Thursday, March 30, 2006

On music written after God's own heart ...


My wife Donia asked me as soon as I walked in the door, "Did you read Colson's article in Christianity Today?" I hadn't, so she said, "Here, check it out." Wow. There really are more out there than just me who have become disgusted with self-absorbed, meaningless, endlessly repeated little ditties that work people into a Grateful Dead-Like trance in the name of worship. If you haven't read it, the article is called "Soothing Ourselves to Death," and though the rest of the current issue lacks much of interest, this one-page article is worth your reading it.

Colson says, "[O]ne Sunday morning I cracked. We'd been led through endless repetitions of a meaningless little ditty called 'Draw Me Close To You,' which has zero theological content and could just as easily be sung in any nightclub. When I thought it was finally and mercifully over, the music leader beamed. 'Let's sing that again, shall we?' he asked. 'No!' I shouted, loudly enough to send heads all around me spinning while my wife, Patty, cringed."

Where can we find a voice being lifted to really reflect God's own heart if not in the church? Well, I have stumbled on one source that may surprise you. Ever since the movie "Born on the Fourth of July" came out, I have reflected on the words that Edie Brickell hauntingly sings on the remake of Bob Dylan's "Hard Rain's Gonna Fall." I confess I would rather hear her sweet voice sing it than Dylan himself. I have always thought that this song had a powerful message.

In the IMB news I received in email, I found another voice of agreement. Erich Bridges writes about how this song paints graphic pictures of the lost and broken world in which we live. If you have been blessed to travel outside American borders, you can relate to the imagery (lyrics in italics; my commentary in plain-type):

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one? I've stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains, I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways, I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests, I've been out in front of a dozen dead oceans, I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard, And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard, And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

As I hear these words, I think about a dozen prayerwalks I have been on across this planet. And when I return, people say to me (I do have blue eyes, by the way), "Where have you been?" Can words even relate it? Can I with words make them feel the instability of rocks and dirt sliding beneath your feet? Can I tell them of the "roads" I travelled to reach villages where no white man had ever been seen, and no Christian witness had ever been presented? Can you describe with words what it is like to put your feet in the Atlantic and watch the sun go DOWN, with the stench of a mountainous garbage heap to your back? Or how it feels to walk in the footsteps of camels on the shores of the Indian Ocean? Or to gaze across a roughshod cemetery where what few stones there are have crescents instead of crosses adorning them? To walk across a parched town that is being invaded by the Sahara desert?

Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son? Oh, what did you see, my darling young one? I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it, I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin', I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin', I saw a white ladder all covered with water, I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken, I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children, And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

Yes, I have seen all these things and more. The world is saturated with monuments to our depravity. And if you only read about it in the paper or watch it on television, you are safe. But if you see it with your eyes, if you smell what they smell, if you eat what they eat, it will affect you to the core. "Pastor," they say, "Why do you care so much about the lost people in Africa?" Oh, it is because I've been there. And I have looked them in the eye, and I have taken them by the hand. And I have done so knowing that they have never met a Christian before in their lives. And like Livingstone, the smoke of a thousand villages haunts me in my sleep. They are lost. And a judgment is coming.

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son? And what did you hear, my darling young one? I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin', Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world, Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin', Heard ten thousand whisperin' and nobody listenin', Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin', Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter, Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley, And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

I always take a tape-recorder. I never want to forget the sounds. I have drummed with the drummers in Kenya. I have been out there whispering the gospel to deaf ears. I have put my hands on the sick and the dying and prayed in desperation for God to demonstrate His power to an entire village. I have visited shrines devoted to the artisans of a community, and without understanding a word of the language have seen the anguish in the songs, the poems, the stories. We were chastised for feeding a starving animal in one town because the people had less food than the dogs. That's what I heard. I never went to South Asia. I wasn't there to hear the sound of a wave that could drown the whole world. But as surely as that Tsunami wiped out an entire region, I know there is a hard rain gonna fall in the last days.

Oh, who did you meet, my blue-eyed son? Who did you meet, my darling young one? I met a young child beside a dead pony, I met a white man who walked a black dog, I met a young woman whose body was burning, I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow, I met one man who was wounded in love, I met another man who was wounded with hatred, And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

One after another you meet them. Broken people, like a parade of hurting and heartache. The innocence of a precious little child playing in his village, surrounded by signs warning of AIDS and landmines, eyes yellow from Malaria. I have talked to those with the amulets of the witch doctor tied tightly 'round their arms, and legs, and waists, and necks, and heads, and so on. I have talked to those who have said, "You know my religion says I can kill you if you don't believe the same as me." And the Talibe, the children of the street who are sent out to peddle for change, only to turn it over to some tyrannical slave-driver. Like the little boy who tried to sell me hard-boiled eggs on the streets of Malindi. When I refused to purchase an egg, he put his fingers to his mouth as if to say, "But I am so hungry." I said, "You should eat this egg." My guide says, "No, he cannot eat it. If he eats it, he will be beaten, for that is an egg he could have sold." And as Dylan says, "I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow." One village gave us a basket of mangoes that contained more food than their family ate all week. One merchant, when I didn't buy anything from him, gave me a necklace just so I wouldn't leave his stand empty-handed. But it is a hard rain that's gonna fall.

Oh, what'll you do now, my blue-eyed son? Oh, what'll you do now, my darling young one?

What would you do if you have seen what I have seen?

I'm a-goin' back out 'fore the rain starts a-fallin', I'll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest, Where the people are many and their hands are all empty, Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters, Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison, Where the executioner's face is always well hidden, Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten, Where black is the color, where none is the number,

And when I get there, you know what I'm going to do? I am going to take the soul-saving, life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ ...

And I'll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it,
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it, Then I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin', But I'll know my song well before I start singin', And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

Click here to hear the song, as sung by Edie Brickell for the film "Born on the Fourth of July".
(Right click to open in a new window)

Thanks Chuck and Erich for reminding me that I am not alone. And Bob, wherever you are spiritually right now in your never-ending journey, I am thankful that you write songs that reflect the heart of a God whom you once claimed to know, and whom I pray you still do. And if there is anyone reading this, I pray that before the rain falls, you will tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it and reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it, and you'll know your song well before you start singing. Because it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Mary, Mary: Quite Contrary (DaVinvi Decoded Part 3)

So, I am on an airplane bound from Charlotte to Tampa for the West Africa Missions Summit. You should know that I am not an “airplane evangelist.” I wish I was! Usually I pray for two empty seats on my row, so I can get some reading done en route to my destination. I am an introvert, and I am not a good “small talker.” But, I couldn’t help thinking that I was in the midst of a divine appointment when my fellow passenger in the next seat asked, “What kind of work do you do?” I said, “Actually, I am a Southern Baptist Pastor,” to which the next words out of his mouth were, “So, what do you think about this DaVinci Code?” For the next 45 minutes or so, I shared with him some of the information that you have heard me share in these sessions. I pointed him here to this blog, and if he is reading this, “Hi! Glad you are checking it out!”

The Bible says that we are to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us. In these days, people reading this book are wondering how we can continue to hold onto Christ and the Bible in light of all the so-called evidence that Dan Brown and others have produced. But our premise has been that it is the Bible which bears the authenticity that is validated by historical evidence, and that these other claims are built on shaky foundations.

The last time we discussed DVC, we asked the question, “Was Jesus Married with Children?” That is a fundamental premise of the DVC, and we thoroughly discussed it in that study. So I would advise getting a printed copy of those notes if you missed that discussion. Of course, the idea is that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. We debunked that in our last discussion. So we are left with this dangling question, who then is Mary Magdalene? And that is the question we will answer this evening.

To begin with we need to discover who Mary Magdalene is in the minds of Dan Brown and those who influenced him. Over a period of about 25 pages (236-261) Dan Brown presents a synopsis of this view of Mary Magdalene. His assertions are as follows:

1. Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus, and they had at least one child, maybe more.

2. Mary Magdalene was the first and greatest apostle

3. She was of royal bloodline through the tribe of Benjamin (Saul’s lineage)

4. Mary Magdalene is the Holy Grail, the vessel that contained Jesus’ blood. It is a reference to her being the mother of His children.

5. After the crucifixion, she fled to France because she was persecuted by the male leaders of the church

6. The Catholic church launched a smear campaign against her, slandered her, and labeled her a prostitute in order to erase evidence of her true identity.

7. The person to Jesus’ right in DaVinci’s Last Supper.

We could spend more time describing the details of these claims, but they really don’t demand our attention here. What we do want to do is find out where Dan Brown and others who hold his views get their information.

The Da Vinci Code makes reference to the writings that have come to be known as “The Gnostic Gospels,” or the “Nag Hammadi Library.” I discussed these briefly in the last session, but for now let’s briefly review.

The Gnostics were a broadly diverse group of mystic, Greek-thinking religionists who became influential in the second-century, even among Christians. The word gnosis means knowledge. The Gnostics thought that they had gained a special level of enlightenment toward spiritual truths. They devalued the material world and emphasized the invisible, ethereal spirit world.

In the mid-1940s, near the city of Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt, a collection of 52 writings was found in a jar. These texts date back to the 4th Century, but are copies of texts believed by most historians to have originated in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries.

You may recall from our last discussion that we mentioned this passage from the Gospel of Philip. On page 246 of DVC, the historical expert Leigh Teabing refers to this text.

“And the companion of the Savior is Mary Magdalene. Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her on her mouth. The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval. They said to him, ‘Why do you love her more than all of us?’”

The real Nag Hammadi text of the Gospel of Philip is torn and tattered. There are holes in the text at some crucial points, so really, all we know it says is this:

And the companion of the […] Mary Magdalene. [… ] her more than […] the disciples […] kiss her […] on her […].

So, by cleverly filling in the blanks, we come up with an ancient textual reference to Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s marriage. And this is the most concrete evidence that Dan Brown’s theory has to support it. It is a writing of questionable origin and uncertain content.

Now, as we move on in weeks to come, we are going to realize that there is an abundance of historical evidence to affirm the NT as an accurate and authentic historical record. So, why don’t we look there for information about Mary Magdalene.

We find 7 Marys in the NT

-The Virgin Mother of Jesus (Luke 1:30-31)

-Mary of Bethany (John 11:1); she was the sister of Martha and Lazarus. This is the Mary who annointed Jesus’ feet with precious oil in John 12. She is referred to by her home town, indicating that she probably was not married, and had no children.

-The mother of James the younger, Joses, and Salome. (Matt 27:56) She was likely a follower of Jesus from Galilee who moved with him during his ministry. She was a witness at the cross, and part of the group of women who found the empty tomb.

-The wife of Clopas (John 19:25). She also was a witness of the crucifixion, and could possibly be the same Mary who was mother to James the younger, Joses, and Salome.

-The mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12). Her house was the meeting place for the persecuted church. This is where Peter came when he was miraculously released from jail.

Mary of Rome (Romans 16:6). This Mary is unknown apart from this reference to her in Paul’s greetings.

-Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2). We know more about her than any of the others, aside from the mother of Jesus. However, we still know very little about her. Like Mary of Bethany, she was probably not married, hence the reference to her place of birth, Magdala. Magdalene is not her last name. It is used as Jesus is referred to as The Nazarene, being from Nazareth. It is this Mary who is the subject of our focus.

The town of Magdala is probably the town that has been identified today as Migdal. More recent translations refer to it as Magadan. It was situated on the west coast of the Sea of Galilee, just north of Tiberias. It was the center of a prosperous fishing operation. There are also indicators that there was a textile industry in the town. The red line that you see on this map is an international highway that connected the town to other important towns, and as you can see it was at a junction of two important highways.

Luke 8:1-3

She had been possessed by demons, but Jesus had cast the demons out.

She had become a follower of Jesus, supporting Him and traveling with Him, the disciples, and other women.

Matthew 27:55-56; Mark 15:40-41; John 19:25

She was present at the cross with other women.

Matthew 27:59-61

She was present, with at least one other woman, at the tomb of Jesus when He was buried.

Matthew 28; Mark 16:1-9; Luke 24:10; John 20:11-18

She was a witness to the resurrection.

The John 20 passage is the only place in the NT where Jesus is alone with Mary Magdalene. In this passage (v11-18), she is clinging to Him, which would have been unusual in that culture. Men and women did not usually exchange affection this openly. This has led some to believe that there was more to their relationship. However, I think if we honestly process the emotions of that scene, we understand that her reaction was understandable as a spontaneous response to Jesus’ resurrection.

We have already spoken of the gnostic text of Philip. However there is an interesting reference to Mary Magdalene in a 3rd Century writing by Hippolytus. Here he refers to her as “apostle to the apostles.” The word apostle means one who is sent with a message or for a purpose. And Mary was sent by Jesus with a message and for a purpose. She carried the the message of the resurrection to the apostles. But this in no way is a reference to her as the chief of the apostles or even as one bearing the actual apostolic office. Certainly in Acts 1, when they set out to replace Judas, she was not numbered among them. Paul makes no mention of her and she doesn’t receive one line in the book of Acts.

There is no text anywhere that makes mention of Mary Magdalene as the wife of Jesus.

How many of you have heard that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, and that she had anointed Jesus’ feet at some point? Sure, we’ve all heard that. But guess what: You didn’t read it in the Bible.

Nowhere in Scripture is Mary referred to as a prostitute. The first mention of her as a prostitute came from a sermon delivered by Pope Gregory the Great in 591 AD. Most likely what occurred was that he got his passages mixed up and combined material from Luke 7, Luke 8, and John 12.

Luke 7:36-50 – A sinful woman anointed Jesus at Simon the leper’s house. By the way, she is not called a prostitute either, but her reputation for sinfulness is apparently well known.

John 12:1-8 – Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus at her home

Luke 8:1-3 – We are introduced to the reformed demoniac, Mary Magdalene as is she is a new character with whom we would be unfamiliar to this point.

Now some Catholic writers have defended Pope Gregory here. They have to because the Catholic doctrine of Papal Infallibility. Whatever the Pope says is as true as the Bible, so he can’t make a mistake. They say that he didn’t confuse these texts but rather thought the seven demons were the seven deadly sins, and that a woman of such ill repute would have likely been a prostitute. I say, he probably just messed up. Hey we all do it, even the Pope. Besides this, Pope Gregory was not speaking “ex cathedra” in this sermon, so there is no need, even for Catholics, to defend his comments as infallible. In 1969 the Vatican rightly corrected this old story about Mary saying that there was no reason to believe she was a harlot.

Now, if the early church launched a smear campaign against Mary Magdalene, they did a poor job of it. If the Bible has been tinkered with as much as Brown says it has, you would think that they would have inserted something about Mary and prostitution in there somewhere, but they didn’t. There was no smear campaign. And there was no need for one. Mary Magdalene was not married to Jesus so there was no need to conceal her true identity. And if they were going to smear her, making her a reformed prostitute was hardly the way to do it. Jesus was loved and adored by sinful people because He offered them hope, forgiveness, and the love they longed for, and the power to change. It would not distance Mary from Jesus, it would only explain her love for Him.

DVC ends with Langdon, the main character, hearing a woman’s voice, and we can only surmise that it is supposed to be the voice of Magdalene.

This is how the book ends, page 454: “With a sudden upwelling of reverence, Robert Langdon fell to his knees. For a moment, he thought he heard a woman’s voice … the wisdom of the ages … whispering up from the chasms of the earth.”

That’s it. It’s over. I wonder, what did she say to him? Now, we know that we cannot really hear her voice today, but I wonder, if we could, what would she say to us? Perhaps the reason Brown doesn’t mention what Langdon heard her say is that if she could speak, she would be screaming that The DaVinci Code is full of lies. She would be begging us to turn to the Bible. Based on everything we know from the NT, I believe she would tell us two things specifically.

1. Jesus is Alive. She would tell us that she had been to the empty tomb and met the risen Jesus, and He commissioned her to tell the news that He is Risen! And she would beckon us to join her in clinging to Him in the loving adoration of worship.

2. She would tell us that this living Jesus, who delivered her from the stronghold of 7 demons, can deliver you from whatever you are facing as well. Whatever sins or struggles are in your past, or have you bound in the present, Jesus Christ can set you free if you give your life to Him.

Of all the messages one can decipher in DVC, those are nowhere to be found. To find these, we have to turn to a greater bestseller, God’s word, the Bible, and find Mary Magdalene as the Lord would have us know her – a follower of His, a witness for Him, and one who loved Him deeply because of the life-changing touch He had placed on her life.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Davinci Decoded: Part 2 -- Was Jesus Married With Children?


Last week, I took some time to introduce you to DVC, to summarize the plot and give a little background on it, and to deal with a few of the historical elements that are unrelated to Christian theology, such as the artwork of Leonardo da Vinci, the Priory of Sion, and Opus Dei. In that study I listed several questions that DVC raises that we must deal with, for the strength of our own faith, and in order to defend the faith when we are questioned by those who are persuaded by DVC’s claims.
One of the foundational premises of the book is that secret documents which have been hidden for centuries affirm that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and the two of them had a daughter named Sarah. According to this information, after the crucifixion, Mary and Sarah slipped away into hiding in France. And it is this information that we want to consider tonight, as we deal with the question, “Was Jesus married with children?”
The primary historical scholar in the cast DVC’s characters is Leigh Teabing. On page 245, Teabing explains, “The marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is a part of the historical record. … Moreover, Jesus as a married man makes infinitely more sense than our standard biblical view of Jesus as a bachelor.”
The book’s leading lady, Sophie Neveu, asks, “Why?” Teabing replies, “Because Jesus was a Jew, … and the social decorum during that time virtually forbid a Jewish man to be unmarried. According to Jewish custom, celibacy was condemned, and the obligation for a Jewish father was to find a suitable wife for his son. If Jesus were not married, at least one of the Bible’s gospels would have mentioned it and offered some explanation for His unnatural state of bachelorhood.”
A few pages later, Teabing adds, “Behold … the greatest cover-up in human history. Not only was Jesus Christ married, but He was a father” (249). He goes on to say, “The royal bloodline of Jesus Christ has been chronicled in exhaustive detail by scores of historians” (253).
Now, from all those quotations, several specific claims can be drawn. The DVC is declaring:
Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene and their having a child is a part of the historical record. All of this has been chronicled in exhaustive detail by scores of historians.
A married Jesus makes more sense than a single Jesus because Jewish men of Jesus’ day had to marry under social customs.
If Jesus was NOT married, one of the gospels would have told us.
I want to examine each of these claims to determine whether they are true or not.
Concerning the claim that Jesus’ marriage is part of the historical record, I couldn’t help chuckling at the comment made by liberal scholar John Dominic Crossan: “There is an ancient and venerable principle of biblical exegesis which states that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it must be a camel in disguise.”
What in the world does that mean? He goes on to explain, “There is no evidence that Jesus was married (looks like a duck), multiple indications that he was not (walks like a duck), and no early texts suggesting wife or children (quacks like a duck) . . . So he must be an incognito bridegroom (camel in disguise)” (Bock 31-32).
One reason why I thought that was so funny was not just because of his sarcasm, but because I don’t think John Dominic Crossan has ever said anything I agreed with. But I agreed with this. It is absolutely foolish to suggest that historical evidence points to a married Jesus. This is one of the very few things that both liberal and conservative scholars have ever agreed on.
We have to wonder what historical record is Dan Brown drawing from where this marriage of Jesus becomes so evident? Brown relies on two primary sources.
Even though the media has treated Brown as a historian and a scholar, Brown himself claims to be neither. Dan Brown was interviewed on the Today Show by Matt Lauer. Lauer asked him, “How much of this is based on reality in terms of things that actually occurred? ….” Brown replied, “Absolutely all of it ….” When Lauer asked if Brown had interviewed a lot of historians, Brown said, “My—well, I’m very fortunate. I married an art historian who, you know, with whom I travel, and we have a great time.”
Brown’s historical record consists of two elements.
1) Contemporary books based on hoaxes, conspiracy theories, and modern legends, fables, and myths.
2) The writings of the gnostics, a second-century cult of mystics.
Let’s consider for a moment the claim by Brown and his characters that this information is “chronicled in exhaustive detail by scores of historians” (p253). One would think that he could provide some heavy-hitting historical works to back up this claim, but instead all we get are these books:
Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln
The Woman with the Alabaster Jar by Margaret Starbird
The Goddess in the Gospels also by Starbird
The Templar Revelation by Picknett and Prince
However, you as a reader may not be aware that he has yet to name a single reputable historian. Baigent has an undergraduate degree in psychology, and has yet to finish his Master of Arts in Mysticism and Religious Experience. Leigh is a novelist and short-story writer. Lincoln is a television personality and scriptwriter with BBC. We discussed at some length in our last study how Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln’s book was based primarily on the information provided to them by Pierre Plantard, who confessed under oath that the Priory of Sion was a hoax, and who was determined by court of law to be a “crank” and was warned against “playing games.”
Picknett and Prince are conspiracy theorists who write primarily about the occult, the paranormal and UFOs (Abanes 41-42). Their book The Stargate Conspiracy deals with a major conspiracy involving extraterrestrials, the CIA, British intelligence, ancient Egyptians, and assorted world leaders. Margaret Starbird holds a Master of Arts degree in comparative literature and German.
To understand the folly of calling these sources “historical,” let me shara a few comments on Margaret Starbird, drawn from Sandra Miesel and Carl Olson’s book Da Vinci Hoax. And understand, these are not ad hominem attacks. They are critiques of her historical method.
First, Starbird explains in her book The Woman with the Alabaster Jar that her methodology is “Where there is smoke there is fire.” She says that there must be some truth to these theories about Jesus and Mary Magdalene, otherwise, why would such movies as “Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, and The Last Temptation of Christ depict the relationship of Jesus and Mary Magdalene as on of special intimacy and significance?” So you understand, she has turned these three films, all made within the last 35 years, into historical evidence. This is just utter nonsense. Ignoring mountains of historical evidence to the contrary, she builds her theory on pop-culture movies.
But perhaps worse than this is her circular reasoning in admitting the influence of Holy Blood, Holy Grail in her thinking. She left orthodox Christianity after reading that book and said, “The more deeply involved I became with the material, the more obvious it became that there was real substance in the theories.” So she believes the theories because that book says that we should believe its theories. The problem is that we have already discredited that book as a historical source by exposing the fraud of Pierre Plantard last week, and by demonstrating that none of its authors are qualified historians.
Remember, we said that Brown bases his book on two historical sources. The first was what we called contemporary books based on hoaxes, conspiracy theories, and modern legends, fables, and myths. Hopefully we are able to see know that this is no history at all, and these sources are not reliable.
We move to the second element in Brown’s so called “historical record,” and find that it is no more stable than the first. He points to material in the writings that have come to be known as “The Gnostic Gospels,” or the “Nag Hammadi Library.”
The Gnostics were a broadly diverse group of mystic, Greek-thinking religionists who became influential in the second-century, even among Christians. The word gnosis means knowledge. The Gnostics thought that they had gained a special level of enlightenment toward spiritual truths. They devalued the material world and emphasized the invisible, ethereal spirit world.
In the mid-1940s, near the city of Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt, a collection of 52 writings was found in a jar. These texts date back to the 4th Century, but are copies of texts believed by most historians to have originated in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries. These are the writings that Dan Brown looks to for verification of his theories.
On page 246 of DVC, the historical expert Leigh Teabing shares a passage of the Nag Hammadi text known as the Gospel of Philip. Sophie Neveu reads the passage:
“And the companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene. Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her on her mouth. The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval. They said to him, ‘Why do you love her more than all of us?’”
Teabing says to her after she reads it, “As any Aramaic scholar will tell you, the word companion, in those days, literally meant spouse.”
Unfortunately for Dan Brown, the Nag Hammadi texts are not written in Aramaic. They are written in Coptic, a form of Egyptian, and they have been translated, not from Aramaic but from Greek. Add to this what Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary says, “No Aramaic or Hebrew words for ‘companion’ normally mean spouse!” Margaret Mitchell of the University of Chicago says that Brown is using “a shaky translation” of a word that “is usually translated as friend or companion.” (Abanes 39).
If that isn’t bad enough, consider this:
The real Nag Hammadi text of the Gospel of Philip is torn and tattered. There are holes in the text at some crucial points, so really, all we know it says is this:
And the companion of the […] Mary Magdalene. [… ] her more than […] the disciples […] kiss her […] on her […].
You tell me: Is this enough to build this theory on? Brown claims that a historical record exists to support the theory of Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene, which has been chronicled in exhaustive detail by scores of historians. Well, we have weighed his sources and found them wanting. Thus, the claim that this is based on real history is dubious, to be kind about it. It is moreover an outright farce.
According to Brown’s characters, a married Jesus just makes more sense than a single one. After all, Jewish custom practically demands it of him.
Here again, Brown just fails to accurately reflect the facts. While marriage was by far the choice of most Jewish men, it is unfair to say that celibacy was culturally forbidden. The Essenes were a Jewish sect who were very pious and devoted to the Old Testament Scriptures and to genuine faith in God. Josephus is a name that should be familiar to those of us who studied the Got Life evangelism material earlier in the year. He was a first-century Jewish historian. In his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus writes, ““There are about four thousand men that live in this way, and neither marry wives, nor are desirous to keep servants … but they live by themselves, they minister to one another.”
So here is a group of Jewish men, who for spiritual purposes, reject marriage and remain celibate, in pursuit of and devotion to God. And they were not shunned by society. Josephus said of them that they deserve admiration, and “they exceed all other men that addict themselves to virtue, and this in righteousness; and indeed to such a degree that as it has never appeared among any other man.”
I would also say that Jesus was never one to bend to accommodate social traditions anyway. The entire Sermon on the Mount contrasts the cultural thinking of his day. So, forget what we know about the Essenes or others who were likeminded with them – Jesus never claimed to come to fulfill society’s norms. He came to fulfill the Word of God. And there is nothing in it which would have forbidden Him from being single. So, claim number 2 of DVC is busted.
Brown’s characters tell us that, if Jesus had been single, the gospels would have told us. This is what is called an argument from silence, and they are especially dangerous. You can make these kind of arguments about anything, with absolutely no evidence at all. I could say, “I think Brad Smith robbed Wachovia bank last week.” If you ask me why, I would say, “Well, Wachovia bank was robbed, and Brad didn’t say that he DIDN’T do it, so he must have done it.” That would be a ridiculous claim to make, but that is exactly what Brown wants to do with this third claim.
Let’s look at what the Gospels and the rest of the NT tell us about Jesus and marriage.
In Matthew 19:3-15 (I encourage you to read the passage), Jesus speaks of marriage and children. In this passage what we find is that Jesus affirms marriage and speaks strongly to it, while also affirming celibacy for Kingdom purposes. Immediately here, Jesus also affirms children.
The Apostle Paul, who was not married (1 Cor 7:1-7), nonetheless explains in 1 Corinthians 9:5 that he has a right to take a wife. In making that case, he points to the fact that “the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord” have wives. And he names Peter specifically. We know that Peter had a wife, because Peter had a mother-in-law. We know that because Jesus healed her in Matthew 8.
Now, here is my point. If Jesus had been married, Paul could have saved this entire argument by saying, “Hey, why can’t I be married? Jesus was!” But although he refers to Peter and the rest of the apostles and the brothers of Jesus, he does not mention Jesus. Now here is where we turn Brown’s argument on its head – If Jesus had been married, Paul most certainly would have told us here. It would have made his case irrefutable. So, here, I believe we have debunked the third claim concerning Jesus being married with children.
Now I want to conclude by asking a difficult question – one that some Christians don’t have the spiritual guts to wrestle with. Could Jesus have been married? Could Jesus have had children? Here we are not asking “did He?” but “could He?” Would it diminish our view of Jesus in any way if He were married with children?
This is a theoretical question. There have been speculations on both sides of this question. Fortunately for us, He didn’t marry so we don’t have to come up with an answer to this question. However, let me just think out loud with you about few ideas.
We believe that He was absolutely divine, fully God; but we also affirm that He was fully human. He is absolutely and completely God, but at the very same tame, absolutely and completely man. This is the mystery of the Incarnation – the hypostatic union – not half man, half God, but all man and all God. He ate, thirsted, slept, tired, lived, and died – all very human things. So, marriage would not make us see Him as more human than divine. He is already completely and perfectly both. The Scriptures and Christian theology have a high view of marriage, and it would not diminish Christ’s character if He had been married. Therefore, if Jesus had been married I see no need for there to have been an elaborate cover-up. Why not acknowledge it and celebrate it? I do see a few problems that might need to be addressed in this question, which would require more time than we can give it here and now. Just a few of those questions would be: What position or authority would His wife have under God or over the church? What would be the nature of His child? Would that child have a divine nature like He did? These questions would have to be wrestled with if Jesus had married and had children. But the facts are in. He didn’t. Perhaps He could have, but He didn’t.
The Bible speaks of the presence of Jesus at two different weddings. The writers of Holy Blood, Holy Grail say that the wedding at Cana of Galilee in John 2 is the wedding of Jesus to Mary Magdalene (p331-333). We know that this wedding was the site of Jesus’ first public miracle, but was it really his own wedding?
Consider this:
If this was Jesus’ wedding, verses 1 and 2 don’t make much sense. I was certainly glad that I was invited to my own wedding. Also notice in verse 3 how Mary (the mother of Jesus, not Mary Magdalene) says, “they have no wine.” Obviously, since the groom’s family was responsible for planning these festivities, Mary would not use the third person “they” to refer to herself and Jesus if this was His own wedding. Additionally, how can we make sense of Jesus’ statement in v4 if this is His own wedding? Then notice how in v9-10, the head waiter does not call Jesus aside to speak about the wine, but the bridegroom. And finally notice how in verse 12, Jesus left with His mother, His brothers, and His disciples. Now, how can I say this tastefully? When the reception was over, I can honestly say that I did not give a thought to my mother, my brother, or my friends. All I could think about was getting out of there with my bride.
The suggestion that this is the wedding of Jesus is absolutely ridiculous. But there is another wedding for Jesus that is yet to come.
John 3:29 -
Building with the words of John the Baptist, the NT builds up to that great day when Christ will receive His bride unto Himself.
Jesus Himself spoke of the Kingdom of heaven as a wedding in Matthew 22:1-14.
And as the bride was given time to prepare herself, but never knew when her bridegroom might come, so Jesus gave this warning in Matthew 25:1-13.
The Apostle Paul, in Ephesians 5, speaks of Christ’s husbandly love for His bride, the church.
But as it is now, we are just in that betrothal period. We have received the Holy Spirit as the engagement ring – the earnest – of our marriage to Christ, but the event will take place in heaven. Let’s turn to Revelation 19:7 …
Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready." And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. And he said to me, "Write, `Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.'" And he said to me, "These are true words of God."
Was Jesus married? No, but He will be one day when the church is wed to Him for all eternity. Mary Magdalene, myself, and every other born-again believer will be in that number when Christ receives His bride. What about you?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Who do you trust? Philippians 3:3-11


We live in a culture where there is very little trust. We have lost trust in our families, in our government, and in our institutions. Corruption, scandal, and decay have undermined our confidence in anything in society. Once upon a time you could be confident about certain things and certain relationships. But in our culture of postmodern thinking, where there are no absolutes, everyone does and says what is right in their own eyes. You don’t know where to turn. You don’t know who to trust. So, what we have today, and for the last several generations, is a rugged individualism where a person feels that the only one who is trustworthy is himself or herself. What is our motto? “You want something done right?” Do it how? YOURSELF. We have said it so much that we are convinced that the Bible must really say that God helps those who help themselves. By the way, it isn’t in there.

We are brought up in a culture that instills this kind of individualistic bravado in us; the world encourages and rewards us when we keep ourselves at the center of our attention. I hear these studies saying that so many people have a problem with self-confidence. I suggest to you that the greatest problem of self-confidence facing us today is an overabundance of it. We trust ourselves to the exclusion of any other person or thing.

We trust in ourselves. We are skilled at building our résumés. We know how to parade our accomplishments in front of others, and if by chance our accomplishments are sub-par, we know how to embellish them in ways that come short of lying but stretch all notions of truth beyond recognizable limits. And if we ever feel bad about ourselves, it doesn’t take long for us to look around and find somebody that we think we are better than, and that boosts us up a notch.

Here’s the problem – as long as pursue this self-centered, self-confident, self-saturated path, we are marching directly away from God. Paul says that the true believer, the one whose heart is right with God (he calls it a “true circumcision”), is the one who worships in the Spirit of God, and glories in Christ Jesus, and puts no confidence in the flesh. To worship in the Spirit of God, the other two factors must be present – glory in Christ Jesus; put no confidence in the flesh. To glory in Christ Jesus does not mean to exalt Him in addition to the exaltation of many other things including ourselves. It is to exalt Him alone, and to put no confidence in ourselves.


In light of this very stark reality, I need to ask you today a very searching question: Who do you trust? And by that I do not mean generally speaking but specifically – When it comes to how you will be saved, who do you trust?

I. Each one of us is inclined to trust in ourselves (vv4-6)

Was not the temptation in the Garden of Eden to abandon confidence in God and to begin to trust in the self? Was not the sin of the tower-builders of Babel an overconfidence in their own ability to reach heaven apart from trusting God? We are so thoroughly corrupted by sin that our natural instinct is to think that we don’t need any help – we can do it ourselves. Paul says, “If anybody ever had a right to think they could do it on their own, I did.” If you had asked Paul in those days, “Paul, do you think you will go to heaven?” He would have said, “Absolutely.” If you asked him, “Paul, why do you think God will let you into heaven?” this is what he would have said:

He trusted in his nationality – “of the nation of Israel.” He trusted in his heritage – “of the tribe of Benjamin.” He trusted in his cultural identity – “a Hebrew of Hebrews.” He trusted in his religious upbringing – “circumcised the eighth day.” Now, notice that Paul’s pedigree went from heredity to achievement. Paul was born a Hebrew, a Benjamite, an Israeli. He had no choice in his being circumcised on the eighth day. But there came a point in his life when he began to actively pursue his religious advancement on his own. He trusted in his religious zeal – “as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church. The church was considered a dangerous enemy to the Jewish faith, so his persecution of the church was seen as a spiritual merit. As to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. In other words, you could not take the Old Testament Law and point to one area in which Paul violated it. Sure, he was not perfect, he didn’t claim to be, but he is saying that externally, it would have been difficult to find anyone who kept the law more perfectly than he did. If anyone had ever been sincere in his or her religious commitments, Paul certainly was.

Now, I don’t think it would be too difficult to see how this parallels many in our own day. My friend, why do you think God should let you into heaven? How would you answer that question? Would you answer it like Paul did at a point in his life?

Well, you see I was baptized in a prominent church where my parents were pillars. I have been a patriotic American and a responsible citizen. In fact, my great grandfather was a Senator. I served in the military during one of our nation’s wars. And I have always been a religious person, deeply sincere in my beliefs. How could God turn me down?

Is that what it takes? If that is how you would answer, then who do you ultimately trust? If you would say such a thing to God, then you ultimately trust in yourself. And if that is good enough to save you then why does Paul go on to describe the climactic change that took place in his life?

II. Each one of us must renounce personal accomplishment for the sake of Christ (vv7-8)

Paul says that he has counted as loss all those accomplishments of the former life. It is as if he has taken his spiritual résumé and run it through a shredder. But he has not just renounced those things for the sake of asceticism or self-deprivation, or in order to boast in a pseudo-humility. He says he has exchanged these things for Christ. He could no longer esteem these personal accomplishments and at the same time cling to Jesus. Augustus Toplady said it best in that great hymn of the 18th Century, “Rock of Ages,” when he wrote, Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.

Notice that he says it is not only his own list of accomplishments which he has renounced for Christ’s sake, but he says that all things are counted as loss when compared to Christ. Knowing Christ is of such surpassing value of all other earthly things, that Paul says, “It’s no contest. I lose it all for the sake of knowing Christ.” And he says, “I count it rubbish!” The word that Paul uses there is the Greek word skubalon, which is only used here in the New Testament. However, elsewhere in ancient Greek writings, this word is used to denote worthless or unwanted material that is rejected and normally thrown out.[1] Several ancient Greek writers used the word to denote specifically of human excrement[2], giving rise to the KJV translation of dung (which is more literally accurate than we might want to acknowledge). This is a very graphic and vulgar term.

Yesterday, Donia asked, “Could you do me a favor please,” to which I said, “Certainly.” She proceeded to hand me a plastic bag that contained something very malodorous. I said, “What in the world is in this sack?” She said “It is full of dirty diapers.” So I carry this toxic waste at arm’s length out of the house, my nose turned aside from the stench, and I quickly it in the outside trash can as quickly as possible, fastening the lid back down before anyone else could get a whiff of this awful thing. As I stepped back from the can, it hit me. That’s the best I can do. Take all my accomplishments, all my education, all my claims to fame, and if I try to wave them in front of God thinking He will be impressed, they will be only the toxic stench of skubalon. Isaiah 64:6 says, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.”

Paul says that knowing Christ is of such surpassingly great value, that not only is he preferred over all earthly things, but all those things become skubalon in comparison to Him. What would you give in exchange for Christ? Now you will say piously, “Nothing, pastor!” You better be careful, because God just might hold you to it. Would you give your financial security up for Christ? Would you give your personal safety up for Christ? Would you give up your family for Christ? Jesus said two things that specifically relate to this:

He said in Matthew 19:29, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.” The KJV includes the word wife in there based on one early manuscript, but we have good reason to believe that this should not be present in the text. Most early manuscripts do not contain this word. And there are theological reasons as well. First, Jesus never advocates divorce; second, Paul commands believing spouses to not leave unbelieving spouses; and third, there is no “receiving many times as much.” You don’t leave one spouse and get many more. So, don’t ever think that you are doing something spiritual for Jesus by leaving your husband or wife. That is not part of His plan. But, Jesus says, you may have to leave houses, family members, land, etc. for Him. Do you think He is worth it? Don’t just give Him church talk; if it came right down to it, could you say, “I count these things loss for the sake of Christ.”

Now if you aren’t there yet, if you can’t evaluate all things in your life and say, “I’d lose that for Jesus,” you might reflect on what Jesus said in Mark 8:34-37. "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

So who do you trust? Are you still trusting yourself, your own goodness, your own accomplishments to gain you acceptance before God? If so, the disappointment that awaits will be of an infinite, eternal, and intense magnitude. Any other thing that we may depend upon or treasure above Him must be counted as loss – even as waste – in view of the surpassing greatness of Christ.

So what’s left? If my nationality, my patriotism, my heritage, my religious zeal, my personal accomplishments are loss and waste, then is there anything or anyone left to trust? Oh yes. In fact, when nothing but Christ is left, we have finally gotten down to the one person we absolutely must trust to gain us acceptance before God.

III. The Necessity of Trusting Christ Alone (vv9-11)

Paul says that he counts all things as loss, all things as waste, so that he may gain Christ and be found in Him. What does it mean to be found in Christ?

First, let me ask a different question: What does it take to get into heaven? What does it take for God to view you as acceptable in His sight? The answer, beloved, is this: You must be absolutely and completely sinless, perfect, holy and righteous. That ought to sound like bad news, and it is. Because the Bible says that we have all sinned and fallen short of that mark. Who can say that they have attained that status before God? Only Jesus Christ! So, how can we guilty sinners stand before God and be seen as absolutely and completely sinless, perfect, holy and righteous? Only if we are in Him.

To be in Christ means to be found righteous before God. But the righteous that God sees is not our own. Paul says, “not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law.” I can’t keep the Law perfectly enough to be found righteous before God. Hard as I may try, good as I think I’ve done, better though I may be than every other person, I cannot impress God with my own goodness. Remember, it is just skubalon in His sight. But instead, if I am in Christ, then the righteousness that God sees is what Paul calls, “that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” I have received the righteousness of Christ Himself, and been wrapped completely in it, and instead of the foulness of my own sins, God sees the perfect righteousness of Christ, a righteousness that is of the same standard as His very own, and He accepts me on that basis.

Is that not the most incredible miracle ever performed? What would you trade for that? Only a fool would trade that for anything, or even everything, under the sun. Only a fool would say, “No thanks, I will take my chances trying to stand before him trusting in my own goodness.” How arrogant and ignorant! You might have attained to every level of what this world considers success, but if you trust those accomplishments to gain you acceptance before God – though it may open every door of opportunity for you here on earth – it will by no means impress God. And the echo of His words saying, “Depart from Me, for I never knew you,” will reverberate in your ears for eternity.

The world around us says that we are arrogant, narrow-minded and intolerant for proclaiming that you must believe in Jesus Christ to get to heaven. And you know, in some ways they may be right. Because I am afraid that many Christians misunderstand this as much as the lost people of the world do. You see our claim is not just that we are all good people on our own religious journeys, and only those who are journeying with Jesus will get there. Our claim is that in order to be accepted by God, you must be absolutely and completely sinless, perfect, holy and righteous. And how can you attain that status? Line up representatives from all the world’s religions and ask them, “How can a sinner like me be made perfect in God’s sight?” They don’t have an answer. They will try to tell you that you are not a sinner. They will try to tell you that there is no such thing as sin. They will try to tell that if you do your best, no matter how far short you fall, God will overlook your failures. But nobody has an answer for how a sinner can be made righteous. Nobody except Jesus. You see the reason we proclaim that faith in Christ alone opens the doors of heaven is because only through Jesus Christ can we be given the righteousness that God accepts, a righteousness that we could never earn. That is the message of the Christian faith, and that is what we must proclaim to the world. Call us arrogant, call us narrow-minded, call us intolerant, but I say that telling everyone in the world how they can have their sins removed and be made righteous is the most loving thing we could possibly do.

So how can this righteousness by mine? FAITH. Faith is not a substitute for righteousness, faith is not the righteousness. Faith is the “spiritual hand” (if you will) wherein we receive the righteousness. God is offering to give it to us as a free and undeserved gift. That is His grace reaching out to us. And we accept that gift of His grace by faith. We believe that by acknowledging our sins before God, and recognizing that God punished all my sins at the death of Jesus Christ – He died for me, and by transferring all of our trust to Him, we will be given that righteousness, and will be saved for eternity.

So who do you trust? Some may say, “Well I trust Jesus.” Do you? Have you understood that this is why it is necessary to trust Jesus? Do you believe that by trusting Him instead of your own merit that God will accept you as if you were as righteous as Christ Himself? Or have you been led to believe that if you do your best, and put Jesus on top of your best, God will say, “That’s good enough.” Only one of those two is real biblical saving faith. You see because the latter belief is still a trust in oneself. But biblical faith renounces all other trust except Christ alone. I know it is hard to confess that perhaps your view of Christian salvation has been wrong, maybe even for many years. You might be ashamed to say, “I’ve been wrong, and I’m not sure I’m really saved.” But I assure you that there will be more shame in continuing to cling to your own pseudo-goodness and miss heaven because you were too proud to really get saved. I know that there are many people here today who settled this issue years ago – you are saved and you know it, and you know how and why. But I am also quite certain that in every church are people who just don’t get it. If that is you today, if you realize today that you have been trusting yourself plus Christ instead of Christ alone, then I want to lovingly invite you to receive the greatest gift of God’s grace this very day. As we sing, you just come and say, “Pastor, I want to know that I’ve got it right.”

You may be here today, your conscience is heavy, you are loaded with the guilt of your sins and you know that there is no way you could stand before God. I am so glad you are here so that I can be the one who gets to tell you that there is a way. Jesus said, “I am the Way!” And if you want to turn your life over to Him today, I’ll invite you to come talk with me as we sing.

However else God may be speaking to your heart, to testify to Christ through baptism, to join this church, or to commit to serving God in some way, you are also invited to come as we sing.


[1]Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains. electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, Page 78. New York: United Bible societies, 1996, c1989.

[2]Arndt, William, F. Wilbur Gingrich, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature : A Translation and Adaption of the Fourth Revised and Augmented Edition of Walter Bauer's Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch Zu Den Schrift En Des Neuen Testaments Und Der Ubrigen Urchristlichen Literatur, Page 758. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996, c1979.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Podcasts


Well, I am hooked on another recent technological development. I have had an iPod for over a year now, and I had become bored with just listening to music on it. So I started downloading Podcasts. Now, I am hooked. It gives me the opportunity to listen to the teachers and radio programs I enjoy without having to deal with the ones who nauseate me. So, if you are into podcasting, let me recommend a few that I think would be worthwhile (AND THEY ARE FREE!). By the way, even if you don't have an iPod, you can still use the free iTunes program to download podcasts.

1. John Piper, Desiring God (daily)
2. Ravi Zacharias, Let My People Think (weekly)
3. Ravi Zacharias, Just Thinking (daily)
4. R. C. Sproul, Renewing Your Mind (currently only available on Fridays)
5. John MacArthur, Grace to You (daily)
6. Greg Koukl, Stand to Reason (weekly)
7. Hank Hanegraaff, Bible Answer Man (daily)
8. Mission Network News (daily)
9. Joe Focht, Calvary Chapel Philadelphia (not sure of the frequency of this podcast)
10. Chuck Smith, Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa (several options, daily and weekly)
11. Al Mohler (daily)

Now, if only Alistair Begg and Mark Dever had a free podcast, I would have all the teachers I really enjoy. Until then, I have enough to keep my ears busy.

Happy St. Patrick's Day


As I was browsing through the bookstore the other day, I was hoping to find a good book on Patrick written for children so that I could introduce my son to this hero of the Christian faith. I didn't find one. Instead I found plenty of information about a mythical figure who drove out the snakes, and I found leprechauns and pots of gold and green beer and the like. What a shame. Another holiday down the toilet. Have we lost completely the legacy of a great man of God? I hope not. So I write this piece today hoping that you will be inspired by the legacy of Patrick to let God use you to change your world just as he did.

What follows is a brief biographical sketch which I condensed from an article on ChristianAnswers.net, written by former Catholic priest Richard Bennett (click the link to read his testimony). That article is well researched and documented, and I would refer the reader there for more information. This is just a condensation of the article for my readers to get a glimpse of who this great missionary-evangelist was.

Patrick was born in the year 373 in "Roman Britain," which is now part of Scotland. He was blessed to be a part of a Christian family. His father had been a deacon, and his grandfather a presbyter. At the age of 16, Patrick was captured by slave-trading pirates who then sold him to an Irish sheep farmer. For six years, Patrick worked as a shepherd tending this man's flocks. It was during this time that the gospel testimony of his family rested heavily on his heart and he came to know Christ in a saving way. He would say late in life, "I am greatly God's debtor, because He granted me so much grace."

After six years on the sheep farm, Patrick escaped and through much toil made it back to Scotland to be reunited with his family. It wasn't long however until God's call began to stir his heart. He had a dream or a vision which was not unlike Paul's "Macedonian Call" in which Patrick saw a man named Victoricus walking toward him carrying many letters. Patrick wrote, "He gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter: 'The Voice of the Irish,' and as I was reading the beginning of the letter I seemed at that moment to hear the voice of those who were beside the forest of Focult which is near the western sea, and they were crying as with one voice: 'We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk among us.'"

At the age of 30, Patrick departed from Ireland with several other Christian men. He arrived in Ireland in 405. Patrick preached the gospel and planted churches across Ireland. News of his success reached Rome, and Pope Celestine sent a missionary named Palladius to join him. However, Patrick had so purely preached the gospel of God's grace that the Irish rejected the message of Palladius which called for submission to Rome and sacramentalism. Palladius soon gave up and returned to Rome. But, in the face of Druid opposition to the gospel, Patrick endured for 60 years and reached multitudes with the gospel. It is estimated that 365 churches were planted in the course of his ministry. Patrick also began several monasteries for the purpose of training young men to preach and evangelize. In that sense, they were more like modern seminaries than monasteries, with many of the men going on to marry and have families during the course of their ministries.

Because of the faithful ministry of Patrick, Ireland came to be known as the Isle of Saints and Scholars, and he as the Apostle to Ireland. His legacy endured for 600 years, as Irish Christians followed his example going to Scotland, to Britain, and all of Europe for the gospel. From the ninth to the twelfth centuries, the Irish churches began to weaken because of the influence of the Danes and the militant aggression of the Catholic church. The Catholic heritage of Ireland that is so cherished today by so many is a late development in the spiritual history of the island and does not trace back to Patrick. Rather, it was a subjection of the work Patrick started more than 800 years before Rome could influence the Irish.

So what turned Ireland from the darkness of druidism to the light of Christ? Not a mighty army or a powerful religious empire. Instead, it was one man with one holy passion to spread the glory of God over a pagan land. With the simple gospel message of Jesus Christ, Patrick lit a fire that would burn for more than half a millennium. And today, the church of Jesus Christ would do well to consider his life and his example -- to devote ourselves to one purpose -- reaching the unreached peoples with the gospel -- and to be faithful to that task unto death.

To read Patrick's "autobiography" online, see http://www.ccel.org/ccel/patrick/confession.toc.html

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Casting Your Net

Casting Our Nets

Luke 5:4

When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

As we follow Christ, He has promised to make us “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). While there is nothing more unsettling than this reality that the God of the universe has chosen to use flawed individuals like us to reach the world for Himself, the fact of the matter is that there is no “Plan B.” Everyone who has ever been saved and everyone who will ever be saved have this much in common: they were saved as a result of some individual sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with him or her.

In the verse we just read (Lk 5:4), there are several important truths to help us and encourage us in our task.

Jesus calls us to “launch out into the deep.” The “deep” is not always comfortable, familiar, or safe, but that is where the fish are. If we are going to be fishers of men, we are going to have to step out of our comfort zones. But the good news is that we don’t launch out alone.

Jesus is with us. In v3, we are told that Jesus was in Simon’s boat with him. And as we launch out into the deep, he is with us as well. The concluding words of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:20 are, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Jesus is directing us. He told Simon exactly where to go to find the fish, and He will do the same for us. In John 10:27, He said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”

Jesus took responsibility for the catch. He told them if they would let down the nets, there would be a catch. We have to remember that the “catching” is His responsibility. The casting of the net is ours.

How do you CAST the net?

Have you noticed how hard it is to get beyond, “How ya doin’?” in a conversation?

We don’t even wait for the answer. We ask the question and keep on moving.

Relationships take time to develop. We have to make time for God to use us.

How do you steer a conversation past the superficial issues of weather and ballgames and the latest news story?

C: CONNECT

Talk about the other person’s background.

Where are you from? How long have you lived here? Tell me about your family?

If there are commonalities that surface, explore them.

A: ACTIVITIES

Find out about the person’s work, hobbies, interests, etc.

What kind of work do you do? What do you do in your spare time? Ask about things you notice:

I see you have on a UNCG sweatshirt – do you go to school there?

What’s that you’re reading? Do you have an interest in that subject?

S: SPIRITUAL MATTERS

Find out if the person is open to discussing spiritual matters.

Are you a spiritual person? Do you ever think about spiritual things like prayer, heaven, God, etc.?

Their answer to this question will determine if you have permission to go farther with the conversation.

If their answer is negative, you might say, “I understand; I used to have no interest in those matters either until something really incredible happened in my life.” Don’t say anymore. Let them ask you to go farther.

If their answer is positive, you might say, “Me too. Can I tell you how I became interested in spiritual things?”

We are seeking permission to move forward. If they grant it, go for it.

T: TELL YOUR STORY

Your story is not the gospel. It is one person’s account of how you applied the gospel in your life. But it is a great way to gain another person’s interest in hearing the gospel.

Telling your story is biblical:

Look at Acts 26:9-23

Paul’s story can be outlined in three parts.

Part 1 (vv9-12): _________________________________________________

Part 2 (vv13-15): ________________________________________________

Part 3 (vv16-23): ________________________________________________

Your story has the same three parts, though the details are different.

Guidelines for writing your story:

Be brief. Your story should not take you longer than 3-5 minutes to share.

Be precise about how you came to know the Lord. You do not need to give details about how sinful you were or other unnecessary details.

Avoid “churchy” lingo, unless you intend to explain it. Example: It does no good to say you were “bought with the blood” unless you explain the significance of that statement. But remember, you only have 3 to 5 minutes to tell your story.

Be comfortable enough telling your story that it is fresh every time. You never want it to sound canned or rehearsed.

Stress that you are not perfect, but that God is helping you daily to grow in your relationship with Him. I like to say, “I’m not what I want to be, but I am not what I used to be.”

Keep these things in mind as you share your story:

PRAY! Pray before you tell it, pray as you tell it, pray after you tell it! Ask the Holy Spirit to give you boldness, wisdom, grace and strength.

The more you share it, the more comfortable you will be sharing it.

Be yourself. Be relaxed. Use a normal tone of voice.

Be friendly. Smile and make eye contact.

Respect the other person.

Be attentive to the other person. Listen to their words and notice their nonverbal communication.

Be real!

Ask the other person if they have a spiritual story. Has anything like this ever happened to you?

When you share your story, you are telling how you realized you need to live a different WAY, you learned the TRUTH about God and Jesus Christ, and He changed your LIFE forever. Remember what Jesus said in John 14:6 – “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.”

Homework

Scripture Memory:

Romans 3:23

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Romans 6:23

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Memorize the CAST Conversation Guide

Write out your story. Share it with one person.

IDEA: Tell someone that your pastor asked you to write your life story. Ask them to read it for you, or ask if you can share it with them first to see what they think.

IDEA: Over coffee or a meal, share with a friend or relative: “You know, we’ve shared a lot of stories with each other, but I just realized that I have never told you the best story of my life.”