Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Infographic: The Reliability of the New Testament Texts

Recently I stumbled across this incredible infographic on Facebook and I liked it so much, I actually did something I've never done before. I contacted the creator of the content and waited for permission before I shared it. (I know, right? That is not the way of the blogger.)

Mark Barry gives us a visual demonstration of how, in the "universe" of ancient writings, the existing New Testament manuscripts compare to other ancient texts in both quantity and distance from the originals. Kinda puts it in perspective, doesn't it?

Click on the image for full res downloadable image.*
While this is a very compelling and unique apologetic tool, the majority of Mark's work focuses on visualizing biblical content: everything from maps to genealogies, from timelines to outlines of books of the Bible. Don't get me wrong, it's great stuff, but we've all seen that in our study Bibles before. But the above infographic is unique (at least as far as I know). So my question is this:

What powerful apologetic argument needs a good visual treatment? Or, beyond apologetics, what would you like to see in an infographic that you've never seen in your study Bible before?

*This image shared with permission of Mark Barry. Visit http://visualunit.me/ for many other great infographics. Please do not republish without permission, but feel free to copy for personal use.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Teach your children the power of prayer

It has always been interesting to me that Jesus’ disciples never asked the Lord to teach them how to witness. Or preach. Or cast out demons. They asked Him to teach them how to pray. Maybe they understood that Jesus’ intimacy with His Father was the power source. Someone has said that Jesus went from one prayer meeting to another, and in between, He healed the sick, preached to crowds and even raised the dead. That’s a little simplistic. We know that on a few occasions, Jesus said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God.” Ultimately, Jesus came to do what the Father had sent Him to do: to lay down His life to atone for the sins of those who would believe in Him as Lord and Savior. But even there, on the cross, Jesus prayed.

Teach your children how to pray. It has been our custom for many years to have family devotions that begin with reading the Bible and end with each of us praying, one by one. When our children were very young, their prayers would usually go something like this: Hands folded, knees on the floor, elbows on the sofa, eyes squeezed shut, the youngest would pray, “Lord, help us to have a good day, not to get hurt and not to fight.” That was OK. It was a child’s prayer, one that focused on comfort, safety and security. Sadly, many adults pray in those same tracks. Their words and sentences get longer and more impressive to the ear, but the requests are the same: “Lord, bless me today. Give me everything I need. Protect me from harm or even from anything hard or uncomfortable. And help me to make it safely to death one day!” No one actually prays those exact words — at least I hope not — but many pray those same themes. Over and over. Day after day.

As my children matured, I challenged them to get outside the prayer box they were in, to look around them for needs in the church, the community or the world. Or, in their own hearts. “It’s fi ne to pray for your own needs,” I would say. “Jesus taught us to ask for our daily bread. But He also taught us to pray for forgiveness for our own sins and for grace to forgive others who have sinned against us.”

Cindy and I taught them and led by example to pray for the sick and the hurting. We taught them to pray for missionaries around the world. We taught them to pray for those who are not followers of Jesus Christ. We taught them to give God praise and thanks in prayer. My children have learned through the years that prayer is to be a delight, not a duty. We have taught them that they can pray any time and under any circumstances. Someone once said, “As long as there are final exams, there will always be prayer in school.” True. Prayer is not a ceremony that requires equipment, rituals, special clothing or even a place. You can pray in your heart any time, and God hears.

Susanna Wesley, though mother to 19 children, found time to pray for two hours every day. David Brainerd, missionary to the American Indians in the 1700s, prayed in the snow until it melted around him. The Apostle James, beheaded by King Herod in the first century, was called “camel knees” according to legend, because of the callouses he developed through hours of prayer. We need their kind among us again. Teach your children to pray.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Album Spotlight: The Water & The Blood by Dustin Kensrue

I know this is not something we do often at the Christians In Context blog, but I've had an album on continuous repeat and I wanted to make my joy complete and share it with you guys. Dustin Kensrue, frontman for post-hardcore/experimental rock band Thrice and worship pastor at Mars Hill, has recently released an album on Mars Hill's new record label Mars Hill Music.

The first two songs I wanted to share from The Water & The Blood, "Rejoice" and "My One Comfort", are probably gonna end up in my regular rotation for corporate worship at my church in short order. The last one, "It's Not Enough", reads just like a modern retelling of the book of Ecclesiastes (lyrics shared below).



My One Comfort

It's Not Enough

Though all the wealth of men was mine to squander
And towers of ivory rose beneath my feet
Were palaces of pleasure mine to wander
The sum of it would leave me incomplete

Though every soul would hold my name in honor
And truest love was always by my side
My praises sung by grateful sons and daughters
My soul would never still be satisfied

It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could walk the world forever
Till my shoes were filled with blood
It’s not enough, it’s not enough

Though I could live for all to lift them higher
Or spend the centuries seeking light within
Though I indulged my every dark desire
Exhausting every avenue of sin

It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could walk the world forever
Till my shoes were filled with blood
It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could right all wrongs, or ravage
Everything beneath the sun
It’s not enough, it’s not enough

To make me whole
It’s not enough, it never was
Awake my soul
It’s not enough, it never was

It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could walk the world forever
Till my shoes were filled with blood
It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could right all wrongs, or ravage
Everything beneath the sun
It’s not enough, it’s not enough
Though all would bow to me
Till I could drink my fill of fear and love
It’s not enough, it’s not enough

Monday, October 21, 2013

‘I’ll be ready when the time comes’

On the living room wall in Ethel Washington Braddy’s house in Winston-Salem there’s a large picture of her teacher and schoolmates from sometime around 1915. She is the only one still alive. Ethel has outlived her husband by more than 62 years. Only two of her seven children are still here, including Dilcy at 84, her oldest child who lives with and takes care of her mother. Ethel has lived through two world wars, the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, the Gulf War and the continuing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. She turned 106 on Sept. 5, and as she told me when I interviewed her a few weeks before her birthday, “I ain’t had no bad times in this life. All my life has been good to me. I asked the Lord to take care of me, and I am just thanking Him for what He has done.”

Ethel was born in a log cabin on Bethabara Road in 1907, and has lived on the property ever since. Her father later bought a house from their family doctor, who told him that if he would take the house apart and move it, he could have it for $25. That’s what he did. He set it up right in front of the original home, and when Ethel got married and started having children, her parents moved out of the main house and back into the log cabin.

If there is a constant theme in Ethel’s memory of her childhood and young adulthood, it’s hard work.

“Mama didn’t have time to learn me because of how hard she was working,” Ethel said. When I asked her what child-rearing advice she would offer to parents today, she did not hesitate.

“I would give them the same advice that was given me. Mama told me when I started out to work, ‘Behave yourself. Keep your hands to yourself. And do what they tell you to do.’” That’s very close to what Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica: “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands.” Ethel later added this advice for parents: “My mama and daddy taught me when I made a piece of money how to save it. Even now, when anybody gives me a piece of money, I go to the bank. I don’t spend everything I have. I don’t buy everything I see, or that I want.”

She has fond memories of setting rabbit traps with her children and enjoying a rabbit stew later. And of going with her family to Piney Grove Baptist Church. “I still go every Sunday!” When I asked Ethel how she got through times of suffering, at first she couldn’t think of any time in her life that was hard. Then she remembered that when her husband was hospitalized and near death in 1951, she would go to visit him in the horse and wagon. “We had a car, too,” she said. “But I couldn’t drive it.”

I told Ethel that sometimes broken relationships take a toll and can even shorten our lives if we tend to hold onto bitterness. She said, “I got along with everybody.” When I asked her how, she said, “When someone hurts my feelings, I give it to the Lord.”

As the interview drew to a close, I asked Ethel what she is looking forward to. She looked up at me and smiled in her pretty red dress that she made herself and said, “Going to heaven.” She paused for a moment and said, “When I get lonesome sometimes, I say, ‘Father, I stretch my hand to Thee, no other help I know.’”

Then she said, “I’ll be ready when the time comes.”

Friday, October 18, 2013

Two prayers I pray every morning

I confess, I've never been great at certain types of praying. As a worship leader and small group leader for my church, of course, I pray in public on a weekly and almost daily basis. And I'm great at having a sort of "running conversation" with God throughout the day, too. Praying about my heart, my wife, my daughter, the traffic...you know, all the mundane things of the everyday life.

But when it comes to devoted times of prayer, the kind that Jesus talked about in Matthew 6:6 when he said "when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret", well, I'm not great at that.

So any habit that forces me to be a little more regular in times set a aside for prayer is a win. And recently I've created just such a habit and I thought I would share it just in case any of you out there find that you're like me when it comes to praying. I wanted to shared the two prayers that I've begun to pray to start my day and start my personal Bible study.

Pray Before Your Day: The first I came across as I was reading J.D. Greear's book, Gospel: Recovering the Power That Made Christianity Revolutionary. J.D. says this of the prayer:
"There’s nothing magical about this prayer. It’s not an incantation to get God to do good things for you. Incidentally, it’s also not my attempt to replace the Lord’s Prayer. This prayer is simply a tool to help you train your mind in the patterns of the Gospel. The point is not the prayer; the point is thinking in line with the Gospel.

"The gospel prayer has four parts. The 1st two parts lead us inward, helping us to renew our minds in God’s acceptance of us and the value of that acceptance to us.

"Part 3 of the prayer has us consider what responding to the grace of the gospel looks like. Understanding God’s generosity toward us should lead us to radical generosity toward others.

"Part 4 of the prayer helps us see our world through the lens of the gospel. If the cross really does reveal God’s compassion for sinners and His resurrection His power to save them, then our prayers on their behalf should be audacious and bold."

Pray Before You Study God's Word: The second prayer comes from John Piper's book, When I Don't Desire God. I've found this prayer particularly helpful in reminding why I am sitting down to open the Bible at all and asking God to bring the two-edged sword of his Word to bear against the thoughts and intentions of my heart.

What about you? Care to share any tips or aids in becoming a better prayer?

Monday, October 14, 2013

How not to be your own selfish pig

Little Johnny is never told “No” by his parents. They are afraid to damage his little self-esteem. Johnny grows up believing he can have what he wants when he wants it. His wife and children suffer. Little Susie learns to be a skillful manipulator of her parents’ emotions as a toddler, honing the skill to perfection as a teen. She grows up to wreak havoc on a series of churches, pushing for her way or the highway. The churches suffer. Little Bobby is told often by his parents that he is smarter than all of the other kids at school. He learns how to use his tongue and quick intellect to control others, and when confronted, his verbal skills enable him to make his accusers feel like they are the ones with the problem. His wife and children and every relationship in his life suffers.

The Bible says of our sin, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way …” That’s one definition of sin, going our own way. It is part of our sinful human nature to want to do what pleases us, not what pleases God. It is easily identified in the toddler who knocks over his brother’s LEGO tower simply because that’s what he wants to do at the time. Or, in the 10-year-old who disobeys her parents and gets on Facebook after Mom and Dad have gone to bed. Or, in the 15-yearold who cheats on a test in class. Those are all serious expressions of what it means to sin. In each case, the child or young adult is putting aside what his parents have taught him, or at least what the Lord has written on his heart, which our conscience bears witness to. In each of those cases, a wise parent will step in and discipline, yes, discipline his child. Why would a parent choose not to discipline his or her children? It may be because he is pursuing his own sin agenda and would feel like a hypocrite if he were to chasten his child. Or because she is afraid to confront her child, not sure how that will go and horrified that it could even lead to the child not liking her for a day or two. It may simply be because the parents choose the fa├žade of “peace and quiet” in the home rather than the hard work of training children.

What happens when parents do not discipline their children by dealing lovingly but firmly with sin? A downward spiral is set into motion. Sin is like a fire. It is not satisfied with a lie here or a selfish thought there. Given free reign, sin will consume every area of your life. Not only that, but I have to be completely honest here. Sin makes people stupid. I’ve seen the reality of what the Bible means when it says, “For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.” Sin blinds and brings confusion. Clear thinking becomes muddled, then erratic, even evil and dangerous. There’s hope. The bad news that we all have gone astray and each one of us has turned to his own way is not all the news. The rest of that verse says, “the Lord has laid on Him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all.” We don’t have to stay in the downward spiral. We don’t have to be stuck on stupid. We don’t have to destroy our marriages and families. God has made a way for us to not be our own selfish pig.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

There is Always a Free Offer of the Gospel

Q. Is the gift of salvation a perpetual offering to those who continue to reject and revile it?

1. I wholeheartedly believe in the free offer of the gospel. When the preacher proclaims the gospel, he should make clear that if anyone believes they will be saved.

2. Everybody has the gospel veiled to them (1) by virtue of their own heart and (2) by virtue of the god of this age blinding people's heart in unbelief. The gospel is always foolish to those who are perishing. It is the power of the gospel that causes people to see and believe. God breaths new life. The preacher should continually offer and plead to the listeners, if God is pleased, he will open hearts and they will receive and believe. But the offer can always be made.

3. Two passages that might be worth considering here are (1) 2 Thes. 2:11, the questions would be what is the delusion, and when does it happen? Hebrews 6:4-6. The questions are what is the nature of the impossibility? I tend to think that it relates to rejecting the New Covenant. I think it means if you fall away from Jesus and his Covenant you have no other options for repentance whereas Old Testament Israel breaking the Old Covenant was promised the New Covenant to deal with her apostasy. But I'm not going to tease this out in a short blog post. These passages do not negate the free offer of the gospel in preaching.

My point is: the offer never changes [at least until Christ returns or the person dies], especially in the preaching of the word. It is a dangerous thing for the preacher to think he can discern when the heart is beyond coming to repentant faith. It can lead to arrogant failures to proclaim and share the gospels. Who are we as human beings to dictate when God cannot work? Indeed, the whole point of the gospel is that it is the power of God and we were all dead in our heart and unable to come, but God opened our eyes to see the light of the glory of the gospel in the face of Christ and without fail we, because of God's power and will, responded and trusted Christ.

Keep making the offer, who knows what the Holy Spirit is doing in people's heart.

What about reprobation, specifically in Romans 1:28ff?

Being given over to a reprobate mind is the description of every sinner. Consider the list of sins in Romans 1:28ff. This description of sinners both Jew and Gentile continues in Romans 3:9-18. In fact the mind set on the flesh (e.g. reprobate) cannot submit to God's law, and cannot please God (Romans 8:7-8). So the reprobate mind is blinded in unbelief with a veil over their heart but God causes light to shine in their heart 2 Cor. 4:6. Also 1 Cor. 6:9-11 describes people who were living in sin/reprobation as being washed, sanctified and justified. 

The person with the reprobate mind can be tracked from Romans 1:26 all the way back to Romans 1:18 where God's wrath is against all the ungodliness and wickedness of men.

One passage to consider is the warning that hearers of God's Word do not harden their hearts Heb. 3:7-19. There are strong warnings, serious warnings--but nothing in the passage does not say that they come to a point where there is no more public outward offering of the Word in public preaching.

Don't we do people a disservice when we let people think they are accepting Christ on their own terms?

We are not calling people to "cast a vote for Jesus" or "come on their terms" we are calling people to come before the Lord and trust Him. We are calling people to believe and repent. Even the idea of 'receiving Christ' or 'accepting Christ' while totally Biblical does not mean adding Christ to your life like you might add potatoes on a buffet line to your plate because it's convenient. The Christian submits and humbles himself to the Lordship of Christ. They are saved only by trusting Christ but out of that trust comes a new allegiance and new affections.

With the rich young ruler, we need to be careful about arguments from silence. Absence of evidence is not evidence to the contrary. But lets suppose he never was given another opportunity because he never encountered another preacher of the gospel. God never promises that we will constantly always encounter lost of preacher. A person may never hear the gospel preached, they may hear only one time, or they may hear multiple times--but these doesn't negate the free offer.

Had the rich young ruler encounter another preacher there is nothing that stops the cry of preaching from being: "Trust Christ." The offer always stands. The promise always stands: if you trust Christ, you will be saved.

What is your qualification for accepting Christ?

Consider one more thing everyone: what is your qualification for hearing Christ? What qualifies you to hear Christ's message? Nothing but your need is your qualification. The only thing you come to God with is great desperation. This is the Biblical argument, this is expounded in E.J. Fischer's classic: The Marrow of Modern Divinity, with Thomas Boston's notes.

If your great need is your only qualification or precondition in coming to Christ--then what can disqualify you? Nothing! Your heart is desperately wicked and dead in sin. The call is: "trust Christ! Flee to Christ! Believe and repent to Christ." You never disqualify yourself because you never qualified yourself in the first place: you only ever have and will have your great need of the Savior.

You never reach a point where the gift of salvation is not offered to you. The promise is come and find peace. Believe and receive salvation. You cannot disqualify yourself from a free gift because you have no qualifications for the gift in the first place. God's promise stands until death or Christ's return: if you trust Christ you will be saved.

Of course I'm not calling on people to test God or harden their heart. But in the preaching of the gospel: the free offer of salvation always stands to each and every sinner.

My thoughts on Calvinism and Arminianism.

There can be a lot of caricatures, especially of Calvinism. And of course, people think Calvinism isn't Biblical or it makes God harsh and unloving, but it is unfortunate that this portrait of Calvinism continues today, especially on the internet.

I'll be a little bold and just lay out an obvious irony here: it is the true Calvinist who will vigorously defending the free offer of the gospel here. [I'm not saying Armininians wouldn't]

In my opinion, this is also why the doctrines of grace are so important--and all this on the free offer is totally consistent within Calvinism. In fact, I'll just drop a bomb, stir up the hornet's nest, and say it: the Calvinist and only the Calvinist can be the most consistent in this defense because we believe in total depravity--in their depravity every person without the Spirit and in their natural state is "UNABLE to understand" the things of God's Spirit (2 Cor. 2:14). Total depravity is the reason the free offer is for all and equal to all--going out indiscriminately.

It is the sovereignty of God who hardens and calls not on the basis of anything inside the person (Romans 9), that can lead Paul to his passionate plea for preaching in Romans 10. 'How can they believe if they've never heard? How will they hear unless they are sent? ...Faith comes through hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ.'

The free offer is made in preaching and in the outward proclamation God sees fit to call people inwardly. No heart is outside the ability of God to regenerate and effectively call. The free offer is for everyone no matter how they reject and revile because the 'word of the cross' is always foolishness to those who are perishing.

God Bless! Soli Deo Gloria.

Tim Bertolet tweets at @tim_bertolet and welcomes followers.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Teach your children about forgiveness

Last week, I wrote about the need for parents to disciple their children, leading them to follow Jesus Christ. The foundation of any discipleship that will produce good fruit is the Bible. Teach it to them, and help them learn how to read it for themselves.

One great theme of the Bible is our need for forgiveness. Because we are born into sin (“We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners”), we desperately need only what a relationship with Jesus Christ can offer.

In his book “Love Does,” Bob Goff relates an incident that happened a few years ago when he was driving home from church in his Jeep. A car blew through an intersection and slammed into his left front tire. Bob said the Jeep started to roll and he flew out of it like he was shot out of a cannon.

He wrote, “I’d like to say I was wearing my seat belt but I wasn’t (I know, Mom).” He landed about 30 feet from the Jeep, sitting upright on the asphalt, with his arms propped up behind him like he was watching a ball game on a summer day. The Jeep landed upside down, accelerator racing, gas and oil spewing everywhere. Since he’s a guy, Bob said his first thought was, “Cool! There’s going to be an explosion!” But there wasn’t.

When he felt around and discovered that all of his limbs were still attached, Bob ran over to the car that had just plowed into him, and the driver was sitting, transfixed, staring straight ahead. She was a tiny, frail woman whom Bob said couldn’t have weighed more than 85 pounds, and he found out later she was 87 years old. He asked her if she was OK, told her his name was Bob, and she said her name was Lynn. Still staring straight ahead, she said, “I guess I forgot to stop.” Bob thought, “That is indeed correct.” Finally, she looked at him for the first time and said, “Young man, do you know you went through the roof of your car?” He told her that’s how he gets out of his Jeep in a hurry, you know, to save time and all.

He saw she was distraught, so he said, “Lynn, I can’t lie … that was the coolest thing that has ever happened to me.” She looked up and smiled for the first time. He said, “If there was ever a ride at Disneyland like that, the line would be a mile long. Can we do it again next week? We’ll meet right here at this intersection.”

The rest of the story is about Bob helping Lynn deal with her guilt. She would call every few days and say, “I am so sorry.” Until, finally, Bob sent her a huge arrangement of flowers, nearly as big as she was, with a note that said, “Dear Lynn, it was great running into you … now stop calling me! — Bob.” He said he thinks Lynn finally got the message that she was forgiven. He was fine and he wanted her to be fine, too. Dads and moms, your children need to find forgiveness. You can model it, like Bob did for Lynn, by being quick to forgive them and by helping them accept God’s forgiveness as well. Most of all, you can demonstrate your own need by being even quicker to ask for their forgiveness — and the Lord’s — when you sin against your children or each other. The Bible says, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”