RESPONDblogs: Can the Human Heart Change for the Better?

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I’m preparing to visit sub-Saharan Africa next week. Specifically, I’ll be spending time in both Malawi and Mozambique – two of the world’s poorest countries.

Each time I visit these people – I see an amazing power at work.

It’s a power that self-proclaimed atheist Matthew Parris, who himself grew up in Malawi, describes as the “hope” of Africa.

“Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it.”

                — Matthew Parris, The Times

Amazingly – this power is also detected by British Prime Minister David Cameron – and he sees it at work amongst Christians who live in the UK.

“From Somerset to Surrey, from Oxford to Devon, churches became refuges, offering shelter and food, congregations raised…

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RESPONDblogs: Can the Human Heart Change for the Better?

I’m preparing to visit sub-Saharan Africa next week. Specifically, I’ll be spending time in both Malawi and Mozambique – two of the world’s poorest countries.

 

Each time I visit these people – I see an amazing power at work.

 

It’s a power that self-proclaimed atheist Matthew Parris, who himself grew up in Malawi, describes as the “hope” of Africa.

“Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it.”

                — Matthew Parris, The Times

 

Amazingly – this power is also detected by British Prime Minister David Cameron – and he sees it at work amongst Christians who live in the UK.

“From Somerset to Surrey, from Oxford to Devon, churches became refuges, offering shelter and food, congregations raised funds and rallied together, parish priests even canoed through their villages to rescue residents. They proved, yet again, that people’s faith motivates them to do good deeds.”

                — David Cameron, British Prime Minister, Easter Message 2014

 

What is this deeply positive…society building…person valuing power that both of these men observe – one in Britain, the other in Africa?

What is it that I can see as I travel through Africa meeting with church leaders and people of various Christian church denominations?

What is it that is at work in the Christian church I am part of – Kingfisher Church Network in the UK, Africa and India?

An ancient New Testament writer puts it like this:

“let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.”

                — Hebrews 10:22 – 23, NLT

 

In other words – it really doesn’t matter whether you live in Blantyre, Malawi or Birmingham, UK. When the love of God reaches us and cleanses us inside – big things happen. Why? Because he removes all the guilt that by rights we should labour under in our daily lives.

Guilt for my past mistakes…

Guilt for the deliberate hurtful actions that I have been unleashed on others and myself. …

 

When God does the outrageously unfair but incredibly generous job of washing us clean – for free – he also…

substitutes hope for our despair –

acceptance for endless competitiveness –

love for intense hatred –

…and the results are big!

 

Lives change.

Society changes.

 

This is not a mind change. It’s not an ideology shift.

 

 

It starts with the transformation of a human heart.

 

 

Matthew Parris again makes this point clearly.

“In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”

                — Matthew Parris, The Times

 

When we discover that we are welcomed by God as we are – no pretense, no religiosity – just me in my barest, rawest form. And when I experience his cleansing and his healing in my life – God gives me the will and the desire to serve other people. My heart changes – selfishness gets softened…a drive to give rather than receive begins to flourish and grow.

 

Here’s the thing – this heart change doesn’t only work in Africa. It also works in Britain too. In fact – it works wherever people decide to reject dead religion.

Whether that religion is found amongst people gathering in a traditionally religious building;

or whether it is found in a rather tired yet shrill, private secular humanist mindset.

 

When a person lays these down and instead – opens their heart to the transformative love of Jesus Christ. When that happens – heart change isn’t far behind.

 

David Cameron has pledged himself to protecting and standing up for “Christians and other minorities”.  As I listen to his words – I am left with two feelings:

 

FIRST  – when I look at the influence of Christ’s love on human hearts – I am left wondering what hope our fragmented scary world would have WITHOUT true Jesus Christianity – its associated heart change – and its transformative impact on society?

SECOND – my heart goes out to those who mistakenly reject true Jesus Christianity…in spite of the good deeds that true Jesus inspired heart change brings. This Christian life is not intended for a minority. This is actually what humanity is searching for –

 

it’s what you have been longing for –

what we’ve been built for.

 

 

Why the WHY Question Matters

I once heard about a conversation between the brilliant evolutionary Biologist Richard Dawkins and Prince Philip (the Queen’s husband). The Prince approached Dawkins after a lecture and complemented him on his delivery. The Prince smiled, “I’ve always thought you science chaps are strong on explaining HOW the Universe works. But you are not so clear on the answer to the WHY question.” Dawkins – without drawing breath – shot back, “That, Your Highness, is simply because the WHY question does not matter.”

Really?

Why is there something, rather than nothing?
Why is there a Universe?
Why do I exist?
Why am I struggling with this stuff, right now?
Why is life so blasted hard!
Is there any real purpose to it all?

Ever found yourself asking those sorts of questions? If so – we are in good company. Mankind has wrestled with ’em for millennia! We can see it in the writings of the ancient Philosophers, thru the birth of Science in the 1600s, all the way up to the artists of the 21st Century today; Sir Ridley Scott – take a bow for the science fiction movie “Prometheus”.

Bad news – I cannot give you the answer to “Why?” in this blog (or explain all the story threads in Prometheus, for that matter) But I can tell you this. Human Beings are hard wired to ask the “Why?” question. It is in our makeup. We have an insatiable appetite for asking it. The movie Prometheus is a good example – it is a human origins story – and it took 50 Million US Dollars from the audience on its opening weekend. People have an appetite for anything asking “Why?” in a spectacular way.

Asking “Why?” has resulted in hundreds of years of Philosophical and Scientific discoveries…which seem in no hurry to slow down.

But there’s another reason the “Why?” question echoes through human history.

Think of it like a radar ping out into the unknown. Or like a hopeful cry into the darkness – “is there anybody there?” If we are sending the radar ping – He is the object our scanners detect. If we are calling into the darkness – He is the faint response we strain to hear.

“Why?” is part of the machinery that allows us to locate our creator, God.

We ask “Why?” because God’s built us to seek for him. Someone once put it like this. “You need not cry very loud; He is nearer to us than we think.” The Bible puts it like this. “Seek God while he’s here to be found, pray to him while he’s close at hand.” Isaiah 55:6, The Message

Sure – look around. Do your seeking where you must. But can I encourage you to also send out your radar pings in the direction of the Bible…the Church…and Jesus?

And finally a request to Professor Dawkins –
By sticking to your guns, propagating the tight lipped doctrine that says “Life is the result of the blind forces of nature – and nothing else”, I can see why you avoid the “Why?” question. It threatens to undermine your theory. Yet you are denying the cry of your own heart. Is that what makes you sound so uptight? And you are intimidating others into suppressing their own need to ask “Why?”! Not very public spirited of you, sir.

“Why?” matters. Don’t be afraid to ask the question, sir. Who knows where it may lead you.

RESPONDblogs: Biblical Jesus = Retelling of Pagan Myth?

Imagine someone looks at you earnestly and says the following.

I don’t believe Jesus existed, I don’t believe he was real. Why? Because there is this guy in blue tights and wearing a red cape with an S on his chest.  (On his planet the S means HOPE)  And this red and blue guy was sent to earth – his father’s only son – to save humanity. He had amazing powers – he brought people back from the dead…and he himself returned from the dead. You see? Many parallels there between Jesus and Superman. Because these parallels exist – Jesus can’t be a real person – the reports about Jesus’ life cannot be true.

 

How would you respond?

 

 

Well – there seems to be some faulty logic going on here.

  1. For a start – Superman is a fictional comic book character while Jesus is a person from ancient history whose life is documented more carefully than anyone else. Superman is sadly a work of fiction – Jesus is documented history.
  2. Next – Jesus lived two thousand years ago, whereas Superman first appeared in issue #1 of Action Comics in 1938. Superman came after Jesus. So if there is any influence going on here…surely it’s Jesus influencing the Superman character?

 

So why do I say all this? Because there’s a similar line of argument going on in the Bill Maher clip above. The Biblical Jesus isn’t a myth copied from Paganism – rather he is the fulfillment of humanity’s myths and our stories. Our fictional stories point to the real him.

 

Steve DiSebastian makes this point better than I could in his blog. You can check it out here:

http://godfromthemachineblog.wordpress.com/tag/paganism-and-christianity/

 

 

What I think Bill Maher is attempting to do in the video clip above is to discredit Jesus Christ by comparing him to many mythological characters from the ancient world.

If those were myths – so too is Jesus.

 

But the problem is that I think the logic is faulty.

 

 

 

Jesus and Mithras:

Bill mentions Mithras who was a mythical figure worshipped by Roman soldiers – and the archaeological evidence we have comes from the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. In other words – Mithraism flourished over a hundred years following the birth of Christianity. If there is any influencing going on…then surely it was the historical Jesus influencing the story of the mythical Mithras. Do you see the Superman parallel now? Jesus influenced Superman…..and Jesus influenced Mithras. Not the other way round.

 

In the video clip – Bill Maher claims a number of parallels between Jesus and Mithras. Now – I for one am no expert on the ancient Mediterranean mystery religions. And call my cynical…but I don’t think Bill is either.  BUT – I can do some research by reading what the experts say.

 

Experts like Edwin M. Yamauchi, PH.D.

With a doctorate in Mediterranean studies, Edwin taught at Miami University of Ohio for more than 35 years. He’s worked on the archaeology, written and presented peer reviewed books and papers on Mithraic studies since the 1970s. And what does he say?

He dismisses every single one of Bill’s claims on Mithras and the wider Mediterranean mystery religions.

  • Mithras known as the way, the truth and the life?
  • Mithras resurrected on the 3rd day?

 

“[Those writing on the Mystery Religions drawing parallels with Christianity] don’t have the languages, they don’t study the original sources, they don’t pay attention to the dates, and they frequently quote ideas that were popular in the 19th century…but have already been refuted.”

– Edwin M. Yamauchi, The Case for the Real Jesus, ISBN-10: 0-310-24061-1

 

There’s no historical or literary evidence for any of it. Sorry Bill – I’m more inclined to go with Edwin’s opinion rather than yours.

 

Mithraism was based on a myth. But Bill is just heaping error and falsehood on top of it. He’s not alone in this. Dan Brown did a much more entertaining job in the Da Vinci Code. But entertaining or not, it is not history that they are repeating. It’s fiction.

 

 

Jesus and Horus:

Bill also makes many claims about the mythical Egyptian god Horus, son of the god Osiris. Again – this is a mythical story that Bill is comparing to the Bible’s historical account.

Who are Horus and Osiris? They are mythical characters mentioned in the Egyptian Books of the Dead; a variety of papyri and hieroglyph inscriptions left at burial sites of wealthy Egyptians thousands of years ago. Egyptologists have found many different versions of these books spanning a 5000 year period of Egypt’s history. These were not intended to be historical texts – rather they were stories inscribed and left with the dead in the hope that they would help the person enter the afterlife.

Osiris story tends to involve his death and dismemberment followed by his reanimation by members of his family as – in effect – a zombie! His reanimation  occurs so he can father a son – Horus.

Now – these hieroglyphs do  pre-date Christianity. Further – the Jews lived in Egypt for a long time before Moses came along and helped free them from Egyptian oppression. So maybe they picked this Horus stuff up while they were in Egypt and it informed the writing of the Bible?

 

I think the point Bill is making is – Horus was made up…and the Jesus of the New Testament is made up too. But there’s a problem. Actually Bill is repeating some of the conjecture made by Gerald Massey, who lived between 1828 and 1907. Egyptology was in its infancy back then – and Massey was no expert on the area. He was an English poet. But – he wrote some books, (e.g. Ancient Egypt: The Light of the World) that tried to draw parallels between the Gospels and the Horus myths.

Egyptologists today apparently view Massey’s work as wild speculation because it’s based on picking and choosing many different texts, many of which contradict each other. Massey apparently never provided any references supporting his theory that Christianity finds parallels in Egyptian writings. So he was speculating without evidence – yet many people (like Bill Maher) quote his speculation as if it is fact.

 

To claim Egyptology spawned Christianity is pure conjecture with no evidence.

Yet the life of Christ is passed on to us as well attested, historical accounts containing independent eye witness testimony. We’re back to the Superman vs Jesus comparison – myth vs history. I’ll go with history every time!

 

Others have written a more detailed response to the claims of Gerald Massey…and Bill Maher. They have looked at the Egyptian texts – and responded. At best – I think we can say that Massey and Maher are reading Christian Theology back into the Egyptian stories in order to identify parallels that aren’t actually there. You can find more information here:

http://pleaseconvinceme.com/2012/is-jesus-simply-a-retelling-of-the-horus-myth/

http://www.strangenotions.com/horus-manure/

 

 

 

In Conclusion:

What I am saying is – scholars think that it was the stories of the historical Jesus who influenced 2nd century Mithraism (not the other way around). And the Jesus – Horus connection is built on some wild speculation from the early 1900s by an earnest yet unqualified English poet.

 

As I watch that video clip again…it strikes me that Bill challenges his poor victims with real conviction, doesn’t he? However – conviction is not an accurate measure of truth. We can be convinced we are right…when we aren’t. Hey – I’m Scottish. I’m often convinced Scotland is going to win our next international football match. I know what it feels like to be genuinely wrong!

 

When it comes to Ancient mystery religions of the type Bill is referring to – I think he needs a better researcher. Because he is repeating a line of argument that was abandoned by respected ancient historians over a century ago.

 

But hey – his audience aren’t to know that. Right?

 

Mithraism and Egyptian mystery religions died out thousands of years ago. Jesus worship is alive and growing today – and there’s a good reason for that.

RESPOND blogs: Why I Believe in the Supernatural

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It has been said – Miracles are simply the stuff of fiction.

Belief in Miracles – or the Supernatural – can be traced back to an ancient, pre-Scientifically enlightened world. A world where Vikings looked at the sky and believed a wolf chased the horses that dragged the chariot that contained the Sun across the sky. Great imagination there, guys!

Thanks to the work of David Hume in the 1800’s, many people today think everything that happens MUST be the result of natural processes. Because the Supernatural does not exist.

Someone who claims a Miracle is frowned upon in our culture today.  Because the claim is understood simply to be the result of us not understanding the natural processes involved in the event.

In other words – people who believe in Miracles are simply ignorant.

But here’s a thought – it IS possible to embrace and be inspired by the…

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Jesus Resurrection – As Unlikely as Alien Abduction Claims?

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i_want_to_believe

In 1961, the first big Alien Abduction claim hit the public consciousness. Barney and Betty Hills, from Portsmouth New Hampshire, reportedly had a Close Encounter with…something. It has cemented them and their claims firmly in pop culture.

And this raises a question for me. As I raise my eyebrow at the Hills’ outlandish claim, I wonder whether the New Testament’s report of Jesus physical return from the dead is any less outlandish and fanciful?

Let’s go back for a moment to the cold war tensions and paranoia of 1961. It wasn’t just a new decade marked by musical brilliance and Moon shots. Aliens were also reportedly doing medical procedures on unfortunate folks who were going about their daily business!

What exactly was Barney Hills claim?

Driving home one evening, they thought they saw something unusual in the night sky. Actually – many people including the US Military later agreed that something weird…

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