Rules Of Evidence

As I mentioned in my book review of David Limbaugh’s Jesus On Trial, he presents the evidence for the validity of the Bible and the historicity of Jesus Christ as if he were presenting a cae before the jury. As a trial begins, a judge will share with the jurors the rules for considering the evidence that is being presented. Here is a fantastic summary from Mr. Limbaugh—

“Applying the rules of evidence. … These rules are the ancient documents rules, the parole evidence rule, the hearsay rule, and the principle of cross-examination. 

“The common law ancient documents rule presumes a document is truthful unless it is self-contradictory, inaccurate, or there is internal evidence of text tampering. The one challenging the document generally shoulders the burden of proof. Unsolved problems or lack of clarity in the document don’t necessarily invalidate it as erroneous or unreliable. …

“The parole evidence rule provides that external, oral testimony or tradition will not be admitted into evidence to add to, subtract from, vary, or contradict an executed written instrument such as a will or a contract. This means the document, absent any applicable exceptions, will stand on its own. … 

“The hearsay rule precludes a witness from testifying as to what others may have said and, generally speaking, requires the witness to have firsthand knowledge of the matter to which he is testifying. As applied to the New Testament documents, this rule lends credence to New Testament authors who say they were eyewitnesses to the events they recorded. 

“The cross-examination principle holds that the more the testimony holds up once it is subjected to rigorous cross examination, the more credible we deem it to be, which, incidentally, is one reason for the hearsay rule, i.e., it excludes testimony from witnesses that can’t be subjected to cross-examination. … Law professor and historian John Warwick Montgomery, who rigorously applied all these evidentiary rules to an examination of the Bible, finds the witnesses who were challenged to confirm having witnessed Jesus’ resurrected body did so ‘in the very teeth of opposition, among hostile cross-examiners who would certainly have destroyed the case of Christianity’ had such accounts been contradicted by the facts. 

Josh McDowell summarizes Montgomery’s approach to New Testament examination as giving the document the benefit of the doubt, which is another way of saying the burden of proof is on the critic or challenger. So, Montgomery writes, ‘One must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualifies himself by contradiction or known factual inaccuracies.’ Applying this approach and similar ones, McDowell argues that we can’t just assume that what appears to be a difficult passage constitutes a valid argument against it. We must be sure we correctly understand the passage using accepted rules of interpretation.”

I present some evidence for the inspiration and validty of the Bible in these two posts: The inspiration of Scripture and Can we really know if the Bible is God’s Word?

Heart Rate Recovery

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

A few years ago Mark Schultz wrote a song about someone living a go-go-go, overly-busy life and he entitled the song “Running just to catch myself.” Ever been there? 

There’s a Hebrew word that shows up 70 times in the Bible (mostly in the Psalms) that, sadly, many English translations of the Bible have relegated to a footnote. That’s too bad because Selah is such a powerful word. Unless we want to live our lives “running just to catch myself,” we all need a take time to Selah. Look how some have translated this word:

  • “Stop there and consider a little” (Matthew Henry) 
  • “the sacred pause” (Charles Spurgeon) 
  • “pause and calmly think of that” (AMP) 

Whether it’s a planned exercise time or just something that frightens or excites us, our heart rate is designed by God to increase—this is how we prepare for fight-or-flight. Doctors say that one of the most vital statistics they now look at to gauge overall cardio health is heart rate recovery (HRR). Doctors want to see a significant increase in HRR after exercise, fright, or excitement. 

A few of the factors that boost HRR:

  • Regular, planned exercise 
  • Getting the proper amount of quality sleep 
  • Reducing stress 

Respond-and-recover is part of a health-building cycle. But if we’re “running just to catch myself” all the time, this time of recovery isn’t happening. Not only are we not recovering well, but we are not properly prepared for the next time our heart needs to start beating faster.   

This HRR is just as vital for us emotionally and spiritually as it is physically: We cannot always be stressed or always be “on.” We need a Selah—a time to stop and consider, a time to take a sacred pause to calmly think. 

This is what David teaches us in Psalm 68. Check out the “bookend verses” where he reminds us that when God arises His enemies are scattered, and that God is awesome and He gives power and strength to His people (vv. 1, 35). And look a the middle verse where David says that when God ascends in victory He gives gifts (v. 18). 

This tells me two things: (1) God is sovereignly in charge (not me or anyone else), and (2) In His love, God delights to use His sovereign power to bless His children. 

The question is not IF I’m going to be confronted by difficult things or difficult people, but HOW will I recover from these confrontations? 

May I suggest a 3-step process to increase your spiritual HRR? 

  1. Acknowledge your situation—don’t try to cover it up or justify it 
  2. Selah—pause to take a deep breath  
  3. During that breath, redirect your thoughts from the difficulty to your awesome God (see 2 Corinthians 10:5; Philippians 4:4-8)

Look at David’s example in this psalm:

Reflect Worship
God defeats enemies (vv. 1-2) Be glad, rejoice, sing (vv. 3-4)
God is a Father and Deliverer (vv. 5-7) Selah (v. 7)
God is sovereignly in control (vv. 8-18) Praise and Selah (v. 19)
God defeated Death (vv. 20-23) Join the procession of worshippers (vv. 24-27) 
God uses His strength to care for His people (vv. 28-31) Sing praises and Selah (vv. 32-35)

As you breathe deeply in this worship of recovery, think on this: “Your sigh can move the heart of Jehovah; your whisper can incline His ear to you; your prayer can stay His hand; your faith can move His arm.” —Charles Spurgeon 

Our Selah pause leads to proper perspective, which allows us to recover more quickly. That, in turn, helps us to be better prepared for the next time we’re confronted by difficulties. 

To check out the other lessons we’ve learned in our ongoing series called Selah, please check out the list I’ve compiled here.

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Value The Scriptures

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

Value The Scriptures

     John wrote to believers, ‘These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God’ (1 John 5:13). It is worthy of note that all the Epistles are so written. … 

     We do not wonder that certain men do not receive the Epistles, for they were not written to them. … Here is a will and you begin to read it. But you do not find it interesting. It is full of words and terms that you do not take the trouble to understand because they have no relation to yourself. But should you, in reading that will, come upon a clause in which an estate is left to you, I guarantee you that the nature of the whole document will seem changed to you.

You will be anxious now to understand the terms and to make sure of the clauses, and you will even wish to remember every word of the clause that refers to yourself. O dear friends, you may read the testament of our Lord Jesus Christ as a testament of love to yourselves, and then you will prize it beyond all the writings of the sages. … 

     But as these things are written to believers, believers ought especially to make themselves acquainted with them and to search into their meaning and intent. … Do not, I beseech you, neglect to read what the Holy Spirit has taken care to write to you. …  

     Value the Scriptures. … The saint can say, ‘Oh, how I love Your law!’ (Psalm 119:97). If we cannot say so, something is wrong with us. If we have lost our relish for Holy Scripture, we are out of condition and need to pray for spiritual health.

From The Blessing Of Full Assurance 

The Bible is God’s love letter to you. I love what Smith Wigglesworth said about the Word of God: 

“Never compare this Book with other books. Comparisons are dangerous. Never think or say that this Book contains the Word of God. It is the Word of God. It is supernatural in origin, eternal in duration, inexpressible in value, infinite in scope, regenerative in power, infallible in authority, universal in interest, personal in application, inspired in totality. Read it through. Write it down. Pray it in. Work it out. And then pass it on.”

I spent a whole week blogging about my favorite Book. You can check out those posts by clicking here. In the meantime, let me encourage you in the strongest possible terms: Make the time to read your Bible every single day. Doing so will totally transform your life!

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(Im)Patiently Waiting?

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

I waited patiently for the Lord … You are my God, do not delay (Psalm 40:1, 17). 

These bookend verses—the first and last verses of the 40th Psalm—are humorous to me. I wonder: Is David saying something like, “I’ve waited long enough, c’mon, God, let’s get moving”? 

Not exactly.

The first part of this psalm is a backward look that recounts all that God has already done for David: He heard me, He lifted me out of a pit, He set me on a firm place, He put a new song in my mouth (vv. 1-3). While the end of this psalm is David’s anticipation of what is still to come: the enemies of God turned back, and the saints of God rejoicing in His deliverance (vv. 11-17). 

The backward look in gratitude fuels the forward look in expectant hope.

In the meantime, in the middle of this psalm—between the backward look and the forward look—David is living as a testimony of God’s goodness and faithfulness:

  • many will see how God has delivered me and put their trust in Him 
  • I speak of Your deeds 
  • I listen to You and proclaim what You speak to me 
  • I do not hide Your righteousness 
  • I speak of Your faithfulness (vv. 3-16) 

This is a good lesson for us: Our continual praise and proclamation of God’s goodness is what connects our gratitude to our hope!

So in looking at these bookends verses again, I think that what David is saying is something like, “Father, I have so many good things already to say about how You have provided for me, so do not delay in moving again so that I have even more to share with others! Let many see Your hand on my life so that they too may learn to fear and trust You. Amen.” 

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Persistent And Insistent Prayer

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

When I first began this series on prayer, I challenged all of us to make prayer a habit. I suggested putting up “Have I prayed about it?” Post-It Notes all over the place to get us thinking about prayer continually. 

“Have I prayed about it?” is a great start. But then I need to ask, “How long have I prayed about it?” or maybe even, “How long am I willing to pray about it?” 

Thomas Merton wrote, “What is the use of praying if at the very moment of prayer we have so little confidence in God that we are busy planning our own kind of answer to our prayer?” In other words, why do we go through the motions of praying and then strike out on our own? Or why do we pray for a little bit and then think, “Oh, perhaps God isn’t interested in this prayer”? 

In Romans 12:12, the apostle Paul challenged us to never stop praying:

  • faithful in prayer (NIV) 
  • constant in prayer (AMP) 
  • prayerful always (TLB) 
  • continuing steadfastly (NKJV) 

This verb emphasizes the –ing part. Even though this is a verb, it’s what is known as a “verbal noun”: the noun pray is the same thing as the verb praying. 

This Greek word is defined as: devoted, giving unremitting care to something, being courageous in perseverance, and staying at constant readiness. I would sum it up this way—

Prayer that is both persistent and insistent! 

When Jesus teaches us that the motive for our prayer is, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done,” He is also implying that this requires continuous—persistent and insistent—involvement. With every prayer, we are persistently and insistently advancing God’s Kingdom and God’s glory. 

One of my favorite stories in the Gospels is of a persistent and insistent mother. Her daughter was in desperate need, and she simply would not take “no” for an answer. She insistently kept asking Jesus for a miraculous touch, and Jesus finally said, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”

I’m also moved by the insistent and persistent prayer of Nehemiah. He prayed, “Give Your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of [King Artaxerxes].” He prayed this every day for over 4 months. The king finally noticed Nehemiah’s downcast face, asked him what was wrong, and then “because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests.”  

Nehemiah kept praying for 120 days or more, believing every day God would open the door of favor. In the meantime, God was moving things into place so that when Artaxerxes finally noticed Nehemiah’s downcast face, and Nehemiah shared what was on his heart, the king granted every single request! 

Friends, don’t be timid in your prayers and don’t give up praying. P.U.S.H.—Pray Until Something Happens. Pray for God’s glory to be seen, for His kingdom to advance on earth, and for His will to be done. 

Prayer starts it, prayer sustains it, prayer successfully concludes it! 

Let me say it again: DON’T STOP PRAYING! 

If you missed any of the messages in our Be A First Responder series, you may access all of them by clicking here.

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Standing In The Gap

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

Pastors and other Christian leaders, this is from the Maxwell Leadership Bible and it’s well worth your time to contemplate. 

“God contrasts the poor leader with the godly leader in Ezekiel 22. The poor leader oppresses and destroys his or her followers, while the godly leader ‘stands in the gap’ on behalf of the land and the people. These leaders represent God to the people, and represent the people to God. They serve as ‘middle-men,’ serving God and serving the needs of the people. This text describes ten traits of the leader God affirms:

    1. Consecration: They set themselves apart and remain committed to their call.
    2. Discipline: They do what is right even when it is difficult.
    3. Servanthood: They model a selfless life, lived for the benefit of others.
    4. Vision: They see what God sees and live off the power of potential.
    5. Compassion: Love for their cause and their people moves them to action.
    6. Trustworthiness: They keep their word regardless of what others do.
    7. Decisiveness: They make good decisions in a timely manner.
    8. Wisdom: They think like God thinks and avoid impetuous moves.
    9. Courage: They take risks for what is right.
    10. Passion: They demonstrate enthusiasm for their divine calling.” —John Maxwell

Check out what God Himself says:

“Your princes plot conspiracies just as lions stalk their prey. They devour innocent people, seizing treasures and extorting wealth. They make many widows in the land. Your priests have violated My instructions and defiled My holy things. They make no distinction between what is holy and what is not. And they do not teach My people the difference between what is ceremonially clean and unclean. They disregard My Sabbath days so that I am dishonored among them. Your leaders are like wolves who tear apart their victims. They actually destroy people’s lives for money! And your prophets cover up for them by announcing false visions and making lying predictions. They say, ‘My message is from the Sovereign Lord,’ when the Lord hasn’t spoken a single word to them. Even common people oppress the poor, rob the needy, and deprive foreigners of justice. I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn’t have to destroy the land, but I found no one.” (Ezekiel 22:25-30 NLT)

Pastor, will you be that righteous one who will stand in the gap? Will you stand strong against the onslaught of sin and a compromising culture? Will you be a leader that God can use?

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12 Lessons From The Good Samaritan

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Dwight Moody was passionate about telling others how they could have a relationship with Jesus. In his book To The Work! he encourages other Christians to share this passion with him, and he counters any hesitations that Christians have to this work. Using the story Jesus told about the good Samaritan, Moody made these noteworthy observations: 

“Some people seem to think that all the world needs is a lot of sermons. Why, the people of this land have been almost preached to death. What we want is to preach more sermons with our hands and feet—to carry the Gospel to the people by acts of kindness. … 

“The Jews considered that the Samaritans had no souls; that when they died they would be annihilated. Their graves would be so deep that not even the sound of Gabriel’s trump would wake them on the resurrection morning. He was the only man under heaven who could not become a proselyte to the Jewish faith, and become a member of the Jewish family. …  

“You observe there are twelve things mentioned in the narrative that the Samaritan did. We can dismiss in a word all that the priest and the Levite did—they did nothing.

(1.) He ‘came to where he was.’ 

(2.) He ‘saw him;’ he did not, like the priest, pass by on the other side. 

(3.) He ‘had compassion on him.’ If we would be successful winners of souls we, too, must be moved with compassion for the lost and the perishing. We must sympathize with men in their sorrows and troubles, if we would hope to gain their affections and to do them good. 

(4.) He ‘went to him.’ The Levite went toward him, but we are told that he, as well as the priest, ‘passed by on the other side.’ 

(5.) He ‘bound up his wounds.’ Perhaps he had to tear up his own garments in order to bind them up. 

(6.) He poured in oil and gave some wine to the fainting man. 

(7.) He ‘set him on his own beast.’ Do you not think that this poor Jew must have looked with gratitude and tenderness on the Samaritan, as he was placed on the beast, while his deliverer walked by his side? All the prejudice in his heart must have disappeared long before they got to the end of their journey. 

(8.) He ‘brought him to an inn.’ 

(9.) He ‘took care of him.’ … 

(10.) When he departed on the morrow, the good Samaritan asked the host to care for him. 

(11.) He gave him some money to pay the bill. 

(12.) He said: ‘Whatever thou spendest more, when I come again I will repay thee.’ …  

“Do you want to know how you can reach the masses? Go to their homes and enter into sympathy with them; tell them you have come to do them good, and let them see that you have a heart to feel for them. When they find out that you really love them, all those things that are in their hearts against God and against Christianity will be swept out of the way.” 

To read my full book review of To The Work!, please click here. You can also check out some other quotes that I have shared from this book by clicking here. 

Think, Do, Evaluate, Propose

The seed thought for me was this quote from John Maxwell: 

“Nothing you do will be perfect, so embrace the reality and benefits of failure by releasing yourself from the burden of not making mistakes.” 

Here’s what I am endeavoring to implement: Think, Do, Evaluate, Propose, Repeat. 

THINK—It’s important to put some thought into what you want to do before you do it, but we cannot camp-out here forever. I like to think in terms of goals I want to accomplish, whether those are for me personally or for organizations I lead. 

DO—At some point, I must launch out. Many people point out that Peter began to sink under the waves when he took his eyes off Jesus and began to look at the storm. But let’s not forget that Peter was the only one of the disciples who actually got out of the boat and walked on water! I often remind people who are hesitant to begin something that you cannot steer a parked car. We have to get moving first. 

EVALUATE—Let’s remove all doubt: you will make mistakes. But those mistakes are beneficial because it gives you something on which to work. Get some wise friends around you that can help you evaluate your mistakes. And always remember I failed ≠ I am a failure. 

PROPOSE—After evaluating your mistakes or shortcomings, you now have evidence that can be processed for your next attempt. This evidence can be taken back into the laboratory of the “Think” box as you prepare to try again, except now you are more informed than you were in your first attempt. 

Leaders, walk through this process with your team members. Help guide their thinking, and then move them to action. Let them know that mistakes are okay because they have given you some invaluable feedback you can use as you make your proposals for your next attempt. 

NO ONE is an overnight success. It is a continual cycle through the Think-Do-Evaluate-Propose cycle that moves you to success. 

The Screwtape Letters (book review)

Sun Tzu taught, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” With that maxim in mind, if you read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, you will gain insight into the enemy’s tactics, unlike perhaps any other source. 

Lewis said this book was an easy book for him to write, but it gave him no joy to write it. Exposing the dark strategies of satan and his ugly cohort is indeed a joyless business. But even the apostle Paul tells us that we shouldn’t be unaware of the devil’s schemes. 

If you are a Christian and you read this book, you need to reverse your thinking. This book is a series of letters from Screwtape, a more experienced demon, to his nephew Wormwood who has just been given his first “patient” to seduce into hell. Whereas Christians call God their Father, in this book Screwtape refers to satan as “our Father” and God as “the Enemy.” 

Perhaps the most insightful part to me of this amazing book is the subtlety of the temptations which are employed to trip up Christians and keep seekers away from the truth. In fact, at several points Screwtape warns Wormwood that he is trying too hard to use something huge to bring down his patient when only the smallest of things will do the trick. 

I would encourage newer Christians to wait a while to read this book. In the meantime, read the Bible as much as you can—get to know the Real before you read about the counterfeit. For more mature Christians, however, this is an important book to read. 

(As a brief aside, in reading The Screwtape Letters this time through, I listened to the audiobook narrated by Joss Ackland and he delivered a phenomenal performance!) 

Clinging To God’s Words

When it comes right down to it, faith and fear both hinge on our beliefs: Fear believes something bad; faith believes something good. Fear is an invitation for us to evaluate in who or in what we have placed our trust.  

According to the dictionary, fear is a distressing emotion we feel whether the threat is real or imagined. Five hundred years ago, Michel de Montaigne said, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.” Even more recently, an extensive study found that 85 percent of things people feared never happened!

According to the dictionary, faith is trust in something even without proof or evidence. That sounds tremendously close to the biblical definition of faith: Now faith is the assurance—the confirmation, the title deed—of the things we hope for, being the proof of things we do not see and the conviction of their reality—faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses. (Hebrews 11:1 AMP) 

Mary is the second person to whom an angel says “Do not be afraid” in the First Advent story. Consider her story alongside Zechariah’s story and especially notice when these words were spoken. The angel Gabriel first tells Mary, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 

Mary’s initial response is being “greatly troubled.” This Greek word means an internal agitation that today psychologists would call “cognitive dissonance.” In other words, what Mary believed about herself didn’t line up with what God believed about her. Her next response is wondering how she could ever measure up to God’s high standard of her. 

It’s at this point that Gabriel says those key words, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have already found favor with God.” She didn’t have to make herself worthy of God’s favor because she already had it! Now Mary just had to believe it. 

Fear is overcome by clinging to God’s words instead of the world’s words. 

Mary did indeed choose this. Her song (in vv. 46-55) is loaded with Old Testament references, and she concludes by singing to God, “You have helped Your servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as You said to our fathers.” 

Here’s the truth—

  • Your Word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. (Psalm 119:89) 
  • God is not human, that He should lie, not a human being, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19) 
  • And Jesus would tell us that clinging to God’s words puts us on the surest of foundations that no storm of life could ever shake (Luke 6:46-49)! 

Clinging to God’s words lets us realize God’s grace toward us. 

If you know Jesus as your Savior, you can insert your name in the same place where Gabriel said to Mary: “Do not be afraid, ____________, you have found favor with God!” 

If you have missed any of the messages in our Advent series Do Not Be Afraid, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

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