By Their Fruits

Who will we recognize? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My interpretation of this passage is really different from many others. This is the one that says you will know people by their fruits. Many of us apply that to regular Christians that we meet everyday, but I wonder if since the next section talks about those claiming to speak in Jesus’s name if Jesus has more in mind prophets claiming to speak for Him and that those you will know by their fruits.

In other words, look at the kind of lifestyles leaders will hold as those would also be seen as prophets in the sense of teachers who speak with authority. While Christian leaders should often lead the best lives, too often we seem to live the worst lives. Naturally, the media loves it whenever a scandal breaks out involving a Christian leader.

If a person is a Christian leader truly, their lives will reflect their devotion to Christ. This doesn’t mean perfection. None of us have that and it’s ridiculous to demand it. It means overall that that person produces far more in character with Christ than the other way around.

This would also I think include the reliability of their statements, especially along the lines of when someone claims to hear from God. My advice to you is when someone tells you God told them something or the Spirit is showing them something, be on guard. I wouldn’t believe it unless they tell you something specific, not vague, that they couldn’t have known any other way.

I would also include the more subtle ideas of this. I see no basis for the idea that the Spirit leads us through our feelings, but many Christians will say that regularly. I remember in an old church I used to attend that the associate pastor at the time of offering used to say “Give as you feel led” and I was tempted to go up so many times and very publicly put in a penny and say “That’s what I feel led to give.” Who could argue against me?

Jesus’s warning is a serious one. At the next entry, we’ll see that not everyone who claims to speak for God really is speaking for God. Look at the character of the person you encounter and the way they claim to speak. Do they line up? Many people have been damaged by people claiming to speak for God.

Above all, watch yourself. How is your life? It’s easy to complain about the rest of the church, but that just takes our eyes off of ourselves, the one person we can do something about directly.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Deeper Waters Podcast 9/28/2019

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

“Lord. Save me from your followers.” How many people have really been burned badly by the church? They’re that group of people that many of us think we have to see on Sunday and go and put on all of our happy faces and act like everything is just fine in our lives. Many times, you dare not say anything controversial or confess a struggle with sin or anything else, because, well, Christians just don’t do that.

If you grow up in Christian culture, you might sadly be used to this kind of thing and know what to expect in a church. What if you’re an atheist and don’t know what to expect? How do you handle it then? Could it be that some people could be turned away from a church that expects everyone to tow the party line?

What about the way apologetics is treated in the church? Can you really do that there? What about questions such as the appropriateness of beauty? If you’re a woman, is it a case that you have to follow a proper dress code because you’re an object of desire, but the men around you might not be put under that same standard?

My guest is someone who came to Christianity as an adult and found that a major hurdle was the church. Even at her first visit where she was supposed to stand before the church and talk about how she came to Christ, the pastor’s wife saw her outside and told her her outfit was too revealing. Fortunately, she stayed, but how many other seekers might have been turned away?

This lady today is a teacher of apologetics and a highly successful one. Her book is called Why I Still Believe. Her name is Mary Jo Sharp.

So who is she?

According to her bio:

A former atheist from the Pacific Northwest, Mary Jo was raised without religion. She is now an assistant professor of apologetics at Houston Baptist University and the founder and director of Confident Christianity Apologetics Ministry. Mary Jo is the author of LifeWay Christian Resources’s “Why Do You Believe That?” Bible study and is working on an upcoming book on hypocrisy titled, “Why I Still Believe,” with Zondervan. She is an itinerant speaker on apologetics throughout North America and has engaged in formal debates on Islam. She focuses on using love and logic in order to uncover truth.

I hope you’ll be looking forward to the next episode. If you’ve been watching, we are quickly getting caught up on them and hope to be current before too long. Thank you for your support.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why I Still Believe

What do I think of Mary Jo Sharp’s latest book published by Zondervan? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I first found out about this book when someone mentioned it in relation to dealing with Jesus mythicism, which it does to some extent, and that got me curious. I got in touch with Mary Jo and was able to get an advance copy for review purposes. I really had no idea at the time what else it was about, but then I saw it looked to deal a lot with hypocrisy in the church. Interesting, but could a whole book really be made about it?

Yes. Yes, indeed.

Not only could a whole book be done, this is one of the best books I’d recommend in helping someone out struggling in this area. Sharp’s book is engaging, but at the same time, it is not preachy. She is an open book in this one and writes about so much of the pain that she has experienced in the church and revealing even what some of her home life is like.

Sharp writes as someone who came to the church culture as an outsider having been an atheist. She then gets involved in the church and on the first Sunday there, the pastor’s wife greets her and tells her she needs to dress better because her clothes look too revealing. Keep in mind Sharp was supposed to go up and announce to the church she had become a Christian, which she did anyway, and there the pastor’s wife put her on the spot like that. Imagine how any investigator of Christianity would have taken it. (And keep in mind that from what I’ve seen in churches, too revealing could mean that if you squint and stare for a few minutes you might see some skin.)

She also talks about bringing a skeptical friend to a church lesson that talked about the age of the Earth. This person knew far more than the teacher including quoting Augustine on the matter. The pastor shut the questioner down and then in the end angrily gave him a stack of literature on the topic of creation. Sharp said she never saw him again and he never returned to the church.

Who can blame him?

Along the way, Sharp discusses issues like the resurrection of Jesus and other Christian claims. One of the more interesting ones she does this with is the topic of beauty. Beauty is something we don’t talk about much in the church. We talk about truth and goodness, but not about beauty. This part was quite exciting.

She also writes about how her own ministry got started, especially with the help of David Wood and Nabeel Qureshi. This is humorously referred to as lessons from a sociopath and an ex-Muslim. The candor and reality of the book is what makes it so endearing.

Sharp also talks about her own struggles. She has a hard time with trusting people and has an idealistic vision of the church and how it should be and gets disappointed when it doesn’t measure up. In some ways, she seems to wish she didn’t know what she did know about apologetics, because it would be so easy to say “This isn’t worth it” and go back to atheism, but she can’t. It’s a reality I can understand and relate to sometimes.

Mary Jo Sharp’s book should be required reading for anyone struggling with what they see in their fellow Christians and expecting something different. At the same time, Sharp also looks at herself in all of this and sees the kind of person she is, which she doesn’t like as well. But then, that is the good news isn’t it? As it is said, if the church only welcomed perfect people, we wouldn’t be members. We can all be imperfect together.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Another Example Of Why Apologetics Is Needed

What can happen when apologetics is not taught? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife found a video recently about a girl who abandoned Christianity and then made it her goal to lose her virginity. I wanted to know if there was more to the story as issues relating to a true understanding of sexuality and apologetics are both important to me. It didn’t take long to find a column she’d written on this.

The column is really a good one and there’s not much going after Christianity in it. Sadly, it looks like the girl, Arla Knudsen, grew up in a rather fundamentalist sort of Christianity. It’s interesting how the girls seem to be told the message in this while the guys are conspicuously absent. Let’s go through and see what Knudsen says.

I was 13 years old, standing on stage with a group of fellow teenagers, when our pastor announced in front of the entire congregation, “These young people have all made the righteous decision to save themselves for marriage.”

It was the grand finale to a weekend-long purity retreat, which was basically two days of journaling, praying and listening to frightening statistics about premarital sex.

We were told our virginity was the most precious wedding gift, and if we didn’t wait until marriage to have sex, we were likely to get divorced. Attendees were overwhelmingly girls.

Now there is some truth here. Obviously, saving yourself for marriage is a righteous decision. The problem is the reasons against this. It’s nothing noted about it being a wrong behavior. There’s nothing about the many purposes of sex. It’s all about “Here’s some bad stuff that could happen to you.” Even if I agreed with that, is that necessarily the best motivator?

Also, virginity is a great gift to give to your future spouse. On the evening of July 24, 2010, after my wife and I were married, I was pleased for us to be able to spend a night together and know that we had saved ourselves for marriage. Does that mean if one of us hadn’t that there would be no grace? Absolutely not! Christians are supposed to be all about grace! Of course, it means you turn from a life of sin, but it doesn’t mean that your past has to determine your future.

I also wonder again, where are the men? Now it could be that this was a church largely of girls, but I doubt that. Could this have been a ceremony for just women and not men? Possibly. Could it also be though that the men are too often seen as helpless bundles of hormones that just won’t control themselves and it’s up to the women?

I am married and I went through dating. Were there times Allie and I could have made a mistake before marriage? Absolutely. We didn’t. I had to be strong as well. It wasn’t just knowing a few Bible verses that kept me going. It was having a place for sex in my worldview and knowing how it fit. Now being a married man, I realize that much of what I said about sex was accurate, but it did not do it justice.

In a good dating relationship, both people need to have the priority set before them to save sex for marriage. There will be times where one person is weak and the other has to be strong. Your odds of successfully waiting are greatly increased if both of you can be watching yourselves.

I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma where most of the community belonged to a denomination of Christianity that abstains from drinking and dancing. Growing up, I had conformed to that belief system. The cool crowd at my school wasn’t the partyers or potheads but the devout Christians.

In an attempt to fit in, there I was on stage, slipping a silver purity ring onto my finger. The ring was modest, dainty and feminine, just as I was supposed to be. I wore that ring for years. I fantasized about having it melted down and turned into my future husband’s wedding band.

It is sad that Christians are more often known for what they don’t do than for what they do do. Still, I can say that her intentions in the second paragraph are entirely noble and praiseworthy. If a woman wants to marry, she should look forward to it. She should look forward to a married life with a husband. Yet it’s around this time when we start to see problems.

I grew up believing two things. One: Love and sex are mutually exclusive. And two: My sexuality is not my own. It belonged to Jesus and then, once I married, to my husband. I sensed that my sexuality was something of great worth to other people. Whether in protecting or exploiting it, I understood that it was powerful.

For the first thing, yes, love and sex CAN BE mutually exclusive. They don’t have to be. In a good marriage, they won’t be. For me, some of my greatest times for sexual intimacy with my wife are when I am filled with the utmost love for her. For me, I cannot imagine loving my wife without us having things right between us in the bedroom.

The second point is a bit concerning. Knudsen’s sexuality does belong to her. Sure, Jesus has charge over her body ultimately, but he’s entrusted it to her to use it to serve Him. When she gets married, will her body belong to her husband? Yes it will. 1 Cor. 7 tells us that. Here’s what else it tells us. His body will belong to her. Both spouses bodies belong to each other. Allie’s body belongs to me. My body belongs to her.

The way Knudsen puts it, it is practically as if her body is something for her husband only and could sadly be a means of satisfying his own desires. Ideally, the body is meant to be a vessel to communicate love. The desires themselves are not wrong. A husband should desire his wife and a wife should desire her husband. The problem comes when a wife is viewed as a release valve by her husband to take care of the sexual tension he feels. He doesn’t care about the intimacy with her then. He just cares about release. It’s also a problem if the wife sees it the same way. In that sense, she then automatically assumes her husband is using her and doesn’t really care about her for her. Men. Don’t treat your wives like a piece of meat to be used for your consumption but treat her as a person. Ladies. Try to realize that for many a man out there, when he wants to be sexual with you, it’s not because he feels built up pressure alone, but because he feels a great love for you and telling him no can be heard to him as “I just don’t have the desire for you that you have for me.”

It’s hard for me to pinpoint why I stopped believing. It had to do with the increasingly obvious hypocrisy within my own community. Girls would use prayer requests as a mode of gossip, saying things like, “I have a prayer request for Hannah because I heard she had sex with Tanner.”

This is indeed a problem. Gossip in churches is often disguised as a prayer request. Unfortunately, had apologetics been taught, Knudsen would have had something to fall back on. Sure, these Christians are hypocrites, but I know Jesus rose from the dead because of XYZ.

Hypocrisy to me is actually one of the oddest reasons for leaving. It’s akin to saying I reject Darwinian Evolution because it was used with eugenics and other such things. Okay. That would be a terrible use of the theory, but does that prove the theory itself is wrong? One proves that by looking at the theory. At the same way, it does not work to say “Christians are hypocrites, therefore Jesus didn’t rise from the dead.”

At this point, imagine how things could have been different had the church been educating? There was a lot of moralizing going on, and of course we need to teach morality, but that’s not all that needs to be going on. Too often, that morality is just floating in the air with nothing to support it. As we see in this story, when the worldview goes, the moral ideas taught with it can just as quickly go.

I was also coming of age, beginning to think for myself, and realizing there are other ways to live my life. I took my ring off when I was 16.

Once my ring was gone, I didn’t fit in with the girls at my small, conservative school, so I began to try to be as different from them as possible and, in my mind, therefore better.

I adopted a sort of quasi feminism in lieu of my faith. I had a misguided idea of what a modern feminist had to be: left-leaning politically, powerful, independent and sexually liberated.

To me, sexually liberated meant promiscuous. I was not promiscuous. In fact, I had made it through my teens without even a second glance from a boy. I chalked it up to the fact that the cowboy jocks at my school just didn’t get how cool and different I was.

This is also the mindset that one sees in many internet atheists. They are the enlightened ones on Christianity as opposed to the others who still believe. Unfortunately, this makes them even harder to reach. For comments on being promiscuous, let’s wait till the next section.

But deep down, I longed to be the object of pursuit. It became my mission to lose my virginity. My friends who had already lost theirs said, “Once it’s gone, you can never get it back,” as if they were trying to hold on to their virgin status through me. But it was the only thing left I had to expel in order to erase the girl I had been on that stage.

I thought that once I was no longer a virgin, I would finally be free. I wanted to claim a new sense of identity. I wanted to be free to sleep with other men. I wanted the pressure of my “first time” to be gone.

I do want to state that there is nothing wrong with wanting to be the object of pursuit. Both men and women want to be wanted. If you’re in a marriage, remember both of you want to be wanted. There’s a story about a lady being told in marriage counseling once that her husband would have a love affair with someone so let it be her.

But notice this person is not wanting sex for the magic of sex and the joy of the love, but simply as a status symbol. One wonders what kind of status symbol this is on the dating market. Contrary to what is thought, many men do want to marry virgins. If dating, they can also often lose respect for a girl if she’ll sleep with them. After all, if she did it for me, who else has she done it for?

There’s also something that Chesterton once said. When a man knocks on the door of a brothel, he’s looking for God. God is someone who pulls us out of ourselves, but the next best thing for that is sex. Sex is a very transcendent experience where you can lose sight of your inhibitions and such and become much more passionate and excited.

This wouldn’t happen for me until after I graduated, when I moved New York City for college, lost 30 pounds and went blond.

At the Fashion Institute of Technology, where 85 percent of students are women, the dating scene was bleak. So on weekends, I would go to college bars, dressed in black, and marvel at the guys who wanted to buy me drinks and tell me I was pretty, all in the feeble hope that I might go home with them.

They seemed as if they would do anything. But I had certain criteria for that man. First, I had to be able to trust him. Second, I could not be in love with him. While I expected him to care about me, I wanted to have the upper hand.

First off, yes ladies. For many a man, sex can be such a strong drive that a man will say anything for an evening with you. I challenge you with this suggestion. If you want to know how much a man wants you, then tell him he has to make a lifelong commitment in a wedding ceremony to have you. If he’s not willing, he’s just put a limit on how much he wants you.

Second, it’s a shame that this person had already separated sex from love. In that sense, sex becomes a selfish act. It’s all about using the other person then. Knudsen wanted to be able to control the relationship and usually in a relationship, the person who has the most control is the person that the relationship means the least to. She wanted that.

Knudsen goes on to talk about meeting a guy named Zach. The details don’t really matter. What does matter is how she gets to what happened.

Once we were in bed, things came to a standstill. I stopped kissing him and delivered the classic line, “What are you thinking right now?”

“I don’t know. What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking I want you to be my first,” I said, “if you’re comfortable with that.” I didn’t want to be some meek little girl who was too scared to ask for what she wanted.

“O.K.,” he replied with a smile.

“I want you to know, it’s really important to me that we remain friends after this. I know I live halfway across the country, and this isn’t going to be a relationship, but I would like you to be a part of my life.”

He agreed to this.

I was surprised by how quickly it was over. It was painful yet gratifying. Zach was careful and quiet. I felt so responsible that we used protection and I remembered to go to the bathroom right after. I did everything exactly right. Afterward, he held me while fighting the urge to sleep.

Once again, if you have the man in bed and he’s ready to go, he will say to and agree to just about anything for that. The bedroom is not the place to be making deals like that. In fact, that can be a way of using sex as a weapon, which can happen even in marriage.

Second, everything Knudsen was saying did indeed say, as she realizes later on, that she’s using him. “I want you to be my first.” (You’re a conquest for me.) “I want us to be friends but not in a relationship.” (This isn’t about knowing and loving you. It’s about having sex.) It was not about what he wanted other than the obvious of “Do you want to have sex?” which most guys will easily say yes to.

Unfortunately for women, it’s much easier for men to have sex and then disconnect emotionally. This doesn’t mean emotional connection through sex isn’t possible. When I meet young men who are Christians and waiting till marriage and engaged, I try to talk to them before they get married about what to expect on the wedding night. I ask them if they really love the girl. They tell me they do, and then I tell them I am sure they’re right and that they don’t have a clue. Once they get to their honeymoon night and have sex, everything changes. Love takes on a whole new meaning.

For guys like myself, it is an incredible emotional connection. Time with Allie like that leaves me with a great awe of the woman I married and how thankful I am and with intense confidence in myself. Women. You really don’t realize the power you can have in the life of a man so often. You will influence the man in your life one way or the other. It’s up to you what kind of influence you want to be.

One more thing, and this applies even if you’ve waited for marriage. If your idea of what sex is like comes from movies and TV, then get rid of it. It’s not really accurate. Everything always goes perfectly in the media. Real life is not like that as most married couples will tell you.

I didn’t stay the night. I wanted to sleep in my own bed. As I drove down the highway, windows open and the radio buzzing, I did feel a sense of freedom and empowerment. I had set out to do something and had done it on my terms.

This sense of satisfaction didn’t come from having a fulfilling sexual experience; it came from the fact that I now thought I had nothing left to lose.

If you want to be free, sex will not bring you freedom. It’s not meant to. In fact, it’s meant to do the opposite. It’s meant to bind you. Sex is meant to bind you to that other person and when it’s separated from that, it becomes harder and harder to form an emotional bond through sex. Note in saying that I am not saying you have sex so you can have an emotional bond. You should have that first. I am saying sex builds up the emotional bond. In a good marriage, it should be that the couple has an emotional bond which leads to an expression through sex, which leads to a greater emotional bond, which leads to more sex, which leads to, well, you get the picture. It’s a beautiful circle and there is not a law of diminishing returns. One’s spouse is not like a game one buys at a store that loses replay value. That’s because persons are not games like that. They’re intensely interesting.

The night I landed back in New York, he sent me a text: “missing you.” After that, our communication was restricted to my drunk texts that went unacknowledged by him. I thought about him a lot in the following months. I lurked on his Facebook page. What was he doing? Was he thinking about me?

Was he? Well quite likely, no. You see, a man sadly, no matter how Christian he is, can easily have a rolodex of images of women in his mind. Many times, if he’s Christian, he doesn’t want them. He would rather have only his spouse in his mind. This is another great benefit a wife can give her husband. Be the desire of his eyes so much that he will think about you constantly because he gets to see you.

Knudsen wanted to make sure the sex was nothing serious and was just another activity they did together. What a surprise that Zach thought the same way then. If he wants sex, she’s already said there’s nothing special about her because it’s not going to be a relationship. He doesn’t have to be bound to her or pay attention to her. He can just go to the next girl.

After a particularly brutal, lonely winter, I decided I needed to visit home, and my desire to see Zach played a large part in that decision. I thought if I went home, I could figure out what was going on between us.

The answer was nothing. While I was home, I posted on every social media platform announcing I was back in town, hoping he would see it and contact me. When that didn’t work, I texted him. He texted back but evaded any suggestion to meet up. By the end of my trip, I knew he simply didn’t care.

Sadly, you’re right. He didn’t. What reason had been given to care. In fact, you’d already shown that in that sense, you didn’t care about him. More on this later.

I hadn’t romanticized my first time. I never thought we were in love. I never expected good sex. I never expected to have feelings afterward. And I certainly didn’t expect to feel rejected. I thought if I did everything right, I could control the emotions involved in physical intimacy.

But you can’t. Feelings will come. It’s up to you what you do with them, but when you deaden the positive feelings that come with sex, you make it harder and harder to bond through sex. It’s playing a dangerous game to open loose a can of emotions and think that you can survive when it happens, and sex is certainly a giant can to be opening.

I often tell people that sex is like nuclear energy. It’s beautiful and wonderful when used in the proper place and way and can lead to extremely powerful results, but let it loose where it doesn’t belong and it becomes Chernobyl. It has a massive destructive power.

Also, when a woman does have sex, she releases a great deal of Oxytocin. This is a bonding chemical. It’s especially released during sex to help with the bonding process and it happens with men and women both. It is indeed a powerful sensation for someone to have and in marriage can greatly serve its purpose. Outside of that, it can be harder and harder to form a bond.

I was mad at Zach because I assumed he had used me. In reality, I had used him for something maybe even worse than physical gratification; I used him for a feeling of power, superiority and freedom. And when I realized he didn’t care, I let him take those feelings away.

I thought losing my virginity would liberate me, and in a sense it did. I learned that no matter how calculating I am — right guy, right time, right place — I can’t control other people’s feelings, or even my own. And there’s a strange freedom in that knowledge. It allowed me to let go.

I am unclear what she let go of at the end, but I can say she is right. She used him and she let herself be used. She used him and he used her. It’s a shame that sex got reduced to an activity just for fun instead of a bonding together of two people who really love and care about each other.

If I could say something to Knudsen today, it would be that first off, I hope she’ll consider seriously investigating the claims of Jesus. Did He rise from the dead? I would hope she would know her life has purpose and meaning and she’s worth more than just sex.

Second, I would not want her to see herself as damaged goods. Yes. She made a mistake. It doesn’t change her worth. Every woman is worth more than the universe. Every woman is worth a lifelong commitment. There is no reason to sell themselves short. I would hope that she would find someone if she wants to marry who will treat her like a princess and be faithful to her. I hope she will be faithful to him and treat him like the man that he is.

Ladies. Please never let yourselves be used for sex. Your beauty is a great draw to us men and we do want that beauty, but if a man really wants your beauty, he will do whatever it takes, and that means he will make a lifelong commitment. He will let you know how much that beauty is worth to him.

When I think that my wife trusts me with her sacred body and lets me look at her beauty, it makes me think that I want to live the rest of my life a better man just to be worthy. It is a generosity that I can never repay. To behold her and love her is a privilege.

And men, in turn, never use the women in your life. Don’t cheapen them. Don’t sell yourself short either. You are also worth a lifelong commitment. If you want a way to have someone you can have for sex, marriage is a great way. It’s the way God designed for us. Marry the woman you love and then spend the rest of your life showing her how much you love her.

Sex is sacred. I hope Knudsen realizes that. I hope you and I realize that too.

In Christ,
Nick Peters