Wednesday, March 31, 2010

dia•spora Sermon: Humility

Take a listen to my sermon on humility. I preached this at our young adult service this past Sunday. You may have also noticed in the right hand column at the top is a new Sermon Player. I intend to upload as many sermons and classes of mine that I can. Check back for future updates.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Riverbed

Last night I preached a sermon on humility at dia•spora, our service of mostly young adults and young families. Humility is one of those topics that doesn't get covered a lot, probably because most preachers and teachers deem themselves unqualified to speak authoritatively on the subject. (I mean, can you really be an expert on humility? A bit of an oxymoron, isn't it?) But I happen to believe that humility is the most important thing in the world. So, despite my shortcomings, I wanted to address it.

The Bible tells us, on several occasions, that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. (Proverbs 3:34, 1 Peter 5:5) In other words, humility is the channel through which God's grace flows to us. It's the riverbed of the River of Life. The deeper the riverbed of humility the greater volume of God's grace flows into your heart.

Of course God's heart is to give us as much grace as we can bear. That's why, I believe, everything that happens to you is an opportunity to humble yourself. God has so ordered creation that it might humble the greatest of creatures--men and women. Life is humbling, and every experience is an opportunity to grow. Every difficult time is an opportunity to learn. We dig the riverbed deeper when we humble ourselves and learn the lessons that God is trying to teach us.

Whatever God is doing in your life, I assure you that part of it is trying to build humility into your soul. God wants that riverbed to be as deep as it can because his reservoir of grace is infinite. Think about the circumstances of your life--the good, the bad and the ugly. Ask God what he's trying to teach you, and specifically how he's trying to teach you humility. Dig the riverbed deeper by humbly obeying him, and enjoy the rush of grace that flows into your heart.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Nerd Stuff: NT Manuscripts

Here's another nerd blog that I first wrote up for my church.


It seems that the Bible is constantly coming under attack as being hopelessly full of errors and contradictions, and that the many manuscripts on which our translations are based are unreliable. The critique normally takes the line that too large a gap of time exists between the original documents and the earliest copies we have found. Hundreds of years have elapsed, they tell us, between the first writing and the copies we now possess. Who knows how the documents might have been altered? Who knows what absurd theological points (like the divinity of Christ) have been inserted in the interim? But is this really the case? I suppose I wouldn't be writing this if it were.

The New Testament is far and away the best-attested ancient document. What I mean by this is that there are hundreds and hundreds of early "copies", or manuscripts that date to within a reasonable amount of time to the first composition of the various books. The number of manuscripts (whether in whole or fragments) is estimated at 5000, with some dating to within a few decades, and many within three centuries.

By means of comparison, consider the second best-attested ancient document, Homer's Iliad. This epic Greek poem has about a tenth of the manuscripts as the NT, and the earliest document we have was written roughly 1200 years after Homer first composed the story. The best document, called Venetus A, is preserved from the tenth century AD, almost 2000 years later!

What we have with the NT is an embarrassment of riches. So many documents. So early. So similar. Consider one document, called p52. It contains a portion of the gospel of John, which was written in about 90. Scholars have dated p52 to about 125. You can do the math. 35 years! Less than a generation! Consider also that p52 was written in Alexandria, Egypt, and John wrote his gospel in Ephesus, in modern-day Turkey. That means that the Gospel of John was circulating throughout the Roman Empire in less than a generation.

Consider also Codex Sinaiticus, which was written in the middle of the 4th century and contains the complete New Testament, as well as about half of the Old Testament. Again, you can do the math. The whole New Testament was compiled and copied less than 300 years after it was written. When you consider that we're dealing with multiple authors at different times from varying locations working without the benefit of modern technology, this is truly a remarkable feat. So don't let Dan Brown get you down. The New Testament is the most reliable ancient document around.

Friday, March 19, 2010

New Thru 30

My last post was about's Bible app for the iPhone/iPod Touch. One of my favorite features of the app is the extensive catalog of Bible reading plans. I'm attempting to work my way through two of them, the M'Cheyne (which takes you through the Bible in a year) and Elevation Church's New Thru 30 (which takes you through the New Testament in 30 days).

Like so much of what they do at Elevation (which is in Charlotte, NC, by the way--mmm, Charlotte...), the New Thru 30 reading plan is intense and ambitious. It amounts to roughly 10 chapters of reading each day, though there is nothing scheduled for 2 days each week. I assume they do this so that you can catch up on what you weren't able to get through during the week.

One of the things I like best about the New Thru 30 is that, because you're reading so much at a time, you get a better sense for the structure and story of each book. (I'm still in the gospels at this point.) I've found that it's so much easier to understand a book of the Bible if you read it all in one sitting, or, for the longer books, read them over the period of just a couple days.

It has been difficult to keep up with the New Thru 30, as this has been one of the busier times for me and my family in recent memory. So it will probably be closer to the New Thru 45 for me. But whether you're reading 10 chapters a day or just a few verses, it's always good to consistently get into God's Word. His words nourish and refresh, rebuke and correct, encourage and enlighten. Read the Word, friends!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Bible App

I love churches that think outside of their own walls and seek to bless the body of Christ at large. seems to be one of those churches. If you're a Christian and you own an iPhone or an iPod Touch, first of all, shame on you for being so materialistic. Secondly, you've probably downloaded Lifechurch's free Bible app. It was one of the first apps I downloaded after I sold my soul and got an iPod Touch. (And thank you, Verizon, for not supporting the iPhone. Jerks.)

There's a lot to like about this app. First of all, it's free! And they carry a wide range of translations, including the NIV, TNIV, NLT, The Message, ESV, and many more. I'm sure that's a hefty licensing fee on their part, but they swallow all the cost and pass it on to us for free. Thanks, Lifechurch! (And some of those translations are even available for download!)

Probably my favorite feature is the reading plans. There are a lot to choose from, and they're all linked to their website, This was a smart move because the app has proved less than reliable at times, and it would be a major drag to lose track of where you are in your reading plan if the app crashes.

There is also a nice Contribs feature where you can publish your own thoughts on particular passages. I have yet to take full advantage of this feature, but I can see the potential. All in all this is a fantastic app, and because it's free and offers so much, I really can't complain about the occasional crashing. The only thing it doesn't have now that would put it over the top (and make it worth paying for) is Hebrew and Greek versions. Or maybe BibleWorks or Accordance should just put out an app.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Birthday of Sorts

I was studying in my office at the church at around 11:30 today when I got a call from Breena. We have been trying, for some time now, to figure out what to do with our oldest son, Cyrus. He is obviously very gifted. He is only 3 1/2 and is quite the drummer, has taught himself to write in cursive, knows how to spell everything, and knew his alphabet at 17 months. We love him so much and want the best for him, but it can be challenging sometimes to know what that is and how to best raise him.

One of the things that goes along with giftedness is sensitivity, and Cyrus is especially sensitive. He gets angry quite easily. I don't know what set him off today, but apparently Breena decided to address his anger. She began to tell him about Jesus (of course he already knows about him) and how the only way for him to be happy (and not angry so much) is to let Jesus into his heart. At first he didn't want to have Jesus into his heart because he wanted to be angry. But then mommy said, "That's okay. But if you want to be happy you need Jesus, just like I need Jesus." She told him about sin and the cross and the resurrection. Then she asked him if he wanted to pray to invite Jesus into his heart. He said that he did. And that's when Breena called me.

Of course I rushed home as quickly as I could. When I got there, I sat down with Cyrus on the pew (yes, we have a pew in our house) and asked him about his conversation with mommy. We went through everything that he had talked to mommy about and then I asked him if he wanted to pray to invite Jesus into his heart. He said "yes!" So the three of us bowed our heads and Cyrus repeated the prayer after me. It went something like this: "Dear Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. Thank you for loving me and forgiving me. I am a sinner, but you have forgiven me for all my bad things. You died on the cross for me. They put you in a tomb, but then you came back from the dead. You're alive! Please come into my heart and live with me. I love you. Amen."

It was, for me, a beautiful moment--one of those times where you're shocked by God and your amazing child. I don't know how much he understands all this. But I do know that I'll continue to talk about this with him and pray with him. He is truly remarkable, and his God loves him very much. As do I.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

More Lost Ruminations

Jesus acts like he doesn't owe me an explanation--like the calling is a sufficient act of grace in itself and I should be thankful simply for being chosen.

I wrote that a couple days ago and it's been haunting me ever since. And like I said before, I'm beginning to understand.

I understand now that, if Jesus had given me any more clarity and direction since Ember fell apart then my life would, once again, be centered around the calling. The mission, the task, would become my idol. My gifts and sense of purpose would be the primary source of significance in my life, rather than the one from whom those gracefully flow.

So rather than making my calling an idol, I've made the search to recapture it the idol. The quest and the question have become the center. Only persons can sit on thrones, and yet I have offered the throne of my being to a nonentity--a vapor and a nothing. A quest. A recapturing of old glories that, like the wildflowers in the high country of Tuolomne, have blossomed and faded in their time.

What a wretched state it is to idolize a nothing. What emptiness is found in the centering of a phantom. Oh, how I have been mistaken all these years! Jesus didn't call me to a task. He didn't call me to a plan. He called me to himself. No wonder he didn't give me an explanation--you can't explain love! What a wonderful act of grace is this, that he would save me from the mission in order to be loved! And then, to love.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Rites of Spring

I'm not a tradition guy. I don't like doing the same thing for Thanksgiving or Christmas. It doesn't bother me if I don't see fireworks on the Fourth of July. I don't even like wearing a tie at Easter service. But there is one tradition that I absolutely love and will do for the rest of my life.

On the first beautiful day of the year, every year, I listen to the song Heaven Sent by Cush. I've done this for the past 12 years, and I do it because the song reminds me of the sun. During the winter in Ohio the sun does not come out. Ever. Seriously. Three solid months of overcast skies and freezing cold weather. (And people say that Hell is a hot place.)

But eventually, by the grace of God, winter comes to an end. That happened this week. So when the thermometer passed 50 degrees and there wasn't a cloud in the sky, I knew that it was Cush time. This song takes me to a place I've never been but where I know that I belong. This song is the summer. Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Lost. I'm a fan. Of the TV show, not the physical or existential states of being. I've been watching the show from the beginning and I've always had this sense that it's inherently biblical, but I could never put my finger on it. After tonight's episode I'm beginning to understand.

If you haven't seen the show I don't want to give anything away. I will say, though, that predestination v. free will is a central theme. Cool, huh? And they've managed to hold a huge segment of the population's attention for six years!

Another major theme of the show, and the one that I really resonate with, is the concept of the unexplained calling. That is to say, certain characters believe that they have been called to the island but they don't know why. They don't know what they're supposed to be doing, and even as they begin to find out it's only like the slow opening of a spring flower to the sun. One of the major revelations of this season, though, is who exactly has been doing the calling.

Without getting into any detail (for the purpose of not spoiling it), I wanted to write about something that I was struck by in tonight's episode. One of the characters was shell-shocked. He was frustrated, at the end of his rope, because he had accepted the calling. He had said 'Yes' but he had never been told what the plan was. He didn't even know what his own role was supposed to be. He was just there, obeying and waiting... Waiting for answers... Waiting for the plan...

Sometimes I feel like that too. I've accepted the calling of Jesus, but the details are fuzzy. And he tells me to wait... But I get frustrated because I want answers. I want to know what I'm waiting for, and why it's taking so long. But Jesus acts like he doesn't owe me an explanation--like the calling is a sufficient act of grace in itself and I should be thankful simply for being chosen. And I am grateful for being chosen. But sometimes I regret saying 'Yes'...

That's the tension of Lost. That's the tension of my life.

Nerd Stuff: Textual Criticism

I wrote the following article on my church's blog and thought it was so nerdy I'd repost it here.


How do we get our English Bibles? What are the documents that the Bible translators work from? Haven't all of the original documents been lost or destroyed? Is it true that all we have now are copies of copies and that they are full of errors?

The questions of Bible translation are difficult and complex. Some scholars would have you believe that we are in an impossible position because we don't have any original documents and all we're left with is a bunch of error-ridden copies of copies [of copies of copies...]. Like in the game "Telephone" where a message is passed from person to person and is inevitably changed at the end, the message of Scripture has been passed on so many times that we can't possibly discover the original. Bart Ehrman even says that there are more errors in our New Testament documents than there are words!

And technically speaking, he's right. There are more errors than the words. And we don't have any of the original documents. All we have are copies of copies and all of them are at least slightly different from each other. <sarcasm>What a hopeless state we're in! We can't possibly trust the Bible! My whole system of faith is falling apart!</sarcasm> 

While it would certainly be easier if we had all of the original manuscripts of the Bible, we are not without hope. We can identify, with as much assurance as possible, the original readings of Scripture. As the man says, "There's an app for that." Our app is called textual criticism, and it is a proven scientific method for determining the original reading of ancient texts. Let's do a contemporary English example.

Imagine that you've got five pieces of paper that are all supposed to say the same thing, but they're all different. Your task is to reconstruct the original message of which these five are copies. Let's look at them:

  1. Thee Bucki's will win the national champion ship this year.
  2. The Buckees wil wind the nashunal championship this year.
  3. The Buckeyes will win the Big Ten Championship this year.
  4. The Wolverines will win the National Championship this year.
  5. The Buckeyes will win the National Championship this decade.

Now let's examine each one in turn. #1 was clearly written by someone unfamiliar with college football, but you can still discern a coherent message if you know what they probably meant to say. #2 was written by an awful speller. #3 was written by someone who lacked faith. #4 was written by a heretic. #5 was written by a revisionist historian.

With these five texts in front of you, you can begin to piece together the original message. The first word is obviously The, with the only variant being a misspelling. The second word is interesting, not because of the misspellings, but because of #4's insertion of "Wolverines". In this instance, you would likely conclude that the original reading is Buckeyes, but you may also add a footnote that says something like, "one obviously heretical document substitutes Wolverines". The third, fourth, and fifth words are easily discernible: will win the. The sixth word is interesting because you have another substitution. But which one is it? By all appearances it should be National, but if document #3 is unusually credible and strong, it could be Big Ten. In this case, it's wisest to go with National, but to also include a footnote for Big Ten. The seventh and eighth words are clearly Championship this. The final word seems obvious, but we have another example of a single pesky variant. Here again, we'll choose year but have a footnote for decade.

So our final text would read: The Buckeyes1 will win the National2 Championship this year3.

And we can be quite certain that this is, indeed, the word of the Lord.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Apologetics & Ex-Christians

This weekend I begin my four week class on Apologetics--a defense of the Christian faith. This one is challenging for me because I'm no apologist. But it needs to be done, and I'm the one who thought of the class anyway, so I guess I'm stuck.

In preparing for the class, I visited some websites for skeptics and ex-Christians. I wanted to get an understanding of what others think about our faith, particularly those who might be on the more hostile end of the spectrum. What I found was interesting.

There are a lot of very bright people who have very good reasons for not believing. For many, the Christian faith is unreasonable and illogical. It simply doesn't add up. They understand Christianity to be at odds with Reason (Faith v. Reason, Faith v. Science) and have chosen the latter. The have well-formed and well-thought arguments to express their position.

I also found a lot of stories of pain and disillusionment. They tried Christianity and it didn't add up. The promises that church leaders made were broken. Christianity didn't deliver the goods, nor did Christians live up to the ideals and mandates of their faith.

Though probably none of these people will be in my class, I want to engage in apologetics in such a way that honors them. As we move into these spaces, we must do so as people who listen first, and when we open our mouths, we speak intelligently, with humility and honesty. No games. No intellectual short cuts. No preacher's tricks. No shouting. No name calling. No condemning. The point is not to win their souls through well-reasoned arguments, but to honor them as human beings who are still very greatly loved by God. As Paul wrote to the Colossians: "Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Gospel and Babies

This is Ezekiel. He's three months old and, obviously, the cutest little thing you've ever seen. When I put him to bed, I lay down next to him and tell him how much I love him. Then I tell him how much Mommy loves him, and how much his brother Cyrus and sister Eisley love him. I go on and on like this until I've gotten through every family member. I want to make sure he knows that he is very greatly loved.

But then I tell him that there is someone who loves him even more than all of us combined, and that is God. I tell him that God sent his son, Jesus, to us, and that he was once a little baby just like you. And then he grew up into a man like daddy, and he walked around doing amazing things and telling people how much God loves them. But then he died. And when that happened, Jesus took all of the bad things that we do and threw them all away so that God doesn't even think about them anymore. Just a couple of days after he died, he came back to life! He was too great and amazing to stay dead! And a little while after that he went up to heaven where he sits on a throne because he is the king of the universe. And do you know what the best part is, little Ezekiel? The best part is that he wants to be your best friend.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Ash Wednesday Sermon

This is the sermon I preached at our Ash Wednesday service this year. Actually, I think it's pretty much the whole service.