Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Question, Part One

Greetings, fellow castaways. I apologize for the late post this week. Between varsity softball and varsity track, our house is kept busy as of late, and I will be supporting my children before I sit down to write.

I was 23 years old when I came to know God as more than just a religion. Through a series of occurrences that could only be explained by the supernatural, I was changed into a new and wholly different person.

Now, as a man of logic and proof, there remained a huge list of questions about why and how I came to this new place in my life. After all, I was a devout agnostic, if there could ever be one. I had reasoned to myself that there was a God, because throughout my life, there were episodes where He continually showed Himself as a real entity, out there, beyond my knowing. And suddenly here He was, real and close and personal.

The biggest question of all is encompassed in the truth behind the single most pivotal moment in the history of Humankind: the resurrection from the dead of the man Jesus of Nazareth. Here, this week, I want to just take a moment to address the evidence of this event, and how it was that I came to believe the biblical account as passed down by the men who dictated the Four Gospel records.

The first popular point of contention pushed by the doubters is that Jesus never existed as a person. They say that all accounts of his existence were written by Christians, and by reason of their agenda being a conflict of interest, they couldn't be counted upon to be reliable witnesses.

Now, I'm not even going to go into his origins. What we're talking about is the evidence placed forth that will tell us whether or not, with REASONABLE ACCURACY, there was such a man as Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified on the 14th of Nisan in or about AD33.

For this first point, we turn to two men: Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus. Josephus was a Jewish historian, and Tacitus was a Roman one. Neither of these men has any interest or desire to support these Christ-followers in any way, shape or form. In fact, their  points of view are diametrically opposed to those members of this new cult.

Let's start with Tacitus, from his Annals. This is set up by the accusation by rumor that Nero ordered the burning of Rome:

Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time Broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.

The thing we need to remember here is that Tacitus was a Roman citizen, of the empire that brought high culture to the world. Not everyone in the world at that time was a superstitious, knuckle-dragging fool. These were the men who refined mathematics and philosophy, established law and administrative practices that are still used today. For Tacitus to specifically mention the Crucifixion meant he had done his own research, and turned up the order from Pilate. He didn't speak as though the event was some vague rumor; he spoke with the authority of one who had established a fact. In addition, Tacitus lived in a period close enough to the events in question that he could speak with authority. he was born in AD56 and died in 117. He write Annals sometime between AD100 and 112, which was only about 70 to 80 years after Jesus was executed. That would be the equivalent of a news article about Audie Murphy being written by a journalist today. John the Apostle was still alive and serving out an exile on Patmos in AD100.

Titus Flavius Josephus was born in AD36 in Jerusalem, and named by his father Joseph ben Matityahu. That places him right in the heart of the scene, right after it happened, in the context of history. He originally fought against the Romans in an uprising, surrendering his forces in AD67. He was then transported as a hostage to Rome, where he later shifted allegiance to Rome, even being awarded a citizenship. He was a translator, and a recorder of Jewish history for Emperor Vespasian.

In AD93, Josephus published Antiquities of the Jews. He wrote about an incident involving some of these followers of Jesus:

(Regarding Ananias the Younger, serving as High Priest) Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road. So he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as law-breakers, he delivered them over to be stoned.

As said before, Josephus was no stranger to the controversy surrounding Jesus; he lived  in Jerusalem and could not have escaped hearing about the commotion surrounding the man.

Now, I've been in conversation with some who told me flat out, "There is no way you can prove Jesus existed." Now, it's time to establish something: There's a difference between Evidence, and Proof. The kind of proof this person was asking for is scientific proof. In order to prove something scientifically, you have to reproduce it in a controlled environment. So, given that fixed standard, it's impossible to prove that there was ever such a person as Thomas Jefferson. Think about it. All we have are writings and paintings. Only in Tom's case, we have some bones in a coffin that someone said were his, but are they really? That was over two hundred years ago. Now we do have "anecdotal evidence" that Jefferson existed, dated from the time of his existence. We also have writings from several men from the first century who mention records of a man named Jesus, some of whom walked the earth with him. John wrote "We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (The Gospel of John, Chapter 1, verse 14).

Saul of Tarsus, also known as Paul, told King Agrippa and Festus the governor, "What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.” (The Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 26)

The wealth of evidence points squarely to the conclusion that it is more reasonable to believe there was a true historical man Jesus of Nazareth than not to. These are not the only contemporary records of his existence. By contemporary, I mean those accounts written within one hundred years of the persons/incidents in question. I just covered these four for lack of space, and there are plenty of books that discuss it in even more depth.

Some folks find it easier to believe Julius Caesar's writings are more accurate historical records than John's. Let's look at that: Caesar's work was written between 100BC and 44BC. The oldest existing copies date from 900AD, a thousand years later. Yet no one questions their authenticity. John wrote his gospel about 70AD. The oldest existing copies of his book date from 125AD, only fifty years later, and somehow, it's considered as less reliable. I'm thinking some folks don't have a problem with the evidence; they have a problem with their own agendas.

I'm convinced Jesus of Nazareth was a real man who walked the earth in the first century of our current calendar era. Next week, we'll continue the Question with the next event that led up to the single most pivotal moment in Human History.

Stay tuned; it's gonna get good.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Here's something I bet some of you don't know:

No part or component can be installed legally on an aircraft without the right paperwork that says it's approved for installation. That paperwork is called an FAA Form 8130-3. On that form, there's a block that gets filled in by the shop or factory that last had it. That block has only 5 acceptable entries: Tested, Inspected, Repaired, Overhauled, and New.

Part of our job is to find and remove Defective parts, and replace them with New, Inspected, Repaired, Tested, or Overhauled parts. It makes the plane safer, and everyone is happy.

I just saw an episode of Futurama where Bender the Robot realizes he was defective off the assembly line, and shouldn't even be. It was hilarious, but as is the case with most of Matt Groening's work, there was a touching undercurrent to the story as well. Bender calls the factory to tell them he's defective, and the factory sends out these robots to destroy him. Of course, at the last minute he gets away, and has no chance to confront the inspector who certified him off the line, the mysterious "Inspector 5."

In a perfect plane, defective parts are unacceptable. They need to be hunted down, removed, and replaced. Some people think the same thing about the world. Only instead of defective parts, they look for what they see as defective people. That list usually includes those who don't agree with them. So they see the crippled, the poor, the "morally questionable" and others as defective, and they, of course, have the right answer.

What they don't see, of course, is that they are defective themselves. They just can't help it. it's part of being human. But in the meantime, they do their best to convince those who've been deemed so, that it's God's fault that they're not right, imperfect, sinners. Defective.

Well, I'm not here this week to argue the value of defective people, and I'm also not here to explain why we're defective, every single one of us.

What I'm here to say this week, is that being defective isn't the end of the world. There are many defective people who didn't let it stand in the way of greatness. By now we all know Noah was a drunk, David was an adulterer, Paul was a murderer. Hemingway was heavy on drink, too. Kate Greenaway was depressive. George Washington, on order from the English Crown, decimated entire villages in the French-Indian war.

What many of us tend to do is to brand ourselves as Defective. I'm too fat. I'm too thin. I'm ugly. My hair is too thick. My hair is...not there anymore. I'm stupid. I'm not good enough. I can't.

Nothing makes me mad faster than someone who constantly berates themselves. Come on! You have been created by the Master of the Universe. Yes, human. Yes, imperfect. But the world beats you down enough. You don't need to pile on.

I heard it said once, that if we fall short, and refuse to forgive ourselves, we are making ourselves out to be a better judge than God. Here's the logic of that: God forgives. His word says he does. All we have to do is ask for it; that's the deal. So if he's willing to forgive us, and we are not willing to forgive ourselves, we're telling him he doesn't know what he's talking about.

So remember this: It's okay to be less than perfect, as long as you can say you're trying. It's okay to let yourself off the hook. It's okay to be human. Because that thing you consider so horrible about yourself, that thing that makes you defective? It isn't as bad as you think.

Remember, the rest of us are defective, too. We don't have room to judge anyone, least of all ourselves.

Have a great week, guys.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Who the H*** Do I Think I Am?

Greetings and salutations, fellow castaways on the Distant Shores of our collective mind.

It's been three years since I started my blog, and I feel a need to let everyone know a few things about it.

First off: I was told I needed a blog, as a published writer. And the person who gave me that advice was 100% right. I do need a blog. But not necessarily for the reasons this person cited.

Second: I was told that my blog was a tool for selling books. I hedge a bit at that, because let's face it: we all get bombarded all day, every day, with someone else trying to sell us something. I don't know about you, but I am so "commercialed out," the last damned thing I want to do once a week is trip over someone else's commercial. So although I'd love people to read and enjoy my books (as many have), I think I'd rather not spam you guys, if that's all right. So my blog is NOT about selling books. Is that okay?

Once, I took a strong stance on a subject that was considered controversial. I was called out by one of my viewers (who for some reason chose to remain anonymous) who told me to shut up and sell books. No one was interested in what I had to say about this subject. Well, I'd like to think some folks were interested, and in fact some were. They were even willing to leave their names and be accountable for what they said on the web.

Third: I was told I had to have a single, consistent theme for my blog, and update it regularly. Wow. I don't think my brain works like that. I have things to say that don't necessarily link up. I like to share things that fascinate me, things about me, things that piss me off, things that make me happy. In short, I decided that this blog is about: ME. And all the crazy, outrageous, silly, insightful things that make me tick, and besides, I want to be the world's cheerleader, too.

Anyone who's been around here long enough knows I love to build people up in their faith, in themselves and in their God. I also want people to get to know the person behind all these weird books that seem to keep people up till the wee hours until they fall asleep with their kindle or a paperback on their chest.

So yeah, this page is how you, the reader, can get to know me, the writer, as a person, and hopefully as a friend. We don't have enough real friends, none of us.

Fourth: This is a place of discourse. CIVIL discourse. I welcome opinions that differ from mine, as long as they are shared in a civil and respectful manner.

Comments are welcome, too. Feel free to let me know what you think. But leave your name, so we know who you are. In addition, don't feel bad if your comment doesn't appear right away. I personally moderate each comment left. Not that I want to filter out everyone who disagrees with me, but to stifle SPAM comments, and trolls.

So maybe my books sales aren't reflective of the quality of my work. I should probably do more self-promotion. But aside from the occasional sneak-peek or special, I think this is a place best reserved for friends to gather around the coffee table, munch on pastries, and share each others' lives.

So welcome to my blog. Come on in, take off your shoes. Have a seat by the hearth, after you grab something from the coffee cart.

Let friendship begin.