Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Photo of the Week

Hail to the brightness of Zion's glad morning! Joy to the lands that in darkness have lain!
Hushed be the accents of sorrow and mourning; Zion in triumph commences her reign.
Lo, in the desert rich flowers are springing, streams ever copious are gliding along;
Loud from the mountain tops echoes are ringing, wastes rise in verdure, and mingle in song.

- from a hymn by Thomas Hastings

Monday, January 30, 2023

Quote of the Week

"The gospel is the proclamation of free love; the revelation of the boundless charity of God. Nothing less than this will suit our world; nothing else is so likely to touch the heart, to go down to the lowest depths of depraved humanity, as the assurance that the sinner has been loved -- loved by God, loved with a righteous love, loved with a free love that makes no bargain as to merit, or fitness, or goodness."

- Horatius Bonar

Friday, January 27, 2023

A Prayer from Mechthild of Magdeburg

O Thou unattainable Height,
O Clearness beyond measure,
O Wisdom without end,
O Mercy without limit,
O Strength beyond resistance,
O Crown beyond all majesty:
The humblest thing you created sings your praise.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Apologetics: Can We Trust the Gospels?

- Why four Gospels instead of just one? With four gospels, you get the awkwardness of parallel passages that don't agree in all of their minute details. For instance, consider the different placements in time of the episode of Jesus' clearing of the temple--at the beginning of Jesus' ministry (as in John), or at the end (as in the others). Contrary to our assumptions, however, this does not reflect an error so much as it reflects the accepted historiographical practices of the time in which the Gospels were written. 

- The Gospels have proven their historical value over and over again, with many cultural and archaeological details verified by studies. This includes John, which previously had been considered the least "historical" of the four, but whose portrayal shows clear historical markers of an eyewitness account, with detailed and accurate depictions of life in first-century Palestine around 30 AD.

- Jesus as a miracle-worker? Skeptics allege that maybe he was just a magician, trickster, or illusionist who befuddled the superstitious masses. This skeptical position reflects both a deep prejudice against previous generations (writing them off as less intelligent), which does not hold up to historical scrutiny, and it misses the fact that the accounts of Jesus' miracles and healings are actually startlingly unique in the history of the ancient world. A better historical argument would acknowledge that ancient people knew a miracle when they saw it, and they saw such things happening in the ministry of Jesus.

- The Gospels claim (and give internal evidence for the claim) that they are based on eyewitness accounts. As records of historical events, they are far, far earlier relative to the events they describe than almost any other historical document from the same period. They were produced in a period in which living eyewitness testimonies were still present, and those perspectives could presumably have offered contrary accounts if the Gospels were wrong (yet no such contrary accounts from the earliest period exist). This is a strong testament to the overall reliability of the Gospels' picture of Jesus.

- If there were only one Gospel instead of four, skeptics could easily make an argument that it was a fabricated account, with no external support. With four Gospels, that kind of argument has no ground to stand on. Furthermore, having four Gospels gives us a portrait of Jesus from multiple angles, one that increases our understanding and adds theological depth to the story.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Photo of the Week

"Come unto me, ye weary, and I will give you rest."
O blessed voice of Jesus, which comes to hearts oppressed!
It tells of benediction, of pardon, grace, and peace,
Of joy that hath no ending, of love which cannot cease.

- from a hymn by W. Chatterton Dix

Monday, January 23, 2023

Quote of the Week

"Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world? It is not he who prays most or fasts most; it is not he who gives most alms or is most eminent for temperance, chastity or justice; but it is he who is always thankful to God, who wills everything that God wills, who receives everything as an instance of God’s goodness and has a heart always ready to praise God for it."

- William Law

Friday, January 20, 2023

Writing/Publishing Update

I'm happy to announce that one of the major projects I've been working on is getting closer to realization! On April 11, my new book, called Missionary Motivations: Challenges from the Early Church, is scheduled to be released from William Carey Publishers. It's a historical study of the theological ideas that motivated the first great mission outreaches, and my hope is that it'll prove useful to ministries and mission programs as they press on with the work of the Kingdom around the world. I'll be giving more details on the release as we get closer!

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Photo of the Week

My spirit looks to God alone,
My rock and refuge is his throne.
In all my fears, in all my straits,
My soul on his salvation waits.

- from a hymn by Isaac Watts

Monday, January 16, 2023

Quote of the Week

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, January 13, 2023

A Prayer for Solace and Work

Leave me alone with God as much as may be.
As the tide draws the waters close in upon the shore,
Make me an island, set apart,
alone with you, God, holy to you.

Then with the turning of the tide
prepare me to carry your presence to the busy world beyond,
the world that rushes in on me
till the waters come again and fold me back to you.

- attributed to Aidan of Lindisfarne

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Apologetics: The Ascension as Proof of Jesus' Claims

- If Jesus accomplishes everything necessary for our salvation in his death and resurrection, why doesn't he just stick around? Why does he go away?

- The disciples in the early chapters of Acts preach publicly about the ascension--not as something to be explained away, but as the ultimate proof of Jesus' claims to be the Messiah. It is a primary argument in the apologetics of the early church. Why is this so?

- First, the ascension exactly meets the prophesied role of the Messiah as a divine king given a heavenly enthronement (Dan. 7:13-14). In other words, Jesus could not possibly have been the royal Messiah unless he had ascended.

- Second, the ascension exactly meets the necessary requirements for the Messiah's priestly role: someone who can offer the blood of the atoning sacrifice in the very presence of God in his heavenly tabernacle (see Heb. 8-10). In other words, Jesus could not possibly have been the priestly Messiah unless he had ascended.

(For more on this particular argument, see my article published last year by Christianity Today: Why the Ascension is Essential)

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Photo of the Week

And at last we learn the lesson
That God knoweth what is best;
For with wisdom cometh patience,
And with patience cometh rest.

- from a hymn by Sarah Doudney

Monday, January 09, 2023

Quote of the Week

"A human being is a vessel that God has built for himself 
and filled with his inspiration 
so that his works are perfected in it."

- Hildegard of Bingen

Friday, January 06, 2023

A Prayer from Augustine

I beg of you, my God, let me know you and love you so that I may be happy in you. And though I cannot do this fully in this life, yet let me improve from day to day till I may do so to the full. Let me know you more and more in this life, that I may know you perfectly in heaven.

Thursday, January 05, 2023

Apologetics: Is Jesus the Messiah?

- The Old Testament has at least 48 specific prophecies about the Messiah (or, according to some counts, perhaps up to 60). These are specific prophecies, and do not include foreshadowings and typologies of Christ, which are even more abundant in the Old Testament. Each of these prophecies was written down hundreds of years before the time of Christ, thus disallowing any possibility of later Christians retrojecting content about Jesus into Old Testament texts.

- As an example, we'll assess eight major messianic prophecies:

   1) Micah 5:2 - the Messiah will come from Bethlehem
   2) Malachi 3:1 - the Messiah will be preceded by a messenger
   3) Zech. 9:9 - the Messiah enters Jerusalem on a donkey
   4) Ps. 41:9 - the Messiah betrayed by a friend who shares bread with him
   5 & 6) Zech. 11:12-13 - the Messiah's betrayal is paid with thirty pieces of silver, which are then thrown down in the temple and used to pay for a potter's field
   7) Isaiah 53 - the Messiah, in his act of vicarious suffering, will be silent at his trial
   8) Ps. 22:16 (cf. Is. 53) - the Messiah's hands and feet will be pierced (crucified as a criminal)

       In the results of a statistical study on these eight prophecies, researchers (using the most conservative metrics) found that the probability that any person living between the time of the Old Testament and now could fulfill these eight was just one in ten to the seventeenth power (the same probability as picking a single coin out of the entire state of Texas laid knee-deep in coins). If 48 specific prophecies about Christ are included, the probabilities grow even more wild, to one in ten to the 157th power (far less than the chance of choosing one precise atom out of all the atoms in the universe). Thus, the fact that a person (namely, Jesus) fulfilled these prophecies in precise and specific ways means that he is the Messiah, and no one else could conceivably ever fulfill them as completely as he has.

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Photo of the Week

The Lion of the tribe of Judah,
The Root of David,
Has Triumphed!

- Rev. 5:5

Monday, January 02, 2023

Quote of the Week

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, 
Rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing,
Put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, 
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven.

- from John Wesley's Covenant Renewal Service (18th century), 
often used to consecrate each new year