Sunday, December 20, 2009

Healthy Altruism

The results of numerous scientific studies have determined what many people already suspect: Altruism is good for your health. The New York Times cited several research studies indicating that giving to others can result in positive benefits for the giver; namely, pain and stress reduction, diminished heart disease, and even longer life. [1] One study found that “High volunteers … had 63 percent lower mortality than nonvolunteers”. Interestingly, the researchers noted that religious activity increased the positive effect: “Unexpectedly, volunteering was slightly more protective for those with high religious involvement and perceived social support.” [2] Another study by Boston College researchers found that training and volunteering by peers reduced chronic pain and depression. The authors noted that two themes emerged from the study: “making a connection” and “a sense of purpose.” [3] Living a purposeful, unselfish life appears to confer physiological rewards, not to mention spiritual and emotional benefits.

Bible students are not surprised by these findings:
“How blessed is he who considers the helpless; the Lord will deliver him in a day of trouble. The Lord will protect him and keep him alive … The Lord will sustain him upon his sickbed; in his illness, you restore him to health.” (Psalm 41:1-3)
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen … Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him … Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”. (Isaiah 58:6-8, NIV) The Hebrew word translated in Isaiah 58:8 as “healing” is arukah, which means “to make long, live long. Healing, health, with the sense of restoring to soundness”. [4]

A survey of 1,500 women by the Institute for the Advancement of Health found that those who frequently helped others described a somatic experience similar to that felt after vigorous exercise or meditation. The researchers noted that altruistic contact with others may release endorphins which counter the body’s reaction to stress. To experience the effect, contact with others must be direct and voluntary. The author designated this phenomenon as the “helper’s high”. [5]

ABC News program 20/20 conducted a study in which Craigslist was used to recruit people who were currently not engaged in volunteerism. After only one week of helping those less fortunate, a significant psychological effect was noticed in all volunteers. In fact, this “helper’s high” has been observed on MRI brain scans that show increased activity in dopaminergic receptors, those normally associated with positive feelings, according to National Institutes of Health neuroscientist Jordan Grafman. He reported, “Those brain structures that are activated when you get a reward are the same ones that are activated when you give. In fact, they're activated more.” [6]

Jesus taught us to give to those less fortunate: “But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you”. (Luke 14:13-14) Seems to be good advice for all.

[1] Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times, “In Month of Giving, a Healthy Reward”, published 30 Nov 2009.
[2] Doug Oman, Carl E. Thoresen, and Kay Mcmahon, “Volunteerism and Mortality among the Community-dwelling Elderly”, Journal of Health Psychology, Vol. 4, No. 3, 301-316, 1999.
[3] Paul Arnstein RN, PhD, APRN, BC , Michelle Vidal RN, MS, Carol Wells-Federman MS, MEd, APRN, BC, Betty Morgan RN, PhD, and Margaret Caudill MD, PhD, “From chronic pain patient to peer: Benefits and risks of volunteering”, Pain Management Nursing, Volume 3, Issue 3, September 2002, Pages 94-103.
[4] Spiros Zodhiates, Executive Editor, The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, AMG Publishers, Chattanooga, TN: 1996, p. 1505.
[5] Allan Luks, “Helper's High: Volunteering Makes People Feel Good, Physically and Emotionally” Psychology Today, October 1988.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Is the story of Jesus in the Bible borrowed from other religions?

Did early Christians borrow from other religions? Isn’t it true that many belief systems in the first century included stories of a savior? For example, Mithra was supposedly born of a virgin on December 25th, had 12 disciples, and rose from the dead after three days. If writers of the New Testament borrowed this story, does that invalidate the truth of the Bible? Click here to read the article.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Planned Parenthood Director resigns

“The money was in abortion” was the statement of Planned Parenthood Director who resigned on October 6, 2009 after watching an ultrasound of an abortion procedure. Abby Johnson had worked at the Bryan, Texas office for eight years, the last two as director. According to Johnson, difficult economic times were causing the organization to direct its focus more from prevention and family planning to abortions, where more money could be made. “Definitely the most lucrative part of their business was abortions,” she told the Houston Chronicle.[1] Aside from a philosophical difference of opinion regarding the operation of the clinic, Johnson seemed to be particularly convicted morally, stating, “I just thought I can’t do this anymore”. After leaving, she stated, “"I feel so pure in heart. I don't have this guilt. I don't have this burden on me anymore that's how I know this conversion was a spiritual conversion."

Not everyone has a conversion that dramatic and we commend Ms. Johnson for acting so decisively on her newfound conviction. This may be seen as a challenge to all Christians to act similarly. We do not hate those who are involved in the abortion business; rather, we hope and pray they also will recognize the truth of what they are doing. The intent of Jesus Christ in the lives of believers is to work through us to “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.” (Acts 26:18)

So, what was the reaction to Abby Johnson’s resignation by Planned Parenthood? It was, of course, to immediately file a lawsuit. A temporary injunction was issued barring Johnson from releasing any records to which she may have previously had access. In the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) annual report, 305,310 abortions were conducted in the United States in 2007. Government grants and contracts (i.e., your tax dollars) accounted for more than $349 million in revenue for the year ending 6/30/08, with total net assets of $1.014 billion.[2] While they do perform other services, such as contraception, the morning after pill, STD testing and cancer screenings, PPFA is heavily invested financially in the abortion market. The International Planned Parenthood Federation reported spending $7,590,116 in abortion services for the year ending 12/31/08.[3] “The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

For the record, is a strong advocate of the pro-choice position: We believe the child should be given the opportunity to choose. Abortion denies that opportunity. There are alternatives to abortion, including adoption, abstinence, and contraception.

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

contradictions in the Bible

The Bible contains contradictions. It’s easy to make an accusation such as this. How does someone respond to this charge? First, the critic needs to cite specifics. Oftentimes, people making this statement do not have any identifiable contradictions to cite. In the interest of open inquiry, we will assist the critics by mentioning a common one here:
Doesn’t the Bible contradict itself regarding the number of people who visited the tomb of Jesus after the crucifixion? Reference Matthew 28:1, which states: Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave.
So, clearly Matthew records two Mary’s as the first of Jesus’ followers to visit the tomb. But John, another eyewitness to the crucifixion, wrote that only one Mary visited the tomb: Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. (John 20:1) Obviously, this is a contradiction, making the Bible an unreliable book, right? Not exactly.
First, John did not state that Mary Magdalene was the only person to visit the tomb. Second, since Mary Magdalene was the one who told Peter and John (verse 2) the body was missing, John remembered this as an important detail in his narrative and put it to writing. The other Mary was not important to the point John was making, so he did not mention her. If I was telling a story about meeting someone at a Steelers football game, I would likely not mention the other 58,000 people at the stadium; rather, I would state the narrative regarding the individual I met personally. So, there were two Marys at the tomb and zero contradictions regarding this account.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Somali Christians beheaded

Around August 4, 2009, four Christian aid workers – Fatima Sultan, Ali Ma’ow, Sheik Mohammed Abdi, and Maaddey Diil - met their Savior as martyrs. According to eyewitness accounts reported to International Christian Concern, the four were kidnapped on July 27, 2009 from the Somali town of Merca. These were labeled apostates for converting to Christianity and given a chance to return to Islam, but all declined. An Al Shabab militant, calling himself “The Sword of Islam”, accused the four of sowing religious discord and called them infidels.

This is not an isolated example of a lone extremist using religion as a pretext for hatred, but yet another in a long list of attacks against Christians. If the situation were reversed and someone in America calling himself “The Sword of Christianity” kidnapped and beheaded four people who had converted to Islam, the major news media would still be running the story, and rightfully so. But, this type of violence has become routine and is hardly mentioned any more. At the website and others like it, we attempt to persuade people of the truth through the use of evidence, reason, and the love of God, not by threats of violence.

Two of the most notorious persecutors of Christians were Roman Emperors Nero and Domitian, who reigned in the first century. John Foxe wrote of Nero:
“His rage against the Christians was so fierce that Eusebius records, ‘a man might then, see cities full of men’s bodies, the old lying together with the young, and the dead bodies of women cast out naked, without reverence of that sex, in the open streets.’ Many Christians in those days thought that Nero was the antichrist because of his cruelty and abominations.” Apostles Peter and Paul are believed to have suffered under Nero’s persecution.
Foxe wrote of Domitian:
“Death was not considered enough punishment for the Christians, who were subjected to the cruelest treatment possible. They were whipped, disemboweled, torn apart, and stoned. Plates of hot iron were laid on them; they were strangled, eaten by wild animals, hung, and tossed on the horns of bulls…Nevertheless, the Church continued to grow, deeply rooted in the doctrine of the apostles and watered with the blood of the saints.”
(Foxe’s Christian Martyrs of the World, Westwood, NJ: Barbour Books, 1989, pp. 8-9)

Hearing of this recent persecution in Somalia brings to mind Revelation 12:11 which states, “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20) and “"Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:12)

Friends and family members of these four brave men in Somalia can rejoice because they have a great reward. Although these atrocities are intensely disturbing, the Bible instructs us, “Do not repay evil for evil” (Romans 12:17), but “love your enemies, do good to them…Then your reward will be great” (Luke 6:35).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Can God Forgive Any Sin?

Is it possible to commit a sin that is too big for God to forgive? Will God still forgive someone who lived a lifetime full of criminal and sinful behavior? Can God forgive anything? Many people avoid God because they believe they have sinned too much and one of the primary barriers to a relationship with Him is the belief they have committed sins that are too great for God to forgive. “You don't know what I've done”, someone might say, or “God could never forgive me.” Have some of us gone too far and is it too late to be brought back? Are some of us so deserving of eternal punishment in hell there is no chance of being saved?

Click here to read more.