Friday, March 30, 2012

The Cross of Jesus Christ

We are entering into the most important week of the year on the Christian calendar, called Holy Week, encompassing the last week of Jesus' life before the cross. In light of that, I wanted to share some thoughts on the Cross of Jesus.

Ravi Zacharias, in his book "Why Jesus," quoted Richard Niebuhr as saying that the New Spirituality has preached "a Christ without a cross." This modern trend does not give us a new form of Christianity, but something else entirely, something powerless. As Max Lucado writes, "The  part that matters is the cross. No more and no less."

The following are selections on the theme of the cross that I've collected from my reading over the years. I'll shortly follow this up with another post on the theme of the resurrection. I hope that 
you take the time to consider the implications of the cross.

"The cross is that centre of the world's history where all men and all nations stand revealed as both enemies of God and yet loved by God." - Dag Hammarskjold

"We must not dilute the gospel by ignoring the Cross - or from the seeds of our evangelism will sprout followers attracted to Christianity for what it will give them, rather than out of love and service for a risen Lord. We follow Christ not because of His blessings, but because He is truth." - Charles Colson, "The God of Stones and Spiders:" (Wheaton, IL, Crossway, 1990), 130.

"Mahatma Gandhi made the comment that of all the truths of the Christian faith, the one that stood supreme to him was the cross of Jesus. He granted that it was without parallel. It was the innocent dying for the guilty, the pure exchanged for the impure. This evil cannot be understood through the eyes of the ones who crucified Him, but only through the eyes of the Crucified One. It is the woman who is raped who understands what rape is, not the rapist. It is the one who has been slandered who understands what slander is, not the slanderer. It is only the One who died for our sin who can explain to us what evil is, not the skeptics. The cross points the way to a full explanation."  - Ravi Zacharias, "Jesus Among Other Gods:" (Nashville, TN., Word Pub., 2000), 136.

"Jesus died for me are four words I have lived by, and they are the words I am going to die by." - Charles Spurgeon

"On the eve of the cross, Jesus made his decision. He would rather go to hell for you than go to heaven without you." - Max Lucado, "The Gift For All People:" (Sisters, OR., Multnomah), 66.

"At the intersection of time and eternity - nailed there - You confront us; a perpetual reminder that living, we die, and dying, we live. An incarnation wonderful to contemplate; the light of the world, indeed." - Malcolm Muggeridge, "Confessions of a 20th Century Pilgrim," p. 134.

"The death of Jesus Christ had to be certified by four official Roman executioners before His body could be taken down from the cross. John's eyewitness account tells us that a guard rammed a spear through Christ's rib cage, and blood and water flowed out." - R. Scott Richards, "Myths The World Taught Me:" (Nashville, TN., Nelson, 1991), 214.

"Into Jesus' soul flooded the hate of every lie, the evil of every impure thought, the venom of every cruel word, the tragedy of every good deed left undone. And the Father, in His holiness, burned against His Son. Jesus plunged into the fiery ocean of God's undiluted wrath against sin. Truly, He could go no lower." - Bill Hybels, "Descending Into Greatness:" (Grand Rapids, MI., Zondervan, 1993), 61.

"It wasn't the Romans who nailed Jesus to the cross. It wasn't the Jewish religion that took him up the hill of Calvary. It wasn't spikes that held Jesus to the cross. What held him to that cross was his conviction that it was necessary that he become sin and that the wrath of God be poured down, not upon the creation, but upon the Creator." - Max Lucado

"The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” - Jesus Christ (John 10:17-18)

"This is why the cross is the symbol of Christianity. It marks the dividing line between man's futile efforts to achieve God's righteousness and God's gracious act in sending Christ to redeem all who will follow. It represents the most decisive moment in history, when God answered the great human dilemma that we have all sinned and yearn for forgiveness: God took upon Himself our sins to set us free. It is where justice and mercy meet." - Charles Colson, "The Faith:" (Grand Rapids, MI., Zondervan), 90.

"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." - Jesus Christ (Luke 9:23)

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Book Review: "Why Jesus?"

Book Review: Ravi Zacharias, "Why Jesus? Rediscovering His Truth In An Age Of Mass Marketed Spirituality" New York, NY: FaithWords, 2012. 281 pages.

Reading one of Ravi Zacharias' books reminds me of going out to dine at a nice restaurant after only eating at fast food joints. It's a little bit more work, but a lot more rewarding. I remember when I first started reading Ravi. I would have to have a dictionary close by because his vocabulary was and is a lot larger than mine. The extra effort is worth it. His writing has had more influence on my life and ministry than almost anyone else.

"Why Jesus" was written in response to the new spirituality espoused by such luminaries as Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra. As Ravi states in his introduction, "it is hard to imagine a culture more gullible than that of America today, priding itself on being a culture that is willing to absorb anything indiscriminately." (p. xiv) The combination of the power of the media, spiritual hunger and erroneous teaching mixed with bits and pieces of the truth is a volatile combination.

This book sorts through the roots of these new movements, identifying why they cannot ultimately satisfy, finally ending with a case for why spiritual satisfaction can only be found in the person of Jesus Christ. The journey is a long one, but Ravi's perspective is particularly helpful. He was born in India, with a deep understanding of the culture of his birth and also of the Eastern roots of the new spirituality (which is not new at all).

Chapter 1, called Movie Making or Soul Making, delves into the power of the media to shape worldview. He states "The world of entertainment has become the most powerful means of propaganda, and the audience is unaware of how much it is being acted upon and manipulated, paying for it not only in cash but in having its dreams stolen." (p. 6) Ravi is not claiming a conspiracy theory, rather that many of the creative among us have been seduced by Eastern thought, which has also paraded itself in scientific terminology. The following quote summarizes the chapter well:
"We have found a religion that has helped us to revolve around ourselves, and once we have believed that the spiritual imagination needs no boundaries because we are gods, everything becomes plausible and nothing needs justification. We are now in the precarious situation where science has given us the tools - and possible the imperative - to convey fiction, and fiction has the pervasive power of science. This is the New Spirituality." (p.10)
Chapter 2 - How The West Was Lost Through Its Gains continues with a history of how the views of North Americans have been shaped by television and now the internet. Far from being benign, "the visual media, especially television and movies, manipulates us into seeing with the eye, devoid of the conscience, whose role it is to place parameters around what we see."
"The end result is spirituality without dogma, religion without God, argument without substance, rationalization without rationality, and tranquillity by transfer of funds from the seeker's bank account to the company that makes the best offer of nirvana, at the same time producing dogmatism about relativism in matters of ultimate meaning."
Part of the reason for the decline of the influence of Christianity in North America was the abuse of the media and the audience by Christian televangelists, who have been used as caricatures. The spiritual hunger continued, but the young rejected the faith of their fathers and opted instead, for an "egalitarian, all-inclusive, nonjudgmental, non-Western way of looking at things." (p. 38)

Ravi suggests three layers that make up the "rebellion against the status quo of Western society... first, the disillusionment with materialism and the status quo; second, the shallowness and, at times, hypocrisy of the Church, or of those who claimed to be Christians; and third, and perhaps most compelling, a desire for liberation from all restraint, especially in matters of sexuality."

Chapter 3 - Exhaling The Old, Inhaling The New deals with the philosophical shifts in society from rationalism to empiricism, then to existentialism, finally arriving at postmodernism. These shifts have had a great impact in all aspects of society, certainly in how we engage and answer the most important questions. As Ravi states: "We are at a time when postmodernism defies certainty, truth, and meaning; when spiritualism dabbles in quantum theory; and when randomness has become the order of the day." (p. 58)

Chapter 4 - From Oprah to Chopra deals with the rise from obscurity to the pinnacle of the New Spiritual movement of both Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra. Ravi here goes into detail on the journey of Oprah and her changing spiritual views. "Once you have gained a following of such magnitude; once you can do no wrong by virtue of the adulation you receive; once you are one of the richest people in the world and can buy the companies that sponsor you; once you have a magical impact on the minds of people... is it not a short step to playing god in the minds of your followers?" (pp. 74-75) Oprah uses her considerable platform to push The New Spirituality espoused by people like Eckhart Tolle. Deepak Chopra, in a similar vein, pushes his blend of spirituality with quantum physics. What do they have in common? Wealth and spiritual talk.

Chapter 5 - The Religion of Quantum focuses on Chopra and his "new spirituality combined with his brand of gimmickry." He speaks of Chopra's claims that "'quantum healing' can defeat the aging process, that the mind may be healed by harmonizing or balancing the 'quantum mechanical body.'" 
Ravi points out that Deepak's claims misrepresent both science and Hinduism and are a disservice to both - but they have made Chopra rich and popular.

Chapter 6 - Go West, Young Man speaks of the trend in American culture to embrace unquestioningly all that is Eastern. Ravi here brings his extensive knowledge of Eastern thought and Christian theology to shine a light on the hypocrisy of many in the New Spirituality movement, who promote positive aspects of Eastern religions while completely ignoring the flaws. At the same time, Christianity is attacked for the abuses of some while its role in shaping Western Civilization is ignored. "In Europe, Christianity was abused when it was used for political power; in America it has been abused by using it for economic power. And today it is abused by its detractors who deny its power and remove it from any position of moral authority." (p. 102).

Chapter 7 - The Three Gurus is a chapter dealing with the three gurus whose influence has shaped much of Eastern mysticism today. These are Swami Vivekananda, Yogananda and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (founder of the Transcendental Meditation movement). Ravi quotes Richard Neibuhr as he summarizes the affect of their teachings: "'in all these religious theories and expressions, what we are really looking for seems to be 'a God without wrath who took man without sin into a kingdom without righteousness through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.'" (pp. 129-130).

Chapter 8 - Smiling Your Way Through Puzzles deals with the manner in which Eastern religions deal with questions of truth. This chapter is helpful for anyone wanting to understand the differences between Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism and other branches of Eastern philosophy. Portions of all of these - and of Christianity - are blended together to form the New Spirituality. "If you shine your light on one chapter of the New Spirituality, it can almost look like Christianity. But when you shine the light on another chapter, you're sure it's Buddhism, then Hinduism, then Taoism. This is brilliance at work in a culture of spiritual hungers and an aversion for dogma... But still hanging over our heads is the fact that relativism must eventually pay its dues in the currency of reality." (pp. 148 - 149).

Chapter 9 - Do You Really Want To Live? speaks to the question of meaning. What is life all about? How does the Christian worldview make sense of the problem of pain and the pursuit of pleasure? These are questions which other belief systems struggle to answer and for which the Bible provides unique responses.

Chapter 10 - The Ties That Bind carries on with the theme from the last chapter, speaking of pleasure and pain in the context of relationship, stewardship and worship which is uniquely offered in Christianity. "There is a clear and unequivocal assertion in the Judeo-Christian faith that God created us for his purpose: to fulfil life's sacred nature within the particularity of an individual life, in relationship with him and his indwelling presence."

Chapter 11 - The Search For Jesus deals with the loss of Biblical literacy in North America and the resulting ignorance of the historical Jesus. This has brought to pass what Ravi speaks of: "The Jesus of the New Spirituality is a Jesus of myth, not fact... New Age Spirituality keeps losing Jesus because it reduces him to just another voice and just another teacher or master." Further, Ravi states his case: "This is the strongest indictment I make against the New Spirituality. They have violated the true Jesus and formed him in their own image. While exalting themselves, they have denigrated him. Against the backdrop and the evolving ethics of a culture that is lost, the New Spirituality has manipulated the text of Scripture, ignored history with redefinitions of their own to leverage cultural desires to their own advantage."

Chapter 12 - Reshaping Jesus To Suit Our Prejudices reveals firstly the damage that has been done by New Age Spiritualists who have either deliberately or ignorantly misinterpreted the Bible to promote their distorted Jesus. "In their deep prejudice against Christianity, advocates of the New Spirituality malign the Christ of history in order to remake him into an image that is consistent with their ideas." (p. 210) Secondly, Ravi speaks of how some churches have contributed to the problem by neglecting the Biblical message of Christ and ignoring the spiritual disciplines. Pages 216-218 provide a succinct critique of the New Spirituality movement.

Chapter 13 - The Greatest of All continues to build the case as to why Jesus is the only answer for those seeking fulfilment. "True spirituality is not a game we play. It is not merely a preference for some position over another. Nor is it at its core a search for some healing balm. It is an ultimate choice of ultimate definitions that require one's utmost commitment."

Chapter 14 - False Assumptions and Magnificent Truths wraps up the book by looking at "The Three All-Important Questions" all worldviews and religions must be examined by. They are:
  1. How do they answer the question of exclusivity as it relates to their own belief?
  2. What is the source of their authority?
  3. How relevant is what they believe to the common experience; what difference does it really make?
Also in this chapter Ravi includes a section on Building A Worldview, which gives the basic components that must be addressed. "Jesus proclaims the truth - that is why it must exclude all that is contrary to it. He lived and spoke with authority - that is why what he said applies to each of us. His message bridges the greatest gulf within us - that is why it is relevant even today, two thousand years later." (p. 269)

This book is not an easy read, but none of Ravi's books are. It is not fluff, but is designed to engage the mind to wrestle with serious issues. It's worth the effort.

Related Articles:
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"Truth" - by Ravi Zacharias
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Monday, March 26, 2012

A Perfect Love

Guest post by Dr. Jeremy Statton

When I interviewed Holden McHugh about his family’s experience of taking care of his sister Hadley, he helped me to understand an important element to living a better story.

Wanting to gain insight into how he survived such a difficult time, I asked him what advice he would give to any family with a special needs kid.

His answer was simpler than I anticipated.
"Love them unconditionally and God will fill in the rest."

The Secret to Surviving Difficult Times

How do you keep getting up day after day to continue in a story that is difficult?
How do you keep doing a hard work that seems to have no end in sight?
How do you face tomorrow when there will be no apparent healing for today?
How do you keep a smile on your face?


Love without strings attached. Love those who do not deserve it. Love because you choose to, not because it is easy. Love with an overabundance, giving all that you have.

Our Best Love

This love is tough. It demands everything that we have. Human experience struggles to experience such a love. Perhaps the love a mother has for her long anticipated newborn son comes close.

Her son has grown inside of her, slowing forming from a single cell into a beautiful baby boy. Nine months are spent watching skin stretch thin and legs grow more swollen. Morning sickness is followed by afternoon and night sickness. All followed by hours of labor.

But when her son arrives, she asks him no questions. She expects nothing in return for her pain and suffering. She doesn’t even demand love in return.

She has no thoughts for herself. Her mind and her heart are for her child only.

But even her love for her own child will become selfish. When he is 2 months old and won’t stop crying because of colic and she needs some sleep, her love will fail.

When he is 7 years old and will not flush the toilet or brush his teeth or wash his hands without having to be reminded again, her love will fail.

When he is 16 and wants to hang out with his friends at the mall and she wants to hang on to the days when he depended on her for everything, her love will fail.

A Perfect Love

We have to look beyond ourselves to experience such a radical love. We have to learn how to love others unconditionally by accepting God’s love for us.

The creator of everything made you specifically to be you. Billions of years ago he planned you and then when the time came to actually form you, there was a twinkle of delight in his eye. He made you to tell your story. He made you because he delights in you.

He loves you enough that he enabled you to rebel against him, free to choose your own will. Free to run away from home.

And he loves you so much, he gave you Jesus, God with us, so that you could come back home, always his child.

Since we are the kids of the a king, we can then live for him. We can love because we have known love.

And then we let God fill in the rest.

Have you been through a difficult trial? What got you through it?

Tell us your story in the comments.

This post is written by Dr. Jeremy Statton. He is an orthopedic surgeon and a writer. His blog focuses on encouraging others to live a better story with their lives. You can connect with him on Twitter.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Second Fiddle - Tim Tebow and the New York Jets

Tim Tebow Mark Sanchez New York JetsWhat do you do when you're called to play second fiddle? It's one thing to be the 'go-to guy,' the one who is given the ball in crunch time. It's entirely another to be asked to hold the clipboard for that guy.

In a few days Tim Tebow has moved from being 'the man' in Denver to a backup in Denver to a backup in New York. The journey from here on will be an interesting one.

Unless you're living under a rock you will have heard that the Denver Broncos signed quarterback Peyton Manning to a seven year contract worth $95 million this week. That immediately kickstarted the discussions on where Tebow would wind up. Tim lead the Broncos to 6 straight victories to save Denver's season last year and won a playoff game. However, his unconventional style and inconsistent passing game had many questioning his ability over the long haul.

Would he be kept as backup to Peyton Manning, learning from one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time? Or would he be traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars, back home where he became a college legend, leading his Florida Gators to the national championship? Instead, he ended up with the New York Jets, who only recently signed their starting quarterback, Mark Sanchez, to a contract extension.

Jets General Manager Mike Tannenbaum was quick to point out that "Mark Sanchez is, has been and will be our starting quarterback." You don't have to be a genius to see that this puts Tebow in a challenging position.

There are a lot of Tebow fans out there, and there are also a lot of detractors. Many are critical of his arm, his throwing style and his very public faith. Fans, on the other hand, point out that everywhere Tebow has gone he has won and his teammates love him. How will he respond to what many players would perceive to be a very public demotion?

As you would expect from Tim Tebow, he has thus far responded with grace. He has nothing but good things to say about not only the New York Jets organization, but the Broncos as well. Here are his comments after the deal was finalized: “My goal is to push (Sanchez) to get better, and to push myself to get better every day,” Tebow said. “But I think we’ll have a great working relationship. We’ll have a great relationship off the field, and we’ve had that the last few years. He’s such a classy guy and handles himself so well, and I’ll be very honored to call him my teammate.”

This is part of the reason I like this kid so much, he recognizes that life is more than football, and regardless of what life throws you, we're still responsible to do the right thing. It's a good lesson for all of us to remember. There are some things in life that you can't control, for him, right now, this is one of them. Another thing he can't control is what others say about him.

None other than all-time great Joe Namath has come out slamming the deal. “I’m just sorry that I can’t agree with this situation. I think it’s just a publicity stunt. I can’t go with it. I think it’s wrong,” Namath told 1050 ESPN Radio on Wednesday. “I don’t think they know what they’re doing over there.” Jay Leno included in his monologue last night some relatively lighthearted digs at Tebow's faith. It will be interesting to see how he's received by New York fans.

There are lessons in this for all of us. First of all, there's the lesson of perspective. As Tebow has often said, he gets to play a game for a living, and is paid well for it, whether in Denver, New York or elsewhere.

Secondly, there's the lesson of Lordship. Tebow learned a long time ago that God is ultimately in charge. He works hard, does his best, and prays and asks for God's will to be done. Sometimes the outcome is not what we expect, but that's okay. Along with this lesson comes the ability to trust. If God is in charge, I don't have to be. I can rest in the fact that He wants the best for me, so can anyone who trusts in Him.

This week's events may not have been expected, but it will be interesting to see where they lead. I, for one, wish both Tim and Peyton well. I also hope that Tim can continue to keep his heart in the right place, my guess is that he'll be just fine.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Why don't you like me?

A lot of people go through life asking this question - why don't they like me? They look at others who are surrounded by friends and who seem to be people magnets and wonder - why can't that be me?

Believe it or not, many studies have been done to determine just exactly what it is that causes us to like someone. You may be surprised by the results. In his book, The Me I Want To Be, John Ortberg shares that "Out of all the causes - physical attractiveness, IQ, ability, personality type - the number one factor that determines whether or not you will like another person is whether or not they like us. If they like you, you will like them. If they don't like you, you will not like them." Of course there are exceptions, but in general this is true. So what are the implications of this?

For one thing, it appears that how we interact with people has a great deal to do with how they treat us. It seems that what Dale Carnegie taught years ago is true. He wrote a book called How to Win Friends and Influence People that was a bestseller for a long time. Here's a quote from that book: "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you." In light of the studies Ortberg talks about, this seems to be borne out in real life.

The question, then, would seem to be, how can we develop a genuine interest in people? I'm not talking about learning sales techniques in order to fool someone into thinking that you like them. I'm talking about learning how to genuinely be a people person. I think the greatest example of this in history is Jesus Christ.

As we read the Gospels we find that people were drawn to him, and no wonder. He welcomed every encounter with anyone who was genuine. Even with those with whom He disagreed, His goal was to point them towards the truth. He crossed social and cultural boundaries to add value to people who were outcasts. He made world-changers out of people to whom no-one else paid attention. What did He see that others didn't?

Jesus knew that every person He laid eyes on was created in the image of God, and as such, had innate value. It was this principle that the U.S. founding fathers seized on as they stated in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

In the context of Jesus' life and actions, He treated each person who came to Him with respect, recognizing their intrinsic value. As Bill Hybels said, “We have never locked eyes with someone that did not matter to God.” Christians, in particular, need to grasp this truth. We may disagree with people, but we don't have to be disagreeable.

It's about your attitude.

You can either see people as assets or enemies. If you view them with suspicion, they will sense that and not be drawn to you. If, however, you're one of those who believes that every stranger is simply a friend you haven't met yet, you will have no shortage of friends. Treat people as you wish to be treated (the Golden Rule). As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great."

Let's look at some good habits to develop if you want to be a people person.
  • Smile.
This is so easy to do and makes such a big difference. Have you noticed that a smile is infectious? Try it on the next person you meet. Smile and greet them warmly. Most of the time it is reciprocated. When it's not, let it go.
  •  Show genuine interest.
Don't pry - that can be creepy. But allow the other person to tell you something about yourself. Engage in the conversation. One thing I've learned is that everyone has a story, ervone has dreams, and everyone wants to be heard. The problem with many of us is that we're often too busy talking about ourselves to listen. Good listeners are never lonely.
  • Remember names. 
This is something I have to work on. I remember when I first came to my current congregation. I met a man in the foyer before the service and we talked for a few minutes. As he left I said, "Goodbye Fred, it was nice meeting you." Now sixteen years later he has still not forgotten that I remembered his name. (I wish I could do that all the time). One method to try is to use the person's name three times in a conversation before you say goodbye. That helps to match the name with the face in your memory bank. There's no sweeter sound to people than their own name.
  • Add value to people.
 What can you do to make a difference in the life of the people you meet? Can you connect them with someone? Can you share information with them? Can you buy them a coffee? This afternoon I was in the drive-thru at the coffee shop when I noticed a friend of mine was in the truck behind me. I decided to be nice and buy his coffee. When I pulled up to the window I was surprised to find that the vehicle in front of me had already purchased mine! None of us spent a lot of money, but the kindness brought a smile to all of our faces.

Let me conclude with some helpful quotes on the subject:
  • "This is the final test of a gentleman: his respect for those who can be of no possible service to him." - William Lyon Phelps
  • "To love a person means to see him as God intended him to be." - Fyodor Dostoyevski
  • "The most useful person in the world today is the man or woman who knows how to get along with other people. Human relations is the most important science in living." - Stanley C. Allyn
  • "You have two choices: You can act as though you tolerate people, or you can appreciate people. Those who appreciate people are going to make others more comfortable." - Roger Ailes
  • "If you judge people, you have no time to love them." - Mother Teresa
Related Articles:
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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Islam & Christianity

Recent events have brought the clash between the Muslim and the Christian cultures to the attention of at least some of us who have been watching. Currently 35 Ethiopian Christians are being held in jail in Saudi Arabia for having a prayer meeting in a private home. They've been there for over two months and are now being threatened with deportation. As well, this week there was a pronouncement by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia calling for the destruction of all churches on the Arabian Peninsula. Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani continues to wait on death row in Iran for the crime of converting to Christianity. Add to this the ongoing persecution of Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, Nigeria etc... and it becomes clear that this is more than just a trend.

I thought it might be informative to share some interactions between Ravi Zacharias and a Muslim student. Ravi is one of the greatest apologists for the Christian faith in the world today and is especially good at cutting through the clutter to speak to the heart of the issue. What are the differences between Islam and Christianity? How do Muslims view Jesus? How do we determine who is right? These presentations are a good staring point, even if the quality may be somewhat
lacking. Feel free to comment.

Related Articles:
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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Saudi Arabia Calls For Destruction of Churches

Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia
Muslim leaders have once again given themselves a black eye as the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia has called for "the destruction of all churches on the Arabian Peninsula." The Grand Mufti is the highest official of religious law in a Sunni country, and as such his pronouncements carry considerable weight. There are no churches allowed in Saudi Arabia currently, so the statement seems to be aimed at Kuwait and other countries in the peninsula.
This is particularly disconcerting as there is already heavy persecution of Christians taking place in other Middle-Eastern nations, Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Syria being just a few examples. The "Arab Spring" which brought so much hope just a few months ago has instead resulted in social upheaval and blatant attacks on the Christian community.
The questions on the minds of many commentators and journalists is this: where are the voices of moderate Islam rising to condemn this persecution? All we hear is silence. In country after country where Islam is dominant, all other religions face prejudice at best and extreme persecution at worst.

I remember when the Islamic apologists came out after 9/11 to tell us all that Islam is a religion of peace, whose name actually means peace. What they didn't share is that the word "islam" actually means "submission" or "surrender." The "peace" Islam refers to is when everyone bows in submission to Muslim rule. It's difficult to deny this when simply observing the Islamic countries of the world.

One example is Iran, currently holding Youcef Nadarkhani on death row for the crime of converting to Christianity, and his is merely one of the "visible" cases. Another is Iraq, where the Christian population, with a history in the area of 2,000 years, has been decimated by persecution, with reports saying as many as half have had to leave since 2003. Suicide attacks and death squads plague those who remain. In Pakistan, the only Christian member of parliament, Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated last year. Many Christians remain in prison on false charges due to the "blasphemy law" which has been used by Muslims to persecute their Christian neighbors. Courts have hesitated to defend the innocent for fear of mob violence.

These are just a few examples, there are literally thousands more. In Nigeria, a jihad has been declared to irradicate all Christians from the north of the country. Many have already died. There are numerous examples from Somalia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Indonesia and elsewhere. For more information go here.

So, what are we to do about this? There are a few things.
  • Think.
The next time someone tells you that all religions are the same, tell them to give their head a shake. There are fundamental differences between the major religions that need to be recognized. Jesus said to love our enemies, Muhammed taught that Allah wanted them to kill all "infidels" (non-believers). Huge difference. We need to, once again, be free to enter into public debate on truth issues without the shackles of political correctness.
  • Become informed. 
There's a lot of great material out there to help you to be brought up to speed on what is happening around the world. Here's a link to a great place to start. 
  • Pray.
It's amazing that, when asked, many of those imprisoned are not looking for sympathy, they're wanting prayer that the spread of the Gospel of peace would continue. Here's a link to help you get connected. In some of the places of the world where persecution is most extreme, Christianity is growing. Pray for new converts from Islam to Christianity, many of whom risk their lives. Two recent converts from Islam were stabbed in Norway by hooded assailants yelling "Infidels."
  • Spread the word.
You may not be a writer, but you can copy and paste a link, or hit share on Facebook. 

If you are a Christian, understand that Jesus said "in this world you will have trouble." People are not our enemy, no matter what they believe. Throughout history, some of the strongest opponents to Christianity have become some of our greatest evangelists. Witness the Apostle Paul for one. Pray for Christians around the world not to respond to violence with violence, for in so doing they turn their backs on their own Saviour. Here is what Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:43-44)

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Shahbaz Bhatti - Christian Martyr

Friday, March 16, 2012

Who Was St. Patrick?

When most people think of St. Patrick's Day they think of wearing green, Ireland and green beer. But who was this St. Patrick and why do we celebrate a day in his honour?

It surprises a lot of people to discover that Patrick wasn't even Irish. He was born in Roman-occupied Britain in 390 AD. When he was 16 he was captured by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland, where he was sold to an Irish king who put him to work as a shepherd.

In his loneliness he looked for comfort in the Christianity he'd heard about growing up. His solitude gave him time to focus on the relationship with the God he'd never had time for. In his book Confessions, Patrick said he heard God telling him "Your hungers are rewarded. You are going home. Look—your ship is ready." Risking everything, he walked 200 miles to the coast and boarded a waiting ship for home.

In Britain, he studied and became a minister, and eventually a Bishop. Thirty years later he returned to Ireland as a missionary, understanding the challenge he faced. The Irish of the time were barbarians - human sacrifice was common and they hung heads of victims as trophies from their belts.

Patrick was undaunted and eventually saw the entire country converted. In so doing, he may also have saved the future of the Western world. James Cavill writes in How the Irish Saved Western Civilization, that it was the newly converted Irish who preserved the important writings of history after Rome fell to the barbarians in AD 406.

A wave of missionary monks left Ireland for the European mainland and spread the Judeo-Christian values which provided the framework for the society we, in the West, know today. So the next time you think of St. Patrick - be thankful, he's more than just a good excuse to get drunk. Happy St. Patrick's Day!
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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Can We Talk? I Guess Not.

This is yet another piece on the subject of the rights of the unborn child. I wasn't planning on writing this today, but came across a great article that was published in the National Post. It's about Stephen Woodworth, a Conservative backbench MP from Kitchener, who somehow won approval for an hour of debate before a committee of MP's. It's the subject of the debate that is sure to raise eyebrows and create a firestorm of opposition.

The subject is Canada’s 400-year-old law defining human beings. Woodworth's premise is very simple: science and technology have advanced greatly since the 1600's and our laws ought to do the same. It's the implications of this process that will attract all of the attention.

Currently, in Canadian law, a fetus is not considered a "human being" until "the moment of complete birth." That fact is lost on most Canadians, who aren't even aware that there is virtually no protection for the unborn child.

If you read the comments already piling up at the bottom of this article you can get a taste of what lies ahead. One pro-abortion advocate called unborn babies "parasites." Another suggested that, of course, unborn babies are "human," but that does not mean that they should have legal protection under the law because they are not "persons."

Semantics. This will become a war about words, when what it's really about is innocent life. The writer of the article made a great point when he said, "It’s diabolical. An arrow straight at the deliberate self-deceptions used to justify abortion." Self-deception is a great term for it. A great number of people are willfully ignorant of this entire subject matter. They don't want to think about it and they certainly don't want to talk about it. Our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is deathly afraid of this issue and I would be shocked if he allows this debate to move forward. I hope he proves me wrong.

For the record, here are the four questions Woodworth would like a special committee to examine:

(i) What medical evidence exists to demonstrate that a child is or is not a human being before the moment of complete birth?,
(ii) Is the preponderance of medical evidence consistent with the declaration in Subsection 223(1) that a child is only a human being at the moment of complete birth?,
(iii) What are the legal impact and consequences of Subsection 223(1) on the fundamental human rights of a child before the moment of complete birth?,
(iv) What are the options available to Parliament in the exercise of its legislative authority in accordance with the Constitution and decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada to affirm, amend, or replace Subsection 223(1)?

It sounds reasonable to me. What reasonable person could object to these questions? The problem is, some are unwilling to follow where the truth leads; they'd rather continue to deny the obvious truth that abortion stops a beating heart. Let's put our hands over our ears and yell really loudly so we can't hear.

It reminds me of a story I heard about a church in Germany during World War II. Here's one man's true story:

"I lived in Germany during the Nazi holocaust. I considered myself a Christian. I attended church since I was a small boy. We had heard the stories of what was happening to the Jews, but like most people today in this country, we tried to distance ourselves from the reality of what was really taking place. What could anyone do to stop it?

"A railroad track ran behind our small church, and each Sunday morning we would hear the whistle from a distance and then the clacking of the wheels moving over the track. We became disturbed when one Sunday we noticed cries coming from the train as it passed by. We grimly realized that the train was carrying Jews. They were like cattle in those cars!

"Week after week that train whistle would blow. We would dread to hear the sound of those old wheels because we knew that the Jews would begin to cry out to us as they passed our church. It was so terribly disturbing! We could do nothing to help these poor miserable people, yet their screams tormented us. We knew exactly at what time that whistle would blow, and we decided the only way to keep from being so disturbed by the cries was to start singing our hymns.

"By the time that train came rumbling past the church yard, we were singing at the top of our voices. If some of the screams reached our ears, we'd just sing a little louder until we could hear them no more. Years have passed and no one talks about it much anymore, but I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. I can still hear them crying out for help. God forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians, yet did nothing to intervene.

"Their screams tormented us . . . If some of their screams reached our ears we'd just sing a little louder."

We have to decide to listen, and to act. As Edmund Burke said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." The word coming out of the Justice Department is as expected. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson provided the following statement: “We have always been clear, our Government has no intention to reopen this debate.” Come on Mr. Harper, who knows, maybe this could be your defining moment.

Related Articles:
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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What is a "wrongful birth?"

Meanwhile in the wacky world of abortion rights.... now we have a couple in Portland, Oregon who were just awarded $2.9 million in a "wrongful birth" lawsuit. Yes, that's right, wrongful birth.

They had pre-screening done and the results stated that the child was normal. They say that if they had known she had Down Syndrome they would have aborted her. Thus - wrongful birth.

The family's lawyer tells us that this is a very difficult time for the family and that they love the child very much - the $2.9 is ostensibly to provide for the extra expenses that a child with Down Syndrome would apparently cost over the course of their life.

I don't know how high-functioning this little girl is, but could you imagine the discussion if she ever becomes aware of this case. This is one of those crazy stories that is bound to find its way to a reality show or movie screen near you.

I know the temptation is to laugh this off as an extreme case of people, including a judge, who have lost their common sense, but this case is reflective of what is happening on many different levels in our culture. This has everything to do with rights and responsibilities. Not to ention the fact that some 90% of pregnancies of Down Syndrome children end in abortion.

We live in an age of individual rights, not basic rights, mind you, like "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" kind of rights. I have no issue with those foundational cornerstones of Western Civilization. No, now we're talking about the "right" to have the perfect baby. We see in this case what happens when this artificial "right" is enforced.

What people don't understand is that every time a "right" is granted, a corresponding responsibility is created. If you have a right to have a child that is born without defect, someone, in this case the lab, has the responsibility to see that it happens. If you have a "right" to have an abortion, someone has the responsibility to provide that for you as well.

So now we have the debate over whether or not the freedom of conscience is trumped by the freedom of choice. Should a pro-life nurse be forced to participate in an abortion? If not,what if we don't have enough people willing to participate? Does that right go away? Should it be a right after all?

Even more importantly, what happens when right claims conflict? Shouldn't the right to life trump all other rights? Should the children who survive abortion attempts (and some do), be able to sue their parents and doctors for attempted murder and any physical injuries resulting?

The problem is that we've stopped using our brains and we're allowing our emotions to rule us. We're allowing artificial rights to be granted based upon our changing preferences, rather than referring back to the source. I do appreciate what the founding fathers of the United States wrote in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

The fact that this is self-evident indicates that it's not a uniquely American concept, but is for all mankind. What are those unalienable rights that God has endowed us with? One thing I know for sure, it doesn't include the right to kill the weakest among us.

I've included a short video below that I thought you might find interesting.

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Some Books Worth Reading

Here are a selection of books that I've reviewed over the past while and recommend. Click on the book image to go to the review.

Book Review: "The Book of Man - Readings on the Path to Manhood"

Book Review: "The Grace of God"

Book Review: The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham

Book Review: "Why I Still Believe"
Why I Still Believe: Hint: It's the Only Way the World Makes Sense
Book Review: "It Came From Within!"

Book Review: "Has Christianity Failed You?"

Book Review: "The Power Of A Whisper"
Click to see a larger image of The Power of a Whisper by Bill Hybels

Book Review - "Heaven Is For Real"
Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back

Book Review: "What Good Is God?"
What Good Is God?: In Search of a Faith That Matters

Saturday, March 10, 2012

What Is a Christ-follower?

When you hear about someone being a Christian, what do you think about?

Popular culture generally looks at a Christian as a raving lunatic who spends his or her time telling everyone else how messed up they are. The challenge for those of us who are doing our best to follow Christ is that there are enough people out there who are like that to really make it hard to be heard. I’ve seen people, who say they serve Jesus, waving signs saying “God hates homosexuals.” I’ve seen others trying to intimidate people into becoming Christians. I’ve met many others who are simply annoying.

As Charles Colson wrote in his book “The Body,” “The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians - when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.”  Eugene Peterson put it this way, “The word ‘Christian’ means different things to different people. To one person it means a stiff, upright, inflexible way of life, colorless and unbending. To another, it means a risky, surprise-filled venture, lived tiptoe at the edge of expectation... If we get our information from the biblical material, there is no doubt that the Christian life is a dancing, leaping, daring life.”

George Barna recently did some polling in the U.S. on this subject. The research discovered that people are reframing not just faith in general, but Christianity in particular. While slightly fewer adults - and many fewer teens - are identifying themselves as Christians these days, the image of the Christian faith has taken a beating. This battered image is the result of a combination of factors: harsh media criticism, "unchristian" behavior by church people, bad personal experiences with churches, ineffective Christian leadership amid social crises, and the like. The result is that those who choose to remain Christian - however they define it - are also reformulating the popular notion of what "Christian" and the Christian life mean. Some of those changes are producing favorable outcomes, while others are less appealing.

So the question remains, what is a true Christ-follower? Let’s look, first of all, at those things that don’t make you a Christ-follower.

Going to church does not make you a Christ-follower.
I would say that there are millions of people in the world today who go to church every Sunday, yet do not follow the example of Christ. Going to church makes you religious, but not necessarily a Christian. I would argue that in order to be a healthy, growing Christ-follower you need to be involved in a Christian community, but that act, in and of itself, says nothing about your relationship with Jesus Christ.

Giving money to the church does not make you a Christ-follower.
The Bible is very clear that stewardship of our resources - our handling of money - is a spiritual issue, but it also shows us that many people give for the wrong reasons. A true Christ-follower doesn’t give because he or she has to; they give because they believe in God’s work in this world and they want to make a difference.

Saying the right words doesn’t make you a Christ-follower.
God spoke through the prophet Isaiah and said, in Isaiah 29:13 that “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” The apostle Paul tells us that it is both the heart and the mouth that matter. In Romans 10:10 he said, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

Obeying the rules doesn’t make you a Christ-follower.
Some of Jesus’ harshest criticism was reserved for the Pharisees, a strict sect in Judaism which believed in following long detailed lists of rules that governed every area of their lives. In Matthew 23:27 He told them “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.”

The Apostle Paul was a Pharisee, before he found Christ. This is what he said, in Philippians 3:7-9 about him obeying all the rules and regulations. “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”

All of these things that we’ve talked about are good things in and of themselves. It’s a good thing to go to church, to help those in need; to live by the rules. But they don’t make you a Christian. So if going to church, giving to the church, saying the right words and obeying the rules don’t make you a Christ-follower, then what does?

Let’s look to an encounter between Jesus and a young man to see if we can find the answer. It’s found in Luke 18:18-30

1.                 He was a young man of standing in the community.

The Bible tells us that he had great wealth. He was likely a well-respected member of the community. Many of us have been raised hearing lines like “they’re from a good family.” What that generally means is that the person spoken of is from a family that is law-abiding; that stays out of trouble; that works hard; is generally honest; keeps their yard mowed; keeps their house in good condition and is generally not an embarrassment to their community.

He was the type of young man that most parents would be proud to have as a son. He wasn’t a wild and crazy guy who was into the party scene.

2.                 He was a religious man.

Not only was he a man of standing, he was a religious man. When he asked Jesus what he must do to be saved Jesus told him to obey the commandments, specifically the commandments dealing with how to treat your fellow man. Things like, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

He had kept all of these commandments from his youth up and he was proud of that achievement. This list of six commands was a list that, if obeyed, would win him favor with all of his friends, family and neighbors. How can you go wrong when you’re not violent, you don’t sleep around, you don’t steal, you don’t lie, you respect your parents and you love people? What a great guy? He was a man of standing in the community; he was a religious man.

3.                 He was lost. 
  • He knew he was lost.
He asked “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
He asked, “What do I still lack?”

  • Jesus knew he was lost.
He didn’t recognize Jesus for who He was (See vs. 17). Jesus immediately saw through this young man’s question to the underlying assumption. He assumed that Jesus was merely a good man. In Mark’s account he noted that the young man called Jesus a good Teacher. Jesus’ rebuke seems strange until you look at it in context.

Jesus recognized the fact that all men are sinners and stand condemned before a holy God. This young man thought Jesus was good, like he was good - it was a prideful and carnal statement. Righteousness is not earned by good works, it resides in God. This young man was standing before God in the flesh and was really wanting to know how he could make himself good enough for heaven.

An indication of where he was is found in his question in vs. 18. Jesus had just told him to obey the commandments and his response was to ask “Which ones?” Which is the magic list? It indicated that he knew he hadn’t kept all of them - and all of us know that we have not kept all of them.

We all play the comparison game like this guy was doing. I’m better than you are because I keep four of the commandments and you only keep three. It’s interesting that, even in prison, the issue of moral indignation is raised. They have to isolate criminals who are guilty of sexual crimes because the other inmates would beat them up because they’re only guilty of robbery or assault or fraud or whatever. Someone has said that people are only bad when they do worse things than I would do myself, otherwise they’re only a good person who’s made a mistake. Romans 3:23 tells us “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

I want you to notice exactly what it was that Jesus left out from the list of the commandments. He included everything that related to our human relationships, all of the things that man sees. What He left off were the first four - those dealing with our relationship to God. “You shall have no other gods before Me?” “You shall not make any graven image.” “You shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.”
The reason that Jesus didn’t include them is somewhat speculative, but I think we have a pretty good idea why. Jesus knew this man’s heart; He knows ours as well. He knew what governed this man; I believe it was his status in the community - his reputation, and his money. All of these things came ahead of God. He knew he was lost, Jesus knew he was lost, and finally...
  • His pride kept him lost.
What was it that made this man tick? What guided and motivated his decisions? What was his Lord? It appears from this conversation that this man wanted to stay as close to the status quo as he possibly could - yet he wanted to have eternal life - to be right with God.
In other words, he wanted God on his terms.

Notice that Jesus wasn't okay with that. In fact, the young man became very sad and went away because he had great wealth. He made his choice that money was more important to him than being right with God - and Jesus let him walk away.

God has always and will always demand first place in our lives. He created us and Jesus redeemed us and both of those are good reasons why He deserves that number 1 spot. Being a Christ-follower means He’s leading - not you, nor I. Jesus said we are to follow Him, not include Him on our list of interests.

There are a lot of people who want to be part-time believers. They want to follow Christ when it’s convenient, but Jesus never meant for that to happen and He never left that as an option. As a pastor, I often see people who claim the name of Christ but who refuse to submit to His Lordship. Because of this, they give Jesus a bad name. As Mahatma Ghandi famously said, "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christian. They are so unlike your Christ." 

Have the courage of your convictions and live what you believe. Live your life in such a way that you enhance God's reputation in the world.

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