The Success of the Cross

The death of Jesus on the cross on behalf and in place of sinful humankind has been the centerpiece of Christianity for two thousand years. Of course, without the resurrection, the cross would be a waste, but without the cross, there would be no resurrection. Jesus had to die before he could come back to life. Even more, to get to the reason for the cross, Jesus had to die so that we might live.

This view that Jesus died so we don't have to is called "substitutionary atonement," and it's best expressed in Scripture in Isaiah 53:4-6. Substitutionary atonement troubles some believers, in particular young adults who are troubled by "religiously motivated violence." On a personal level, they struggle with a God who would subject his own son to the violence and horror of the cross, something Tony Jones refers to as "divine child abuse."

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The Spiritualist

Groups of People: non-followers of Jesus

·         A non-follower is by definition someone who has not given his/her life to follow Jesus.

Group 2: The Spiritualist: believes in every kind of supernatural possibility – ghosts, energy, reincarnation, etc.


When I first met my wife, Melissa, she was a spiritualist. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe in a god (little “g”), but more that she thought he or she was one part of a whole host of spiritual or supernatural experiences. Ask some people if they believe in God and they will say “no”, but ask them if they believe in ghosts they will say “yes”. In fact, there’s a whole Discovery channel show dedicated to celebrities who believe in ghosts. Melissa had cobbled together a form of believe from a variety of vague thoughts…careful not to think to thoroughly about any one of them. She had a crystal not because she thought rocks were inherently powerful, but because maybe there was something to some forms of rocks having more energy than others. She believed in reincarnation not because she was a Hindu, but because she wasn’t sure if she was herself or herself come back into time again and again.

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Responding to a Very Public Meltdown

There's been some pretty sad and shocking  news out of San Diego recently about someone many people have hailed as a hero.  I have a few brief thoughts on our response. 

There is such a thing as an invisible world.  We know this. We believe the writer of Ephesians was correct when he said, "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the authorities, against the powers of this world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

We believe this but we don't always act as if we believe this.  Our behavior some times suggests we engage the world as if it’s only what we see and understand that exists. 

But that's an oversight we can't afford to make.

Let me say that I am NOT a demon-under-every-bush kind of person.

The Delusionals Are Ruining the Fun

We’ve all met the delusionals and the crazies in religion, or at least seen them on TV or YouTube. The way that they affect Christianity reminds me of what happens in work environments: One person does something stupid or abuses the system, and suddenly there is an additional code or protocol that everyone else has to follow. One person’s folly becomes everyone’s regret. Among Christians, it seems that our reaction to the loonies has made us all act a little crazy. Rather than seeking to distinguish between the spirits of good and evil, and sane and insane, we’ve generally abolished anything that seems a little odd or difficult to rationalize.

But there is comfort to be found in what Paul tells us about how spiritual gifts come into play, and how they should be used. He addresses the problems we’re dealing with head on.

Faith over Intellect? Intellect over Faith?

Mind over matter. Faith over intellect. Wisdom over knowledge. We’re convinced that the alternative is better: that one of these is better than the other. But Paul says that knowledge is a gift. It’s not something to be set aside when you start believing, but incorporated.

Intellect itself convinces us that some people are more gifted with knowledge than others. We’ve been in classes with these people, and we all know the stories of the most gifted among them (e.g., Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison). But Paul is talking about a different kind of knowledge. It’s not just one about facts and numbers. (Although the type of people gifted with the type of knowledge Paul is referring to would likely be good with that as well.)

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Christians Need Apologetics

“Just some ordinary conversation over dinner.”  At least, that’s how my host described this event.  In January, I was invited to have dinner with a couple of dads and their sons to facilitate a discussion on the problem of evil.  It was a spur-of-the-moment request and details were a bit fuzzy, so I met my host Jon 30 minutes prior to talk specifics.  He informed me that not only would Christian dads and sons participate, but his 60-year old parents, both skeptics of Christianity, would join us as well.  That night’s conversation turned out to be exceptional.  Why?  Because of apologetics.  

For too long, apologetics has been given a bad rap.  Too many Christian voices point to a few poor apologetic examples, extrapolate them to every apologist and apologetic encounter, and then dismiss the entire enterprise.  But in doing so, Christians abandon one of our greatest tools to engage the world for Christ.  My recent conversation demonstrates why.

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Heaven on Earth

My wife and I recently bought Disneyland passes.  It was the big gift we hoped for at the top of our Christmas wish list this year.   Though she and I have had them at various times, we have never had them together in our 9 or so years of knowing each other.  I remember as a kid going to Disneyland and feeling happy.  Disneyland has this kind of happiness in spades, built from the ground up not on thrilling rides, but instead on nostalgia and environment.  Everything in the park exists to make you smile and be entertaining.  It is my child self’s version of paradise.

Yet, after visiting the park over and over again (a luxury I surely don’t mean to diminish), there are times when the tricks of the park begin to lose steam.  This is true of any number of life’s pleasures – yearly holiday traditions, visits to favorite locations, or favorite films that may initially be funny but lose charm with repeated viewings (I’m looking at you “Elf”)

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The Wonders of His Love

There is a reason we call this the most wonderful day of the year: Christmas is truly filled with wonder. Or at least it should be. Somehow over the course of 2,000 years our wonder has become somewhat diluted, if not downright negative.

We consider the miracle of the incarnation--God taking on human form--and we pose a question we might ask of an illusionist: "I wonder how he did that?" Or worse, our wonder is more like doubt, mainly because we buy into the notion--on a practical level, at least--that Jesus was a wise teacher and a social justice advocate, but hardly the supernatural being Scripture makes Him out to be.

Neither of these senses of wonder--speculation or doubt--is anywhere near the wonder that Jesus should incite in us. We should be ashamed when we settle for a pedestrian kind of wonder. Our wonder at Jesus and the day He was born should rise far above our normal human emotions to the place where we are literally frightened at the very idea that the most holy God has identified with us in such a personal, self-sacrificial way.

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Christ -- The Sign for All People

Luke 2:12 & 34

December 25, 2011


Christ -- The Sign for All People

I like everything about Christmas - the lights, decorations, trees, and festivity of almost every public space.  I like finding gifts that express my great love and thanksgiving for those in my life.  I like Christmas movies (especially Charlie Brown), cookies, cards, and the general sentiment that something is different.  There is a communal anticipation, a hope, a looking forward to the morning of Christmas.  For a moment, the world seems to pause and everyone is aware that the day is different.   

And every year I read The Story (Luke 2) and am re-amazed by the obvious fact that the single greatest birth story of all time is covered in about two pages of text.  Every year I want more, I want to ask the Shepherds questions and find out how Joseph really felt seeing his young love, Mary, go into labor in the most inhospitable of places.  I want the text to give me something – and this year it gave me the word “sign” and it gave it to me twice.

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Of Christmas and How it Comes (an Advent poem)

It's hot in East Africa
press down, weighty

The clouds billow up
and plod along the horizon
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