Atlas of Faiths

I'm up at 4 a.m. Stumble!ing around and found this cool illustration showing which faiths make up the majority of believers in different countries. Also includes a forecast, which seems more positive than the recent article about the death of Christianity in North America. Click here to see the full version.

Know Hope

The death of Jesus on the cross is central to the Christian life, but it is also part of a larger story, one that includes the resurrection. Without the resurrection of Jesus, the cross would be meaningless, because without the resurrection, there would be:

No Messiah. The true Messiah must fulfill the Messianic prophecies found in the Hebrew Scriptures, including the prophecy that the Messiah would die for the sins of the world (Isaiah 53:7,8), and that God would raise Him from the dead (Psalm 16:9,10). If Jesus did not come back to life after dying, then He wasn’t the Messiah. And if Jesus wasn’t the Messiah, then both Jews and Gentiles alike are still waiting for salvation.

No Eternal Life. Jesus didn’t just say that He would be resurrected. He also said that He would be a resurrection for us:  I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again. They are given eternal life for believing in me and will never perish (John 11:25,26).  If Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, then Jesus was a big fat liar, and there’s no hope for us to have eternal life.

No Heaven. Do you think about heaven? There’s no loftier thought we human beings can have. Now think about this: Without the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, we’ll never get there. Jesus made it very clear that He is our connection to heaven. Not only is He designing and building a place in heaven for all who believe in Him, but He has also promised to take us there personally (John 14:1-4). As wonderful and amazing as heaven sounds, it doesn’t mean a thing if Jesus is still dead.

No Hope. The bottom line is that without the resurrection, we’re sunk. Oh yeah, we can appreciate the teachings of Jesus, we can do our best to imitate the life of Jesus, and we can feel good about living good lives here on earth. But what good is that if there’s no hope of a life with Jesus beyond this one? If Christians are merely putting their faith in a dead guy, they are just what Ted Turner once called them—a bunch of losers. Or as the apostle Paul put it, we are to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19).

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No expectations, hope and an Easter beagle indeed!

I often times find myself the most content and satisfied in life when I have the least amount of expectations.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about what the friends of Jesus expected during the week leading up to his death, his burial and his resurrection. It’s clear in the scriptures that their understanding of these events was little to none. Who could blame them? Sure they’d witnessed Jesus resurrect other people (which is crazy enough in itself to grapple with) but who could fathom he would raise himself from the dead?

 

How would Holy Week and the weeks following the resurrection be different had the followers of Christ fully understood what was to take place during those 72 hours from life to death to eternal life?

 

By learning to expect only the unexpected, there is an abundance of space for anything and everything to take place. There is a wonderful mystery that has room to unfold before us in its own time. Such as the hope of a life greater moving in and making itself a delightful turkey, avocado and tomato sandwich. 

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Tags | Belief

Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

The reason Christ had to die was to earn our salvation. As sinners, we deserve the penalty for sin, which is death (Romans 6:23). Because God is holy and just, He demands a punishment for sin. A penalty must be paid, and we aren’t capable of paying the penalty because we are sinners. The only one who can offer an acceptable payment is Jesus, because only He is without sin. The Bible clearly tells us it was love that caused God to send Jesus to pay the penalty for our sin (1 John 4:10).

The work that Christ did in his life and in his death to earn our salvation is called the atonement. The death of Jesus by crucifixion was the pivotal event that allowed sinful humankind to get back into a right relationship with the holy, almighty God. The crucifixion of Christ wasn’t a tragedy. It wasn’t a series of events gone out of control. It was the divinely designed plan of God. Here is a list of some of the fundamental accomplishments achieved by Christ’s death on the cross. Each one is a vital part of God’s plan of salvation for humankind:

  • Substitution.  Christ died so that we don’t have to. This is what Christianity is all about, and it required the death of Christ on the cross (Romans 8:3-4).
  • Propitiation.  Christ’s death on the cross turned God’s wrath away from us. Because God is so holy, He hates sin and is radically opposed to it. As sinful beings, that would place us as the objects of God’s wrath. But Christ’s death on the cross appeased God’s wrath (Romans 3:25).
  • Reconciliation.  God was alienated from humankind because of sin. That alienation was removed when Christ died on the cross. Reconciliation between God and humanity was made possible (Romans 5:10-11).
  • Redemption.  Before Christ died on the cross, we were slaves to sin. We were in bondage. We couldn’t escape sin’s snare. Think of it as if Satan had kidnapped you and was holding you as a hostage. Your release was dependent upon someone paying a ransom. That’s exactly what Christ did on the cross. He paid the ransom to redeem you (literally, to purchase you back) from slave market of sin. The ransom price was high. It cost Christ His life (1 Peter 1:18-19).
  • Destruction.  Satan was behind all of this sin stuff from the beginning. (Remember the serpent in the Garden of Eden?) Not only did Christ’s death on the cross free us from Satan’s bondage, it also demolished Satan in the process (Hebrews 2:14-15).
  • Perfection.  In the Old Testament times, the priest had to offer a sacrifice on behalf of the people each year (in a ceremony referred to as “the Day of Atonement”). When Christ died on the cross, His sacrifice was enough to cover the sins of all people—past, present, and future (Hebrews 9:26-28).
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The "so what?" of the resurrection.

Yesterday I did what people do in Seattle in April. I got my hands down into the dirt and dug around a bit. I placed some shoots of fresh Geraniums into that dark, wet, rich, soil. I placed the pots on the steps where, strategically situated, they'll get the maximum amount of sunshine. And now we wait.

But of course, we don't JUST wait. There's watering, soil care, fortifying the whole operation with nutrients, and more. All of this is helpful. Someday, blossoms will come. Someday, when we're celebrating graduations, when wearing shoes is the exception rather than the rule, when we're riding our bikes everywhere and eating on the patio every night, there will be bursts of color welcoming each guest who ascends the flower clad stairs to our front door. Someday... but not now.

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Welcome to College

We know that many Christians walk away from Christ during college.  And many parents and students are desperate for guidance and wisdom on how to navigate this perilous part of life's journey.  That’s why Jonathan Morrow’s new book, Welcome to College, is a must-have resource. 

If a parent or student asked me for a single book to read before or during college, I’d give them Morrow’s book.  He has written a comprehensive guide broken into 42 manageable, “bite-sized” chapters, yet it is remarkably in-depth.  It’s definitely not your typical dumbed-down Christianity-lite. 

And Morrow deals with both head and heart.  Chapter 2 really frames the book, as he unpacks what it means to “Think Christianly.”  Next, he lays a vital foundation, clarifying issues Christians are profoundly confused about, like theology, faith and knowledge.  Then he offers clear-thinking yet gracious apologetics for the contemporary challenges a college student will be sure to face from peers and professors. 

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How Some Postmodern Kids Used Logic in Berkeley

“Religion is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.”  So says Richard Dawkins, author of the God Delusion and godfather to the New Atheists.  This recent breed of atheist is no longer satisfied to pronounce religion as mistaken.  Believers aren't merely wrong, they're irrational.  And to such a degree that they very likely suffer psychological disorders.

But is it the believer who is irrational?  I don’t think so.

In February, I took the high schoolers of Crossline Community Church in Mission Viejo on their first Berkeley mission trip.  For students and staff, it was a rational test of Christianity’s truth claims.  It was also an occasion to humbly yet confidently demonstrate the utter irrationality of atheism. 

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A friendly critique of the hot new Calvinism

Time magazine has informed us of ten trends to watch in the coming year, and one of them is the resurgence of Calvinism, embodied in the works of author's like John Piper, and numerous young pastors in America. One friend ponders the reasons for it's resurgence here. While I agree with his assessment of why the movement is strong and growing, I'm not at all certain it's a good thing.

Brett says in his post that "Calvinism is about certainty" In a world of post-modern cynicism, and the despair that comes with feeling ideological rootlessness, it's not surprising that the pendulum would swing, and that there would be a rise in the popularity of 'solid answers'. But what does the fact that a movement is growing really prove? (I'll point out that Islam is also growing rapidly in America). Perhaps it only proves that we like certitude, and the light speed cultural changes of the 21st century only serve to increase our hunger for answers we can believe in; live for; die for.

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The Berkeley Mission: A New Kind of Mission Trip

Here's an idea.  First, let's get a group of Christian high school students together, many of whom have grown up in the safety of the church, a Christian home or a Christian school.  Next, we'll put them in front of atheists, skeptics, gay rights activists, Unitarian pastors, college students and whoever else we can find, to talk to them about evils of religion and the irrationality of Christian belief.  A recipe for disaster, right?  

Wrong.  

In fact, I've already done it.  For 4 years now, with Stand to Reason.  And it's the most effective training I've ever done with youth.  In 2006, spurred on by my good friend Jim Wallace, founder of PleaseConvinceMe.com and pastor of The Rising Tide church, I developed an "apologetic mission trip" to Berkeley.  Here's a series of blog posts I did about that very first trip.  

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Fundamentalism: The Serial Killer of Biblical Interpretation

Many fundamentalists thrive on violently murdering honest biblical interpretation. I have seen it happen to others and myself: a sound scholastic reading of the Bible is presented and is denied because it doesn’t fit within religious parameters. Let’s talk about the fundamentalists, the serial killers of sound biblical interpretation, and see whose the real literalist: me or them?

First, let’s define fundamentalism:
1. A movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching
2. A movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary

Now, from Merriam-Webster’s definition, I could almost (not quite) classify myself as a Christian fundamentalist. However, I don’t think the fundamentalists I know really understand what it means to be a literalist. If we are literalists, then we need to realize a few things, like the fact that God has spoken in other ways besides for His written Word (the Bible is not our only source for knowing about our God). Most fundies I know would say, “No way! God's ultimate plan of redemption is in the Bible and therefore there is no need for Him to speak anywhere else.” Well, there is a few problems with this kind of strict Bible-only view of God’s revelation. Let’s use the Bible as our starting point to show why this view murders honest biblical interpretation.

In Rom 1:19–20, when Paul is convincing the Romans why idolatry and worshiping  Graeco-Roman gods is wrong, he does not appeal to Scripture, but to creation: “For what can be known about God is plain … because God has shown it to [everyone]. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So [idolaters] are without excuse” (ESV). When anyone makes a choice to not follow the true God, Yahweh, as He is revealed through His Son, they are without excuse, not because He revealed Himself in the Bible, but because He revealed Himself in creation.

Oh, but the serial killing of this belief about how God speaks continues on—just look at how many times Acts 17 has been brushed over, or excused. Paul during his sermon at the Areopagus (commonly known as Mars Hill) quotes the Greek poet-philosophers Epimenides of Crete and Aratus (Acts 17:28) to explain the true God, Yahweh, and His plan of redemption through His Son. He also claims that the inscription to an unknown god on one of their altars is a reference to Yahweh (Acts 17:23). Paul synchronizes (on a very simple level) the religious beliefs of the Areopagus philosophers (and the Greeks in general) with Christianity. For Paul, God has revealed Himself in many different ways.

The above examples show that most fundies are actually not literalists. Because if they were, they would have a lot broader understanding of how God reveals Himself.

So, am I a biblical literalist? In the sense that I interpret the Bible based on what it actually says, Yes! But, am I a fundamentalist? Not in the sense of affirming a set of principles outside the Bible that deny things like God’s revelation happening in creation and other literature as well. But I am a fundamentalist in the sense that I affirm the basic set of principles God has commanded me in the Bible. The Bible is fundamental to Christian life and teaching, but as the above examples show, most fundies interpret the Bible within their set tradition and in doing so often don’t allow for it to be read literally. Please make the serial killing of honest biblical interpretation stop.

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