Mention that you’ve read a short history of Christianity and people may assume you mean the New Testament. Or, perhaps, simply one of its books, Acts of the Apostles. But those are how-to manuals, not true histories.
Into this gap steps Australian historian Geoffrey Blainey with A Short History of Christianity.
Blainey’s created a cottage industry for himself out of this sort of thing. He’s also penned A Short History of the World and A Short History of the Twentieth Century. His Christianity book falls squarely in the middle of those tomes. Christianity is, in many ways, synonymous with what we used to call “Western Civilization,” at least the last 2,000 years of it.
His book belies its title because it’s anything but short, clocking in at some 550 pages. But that’s to be expected considering the scope and sweep of the topic. It’s not beach reading by any stretch. But this book, like Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time or Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices, was probably meant more as a reference manual than an offering to be read and discussed in book clubs.
These days we don’t really talk much about idols, at least not in the literal sense. We talk about American Idol and teen idols and that sort of thing, but the idols that represent serious sin go unmentioned.
Throughout the Bible, we see the evidence of the damage that idol worship does. After the Exodus, when Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the impatient Israelites made a golden calf to worship. For the people of Israel, it was just downhill from there, as idol worship and the unfaithfulness toward God that such worship represented led to a world of trouble for them, including the exile to Babylon.
In the New Testament book of Acts, Jesus’ apostles encountered idol worshipers when they went about spreading the Good News of the Messiah. These worshipers of other gods — and even some of the craftsmen who made the physical idols — stirred up all sorts of strife for the followers of the one true God.
So what relevance does idol worship have for us today? These days, the idols that Jews and Christians follow aren’t graven images per se, but followers of God do allow certain ideas, preferences, and opinions to become idols that get in the way of their relationship with Him. Many of these idols come with the best of intentions, yet they impede the ability to truly follow God.
In the following pages, through an inter-faith dialogue with one of my favorite colleagues here at PJ Lifestyle, Susan L.M. Goldberg, we’re going to look at five idols that God’s followers allow to get in the way of their relationship with Him. Hopefully naming these idols will get some Christians and Jews to think about how they may affect their own relationship with God.
11. A conscious awareness of God is intrinsic to human nature.
Tara Brach recently told the story of a four year old who was excited to have alone time with his new baby sister. When he finally got to the side of her crib, he asked her, “Tell me what heaven is like. I’m starting to forget.” If we didn’t have a conscious awareness of God, we wouldn’t be striving so hard to find Him in everything from houses of worship to fictional characters on the big screen. Don’t let atheists fool you; they might not believe in a God in the sky, but they’re worshiping something, nevertheless, whether its money, power, or simply themselves.
10. Americans are all obese.
From the messy buildup in the fat folds of Mama June’s neck (affectionately known to her children as “neck crud”) to Honey’s proclivity for bathing in mayonnaise, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo embodies the myth that everyone in America weighs a minimum of 300 pounds. One of the best episodes involves Mama June dumping a 5 pound bag of sugar into 2 gallons of lemon juice in order to make homemade lemonade. For the record, 64% of Americans are not obese. But with shows like HHere Comes Honey Boo Boo, The Biggest Loser, Extreme Weight Loss, Shedding for the Wedding, Thintervention, Dance Your A** Off, Celebrity Fit Club, I Used To Be Fat, and Ruby, we’re just a bunch of big, fat Americans.
About a decade ago at a friend’s party I began chatting with another guest who, in the course of our conversation, informed me that he was an Orthodox Jew.
This information gave me an opening to ask my favorite question, “Why was Jesus born Jewish?”
His answer was memorable, “Jesus wasn’t Jewish,” he replied.
My jaw dropped and I was almost speechless. Initially I thought he was kidding until realizing he was not.
Then, after a short conversation volley he said, “Well, that’s your opinion.”
Years later I have never forgotten that incident because the fact (not opinion) that Jesus was born, lived and died a Jew is one of the few universally accepted Biblical “facts.”
As one who was born and raised a Jew — but since 1975 has believed that Jesus was and is the Messiah — I have made a hobby out of asking traditional Jews, “Why was Jesus born Jewish?” The reason I continue asking this question is because the answers or I should say non-answers are always so intriguing.
Here are three examples (but you will have to read to the end for the most recent and intriguing example of all.)
A fews months ago, I posed “the question” to an old friend who is a secular Jew, not religious, but very proud of his heritage. His replied, “I don’t know. I guess Jesus had to be born of some religion so it just happened to be Judaism.”
My husband loves to tell this true story he calls, “How Myra Accosted a Rabbi at a Bar Mitzvah.” A few years back we attended a Bar Mitzvah of a friend’s son. Afterwards at the reception, using my sweet, inquisitive voice I asked the Rabbi, “Why was Jesus born Jewish?” My husband describes the Rabbi’s face as looking like he had just encountered Satan. After gaining his composure the Rabbi answered, “No one has ever asked me that question,” as he quickly excused himself and dashed to the opposite side of the room.
Then there was the time I was having a heated argument with my non-religious Jewish father (now deceased) about Jesus and my conversion to Christianity. My father had great disdain for ALL religion because he strongly believed that religion was the root cause of every war in human history. During the course of our discussion I asked him, “What was the religion of Jesus?” He replied confidently, “Jesus was Catholic.”
The CW is planning to add Jane the Virgin to its fall lineup. Based on a Venezuelan telenovela of the same name, Jane the Virgin is about an intentionally virginal girl who is “accidentally artificially inseminated” by her OB-GYN:
Jane stars Gina Rodriguez (Filly Brown) as a hard-working, devout Latina who is kind of hoping her boyfriend proposes — though she’s a little worried he’ll get down on one knee so she’ll finally agree to do the deed. When a mix-up at the OB-GYN leads to that artificial insemination plot line, Jane must choose whether to keep the baby — and whether to let the handsome father into her life.
Aside from containing a number of Spanish stereotypes, including the paranoid grandmother putting the fear of God into her pre-teen daughter (“Once you lose your virginity, you can never go back!“) to a cast of overtly sexualized Latinas, the show appears to be a platform for some long overdue, serious conversation regarding abortion. However, the show sounds eerily like one of the most famously influential and revered plot lines in the West’s repertoire, leaving one to wonder how a primarily Protestant audience might handle a story that’s been a hit in a Catholic country.
When it comes to the primarily pathetic representation of Latinas on television (does Sofia Vergara have to do it all?) at least Jane the Virgin appears to lack the typical trashiness of Devious Maids.
In this brief but powerful message about Christian evangelism, pastor Jeff Vanderstelt looks past the logistics of church organization and any crafty rhetorical tricks to the heart of what properly motivates the Great Commission.
I’ve never had to tell somebody to talk about somebody they love. They know how.
If you have to train people how to talk about someone they love, they don’t love them.
That insight proves useful for highlighting the idols in our lives. What people or things are we eager to evangelize? What topics dominate our conversations with others? Who dominates our thoughts? The answer reveals who and what we love.
We had the honor of attending our son’s graduation from Hillsdale College last week on a picture-perfect May day with chairs lined up in tight rows on the east lawn of the beautiful campus. In addition to the joy of watching our eldest son walk across the stage to receive his diploma, we were blessed to hear the insightful commencement address from author Eric Metaxas. In addition to sharing stories from his youth and his faith journey, Metaxas, author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, discussed at length the connection between faith, virtue, and freedom. You’ll find the video of the speech at the end of this post.
Here are ten incisive quotes from Metaxas’ address, “The Role of Faith in the Story of Liberty”:
1. Real faith is never something that can be forced by the state.
Real faith is never something that can be forced by the state. It’s something that either be encouraged and smiled upon or discouraged and frowned-upon. Or, simply crushed, as it has been in every Communist country…Religious freedom, which was at the very heart of the Founders’ vision for America, cannot be compromised without all our liberties being compromised and America as we know her being redefined into non-existence.
1. How long have you been interested in music? When did you begin singing and writing songs?
I sang my whole life. I sang to the trees in my backyard before I had any friends, growing up in Virginia.
I always wrote songs in my head, but I didn’t pursue it formally until my late 20s.
2. Can you share with us a little about your faith journey?
Yes, gladly. I was raised in a Christian home by wonderful, believing parents. Singing was the way I accessed church and I always sang in church services – from about the age of 6. So Christianity for me was really about being able to sing at church.
I lived in NYC during 9/11 and witnessed that tragedy first-hand. Experiencing death like that – on such a large-scale shook me out of a spiritual slumber I was in. I went to Redeemer Presbyterian Church after 9/11 and sometime in October 2001 I had a powerful encounter with Jesus during a Redeemer service.
The rest is still the journey.
3. What is the songwriting process like for you?
Songwriting for me is mostly agonizing, painful, and something I try to avoid. This is not an overstatement.
Sean Astin has proven himself one of the most versatile and underrated actors of my generation. With a resume that contains such films at The Goonies, Rudy, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and television shows like 24, Astin has transcended the typical life of a former child star and parlayed his talent into a career that has lasted over a quarter century. He currently appears in the new film Mom’s Night Out, and in an interview with Fox News on the movie’s release, Astin opened up about his Christian faith:
Astin, who is “technically Lutheran” after he, his wife and three daughters were baptized in the same church, never thought about defining his faith until he was asked in a live interview to share his religious beliefs.
“I thought, ‘Huh, I guess I have to have an answer’,” he recalled. “I consider myself a Christian. I don’t know if I’m a very good one but I’m praying the forgiveness thing is legit.”
While Astin’s answer is confident now, his road to faith was a winding road. Raised by his mother, actress Patty Duke, and father, “The Addams Family’s” John Astin, in what he describes as a secular home, Astin was exposed to a variety of religions before coming to his own faith.
“My mother was a Catholic who had been kicked out of the church at one time and she put me in Catholic school in sixth to eighth grades and I wanted to become a Catholic then,” he said. “But my father, who was an atheist because his parents were a scientist and school teacher, later discovered Buddhism.”
In addition to his exposure to Catholicism and Buddhism, Astin’s oldest brother “went to India, shaved his head and lived on an ashram and became Hindi.”
In 2003, Astin decided to “embrace Christianity” and develop his own “relationship and understanding with God.”
Astin admits that, while he doesn’t choose his projects along faith-based lines, he will turn down a role “if I feel it has zero moral redemption.” He laughs at the idea of being pigeonholed as a Christian filmmaker after taking on roles in films that appeal to a Christian fan base. He admires a new generation of Christian directors and producers who try to get messages based on timeless biblical principles into the marketplace in fresh ways:
“Hollywood is antagonistic to Christian films because of forces that are hard to describe, but Christians have made things difficult for themselves by the way they approach the outside community,” he continued.
Astin said people need to forget about those “who grab the microphones and yell the loudest.” The fact is, people are hungry for family-friendly, faith-based entertainment and studios are finally starting to listen.
“The Christian ground game is presently revolutionizing marketing in filmmaking,” he explained. “It’s not a subtle thing, and it’s a great thing and it’s not owned by the Christians. They are just getting there first because they’re tired of not being able to get their product into a wide marketplace.”
In an entry titled, “Christian women: feminism is not your friend” published on his popular Matt Walsh Blog in April, the conservative Christian commentator concluded that Christian “women (and men)” needed to stop identifying with feminism because the movement is essentially all about abortion.
Embracing the stereotypical liberal definition of feminism as a movement dedicated to starting and waging the War on Women, Walsh discussed the feminist fight for equality:
This is a pretty convincing indication that feminism has, at the very least, outlived its good. There is nothing surprising about that, because feminism, unlike Christianity, is a human construct. It’s an ideology. It’s a political theory. It’s a label. It is not eternal, it is not perfect (there’s the understatement of the decade), and it is not indispensable.
Feminism, like ‘liberalism,’ like ‘conservativism,’ like the Republican Party, like the Democrat Party, is a finite thing that exists and serves a certain purpose in a certain set of circumstances. When the times change, and the circumstances change, it will either die or its purpose will change.
Walsh then dug into medieval history, noting that women were given “equal standing” in certain English trade guilds in the Middle Ages, contrary to the following:
“The fact that guilds seldom permitted women to become masters did in the end relegate them to the least-skilled and certainly least-remunerative aspects of the trade”. This statement shows that the fact that women were not openly admitted to the professional guilds led to the downfall of the woman’s status as a worker during this time period. Since “[m]ale masters displayed no eagerness to train young women, and with few or no women recognized as masters, the guilds did contribute to the narrowing opportunity for women”.
Along with neglecting these facts, Walsh also did not note that neither the Christian Church, nor political leaders who identified with Christianity, demanded that equal professional or political rights be given to women (let alone non-Christians) on either side of the Atlantic.
I’ve defended and supported Sarah Palin in the past, but she has jumped the shark this time with her comments to the National Rifle Association on Saturday. Palin told the group (at the 7:16 mark in the video) that we need to put the “fear of God” in our enemies, adding:
Oh, but you can’t offend them, can’t make them feel uncomfortable, not even a smidgen. Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.
Palin doubled down on the comments in an interview with NBC News:
Would I make it again? Why wouldn’t I, yeah, absolutely. Terrorists who want to annihilate Americans, innocent Americans, our children – whatever it takes to stop them. If I were in charge, I’d be stoppin’ em.
Aside from the fact that Palin, a professing Christian, describes a sacred sacrament in the context of a practice that many consider to be torture, there is the fact that in many Muslim countries identifying with Christ in baptism can actually have deadly consequences and flippantly inserting baptism into a joke about terrorists is in poor taste.
For example, in May 2010, an Afghan TV channel broadcast footage showing alleged converts to Christianity, including scenes of baptisms. This was followed by Afghan MP Abdul Sattar Khawasi’s call in the Afghan parliament for those featured in the footage to be executed. A crackdown against Christians ensued, and around 25 converts were arrested after a group of Kabul University students shouted death threats and demanded the expulsion of foreigners accused of proselytising. There were numerous demonstrations in the wake of the TV broadcast of the baptisms in different cities throughout the country — Herat, Baghlan, Mazar-e Sharif and again in Kabul. This resulted in a Christian cleansing of sorts in Afghanistan, as hundreds of former Muslims who had converted to Christianity fled the county, including hundreds who ended up in New Delhi, India, and now live in a legal limbo, still fearing for their lives. Christianity Today reported last year:
Although the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees has recognized Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs fleeing Afghanistan for India, the Indian government’s refusal to do so means that Afghan Christians cannot seek legal protection from discrimination from other religious groups. Such discrimination often arises from Afghan Muslims who have also sought refuge in India. Many Afghan Christians make a meager living as translators for Afghanis seeking medical care in India, but the language and social challenges continue.
In other words, the Christians who fled to India after their baptisms were shown on TV continue to be persecuted by Muslims in what they thought would be their country of refuge. Examples abound of Christian persecution in Muslim countries and the public act of baptism is one of the main ways converts are identified and targeted.
I’m not a bit worried about offending terrorists (in fact, I share that sentiment with Sarah Palin), however I do object to Palin’s insensitivity to the brave Christians who are willing to pay with their lives for the privilege of being recognized as Christians through the sacrament of baptism in hostile countries around the world.
I love ya’ Sarah, but this is one you should walk back.
Yesterday I volunteered at the campaign headquarters for a candidate who is running in the the Republican primary for the 14th congressional district seat in Ohio. State Rep. Matt Lynch is challenging Congressman Dave Joyce, who replaced Steve LaTourette (of Mainstreet PAC fame). Lynch’s campaign has an uphill battle against incumbent Joyce, who is being heavily funded by LaTourette’s SuperPAC (more than $80,000 to date). In fact, Lynch only decided to run against Joyce when LaTourette’s daughter, Sarah LaTourette, filed to run against Lynch for his seat in the Ohio House, ending the Ohio Republican Party’s de facto ban on challenging incumbents. (Yes, these Mainstreet folks really are working that hard to eliminate conservatives).
I had never met Lynch but showed up at his campaign headquarters today after seeing a plea on Facebook for help to get a huge mailing out. I decided to help with the campaign after listening to the Plain Dealer editorial board’s interviews with Joyce and Lynch. A devout Christian and running on a platform of “Faith, Family, and Freedom,” Lynch sounds less like the preachy moral majority candidates of the past and more like Mark Levin with a bit of a religious bent. Dave Joyce sounds like President Obama with a Republican bent. I enjoyed spending time with an enthusiastic group of volunteers who were committed to the conservative movement.
At lunchtime Rep. Lynch showed up with pizza and asked one of the volunteers if he would bless the food. The man recited a quick prayer he had memorized. Lynch held up his hand and said he would like the opportunity to pray for all of the volunteers. It was clear that he is a man who is no stranger to prayer. He prayed naturally and from the heart. After we all said, “Amen,” a man in a uniform (who had stopped by on his way to work) put his arm around Lynch and said he would like to pray for him. So we all prayed again. Lynch was obviously touched by the gesture.
It was such a natural, spontaneous moment. It wasn’t scripted, but everyone seemed to know what to do and it wasn’t a bit awkward. And yet, as I consider the current environment in this country with religion (and in particular, Christianity) under attack, it was in some ways a remarkable moment. Here was an elected official taking time from the heat of the campaign trail to seek God. No “Freedom from Religion” bigots could stop that prayer and certainly, no government official could censor it or demand that it be religiously “neutral” (as if such a thing were even possible).
While we’ve always had one form or another of a civil religion in America, the true heart and soul of our country has always been individuals and groups praying quietly in their homes, churches, and other meeting places. James 5:16 says that “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” God takes no pleasure in coerced prayers or prayers led by those who are not his true followers. In Proverbs 15 King Solomon writes, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him. The way of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but he loves him who pursues righteousness.”
We don’t need to demand prayer in schools or in city council meetings — or even in Congress — to find God’s favor. Indeed, in this modern era of “Coexist” it’s likely that such prayers would be offensive to God and would make things worse. We simply need men and women, boys and girls — and elected officials — who are committed to praying and honoring God in their private lives. Such a commitment to private prayer and faith will naturally flow out of the homes and into the public square and in doing so, will positively influence public policy as Americans are drawn closer to God.
Most East European governments concealed their road to Communism by posting innocuous nameplates at the door, such as People’s Republic or Popular Republic.
Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa
“People’s Republic” is such a chummy term. In fact, Marxism in general, with all it’s “redistribution of wealth” sounds so compassionate, at least to a Western, Judeo-Christianized mind. A Chinese mind familiar with Mao’s Great Leap Forward, for instance, may have a different take on the benevolent-sounding idea of a “People’s Republic” given the facts:
“State retribution for tiny thefts, such as stealing a potato, even by a child, would include being tied up and thrown into a pond; parents were forced to bury their children alive or were doused in excrement and urine, others were set alight, or had a nose or ear cut off. One record shows how a man was branded with hot metal. People were forced to work naked in the middle of winter; 80 per cent of all the villagers in one region of a quarter of a million Chinese were banned from the official canteen because they were too old or ill to be effective workers, so were deliberately starved to death.”
Mao couldn’t lie his way past a free press in the West. Nor could Khruschev, as Pacepa explains,
The 1963 missile crisis generated by socialist Cuba gave the socialist mask of Marxism a dirty name in the West, and few Marxists wanted to be openly associated with socialism anymore.
But, socialism is still hot. China is still The People’s Republic and “we’re all socialists now,” right? The last installment ended with the question: How have intellectual Wizards manipulated Marxism to acculturate the American mind leftward? Pacepa answers:
[Marxists] therefore began hiding their Marxism under a new cover called “economic determinism,” …a theory of survival rooted in Marx’s Manifesto (another theory of survival), but it pretends that the economic organization of a society, not the socialist class war and the socialist redistribution of wealth, determines the nature of all other aspects of its life.
When economic determinism lost credibility because of the devastating economic crisis in Greece, our Democratic Party began replacing it with “progressivism,” which has become the latest cover name for Marxism. …Today’s Progressive Movement was born in New York’s Zuccotti Park. It was first known as the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, which advocated the abolition of “capitalist America.”
Marxists in the West successfully propagate progressivism under the guise of “social justice“ that demands the redistribution of wealth to the less fortunate. Ironically, most people of the Judeo-Christian West accept this Marxist notion out of the goodness of their hearts. However, putting faith in the Marxist lie that human beings don’t have a heart (and therefore are incapable of compassionate decision making) requires handing over all financial power to the Marxist Wizards who proceed to dole out your funds as they see fit.
This speaks to the heart of the question, but how have the Marxist Wizards rendered us so seemingly brainless?
Marcia Clemmitt, a social policy researcher and former high school teacher, recently published an extensive report on homeschooling at CQ Researcher. In “Homeschooling: Do Parents Give Their Children a Good Education?“ Clemmitt discusses the research of Jennifer Lois, a sociology professor at the University of Western Washington, in Bellingham, and author of the 2012 book Home Is Where the School Is, who described some of the differences between those who homeschool for religious reasons and those who do it for more “pragmatic” reasons, such as safety or educational benefits.
Jennifer Lois said that although homeschooling parents generally acknowledge that “there’s potential for a lot of conflict and emotional button-pushing” between home-schooling parents and their children, she notes that “conservative Christian and other home-schooling mothers generally describe such problems quite differently.”
Lois said that “non-evangelical” mothers are more likely to remark that “we’re not meant to be together all the time; we’re not well matched for that.” In her study of homeschoolers, Lois discovered that these mothers were more likely to spend only a few years homeschooling their children and they were also more likely to complain about the children’s fathers not contributing enough to the homeschooling effort.
Clemmitt explained that women who homeschool for religious reasons are more likely to stick it out for the long haul. “By contrast, most evangelical Christian women whom Lois studied made very long-term home-schooling commitments, often lasting from preschool through high school,” Clemmitt said.
Women who view homeschooling as an integral part of their faith also view the inevitable family conflicts differently than their non-religious counterparts. “Evangelical mothers tended to describe conflicts less as problems and more as opportunities ‘to figure out ways to make their relationships with their children grow,”’ Lois says. Evangelical moms viewed the conflicts as opportunities for relationship building.
No word on how the dads view these issues (at least not in this study).
I approached Lisa De Pasquale’s new book Finding Mr. Righteous with some trepidation. Ann Coulter referred to it as “a true Christian story disguised as racy chick lit.” The reader reviews on Amazon contained phrases like “gets to the inner workings of the mind of an insecure young woman” and “as [if] she was writing about my loving and sexual past.” Our own David Swindle called it “a time bomb waiting to explode.” I thought, ohhhhhh boy. But when David personally recommended it to me, I figured it must be a good read.
Lisa didn’t disappoint. It seems a little weird to refer to her by her first name, since doing so goes against everything you learn about how you’re supposed to write, but after reading Finding Mr. Righteous and talking to her a little about it on Twitter, I feel like I’ve known her for a long time.
Finding Mr. Righteous jumps in to Lisa’s romantic and sexual life with gusto. She never pulls any punches when it comes to her experiences. Situations get steamy from time to time, but I never felt like I was on the verge of being offended. This is no creepy confessional or salacious tell-all — it’s a memoir of a mature woman telling it like it is, warts and all. More often than not, I’d finish a chapter thinking, so that’s what women think about men.
Lisa is a keen judge of human nature as well. She provides astute glimpses behind the facades of the men she’s dated. She offers plenty of fascinating observations like:
Chris was a cat person. But having one view wasn’t enough for him. He had to denigrate the opposing view. Chris’s cat versus dog views were like his views on religion. It wasn’t enough to just accept that some people are religious and some people are not. You had to be an atheist or true believer. And if you were a true believer, you were ignorant.
Last week here at PJ Lifestyle, we saw a lively debate over the difference between altruism and giving out of love — particularly in a Judeo-Christian context. My colleagues Walter Hudson and Susan L. M. Goldberg eloquently shared their thoughts on the nature of altruism in a series of compelling posts:
April 8: Altruism In Religion’s Free Market
April 9: Love And Altruism Prove Opposite
Walter, Susan, our editor David Swindle, and I continued the discussion on Facebook, which morphed into a bigger exploration of faith and religion. At one point, Susan brought up the notion we often hear from secularists that “God doesn’t want us to be happy.” I replied:
I don’t think God wants us to be happy, either. He wants us to be filled with joy. Happiness is temporal and circumstantial, while joy is sustained.
There’s a clear difference between happiness and joy. Circumstances and relationships determine our happiness. An ice cream cone can make you happy. A great comedy can make you happy. An upbeat song (even that ubiquitous Pharrell Williams tune) can make you happy. But happiness is transitory and momentary — and ultimately external. Psychologist Sandra A. Brown writes (particularly in the context of relationships):
Happiness is external. It’s based on situations, events, people, places, things, and thoughts. Happiness is connected to your hope for a relationship or your hope for a future with someone….
Happiness is future oriented and it puts all its eggs in someone else’s basket. It is dependent on outside situations, people, or events to align with your expectations so that the end result is your happiness.
And happiness can disappear as quickly as it comes. The same people who make us happy one moment can hurt us or let us down the next. That great meal you ate can give you unbearable heartburn. You can grow tired of the songs, films, and shows you once loved. A storm can ruin that perfect trip to the beach. The happiness we seek can often disappear without warning.
On Saturday I made what my Polish family calls “yellow.” It’s a sweet egg custard concoction that I remember my grandmother making every Easter when we visited. She always prepared the “yellow” the day before Easter and it would hang overnight, suspended between two kitchen chairs, wrapped in a cheesecloth, dripping excess moisture so the cheesy blob of yellow would be firm for Easter dinner the next day (the consistency of the finished product is somewhere between that of pudding and cream cheese).
No one in my family even likes “yellow.” I’m not sure why I made it — probably out of a sense of tradition and also for the feeling of accomplishment I get from creating something that required a bit of effort. Perhaps for the sense of accomplishment that comes from doing my part to contribute to my family’s Easter dinner.
When I was making the “yellow” that no one will likely even eat on Sunday, I was thinking about how we try to do that with God. Sometimes, we do things out of a sense of tradition. We “inherit” a faith from our parents and continue to perform the traditions out of either a sense of duty or a desire to honor our family’s heritage.
Other times, we approach God with something in our hands — confident that we have accomplished something that will please Him. If we work hard enough and put enough effort into our faith (or our good works), God will appreciate our effort and approve of us.
As I was stirring the custard on the stove (for a full 40 minutes!) I thought about my own propensity for doing both of those things — both my reliance on faith traditions and my smug assurance that my “doing” is what makes me right before God.
Crossway has a great video series on the days leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ — the event Christians around the world will celebrate on Sunday. Filmed in conjunction with Crossway’s book The Final Days of Jesus, the short videos feature theologians and biblical scholars presenting the historical and theological meaning of the events surrounding Easter.
Holy Week, Day 7: Saturday features interviews with New Testament scholars Andreas Köstenberger and Douglas Moo. Dr. Köstenberger explores the role of Joseph of Arimathea in Jesus’s burial as well as first century burial customs. Dr. Moo explains where he believes Jesus was on the Saturday before the resurrection, referring to 1 Peter 3 which talks about Christ preaching to spirits in prison.
Dr. Moo says, “Traditionally, a lot of people have thought [1 Peter 3] refers to Jesus between his death and resurrection, going to Hades, proclaiming the victory he had won, even perhaps proclaiming the gospel to people who had died so they would have a chance to respond to the grace of God in Christ.”
Allowing that it’s a complicated and controversial issue, Moo said he believes that instead the 1 Peter 3 passage is talking about Jesus at his ascension, “proclaiming his victory over evil spiritual beings.” According to Moo, that is how most contemporary scholars are interpreting that text. “If that’s true,” says Moo, “then we don’t really have any New Testament evidence that Jesus went to Hades or went to Hell between his death and resurrection.”
Moo said that the best guess is that Jesus was in the presence of the Father on Saturday.
“He tells the thief on the cross that he would be together with him in paradise that day,” said Moo. “And our best guess — and it’s not much more than that — is that Jesus was indeed in the presence of the Father before his body was raised on Easter Sunday morning. “
Do you agree with Dr. Moo or do you believe Jesus was somewhere else on Saturday?
Watch the rest of the videos in the series here:
British Prime Minister David Cameron used his Easter message to talk about the significance of the holiday as he highlighted the role of Christianity in Britain and the plight of Christians in countries where they are persecuted.
He said the country should reflect on what Christianity brings to Britain. “All over the UK, every day, there are countless acts of kindness carried out by those who believe in and follow Christ,” Cameron said. “The heart of Christianity is to ‘love thy neighbour’ and millions do really live that out.” He mentioned prison ministries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters run by churches. He said he saw the same “spirit” during recent storm in his country. “They proved, yet again, that people’s faith motivates them to do good deeds,” he said.
Cameron also reflected on the plight of the persecuted church. “And as we celebrate Easter, let’s also think of those who are unable to do so, the Christians around the world who are ostracised, abused – even murdered – simply for the faith they follow,” Cameron said. “Religious freedom is an absolute, fundamental human right.”
He added that “Britain is committed to protecting and promoting that right, by standing up for Christians and other minorities, at home and abroad. Our hearts go out to them, especially at this special time of year” [emphasis added].
Cameron expounded on his Easter message in an article for the Anglican magazine, Church Times. Acknowledging that he is “not that regular in attendance, and a bit vague on some of the more difficult parts of the faith,” Cameron disagreed with those who said faith should not be discussed in this “secular age.” He said, “I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations, and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives.”
Cameron focused on morality and social action, saying he is “not one for doctrinal purity.” But he said that people who advocate secular neutrality “fail to grasp the consequences of that neutrality, or the role that faith can play in helping people to have a moral code,” Cameron said.
Despite the obvious benefits, a nation dedicated to good works will not pull Christianity back from the brink of extinction in the UK. Only authentic, committed faith can do that. But a government that recognizes the role of faith in society can allow churches to organically flourish by eliminating government interference and discouraging cultural marginalization. Whether or not Cameron is a man of true faith, he seems to recognize the need for Christianity to return to the United Kingdom.
The much-anticipated movie ‘Heaven is for Real’ is set to open in movie theaters on Wednesday. The book tells the story of Colton Burpo, a little boy who claimed he visited heaven during a near-death experience.
“Heaven tourism” books have proliferated Christian best-seller lists in recent years, but are the accounts authentic, fictional, based on hallucinations, or something else? Moreover, do they comport with the Bible’s descriptions of heaven and the afterlife?
Pastor and author David Platt says no.
He describes ’Heaven is for Real’ as “A fanciful account of a four-year-old boy who talks about how he went to heaven and got a halo and wings, but he didn’t like them because they were too small. He claims that he sat on Jesus’ lap while angels sang to him,” Platt said. “He even met the Holy Spirit, whom he describes as ‘kind of blue.’
Platt said that “There is money to be made in peddling fiction about the afterlife as non-fiction in the Christian publishing world today” and “The whole premise behind every single one of these books is contrary to everything God’s word says about heaven,” including their “relentless self-focus.”
According to Platt, “Scripture definitely says that people do not go to heaven and come back. ‘Who has ascended to heaven and come down?’ (Proverbs 30:4). Answer: ‘No one has ascended into heaven except he who has descended from heaven — the Son of Man’” (John 3:13).
“Four biblical authors had visions about heaven and wrote about what they saw: Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul and John,” Platt said. “All of them were prophetic visions, not near-death experiences. Not one person raised from dead in the Old Testament or the New Testament ever wrote down what he or she experienced in heaven, including Lazarus, who had a lot of time in a grave — four days.”
But all of the biblical authors agree perfectly: “Their visions are all fixated on the glory of God which defines heaven and illuminates everything there. They are overwhelmed, chagrined, petrified, and put to silence by the sheer majesty of God’s holiness.” Platt said that notably missing from all the biblical accounts are “the frivolous features and juvenile attractions that seem to dominate every account of heaven currently on the bestseller list.”
He said we need to “minimize the thoughts of man and magnify, trust — let’s bank our lives and our understanding of the future on — the truth of God.” He said that rather than relying on traditions, we should depend on the word of God. “There’s too much at stake in our lives and others’ lives for that.”
Megachurch pastor, televangelist and author John Hagee has warned of a “world-shaking event that will happen between April 2014 and October 2015.” He believes that the series of lunar eclipses that will occur between now and then are predictive of major catastrophic historical events. The first “blood moon” will make its appearance on April 15. “There’s a sense in the world that things are changing and God is trying to communicate with us in a supernatural way,” Hagee told CBN earlier this year. “I believe that in these next two years we’re going to see something dramatic happen in the Middle East involving Israel that will change the course of history in the Middle East and impact the whole world,” he predicted.
That’s a rather unsettling prediction, one that is causing a lot of buzz among Christians and non-Christians alike.
What is a blood moon and should you be worried? Here are some facts:
David Swindle has entered the ongoing discussion on altruism, religion and politics here at PJLifestyle. In doing so, he’s issued a number of great questions I’ve been wrestling with over the past few weeks. Jumping back in, I’d like to address them one by one, beginning with:
Walter, Susan, Lisa, and anyone else who’d like to join the discussion: am I going too far when I say that for a good number of people “Conservatism” is a form of idolatry?
No. I’ve had a hard, sad reminder of that through some of the commentary I’ve received on a number of articles in the past few weeks. There are some wonderful, insightful people out there who I’d love to have dinner with some day. And then there’s the passionate base who has time to issue verbose rants: Contradict popular line and you can “F-off”. You know this segment of the population; they are the reason stereotypes exist. But, they also prove the point that there are people out there who worship Conservatism above all else. Ironically, they’re as abusively passionate as those “liberals” they are taught to hate.
Sunday, I offered the provocative theological claim that Altruism Has No Place in Christianity. I referenced the biblical teaching of pastor and theologian John Piper, who advances a notion of Christian hedonism summed up in the declaration that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
My colleague Susan L.M. Goldberg approached my claim with reservations. She concluded:
The question of whether or not altruism holds a place in religious life is dependent upon how one defines the structure of their faith: as a business arrangement or a personal relationship. The argument Walter poses is a good one in terms of the welfare state in America. I agree with him that socialist policies should not be promoted as altruistic acts of a benevolent big government. As far as altruism goes in relation to faith, I also agree that God prepares an individual for His purpose in their life and rewards them for their faith. I do, however, question Walter’s contextualizing our personal relationship with God into a business transaction. Before we hasten to view our personal faith in that light, we should bear in mind that the failure of the welfare state was preceded by the transformation of our houses of worship into social halls dedicated to fulfilling our own very non-altruistic needs.
Susan makes a distinction which I reject. Whether business or personal in nature, all relationships prove transactional. Certainly it is possible for people to act altruistically in their relationships. But altruism proves the exception to the transactional rule, and undermines the relational bond.
In my previous piece, I cited the example of a husband buying a bouquet of his wife’s favorite flower with money he would rather spend on something else. That’s altruism, doing something for someone else at the expense of your values. Not only would the husband harbor bitterness from his sacrifice. If his wife learned how he felt about the purchase, she would despise him for it. Why?
We have heard it said that “it’s the thought that counts” when gifts are given. What thought are we referring to? In the case of a bouquet bought for a wife, the thought might be, “I love you and want you to have this symbol of my affection far more than I want the money and time it took to acquire it.” In other words, the wife wants the husband to feel satisfied by her enjoyment of the flowers he bought. It’s transactional. Everyone is better off.
The same applies in our personal relationship to God. 2 Corinthians 9:7 reads:
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
If God wanted altruistic worshipers, He would not care whether they were reluctant or not.