Monday, November 13, 2017

Waking Up in Jerez, Spain

[Composed by John Stewart]

“Evangelism”—The practice of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ
“Evangelist”—A person who proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ
As the sun rose this morning over the Andalusian Hills, after a good night’s sleep from a long journey, we are feeling refreshed and blessed to be in Spain to speak at a conference on evangelism.
Our friend Tim Robnett, who spent years with well-known evangelist Luis Palau (known as “the South American Billy Graham”), organized the conference and invited Laurie and me to speak. The conference consists of European and American evangelists, with people coming from as far away as Poland.
For us, this will be not only a time to teach and train Christian leaders, but to also find out about other ministries and see how we can come along side them, especially to help them reach university students and professionals with the Gospel. We also look forward to learning from their experiences so that we can develop the most effective methods of promoting an intelligent Christian faith.
Laurie and I, as lawyers with specialized training in Christian Apologetics (“presenting reasons why Christianity is true”), engage in evangelism, because apologetics is a species of evangelism. Some evangelists focus on reaching a person’s heart, explaining how we all fall short of the glory of God, yet how Jesus died for us so that by trusting in Him we are given eternal life. We focus on explaining why Christianity is true, providing evidence for the reliability of the Gospel accounts, especially evidence that Jesus rose from the dead as a miracle confirming his claim to be the only way to God (John 14:6).
We hope this will be a rewarding time of making new friends, and encouraging those who are on the front lines to reaching unbelievers with the Gospel. Please pray that those attending will become better equipped to carry out their calling, and that Laurie and I will be refreshed in the focus of our calling.
For me (John) when we get back to the U.S., it will be a quick turn-around, because on November 27 I head to Africa, with conferences in Burundi and Tanzania. We will give you more details of this mission trip shortly

Meanwhile we ask for your prayers for our time in Spain, but also for wisdom in pursuing a tremendous new ministry opportunity that has opened up. At this point we cannot provide any details, but suffice to say that the Lord appears to be leading us in a direction that will require some major and exciting changes.

Thank you for your interest in Intelligent Faith, and both your prayer and financial support that keeps us going.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Apologetics - The New Bad Word and Why We Need It

Earlier this year I was speaking at an Apologetics Conference and I asked the audience to raise their hands if they knew what apologetics was. Two hands went up. Two! And this was at an APOLOGETICS Conference! I put my presentation on pause and spent a few minutes explaining it. 

Is it an Apology? No.
Is it an Argument? No. 
Is it an Answer? Yes. 

As much as I like a good argument (being a lawyer would you expect otherwise?), I admit this is not the best explanation. 

The word "apologetics" can be found in 1 Peter 3:15, "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." 

"Where is "apologetics" in this verse," you ask. I'm glad you asked. The key is the Greek word for "answer" here, apologia, which means to give a defense, a reason, an answer. 

What kind of Answers are we to give? Christians should be able to give reasons they are Christians, reasons they believe Christianity to be true, reasons they believe the Bible is true, reasons they believe Jesus died on a cross and rose again. 

Do you know why you believe Christianity is true? Be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Christian Lawyers in Indonesia!

Sharing Christian Conciliation principles with Christian Lawyers in Indonesia. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

CCM in Nigeria!

Have you heard the old adage--"It is more blessed to give than to receive"? That's how I feel having had the privilege of taking a stellar peacemaking team with me to Nigeria to teach lawyers and judges Christian Conciliation for a week long course, i.e. Conflict Coaching and Peacemaking. A big shout out to Anne Bachle Fifer, Scott Owen and Kevin Thornsberry! But we couldn't have done it without our Nigerian team on the ground. Thank you Paul, Favour, Josiah and Chika!

Last time I was there was in 2014 when I taught about 125 lawyers and judges a week long Peacemaking Seminar. I had just about given up on returning to teach mediation when miraculously a class-A team fell into place.

If you haven't read The Peacemaker by Ken Sande yet, I highly recommend it. It is the basis for our Christian Conciliation teaching.

"Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." Matt. 5:9

Monday, December 5, 2016

Count It All Joy

December 5, 2016
[Note: This account is purposefully written as a long run-on, as it symbolizes the actual run-on adventure.]

Just to summarize our wild day yesterday: after John and Scott finished preaching at their separate churches, we were to meet at the Jos airport to fly out only to discover our flight to Lagos had been cancelled. There is only 1 flight a day. So our gracious driver hit the road for a 4 1/2 hour drive to the capital of Abuja so we could catch another flight in time to make our international connections. While he conquered the road, I was on the phone booking the flights and searching for alternatives. The journey was harrowing as we drove fast, trying to avoid pot holes, other cars, motorcycles, and flying through the armed checkpoints even when they commanded that we stop. Amazingly the men with guns didn't pursue us. We arrived at the airport exhausted from the journey, feeling like we had been on a wild roller coaster for several hours. A different flight was just leaving for our city and one of our friends graciously tried to get us on. We were standing at the stairs to board the plane with luggage there when they informed us they only had 2 seats. Without a second thought we all decided we needed to fly together. We went back inside the terminal to wait for our designated plane, which finally took off 3 1/2 hours late. When we arrived in Lagos, we quickly collected our luggage and met our driver who had patiently waited HOURS for us. He took a short cut in his car to get us from the domestic terminal to the international terminal. Once we arrived, we got a shake down from the police but we simply ran inside to the ticket counters, only to find no one there. It was too late. We had all missed our international flights. We spent some time rebooking flights and calling back our driver who waited for us once again. Our friends in Lagos found a nice hotel close to the airport and even booked it for us. Finally we put all our luggage back in the car (think small 4 door car packed full of luggage for 4 people--everyone had luggage on their laps). Now totally exhausted we arrived at the hotel and were dropped off only to find we were at the wrong hotel. The hotel told us to go next door to another hotel with a very similar name. Some guys helped us drag all our luggage down the street and next door. Only to find it also was the wrong hotel. We contemplated calling our driver back to take us to the correct hotel and even tried to negotiate with the hotel to take us to the correct hotel. Now completely exhausted, we just decided to stay at this hotel. We made our plans to meet late for breakfast the next morning after a good night rest and said good night to each other. John and I went to our room only to find our room key didn't work. John went to get help and they unlocked our room. I took a shower while he went back to the front desk to get a room key that worked. When he returned he informed me that they had moved our room. So we moved luggage to a different room on a different floor. I did this in my PJ's as it was now 1 or 1:30am. In the elevator, the power went out and all went dark. LOL! Thankfully the blackout didn't last long as the hotel has a back up generator. Finally we settled into our new room and checked email for first time all day. We discovered our rebooked flights had been changed again. Back on the phone we were with the travel agent to determine what happened. I think we finally hit the wall at 2 or 2:30am without an answer. This morning we confirmed the new booking was now the correct one. Our airline changed and connecting cities. I can't begin to thank all the wonderful people who have helped us this far. If there is one huge lesson I've learned from this unbelievable experience is how much we need to depend on one another for help and how grateful we are for many helping hands. We now rest up today in preparation to try to journey home once again late tonight. Please pray. In the words of one of my Nigerian friends, "Count it all joy."

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Fate of the Apostles--Evidence of the Resurrection?

Christians like to point to the martyrdom of the first apostles as evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.[1] They base their hypothesis on the premise that people don’t die for a lie they know to be false. People might die for a lie that they believe to be true, but not one they know to be false. This is persuasive evidence for the reliability of the testimony of the early eye witness accounts of Jesus’ resurrection.

In his book, The Resurrection of Jesus, historian Michael R. Licona states this about Jesus’ disciples:

After Jesus’ death, the disciples endured persecution, and a number of them experienced martyrdom. The strength of their conviction indicates that they were not just claiming Jesus had appeared to them after rising from the dead. They really believed it. They willingly endangered themselves by publically proclaiming the risen Christ.[2]

What do we know about the deaths of the first disciples of Jesus? Tradition holds that the apostles died willingly for their belief that Jesus was resurrected.[3] But how can one be historically sure that the apostles were martyred for their faith? In his book Fate of the Apostles, popular Christian apologist Sean McDowell investigates and carefully evaluates the historical evidence of the martyrdom of the apostles, focusing on the earliest sources available, “including New Testament documents, with particular focus on the book of Acts, the writings of the early church fathers, pseudepigraphical writings such as the Acts of the Apostles, Gnostic sources, and other extra-biblical accounts.”[4] McDowell concentrates on first and second century sources containing “living” memory, which he describes as “transmitting personal memory of events that trace back to the apostles themselves.”[5]

To begin, McDowell defines “martyr” as “one whose testimony for Jesus results in death, which is now the standard Christian understanding of ‘martyr.’”[6] Next he refutes two primary arguments against doing the historical investigation into the deaths of the apostles. First, lack of information about some of their deaths “does not undermine the significance of what does exist.”[7] Second, despite some evidence being “stuff of legend,” there is some clear historical evidence within the legends which make them worth examining.[8] Then he presents clear evidence that the resurrection was central to early Christian preaching, kerygma.[9] In other words, the apostles had resurrection faith.

Setting the stage for examining evidence for martyrdom of the apostles, McDowell first identifies and explains who were the Twelve Apostles: Peter, John (son of Zebedee), Thomas, Andrew, James (son of Zebedee), Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddeus, Simon (the Zealot), and Matthias.[10] Next he surveys both historical and legendary evidence for the persecution of the early church.[11] Finally, he devotes the rest of the book (fourteen entire chapters) examining the evidence for the persecution and martyrdom for each of the Twelve Apostles, plus Paul and James (the brother of Jesus).

In the end, McDowell concludes that there is “convincing evidence Peter, Paul, James, the son of Zebedee, and James, the brother of the Lord, died as martyrs.”[12] Additionally, he states it is more probable than not that Thomas died as a martyr, and more plausible than not than Andrew did, too.[13] As for the rest of the apostles, using the “living memory” test, McDowell suggests that there is simply not enough evidence to confidently conclude they died as martyrs. This is due partly because there is little information available, conflicting information, or later information (after the second century), making it less reliable. Here are his conclusions for each of the apostles:

1.     Peter—the highest possible probability
2.     Paul—the highest possible probability
3.     James, brother of Jesus—very probably true
4.     John, the son of Zebedee—improbable
5.     Thomas—more probable than not
6.     Andrew—more plausible than not
7.     James, son of Zebedee—the highest possible probability
8.     Philip—as plausible as not
9.     Bartholomew—as plausible as not
10.  Matthew—as plausible as not
11.  James, son of Alphaeus—as plausible as not
12.  Thaddeus—as plausible as not
13.  Simon the Zealot—as plausible as not
14.  Matthias—as plausible as not[14]

McDowell summarizes by saying, “although there is no early evidence each of the apostles died as martyrs, some general claims make their individual martyrdoms more likely than not.”[15]

So does this evidence prove Jesus died and was resurrected? What about people from other faiths who have died for their beliefs, like Muslims or Buddhists? McDowell responds: “there are many martyrs outside Christianity; I don’t claim that only Christians have martyrs, but that the apostles died uniquely for the belief that they had actually seen the risen Christ, which demonstrates the sincerity of their convictions.[16] Additionally, in contrast to modern martyrs such as Muslim terrorists and even Christians, “the beliefs of the apostles was not received secondhand, but from personal experience with the risen Jesus...”[17] Modern martyrs may have been “willing to suffer and die for a faith received secondhand, but the apostles were willing to suffer and die for what they had seen with their own eyes.”[18] There is no evidence the apostles of Jesus Christ ever recanted their faith.[19]

In conclusion, although the evidence of the martyrdom of the apostles does not prove the resurrection of Jesus, it does show they sincerely believed it. “They were not liars.”[20] There is no better explanation for the reason the apostles were martyred than that they were committed to something that truly happened—the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

[1] Sean McDowell, The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus, (London and New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2015), 1.
[2] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2010), 366.
[3] McDowell, The Fate of the Apostles, 1.
[4] Ibid., 3.
[5] Ibid. McDowell cites to Markus Bockmuehl, “Peter’s Death in Rome? Back to Front and Upside Down,” Scottish Journal of Theology 60 (2007): 7-13.
[6] Ibid., 5.
[7] Ibid., 9.
[8] Ibid., 11.
[9] Ibid., 17-23.
[10] Ibid., 25-36.
[11] Ibid., 37-53.
[12] Ibid., 259; emphasis added.
[13] Ibid.; emphasis added.
[14] Ibid., 263-264; emphasis original.
[15] Ibid., 263; emphasis original.
[16] Ibid., 3; emphasis original.
[17] Ibid., 260.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid., 265.
[20] Ibid., 264.