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Lee Strobel – Answering Islam: Jesus is the Son of God

17 Mar

Ray: Like most people who think, I often struggle with religion and concepts presented by different religions. Growing up Christian, I was taught the Bible and that Jesus was the ONLY way to God. As I grew older and learned about other cultures and their beliefs, I began to grow suspect of different elements of my own fundamental beliefs. After discussing some of these thoughts with my aunt, she introduced me to a pastor names Lee Strobel. Not physically, but YouTubely.

From LeeStrobel.com:

Atheist-turned-Christian Lee Strobel, the former award-winning legal editor ofThe Chicago Tribune, is a New York Times best-selling author of nearly twenty books and has been interviewed on numerous national television programs, including ABC’s 20/20, Fox News, and CNN…

Lee was educated at the University of Missouri (Bachelor of Journalism degree, 1974) and Yale Law School (Master of Studies in Law degree, 1979). He was a professional journalist for 14 years at The Chicago Tribune and other newspapers, winning Illinois’ top honors for investigative reporting (which he shared with a team he led) and public service journalism from United Press International.

After a nearly two-year investigation of the evidence for Jesus, Lee received Christ as his forgiver and leader in 1981. He joined the staff of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL, in 1987, and later became a teaching pastor there. He joined Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, CA, as a teaching pastor in 2000. He left Saddleback’s staff in mid-2002 to focus on writing. He is also a contributing editor and columnist for Outreach magazine.

Lee Strobel deals with monumental questions on faith and religion. I thought this was extremely interesting. Check out the clips:

On Evolution (notice the mention of Temple University 🙂

Seeing God in Cosmology

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Sometimes We Forget to Pray…

28 May

Ray: Prayer is an essential part of life. We use prayer as a means to communicate directly with God, either to thank Him, praise Him, or send Him our requests. All are great and important reasons to pray. However, sometimes we forget the power of prayer when we deal with so many earthly tribulations. I totally understand how easy it is to get so caught up in daily activities that we forget to stop and speak to God. So, this goes out to everyone who’s prayed recently, not so recently, or not at all:

Matthew 6:9-13

Our Father, which art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done,
in earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.
Amen.

Abortion – Pro Life v. Pro Choice

9 Apr

Seth: Abortion: the termination of a pregnancy after, accompanied by, resulting in, or closely followed by the death of the embryo or fetus. Generally we understand abortion to be the purposeful end of a pregnancy brought about by or on behalf of the potential mother. Abortion can be traced to antiquity, but its specific origins remain a mystery. Abortion has become, especially in American society a very controversial and divisive issue. Since Roe v. Wade, appointees and candidates for courts, especially in the Federal system, have been subjected to specific and harmful questioning regarding their views on abortion. It has completely taken over all nominations to the Supreme Court. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground on this issue, but I think I found it.

I am opposed to abortion. Completely. I have also never been in a situation where I have had to consider aborting a baby I created. I acknowledge that making this decision would be a lot easier said than done at this point in my life. I fully understand the difficult circumstances that lead some women to choose abortion, but I can not accept that as an option. My belief comes from a Catholic tradition (I went to Catholic school) of the Consistent Life Ethic which calls “the protection of life a seamless garment.” That extends past abortion to capital punishment, suicide/assisted suicide, and unjust war. This seamless garment also extends to passive destruction of life through economic situations (think poverty and famine).

The legality of abortion in the U.S. is where I find myself in an awkward position. As an “opponent” of abortion, I still find it hard to support legislation that would outlaw the practice completely. Although I would not be the one making or voting for the law, it is not easy for me to, for lack of a better term, “force” my beliefs on others in society. For those who do have this ability, I would say that they need to follow the will of the people, which is a tough issue as well.

A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that 57% of Americans think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. 40% believe abortion should be illegal in either all or most cases, with the smallest number (15%) representing complete illegality. Find the breakdown of this poll and other polls on this topic here. On this issue, the minority seems to be the more vociferous and better financed than the majority. Without a doubt, I am strongly opposed to any Federal legislation in this area. Any legislation should come at the state level.

Ultimately, this is a serious issue where morals, philosophy, biology and religion converge. There aren’t easy answers, but it’s necessary that we not demonize people on either side of the debate which is what happens far too often.

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Ray: I am against abortion. I do not believe that it’s ok to kill an unborn child. However, my beliefs stem from my Christian faith and I am fully aware that everyone in this country is not a Christian, nor do they live by the code of ethics I choose to govern myself. Therefore, I also disagree with any legislation that prevents people from making a choice to have an abortion.

For me, it’s not so much a matter of life and death or right or wrong. I am more concerned with protecting myself from government intervention in matters the affect my personal life. After all, the government is simply group of other human beings who are responsible for performing the obligations outlined in the Constitution. Governing abortion fundamentally disagrees with the principals of the US Constitution.

In this country, our biggest privilege is the freedom to make choices. We have the right to say whatever we want, choose our own religions, read and write whatever books we please, start businesses, and vote. If I choose to govern myself according to a particular guide of ethics, then that’s my choice. The government doesn’t tell me what to believe, who to believe, or how to practice my faith.

Thus, if Christians (or any other religion) want to outlaw abortion, let them do so amongst themselves. Let the people of those faiths govern themselves according to their ethics. But if someone in America does not prescribe to those ethics, then that’s their choice. And if that person wants to get an abortion, our Bill Of Rights provides that person the freedom to do so.

The court in the Roe v. Wade case determined that the plaintiffs’ 9th and 14th Amendment rights were infringed upon. In particular, the 9th Amendment states that “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” The 9th Amendment was basically written to address the rights of citizens that were not expressly mentioned (thus the term “enumerated”) in the Constitution.

Digging deeper, we find that the Virginia Ratifying Convention of 1788 was organized as an attempt to define what would eventually become the 9th Amendment. Alexander Hamilton and other Federalists proposed the following:

“That those clauses which declare that Congress shall not exercise certain powers to be not interpreted in any manner whatsoever to extend the powers of Congress. But that they may be construed either as making exceptions to the specified powers where this shall be the case, or otherwise as inserted for greater caution.”

To me, the 9th Amendment basically says that the government would not have the right to determine whether or not a woman can have an abortion. As Justice Arthur Goldberg stated when giving an opinion on the case of Griswold v. Connecticut (1965):

“The Framers did not intent that the first eight amendments be construed to exhaust the basic fundamental rights… I do not mean to imply that the … 9th Amendment constitutes an independent source of rights protected from infringement by either the States or the Federal Government.. While the 9th Amendment, and indeed the entire Bill of Rights, originally concerned restrictions upon federal power, the subsequently enacted 14th Amendment prohibits the States as well from abridging fundamental personal liberties. And, the 9th Amendement, in indicating that not all such liberties are specifically mentioned in the first eight amendments, is surely relevant in showing the existence of other fundamental personal rights, now protected from state, as well as federal infringement.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

In conclusion, abortion may be wrong to many people, and that’s their choice. However, this is a free country and I would argue that the right to choose should be protected. As much as I don’t want the government telling me who I can marry, what kind of shoes I can wear, where I can live, or how many kids I can have (shout out to China), I also wouldn’t want them telling me what kind of medical procedure I can have as well.

I’m pro life and pro choice. But that’s my decision which is made possible by the US Constitution.

Understanding God’s Laws

8 Apr

Charlton Heston as Moses in \

Ray: Many people oppose religious values because they feel that there are too many restrictions on their own personal freedom. Many who do claim a religious faith often pick and choose which parts of their religious teachings apply to them. Either way, I think the underlying problem with both perspectives is that many people do not understand why there are so many restrictions outlined in religious teachings.

Being a Christian, I often struggle with the teachings and interpretations of the Bible. It is very difficult to understand all of what the Bible is teaching. In fact, there is nobody on the planet who understands all that the Bible is teaching. Even so, there are still certain rules that are clearly expressed that many of us choose to ignore.

First of all, we have all sinned and none of us are perfect. Everyone makes mistakes and everyone struggles with the challenges that come with life. At the same time, it is important to understand that God is a God of love. Because of God’s love, He gives us His law.

“Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” 1 John 3:4

Considering this verse, I would like to suggest the idea that God’s law is meant to protect us from sin. To some, that might seem obvious. Digging deeper, if God is trying to protect us from sin, what is it about sin that is so harmful to us? For those who believe in Heaven and hell, conventional wisdom suggests that to be a sinner equates to an eternity in hell. Is that so?

Because the Bible says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23), it’s obvious that we have all sinned. But because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the privileges ceded by God’s law, we are able to overcome the death sentence that comes with sin. Thus, “He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved. But he who believeth not, shall be damned.” (Mark 16:16). Believers don’t go to hell, in spite of our shortcomings.

This being the case, I think that the reason God gives us laws is very practical. Sin prevents us from enjoying life. When the Bible says that men and women should not commit adultery, many people automatically assume that God is somehow preventing us from having fun and enjoying sex. Not true. Imagine the devastation that comes with the revelation that a husband has cheated on his wife. Imagine the pain that is placed upon the family and the repercussions that can linger on for years even until death. We’ve all seen nasty divorces and how it effects children and extended family members for the rest of their lives.

Imagine a thief or a murderer who commit crimes against society. Not only do they ruin their own lives, but they leave devastating effects upon their victims and the family members of victims. Alcoholism is equally destructive. Not only does it destroy vital organs to the body which can cause health complications that can greatly alter your physical well being or even kill you, but alcoholism is also a burden to family and friends who love and care about the alcoholic.

I can go on and on about the consequences of different sins but I’m hoping that you get the picture by now. Sin has consequences that affect us here and now, while we’re still living. God’s law is meant to protect us from those consequences. God doesn’t want to see us in pain because of the bad decisions we make. If you haven’t noticed, God also allows us the opportunity to decide rather or not we follow His laws. He doesn’t force us to do anything. You can try to make up your own rules as you go along, but history teaches that you can’t go wrong following God’s law. It will save you a great deal of heartache, pain, embarrassment and regret.

Finally, I feel that it’s necessary to say that nobody has the right to judge your actions. If you feel any guilt about your sins, it’s because God’s Holy Spirit is tugging at your heart and wants you to avoid pain. It doesn’t matter what other people say about you. You can free yourself from guilt simply by following the blueprint that God left for us. Nobody is perfect, but that doesn’t mean we have to bring devastation to our lives by sinning.

Be Prosperous and God bless.

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Seth: I will add only one thing to this: Romans 6:12-14. In writing to the believers in Rome, Paul states:

12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

In that same book Paul talks about the struggle against sin. He knows what it was like to lose that battle, but also the rewards in winning. If we are to truly be believers, we must show appreciation and respect for the gift that God gave us through the death of his son. Honor his life by living with Christian character.

Origins of Middle Eastern Conflict

27 Mar

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Seth: The conflict in the Middle East doesn’t yield as much publicity now that the US is fully involved in Iraq. However, the conflict there continues to rage. While there are many in the Middle East that work for peace, there are also many who seek the destruction of Israel. But why?

With so much fervor and hate between the different groups of people in the Middle East, I couldn’t help but question the origins of the conflict phenomenon.

The State of Israel was created as a homeland in Palestine for Jews in an area controlled by the British Empire following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War 1. In 1948 Israel declared independence, and thus began the first attacks on that nation by its Arab neighbors. The tensions that began in 1948 have lasted almost 60 years, but that wasn’t the beginning. In the Diaspora, Jews were subjected to hate crimes and ethnic cleansing, which means that violence against them for matters concerning their heritage was nothing new. In fact, the conflict can be traced to a story of two brothers, Issac and Ishmael.

Within the Bible, there is an incredible story about a man named Abraham. We now know Abraham to be the father of many nations, but there was once a time when he was the father to no one. According to the story, when Abraham was 85, I felt extreme pressure to produce heirs. Sure, 85 today ain’t what it used to be, but the Bible tells us that it was still an old age to have children at.

So, before the time of fertility clinics and drugs, there was the maid. Abraham’s wife Sarah gave him permission to sleep with her maid so he might have a son. This was a great sacrifice on her behalf, and later the maid, Hagar, would realize it was a sacrifice on her part as well. Abraham got Hagar pregnant and she gave birth to Ishmael. While she was pregnant, God said to her, “He will be a wild donkey of a man…and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” (Gen. 16:12).

Thirteen years later (great timing, right?) God comes to Abraham and promises to fulfill his covenant and bring Abraham a son. And he does. Herein lies our problem. Abraham had Ishmael so he would have an heir. Although he had Ishmael with another woman, Ishmael was still accepted into the family. Now he has a son with his wife, the son through whom God will establish “a great nation”; not Ishmael.

Although God promises to bless him and multiply his descendants, you can see where the tension is born. Once Isaac is born, he is recognized as Abraham’s heir. Jealous, Ishmael mocks the young child and is sent into the desert with his mother by Sarah. Thus began the two paths that led to Judaism and Islam. Islamic traditions teach a different story: that Ishmael was the true heir, and that the Jews changed the story. They (the Muslims) contend the Abrahamic covenant was established through Ishmael and that the land is theirs, not the Jews. This is why for a great deal of them, the State of Israel is an affront to Islam that must be destroyed.

I should note, that at the end of Abraham’s life, after all the bitterness and jealousy the two brothers, Isaac and Ishmael came together to bury their father in peace.

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Ray: I find it amazing that a conflict could extend so long between groups of people, within one region, and who are all related. But no matter how I feel about it, the conflict is real and has continued to endure beyond any logical man’s (and woman’s) comprehension. To me, it doesn’t appear that there is a common sense way to end this conflict.

I also find it amazing that Americans have become more knowledgeable about the Middle Eastern people and territories, almost more so than people know the make-up of our own country. The US has basically throw itself right into the middle of a two-thousand year old conflict. Thus, the origin for the US involvement in the Middle Eastern conflict marks a period in history when the rest of the world was forced to get involved.

The conflicts in the middle are a very important issues to us and it’s something that we hope to make you think about in a different light than what main steam media tells us to think. For instance, consider the following scenario:

The United States is known for being a majority Christian nation. As such, most politicians often have a deep sense of Christian values which certainly influence our domestic and foreign policy. Now imagine a very large Christian based organization that has major political influence. This Christian organization is not only widely trusted in the US, but also in many different parts of the world.

As part of this organization’s principals, one of the major concepts states that, “The Bible commands us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6) to speak out for Zion’s sake (Isaiah 62:1), to be watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem (Isaiah 62:6) and to bless the Jewish people (Genesis 12:3).”

Now visit: http://www.thevoicemagazine.com/Apostolic_Moments_Articles/John_Hagee_Ministry_interview.html

Other sources of our involvement in the Middle East stem from the fact that Israel is the only democratic nation in that region. To many in the US, Israel is an oasis in the desert (no pun intended) and a beacon of democracy and capitalistic values in a largely Muslim region. Muslim extremist nations already feel a historic obligation to reclaim the land of Israel, even if it means the destruction of the Jewish people. Add the United States as a mortal enemy for defending Israel and blocking a two-thousand year old inheritance and you have the makings of a potentially explosive situation (also no pun intended).

I say this because it’s important for us to realize that we are a part of this conflict and the potential for a World War 3 is sustained by the activity in the Middle East. I don’t know the solutions to these problems, but somehow our leaders will have to provide answers. We’ve seen George Bush’s answer, and now the questions have grown in number and complexity. What do we do next?

Middle East

STAY TUNED TO SETHandRAY.WORDPRESS.COM TO FIND OUT!!!

Jesus was not white! But he wasn’t black either…

25 Mar

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Seth: A while ago on this blog, we discussed imagery of Black folks in the media, specifically MTV, BET and the like. That makes me think about the way we portray another man in the media and art – Jesus.

black-jesus.jpeg

Most times, we see images of a man with white features: light skin, long straight hair, and facial features to match. Growing up, my mother always told me that these images were not true. She didn’t tell me that because she is racist, but because Jesus, in fact, was not white. “Jesus was a black man,” she would say to me. And when I was a child, I may have believed her. But as a man, I put away childish things, and I know that just as Jesus wasn’t white, he wasn’t black either.

Interestingly enough, those who contend that Jesus was either white or black point to the same Bible verses to prove their point. Either way they are trying to pass off ignorance as knowledge. Those who try to say Jesus was Black point to Revelations Chapter 1. In verses 14 and 15 they find the phrases “hair…like wool” and “his feet were like bronze.” But what they leave out is that which those arguing for his whiteness utilize: “hair white like wool, as white as snow.” Furthermore, the author does not reference bronze in terms of skin color, but rather the aura that they have off “like bronze glowing in the fire.” Later in that same passage, it states that “his voice was like the sounds of rushing waters” and “out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword.” Now, I don’t know what ethnicity can claim those characteristics, do you?

The Bible is full of many scriptures written with symbolic language which (in my opinion) is almost always the case when concerning physical descriptions of Jesus. Being of Middle Eastern heritage, it’s not out of the question that Jesus looked like, well, someone from the Middle East. But as for now, we don’t know. And that’s not even the issue here.

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Ray: Jesus was born as a Jew in Bethlehem to a family of Jewish decent. So were these people:

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Personally, I think Jesus looked exactly like these folks. But I also don’t care about what he looked like. I am fully aware that Christianity flourished in old Europe and their portrayal of Jesus was as someone that was very similar to themselves. As European empires continued to leave their mark on the planet, they also exported the imagery of Christianity that developed within their own ranks.

With that said, a debate about what Jesus looked like is irrelevant. What is relevant is why He came, what He did while he was here, and what we’re supposed to take away from His message. And if we were to look closely into any one of these points, we would see that the issue of race is totally non-existent and inconsequential.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” – John 3:16-17

Rather you believe or not, the purpose of Jesus’ existence is clearly one that was meant for ALL men and woman. It didn’t say that you had to be black, white, brown or yellow. It said all that you have to do is believe in Him. For anyone to argue that Jesus was black or white clearly demonstrates that they are doing so only to achieve a personal objective, not that of the Word of God.

Not only did Jesus come to redeem the lives of sinners, but he also left behind an everlasting message of peace and love. But don’t take my word for it…

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?” – Matthew 5:43-47

My point is, don’t get caught up in the politics that comes with religion. Different groups of people will practice in different ways. They will say different prayers, they call God different names, and Jesus will look different to different people. None of that really matters. The essence of it all is FAITH. Faith supersedes the physical aspects of life. Jesus Himself said that His kingdom is not of this world, but it is spiritual.

In John 4:24, Jesus says that “God is a spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”

In your life-time, you will see many pictures portraying an idea of Jesus. It’s important that you don’t lose sight of who He really is.