Evidence for the Truth of the Christian Message

August 2, 2010 by admin  
Filed under Defending the Faith, New

We live in a pluralistic society with dozens of competing claims to truth.  A bewildering variety of religions, philosophies, political ideologies and personal codes of conduct all attempt to convince us that they have special insights into reality and the proper way to live.  To many people, the historic Christian gospel appears as just one more voice in the marketplace of ideas.  All of this raises the question of why anyone should believe that what we have to say is any different.  In other words, who is to say that Christians are right when we claim that the gospel is uniquely the truth?

Providing compelling reasons to people who question the Christian Faith is called Apologetics.  We don’t have space in this article for more than a brief explanation of some of the more compelling pieces of evidence, so I will simply deal with some of the good reasons we have for believing the gospel under the following headings:

  • The reliability of the Bible
  • The amazing evidence for the Bible’s inspiration
  • The compelling body of facts affirming Jesus’ claims to be the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel and the risen Savior of the world.
  • The Evidence of History and Archeology
  • The startling transformation of the disciples of Jesus
  • The unstoppable spread of the gospel across time and cultures
  • The millions of supernaturally changed lives over the past couple of thousand years.

The first thing we must tackle is the issue of the Bible, and specifically:

  • Is the Bible trustworthy as a document? That is, can we understand our current Bible versions as accurately representing the original manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments?  To answer this question we must rely on the evidence of the manuscript tradition.  And, along with that is another question–
  • Is the Bible inspired by God? In other words, is the Bible more than just a collection of merely human writings?  Put simply, can we discern the hand of God in the books of the Bible?

OK, back to the first part of this question: You may already be familiar with the fact that the Bible comes from the ancient scriptural writings of the Jews, mainly in Hebrew, and from the Greek writings of the early Church.  As far as anyone knows, no actual documents from the original writers still exist.  That means we must rely on ancient manuscripts copies of these original documents.  But how do we know that when we pick up the Bible to read Genesis or Romans that what we are reading is a faithful and accurate representation of what was originally written by say, Moses or the Apostle Paul?

Old Testament Evidence. Let’s begin with a quick look at the manuscript evidence for the Old Testament.  What Christians accept as the Old Testament, Jews have been using for centuries as their sacred scriptures.  By the way, they don’t call it the Old Testament: they use terms like Torah, Tanach or simply the Hebrew Scriptures.

Until 1947, the standard Hebrew manuscripts available for making copies of the Old Testament were the Massoretic Texts.  These documents, dating from around 900 AD, were used as the basis for making more current copies of the Old Testament.  Since the conventional date for the writing of the books of the Old Testament is between 1400 and 400 BC, and the Massoretic Texts date from around 900 AD, that leaves an average of more than 1,500 years between the originals and the copies being used for Old Testament study and translation.  In other words, there appeared to be lots of time for copyists to make copying mistakes, or even deliberate changes.

But the situation changed in 1947 with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Some of the documents of the Dead Sea Scrolls are dated from before 100 BC and the collection includes every book of the Old Testament except Esther.  So, suddenly we have manuscript copies a thousand years closer to the source.

These fragile manuscripts from well before the time of Christ have been compared with the Massoretic Texts in order to discover how much the material of Old Testament might have changed over centuries of copying.  The result was the amazing discovery that little or no significant variation occurred in more than 1,000 years between the Dead Sea Scrolls (around 100 BC) and the Massoretic Texts (around 900 AD).  It proved what Jewish and Christian tradition had always claimed: that Jewish scribes followed rigorous copying procedures to ensure accurate transmission of the text of the Hebrew scriptures.

New Testament Evidence.  If we are encouraged by the evidence for the Old Testament, the evidence for the integrity of the New Testament is even better.  The text used for study and translation of the New Testament is derived from literally thousands of early manuscripts.  Just for starters, there are the more than 5,000 manuscripts in the original Greek in which the books of the New Testament were written.

To be fair, not all of these manuscripts are complete copies of the New Testament.  Some are just fragments of books.  But even so, this is an impressive amount of evidence.  Add to this, the very early copies of the New Testament in other languages, which can be used for comparison with the Greek copies, This adds up to a total of more than 20,000 early manuscripts on which our current New Testament is based.

__________________________________________

Greek:                                                5,686

Latin Vulgate:                            10,000+

Ethiopic:                                           2,000+

Slavic:                                                4,101

Armenian:                                       2,587

Others:                                                 596

___________________________________________

If that were not enough, virtually the entire New Testament can be reconstructed from quotes found in the writings of early Christian leaders (called the Patristic Writings).  These date from the Second to around the Seventh Centuries AD.

What does all of this tell us?  Just that we can be highly confident that what we are reading in our mainstream English translations (or Spanish, French—or any other language) is a highly accurate rendering of what was contained in the original documents of the Old and New Testaments.

The issue of inspiration.  The Bible is littered with claims that it is much more than just the words of its human authors.  In the Old Testament, some writers passed on messages directly from God. For example Isaiah 44:6, “This is what the LORD says— Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty:  I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.” In fact, the phrase “Thus saith the Lord” (or its equivalent) appears more than two thousand times in the books of the Old Testament.  Others received messages from God in dreams and visions, while still other writers like Samuel and Ezra saw themselves as guided by God to record events in Israel’s history.

In the gospels, Jesus affirmed the infallibility of the Old Testament in Matthew 5:18 and he cited other passages as predicting aspects of his life and ministry.  Verses like             2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:20-21 affirm the Old Testament to be from God.  Then in 2 Peter 3:15, the Apostle Peter refers to Paul’s New Testament writings like Romans and Galatians as being inspired in the same way as the Old Testament scriptures.

However, the Bible is by no means the only book claiming divine inspiration.  The Qur’an of Islam, the Book of Mormon and a variety of other religious books make similar claims.  So, what evidence is there that the claims made in the Bible have any basis in fact?  To answer this, we will look at the evidences of:

  • Fulfilled prophecy, and of—
  • The Bible’s uncanny insight into human nature.

Let’s take just the prophecies specifically fulfilled by Jesus:

  • Jeremiah 23:5 says that the Messiah will come from of the family line of David.    This is fulfilled in the life of Jesus in passages like Matthew 1:6 and Luke 3:31.
  • Micah 5:2 gives Bethlehem as the place where Messiah will be born.  Again, this is shown to be Jesus’ birthplace in Matthew 2:1.  Some might bring up the fact that other of Jewish men in the First Century could make those claims.  That is certainly true.  Nonetheless, only those who could make these claims would have been candidates for Messiah.  So, this shows that Jesus’ claims were at least valid.
  • Messiah will be born of a virgin in Isaiah 7:14?  Luke 1:26-35 claims this is fulfilled in the angelic announcement to Jesus’ mother, Mary.  Again, some would point out that a virgin birth would be hard to prove.  Granted, but on this point there is independent evidence that there was indeed some irregularity about Jesus’ birth.  Oddly enough it comes from a source not exactly positive toward Jesus or Christianity–the Talmud of ancient Judaism.  It says, in reference to Jesus’ birth: “His mother was Miriam (note—we call her Mary), a women’s hairdresser.  As they say, ‘This one strayed from her husband’.”

The Talmud says in another place, also speaking of Mary, that she was, “… the descendant of princes and governors, who played the harlot with carpenters.” In other words, it was a well-known fact that Jesus birth was unusual.

Let’s move on to some things which would clearly be far-fetched for Jesus to fulfill through his own efforts:

  • According to Isaiah 50:6, the Messiah will be beaten and spit upon. This was fulfilled in Jesus’ experience according to Matthew 26:67.
  • His hands and feet will be pierced: predicted in Psalm 22:16 and fulfilled in Luke 23:33.
  • His clothing will be divided by casting lots; predicted in Psalm 22:18 and fulfilled in John 19:23-24.
  • His bones will not be broken: this is predicted in Psalm 34:20 and fulfilled in John 19:33.
  • His side will be pierced, according to Zechariah 12:10.  This is fulfilled in John 19:34.

One statistician calculated that the odds of Jesus accidentally fulfilling just eight of the more than sixty prophecies attributed to him would be on the order of 1 in 10 to the 17th power (that’s 1 in 10 with 17 zeros behind it).  Plainly stated, the chances are simply astronomical [Peter Stoner in Science Speaks].

The Evidence of History and Archeology. How about the many historical and archeological confirmations of the Bible?  Those who question the Bible sometimes ask questions like: “Don’t history and archeology show that the Bible contains significant errors, which bring the entire Christian Faith into question?”

Fortunately, many claims made by the Bible can be tested historically.  People, places and events mentioned can be directly confirmed through various types of inquiry.  For instance:

  • The strange three-hour period of darkness which Matthew 27:45 describes as covering the land at Jesus’ death, and which is referenced to Amos 8:9-10.  But can this be believed?  The claim that darkness covered a significant portion of the Mediterranean world between noon and 3:00 pm on the day Jesus was crucified might seem a bit hard to believe.  And yet there are those very intriguing references to such an event in non-biblical Roman sources.

For instance, the Second Century Greek author Phlegon, is quoted in the writings of Origen [Against Celsus, Book 2] as saying, “During the time of Tiberius Caesar an eclipse of the sun occurred during the full moon.” Another mention of this event comes through the Third Century author, Julius Africanus who says concerning this mysterious darkness,  “Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun—unreasonably as it seems to me…”.

So why would the writer Africanus consider a solar eclipse to be unreasonable as an explanation for the darkness during the crucifixion?  The answer is because a solar eclipse can only occur when the moon is directly between the earth and the sun.  But Passover season, when Jesus was crucified, only happens when the moon is full—that is with the earth directly between the moon and the sun.  In other words, a solar eclipse was impossible at that particular time.

Over the past century or so, a growing body of archeological evidence has also given its support to the overall picture of Bible events and conditions.  During this time, several prominent archeologists have become convinced that the evidence overwhelmingly tends to confirm the Biblical record.   For example:

  • William Foxwell Albright (dates), of John’s Hopkins University and Director of the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem, said this in his book, The Archaeology of Palestine: ”The excessive skepticism shown toward the Bible…. has been progressively discredited.  Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of innumerable details, and has brought increased recognition to the value of the Bible as a source of history.
  • Dr. Nelson Glueck (dates), world-renowned expert of the archeology of Palestine and President of Hebrew Union College put it this way, “..it may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted (disproved) a biblical reference.  Scores of archaeological findings have been made, which confirm in clear outline or in exact detail historical statements in the Bible.”  Rivers in the Desert, pp. 31.

Here are some examples of archeological and anthropological confirmations of the biblical record:

  • Legends of a catastrophic flood found among widely scattered ethnic groups worldwide cast an intriguing light upon the story of Noah in Genesis 6-9.
  • The fact that Mesopotamia (parts of Iraq Iran and Syria) was the cradle of world civilization confirms the biblical account of early human culture from the early chapters of Genesis.
  • Various ancient documents, such as the Ebla, Amarna and Nuzi Tablets both confirm and shed new light on various cultural practices of people mentioned in the Bible. (Thompson, pp.1654-55, 1633, 1883)
  • In 1975 a clay seal surfaced, inscribed with the name of Jeremiah’s scribe, Baruch, authenticating the existence of that biblical character.
  • During archeological excavations in 1994 in northern Israel, workers found an inscription mentioning for the first time independently of the Bible, the Israelite royal House of David.
  • Archeological findings at Delphi in Greece authenticate the words of Acts 18:12-17 that Gallio was governor of the city of Corinth in 51 AD.  No mention of this fact had been available until this discovery at the turn of the Twentieth Century.

Psychological Arguments. Moving on to evidence that might be described as more psychological, the Bible has what I would call a supernatural knack for accurately describing human nature.  In example after example, it accounts in realistic detail, as no other religion or philosophy does, for the heights of our nobility as well as the depths and extent of our degradation.

Take for instance the case of King David who, in the book of Psalms, wrote some of the most moving devotional poetry ever composed, and yet who also deliberately committed sins of adultery and murder.  I could cite numerous other examples from the lives of Abraham, Moses, Peter and others whose lives are praised for their faith and heroism but who also had very typical human failings.

What does this tell us?  It seems to me pretty clear that the Bible realistically portrays human behavior.  It also tells us that God is truly gracious in using real people to accomplish his will and in his urgency in redeeming us.  In other words, the biblical accounts ring true as they show real people relating to God.

Given the Bible’s inspiration and reliability, we can go on to make a case for other aspects of the Historic Christian message.  For example:

  • The miracles of Jesus are a powerful indication that his claims of being the Son of God were valid.  The Gospel accounts show Jesus doing things no one has done before or since.  With a simple word, he healed the sick and raised the dead.  He walked on water and turned water into wine.

Certainly other religions make claims that their founders worked miracles.  But the way in which the Gospels depict Jesus as doing the miracles and then downplaying the sensational effects they generated, certainly says that these events were performed by someone extra special and that they were performed for purposes which have nothing to do with common publicity value.

Then of course there is the resurrection.  Here is a topic worthy of discussion all by itself.  The resurrection is the supreme evidence that Jesus is indeed the Son of God.  From a historical point of view, it is clear that Jesus’ tomb was empty.  Even his enemies agreed about that.  But their explanation that Jesus’ disciples overpowered the guard and stole the body doesn’t fit with the demoralized spirit of the disciples at the crucifixion.  It doesn’t fit with their initial unbelief when the women announced that his body was missing.  Neither does it account for the dramatic change in the behavior of these disciples or the astounding growth of the early Christian movement.

The incredible impact of the Jesus’ resurrection shows that his crucifixion did achieve reconciliation with God and the making of a new humanity.

  • Let’s move on to consider the absolute conviction of the Apostolic generation.  Nearly all of them were willing to die horrible deaths for the message they proclaimed.  The argument has been made in numerous other settings that it makes no sense whatever that men would willingly die such deaths if they knew (or suspected) that their message was false.  Yet they remained unshakeable to the end.  That fact communicates huge confidence that the gospel message is truthful.
  • How about the impressive basic consensus of the Christian community which transcends generations and ethnicities.  Whether it was the unprecedented coming together of First Century Jews and Gentiles through the redemption of Jesus, or the gospel’s appeal in the Early Middle Ages to the barbarian tribes of Europe, or its spread in more modern times to the diverse peoples of every continent, the message of Jesus resonates in every time and culture.

So the Christian message is not tied to a certain group of people or a particular era in history.  It is truly trans-cultural and adaptable to a variety of peoples and situations.

  • That brings us to a final piece of evidence: the changed lives of millions upon millions of individuals over the centuries.  I could relate the stories of people like Augustine who changed from a philosopher critical of Christianity to the greatest defender of the Faith during those dark years when Rome was collapsing.  Then there is John Newton, who was actively involved in Britain’s slave trade during the late 1700s, but who was transformed into an opponent of slavery and an advocate of God’s amazing grace.

These examples represent thousands more.  In fact, the kind of proof for Christianity which is compelling to average people, isn’t the somewhat technical material we discussed earlier, but the truly changed lives of real believers living among us.

This is just a fraction of the evidence Christians can point to supporting the claims of Christianity.  A complete course in apologetics includes much more extensive evidence and arguments for the Christian Faith.  But let’s be realistic: none of the evidence is absolutely irrefutable.  There will always be arguments against any of the points we could make.

But then, for nearly everything in life, fool-proof evidence is hard to come by.  Even in our courts of law, jurors are asked to decide difficult cases based upon evidence that is merely “beyond a reasonable doubt”.  So what I have presented may simply be dismissed by those heavily committed to other points of view.  It boils down to this: I believe that, taken together, the evidence for the Christian faith is compelling in a way, which no other religion or “rival gospel” can match.  In other words, the evidence for Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world authenticates itself in every area of human inquiry and experience.  That means we can share the good news about his with great confidence.

Michael Bogart                          (I owe much of the data for this article to Evidence that Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell.)

June 25, 2010 by admin  
Filed under Missions Projects, New

Our team of four representing a joint venture of JARON Ministries, International of Fresno, California and the West Fresno Ministerial Alliance, just returned from the earthquake-devastated nation of Haiti. What follows is a first-hand account of the situation as we saw it in connection with our missions work.  The team, consisting of myself, my wife Melinda, Pastor Edward Lee and Amber Balakian, arrived in Haiti on Tuesday, June 15 after a fourteen-hour journey and little or no sleep the night before (we had a five hour layover in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Upon arrival, we found the Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport main building to be severely damaged (Melinda and I had traveled through this building back in 2003 and 2005).  In its place was a shuttle-bus system which took us to a hastily-built customs and luggage retrieval center, where we were processed.

Haiti in June is hot and humid.  This year it was caught up in the soccer World Cup competition.  Brazil and Argentina seemed to be the heavy favorites.   As we made the eight or ten-mile trip (35 minutes) from the airport to the suburb of Delmas, the streets were full of people, cars and trucks of every shape and condition as well as the colorful tap-taps (taxi-trucks).  Our Haitian hosts Jonathan and Alexandra Joseph, were warm and hospitable.  We communicated through a combination of English, French, Kreyol and gestures.

Let me see if I can give you a taste of what life is like in Haiti.  For instance, in the mornings you hear the sounds of people walking down the mostly unpaved streets either chanting something for sale or ringing a little bell to shine shoes, or deliver water.  Then there is the constant motion of people in the streets and the “creative driving style” (we remarked that they seemed to be “playing chicken” all the time).  It is amazing there are so few serious accidents.  Electric power was sporadic and bathing and toilet duties were mostly by by scoop and bucket.

How can I describe the food?   In my opinion, with one exception, we never ate anything that wasn’t very good, although they have combinations of tastes that are unusual to most North Americans.  For dinner we had the typical Haitian rice and black beans along with either spicy chicken or shredded beef.  Every meal was served with fruit and fresh juice to drink.  Delicious.

On this trip, we worked with an association of churches connected with the Brazilian Baptists.  I taught Christian Apologetics (defending the Christian faith amid many questions and criticisms), Pastor Ed Lee taught Outreach in Difficult Times and the ladies led seminars for women and kids.  On Tuesday the first session was plagued with translation problems which were worked out by the following day.  In the Bible Institute classes there were just short of 50 students, 10 of which were pastors. The sessions went extremely well (after the rocky start) with an enthusiastic response from students and administration alike.  In my Apologetics course, the questions ranged from archeology to mathematics in terms of their support of the Bible.

Wednesday morning we toured downtown Port au Prince.  The destruction was nearly indescribable.  The government palace was still in ruins, as were many buildings and even entire neighborhoods.  Many buildings still had unrecovered bodies under the ruins so there was a faint smell of death in many places. The public park across from the government palace had been transformed into a tent city. The public hospital, which we also toured, had patients in tents outside with little children crying in the sweltering conditions.  It was heart-wrenching.

We saw UN and various foreign government personnel in several places, but no work of reconstruction except by the Haitians themselves.  We were later told that this was partly because so many of the property owners were buried in the collapse of those buildings, so there were legal issues as to clearing the rubble and rebuilding.  For now, though, the people need to get out of the tents and tarp shelters before hurricane season, which is just around the corner.  The Haitians we spoke with asked some hard questions of us.  What could we tell them?  I am so glad we came to encourage these folks and at least show that they are not forgotten in the long task of rebuilding ahead of them.

On Thursday, the team visited the Good Samaritan Orphanage in a city called La Croix de Boquets. There are 95 kids there under the care of a matron who felt the need to start this work sixteen years ago.  Her kids range in age from tiny babies to twenty years of age.  They seemed to be well-fell and loved.  Melinda and Amber had the chance to give a fun Bible lesson and we all got to know the kids.  We left a small gift as a token that we care about them.  Melinda and I wanted to bring some of them back home with us.  They were so cute and friendly.

On Friday we were invited to preach at a refugee camp of 50,000 people located where Delmas and Petion-ville meet.  Sean Penn’s JP organization and others are working there helping with health, education, etc.  We worked with the pastor of the site, Pastor Saint Cyr, in praying for three very sick infants and ministering to the moms.  We also preached and sang in the church service that night, which was packed with maybe 350 people.  We were invited on the spot to return Saturday and Sunday evening, which we were unable to do because of the heavy rain which came Saturday afternoon.

On Saturday and Sunday the team worked in an eastern suburb of Port au Prince called Cottard. In the mornings, Melinda and Amber worked with kids at a brand new church started in this new community of refugees.  The Sunday service was very touching as the children of the church—dressed in their very best, greeted us with songs and readings and then presented us with Haitian flags.  We hope to form an on-going relationship to help that church.  Then in the afternoons, the ladies worked with women in an established church in the northern suburb of Santo.  This church of maybe 400 members was completely demolished in the earthquake or January 12.

The trip continued on Monday and Tuesday with the Bible Institute classes and a two-hour certificate ceremony on Tuesday evening.  Tuesday morning Ed and I were invited to be interviewed on Radio Shalom, which is a new Christian radio station broadcasting all over the nation.  Our short interview allowed us to tell the Haitian people they are not forgotten and that there are people in many countries praying for them and willing to help.

The night before we returned home, our hosts requested a continuing relationship with JARON and the West Fresno Ministerial Alliance.  Our plan is to send teams from various churches in the future to work with this very well-founded and reliable group of churches.   Thanks for praying and for sending us on your behalf.

Mike and Melinda Bogart, JARON Ministries

A Simple Communion Message

June 5, 2010 by admin  
Filed under Ministry Helps, New

Here are a few words which can be said before serving the elements of the Lord’s Supper.

This morning we are going to participate in some profound symbolism. Set before us, we see the elements of the Lord’s Supper:

  • the bread represents Christ’s body broken to make us whole
  • the cup of juice represents Christ’s blood, given as payment for our sins.

As we understand the teaching of Scripture on the subject of the Lord’s Supper, there is nothing magical happening to the elements either as we pray or as we partake of them. They will remain simply bread and juice.

And yet, there is something more going on— something very special— because whenever we respond to the Lord Jesus in faith, he meets us with his grace: salvation for the lost, courage for the fearful, wisdom for the perplexed, rest for the weary, joy for the brokenhearted, and on and on.

So as we eat the bread and drink the cup together in faith, we receive grace to meet whatever is our truest need, both as individuals and as a body. This morning, we ask that you simply put everything else out of your minds and hearts for a few minutes and seek the Lord in faith, expecting that he will meet you where you need him most.

Serving the Bread. Read 1 Corinthians 11:23-24. Pray.

Serving the Cup. Read 1 Corinthians 11:25-26. Pray.

Offering

Why all the anger over the inscription on the cross?

June 3, 2010 by admin  
Filed under Defending the Faith, New

The gospel account in John, chapter 19 records a seemingly trivial detail of Jesus’ crucifixion. The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, had ordered an inscription to be posted over the head of Jesus on the cross. In English it reads, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. The Jewish leaders of the day were upset enough about these words that they demanded that it be removed. So what’s the big deal?

On the face of it, Pilate was simply doing what custom often dictated: posting the crime of the criminal for all to see. Jesus had been reputed to the the king of the Jews. Pilate had even questioned Jesus about this claim and Jesus had admitted it. The Jewish leaders themselves had requested that Jesus be executed with the words, “We have no king but Caesar!”, implying that they knew of Jesus’ claim and rejected it. So, it does seem logical to post this inscription. Pilate is simply saying, This man is being executed because he is “the King of the Jews”. So, why the uproar?

Clearly, Pilate is getting some of his own back in doing this. He felt blackmailed by the Jewish leadership into executing Jesus, whom he considered to be innocent of any Roman capital offense. His conscience was bothering him, so he got a bit of revenge on them by wording the inscription in a way that would anger them. Notice he didn’t say, “This man claimed to be king of the Jews”, but that “He is the king of the Jews”.  Not only this, but Pilate was also insulting the Jewish people as a whole by saying in effect, “Look at what Rome can do to your king.” But despite the urgent demands, Pilate refused to be manipulated, sticking to his guns and saying, “I have written what I have written. Period.”

But there may be something else here. The inscription was in three languages: Latin, Greek and Aramaic. Aramaic was the language of the people of Judea at the time and can be similar in some ways to biblical Hebrew. If the inscription were to have been written in Hebrew, it probably would have read: Yeshua haNazarei, v’melech, haYehudim (Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews).

There was a school of thought within Judaism in those days (just as there is today) that there is a pattern of finding the divine name and other interesting sacred words scattered as the first letters of various portions of biblical text. This is one avenue of study within what is known today as kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism. Here is the point: the initial letters in a Hebrew version of this inscription would spell YHVH: the tetragrammaton, or sacred name of God.

It could be that the leaders were aware of how such an inscription would read in Hebrew, and that its initial letters would spell the name of God and further confirm Jesus claims, not only to being the king of the Jews, but the Son of God as well. That would certainly lead to the kind of indignation they expressed to Pilate. In Pilate’s refusal, we may very well see the ironic justice of God in testimony to Jesus’ real identity as he died for the sins of the world. Shalom!

Michael Bogart

Essential Phrases for Ministry in Haiti

May 17, 2010 by admin  
Filed under Ministry Helps, New

haiti-flag1Before 1804, Haiti was a French colony. That is why the common people speak Kreyol, which probably came from an Africanized version of French, but many people have received an education in standard French as well. Printed material and signs can be in either language.The following list will follow this order: English. Kreyol. French

Good morning. Bon Maten. Bonjour

Good evening. Bon aswe. Bon Soir

Goodbye. Orevwa. Au revoir

Thank you. Mèsi. Merci

No, thank you. Pa gen mèsi. Non, merci

Please. Tanpri. S’il vous plait

My name is– Non mwen se— Mon nom est—-

I am from the US. Mwen sòti nan Etazini. Je suis des États-Unis

I live in California. Mwen ap viv nan Kalifòni. Je vis en Californie

Nice to meet you. Bel rankontre. Enchanté

I don’t understand. Mwen pa konprann. Je ne comprends pas

Please speak slowly. Tanpri, pale tou Dousman. S’il vous plait parler lentement

Yes / No. Wi / Pa gen. Oui / Non

That’s good / OK. Sa a bon. C’est bien

I agree. Mwen dakò. Je suis d’accord

That’s right. Ki bon. C’est ça

I am sorry. Mwen dezole. Je suis désolé

Pardon me. Padonnen m ‘. Excusez-moi

I am hungry. Mwen grangou. J’ai faim

I am thirsty. Mwen swaf. J’ai soif

That is delicious. Sa se bon gou. C’est délicieux

I am tired. Mwen fatige. Je suis fatigué

What is that? Ki sa? Qu’est-ce que c’est?

How much is it? Konbyen li ye? Combien ça coute?

What time is it? Ki lè li ye? Quelle heure est-il?

When should we be ready? Lè pou nou ka pare? Quand devrions-nous prêts?

Where is the bathroom? Kote twalet la? Où sont les toilettes?

I am a Christian. Mwen se yon kretyen. Je suis un chretien

We must be at the airport at seven. Nou dwe nan èpòt la nan sèt. Nous devons être à l’aéroport à sept.

And don’t forget these words: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Kreyol: youn, de, twa, kat, senk, sis, set, ywit, nef, dis. French: une, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept, huit, neuf, dix. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Kreyol: Dimanch, Lendi, Madi, Mekredi, Jedi, Vandredi, Samdi. French: Dimanche, Lundi, Mardi, Mercredi, Jeudi, Vendredi, Samedi.

These are some phrases I have found to be helpful in doing ministry in Haiti. I hope they will come in handy for anyone traveling there or working with Haitians in other places.

Michael Bogart.

Can We Trust the Manuscript Texts of the Old Testament?

May 17, 2010 by admin  
Filed under Bible, New

Dead Sea ScrollsUntil 1947, the earliest Hebrew manuscripts available to serve as the basis for Old Testament study and translation were the Massoretic Texts of eastern European Jews.  These texts of the Hebrew Scriptures date from around 900 AD.  The translators of the Authorized Version (King James Version) used these texts as the basis for their Old Testament translation.

Besides the Massoretic texts, the Christian Church had always used the Septuagint, which is a Greek translation of the Hebrew and Aramaic Old Testament made around 200 BC.  The Septuagint was used to compare with Hebrew Massoretic Texts to check meaning and accuracy.  In the 1800 and 1900s other early Old Testament documents were discovered, adding more textual information.

Add to all of this, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Qumran) in 1947, and the huge impact made on biblical scholarship by these very ancient documents.  The Hebrew and Aramaic scrolls of Qumran date from the 200s BC to the 100s AD and include every book of the Old Testament except Esther, as well as other kinds of writings.  These have been compared with the Massoretic Texts, the Septuagint and other manuscripts to discover how much the text of the Hebrew scriptures may have changed over time as manuscripts were copied.

The result was the amazing fact that little or no significant variation occurred in more than 1,000 years of copying from 200 BC to 900 AD.  The only major differences in the texts were the Massoretic invention of Hebrew vowel points as a refinement over the mainly consonantal biblical Hebrew.

So, the tradition that Jewish scribes used extreme care in copying the scriptures proved to be correct and those who study and live by the Old Testament can do so with confidence.

Michael Bogart

A Sample Ministry Covenant

February 5, 2010 by admin  
Filed under Ministry Helps, New

free-legal-documentSome type of “contract” between Christian organizations and their volunteers is becoming a necessity in our times of legal vulnerability. The following is a sample of the type of thing you may want to do to set the boundaries for volunteers within your church or ministry. It protects your volunteers in that it clearly explains their relationship to the organization. It also provides a degree of protection for the ministry or church from misbehavior on the part of of those working within its ministries. This sample covenant can be used by churches which practice formal membership or by those which have none.

Ministry Covenant

Your Church

City, State

Having received the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and desiring to serve Him through specific ministry, I most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with the body of Christ at ________________Church of ________________, _________________.

I therefore promise, through the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, to walk together with my fellow believers in Christian love; to strive for their advancement in knowledge and holiness; to make a place in my prayers for this church and its ministries; to uphold its doctrines; to serve faithfully in discharging my commitments; and to do my part in maintaining harmony and discipline.

In the case of a difference of opinion among believers ministering together in this place, I promise to avoid a contentious spirit, and if complete agreement cannot be achieved, I will recognize the calling of the leaders to govern this ministry as God may lead them and will submit to their decisions. I recognize that if I cannot in good conscience affirm the doctrinal statement or governing policies of the church, it is my duty to remove myself from any ministry, which may be affected by my views to the contrary.

I further promise to guard the reputation of my fellow believers and co-laborers and not to needlessly expose the details of their lives through my conversation with others. I promise to cultivate Christian courtesy in all my relationships; to be slow to give or take offense, and to always be ready for reconciliation, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17. Moreover I purpose, through whatever life may bring, to strive to live for God’s glory.

I understand that this covenant is not a substitute for membership at ___________________________ Church and does not carry with it any member privileges for voting or service outlined in the church constitution.

Signature __________________________________________ Date _____________

(Attach a copy of your church doctrinal statement with signature line, to the covenant)

Composed by Michael Bogart, with acknowledgments to the Baptist Covenant.

January 22, 2010 by admin  
Filed under Missions Projects, New

Mexico flagMy JARON colleague, Kenton Rahn, and I arrived in Tehuacan on Friday, January 8 in the late afternoon after a 1:05 am departure time from Fresno.  Tehuacan is a city of around 250,000 people in the southern part of the Mexican state of Puebla, located about four hours southeast of Mexico City or about an hour and a half southwest of the state capitol of Puebla.   As you may remember, I have done ministry in this place with these people several times before.

Tired doesn’t describe how we felt after two flights (Fresno/Guadalajara and Guadalajara/Mexico City) then a bus ride to Puebla and a ride by car with friends to Tehuacan. While in Puebla, we were able to make a brief visit to a main hospital there where Betty Harris Lagunes is hospitalized with cancer.  She is one of the key people on this end in instigating this JARON Bible Institute extension.  It was very good for us to see her and to visit with her family.

Saturday was a settling-in and relaxing day for the most part. Even so, Kenton and I, along with Gil Hernandez, a former missionary in this city and one of our translator/interpreters, made a visit to a local radio station in order to announce the Institute classes for the next two weeks.  We also had a counseling session with one of the students about some family issues he is working through. But, all-in-all, it was a day of recovery from the rigors of travel.  In the evening we were part of a group, which went out for “tacos arabes” at a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant very near the picturesque city square.  It was a nice outing and time to be with good friends.

Most Mexican towns of any size have such a town center, or Zocalo, with the main Catholic church on one side, the city offices on another and shops of various types on the other two.  Lots of people frequent the park which is in the middle and sometimes there are sellers of various food items such as tacos, churros, candies and ice cream, along with balloons and other trinkets for the kids.  Once in awhile there is even music. It is kind of like a perpetual carnival—which is part of what gives Mexico its charm.

It was very cold while we were there: probably in the upper 40s or lower 50s–an unusual thing for that far south in Mexico.  I am guessing that the outside temperatures were comparable to Fresno in January and it rained off and on.  The problem is that almost no one has any heating system there since they would rarely use it.  So, we were cold almost all the time.  For example, one morning, I got up early to take a shower and waited maybe 15 minutes while the hot water tap was running for the water to warm up.  It never did because the family we are staying with ran out of propane, so I took a very cold partial shower.  However, I was really no worse for the experience.

After a rocky start, my Spanish rose to the occasion and even improved.  I can usually converse at a very modest level with folks, which is nice since I don’t have to have an interpreter trailing me all the time.  The food was delicious and, in some ways, very different from what many Americans would expect.  Yes, we had tacos, but they were certainly not like Taco Bell.  The tortillas are soft and the meat is either beef or pork with delicious condiments.  Other dishes included lentil stew with large semi-sweet bananas (plantains) in it; a pounded chicken breast with a marvelous sauce over it, homemade cream of mushroom soup, and of course, the best fresh tortillas in the world.  Locals boast that Tehuacan and its sister city, Coapan, are indeed the tortilla capitols of the world since experts claim that corn has been growing here longer than any other place on earth.

Sunday was a very full day.  The morning began with a 15-minute drive to Coapan, where I preached a gospel message from Psalm 112.  We broadcast the message from a loudspeaker located near the town center and the locals tell me that hundreds of people can hear what is said.  On the drive back, we stopped off to visit and pray with a woman who is part of the translation team and who had surgery the day before. Then I was invited to speak at a church called Manada Pequena (Little Flock) on transformation from the life of Jacob in Genesis 31 and 32.

Monday we began the most recent series of JARON extension classes, including:

Church History—try covering 2,000 years of Christian history in five two-hour sessions through translation.  Kenton and I taught identical sessions of each day’s material twice: first from 6:30-8:30 am in one church and then again from 7:30 to 9:30 pm in another location. I had been wondering whether the initial enthusiasm for this type of rigorous training would eventually subside, but so far it hasn’t.  During the five days of teaching there were an average of more than 100 students spread out over the two daily sessions. Even though each day included the teaching sessions in the early morning and late evening, plus counseling, jail ministry and invitations to people’s homes— our health stayed good throughout.  Thanks, Lord!

The next week our colleague, Gene Beck arrived with Wes Janca to teach five days on biblical anthropology (the study of human nature from the scriptures). The beauty of all this is that it is a group effort, including the team of Mexican believers who make this ministry possible and who carry it on all year round.

Some exciting things include the fact that our friend Enrique is using some of our JARON class materials in the jail each week to teach the prisoners theology.  He reports that they are learning and looking forward to each lesson.  Another student, Jose, has started a radio program in which some of what he is learning at the JBI extension is being passed on to the listeners.  Others are taking what they are learning to the surrounding villages and towns to teach in churches and ministry centers throughout the region.  These types of things assure us that what we are doing twice yearly in Tehuacan is worthwhile.

I need to say a word about the fabled Mexican hospitality.  We were housed and fed by an amazing team of local believers.  Over and over we were told by those who hosted us in their homes or for a meal that it was their pleasure to do so.  If we mentioned anything that could be construed as a need, it was done without hesitation (which reminded us to be careful in mentioning anything casually for fear that it might be understood as a request).  Maybe the best way to express my personal experience is to describe the contrast between our treatment going through security in Mexico, versus treatment upon our return to the United States.  The entire tenor of addressing people in Mexico tends to be much more respectful.  For example, the security official who inspected my luggage at the Mexico City airport and frisked me down did so with apologetic comments and great courtesy.

However, upon our arrival at LAX on the evening of January 16, we were spoken to very curtly on several occasions, the procedure for moving to where we needed to go was confusing and communicated in a way which I thought was unnecessarily rude.  Even the restaurant personnel at the airport were apathetic and offered very poor customer service. I realize that this is LAX and that the security (and the nerves of people) are very tight these days.  Yet I maintain that Americans are fast forgetting what they once knew about hospitality and courtesy.  Mexico is still a wealthy country when it comes to such things.

Thanks for your prayers during the time we were there.  Not once did we feel endangered in any way and we sensed the hand of the Lord upon us daily.

Michael Bogart

Dealing with an Unforseen Change in Plan

December 19, 2009 by admin  
Filed under New, Thoughts

Christ's BirthLessons from a familiar holiday story

Isn’t it amazing how things often don’t turn out as planned?  You think things through very carefully and get key steps set up ahead of time, with all details considered.  Finally, you are ready to go.  Then, without warning, something unforeseen changes the situation and all your effort seems for naught.  How could this happen?  Maybe it is a catastrophe affecting not only yourself, but others as well.  It may be that someone you were counting on lets you down.  Either way, your plans are no longer possible—at least in the form you intended.

For most of us, this causes frustration and depression, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  In fact, when things don’t run along smoothly according to your plans, it can be the gateway to much greater blessing that you had previously imagined.

Take for instance the case of a young carpenter.  He and his bride-to-be are making plans to settle down in a small city and begin life as a family.  They are from devoutly religious families, so their plans include a deep desire to serve God.  The wedding, the preparation of a home, their dreams for the future—all make life exciting.  But suddenly everything changes.  Before they are married, the young man’s bride becomes noticeably pregnant.  And, if this isn’t problem enough given their culture and religious upbringing, the prospective groom knows beyond any doubt that he is not the father of the child.

She has told him and her parents a far-fetched story about being visited by an angel and told that God is going to give her a supernaturally-conceived child.  But who would believe such a story?  Most people would draw the natural conclusion that she is either a liar or somehow deranged in her thinking.  So, scratch one wedding.  But then, the prospective groom is also visited by the same angel.  He is reassured that his fiancée’s story is true.  The wedding is on again, but under much different circumstances.

The plot thickens.  As the time draws near for the birth of the child, there is another drastic change of plan.  The government of the nation which has conquered and occupied their people has ordered a census.  This is to be carried out by mandating that everyone return to their ancestral towns to be counted.  So, late in Mary’s pregnancy, the couple makes a hasty and extremely arduous journey to a distant city where they have no connections.  This would be like asking all of us to return to the place where our paternal ancestors originated generations ago.  In my case, it would involve traveling back to a small town just south of Rotterdam in Holland.  Few of us would be more than outsiders in such places.

Upon arrival, the carpenter and his young wife find that Bethlehem is swamped with visitors.  This is because the family of their distant ancestor, King David, was a large and prosperous one.  Therefore, lots and lots of their remote cousins have also been forced in this journey.  That is why every available room for rent as already been taken.  We don’t know how long Joseph and Mary spent asking around and receiving no help, but it must have been a relief when some kind-hearted person offered a stable where the desperate couple could shelter.  It was in these less-than-ideal circumstances where Mary gave birth to the baby who would change the world.

Plans change; lives are dramatically affected; and yet God is sovereign.  I often wonder why God asks people to do amazing and difficult things and then, seemingly, gives few details about how the plan is to be carried out.  The Bible is full of such cases.  Undoubtedly this requires living by faith, but I’m sure that Mary and Joseph would have appreciated at least a rough outline of what they would have to face along the way.  In my study of the Bible, I have found that God typically gives the overall direction and the promises to go along with it.  But he leaves it up to us to navigate our way through the details of fulfilling that objective.  And, when it all seems impossible, he steps in at crucial moments to orchestrate circumstances and motivate people to make possible the fulfilling of his plan.

If you are experiencing a major setback in life or a significant re-arrangement of your neatly-ordered future, it may be well to remember this record of some people who experienced much the same thing.  Mary and Joseph trusted God.  They accepted his plan in their lives and believed that, if he called them to fulfill a certain purpose, he would also provide the means to do so.  In their faith and obedience, they experienced blessing themselves and were the means of unimaginable blessing for the rest of us.

So, trust God: he will never let you down.  He may not give you the detailed road map you desire as you follow him through the twists and turns of your journey, but he will see to it that you arrive at the destination.  Of course, ultimately, the true destination is home, not to the inadequate city of a remote ancestor, but to the eternal and unspeakably wonderful city of God our Father!

Michael Bogart

Holidays or Holy Days?

December 13, 2009 by admin  
Filed under New, Thoughts

HolidayAre you ready for the holidays? There is shopping to be done, cards to send, meals to plan and a thousand preparations to make this time of year. The month of December is usually a very happy time of year. But amid all the flurry of activity, what exactly is this thing we blithely refer to as the holiday season?

With just a little examination, the term holiday itself reveals much of its own meaning: holidays are holy days. These seasons are times we have set aside for certain sacred purposes. For instance:

Family. God has ordained the family as the basic unit of society. Families exist for the purposes of loving, nurturing, encouraging and accepting their members. Because they were created by God, for these vital functions, families are sacred, and therefore figure heavily into any holiday celebration.

Rest. What is holy about rest? In the Old Testament portion of the Bible, God himself prescribes regular times and seasons for the cessation of labor and the keeping of festivals. Because God designed human society for both productive labor and restful celebration, to stop our working and spend a few days in relaxation and enjoyment is a sacred activity.

Worship. Obviously, holy days imply a renewal of our contact with God in some way. Many churches hold special services during the holiday season. Family worship is also a highly appropriate way to express our devotion and gratitude to our Creator. Personal worship, including a time of Bible study, reflection and prayer can go a long way in this regard.

So, let’s enjoy the holiday season! Spend time with family if you can. Relax and change the pace of life for a few days. By all means make it a point to come into God’s presence through worship. May your holiday season be bright and joyous.

Michael Bogart

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