Trusted Authorship

Mark Twain published a book in 2017.  With a little help from Professor John Bird and creative collaborators Philip and Erin Stead, Samuel Clemens (his real name) scored a bestseller 107 years after his passing!

Bird discovered Clemens’ handwritten notes while researching old files.  Clemens had written 16 pages of story fragments for a fairy tale intended for his daughters.  The Steads stepped in to complete and illustrate the story, published as The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, a title completely worthy of Clemens’ wit.

So, Clemens wrote a few personal notes, and the Steads applied their literary and artistic acumen to produce an interesting story.  A skeptical view of the Bible is like that.  Maybe a notable person wrote a few words a long time ago, but many others added to it.  So, it’s an interesting, if not implausible story.  I’ve heard other skeptical thoughts: Since people wrote the Bible, their thoughts can’t be more true than ours, and, it’s been translated so many times who knows what the real story is?

Why does it matter?  Because if what the Bible says is true, it is life changing, with eternity in the balance.  When you begin to find it trustworthy, you can begin to hear what it says about God and you. So let me offer a small serving of food for thought.

The oldest manuscript of the ancient writings of Roman historian Tacitus date 700 years after the original.  The oldest copy of Homer’s Iliad dates to 400 years after the original.  James Madison wrote the U.S. Constitution 230 years ago.  Yet the authorship and content of these documents are hardly questioned.  The Bodmer Papyri contains writings about Jesus that date to within 130 years of the original.  Yet the authenticity of John’s Gospel is suspect?

So what if we have what the Bible writers produced, if it’s still fiction?  Paul anticipated that objection and pointed out that many eye witnesses were still alive to authenticate his writing.  “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now” (1 Cor. 15: 3-6).

The Bible writers were inspired, not by hope of personal gain or notoriety, but by altruism and eternal truth.  John wrote, “These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).

The Bible is an anthology of forty writers spanning 1500 years, giving you a faithful account of history and God’s promises to you.  You can trust it.

Follow the Evidence

A dairy cow has a strong maternal instinct.  She objects to the standard practice of removing her days-old calf and challenges any barrier to it.  That natural instinct is the basis of a curious historical event.

The Philistines captured the Israelites’ holy symbol, the ark (think Indiana Jones, not Noah).  They began suffering plagues and suspected the ark’s presence.  To test this theory, they hitched milk cows to a cart and loaded the ark.  They took the calves away, and waited to see what would happen.  Overruling their natural instinct, “the cows took the straight way in the direction of (Israel). They went along the highway, lowing as they went” (1 Sam. 6:12).  The natural gave evidence to the supernatural.

For a modern example of the same, Watson and Crick discovered the 3D double helix structure of DNA in 1953.  DNA stores coded information which can be transmitted to make new cells. It also contains the instructions to make the de-coding machinery of RNA.  The DNA code is made up of four nucleotide bases, abbreviated as letters.  The human genetic code requires three billion letters.

How did that happen?  How did all that information become packed into tiny cells?  Such questions became disruptive to English philosopher Antony Flew.  For most of his life, he taught and wrote as an advocate of his atheist beliefs.  To his credit, he also believed in following the evidence.  At age 81, he did just that, and it was in part due to scientific discoveries about DNA.

He said, “DNA has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinarily diverse elements to work together. It’s the enormous complexity of the number of elements and the enormous subtlety of the ways they work together. The meeting of these two parts at the right time by chance is simply minute. It is all a matter of the enormous complexity by which the results were achieved, which looked to me like the work of intelligence.”

In 2007, Flew published a book, There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, describing how the natural gives unmistakable evidence of the supernatural.  I wish I could say he followed the historical evidence of Jesus and His Resurrection.  But the prior point remains, if God designed the universe you will see evidence of that.  If you are intellectually honest, you follow the evidence to Him.

“For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17).

Make A Way

I won’t describe the published details of what happened because it’s too painful to read. But I’ll offer enough for you to understand.

Dr. Craig Phelps, his wife Susan, and their four children left their home in Oklahoma, excited to begin their trip to a ski resort in Colorado. That evening, somewhere in the wilderness desert of the Texas panhandle, a tractor trailer hit their van. As he triaged his family in the darkness, Dr. Phelps discovered that his son Jeremy had not survived the crash. They sat beside the roadway in the darkness for 45 minutes waiting for help to come.

During his flight to Oklahoma to attend the funeral, Susan’s brother Don Moen read, “I will do something new, now it will spring forth. Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert” (Isa. 43:19). Those words inspired him to write a song for his devastated family. “God will make a way where there seems to be no way. He works in ways we cannot see. He will make a way for me.” One of the verses says, “By a roadway in the wilderness, He’ll lead me and rivers in the desert will I see. Heaven and earth will fade but His Word will still remain, and He will do something new today.”

In 2018, Moen published the book, God Will Make a Way – Discovering His Hope in Your Story, to offer healing. He writes that the song “was born out of a tragedy that started me on the path to understanding that when storms threaten our lives, we are about to see the power of God move in miraculous ways. Here’s the catch though. We must make the intentional decision to look for Him there.”

In the midst of pain, clichés on church marquees and trite but well-intentioned quips from friends can seem to mock your pain. In the deepest night of your soul, you realize that you cannot continue without help from somewhere. Into that darkness shines this ray of light. “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me…for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

In moments of weakness and pain, you could turn to self-medication, against God, and into a shell of your former self. That turns one tragedy into another, but you don’t have to go that way. In the depths of your despair, you will find that God is there. The One who gave His Son for you to believe and receive eternal life has made a way for today.

Not Shaken

What shakes your world? What would cause you to put the phone down and say, “My life will never be the same again”? Current events force the question.

Rosie Granados was chatting on the phone with her twin sister Mary, who was near the end of her mail route. Suddenly, Mary screamed and went silent. Rosie later learned that her sister was one of the shooting victims in Midland, Texas. The deranged shooter killed Mary for her USPS van.

The Angels-Rangers baseball game was without music and the usual promotions. Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs had unexpectedly died in his hotel room in the Dallas area just before the start of the series. His family said, “We are heartbroken to learn that the passing of our beloved Tyler was the result of a combination of dangerous drugs and alcohol.” His wife Carli is now a young widow.

At the time of writing, Hurricane Dorian is a Category 5 storm battering the Bahamas. As it creeps westward, it intensifies its destruction of the islands in its path. It is too soon to tell what the damage is, and forecasters cannot predict where or even if the U.S. will sustain a direct hit.

Crime, drugs, and natural disasters are only the start of a list of things that can shake you. What about divorce or broken relationships? Loss of job or financial struggles? Depression, cancer, or other health issues? Death of a loved one? Pervasive loneliness or lack of direction?

To that personal list, we can add national issues. Since 1980, the U.S. federal debt per person has grown from $10,000 to $65,000. Religious liberty is American’s first freedom, but it’s now politically correct to subordinate it to the rabid hedonism of our day. National security threats always lurk nearby.

Yet there is hope. The Lord is near! “I have set the Lord continually before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad” (Psa. 16:8-9). Though your world convulses with rage, fire, disease, calamity, and death, these need not shake you.

The anger of God shakes the earth (Psa. 18:7). But that only makes you yearn for a different place, a city of purity and love, one with firm foundations. “They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:16). That city and its residents have a firm foundation. “Since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:27-28).

So whether here and now, or there and then, this truth remains: “He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken” (Psa. 62:2).

A Lasting Home

One of the last paintings Rembrandt completed (1669) was “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” This impactful art piece, about eight feet tall and wide, is in the collection at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

The subject of the painting is the final in a series of three stories as told by Jesus (Luke 15). The sheep, coin, and son share the theme of something lost, yet found.  The prodigal son parable is the longest of the three.  At first it’s about a wandering son, but it quickly becomes more about a loving father.  Perhaps that’s why Rembrandt has only the father’s face in full view.

Rembrandt’s masterpiece had a particular impact on Henri Nouwen (d. 1996). Nouwen was a Dutch academic in psychology and theology.  After being a professor at Harvard, Yale, and Notre Dame, he set that career aside.  For the final ten years of his life, he served L’Arche Communities, an inclusive home for the disabled in Ontario.

Nouwen struggled with loneliness, and reflected deeply on Jesus’ parable and Rembrandt’s painting. He visited The Hermitage Museum to see the painting in person.  He was so moved that he authored a book about it, The Return of the Prodigal Son – A Story of Homecoming.  Nouwen writes, “So there I was; facing the painting that had been on my mind and in my heart for nearly three years.  I was stunned by its majestic beauty.  Its size, larger than life; its shadowy recess and bright foreground, but most of all the light-enveloped embrace of father and son surrounded by four mysterious bystanders…It has brought me into touch with something within me that lies far beyond the ups and downs of life, something that represents the ongoing yearning of the human spirit, the yearning for a final return, an unambiguous sense of safety, a lasting home.”

That need for unambiguous safety and a lasting home touches something deep in your soul, and Jesus knew that. Two times Jesus has the father saying that the son was dead and came to life again, was lost but now is found.  Is there anything more threatening than your own mortality?  Can you be more lost than when you have no home?  In the story, the prodigal knows where the father is and returns to him seeking safety, home, and life.  The father waits and watches.  When he sees the son in the distance, he is overwhelmed with compassion and mercy, running to embrace his son.

This is really about you and God. Once you have received the mercy of the Father, mercy becomes your calling.  “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful,” Jesus said (Luke 6:36).  When you do that, you invite the dead to find life, and the lost to their lasting home.