Monday, May 31, 2021

Quote of the Week


"How joyful and pleasant a thing it is to serve God! It is by serving Him that man becomes truly free and holy."

- Thomas a Kempis, from The Imitation of Christ

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Saturday Synaxis

We thank Thee for the dear and faithful dead, for those who have made the distant heavens a Home for us, and whose truth and beauty are even now in our hearts... We thank Thee for the labors and the joys of these mortal years. We thank Thee for our deep sense of the mysteries that lie beyond our dust, and for the eye of faith which Thou hast opened for all who believe in Thy Son to outlook that mark. May we live altogether in Thy faith and love, and in that hope which is full of immortality. 

- Rufus Ellis

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Heroes of the Faith: Cameron Townsend

“With your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” - Revelation 5:9b

“Jesus answered: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.’” - Matthew 22:27-28
Cameron Townsend & Wycliffe Bible Translators: Basic Facts
- Cameron Townsend (1896-1982), affectionately known as “Uncle Cam,” was a missionary and a Bible translator. Together with Kenneth Pike (1912-2000), a noted linguist, he founded and led Wycliffe Bible Translators (WBT), the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), and the Jungle Aviation and Radio Service (JAARS). The unified work of these three agencies has succeeded in translating portions of the Bible into more than 2,800 languages, thus providing access to the Gospel to nearly half of the linguistic groups in the world, all in the space of less than a century.


1917 – Cameron Townsend, a young missionary working with Central American Mission, sails to Guatemala to distribute Spanish Bibles. He ministers to the Kaqchikel tribe and discovers that Spanish outreach is not effective for them. They ask him, “If your God is so powerful, why can’t he speak our language?” So Townsend settles among the Kaqchikel for nearly a decade, until he can translate the Bible for them. Through that process, he finds that giving native people groups access to the Bible in their own languages produces stronger, healthier church communities.

1933 – Townsend convinces the Mexican government to allow him to launch a brand new kind of missionary program—a significant accomplishment, since Mexico was closed to all foreign missionaries at that time. This new program would aim for three objectives: translating Scripture into minority languages; producing academic linguistic research related to those languages; and strengthening development efforts in minority areas through the teaching of literacy.
Kenneth Pike
1934-35 – Townsend establishes a summer linguistics course on an Arkansas ranch in order to train workers for his new program. In the course’s second session, a young student named Kenneth Pike arrives, who will prove to be a linguistic genius in his own right.

1937-42 – After Pike studies the Mixtec language of Mexico, Townsend sends him to earn a PhD in linguistics from the University of Michigan. Upon his graduation in 1942, Pike becomes president of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), a full-fledged organization based on Townsend’s pitch to the Mexican government a decade before. SIL workers take seriously their commitment to the scientific study of linguistics, and their devotion to serving God with their minds allows them to access mission fields around the world from which other mission agencies are barred. Governments on every continent seek their expertise in studying and promoting literacy among minority languages, and allow them to translate the Bible along with their academic contributions. Wycliffe Bible Translators is founded alongside SIL in 1942 in order to promote the Bible translation aspect of the agency’s work, while SIL focuses on academic linguistics work. From that moment to the present day, all members of Wycliffe Bible Translators have also been members of SIL, and the partnership of these two services—religious and academic—has enabled WBT/SIL to promote their work in nearly every country in the world.
Bible Translation Facts:

- Through SIL’s worldwide linguistic surveys, experts have come to find that there are more than 7,000 distinct languages in the world. 

- Of those 7,000, only 650 have a complete Bible translation. Although those 650 languages represent the majority of the world’s population, that still leaves 1.5 billion people without access to a full Bible in their own language (and more than 110 million do not even have a single verse of Scripture in their own language).

- Thanks to the work of SIL and other similar organizations, there are now 1,500 languages who have access to the full New Testament, and a further 2,500 translation projects are currently underway. Wycliffe has set a goal to have a Bible translation in progress for every group that needs one by 2025.


“Understanding Scripture in a language other than the heart language in which we think and experience emotion is like trying to eat soup with a fork. You can get a little taste, but you cannot get nourished.”

“The greatest missionary is the Bible in the mother tongue. It needs no furlough and is never considered a foreigner.”

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Photo of the Week







Loud let the howling tempest yell,
And foaming waves to mountains swell;
No shipwreck can my vessel fear,
Since hope has fixed its anchor here.

- from a hymn by Philip Doddridge

Monday, May 24, 2021

Quote of the Week


"If we lean upon God, and all our expectations are from Him, we shall not be disappointed."

- D. L. Moody

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Saturday Synaxis

O Sovereign and Almighty Lord, 
bless all Thy people and all Thy flock. 
Give peace, Thy help, Thy love unto us, 
Thy servants the sheep of Thy fold, 
that we may be united in the bond of peace and love, 
one body and one spirit, in one hope of our calling, 
in Thy Divine and boundless love; 
for the sake of Jesus Christ, 
the great Shepherd of the sheep. 
- from a liturgy of the early church

Friday, May 21, 2021

Bible Study Resources: How to Reconcile the Different Stories of the Woman Anointing Jesus' Feet

This coming Sunday I'm preaching on John 12:1-8, the story of Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus' feet with costly perfume. It's a beautiful story, but insightful students of the Bible will realize right away that there are some differences between this account and others which appear to be telling the same story. All four Gospels tell this story (or something very similar), and the fact that there are differences between them can be troubling for Christians who believe that the Gospels are an accurate account of Jesus' words and deeds. Could it be that the Gospel writers made some mistakes? And if so, what would that mean for the important parts of the story--say, the resurrection?

First off, there's no cause to take minor differences between the Gospels and use them to throw out the whole story. If you did that, you'd also have to throw away every single work of history ever written before the twentieth century. Biographical histories in the ancient world were not written with the same genre-specific restrictions as today. For instance, it was considered perfectly acceptable for historians to selectively choose which details to relate, or even to move certain events around in the chronological layout of their biography, in order to better make a thematic or theological point (this may explain why John has Jesus clearing the Temple courts near the beginning of his story, while the other Gospels have it near the end). The doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, as commonly held by evangelicals, says that the Bible is inerrant "in its original manuscripts," and one of the things that means is that we have to consider the nature of the original writings, including their literary genre. All that to say, within the original cultural genre of the Gospels, no one would have thought that minor differences in sequence or detail should call the trustworthiness of an account into question.

However, in the case of the story of the woman anointing Jesus' feet, we don't even have to take that concession to make good sense of the story. There is a reasonable reconstruction that fits all the details. So let's start by listing out the main features of the four Gospel accounts.

~ ~ ~

     Matthew 26:6-13 & Mark 14:3-9 (these two accounts are largely identical)

- Area: Bethany (Judea)

- Location: the house of Simon the Leper

- Time: Just before Jesus' final week in Jerusalem

- Woman: unidentified

- Anointing: poured on Jesus' head, with significant commentary on the great expense of the perfume

- Reaction: the disciples (unidentified) object, saying that the perfume could have been sold (Mark specifies 300 denarii as the price) and the money given to the poor

- Jesus' Response: Jesus defends the woman's actions as a beautiful thing, reminds the disciples they will always have the poor, and says that the woman's act was done to prepare him for burial

     John 12:1-8

- Area: Bethany (Judea)

- Location: unidentified (we are only told that it was a supper with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, at which Martha served the meal)

- Time: Just before Jesus' final week in Jerusalem

- Woman: Mary (Lazarus' and Martha's sister)

- Anointing: on Jesus feet, wiping his feet with her hair, with significant commentary on the great expense of the perfume

- Reaction: the disciple Judas objects, saying that the perfume could have been sold for 300 denarii and the money given to the poor

- Jesus' Response: Jesus defends Mary's actions, reminds Judas that they will always have the poor, and says that Mary's act was done to prepare him for burial

     Luke 7:36-50

- Area: unspecified, but it appears to be in Galilee

- Location: the house of Simon the Pharisee

- Time: during the early portion of Jesus' Galilean ministry

- Woman: "a sinner" (from context, likely a prostitute)

- Anointing: on Jesus' feet, together with her tears, and the woman wipes his feet with her hair and kisses them

- Reaction: Simon the Pharisee is shocked, and says to himself that if Jesus were a prophet, he would know the woman was a sinner (and, by implication, he should not have let her touch him)

- Jesus' Response: Jesus tells a parable to Simon to explain the woman's anointing as an act of grateful love for the forgiveness of her sins, and also chides Simon for not providing him with the common courtesies a host usually gives to a guest

~ ~ ~

One thing should be clear from this list: that three of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and John) agree in most of the relevant details, and Luke's is very different; indeed, its only similarity is in the act of anointing itself. It's also important to say that none of these accounts have anything to do with Mary Magdalene. Later church traditions tried to combine both stories, with Mary Magdalene starring in the lead role, but nothing in the text supports this. Nowhere in the Gospels is Mary Magdalene called a prostitute or sinner (only as a victim of demonic influence), and Mary of Bethany is clearly a different person. With all that in mind, I would offer the following reconstruction as the most plausible way to reconcile the data without writing off any of the accounts:

- There were two such anointings during Jesus' ministry, the first during his early ministry in Galilee (which Luke tells us about), and the second by Mary of Bethany just before the week of Jesus' death. The first account happens as recorded by Luke, and reflects the godly repentance and gratitude of a prostitute who has found forgiveness through Christ.

- The second account holds together consistently, even where Matthew/Mark and John offer different details. None of the details are contradictory, and can even be held together in a fairly plausible way.

- The second anointing happens in Bethany, at the house of Simon the Leper. This Simon cannot be the same character as Simon the Pharisee, not only because they live in different places, but because a leper could not have been a Pharisee, as his condition would have made him unable to follow the purity laws. (Simon was a very common name, so it's no surprise to find it popping up multiple times, even in similar stories.)

- Simon the Leper was probably a good friend of Jesus, perhaps someone whom Jesus had previously healed of his leprosy. The fact that he was a good friend is indicated by the fact that Jesus chooses to go to his house before entering Jerusalem on the week of his death, even though he had other very close friends in the same town (Mary, Martha, and Lazarus). Thus, if Simon is a good friend of Jesus, it's probably reasonable to assume that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are also friends with Simon.

- Thus, if they are all friends of one another, this would fit with John's account of the supper taking place with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, even though John never mentions Simon. Further, the fact that Martha is shown serving the meal also fits this reconstruction, even though the meal is not at her house. Simon, having been a leper, was almost certainly unmarried, and when a single male host held a dinner party in that culture, it would have been female friends or family members from another household who did the cooking and serving, not the host himself.

- Since all of the characters in John's story are deeply tied to the community of Jesus' followers, Mary no doubt would have heard stories about the earlier anointing in Galilee, and how Jesus had praised that woman's deed as an act of great love. It would have been a part of Jesus' story that had been told and retold over the previous couple years. So Mary decides to do it herself, mimicking the previous woman's act of anointing Jesus' feet and wiping them with her hair. 

- Though John only mentions the feet and Matthew/Mark only mention the head, it seems reasonable that Mary probably anointed both: first, to replicate the previous anointing by the sinful woman, this time as Mary's own act of love and devotion toward Jesus (and John, whose major theme is love, highlights this part); and second, to serve as a royal anointing of her friend Jesus, who was about to ride into Jerusalem while being hailed as the messianic king (and Matthew/Mark, who want to draw attention to the royal element in Jesus' triumphal entry, highlight this part). No account rules out either the feet or the head, so it's reasonable to conjecture that she may have anointed both, especially since all the other relevant details of this story line up perfectly, including the disciples' (primarily Judas') objection to the extravagance of her act. 

So there's my best stab at a reconstruction: a first anointing in Galilee, which became a much-beloved story in Jesus' circle of friends and followers, and then a second anointing when Mary chooses to reenact it while they eat together at the house of their friend Simon the Leper in Bethany, before Jesus enters Jerusalem.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Heroes of the Faith: C. S. Lewis

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. – Psalm 19:1
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” – John 6:68-69

C. S. Lewis: Basic Facts
- Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) was one of the greatest Christian writers and thinkers of the 20th century. He became a prominent defender of Christian faith against the skepticism of the age, and his books have taught and inspired generations of Christians.

- Lewis was a confirmed atheist until he was nearly 30 years old. While studying and teaching medieval literature at Oxford University, he came under the influence of several Christian friends. Through their friendship, and through the exercise of reason and imagination, he came to embrace the Christian faith.

- He is best known now through his books. His most popular are his apologetics and theology books—Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Abolition of Man, The Four Loves, and The Great Divorce—and his fiction: The Chronicles of Narnia and The Space Trilogy.

Notable Themes of Lewis' Thought:

- The Existence of God: the Arguments from Desire and Morality – Lewis argued that because we have a desire for ultimate perfection in beauty, eternality, and joy, something must exist to meet that desire (i.e., a God who manifests all those things). He also argued that the fact of universal human morality was a sign of the existence of an ultimate standard of morality.

- Respect for the Past – Lewis opposed what he called “chronological snobbery,” and showed that previous generations had as much (if not more) wisdom and depth of thought than modern culture did.

- The Christian Life as a Godward Life – Christian faith is not a matter merely of the individual’s happiness, but of getting close to and being transformed by God.

- The Meaning of Suffering/Grief – Lewis wrestled with the problem of pain both before and after his con-version; ultimately coming not to answers, but to trust.

Quotes & Extracts:

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
“If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very center of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry. Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever?”

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal….Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

“Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.”

“There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right, then, have it your way.’”

“The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”

“Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person's ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

“Joy is the serious business of heaven.”

“You must realize from the outset that the goal towards which He is beginning to guide you is absolute perfection; and no power in the whole universe, except you yourself, can prevent Him from taking you to that goal.”

“The one really adequate instrument for learning about God is the whole Christian community, waiting for Him together.”

“The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water.”
“Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”
From The Silver Chair: Puddleglum’s answer to the Queen’s suggestion that they were living in a fantasy, and that there was no real world other than her dark underground empire: “Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland.”