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EXCLUSIVE: Shall set you Free

The most critical doctrine within the body of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is so critical that the entire Christian faith hinges on the ideology that Jesus Christ died by crucifixion and was bodily raised from the dead. Simply put, without the resurrection, Christianity catastrophically falls apart.

Today we will begin our journey by establishing the testability of Christianity among other world religions. To support this we will then investigate and compare historical records of antiquity as a measure of credibility to strengthen our case for Jesus’ resurrection. Finally, we will use our findings in the ladder statements and view historical references that verify Jesus’ resurrection and that He is alive and well.

If truth is what we are seeking, I believe it is reasonable to start with the worldview of Christianity and the person of Jesus Christ. Christianity, more than any other religion, is founded on a single being, Jesus Christ (not to be confused with monotheism).  Before we explore Jesus, it’s important to note the significance of the prophecies made prior to Jesus’ coming. Prophecy is unique to Christianity in that no other holy book contains fulfilled prophecies; this includes the Quran, the Hindu Vedras and the book of Mormon. Open any Bible and you will read on its first pages that the words of scripture, the writers and the prophets are inspired by God for His will and glory. Therefore, if God inspires the Word of scripture, the writers and the prophets, it only begins to strengthen the validity and credibility of truth claims that others too had prophecies of Him; mainly that the Messiah will be born of a virgin (Isa 7:14), that the Messiah will die by crucifixion (Psalm 22) and that the Messiah will be raised from the dead  (Psalm 16:10,11).

Here, Jesus stands alone in His unique place in history. Not only did He fulfill the prophecies written long before him, He spoke with an authority and acted publicly in His ministry. As Steiger states, “Jesus asserted his own divinity… Jesus didn’t claim to have discovered the way to God; he claimed to be the way to God. He did not claim to have learned the truth about God; he claimed to be truth. He did not claim to have found life; he claimed to be life.” What is unique within this statement is that it excludes all other religious ideas.

As a comparison, when looking at Islam, we see that Muhammad claims that he received his spiritual revelation from the archangel Gabriel in a cave. He was the only one who experienced this and he became the sounding board for all Islam; But how do we verify this? In Buddhism, we can logically reason that virtually anyone could have been enlightened, it didn’t have to be Siddhartha, a mere man, who decidedly renounced Hinduism and sought enlightenment. Again, how do we verify he was actually enlightened?

What we witness here, and we will see further in our journey, is that Jesus’ moral character is built on the foundation of an everlasting objective reality: God’s word never changes.

Additionally, Dr. Ravi Zacharias provides us with an important framework stating that, “in order to be held reasonably truthful a religious worldview must be testable on the grounds of empirical forms of measurement; historicity and logical reasoning all of which are required to form corresponding truths and coherence of a worldview.” Otherwise the result is a worldview that collapses on itself and cannot be held as reasonable truthful based upon the evidence.

Secondly, would you be surprised if the world’s foremost historians and scholars accepted biblical documents as credible sources of ancient history and archeological evidence? It is correct that this is overwhelmingly true and widely accepted as fact. Bart Erhman, renowned agnostic scholar and skeptic tells us, “virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian and non-Christian, agrees based on clear and certain evidence.”

In the case of historicity, historical research primarily relies on the earliest sources of documents such as eyewitness accounts of events and other sources of information to verify ancient documents. In addition to the historical method, scholars often elicit the bibliographical test, which aims to examine manuscript reliability. “The bibliographical test compares the closeness of the oldest surviving manuscripts to the date of its original handwritten documents. To verify this further, historians then look at the total number of surviving documents with the number and earliest surviving manuscripts and cross reference to other important ancient documents.”

Let’s examine the historical documents of Homer’s Iliad, more commonly known as the poetic story of the Trojan War. The Iliad is important to us because it is considered to be among the oldest extant works of western literature and ancient history. Homer’s Iliad was written at approximately 800BC with the earliest manuscript surfacing around 400BC making it 400 years before the first form of literature appears; the number of earliest manuscripts is approximately 1,757. In addition, the Gallic wars written by Julius Caesar were written in approximately 100-44BC with the earliest manuscripts dating to 900AD making it 1000 years before our first forms of literature appear and only 10 copies of manuscripts. Alexander the Great’s (330AD) earliest manuscripts arrive at approximately 350 years.

Comparatively, the New Testament documents, comprising of 27 books and 8 authors, were written between 40-90AD with the earliest forms of literature surfacing around 70AD or 40 years, the book of Mark . The total number of surviving documents with the earliest number of manuscripts is approximately 5,366. This number does not include the approximately 15,000 plus manuscripts written in other languages.

Interestingly, Muslim Apologist Dr.  Shabir Ally tells us, “the book of Mark cannot be considered as reliable evidence as it is written long after Jesus’ death”. Comparatively, what we find here is that the manuscripts of the Gospel are found significantly earlier than any other historical document on record.

Through using fair and consistent approaches of historical methods prescribe by the world’s foremost scholars, we can see that New Testament documents are highly respected and significantly pass the criteria as credible historical sources of evidence that provide us with an insight into the person of Jesus and the resurrection.

Thirdly, in his book Did Jesus exist?, Bart Erhman tells us that there are many facts about Jesus in which the elite scholarly community unanimously agrees upon concerning Jesus Christ mainly, “that Jesus was a Jewish man, known to be a preacher and a teacher, who was crucified (a Roman form of execution), in Jerusalem during the Reign of Roman emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilot was governor of Judea.”

To support these claims Dr. Gary Habermas states that, “the only explanation that can account for the existence of all of these facts is the resurrection of Jesus.” Habermas’ research has concluded that the vast majority of scholars accept 12 historical facts that can demonstrate the proof of Jesus’ resurrection, we are going to look at 2.

Of the 13 epistles in the Bible, approximately 7 are accepted as being hand written by Paul (formerly Saul of Tarsus). In particular, the book of First Corinthians passage 15 (55AD) gives us eyewitness insight into these historical events. It is important to note that Jesus’ death is to be between 30-33AD.

Here Paul writes, “I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which I also received… for what I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day.” Firstly, the message Paul preaches is known as an ancient creed that was used to quickly summarize truth in a simplified manner to avoid the development of heresy;  this was the creed the church was founded upon. We also find that Paul learnt this creed 15 years before his first mission to Corinth in 51 AD from James, the recently converted brother of Jesus, placing Paul approximately 4-5 years out from the cross (Galatians 1:11). This is important to us, as Maier states, “many facts from antiquity rest on just one ancient source, while two or three sources in agreement generally render unimpeachable.” Here, we have an account of James advising Paul on the matter of the resurrection facts (Galation 1:18-19). This moment in time is further emphasized by the fact the both Paul and James we’re not previously believers of Christ. Paul was a tremendously feared persecutor of the Church and James is Jesus’ brother whom didn’t believe until he saw Jesus in His resurrection body. We then learn that it took Paul 3 years before he first visited James in Jerusalem placing him 1-2 years from the cross at his conversion on the road to Damascus.

Next, the verse continues, “and then he [Jesus] appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brother and sisters at the same time, most of them are still living today, though some have fallen asleep.” This passage is often debated by skeptics as the hallucination theory claiming that resurrection appearances of Jesus were not literal and instead hallucinations. What nullifies this theory is that there are no medical records anywhere of mass hallucinations. Furthermore, what we witness in this passage is large groups of people acting on seeing the resurrected Jesus and converting to Christianity, marking widespread change. Who would do that if it were just a hallucination? Paul further solidifies his testimony by stating to the Church in Corinth, “that most of them are still living today” thus implying they were accessible if people wanted to fact check.

These historical events lay witness to truly remarkable moments in history and are only explained by the resurrected Jesus. We have historical documentation accepted by the scholarly community as our foundational evidence that far outweighs other ancient documents on the same criteria. Empirically, we have many eyewitness accounts and credible sources placing people at and near these events. Through logical reasoning all of these factors can be tested and verified; in your pursuit of truth I encourage you to do so.

In conclusion, what I hope you have found here is something to consider… to really think about. There are many ideas that the world would have you believe in; but truth is exclusive, and it is only found is the person of Jesus Christ.

Although you may not know him know today, He loves you and is preparing your heart to receive Him, that you might choose to be in relationship with him for eternity.

God bless. 

United we Stand, Divided we Fall – A Story of Good & Evil

 

Today, we continue to analyze the concept of Evil. Last time, we identified the logical premise that the question of evil assumes that life and personhood have essential value imbedded within it. Moreover, “when you assume that there is evil you assume a moral law from which to differentiate good and evil”. We then concluded that evil is a manifestation that is conceived in the hearts of man; that it is by freewill that man has the choice to act and preserve their version of the truth.

Today we must begin by identifying where objective moral values come from.

The world looks at moral values in a few distinct ways.

Firstly, basic sociology tells us that, “social norms are cultural understandings that are considered acceptable within a given society”. As we saw in our example of evil, we have to have a moral law from which to differentiate good and evil. A similar assumption exists within the theory of social norms: we as humans govern the rules of what is deemed socially acceptable. This brings forth the question, in comparison to what?

Secondly, let us consider the concept of statistical morality to determine right from wrong. R.C. Sproul provides us with an example of how statistical morality works, “to find out what is normal, we do a statistical survey, we take a poll, or we find out what people are actually doing. If the results are consistent and in favor of a given behaviour, it is then considered normal to indulge in that particular behaviour.” If it is normal, we deem it to be good and right. Again, this solicits the question: in comparison to what?

The problem with both of these examples is that they fall short on the grounds of human intervention. As humans, we often find it difficult to reconcile our trust in anyone, or any idea, that tries to pervert our own metric of goodness, as if we created the objective moral standard.

On the contrary, what we find is no matter where you are in the world – murder, child abuse, rape, human trafficking, drug abuse, sickness, poverty and suffering are all recognized as evil – no social norms, no statistics, no human intervention. We innately know, as if it was written on our hearts, that these things are wrong and I believe that is because our answer lies within the person who’s image we bare, Jesus Christ, who is the standard of objective moral values within Himself.

What this implies is that God is the very essence of goodness. He is the eternal objective moral standard from which we are able to differentiate the evil of this world; He also desires to be in eternal relationship with us so that we might choose to be reconciled to Him. C.S. Lewis writes, “free will, though it makes evil possible, it is also the only thing that makes possible love or goodness or joy worth having… The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely voluntarily united to Him and to each other… And for that they must be free.”

Lastly, it’s important to note, as Steiger states, “I am not saying that you need to believe in God in order to do good things. I am also not saying that you can not develop an ethical life without referring to God”.

What I hope we can begin to agree upon is that without God, good and therefore evil, would not exist at all.

Peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why you gotta be so… Evil?

 

If there is one subject that is single handily the most important topic that we will cover it is this: Evil.

A short week ago I read a story in the news about a Toronto schoolteacher who was travelling abroad in Costa Rica. This man woke up early one morning with his heart set on capturing the beautiful sunrise that adorns Costa Rica’s cost lines. Upon leaving his residence, he let his travel companions know where he was heading, a safety measure we should all use when traveling abroad. Fast forward to the events that would later ensue; his body found in the middle of the street with all of his camera gear and belongings missing – the man was murdered in cold blood in a senseless act of violence by two individuals, yet to be detained. The outpouring of mourning and comments for this man would come through once the news reached home in Canada, with former students attesting to his ability to connect with them on a meaningful level. May this man rest in peace.

Have you ever wondered why it is, when horror, tragedy, suffering, or any like situation happens to us, how we often seek to understand why such evil and injustice exists in this world? Whats interesting is how we, as humans, tend to desire to know how evil can happen so frequently in a world that we expect to be and classify as good.

The belief in evil first assumes that human life has essential value; why else would we care if there is evil? It wouldn’t matter. Yet evil cannot exist on it’s own. Steiger defines evil as, “the corruption of good” and further states that, “evil cannot exist unless good first exists”. If evil then assumes that life has essential value, and evil cannot exist unless good first exists, this implies that your very personhood matters in a world where both good and evil both abound.

The predicament that we are faced with is reconciling how to live in a world that is transcendently good and yet, deal with the evil of this world.

Jesus gives us a good starting point to consider in this juxtaposition.

In Luke 23 we witness Jesus’ last few hours of his fleshly ministry. Upon being deceived by one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Jesus is arrested and handed over to the Roman Prefect with no evidence to support his arrest. During this time Jesus is mocked, ridiculed, spat on, flogged and beaten by the Roman guards. Prefect is then forced to order Jesus’ crucifixion in an effort to avoid his own demise and rioting by the people. From this moment on, Jesus drags his cross to his ultimate fleshly death. This is where Jesus teaches us the lesson of reconciling evil: in the last few moments on the cross still being ridiculed Jesus cries out,  “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing”.

What we can learn from our Costa Rican news story and Luke’s testimony is twofold. Here we witness evil and the self-serving desires of people come to fruition. We see that people have a choice and it’s by their freewill to choose to act out in a vial manner in order to preserve their own evil desire. It was evil that was conceived in the hearts of men. In Luke 23, Jesus knew this and in an ultimate act of humility his last words were that of forgiveness for the very people whom ordered his crucifixion.

We’ll continue to explore this further in our next post.

Peace.

 

 

Can’t we all just get along?

This most recent exercise, Do all Religions lead to God?, has brought forth so many questions that I never thought of in such great detail, it only verifies the necessity to be studying apologetics in the first place.

Religion is a touchy subject for most; it brings feelings of discomfort, misunderstanding, confusion, complete withdrawal, pain, and yet, a tremendous amount of joy for a large percentage of the world’s population. With such a large percentage of the world believing in something, it brings forth the question, are all religions true? And better still, why does it matter?

Not all religions are seeking to understand or know God, despite what many people believe. This common misassumption, known as religious pluralism, is simply not true; this is made clear to us when we begin to analyze the major worldview’s available to us. For example, when we begin to analyze Buddhism, founded by Siddhartha (563-483BC), we see that the goal is to extinguish all hunger and desire and reach a state of Nirvana and to cease to exist – no God.

So are all religions true? This question is fundamentally important to the world because all religions are formed upon the basis of making truth claims – claims about how reality really is. For the case of this post we will call this an assumptive truth claim. An assumptive truth claim is a statement someone has made known to be true. If an audience buys into the underlying truth claim that is being made they run the risk of forming a personal view around that idea, or with that idea in mind, often times without understanding it. What’s troubling is that as humans, when we believe something is real, we act upon that reality. Therefore, this is not only fundamentally important to the world, but it is fundamentally important to you as a person because you act upon what you believe to be true.

With so many religions and ideological systems available to us, how do we know what is true? To quote Dr. Ravi Zacharias, “there are fundamental differences with world religions and at best there are superficial differences”. It’s not logically possible that all religions are true, there has to be one absolute truth. For example, if we have an atheist who claims that there is no God and a Muslim who claims that there is a God we have a contradiction, and the laws of non-contradiction tell us “that contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense and at the same time”.

Furthermore, in our pursuit of truth, Dr. Ravi Zacharias provides us with a framework to test religious worldview’s by examining their origin, meaning, morality and destiny. He states that, “every particular answer has to correspond to truth through either an empirical form of measurement or through a logical reasoning process, and when put together, these answers have to form corresponding truth’s and a coherence of a worldview”. Otherwise the result is a worldview that collapses on itself and cannot be held as reasonably truthful based upon the evidence.

This is why I believe Christianity to be the absolute truth: the truth claims of the gospel explicitly answer the questions of origin, meaning, morality and destiny to form a testable and concrete worldview.

In Genesis 1:26,27 we see that God said” Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…so God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them”. Previously, we looked at the subject of meaning where we discovered that the meaning of life is to know and be in relationship with God. It is by design that we are relationally created beings and this can be found within the very nature of the Christian Godhead itself. Next, Jesus provides us with the actual yard stick for our objective moral values, it is quite simple: if God exists, life has objective meaning and thus objective moral values given to it by God. Lastly, the answer of destiny comes in the form of eternal relationship with God; his very truth claim states the answer to eternal life in John 17:3 – “that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent”.

Finally, to quote Steiger, “Jesus didn’t claim to have discovered God; he claimed to be the way. He did not claim to learn the truth about God; he claimed to be truth. He did not claim to have found life; he claimed to be life.”

Peace and Love.

 

 

 

 

 

In God We Trust

If you live in America today you see “In God We Trust” on the back of every twenty dollar bill that has been printed since 1956. This is a guiding principle of the belief system in the United States of America. The underlying implication of this statement is this– we trust in God, and therefore, God exists.

If only explaining this today were that simple. Today, in 600 words or less, we will explore some evidence that gives us good reason to believe that God not only exists, but that the meaning of life is to be in relationship with Him through his son, Jesus Christ.

Once upon a time, a Danish Theologian by the name of Søreen Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was struggling to understand why it is not more obvious to us that God exists. To assist him in illustrating this, he wrote a parable known as The King who Loves a Humble Maiden. The parable tells us that King Solomon disguised himself to be an equal to the peasant women in order that she may come to authentically fall in love and take his hand in marriage, and he succeeds. Kierkegaard illustrates that had Solomon come to the maiden in his Kingly power it would have been overwhelming for her to relate to him and virtually impossible for her to love him authentically, yet because he lowered himself to her level her was able to win her love.

We can learn a great deal from this parable about Jesus’ earthly ministry that helps us make sense of his teachings about the meaning of life.

In Kierkegaard’s illustration, Solomon disguised himself from the maiden out of fear of losing the authenticity of relationship with her.  We see this same humility from Jesus in the book of Matthew; in God’s desire to be in an authentic relationship with us He disguises himself by becoming a man that we might accept his fellowship.

Jesus’ modus operandi is to begin revealing himself to us. He begins by making a bold truth claim  that distinguishes him as the Author of Life, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. Here, Jesus clearly establishes his office as the mediator between man and God and He offers us a way to be in relationship with God the Father.

If the meaning of life is to know and be in relationship with God, then eternal life must be possible, otherwise none of this would matter. Jesus declares that, “he who hears My word, and believes in Him [God] who sent me has eternal life…” Later, Jesus prays to His Father, asking to be glorified. He states “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. God teaches that His desire for us is to know him and that through Jesus we will have an eternal relationship with him.

Lastly, as Jesus was preaching in the temple courts he was confronted with a question by an expert in the torah law, he asked Jesus, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Jesus’ answer reveals the true meaning of life, “Hear O’ Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind and with all of your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Like Solomon’s maiden, Jesus graciously desires to be in authentic relationship with us. He didn’t come in His glory and force it upon us. He came and showed us that if “In God We Trust” – that is, we love God with everything –  we are given the gift of life through His son, Jesus Christ.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

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A Tale of two Men

This week I was challenged with the task of seeking to understand a person’s belief or unbelief in the existence of God. I was curious to see if there were any similarities in someone else’s story and how they might relate to my own journey in coming to Christ.

As I was thinking and praying of whom I could have this potentially difficult conversation with my phone rang and it was my friend Alex. Unbeknownst to Alex, I kindly asked him if he would be interested in sharing his story about his belief in God with me, to which he graciously accepted.

His story includes both vast differences and some similarities to my own story. Comparing and sharing these stories with you is the purpose of my blog today.

Similarly for both Alex and I, it was in our teens where we began to experience distance from the norms of our families in our respective lives. Alex began to question the existence of God and confessed at one point not to believe in God at all. I too began distancing myself from what would have been the equivalent to discrediting God from my family’s worldview – Hockey. I know there is no comparison between the two, however; it had a detrimental impact on my family, my relationship with them and my behaviour thereafter. What’s common in this story is that we both called upon the name of the Lord in a time of distancing; Alex confessed to not believe in the God he found himself praying to, and I, not even knowing God, would write notes (as if praying to God) and would put them on my window ledge facing outwards towards the heavens.

Interestingly, I learned this week that “statistics consistently demonstrate that the vast majority of the world’s population believes that a God does exist”. I believe this is what we are seeing in our story; deep inside of our souls, we’ve known God has existed; yet we were still searching for more. This is evident in how we as individuals frame our case for our fundamental beliefs in anything. It’s quite simple actually – when asked a question, in this case “Does God exist?” we look for credible evidence and further investigate it to assist us in forming a belief in support of a reasonable conclusion. As I’ve stated previously, the implications of acknowledging Jesus as Lord are both frightening and yet beautiful, and as such Steiger states, “we tend to demand a greater level of certainty when it comes to the topic of God’s existence than we would for anything else”. As you will see in the conclusion to our story below, this is precisely the path Alex and I were on.

At this time in his life, Alex began asking some difficult questions to which he could find no perfect answers until he went to University and encountered a group of young Christians that were able to help guide him. While feeling satisfied, he continued looking for any inconsistencies he could find but kept coming up short. It was in these relationships where he truly started to trust God. In my version of this story, I was going through a difficult transition in life and the scriptures found their way into my hands. The commonality here is that Alex was beginning to build sound evidence through others he trusted and it pointed to God as the Alpha and Omega, and I was gathering evidence that pointed to our Creator, Saviour and Great Redeemer. After much deliberation, questioning, conversations, guidance, and prayer from others surrounding us this story ends with both of us accepting Jesus, and the beginning of life everlasting.

This story then begs then question: How much certainty do you need before you believe?

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s the Meaning of all This?

We’re about to hit the ground running full speed and investigate life’s biggest philosophical question: What is the Meaning of Life? Before we can explore this, we must ask, are you willing to be completely honest with yourself to explore this further?

If you’re willing to be truly honest about where you are within this process, if you are willing to look deep into your soul and expose your greatest fears and your inmost insecurities, it is my belief that you’ll be able to confront these questions authentically and will be prepared to explore the true meaning of life.

Have you ever thought about what makes you happy or what has meaning in your life? Is it your career, or perhaps is it money? Is it material objects or your next vacation? Is it the next promotion or planning your next career move? Could it be drugs, alcohol, or pornography? All of these things have commonalities; they come from self and we give them our own value and personal meaning in order to fill a void, but ultimately they continue to fall short of what we’re longing for.

Think of yourself as an IPhone and each of these ‘valued’ aspects in your life as the software that you continue to download and update. At face value your software downloads begin to fill up your available memory and after sometime, new, and often improved software becomes available and you proceed to update to the next best thing. This task perpetuates itself, always upgrading, always filling “space” but never finding ultimate satisfaction or total meaning with each new download – why is that? How is this reminiscent of our lives and the personal meaning we give to the meaning of life?

As aspects of our lives have personal meaning, our lives also have an intended meaning. Unlike the personal meaning we attach to things, we as individuals can’t define our lives or give meaning to it because as Andy Steiger reminds us, “no one created himself or herself into existence”.

Consider our smartphone analogy again. The smartphone was created for a purpose… we know this because its purpose is shared with us in every advertisement. If something breaks down with the device, we can reference technical support on their webpage or in the manual. We trust these things to be true, often without question.

The question we explore today is, if persons are able to give things meaning, why can’t we give our own lives meaning?

The issue with our inability to discover the true meaning and purpose of our lives is because we refuse to consider the truth – that the answers of our intended meaning come from the Author of Life itself, Jesus Christ. Jesus says, “for this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into this world, to testify to the truth.” John 18:37.

I understand that the implications of acknowledging our Creator are both frightening, and yet so beautiful. It is challenging, near impossible even, to relinquish control and admit that you in fact are not the God of your own life and to concede that you might not have it all together, but do this we must, if we are to ever find the true meaning of life. These are stark contrasts to the world we live in, a world that bombards you with all kinds of ‘ hollow and deceptive’ philosophies and tells you that you are in control, that you are in the driver’s seat of your own life, yet in Him we know these are lies.

As we continue this journey I encourage you to begin to consider that next software update and to reflect on what the world is presenting you as truth.

RN