Saturday, April 15, 2006

so what is this Christian thing all about?

I’m always surprised to hear from or about the people who read this blog. Who knew? It was meant only as a means of keeping family and friends up to speed on our work here in London, but somewhere along the way it turned into a forum. For better or for worse.

If you’ve read this blog long, you’ve probably seen a few fiery dialogues between Christians. There’s no doubt, different Christians, from different parts of the world, and different walks of life, often see life through different coloured lenses. And there’s no doubt that I often get irritated by Christians who, in my opinion, are sending a very wrong message about Jesus Christ and what it actually means to be a Christian. But, as I often say to non-believers who write me based on one of my posts, please don’t allow the mistakes of a few Christians to keep you from seeking God.

I’ve heard Easter explained by non Christians, more than once, as “the time when Christians remember the murder of Jesus Christ”. Well, that’s kind of true. But only kind of. Easter is actually when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Crazy, I know. The Son of God comes to earth in the form of man, lives here for 33 years, is captured and crucified, and then rises from the dead. It sounds a bit like a Greek tragedy. But we base those beliefs not only on what archaeologists and historians have discovered to be extremely accurate documents, but also on prophecy, written thousands of years before Jesus’ time, that predicted many of the events and specific actions that would take place in and through Jesus’ life. Make no mistake, in the end it’s about faith. But that faith is founded on evidence.

So what is this Christian thing all about?

Well let me say first that my own spiritual beliefs are based on the Bible, so if you don’t believe the Bible to be true or accurate, we’ll probably need to have that discussion first. But assuming that you’re open to the Bible, the Bible makes it clear that God hates sin. You’ve probably heard of the ten commandments. If you’ve never really paid much attention to the ten commandments, it would probably be easy to see them as a list of ten things you would do against God. What you might not know is that, six out of the ten commandments are actually “sins” that we might commit against each other. See, to God, the way we treat each other reflects on our love for Him, because he created each one of us. So when we “sin” against each other, we sin against God. Pretty crazy huh? Religion often paints this picture of a God who is sitting up there just waiting on you to do fun things so he can zap you. But the commandments are a very practical tool for a civilized society.

So here’s a God who, first of all, created man kind. Things were pretty easy at first but, as things often do when humans are in charge, things began to get a little out of control. So God gave us a very specific list of rules to abide by. These rules were meant to lay a foundation for how to live, part of that being how we should treat each other. But, as we all know, we’ve just not been able to keep these commandments. We lie to each other. Cheat each other. Steal from each other (in any number of ways). Kill each other (sometimes even in the name of God, absurd as that may be) and generally just do our best to mess up other people’s lives. And, in the midst of all of this, we also turn our back on God.

Now, lest I make Christianity sound like it’s only about how we treat others, let me just say that the other four commandments talk specifically about our devotion to God. We can talk all we want of tolerance, but in the end, God created us and the whole universe, and He expects us to worship Him and nothing else. That’s kind of a weird concept when you first think about it. God gets jealous? But here’s the thing, if God were to not get bent out of shape when we put other things before Him, He wouldn’t be God. It would be like God saying, “yeah, I’m kind of important, but not THAT important!” But He’s God, creator of the universe. The only one who sees the bigger picture. The only one who knows the future. He created you and me and continues to create every second. So He really is that important and really does have the right to demand our devotion.

So here’s the human race. We’ve been created. We’ve been given a structure of how to treat each other and stay devoted to God. But we just can’t do it. So, not only are we in danger of killing each other off, but we’re also in danger of being separated from God. See, God is perfect. Again, kind of a no brainer but it also flies right in the face of those who would suggest that there are no absolutes. But here’s the thing. If God created us, created the universe, and set the structure of how to live in place. Then there are absolutes. Absolutes that God created. I mean, if he created everything that exists, then he gets to create the rules and the absolutes by default.

So, God is perfect and doesn’t like to be around sin. Again, remember that much of what God calls sin is actually how we treat each other. So God decides to send his son to redeem us. Bare in mind that, according to God, the penalty of sin is death. But it’s not just God’s angry actions towards sin. Sin is also, literally, the death of us. Think about it. If I decide to become a thief, how can I possibly live in harmony with others? Or if I decide to sleep with “my neighbours wife”, how can my neighbour and I possibly co-exist. I mean, think about it. When you do something wrong for the first time, doesn’t it sort of take something out of you? But each time you do it after that, it takes a little less out of you. Until you finally get to the point where you can commit that action (and others) and it not sting at all. That’s the death of your conscious, and when your conscious dies, the people around you are in trouble. God says he hates sin. He hates it when we turn our back on him, and he hates it when we treat each other unjustly. And He doesn’t want to be around it. Sin is death.

So Jesus comes to earth for one primary reason, to redeem us. But he does it in two ways. Number one, by teaching us how to live. See, the life of Jesus is the story of Him teaching us how to treat each other and how to live a life of devotion to God. But the second way he redeemed us was by taking our place. Again, the penalty of sin is death, and if our lives are full of sin, we are dead. So Jesus came to take our place. Now the story that we know of is the one of Him on the cross. And it’s true. The time when Jesus came (roughly two-thousand years ago) was a pretty barbaric time. The Romans were just working themselves up to the Coliseum where they would pit men against men and even animals. And Jesus was born and lived just a few decades before this. So death on a cross was a viable punishment back then. But here’s the thing. Jesus hadn’t done anything wrong except to challenge the religious arrogance of the day.

Now let’s be clear. Jesus didn’t challenge God, or the Bible. He challenged the arrogance of some of the religious leaders of the day. Religious leaders who put certain systems into place to remain in power. And these religious leaders got together and figured out a way to have Jesus killed. But, and this is where some of the prophecy takes place, that was God’s plan for redeeming us. Rather than us dying in our sin, Jesus took our place. But he did it for one very specific purpose. To conquer death. See, three days later, Jesus rose again and, in doing so, conquered death.

Now here’s where we get back to the whole Greek tragedy thing. And I know it sounds weird. But, not only was Christ’s resurrection prophesied thousands of years earlier, but many people witnessed Jesus after his resurrection. Now here’s where several different forms of evidence have to be take into account. First of all, the Bible has been discovered to be an extremely accurate and historical document. So why, right smack in the middle of it, would it have a story that wasn’t true? Second, the Bible is not one book but is a collection of 66 different books, collected into one big book. All of these books, written separately and, often, thousands of years apart, tell the same story and back one another up. More importantly, there are four books in the Bible that specifically give an account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Each of them is written by a different author, an author who followed Jesus around and witnessed these things for themselves. And finally, ten out of the eleven men who originally preached this story were killed for their beliefs. Now, if the story was fabricated, don’t you think that at least one of these men would have said, “Ok, ok. You’re right. We made this whole thing up. Please don’t kill me.” But none of them did. Each and every one of them verified with their lives that what they said was true.

So what does all of this mean for you and me? It means that Jesus Christ, who lived without sin, paid the penalty for our sin when he died on the cross and then rose from the dead. It means that we can be forgiven of our sins. And that’s why we celebrate Easter.

If you’re curious to discuss this further, please don’t hesitate to write me or visit with a Christian close to you about it. And happy Easter!

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