The Meaning of Advent

One of the great joys of Christmas is the arrival of special guests. It may be a son or daughter who has been away at college or in the military. It could be a favorite aunt or uncle who has flown in for the holidays. Friends might be coming to share a holiday dinner. Whoever it is, you anticipate the arrival of your guests and prepare yourself and your home for their coming. And finally, when you hear the knock or the doorbell, you jump up, eager to welcome your loved ones into your heart and home.

That spirit and emotion are at the heart of Advent, a way of celebrating Christmas that may be new to you. Perhaps you’re aware of Advent but don’t know a lot about what it means or what you’re supposed to do about it. When you hear the word, you probably think of candles and calendars. While those are often involved in the celebration, they are merely symbols of what Advent is all about.

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The End of the World?

Throughout history there have been different “signs” that pointed to the end of the world. At least that’s how people (and by “people” we mean wacky futurists) have often interpreted them. For example:
  • In 1774, the Shakers came to America from England because they believed the thousand-year reign of Christ (called the millennium) was imminent. The Shakers were “fanatically anti-sex “ (no matter they built such great furniture), which was consistent with their end-of-the-world beliefs. After all, procreation doesn’t mean all that much if the world is coming to an end.
  • In 1970 Hal Lindsey’s prophetic guide to end times, The Late Great Planet Earth, was first published. Lindsey never actually set a date for the end of the world, but his book suggested it would take place before 1988, or forty years after Israel became a nation. The book sold ten million copies in the 1970s alone.
  • In 1978, Jim Jones ordered members of his cult to commit suicide because “it was time.” Tragically, more than 900 hundred people drank the Kool Aid.
  • In 1988 thousands of people bough a booklet entitled 88 Reasons Why Jesus Will Return in 1988. The book went out of print on January 1, 1989, and the author hasn’t been heard from since (big surprise).
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In Between the Best and Worst

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Charles Dickens’ first line in his classic A Tale of Two Cities is one of the most famous in all of literature for a very good reason. Every person in every era in every part of the world knows what it means, even if they’ve never read the book (which applies to just about everybody, including us).

Not only is the line true, it’s disquieting. It’s one of those universal truths you acknowledge but wish were not the case: The relentless parade of human achievement that makes our lives better and longer is offset at every turn by the ongoing plight of human misery. Often, the contrast comes in a moment.

Something very good happens to you, and then you check your phone to scan the headlines and a picture of a two-year-old Syrian refugee laying face down on a beach slaps you across the face and makes your heart ache. And once again you are reminded of Dickens’ famous first line.

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The Resurrection Matters

The resurrection of Jesus is not just the reason for Easter. It is the most important event in the history of the world. Not only does Christianity rise and fall on the reality and the power of the resurrection, but the very fate of the human race also depends on it.

The apostle Paul said as much in his first letter to the Corinthian church: And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins (I Cor. 15:17).

What does that have to do with the human race? Well, if there’s no resurrection, there’s no Jesus, at least not the Jesus portrayed in the Bible. The biblical Jesus is the Son of God, who came to earth to save people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). In his death Jesus took on the sins of the world. In his resurrection he conquered death and those who believe in him to experience God’s forgiveness and be forever reconciled to God.
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Do Dogs Go to Heaven?

Pope Francis has on various occasions reached out to those who feel alienated in one way or another from mainstream culture while not necessarily fully endorsing their lifestyle or personal choices. Now his eminence has built a bridge to an entirely new class of sentient creatures, namely our canine friends. This isn’t an insignificant group. Globally there may be upwards of a half billion dogs on the planet.

Trying to console a distraught little boy whose dog had died, Francis told him in a recent public appearance on St. Peter’s Square, “Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”

And there you have it. It may not be official Catholic doctrine, but such a statement has to be enormously comforting to hundreds of millions of dog owners and dog lovers: All dogs do go to heaven.

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Science and Faith: Are They Compatible?

The whole point of Darwinism is to explain the world in a way that excludes any role for a Creator. What is being sold in the name of science
is a completely naturalistic understanding of reality. (Phillip Johnson)

Scientists, philosophers, and theologians are pretty much agreed about this: it is the function of science to determine the facts of the universe; it is the function of religion to determine its meaning. But opinions about the origins of the universe diverge, and arguments become heated, over whether the Bible can be used as a source of scientific information. Secular scientists try to exclude biblical perspectives by limiting the inquiry to what can be tested in a laboratory. It is their position that any belief or theory with any hint of “supernatural” causes must be disregarded. Since God doesn’t appear in a telescope or under a microscope, these scientists reject from consideration any theory of a God-caused universe.

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Can You Really Know God?

Is it possible to know God? Most people believe it is possible to know about God the way you know about any person, place, or thing. All it takes is a little research, such as reading a book about whatever it is you want to know about. So in the case of God, you could read the Bible. Or in the case of Allah, you could read the Qur’an. But what if you want to actually know God in the way you would know a spouse or a close friend?

Muslims take offense at the notion that a person can know God. To the Islamic mind, a human ability to know God would make God dependent on his creation. For this reason, Allah doesn’t reveal himself; he reveals his mashi’at (desires and wishes), but not himself. Since Muslims believe that people cannot know Allah, they don’t try.

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Your Children Don't Belong to You

There used to be a time when kids couldn’t wait to leave home. And we’re not talking about getting out of the house on Friday night for a date. In the not-too-distant past, when a son or daughter reached 18, it was goodbye mom and dad and hello world.

Plenty of kids do leave home for college, but increasingly they return once they graduate because they know mom will do the laundry and dad will pay the rent. Okay, so it’s not as simple as that. There are economic factors and a tight job market and all of that. We understand that sometimes a kid doesn’t have a choice but to once again come under mom and dad’s umbrella. But we often wonder if this tendency for children to return to the nest isn’t aided and abetted in some way by one or both parents.

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Are God and Allah the Same?

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet. 

William Shakespeare's immortal line from Romeo and Juliet is practically a universal truth. If something is real, it can be known. If it can be known, it doesn't matter what you call it. The identity and qualities of that person, place, or thing stays the same in any language.

Or does it?

Take the person of God, acknowledged as the “one true God” by the world’s three great monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—even though these religions refer to God in their own unique way. In Judaism He is Yahweh, in Christianity He is God, and in Islam He is Allah. So are God, Yahweh, and Allah the same?

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A Brief History of Islam

Have you ever wondered how a religion gets started? Do a bunch of people get together and decide to start a church just so they can pass the collection place and launch a television ministry? Does God look down from heaven and choose someone to start a new belief system just so he can have a few more buildings with stained glass windows built in his honor? Or does some ambitious person decide to blaze a new path to God because he believes all the others are wrong?

Here’s one story—the story of Islam—that may help you understand how a religion gets going. This is the true account (short version) of the early beginnings of Islam, the world’s second biggest monotheistic religion.

The Story of Islam

Muhammad ibn Abdallah was born in A.D. 570 into a prominent family in the city of Mecca, Arabia (now Saudi Arabia). His father died before he was born, and his mother died when he was six. Raised by his uncle, Muhammad married a 40-year-old wealthy widow named Khadijah when he was 25. The newlyweds settled in Mecca, where Muhammad became a successful businessman.

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Christianity 101 is a collection of books and digital resources by Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz that talk about God in a way that encourages people to grow in their faith.

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