Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Review: What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Quran

Islam is said to be the fastest growing religion today. Western Christians can expect to find Muslims in their daily lives — neighbors, coworkers, and even relatives. So we have questions. What do Muslims believe? Do they really worship the same God as Christians? Why do they react like they do to insults to the Qur'an (or Koran) or Mohammed?

James R. White has given the Church a great gift with his What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur'an. In it he answers many of our questions and more using extensive quotes from Muslim scriptures and other religious writings.

He explains why Muslims object to the doctrine of the Trinity — and how it's based on the Qur'an completely misunderstanding it. He shows why they think the Jewish and Christian scriptures are corrupted — even while the Qur'an claims otherwise, which calls into question their claims that the crucifixion is a lie. He shows that the alleged biblical prophecies of Mohammed cannot be talking about him. And more. And he does this all using their own writings.

He doesn't approach this as a way to beat Muslims over the head but in hopes of gently opening conversations with them about places where their scriptures go wrong. That's something we should all be able to do.

This book isn't perfect by any means (I think the organization should be re-thought, for starters), but it is well worth your time if you want to learn more about Islam and engaging with our Muslim neighbors.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What Difference Does Easter Make?

Even if we believe Jesus was raised from the dead, so what? What difference does the resurrection make? Why does Easter matter?

Fortunately, we don't have to guess; Jesus told us.

During his ministry, people kept asking Jesus for a sign to validate his authority to teach what he was teaching. He always pointed them to his resurrection (eg, Matt 12:38-40, John 2:18-19). The resurrection was Christ's vindication.

What did he teach that concerns us today?

First, he taught that there will be a day when we will all be judged by God. And we will be judged according to three things:

We will be judged according to our works — the deeds we have done (eg, Matt 5:17-20). We will be judged according to our heart — why we did what we did (eg, Matt 5:21-30). And we will be judged according to how we responded to Christ (eg, Matt 7:21-23). The good news is that responding to Jesus — ie, choosing to trust in and follow him — will mean that you won't be judged according to your actions but his (eg, John 3:16).

Second, he taught that the end is coming. A time will come when people will no longer have a chance to decide what they want to do with Jesus. The choice will have been made. Everyone will, based on how they are judged, experience either everlasting life or everlasting punishment (eg, Matt 13:36-43).

If Christ was really raised from the dead, then how we live our lives matters, and we will be held accountable.

But trusting Jesus means that we are safe from the judgment — Christ has already been held accountable for my sin. Now I will be given credit for his righteousness.

And for those who have trusted in Christ, the resurrection means something else. It means death has been defeated. Death doesn't have to be permanent any more. One day Jesus' people will again live in physical bodies, bodies that will no longer be plagued by the limits of our bodies like age, sickness, or disability. The resurrection means he won, and because he won, we will too.

Sin, where are your shackles?
Death, where is your sting?
Hell has been defeated
The grave could not hold the King! 1

1 from Arise My Love by Eddie Carswell, cf 1Cor 15:54-55.

You may also be interested in:
What is Easter?
Why Do I Believe in the Resurrection of Christ?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Is Your Bible "Translated and Re-Translated?"

"The Bible's been translated and re-translated so many times, no one knows what it means."

I was in college the first time I heard those words. The accusations went on: "Modern Bibles just change the King James into modern English, and it was translated from Latin. No one knows what the Bible said when it was written."

It's hard to believe someone can fit so many inaccuracies into such a small space.

While I'd grown up in church, I had only recently started reading the Bible for myself. Being the nerd that I am, I had read a very under-read section of the Bible: the preface.

The first sentence reads, "The New International Version is a completely new translation of the Holy Bible made by over a hundred scholars working directly from the best available Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts." Every modern (protestant*) version has similar verbiage.

Once upon a time Bibles were translated from the Latin because that was what they had available. Since then, thousands of copies of the New Testament in Greek have been discovered. We also are better able to translate those Greek texts. (Finding people who still speak ancient Hebrew is comparatively easy.)

But in truth the Bible has been translated and re-translated many, many times. And that's a good thing. We don't just have Greek texts and research showing what those Greek words mean. We have translations into Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and many other languages made by people who spoke Koine Greek like a native. When they translated the Greek into Latin, they told us what they thought that Greek word meant. The rich tradition of translating the Bible into local tongues is a priceless gift to Bible translators.

Don't let people snow you. Any mainstream Bible you can put your hands on is a good translation of (to a high degree of certainty) what the prophets and apostles wrote into our modern languages.

If you want to go into more detail on the subject, I recommend How We Got the Bible, which goes into the history of how we got the manuscripts used for modern translations, how we use them to reconstruct the original text, and how we translate them into modern tongues.

* Roman Catholic Bibles are apparently still translated from the Latin Vulgate (which was translated from the Greek texts).

Friday, December 23, 2016

You Shall Call His Name

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

Our chief need was not for a teacher.

Our chief need was not for an example.

We were lost in sin, rebellious and prone to evil. So he sent a savior.

Yes, Jesus was a teacher, and he lived a life we should try to follow. But most of all he came to save, to "give his life as a ransom for many."

There are those who, as Spurgeon said, "cry up Jesus as Messiah, sent of God, to exhibit a grand example and supply a pure code of morals, but they cannot endure Jesus as a Saviour, redeeming us by his blood, and by his death delivering us from sin." They "speak only of him as a prophet, a teacher, or a leader, and care not for him as a Saviour ...." These people do not know him.

To know him is to take him as God has revealed him. "You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matt 1:21).

Let us rejoice that God saw our true need and met it.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Liberal Christianity

There is more than one kind of "liberal."

You know about political liberals. They probably vote for a Democrat or Green in an election. They disagree with political conservatives over how much taxes should be or how to address poverty or education.

I'm not interested in them. I want to talk about religious liberals.

Political liberals will read the same Bible as you or me and come away with more or less the same message; they may apply it differently, they may see different ways it should be put into practice, but we're reading the same Bible.

Religious liberals aren't reading the same Bible.

These are people who are uncomfortable with the supernatural. And so the Bible can't really be anything special. It's not inspired; it's merely the product of flawed men. And we probably don't even have what they really wrote.

So they feel free to pick and choose what parts matter.

They'll say religious conservatives do the same thing, but we have a reason, a system even, for "picking and choosing" — it's based on the work of Christ. (I recommend this video of a lecture by Voddie Baucham on the topic.)

They just throw out the parts they don't like.

So liberals will discount anything that suggests God is going to judge us. And, really, without judgment, who needs that whole "Jesus saves" thing? It's not like he died for anything; his life was simply cut short by people who didn't understand his message of peace. That's if he actually lived at all, not that it really matters.

Are homosexual relationships sinful? Of course not! Neither is pre-marital sex. Nothing that doesn't hurt other people is wrong. Hurt by their definition of hurt. As to why it's wrong to hurt other people, well, they'll hand wave why that's bad.

The only thing that matters to them is that God is love. Which is crazy. If you were going to throw out parts of the Bible, why would you keep the hardest part to believe? God is love? What in the world would make you think that apart from the Bible?

The problem with religious liberals is they claim to be Christians. They reject pretty much everything Christians believe. They say there is no sin, or if there is, it's not that big a deal (so long as you're nice). There's no repentance and no judgment to escape. There's no call to a life of holiness or sacrifice (except giving up fossil fuels). They say there's nothing special about Jesus. All while claiming to follow him.

If they called themselves Elbonians, it wouldn't be a problem. But they don't. They claim to be Christians. And we've got to figure out what to do about it.

Friday, November 11, 2016

He's Not Wicked, He's My Friend

For many people, the thing that makes Christianity hard to believe is the miracle stories — talking donkeys, burning bushes, and walking dead people.

But for another group of people the hard thing is the people they meet. This can be true for both non-Christians and Christians, and it's the latter that I want to talk about.

For Christians, likable non-Christians can be a strong anti-apologetic. Once we leave our Christian enclaves, we run into nice Muslims, homosexuals, and atheists, and it's hard to think that these people are "wicked sinners" who deserve hell. I've been there. Some of the nicest people I've ever met were Mormons. I've got friends and family living a gay lifestyle. I care about a number of people whose philosophy of religion can be summed up as "meh."

These people make us want to believe that big chunks of Christianity aren't true. Jesus rose from the dead? Sure, fine. God is love? Cool. There will be a judgment after which the unbelievers will be cast away and punished forever? Whoa, wait a minute, I don't like that one.

There are two very important things that we have to keep in mind when we struggle with this.

First, we didn't just come up with this. People ask how we can believe in terrible things like hell. I counter that I believe it for the same reason I believe if you step off a cliff you'll fall to your death — it's true. The truth isn't always nice. Important truths frequently aren't.

We didn't just sit around making up a theology and decided we needed something to do with the "others." We didn't decide that Jesus is the only way to God. We didn't decide that there would be a judgment. We didn't just make up everlasting punishment for unbelievers. Jesus said that.

If we believe Jesus rose from the dead we have to accept that he pointed to that as a vindication of all of his work and teaching. And he taught that one day he would have to tell many people, "Depart from me, I never knew you."

Secondly, we have to remember that, as much as we hate this truth, God hates it more.

CS Lewis put it this way: "I said glibly a moment ago that i would pay 'any price' to remove this doctrine [of hell]. I lied. I could not pay one-thousandth part of the price that God has already paid to remove the fact [of it]" (The Problem of Pain, emphasis added).

God paid a high price to keep people from going to hell. And then he told us to go tell everybody about it.

So don't let your love of your non-Christian friends and family make you shy away from the truth of the gospel. Make it make you determined to share with them the good news:

We're all wicked sinners, but while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Let's Stop Pretending We Believe in Jesus

Do you believe in Santa Claus? Of course not. But you kind of act like you do.

You've told your kids about Santa Claus. You've told stories about him. You've sang songs about him. You probably even left him cookies at one time or another.

But kids? They stay up late trying to catch sight of him. They write him letters. They change their behavior because he's watching. They believe in Santa Claus.

So do you believe in Jesus? Do you depend on the fact that Jesus is Lord of all and that he died for your sins and rose from the dead? Do you live like his rules matter?

Do you believe, or do you just act like you do?

Are you good to your family? Kind to your neighbor? Do you work hard? "Do not even pagans do that?"

What does belief look like? "By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice ... even though God had said to him, 'It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.' Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead" (Heb 11:17-19). Abraham acted on his belief.

Or take Rahab, who helped the spies and gave up her city because she believed what God has said — that the land was being given to Israel (Josh 2).

Belief is doing the hard stuff because you believe what God has said is true.

Is it true that Jesus said lust was sexual immorality? How has this affected your magazine subscriptions or movie tickets?

Is it true that "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil"? How has this affected your attitude toward your job?

Are we to "lend" without expecting to be repaid and submit to one another out of reverence to Christ? How has this affected how you live your life?

If all of these things are true, and if we say, "Jesus is Lord," do we act like he is our Lord?

"You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder." Don't "believe." Don't pretend the gospel is true. Act on it.

James 2

Friday, July 22, 2016

Jesus is Lord

It's the first and most basic creed of the Christian faith: Jesus is Lord.

It's our answer to sin. Specifically, Jesus is my Lord. Jesus is the king of my life. I believe what he says — about me and everything else. I'm agreeing to live my life his way to the best of my ability.

It's the answer to the pain of this world, too.

When we are abused because of our faith, when we're faced with temptation or trial, when the storms of life seem like they're going to overwhelm us "in your hearts revere Christ as Lord" (1 Pet 3:15).

If saving faith comes from "Jesus is Lord of my life," living faith comes from "Jesus is Lord of everything." He doesn't just direct our lives. He orders the universe.

We may not always understand what is going on. We may wonder why God is allowing it. When we feel adrift, alone, and abandoned, we have to remind ourselves "Jesus is Lord."

If we can do that, we can remain calm in the midst of the storm. And people will notice. That's why the next sentence is "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have."

When people see our hope, our faith, our ability to rely on the fact that Jesus rules the universe, they'll want to know why we can be so calm in the midst of the storm. At that point they're asking us to tell them about Jesus. It doesn't get any better than that.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Life and Death in a Fallen World

Last week we buried a 25-year-old. Her three-year-old will grow up only knowing Mommy from stories and a few cellphone videos. Of course, she's not the only young person to die. There are a lot of people burying their babies — be they 4 or 54. Her mother (my cousin) is heartbroken. It's horrible when parents have to bury their children. It feels so wrong.

How do we deal with the pain and evil in this world? What can we say to the hurting?

There are lots of books about the problem of evil. CS Lewis' The Problem of Pain is the best I've found, but there are many good ones.

But they're all useless right now. When people are hurting, they don't want — or need — careful reasoned arguments. They aren't even capable of processing them. While the heart is hurting, the head has a hard time listening.

So what can we say?

It's ok to be sad, and it's ok to be angry. It feels wrong for parents to bury their children because it is wrong. That is not the way it's supposed to be. This isn't the way this world is supposed to be. The pain, the grief, the sin — it isn't supposed to be here.

This world is broken, and we all suffer because of it.

So what do we tell each other, and ourselves, when the pain threatens to overwhelm us?

God is good. You knew it before. It hasn't changed now.

God is good.
God is powerful.
God has a plan.

He has gone to a great deal of trouble to fix the mess we've made. The time has not yet come, but soon he will replace this world with one where everything is just the way it's supposed to be.

In the meantime, let the pain remind us that this world is broken. Hate this world. This is not the way it's supposed to be. Look forward to the day, long for the day, when all things will be made new. Right now we weep, and God weeps with us. But one day he will wipe away every tear.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Could the Holy Spirit Have Died on the Cross?

I want to say up front that this isn't original to me. I read it somewhere, and I'd love to give them credit, but I can't find where I saw it. But it was interesting, so I wanted to share it here.

The basic question is this: When God became a man to die on the cross, did it have to be the Son? Could the Father or the Spirit have been incarnated instead?

It's something to neat ponder, but it sounds like it might be a little too close to asking how many angels can stand on the head of a pin. The answer turns out to be much more profound than that, though.

The answer hinges on this: Why the cross?

Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. He was crucified so that we could be justified, made right with God.

But that's not the only reason. It wasn't even the primary reason.

Saving us from our sins was a means to an end. It had to be done so that something else could be achieved:

"For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters" (Rom 8:29).

"For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ ..." (Eph 1:4-5).

This was the plan from the beginning: We were saved so that we could be adopted. Our sins are forgiven so that we can become children of God. We are made one with Christ so that we can share in his inheritance. We were not saved so that we could be servants or even courtiers. We are the children of the King.

The relationship we were meant to have with God was meant to be like that of the Father and the Son. So neither the Father nor the Spirit could have filled the role that the Son did.