Thank you, Missouri Baptists, for enthusiastically supporting the MBC’s new apologetics ministry. Over the last year, I have been privileged to speak or lead workshops in many churches across the state to help Christians “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 3).
Topics have ranged from “How do I know the Bible is true?” to “What do false prophets have in common?”
As many of you know, apologetics simply is “a reasonable defense of the Christian faith.” For followers of Jesus there has never been a more important time to know what we believe, why we believe, and how to share our faith with an increasingly skeptical world.
The apostle Peter urges us to “set apart the Messiah as Lord in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).
A surviving waiter, quivering as he looks up from the carnage, asks, “Why?”
Before walking out the door, the panda tosses the waiter a poorly punctuated wildlife manual and replies, “Look it up.”
The waiter searches for the relevant entry and reads aloud: “Panda. Large, black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”
This joke serves as the namesake for Lynne Truss’s best-selling book, “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.”
It also reminds us how easily our language may be mangled – or manipulated – so that two people using the same words can intend totally different meanings.
In Cholula, Mexico, stands the Church of Our Lady of Remedies. It sits atop the largest archaeological site in the Americas — a pyramid laced with catacombs and filled with artifacts from pre-colonial days.
According to some accounts, the natives of Cholula refused to welcome Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes in the 16th century. So to teach them a lesson, Cortes massacred thousands and ordered the people to build 365 Catholic Churches, one for each day of the year.
They never reached their goal, but Cortes made his point: The Aztecs were a conquered people, and their religion was subjugated to Roman Catholicism.
The Aztecs understood this — or should have. Previously, they were the conquerors and had built their sacred sites atop those of other indigenous peoples.
An interesting side effect is that none of the religions remained pure. Rather, each incorporated some of the beliefs and practices of the previous peoples into their religious life.
As a result, in many parts of Latin America today Roman Catholicism is a skin stretched over the ancient bones of animistic and pagan practices that find open expression outside the Catholic Church in religions like Santeria and Voodoo.
If you believe doomsayers or John Cusack movies, the world will end Dec. 21. That’s the date of the so-called Mayan Apocalypse, when an important cycle of the Maya Long Count Calendar draws to a close.
Not to worry. End-of-days predictions have made and broken pundits and self-proclaimed prophets for millennia. Not to be outdone by religious fanaticism, contemporary culture embraces the drama of a cataclysmic end to the world.
For example, in the 1979 film “Mad Max,” a shortage of fossil fuels drives the breakdown of society, prompting leather-clad motorcyclists to terrorize anyone with a full tank of petrol.
In “Planet of the Apes,” astronaut George Taylor discovers he has traveled through space and time, returning to an earth where humans are mute and loud-mouthed armor-wearing apes are in charge.
Three-year-old Colton Burpo had a near-death experience (NDE) while on the operating table. When it was over, he described his “three minutes in heaven” in vivid detail, including encounters with Samson, John the Baptist, and Jesus, who had sea-blue eyes and owned a rainbow-colored horse.
Colton’s father, a Wesleyan pastor, believes the lad’s experience was real because he shared it with “the simple conviction of an eyewitness.”
You may read Colton’s story in Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, which ruled the best-seller list for 44 weeks. Millions of people have devoured the book and watched the youngster’s appearances on TV shows.
Less popular but equally intriguing are books about NDEs in which people “die” for brief periods and experience the horrors of hell. To Hell and Back by cardiologist Maurice Rollins, for example, tells us that hellish NDEs have to be recorded and verified immediately after the person “returns” or the horrifying memories will be repressed.
In any case, stories like Colton’s appeal to our desire to know more about the afterlife.