Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Frank Viola about his new release, God’s Favorite Place on Earth. In this newest volume, Viola examines the small town of Bethany from New Testament times. He uses a narrative structure in parts of the book, telling the story from the perspective of Lazarus to show how Jesus’ interactions in this town and with Lazarus’ family in particular were special. Bethany was the only place close to being called Jesus’ home apart from heaven. He received hospitality and friendship there while many other places rejected him. I hope that you’ll take a listen to the interview and check out this moving exploration of this place that was so close to Jesus’ heart.
For many years, J. Warner Wallace was an atheist and harsh critic of Christianity, but when he re-examined the facts surrounding the life and death of Jesus, he was struck with the truth, and his heart was changed forever. Wallace’s training as a homicide detective in the L.A. County Police Department gives him a unique perspective in looking at the life and claims of Jesus. In his new book Cold Case Christianity, he explores the case for Christianity as he would a crime investigation that had long been unsolved.
One of our web editors recently conducted a written interview with Wallace. The text of which follows:
1. Will you tell us a little about yourself? How did you become a police officer?
I was raised by a police officer but initially studied the arts, earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Design and a Masters in Architecture (UCLA). The muti-generational attraction of Law Enforcement was too strong, however, and I eventually returned to the profession of my father.
2. How and when did you become a Christian?
I first became curious about Jesus as nothing more than an ancient sage. I bought my first Bible at the age of 35 to find out what Jesus had to say. I was not interested in becoming a Christian. In fact, I was the kind of guy who liked to argue with (and taunt) the Christians I knew. But as I read the gospel accounts, I observed several properties of reliable eyewitness statements based on my experience as a detective. I began to investigate the accounts from a detective’s perspective and eventually came to trust what they described.
3. What is the primary audience you are trying to reach with Cold-Case Christianity?
I really do think that Cold Case Christianity will be an asset for both Christians, skeptics and seekers who have questions or doubts about the claims of the gospels. I wrote the book from the perspective of a believer who came to faith (at the age of 35) through a process of skeptical examination. For this reason, I think it will resonate with believers and skeptics alike.
4. How can this book help people who already believe in Christ?
Cold Case Christianity will provide readers with the confidence necessary to trust the claims of the gospels, respond to critical objections, and offer the reasonable and gracious defense commanded by scripture (1 Peter 3:15).
5. How is Christianity similar to a “cold-case”?
Cold cases are events (murders) from the distant past for which there are often no living eyewitnesses and little, if any, direct or forensic evidence to make the case. Detectives learn how to evaluate and employ circumstantial evidence to demonstrate what happened at the scene of the crime. In a similar way, Christianity makes a claim about an event in the distant past for which there are no living eyewitnesses and little, if any, direct or forensic evidence. The skills I’ve learned as a cold-case detective can be used to examine the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
6. In the book you make a clear case that the skills you learned as a police officer actually made the gospels more intriguing to you. How did this take unfold and how did it affect your conclusions about the Gospels’ stories?
As I learned how to evaluate witnesses to determine if they were reliable, I came to understand the four areas that detectives (and eventually jurors) examine when establishing eyewitness reliability. I examined the gospel authors and asked: 1. Did they actually write their accounts early enough to have been present during the ministry of Jesus? 2. Could the claims of the authors be corroborated in any way? 3. Is the testimony of the authors consistent over time (has it been corrupted or changed)? 4. Did the authors have any bias that might cause them to lie about their testimony? As I examined these four important areas, I grew in my confidence that the gospel eyewitnesses were reliable. I share this examination in the second section of Cold Case Christianity.
7. In the book you give “ten principles” that are important to being a detective. How did these principles guide your search?
Detectives have to learn how to control their presuppositions, evaluate and assemble circumstantial evidence, use “abductive” reasoning, examine eyewitness testimony, investigate the power of words, separate artifacts from evidence, resist conspiracy theories, know when enough is enough and prepare for the objections of the defendant. These skill sets had broad application as I applied similar techniques to my search for truth in the gospels.
8. In “cold-cases” circumstantial evidence is extremely important. However, it is usually not highly regarded by the public. How does circumstantial evidence impact your study and why is it critical for evaluating Christianity as a “cold-case”?
I’ve investigated many cold cases, and I’ve yet to have one that was assisted by “direct” evidence; all my cases have been entirely circumstantial. The case for Christianity is in many ways a cumulative circumstantial case, and this should not alarm Christians or embolden skeptics. Judges remind jurors that “direct and circumstantial evidence are acceptable types of evidence”, “neither is necessarily more reliable than the other” and “neither is entitled to any greater weight than the other.”
9. “Cold cases” rest on facts, but some things Christians believe can’t be verified as facts in the same way; DNA evidence can establish a fact. How does this evidential reality impact your book?
None of my cold cases have been proven with DNA or other kind of forensic evidence. There are many ways to “make a case”, especially if eyewitnesses come forward and offer critical testimony. The question then becomes, are the witnesses trustworthy? This is the focus of Cold Case Christianity.
10. The Gospel witnesses are critical to Christianity’s message. You mention methods of discerning truth and falsehood in the testimony of eye-witnesses. Will you provide an example from the Gospels where your technique comes into play?
When a witness makes a claim, we often look for some way to corroborate his or her statement. Although the claims of the gospel authors are very ancient, we can look for corroboration by examining the relationship between gospel accounts (looking for unintentional eyewitness support), examining their use of regional proper names locations and local governments. We can also compare the descriptions offered by ancient non-Christian sources and we can examine the archaeology of the area. These tools provide us with a way to “fact check” the broad claims and minor details offered by the gospel eyewitnesses.
11. In conclusion, what do you hope readers take away from your book?
Most of us begin our spiritual journey with a decision; we decide to accept and trust Jesus for our salvation. But the Christian life is more than that. I want people to be equipped to make a second decision; a decision to engage their culture as good Christian case-makers. It’s my hope that Cold-Case Christianity will help believers become “two-decision” Christians, even as it helps true seekers to discover the truth.
A couple of weeks ago I spoke to best-selling author and prayer warrior Stormie Omartian. We talked about her newest book, Lead Me Holy Spirit: Longing to Hear the Voice of God, in which she explores how the Spirit is integral to the Christian life and how He leads, guides and empowers followers of Jesus. I hope you’ll take a moment to listen to the interview with Stormie.
Since 2003, thousands of women have been directly impacted by Sandy’s marriage teachings, attending Beautiful Womanhood small groups led by marriage mentors, and applying The Beautiful Wife mentoring curriculum. This curriculum is a powerful resource praised by bestselling author Shaunti Feldhahn as “an incredible handbook that every woman needs.”
Sandy and her husband Tom have been married since 1980 and live near Grand Rapids, Michigan. They have three adult children and a growing number of grandchildren. When not writing and speaking, Sandy enjoys shopping at yard sales for vintage clothing, cooking, travelling, and drinking really good coffee, (black is best) with her husband.
Power for a Breakthrough
by Sandy Ralya
At times, nothing short of a breakthrough was needed to supply me with much-needed hope to endure a difficult phase of life. Chances are you understand what I’m talking about.
When Tom and I found ourselves unable to get on the same page concerning issues that had plagued our marriage for years, fasting broke up the logjam of our disunity—and I’m not using the word logjam lightly here! Early in our marriage, my husband was egocentric and self-absorbed and I struggled with sexual abuse issues, both of which contributed to a messy marriage largely void of harmony. Believe me, I tried everything I could think of to regain unity with my husband, but not one log budged. Experts say the best way to break up a logjam is dynamite, and we needed the relational equivalent to break down our marital barriers. Fasting provided the explosive power we needed.
What is a fast? Before I describe what fasting is, I want to explain what it is not. Fasting is not going without food or particular foods for a certain length of time. That’s dieting. Fasting is removing food or a certain food or drink from your life for a spiritual purpose. During the fast, time is spent seeking God about your particular struggle(s).
When I was fasting for my marriage, I would:
- Read the Bible daily
- Sit quietly with a journal to capture any thoughts or impressions that came to my mind
- Thank God for all He’d done and was going to do for me
- Pray morning, noon, and night seeking God for the answers to my problems (even if 5 minutes)
Don’t allow your hectic schedule to stand between you and your breakthrough. We all have a choice when it comes to our extracurricular activities. If you have health issues which you think may prevent you from fasting, consult your doctor about foods that could be eliminated from your diet without experiencing any negative effects. Whatever you choose to fast, select a food or beverage that you love to eat or drink—one which you turn to for comfort. Every time you’re tempted to reach for that item, you’ll be reminded to spend time with God instead. It may be difficult at first, but once you’ve tasted the comfort you receive from spending time with Jesus, you’ll become addicted!
While fasting, God speaks to me about me. As I journal, He reveals His love for me as well as things about me that need to be changed or implemented in my life. When I obey—when I do what I can do—God does what I cannot. He steps in and works change in me, as well as in the people and events that touch my life. There have been times when I’m the only one who changes…but it’s enough to fill me with increased hope, strength and dignity which ultimately gives me the peace I crave.
Do you need a break-through? Fasting will shatter your toughest obstacles.
Debora M. Coty is an inspirational humorist, popular speaker, and award-winning author of 13 books, including More Beauty, Less Beast: Transforming Your Inner Ogre, and Too Blessed to be Stressed. Deb lives and loves in central Florida with her husband Chuck and her pooch Fenway.
The Annoyance of Forgiveness
by Debora M. Coty
Why on earth would that woman want a meeting with me? I hung up the phone, puzzled. Maureen had long been dissing me, ignoring my phone calls and e-mails, walking past me at church like I was invisible, snubbing invitations to my local book events and speaking engagements. She’d disagreed with nearly everything I said or did for the past ten years.
And now she wanted to take me to lunch? Go figure.
I felt completely justified arming my inner guard with an attitude Uzi as we sat across a cozy table from one another and ordered salads. I was prepared for her attack.
When the server left, Maureen took a sip of water and then, of all unexpected things, teared up. To my absolute flabbergastation, she confessed that she had treated me badly because as a wannabe author, she’d been jealous of my writing success.
Then the air was completely sucked out of my guts when she quietly added, “I’d like to ask for your forgiveness.”
What? I screamed inwardly. You want my forgiveness? Forget it, Sugar. You hurt my feelings so many times I’ve lost count. You don’t deserve forgiveness!
My knee-jerk reaction shocked me. Wasn’t I a Christ-follower? Didn’t Christ himself say, “Forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too”? (MARK 11:25, NLT).
But forgiveness doesn’t come naturally in our revenge-glorified world. Because it’s often impossible without the Holy Spirit’s intervention, and because we feed off the power of one-upping someone who did us wrong, forgiving and accepting forgiveness are unique qualities in today’s society. Even among Christians.
I was stunned to realize that I really didn’t want to forgive Maureen. I felt comfortable in my long-term grudge state and was actually annoyed that she threw this surprise twist in our relationship. But I was supposed to forgive her, wasn’t I? It was the Jesus thing to do. Even if I didn’t feel forgiveness in my heart, I could state it with my lips and pray that my heart would follow.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that how we feel has nothing to do with forgiveness. We forgive as an act of the will, because God commands us to, not because of feelings. If we wait to feel like it, we’ll never forgive anybody.
The act of forgiveness enables God to perform a mysterious and profound work of grace in us. The healing process begins – first inwardly, in our own heart, then outwardly, in the broken relationship with our offender. As we release others from the hurt they’ve caused us, our own hurt is released. Anger stops holding us prisoner. Resentment no longer corrodes our intimacy with God.
And you know what? After I forgave Maureen verbally that day, I eventually did feel that grudge boulder begin to crumble. It wasn’t overnight; it was a process, but crumble it did.
Are there any grudge boulders inside of you that need to be obliterated?
Babbie Mason is a Dove Award-winning and Grammy nominated gospel singer, songwriter, author, creator of the Embrace: A Worship Event for Women ministry, professor of songwriting at Atlanta Christian College and Lee University, and a television talk-show host. Recently she released her second book, Embraced by God: Celebrating Who and Whose You Are.
In this post she shares from her experience growing up as an African American girl, and the importance of telling your story, even when it’s a difficult one to share.
I LOVE TO TELL THE STORY
By Babbie Mason
During the month of February, as we pay particular attention to the contribution of African American people and their great accomplishments, I’m reminded once again of the importance of telling our story as Black people. I grew up near Detroit, Mich., and came of age during the volatile race riots and protests of the 1960s. My husband, on the other hand, grew up in the deep segregated South, and he remembers firsthand drinking from the “colored” water fountain and not being able to try on clothes in the department store downtown. We watch the documentaries that are shown on television, particularly at this time of year, and afterwards we are always compelled to tell our own stories. I want to share a little bit of my story in hopes that it will inspire you to tell your own.
Although I was very young during the decade of the 1960s, I remember very well the events that not only helped to define us as a people, those events defined us as a nation. As an elementary school student, I processed the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, and so many others who lost their lives during the Civil Rights Movement. I recall from time to time my mother’s painful reaction to the brutal murder of Emmett Till in 1955 and the four little girls who lost their lives in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963.
I even know personally, what it feels like to be on the receiving end of human cruelty. I was a junior at a Christian liberal arts college in southern Michigan, not far from home. As the only Black member of my college choir, I remember when we were on choir tour in the mid ’70s. We performed in a white church in Atlanta, Ga., one evening. After the concert we spent the night in the homes of church members who served as our hosts. My roommate, a sweet white girl named Suzie, and I went to the home of our hosts, an elderly white couple. As we were getting ready for bed, Suzie came to me and revealed that she had just been asked if she minded sleeping in the same bed with a “(n-word) gal.” After that, I found myself in a pit of hurt and confusion. How could people be like that? How could people say they love God yet want nothing to do with me? Jesus had to meet me in the place where I was. I was deeply hurt, fighting mad, and greatly shocked and disappointed. Jesus had to rescue me before my heart became bitter and filled with indifference. In desperation, I had to pray for deliverance before I became just like those who had wronged me. I have long since forgiven those people, but I have to be honest with you. I bear a deep scar from being on the receiving end of hatred and ignorance, and sometimes, even now, I have to fight back tears. However, as I look back on that situation now, I can see the hand of God. This has not made me bitter. It has made me better. That situation and others like it have caused me to sing with a deeper conviction, minister with a greater passion, and empathize with the lost, the hurting, and the next generation.
So, what’s your story? No doubt, it is decorated with colorful details or mingled with profound pain. But tell it anyhow. Tell your children and grandchildren the beautiful and even painful details of your life’s journey. Remind them again and again of how you picked cotton under the heat of the Georgia sun. Tell about the struggles on your job in the factory during the Industrial Revolution and how you left places like Clarksdale, Miss., and ended up in places like Fort Wayne, Ind., on your quest for a better life. Describe the wonderful smells that came from Big Mama’s kitchen, as she stood on her feet for hours to prepare Thanksgiving Dinner, then, how later on that evening, she had to rub her arthritic hands with liniment oil, the smell of which would consume every room in her warm and loving home. Sing the old hymns you learned as a child growing up in church. Talk about your education or the lack of it, the times of plenty and the times when you were left wanting. Then tell how over it all, through it all, above it all, and because of it all, you are still here as a witness to God’s amazing faithfulness. Tell your story, my friend. Because, if you don’t tell your story – it won’t get told.
Ebenezer Scrooge begins in The Christmas Carol with a “Bah humbug!” He is both miserly and miserable. As the story unfolds, he eventually discovers the “giver’s glow,” as I like to term it. He is dancing on the streets in the enduring joy of his new-found generosity of heart. I compare the giver’s glow to a glow stick that children get at parades and fairs. These are the translucent plastic tubes containing substances that when combined make light through a chemical reaction. After the glass capsule in the plastic casing is broken, it glows. The brokenness is part of the process. Give and grow, give and glow. Scrooge discovered this before it was too late.
Human beings are wired to give of themselves for noble purposes, regardless of circumstances. Recently, I delivered a sermon in an African-American Baptist church in Coram, New York. The subject was how we benefit when we love our neighbor. Afterwards, a wonderful elderly woman, who was full of vitality, said to me, “You know, that giver’s glow is how we African Americans have been getting through hard times for two centuries!”
On the inside cover of a copy of The Book of Common Prayer, given to me in 1986 by the Rev. William B. Eddy of Tarrytown, New York, is an accumulating memorial list of twenty people I have known closely as models of kindness and generosity over the years. To get on the list a person must have passed on and, by all accounts, remained generous even in their final days. These are people who understood that happiness is not to be found just in the getting, but in the giving, and they taught by example. Have you noticed the warm glow in your heart that comes when you act kindly? They had a deep sense of common humanity, and they all had a certain happiness about them—a sort of gaiety that comes with a life well-lived and rightly inspired.
In my most recent book, The Hidden Gifts of Helping: How the Power of Giving, Compassion, and Hope Can Get Us Through Hard Times, I describe a bit of an upheaval in my own life, and how helping others got me and my family through the inevitable tough times that come everyone’s way.
“After twenty years of being ‘at home’ in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, my job disappeared. Maybe we were too attached to Cleveland, and maybe God wanted us to move on. But as a family we never anticipated just how challenging up-rootedness is, especially when it is not something that you would have opted for in better times. So in June of 2008, we sold the house and moved east on Route 80 from Ohio to the George Washington Bridge, landing in Stony Brook. What a great place! But still, we just had not quite imagined how stressful such a move would be and how hard we would have to work to find renewed peace of mind and heart.
“Suddenly cut adrift from friends and community, we felt painfully uprooted—out of place, stressed out, disoriented and at odds with each other. Most movers suffer from a lack of companionship and intimate friends, at least temporarily, and doing this repeatedly is really tough. Fortunately, we had those twenty good years in Ohio. We struggled to find our footing with the move, determined to recreate the good life of community and friendships we all so keenly missed. The key turned out to be something we knew quite well, but learned to remember daily in our upheaval: the healing power of helping others. The medical prescription is this—Rx: Helper Therapy.
“Simply put, helping others helps the helper. Research in the field of health psychology, as well as all the great spiritual traditions, tells us that one of the best ways to get rid of anger and grief is to actively help others. Science supports this assertion: Giving help to others measurably reduces the giver’s stress; improves health and well-being in surprising and powerful ways; renews our optimism about what is possible; helps us connect to family, friends and lots of amazing people; allows the deep, profound joy of our humanity to flow through us and out into the world; and improves our sense of self-worth. These are valuable gifts anytime and particularly in hard times. If there is one great secret to life, this is it.”
After all was said and done, this move worked out. My wife found a grade school where she could continue her work as a teaching assistant for especially needy children, my son Drew volunteered at the hospital and I started working with families of individuals with autism. We eventually realized that wherever we are, we are at home when we can contribute to the lives of others. We got back in touch with the things that matter most, and maybe that is what hard times are for. We helped others in ways that we felt called to, we used our strengths so as to feel effective and we shared our experiences with family, faith community and like-minded others.
Eventually, of course, everyone stumbles on hard times, and no one gets out of life alive. Today, even those who had considered themselves protected from hardship are being touched and their lives changed by volatile economic markets, job uncertainty and the increasing isolation and loneliness of modern life.
Here are four things to keep in mind. First, as Washington Irving put it so well: “Love is never lost. If not reciprocated, it will flow back and soften and purify the heart.” Second, love often does beget love, just as hate usually begets hate, and so good givers need to be good receivers. Third, we should never count on reciprocity because this is sure to be frustrating and ultimately small-minded. Better to take joy when those upon whom our love is bestowed do not “pay it back” to us, but rather “pay it forward” to others as they move through life remembering our good example. Or to bring this to the kitchen table, as I heard one Italian mother in Cleveland tell her son, “Love and forget about it!” And fourth, in I Corinthians Paul linked “faith, hope and love,” and he proclaimed that “love never fails.” What is faith but having confidence that no matter how harsh a particular scene in the drama of our lives or of history might be, it is love that wrote the play and love that will be revealed in the final act.
Do a little good this holiday season. The 2010 Do Good Live Well Survey, released by United Healthcare and VolunteerMatch (www.VolunteerMatch.org), surveyed 4,500 American adults. 41 percent of Americans volunteered an average of 100 hours a year. 68 percent of those who volunteered in the last year reported that volunteering made them feel physically healthier. In addition:
- 89% reported that “volunteering has improved my sense of well-bring”
- 73% agreed that “volunteering lowered my stress levels”
- 92% agreed that “volunteering enriched my sense of purpose in life”
- 72% characterized themselves as “optimistic” compared to 60% of non-volunteers
- 42% of volunteers reported a “very good” sense of meaning in their lives, compared with 28% of non-volunteers
How wise it is to do what one can to contribute benevolently to others!
Some individuals on my The Book of Common Prayer list were well known and others lived quiet lives out of the limelight. Some were appreciated and some not. We might prefer to think that loving servants of goodness would, after a long and successful life, die peacefully in their beds and all people would speak well of them at their funerals. But this is too simplistic. Everyone on my list experienced an enduring joy as a by-product of their generosity. Thus, the motto of my independent Institute for Research on Unlimited Love (www.unlimitedloveinstitute.com), founded with the help of Sir John Templeton (who happens to be on my list!), is “In the giving of self lies the discovery of a deeper self.”
1. How do you think being a part of a local church that is truly obeying the gospel can help you as you continue to pursue radical discipleship to Christ?
2. If you’re prepared to accept the fifth part of the Radical Experiment…what avenues within your church can you begin to explore to become more effective at making disciples?
1. As you think about the possibility of spending time in a foreign country to represent Christ among people who don’t know him, are you more apprehensive or more excited? Why?
2. If you’re prepared to accept the fourth part of the Radical Experiment…how could you begin to decide what part of the world you will travel to?
1. For you, what would it mean to move from just giving away your excess to giving away what hurts—in other words, making a real financial sacrifice?
2. If you’re prepared to accept the third part of the Radical Experiment…what will your next financial gift be and to whom will you give it?