Sunday, December 20, 2020

Mary - Did You Know?

 Twenty-six years ago, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell invited Mark Lowry to write a Christmas program. As he wrote the “speaking parts”, he began to think about Mary, the mother of Jesus.   

In a recent interview, Lowry recalled, “as my mind went back to the manger scene, I began to think about the power, authority and majesty Mary cradled in her arms. I began writing a list of questions I would like to ask Mary if I could sit down with her - questions such as, ‘Mary, do you know who is in your arms? Did you know that your baby boy will walk on water, give sight to a blind man and calm a storm at sea with his hand?’”

Lowry carried his lyrics with him for the next seven years. In 1991, he asked his good friend, Buddy Greene, to write suitable music for his poem. According to Green, “Mark handed me his lyrics, and I held on to them for about two weeks.

One day I pulled them out and looked at them. They seemed to suggest a minor key approach to writing an accompaniment. I completed the musical setting in about 30 minutes. I called Mark at his home in Georgia and on the phone played and sang the song to him. He was ecstatic! He said, ‘That’s it!’

Two weeks later. Greene met in Mark’s hotel room in Nashville where they recorded the song on a small portable machine. It was then taken to Michael English who was preparing to make an album. He was the first person to record “Mary, Did You Know?”

Since Michael English, many other artistes have rendered “Mary, Did You Know”. I like Mark Lowry’s rendition very much. Then I heard the Pentatonix a cappella rendition.

In 2014, this Grammy Award-winning a cappella group with their resplendent displays of vocal harmony, took Lowry’s classic to another level. The musical group used the diversity of their collective vocal ranges to emphasize that a small gathering is in awe of Mary and her role. Each of the five vocalists asked her their questions. The unusual approach magnified the sense of wonder in the song, particularly as contrasted to a single querying narrator.

Here we are, twenty-six years later and still in love with “Mary, Did You Know”. Some are captivated by the music and return to it again and again. Interestingly, many who do not share Mark Lowry’s faith, which fueled his authorship, sing the song with passion.

Some who share Lowry’s faith have problems with the song. They believe the song contends that Mary needed a Savior. “But how could Mary need a Savior,” they ask, “if she were born of immaculate conception?” Immaculate Conception is a Roman Catholic teaching which asserts that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was preserved free from the effects of original sin from her conception.

Mary had been solemnly declared to be the mother of God at the Church’s Council of Ephesus in 431. Most Catholic theologians doubted that one who had been so close to God could have actually experienced sinful acts. I have not read the findings of the Council of Ephesus, but I have read the Magnificat, the lyrics of Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55.

The Latin translation of Mary’s response begins with the word Magnificat, which simply means “magnify” (or “exalt,” “glorify,” etc.). The Magnificat is a poem of praise to God, praising Him for His blessing to Mary and His faithfulness to Israel. The Magnificat also highlights a series of reversals in which the proud are humbled and the humble are exalted—not the least being a poor young girl who will be the mother of the Messiah.

Commentators have pointed out that the Magnificat is full of quotations of and allusions to passages in the Old Testament. Many of the truths Mary expresses find a counterpart in Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1–10.

Dr John Piper shared an interesting commentary on Mary’s reference to God’s holiness. Piper contends that Mary stressed that God's holiness has expressed itself and will express itself by exalting the lowly and abasing the haughty.

“What fills Mary's heart with joy is that God loves to undertake for the underdog who calls on his mercy. This is how his holiness expresses itself. Does this not commend itself as true, that the great and holy God should magnify his greatness by blessing the lowly who admire his greatness and by abasing the haughty who resent his greatness?”

Honestly, Mary would not have been able to answer the questions in Mark Lowry’s song – she just did not know the answers. However, what she knew, was what God could do through the surrender of a simple teenage girl. This Christmas, remember, God still works through simple people who surrender their lives to Him.



Monday, December 14, 2020


 Christianity is not unique in claiming that her founder was born of a virgin. A Buddhist legend claims that Siddhartha Gautama’s (Buddha) mother, Maya, dreamt that a white elephant entered her side and that he was born miraculously from her side.

Egyptian mythology contends that the goddess Isis was a virgin when she gave birth to the god Horus. In Tibet, it is believed that goddess Indra’s mother was a virgin. Some allege the same can be said of the Greek god Adonis or of Krishna, a Hindu god.

At least one New Testament scholar shares the view that Luke presented the story of Jesus’ birth in a way that would make sense to a pagan reader. “Luke knew,” this scholar contends, “that his readers were conversant with tales of other divine beings who walked the face of the earth, other heroes and demigods who were born of the union of a mortal with a god.”   

This historical backdrop leaves us with a critical question – does the birth of Jesus differ from other claims of virgin birth? I believe there are at least three reasons why Luke’s story of Jesus’ virgin birth is noticeably different.

Unlike other religions, Luke provided a story that was consistent with history, not legend. A legend is normally viewed as a story that evolved from within a community over a significant period of time. With time, such stories are believed to be factual, even though there is no tangible evidence to support that view.

History on the other hand conveys information that can be verified either through artifacts or credible documentation. In his opening verses, Luke establishes that this was done. (Luke 1:1-4). Like other Greco-Roman historians, Luke refers to the sources that were at his disposal and declares that upon careful examination of those sources, he was convinced that they were reliable.

That was the context in which Luke presented the story of the virgin birth of Jesus. No other religious claim of virgin birth matches Luke’s standard of historiography. Apologist William Lane Craig contends, “historically speaking, the story of Jesus’ virginal conception is independently attested by Matthew and Luke and is utterly unlike anything in pagan mythology or Judaism”.

Unlike other religions, the virgin birth of Jesus is consistent with the deity of Jesus. To claim virgin birth is to make claim to an unnatural birth. With Jesus, it was more than just a claim – He lived an unnatural life. It was because of His claim of living unnaturally, He was eventually accused of blasphemy (The act of claiming for oneself the attributes and rights of God).

Interestingly, although it is alleged that the Buddha was born miraculously (of virgin birth), he was known to be “a practical person”. As he sensed his impending death, “he called his disciples and reminded them that everything must die.” So unlike Jesus who said, “Destroy this temple (my body), and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19).

Unlike other religions, the virgin birth of Jesus is consistent with Bible prophecy. In every other virgin birth claim that is made, no claim precedes the birth. Claims were often made by followers, following the birth and in an attempt to “big-up” the person born.

Some 700 years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah made this prediction of the coming Messiah: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Matthew in his gospel, was convinced that Isaiah was referring to the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:22-23).

Both Old and New Testament texts are clear - the biblical writers were not referring to unusual births like Isaac, Samuel or John the Baptist. There was something unique, not unusual, about the birth of Jesus. Ask Simeon, the priest who was on duty when Joseph and Mary went to dedicate baby Jesus.

In Simeon’s song (Nunc Dimittis), the priest was convinced that the child he was holding was no ordinary baby. In keeping with God’s promise to him that he would not die before seeing the Messiah, Simeon declared, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, You now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen Your salvation...” (Luke 2:29-30).

When one chooses to speculate on the immaculate conception of Mary, one loses sight of the depth and uniqueness of the virgin birth of Jesus. In addition, to merely see the birth in the context of existing pagan traditions is a disservice to the honor that only Jesus deserves. And worse yet, to conclude that this remarkable story is a biblical attempt to glorify single-motherhood is tantamount to blasphemy.

Amidst the noises during this festive season, please make some time to reexamine what Simeon the priest discovered – “ eyes have seen Your salvation...”


Sunday, December 6, 2020

History, Archaeology & Christmas

 Archaeology is a branch of history. Whereas history deals with documents, archaeology deals with artifacts. Artifacts are tangible objects that often verify what appear in documents. The term artifact can also be used to refer to the remains of an object, such as a shard of broken pottery or glassware.

For instance, Luke reports that the birth of Jesus happened when “Quirinius was governor of Syria.” For years, some scholars questioned the accuracy of the statement. However, we now have evidence that Quirinius was governor of Syria around 7 B.C. This assumption is based on an inscription found in Antioch ascribing to Quirinius this post. As a result of this finding, it is now supposed that he was governor twice -- once in 7 B.C. and in 6 AD. This historical detail helps to confirm the accuracy of Luke’s report on the timing of the birth of Jesus.

Both Matthew and Luke refer to Nazareth as the place from which Joseph and Mary left for Bethlehem. For many years, the existence of Nazareth was questioned. Doubters contended that there was no archaeological evidence to support its existence in the first century. With that skepticism, the reliability of the biblical text was questioned. More specifically, stories of the birth and upbringing of Jesus.

RenĂ© Salm was a case in point. In his book The Myth of Nazareth, The Invented Town of Jesus, he argued that Nazareth did not begin to exist until the second century AD, after Jesus was born. To be fair, for years the archaeological evidence for a first-century Nazareth was scant.

As is often the case, however, archaeological finds in recent years have vindicated the biblical record, with numerous first-century discoveries. Tombs with fragments of ossuaries (bone boxes) have now been excavated in Nazareth, indicating a Jewish presence there in the first century. Storage pits and cisterns from the time of Jesus have been discovered. Archaeologists contend that about 350 persons may have lived in Nazareth with Jesus. Today, more than 50,000 persons live there. Again, Archaeology corroborated the biblical text.

In May 2012, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced the discovery of a bulla (a tiny clay seal) which mentions Bethlehem, the city of David and the birthplace of Jesus. The report said: ‘The first ancient artifact constituting tangible evidence of the existence of the city of Bethlehem was recently discovered in Jerusalem. The three lines of ancient Hebrew script stamped on the bulla read: ‘From the town of Bethlehem to the King’.

However, I would be the first to agree that Archaeology does not prove that the Bible is true. Archaeology is extremely useful in that it supplies cultural, epigraphic and artifactual materials that provide the background for accurately interpreting the Bible. Because of Archaeological discoveries, many liberal and conservative scholars contend that Luke is “erudite, eloquent and that his use of Greek approaches classical quality.”

Archaeology then, has illuminated and corroborated the Bible in numerous ways. The interpreter finds in archaeology a good friend for understanding and substantiating Scripture. One’s confidence can be enhanced where the truths of Scripture impinge on historical events.

In his book, What Mean These Stones, Yale Professor of Archaeology, Millar Burrows, makes the point, that “archaeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the Scriptural record. More than one archaeologist has found his respect for the Bible increased by the experience of excavation in Palestine.”

My faith is strengthened whenever I read the reports of Jesus’ birth, as told by Matthew and Luke. Other than the theological matters of Jesus’ messiahship, I believe that the events actually happened. Nazareth, Jerusalem and Bethlehem actually existed in the first century. Quirinius, Herod and Caesar Augustus were actual political leaders. Historical details like these undermine notions of myth, fiction and legend. Instead, historical details deal with reality and state what actually happened.

I strongly recommend that you read the first two chapters in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke this Christmas. You will see where the writers tell their stories to convince their audiences that the birth of Jesus and the events around the birth actually happened. However, just as the writers were convinced that they were reporting on what actually happened, they were equally convinced that someone from outside of our human experience, played a big role in the birth of Jesus.

Paul contended, the person who played that bigger role was God. This is how he described it, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son (Jesus), born of a woman…” (Galatians 4:4). This is a good season to remember that the science of Archaeology corroborated the story of the birth of God’s son.



Friday, November 6, 2020


 Last week I met with a group of men for our weekly Bible Study. We were examining God’s instruction to Ezekiel that he should use human poo to make fuel. The actual instruction read, “Eat the food as you would a barley cake; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel” (Ezekiel 4:12). Ezekiel did not like the idea and objected. The Lord relented saying, “I will let you bake your bread over cow manure instead of human excrement” (Ezekiel 4:15).

Following the study, I began to research the idea of converting poo to fuel. Little did I know that I was getting myself into fecal sludge energy recovery – a clean energy industry. Scientific studies confirm that human feces contain comparable levels of carbon to replace charcoal and firewood, and subsequently the excessive practice of deforestation.

According to a 2017 study by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 2.4 billion people in the world rely on burning wood for cooking. This unsustainable harvesting and charcoal production contributes to forest degradation, deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. In one East African country, some 90% of the people use firewood for food daily. One can just imagine the huge deforestation problems that result from this practice.

Sanivation (, a Kenyan company, partners with local governments to help meet the growing waste processing need from septic tanks and pit latrines. Using sludge treatment plants, Sanivation transforms fecal sludge into biomass fuels. The company collects human waste from special toilets and turns it into sustainable fuel. This move improves sanitation and reduces the environmental impact of burning wood.

Obviously, the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel would not have known about biomass fuels. His resistance to use human excrement was probably based on his priestly understanding of Deuteronomy 23:14 “…so that he will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you.” Like other priests, Ezekiel  very likely believed that decency in hygiene is required all the time, certainly during times of prayer and study, and even in wartime. 

Honestly though, why would God ask Ezekiel to use dung for fuel? It seems that baking the bread over dung was symbolic of defilement being baked in a manner that would repulse the Israelites upon sight of it, much as God was repulsed by their defilement.

God’s instruction to his prophet is one of five acts in the book of Ezekiel that are symbolic of the destruction of Jerusalem. The context of Ezekiel 4:9-17 is indicative of the hard times Jerusalem would face. The prophet is illustrating to the Jews, that because of the Babylonian siege of the city of Jerusalem, energy supplies would be scarce. The only thing that would be available for fuel would be human excrement. Although not as effective, Ezekiel was allowed to use cow dung to illustrate his point.

But couldn’t the point be made with less offensive materials? In my quest to get an answer, the Lord directed me to Isaiah 55:8 (For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher that your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts).