Sep 18, 2014

The Case For Christ - Lee Strobel

I've just finished reading Lee Strobel's book "The Case for Christ".  As the crime reporter for the Chicago Tribune, Strobel began asking questions he had like:   Who was Jesus?  A good man? A lunatic?  God?

Here is a few pages excerpted from his book:  "At the time that I was investigating the case for Christ, I was a newspaper reporter, not an archaeologist or historian.  I know the importance of background research, so I was willing to take an interest in ancient sources, but my day-to-day focus was on the here and now.  I moved in a circle where yesterday's news just didn't make the grade.  So I wondered what kind of contemporary evidence I might find to back up - or discredit - Christ's claims.

Then I met Ron. I was a Tribune reporter covering the criminal courts building, a square, gloomy facility next to the Cook County jail in Chicago's west side.  Day after day I watched a steady stream of defendants - most of them clearly guilty - desperately trying to exploit every loophole to avoid the punishment they deserved.  Everybody was looking to cut a deal, to hoodwink the jury, to fool the judge, to beat the rap - anything but take responsibility for what they had done.

Everybody except Ron.  He turned everything upside down. When he was 8 years old, Ron threw a hammer at somebody's head and ended up in juvenile court.  That was his first of many encounters with the law. Later he dropped out of school, got mixed up with drugs, and rose to second-in-command of the Belaires, a vicious street gang that terrorized parts of Chicago.

He got into big-time trouble when he was 21.  A rival gang called the Palmer Street Gaylords brutally assaulted one of Ron's friends, and Ron vowed revenge.  He borrowed a gun and went hunting for Bob, who had led the Gaylord attack.

It didn't take long for Ron to track down a half dozen Gaylords as they were leaving a bar.  Although Bob wasn't among them, his brother Gary was.  A plot quickly formed in Ron's mind:  he decided to murder Gary, and then when Bob showed up at his funeral, Ron would ambush his too.  That way he'd kill two Gaylords.

So Ron jumped out of hiding, thrust the gun into Gary's chest, shouted, "Belaires!" - and pulled the trigger.


The gun misfired.  Now Ron was standing in front of 6 very angry Gaylords.  As they began to come after him, Ron pointed the gun in the air and pulled the trigger again.  This time is went off, sending the Gaylords scattering.

Ron started chasing Gary down the sidewalk, shooting at him as they ran.  Finally one of the bullets found its mark, tearing into Gary's back and lodging next to his liver.  Gary collapsed face-first on the pavement.

Ron came up to him and flipped him over.

"Don't shoot me, man!"  Gary pleaded.  "Don't shoot me again!  Don't kill me!"

But without an ounce of compassion or a moment of hesitation, Ron shoved the gun in Gary's face and pulled the trigger.


This time the gun was empty.

A siren wailed in the distance.  Ron escaped the police, but they promptly issued a warrant for his arrest on a charge of attempted murder.  With Ron's extensive criminal record, a conviction would undoubtedly mean 20 years in the penitentiary.

Ron couldn't stomach that.  He and his girlfriend fled to Canada, then migrated west and ended up in Portland, Oregon, where Ron got his first legitimate job, working in a metal shop.  His coworkers were Christians, and through their influence Ron eventually became a Christian too.

With that his values and character began to change.  His girlfriend became a Christian, and they got married.  They had a little girl named Olivia.  Ron became a model employee, an active church participant, and a well-respected member of the community.

But something kept gnawing at him.  Even though he had been reconciled with God, he hadn't been reconciled with society.  There was still a warrant out for his arrest.  True, the police had stopped looking for him and he probably could have spent the rest of his life in Oregon without getting caught.  still, he felt that the only honest thing to do would be to give himself up and face the possibility of 20 years in prison, away from his family.

Otherwise, he said, he'd be living a lie.  And as a Christian, he decided that simply wasn't an option.

I was there when Ron appeared in criminal court.  Amazingly, unlike the other defendants, who were trying to wiggle off the hook, Ron looked into the judge's eyes and basically said, "I'm guilty.  I did it.  I'm responsible.  If I need to go to prison, that's OK.  But I've become a Christian, and the right thing to do is to admit what I've done and to ask for forgiveness.  What I did was wrong, plain and simple, and I'm sorry.  I really am."

I was blown away!  When somebody takes a costly step like that, you know it must be prompted by a faith that has radically transformed him or her from deep inside.

And that attracted me.  Why?  Because we are living in wishy-washy times, when the national motto might as well be, "Take the easy way out."  So when someone says, "I'm going to do something not because it's convenient or easy but because it's right,"  that's a person I can respect.  When you look around these days, you don't see many heroes.  But in an odd kind of way, Ron became a hero to me.

I was so intrigued by what Ron did what I asked him about it.  When he told me how Jesus had changed him from a street gang leader into a Christ follower, he had my complete attention, and he had a special kind of credibility.  Both his example and his words made a lasting impression on me.  (And on the judge, too by the way.  He let Ron go free because of the incredible change in Ron's life.  Today, Ron is using his freedom to serve young people in a public housing project.)

I had been asking whether there was any evidence outside the Bible that Christ was real and that the Christian faith meant something.  Ron's changed life sure looked like that kind of evidence."

There's little question that Jesus actually lived.  But miracles?  Rising from the dead?  Some of the stories you hear about him sound like just that - stories.  A reasonable person would never believe them, let alone the claim that he's the only way to God!

At the conclusion of his journey whereby he closely investigated the accuracy of biblical claims about who Jesus really was, he drew up a series of conclusions.  I will include a few here:
IF ...
Then ...
Jesus is the Son of God ...
His teachings are more than just good ideas from a wise teacher; they are God's own insights  on which I can confidently build my life.
Jesus sets the standard for morality...
I can have an unchanging foundation for my choices and decisions, rather than basing them on the changing values of what seems to gt me ahead in a particular situation.
Jesus did rise from the dead ...
He's still alive today and available for me to encounter on a personal basis.
Jesus conquered death...
He can open the door of eternal life for me, too.
Jesus has divine power...
He has the supernatural ability to guide me and transform me as I follow him.
Jesus personally knows the pain of loss and suffering...
He can comfort and encourage me when things go wrong.
Jesus loves me as he says...
He has my best interests at heart.  That means I have nothing to lose and everything of gain by committing myself to him.
Jesus is who he claims to be...
As my Creator, he deserves my obedience and worship.

Have you made your decision on who Jesus is?  Have you made your peace with Him?   The bible is clear that Jesus is returning for those who are have decided to believe on Him and are in obedience to His teachings.  Each and every indication we have is that his return is quite near.  Decide Now....Today to believe that He was who He said He was....the Son of God, sent to save us from our sin.   Ask Him into your heart and he will make an incredible change in your life!

12 "Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.14 "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. 16"I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star." 17 The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. 18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. 20 He who testifies to these thingssays, "Yes, I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. 21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen.  -Revelation:12

Lee Strobel, educated at Yale Law School, was an award winning with the Chicago Tribune and a spiritual skeptic until 1981.  He is a teaching pastor at Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, California.

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