Epstein, Abuse, & the Log in Our Own Eye: It’s Not Just Out There

Jeffrey Epstein’s case is disturbing—and in some ways it mirrors the abuse crisis in the church.
July 15, 2019 by ED STETZER

Epstein, Abuse, & the Log in Our Own Eye: It's Not Just Out There

ust last week, news surfaced of the arrest of financier Jeffrey Epstein for running a child trafficking enterprise that allowed him to sexually abuse girls as young as 14. When federal agents searched his New York City mansion, they confiscated a “vast trove” of pictures of young girls­­.

After seeing some media reports, I tweeted this:

So, “underaged women” is not a thing. They are called children. And anyone who had sex with “underaged women” as an adult is a criminal. And, anyone who covered it up, regardless of their influence then and now, is a criminal.

As the weekend began, Labor Secretary R. Alexander Acosta announced his resignationamid continuing questions as to how he handled the sex crimes case against Epstein when Acosta was a federal prosecutor in Florida.

Every day we learn more.

The writer of Ecclesiastes says there is nothing new under the sun. For millennia, children have been victims of horrific crime. Today, children continue to be treated as objects of desire and power rather than what they are—invaluable creations of the Lord God. “What you did to the least of these, you did to me…”

It’s an admonition spoken to God’s people, but it is true for all.

When one is harmed, all suffer.

A Reminder, Again and Again

In 2012, I wrote about child abuse in a church context. In 2014 I wrote again. And in 2015 I wrote again. And we published many articles since then, many around our GC2 Summit on Sexual Harassment, Abuse, and Violence at the Billy Graham Center last November.

But, we could write on this every single day. (I sometimes get complaints that I write too much on the subject, but I think that abuse in the church is one of the defining issues of our day— and, even if it were not, every child matters.)

This systemic problem of men (and sometimes women) viewing our children as objects seems to be no nearer to an end. Perhaps this is true, but the latest indictment of Epstein reminds us that there are people fighting tirelessly on behalf of the most vulnerable and voiceless among us. They are reminding us that criminals won’t go free forever and that justice will be enacted at some point.

According to The United States Department of Justice, “Child sex trafficking refers to the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a minor for the purpose of a commercial sex act.” For reminder: a minor is anyone younger than 18 years old.

A minor is a child.

It’s easy to look at someone like Epstein, identify that he used power and influence to hide the abuse of dozens of girls, and then look for the enabler—especially when it might be someone you already have disdain for. If you hate the Clintons, you might be sure they were in on this. If you hate the Trumps, you might be sure they were in on this. All of these ideas are out there.

And, this approach makes abusers into “others out there,” when they are really in here.

First of all, if either the Clintons or the Trumps participated in or enabled Epstein’s crimes, they should face the full consequences of the law.

But, it is worth noting that the church’s impulse is to shout outrage at the American systems of wealth, politics, and justice without looking at our own issues. The sad reality is that church, too, can be a place where predators work and where the system covers up for them.

Yes, it is good to post our horror on social media. But is better to be sure our churches know how to prepare for the inevitable predator who seeks access.

It is better to be sure our churches know how to respond when accusations come forward.

It is better to know that churches stand with the victims.

After (and in addition to) this, we must fight for the justice and healing of so many who have been sexually exploited among us. We must fight against the powers and systems that have created spaces for our children to become objects for the use of others rather than persons of honor and dignity.

What More?

It is interesting that even the Confessing Church, which arose in opposition to government-sponsored efforts to unify Protestant churches into a single pro-Nazi church, later admitted their complicity in the Nazi regime:

We did fight for long years in the name of Jesus Christ against the mentality that found its awful expression in the National Sociality regime of violence; but we accuse ourselves for not standing for our beliefs more courageously, for not praying more faithfully, for not believing more joyously, and for not loving more ardently.

They did this only after a fierce admonition from Deaconness Marga Meusel and pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer condemned the failure of the Confessing Church to care for the suffering Jews. Meusel’s words to the Confessing Church ring in our ears even today:

Why does the church do nothing? Why does it allow unspeakable injustice to occur? … What shall we one day answer to the question, where is thy brother Abel? The only answer that will be left to us, as well as to the Confessing Church, is the answer of Cain.

Lessons can be learned from this as well as from the Book of Esther, where we are confronted with the challenging and tireless question:

For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?

What more can we do, church, when it comes to fighting for the vulnerable among us?

Four things come to mind:

First, pray without ceasing.

We must follow our King, who “always lives to make intercession for us.” Pray for those who have been victimized at the hands of others. Pray for those whose view of themselves and the world has been forever changed by the horrific acts of those they trusted. Pray for justice to be made evident, redemption to come, and for healing to overwhelm like a river of gladness.

Second, fight fearlessly.

We are called to speak on behalf of those with no voice (Prov. 31:8). Imagine a world where no wrongs are ever sought to be righted; now imagine a world where every wrong is fought to be righted. This is our purpose in life—to love God and others to the extent that we step into suffering sacrificially for the sake of another. Use your voice and your life to fight for those who have been abused.

How many of Epstein’s targets went home to tell a parent or authority figure, only to not be believed. Or, even the reporter who first wrote the story, but was not heard.

Fight for those who have been abused so they know the church is the safe place when, as in Epstein’s case, the legal system is not.

Third, prepare wisely.

Epstein targeted vulnerable children. That’s what predators do.

They target children in vulnerability. Given that churches are places of vulnerability, it is common sense that predators are targeting your church. Prepare yourself by training your church. Yes, background checks help and are a start, but we need much more. We need to educate ourselves on how to spot grooming patterns, how to set up systems where children are safe at all times, and much more.

Prepare your church as if Epstein was targeting your church’s kids—because predators are.

Fourth, love endlessly.

The great abolitionist William Wilberforce once said, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” Friends, it’s too late to turn the other way if we are to truly follow Christ into the hard places.

My own denomination faced some of these realities this summer, though there is more to do.

We are the hands and feet he uses to love and care for the marginalized, the bruised, the beaten. We are the ears he uses to listen to the stories and lament for the wrongs. We are the voices he uses to speak words of hope and expectation where little dwells.

Child abuse has, once again, made the news. In a sense, it has been placed at our feet. The natural inclination is to shout our anger at Epstein and to be sure to name the people we don’t like who we hope are complicit.

Yet, it is more than Epstein and his enablers. It is also about abuse in the church and its enablers as well.

The enormity of this problem, which continues to confront us, calls for a better response—one that begins on the knees in prayer and continues until justice streams down like a river and all our girls (and boys) are safe, and those who have been hurt see justice and experience healing.

Ed Stetzerholds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.



Is It God’s Goodness that Leads to Repentance?

by Cameron Buettel Friday, July 12, 2019

In the lead-up to the Truth Matters conference in October, we will be focusing our attention on the sufficiency, authority, and clarity of Scripture. Of our previous blog series, none better embodies that emphasis than Frequently Abused Verses. The following entry from that series originally appeared on September 30, 2015. -ed.

We live in an age that demands short bursts of rapid-fire information. The day is fast approaching—perhaps it’s already here—when the number of Twitter followers will hold the preeminent place on a pastor’s resume. Sermon lengths are going the way of our shrinking attention spans. Modern pastors are tempted to replace exegesis and exposition with sound bite sermons and slogan theology.

But Bible verses are not slogans or sound bites. They are eternal truths that find their meaning within the overall story God is telling. Uprooting a verse, or even a biblical phrase, from its native habitat can lead to all kinds of mayhem. That is especially the case when, independent of their proper context, verses are enlisted as the supporting cast for someone’s opinion or agenda. Romans 2:4 is one verse that is regularly misused that way—carelessly sprinkled into sermons, interviews, and social media.

For example, in January 2013, Rick Warren explained to his legions of Facebook followers how the verse factored in his evangelistic methods:

In that particular case, Warren was quoting Romans 2:4 (actually only about half of it) as justification for downplaying sin and soft-peddling the threat of judgment. But is that what Romans 2:4 is really all about? Was Paul telling his Roman readers to jettison the parts of gospel preaching that lack curb appeal?

Joel Osteen is even more explicit in his use of Romans 2:4 to defend his feel-good messages:

Listen, don’t dangle people over the fires of hell. . . . Listen, that doesn’t draw people to God. They know what kind of life they live. They know how bad they’ve lived. What you’ve got to do is talk about the goodness of God. Listen, it’s the goodness of God that brings people to repentance. [1]

Joel Osteen may think that people know they are sinners and that we therefore don’t need to warn them or preach about it, but does Romans 2:4 really back up his point?

Moreover, is his point biblical at all? Just as prisons are full of convicts who will proclaim their innocence, Scripture is clear that sinners reject the guilt of their sin. As Solomon explained, “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 21:2). And even those who do acknowledge their sin have little grasp of the depth of their wretchedness, or the eternal cost of their transgressions.

In fact, it’s ironic that Osteen and Warren would use Romans 2:4 to excuse themselves from discussing sin and the need for repentance, since that verse is plucked from Scripture’s most profound discourse on man’s depravity.

Romans 1–3 is undeniable proof that Paul began his exposition of the gospel by first addressing the universality of sin and the justness of God’s wrath against sin. John MacArthur points this out:

The biblical order in any gospel presentation is always first the warning of danger and then the way of escape, first the judgment on sin and then the means of pardon, first the message of condemnation and then the offer of forgiveness, first the bad news of guilt and then the good news of grace. The whole message and purpose of the loving, redeeming grace of God offering eternal life through Jesus Christ rests upon the reality of man’s universal guilt of abandoning God and thereby being under His sentence of eternal condemnation and death. Consistent with that approach, the main body of Romans begins with 1:18, a clear affirmation of God’s wrath “against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” [2]

It is actually our guilt and the justness of God’s wrath that provide the all-important context for Romans 2:4:

And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. (Romans 2:2-5)

Now you can see why Romans 2:4 is so frequently divorced from its context, and why it’s usually paraphrased instead of quoted. In the full context of Paul’s writing we see clearly what he means by God’s goodness—it is “the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience.” And Romans 2:2-3 explains how God demonstrates that tolerance and patience—by withholding the wrath we deserve. God’s goodness is the reality that we have not yet experienced His judgment. MacArthur adds:

Forbearance [tolerance] comes from anochē, which means “to hold back,” as of judgment. It was sometimes used to designate a truce, which involves cessation of hostilities between warring parties. God’s forbearance with mankind is a kind of temporary divine truce He has graciously proclaimed. Patience translates makrothumia, which was sometimes used of a powerful ruler who voluntarily withheld vengeance on an enemy or punishment of a criminal. Until the inevitable moment of judgment, God’s kindness and forbearance and patience are extended to all mankind. [3]

It is impossible to preach the goodness of God without talking about sin and judgment because its very meaning is bound up in those terms. When we see our sinfulness and rebellion against God, and when we see our hypocrisy in condemning others for committing the same wrath-deserving sins, then we can also marvel at God’s goodness in patiently and tolerantly withholding the wrath that we deserve.

That is what leads us to repentance. And it is entirely consistent with what Paul taught elsewhere in Scripture:

I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)


The Jonas Brothers, “The Bachelor,” and Our Culture’s Rejection of Sexual Purity

Perhaps the culture’s aversion to the Christian sexual ethic is actually a rejection of its source.

The Jonas Brothers, “The Bachelor,” and Our Culture’s Rejection of Sexual Purity

Women across the country are celebrating the news: the Jonas Brothers are back together. Their latest album—which came out on June 7th—was preceded by the release of the trio’s Amazon documentary, “Chasing Happiness.” The film tells the story of the band’s ascent to stardom as they quickly went from playing in malls and at school assemblies to packing the house at Madison Square Gardern.

The documentary captures a moving testimony. Viewers witness Nick, Joe, and Kevin experience a dynamic range of highs and lows as they relive their rise to fame and explore its impact on their lives as men today.

At a particularly vulnerable moment, the three open up about consequences born on their careers due to the impact of some rings they wore on their fingers in the early days.

Purity rings. The Jonas Brothers wore purity rings.

A symbol of sexual abstinence in Christian communities, most associate purity rings with a person’s decision to save sex for marriage.

But from the moment these three clean-cut pastor’s kids stepped on their first Disney stage, it was clear the media could not wait to pounce.

As Nick later came to realize, the rings quickly became “a defining factor of who [they] were as a band.” The brothers, from an early age, were well aware of the mockery being made of them across the country.

Russell Brand, as quoted in “Chasing Happiness” once publicly referred to the group as “God’s favorite virgins.” On her show “Chelsea Lately,” Chelsea Handler joked about the boys’ need for a six-bedroom home asking:, “Why do three virgins need six bedrooms?”

As if that wasn’t enough for three teenage boys to stomach, the makers of “South Park” later dedicated an entire episode to the notion that the Jonas Brothers were somehow using Christianity and its association with sexual purity to sell music to kids.

Fast forward a decade later, and national media attitudes towards sexual abstinence haven’t changed much. Colton Underwood, ABC’s most recent “Bachelor,” also became the butt of many a joke after opening up about his own virginity. The network—especially the female contestants—couldn’t resist any opportunities to make digs on Colton’s virgin status. It got so bad that former “Bachelor” star Astrid Loch even argued, “If I had $1 for every time Colton’s virginity was mentioned I wouldn’t have to do ads.”

Problems with purity

It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to see that the media—from the early Jonas days and onward—seems to have taken real issue with the notion of sexual purity.

For Christians compelled by a biblical sexual ethic—that is, believers who strive for pure hearts, minds, and bodies but trust in God’s grace on the (many) occasions when things go wrong—there’s a lot to unpack here.

Some of us have already felt this tension in our own personal lives. We’ve noticed the ways friends, co-workers, and even family members look at us with wide, troubled eyes when they catch wind of our commitment to honor God with our bodies. We may not have had our romantic lives spread across the front pages of CosmopolitanPeople, and the like, but we know what it’s like to be questioned, teased, or mocked as a result of our sexual inexperience.

And for many, this has been a hurtful experience. Being misunderstood always is.

But many of us would still like to know the truth: What is really at the heart of our culture’s rejection of sexual purity?

There seem to be several ways to answer this question; realistically, there’s more than one contributor at the crux of any one person’s objection.

Many reject the notion that one’s innate desires could ever be wrong in the first place. Saying “no” to the body’s whims and wishes might look to some like an attempt to go against nature; hence, they prefer to explore rather than “silence” a longing for sex.

Others find this whole ‘innocence’ routine completely unattractive. Sexual inexperience, through this lens, isn’t something to value but something to quickly get past. Nick Jonas himself in several interviews spoke of his life after sex claiming, “Now I’m happy, I’m a man, and I do what men do.”

Real men (and women, even) by this standard aren’t waiting around to be old enough, or in love enough, or married enough to have sex. They’re doing it outside of the realm of Scripture’s teachings because of a secular culture that threatens to shame them should they say no.

But perhaps there’s another angle here. In all the commentary directed towards Underwood, the Jonas Brothers, and others like them who have at one point or another confessed virginity, there appears to be a common thread.

The attacks weren’t friendly. In many cases, they were actually quite personal—almost as if Russell, Chelsea, and others like them harbored grievances against something more than just a handful of teen heartthrobs.

It seems that perhaps our culture is rejecting the notion of sexual purity because they’ve rejected its source: the church itself.

People have rejected the church and Scripture’s teachings for many reasons. Some find it fanciful. Others think it’s wise but perhaps not entirely true. Many more still reject it because they’ve rejected organized religion altogether.

But then, there are also those who’ve been hurt by the church—especially its teachings on purity—and feel judged or rejected for one reason or another. These individuals especially deserve our care and empathy.

Regardless of any one person’s reasoning, it is clear that our culture as a whole isn’t on board with Biblical sexuality and will not be for the foreseeable future. We cannot prevent being exposed to people’s jokes or veiled criticisms here and there—but, we can hope to create for ourselves a better framework for engaging with our culture on this topic.

Being a stranger

It seems that one of the most powerful innate desire we humans have is for belonging. No one—neither a kid on the playground nor a ground adult in a work environment—wants to feel like they’re out on the fringe.

Many believers feel this way too and have for centuries. We live in a world that’s rejecting something (many things, in fact) that we hold dear and it’s hard feeling at home here amidst this growing tension.

But perhaps our discomfort only grows when we try to create harmony between church and culture where there isn’t any.

The truth is: God’s will for human sexuality is uncomfortable. It is inconvenient. And it most certainly isn’t what our culture will favor at the present moment or in the future.

For believers caught in the in-between, some thoughts from the Apostle Paul: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

Our minds won’t be renewed by heeding the advice of Hollywood or its followers on matters of sexuality. As a matter of fact, feel free to tune all that out. Instead, be at peace knowing that cultural engagement on this topic (and many others) was never meant to be comfy or easy. We were never supposed to feel affirmed by this world for the choices we make with our bodies.

When we come to terms with this, we will, in the words of Russell Moore, “hardly be ‘normal ’” but, then again, “we should have never tried to be.”

Gabriella Siefert serves as an Editorial Assistant for The Exchange. She is a recent graduate of Wheaton College where she studied Political Science, Spanish, and Biblical and Theological Studies. Outside of her work as a writer and communicator, Gabriella enjoys volunteering with Juvenile Justice Ministry.


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Why ‘Let Go and Let God’ Is My Lifeline

Trusting in the Lord has made my life both easier and harder.

Why ‘Let Go and Let God’ Is My Lifeline

Not long before his death, Henri Nouwen wrote in Sabbatical Journeys about some friends who were trapeze artists. They shared with Nouwen about the special relationship between flyer and catcher on the trapeze. The flyer lets go, and the catcher catches. As the flyer swings high above the crowd on the trapeze, the moment comes when she must let go. She arcs out into the air, where her sole job is to remain as still as possible as she opens her hands and waits for the strong hands of the catcher to pluck her to safety. One of the trapeze artists told Nouwen, “The flyer must never try to catch the catcher.” The catcher will catch the flyer, but she must wait in absolute trust.

The gospel calls us to a similar spirit of open-handed living. Over several decades of following Jesus, I’ve learned that the essence of surrender is found in the posture of our hearts. In this place of yielding, we give the Holy Spirit free rein to direct and sustain our journey, and we also realize that our lives are part of a much greater narrative: God’s story of hope and restoration in the lives of individuals, families, communities, and local churches.

My first big surrender came shortly after beginning a relationship with Jesus in high school. My dad went through a midlife crisis—which included a fancy sports car followed by a perm (another story, another time)—and then he shared the news that we would be moving from Colorado to Hong Kong right before my senior year. Angry and confused, I unleashed my frustration and let God know exactly how I felt about the situation. But at the end of my tirade, I added a sincere prayer: “In my heart of hearts, I really want to know you and do your will.”

This prayer has led me through other life disruptions, as well. After I graduated from college, I came to another crossroads. Should I attend law school? Or pursue vocational Christian ministry? I wasn’t afraid to minister overseas, but I did wrestle with what I considered my worst-case scenario: driving an ugly, outdated car and living in complete isolation and obscurity doing boring, mundane work day in and day out. Nevertheless, I remember praying a tearful but sincere prayer of surrender: “God, I will go wherever you want me to go—even if you ask me to work and live all alone and drive one of those old station wagons with fake wood paneling on the outside. Even then I will choose to follow you.”

When faced with my own cancer diagnosis a few years ago, I prayed another surrender prayer. Every morning I awakened in the dark with my mind racing, wondering if the diagnosis was a bad dream. As my mind cleared and the heavy reality set in, I would make my way upstairs to an overstuffed chair tucked away in a little nook, where I would pour out my fears to God. I wrestled with what seemed like reasonable, honorable desires of living long enough to witness the major milestones in my three kids’ lives. I wanted a front-row seat. The willingness to yield my plans and open my hands—even to let go of my very life—became a moment-by-moment choice.

Each time that I’ve placed my heart into the hands of my loving, good, and all-knowing God, my life has simultaneously been easier and harder. Sometimes I find myself trying to control the outcome of my circumstances. I pray with directives: “This is how you need to answer, God, and this is how you need to fix this situation.” But when I read Scripture, I am reminded of how God is the one who determines our boundaries and the exact places we should live (Acts 17:26).

We are born into this world without control over our family of origin; we have no say in who our parents are, the number of siblings we grow up with, or our birth order. We have no control over our gender, ethnic makeup, cultural heritage, family history, socioeconomic class at birth, or gifts and wiring. But God has his reasons for forming us as he has. “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10, ESV).

In the end, we may not have the opportunity to see the direct outcome of our choices or live the life we always dreamed of, but God maps out for us a way to walk in freedom—even when our circumstances don’t make sense to us. In this place of surrender, he simply asks us to let go and trust that he will catch us.

Vivian Mabuni has spent 30 years serving on staff with Cru and is the author of Warrior In Pink and Open Hands, Willing Heart. Connect with her on Instagram/Twitter @vivmabuni or on her website www.vivianmabuni.com. This piece was adapted from Open Hands Willing Heart: Discover the Joy of Saying Yes to God (releasing July 9).Copyright © 2019 by Vivian Mabuni. Published with permission by WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.


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Faith Like an Olive Tree

What Israel’s most famous plants taught me about spiritual growth.

Faith Like an Olive Tree

A few summers ago, I traveled to Israel at the generous invitation of friends. One memorable afternoon on our trip, we walked down the hillside of the Mount of Olives and passed through the Garden of Gethsemane. The smells and sounds of the landscape from that day have stayed strong in my memory.

I was wearing sandals and we had taken a bus up to the top of the hill, so I hadn’t realized how steep it was. But walking back down, the hot asphalt beneath my feet was like the surface you’d find at a theme park somewhere in middle-America. I thought of Jesus walking this same hill. I could barely keep my feet in my shoes for the angle of the path, so I took them off.

As we came to the bottom of the hill, we stood among the ancient olive trees in the garden where Jesus spent hours in prayer. The trees framing the outdoor sanctuary are some of the oldest living things around. Their sorrowful, faithful presence is unmoved there in the middle of this changing world. They bear witness.

Our guide told us that olive trees have some special characteristics. Most trees report their growth by adding a ring each year, but you cannot tell an olive tree’s age or experience by counting its rings. As an olive tree ages, instead of growing rings, the trunk expands inside and becomes more spacious. The older the olive tree, the wider and more hollow the trunk.

Back home in Tennessee, we read the story of the trees by their rings. Our trees hold their memory in layers, each storm and drought recorded in organic detail. But the olive trees hold memory more densely, compressed and magnificently refined. They make space as they mature.

In my own growth, I would like to be more like the olive tree, remembering the good stuff, the faithfulness of God that strengthens who I am. I want to stretch my branches out wide (Isa. 54:2) and let the rough details of each passing trial slough off. I want to make space in the center of my life, to welcome the Holy Spirit right in the middle—reviving, refreshing, renewing.

But when I am under stress, I am inclined to harbor my frustrations and keep a record of my complaints. Left to my own sinful nature, I document my hardships and vent my frustrations, carving rings of memory. But the grace of the olive tree tells a better story.

When I look back, I can see God’s good providence and provision as opportunities for growth, even in the times of great discomfort. The wood of the olive tree grows more smooth and compressed over time, demonstrating to me that I don’t have to harbor every relational injury. “Love keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5).

And I am humbled when I focus on the substance of God’s provision for me. “‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed’” (1 Pet. 2:24). When we suffer, we can entrust ourselves to the one who keeps the record straight. To entrust ourselves to God is to actively give over to him our grievances and our circumstances beyond our control. In this, the core of our life is strengthened, hollowed, and made more fruitful. Despite its hollow core, the olive tree is a historic symbol of strength, intelligence, and productivity. One mature olive tree can provide as much as 20 gallons of oil.

As I remember the trees from the Garden of Gethsemane, I think of Jesus’ tears poured out on the ground, like oil poured out for healing and blessing. I remember the sensation of my bare feet on the Mount of Olives that afternoon on the asphalt, like the hot pavement in the summertime at Six Flags in Missouri when I was a kid. God’s presence is real then and now. He shapes our stories into smooth beauty, like a master gardener. “I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God. I will trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever” (Ps. 52:8). He visits us in the garden and breathes his renewing Presence through the sacred center of our lives, making space for what was, what is, and what is yet to be.

Sandra McCracken is a singer-songwriter who lives in Nashville. Follow her on Twitter @Sandramccracken.

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July 5, 2019

Proverbs 28:1- The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion

What does it mean to be bold in our faith? Boldness might be viewed as aggressive, speaking out about Jesus everywhere and to anyone, calling out people’s sin or speaking truth without love.

Boldness is a theme throughout the people of God in the Bible and takes various forms across different situations. Take a look at a few examples:

• Nehemiah who was a cupbearer and went before his king to ask for favor in rebuilding Jerusalem
• Moses went before Pharaoh to ask for the release of an entire people group who were the backbone of construction and labor of Egypt
• Daniel opposed the law of the land stating that he could not pray to his God, knowing full well the punishment of being thrown in a den of lions (which God rescued him from)
• Stephen was bold in the face of his aggressors, he did not back down but gave them a wonderful synopsis of the Torah and history of God’s people leading up to Jesus. The result was his stoning.
• Elijah, facing death, went before 450 prophets of Baal to test whose God was real. The result was fire coming from heaven and the execution of all the false prophets.
• David went ill-equipped before a giant, and won, because the giant cursed David’s God.

These are just a few of the many examples in the Bible of men and women who exhibited boldness and faced overwhelming odds, some certain death, but why? Proverbs 28:1 talks about how the righteous are as bold as lions. The Hebrew word for bold here is batach meaning “confidence, trusting, i.e., pertaining to placing reliance or belief in a person or object.”

Boldness, as we are called to as Christians, is placing our reliance and trust in Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Any consequences that “man” can do to us are irrelevant because we have an eternal life awaiting us in heaven. The same word for boldness in Proverbs is used to portray this trust in Psalm 112:7-8:

“Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered forever. They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting (batach) in the Lord.”

Boldness is also used interchangeably with confidence. Hebrews 10:35-36 says:

“So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”

Confidence, like boldness, is not about being confident in who we are, but in WHOM we serve. We can only have confidence in God if we know who God is and have a relationship with Him. This relationship can only be established if we read the Word of God and commune with Him. This is the same way we can understand the “will of God”. We cannot have perfect confidence in our own plans or abilities, they will fail us. God will never fail us. The boldness we have once we understand God’s plans for our lives comes in knowing God is on our side. When we walk in His will, He will be with us every step of the way. This is very different from making our plans and asking God to bless them!

If we don’t have a clear direction for our life, we can still have confidence in the God we serve. We are called to walk in obedience to the Bible even if we are confused on the specific direction we need to take. The greatest commandment we are given is when Jesus says

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37

Everything we do stems from living out these two commandments, if we love the Lord, we will see his heart in all we do and we will trust him with boldness. If love those around us, it shows others the boldness and confidence we have in Jesus, planting the seeds for their salvation.

Our boldness is also displayed in how we approach God, thanks to the work done for us on the cross (Hebrews 10:19-22). We can come before the throne of grace and ask for forgiveness without needing a sacrifice.

Boldness can also be misplaced if we trust in the wrong thing. 2 Peter 2:10 discusses sinners who are “bold and arrogant”, their trust is in themselves, there is not a foundation built of who they are trusting in. When people are bold for themselves and their selfish pursuits, they leave behind a wake of destruction.

Discerning Reflection: In what ways have I not trusted in God or been confident in Him? How can grow in my knowledge and relationship with Jesus? In what ways do I or do I not portray the greatest commandment?

Prayer: Lord help me come boldly before your throne so that I can grow in my relationship and confidence in you. Help me see your will for my life and be a light to others who see that I trust you with everything. Amen.

Tim Ferrara
Discerning Dad

Note: This was written in collaboration with Authorytees http://www.authorytees.com based on their mission statement of “Bold Faith”

Check out the shirt “Bold as Lions” available on Authorytees.com and Discerning Dad’s store


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AUDIO Here’s What Makes the ‘First-Century Mark’ Saga Complicated

The complex world of ancient biblical manuscripts


Here’s What Makes the ‘First-Century Mark’ Saga Complicated

Last week, CT published a piece about the “First Century Mark Saga.” It’s a complicated, nearly decade-old situation that reveals much about the world of ancient biblical manuscripts.

Many Christians may be inclined to primarily connect biblical manuscripts with apologetics or Bible translations, but the ecosystem they inhabit is far more complex, says Christian Askeland, a former Museum of the Bible employee and professor of Christian origins.

“With the Gospel of Mark controversy, there’s a lot of stuff going on there,” said Askeland. “There is the paleography issue—the New Testament was written in the first century, so just the basic idea that we could have a first century manuscript, that one of those would survive and we would have it. Then there’s the issue of acquiring the artifact—what museums have the right to buy this kind of ancient material culture. And then there’s the scholarly issue—how do professionals, specifically Christian scholars look when they are trying to buy this manuscript.”

Askeland joined digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli this week on Quick to Listen to discuss what’s at stake in the ‘First-Century Mark’ saga and illuminate the larger world of ancient biblical manuscripts.

This episode of Quick to Listen is brought to you in part by Promise Keepers. The Christian men’s ministry that filled stadiums across America is, once again, calling on men to stand up and be counted. For more information, go to promisekeepers.org.

Highlights from Quick To Listen: Episode 168

Last year the Egypt Exploration Society published a Greek papyrus. According to their judgment, this fragment of the Gospel of Mark could be dated between A.D. 150 and 250. But while this document was extremely old, this timestamp disappointed a number of people, many of whom had hoped that it could be traced to the 1st century. Last week Christianity Today published a piece about this First-Century Mark saga, a story that has now played out for about eight years and running. One of the key figures in this saga is Jerry Pattengale, a professor at Indiana Wesleyan and until recently the Director of Religious Education at Museum of the Bible. He was deeply involved and wrote about his experience for CT, saying:

“Over the last eight years, we learned that much was not as it seemed. There seemed to be a manuscript fragment of a gospel dating to the first decades of the church. Not quite. The manuscript seemed to be for sale. It wasn’t, really. Now the world knows there were four early gospel fragments “for sale,” and at the helm was an esteemed professor, transitioning these days into a sort of Sir Leigh Teabing of Da Vinci Code lore.”

So today on Quick To Listen, we wanted to give a summary of what’s at stake in this First-Century Mark saga, and also illuminate the larger world of ancient biblical manuscripts. Our guest today is Christian Askeland, assistant research professor of Christian origins at Indiana Wesleyan University. He has also held many positions with the Museum of the Bible. His research concerns the origins and diversity of early Christianity, principally the movements from which they’re relevant texts and manuscripts arose.

Can you describe the work that goes into studying ancient Biblical manuscripts and determining their authenticity?

Christian Askeland: Let’s start with paleography, which is an extremely controversial subject in academic societies and scholars get really angry arguing over these things. it’s complicated because there are different kinds of manuscripts. Cursive manuscripts from later on in the medieval period will often have a scribe who has identified themselves and will state when and where they’ve written the manuscript. In those cases people were using a minuscule manuscript, which is usually written on parchment In a certain cursive handwriting that looks a bit like what we think of the lowercase Greek characters that modern texts are transcribed into and printing presses use. If you’re using those type of manuscripts, it’s a pretty reliable science because we have so many manuscripts with a secure date that you can date undated manuscripts with the secure manuscripts.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have manuscripts that are written with capital letters that tend to be earlier. They tend to be from either the Roman period or shortly after the Roman period. Often those don’t have the same notations to identify the scribe or the date and you have a very, very small number of securely dated examples—maybe only four or five examples—that you can really rely on, and they tend to look exactly the same for centuries. So when you assign a date range to those, it very likely may be a four-century date range or more.

Now when we get to papyri, which tend to be your earliest manuscripts we have, we have very, very few securely dated manuscripts. And actually when people are dating papyri, what they’re usually doing is they’re using other manuscripts that have been basically dated on a cycle of non-securely dated manuscripts. So the science here isn’t really much of a science at all, it’s just a small group of paleographers telling you what their stomach feels like. They may be listing other manuscripts—as in the case of this Mark manuscript—they’re listing manuscripts that have no secure date themselves. This is true for both Biblical papyri and other literary papyri.

Some of this is based on a presupposition of manuscript style and the way the handwriting looks. Handwriting that is quite simple and less complicated is usually considered to come from earlier stages in history, while more formalized, more decadent handwriting is considered to come from later stages. But there’s nothing scientific about that. There are days when anyone’s handwriting might be poor, but we wouldn’t necessarily date that to an early period of your life. It could be because you’re stressed, or you had too much coffee. So when we do this with manuscripts, we’re doing it based on the way ancient empires were thought of and what we expect from them, but it’s not an exact science.

How does the issue of cultural heritage relate to manuscript controversies? And do museums help provide some legitimacy?

Christian Askeland: For a lot of people, I think we think about biblical manuscripts and connect it to apologetics or faith and how secure our own Bible translation is. Is this really what Jesus or the Apostle Paul or the author of whatever text actually said? But we’re in an interesting period of time where several cultural institutions and cultural sites—especially in the Middle East but in other places in the world—are under attack. They’re literally being destroyed sometimes simply because groups like ISIS want to erase non-Muslim portions of the cultural history of the site. In other cases, they’re actually taking things from the site or stealing things from museums, and then selling them for profit to fund their activities. So anything that shows up in the antiquities market and gets sold, you can’t prove what site or source it came from, so it immediately comes under suspicion. People are also paranoid that things have not come from a good place, and that purchasing them is funding people who aren’t good people and who aren’t actually protecting cultural heritage.

With museums, there’s the controversy around who actual owns the artifacts. There are different international conventions and laws, but if you think about manuscripts we have in America or Europe, one might argue that it was stolen from the Middle East. Especially if you don’t consider cultural heritage as something you can own. So if you have parts of the Parthenon sitting in the British Museum, the Greeks can say, “Hey, you may have bought this from somebody and have certificates, but it’s is a key part of the cultural heritage of Greece and doesn’t belong in London.” Or say you’re a Christian institution that comes into the possession of a Torah scroll used in the Jewish worship. Well, then you have the issue of sacred heritage, which is a bit different from cultural heritage. You’re a Christian institution with the Jewish sacred object. What are the ethical ramifications of you having that?

Are these complications part of why there’s so much controversy with this alleged fragment of the Gospel of Mark? And if not, what’s driving the controversy?

Christian Askeland: Different scholarly societies have adopted standards on cultural heritage and what would even be permitted within the scholarly society. And this has become a huge issue the last 10 years. It’s typical for museums not to purchase items on their own, a lot of times they’ll have a donor purchase the item and then the donor will donate it and there can be tax benefits to that.

With the Gospel of Mark controversy, there’s a lot of stuff going on there. There is the paleography issue—the New Testament was written in the first century, so just the basic idea that we could have a first century manuscript, that one of those would survive and we would have it. Then there’s the issue of acquiring the artifact—what museums have the right to buy this kind of ancient material culture. And then there’s the scholarly issue—how do professionals, specifically Christian scholars look when they are trying to buy this manuscript.

If you think about how many people were living in the Roman Empire during Bible times, there were maybe 65 million people. And in the first century BC, you didn’t have any Christians because there’s like no Jesus. And then Jesus comes, but you still don’t have any Christians because they’re not called Christians till Antioch. But you have this movement that starts, and it’s a very small segment of those 65 million people. By the end of the fourth Century, you have a Christian Empire and Christianity grows in between those two points. So you would expect to have more manuscripts when you have more Christians, right? Our total count for papyri manuscripts right now is around 139—and not just from the 4th Century when Christianity was at its highest peak, but as a total count. So, the statistical odds of finding a first-century papyrus is so unlikely that anyone who claims to have found one would be assumed crazy. Simply because statistically we would expect to find more manuscripts when we have more Christians, we have a limited amount of papyri, and we would expect to start finding them from the third or fourth Century onward. So, the news was explosive for apologetic reasons, but also for scholarly reasons.

Where are these ancient biblical manuscripts coming from? And what happens after they are found?

Christian Askeland: Most of our papyri come from Egypt. Partially because papyri grow in Egypt, but also the conditions in Egypt or so favorable for conserving things. People tended to bury things and as long as the Nile didn’t flood, they were kept intact. So in Egypt, we have a few small caches that show up with essentially perfectly preserved papyrus manuscripts with every page intact. What we’re talking about today though are things that have been dug up after, they come from the “rubbish heap.” They are discarded papyri or papyri that maybe wadded up in the bowl. But they are still important because they’ve led to new discoveries.

Before these discoveries, we had Wycliffe who was translating the Bible from Latin because that’s all he had. And then during Martin Luther’s time, there was access to Greek manuscripts, and you get a whole new era of translations that are from the original languages. And now we’re starting to get these papyri, and it’s like moving back a thousand years. And then you have other manuscripts that are coming in from ancient monasteries like Mount Sinai, and various other monasteries in Egypt, that bring in all different kinds of translations as well as Greek manuscripts from the first millennium.

The Egyptian Excavation Society, for instance, has a massive trove of about half a million papyri that have been excavated from Egypt around the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. And their stuff is housed at the University of Oxford for scholars and researchers to go and study.

So with First-Century Mark, who made this claim? And where do they fit into the antiquity world?

Christian Askeland: With the First-Century Mark, there were a lot of people saying this is insane and personally myself, I’ve always just said that it’s not a real possibility that we would have this. The fact that somebody would say this without putting forward the evidence shows there probably is no evidence. It wouldn’t just not a reasonable thing to do.

There’s nobody’s really wanting to take responsibility for making that claim. There was a Twitter mention that goes back to December 2011 and another scholar mentioned it in a debate a while later. At one point, before people knew it was Mark, someone marked it and written a note that said 1st/2nd Century. So there was an argument from someone who didn’t realize they were dating a Biblical manuscript dating it to that period of time. Now that’s not a crazy time period of date something to for the Greco-Roman period because this is what we call the Pax Romana, it was the period of greatest prosperity in the Roman Empire, so statistically we get more from this period than from any other period in papyrology in Egypt. And then in 2016, the Egyptian Excavation Society indicate that they realized that they had First-Century Mark and wanted to publish it at that point.

What questions should a typical viewer of manuscripts at a museum or through a special exhibit have as they enter into that experience?

Christian Askeland: Speaking to a Christian audience, I would want to say that if something is done, well, it should help you understand that the world is a more complicated place than you previously thought it would be in. This is part of what we that we’re never going to understand everything, We’re going to see we’re going to see things dimly. And so going to one of these institutions shouldn’t necessarily answer all your questions, but you should come to a place where you understand that the things related to your faith—but even just things related to the broader world—are very complicated and that’s okay. There are no easy answers.

You should always allow yourself to be surprised, to be challenged, to be fascinated with how complicated the world is and not see that as a threat. Use it as a reminder that our own culture isn’t the only one that exists, and that a lot of the reasons that we have things from other countries is because we took them, or we paid for them from people who are just desperate for even a small amount of money.


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