CAN WE BELIEVE THE BIBLE?

From the time the Bible was put together and published readers and skeptics have questioned its trustworthiness and believability. Some have gone beyond simply questioning it to attacking and ridiculing it.

Christians in general believe the Bible, but there are times and occasions in which they also wonder and ask if all of it is true and believable. Doubts are planted about the Bible’s trustworthiness when seekers and critics ask believers questions they cannot answer.

Earlier this summer I was given the opportunity to receive and read a new book about this issue if I would write a brief review of it. The book’s original title was WHY SHOULD I TRUST THE BIBLE? but was changed to answer the original question to WHY I TRUST THE BIBLE. The book’s subtitle gives specific content: ANSWERS TO REAL QUESTIONS AND DOUBTS PEOPLE HAVE ABOUT THE BIBLE.

The author of this helpful and solid book is Bible scholar William D. Mounce. His brief bio on the back of this paperback will give readers confidence that this book will answer many questions about the Bible’s reliability. In the Preface Mounce tells his readers that “As I’ve been writing, I have kept university freshman and their parents in mind.”

Subjects and topics Mounce covers include The Historical Jesus, Contradictions in the Bible, Why Do We have the Twenty-Seven Books in the New Testament?, Translations, and The Old Testament. Just reading that list probably sparks interest for many readers.

Having read the book, as I leaf through my copy I am surprised by the many sentences I underlined and comments I made in the margins. Why I Trust The Bible is not overly scholarly and is very readable.

I especially appreciated Mounce’s closing two sentences: “The Bible is worthy of our trust, and it can stand up to scrutiny. I have staked my life and my future on it; I trust you will as well” (p. 269). I agree with his assessment of the Bible and also his testimony.

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ANNIVERSARY – A DAY TO REMEMBER

Most of us have one or more days on our calendar each year in which we remember something that happened in the past. Weddings and birthdays are probably the most celebrated anniversaries, but there are plenty of other things we also remember, including some things we remember but don’t celebrate (like 9/11 in the USA).

This coming Sunday marks a significant day in my life and our family as we look back 37 years to the first Sunday of October in 1984 when we launched a new church in Southern California. After 10 years at a church in the Philadelphia area I was given the opportunity to plant a church in the rapidly growing area east of LA that become the city of Moreno Valley.

Audrey was 2, Rob was 8 months, Jan was 30, and I was 33. I had no experience in starting a church but our nucleus and I had worked hard getting ready for our launch on October 7. We met in a middle school and were so excited that on that first Sunday we had 137 people gather for our first worship celebration.

We bought property in Moreno Valley and eventually built two buildings on the site for worship, children’s ministry, youth ministry, adult classes, banquets, etc. I don’t remember the exact date we occupied the facilities, but it was a great day of celebration on that first Sunday as well as the dedication that followed.

Every year on the first Sunday of October we celebrated the anniversary of the birth of our church. Some of those celebrations were bigger than others. For several years we were known as Moreno Valley Christian Church, but eventually changed our name to Discovery Christian Church to avoid the mix ups with other churches’ with Moreno Valley included in their names.

After 29 years I finalized my decision with our elders to step down from my position a year later. We announced to our congregation on our 29th anniversary that I would conclude my ministry a year later on our 30th anniversary.

My last Sunday was seven years ago on the first Sunday of October in 2014. That Sunday morning time of worship, and the evening celebration of my 30 years, was the most difficult, fulfilling, emotional, and affirming anniversary of all 30 celebrations.

Since I’m looking back in anticipation of this coming Sunday’s anniversary, it’s obvious I remember and rejoice in that first Sunday in 1984 each year. I realize a lot has changed at Discovery Christian Church the last seven years, but not the foundation that was laid at the beginning 37 years ago this coming Sunday.

Congratulations to Discovery Christian Church on the occasion of your 37th anniversary – long time members, newer members, long term staff, more recently added staff, leaders in terms of your elders, and former members who have moved, but still remember Discovery’s anniversaries (like me).

Congratulations to new Senior Pastor Garrison Polsgrove and best wishes as you lead the body of Christ and the ministry of Discovery Christian Church. I’ll celebrate your first anniversary on the first Sunday of October next year as well the 38th anniversary of the church.

To all readers: mark, remember, and celebrate anniversaries that deserve the recognition.

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WORTH SEEING

Even though I have on occasion made comments about a new book I read, in this post I want to make some observations about a movie I saw today. I certainly am not in any way a film critic, but I enjoyed the movie enough to share some of my thoughts about it with readers.

This afternoon my wife and I went to see the new Clint Eastwood film Cry Macho. I knew that the theater for a 12:05 showing on a Thursday would not be crowded and it wasn’t. Altogether there were four of us in attendance.

Having seen Cry Macho I can say with confidence it is worth seeing. I think I have probably seen all of Eastwood’s movies, and this one is unlike any of the others I have seen. It’s not a typical western or about a police officer and there is no shooting of guns, but the ninety-one year old is still an interesting character as a retired rodeo star.

The plot is about Eastwood’s character (Mike) paying back an old friend by going to Mexico City to bring back his friend’s son—Rafa–who is with his mother. Rafa agrees to go with Mike and the bulk of the film is about their journey back to the Mexico/Texas border.

Unlike many of Eastwood’s previous films, this one is unique. Obviously he is older in this one than the others and the setting is 1978. For me Cry Macho was heartwarming and I saw Clint Eastwood playing the part of a gentle and caring old man. Mike was not only caring and gentle with a widowed mother and her children, he also was both gentle and helpful with a variety of animals.

Of particular interest to me was when Mike and Rafa were going to sleep and Rafa asked Mike if he believed in God. Even though it was brief, I thought the exchange was interesting.

The ending of the movie was quite brief and left me wondering about the ultimate outcome of what Eastwood’s character pulled off for his friend. I wish the film would have lasted a little longer to tell us more about what happened next for the two main characters: Rafa and Mike.

If I were a real film critic I would suggest five stars for Cry Macho, but I’m not a real critic. But for me, if Cry Macho is the final film for Clint Eastwood, I’m glad his last piece of work is as good as any of his others.  

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WHAT ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT?

Most of us have at times when we seem to be daydreaming been asked the question, “What are you thinking about?” A common answer is “nothing,” but my sense is that thinking about nothing is probably rare.

I just finished a book by Hannah Anderson entitled ALL THAT’S GOOD: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment. While she does write about discernment, six of the eleven chapters are about the six things the Apostle Paul suggests Christians should think about in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (NIV).

The New Living Translation renders Paul’s challenge “Fix your thoughts and think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” In the Message Eugene Peterson paraphrases, “you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on . . . the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not to curse.”

Comparing these three translations gives us insight into the six specific areas Paul encourages us to focus on: what is true, what is noble (honorable), what is right (reputable), what is pure (authentic), what is lovely (compelling), and what is admirable (gracious).

Here are a few selections from Hannah Anderson’s explanations of things we are to think about: “honorable carries the idea that something has weight or gravity” (p. 81), “something is just (or right) when if fulfills what it is supposed to do” (p. 97), “being pure is the condition of being whole and untainted” (p. 114), “to describe something as lovely is to describe both the thing itself as well as the response it produces in us” (p. 128), and “seeking whatever is commendable means giving attention to both what we talk about and how we talk about it” (p.141).

The importance of what we think about should not be understated. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the Apostle Paul gives us six suggestions for what we should consider and focus on.  If as believers we give much thought to the opposite of these six, let’s be challenged to replace them with what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable.

To conclude this post I share Hannah Anderson’s observation: “discernment simply means developing a taste for what is good” (p.13). Perhaps we need to work on being more discerning about what we think about and fully enjoy what we do think about.

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SOME THOUGHTS ON FRIENDSHIPS

Two weeks ago I learned that one of my childhood friends died and I wrote a blog about him to honor him. I concluded my thoughts about Bruce Edgecomb and another childhood friend, Charlie Bailey who passed away a couple of years earlier, with the closing line of the narrator in the movie Stand by Me: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12.”

Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about friends and friendships. I’m now 70 and agree with the narrator that neither have I had any friends later on like Chuck and Bruce. That is not to suggest, however, that I have not had close, supportive, fun, caring, and wonderful friends.

Somewhat surprising to me in thinking back is the number of friends I had who were older than me during my years in youth ministry. Most of them (called youth sponsors in those days) contributed in vital ways to our youth ministry and we became friends. What is also meaningful to me is the number of friends I have had and still have from among those young people who were participants in our youth ministry.

I was privileged to serve as the preaching pastor of two churches following my five years as a youth pastor. I served 10 years as the minister of a small congregation in the Philadelphia area from 1975 to 1984. My best and most helpful friends during my tenure there were men who were older and more mature than me who invested in my life by supporting me, advising me, challenging me, and loving me.

At the age of 33 our family moved to Southern California where we planted a church in a rapidly growing area of mostly young families. Jan and I stayed there for 30 years until we thought it was time to step down and move to Texas to be closer to our children and grandchildren.

One of the most difficult things about stepping down from Discovery Christian Church after 30 years and moving to Texas was leaving the many friends we had made and with whom we had shared life. It has not been easy to keep in touch, but we have remained in contact with several and quite a few have visited us in Amarillo.

The past four years we have become involved with a church and I am elated to have a part time position as Pastor of Senior Adult Ministry. Jan and I are certainly loved and appreciated, but we have not yet cultivated many friendships as we are busy with our grandsons. I’m hoping to nurture some more meaningful friendships both giving and receiving as real friends do.

We all need friends, don’t we? Friends make a difference in our lives. No two friendships are exactly the same, and my sense is that’s the way it should be. The loss of a friend or a friendship can be painful. I thank God for my many friendships from growing up, during high school, while in college, in the churches I’ve served, and those with whom I have connected. Friends have enriched my life in many ways and I hope that as a friend I have also enriched their lives in many ways as well. Sometimes I think back over the years and become nostalgic remembering those friends and the times we shared.

Friends and friendships are a gift from God.

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BURDENS AND CARES

I’m not sure what the difference is between a burden and a care, but I’m pretty sure over the past few weeks cares and burdens have been piling up on a lot of us. Some of them are heavier than others; but light or heavy, burdens and cares impact us and weigh us down.

Think about some of the different issues and problems people of all stations of life are facing. As a nation we continue to deal with the Covid pandemic, the situation in Afghanistan, and political problems from local through national happenings. And as families and individuals we are dealing with a variety of challenges.

The last couple of weeks I have noted more and more stress and anxiety in my life as I interact with others as well as watch and read the news. As unsettling as it is, for some reason I continue to follow the news and lament much of what I see and read.

Earlier today I was thinking about all of this and a couple of words came to mind that give me some direction of what I might do. I remembered Bible usage of the words cares (sometimes a verb and sometimes a noun) and burdens.

I am encouraged by Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I am also affirmed by two similar verses:

“Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you” (Psalm 55:22).

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (I Peter 5:7).

I am also challenged by Galatians 6:2, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” It seems to me also that as we put the Apostle Paul’s instruction into practice we will be blessed.

The Bible does not promise that children of God and followers of Jesus will live care and burden free lives – we know that from our own experience. Yet there is some comfort in being reminded that God cares for us and we can cast our cares on him.

We might also keep in mind Solomon’s encouragement that we “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on our own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).

I like Dane Ortlund’s question and answer, “What does it really mean to trust God? To trust God means to live your life as if God actually exists and is who he says he is.” That is something for us to keep in mind as we deal with our burdens and cares.

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WHY READ THE BIBLE?

Different people have a variety of reasons for reading the Bible. The same is no doubt also true for those who do not read the Bible. Some have no interest in the Bible and others have a great deal of interest. While they all do not follow the same practice, most Christians have at least some interest in reading the Bible.

I recently finished a new book that not only reinforced a lot of what I already believed about the Bible, but also reminded me why believers benefit so much from reading it. The title of author Michael F. Bird’s latest book for the Christian community is SEVEN THINGS I WISH CHRISTIANS KNEW ABOUT THE BIBLE.

On the surface the title may seem a little pompous and demeaning, but the content is informative and instructive for those who have been Christians for a long time as well as newer Christians and all those in between. The book is neither overly academic nor overly simplistic.

While I enjoyed all seven of the chapters and appreciated the content, I was most struck by three affirmations Bird made in chapter 6 about “The Purpose of Scripture Is Knowledge, Faith, Love, and Hope.” His three observations on pp. 150 and 151 provide a great deal of encouragement and challenge for all of us when it comes to Bible reading:

“The purpose and power of Scripture are experienced in the discipline of immersing oneself daily into the mystery of God as he reveals himself in his word.”

“If we engage in consistent and wise readings of the Bible, individually and communally, then hopefully we will reap many of the benefits of marinating our minds in Scripture.”

“To put it briefly, I like to say that the purpose of Scripture is that God’s people would attain the knowledge of God, deepen their faith, abound in love for God and love for others, and enjoy the assurance of hope—these are things we get from Scripture!”

Those three statements Bird wrote rang my bell with regard to reminding believers why we should read the Bible.

I certainly don’t know what your practice is or isn’t when it comes to reading the Bible, but Bird gives us a lot to think about. If you are a regular reader of the Bible I affirm you and hope you find Bird’s observations meaningful. If you are not a regular reader of the Bible and think you might want to get started again or give it a try, I would suggest the Gospel of John as a good place to begin.   

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AN ASPECT OF PRAYER TO CONSIDER

Through the years I’ve read a lot about prayer and have written several blogs about prayer the last few years. This past week I came across an aspect of prayer that was new to me and got my attention. I’m planning to include this aspect in my practice of prayer and I encourage you to give it some consideration yourself.

In his book The Art of Prayer author Timothy Jones entitles his next to last chapter (15) “Letting Go.” Jones uses the same designation others do calling this new aspect of prayer for me “The Prayer of Relinquishment.” Jones tells his readers he has found the prayer of relinquishment “to be an essential part of the spiritual life” (p. 184). I’m a rookie when it comes to this aspect of prayer, but after reading Jones’ chapter and what others have written about the practice I’m thinking Jones is probably right.

One of Jones’ most powerful observations is obvious to most Christians, but is something many of us may need to be reminded of. He explains, “Relinquishment begins with acknowledging that much in life lies beyond our control” (p. 185). Most of us know from our own experience that Jones is right.

As I looked at some search results of the prayer of relinquishment I came across a twofold observation with which I partially agreed and I partially disagreed: “When you relinquish everything, you stop commanding and demanding God to do things for you. God will be silent until you turn everything over to Him and allow Him to handle your situation His way.”

Jones gives us some important direction when he suggests, “Our prayers of relief and acceptance need not be elaborate. We need not worry much about the words. More than anything, a prayer of letting go means coming into God’s presence with our agendas quieted. It means reverently opening our lives and hearts to a God of infinite possibilities” (p. 191).

More than one writer I read on the subject suggested “The ‘prayer of relinquishment’ is the prayer of surrender.” My sense is that surrender does not mean we give up, but rather that we submit to God’s will and God’s way. The challenge of course is accepting God’s way and will because of our faith and trust in Him.

Clearly the Bible teaches we are to go to our Heavenly Father in prayer with our requests. However, not every request we make is granted. I like Jones’ report that a friend of his came to the realization that sometimes rather than telling God what she wanted, she needed to ask God what he wants (p. 187). That seems to me something you and I might consider as well.

One perceptive commentator pointed out “There is the example of the prayer [of relinquishment] Jesus prayed in the garden: “And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:41‑42).

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FREEDOM IN CHRIST

Rather than write a blog from my sermon this past Sunday (July 4th) I thought some readers might enjoy listening to and watching it. Here’s the link if you are interested in listening, feel free to delete if you are not.

https://wacconline.org/media/freedom-in-christ-bob-mink

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GROWING IN PRAYER

I would think there are some readers who may be satisfied with their prayer life, but my sense is that most of us are not. I’ve been a Christian for 58 years and a pastor for over four decades, but have never been fully satisfied with my prayers. If I drew a graph of my practice of prayer through the years it would be a long line of ups and downs.

Yesterday I counted the books I own about prayer on my shelves and came up with around 30. All of them have been encouraging and helpful, but none of them resulted in my being totally satisfied with my prayer life.

A couple of weeks ago I ordered a new book on prayer and finished reading it yesterday. The title is Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone by James Martin. Martin is a Jesuit priest and a good writer. If I were to recommend one book on prayer it wouldn’t be this one, but it does have a wealth of information, direction, and encouragement for any reader who wants to grow his or her prayer life. I was encouraged, challenged, and overwhelmed with regard to prayer by this book.

I won’t review the book in this post, but I would like to share a few selected quotes (gems) from the 371 pages that I hope you will find interesting and provocative.

Martin says about his book, “Learning to Pray is written for everyone from the doubter to the devout, from the seeker to the believer. It’s an invitation for people who have never prayed. It’s designed for people who would like to pray, but are worried they will do it in the wrong way. It’s meant for people who have prayed and haven’t found it as satisfying as they had hoped” (p. 9).

“Your desire to pray is a sign that God desires you. We pray because we want to be in a relationship to God” (p. 28). 

“But the goal of prayer is closer union with God” (p. 29).

“. . . it’s important to remember in prayer that you’re not simply talking to a friend. You’re talking to God” (p. 41).

“Few of us are monks or cloistered nuns with hours of time to pray” (p. 51).

“The same practices that make for a good relationship with other people make for a good relationship with God” (p. 57).

“Prayer is conscious conversation with God” (p. 58).

“Sometimes when imagining yourself speaking to God, you might also try imagining what God would say in return” (p. 76).

“What works for one person may not work for another” (p. 94).

“Sometimes we glide through prayer without paying attention to the fact that we are doing something meaningful, something profound, something holy. “. . . even if you’ve been praying for many years, you can always learn something new” (p. 137).

“It’s healthy to recognize our failings and sinfulness” (p. 149).

“It’s both natural and human to pray for what we want. How could anyone stand before God and not feel a longing to ask for the help they need?” (p. 188)

“The more you pray, the more you’ll be able to sift through distractions. Think of it as a conversation with a friend” (p. 230).

“The older I get, the simpler my prayer seems to become” (p. 274).

“All God promises is that God will be with us, God does not promise to solve all the problems in our lives” (p. 315).

“The fruits of prayer are in the hands of God” (p. 351).

“Prayer is not simply to help us feel good about ourselves or close to God. It should move us to action” (p. 356).

Martin’s writing about prayer is personal, honest, and down to earth.

You may want to grow in your prayer life but are not interested in getting and reading Martin’s Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone. If you’re not, I would like to recommend a second book that is much shorter, yet I found helpful and encouraging – written by C.S. Lewis, entitled How to Pray, and published in 2018.

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