Hey Doc, My Dog Won’t Take His Medicine!

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Dogs fascinate me with their diverse personalities and preferences. Take, for example, our brood of canines and their daily routine. Their world revolves around the basic necessities of life: food, sleep, and playtime. We have a motley crew of four, including a Standard Poodle, a Toy Poodle, a Maltese, and a Cavalier Spaniel. Since each breed of dog has its specific qualities and skill sets that were selected over generations of selective breeding to serve a particular purpose, each individual is driven by their unique mission: squirrel chaser, food connoisseur, ball chaser, or guardian of the door. Unfortunately, two of our pets require daily medication as a result of some really unfortunate diagnoses. Lily, our standard poodle, has epilepsy, and Claire, our toy poodle, has Addison’s disease. Lily started having clusters of seizures beginning at three years of age, and Claire has a deficiency of hormones that regulate her entire metabolism. As a result, we must be diligent in our monitoring and administration of their medications because failing to do so places their livelihood in jeopardy. Lily is ecstatic about taking her medicine, but Claire (the little one), well not so much. Now granted, I am a veterinarian and am skilled in the subtler arts of patient care and pill administration. However, my first attempt at giving a tablet to Claire was more like throwing it into a blender with the lid off. Compounding the medicine into a “palatable liquid” faired even worse, as she feigned collapse and remorse with drama worthy of an Oscar nomination. Finally, after exhausting the inventory of flavored treats to disguise the remedy, we found her love language in the form of peanut butter. Not just any peanut butter, but a specific pill pocket with a particular softness and texture. Really? Could it have been that simple?

In reflection, Claire’s response to our efforts to “help” her was not unlike the response many people demonstrate to me when making a case for Christianity. Like my pets, each individual has basic needs and desires. Those needs are frequently tempered by generations of family history and experience. Each person is “driven” by their perceived mission or purpose, filtered through their view of the world. Even further, some of us require daily treatment for our needs to be met or our illnesses to be abated.  Truth is much like the medication my dogs require on a regular basis. Even though it is frequently not palatable, it is still the truth. I can disguise it is some way to seem more acceptable, more comfortable to swallow, or even absorbed more efficiently. But to greet reality, the truth has to be consumed on a daily basis. Just like my pets’ health, we must be diligent in our monitoring and administration of facts every day.

Here is a true story, a real-life example that I experienced in the exam room with a pet owner recently. The conversation started like this:

Client: “Hey, Doctor, Fluffy has been scratching and chewing herself to pieces, and she is not better from the last time she was here.”

Me: ” She had a really severe flea infestation and allergic reaction to the flea bites along with a secondary bacterial infection. I still see some fleas on her. Did you treat her with the flea medication, treat your house and yard, and give her the antibiotics and allergy medications?”

Client: “Well, not exactly. ”

Me: “What do you mean by ‘not exactly’ ?”

Client: “What I mean is we still have some left. We gave it to her, and she was not getting better on Monday after we saw you on Saturday.”

Me: “I understand. So what you did not do, did not work, and you are unhappy that what I prescribed for you did not provide immediate results, though it was prescribed for two weeks to accomplish what you did not do.”

Client: “Well you said it doc, not me.”

Me: “Have you ever heard of Abbott and Costello?”

Client: “No, are they doctor friends of yours?”

Me: “Excuse me, I’ll be right back.”

Needless to say, the truth will reveal itself in the strangest ways. Although my client was genuine and well-meaning, his expectations for results were immediate, and he missed the overall goal we had in mind. Sometimes in the busyness of practice life, I have to remind myself to walk the client through the process and let them see the endpoint that we mutually wish to arrive.  Where I failed in this process was in “throwing the ball where my client could catch it.” Sometimes in our attempt to convey knowledge, which in essence is our understanding of multiple truths, we forget to inform others where we are traveling. In making our case for Christianity, it is crucial to convey wisdom in the context of knowledge. Of course, we must have the ultimate goal in mind of the Gospel. To get to the particulars of that conversation, the skeptical person must be given the opportunity to understand not only what we believe, but why we know it to be a valid assertion.

For my client, the presence of fleas or infection may be secondary to the simple persistence of his dog’s constant itch. Today’s culture demands immediate gratification. We microwave our meals. We use search engines to acquire information instantaneously. Facetime and texting provide real-time communication. In fact, I have experienced instances where I prescribe or recommend a product to a customer, and before I can print the prescription label, the client has already compared prices and cross-checked my recommendation on Google or Amazon. So why are we not surprised that a skeptic will want instant validation of our assertions concerning Christianity?

The primary solution to this problem is in the preservation of relationships. The old medical adage of “no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care” is just as valid for apologetics as for medicine. Genuine care and authenticity are the answer. We can disagree in principle but still maintain “humility and grace.” Clients return to my hospital because of our relationship, trust, and honesty. People with unanswered questions, especially our youth and the millennial generation, are seeking answers to the problems and the brokenness apparent around them. The relationship with skeptical people is identical in principle. Our goal is to relieve the”itch” that is making the skeptic so uncomfortable. We do not have to wrap it into something analogous to peanut butter to make it more palatable. Our relationship with them combined with honest, authentic answers to their questions will reveal the truth of Christianity as the medicine they have been seeking all along.

 

Reasoning Rightly About Biblical Inerrancy: Five Questions You Need to Know

Dr. Potter’s analysis is a great read.

Christian Apologetics Education

Many students I teach in Bibliology come from Christian schools, homes or have been in the Church awhile. Yet, I quickly discover they have major misconceptions about the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. One popular misconception is they think biblical inerrancy is based on an ancient reading of the Bible. That is, they think some old man or council, after collecting the biblical manuscripts read through them all, and upon not find any errors (or corrected them if they did), pronounced the Bible inerrant. Another one is that inerrancy is true simply because the Bible says so. However, neither misconception could be further from the truth.

I recognize there are things in the Bible we do not yet fully understand. Some passages are hard to interpret. Some interpretations are hotly debated. However, many things in the Bible are plain and simple. Indeed, the essential teachings or doctrines are readily agreed upon…

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If You Want to Run With the Big Dogs, You Have to Get Off of the Porch

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Inertia. The irresistible urge to stay precisely where you are. Many people refer to this phenomenon as staying in their “comfort zone.” Pastors are always trying to get you away from it. Even a visit to the veterinarian can cause you to move, especially when the doctor approaches your pet (or if too close, you) with a syringe and needle approximating the size of your dog. Isaac Newton had a lot to say about it. In fact, to Newton, it was of first importance when he gave us Newton’s first law of motion. Sometimes referred to as the law of inertia: “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” In a world overflowing with information and compressing time into smaller increments, we must ask ourselves what force outside of ourselves can cause us to move?

In the practice of veterinary medicine, I have to be ready to move at all times. Otherwise, I could be wearing a Chihuahua like a bracelet. An angry Chihuahua lunging at you as a consequence of being poked with a syringe will always qualify as an “unbalanced force.” In this regard, I get it. A wake-up call in the form of a vicious snark will energize your morning. As an apologist, objections and questions startle us in much the same way. The question remains, how do you overcome inertia and begin to run the race that is set before you? How do you exchange ideas about why you are Christian, and someone else should be one too? After all, the Great Commission commands every believer to go forth and make disciples (Matthew 28.19). Besides, we are commanded to always be prepared to give a defense for our convictions (1 Peter 3.15). I propose three methods to assist you to leave the porch: Prepare, Train, and Race.

Prepare.

First and foremost, educate yourself about topics that you are passionate about or are the “hot button” issues in culture. Commit to research, read, and reproduce all the details of a topic. You must anchor every thought to biblical authority and the words of Jesus. In doing so, know your strengths and weaknesses. Immerse yourself in the genre and filter daily experience through the lens of scripture. Prepare to share your testimony as an example and remember to emphasize the contrast from before and after your acceptance of Christ. In my own experience, veterinary medicine has provided an avenue to sift everyday life experiences in light of my Christian worldview and parallel those events with the truth of our Christian convictions. Continuously, medicine conveys insight into problem-solving and conflict resolution. With proper preparation, use your unique personality to communicate authenticity and authority.

Train.

Second, realize intellectual knowledge alone is limited. Before running, we must remember to stretch. Write everything down. Consider writing a blog. Post on social media, “like and share” compatriot ideas. To train well, consider a pastor, mentor, or accountability partner. These prized people in your life will keep the guard rails up to keep moving in the right direction. Proofread everything in contrast with scripture. After stretching, begin warming up by teaching others. Practice, practice, practice. Some days will be arduous and long, yet others short and inspirational. Athletes call this practice “interval training.” For example, a day in veterinary practice, or any profession, can explode in productivity when least expected. The anticipation of this explosion encourages us to be persistent toward sharing our Christian convictions.

Race.

Finally, after preparation and training, we must move. At this point after stretching our knowledge and warming up our skills through writing and teaching, we must engage the culture. Each opportunity is a divine appointment. You may only share this information with one person. The difference created by one exposure to the truth of the Gospel is our reward. We must listen to understand, discern to reach the facts, and defend our convictions with the truth. Ultimately the finish line will be in sight. The finish line is the Gospel or at least the opportunity to share it. However, a word of caution is warranted. Engaging the current culture is wrought with peril. Social media and the internet are littered with trolling and cowardly attacks behind a keyboard. This circumstance alone makes our preparation and training essential. More importantly, we must continue to run the race.

Finally, Finish.

Sometimes when running, you may get cramping muscles, or even stumble and fall. In the 1968 Olympics, John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania experienced this very thing. At just about the halfway point of the 26-mile marathon, he fell and dislocated his knee. Nonetheless, he continued to run, finishing last in the race. He completed the race over an hour after the other runners, entering the stadium after the medal ceremony at sunset. When interviewed at the finish line, he was asked why he continued to run. He told the reporters:

“My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”- John Stephen Akhwari

Likewise, in spite of adversity, we persist to the run the race. Hebrews 12 reinforces this premise when the author says,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”

So what if we stumble, what if we fall? Get up, and rerun the race.

Saturday Was Silent, But Sunday Was Coming…

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It was Saturday morning, AD 33, just outside the gates of a small part of the Roman empire. Only one week ago, the people were looking for a hero. A king was hailed on Palm Sunday as He rode into town on the back of a young donkey colt. He was to be the one to deliver them out of the hands of Roman oppression. Just the day before, these same people change their cry for a king to a call for a crucifixion. The cross of his crucifixion is now empty, with their deliverer buried in a tomb behind a huge stone, affixed with a seal of Roman authority, and guarded by centurions sworn to defend the tomb with their lives. His followers, especially the twelve closest to Him were scattered, defeated, and one even committed suicide. They had seen, heard, and touched this man in his walk upon the Earth. They must have thought, where is our hero now? What will become of us? What will happen tomorrow? If they only knew then that Sunday was coming. They sought a king to overthrow Rome physically and politically. However, the battle was not physical but spiritual. Deliverance was to arrive not by the sword, but by the cross. The  Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1.23-24:

22 For Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks ask for wisdom, 23 but we preach about a crucified Christ, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”  

In this narrative, how can we today understand this occurrence nearly 2000 years ago? How can we know what tomorrow brings? In 33 AD, tomorrow brought the resurrection of Jesus. How do we know the story the Bible delivers is valid and reliable?

Consider the acronym: HERO.

H- HISTORY

No other event has more corroboration of history in antiquity than the resurrection of Jesus. Based on the scholarship of Dr. Gary Habermas and Dr. Michael Licona, as well as the investigation of other scholars, the basic facts surrounding the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus are agreed upon based on historical attestation without citing the Bible as a reference. Even so, the facts correspond directly to the account of the events as recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:3 ff.  Furthermore, history supports at least 84 specific events recorded in the book of Acts concerning the persons, practices, and doctrines of the early church immediately after the resurrection. [1]

E- EVIDENCE

No other event in history has the volume of evidence in such detail and corroboration as the resurrection of Christ. As Dr. Gary Habermas puts it, ” …no other historical person has the volume of early data as that relating to the resurrection. If the resurrection is true, then the teachings and doctrines of Christianity logically follow.” [2] Also, no other persons in history have the quality of data to support the historical events surrounding their lives. According to Drs. Frank Turek and Norman Geisler in I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist, the New Testament testimonies can be categorized by what they call the six “E’s”:

Early (To within as few as 5 years or less of the event),

Eyewitness (Persons who were actually alive and present at the time of the incident),

Embarrassing (Details included that preclude any fabrication or embellishment),

Excruciating (The eyewitnesses were willing to die and did not recant their testimonies),

Expected (Over 300 predictions were made by prophecy concerning the coming of the Messiah some 500 years before the event), and

Extra-Biblical (also called Enemy testimony, sources outside the Bible describe the death, burial, and resurrection as historical events). [3]

R-RELIABILITY

Some detractors will state that since we have no original copies of the New Testament (autographs), then how can we know that the manuscripts are authentic, or really say what the author intended? How can we trust that the resurrection accounts are factual? Obviously, we want to know that the Bible we hold in our hands is the same as the one Apostles had in the first century.  According to New Testament scholar Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, the goal of New Testament Textual Criticism (the discipline to achieve this goal) is to study the copies of any document whose original autograph is unknown or non-existent, for the primary purpose of determining the exact wording of the original. [4] In the case of the New Testament, these copies are handwritten. Handwritten copies imply that changes could have occurred, known as variants. Although there are more than 200,000 variants, fewer than 0.25% are viable and do not change any meaning, or affect any doctrine or Christian belief. The sheer number of manuscripts, totaling over 6800 for the New Testament alone as well as church letters and quotations from early church fathers, reconstruct all but just a few verses. Just like a jigsaw puzzle, the more individual pieces you possess then the more closely you can visualize the entirety of the picture on the box top. Summarily, the majority of variants affect the only spelling, wording, or syntax, and do not affect understanding at all. As a result, we can be assured that the accounts recorded about the resurrection are authentic.

O- ORTHODOXY

Orthodoxy can be defined as authorized or generally accepted theory, doctrine, or practice. The doctrine of the resurrection of Christ as mentioned previously was expounded by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 :

“3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. ” (ESV)

The importance of this scripture is immense as it represents one of the earliest creeds of the church. In considering the transmission of the events surrounding the resurrection, it is helpful to think logically about how information could be related immediately afterward before anything was written down. Also, many people were not literate. If you think of a creed much like a hymn, it makes sense that reciting a creed repetitively and consistently was a great value. One does not have to know how to read or write to remember the words to a song, and it makes sense especially in light of the oral traditions of the first-century culture. An interesting side note relates to the specific time when this creed was written. Junius Annaeus Gallio was the Roman proconsul of Achaia when Paul was at Corinth, A.D. 53, under the emperor Claudius. [5] Paul appeared before Gallio according to Acts 18:12-17. These events place Paul in Corinth around 20 years after the crucifixion (AD 33). Once again, early, eyewitness testimony establishing Paul in Corinth and testifying through his first letter to the Corinthians of the resurrection event.

In closing, how do we understand, know, and rely on the account of this one Sunday in AD 33? History demonstrates the event was early, corroborated by eyewitness testimony and with support intrinsically and extrinsically verifiable by reputable sources. The transmission of the message is supported by multiple sources of evidence. The reliability is confirmed by correlation and agreement of numerous authors from varied backgrounds, occupations, and geographic locations.  Furthermore, as Paul reminds us, the church doctrine is unchanged from what he received which was of “first importance.” The question remains ultimately when faced with the certainty of Christ’s resurrection, how then will you respond?

 

[1] Turek, Frank and Geisler, Norman L. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004. pp. 256-259.

[2] Habermas, Gary. The Risen Jesus and Future Hope. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2003.

[3] Turek, Frank and Geisler, Norman L. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004. Chapters 9-11.

[4] Wallace, Daniel B., in Credo Courses: New Testament Textual Criticism Workbook. Columbia, SC: The Credo Courses, p. 11, 18.

[5] http://biblehub.com/topical/g/gallio.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fever of Unknown Origin: What is New About Atheism?

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In medical terminology, “fever” refers to the term “pyrexia” ( from Greek purexis, from puressein ‘be feverish,’ from pur ‘fire’) meaning an elevation of body temperature. However, anyone who has experienced a fever knows the condition is not that simple. Misery loves companionship, and a fever is no exception. If you conduct an internet search like Google, you get this definition: “an abnormally high body temperature, usually accompanied by shivering, headache, and in severe instances, delirium.” [1] Alongside this symptom trails a multitude of discomforts as we all may attest. In medicine, whether human or veterinary, we encounter patients with elevated body temperature for which we frequently do not have an obvious culprit hence the name “Fever of Unknown Origin.” The method of treatment is not always apparent immediately until further investigation is made. What does any good doctor say? “We are going to have to run some diagnostic tests” of course.

Before you perform laboratory tests, you must first get to know your patient. This task involves acquiring a thorough history. To get a good history, you must first ask some questions. If a person claims to be an atheist, you should ask them “What  do you mean by atheist?” [2] Sometimes the claim being made by the individual does not mean what they think it means, or is not the correct term to describe themselves. An atheist lacks faith in God, believes there is no god, or requires awareness of gods. An agnostic either believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a god or is noncommittal on the issue. [3] The difference between the two result in two distinctly separate worldviews. To put it another way, the atheist states there is no God, while the agnostic says either he can’t know or he does not know if God exists.

Since the turn of the 21st century, atheism in the West has moved in a particular direction with a significant militancy and veracity against faith in God particularly.  The “New Atheist” terminology not only asserts there is no God nor gods but seeks to rid the world of all religious belief and practice. The question we seem to be asking is this: Is this really a “new” phenomenon, and if so how is it different from “old” atheism? In taking a good history, it is helpful to look at history itself. During the French Revolution in the late 18th century, radicals established the “Cult of Reason” in an attempt to replace Christianity with state-sponsored atheistic practices without God. Today one has to look no further than North Korea, China, Vietnam, Laos or Cuba to observe suppression of religious practice and Christianity in particular. Although this emergence is “new” in the West, its tenets are well established.

The New Atheist concept has emerged today as a consequence of the popularity of writings by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens to name a few. The consistent theme of their books is the marriage of science and reason, or naturalism, against religion and supposed irrationality. As professor John Lennox of Oxford University puts it:

“The new atheism is an old atheism, except it’s much more aggressive. The new atheism wants to destroy religion. That’s a very different thing. The arguments are not new, it’s the aggression that’s new.” – John Lennox [4]

The amplification of New Atheism in America appears out of increased media and secular attention. One example often cited is an article from Wired in November 2006 by Gary Wolf, himself an atheist, elaborating on the strategies of Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett. Combined with increased cultural acceptance and fueled by social media, the debate over God’s existence vs. naturalism can enter a conversation instantaneously with all the sarcasm and vitriol that rallies behind it. In the article, Wolf exposes “the religion of reason” the atheists envision.

“Yes, there could be a rational religion,” Dennett says. “We could have a rational policy not even to think about certain things.” [5]

Now, wait a minute. Are not these intellectuals promoting themselves as the great thinkers of today? If they disagree about something, well let us just decide not even to discuss it. The issue is either black or white in this logical fallacy, so since they are right, let’s just move along. Nothing to see here. The distinction is clear: once you reject one set of beliefs, by default you are accepting another. Unless you refuse to think about it in the first place. The presupposition of their beliefs creates an a priori (from the very beginning) objection. Their reasoning postulates beforehand certain assumptions that have not yet been tested, but cannot be verified by their own standard and are self-defeating. The statement that “science knows” or “everyone agrees” are a matter of “just-so” arguments. Science as a discipline is a method, not an intelligence. Individuals, namely scientists must interpret the data that science provides. The interpretation of data is based on presumptions derived from observation. Philosophy is integral in the manner in which we all make reasonable judgments based on logic.  The scientist must make a deduction from scientific observations and as a result, is bound by his or her own philosophical filter. The question I wish to ask is: “If you refuse to think about certain things, how can any policy or platform deem itself “rational?” The corner that the atheist has painted themselves into seeks to follow the same argument in spite of the evidence, where the theist seeks to follow the evidence to where it leads them and then draw a conclusion. To conclude beforehand the outcome then is to presuppose and for the atheist, this is nothing “new.”

 

[1] Source- google.com search “Fever”

[2] Koukl, Greg. Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 2009. Pp. 42-46

[3] Source- grammarist.com/usage/agnostic-atheist

[4] Lennox, John C. Gunning For God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target. Oxford, England: Lion Hudson 2011. p. 16

[5] Wolf, Gary. “The Church of the Non-Believers.” Wired, 1 Nov. 2006, http://www.wired.com/2006/11/atheism/.

Be careful, that dog will bite you.

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I remember as a youngster riding my bicycle everywhere. My best friend and I would leave at 9 a.m. on any given Saturday. If the weather permitted and we had no baseball game that day, we rode around our local neighborhood all day until it was so dark you could not see. Dad would signal for me to come inside by turning on the porch light on the final lap before bedtime. We set up sophisticated ramps and jumps using plywood. My 20″ Sears and Roebuck Spider bike with a banana seat was the ideal cruiser, long before the advent of trick bikes and foot pegs of today. Baseball cards or balloons adorned our spokes creating a rumble as authentic as any motorcycle the teenagers had.

On one day in particular, however, we stopped at my friend’s house to get some water from the garden hose in front. We screeched to a halt and dumped our bikes at the corner of the driveway, as was tradition because our parents always knew where we landed because of the location of our bikes. As I turned to make my way to the front porch, I was leveled by a large dog, sinking his canines into the right side of my chest. Just as quickly, the dog was gone, and I lie bleeding and confused on the ground. We soon realized that my friend’s dog had been asleep in the garage, and when we arrived, he became startled and pounced in defense of his domain. Undaunted, we hopped on our bikes and pedaled back to my house to inform Dad. He proceeded to take me to the emergency room for treatment and thanks to a tetanus shot, wound care and some antibiotic ointment I survived to tell the story some 50 years later.

So what happened to the dog? He had been previously vaccinated for rabies and had no prior complaints, so he went on to live a full life I suppose. Local authorities did keep him under “house arrest” for ten days as required by animal control after a bite. I would imagine from this dog’s perspective it suited him well because the house is where wanted to be in the first place. Looking back, I can see many similarities with the manner in which we humans often respond to adversity. I still went forward later in life to become a veterinarian, in spite of what many would consider a childhood trauma concerning a very robust, protective German Shepherd.

So as a veterinarian, how would I examine this historical event? Consider first my friend and I. We had our view of the world, just two kids riding their bikes, our “worldview” if you will. We had drawn a circle around our world and preferred to stay in it as long as possible. Nonetheless, something came along and challenged our view of that world. We could no longer trespass into the dog’s realm in a secure way. What do you do when your worldview is shaken or challenged?  As Christians, we have our worldview, and many are content to draw a circle around it and hope no one invades our “private” dominion. As children riding bikes all day we had joy. The dog interrupted that joy for apparently no reason in our minds, but our mere presence elicited a violent response. Does this sound a bit familiar in today’s culture? Sometimes our existence, our witness gets broadsided by the widespread consensus of society.

Second, upon further evaluation, what was our response to the dog’s attack? We sought out a person of authority, namely my dad. We looked for assistance from a source that we did not just “hope” would solve our problem, but that we were “certain” could help us. He was ready to give an answer to our problem. I was sure he would know how to heal my wounds and prevent me from having the incident happen again. It follows, therefore, that as Christians if an aggressor challenges our worldview, we should seek out wisdom and authority concerning the truth. The skills and knowledge we seek are through apologetics. Unwittingly as a child, I was seeking my dad to model 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer for the joy that is in you with humility and grace.” If he could tell us what to do next, we could go back to riding our bikes, and our life was restored- our worldview so to speak.

As Christians, if we seek authority in disciplines such as history, philosophy, archaeology, science, logic, and so on, the truth is undeniable. The answer is clear. But here is the rub. We cannot forget the last part of the verse concerning “humility and grace.” You must be careful, or that dog will bite you. Our quest is to be God’s ambassador for the Gospel, not its adversary. Today as a veterinarian, I still face aggressive animals, and occasionally people are not so kind either. But we all have to address the conflict both in our work and in our faith. To avoid being bitten, we have to do our research and point out that specific behaviors akin to the aggressive dog are harmful and painful. With aggressive dogs, you must approach with caution and go slowly. Their trust must be gained and rewarded with positive responses. For a canine, this reward is frequently a treat. In essence, a treat is an answer that the dog desires. In life situations heeding this advice can be fruitful.  Listen to understand. Ask questions to clarify. Respond with wisdom and truth. Eventually, that dog no longer wants to bite, but instead wants more of what you have because of observing the rewards.  In the instance of a person, they can have the same as what you have, with the fullness of joy and the peace that accompanies it. So come on, are you ready to “be the Dad” (or the Mom) ?

 

 

Does This Dog Make Me Look Fat?

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     Dogs seem to love and accept us in spite of their circumstances or their environment. Unconditionally, they are devoted to an aspect of life we often take for granted. Too frequently, we overlook a fundamental need in our own lives: the need for relationships. More significantly we need relationships that are more personal in the structure of friendship. The critical difference lies in the distinction between a relationship and a friendship. For instance, one might say ” I was in a bad relationship,” however, we seldom would say “I was in a bad friendship” because by definition authentic friendship is benevolent to both parties. A lousy friendship by default would be a bad relationship, thence by definition not friendship at all once played out to its conclusion. What if we all could approach our human relationships in the same way our pets do?

     For example, the selection of the appropriate pet is paramount in my experience for most families. The priorities range from a multitude of sources such as height, adult weight, shedding, temperament, social behavior, grooming requirements, coat color, and intelligence. Doesn’t this list sound familiar? We might select our pets predicated on the same criteria we choose our friends! In this instance, we commit the logical fallacy of composition by assuming that what is necessary about one part of something (relationships) has to be applied to all or other parts of it. Our preferences, experiences, personality, and worldview affect us more than we realize.

     Here is an example that illustrates this point. A few years ago in a staff meeting, we took a personality test based on ten questions concerning our preferences, behaviors, and activities. The humorous aspect of the quiz was that our answers placed us in one of four different categories of “dog breeds.” The types of dog were: German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, and Jack Russell Terrier. To understand our own personalities and preferences, we had to first know the nature of each breed “personality.” German Shepherds are focused, detail oriented and structured in their behavior, while Labradors are extroverted, experience-oriented and “let me show you what we did, where we have been” types. Golden Retrievers are perky, people-pleasing, “happy in their circumstances” and always upbeat in their countenance, but  Jack Russell Terriers are diligent, productive, and persistent, with a “just give me the bullet-points and let’s go” mentality. So why can’t we all just get along?

     One thing that became apparent to each of us was the difference in our personalities. For the remainder of the day, we wore name tags with our “breed type personality” on it. I am a German Shepherd type so I would begin to address a Jack Russell personality with detailed instructions and then pause, rewind, and then just give them the bullet points. The results were incredible after a few days as our communication and unity improved. Although an amusing anecdote, here is where life application in apologetics, church life, and real life intertwine.

As individuals, we each have unique personalities, experiences, and emotional qualities. Our choice of words and the manner of their delivery is of utmost importance in affecting their reception. As the title of this narrative asks, “Does this Dog Make Me Look Fat?” In other words, when we give an answer will it be “seasoned by humility and grace” (1 Peter 3:15) and reflect the true nature of our intentions? If so, what are those intentions? The apostle Paul sought “to become all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9:22) so that he “might save some.” By developing a better understanding of the unique individual “breed-type” of our personalities, we can better communicate. Whether Christian, agnostic, or atheist, communication will plant seeds for relationships that can develop seasoned intentionally by authenticity and accountability. Only then can one be “…ready to give an answer to anyone who asks concerning the joy that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15). For me, it begins with that German Shepherd in the mirror. How about you?

I Hear Hoofbeats…Are Those Horses or Zebras Coming Toward Me?

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In veterinary school, we were taught in infectious disease medicine to consider the signalment (Species, Age, Sex, of the Patient), clinical signs, and physical examination findings of a patient and then proceed with a diagnostic plan. Needless to say in real life, the buffet of diagnostic tests needed sometimes are not always at our disposal because a client cannot or will not be able to afford the cost of some tests. So, when confronted with a dilemma of symptoms I have to discern not only which test to perform, but why it must take priority, and finally if the means are available to pay for them. This methodology is the best “bang for your buck” type of approach, but fortunately, we are given some pretty amazing technology to get it done. Therefore, in choosing the path of testing into which the most likely things will get caught in the net, I must not ignore the undeniable apparent observations about my patient. For example, I listen to a puppy’s heart and heart a small murmur. Now, most likely this is an innocent chirp that will resolve as the puppy grows. But if it sounds like a washing machine on the deep clean cycle, I have to start looking for some zebras.

I find it interesting that the behavior of people can be very much like a heart murmur. As an apologist, my powers of observation grow every day, and I have learned to distill facts into their individual components. When someone makes a statement, I listen with the intent to understand what they are saying and carefully process what their claim indeed states.  With a heart murmur, the loudness of the sound it creates implies increased severity of the condition. With people, I have discovered that the same is true. This observation is not meant as a criticism of any individual. I just intend to point out that any reasonable person would deduce that “where there is smoke, there may be fire.” Often the passion, volume, or repetitiveness with which a claim is stated ensures the veracity of the statement. To know that a heart murmur is present, you must “know” what normal sounds like. However, in the case of hoofbeats, the noise made by horses and zebras are the same. The discernment of what may be coming toward you may not be so obvious.

To make a distinction, as C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity so succinctly put it, “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. ” This supports that there must exist a standard for measurement. The basis of logic is grounded in the concept that through identity, contradiction, or exclusion ultimately truth can be “known.” Take the zebra and horse as an example. A zebra is a zebra, a horse is a horse. A horse is not a zebra (and vice versa). Although both are equines, a single individual can be a zebra or a horse, but not both (cross-breeding is not a viable option here). In our examination, we only used one test, hearing, to evaluate what was coming toward us. We must apply at least one additional test, such as visual observation to “measure.” A zebra has a unique pattern of stripes, not in the genetic color wheel of horses. Thus a zebra has stripes, a horse does not, so the distinction is clear. The truth about zebras and horses exists in this scenario.

At this point, you may be asking me, “What is the connection between the heart illustration and the zebras?” Dr. Frank Turek, author of I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist has stated many times that there are 2 questions to ask someone who is skeptical about Christianity of the existence of God. First, “If I ask you an honest question, would you give me an honest answer?”. The answer is usually in the affirmative. Second, “If I could convince you that Christianity is true, would you become a Christian?” This question is the critical one in the conversation.

In Isaiah chapter 53, verse 5, the Scriptures tell us:

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes, we are healed.

The heart illustrates the attitude of the person toward the truth. The volume of the heart sound speaks to the magnitude of the reaction.  Someone can be convinced intellectually of the truth of Christianity, but still be unwilling to become a Christian. They may be able to hear the “hoofbeats” of Christianity, but still not see the stripes. Here, we hopefully can put a stone in their shoe and allow time for God’s grace to cause their hearts to be transformed from blindness to sight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PET Therapy: A Prescription That is Good for Your Heart

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Regardless of your belief about the nature of or existence of God, studies have shown that pet ownership improves the quality of our lives. It decreases blood pressure, lessens anxiety, reduces allergies in children, allows many of us to live longer as seen in patients with heart disease who have pets surviving longer than those without. [1] Regardless of someone’s spiritual condition pet ownership is a win-win situation. In my tenure as a professional, I have seen the converse to be true also. Many people seem to do much worse in life without a pet, especially after the loss of a dog, cat, horse, or even a goldfish. So how do we explain the unique and profound nature of the human-animal bond?

I’ve Got a Feeling

In a word the answer is chemistry. Recent studies have demonstrated that when we feel the emotion of love toward someone or something, levels of the hormone oxytocin increase between 40-60%. A similar elevation in oxytocin in dogs has also been reported. [2]. Functional MRI studies in awake dogs (some very well trained ones) has shown a similar increase in dopamine released from the caudate nucleus of the brainstem in response to future reward. [3] Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which, when released, creates a sense of pleasure or joy. Illicit drugs have their profound power in addiction based on the manipulation of this very brain response. In other words, your dog has a dopamine dependency problem- namely you. We humans likewise suffer from the same interdependency.

What You Believe is True Does Matter

But now consider this: what if your idea about the nature or existence of God was examined under the same set of tests and found to have identical benefits- would this change your beliefs? In fact, health and social benefits have been demonstrated in multiple research studies.[4] Herein lies a key objective in Apologetics where we seek to follow facts where they lead to a logical conclusion. I will leave the discussion on God’s existence for a later post, but for argument’s sake let me say the evidence is overwhelmingly in God’s favor. If you apply a similar rationale as was used for canines, it makes sense that a lack of belief in God by default is deficient. By following the evidence in favor of God’s existence, a bond is created that spawns health and social benefits. A person’s countenance will change. Where there was once despair in their eyes instead there exists hope and joy. This phenomenon is not just a chemical reaction, but a response to the reality of God’s existence and presence in someone’s life. How do I know this to be true? I have seen it in others and experienced it in my own life. This is not a blind faith, but following facts such as past occurrences and historical validations of the difference before and after having a bond with God.

P.E.T. Therapy : The Prescription for Your Heart

To experience the heart benefits of a bond with God, the prescription is anchored in a relationship. Follow these three steps to evaluate and develop the therapeutic plan:

P- Petition- Ask questions with a sincere desire to discover and accept the facts as they are presented. Any meaningful relationship starts with a conversation. We ask questions to discern facts about one another. Questions show you are interested in the other person.  Regardless of your present position consider that If God exists, how might His presence be known? If you believe God exists, then start a conversation with Him.

E- Examination- After gathering evidence for the existence of God, thoroughly consider the claims. If you line the facts up with history, archaeology, cosmology, philosophy, morality, and the reality of the world around you, does it fit? If you remove God from any one of the criteria, what happens?

T- Trust- Belief in God is not just wishful thinking. Belief is confidence in knowing the facts are correct and knowing that as a result, the conclusions which naturally follow are also valid.

Ask questions, examine the evidence, and trust the results. My hope for the reader is this prescription will heal a significance doubt in your life. My question for you is this-are you ready for the joy of a new relationship?

 

[1] http://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/features/health-benefits-of-pets#1

[2] www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3408111/

[3] www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3350478/

[4] www.benefitsof.org/what-is-the-benefit-of-believing-in-god/

 

Recommended Reading:

Lee Strobel “The Case for Christianity,” “The Case for Faith” and “The Case for Christ”

Sean and Josh McDowell “The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict

Frank Turek and Norman Geisler “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist”

J. Warner Wallace “Cold-Case Christianity,” “God’s Crime Scene,” and “Forensic Faith”

William Demski and Mike Licona “Evidence for God”

Greg Koukl “The Story of Reality”

Halloween 911…Your Dog Just Ate What?

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In the course of pet ownership, the strange and bizarre behavior of your beloved animal will eventually terrify or astound you. During over 30 years of practice, I have been amazed at the diversity, quantity, and quite frankly, the serendipitous nature of objects that a pet will consume. I found that the holidays bring a spike in phone calls from clients and texts from friends who are honestly distraught over what recently went into or came out of their animal. From remote controls, broken glass, lingerie, mulch, legos, entire bottles of glue, or yo-yos, to the potently toxic things like chocolate, raisins, onions, illegal drugs, and so on, this list is truly mindboggling. My how the canine emergency has diversified since the ingestion of a single chicken bone. In a way, it is not surprising because haven’t we also experienced similar multiplication in the diversity and quantity of things that we process in our daily lives? And, much akin to our pets, we may wander into these situations somewhat serendipitously.

Consider Our Tradition of Halloween: Celtic and Roman Origins

History.com has a thorough article on the origins of Halloween which I will briefly recount here to give some context. Some may argue that the genesis of Halloween is as distant as the Babylonians or Assyrians, but the root of the Western tradition appears out of some age-old European traditions. The Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced “sow-in”) is over 2000 years old and marked the beginning of their new year on November 1st. On the night before the new year or October 31st, they believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. They tied this phenomenon to the coming of the cold winter, crop death, and the end of the harvest season. The Druids or Celtic priests, dressed in costumes of animal heads and skins performed incantation rituals to prophesy about the future and provide hope. Around 43 A.D., after 400 years of conquest by the Roman Empire, the Roman festivals of Feralia which commemorated the passing of the dead, and Pomona, in honor of the goddess of fruit and trees were grafted into the festival. It is interesting to note that this festival was part of Roman tradition during the life of Christ.

Martyrdom and the Response of the Modern Church

As Christianity spread, the Catholic church sought to honor Christian martyrs, then all saints and martyrs and supplanted the Celtic traditions by 1000 A.D. The nomenclature and gradual movement of the day from November 1st to October 31st were traditionally All Saints Day (All-hallows or All-hallowmas) and the night before named “All-Hallows-Eve” or eventually Halloween. Interestingly enough, the costumes, story-telling, and mischief were retained in the tradition. The European culture also included the belief that on Halloween ghosts came back to the earthly world, and in fear of encountering one of these spirits, people would wear masks when they left their home after dark to disguise their identity. Also, bowls of food would be left outside their house to appease the ghosts and discourage them from entering.

The Protestant Reformation was not far behind when on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his “95 Theses” on the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenburg, Germany. Reformation Day was established as an alternative or parallel celebration to Halloween. Interestingly enough this October 31st marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. An interesting footnote is that our modern day observance of Halloween in America has grown into the “family friendly” version in only the last 60 years since its commercialization during the late 1950s. This year alone it is predicted that 25% of all the candy sold in the United States will be purchased toward Halloween, and consumers will spend over 6 billion dollars on this holiday alone, coming in second only to Christmas.

Serendipitous Transition or Intersection of Tradition with Opportunity?

The history of Halloween shows that over 2000 years transpired for a Celtic tradition consisting of a desire to know about the future was adopted and integrated into the mainstream by the Romans, affected by the Church, westernized into America, and then morphed into a commercial enterprise in our lifetime. Just like our pet in the first illustration, could the concept of Halloween be something we stumbled upon and ultimately consumed? To a dog or a cat, they are attracted first by the novelty, then enticed by the exploration with their senses, and if interesting enough, will engulf the entire substance. Sometimes we humans behave the same way. The outcome might be innocuous, fulfilling, or even pleasant for a while. To others, the experience is toxic, painful, and even dangerous.

I find it interesting that the response to “ghosts” was to wear a mask and attempt to bribe the spirits with food. In fact, we all wear masks and try to gain favor because of our failure to meet God’s standard. If people knew who we really were behind the facade, would we still have their acceptance and respect? My purpose here is not to vilify the 2000 year history of Halloween, but to show that its significance remains in how we respond to it. What if our response were different than that of the Druids, Romans, and the like. Instead of fearing the darkness, and spirits in the dark places, we chose to be the light of hope and generosity on October 31st? Let this be food for thought when you put a candle in your Jack O’lantern this year or hand out candy to youngsters. Oh, and by the way don’t be stingy with the candy- give out plenty. Just remember to keep it away from the dog.

 

Dear Christian, It is time for your annual checkup

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Going to the doctor, or to the veterinarian for must of us is not something we embrace wholeheartedly. I hate to wait in line, much less wait at any doctor’s office. As a veterinarian, my profession is like many other noble pursuits where we know prevention of disease through vaccination and laboratory surveillance is key to providing a longer, happier life for our patients. We preach prevention and compliance all day long. Even so, a recent study a few years ago by Novartis Animal Health showed that if the average client purchases a full year worth of monthly heartworm prevention, the average compliance is only 9.2 doses or about 76%. Since the cost of treating heartworm disease can reach or exceed $800-$1000, an ounce of prevention is surely worth a pound of cure. Nonetheless, we are all human and have a life to live in front of us. This instance is certainly devastating enough in our dog’s life, but what could be learned from this about our spiritual life?

When performing a physical examination on a patient, I do what is known as a “nose to tail” exam. I start with the nose and examine each system as I progress from front to back, making notes and observations all along the way, whether good or bad. I think this approach is helpful in examining our spiritual condition in several ways. First, start with your mind, thoughts, and beliefs. If our mission in our Christian walk is to “know God and make Him known” then it reasonably follows that you must first know “Him”. So how do you know that you know Him? Romans 1:20 says: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” Therefore, underlying intellectual knowledge of God is the premise of knowing the existence of God through general revelation from the world around us. However, to believe that God exists is separate from believing in God, specifically belief in the atoning work and teachings of Jesus Christ.

This distinction leads us to the next critical juncture in “knowing” which resides in listening to the heart. Many of us experience an intellectual knowledge of God but lack a relationship in our heart. This relationship must not be confused with an emotional response to God because a positive emotional response to God solely through a feeling or a song might lead us toward God, but likewise, later a negative emotion or doubt could be waiting to draw us away. Matthew 22:37-40 is very clear: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”   And further Matthew 7:16-17 states: 16 You will know them by their fruits. …17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. ” So, check your heart and you will know by the evidence that you love God fully as shown by the fruit in your life. This vital connection between the mind and the heart is proof of God’s effect in your life. Apologetics and knowledge give us reasons and evidence for how we know what we believe and why we can know and trust that the evidence is true. The goal therefore in apologetics is to grow in knowledge and ultimately in the relationship with God himself. 

Sometimes during an examination, I will discover pain in an area, and the evidence of a previous illness or injury. Occasionally I also will find evidence of cancer. Spiritually, we can liken this finding to trauma, suffering, or sin in our life. If left untreated, the condition can affect the remainder of our lives.  The book of James reminds us that we should “count it all joy when we fall into various trials”.  So when you feel pain, how do you respond? 1 John 1 reminds us that what the Disciples saw, heard, and touched was testified to us in order for our “Joy to be complete”. One of the foundational verses of Christian Case-making is 1 Peter 3:15, but often missed is the statement: But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.”  You must connect your thoughts, your mind, to loving God. Is your heart attitude toward your neighbor, and if so do you experience the spiritual fruit of a relationship with Jesus? Galatians 5:22-23 gives us “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.”  I challenge each of us to take time to perform a spiritual check-up.  In this way, God’s amazing grace can be prescribed by a relationship with Jesus Christ, the greatest of all physicians.

 

 

 

Don’t All Dogs Go to Heaven?

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Medically speaking, as a veterinary practitioner you get an array of challenging questions. Every day it seems there is something new that I have never considered. As we navigate life in an ever-changing culture, the struggle to communicate effectively is a real one. Without rival, the prized event of any veterinarian’s day is the new puppy or kitten visit. Bundled with the newness of life, the soft fur, and the puppy breath are inevitably the client with a list of questions, or even better yet, the child with ” a question for the doctor.” In anticipation of the challenge, I am often reminded of sound advice from one of my early mentors who said, “If you take the child by the hand, you take the parent by the heart.” Therefore, every inquiry is a test, an interview, a treasured opportunity to be an ambassador.

So begs the question, all dogs do go to Heaven, right? The answer is not a simple one. The Bible does not explicitly state that we will see our pets again in Heaven. However, Isaiah 11:6 says “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard shall lie down with the young goat, The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them.” Taking into account the character of God and His love, 1 Timothy 6:17 tells us, that He “gives us richly all things to enjoy.” So in God’s provision for us here on Earth, we can trust that His provision for all creation will certainly be likewise in Heaven, only better than we could imagine. Let us apply this similarly to the question: Don’t all religions lead to Heaven?  The answer here is much more clear-cut: No. Ultimately, we must define what do you mean by Heaven?

First of all, the basic premise lies in how one defines Truth. Is there such a thing as absolute truth, or is truth relative? For example, can what is right for you be true for you, and what is right for me be true for me, although it contradicts your truth concerning the same circumstance? For instance, a dog can be either inside the house, or outside in the yard, but not both at the same time. This idea is known as the Law of Non-Contradiction.

Next, apply the claims of a few individual belief systems to the idea of Heaven. Judaism believes that if Heaven exists, we will all be there. Islam claims Heaven is for those that Allah chooses. Hinduism purports Heaven as Nirvana, where you are free from all desires. For Buddhism, it is a place of emptiness, free from conscious thought. For Christians, Heaven is a place of eternal joy for those who have accepted the free gift of salvation from Jesus Christ. For secularists or atheists, Heaven does not exist. Easily one can see that they all can’t be true at the same time, and they are in essence contradictory claims.

Third, in considering the options, can the truth be known, or is the truth just a matter of our feelings or preferences? Dr. Frank Turek presents a great analogy for this dilemma. You can read a book and understand its contents (truths), yet deny there is an author (God). But without an author, there would be no book! In such case life only becomes a matter of my preferences over your preferences and leads to chaos in the absence of rules to govern anyone’s behavior. Such an issue of existence in untenable and does not favor the flourishing of society because there is no standard of behavior. If there is a measure of behavior, called morality, then there is a moral law. If there is a moral law, there must be a moral law-giver. In his book Stealing From God, Dr. Turek outlines actually why atheists need God to make their case against Him.

Finally, if all religions cannot lead to Heaven based on the Law of Non-Contradiction, which one does? I suggest you consider the evidence for each religious claim. A serious examination of the facts will bear out the truth. This exam may take some time, but don’t despair. If you are brutally honest, the reality of the truth will be self-evident after the discovery that there is more positive evidence for Christianity than any other worldview. In doing so, you must set your feelings and preferences aside. Often feelings and emotion lead you away from the truth. As Blaise Pascal, French philosopher and mathematician once said:

“People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.”

My challenge to you is to make haste and become convicted by the truth. To do otherwise is to say to God, “Not Your Will, but My Will Be Done.”

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