On Memorizing Scripture – Part 2

I have been trying to write this post for at least two weeks, but other things got in the way. This may be considered Part 2 of the post I titled On Memorizing Scripture.

In that post I said I have been memorizing the Book of Philippians. I also mentioned that when I read the Bible I go very slowly, and sometimes it takes me days to move forward because I keep thinking and thinking about one particular word, or verse, and then I go on rabbit trails.

So I was in the book of Philippians for probably two solid months – reading it every day, and reading my commentary along with it. It is not a particularly long book. You can read it in one sitting, and be done with it in less than an hour. My commentary, however, has at least five to ten pages to read for every three or four verses. So it took me a long time, but I just finished two days ago 🙂

I truly loved Philippians 3:1-16.

I was fascinated by diving deeper into this section. I was convicted by the words of Paul, and I was also deeply encouraged in my walk and my pursuit of Christ. I felt a lot of love for my Savior. And that might sound cliché, because every Christian should love Jesus, correct? But I personally never had emotions and/or affections that arose deep from within my heart when I was exposed to the Word of God.

I had never experienced that until I began studying Biblical Doctrine.

Paul has so much passion when he talks about Christ – it is contagious. He wants to know Christ. He wants to gain Christ. He wants to be found in Christ. And as I have said, I usually go on rabbit trails trying to find out what all that means. There are things that I cannot relate to when I look at Paul’s life. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything to teach me, of course. But there are other things that I can practically apply to my own life.

Daniel Aurelius on September 30th, 2020.
He was upset the ultrasound tech woke him up.

So that whole section in Phil. 3:1-16, really gave me hope. It also made me ponder on questions like: How do I gain Christ? What does it mean to be found in Christ? How do I keep pressing on to make Christ my own? How do I forget what lies behind, and keep pressing on what lies ahead?

I want an answer to all these questions because I want to follow Christ as Paul followed Christ. The fact that I am not Paul does not grant me an excuse to not pursue Christ in the same way Paul pursued Christ. Actually, Paul is instructing the Philippians to imitate him, and to keep their eyes on those who walk according to the example they had in Paul (Phil. 3: 17). So Paul is assuming we will be doing this – imitating him as he imitates Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). As we do so, we in turn can encourage others to do the same.

I want to do that. I want to look for people who will encourage me and keep me accountable to live a life worthy of the calling to which I have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-3).

I want my love to abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment so that I may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ (Phil 1:9-10). I want to orient my heart towards God in such a way that I can confidently say, without the shadow of a doubt, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21).

The whole Book of Philippians was amazing.

October 1st, 2020. Evening walk after eating Enzo’s cake.

Something that truly struck me was the fact that the apostle Paul was actually hard pressed between two choices – to remain in the flesh or to be with Christ. He was just not using figure of speech. And it convicted me deeply because I am not struggling with that choice. I know that were God to give me an option today, I would choose to remain. There is so much work left for me to do – or at least I think so. My children need me.

I am pregnant. The child in my womb needs to hear the gospel. I know Christ is more valuable than life itself, but I want to remain in the flesh for their progress and joy in the faith (Phil 1:25). I don’t feel like Paul yet, but it was good for me to understand that I should be fighting my self-desires that go against the self-dying that is necessary for my family, and that as time passes, God willing, my desire to be in heaven should be ever growing.

It was good to know, that Paul’s conviction was rooted in his knowledge of God’s sovereignty. Paul was trusting in God’s will – regardless of the outcome. So his joy was the result of growing closer to the Lord Jesus.

Paul really wants to depart and be with Christ. Am I in sin if I do not feel that way?

The whole book of Philippians sings with joy, and Paul’s desire for his entire life to revolve around Christ – his Savior. It made me want to sing, too.

When studying theology does not prompt us to adoration, we must question whether we are more concerned to puff ourselves up with knowledge than to glorify God. I have sinned greatly in this area. I have confessed that, and I have repented of studying theology for the sake of  head knowledge in the past. The Lord has been very gracious to me in that arena. I know He has forgiven me.

But now more than ever, when I think about the ways my life has been transformed within the last four years, I have come to the realization that it wasn’t counseling what transformed my world. It wasn’t a book on how to deal with abuse that produced perseverance, forgiveness, and compassion. It wasn’t a magic formula on how to raise godly children what has helped me remain faithful in my parenting when I don’t see the fruit of the Spirit in my children’s lives. Nothing special about me has made me mature spiritually.

My life has changed as a result of being taught the Word. This has happened through many means: podcasts, Bible Study, and particularly, my local church. And this is something that didn’t happen in one day, it was a long process. That process is still happening and will continue to happen until the day I see Christ. As I read my Bible, listened to sermons or podcasts, God worked in me.

Enzo’s early birthday celebration in case Daniel is born on Enzo’s birthday.

By God’s grace I am living like Paul lived. I am not talking about sinless perfection for I sin every day. But it is a mercy and a grace from God to be able to see that I am growing in holiness – even my husband has noticed some of that change. So I know it’s actually happening, and that I am not making that up.

And you know what? That process has actually involved suffering. Granted, maybe not like Paul’s, but suffering nonetheless. I have struggled with seeing my idols being stepped on, and fighting for the Lord to be my portion. I have had to confess my unbelief to God in times of anxiety. I have had to recognize that my desires and my wandering often pull my away from Christ. Sometimes I really think I can do all things through ME.

But with Paul I can say, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Phil. 3:12).

Paul did not consider that he had made it his own (Phil. 3:13). Me neither. But with Paul, I do one thing: forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead. I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:14)

This section comes after Paul lists his pedigree as a Pharisee, and lists all the things that could have made him rely on his own righteousness, rather than the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ – the righteousness of God that depends on faith (Phil. 3:9).

The most astounding fact is that in this spiritual growth in my life, God has been the driving force – not me. That is not to say that I am NOT pursuing Christ because I am. But the fact that I am pursuing Christ springs from God himself, who is working and orchestrating that desire in me.

Who, then, does the actual work? Is it God, or is it I?

The answer is: YES!

Philippians 2:12-13, says:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

This comes as Paul’s instruction to the Philippians after he has explained the humiliation and exaltation of Christ, and the reason why we, as Christians, should be the most humble of peoples – willing to sacrifice for others and serve them.

Therefore – because of all that Paul just said in Philippians 2:1-11 – they should be working out their salvation with fear and trembling. This has nothing to do with earning one’s salvation. Paul is very clear in his other epistles, that justification (being declared righteous, having peace with God and not condemnation from Him) is by grace alone, through faith alone. And we contribute nothing to that process.

But in the process of sanctification (which is becoming more and more like Christ) we do play an active role. We have the responsibility to actively pursue obedience. And as we do pursue Christ, the Lord by His indwelling Holy Spirit is who actually produces the good works and spiritual fruit in our lives.

Now everything that I just said is doctrinal in nature. The whole Bible is a doctrinal book. I have personally grown in these areas because I have been exposed to great sound teachers online, but more importantly because my pastor feeds me the Word of God. He cares for my soul as he preaches on Sundays.

I am always beating the horse on social media that we, women, are biblically illiterate. Men are biblically illiterate, too, but I am not talking to men here.

Now, I am not saying women do not know how to read. But I am saying that we are not provided, for the most part, with the tools we need in order to read the text, contextualize the text, apply a good hermeneutic to the text, and exegete the text in such a way that we can actually detect false teaching. So I am not surprised when many women think I am a hater when I tell them their favorite Women Bible teacher is a false teacher, or when many Christians are falling for false gospels like the ones espoused in the Woke Church Movement.

That’s what gaining 17 lbs. looks like LOL!

This has been obvious to me for a while, the fact that we need to learn biblical doctrine. But it wasn’t until I had a conversation with a friend of mine the other day that I realized I was wrong in assuming people knew what I meant. I wish I had all the time in the world to write every single thought that comes to my mind regarding this, but I will try to provide some examples of what I mean when I say we should go deeper, and pursue Christ harder.

I was listening the other day to a sermon I heard by John Piper. He preached it in 1984, when I was a one year-old. I’m not entirely sure if Piper has gone fully Woke – that would be a disgrace. I can tell you I trust the John Piper of 1984, and that’s why I am willing to write about this sermon.

Piper quotes from the book The Pursuit of God, written in 1948, in which Tozer writes:

How tragic that we in this dark day have had our seeking done for us by our teachers. Everything is made to center upon the initial act of ‘accepting’ Christ . . . and we are not expected thereafter to crave any further revelation of God to our souls. We have been snared in the coils of a spurious logic which insists that if we have found Him, we need no more seek Him.

According to Piper, the Spirit is not deadening; he is addicting. I agree with that. The evidence that you have HIM – the Spirit, indwelling you – is that you want more of HIM. Continued indifference to growth in grace is a sign of NO grace.

Matthew Henry is right: “Wherever there is true grace there is a desire for more grace.”

Paul went hard after Christ, forsaking all the things people normally boast about; and he did it in order to know Him. Why did Paul do this? Because knowing Christ is a value that surpasses everything else. The evidence of conversion is whether or not you continue to pursue Christ, obeying Chrsit, and walking in holiness (Heb. 12:14).

Again, that doesn’t mean you never sin again, or that Christians cannot fall into grievous patterns of sinning. But if you have been really given a new heart (Eze. 36:26), if you have been made alive after being dead in sin and trespasses (Eph. 2:1-10), if you have been transferred from the dominion of darkness into Jesus’ Kingdom (Col 1:13), then now you are not who you were before Christ. So it is literally IMPOSSIBLE that if you have the Holy Spirit indwelling you, you will remain loving your sin.

A born-again person has a new heart with new desires. He wants to please the Lord in everything he does. A genuine convert enjoys fellowship with Christ (1 John 1:6), she is sensitive to the sin in her life (1 John 2:3), she is obedient to God, she rejects the world (1 John 2:15-17). She loves other Christians, she experiences answered prayer, she sees a decreased pattern of sin in her life (1 John 3:5-10), she is rejected by her faith in many cases (Phil. 1:28). She is able to discern between spiritual truth and error.

Tozer rejected the false logic which says, “If you have found God in Christ, you need no more seek him.”

All this is doctrinal in nature. It involves an understanding of the Doctrine of Regeneration, and what it means to be truly converted. Is it a simple prayer you pray, or is it God who causes you to be alive, and therefore, you put your faith in Christ as a result? What happens at conversion? More importantly, who makes it happen? God in His Sovereignty or you in your Free Will? And while I respect what you think, it is not about what you or I think, but about what the Bile actually says.

These are things that may not matter to you right now, but I can guarantee you, they will matter when your daughter is crying because she doesn’t know if she is truly saved. She sees her sin, she sees that God is holy, and she has this sinful pattern of behavior that she can’t seem to break away from. God forbid I give her a false assurance based on that one time where she said she repented, and that prayer that she said she spoke. That is NOT what the Bible tells me to tell her. The Bible never calls her to accept Jesus into her heart, but to repent and believe. And to keep repenting and to keep believing is the Christian life.

Paul commands my daughter to examine herself to see if she is really in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). You may say, “Well, Paul is not Jesus. And Jesus loves her.”

Sure… I guess?

To accept that answer would only reveal a lack of understanding of the Doctrine of Inspiration, and who exactly wrote the Bible. Are Paul’s words to be taken as commands, or just as good advice for wholly living? Paul indicates what he writes are God’s commands (1 Cor. 13:37). This actually is one of the many loopholes female Bible teachers use in order to say they can actually be pastors. They are following Jesus’ calling for their lives, you see. They have this deep desire in their hearts, and if the desire is there, then it must have come from God, right?

Uh… no. They are being disobedient, because the same apostle who commands us to rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4), also says, “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.” (1 Timothy 2:12). Very unpopular now a days, but that’s what the Scripture says. Are we going to submit ourselves to it or not? You can watch this debate if you’re interested to know more about those passages.

Should Women Preach in Our Lord’s Day Worship Services?

The same with homosexuality. Was that only forbidden back in the Old Testament days, but really, Jesus is pleased with those relationships as long as they are monogamous and committed as Jen Hatmaker says? Is homosexual so-called marriage even a marriage? What is marriage? Why was it created by God? Who says it has to be between a man or a woman? By what standard are we supposed to evaluate the culture? Another great debate on that here.

Is Homosexuality Consistent with New Testament Obedience?

So we need to go deeper in pursuing Christ and His Word so that we can be rooted and grounded firmly in our faith. We need this not only to be able to defend it, but so that we ourselves are kept from following false teachings, and are not tossed back and from by the winds of this godless culture.

What has changed my perspective in the areas of womanhood, marriage, parenting, and Christian love has been going hard after the living Christ. And that has been accomplished through the study of theology.

You see, it is not that I was not a Christian before becoming intensely persuaded that women need theology. It is not that I was not secure in Christ. But there was really a way in which I did not really know the God I worshipped. I was very content knowing Jesus. However, I was not really pursuing Him. I think I romanticized Him, and I thought everything was about me, when in reality it is all about Him. And in our minds, we have no trouble saying God is in control, but when things really get rocky, we cry, “Why is this happening to me?”

The fact that I was struggling in my marriage, and my child was out of control, really made me bow down to the God of the Scriptures, and for the first time I saw Him in ways I had never done before. I understood what grace really is. Again, while not vocally confessing it, I was living for my glory – not God’s.

Going deeper in my knowledge of who Christ is has also helped me to become a better mom, and a better friend. I also hope I have become a better wife. I will ask Emerson. LOL!

Enzo loves Daniel already 🙂

Biblical doctrine has helped me to fight the daily battles in my mind. Sometimes I get sad out of the blue. I recognize lies that are whispered by the enemy of my soul. And that’s why I have loved memorizing big chunks of Scripture with the children. When Libby was sad about her sin, I was able to pray for her, and all that was coming out of my mouth was the Scriptures. I was able to confront her in her sin, encourage her to pursue Christ, and assure her that she will never be sinless. I also told her that if indeed the Holy Spirit lives in her, then He will keep on testifying to her that she is a child of God (Rom. 8:16). And that if so, then no one will ever be able to separate her from His love, and we began quoting together the new chunk that we are memorizing beginning in Rom 8:28.

When life brings suffering, I want to rely on the Doctrine of the Sovereignty of God. I want to trust that my God ordains all the things that come to pass for my good (Rom 8:28-32). I want to trust that even on the days when I’m feeling like trash (because I have days like that), my God has blessed me with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3).

It is the Doctrine of Election that takes a hold of my heart, and helps me focus my attention and redirect my heart to the God who chose me in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). And his choosing had NOTHING to do with my performance, or how I would be feeling on that particular day, but He chose me so that I would be holy and blameless before Him, and to the praise of His glorious grace (Eph. 1:5). He chose me according to the purpose of His will (Eph. 1:5) in order to demonstrate that it does not depend on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy (Rom 9:14-18).

He gave me mercy. He gave me compassion. What else do I need?

Maybe I have been saying these things regarding theology, and people think my life is boring and consumed by books. Well, of course I read books. But I am talking about devouring the Bible. Doctrine comes FROM the Bible.

In days when I feel worthless or super unproductive (that has happened lately as I have grown super tired because of my pregnancy ), I remember the Doctrine of the Atonement. And no, I don’t say, “Atonement is the reconciliation of God and humankind through Jesus Christ. DONE. I feel much better.”

No, I tell myself that no matter how I am feeling, I am not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. I tell myself that I have been crucified with Christ, and it is not longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And that the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I tell my heart not to put its trust on how much I can do with the children for school lately because if righteousness were through the law, or through all these things that are good in themselves – if Christ really died for those, if I begin to rely on all I can do to make myself feel better – the Christ died for no purpose (Gal. 2:15-21).

I can go on and on giving more and more examples on how this has helped me personally in my faith. But I guess I just want to encourage the women who might be reading this that they can do this. It is not rocket science. People go hard after the things they really care about. We do make time for the things that we love, don’t we?

Start reading. Start listening to podcasts and/or sermons of pastors who preach in an expository fashion. Technology is – LITERALLY – at your fingertips.

You don’t know who preaches that way?

Here are some names: Paul Washer, Steve Lawson, Tom Ascol, John McArthur, Josh Buice, Richard Caldwell, John Bray (YAY for my Pastor), Jeff Durbin, James White – that should get you started. Many of those pastors also have either a blog, or a podcast.

Find a healthy church that preaches the Bible in this way. You want to learn more? That’s fine, but it begins with your local church. It is actually your Pastor’s job to watch over your soul. He will give an account one day (Heb. 13:17). You may want to read this article.

So really, the question is:

Do you love Christ?

Do you want to know Him, and the power of his resurrection, so you may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death? (Phil. 3:10-11)

Do you desire to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in you hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God? (Eph 3:14-19).

Do you want to advance the gospel regardless of the consequences it may bring in to your life? (Phil. 1:12-14). Do you want to learn contentment? It will involve suffering (Phil. 4:10-13).

If you really desire that (and there are many more promises in the Scriptures), things are not just going to happen. You need to actively pursue Christ knowing that you won’t be perfect in your pursuit, but that the God who bought you with his blood is the same God who will hold you fast as you run hard after Him. What He starts, He finishes (Phil. 1:6).

HE WILL HOLD ME FAST

YOUTUBE VIDEO

When I fear my faith will fail, Christ will hold me fast;
When the tempter would prevail, He will hold me fast.
I could never keep my hold through life’s fearful path;
For my love is often cold; He must hold me fast.

He will hold me fast, He will hold me fast;
For my Savior loves me so, He will hold me fast.

Those He saves are His delight, Christ will hold me fast;
Precious in his holy sight, He will hold me fast.
He’ll not let my soul be lost; His promises shall last;
Bought by Him at such a cost, He will hold me fast.

He will hold me fast, He will hold me fast;
For my Savior loves me so, He will hold me fast.

For my life He bled and died, Christ will hold me fast;
Justice has been satisfied; He will hold me fast.
Raised with Him to endless life, He will hold me fast
‘Till our faith is turned to sight, When He comes at last!

He will hold me fast, He will hold me fast;
For my Savior loves me so, He will hold me fast.

RESOURCES/PODCASTS/MINISTRIES
  • Philippians For You. Commentary by Steve Lawson.
  • Founders Ministries. Tom Ascol.
  • Alpha and Omega Ministries. James White.
  • Ligonier Ministries.
  • The Sword and The Trowel Podcast. Tom Ascol, Jared Longshore.
  • Just Thinking Podcast. Virgil Walker, Darrell Harrison.
  • CrossPolitic Podcast. David Shannon, aka The Chocolate Knox.
  • The Women’s Hope Podcast from the Master’s Seminary.
  • Delivered by Grace. Blog by Josh Buice.
  • Grace To You. John McArthur.
  • Sheologians Podcast. Summer White.
  • Christ Church. Doug Wilson, Rachel Jankovic.
  • Founders Baptist Church. Walking In Grace Ministries. Richard Caldwell.
  • North Houston Baptist Church Podcast. John Bray.
  • Apologia Radio Podcast. Jeff Durbin.
  • Sovereign Nations Podcast. Michael O’Fallon.
  • Relatable. Allie Beth Stuckey.
  • The G3 Conference Podcast. Josh Buice.
  • HeartCry Missionary. Paul Washer.

Enjoy!

White-Qadhi Dialogue

I hope you find these videos interesting: Dialogue 1, Dialogue 2

We – Muslims and Christians – need to learn to dialogue like this.

 

Inshallah – Part 1

I was given the opportunity at my church to share some of the things I learned in India. Given the fact that I’ve spent a lot of time comparing belief systems – and cultures – I thought it would be a great idea to teach my class about Muslims, and how to relate to them.

Well… I was wrong. I wrestled with God in preparing for that class. Like the Lord God wrestles with Jacob – and God wins – I think God led me to talk about something deeper that just information. The truth is – I told my group – that if they really want to know what Islam is or isn’t, they can go find out on the internet. And even then, information is so widely available that they would go insane trying to figure out who is representing Islam correctly and who is not.

My Muslimah would tell me, “Well, if you want to know about Islam, learn from me. I am a Muslim.” 

Well, yeah… then again, I see other Muslims, and they practice Islam very differently than her. So who is being really faithful to their religion? And the same goes for Christianity. I’m not being a hypocrite here. Therefore, I decided not to talk about these issues in my class. Instead, I decided to talk about HONOR AND SHAME cultures.

Most of you know that I am from Mexico. My society – my people – is very similar to the Muslim society. And for all I know, very similar to Eastern cultures. So I shared basic examples to help them understand how Honor and Shame look like in real life – specially because this is a church in which the majority of people are white. Their culture is totally different than mine. You can adapt to a culture – I believe – but there has to be a basic understanding of the dynamics of a culture (other than your own) if you want to be effective in sharing the Gospel with them.

So what I’m planning to do with the next series of posts is to share the things I talked about in the class, and after that I hope I can shed more light into the issues of salvation from the Muslim perspective, and how it relates to my perspective. I never really grasped why Muslims would say Inshallah.

Inshallah what?!

A Muslim could explain to me that they try to please Allah, and that their salvation is based on whether or not their scale is tilted to their good deeds at the end of their lives. But they would also tell me that even if the scale were tilted to the bad deeds, Allah in His infinite mercy, could still grant them paradise. The point is Muslims do not know. And so when I asked, “So are you going to heaven?” They always replied, “Inshallah, I will”. And that really confused me for a while. I’m learning new things about my own faith, and I’d like to share them.

More and more, I am letting go of myself and really running into His arms. He will keep me. He is amazing. He deserves all the glory, and all the praise, and all the honor. My prayer is that these posts would shed light into what has happened in my life lately. God, through these situations, has enabled me to see Him for who He is – The Greatest name, The All-Compassionate, The All-Merciful, The Inspirer of Faith – and I submit to Him.

NO. I’m not a Muslim at heart. Let me make that perfectly clear.

So just to make sure we are on the same page: I bow the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of my faith. Christ died on the cross. I believe in my heart that God raised Him from the dead. Christ is the visible image of the invisible God, for by Christ all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Christ and for Christ. Christ is before all things, and in Christ all things hold together.

I am not a Muslim, but I deeply love Muslims. I pray earnestly to My Father in Heaven that He will bring His chosen ones from Islam into a relationship with their Creator. If you are Muslim, I encourage you to keep reading. Hopefully, you will get to see for yourself why it is so difficult for you to reject Islam as your identity. You might have no idea of Honor and Shame in your society. Oh, but it is real… so real.

Rest assured though, when Allah calls you to faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, you will dare to call Him Father.

 

To Muslims, on Ramadan

I’ve been hesitant about whether or not to write this post. There’s pain involved – my pain and others’ – and I’m not sure I will be able to communicate exactly how I feel. But being Ramadan, I felt compelled to write this piece. It will be long for sure. I wanted to share this for the sake of my own memory keeping. It’s easier to write down my thoughts once they’ve been processed.

I know some things about Ramadan. I spent a Ramadan in India. I wanted to fast with my friends, but I just didn’t seem to have the guts. I know it is one of the pillars of Islam. I know it is a time to get closer to Allah, and that Muslims abstain from food, drink, and sex to purify their souls. They feed the poor and the homeless. They make a big deal out of family. They help each other and the community. They pray. They give.

If you’re Muslim, I say to you, “Go for it”

Fast. Pray. Thank God for what He has given you. I love the idea of you wanting to please the Lord of the universe – The Creator of this world who is above all names. The God who made this Earth – so immense and full of glory. I love the idea of celebrating Him and Him only. I love the idea of worshipping Him with all our might.

Make no mistake, though, you will never be able to earn God’s favor. So watch your motives this Ramadan. I pray the LORD will reveal His glory to you this month. That’s exactly why I want to share what has been of me during the past few months: I’ve been in counseling.

I’ll skip you the details of how I got there, but there were some behaviors towards my spouse, and my children that were not right, or good, or healthy. I did not know this, of course. I thought my spouse was the only one in the wrong, and I wanted his behaviors to change. I was angry, but mostly sad – heartbroken. A friend who came alongside me encouraged me to get some help. So I did.

I was terrified of going to counseling. I think I had a panic attack while driving one night. I couldn’t take a deep breath. What am I gonna do? That is all I could think of. I had no idea about my future or my children’s future. I could only see what my fear was allowing me to see – a divorce. I mean, what else, right? If you go to counseling, and your husband doesn’t ever change… What did that mean? It obviously means he doesn’t love you enough to change.

Right?

I cried myself to sleep some nights thinking I was a liar. I had lied to my children… All those times in which I had told them Mommy and Daddy would be together forever might not be fulfilled. But what was I going to do as a divorced woman? I did not work. I had forsaken every single thing that could have allowed me to work. Plus, I was in a country that was not even my own. If I divorced my husband, that meant I was getting out of the country. Would I then stay with him just for my children? And I was so fearful of everything. Of every possible outcome. Then, if we divorced… my parents, his parents.

Oh, God! What was I going to do?

Why would God be doing this to me?  Maybe I didn’t pray enough. I always said I’d pray more for my marriage or my children, but I end up forgetting to pray more. Maybe I didn’t have enough faith. Maybe God was just testing my faith. Maybe I just had to persevere… Persevere? Doing what? I didn’t like my situation…

I just read an article this morning so full of everything I am feeling. You can read the original article here.

You might be feeling that if Jesus really cared so much for your comfort, then you would not be dealing with such pain. But that is not true. What is true is that you likely prefer the comfort that comes from the absence of discomfort, while Jesus prefers you to have the ultimate comfort of your holiness.

So while you might feel frustrated over a very uncomfortable situation you’re being forced to deal with, Jesus is actually pursuing your long-term comfort through that very situation.

That did not make sense six months ago. That Jesus wanted to achieve something in me through pain. Yet, in my counselor’s office, there’s a plaque that says:

Every true strength is gained through struggle.

The article continues:

If you’re a Christian, you are a disciple of Jesus. And by necessity, a disciple undergoes discipline. If a disciple is a student, then discipline is training. Jesus’s discipline for you, however severe (and it is severe at times), is not God’s wrath against you. If you are tempted to believe that, don’t. It’s your unbelief or the Enemy talking to you.

No, discipline is training. Training in what? Training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). The unique training course that Jesus has designed for you (he designs a unique course for each disciple) has one great aim: to teach you to trust him in everything. That’s his goal for you. Jesus wants you to learn to trust in him in all things at all times. For the more you trust Jesus, the holier you become.

And this is horrible. It has felt terrible at times. To trust God in everything…

Fearful, yes, but I went to counseling. Alone. I thought my marriage needed help. I needed help. I needed perspective. Hands down, it has been one of the best decisions of my life.

Of course, I wanted my counselor to tell me if I was gonna end up having a divorce. Or for her to tell me if the situation that had led me to finally look for help was really that bad. Maybe it wasn’t that bad, you know? Maybe I was overreacting, or maybe I was making a big deal of something that was not a big deal.

During my very first session I learned that I am prone to make idols of things or people. And that was so weird. My counselor said, “If you cannot say NO to something or someone, you have made an idol out of that thing”. She then told me to go, and ask the Lord to reveal things to me. I was supposed to do that for the next week. Just to ask the Lord.

“Why do I make idols, God?  Why do I get in these kind of relationships? Why do I feel the need to rescue or care for people?”. 

I kid you not, the word CODEPENDENCY came to my mind. I am familiar with the word because my sister has always said my mom is codependent. I had no idea of what that word entailed, though. And, of course,  I never thought it would involve me. But after reading about it, I realized the condition fits me quite well. Like a 100%

I have always felt that I’m stupid. That I am unworthy. That I am a failure. That I am not enough. I have always felt the need for approval and recognition, the need to control people, and how dreadful it is to make a simple decision. I know about low self-esteem, and compulsive behaviors like trying to be the best mom, or the best cook, or the best wife. Always trying to find purpose in something outside of myself because it helped me to avoid dealing with myself. Pleasing people.

It’s taken me some time to read about codependency, and the reasons that drive my behaviors – specially with my husband and my children. My family of origin played obviously a big part on that. My dad is an addict, and my mom has always enabled him. I can’t generalize a whole culture based on my childhood experiences, but my culture revolves very much around shame.

 I lived in a very dysfunctional family where pain, and anger, and fear – feelings in general – were not to be expressed. There was never confrontation. I learned to repress my emotions, and disregard my own needs. I became a survivor. I developed behaviors that helped me deny, ignore or avoid difficult emotions. I don’t think I had every trusted anyone for real – not even my husband. Just until recently I thought self-control was meant to be swallowing what you were feeling. Stuffing it deep down inside you, and you never talk about it. That was not right.

But that’s how I learned to do life. I asked my counselor, “Where is God in all this? Where has He been?”. She said, “What do you mean? He is in the middle of it…”

I did not understand what she meant at that point, but little by little it’s beginning to make sense that God IS the One revealing all these things to me. He is the One guiding me through all this process. And I’ve been given the opportunity to face who I am – to know who I really am. I heard a sermon the other day in which Rich Nathan said that we really are worse than we think. But God loves us more than we can ever imagine.

Also, God has been singing a lot of songs to me. With me, I think. So I will share many of those lyrics…
Why are you striving these days? Why are you trying to earn grace?
Why are you crying? Let me lift up your face. Just don’t turn away.
Why are you looking for love? Why are you still searching as if I’m not enough?
To where will you go child? Tell me where will you run, to where will you run?

Idols. My husband. My children. My friends. It all made sense. I am always trying to make people happy. Somehow I grew up like this. Trying not to rock the boat. It has become clearer than water that all I have ever wanted is for someone to love me. And the need for love has been so great that I went way too far in so many relationships to make that happen. I would lose myself – if that makes sense – so that other’s would love me.

It was painfully obvious with my husband. He never asked for this, but I put him on a throne. The throne that God deserved. I was expecting my husband to fulfill something that God did not create him to fulfill. I was setting my husband for failure really – expecting him to make me happy and to satisfy my most deepest need for love.

Dear God, won’t you please…  Could You send someone here who would love me?

Who  would love me for me, not for what I have done or what I would become. Who would love me for me… ’cause nobody has shown me what love really means.

I know you’ve murdered, and I know you have lied… And I watched you suffer all of your life. And now that you listen, I will tell you that I – I will love you for you. Not for what you have done or what you will become. I will love you for you, I will give you the love, the love that you never knew.

What love really means

After my first session – that obviously rocked my world – I told my husband that I was going to start making changes for me, and that I hoped that we could really have a good relationship, and work through the challenges that lied ahead. I said I did not want to be afraid anymore of anybody or anything. I was going to follow God wherever He would lead, even if that meant that our relationship would have to come to and end. I never felt that God was telling me to divorce my husband – let me be clear about that.

The Lord has been very gracious to me, showing me that it was not my husband who needed to change, but me. Mainly ME. It was liberating to see that this person I thought was perfect, was so imperfect. It opened my eyes to the fact that I had been trying to get my worth based on my husband, or my children, or my friends. On what people thought of me. Counseling has really changed my life. The Lord is changing my life through it.

God has shown me that even when I had been so unfaithful to Him (basically breaking the Shema Yisrael, and the first three commandments since EVER), He still wanted ME. God wanted ME. He was pursuing me. He was like a husband in love with His Bride.

And I was His Bride! 

I have always wanted someone to love me like this. And I was so angry at God, because this love that He was offering to me, I wanted it. Yes. But I wanted it from my husband. I wanted to be everything to my husband. God showed me, very gently, that I would always be disappointed if I kept on expecting this from my spouse. That was not my spouse’s role. He was not meant to make me happy. That was not what marriage was all about. Marriage meant something much deeper. Marriage was about intimacy.

An intimacy that I had never had – not even with my husband. Intimacy meant more than sex. Intimacy meant feeling wholly accepted just the way I was. Marriage was a mirror, like a reflection of the intimacy God wanted to have with me. But all those dreams, and hopes and expectations were for the Lord to fulfill – not my husband. I would keep hitting a wall if I expected somebody else to fulfill them. Only the LORD was perfect to meet and surpass my expectations of love.

Another thing was I didn’t even know who I was. And I’m still learning. I know this might sound weird, but it’s difficult for me to know what I like or dislike. I was raised to mirror everybody else. I am afraid of making mistakes,  I’m afraid of being rejected. I was rejected as a child. I felt rejected by the people who were supposed to love me the most – my parents. I was abused emotionally. It’s difficult to say those words because maybe it wasn’t that bad. I’ve tried to find memories – good memories – but it is so difficult. I cannot remember my dad telling me he loved me while sober. And I cannot remember my mom not being worried, or angry, or crying, or yelling, or taking care of him. And it hurts.

But it was bad.  Yes, it was that bad. It was not okay. It was not normal to go through what I went through. No child should ever need to hear a parent calling her stupid. No child should ever have to beg for forgiveness from a parent. No child should ever have to wake up in the middle of the night, and decide if she should stay with her dad or go with her mom. I think I faced these feelings and for the first time I said, “Yes. It hurts. And no, it was not okay.”

I had never done that before.

Do you dream of a home you never had?

An innocence that you cannot get back

The pain is real. You can’t erase it. Sooner or later you have to face it down. Down.

You have to face it down.

You are loved.

Do you keep your thoughts inside your head? Will you regret the things you never said? You have a voice. You have to use it. You have a choice. Don’t let them shut you down. Down. Don’t let them shut you down

You are loved

Do you feel the ache inside your soul? You know you’ll never make it on your own.
Sorrow is too great for you to hold it. You’re gonna break. Why don’t you lay it down?
Freedom comes in letting go. Open up the window to your heart.

Freedom comes in letting go. Open up your heart.

Loved

Why would you want to be with me, God? Don’t you know who I am?

I cannot relate to a loving father. Let me be fair. I know my dad loves me – in whatever his idea of love is. I give him that. But then you tell me about a Heavenly Father who loves me. Uh… I know what the Bible says. I know.  It is the very first time that I am experiencing this kind of love, though.

God also has revealed to me that I know nothing about unconditional love. I grew up learning behaviors, and I made them my own to survive. Making people feel guilty, putting people down in order to feel better myself, I manipulated and controlled others. I basically knew emotional blackmail very well. I have blamed others for my lack of self control, and I have let others abuse me. I have tried to fill my need for love and acceptance the best way I had known so far. I don’t forgive. I always remember so that I can bring it back.

God has been been so very gentle and sweet while giving me a reality check of who I am now. I feel like I should not use these corny terms to describe the Maker of the Universe, but He has been so very gentle. Like if I was dating somebody for the very first time, He would be the perfect date. He has shown me that He has loved me forever. That even though I have rejected Him, He is still waiting for me to come back. That now that I had a clear picture of who I was, I was able to walk towards the woman He made me to be. And all this, He does because He loves me. Nothing else.

God is not codependent, that’s for sure. He doesn’t need me. And He loves me. Unconditionally. So it began to make sense. This intimacy thing. This is what it means. It means that God knows who we really are, and He loves us. There’s acceptance. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. It meant that I didn’t fear divorce anymore. Becasue the truth is that my husband is a gift God gave me. He is my husband, and I want to know him, and I want him to know me. So I’ve been open in sharing with him these feelings and issues, and he says he loves me. It means conflict and arguments are there. It means I don’t need perfection. It means I feel accepted. And I also need to work on being accepting.

God loves me. I wanted this with God. Yes, with my husband, too. But God. With God. This is the relationship God wants with me. Why would I say NO to that?

I bought myself a ring. I married God. My other marriage is fine, by the way. We are learning to communicate better, and I’m not stuffing my feelings when I am angry. I’m learning to be assertive, and we are not divorcing – this goes beyond divorce. God is changing ME.

I am the Lord’s wife first. He is the one that will fulfill ALL the expectations of love I have. He is actually showing me what love really means. He has been faithful to me even when I have been a spiritual prostitute. He has shown me what a Covenant Keeper He is. He does not leave nor forsake me based on my performance. He has lived with me the book of Hosea. Even after I had gone after my Baals, my lovers, and forgotten Him; He has betrothed me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and mercy.

He is a devoted husband.

Your love is devoted like a ring of solid gold,
like a vow that is tested like a covenant of old.
Your love is enduring through the winter rain,
and beyond the horizon with mercy for today.
Faithful You have been and faithful you will be.
You pledge yourself to me, and it’s why I singYour praise will ever be on my lips, ever be on my lips

You Father the orphan. Your kindness makes us whole.
And you shoulder our weakness, and your strength becomes our own.
Now you’re making me like you, clothing me in white.
Bringing beauty from ashes, for You will have Your bride

Free of all her guilt and rid of all her shame
And known by her true name and it’s why I sing

Your praise will ever be on my lips, ever be on my lips

You will be praised. You will be praised.
With angels and saints we sing worthy are You Lord!

You see it? It is LOVE. It is nothing else. If you know what I am talking about, if you have struggled with acceptance and your self-worth, you understand the need to be loved. And you understand that you would give yourself to people, and do things in order to get a tiny crumb of love. You may not be aware of it, but you stay in relationships that deep down you know they are not good for you, or you don’t even like to get something – acceptance, praise, whatever it might be.

I have given myself to get something in return. Always. Becasue I want to be loved. But God? What does He need? He doesn’t need anything. Why would God give Himself to me like this?

He wants me to be FREE

All my Christian life, I have been a slave. To my idols. I had failed to see that Christ died to set me free from my sin, but also from the things, and behaviors, and patterns of thought that have entangled my earthly life. This is what it means to walk with Christ. Yes, I get heaven, but I also get to enjoy my life here and now. My Lord and my Savior died so that I could be free to choose Him.

That’s what God’s more interested in – my freedom. I understand slavery. I have been a slave to my anger, and to these behaviors that I’m working on changing. Along the way, I had been raising little slaves… They don’t deserve this. No child deserves what I went through. And while I am not and will never be the perfect mother, I do want to change my family history. Without realizing it, I had been encouraging the same patterns of family disfunction that both my husband and I were raised in. It is so clear now.

On my last session I was so very happy to share with my counselor some changes that I’ve made, and some tough conversations that I had with people I was afraid of. I felt different. I turned around, and I read a verse that meant a lot to me:

Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.

Isaiah 43:19-19

This is in the context of the prophet Isaiah speaking to the Israelites. God is telling them He will deliver them AGAIN from Babylon – another “exodus”. Where there is no clear path ahead of me, God will create one. He is always a step ahead of me. He knew about all this. He knew about my fears, and about my shame. He has covered it all.

I am learning a lot about being a parent in counseling. I am learning to show my children who they are, and who God is. To show them, not to teach them. I was teaching them one thing, but showing them a completely different one. I was being harsh, laying down the law. If they did something, they paid. Again, God is changing ME.

I am being more patient. More forgiving. I think that can be mistaken as if I’m letting them off the hook many times, but I don’t think I am. I am just showing my children what I have been learning myself. I am showing them how to regulate their emotions, and really, how to manage them. I just feel that I haven’t been very gracious to them in all these years. I have been expecting a behavior that it is right -like obedience – but I don’t think I have taken enough time to cultivate what it takes for that behavior to develop.

Basically I haven’t been a very good listener. It’s taking a whole lot of help from the Lord to wait fifteen minutes by my son’s side while he cannot stop crying. Waiting until we can talk about what triggered that anger explosion. It was easier to spank him because he pushed his sister, and then make him apologize. And then he would cry more and more. And sometimes I do think, “You know, all this emotional Let’s-talk-about-it-crap takes a lot of time, and a lot of effort…”

And the truth is I don’t want to deal with it. I don’t. Then I close my eyes, and I’m like, “Yeah, well… nobody showed you how to deal with your emotions. You have stuffed them all your life and when they explode, it has been disastrous – in family, in friendships, in marriage… “

The Lord reminded me of this the other day at the library:

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

Psalm 103:8-13

 

I have been treated so tenderly by my heavenly Father. He is showing me how forgiving He is. I deserve the worst, but I don’t get what I deserve. He loves me. Are there consequences? Yes. Is there discipline? Yes. But I am just happy that God is working something in me through both my children and their strong will. He is showing me how to be more like Jesus. Isn’t that the point of the Christian life anyway? Jesus will not leave me alone…

So yeah, feelings are not being stuffed anymore. I think it is being particularly difficult for my husband. Sometimes I think that what I do here at home does not really have an impact on anyone. But I am realizing, basically, that God is helping my husband and I to get closer to each other, and also to potentially change future generations. God is helping me to break away from the cycle of abuse and codependency of at least four generations on my side.

I’ve been swimming, so this next song means a lot to me. I’ve never swam before, so learning to breathe correctly and all that was very challenging for me. All those feelings of inadequacy, of being a loser, would continually come to my mind. But I kept on trying and I’m getting much better. In my class, sometimes we practice drafting for triathlons. When there is a lot of people swimming next to you, the water gets really choppy. And even though I know how to breathe correctly, sometimes when I open my mouth all I get is water inside. No air. I have to put my head back in the water, then lift it up again, and try harder.

This time in my life has felt a little bit like that – like swimming in choppy water trying to get air. But God has been with me every step of the way. We are not done yet. I’m sure He will keep on revealing things to me, things that as of right now I have no idea about.

I like swimming because God showed me that I can swim. When I see a lake or a pond, I feel like swimming there, even though I have never swam in open water before. The idea of drowning in an open-water swim terrified me, but I can’t wait to try it now.

One final thought. I began this post with Muslims in mind. If you are Muslim, and you are reading this, I think you can relate to a lot of the issues I talked about. We do share honor and shame societies. I wouldn’t be surprised if you have been treated like this. I pray that one day you will be able to relate to God in this forgiving, accepting, and unconditional-loving way.  There is no other way,  but through Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

Life gets choppy at times. Being Ramadan I know you want to please Allah. I know. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you. Ask Him for a dream. Test Him on that. Dare to call Him Father. And always remember that if God calls you to swim, He will keep you breathing above the waves.

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep. My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name. And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise. My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

Oh, Jesus, you’re my God!

Oceans

F.A.C.T’s of the Resurrection of Jesus

This teaching on the Resurrection is great. Many good points for apologetics with Muslims 🙂

 

Did Jesus really rise from the death?

I believed in Christianity because its message appealed to me. I was raised running on an empty love-tank. I believed it. I never asked if it was true – I just wanted LOVE.

Unconditional love.

But a feeling didn’t matter when I was confronted with other faiths. So I was ready – as difficult as it was – to test my own beliefs, and follow the evidence. It was the worst year of my life, but without a doubt, it was the most enriching experience I have ever had.

I hope you enjoy this debate. David Wood is one of my personal heroes.

Did Jesus rise from the dead?

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…

1 Corinthians 15:17

He is risen 🙂

 

The Jewish Roots of Christianity

Great video. Go Columbus, Ohio! 🙂

 
 “Did Jesus intend to found the Christian church? This interesting question can be answered in the affirmative and in the negative. It depends on what precisely is being asked. If by church one means an organization and a people that stand outside of Israel, the answer is no. If by a community of disciples committed to the restoration of Israel and the conversion and instruction of the Gentiles, then the answer is yes. Jesus did not wish to lead his disciples out of Israel, but to train followers who will lead Israel, who will bring renewal to Israel , and who will instruct Gentiles in the way of the Lord. Jesus longed for the fulfillment of the promises and the prophecies, a fulfillment that would bless Israel and the nations alike. The estrangement of the church from Israel was not the result of Jesus’ teaching or Paul’s teaching. Rather, the parting of the ways, as it has been called in recent years, was the result of a long process”—Craig Evans , From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation.
Here are the chapters from the book:
Partings—How Judaism & Christianity Became Two - Hardcover
:
I. The Jewish Jesus Movement
Geza Vermes
II. From the Crucifixion to the End of the First Century
James D.G. Dunn
III. The Godfearers: From the Gospels to Aphrodisias
Bruce Chilton
IV. The Christian Flight to Pella? The Archaeological Picture
Pamela Watson
V. Parting in Palestine
Joan Taylor
VI. Christianity in Antioch: Partings in Roman Syria
Annette Yoshiko Reed and Lily Vuong
VII. Living Side by Side in Galilee
Eric M. Meyers
VIII. Jews and Christians at Rome: An Early Parting of the Ways
Margaret H. Williams
IX. Christianity’s Rise After Judaism’s Demise in Early Egypt
Robert A. Kraft and AnneMarie Luijendijk
X. Ebionites and Nazoraeans: Christians or Jews?
Matt A. Jackson-McCabe
XI. In Between: Jewish-Christians and the Curse of the Heretics
Shaye J.D. Cohen
XII. The Complexities of Rejections and Attraction, Herein of Love and Hate
Steven Fine
XIII. From Sabbath to Sunday: Why, How and When?
Lawrence T. Geraty
XIV. Social Organization and Parting in East and West
Arye Edrei and Doron Mendels
XV. Did They Ever Part?
 Who is the Founder of Christianity? Jesus or Paul?
Linguistically speaking, Christianity didn’t exist in the first century. Judaism in the first century wasn’t seen as a single “way.” There were many “Judaism’s”- the Sadducees, the Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots, etc.  The followers of Jesus are referred to as a “sect” (Acts 24:14;28:22); “the sect of the Nazarenes” (24:5).
Josephus refers to the “sects” of Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees. The first followers of Jesus were considered to be a sect of Second Temple Judaism.

Another quote by Evans:

But we must ask if Paul has created a new institution, a new organization, something that stands over against Israel, something that Jesus himself never anticipated. From time to time learned tomes and popular books have asserted that the Christian church is largely Paul’s creation, that Jesus himself never intended for such a thing to emerge. Frankly, I think the hypothesis of Paul as creator of the church or inventor of Christianity is too simplistic. A solution that is fairer to the sources, both Christian and Jewish, is more complicated. -Evans, Craig A., From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation .

Take a look at both quotes from Evans in this post.  From the author’s own experience, most Christians and Jewish people like the current boundaries. In other words, we have two separate religions- Judaism and Christianity. Thus, we don’t care much about as to how we got to that place. One thing for sure: If we discuss the “imperial Christianity” that was legalized in the fourth century by Constantine and whether Jesus or Paul is the founder of that, the answer is no. By then, the Christianity that existed was so far away from what Jesus and Paul had done, it had morphed into a new and separate religion.

As Evans says, this was the result of complex factors.

Do these issues matter for apologetics?

Yes! See the post called Why the Debate Over Christian Origins Matter!

Historical Jesus Studies

“An Assessment of the Present State of Historical Jesus Research” is a popular level summary in a chapter included in a book by Sean McDowell, A New Kind of Apologist (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2016), Used by Permission.

Michael Licona (original article)

A few years ago, I boarded a plane for a very long flight. I had a new book I had saved for the trip and was very much looking forward to reading it. Shortly after I took my seat, an elderly man, probably in his eighties, took his seat next to me. I smiled thinking, He’s going to fall asleep and I’m going to get in a lot of reading. 

I was mistaken. Just after I began reading, my fellow passenger leaned over and looked very deliberately at the pages of my book. I smiled and showed him the cover. It was a book on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. He chuckled and said, “Well, I guess we don’t have to think seriously about that, since it has now been proven that Jesus never even existed!” He then sat up straight, as though our conversation had ended and now it was time to find something else to do. Hit and run? Not a chance, my new friend.

“Why do you think Jesus never existed?” I asked. This led to a short conversation on Jesus’s existence. It did not take long for him to concede that Jesus had, in fact, existed. But he maintained that “resurrections are impossible. There is no evidence for the resurrection of Jesus and it certainly could never be proved.” Perhaps you have had a similar discussion with someone and wished you had known how to reply. In what follows, I am going to discuss three key areas that will both inform and equip you to engage in intelligent discussions about Jesus with others.

Current State of Historical Jesus Studies

Our first matter is to define what is meant by the “historical Jesus.” Although scholars have not agreed on a definition, most would at least be satisfied with the following definition as a means to enter a discussion: When the data has been sifted, sorted, and assessed, the historical Jesus is the Jesus historians can prove with reasonable certainty and apart from faith.

It is important to observe that the historical Jesus is not the real Jesus who walked and taught in Judea and Galilee, but is the Jesus known through the results of historical investigation. The real Jesus was much more than the historical Jesus, just as a corpse in a grave was once much more than the minimal information described on the tombstone. And then there is the Jesus in the Gospels. This third Jesus is also a partial representative of the real Jesus who had many more elements to his personality and many more things that he said and did than could ever be reported in a Gospel with a length of less than twenty-five thousand words.

It is very important to understand these distinctions and many often fail here. In theory, these three Jesuses are not necessarily in conflict. For example, if historical investigation were some day to prove that the real Jesus did not claim to be the Son of God, the real Jesus and the historical Jesus would be in conflict with the Jesus in the Gospels, since the Jesus in the Gospels claimed to be the Son of God. On the other hand, the inability of historical investigation to determine whether Jesus was born of a virgin does not place the historical Jesus in conflict with the Jesus in the Gospels or the real Jesus, since the former will always be an incomplete figure. Accordingly, if historians cannot prove Jesus performed Event X, it is a misstep to conclude on that basis that it did not occur. To do so would be quite naive, since numerous events that actually occurred in the distant past cannot be verified.

How do historians arrive at conclusions regarding Jesus?

There are several approaches and various tools used within each approach. The most common approach at present is to recognize that Jesus was a Jewish itinerant preacher who lived in first-century Palestine in a culture that was both Jewish and Greco-Roman. This provides historians with a background knowledge that helps them obtain a more accurate understanding of what Jesus taught and the impact it may have had on those who heard him. They then apply what are referred to as criteria of authenticity to the words and deeds of Jesus as preserved in the Gospels. These criteria reflect commonsense principles. If two or more sources that are independent of one another provide similar reports of the same event, we can have more confidence that the event had occurred than if only one source had reported it. This is called the criterion of multiple attestation. For example, the Gospel of Mark and Paul’s letters are independent of one another. So, when both report that Jesus was buried, we have multiple attestation of the event.

If a source that is unsympathetic or even hostile toward the Christian faith provides a report that agrees with the Christian reports, we can have more confidence that the event had occurred, since the unsympathetic or hostile source would not have the bias carried by the authors of the Christian reports. This is called the criterion of unsympathetic sources. For example, Tacitus referred to Christianity as an evil and mischievous superstition (Annals 15.44). This identifies him as an unsympathetic source. So, when he reports Jesus’s execution by Pontius Pilate, a report entirely compatible with what we find in the Gospels, historians can have more confidence that the event had occurred.

If a report in the Gospels provides data that would have been embarrassing to the early Christian movement, we can have more confidence that the event had occurred, since it is unlikely that the author would have invented content likely to detract from the cause for which he wrote. This is called the criterion of embarrassment. For example, Mark reports that Peter rebuked Jesus and that Jesus in turn rebuked Peter, calling him “Satan” (Mark 8:31-33). Since Peter was a leader of the Jerusalem church, it seems unlikely that the early Christians would have invented and preserved a tradition that casts him in such an unfavorable manner.

Historians prefer to have reports that are from eyewitnesses or from a source whose report was written close to the event it purports to describe. This is called the criterion of early attestation. For example, almost all scholars agree that Paul has preserved an oral tradition in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 that goes back to the earliest days of the Christian church and that the content of these verses, although not necessarily the creedal form in which the content appears, very probably goes back to the Jerusalem apostles.

It would be nice if historians could climb into a time machine, return to the past, and verify their conclusions. Since that is not possible, historians can establish matters with only varying degrees of certainty. And it is entirely possible that a lack of data could lead historians to arrive at a false conclusion. This is not only the state of affairs when historians investigate biblical events but also with every other purported event in antiquity. Accordingly, the fulfillment of one or more of the criteria of authenticity in relation to specific reports about Jesus may be said to establish their authenticity with “reasonable” but not “absolute” certainty.

Historians who investigate nonreligious matters have strenuously debated the nature of history for several decades. Understanding the many challenges to knowing the past faced by historians, some have claimed that the past cannot be known and that historians merely create their own narratives of the past based on their subjective interpretations of the data. These are known as postmodern historians. Although the debate concerning the nature of history continues, the majority of historians have come to reject postmodern approaches to history and embrace realism, the view that the past can be known to a degree. Of course, historical descriptions of the past will never be exhaustive, will vary in their accuracy, and can be established with only varying degrees of certainty.

Therefore, when speaking of Jesus, it is unreasonable to demand absolute certainty. This is important because many of the skeptics we encounter outside the academic world, and even some skeptics within it, have an approach that, in essence, says, “As long as there is an alternate explanation to the biblical account that cannot be absolutely disproved, the biblical account should not be taken seriously.” Such an approach suggests those holding this view have a sophomoric understanding of how the practice of history works. A competent historian embraces what he or she concludes is the most probable explanation of the available data, since there is little of the distant past that can be established with such certainty that no room remains for an extremely unlikely alternative.

The Jesus Mythers

During the past twenty years or so, a number of books and articles have appeared on the Internet arguing that Jesus is a myth who never existed. Viewing the biographical information of their authors reveals that only a handful have any academic credentials. Unfortunately, most people reading the literature written by “mythers” (as they are commonly referred to) are not accustomed to critical thinking by comparing sources. For them, Earl Doherty and Dee Murdock (aka Acharya S) are as credible as John Meier and N.T. Wright. Yet they are unaware that neither Doherty nor Murdock ever went beyond earning a bachelor’s degree while Meier and Wright earned doctorates in relevant fields and teach New Testament studies at prestigious universities.

I am not claiming the lack of academic credentials on the part of Doherty and Murdock prohibits them from having good arguments and, therefore, they should be ignored. However, it is true that they do not have the training and experience in the proper fields. As a result, they often make egregious errors and silly proposals that sound credible only to the naive.??1 Mythers are often guilty of twisting data, providing false claims, appealing to other sources who are also not scholars, requiring an unreasonable burden of proof before acknowledging the existence of Jesus while being unaware that the scenarios they have proposed in order to address the data border on unbridled fantasy. Readers should understand that publishing on the World Wide Web does not make one a world-class scholar, since the only credential one must have to publish on the Internet is to breathe.

It is noteworthy that one could count on one hand all the scholars in the fields of history and biblical studies who have been persuaded by the arguments of mythers. This is not because the majority of historians and biblical scholars are Christians (I seriously doubt that is the case). It is also noteworthy that even some atheist and agnostic scholars have blasted mythers for their poor arguments and treatment of the data.??2 Scholars simply refuse to give them much attention and regard them to be as absurd as holocaust deniers.

Discussing the Historical Jesus with Others

With the advent of the Internet in the nineties, an explosion of information became available to the public. Christians are far more likely to hear arguments from their skeptical family members, colleagues at work, and neighbors that are more sophisticated than what they may have heard before the Internet. Moreover, our culture has changed. People are easily offended and many regard truth as relative. Everyone has their own truth and thinks it is morally wrong to offend others by telling them you think they are mistaken.

The apostle Paul adjusted his approach to relate better to his particular audience.??3 We should do no less. We must be more careful than ever to be winsome in our interactions with nonbelievers. We can be respectful of those we disagree with and make an effort to listen to them while they present their views in the same manner we would like for them to listen to us while we present ours. We should not overstate our case but temper it. Instead of saying “The historical evidence proves that Jesus rose from the dead,” say “The historical evidence strongly suggests Jesus rose from the dead.” Instead of saying, “I know that I know Christianity is true,” say “In view of the evidence I’ve examined as well as the answers to prayer I have personally witnessed, I’m convinced Christianity is true.”

Remember the words of the apostles Peter and Paul. Peter wrote, “But set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts, always prepared to give a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account concerning the hope in you” (1 Peter 3:15, author’s translation). Paul similarly wrote, “Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6, author’s translation).

It is important to recognize that presenting good arguments to a skeptic will not ensure he or she will be convinced by them. Their objections to following Christ may be intellectual (e.g., they are not persuaded by the evidence), emotional (e.g., their Muslim or Jewish family would disown them or they had a poor experience with one or more Christians or their father), or volitional (e.g., they do not want to believe because of pride or it may require them to alter their behavior).

It is their responsibility to make a proper decision. It is our responsibility to share the message of hope through Christ “with gentleness and respect” and “with grace,” as Peter and Paul taught. The gospel message is already offensive to some. We need not make it more offensive by presenting it in a manner that lacks gentleness, respect, and grace. When we combine more knowledge with a heart that deeply cares for our nonbelieving friends, we will be pleasantly surprised to find ourselves engaged in dialogues that are far more enjoyable and effective than we may ever have imagined.

Erhman speaks against the Quran

Jesus and the Historical Method – Part 8

For the past several weeks, we have been investigating how the historical Jesus of Nazareth fares by being tested by the traditional historical method. Before wrapping up our investigation, NT scholar Michael Licona provides two additional tests that need to be considered. This article will investigate those two additional tests or methods and will offer some concluding thoughts on our quest.

1. Arguments to the Best Explanation.

Licona notes that the Arguments-to-the-Best-Explanation method “makes inferences and weighs hypotheses according to specific criteria.”[1] In other words, the data is compiled and examined according to a particular hypothesis made by the historian. The criteria include:

Explanatory scope: Examining the most relevant data according to the hypothesis.

Explanatory power: Looking at the “quality of the explanation of the facts.”[2]

Plausibility: How much confidence can the historian possess that a certain event took place? For the skeptic, if they are to be honest historically, they must suspend their skepticism, and allow for the possibility of the miraculous if they are to become unbiased.

Less ad hoc: Covering only what the data suggests without going “beyond what is already known.”[3]

Illumination: Where one piece of data strengthens other areas of inquiry.

Speaking of this method, Licona goes on to say that “Arguments to the best explanation are guided by inference and can sometimes be superior to an eyewitness to an event. Testimony to the court does not provide truth but data.”[4]

Examining the data that we have presented already when using this method demonstrates that the best historical explanation is that Jesus of Nazareth existed and walked out of the grave the first Easter Sunday. Licona, in his work The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach , comes to the following conclusion in his over 600 page work:

“I am contending that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the best historical explanation of the relevant historical bedrock. Since it fulfills all five of the criteria for the best explanation and outdistances competing hypotheses by a significant margin in their ability to fulfill the same criteria, the historian is warranted in regarding Jesus’ resurrection as an event that occurred in the past.”[5]

Thus, from using this method, Jesus’ historicity as well as Jesus’ resurrection are confirmed.

2. Arguments from Statistical Inference.

The Arguments from Statistical Inference method evaluates all data in question and evaluates the probability that an event could have happened. If one eliminates the possibility of God’s existence and God’s involvement in an event, then the odds that a “miraculous” event occurred goes down dramatically. However, if one holds that a greater power was involved, the odds go up drastically. Licona gives the illustration of one evaluating whether his son could lift 200 lbs. over his head. While such may be improbable, if one is willing to add that a bodybuilder assisted him, the added datum allows for such an event to become much more probable.[6] If the historian is going to be unbiased, then one must allow for the possibility of God’s existence, and the possibility that God may have an invested interest for raising Jesus from the dead.

While this method will always be somewhat subjective, the historian can make an educated synopsis of how historically certain an event is. McCullagh uses the following grades:

“Extremely probable: in 100-95% of cases

Very probable: in 95-80% of cases

Quite or fairly probable: in 80-65% of cases

More probable than not: in 65-50% of cases

Hardly or scarely probable: in 50-35% of cases

Fairly improbable: in 35-20% of cases

Very improbable: in 20-5% of cases

Extremely improbable: in 5-0% of cases.”[7]

 

While it must be admitted that in history one cannot hold 100% certainty that any event took place one could argue that one cannot be 100% certain of what a person had for breakfast. However, one could say that it was extremely probable that a person had Cheerios® for breakfast if one sees a used bowl and spoon with bits of Cheerios® cereal, accompanied by used milk at the bottom of the bowl, with an empty Cheerios® box sitting beside the bowl.

So, what can we draw from our investigation?

Concluding Thoughts

So, does Jesus pass the historical method? I would say so. In fact, so much so that I think one can logically hold the following premises.

It is extremely probable that Jesus existed. One can say with over 95% certainty that Jesus existed. To claim otherwise is to hold a level of skepticism that will disallow one to know about anyone or anything in history.

It is extremely probable that Jesus rose from the dead. The strength of Jesus’ existence is coupled with the strength of his resurrection. In my estimation, I would say that one holds a very strong case for the resurrection of Christ being an actual event of history.

It is extremely probable that Jesus’ disciples saw him risen from the dead. Some may argue that this point deserves to hold the level “very probable.” However, I feel that given other data to consider that it is extremely probable that Jesus’ disciples encountered the risen Jesus.

It is very probable that we have good eyewitness testimony telling us about the life of Jesus. While we have fantastic eyewitness testimony for the life of Jesus, particular debates surrounding the Evangelists’ identity and the like take down the probability a notch. In my estimation the eyewitness testimony deserves to have the highest ranking, but to be fair to all the data involved, I give it a very probable ranking (95-80% certainty).

It is extremely improbable that the Jesus Mythicist campaign has any leg on which to stand. Even agnostic Bart Ehrman has confessed that the Jesus Mythicist campaign is erroneous. While the historical data does not prove Jesus to be the Messiah (that comes by faith), the data provides solid grounding for accepting such a belief. In stark contrast, one can claim that the idea that Jesus was a myth is extremely improbable (0-5%).

Therefore, one may deny Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, one may reject his claims as divine, and one may pass off his miracles as the work of a magician, however one cannot deny that Jesus of Nazareth existed and one will be hard-pressed to deny that this same Jesus walked out of the tomb the first Easter Sunday.

Jesus of Nazareth passes the historical test with a solid A+. 

© February 15, 2016. Brian Chilton.



Note to self and others struggling with faith: In my darkest moments, I held for dear life to the fact that the most certain thing about Jesus historically is that He died by crucifixion. And if He died on that cross, then Islam was false. I still had to deal with the fact of Jesus being divine or Jesus resurrecting… But if He died then Islam was false. That did not make Christianity true but Islam was false. I felt joy. And the best argument that Islam gave me about the cross was that God wanted to test people. Allah went all the way deceiving everybody to think that Jesus had died, but it wasn’t really so. Of course, Islam said Allah loved Jesus PBUH so much that He had to rescue Him from the shame of the cross and whatever, that’s why He had to raise Jesus to Himself. 

Okay, fine. But why? Why would Allah make other guy loo like Jesus? Why the secrecy? Why the lying? Why not be open about it and say, “Look, this is Jesus, I’m taking Him up to me”. No. Allah made other look like Jesus. That was deception in my eyes.

If that was God I would rather go to hell than to follow Him. Didn’t Allah know that by making other person look like Jesus many people would start a movement called The Way? Didn’t Allah know these people would follow Jesus as Lord and Savior? Didn’t He know I would be deceived as well in to worshipping this Jesus? And He still did it – just to test me? Why would Allah put so many obstacles between Him and me? I decided I would rather follow the Biblical Jesus and go to hell – even if that Jesus was a product of my own imagination – than to embrace the Islamic understanding of Allah and the non-historical life of  Jesus in the Quran.

As it turns out, Jesus did die for my sins and did rise from the dead. My head went ahead my heart, and the Holy Spirit kicked in later as I came back from India. I am now on fire for my Lord Jesus and I will forever proclaim Him as my Savior 🙂



Bibliography

Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010.

McGullagh, C. B. Justifying Historical Descriptions. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

[1] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010), 108.

[2] Ibid., 109.

[3] Ibid., 110.

[4] Ibid., 114.

[5] Ibid., 610.

[6] See Licona, 114.

[7] C. B. McCullagh, Justifying Historical Descriptions (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 52.

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