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Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

Pope Francis

ImageI am thrilled that there is a non-European Pope. The major centers of Christianity are no longer based in Europe (haven’t been for a long time). There are more Catholics in China than there are people in Ireland. What a great day for our brothers and sisters in South America as they see one of their own installed as the head of the Catholic Church. I love it.

It is true that Pope Francis is the first non-European pope of the modern era, but do you know which country has supplied the most non-European popes? My beloved Syria. There have been six popes from Syria.

(It seems that all news somehow leads me back to Syria these days. I pray that Pope Francis will be a genuine peacemaker especially in the Middle East.)

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On March 2, 2009 GDS Knowledge Consultants hosted a Muslim Christian dialogue in Dubai. It featured Thabiti Anyabwile giving the Christian perspective and Bassam Zawadi giving the Muslim perspective. Both men did well in representing the two largest religions in the world. I especially appreciated the candor and grace that was evident throughout. Neither man was afraid to say what the other believed to be false, but both spoke with respect. You can watch the whole debate at GDS’s Youtube channel (it is in 22 parts).

Here is the trailor:

The highlight for me was Thabiti’s closing remarks. In Bassam’s closing remarks he passionately encourages those attending to read the Qur’an because it will change their life for the better. Thabiti acknowledged that he had read the Quran and that Bassam was right, it had helped him. He then said, “The Qur’an did good for me, but doing good for me isn’t how we enter heaven.” His statement showed great respect to Bassam and to the Qur’an in general, but it highlighted our common human problem – the need for salvation. Simply being better will never be enough, regardless of whether it is the Qur’an or the Bible that makes us better. Adding more good works doesn’t remove our sin (see my recent post, “Would You Drink It?”). We need a Savior.

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I immediately wanted to post a link to The Big Picture’s Holy Week 2010 pictures. But I had second thoughts after looking at the pictures. Most of the pictures come from traditions that are not biblical and began hundreds of years after the death of Jesus Christ. Especially sad are the traditions in which penitents hurt themselves in order to make up for their sins. This totally misses the point of the cross. Jesus died on the cross precisely because there is nothing we can do to make ourselves acceptable to God. But since I posted Ramadan Pictures, Eid Al-Adha pictures and Christmas pictures I felt compelled to post these as well.

The picture below, however, is a great picture for Holy Week. It reminds us of when the Lord Jesus washed the feet of his disciples (see John 13) and highlights the amazing truth that he came not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

See them all.

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I recently found the website Scriptural Reasoning from Usama Hasan’s blog. It looks very interesting. It was started by some Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars who wanted to better understand one another’s faiths. So they began to meet together and read about different topics from their holy books. Now there are other small groups doing the same thing.

They say that their deepest purpose is “to offer the broader public a way of practicing peace at a time of inter-religious tension and conflict.” On the site they have “text bundles” you can download about different topics. Each bundle includes Jewish tests, Christian texts, and Islamic texts that speak to the specific topic. Topics include: Common Humanity, Money and Debt, Repentance and others.

In the future I hope to go through these texts more and perhaps will blog about some of it.

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Christmas Pictures

The Big Picture always has such great pictures. Here are some from Christmas. Also, check out the ones that are simply called “Snowy Scenes”.

I wish I had linked to these earlier, but better than late than never. Happy New Year!

Related Posts:
Ramadan Pictures

Hajj and Eid Al-Adha Pictures

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Christian Fasting

Last month I posted on fasting in Islam in light of the beginning of the month of Ramadan when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset for 30 days. In my experience I have found that some Muslims don’t know that Christians fast as well. And unfortunately I know that there are many Christians who don’t fast. But that isn’t the way it should be. Just as Muslims are commanded to fast, so also Christians are called to fast.

When Jesus Christ taught his disciples about fasting he said, “When you fast . . .” (Matthew 6:16), not “If you fast. . .” Just as the Lord expected his followers to give alms and to pray, he also expected that they would fast.

But the purpose of biblical fasting is different than the purpose of Islamic fasting. For Muslims fasting during Ramadan is how one earns merit from God and receives forgiveness of sins. Christians don’t fast in order to earn salvation or forgiveness of sins. God has already accomplished that through Jesus Christ and there is nothing we can add (“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” [Ephesians 2:8-9]). Instead we fast in order to display the depth of our desire for God. Fasting is like an exclamation point on our prayers, saying, “God we want you and need you more than any earthly thing.” It is a way of weaning ourselves from the pleasures of the world so that our pleasure will be solely fixed on God.

One significant difference is that there is much more freedom to do different kinds of fasts. For example, one could fast as Muslims fast in Ramadan (no food or drink from sunrise to sunset) or one could abstain from food for 24 hours or for multiple days or even weeks. Sometimes it is also helpful to our souls to fast from things other than food. For example it can be good to fast from electronic media (TV, internet, ipod, etc.) in order to refocus  our hearts on God. But however we fast the point is that Christians also are called to fast as one of the means we grow in our love for our Lord.

A great resource on fasting is John Piper’s book A Hunger for God. You can read it free online. For any Arabic readers, you can also order an Arabic copy.

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I like John Calvin. Yes, he had his blind spots (doesn’t everyone?), but he was a very careful, thoughtful and helpful Bible teacher. I’ve learned much from him and am enjoying reading his Institutes of the Christian Religion.

This year we celebrate the 500th anniversary of his birth. Many people have no idea who he was and why he is important for Western civilization and especially for the Protestant church. I was happy to see that Svend White posted his thoughts after listening to a BBC podcast on Calvin.  Not surprisingly, he doesn’t agree with Calvin, but he rightly points out his importance:

Calvin’s grim and uncompromising perspective on sin, predestination and grace obviously rubs many contemporary sensibilities the wrong way, but that unpopularity doesn’t make his insights any less profound or essential to serious theological undertakings.

For those interested, Desiring God has republished a biography of John Calvin and you can download the book for free.

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Earlier I posted on the Islamic view of the end times. Here I am linking to a lecture given by Dr. Wayne Grudem on the Christian view of the end times. You can listen to it and/or read the outline of his lecture.

As Svend pointed out in the comments section of the Islamic view, it is true that there are also various views on the end times within Christian thought, though there is agreement on the fundamentals (Jesus Christ will return, all people will stand before God on judgment day, those whom God accepts by faith in Jesus Christ will live forever with him in the new heaven and new earth and those who reject him will dwell forever in hell).

You can hear all the lectures Dr. Grudem has given on any topic within Systematic Theology at this site.

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It is good to learn about people of other religions, but we must be careful that we don’t only learn about other religions from teachers in our own religion. Yes, I can learn things about Islam from other Christians, but if I am really going to learn about Islam it is essential that I also learn from Muslims.

It is this conviction that prompted me to contact Svend White a few weeks ago. He is a Muslim American who blogs at Akram’s Razor (it’s on my blogroll to the right). I asked him if he would be willing to write an essay called, “What is a Muslim?” that I would post on my blog and if he would post an essay I write called, “What is a Christian?” on his blog. This way his readers would hear from a Christian and my readers would hear from a Muslim. Perhaps there would even be some overlap so that some would become readers of both (wouldn’t that be great!).

He hasn’t been able to finish his essay yet, but as soon as he does I will post it here. Over the weekend he posted my essay, “What is a Christian?” Check it out and say hello to Svend.

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