In the Footsteps of Jesus

There are few places in the Holy Land where you can actually say, “I’m walking on the very stones where Jesus put his feet.” Most places the Bible talks about as familiar stomping grounds for Jesus—Bethlehem, Nazareth, the hillsides around the Sea of Galilee, the Garden of Gethsemane, Golgotha, the tomb—are marked in modern-day Israel, but they are approximations, not the actual locations.

There’s no way to know if Jesus was actually at these particular places as they exist today, not with 2,000 years of dust and debris covering them, not to mention the many churches, chapels, shrines and souvenir shops that dot the landscape.

However, there is at least one spot where it’s pretty safe to say, “I’m walking where Jesus walked,” and that’s the Via Dolorosa, or the “Way of Suffering,” which courses through the old city of Jerusalem. Our guide assured us that these stones deep beneath the current city streets are in fact the stones Jesus touched as he made his way to the cross.

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Why Israel?

I have often wondered why the world is so fixated on Israel. I get why most Christians like Israel. This is the Holy Land, the setting for the biblical narrative. This is the place where Jesus was born and lived and died and came back to life. Jesus ascended to heaven from Jerusalem, Israel’s 3,000-year-old capital. He will return to the same spot at some time in the future.

That’s the Christian story, which explains Christian interest. But what about the other five billion people on the planet? They don’t care about the biblical narrative and the life of Jesus. So what is it about this slender slice of land—you could fit seven Israels into my home state of California—that attracts such attention, such controversy, and such historical hatred?

Recently my wife and I traveled to Israel for the first time as part of an organized tour. We visited many important sites—Caesarea, the Sea of Galilee, Masada, and Jerusalem were highlights—and we heard dozens of lectures by local guides as well as our own tour experts.

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Talk Like TED or Move Like Martin?

I have been doing research on what makes a good speech, mainly because I have been asked to speak at a Biola University Chapel. I enjoy speaking, but usually I’m in front of a class or a Bible study or a group of little kids, where excessive hand motions and a few jokes sprinkled throughout are enough to hold interest.

Speaking in front of a group of several hundred college students, whose attention span is usually limited to 140 characters, will require more than those limited skills. I will need to develop a different strategy. So I’ve been studying how to give a talk like they do at those TED conferences.

If you don’t know TED, you should. TED is an organization that showcases experts in various fields (Technology, Entertainment, Design—TED) talking on fascinating topics successful people find interesting. TED hosts live conferences throughout the country, but most people access the talks for free through TED.com. More than a million people a day watch TED Talks online.

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How to Write a Christian Bestseller

Attention all writers and aspiring writers of Christian books. You now have a sure-fire template for crafting a bestseller. The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association just announced the top selling Christian books of 2014, so all you have to do is write a book that follows the success pattern of the 25 titles on this list.

First some general observations about the authors on the list;

  • 5 of the books are Jesus Calling. Actually, there’s only one original Jesus Calling by Sarah Young on the list (it happens to be number one), but there are four other books spun off from the original (publishers call these derivatives).
  • 5 of the books are about going to heaven and coming back, or about how soon the rest of us are going to heaven based on “prophetic” events.
  • 4 of the books are by those Duck Dynasty people (I guess you could call it a Duck Dynasty dynasty).
  • 9 of the books were written by authors who have already written bestsellers.
  • 1 of the books is by the president of the publishing arm of the world’s largest church denomination.
  • 1 of the books is by an author nobody heard of before he wrote this book.
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The Incarnation: Amazing Grace

For all the amazing aspects of God’s being, character, and personality—His infinite power, knowledge, wisdom, love, grace, and mercy—the most amazing of all just might be the Incarnation. It is staggering to think about a perfect God taking on imperfect human form, the infinite becoming finite, the immortal taking on mortality, the invisible God becoming visible through His Son, Jesus Christ.

God coming to earth in the form of a lowly human being is such a profound mystery, and so unexpected, that even today, two thousand years after it happened, people still struggle to understand how it was possible. Even followers of Christ often fail to grasp the significance of the Incarnation. Once a year they, along with the rest of the world, are reminded of this event when they celebrate Christmas, but the true implications of what the birth of Jesus means are generally lost amidst the pageantry, decorations, and gift giving.

John Newton a former slave trader, understood what it all meant when he composed the world’s most popular hymn:
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Conversations About God (Part 1)

Nobody likes confrontation and nobody likes to be rejected, which is why I think so few people talk about God except when they’re in church, or when they post comments under a fake name in response to a blog they disagree with on some religious topic.

Truth is, face-to-face conversations with people are much more effective than communicating with others through social media or email or even over the phone. Yet this is precisely where most Christians have the hardest time when it comes to talking about their faith. What if you have a conversation with someone about God and they take offense or reject you outright? Neither option is a very pleasant prospect, so we end up talking with our neighbors and co-workers and relatives about the weather or sports or whatever political topic is in the news, and we reserve our God conversations for other Christians.

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Life, Death, and Dignity

People are destined to die once.

Hebrews 9:27

People have funny ways of dealing with death. Some laugh at death, or at least make jokes about it. I love Woody Allen’s take: “I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Others try to cheat death, although I don’t exactly know how that’s done. It’s not like death is a final exam. Oh wait, it is the final exam. So how do you cheat? Copy off someone else’s exam? What if the person you’re copying dies before you?

Some of those who aren’t into humor or cheating try to confront death by exercising so they’ll live longer. But that seems more like an exercise in futility. The gym I frequent is filled with older people who apparently are trying to make up for 60 or more years of potato chips and inactivity by riding a stationary cycle while reading the newspaper. Is this helping to stave off the grim reaper? Hard to say.

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God and the Big Bang

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Hebrews 11:3

We’re going to take you on a little journey, all the way back to the beginning of the universe. Before this beginning, nothing material existed because the universe didn’t exist. When people today—scientists, philosophers, poets, theologians, or ordinary folks— think about how it all began, they are at a disadvantage because they weren’t there. Nobody was. Which is why the all the theories about how the universe got going are just that—theories.

Scientists try to figure out how the universe began by the process of discovery and measurement. Philosophers and poets use logic and art to describe what might have happened. Theologians attempt to explain the beginning by going to Genesis, the Book of Beginnings. In the first verse in this first book of the Bible, in a statement that is both simple and elegant, this explanation for the origin of the universe is offered:

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God Is Amazing

Everything changes when you see God for how He really is.

A little more than 15 years ago, as the 1990s were coming to a close, Bruce Bickel and I wrote a book called God Is in the Small Stuff. We must have hit a nerve, because the book has sold more than a million copies.

Fifteen years ago the world was a much different place. The Christian life was easy. You could relax and rest in the knowledge that God was interested in every detail of your life. No matter what you were going through personally, you could count on God’s involvement.

How times have changed. Over the last 15 years there has been a generational shift, a culture shift, a technology shift, a global political shift, and a faith shift that no one could have anticipated. Today’s world is massively different than it was in the closing years of the twentieth century. For one thing, there’s more hostility towards God now than there was then. In the view of many people—including many Christians—God is no longer great and powerful. Instead, He is ineffective and rather weak.

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Ebola and the Call of God

It’s a life-and-death-story for the ages, one that vividly shows us what it takes to respond to the call of God, and what’s required to follow Jesus.

You know the story because it involves the deadly Ebola virus, but you may not remember the names of two Americans who brought the story home in dramatic fashion. Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol are medical missionaries who contracted the virus while helping treat victims in Liberia. In the middle of the summer they were flown back to the U.S. to receive treatment at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Both should have died, but they survived, recovered and were released just a few weeks ago, whereupon Dr. Brantly acknowledged his care in Liberia and the treatment he received at Emory. “God saved my life—a direct answer to thousands and thousands of prayers,” he said in a statement.

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Stan's entire life has been wrapped in content: selling, writing and publishing books and resources that help ordinary people capture a glimpse of extraordinary things.