25 Common Questions about Christianity

(originally published as the weekly series "Ask the Pastor" in the Green Laker)


1. Q: Why should I believe the Bible?  What makes it any different than other religious books such as the Koran, etc.? 


2. Q:  Why does God allow so much pain and suffering in the world?


3. Q:  Is there really a hell, and if so, how could a good and loving God send people to it? 


4. Q:  I feel closer to God out in the woods or on the lake. I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian, do I? 


5. Q:  Doesn’t science contradict the Bible or disprove God 


6. Q:  I’ve always believed the Bible, but when I hear someone talk about being “Born Again”, it confuses me. I’m not sure if I have been, or if I need to be. What do you think?


7. Q:  Since Christianity has so many different denominations and churches, how do you know which is the right one?  


8. Q:  It doesn’t really matter what I believe, does it? Just as long as my belief helps me, that’s what matters, right?   


9. Q:  Why are Christians so prudish when it comes to sex? They give the impression it is dirty.


10. Q:  Why should I go to church? The church is full of hypocrites.   


11. Q: What happens to the people who have never heard of Jesus?  


12. Q:  What’s wrong with a couple living together? Isn’t marriage just a piece of paper anyway?


13. Q:  Can I really get to heaven just by believing that Jesus died for me? Don’t I also have to live a good life? It doesn’t seem fair that someone can live however they want, and then just say, “I believe in Jesus” to get to heaven. 


14. Q:  I heard someone say that God must either be limited in His goodness or limited in His power. For if He were all-good, He would destroy evil, and if He were all powerful, He could destroy evil. Because this world is so bad, God cannot be both, all good and all powerful.   


15. Q:  Don’t Muslims and Christians worship the same God basically? Aren’t Jehovah and Allah just different names for the same God? 


16. Q:  Why is Christianity so negative always talking about sin? Wouldn’t it be much better to be positive and emphasize the goodness in mankind rather than the negative?   


17. Q:  Don’t you think religion in general (and Christianity specifically) is just a crutch for weak-minded people who need to believe in God?   


18. Q:  I know I should be reading my Bible, but I start in Genesis and find I don’t understand much of it. What do you recommend for a beginner who wants to study God’s Word?   


19. Q:  I read from the Old and New Testament each day, but am amazed at how people in the Old Testament can see so many miracles, and still be disobedient to God. How can this be?  


20. Q:  Why doesn’t God make it easy for us to believe in Him by speaking from the clouds or something? Why doesn’t He just prove Himself to us?


21. Q:  Aren’t all religions basically the same? Aren’t they all really saying the same thing from different angles?


22. Q:  Why do Christians teach the Trinity when the Bible never uses that word? 


23. Q:  Can God make a rock so big that He can’t lift it? 


24. Q:  How do you know that God even exists?  


25. Q:  If God is the Creator of all things, where did evil come from? Did God create sin and evil? 

 


 

Answers provided by Pastor Gary Zacharias

www.terraceshores.com

 


1. Q: Why should I believe the Bible? What makes it any different than other religious books such as the Koran, etc.? 

Pastor Gary: The Bible is a unique book written over a period of about 1500 years, by approximately 40 different authors. The locations in which these books of the Bible were written vary as much as the authors themselves (The wilderness – Moses; Prison – Paul; Island of Patmos – John). It was written in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek), on three different continents (Africa, Asia, Europe).

In spite of this wide variation of authors and circumstances of writing, the Bible displays an amazing unity in describing God’s plan of redemption for mankind. Its unity has been summarized thus: The New (Testament) is in the Old (Testament) concealed; The Old is in the New revealed. With one accord, it repeatedly claims to be the Word of God. This unity of thought points to the Mind of God behind it all.Beyond the unity of Scripture, modern archaeology has strongly confirmed the historicity of both the Old and New Testaments.

Nelson Glueck, a renowned Jewish archaeologist remarked, “…It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.” Various archaeologists have made similar remarks supporting the accuracy of the Bible, and the contribution of archaeology in understanding the Bible. The predictive prophecy of Scripture puts the Bible in a class by itself. J. Barton Payne in his Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecies lists 1817 predictions in the Bible (1239 in the Old Testament and 578 in the New Testament). He calculated that 27% of the entire Bible contains predictive prophecy. No other religious book in the world can claim this. The argument is that of accurately fulfilled predictive prophecy. If many highly improbable predictions are made in the name of God, which then come to pass without fail, is it not reasonable to assume that those prophecies were divinely inspired?

Finally, the testimony of changed lives for those who believe and follow the teachings of the Bible, is so universal and consistent, it would seem foolish to refuse to consider that this might be God’s message to mankind. People from every class, culture, and language who have believed this book and followed it have seen similar changes in their lives. Some of the most evil people alive, have been converted by believing the message of this book. Both the simple and the intellectual, the rich and the poor, the young and the old, have had their lives turned around by believing the message of this Book and following the Lord presented in it. Much more could be said on this, but space prevents it here. However, from the few things I’ve mentioned, wouldn’t it seem wise to carefully check out what this Book has for you?

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2. Q: Why does God allow so much pain and suffering in the world?

Pastor Gary: This question wells up from the heart when we observe the hurting around us, and when we feel the hurt within us. To the person who is in the midst of suffering, no answer seems fully satisfying, and I certainly don’t pretend to have a complete answer here. But I will make a couple of comments.

In the first place, we need to understand that all pain is the result of sin in this world. Sin is that which breaks our relationship with God, and brings destruction and death into the world. Note that I said, “All pain is the result of sin in this world”. It’s not necessarily the result of personal sin in the life of the sufferer. Disease, natural disasters, birth defects, and countless other causes of pain, may result from either personal sin, or the evil in this world generally.

We often feel pain for things over which we have had no control. Let me also say here that my knowing the reason for pain, and God having a reason for pain are two different things. God’s purpose for allowing pain in my life is not dependent upon my knowing what it is. Having said that, we can note that there are a number of ways in which God uses pain and suffering for a greater good.

1) Sometimes God uses pain or evil to warn us against a greater pain or evil. As a child, I remember various dogs on the farm getting run over on the road. Even though that saddened me, it also reminded me to be careful when crossing a road. Pain may keep us from self-destruction. In his insightful book The Gift Nobody Wants, Dr. Paul Brand gives numerous examples of how pain protects us from doing things to ourselves that would be self-destructive. His years working with leprosy patients taught him the horrors of a life without pain. The destruction of a limb occurs quickly when a person loses the sensation of pain, which serves to protect it from harmful activity.

2) Pain can produce within us good character virtues. We may gain patience, sensitivity, compassion, and many other terrific traits by undergoing pain. One who has experienced a certain type of suffering, is often well-equipped to comfort others who experience it.

3) Pain gets our attention, and often causes us to look to God in our helpless state. English author C.S. Lewis put it well when he noted, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”Are you suffering now in some way? Let me encourage you to turn to Him who created you and sent His Son to die for you. He has not forgotten you, and is with you in your pain. For all who trust and follow the Savior, the pain of this life is only temporary, and He will one day bring them into His presence where “there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain…” (Rev. 21:4).

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3. Q: Is there really a hell, and if so, how could a good and loving God send people to it?

Pastor Gary: If you believe what the Bible says about a good and loving God, who sent Jesus to pay for our sins, it seems logical that we believe what Jesus said about hell; for He spoke more about hell than anyone else in the New Testament.

It is described in a number of ways: as a place of outer darkness, a perpetual burning dump “where the worm does not die and the fire never goes out”, a bottomless pit, a prison, a place of torment and regret, a place of eternal destruction. The worst description however, is that it is a place separated from God. Jesus spoke of a great chasm fixed between the two possible destinations after death, thus denying access between them (Luke 16:26). Paul spoke of it as “…exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might.” (II Thess. 1:9). Can you imagine being separated from God, who is the source of all good?

While on this earth, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:45), but in hell, every vestige of good will be gone. Separation from God will be complete and final. Instead of light, there will be darkness. Instead of comfort, there will be torment. Contrary to what the question implies, God does not send people to hell against their will; He simply gives them what they choose.

Everyone deserves hell, but God has provided a way of redemption through His Son, Jesus Christ. We may receive His gift of forgiveness and follow Him; but to reject that offer is to choose separation from God (hell). Even an atheistic writer such as Jean-Paul Sartre suggested that the door of hell is locked from the inside (see his story No Exit). Hell is a place of torment, not torture. It should be noted that torture is inflicted from without against one’s will, while torment is self-inflicted; it is living with the consequences of our bad choices. The choices that we make in time are sealed in eternity. Those who do not wish to have a relationship with God will see that desire fulfilled, forever. Those who do not wish to be with God will then be separated from Him, forever.

C.S. Lewis noted in his Screwtape Letters, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done’”. What does God desire for you? “God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”(II Peter 3:9) He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (I Tim. 2:4) He will not force you to have a relationship with Himself, but He does extend the invitation. Have you responded to His offer? If not, why not do it right now, and begin to follow Him?

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4. Q: I feel closer to God out in the woods or on the lake. I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian, do I?

Pastor Gary: You’re right in that you do not have to go to church to be a Christian, and neither do you have to go home to be a husband. Going to church is not what makes a person a Christian; any more than going home at night makes you a husband. But husbands who want to have a good relationship with their wives will spend time at home.

There is a basic and prevalent misunderstanding of Christianity. It’s the idea that I become a Christian by doing certain good deeds. The New Testament makes it clear that we can never earn a place in heaven by our good lives. We are sinners, every one, and cannot possibly be righteous before a Holy God, on our own merit. God the Father sent His Son Jesus, to take the punishment we deserve. He did this in giving His life as a ransom for us.

A jailer in the city of Philippi asked Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” Their answer was simple and straightforward, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved…” (Acts 16:30-31). However, it’s also clear from the New Testament, that whenever a person genuinely believed in Jesus Christ, it was a life-changing experience. One change that occurred was that the person became part of the church, the Body of Christ. From earliest days, Christians saw the need to gather for worship, encouragement, and accountability.

Some people think that the church is man’s invention. On the contrary, it was Jesus who said, “…I will build My church and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.” (Matthew 16:18) Yet even in the early church, there were some with the attitude, ‘I don’t need to be part of a local church’. For that reason, the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews admonished, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another…” (Hebrews 10:25). Since the resurrection of Jesus, genuine believers have met regularly for corporate worship, teaching, encouragement, prayer, and fellowship.

If you find church irrelevant or unnecessary, the problem may lie in one of two areas. It may be your own relationship with Christ that is not right. If the church is important to Jesus (who is building it), shouldn’t it also be valuable to us who follow Jesus? Secondly, it may be that I am not in a church that is helping me grow in my relationship with the Lord. Vance Havner used to say that too many churches start at 11 o’clock sharp, and end at 12 o’clock dull! In our land, we are fortunate to have access to a multitude of various denominations and local churches. It’s important that we find a group of believers with whom we can worship, learn, serve, and grow. May God help you do that. And by the way, keep talking with the Lord while you’re out in the woods or on the lake.

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5. Q: Doesn’t science contradict the Bible or disprove God?

Pastor Gary: Space prohibits a thorough answer here, however I’d like to mention a couple of items.

To begin, it should be noted that many of the scientists who first developed principles leading to the scientific method, were creationists (i.e. They believed that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”, Gen. 1:1). Scientists included in this category would be Kepler, Pascal, Newton, Faraday, Mendel, Pasteur, Kelvin, and others. With that belief in place, they understood the material world as something worth studying. With God in control of the universe, they assumed that the universe made sense. It was not “random chance”, but had a purpose given by its maker. Without this basis, it is questionable whether/when modern science would have started. Science is based on the assumption of cause and effect. Every event must have a cause.

Scientists like Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton, and others distinguished between primary and secondary causes. A primary cause explained events that happened only one time, and have no natural explanation. Secondary causes are natural laws that direct the way things normally operate. Primary causes and secondary causes must be dealt with in two different ways. Secondary causes may be observed or tested repeatedly in the present. The conclusions are verifiable or falsifiable. Primary causes however, demand that we try to understand events that occurred in the past, and are not repeatable. Like forensic science, the cause must be understood from the present effect, but not from observing it repeat itself (One cannot ask a murder victim to ‘die again’, so that we may observe how it occurred). How everything came into existence (including life itself) is in this category. No one was there to take pictures, and no one can repeat the event. We must make assumptions about the primary cause based upon our observation of the effect.

This is where our second issue comes in: intelligent design. As we observe the effect of this universe and life itself, we see specified complexity. A chain of random polymers may be complex, but has no specific purpose or message (e.g. HFIDLS IEUDN HSCID). On the other hand, specified complexity exhibits order with a clear purpose (e.g. THESE WORDS HAVE MEANING AND PURPOSE). As you can tell, one of these sentences reflects random chance, and the other, intelligence. Matter is one thing, but information is another, and information implies intelligence.

To quote author Phillip Johnson, “…complex, specified information of the kind found in a book or a biological cell cannot be produced either by chance or at the direction of physical and chemical laws.” From our universal experience in the world, specified complexity points to an intelligent primary cause. To say it another way, everything we see in our world displays the hand of an intelligent Creator. David said it like this, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” (Psalm 19:1-2)Does science contradict the Bible or disprove God? On the contrary, in field upon field science gives powerful evidence for the truth of God and His Word.

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6. Q: I’ve always believed the Bible, but when I hear someone talk about being “Born Again”, it confuses me. I’m not sure if I have been, or if I need to be. What do you think?

Pastor Gary: The term “born again” for all the new meanings our society has given it, is a term that Jesus used in John 3. He said, “I tell you the truth, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (Jn. 3:3) and “…unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”(Jn. 3:5). Jesus’ statements make clear that being “born again” is essential to entering God’s kingdom. But what does it mean?

While being “born of water” has been understood in different ways by various Christians (i.e. referring to physical birth, or water baptism), being born of “the Spirit” is clearly understood as a spiritual birth. The apostle Peter wrote that this occurs “…through the living and enduring word of God.” (I Peter 1:23) When the Word of God is used by the Spirit of God to touch a person’s heart, making them God’s child, spiritual birth occurs. As physical birth means the person is alive physically, so spiritual birth means the person is alive spiritually. He is reconciled and brought into a relationship with God that was previously broken due to sin (and we are all sinners).

The question addresses both the cognitive and personal aspects of a relationship with God. The person who is born again must first believe what Jesus taught; that He came “to seek and to save what was lost” and “to give His life as a ransom for many.” We must believe these facts. However, knowing and believing the facts does not guarantee a relationship.

The second aspect of a relationship with the Lord involves me personally putting my trust in Jesus Christ as my Savior. It involves MY repentance and believing in Him to forgive MY sins. This is the relational or pietistic aspect of genuine faith. It is not enough to simply believe certain facts about Jesus (James 2:19 says that even the demons believe there is one God). Our cognitive faith ABOUT Jesus must become a personal faith IN Jesus.

John Wesley grew up in a Christian home, and for a number of years, preached about Christ. Yet he grew to realize that though he knew those facts, he himself was lacking in genuine faith. It wasn’t until a certain evening meeting, as he listened to someone reading Luther’s preface to Romans, he felt his heart “strangely warmed”. At that moment he said, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. ”Being “born again” is coming by faith, into a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ as one’s savior. To be in Christ, is to be a “new creation”. If you have been born again, there will be evidence of spiritual life. Are you trusting Him for your salvation? Are you in a relationship with Him? Only you and God can answer that one. But it’s the most important issue we will face in this world. On it depends our eternity.

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7. Q: Since Christianity has so many different denominations and churches, how do you know which is the right one?

Pastor Gary: There are certain teachings within the Christian faith that make it distinct from other religions in this world. Those basic teachings have been set forth in the early creeds of the Church, such as the Apostle’s Creed, and the Nicene Creed. The issues dealt with in these creeds are the essentials and bedrock truth of the Christian faith. If a church does not hold to these truths, it is not Christianity.

However, within the Christian Church worldwide, there is still great variety. Churches (and people within churches) may differ on a number of theological issues such as the sacraments (ordinances), prophecy, predestination, church government, etc. I would encourage you to make the Bible your authority, and start studying for yourself. In doing that, decide what you believe the Word of God teaches concerning these various topics. Most people would probably agree that it’s not wise to do something, believe something, or go somewhere, simply because “that’s how we’ve always done it”! Check out the Word of God for yourself.

Beyond theological differences, there are differences of methodology. Styles of worship and teaching vary among churches. As you choose a church home, it is important to find one where you can sincerely worship the Lord, and in which you feel comfortable. One person may appreciate a certain style of music in expressing worship to God, while someone else prefers a different flavor altogether. Some like a liturgical order of worship while others prefer more spontaneity. Most important is our relationship with the Lord. After all, God looks at our hearts regardless of the style of worship. We can’t fool Him!

One more issue you’ll want to consider is the congregation itself. Are you able to have Christian fellowship with these people? Within the Body of Christ we must relate to the other members. Can I work with these people, serve these people, grow with these people, fellowship with these people? Part of this issue has to do with my own learning to work with whatever believers I am with. The other side of the coin however, is that I will not fit in with certain groups as well as with other groups.

John Wesley, concerned over the rise of denominations in the church, tells of a dream he had. In the dream, he was ushered to the gates of Hell. There he asked, "Are there any Presbyterians here?" "Yes!", came the answer. Then he asked, "Are there any Baptists? Any Episcopalians? Any Methodists?" The answer was Yes! each time. Much distressed, Wesley was then ushered to the gates of Heaven. There he asked the same question, and the answer was No! "No?" To this, Wesley asked, "Who then is inside?" The answer came back, "There are only Christians here." This accords with what Scripture teaches, “He who has the Son has life. He who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (I John 5:12)

In the final analysis, make sure that you are a Christian; that you genuinely know Jesus Christ as your savior, and attend where you believe God would have you grow and serve Him. It is a great privilege to be part of the Body of Christ, and it is to Him that we will each give account.

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8. Q: It doesn’t really matter what I believe, does it? Just as long as my belief helps me, that’s what matters, right?

Pastor Gary: Wrong! That type of thinking presupposes there is nothing absolutely true. It sees the act of believing as all that is important, without regard to the content. This view would be ludicrous in any other area of life.

Could you get away with saying, “It doesn’t matter what I believe about where I live, just as long as I believe I live somewhere?” If you believe that you live somewhere other than what is true, you will not get home very often. In the physical world, if someone’s beliefs do not line up with reality, we question whether they are psychotic, hallucinating, or just have a bad memory.

When we are speaking about the unseen spiritual world, the value of truth is no less important. Belief itself does not create truth as some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. I could believe that my 1986 Ford Escort is a 2001 Acura, but it just ain’t so. Absolute truth is as it is. My perspective may change, but absolute truth does not change, regardless of who is perceiving it, or when. My 1986 Ford Escort is a 1986 Ford Escort whether I believe it or not.

It is up to us to find out what is true so we may believe accurately. The existence of absolute truth does not depend upon someone believing it. Truth is absolute regardless of the level of my evidence or belief. Do you need absolute evidence to believe in absolute Truth? No; I can believe based on the best evidence I do have. We do this every day as we learn new things. Learning involves moving from a false belief to a true belief, based on evidence. Christians have chosen to believe the Bible because it is solid evidence, and best explains reality as we perceive it. The Scriptures emphasize the object of our belief far more than the size of our belief.

When it comes to Jesus Christ, we must decide whether He was accurately teaching reality when He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6) He prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them in thy truth; Thy word is truth.” (John 17:17) In these two statements, Jesus claimed we could trust Him, and we could trust the Word of God as truth.

The issue we must decide is whether we will trust Him and believe His Word. He either accurately reflects reality or He does not. It does matter what we believe, and is not enough to “just believe”. Jesus said, “…everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40) What we believe about Jesus and whether we believe in Jesus, has major consequences.

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9. Q: Why are Christians so prudish when it comes to sex? They give the impression it is dirty.

Pastor Gary: If Christians have given the impression that sex is dirty and shameful, we have given a wrong impression. It is God who created mankind “male and female”, and He created us with a sexual identity. Contrary to being “dirty”, the sexual relationship that God intended a man and woman to experience is pure, meaningful, and very powerful. It provides the means to express love and trust in a unique way affecting both the body and soul.

Because God made sex with such potential, He also set the boundary of marriage in which it should be used. My radial saw has some fine print instructions intended to protect the user, like “Check the blade guard before each use”. These cautions serve to warn against misuse and harm. So also, God limited the boundaries for using the sexual relationship to that of heterosexual marriage. Within that context, the Bible teaches the marriage bed is undefiled (Hebrews 13:4). When used as directed by God (i.e. expressing love and trust within marriage), sex is pure.

On the other hand, when used outside of God’s limits, it may become a raging torrent and cruel master. Ancient Solomon encouraged his son to “drink water from your own cistern and fresh water from your own well.” He then asks, “Should your springs be dispersed abroad, streams of water in the streets?” (Proverbs 5:15-16) The instruction here is to keep your sexual relations limited to your spouse alone, not scatter them widely (“in the streets”). We are to guard this carefully with the person to whom we have taken marriage vows.

The Mississippi is a beautiful river, and functions well carrying goods and people on its waters. Yet when it overflows its banks and submerges towns as it did recently, this beautiful waterway become a destructive force out of control. The sexual drive is a powerful instinct that God has built into the human body. How that force is harnessed and related to the other areas of our life helps determine the quality and stability of our relationships, the productivity of our communities, and the happiness of our families.

Many years ago, Margaret Mead studied the sexually expressive Samoan culture finding that their permissiveness caused other problems, leaving the culture unproductive and primitive. Beyond that, adults in that culture showed an inability to make deep commitments to other people. Promiscuous sexual behavior does not produce satisfaction (either in oneself or in one’s relationships), but rather produces an itching for excitement. Dr. Peter Blitchington (of Andrews University) wrote that “as is true of poison ivy, the more fervently it is scratched, the more excruciating becomes the itch.”

Misusing God’s gift of sexuality has throughout history caused much destruction and pain: broken trust, broken relationships, broken families, broken lives, loss of respect for self and others, not to mention scores of sexually transmitted diseases. Although promiscuous behavior may provide a temporary thrill, the long term costs are extremely high. May God help us see the true value of this gift, so that we protect it rather than cheapen or misuse it.

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10. Q: Why should I go to church? The church is full of hypocrites.

Pastor Gary: This is a common excuse for not attending church, and my less than righteous, off-the-cuff reaction is, “C’mon and join us, there’s always room for one more.” The truth of the matter is that everyone has probably been guilty of some hypocrisy at one point or another, but it is a dangerous thing.

The word “hypocrite” comes from the Greek language and was used in the theater to speak of an actor who puts on a false face to play a part. It came to be used in a metaphorical sense of someone who is a pretender, and not genuine. Hypocrisy is denounced in both the Old and New Testaments, with Jesus speaking against it very strongly. He warned people saying, “…you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” (Matthew 15:6-9)

All people are sinners, but we do not have to practice hypocrisy. Hypocrisy has to do with dishonesty; putting on a face that isn’t genuine. Hopefully we are genuine when we come to God. He certainly isn’t fooled by our words or outward actions since He knows our hearts. Another issue here might be a misconception of what a Christian is. A Christian is not a person who is perfect, nor one who gives the impression that they are. In fact, in order to become a Christian, one has to genuinely admit to God that he is an unworthy sinner, and in need of God’s mercy through Jesus.

 No doubt people can and do attend church for the wrong reasons at times, but that is not everyone, all the time. And if some are hypocritical, it certainly doesn’t have to affect your relationship with God. He calls you to be honest before Him and totally committed to Him. A church worship service is to be a group of forgiven sinners who honestly seek to honor and thank God, and learn more of Him. They gather together to encourage one another in that faith. Someone once said it this way: “Church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners!”

In the final run, Christianity does not stand or fall with how well people live. It is based upon Jesus Christ who is NOT a hypocrite, but is “The Truth”. He did give His life to pay for our sins, and He did rise from the dead as He said He would do. It would be a pity for you to allow someone else’s failures to keep you from growing in your relationship with the Lord and being obedient to Him. May God help us each be genuine. We need to make sure that we are not like those of whom Jesus spoke; those who honor Him with their lips while in reality their hearts are far from Him.

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11. Q: What happens to the people who have never heard of Jesus?

Pastor Gary: That’s an interesting question. I always wonder about someone’s motive when they ask it. If it is simply a matter of curiosity, it is valid. If it is an excuse for someone not becoming a follower of Jesus, there is a problem. Everyone who asks that question has heard of Jesus, and they will be accountable for what they know, not for what someone else doesn’t know. But let’s talk about this a bit.

 Scripture teaches that we learn of God through both general and special revelation. General revelation is that means through which God has made His truth open to all. Through creation, all can see the work of a wise and powerful creator who made everything. Through conscience, we see written on the heart of each person a sense of right and wrong, however misplaced his/her values may be. The universal nature of a moral law, (even murderers can feel that some things are unfair) reminds us that there is a moral lawgiver. If there is no moral absolute by which to gauge right and wrong, why do we so universally understand the existence of right and wrong?

Both creation and conscience bear witness to One who is far greater and more righteous than us. Special revelation is the means by which God has made His truth known to specific peoples. He has done this through His Word: both the Living Word of God (Jesus), and the Written Word of God (The Bible). Before we go any further, let me say that I must not render a verdict on anyone’s eternal destiny specifically, but I can repeat what God has said. In light of that, I’ll make a few comments about how God judges.

First, the only way that someone can come to God the Father, is through God the Son. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6). He alone is the only basis for forgiveness and everlasting life. Many feel this automatically means that those who have never heard of Jesus are automatically damned, but the Scripture does not say that. Neither does the Bible explicitly teach that one who has never heard of Jesus can be saved. But it does teach that salvation is only through Christ.

Second, the Bible does teach that no one has any excuse for not seeking God, because of general revelation in creation (Romans 1:19-20) and in our conscience (Romans 2:12-17). Those two areas are open to all, and will hold all accountable.

Thirdly, Scripture teaches that God is going to judge the world fairly and righteously. Since He knows all things, both actual and possible, He alone can judge each person justly, and He will make no mistakes.

Fourthly, he will hold each one accountable for what has been entrusted to Him. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded…” (Luke 12:48) There are examples in Scripture of those who sought after God, and in turn God provided ways for them to learn of Him and know Him. There are also those who had only the smallest amount of knowledge about Him, but they acted faithfully with that, and were commended by Him (Rahab in Joshua 2 and Hebrews 11:31). When Peter was sent by God to take the message of Jesus to Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile, he said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” Peter then went on to share the message of Jesus with him, which Cornelius believed. (Acts 10:14)

In closing, don’t let this issue keep you from the Lord. He is completely just and will judge fairly. You have heard of Jesus Christ and have the opportunity to receive and follow Him. Are you doing it? That is what He requires of you and it is for that you are accountable.

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12. Q: What’s wrong with a couple living together? Isn’t marriage just a piece of paper anyway?

Pastor Gary: This question targets the value of marriage itself. Is marriage important or can couples just choose to live together until they decide to break up? One’s view on this issue has crucial bearing on the shape of the family, and on all of society.

When a man and woman come together as husband and wife, they form the most basic institution of society, the family. It is the training ground for every individual, and affects all other institutions of society. As children come into this world, they come into a family. As they grow, they are nurtured and taught by a family. The shape and form that family takes, largely affects each individual, who in turn affects society and the future.

 God created the family and in the Bible, He used the marriage relationship as an illustration of His relationship with His people. Our relationship with God depends on His faithful covenant love, and it is a “covenant love” that unites a man and woman in marriage. With God, these two make a covenant before society to become husband and wife. This relationship is to be firm and lasting, “till death do us part”, not because God wants to cramp our style, but because this is what is best for individuals and society. When both husband and wife seek to please the Lord in their marriage relationship, it brings joy to them and security to the children brought into that home. When families are solid and loving, living in line with the moral character of God, all of society benefits and enjoys stability.

Like it or not, statistics show clearly the consequences of a society abdicating God’s teaching on marriage. When parental relationships break apart, everyone suffers, as much as we try to minimize the pain. Note some statistics:

-Children of divorce suffer intense grief, lasting many years. Even as young adults they are almost twice as likely to need psychological help. Kids from disrupted families have more academic and behavioral problems and are nearly twice as likely to drop out of school.

-In single parent homes, girls are at much greater risk for precocious sexuality and are three times more likely to have a child out of wedlock.

-Children in single parent families are six times more likely to be poor, with half the single mothers in the U.S. living below the poverty line.

-Crime and substance abuse is strongly linked to fatherless homes, with some studies showing that 60 percent of rapists, 72 percent of adolescent murderers and 70 percent of all long term inmates grew up in fatherless homes.

As our families have suffered in American society, all of society has suffered. The traditional Christian wedding ceremony often contains lines similar to these: “…marriage is more than a legal contract, but rather a bond of union sealed in heaven.” and “It is not to be entered into unadvisedly, but reverently, discreetly, and in the fear of God.” God loves people and wants to protect us from hurting ourselves and each other. For that reason He said, “I hate divorce.” (Malachi 2:16). Jesus stated, “…what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Matthew 19:6).

The stability of future generations and all of society rests on our view of marriage, and God’s word gives much wisdom in making them strong. None of us can re-do the past, but for those considering marriage, or already married, we can choose to build for healthy marriages now. For your own sake, for posterity’s sake, and for all of society, please make this choice.

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13. Q: Can I really get to heaven just by believing that Jesus died for me? Don’t I also have to live a good life? It doesn’t seem fair that someone can live however they want, and then just say, “I believe in Jesus” to get to heaven.

Pastor Gary: Just saying “I believe in Jesus” is never presented in Scripture as a means of getting to heaven, unless that statement springs from a heart of genuine faith. There is a difference between saying, “I believe in Jesus”, and actually “believing in Jesus”. The problem is, only God can discern accurately which faith is genuine and which isn’t. Fortunately, He is the judge, and not you or I. He won’t make any mistakes in His judging, and is always completely just and fair.

Beyond that however, what this question really deals with is the relationship between faith and good works, and the part they play in receiving salvation. The Word of God addresses this issue. With the emphasis on faith, Ephesians 2:8-9 states, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”

With the emphasis on works, James 2:14 & 17, states, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? …In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

The first seems to clearly say that salvation is a gift from God, received by faith, apart from works. The second clearly emphasizes the necessity of good works. However, there is a slight yet huge difference in the part that both faith and works play. It is clear that salvation comes by God’s grace and is received through faith. Works are a necessary ingredient, BUT NOT to make us worthy of salvation. Instead, our actions display the sincerity or insincerity of our faith.

Someone said it well: “We are not saved by faith and works, but by a faith that works.” Genuine repentance demands a genuine change in lifestyle. If our faith has not affected the way we live, it is doubtful that our faith is genuine. Yet if our lives produce good works, it is not those works that make us worthy of heaven. It is the grace of God that provided our savior, Jesus Christ, who paid for our sins on the cross; He makes us worthy. We receive that gift by faith. Genuine faith then leads to good works.

Theologian Charles Ryrie, said it is like a two coupon train or bus ticket. One coupon says, "Not good if detached" and the other says, "Not good for passage". Works are not good for passage; but faith detached from works is not saving faith. When the thief next to Jesus on the cross, exercised genuine faith, Jesus assured him “you will be with me in paradise”. This in spite of the fact he had no opportunity to do many good works before he died. Yet in those moments, because of his sincere faith, he did defend Jesus to the other thief. Jesus knew this man’s faith was real, and promised him salvation. It is by faith in Jesus Christ alone that we receive salvation, but a genuine faith is never alone; it produces good fruit.

 Now how about you? Have you put your trust in Jesus Christ alone to save you? If so, how does your life show it?

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14. Q: I heard someone say that God must either be limited in His goodness or limited in His power. For if He were all-good, He would destroy evil, and if He were all powerful, He could destroy evil. Because this world is so bad, God cannot be both, all good and all powerful.

Pastor Gary: The thinking here is that if God were all-good and all-powerful, He would make this the best of all possible worlds. The problem is that this world clearly isn’t the best. There is a hidden assumption in this line of thought. It assumes that if God were all-good and all powerful, He would destroy evil now. It assumes that because evil is not destroyed immediately, it will never be destroyed. It assumes that there is no good reason that God would allow evil to exist for a time and then be destroyed.

 Yet that is the very thing the Bible teaches: that God has allowed sin in this world for a time, but one day He will destroy evil. Scripture clearly teaches that this is not the best of all possible worlds, but simply a prelude to the best of all possible worlds. God could have created a world in which sin was not an option; a world in which man would have had no opportunity to sin. But in such a world, love cannot exist either. For love to be genuine, it must be a matter of choice, not force. So in creating this world, God preserved for mankind the opportunity to choose obedience or disobedience.

Now you may be thinking, “Why would God create a world in which He knew man would sin”? Christian apologist Norman Geisler wrote, “The highest virtues and the greatest pleasures are impossible to achieve if there is not opposition as a precondition.” Grace, mercy, and forgiveness cannot be exercised without sin. Patience cannot be learned without waiting. Geisler noted that “It is better to have the opportunity to reach the highest good rather than be confined to achieving lesser goods with no opposition.”

Someday, God will confirm the choices that each one has made. Those who have chosen to have a relationship with God will be sealed in that relationship. The choice they made freely to love God will be sealed forever. On the other hand, those who have rejected a relationship with God, will be sealed in that choice forever, and separated from Him. The best of all possible worlds will exist at that time; a place in which all who have freely chosen a relationship with God will live in a perfect world, forever in His presence.

That is exactly what John describes in Revelation 21:1 & 3, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

In that world, God will have preserved both the freedom of our choices, and a perfect world. Although this present world is not the best of all possible worlds, we might say this is the “best way to the best of all possible worlds”. The question now is, what will you choose in this time of decision?

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15. Q: Don’t Muslims and Christians worship the same God basically? Aren’t Jehovah and Allah just different names for the same God?

Pastor Gary: Have you ever been confused for someone else; perhaps a sibling? Most of us have experienced that at one time or another. Some years ago I heard the story of a man who was asked to speak at a business convention. When the emcee brought him up, he introduced him with these words: “Our guest speaker, Robert ------, comes from Texas, where he has made millions in oil.”

After the introduction finished and the applause died down, ‘Robert;’ began to speak. “I’d like to make a couple of corrections to that introduction. First of all, my name is John, not Robert. Secondly, I’m from Idaho, not Texas. Third, I’m in potatoes, not oil, and lastly, I didn’t make millions, I lost them!”

People tend to think that just because there is only one true God, any definition or character trait you give him is okay. While the Muslim perspective of God has some similarities to the God described in the Bible, it is also very different. When God first revealed His name (with the Hebrew consonants YHWH) to Moses, it was to reveal Himself as the One eternal God, distinct from any other deity. The revelation that He has given of Himself in the Bible does not square with the picture of Allah given in the Koran. Though some attributes are the same, there are important crucial differences, and both perspectives cannot be true of One God.

Chuck Colson recently made the following observation: “Christianity like Judaism teaches that God is a God of redemption. Both Old and New Testaments affirm that God is love, a God who initiates and champions a relationship with His people. By contrast, Muslims believe that god, or Allah in Arabic, is aloof and distant. He is primarily a god of justice rather than a god of love. And he is not a god who redeems his people, but a god who must simply be obeyed.”According to Islam, God is unknowable in His nature, or in any personal sense, while the Bible teaches that we can know God. In fact, Jesus taught that knowing God is essential to eternal life (John 17:3).

Both the Old and New Testaments present God as desiring a relationship with His people (a common illustration being that of a Father and His children). The Koran (Islam holy book) presents Jesus only as a prophet to Israel, while the Bible presents Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, who came "to seek and to save that which was lost." Islam does not accept this plan of redemption.

If someone tells me over the phone that we’ve met, and then goes on to describe me as 6’7”, with a full head of jet-black hair, I’d be inclined to think he’s got the wrong guy. It’s not up to us to decide what God is like, but for us to learn from His revelation. Does your view of God line up with what He has revealed about Himself in the Bible?

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16. Q: Why is Christianity so negative always talking about sin? Wouldn’t it be much better to be positive and emphasize the goodness in mankind rather than the negative?

Pastor Gary: There is much that is good about mankind. After all, man and woman were created in the image and likeness of God. After God created man on that sixth day, Genesis 1:31 says, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” God created man good, and desires good for man. Yet in spite of that, one would have to be morally blind to miss the evil that exists in our world, and in people. To refuse to address that sufficiently is neither wise nor loving.

Over thirty years ago, a doctor unintentionally misdiagnosed my mother with colitis, while colon cancer continued to grow, without anyone’s knowledge. That error of underestimating the negative was fatal. The most loving thing God can do for us is to call our problem for what it is, and then provide a remedy. That is exactly what He has done in addressing the issue of sin. From Genesis to Revelation, the Word of God deals with this “fatal disease” that has afflicted all of mankind. It is something that is automatically passed from one generation to another through our human natures. Everyone on this earth must deal with this problem, and the consequences of it: death (both physical and spiritual).

It is this failure to conform to the moral law of God that has caused the problems we face on earth. Worse still, it will lead to an eternal separation from the God who made us, unless we face it and deal with it. God has provided the remedy to remove sin and its effects, through His Son Jesus Christ. His substitutionary death on the cross, paid the huge price for the sin of the world, so that all who trust Him and follow Him, would receive forgiveness and a restored relationship with God. Now that is a positive message! It deals squarely with the evil that all of humanity faces, yet provides a remedy for it. To ignore the problem or underestimate it, is not only foolish, it is downright unloving.

One of the most well-know verses in all of the Bible says, “God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Because of His love, God has provided the solution to this problem of sin that mankind faces. But each individual must first admit there is a problem before he will see any need for the solution. A person must realize they are lost before they will desire to be found. If we refuse to acknowledge sin and its effects, we will see no need for God’s remedy, a Savior. We must first face the negative honestly (i.e. that we have sinned and deserve God’s wrath), before we can appreciate and accept the positive (i.e. that He provides forgiveness to all who genuinely repent and trust in Jesus Christ for their salvation). God’s offer of forgiveness in Jesus really is “Good News”; that’s the meaning of the word “Gospel”.

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17. Q: Don’t you think religion in general (and Christianity specifically) is just a crutch for weak-minded people who need to believe in God?

Pastor Gary: I’ve heard this statement/question more than once on a college campus. It seems to pre-suppose that God is not real, but just a created concept to enable people to cope with the problems of life. The thought is similar to Karl Marx’s famous quotation, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.”The idea of a crutch carries a couple of thoughts.

First it indicates a need or some debilitation. Second, it offers the hurting person some type of remedy or means of coping with the disability. The truth of the matter is that we are all weak, have hurts, fears, and needs. In a world where sickness and death come to all eventually, everyone must face at some level the great questions of life such as, “Where did I come from?”, “Where am I going?”, and “What am I here for?”. And if we are honest, everyone must find a way to live with those questions to their satisfaction.

There are many ways people handle those issues: denial, delay, achievements, alcohol, philosophy, etc. The bottom line however is not whether we need a way to deal with them; we do. Even the atheist must find a way to cope in life. In this sense, we all need a crutch to help us handle our weaknesses and hurts. The issue instead is whether our crutch is real or imagined. Is the “crutch” we lean upon based in reality, or is it simply a figment of our imagination? That is the issue.

Christianity is based squarely on historical fact. It always has been. From the life of Jesus, to His death, to His resurrection, Christianity is nothing if it is not true. It is not just a made-up belief system floating on air, but a belief system based solidly on Jesus Christ who lived and died, and rose again. Christians have chosen to lean on this crutch, not only because it seems to work, but because it is true. Unless the crutch is real, it will eventually fail. To lean on something imagined simply because it seems to work, will leave the person in worse shape when it fails. That is why it is crucial to search for absolute truth, instead of settling for a belief system that “seems to work for the moment”.

Let me take this a step further. Because Christianity is based squarely in reality, it is more than just a crutch; it is a foundation. It is the basis for life, answering the great questions of life. If Jesus Christ is who He said He is, calling Him a crutch would understate it. Author Josh McDowell says it well, “…to call Him a crutch would be like a light bulb saying to an electrical socket, “You are my crutch.” As a light bulb was created to function properly when inserted into the socket, so we have been created to function properly in a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.” Now may I ask you, what is your “crutch” in life? Is it a solid foundation or will it ultimately fail you?

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18. Q: I know I should be reading my Bible, but I start in Genesis and find I don’t understand much of it. What do you recommend for a beginner who wants to study God’s Word?

Pastor Gary: Your desire to know God’s Word is commendable. Your conscience is right on target in telling you to read your Bible. I’ve often said that if we could put the benefits of knowing and obeying the Bible in pill form, we could make a fortune. This book contains the key to a fulfilling and purposeful life in this world, giving wise advice on everything from raising kids to preparing for death; from handling money to building relationships; from choosing a spouse to running a business. It is a book of solid wisdom, affecting one’s life not only in this world, but for all eternity.

We are fortunate in our day to have access to so many good translations of the Bible. It is important to find an accurate translation that you can readily understand. The New International Version and New American Standard versions are fine translations that are very readable. A paraphrase is another option. Though not a word-for-word translation of the original scriptures, a paraphrase is an easy-to-understand statement of the thought of each passage. The Living Bible by Ken Taylor, or The Message by Eugene Peterson are examples of this. Paraphrases work well for reading and understanding, but a good translation (as mentioned above) is more accurate for studying purposes.

As far as where to start reading in the Bible, I like to encourage people to begin reading in the gospel of John, followed by the other gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The gospels are records of Jesus life and ministry, and will take you to the heart of His teaching. John in particular emphasizes who Jesus is, and what He is all about. That’s a great place to start. Beyond that, the various New Testament letters (Epistles) will teach one what the Christian faith is all about, and what it means to be a child of God.

For learning to pray, the book of Psalms is a collection of prayers and songs from God’s people in the Old Testament. The Proverbs are short statements of practical advice for wise living. Regardless of where you start, just start and continue. It is important to read God’s Word for ourselves and let Him speak to us through it. Ask Him to help you understand it as you read.

Studying together with others, and/or using various Bible Study aids are very helpful also. There are many such good study guides available at local Christian bookstores. A devotional guide such as Our Daily Bread can give direction, including a plan for reading through the Bible in a year. Be faithful and patient in your study of this book, and you will grow in your understanding. Above all, apply what you learn. The Bible is an action book, meant to be obeyed. As you do that, you and others will see good changes in your life. If you read it consistently and obediently, you will find what the writer of Psalm 119:105 said to be true, “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light for my path.” God bless you as you read and apply His Word.

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19. Q: I read from the Old and New Testament each day, but am amazed at how people in the Old Testament can see so many miracles, and still be disobedient to God. How can this be?

Pastor Gary: Three words in both the Old and New Testament are used to describe miracles: sign, wonder, and power. The “power” of miracles, comes from God who is over all. A “wonder” inspires awe in those who witness it. The word “sign” speaks about the purpose of miracles, to confirm God’s message and messenger.

Miracles involve God breaking into the natural order of things to accomplish something that could not be explained by ordinary means. The Biblical accounts of miracles were attested by various eyewitnesses, whether few or many. The responses to miracles in Scripture were varied. Some believed and obeyed while others missed God’s message refusing to obey Him, while still others obeyed for a time before falling back into a life of disobedience.

God performed many miracles in bringing the people of Israel out of Egyptian bondage. He sent plagues upon Egypt and divided the Red Sea before them. Leading them into the wilderness, He provided for them in miraculous ways. Later He would lead them into the Promised Land through displays of His might. Yet, in the midst of all those miraculous events, God gave a solemn warning to His people. “When the Lord your God brings into the land He swore to your fathers…be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 6:10,12) To help them remember, God gave them written commandments, along with directions as to how His people ought to worship, and teach their children about Him. For He knows the sinfulness of the human heart, and how quickly we forget.

Have you ever heard of someone making a promise to God (such as going to church or giving a certain amount of money to the Lord’s work) if God will just get him out of the mess he is in, or perhaps heal him? All too often those types of “bargains” are later forgotten when everything is going along smoothly again. The promise made in a stressful situation is easily neglected when the stress is past.

Think of our society. How quickly we forget the blessings that God has brought upon us and the various miracles that occurred in the establishing of our country. How quickly we forget the way that God preserved our land through a destructive civil war, and then through two world wars within the last 100 years. As marriage breakups hover somewhere around the 50% mark, think how quickly husbands and wives forget their marriage vows. Once so convinced they could never be separated, they promised in a solemn ceremony to be faithful to death. Yet within a few short years, how quickly and easily those vows are forgotten in our society. An unfaithful spouse may know with their intellect that their actions are destructive and foolish, yet sin is illogical and short-sighted.

Every day people choose to sin, knowing that the consequences may be severe, but somehow feeling they are exempt. Being convinced and committed to the Lord in one moment does not guarantee long term faithfulness, even when miracles are involved. That is the fickleness of the sinful human heart. It’s sad but true, and everyone is subject to a sinful nature. We rationalize the miraculous and ignore the obvious; that God exists and has revealed Himself to us. For that reason God warned Israel ahead of time, when they are blessed they must not forget what He has done for them. Forgetfulness in this area is dangerous. May God help us remember well, and be faithful.

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20. Q: Why doesn’t God make it easy for us to believe in Him by speaking from the clouds or something? Why doesn’t He just prove Himself to us?

Pastor Gary: That’s a question that many people have thought at one time or another, and I don’t pretend to have the final answer. Clearly, God has shown himself in many ways throughout history. The question however is aimed at why God doesn’t remove all mystery from our knowledge of Him.

First let me say there will come a time when everyone will see God; we will know Him by sight, and not only by faith. The problem is that when it occurs, our relationship with Him (either for or against) will already be sealed. It will happen when we see Him at the final judgment. About the question, however, I do believe the Bible points to at least a couple reasons why God has based our relationship with Him on “faith rather than sight” in this world.

When God first created mankind, their relationship was close, leaving no question as to God’s existence. It was the entrance of sin into this world that broke man’s fellowship with his Creator. When sin entered, and man’s relationship with God was broken, his understanding of God clouded. It’s what the hymn writer spoke of when he wrote: “Holy, Holy, Holy! Though the darkness hide Thee, Though the eye of sinful flesh thy glory may not see…” Along with that, Proverbs 25:2 says, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” As a finite being, man finds joy in searching out new information. God, as the eternal Creator, (and far wiser than us), displays His greatness in concealing certain things from us.

What we do know about Him, has come only by what He has revealed to us through general revelation (His creation and our conscience) and through His Word (both the Living Word, Jesus, and the Written Word, the Bible). He has given us all that we need, to have a close relationship with Him, yet the tremendous amount that still lies hidden, leaves us with a sense of wonder and desire to know Him more. Were it possible for us to know Him completely, while in our sinful condition, perhaps we would take for granted what we know (as we already take for granted many amazing things now). In concealing certain matters from us, God reminds us that He is on the throne; He is the One who calls the shots; He is in control, not we.

In short, we must walk with Him by faith for at least two reasons: our finite nature calls for it, and our sinful nature demands it.What remains for each of us to do, is to submit our lives to Him, responding faithfully to what He has revealed to us. Only then can we hope that He will teach us more.

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21. Q: Aren’t all religions basically the same? Aren’t they all really saying the same thing from different angles?

Pastor Gary: Without doubt, various religions can find some similarities, but that does not make them all basically the same, nor does it demonstrate that they are all true. In fact, as you look closely, you realize they cannot all be true, because they have some exclusive elements. They teach many things completely opposite from one another.

Perhaps I can illustrate this with a story. Over seventeen years ago, while visiting a large amusement park, my wife Carmen and I became separated from one another. We spent nearly the entire day looking for each other, instead of enjoying the rides and shows. On various occasions, I saw someone who looked like Carmen from a distance, only to find it wasn’t her. Although there were many similarities, such as gender, height, build, hair color, and glasses, these other persons were not the real thing. Reality is singular, and there is only one woman who is my wife.

In reality, two religions with exclusive teachings cannot both be true. Christianity and Islam cannot both be true at the same time. Neither can Mormonism, Hinduism, Buddhism, or other religions all be true at the same time. They may have some similarities, but they also have basic differences. The Bible teaches that there is but One God who exists eternally; that He created all things, including mankind; that man is separated from God by sin; that in love, God the Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay for man’s sin on the cross; that only through genuine faith in Christ, can man’s relationship with God the Father be restored.

That message excludes all other conceptions of God or means of salvation. The Jesus taught by Islam or Mormonism is not the same Jesus that is taught by historic Christianity based on the Bible. The God revealed in the Bible is different from the conception of God taught in other religions. To synchronize the exclusive claims of the Bible with another religion is to deny the truthfulness of those claims as they stand, and we dare not equate that hybrid with Christianity. The commandments given by God in Scripture clearly forbid the worship of any other gods.

In the New Testament, Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6) Either this is true or it is not. If the God of the Bible is true and Jesus Christ is who He said He is, we do not have the luxury of modifying His exclusive claims. We must either reject Him outright, or trust Him as our Lord and Savior, submitting our lives to Him.

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22. Q: Why do Christians teach the Trinity when the Bible never uses that word?

Pastor Gary: The word “Trinity” means “Tri-unity” or “Three in Oneness”, and although the particular word is not found in Scripture, what it signifies is taught repeatedly. It represents the teaching that the one eternal God exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and each person is fully God.

Dr. John Warwick Montgomery uses an illustration to help us understand this doctrine. “A close analogy to the theologian’s procedure here lies in the work of the theoretical physicist: Subatomic entities are found, on examination, to possess wave properties (W), particle properties (P), and quantum properties (h). Though these characteristics are in many respects incompatible (particles don’t diffract, while waves do, etc.), physicists ‘explain’ or ‘model’ an electron as PWh. They have to do this in order to give proper weight to all the relevant data. Likewise the theologian who speaks of God as ‘three in one.’ Neither the scientist nor the theologian expects you to get a ‘picture’ by way of his model; the purpose of the model is to help you take into account all of the facts, instead of perverting reality through super-imposing an apparent ‘consistency’ on it.”

Although we may not understand how God exists as a Tri-Unity, we must be honest with what He has revealed in His Word. It clearly teaches that there is but one God in passages such as Deuteronomy 6:4 which says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one”. And Isaiah 44:6 states, “This is what the Lord says…I am the first and I am the last, apart from me there is no God.” Christianity is monotheistic through and through. We believe in but one God. At the same time, there is a plurality that is alluded to in Old Testament passages such as Genesis 1:26, where God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness….”

When we come to the New Testament the evidence that Jesus is God is abundantly clear. He came claiming authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:5-7), saying He existed before Abraham (John 8:58), that He was equal with the Father (John 5:17-18), and indeed the only way to the Father (John 14:6). His followers worshiped Him as God (John 20:28), and His enemies sought to kill Him for claiming to be God (John 10:32-33). Near the beginning of the last book of the New Testament, Jesus made the statement to a fearful John saying, “Do not be afraid, I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One, I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:17-18)

“The First and the Last” is what The Lord said about Himself in the Isaiah passage mentioned earlier. These are not the words of an ordinary man, or even a good teacher. Either what He says is true or it isn’t. Even the Holy Spirit is referred to as God in Acts 5:3-4.I may not understand the specifics of how God can eternally exist as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but like the physicist who accounts for all the evidence, I must admit what the Scriptures teach. It is no surprise that God is beyond my understanding. He is infinite; I am finite. But in His wisdom, he has given many examples throughout the physical world of plurality within a unity. We can trust what God has revealed, even if we do not understand it completely. Have a great day.

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23. Q: Can God make a rock so big that He can’t lift it?

Pastor Gary: I first encountered this question in grade school when a friend threw this seeming dilemma at me, and I did not have an answer. I sensed the question wasn’t fair, but I didn’t understand why at the time.

This question sets up a contradictory premise, misapplying the teaching that God can do the impossible. When the Bible says that “all things are possible with God”, it is referring to those things that are logically possible, not to those things that are logically impossible. A logical impossibility would be asking someone to draw a square circle, since a circle by definition is not square.

Scripture teaches that there are certain things God cannot do. Hebrews 6:18 says, “…it is impossible for God to lie.” Titus 1:2 also refers to Him as “…God, who cannot lie.” II Timothy 2:13 tells us that “…He cannot deny Himself.” God can do whatever is logically possible to do, though it may be impossible for creatures to do it. However, God cannot be contrary to who He is. He cannot be less than God; therefore He cannot be less than holy, less than loving, less than truth, etc. God is perfect and unchangeable in His nature.

The question that was posed above asks God to do something that would change His omnipotence (His all-powerful nature), making Himself less than who He is, God Almighty. To ask Him to create a rock so big that He cannot lift it, asks one who is infinite in power to make His power finite. He may choose not to use His power, but He cannot make it finite. God cannot be less than God. He is as He is. His eternal and unchangeable self-existence is hinted at in His name, which He revealed to Moses: “I Am Who I Am.” (Exodus 3:14) Understanding this truth helps us understand that we can trust God fully. He is not fickle and changing, but always the perfect, holy, loving, unchanging, all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal God. He cannot do anything contrary to His nature as God. Only the Creator fits this description, because only the Creator exists independently. He is dependent upon nothing else for His existence. God cannot stop being God, and to apply His name from our perspective, He is as He is.

The above question commits a category mistake, asking God to do something that by definition would cause Him to cease being God. He can create a rock of any size, but being unlimited in power; He would always be able to lift it. To demand otherwise is to ask Him to cease being God. That He cannot do; for He is the eternal God. In light of that, isn’t it amazing that He invites us to have a relationship with Him?

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24. Q: How do you know that God even exists?

Pastor Gary: When someone asks for proof of God’s existence, I wonder what it is they want exactly. If they are asking that God reveal Himself and speak to them, my response is that He has done this. The Bible gives much evidence that God exists, but without doubt this question is looking for an answer apart from the Bible itself. Yet the amazing accuracy of both history and prophecy in Scripture attest to God’s revealing Himself through that means. If they want to see God physically, again I would say, He has done that, in sending Jesus Christ. But I would guess that still may not be enough for some. So let’s talk logic…..

Various philosophical arguments have been used to defend God’s existence. All of them come back to the issue of causation (i.e. cause/effect). Logically, everything that exists must be either self-caused, caused by another, or uncaused.

-First in order, something cannot logically be self-caused, because it would have had to exist in order to cause itself. It cannot exist before it exists.

-Secondly, everything that has a beginning must be caused by another, since something acted upon it, causing it to come into existence. I exist as a direct effect of my parents, etc. Thus, all of finite creation was caused by another, and is still dependent on outside causes for its continuing existence. As a finite being, I am dependent on air, water, food, sleep, etc. in order to continue to exist. What then is uncaused? It is that which exists forever, uncaused, but simply existing as it is. It is not dependent on anything for its existence; therefore it cannot cease to exist. It simply exists, independent of any causation. The fact that this material universe undeniably exists, must be dealt with. It is either uncaused (and thus eternal), or it is caused by another. If the universe is eternal matter, then it never came to be, and will never cease to be.

Yet the best scientific thought says that the universe has a beginning. If there was a big bang, the question is what caused the bang? Everything we observe in the material universe is subject to something else for its existence (Hence, caused by another). In light of that, there must be an uncaused cause for all that we see in existence; One who has always existed but is the cause of all else. An infinite regress of causes only delays the need for a final uncaused cause. The existence of a finite, material universe tells us there must be a creator who is uncaused and has always existed.

The amazing design in the universe tells us there must be a designer of infinite wisdom. The universal sense of moral law tells us there must be a moral lawgiver who is completely righteous. All of creation testifies to the existence of God. To believe that something came from nothing would take greater faith than to believe in an eternal uncaused being who is the cause of everything else. How do I logically know God exists? In the same way I know my house had a builder and designer. Creation tells me there is a God. Scripture tells me who He is, and how I can know Him. Nothing else in the universe even compares with the importance of knowing our Creator. For He who made us holds the key to the purpose of our lives.

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25. Q: If God is the Creator of all things, where did evil come from? Did God create sin and evil?

Pastor Gary: Let me begin by saying that God is the Creator of all things, He did create all things perfectly, and He did not create evil. But how can this be? Evil is not a separate entity, it is a parasite. Evil has no independent existence, but is a privation of that which is good. In both the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament, words meaning “complete” are used to describe perfection. Anything less than perfect then brings in evil. The good substance sees a loss of good, resulting in evil. From this you may note that evil cannot exist on its own; it always exists as a lack of the good that God created. It exists as a parasite describing a deficit or perversion in that which was created good.

 Someone born with a birth defect is missing the health that God originally gave to mankind, and which His children will enjoy in eternity. This is a physical evil resulting from the broken relationship mankind suffered when sin entered the world. Someone who is unfaithful in a marriage relationship commits a breach or lack of faithfulness. The faithfulness is good, but the lack of it when it should be there is a moral evil or sin.

Sometimes evil exists in things relating wrongly from what was intended by God, who is good. There is nothing wrong with a bat when it is swung at a baseball. There is something wrong however, when a bat is swung at an innocent victim. In this case the bat is being used for a less than good purpose.

Perhaps the next issue would be how evil got into the universe if God is all good. Without doubt, God gave mankind (and the angelic realm, for a while) the power of contrary choice. Mankind had the power to choose evil, though every influence from God was good. God Himself, is unchangeably good according to His unchangeable nature. His creatures however, are not unchangeable; only God fits that category. As finite beings whose existence is contingent, man has the possibility of change. Although created by God as good, man had the power to choose that which is less than good. God gave His creatures the power of choice (which is good), allowing the possibility for Satan (Lucifer) and mankind to choose less than good. This power to choose contrary is not a separate entity, but simply the ability to decide between two alternatives of good and less than good. So although what God created was good, there lay within it the possibility of choosing something less. And with that choice in the Garden of Eden, sin entered the world, accompanied by a broken relationship with our perfect Creator.

No, God did not create evil, but yes, evil does exist. It exists as a deficiency or perversion of the good which God created. In our daily lives, we imitate the goodness of God when we live according to the purpose for which He created us (to honor Him), and use the good things He created, according to His purposes. Anything less than that brings in evil, and all the results that accompany a broken relationship with God. Because we have fallen short morally, God has provided a way of forgiveness through Jesus Christ, and the opportunity again, to choose the good, day by day.

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