Posts Tagged ‘following Jesus’

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Christian Apologetics Resources

September 1, 2010

1 Peter 3:15-16 reads:

But in your hearts set apart Christ as LORD. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

(New International Version, http://www.biblestudytools.com/1-peter/3.html)

Knowing the impact that Christians who follow this instruction have had in my own life, I have sought to follow it as closely as possible. To be able to “give an answer” when I can. Perhaps my reputation for doing this spread  a little amongst my fellow churchgoers, because I have found more and more recently that I get asked a lot of questions. Admittedly, my response often resorts to a line that I taught to members of the Bible study groups I used to lead: “I am not sure I can answer your question, but if you really want an answer, I will try to find one.”

Usually, when trying to answer people’s genuine questions*, or at least set them in a helpful direction, I generally refer them to one of several websites. In light of a recent increase in the number of questions I’ve been asked, here follows a list of the websites I have found most useful in helping fellow believers consider possible answers to their faith dilemmas.

* Genuine questions from genuine open-minded seekers, as in, not questions for the sake of being irritating!

I list these with the clear understanding that no apologetics ministry is infallible, and that all statements of faith must be measured against the Word of God (the Bible). I am also a  firm believer in academic freedom-of-thought, where all views deserve a reasonable voice in discourse.

If you have any suggested apologetics links, feel free to list them in the comments boxes. Be aware that more than one or two links will probably result in your comments being filtered for moderation / spam!

Creation Ministries International (Australia)

Creation: Frequently Asked Questions (Australia)

Creation Magazine (Australia)

Leadership U

Master Books

Every Student

Alien Intrusion (Australia)

Christian Answers

Josh McDowell

Institute for Creation Research

Probe Ministries

Archaeological Diggings Magazine

Ancient Days

Tekton Apologetics Ministry

Messiah Comes

Koorong Books – Academic (Australia)

Biblical Hermeneutics (Australia)

Kevin Conner E-Store (Australia)

RZIM

There are many, many books available on apologetics topics. Some books that I have read and found helpful are:

More than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell

The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey

The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel

In Six Days edited by John F. Ashton

The Creation Answers Book by Don Batten et. al.

Jesus Among Other  Gods by Ravi Zacharias

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Following Jesus – 5 – Dehydrated Broccoli

October 12, 2009

Genesis 2:16 “And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden…” NIV

Genesis 9:3-4 “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything… But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.” NIV

Matthew 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” NIV

Food… ah food. What an incredibly divisive thing it can sometimes become. No doubt there will be a touch of hmm… irony? Probably not the correct term… but I write as a long-term vegetarian, so if I complain about people making a big deal out of food, it may well seem hypocritical. Sorry if it comes across that way, because that’s not my intention!

Here’s a quote from a book I read recently when researching for a university assignment: “The world now features more overweight than underweight people… This absurd situation is led by the US, where over half its citizens are clinically overweight. It possesses more people on diets than ever before, yet ever-more overweight people, too. Obesity-related illnesses and deaths, often brought on in major measure by gorging on oversized fast foods and drinks, are a major drag on the nation’s economy. In certain countries, fatty foods could eventually cause as many additional premature deaths as from AIDS. The UK has proposed a “fat tax” targeting obesity-related foods such as burgers.”

(From: Myers, N. and Kent, J. (2005). The New Gaia Atlas of Planet Management. London: Gaia. P. 67.)

That was published in 2005; the last I heard it was we Australians who top the list for fattest nation on the planet. Not a proud title, to be sure. I can’t find a straightforward statistic on that, unfortunately.

So, here we are: fat, diseased, obsessing over diets. What does this have to do with being a Christian, you may well ask? As the above Scriptures say, God is the ultimate creator and source of food. The Bible shows that, in the beginning, humans were given “green plants” to eat. As history progressed, and God interacted and intervened with His creation, food was often a part of His instructions – animals as food, but without consuming blood in Genesis 9; Leviticus detailing a lot of rules regarding food; and the New Testament exhorting us to not worry about what we eat, because it’s not the main part of life. God does not ask us to separate the physical and spiritual realms (which is, I believe, an aspect of Gnosticism). He created our bodies, with all their fascinating functions and purposes.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” NIV

However, it is certainly a significant issue. What made me think of it was when I caught a clip on a tv show recently, where the presenters were hailing the ‘newly discovered’ health benefits of broccoli. Then the presenters debated – and I hope it was a joke, but it probably wasn’t – how to get children to eat this magical new form of cancer-preventing, life changing broccoli. The solution was to dehydrate, powder and turn into tablet form a kind of broccoli that children will actually eat. Like I say, I hope it was a sad joke – but the way people around me talk, in their day to day lives about food – one would think that vegetables can only be consumed in tablet form.

Now, perhaps my family is a bit odd. We are vegetarians, after all. But my young children eat broccoli without a fuss. They also eat myriad other vegetables and fruits. We certainly don’t need to give them vegetables in tablet form. They eat all sorts of things – last night (as I write) it was fresh olives, avocado, mixed vegetable patties, and a slice of wholegrain bread. No powdered vegetable tablets. No ice cream or milkshakes or other junk. Just a mixed platter of mostly fresh foods.

Sometimes I wonder if our attitudes to food reflect the way we view the rest of our life. I am sympathetic to the philosophy that food is becoming bland and homogenised and too sped up. Where is the time to enjoy the variety, the flavours, the time spent with family and friends over a good meal?

Instead, we seem to be looking for a quick fix, an easy way out. Stuff down that fatty hamburger and soft drink and appease the guilt with a powdered broccoli pill. We look for cures for terrible diseases that may well be prevented through lifestyle changes. We consume more than we need while millions are dying from starvation throughout the planet. It’s not a surprise that “gluttony” is considered one of the seven deadly sins. It encompasses the concept of complete lack of self-control combined with a withholding of possessions from the needy.

Now, I offer no simple solutions to this. I am not a nutritionist nor a social scientist (not yet!). But I do offer a couple of ideas based on what seems to be working for my family:

a vegetarian or (in the case of some family members) mostly vegetarian lifestyle

eating a variety of different fruits and vegetables

eating plenty of grains – not just wheat, but rice, polenta, rye and many more

including legumes / beans in our daily food intake

sitting down together at the dining table for all meals

trying to allow the time to prepare meals

being aware of seasonal produce

buying local, where possible

not telling our children that we don’t expect them to like broccoli!

ensuring we have a deliberate source of  B12

not leaping on fad diets that promise ‘instant’ weight loss

walking or exercising regularly

switching off the tv

menu planning in advance – and trying something new

incorporating many different styles of cooking – we aren’t interested in tofu substitutes for meals normally consumed by white, middle class Australians, we are looking to try often natural vegetarian meals derived from a variety of cultures.

These aren’t just health options; they are also, we hope, beneficial for the environment – which encompasses the dimension of seeking to help our fellow humans by not destroying the world just to get a fast food hamburger. It also inspires compassion towards God’s creatures. Hmm. That’ll do for now. I’m hungry…

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Following Jesus – 4 – The Name

October 5, 2009

Jesus – what image comes to mind at His name? In my childhood, it meant that white guy hanging on the cross statue in our Church. I knew He was a miracle worker and that He taught people a highly moral lifestyle. I knew He was called the Son of God and that He was part of a Trinity. Still, it was merely head knowledge. In my teen years, He became symbolic of what I thought was a dead religion that persisted despite ‘scientific evidence’ to the contrary… a religion that was authoritarian and legalistic. In my early years as a university student, He once again became a good moral teacher. I knew a few people who called themselves His followers; and they managed to demonstrate this in their words and actions. Their lifestyle intrigued me – I wanted to know what made them so different. Their example drew me in. Of course, I tried to deflect their influence – I had hundreds of questions, many I thought would be devastating to their Christian faith, but they patiently gave answers (1 Peter 3) and treated me with a kindness I knew I did not deserve.

Maybe, when we hear Jesus’ name, the image that comes to mind too often is that of His followers. And not the ‘good’ ones. It’s the weird ones who go a bit ultra-mystical. Or the sort who seem to think the Good News of the Gospel is all about making more money. Or the types who seem to take delight in their moral superiority and use it to attack non-Christians. Maybe it’s the type who think Christianity is an excuse to judge someone else, ask people to ‘pray for that bad person,’ and then tell that person that they’re praying that they’ll escape God’s judgement. Or perhaps it’s the ‘Christian’ whose outlook seems to be fairly racist, bloodthirsty and committed to their own culture’s version of ‘success.’

Still, I don’t want to be negative, and I don’t want to pretend that somehow my own Christian walk has been exemplary. See, the thing that scares me is that maybe, for the many people in my life who do not believe in Jesus, when they hear the name ‘Jesus,’ they’re going to think of me. My life. My example. My words and actions. How have I treated them? Have I come across as narrow and judgemental? Or materialistic? Or moralistic and legalistic?

One scary thing about being a follower of Jesus is that my own life and example could have an impact – whether positive or negative – on the people around me. When some social issue comes into a conversation – some political thing, or maybe a moral issue like abortion – how are they going to interpret my response? Will I be loving and merciful, like my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, or will I be the hellfire and brimstone Bible thumper that leaves them wishing they hadn’t asked?

I don’t know how right it is, but I like to point people to Jesus Himself. As He is described in the Bible. Perhaps not enough people have read the Four Gospels these days for me to assume that people know the records of His life. The Bible records that, as a child, He and His family had to flee the violent ruler of their nation and seek refuge in Egypt (Matthew 2). As an adult, He worked at the family trade – carpentry (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3) – before beginning His ministry; which was marked by miracles (Matthew 11:20; Mark 6:2; Luke 19:37; John 10:25), astounding teachings (Matthew 7:28; Matthew 13:54; Matthew 22:33; Luke 4:36);and violent persecution (Matthew 26:4; Mark 14:1; John 7:25). He was murdered, but He rose again to life (Luke Chapters 23-24). Then, shortly after His resurrection, He ascended to Heaven (Acts Chapter 1). He then sent the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, to Earth to inhabit His followers and empower them to live their lives for God (Mark 1:8; Luke 11:13; John 14:26).

One of the most astounding things Jesus said about Himself was this:

John 14:6 (NIV)

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

I used to think that rather offensive a statement. In my early Christian walk, I then tried to provide elaborate reasons and explanations for it. Lately I’ve been more inclined to suggest that there’s only a couple of ways to take this statement:

If Jesus is truly God Incarnate, the Creator, Sustainer, Saviour, and Redeemer of all Creation, then He is well within His rights to make a statement that, coming from a mere mortal, would be ridiculous – or a sign of insanity. That is, God is well within His right to be the decider of issues of eternity and salvation.

If He is insane, then one must wonder how He also managed to revolutionise the way that humans treat each other. We may well take for granted His teachings on justice, mercy, kindness, charity, forgiveness and goodness – but these values are not particularly intrinsic to humans, are they? Look at the broken down world, where one side of the world is dying from starvation and the other is dying from diseases resulting from overeating; where racism and war and hatred are daily occurrences; where the elderly are beaten and the young are abused and the unborn are routinely murdered; where people engage in incredible acts of cruelty towards our fellow creatures; where the wilderness is butchered for profits; where we know the right way to live but choose the selfish, hedonistic options instead.

With more than a little hint of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, I am convinced that Jesus is either Lord, Liar or Lunatic. His amazing lifestyle, teachings, and descriptions of Himself don’t leave room for much else.

Following Jesus

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Following Jesus – 3 – Nature

September 28, 2009

Abell 2667 - From www.nasaimages.org

Abell 2667 - From http://www.nasaimages.org

Nature is full of some incredible things. The magnificent beauty of the galaxies. The colour and scent of flowers. The satisfaction of eating fresh vegetables that have grown in the garden. The majesty of the large beasts. The cuteness of the small beasts!

There’s some amazing stuff out there. The more that humans explore nature, the more we find. The further we travel, the more stars we find. The smaller the objects we can see, the more layers of reality are discovered. The intricate workings of the human body still have their many mysteries. Even the simplest life form is incredibly complex.

God is amazingly creative. He’s made a world of such awesome wonders. It’s amazing how creation isn’t just functional, it’s beautiful. Think of the creatures that inhabit the dark depths of the ocean but are spectacularly colourful. Or the incredible designs on butterfly wings.

The interesting thing with following Jesus is that nature takes on a new significance: nature has been made by a loving creator for His purposes and enjoyment. He has made humanity, in His image and likeness, to dwell in this world of matter.

The spiritual life isn’t about denying the material things, but putting them in their correct priority. We do not pretend that suffering doesn’t exist; we use what we have to alleviate suffering.

Luke 12:33 (NIV)

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.

Nature is not, then, a deity in itself. It has been made by The Deity, to serve His purposes. However, nowhere do I see in the Bible that this is permission to plunder the Earth’s resources. Indeed, when we damage the environment, we destroy the world in which other people live. Caring for the environment is, I believe, a reasonable way of responding to God’s creation. Think of how He made a beautiful Garden, Eden, and placed the man and woman there to tend it and care for it. He did not say, “go and destroy this Garden in your quest for material possessions.”

Genesis 2:15

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

I read a while back an interesting idea that Christian environmentalism incorporates the human element.* Rather than deifying nature, and downgrading humans, it seeks to take into account how the human treatment of the planet affects not only nature but all humanity, too. It included an awareness of such things as the manufacturing conditions of the products we buy. I personally believe there are many good environmentalist arguments for vegetarianism, for example, as well as acknowledging that many foods suitable for human consumption are instead fed to farm animals, which are then consumed by the small proportion of rich Westerners who can afford fast food. I digress. What was the point I was trying to make? Ah, yes – that being a follower of Jesus necessarily impacts on the way I perceive nature.

All too often we followers of Jesus have been linked to a philosophy of guns, hunting, destruction of the planet, and cruelty to animals and even to our fellow humans. But surely there is a distinction between religious ‘Christianity,’ in which man-made rules become the highest law; and a life genuinely lived following the Lord Jesus Christ and living as those called to tend His Garden? While such things – environmentalism, issues of diet, and our treatment of nature – may well be secondary to the primary issue of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, one of our greatest apologetics is found in the way we live our life.

Peter 3:15-16 (NCV)

But respect Christ as the holy Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to answer everyone who asks you to explain about the hope you have, but answer in a gentle way and with respect. Keep a clear conscience so that those who speak evil of your good life in Christ will be made ashamed.

Finally, acknowledging God as Creator has significant effects on my life: I have Someone to thank for the glorious wonders of nature. I can enjoy and appreciate animals, plants, the changing seasons, the stars, the weather, the land formations… I can also be creative – as I am made in the likeness of Creator God, so He has bestowed at least a little of His creativity on all His people. I have a reason to care what happens to the planet, and to do what I can to look after the environment. And I can enjoy the spectacular discoveries of the natural sciences, as human exploration reveals more and more of God’s spectacular works.

*David Tyler, Creation – Chance or Design?

Following Jesus

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Following Jesus – 2 – Rules

September 21, 2009

It was an eye-opener to be introduced to the concept that Jesus was not after outwards religious expressions. In fact, I remember feeling outraged that my good deeds were not enough. The thought that God was not after me to be good so much as He was after a relationship – I had never heard such a thing before. In fact, it was so shocking and counter-intuitive, that I remember asking – what human-made religion would ever propose such a concept. A God that is Love Incarnate? Not a lustful, ‘romantic’ love, but a Love that gives itself up as a sacrifice… A Love who would choose to die in the possibility that the Beloved might then turn to Him. It was all a bit beyond me. I had spent so long convinced that Christianity was, ultimately, about being a ‘good’ person. Be nice to other people, don’t be so selfish, help the needy, be a useful member of society – all that sort of stuff. But these things, noble as they are, don’t necessarily require God’s power to work. Plenty of non-religious people are good, useful members of society who work hard, love their families, help the needy and try to do what is right.

Following Jesus is something beyond that. It requires an inward transformation. I see this as happening when I partner with the Holy Spirit, in (hopefully!) obedience to His commands, yes, but also in listening to Him, allowing Him to speak into my life, in not being so hung up on rules and regulations – in being creative and flexible enough to hear what God is saying. Because the problem with rules is that they inspire rebellion, are often really hard to follow, and often miss the point.

It’s like Christian communities that impose dress codes on their members. Yes, the Bible says to dress modestly, but in getting into the rule – dress accordingly – we forget the ‘why.’ It’s not so that we all look like bored, tired, uptight middle class suburbanites – I’m guessing that at least part of it is so that we don’t drag fellow believers down by making them think lustful thoughts! (Matthew 5:28; 1 Timothy 2:9.)

However, relationship with God – that’s something else. The natural expression of knowing and loving God is in desiring to obey Him. That is when obedience to God’s commands becomes an expression of freedom and joy, rather than a burden of rules and regulations.

Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV)

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

I suspect that it’s not too difficult to spot the difference between the believer who acts out of joy and genuine inner transformation compared to the believer who is still stuck in the rules and regulations mentality: the former will probably look a whole lot happier than the latter. Just check for the furrowed brow!

Following Jesus

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Following Jesus – 1 – Testimonies

September 14, 2009

Revelation 12:10-11 (NIV)

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”

1 John 5:11 (NKJV)

And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.

I became a follower of Jesus just over seven years ago. It was an amazing, pivotal moment in my life. Where once it had seemed as though the whole world was dark and doom, and I felt despairing and fearful, encountering Jesus was like someone throwing the light switch on the world – I had a glimpse of a world bigger than me, greater than I could imagine. Even though things were still broken, light shone through the cracks.

It was a very personal experience, one that I’ve shared before at various church meetings and with other believers (and a few non-believers!). In some ways, I think my testimony – that is, my story of meeting Jesus – may seem unique, as I had been involved in occult belief systems prior to this time in my life. Yet, every committed follower of Jesus I have met has a story of how they arrived at their beliefs.

For some, their story is one of grace and mercy throughout their lives. They have grown up in a Christian family, or maybe somehow became involved in a Church from a young age. Their story is one of a progressive growth and realisation of the personal connection they have with Jesus. Many of these people have a point – or series of points – in their life, where they made a commitment to following Jesus. It was no longer about their parents’ faith, nor going along with the crowd. It was realising that they were in desperate need of a Saviour. Some may have rebelled against what they saw as their religious upbringing, only to eventually come back to the community of believers.

In my own ‘conversion’ – a convenient term; but I don’t think it quite conveys the reality of the experience of becoming a follower of Christ – I had a lot of questions that needed answering. It took well over a year of learning about Christianity before I was willing to take a leap of faith and follow Jesus. Not only questions, but there was a lot of baggage in my emotional and spiritual life that had to be examined. I was carrying a lot of hurt and unforgiveness towards others; yet here was Jesus declaring that we must be forgiving if we desire to follow Him (Matthew 6:12, 14).

Becoming a follower of Christ also meant a series of difficult choices. Everything in my life had to be examined. Every choice and decision. Difficult circumstances were plentiful, but now I was presented with a new question – give in to despair or trust that maybe God can bring good out of the hard times? (Romans 8:28.)

Following Jesus

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Following Jesus

September 12, 2009

As I write, it helps me negotiate, in a sense, my understanding and beliefs. It’s a way of personally reasoning through my thoughts and ideas. Recently it’s been an intersting exercise engaging in online discussion about life, the universe and everything on Facebook.Com with friends and family from my local Church community.

It occured to me that I haven’t actually written a whole lot about my Christian faith on my blog. So, while I do intend to keep the key purpose of this blog as a means of sharing my art folio, I really do want to include a bit more specifically on the topic of life, the universe and everything – from the perspective of being a follower of Jesus.

I don’t intend to address controversies, denominational debates, or any huge issues here. I would like to stick to the topic of just what it means to follow Jesus. I have provided plenty of links* elsewhere on this blog to sites that do deal with the more ‘controversial’ issues of Christianity. Readers are encouraged to visit those sites to learn about possible Christian responses to various issues and concerns.

I hope to keep it simple – to keep the focus on Jesus and the Bible and how I seek to apply His Word to my day-to-day life. Hopefully it will serve as an encouragement to my readers who are also believers; and that, for those of you who do not share my faith, it mght spark your interest in learning more about who Jesus is and what He teaches us today.

For those of you who are reading and wondering what my ‘qualifications’ are, I have been a volunteer leader for about four years in my local Pentecostal-style non-denominational Christian church. I spent one year involved in, and eventually leading a hospitality team that looked after new visitors to a youth programme for high school students. I spent almost three years running a small home group for senior high school girls. The last year has been involved in co-leading a small group for young adults aged 18-25 years, most of whom are newlyweds. For a convenient summary statement of faith to which I ascribe, see http://www.citylifechurch.com/info/statementoffaith.aspx, or read The Foundations of Christian Doctrine (1980) by Kevin J. Conner

* See the Links Page or the Weblinks Category for more links.

Following Jesus

 

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