards we had an old-fashioned sack race. Yes I fell down because it was hard! Finally, the old guys took on the young 15-18 year olds in a game of football. Now that was fun! I haven't played football like that for quite some time and it was a blast. Of course, the old guys won in spite of my having dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone. I have never felt more like Terrell Owens that at any other moment in my life. But truly, it was all tremendous fun... and now I'm sore, but it's a good sore.

Yesterday reminded me of the four connections we need in life to make our lives most enjoyable. First, every person needs to be connected to God. This glorious connection is made at salvation and is the supreme connection that stands above all others. If one is connected to God, they are ultimately secure and can have peace regardless of what they encounter in life. Second, every person needs to be connected to God's church. Here is where we learn to live the Christian life in community and grow in our relationship with the Heavenly Father. Hebrews 10:25 says, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another." What a blessing to be part of God's local church and worship Him in Spirit and in truth with others in the Christian community. Third, every person needs to be connected to their earthly family as so much of our lives are spent investing in those to whom we are related. When these earthly relationships are broken, we suffer. My prayer for all who are struggling in a relationship right now is that God will be allowed to be central in the members lives so healing can occur. Fourth, every person needs the connection of friends.

Yesterday I witnessed all four of these connections played out in the lives of people I encountered. It began yesterday morning as I celebrated Jesus Christ in worship with my fellow believers. Then, at the picnic, I witnessed the Christian community having fun as they laughed and played together as part of God's family. Yesterday was a living testimony of Psalm 68:6, "God sets the lonely in families." I'm thankful for my earthly family and my church family. I am doubly blessed (and doubly sore today)... and I love it!

God bless and have a great week!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Fitness Recovery Program - #2

I am coming to the end of week #3 on my Fitness Recovery Program and want to update you as promised. Last week I shared the “why” of my FRP, today I will share a little about the “how.”

Byron’s Diet Plan – (Just the sound of that makes me want to write a diet book and make some money. I mean doesn’t that sound as good as “Grapefruit Diet” or “South Beach Diet” or “Weight Watchers” or “Jenny Craig?” It has a great ring to it… but I digress.)

Like many people who, as John Wayne once said, “tend toward the gut,” I have tried numerous diets over the course of time with limited success for any extended period. However, six years ago I stumbled upon the most simplified way of eating imaginable – counting calories. I know some of you are feeling the urge to click on the red “X” in the upper right corner of your screen, but just hang with me for a moment. As a concept, dieting is very simple - expend more calories than you consume and you will lose weight. As a practice, however, dieting can be very difficult.

On the day I turned 40 my body adopted an aversion to change. As the bonfire of candles were extinguished, it developed a mind of its own and changed from a hard-working, fat-fighting machine to a miser who sought to horde all gains it had made throughout my indulgent years. On that fateful day I could hear the faint sound of my body singing the Beatles classic, “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.” And here I am saying, “We can work it out” to no avail. From that moment forward every gain I have made physically has been hard fought. (Does this resonate with any of my 40+ friends?) Exercise and counting calories is the only solution I have found to quench the rebellious coup my body attempted that day, and every day since. But as a practice, dieting is not easy, it is hard work all the way. You will not lose weight and have the body you desire if you are unwilling to do the hard things. Dreaming about it and wishing for it will not make it happen. Excess weight does not magically fall off. Weight loss and physical fitness comes at a price – a price that is well worth paying, but a price nonetheless. So what do I do?

When I am seeking to lose weight I restrict myself to 1700 calories per day. I eat vegetables (squash, onions, peppers) in large quantity that have been grilled or cooked in very little or no oil. I eat whole grains (brown rice is my favorite) and lean meats, much of which is grilled by the best griller in the McWilliams’ family – my lovely wife. I eat so much “yard bird” that I’m convinced that I sometimes cluck when I sleep. I eat fruit as desired and do not hesitate to utilize an energy/high fiber breakfast bar when I’m on the go. I never drink my calories – I must be part bovine because I love to chew! I take no diet pills. I do take a vitamin D and B6 everyday and I should take some fish oil for Omega 3 but right now I’m out. And there you have the Byron Diet Plan. Nothing new under the sun, remember?

About the same time I determined to count calories and exercise, God placed a verse of Scripture on my heart that has been my strength on many runs and at many times. Hebrews 12:11 in the NIV says, "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have ben trained by it." My prayer for you is that God will use this verse to inspire your heart today as He has mine.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Plodding Forward and My FRP...

On Saturday, July 4, 2009 at 2:00 PM, just nine days ago, I was going through my usual routine of being a “man of constant sorrows” regarding my fitness level and weight. I am unequivocally my own worst critic and this was proving to be especially true on that hot summer afternoon. As I sat in my chair berating myself for not maintaining a previously attained high level of physical fitness, I made a decision. With the temperature soaring at 97 degrees, I put on my running shorts and shoes, my favorite running shirt and my stopwatch – I also strapped on my identity bracelet that has listed several phone numbers in case of emergency – and I stepped out my front door on a journey back into fitness.

As I said, the mercury was stretched to 97 and there was no wind. It was flat out hot, no two ways about it. But not to be deterred because, after all, I am a runner, I began hitting the pavement again on a 3 mile run. I ran the first mile complete and then began walking/running in 2 minute intervals until I was finished. Normally I would have been absorbed in self-pity for having to walk any at all (runners are fairly well convinced that walking is for wimps and old folks – no offense intended) but on this day just finishing the course was all that mattered. Besides, I had gotten off the “L” train, uh, that would be “Lazy” train, put my money where my mouth is, put up rather than shut up and made happen what had needed to happen for months – I was back on track with a true “Fitness Recovery Program” (FRP for short).

In 2002 I became convicted that I needed to take better care of myself physically so I did what most guys do, I started lifting some weights and running. I had exercised for a few weeks when a friend of mine asked me to run a marathon with him. It was late summer 2002 when he sprung the question on me and the date with destiny was January 17, 2003. I laughed and made some excuse about killing myself in order to train for a marathon in that short a time but we agreed to just run together and if I didn’t think I could do the whole 26.2 miles in January, I could always opt for the half marathon.

We began running 3 miles together at first, most of it on a ¼ mile track at the high school in Evadale, Texas. Many long hours were logged on that track in the next 8 weeks. It was cushioned and therefore didn’t take a toll on my knees and my ability to run progressed. I will never forget in October of ’02 when I ran 10 miles for the first time without stopping. It was beyond thrilling as I for the first time felt like I could actually be good at this thing called running. Then, in November my friend asked whether I’d decided to run the whole or the half marathon in January. I figured since we had run over 10 miles in training on more than one occasion I might as well run the full 26.2. We continued to train and on January 17, 2003 I completed the Houston marathon in 4 hours and 54 minutes. I was pumped!

The following year we again ran the Houston marathon and I completed it that day in 4 hours and 28 minutes. Life was good and I was enjoying being a runner. But as life tends to do, change entered the picture when my family moved from Southeast Texas to Odessa, Texas in July 2004. I continued to run but my routine was totally changed and the long runs gradually became shorter and shorter.

Long story short, due to inconsistency and riding the “L” train, I gradually lost the level of fitness I had been so pleased having attained. My long runs shrunk to an occasional 5 miles, with most runs being a 3 mile loop from my front door. Due to demands at church, studying to complete my doctorate, and increased activities with 3 teenagers, I neglected doing what I love so much and my running became increasingly intermittent. With inconsistency comes injury and last April I was attacked by an acute case of Achilles Tendonitis, something I had never suffered from before. I nursed the injury for some time with little improvement and finally decided to take a full 3 months off from the sport… and here I am today. The 3 months expanded to 9 months and my waistline expanded accordingly. I gained 20-25 pounds and lost the zip I felt in my step when I was running on a regular basis. So welcome to the first edition of my Fitness Recovery Program.

My plans are to update you on my progress on a weekly basis. If you are interested, and want to respond, please feel free. If you aren’t, no need to respond because you’ll find something better to read than a few words from a plodder who decided to tell others about his efforts.

Tomorrow I will tell you about my diet and how my running has fared for the last two weeks. In the days ahead I will give information on the type shoes I run in, my strategies and goals and will update you on my Achilles issue and how it feels. Stay tuned.

Now listen – if you have been sedentary for quite some time, I do not advise the strategy of personal tail kicking that I employed above. I felt confident (not smart) running in 97 degree heat because I have been to the Cooper Clinic in Dallas and have received a great report from them. So be wise.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Do Angels Speak God's Message Today...

Last night in Q&A the following question arose – “Do angels still come to earth and deliver God’s message to men?” Feeling spontaneous, I polled the audience through uplifted hand as to how many would answer the question in the affirmative. I was shocked when over 80% of those in attendance lifted their hand. To this end, further elaboration on this question is definitely needed.

First let me get our minds thinking along the same lines by asking a few questions. Are we talking Angel Gabriel type messages such as the one delivered to Mary in Luke’s gospel? Are we talking about the numerous references to the “Angel of the Lord” in the Old Testament intersecting the lives of men? Or are we talking about an angelic messenger appearing to a man/woman today to deliver God’s special message just for them? Regardless of the question, the answer to all of the above is an emphatic “NO!” Angels do not come to earth today to deliver God’s message (meaning revelation) to men at all in any context.

I know for some of you this is totally contrary to your opinion. I can hear it now, “Pastor, if God spoke through a donkey couldn’t he speak through an angel today?” He could, but tell me the last time you heard a donkey speak when you weren’t watching Winnie the Pooh on television. God does not speak His message through angels today for several reasons –

1. God spoke finally and definitively through His Son Jesus. Yes, God used a multitude of means to speak to mankind prior to Jesus coming to earth – even a donkey – but God communicated finally through the person of Jesus Christ, the one and only Son of God. Hebrews 1:1-2 confirms this in saying, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world.” Could there be a clearer word that God spoke finally and definitively through Jesus? I think not. God’s Word is clear.

2. God’s revelation of Himself to man is complete in Jesus Christ. There will be no further revelation from God to disclose who He is to mankind. John 1:18 tells us that Jesus came to exegete God for human understanding because Jesus “has made Him known.” Never will an angel come and declare an additional message to man to assist in understanding who God is; it is simply unnecessary. Jesus, having done that masterfully well, stated in John 14:9 “whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.”

3. God’s written Word is the full disclosure of Jesus Christ to man. This means that you will not learn the attributes and characteristics of God without time spent studying, analyzing, praying and obeying God’s written Word. God provided 66 books of Holy Scripture through inspired human instruments to unveil Himself to mankind. There will be no more revelation from God to man. The canon of Scriptures is closed. It is the complete written authority by which we learn about God. The only way to learn more about God than what is provided in His Word is to stand before Him in heaven and see face to face what “now we see in a mirror dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12).

4. God protects His Church from heresy through the closed canon of Scripture. The 66 books of the Bible is all the revelation any Christian will ever receive. It is also all the revelation any Christian will ever need. In His omniscience, God knows the ease in which His followers are led astray by every wind of false doctrine. He also knows Satan, the enemy, is cunning and will “disguise himself as an angel of light” (1 Cor. 11:14) in order to deceive and destroy. To this end, no Christian should ever seek after, pray for, desire, or listen to any extra-biblical message from an angel. Destructive heresy and cults are the outcome when Satan is allowed to convince someone of a special word they have received from God through His angel. The cult of Mormonism began on September 21, 1823 when an angel named Moroni began visiting Joseph Smith and shared with him a new gospel found on golden plates. This new gospel is a false gospel that has ensnared millions, leading them boldly to a Christ-less eternity in hell. Galatians 1:6-9 denounces this and brings it all together: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

There you have it - sound theology over personal opinion. My opinion regarding what I think about something in God's Word is of infinitely less importance than the truth God's Word actually teaches.

Does God use angels today as ministering spirits? Sure He does; Scripture confirms this in numerous places. Do angels still come to earth and deliver God's message to men? Not hardly.