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Who assembled the Gospels?

Last week we talked about the guys who wrote gospels about Jesus, and why we don’t have to be discouraged when “experts” cast doubt upon the validity, authenticity, and reliability of the New Testament. Today, we focus more on the trustworthiness of the Bible. While there is much to discuss, the canon of Scripture gets brought up often. The canon refers to the collection of books that make up the Christian Bible, and is an area of study that is interested in uncovering why certain books made it in, and why some did not. Are you curious?

I like to start by breaking this question down to the basics. What would cause me to trust that the Bible was assembled the right way? Well, let’s think about this…

If we needed information about a person like Jesus from a time without video technology or internet, a biographical sketch is the natural medium to choose. And who would be most reliable in doing that? Probably the twelve disciples, those men who were close to Him in proximity, ministry, and relationship.

The twelve disciples had the most relational currency with Jesus.

So what they said carries a lot of weight when it comes to replicating not only Jesus’ life and times, but also His teachings, transmitted by oral tradition as they were, since He never wrote anything down.

But by what sort of criteria can we use to decide if a set of writings are from his disciples? Well, think of it in more contemporary terms. If you wanted to know a few things about John F. Kennedy’s life, you could ask your friend (perhaps they know a few accurate things about that time period, or JFK himself). But what if your dad was alive during Kennedy’s life, and experienced his presidency? Well, now you have a slightly greater account, if for no other reason than your dad has an eyewitness account of Kennedy, and your friend has only second or third-hand knowledge. In fact, your friend may not have even been alive at the time anyway. But let’s take it up a notch. Let’s suppose you were able to speak to Kirk LeMoyne Billings, Kennedy’s best friend. That would be a drastic difference to which none of the first two options could compare. Not only was Billings an eyewitness, but he was also privy to knowledge about Kennedy being as close as he was to him. Now add to this hypothetical situation: Billings is commissioned by Kennedy to write his authorized biography about. Now you are beginning to grasp the nature of the New Testament gospels. These have all the characteristics you would expect from an authentic account of Jesus’ life.

Here are three things about the gospels that cannot be ignored.

1. An early date.

The gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were all written in the first century. Mark, the earliest gospel, was written somewhere in the mid- to late-50’s. If Jesus died in the early 30’s, as history tells us, then Mark’s gospel was penned within twenty years of Jesus’ life. At first mention, that may sound like a long time to you. But there are still throngs of people alive today who remember Kennedy’s life, presidency, and passing with vivid clarity, though it was over fifty years ago. A memorable event or person has the ability to burn itself into the memory as if it was yesterday. Twenty years is actually very early.

2. Eyewitnesses.

This one is easy. The gospel writers were there! Well, half of them were. John (the fourth gospel) was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, and Matthew was the former tax collector who became Jesus’ disciple. Eyewitnesses. The other two were not around to witness Jesus life. So how did they make the cut? Well, history tells us that Mark and Luke were directly connected to some important eyewitnesses, namely, Peter and Paul, the apostles. As early as AD 120, Papias, the Bishop of Hierapolis, reported that Peter transmitted the words and deeds of Jesus to an assistant, named John Mark. Some traditions hold that the physician, Luke, was an associate of Paul’s (Col. 4:14).  So in other words, “Did the Gospel writers know Jesus personally? With confidence, we can say ‘no’ in the cases of the second [Mark] and third [Luke] Gospels. But these evangelists had access to reliable traditions about Jesus” (Mark D. Roberts, Can We Trust the Gospels. 49).

3. Commission.

Jesus didn’t just have a cluster of eyewitnesses around him observing his life. He commissioned certain people to document his life, death, resurrection, and teachings (Luke 24:48; Matt 28:19-20). Consider the gravity of that. These men were the only people we know of who were authorized and capable of speaking on behalf of Jesus. It makes sense that their writings take precedence over any other writings, whether ancient or modern. Other writings came much later, were not based on known eyewitnesses accounts, and were certainly without the authorization of Jesus Himself. In fact, that’s why the original Twelve disciples (as well as Paul, and some others) are also called, apostles, which means “to commission.”

Why is all of this important?

Many people like the idea of Jesus, but not everyone accepts everything He said or affirmed. You can tell by the amount of playtime our culture has given to some so-called alternative gospels. The Gnostic gospels, as their often called, are Read the rest of this entry

When experts attack (how to navigate conversations about the Bible)

Conversations always converge around the topic of Jesus as Easter approaches. 

But surprisingly, any push back about Easter is rarely about Jesus, and more with the guys who wrote about Jesus. A common question is how the Scriptures were finally assembled, and how the books that are in the Bible made it there to begin with (The finished version is usually called the canon of Scripture). Maybe you’ve heard questions like this before: “How do we know the gospels are the right ones?” or “Were there any other gospels we should be considering?” These are valid questions that we should think deeply about, considering how we place the bulk of our faith on these writings! How did they get chosen? Are there other valid writings about Jesus? How will we ever know? These were some of the questions that surfaced in conversations while I was in college, especially around the release of The Da Vinci Code, and ended up being questions I asked myself. Almost counterintuitively, these questions strengthened my faith in Christ and in the Bible, because I was forced to examine the claims against it for myself.

If I’ve learned anything since then, it’s that questions and doubts are not a faux pais in the world of the historic Christian faith.

Think about this. Doubt is like temptation–it’s not wrong to have them. Jesus was tempted (Matt 4), yet He withstood them by the power of the Holy Spirit. So it’s not wrong to have doubts, but it does matter how you handle them. And the only way to start is by asking them. Underlying some of our strongest doubts is the desire to wrestle with and come to terms with the truth, and it’s only possible to desire the truth when some glimmer of faith is present. Doubt is not the absence of faith; doubt is the evidence of faith. If we’re going to believe some of the other outlandish claims that Jesus often made, we might as well get used to asking good questions, and wrestling with the answers. So I set out to do this with the canon, or assembling, of the Christian Bible.

I learned pretty quickly that there’s a lot of material on subjects like Scripture’s canonization (did the “right” books make it in?), historicity (does it accurately convey history?), and reliability (do we have the original message intended by the authors?). This was a relief. It’s sooo easy to read one-liners out of some bestselling book attempting to derail our trust in the reliability of the Christian faith, thinking they are the last word on the subject.

If I may offer you a note of comfort, many of the people you have conversations with are probably also unaware of the evidence that affirms the reliability of the Bible.

For example, when a movie gets released days before Easter with some “new secret” undermining the historical accounts so dear to the Christian faith, both Christians and skeptics begin analyzing the film. Actually, I love these types of conversation. They’re engaging. They make both parties think deeply. Christians should converse intelligently and be winsome with skeptics about their faith. In fact, some of my most thoughtful and enjoyable conversations about my faith have been with skeptics, who, like me, sincerely want to know the reasons behind what their friends believe, even if they don’t end up subscribing to the same beliefs. It’s what friends do. So those conversations shouldn’t stop.

But I am hoping to bring awareness to the content of those conversations, and the fact that some “new findings” are often not new or original.

Whenever a Da Vinci Code, a Zeitgeist, or a new Bart Ehrman book gets released, it’s often the same old stuff being recycled from past scholarly conversations, and repackaged for the mainstream. But scholars have been talking about these issues for decades–-centuries even-–with reasonable answers to some of the critical jabs that are leveled against the trustworthiness of the Bible;  and every time a new movie or book comes out “undermining” the Christian faith, I want so badly to give believing scholars similar airtime when objections to the reliability of the Bible are raised.

But that stuff never makes the headlines. Why? Partially because the truth isn’t always sensational enough to sell, and is often couched in the language of academia anyway. Scholars write for other scholars. Let’s face it: scholars can sound a bit boring for the rest of us. The unfortunate result? The reasonable claims for the reliability of the Bible get hidden under a brightly colored carpet of New York Times bestsellers. See, a scholarly work that’s been repackaged for the mainstream and pasted with a headline blasting the origins or reliability of the Bible in short, sensational snippets is not boring. When one of these controversial books hits the shelf, a feeding frenzy ensues, and you will quickly get familiarized with an appeal to authority (argumentum ab auctoritate). This is a subtle logical fallacy that bases a belief in the credentials of the one writing, instead of on the soundness of the argument being made.

For example…

“Don’t drink the water in Santa Barbara because research has shown it to contain microscopic particles that could cause ADHD in children.” – Duke E. Sarmonstrus, M.D.

Now, if I were to post this on Facebook, there is a good chance some would believe it, and it would spread. We see this all the time, right? Posts about some crazy story that gets shared millions of times, without ever being checked against Snopes.com. These stories get traction when they’re believable, supported by an authority figure, and feed into our secret fears or desires. But there’s one problem with the statement I made: it’s not true. I just made it up as I was writing, and gave it an air of authority by attaching a name that looks important. Of course, in the real world, there are authority figures, experts, and Ph.D’s who are smart, and at the forefront of their fields of study. This is to our benefit. They are a blessing to society, and have devoted years of their lives to understanding things we want to know more about, not the least of which is the God of Bible.

But do not make the same mistake that is rampant among the mainstream: it is not the credentials of the expert that one must scrutinize, but the soundness of the arguments being made by them.

And the argument I made above is not sound, even though it sounds good; neither the premises nor the conclusion are true. But all you need is to attach some level of credibility to the quote itself, and if there is someone somewhere who wants the quote to be true, then it will sell like guacamole at the Carpinteria Avocado Festival. It’s easier to accept the headlines than it is to research them. Sometimes deferring to a “credible source” is a cop-out. I know I’ve done this. But don’t we want more than spoon-fed factlets of shock-value and sound-bites? All of us are capable of engaging important issues with critical thinking and conversation. After all, if the Bible is true, it will prove itself. The thought of testing our beliefs shouldn’t scare us; and we should take the skeptic’s questions seriously. We’re not talking about menial beliefs here! If what the Bible says about Jesus rising from the dead is true, that changes everything. But if the Bible is wrong about the resurrection, then “we are above all people, most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19, NIV).

I have and continue to make that journey. You should too. An easy way to start is by listening to the other side. If an expert in the New Testament says that Paul didn’t really write some of the epistles in the Bible, try checking out the opposing viewpoints of other authoritative sources. If your friend at school tells you that “Emperor Constantine assembled the Bible to reinforce his own power structures,” ask them where they learned that information, and explore it yourself. If your professor tells you that the gnostic gospels are a more reliable version of Jesus’ life, ask a professor (who believes in the sufficiency of the Bible) why he believe’s the gnostics didn’t make it into the canon. In other words, don’t assume something is true because an expert said it was true. Examine it! If you explore some of the accusations that culture, society, and even critical scholarship level against the Bible for yourself, you may find yourself migrating towards the Bible’s view of itself.

As I mentioned before, I’ll share a bit about canonization (how we know the right books made it in the Bible) in my next blog post this week. And you can trust that everything I say is correct and true. ~ Dr. Chris Lazo, Ph.D, M.D., CPA, MBA, BAM.

My least favorite thing about Christmas

I must admit–assuming the usual caveats about Christmas being about Jesus–that the actual date of December 25th is one of the most difficult for me.

I do adore my Christ. I do love the celebrations. I love the church services, and the church family. I love the sermons I get to study, write, and pray over. I love the usual busy work that surrounds the offices leading up to Christmas. But where I struggle the most is when after these festivities, everything closes for Christmas day. Well, everything but my restless mind.

I've learned–to my discomfort–that I enjoy being busy, even if I'm not doing much in particular.

Because I am busy with my thoughts, or busy in conversation, or walking a busy street. Yet on Christmas day, I'm robbed of my busyness when every venue, outlet, and commercial expression is taken from me. It's the one day in the year I can't do anything. This is, on the surface, a classic first world problem! Yet a guy who's that stimulated by productivity will sometimes mistake productivity for faithfulness to God. And this is where I sometimes have a problem. I'm learning that they aren't the same.

Perhaps I equate being busy with being faithful because I really just want to know that what I'm doing matters to God.

The only way I can secure that is through busyness.

(Cue the sad music, and the sermon on how the gospel frees us from thinking we can secure God's love through hard work).

Yes, I know. I shouldn't think that ever. But I do. Who doesn't? And Christmas, it turns out, is the forcible action that confronts my idolatry. It does this by keeping me helpless. Silent. Not busy. There are no chores to do. No errands. There are no check-lists to keep track of, no vision to cast, and no sermon to prepare. I can't meet with anyone, because they're all with family. I can't think deeply about things, because friends and extended family punctuate every minute with the laughter of inside-jokes. There is nowhere I can go to find a “safe place,” by which I mean, work. I am unsafe. But from what? Well…myself, I suppose. My idol of productivity–of busyness.

Christmas exposes me as my own worst enemy.

And sometimes it takes the town shutting down to pull me out of my comfort zone. I'm learning that silence isn't all that bad–though it feels like it–and is even a great outlet for prayer, as counter-intuitive as that seems. But I still don't like it. Perhaps that's my problem: words (in prayer) help me feel productive; the discursive thoughts Richard Rohr often warns about in his instruction on contemplative prayer, that we mistakenly assume are meritorious to God. Rohr, in his book, A Lever and a Place to Stand, suggests “Prayer beyond words” instead (59). So I tried it. But it's increasingly uncomfortable to leave words behind, when words are all you do in life.

We have to have a slight distance from the world–we have to allow time for withdrawal from business as usual, for meditation, for prayer in what Jesus calls “our private room.” However, in order for this not to become escapism, we have to remain quite close to the world at the same, loving it, feeling its pains and its joys as our pains and our joys. ~ Richard Rohr, 2.

In other words, we must all learn to withdrawal in holy silence, yet re-engage the pressures of “productivity” when our spirit is revived; after all, we're never not supposed to be productive. The Bible simply chooses an alternative: fruitfulness.

Our lives are not supposed to be marked by busy work, but by the characteristics (the fruit) of the Spirit.

Sometimes this happens when you're busy, and sometimes it happens when you're not. After reading Rohr's line, I experienced an epiphany: God used December 25th to slow my life down enough to show me that he doesn't need me. Yet in the sermon I gave the night before, I also explain how the birth of His Son proves that he wants me (and you). Now, we're on another level.

Because while it's uncomfortable to feel unneeded; it's downright devastating to feel unwanted. But to be unneeded while knowing you're still wanted is one of the most liberating things the soul can ever know.

And on this Christmas week, I'm trying to ride the border of that mysterious truth, if only because the shutting down of Santa Barbara forced it upon my over-productive mind. And to think some people don't believe in effectual grace! Tsk tsk. That's what a busy mind will sometimes do to you. Can I share something with you, from one mad thinker to another? (One that I robbed from a local bumper sticker)…

Slow down Santa Barbara.

God's presence is worth the reflection.

Habakkuk 2:20 ~ The Lord is in His holy temple; let everyone on earth be silent in His presence.

 

Faces of Jesus: the Son of God

Matthew 3:16-17: “After Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water. The heavens suddenly opened for Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on Him. And there came a voice from heaven: ‘This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him!'” (HCSB)

Trinitarian

What beautiful elements to this paragraph! “[The Holy Spirit was] coming down on [Jesus]….[says the Father]: ‘I take delight in Him!’

Matthew is unambiguous in his mention of the Trinitarian God. He not only mentions them, but he depicts them in a wonderful dance of inclusion and delight. The Spirit is happy to descend upon the Son; the Father delights in the Son; the Son joyfully welcomes both the Spirit and the Father!

The first thing that comes to mind in this passage is the sheer girth of the coming announcement. This is not a footnote–it’s the red carpet of the cosmos, and Jesus is walking across it.

In other words, this is a BIG deal, so pay attention to what God is about to say.

Coronation

God the Father says something alright. He publicly identifies Jesus’ unique Sonship. This is not sonship as we might entertain–that of genealogical descent. This is God’s “proleptic enthronement” of Jesus to the highest status, the highest office, and the highest ministry (Keener). What ministry?

There is an Old Testament parallel in Ezekiel 1:1, where the prophet “asks God to tear the heavens and come down to redeem his people” (France). What Matthew is clarifying is that this is the unique expression of who God is. In other words, don’t send a man to do what only God can do; send God to become a man.

Here’s a paraphrase of Matthew by Dale Frederick Bruner:

“If we know this, we know the most important fact in the world. ‘Here,’ God is saying in so many words, ‘in this man, is everything I want to say, reveal, and do, and everything I want people to hear, see, and believe. If you want to know anything about me, if you want to hear anything from me, if you want to please me, get together with him.'”

Jesus is the only person who can fulfill the ministry of the Father in redeeming His people.

Participation

Not only does the Father make a big deal about Jesus (Trinitarian), and crown him as the hope of the world (coronation), but he then pronounces His personal delight in Him. Now stop for a second and let that sink in. Delight. With our modern, presuppositional lens of a far-off God who doesn’t get involved in much, but still requires good behavior–the way a CEO might expect of a cashier in a distant franchise, without caring for them personally–this should blow your mind. God delights in something. Not anything, but something specifically. He delights in his Son. The Fathers love of the Son was before the world’s creation (17:24), meaning that the love shared between them did not begin at a certain point, and not exist before that–it always was. And as Michael Reeves explains, there is a certain shape to that relationship. “The Father is the lover, the Son is the beloved.”

But why does this seem to be the climactic point that the Gospel writer, Matthew, ends on? Because of its implications for those who believe in Jesus! Reeves goes on to say, “Therein lies the very goodness of the gospel: as the Father is the lover and the Son the beloved, so Christ becomes the lover and the church the beloved.”

That the Father delights in His Son means that when we are united to His Son, the Father delights in us, too! Now, this doesn’t mean we are the same as Jesus–as Matthew clearly depicts, He is the unique Son of God. It means we are sons and daughters of God by adoption (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:5; Eph 4:5), and only through union with Christ. So even if you are a murderer, an alcoholic, a tantrum-thrower, a failed entrepreneur, a recovering hypocrite, or a struggling mother–in Christ, you become the delight of God! This is the greatest story ever told, and the single most liberating truth on the planet.

The unique Son of God on a mission to find the downtrodden, and bring them into the delight He has known for all eternity.


Bibliography

  1. R.T. France. The Gospel of Matthew. (NICNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007). p.121
  2. Craig S. Keener. The Gospel of Matthew: A Social-Rhetorical Commentary. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009). p.135
  3. Fredrick Dale Bruner. The Christbook: Matthew 1-12. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004). p.111-112
  4. Michael Reeves. Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2012) p.28

Faces of Jesus: the Shepherd

The #1 mobile activity is accessing maps and directions.

I believe it. You should see a typical drive in the car with my wife and me. I’m usually the one working a maps application–of which I have plenty versions from which to choose–while she, with her photographic mind, is calling out directions on the go. She remembers details, I prefer to have them organized in Evernote, and dictated to me by Siri. She tells you to turn as the intersection is upon you, I like to know where that turn is before I even leave the house. Don’t even get me started on climate control. She like the car to resemble a sauna; I like icicles to form on the dashboard. We are so different in our approaches to driving that it’s easy to forget one thing…

We both just want to know where we’re going.

In the second part of our series, Faces of Jesus, we encounter a promise for finding directions. But rather than getting a list of turns, street names, or miles, we get…a person.

Matthew 2:6 ~ “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah: because out of you will come a leader who will shepherd My people Israel” (HCSB).

Everything you need to know about this post (or finding direction in your own life) is encapsulated in the word shepherd.

The Picture

What does a shepherd do anyway?

1. They direct sheep.

Perhaps a better word is, he leads them. Check out this descriptive story from Lois Tverberg’s blog,

Judith Fain is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Durham. As part of her studies, she spends several months each year in Israel. One day while walking on a road near Bethlehem, Judith watched as three shepherds converged with their separate flocks of sheep. The three men hailed each other and then stopped to talk. While they were conversing, their sheep intermingled, melting into one big flock.

Wondering how the three shepherds would ever be able to identify their own sheep, Judith waited until the men were ready to say their goodbyes. She watched, fascinated, as each of the shepherds called out to his sheep. At the sound of their shepherd’s voice, like magic, the sheep separated again into three flocks. Apparently some things in Israel haven’t changed for thousands of years.

2. They were despised.

This is echoed in the words of Joseph, that “all shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptians” (Genesis 46:34). The Messiah comes as one of these, for “his rule is to be that of a shepherd. He will have no power but the power that comes from his love of the lost sheep of Israel” (Hauerwas, 39).

Jesus is the despised shepherd, who leads the lost sheep.

The Promises

The verse in Matthew is a quotation of two passages in the Old Testament–the first half quotes Micah,

Micah 5:2 ~ Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah; One will come from you to be ruler over Israel for Me. His origin is from antiquity, from eternity (HCSB).

The second half of Matthew’s verse quotes Samuel,

2 Samuel 5:2 ~Even while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led us out to battle and brought us back. The Lord also said to you, ‘You will shepherd My people Israel and be ruler over Israel (HCSB).

You may notice a couple things. One, Matthew’s wording isn’t an exact quotation. Two, Matthew used both Old Testament passages when maybe one would have sufficed.

When Matthew quotes Micah, he alters the wording ever so slightly in a couple places; I just want to focus on one of those places. Where Micah says, “you are small among the clans of Judah,” Matthew quotes him, saying, “you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah.” So it goes from you are small to you are by no means the least. Matthew is simply inserting his theology into this Old Testament prophesy, because, having witnessed (through the Apostles) to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he knows Micah’s prophetic promise has been fulfilled. Bethlehem used to be small; it is now significant because it hosted the Ruler who’s “origin is…from eternity” (Mic 5:2).

R.T. France also observes that “the two Old Testament passages are closely related, 2 Sam 5:2 giving God’s original call to David, and Mic 5:2 taking up its language to describe the future roll of the coming Davidic king in fulfillment of his great ancestor’s achievements” (72).

Psalm 23

At this point, let’s break from exegesis, and take in the sweeping power of the Psalmist’s poetry when he goes on about the Shepherd.

The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. He lets me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He renews my life; He leads me along the right paths for His name’s sake (vv.1-3)

He lets us lie down in green pastures. Check out this four minute video I found on Lois Tverberg’s blog. Then join me in the next line…

Jesus is a ruler, but he’s also a shepherd. He leads by feeding us in green pastures, by directing us when we’re lost or out of food, by protecting us from wolves. This Savior (Messiah) came out of the lowly (Bethlehem) to be lowly (Shepherd). And he comes to a world of people who just want to know where they’re going. Many are so lost in the details of figuring out the directions, that their whole lives will be spent driving in circles.

If that’s you, stop the car.

You don’t need directions–you need a Shepherd.


Stanley Hauerwas. Matthew. (BTCB; Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006)

R.T. France. The Gospel of Matthew. (NICNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007)

Faces of Jesus: the King

Matthew’s first five chapters show the different faces of Jesus as revealed in His birth–catch up on the introduction!–so we begin with chapter 1:1-17.

Starting off with a genealogy, the introductory chapter of Matthew appears anticlimactic. No one starts off a book with an historical record! Well, no one today. But the Biblical authors did this often. If you put yourself in 1st century Jewish shoes while reading this chapter, you’ll get sucked into the drama instantaneously.

A better hero

Socio-Rhetorical scholar, Craig S. Keener, points out that “The names in the genealogy — like Judah, Ruth, David, Uzziah, Hezekiah, Josiah — would immediately evoke for Matthew’s readers  a whole range of stories they had learned about their heritage from the time of their childhood.”1 What appears tedious for contemporary readers is a type of literary device used by the author to open the eyes of the readers of his day, and to focus them, “by evoking great heroes of the past like David and Josiah, Matthew points his readers to the ultimate hero to whom all those other stories pointed.”2 

In fact, genealogies usually list a person’s descendants, not ancestors (Gen 5:1; 10:1). “Matthew’s point here is profound: so much is Jesus the focal point of history that his ancestors depend on him for their meaning.”3

A better ruler

“Son of David” has messianic connotations, and is used by Matthew 17 times, more than any other book in the NT.4 The connection to David in these “boring” genealogies shows Jesus’ royalty. To see this, you have to go all the way back to Read the rest of this entry

Lessons in not listening

This reporter’s “conversation” with Muslim writer, Reza Aslan, is a decent example of how Christians should not engage people of other religious backgrounds. Watch the video; make your own applications.

(Thanks Nathanael Matanick for posting this link)

Sermon ||”The Servant Jesus”|| @ Reality LA

I have been on a three-week vacation with my family, away from most social media during that time. I’m back! I am working on some future content, but in the meantime, here is a sermon I gave yesterday at Reality LA from Matthew 12:15-21.

Anticipating Easter

To whet the appetites of our anticipation for Easter Sunday, I gave three sermons to our church over the course of this last month on the implications of Jesus’ resurrection for the past, present and future.

The past historical event of the resurrection tells us what to believe about Jesus…

The present implications of the resurrection tells us of the justification wrought by Jesus…

The future implications of the resurrection tells us of the hope that we have in Jesus…

Enjoy Jesus, my friends. See you next Sunday at Del Playa Stadium!

Daisy Love and the magic eraser

I learned how to tie my shoes last week.

At least, I think so. My friend Tiffany had to remind me how on the way to Sunday school when, before entering the door, I tripped on my pump-action L.A. Gear. We are both entering preschool next week, and she still beats me at everything, including, apparently, how to tie shoes. Well, at least my birthday comes first.

Who knows when I actually learn how to tie my shoes successfully, because when I go to bed tonight I will wake up as a thirty-two year old. It goes by that fast.

I’m now on my way to the sports pavilion where we are gathering to celebrate the life of Daisy Love Merrick, my pastor’s eight-year old daughter who recently went home with Jesus. She was a bastion of Christ-like joy and child-like faith, and there are already thousands of people lined up to honor her. I remember playing board games with Daisy and our families by the fireplace; we never would have guessed she was fighting cancer by that darling way she asked questions, or when she hid an eraser in the house for us to find and giggled when we failed miserably; one does not simply find an eraser in a house if a little girl chooses to hide it from you. One by one, we adults succumbed to our usual fatigue leaving Daisy begging us for “just one more game.”

Now as I approach the sports pavilion, I glance at my shoes which, being tied very nicely, are double-knotted, and laced-through various rivets without any impeding folds. I stop to admire them and smile at a fleeting memory before getting that strange sinking feeling—the kind you get when you realize you forgot to do your homework and are now walking into class: this might be my best accomplishment in life. And I’ve lived much of my life already. I suspect that the next time I blink, my eyes will open as a fifty-year old man. When I was in elementary school, nothing ever came quickly; now time ruthlessly inundates all who overstay their welcome, with half of my life passing before my eyes while blinking.

Now, please don’t mistake this for self-deprecation, but much the opposite. For it’s only by the mercy of God that life is never wasted, and may I, of all people, be so bold as to declare with Wesley, “Tis mercy all, immense and free, for O my God, it found out me!”

Notwithstanding second chances, I still cannot ignore how fast my life was spent, and how much of it was spent on nothing. And all of this reminiscing has revealed a glad and simple truth to me: some live more life in eight years than others do in fifty.

I also wonder if she took the eraser to heaven with her. That would explain a lot.

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