Saturday, July 27, 2013

I WILL TELL THE WORLD OF HIS AMAZING DEEDS!: A Testimony

"Sing to the Lord! Praise his name!
Announce every day how he delivers!
Tell the nations about his splendor!
Tell all the nations about his amazing deeds!
For the Lord is great and certainly worthy of praise...."
(Psalm 96:2-4a, New English Translation/NET Bible)

I am writing this post for the purpose of thanking the One who has rescued me from the depths, and also to thank all those who interceded for me before his mighty throne. He has heard our prayers and answered clearly and mightily. Basically, it will be an account of how God delivered me from a cancerous tumor that was growing on my left kidney and the various ways that he heard the prayers of many as my wife and I walked through this difficult path in our life.

[IF YOU ARE NOT INTERESTED IN READING THE WHOLE STORY, 
YOU CAN SKIP DOWN TO "THE BOTTOM LINE..."]

So then, let me start this story from the beginning: Back in March I began having kidney problems (kidney infection/stone signaled by gross hematuria). This led me to a urologist who ordered a scan and the scan found a tumor on my left kidney. The urologist believed that the tumor had nothing to do with the symptoms that led to the scan and that finding the tumor was fortuitous. I believe the word "providential" is more accurate, that is: we found this tumor because God wanted us to find it.
My initial urologist referred me to his colleague who was trained to use a robot to do kidney surgery laparoscopically. When I met with him, he looked at the scan and told me that he would try to save the kidney, but that--because of where the tumor was--he would probably have to take the whole kidney.

Fastforward to Friday, July 19, the day of my surgery. The surgery came and went; and when I woke up in my hospital room several hours later, I was very happy to see my family. But I had no memory of the surgery, and from that moment on I never had anything but occasional light pain from the incisions and cutting that had been done on my body. I was told that the surgery went very well. Our prayers had been answered! But I would not find out (or at least take in) all of the details until I talked to the doctor myself.

On Saturday, I was beginning to feel strong enough to eat something more than ice chips (or "rice chips" as I kept calling them when first coming out from under anesthesia). I tried a couple of bites of yogurt and applesauce and banana. I also began a routine of walking down the hospital hall in order to get my bowels working. The first tastes of food seemed to settle fine so I was emboldened to try something more. I ordered some more yogurt and a bowl of chicken noodle soup. That's when the trouble started.

As the chicken noodle soup went down, everything seemed great. It tasted wonderful and I felt my energy returning even as I was eating it. For those few fleeting minutes, I was feeling fantastic. Then the acid reflux started to come...and come....and come....and come....

Over the next 18 hours the acid reflux intensified. The nurses and I tried everything we could think of--one "remedy" after another--to get rid of it, but nothing (not even the prescription acid blocker) gave more than a moment's relief. Other than those, brief moments, it was just hour after hour of the most intense burning in my throat--and a constant painful belching. At some point, I realized that the reason I was having all of this acid reflux was because everything I was eating was staying right in my stomach and going no farther, because my bowels were not working ("paralyzed" my doctor would tell me later). All through the night I was walking and doing all kinds of movements to try and get my bowels moving. By morning, I was completely exhausted and sleep deprived.

Throughout the night I cried out to God, wondering why he would not answer. The cries of the psalmists came to my mind, such as: "Why, O Lord, are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning!?" (Psalm 22:1) I knew he was there, but I could not understand why he was letting me suffer. To the best of my recollection, it was the most miserable day of my life.

It was about that time that my wife notified some prayer warriors about the acid reflux. Not long after that, the cure for my acid reflux came (another long story), the acid reflux vanished and it never came back!

With the acid reflux gone, I did my best to sleep (from 11:30am to about 8pm on a Sunday). I was awakened about every 30 minutes, but at least I was able to lay down and sleep. When I finally woke up, I was feeling much better, but my bowels were still not moving--at all. Again my wife notified some prayer warriors about the problem. And again the answer was soon to come.

My wife ordered a grilled cheese. But I ordered nothing. I didn't even want to think about food at that point. I was just going to wait until the next day to try eating. But when the food came, my wife tore off a small part of her sandwich and offered it to me. It did smell good. And I thought that the least I could do was take a couple of nibbles. As soon as the bread touched my tongue--even as I was biting down on it, the most amazing thing happened. My bowels instantaneously reacted to it and I felt a distinct bubbling sensation in two different places. In the hours that followed, I continually felt my bowels moving. And shortly after I went to sleep, I had to wake back up to have a bowel movement. (Sorry if mention of that seems out of place, but in reality, that was one of the most important moments of my whole hospital stay!)

The next morning I was beginning to feel great, and it was only a matter of time before I would be discharged from the hospital that day. The thought of getting home to get a good night's sleep in my own bed had never seemed so sweet.

During one of his visits, the doctor told me about how the surgery had gone. He said it was the most difficult tumor removal that he had ever done. And he said that he was "amazed" (his word) that he was able to do it. He had a limit of 30 minutes to remove the tumor before the arteries to my kidney had to be unclamped--or my kidney could die. He said he was able to remove the tumor in 29 minutes. Then he told me that just the week before they had obtained a machine by which they could see everything that was going on in real time through ultrasound. Before this, he had to figure everything out through triangulation using three different cameras. Do you think that made the difference of a minute or two--perhaps more? No doubt in my mind. Once again God provided just what was needed in answer to our prayers.

Next he told me that he had had to cut so deeply into my kidney that he was very concerned that there would be bleeding, when he unclamped my artery. But when he did, there was absolutely no leakage. My response to all of this was to say: "Well, lots of people have been praying for me." To which he said, "Well, it worked."

This man is obviously a man of great skill and competency. And I am indeed thankful to have been under the care of such an excellent surgeon and his very capable team. But in this moment, I am convinced that God enabled him to do something that was even beyond his natural abilities--that amazed even him! I was prepared to live with only one kidney. I had told my wife: "Other people donate their kidneys to save someone's life; if one of my kidneys has to be taken to save mine, I really can't complain." But God was very gracious to me and allowed me to keep my kidney.

And I should add that during my recovery, I was also blessed with a wonderful nursing staff and a loving wife who stayed there with me during the whole thing.

Finally, I got the pathology report Friday (July 26). The news: the tumor was indeed cancerous. But the report showed that the entire margin of the dissection was negative (that is, cancer free). The doctor said that he was sure that he was able to get all of the cancer and that there would be no need for further treatments. (Though we will monitor the area carefully as an extra precaution.) In the doctor's own words: "It's all very good news!" I have much to be thankful for! The Lord has delivered me from a deadly enemy!

UPDATE: On my one year check up, my doctor told me that my kidney had healed so completely that it was difficult to tell that he had performed surgery on it. Amazing, considering how extensively he had to cut into it!

THE BOTTOM LINE....
God, in his great mercy, has healed me completely. The cancerous tumor has been completely removed and my left kidney is still there working for me. This is something that the doctor did not expect to happen. And to use his own words, he was "amazed" (in more ways than one) that he was able to make it happen.
During this whole time, God gave my wife and I an incredible peace about this whole thing. I knew that I was in his hands; and whatever his will was I was ready to be at peace with it. I was praying earnestly for complete healing, but I was ready to accept whatever answer he gave to me--for his will is perfect and he is full of love for all those who are in Jesus Christ. And for this, I choose to praise him!

But it was not just my body that he healed. It was my spirit, as well. The day after I was discharged from the hospital, in a private moment of personal worship, I suddenly found myself sobbing in prayer--with tears of joy. It had become clear to me that God had used this experience to answer another of my prayers. In recent months, I have been continually praying that God would draw me closer to himself and renew my love for him. As I contemplated how God had answered that prayer during the experiences of the previous days, I was overcome. And in that moment, I declared to him that if that was what it took, it was worth every bit of it.

And so, as strange as it may seem to some, the constant theme of my spirit during my hospital stay and since I have been home has been thanksgiving. And so I indeed will sing his praise and tell the world of his amazing deeds! (Psalm 96:2-4)

NOTE: One might wonder what place such a testimony has in a blog dedicated to the cumulative case for Christianity. Let me just say briefly that it is in fact at the heart of such a case. All the intellectual arguments are empty apart from a real encounter with the living God. They may satisfy the intellect, but they will not satisfy the soul. This testimony falls under the area known in apologetics as religious experience, and also under the closely related area of miracles.

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*GUIDE TO THE CONTENTS OF MY BLOG:
http://2besure.blogspot.com/2013/01/contents-of-this-blog.html


Friday, July 5, 2013

ANCIENT DOCUMENTS (BESIDES THE NEW TESTAMENT) THAT MENTION JESUS

The 26 books of the New Testament are among the most reliable ancient documents that we have and have been confirmed in multiple ways. They were written by eyewitnesses (apostles) or by those who were companions of eyewitnesses (apostles). So they are by far our best source for understanding who Jesus is. These 26 documents represent the testimony of no less than seven different eyewitnesses.

Nevertheless, most skeptics will not accept biblical sources when it comes to the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. They usually want extrabiblical sources (sources outside of the Bible) with the thought that there will not be any or perhaps very few sources that make mention of Jesus. In order to show that this does nothing to support their case or their claims, below is a list of non-Biblical historical sources dating between 30-180 years after Jesus lived. 

(Note: This list was orignally compiled by my friend Shawn White (see links below). I gave him a little input at the time and have adapted it and added to it since then.)



SOURCES WRITTEN DURING THE PERIOD OF LIVING EYEWITNESSES

Sources behind the Gospels (and thus earlier)
*M (Sayings in Matthew only but not in other Gospels)
*L (Sayings in Luke only but not in other Gospels)
*Q (Sayings in both Matthew and Luke but not in other Gospels)
*The Pre-Markan Passion Narrative: "Rudolf Pesch, a German expert on Mark, says the Passion source must go back to at least AD 37...." (which according to the latest and best chronological work is about 4 years after the crucifixion).

**NOTE: These are hypothetical documents that many scholars believe represent sources used by the writers of the Gospels. I am personally skeptical that the nature of these sources resembles that which is generally proposed. Nevertheless, there certainly were written eyewitness accounts before Luke--as he is very explicit that he is aware of "many" written accounts of Jesus before he wrote his Gospel (one of which was almost certainly the Gospel of Mark). See Luke 1:1-4.

RESOURCES
An excellent article by James Smiley Bishop that looks at the value of the Gospel sources, the creed, and the hymn of Philippians 2.


Sources Quoted in the letters of the Apostle Paul (and thus earlier)
*The Creed in 1 Corinthians 15. Scholars are agreed that this creed was composed before 1 Corinthians and it is generally agreed that it was composed between 6 months and 3 years after Jesus' death and resurrection. For example:
Michael Goulder (Atheist NT Prof. at Birmingham) “…it goes back at least to what Paul was taught when he was converted, a couple of years after the crucifixion.” [“The Baseless Fabric of a Vision,” in Gavin D’Costa, editor, Resurrection Reconsidered (Oxford, 1996), 48.]
Gerd Lüdemann (Atheist Prof of NT at Göttingen): “…the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus…not later than three years… the formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in I Cor.15.3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 CE.” [The Resurrection of Jesus, trans. by Bowden (Fortress, 1994), 171-72.]
*The above quotes are as cited by Nick Peters of Deeper Waters
*The Hymn in Philippians 2. Even liberal scholars typically agree that the hymn in Philippians 2 was composed by someone besides Paul (and therefore before Paul wrote Philippians).

*Many other creeds and Christological hymns are believed to be embedded in Paul's letters. All of them would therefore pre-date Paul's letters. I hope to document more of them later.
Here is a list given in The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ by Gary Habermas (p.29): "The chief examples [of passages explicitly stated as coming from an earlier source] include 1 Cor. 11:23-26; 15:3; 1 Thes. 2:15; 1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11; Titus 3:8; Heb. 1:2-3." "Major examples [of passages thought to come from earlier sources but not stated explicitly] include those in Rom. 1:3-4; 4:25; 5:8; 10:9; 1 Cor. 8:6; Phil. 2:6-11, and Heb. 1:3. Cf. many others such as Eph. 1:20; Col. 1:15-20; 3:1; 1 Tim. 2:5-6; 3:16; Heb. 1:1; 1:13; 8:1; 12:2; 1 Pet. 1:21; 2:21; 3:18; 3:22."


RESOURCES
An excellent article by James Smiley Bishop that looks at the value of the Gospel sources, the creed, and the hymn of Philippians 2.


Sources for Sermons Used by Luke in the book of Acts
Here is a list given in The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ by Gary Habermas (p.29):
"The most-commonly mentioned candidates for these sermon segments are in Acts 1:21-22; 2:22-36; 3:13-16; 4:8-10; 5:29-32; 10:39-43; 13:28-31; 17:1-3; 17:30-31. Those speaking of Jesus’ deity include Acts 2:33, 36; 5:31."


Anonymous Works of the First Century
*Didache (c. 50-120 A.D., but generally thought to belong to the First Century)
*The Epistle of Barnabas (c. 70-100 A.D.)

Ancient Historians of the First Century
*Flavius Josephus (c. 93 A.D.) See this excellent article by Dr. Greg HerrickArticle by Shawn White
*Thallus (c. 52 A.D.) See these excellent articles by Glenn Miller Jason Engwer and

 Shawn Whitealso seeThe Works of Nathaniel Lardner, Volume 4, Chapter 13.



SOURCES WRITTEN BY THOSE WHO KNEW EYEWITNESSES

The Apostolic Fathers (Disciples of the Apostles)
*Clement of Rome (mid to late 1st Century: knew the apostles Paul and John)
*Papias (c. 60-130 A.D. He was a friend of Polycarp (below). He not only knew at least two firsthand eyewitnesses to Jesus (the apostle John and another disciple named Aristion), he also interviewed many others who knew other apostles and disciples of Jesus. From these, he gathered enough eyewitness testimony to fill five volumes! This 5-volume work was entitled The Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord (Fragment 3, Eusebius' Church History 3.39.1).Furthermore, he provides historical confirmation of Jesus' miracles: "As for those who were raised from the dead by Christ, he states that they survived until the time of Hadrian" (Fragment 5, Philip of Side's 5th Century Church History). See my blog article.)
*Polycarp (c. 69-156 A.D.: disciple of the apostle John and a friend of Ignatius and Papias)
*Ignatius (d. 107 A.D.: a friend of Polycarp and probably a disciple of the apostle John and possibly another apostle)
*"The Traditions of the Elders" is a collection of 17 fragments preserving the testimony of anonymous apostolic fathers. This collection follows the "Fragments of Papias" in Lightfoot's Apostolic Fathers and a smaller collection of 5 fragments is available in the edition of The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations edited and revised by Michael W. Holmes.


An Early 2nd Century Apologist
*Quadratus (c.125 AD): Knew people whom Jesus had healed



SOURCES WHO PROBABLY KNEW EYEWITNESSES OR HAD ACCESS TO THEM

Ancient Historians of the Early Second Century
*Cornelius Tacitus (c. 115 A.D.) Article by Shawn White
*Suetonius (c. 115 A.D.) Article by Shawn White
*Phlegon of Tralles (80-140 A.D.). Article at Never Thirstyalso see: Origen in Against Celsus, Book 2, Chapter 14 and Chapter 59; also seeThe Works of Nathaniel Lardner, Volume 4, Chapter 13.

**Summary of Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus, and Thallus by Shawn White.


Fathers of the Early 2nd Century
*Aristides (early 2nd Century)
*Hermas (1st or 2nd Century: Origen believed him to be the Hermas of Romans 16:14)



SOURCES WHO HAD ACCESS TO OFFICIAL GOVERNMENT DOCUMENTS THAT SPOKE OF JESUS
*Justin Martyr (c. 100-165 A.D.): Knew of official documents that spoke of Jesus

*Tertullian (late 2nd Century): Knew official church documents that told which elders were placed by apostles


SOURCES WHO KNEW THOSE WHO KNEW EYEWITNESSES 
*Irenaeus (d. 200 A.D.): Born in Smyrna and was a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of the Apostle John.
*Tatian (mid to late 2nd Century)



SOURCES WHO PROBABLY KNEW THOSE WHO KNEW EYEWITNESSES
*Hegesippus (c. 110-180 A.D.)
*Melito (d. c. 190 A.D.)
*Apollonarius (2nd Century)
*Dionysius of Corinth (2nd Century)
*Theophilus (2nd Century)
*Athenagoras (late 2nd Century)
*Clement of Alexandria (late 2nd Century)



~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~
TESTIMONY FROM THE ENEMIES OF CHRISTIANITY....
*The Criterion of Enemy Attestation (also known as the Criterion of a "Hostile Witness"): 
Gary Habermas notes: "The criterion of enemy attestation is satisfied when an antagonistic source expresses agreement regarding a person or event when it is contrary to their best interests to do so. Maier holds that “such positive evidence within a hostile source is the strongest kind of evidence . . . if Cicero, who despised Catiline, admitted that the fellow had one good quality--courage--among a host of bad ones then the historian correctly concludes that Catiline was at least courageous.” ("Recent Perspectives on the Reliability of the Gospels" by Gary Habermas)



NON-CHRISTIAN SOURCES WHO HAD ACCESS TO EYEWITNESSES & OFFICIAL GOVERNMENT DOCUMENTSGovernment Officials Who Prosecuted Christians
*Pontius Pilate (1 B.C. - c.37 A.D. ) Article at Never Thirsty
*Pliny the Younger (c. 111-112 A.D.) Article by Shawn White
*Emperor Trajan (early 2nd century) Article by Shawn White
*Emperor Hadrian (early 2nd century) Article by Shawn White
**Summary of Pliny, Trajan and Hadrian by Shawn White.


NON-CHRISTIAN SOURCES WHO HAD ACCESS TO THOSE WHO KNEW EYEWITNESSES

Critics of Christianity
*Celsus (Critic of Christianity in his work True Discourse written c. 178 A.D.)
*Marcion (d. c. 160 A.D.)

Gnostic Writings
*The Gospel of Truth (c. 140-180 A.D.)
*The Apocryphon of John (c. 120-180 A.D.)
*The Gospel of Thomas (mid 2nd Century)
*The Treatise on the Resurrection (c. 170-200 A.D.)
**NOTE; The very existence of hagiography, Gnostic writings and other heresies in the late 1st to mid 2nd Century is strong evidence for Jesus' historicity. No one invents such stories and ideas about people who do not exist. Furthermore, the heretical writings generally say very little about Jesus and his apostles but merely present them as talking heads that speak in favor of heretical ideas. In other words, these writings presuppose the well known existence of Jesus, the basic events of his life, his apostles and other persons from the four New Testament Gospels.

Other Jewish Sources
*The Talmud (c. 135 A.D.) Article by Shawn White
*Toledoth Jesu (Compiled in the 5th Century A.D., these were a collection of writings dating from mid 1st century to mid 2nd century A.D.) Article by Shawn White
**Summary of Ancient Jewish Sources by Shawn White.

Other Gentiles
*Lucian of Samosata, a Greek satirical playwright (c. 165-175 A.D.) Article by Shawn White
*Mara Bar-Serapion (c. 73-200 A.D.) Article by Shawn White
*Greek Magical Paypyri. Article at Never Thirsty
**Summary of Lucian and Mara bar-Serapion by Shawn White.


RESOURCES FOR FURTHER STUDY

Videos
*"Is There Evidence for Jesus Outside the Bible?" by Peter Williams (6 minutes)

Articles (& Book Chapters) Online
*"Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible" by Lawrence Mykytiuk. This is the January/February 2015 feature article for BAR (Biblical Archaeology Review). Excellent!
*"Early Historical Documents on Jesus Christ." A nice article at New Advent.
*"Ancient Non-Christian Sources" This is the ninth chapter from The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ  by Gary Habermas and is available for FREE.

*Series of articles by my friend Shawn White.  (Links to individual articles are included in the list above.)
*"Historical Jesus - Two Centuries Worth of Citations" at True Free Thinker. Lists more than 200 ancient documents within the first 2 centuries or so that mention Christ.

Books
*Jesus Outside the New Testament by Robert  Van Voorst
*The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ by Gary Habermas
*Second-Century Christianity: A Collection of Fragments (Revised and Expanded) by Robert M. Grant. Brief intros and excerpts from 39 different documents from the 2nd Century.
*Testimonies of Heathen and Christian Writers of the First Two Centuries to the Truth and Power of the Gospel (1837) by Thomas Browne. FREE!

STILL LOOKING?....
*See RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION INTO THE HISTORICAL EVIDENCE FOR JESUS: Videos, Articles & Books
...OR "Historical Quotations About Jesus" at Never Thirsty