The Dark Day

In view of tomorrows solar eclipse, we look back in history to a unique event which occurred on May 19, 1780. Darkness descended for several hours in New England and parts of New York. It was so thick that one eyewitness described the darkness as being “as such that we could not see our hand right before our face.” The cause of the darkness has been blamed on everything from volcanoes to dust storms. The most commonly accepted explanation today is that the darkness was caused by forest fires.

Darkness in the middle of the day of course caused quite a bit of alarm, with more than a few people thinking that the Day of Judgment had arrived. In the Connecticut legislature a motion to adjourn was proposed and passed. Members of the Council of Safety of the legislature wanted to go to their homes. Senator Abraham Davenport would have none of it. “The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause of an adjournment: if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish therefore that candles may be brought.”

2 Corinthians 5:9So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”

1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

A Personal Letter on the Impact of Good Music in the Church

A letter from a congregational member to his pastor about the impact the church music has made on his life:

Dear Mark,

I just wanted to take the opportunity to encourage and thank you for your selection of Puritan Hymns in service. It has been a continuous source of encouragement and a powerful vehicle for God’s comforting grace in my life and the life of my family. Just as God has used the doctrines of grace to change my thinking, He has used these hymns to change my emotions and build new affections for the truth. It is a joy for me to sing these songs!!!

…and here is why.

Music is and always has been a major part of my life. Music has always effected my emotions and thoughts (for good or bad). I am a 27 year old black male, who was born and raised in the Washington, DC area. My Pre-conversion taste for music consisted of mostly Hip-hop and R&B artists, some local bands, and a sprinkling of more eclectic artists. Regardless of the genre though, I had a particular affinity for the most outrageous and vulgar lyrics and artists in those categories. Secular music often times set the tone for sinful thoughts that would lead to sinful actions.

I also grew up in a church where much of the music I remember fell under the category of gospel music (contemporary gospel, negro spirituals, and some uptempo or updated renditions of old hymns). I place a small “g” in the word “gospel” because the actual Gospel of God, while it may have been the inspiration of most of these songs, It is all to often not expressed or explained clearly, but merely alluded to (or purposefully avoided), by the people who sing them. So while many times in the past I was able to join in the emotional and energetic explosion that the music encouraged, i truly had no sense of the gravity of the subject matter. By the grace of God my current condition is much different. That’s partly due to God changing me receptive, but also because the Word of God is central in the music. In this sense, the music at Capitol Hill has been an adjustment….but a wonderful and refreshing adjustment.

Don’t get me wrong. These songs often make me deeply emotional, and I believe God wants me to be emotional (He created me to be so). But if my emotions are attached to a distortion of the truth or an outright lie, what good does that do me and what honor does that do God? Now do I think songs sung in church have to be Puritan Hymns sung to acoustic guitar are the only songs that glorify God? No! I love Shai Linne and Trip Lee, and other solid Christian Hip-hop artists as well. And I imagine that songs from Shai or Trip will either somehow be sung by congregations or read as poetry by Christians 100 or so years from now in the same way. Not because the style of music is  appealing, but because the theological integrity and substantive doctrine that they share will always be useful to guide the hearts of saints towards Christ and the Gospel. That’s why I  absolutely LOVE the music we sing at CHBC!

But there is even something sweet to me in the STYLE of singing. It’s in the fact that it sounds radically different from anything else.  I come from a very “soulful,” black Christian background, and many of my friends, coworkers, and relatives look at me like a crazy person because i like the music at CHBC. To me its a good thing that the music that I sing to God and to my own soul has nothing in common with other music, in terms of sound. To my ear, It’s nothing like the music from my former life,  nothing like the music I hear at work,  and nothing like the shallow feel good music that sometimes passes as gospel. Far from being superficial, I think that this difference has been healthy and helpful.  There is a sense of great reverence in this distinction. God is Holy and not at all common. It forces me to soberly approach the subject of the song (God), and simultaneously delight in the rich and dense theological truth that my lips and heart are singing. When I hear a person humming a song from church in the hallway, I immediately recognize it and have a different appreciation for that than if I heard them humming a song that I enjoy from the radio.

These songs have helped me anchor my soul in the Gospel! How awesome is it to take some of the most complex and mind-bending truths of the Bible, and put them in something as organic to the soul as a song! I have read and memorized Bible verses and learned a lot about the doctrines of the faith. And these things have been invaluable to me and nourishing to me. But there are times when I am struggling, and my mind is foggy, my memory is cloudy, and my thinking is skewed. In the moment when the feelings of doubt suffocate me, or the feeling of guilt over my sins crushes me, or the anxiety I feel DAILY troubles me, The Lord uses these songs to softly and gently remind me of the beauty of the truth.

When I look at my prayers, and I get the feeling that my words aren’t even going past the ceiling, and I’m distracted, and there’s so much sin, and my prayers are so feeble, and only minutes have gone by at this point; I could remind myself of Hebrews 4:14-16, and Christ’s role as High Priest, but what a comfort it is to hum…

Before the Throne of God above,
I have a STRONG and PERFECT plea
A great High Priest whose name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me!”

Or when I’m wondering if I’m a Christian at all, thinking “how is someone like me actually going to make it in to heaven? I’m so weak! I have nothing good, even when i do good it stinks, and even my faith seems too small!” Or when I’m anxious, or that heavy feeling in my chest hits me. I might have the clear head to rehearse 2 Corinthians 5:21, or remember the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. But when I’m crying and too tired to think clearly, what a comfort it is to sing to myself and to God…

Jesus paid it all!/ All to Him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow!”

Or if my mind gets me thinking that “Christ couldn’t (or doesn’t) care about me, I’m on my own”, or even that “Christ will save me, but He doesn’t love me in particular.” The words of Christ in John 14 or 17 will often show me the truth

But when my emotions won’t budge I can sing to my heart…

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.”

God gives me a song from CHBC for every doubt and doubt feeling in my head, and this makes them sweet to me! And I don’t have to second guess those feelings of comfort, because I can be confident they are grounded in the truth of Scripture, and that the Spirit is the One impressing these things on my soul! What a weapon against the lies in my heart.

I LOVE the music at CHBC! Thank you for showing me the truth through song! Thank you for being committed to singing songs that teach the truth, regardless of whether they appeal to any persons particular sensibilities! Thank you for singing them in a way that distinguishes them from any other song! And please continue!

PS: Even my son (who is 2) knows the difference between a song that he hears in a Disney movie and “Jesus songs” or “Jesus movies,” though he doesn’t have much of a clue about its content. And that’s a beautiful thing to see!

The Encounter with Nicodemus

Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” John 3:3

Nicodemus is a great example of a sincere seeker after the truth. If only there were more Nicodemuses’ in the world today – men and women who are prepared to lay aside apathy, prejudice, and fear and seek the truth with an honest and humble spirit! “Seek and you will find,” Jesus promised (Matthew 7:7).

Jesus obviously startled Nicodemus by telling him that he must be born again. What did he mean by this call to be ‘born again’? Jesus was not referring to a second physical birth or to an act of self-reformation but rather to a work of God. When Jesus says that we need to be born of “water and the Sprit” in order to enter the kingdom (v. 5), he is saying that we must receive the new heart and the sin-cleansing washing God promised would come in the New Covenant (Ezekiel 36:24-35). This God would do. So the new birth is first a birth “from above,” a birth “of the Holy Spirit.”

But the new birth also has a human dimension to it, from our side we have both to repent and to believe. Putting Without the new birth we can neither see nor enter God’s kingdom. Nicodemus was religious, moral, educated, respectable, and courteous. He even believed in the divine origin of Jesus. But all this was not enough. He still had to repent and believe. This is the human dimension to the new birth. We have to put our trust in Jesus the Messiah, who was the Savior of all who come to him in humble faith, much like Nicodemus.

Oh, and one more thing. It is not insignificant that in John 3, Nicodemus comes to Jesus as a ‘Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews’ under the cover of darkness (vv. 1-2). At the end of the Gospel of John, after the crucifixion of Jesus, Nicodemus come boldly, during the daylight hours, to prepare Jesus’ body for burial (John 19:38-40). Nicodemus, here, is identifying himself in faith and trust with Jesus. May we have that same courage.

College Ready (Part 2)

Keeping the Faith in College

In college you will inevitably be confronted with both intellectual attacks and moral attacks. Some will be outright and others will be more subtle. The point is to be prepared so that you are not blindsided.

You are likely to hear the following:
• “The Bible is mythology”
• “We can be good people without God.”
• “There can’t be a good God because there is so much evil in the world.”
• “To be a tolerant person, you can’t believe in moral absolutes.”
• “Christianity, in claiming to be the only way, is intolerant.”
• “Morality is relative, not absolute.”
• “Truth is subjective. Jesus was a great moral teacher, nothing else.”

How to Respond? Remember, questions are your friends. Clarifying questions like “how to you get to the conclusion?” “How do you account for _____?” Asking questions shift the burden of proof from those being interrogated to those who are interrogating.

Professors set the rules for group dialogue and the extent to which any ideas or beliefs are disregarded or mocked. You need to respect that. On the whole, most professors don’t have an agenda to mock Christian faith. Give your professor the benefit of the doubt. I love this quote by G.K. Chesterton: “The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” Perpetual uncertainty is not a virtue. Yet precisely such uncertainty is promoted in our day under the guide of ‘tolerance.’

Where tolerance used to refer to the right that people had to hold their own views and beliefs, even if others disagreed with them. The meaning has shifted, so that tolerance now is defined as accepting all beliefs as equally valid. This is a prevalent viewpoint on college campuses and obviously presents a challenge to the truth claims of Christianity.

Remember too, that “intellectual” problems with Christianity are smokescreens for “moral” problems with Christianity. Whether that is sexual norms, the exclusive claims of Jesus, or even personal lifestyle choices, there are offensive aspects to Christianity.  One campus pastor said that when students come up to him and say “I no longer believe in Christianity” his first question in response is “who are you sleeping with?”

College presents enormous opportunity to destroy your life through careless living: The two biggies are sex and alcohol. Many of the deepest joys require saying no to lesser pleasures that would only kill your ability to enjoy the real deal. The hookup scene on the college campus often comes with binge drinking to numb the pain and the loneliness. But those behaviors create an addictive pattern that can make it more difficult for you to develop true and intimacy in an exclusive, lifelong, monogamous commitment.

As we saw yesterday, don’t just say no, say yes to something better. Decide now to form strong friendships with like minded peers who share your ideas of a good time. Your closest friends should be those who can support you, who share your values, and who will help you become what you aspire to become. Find someone who will hold you accountable by asking you hard questions about your sexuality, your relationships, drinking, illicit drug use, how you are spending your time, etc. As Robert Lewis says, “One of the single greatest variables to the shaping of what you will become in the future will be the type of people you have around you in your circle of influence.”

Godly priorities (and worldview) will help you say “no” to things that take you off the track of where God is leading you. Not just to immoral things, but to some good things that are not for you. Discernment will flow from a sense of who God made you to be, as a Christian with unique interests, talents, skills, and long-term desires. These will guide you as to what classes to take, what majors to pursue, what clubs to be a part of, what fiends to spend time with, and much more.


College Ready (Part 1)

It is that time of year again: Packing up the car and heading off to the college campus. In light of this, over the next few days we are going to have a two-part series on being College Ready.

What to Bring to College: A Developing Christian Worldview

Perhaps the most foundation thing that you will bring to college is something not tangible at all: a Worldview (‘a mental map of reality’). Your mental map informs your expectations about high school, college, friends, guys, girls, church, sports, weekends, and everything else. Whatever you let shape your mind and heart – parents, values, pastors, friends, what you listen to, watch, Facebook, who you follow on Twitter, Instagram, etc., affects and shapes your worldview.

Why is worldview important? Worldviews influence attitudes and behaviors while in college, shape our habits and determine our trajectory. Our Christian discipleship must be demonstrated in the development of a Christian mind. The Christian should be developing an understanding of how to interpret and evaluate issues across the spectrum of politics, economics, morality, entertainment, education, and a seemingly endless list of other fields. In college, you must be working to develop distinctively Christian ways of thinking, based on biblical principles, which apply to every arena of life. You would be hard pressed to find a better arena in which to think through and apply these issues than the college campus.

Mindset Going into College: A Time of Preparation

The college season is a time of preparation, and it requires a mindset shift. Heading into college, there are two types of people: the mindset of an adolescent, who needs to experience whatever his/her heart fancies at the moment or a young adult, capable of delaying gratification and working steadily toward meaningful goals? Another way to ask this is: Do you see yourself in a season of preparation for becoming the man or woman who can handle greater responsibilities now (marriage, parenting, job, ministry, etc.) even as you bring glory to God now?

Marketing toward youth culture is framed in such a way as to make you believe that being young is all about having fun, partying, and ignoring life’s responsibilities for as long as possible. Low expectations and endless amusement is peddled as being characteristic of the college years. Advertisers aim to take advantage of this. This particular segment of the population is inordinately attracted to material goods, popular entertainment, sporting events and other consumer options. But that does not have to be true of you.

Delayed gratification is a crucial notion during the college years. It is the ability to say “no” to one pleasure (sinful or legitimate) for the sake of something later (Proverbs 28:28). See college as a time of preparation for…

The Goal: Assume Responsibility and Transition into Mature Adulthood

College should represent the transition between youth and adult life. The purpose of college education to assume responsibility in an interdependent society and involved in a local church. College is a season in which you must take ownership of your faith and work toward responsible adulthood.

College is a temporary season of academic preparation and growth so that you can serve God more effectively with the rest of your adult life. It is to be a springboard into all that goes with responsible Christian adulthood.

Clues to the Existence of God (Part 2)

This is part 2 of the ‘Clues to the Existence of God’ series. In this post, we are going to consider four more ‘pointers’ to the existence of God and the truthfulness of the Christian worldview. By connecting our experience in the world and our attempts to make sense of it, I believe that the cumulative weight indicates both the rational truth and existential adequacy of the Christian faith.

Clue 5 – Desire – A Homing Instinct for God

Another argument for the existence of God is the “argument from desire”. Christian apologists argue that there exists a deep sense of yearning for something transcendent that is ultimately grounded in the fact that we are created to fellowship with God, and will not be fulfilled until we do so.

C.S. Lewis develops his argument from desire this way:
1. Every natural desire has a corresponding object, and is satisfied only when this is attained or experienced.
2. There is a natural desire for transcendent fulfillment, which cannot be attained or experienced by or through anything in the present world.
3. This natural desire for transcendent fulfillment can therefore only be fulfilled beyond the present world, in a world toward which the present order of things points.

Now our longing don’t prove anything – I could long for a chicken that lays golden eggs, but that does not mean one exists. But Lewis’ point is that Christianity teaches that our sense of longing for God is exactly what we should expect, since we are created to know God. Our deeply felt longings ultimately point to something that only God can satisfy. As Augustine prayed, “you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

Clue 6 – Beauty

Many find themselves deeply moved by a scene of natural beauty – a great sunset, mountain range, ocean view, or a wooded valley. Unlike a rational argument, beauty is something we appreciate immediately.

Listen to the soring language Leonard Bernstein uses when commenting about the effect of Beethoven on him: “Beethoven turned out pieces of breath-taking rightness. Rightness – that’s the word! When you get the feeling that whatever note succeeds the last is the only possible note that can rightly happen at that instant, in that context, then chances are you’re listening to Beethoven. It’s the stuff of heaven. It makes you feel like there is something right in the world. Something we can trust that will never let us down.”

When we experience beauty or love we get the sense that there is real meaning in life. In his sermon “The Weight of Glory”, C.S. Lewis argued that we have poses an instinct for transcendence, stimulated by beauty.

The human quest for beauty is a quest for the source of that beauty. Beauty points beyond the creation… that is transcendence. We all find some things beautiful and it resonates at the heart of our existence. “It was when I was happiest that I longed most, and because it was beautiful, it set me longing, always longing. Somewhere else, there must be more of it.” –C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces.

Clue 7 – Relationality – God as a Person

The Genesis account emphasizes the goodness of God’s creation. Yet there is one point at which God judges that a change needs to be made. It is not good that Adam is alone (Gen. 2:18). We were created to exist in relationship – with one another, and with God. To be authentically human is to exist in relationship – as we are meant to.

Christianity is fundamentally a relational faith. The core biblical idea of faith is fundamentally about trusting a God who shows himself to be worthy of that trust, in word and deed. The ideas of faith, hope, and love are deeply interconnected. We trust in a God who loves us and gives us hope for the future.

Throughout Scripture, God is understood as a person – not an impersonal force – who loves us and desires relationship with us. We have a God-given capacity to relate to our creator and redeemer. God is someone who we can know, not just know about.

Many fans of Dorothy Sayer’s detective stories and mystery novels point out that Sayers was one of the first women to attend Oxford University. The main character in her stories – Lord Peter Wimsey – is an aristocratic detective and a single man. At one point in the novels, though, a new character appears, Harriet Vane. She is described as one of the first women who graduated from Oxford – and as a writer of mystery novels. Eventually she and Peter fall in love and marry. Who was she? Many believe Sayers looked into the world she had created, fell in love with her lonely hero (Lord Peter Wimsey), and wrote herself into the story to save him. Very much like the incarnation (John 1:14), where Jesus came to his own.

The desire for relationship hard-wired into us is a clue that we were made to know and to be known by a personal God.

Clue 8 – Eternity – Hope

Ecclesiastes 3:11 has been translated, “that God has set eternity into our hearts.” We do possess a sense of the brevity of human life and an intuition that there is more to reality than this brief time on earth. Journalist Lisa Miller noted individuals and societies seemed to be hardwired to believe in “a place that embodies the best of everything – but beyond the best…what’s most beautiful, most loving, most just, and most true.”

In his biography of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson recounts a conversation with Jobs: I remember sitting in his backyard in his garden one day and he started talking about God. He said, “Sometimes I believe in God, sometimes I don’t. I think it’s 50-50 maybe. But ever since I’ve had cancer, I’ve been thinking about it more. And I find myself believing a bit more. I kind of– maybe it’s ’cause I want to believe in an afterlife. That when you die, it doesn’t just all disappear. The wisdom you’ve accumulated. Somehow it lives on.”

Why this desire for ongoing existence and significance? The desire and intuition is hardwired into us, just as Ecclesiastes 3:11 says. As the poet Matthew Arnold puts it:

But often, in the world’s most crowded streets
But often, in the din of strife
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life.

Clues to the Existence of God (Part 1)

In his book Mere Apologetics, Alister McGrath argues that the Christian faith is eminently reasonable and makes more sense of what we see in the world, discern in history, and experience in our lives than its alternatives. The cumulative evidence, he argues, is suggestive of God.

C.S. Lewis spoke of right and wrong as “clues to the meaning of the universe”. A clue is something that suggests but does not prove. Clues have cumulative significance. “They are like threads in the tapestry of faith. Christian theology is the loom that allows them to be woven together so their true significance can be appreciated individually, and their greater significance when they are woven together to form a coherent and beautiful pattern.” The following (in two parts, for purposes of this blog) are 8 clues that form a pattern of reasoning which undergirds faith.

Clue 1 – Creation – The Origins of the Universe

A central theme of the Christian faith is that God created all things from nothing. Christian theology affirms that the universe has not existed from all eternity, but came into being in an instant. Modern cosmology is at least resonant with the Christian view of origins in that the universe is not eternal, but came into being at a certain time in the past. The question is, ‘What caused the universe?’ For something cannot come from nothing. Whatever begins to exist has a cause. This can be reasoned out in the following line of argument:

Premise 1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause
Premise 2: The universe began to exist
Conclusion: Therefore, the universe has a cause

All things considered, divine causation is a plausible explanation for the origins of the universe. While ‘chance’ as an explanation, seems far less compelling.

Clue 2: Fine-Tuning – A Universe Designed for Life

In recent years, increasing attention has been paid to the phenomenon of “fine-tuning” in nature. The term “fine-tuning” is often used to refer to the scientific realization that the values of certain fundamental cosmological constants (speed of light, the gravitational constant, electromagnetic coupling, the masses of the elementary particles, etc.) appear to be necessary for life to have come into existence. The values of these constants, even if varied slightly, would have rendered the possibility of intelligent life, null.

Atheist cosmologist Fred Hoyle wrote, “It is as if a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and there remain no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.” Even though he was unsympathetic to the idea that God created the universe, he acknowledged the contemporary evidence is better explained by the idea of divine creation rather than by happenstance.

Clue 3 – Order – The Structure of the Physical World

One, we take it for granted that there is an ordered cosmos. Without which the scientific enterprise would be impossible. Regularity and intelligibility are necessary pre-conditions for modern science. Two, we take it for granted that our minds to give as factual data about what’s “out there.” We assume that there is congruence between our minds and the universe and the question is: ‘Why is this so?’ Asked differently, ‘why can we explain things at all?’

Theoretical physicist John Polkinghorne points out: “We are so familiar with the fact that we can understand the world that most of the time we take it for granted. It is what makes science possible. Yet it could have been otherwise. The universe might have been a disorderly chaos rather than an orderly cosmos. Or it might have had a rationality which was inaccessible to us…There is a congruence between our minds and the universe, between the rationality experienced within and the rationality observed without.”

The Christian answer is the same God who brought the world into being also created the human mind, with a God-given analogy and congruence between both of these aspects of his creation.

Clue 4 Morality- A Longing for Truth and Justice

Human beings do have an instinct and intuition that certain objective moral values exist (Nazi’ killings were objectively wrong – I have yet to find someone willing to argue otherwise). The question is: Are there transcendent grounds for concepts of morality and justice that are not merely the product of human convention (socially constructed)?

The belief in God seems to offer the best explanation for the existence, nature and our knowledge of objective moral truths. Atheist philosopher Iris Murdoch argued that a transcendent notion of goodness was essential if defensible human notions of “rights” and “justice” were to be maintained. If she is right, our desire for rights and justice in the world is a further “clue to the meaning of universe.”

Jesus – The Giver of Life

These (signs) are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)

John tells us that his ultimate purpose in writing his Gospel was that his reader might receive life through Christ. In order to receive life from Christ, they must believe in Christ, and in order to believe in Christ, John has selected certain signs that bear witness to Christ. Thus testimony leads to faith, and faith to life.

Indeed, John sees his Gospel primarily as testimony to Christ (which is why it is a good one to suggest reading for someone who is beginning to explore Christianity). There are seven signs given in the Gospel, each of which points to the true life that is to be found in Christ alone.

1. Jesus turned water into wine, showing a new order is being inaugurated (John 2).

2. The healing of the official’s son (John 4).

3. The healing of the man at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5). These two healings show Jesus ability to give new life.

4. Jesus fed five thousand people, showing him to be the Bread of Life (John 6).

5. Jesus walked on water, showing that the powers of nature were under his authority (John 6).

6. Jesus gave sight to a man born blind, claiming to be the Light of the World (John 8).

7. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, claiming to be the resurrection and the life (John 11).

Yet, there is another side to John’s witness to Jesus. The seven signs, recorded in the first half of his Gospel, are signs of power and authority. In the second half of his Gospel, however, John records signs of weakness and humility – first in the washing of the disciples’ feet and then in the cross, which John sees as the glorification of Jesus.

To sum up, John’s Gospel is in two halves: part 1 is the Book of Signs, and part 2 is the Book of the Cross. But in both, throughout his Gospel, John is bearing witness to Jesus in order that his readers may believe in him and so receive life from him.

Are the Gospel’s Reliable?

1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Luke is the author of a two-volume work on the origins of Christianity, The Gospel of Luke and The Book of Acts. In his short preference at the beginning of Luke, he emphasizes the reliability of what he is writing. He is absolutely clear that Jesus was not a myth but a historical figure. He sets out the case in five logical stages (vv. 1-4):

1. Certain “things…have been accomplished among us” (v. 1). These were the events of Jesus ministry.

2. Second, these events were seen by eyewitnesses who “delivered them to us” (v. 2). Luke personally consulted other existing written and oral sources about Jesus.

3. Luke, who was one of these, “having followed all things closely for some time past” (v. 3). We will see his methods of research and careful work below.

4. Luke wrote down the result of his research, giving “an orderly account” of it (v. 3). He wrote down the material, likely on two scrolls in roughly equal length. The first for The Gospel of Luke and the second for The Book of Acts

5. There would be those like Theophilus (most likely a patron who assisted in paying for the research and writing), who would find in Luke’s Gospel solid grounds for their faith.

When did Luke pursue his investigations? He was not one of the Twelve (In the Gospels) or an eyewitness of the resurrected Jesus (In the early Chapters of Acts). But he did personally travel with the Apostle Paul (Acts 16-28; see also Col. 4:14). And when Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea (Acts 24:27), Luke has a two year residence there. How did he occupy his time? We can only guess. Likely he traveled around the country, gathering material for his Gospel and for the book of Acts, visiting sites associated with Jesus’ ministry, and interviewing eyewitnesses. These likely included Mary, the mother of Jesus. For Luke tells Mary’s story, including the particulars surrounding Jesus’s birth. Some of these details could only have come from Mary herself. All of this establishes our confidence in the historical reliability of Luke’s writings and the Gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

From Boy to Manhood

I was reminded again this morning that parenting is a goal-oriented endeavor. In this article from The Atlantic, which highlights the increasing relational isolation that adolescents and teenagers are facing as a result, ironically, of their hyper-connectivity.  What struck me is not just the deleterious effects of significant unsupervised time on smartphones, but more fundamentally, the widespread absence of engaged parenting. Parents who, without thinking, have seemingly abdicated their parenting responsibility during the crucial adolescent and teenage years. That void, according to this article, is being increasingly filled by various media accessed on Smartphones and Tablets. Media that is in no way benign. These kids are being influenced, and the question that is not being asked is: by whom?

For the Christian parent: you have your kids in the home and under your direct and God-given influence for a season. In God’s good design, parents are to be intentional about training their children to assume adult responsibility (that is the goal oriented endeavor I spoke about above) while being actively engaged in their day to day lives through the adolescent and teenage years. This includes, monitoring their influences for their well being.

If you are to lead well as a parent, you must know what objectives you are leading toward. As a parent of four boys, my thinking has been helped by Al Mohler’s writings on The Marks of Manhood, which I have summarized below. In this instance, these are goals or objectives for parents of boys to guide them into mature manhood.

1. Spiritual Maturity to Lead a Wife and Children

The Bible is clear about a man’s responsibility to exercise spiritual maturity and spiritual leadership. Of course, this spiritual maturity takes time to develop, and it is a gift of the Holy Spirit working within the life of the believer. The disciplines of the Christian life, including prayer and serious Bible study, are among the means God uses to develop spiritual maturity in a man who is called to lead a wife and family. This spiritual leadership is central to the Christian vision of marriage and family life. A man’s spiritual leadership is not a matter of dictatorial power, but of firm and credible spiritual leadership and influence. A man is called to lead his wife and his children in a way that will honor God, demonstrate godliness, inculcate Christian character, and lead his family to desire Christ and to seek God’s glory. Spiritual maturity is a mark of true Christian manhood.

2. Personal Maturity Sufficient to be a Responsible Husband and Father

Biblical manhood is always defined in terms of functions, roles and responsibilities – including leadership. True masculinity is not a matter of exhibiting supposedly masculine characteristics devoid of the context of responsibility. In the Bible, a man is called to fulfill his role as husband and father. Unless granted the gift of celibacy for Gospel service, the Christian man is to be concerned about his marriage and parenting role.

Marriage is unparalleled in its effect on men, as it channels their energies and directs their responsibilities to the devoted covenant of marriage and the grace-filled community of the family. Men must respect and honor the marriage covenant and they must earn the respect and confidence of a wife.

Christian men must understand the responsibilities of fatherhood including the care, training, education, protection and discipline of children. They must aspire to be the kind of man a Christian woman finds security in being married to and have children who trust, respect and obey him.

3. Economic Maturity Sufficient to Hold a Job and Handle Money

A real man knows how to earn, manage and respect money. A Christian man understands the danger that comes from the love of money and fulfills his responsibility as a Christian steward. The portrait of young manhood made popular in the media and presented as normal through entertainment is characterized by economic carelessness, self-centeredness and laziness. A real man knows how to hold a job, handle money with responsibility and take care of the needs of his wife and family. A failure to develop economic maturity means that young men often float from job to job and take years to “find themselves” in terms of career and vocation. An extended adolescence marks a huge segment of today’s young male population.

Skills which mark economic maturity include knowledge of how to work, how to save, to invest and to spend money with care. He must be taught to respect labor, and to feel the satisfaction that comes from a job well done, and a dollar honestly earned.

4. Physical Maturity Sufficient to Work and Protect a Family

Unless afflicted by injury or illness, a man should develop the physical maturity that, by stature and strength, marks recognizable manhood. Of course, men come in many sizes and demonstrate different levels of physical strength, but common to all men is a maturity, through which a man demonstrates his masculinity by movement, confidence and strength. A man must be ready to put his physical strength on the line to protect his wife and children and to fulfill his God-assigned tasks. True maturity means that adult strength is combined with adult responsibility.

5. Sexual Maturity Sufficient to Marry and Fulfill God’s Purposes

Male sexuality separated from the context and integrity of marriage is an explosive and dangerous reality. A Christian man is accountable to God for his stewardship of this great gift of sexuality. Even as the society celebrates sex in every form and at every age, the true Christian man practices sexual integrity, avoiding pornography, fornication, all forms of sexual promiscuity and corruption. He understands the danger of lust, but rejoices in the sexual capacity and reproductive power God has put within him, committing himself to his wife, earning her love, trust, and admiration.

6. Moral Maturity Sufficient to Lead as Example of Righteousness

Moral maturity is marked by learning to think like a Christian, act like a Christian, and model righteous living for others. The Christian man is to be an example to others, teaching by both instruction and example. Of course, this requires the exercise of responsible moral reasoning. True moral education begins with a clear understanding of moral standards, but must move on to the higher level of moral reasoning by exercising wisdom in applying biblical principles into godly living and meeting the moral challenges of his day with the truths revealed in God’s inerrant and infallible Word. Men must learn how to weigh evidence and think clearly, and how to prioritize values according to a biblical standard. A real man knows how to make a decision and live with its consequences – even if that means that he must later acknowledge that he has learned by making a bad decision, and then by making the appropriate correction.

7. Worldview Maturity Sufficient to Understand what is Really Important

Our Christian discipleship must be demonstrated in the development of a Christian mind. The Christian man must understand how to interpret and evaluate issues across the spectrum of politics, economics, morality, entertainment, education and a seemingly endless list of other fields. We must develop the capacity to translate Christian truth into genuine Christian thinking. A man must learn how to defend biblical truth before his peers and in the public square, and he must acquire the ability to extend Christian thinking, based on biblical principles, to every arena of life.

8. Relational Maturity Sufficient to Understand and Respect Others

Psychologists now talk of “emotional intelligence,” or EQ, as a major factor in personal development. While the world has given much attention to IQ, EQ is just as important. Individuals who lack the ability to relate to others are destined to fail at some of life’s most significant challenges and will not fulfill some of their most important responsibilities and roles. A man is to learn to demonstrate emotional strength, constancy and steadfastness, he must be able to relate to his wife, his children, his peers, his colleagues and a host of others in a way that demonstrates respect, understanding and appropriate empathy.

9. Social Maturity Sufficient to Make a Contribution to Society

While the arena of the home is an essential and inescapable focus of a man’s responsibility, he is also called out of the home into the workplace and the larger world as a witness and as one who will make a contribution to the common good. God has created human beings as social creatures, and even though our ultimate citizenship is in heaven, we must also fulfill our citizenship on earth. The Christian man bears a civic responsibility as a shaper of the society for righteousness and justice. A Christian man must learn how to relate to unbelievers, both as a witness and as a fellow citizen of an earthly kingdom.

10. Character Maturity Sufficient to Demonstrate Courage under Fire

In these days, biblical manhood requires great courage. The prevailing ideologies and worldviews of this age are inherently hostile to Christian truth and are corrosive to Christian faithfulness. It takes great courage for a man to devote himself unreservedly to his wife and to the duties of fatherhood. It takes great courage to say “no” to what this culture insists are rightful pleasures and delights of the flesh. It takes courage to maintain personal integrity in a world that devalues the truth, disparages God’s Word, and promises self-fulfillment and happiness only through the exercise of personal autonomy. In the end, a man’s character is revealed in the crucible of everyday challenges. For most men, life will also bring moments when extraordinary courage will be required, if he is to remain faithful and true.

11. Biblical Maturity Sufficient to Lead at Some Level in the Church

A close look at many churches will reveal that a central problem is the lack of biblical maturity among the men of the congregation and a lack of biblical knowledge that leaves men ill equipped and completely unprepared to exercise spiritual leadership.

Men must be taught to know, to treasure, to honor and to understand the Bible. They must know their way around the biblical text and feel at home in the study of God’s Word. They must be taught how to read with care, “rightly dividing the Word of truth,” and they must learn how to apply the eternal truths of God’s World to the challenges of modern manhood.

Furthermore, they must stand ready to take their place as leaders in the local church. While God has appointed specific officers for his church – men who are specially gifted and publically called – every man should fulfill some leadership responsibility within the life of the congregation. For some men, this may mean a less public role of leadership than others. In any event, a man should be able to teach someone and to lead in some ministry, translating his personal discipleship into the fulfillment of a godly call. There is a role of leadership for every man in every church, whether that role is public or private, large or small, official or unofficial. A man should know how to pray before others, to present the Gospel and to stand in the gap where a leadership need is apparent.