No Other Book Part 2: Authority of Scripture

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Why should we do with the Bible tells us to do? Most people don’t even consider what God thinks about their actions. They just do whatever they want. But Christians are called by the Bible to live a certain way.

Last week we discussed how the Bible is inspired by God through human writers. This week we’re talking about why Scripture is authoritative for our lives. Why turn to the pages of Scripture when we need to hear from God?

Inspiration of Scripture explains how God recorded His word for us today. It is concerned with how God’s Spirit interact with human authors. Authority is concerned with the importance and priority of the Bible in our lives. Authority is about credibility.

The Bible speaks into our lives and directs us. It must have authority for us to listen to it. Any parent knows what it’s like for a teenager to deny them the authority to speak into their lives. We must recognize and respect the Bible’s authority.

We looked at 2 Timothy 3:16 when we talked about inspiration, and now we must look at the second part. Paul explained that the Bible is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

These four categories cover doctrine and practice. The New Testament writers and the Church knew for a long time that the Bible is the authority for Christian belief and practice. The Bible has the right to speak into our lives because it contains God’s words.

Scriptural authority gives the reasons for trusting in Scripture above all other sources. When we need advice, comfort, encouragement, rebuke, or anything else, the Bible is the place to go. Authority gives the Bible high honor as the greatest book ever written.

The great God spoke the greatest Word. Through the Bible, he speaks to us today. No other book in all of creation reveals his plan and purpose for our lives. No other book guides us and shows us his expectations.

The Bible has God’s fingerprints on it. It is unparalleled, matchless in the unity of its books. No other collection of books contains such a cohesive unity with such a diversity in language, cultures, and time periods.

Consider the thousands of years, number of authors, and the ability to reveal God and his plan throughout time. The Bible’s authority on ethics and morality in the time of its writing alone was greater than other moral codes.

Atheists may argue that the Bible is rife with ethical quandaries, citing examples such as God calling Israel to kill all the Canaanites, incest in its early pages, and contradictions in its teaching. But the more they would study the Bible, they would find that these are not contradictions, inconsistencies, or questionable ethics.

The Bible is not an easy book to interpret by far, but its overarching message is simple and complete. Its simplicity and complexity paradoxically run beside one another. A person can study the Bible all of their lives and still find more to know.

Authority also speaks to the historical accuracy and correctness of the spiritual and doctrinal information it contains. It speaks to other disciplines, like science, archaeology, and anthropology. We must note that at the time of its writing, it was completely accurate to the understanding of those disciplines, and sometimes provided a view advanced in its time.

For instance, some point out that it says that the sun rises and sets, suggesting that the earth is the center of the solar system. However, it also talks about the sun moving across its circuit in a circular motion, pointing to the earth revolving around the sun.

I firmly add that the Bible is not a science textbook. It’s revelation from God through the understanding of humans. We are finding as we discover more in archaeology at the geography and historical people are correct. New archaeological discoveries prove that the Bible is accurate.

One external evidence concerning the Bible’s accuracy is that it has been around for thousands of years. It has survived through human and natural attacks to destroy it. I showed in the post on the Canon some of these attempts.

God has allowed his Word to continue through the ages. He has protected and preserved it for us today. It is the true living document because God spoke it many years ago but it still speaks to us today. It does not fade away or fail with the passing of time.

Every contradiction or inconsistency people find has an answer when it is studied. Sometimes the solution is to let go of preconceived notions. For instance, the Bible contains predictive prophecies in which God historically calls his shots. Well before the event, one of the prophets declared it would happen.

People who don’t believe in predictive prophecy say that the prophecies were written that much later dates, usually after the event. They would call these self-fulfilling prophecies. We must consider in further study the calendars that are being used by each author. Aside from that, if they refuse to look closely at when the documents were written, they will never see predictive prophecy.

The Bible is authoritative for our lives today because God accurately penned through human beings the truth of their time. He has preserved his Word through centuries of danger and possible destruction. Ultimately, when we read the Bible today, the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts.

I have one more note about inspiration. Both inspiration and authority flow together. Only after realizing that God spoke his word through human authors and then made it authoritative for our lives today can we accept its counsel for every situation we encounter.

Often linked with inspiration are the issues of inerrancy and infallibility. Inerrancy is the trustworthiness of Scripture. Infallibility says the words of Scripture are faultless. Many suggest that the message may be infallible but the text may have inaccuracies or errors.

In my studies, dealing with the original languages and manuscripts, I have personally compared manuscript to manuscript. I was practicing a discipline called textual criticism in my third year of Greek at my undergrad. I still use this technique today.

Textual criticism is when scholars compare all of the manuscripts we have found to gain the most accurate reading from the original documents. I personally use the word inerrant because it decisively suggests that there are no mistakes in God’s Word.

God has no errors in himself, and he spoke the words of Scripture. The original autographs of Scripture, the original writings on parchments are both infallible and inerrant. Unfortunately, because we don’t have them anymore, we must use these copies of manuscripts.

Don’t be alarmed! As I have described before, having so many copies helps us to understand what the most accurate reading of the original is. Through comparing the manuscripts we have, we notice misspelled words, where people who copied manuscripts skipped lines, and other common mistakes.

So the manuscripts we have do have contain errors. This is why I prefer inerrant instead of infallible. The copies we do have are not infallible..But the words of Scripture are inerrant because they come from and infallible God.

God has spoken in a clear and obvious way. We can trust that the Holy Spirit spoke through human authors. We know that our Bible is so close in accuracy to the original writings that we need not fear we have it wrong.

Our understanding of the inspiration and authority of Scripture should cause us to have great joy and worship God for the Bible. He didn’t leave us to our own devices. He guides, encourages, teaches, disciplines, and blesses us through the Bible.

We can be certain that God speaks through the Bible to us on a daily basis. Every time you open the Bible, you are reading God’s words to you. You can put into practice with great success every part of his word when you accurately and faithfully interpret and apply it.

God inspired people long ago to write the things we would need to be told over and over because they don’t come naturally to us. He preserved everything we need to know to personally know and live for him.

The Bible is like no other book in all of creation. Allow God’s Word to speak to you and receive it in obedience. But as a caution, don’t worship the Bible because it is accurate and authoritative. Worship the God who wrote his Word and reveals himself to us. The Bible leads us to God and that’s why it’s like no other book. Leave a comment and tell me what you think about the authority of Scripture. What are some situations in your life or the Bible has helped you to know what God wants you to do?

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Holy God, Holy People

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When we start listing the rules and principles in the Bible for holiness, some people wonder if it’s even possible to live a holy life. Some say yes, some say no. Great theological debates have raged for centuries about holiness.

Living a holy life isn’t easy. Even if we get the outside right, our inner character is thoroughly challenged by God’s high standards. We can hide our inner thoughts, motives, and intentions from others. But we can’t hide them from the Holy Spirit. He’s got a front row seat.

We’ll get into this later, but even Christians can struggle with battling temptation and sin. Many talk about trying to be holy for just one day. Holiness is so all-encompassing that it is difficult, but not impossible.

Holiness begins with God himself. When his chief characteristics, or attributes, is holiness. Holiness as God’s attribute speaks of his uniqueness above creation, his separation from what he has made. God is unlike anyone else or any celestial being.

In the same way, God calls us to be separate from the world (1 Peter 1:15-16). But this isn’t an easy task. We are so integrated into the world that it’s very hard to live a holy life. But if God has called us to be holy, then it must be possible.

God has very high standards that are impossible to reach on our own. It’s a good thing the Holy Spirit dwells inside of us from the moment we begin to follow Jesus. He is called the “Holy” Spirit for a reason. He guides us into holiness if only we listen and obey.

So it’s not impossible. God is not the kind of God to command us to do something that we can’t do. The question is if we’re willing to listen to the Holy Spirit and obey him. At every turn we will battle temptation and our desires. These desires have been changed, but our environment is constantly pulling us into that old life.

Join me in the fight not to use willpower but to rely on the Holy Spirit. Join me in the battle for holiness. This is something God desperately wants for each of his children. It does require commitment, obedience, and hard choices when we are faced with temptation.

It’s not God’s will for you to struggle with temptation with this world system. Don’t fight a battle Jesus has already won. You can please God every day through holy living with his help. Leave a comment and tell me what you think about practicing the character of God through holiness.

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No Other Book Part 1: Inspiration of Scripture

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People question the Bible’s composition, transmission, and whether there are books missing. This series adds reason to faith concerning the Scriptures for every believer. It is also designed to give you loads of information that you can give to those asking you about the Bible.

This is the third installment in my series about the Bible, its composition, inspiration, authority, and whether there are missing books. In the previous two posts, we explore the composition of the Canon, or standard rule, of Scripture. It showed that there are criteria for considering a book canonical.

In the third and fourth installments, I want to consider first the inspiration of Scripture and then the authority of Scripture for our lives. What gives the Scriptures the right to challenge, rebuke, encourage, and exhort us? Why do we turn to them in every situation of our lives? The first reason for this is that the Bible is inspired by God.

Do you remember the moment you realized beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is real and you need him? You committed yourself to following Jesus for the rest of your life. That was a wonderful moment, wasn’t it? A moment of clarity when everything fit into place.

For me, a sense of calm and serenity enveloped me. All my worries and cares fell to the side. Simultaneously, there was a sense of trepidation. Now what? God saved me from his wrath and into his kingdom, but what was I supposed to do? That’s when we turn to the Bible.

Inspiration and authority lay down a rule of faith, a foundation and a roadmap for following God’s will. Abraham’s faith guided him when he left his family and culture to travel to the middle of nowhere. Without trust in God, he would’ve never made it. And we’re on the same type of faith journey.

Faith in action, not a belief system, will guide us. But what can we place our faith in? First, Jesus, the Living Word of God. But we know about him and what he expects because of the written Word of God. Inspiration claims that God in some way affected the text of the Bible as it was produced.

We believe that God prescribed the best and most godly way to live. The only way we know what he expects is if he communicates that to us. We must believe the Bible we hold in our hands and read every day and follow comes from him.

How do we come to the idea of the inspiration of the Bible? There is internal evidence that the Bible is inspired by God. This is why we call it the Word of God. It claims to be God’s Word, and so we must ask about the process of writing it.

Inspiration considers how God and humanity worked together to produce the Bible. Internally, we learn in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that Paul uses the unique description “God-breathed.” The first part of this passage affirms inspiration and the second part authority.

“God-breathed” is sometimes translated “inspired.” It contains the idea that God himself spoke the words in Scripture. But the Bible was written by human beings. Inspiration seeks to meld the relationship between God and human authors.

There are up to five different understandings of inspiration. Each of them considers the relationship between God and humanity during the writing.

  1. Verbal Dictation Theory – God dictated every single word of the Bible to the human authors, who were more like robots or secretaries.
  2. Verbal Plenary Inspiration – God used the biblical writers along with their backgrounds, literary styles, and personalities to write according to the Holy Spirit’s leading.
  3. Intuition Theory – Biblical writers were very wise men with advanced insight.
  4. Partial Inspiration – The Bible is infallible in matters of faith and practice that can have historical and scientific errors. If it doesn’t speak to the subject of faith, it can have errors.
  5. Dynamic Inspiration – The thoughts and concepts of the Bible are inspired but the words were left to biblical writers, not God’s words.

The first two are held by Christians of all stripes. But the last three become questionable. They essentially take God out of the picture of inspiration. I am in the camp of verbal plenary inspiration because I see the perspectives and backgrounds of each writer and yet believe there’s no point in studying the words of Scripture if God didn’t give them to the writers.

Inspiration means that when I read Scripture, God is speaking to me through it. Every word is important, not just the principles and concepts. This is why we do word studies and studied the context of every word that is used. When you love someone, you listen to everything they tell you.

In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul is talking about the Old Testament. So how can we claim inspiration for the New Testament also? In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul calls the quotation from Deuteronomy 25:4 Scripture, but includes Luke 10:7.

In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter comments that Paul’s writings are hard to understand and calls them Scripture. The New Testament writers realized that there was a special inspiration in their writings even while they were still writing.

There is so much more to talk about when we consider inspiration, but realize that the whole Bible is inspired by God, literally breathed out by him! When you read your Bible, God is speaking to you. He spoke to the writers of the Bible and his Holy Spirit speaks even now.

Scripture is his full and complete revelation to us. Everything we need to know God personally is contained in those 66 books. No more, no less. Only God could make sure that his words were written in the book while allowing for the personalities of the human writers. I am amazed at the wonderful Word of God! There is no other book like it in the entire world.

Next week we will discuss the authority of the Scriptures. Why should we turn to them to guide our lives? What’s so special about the Scriptures of the Bible and how can a 2000-year-old book speak to my current issues? Stay tuned to find out! And don’t be shy. Leave a comment to tell me what you think about the inspiration of the Bible. Which of the theories of inspiration do you ascribe to?

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Holiness Three Ways

Holiness is a church word. Ask anybody who doesn’t go to church, and they usually have no idea what you’re talking about. There is no need for them to know or practice holiness. So since at the church word, that would mean that everybody in church knows what it means, right?

Absolutely! Not. I could ask five people who go to church to define holiness and I would get five different definitions. Is that a bad thing? Perhaps. But holiness is taught and practiced different ways in different churches.

So I must be crazy to think that I can blog about it and talk about it. Maybe my message about holiness will only reach certain people. Some will be turned off by it and others will be my “Amen choir.”

We’re going to get into why that may be the case. But first, I want to define holiness in three different ways as the Bible describes it. Like any good preacher, I’ve found my three-point definition for a great three-point sermon. Here is how the Bible defines holiness:

  1. Separation. The first definition, and probably the most foundational is to be separate. God is separate from his creation. He is unique and unlike anything in creation. He is above it. In the same way, Christians are called to be separate from everything that isn’t in agreement with God. That would make us look quite different from everyone else, and that’s a bit scary. But that’s what we’re called to do.
  2. Sanctification. Holiness is also described as the opposite of worldliness. Sanctification simply means to be holy. Christians in the Bible are called “saints.” Sanctification is a big word that means we are following God’s path to be more like him. Does this mean rules? We’ll get into that later. It means to be opposite from the world. Worldliness is a huge issue when it comes to holiness.
  3. Purity. Holiness also speaks of being pure, unadulterated, unmixed. We are not double minded. We are not riding the fence. In the Bible, especially the Old Testament, the idea of clean and unclean is also associated with holiness. We cannot be mixed in our allegiances, our lifestyle, our behavior, our thoughts, or our actions.

As you can see, this is either going to be a fun journey to not only define but practice holiness where the rubber meets the road every day, or this will be the last blog post you read from me for a while. I’m hoping you will join me in this fun journey to describe and learn to practice practical holiness for everyday life.

A lot of people are talking about holiness. It’s a buzzword to pass around the church. People think it makes them sound pious when they talk about it. But after we talk about it, were going to talk about practical ways to do it. Leave a comment below to tell me how you would define holiness.

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How It Was Made Part 2: The New Testament

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As we continue to look at how the Bible was made, today I am focusing on how the New Testament was made. Even more than the Old Testament, people argue over whether or not the New Testament has the right books. I want to give you information on how it came about and how the church dealt with it. If you missed the first part of our discussion, you can find it here.

In 1844, Tischendorf made it his mission to find parchments and copies of the Greek New Testament. He knew what to look for as he worked for a university in Leipzig. He went every archaeological ruin hoping to find diamonds in the rough.

He found himself in the St. Catherine’s Monastery and discovered in the monks’ trash used for kindling their oven parchment leaves. A leaf is like a page of a Greek uncial, a parchment used to write on like paper today.

He discovered the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament, on them! Forty-three leaves were laying in trash ready to be burned! He promptly rescued them and publish them in 1846. Then he returned in 1859 because of church politics and was able to rescue the rest through copying the remaining manuscripts.

This story highlights the natural and human dangers to God’s Word throughout the ages. I’m in debt to the excellent work of Bruce Metzger for this true story. God’s Word doesn’t need enemies trying to destroy it to be at risk of becoming lost forever.

In fact, it can’t be stressed enough the small amounts of copies of the works of antiquity we still have. There are only seven complete manuscripts of Homer’s Iliad! Wait till you find out how many manuscripts and pieces of manuscripts we have of the New Testament. I’ll let you know, at the end of the blog post. But the stories of God’s protection of His Word are extraordinary compared to other ancient writings.

What about the New Testament? The Canon contains 27 books from the New Testament. The criteria for a genuine book is that it must be written by one of the apostles. In the first century, and apostle was only a person that was an eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry and teachings.

Jesus gave his authority to the apostles to write down his teachings (Matthew 28:18-20). She transferred his authority to the 11 disciples (a 12th apostle would be added in Acts 1) to teach other Christians. He explained all of Scripture to them and called them witnesses (Luke 24:44-48).

But there are books that weren’t written by the apostles! Paul’s 13 letters and John’s five letters clear the criterion. But what about Hebrews (no author given), Jude, James, Mark, Luke, and Acts? Those are a lot of books that weren’t written by apostles. However, these were written by

  • People close to Jesus and observing his ministry
  • People who traveled with the apostles or wrote what the apostles told them

For instance, these “questionable” books have the following circumstances:

  • The Gospel of Mark was written by John Mark who traveled with Peter and wrote from his account and perspective..
  • Luke and Acts are written by the first century doctor who traveled with Paul and was concerned with an orderly historical account (Luke 1:2-3; Acts 1:1-3). He was more like a reporter gathering first-hand accounts from eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry and the apostles.
  • James and Jude are the biological brothers of Jesus. James is the lead pastor of the Jerusalem church. Jude was an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry. It is believed he came to faith after Jesus’ resurrection.

Our largest problem is the book of Hebrews, which names no author. We don’t know if an apostle wrote it. The Church Fathers placed it with Paul’s writings. But we are almost certain today that Paul didn’t write Hebrews. So why is it included in the Canon?

There were other marks of authority besides apostolate authorship. A second criterion is that the book was well used by the churches and was helpful to their growth. In this sense, Hebrews was certainly of great use to the church, and still is. It is rich in affirming Christ’s supremacy, priesthood, sacrificial atonement, to name a few. A third criterion is that it is clearly inspired by God, or as Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:16, it was “God-breathed.” In this sense as well, Hebrews definitely fits into the Canon.

Historically, what are the earliest records we have every complete New Testament Canon of 27 books? We must realize that the church fathers didn’t seek to give a list of the Canon unless they faced heresy. They quoted Scripture in specific situations instead of a systematic approach to preserving the books.

Athanasius first listed the 27-book Canon in 367 AD. Isn’t that awfully late? Church fathers didn’t give a record because the church already knew the books included in the Canon. Only when they were challenged by heretics did the church fathers address the matter.

To demand a list of the 27 books from the church fathers was equivalent to asking a chemist to name every element on the periodic table even though he would only use a small number of them in his current experiment.

Several cannons mentioned before 367 AD come close to the closed Canon we have today. Although the early church fathers didn’t present a list of canonized books, they quoted from the Canon authoritatively by the early 200s AD. Here’s a list of some of the earliest cannons produced:

  • & Undo that go to sleep that Surprisingly, a heretic named Marcion (140 AD) produced his own canon including only the Gospel of Luke, all the Pauline epistles except the pastorals (1-2 Timothy, Titus).
  • Irenaeus (about 130 AD) either called canonical or quoted from every New Testament book except Philemon, James, 2 Peter and 3 John.
  • Polycarp (110-130 AD) quoted from all of the New Testament Canon except 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. He was a second-generation Christian, one of John’s disciples.
  • Clement of Alexandria (150 AD) quoted or authoritatively called Canon all but six books.
  • Cyril of Jerusalem (around 315 AD) called all canonical except Revelation.

The books that had the most trouble being cannibalized are 2 Peter, James, Hebrews, and Jude. Pseudo-Barnabas (70-130 AD) was first to quote from 2 Peter. Clement of Rome (95-97 AD) quoted James first. They both quoted from Hebrews as well.

Irenaeus (130 AD) first quoted from Jude. Although these were late to be added to the Canon, the earliest fathers were quoting them already. There’s a long history of these books being canonical before the official lists came out through councils.

One of the earliest cannons is called the Muratorion Canon of about 170 AD. The only books missing are Hebrews through Second Peter! That’s 170 AD! Scholars point out that it’s missing part of the fragment, since the missing books are in order.

Some fragments date so early and close to the originals that liberals are surprised. This means the late date of book completion is pushed back closer to Jesus’ death! The church fathers range from the 2nd to 4th generation of Christians.

That’s some strong evidence! The first church councils to list the 27-book Canon were in 393AD (Council of Hippo) and 397 AD (Council of Carthage). Earlier councils like Nicea (325 AD) mention the canon in total that we have today with the exception of five books (James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John and Jude).

I know that’s a lot of information, but it may help you as you witness others who have questions about Bible books. And it may bolster your own faith in God’s Word. In that same vein, I want to talk about internal evidence and the manuscripts for the Greek New Testament.

Internal evidence for the authority of the New Testament comes from the apostles like Paul. He quotes Luke 10:7 in 1 Timothy 5:8, a saying of Jesus never previously recorded anywhere else. Peter calls Paul’s writings “hard to understand” and “Scripture” (2 Peter 3:15-16). Even the apostles were aware that they were writing Scripture.

Let’s talk Greek manuscripts. A manuscript is a copy of the original or other copies. They contain fragments, whole books, or whole collections of New Testament books. I mentioned that we only have 9 manuscripts of Homer’s Iliad, uncontested by scholars and liberals. But we have well over 5,700 manuscripts of the New Testament! And they are much closer to the originals than Homer’s Iliad manuscripts.

Loss of information is minimal because there were about 23 years between Jesus’ ascension and the first book (Galatians, 56 AD) of the New Testament. Homer’s Iliad manuscripts come from hundreds of years later than the writing. Also, the New Testament was translated into Syriac, Coptic (Egyptian), and Old Latin (about 200 AD).

Don’t let people shake your faith about God’s Word. We can trust that God gave us everything we need to know about him and growing him. Don’t so many produce tons of errors? Not really. We use a scientific process called textual criticism. This is where we compare each manuscript to others with the same content.

The most errors are produced by misspelling, which is noticeable if you know the Greek language or see others that properly spell the word. How about theological issues? Not one theological fundamental has been lost in all of these copies!

And the kicker? All but 10 verses of the entire New Testament have been quoted by the Early Church Fathers! Even if we were missing manuscripts, we’d still have all the 10 verses. With the help of comparing copies, scholars declare our New Testament is 99.7% accurate to the original!

God has preserved his! The Canon is closed, and has been since John penned the last letters of Revelation (about 95 AD). He has kept his Word from all of the dangers of history, from corruption and destruction. Let us read the written Word that we might find in its pages the Living Word, Jesus!

Criteria for the Canonicity of New Testament Books

  1. Written by an apostle who was an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry and teachings.
  2. Written by someone heavily influenced by an apostle through travel and eyewitness testimony.
  3. Written by a close relative of Jesus who came to belief and was respected by the church.
  4. The book was well used and respected by the church for the same purposes as Scripture, that it was useful for edification, discipline, and encouragement in the Christian faith.
  5. It clearly had the marks of inspiration by God, being “God-priest” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Helpful Books and Resources

Brotzman, Ellis R. Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994. Look at chapters 5, 6 and 8.

Geisler, Norman L. and William E. Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible, Revised and Expanded. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1996.

Metzger, Bruce  M. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, Third Enlarged Edition. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1992. Look at Section 1, chapter 5 for some statistics. A very technical book!

Nunnally, Wave, Central Faithbuilders Podcasts, dated 07/20/08, 07/27/08, 08/03/08 and 09/01/08. You can pick up the podcast here: http://feed.centralfaithbuilders.com/. Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998. Chapter 3 is very helpful.

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All About Holiness Matters

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Welcome to my new series on the matters of holiness. We will be discussing everything from definitions of holiness to holiness in specific life situations. I am excited about this content and can’t wait to share it with you.

I’d like to mention that I am also working on a book about holiness with the working title, “A Holy Dare.” It’s all about the subjects we are beginning to cover in this blog series. I am currently working on chapter 8 out of 12.

Just to get your wheels turning and thinking about the subject of holiness in general, how has your church and your pastor approached the subject? Do they ever talk about holiness? What kinds of things do they discuss?

I have found that churches go either way on the subject. Either they never talk about it and never address it, or they talk about it all of the time. Does your church talk about holiness using rules and regulations or do they talk about principles and “situational holiness”?

The book and this blog series come out of a series I did when I was preaching back in 2012. Beginning with next week’s blog post on Tuesday, we will jump in with both feet starting with the definition of holiness. Take a moment to leave a comment and tell me about your experiences with teaching on holiness.

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How It Was Made Part 1: The Old Testament

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For the next six weeks or so, I want to discuss three essential issues to understanding the Scriptures, how we got them, why they are authoritative, and if anything is missing. Regularly Christians deal with these issues in the world. People want to add new books they’ve found from antiquity, like the Gospel of Thomas. Everyone questions why we should do what the Bible says. And everyone is curious to know how we got the Bible, Christians and non-Christians alike. Let’s begin with how the Old Testament was made.

Living in the desert isn’t as fun as you might think it is. There’s no grass, nothing to do. But some Bedouin shepherds were traveling in the desert region known as Qumran nonetheless. Long ago in the times of Jesus, an isolationist movement known as the Essenes lived there. They had hundreds of documents stored away in a safe place.

These shepherds didn’t know ancient documents rested in the caves that would ensure their place in history. In 1947, these Bedouins discovered the ceramic pots and jars in which this Qumran community had kept copies of Israel’s Old Testament, among other works, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, dating back to the 200s BC. We’re still studying and cataloging these texts today!

This story comes directly out of the recorded history of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Not much work is required to lose the works of the ancients to history. Besides natural decay of writing materials, there are a host of other problems. Throughout history, rulers opposed to the Bible have tried to burn it, confiscate it, and ban it.

As a pastor, people sometimes ask me how we received the Bible. How do we know we have all of God’s Word in our Bibles? Should we consider other ancient books? Do any books we have not fit? Protestants support 66 books of the Bible in two testaments, while the Roman Catholic Church includes some 14 or so other books.

In our fifth and sixth posts on our study of the Bible’s origins, I will discuss why some books are in and out. But first, how did the canon come about? We’re not talking about my muscle laden arms. Canon speaks of a rule or standard. So there became a standard to what books belonged in the collection we call the Bible today.

Let’s focus on the criteria for considering a book part of the Canon of Scripture. But will share some evidence for how God has preserved his Word. The ancients had standards for preserving written documents, and it’s amazing how God has gone to extra lengths to ensure that his Word would be with us forever.

Who decided which books would be in our Bible? Why are some authoritative while others are not? Let’s discuss the Old Testament in this first installment. There was one test for canonicity, accepting the book into the Canon of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Christian Old Testament. Where much indebted today to the Jews for their scrupulous care of the Old Testament. They preserved any book considered to be inspired with their lives and refused to alter it at all.

The Hebrew Bible doesn’t have any vowels. In the sixth century A.D., people couldn’t remember how to pronounce the words in the text. The Masorites, a group of scholars that bemoaned the loss of being able to properly read aloud God’s Word for lack of vowels, created a vowel system for pronunciation. All of the vowels went under, inside or above the original consonants, thereby not even changing the text itself!

Now that we know they preserved God’s Word, how did they know which books belonged? The only test for canonicity in the Old Testament was that it was written by a prophet. Some books tell you the author, like Moses for the Torah/Pentateuch or Samuel for the books of Samuel. Others are marked as written by a certain prophet. For instance, Ruth is believed to be written by Samuel because he would have been a contemporary following the Judges. These traditions are kept almost as well as the texts themselves.

In every discussion about which books should be included in the canon of the Old Testament, people discuss why they believe a book should or shouldn’t be included, but no one claims to have an authoritative answer. God is the one who authorized the canon. Church councils can meet and discuss canonicity but God dictates what belongs in his Word.

There are two complete manuscripts of the Old Testament text that give a reflection of what was in the autographs, the originals. The autographs are no longer with us, due to the age and decay of the materials they were written on. If this worries you, keep reading and I will explain why that’s not a bad thing.

Before the autographs faded into history, they were copied several times over from original languages and translated into other languages. The more copies, called manuscripts, we have, the more we can see mistakes by scholars who copied them. The two complete Old Testament manuscripts intact today are the Aleppo Codex (925 AD) and the Leningrad Codex (1008 AD). A codex is a book form of the text instead of a scroll, measuring around 10” x 30’.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls changed everything. They date back over 1000 years to around 280 A.D. they give much earlier manuscripts, well preserved because of the arid desert conditions and being 1300 feet under sea level. They contain all of the Old Testament books except Esther, as well as commentaries and nonbiblical scrolls.

Even though many have attempted to destroy God’s word and wipe it off of the planet, God has preserved it. It’s hard to destroy multiple copies of the Bible. They would have to track down every copy and destroy each one. This is how God has chosen to preserve his Word against history, decay, and destruction.

Multiple copies not only preserve his Word from destruction but also help us to know what the original contained. The earliest claims to an Old Testament canon originate before 200 BC. Most scholars point to a rabbinic council and 170 A.D. Rabbis joined together to discuss the books in contention. At the end of the Council, they reaffirmed the full canon as it stood. The only books in contention were Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. Next week we will discuss the New Testament manuscripts and how God has preserved the New Testament as well as the Old Testament. You can rest assured that the Old Testament is just as God wants it to be. As Isaiah said, God’s Word will never return empty (Isaiah 55:11). Leave a comment and tell us how these facts bolster your faith.

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What’s Next?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about how to share our faith with everyone around us. As much as we’ve spent all of this time and effort, this is only the beginning! I’ve been running a poll online to discover what the next great subject will be for my blog.

Slightly edging out everything else is the subject of holiness. This will be our next great adventure. But I want you to know that working on your ability to share your faith has been valuable. You’ve worked hard to refine your skill in delivering the message of the gospel to people who desperately need to know Jesus.

Bask in the hope of your loved ones, your friends, your acquaintances, and even complete strangers coming to know Jesus like you do. The great hope of following Jesus and eternally living with him in heaven has always been our goal. And it’s in reach for them! That’s got you, his very best, on the front lines on their behalf.

The Bible tells us that when a person comes to faith, the whole of heaven rejoices (Luke 15:7, 10). This is an exciting time. Don’t forget to lavishly celebrate when people come to Jesus. The commitment to follow him will last all the rest of our days.

And that is, of course, the next step. The end of the journey to become one of Jesus’ followers is actually the beginning of our life in Christ. So there are a few goals you will want to leave with anyone who accepts Christ under your watch.

  • Begin your prayer life. In the beginning, you won’t think you’re good at it. But prayer is not complicated. It’s simply talking to God. He’s always listening. Develop the discipline of going to him for everything. Every big decision, every moment of weakness, every temptation, every request, and just for this year pleasure of communing with him.
  • Read the Bible every day. The Bible is God’s love letter and instruction to us. It is the roadmap he wants us to follow as we walk with him in this life. The more you read it, the more encouraged, challenged, and blessed you will become. No matter what comes your way, you will now how to apply his wisdom and will to your life. And beyond reading it, study it!
  • Find and join a Bible-believing church. Hearing God’s word through sermons and Bible studies is essential to your growth and strength in the faith. There are many people around you in community that can help you grow. Tapping into God’s vibrant community and family is part of your privilege as one of his children.
  • Get involved in a Christian small group. We are better when we live our faith out in a community of like-minded believers. There is an entire family of God’s people that want to see you succeed as they are. We need each other to grow, comfort one another, rejoice with one another, and live life together. God’s people are on your side. You’ll quickly discover that the world never has been.
  • Find ways to serve. The community of faith and unbelievers around you are an excellent place for you to start giving out what you are taking in. Every disciple has the process of learning and growing, as well as offering to others what is offered to them. To avoid becoming stagnant in your faith, you must be applying it through doing acts of service for others. The Christian faith is not internal. It is about reaching others.

Diligence in each of these areas will certainly yield growth in the faith and in Jesus. God’s got a goal to make every believer conform to Jesus’ image (Romans 8:28). This new creature in Christ, one who has turned from the old life to the new, needs a support system. You are the first person in that system. But you also need to look them up with other people who are stronger in areas you are not yet strong.

Helping a person not only come to faith but also to grow in faith isn’t about you putting spiritual notches in your belt. It’s about making sure that new converts and even growing Christians don’t fall through the cracks or fall away from the faith. We are wired for relationship with others, no matter how introverted we may be. We need the community of faith.

Pledge along with me to be the kind of Christian to make sure no man is left behind. Fight for the people you lead to Jesus. Fight for them to grow in him. The battle is far from over, but the time is short.

I have thoroughly enjoyed taking you through the process of sharing your faith in a more effective way. I hope you have also learned something you can use as you read others to the Lord. As we transition from the series on sharing your faith to the series on holiness, I hope you will continue to follow my posts.

This series will not go away. It will be placed in a new section of the website under “More.” This resource will always be available. May God bless you as you continue to lead others to him and help them grow into the Christians Jesus wants them to be. Leave a comment and let me know if you’ve enjoyed this series. Until next Tuesday and our new series, keep the faith!

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The Unseen

“Ouch!” Brandon crumbled to the floor of his freshly minted apartment. His right shin throbbed as he laid in the fetal position rubbing it. Not even the second day of his new adventure and he was already on the injured list.

It was a new city for him. He barely even went outside yet. After his parents and some friends helped him move in, he thought he would be ready to handle life on his terms.

After laying there for a couple minutes, Brandon finally got the nerve to get up and continue. He cautiously approached the kitchen and found the sink. Reaching up to the right, he opened the cupboard and grabbed a glass. He felt for the faucet levers and sighed with relief as the cold water flowed into the glass.

Brandon longed for some familiarity. He couldn’t wait to get started in the morning on his new project. The newspaper was waiting for his newest proposal. If his research backed up his claims, heads would roll in Pittsburgh. It was the same story of political corruption with a new twist.

He set the empty glass in the sink and managed to find his bedroom again. Tomorrow would be a new day and another chance to adjust to life in the fast lane.

***

Pittsburgh was louder than Brandon remembered. He jerked awake with the sudden noise of police sirens outside his apartment. As he yawned, his body stretched in every direction. Then he lay there for a few more minutes.

It was time to begin. Still drowsy, he sauntered into the master bathroom for his morning routine. After showering and shaving, he walked into his bedroom and pushed the closet doors apart. He chose the third outfit from the left, green dress shirt with black dress pants. No tie for the home worker.

He settled into his slippers. The best part about working from home is that any video calls he made would never go below his shirt. His belly rumbled, reminding him that it was time for breakfast.

The apartment smelled clean, lemon and bleach invading his nostrils as he headed to the kitchen. He positioned himself in front of the Keurig and carefully filled it with water. He opened the main lid and slid his favorite French roast brew cup into the slot. Pushing his favorite coffee mug under the deliverer of happy mornings, he pressed the start button and listened to the glory of the sound of water pouring into the mixture and beginning to steam.

Then he turned to the fridge to get two eggs. He laid them on the counter and got two sausage links out of the freezer. He took them over to the counter beside the stove. Pushing his foot up under the bottom of the stove, his toes pulled the bottom drawer out. He bent down and chose his favorite egg pan.

He was relieved that the stove was electric. He set the pan down on the top and clicked the dial to medium. Opening the cupboard to his left, he grabbed a bowl and a plate. He cracked the egg shells on the lip of the bowl and filled it.  He cracked the second egg and did the same.

Brandon snapped his fingers. “Forgot milk!” He often talked himself through many processes throughout his day. He wandered over to the fridge, grabbed the milk, and poured a tiny amount in the bowl. He returned the milk to its home.

To the left of the oven was the silverware drawer and the drawer under that held the whisk. He was glad the bowl had higher walls because he could get pretty messy preparing food.

The sizzle was music to his ears as he poured the scrambled egg into the pan. It was easier to cheat on the sausages, so he put them in a glass plate in the microwave. He would wait to turn that on almost until the eggs were finished. He put one minute on the timer.

Brandon found that his food tasted a lot better when he concentrated on it, so he waited until the ding startled him. Then he flipped the scrambled eggs over and set a second one minute timer. The microwave dinged again, and he turned off the stove. He put the microwave on for 45 seconds for the sausage links. He used a spatula to cut up the eggs in the pan. Then he poured them out onto his plate. By the time he did that, the microwave beeped again. The sausages joined the eggs on the plate.

Now all that was left was to set the plate down on the dining room table in his kitchen and grab some orange juice. He finally sat down to enjoy his breakfast in peace. He expected the city to be louder than the suburbs, and he was not disappointed.

His keen ears listened to neighbors as they walked downstairs and out to the street to go to work. He listened to the cars in the street. Perhaps it would be quieter in his office after the hubbub of getting to work and school calmed down.

As he finished his breakfast, he took his plate and cup to the sink. Giving them a quick rinse, he suddenly remembered what he had wanted to do before he started work. He quickly pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed the familiar number.

The phone rang twice and Jen’s chipper voice was the third ring, “Pittsburgh Vision Services! Jen speaking.”

“Hi Jen, it’s Brandon Peters. How are you today?”

“Oh, Brandon! You don’t have to use your last name. We know who you are. For goodness sake, you’ve been here for the last two years. What can I do for you?”

Brandon licked his dry lips. It was strange contacting the school. He had just graduated and this was his first attempt at putting what he learned into practice.

“Can you put Denise on the line for me?”

“Absolutely! Give me one second to transfer you… And Brandon, we’re so proud of you!”

Before he could say thanks, Denise was on the line. “Hello, Brandon?”

“Yes, it’s me!”

“What can I do for you?”

“You know how you said if I wanted to I could take you to dinner?”

The silence felt like it would never end. Finally, after about five seconds, Denise answered. “Yes, I remember.”

Brandon was really stepping out of his comfort zone, “How about tonight?”

Another long pause. “Of course! I would love that.”

The ball was in Brandon’s court, “How about seven.”

“That sounds wonderful. Would you like me to meet you there?”

Brandon hated that he couldn’t drive. He wasn’t used to the transportation system quite yet either. “Yes. We can meet at the restaurant. Are you up for the Olive Garden?”

The sudden joy in Denise’s voice was unmistakable to his trained ears, “I love that place! Can’t wait to see you again. But I’ve gotta run. I’ve got a class in five minutes.”

It was rote memory to Brandon by now, “Okay. Enjoy your mobility class and I’ll see you at seven.”

“Have a good day Brandon! Bye!” The phone beeped twice to signal the end of the call.

Brandon walked to his office. He didn’t even catch himself smiling and humming. This was the start he was hoping for.

***

The door clicked shut as Brandon entered his sanctuary. 10 short steps to his favorite chair, an ergonomic executive office chair. Life didn’t get any better than sitting at that desk doing his research.

He settled into the luxurious and comfy chair. Opening his laptop in front of him, he pressed the power button and waited. Sitting back, he sipped his coffee in absolute peace. He could hear the DVD drive click a few times as the laptop purred to life.

Finally the screen came up. It greeted him with the common options and he started his favorite browser and word processor. He had three interviews to do today. It would be a long day, but dinner with Denise tonight would be the perfect end.

The office was the perfect workspace. He knew where everything was without even thinking about it. It was the one room that never changed no matter where he lived. He set it up so that anyone who spent any time in it would be able to find anything even with their eyes closed.

While the programs started, he got up and went to his file cabinet. He pulled two manila folders out. The first was marked, “Witness Interviews” and the second, “Court Documents.” If anyone knew how he got access to the second folder, he probably wouldn’t be alive.

He settled back in his comfy chair and checked his email first. Nothing new there. He moved on to check his interview list. Three earth shattering names were listed for this Monday morning. Tom Stiltz, Amanda Frats, and Andrew Connors. These three alone would sink the governor’s ship.

The first interview was scheduled for 10 AM. He had half an hour. He decided to research Mr. Stiltz further before the interview. He started with the commonplaces to look up the lieutenant governor. Ninety percent of the information was not new to him. It was time to dig a little deeper.

He opened up the forbidden dark web portal. This was where research really happened on the web these days. After logging in, he typed in Tom Stiltz into the search box. After pressing enter, the freakish underworld of politics littered the screen. He clicked away for another 20 minutes, bookmarking page after page for further study.

***

Brandon sat back in his chair and mused. A busy, but productive day. If only his interview with Andrew Connors, known as Drew on the streets, would have worked out. Unfortunately for Brandon, he did receive an IOU for tomorrow. He had to meet Drew in a seedy part of town.

The baby grandfather clock struck 5 o’clock. His first full day of work for the Pittsburgh Gazette was complete. Brandon worked his way to his bedroom to change for dinner.

This time, to change it up, he picked from the right side of the closet, the black suit with the navy blue tie. If he was going to catch the bus in time, he needed to leave now. Brandon gathered his things and walked out the door.

The bus was on time, but it would take an hour to get to the restaurant. And he would have to walk a block to get there. Not to worry. He left early. He boarded the bus, used his new monthly pass, and sat down, imagining everyone staring through the back of his head.

Brandon didn’t care. All his life people treated him differently. He pulled a pair of earbuds out of his suit coat pocket and his phone from his breast pocket. He only used one earbud so he could hear the bus stops. His favorite tunes soothed his nerves. He was in his own world now.

He enjoyed his tunes until he arrived. He thanked the bus driver on the way out and began the block walk to the restaurant. Upon entering the Olive Garden, Denise called out to him, “Brandon, you made it!” He followed her voice but she had already jumped up and ran to see him.

She greeted him with a kiss on the cheek. He blushed and she replied, “Brandon, you graduated. You are no longer my student. Besides, it’s just an innocent peck on the cheek.”

Brandon loved Denise’s whimsical and witty banter. While he was in school, he wouldn’t have remotely considered anything more than a professional teacher-student relationship. But she did have a point. Still, he couldn’t let his mind go there even now.

They were seated about 15 minutes after waiting. They were catching up on old times. Brandon had only been out of the program for about a month. He moved to Pittsburgh as part of his first great experiment.

As they looked over the menu, Brandon wasn’t sure what he wanted. “Everything sounds so good! Every time I come here I can never decide.”

Denise agreed, “I usually have a mainstay at every restaurant that I pick, but I could eat anything on this menu.”

Brandon settled on Chicken Parmesan and Denise ordered Chicken Alfredo. Brandon couldn’t help but notice that they both chose a chicken dish. They continued with small talk until their meals arrived.

Denise couldn’t resist, “So, have you settled in well?”

Brandon cleared his mouth and throat as he wiped his mouth with his napkin before he responded, “For the most part. My parents were very helpful in making sure just about everything was in its place. I just wish they had stayed overnight so we could go shopping together. My fridge has only the bare essentials.”

Denise jumped on the chance, “I can help you with that.”

Brandon responded, “I didn’t ask you to dinner to get you to help me with groceries. I just enjoy your company.”

Denise smiled, “I know that. I enjoy your company also. Do you think I would’ve come to dinner with you if I thought you were just trying to get me to do something for you? I know how independent you are working to become.”

Brandon cherished and guarded his independence. Since he was a child, everyone treated him like an invalid. But he could honestly say that Denise always encouraged and pushed him toward independence.

“Denise, I know you wouldn’t treat me like a child. But it would be weird to have such a nice time together and end up in a grocery store.” The last few words came out like grocery was the plague.

Denise chuckled, “Let’s eat. Then, let’s do my next favorite thing. Shop!”

Brandon busted out in laughter and they continued their playful banter throughout the whole meal. At the end, Brandon called for the check.

After he paid it, Denise couldn’t help herself, “Wanna get out of here?”

Brandon shook his head and they left the restaurant together. Denise hailed a cab and they crowded the back seat. Brandon gave the cabbie his address and they were off.

Denise suddenly realized they weren’t headed to the grocery store. “Brandon, are we going to your place first?”

Brandon’s face broke out in terror, “No! I must have given you the wrong idea!” He immediately changed the address to the local supermarket in his area with the cabbie.

He could hear Denise giggling the entire time. She responded, “I didn’t think anything of it.”

***

Brandon paid the cabbie as they departed. They walked into the store and both took a shopping basket. As they traipsed around the store, Brandon was thankful he had helped to bring back all the food he needed. It would’ve taken him forever to do all of his food shopping.

They visited every part of the store, mapping out the new place. By the time they were finished, Brandon knew every corner of the market.

He checked out with the cashier. There were so many bags! There was no way he could carry them all by himself. Denise grabbed half of the bags and they walked out together.

They were close enough to Brandon’s new apartment, and Denise insisted on seeing his apartment anyway. It was a warm and breezy night, perfect for walking. Brandon never realized how much of a connection they shared. He knew he enjoyed learning from her in school. But hanging out with her was contagious.

They arrived at his apartment and he showed her the place. As always, Brandon couldn’t have been more organized. But in his case, organization was absolutely necessary. He was OCD by choice. The night waned on until they both realize they had work in the morning.

“I can’t believe we have so much in common,” Brandon said.

“Well, perhaps I can stop by again sometime.”

Brandon couldn’t have asked for a better friend in a new place. She had been such a blessing to him. He agreed to meet with her again.

“Oh no! I just remembered I have an interview on the streets tomorrow.”

Denise suddenly looked very serious, “That sounds mysterious and scary at the same time. Will you be okay?”

Brandon thought for a moment, “Yeah. I get the feeling this person has been waiting for someone to interview them. And I only have to be mysterious because investigative reporting can get people I know in trouble. If everything works out, you’ll see my work at the top of the news.”

Denise still sounded worried, “If it’s all the same, Brandon, can you give me your cell number and call me if you’re in danger tomorrow?”

“Sure.” They exchanged phone numbers.

Denise chuckled, “I guess research reporting on the front lines is your way to leave a legacy, isn’t it?”

Brandon smiled, “Is there any other way?”

***

The sun peeked through the horizon, calling the day to begin. Brandon got off the bus and walked a couple of blocks. He was supposed to meet Drew in an abandoned warehouse. It seemed shady, but then again, he was meeting the leader of the City Kings.

He entered the warehouse and waited. Hopefully, Drew would meet him and guide him to the interview. His ears perked up as he heard the smallest of noises. All of a sudden, a group of ruffians began laughing.

A voice on his left, “You’ve got to be kidding! This is the reporter? Some blind dude?”

Then a voice on his right, “No way. No freaking way! Drew, you can’t take this cat seriously.”

Then silence. Brandon couldn’t see Drew raise his hand. Then he spoke, “Brandon Peters, I presume?”

Nothing ever really scared Brandon in his life. If you can deal with being blind, you can deal with anything. But now he was rethinking the whole situation. Was the interview worth it? Yes, yes it was.

“Yes. I presume I’m speaking to Drew?”

“Yeah. I’m Drew. Didn’t know you were blind. This isn’t gonna work.”

“Why?” Brandon had dealt with people like this before. Everybody thinks you can’t do anything if you’re disabled or blind, but Brandon has proved he is capable all his life.

“Well, I don’t trust you. How do I know you’re actually a reporter?”

Brandon reached into his shirt and heard the gasps and clicks from loaded guns. “Relax! I’ve just got to show Drew something. He pulled a manila folder out of his jacket.

One of Drew’s goons ripped it out of his hands and gave it to Drew. He opened it and his eyes widened as his mouth opened. “Where did you get this?”

“I told you,” Brandon said, “I’m the reporter that contacted you. If I have that, you know I’m good at what I do.”

Absolute silence filled the room. Nobody moved as Drew looked over the documents inside. “Okay. Frankie, help the man to my office.” Brandon heard footsteps as Drew walked away and Frankie grabbed his shoulder.

“Frankie, that’s not how you guide blind people. Give me your elbow.” Frankie adjusted and put Brandon’s hand on his elbow. “Now just walk to the room and I’ll follow.”

Frankie helped Brandon find a seat. He pulled his recorder out of his briefcase. “I’m ready when you are, Drew.” He heard the door slam as Frankie left them alone.

“Yeah. What you want to know?”

“First of all, when can I talk to the real Andrew Cooper?”

“What kind of game you playin'” He could hear the anger and confusion in Drew’s voice.

“Well, I have a recording of the original Andrew Cooper, and while your voice is close, it’s not the same.”

Brandon couldn’t see the look of surprise on Drew’s face. But it’s hard to fool the seasoned ears of a blind man. Drew confessed, “Blind people’s ears really are good. Nobody ever questioned my identity before.”

Brandon was finally getting somewhere, “The police know they’ve never caught the real Andrew Cooper. By my count, they have six of them in prison.”

Drew shook his head, “Yeah, and I’m the seventh. I’ve been running City Kings for the last 10 years. Most of the kids in the gang don’t even know what Drew looks or sounds like.”

Brandon leaned forward, “So is he dead or what?”

The true voice of Andrew Cooper rang out from behind him, “He’s alive and well. And no one has ever questioned my puppets before.”

Brandon shivered. He didn’t expect that.

“Fortune favors the bold, or the stupid. For 30 years no one has figured it out. I’ve always had a double, but you’re the first to meet me in that amount of time.”

Brandon turned around, “Mr. Cooper, you have the key to bringing down the most corrupt politician I’ve ever come across. Are you willing?”

The sultry voice almost sang, “Lock that fool up!” Then it got serious with gravitas, “You know what’s in that folder. Katie deserves to be heard from the grave.”

Drew’s double stood, walked up to Cooper, and placed the folder in his hands. “This belongs to you and I apologize for looking at it.”

“Jack, you’ve been my number one man for 10 years. If anyone could see it, you’ve earned a look.” Brandon heard Jack’s shoes clack on the floor as he left the room. Then he listened to the smooth stride of Cooper as he sat down at the desk. He turned around to face him.

“Now it’s time to answer any questions you have for Katie’s sake.”

Brandon felt like he needed to apologize, “Mr. Cooper, I’m sorry for bringing that. I know how close she was to your heart. But I needed to be taken seriously if we’re going to bring down the most powerful governor Pennsylvania’s ever endured.”

“True dat. That monster needs to die.”

“I know about the murders. But what I saw in that file, let’s just say if I think about it enough I’m gonna hurl again.” Brandon was visibly shaken and grew more pale by the second.

“Please don’t puke on my mahogany desk. At least you didn’t find her…” His voice began to trail off.

Brandon clicked the record button. “This is the interview with Andrew Cooper, leader of the City Kings gang. My first question is, what else do you know of that Governor Perry has done?”

“Murder is the tip of the iceberg. Nathan Perry is a worse criminal than me. Rape, extortion, arson, you name it, he’s done it. And I should know because I helped him do most of it. You’re looking at one of his first henchmen.”

Brandon tried not to look surprised, “So you were an eyewitness to many of his crimes?”

“We grew up together as best friends. Like anybody else in the ghetto, we went into crime. At first, it was just the small stuff, a robbery here, a mugging there. But he was cruel and sadistic. He was way more violent than me. Nathan was the kind of guy who got off on other people’s pain. It was like a drug to him.”

“I know this is a touchy subject, but when did Katie get involved?” Brandon expected Cooper to come across the desk and strangle him with his bare hands.

“Katie was innocent. He met my sister maybe a week after we met. She was the sweetest person you’ll ever know. And he couldn’t stand it. He couldn’t stand anyone that was kind or caring. We were doing a big robbery of a bank back in the day. He wanted me to kill the teller who pressed the silent alarm. I wouldn’t do it. He threatened that if I didn’t he would kill someone I love. I didn’t believe him at the time.” Brandon could hear his voice waiver, “Katie paid for my mistake.”

Brandon stopped the recorder, “Do you want to take a minute?”

Cooper’s voice was firmer, “No. It would take forever to do this interview if I went through every emotion I felt about that jerk.”

Brandon pressed record, “Mr. Cooper, why aren’t you in prison for what you did with him?”

“Early on I realized I needed a backup plan if I was going to keep working with that maniac. I found another close friend whose voice sounded like mine. He was tougher than me, if you can believe that. I paid him with the money we stole from the bank to become my double and take on my identity. I was always working in the background, but he was my right-hand man until he got arrested. They took him to jail and realized after a while that no matter how close we were he didn’t know everything about me. They realized he wasn’t me. Five other close friends have also been jailed. Jack is the newest.”

Brandon smiled, “I gotta hand it to you. That’s an ingenious plan.”

“I’m not sure how proud I am of it anymore. All of my closest friends are in jail for things I told them to do. Especially without Katie, I’m just a lonely old man now.”

Brandon could almost sympathize with him, although that’s not what a good reporter does. He continued the interview with Cooper. Based on his answers, Brandon knew this would be a slam dunk.

After the interview, Cooper called Jack back in. “Brandon, you know we can’t let you just walk out of here, right?”

Brandon scowled, “I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this, but I understand. What do you want me to do?”

“Well, we have to make it look real. Where do you want us to dump you off?”

“We actually have a mutual friend. I’m sure you know Pastor Robbie Robinson?”

Cooper chuckled, “You mean the only punk to ever leave City Kings and, of all things, become a man of the cloth?”

“The one and the same.”

“Yeah. Don’t tell anyone, but he is only the fourth person who knows my true identity.”

“After you rough me up, why not deliver me on the front steps of his church?”

“Yeah. That’ll work okay.” Brandon heard him rise from his chair, felt a sharp pain on the left side of his face, and passed out.

***

The black nondescript van slowed down just enough to open the door and push Brandon’s body onto the sidewalk. In this high crime neighborhood, no one stopped to check on him or ask for help.

Pastor Robinson burst out of the church not less than two minutes after Brandon was dumped off. He gathered him up in his arms and took him inside.

With the pastor’s help, Brandon finally came to. “Where am I? Pastor Robbie?” He was disoriented especially at first.

“I’m right here, son. Drew called me right after they loaded you in the van. Get your bearings and relax for a bit.”

Brandon realized after a few minutes he was safe and Cooper was a man of his word. He sat on the pastor’s couch in his office.

Pastor Robinson’s voice was full of anticipation. “So did he give you the lowdown?”

Brandon was still a bit groggy, “Yeah. I couldn’t believe some of the things he told me. I thought my records were damning but there’s no way when people hear this stuff that he’ll get away with it.”

“Unfortunately, criminals get away with things all the time on this earth. But they will stand before the Judge one day. They won’t be able to get away from him.”

Brandon agreed, “That day can’t come quick enough. But how have you and the church been doing?”

Pastor Robinson hung his head, “We’ve fallen on hard times. We might actually have to sell the church.”

Brandon was taken aback, “What happened?”

“People have stopped coming to church. I don’t know if it’s me or something else. I’ve been doing a lot of prayin’ but I don’t know what to do. I hate these dark nights of the soul.”

Brandon chirped up, “Pastor, if there’s anything I understand it’s being in the dark or being forced to step out in faith. When you can’t see the way ahead, all you can do is take the next step.”

Pastor Robinson thought for a moment, “There is a donor I haven’t talked to in a while.”

Brandon smiled, “There is your next step.”

Pastor Robinson chuckled, “I’m the one supposed to be giving you spiritual advice.”

“I may be blind, but spiritually, I find it helps me to see easier. I hate to leave, but I have a few interviews and a whale of a tale to share with the world.”

Pastor Robinson helped Brandon to the nearest bus stop so he could get back to work on his story.

***

Brandon’s cell phone rang incessantly. He picked it up by the second, “Hello?”

The voice on the line was familiar, but rushed, “Brandon, it’s Denise. Are you okay? I heard someone got delivered to Pastor Robinson’s church and they looked pretty beat up. I figured it was you.”

Brandon laughed, which made his cheeks hurt, “That was me! They couldn’t let me leave without looking like I didn’t belong. It’d look bad if I interviewed the City Kings and walked away without a scratch.”

“The City Kings? Brandon, you could’ve been murdered!” He could hear her genuine wary through the phone speaker.

Brandon assured her, “I said they just had to make it look good. I didn’t say they actually wanted to beat me up, quite the opposite, in fact.”

“You really need to let some people in, Brandon. What would we all do if you turned up dead?” She was still worried and confused. Why would anyone choose to become an investigative reporter?

“Don’t worry about me. I’m a tough guy.” He laughed and Denise finally let loose and laughed with him.

“Still, I want to know where you are when you have dangerous assignments like that. On a separate note, are you free for dinner?” Brandon couldn’t be happier.

Over the next two months, Brandon wrote and interviewed key people in the governor’s underground operations.

***

Brandon had the TV on in the living room. Today was the day. He heard the news alert in the kitchen and hurried to the couch. He was just in time.

“This is Newsbreak. I’m your host, Larry Stone.” Video of Governor Perry being arrested in public flashed on the screen. A police man was pushing his head down as they pushed him into the backseat of a police car.

“This morning in a surprise raid on Gov. Perry’s mansion, police discovered a plethora of illegal drugs, a prostitution ring in his basement, and several other illegal operations. He was immediately arrested and is waiting arraignment. Chief of police, Capt. Ron Ranger, told us much more would be released to the public tomorrow.

“Lieut. Gov. Tom Stiltz has assumed acting governor status.”

Video shifted to Acting Gov. Tom Stiltz standing at a podium in front of six microphones. “I’m saddened to hear the news of Governor Perry. But I will do everything in my power to make sure that Pennsylvania doesn’t miss a beat. I’m on the job for you and will get to the bottom of what’s been going on around here.” Reporters burst with questions and he began to answer them.

Brandon smiled to himself, “You did it. You, a blind investigative reporter that no one thought could do anything. But with the amount of money you made with this newspaper, you could take a nice vacation with that lovely Denise.”

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Control Freak

Kings, shires, knights, even the Crusades! What do you think of when you hear “sovereign” or “kingdom”? For me, it’s the medieval ages with castles, peasants, and kings jockeying for power. What does a kingdom look like now? Countries and nations with presidents, prime ministers, and other forms of political government.

The Bible uses these terms to describe God’s rule over his creation. When we discuss God’s sovereignty, Kingdom, and creation, these ideas scare us deep down inside. Why do we have such explosive debates and arguments about God’s sovereignty? In truth, we’re not arguing over whether God is sovereign or not.

The most robust theological debates about God’s sovereignty and human free will come from Calvinists and Armenians. Calvinists trace their theological heritage to John Calvin while Armenians point to Jacobus Arminius.

Calvinists staunchly believe that God is completely sovereign, that nothing can bend or break his will. Their approach is often programmed and mechanistic. They don’t like free will and think that it places his sovereignty in jeopardy. Armenians come from the other side of the tracks. They hold so dearly the idea of free will that they believe God takes every human opinion into account and human choice can change God’s will. I state up front that most likely neither of these views are perfectly represented. I wanted to get a general sketch for our discussion.

I’m the black sheep of the argument. I agree and disagree with both sides of these extremes. I think you can hold some of each of these extremes. I believe that the true nature of the sovereignty/free will debate lies somewhere in the middle. Let me introduce the TULIP Calvinist system and the Arminian system. But these theological arguments only go so far and then leave us hanging in a philosophical stalemate.

John Calvin didn’t create the TULIP system. His followers eventually created and defended it. It became a popular way to express Calvinistic leanings. Let me list and define the TULIP points for you:

  • Total Depravity – All humans are completely depraved and love sin so much that they could not be saved on their own or find God. God must reach them in some way.
  • Unconditional Election – God chooses certain individuals before the creation of the world to be saved. Only these will come to Christ. Everyone else is eternally condemned. Some crassly suggest that God chooses the rest to go to Hell.
  • Limited Atonement – Because only a certain number of people are chosen by God for salvation, Jesus’ atoning work on the cross was only done for the elect.
  • Irresistible Grace – God’s grace is irresistible to the elect. They cannot not follow Jesus. They are forced to be obedient to God.
  • Perseverance of the Saints – The elect will always persevere despite the trials they face. They can’t do anything to lose their salvation. Some have popularized, “Once saved, always saved.”

In all my years of studying this subject, this is the best I can do to explain it in such a short space. You should read more on both of these camps, and everything in between. This is essential because we’re talking about salvation! This is no minor doctrine or opinion. We’re talking about how people come to know and follow Jesus.

  • Works Dont Save – Every person must be given God’s grace as a gift.
  • Human Free Will – more robust than in Calvinism, a person must choose or decide to follow Christ. They must have faith in Jesus’ sacrifice.
  • Jesus Died for All – His sacrifice is not limited to the elect, but is offered to every person, whether they accept or reject it.
  • Falling Away from Grace – a believer can become an apostate, or fall away from the faith. This is not easy, but it is possible.

God’s sovereignty and human free will are not opposed to one another. Scripture is full of examples of both. It gives examples of humans choosing their own path against God’s will. We see times where human free will plays into God’s already preferred will. We can look at all of the different ways God’s will is fulfilled, but he is always sovereign. That’s not really the issue. The issue is how much we trust God!

Whatever God wills happens. His sovereignty is based on his place as Creator of the Universe. If I design a website, it is subject to my creative whim. I can change all kinds of things about it. It can’t complain or resist. God has allowed humans to resist his will. That is part of free will. The Bible allows for both of these. Since God made creation, he is completely sovereign over it.

When we debate God’s sovereignty versus human free will, we debate from a human perspective. I imagine God sits in heaven on his throne and chuckles as we try to figure this out. Our understanding of God’s sovereignty and our place in it has to do with our perception of how he rules time and space. We think we are entitled to a say in the matter because we contain his image, marred as it is.

Throughout the Bible God puts us in our place when we try to Monday morning quarterback his decisions. God responds to Job in the midst of his suffering (Job 39 and following). In Jeremiah’s Potter and clay image, the clay has no right to challenge the Potter (Jeremiah 18:1-4). Abraham and Sarah conspire to fulfill God’s promise with Ishmael instead of waiting for Isaac to be born (Genesis 16). I believe we are concerned about sovereignty and free will because we have control issues.

Our history keeps us from believing one Person can have complete control over everything. Whether it is political, social, or any other type of authority control, it’s never worked out. One person with all the power is a very bad thing. Sir Francis Bacon coined the often quoted, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

He’s right concerning human beings. Images of kings, presidents, and other authority figures conjure violence, injustice, and force. That’s what happens when fallen, sinful humans seek absolute power. But power belongs to God, not us. Power is entrusted to us to steward.

When we think we can converse with the Almighty, we feel a sense of immortality. The question of God’s absolute control never comes into play on our deathbeds. We are painfully aware that we can’t choose to live or die.

We try to take control of everything we can get our hands on. We have no idea what God’s doing until we look back, and then we want to tell him what he should’ve done. We all have problems with someone else driving the bus. It’s not about who’s will is greater but about trusting God with our entire being.

We are the control freaks. If we can’t control the world around us, we hold onto the illusion we are in control of ourselves. We seek to create a mirage of our own ability and power. Our weakness is in finding out that we don’t trust God with absolutely everything in our lives. We would rather be in the driver’s seat, not be driven by him.

Does our will matter within the larger bounds of God’s will? Some say yes and others say no. We must get over the fact that we are not on God’s speed dial. What would the world be like if the person with all the power was all good and wanted the very best for us?

All we can see at present are the pains we’ve suffered while God has been at the wheel. Funny how we only remember the bad times. And they were meant for our growth. How else would we grow but through hardship? It’s an excellent tool to strengthen our faith muscles. If we really believed God is sovereign and good, we wouldn’t question him even through trials. But the moment trials strike, we suggest an alternate route to the Driver.

Our greater need isn’t mapping out the sovereignty/free will issue. It’s learning to fully trust without abandon the Lord who is all good. In the midst of suffering and trial, is our heart dead set on God’s goodness? When we see evil, we ask why he doesn’t eradicate it and create the new heavens and new earth right now.

Sovereignty opens up the closet and exposes our skeletons. We don’t solve these questions in one sitting. With each new trial, we once again go round and round in our heart, despite what our heads proclaim. We all question God and his ways from time to time. We are human. We only know evil power. God is the only one who wears power the perfect way. He truly is just and good. When trial comes, we must hold on to these truths. Turning to God and trusting him in the midst of trial is the best path ahead. Only by leaning on Jesus will we pass the test of faith. May we find in our suffering that God is indeed good and trust him more, lean on him more, and put our hope in his goodness rather than the mirage of our control. May we trust God with our everything always.

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