Suicide, Christianity, & the Meaning of Life

Image result for martyr

If – as the Bible teaches – when a believer dies, their soul goes to be with God, where there is no longer any suffering, pain or sickness, then why would we not want to speed up the process a little bit? After all, as Paul the Apostle wrote to the Philippians, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23). Why not take up smoking, stop using sunscreen, and give up wearing seatbelts? Or, to take it even further, why not just go all the way and end your life now, so you can leave this harsh world behind and go to Heaven?

If that sounds preposterous, keep in mind that this was something that actually happened in early Christian history: there was a time when committing suicide became fashionable among Christians, and the church had to respond and try to end this tragic fad.

When Christians Were Killing Themselves

Until the Edict of Milan, AKA the Edict of Tolleration was issued in 313 AD, Christianity’s status in the Roman Empire was that of religio illicita, an “illicit” or illegal religion (as opposed to Judaism, which held the status of religio licita)During this time, Christians throughout the Roman Empire experienced waves of persecution, usually dependent on the attitudes of local authorities, although there were times when persecution was the official policy of the entire empire – such as during the reigns of Nero and Diocletian. Christians also faced persecution outside the Roman Empire.

During this period, many Christians were martyred, and martyrs were highly regarded and respected as those who had been willing to pay the ultimate price for their faith. In fact, martyrdom was so highly regarded, that people began to seek it out and desire it, as a way of expressing their devotion to Jesus. Ignatius of Antioch, for example, wrote about his desire to die as a martyr.

But some people took it even further. Jerome writes about a young woman named Belsilla who flagellated herself so much that she died from her self-imposed injuries. Another woman, Agathonike, upon witnessing the execution of a bishop by burning, also threw herself onto the fire, declaring “this is the meal that has been prepared for me.” She died in the flames, even though she had not been arrested nor charged. There are other accounts of Christians volunteering to be martyred even though they were not even being sought by the authorities. [1]

The Donatists, who considered themselves particularly hard core and dedicated, greatly desired to show their devotion by being martyred, some even going to the point of simply killing themselves to show how spiritual they were, i.e. how much they were not attached to this life and how much they desired to depart this world and be with Christ.

The Response of the Church

Seeking martyrdom and committing suicide became such a big issue with the Donatists in particular that it threatened the credibility, and even the existence of the church in their area of North Africa.

Judaism had always considered suicide to be sinful, whereas in pagan Roman culture it was considered an acceptable way to exit this life, and was practiced mostly by the wealthy, in part because slaves were not allowed to commit suicide since their lives did not belong to them, but rather to their masters.

It was Augustine of Hippo, a native of North Africa himself, who took up the challenge of addressing this issue and clarifying Christian thinking on this subject. In his book ‘The City of God’, Augustine considered what the Bible has to say about suicide and weighed various arguments for and against suicide. His conclusion was that suicide is always wrong as it is a violation of the sixth commandment (“Thou shall not murder”), and is never justified even in extreme circumstances. This became the official position of the church. [2]

The Meaning of Life

This whole issue touches on something which is core to Christian belief, and which sets Christianity apart from other worldviews and religions.

Many world religions view the world negatively, as a place of chaos, pain, and suffering – where the goal is to escape. This is the goal of transcendence and Nirvana in Eastern philosophies and religions, for example.

Christianity on the other hand, views this world positively. Rather than seeing the origin of the world as having come about through conflict or chaos, it is described as the thoughtful and good creation of a loving God. It is described as a garden paradise, given to us as a gift by our loving creator.

Although this good creation has been corrupted by sin and world currently “lies under the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), the world still retains its fundamental goodness, and God has promised that one day He will redeem His creation.

The purpose of our lives, according to the Bible, is not to escape this world, but to steward this world (Genesis 1:28), as well as our lives and everything we’ve been given, to the glory of God and for the benefit and salvation of others. In other words: the people of God have been given a mission which can only be carried out in this life, and therefore this life matters greatly. Rather than escaping this world, His desire for us is to be about His business as long as we live.

It is an unbiblical an anemic theology of life and the world which leads to the attitude that the most spiritual thing to do is to bide your time as you wait to get out of this world to be with God. True spirituality is rather to value this life and the unique opportunities it affords to do the work of God, and be involved in his saving and redeeming work.

As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (1 Thessalonians 5:19)

Between now and the end of our lives, there is a whole space that is significant. How you live it matters greatly to God. There are things he wants you to do with that time (cf. Ephesians 2:10). The Christian life, in other words, is not simply waiting to die so you can go to Heaven. God has given you this life for a purpose and He wants to use you to advance His Kingdom and to touch lives. He values our lives, and so should we!

 

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When God Leads by Closing Doors

door green closed lock

This past Sunday at White Fields Church, we began a new series called Upside Down, which may or may not be a reference to Stranger Things, but definitely comes from what was said about the Christians in Thessalonica, that “these people who have turned the world upside down have now come here also.” (Acts 17:6)

Upside Down Sermon Graphic-2

One of the interesting aspects about the church in Thessalonica is that Paul never actually intended to go there. His plan was to go somewhere else: to the province of Asia. When that didn’t work out, he tried to go to the region of Bithynia. In other words, going to Thessalonica, in the province of Macedonia, wasn’t even Plan B, it was Plan C! And yet, God did an amazing work there, so much so that Paul tells the Thessalonians that they are his glory and his joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:20)

Closed Doors that Changed History

David Livingstone, the great missionary who brought the Gospel to the interior of Africa, originally wanted to go to China as a missionary, but it didn’t work out. That’s how he ended up in Africa. The rest is history.

William Carey, who pioneered the modern missionary movement in India, originally planned to go to Polynesia.

Adoniram Judson, who brought the gospel to Burma, originally wanted to go to India, but the doos were closed.

Closed Doors and God’s Leading in My Life

I spent 10 years as a missionary in Hungary. They were wonderful, fruitful years. But I didn’t originally intend to go to Hungary.

Check out this video in which Mike and I discuss how God led each of us to Hungary. Spoiler alert: Mike didn’t intend to go to Hungary either. Watch the video to find out where we were each intending to go, and how God led us, and how we feel about our plans not working out.

We are also now podcasting not only our sermons, but these Sermon Extra discussions every week as well. You can find them on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify.

Neil Armstrong is Cool, But Buzz Aldrin is My Hero

July 20, 1969 was the day that the Apollo 11 mission successfully placed two men on the moon: Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.

Buzz Aldrin on the moon, July 20, 1969

While Neil rightly gets much of the attention for being the first to set foot on the moon, with his famous, but accidentally misspoken phrase, “This is one small step for [a] man, but one giant leap for mankind,” Buzz Aldrin is the one I look up to the most.

A Committed Christian

At the time when Buzz Aldrin went on the Apollo 11 mission, he wasn’t only an astronaut, he was an elder at his church: Webster Presbyterian Church in Webster, Texas.

Communion on the Moon

In total, Armstrong and Aldrin spent 21 hours on the surface of the moon, much of which was televised and was, unsurprisingly, the most-watched television event of that year.

During their time on the moon, Buzz Aldrin asked for a moment of silence, so he could celebrate in his own way: by reading some passages from the Bible and taking Holy Communion.

The passages he had written down on a piece of paper to read on the moon were John 15:5, where Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing,” and Psalm 8:3-4: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”

A handwritten card containing a Bible verse that Buzz Aldrin planned to broadcast back to Earth during a lunar Holy Communion service, featured in a space-related auction in Dallas, Texas, 2007. (Credit: LM Otero/AP Photo)
A handwritten card containing the Bible verses Buzz Aldrin read on the moon. (Credit: LM Otero/AP Photo)

Here’s how History.com recounts the events in their article, “Buzz Aldrin Took Holy Communion on the Moon. NASA Kept it Quiet”:

As the men prepared for the next phase of their mission, Aldrin got on the comm system and spoke to the ground crew back on Earth. “I would like to request a few moments of silence,” he said.

Then he reached for the wine and bread he’d brought to space—the first foods ever poured or eaten on the moon. “I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup,” he later wrote. Then, Aldrin read some scripture and ate. Armstrong looked on quietly but did not participate.

 

The communion bag and chalice used by Buzz Aldrin during his lunar communion. (Credit: David Frohman, President of Peachstate Historical Consulting, Inc.)
The communion bag and chalice used by Buzz Aldrin during his lunar communion. (Credit: David Frohman)

Buzz’s Big Take-Away

In a video message which was broadcast back to Earth from the spacecraft as they made their way back from the moon, Aldrin recited the passage from Psalm 8:3-4.

Here is the video of that message. He begins reading the Psalm at 2:49.

Punching Conspiracy Theorists

There are many people who believe the moon landing never actually happened and is part of a conspiracy on the part of the United States government to show their supremacy over the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

One version of this conspiracy theory says that director Stanley Kubrick filmed the whole thing on a soundstage, and then was so upset by what he had been forced to do, that he hid a confession in a later film: The Shining. In Stephen King’s novel, on which the film was based, the room which is the epicenter of the bad vibes in the hotel is Room 217, but in his film adaption of the novel, Kubrick changed the room number to Room 237, supposedly because the moon is roughly 237,000 miles from Earth.

You can read a list of moon landing conspiracy theories here, but most have been thoroughly disproven.

In 2002, Buzz Aldrin was ambushed by Bart Sibrel outside of a hotel in Los Angeles. Bart called Buzz “a coward and a liar and a…”. He didn’t get to finish his sentence, because Buzz, then 72 years old, punched Bart in the face. Fortunately someone was recording; here’s the video:

While this wasn’t Buzz’s finest moment, nor his most Christian response, it’s easy to understand Buzz’s frustration. It reminds me of the time when Paul the Apostle cast out a demon from a girl in Philippi after becoming “greatly annoyed” with her antics. (Acts 16:18)

On the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, I’m impressed with Buzz Aldrin, who was himself, uncompromisingly, as a Christian, on the world’s biggest stage. In our current age, all of us have a platform; are you using your platform to be an ambassador for Christ? May God give us the courage and wisdom to do so, and to do it well.

How Should We Understand the Song of Solomon?

photo of couple facing each other during golden hour

Earlier this year I added a page on this site where readers can submit questions or suggest topics (click here for that page). Recently I received this question:

I have big trouble with The Song of Solomon. It’s often used for looking at marital intimacy, but I’m always thinking: ‘Which wife is Solomon talking about?’ He had so many. And it seems as if having all these wives was just a way of committing adultery (legally). So then I don’t understand why people use these verses to look at the loveliness of marriage?

I referred to the Song of Solomon this past Sunday in my sermon titled: “I Could Never Believe in a God Who Does Not Affirm Some People’s Sexuality”, which was the final installment in our series called “I Could Never Believe in a God Who…”.

The Song of Solomon is important theologically because it extols marital intimacy, showing romantic love as being for the purpose of enjoyment and the binding of spouses together, not only for the purpose of procreation. This stands in contrast to many ancient (and modern) views on sexuality which extol asceticism (the denial of pleasure) and eschew physical pleasure.

What We Know

According to the first verse of Song of Solomon, this is a song written by Solomon. This would make it one of the 1005 songs that Solomon wrote (1 Kings 4:32), but the title “Song of Songs” (S.o.S. 1:1) is a superlative, meaning that this is the best of all his songs.

Based on 1 Kings 4:32, it is assumed this song was written early in Solomon’s reign.

It is a lyrical poem, and the main character is a “Shulamite woman”. Shulamite simply means “from Jerusalem” – so this woman is from Jerusalem. This is important, because the first marriage of Solomon’s that we’re told about in 1 Kings 3:1 is his marriage to the daughter of Pharaoh, whom he brought to his palace in Jerusalem.

So the big question is this: Who is the Shulamite woman? Several suggestions have been made, as I will outline in the next section.

Four Possible Interpretations

It has been said that “perhaps no book in the biblical canon has had a greater diversity of interpretative strategies.”[1] Here are the four most popular:

1. Allegorical Interpretation

This view sees the sensuous descriptions of love as a picture of the love between God and his people, and then between Christ and his bride (either the church or the individual soul). This view was very common in the Middle Ages. Its weakness is that it runs the risk of diminishing the book’s endorsement of marital intimacy. Virtually all scholarly interpreters today see the book primarily as a celebration of love and the gift of sexual intimacy, many would say that it also sheds light on the intensity of the spiritual love-relationship between God and his people (see Eph. 5:22–33).

2. Anthology Interpretation

This interpretation views the Song of Solomon as a collection of poems or lyrics, arranged around the common theme of intimate love between a man and a woman—celebrating love’s longing, ecstasy, joy, beauty, and exclusivity. This understanding rejects the idea that the book contains a narrative plot.

3. The Shepherd Hypothesis

This is an interesting hypothesis which became popular in the 1800’s. It says that the Shulamite woman and the shepherd boy are two peasants who are in love, and King Solomon is seeking to win the woman’s into his harem. The woman ultimately resists Solomon’s flattery and returns home to marry the shepherd.

Several evangelical interpreters advocate this interpretation, because it accounts for what we know about Solomon having many wives later in life, but its weakness is that it does not give us any way of knowing when the shepherd is speaking and when Solomon is speaking. In fact, the speech patterns of the main characters (e.g., the descriptive titles they use for each other) favor the idea that there are only two lovers. Also, it would mean that Solomon wrote this song, in which he portrayed himself as the bad guy, and praised the love of this couple. While that’s not impossible, it does seem unlikely.

The following outline shows how the Shepherd Hypothesis understands the structure of the book:

  1. Solomon Meets the Shulammite in His Palace (1:2–2:7)
  2. The Beloved Visits and the Shulammite Searches for Him in the Night (2:8–3:5)
  3. Solomon Displays His Wealth and Sings of His Love (3:6–5:1)
  4. The Shulammite Yearns for the Beloved (5:2–6:3)
  5. The King Fails in His Pursuit of the Shulammite (6:4–8:14)

4. The Solomon-Shulamite Interpretation

The most common interpretation today is that the Song of Solomon a story about King Solomon and the Shulammite woman. Here is the outline:

  1. The Lovers Yearn for Each Other (1:2–3:5)
  2. The Wedding (3:6–5:1)
  3. Temporary Separation and Reunion (5:2–6:3)
  4. Delight in Each Other (6:4–8:4)
  5. Final Affirmations of Love (8:5–14)

The only problem with this view, is that we don’t know who this Shulamite woman is. It is possible, that Solomon is singing this about the daughter of Pharaoh, whom he dubs a “Shulamite”, since he has brought her to Jerusalem. Another suggestion is that prior to his wedding with the daughter of Pharaoh in 1 Kings 3:1, Solomon was married to another woman from Jerusalem, which 1 Kings never tells us about, and this song is a poetic retelling of that relationship.

What About Solomon’s Many Wives?

According to 1 Kings, it was only later in life that Solomon abandoned the monogamous standard of Scripture and started accumulating many wives. So it is entirely possible that at the time he wrote this song, his romantic interests were not yet tainted, and what we read about in this book is indeed the portrayal of something pure and beautiful.

1 Kings 11 makes it clear that Solomon turned away from the Lord in his heart, and the Lord was not pleased with what Solomon did. Many times, especially in the Old Testament, the Bible “reports the news” and leaves it to us to determine if what they did was good or not, based on what we know about God’s character and standards. Clearly, what Solomon did with his many wives was sin, and not an example for us to follow.

For more on this topic, check out: Does the Bible Ever Actually Prohibit Sex Before Marriage? What about Polygamy?

Solomon is a classic example of someone who started well, but did not finish well. Whereas his early life is an inspiration, his later life is a warning.

It has been said, “The last mile is the least crowded.” May we be those who finish well in this life of faith!

 

When Was the New Testament Recognized as Holy Scripture?

person reading the daily fake news newspaper sitting on gray couch

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about the Bible. Maybe it’s because people often settle for getting their information from dubious sources like social media or somebody they know who told them something.

This past Sunday, in our I Could Never Believe in a God Who… series, we looked at the Bible. The message was titled: I Could Never Believe in a God Who…Gave Us a Faulty Bible (click here to listen).

Some common misnomers about the New Testament:

  • Early Christians didn’t have the New Testament
  • The books of the New Testament were not considered anything special in their time,  and it was only later on that these books came to be thought of as holy scripture.
  • The New Testament only came into existence at the time of Constantine, 300 years after Jesus.
  • The New Testament has been changed and tampered with over time.

As common as these beliefs are, they are actually historically incorrect.

Did First Century Christians View the New Testament Books as Scripture?

In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul wrote these words: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness

What Scriptures are being referred to here?

Obviously it is referring to the Old Testament scriptures, but interestingly, this comes from the last letter Paul ever wrote, at the end of his life. By this time, almost all of the books in the New Testament had been written, and they were being distributed amongst the Christian churches, to be read and studied in their gatherings.

There are 27 books in the New Testament. By the time Paul wrote 2 Timothy, at least 23/27 books of the New Testament (including 2 Timothy) had been written and were in distribution amongst the early Christians, who considered these books Holy Scripture in the same way that the Old Testament was considered Holy Scripture.

So, when Paul says, “All Scripture” — most scholars believe he’s not just talking about the Old Testament, he’s also talking about the New Testament!

In the New Testament, what you find is that the Apostles understood that God was using them in their time to bring about a New Testament of Holy Scriptures, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Here are a few examples:

  • In 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter refers to the writings of Paul as “Scriptures”
  • In 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul referred to his own message as “the word of God”
  • In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul takes a quotation from the Gospel of Luke – and he calls it “Scripture” (Luke 10:7)
  • In some of his letters, Paul instructs the recipients to distribute his letters and have them read in the churches. (Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27)

Paul uses the term “all Scripture” in 2 Timothy 3:16, as opposed to the term he used for just the Old Testament in the prior verse: “sacred writings.” In other words, Paul uses a different, and broader term in Vs 16, because he is talking about more than just the Old Testament; he is including the recently written New Testament books, including the gospels and some apostolic letters.

Criteria for Canonization

When I was a kid, I used to love going to the grocery store, because in the checkout line they had tabloid magazines that were full of fake news.

“Aliens landed and took over Washington DC!” “Sasquatch sightings!” “Giant eagle carries off children!”   

We still have fake news today, but back then it was fun; now it’s just disturbing.

As you might imagine, there was a lot of fake news going around about Jesus in the years, decades and centuries following his ascension. So, the early church was forced into a position where they needed to create a “canon” of Scripture, in order to combat the fake news about Jesus, and solidify the accurate accounts of what really happened, and what was really inspired by God.

In the end, they canonized 27 books in the New Testament, using 3 major criteria:

  1. Apostolic authority – Was it written by an apostle or an eye-witness?
  2. Congruency – Was it consistent with what the rest of the Bible taught, and what the early Christians believed?
  3. Acceptance — Was it widely used and accepted in the Early Church?   

The now well-known Gospel of Thomas, which was discovered in Egypt in 1945 immediately fails on 2 of these 3 criteria: it is not congruent with the rest of the Bible, and it was not accepted by the Early Church.

On further examination, it also fails the test of apostolic authority, since – although it bears the name of an apostle, it contains anachronisms, which indicate it was written much later than the time when Thomas actually lived. The reason it bears his name is because, in an attempt to make this Gnostic writing seem credible, they falsely attributed it to an apostle.

The reason the Gospel of Thomas was not included in the canon was not because of fear or suppression from church authorities, but because it had no business being there, since it’s just fake news.

The New Testament is the Most Widely Attested Ancient Document in Existence

Did you know that we have no original copies of any of the books of the New Testament?

It’s true.

But did you also know that we have no original copies of nearly any other ancient work?

Consider this chart:

Ancient Documents Chart.jpg

We actually have fragments of the Gospel of John dating from only a few decades after they were written.

There is nothing that comes close to the New Testament when it comes to historical reliability.

Those 5686 manuscripts also match up, which means that when you read the Bible, you can be sure that what you are reading today is what was actually written.

It hasn’t been changed, it hasn’t been tampered with. It is an accurate account of Jesus’ life, and it has been considered holy Scripture and the very words of God since the earliest days of Christianity.

Isn’t the New Testament Full of Contradictions?

Check out this video in which Mike and I discuss that topic:

Here are some helpful links for you to look at as well:

Thank you Longmont Observer for reporting on our church‘s Easter Outreach!

Brightly colored eggs were strewn all over Roosevelt Park this past Saturday, April 20, morning. A balloon artist, bouncy obstacles, face painting, a puppet show and a craft table of bracelets made with Cheerios were all part of the White Fields Community Church’s Easter Egg Hunt and Festival. (WFCC) Head Pastor Nick Cady of WFCC…

via Boulder County’s Biggest Easter Egg Hunt and Festival — Longmont Observer

Are Easter Eggs and the Easter Bunny Pagan in Origin?

In this latest installment of the Longmont Pastor Video Blog, Mike and I discuss the origin of Easter Eggs and the Easter Bunny.

Many Christians are under the impression that Easter eggs and the Easter bunny – and even the word Easter itself are pagan in origin. Is that true? Where do these practices come from, and is it bad for Christians to participate in them?

We answer these questions in this video:

For more on this topic, check out: Does Easter Come From Ishtar?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the Benefits of Studying Church History

adult blur books close up

In his book, Preaching and Preachers, Martyn Lloyd-Jones discusses the following benefits of studying church history:

Church History Guards Us Against Error

Most of the theological discussions that people have today, as well as most heresies that exist today, were already discussed, debated and settled within the first 500 years of Christian history. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses are basically neo-arians, and their view of Jesus is the same one which led to the Council of Nicaea and the Nicene Creed. The modern heresies of today are really just rebranding and recycling older ideas which the church has already spent a lot of time addressing.

For more on Arius and Arianism, check out: Was It Necessary for Our Salvation that Jesus be God? 

Lloyd-Jones says this:

The way to safeguard yourself…is to learn something about heresies—how they arose in the past generally through very good and conscientious men. History shows how subtle it all is, and how many a man lacking balance, or by failing to maintain the proportion of faith, and the interrelationship of the various parts of the whole message, has been pressed by the devil to put too much emphasis on one particular aspect, and eventually pressed so far as to be in a position in which he is really contradicting the Truth and has become a heretic. So Church history is invaluable… It is not the preserve of the academics. I would say that Church history is one of the most essential studies for the [believer] were it merely to show him this terrible danger of slipping into heresy, or into error, without realising that anything has happened to him.

Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Preaching and Preachers (pp. 128-129).

Church History is a Source of Encouragement

Some people think about studying church history as being kind of like a visit to a sausage factory: the finished product might be great, but the way it was made wasn’t pretty. On the contrary, I would say that church history should cause us to be filled with wonder and amazement that in spite of human folly, errors, and mistakes, God has providentially guided and protected His Bride, because He loves her and is devoted to her.

Lloyd-Jones says this:

I know of nothing, in my own experience, that has been more exhilarating and helpful, and that has acted more frequently as a tonic to me, than the history of Revivals.

Take the time we are living in. What discouraging days they are, so discouraging that even a man with an open Bible which he believes, and with the Spirit in him, may at times be discouraged and cast down almost to the depths of despair. There is no better tonic in such a condition than to familiarise yourselves with previous eras in the history of the Church which have been similar, and how God has dealt with them.

The French novelist Anatole France used to say, whenever he felt tired and jaded with a tendency to be depressed and downcast, ‘I never go into the country for a change of air and a holiday, I always go instead into the eighteenth century.’ I have often said exactly the same thing, but not in the same sense in which he meant it, of course. When I get discouraged and over-tired and weary I also invariably go to the eighteenth century. I have never found George Whitefield to fail me. Go to the eighteenth century! In other words read the stories of the great tides and movements of the Spirit experienced in that century. It is the most exhilarating experience, the finest tonic you will ever know.

For a preacher it is absolutely invaluable; there is nothing to compare with it. The more he learns in this way about the history of the Church the better preacher he will be. At the same time let him, of course, during this training become familiar with the stories of the great men of the past, the great saints and preachers. It will not only act as a wonderful tonic to him in times of depression, it will keep him humble when tempted to pride and a spirit of elation.

Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Preaching and Preachers (p. 129).

Where to Begin?

There are a lot of really great books on church history. If you know a good one, please feel free to post it in the comments section.

I think a great place to start, with a book that is accessible, substantial, and enjoyable to read, is From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya by Ruth Tucker.

Also check out this great free online lecture series on church history from David Guzik at Enduring Word.

Another great resource is Christian Theology: An Introduction by Alister McGrath, which doesn’t sound like a church history book by the title, but approaches theology by looking at it through the development of Christian beliefs over the course of history.

We also offer a class at White Fields on church history. Check out our School of Ministry page, and if you’re interested in the class, shoot us an email at the address listed on that page, and we’ll keep you posted on when we will be hosting that class again.

Why Should Christians Visit Israel?

I have been in Israel for the past week with a group from White Fields and Calvary Chapel Brighton.

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We spent the beginning of our trip on the coast, visiting Joppa and Caesarea, both important sites in the Book of Acts, and then headed up to the region of Galilee, where Jesus did the majority of his ministry. Then we drove to Jerusalem, following the Jordan River, and passing places such as Gilgal (see Joshua 4) and the site of Jesus’ baptism and the wilderness where he was tempted directly afterwards.

After seeing some important places in Jerusalem, including the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, the southern steps of the Temple and the Western Wall, we spent a day at the Dead Sea, visiting the place where Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, seeing En Gedi where David hid from Saul in 1 Samuel 24, and going to Qumran where the Dead Sea scrolls were found and where John the Baptist was likely connected.

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Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, looking over the Kidron Valley

We will conclude the trip by visiting the Pool of Bethesda (John 5), following the way of the cross to Golgotha and seeing the garden tomb.

The trip has been incredible. I have particularly enjoyed getting the lay of the land and realizing the distances between places, and what they look like. Praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and standing where the church was born on Pentecost have been incredible experiences.

Why Should Christians Visit Israel?

Someone jokingly suggested that the benefit of visiting Jerusalem is that you can get the “before and after effect”: when the New Jerusalem comes (see Revelation 21), you will be able to compare it with the Old Jerusalem and see how much it’s improved! (Personally, I hope they clean up the Muslim Quarter a little bit…)

Interestingly, there is a neighborhood in Jerusalem called “New Jerusalem”. I went there, and it was nice, but not “streets of gold” nice. I’m looking forward to the real thing 🙂

All joking aside, there is one key reason why it is beneficial for Christians to visit Israel: Because, out of all world religions, what makes Christianity unique is that our faith is not based on abstract concepts, but on historical events which either happened or they didn’t.

What you learn from a tour of Israel, is that the New Testament accounts stand up to scrutiny. The New Testament talks about real places and real people and real events which had many witnesses, and which have been verified by archaeologists and historians. As Paul the Apostle said: “These things were not done in a corner!” (Acts 26:26)

In fact, because archaeology is a relatively young science, archaeologists are uncovering new findings all the time, and their findings corroborate rather than contradict New Testament accounts.

A visit to Israel is helpful for Christians, because it builds your faith in the historical events upon which Christian faith is based. This has been my first trip to Israel, but I expect it won’t be my last.

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Olive Trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. Some are over 2000 years old. #eyewitnesses

Mary Did You Know? – Questions About Jesus’ Childhood

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A few weeks ago I created a page where you can submit questions or suggest topics. A reader sent in this question:

In John 2:3-5, Mary asks Jesus to do a miracle in order to save a wedding feast where they have run out of wine.

How did Mary know to ask Jesus for help? Was she even asking for help?

Did she know who he was and what he was here to do?

Why are there no stories of Jesus’ childhood, except in the gnostic gospels?

I recently taught this section at White Fields, during our Advent series. In the sermon I talk about how this first of Jesus’ miracles points to the eschatological hope of the gospel. You can listen to that message here: From Shame to Joy

Let me answer each of your questions in order.

Was Mary Asking Jesus for Help?

Yes, I think that is clear from two things we see in the narrative:

  1. Jesus’ apparent frustration with the request.
  2. Mary’s instructions to the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do.

How Did Mary Know to Ask Jesus for Help? Did She Know Who He Was and What He Was Here to Do?

Yes, Mary absolutely did know that Jesus was the Messiah! This is the woman who got pregnant without having sex. I think that’s something that would be hard to forget.

This is the woman who had the angel Gabriel appear to her to announce that she was pregnant with the Messiah (Luke 1:26-38). This is the woman who sang the “Magnificat” (Luke 1:46-56). This is the woman whose cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah also had a visitation from the Lord. Joseph also had a visitation to tell him the identity of the child (Matthew 1)

Lest we forget, this is the woman who also experienced:

  1. The visit of the shepherds who had heard the divine proclamation (Luke 2)
  2. The visit of the magi who came from the East following the star which proclaimed the birth of a new king (Matthew 2)
  3. Interactions with Simeon and Anna in the temple (Luke 2)

Furthermore, this is the woman who had to flee with her baby in the night to Egypt, where they stayed for several years as refugees until Herod the Great died, because he was committed to killing this one who was the rightful heir to the throne of David, i.e. the promised Messiah.

Mary and Joseph had an acute awareness of who Jesus was, and I would expect that they also talked about this with Jesus. One question that theologians debate is whether Jesus innately knew that he was the Messiah, or if it was revealed to him by the Spirit. I expect that his mother and father would have talked to him about it as well, recounting to him as a young child why they had to live as refugees in Egypt, and telling him stories of the angels’ visitations and all the crazy stuff that happened at his birth.

The word Messiah means anointed one. There were three people in ancient Israel who were anointed with oil as a symbol of the Spirit of God upon them to empower them for their ministry: Prophets, Priests and Kings. The eschatological Messiah was known to be one who would be the perfect fulfillment of all three of these offices: he would be the ultimate priest, the true prophet (remember Moses’ prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:15 of the prophet whom God would raise up… the Jews understood this to be a Messianic prophecy – see John 1:21), and the true king (for more on this, read: If Jesus is God, Why is He Called the Son of God and the Firstborn of All Creation?)

Being that Jesus is the true and greatest prophet, it would be expected that he would perform miracles, like the “wonder-working prophets” Elijah and Elisha. This is why one of the expectations of the Jews from Jesus was that he validate his ministry through performing miracles. Jesus pushed back at this, knowing their hearts – but the fact is that he did perform many miracles.

Why are there no stories of Jesus’ childhood, except in the gnostic gospels?

It says clearly in John 2:11 that this was the first of Jesus’ miracles, or rather “signs”, by which he manifested his glory. This, by the way, goes to show the dubious nature of the childhood narrative of the gnostic Gospel of Thomas, which purports Jesus doing miracles to heal birds.

My guess is that the reason there isn’t more written about Jesus’ childhood is because there wasn’t much to talk about. He spent his first several years in Egypt, then at age 12, his parents noticed that he had a keen desire to know the Father and study the Scriptures. Beyond that, Jesus and his parents would have always known that he was the Messiah, but he didn’t do anything in that role until his baptism at age 30.

Thanks for these great questions! Keep studying the Word, and feel free to send more questions to me by filling out this form.