Stay Steadfast in the Lord

Stay firm in the faith, as Christians even in the early second century did under tyrannical rule of Pliny in Rome.  (See here for the source link.)

Pliny to the Emperor Trajan

It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.

Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ–none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do–these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.

I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it.

Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus – Post Resurrection apperance to His brother James

Taken from Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics by William Lane Craig

P 282 “…apparently neither James nor any of Jesus’ younger brothers believed in Jesus during his lifetime (See Mark 3:21, 31-3; John 7:1-10)

P 283 “Finally, in Acts 21:18 James is the sole head of the Jerusalem church and the council of elders.  We hear no more about James in the NT: but from Josephus, the Jewish historian, we learn that James was stoned to death illegally by the Sanhedrin sometime after A.D. 60 for his faith in Christ.  ”  see Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews20.200

“Now, how is this to be explained?  On the one hand, it seems certain  that Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him during his lifetime.   What would it take to make you believe that your brother is the Lord, so that you would die for this belief as James did?  Can there be any doubt that the reason for this remarkable transformation is to be found in the face that “then he appeared to James”?  Even the skeptical NT critic Hans Grass admits that the conversion of James is one of the surest proofs of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” see Hans Grass, Ostergeschehen und OsterberichteI, 4t ed.  (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1974), p. 80

Love your neighbor (for your own sake)

A researcher at Harvard, George Vaillant conducted a longitudinal study  with seven other researchers of men they’d  followed since 1938.  They took 268 men at Harvard and followed them all of their lives. It is examined at length here but I have below the nature of this study.

Is there a formula—some mix of love, work, and psychological adaptation—for a good life? For 72 years, researchers at Harvard have been examining this question, following 268 men who entered college in the late 1930s through war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age.

The authority of these findings stems in large part from the rarity of the source. Few longitudinal studies survive in good health for whole lifetimes, because funding runs dry and the participants drift away. Vaillant managed, drawing on federal grants and private gifts, to finance surveys every two years, physicals every five years, and interviews every 15 years.

One would think certain traits would show up and we would have a lot of “if this then that” application.  Bob was raised without a good education so then he will experience x, y and maybe z in his life.  What Vaillant and others have realized is that the real outcomes of a happy and fulfilled life for many of these successful men (including a few senators and a president) are summed up by this:

In an interview in the March 2008 newsletter to the Grant Study subjects, Vaillant was asked, “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?” Vaillant’s response: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”

It is astounding that across the categories of marriage, family, career, education, wealth, etc  the number one thing this study has found that matters is relationships.

So social, physical, and other sciences have brought us this grand finding.  Thanks modern science!  What God has told humanity thousands of years ago we have revealed to us today.  Sarcasm aside, all that has been complied is very valuable and been put in useful terms thanks to a number of modern practices within science and statistics.  This should be a confirmation of what we should already know.  God values relationships and wants us to value them too.  Not just for some arbitrary reason, but because life is better, more meaningful and more fulfilling loving others.
1) God creates humankind for relationship with others.  He institutes marriage and says its not good to go through life alone (Gen 2:18) Relationships where we care about others, our wives, husbands, children, friends, and family has always been important and will always continue to be.
2) God commands we love others even back to the days of the Israelites. “You shall not hate your brother in your heart…” (Lev 19:17) “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:18) “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:34)

3) Jesus emphasizes this command when he comes to speak to humankind. When speaking of the greatest commandments, Jesus states that the first is to love God then “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31)

4) Jesus fulfills this command to love your neighbor as He loves humanity by laying down his life for ours.  It is the ultimate sacrifice and ultimate display of love to die for another (John 15:13)  Jesus shows us eternal love in that His death brings reconciliation to God for humanity.  By Him we will forever live with God one day; and until then we have the perfect example of loving others to follow.

Did Circumcision in the Old Testament Have Medical Benefits?

Many of us have heard the some of the ‘strange’ laws in the Old Testament about what to eat, what to sacrifice, etc.  While those that don’t understand many of these laws may just think circumcision was just another one of those strange laws too, there may be more to it.
From a medical perspective, John Hopkins University researchers, here
studied the economic impact of males who were and were not circumcised.

A 20-year decline in male circumcision has cost the country $2 billion in medical costs that could have been prevented, Johns Hopkins researchers say in a study released Monday.

Research has found that circumcision reduces the number of infant urinary tract infections. Men who are uncircumcised are more at-risk for cancer-causing HPV, HIV, herpes, bacterial vaginitis and other sexually transmitted diseases, studies have found.

Really?  So medically there is a benefit to being a circumcised male?  Who would have guessed God would ask the Israelites in the Old Testament to do something that would be for their spiritual benefit and medical benefit?  If we look at the Old Testament God institutes his covenant with Abraham in Gen 7:1 and 7:10-11

1When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.”

10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.

Jesus then fulfills this covenant down the line.  Actually this covenant with Abraham has been a pointer to Jesus since it was instituted.  God says Abraham, if you “Walk before me blameless” I will “multiply you greatly”.  You hold up your end of the bargain Abraham and I will hold up mine, God says.  Now, to a fatherless 99 year old guy who in this society would have valued children like we value Ferrari’s and a mansion on the beach, this would have seemed so incredible Abraham may have even doubted it, (though we see later in the text he did not doubt this promise).

Now we all know, none of us today and no human even recalled in the Old Testament was ‘blameless’ or without sin.  So how does this point to Jesus?  Well first of all, God is giving a people to Himself.  Abram, this nomadic pagan wandered who is also fatherless, is called to bring about the nation of Israel, or the group of people God sets aside for himself.  Secondly this perfect work of being ‘blameless’ is a thorough failure just looking at the Israelites (reference the rest of the OT).  Even Abraham has some failures, but Jesus fulfills this ‘be blameless’ portion.  He is without sin and He is blameless.  Jesus actually by His blood brings, God’s people to spiritual restoration (now and for eternity in Heaven) in a way people could never fulfill this physically.
Paul says it well

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
(Colossians 2:11-14 ESV)

This uncircumcised heart of the people becomes circumcised and truly pleasing before God when are made clean “through faith” in Christ.  So yes, God cares about the physical and medical benefits to circumcision, but he cares most importantly about the spiritual, our hearts.  The physical was a pointer to the spiritual.  And “God made us alive together with him” by fulfill both parts of the covenant — the numerous generations He promises Abraham and walking blameless before Him

Ultimate Answer

“Apologetics is not the ultimate answer. Apologetics is only a means to gain respect to be heard and observed. What is going to change their life is not the brilliance of your answer, that may just open up the avenue. Ultimately the changing of the heart is God’s work in the individuals life. Sometimes it’s a gentle word, sometimes it’s the love of Christ, sometimes it is the way you have handled the question and retained the dignity of the moment. In India they have a saying that once you cut off a persons nose, there is no point in giving them a rose to smell, and apologetics can slice off a persons nose. You’ve got to know how to answer and when to back off.”

-Ravi Zacharias, 7/27/12 Just Thinking podcast.

Chick-Fil-A Under Fire?

Chick-Fil-A and the mayor of Boston Tom Menino are going at it.  The issue began to heat up when Cathy was quoted in the Baptist Press as saying:

Some have opposed the company’s support of the traditional family. “Well, guilty as charged,” said Cathy when asked about the company’s position.

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.

http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=38271

Then Mayor Menino replied to Mr. Cathy.  He sent a letter to Dan Cathy, President of Chick-Fil-A regarding a restaurant currently proposed to be located in Boston.   Here it is below.

“In recent days you said Chick-Fil-A opposes same-sex marriage and said that the generation that supports it has an “arrogant attitude.” Now—incredibly—your company says you are backing out of the same-sex marriage debate. I urge you to back out of your plans to locate in Boston. You called supporters of gay marriage “prideful.” Here in Boston, to borrow your own words, we are “guilty as charged.” We are mindful of pride for our support for same sex marriage and our work to expand freedom to all people. We are proud that our state and our city have led the way for the country on equal marriage rights. I was angry to learn  on the heels of your prejudiced statements about your search for a site to locate in Boston. There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it. When Massachusetts became the first state in the country to recognize equal marriage rights, I personally stood on City Hall Plaza to greet same sex couples coming here to be married. It would be an insult to them and to our city’s long history of expanding freedom to have a Chick-Fil-A across the street from that spot.”

You can read the copy of the actual letter it here:

http://bostinno.com/2012/07/25/read-mayor-tom-meninos-full-letter-to-chick-fil-a-about-not-coming-to-boston-image/

Let me focus on a few things.

1)      Free Speech.  Mayor Menino is getting upset regarding the personal stance of the Owner Dan Cathy.  While Chick-Fil-A is tolerant of others viewpoints, they maintain a respect for those of differing views, a statement from their Facebook page below:

The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender. We will continue this tradition in the over 1,600 Restaurants run by independent Owner/Operators.

https://www.facebook.com/#!/ChickfilA

It is ironic that while Mayor Menino values his free speech, he is outraged by Dan Cathy’s free speech.  While Chick-Fil-A is not condemning anyone, Boston’s Mayor is.

2)      Discrimination.  This has to be one of the most blatant statements of hypocrisy I have seen.    Mayor Menino says “There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it”.  Did I just read that right?  The Mayor is upset about Chick-Fil-A voicing an opinion in which Cathy discriminates against same sex marriage while Menino himself discriminates against Chick-Fil-A coming to Boston.

At least if you disagree with Chick-Fil-A, Mr. Mayor please make a non-circular argument as to why you disagree.  But Menino’s not done, he also comments

“Are there other companies? There might be, but their president, their ownership doesn’t speak out as loudly as this individual (Dan Cathy) has. We can make all kinds of excuses, but it’s no excuse when you discriminate against other folks,” Menino said.

http://boston.cbslocal.com/2012/07/26/meninos-letter-to-chik-fil-a-president-fuels-national-debate/

And what’s your excuse you when you discriminate against other folks at Chick-Fil-A Mayor?

3)      Diversity and Inclusiveness.  Mayor Menino’s mistake is not limited to himself, other companies are arguing against their own stance’s as well.

That stance didn’t go over well with the Jim Henson Co., whose Muppet characters have been served up as toys in Chick-fil-A’s meals for kids.

“The Jim Henson Company has celebrated and embraced diversity and inclusiveness for over fifty years and we have notified Chick-fil-A that we do not wish to partner with them on any future endeavors,” the company said in a posting on its Facebook page.

http://www.abcactionnews.com/dpp/news/national/muppets-mike-huckabee-join-chick-fil-a-fracas-over-dan-cathys-same-sex-marriage-comments#ixzz21kaQn78e

Let me state, I have no problem with The Muppets choosing not to do business with Chick-Fil-A.  I do have a problem when people are hypocritcal about ‘other companies not being diverse’ when they themselves are not being diverse.  So “The Jim Henson Company has celebrated and embraced diversity and inclusiveness”  but they refuse to include Chick-Fil-A in their business ventures and do not respect the Christian perspective in their diversity.  If The Muppets don’t want to work with Christians fine, but don’t claim to be diverse and inclusive when that’s exactly what you’re not doing by cutting ties with a company that promotes a message you don’t agree with.

What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

This issue is a lightning rod in our culture today.  Let me say from the get go, I know people who are homosexual, and I care for them.  I really do.  Most of the time when a position is given that is perceived as ‘against’ one’s family or friends, the hearer becomes defensive.  If a right relationship with God is greater than allowing people to turn away from God and follow other desires, all followers of Jesus should speak out.  In love yes, and in truth, we should speak out of true concern that others are living lives that are not consistent with the reality that God exists, and we exist for relationship with Him.  As sinful people ourselves, we should point out sin and turn toward Jesus.

For most people in support of homosexuality, they base their decision on the rights for others to engage in homosexual relationships and receive the same recognition and benefits, on their feelings towards those that they know are gay, saying nothing in nature prohibits it, it doesn’t effect them, etc.  The problem with this issue (and others) are that since it current laws are just man’s opinions expressed at a given time, they are not transcendent.  In other words, the laws extend to our country, but not others, the state laws extend to our borders, but not into another states’.  There is a limit to our current laws.

However, if we have an all-powerful and just creator, then His word on this subject is authoritative.  Since we are all created by Him, this would supercede or transcend, any cultural or man-given laws.  Given this, we will look at what God’s authoritative Word has to say about this.

God institutes marriage at the beginning of human history, as His perfect way to structure the family.  A man in a sexual relationship with another man, does not have the right to redefine that as marriage. 

 Genesis 2:18 ESV  Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”


Genesis 2:20 b-24 ESV  But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.  (21)  So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.  (22)  And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.  (23)  Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”  (24)  Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Man was not made out of man, but woman.  It is quite a stretch to read verse 24 and see anything other than the family as made up of a father and mother raising children. God does not institute an exception for homosexuals to raise children, regardless of what current local laws provide for or allow.  On top of this, let’s say the current laws would allow for homosexuality to be defined as ‘marriage’.  Would incest then become OK too?  What would prevent an uncle and a niece from marrying?  It would simply be subjective to the current law of the day, and the current country who’s laws you were under.  So if the US allowed incestual marriages, but over in Saudi Arabi they didn’t, then the ‘right’ as to who can marry is simply dependent upon where you live.

Romans 1:26-27 ESV  For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;  (27)  and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Now we will focus on the words “natural” in v. 26 and “relations” in v. 26 as well.  Below are the greek deinfitions according to Strong’s Greek Dictionary.

Natural G5446  phusikos  foo-see-kos’

“physical”, i.e. (by implication) instinctive:–natural.

Relations G5540  chresis  khray’-sis

employment, i.e. (specially), sexual intercourse (as an occupation of the

body):–use.

Anyone reading this text must make a gigantic leap to dance around what the text is saying, if they try to avoid that God is condemning those that are homosexual, both male and female.  The natural or physical function is that man is made for sexual intercourse with a woman, not another man.  The ability to create children is an example of natural relations.  Now not only this, but Paul states a warning for those who approve of homosexuality.

Romans 1:32 ESV  Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

With very strong words, Paul chastises and gives warning to those who seek to approve of the practice.  This a stern warning to us today, when this is such a hot button issue, we must not, and cannot swerve from God’s position on this, regardless of what culture says.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 ESV  (9)  Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,  (10)  nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Lastly,  in the letter to the Corinthians, Paul warns again against homosexuality.  While we see very clearly the command to prohibit this, maybe the most overlooked portion is that God says “neither the sexually immoral”…”will inherit the kingdom of God”.  While those who support homosexuals may say those heterosexuals treat them unfairly, the reality is, God hates all kind of sexual sin.  Not limited to homosexuals but to heterosexuals too.  Paul is warning the people of how to be obedient to God, to inherit the kingdom of God and be restored to right relationship with him.  Let us recognize all sinners are in need of savior.  We can turn to Jesus to forgive us of all sin, including sexual sin, to be restored.

Earliest Manuscript of the New Testament Discovered?

Taken from an article by Dan Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary, Professor of New Testament studies:

…I mentioned that seven New Testament papyri had recently been discovered—six of them probably from the second century and one of them probably from the first. These fragments will be published in about a year.

These fragments now increase our holdings as follows: we have as many as eighteen New Testament manuscripts from the second century and one from the first. Altogether, more than 43% of all New Testament verses are found in these manuscripts. But the most interesting thing is the first-century fragment.

It was dated by one of the world’s leading paleographers. He said he was ‘certain’ that it was from the first century. If this is true, it would be the oldest fragment of the New Testament known to exist. Up until now, no one has discovered any first-century manuscripts of the New Testament. The oldest manuscript of the New Testament has been P52, a small fragment from John’s Gospel, dated to the first half of the second century. It was discovered in 1934.

Not only this, but the first-century fragment is from Mark’s Gospel. Before the discovery of this fragment, the oldest manuscript that had Mark in it was P45, from the early third century (c. AD 200–250). This new fragment would predate that by 100 to 150 years.

How do these manuscripts change what we believe the original New Testament to say? We will have to wait until they are published next year, but for now we can most likely say this: As with all the previously published New Testament papyri (127 of them, published in the last 116 years), not a single new reading has commended itself as authentic. Instead, the papyri function to confirm what New Testament scholars have already thought was the original wording or, in some cases, to confirm an alternate reading—but one that is already found in the manuscripts. As an illustration: Suppose a papyrus had the word “the Lord” in one verse while all other manuscripts had the word “Jesus.” New Testament scholars would not adopt, and have not adopted, such a reading as authentic, precisely because we have such abundant evidence for the original wording in other manuscripts. But if an early papyrus had in another place “Simon” instead of “Peter,” and “Simon” was also found in other early and reliable manuscripts, it might persuade scholars that “Simon” is the authentic reading. In other words, the papyri have confirmed various readings as authentic in the past 116 years, but have not introduced new authentic readings. The original New Testament text is found somewhere in the manuscripts that have been known for quite some time.

These new papyri will no doubt continue that trend. But, if this Mark fragment is confirmed as from the first century, what a thrill it will be to have a manuscript that is dated within the lifetime of many of the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection!

http://www.dts.edu/read/wallace-new-testament-manscript-first-century/