Better Off With(out) Jesus

No one likes to be abandoned. It’s a helpless, hopeless experience. Yet that’s exactly what the disciples of Jesus were feeling on the night he was betrayed.

They were gathered in a private room, Jesus and his 12 closest followers, having dinner. First Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, something that made them more than a little uncomfortable but spoke volumes about how much he loved them. Next Jesus predicted that one of his close followers would betray him, while yet another would deny him three times.

Picture yourself in that room, surprised to hear that any of you would betray and deny Jesus. This is your friend and teacher, someone you have come to love and respect, a spiritual leader you have watched perform miracles. Why would he think any of you would turn your back on him, especially after he washed your feet?

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The Best Book of the Year

It’s the time of year for those “Best of” lists. You know the ones. Best movies of the year, best technology gadgets, best books of the year, and so on. I work in the area of book publishing, so the book lists are the ones I follow closely.

There are so many book lists out there that it’s difficult to identify a single title as the undisputed Book of the Year. If you go by Amazon, which sells 42 percent of all the books in the world, the “most read” book in 2017was A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. According to Goodreads, the most popular book was Into the Water by Paula Hawkins.

Christianity Today named Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren as its Book of the Year, a selection I completely agree with. It’s an extraordinary book. In the world of Christian fiction, The Christy Award™ Book of the Year was presented to Charles Martin’s Long Way Gone. Another fine choice.

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Who Is Jesus, According to Other Religions?

People trying to discover the truth about God would be wise to take a hard look at Jesus before looking anywhere else. While that may sound like a bold assertion in and of itself, it really isn't when you consider Jesus is the one religious leader who is most frequently mentioned by religious groups, whether or not they happen to be Christian. Every major religious movement considers Jesus to be an important religious figure. Every movement makes some effort to account for His existence and teaching. This ought to give seekers a reason to pause and consider the life of Jesus seriously.

Judaism

Jesus Was A Case Maker

The Jesus I encounter on the pages of the New Testament is a committed case maker. He didn’t expect His followers to believe what He said (direct evidence) without good reason (the support of indirect evidence). Jesus continually supported His testimony with the indirect evidence of the miracles He performed. He then made the case for the authority of His testimony from the corroborative evidence of these miracles:

John 5:36
But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I dotestify about Me, that the Father has sent Me.

John 10:25
Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me.”

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Belong Before You Believe?

The church has it all backwards.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the church. I am personally invested in the church. But I’m pretty sure that the church needs to change directions.

Of course I’m talking about the visible church, the one found in physical locations, not the invisible church, also known as the body of Christ. The invisible church is doing just fine, thank you very much. It’s the visible church that needs to rethink its strategy.

The strategy I’m referring to comes in a lot of different forms and formats, but mostly it can be summarized in one little phrase: “Belong before you believe.” The strategy behind the phrase is quite simple. If a church can attract people through its preaching and music and programs—all presented by cheerful, friendly, successful people—then visitors to that church will be compelled to keep coming and eventually believe what the preacher and the music and the programs are talking about.

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More Than One Way to Jesus?

Jesus insists and Christians believe that he is the only way to God (John 14:6), but is it possible that there are many ways to Jesus? Theologian Peter Kreeft asks the question this way: “What subjective relationship must one have with Jesus in order to be on the right way?”

Some insist you merely need to say a prayer inviting Jesus into your heart. Others suggest it isn’t enough to reduce your salvation to a “magic formula,” that there needs to be true repentance, or a desire to turn away from sin. But was the thief on the cross next to Jesus sorry for his sins? All we know from the text is that he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” to which Jesus answered, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).

What about the Old Testament saints? How were they saved? James the apostle, writing about the kind of faith it takes to please God, said that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (James 2:23). Abraham didn’t know Jesus, but he experienced the righteousness of God extended to sinful people through Jesus.
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How Do You Explain the Trinity?

You have probably heard some illustrations that are supposed to help explain the Trinity. One of the most common examples is the egg. Everyone knows an egg has three elements: the yoke, the white, and the shell. Each element is distinct from the other, yet they all combine to make up an egg. Just like the Trinity, right? Well…not really.

Yes, all three elements of the egg make up the egg, but each element by itself isn’t an egg. You can’t isolate the shell and say, “This is an egg.” The next time you have guests for breakfast, try scrambling up a couple of eggshells for them. We guarantee they will think you’re one egg short of a full omelet.

The shell is part of the egg, but separated from the other two parts, it isn’t truly an egg. By comparison, if you isolate Jesus or the Holy Spirit or God the Father and say of each one, “This is God,” you would still be right. They are all God, but they are not each other. Jesus is equal to God, but He isn’t God the Father. The Holy Spirit is equal to Jesus, but the Holy Spirit isn’t Jesus.

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Slavery in America: The Year of Jubilee

The following was originally posted March 29, 2010. It's being reposted here today as part of National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. In 2010, I wrote a series of blogs titled Slavery in America. This particular blog in the series is on worship and jubilee. 

On the way to church this morning, my mom and brother and I talked about how our world would be so different today if we still practiced Jubilee. We talked about how great it would feel to have our debt wiped away and the opportunities we’d be given if only it were still practiced today.

Directly after the service, I ran into a friend of mine who I traveled with to Malawi in the summer of 2008. It had been a few months since we’d run into each other. It was great to see him. He shared with us that he had been in our neck of the woods earlier in the week and had thought of me while nearby. He drew out the night and day differences between the area where I live and the area where we were attending church. He asked me, “Why aren’t we hanging out with the people who live in your neighborhood more?”

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Q&A With Nabeel Qureshi

Nabeel Qureshi is the New York Times bestselling author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. He holds a D.Phil from Oxford University and has been featured in countless media outlets, including Fox News, Christianity Today, and USA Today. Qureshi has studied with some of the foremost scholars in religion in the halls of Oxford and Duke University. He saw the need for an accessible yet intelligent book comparing the world's two largest religions--Islam and Christianity--and now he has developed a resource to meet that need. His newest book is No God but One: Allah or Jesus? (Zondervan) examines the fundamental similarities and critical differences between these two world religions. This is Part One of a two-part interview.

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Held to a Higher Standard

Criticizing, marginalizing, shaming, and otherwise denigrating Christians has become something of a national pastime. And we don’t just hear the negative talk from the unwashed. A lot of the critical words come from Christians themselves.

Are you surprised? We Christians can be hypocritical, judgmental, and holier-than-thou—sometimes all at once. And when we are, we embarrass ourselves, not to mention the God we claim to follow. So we call out the offenders, mostly in blogs or books, hoping they’ll straighten out and fly right.

You know who we’re talking about. We wrote about them in our book, I’m Fine With God…It’s Christians I Can’t Stand. Here are a few categories from our book, plus a bonus category:

  • Christians who impose their morality on others
  • Christians who think science is the enemy
  • Christians who use the Bible as a weapon
  • Christians who don’t practice what they preach
Bonus Category
  • Christians who support Donald Trump
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