Was the Jesus Story Borrowed from Pagan Myths?

The Internet is full of blog posts, social media postings, and videos that argue the story of Jesus Christ, specifically his rising from the dead, was borrowed from ancient pagan myths. Recently, a Huffington Post article by Karl Wilder titled “Losing My Religion” has circulated widely, resurrecting (pardon the pun) this attack on Christianity. In the article, Wilder writes: “I read the ‘myths’ Mithras and Orsis etc. I discovered that the bulk of the Jesus story was lifted and that his image came from Mithras, a white European god.”

In this highly informative video, several scholars put to rest this widely discredited, yet unfortunately still pervasive false allegation against Christianity…

There’s no valid reason for anyone to seriously think that Christianity borrowed the resurrection or any other aspect of Jesus’ life from any source. The reason Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead is because….he did!

5 Takeaways for Christians in the Robin Williams Suicide Tragedy

Robin Williams in 2006

Robin Williams in 2006

As with most people, my heart grieves with the family and friends of Robin Williams. Unfortunately, as a pastor and Christian, my heart also grieves at how many professing Christians have responded to this great tragedy. It’s my prayer that the loss of Robin Williams will serve as a wake-up call to our society in general, and believers in Christ in particular, on how we can better serve those crippled by severe depression and/or who wrestle with varying degrees of mental illness as well as their loved ones.

Robin Williams was one of the most gifted entertainers in modern history, and was a regular screen presence during my childhood and teenage years. I first remember seeing Robin Williams as “Mork from Ork” in the TV series Happy Days, which I watched regularly with my parents while growing up. The scene where Mork took on Fonzi at Al’s Diner is among the most memorable episodes, though it was (I admit) ridiculously far-fetched and over-the-top (but that’s what made it hilariously fun). And like many Happy Days fans, I went on to watch Mork and Mindy for many years. And then enjoyed several of Robin Williams’ movies. Admittedly, some of Williams’ humor was too edgy and risque for me. As a Christian, I can’t endorse all of what Williams said or believed in his lifetime, but there’s much to like and admire in Williams, particularly the great friend he was to our men and women in uniform via the USO.

It was on my birthday that Robin Williams took his life. My wife and I were eating pizza with one of our friends from college, when our friend checked his smart phone and saw the headline. We immediately turned on the news, and like most of America and the world, mourned the loss of such a great entertainer. For the last several days, the tributes from all corners of the world and society have been moving, fun, and memorable. Unfortunately, the reaction from some parts of the Christian community has been disappointing.

Predictably, the vile cult which calls itself “Westboro Baptist Church” has announced plans to picket Robin Williams’ funeral and has produced signs showing the late actor and comedian burning in hell. Most people hopefully know that the Westboro cult doesn’t speak for most Christians, but sadly many other voices from within the Christian community haven’t been much better – especially when you look on various blogs and social media. Many professing Christians have condemned Williams for the suicide, expressing little to no sensitivity for the depression and mental illness with which he suffered. Others have trotted out the all-too-pervasive (and heretical) doctrine that a person who commits suicide goes straight to hell, since suicide is (according to their false belief) an unforgivable sin. And, of course, others have chosen this moment to point out that Williams is likely in hell anyway, since (they say) he never trusted in Jesus Christ (even though, it turns out, he may have done just that)! In one discussion I’m involved in on Facebook, several of my fellow Christians are more interested in building a biblical case of condemnation against Williams and other suicide victims than they are in showing kindness, grace, and compassion. After several days of seeing all this, I’m frankly grieved at the state of the Christian church today and the complete inability and unwillingness of some to truly manifest the grace and love of Jesus Christ at a time when such grace and love is most needed.

While I certainly don’t pretend to be a leading expert on all the various issues related to this tragedy, I do believe there are some lessons – some takeaways – we as Christians should take to heart in light of the Robin Williams suicide. And I offer them humbly, respectfully, and sensitively for your prayerful consideration:

  1. Our first reaction to a tragedy should be to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). The best and most appropriate course of action for Christians (and for anybody, for that matter) is to do what Job’s friends did at first when they came upon their friend’s suffering. When they first came upon Job, they sat with them “for seven days and seven nights” and “no one said a word” (Job 2:13). It was when they started talking that they got themselves into trouble and added to Job’s troubles. What a lesson for us today! Because that’s exactly how it is with so many Christians. A tragedy comes along, and we start pontificating about why God caused it or allowed it – and start pronouncing judgments about the people involved, when in reality, we should quite often just keep our mouths shut!
  2. We must seek knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 18:13, 15). Before we open our mouth, we need to know what we’re talking about! If you don’t understand mental illness, don’t pontificate about in on social media or at the water cooler at work or anywhere. This applies to mental illness, depression, and suicide as well as frankly to any subject, be it sexual orientation, immigration, various biblical doctrines, etc. Education should always precede expression. And if you get drawn into a discussion on a subject with which you’re unfamiliar, ask questions and learn about the subject. Many Christians believe that because they know a Bible verse or two, they are an expert on the matter at hand and are fully qualified to weigh in on the matter. What a bunch of nonsense! So many Christians have done great harm by flinging Bible verses at people without any understanding of or sensitivity toward the people with whom they’re speaking. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
  3. We must be “slow to speak” (James 1:19). Why do so many Christians feel it necessary to quickly jump on their soap box whenever a community or family experiences a tragedy? The first thing we should do is simply grieve with those who are hurting (see point #1). And then we must take the time to educate ourselves and increase in wisdom (see point #2). With these things in mind, there will come a time when it’s appropriate, even necessary, to speak on various matters. And when that time comes….we must do so with care, patience, and wisdom. We should, as a general rule, we “slow to speak” and “quick to listen” (James 1:19). Sadly, most people (Christians included) are just the opposite! And when it comes to issues like depression, mental illness, suicide, all we’re doing is making the situation worse when we do that.
  4. Condemning a suicide victim serves NO useful purpose and is frankly no longer our place, since the person is now before God (Hebrews 9:27). It astonishes (and outrages) me how many people are condemning Robin Williams for the choice he made to take his life. One Christian with whom I discussed this called it “blasphemy” and a “monstrous evil.” Really? How helpful is that!? First, it’s appallingly insensitive to the family and friends a suicide victim leaves behind. They’re already dealing with enough shock and pain. They don’t need you to pile on with colorful denunciations. Second, the person is now before the Righteous Judge. God will settle all accounts. He knows the circumstances, the person’s state of mind, all the variables and the complexities and nuances. He knows everything. God is that person’s judge. Not us. When a person tragically ends his or her life, our role is to support the family and friends the person leaves behind. And to help others who are faced with the same or similar set(s) of circumstances, temptations, mental illness, etc. that led folks like Robin Williams to their tragic earthly end.
  5. Choices are not made in a vacuum. Yes, Robin Williams made a choice. Yes, it was a tragic choice. But Robin Williams didn’t make his choice as a philosopher in a classroom. He made it in the crippling grip of depression, while tormented by mental illness and with the onset of (we’ve just learned) Parkinson’s Disease. And this is where immense wisdom and sensitivity are needed. We don’t want people driven toward suicidal thoughts to feel that they’re on some kind of inevitable, hopeless path. We want to give them hope and encourage them to make the right choices, namely to get the help they need. At the same time, we must not lump all choices together into some kind of one-size-fits-all category. Choices are made within contexts of internal mind states and external circumstances, and these contexts are complex and unique. And, frankly, only God can fully grasp or understand the in’s and out’s of each of these unique contexts. And that’s why, at times like these, I leave all judgment to God and choose to extend nothing but grace, mercy, and love toward those like Robin Williams and their loved ones.

While I certainly do not believe our society should celebrate or endorse suicide, I nevertheless believe very passionately that we must show compassion, grace, and love to those drawn toward suicide and those impacted by it. And, in that spirit, it is my hope and desire that Robin Williams truly did accept Christ and that he is now experiencing firsthand the peace of God in the presence of his Savior. But whatever may have been Robin Williams’ relationship with Christ, my hope and prayer is that his family and friends will be drawn toward Christ’s love and hope during this time. And I hope that they will see that love, compassion, in hope in all of Christ’s followers on this earth. Sadly, I’m not sure that’s the case.

**You should also check out “Do Christians Who Commit Suicide Go to Hell?”

If You’re Not Proud to be an American….Make Room for Someone Who Will Be!

Bring back American Patriotism

Bring back American Patriotism

As a Christian blogger, my focus is usually on issues concerning Christian living, theology, and Christian apologetics. On this Fourth of July, I feel it’s appropriate to shine a little light on our country and the attitude many Americans have toward it. Accordingly, this particular blog post is for those of my readers living in the United States.

The Decline of Patriotism

According to a recent poll, 44 percent of U.S. respondents say they are not proud to be Americans. That means barely a majority of Americans value their country and count themselves duly proud to be a part of it. In years past, this would have been scandalous! Today, very few people even batted an eye. :-(

The biggest reason for our nation’s decline in patriotism is almost certainly our culture’s apathy and indifference to anything beyond ourselves. In the last 50 years, we’ve seen our work ethic compromised, our attention spans shrink, and our commitment to anything beyond ourselves more or less evaporate. We are obsessed with celebrity lifestyles, social trends, fashion, and entertainment – and, most of all, ourselves. We are shamelessly narcissistic. Even when we do get patriotic, it’s only enough to perhaps put an American flag decal on our car or maybe go to a Fourth of July fireworks show or (if we’re really motivated) throw on a Team USA soccer jersey during the World Cup! When it comes to volunteering for military service, gas rationing, or actually paying attention in US history class, only some of our fellow citizens can be counted on for that. As CNN pointed out in 2012, the decline in patriotic enthusiasm between the 1940s and today is dramatic and depressing. You can thank human nature for this — human nature fueled by television, the Internet, social media, and an increasingly shallow (yet incredibly comprehensive and deeply immersive) entertainment culture. Yet this isn’t the only problem.

The recent poll shows that liberals are much less likely to be patriotic than conservatives. This should come as no surprise to those who pay attention to societal trends. Liberals tend to be much more cynical about America’s history and tend to be much less committed to our nation’s heritage (especially the Founders). As self-styled “progressives,” they’re more interested in looking “forward”(as opposed to backward) unless it’s to pay tribute to a select few Americans they deem as exceptions to their prejudice against America’s past. To be sure, many liberals are very patriotic, particularly the classic liberals like my maternal grandfather who worked the West Virginia coal mines, fought in World War II, and voted proudly for FDR, LBJ, and JFK! In stark contrast to patriots like my grandfather, there’s another kind of liberal. The liberals least likely to love America are those who are products of the counter-cultural movement of the 1960s and 70s and/or who are fans of Howard Zinn, Bill Ayers, Noam Chomsky, Jeremiah Wright, and Che Guevara. These folks can be described best as “leftists” rather than liberals. As a pastor and Christian blogger, I try to limit how much I address political matters, but I find this lack of patriotism among such leftists to be deeply disturbing and totally inexcusable.

Patriotism in America

We were founded by men and women who were (collectively speaking – there are always exceptions, but collectively speaking) firmly dedicated to the birth and success of the United States. When our Founding Fathers approved the Declaration of Independence, they affixed their signatures to a document that publicly announced their willingness to sacrifice their “lives,” “fortunes,” and “sacred honor.” In other words, they put everything on the line – and some of them indeed paid that price, with a few losing their lives, others losing loved ones, several sacrificing their health, and many losing all their possessions. When you factor in the contributions and sacrifices made by the Founders’ families as well as that of our Continental Army soldiers and their families (as we should), what the founding generation did for our country should fill all of us with gratitude and respect.

Over the course of America’s history, this spirit of dedicated resolve permeated our families, our culture, and the workplace as we (in a very short period of time) skyrocketed to prominence, becoming the most prosperous and powerful nation in the world by our 200th birthday.

From the American Revolution through the Reagan years, a strong majority of Americans (notwithstanding the four-year Civil War and a brief time of “malaise” during Jimmy Carter’s weak presidency) were justly proud of their heritage, their system of government, and the amazing progress our nation had made in such a short period of time. And they were dedicated to working hard and making sacrifices to keep their nation great.

Unfortunately, with each decade since the Reagan years, the level of patriotism in America has decreased. The only exception was an all-too-brief surge in patriotism after the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01. It shouldn’t take an attack on our nation to inspire love of country and national unity. It takes the resolve of ordinary people like us to sustain our nation.

So if you aren’t willing to love America, then why don’t you relocate to another country and make room for someone who will appreciate the freedom, prosperity, and opportunity this great nation offers. In saying that, I’m not trying to be mean. I’m just being real. As George Washington said in his Farewell Address, your country ”has a right to concentrate your affections.” If you’re living in the United States and are not willing to give it your affections, then kindly make room for someone who will.

For the rest of us, let’s resolve to do our part in celebrating our great nation and fighting to keep it truly great.

**Don’t miss Dinesh D’Souza’s movie America**

If You Want to be Happy….Follow Christ

happy faceJust about everyone wants to be happy. And in years past, most Americans understood that faith played an important role in the quest for happiness. To be sure, not everyone considered faith important, and even those who considered it important didn’t always give it the priority of attention it deserves. Nevertheless, there was a general consensus that faith was important to personal happiness and that you were better off to have a relationship with God as opposed to not having such a relationship. And for most of American history, most people believed in God and had a fairly high level of respect for Christian traditions and “the Good Book.”

Today, particularly it would seem with the rising Millennial generation, God and religion are increasingly out and spirituality is in. And what is spirituality? For most, it’s a choice to pursue an abstract, mysterious, pantheistic (or at least semi-pantheistic) alternative to any kind of individual, supernatural Being. Spirituality is immensely popular in self-help circles, Yoga, Buddhism, Hinduism, and so forth. It’s the worldview (or, I should say, universe-view) of Deepak Chopra, Bob Proctor, Joe Vitale, Esther Hicks, Rhonda Byrne, etc, etc.

Please understand that I support the political, civil, and legal right of every person to pursue (or not pursue) whatever religion, social, political, or spiritual worldview each person decides. What’s more, I believe that we should not only respect everyone’s civil rights in these areas, but I likewise believe we should extend courtesy and kindness to everyone regardless of their religious, spiritual, or political views. But this doesn’t mean that all choices are the best ones to make. Some points of view (including political or religious views) are wrong. If someone said that two plus two equals five, I would be kind to them and support their legal right to hold that view, but their view would be wrong.

Let me also say that my motive isn’t to prove people wrong. It’s not about that. My self-esteem is not at all dependent on how many people agree with my religious worldview. People can disagree with me all they want. That’s not the issue. What matters is the truth. When it comes to religion and spirituality, we’re not talking about ice cream flavors or favorite soccer teams. We’re talking about things like inner peace, happiness, ultimate reality, and the fate of one’s eternal soul. The stakes are high. This is serious business, and we must be very cautious and very thoughtful with our choices.

And as we make those choices, it’s certainly reasonable for us to confront Jesus of Nazareth, who said: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10b, NKJV). Who was Jesus? And what did Jesus mean by “abundant life”? And how can we have that kind of life?

When we confront those questions, we find that Jesus was an actual, historical figure, and that the evidence for his death and resurrection is overwhelming. This makes Jesus a much more unique and extraordinary figure in history than anyone else, whether we’re talking about Buddha, Mohammed, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Oprah Winfrey, or Nelson Mandela. Great as their contributions to history may have been, none of those people claimed to be God in the flesh and none of them rose from the dead! Thus, I find it completely incomprehensible for people to ignore Jesus while pursuing happiness. Jesus is not the kind of person one can logically ignore.

If Jesus is who he said he was (and his resurrection should settle that for anyone), I can’t think of anyone else who I’d want to hear from when it comes to happiness and the meaning of life. If you want to be happy, pursue Jesus. No one understands that subject better than him.

**Be sure to check out “Does God Exist? The Universe Says YES!”