1645) How Could it Happen? (a)

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Matthew 21:33-46:  (Jesus said), “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard.  He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower.  Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place.  When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.  The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third.  Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way.  Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.  But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir.  Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’  So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.  Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

“He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?  Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit…”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them.  They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

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From Sunday’s sermon

            The most difficult situation I was ever involved in as a pastor was a funeral I did after a family of four was destroyed in a triple-murder suicide.  A man killed his wife, and then his two teenage step-daughters, and then he killed himself.  I was asked to do the funeral for the mother and her two daughters.  It was awful and it was frightening.

     What was so frightening was that the sudden violence seem to come out of nowhere.  By all outward appearances, this was a wonderful family.  The girls were both ‘A’ students, good athletes, and well-liked at school.  The mother was from a large local family, related by blood or by marriage to many in the community.  This was her second marriage, and this husband was from out of town; but he was well liked by neighbors and by his in-laws.  Everyone said he was a friendly and pleasant man.  To think that such a family, so normal and so loved, could be so violently destroyed from within the family itself was horrible.  Sudden death of any kind brings with it shock and grief and numbness and despair.  Death like this also brought anger, bewilderment, and fear. 

     “How could it happen?” everyone wondered.  Later, it was learned that bad things were going on in that little family, but no one will ever know for certain the whole story behind that tragedy.  And it did make everyone wonder what else could be going on under the surface of our quiet and friendly community.  When that kind of evil can rear its ugly head, and that kind of violence can erupt in a family where everything appears to be all right, it is frightening beyond words.  It makes us mistrust all outward appearances, no matter how calm and peaceful.

     I was reminded of that funeral after the horrible massacre in Las Vegas which has everyone asking the same questions and feeling the same fears.  Authorities still do not have a clue as to what motivated Steven Paddock to do what he did.  No one had any idea that he was planning the attack or was capable of such evil– not his brother, neighbors, or significant other.  He had no radical religious affiliation, no political ax to grind, no record of mental illness, and no history of violence.  I have a longer criminal record that he had, because I’ve had a couple of traffic tickets for speeding.  He didn’t even have that.  How do you go from nothing, to killing 59 people and injuring over 500 more?

     Paddock’s bewildered brother Eric said, “There are no clues, that’s the problem.  That’s what everybody is scared about now.  If Steve could do this, we are all in trouble because there’s nothing there to explain it.”  Why are we all in trouble?  The reason is summed up by one of the employees at a casino where Paddock often gambled: “He just seemed like another gambler,” the man said, adding, “Now I look at everybody and wonder.”  One does wonder.  That is how people felt after at the funeral of that mother and her two daughters.  The feeling wears off after a while, but that’s a lousy way to have to live.

     It is a bit of a stretch to relate this to the Matthew 21 reading above (last Sunday’s Gospel reading in my church), but did you notice there were at least two murders in that little parable of Jesus?   A landowner rented his vineyard out, and when he sent his servants to collect the rent they were beaten and one was killed.  Then he sent more servants, and the same thing happened.  And then, in a most unexpected move, the landowner sent his own son, apparently thinking that those wicked men would respect him, and they could be won over peacefully.  Then, even the son was murdered.

     There is much going on in this little parable.  First, there is the amazing grace and patience of the landowner.  He gives those wicked tenants every opportunity to change.  But they respond to that grace and good will by getting worse.  Then Jesus doesn’t finish the parable, but he asks his listeners what they think should happen next.  And they announce the harsh word of judgment, saying “those wretches should be brought to a wretched end.”  That’s what the people themselves say should happen to those who reject such amazing grace.  Jesus then applied the parable to those who were rejecting him, saying “I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”  The religious leaders get the point, and they know that Jesus is talking about them.  But how do they respond?  They want to respond just like the wicked tenants who got rid of the owner’s son.  They want to get rid of Jesus.  They want to have him arrested, but they are afraid of the people.

     You know the rest of the story.  In time, they will arrest Jesus, and they will get rid of him.  (continued…)

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1644) Deathbed Conversion

By Ed Cheek (2001) athttp://www.ATStracts.org 

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Mickey Mantle  (1931-1995)

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     He was one of the most compelling athletic heroes in American history.  Long after he’d hung up his fabled pin striped uniform, grown men would stammer and stutter in his presence and faithful fans would pay outlandish prices for his memorabilia.  His achievements were many, but they cannot explain his enduring popularity.  His legion of admirers felt a deep emotional attachment to this man who moved with such fluid grace and raw power.  They loved Mickey Mantle.

     His statistics are staggering– 536 home runs, 1,509 RBIs, .298 career batting average, seven world championships, and three MVP awards– and they are all the more impressive when we consider how the Hall of Famer courageously battled chronic, painful injuries during his 18 years with the New York Yankees.  In addition, he won the Triple Crown in 1956–a .353 batting average, 52 HRs, and 130 RBIs. In 1961, he hammered 54 homers, just six shy of Babe Ruth’s record.

     But these numbers pale when compared to what happened in the harsh summer of ’95 when his heart took over in that desperate final inning.  Faced with an aggressive cancer, he displayed incredible courage, humility, even humor as he battled for his life.  And when he chose to drag his frail body in front of a mass of microphones and address the public, there was not a trace of self-pity in his words– only heartfelt pleas to avoid the mistakes he had made.  “Don’t be like me,” he humbly declared, “I’m no role model!”  But despite his flaws, Mantle remained a hero to his multitude of fans, and due to his honesty, he gained many new ones.

     At age 19 he left the lead mines of Oklahoma for the bright lights of New York City.  Unfortunately, those lights cast an eerie shadow over his life.  After Mickey’s first season, his father, Mutt Mantle, died of Hodgkins disease at 40.  His grandfather and two of his uncles also succumbed to the same disease before their 40th birthdays.  As a result, a growing fear of dying young haunted the budding superstar.  He would talk long into the night with his close teammates, confiding to them this nagging fear.

     Convinced an early funeral was his inevitable fate, though often joking about it, he played hard and partied even harder.  For him there was no tomorrow.  Tragically, this attitude led to a 40-year bout with alcohol that caused his body to grow old before its time and clouded his mind.  Many criticized his self-destructive lifestyle, saying it sabotaged the greatest combination of power and speed the game had ever seen.  In the autumn of his life, Mantle came to agree with those critics, admitting that his drug of choice, alcohol, kept him from reaching his full potential– as a player and as a person.  He had learned the hard lesson that a man reaps what he sows.

     Finally in 1994, at the urging of his family and friends, Mickey sought help for his addiction.  After checking himself into the Betty Ford Center, he was able to win his long battle with the bottle.  But he knew something was still missing in his life.  He just wasn’t sure what it was.

     In June of 1995, doctors discovered that cancer had destroyed Mantle’s liver.  He was fortunate to receive a transplant, and for a while it seemed as if the greatest switch hitter of all time would live to fight another day.  Then doctors found that cancer remained in his body, and he began chemotherapy.  Mickey knew he was facing death.  During the All-Star break in Dallas, he picked up the phone and called his old friend and teammate, former Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson– a committed Christian.  Mickey asked him to pray for him over the telephone.  A few weeks later when doctors had discovered that the cancer had aggressively spread, Mickey’s family asked Bobby if he would come visit him.  His death was imminent.  To honor Mickey’s long-standing request– one he had made at the funeral of Roger Maris nine years earlier– Bobby was asked to speak at the funeral.

     After entering the hospital room, Richardson went over to Mantle’s bed and took his hand.  Locking his eyes on him, Bobby said, “Mickey, I love you, and I want you to spend eternity in heaven with me.”  Mantle smiled and said, “Bobby, I’ve been wanting to tell you that I have trusted Jesus Christ as my Savior.”  Faced with the crushing weight of his sin against a holy God and its dire consequence– eternal separation from God– Mickey had asked for and received the forgiveness he so desperately needed.  For Richardson, news of his conversion felt like cool rain after a summer drought, and brought tears to his eyes.  For years, he had talked to Mickey about the Lord Jesus, but to no avail.  Now, in the final inning of his life, the Mick had won his greatest victory– more glorious than any of his tape-measure home runs.

     When asked later how he knew he would spend eternity with God in heaven, Mickey, after some reflection, quoted John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

     At Mickey’s funeral, Bobby Richardson told 2,000 mourners and a national TV audience that there are only two groups of people: those who say “yes” to Christ and those who say “no.”  He added that, since none of us knows when he will face his own final inning, saying “maybe” is really saying “no.”  The Bible confirms this when it says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36).

     So, what about you?  The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).  But the good news is that “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  In addition, “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed… but with the precious blood of Christ” (I Peter 1:18-19).

     Don’t delay!  Life is short and eternity hastens.  There is no second chance.  If you have never turned from your sins and trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ, do it now.  You can pray right now, saying something like this:

     “Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner– full of pride and selfishness– and I need Your forgiveness.  I believe that You died in my place to pay the penalty for my sins and that You rose from the dead.  I now trust in You alone as my Savior and receive Your gift of eternal life.”

     I urge you to consider that “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (II Corinthians 6:2).

1643) Better Than College

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By W. Scott Lamb, July 28, 2015, athttp://www.washingtontimes.com

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     If you’ve got a recent high school graduate who is shuffling their feet about his or her plans for the fall — “Should I go right into college, or not?” — then you might want to keep them away from this quote by former President Theodore Roosevelt:  “A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.”

     On the other hand, it might be the very piece of wisdom they need to hear.

     Roosevelt, himself a graduate of Harvard and a year of Columbia Law School, was no slouch when it came it formal education.  He was a lifelong learner, consuming (and writing) books with as much energy as he did just about everything else in his life.

      But Roosevelt’s words here underscore the great confidence that people — including presidents in the public square — had in the Bible.

     So if your recent high school graduate desperately wants to do something other than head directly into college, challenge them to “take up and read” (in the words of St. Augustine) and spend the next year reading the Bible several times from cover to cover.

     Don’t take it from me though. That comes from a former President of the United States.

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“A college education might prepare you for a great career.  Knowledge of, and faith in, what the Bible says will prepare you for a great eternity.”

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II Timothy 3:14-17  —  As for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching,rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

I John 5:13  —  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

I Corinthians 1:25  —  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Hebrews 4:12  —  For the word of God is alive and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 

Psalm 119:105  —  Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Matthew 4:4  —  Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

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Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:  Grant us to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.
Book of Common Prayer

1642) Happiness With or Without God

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     What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could “be like gods;” that they could set up on their own as if they had created themselves, they could be their own masters, and they could invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God.  And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—greed, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

     God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.  There is no such thing.

–From Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

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Genesis 3:1-5  —  The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made.  One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat.  God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman.  “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

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Exodus 20:3  —  You shall have no other gods before me.  (the First Commandment)

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Matthew 22:34-38  —  Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.  One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.”

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Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ;

For all the benefits Thou hast given me,
For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly.

–Richard, Bishop of Chichester  (1197-1253)

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1641) Changed Mind; Changed Life (c)

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Lee and Leslie Strobel today

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(…continued)  Stephen: That’s an intellectual moment. Was there a spiritual moment?

Lee: There was, yes, but it came after that. It’s funny because after almost two years of investigating this, once I came to that intellectual conclusion that it was true, I felt very let down.  It was very anti-climactic.  It was like, okay, I invested two years of my life in this and now I’ve got a conclusion?  So what?

But then I read John 1:12 that says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”

I realized that verse forms an equation of what it means to become a child of God– believe plus receive equals become.  I realized that just being in intellectual agreement with the evidence and the facts of history is not sufficient.  I had to receive this free gift of forgiveness and eternal life that Jesus had purchased for me on the cross when he died as my substitute to pay for all of my sins.  And when I would receive this free gift of his grace, then I would become a child of God.

That’s when I got on my knees and poured out a confession of a lifetime of immorality that would curl your hair.  That’s when I reached out in repentance and faith, received this free gift of eternal life and forgiveness through Christ, and became a child of God.

Stephen: When you get up from a prayer like that, so much has changed, and yet in some respects so little has changed.  Your room is still around you, the evidence of your life which you’ve now admitted is broken, is still around you, and you’ve got to go and confess to Leslie.  What was that like?

Lee: The first thought that went through my head was, “I’ve got to tell Leslie about this.”  When I told her, she burst into tears and threw her arms around my neck and said, “I almost gave up on you a thousand times.”  And she said, “When I was a new Christian, I met some women at a church.  I told them about you and said, ‘I don’t have any hope for my husband.  He’s the hard-headed, hard-hearted, legal editor of The Chicago Tribune.  He will never bend his knee to Jesus.’”

But this woman named Sylvia put her arm around Leslie and pulled her to the side and said, “Leslie, no one is beyond hope.”  And she gave her a verse from the Old Testament, Ezekiel 36:26:  “Moreover, I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you.  I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

That whole two years that I was on this investigative journey, Leslie was behind the scenes, every day praying that verse for me.  And starting on that Sunday afternoon, now that I’d been adopted as a child of God, God began to answer that prayer.  I was baptized and as I became part of a vibrant church, I learned to read the Bible with fresh eyes, I learned to worship, and I learned to pray.  My values began to change, and so did my character, my morality, my attitudes, my philosophy, my priorities, my relationships, and my marriage.  All these things (over time) began to change for the good, as God answered that prayer that Leslie had prayed so faithfully.

Stephen: And other relationships in your family were restored?

Lee:  They were.  I wish that my relationship with my father had been restored before he died, but this happened after he died, and we never fully reconciled the rift in our relationship.  But my family, which had suffered as a result of my hedonistic and narcissistic and drunken lifestyle, began to feel the impact.  My daughter was five years old then, and she’d only known a dad who was absent and angry and kicking holes in the wall out of anger and frustration, and coming home drunk.  She watched as God changed her dad in front of her eyes.  She watched and listened for about four or five months, and then she came up to Leslie one day and said, “I want God to do for me what he’s done for daddy.”  And the same thing with my son. He saw the difference God was making in his mom, in his dad, in his sister. He came to faith at a young age too.  So, God healed our family.

Stephen: As a journalist, you were a senior reporter in your city, well known, with lots of power and access to people.  You were on top of your game and on top of the world.  Didn’t accepting the truth of Christ essentially meant giving up on all of those things.

Lee:  I had hoped that God would have kept me in journalism because I think it’s important to have Christian voices in newsrooms.  But He called me out of that.  I took a 60% pay cut, went to work at a church, lived in a tiny little house for 20 years, raised our kids, and we didn’t have much.  But we had God, we had faith, and we wouldn’t trade that for anything.  It’s been the greatest adventure of our lives– to be able to tell people about Jesus, to see other lives changed, and to write books and articles about faith and see how God ignites faith in people’s lives.  I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

Stephen: What gives you hope?

Lee:  In the Bible, hope is specifically anchored to the resurrection.  I think that’s important in a couple of ways.  First of all, we can have hope because we know from the evidence that the resurrection occurred.  Then second, that gives us confidence that we will someday spend eternity with God as well.  God has opened up heaven to all those, who follow him in repentance and faith.  That gives me hope.

I almost died five years ago.  I was on my deathbed and there was great uncertainty whether I would live, and if I survived, whether I would have been mentally disabled.  God rescued me from that, thankfully, but it gave me a renewed perspective of what’s important and what’s not important.  It helped me realize that the only hope in moments like that is the truth of the gospel and the truth of the resurrection.  In those moments, my success as an author or as a journalist was totally irrelevant.  All that was relevant is that Jesus is real, that I’m his adopted son, and that if I close my eyes in this world for the last time, I’m going to open them in eternity with him.  That’s all that matters, and that’s all the hope I, or any of us, ultimately need.

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Leslie describes her very different path to faith:

“I wasn’t interested in all those experts like Lee was.  My faith was based on how I received Christ, how I just knew that Christ was in my life, and how He was moving and answering my prayers in so many ways.  It’s so funny for me to hear Lee talk about all those facts he found on his journey, because my journey was so much more simple.  I was feeling empty and hurting because Lee was never home.  Lee was busy in his career, and I would cry out to God and I’d feel His presence.  Or I’d open the Bible and He would speak to me in what I was reading.  For me, it was relational.  It was never a question of needing any kind of hard facts or proof.  For me, faith was proved by God’s presence in my life.”

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Luke 1:1-4  —  Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.  With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

Acts 16:29-31  —  The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas.  He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

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I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.  –Mark 9:24b

1640) Changed Mind; Changed Life (b)

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(…continued)  Stephen: So you spoke with archaeologists, biologists, historians, theologians, lawyers.  As this story unfolded it became a crusade.  What was happening?

Lee:  Well, I was taken aback. I thought this could be resolved very quickly, but every time I would poke at Christianity, it would poke back. It would have an answer. I’d ask a tough question, I’d find an answer, and I’d say, “Huh.  Okay, well what about this? What about that?”

I was intrigued, but also getting increasingly angry and frustrated because I wanted to end this. At the same time, I tried to approach it with an open mind, as I did articles as a journalist. Even though my hope was I would free Leslie from this cult, I tried to keep an open mind when I did the investigation, and, as they say, “call them as I see them.”

And I think that served me well because had I gone out merely with the intention of building a case against Christianity, (or for Christianity), I think I would not have come to a satisfying conclusion. But because I tried to be honest about it– conceding when an answer was given that made sense, and challenging answers that didn’t make sense– I felt more confident in the conclusions I was reaching.

Stephen: So you engage in debate and discussion with these great minds, and you bring to them bits of evidence. For instance, you go to one theologian, you say, “Okay, Jesus calls himself the son of man. He never says he’s the son of God. He never says he is God.” And the answer that comes to that question has an impact on you.

Lee: Yes.  I was told that if you look in Daniel “the son of man” is a reference to a character that had divine characteristics. So the claim in the Gospels when Jesus is referred to as a son of man is, in effect, a divine claim. And that is counterintuitive.  The intuitive response is, “Oh, son of man, he’s just claiming to be human.”   But when you realize he’s applying this Old Testament passage to himself, it becomes something much more different.  It becomes a more divine and supernatural claim.

Stephen: Then came the central claims of the gospel: the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the eyewitness accounts.  Talk to me about the process by which you came to gather evidence about whether Jesus did die, whether he rose again, and whether the accounts of that are true.

Lee: I was surprised that there is virtual unanimity among scholars in the field of Jesus’s death– that he was killed, and was dead when he was crucified.  Much of what we know from ancient history comes from only one or two sources.  But for the death of Jesus on the cross, we not only have multiple early first-century accounts in the documents that make up the New Testament;  and we also have five ancient sources outside the Bible, confirming and corroborating his death.

Stephen: So, convinced that Jesus did die, you then tried to prosecute the case for the resurrection. That’s the biggest claim of all.  How did you go about that?

Lee:  I assumed that the resurrection was a legend, and I knew it took some time for a legend to develop in the ancient world.  In fact, Adrian Nicholas Sherwin-White of the University of Oxford said that in the ancient world, the passage of two generations of time was not even enough for a legend to grow up and wipe out a solid core of historical truth.  So, it became important to establish when these reports of the resurrection originated.

We have preserved for us a creed, a statement of conviction of the earliest Christians. This creed says that Jesus died for our sins, he was buried, and the third day he rose from the dead, and then it mentions some specific names of eyewitnesses and groups of eyewitnesses to whom he appeared. What is important about this creed, which is essentially a report of the resurrection, is how immediately it developed after the death of Jesus.  Indeed, this creed has been dated by scholars to originate within months of the death of Jesus.

That is way too early to write it off as merely being a legend.  And that’s not the only early report we have.  We’ve got others in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the Book of Acts– all of which date back very early.  They were already circulating during the lifetimes of Jesus’ contemporaries, many who would have been all too happy to point out the errors if someone had been making it up.

Stephen: As a legal affairs journalist, you’re dealing with and writing about evidence all the time.  So what is going through your mind as you see this evidence building up, and you realize that these eyewitness accounts are verifiable, and that they are close to the event, and that they’re from some different sources?

Lee: What shocked me was that the creed is only one of nine ancient sources that we have inside and outside the New Testament that confirm and corroborate the conviction of the disciples that they encountered the resurrected Jesus.  That is an avalanche of historical data.  I am stunned by this.  The earliest biography of Alexander the Great by Plutarch was written 400 years after his life, and it’s considered reliable. But here we’ve got fresh, close-to-the-scene reports of the resurrection that are rooted in eyewitness testimony and accounts.  This is an extraordinary amount of historical evidence.  And when you add it to the fact that even the opponents of Jesus implicitly admitted that the tomb of Jesus was empty  (and so much more), you’ve got a really good case that Jesus not only claimed to be the son of God, but he backed up that claim by returning from the dead

Stephen:  So you confronted with evidence that is compelling.  Was there a moment when you realized that this was a truth that had to be taken seriously?

Lee:  I remember it clearly.  It was two o’clock in the afternoon on Sunday, November 8, 1981.  I sat down with all the evidence I’d collected over this almost two-year investigation, reviewed it all, and wrote down notes to summarize it and get my arms around it.  A good jury reaches a verdict.  The evidence was in, and there was plenty of it.  I needed to reach a verdict.  In light of the avalanche of evidence that points so powerfully toward the truth of Christianity, I realized it would take more faith to maintain my atheism than to become a Christian.  In other words, the scales tipped decisively in the direction of Christianity being true.  (continued…)

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1639) Changed Mind; Changed Life (a)

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Lee and Leslie Strobel, 1972 wedding

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Lee Strobel describing his marriage in 1979:  “I remember Leslie was talking about going to church, and it made me so angry that I reared back and kicked a hole right through our living room wall.”

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The Emailmeditation two days ago (#1637) briefly told the story of Lee Strobel, author of The Case for Christ.  In this (edited) radio interview with Stephen Doherty (www. hope1032.com.au) Strobel talks about his ‘changed mind and changed life.’

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Stephen Doherty:  It’s 1980, and Lee Strobel is facing a crisis.  He’s the Legal Affairs Editor of the prestigious Chicago Tribune newspaper.  He’s an avowed atheist.  His crisis?  His wife has become a Christian.  In his mind, she has fallen victim to a cult.  So, this top-flight journalist set out to gather the evidence that would free his wife and save his marriage.  He challenged experts in many fields with questions.  The book that outlined that investigation became a bestseller, The Case for Christ.  The story behind the book has been made into a movie of the same name. Unlike the book though, the movie tells the personal story of Lee and Leslie…  Lee, you were a 20-year-old, 20-something-year-old journalist. What sort of a guy were you?

Lee Strobel:  I was a narcissist, I was a hedonist, I was a heavy drinker, I was self-absorbed, self-destructive in many ways, and I was an atheist.  I was successful in my career; I was Legal Editor of The Chicago Tribune, which is the biggest newspaper between the two coasts.  I was highly functional in the sense that my drinking was restricted to weekends.  I would be drunk in the snow in an alley on Saturday night, but I was able to manage it so that I was still successful in my career.

Stephen: And were you married at that time to Leslie?

Lee: Yes, we got married young, I was 20, she was 19.

Stephen: So, take me through the mind of a young legal affairs journalist with all of those characteristics you’ve spoken about when it comes to matters of faith.  Now, you’ve already said you were an atheist, and it was an aggressive, assertive form of atheism, wasn’t it?

Lee: It was.  I was hostile toward the faith, toward Christianity especially.  I thought it was based on mythology, legend, make-believe, wishful thinking, and I thought that you would have to be fairly weak-minded to live that kind of life.

Stephen: Is it fair to say that’s typical in the journalism profession?

Lee:  I think so.  Studies have shown in the United States anyway, that among the media elite, the percentage of committed Christians is quite low, much lower than the population at large. So, it tends to be a self-selecting population of people who tend to be skeptics and tend to be a little bit cynical; people like me who are very oriented toward evidence and facts and logic and rationality and truth.

Stephen: Well, into that world and into that culture and your worldview, God broke through in a rather dramatic and personal way, through things that happened to your family. First, there was an incident that involved your daughter?

Lee: What really happened was similar to what happened in the film, and we were afraid that we were going to lose our daughter.  In the movie, it’s a choking incident; in real life, she was lost at an amusement park. It was a Christian nurse– Alfie in the movie, and in real life a woman named Linda– that rescued the situation.  Leslie and Linda became friends.  Leslie went to church with her, and learned about Jesus from her.

Stephen: And that shook you up. I want to quote the preface to your book. “Leslie stunned me in the autumn of 1979 by announcing she’d become a Christian.  I rolled my eyes and braced for the worst, feeling like the victim of a bait-and-switch scam.  I’d married one Leslie, the fun Leslie, care-free Leslie, the risk-taking Leslie, and now I feared she was going to turn into some sexually repressed prude who would trade our upwardly mobile lifestyle for all-night prayer vigils and volunteer working grimy soup kitchens.”  Is that how it was?

Lee:  That was exactly how I felt.  The scene in the movie was right out of our lives.  When she told me that she had prayed and become a follower of Jesus, the first word that went through my mind was divorce.  I didn’t want her to be pulled into this Christian subculture where I wasn’t welcome as an atheist.  I saw conflict all the way to the horizon of our marriage regarding how we would raise our kids, and how we would spend our money, and how we would spend our weekends.  And all of a sudden there would be another man in our marriage, Jesus, who she would be reaching out to for emotional support.  I thought that was my role.  So I felt a little bit jealous of Jesus.  I know that sounds odd, but it’s like I thought I was the man in her life, and all of a sudden, now there’s someone else that she not only looks up to, but she worships.

Stephen: I think it’s a common experience.  I’ve spoken to a lot of men who’ve been through that same sort of thing over the years.  But that didn’t mean then that you went out and did anything out of care for Leslie.  I don’t mean to sound harsh, but the movie tells the story about you virtually prosecuting the case as to why her faith was based on a lie.

Lee:  I wanted to rescue her from this cult of Christianity that she’d gotten involved in.  I saw it as a cult, as something where they were obviously using some mind control, which she was certainly duped into thinking that there was some substance to these theological claims.  And so my hope was that if I could disprove the resurrection, the whole Christian faith would collapse like a house of cards.  I honestly thought I could do that in a weekend.

Stephen: What gave you the idea to do it as an investigative reporting piece?

Lee: I didn’t set out to write anything about it.  My motive was to rescue Leslie from this cult.  I figured that since I was trained in journalism and law I would investigate it.  That’s what I did as a journalist, and I thought it would be easy.  I’d just read books on both sides, study ancient history and archaeology, and interview the experts.  As I did that I was writing things dow, but not with the intent of ever doing a book.  Toward the end, I thought maybe an article would be a good idea.  But that was secondary to my main goal, which was to rescue Leslie.

Stephen: What I found amazing about that is how being a journalist gave you access that most people don’t have.

Lee: You’re exactly right.  I could pick up the phone and say, “Hi, this is Lee Strobel from The Chicago Tribune,” and get virtually anybody on the phone.  I didn’t even say I was working on an article; I’d just say, “I’m Lee Strobel from The Chicago Tribune.  Can I ask you a couple of questions?”  And they would say, “Of course.”  It is a privileged position.  It opens a lot of doors and makes this kind of investigation easier than for the average person.

Stephen: And being a position of privilege then is a position of obligation, and God has used your search after truth to reveal the truth to many people.

Lee:  In his love and grace, God meets people where they’re at.  Leslie didn’t need a lot of historical data and scientific evidence to come to faith.  It’s just not in her personality and nature.  She had a personal experience with God, and that’s great.  But God knew that with my skepticism, and my background in journalism and law, that it was going to take evidence for me.  So He took me on a path to discover exactly what I needed to hear.  (continued…)

1638) Seeking the Perfect Pastor

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This little piece has appeared in many different forms in many different places.  It is a real ‘oldie, but goodie,’ and you have probably already seen it.  I have run across it many times, and it is always fun to read.  This is how it appeared in a 1992 Dear Abby column:

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     Dear Abby:  One of the toughest tasks a church faces is choosing a good minister.  A member of an official board undergoing this painful process finally lost patience.  He had watched the pastoral relations committee reject applicant after applicant for some fault, alleged or otherwise.  It was time for a bit of soul-searching on the part of the committee.  So he stood up and read a letter purporting to be from another applicant.

Gentlemen: Understanding your pulpit is vacant, I should like to apply for the position.  I have many qualifications.  I have been a preacher with much success and also have had some success as a writer.  Some say I am a good organizer.  I’ve been a leader most places I`ve been.  I am over 50 years of age.  I have never preached in one place for more than three years.  In some places, I have left town after my work caused riots and disturbances.  I must admit I have been in jail three or four times, but not because of any real wrongdoing.  My health is not too good, though I still get a great deal done.  I have not gotten along well with religious leaders in towns where I have preached.  I am not too good at keeping records.  I have been known to forget whom I baptized.  However, if you can use me, I shall do my best for you.

 The board member looked over the committee. “Well, what do you think?  Shall we call him?”

     The good church folks were aghast.  Call an unhealthy, trouble-making, absentminded ex-jailbird? Was the board member crazy?  Who signed the application?  Who has such colossal nerve?

     The board member eyed them all keenly before he answered, “It’s signed, The Apostle Paul.

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II Corinthians 12:7b-10  —  (Paul wrote), “I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”   Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I Corinthians 2:2b-5  —  (Paul wrote), “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”

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Martin Luther’s Sacristy Prayer:

Lord God, you have appointed me as a Pastor in your Church, but
you can see how unsuited I am to meet so great and difficult a task.  If I had
lacked Your help, I would have ruined everything long ago.  Therefore, I
call upon you. I wish to devote my mouth and my heart to you.  I shall
teach the people.  I myself will learn and ponder diligently upon your Word.
 Use me as your instrument.  But do not forsake me, for if ever I should
be on my own, I would easily wreck it all.  Amen.

1637) By What Authority? (c)

            (…continued)  Lee Strobel was a hard-nosed investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune.  He had written some award-winning stories, was promoted at work, and was happily married with two children.  Life was going great for him.  Then his wife ruined everything by going to church and becoming a Christian.  Lee Strobel was all about facts, and he could not stand it that his wife joined this cult (as he called it); a cult that was based on fairy tales.

     So Strobel decided to use all his skills as an investigative reporter to investigate Christianity, prove it to be a fraud, and get his crazy wife out of that church, which was now even starting to brainwash his children.  He quickly got to the heart of the matter—the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  If Jesus did not rise from the dead, the whole thing would crumble like a house of cards.  Strobel was confident he would be able to disprove that old fable.  After all, he was a part of the effort that taught Ford Motor Company a lesson about vehicle safety, forcing the recall of a million and a half Pintos after a design flaw that led to explosions, fires, and many fatalities after even minor rear end collisions.

     Unlike many people, Strobel did not simply dismiss and ridicule what the New Testament said about Jesus.  His plan was to actively engage the enemy, seeking out the best Christian scholars and convincing them of their errors.  But he was surprised to find that these Christians were not as dumb as he thought.  They had already approached the New Testament with all the tough logical and historical questions that he was ready to investigate.  Not only that, but they had powerful reasons for still believing as they did.  Time after time, his objections were answered; again and again, his arguments failed.

     Eventually, he found that he could not prove that Jesus did not rise from the dead.  In fact, he came to believe, totally against his will and desire and pride and huge ego, that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the best explanation for the historical facts.

     Lee Strobel’s life and career was all about facts, and the facts he learned about the New Testament, led him to faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

     Lee Strobel quit his job at the Chicago Tribune, but kept on writing.  He has written The Case for Christ, The Case for the Creator, The Case for Faith, The Case for Grace, and God’s Outrageous Claims.

     Lee Strobel, like the chief priests and elders in Matthew 21, wanted to know “by what authority” Jesus was able to make such outrageous claims.  At first, he dismissed Jesus with the smug disdain that many people today have for Christianity.  But then, unlike many people today, he began to look into it.  When he did, he found all kinds of reasons to believe that Christ is worthy of the authority given him.

Read the book:

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See the movie:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhe8KhSxWGo

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Hear Lee Strobel describe “The Case for Christ”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ikxb09pyZwM

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II Peter 1:16  —  We did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

I Corinthians 15:1-8  —  I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance:  that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Acts 5:29-38  —  Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings!  The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead— whom you killed by hanging him on a cross.  God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.  We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”  When they (the religious leaders) heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.  But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while.  Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men.  Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him.  He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.  After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt.  He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.  Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

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O Almighty God, grant that we may ever be found watching and ready for the coming of Thy Son.  Save us from undue love of the world, that we may wait with patient hope for the day of the Lord, and so abide in him, that when he shall appear we may not be ashamed; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Methodist hymnal

1636) By What Authority? (b)

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        (…continued)  Cars cost a lot of money, so most people do some research before they buy one.  They want to get the best car for the money they have to spend, and they want the facts.  They will go on-line to learn what they can, or, they might ask someone whose knowledge and opinion they trust.  They are looking for some authority on which to base their decision about a new or different car.

     One should be at least as interested in their thinking about God, morality, and the life to come.  But in this area, facts do not even matter for many people.  They would tell you that it is what they feel in their heart that matters, what seems right to them, or, as we often hear, ‘It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere.’  But is that right?  Who says?  By what authority?  Being sincere is always nice, but one should want to know if that is really all that is needed.  And what does it mean to say you are sincere about something if you haven’t even bothered to look into it?

     I am a minister, and so I should be big on faith– right?  And I am big on faith; everybody is, even atheists.  Atheist have to believe that everything got here all by itself, and that takes a lot of faith.  We all eventually get around to some kind of faith.  There just aren’t enough facts to get it all figured out on our own, and we have to start somewhere.

     But not only am I big on faith, I am also big on facing those facts that we do have.  Before I get around to putting my faith in something, I want to get a hold of as many facts as I can.  And here is an important fact, one that we all have to get around to dealing with.  I have come to the conclusion that it is an absolute fact that DEAD IS DEAD.  There is nothing I see in this natural world that changes that fact.  There is nothing I see to make me think that we are automatically off to a better place as soon as we die.  If anyone tries to tell me any different, I have to ask “By what authority” they are telling me that.

     Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live again.”  But, ‘by what authority’ should I believe that?  Why should I think that is anything more than words on a page?  Is there any reason to think that the fact ‘dead is dead’ doesn’t apply to Jesus?  Well, I thought that was worth looking into.  So I did.

     And now I do think there is a reason for those words on a page.  I do believe in the accuracy and the authority of the New Testament when it says Jesus rose from the dead.  And if someone has indeed risen from the dead, well, then that becomes a bigger fact than ‘dead is dead,’ and reason enough to readjust my thinking, especially if that Jesus says I too can rise from the dead if I believe in Him.

     Some of you have perhaps never been troubled by such doubts.  Others, perhaps are.  Either way, the question of the chief priests in Matthew 21 who ask, “By what authority?” is one that demands your attention.

     It is becoming common today to think it does not matter what we believe, and it does not matter what we do.  But if you read the Bible, you will see that it matters a great deal what we believe and what we do.  And if someone rejects the Bible’s authority arrives at a different conclusion, they still have to ask the question, “By what authority?” do I believe and trust as I do?  (continued…)

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Matthew 21:23  —  Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him.  “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked.  “And who gave you this authority?”

John 11:25  —  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

Matthew 28:18-20  —  Then Jesus came to them and said, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Philippian 2:9-11  —  God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

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Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.

–Ancient Jesus prayer