Your Shield of Faith

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“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

I’m studying the Armor of God, and in particular the Shield of Faith this week.  I think every person who claims to be a Christian should do a deep study of this important passage in Ephesians 6:10-19.  Each piece is vital for different reasons because the enemy has so many different ways to attack us.  The Belt of Truth strengthens us from the inside out, giving us the ability to deflect lies and half-truths that look right, but miss the mark.  The Breastplate of Righteousness protects our heart from the enemy’s onslaught of lies about who we are. The Shoes of Peace enable us to stand firm in the harsh terrain of this world.  The Helmet of Salvation protects our mind, the devil’s favorite target.  The Sword of the Spirit is our only offensive weapon – but the Word of God is all we need to send Satan scurrying.  And then there is the Shield of Faith – a vital protective piece.

“Faith” gets used a lot in churches and Christian circles – so much so that I fear it has lost it’s meaning.  In the modern Christian culture, we say we have faith because we think about God and talk about Bible verses.  But biblical faith is not just sitting around with our ethereal thoughts.  By definition, faith is a belief that leads to a corresponding action – even when the reasons for that action are unclear and the results are uncertain.  Mind you, faith isn’t “blind” either.  It sees the improbability of what God is asking.  Faith does it anyway. “Because You said so” (Luke 5:5).  Faith allows us to step out into the empty space, confident that the solid ground God promised will be in place when our foot sets down.

What has God asked of you that requires great faith?  Obedience to His call is your shield.  Do the thing whether you understand the reasons or not.  Do it when it doesn’t make a bit of sense. Do it even though you can’t see the outcome.  If your knees are knocking – do it afraid, but do it.  Then when God slides His hand in place just as your foot reaches the open space, you will stand on the most solid ground you’ve ever known.  Have faith Beloved.  Just do it.

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Proven Faith

Image: Melted gold flows out of a smelter into a mould of a bar at a plant of gold refiner and bar manufacturer Argor-Heraeus SA in the southern Swiss town of Mendrisio

Charles Spurgeon wrote: “The most precious [metals] are tested in the fire . . . ” The Psalmist said, “For You, O God tested us; You refined us like silver” (Psalm 66:10). Peter said, “These [trials] have come so that your faith – of great worth than gold . . . may be proved genuine” (1 Peter 1:7)
A “proving ground” is a military term. It is “an environment that serves to demonstrate whether something, such as a theory or product, really works.” Say a company has created something they want to market to the United States military. Do you think Uncle Sam is just going to take their word for it, buy this thing and put it into a soldier’s hands. No – they are going to take it into situations and places in which it will be used and they will put it through rigorous tests. They may discover a weakness and will work on that area to strengthen it. And they’ll test it again. Only after it stands up in the proving grounds will it be put into use.
When God wants to “prove” the faith of His child He uses the fires of adversity, struggle, trial, heartache, disappointment, discouragement . . . I think you understand. When you and I ask God, “What are You doing?” The answer will always be, “I am proving your faith. I am finding the weak places so that I can strengthen you. I am making sure you are fit for the good work I have for you.” God is not out to destroy you beloved, He is working to build your faith. The proving ground is the place where your faith takes root so you can produce fruit – fruit that will last. Fruit that will glorify the one who brought you all the way through the fire.

Fear Not

Fear not

“Fear not . . .”  Isaiah 43:1

“Fear not” – words that make us stand a little straighter and feel a little stronger.  “Fear not,” (and words of a similar context) are found in the Bible more than a hundred times.[1]  We’re taught that fear and faith cannot coexist.  A fearful saint is not a faithful saint. But if you – like me – find yourself in a tumultuous situation, that contrast between the two extremes is a very real and present tension.  Like the father in Mark 9, we find ourselves pleading – “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (v. 24).  Over and over I pray: “God, I know You’ve got this.  I know you are faithful.  I know You will never leave me nor forsake me.  But I’m scared God.  I don’t want to be.  I’m trying not to be.  But I am.”  And He understands.  He doesn’t chide or rebuke me – He just gives me reasons not to fear.

Fear not . . . for God has heard (Gen. 21:18)

Fear not for I am with you (Gen. 26:24) (My favorite)

Do not be afraid, the Lord will fight for you (Deut. 3:22)

Do not be afraid . . . for the Lord will never leave you nor forsake you (Deut. 31:6)

Fear not; I will help you (Isa. 41:13)

Today, at the suggestion of my sister-in-love, I’ve been meditating in Isaiah 43 and found some incredible words of hope that fit my life perfectly:

“This is what the Lord says – He who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters” (v. 16); “I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland” (v. 19).

At this moment I am both drowning in the sea and wandering through a desert.  Seems as odd as faith mingled with fear but let me explain.  My emotions seem like an overflowing river, thoughts rushing this way and that, pulling me under and threatening to take my very breath.  For a split second I come up for air – “I believe!”  In the next the waves crash over my head again – “But I am afraid!”  God promises to make a way – a path through the waters of fearful thoughts and discouragement that threaten to drown me.  He promises dry ground to cross over to the other side.

Yet I am in the desert where nothing grows and all seems lost – walking through a season of drought.  Health issues.  Disability.  Unemployment.   Multiple applications with no nibbles.  Interviews with “no thank you.”  Watching the funds dwindle as the provisions dry up.  The reality of what we’re facing beats down like the scorching sun as we wander looking for an oasis.  God promises to make a way here too – to provide streams in this wasteland .  Mind you not to drown us like the sea, but to refresh and restore us.

He meets our needs for rescue and refreshing.  He gives us dry ground and cool springs.  He never fails to notice us wherever we are – even when we’re in two places at once.  Oh, my drowning, wandering friend – let me throw you a lifeline of hope.  You don’t have to fear because God hears you, He is with you, He fights for you, He will never leave nor forsake you, and He promises to help you.  He knows where you are right now, and He knows what you need right here.  He will make a way.

 

[1] The NIV records some 110 references; other translations will have a slightly different word count.  Despite how good is sounds, there are actually not 365 “Fear not” verses.

Looking at Life from Higher Up

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“From the ends of the earth I call to You, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2).

Years ago a choir director told us altos that the best way to hit a high note was not to try to climb up to it – that almost always caused us to flatten the note – but to see ourselves gliding down onto to it from above. He was trying to get us to approach the difficult note from a different – higher – perspective.
Some of you know the struggles we’ve faced for the past several months. My husband was injured at work and had to leave his 23-year career. At the same time I lost my job and couldn’t find another. Two months ago we moved back home to start over. During the move and for weeks after, I dealt with a serious health crisis – with no insurance. I’ve been diligently looking for a job and many of you prayed for me when I went on an interview last week – but I learned yesterday that I did not get the job. We have been without any income for 3 months and our meager resources are almost depleted.
So how do I deal with all this disappointment and life-shaking change? I have two choices – either look at it from the pit of despair, or approach it from a higher perspective. Will I see it all as a hard blow or as God’s shaping and strengthening my faith? Will I roll around in hopelessness or stand in confident trust that God has a purpose and a plan in it all?
Believe me – I haven’t been a shining example of faith. I’ve struggled. I’ve cried. I’ve worried and I’ve questioned God. But I realize that I can either drag myself into misery or climb up on the Rock that never fails.
Beloved, I don’t know your struggles – but I know that your perspective affects your faith and your ability to face it all with confidence and hope. And perspective has everything to do with how you see God – as faithful or fallible, as near and caring or as distant and unconcerned. I know God is here with me. I know He is faithful. I know I can trust Him. I know He will come through. He is my Rock – a high place on which I can stand. Climb up here with me and let’s watch Him work wonders.

Praying With Faith

“But when He asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6)
 
The old preacher announced from the pulpit – “Come out tonight as we gather to pray for rain to ease this drought.  And bring your umbrella, or don’t bother to come.  We need prayers of faith, not doubt.”
 
What are you praying for today?  Are you believing God will answer – or are your prayers empty petitions?  Oh I’m so guilty of this.  I’m going to be honest here – I have prayed while doubts dug deep ruts through my mind.  “God I ask this of You, but I really don’t expect it.”  Sometimes my doubts were caused by the size of the problem, or the pain of the circumstance.  Sometimes I doubted because it just seemed too much to ask; like I was weighing God’s faithfulness against my failures.  And sometimes my prayers are empty because the enemy has filled my mind with fear.
James calls me “double-minded” and “unstable” (v. 8).   Jesus said it only takes a “mustard-seed” of faith to move the Father’s heart on my behalf (20-21).  Do I believe in God’s goodness – even a mustard seed worth? Has He ever done anything to warrant my doubts?
Beloved, it’s time to put real faith behind our prayers.  I’m praying for some big things from God – for myself, my family and my ministry.  Oh, and I’m gonna grab my umbrella on my way out the door!

Heroes of the Faith

“Enoch walked with God,” Genesis 6:24

What person in the Bible – besides Jesus (because we all want to be like Jesus) – do you most want to emulate? There are several I can name, for various reasons.
I’ve always wanted to be like Dorcas (which is my given first name) – her story is in Acts 9:36-42. She was a woman who was devoted to ministry among the poor in Joppa. It was said of her, she was “full of good works and charitable deeds which she did.” I am full of good ideas, which I often fail to do. I want to be like Dorcas – a doer, not just a dreamer. When God called me into ministry the priest Ezra became my role-model. The Scriptures say that “the gracious hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord and to teach its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:9-10). From his example I have devoted myself to study the Word, live the Word and teach the Word. I also admire Mary’s complete surrender to the will of God – I long for that kind of heart. I want to be bold like Paul, humble like Moses, and fearless like Deborah who declared, “March on, my soul; be strong!” (Judges 5:21) as she (yes a woman!) led Israel into battle. I want to worship like David, live blamelessly like Noah, and without compromise like Daniel.

But as I was reading the Genesis account of “the begats” – the generations of Adam’s descendants I found the person I most want to be like – Enoch. While I love the great stories of David and Daniel and Dorcas and Ezra – the simple description of Enoch’s life is the one that I want most to copy: “Enoch walked with God.” There are no great feats listed, no battles fought, no mighty victories. He walked with God – period. We do get a clue in Hebrews 11 where we find that as he walked he “pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5b). What was his secret for pleasing God? It’s right in the next verse, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Faith pleases God and Enoch clearly had faith. So what is faith? Faith is believing that God exists – that He is who He says He is. But the demons believe that God exists (James 2:19), so there must be something more. Faith is also believing that He rewards those who seek after him earnestly. How do we seek God earnestly? Jeremiah 29:13 declares “You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart. Enoch walked through life seeking the face and presence of God with his whole heart. That means he constantly thought about God, talked with God, and believed God to be faithful and true. And Enoch’s faith was rewarded. What is the reward? Jeremiah 29:14 says, “I will be found by you.” Enoch found God – he didn’t die, but was taken from this earth and into the very presence of God.

Hebrews 11 – the hall of faith – is filled with men and women who did many things in the name of the Lord, but they are all commended for one thing above all others: their faith. Name after name is preceded by the words: “by faith.” Abel, our friend Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and on and on. They worshipped, built, led, sacrificed and remained true, but they are remarkable for the faith, not their acts. Faith motivates God’s people into action, whether it is great exploits or simple gestures – but it is not our deeds that please God, it is our heart that believes and seeks after Him.

I want to do great things for God. I want to study and teach His Word, I want to write to encourage others. I want to share Jesus with women. But more than all these, I want to walk before God in faith, just as Enoch did. I want to please Him and seek Him with wholehearted devotion. I want to meditate on His Name and His character. I want to talk with Him friend-to-friend and draw near enough to hear His faintest whisper. I want to walk through life with God – side-by-side and heart-to heart – all the way into His presence.

Creation: Fact or Fiction?

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

It’s the simplest truth, taught to the littlest children: God created the whole world. It is the opening statement of the Holy Bible and is foundational to our understanding of who God is, and in turn who we are.  I would like to encourage you to read the first chapter of Genesis before you read any further in this devotional.

Where did the universe come from?  Modern science spins a tale of colliding gasses that somehow formed into a diverse group of planets, stars and galaxies.  Yet out of all those celestial places only one has the exact mix of Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Phosphorus, and Sulfur to sustain life.  Only one is the precise distance from the sun to keep the inhabitants from freezing or burning to death.  Only one produces plant life that can feed both humans and animals.   Can we seriously believe that this delicate balance was achieved by accident?  Faith tells us that God fashioned the earth purposefully for His living creations.  

The Bible says that God created out nothing.  There were no prior elements that He scooped up into His hand and rolled into a ball.  He spoke into the nothingness and the response was immediate obedience.  “Be” . . . light, water, dry ground, plant life, sun, moon and stars, and living creatures.  And they were.

The Genesis account also says that these creative events occurred over six “days.”  A lot of debate centers on those days.  Were they really 24-hour days like we know today?  Were they thousands, even millions of our years long?  Were there long “gaps” between the days?  I’ll not get into the “young-earth/old-earth” debates, because that is not my intent.  The Bible is not written as a science manual; it is written for faith.  And the first act of faith is believing that God exists; the second is believing that the Word that He has given us is true.  The creation verses say that “there was evening and there was morning” – and calls that a “day.”  The Hebrew terminology agrees with that understanding.

Does it really matter though?  Yes it really does, but not for the sake of scientific argument.

I personally believe that this indicates a 24-hour day, but my conviction is based not so much on the descriptive text but on the One who inspired the text.  If I side with the scientific versions – even from a “Christian” perspective – I have said that the very first truths of the Holy Word of God are questionable.  That leaves everything else from Genesis 2 to Revelation 22 open to debate and alteration for the sake of human agreement.  I have heard “Christians” say that Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the Whale, and many other biblical accounts are just myths.  How easy it becomes then to question to truth of the virgin birth of Jesus, His miracles and even His resurrection. Even in the church.  Think I’m stretching too far here?  Go sit through a lecture at a liberal-leaning seminary.  It’s a wonder students are still believers when the graduate.

Mankind has had one of three responses to the biblical account of creation:

Some receive it as truth and accept God as Creator.

Some receive it as a possible truth and add God to their harem of higher powers.

Some outright reject it and deny the power, and often the existence of God.

Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary science admitted that it is “[extremely difficult] or rather [impossible to] conceive this immense and wonderful universe, including man” without being convicted of the existence of God.  Yet he abandoned that “strong conclusion” and devised the evolutionary theory that the world has received as an alternative to the truth.  (Taken from a video lecture by Dr. David DeWitt).  All that he could see around him convinced him of the existence of God, but his arrogance led him to reject God.  His theory has lead millions of human souls away from God and has become entangled in the church’s teaching of creation.

If the Bible is truly the Word of God, then all of it is true and must be received and believed without compromise.  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  Faith starts right here, at the beginning.  Know what you believe and believe what you know – but be certain what you know and believe is the truth.

Father God, Creator and Sustainer of all that is, forgive us for looking to men to explain Your miraculous works.  You created by your word and You wrote it down for us to believe – not to pick apart and debate.  Create in us hearts that believe You above all else.  Amen.

Secret Faith

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“But Daniel resolved not to defile himself  . . .” Daniel 1:8

He was part of a group of athletes from out of town.  He and his teammates were seated across the pizza parlor and it was obvious they had been drinking for a while.  Their conversation had been punctuated with profanity and sexual comments, and this young man had been a full participant.  He hoisted his beer above his head and toasted their victory with a few choice expletives.  With his arm raised high, I could see the WWJD bracelet he wore.  It was faded and dirty, but I recognized it right away.

I shook my head as we stood to leave, just as the young man walked to the restroom.  As my husband paid our bill, he walked out and I commented, “You guys must have had a great day today, you’re doing a lot of celebrating.”

“Yeah, we beat everyone today – we’re the CHAMPS!”

“May I ask you a question?” I queried.  He nodded his assent.  “What’s that bracelet you’re wearing all about?”  He glanced down and his wrist and quickly pulled his shirt sleeve down over the bracelet.

“Awe, it’s just something I got at church a while back.  My mom likes for me to wear it.”

“What does it mean?”

“It says WWDJ I think.  It just means . . . well I guess it means I’m a Christian.”

“Really?  Wow, that’s great! I didn’t know Christians could get drunk and cuss like that!  I guess it’s no big deal anymore is it?”

He shifted his weight back and forth on his feet.  “Hey, I’m still a Christian in my heart, isn’t that where it matters?”

“I don’t know.  Is it?”

In contrast to the young man in the pizza parlor, consider Daniel and his friends.  They were part of the exile to Babylon and had been taken with a group of elite young men to be indoctrinated into the culture of their captors.  They were given “royal food and wine” (Daniel 1:8), food which was forbidden for a Jew.  They asked to be excluded from the meal plan in favor of foods that would not compromise their faith.

Now you might ask, what harm would there be in eating and drinking the provided food as long as they remained true to their faith in their hearts?  As the young athlete said, “Isn’t that where it matters?” Couldn’t they set aside their convictions since they were captives, just go along with the others who had no such qualms?  While they chowed down they could tell God, “This doesn’t change who I am. You know I’m still a Jew at heart.”

Or when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were ordered to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue, what harm would there have been to go along on the outside, as long as they still claimed their Jewish status in their hearts?[1]  Maybe Daniel could have outwardly pretended to pray to the King, but kept his heart for God?  It sure would have kept him out of the lion’s den.[2]

Jesus gives us the answer: “By their fruit you will recognize them,” (Matthew 7:16).  Fruit in Scripture is evidence of what is inside.  If a tree has the sap of a peach, it’s not going to produce a pear.  Likewise if we are truly Christians in our hearts, we will not exhibit ungodly behavior.  That’s not to say that Christians don’t occasionally stumble in their walk.  But they feel the sting of conviction and repent in sorrow for their failing.  A Christian cannot be comfortable living like the world.  I would even go so far as to say, it you can live like the world while claiming to be a Christian, you might want to re-examine your relationship with Christ.

Secret faith – faith that only exists in your heart but not in your words and actions – is a contradiction in terms.  Genuine inward faith has an outward expression.  It can’t be kept hidden away or tucked up under a shirt sleeve when it’s not convenient or popular to be a Christian.  Faith has to be lived out loud.  I don’t mean standing on a street corner with a Bible and a sign, but rather standing apart from the culture and the influences of the world.  I mean not participating in ungodly behavior.  I mean saying “No” when you are enticed to compromise your faith.  I mean making choices that may seem odd to others, but that reflect Christ in your heart.

Had Daniel and his friends compromised with the food issue, it would have been easier to give in with the statue or prayer.  They would have blended in to the culture and had no influence for the Lord.  They certainly would not have encouraged us with their example of uncompromising faith.  Likewise, the stand you take today in small things will determine the stand you take tomorrow with larger issues.

In other words, your outward faith matters.  It really, really matters.

[1] Daniel 3

[2] Daniel 6

Trusting God with Eyes Wide Open

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“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead . . .” (1 Corinthians 15:20

Sunday at church, we sang a song that was new to me.  It was a powerful praise of the living Lord Jesus Christ and how He saved me from my sins.  My heart leapt within me and I sensed the Holy Spirit calling me to lift my hands in praise.  Now I am not shy about lifting my hands, but I’ve always done so with my eyes closed in worship.  “Lord, I don’t know this song.” I said, “I have to keep my eyes on the screen to see the words.”  I sensed Him saying, Child, I want you to worship me with your eyes wide open.

We’re often told that we are to believe in Jesus with “blind faith,” and not look for evidence that the claims of Christianity are true.   But I don’t believe that faith is closing my eyes and jumping off a theological cliff.  Mind you there is a huge difference in demanding proof and asking for assurance of your faith.  The first is an arrogant insult to the Lord, but the second is the cry of a heart that wants to believe.  God invites us to “come now, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18).  He encourages us to look for evidence of His existence and to believe because we see.  Placing my faith in Jesus Christ is both an act of faith and a wise and conscious decision based on solid evidence.

No other event on the stage of world history is as important or as divisive as the resurrection of Jesus Christ.   Skeptics have long sought to discredit Christianity’s claims with attacks on the foundational truth of the gospel.  One of the foremost apologetics experts, Dr. Gary Habermas[1] offers many historical facts about Christ’s resurrection that provide evidence of Christianity’s claims.  Those facts include  Jesus’ death by crucifixion and his burial; the reaction of his distraught disciples; the empty tomb; the disciples’ belief in the literal appearance of the risen Jesus; their sudden transformation from hopeless, fearful doubters to emboldened witnesses; and the testimonies of skeptics turned apostles such as James, Jesus’ own brother, and Saul of Tarsus, known as Paul. [2]  These facts are not mere Bible stories, they are recorded in the secular history of the time.

The Jewish and Roman historical records note that a man named Jesus, from Nazareth, was crucified at Golgotha and buried in a garden tomb.  The grave was sealed and Roman guards were posted to prevent the theft of the body.  This is a historical, recorded fact.  History records that the condemned man’s tomb was found empty three days later, despite the extreme measures the Romans took to secure the grave.  Jewish records note the claims of Jesus’ followers that their Lord had been resurrected.  Historical writers of the time frequently mention eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus, just as Paul spoke of Peter, the Apostles, more than five hundred brothers, James (Jesus’ own doubting brother), and finally Paul himself (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).  In these verses Paul reminds the believers of the gospel message “that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and he was raised on the third day according to the Scripture” (v. 3-4).  These verses are almost certainly a creed that was well established in the ancient church and based on the testimonies of the very ones who firmly and emphatically believed they saw the literal resurrected Lord.  These are men who had been transformed from terrified, despondent fellows cowering behind locked doors (John 20:19) to bold witnesses willing to die for their faith, confident in what they saw (Acts 4:1-20).

The gospel message – the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus – is strongly supported by men and women who had an encounter that transformed their lives and the landscape of world history.  The evidences are clearly shown in their testimonies and the traditions that found their foundation in their words.  The eyewitness’s accounts of Peter, James, John and Paul and hundreds of others, combined with the early creedal statements of the church provide good support for the claims of the resurrection of Jesus.  Generations of believers whose have also experienced this life-changing Jesus provide further proof that the claims of Christianity are true.

Still facts alone cannot convince anyone of the reality of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. It is important that we know the truth, but it is even more important that we believe the truth.  Faith still requires an element of trusting in something we cannot physically see.  But the eyes of our hearts can pierce the darkness of doubt and focus on the truth of Jesus Christ as Savior and His promises of eternal life.

I want to encourage you to examine the evidence, look carefully at the Scriptures, especially Paul’s epistles, research the historical records.  Know for sure that what you believe is true.  God does not demand blind faith; He wants us to be confident in what we believe.  Trusting in Jesus is the most intelligent decision you will ever make.

Lord Jesus, I’ve believed in You since I was a child, but I didn’t understand the basis for my faith until I examined the evidence.  You are everything You claimed to be: Son of God, Savior, and Resurrected Lord.  Give us eyes to see and hearts to believe.  Amen.

[1] Dr. Gary R. Habermas, is a Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University.

[2] Gary Habermas, “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity, Southeastern Theological Review, 3.1, (Summer 2012) 15-26, http://garyhabermas.com/articles/southeastern_theological_review/minimal-facts-methodology_08-02-2012.htm, 17.