Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Gospel

"From the beginning up until this day, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is good news… for all! If you've somehow construed because of some conversation you've had or something that you've seen that what God has done in Christ is not good news for you, then you need to hear the whole story.  We proclaim, not that you're going to Hell, but that to get there, you're going to have to step across the Way out. We've come to proclaim not that you should be ashamed of yourself, but that God has made a way out of shame. We haven't come to do a drive-by guilting, but we've come to say that there's One who can eradicate guilt. It's this good news that has led to the Gospel flourishing in every part of the world. " –Pastor Matt Chandler (The Village Church)

 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." –John 3:16-18

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." –John 14:6

Friday, April 18, 2014

How Deep the Father's Love

How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed to hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Arms Outstretched


Those hands need nails to keep them in line.

Something must be done.

Those arms must never embrace again.

We saw His arm reach out when He touched the leper, in defiance of our purity laws.

We saw His hands lift the face of an adulterous woman, thwarting our execution of her just sentence.

We saw Him welcome children into His arms, as if one must become like an infant to belong to His kingdom.

We saw Him break bread and divide the fish, as if He were supplying manna from heaven.

We saw His arms beckon sinners to His table, as if by repentance one can wash away the past.

We saw His arms do nothing to stop a sinful woman from anointing Him, as if He were a treasure greater than her priceless perfume.

We saw His arms crack the whip and overturn the tables, as if He were in charge of the temple.

And then we watched Him lead the blind and the lame inside, as if God's house were for the broken and weary.

His hands are tainted, unwashed, defiled.

His hands, just like His speeches, are always about Him. He never ceases to point to Himself.

As if He were the only way. As if He alone has truth. As if He alone gives life.

His arms are open to anyone (anyone!) who will repent, and yet He bars the door from those of us who need no repentance.

No more.

Those cursed arms must be pinned down. Those hands must be stilled. Those wrists must be bound.

If He is so determined to stretch out His arms, let them be stretched out and nailed to the tree.

Perhaps then His embrace of sinners will end. Perhaps then people will understand true holiness. Perhaps then purity and righteousness will reign.

But wait, what is He saying?

Who is He talking to?

Father, forgive?

He is praying. Yes, He is praying... for us.

See Him there, with arms outstretched. His hands are speaking again.

This time, they beckon us to come. To trade our taunts for tears. Our efforts for His accomplishment. Our debts for His inheritance.

Before His cross we kneel. Here He is enthroned, hovering over us, arms outstretched, His shadow covering our sin. Blessing in His blood.

Arms outstretched, His broken body fills the threshold. The narrow door of repentance is open to the world. 

Parchment & Pen Blog


Comments 129 Comments
This belief has been a source of contention with many people, even Christians, in the past. But the more I research, the more I find it to be the case that Christianity is the only viable worldview that is historically defensible. The central claims of the Bible demand historic inquiry, as they are based on public events that can be historically verified. In contrast, the central claims of all other religions cannot be historically tested and, therefore, are beyond falsifiability or inquiry. They just have to be believed with blind faith.
Think about it: The believer in the Islamic faith has to trust in a private encounter Muhammad had, and this encounter is unable to be tested historically. We have no way to truly investigate the claims of Joseph Smith (and when we do, they are found wanting). Buddhism and Hinduism are not historic faiths, meaning they don't have central claims of events in time and space which believers are called upon to investigate. You either adopt their philosophy or you don't. There is no objective way to test them. Run through every religion that you know of and you will find this to be the case: Either it does not give historic details to the central event, the event does not carry any worldview-changing significance, or there are no historic events which form the foundation of the faith.
This is what it looks like:
A few months ago, I was emceeing an apologetics event in Dallas hosted by the Christian Renaissance Apologia Conference. The scholars present were Dan Wallace, Darrel Bock, Gary Habermas, and Craig Evans. Each of these are men that I admire and trust, as I believe they are seeking truth and not a confirmation of their prejudice. I asked them during the conference if there are any other religions or worldviews that they knew of that had apologetics conferences the way Christianity does. In other words, can other religions pull together enough objective intellectual backing to form a solid defense for their faith? Each of them responded with the same: no. They went on to express the same sentiments of my present argument. "Even atheists," Habermas said, "have nothing but 'negative apologetics'." In other words, Christianity has a significant amount of historically verifiable data which forms the bedrock of the faith. This is "positive apologetics." An atheist conference, for example, does nothing but belittle the claims of other religions (primarily Christianity). "There is no positive defense that one can give for naturalism," Habermas concluded. Therefore, the only thing available to the atheist is an attempt to overturn the massive amount of evidence that Christianity has.
This makes a lot of sense. If I decided to start a religion, deceptively or not, I would not make false claims to recent historic events that did not happen. Why? Because I know those claims could be tested. Also, I would not give details about the time, place, and people involved. More than that, I would not invite contemporaries to investigate these claims. For example, if I were to say today that in 1965 there was a man named Titus who was born in Guthrie, OK and traveled about Oklahoma City doing many miracles and gaining a significant following, this could easily be falsified. I would not say that Mary Fallin, the governor of Oklahoma, along with Tom Coburn, US Senator from Oklahoma, had Titus electrocuted. I would not detail that the electrocution was in Bricktown on January 13, 1968 at 9am. I wouldn't claim that Titus rose from the dead and gained a significant following throughout Oklahoma City which has spread across America. Why wouldn't I make these claims as the foundation of my new religion? Because they can be easily tested and falsified. This religion could not possibly get off the ground. If I were to make up a religion, all the events which support the religion (if any) would be private and beyond testing.
This is why you don't have religions based on historic events. They are all, with the exception of Christianity, based on private encounters which cannot be falsified or subjective ideas which are beyond inquiry. The amazing thing about Christianity is that there is so much historic data to be tested. Christianity is, by far, the most falsifiable worldview there is. Yet, despite this, Christianity flourished in the first century among the very people who could test its claims. And even today, it calls on us to "come and see" if the claims are true.
The only reason why I can say Christianity survived in the midst of such historic volatility is because it is true. And this is exactly what I would expect if there were an all-powerful God who created and loves this world. When he intervenes, he makes a significant enough footprint that historic inquiry is demanded. Think about that next time you are critiquing the Christian faith. The only reason you can is because it is the only religion that has opened itself up to such critique.  Simply put, Christianity is the most falsifiable religion there is and yet it has survived. Why?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Birthday Fun

Our baby girl turned 4 on Friday. It is both amazing and heartrending how fast children grow. Lily is maturing quickly into such a fine young lady and we could not possibly be more proud! We had a super fun weekend, celebrating with friends from church, Nana and grandma Jan, who just happens to have a birthday on April 5th, the day after Lily's! So we celebrated her as well, and both birthday girls got their own big, oversized cupcakes. Lily's premier present was a shiny new princess bike, and she's already mastering her riding skills, though just today she had a couple of little falls that currently have her a bit gun-shy! But she'll be back on the horse in no time. Happy Birthday Lily Grace. Jesus loves you, and so do we!!!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Reflecting on "Vikings", and the Triumph of Christ over Paganism

The Middle Ages. It’s a fascinating period of history, full of legend, superstition and terrible hardship. The Roman Empire had fallen, western Europe was fractured and in a state of deep poverty, and the fledgling religion of Christianity had taken root, and would soon face the challenge of the armies of Muhammad, as both faiths sought to put an end to the heathen gods of ancient Europe.

On Feb. 27th, the History Channel will air the premier episode of season 2 of its megahit series, “Vikings”. I watched the first season completely transfixed. The show is incredibly well produced, with great acting and characters that are brilliantly cast, and the writing and pace of the plot are nearly flawless. Vikings has avoided the sex’d up, blood and guts stereotype of it’s genre and has instead displayed deeply human and insightful dialogue, while actually feeling educational. Then of course, there is the historical significance.

In reality, the Vikings were a brutally violent and pagan people, far more so than television or film could ever convey. Truly, if we were to see a parallel society in our modern age, the civilized world would brand such a society as vicious terrorists, and nations would form coalitions to put an end to such despicable acts of violence, robbery, destruction, rape and disregard for life that the Vikings showed their victims.

It is relevant that writer/creator Michael Hirsch has declared a strong affinity for the pagan world of the Northman, telling various media outlets, “I love their culture and I love their pagan gods”. He has voiced his doubts about the historical veracity of the English-written accounts of this era, as they come to us in large part through Christian testimony. So the program should be viewed in light of this openly stated bias. Indeed, certain episodes of Vikings make this disposition against Christianity very apparent. So some of what we are told is a reflection of the revisionist history so often sold in contemporary culture, where anything Christian is marginalized and belittled, and those who were historically and truly ‘in the right’ are re-made as the villains.

But despite all of this, Vikings gives us a rarely portrayed and fascinating look into the world of the barbarian. It was a world without Christ where the harshness of the ancient Scandinavian landscape spawned an equally harsh view of the gods, and what these gods expected of their followers. And so it is in the drama of this time and place in history that we see what so many cultures before the Vikings had attempted… to garner favor from their gods through acts of piety. Episode 8 of the first season, titled “Sacrifice” generated countless online discussions on the matter of human sacrifice.

For most of the secular, contemporary world, the idea of blood sacrifice is utterly foreign. We tend to think of sacrifice in modern terms, which typically is the giving up of one thing in order to get something else (i.e., “I’ll sacrifice my vacation plans this summer in order to get the house painted”). Or going deeper, we may think of the soldier on the battlefield or the firefighter or police officer who lays down his life in the service of his country or community, all noble and good. But the idea of sacrificing anything, especially the blood of an animal or, unimaginably, a human being to appease a deity is simply beyond our ability to fully comprehend.

And yet, for an astonishing number of people groups throughout the history of civilization, ritual sacrifice was normative. Whether agrarian, animal, human or child sacrifice, an quick online search shows the extent to which organized ancient and medieval societies, while mostly geographically and sociologically disconnected from each other, held to a deep and incredibly strong conviction that the gods (or devils, spirits, nature, etc.) demanded appeasement by sacrifice, often by human blood. The reason why this happened in so many isolated cultures is another subject that delves into demonology and the reality of the eternal conscience within every man. But suffice it to say, the practice of human sacrifice was everywhere in the world. From the Mayans of South America to the Celtic Druids of Ireland and Britannia; from the fire-gods of Hindu India and Canaan, to China and Russia and the Hawaiian Islands and Africa, the earth was awash in the blood of both animals and humans; sacrifices to the pagan gods of the ancient world.

In the Bible, we see God sending the people of Israel, led by Joshua, into Canaan with orders to wipe out, with absolute impunity and extreme prejudice, the inhabitance of the land. The reason for this God appointed mass-genocide? These nations practiced child-sacrifice to demon fire-gods, and the land was so stained by this deplorable violence that God gave the order to His people to extinguish every thing that had breath that dwelt there (see Leviticus 18:21-25).

The point is this: in answering the question of why this deified-bloodlust was so widespread, I believe we arrive at one of the most overlooked reasons that the pagan culture of the Vikings came to an end.

I recently saw a screensaver that shows an artistic rendering of a powerful Viking warrior holding his battle-ax. The text was “The 9 Virtues of the Viking” (or some such thing). Preceding this list was a statement that went something like this: “The heathen does not beg his gods for help. Instead, he honors them with his actions”.  Really? I was at once struck by the profound tone of condescension and the historical ignorance of such a statement. While foolish drivel like this may sound tough and sell a kind of superhero myth to the uninformed, it could not possibly be further from the truth, for who in this shattered world begs his gods for help more than one who lives with the conviction that he must shed the blood of men and beasts to find favor in the eyes of his idols of wood and stone? The reality is that the worship of any god is, within itself, an act of admission that we are mere mortals, incapable of forging our destinies with any hope and purpose in the absence of a power that is above us. Mankind has always begged the gods for help, and by some great mystery, we have always had an internal sense that it takes sacrifice to implore the gods to act on our behalf.

Within the pages of Scripture we see a type of this practice by ancient Israel. Though never involving the blood of humans, as that was punishable by death, from the time of Moses to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Bible bears witness to the slaying of what must have been hundreds of millions of animals over a thousand-plus year period by the ancient Hebrews. But instead of sacrificing to gods of wood, stone, air, water, sun, fire or fertility, this was a system of grain and animal sacrifice instituted by the one, true and living God of all creation. This, the world would come to see, was the only God, who had led his people out of captivity in Egypt with acts so terrifyingly real that the Bible tells of the surrounding nations being crippled with fear at the mere mention of their name. To the enemies of Israel, Jehovah was a real, powerful and living Deity, working history according to His will, and doing whatever He pleased. And what this God demanded of His people was sacrifice. Until…

As believers in God's Word, we know that it indeed does take blood to satisfy God and atone for mankind’s sins against the Sovereign of the universe. A sense of this truth has always existed within the heart of man. The sacrificial system of Old Testament Israel, we now know, was a precursor to the one, final Sacrifice that would end all blood sacrifices for the sins of men. This was in fact a human sacrifice, where God wrapped Himself in flesh, was born of woman, lived a perfect life, and was slain by sinful men so that we, in raising our ‘eyes’ and ‘looking’ upon this offering of flesh and blood, would have our debt to God paid in full, place our trust in this sacrifice and once again have communion with God in a restored relationship that will never end. It’s the greatest news in the history of history, and it has defeated paganism everywhere it has encountered it for two millennia.

Over time, the Vikings raids were thwarted by English and Frankish kings, with the last Viking raid coming in the year 1066. At this, the Northman began to gradually settle and intermingle with the people of England, and the far more desirable and hopeful message of a living and human God in the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ was adopted by those who had formerly sacrificed in ignorance to the mythical Odin and Thor. To be sure, there were forced “conversions”, where overly zealous and fearful “Christians” sought to expunge paganism by the sword. But for the last 2,000 years, God has spread the good news of His Gospel to the heathen who longs for a better way, as His Spirit moves across the earth and down through history and declares to a broken world:

“I am the Lord; this is way, walk in it. Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things and say to them, “Be gone!” –Isaiah 30:21-22

“Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? You stretched out your right hand, and the earth swallowed them.” –Exodus 15:11-12

“From the rising of the sun to its setting, my name will be great among the nations”. – Malachi 1:11

"...for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation." -Revelation 5:9