Easter: God’s Vaccine for Humanity

It’s a strange time to be celebrating Easter. We would normally be enjoying the long weekend near water or sun; spending time with our friends extended families; perhaps gathering in our local churches.

Instead, for the most part we will be bunkered down inside our homes, seeking safety from a deadly virus that has spread around the globe.

And yet, even in a lockdown, the message of Easter can’t be silenced.

See, what we are depending on to end this crisis is a vaccine. Social distancing has slowed the spread of COVID-19, especially here in Australia. But until and unless there is a vaccine, experts warn that most of us will likely be infected. That’s the bad news.

“Even in a lockdown, the message of Easter can’t be silenced.”

The good news is that there are many vaccines being developed. You might have heard that Bill Gates has even pledged to build factories to mass produce seven candidate vaccines while they are still being trialled. He knows he will waste billions of dollars on the failed vaccines, but if just one works, his eccentric undertaking will save precious time and countless lives.

How does this relate to Easter? Humanity’s most pressing need right now might seem like a coronavirus vaccine. But in fact, our greatest need is and always has been a spiritual vaccine.

The truth is that ten out of ten people die. There is no escaping this. After death, Romans 14:10-12 warns, “we will all stand before the judgment seat of God,” and “each of us will give a personal account to God.”

“Our greatest need is and always has been a spiritual vaccine.”

As descendants of the first human couple—Adam and Eve—we have inherited their fallen, sinful nature. Each of us who is born into the human family has a natural inclination to live selfishly, like we are our own God. This hurts others, but most of all it hurts and offends the God who created us.

Sin is like a disease; a deadly infection that leads unstoppably to death. “The wages of sin is death,” declares Romans 6:23. This is why our only hope for life after death is a spiritual vaccine.

Easter is that event on the Christian calendar celebrating the arrival of our vaccine. On the cross, Hebrews 2:9 tells us, Jesus “suffered death for us” and “tasted death for everyone.” On Good Friday, he offered himself to be infected with humanity’s sin-disease.

“Sin is like a deadly infection that leads unstoppably to death.”

To onlookers, Jesus death would have seemed like foolishness and defeat. But three days later, on Easter Sunday, Jesus cheated death. To everyone’s surprise, he walked out of his tomb. Defeating sin, Jesus rose again with perfect immunity to pass on to us.

At Easter, Jesus offers us his immunity. When we put our faith in him, we are vaccinated against sin and all of its shame and guilt. We become immune to judgment and death, allowing us to share eternal life with God.

Believing in Jesus won’t necessarily protect us from all of life’s troubles—even coronavirus. But Jesus sets us free from the fear of death; he fills our lives with new joy and eternal purpose, and he enables us to put our selfishness aside to live fully for God and for the benefit of others.

“At Easter, Jesus offers us his immunity.”

Will you accept the vaccination that Jesus offers? If so, tell him now. Pray something like this from your heart:

Dear God, I realise that I have been sick with sin. I have turned away from you and lived for myself. I know that I deserve your judgment. But now I am turning back to you. I believe that Jesus has died for me and risen again. I trust that he has forgiven my sin and brought me new life. I give myself to you God, and I choose to live for you and others, instead of myself. Thank you for opening my eyes to the true meaning of Easter.

~

Let’s get the good news of Easter out while so many are in need of hope. Be bold—head back to the social media platform where you found this article and hit share.

Why Christians Clash with the Current Culture

It’s becoming more obvious with each passing year, and just about everyone in the West will agree: to be a Christian means to walk out of step with mainstream culture. 

It’s such a fixed feature of modern life that Christians have adapted a variety of solutions to this dilemma. Some believers relish the opportunity to cause unnecessary trouble. Others run scared—and in doing so, they compromise their stand for Jesus. Both extremes do damage to the cause of Christ.

So how can we walk the middle road? The answer to this begins with properly understanding our calling as Christians. Why do we clash with the current culture?

“To be a Christian means to walk out of step with mainstream culture.”

Following in the footsteps of Jesus certainly means acting with kindness, compassion and care. But don’t forget that Jesus was also a magnet for controversy. There is simply no way to avoid this. If we follow him, we will be too.

Acts 17:1-9 paints this picture precisely.

Paul and Silas are visiting the city of Thessalonica. They make a persuasive case for the gospel, and win many hearts and minds to the way of Jesus. And without intending to, they also cause a stir.

The fact is that if we are true to our calling like the early church was, we can expect the same as them. We should aim to be convincing; we can be confident of our message; and like it or not, we will be controversial in the process.

Called to be Convincing | v1-3

“As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people. He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead. He said, ‘This Jesus I’m telling you about is the Messiah.’”

Paul reasoned, explained and proved. These shouldn’t be dirty words for Christians. Following Jesus is a heart journey, to be sure. But it also requires our brains.

Like Paul, we are called to be convincing. Our aim is to help people see that the good news of Jesus makes sense in a world starved of meaning. We don’t need to know all the answers, and we certainly can’t argue anyone into the kingdom.

“Proclaiming Jesus is a Spirit-empowered activity.”

But God has entrusted to us the most relevant, reasonable and compelling way of life the world has ever known. Christianity isn’t a ‘leap into the dark’. It’s a very sensible step into the light. So let’s make our best case for that, as the apostles did.

In the process, there’s no need to trust our own prowess or persuasiveness. If there’s anything we learn from the book of Acts, it’s that proclaiming Jesus is a Spirit-empowered activity.

Called to be Confident | v4

Consider the extraordinary outcome in Thessalonica:

“Some of the Jews who listened were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women.”

In the short time that Paul and Silas visited this city, a new church sprang up. The gospel is powerful. It transforms lives and whole communities. This is why Paul calls the gospel, “the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes.” It’s a message we can have confidence in.

“The message of Jesus has a power all of its own.”

My Dad is a very skilled gardener. I am not—but I have tried. One year when I was renting with friends, I decided to plant a vegetable patch. Dad happily shared with me with seeds and compost. I dug up the soil and planted tomatoes, carrots, beans and broccoli.

As time went on and my study commitments took over, I neglected to pull out weeds, and I watered my garden with less and less frequency. Eventually, everything I planted withered and died—if the bugs hadn’t eaten it first.

But then pumpkins started springing up everywhere, even though I had never planted them. Soon there were pumpkin vines crawling all over my garden, and even under the fence and into the carport. I deduced, of course, that there must have been pumpkin seeds in Dad’s compost.

“The gospel doesn’t depend on our faithfulness, but God’s.”

Through my little failed project, I learned that even if my gardening abilities are terrible, I can always count on compost from my Dad.

The gospel is quite the same. Like Dad’s compost, the message of Jesus has a power all of its own. Whenever and wherever it is proclaimed, God is at work by his Spirit to bring people to faith. We can have confidence, because the gospel doesn’t depend on our faithfulness, but God’s.

Called to be Controversial | v5-9

Look what happens next:

“But some of the Jews were jealous, so they gathered some troublemakers from the marketplace to form a mob and start a riot… ‘Paul and Silas have caused trouble all over the world,’ they shouted, ‘and now they are here disturbing our city, too.'”

More fascinating still is the crime these Christians were accused of: “They are all guilty of treason against Caesar, for they profess allegiance to another king, named Jesus.”

All this talk of caesars and kings can sound worlds apart from our own, but in fact it’s remarkably similar. In the Roman Empire, just like today, people were free to believe in and worship any gods they wanted to. Tolerance and diversity were the catch-cry of the day.

“We are free to follow Jesus, so long as we concede that Jesus is just one way.”

There was only one condition: whichever gods you worshipped, whatever you believed or practiced, you had to acknowledge Caesar as Lord.

It was common for Roman soldiers to march into village centres, carrying an altar with a clear demand: “Pay homage to Caesar!” One by one, under pain of death, citizens would approach the altar to sprinkle incense and solemnly declare, “Caesar is Lord.”

For refusing to make this confession in either word or deed, eleven of Jesus’ twelve disciples were killed, and countless more besides. Fortunately, the price most of us pay to follow Jesus is nothing like that. But the Christian’s clash with the current culture is just as real.

“There was only one condition: you had to acknowledge Caesar as Lord.”

As in Rome, we are free to follow Jesus, so long as we concede that Jesus is just one of many ways, and not the way, the truth and the life. In any age, when diversity and tolerance are prized as the highest virtue, it can sound like treason to declare that Jesus alone can save.

When we do—ironically—there is not much tolerance given to Christians.

Let’s be clear though: we shouldn’t go looking for trouble. Scripture says:

  • Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do.
  • Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
  • Always try to do good to each other and to all people.

But Scripture also declares that Jesus is Lord. And if that’s true, then the Caesars of our day are not. Regardless of whether they are despots or dogmas.

When we accept this and give ourselves permission to be controversial—come what may—we’re actually set free. We no longer need to struggle for the world’s acceptance where we were never promised it.

“If Jesus is Lord, then the Caesars of our day are not.”

Next time you’re faced with hostility for following Jesus, be encouraged.

Like the early believers, you’re called to be convincing. You can be confident that the message you carry will change lives. And if you are controversial as a result, rest assured that Jesus is big enough to handle it.

He’s king, remember?

What if there was proof that God became a baby at Christmas?

I love Christmas carols. They are the soundtrack of the season.

As great as carols are, it’s possible to make it through the whole month of December, hear these tunes, and yet not tune in to what the carols are really saying.

On closer inspection, Christmas carols make some audacious claims. Consider just a few lines from Hark the Herald Angels Sing:

Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see

Hail, the incarnate Deity

Pleased as man, with men to dwell

Jesus, our Immanuel

What an absurd idea. God being limited to one place at a time? God learning how to walk? God… relieving himself? It’s almost offensive.

But this is actually the central claim of Christmas—not merely that a baby was born in a manger, but that this baby born in a manger was God in human flesh. That’s what we’re celebrating for the 2019th time next week.

The famous atheist Carl Sagan once said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” I think Carl Sagan makes a reasonable point. So let’s consider some extraordinary evidence that on that first Christmas, God really did step down into history.

History Written In Advance

The Bible is a fascinating book, not least because it made many predictions or “prophecies” of events before they happened. This makes it possible to test whether it is just a human book, or one that God was involved in writing.

The Old Testament is the first big section of the Bible, written hundreds of years before Jesus came. In its pages are prophecy after prophecy about a coming king called the Messiah.

“Christmas carols make some audacious claims.”

In Old Testament times, the Jews dreamed of the day the Messiah would come and rescue their nation from oppression, sin and judgment. The Messiah was no less than the hope of Israel.

Many specific predictions were made about this Messiah: his birthplace, how he would be raised, how people would react to him, what his mission was—and many more. So let’s take a quick look at just some of these prophecies, to see if they check out.

“The Messiah was no less than the hope of Israel.”

I am a bit skeptical by nature. Maybe you are too. Maybe you suspect that these “predictions” were forged after the event to just make Jesus look like he was the Messiah.

But actually, history doesn’t let us draw that conclusion. All the Scriptures I quote below were translated into Greek two centuries before Jesus was born, in a well-known ancient text called the Septuagint. In other words, they appeared in history long before Jesus did, so they were definitely predictive.

We will look at these in rapid fire. They throw up a lot of seperate ideas, but bear with me—we will tie all of it together at the end.

The Identity of the Messiah

The first is from a prophet called Balaam. He said:

“I see him, but not here and now. I perceive him, but far in the distant future. A star will rise from Jacob; a sceptre will emerge from Israel.”—Numbers 24:17a

A sceptre is a ruler’s staff. So in other words, this Messiah would be a ruler, and he would also be an ethnic Jew.

Next is the prophet Isaiah:

“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine… A child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”—Isaiah 9:2,7

A second time here we have the mention of a star or a bright light associated with the Messiah’s birth. Also, he will be given lofty titles like “Mighty God”—and he will in some way form the foundation of government.

In another passage, God has more to say through the prophet Isaiah:

“You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6

So far the predictions we’ve looked at focus on the nation of Israel. But here we see that the Messiah’s saving work would extend to Gentile (non-Jewish) nations all around the world.

This next prediction came to King David:

“When you die and join your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, one of your sons, and I will make his kingdom strong… I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my favour from him as I took it from the one who ruled before you. I will confirm him as king over my house and my kingdom for all time, and his throne will be secure forever.”—1 Chronicles 17:11-13

So the Messiah’s ancestry is narrowing. Not only will he be an Israelite, but he would be a descendant of King David, who came from the tribe of Judah.

The Messiah’s role is also narrowing. Not only will he be a ruler, but he will be a king ruling over a kingdom—a kingdom that never ends. The Messiah would also have a unique relationship to God: he will be called the “Son of God”.

Here’s another prophecy from Isaiah:

“The Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us’.”—Isaiah 7:14-15

Here we read that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. And the people will regard him as Immanuel—God with us.

Just a couple more prophecies to go. The prophet Micah said:

“You, O Bethlehem, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf.”—Micah 5:2

So it’s clear that the Messiah was expected to be born in Bethlehem.

A Most Remarkable Prediction

This last one is the most remarkable of all. It was spoken by Jacob, the father of the Jewish nation:

“The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants, until the coming of the one to whom it belongs, the one whom all nations will honour.”—Genesis 49:10

Again we see that the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah and that the nations of the world would honour him. But most fascinating is this line about the sceptre departing.

Long before Jesus, the Romans had captured Judea and made it a province of their empire. The Jews still held the sceptre there—in other words, they retained their ruling privileges. But all that changed in 7AD. Rome appointed a procurator in Judea, and took Jewish rule away.

“Most fascinating is this line about the sceptre departing.”

This was devastating to the Jewish leaders. But they weren’t just upset because they lost the right to rule. They were heartbroken because it looked like this prophecy from Genesis 49:10 had been broken: the sceptre had departed, but “the one” had failed to come.

It’s said that in 7AD, the Jewish leaders went about in sackcloth and ashes, mourning, “Woe unto us, for the sceptre has been taken from Judah, and the Messiah has not appeared!”

Little did they know that a few days’ walk north, in the village of Nazareth, a little boy named Jesus was running the dusty streets with his playmates.

Do You Have Room for Jesus?

To summarise, we have looked at just a handful of prophecies, and things are getting really narrow. According to the Jewish Scriptures, the Messiah had to:

  • be Jewish
  • be from the tribe of Judah
  • be from the family of David
  • be born to a virgin
  • be born in Bethlehem
  • have an arrival associated with a star or a bright light
  • provide a foundation for government
  • be known about and worshipped throughout the world
  • be acknowledged as a king, as God in human form, as the unique Son of God
  • be born before 7AD

You could spend a lot of time troweling through history books but you won’t find many candidates that fulfil all of these predictions. But Jesus does. Remarkably so.

In fact, we’ve only compiled a list of ten predictions about the Messiah. We could look at another 90—among them that he would be executed, have his hands and feet pierced, that his executioners would gamble for his clothes, that he’d be buried in a rich man’s grave. The list goes on and on.

Every one of these prophecies were written in black and white hundreds of years before Jesus was born. Each of them was fulfilled down to the finest detail in his life.

“Christmas carols are a call for us to invite Jesus into our homes and hearts.”

Believing that God stepped into history that first Christmas isn’t a blind leap of faith into the dark. It’s a very sensible step into the light.

In the days leading up to Christmas, there is so much to distract us from what this holiday is all about. We can enjoy all of the Christmas tradition, and yet be just like Bethlehem’s innkeeper who had no room for Jesus.

Christmas carols are a call for us to invite Jesus into our homes and hearts. This Christmas, will you join shepherds, angels and wise men to honour the King of Kings?

Let every heart prepare him room

Come, adore on bended knee

Merry Christmas. Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth!

Pornography is a Public Health Crisis

In an effort to normalise pornography, there are people who point out that porn has been around since ancient times. That might be true, but porn today is like nothing the world has ever seen.

Pornography is now everywhere. It’s available on almost every screen and smartphone on the planet. In the West, what was once scandalous and shrewdly stocked in the newsagent or video store is now fodder for billboards, and makes for vanilla viewing on primetime TV.

Would you believe that pornography is a US$97 billion global industry? Porn’s unstoppable popularity might be why so many in the mainstream are unwilling to talk about the damage it’s doing.

“Porn today is like nothing the world has ever seen.”

Like so many aspects of the sexual revolution, our decades-long experiment with porn has provided us with mountains of research about its culture-wide impact.

Its links to mental health problems, sexual dissatisfaction, infidelity and even crime have led American lawmakers to declare porn a public health crisis in 16 states. 

“Porn’s not hurting anyone” has to be one of the biggest lies ever told. In case you needed convincing, consider these ten reasons that pornography is tearing us apart.

1. Porn makes people miserable

Like so many other vices, people often turn to pornography to relax and relieve stress. But a growing body of research links porn to a cluster of concerning mental health outcomes.

A survey of almost 800 college students found a significant link between regular pornography use and depressive symptoms, including low self-worth. Strong correlations between porn and loneliness were uncovered in another study.

“‘Porn’s not hurting anyone’ has to be one of the biggest lies ever told.”

A meta-analysis of fifty studies found that men who consumed pornography were much less happy not just with romantic relationships, but with their relationships in general.

Many porn users, whether male or female, report relationship insecurities, body-image issues and anxiety in connection to their habit. Worse still, one study revealed that 70% of the partners of porn users presented with all the symptoms of PTSD.

2. Porn is effectively a drug

Unlike alcohol, tobacco or other addictive drugs, pornography isn’t a physical substance—it’s power is a passing image, video or idea.

But brain scans reveal that its effect on users is almost identical to a heroin or cocaine hit. Pornography hijacks the brain’s reward system. When users keep going back for more, it puts the amygdala under stress so that it enlarges, affecting emotional processing and decision-making.

Cambridge researcher Dr. Valerie Voon studied this phenomenon in depth, comparing the brain scans of healthy patients with those who were porn-addicted. She concluded that these differences mirror those of drug addicts.”

3. Porn turns people into terrible lovers

One of the glaring ironies of pornography is that many people turn to it to enhance their sex life, only to discover that it achieves the very opposite.

Studies continually show that porn use leads to less sex, and less satisfying sex. As a result of viewing pornography, men are more critical of their partner’s body and less interested in actual sex.

“Pornography is scientifically proven to make someone a bad lover.”

One of the most detailed studies of pornography ever conducted found that, having viewed ‘soft-core’ porn, both men and women were less happy with their partner’s sexual performance.

Doctors today report a growing epidemic of young men suffering from erectile dysfunction. This condition, which once mostly affected older men, is now a reality for countless young guys who have become so accustomed to the constant variety and excitement of internet porn that they can no longer perform without it.

In short, pornography is scientifically proven to make someone a bad lover in almost every conceivable way.

4. Porn destroys marriage

Many reading this will know first-hand accounts of porn’s devastating impacts on marriage. This phenomenon is more than anecdotal.

Porn consumption is statistically linked to less stability in relationships, a devaluing of marriage and family, and greater likelihood of both infidelity and divorce. One study showed that people who had an affair were three times more likely to have used pornography than people who remained faithful to their partner.

“Many reading this will know first-hand accounts of porn’s devastating impacts on marriage.”

Another study tracked the marriages of couples over time, and found that divorce was twice as common among couples that began using pornography to ‘enhance their sex life’, compared with those who didn’t.

If all that weren’t enough, as early as 2002, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported that 56% of divorces involved one partner having “an obsessive interest in pornographic websites.”

5. Porn harms children

Kids growing up today are the first generation in history to be raised on tablets and mobile devices. This has given them much easier access to pornography and the adult-world risks that accompany it.

11 years old is now the average age that children are first exposed to pornography. 90% of boys and 60% of girls have visited porn sites by the time they enter adulthood. Half of teens come across porn at least once a month whether they search it out or not.

“Every week, over 20,000 images of child pornography are posted to the web.”

Research has shown that the younger boys are when they first see porn, the more likely they are to be using it later in life. And among youth, internet pornography is statistically linked to sexual activity at younger ages, multiple sex partners, group sex, and other risky behaviours.

Porn harms children in other ways too. Every week, over 20,000 images of child pornography are posted to the web. And since 2002, more than 10,000 victims depicted in child pornography have been located and identified.

6. Porn drives violence against women

In a post-#MeToo world, and with so much talk of gender equality today, it’s hard to fathom why there’s so much silence around the harm porn does to women. The research on this couldn’t be clearer.

The vast majority of pornography depicts a power imbalance between men and women, with men in charge, and women submissive and obedient.

“It’s hard to fathom why there’s so much silence around the harm porn does to women.”

Recently, a team of researchers looked at 50 of the most watched porn films. Of the 304 scenes in these movies, almost half contained verbal aggression and a staggering 88% depicted physical violence. This led the researchers to conclude that “mainstream commercial pornography has coalesced around a relatively homogenous script involving violence and female degradation”.

And it should be no surprise that ideas shape behaviour. An analysis of 22 studies from 7 countries found that people who consume porn frequently are likely to engage in acts of sexual aggression.

Other studies have shown a strong correlation between men’s porn consumption and their likelihood to victimise women.

7. Porn makes people more deviant

When the brain’s reward centre is stimulated too much—as is the case with a regular porn user—it makes what was once exciting seem dull. This in turn can prompt people to seek out more extreme types of pornography.

In 2012, a survey of 1,500 males was conducted. They were asked if their tastes in pornography had grown “increasingly extreme or deviant” the more they had watched porn. An alarming 56% said yes.

“Why is no one pointing out that mainstream pornography is itself rape culture.”

Porn use has also been shown to influence what users consider to be abnormal. One study showed that people who watched significant amounts of pornography considered violent sex and sex with animals to be twice as common as what those not exposed to pornography thought.

In fact ‘rape culture’ has been a big discussion point in recent years, especially on university campuses. The premise of rape culture is that rape is more likely in an “environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalising or trivialising sexual assault and abuse.”

If this is true, why is no one pointing out that mainstream pornography is itself rape culture?

8. Porn fuels sex trafficking

If it’s possible for pornography to have dirty little secrets, here’s the biggest one of all: pornography fuels the sex trafficking industry.

There are an estimated 20 to 40 million slaves in the world today—more than when slavery was abolished. Around 22% of these are victims of forced sexual exploitation, which includes the production of pornography.

It’s confronting to realise that this is not just a developing world problem.

Officially, sex trafficking is defined as a “modern-day form of slavery in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion”. On that definition, this includes the shockingly common cases of young girls in western nations who have been lured into a modelling career only to end up on porn sets.

“There’s an infinite feedback loop between porn and sex trafficking.”

The USA’s Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children both flag pornography as a contributing factor to the global problem of sex trafficking.

There’s also an infinite feedback loop between porn and sex trafficking. Traffickers get ideas from pornography and make their victims watch it in order to produce more of it.

Over the last decade, the fair trade movement has had enormous success in helping people consume products that haven’t relied on slavery or other forms of abuse. It’s time our culture awoke to the same reality taking place with pornography.

9. Porn decays society

Recent statistics on porn use are confronting. Consider this: in 2015, 4.3 billion hours of pornography were watched on a single website. That’s half a million years of viewing time.

From 1998 to 2007, the number of pornographic websites online grew by 1,800%. Today, almost a third of all data transferred across the internet is porn.

“Our culture is facing an existential crisis.”

Decades on from the dawn of the sexual revolution, porn exposure among university-aged males is now almost universal. 1 in 5 mobile searches are for pornography. And 96% of young adults are either neutral, accepting or encouraging of porn use.

Let’s put two and two together. If it’s true that porn is linked to a host of social ills including depression, addiction, deviance, violence and human trafficking; and if it’s true that so many people today affirm pornography and use it regularly, then our culture is facing a crisis.

There’s no other way to say it: porn is decaying our society.

10. Porn offends God

All we’ve looked at so far has been horizontal—how pornography affects people. But the most relevant piece in this puzzle is that porn offends God:

“God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness… God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies.” (Romans 1:18, 24).

The reason God hates sexual perversion isn’t because he is mean. Quite the opposite—it’s because he has infinite love for everyone he has created. He knows what’s best for us, and he knows that pornography is anything but that.

“God offers his help and his presence to all who want to walk in freedom.”

The good news is that God has made a way for every one of us to be free of the scourge of sin, including pornography. He did this by sending Jesus. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (1 Corinthians 5:21).

Freedom and cleansing is found in Jesus. At the cross, Jesus took on all of our filth and sin. And in turn, he clothed us in his perfect righteousness. He offers his help and his presence to all who want to walk in freedom.

Because of its addictive nature, getting free of pornography might require effort. There are now excellent resources to help with this, including Fight the New Drug, Valiant Man and Covenant Eyes. Walking in freedom is possible for anyone who wants it enough.

Whatever it takes, the effort will be worth it. Every one of us owes it to ourselves, our loved ones and our society to turn this crisis around.

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Religion Causes all the Violence—Just Look at the Crusades

Religion causes all the violence—just look at the Crusades. Have you heard this before? It’s a claim that many critics of Christianity make. In summary, it goes something like this:

For hundreds of years, Popes declared ‘holy war’ and sent religious fanatics marching to the Middle East. They went there to colonise, and they slaughtered anyone who wouldn’t convert to Christianity along the way.

 

So many Muslims and Jews were killed in the streets of Jerusalem that blood flowed up to the crusaders’ knees. All of this violence was condoned by the church so that Christians could expand their empire and line their pockets with wealth.

Maybe you’re so appalled reading this that you’re ready to hit the back button. Who would bother trying to defend this kind of violent hypocrisy?

Without doubt, the Crusades were a bleak period of church history. Those who fought and led had clearly ignored the words of Jesus, who said:

“Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also.”—Luke 6:27-29

But it’s also true that the Crusades are victim to a lot of Fake News. If we’re going to talk about the Crusades, we need to rescue the facts from the fiction.

What Were the Crusades?

The Crusades were a series of campaigns fought by European Christians to recapture the ‘Holy Lands’—those places where all the Bible’s major events took place. Think modern-day Israel, Turkey and Egypt.

The First Crusade (1096-1099) was probably the most infamous. It was a successful but bloody recapture of Jerusalem. It also led to the founding of several ‘Crusader states’ in the Middle East.

The Second Crusade (1147-1149) was a failed attempt to retake a defeated Crusader state.

The Third Crusade (1189-1192) was launched to recapture Jerusalem after it had been overtaken once more by Muslim armies. The Crusaders failed again.

The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) began like the others, but along the way, the Crusaders got mixed up in the local politics of Constantinople. After a dispute, they sacked the city, plundering it and killing fellow Christians. The whole episode was an embarrassment and a great injustice.

The Fifth Crusade (1217-1221) was another failed attempt to recapture Jerusalem, this time via Egypt.

The Sixth Crusade (1228-1229) involved almost no fighting. Through diplomacy, the Crusaders secured Jerusalem and other parts of Israel.

The Seventh Crusade (1248-1254) was by far the best equipped, but it ended in almost total annihilation for the Crusaders.

Other minor Crusades can be added to this list, but it’s these seven that have captured the popular imagination. With the exception of the first and the sixth, the Crusades were an anticlimax. The last Crusader stronghold fell in 1291, bringing the era of crusading to an end.

The Context of the Crusades

We’re rightly outraged by the Crusades. But there is context to these events that many people have never heard but that change the way we view them.

First, what made the Crusades unique wasn’t their violence: almost every medieval culture was extremely violent. By our standards, the Crusades were shocking, but by the standards of the time, they were unremarkable.

What made them unique was that the command to wage war was given by a Christian leader, the Pope. Not only is there no grounds for this in the teachings of Jesus: there’s also no precedent for it in Christian history—and fortunately, no repeat of it either.

“What made the Crusades unique wasn’t their violence.”

Second, not all of the violence that took place was condoned by church leaders. Popes condemned the sack of Constantinople, along with much of the violence and pillaging that took place en route to the Middle East.

Third, it turns out to be a myth that Crusaders went for fame and fortune. Most who went bankrupted themselves for armour and travel costs, and they didn’t count on coming back alive. They went because—misguided as they were—they believed it was a noble venture.

“Popes condemned much of the violence.”

Fourth, it’s a myth is that the Crusaders forced people to convert to Christianity. The purpose of the Crusades was to secure passage for pilgrims to the Holy Lands.

Fifth, the story about blood running up to the Crusaders’ knees was a myth. The siege of Jerusalem was ruthless, but it was exaggerated beyond possibility in the retelling.

“It’s a myth that the Crusaders forced people to convert to Christianity.”

All of these corrections might seem minor. But there’s one more fact many omit that fundamentally alters our perspective on the Crusades, and it’s this: the Crusades were defensive wars.

In the 6th century, most of Europe and the Holy Lands were Christian. Pilgrims were free to traverse the empire and visit Jerusalem as they wished.

But the birth of Islam changed this. While Christianity had spread peacefully, Islam spread rapidly, and mostly through warfare. Within a few centuries, Islam conquered over two thirds of what were previously Christian lands.

The First Crusade was proclaimed by the Pope, not as an act of aggression, but in response to an existential threat. The Crusades slowed the advance of Muslim armies into Europe, and probably helped spare western civilisation.

Funny how this fact barely rates a mention in the popular retelling of the Crusades.

“The Crusades were defensive wars.”

Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t condone the Crusades. Violence is not the way of Jesus. But if we view them not merely as religious conflicts and instead see them as the defence of a civilisation, they make a whole lot more sense. Context is everything.

Here’s a little more context for the claim that ‘religion causes all the violence’. The Crusades were bloody, resulting in the tragic death of around a million people. But communism—which sought to bury religion forever—was far more savage. It took the lives of over one hundred million.

Even if we correct for population growth, communism was still twenty times more ruinous for humanity than the Crusades—and in just a quarter of the time.

This isn’t a cheap-shot. My point isn’t that Christians are better because they’ve killed less people. I’m simply countering the claim that religion causes all the wars, or that more Christianity equals more violence.

“Violence is not the way of Jesus.”

On the whole, Christianity has been a powerfully civilising force through history.

Its leader, Jesus of Nazareth, didn’t merely say, “Love your enemies.” He practiced what he preached—all the way to the cross. He chose to endure violence rather than commit it.

Jesus has shaped us more than we know. He’s a big reason whyeven with all their contextChristians and critics alike still can’t stand the violence of the Crusades.

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“Don’t Judge”—What Jesus Really Meant

Fewer and fewer people today know the Bible. But if there’s one verse that’s still commonly quoted, it’s, “Judge not, and you will not be judged”.

These are the words of Jesus. And what people normally mean when they repeat them is, “It’s not your place to judge my moral choices. It’s 2019—everyone should be free to choose the lifestyle that makes them happy, so long as no one gets hurt.”

“Let me sin in peace,” is another way to put it.

But there’s a problem with this. Those who hold to this worldview are often very quick to judge Christians—even quite harshly. It has to be one of the great ironies of our time.

So apparently there is a place for judgment. As it happens, this is what Jesus himself said all along, if we read his quote in context. It’s from Matthew 7:1-6, and it famously begins like this:

1 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.

2 For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.

After telling us how not to judge, Jesus goes on to highlight three ways that we should judge. 

See the Master Teacher is aware of something we often forget. As humans, we’re making judgment calls all the time. There’s no way to avoid it.

So the question isn’t, Should we judge? But rather, Who and how should we judge?

Judge Yourself Honestly | v3-5a

First, in verses 3-5a, Jesus says:

3 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?

4 How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?

5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye…

If this passage is familiar to us then it’s probably lost some of its original humour. Being a carpenter, Jesus knew wood, and he chose a Greek word that means a big timber beam—the main one holding the house roof up.

The picture is of two people—one with an almighty beam projecting out of her eye offering to help her friend get a bit of sawdust out of his. Slapstick at its finest.

“If this passage is familiar to us then it’s probably lost some of its original humour.”

If we’re going to help someone else sort out their problems, Jesus insists, we first need to deal with the problems in our own life. We need to judge ourselves honestly.

When we’re quick to judge others, we develop a self-righteous and insensitive heart. The only way to counteract this is to readily find the faults in our own lives before we go trying to spot them in others.

Judge Others Humbly | v5b

So is Jesus saying that our lives need to be perfect before we’re able to offer others critique or counsel? No, he’s not.

In fact, his whole point in telling us to judge ourselves honestly is so that we’ll be able to help others. That’s what he says in verse 5b:

5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

Jesus wants us to see well enough to deal with the speck in our friend’s eye. There is a place for judging others, providing that it’s done with clear vision and humility.

If we’re going to be of any use to others, we need to be striving to live a life of integrity ourselves. In other words, we need to judge others humbly.

The world would have us believe that there are only two ways to respond to sin: wholehearted endorsement, or prickly hatred. But Jesus shows us a third way: the narrow way, the way of humility.

Judge Critics Wisely | v6

This passage ends with an interesting and provocative twist. In verse 6, Jesus says:

6 “Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.

It may sound like Jesus has changed topics here, but he hasn’t. He’s still talking about judgment. He’s telling us to judge our critics wisely.

If we follow him on the path less travelled—the path of humility—Jesus warns us that there’s a risk involved. People may see us as a soft target, and try to take advantage of us.

A perfect example is the kind of people I mentioned at the start, who are apt to misquote this passage. “Judge not, and you will not be judged,” can be used in an attempt to silence Christians. Even to accuse us of hatred—and a phobia or three.

“Jesus opposed the proud, but gave grace to the humble.”

Maybe someone who makes these accusations is simply hurting, and they need our love and compassion. There are times when the right thing to do is apologise on behalf of other Christians who’ve caused the hurt.

On the other hand, this may be smoke and mirrors to hide a calculated motive. When this is the case, any concession or apology we make will end up as trampled pearls. And the attack will only grow worse.

This is why we’re going to need all the help that Jesus has to offer. He opposed the proud, but gave grace to the humble—and He never missed a beat. We need His wisdom to do the same.

Good and Bad Judgment

It’s easy to misquote Jesus. Even Christians can cave in to the pressures of the world and make “judge not” an excuse for sin. But this leads only in one direction: judging Christians who won’t play the game.

Judgment is part of human nature. Some judgment is good. But the only way we can avoid bad judgment—also known as condemnation—is to know that condemnation no longer hangs over our heads.

“It’s easy to misquote Jesus.”

Jesus didn’t just teach the world about judgment. He actually took the world’s judgment on his own shoulders. He suffered and died on a cross to save each of us from God’s eternal judgment.

When we know this, we’re free. We no longer need to try scramble up the heap by finding fault in the lives of others. We can rest in God’s verdict that “there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

And then we can judge as we should, with the honesty, wisdom and humility that he supplies.

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The Christian Roots of Human Rights

Religion has fallen on hard times across the West—at least in the media, the major universities, and our other culture-shaping institutions.

But there’s one form of religion today that’s praised and promoted widely, and that’s the religion of human rights. Human rights might be secular. But to the secular, they couldn’t be more sacred.

In the words of British legal academic Anthony Julius, the human rights movement “is the new secular religion of our time.” Samuel Moyn, law professor at Yale University, calls them “the premier values of the day”.

“For most of time, rights were a privilege for the powerful, and little more.”

This elevation of human rights to such a holy status has made many believers, Christian and otherwise, quite suspect of the whole movement—rightly so perhaps.

But when Christians take such a combative stance, they forget the distinctly Christian origins of human rights. In fact, like so much that we take for granted in our secular age, human rights simply wouldn’t exist apart from the civilising power of Jesus Christ.

It would be foolish to argue that Christianity alone has shaped human rights as we know them. Likewise, only a fool could deny church abuses of human rights through the centuries.

“Human rights simply wouldn’t exist apart from the civilising power of Jesus Christ.”

But if all this is true, then far more foolish is the claim that human rights were some kind of inevitable discovery—a ‘fact of nature’ that our human family always would have stumbled upon.

Most cultures for most of time, including many in our present day, simply do not accept human rights as a given. They were a privilege for the powerful, and little more.

An honest look at history reveals that human rights have been profoundly shaped by Christian ideas. Consider ten moments of time that make this clear.

1. The Creation of Humanity

Whatever you believe about the first chapter of Genesis, there’s no denying that the concept of the imago dei or the ‘image of God’ has played a big role in shaping the West’s understanding of human rights.

Genesis 1:26-27 says, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness… So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

Inspired by these words, a despised Christian minority ended the barbaric practice of infanticide in the Roman Empire, and stood against the ancient slave trade.

“God created man in his own image.”—Genesis 1:27

Inspired by these words, William Wilberforce finally abolished slavery in the British empire, and Martin Luther King Jr. fought bravely for civil rights in the United States.

Inspired by these words, Mother Teresa served the poor in India’s slums for fifty years, and Nelson Mandela dismantled apartheid in South Africa.

In fact, new research has made a very politically incorrect discovery. Christian missionaries exporting the idea of imago dei to colonial lands were the single greatest force in creating free and stable democracies in the developing world.

2. The Mosaic Law

Human rights today have been deeply influenced by the Old Testament scriptures—especially the law of Moses.

In The Evolution of the West, Nick Spencer calls the Mosaic Law’s focus on widows, orphans, aliens and the poor ‘obsessive’, and argues that in ancient Jewish thought, to deprive these groups of justice is actually to deprive God of his rights.

Says Spencer, “If one acknowledges this—that God, in effect, has rights—one has made a crucial move towards recognising natural human rights.”

“Today we consider rights fixed or ‘inalienable’. This idea is not a modern invention.”

And Nicholas Wolterstorff, philosopher at Yale University, makes the case that if God has such rights, then so do humans who are made in his image.

So, for example, he says, “The proscription against murder is grounded not in God’s law but in the worth of the human being. All who bear God’s image possess, on that account, an inherent right not to be murdered.”

Today we don’t make human rights dependent on something that humans do or possess—instead, we consider them fixed or ‘inalienable’. This idea is not a modern invention; it can clearly be traced to the Jewish scriptures.

3. The Life of Jesus

Jesus’ treatment of women, children, and society’s down-and-outs was remarkable in an ancient context.

The way Jesus spoke to women, healed them, taught them, praised them and involved them in his ministry made it clear that he saw women as equals. And he broke many social conventions to do so.

Ancient wisdom said that children should be seen but not heard. Yet on this backdrop, Jesus welcomed children and embraced them. He had scathing words for any who would harm a child. And he frequently praised children and their faith as the ideal for grown-ups to imitate.

“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”—Jesus

Jesus is still admired today for the care he showed to the sick, poor and dying. The gospels are peppered with too many of these stories to recount. In fact, Jesus so identified with the world’s forgotten that to feed, clothe and care for ‘the least of these’ was—in his words—to do the same for him.

For all these reasons, Wolterstorff argues that human rights ultimately trace their origins to Jesus. “Being loved by God,” he says, which was one of Jesus central teachings, “gives to each human being who bears it the worth in which natural human rights inhere.”

Or in the words of author John Ortberg, “It’s really Jesus who brought that notion of the dignity and worth of every human being from little Israel to the much larger world.”

4. The Early Church Fathers

Historians also see the beginnings of human rights language in the early church fathers.

The most famous perhaps is Basil of Caesarea, who in a 4th century sermon claimed that the wealth of the rich in fact belonged to the poor.

“That bread which you keep belongs to the hungry; that coat which you preserve in your wardrobe, to the naked; those shoes which are rotting in your possession, to the shoeless; that gold which you have hidden in the ground, to the needy. Wherefore, as often as you were able to help others, and refused, so often did you do them wrong.”

“Historians see the beginnings of human rights language in the early church fathers.”

John Chrysostom, living at the same time, also taught that generosity is a duty and not merely a choice. “Even if he is the most wicked of all men, let us free him from hunger. We show mercy on him not because of his virtue but because of his misfortune.”

And consider that the only criticism of institutional slavery that has reached us from the ancient world was also from an early church father, Gregory of Nyssa, who asked, “Who can buy a man, who can sell him, when he is made in the likeness of God?”

5. The Middle Ages

Our next stop through the sweep of human rights history is the Middle Ages. In this period, canon lawyers of the Catholic church developed the idea of natural rights, a concept that is simply taken for granted today.

In the 1280s, for example, Godfrey of Fontaines argued that if a beggar stole a loaf of bread from his rich neighbour, he couldn’t be charged for theft since he had a natural right to that bread in order to survive:

“Each one is bound by the law of nature to sustain his life, which cannot be done without exterior goods, therefore also by the law of nature each has dominion and a certain right in the common exterior goods of this world which right cannot be renounced.”

“Canon lawyers of the Catholic church developed the idea of natural rights.”

By the year 1300, Godfrey and other Christian thinkers had recognised at least five natural rights: the right of the poor to the necessities of life; the right of self preservation; rights to property; the right to a fair trial; and the right of self-defence.

These are remarkable advances for a period often dubbed ‘the Dark Ages’.

6. The Reformation

Another momentous step towards modern human rights took place during the Reformation—a social and spiritual revolution in 16th century Europe.

The Catholic church had been selling indulgences. Put crudely, they were exchanging the promise of heaven for money. A monk called Martin Luther was enraged, believing the church had come to wield far too much power over the inner lives of its people:

“For over the soul God can and will let no one rule but Himself… therefore, where temporal power presumes to prescribe laws for the soul it encroaches upon God’s government and only misleads and destroys the souls.”

The battlecry of the Reformers was salvation by grace alone. All have sinned—even priests and bishops. Yet all who believe are priests unto God—even beggars and outcasts.

“Reformers set the stage for the idea of individual freedom.”

Their great vision was to see the Bible in the languages of the people so that every soul could discern God’s truth independently, so that every conscience could answer to heaven directly, and so that every heart could know God personally.

The Reformers had set out to redefine faith. But in the process, historians now say that they also redefined the dignity of the human person, endowed the self with moral authority, and set the stage for the idea of individual freedom.

According to Joseph Loconte, Professor of History at The Kings College in New York City, “Virtually every important defence of religious freedom in the 17th century—the liberal politics of William Penn, Roger Williams, Pierre Bayle, and John Locke—took Luther’s insights for granted.”

The Reformation has had such a profound impact on our understanding of human rights today that even the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights uses language that tips the hat to Luther and his vision.

7. The Birth of the Modern World

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

So run the most familiar words of the United States Declaration of Independence (1776).

Among the other political documents that have profoundly shaped our modern world are the Magna Carta (1215), the English Bill of Rights (1689) and the United States Bill of Rights (1789).

“All men are created equal [and] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”—United States Declaration of Independence

Collectively, these are the precursors of today’s human rights documents. And all of them arose in distinctly Christian lands, resting on and expressing Christian ideas.

Some would include in this list France’s more secular Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789). And to be sure, not all of America’s founding fathers were of orthodox Christian faith.

Still, it’s hard to deny that Christendom was the greenhouse in which all of these important documents came to flower.

8. The World at War

The two world wars of the 20th century caused unimaginable devastation to the human family. Because of this, the wars were also a cause for deep reflection on what it means to be human.

Samuel Moyn, an expert on human rights from Yale University, explains that during this period, the idea of the ‘human person’ was becoming central in Christian political thought.

Evidence of this can be seen, he says, in the new Irish Constitution, drawn up in 1937, which began: “In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions of both men and States must be referred.”

The constitution went on: “Seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured…” Moyn observes that never before in history had the word dignity been used this way in reference to humans.

“During the war years, the human rights conversation was being led by the church.”

In the same year, Pope Pius XI issued With Burning Concern, an encyclical written in German and smuggled into Germany to decry Hitler’s Nazi regime, declaring:

“Man, as a person, possesses rights that he holds from God and which must remain, with regard to the collectivity, beyond the reach of anything that would tend to deny them, to abolish them, or to neglect them.”

These words, argues Moyn, along with Pope Pius XII’s Christmas message of 1942, were landmark declarations about human dignity. In other words, during the war years, the human rights conversation was being led by the church.

9. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Surely the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a secular document? This is certainly what its drafters set out to achieve, in order to give it widespread religious and cultural appeal.

But the University of Notre Dame’s Iain Benson points out that some of its key framers were followers of Jesus:

“The major proponents of human rights as it was developed and codified in the twentieth century were themselves Christians—people like Jacques Maritain from France and Charles Malik in Lebanon.”

“Some of the Declaration’s key framers were followers of Jesus.”

Nick Spencer, author of The Evolution of the West, contends that not only did Christians help draft the document, but that the ideas it contains betray their Christian influence:

“In the sense that the Declaration of Human Rights doesn’t draw explicitly on any religious doctrines of course it’s thoroughly secular, but if you lift the lid you find an awful lot of Christian workings underneath the bonnet.”

10. The Post-War Period

The tragedies of the World War I and II kept the nations of Europe focussed on the issue of human rights over the following decades. Moyn observes that in this period, just as they had earlier, Christians once again led the charge:

“Conservative Christian thought bore the language and logic of human rights in the immediate pre-war and war years and it was generally conservative Christian thinkers and parties that nurtured it in the post-war period.”

Moyn calls this the last European golden age for the Christian faith,arguing that the Christian Democratic parties that came to power between World War II and the 1960s played a key role in embedding human rights in global politics.

The One Who Gave Up His Rights

Today the tides are shifting. English philosopher Roger Scruton has remarked that “Europe is rapidly jettisoning its Christian heritage and has found nothing to put in the place of it save the religion of ‘human rights’.”

Some may call this progress. But we’ve got to ask the question: if human rights are in large measure the fruit of Christian ideas, what is their future as those Christian roots continue to die?

Maybe there’s another set of ideas that can sustain human rights in the modern world.

“Followers of Jesus have played a central role in framing human rights and making them global.”

But that’s a big maybe. Because to date, what has sustained them through time—what has influenced them more than anything else—is Jesus.

In the words of Samuel Moyn, “No one interested in where human rights came from can afford to ignore Christianity.”

From the earliest days of the church, through the Middle Ages and the Reformation and into the modern world, followers of Jesus have played a central role in framing human rights and making them global.

“No one interested in where human rights came from can afford to ignore Christianity.”—Samuel Moyn

Followers of Jesus did this for the simple reason that they were following Jesus.

Let it be remembered that in his mission to earth, Jesus’ ultimate act was to lay down his life to redeem the world. In that great sacrifice, he declared the immeasurable value of every human life.

In that sacrifice, he gave up his rights entirely—so that we might have ours.

Originally published as Ten Reasons Our Human Rights Come From Jesus at the Canberra Declaration.

How Judaism Points to Jesus

Israel. It’s bizarre that such a tiny nation somehow makes news headlines every week. I guess when you occupy the hottest piece of real estate on the planet, the whole world is going to have an opinion.

Today the media buzz is mostly about Israel’s injustices. But if you look back in history, there’s probably no people group that’s suffered as much injustice as the Jewish people. From slavery to exile to the 6 million Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust, it’s a miracle they’ve even survived.

As Christians, we’re sometimes known for our suspicion of other religions. What if we got over ourselves and asked what we can learn from Judaism—and how it might point people to Jesus?

The Story of Judaism

Judaism is a religion, but it’s also a story: the story of God calling a man who became a nation that blessed the world. God made amazing promises to this ethnic group, along with a high calling to obey his laws in every area of their lives.

So in brief, God’s people obeying his law is what Judaism is all about. The only way for us to understand this faith is to join its central characters on a fascinating adventure through time.

T H E   C A L L :   A B R A H A M

In 1800BC, in today’s Iraq, an idol worshipper hears a voice from heaven: Leave your country and family, go to the land I give you, and I’ll make you into a great nation that will bless the planet. Abraham obeys, and he becomes the founding father of Judaism.

As part of this promise, God expects every male in the family to be circumcised: a peculiar reminder that they are God’s peculiar people—and that his plan of universal blessing will come through their offspring.

“It’s the story of God calling a man who became a nation that blessed the world.”

The promise begins to unfold: Abraham’s grandson Jacob or Israel has twelve sons (who go on to become the twelve tribes of Israel). Like most brothers, they don’t get along so well, and during a low point in the story, one of them called Joseph is sold by the others into slavery in Egypt.

But in Egypt, God turns the tables. Joseph becomes Pharaoh’s chief administrator and saves the region from a devastating famine. Starving and in search of food, his long-lost brothers arrive to a surprising and emotional family reunion.

T H E   C O V E N A N T :   M O S E S

The family settles in Egypt, and their numbers grow so rapidly that a new Pharaoh, feeling threatened, puts them under brutal slavery. But God won’t stand for this injustice, so he raises up a leader called Moses to set his people free.

At Moses’ word, supernatural plagues and storms ravage Egypt, but Pharaoh’s heart is hard like stone. So in a final showdown, God has each Israelite household cook a lamb and smear its blood on their doorframe: the firstborn in every house in Egypt would die that night, and God’s judgment would pass over any home marked with blood.

“God raises up a leader called Moses to set his people free.”

Egypt is left devastated, and Pharaoh, broken-hearted, lets Israel go. Through a parted ocean,  God’s people escape. Meanwhile Pharaoh has changed his mind, and in hot pursuit of Israel, he and his armies are drowned in the engulfing waters.

The nation is finally free. On their journey to the promised land, God makes a covenant with them. He gives Moses their national law or Torah, which will govern every aspect of their lives as God’s people. If they obey it, God will make them prosperous and secure, and the model of a wise and just society. If they neglect it, curses and exile are sure to follow.

T H E   K I N G D O M :   D A V I D

After a long journey camping in the wilderness, Israel finally arrives in the promised land. The twelve tribes unite to form a kingdom, and in around 1000BC, their greatest king comes to power. David is a warrior-poet with many faults—but he captures the holy city of Jerusalem, extends Israel’s borders, and leads the nation with a heart after God.

“Israel finally arrives in the promised land.”

God honours David’s faithfulness by promising him a dynasty that would last forever. From David’s line, God says that an eternal king or Messiah would come, ruling over a universal kingdom—and leading Israel to fulfil its God-given destiny.

In time, Israel builds God a temple. The Jews know God is everywhere of course, but this temple is God’s throne room where they can approach him to offer praise and sacrifices. One day a year, on the day of atonement, the most important sacrifice is made. Two animals are brought: one is killed, bearing the nation’s sin—the other is released into the wild, declaring their forgiveness.

“David is a warrior-poet who leads the nation with a heart after God.”

But this spiritual and political high doesn’t last long. Soon most of the nation, even its kings, are perverting justice and worshipping idols. God sends prophets to remind Israel about the blessings and curses of the covenant—but Israel rejects and kills them.

God has had enough: from the 8th to the 6th centuries BC, the empires of Assyria and Babylon invade and take the Jewish people into exile. It would be centuries before they’d return to their land to restore the nation and rebuild their ruined temple.

T H E   C R O S S   R O A D S

Even when Israel returns many years later, life isn’t like it was. The new temple is small—only a shadow of its former self. Promises of a glorious future for Israel stay unrealised. Foreign empires keep invading: in an act of desecration, a Greek king sets up a statue of Zeus in God’s temple, leading to a Jewish revolt. Then Romans invade with a huge military and heavy taxes.

During this bewildering time, Israel is at the crossroads. There are competing visions for what the future of the Jewish people should look like: retreat to the desert and wait for the end of days? Overthrow the Roman invaders? Meet them with a compromise?

“Promises of a glorious future for Israel stay unrealised.”

There was another option. A peasant from northern Palestine called Yeshua knew the Torah, taught people to love their enemies—and even worked miracles and healed people. Crowds followed him everywhere and some thought he might be the long-awaited Messiah. But Israel’s leaders knew better, and they had him crucified outside Jerusalem in AD30.

T H E   C O N T I N U I N G   H O P E

The solution would be found somewhere else. After the Romans destroyed Israel’s temple a second time, a group called the Pharisees rose to prominence with a vision for how the Jews should live while their temple lay in ruins: the focus must now turn inwards to personal purity.

This would set the path for Israel for the next two millennia. In that time, the Jewish diaspora has taken the Jewish people all around the world. Everywhere they’ve gone, Jews have gathered in local synagogues to pray, sing and read the Torah and other scriptures like the Mishnah to help them obey God and live pure lives.

“For Jews, festivals are a time to reflect on the hardships of their people.”

Today, synagogue creeds and prayers remind Jews of their membership in Abraham’s family, their need to confess sin, their confidence in the afterlife, and their enduring hope that Messiah will come and establish his kingdom in Israel. (For many Jews, this hope has looked more likely since the modern state of Israel was formed in 1948 in the original promised land).

Jews today celebrate many important events. Once a week they rest for Sabbath. Male infants are still circumcised. Jewish teenagers mark their coming of age with Bar Mitzvah. Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the temple after its desecration. For Jews, festivals are often a time to reflect on the hardships of their people—and their ongoing hope in God’s faithfulness:

New Year | A sombre day when a ram’s horn is blown to remind the Jews of their need for spiritual awakening and obedience to God.

Day of Atonement | Without a temple there can be no animal sacrifice, but this is still a day when the nation seeks God’s forgiveness.

Feast of Tabernacles | Faithful Jews eat their meals in outdoor tents to remember their time of wandering in the wilderness.

Passover | A special feast is eaten to commemorate God passing over Israelite houses in Egypt and delivering them from slavery.

Pentecost | Many Jews stay up through the night to read and study the Torah as a celebration of the day God gave his law to Israel.

That’s Judaism. Today the world’s 15 million Jews are found in 134 countries, but around one third of them live in the modern state of Israel.

Judaism and Jesus

You need to squint to see Jesus’ fingerprints in other world religions, but his place in Judaism is explicit. Jesus was a Jew—he was part of God’s unfolding story of the Jewish people. In case you missed it, he was Yeshua, the one rejected and killed as a false Messiah.

For the Jews, that rejection has lasted two thousand years. But maybe Jesus is worth another look. After all, he came as a prophet to point Israel back to the covenant and God’s law. Like the Jewish people all through history, even killing Jesus couldn’t keep him down. He predicted his crucifixion in advance, and explained what it would achieve for Israel.

“Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s plan to bless the world through Abraham’s offspring.”

He said he was the passover lamb whose blood would protect them from God’s judgment; that he was the animal killed at the temple to bear the nation’s sin so they could go free and be sure of God’s forgiveness. Could the enduring absence of a temple since the first century be proof that Jesus was the sacrifice to end all temple sacrifices?

Jesus wasn’t just a descendant of Abraham: he also came from the line of David. He claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah that would lead Israel to fulfil its destiny. Yes, he was crucified, but he rose again and has promised to return to establish and rule over a universal kingdom—a dynasty that will last forever.

This is a promise he made to Israel. But it’s also a promise that he extended to all nations. It wasn’t just in his earthly life that crowds followed Jesus: today there isn’t a nation on earth where his followers can’t be found. Jesus truly is the fulfilment of God’s plan to bless the world through Abraham’s offspring.

“Jesus wants to lead the Jewish people with a heart after God.”

Even as Jews regather in the land of Israel today, there is still a sense that they’re a nation in exile, a people wandering in the wilderness. The wailing wall in Jerusalem is a reminder of this. There is no temple; today Israel is still just a shadow of its former self; promises of the future stay unrealised.

That day will come. But until his return, Jesus has a vision for how the Jewish people should live—he wants to help Israel obey God with lives of inward purity. He wants to lead them with a heart after God. He longs for Israel’s spiritual awakening.

The Messiah is here—one greater than Abraham, Moses, and David. And he has come to set God’s people free.

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to support my blog, please like it, leave a comment, and most importantly, share it on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of this series:

Buddhism  |  Islam  |  Hinduism  |  Atheism  |  Judaism  |  Pluralism

Sources

Dickson, John. A Spectator’s Guide to World Religions: An Introduction to the Big Five. Sydney: Blue Bottle Books, 2004, 85-131.

How Islam Points to Jesus

For some in the West, Islam is a synonym for terrorism and oppression. Others seem to believe that Muslims deserve a free pass, and special immunity from criticism.

I’ll admit upfront that I’m biased too. I love my Muslim friends, and I have a deeper interest in Islam than any other world faith outside my own. For me, Islam is an acronym for I Sincerely Love All Muslims.

Christians are sometimes known for their fear of other religions. But what if we got over ourselves and asked what we can learn from Islam—and how it might point people to Jesus?

Origins and Influence

It all began with Muhammad ibn Abdullah, born in Mecca in 570AD, five centuries after Jesus. Arabia was dry, hot, and full of warring tribes. Jews and Christian cults were scattered around, but most people were polytheists, and once a year they’d flood to Mecca to worship their gods.

As a travelling merchant, Muhammad sat around campfires at night hearing many religious ideas, and the idolatry troubled him. He would often retreat to a cave near Mecca for spiritual insight. One day there, a supernatural being appeared and spoke to him. He was so alarmed that he ran home to his wife, convinced he was demonised or insane.

“Muhammad sat around campfires at night hearing many religious ideas.”

But with the help of a scholar, Muhammad concluded that he’d met the angel Gabriel, and that he was called to be a prophet. For the next two decades until his death, he received 114 messages—today making up the chapters of the Qur’an.

His theme was this: only one of Mecca’s hundreds of gods was the true God, and all the others were false idols. That didn’t go down too well—so fleeing persecution, Muhammad moved to the city of Medina.

Here the people liked him and his message about the oneness of God. They embraced him as their prophet and political ruler. It was 622AD; Islam was born.

“Muhammad would often retreat to a cave for spiritual insight.”

The people of Mecca kept troubling Muhammad until eventually, with an army of 10,000, he marched on the city. The powerless Meccans were quick to convert to Islam.

Throughout his life, Muhammad lead 66 battles, married 11 times, and was heralded as a great military leader and God’s final and greatest prophet.

Within a hundred years of his death, Islam spread as far as Turkey, France and India. Fourteen centuries later there are 50 Muslim-majority nations, and Islam is the world’s second biggest religion with 1.8 billion followers.

The Heart of Islam

Islam is built on a single idea: submission to Allah—this is what the word Islam means. Muslims practice the Five Pillars of Islam in the hope that Allah will accept them into paradise:

1. Creed. There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet. If you recite this in the presence of another Muslim and believe it, you become a Muslim.

2. Prayers. At five set times a day, faithful Muslims pray facing the city of Mecca. This involves a ritual washing, set postures and recited prayers. The Friday noon prayer is held in local mosques where a sermon is preached.

3. Fasting. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims aren’t allowed to eat or drink while the sun is up. Night time is for feasting; and celebrations are especially big at the end of this month—a time when Allah is more likely to hear and answer prayers.

4. Alms. This religious tax of up to 5% helps feed the poor, support war efforts, and spread the message of Islam around the world.

5. Pilgrimage. Every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it must visit the city of Mecca once in their life. Here, pilgrims take part in many rituals: they wear special garments, circle a shrine called the Kaaba, and spend an evening on a hill outside the city where they hope their sins will be washed away.

Jihad is sometimes considered a sixth pillar. Jihad means struggle, and while some point to the days of Muhammad and think of this in military terms, most Muslims today consider jihad an internal struggle against sin.

Along with these practices there are Five Pillars of Faith which every Muslim must embrace:

1. God. Allah has 99 beautiful names. (His hundredth name is unknown). Allah is unique, and it’s blasphemy to equate any person with him; certainly, he is too lofty and majestic to have a son. Allah is our master, and we are his servants. He knows us, but we can’t know him.

2. Angels. These include jinn or genies, but most important are the two angels that sit on every person’s right and left shoulder, recording our good and bad deeds for a final day of reckoning.

3. Prophets. Moses, Abraham, David and many other Bible characters are prophets in Islam—Jesus is especially honoured as a prophet. But Islam’s final and greatest prophet is Muhammad. He’s the model for all Muslims to imitate.

4. Books. The Torah, Psalms and Gospels are holy books in Islam. In fact, Jews and Christians are considered people of the book. But the most holy book is the Qur’an. Muslims believe it was given because the other books were corrupted.

5. Judgment Day. Like Muhammad, Allah is a good businessman. On judgment day, he will weigh our good and bad deeds on a scale to see whether we deserve hell or paradise. But even then Allah is still sovereign, and his mercy is what will determine our destiny.

Muhammad and Jesus

Christians have much to learn from Islam. In a world of apathy, Muhammad led with uncompromising conviction, and he had a reverence for God that the western church desperately needs to recapture. And the cultures Muhammad has shaped are among the most respectful and hospitable on the planet.

What about Muhammad’s claims? Private visions are difficult to verify—but the Qur’an does help us build bridges with Muslims since it speaks so often of ‘Isa al-Masih or Jesus the Messiah. In fact Jesus is referred to 93 times in the Qur’an—four times more often than Muhammad himself!

“Christians have much to learn from Islam.”

The Qur’an says that Jesus was born of a virgin; that he was a healer and miracle worker who raised the dead; and that he will intercede for us on judgment day. These things are not said of Muhammad. In fact, while the Qur’an mentions Muhammad’s sins, it calls Jesus sinless—and even gives him titles like Spirit and Word of God.

Actually, this is what the Bible taught all along. There’s no theological reason for Muslims to believe the Bible has been corrupted: God can protect his books. And there’s no historical reason either: 25,000 manuscripts spanning from the second century AD are almost identical to today’s Bibles. How could forgers have edited so many documents—and no modern scholar notice?

“God can protect his books.”

The Word of God didn’t come to Jesus in a private vision. Jesus is the Word of God. His life was the message, and it was lived out in public where it could be tested by history.

Like Muhammad, Jesus called people to turn from their idols and follow the true God. The people of Jerusalem persecuted him for this. But unlike Muhammad, Jesus didn’t flee. He willingly submitted to the plan of God. That evening he was crucified on a hill outside the city—where he washed our sins away.

Because of this, our destiny no longer hangs in the balance between the good and bad deeds that we do. God has shown us mercy once for all in Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus is God’s guarantee that we’ll also be raised up to paradise.

“Jesus is the Word of God. His life was the message.”

Because of Jesus, God hears our prayers any time of the year. Because of him, we can win our internal struggle against sin. Most of all, because of Jesus, we can know God and the great love he has for us.

It is wrong for any human to equate themselves with God. But what if God equated himself with us? What if the greatest act of God’s majesty was to become one of us, and make himself personally known? What if God’s hundredth name is ‘Isa al-Masih?

“Because of Jesus, we can know God and the great love he has for us.”

Today there’s a wind in the house of Islam. In countries still shut to the gospel, Jesus is appearing to thousands of Muslims in dreams and supernatural visions. And many more are coming to faith in open nations through the love of Christian friends.

Muslims around the world today are discovering that Jesus is more than a prophet—and that following him is the true path of submission to God.

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to support my blog, please like it, leave a comment, and most importantly, share it on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of this series:

Buddhism  |  Islam  |  Hinduism  |  Atheism  |  Judaism  |  Pluralism

Sources

Dickson, John. A Spectator’s Guide to World Religions: An Introduction to the Big Five. Sydney: Blue Bottle Books, 2004, 177-217.

Masri, Fouad. Bridges: Connecting Christians With Muslims (DVD). Indianapolis, IN: Crescent Project, 2008.

Understand Any Book of the Bible in Ten Seconds

Have you ever read the entire Bible?

It’s a big book. To read it from start to finish takes about three days without a break. With so much to comprehend, it’s little wonder that literally millions more books have been written to explain and apply it.

“To read the Bible from start to finish takes about three days without a break.”

But in an age saturated by information, it’s no surprise that the most helpful resources are also the simplest. I’ve long thought that a resource should exist that explains every book of the Bible at a glance.

I’ve never found one—so I created one. I trust you’ll find these simple outlines personally useful and great to share with those new to the Christian walk. (Download a printable PDF copy here).

If you enjoyed reading this, please like and share it on social media, and scroll to the bottom of the page to subscribe to my blog by email.

I’m indebted to Charles R. Swindoll for many of the book structures, and to Jeffrey Kranz for his simple book summaries.