A few weeks ago, I posted a survey requesting feedback on what readers wanted to see more about. I was a little surprised that some requested apologetic-related topics. Since my blog is tailored to a Christian audience, this response indicates one of three things: 1. some of you are just as nerdy as me 2. some of you are not Christians but are curious why I am or 3. some of you don’t know how to correctly cast a vote. Regardless of the reason, I’m going to be spending the next few posts focusing on apologetics, which is a fancy way of saying, “defending Christianity”.
But first, in case you aren’t automatticly interested in this topic, I want to explain why all of us should have some basic foundation in apologetics. Today, many Christians might be tempted to leave the brainy stuff to the ministers and theologians, but I disagree (as you might have guessed from this post ). In fact, as Christians, we’re actually commanded to be able to defend our faith in Christ on our own.
Here’s what the Bible says, “So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats…And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it” (1 Peter 3:14-15). First, we have to be ready to explain and defend the faith. Secondly, ‘threats’ implies that inquiries may not always be from an open-minded people.
The Church has always been under attack from outsiders. In the early days of the Church, Jews accused other converted Jews of heresy while the Romans claimed Christians were, among other things, cannibals (both crimes punishable by death). In many parts of the world, preaching about Christ will still cost you your life. Here, attacks come from atheists and agnostics that claim Christians are ‘anti-science’ or are fools acting on ‘blind faith.’ What’s sad is that these attacks have become so powerful that even some Christians doubt the legitimacy and authenticity of the Bible. Many of my peers who ‘grew up Christian’ are now turning away from it’s teachings because they are ‘logically oriented’ or find more comfort in moral relativism. .
The Bible explains that faith is both logical and emotional (after all, God gave us a heart and a brain). When Paul went to the Jews to defend his conversion, he tried to reason with them using prophecy, Scripture, and witness testimony (Acts 17:2-3, 19:8, 28:23-24). Flip through his Epistles (those “other” books in the New Testament) and you’ll see he did the same thing with the Romans and Greeks.
Granted, logic isn’t going to win over every mind, or even most (Paul was ultimately martyred). But being able to articulate our beliefs, grounded in reason, will do a few things. First, it will help grow your personal relationship with Christ. Just like getting to know different characteristics and qualities of a significant other deepens your feelings for them, so too does understanding how God makes Himself apparent to all who want to know Him (Romans 1:20). And after all, how can you love someone you don’t know?
Understanding apologetics also develops confidence to answer questions from inquiring co-workers, children, spouses, friends and the most hostile skeptics on Facebook alike. I’m guilty of avoiding conversations with people I know aren’t going to be receptive to the Gospel out of fear of what they will say or counter with. And despite what I may pretend, I don’t know everything. Yet, Christians aren’t called to act out of fear (1 Cor 16:14). Instead, we should be destroying the notion of ‘blind faith’ by giving light to false and illogical secular claims (Mat 5:16).
Ultimately, we want to get to a point where we illustrate the Christian faith is perfectly logical and show that it is actually illogical to reject Christ. But in the end, only the Holy Spirit can bring someone to him. This isn’t an argumentative escapism, I only mean that despite your (and my) best efforts, some will choose the illogical route. It’s at this point when you stand up and point your finger in their face and scream “You can’t handle the truth!” Seriously though, people will exchange truth for lies, and they have the free will to do so and we must love them anyways (Romans 1:21-25).
Over the next few posts, I’m asking readers to provide feedback (questions or comments), so I can address specific inquiries. I’ll try to build my posts around them. And if the posts suck, my apologies.
PS – Sorry for missing last week. I had a baby.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
Since it is Easter-time, I’ve been spending my time preparing for the big day by doing the usual ‘pre-Easter’ activities like filling plastic eggs full of goodies, reading the accounts of the crucifixion, and wondering how on earth anyone could possibly like Peeps. Gross.
This time around, I was drawn to Pontius Pilate. I suppose I’ve always seen him as a villain in the story. After all, he is the one who ordered Christ to be crucified. But this year, I realized something different about Pilate:
Three separate times he appealed to the Jews that he found no grounds for the death penalty (Luke 23:22). He tried to convince them to try Jesus by Jewish religious law rather than Caesar’s (John 18:31). He tried to avoid having to make a decision himself by sending Jesus to Herod (Jesus was from Galilee, which was in Herod’s jurisdiction) (Luke 23:7). He suggested a lighter sentence (flogging) to appease the thirst for blood, rather than a crucifixion (Luke 23:16). He tried to convince Jesus to defend himself against his accusers (Mark 15: 3). And finally, he put Jesus up against a known trouble-maker and murderer, Barabbas, for the annual Passover prisoner release (John 18:40). Presumably, he thought the Jews would choose Jesus over a scum bag.
I don’t know why, but I never noticed how much Pilate did to avoid killing Jesus, or at least avoid killing Jesus himself. It’s pretty clear this was something he didn’t want to do, though it’s not clear why. Perhaps he was a softy and didn’t like the idea of flogging and crucifying an innocent man. Or, perhaps he was afraid that he actually was killing the Son of God. After all, his wife tried to warn him against harming Jesus, and we all know wives are always right (Mat 27:19).
John’s account claims that Pilate was ‘afraid’ when he heard Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. Upon hearing it, he spoke to Jesus and “from then on tried to set Jesus free” (John 19: 12). Ultimately, we know he conceded to the power of the angry mob, but not before he claimed to be personally innocent of Christ’s blood (Mat 27: 24).
While I’m still not on Team Pilate, re-reading all of this gives me more empathy for the man. After all, aren’t we all guilty of doing the same thing? Obviously, not too many of us argue with Jewish rabbis on a daily basis. But we all want to do the right thing and defend Christ, but we end up nailing him to a cross all over again.
Though Christians claim to know rather than fear Jesus is the Son of God, we behave the same way as the Roman governor. We avoid making tough decisions, try to take moral ‘short-cuts,’ defend our actions, absolve ourselves of responsibility, and ultimately try convincing others, ourselves and God that we are innocent, or at least justified. Like Pilate, when siding with Christ costs us something, friends, family, power, or even 2 seconds of ridicule, we decide the cost is too high and turn our backs. In this way, we are no different than the man who ordered his death, the soldiers who flogged and nailed him to the cross, or those, who at one point offered praise,but later hurled insults at Christ.
If you go back and re-read this story this weekend, I hope like me, you see yourself in the crucifixion account. It might make remembering why Christ died today a little more clear. It was because he loved his peeps. Not his Peeps.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
If you’re like me, when you think of the Ten Commandments, you probably made a mental check list, “Well, I’ve lied, but I haven’t murdered anyone, so that’s pretty good.” However, the Bible tells us anyone breaking the least among God’s commands will be least in heaven. Often times, we try to make ourselves feel better by focusing on what we haven’t broken (Matthew 5:19).
Idolatry is one of the sins that I typically thought I was ‘safe’ from… I mean the likelihood of worshiping a golden cow as a god is pretty low. The commandment says, “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them,” so as long as I’m not bowing down to Osiris or Ra, I should be in the clear right (Exodus 20:4-5)? Or maybe, that’s not what God meant. Maybe I’m just as guilty as the Israelites. Maybe the American idol is more than just a TV show that just launched its 974th season…and counting…
Christ told us that when we curse someone, we are subject to judgement, just as those who murder are subject to judgement (Matthew 5:21-22). He said that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart (Matthew 5:27:28). So clearly, God wanted the Jews to connect the dots between their hearts and the law He gave them. According to Jesus, the sin starts in the heart, it’s not just in the action. If that’s the case, then the second commandment implies that idolatry isn’t just carving an image out of gold or stone; idolatry is putting anything (or anyone) in your heart where only God belongs:
“So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world” (Col 3:5, emphasis mine).
“Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world” (1 John 2:15-16, emphasis mine).
So, don’t worship the bad things like the endless pursuit of money, sex outside marriage, or plot with Pinky and the Brain to take over the world and you’re good right? I think there’s more to it than that. While some might be tempted to think bowing down to a man with a falcon head is ridiculous, the ancient Egyptians might think watching pictures in a box for 5 solid days a month insane. Television, like a mutant statue, is not intrinsically bad. And certainly taking pride in your work, as John wrote, is not bad (Proverbs 10:26). I think it’s the meaning we put in these these things that makes them idolatrous. Striving to provide a good home for your family is good, but not if you’re spending so much time at the office your kids don’t know you. Pursing companionship in a mate is good, but not if it means you’re compromising your faith.
How do we know if we’re committing idolatry? One way is by examining the fruits of our life choices, which is certainly how others will evaluate us (Matthew 7:16). In the end, it comes down to are we pursing what we want over what God wants for us (as He instructed in the Bible). After all, the first sin came down to man (yes, technically woman) making himself his own idol.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
Despite what the politically correct police would have you believe, there really aren’t that many religious holidays going on right now. There is just Christmas and Chanukah.
Lots of people assume Chanukah is ‘Christmas for the Jews’ – not so. The Jews have other holidays that are much more ‘important’ like Yom Kippur or Passover. But those aren’t around Christmas so Christians don’t pay too much attention (ironic because they actually mean something to our spiritual history too). But what about Chanukah? Should Christians care about the Festival of Lights? After all, Jesus celebrated it (John 10:22).
I personally like Chanukah because it is an example that reminds Jews AND Christians that our faith is anything but blind. Did you know that Daniel prophesied the events leading up to Chanukah 383 years before they happened? Let’s see, 2011-383=1628. In 1628, the Puritans were settling into a little place called Salem, Massachusetts (talk about irony…). That would be like one of them predicting Osama Bin Laden’s death this year. Here’s how it went…
In Daniel chapter 8, Daniel (who was exiled to Babylon after the Babylonians conquered the nation of Judah in 605 BC) is living at the palace of Belshazzar, which helps scholars date the texts around 551 BC (Daniel 8:1). He has a vision of a two-horned ram (the Medo-Persian Empire), a goat (the Greek Empire) with a long horn (Alexander the Great) which was later replaced by four horns (Ptolemy – Egypt, Seleucus – Syria/Persia, Cassander – Macedonia/Greece and Lysimachus – Thrace/Asia Minor). Out of one of the horns, the Greek one to be exact, came a small horn who was Antiochus IV Epiphanes (Daniel 8:3-9). This is where our story picks up.
Antiochus IV tried unsuccessfully to invade Egypt. In 168 BC on his way back to Syria, he stopped into Israel and ordered his troops to seize Jerusalem on the Sabbath. There, he entered Solomon’s Temple (a big no-no because he wasn’t a Jew), put up a statue of Zeus, and slaughtered a pig (an unholy animal) on God’s altar. The Jews refer to this event as “the abomination the causes desolation,” which Daniel also prophesied about in Daniel 9:27. Antiochus continued with his ‘Hellenization‘ by outlawing Jewish scripture and religious customs, including circumcision.
Enter Mattathias, a Jewish priest who was ordered to sacrifice to Zeus and eat pig meat (unlike everything else, heresy does not go better with bacon). Mattathias refused and eventually killed a Greek soldier. He and his five sons fled into the mountains where other Jews joined them for a few years of guerrilla warfare targeted against the Greeks. Mattathias’s son Judas ‘The Hammer’ (or in Greek, Maccabeus) defeated the Greeks after three years of fighting we now refer to as the Maccabean Rebellion. The Jews stormed Jerusalem, entered the Temple, and relit the Menorah in the Holy Place thereby rededicating the Temple to God, not Zeus. Unfortunately, they only had enough oil to last a day, but amazingly it lasted eight, which was just enough time to prepare and consecrate a new batch. And that was the first Chanukah.
Back to Daniel (in 551 BC), “Then I heard two holy ones talking to each other. One of them asked, ‘How long will the events of this vision last? How long will the rebellion that causes desecration stop the daily sacrifices? How long will the Temple and heaven’s army be trampled on?’ The other replied, ‘It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the Temple will be made right again’” (Daniel 8:13-14).
Sacrifices were made once in the morning and once in the evening. Amazingly, 1,150 morning sacrifices and 1,150 evening sacrifices works out to three years, one month, and twenty-five days. Remember, in 168 BC Antiochus defiled the temple and stopped sacrifices – how long did that last you ask? They resumed 165 BC…hmmm.
Why don’t Christians celebrate the Festival of Lights? Frankly, it’s because we aren’t Jewish. Not in the religious sense, though obviously that matters too, but in the cultural sense. Unless you are a Jew who converted to Christianity, you are a Gentile, and it’s just not a part of our culture (if someone knows a better reason, I’m all ears). There’s nothing wrong with us celebrating Chanukah, it’s just not something Gentile Christians usually do.
So, if you wish someone a merry Christmas and he tells you he’s Jewish, wish them a happy Chanukah. It’s what Jesus would do. Literally.
(Note: for more information, read Hal Seed’s Future History. That’s what I did.)Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )