Happy Mother’s Day!

May 12, 2017

Mothers have a tremendous influence on our lives. Francis Xavier said, “Give me the children until they are seven and anyone may have them afterwards.” It may be hard to believe those squirming bundles of energy are learning life lessons, but they are. Mothers are on the front lines of shaping lives. We learn some of our very first moral and spiritual lessons from our mothers. We learn some of our most lasting moral and spiritual lessons from our mothers.

The Bible teaches the importance of parents with some passages that focus on mothers.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Ephesians 6:1-3, ESV

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. 2 Timothy 1:5, ESV

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 3:14-15, ESV

My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. Proverbs 6:20-22, ESV

Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old. Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding. The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice; he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him. Let your father and mother be glad; let her who bore you rejoice. Proverbs 23:22-25, ESV

Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates. Proverbs 31:28-31, ESV

I hope that you have a wonderful Mother’s Day. May we rise up and call mothers blessed!


How Much Do I Love?

April 28, 2017

The setting was well-to-do. Simon, the Pharisee, had invited Jesus to dine with him (Luke 7:36-50). This is a banquet setting with the meal served on a low table with mats or couches surrounding it. The guests reclined at table with their legs extended behind them.

Into such a formal occasion comes a woman who cries at the end of Jesus’ couch. Would you notice a woman crying in a banquet hall? Surely all eyes were upon her. This is no silent weeping. As Frederick Danker notes about the word used, “‘express grief or sorrow aloud’ (not a silent dropping of tears or weeping…).* She “rains down” tears upon Jesus’ feet. Not just moist eyes, but the kind of crying we usually describe as uncontrolled. And she dries Jesus’ feet with her hair, and she anoints Jesus’ feet with a fragrant ointment. Not only can you not notice the crying, but the aroma of ointment sweeps through the room.

Simon thinks to himself, “If he really were a prophet, he would know what sort of woman is touching him.” With condescension Simon manages to hit two people with one mental stone.

Jesus tells Simon a story that lays bare Simon’s own heart. A money lender has two debtors. One owes 500 day’s wages and another 50, but the money lender forgives both debts because neither had the ability to repay what was owed. So Jesus has a question for Simon, “Which of them will love him more.” We can hear the reluctance in Simon’s “I suppose,” but his answer was correct: “the one for whom he cancelled the larger debt.”

If people felt uncomfortable by such unusual proceedings, the discomfort level is raised by Jesus’ pointed comparison. Simon didn’t give Jesus water with which to wash his feet, a customary kiss of greeting, or oil for his head. This would have been typical hospitality in the ancient world. The woman had washed Jesus’ feet with tears, kissed them, and anointed them with fragrant oil.

As I mentally enter this scene, two thoughts strike me. First, Jesus came to save sinners not just the Simon type of sinners, people who have it together morally and have a good reputation. But he came to save those like the sinful woman whose reputation for being quite undone preceded her. I need to remember that encountering Jesus can transform lives.

Second, Simon doesn’t understand the depth of his own need for grace. How can any of us love little when we grasp the ugliness of sin. All sins, even the ones done by “respectable people,” nailed Jesus to the cross! If I begin to grasp the depth of God’s love, my response in return should be gratitude and love, and that love should motivate me to follow Jesus wherever he leads me. The challenge of the story is: how much do I love?

*S.v. κλαίω, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testatment, p. 201.


The Case for Christ

April 14, 2017

Because of Easter, some may be thinking about the resurrection of Jesus. For some it may be a strong belief. Others may view it as a myth. Among the latter, there may be some who still cling to the Christ of faith, which means Christ as some sort of ideal although they believe the historical Jesus is moldering in a grave somewhere. Others who hold a mythic view of the resurrection may wish the whole things would disappear into the dustbin of history. The most rabid of this sort may even view religion as dangerous. And of course, there may be some who believe, if asked, but for whom such belief doesn’t have much impact on life.

C.S. Lewis wisely observed, “One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.”* In other words, I think the importance of the claim about Christ means that everyone should seriously investigate the case for Christ. And this also means examining our own presuppositions and worldviews that might get in the way of such an investigation. Skeptics have examined and become believers. But upon belief, we should never take it lightly.

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17, ESV). Although we must read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John for the eyewitness testimony, I’ve found the serious studies of others have helped me sharpen and strengthen my own belief in the resurrection. One of the first books that I read of this type was Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morison. Frank Morrison is the pen name of Albert Ross. Ross set out to write a book that would disprove the resurrection. He ended up convincing himself of the truth of the resurrection and writing a very different book. First published in 1930, the book continues to be in print. Here is a list of helpful books.

  • Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morrison
  • The Testimony of the Evangelists: The Gospels Examined by the Rules of Evidence by Simon Greenleaf. Greenleaf was a law professor at Harvard. For those who can wade through 19th century prose, it has helpful insights into looking at the evidence of the gospels.
  • The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. Strobel was a newspaper reporter for the Chicago Tribune. When his wife came to belief in Jesus, it upset his perfect atheist marriage. He used his investigative talents as a reporter to attempt to disapprove the resurrection. He ended up becoming convinced of the resurrection.
  • The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona
  • Christianity on Trial: A Lawyer Examines the Christian Faith by W. Mark Lanier. Lanier is a successful trial lawyer. His book brings his experience with evidence to the task of examining Christianity. This book begins with questions about God and morality before dealing with Jesus.
  • Cold-Case Christianity by Wallace J. Warner. Warner is a LA homicide detective. He also began as a skeptic, but examined the case for Jesus using his skills as a cold-case, homicide detective. He became convinced of the resurrection.

The evidence of this case demands to be examined by everyone. The resurrection of Jesus changes everything.

*C.S. Lewis, “Christian Apologetics,” God in the Dock, p. 101.


Today

April 7, 2017

I like the emotional honesty of Augustine’s Confessions. His mother, Monica, had believed in Jesus Christ and prayed for her son all his life. But Augustine was ambitious and lustful. He had pursued philosophy and rhetoric. He had made money. He had satisfied his bodily appetites even having a mistress and a son out of wedlock. He admitted that he had opposed Christian belief “out of malice.” This became his prayer: “I had prayed to you for chastity and said ‘Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.’”*

The words, “but not yet,” tell a cautionary tale. We have another expression “sow your wild oats.” The problem with sowing wild oats is the law of harvest. “You reap what you sow.” “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” I have known some people who sowed their wild oats and came to their senses. The story of the prodigal son has been repeated by many a son or daughter. But sometimes there are painful consequences even when forgiveness is found. David sowed to the wind with Bathsheba, and he reaped the whirlwind of a rapist Amnon and a treacherous, mutinous Absalom. “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1). But better is it to learn this lesson sooner than later.

“But not yet” has another danger. There are other prodigals who have simply stayed in the far country. The danger of repentance put off is that sin has way of deceiving and hardening our hearts. “But exhort one another every day … that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13, ESV).

“But not yet” also presumes that opportunities for repentance are unlimited. I deliberately left out part of the quote from Hebrews 3:13 in the above paragraph because it is fitting here: “as long as it is called ‘today.’” Hebrews is reminding its readers that not all the wilderness generation made it to the promised land. The quotation from Psalm 95 sums up the issue and is repeated twice in the chapter for emphasis.

Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
Hebrews 3:7-8, 3:15, ESV

Today is the day we have. Maybe we will have tomorrow, and maybe we won’t. As Paul states, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2, ESV). “But not yet” is tempting. Yet, repentance and salvation are too important. God will help us say no to our sinful past if we trust him. May all of us seize the opportunity called today!

*Augustine, The Confessions, 8.7


The Path to Understanding

April 4, 2017

A few years ago, I found the Bible I had as a teen-ager. I was interested in the notes that I had placed in it. Bible knowledge is not gained in a day. It takes a lifetime of study. Matters that today I probably wouldn’t need any help finding were concepts that back then I understood very imperfectly. For example in a note, I misspelled the word “Pentateuch”—a word which means 5 scrolls and is normally applied to the first five books of the Old Testament. I don’t believe that 1 Timothy has 15 chapters the last time I looked, but I have a written note for 1 Timothy 15.

Understanding takes time and repetition. I compare it to a net. The first time through a book of the Bible the mesh on the net is extremely course. Many things get by us. We struggle to understand. But as we continue to read, the mesh gets finer, and we notice and understand more and more. Alexander Campbell noted the same thing in his publication called the Christian Baptist. After observing that God revealed Himself in understandable language and that our approach to the Bible should be the same as for understanding any other book. He wrote:

You will then take, say, a New Testament, and sit down with a pencil or pen in your hand. Begin with Matthew’s gospel; read the whole of it at one reading, or two; mark on the margin every sentence you think you do not understand. Turn back again; read it a second time, in less portions at once than in the first reading; cancel such marks as you have made which noted passages, that, on the first reading appeared to you dark or difficult to understand, but on the second reading opened to your view. Then read Mark, Luke, and John, in the same manner, as they all treat upon the same subject. After having read each evangelist in this way, read them all in succession a third time. At this time you will no doubt be able to cancel many of your marks.

[Then] read Acts of the Apostles, which is the key to all the Epistles; then the Epistles in a similar manner; always before reading an epistle, read every thing said about the people addressed in the epistle, which you find in the Acts of the Apostles. This is the course which we would take to understand any book. You will no doubt see, from what you read, the necessity of accompanying all your readings with supplications to the Father of Lights….In pursuing this plan, we have no doubt, in getting even three times through the New Testament, that you will understand much more of the christian religion than a learned divine would teach you in seven years. Christian Baptist 1 (December 1, 1823)

Be patient with yourself. Learning takes time. Be assured that God has written an understandable message. What you first do not understand will become clearer in time. Read, pray, think. The path to understanding is taken one step at a time.


A Touchable Jesus

March 24, 2017

Jesus’ encounter with Mary after his resurrection is perplexing to some readers (see John 20:17). The King James Version reads: “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” Yet Matthew 28:9 reads: “And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him” (Matthew 28:9, KJV). And later, Jesus instructs Thomas to touch him (John 20:27).

This has given rise to a speculative interpretation that seeks an explanation in the reason given in John 20:17, and so proposes an ascension to the Father before the ascension recorded in Acts. Something happens in this “first” trip to heaven that allows him to be touched later. However, this speculation is unneeded.

Several problems exist with this speculative interpretation of John 20:17. First, “touch me not” doesn’t necessarily imply that Mary has not touched Jesus. Sometimes we say “don’t touch me” after being touched. Even beginning with the KJV reading, I think this interpretation starts with an unwarranted assumption.

Second, “touch me not” renders a Greek verb that is present imperative (a command in the present tense). Prohibitions in the present imperative often convey the idea of stopping an activity in progress.* Several translations try to convey this idea:

  • Do not cling to me… ESV
  • Stop clinging to Me … NASB
  • Do not hold on to me… NIV
  • Do not cling to Me… NKJV

These translations are conveying the correct notion that Mary is touching Jesus, and he is asking her to stop. She doesn’t need to cling to him, for he hasn’t yet ascended to his Father — they still have some time left, although this also gives her a warning that their relationship is going to change with the ascension. He has a mission for her, and he needs her to let go and find the brothers and give them his message. This correct understanding of the verb completely negates this interpretation.

This speculation fails to take in account the chronologically close encounter with Jesus and the women who come to the tomb: “And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.” (Matthew 28:9, KJV) The time between this encounter and the encounter with Mary would have been very short. This too argues against this interpretation.

What I find encouraging about these scenes is that the resurrected Jesus is a touchable Jesus. I had a Greek professor who believed that the popular Christian conception of the afterlife was a little too much Plato and not enough scripture. I sometimes wonder whether when we hear “spiritual body” that our minds don’t go to something ghostly and insubstantial, yet scripture presents us with a touchable Jesus.

*Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 724; Friedrich Blass, Albert Debrunner, and Robert Walter Funk, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, §336(3), p. 172.


The Father’s House

March 17, 2017

It is a famous line: In my Father’s house there are many mansions. However, the King James Version’s word choice is misleading to modern English readers. We hear the word “mansion,” and we are thinking of a big, manor house. But that is not the meaning of the word in this text in 1611.

Looking at earlier English translations may help. Here is a list of early translations prior to the KJV with their publication date.

Wycliffe (1382-1395) dwellingis
Tyndale (1522) mansions
Coverdale (1535) dwellinges
Geneva (1557) dwelling places
Bishops’ Bible (1568) dwelling places

Tyndale obviously gave us the phrase mansions, but the earliest translation is of Wycliffe, and it is “dwellings” (if we update his spelling). And that rendering is followed by Coverdale, Geneva, and the Bishop’s Bible.

It is not that Tyndale or the King James translators were wrong in using mansions in this passage. It is a case of a word that has changed meanings over the years. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary provides the definition that readers in 1611 would have understood: “archaic:  a place where one remains or dwells.”

This is an image I understand as a father and grandfather. It is joyous to have all my children under one roof, in one house. (Although I must confess in this life, it is a little crowded and makes for difficulties in scheduling the bathroom.) The word picture which Jesus paints is one of being in the Father’s presence. As God’s children, he has room for us in his house.

When the RSV was released with its reading of “rooms” instead of “mansions,” some complained that the RSV had removed the glory from the Bible.* But the glory of a manor house for each of us was never in the text to begin with, it was only in a misreading of the text, a reading that was not intended by the King James translators to begin with. And unfortunately, it is a misreading that is captured in some of our hymns. Often, I’m unable to sing the line, “I want a gold one that is silver lined.” Besides being crassly materialistic, it misses Jesus’ point. Jesus is preparing a place for us to be eternally in the presence of God.

The translation of “rooms” or “dwelling places” instead of “mansions” does not remove the glory from the Bible. What could be more glorious than to have a place in the presence of God, a place in the Father’s house!

*Ronald F. Bridges and Luther A. Weigle, King James Bible Word Book (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994), 217. See this work for words that have changed meanings since 1611.