Christians Who Don’t Believe – Part 2

In case you missed Part 1 of this post, you can read it here.

There was a BBC article published this past Sunday about the beliefs of people in England regarding the resurrection of Jesus and life after death.

According to their survey:

  • 25% of people who call themselves Christians in Great Britain do not believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead.
  • Only 17% of the general public in Britain believe word-for-word the account of Jesus’ resurrection.
  • 10% of non-religious people in Britain believe that the Easter story contains some truth, but only 1% believe it is literally true.
  • 21% of non-religious people believe in life after death.
    • Of these, 65% said they believe that their soul would go to heaven or hell, and 32% believe they will be reincarnated.

And here’s the one I find most shocking:

  • 31% of British Christians surveyed said they do not believe in life after death.

While someone like me looks at this and sees an incredibly dire situation, the article says that Church of England officials were actually quite encouraged by it! Here’s why:

  1. Because it showed that “many British people, despite not being regular churchgoers, hold core Christian beliefs.”
  2. It showed more regular church attendance amongst younger Christians than older ones.

Maybe it’s me, but in light of the survey it seems like a bit of stretch to say “many” and to say “core Christian beliefs”. Is literally believing in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead not considered by them to be a “core Christian belief”?

What’s interesting about this is that the Bible directly addresses those who call themselves Christians and yet do not believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 15, Paul speaks first to those who call themselves Christians and do not believe in life after death, and then he speaks to those who deny that Jesus literally rose from the dead. It’s almost like this chapter could have been written for 31% and 25% of British Christians respectively.

The first point Paul makes is that the literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead is and has always been a central tenant of the gospel: the core of Christian belief, and it is only by believing this gospel that we are saved. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

The second point Paul makes is that not only was the death of Jesus foretold by the Scriptures, but so was his resurrection. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

The third point Paul makes is that there were hundreds of eye witnesses still alive at that time who could attest to having seen Jesus alive after his crucifixion. (1 Corinthians 15:5-8)

Then Paul goes on to say (Vs 12-15) that if there is no life after death, then all of the apostles and Christians were liars, because they told people that Jesus had risen from the dead and that they had seen him.
If they had lied about this, they either did it knowingly or unknowingly. If they did it knowingly, then they are intentionally conning people and they should therefore not be trusted. If they lied unknowingly, that means that they are delusional and should not be followed, because they are, to put it crassly: deranged.

Next, Paul says that if there is no life after death, then Christian faith is pointless, and they have just been wasting their time and believing in a fairy tale (Vs 17-18) – and ultimately there is no hope, and no good news. And if this is the case, that Christianity is just another form of moralism and empty rituals, then Christians are the greatest fools in the world. (Vs 19, 30-34)

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19)

But… if Christ is truly and literally risen from the dead, then that means that God has broken a hole in the pitiless walls of this broken world, and made a way for us to be saved! And Jesus is the first fruits of those who will be resurrected from death to everlasting life.
And the day is coming when the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

And because that day is coming, we can have the confidence in whatever circumstances we may face in this life to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

The story of Jesus’ resurrection is an integral and indispensable part of the good news of the gospel: the core message of Christianity. The hope that we have as Christians is based on it. To deny it is to deny Christian belief and to try to change Christianity into a form of moralism full of empty rituals which encourages condescension towards God and towards other people of faith, but which leaves you as a person worthy to be most pitied because you are without hope in anything greater than yourself.

If however, you believe in God, then let me ask you the question Paul the Apostle asked the crowd at his own trial: Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? (Acts 26:8)

It would be incredible if you or I raised someone from the dead, but if God is God — the creator and sustainer of life — then such a thing is neither impossible nor even difficult for him.

May you be filled with true belief this Easter season, so that you may believe, and in believing have life! (John 20:31)

Hungary Becomes the First Country to Officially Defend Christians Persecuted by ISIS

Some good news coming out of my former home, Hungary, this week:

This week, Hungary, which has during the past year come under pressure for its handling of Europe’s mass migration crisis, has become the first government to open an office specifically to address the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Europe.

“Today, Christianity has become the most persecuted religion, where out of five people killed [for] religious reasons, four of them are Christians,” Catholic News Agency (CNA) quoted Hungary’s Minister for Human Resources, Zoltan Balog, as saying. “In 81 countries around the world, Christians are persecuted, and 200 million Christians live in areas where they are discriminated against. Millions of Christian lives are threatened by followers of radical religious ideologies.”

I’m glad to see someone standing up for these persecuted Christians in the Middle East. It’s about time. Good on you, Hungary!

For the article about it in Christianity Today, click here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/september/first-country-to-officially-defend-christians-persecuted-by.html

Photos From Our Trip So Far

Preaching at Golgota Debrecen with my friend Jancsi translating. The church is biligual and does all services in Hungarian and English.
Refugee Bible study in Budapest with Farsi translation. They use “Simply Jesus” to teach the Gospel through movement which requires minimal translation.
Many of these Iranian and Afghan refugees recently became Christians
Pastor Jani of Golgota Eger representing for Longmont City!
Elegáns Eger
This is how we got around in Debrecen in Bodi’s tiny car…
Bodi bácsival a Békástónál

 

How to Truly Live

The final paragraph of CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity is incredible.  He’s speaking on the issue of how to truly live, and his point is that selfishness is not actually in our best self-interest.

Check it out:

The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and the death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find him, and with him everything else thrown in.

Brett Felton: US Veteran Fighting ISIS and Defending Christians in Iraq

60 Minutes aired a report this past weekend on the Christians of Northern Iraq, and how they are being persecuted by ISIS. It is terrible and tragic, and something the whole world needs to hear about. Take a few minutes to read this report. This is an event of historic proportions: books and churches which have existed since the early days of Christianity are being destroyed. A Christian community is being eradicated.

If we think back on the actions of Hitler in Europe and reflect on what Christians should have done, we must open our eyes to realize that something similar is happening in our day in the Middle East to Christians. What will the world do? What can be done?

One American Christian, Brett Felton, came to the conclusion that the right thing for him to do, as a former US soldier who fought in Iraq, was to return there to help the Iraqi Christians defend themselves. 60 Minutes posted this video report about him. Check it out.

Brett is over there, not hunting ISIS, but training the Iraqi Christians on how to defend themselves if and when ISIS attacks, and he is standing beside them to fight if and when that day comes.

What do you think about a Christian taking up arms to fight against ISIS?

ISIS is clearly doing something very evil – something that should not be tolerated from any group of people, no matter who they are persecuting.

Considering the circumstances, and the fact that ISIS is functioning as a military group, terrorizing largely unarmed, untrained civilians, I think that what Brett Felton is doing is praiseworthy – putting his life on the line to help civilians protect their families and their ancient civilization from an evil assailant.

Family Christian Stores Files For Bankruptcy

America’s largest Christian retailer, Family Christian Stores, has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

This doesn’t mean that they are closing down; they are doing this in order to save their company. They are going to restructure and try to stay in business.

Perhaps most interesting though, is that while Family Christian Stores is floundering, Lifeway Christian Bookstores is expanding.

What’s the difference between these two?  In short, I would put it this way: Lifeway has higher standards about what they sell and how they do business.

Earlier this year, when it came out that a certain big name pastor/author had committed rampant plagiarism, Lifeway immediately dropped his books from their shelves. Family Christian Stores, on the other hand specializes in cheesy Christian paraphernalia and selling whatever sells. I remember going into one of their stores once and being surprised to see a particular book on their shelves. My wife asked the manager why they sold that book – his response was very telling: he said he was ashamed to have that book on their shelves too, but corporate said that they had to, because they are first and foremost a business and people buy that product.

It would seem to me that the reason Family Christian Stores is struggling whereas Lifeway is flourishing must somehow be attributed to the fact that Christians actually have higher standards and are more discerning as to where they spend their money and what values they want their retailers to represent than Family Christians Stores gave them credit for.

 

Big Shoes

Starting today, I am now teaching Bible class at Longmont Christian High School.

I took over for Don Monteath, a great godly man who taught history and Bible for many years at LCS; he taught our son for the years that he went to school there. Mr. Monteath didn't only teach the kids, he also loved them very much and they knew it. Mr. Monteath didn't teach at the school because he needed to, he taught there because he loved the kids and he loved teaching.

 

Don Monteath passed away in December. I attended his memorial, and it was packed. There was an open mic and the memorial went on and on with former students, family members and friends sharing their memories.

I heard it said recently that what the church needs most is more great men and women of God, who serve God and take part in His mission simply because they are Christians and that is what Jesus called all of His followers to be about until His return.

I consider it a privilege to get to teach these students the Bible, and to fill Mr. Monteath's shoes in this role.

 

Reasons Why I Love Tim Howard

Team USA goaltender Tim Howard made a record 16 saves at the World Cup game between the US and Belgium, but couldn’t save the American team from being knocked out in the 2-1 Belgian win.

Did you know:

  • Tim Howard is HUNGARIAN!    Tim was born in New Jersey to an African-American father and a native Hungarian mother named Fekete Eszter!  He is a dual citizen of USA and Hungary, but unfortunately, aside from a few words, he doesn’t speak Hungarian.  Szeretünk téged, Tim! Hajrá magyarok!
  • Tim Howard is a CHRISTIAN.   Tim has spoken about his Christian faith, saying: “The most important thing in my life is Christ. He’s more important to me than winning or losing or whether I’m playing or not. Everything else is just a bonus.”
  • Tim Howard has Tourette Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  • Tim is 35 years old and has been on the US national team since 2002.  I don’t know if this was his last world cup, but after this performance today, he seems like he is at the top of his game!

Maundy Thursday – The Greatest Servant

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day of Holy Week when Jesus and his disciples celebrated their last supper.

On this day, we read that they rented a room in which to eat the traditional Passover meal, full of symbolism, of which Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment.

Being that people wore open sandals and that the roads were dirt, it meant that if they had been walking around outside, people’s feet were dirty.  Not only were they dirty from dusty roads, but without modern sewage systems, a lot of waste would end up in the streets, adding to the level of grime and filth on a person’s feet after simply going about a day’s business outside. Especially, considering that dinner was eaten sitting on pads on the floor, this foot washing was important because of the close proximity people would be in to each other’s feet – smelly feet ruin appetites.

For this reason, the custom was for people who entered a house to remove their sandals and wash their feet. If you were a guest at someone’s house, usually that foot washing would be taken care of by the host, or if the host could afford it, by a servant.

However, Jesus and his disciples were using a borrowed room, so there was no host to welcome them, and no servant assigned to wash people’s feet.

Luke’s Gospel tells us that as they sat at this dinner table, eating the passover – the disciples began to argue over which of them was the greatest. Presumably, part of this discussion was also to determine which one of them was the least – which one of them should become the servant of all and wash everyone’s feet.

And then something happened which no one expected: Jesus stood up and wrapped a towel around his waist and one by one, he washed the feet of his disciples.

Peter, seeing this, protested! How could he let Jesus serve him?! He should be serving Jesus!   But Jesus told Peter: If you don’t let me serve you, you can have no part in me.

And Jesus explained to them – that if anyone would be the greatest in His Kingdomhe must become the servant of all. In His Kingdom, those who humble themselves are the greatest, and those who exalt themselves will be humbled. Jesus explained: “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But it will not be so amongst you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the least, and the leader as one who serves.”

At another point Jesus had said: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

How are you doing as a servant? Pursue true greatness and be like Jesus: a servant.

To Seminary or Not to Seminary

Seminary – AKA “Semetery”: the place where young people who love God go to have their faith shaken and their enthusiasm killed forever. At least that’s how seminary was portrayed to me as a young Christian who was eager to serve the Lord.

Today, as a pastor and seminary student, I have to say that I actually agree with that. I can see how seminary can kill a young person’s faith and enthusiasm. However, I think that seminary is a good thing, and something pastors should do. For me, going to seminary has been one of the best decisions I’ve made, both personally, and for my calling as a pastor.

I didn’t start going to seminary until after I had already been ordained and pastoring for years. The group of churches I was ordained in didn’t require formal seminary training in order to be ordained; they simply required 4 years of theological training, which could be received in an institution like a Bible college or seminary, or on the job, through apprenticeship/discipleship. I did the latter. I was encouraged that men like Peter were unlearned men whose training came from having been with Jesus.

When I had been a pastor for a few years, I began to really feel the desire to deepen my understanding of theology, church history, and the many other topics that are taught in seminary courses. A friend of mine turned me on to a great school in England, which I have been attending now part time for several years. I’m not doing it because I need a degree in order to become a pastor; I’m doing it to make myself a better pastor.

We need to train the called, not call the trained.

And I have to say – I think this is the ideal way; I believe that we should be training the called, not calling the trained. If someone has a calling on their life and an enthusiasm to serve the Lord, then why would we lock them up for 4 years and tell them to read a bunch of books before they can go out and serve the Lord?  That’s now what Jesus did. Read the first few chapters of the Gospel of John – you see people who had little to no theological understanding leading people to Jesus. The woman at the well went and told the whole town about Jesus. The man born blind simply testified to what had happened to him.  However, enthusiasm can only take you so far, especially as a pastor. The job of a pastor is to teach and the lead as a shepherd, and they need to be able to do that with understanding about God’s Word and people.

The Problem with Being Self-Taught

I know that many people would respond that one doesn’t need to go to seminary in order to get a theological education. Surely there are a number of books available, and if one is a disciplined student, then they can simply educate themselves while doing the work of the ministry.

Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones is perhaps the greatest example of a master preacher and pastor – certain one of the greatest of our modern age. He was known by those who looked up to him as “The Pastor”. Dr. Jones never went to seminary nor had any formal theological training. He had studied to be a medical doctor, and later switched to Christian ministry, becoming a pastor. Dr. Jones is often cited as a perfect example of how one does not need to be sequestered in a seminary in order to receive theological training – it is possible to be self-taught.

Here’s the problem with being self-taught, which I realized years ago, when I desired to deepen my knowledge base and started trying to teach myself:  When you teach yourself, YOU pick what you want to learn and read. The great thing about being part of a seminary program is that I am forced to read and consider viewpoints which I would have otherwise avoided. Basically, self-taught people tend to read things which simply bolster the positions which they have already held.

For some people, being faced with views other than those who they already hold leads them to confusion and uncertainty. Certainly I have become a lot less dogmatic about things I used to be dogmatic about, because I more understand now the complexity of the questions and arguments. And it is this uncertainty which leads to confusion and disillusionment for many young seminarians who go to seminary because they want to know God more and because they have a passion for the Gospel and for serving others like Jesus did. They go to seminary hoping to be set on fire in a greater way and be given tools to minister effectively, and find themselves bogged down in discussions which bring into question things which they never thought were issues! And then the Bible becomes a book you read for school, and you hear people splitting hairs on seemingly irrelevant theological arguments, and it can easily kill one’s enthusiasm.

The study of theology is faith seeking understanding – Saint Anselm

As Anselm said: The study of theology is “faith seeking understanding”. And I believe it should be treated that way. Karl Barth taught that Christian theology should be an endeavor done by Christians who are committed to Jesus Christ. I agree with that. I also believe that if someone has a desire to serve God, we should encourage that, rather then kill it by making them jump through a bunch of hoops first. Let’s see who is called and then be diligent to train them, rather than training people to death and then asking them to be called and enthusiastic about the Gospel.

What do you think?  Seminary, or not to Seminary? Comment below!