Friday, June 1, 2018

25 Powerful Productivity Tactics (The Productivity Project)

I just finished reading The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey, and this book is absolutely fantastic. After spending a year researching, experimenting, and testing all of the prevailing productivity wisdom that's out there, Chris distilled his findings into one book for people like you and me to benefit from. I will definitely be coming back to it repeatedly in the future. For anyone interested, here are Chris's top 25 powerful productivity tactics, each tested over a year of deep study and experimentation, which each have full chapters dedicated to them in the book.

1. Identify your most important tasks.
2. At the beginning of each day write down just three things you want to get done.
3. Track your daily energy levels to determine what your typical peak productivity hours are.
4. Find the triggers that make you procrastinate, then flip them.
5. Get in touch with your future self and treat him well.
6. Disconnect and allow yourself to feel bored.
7. Budget your attention and energy, not just your time.
8. Shrink your work by budgeting less time for certain tasks.
9. Defend your peak productivity hours (#3).
10. Chunk all your weekly maintenance tasks together into one day.
11. Dedicate more time to your most rewarding and high-impact tasks.
12. Shrink or eliminate your time wasting low-impact tasks.
13. If you can delegate your low-impact tasks, do. Determine how much your hour is worth.
14. Get a notebook and perform a brain dump, get as much off your mind as you can.
15. Make a list of the 7 major areas of your life (home, work, friends, health, etc.) and review them occasionally.
16. Make room for your mind to wander.
17. Find a way to quickly record ideas and thoughts that come up wherever you are.
18. Dive into the settings on your phone and turn off your notifications.
19. Make a habit of single-tasking instead of multi-tasking.
20. Practice meditation and mindfulness.
21. Eat for health and energy.
22. Drink water, use caffeine strategically, and avoid alcohol.
23. Elevate your heart rate with regular exercise.
24. Get a full night of sleep.
25. Make sure that you enjoy your life; you won't be productive if you're unhappy.

Want to know more? For a four page, in depth, extended table of contents of this book, click here.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Sermons to Check Out

For those of you who are into listening to sermons online, here are a couple of great resources!

(1) Capitol Hill Baptist Church led by Dr. Mark Dever
Mark Dever is an absolute master of sermon preparation and delivery, an exegetical animal prone to amazing feats of preaching. Known for preaching through entire books of the Bible in a single sermon, he has also outdone himself by preaching individual sermons on the whole Old Testament, on the whole New Testament, and on the whole Bible (twice!). There are also a number of other gifted and faithful preachers whose sermons are available to listen to here.

(2) The Meeting House led by Pastor Bruxy Cavey
This Toronto-based church describes themselves as "a church for people who aren't into church". The sermons, notes, and small-group questions are well thought out, and the style is fun and often humorous. I often use sermon clips from this church for youth group videos!

(3) Covenant Life Church led by Pastor Joshua Harris
This church has a pretty deep library of sermons, classes, and conference messages on a whole variety of topics and Biblical books. Definitely take a look.

(4) Door of Hope Church led by Josh White and Tim Mackie
The newest entry on our list opened its doors just 6 years ago in 2009. In that time, it has had incredible growth and has even begun to spin off and start other ministries such as The Bible Project on YouTube (also a good source of youth group videos). Their sermon library is incredibly deep and the topics covered are substantial. This also easily the most media-savvy church on the list, so you'll find their website is pretty intuitive and easy to get around on. Enjoy!

Happy listening,


Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Reduced Gospel of Jesus

This next post has been lifted from Donald Miller's book Searching For God Knows What. It's about how the Gospel is more elaborate and beautiful than the "reduced version" that we find in Christian tracts and pamphlets. It's largely because of writing like this that Donald Miller has become my favourite author, beating out more obvious picks like Mark Driscoll, John Piper, or Kevin DeYoung. I have edited Don's format just a little bit to fit the style of most of my Searching For A City posts.


'My friend Greg and I have been talking quite a bit about what it means to follow Jesus. Greg would not consider himself as somebody who takes Jesus seriously, but he admits to having questions. I didn't have a formula for him to understand how a Christian conversion works, but I told him that many years ago, when I was a child, I had heard about Jesus and found the idea of Him compelling, then much later, while reading the Gospels, came to believe that I wanted to follow Him. This changed things in my life, I said, because it involved giving up everything and choosing to go into a relationship with Him.

Greg told me he had seen a pamphlet with four or five ideas on it, ideas such as man was a sinner, sin separated man from God, and Christ died to absolve the separation. He asked me if this was what I believed, and I told him, essentially, that it was. "Those would be the facts of the story," I said, "but that isn't the story." "Those are the ideas, but it isn't the narrative," Greg stated rhetorically. "Yes," I told him.

Earlier that same year I had a conversation with my friend Omar, who is a student at a local college. For his humanities class, Omar was assigned to read the majority of the Bible. He asked to meet with me for coffee, and when we sat down he put a Bible on the table as well as a pamphlet containing the same five or six ideas Greg had mentioned. He opened the pamphlet, read the ideas, and asked if these concepts were important to the central message of Christianity. I told Omar that they were critical; that, basically, this was the gospel of Jesus, the backbone of the Christian faith. Omar then opened his Bible and asked, "If these ideas are so important, why aren't they in this book?" 

"But the Scripture references are right here," I said curiously, showing Omar that the verses were printed next to each idea. "I see that," he said. "But in the Bible they aren't concise like they are in this pamphlet. They are spread out all over the book." "But this pamphlet is a summation of the ideas," I clarified. "Right," Omar continued, "but it seems like, if these ideas are that critical, God would have taked the time to make bullet points out of them, Instead, He put some of them here and some of them there. And half the time, when Jesus is talking, He is speaking entirely in parables. It is hard to believe that whatever it is He is talking about can be summed up this simply." 

Omar's point is well taken, And while the ideas presented in these pamphlets are certainly true, it struck me how simply we had begun to explain the ideas, not only how simply, but how non-relationally, how propositionally. I don't mean any of this to fault the pamphlets at all. Tracts such as the ones Omar and Greg encountered have been powerful tools in helping people understand the beauty of the message of Christ. Millions, perhaps, have come to know Jesus through these efficient presentations of the gospel. But I did begin to wonder if there were better ways of explaining it than these pamphlets. After all, the pamphlets have been around for only the last fifty years or so (along with our formulaic presentation of the gospel), and the church has shrunk, not grown, in Western countries in which these tools have been used. But the greater trouble with these reduced ideas is that modern evangelical culture is so accustomed to this summation that it is difficult for us to see the gospel as anything other than a list of true statements with which a person must agree. 

It makes me wonder if, because of this reduced version of the claims of Christ, we believe the gospel is easy to understand, a simple mental exercise, not the least bit mysterious. And if you think about it, a person has a more difficult time explaining romantic love, for instance, or beauty, or the Trinity, than the gospel of Jesus. John would open his gospel by presenting the idea that God is the Word and Jesus is the Word and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Not exactly bullet points for easy consumption. Perhaps our reduction of these ideas has caused us to miss something.'


Great stuff from The Donald.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Josephus and the Evidence for Jesus

This post is taken from portions of Bart Ehrman's book Did Jesus Exist?, written to debunk popular internet conspiracy theories which suggest Jesus never lived. The layout of Ehrman's arguments has been changed to fit SFAC blog format, but all of the words (besides headings) are original to the well-known atheist Bible scholar Bart Ehrman.

"Flavius Josephus is one of the truly important figures from ancient Judaism. His abundant historical writings are our primary source of information about the life and history of Palestine in the first century. He himself was personally involved with some of the most important events that he narrates, especially in his eight-volume work, The Jewish Wars. Josephus was born to an aristocratic family in Palestine some six or seven years after the traditional date of Jesus' death... In his various writings Josephus mentions a large number of Jews, especially as they were important for the social, political, and historical situation in Palestine. As it turns out, he deals briefly also with John the Baptist. And on two occasions, at least in the writings as they have come down to us today, he mentions Jesus of Nazareth."

"It is somewhat simpler to deal with these two references [to Jesus of Nazareth] in reverse order. The second of them is very brief and occurs in Book 20 of the Antiquities. Here Josephus is referring to an incident that happened in 62 [AD], before the Jewish uprising, when the local civic and religious leader in Jerusalem, the high priest Ananus, misused his power. The Roman governor had been withdrawn, and in his absence, we are told, Ananus unlawfully put to death a man named James, whom Josephus identifies as 'the brother of Jesus, who is called the messiah' (Antiquities 20.9.1). Here, unlike the pagan references we examined earlier, Jesus is actually called by name. And we learn two things about him: he had a brother named James, and some people thought that he was the messiah. Both points are abundantly attested as well, of course, in our Christian sources, but it is interesting to see that Josephus is aware of them."

"[The second passage] is known to scholars as the Testimonium Flavianum, that is, the testimony given by Flavius Josephus to the life of Jesus. It is the longest reference to Jesus that we have considered so far, and it is by far the most important. In the best manuscripts of Josephus it reads as follows:

At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one should call him a man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. He was the messiah. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, just as the divine prophets had spoken of these and countless other wonderous things about him. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out. (Antiquities 18.3.3)

The problems with this passage should be obvious to anyone with even a casual knowledge of Josephus. We know a good deal about him, both from the autobiography that he produced and from other self-references in his writings. He was thoroughly and ineluctably Jewish and certainly never converted to be a follower of Jesus. But this passage contains comments that only a Christian would make: that Jesus was more than a man, that he was the messiah, and that he arose from the dead in fulfillment of the scriptures. In the judgement of most scholars, there is simply no way Josephus the Jew would or could have written such things. So how did these comments get into his writings?"

"Among his own people [the Jews], Josephus was not a beloved author read through the ages. In fact, his writings were transmitted in the Middle Ages not by Jews but by Christians. This shows how we can explain the extraordinary Christian claims about Jesus in this passage. When Christian scribes copied the text, they added a few words here and there to make sure that the reader would get the point. This is that Jesus, the super-human messiah raised from the dead as the scriptures predicted. The big question is whether a Christian scribe (or scribes) simply added a few choice Christian additions to the passage or whether the entire thing was produced by a Christian and inserted in an appropriate place in Josephus Antiquities.

The majority of scholars of early Judaism, and experts on Josephus, think that it was the former - that one or more Christian scribes 'touched up' the passage a bit. If one takes out the obviously Christian comments, the passage may have been rather innocuous, reading something like this:

At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. He was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. When Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out.

If this is the original form of the passage, then Josephus had some solid historical information about Jesus's life: Jesus was known for his wisdom and teaching; he was thought to have done remarkable deeds; he had numerous followers; he was condemned to be crucified by Pontius Pilate because of Jewish accusations brought against him; and he continued to have followers among the Christians after his death."

"Some have argued, however, that the entire passage was made up by a Christian author and inserted into the writings of Josephus. If that is the case, then possibly the later references to James as 'the brother of Jesus, who is called the messiah' was also interpolated, in order to reinforce the point of the earlier insertion... G.A. Wells has maintained that if one removes the entire Testimonium from its larger context, the preceding paragraph and the one that follows flow together quite nicely. This one seems, then, intrusive. As Earl Doherty rightly notes, however, it was not at all uncommon for ancient writers (who never used footnotes) to digress from their main points, and in fact other digressions can be found in the surrounding context of the passage. So this argument really does not amount to much.

More striking for Earl Doherty is the fact that no Christian authors appear to be aware of this passage intil the church father Eusebius, writing in the early fourth century [the 300's AD]. In the second and third centuries there were many Christian writers (Justin, Tertullian, Origen, and so on) who were intent on defending both Christianity and Jesus himself against charges leveled against him by their opponents. And yet they never, in defense of Jesus, mention this passage of Josephus. Is that really plausible?... This too does not strike me as a strong argument. The pared-down version of Josephus -the one without Christian additions- contains very little that could have been used by the early Christian writers to defend Jesus and his followers from attacks by pagan intellectuals. It is a very neutral statement. The fact that Jesus is said to have been wise or to have done great deeds would not go far in the repertoire of the Christian apologists... if one reads the passage without the rose-tinted lenses of the Christian tradition, its view of Jesus can be seen as basically negative. The fact that he was opposed by the leaders of the Jewish people would no doubt have shown that he was not an upright Jew. And the fact that he was condemned to crucifixion, the most horrific execution imaginable to a Roman audience, speaks for itself."

"What I did not stress earlier but need to point out now is that there is absolutely nothing to suggest that the pagan Tacitus or the Jewish Josephus acquired their information about Jesus by reading the Gospels. They heard information about him. That means the information the gave predated their writings. Indirectly, then, Tacitus and (possibly) Josephus provide independent attestation to Jesus's existence from outside the Gospels although, as I stated earlier, in doing so they do not give us information that is unavailable in our other sources."


This might have been thick reading (and I chose to cut a lot of Ehrman's material out!), but this is also great information to have on some of the proof for Jesus. I hope it's been helpful! For anyone interested in reading Josephus for themselves, click for the online version of his Antiquities of the Jews.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Apostle Paul: Did Jesus Exist?

"The Apostle Paul," writes atheist Bible scholar Bart Ehrman in his book, Did Jesus Exist?, "is our earliest surviving Christian author of any kind... Paul was writing some years before the Gospels. His first letter (1 Thessalonians) is usually dated to 49 AD [which is just sixteen short years after Jesus' death on the cross in 33 AD]... Paul understood Jesus to be a historical figure, a Jew who lived, taught, and was crucified at the instigation of Jewish opposition."[1] So Bart Ehrman is saying is that Paul is one of our earliest witnesses to the life of Jesus Christ - one who should be taken seriously.

How do we know that Paul actually wrote letters about Jesus shortly after Christ's death on the cross? (We'll leave the resurrection part out just for now.) Maybe some later Christian made up the persona of Paul, pretended to be him, and wrote untrue things about Jesus. Maybe there never was a man named Paul. So why should we trust the writings attributed to him? To begin with, there are no recognized scholars -agnostic, atheist, or Christian- who actually believe that Paul wasn't a historical person. If "Paul" was a later Christian author hiding behind an elaborate persona, he sure didn't have much time to make things up. By 96 AD Paul was already widely remembered by Christians all over the Roman Empire as the man who "taught... the whole world" about Jesus (1 Clement 5:5), and his first letter to the Corinthians was already considered Scripture written "under the inspiration of the Spirit" (1 Clement 47:3). The communities that Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Polycarp of Smyrna wrote to early on in the church's history all remembered Paul, and he is often appealed to as an authority on various matters in their existing letters. For these reasons among others, we can be confident about using Paul as a trustworthy source of early traditions about Jesus.

In Paul's letters, he sometimes mentions that he "received" most of his information about Jesus from someone else.[2] He does this, for example, in 1 Corinthians 15.3-7. The question then is, well, who were Paul's sources? By his own admission he never knew Jesus before He was crucified. The apostle tells us what his sources are in Galatians 1.18-19. Three years after his conversion in the mid-30's AD,[3] Paul went to Jerusalem to visit the leader of the apostles, Peter (Cephas), as well as James the Brother of Jesus. Those are pretty good sources! If Jesus didn't exist, wasn't crucified, didn't die on the cross, and didn't rise again, they would have known about it. Paul also mentions, in connection with the resurrection, another "five hundred" people who saw Jesus after he rose from death (1 Corinthians 15.6). Add all of those things up (and there's more), and Paul gives us a pretty solid basis for our beliefs about Jesus.

If Paul had good sources for what he wrote about Jesus, we might want to stop and take some time to look at what Paul actually said about him. Hover over Scripture references with your mouse to see the verses.
God: Jesus is "Lord of glory" (1 Cor 2.8), Creator of all (Col 1.16-18), God (Rom 9.5).
Birth: Jesus was "born of a woman" -- possibly implying the virgin birth (Gal 4.4).
Lineage: Jesus was believed to be a descendant of King David (Rom 1.3).
Family: Paul mentions Jesus's brothers (plural) in 1 Cor 9.5, and James in Gal 1.19.
Economic Status: Paul writes that Jesus "became poor" in 2 Cor 8.9.
Disciples: "The Twelve" mentioned along with Peter (1 Cor 15.5) and John (Gal 2.9).
Teaching: Refers to "the Lord's" teaching (1 Cor 7.10, 1 Cor 9.14, 1 Cor 11.23-26).
Betrayal: An early tradition includes "the night [Jesus] was betrayed" in 1 Cor 11.23-24.
Crucifixion: Jesus was known to have been executed on a cross (1 Cor 1:23).
Burial: Jesus was buried (Rom 6.4, 1Cor 15.4, Col 2.12).
Resurrection: There is a detailed defense of Jesus's resurrection in 1 Cor 15.12-13.
Ascension: Jesus was known to have ascended into heaven (Eph 4.8-10).
Taken together, written within a short time of Jesus's earthly life, this shows a pretty well-defined picture of who he was! This was all written during the lifetimes of those who personally saw Jesus and knew Him.

As Bart Ehrman (an atheist, mind you, not a Christian with a vested interest) puts it, those who don't think that Jesus really lived claim "that these references to Jesus were not originally in Paul's writings but were inserted by later Christian scribes".[4] But this is no way to do history! This is a cheap way of ignoring the evidence about who Jesus really was, or is. Ehrman mockingly dismisses this argument against Jesus' existence by saying "If historical evidence proves inconvenient to one's views, then simply claim that the evidence does not exist, and suddenly you're right"![5] To disprove the claim, though, Bart Ehrman writes "there is no textual evidence that these passages were not original... they appear in every single manuscript of Paul that we have".[6] He also writes,
"if scribes were so concerned to insert aspects of Jesus's life into Paul's writings, it is passing strange that they were not more thorough, for example, by inserting comments about Jesus' virgin birth in Bethlehem, his parables, his miracles, his trial before Pilate, and so forth...whatever else one thinks about Paul's view of Jesus -and however one explains why Paul himself does not say more- it is safe to say that he knew that Jesus existed and that he knew some fundamentally important things about Jesus's life and death."[7]

Drawing from the non-Christian author Bart Ehrman, we've learned (1) that Paul is an extremely early source of traditions about Jesus, was converted within a very short time of Jesus' death, and wrote the first of his Biblical letters within sixteen years of Jesus's death on the cross; (2) that there are very good reasons to trust that Paul was a real historical figure who wrote the letters that are attributed to him; (3) that Paul mentions a wide number of facts and beliefs about Jesus that can be traced back to those who originally knew Him; (4) that Paul's own sources included the apostle Peter, also known as Cephas, and Jesus' brother James, and (5) that counter-arguments against the evidence for Jesus in Paul are not very good. Because of Paul's testimony, we can have even greater confidence in Jesus!

Jesus bless,
-Sean Rice

[1] Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, pg. 117-118
[2] Ehrman writes "Even where Paul does not state that he is handing on received tradition, there are places where it is clear he is doing so. I have mentioned, for example, Romans 1:3-4... This creed was not written by Paul: it uses words and phrases not otherwise found in Paul (for example, spirit of holiness) and contains concepts otherwise alien to Paul... He is using, then, an earlier creed that was in circulation before his writing." -Did Jesus Exist?, pg. 130
[3] Paul converted sometime in the 30's AD. This is shown based on the fact that in 2 Cor 11:32 Paul mentions that King Aretas of the Nabateans tried to "seize" him. But, King Aretas died around year 40 AD. So Paul must have converted some time before that, in the 30's.
[4] Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, pg. 118
[5] Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, ibid.
[6] Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, pg. 133
[7] Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, ibid.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Statement of Faith

I came across this statement a while ago and have gradually adopted it as a meaningful summary of my Christian faith. While we should be cautious about making additions to something so central as the Apostles' Creed, this version does a great job of connecting it more tightly to the broad scope of covenant history and to the earthly life and ministry of Christ.

The Apostles' Creed (Slightly Expanded)

I believe in God the Father, almighty,
creator of heaven and earth,
who made covenant with Abraham and his descendants,
gave instruction through Moses,
established the throne of David,
and spoke through the prophets and sages of Israel.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He proclaimed the coming of God’s kingdom,
cast out demons, healed the sick,
fed the hungry and ate with sinners.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended into the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven.
He is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

The Bible

I believe the Bible is the Word of God, consisting of 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament, fully inspired and without error in the original manuscripts, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and having supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.