Friday, December 26, 2014

Your Worth


My son (now in 9th grade!) recently joined a city basketball league team, with his friends. While they have been playing together at our homeschool co-op for several years, none of them is especially good, and this is the first occasion they've had to play as a team. They lost their first two games by wide margins, and my son's experience reminded me of my own.

Ever since I was Kylen's age, I've loved playing basketball. Trouble is that I've never gotten very good at it, and that has always bothered me. Even as an adult who still plays pick-up games almost every week, I often come home disappointed in my lackluster performance on the court. I like to think I have many other talents, but despite the fact that this is my favorite sport, I cannot seem to improve. And that really bothers me, to the point that I risk seeing myself as worthless.

But as a born-again follower of Jesus Christ, I know better. The Bible teaches us that we are all of great intrinsic value to God. This means that my worth does not hinge upon my accomplishments, or the number of accolades I've received over my short existence. While our society bestows greater honor upon its sports, entertainment, or political heroes, God "is no respecter of persons." That means winning a championship or finding a cure for cancer earns you no more "brownie points" with Him, than if you came in last place or got dropped out of college.

He knows that you can do nothing of real importance without Him, and just to prove it, He usually picks the lowliest of the low to show Himself strong through. Who was Abraham, before God told him that He would make a great nation of him? Who was Moses, when God called him to lead His people out of the hands of Pharaoh? Was David not the youngest of many brothers, when God had Samuel annoint him the second king of Israel? How could He choose a lowly manger as His first throne, on that first Christmas day?

Yes, Christmas is the reminder that He valued each one of us enough to die on the cross for us, even before we even drew our first breaths! He has a plan for you, and He will do great things through you, despite your shortcomings. In fact, it is through those very weaknesses that His strength will shine!

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Breaking News: Jesus Did Not Exist (Part II)

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, by Heinrich Hofmann, 1889. Courtesy Wikipedia.

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Even if Mark did indeed omit the account of Christ’s resurrection, virtually every book of the New Testament claims this fact. Omission is not disagreement, nor is it relevant to Mr. Sosa’s thesis.

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Again, the article’s author is merely grasping at straws now. Among the people that discovered Jesus’ empty tomb, Mary Magdalene is mentioned in all four Gospels, and Mary the mother of James was mentioned in three of the four. Since these four accounts were written by four different authors, it’s reasonable to expect different attentions to details. But again, omission is not contradiction.

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Poor debaters like to throw the dogs off their trail by claiming that their arguments are already “established,” irrefutable facts, regardless the number of holes. This paragraph could have easily been omitted, not that it would have saved the rest of the article’s downward spiral.

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How many days after His resurrection did Jesus ascend into Heaven? Mr. Sosa is right that, on the surface at least, Luke and Mark claim that Jesus ascended the same day that He rose from the dead (their accounts are nearly identical; Matthew makes no mention of the ascension). But what the article fails to mention is that while the Book of Acts claims that Jesus ascended into Heaven after 40 days, it is widely believed that its author is Luke himself. If that is the case, then I would be more likely to believe that the seemingly rushed endings of the two Gospels were not meant to be taken as a literal timeline of events. This might warrant some more research.

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In this paragraph, the author again states his opinion that the issues he has brought up are “problematic” to the existence of Jesus. I hope I have shown that that is not necessarily the case. The rest is a side-swipe at Jesus’ moral character and teaching, for which he only refers to a list of Jesus’ supposed self-contradictions, written by “a new convert to Islam.” Most of the items in this list are taken out of context and are easily explained, without any hand-waving or fudging of the text. If you have studied the Bible enough to reconcile God’s commandment to not kill, with His commands to destroy various nations in and around the land of Canaan, you would see right through this list. Perhaps that’s a topic for another post.

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Unnecessary paragraph, strictly expressing the author’s opinion, without any further . Moving on....

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Dr. Erhman is an avowed agnostic, who is against organized religion, particularly the Big Three monotheistic ones, so he is naturally biased (as are Mr. Sosa and myself). Consider this: Ancient Babylon’s Hanging Gardens are considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, despite the lack of documentation on when and where they existed. Jesus has far more supporting evidence, from multiple authors, most of whom happen to be found in a collection of work that we call The Bible.

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As I quoted at the beginning of my rebuttal, most scholars agree that there is more than enough evidence to prove that Jesus did indeed live and was crucified, in the timeframe described in the Bible. I have not researched the reliability of documents by Justin Martyr, but my reading into Tacitus' and Josephus’ accounts of the one called Jesus confirms that most experts agree that at least some measure of their writing concerning Jesus is genuine.

I will not attempt to read Dan Barker’s books, going under the assumption that if he indeed managed to prove that God and Jesus never existed, I would have read about it on Yahoo News.

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I was taught in school to always end my persuasive essays with an excellent clinching paragraph. This is not it. Instead, we are presented with more opinion and a reference to an article about Jesus-like copy-cats, none of whom (1) fulfilled dozens of verifiable Old Testament prophecies and (2) influenced an entire globe for nearly two millennia... and still counting.

Like Mr. Sosa, there is so much more that I could write, but my rebuttal is already longer than the original article. If you need more of a convincer, please also see Wikipedia’s “Jesus of Nazareth” article. In the meantime, I will humbly allow the Apostle Paul to conclude my rebuttal and will continue to pray that the Lord will move the hearts of Chris Sosa and atheists/agnostics like him, as He did my own heart.

“Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice” (Philippians 1:15-18).

Friday, September 5, 2014

Breaking News: Jesus Did Not Exist (Part I)

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, by Heinrich Hofmann, 1889. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Apparently, Jesus never existed... ... or at least that’s what Huffington Post blogger Chris Sosa claims. This is interesting to me, because even as an atheist, I took the historical existence of the man called Jesus of Nazareth as a foregone conclusion. In fact, here is an excerpt from the introduction to Wikipedia’s “Historicity of Jesus” article (copied on 9/4/2014):

“The majority viewpoint among scholars is that Jesus existed, but scholars differ about the beliefs and teachings of Jesus as well as the accuracy of the parts of his life that have been recorded in the Gospels. Scholars who believe that Jesus existed differ on the historicity of specific episodes described in the Biblical accounts, but most scholars agree that Jesus was a Galilean Jew who was born between 7-4BC and died 30–36 AD, that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, that he was crucified by the order of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate and that he lived in Galilee and Judea and did not preach or study elsewhere. The theory that Jesus never existed at all has very little scholarly support.

What I find even more interesting is that Mr. Sosa chose not to attack Jesus’ divinity, which may be easier fodder for an atheist than Jesus’ mere existence. At any rate, for the sake of some who may actually believe his arguments, and as an exercise in apologetics, I would like to spend a little time analyzing the article.

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Sosa first tries to dismiss the teaching of Jesus by implying that (1) they originate only from Him (yes, my use of capitalization betrays my bias), and (2) their application in moral discussions is a recent development. However, Jesus and His followers made it very clear that the Gospel is really just an extension of the Mosaic Law, found in the Old Testament. Jesus said:

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment...” (Matthew 5:21-22).

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).

“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40).

And His moral teachings are the basis for our own laws, as evidenced by the writings of our nation’s founding fathers. See William Federer’s “America’s God and Country” for details. In fact, until the last 50 years, there wasn’t really much of a need to invoke Christian morality, because the vast majority of Americans already subscribed to it, even if they weren’t Christian.

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I assume this is Sosa’s disclaimer that he could be wrong, and that Jesus actually existed? I’m not really sure what he’s trying to say here. Is the difference between a Jesus and the Jesus rooted in the number of followers He garnered?

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This is a thesis paragraph of sorts. While subsequent paragraphs will be discussed in greater detail below, I wish to address the generalizations that Sosa makes here. He claims that the four Gospels and Paul’s letter’s (others wrote letters, too, so are they included in this generic statement?) depict contradicting portraits of Jesus. But the only contradictions provided regard relatively minor details surrounding His birth, death, and resurrection. None of the New Testament books disagree about the most basic facts: that Jesus was born of a virgin, was crucified and died, that He physically rose from the dead, and that He ascended back into Heaven. His recorded teachings also contain no contradictions worthy of Mr. Sosa’s explicit mention.

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The Gospels of Luke and Matthew clearly disagree about key events surrounding Jesus’ birth. Timing issues aside, the two don’t directly contradict one another. Luke records the taxing and the manger scene, but omits any references to the famous Wise Men, Herod’s infamous slaying of children, or the young family’s flight to Egypt. Matthew, on the other hand, recounts the latter three, but does not mention the taxing, the manger scene, or even the Star of Bethlehem. Interesting how popular culture mashed all these elements together, into one seemingly cohesive account.

Reading the Wikipedia article on Quirinius (Cyrenius), I concede that the timing of Herod’s reign and Cyrenius’ taxing appear incompatible, but I think this is the only valid point Mr. Sosa manages to make; hardly a smoking gun for the non-existence of history’s arguably most influential person.
While the Gospels of Mark and John begin at the start of Jesus’ ministry, Luke and Matthew both agree on the essentials of Jesus’ birth, many of which were prophesied in the Old Testament: born in Bethlehem, to a virgin named Mary, who was married to Joseph, both of whom were of the tribe of Judah and descendants of King David.

By the way, there are plenty of historical figures whose exact birthdates (or birth-years, even) are unknown. The ancient world wasn’t nearly as into record-keeping as we are today. Unless you were born into a ruling family, your existence typically went undocumented and unnoticed. Jesus was born the son of a Jewish carpenter, shunned political office and fame, and had followers who were zealously persecuted both by the Jews and the occupying Romans. It’s no wonder that there are few records of Him, outside of the Bible, during the first couple centuries AD (in case you were wondering, AD is short for Anno Domini, which is Latin for Year of Our Lord).

To be concluded...