Why Every Christian Needs to Be A Sheepdog

Jesus often referred to His followers as “sheep”. When he was saddened to see His people disheartened, the Gospels tell us “He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Those who hadn’t yet trusted Jesus were also described as sheep: Jesus said he “was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). When I first read the many “sheep” passages related to the teaching of Jesus, I was encouraged and inspired. In many ways, Jesus seemed to be talking like a police officer. Law Enforcement officials (like military officials) tend to divide the world into two distinct categories: “sheep” and “wolves”. Jesus also recognized this distinction. When commissioning His disciples to preach in neighboring communities, he told them, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves…” (Matthew 10:16). Jesus understood the distinctions and the dangers. In a similar way, police officers know there are those who prey and those who are preyed upon. As law enforcement personnel, we are charged to protect one from the other. In this pasture filled with sheep and wolves, we are sheepdogs. Now, as a Christian case maker, I’ve come to see the role Christian apologists make in the Church. We are also sheepdogs, commissioned to help protect the sheep from those who seek to draw them away from the Shepherd. While I accept this responsibility happily, I’ve discovered an even greater opportunity. As a sheepdog (both from a law enforcement and Christian case making perspective), it’s my duty to create more sheepdogs.
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Sleep Baby Sleep

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:30-31

I haven’t slept in over a year. Some days I am tempted to tape my eyelids open. It’s my son Justice. He’s just not a sleeper. If you’re a mom you know just how many sleep “experts” there are out there and varying opinions of how to help your baby sleep through the live long night. Have you read author Ava Neyer’s take on sleep training? It’s hilarious because it’s true – no matter what the so-called experts say, some babies just don’t sleep. End of story.

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Is Christianity Intolerant?

The Easter season often ushers in a period of cultural skepticism and criticism of all things "Christian". At times like this, the issue of religious "tolerance" is sometimes raised and examined. Christians are often called intolerant, especially when examined under a new definition of tolerance that has emerged in our culture. How should we respond when people call us "intolerant" simply because we refuse to embrace a particular value or behavior?

FIRST: Help People Understand "Classic" Tolerance
YourDictionary.com says that tolerance is "a tolerating or being tolerant, esp. of views, beliefs, practices, etc. of others that differ from one's own". And when asked what it is to tolerate something, the same source says that we 'tolerate' someone when we "recognize and respect (others' beliefs, practices, etc.) without sharing them". TheFreeDictionary.com says that 'tolerating' is "to put up with" or "endure" something.

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Do I Need Scientific, Forensic Evidence to Prove Christianity Is True?

The relationship between science and faith continues to be hotly debated in our culture today. Eric Metaxas’ recent viral Wall Street Journal article, “Is Science Leading Us to God?” certainly reignited the discussion. His brief description of the teleological, fine-tuning parameters of the universe became the most-read online article the Journal has ever published. Even more recently, CNN has now begun a six-part series entitled, “Finding Jesus”. This mini-series seeks to discover “fascinating new insights into the historical Jesus, utilizing the latest scientific techniques and archaeological research”. The show examines six ancient relics of Christianity to see if “today’s technology can prove their authenticity.” In an empiricist culture deeply enthralled with scientific discovery and fascinated by shows like CSI, Cold-Case and Forensic Files, I’m not surprised by the demand for physical, scientific, forensic evidence. But as a cold-case detective with over twenty-five years of investigative experience, I’m here to tell you a simple truth: we don’t need any evidence of this nature to make a criminal case, and we don’t need scientific, forensic evidence to prove Christianity either.

Would it be nice to have scientific, physical evidence? Absolutely. When we first formed our cold-case unit, I retrieved over thirty unsolved cases from our homicide vault and sifted through each file, hoping to find one or two we could solve quickly with some piece of DNA or other form of scientific evidence. After all, our forensic technology has improved dramatically over the years, and I hoped to capitalize on this advancement to solve one or two of these cases quickly (to demonstrate the value of our new investigative team). Alas, I couldn’t find a single case of this nature. My partner and I were initially disappointed. But over the next fifteen years, we became the most active and successful cold-case team in Los Angeles County, solving more consecutive cases and appearing more times on Dateline than any other investigative team. And none of our cases benefited significantly from scientific evidence.

Most people don’t understand the broad categories of evidence used in criminal trials. As it turns out, evidence falls into one of two categories: direct and indirect. Direct evidence is simply eyewitness testimony. Indirect evidence (also known as circumstantial evidence) is everything else. Scientific evidence is an important form of circumstantial evidence, and I would certainly have welcomed evidence of this nature over the years (it sure would have made my job easier). But I’ve never been this lucky. In fact, I’ve investigated cases lacking any physical evidence at all. In one case, the murderer killed his wife and claimed she abandoned her family. He filed a bogus missing persons report and our agency initially believed him. Sadly, no one worked the case as a homicide for the first six years. By the time we re-opened it as a homicide case, the murderer had remarried and moved from the house where he killed our victim. We had no crime scene to investigate and not a single piece of scientific evidence.

When the case went to trial, the jury faced a number of unanswered questions: When precisely did he kill her? How did he kill her? What did he do with her body? How did he move her car so it would look like she abandoned her family? We couldn’t answer any of these questions and we didn’t have a single piece of physical evidence (let alone scientific evidence). But the jury only took four hours to find our defendant guilty (he later confessed to the murder at his sentencing hearing). That case strengthened my understanding of the nature and role of evidence and the luxury of scientific corroboration. It’s nice when you have it, but you don’t really need it. And when it comes to cold-cases you don’t often have this evidential luxury (there’s a reason these cases are cold, after all). The vast majority of my cases are constructed from a collection of seemingly meaningless statements and behaviors; stuff you might not even think was important at the time of the crime. But when these small indicators are assembled cumulatively and examined against the backdrop of the crime, little things become big evidence.

This is by far a more difficult way to build a case. Sometimes a single piece of scientific, forensic evidence can be very compelling, and in an impatient culture conditioned for brevity and 140 character communication, it’s not surprising jurors might prefer the shortest possible trial. Cases made by dramatic scientific evidence are definitely appealing. But real life is different than what you’ve been watching on television and at the movies. Making a case for anything in the past (whether it’s a murder or some other historical event) is often messy and complicated. It takes time. I’ve had cases that took over five years to put together and another five to bring to trial (luckily we’re able to work more than one case at a time). Scientific cases may be compelling, but in my experience, they are incredibly rare.

So I’m not surprised (given the antiquity of the Biblical events) we can’t make a case from scientific, forensic evidence. In fact, I wouldn’t expect us to be able to do this, any more than I expect to make a scientific case as a cold-case detective. That’s alright with me; I’ve seen many juries arrive confidently at the correct decision with no scientific evidence at all. We don’t need evidence of this nature to make a criminal case, and we don’t need scientific, forensic evidence to prove Christianity either.

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Piswa, Uganda

Last week, I was in Gulu and Kampala, Uganda, respectively. The two cities are about a seven hour drive by car from each other and they are two of the largest cities in the country.

The last time I was in Uganda, I visited Piswa and frankly, Uganda has a little bit of everything. There is the amazing congestion of Kampala, where history and modernity are competing for space. There is the regional poverty on the way to the next city and there are Universities tucked almost out of sight, yet still accessible.

 

One thing, though, that sticks out in traveling to a place like Uganda is that you are confronted, assaulted may be just as appropriate, with the obvious extreme poverty as well as striking beauty at the same time.

Lee Strobel on Grace (Part 2)

The Case for Grace Is bestselling author Lee Strobel's most personal and, arguably, his most powerful book to date. In it he shares his personal transformation alongside seven real-life tales of men and women whose lives have been transformed by God's grace.

In a telephone interview with the editors of ConversantLife.com, Lee shared how the stories he chose for the book reflect his own lifelong quest for grace.

Did your own experiences with God’s grace help you choose the kind of people you wanted to interview, so you could show the different shades of grace?

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It's in the Simple Things; Or is it?

How clearly the sky reveals God's glory!
    How plainly it shows what he has done!–Psalm 19:1

It’s not uncommon for my son Justice, to wake up from his nightly slumber, clapping his hands and grinning at the start of a new day. From his crib, his baby browns scan his room, his whole face smiles as he glances from his toys to his pictures and room décor.

Throughout each day, he’s likely to dance with gusto to his favorite Motown hits playing in our home. While running around outside, he waves to helicopters flying overhead and behaves as a mocking bird when the crows perch themselves in the tree above, caw-cawing along with them. He flails his arms with excitement at the sight of food he so enjoys to eat. And he gets the giggles when it rains.

Recently I said to a friend, “It’s in the simple, everyday things Justice finds his greatest joy.”

And then it struck me like an Easter bonnet on a church lady.

Simple.

Are the birds, rain, the sun and moon, all creation, not to mention huge, heavy, metal objects that defy gravity and fly through the sky, simple? Or could it be I have lost the awe in such wonderful things?

I’ve come to realize it’s officially a sad day the moment I consider it simple the moon perfectly hanging in space or water falling from the sky in all shapes and forms.

Job also lost awe in the day-to-day acts of God. Granted, Job was in a much different situation than in my life, however, Gods response to Job is a response to us all. 

Read what God once upon a time told Job:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.

Tags | Family | About God

Lee Strobel and The Case for Grace (Part 1)

Lee Strobel almost died before his own story joined the pages of his newest and most personal book, The Case for Grace: A Journalist Explores the Evidence of Transformed Lives (Zondervan, 2015). 

In this captivating book, the bestselling and award-winning author of several “The Case for” books shares his own personal transformation alongside seven real-life tales of men and women whose lives have been revolutionized by God’s grace.

These grace-filled stories are contrasted with world religions focused on earning divine favor. Only Christianity reveals a God who showers humanity with unmerited favor...amazing grace.

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Yes, the Christian Worldview Is Supported by the Evidence

Richard Dawkins once famously said, “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is the belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” He’s also quoted saying, “Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that.” Dawkins isn’t the only atheist who believes Christianity can’t be supported by evidence. Sam Harris said, “When considering the truth of a proposition, one is either engaged in an honest appraisal of the evidence and logical arguments, or one isn't. Religion is one area of our lives where people imagine that some other standard of intellectual integrity applies.” Statements such as these, while they are rhetorically powerful, expose a lack of understanding about the nature of evidence. Dawkins and Harris aren’t professional case makers, and they aren’t familiar with the broad categories of evidence we use in criminal and civil trials every day. Detectives and prosecutors understand anything can be assessed evidentially. There are only two categories of evidence, and Christian Case Makers use both types of evidence when making a case for Christianity:

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Forget Community: I Want a Family

In the Christian churches I visit and the conversations I have with Christian people, I hear one word more than any other. Community. 

It’s in sermons and prayers, on church signs and Instagram posts, and it is frequently appended to other words like “authentic,” “healthy,” “diverse,” and “gospel-centered.” And nine out of ten young adults that I talk to say it’s the number one thing look for in a church. 

Community, community, community. 

We talk about it, long for it, imagine it, and expect it, yet it remains hopelessly illusive. But, it’s our own fault. For every person that claims, “What I really want is Christian community,” I hear a list of reasons why the church they just visited isn’t the kind of community they want:

  • It's too conservative (or liberal)
  • It’s too charismatic (or reserved)
  • It’s too old (or young)
  • It’s too big (or small)
  • Its preacher (or music) is bad
  • It’s not interesting (or diverse, or reformed, or non-denominational, or close-to-home) enough. 
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