A while back, I wrote about a young woman named Aracely who was an illegal alien, and whom my wife Brenda helped to establish legal residency here in the US. That was over seven years ago, and just this morning this young woman and her husband — also a former illegal alien — took the oath of allegiance to become US citizens.

Brenda tells me her hope during that process was that Aracely would become a productive member of the community, and that is just what has happened. She works in the appraiser’s office as a certified public manager, has a couple of kids, and now is just as legal as you and me.

It’s a visible example of Eph 2.19, which tells us that we used to be strangers and aliens to God, but are now citizens of God’s kingdom — and not only that, but members of his household. He has adopted us! And interestingly enough, that is what we as a nation have done with Aracely and her people. “They” are now “us”. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Keeping the faith

Funny thing. I was talking with my two older children the other night, and I started telling them stories about this friend I knew in college. Actually, I had known him since high school, but the stories were from the days we lived in the dorm on campus.

Paul Childs was a unique character. As a pre-med student, he studied voraciously. He would spend hours in the study room at the dorm, where the only rule was that you had to be quiet. I only went into the room a few times in my entire college career, for the express purpose of trying to make him laugh so he would have to leave the room. I never went in there to study — I never really saw the point. Anyway, Paul had a laugh that was infectious; his laugh made us laugh.

And that’s the way it was with Paul. His joy for living rubbed off on us. Which is why it shocked us so much when he died in suddenly at the age of 20, two weeks into our senior year of college.

The summer of 1986, Paul and I worked at the church we had attended all our lives. We were on the summer youth staff, working with high school students and having the time of our lives. We went on retreats and mission trips, had bible studies, hung out with the kids, and became even better friends. I met Paul my sophomore year in high school, so we had known each other for six years. Four of us — Paul, our friend Jim, my twin brother Kevin, and I — were inseparable. We had a great life.

Then, early in September of that year, Paul competed in yet another triathlon. This one he did not complete. Paul was in contention for the lead in the Baptist Medical Center Triathlon when his bicycle collided with a truck which had been directed into the intersection by a police officer who didn’t know Paul was coming.

There was a nice article in the Sept 9, 1986, Kansas City Star. The article quotes a friend of Paul, who said this about him:

We set goals, and he always tried to accomplish them. Before the triathlon at Lake Jacomo, he sprained his ankle playing soccer. He was so competitive…that he ran the 10ks on crutches. He finished last and was proud of it. He finished what he started.

It’s always sad when someone dies, and even sadder when they die at an early age. But our memories of them live on, and that makes the pain a little easier to bear.

I told you about Paul’s laugh; when you heard him laugh, you wanted to laugh too. Paul loved to laugh, and he loved life.

Not everyone knew that Paul in high school began to visit nursing homes to spend time with the old folks there. It started as a service project with his youth group, but when the project ended, Paul continued. He returned to the nursing home on a regular basis, through high school and into college. It seems that when Paul started something, he didn’t give up.

Those who knew him could see that perseverance in his triathlon training. It takes determination and perhaps stubbornness (maybe a little bull-headedness!) to run a 10k on crutches – who does that? – but think about the dedication and commitment to excellence that caused him to train, to work hard, to sacrifice so that he had the endurance and mental preparation necessary to actually travel ten kilometers on crutches. Paul never gave up. He finished what he started.

It’s been over 30 years, and the memories of my friend are still vivid today. I laughed with him, supported him in his races, and saw over 800 people gather at his funeral to celebrate his life. Whether it was visiting an old woman in a nursing home, or facing a ten-kilometer track on crutches where he knew he would lose, Paul persevered. He endured. And I think Paul Childs could say, along with the apostle Paul: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Paul Childs

Our kids don’t know we’re different

We are doing something this summer that we haven’t done before — sending our kids to a bunch of camps. Now, these are “day camps”, where they spend a few hours off doing something, then come home before dinner. However, for us it’s new.

Zoe is 13, and at “zoo camp” this week. This is a great experience for her, but it means she leaves the house at 7:30 and comes back around 4:30. Then at 6, she and her siblings head off to soccer camp for two hours.

We’ve only been doing this for two days (Monday and Tuesday), when Tommy said something that made me stop and think. He’s 11, and was talking with Zoe about the day. He said, “You leave early in the morning, get home just in time for dinner, then leave again. I hardly ever see you.” My wife Brenda overheard him, and said, “That’s what normal families do.”

See, we homeschool, so he’s used to being around all of the family all of the day. Having an older sister whom he doesn’t see all day is different, it’s weird. It’s not normal.

When we first started homeschooling, one of our goals was to have our kids be best friends with each other. We each had friends who were great companions during our school years, but whom we never see anymore. However, we do see our brothers and sisters, so our thought was to strengthen and deepen those relationships; we know those will last throughout their lifetimes.

So it struck me, when Brenda replied, that Tommy didn’t know what “normal” families do. He didn’t know that normal families don’t spend a lot of time with each other, don’t see each other throughout the day, and often begin to drift apart as the kids reach their teen years. At least, that’s what happened in Brenda and my families. We still have good relationships with our siblings, but they’re not as strong as they were…or as they could be.

My oldest, Samantha, makes sure this doesn’t happen. She told me a little while ago that even though she’s attending the local college, she thought about moving out of the house. She opted not to, though, and her main reason was this: her littlest sister, Nellie, was only four years old. If Samantha moved out, she reasoned, then she wouldn’t end up being a sister to Nellie, but more like an aunt. She would come over to visit, and maybe stay for dinner, but she wouldn’t spend quantity time with Nellie, she wouldn’t see her in passing…she wouldn’t live with Nellie. So Sam chose to live at home, if only to form a lasting bond with a pre-schooler fourteen years her junior.

That’s our family. That’s different. But our kids don’t know it.

What’s your family like?

Demolish things

I mentor some guys via email (sounds weird, I know). One of them, a young man named, Nate, wrote this to me recently:

I have been doing great. I have noticed my thought patterns lately and I feel like those strongholds are really breaking down. I pray that the devil will never be able to build his strongholds in my mind again. I love the feeling of freedom that I have when I am able to demolish impure thought patterns.

Go out today and demolish something.

Bart’s trouble

I’ve been reading a little bit of Bart Ehrman’s work, and a little bit about him. I’ve tried to boil down his arguments against the validity, historicity, and relevance of the New Testament. I think they can be summed up in these statements, found mostly in his book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, but he repeats these same arguments through most of his book:

  • The NT gospels were written too long after the events they describe, and therefore are susceptible to the frailties of human memory and distortion.
  • The gospels are tainted with post-Easter doctrine, which could not have been considered before the death of Jesus.
  • The gospels record supernatural activity, which is unverifiable and therefore not historical.
  • The NT manuscripts contain so many variants, and this undermines its credibility.

I’ve only read (and read about) a small number of his books, so perhaps he has more arguments than these. Still, I can start by examining his arguments — not by trying to disprove them, but by trying to figure out just what kind of religious documents would actually meet his criteria.

This post will only address his first point: The NT gospels were written too long after the events they describe.

Bart’s point here is that since the gospels were written anywhere from 30 to 60 years after the time of Jesus, they are undoubtedly the product of oral tradition which changed over time, rather than the accurate recollection of eyewitnesses.

Bart uses the analogy of the party game of “telephone”. In this game, one participant whispers a phrase into the ear of another. The second participant whispers into the ear of a third, and so on throughout the room. The last person repeats the phrase as he or she heard it, and everyone laughs at how the phrase has changed.

Bart says that the stories about Jesus were changed over time, just as the phrase in this game. However, there are so many problems with this analogy! In the game, the phrase is whispered, one time only. It’s not repeated clearly, and there is no room to ask questions. And the phrase is supposed to change — the game wouldn’t be any fun if the phrase was repeated perfectly from beginning to end! And besides, there is one person who knows the truth — the person who started the phrase. Part of the game involves going back to this person and comparing the “truth” with the “distortion”.

The stories of Jesus were not at all like this. I’m sure that some people changed the stories to suit particular needs, but — just as in the game — there is someone (or often, multiple someones) who knew the truth. And Bart apparently assumes that the person writing the gospels (Matthew, Mark, etc) is at the end of the telephone line, not at the beginning. Also, he assumes that the people telling the story — or writing it down — are not interested in reporting what actually happened.

So what are we left with? What should we find in a two thousand year old document, in order for Bart to stamp it as historically accurate?

Well, I guess it should be signed, as in: “I, Matthew, wrote this down.” This probably wouldn’t cut it for Bart. We all know that some of the letters attributed to Paul in the NT are not accepted as being authored by him. So even as Bart bemoans the anonymity of the gospel authors, I doubt he would accept as authentic any self-attribution in them.

Bart has also said that a record of an event should have been written within a very short time of the actual event, so that the eyewitnesses would be able to accurately remember. Just how short a time are we talking about? We know that the testimony of courtroom witnesses can be unreliable just a few weeks or months after the incidents they are describing, and the testimony is often colored by the biases of those witnesses. Bart complains that 30 years is too long a time. What about three years? Three months? Even if the document claimed to be on-the-spot reporting, would Bart accept it as historically accurate?

My point is this: Bart (and others) choose not to accept the historical reliability of the NT gospels. They set up criteria which the documents are guaranteed to fail, and then proclaim the inevitable conclusion as the only one which could be reached.