Five Facts About Jesus’s Crucifixion We Ignore, But Shouldn’t

Having preached quite a few Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter sermons, I can say that there are things about those days that are easy to find in our Bible texts to want to teach our people. We Love familiarity, even if it can breed contempt. With the Bible, the familiar passages and truths are extremely important and I would never advocate ignoring them. I would only encourage my fellow pastors and their worship leaders to keep the passion alive because it should never get old to us.

I also advocate for dealing with lesser-known yet important facets of the familiar stories in the Bible and teaching them to our people, even if they hurt our brain, make us uncomfortable or risk confusing someone. These are the main reasons we are tempted to ignore parts of Scripture, but this is unwise to me. Christians need all the cards on the table when it comes to our source of truth. Today I want to discuss five of the things that are a part of the Jesus crucifixion narrative—from the Last Supper the night before he died until his actual death—that are too often ignored.


1. John’s timeline of the Last Supper and Crucifixion appears to conflict with the other three Gospels.

In short, the Synoptics–Matthew, Mark, and Luke–say that the Last Supper was a “Passover meal” (see Matt. 26:17-19; Mark 14:16; Luke 22:13). John, however, says in 19:14 the day of Jesus’s crucifixion was “the day of preparation of the Passover”.

Often in sermons and in writing, I have chided the temptation of those critical of the Bible to find contradictions in details in things like the four Gospel accounts. There are many if you believe the Evangelists who wrote the accounts of Jesus’ life were trying to be precise by modern courtroom standards and that they were trying to present one cohesive account of what happened. They were not on either charge. Examples of what I mean are that one writer says there were two angels at the tomb and another says there was one. One says the stone was rolled away before the women arrived and another says it was rolled away by an earthquake in their presence. My response to many of the ‘contradictions’ is that they make about as much sense to consider them in conflict as a modern NFL fan would consider it a contradiction for one Chicago Bears fan to say that their team won the Super Bowl in 1985 and another to say they won it in 1986. If you are not an NFL fan, the contradiction is easily explained: the NFL regular season takes place in one calendar year and the Super Bowl takes place in the next. Every Chicagoan calls that team the “85 Bears” yet technically they won the Super Bowl on January 20, 1986.

In fact, for my Easter sermon in 2013, I interviewed four Bears fans who watched that Super Bowl and asked them three questions about it—the score, the year, the MVP—and their answers varied slightly. As N.T. Wright has stated, the fact witness accounts differ does not mean that nothing happened. To Bears fans in January of 1986 something amazing happened! That is not the nature of eyewitness testimony and we can easily find contradictions in 2,000-year-old data by parsing the words in English. Witnesses often have differing details and if one writer says there were two angels while another says there was one, that doesn’t mean there was only one. I can easily say, “I’m going on vacation next week” and if later you hear me say, “My wife and I are going on vacation next week,” you’d be obtuse to think that is a contradiction.

Yet, the issue of what days the Last Supper and Crucifixion took place is not quite so easily discarded. It would be like hearing one parent say their child was born on Thanksgiving and the other say their child was born on Christmas. Again, it doesn’t mean their child was not born, but it does present some difficulties with the witness.

The scope of this article is not to hash out how this apparent disconnect can be resolved. My goal is to get Christians to think about these things when thinking about Good Friday. Because the skeptical world is thinking about them. I will give an excellent resource that discusses many possible resolutions and that gives an opinion on the most likely one: Last Supper & Lord’s Supper by I. Howard Marshall. The short version of the best solution to him is that the first three Gospel writers and John are using different calendars. But I strongly urge all of our REO readers to do a deep dive into it. Beyond the controversy here, Marshall offers great thoughts on the Last Supper in general, which is an event we still celebrate to this day.


2. Many early manuscripts do not contain the verse about Jesus sweating great drops of blood.

This is found in Luke 22:44. It and the prior verse are not as well attested by the massive amount of NT manuscripts textual critics use to determine original wording. Depending on what translation and what type of Bible you use, there may be a note in the margin or below that indicates this.

Let me be clear that I do not think that textual notes you read in Bibles that say “not found in many of the earliest, most reliable manuscripts” is some kind of trump card to know whether verse or phrases belong in our Bibles. So I am not saying or implying that Luke never meant to put in this verse about Jesus sweating blood and a scribe later added it. There are many people who believe that Mark 16:9-20, John 7:53-8:11, Acts 8:37 and similar passages and verses are later additions, but there are also good defenses of them belonging. Just because a manuscript is “early” does not mean that it is better and the word “reliable” is very subjective.

No, my point is that this is the kind of thing Christians should be aware of. It honestly does not matter to me what a person’s opinion is of whether Luke 22:43-44 is original or not, nearly as much as it does that Christians know how our Bibles are put together. One of my favorite resources on this topic is the NET Online Bible (Netbible.org), because it gives textual notes and notes on the original languages about verses like these. And while the text critics who write for this Bible are not the final authority, they do have informed opinions and often give the reader all of the possible options instead of a merely dogmatic take of their view.


3. The prophecy about Judas getting 30 pieces of silver and buying the potter’s field is cited from Jeremiah in Matthew 27:10, but appears more easily cited from Zechariah.

As with #1 above I do not consider this to be a legitimate contradiction that should somehow cast aspersions on the reliability of the Bible or its inerrancy. A detailed explanation of possible reasons Jeremiah is mentioned instead of Zechariah can be found here.

Instead, to me, this is simply a fantastic opportunity for Bible readers to dig deeply into Old Testament prophecies and how the Old Testament impacts the New. Zechariah seems on the surface to be where Matthew is quoting from, but as you read passages like Jeremiah 16 and 32 it helps you understand how you can connect those passages to what Matthew was writing. Finding connections between the Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures and the Greek New Testament is crucial to practicing correct hermeneutics. Readers of the Bible only stand to benefit from reading Jeremiah, regardless of whom Matthew meant to cite. Jesus said the entire Old Testament testified about his suffering, death and resurrection. Matthew 27:10 would be a part of that.


4.The bodies of many holy people who had died came to life when Jesus died.

Found only in Matthew (27:52-53), this seemingly random and crazy twist in the story is one that I have not heard many people talk about. And since its mention comes and goes so quickly, I could sort of understand that…if it didn’t foreshadow exactly what Christ was about to do in less than 48 hours. Resurrection means everything in the New Testament and every time it happens in the Bible, whether it be God using Elijah or Elisha in the Old Testament or the resurrections of Lazarus, Eutychus or Jesus himself in the New, it matters. They all are significant and contribute to the foundation of our theology and understanding of God and eternity. Those two verses in Matthew 27 on the heels of the temple curtain being ripped should be mentioned with frequency during our Good Friday sermons.


5. What happened to Jesus’s soul between Friday afternoon and his resurrection?

I honestly do not believe this is greatly ignored in the American church because I have heard it discussed but I do think it deserves more attention than it gets. And I wonder if the strangeness of some verses in the New Testament that try to explain it (especially 1 Peter 3:19-20) gives us pause in preaching it.

And again, my intent in bringing it up is not to pontificate about my own personal view of the subject, but to urge us to think deeply about it and do a careful interpretation of the New Testament passages that can help us understand it. Even the difference in where the quotations start in Jesus’s statement to the thief on the cross matters–is it, …I tell you today, “You will be with me in Paradise”… or …I tell you, ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise”…? Rightly dividing the word of truth is not for the lazy or careless and on topics like these a healthy dose of humble yet focused work is prudent.


Let me be clear again that I definitely believe the core aspects of the Good Friday part of the Passion narrative are more important than what I have shared here. Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, his forgiving of those who killed him, and his words to the Pharisees and his statements while on the cross deserve a million sermons. Yet there are details in the story that are easy to overlook but teach us vital aspects to God’s story as revealed to us in Christ’s crucifixion. We need not lose one to gain the other. We just need to give the richness of these passages their due.




Early Church Christianity in 2019 and Beyond

If you have a problem, a simple online search will present you with an almost unlimited array of solutions. Most of these solutions will be of the quick and easy variety. We look for shortcuts to save us time and energy. We call these things “life hacks” or “cheat codes” or “quick-fix schemes.” I am definitely not against finding more efficient ways to handle my problems. There is a catch, though, as these schemes and hacks are often fraudulent or ineffective and they end up creating more problems than they solve.

It can be difficult to navigate a broken and sinful culture. Often, we feel our Christianity becomes more about what we do not do and whom we are not as opposed to what we do and who we are. Instead of presenting the positive side of our faith, we feel that we are constantly labeled by the negative side. (By positive, I am referring to being salt and light to the world. By negative, I am referring to sinful behaviors we rightly avoid.) Our faith is reduced to going to church and avoiding sins.

Obviously, that is not the life Jesus calls us to live. That is not the life the Scriptures exhort us to cultivate. As I stated earlier, we are called to be salt and light – things that preserve, flavor, and shine. So, how can we do that? Is there a cheat code to get from where we are to where we need to be? Yes and no. We have clear directions in Scripture to help us but we either overlook them or ignore them. This is not a quick-fix scheme, but these are all practical things each of us can do to make our Christian walk richer, deeper, and more impactful to the world around us.


1. Love without hypocrisy.

This is the foundational piece. Our love needs to be real and authentic. It cannot be reserved only for those that love us in return. We need to love and bless those that curse us – our enemies or those people who hate and mock us. We should be known for our love – love for the church and for everyone around us. Our love should keep us humble as we constantly strive to prioritize others. Our love should spur us to greater acts of service, kindness, and generosity – showing hospitality to all. Love should be our defining characteristic.


2. Hate evil and cling to what is good.

This is easier said than done but it is what we are called to do as believers. The two-part idea here is clear: It is not just about avoiding evil. Our lives should be characterized by good. Clinging brings to mind holding on for our lives. We are drowning people and we are clinging to the hand of our Master who walks on the waves.


3. Be diligent and hard working in our service to the Lord.

This is where it hits me the hardest. It is easy for me to work hard if it is something I love. It is not so easy to work hard if it is mundane and boring. Often, my job is mundane and boring. That should not matter. My work ethic should point to Christ. If it does not, then I am failing in one of the key Evangelism tools I have at my disposal.

I fail too often.


4. Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice – even in difficult times.

How often are we commanded to be filled with joy? To look pain, suffering, and loss in the eye and rejoice? Too many to count. We live with hope, unlike the world that has none. So even in times of great trial and loss, the hope that is in us should shine out the brighter.


5. Be peacemakers.

How easy is it to “hate” that person on the news (a person you do not even know) who is espousing some insane political/social/ethical stance with which you completely disagree? How easy is it to dismiss your neighbors who are boorish and loud? How easy is it to lose your temper when driving in horrible traffic, yelling at the drivers around you? These are not the actions of a person of peace – a child of peace. So far as it depends on us, we should be at peace with everyone. It is not a suggestion. It is a command.


Bonus: We should be devoted to prayer. This one is self-explanatory. We all need to pray more often and more fervently.

For what it’s worth, these are not my ideas. I did not come up with this list on my own. I repackaged the second half of Romans 12. We read that passage this Sunday morning in small group and it hit me hard. I have not been able to take my mind off of it all week. I figured God was keeping it in my mind for a reason so I decided to share it with the REO audience. Go read the passage yourself. There is much more I barely hinted at. If we start living this passage every day, everything would change. I am 100% sure of that. I do not live out this passage as I should. That changes now. Will you join me?




The Invisibles: Bible Characters Christians Never Discuss, But Should

One of the most popular articles in the history of REO is our “Top Ten Favorite Bible Characters“. On that list, you find some of the most amazing humans that ever lived and we are blessed to get to read about them in our Bibles.

But that list was quite predictable, on purpose. The most well known Bible characters are so for a reason. They did incredible things and lived exemplary lives. Today, however, I want to go beyond the obvious and talk about a few Bible characters that deserve accolades but almost never get them. These people also did incredible things but because they weren’t as prominent as Moses or Paul, they rarely get taught about in Bible studies or discussed among the great people of the faith.

Today I want to give them their due. Here are a few people in the Bible that rarely get discussed but deserve full sermons dedicated to them.


Bezalel and Oholiab

Listen to what Exodus says about these men:

Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the Lord has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills…

Now let me pause here and wonder if a person doesn’t know the rest of the chapter, what kind of call would you think Bezalel had on his life? I mean, he is filled with the Spirit and wisdom and understanding. Is he a priest? A Levite? A prophet?

None of the above. Here is what he and his chosen assistant Oholiab were filled with the Spirit and with wisdom to do…

to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts. And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan0, the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them skilled workers and designers.”

They were filled with the Spirit and wisdom to work with their hands! Christians need to understand and teach the biblical significance of men and women laity who do blue collar jobs (and any non-pastoring jobs). In the Old Testament, they were spiritually qualified by God to the highest level, using phrases we’d use for the most significant spiritual offices. And since the New Testament teaches the priesthood of all believers, I’d say all Christian accountants, janitors, teachers, and electricians are today as well.

We need to teach jobs as ministries. These men help us do that.


Onesiphorus

I owe Tim Campbell the credit for teaching about this man to a chapel full of students at Welch College 20 years ago. Other than a greeting in 2nd Timothy, the extent of what Paul writes about Onesiphorus can be found in two verses in 1 Timothy:

“May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me.”

What a short, but significant tribute! Not everyone gets to be Paul, but to be the person that loves and encourages Paul like this? That’s someone worth teaching Christians about. May we all be the kind of person who refreshes others, who isn’t ashamed of them even when they are rejected by others, and who seeks them out. I long for that kind of testimony.


Asaph and the Sons of Korah

It is important to note that just because a Psalm is “of” someone, it does not mean that the person or group wrote it. It could be dedicated to that person or something similar. Yet I think it is very likely that Asaph and the sons of Korah wrote the psalms that bear their names in our Bibles.

Considering how deeply music speaks to our souls, confirmed by God by inspiring our biggest Bible book to be a hymnbook, we should know who wrote the greatest songs of the faith that Israel praised God with. Between Asaph and the sons of Korah you find many of the Psalms that have inspired some of the great modern Christian worship songs, like Psalm 42 (“As The Deer”) and Psalm 84 (“Better Is One Day In Your Courts”) and even the less well known but profoundly lyrical Psalm 73, which is found by that name in Indelible Grace Music. I give a shout out to Dr. Matthew McAfee for introducing that song to my church years ago. Few Bible passages wrestle with the unfairness of the world and the justice of God as this one does. What a privilege to sing it.

But even more important to me, Asaph and the sons of Korah penned several heart-wrenching lament psalms, like Psalms 44, 80 and 88. Psalm 80 contains the refrain, “O Lord God of hosts, cause your face to shine on us, that we may be saved” three times, which Michael W. Smith turned into a modern hymn as well. As far as I know, Psalm 88 has not been turned into a popular modern song, but perhaps that is because it is one of the few psalms that doesn’t end on an up note but remains in the darkness. For that reason, it may be my favorite psalm of all.

Both Asaph and the sons of Korah played a huge part not only in writing but leading Israel in musical worship (1 Chronicles 15, 2 Chronicles 20). These are men who should be known.


Micaiah

No, not Malachi or Micah. Micaiah, a prophet so unknown that my computer is giving me the red squiggly line under his name right now. He prophesied during the time of King Ahab and what a thankless, demeaning job that must have been. We get a taste of what his life was like in 1 Kings 22 (and its parallel, 2 Chronicles 18) when Ahab calls him in to advise him about going to war with Ramoth Gilead. It is obvious that Micaiah never prophesies anything good for Ahab because the wicked king says so plainly. It appears that this is the case because Micaiah intends only to speak the truth. And this obviously happens over and over and this has to weigh on his psyche.

It’s possible we even get a bit of sarcasm here from the noble prophet because at first he tells Ahab to go to war and Ahab knows he’s not being serious. But Micaiah then speaks the harsh predictive reality to him and instead of receiving thanks for the warning, he ends up with a smack to the face. A mere four chapters after Elijah calls down fire from Heaven, another similar prophet is taking inglorious shots to the face in a rather mundane existence. For this, he deserves our respect.


Zelophehad’s Daughters

Because the cultures of the Bible were so demeaning to women by our modern standards, we very much need to preach stories like these women standing up to Moses on behalf of giving them their father’s inheritance. Zelophehad was a righteous man but had no son. So they boldly stood before one of the most significant leaders in the history of the world and asked for justice. And God took their side. There was no doubt about that because he spoke directly in the passage to affirm their position.

Justice gets thrown around so much in American Christian vernacular I hope we don’t miss what it really is. It has been and always will be doing right by those who are denied things they deserve. That is the heart of these few verses in Numbers. So here’s to Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirzah–women of great character that we should honor.


So, at least for today, that is my list. What are some under-appreciated Bible characters you wish we talked more about?

 

 

 

 




Five Popular Bible Passages We May Be Misinterpreting (Part 2)

Not long after REO was created, while it was still cooling on the window sill, I wrote an article on Five Popular Bible Passages We May Be Misinterpreting. It created quite a bit of response. In the vein of much of modern Hollywood, I have written this sequel years later.

The point of it, I will repeat from last time, is to challenge how we think about the Bible. I want to push against our preconceived interpretations that perhaps we have never thought much about, the popular ones that do not often get challenged.

I give two disclaimers, though: First, I am not saying that I am positive that the alternative interpretations below are correct. Just that, according to some students of Scripture, they may be. And we should think through them in humility and wisdom, aiming to rightly divide the word of truth. Even if it means saying, “I was wrong.” Secondly, I am purposely avoiding passages like Philippians 4:13, Jeremiah 29:11 and the “Where two or three are gathered” verse because they are commonly picked on. These, in my experience, are not. Let’s look at them.

 

Exodus 14:14

Moses answered the people, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Traditional Interpretation: When faced with daunting circumstances, we need to be still and let God fight for us.

Alternative Interpretation: God may want us to move instead of crying out to him.

The next verse is absolutely why I believe this:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.”

I hasten to add that I have heard wise, biblically sound Christian pastors and teachers cite this verse on social media. So maybe I am overthinking it. But at this point, Exodus 14:14 is not a verse I would use to teach people to be still. Psalm 46:10, yes. Instead, I use this pair of verses and their greater context to teach that there is a time to pray but there is also a time to get moving. Prayer is not a substitute for action.

 

Matthew 27:46

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Traditional Interpretation: God turned his back on Jesus (or abandoned him, or some verb of relational separation) to judge him for the sin of mankind since God cannot look upon sin.

Alternative Interpretation: Jesus, using a rabbinic practice of quoting only the first verse of a Psalm to communicate the entire psalm, is telling the audience that God will save him from this horrific circumstance. As Psalm 22 teaches.

I think “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us” has contributed to the understanding of this verse, as it says, “The Father turned his face away.” But even without the hymn, I have heard the traditional interpretation over and over in my life. I have always assumed it to be true.  Yet read the words of Jeffrey Crabtree in the Randall House Commentary on Matthew:

       Was Jesus actually abandoned and calling on God from His sense of
that? Or was He primarily saying this for the benefit of His human
audience? Some interpreters understand Jesus’ question to mean
that the Father did in some sense forsake His Son as He hung on
the cross as the atonement for the sin of the world (Hendriksen
971; Hagner 33B:844). Others understand Jesus to have been
implying, “Read the twenty-second Psalm. It tells you what this
crucifixion is about. I may look forsaken (Mt. 27:43) but I am not”
(Ps. 22:24). This makes Jesus’ quote and question mainly
rhetorical…
     …It seems probable that Jesus was not forsaken (Ps. 22:24)
even though it appeared to those on the ground that He was and
even though He Himself felt forsaken (Evans, Matthew 514). He
had suffered forty days in the wilderness at the beginning of His
ministry and endured extreme loneliness in the Garden the
previous night in prayer. In like manner, on the cross at the time of
His greatest suffering Jesus again felt isolation, only this time the
sense of isolation was the most intense of His entire human
experience—because He bore the wrath of God for the sins of the
entire world.
      The interpreter will want to consider the implications of the
position he determines to be Scripture’s intent. Can the Father and
Son really separate in their beings (Jn. 10:30)? Would such a real
separation agree with Psalm 22:24?[1. Jeffrey Cabtree, The Randall House Bible Commentary: Matthew, 466-67]

I find Mr. Crabtree’s explanation nuanced and balanced and it causes me to consider it. Yet I add that I am still struggling through this one. And I have not bought the alternative interpretation completely yet. This is not a major doctrinal issue to me but it’s still something worth thinking through and wrestling with. Verses like 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Romans 8:3 give me pause in abandoning the traditional interpretation.

 

John 3:30

“[Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease.”

Traditional Interpretation: We must increase Christ with our lives and be humble.

Alternative Interpretation: Christ must increase by the very nature of things no matter what we do or don’t do.

The word “must” works one of two ways, illustrated by the two interpretations above. We can say, “If you want to take English classes, you must register.” You control that. But we also say, “What goes up, must come down.” You don’t control that. You cannot to anything to affect it, start it, stop it or alter it. It’s something that happens by the very nature of things. The latter definition is what I think John means.

There are several reasons I believe this but here are three: First, it fits with how John the Gospel author used the Greek word “must” (δει) earlier in the same chapter when he said, Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up.” Based on verses like Acts 2:23 and 4:28, we know that the death of Christ was something God determined should happen and that humans could not prevent it or cause it. It is God’s—and Jesus’s—nature to save, just as it is gravity’s nature to bring objects to the earth.

Secondly, this fits with Jesus in Luke when he said, “If [my disciples] keep quiet the stones will cry out.” Christ will be worshipped because His nature as God demands it and not because we must do it.

And lastly, the context before John 3:30 leaves the interpretation up in the air, but in the verses after he says, “The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.” This speaks to Christ nature as above us, which leads me to believe John is explaining why Christ must increase by the very nature of things more than Christ must increase because we must do it.

All of this matters because it helps me understand how Christ as God is bigger than my worship. He must increase as God in the sense that he must be exalted, praised and magnified. And even if free will beings refuse to do so, there are still billions of created voices doing it around the clock.

 

John 11:33-35

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept.

Traditional Interpretation: Jesus was saddened by the death of his friend and cried as a result. 

Alternative Interpretation: Jesus was angry because of the reaction of the people and was overcome with emotional distress. 

I suppose it’s possible both are true but at the very least I think this passage needs to be taught as Jesus was angry as much as sad. “Deeply moved” in the verse above is open to interpretation over a range of stressful emotion but it definitely bends to anger in my opinion. And this can be seen in how some prominent translations render it (NLT, HCSB). The people doubted him (vs. 37) and lack of faith often made Jesus angry (Mark 16:14).

 

Revelation 3:16

So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.

Traditional Interpretation: God wants you to be for him or against him, but not on the fence. 

Alternative Interpretation: God wants you to be for him and hates lukewarmness. 

This doesn’t change the main meaning of the passage, but it is possible that when God refers to hot and cold water he means that both hot and cold have a purpose. Cold water is good to drink and hot water is good for cooking, among other uses for both. So God wants us to be useful. Lukewarm water is good for nothing. It’s nasty and worth only spitting out.

 

 

Let me conclude by saying that when I did the last article, the discussion in the comment section below was very edifying and I actually adapted my opinion of Proverbs 22:6 as a result. So we strongly encourage feedback and interaction, even respectful disagreement.

 

 




500 Words or Less Reviews: “Tyndale, The Man Who Gave God An English Voice”

“And the Lyght shyneth in the darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not.” (John 4:5, William Tyndale New Testament) 

 

I’m coming up on 40 years of life this Summer and it has me all self-reflective and evaluative. One thing I absolutely need to change is that I need to read more biographies. As someone who has championed fantasy-fiction as reading that captures the imagination, I have woefully underestimated how real flesh and blood human beings with real lives can accomplish the same thing. And in some ways, in a deeper sense, since they are actual history.

Enter this book, written in 2012 by David Teems. It is cleverly written, packed with history down to the small players in Tyndale’s life and absolutely edifies the English-speaking Christian reader with a life worth dissecting.

I confess that Tyndale’s life is fascinating to me on the big story arcs because I am a pastor of a bilingual ministry, an ESL teacher and a subscriber to Voice of the Martyrs. Translation is my life’s work, though not nearly to the significance that his was and to the cost that his gave. Persecution and martyrdom are horrific in a human sense, yet biblically we can see how God exalts it. William Tyndale literally gave his life to give people of my native tongue one of the most precious gifts there is, the readable Word of God.

Christian history is indebted to countless people for the Bibles we have today, many of them nameless and faceless, like the Masoretics of the Old Testament and the often maligned scribes and copyists of the New Testament. Tyndale thankfully is a name we can know and celebrate. He wasn’t just a translator. He was a noble man, an educated yet humble man, and a great man. He is a hero. All of us who hold a KJV, or NASB, or NIV in our hands should know his name and his story.

Beyond the major and more well-known plot lines of his life, Teems gives other details that are equally as important. Like how much of the KJV was influenced by Tyndale and how many phrases we find in our Bible, and hence our popular culture, that can be traced back to Tyndale. Like “Am I my brother’s keeper?”. Tyndale used beautiful, easy-to-memorize, poetic English. And we owe our ability to recall many verses so easily to him.

Teems also speaks over several pages to how much Erasmus and Luther affected Tyndale and how much he affected them. These men were not friends, yet God used them all in their own way to greatly affect how we do church and bible study today. It is a testimony to how no one can do anything on their own. Not just without God’s grace, but without Christian community. Even from a distance.

I recommend this book to all Christian teenagers and adults. It’s not just an inspiring story, but an illuminating one.  In 500 years, this story will still matter. Yet let us read it today.




A Path of Truth: How the Doctrine of Biblical Authority Has Come Down to the American Church

The authority of Scripture. It is a subject rightly viewed as a fundamental truth by a large percentage of today’s Christian world since its origin. The official doctrine might not have been formed until much later in history, but it is very clear in Scripture that God’s Word is the final and supreme authority. Among many other things it tells us that God’s Word is true (John 17:17), that it is complete and that we are forbidden to add to it (Proverbs 30:5-6), and that it is more than just a good book with good advice; it is God-breathed all sufficient for teaching, correction, rebuke, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). And those are just examples. If I were to list and adequately discuss everything the Bible says on the subject, the end result would be much longer than this article. The ecclesiastical discussion of biblical authority has appeared with several different faces throughout the centuries. It is a discussion that has seen many faces all over the world. There are many. For space reasons, I will just be looking at the line leading up to the American church.

No matter where you go with this the discussion starts in the Mediterranean area. For a long time after the start of Christianity, the exact doctrine wasn’t truly set in stone. A more concentrated definition was found to be needed by the third to early fourth centuries to combat the increasing gross misinterpretations and false teachings of God’s Word that were infesting the church. In A.D. 325 the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea met and began the practice of condemning heretics who went beyond the accepted teaching of Scripture. In many ways, such meetings were a good thing because they fostered communication among church leaders and the formation of accepted biblical doctrine. However, these councils, while they met to defend biblical authority, were ironically devaluing it by placing more value on what the human church leadership thought than what the Bible itself thought. The Protestant Reformation would put a stop to the Catholic Church’s growing pride and corruption. It put complete authority back in its proper place: The Word of God.

By the 1700s God’s written Word was beginning to become subordinate to science and human intelligence. And by the 20th century, fundamental-minded Christians recognized that they desperately needed to band together against the growing modernism to defend the authority of the Scriptures. The battle over biblical authority revealed itself on several important stages inside the fundamentalist movement from 1900 to the present.

The Battle of Biblical Authority in America in the Modern Era

In 1889 Charles Briggs wrote Whither? A Theological Question for the Times in which he launched a particularly vicious attack against the doctrine of inerrancy. Briggs’ well worded but misled criticisms caught on and would give rise to liberal Christianity. This, in turn, led to the birth of neo-orthodoxy with its emphasis on individual connection and interpretation of Scripture. Neo-orthodoxy was actually a negative reaction against liberal theology. It was formed by the German theologian Karl Barth. Neo-orthodoxy held to traditional orthodoxy but was new (neo) in that it was adapted modern thought to the orthodoxy. It also held that the Bible only became the revealed Word of God to individual readers.

The ever-rising popularity of liberal theology and neo-orthodoxy alarmed traditional, conservative Christians. Some leading scholarly Christians took steps to sound the alarm. The most influential was a book series published between 1910 and 1915 called “The Fundamentals.” It was so influential that it played a pivotal role in giving rise to the fundamentalist movement.

Fundamentalists and the Specter of Anti-Intellectualism

There was much genuine sincerity and passion in the fundamentalist camp when it came to defending biblical authority, but unfortunately early on many people in the fundamentalist movement started becoming increasingly anti-intellectual. This de-emphasis on the intellect backfired on them, particularly at a very important time. This was in March 1925 just after the Tennessee legislature had passed the Butler Act, which banned the teaching of evolution in Tennessee schools. Hoping to make their small town more known, the citizens of Dayton asked a volunteer named John Scopes to be willingly arrested and put on trial for supposedly teaching evolution in class.

Although he was not learned in theology or science, a fundamentalist leader named William Jennings Bryan was called to the stand as a defense witness. Clarence Darrow, the lawyer for the evolutionists, succeeded in making a fool of both Bryan and fundamentalists.

But not all early fundamentalists were so anti-intellectual. There were fundamentalist scholars who pushed against this ethic. Probably the leading of these scholars was J. Gresham Machen. Although Machen considered himself a fundamentalist, he harshly disapproved of the fundamentalist movement, mainly because of the anti-intellectualism. His thoughts concerning fundamentalism as a whole as expressed in his famous book, Christianity & Liberalism.

Machen also worried that fundamentalists were allowing the liberals to associate with and therefore influence them too much. In this book, Machen gave a logical, biblical defense of fundamentalism and called for a complete separation from liberal theology. At the time, he was teaching at Princeton Theological Seminary. An important turning point in the seminary toward a more liberal theology came in 1914 when they hired the liberal-minded J. Ross Stevenson as president. This did not sit at all well with Machen. He left and founded Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. At the same time, he started the hyper-fundamentalist mindset.

The Birth of New Evangelicalism

The fundamentalists had a very good founding intention which was to defend the inerrancy and authority of Scripture against encroaching liberalism. Unfortunately, anti-intellectualism wasn’t there only big problem. From the 1920s onward there continued to be increasing intolerance coupled with argumentation within denominations and between denominations. Denominations split, and then those groups split, and on and on.

Some fundamentalists got fed up with the fundamentalist movement for what they saw as totally unchristian rigid intolerance. So Harold Ockenga, Carl Henry, and Billy Graham led the charge to begin a complete separation from fundamentalism. In 1942 a number of discontented fundamentalists began the National Association of Evangelicals.

The most influential of these three in instigating this new movement was Graham. Graham said the turning point for him came in 1955 when he came to New York to hold a revival. The fundamentalists there required each Christian in attendance sign a paper saying they agreed with the fundamentals. While Graham certainly agreed with them, he harshly objected to this and refused to sign.

The evangelicals were clear that they were still fundamentalist in belief. In fact, several leading characters in this new movement started Fuller Theological Seminary based on fundamental doctrine. But they were also very clear that they were no longer affiliated with the fundamentalist movement.

During the 70s Fuller began to get lax on biblical authority. In 1976, Harold Lindsell, one of its original founders, verbally criticized Fuller and many other Christian institutions across the country for minimizing biblical inerrancy and authority. During that year he published the very influential book, The Battle for the Bible. In its pages, he loudly proclaimed that both of these things were the most important theological subject of all. The book that was so influential in the Christian world that it started a movement that took its name.

From that point until about the mid-1990s there was something of a revival of biblical inerrancy and authority thought among evangelical churches. Throughout much of the 80s, the climate of the American the evangelical world was relatively confused on this issue with many of them not entirely sure where they stood. By the 1990s, most of the evangelical world was kind of lost and unsure of its own beliefs on such matters. Carl Henry, who was still active in the evangelic movement at this time, urged evangelicals to take a stand on the authority of the Bible. Many evangelical churches listened and heeded, taking a firm stand once again on biblical inerrancy and authority.

As for fundamentalists, since the 1960s one biggest debate has been how much they should embrace separatism. Doctrinal debates have continued to rage between various fundamentalist denominations. However, the clear majority of fundamentalist believers still fully embrace the complete authority of Scripture.

The Many Paths of the Truth

The Bible is abundantly clear that there is only one God and that there is only one way to Him. But history has seen many paths of the truth throughout the world as Scripture has traveled through history. Each area of the world touched by the biblical message has its own stories concerning the passage of the doctrine of biblical authority. The story I have summarized here is one of the paths in America. It is not the only one. There are have been many paths. And these paths, wherever they may be, continue on. Isaiah 40:6-8 says humans are like grass and our faith like flowers. It says that grass may wither, and its flowers my fall, but it says the Word of God endures forever. The battle over biblical authority continues. People may fail. Human faith may wane. But no matter what the Word of God and its authority will endure forever.




Grace Is

Grace is, according to the Sunday School answer, “unmerited favor.”

The problem with this comes with a misunderstanding of “favor.” We would probably agree that grace is unmerited: underserved, not earned, etc. But favor causes problems.

Favor would be getting a promotion and salary increase at work. Favor would be avoiding the car accident by inches. Favor would be having a healthy baby.

And, while I think these are blessings that God allows because He is gracious, I believe God does not lay aside His graciousness if I’m overlooked for the promotion, if I am involved in a devastating car wreck, or if my son is born with a disability.

I misunderstand God’s favor as “what I want” rather than what He wants. I would never choose the hard road. Ever. Not even once. God chooses if for me because it’s what is best. And the hard road in His will is also His favor.

Think about it in terms of our heroes in the Bible. Was God NOT gracious when Joseph was sold into slavery? Was He NOT gracious when Joseph was wrongly imprisoned? Knowing what God does through these misfortunes of Joseph, I can clearly see His grace; by allowing Joseph to endure these difficulties, God promotes him and saves the Hebrews.

But it’s not as easy for me to proclaim Him as gracious in the midst of one of life’s messy chapters when I don’t know the whole story.

Another problem with how we discuss and define grace is when we contrast it with judgment. God is a God of both. One is not laid aside while He picks up the other. Jesus demonstrates this for us perfectly.

Was it gracious of Jesus to cleanse the temple and throw out the money changers? Would we call it grace when Jesus called the Pharisees “brood of vipers” or “white-washed tombs” (Matthew 23)? Jesus did not take off His attribute of grace so He could wear His judge’s robe. Grace involves truth, or it’s not grace. If Jesus would have ignored the religious leaders’ Jewish elitism and religious hypocrisy, He would not have shown them grace.

As a parent, this makes sense to me. The Bible tells me that God disciplines those He loves as a father disciplines his child (see Proverbs 3:12 and Hebrews 12:6). Disciplining my child is an act of grace. Further, to NOT discipline my child is to “hate” him (Proverbs 13:24). If I only show what my kids would call “favor” towards them, the results would be disastrous. Kids’ ideas of what is favorable are not always what is best. So my “unfavorable” discipline, food choice, rules, conversations, etc. is for their overall good. It’s ungracious to make every choice based on what they would consider favorable.

I have seen a trend in statements such as, “If I am wrong (about this issue), I want to err on the side of grace.” Grace is never on the same side as falsehood. Grace is always connected to truth. If it’s true that child abuse is wrong, then it’s not gracious to ignore it or accept it just in case it’s okay. (Of course it’s not okay.) If it’s true that having sex with someone who is not my spouse is wrong, then it’s not correct to ignore or accept it in the name of grace. Having laws against child abuse and punishment for abusers are gracious acts in that these are correct. Showing grace to an unfaithful spouse could include civil agreements in the dividing of assets in divorce, custodial arrangements, and forgiveness–but not acceptance and tolerance of the behavior. It would be ungracious to say, “Just sleep with whomever you heart tells you to. Because if I’m wrong about wanting you to be faithful to me, then I would rather err on the side of grace.” Ludicrous!

By His grace I am saved through faith, and not by things I do, or I would certainly boast about how good I am (Ephesians 2:8-9). Grace is about what He has done, what He does, and what He will do. Grace is unmerited favor, as long as I don’t misunderstand or limit what “favor” actually means.




No, The Greek Doesn’t Reveal Secret Bible Meaning, But It Helps

Well, I Use the Greek”  

One of my favorite things I’ve heard Dr. Robert Picirilli say is that when talking about Bible interpretation in small groups or informal conversation, people always want to know, “Well, what does the Greek say?” It’s a fair question if you understand how God gave us the Bible, and specifically the New Testament.

I didn’t take Greek as an undergrad at Welch College because I was a youth ministry major and it wasn’t required. And when I started grad school several years ago at Moody Theological Seminary, it still wasn’t required for my degree. Yet being older and wiser, I delayed graduation to take all of the classes they had on the subject.

The first two courses were great, and it was a lot of vocabulary and translation. The third, with perhaps my favorite professor ever, Dr. Julius Wong Loi Sing, was the most beneficial for several reasons.

First, and most importantly, he taught us that if you learn to read the New Testament in Greek and it makes you proud instead of humble, then you are reading but not understanding. Which is utterly useless to the Kingdom of God. I’ll never forget this quote: “You are not supposed to dominate the Bible; it is supposed to dominate you.”

Second, he told us that Greek should be like your underwear; you should use it but people should not be aware of it. In other words, do not constantly and haughtily make everything about, “Well the original Greek says…” and “Now if you understand the Greek syntax Paul uses here…” And lastly, and the point of this article, he taught us that Greek does not contain some kind of hidden, secret meaning to Bible texts. But it does help.

Last year for Rambling Ever On, I wrote an article called #Blessed: The Beatitudes As Modern Day Facebook Statuses, which if you would like you can read here. In that article I tried to practice Dr. Wong Loi Sing’s advice about the underwear. Yet I think it could be interesting for the readers of REO to see how things go behind the scenes of an article like that, because it says something about the way God communicated the Bible to us.

First, I want to look at Matthew 5:3-16 in English. You don’t have to read this to get what I am wanting you to see. Just survey it quickly:

 

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

 

First, note a couple of things. One, the translation I used (the NASB) separates vs. 13-16 from vs. 3-12. Two, there is little about vs. 3-12 that gives any sense of separation within these verses.

Now, I want to show you these verses in Greek. I just want you to look at them. You do not have to understand one iota of Greek to get what I am trying to communicate here. In fact, to save time and space I’m going to go ahead and highlight some things that stand out to me:

 

3 Μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι, ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.

4 μακάριοι οἱ πενθοῦντες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ παρακληθήσονται.

5 μακάριοι οἱ πραεῖς, ὅτι αὐτοὶ κληρονομήσουσι τὴν γῆν.

6 μακάριοι οἱ πεινῶντες καὶ διψῶντες τὴν δικαιοσύνην, ὅτι αὐτοὶ χορτασθήσονται.

7 μακάριοι οἱ ἐλεήμονες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ ἐλεηθήσονται.

8 μακάριοι οἱ καθαροὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ, ὅτι αὐτοὶ τὸν θεὸν ὄψονται.

9 μακάριοι οἱ εἰρηνοποιοί, ὅτι αὐτοὶ υἱοὶ θεοῦ κληθήσονται.

10 μακάριοι οἱ δεδιωγμένοι ἕνεκεν δικαιοσύνης, ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.

11 μακάριοί ἐστε ὅταν ὀνειδίσωσιν ὑμᾶς καὶ διώξωσιν καὶ εἴπωσιν πᾶν πονηρὸν καθ’ ὑμῶν ψευδόμενοι ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ. 12 χαίρετε καὶ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε, ὅτι ὁ μισθὸς ὑμῶν πολὺς ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς· οὕτως γὰρ ἐδίωξαν τοὺς προφήτας τοὺς πρὸ ὑμῶν.

13 Ὑμεῖς ἐστε τὸ ἅλας τῆς γῆς· ἐὰν δὲ τὸ ἅλας μωρανθῇ, ἐν τίνι ἁλισθήσεται; εἰς οὐδὲν ἰσχύει ἔτι εἰ μὴ βληθὲν ἔξω καταπατεῖσθαι ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων.

14 Ὑμεῖς ἐστε τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου. οὐ δύναται πόλις κρυβῆναι ἐπάνω ὄρους κειμένη· 15 οὐδὲ καίουσιν λύχνον καὶ τιθέασιν αὐτὸν ὑπὸ τὸν μόδιον ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ τὴν λυχνίαν, καὶ λάμπει πᾶσιν τοῖς ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ. 16 οὕτως λαμψάτω τὸ φῶς ὑμῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ὅπως ἴδωσιν ὑμῶν τὰ καλὰ ἔργα καὶ δοξάσωσιν τὸν πατέρα ὑμῶν τὸν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.

 

A couple of things to notice, which are made easy by my highlights. First, there is a contrast in verses 10 and 11. You can see it in English as it changes from “Blessed are the/those” to “Blessed are you”. But for some reason I never saw it until the first time I read it in Greek. Perhaps because the English obscures the consistency of verses 3-10 by switching between “the” and “those”. In Greek the form is exactly the same every time.

I think the change from vs. 10 to 11 is significant. If I wear khaki pants and a blue shirt eight days in a row and then on the ninth day I wear blue jeans and a blue shirt you will wonder why I changed. The same is true for understanding biblical authors in how they write.

I personally think the change is there because Jesus gives eight beatitudes (vs. 3-10) and vs. 11 begins a commentary on the last one about being persecuted. This sharp change in the passage can also be seen without any hindrance in English by the use of “for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven” in verses 3 and 10. This creates a bun type affect of the passage.

The commentary on persecution, in my opinion, continues through vs. 16 and this can also be seen in my highlights by use of “You are” and other forms of “you” from vs. 11 to vs. 16. In fact, if I play around with the English a little, you can see it even more clearly in English than Greek:

 

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 Blessed you are when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

13 You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

 

Now you may ask, “What difference does it make?” Well maybe not much. But as a preacher I have to confess, knowing that verses 13-16 should not be separated from vs. 11-12 (or from vs. 1-10 ) then it affects my interpretation of verses 13-16. How often do you see a new subheading in Bibles over vs. 13? What if I told you that shining your light before men, in context, was directly linked to being persecuted? Does it change your understanding of the verse? Or its application?

 

One more thing I want you see this, this time only in verses 3-6:

3 Μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι, ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.

4 μακάριοι οἱ πενθοῦντες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ παρακληθήσονται.

5 μακάριοι οἱ πραεῖς, ὅτι αὐτοὶ κληρονομήσουσι τὴν γῆν.

6 μακάριοι οἱ πεινῶντες καὶ διψῶντες τὴν δικαιοσύνην, ὅτι αὐτοὶ χορτασθήσονται.

 

Notice that the four words are alliterated, beginning with the same Greek letter you may recognize from math class as Pi (though I was taught to pronounce it with a long ‘e’ instead of a long ‘i’). I know some people find outline alliteration annoying in modern preaching but it’s used here. What does that mean? Perhaps nothing. After all, vs. 7-10 are not alliterated. Yet, I think it probably means that vs. 3-6 are one subgroup of the Beatitudes and vs. 7-10 are a second group. Even further, I think if you study them you will see that it could be that vs. 3-6 deal with man’s relationship to God and vs. 7-10 deal with man’s relationship to other men. This follows the pattern of both the Ten Commandments and The Great Commandment given by Jesus.

And this absolutely changes how I interpret the Beatitudes, especially vs. 8 which I interpret differently than you probably have ever heard. If you want to read more about that interpretation you can read the article the I linked at the beginning of this article or you can go here. Note that I don’t think that my interpretation is undoubtedly correct or beyond reproach, but that I got there by study and not some crazy, baseless theory.

 

Again, it has been my aim to be informative without being pedantic and helpful without being condescending. I am no Greek expert and never will be. But I have benefited from it and I hope that I can helps others see its benefit. God did, after all, reduce himself to human language to give us the main source of truth we have.

 

Questions? Comments?  Let us know below!  

 

 




Five Petra Songs That Taught Me the Truth

To be perfectly clear up front – this is not a joke. This is not some sarcastic, ironic, wink-at-the-audience type of article. This is real. I am sure there are many out there that either do not know who Petra was or many that do know and wish they did not. For any number of reasons, though Petra was one of the most popular and well-loved rock bands in the Christian music scene, there is a level of indifference, or worse, disdain directed towards them and towards that entire era of “Christian rock.” Someday, I hope to further explore the peculiar myopia of the Christian music world. In no other genre of music are the historical roots ignored like Christian music. It is as if any artist, band, or song that did not come out in the past few years does not even exist. However, as I said, that is an article for another day.[1. That day is here! Part One is available here.] Today, I do want to shine a light on a band that paved the way for so many others. A band that sold millions of records, won dozens of Dove and Grammy Awards, and most importantly, gave kids like me some absolutely great music to listen to. Music that was not only cool but that imparted great truth to a young, impressionable mind. So here are five, of the many, truths in Petra songs that spoke to me in my youth and helped me see God, the church, and spirituality in a much clearer way. I have included a Spotify playlist with the Five songs at the end of the article.

 

Petra taught me to be more outwardly focused.

Song: Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows
Album: More Power to Ya (1982)
Scriptural Support: Matthew 25:35-48, John 13:34-35, Luke 6:27-36.

Key Lyric:
Out on the doorstep lay the masses in decay
Ignore them long enough, maybe they’ll go away
When you have so much you think, you have so much to lose
You think you have no lack, when you’re really destitute

This album came out when I was four years old, so it took me some time to discover it and truly appreciate what I was hearing. This song in particular worked slowly on me. I responded immediately to the opening of the song – with an organ churning out “Showers of Blessing” and then transitioning to the acoustic guitar melody. When the truth behind the song finally broke through for me, it was a lightning bolt type moment. So many times our churches are insulated things. We build walls in so many ways to keep out the ugliness and messiness of the world. As believers, we are no different. This song challenges me every time I hear it. It pushes and prods me to reach out more, to care more, and to love more.

 

Petra taught me that prayer is a vital part of the Christian life.

Song: Stand In the Gap
Album: On Fire (1988)
Scriptural Support: 1 Chronicles 16:11, James 5:16, Ezekiel 22:30, 2 Corinthians 1:11, 1 Timothy 2:1.

Key lyric:
Stand in the gap
Coming boldly to His throne of grace
Stand in the gap
He will hear you when you seek His face

Too often, prayer can feel like a last resort. When someone we love is hurting, we look for any numbers of ways to help. We exhaust ourselves trying to “fix” the problem, usually to poor result. Scripture makes it clear that we should seek the face of God first and often. While this was a truth taught to me at home and in church, this song brought the truth home in a way I had not understood before. Our lives are a battlefield and when one of us is wounded, our job is to stand in the gap, defending and upholding them with our powerful and effective prayers.

 

Petra taught me that my eyes are closed to the suffering in the world.

Song: Hollow Eyes
Album: Beat the System (1984)
Scriptural Support: Matthew 25:35-48, Psalm 9:9; 10:14; 12:5, 7; 34:18; 37:18-19.

Key Lyric:
The least of these is hungry.
The least of these is sick.
The least of these needs clothing.
The least of these needs drink.
The least of these knows sorrow.
The least of these knows grief.
The least of these has suffered pain, and Jesus is His name.

I am not sure how old I was when I first heard this song. I do remember being very young. I also remember a long drive from the interior of Panama, back to our home in Panama City, when I listened to this song. This might have been around the same time I first heard it, or it could have been a short time later. I was one of those kids that would latch on to new music like it was essential to my continued existence. I soaked it in completely. I have a distinct memory of hearing this song at night while on the road. I remember hearing the haunting words and melody. I remember being shaken by it, down to my very bones. All at once, this song widened my perspective of the world, showed me the truth of worldwide suffering, and made it perfectly clear that to ignore all of it, was to ignore Jesus Himself.

Petra taught me that God is my Rock.

Song: You Are My Rock
Album: This Means War (1987)
Scriptural Support: Psalm 18:1-6, Psalm 31

Key Lyric:
You are my rock, my fortress, my shield
You are my rock, let Your strength be revealed
My rock, my comfort, my peace
My salvation, my refuge, my God
You are my Rock

While this album came out when I was 9 or 10 years old, I truly hit my music obsession stride around my early teens. This Means War! was a landmark moment. It hit me at a time when I was struggling with assurance of my faith. With the gentle wisdom and patience of my parents and albums like this, I was able to nail things down in a permanent way. This song in particular was a huge help. There were times, in my head, when things felt out of control. My spirit felt like it was being tossed and turned, this way and that, with fear and doubt. This song became an anchor point, a rallying cry to me. When I felt surrounded by the darkness, God’s inescapable light would break through. I was never standing alone.

 

Petra taught me that God has conquered death forever.

Song: Grave Robber
Album: Not of This World (1983)
Scriptural Support: Hebrews 9:27, John 4:14, 1 Peter 1:24, Romans 8:11, 1 Corinthians 15:26, 51-55, Revelation 7:17

Key Lyric:
Where is the sting, tell me where is the bite
When the grave robber comes like a thief in the night
Where is the victory, where is the prize
When the grave robber comes
And death finally dies

This is a song that has encouraged me for the majority of my life. For one, it is full of Scripture, with verses and passages woven in and out of the lyrics. It is a bold and full statement of faith that our God is stronger than death. He is the grave robber and the killer of death. Secondly, the song itself is upbeat; building to a powerful bridge and final restatement of the chorus. The band chose to make the song triumphant and victorious, instead of contemplative and reserved. The melody and style do much in imparting the true power behind the lyrics. Our hearts might still ache for those who have gone before, but we are promised a reunion of joy where we will witness death being swallowed by the giver of life.

 

I could probably write about another dozen songs by Petra that spoke to me just as powerfully. I could talk about Godpleaser or Adonai. I could go on and on about Creed, He Came, He Saw, He Conquered, or Hey World. I could spend hours discussing the songs, the words, and the integral role music has played in my life. I won’t. This is enough for now. I am eternally grateful for the way God has used music to teach me, mold me, and help me see Him more clearly. Petra was a big part of that.

 

 




“Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation”: A Review

“I wish I could single-handedly revive the art of Scripture memorization in our homes and our churches. There’s no greater legacy to bequeath to our children than a storehouse of memory verses to draw upon their whole lives through.”  (Robert J. Morgan)

 

The Title Made Me Feel Bad (In a Good Way)

I can’t recall a time in my life when a book title convicted me like this one did. If there is one thing I know I should do but don’t do often enough, it’s biblical meditation. So I got this book as quickly as I could and read it carefully.

I’ll go ahead and abandon any pretense that this “review” will offer any substantial critique of what Dr. Morgan writes here. I think it is dangerous to put people on pedestals where they cannot be critiqued, but my main goal here is to try to influence people to read this book because the content is so important. Any criticisms I have are extremely superficial and will succumb to the weight of the Dr. Morgan’s central message.

 

Evangelical Crusades and Hannibal Lector Bring it Home 

The content portion of the book is a tidy 123 pages and I knocked it out in a couple of days in probably less than three hours total.  It reads simply enough that I would think an average 9-year old could understand it.  But that is not an insult because it’s chock full of extremely helpful advice, Scripture references and practical illustrations that I hope not only inspire me but also guide me at 39 years old to make Scripture meditation a bigger part of my life. I’ve been a pastor for 15 years. I have attended two exceptional Bible Colleges. I have memorized and meditated on Scripture before. But as I alluded to above, I have never made it a habit and such an integral part of my life as you can tell Dr. Morgan has.

Anyone who knows Dr. Morgan or has sat under his preaching knows that you can count on two things with everything he teaches: First, he will incorporate a ton of Bible. I remember once when I was at a service at Donelson, Dr. Morgan’s church in Nashville, his ministry cohort Jeff Nichols joked from the stage that when he takes notes on Rob’s sermons he can count on there being like 17 well thought-out Scripture references in support of each point. Secondly, he will show you how diversely read he is by citing an insane amount of biographical information and quotes from people from centuries ago and people from today. Just look at the footnotes in the back of this book and marvel not only of his use of Billy Graham and J.I. Packer, but also Anthony Hopkins and Stephen King. And also his use of people I do not know but that he knows personally and had invaluable wisdom to offer for this book.

And what he does by quoting the sacred and the secular is build a very simple yet very powerful case for how valuable meditation is for learning and behavior. The amount of times the Bible refers to meditation, even if it doesn’t use that word, is legion. Old Testament, New Testament, historical books, psalms, prophets, gospels, letters…every section has significant contributions here and that makes this material impossible to ignore.

 

We Don’t Meditate Because We Are Good; We Meditate Because We’re Not 

I confess I appreciate as well how Dr. Morgan weaves in at times his own personal weaknesses and struggles that have led him to be a better meditator. It is easy for someone like me to look at his lengthy pastoral and preaching ministry and to idealize it. But he does not allow for that. He no doubt practices biblical meditation as well as anyone I know and has earned the right to write this book, but he allows us to see that meditation exists in large part because we are so flawed and weak. We must meditate because we know God so poorly on our own. Our minds are so bent to evil and darkness, worry and anxiety, that meditation is as much like medicine for the sinful soul as it is exercise for the mind. I daresay that is what separates Christian meditation from things like Zen Buddhism. The book is definitely written humbly and not haughtily and I am positive that when a person meditates constantly on the Bible, teaching others to do well will likely be from a place of humility. That’s how the Bible works in teaching us about how we relate to God.

The ‘tips’ interspersed are so practical, yet not often practiced. At least by me. I am praying that will change. Sticky notes will be easy. Sharing my meditation with people I come across during the day will be hard. But I will try both, and many other things he advises.

Dr. Morgan lists several times we should meditate–when we wake up in the morning, when we wake up in the middle of the night, when we are lonely, when we are on a plane, when we drive, etc. Basically, we can mediate constantly. At that point the conviction of the book title came and hit me full in the face. I meditate so infrequently. I am too easily distracted. I have little doubt the content of the book, notably the Scriptures within, will change my course on this. I pray that it lasts til I die and is not a short lived emotional response.

 

Buy It. Read It. Do It. 

I hope this book helps millions as it has helped my thinking (and, in theory, my behavior). I am challenged to put the phone down more and to focus my thoughts on Scripture and the nature of God more often. I know that Biblical meditation is not a quick fix to all anxiety and depression and crises. But it is a way to know God better and to allow him to change us even if he does not change our circumstances. These things will always be better for us than having everything “fixed”. If we are to know him in the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering and if we are to take every thought captive, we must meditate. Dr. Morgan’s book is an extremely beneficial resource to challenge and guide even older Christians in this discipline.

 

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