Archive for April, 2012

How to Handle the Truth

Posted on April 29, 2012. Filed under: Culture | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

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 17:2-319:8, 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.

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Follow Jesus. Don’t Forget the Church.

Posted on April 15, 2012. Filed under: Culture | Tags: , , , , , , |

A recent cover of Newsweek Magazine which depicted Jesus as a classier version of Kirk Cobain in the middle of Times Square read, “Forget the Church, Follow Jesus.” Inside, Andrew Sullivan’s article “Christianity in Crisis” laments against the Church today and argues instead we should follow Jesus (though he suggests what Jesus actually said or did is up to personal interpretation…unless you disagree with his interpretation, then you’re just wrong).

Though I was tempted to dedicate this week’s post to calling him a poo-poo head, I decided it might be more beneficial to address a larger issue the Church is facing – the attack on the very idea of ‘the Church.’ Just what is ‘the Church’? Do we really need it or can we just ‘follow Jesus’?

When Christ talks about building his ‘church’ in Matthew, the Greek word  literally means ‘those called out’ (Mat 16:18). The Church is simply a gathering of Christ’s followers. You don’t need an ordained priest, holy water, a building or even stale wafers to have a church (though, wine may make it more entertaining). Obviously, it may help having someone around educated in scripture’s nuances, but it’s not mandatory.

How did Jesus feel about worshiping with others? It seems to me he thought it was pretty important. “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (Mat 18:20). After Christ’s resurrection, he gave the 11 disciples (Judas was hangin’ somewhere else) the ‘great commission’ to go out and make disciples (Mat 28:16-20). It’s pretty hard make disciples if you’re ‘following Jesus’ by yourself. And the idea of gathering with others wasn’t new with the New Testament. Flip back to creation of man in Genesis and you’ll find it written in third person (Gen 1:26). God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit have always been in community with each other.

We aren’t made to do life alone (Gen 2:18). It is important to gather with others to fulfill Chirst’s laws, share each others burdens (Gal 6:2), correct and mediate between believers (Mat 18:15-17), encourage one another (1 Thes 5:11) , warn each other when we lose our way (2 Thes 3:15) and the list could go on and on. Clearly, Christ wouldn’t just want us to ‘forget the church.’

Some Christians will justify not joining a church by a number of ways, none of which are particularly good, let alone biblical. There’s the ‘I haven’t found a church I like’ line, which I generally submit means that person tried two churches in a 3 mile radius and gave up. If you’re willing to drive 45 minutes to get to the closest Chick-fil-a (mall, restaurant, etc.), you can drive that far to meet with other believers (you could probably meet there as long as it wasn’t a Sunday).

‘I don’t believe in organized religion.’ I’m not sure what this means, but if means you don’t like too much doctrine, I would say two things: If the ‘doctrine’ is the Bible, check out my post on cafeteria Christianity. If the doctrine conflicts with the Bible, try correcting your brothers as Scripture calls us to do (Gal 6:1). If that doesn’t work, find the group that’s meeting at Chick-fil-a.

Then there’s ‘the Church is full of hypocrites/ I don’t like the preacher/music/politics/coffee they serve.’ Ephesians 5:22-33 is usually cited for understanding the husband-wife relationship, but it’s also about the Christ-Church relationship. The bottom line is that the Church, like your spouse, isn’t going to be perfect. The Church is made up of sinners (like you and me), which hopefully recognize it. If a brother is sinning, correct him in love. If you have to, try a new church, but don’t go around bashing Christ’s bride – how would you like it if someone was talking smack about your woman?

‘I don’t want to go alone.’ If you go, you won’t be alone. If you don’t go, you’ll be alone. One reason to go is to develop Christian friendships.

’11 o’clock on Sunday morning is just too early.’ The Sabbath is about God – not you sleeping in. Take a nap!

‘I don’t get anything out of it.’ Jesus went to temple and he certainly was a fan of fellowship with others (Luke 2:39-52Mat 21:12). If the human manifestation of God on earth still thought it was important to be present with others, you’ll have a tough time convincing me you’ve got it all figured out  100% of the time and therefore don’t need to go.

Ultimately, your relationship with Christ is a personal one that doesn’t depend on others (Eph 2:8), but hopefully you see that the Church Christ established serves a very important purpose. And while Mr. Sullivan may have a point about the Church needing some correction, I don’t see how that’s possible if everyone decides to ‘forget it.’

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Poor Pilate?

Posted on April 8, 2012. Filed under: Culture | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

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.

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Sheep In Hoodies

Posted on April 1, 2012. Filed under: Culture | Tags: , , , , , , |

Is it me, or does it seem like people are behaving more like sheep lately? Whether it’s forwarding Krony 2012 videos or ranting about oil companies, no one seems to be thinking for themselves. This was crystalized for me over the past 10 days as the Internet, Facebook, television, and I’m pretty sure at one point I saw smoke signals that shouted for ‘justice’ for Trayvon Martin. Should I jump on the hoodie bandwagon or is there danger in cloaking myself in the mob mentality?

In chapter 7 of Acts, we get the account of the first Christian martyr (well other than Christ): Stephen. Stephen was going around spreading the news that the messiah had come and challenged the Jewish leaders for being hardheaded for not realizing this precious gift God had given mankind. Naturally, the well-educated carefully selected leaders on the Sanhedrin listened to Stephen’s arguments, weighing the facts and evidence before making their conclusions. Actually, “they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him ” (Acts 7:57-58).

As this illustrates, being included in a ‘mob’ doesn’t automatically qualify you as an illiterate pitch-fork wielding villager.  Mobs may be made up of intelligent and well-meaning people.  Yet despite their composition, mobs almost always act out of emotion. They aren’t acting based on reason and sound-judgment; they are a reflex responding to a circumstance that pierces our hearts.

Many times people think of a mob as just responding in the ‘heat of the moment,’ but this irrational behavior can go on for years without someone pausing to question the merit of a mob’s cause. The French Revolution, genocides in any time period, and the overuse of neon colors throughout the 90’s all illustrate that people fueled by emotion, emboldened by a group can have dangerous consequences that last for years.

So, what’s the solution to sheepeople (not a typo)? Naturally, a shepherd (i.e., a leader):

Everyone remembers the story of the little shepherd boy, David, who killed Goliath with a sling, which by the way, is a much more effective weapon than the wimpy slingshot. But David grew to become a man loved by the Hebrew people, so much so that they eventually made him their king. But not everyone liked him, particularly Saul, the cowardly first king of Israel. Saul was very jealous of David’s successes in battle and resulting popularity. Saul was so obsessed with David’s fame that he tried to have him killed. As a result, David went into exile along with few hundred men who supported him. On multiple occasions, David and his armies had the chance to slay the weak and unpopular king. But David never gave into mob pressure to oust Saul. Instead, he respected that God had appointed Saul and used his influence to spare Saul’s life from those who wanted to kill him (1 Samuel 18-26).

Is it leadership that calms the angry mob? Not quite – after all, no one can argue Robespierre and Pol Pot were calming influences in their respective spheres. Returning to Stephen’s story, we see another Saul who illustrates that leadership can also enflame the passions of a mob. This Saul used Stephen’s death as a launching pad for persecuting Christians throughout Jerusalem (Acts 7:58-8:3). Thankfully later he was blinded by the light, became revved up like a deuce and the leading Christian runner in the night – he became Paul (if you didn’t catch that reference you need musical help). But at the time, he used his leadership to sway Jewish mobs to commit evil.

How are our leaders doing given the current outrage for Trayvon? Well, we’ve got one sporting a hoodie in Congress defending ‘cries of the American people for justice.’ And then there is our President who has now weighed in. It’s not so much what the President said that alarms me, but what he didn’t say. Here is the man who is the leader of our Constitutional republic, not to mention the chief law enforcement officer, implying that there is something afoul.

I’m not saying that George Zimmerman is innocent, but perhaps as a nation that claims to uphold rule of law rather than mob-rule and that prides itself in trying men through due process rather than in the court of public opinion, we should let a jury of Zimmerman’s peers decide his innocence or guilt. Unfortunately, due to the media and mob that has based its opinion on sound bytes and emotions rather than facts, he’s unlikely to find one that isn’t already biased.

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