Light Always Shines Bright When It's Dark

 

For reasons both comforting and curious, the loneliest, darkest, and coldest time of the year plays host to Christmas. The shortest day of the year is around Christmas making it the physically darkest holiday, next to New Year’s, on the calendar. So, the time of year when we are supposedly the most generous is also the time of year where we are fighting depression and good old fashioned darkness.

 

Yet, that’s when the light truly shines.

 

The current news cycle seems very dark and while I can go on various rabbit trails lamenting a variety of things, I am reminded that this time of year always gets dark. Lights on trees and holiday lights on houses, lining streets, or in the malls announce that something is different. Lights that flash and lights that look like impromptu runways accompany lights that spell out encouraging words and lights that point the way to shopping, restaurants, or special events. All of these lights come when the sun starts to set earlier in the afternoon.

 

So, yes, the world is dark. At this time of  year, it’s always darker.

 

But, that’s part of the meaning behind ideas like generosity, grace, and sacrificial love. “It’s a Wonderful Life,” isn’t about preserving a mobile, middle class life, but it’s about being attentive to the life we already have. What would it be like to bring light in to the darker parts of our world? Frankly, it’s not that difficult to ponder. We simply need to recall that generosity doesn’t go out of style and can be done all year long. Grace never gets old and everyone needs it. Sacrificial love changes everything and is always worth the effort.

 

As the days get shorter and the darkness extends in to our afternoons, lights truly do get noticed and truly do make a difference.  I’ll list a few quotes so  you just don’t take my word for it:

 

From William Shakespeare—

 

“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

 

From Vincent Van Gogh—

 

“Those who love much, do much and accomplish much, and whatever is done with love is done well.... Love is the best and noblest thing in the human heart, especially when it is tested by life as gold is tested by fire. Happy is he who has loved much, and although he may have wavered and doubted, he has kept that divine spark alive and returned to what was in the beginning and ever shall be. 

Who Is Jesus, According to Other Religions?

People trying to discover the truth about God would be wise to take a hard look at Jesus before looking anywhere else. While that may sound like a bold assertion in and of itself, it really isn't when you consider Jesus is the one religious leader who is most frequently mentioned by religious groups, whether or not they happen to be Christian. Every major religious movement considers Jesus to be an important religious figure. Every movement makes some effort to account for His existence and teaching. This ought to give seekers a reason to pause and consider the life of Jesus seriously.

Judaism

Historic Heresies Related to the Nature of Jesus

Over the centuries, believers have sometimes struggled to understand the nature of God and the great mystery of Jesus. The Bible describes Jesus as having the nature and power of God, and the Gospel of John tells us that He existed before the universe began (He was, in fact, the creator of the universe). At the same time, the Bible teaches Jesus was fully human and died on the cross. Efforts to reconcile the Divine and human nature of Jesus have resulted in a number of classic and historic misinterpretations:

Adoptionism (2nd Century)
This heresy denies the pre-existence of Christ and therefore denies His Deity. It taught Jesus was simply a man who was tested by God and after passing the test was given supernatural powers and adopted as a son (this occurred at His baptism). Jesus was then rewarded for all He did (and for His perfect character) with His own resurrection and adoption into the Godhead.

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Lessons in Gratitude

Who would have guessed there would be lessons in gratitude—and the consequences of ingratitude—from the president of the United States and the father of a college basketball player accused of shoplifting in China. If you don’t know the story, here’s a brief recap.

Donald Trump, who was in China a few weeks ago at the time the incident took place, evidently persuaded the president of China to go easy on three players who took some expensive sunglasses from a high-end store without paying for them.

After the three players were arrested, questioned, detained, and then released and sent home, they expressed their gratitude to president Trump. But the father of one of the players refused to offer thanks. His omission might have gone unnoticed, but the dad was vocal about his refusal.

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Thanks and No Thanks

Albert Camus once wrote that the purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself. He has a point. In a day and age where cynicism and insults fly out of the mouths and keyboards of cultural leaders like reactionary cries of a toddler in a toy store, we enter a holiday season full of thanks and no thanks.

There are a lot of reasons to be thankful, particularly in the U.S. Despite being only 4% of the world’s population, we consume resources and material goods in mind boggling numbers. We can connect online across countries, across borders, and across time and space in mind-numbing speed. And the list goes on and on. Many people reading this truly take things, people, and food for granted.

But, there’s a ‘no thanks’ part that is also increasing in our culture.

The word ‘evangelical’ is becoming something people want to say ‘no thanks’ to because it has become virtually meaningless and more associated with fundamentalist voters rather than good news or salt and light. Cultural leadership, formerly occupied by celebrities or Presidents (world leaders) or athletes, is now a wide open and unoccupied space. Our own President has made fun of or called other people names several times in the past few days alone. Violence against women is now a common report in the news with prominent members of Hollywood or the sports world found guilty or as suspects. Even college sports is under investigation by the FBI for corruption.

I want to say a resounding ‘no thanks’ to so much of the cynicism and rhetorical vitriol that runs amuck on social media and in the news cycle. But, for the foreseeable future, all of the ugliness seems here to stay.

 So, in order to truly say ‘thanks’ to what is good, we now have to be even more intentional saying ‘no thanks’ to that which is unloving and unkind. Abraham Lincoln, about a month before he gave the Gettysburg Address, sent a note outlining why Thanksgiving means something. The memo is pasted here:

 

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Tags | global | holiday | love | thanks

Why Shouldn’t We Trust the Non-Canonical “Gospel of Nicodemus” or “The Acts of Pilate”?

The Gospel of Nicodemus is an ancient text purportedly written by the man who visited Jesus in the Gospel of John. But is this non-biblical text reliable? Was it really written by Nicodemus? There are four attributes of reliable eyewitness testimony, and the first requirement is simply that the account be old enough to actually be written by someone who was present to see what he or she reported. The Gospel of Nicodemus was written too late in history to have been written by the Jewish man who visited Jesus, and like other late non-canonical texts, this errant document was rejected by the early Church. In spite of this, The Gospel of Nicodemus still references accurate details related to Jesus.  Although it is a legendary fabrication written by an author who altered the story of Jesus to suit the purposes of his religious community, much can still be learned about the historic Jesus from this late text:

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Is Jesus Simply a Retelling of the Horus Mythology?

Is Jesus Simply a Retelling of the Horus MythWhat if I told you there was once an ancient religion whose God was conceived by a virgin named Meri and had a stepfather named Seb (Joseph)? What if I told you this God was born in a cave and his birth was announced by an angel, heralded by a star and attended by shepherds? He attended a special rite of passage at the age of twelve (although the ancient texts describing this God are silent about His life from the age of 12 to 30). At 30 years of age, this God was baptized in a river (His baptizer was later beheaded). He had 12 disciples, performed miracles, exorcized demons, raised someone from the dead, and even walked on water. They called Him “Iusa”, the “ever-becoming son” and the “Holy Child”. He delivered a “Sermon on the Mount”, and his followers recounted his sayings. He was transfigured on a mount and eventually crucified between two thieves. He was buried for three days in a tomb and rose from the dead. His followers called Him “Way”, “the Truth the Light”, “Messiah”, “God’s Anointed Son”, “Son of Man”, “Good Shepherd”, “Lamb of God”, “Word made flesh”, “Word of Truth”, “the KRST” or “Anointed One”. He was also known as “the Fisher” and was associated with the Fish, Lamb and Lion. According to this ancient religion, this God came to fulfill the Law and was supposed to reign one thousand years. Sounds a lot like Jesus doesn’t it? According to those who deny the existence of Jesus, however, this description is of a mythological precursor to Christianity, the Egyptian God named Horus. Skeptics sometimes use ancient deities like Horus, Mithras or Osiris as examples of dying and rising precursors to Jesus. They claim the mythology of Jesus was simply borrowed from pre-existing examples such as these.

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Is There Any Evidence for Jesus Outside the Bible?

The reliable Gospel eyewitness accounts aren’t the only ancient description of Jesus. There are also non-Christian descriptions of Jesus from the late 1st to 5th Century. What do the non-Biblical accounts say about Jesus and how are we to assess them? It’s been my experience that two people can examine the same event (or even the same historical character) and disagree about what they have seen. Many years ago President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, and the entire event was captured on video tape. There were hundreds of eyewitnesses. The tapes were watched over and over again. Yet, in the midst of such a robust eyewitness record, people still argue to this day about what they saw and what actually happened. Was it a lone shooter or an elaborate conspiracy? Something very similar occurred when the World Trade Center was attacked by terrorists. Most of us either saw the attack live on television or watched the video for months afterward. But the event is still interpreted in a variety of ways. Was this the act of international terrorists or an elaborate governmental conspiracy? Two well documented historical events with a rich set of evidences. In spite of this, both events have been interpreted in a variety of ways. It shouldn’t surprise us then to find the historical records of Jesus Christ might also experience the same type of scrutiny and diverse interpretation. Did Jesus truly live, minister, died and rise from the grave as the Gospels record or was it an elaborate conspiracy? One thing we know about the Kennedy assassination and the World Trade Center attack: regardless of interpretation, there were eyewitnesses to the events, and the events did truly occur. In a similar manner, the ancient evidence related to Jesus reveals there were eyewitnesses and He did exist in history. Is there any evidence for Jesus outside the Bible? Yes, and the ancient non-Christian interpretations (and critical commentaries) of the Gospel accounts serve to strengthen the core claims of the New Testament.

Hostile Non-Biblical Pagan Accounts

International Education is More than Programs

When attending a musical in Austin, Texas, recently, the usher handed me a program. And some programs on television last less than an hour when you count the commercial interruptions. Many colleges and Universities advertise programs. All of these have at least two things in common: 1) they don’t last, 2) they are not meant to last.

This is why I don’t want to have students or faculty or parents see study abroad through the lens of programs only. I want to suggest that it’s the wrong ‘p’ word. Instead, there are at least three other ways to see study abroad and the view through them is much more interesting.

 

Pathway

An international experience is a decidedly colorful, meaningful, and robust marker on one’s journey, so it’s part of a pathway.

Why Shouldn’t We Trust the Non-Canonical “Gospel of Judas”?

The Gospel of Judas is an ancient text purportedly written by the disciple who knew Jesus personally. But is this non-biblical text reliable? Was it really written by Judas? There are four attributes of reliable eyewitness testimony, and the first requirement is simply that the account be old enough to actually be written by someone who was present to see what he or she reports. The Gospel of Judas was written too late in history to have been written by the disciple we know as Judas, and like other late non-canonical texts, this errant document was rejected by the Church. In spite of this, The Gospel of Judas still contains small nuggets of truth related to Jesus.  Although it is a legendary fabrication written by an author who altered the story of Jesus to suit the purposes of his religious community, much can still be learned about the historic Jesus from this late text:

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