Book Review: The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel

On my commute, and when my family travels, we like to listen to audio books. Our recent trip to Seattle started with a legal thriller, and on the trip home we prepared for Easter by listening to The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. We didn’t finish the book on that leg of the journey, but I finished it that next week while I was commuting.

A quick summary for those of you who are not familiar: In the late 1970s, Lee Strobel was an avowed atheist raising a family and working as a journalist in Chicago. His world was shaken when his wife became a Christian. Strobel was angry that his wife was changing as a person, and worried that his marriage couldn’t withstand the tension. So he went on a quest to discredit Christianity with objective evidence, meeting with experts around the country to try and disprove the Bible. Along the way, Strobel discovered that the evidence for Christianity isn’t all legend and myth. In fact, he came to realize that it would take a bigger leap of faith to continue believing there is no god than it takes to believe. Strobel joined his wife in her newfound faith, and he eventually left journalism to be a pastor and author.

Each expert Strobel consulted is introduced to the reader with a thorough explanation of their education and expertise. As an historian, I appreciated the careful and objective way the Strobel and the experts evaluated the evidence of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. They compare the gospel accounts to each other and other historical sources. They examine the translations of the Bible and how it has been handled over the years. They discuss arguments that skeptics have made over the years and how those arguments line up with the evidence.

The Case for Christ is not really about Strobel’s personal story. That is covered in the introduction, but the body of the book is dense with philosophy, history, and arguments of logic. If you have seen the movie of the same name, which tells Strobel’s personal story, you might be surprised to find that the book is very different. In the movie, the personal story is the main point and the investigation into the historical Christ is just a plot point. The book provides the in-depth research, and the personal story is just the motivation for the quest for information.

If you prefer fiction, check out the movie and take a pass on this book. But if you like to read nonfiction and enjoy arguments and philosophical debates, then this is a good one. It will lead you to a series of excellent resources as well. I haven’t read a lot of dense philosophy since graduating from College, but I enjoyed a taste of it again. It was also nice to see Christianity hold up to intellectual scrutiny. We’re too often reluctant to consider our beliefs as an exercise in both faith and facts. But God is real and alive, not some myth of ancient history, and he holds up to intellectual scrutiny!

 

Good Friday: It is Finished

I can think of nothing better or more important to share with you on this Good Friday morning than the Bible’s own description of this most important weekend.

Matthew 26:36 – Matthew 27:57

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.

Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”

Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome.

The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.

Finally two came forward and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”

Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent.

The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”

“He is worthy of death,” they answered.

Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?”

Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.

But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.

Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”

He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”

After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”

Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”

Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.

Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor.

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”

So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”

Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.

Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.

While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”

But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.

“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.

“Barabbas,” they answered.

“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.

They all answered, “Crucify him!”

“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”

Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is Jesus, the king of the Jews.

Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”

Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.

It is finished. The price is paid. If we stop here, it looks bad, but (spoiler alert) Sunday’s on the way…

Filling up on Cotton Candy

Last week we went on the mother of all road trips. We were away from home for six days, and four of those days we spent driving at least 11 hours per day. The other two days we spent on a college visit and playing tourist in Seattle. It was exhausting, and I still feel off my schedule and behind on everything after four days back at home.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned that I’ve been revamping my eating and exercise habits lately. But eating healthy and getting enough exercise when you’re sitting in the car all day, feasting on gas station snacks and fast food meals, is nearly impossible. One thing I noticed during this trip is that the more junk food was available to me, the less and less it satisfied me. At home, eating a clean diet and getting regular exercise, a rest day feels restful, and a treat is, well, a real treat. But a steady supply of laziness and junk stops satisfying.

On the way home I found myself standing in a truck stop in Montana, looking for a snack to tide me over so we could keep moving without a lunch break. I looked at the candy and chips, but nothing appealed to me. I looked at the beverages, but I just didn’t want another soda (or the ensuing potty break it would necessitate). I could have anything I wanted, and I just didn’t want any of it.

Since we’ve gotten home I have felt the same way about my behavior. I have so much that I need to do to get caught up – laundry, grocery shopping, getting back to the gym, etc., but as soon as I get a spare minute, I waste it playing games on my phone, drawing/coloring, or reading. The whole thing came to a head yesterday when I was praying about what to post this week. I confessed to the Lord that I just felt sluggish and out of touch with writing and with His heart. As soon as I confessed that, I began thinking of the ways I’ve wasted time lately. No wonder I’m unsatisfied, I’ve been filling up on cotton candy.

I’m not saying that you should strictly schedule every second of your day full of practical and efficient busyness. Down time and rest are imperative, and hobbies are wonderful and fulfilling. But it’s just like the treats I ate on the road. When it’s truly a treat, it’s fun and special. When you fill your life with fluff and junk, it stops satisfying.

1 Corinthians 10:31 says “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

Rest when you need rest. Engage in hobbies that allow you to have a creative outlet, physical exercise, or just a good laugh. But don’t fill up on the cotton candy. Fill your days with things that bring glory to God and bless others so your treats can be a treat.

Inspiration Profile: Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. I can’t think of a better way to honor women than to share with you one of the women who inspires me.

I may not be Catholic, but we love and serve the same God, and I appreciate some of Catholicism’s people and practices. Mother Teresa is one of those people.

Here’s the basic biographical info:
Mother Teresa was born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu (don’t ask me how to pronounce that. I’ve heard it on documentaries, but it’s been a while. The English equivalent is Agnes.) She was born in 1910, in an area that is now part of Macedonia. At age 18, Agnes left her family to become a nun and study to become a missionary. Within about a year, she found herself doing missionary work in India, a land that would become her home and mission field for the rest of her life.

Sister Teresa was in India for seventeen years when she felt a strong call to do something new. She felt that God wanted her to live and work among the poorest in Indian slums. She adopted a simple white sari with blue trim as her uniform, and soon had a group of similarly-clad nuns working beside her. In 1950, the Vatican recognized their organization as the Missionaries of Charity.

Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity operated schools, leper houses, orphanages, clinics, and hospice care for the dying. Because of the caste system in India, these poorest of the poor had no hope. They had no resources, and their only opportunity was begging. The Missionaries of Charity brought them dignity and care that they had never dreamed possible.

Many people of all faiths and no faith at all were inspired by Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity. Volunteers from all over the world would show up in Calcutta asking her to teach them, and she would put them to work.

Mother Teresa became an international “celebrity” for her work. Books and documentary films were created about her life. Interviews with Mother Teresa scored audiences around the world. World leaders wanted to know her. She was infinitely quotable, putting her matter-of-fact style into short quotes that encourage us all to love and care for others.

Here are a few of my favorites:
“We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.”
“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Mother Teresa served the people of India for nearly 50 years, and died in Calcutta in 1997. The Missionaries of Charity continue to serve the poor around the world.

In 2016, Mother Teresa was canonized as St. Teresa of Calcutta by Pope Francis.

What women inspire you to love and serve others? Leave a comment and share!

 

Forget the Frock

Ugh. I prepared this post for you a week ago, and then didn’t post it on Friday. I’m blaming the cold medicine…

Easter is coming up in just a couple weeks. Have you shopped for fancy new dresses and ties for your family? Would you like to save some money and make a lasting difference instead? Forget the Frock is a national movement to trade in those one-time holiday purchases for tee shirts that make a difference in the world.

Forget the Frock and our Preferred Partner, Feeding the Orphans from Forget the Frock on Vimeo.

 

This will be my family’s first time participating in Forget the Frock. I ordered this year’s “Preferred Partner” shirt from Feeding the Orphans. They came really quick, in less than a week, and they’re taking orders until the week before Easter, so there is still time to order.

The shirts are made of American-made fabric, and are fair trade produced by men and women who aged out of orphanages in Haiti and were taught garment-making skills. The money I spent on the shirts will provide education, healthcare, and opportunities for orphans in Western Africa. So from seed to Easter Sunday, this shirt provided fair-paying, meaningful employment for American farmers, American fabric producers, Haitian garment workers, the artist who designed the logo, and the staff at Feed the Orphans, plus the proceeds provide for African orphans. That’s a lot of good for just $23 per shirt!

There are other shirts from other partner organizations. Check them all out on the Forget the Frock website. Or pick up a shirt from one of your favorite non-profits!

Have you participated in Forget the Frock? What organization(s) have you supported with this initiative? Comment below to share your story!