Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Writing Update & Blog Schedule


I'm taking a bit of a break from my blog schedule for the Christmas holidays, but in the meantime here are a couple other fun things regarding my writing work: first, my pilgrimage memoir, Wings over the Wall, was just selected by Kirkus Reviews as one of the "Best Indie Books of the Year" (indie books are a category that includes those put out by small publishers, as in my case). You can see the list by clicking this link:

Best Indie Books of the Year

Also, I have another new book coming out shortly, a church history/missiology study from William Carey Publishers. We're in the final stages of copyediting and cover design, so hopefully it won't be too long before it's available!


Thursday, December 15, 2022

Apologetics: Was Jesus the Son of God?





- In passages like Mark 1, Matthew 14, and John 1, Jesus is attested to as "the Son of God," and even accepts that title for himself.

- Jesus's favorite title for himself was "Son of Man," a reference to Daniel 7:13-14--a vision of a divine Messiah who is granted a heavenly reign over all nations.

- The Gospel evidence points clearly in the direction of Jesus both using--and accepting others' usage of--divine titles for himself, even to the point of claiming an essential unity with the Father. There is no good textual reason to discount this evidence as a later Christian innovation, particularly since the four Gospels are all relatively early accounts, based on eyewitness testimony. The burden of proof lies on those arguing against the Gospels' clear teaching in this regard.

- If the Gospels' testimony can assumed to be an accurate reflection of Jesus's own teachings (and we have very good historical reasons to believe that it can be thus assumed), then we are left with C. S. Lewis's famous "trilemma"--you have either be willing to call Jesus a liar (which most people don't want to do), a lunatic (which, again, most people don't want to do), or you have to accept his claim to be Lord. There is no other option.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

The Evangeliad (26:34-36)


Section 26:34-36 (corresponding to Luke 16:1-3)

And then Jesus taught of faith and of wealth,
Of how men live for possessions themselves,
Serving their money and assets instead
Of serving the poor and blessing their friends.

"There was a rich man, and this man was told
That his estate's steward was squandering gold;
Angry, he called for his steward to be found
And told him to turn in all his accounts.

The steward was shocked, didn't know what to do;
The loss of his job could quickly reduce
His position to laboring in the dirt
Or begging for alms from those who had work.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Photo of the Week


Heav'n above is deeper blue,
Earth around is sweeter green;
Joy shall glow in every hue
That faithful eyes have ever seen.

- adapted from a hymn by Wade Robinson


 

Monday, December 12, 2022

Quote of the Week


"In character, in manner, in style, in all the things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.”

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Friday, December 09, 2022

A Prayer from Lancelot Andrewes


Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am weak; remember, Lord, how short my time is; remember that I am but flesh, a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again. My days are as grass, as a flower of the field; for the wind goeth over me, and I am gone, and my place shall know me no more.

Thursday, December 08, 2022

Apologetics: Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?





- The case for the resurrection is surprisingly compelling, despite its apparently wild improbability under normal circumstances.

- Historical attestation: we have better textual support for the resurrection than almost any other ancient event in history. The Gospels, representing multiple independent accounts of the resurrection events, offer startlingly similar stories of the same event, bearing the hallmarks of eyewitness testimony. These written accounts occur very early after the events they describe (relative to other ancient sources) and bear the authority of Jesus's own inner circle. That is, they represent the eyewitness reports of those who were most likely to know what really happened.

- Explanatory power: The resurrection alone explains the dramatic changes in the Jesus movement attested in the book of Acts, including radical changes like the shift in weekly worship from the biblically-mandated Sabbath (on Saturday) to worship on Sundays (the day of the resurrection). Whether or not Jesus actually rose, even skeptics allow that the disciples clearly thought they were having experiences of Jesus after his death, and were preaching his resurrection in Jerusalem (the very city he had been executed in) shortly after his crucifixion. The leaders of this movement went to their deaths (often gruesome, violent deaths) proclaiming the truth of the resurrection, which one would not expect to be the case had they known it to be a lie.

- Could any other possible theory explain what happened in the early Christian movement?

     - The wrong tomb theory--could the women gone to the wrong tomb on the Sunday after the crucifixion, and on finding an empty tomb, have believed Jesus rose? No, the tomb is identified with great specificity in the gospel accounts, and multiple different characters check the site of the tomb. Further, if it was the wrong tomb, the Jewish authorities could have easily proven the disciples' preaching false.

     - The legend theory - a mythical story that developed over the course of many years in the community of Jesus-followers? No, the earliness and consistency of the historical sources clearly rule this out; it is by far the least likely of any alternative theory.

     - Jesus had a secret identical twin? - perhaps one got crucified, and then the other showed up. It's a wild reach of the imagination (but ironically, actually explains more of the evidence than the other theories)--nevertheless, it can't be true because it would have been easily falsifiable by many of the early community of Jesus-followers, some of whom were from Jesus's own family.

     - Mass hallucination? - No, the experiences of the risen Christ happen in many times and different places, with a widely varied group of people. There's no record in scientific or medical history of any hallucinatory effect that works like that.

     - The disciples stole the body? - No, the historical accounts offer no evidence for this (Matthew mentions an attempt by the chief priests to spread this as a rumor, but it clearly died out unsuccessfully, as no other source, Christian or non-Christian records it). Further, this does not explain the disciples' later martyrdoms--people die for delusions they sincerely believe, but they do not unanimously submit to great personal cost and suffering for something that they know to be a lie.

     - The Jewish priests moved the body? - No, because then they could have easily declared the truth and falsified the disciples' claims.

     - Jesus rose spiritually, but not physically? No, the historical attestations of the empty tomb stand against this, as also do the consistent accounts of the physicality of his resurrection appearances.

     - The swoon theory - perhaps Jesus merely swooned on the cross, but did not die? No, the textual accounts clearly indicate a complete physical death due to Jesus's earlier torture and his being stabbed with a spear during his crucifixion. Burial practices of the time, as well as the nature of the tomb he was placed in, render it impossible for Jesus to have recovered and left the tomb on his own power.

Bottom line: the weight of the actual historical evidence falls clearly on the side of Jesus actually rising from the dead. No alternative theory actually fits the provable historical data of the events around that time.

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Photo of the Week


From the greatness and beauty of created things 
comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.

- Wisdom 13:5 (OT Apocrypha)

Monday, December 05, 2022

Quote of the Week


"Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.”

- Seneca

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Photo of the Week

A glory gilds the sacred page,
Majestic like the sun:
It gives a light to every age;
It gives, but borrows none.
My soul rejoices to pursue
The steps of Him I love,
Till glory break upon my view
In brighter worlds above.

- from a hymn by William Cowper

Monday, November 28, 2022

Quote of the Week


“There is only one way of victory over the bitterness and rage that comes naturally to us--to will what God wills brings peace.”

- Amy Carmichael

Friday, November 18, 2022

Update


Dear readers, I have a bit of exciting news--I have yet another of my writing projects that has been picked up for publication! It's another theological work, in this case focusing on the historical missiology of the early church. The working title is "For All People Everywhere: Missionary Motivations in Early Christianity," and it's the fruit of a lot of study over the years in patristic texts and early mission movements. My hope is that it might be out in the first half of 2023.

Since that project is demanding a bit of my time, and with Thanksgiving coming up, I'm going to take a quick break from the blog until Monday, Nov. 28, at which point normal posts will resume.


Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Photo of the Week

O Splendor of God's glory bright,
From light eternal bringing light,
O Light, of light the fountain-spring,
O Day, all days illumining:
Come, very Sun of truth and love,
Pour down your radiance from above,
And shed the Holy Spirit's ray
On all we think or do today.

- from a hymn by Ambrose of Milan

Monday, November 14, 2022

Quote of the Week


"Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God."

- Corrie ten Boom


Friday, November 11, 2022

A Prayer from Billy Graham


Lord … remind us today that You have shown us what is good in what You require of us; to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. We ask that as a people, we may humble ourselves before You and seek Your will for our lives and for this great nation. Help us in our nation to work as never before to strengthen our families and to give our children hope and a moral foundation for the future. So may our desire be to serve You, and in so doing, serve one another. This we pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Apologetics: The Prophesied Messiah (Dan. 9)





See the previous study published on this blog regarding the fulfilled prophecies of Daniel 9:



Bottom Line: This prophecy, written several centuries before Christ, shows an astonishingly accurate prediction of the coming of Jesus, the Anointed One. His ministry occurs exactly within the window of 69x7 years after the decree of King Artaxerxes for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, just as predicted by Daniel hundreds of years beforehand. And with the coming of Christ, as Daniel foretells, comes “the end of sin, atoning of wickedness, and bringing in everlasting righteousness” (9:24). The passage also includes hauntingly accurate portrayals of destruction and judgment that recur in cycles of fulfillment during the Maccabean revolt (160s BC), the Jewish war against Rome (70 AD), and possibly also in the end times.

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

Photo of the Week


When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.

- Psalm 8:3-5

Quote of the Week


“I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for to have been thought about, born in God's thought, and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest and most precious thing in all thinking.”

- George MacDonald


Thursday, November 03, 2022

Apologetics: The Davidic Kingdom - History & Archaeology





- In the past, many archaeologists and historians argued from gaps in the record that there was no organized central government in 11th/1oth-century BC Israel (the time of the supposed Davidic kingdom). None of the monumental architecture which you might expect had been found, so David was regarded as a merely legendary figure, like King Arthur.

- One of the problems with this position should be obvious at the outset: it's an argument based on gaps, representing the fallacy of an argument from silence. Building an argument on gaps is dangerous because those gaps might later be filled, as is exactly what has been happening.

- Two further considerations that might explain the gaps:
      - First, our expectations are outsized--the Davidic kingdom was a relatively small monarchy in the ancient world, made up almost entirely of rural farmers and shepherds in the hills. Israel was not building major cities at this time. Jerusalem itself was a previous settlement built by Canaanites. The city was small (you can easily stroll all the way across the Old City in just a modest walk, and David's Jerusalem was smaller still). Thus, biblical references to a "palace" for David or Solomon ought not to conjure in our minds visions of Buckingham Palace, but something more on the scale of a normal-sized home by modern standards.
     - Second, many of the areas in which the best evidence from David and Solomon's day would lie are in areas where archaeological digs are currently prohibited. 

- The gaps have now begun to be filled by important archaeological evidence, starting with a famous ancient inscription referring to the Israelite royal dynasty as the "house of David," thus proving that David was not just a literary invention by later generations of biblical writers. 
- Personal references to King Saul's sons (and possibly one to David as well) have been discovered, the clearest reference being to Ish-Bosheth.
- The Hebrew used in David's Psalms can be linguistically dated as representing a very early period.
- Very tall skeletons from this period have been discovered in Palestine (7 feet tall+), many showing the associated genetic trait of polydactylism (6 fingers and 6 toes on each hand and foot), thus matching the biblical description of the clan from which Goliath was thought to come.
- At the south end of the Temple Mount, a massive retaining wall from Solomon's time has been unearthed, pointing to monumental construction.
- Small shrine replicas, which are empty of the usually-present god statures in the ancient world have been discovered from the period, appearing to depict Solomon's temple (the empty nature of the shrine marks them as matching the biblical theology, which would not have made use of idols).
- Massive copper works from Solomon's time have been unearthed at Timna in southern Israel.
- Evidence from the later period of the kings multiplies even more, to the extent that no serious scholar disputes the historically-grounded nature of the Bible's depiction of the Jewish monarchy in the 8th and 7th centuries.
- We even have bullae (clay seals) bearing the exact names of the very characters mentioned as administrative officers in the biblical books of Chronicles and Jeremiah. These biblical accounts are indisputably based in historical fact.

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Photo of the Week

Light of the world, shine on our souls;
Thy grace to us afford;
And while we meet to learn thy truth,
Be thou our teacher, Lord.

- from a hymn by Edward Henry Bickersteth

Monday, October 31, 2022

Quote of the Week

 A quote from Martin Luther,
in honor of Reformation Day:


“We are saved by faith alone,
but the faith that saves is never alone.”

- Martin Luther

Saturday, October 29, 2022

A Prayer from John of the Cross


O Blessed Jesus,
Give me stillness of my soul in you.
Let your mighty calmness reign in me.
Rule me, O King of Gentleness,
King of Peace.
Amen.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Apologetics: The Conquest of the Promised Land - Historicity and Genocide





Archaeological Evidence:

- Contrary to what some scholars might say, there is abundant evidence for the conquest of the Promised Land. Once again, issues of chronology are important here: many scholars have assumed a relatively late date for the exodus, and when looking in that time-range, they dismiss the abundant evidence earlier in the chronology. 

- Jericho, like many of the other Caananite cities of the period, experienced a dramatic and catastrophic destruction during the period of Joshua, as evidenced by their archaeological remains. Jericho provides many intriguing clues as to what happened in its destruction: the city's walls appear to have fallen outward, tumbling down the embankment to the lower wall; the granaries remained filled (indicating a very short siege); one small portion of the inhabited wall remained standing (as in Joshua, at the site of Rahab's house); and a massive burn layer stretches across most of the city.

- Further, there is a clear archaeological record of a new settlement pattern in the area over the following three centuries: the appearance of a people group who built villages in the hill country, used a new style of house (thus they were not Caananites), who built altars of uncut stones, and did not leave any pig bones in their food refuse. All of these things are exactly what one would expect to find in a new population influx of biblical Israelites.

The Genocide Question:

- First, it's useful to remember the context of the conquest of Canaan. The Caananite city-states were violent and aggressive, themselves practicing genocidal warfare on their opponents. (It would not be a stretch, in terms of the moral character of their civilization, to equate them with modern analogs like Nazi Germany.) Their rituals included truly horrendous practices, like child sacrifice. Further, the Bible makes clear that God had not simply destroyed them outright; rather, he had given them four centuries to repent and reform their ways while Israel was in Egypt; yet they had not.

- Second, the war has an important theological context: it is God's war of judgment, and he is portrayed as the primary actor, not Israel. God, as creator, has it as his prerogative to bring judgment on such civilizations (as he will later do to his own people in the Assyrian and Babylonian periods). This context of divine war cannot be equated to any set of circumstances in our present experience, and so a claim of genocide (by modern definitions) against the conquest of Canaan rather misses the point.

- Third, while some aspects of Joshua's recounting sound like a genocidal war, the whole witness of the Bible makes it clear that Joshua only gives one angle on the events and that it doesn't show the whole picture. Joshua is a conquest narrative, dealing with the capture of a few cities, but even within itself it shows the ability of repentant Canaanites to escape judgment (Rahab) and of others escaping judgment by making truces with Israel. Further, other books of the Bible--like Judges--show that the conquest of Canaan was not a genocide, because many, many Canaanites persisted and held positions of great strength in the land.

- Fourth, one of the ironies of history is that we now know that not only did many Canaanites survive, but many of their descendants later became followers of God in the first wave of Christian expansion during the apostolic age. DNA evidence shows high Canaanite ancestry in Lebanon, which still today has one of the largest Christian populations in the entire Middle East. This would seem to show that God's ultimate plan for the Canaanite people was not wholesale eradication, but redemption.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Photo of the Week

'Tis sweet to sit with the Master,
A beautiful peace is here;
The quiet joy of his presence,
The love that can know no fear.

- from a hymn by Angie Chapman


Monday, October 24, 2022

Quote of the Week


"The best cure for discouragement or qualms is another daring plunge of faith."

- C. T. Studd, nineteenth-century missionary

Friday, October 21, 2022

A Prayer from Julian of Norwich


God, of your goodness,
Give me yourself,
For you are sufficient for me.
I cannot properly ask anything less,
To be worthy of you.
If I were to ask anything less
I should always be in want,
For in you alone do I have all.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Apologetics: Moses and the Exodus - Historical Fact or Historical Fiction?






Historical Evidence:

- Skeptical historians will claim that there's really no record of an event of the exodus's magnitude in Egyptian history. It should at least be discernible in the record, they say, considering what a catastrophe it would have been for the Egyptian state.

     - Several points can be made as possible rebuttals: first, as explained in last week's post, there are serious chronological issues in the way that many mainstream scholars assess possible evidence for the exodus. It may be the case that they don't see evidence because they're looking in the wrong place in the timeline.

     - Second, while the plagues on Egypt sound dramatic, you wouldn't expect much in the way of an archaeological record from this sort of event: just a wave of burials, which would look very much like any other common plague in the ancient world.

     - Third, the one event that might offer archaeological evidence--chariot remains on the sea floor--is problematic because the materials used for chariots might not have been well-preserved in that environment, the site of the crossing is disputed (meaning there are multiple possible locations to be searched), and some of the plausible crossing-sites have active restrictions against archaeological testing.

     - Fourth, you wouldn't expect to find monumentary evidence of the exodus, as the Egyptian monumentary records tended to be propaganda pieces for the pharaohs, so they would be unlikely to record their most humiliating defeat in that medium.

     - Fifth, while scholars claim that there are no textual records of these events beyond the Bible, as you would expect to find, this claim is not precisely true. There are two major existing sources beyond the Bible. One is from Manetho, the Egyptian historian upon whose work most of Egyptian chronology is based. We no longer have his texts except where they are cited by other writers, but what remains in that form has proven valuable to historians. The content of Manetho's text relayed by Josephus makes reference to the exodus events, and Josephus has proven a fairly reliable source in many instances. The second source is the Ipuwar text (also mentioned last week), which is usually dismissed as being too early to relate to the exodus, but if possible chronological adjustments are taken into consideration, then its content should be studied with relation to the plagues. It contains references like "the river is blood," and mentions crops and livestock dying, Egypt filled with mourning, a God smiting Egypt, and slaves and poor people wearing riches--all details which match the biblical account with startling precision.

     - Sixth, there is textual evidence within the Bible itself which points strongly to an authentic second-millennium BC experience, including proper names (like Moses's own name, apparently of Egyptian derivation) and relevant cultural details which would not have been known had the story been fabricated in a later Judean context.

     - Seventh, as relayed last week, there is massive evidence of Semitic populations in Egypt in the mid-second millennium BC, which thereafter disappear quite suddenly from the Egyptian record.

Evidence from Typology:

- If the exodus story were true, a Christian would also expect there to be significant features of the story which point forward to God's plan in Christ. This is precisely the case with the exodus:

     - The passing over of God's judgment through the blood of the lamb
     - "The Angel [literally, Messenger] of the Lord," a personal representation of God's own divine presence, sent save his people from bondage.
     - Deliverance through the waters (the Red Sea in the story, and baptism in the Christian experience), leading to entrance into God's covenant-community.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Photo of the Week

Praise the Lord, my soul.
Lord my God, you are very great;
you are clothed with splendor and majesty. [...]
The high mountains belong to the wild goats;
the crags are a refuge for the hyrax. [...]
How many are your works, Lord!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.

- Psalm 104: 1, 18, 24

Monday, October 17, 2022

Quote of the Week


"The highest glory of the creature is in being a vessel, to receive and enjoy and show forth the glory of God. It can do this only as it is willing to be nothing in itself, that God may be all. Water always fills first the lowest places. The lower, the emptier a man lies before God, the speedier and the fuller will be the inflow of the diving glory."

- Andrew Murray

Friday, October 14, 2022

A Prayer from John Chrysostom

O Lord, forgive me if I have sinned in my mind or my thought, 
whether in word or in deed.
O Lord, free me from all ignorance and forgetfulness, 
from despondency and stony insensibility.
O Lord, deliver me from every temptation.
O Lord, send down Thy grace to help me, 
that I may glorify Thy name.
O Lord my God, even if I had not done anything good before Thee,
do Thou help me, in Thy grace, to make a good beginning.
O Lord of heaven and earth, remember me, Thy sinful servant, 
full of shame and impurity, in Thy kingdom. 
Amen.

- selected from a prayer of John Chrysostom

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Apologetics: Israel in Egypt--Did It Really Happen?





Chronology Issues:
- It is commonly assumed in scholarly circles in archaeology and Egyptology that there is no significant evidence of Israel's sojourn in Egypt, at least nothing of the scope of what is described in Genesis and Exodus. 
- Part of this assumption, however, is based on a particular model of ancient chronology, and that model is disputed. Most secular scholars believe that biblical texts place the exodus events in the 13th century BC, based on place-names like "Rameses." However, the traditional Christian position has usually pointed toward the 15th century BC instead, based on the overall balance of what the biblical texts indicate (and explain the late place-names as being updated by biblical redactors for later readers). 
- Currently, there are three models of understanding the relation between biblical and Egyptian chronologies relating to the exodus events: (1) situating them in the 13th century--the most common scholarly position, which offers almost no archaeological evidence of exodus events; (2) situating them in the 15th century, which appears to offer at least some evidence pointing to the plausibility of the exodus; and (3) a recently-proposed revisionist position, which notes that there is widespread and significant historical evidence that points toward exodus events in what is considered the 17th century on the traditional timescale (usually judged far too early to be the biblical event)--but these scholars believe the timescale itself is incorrect, and when adjusted to a proper form, those events would fall in the 15th century, just as the Bible suggests.
- Thus, the resistance among secular scholars against suggesting that archaeology confirms the biblical record is due mostly to the chronological model they are using; whereas a study including other possible models reveals a great deal of potential evidence.

Potential Evidence:
- There is conclusive evidence that Semitic populations (like Israelites) settled in the northeastern Nile delta (the Goshen region).
- In the city of Avaris, this Semitic group started as a small community (70-100 people), then grew in subsequent centuries to be one of the largest settlements anywhere in the ancient world, eventually with multiple towns across the region--exactly the picture of Israelite settlement suggested by the biblical story.
- The archaeological evidence in Avaris, the chief Semitic city, shows that one such Semite became a vizier of Egypt, with the remains of his Palestine-style house being converted to an Egyptian palace, complete with twelve tombs, one of which appears to show the vizier arrayed in Joseph-like clothes.
- There is evidence that the prosperity of these early Semitic settlements was drastically curtailed at some point, and the Semites became one of the lowest classes in Egypt.
- These Semitic populations are described as Apiru (linguistically associated with "Hebrew") in Egyptian texts.
- A list of household slaves from the period shows them to be mostly Semitic, and a few of the names are recognizably Israelite.
- This Semitic population suddenly vanishes from the archaeological record in Egypt, as if they all got up and left the country together. 
- An Egyptian text (conventionally dated to the 17th century, but possibly falling in the 15th if the revised chronology is accepted) relates terrifying events that sound directly reminiscent of the plagues in Exodus.
- Place names and customs relayed in the biblical text reflect authentic Egyptian second-millennium BC experiences (i.e., they couldn't have been made up by Israelite scribes trying to create a national legend in the first millennium BC).
- Further, the story itself carries none of the normal hallmarks of a legendary founding epic, being striking for its humility and self-abasement. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Photo of the Week

Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness,
Leave behind the vales of sadness;
Come into the daylight's splendor,
There with joy thy praises render
Unto him whose grace unbounded
Hath this wondrous world founded.

- adapted from a hymn by Johann Franck

Monday, October 10, 2022

Quote of the Week


Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.

- Martin Luther

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Getting Right with God (and Your Neighbor)


(This piece was originally written for publication as a devotional column in my hometown newspaper.)

The past week fell within part of the traditional Jewish calendar called “the Days of Awe.” They follow Rosh Hashanah, which the Bible refers to as the Feast of Trumpets, and which marks the turning of the new year in the Jewish civil calendar. Right now we’re doing a series of studies in my church focusing on the roots of our Christian faith in its Jewish context, and specifically on the ways that the feasts of Israel inform our faith. The Days of Awe, which run from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), are a time for reflection, confession, and reconciliation. It offers a chance to turn the page on the old year, celebrate the goodness of life, and to focus on living according to the good, beautiful, and true principles that flow from our relationship with God.

Most of the practices encouraged for the Days of Awe strike people as normal parts of the life of prayer: spending time in contemplation, confessing our sins, and trying to prepare our hearts for the symbols of atonement that stand at the center of Yom Kippur. But there’s one facet that sometimes takes people by surprise. The Days of Awe are also a time for reconciliation—for going to your friends, family, and neighbors (and perhaps even your enemies) to resolve old conflicts, let go of grudges, heal rifts, and bury the hatchet.

This is a difficult calling, awkward and sometimes painful. It would be so much easier just to focus on my own prayers, on my private relationship with God. But the Bible does not permit one’s faith to be limited to just a personal spiritual experience; it includes all of one’s life, including our relationships with others. The great command to “Love the Lord your God” (Deut. 6:5) is paired with the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18), and Jesus holds these two commands inextricably together (Matt. 22:37-39). You cannot truly love God if you are not also seeking to love your neighbor. Faith in Christ is far more than just a personal spiritual experience; it is an entire way of living, touching and transforming every single part of life.

Jesus advises a practice very similar to the Jewish custom on the Days of Awe: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23-24). Reconciliation with our brother comes first; and only then we can enter the presence of God knowing that our heart is ready to connect to him in worship and prayer. Why is it so important to show love and consideration to our brothers and sisters and neighbors? Because God loves them. Whatever their faults, God loves them with all the immense, indescribable depths of his love. We cannot claim to know the heart of God if we don’t seek to love them too. So as we enter this season of fall, as our hearts lift in wonder to watch the world around us brighten with the beauty of God’s workmanship, let’s remember that to truly draw near to God, we must learn to love one another.