March 24-29, Emily and Jim Firnstahl traveled to Tokyo, Japan for the 17th National Prayer Dinner; where over 500 people attended. This was their third time to attend this event which is an important gathering for the faithful believers in Japan. It is one of the largest annual events of God’s people and includes prominent business, church and government leaders. While a modest number of attendees by large nation standards, Japan has only 1% of its population claiming to be Christian, so it is a great encouragement to those attending.
They then traveled to Kyoto and Osaka to meet with CBMC Teams. Currently there are eight teams in the three cities: Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. The National Prayer Dinner is a joint effort with duties shared by all team members. Please continue to pray for these men and women as they share Christ and CBMC in their marketplace.
April 13, 2017 – John Stonestreet What do the first man and Jesus Christ have in common? The writers of the New Testament tell an exciting story for you, and for the whole world.
Sally Lloyd-Jones’s “Jesus Storybook Bible” is a favorite in my house for a lot of reasons. But the best part may be the prologue. In it, Jones explains that although the Bible contains laws for moral living, it’s not mainly a book of rules. And although it tells of great men and women of God, it’s not a book of heroes, either. Rather, it’s a story about one Hero in particular.
As Jones puts it, every story in the Bible whispers this Hero’s name. And there’s no time of year when that is more clear than at Holy Week. Beginning with Palm Sunday, running through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and finally, Easter Sunday, we have the benefit of seeing not only Jesus’ story unfold, but of seeing the culmination of the whole story of Scripture itself.
This was a benefit the disciples didn’t have. For Christ’s first followers, His words at the Last Supper, His arrest, His trial, and crucifixion were a bewildering defeat. It was only in retrospect, when Jesus opened the Scripture to them, first on the road to Emmaus and later in the upper room, that they understood, and even then, not fully!
Only after Christ’s ascension could a restored Peter stand before Jerusalem and proclaim the punch line of Holy Week: “Let all of the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified.”
The rest of the New Testament shows how the Holy Spirit continued to reveal Christ’s presence throughout all of Scripture. Paul, for example, sees Jesus in the Bible’s very first chapters, calling Him “the Last Adam,” and contrasts the two men as heads of the human race. One failed and brought death on all his descendants. The other was faithful, bringing life through His death and resurrection.
And if we take the time to read Scripture more carefully, we see how deeply the parallels run. The ways in which Jesus is similar to, and yet better than Adam, are astonishing:
The first Adam yielded to temptation in a garden. The Last Adam beat temptation in a garden. The first man, Adam, sought to become like God. The Last Adam was God who became a man. The first Adam was naked and received clothes. The Last Adam had clothes but was stripped. The first Adam tasted death from a tree. The Last Adam tasted death on a tree. The first Adam hid from the face of God, while the Last Adam begged God not to hide His face.
The first Adam blamed his bride, while the Last Adam took the blame for His bride. The first Adam earned thorns. The Last Adam wore thorns. The first Adam gained a wife when God opened man’s side, but the Last Adam gained a wife when man opened God’s side. The first Adam brought a curse. The Last Adam became a curse. While the first Adam fell by listening when the Serpent said “take and eat,” the Last Adam told His followers, “take and eat, this is my body.”
We celebrate this last event on Maundy Thursday—Jesus’ final meal with His disciples, and His new command that we “love one another.” In giving Christians this meal, He sealed His role as Adam’s replacement.
Do you remember how, when Mary Magdalene saw the risen Christ, she mistook Him for a gardener? Through His body and blood, the Last Adam restored what the forbidden fruit destroyed, inviting us back to a restored Garden-City in the New Heavens and Earth, where the tree of life grows around the throne of God, free for the taking. That’s what His story, our story, the story are all about.
On Good Friday it’s easy to rush through this dark reminder of our sin, and look forward to Easter. But please, stay a while. The only way to Easter Sunday is through this week, and the events and the words Jesus spoke before His death are worthy of our reflection.
April 5, 2017 – Eric Metaxas Ever wondered why secular people aren’t interested in God? Maybe we’ve never given them a reason to be.
When it comes to sharing Jesus Christ with the growing numbers of religious “nones” in America—that is, those who answer “none” when asked to describe their religious beliefs or affiliations—there’s no silver bullet. That’s the bad news. The good news is, the Golden Rule still works pretty well.
That’s the gist of a thought-provoking and ultimately encouraging article by Khaldoun Sweis, who is Tutor of Philosophy at Oxford University and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Olive-Harvey College in Chicago. Khaldoun starts off his argument—which you’ll find in our friend Ed Stetzer’s blog, “The Exchange”—by making a shocking claim. Khaldoun says of the “nones,” “They not only think that they don’t need God, but many have never been given a single reason as to why He is relevant to their lives.”
The respected Pew Research Center reports that half of these secular neighbors say they left their childhood faith because they no longer believe it or are no longer interested in it. Khaldoun tells of a secular female who dismissed a courageous boy passing out tracts, saying, “I don’t want or need your god, thank you very much.” Ouch!
Khaldoun, who has been sharing the good news of Jesus with such people for the last 15 years, says that when they say they don’t believe in God, he will ask them to describe the god they don’t believe in. “Nine times out of ten,” he writes, “it is usually a god I do not believe in either! The caricatures and misrepresentations of the Christian God are abundant.”
But rather than getting all defensive about it and lecturing them about their mistaken worldview, Khaldoun will engage them. In fact, he commends such engagement to all of us—in the four major arenas of secular thought in the world: government, education, media, and culture. “Use the pluralism diversity thesis to gain a seat at their table,” he says. “After all, according to them, Christianity is just another paradigm, and since they don’t want to be intolerant of any viewpoint, you should be allowed to speak too.”
Then Khaldoun says we are to enquire—that is, listen to them and ask thoughtful questions. Often the problem with their worldview will become readily apparent, even to them. A student walked into his office and stated brashly, “I do not believe in anything that is not physical. I only believe what science tells me is true.” Khaldoun asked him if hisidea was physical. A great conversation then ensued.
Finally, Khaldoun says, we can edify. “George,” he says, “whose father died over ten years ago, never forgot that I was one of his only friends who came to that funeral. If you know people long enough, they will inevitably go through difficult times. This is the opportunity to show them the love of Christ. …. It is demanding, if not impossible, for people to forget that! When the heart is tender, it is more open than any other time!”
That, my friends, is evangelism according to the Golden Rule. We can make Christ relevant—and real—in the lives of others not by arguing them into the kingdom but by showing them what a Christ-follower looks like—someone who engages with the community, who thoughtfully enquires about sensitive, ultimate issues, and who edifies—one might even say encourages—by our loving presence.
Throughout this process we’ll need to be ready to give an answer for the hope we have in Jesus. Part of that readiness involves having resources at our fingertips that clearly and nonthreateningly describe the Christian faith and worldview to our secular neighbors. Get ready to make God relevant to your neighbors, secular and otherwise.
March 22, 2017 – John Stonestreet Staying In The Game At Any Stage Of Life! Narrowly escaping the jaws of a large reptile might get you thinking about your life. But you don’t have to wait ‘til then to make important changes.
C. S. Lewis wrote that pain is God’s megaphone—something He uses when He can’t get our attention any other way. I know at least one Christian who has an idea of what that’s like: God got his attention after—and I’m not making this up—he was nearly eaten by a crocodile.
Bill Beattie was a businessman whose life was going quite well. He’d been happily married for 35 years, and his three children were leading productive lives. He expected to spend the years ahead peacefully serving as an elder in his church in Danbury, Connecticut.
But God was prompting Bill toward other things. Problem was, Bill wasn’t listening. That changed after a canoeing adventure on the Zambezi River, home to hippos and crocodiles, during an anniversary trip to Africa with his wife Kathie. Bill recalls, “I was a novice canoeist and had foolishly rejected Kathie’s suggestion of canoeing lessons prior to the trip.” The guide gave them a five-minute training session, and sent the couple paddling away, headed downstream. They were “eyeball-to eyeball with hippos at every turn,” Bill recalls. The expression on Kathie’s face told him that his wife was terrified.
And she was right to be. They suddenly struck a submerged tree trunk and capsized the canoe. The rescue team quickly picked up Kathie, but their canoe could not hold another person. Bill tried to right his own canoe and climb on top of it as the crocodiles watched.
Struggling with his canoe, Bill didn’t notice, but his companions did, that a 13-foot crocodile came within 10 feet of him before turning and pursuing some of the flotsam from the canoe that had gone floating down the river.
Around the campfire that evening, Bill reflected on what had happened that day. It was extraordinary, he says, “that the croc did not attack and drag me to the bottom. I sensed that God had intervened on my behalf to save me for His purposes.”
Back home, Bill began to consider his areas of strength, and consulted with friends. Believing God was leading him to start a ministry for at risk, inner-city boys, he founded the Pathways Danbury, a mentoring ministry which now reaches girls as well. Christian adults provide them with one-on-one mentoring, Bible study, and tutoring. They can attend Bible camp in the summer, and if they graduate from high school meeting standards of excellence, they’re given a grant for education, business, or housing.
The key to their ministry, Bill notes, “continues to be sharing Jesus on a long-term basis to kids who are at risk for drugs and alcohol . . . delinquency and family instability.”
Now frequently on BreakPoint, we like to share stories of Christians like Bill who are making a difference in the world by tackling the brokenness in their own backyard. We do this to remind us that all is not lost… that God has his people everywhere, enlisting them in his Kingdom work to make all things new. And if God is at work there, He’s at work around you too.
Bill’s story also reminds me how much Chuck Colson hated the idea that retirement is about spending the rest of your life on the golf course. He would have none of that. Christians don’t retire from Kingdom work, he’d often say.
But there’s no need to wait until you’re nearing retirement: God has placed you where He has for a purpose right now.
March 15, 2017 – John Stonestreet Ah, springtime. Flowers blooming, birds singing, and articles questioning the historicity of Jesus hitting the newsstands.
Every year around March and December, many news outlets exhume the long-dead thesis that the New Testament is based on a mythological figure, not a Man who really lived, died, and rose from the grave two-thousand years ago. This year, CNN even republished an article from 2012 at CNN.com. In the piece, entitled, “Decoding Jesus: Separating Man from Myth,” John Blake suggests that Christ’s historical existence is an open question. CNN featured it at the top of their homepage as part of the push for their new series, “Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery.”
Blake quotes the likes of Timothy Freke, author of “Jesus Mysteries” and former Baptist pastor Robert Price, author of “Deconstructing Jesus,” who both claim that the Gospels are forgeries or misunderstood allegories, and that the story of Jesus was copied from legends about pagan deities.
“In the age of the Internet and self-publishing,” writes Blake, “these arguments have gained enough traction that some of the world’s leading New Testament scholars feel compelled to publicly take them on.”
Now let me be clear: This is the very definition of fake news: No credible historian believes Jesus is a myth. Even among skeptics of religion, that theory has been abandoned. None other than Bart Ehrman, the agnostic biblical scholar and fierce critic of the New Testament, calls Jesus-deniers Internet conspiracy theorists trying to sell books, and compares them to Holocaust-deniers.
Dominic Crossan, another scholar who would never pass for an evangelical apologist, says he’s “certain” that Christ existed, and chalks up alternative theories to disdain for the Prince of Peace. Keep in mind, neither Ehrman or Crosson would affirm anything historically Christian, such as that Jesus was not just a man but God—that He performed miracles, died for the sins of the world, and rose from the dead for our justification. But if anything, this fact makes their agreement on His existence even more powerful, not less.
On this issue, they represent the broad consensus among scholars that Christianity began with the life and death of a real and extraordinary Man. Of course, we Christians don’t believe that’s all there was to it. But when our neighbors tell us over the backyard fence that they’ve watched a documentary or read an article claiming Jesus is a myth, we have to be able to respond gently but confidently.
Even ancient writers hostile to Christianity like Josephus, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger, confirm the existence of a Man from Nazareth who preached throughout Galilee and Judea, ran afoul of the authorities, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and sparked what would eventually become the world’s largest religion.
And let’s not forget the New Testament itself, manuscript fragments of which date to the early second century. Ravi Zacharias points out that the evidence for the life and words of Jesus is stronger than the evidence for Plato. Classicist Michael Grant sums it up best when he writes that “we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned.”
Look, though many scholars who affirm Jesus’ existence still reject the supernatural claims that make Him worthy of our worship, one thing is certain: Headlines do not equal history. And serious media should stop giving air-time and credibility to Jesus-deniers.
February 25, 2017 – Eric Metaxas Almost nobody knows what’s happening to the Christians of Nigeria—but even fewer care. Here’s why we should.
In Nigeria, which is Africa’s most populous country, Christians don’t have time to worry about culture wars. They’re too busy facing a real one instigated by their Muslim neighbors and by a government that has studiously decided to look the other way. The scope of the violence is so vast as to be almost beyond belief, so let me first give you a snapshot of what’s happening on the ground.
Deborah, now 31 and living in a camp for the internally displaced, was captured by the Boko Haram terrorist group and held captive for a year and a half. The Islamists came to her village and slaughtered her husband and family before abducting her and “marrying” her off to a 20-year-old Muslim terrorist, who complained of her argumentativeness while raping and impregnating her. After Deborah was recaptured following an escape, she received 80 lashes as punishment. She told journalist Douglas Murray that she no longer fears death.
“What sort of death would I be running from?” Deborah asks. “I have already died once.”
You could repeat Deborah’s basic story countless times in Nigeria. Operation World estimates that Nigeria, which is an officially secular state with a Muslim president, is 51 percent Christian and 45 percent Muslim. Since 1999, the West African nation of about 158 million people has been convulsed by ongoing attempts at imposing Islamic law in eight northern, mostly Muslim states, as well as in four other states where Christians predominate or where the numbers are fairly even.
Things are particularly bad in the north right now. Unarmed Christian villages there are sitting ducks for Muslim Fulani tribesmen, who have been armed with weaponry provided by elements in the national military.
“The locals dare not collect the freshest bodies,” the magazine reports. “Some who tried earlier have already been killed, spotted by the waiting militia and hacked down or shot. The Fulani are watching everything closely from the surrounding mountains. Every week, their progress across the northern states of Plateau and Kaduna continues. Every week, more massacres—another village burned, its church razed, its inhabitants slaughtered, raped or chased away.”
Open Doors USA says the killings have jumped by a whopping 62 percent in a year. And while Nigeria is No. 12 on the World Watch List of Christian persecution globally, it’s in the top 10 in terms of overall violence.
And yet it’s not all gloom and doom in Nigeria. As Tertullian reminded us, the blood of the martyrs is often the seed of the church. The country now boasts a strong prayer movement, dynamic church growth, and a growing missionary movement, with more than 5,000 cross-cultural workers—many of them in Nigeria or in other African nations.
So while much of the world has forgotten about Nigeria’s persecuted Christians, surely those of us in the West cannot. They are our brothers and sisters, and they’re doing great things in the midst of severe trials. Let’s hold them up in powerful, prevailing prayer.
The Christians of Nigeria need us, and since we are members of the same worldwide Body of Christ, we need them.
February 22, 2017 – CBMC Latvia held an Outreach Breakfast Event on the 26th of January, with 157 people participating. The featured speaker was Gleb Spivakovski, a businessman from the Ukraine. During the breakfast, Gleb shared his personal and business experience.
“At the end of the 1980’s together with two co-partners I started a business in casino and night clubs, as well as the retail sales of cars — where I was very succesful. However, I didn’t have a peace in my heart and felt there was no meaning in my life. And then I met Jesus who turned my personal life up side down!
With God’s guidance I sold the businesses to my co-partners and started new businesses based on biblical values with new co-partners. These new businesses focus on fitness and eco food production. The Lord has blessed us and currently these companies profit is close to 120 million USD, with locations in 12 countries worldwide.”
Please continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in Riga as they reach their marketplace, building CBMC teams for Jesus Christ.
February 17, 2017 – Eric Metaxas One aspect of Christianity is so amazing, that it impresses even the CBS Evening News.
Quick, name the practice that most sets Christianity apart from the non-Christian world. Respect for human life? Not really. Religions such as Jainism have, if anything, an even more uncompromising prohibition against harming any living things.
Sexual morality? Again, there are religions—Orthodox Judaism and Islam immediately come to mind—that place an even higher premium on sexual purity than Christianity. If you doubt this, ask yourself when was the last time you saw a Christian woman in a burqa.
The answer to this question is forgiveness. No other belief system has the equivalent of forgiving your brother seventy times seven, i.e., every time—much less commands you to love your enemies, and bless those who persecute you.
The radical nature of Christian forgiveness is so startling, so overwhelming, that it made the CBS Evening News.
The story began in 2005 in the city of Benton Harbor, Michigan. On that day, Jameel McGee was, in his words, “minding his own business,” when he was stopped by a policeman, Andrew Collins. The encounter did not go well for McGee. Collins accused him of selling drugs and arrested him. At the time, McGee insisted that the charges were “all made up.” As CBS noted, “Of course, a lot of accused men make that claim,” and the outcome in McGee’s case was pretty much the same as in other such cases: He wound up serving four years in prison.
In McGee’s words, “I lost everything.”
Making matters infinitely worse was that McGee was telling the truth: He was in fact an innocent man.
We know this because the policeman, Collins, was subsequently “caught, and served a year and a half for falsifying many police reports, planting drugs and stealing.” Among the falsified police reports was the one concerning Jameel McGee.
While exoneration is sweet, it doesn’t make up for the four years spent behind bars. As McGee told CBS, “My only goal was to seek him when I got home and to hurt him.”
He appeared to have gotten his chance when both McGee and Collins ended up working at a café run by Mosaic Christian Community Development Center. As CBS put it, the “bad cop and the wrongfully accused man had no choice but to have it out.”
And that brings me back to what I said about Christianity’s unique emphasis on forgiveness. Collins told McGee “Honestly, I have no explanation, all I can do is say I’m sorry.” McGee’s response, “That was pretty much what I needed to hear.”
But McGee did not stop there: He befriended the man who wronged him, so much so that he eventually told Collins that he loved him. As Collins tells the tale, “I just started weeping because he doesn’t owe me that. I don’t deserve that.”
Thankfully, forgiveness, and the healing it brings in its wake, has nothing to do with “deserve.” As McGee, a Christian, understood, we forgive one another because, as Paul told both the Ephesians and the Colossians, God in Christ has forgiven us.
The power of forgiveness transcends personal relationships. Think of the reaction to the Amish forgiving the man who killed ten young girls back in 2007. There was a power at work there that even the most hardened skeptic could not deny.
Today, McGee and Collins share their story with others. At least one person seems to have taken its message to heart. The CBS reporter ended with the following question: “If these two guys from the coffee shop can set aside their bitter grounds, what’s our excuse?”
The answer, especially for the Christian, is “none.”
January 18, 2017 – Eric Metaxas You can learn a lot from fairy tales. But first you have to know whether you’re living in one.
In Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” all the king’s subjects go along with the consensus view that their monarch has a beautiful new set of royal garments. Just one small boy speaks the obvious truth—that the king is parading around without any clothes at all.
Something similar is happening in our day. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Andrew Klavan, author of the new book “The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ,” says our culture is under the spell of materialism—a materialism that categorically denies any spiritual reality and is completely blind to its own contradictions.
Take the observation of psychologist Steven Pinker, who said, “I don’t believe there’s such a thing as free will in the sense of a ghost in the machine, a spirit or soul. I think our behavior is the product of physical processes in the brain.” Of course, Pinker doesn’t answer the obvious follow-up question: If that’s true, then how do you know it? Mere “physical processes,” absent a directing intelligence, give us no reason to trust their accuracy.
Pinker isn’t the only one to have fallen for this illogical secular worldview. A lot of us have absorbed it subconsciously, which you can tell from our everyday language. For example, Klavan points out, “People say they experienced an ‘adrenaline rush,’ not that they were excited. Or, “people say they are ‘hard-wired’ for certain behaviors and ‘programmed’ for others. The underlying message? A human being is a cross between a chemistry set and a computer, his actions governed solely by a series of discharges and sparks.”
On the contrary, Klavan asserts, a “person doesn’t make a choice because of processes in the brain. Those processes simply express the choice in the material world. Even if every impulse and every emotion is eventually mapped in the brain, there will still be not one iota of evidence that they originated there. It seems far more in keeping with what we know to assume that experience is spiritual and that the body expresses it the same way words express, but do not constitute, ideas.”
This is not to dismiss the reality of chemicals and the like as markers of our physical existence—but we are more, much more, than a bag of chemicals interacting with our environment. The Bible presents us as embodied souls, with hints of both heaven and earth in our frames. If, as materialists suggest, that we and our choices and behaviors are merely chemical reactions, then things like love, virtue, right and wrong, are absolutely meaningless.
Which is why pure materialism leaves us vulnerable to despotism. As Klavan writes, “Thinkers from John Adams to Marcello Pera have cited specifically Christian principles as the foundation of the West’s freedoms. A materialist worldview leaves formerly Christian cultures philosophically weak when those freedoms come under attack. Materialism strips humans of the logic of their humanity—which is the whole point of Western liberty.”
Breaking the materialist spell, Klavan writes, “requires rebelling not against scientific facts but against flawed scientistic logic.” So we will need more people willing to see what’s before their eyes, challenge the secular illogic, and speak the truth—that the materialist emperor truly has no clothes.
January 12, 2017 – John Stonestreet How far can Christianity be reduced before it’s no longer Christianity? We need to be able to answer that question with a firm answer.
One of C. S. Lewis’ most famous arguments is his so-called “trilemma,” laid out in “Mere Christianity.” Because of the things Jesus said and did, reasoned Lewis, He must either have been a liar, a lunatic, or Lord.
He made this point to debunk the most common secular misconception of Jesus, which has only grown more popular in the last half century. “I can accept Jesus as a great moral teacher,” says the secularist. “Maybe He was a kind of first-century Gandhi. But I can’t accept him as God in human flesh.”
Lewis called this idea “patronizing nonsense.” Apart from the historic belief that Jesus is God and man, born of a virgin, that He died for our sins, was buried, and rose from the dead on the third day, Lewis could see no future for Christianity. “Mere” or bare-minimum Christian faith, he argued, requires a belief in these miracles. Yet many today still insist that some kind of stripped-down, “bare-essentials” Christian faith is possible, and that the ancient summaries like the Apostles’ Creed are too exclusive.
During a sit-down interview with pastor Tim Keller just before Christmas, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof suggested that Christianity can survive without the virgin birth or Resurrection.
“I deeply admire Jesus and his message,” he said, “but am also skeptical of themes that have been integral to Christianity—the virgin birth, the Resurrection, the miracles, and so on.” Are these really that essential to the Christian faith? Isn’t it possible to be a Christian without embracing them?
Keller replied that you can’t remove Jesus’ miraculous entry into the world or His miraculous return to life “without destabilizing the whole [of Christianity]. A religion can’t be whatever we desire it to be.”
He went on to explain that the main point of Jesus’ teaching, and of the New Testament, is not a moral maxim, but a message: that Jesus Christ is God in human form, Who was and did everything the ancient creeds say. And believing this is essential. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15, if Christ did not rise from the dead, our faith is vain, and we Christians are to be pitied above all people.
Now as far as I’m concerned, Keller knocked it out of the park. But judging by the letters to the editor, it seems many readers felt differently.
One United Church of Christ minister chided the paper for allowing an evangelical to represent Christianity. The creeds, she wrote, “are not tests of faith for individuals,” and “the virgin birth is not central.”
And a religion professor at Hofstra University scolded the Times for giving a “platform” to Keller’s “dangerous” reading of Christianity.
If you know anything about Tim Keller, a lot of adjectives come to mind. But “dangerous” isn’t one of them. But to those who prefer patronizing nonsense to historic Christianity, there’s nothing more dangerous than someone who can convincingly articulate the miraculous doctrines at the core of our faith.
In our culture of skepticism and unbelief, being winsome doesn’t guarantee a warm reception. But messengers like Keller not only make the claims of historic Christianity more accessible in our secular culture, they model what it looks like to be both loving and—as our critics put it— “dangerous.”
Why? Because “dangerous Christianity” can’t be outsourced to the professionals alone. All who follow Christ are to be informed and equipped to proclaim Him to the world around them.