Monday, January 19, 2015

CSNTM Digitizes Oldest Manuscript of Paul’s Letters

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) announced last Thursday -- 15 January 2015 -- that they have completed the digitizing of P46. Here is the announcement from the Friends of CSNTM website:
In July of 2014 the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) traveled to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to digitize their New Testament Papyrus of Paul’s letters (P46). The CSNTM team consisted of Daniel B. Wallace, Robert D. Marcello, and Jacob W. Peterson. This was part of a combined project which will virtually reunite P46 since it is housed in two separate locations. The University was gracious to allow CSNTM to digitize their portion of the manuscript, and our staff was able to work with the University’s preservation department, which is known around the world for their work in papyrological preservation. A special thanks goes to Dr. Brendan Haug, the archivist of the Papyrology Collection and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Classical Studies, for his hospitality and his willingness to participate in this project.
P46 or Papyrus 46 in the Gregory-Aland system is the earliest Papyrus (c. AD 200) of the letters of Paul and Hebrews. It is housed at the Chester Beatty Library (CBL) in Dublin, Ireland and at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. CSNTM digitized the CBL portion in the summer of 2013, producing stunning high-resolution digital images that are already being used in theses and research around the globe. This manuscript is vitally important for understanding the transmission and earliest stages of the text of Paul’s writings, and we are excited to add the University of Michigan’s images to our library.
P46—both the CBL and Michigan images—may now be found in the CSNTM library.
The work that CSNTM has been doing has been an invaluable one, as they continue their important mission as described at their website:
1.To make digital photographs of extant Greek New Testament manuscripts so that such images can be preserved, duplicated without deterioration, and accessed by scholars doing textual research.
2.To utilize developing technologies (OCR, MSI, etc.) to read these manuscripts and create exhaustive collations.
3.To analyze individual scribal habits in order to better predict scribal tendencies in any given textual problem.
4.To publish on various facets of New Testament textual criticism.
5.To develop electronic tools for the examination and analysis of New Testament manuscripts.
6.To cooperate with other institutes in the great and noble task of determining the wording of the autographa of the New Testament.
Here is a brief video describing the work of CSNTM:

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Importance of Christ-Centered Preaching

Charles Spurgeon once preached a sermon on the text of 1 Peter 2:7a entitled, Christ Precious to Believers, in which he related the following story:
A young man had been preaching in the presence of a venerable divine, and after he had done he went to the old minister, and said, "What do you think of my sermon?" "A very poor sermon indeed," said he. "A poor sermon?" said the young man, "it took me a long time to study it." "Ay, no doubt of it." "Why, did you not think my explanation of the text a very good one?" "Oh, yes," said the old preacher, "very good indeed." "Well, then, why do you say it is a poor sermon? Didn't you think the metaphors were appropriate and the arguments conclusive?" "Yes, they were very good as far as that goes, but still it was a very poor sermon." "Will you tell me why you think it a poor sermon?" "Because," said he, "there was no Christ in it." "Well," said the young man, "Christ was not in the text; we are not to be preaching Christ always, we must preach what is in the text." So the old man said, "Don't you know young man that from every town, and every village, and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?" "Yes," said the young man. "Ah!" said the old divine "and so form every text in Scripture, there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ. And my dear brother, your business in when you get to a text, to say, 'Now what is the road to Christ?' and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis—Christ. And," said he, "I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it."
Spurgeon describes what Bryan Chapell, my homiletics professor when I attended Covenant Seminary, would call Christ-Centered Preaching. But he would not say that we have to make our own road to Christ in any passage. Instead, I think he would say that the road is always there once one discovers in that passage the "fallen condition focus." In every passage there is some need revealed that is a result of man's fallen condition, a need that can only be met by the grace of God. Once this "fallen condition focus" has been found, then the road to Christ has also been found, for it is through Christ alone that we find an answer to our fallen condition, however that condition may manifest itself.

I praise God for the grace shown to me in sending me to Covenant Seminary, where I encountered Bryan Chapell and learned the lesson that Spurgeon knew and that all truly great preachers of the Gospel know -- the importance of Christ-centered preaching. In fact, Covenant Seminary had the following description posted on their website concerning the distinctive teaching Dr. Chapell brought to the training of prospective pastors during his time there:
Dr. Chapell's unique emphasis on a redemptive approach to preaching is built upon his assertion that to expound Biblical revelation from any passage, one must relate the explanation to the redeeming work of God in the present. This goal is best accomplished by identifying in each sermon what Dr. Chapell calls the "Fallen Condition Focus," the "mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those to or for whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage." This "grace of the passage" is the grace of God in Christ, the fundamental enabling means of obedience without which a sermon becomes simply a "sub-Christian" call "to be" or "to do" something in one's own strength.
I think one of the greatest Gospel preachers of all time said it best when he wrote to the Corinthians, "For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2, NKJV). May God give us the grace to take the torch that has been passed on to us and to faithfully show our hearers the road to Christ in any and every passage of Scripture!

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Romans and Christianity 101

Over the years I have spoken to many Christians who seem to think that doctrines like election and predestination, or the mystery of the relationship between God's sovereignty and human responsibility, are in the category of deeper doctrines that really aren't essential things for Christians to know. Such doctrines are thought to be the kind of things that theologians write about or debate but that most Christians don't really need to be concerned about. They seem to think it is sort of graduate level Christianity, as it were. But I don't agree with this all too common assumption. In fact, I think that the Apostle Paul would emphatically disagree with it as well. I think that he would regard such doctrines as a part of what we might call Christianity 101. Consider, for example, what he said to the Roman Christians when he wrote his epistle to them, in which he famously discussed these very issues in great depth:
NKJ Romans 1:9-15 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, 10 making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established -- 12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me. 13 Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles. 14 I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. 15 So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also.
After this Paul immediately launches into the primary purpose for which he was writing the epistle, namely to explain the Gospel to them as he had done for so many others, the Gospel he longed to preach to them as he had preached it to others. He says, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek" (Romans 1:16), and then he gives us the most sustained presentation of the Gospel that we have in the New Testament. He gives us, in other words, what might easily be described as Christianity 101, the basic elements of the Gospel and of Christian soteriology that all Christians need to know. So, I would suggest that, for Paul, such doctrines as election and predestination, or the mystery of the relationship between God's sovereignty and human responsibility, doctrines that are a central part of the Epistle to the Romans, are in the category of basic Christianity. As I see it, the sooner Christians today learn this the better it will be for the Church. Just something to consider.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-11 Teaching Outline)

Introduction: It is quite common today to hear people say things like, “I don't believe in any one religion, but I am a very spiritual person.” People are simply perplexed about what spirituality really is or isn't, yet they want to appear to be “spiritual.” They don't understand what that really means, but this only aids them in thinking that they ought to be the ones who define it for themselves. As George Gallup wrote in an online article back in August of 2013:
As described in The Next American Spirituality, which Tim Jones and I wrote, the pendulum may be swinging away from what is beyond us to what is within us. In the 1999 survey, we asked, “Do you think of spirituality more in a personal and individual sense or more in terms of organized religion and church doctrine?” Almost three-quarters opted for the “personal and individual” response.
In a January 2002 poll, 50% of Americans described themselves as “religious,” while another 33% said they are “spiritual but not religious” (11% said neither and 4% said both). When respondents to a 1999 Gallup survey were asked to define “spirituality,” almost a third defined it without reference to God or a higher authority: “a calmness in my life,” “something you really put your heart into,” or “living the life you feel is pleasing.”
As further evidence of the focus on self in spirituality, many people today appear to be practicing a “do-it-yourself” faith -- taking pieces from various traditions and building their own kind of “patchwork” faith. For example, according to a September 1996 Gallup Poll, one-fifth of people who describe themselves as “born again” also say they believe in reincarnation. (Americans' Spiritual Searches Turn Inward)
Such findings are really no surprise to those of us who have been paying attention to what has been happening in our culture. But, sadly, many professing Christians are just as unaware of what true spirituality is or isn't. They often know that what they are hearing around them is wrong, but they aren't always sure how to respond to it. However, I think the parable before us today may help us to get to the heart of the matter. For in it our Lord Jesus directly challenges the false spirituality of the Pharisees of His day, and He offers us a picture of what true spirituality really looks like. I hope to demonstrate this for you as we make our way through the parable. In the process, we will examine 1) the context of the parable, 2) the communication of the parable, and 3) the application of the parable.

I. The Context of the Parable

The context of the parable is found verse 9, where Luke tells us what we need to know about who Jesus was speaking to and why He was speaking to them.
NKJ  Luke 18:9 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others ….
Right away Luke wants us to understand the problem Jesus is addressing. There were people around Him who thought they they could be righteous in and of themselves, and these people tended to despise anyone who didn't measure up to their self-defined standards of righteousness. They were self-righteous people who didn't really love others, but the real problem behind this is that they didn't really love God. That this is the problem will become even clearer as we examine the parable itself.

II. The Communication of the Parable

The communication of the parable is found in verses 10-13. Although it has been my habit to follow a verse-by-verse format when teaching the parables of Jesus, I prefer to teach this parable in such a way as to highlight the comparisons Jesus wants us to make between the Pharisee and the Tax Collector presented in the parable. He introduces these two main characters in verse 10.
NKJ  Luke 18:10 Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
Notice that Jesus tells us that both men went went up to the temple to pray, not only the Pharisee but also the tax collector. Thus Jesus indicates that both men were ostensibly engaging in spiritual activity, even though this might have come as a surprise to most of His hearers. In fact, most of those who were listening to Jesus would have expected to hear about a Pharisee who went up to the temple to pray, but they would have been quite taken aback to hear about a tax collector who did so. You see, the tax collectors not typically religious people. In fact, they were typically greedy and crooked men who actually collected taxes for the Romans and for this reason were often considered traitors to their people. As the IVP Bible Background Commentary observes:
Pharisees were the most pious people in regular Palestinian Jewish society; tax gatherers were the most despicable, often considered traitors to their people. Pharisees did not want tax gatherers admitted as witnesses or given honorary offices. To catch the impact of this parable today one might think of these characters as the most active deacon or Sunday-school teacher versus a drug dealer, gay activist or crooked politician. (e-Sword)
So you can see why most people who listened to this parable would already have been surprised – perhaps even a bit shocked – by what they were hearing. They would have expected a story about a Pharisee who went up to the temple to pray, but they would have been surprised to hear a story about a tax collector who went up to the temple to pray.

Yet the real surprise of the parable still hasn't come. For Jesus actually goes on to reverse what they would have expected. He goes on to show that the Pharisee was the spiritual fraud and the tax collector was the one who was spiritually genuine! In doing so, he sets up a contrast between them in order to make His point. So, in order to highlight the comparison and contrast that Jesus wants us to see, let's examine first two indicators of false spirituality exhibited by the Pharisee, and then we will examine two indicators of genuine spirituality exhibited by the tax collector.

1. Two Indicators of False Spirituality

These indicators are seen in Jesus' description of the Pharisee in verses 11-12:
NKJ  Luke 18:11-12 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.”
The first indicator of false spirituality is trusting in one's own ability to conform outwardly to religious requirements.

Luke has already indicated that the Pharisee stands for those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous” (vs. 9). In doing so he was preparing us to understand what Jesus says here as a description of the way in which their trust in themselves could be seen. Notice especially the way the Pharisee talks about himself and about his own actions:
I thank you I am not like other men … (vs. 11a).
I fast twice a week … (vs. 12a).
I give tithes of all that I possess … (vs. 12b).
In fact, Jesus says that the Pharisee's prayer isn't really a prayer at all, but rather a self-congratulatory pat on the back. For Jesus specifically states that the Pharisee “prayed thus with himself” (vs. 11a, italics mine). That is, although the Pharisee was trying to appear pious, he was actually talking to himself and about himself.

The NET Bible notes offer a couple of options for understanding the Greek phrase that describes how the Pharisee prayed with regard to himself:
… two different nuances emerge, both of which highlight in different ways the principal point Jesus seems to be making about the arrogance of this religious leader: (1) “prayed to himself,” but not necessarily silently, or (2) “prayed about himself,” with the connotation that he prayed out loud, for all to hear. Since his prayer is really a review of his moral résumé, directed both at advertising his own righteousness and exposing the perversion of the tax collector, whom he actually mentions in his prayer, the latter option seems preferable. If this is the case, then the Pharisee's mention of God is really nothing more than a formality. (BibleWorks)
As William Hendriksen also aptly observes:
Outwardly he addresses God, for he says, “O God.” But inwardly and actually the man is talking about himself to himself …. Moreover, having mentioned God once, he never refers to him again. Throughout his prayer the Pharisee is congratulating himself.
That this is the true state of affairs follows also from the fact that nowhere in his prayer does the man confess his sins. Nowhere does he ask God to forgive him what he has done amiss. Now if he had had any sense of the divine presence, would he not also have had a sense of guilt? (e-Sword) 
We may also see the Pharisees lack of awareness of his own sins when we consider the way he views others, which leads to our next characteristic of the self-righteous.

The second indicator of false spirituality is gauging one's spirituality by comparison to the perceived lack of holiness in others.

Again Luke has already indicated that the Pharisee stands for those who “despised others” or, as the ESV renders it, those who “treated others with contempt” (vs. 9). So he has again helped to prepare us to understand what Jesus intended when He offered His portrayal of the Pharisee in this parable. Notice especially how, while pretending to give God the glory, the Pharisee says, “I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector” (vs. 11b).

Application: This portrayal of the Pharisee should lead each one of us to examine himself or herself in order to see how much we might be like this Pharisee. For example, we might want to ask ourselves questions like, How often do I say “I” when speaking of the good things in my life or of ministry accomplishments, as though the credit belongs to me rather than to God? Or, perhaps worse, how often do I pretend to credit God but don't really man it? You see, we may know the right things to say in order to sound spiritual to others, but whether or not we mean what we say is the true test of genuine spirituality rather than hypocrisy, and – one way or another – who we truly are will eventually show through, just as it did with the Pharisee in the parable.

2. Two Indicators of Genuine Spirituality

These indicators are the opposite of those pertaining to the false spirituality of the Pharisee, and they may be seen in Jesus' description of the tax collector in verse 13:
NKJ  Luke 18:13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”
The first indicator of genuine spirituality is an awareness of one's own inability to live righteously.

Given that the tax collector is contrasted with the Pharisee, and that the Pharisee illustrates “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous” (vs. 9), we may assume that the tax collector represents those who do not trust in themselves that they are righteous. We see his awareness of his own inability to live righteously both in his actions and in his confession. For example, Jesus says that the man confessed his sinfulness to God, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”  But He also says that he “beat his breast,” which is a sign of intense sorrow. Jesus wants us to see clearly, then, what a recognition of one's own inability to live righteously entails. It entails a clear understanding of our own sinfulness in in the sight of God and a corresponding sense of sorrow for our sins. As the Apostle Paul would later write to the Corinthian believers:
NKJ  2 Corinthians 7:9-10 Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.
Unlike the Pharisee, who should have understood such things himself, the tax collector in the parable serves for all time as an example of such a godly sorrow for sin. He is the kind of person about whom Jesus spoke when He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:3-4).

The second indicator of genuine spirituality is gauging one's spirituality by comparison to God's holiness.

Jesus says that the tax collector was “standing afar off” and that he “would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven.” These actions again indicate a sense of humility and a recognition by the tax collector that he was not worthy to enter the presence of God. He clearly understood that the standard by which he was to be measured was the holiness of God rather than the morality of those around him.

Application: This portrayal of the tax collector should lead each one of us to examine himself or herself in order to see whether or not we exhibit characteristic of genuine spirituality. For example, we might want to ask ourselves questions like, When was the last time I really saw my own sin for the terrible thing that it is? Or, When was the last time I truly sensed my deep need for God's grace and forgiveness? The answers to such questions might just reveal the last time we had a clear vision of God's holiness.

But what if such self-examination reveals that you have never experienced any such remorse for your sins? If this is the case, then you must face the fact that you may be a spiritual fraud and are not really a Christian at all. I think this is a possibility our Lord Jesus would have you consider for, although I have suggested some application of the parable up to this point, we should not miss the most important one, and that is the one made by Jesus Himself, which leads us to the last point.

III. The Application of the Parable

We find Jesus' own direct application of the parable in verse 14:
NKJ  Luke 18:14 I tell you, this man [i.e. the tax collector] went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Remember that the Pharisee represents those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous” (vs. 9). This means, given the contrast Jesus draws between him and the tax collector, that the tax collector must represent those who trust in God for their righteousness. Thus when Jesus says that the tax collector “went down to his house justified,” He speaks of the man being justified in the same forensic sense that the Apostle Paul later described at length when he proclaimed the Gospel that he had gotten directly from Jesus Himself (Gal. 1:11-12). For example, in his Epistle to the Romans Paul declares:
NKJ  Romans 3:21-26 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
This “righteous of God … to all and on all who believe” was the basis upon which the tax collector in the parable was said to be justified – declared righteous – in the sight of God. Although since then we have seen even more clearly how this righteousness comes “through faith in Jesus Christ,” the doctrine of justification was the same under the Old Covenant as it is under the New Covenant, a fact which is assumed by our Lord Jesus in the telling of this parable.

But what about Jesus' statement that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”? What does Jesus mean by this? In answer to this question, I would suggest that the context indicates in what sense one who humbles himself will be exalted. Jesus is speaking about two men standing before God and being judged by Him. The one who humbles himself by recognizing his own sinfulness and unworthiness – the one who is thus sorrowful for his sins and repents – this is the one will be exalted by being declared righteous in the sight of God. But the one who exalts himself by trusting in his own ability to attain righteousness (vs. 9) – the one who is thus prideful and does not repent of his sins – this is the one who will be humbled in the future judgment of God.

You see, although the final judgment of God is future, those of us who have trusted in Him as the source for our righteousness may know now what that verdict will be, for it has already been pronounced on our behalf. Thus, just as the tax collector in the parable was able to return to his home already justified in the sight of God (vs. 14), even so we who have trusted in the righteousness of Christ are justified even now. As the Apostle Paul said:
NKJ  Romans 5:1-2 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
This is why Jesus told this parable. He wanted us to know how we may be justified in the sight of God, that we can only be justified by Him if we leaving off trusting in our own righteousness and instead trust in the righteousness that only He Himself can provide for us. As Paul said to the Corinthian believers:
NKJ  1 Corinthians 1:30-31 But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption – 31 that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.”
Conclusion: Have you trusted in Christ as the source for your righteousness? For He alone has lived a sinless life, so He alone can provide for you the righteousness that you need in the sight of God. As Paul again said:
NKJ  2 Corinthians 5:20-21 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
This is the happy exchange by which our sin was reckoned to Jesus Christ when He died on the cross and by which His righteousness is reckoned to us through faith in what He has done for us. For He died on the cross for sinners like you and me, and He rose from the dead that we might have everlasting life. Will you abandon your own false spiritually now and cry out to God for the genuine spirituality that recognizes both the greatness of your own sin and the greatness of His grace in Christ as the answer for it?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Answering Common Objections to Celebrating Christmas

In an article published last Friday, Matthew Everhard, Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida, responded to a number of common objections to Christians celebrating Christmas. The article is entitled Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday? A Response to Eight Common Arguments, and here are the eight objections to which Matthew responds:
1. The etymology of both the words “Christmas” and “Easter” is problematic; Christmas contains the root “mass,” a false and abominable sacrifice of the Roman Catholic Church, and Easter is derived from the name of a pagan god, worshipped in ancient times.
2. Neither the practice of Christmas nor Easter are commanded in Scripture and therefore are not warranted by the Regulative Principle of Worship (See the Westminster Confession of Faith 21.1).
3. Both Christmas and Easter contain pagan symbolism; the former retains the use of the so-called “Christmas Tree” and Easter retains usage of the “egg” and other fertility-cult symbolism.
4. Both Christmas and Easter are often attended by ridiculous and childish customs i.e. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, which detract from the worship of the Trinitarian God. Many churches that purport to be "evangelical" have even brought such nonsense into the very sanctuary and perverted the holy worship of God!
5. Both Christmas and Easter are practiced by the Roman Catholic Church which has so far distorted the Gospel as to be no Gospel at all and therefore their historical practices ought not to be carried forward by Protestants.
6. Both Christmas and Easter encourage consumerism and materialism and ought to be rejected upon the grounds of being a distraction from the Gospel.
7. Both Christmas and Easter are inconsistent with the practice of the English Puritan heritage from whence the American Presbyterian heritage derives.
8. Both Christmas and Easter are practiced during times of the solar year related to the solstice, at which times pagan festivals have been historically linked.
As you can see, the article also deals with similar objections to the celebration of Easter by Christians, and it is well worth reading. I think Matthew does a pretty good job responding to such arguments. Check out his responses for yourself, and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My Journey, My Friends, and God’s Work in Colombia

As I wait for my flight back to the great state of Arkansas, I am filled with many emotions. I am here at the Bogota Airport, and I miss my family. I cannot wait to kiss and embrace my wife and swoop up my three boys into my arms. I can already see their smiles in my mind. But my anticipation is bittersweet. Though I have yet to depart, I am already missing my new friends here in this beautiful country. Let me tell you about them. Let me tell you about my journey. And let me tell you what great things God is doing here in Colombia, South America.

My Journey

My experience in Colombia begins with bouncy friends, bouncy music, and a bouncy car ride into the mountains.

I came to Colombia to teach Biblical Theology to a group of pastors. But the night before I left Arkansas, I realized that I was coming down with a cold – not a good feeling when your voice is a key instrument in teaching. So I began to pray and stock up with medicine and cough drops, for with a sore throat or not, the time of departure was upon me.

I arrived in Bogota at 9:30, but it was not until 11:00 p.m. that I exited the airport. Outside of the doors, four men greeted me. “Are you pastor Jeff?” they asked in a foreign accent. With a quick “yes,” strange names began to fly out of their mouths – names that I never heard before – “I am pastor Guillermo.” “I am pastor Jorge from Ecuador.” “I am pastor Eduardo; I will be your interpreter.” And “I am Mr. Eduardo.” They were friendly. They asked me about the details of my flight, offered me water, and grabbed up my bags as they showed me to the car.

But that is where the real bounciness began. The roads there are bumpy and curvy, as the mountains are large and steep, and the traffic is beyond chaotic. Pastor Guillermo is a skillful but aggressive driver – which I learned later is the only way you can drive in a city of 9 million people who are trying to get to the same place at the same time. There dividing lines on the road mean nothing. In fact, there don't seem to be any rules at all. Where there are two lanes, four lines of cars seek to drive abreast with motorcycles buzzing around anywhere they can squeeze in. Cars will suddenly pull out in front of you as if you are not even there, which causes knee jerking stops. It is a madhouse to say the least. Bogota reminds me of a disturbed ant-mound that has been kicked by a pesky kid – so many people group together that they are running all over each other. I have been to a lot of large cities – Los Angeles, New York, Paris, London, Rome, but no city I have ever been to can compare to the vast amount of people and vehicles that are squeezed into a single space.

So, imagine late at night that you’re in a car that is going up and down, from side to side, from top speed (as if you are in a drag race) to squelching stops. All of this on a bumpy and curvy road as the car is dodging other cars, large trucks and flying motorcycles. It did not take long before, along with my sore throat, I had motion sickness. And it did not take long before my new friends cranked up the Colombian music. The music is bouncy all right – like party music driven by an accordion. With the music rocking, my new friends began to sing, tap their feet, and move with the beat, which caused the car to rock back and forth, as we were already moving in all directions. So round and round we went.

“Two hours to our destination,” they informed me. With the news, I became hot and queasy. And it was only then that I became thankful that United Airlines no longer offered an in-flight meal. I understand that all things work together for good, and an empty stomach is preferable with motion sickness. So like a ball thrown into a blender, my journey in Colombia had begun.

Thankfully, without any unpleasant incident, we made it to the retreat center sometime around 1:00 a.m. There I was to lecture 21 times over the next four days. A Colombian meal was waiting on us and a little over 50 pastors, from all over Colombia, were already sleeping in their rooms and tents. After a good meal, I went to bed.

The next day, like the next four days, was full of food, juice, coffee, and teaching. I taught 6 times per day. My sore throat had not gotten any better, but I knew my church family in Conway, AR, was praying for me. The Lord was gracious. Not once did my voice hinder my teaching. But before I tell you about the teaching and seminary here in Colombia, let me tell you a little bit about this wonderful place.

Colombia is amazing. It is tropical and breathtaking. When I woke up, I could not believe the beauty that was all around me. Massive and irregular shaped mountains encircled the place, which caused me to understand why the roads were so crooked and steep. Flowers. Wow! Flowers of all kind were everywhere. Fruit was hanging on almost every tree. Everything was blooming, budding, and flourishing. There was fruit that I didn't even know existed. There were avocados the size of footballs. Truly, this is a land flowing with milk and honey. And birds. Wow! All kinds of birds were flying around and chirping. I woke up to a pleasant and relaxing melody of tropical birds singing to the glory of God. To top it all off, the weather was perfect. It is as if this is the place where God abides and personally sets the temperature – in the mid seventies, no humidity, and with a cool and gentle breeze keeping the air fresh. In fact, if I had to imagine the Garden of Eden, I would think it was similar, if not identical, to Chinauta, Colombia.   

My Friends

The beauty of the place was only the backdrop to the even more beautiful people. Colombians are a diverse people with a variety of skin tones. In many ways, Colombians are like Americans. They like to joke around, laugh, and play sports. But they are a little more affectionate and generous. They are a little more welcoming. Maybe it is the music, maybe it is the food and tropical climate, but whatever the case, they are an endearing people. Take these natural qualities and put Christ in them, then you have a group of people that you cannot help but quickly fall in love with. It is amazing how kindness and love can transcend any language bearer. They would reach into their pockets and give me candy, buy me ice-cream, and bring me coffee as if I was someone special. But this is how they treated each other as well. These men love each other as they love “Christo.” Being around such beautiful people makes me long for heaven where there will be people from every nation and people group of the world.

God’s Work in Colombia

My trip is almost over. Though I am headed home, I am taking much with me. I am leaving with a better understanding of the words of Christ, who said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” America is saturated with the gospel and various gospel ministries. We take our access to the gospel and Christian resources for granted. We have access to many resources, books, and churches. Colombia, on the other hand, is in great need of all these things. They are hungry. They are grasping on to almost anything. Those like myself who travel here to teach are readily heard, and every book that is translated into Spanish is quickly consumed. (This is why it is important to provide solid teaching.)

I am also leaving with a greater commitment to supporting indigenous ministers and ministries. We can spend thousands of dollars in supporting American missionaries, who often need as much money to live in a foreign country as they do in America. Most American missionaries last only four years on the field. But indigenous ministers are there to stay, and they don’t need money as much as they need training.

Because they are hungry for a basic education of the Bible, I am convinced that one of the best ways to support foreign missions is not by sending American missionaries (except for the unreached people groups of the world), but to provide Biblical training to the pastors already living in those foreign lands. Colombia, for instance, is vastly Catholic, about 70%, and the Evangelical influence is mostly charismatic. The prosperity gospel, sadly, is popular there as it is in America. They need solid resources and training to combat such influences. This is something that our churches can support. This is something that I am convinced is making a huge difference.

With this in mind, I am thankful for Reformed Baptist Seminary’s support of the Biblical training program that is overseen by Guillermo Gomez, pastor of Sovereign Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Bogota. This program is called “The Marrow of Theology.” Because of limited options and a great hunger for the truth, “The Marrow of Theology” program is attracting men from all over Colombia. Afterwards, they are slowly reforming their churches or planting solid Reformed Baptist churches throughout this country. In this one ministry, hundreds of ministers are being trained and sent out across Colombia. This is changing, and will continue to change, the landscape of South America.
In addition to my desire to support “The Marrow of Theology” program in Bogata, I plan to start a Spanish branch of Free Grace Press. Eduardo Fergusson, who translated my teaching and preaching this past week, has agreed to assist in the translation of our English books into Spanish. Jorge Rodriguez, from Ecuador, has agreed to oversee the printing and distributing of these books throughout South America. Because the books will be translated and printed in South America, the cost will be a fraction of the expense of books printed in America. 100, 200, or 300 dollars can make a major impact. What an investment for the sake of the kingdom.  

With all of this, I am going home with a new passion for international missions. I hope to communicate this passion with my church family and friends. I am excited about what God is doing in South America…so please join me in praying for these beautiful people in this beautiful region of the world.

Friday, December 12, 2014

"I Am the Very Model of a Biblical Philologist"

I just thought this was fun! But, then, I am a bit of a Biblical exegetical and background studies nerd. Here is a description of the video found on YouTube:
"A biblical- and ancient-Near-Eastern-studies–themed parody of 'I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General' from The Pirates of Penzance. Lyrics, musical arrangement, and vocals by Joshua Tyra, ⓒ 2011. Music by Sir Arthur Sullivan, original lyrics by William S. Gilbert."
I tried to see how many of the terms I actually knew, and, although I knew quite a few of them, I didn't do so well overall.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

James White on Rick Warren's Capitulation to Rome

As usual, Dr. White does a very good job challenging the heretical thinking and practice of one who ought to know better. In the three videos above he demonstrates how Rick warren has undermined the Gospel of Jesus Christ in his attempts to be untied with Roman Catholics. It is a sad thing that there is so little reason at this point to be surprised by Rick Warren's whitewashing of Roman Catholicism. He has increasingly demonstrated a bent toward doing such things, and he has once again led people way from, rather than toward, the truth of the Gospel. Thank you, Dr. White, for taking the time to address this issue in truth and love.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Jonathan Leeman Identifies "Twenty-Two Problems with Multi-site Churches"

I recently came across an interesting and thought-provoking article by Jonathan Leeman, the Editorial Director of 9Marks, entitled Twenty-Two Problems with Multi-site Churches. Here is the introduction to the article:
I love my gospel-loving friends in multi-site churches—both leaders and members! But as Christians we work continually to reform our churches in light of Scripture. So I trust a little push back on the multi-site structure serves everyone, assuming my concerns turn out to be valid. Below are 22 misgivings I have about the multi-site model. All of these apply to churches that use a video preacher. Over half apply to churches who employ a preacher on every campus.
Here are the first four problems listed by Leeman:
1. There’s no clear example of a multi-site church in the New Testament, only supposition. “Well, surely, the Christians in a city could not have all met…” (but see Acts 2:46; 5:12; 6:2). 
2. If a church is constituted by the preaching of the Word and the distribution of the ordinances under the binding authority of the keys, every “campus” where those activities transpire is actually a church. “Multi-site church” is a misnomer. It’s a collection of churches under one administration. 
3. For every additional multi-site campus out there, there’s one less preaching pastor being raised up for the next generation. 
4. What effectively unites the churches (campuses) of a multi-site church are a budget, a pastor’s charisma, and brand identity. Nowhere does the Bible speak of building church unity in budgets, charisma, and brand.
I recommend reading the rest of the article here. As always, your comments are welcome.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Biblical Principles for Parenting: Part Four

In the introduction to this series, I indicated that our focus would be upon four principles which relate in one way or another back to God as our heavenly Father and our supreme example for parenting. In the last three posts, I have discussed the first principle, the second principle, and the third principle. In this post I want to consider the fourth principle.

Principle #4: Our heavenly Father teaches us the importance of a proper view of both a father's and a mother's role in the family.

Perhaps one of the most overlooked passages dealing with men's and women's roles is found in 1 Corinthians in a discussion of the way men and women wear their hair. When beginning a description of what is appropriate to men versus what is appropriate to women, Paul draws an important analogy between the relationship of God the Father to God the Son and the relationship of men to women. He writes:
NKJ  1 Corinthians 11:3 But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
This is an important verse because it teaches us that, just as God the Son takes a subordinate role to God the Father even though they are equal with respect to their divine being, even so women are to take a subordinate role to men despite the fact that they are equal to them as bearers of the image of God (Gen. 1:27) and as those who possess sonship in Christ (Gal. 3:26-28). That is, even though the fact that the Father and the Son share an ontological equality, they nevertheless take upon themselves functionally superior and subordinate roles. And this is precisely how we should think of the relationship of men to women in the church and in the home. Even though they share equality as bearers of the divine image and as joint-heirs in Christ, they nevertheless fill functionally superior and subordinate roles. Such a role distinction is clearly expressed by Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians:
NKJ  Ephesians 5:22-27 “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” (See also 1 Peter 3:1-7)
Such a role is also assumed by Paul when he discusses the qualifications for elders in the churches. For example, he teaches that an elder must be “one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)” (1 Tim. 3:4-5).

It could not be any clearer that husbands and fathers are to be the heads and rulers of their homes. They are to be the highest authority – under God – in the home. However, this does not mean that they are the only authority in the home, for mothers have authority over their children as well. Consider, for example, what the Book of Proverbs teaches about the importance of mothers:
NKJ  Proverbs 1:8 My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother ….
NKJ  Proverbs 6:20 My son, keep your father's command, and do not forsake the law of your mother.
Notice that in both of these proverbs it is assumed that the mother has an authoritative teaching role in the lives of her children just as the father does. John Gill has observed this as well, and he has written that this verses applies to:
… any and every mother of a child, who having an equal or greater tenderness for her offspring, and a true and hearty regard for their welfare, will instruct them in the best manner she can, give the best rules, and prescribe the best laws she can for their good; and which ought to be as carefully attended to and obeyed as those of a father; and she is particularly mentioned, because the law of God equally enjoins reverence and obedience to both parents, which human laws among the Gentiles did not; and because children are too apt to slight the directions and instructions of a mother; whereas they carry equal authority, and have in them the nature of a law, as those of a father. (Exposition of the Entire Bible, e-sword)
The IVP Bible Background Commentary concurs when it states that:
The call to listen to the instructions of one's parents stands as a corollary to the law requiring children to honor their father and mother (Exod. 20:12). Thus the wisdom of mothers, who generally served as a child's first teacher, is equated with that of fathers. (e-Sword)
And why does Solomon assume that a mother's instruction may “carry equal authority” with that of a father, as Gill says? It is because Solomon assumes that she relies upon the law of God when she instructs her children, just as it is assumed that the father relies upon the law of God. He is speaking here of a godly mother, and he is assuming that the law of your mother will be none other than the law of God taught by your mother. As a matter of fact, some of the Book of Proverbs is actually a repetition of such a mother's teaching. Consider the introduction to the instruction contained in chapter 31:
NKJ  Proverbs 31:1 The words of King Lemuel, the utterance which his mother taught him....
The teachings of King Lemuel's mother, which she apparently wrote in the form of two poems (the first in verses 2-9 and the second in verses 10-31), actually became a part of the inspired text of Scripture.

Thus we must remember the crucial role that mothers play in the training of their children, a role which they must take up in submission to their husbands, but a role which is one of authority in the lives of their children nonetheless. Mothers are therefore every bit as crucial to the raising of children “in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4) as are fathers. Both fathers and mothers must therefore heed the Biblical teaching about parenting, and they must work together as one in the rearing of their children before the Lord.

Conclusion: We have considered at some length at least four primary principles from Scripture that are crucial in the parenting of our children. It is my prayer the the Lord will grant us by His grace the wisdom and patience to put them into practice consistently.