Christianity 201

April 17, 2022

The Tomb is Empty!

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.  – John 20:1-10

Our Easter Sunday devotional today highlights the writing of Keith Lyndaker Schlabach appearing here for the first time. This is a portion of a sermon transcript for a message shared at Millersburg Mennonite Church in Ohio. The blog is called iX-Rays which he explains consists of “‘Iota’ for Iesous (Ιησους, Jesus in Greek) and ‘X’ or Chi for Christos (Χριστος, Christ in Greek)” terms that “have been used since the early days of Christianity.”

To enjoy the full message on audio click here, or click the header below to read the transcript in full, which is recommended.

Empty – An Easter Sunday Sermon

…It is easy for me to get overwhelmed sometimes with the problems of the world, the challenges of relational ministry, the anxieties of what may or may not be coming down the pike for the conference and our denomination. I look around and I wonder; What happened to the joy of my salvation?

I get so filled up that there is no room for the empty tomb.

Maybe you like me feel overwhelmed by death. Perhaps it is fitting for Holy Week, but the beginning of this week was pretty hard for me. Some days my body just seems to ache a little more and my mortality weighs heavy on me. For me, it’s not just my mortality and the struggle with how best to spend the remainder of my days, how ever many there may be, but it is the seemingly endless tales of suffering and death on the 24/7 news cycle.

So let’s join Mary of Magdala for a little walk in the garden. We see the stone has been rolled away. The tomb is empty. Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?

Let’s let our obsession with, our avoidance of, our downright fear of, death go. One thing you can say about life – None of us are getting out of it alive. But that’s okay. Death isn’t the end.

The tomb is empty.

Maybe you like me feel so overwhelmed by the responsibilities of life that this abundant living thing feels like a mirage. Some days it is all I can do just to put one foot in front of the other.

Let’s join that other disciple as he runs to the crypt. We look in the tomb and we see the strips of cloth. The tomb is empty. Why look for the living among the dead?

So let’s leave behind the dead weight of life lived in a hurry, a life that robs us of the abundant life Jesus gives us. Let’s strip away the trappings of our frantic pace that keep us from being more deeply connected to God and to each other. Stop filling up your life with more doing. Abundant life awaits.

The tomb is empty.

Maybe you like me feel so overwhelmed by doubt and disbelief that you don’t even know if this resurrection thing is even possible, though as NT Wright says, at a time when women were not considered credible witnesses, why would the Gospel writers have women be the first witnesses to the Resurrection if what they witnessed did not occur?

So let’s join Peter as he runs to catch up to that other disciple. Let’s not hesitate at the gaping wound of the grave but let’s go right on in. Let’s ponder the discarded wrappings of death. Let’s say, Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief.

The tomb is empty.

Maybe you like me have been holding on to an image of Jesus that you grew up with or have witnessed, a Jesus of intolerance and confusion, a Lord of rules and should and should nots, a Christ who doesn’t really feel alive anymore, Jesus says to us like He did to Mary, “Do not hold on to me.” Wait, soon you will receive a fresh revelation of the Spirit, a new indwelling of the Risen Lord…

…We gain and grow so much when we learn about God together. It is spaces such as these where we may get emptied of preconceived notions and misconceptions and then can get filled up with the Word of God, the love of Christ, and the wisdom that comes from deeply listening to those on the journey with us.

It is one place among many the Spirit provides where we can learn what occupies our hearts. Because our hearts are occupied.

So the question is, what have we allowed to take up residence within us?

Are there things in your life that are crowding God out? Is there room in your heart for Jesus? Has the resurrected Jesus taken up residence there?

If you have not opened your heart to Jesus, then I urge you to do so. Life is hard, but grace abounds, and life is so much better with Jesus by your side and the family of God to love on you.

Do you feel empty inside? There is plenty of stuff in life that we can fill our lives up with, but not all of it satisfies, no matter how much we accumulate. I suspect most of us could be a little more empty. If we’re honest we probably ought to say no to some things.

When I taught at an alternative school in Washington DC, I told the students that I wish I had a speaker box on my shoulder that would automatically be blaring the word “No!”, because invariably as I walked the halls I would be inundated with requests, most of which were frivolous. Hey Mr. Keith Can I…? No! Mr. Keith can we …? No! Yo, Mr Keith I was wondering …? No!

So what things in your life do you need to be saying “no” to in order to be able to say “yes” to God?

The tomb is empty. So why do we try to keep filling it back up with things that do not give life?

The tomb is empty!

Up at the cemetery this morning it was frigid and cold, but inside our hearts were warm, because the tomb is empty!

Up at the cemetery this morning, it felt like winter, but I’m here to tell you that spring is on the way.

The tomb is empty!

And walking through that cemetery this morning you would find all sorts of names on the gravestones, but there is one name you wouldn’t find and that is the name of Jesus because the tomb is empty!

And that matters ….

Because you see if we like Mary Magdalene have been emptied of that which has possessed us, and we have allowed the God of the Universe to fill us with the Love of Christ and the power of the Resurrection, then we have been gloriously released by Jesus out into the world and in our daily lives, to share with everyone we meet the things Jesus has told us, where we can’t help but shout with bright joy like Mary, “I have seen the Lord!”

Let us pray:

The tomb is empty, Lord. Thank you! You are alive! Thank you! Death, suffering, pain, the principalities and powers; all have been defeated because your tomb is empty. Thank you! Empty us of anything that blocks your Spirit’s work in us. Fill us up with your Resurrection Power. For you are the King of Glory, Jesus, the Bright Morning Star. Hallelujah! Amen


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

April 11, 2022

Telling Others: A Prime Week for Ministry

One year ago, we introduced you to Bernie Lyle who writes at Musings from an Idle Mind. Although it was posted yesterday for Palm Sunday, it encourages us to invest ourselves in looking for ministry opportunities that could present themselves naturally to us in this week. Clicking the title below gets you to Bernie’s site to read this directly.

Appointment with Destiny

“Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: “ ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!””
‭‭Luke‬ ‭19:37-38‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Appointment with destiny

In the human life there are many appointments, some of them are of our choosing, others are ordained for us as unavoidable, such as our eventual death. In the case of our Lord Jesus, His appointment with destiny was both of His choosing, and ordained, as it was determined from the foundation of the earth, that He would come and die for our sins.

On a morning long ago, a morning that we have come to know as Palm Sunday, our Lord entered the Jerusalem to great rejoicing. He came in as a King, with much fanfare, as the public cheered His coming.

“And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Hosanna in the highest!””
Matthew 21:8-9 NKJV

As Jesus approached, I can imagine His conflicted emotions, as the all knowing God, He knew that the very same voices that heralded His arrival, would later be crying “crucify Him!” But still Jesus continued on, on mission to reconcile God with man, and defeat the evil one.

Through the entirety of the coming week, each courageous step toward Calvary was planted in the surety of what was to come after the cross. Even so, I am sure He battled the flesh that He had humbled Himself to dwell in, as He felt everything that we feel.

I try and think of some of the moments of destiny in my life. I think of all the humiliations of going through cancer many years, an experience I walked through accompanied by the Lord alone. Through the journey, the Lord was with me, guiding me, reminding me of His presence in the Scriptures I read, and the worship music in which I listened.

The Father was surely with Jesus as He went through His week.

As we come into this Palm Sunday, there is no certainty that there will be another, as our world appears of its own perilous path to its appointment with destiny. Regardless, we have today, and we too have the surety that there is something beyond the uncertainty before us, as we look to the soon coming of the Lord Jesus.

May this day be a beginning point, a marker that we stand on as the starting point of a week of ministry. Holy Week is a great opportunity to go out and tell of Jesus, for many have a consciousness of God and the work of Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, pray for opportunities to share the Good News, to tell of Jesus who came to earth, clothed in human flesh, lived as one of us, lived a sinless life, died the sinners death that we deserved. Tell your own story, of how He forgave you, and changed you, of how He changed your destiny from Hell to Heaven.

Tell also of the new life, brought by His resurrection. The world is full of people who need to hear all of this, for there are many whose lives are filled with struggles and consequences.

Many of the people that we will encounter will have their own appointments with destiny, and more than likely, some of them might even have that appointment with eternity, and yours might be the voice that guides them to heaven.

Let us be sure to cry out and rejoice of all that the Lord has done for us, for we would be ashamed if the stones drowned out our praise.

“And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.””
Luke 19:39-40 NKJV


#prayforukraine

December 11, 2021

The Church Around the World

I checked the date this morning and noticed it was two weeks before Christmas, and it struck me that this date is applicable to the Christian community around the world. It’s not a regional or local celebration, but one that is visible (at the very least) to the entire population around the globe.

In The Apostles Creed, we affirm that we believe in “the holy Catholic church,” which references this global fellowship. A 2008 article on the Christian History page of Christianity Today notes that,

…Millions of Protestants still repeat these words every week as they stand in worship to recite the Apostles’ Creed. The word catholic was first used in this sense in the early second century when Ignatius of Antioch declared, “Where Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church.” Jesus Christ is the head of the church, as well as its Lord. Protestant believers in the tradition of the Reformation understand the church to be the body of Christ extended throughout time as well as space, the whole company of God’s redeemed people  through the ages.

Protestants, of course, do not equate “catholic” with “Roman Catholic.” To avoid this misunderstanding, some prefer to say “holy Christian church.” While there is nothing wrong with this term, we should not be embarrassed by the older wording. The word catholic simply means “general, universal, concerning the whole.”…

There is a passage in Isaiah giving the people a song that they are to use to “taunt” the King of Assyria upon their promised release. While it is specific to that time, I believe the prophetic language has broader repercussions.

26 This is the plan determined for the whole world;
    this is the hand stretched out over all nations.
27 For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him?
    His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?

God’s hand is stretched out, and is plans and purposes will be seen not only throughout the whole world, but throughout the all ages of history. It is “determined for the whole world.”

As New Covenant Christians, our Good News is also to everyone, everywhere:

Matthew.24.14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Elsewhere we read,

1 John.2.2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

and again, in the epistles:

Col.1.3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.

“Growing throughout the world world” means our story began then and continues now to spread throughout the earth.

Paul again affirms the international scope of the Christian faith in another epistle:

Romans.1.16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

As we start to wrap up the implications of this “holy Catholic church,” three passages I know have already come to mind for you:

Mark.16.15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.

Matthew.28.19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Acts.1.8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The global nature of the Christian faith, starting at the time when we entered the New Testament era, stands in contrast to the Old Testament era, where the surrounding nations’ gods were localized and territorial. (Thus the need for so many, in contrast to the God of Israel who was/is one.)

With two weeks to go, we join the community of believers around the world in recognition of incarnation, through human birth the divine one has entered into our history, Emmanuel, God with us.

The opportunities this gives to share this good news at this time of year are immense, if we’ll only look for them and be prepared for them.

This we say:

Psalm.72.19 Praise be to his glorious name forever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
Amen and Amen.

August 15, 2020

The Basics

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Christianity in a single sentence

[Paul writing] For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. – I Cor. 15.3-5 NIV

[Peter speaking] “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” Acts 2:22-24 NIV

[Paul writing] Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel… – 2 Timothy 2:7-8 NIV

[Jesus teaching] For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. – Luke 19:10 ESV

[Jesus teaching] “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:28 NASB

[John writing] This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God. I John 4:10 The Message

[Jesus teaching]  “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” John 6:38-39 NIV


One of the very first posts at our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud, included this definition of the gospel by Jeremiah Burroughs:

The gospel of Christ in general is this: It is the good tidings that God has revealed concerning Christ. More largely it is this: As all mankind was lost in Adam and became the children of wrath, put under the sentence of death, God, though He left His fallen angels and has reserved them in the chains of eternal darkness, yet He has thought upon the children of men and has provided a way of atonement to reconcile them to Himself again…Namely, the second person of the Trinity takes man’s nature upon Himself, and becomes the Head of a second covenant, standing charged with sin. He answers for it by suffering what the law and divine justice required, and by making satisfaction by keeping the law perfectly, which satisfaction and righteousness He tenders up to the Father as a sweet savor of rest for the souls that are given to Him…And now this mediation of Christ is, by the appointment of the Father, preached to the children of men, of whatever nation or rank, freely offering this atonement unto sinners for atonement, requiring them to believe in Him and, upon believing, promising not only a discharge of all their former sins, but that they shall not enter into condemnation, that none of their sins or unworthiness shall ever hinder the peace of God with them, but that they shall through Him be received into the number of those who shall have the image of God again to be renewed unto them, and they they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
Jeremiah Burroughs

That’s a long definition! The challenge when answering the question, “What is the Gospel?” is that you can end up over-analyzing a story that when distilled, is so simple that even a child can understand. That’s probably because the story is over-laid with so much wonderful, beautiful complexity that one can never stop mining its riches and admiring its intricacies.

5½ years ago, Reformed pastor Dane Ortlund posed the question to his readers and got many responses.

  • God is in the process of recreating the universe which has been corrupted by sin and has made it possible for all those and only those who follow Jesus to be a part of the magnificent, eternal community that will result. (Craig Bloomberg)
  • The movement in history from creation to new creation through the redemptive work of Father, Son, and Spirit who saves and changes corrupted people and places for his glory and their good. (Paul House)
  • God reigns over all things for his glory, but we will only enjoy his saving reign in the new heavens and the new earth if we repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the crucified and risen Lord and who gave himself on the cross for our salvation. (Tom Schreiner)
  • God made it, we broke it, Jesus fixes it! (Jay Sklar attributed to Michael D. Williams)
  • God chose one man (Abraham) in order to make of him one great nation (Israel) so that through it He might bring forth the one great Savior (Jesus) and through Him demonstrate God’s glory and extend God’s grace to all creation. (John Kitchen)
  • The good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that provides full and free deliverance from the penalty and power of sin, by the grace of God alone, through faith in Christ alone, plus nothing – all to the praise of His glorious name. (Seth from Lynchburg)
  • Jesus, God’s promised Rescuer and Ruler, lived our life, died our death and rose again in triumphant vindication as the first fruits of the new creation to bring forgiven sinners together under his gracious reign. (attributed to Steve Timmis)
  • Why try and better John the Baptist? He succinctly summarizes the Bible: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”(John 1:29). It’s all there – epiphany, sin, sacrifice, salvation, redemption, justification, forgiveness, release, freedom and victory. (Michael Zarling)

How would you define the gospel? How would you share it with a friend?


Scot McKnight:

Ravi Zacharias:

Skye Jethani:

Bruxy Cavey:

David Platt:

December 5, 2019

The Christmas Story: Just a Good Story?

by Clarke Dixon

The Christmas story is a good story. There is something about it that engages even people who would not call themselves Christian. Where Christianity gets a cold shoulder, baby Jesus seems to receive a warm embrace. The Christmas story is a good story for many reasons. It is a story of ordinary people experiencing the extraordinary. It is a story of the underprivileged experiencing an incredible privilege. There is nothing special about Mary or Joseph, either in their societal or religious standing. There is nothing special about the shepherds. The wise men don’t even belong, they are complete outsiders. Herod, rich, powerful, and privileged, threatens and kills, but the ordinary people battle through dire circumstances and participate in something truly remarkable. Everyone loves a good story where the underdogs come out on top. As for the divine, well the divine very clearly sides with the regular folk. You don’t need to be a Christian enjoy the Christmas story as a good story. But is the Christmas story just a good story and nothing more?

The way in which Luke begins to tell the story tells us something else about it:

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. Luke 1:1-4 (NRSV)

Luke sets out to write, not a story, but history. Notice how Luke begins; not with “a long, long time ago in a galaxy far away,” but with, “an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us.” That is, events that really happened in Luke’s time and place and which people who were there would still remember. There are eyewitnesses. The original readers of Luke’s Gospel could check his sources. These eyewitnesses were not people indoctrinated into a school of thought, but people who witnessed things with their own eyes. They were not philosophers, or religious people, but ordinary people who experienced something, and Someone extraordinary. Luke is not making things up, but writing them down. Those who know Greek well can tell that Luke is an educated man from these first verses, for his Greek, we are told, is very good. Luke is not some religious nut who has been duped, but an educated man who has “investigated everything carefully,” so that the reader can “be certain of the truth” (v.4 NLT). The Christmas story is not just a good story, it is also a true story. 

You can imagine a scenario where something is known to be true, but it is not good news. A doctor gives the correct diagnosis, for example. What she says is true, but it may not be good news. Is the Christmas story good news? The way Luke continues drops big hints about that.

The name “Herod” elicited a response in people in much the same way that the name “Trump” does today. However, where Trump elicits a polarized response, Herod’s name always brought fear. Herod’s name shows up early, verse 5 in fact. Fear continues to be a theme of the Christmas story, especially whenever an angel appears:

When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.  But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Luke 1:12-13 (NRSV)

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Luke 1:30 (NRSV)

Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:9-11 (NRSV)

Every time an angel shows up there is much fear, yet fear not, for behold, there is good news!

People are often reticent about becoming Christians because of fear. They fear that becoming a Christian would have a negative impact on their lives. Their sense of freedom might be impacted. They might have to become “religious.” They don’t like religious people and fear they might have to become like people they don’t like. Therefore if the Christmas story and all the stories of Jesus, including the Easter story, are true, that would be bad news. However, when you dig deeper you discover that the story of Jesus is good news indeed!

Throughout his writing Luke does not come across as saying something like; “sadly, having looked at the evidence, I have to tell you that this religion is true, so you had better commit to it, even though it will be drudgery.” Rather; “having looked at the evidence, all this stuff about Jesus is true, and is great news and brings great opportunity.” It begins with ordinary people and with mean and privileged people but ends in great blessing for the ordinary people. It begins with sinful people, their relationship with God broken and shattered, and ends with people reconciled to God by his love and grace. It begins with death being a certainty and ends with eternal life being an opportunity. It begins with people getting religion all wrong and ends with people living a new kind of life focused on Jesus. It is true, but that does not mean you need to fear becoming someone you don’t like. You become a better version of yourself as you become more like Christ. It is all good news! The Christmas story is not just a good story, and a true story, it is also good news. 

Many people dabble in spirituality; “there is something out there.” Luke has good news based on a true story; there is something out there, in fact, there is Someone out there, and that Someone out there became someone down here. It is a good story, a true story, and is great news!


Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and is the pastor of a church in a town located about an hour east of Toronto, Canada. Click here for his WordPress blog or click here to listen to the message on which this article is based.

June 27, 2019

Compelling: Believable and Beautiful

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

23 Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’ ” Luke 14:23-24

Editor’s note: This is the final installment in Clarke Dixon’s Compelling series and summarizes the entire series.

NIV.I Peter.3.13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

1 John.1.1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

Believable and Beautiful: Why Christianity is Compelling

by Clarke Dixon

Can we really believe what we read in books written so long ago? With so many world-views and so many religions, how could we ever pick just one? Does it really matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere, and don’t bother others with it? Don’t people need to leave their brains at the door of a Christian church? Many people are reluctant to consider Christianity. However, in our series we have considered how Christianity is compelling, both in being believable, and beautiful.

First let us review why Christianity is believable, why one need neither leave their brain at the door of the church, nor their faith in the university parking lot. (Click on the links to read the corresponding “Shrunk Sermon.”)

BELIEVABLE

  • Compelling Truth. People who are “relativists” when it comes to faith and religion suddenly become “modernists” when they need surgery. Truth can be known and does matter. We consistently live as people who know truth can be known and does matter. The truth about Jesus can be known and does matter.
  • A Compelling Cosmos. We considered that the universe had a beginning, the “fine-tuning” of the universe to be life-permitting, and the fact that anything exists at all. What we learn from studying the universe points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Morality. Very few people will say that there are not certain behaviours that ought to be considered evil for all people at all times in all places. The reality of objective morality points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Life. Life began and now flourishes in a world that seems ideally suited for it. The realities of life point to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Minds. Thinking people point to the reality of a thinking God.
  • Compelling Religion. The appetite for the spiritual points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Evil. The existence of suffering and evil is consistent with what the Bible teaches about our experience. Suffering and evil point to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Holy Books. What caused each of the books of the Bible to be written? The documents that make up the Bible point to the reality of God whose interaction with the world stirred up much writing.
  • The Compelling Man. The most compelling man in history, compelling in his activity, his teaching, his ethics, his presence, his good works, his love, and his impact, points to the reality of God.
  • A Compelling Turn of Events. The tomb was empty and disciples were going about telling everyone that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. They were willing to die for that testimony. Naysayers like James and Paul, changed their minds. Devoted Jews took radical shifts in their theology. The events of, and following, Easter, point to the reality of God.

Cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace speaks of a cold-case trial as being a cumulative case. That is, the best explanation of the evidence is the one that explains all the evidence. With regards to religion and faith, certain world-views may explain some of the evidence. For example, with regards to suffering, Eastern religions have a nice tidy explanation. If you suffer, it is because you deserve it. Your karma is catching up to you. There is a cosmic justice and suffering makes sense. However, there are still many things that don’t makes sense. If Eastern religions are correct, then how did the Bible come into being? Why was the tomb of Jesus empty, why did the disciples go around telling everyone that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead and why were they willing to die for that? Why did naysayers like James and Paul change their tune about who Jesus is and what he is about? Likewise, atheism also gives a good explanation as to why there is suffering. However, again, atheism can not explain all the evidence. Christianity explains all the evidence! Therefore, not only are the truth claims of Christianity believable, there are compelling reasons why we can see them as being the best depiction of reality. God is for real, and in Christ, God is for us.

We can further ask if each worldview is consistent in where it leads. It would be strange if, while the evidence points to the existence of a good and loving God, belief in, and devotion to, that God led to a terrible way to live, and a horrible society. We have used the example of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. If you have read the novel, or watched the tv series, you will see the dominance of a worldview which leads to ugliness and not beauty. Does Christianity lead to ugliness, or to beauty? In our series we considered how Christianity leads to beauty.

BEAUTIFUL

  • Compelling Evidence. Science and Christianity point in the same direction. Christianity helped science get started. A perspective which denigrates science is ugly. That Christianity can work with science is beautiful!
  • Compelling Religion. While religion can, in the words of Christopher Hitchens, “poison everything,” a Biblical Spirit-led Christianity leads to healing. This is beautiful!
  • Compelling Grace. The love of God for people is beautiful. God’s grace and forgiveness is beautiful!
  • Compelling Grace, Part 2. The call to grace, forgiveness, and wisdom in human relationships is beautiful!
  • The Compelling God. The perfect justice and wonderful mercy of God is beautiful. Only at the cross do we see God being perfectly just while also being merciful. This is beautiful!
  • Compelling Mission. The sharing of good news is always beautiful. That we share the good news through words, rather than by force, and give people the space and freedom to choose for themselves, is beautiful!
  • Compelling Family. The Christian vision for parenting and marriage is beautiful. Yet the flexibility that no one is forced to fit the mold of “married with children” is also beautiful!
  • A Compelling Life. The Jesus-centred, Spirit-filled, life lived in wisdom is beautiful. That we don’t just follow rules, but grow in character, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Society. Christians are not called to takeover the government and set up a society that enforces Christian living. That Christians are called to be salt and light is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Perspective on Humanity. No one has greater value than anyone else. That all people are created in the image of God, without exception, and without exception Christ bore the cross for all people, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling People. That the Church is to be a people who do good works in Jesus’ name, in allegiance to Jesus, under the influence of the Spirit, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Future. The future of every single person, whether they receive Jesus or not, is reasonable & consistent with a good and loving God. This is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Invitation. Everyone is invited! You are invited! This is beautiful!

The outworking of the Christian faith is consistent with the good and loving God the evidence points to. There are many aspects of Christianity that make us say “of course that is how a good and loving God would do it.” However, Christians have often made a mess of things and been the cause of ugliness rather than beauty. When this happens, it results from a disconnect from Jesus, and often, an unfortunate understanding of God’s Word. The inconsistency is ours. The ugliness is ours. But there is beauty. There is beauty, because there is God.

Perhaps you still have questions. I do. We don’t need all the answers. I have long thought of faith as being like a jigsaw puzzle. As we are figuring out our view of the world, our spirituality, and the way things are, pieces come together. Some people start with the most difficult of questions and give up. But for many of us, the puzzle pieces come together in such a way that the picture begins to form. It is a beautiful picture. So beautiful, in fact, that we cannot help but keep working on it. Sometimes there are pieces that we cannot yet place. Sometimes we have the sense that we are forcing certain pieces together that don’t fit. Sometimes we need to take pieces out that we thought fit, and fit them in where they really belong. This is all a normal part of growing and maturing in our understanding. The picture that comes together as we grow in our understanding is beautiful, and well worth the effort. It is a picture of the cross, of God’s love in Christ.

My prayer throughout this whole series is that you would find the Christian faith to be believable and beautiful, that you would find Christ to be compelling.


February 6, 2015

The Gospel Points in Three Directions

NIV Rom. 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

J.D. Greear wrote a book on the subject of assurance, Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart, which I enjoyed reading and I always make a point of tracking his blog.  This article appeared recently and I felt it would be a good fit here at C201.  To read at source click the title below.

The Gospel in Three Directions

If you were to ask the average Christian, “How can you become more self-controlled, more upright—essentially, more in line with God’s will?” what would the answer be? Greater will power, perhaps. Or maybe more theological knowledge. Having accountability partners. Maintaining a consistent quiet time. The list goes on.

What if you asked the Apostle Paul? His answer would be clear: you change when you experience the grace of God. “The grace of God,” Paul says, “train[s] us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives” (Titus 2:11–12). How does God’s grace do this? By focusing our attention in three directions:

Upward Backward Forward - The GospelThe gospel points UPWARD, redirecting our worship.

Sin problems don’t start as sin problems. They start as worship problems. At the root of all sin, as the Apostle Paul explains, is the colossal mistake of “giving the glory of God to created things” (Romans 1:23). The Hebrew word for glory (kabod) carried the connotation of “weight.” The Greek word for glory (doxa) hints at ideas of majesty and beauty. Put the two together and you get a good idea of the problem: we gave a weightiness and a beauty to things more than we gave to God. As Matt Papa says in Look and Live, sin is simply worship misdirected.

To change sin at the heart level, which is where God wants to change it, he has to change what we worship. As Paul Tripp puts it, “If we worship our way into sin, we have to worship our way out.” The gospel, and the gospel alone, does that, redirecting our worship and reigniting our passions. It points us upward to a God who is better and more glorious and more satisfying than any of our pathetic idols.

The gospel points BACKWARD, restoring our gratefulness.

Every now and then, someone tries to identify one sin as the core sin, the one really bad guy that leads to everything else. I’ve seen people point the finger at pride, at lust, at envy. What I hardly ever hear is what Paul says in Romans 1:21: “They did not honor God as God or give thanks to him.” Thanklessness! Did I hear you right, Paul?

This may not seem obvious at first, but think about it. When you lack gratitude, not only do you rob someone of the glory that belongs to them; you also convince yourself that you could have gotten on fine without them. I’ve heard Tim Keller describe it like plagiarism. When you plagiarize, you steal credit that belongs to someone else. But that’s only half of the problem. The other half is that you also deceive others into thinking you’re someone you aren’t. If I were to find some lost C.S. Lewis book manuscript in a relative’s attic and publish it as my own, that may impress some folks. But when the publisher comes asking for more, I’m in a bind.

This is the situation thanklessness puts us in toward God. We rob his glory, which is bad enough. But then we also parade around as if we’re self-sufficient. We forget that every breath we have comes from God. And that thankless spirit leads to bitterness, pride, and a host of other sins.

The gospel gives us a reason to be thankful, eternally thankful. It transforms us by reminding us that as much as we’ve dishonored God, he still came for us. And as we reflect on what he did for us, it begins to change what we do today.

The gospel points FORWARD, raising our expectations.

In the gospel, we see what God is making us and the future he has for us. He puts in us a taste, a hunger, for the perfection he’s creating in us. My wife was at a conference recently with an older Christian leader. Reflecting on his life—and knowing he didn’t have many years left—he said, “What am I looking forward to? Sinlessness. I can almost taste it.” When this man looked forward to the future, he didn’t grow frustrated because his youth was gone. He trembled in anticipation of seeing his God face to face, of having all of the poison of sin once and for all taken away.

Is that what you’re excites you about heaven? If it is, you long for it and move toward that now. You work against injustice. You battle sin in your own life. You become eager to do good works (Titus 2:14), not because they save you, but because what God has shown you about the future is so beautiful that you can almost taste it.

In contrast, religion points INWARD, toward our failures.

The gospel points us upward to a God who gave himself for us, backward to the price he paid for our sin, and forward to what he’s making us into. Religion can point, too. But instead of point out toward what God has done, it points a finger at us, telling us to try harder.

As Tim Chester puts it, religion says you should not, while the gospel says you need not. Religion is constantly shouting, “You shouldn’t sleep with your boyfriend! You shouldn’t get drunk! You shouldn’t lose your temper!” That’s not good news to people struggling with those issues. That’s condemnation. But the gospel says, “You need not give yourself to your boyfriend, because God’s love will never fail you. You need not get drunk, because Jesus offers a more sure refuge. You need not lose your temper, because God is in control.”

Sin is always making promises it can’t keep. Religion doesn’t do anything to expose them; it just adds more false promises. But the gospel exposes every lie by showing us a God who is better. As Charles Spurgeon wrote, “When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so, and sought my good.”

 


 

For more on this, be sure to listen to the entire message here.

July 16, 2010

Religion = Bad News

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:53 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I‘ve used material from Clark Bunch’s blog, The Master’s Table a few times at Thinking Out Loud, but this is his first time here at Christianity201…
Religion is Bad News

If you type “religion, gospel” into the Google search bar, you get 3.6 million results in about 0.22 seconds.  Search on WordPress and the results are even more along the lines of “Religion vs. the Gospel” and such like.  Lots of people are aware of the shortcomings of religion compared to the Good News of Jesus Christ.  But even for the believer, and certainly for everyone else, the temptation is still there to not fully trust in the concept of grace.

In Mark’s Gospel (Mk. 5:1-20) Jesus and the disciples land on the coast of the Gerasenes.   They encounter Legion, a mad man filled with demons.  After Jesus casts the demons into a herd of pigs, the locals are amazed to see the man formerly known as Legion clothed and in his right mind.  Rather than allow him to follow, Jesus commands him to go back to his home town and tell them what God has done.  In this case, the man does so. Ergo: You don’t have to fix all your problems before coming to Jesus. How many people plan to come to church as soon as they quit drinking, stop smoking, get back with their ex-wife, find a job, etc. etc.  We cannot fix our own problems, and if we could then we wouldn’t need Jesus in the first place.  Remember what Jesus told the Pharisees; it is the sick who need a physician, not the well.

The rich young man (Mk. 10:17-22) come to Jesus with one simple question; What must I do to be saved. Religion is about what we do.  We could substitute Law if we were comparing the Law to the Gospel.  Keeping the Law, very religious.  This man claims to have keep each of the commandments since his youth. Unlikely.  David was a man after God’s own heart, and he failed all kinds of ways to keep the Law.  We simply cannot do what is right, just like we cannot in and of ourselves fix what is wrong. Religion is what we do; grace is what God has already done.

We can’t.  That’s the story of fallen man.  We can’t keep the Law.  We can’t be right.  We can’t fix what’s wrong.  Religion is our attempt to either be right or fix the wrong, and we the human people are epic failures at both. Religion is bad news; the Gospel is Good News. Tell the world.

Read more of Clark’s blog here.

April 5, 2010

Why Should Anyone *Ever* Hear the Gospel?

The church I grew up had a huge missions conference every year in which every available bit of wall space was covered with banners sporting all manner of quotations and slogans.

The one that is most memorable is:

Why should anyone hear the gospel twice before everyone has heard it once?

I’ve often thought about that.   It does seem a bit unfair that North Americans experience so much exposure to the gospel message while in other parts of the world people are still waiting to hear this message for the first time.

Sometimes it amazes me that anyone in any part of the world ever gets to hear the gospel.  What I mean is this:  It is truly amazing that such a message of good news even exists.

Philip Yancey quotes Walter Wink saying:

If Jesus had never lived we never would have been able to invent him.

I would add:

If this gospel of grace, forgiveness, atonement and justification had never been invented, no fiction writer would have ever been able to compose it or conceive of it.

That’s good news.

When with the ransomed in glory
His face I at last I shall see
‘Twil be my joy through the ages
To sing of his love for me.